CHICAGO — A new day is dawning on the New York Yankees’ season.
Compared to every other day in an injury-ravaged spring that was dominated by a bevy of little-known backups, this new day will look and feel vastly different. With two of the biggest tests the Yankees will face this year looming on their schedule, the revamped look and feel is timely and necessary.
Remember the B-teamers? Well, this was their team. But now their reign is over. They’ve served their purpose. But it’s time for them to step aside. Why?
Because “Big Boy Season” is about to commence.
It will unofficially kick off Monday night in the Bronx when the Yankees, before taking on key division foe Tampa Bay, introduce a pinstripes-wearing Edwin Encarnacion to the Yankee Stadium crowd. That introduction will mark the moment the organization moves into the latest — and perhaps last — phase of its season, when power becomes a truly potent and viable weapon.
As the Rays and Astros report to the Bronx this week, the Yankees are about to let their big boys play.
“We’ve got a lot of talented guys in the room, and a lot of talented guys heading back, which will do nothing but make our team stronger,” veteran outfielder Brett Gardner said Sunday following the Yankees’ 10-3 win over the Chicago White Sox. “Anytime you can add somebody as good as Edwin, he’s a guy who’s going to make us better.”
In addition to the arrival of Encarnacion, the American League’s home run leader with 21, the Yankees will be welcoming back Giancarlo Stanton, who has been limited to eight at-bats this season but led the big leagues in homers two seasons ago. Stanton is expected to be activated from the injured list Tuesday. Another once-injured big bopper who has paced his league in long balls, Aaron Judge, ought to be back in the lineup in the coming days as well.
The arrival of all three sluggers has Yankees manager Aaron Boone eager to see where his club may soon go.
“Encarnacion, Stanton and Judge, that’s three elite power hitters plugged into our lineup,” he said. “Hopefully it’s something that over time creates a big-time advantage for us.”
One would think these additions would lead to enormously advantageous situations for the Yankees. After all, with three of the league’s best power hitters in the same lineup, no lead ought to be considered safe.
Not to mention the likes of Gary Sanchez (who ranks second in the AL in homers), the similarly powerful Luke Voit, the ever-dangerous Didi Gregorius, the strong Gleyber Torres, the steady DJ LeMahieu and Gardner, the patient Aaron Hicks and clutch Gio Urshela. Put it all together, and there are really no spots for a pitcher to catch a breather.
Remember the days when the Yankees’ offense hinged on the largely inexperienced Mike Tauchman, Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada? Certainly, the Yankees won games with those guys in the lineup, as evidenced by the 32-10 run through April and May, when all three contributed at one time or another. But still, with all due respect, who would you rather have hitting in a spot when an extra-base hit could end a game? Them, or the big boys?
Against this week’s challenging opponents, the Rays and Astros, Stanton has 13 homers and a .237 batting average in 76 games. Judge has a .263 average and 11 homers in 56 regular season games against them.
As for Encarnacion, the 36-year-old designated hitter has 43 homers in 178 regular season games against the two teams. He’s been particularly prolific against them the last two seasons, enjoying the highest home run rates against them in his career during those years.
Encarnacion homered in 9.3 percent of his plate appearances against the Rays and Astros in 2017. In 2018, he homered 8.2 percent of the time. Overall in his career, he homers 5.7 percent of the time he steps in the batter’s box.
With Big Boy Season beginning to take effect, the Yankees are already seeing the byproducts of a roster crunch. Viable options like Estrada and the burgeoning RBI machine Clint Frazier have already been sent down as the Yankees get healthier. In the coming days, Tauchman seems likely to go back to the minor leagues too.
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“This is the reality of things,” Frazier said Sunday. “So guess I’m facing reality right now.”
Reality also is that Frazier himself possesses a big-boy bat, but as the odd man out of a changing outfield rotation, he was expendable in this round of roster moves.
Of course, the real roster moves the Yankees will need to make in the coming weeks will be ones that aid their starting rotation. Although they finally got quality work from opener Chad Green and his long-man reliever Nestor Cortes Jr. on Saturday, and a similarly strong outing from James Paxton on Sunday, the Yankees haven’t gotten the consistency they’d like from their rotation in recent weeks.
Currently, Yankees starting pitchers have a 4.13 ERA. Prior to June, however, they had a more palatable 3.76 ERA.
Expect the starters’ failings to be addressed by the trade deadline, but in the meantime, don’t be afraid to gawk at the power the Yankees’ new-look offense is about to showcase. This week gives them a prime opportunity to put it on display.