The Yankees' Marcus Stroman pitches during the first inning of...

The Yankees' Marcus Stroman pitches during the first inning of a game against the Mariners on Monday at Yankee Stadium. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

Now that the Band-Aid Knicks’ valiant playoff run is through dominating most of New York’s attention, it’s time to reintroduce everyone to the Yankees. While you were away, Hal Steinbrenner’s $312 million ballclub has reasserted itself as the team to beat in the American League, emphatically putting to rest any of the April concerns that lingered a bit longer than anticipated.

Pick any category, and the Yankees — winners of seven straight entering Monday night's game — were at or near the top of the list after a weekend sweep of the White Sox. They entered the series opener against the Mariners with a record of 33-15, tops in the AL and second only to the Phillies (34-15) in the majors. Earlier in the afternoon, Aaron Judge — the guy who was hitting .207 with a .754 OPS at the end of April — had just been named the AL Player of the Week for mashing at a .500 clip (10-for-20) with three homers and a 1.830 OPS to help revive one of baseball’s most lethal offenses.

It was only a matter of time. With Juan Soto carrying the Yankees for the first five weeks of the season, Judge finally joined the party, and the lineup as a whole has reaped the benefits. Remember those worries about Anthony Volpe in the leadoff spot? He carried a 12-game hitting streak (.315/.333/.554) into Monday night. And it was the bottom of the order that triggered Sunday’s sweep-clincher over the White Sox, as Jose Trevino delivered a tying two-run single and Jon Berti smacked a tiebreaking three-run homer, his first in pinstripes.

As of Monday, the Yankees’ .767 OPS ranked second in MLB — behind only the Shohei/Mookie-powered Dodgers (.773) — and their 68 home runs were tied with the division-nemesis Orioles for tops in baseball. As for overall production, the Yankees’ 4.85 runs per game was fifth and climbing, as manager Aaron Boone has the luxury of writing down pretty much the same eight or nine names every night, in roughly the same spots. Soto and Judge have been locked in at 2-3 through the first 48 games, with Volpe cementing himself in the leadoff spot for the last 36 games and the Giancarlo Stanton/Antony Rizzo/Alex Verdugo trio flip-flopping between 4-5-6 depending on the pitching matchup.

It’s not rocket science. The Yankees may lean heavily on analytical input, but when Boone was asked about the advantage of using a nearly identical lineup every night, he smiled.

“When you have good players . . . ,” Boone said. “Up and down, we’ve gotten good production from a lot of different people. And we’ve had relative health, so that plays a big part.”

Health is a relative term when applied to the Yankees’ rotation, which is among the best in the majors — despite Gerrit Cole, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, yet to throw a pitch this season. Cole is scheduled to face hitters Tuesday for the first time since an aching elbow forced his spring-training shutdown, but frankly, this starting staff couldn’t be performing any better if he’d been taking his regular turns.

Luis Gil, who was put in the No. 5 spot to fill Cole’s vacancy, struck out a career-high 14 in six innings Saturday and is 5-1 with a rotation-best 2.39 ERA. After Carlos Rodon followed with a six-inning victory (two runs, 6 Ks) on Sunday, the Yankees’ rotation improved to 7-0 with a 0.80 ERA in its last seven starts since May 12. Overall, the starters rank third in MLB in both ERA (3.00) and strikeouts/nine innings (9.17). They’ve held opponents to a .219 batting average, which ranks fifth, and their 1.17 WHIP is eighth. The Yankees rotation also had pitched at least four innings in each of its 48 starts, which is the third-longest streak in franchise history, behind the 1904 team (58 games) and ’89 club (50).

“The consistency of our staff has been the tone-setter for us,” Boone said. “Our starters have given us a chance to win a ballgame night in and night out. They’ve been excellent.”

And then there’s the bullpen, anchored by closer Clay Holmes, who has not surrendered an earned run in 20 appearances this season (his 20 innings are the most among relievers for such a shutout streak and his 13 saves are tied for tops in MLB). The Yankees’ relief corps has given up just one run over its last 15 innings and the group’s 2.49 ERA is tied with the Guardians for lowest in the majors. The bullpen has limited opponents to a .198 average, which ranks second, and its 1.11 WHIP is third.

With Memorial Day still a week away, these Yankees already look primed for October. And reinforcements are coming, as Tommy Kahnle should rejoin the bullpen in a matter of days, DJ LeMahieu could take over at third base in time for the West Coast trip at the end of this month and Cole creeps closer. If the Yankees can prevent Ian Hamilton’s COVID from spreading, they should avoid any hiccups on the horizon.

“We’ve been fortunate with our pitching,” Rodon said. “And offensively, we’ve really been clicking. It’s a bonus to have all that going right now.”


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