Yesterday afternoon the Yankees won their third straight game and for the fourth time in their last five games, and they’re now 29-22 with a +42 run differential in the second half this season. True story. I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but the Yankees have collectively played well since the All-Star break. It’s kept them in the AL East race and atop the wildcard standings.
Starlin Castro and the bullpen led the way in yesterday’s win, though the resurgent Jacoby Ellsbury played a big role as well, going 1-for-2 with two walks. He drove in the game-tying run with a single and also came around to score an insurance run later in the game. That comes after a big game against the Red Sox and Chris Sale, in which Ellsbury went 3-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base, and saw 22 pitches in four plate appearances.
The overall numbers are still not great. Ellsbury is hitting .254/.335/.394 (95 wRC+) in 318 plate appearances this year which, when combined with his defense, makes him maybe a league average player. He missed time with a concussion and was also benched in favor of Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier (and I suppose Brett Gardner) for long stretches of time. And it wasn’t undeserved. Ellsbury has not played well most of the season.
Right now though, Ellsbury is in the middle of a hot streak that has seen him go 11-for-26 (.423) with two doubles, one triple, one homer, three walks, and only one strikeout in his last nine games. He’s started seven of the last ten games and the Yankees have needed him to. Hicks is back on the disabled list and Aaron Judge needed to sit out a few days last week, either for a mental break or to let his shoulder heal or both.
There’s never a bad time for a hot streak, but Ellsbury’s comes at an especially good time because Hicks and Frazier are both hurt, and because Judge still hasn’t completely snapped out of his second half slump. Judge has looked a bit better the last two days, and that’s encouraging, though it’s not nearly enough to declare him fixed. The fourth outfielder is Tyler Wade right now, so yeah. Ellsbury is going to play and play a lot.
The easy narrative here is getting demoted to the bottom of the order and later benched has lit a fire under Ellsbury. He’s playing with a big chip on his shoulder and taking it out on the baseball. And it absolutely could be true. Ellsbury, to his credit, took the lineup demotion and later the benching like a total pro. He never complained publicly and he did whatever the Yankees asked, including pinch-run late in several close games.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Ellsbury wasn’t irked by the demotion, of course. He should be upset. You want a player to be upset when he’s removed from the lineup for performance reasons. Ellsbury, like every other player, is a competitor and he wants to be in the lineup every single day. Now he’s back in the lineup and performing well. We’ve seen Ellsbury get hot in the past. When he gets hot, he gets really hot and can carry a team.
Frazier will begin a minor league rehab assignment tomorrow and the Yankees hope Hicks can begin swinging a bat within ten days, so help is on the way and that’s good. Until they return, Ellsbury is going to play, and the Yankees need him to produce because they’re trying to chase down the Red Sox in the AL East and trying to fend off basically half the AL in the wildcard race. The Yankees are, for all intents and purposes, playing playoff games right now.
Ellsbury is not going to validate his entire seven-year control in this final month. That is the wrong way to look at it. He could help make up for what has generally been an underwhelming season to date, however, and help push the Yankees into the postseason. Ellsbury has talent. That’s part of what makes his play so frustrating. He can be so much better than he has been. Ellsbury is clicking right now though, and it’s not a moment too late for the Yankees.