If you’re going to cherry-pick one statistic to rate a team in any sport, it should be goal/run/point difference. Some teams can score like nobody’s business but can’t defend to save their lives. Others are just the opposite. They can’t do anything with the ball but won’t let you have any fun, either. When the margin between for and against is wide, though, you know you have a team that can do it all.
The World Series champion Houston Astros have the league’s fourth-best record at 24-15 but are lapping the field in run difference. They have scored 86 more runs than their pitchers have allowed. That would suggest they run hot and cold, which is why you must be careful when picking cherries.
On the other hand, the league’s two best teams are running neck-and-neck in run difference. They’ve also been playing a three-game series at Yankee Stadium that wraps up tonight. The Bronx Bombers [26-10] have taken the first two to wrest the American League East lead from the Boston Red Sox [25-11]. Aaron Boone’s squad is on an 8-game winning streak in which their hitting has largely covered for a slumping pitching staff.
The first two games were 4-0 shutouts over the typically potent Astros. In the first, 25-year-old lefty Jim Montgomery only lasted an inning. ‘Gumby’s’ injury was later diagnosed as a flexor strain in his elbow that will cost him 6-8 weeks. The bullpen covered for him with eight scoreless innings. In the second game, Luis Severino pitched a much-appreciated complete game shutout. He surrendered only five hits while striking out ten. From there, the bats took over.
Masahiro Tanaka couldn’t get out of the seventh, giving up three runs after pitching six scoreless innings in the series finale. The bullpen surrendered two more, but Yankee bats came alive in the ninth, ringing up three runs to come home to New York with three of the four games and an unbeaten start to May.
Cleveland came to town to open the six-game homestand. The Yankees raked Terry Francona’s staff for 19 runs in the three games and needed most of them. Boone’s pitchers surrendered 12.
Things settled down a bit in the first game against the BoSox. Severino went six-plus, surrendering two runs and the Yankees eked out a 3-2 win. Both teams went to town in the second game but the Bombers prevailed 9-6. They’ll have a chance to extend the winning streak to nine while adding a small cushion to their division lead.
The unbeaten run is something of a surprise. Montgomery’s loss is hardly the Yanks’ only injury concern. First baseman Greg Bird has been nursing a broken spur in his ankle. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s plantar fasciitis and hip problems will keep him out until June. Pitcher Adam Warren will be out a couple of weeks with a back issue. Relievers Tommy Kahnle and Luis Cessa are also on the 10-day DL.
The Yankees have powered through, however. Opponents thought they’d have to deal with three sluggers coming into the season. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and new signing Giancarlo Stanton are all on nine home runs through the season’s first six weeks but shortstop Didi Gregorius leads the way with an even ten. The group has combined to position New York as the league’s most prolific hitters. They’ve scored 209 runs already. Boston is second with 200.
More importantly to their postseason hopes — I know, it’s early — is the pitching staff’s contribution. As Aaron Boone has had to reach into the minors to keep arms in the bullpen, Larry Rothchild’s group has remained stingy. They’ve combined with the starters to yield the American League’s third-fewest runs, behind the Astros and Red Sox. The Yankees’ ERA is a respectable 3.46, their WHIP 1.165.
Rothchild has some work to do with Tanaka and Sonny Gray. The Japanese star has decent numbers. In 46 innings he’s walked only ten. His WHIP is below the team average at 1.101. He is struggling to make the out pitch, however. Gray is a more alarming problem. His control is way off. The former Oakland ace has issued 21 passes in 33 IP and is allowing six runs per nine innings.
On the other hand, Severino is handling duties as an ace with aplomb and CC Sabbathia is rolling through lineups as the fourth man in the rotation. If Kahnle and Cessa return soon, the Yankees have a chance to open up some distance on the Red Sox.
The first step will be completing the series sweep tonight.
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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.