Don’t look now, but the Yankees may be having a moment.
For 10 weeks the ballclub was inconsistent and enigmatic. An offense that was supposed to be a powerhouse sputtered. The all-around play was fundamentally unsound. Only the stellar pitching of ace Gerrit Cole and the cadre of relievers kept the Yankees afloat in the AL East.
Now, with seven wins in nine games, including Thursday’s 8-1 pounding of the Royals before 21,350 at the Stadium, the Yankees are starting to look like the team they were expected to be.
"We’re getting closer," manager Aaron Boone said. "We expect a lot in that room. Those guys expect to be a great team and we’re not there yet . . . but there’s no doubt we’re getting closer and closer."
It’s all happening in the lead-up to this weekend’s crucial three-game series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Now playing their best baseball of the season, the Yankees have the chance to get in striking distance of the division lead if they can keep winning.
"Every game is important but these games — where we’re four or 4 ½ back \[four, after Boston’s loss Thursday night\]— we have a chance to kind of chip away at that lead," Aaron Judge said. "This is a big series for us . . . We’re ready to go. We’re swinging the bats well. The \[starting rotation\] is doing their thing. The bullpen can shut it down for us. We’ve just got to go in there and take care of our business."
The Yankees’ lineup had plenty of pop against Kansas City Thursday with solo homers by Aaron Judge and Luke Voit in building a 4-0 lead and a three-run shot by red-hot Gary Sanchez that broke the game open in the sixth inning.
Sanchez’s towering homer landed beyond the visitors’ bullpen in left-centerfield and made the score 7-1. The catcher is on an exceptional tear at the plate with a .338/.410/.743 slash line with eight home runs and 18 RBIs in his past 23 games.
The return of Voit, who has a pair of homers in three games since coming off the 10-day injured list, also is having a palpable effect. Boone said the first baseman’s return is adding "another heavyweight" and that it is "adding length and [making] a heavy lineup and he’s right in the middle of all that." The Yankees are 11-4 when Voit is in the starting lineup.
"Our lineup wore their starter [Brad Keller] down from the get-go," said Yankees starter Jameson Taillon, who had perhaps his strongest start as a Yankee. "He didn’t have an easy inning all day."
Taillon (2-4) recorded his first win since May 1 by allowing one run over 6 1/3 innings on five hits and a walk while amassing six strikeouts. It was only the second time this season he recorded an out in the seventh inning. Nestor Cortes pitched 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to finish the game.
Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Rougned Odor all had three hits and Sanchez two in the 12-hit attack.
Going into this nine-game stretch, the Yankees were averaging fewer than four runs per game. However, they’ve averaged 5.2 runs on 9.9 hits and have hit 18 home runs during it. And while one could argue that the Yankees still are not cashing in on all their opportunities — they left the bases loaded in an inning again Thursday — they’re playing like they have rediscovered their identity.
"We’re feeling good; we get a guy or two guys on base and it could be three runs right there," Stanton said. "We’re grinding these starters, making every at-bat tough."
Judge’s homer in the first made it 1-0 and Odor’s run-scoring single later in the inning doubled the margin. Judge had a run-scoring single in the second and Voit homered to right in the third as the lead grew to 4-0.
Sanchez followed a DJ LeMahieu single and a Judge double with his monster blast to make it 7-1 and Stanton added a run-scoring single in the eighth.
"It’s good to see these guys starting to get a little bit of swagger," Boone said, "and we’ve got to continue it."