History currently the only challenge for scorching-hot Yankees
On their best day, and this clearly wasn’t it, the lovably accommodating Chicago Cubs, whose ownership took a complete pass on the 2022 season, scarcely have a chance to beat this win-a-day Yankees juggernaut.
But on this day, when the shining young light of the pitching rotation, Keegan Thompson, gifts the Yankees walk after walk after walk, and the third baseman drops a routine pop-up that precedes two unearned runs, and it all happens within the first half-hour, the game is over almost before it starts.
The Cubs are not only bad, they are historically unclutch. They did manage Sunday to halt their crazy streak of zero hits in 48 at-bats with runners in scoring position — worst in 40 years.
The Yankees’ competition this season certainly is not from the likes of the Cubs, who may be playing for 2024 (if they’re lucky), or even the decent denizens of the AL East, most of whom are trying, a couple of whom are actually pretty darned solid, at least by normal baseball standards.
The Yankees’ race now is to see where they stack up in history.
These Bombers are in another world, and perhaps should be in a higher league. The 18-4 victory on an otherwise dreary day can hardly be seen as shocking over the Cubs, who repaired back to the cozy confines of lovely old Wrigley Field, where the team is toasted at the bars that line Sheffield, Addison and Clark, win or lose.
As for these Yankees, after their relative respite this weekend, the schedule demands they play the next 13 games against teams two through four at the top of the American League. The hardest part of their 162-game slate would normally be seen as a challenge. But who can even say anymore?
Go beyond the box score with the Bombers
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The Yankees are dominating like nobody’s business, having begun a ridiculous 44-16. They lead the majors in OPS (.758), slugging percentage (.434), home runs (94), ERA (2.84), WHIP (1.06), home runs allowed (47) and more.
The Yankees’ target at present isn’t the stacked Blue Jays, smart Rays or even hated Astros, who are all lined up next up for the boys from The Bronx. It’s about the record books at this point. They are on pace for 119 victories, which would top the MLB seasonal record of the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who somehow won a record 116 teams the year after Alex Rodriguez left for riches, fame, occasional trouble and careers in TV, real estate and basketball.
Presumably, all those M’s bonded together to prove the newly minted $252 million man was unnecessary or they so enjoyed not having to put up with him anymore, one or the other.
Speaking about the 119-win pace, Yankees star Aaron Judge said, “That’s tough to sustain. But if anyone could do it, [this] could be the team.”
Those ’01 Mariners, apparently so overwhelmed to be eliminated by the Yankees in their magical season, never bothered to make it back to the playoffs again — or past the ALCS. So forget them. The Yankees’ real competition is the all-time greatest teams in the pantheon of their history — champions all. It is these memorably excellent Yankees squads (the order is mine).
1. 1927 (110-44, .714). Babe Ruth hit 60 HRs and later finished with 714, same as this historic team’s winning percentage.
2. 1939 (106-45, .702). Joe DiMaggio was just warming up two years before his hitting streak.
3. 1961 (109-53, .673). Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle battled to top Ruth.
4. 1998 (114-48, .704). Unlike that Mariners team, they ran through the postseason and finished with a World Series sweep of the Padres.
I quizzed some Yankees I deemed the smartest (of course I have zero idea who’s smartest) to see how much history they knew, and from my unscientific, wholly incomplete test, Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton are the smartest of my smart guys, as they named both the ’27 and ’98 teams, and knew there was a team in the thirties up there are as well.
Whatever, these Yankees are focused on the challenge at hand, which to this point has seemed like a light task at best. Even most of the teams that are trying (not you, Cubbies) are barely putting up a fight.
The lineup Aaron Boone posts daily is most of the intrigue they’ve provided in this stretch of 11 wins in 12 games and 11 straight at home (Sunday’s looked like an analytics dream, starting with Judge — the AL MVP favorite — and descending from there, almost in order of productivity to date). Starters Josh Donaldson and Jose Trevino didn’t play, and Kyle Higashioka and the historically hot Matt Carpenter stepped in to combine for four homers (two apiece).
“It’s more than the talent,” Carpenter said. “This is a very united club.”
Meantime, Yankees players don’t seem focused on history, or their crazy pace. They often mention that it’s early, and things change. They also say they don’t concern themselves with history. But deep down, they have to recognize something special is happening around here.