Did the Yankees even miss Giancarlo Stanton?
That depends. He seems well-liked by his teammates, and they’re paying him $26 million to play baseball this season. The former MVP also is one of the game’s most intimidating power hitters, so he’s a nice bat to have on your side.
But did you ever watch the Yankees in his absence thinking, man, if only they had Stanton in the lineup? Exactly. We figured as much.
It’s not a knock on him. More a credit to what the Yankees were able to do during his 10-week stay on the injured list. And they continued doing it upon his return Tuesday, barely noticing Stanton was there. Stanton went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, amid a smattering of boos, but Cameron Maybin and Edwin Encarnacion each went deep in the 6-3 victory over the Rays.
Stanton was merely along for the ride as the AL East-leading Yankees moved to 18 games over .500 (45-27) and have enjoyed at least a share of first place for 29 of the previous 31 days. Not a bad run so far, with a roster pieced together by Brian Cashman’s resourcefulness and piloted by a more savvy Aaron Boone in his second year at the helm.
Could the Backup Bombers have continued this pace minus Stanton and Aaron Judge, or without the trade for Encarnacion? Cashman didn’t want to find out. Eventually, fairy tales have an expiration date, and the Yankees don’t do the Cinderella thing.
On Tuesday, Stanton only brought the less desirable half of his two frequent outcomes. Ironically, the Yankees took a 4-2 lead in the fifth inning on five singles — right before Stanton whiffed on a slider to strand two runners. As for the boos that followed, he’s way too familiar with such treatment in the Bronx by now.
“Yeah, that’s how it goes,” Stanton said afterward.
With baseballs jumping this season, Stanton and Aaron Judge could be even more dangerous, as even minimal contact, made by players this strong, should result in an uptick in homers. But they have to hit the ball for that to happen.
“We were already dangerous and now it’s another icing to the cake,” Stanton said. “We got to build this together. Once we’re all on full force, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
It’s not like the Yankees were suffering all that much from an offensive standpoint. Before Tuesday, they had been averaging 5.38 runs, which ranked fifth in the majors, and were hitting 1.59 homers per game — well above this year’s wildly-inflated MLB rate of 1.35 (it was 1.15 a year ago).
There is one area, however, that the Yankees have particularly thrived in. Entering Tuesday night, their .281 batting average with runners in scoring position was second in the majors — second only to the Rockies (. 294). The Yankees finished 12th in that category last season, hitting .253. The winter signing of DJ LeMahieu has provided a big boost, and after his RBI-single Tuesday, as he was batting an MLB-best .468 (29-for-62) in those situations.
That positive trend won’t necessarily end with the return of more all-or-nothing bats like Stanton and Judge. But their game is punishingly-hard contact, which has its advantages, too. The Yankees have now homered in 21 consecutive games for the second-longest streak in franchise history (their record is 25, from 1941).
Maybin homered in his fourth straight game, and Encarnacion launched his first in pinstripes as the Yankees improved to 26-3 when hitting at least two homers in a game, second in the majors to the Astros (30-3). Stanton and Judge should pump up those numbers a bit, while providing a trickle-down benefit to the rest of the lineup. But it’s not like the Yankees have been begging for help. Stanton could see that from his rehab posts in Tampa and Scranton.
“Just having great at-bats,” Stanton said. “Making it tough on these pitchers. They’re throwing everything at them — openers, all different types of things — and we’re just wearing them down and making them make big decisions and mistakes.”
We expect the Yankees to continue to do that. Some early rust for Stanton and Judge is inevitable after such long layoffs, but this pinstriped machine will motor on, in a more explosive, bulldozing style that we haven’t seen in a while.
That’s how it’s supposed to work anyway. The Yankees don’t want to spend too much time carrying Stanton, as they did in Tuesday’s return. That could get awkward quickly.
“I felt good,” Stanton said. “It’s better we got the win.”
Before long, Stanton needs to make his presence felt. He’s No. 27, in case you forgot.