After finishing in fourth place in the AL East last season and missing the playoffs, the Yankees have the best record in the majors as we head into May. And they’re doing it differently than they did things when they were at the height of their dynasty in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Back then, they signed big-name free agents like Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens and, of course, Alex Rodriguez. Now, they’re doing it with home-grown talent from their minor-league system.
Leading the way is OF Aaron Judge, who wasn’t even guaranteed to have a job on the big-league roster until late in spring training. In 21 games, he’s hitting .301 with 10 home runs, which is tied for the most in the American League entering Sunday. Those 10 home runs, which include a two-homer game on Friday, also tie the rookie record for the month of April, matching the mark set by White Sox 1B Jose Abreu in 2014 and Rockies SS Trevor Story last year. At 6’7″ and close to 300 pounds, Judge obviously has power, as he has shown to date this season, but he is also hitting for average, which is somewhat surprising, after putting up a .278 average in his minor-league career.
Also performing well in the Yankees youth movement is SS Ronald Torreyes, who had been filling in for injured SS Didi Gregorius before he came off the DL this week, Torreyes is hitting .318 in 66 at-bats entering Sunday, but his six strikeouts without a walk shows a lack of patience at the plate that could be concerning.
The Yankees are winning despite being without C Gary Sanchez, who has been on the disabled list since April 8. He is expected to begin a rehab assignment soon and should rejoin the Yankees within the next couple of weeks, barring any setbacks. C Austin Romine has putting up decent numbers while filling in for Sanchez, hitting .300 with two home runs in 16 games on the season. But Sanchez will provide the team with an even bigger offensive boost when he returns, if he maintains close to the power he showed after coming up late in 2016, when he hit 20 home runs in 201 at-bats.
The Nationals have the best record in the National League entering Sunday, at 16-8, but the injury news isn’t looking as good for them as it is for the Yankees. OF Adam Eaton injured himself in Friday’s loss to the Mets while trying to beat out an infield single in the ninth inning. The injury didn’t look good as he had to be helped off the field, but the Nats’ worst fears were realized on Saturday with reports that Eaton suffered a torn ACL that will end his first season with the team, who traded for him in the offseason. The loss of Eaton will not only leave a hole in the lineup — he’s hitting .297 with two home runs and 13 RBI — but also in center field, where he is known for his strong defense. OFs Michael Taylor and Chris Heisey, whose offensive numbers pale in comparison to Eaton’s, will see increased playing time with Eaton done for the year, unless the Nationals make a trade to acquire another outfielder.
Eaton isn’t the only player to suffer a season-ending surgery this week. Diamondbacks SP Shelby Miller, who has been a disappointment since the team traded for him prior to the 2016 season, left his start last Sunday with tightness in his right forearm. He has since been diagnosed with a partially torn UCL and has chosen to undergo Tommy John surgery. With a typical recovery time of 12-18 months, he likely won’t be ready to return to action until at least the middle of the 2018 season.
Other notable players to be placed on the disabled list this week include Dodgers OF Joc Pederson, Red Sox 3B Pablo Sandoval, Mariners SP Felix Hernandez and OF Mitch Haniger, Nationals RP Koda Glover, Astros OF Teoscar Hernandez, Mets OF Yoenis Cespedes, and Angels SP Tyler Skaggs and 1B C.J. Cron.
The Week Ahead
May begins with a series between the Orioles and Red Sox at Fenway starting Monday as they try not to fall too far behind the Yankees in the AL East. The Astros get their first series of the year with the Rangers, against whom they struggled last year, at home beginning Monday. The Blue Jays, who are in last place in the AL East, get a chance to make up some ground in the division as they visit the Yankees Monday through Wednesday. The Dodgers and Giants renew their rivalry Monday with three games in Los Angeles, and the Nationals host the Diamondbacks starting Tuesday as they continue their season without Eaton. In the latter half of the week, the Angels host the Astros in a series between the top two teams in the AL West. The Yankees make one of their rare trips to Wrigley Field for an interleague series with the Cubs starting Friday, and the Rockies start a home series with the Diamondbacks that day in what should be a series to determine first place in the NL West.
Some scheduled pitching performances to look forward to include Orioles SP Dylan Bundy, who’s been having a good season, taking on the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, Red Sox SP Rick Porcello to start the week on Monday. Also Monday, struggling Giants SP Johnny Cueto is slated to duel with Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw, who is putting up typical Kershaw-esque numbers. After the complete game gem Yankees SP Masahiro Tanaka threw last week against the Red Sox, he’ll take the mound Tuesday against Blue Jays SP Mat Latos. It’ll be a battle of underperforming aces in Detroit on Tuesday with Indians SP Corey Kluber opposing Tigers SP Justin Verlander. A’s SP Sonny Gray is slated to make his season debut on Tuesday, taking on the Twins and SP Ervin Santana. Blue Jays SP Marcus Stroman battles Yankees SP CC Sabathia on Wednesday, along with a matchup of former teammates in Atlanta with SP Jacob deGrom going for the Mets and SP Bartolo Colon pitching for the Braves. Coming off two straight strong starts, Rangers SP Yu Darvish is scheduled to pitch on Thursday, going against SP Joe Musgrove in the series finale against the Astros.