After this weekend, the Red Sox will leave the Bronx, and the automatic Ws for the Yankees will dry up until next month’s rendezvous at Fenway Park.
Which is why seeing DJ LeMahieu exit Saturday night’s 11-5 blowout with a sprained left thumb, after Aaron Judge was placed on the injured list Friday with a strained calf, after Giancarlo Stanton went on the IL last Sunday because of a strained hamstring, has to be somewhat alarming.
Beating the Red Sox doesn’t take much. The Yankees are on a 13-1 roll against them dating to 2019. Only two years removed from winning the World Series, Boston is sinking fast toward another last-place finish, as it tends to mix in a few of those between championship runs.
But this isn’t about a rivalry currently on hiatus, cooled by an empty stadium and a lack of interest from the sleepwalking Red Sox. The Yankees have to worry about everyone else — primarily the annoying Rays within the AL East — and shedding their All-Star players at such a rapid pace is not the preferable way to stay on track for the World Series.
After the game, Aaron Boone didn’t know the full extent of LeMahieu’s damage, other than X-rays being negative. He was still awaiting a CT scan. One unsettling detail: LeMahieu told Boone this reminded him of a 2018 injury, when he broke that same thumb, and the manager said this “could be” an IL stint.
“We’ll absorb it,” Boone said. “We’ve got everyone in that room capable of absorbing guys down. Obviously, any time you lose guys of this caliber, it’s not a good thing and a difficult thing. But as always, the expectations in that room never change despite what happens.”
In the meantime, how’s this for a plot twist? Clint Frazier coming to the rescue, fresh from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre alternate site, flashing that same legendary bat speed Brian Cashman trumpeted upon his trade to the Yankees.
Frazier went 3-for-4 in Saturday’s win, with a three-run homer in the sixth inning and a two-run single in the seventh, making him and Judge the only Yankees with five-RBI games this season. Since Wednesday’s return to the lineup, he’s 7-for-11 with three doubles, two homers and eight RBIs.
“Trying to fill those shoes are big shoes to fill,” Frazier said of Judge. “But I’ve had a few years getting reps in, and the opportunity to play, and just overall I feel comfortable coming into this role. It’s only a few at-bats, but I’m satisfied with how I feel right now.”
With players like Frazier, who needs the perpetually injured Stanton? Once you start subtracting Judge and LeMahieu for any significant amount of time, however, life gets considerably more difficult.
Judge was playing at an MVP level, leading the majors with nine homers, so it’s smart to make sure he’s completely right. Expect the Yankees to take the same approach with LeMahieu, whose batting average actually dropped to .411 (30-for-73).
Perhaps the biggest red flag for Boone shot up when LeMahieu failed to drive in Frazier from third with two outs in the fourth. LeMahieu had been 5-for-10 with six RBIs with runners in scoring position this season and is hitting .394 (57-for-137) in those situations since 2019. But during that at-bat, LeMahieu finished a 1-and-0 swing in strange fashion, which immediately brought Boone and the trainer from the dugout.
LeMahieu spent most of that conversation walking away from the other two, and he finally convinced Boone to let him stay in. Boone huddled with LeMahieu in the field before the fifth — he remained — but Boone sent out Tyler Wade to replace him for the sixth.
Every time the Yankees lose a key player, they seem to come up with an X factor like Frazier. Or Luke Voit or Mike Ford or Gio Urshela. That threesome, by the way, followed leadoff man LeMahieu in order at the heart of Saturday’s unconventional lineup.
The result was another Bronx beatdown of the Red Sox, the Yankees’ eighth straight win over their fallen rivals.
So how concerning should this climbing injury count be? Last year, the Yankees sent a record 29 players to the injured list, including 36 different stints, yet still won 103 games and the AL East title. They got everyone back in time to lose to the Astros in the six-game ALCS.
It’s still relatively early, even for a 60-game season. And based on what we’ve learned from the Yankees, next man up isn’t just a T-shirt slogan, it’s a mission statement.