One Month In: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Yankees Baseball

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 29: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees in action against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on April 29, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Orioles 12-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

On this day last season, the Yankees were in last place in the AL East at 8-14. They were a team full of aging stars on exorbitant contracts, with a youth infusion just beyond their reach.

One Month In: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Yankees Baseball

As of today, the Yankees are tied for first place with the Baltimore Orioles at 15-8, with a team full of youngsters. In spite of their success, this first month had its share of good, bad, and ugly.

The Good

Chase Headley and Starlin Castro have been off to phenomenal starts from the plate. While both have proven to be more than competent at the dish in the past, they have never played this well while wearing pinstripes.

Headley got off to an especially bad start in 2016, which makes his opening month performance all the more refreshing. Headley’s average has dipped from the obnoxious .409 it was on April 18, but he’s still sitting at .308 with an on-base percentage of over .400.

Castro is batting .356, with five home runs and 16 RBI. He’s also near the top of the league in total hits. His performance since being traded over from the Cubs has left Yankees fans missing Robinson Cano less and less by the game.

The star of the show, especially as of late, has been mammoth right fielder Aaron Judge. Judge, who struck out in half of his at-bats at the pro level last season, has been phenomenal.

He tied the rookie record for home runs in April with 10, drove in 20 runs, and has an on-base percentage of .411. Judge has had a better eye at the plate and his patience has left pitchers caught between throwing him something he can crush and simply surrendering first base to him.

Most importantly, in the month of April, this team showed its resilience. After opening up 2-4 on their first road trip, which featured series losses to the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles, they rattled off a dominant first home-stand.

The Yanks went 8-1, with their lone loss coming against the Chicago White Sox, and did so without catcher Gary Sanchez. Role players Austin Romine and Ronald Torreyes stepped up big and showed the league that the injury bug would not spell the early demise of this team.

Nothing better displayed the never-say-die attitude of this team than their victory on April 28 against Baltimore, when they rallied from down 9-1 to ultimately win 14-11 in extra innings.

The Bad

The Yankees have done all this without consistency from ace starter Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka was supposed to be the one reliable cog in their rotation, but has been far from that.

On Opening Day, he went 2.2 innings and allowed seven earned runs to the Rays. In that start, he struggled with his control and made what was likely his worst start as a Yankee.

Although, after a mediocre second outing in Baltimore, he has won three consecutive starts. The last two have been particularly encouraging, including a complete game on just 97 pitches at Fenway Park.

If Headley and Castro were the surprising successes at the plate for the Yanks, Greg Bird and Brett Gardner were the surprising failures.

After a scorching Spring Training, Bird has looked overpowered in April. Manager Joe Girardi has expressed multiple times that he will continue to see playing time in spite of his slow start, as he should, but time will only tell how long the fans will allow the team to trot out a first baseman who is batting .104.

Gardner’s struggles may not have been as shocking as Bird’s, but they’re still a black mark on what was a successful April for the Bronx Bombers.

As the leadoff hitter, it’s his job to set the table for the heart of this young lineup. He’s currently hitting .206 with 14 hits on the season – half of those hits coming in the first six games of the year. He’s 7-43 since then, to the tune of a whopping .163 batting average. The odd part is that the Yankees as a team have flourished since then, at 13-4.

Inconsistency and slumps aside, the worst part of the Yankees opening month was by far the injury to Sanchez. Sanchez went down in just the fifth game of the season, in Baltimore.

His injury, combined with Didi Gregorious going down during WBC, could’ve easily thrown this Yankees squad into a tailspin – especially considering that they were 1-4 even with Sanchez.

Luckily, it appears that Sanchez’s biceps strain was not too serious and he is expected to rejoin the team within the month of May.

The Ugly

Bryan Mitchell played first base in the tenth inning of April’s final game. This, arguably, didn’t have too much of an impact on the game as a whole, but it certainly was ugly.

Mitchell dropped a foul ball, before catching the next and receiving a loud round of applause from the Bronx faithful. He was initially brought in to pitch the ninth inning, then the Yankees rallied and tied the game.

In the tenth, as home team’s tend to do in extra innings affairs, the Yankees opted to bring in their closer to pitch, since there would no longer be a save situation. Girardi, in one of the strangest moves of his tenure as Yankees skipper, moved Mitchell to first base during a hodgepodge of moves which saw the Yanks lose their designated hitter.

After a tense bottom of the tenth inning, which concluded with Judge striking out to leave the bases loaded, Mitchell moved back to the mound and pitched the eleventh. He also earned the loss for the game.

The true ugliness of April was consecutive Sunday losses to cap off the month. The Yanks lost a tight 2-1 game in Pittsburgh on the 23rd, and yesterday’s 7-4 game against the Orioles at home

While they were able to win this past series, they lost the series with the Pirates after coming up short with runners on base too many times that Sunday. In future, if these Yankees truly want to contend, they are going to have to find ways to win the games that are “up in the air.”

Looking Ahead

Any month that ends with the in-question team tied for first place couldn’t have been that bad, could it? Not at all; in fact, April was a great month for the New York Yankees.

The youth movement was not supposed to put them in contention this quickly, but the fact that it has shows the true potential of this team and these young players. It will certainly be interesting to see how they play when they return to full strength, which will happen at some point in May.

The 2017 Yankees very well could be in the runing for the AL East all season long, but – like Brian Cashman – fans need to be thinking of much more than just whether or not the team contends this season.

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