SEATTLE — Memorial Day, the unofficial and arbitrary first benchmark of a Major League Baseball season, arrived Monday with the Yankees at 32-23 in the sport’s toughest division, the AL East.
And the day arrived with the Yankees, who have experienced their share of issues in the first two months of the season, in overall better physical shape than when the season started.
“If I was with the Yankees,” said one National League scout who covers the team, “I’d be pretty pleased, especially with everything that’s gone on with the rotation and the injuries.”
The Yankees started a six-game West Coast trip on Monday night in Seattle — three games here followed by a weekend series at Dodger Stadium — in third place in the AL East, seven games behind the formidable Rays, who inevitably have cooled a bit after a historic start that had them on pace to win about 120 games.
The Yankees did not experience that kind of start — they were 15-15 on May 1 — for a variety of reasons, the biggest ones being a rotation that left spring training a complete mess and an offense that has sputtered at times, especially when Aaron Judge isn’t hitting home runs.
Despite a stay on the injured list earlier this month, the reigning American League MVP is enjoying an impressive encore season, coming into Monday with an AL-leading 15 homers along with 35 RBIs in only 44 games). He hit his 16th homer in the third inning Monday night, a two-run shot off the leftfield foul pole, and his 17th in the sixth, a drive that barely cleared a leaping Jarred Kelenic. In between, he doubled off the wall in the fifth.
"Adversity is coming for us. We know it and we will get through it," Aaron Boone said after a 15-2 loss to the Rangers in Arlington on April 30. "The league waits for no one, and no one is going to feel sorry for us for what we're going through."
The rotation still isn’t quite right, a situation that hasn’t improved with the recent struggles of Gerrit Cole. But collectively, the unit received a recent boost with the return of Luis Severino, who has been very good in his two starts since being activated from the injured list. Carlos Rodon, who like Severino started the season on the IL, is traveling with the team, perhaps a sign that the lefthander soon could be cleared to begin a rehab assignment. Rodon, oft-injured in his career and signed to a six-year, $162 million deal in the offseason, was scheduled to throw the second bullpen session of his rehab on Monday. Domingo German also returned from a 10-game suspension to start Monday night's game.
And then there’s the bullpen, which continues to be among the best, and arguably is the best, in the game. Despite missing Tommy Kahnle and Lou Trivino because of injuries leaving spring training — Kahnle could return this trip; Trivino is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery — the group has mostly flourished.
Entering Monday, the bullpen — which has been buoyed by the expected contributions from Michael King, Ron Marinaccio, Wandy Peralta and Clay Holmes as well as unexpected ones from the likes of Ian Hamilton (currently on the IL) and Jimmy Cordero — had an MLB-best 2.99 ERA and ranked third in the majors in opponents’ batting average (.218) and opponents’ slugging percentage (.342).
The offense, missing Giancarlo Stanton since April 16 with a left hamstring strain (he’s expected back within the next seven to 10 days) and without Josh Donaldson since April 6 with a right hamstring strain (he could rejoin the club during this trip), has gone stretches without producing but still came into Monday second in the AL in homers (81).
“They’re fine,” said one AL scout who covers the Yankees and left spring training skeptical about their 2023 chances. “As long as Judge and [Anthony] Rizzo are [healthy], the lineup is good enough and will get better when Stanton comes back, and you know they’ll do something at the [trade] deadline because they always do. Tampa is really, really good, but I wouldn’t count [the Yankees] out from making a run at it.”