The great baseball philosopher Derek Jeter once said — check that, he said it about 200 times — that it’s not necessarily the best team that wins the World Series. It’s the team playing the best at the right time.
Hence the question: Can these 2019 Yankees, having endured so much already, trying to avoid securing an unfortunate footnote in their franchise’s glorious history — and, most important, quite possibly not the industry’s best team — sprout optimally?
The matter loomed throughout the Yankees’ day-night doubleheader sweep of the horrendous Orioles, 8-5 and 11-8, Monday at Yankee Stadium, giving them 14 straight wins over the gut-renovation operation from Charm City. Gleyber Torres went deep thrice more, giving him an amazing 13 homers against these guys. He so flustered the Orioles that in the eighth inning, they intentionally walked him with Yankees on first and second. Good grief.
Torres has enjoyed a steady sprout his sophomore season. On Monday, some injured guys took steps to join him, as did an active player who has registered an uncharacteristically quiet campaign.
“He’s real close, I feel like, to going on one of those streaks where he gets ‘Didi hot,’ and then those numbers start to fly,” Aaron Boone said.
The manager naturally was speaking of Didi Gregorius, as the Yankees’ shortstop shined in Game 1, ripping a tiebreaking, three-run homer in the first inning and adding a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
“I’ve been hitting the ball harder this last couple of times, so I think it’s a good feeling,” said Gregorius, who didn’t play in Game 2. “I’m getting there.”
He owns a .263/.290/.453 slash line, and those numbers don’t match the foundation he has established since joining the Yankees. The batting average and on-base percentage sit lower than any of his four prior seasons; the slugging percentage tops only the .370 he sported in 2015, his pinstriped debut.
Part of it surely can be attributed to shaking off the rust after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last October and not making his season debut until June 7. Another part, Gregorius acknowledged, reflects a strain he recently suffered on his left hand, between his pinkie and ring finger.
“If you haven’t noticed, every time I take a swing, I adjust my batting gloves to make sure that everything stays intact,” said Gregorius, who can be a free agent after this season. He added, “I’m just figuring out how to deal with it. … [It’s] pain tolerance, basically.”
Better news, mostly, stemmed from the morning, when both Dellin Betances and Luis Severino, each of whom has missed the entire season with both right shoulder and lat problems, threw off a mound and reported good health.
“The fun part is about to start,” Betances said. “I’ll be back for that.”
Luke Voit (sports hernia) spoke with similar optimism after he ran sprints. Aaron Hicks, however, proved not as lucky; he needs to rest his strained right flexor another two weeks.
Imagine this Yankees team with Voit and Hicks back in the lineup, with Severino back in the starting rotation even if it’s on a limited pitch count, with Betances in the bullpen. Envision Gregorius playing closer to the guy who led the Yankees to their greatest postseason upset in 20 years, their 2017 American League Division Series victory over the dangerous Indians.
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There’s no bigger mismatch in baseball right now — or…
While you’re at it, picture Aaron Judge, who didn’t start Game 1 and went 0-for-3 with two walks in Game 2, regaining the power that made him this team’s most popular player.
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Not all of this will happen, and others on the roster might get hurt or slow down. Yet the Yankees have figured out ways to keep their massive injury bug at bay. If they can cash in on more of their talent come October … although they still won’t be favored over the Astros or the Dodgers, they’ll rank as less of an underdog.
The Yankees don’t want 2010-19 to go down as their first calendar decade without a title since 1980-89 or, worse, their first such period without so much as a pennant since 1910-19. They’ll require some more sprouting to escape that unwelcome distinction. All they can do is note the ups and downs that each day brings and breathe easier when, as occurred Monday, the ups prevail.