The Yankees avoided a sweep at the hands of the rival Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday with a resounding 7-2 victory. Better yet, the Bronx Bombers lived up to their name and actually looked like a complete team up at bat.
Thirteen base hits. Two home runs, one each from Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Volpe. Stanton had four RBI on the evening. Best of all, the Yankees only struck out six times after an ugly 37 strikeouts in their previous three games.
Only Jake Bauers, in place of a slumping Anthony Rizzo, failed to register a hit. Could be something, could be nothing.
But all told, this game shouldn’t be a celebration for the Yankees. Rather, it’s a wakeup call. Forget that Rays southpaw Shane McClanahan has pitched to a 7.10 ERA in four starts since missing time with a bad back. He’s still one of baseball’s best pitchers and the Yankees got to him. Even in a bad season, they’re still a playoff team on paper.
This isn’t to say winning and avoiding a sweep should scare the Yankees straight. It should motivate them and light a fire under their…you get the picture.
Because in case we forgot, there’s one more tough series before the schedule softens up again. The defending champion Houston Astros come to the Bronx for four games, and they’re bringing Justin Verlander with them. The Mets decided to trade him after all.
Not to mention, Houston’s pitching ranked third in MLB and second in the American League before reacquiring Verlander. The Yankees’ staff ranks tenth, but is now down Domingo German and depending on Nestor Cortes coming back healthy.
The Astros, meanwhile, are riding high after sweeping Cleveland, plus Framber Valdez’s no-hitter on Tuesday. It’s enough to make you forget Houston has been chasing the Rangers for first place in the AL West all season.
The Yankees have two choices: They can either go out and hope for the best, or go out determined to play spoiler. Wednesday’s win over the Rays should prove a strong case for the latter, especially when Verlander takes the ball Friday.
Above all else, this is a time for the Yankees to forget underperforming in 2023. The whole point of Brian Cashman re-signing Aaron Judge and adding Carlos Rodon was to build a team that could beat the Astros. Winning a regular season series against them, at a minimum, is the smallest of moral victories, at least for the fans.
If the Yankees are destined to save their season, it will be in this series. There’s really no choice but to win it, if not outright sweep. The lineup has been bad but we’ve known all year it can be better, and it was against the Rays.
Let’s see the bats do it again against Houston and ride that momentum the rest of the month.