ST PETERSBURG, Fla. — Aaron Judge did not want a barbecue or a picnic on Monday. With the Yankees finishing a stretch of nine games in eight days with back-to-back losses to the Rays, the Yankees slugger did not particularly even want a day off to think about it.
“We’ve got a bad taste in our mouth,” Judge said Sunday. “Everybody in here is ready to go every single day. I know it’s been quite a few games in a row, but we’ve got a lot to prove.”
But Monday, Memorial Day, was a scheduled Yankees off day and it is a traditional day in baseball to take stock of where a player or team stands. Even after two straight losses to their American League East rival Rays, Judge knows that the Yankees are standing in a good spot. With a 33-19 record just over a quarter of the way through the season, the Yankees have the best record in the AL, one loss behind the Dodgers for the best record in baseball.
Judge has made it clear this regular season is all about one thing: positioning themselves for the playoffs. So far, so good leading the AL.
“We’re in first place,” he said. “That’s the only thing I’m going to look at, where we are in the standings. It’s better than being in second place, that’s for sure,” Judge said. “So we’ve got a good ballclub here that’s been grinding out these first two months. We got hit with a couple injuries the last couple of weeks, but that’s not going to change what this team is about and what we can do.” The Yankees have had their first real test due to injuries. They will head into Tuesday night’s series opener against the Angels at the Stadium without Giancarlo Stanton (ankle), Josh Donaldson (shoulder), Aroldis Chapman (Achilles), Jonathan Loaisiga (shoulder) and Chad Green (Tommy John surgery). DJ LeMahieu missed time last week with a wrist injury and Aaron Hicks was out two games with right hamstring tightness, but both avoided trips to the injured list.
After avoiding injuries all spring and the first month of the regular season, the Yankees had a bunch over the last week. Still, they kept stride, splitting the series with the Rays to improve to 19-10 in the AL East and maintain their 4.5 game lead on them in the division.
Their pitching has been brilliant. The starters’ combined 2.82 ERA is the best in the AL and their overall 2.90 ERA is the second best in the league, behind the Astros. Nestor Cortes’ 1.80 ERA, which is the second best in the big leagues behind the Rangers’ Martin Perez’s 1.70, has been a huge factor in their success. Yankees pitchers have posted 444 strikeouts over 430.1 innings pitched, which is the best in the AL and third in the majors. Gerrit Cole’s team-leading 72 is fifth best in the big leagues.
Despite scoring just five runs over the last three games against very good Rays’ pitching, they are second in the AL in runs scored, behind the Red Sox, and tied with the Dodgers for the most homers (67) in the big leagues.
That’s obviously thanks to Judge, who leads the big leagues with 18 homers. They are second in the AL in slugging (.406) behind the Red Sox. Their +71 run differential is the best in the AL and second only to the Dodgers’ +119 in baseball.
They have 13 comeback wins and have won 15 games by two runs or less. That’s what shows Judge they are heading in the right direction and he’s starting to get excited that this could be a “special” team.
“Just go back and look at a lot of the games that we’ve come back and won,” Judge said. “It doesn’t really matter with this team if we’re down early or if we get down late. This team is always fighting until the very last out. In the last inning (Sunday), we put three pretty good swings on some balls. It just so happened they caught all of them, but it’s a ballclub with a lot of fight.
“We’re a team that’s never out of it. I think that’s what really makes this team special.”