Yankees head to the All-Star break looking as dominant as ever
By Gary Phillips
Aaron Boone is ready to trade in his pinstripes for board shorts and a spatula, at least for a few days.
With MLB’s All-Star break beginning Monday, Boone, manager of the New York Yankees, planned on getting some rest and relaxation. Boone was set to watch the Home Run Derby on Monday and the Midsummer Classic today (8 p.m. ET, Fox), but he’ll also make the most of a short vacation.
With the Yankees (64-28) in possession of the league’s best record at the season’s unofficial halfway point, the skipper has earned some downtime.
Asked Sunday to describe how the Yankees had played so far, Boone said, “Well.”
He added: “But we’re keenly aware of how much longer we’ve got to go. All we’ve done is put ourselves in a great position to do something special.”
Boone, of course, was referring to winning a World Series championship, something the Yankees have not done since 2009. What they have already achieved this season, however, has them looking like a favorite.
The Yankees’ win total is the franchise’s highest before the All-Star break, and their 28 comeback wins lead the majors. They are 36 games above .500 and sit atop the American League East with a 13-game lead over Tampa Bay. Six of their players — outfielder and MVP candidate Aaron Judge; outfielder Giancarlo Stanton; starter Gerrit Cole; catcher José Trevino; starter Néstor Cortés; and closer Clay Holmes — are All-Stars, and they had a case to have more.
“I mean, we’re the best team in baseball,” said reliever Michael King, who didn’t get an All-Star nod despite posting a 2.19 ERA. “We have the best record in baseball, and I think we totally have the confidence. I know we’ve kind of hit a little lull here, but we always talk about not wanting to be hot in July. We’d rather be hot in October. We’re just saving the best for the playoffs, and hitting a little adversity is always good.”
The “lull” King mentioned is relative. The Yankees lost eight of their past 16 games and five of eight before the All-Star break. As the hiatus approached, New York lacked crispness at times, a reminder of how inconsistent the club was last year. “The timing of the All-Star break usually tends to be a good thing,” Boone said.
But the 2022 Yankees have, overall, played a much cleaner, steadier and more well-rounded brand of baseball than the 2021 edition. Despite a small slide, they ended the first half with consecutive convincing victories and a series win over the Boston Red Sox, scoring 27 runs between Saturday and Sunday. After beating the Red Sox, 13-2, on Sunday at Yankee Stadium, New York is 30-15 against the AL East, a division in which every team has a winning percentage of at least .500.
“Yesterday was a good team game and we carried that momentum into today,” Cole said after allowing two runs over seven innings while striking out 12 on Sunday. “It’s pretty cool, but we have bigger goals and we’ve got a lot more baseball to play. So we’re trying to keep it in perspective.”
The Yankees will regroup and resume regular season play on Thursday in Houston. The Astros, the AL’s second-best team, at 59-32, have remained a thorn in New York’s side, winning three of five games between the teams this year. The rivals will start the second half with an unusual doubleheader before parting ways, a scheduling quirk made necessary by the lockout, which delayed the 2022 campaign and postponed games.
“It’s been a grind, especially with the slow start to the season with the week missing and kind of adding those games in,” Boone said of another odd campaign. “It’s just added another layer to that 162-game season. I feel like we’ve navigated it well. But we’ve got a long way to go and look forward to getting back after it after what’s hopefully a restful time for some guys.”
Although the next couple of days will be peaceful for the Yankees not heading to Los Angeles, the ensuing weeks should be jam-packed. MLB’s trade deadline is Aug. 2, and the Yankees figure to be buyers as they look to shore up a roster that still has some holes despite the team’s sterling record.
The Yankees have been connected to several outfielders and may trade one of their own, the struggling Joey Gallo, who homered Sunday. General manager Brian Cashman could also be a buyer in the pitching market. The Yankees have one of the game’s best rotations, but Cortés has thrown a career-high 95 2/3 major league innings and right-hander Luis Severino was placed on the injured list last week, a common occurrence throughout his career. Jameson Taillon, meanwhile, endured a bit of a rough patch before holding Boston to one run over six innings Saturday.
Still, Boone is confident in his pitching staff, calling it one of the “driving forces” behind his team’s dominance. Yankees pitchers enter the break with a 3.08 ERA, their lowest mark since 1976.
As for the trade deadline, Boone added, “You never know what’s gonna happen.”
Whether the Yankees make a splash or stand pat remains to be seen. The 1998 Yankees — a team frequently compared to this current bunch — failed to land Randy Johnson before that trade deadline. They still won 114 regular season games and the World Series.
Upgrades are always welcome, and perhaps expected when a team is in serious contention. But Boone also likes the guys he has right now.
“The confidence that this team has that we can win in any kind of way,” he said when asked what stood out about the Yankees’ first half. “That’s really what’s jumped out, and it starts with the commitment the guys made from Day One of spring training, of being really committed and obsessive with the details and the smaller things in the game that have shown up big for us at different times throughout the year. And I think that’s led to confidence that we can win any game by doing it some different ways.”