There’s a dark cloud looming above all this success the Yankees are having, a nagging voice that says there’s one very good reason why it might not always be sustainable.
It gets darker and louder on nights like Saturday — nights when Sonny Gray gets pulled in the fourth inning and all that firepower isn’t enough to pull the Yankees out of the hole he has dug.
Gray struggled again and the bullpen didn’t fare much better as Mike Trout had a career-high five hits — four for extra bases — to carry the Angels to an 11-4 victory over the Yankees at the Stadium. Trout had three doubles and his 17th home run, a two-out, two-run shot in the fourth that gave the Angels a 5-4 lead. He ended the night with 11 total bases and four RBIs.
“Trout’s an unbelievable player and I think he showed that,” said Gray, who thought his own “stuff was good for sure.”
The Yankees hit three homers — making it 25 in the last seven games — and took an early 4-1 lead, but it was far from enough.
Above all, Saturday’s performance highlighted the very problem general manager Brian Cashman mentioned hours earlier as he explained his reasoning for optioning Ronald Torreyes to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room for Greg Bird. The Yankees can’t afford to carry fewer than 13 pitchers when so many of the starters are producing such short outings.
Gray, who was brilliant his last time out but has otherwise been one of the rotation’s biggest questions, allowed five runs, seven hits and three walks in 3 2⁄3 innings, striking out seven. Eleven of the 21 batters he faced reached base.
The short outing exacerbates a challenging situation: The Yankees have begun a stretch in which they will play 14 games in 13 days, and to be successful, their starting pitching needs to be able to put together at least a few long outings.
“I feel like we need pitching more than anything else,” Cashman said. “The 13 staff is more of a likelihood [down the line] and a necessity because I want to protect the high-leverage relievers, too . . . I feel some of the starts we’re getting, we’re not getting necessary — or should expect to get — the length you’d like to get.”
Trout drilled an RBI double off the leftfield wall in the first inning, but for a minute, the Yankees seemed eminently capable of doing what they often do: erase pitching deficiencies with those scary, scary bats.
Brett Gardner homered into the second deck in rightfield on the second pitch he saw from Jaime Barria, and three pitches later, Aaron Judge sent a drive into the bleachers above the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center for his 14th homer. Judge’s shot, estimated at 442 feet, was his 70th in 231 games. He reached that mark faster than anyone else in major-league history (Ryan Howard did it in 233). It was the 14th time the Yankees have gone back-to-back this year.
After Miguel Andujar’s one-out infield single in the second, Austin Romine drove an outside fastball off the foul pole in right for a 4-1 lead.
But Gray (3-4, 5.98 ERA) gave back two runs in the third, issuing a bases-loaded walk to Shohei Ohtani and a sacrifice fly by Andrelton Simmons. With two outs in the fourth, Gray floated a waist-high fastball to Trout, who behaved predictably. His drive deep into the leftfield bleachers was his third home run in as many days and put the Angels up 5-4.
Trout had an RBI double and Albert Pujols added a two-run single against Tommy Kahnle in a four-run sixth. Jose Briceno hit a two-run homer off Chasen Shreve in the seventh.
“We definitely need to start getting a little more length out of those guys,” said Aaron Boone, who agreed that Gray had mostly good stuff, if some unfortunate fastball placement. “When we got rolling really good against a lot of quality teams, it was really on the backs of the starting pitching. They were consistently giving us quality outings and we hit a little bump in the road here, this little time and a half through, but no reason for me to think they won’t turn around and get that rolling again . . . I believe they’ll turn it around.’’