There’s nothing like a comeback win.
Whether you’re down to your final out vs. the defending champs or down eight to a division rival, those are the games you remember. These are the ones that stick with you a few seasons later. Those, and the games that go on so long that they feel like 2-3 games.
But there’s value, perhaps even more value, in a good old fashioned blowout. However, beyond the 20-run games or the 10-RBI evenings, these will barely be distinguishable by September. You’ll think to yourself, ‘How did the Yankees take two of three from the White Sox? Didn’t Aaron Judge hit a long home run?’ or ‘How’d the Yankees get runs for Michael Pineda on opening day?’ Maybe the details from one of these easy victories comes to mind but others slip into the 162-game oblivion.
Still, when viewing the season as a whole from further out, the blowouts stand out a lot. We knew going into the season the Yankees could win close games with their bullpen. Andrew Miller was gone but Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren stack up well with any team’s finishers. That was evident going into the season.
But last season, with a killer bullpen, the Yankees won almost exclusively close games until Gary Sanchez came on the scene. The reasons were two-fold: The starting rotation was unable to shut down opposing lineups — even weak ones — and the aging lineup didn’t have the oomph of 2015, instead decomposing before our eyes. Thinking back to April and May of last season doesn’t bring bad memories as much as it brings muddied memories: That’s how boring the Yankees were then, even in wins.
So that’s where the most year-over-year improvement comes. The Yankees’ starters are taking advantage of bad lineups and going deep into games. There’s no three-game sweep at the hands of the Athletics or losing two of three to the lowly Mariners. Comparing to this season, the Cardinals and White Sox series were the type in which the Yankees absolutely would have lost two of three. There would have been general moans and groans about Matt Carpenter or Melky Cabrera owning the Yankees and the team would have slipped towards .500.
But the other way this team is different is the lineup. It’s the main reason the team is 9-1 in games decided by five or more runs after going 17-22 in those same games a year ago. Either the team is never out of it (see the Orioles game) or they never let the opposing team into the contest. Aaron Judge gets most of the credit nationally but it has truly been everyone. Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, yes, even Jacoby Ellsbury, large contract and all.
There are assorted sayings about how great teams not only beat bad teams, but blow them out. You can make the playoffs winning one-run games galore like the 2016 Texas Rangers, but the teams that tend to win it all are the ones that knock teams out early like last season’s Cubs. The Yankees have been doing that aplenty this year, showing off a circular lineup and non-stop rotation, just as they did last night. They’re landing that first punch and are 13-3 (.821 winning percentage) when scoring first as opposed to 46-27 (.644) in 2016.
Even good teams need to be able to put together blowouts to hand rest to their key relievers. The Cubs played 13 innings with the Phillies on Thursday and then had to sweat a close game against the Yankees Friday, a large part of the reason they ultimately lost. After 18 innings against the Cubs Sunday, scoring three runs before Masahiro Tanaka even threw a pitch on Monday allowed an exhausted team to relax and not rely on an even more exhausted bullpen. It follows a trend as the Bombers are scoring first in 53 percent of their games vs. 45 percent last season.
This ultimately may not last. It could be that the team has everyone hot at the same time and those same players will take a step back at the same time. Or maybe this rotation can’t sustain its success.
But then again, Sanchez is just getting going. We haven’t seen the best of Didi Gregorius and Greg Bird. Or even Tanaka. If they play like fans expected this spring, there really could be a second gear to this young team. Or at least a maintaining of this early cruise control. If the team was winning exclusively close games, it’d be much easier to chalk this start up as a fluke that would come crashing to earth.
After this season, we’ll forget the Yankees scoring 10 runs on Rookie Davis and the Reds. Yet that’s precisely the type of game the Yankees lost last season or at least make hard on themselves, perhaps further compromising the bullpen for the next night. Again, the close ones, the comebacks, that’s what sticks with you. But the blowouts may be the signal that this young team means business.