The upstart Mariners arrived in the Bronx as baseball’s flavor of the month, hot on the heels of the world champion Astros in the American League West while generating discussion about being a tough out should anyone draw them in the wild-card game come October.
To the Yankees, however, they were just another team to throw on their 50-win pile, a heap that grew higher Thursday with a 4-3 victory that completed a three-game sweep of Seattle. Even with Luis Severino off his game, the Yankees rode a pair of two-run homers in the first inning from Aaron Judge and Miguel Andujar, then relied on their airtight bullpen — starring the rejuvenated Dellin Betances — to finish the job.
The Mariners have nothing to be ashamed of. They’re in good company. The Yankees have used numerous variations of that same formula to post a 23-9 (.719) record against opponents over .500 this season, including 10-4 vs. division leaders. The playoffs remain far off in the distance, but this is the only way to gauge the true strength of a club here in late June, and the Yankees are acing these early tests.
“Everybody right now is in Beast Mode,” Severino said. “We’re going after everybody.”
Severino had one of his worst outings this year, lasting only 5 2⁄3 innings and matching a season-low with five strikeouts, and yet still earned his 11th win to tie the Indians’ Corey Kluber for the MLB lead. That speaks to what the Yankees are able to do on a daily basis: beat teams by whatever means necessary. If one department fails them, they usually can rely on a few others to make up the difference.
Look at these three wins against the Mariners, who hadn’t dropped three straight to a single team since a four-game series against the Astros that concluded on April 19. In Tuesday’s Bronx opener, the Yankees slugged four homers, but leaned on rookie starter Domingo German to shut down Seattle, and he struck out nine over seven innings. The following night, they fell behind 5-0, thanks to an extremely rare bullpen implosion, but rallied with a pair of late home runs, the capper being Giancarlo Stanton’s walk-off blast, off an 0-and-2 count, with two outs in the ninth.
As for Thursday’s series finale, the Yankees jumped Mariners ace James Paxton to score four runs in the first inning, and would have had a 5-0 lead if not for Mitch Haniger’s spectacular leaping catch at the wall to rob Stanton in front of Monument Park. Despite Severino’s struggles, he was around long enough to hand the ball over to David Robertson, who got four outs to set up Betances and Aroldis Chapman. Game over.
In the last 17 games, dating to June 4, the Yankees’ relief corps has a 0.71 ERA, and Betances’ resurgence is a big reason why. After Thursday’s zero in the eighth, that’s now 12 straight scoreless appearances for Betances, who has allowed only one hit and struck out 22 over those dozen innings. The Yankees have assembled a nearly impenetrable wall for the late innings, and when that’s combined with an effective rotation, along with a punishing offense that leads the majors in runs per game (5.29), homers (122), slugging percentage (.466) and OPS (.797), it’s been operating like a relentless machine.
After Thursday’s win, which already sealed their ninth series sweep, that only begged the question: Is this Yankees’ team an upgrade over the one that came within a Game 7 of the World Series a year ago?
“I would say that we’re a lot better,” Betances said.
According to his calculations, that’s on the strength of another year’s worth of experience, as well as the addition of Stanton, who earned his “True Yankee Moment” with homer No. 18 but still hasn’t regained his MVP-caliber consistency quite yet. If not for Haniger’s outstretched glove, Stanton would have homered in three straight games, so we get the sense he’s heating up.
So where’s the Achilles’ heel of this group? The Yankees could use another starting pitcher, and it’s safe to assume they’ll get one by the deadline. As for the allegation they could be too reliant on the longball — seven Yankees now have 10 or more home runs — Aaron Boone bristled at the suggestion.
“It does bother me,” Boone said of that criticism. “I think it’s a silly argument.”
The Mariners, whose shell-shocked departure from the Bronx couldn’t come soon enough, would have to agree with him.