CINCINNATI — Early in the season, the Yankees have continually risen to the occasion against quality competition. It started with that Sunday comeback in Baltimore when they were 1-4. And it continued with the two-game sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway Park, the eight-run rally against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium and the three-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
The Yankees, winners of 20 of their last 26, now head back home for a four-game series with the streaking Astros (22-11), which will mark the returns of both Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. The Bronx Bombers rank first among AL teams in runs scored (180), homers (52) and OPS (.820). They also rank third in team ERA (3.58); their starters rank 10th (4.14) and their bullpen ranks third (2.55).
“I think we’re talented,” Joe Girardi said when asked about his team’s ability to deliver in big games. “I think there are really good players in that room that can do special things. And you’re going to have your ups and downs during the course of the year, but these guys seem to be gritty, they seem to respond, they play hard and they have a lot of fun doing it.”
Girardi was a believer in his team going all the way back to spring training.
A lot of things needed to break right, however, and so far they have. Starters Luis Severino and Michael Pineda have combined for 88 strikeouts and 12 walks. Seemingly out-of-nowhere, rookie Aaron Judge (13 homers, 1.173 OPS) has become one of the most complete players in baseball. And despite injuries to Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird, reserves like Ronald Torreyes, Austin Romine and Aaron Hicks have stepped up in a big way, and the Yankees haven’t missed a beat as a result. Meanwhile, Sanchez has started to heat up, belting a 448-foot homer on Tuesday night.
Whether it’s sustainable is anybody’s guess, but it’s been a fun ride so far.
“Playing .700 baseball is a really high clip, I get that,” Girardi said. “But I told you coming out of spring training that I really liked this team. I do. And I still like them. There’s power, there’s speed, the bullpen is really, really good and our starters have pitched well. Luis and Michael have seemed to take a step forward. There are a lot of good things happening, and I believe in these guys.”
Veterans like Headley (early), Starlin Castro (all season) and Brett Gardner (recently) have been on a tear, so a regression could be in store. At the same time, Masahiro Tanaka (5-1, 4.36 ERA) is a candidate to pitch better than he has.
“You can’t doubt yourself,” Girardi said. “That’s kind of stupid if you go up there and say, ‘Well, I’m not really this good.’ Whoever does that, in anything in life? So you have to believe in yourself.”
The Yankees might just make believers out of everyone if they can keep it rolling. Houston provides yet another early-season litmus test.
“They’re a really good team,” Girardi said. “They swing the bats well, they pitch well. They’re very athletic and they’re playing extremely well. They have a lot of power, too. It’s an exciting series. It seems like we’ve had a lot of those lately.”
Said Headley: “I think we’re talented. I think we’re hungry. I think we’re doing most of the little things that we need to do, and we’re confident. I don’t necessarily think we’ve risen to the occasion against other teams. I think we’ve just played well, and we’ve happened to be playing good teams, too.”
Chad Green was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton following Tuesday night’s game.
Tickets to Derek Jeter’s jersey retirement game have an average purchase price of $ 227.47 on the secondary market, per TickPick — 3.4 times more than the next most popular jersey retirement game (Bernie Williams, May 24, 2015, $ 67.26).