This was a highly important series for the Yankees, even in April. The Blue Jays were a thorn in New York’s side all last season, winning the season series 11-8. Their retooled roster, plus Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s continued presence, showed they meant business in 2022.
Fortunately, so did the Yankees against Toronto this week. After getting shut out on Monday, New York refocused and all three remaining games were what fans expected: a playoff series in October.
Let’s look at some key takeaways from the series and what they could mean for both teams going forward.
The Yankees can pitch
As expected, the Yankees’ pitching staff delivered against Toronto’s potent lineup. New York’s 2.49 team ERA trails only the Houston Astros and never truly had a bad game in the series. Gerrit Cole’s struggles with Guerrero were erased by a resurgent Luis Severino striking out the young phenom three times the very next night.
The bullpen, of course, was even better and tossed 8.2 scoreless innings in each of the Yankees’ wins. The Blue Jays also being shut out both times is an added bonus, and Michael King’s magnificent Thursday save following three Aroldis Chapman walks was just the cherry on top.
Whatever pitching coach Matt Blake is teaching his staff, it’s working remarkably well.
But so can the Blue Jays
But make no mistake, the Toronto Blue Jays are no slouch when it comes to pitching either. Just ask soft contact machine Alek Manoah, who dominated the Yankees on Monday night. Or maybe Jose Berrios, who was cruising with a 3-0 lead Wednesday before New York got to him in the middle innings.
Even marquee free agency signee Kevin Gausman looked sharp against the Yankees. He struck out nine hitters in less than six innings on Thursday, and took the loss simply because Severino was the better man.
Throw in a solid mix of bullpen arms headlined by closer Jordan Romano, and Toronto will do anything but go down quietly in 2022.
A complete New York lineup
The worst part of the Yankees’ struggles last season was simple. The lineup wholly underperformed despite being allegedly stacked from top to bottom. A clear focus on the three true outcomes meant New York hitting home runs, striking out, and not doing much else in between.
Now, that’s all changed. Marcus Thames was fired as the team batting coach after four years on the job. Dillon Lawson is in and brings a “hit strikes hard” philosophy with him.
Seven games in, particularly against the Blue Jays, Lawson’s work is already having a positive effect. The Yankees as a whole are taking cleaner swings, even if they’re still just batting .235 as a team. Aaron Hicks looks like a different player who can hit to all fields. DJ LeMahieu can go to the opposite side with ease again.
And how about backup catcher Jose Trevino coming through with a pair of RBI singles on Thursday?
Once the rest of the lineup gets its wheels under it, the hailed Yankees’ offense may finally perform as advertised.
The Yankees can now keep up with the Blue Jays
We’ve previously discussed how in recent years, Toronto has played .500 ball against the Yankees despite continually missing the playoffs. Independent of the Blue Jays’ magnificent offseason, they’ve been a thorn in New York’s side for a while now.
The difference this time is the Yankees are ready to fight back. No more waiting to change the game with one swing or living and dying by the longball. Now, the Yankees are built to match the Blue Jays’ fighting spirit and just gave four mostly meaningless April games a playoff atmosphere.
This is because with the AL East as stacked as it is, every game against a division rival counts. The Rays and Red Sox also have the playoffs on their minds and won’t just fade away into the night. They’re not the happily tanking Orioles.
The road to October goes through Yankee Stadium and the Rogers Centre. If this first four-game set was any indication, the rest of the season will get intense.