By Norm Elrod
(CBS New York/CBS Local) — Going into the Spring Training, the New York Yankees looked poised to make a World Series run. Their lineup, bursting with power and deep with pitching, had a few injuries, but nothing insurmountable. The team would welcome back players as the first half of the season progressed, and become whole by the All-Star break. That was the thinking anyhow.
It hasn’t worked out that way, as the injuries continue to pile up. And yet the Yankees have figured out how to win, stringing together singles rather than relying on home runs. The long balls still leave the park on occasion, they’re just not driving this pieced-together offense.
The Houston Astros also continue to put the ball in play. MLB’s best team average (as of Monday) has helped them climb into first place in the American League West, half a game ahead of the fading Seattle Mariners. Strangely enough, all the hits have yielded relatively few runs. How much better will Houston be when its scoring catches up with its hitting?
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, also continues his career climb. The Toronto Blue Jays’s prized prospect debuted Friday night at third base and delivered a promising first game.
This week’s Baseball Report takes a swing at the Yankees’ unlikely success, the Astros’ lagging run production and Vlad Jr.’s first day in the Majors.
Yankees Winning With Backups
The Yankees’ injuries keep adding up. Going into the weekend, the Bronx Bombers had 13 players on the injured list, the most in the majors. That list, headlined by Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorious, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, includes enough lost offensive production to sink most teams. Adding in sidelined pitchers like Luis Severino only makes the team’s prospects look more bleak.
Still the Yankees continue to win with their no-name lineup. At 17-11, they’re only 1.5 games behind the American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays after sweeping the San Francisco Giants in a three-game series. The Yankees took three of four from both the Los Angeles Angels and Kansas City Royals prior to that. With the Boston Red Sox still floundering, the Rays look like the only immediate threat.
Recent wins have come at a cost. Infielders D.J. LeMahieu and Gio Urshela, both already filling in for injured teammates, left Sunday’s game with injuries. Second-baseman LeMahieu, who fouled a pitch off his knee on Friday night, departed in the third inning with knee inflammation. Third-baseman Urshela, who hit two doubles on Saturday, left after a pitch hit him on the left hand. That’s two more .300+ hitters gone from the lineup, at least for now.
Only two Yankees — catcher Gary Sanchez and pitcher CC Sabathia — have returned from the injured list this season. Others will likely follow in the coming weeks and months. Can the current roster hold on in the meantime? Sanchez’s grand slam on Saturday may have answered that question. It certainly gave a glimpse of what a healthy lineup is capable of.
The Yankees continue their current road trip against the Diamondbacks Tuesday night in Arizona.
Astros Hitting The Ball
The Houston Astros may be the best-hitting team in the Majors. At .271, they certainly sport MLB’s best team average coming out of the weekend. Combine that with a .474 slugging percentage and a .348 on-base percentage — third and fifth best in the League as of Monday night — along with 45 home runs, and the Astros are certainly to be feared at the plate.
But Houston doesn’t actually score that many runs. With only 132 as of Monday night, they’re a lackluster 16th, behind even the Angels, who dwell in the AL West cellar. Look for that to change, and watch out when it does.
Despite the relative lack of run production so far, the Astros, at 17-11, have overtaken the fading Mariners in their division.
Vlad Jr. Debuts For Blue Jays
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., son of MLB Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, debuted tor the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night. He has impressed at every level of the minors, and he impressed in his first MLB game against the Oakland A’s.
At barely 20 years old, the hard-hitting third-baseman batted fifth for the Blue Jays. Rookies don’t tend to start their careers in the middle third of the lineup, which suggests the rising star’s potential to contribute right away.
Vlad Jr. made solid contact all night, and almost put one out in his second plate appearance. His first Major League hit came in the ninth inning, with a lead-off double to the opposite field. He held his own defensively as well, with plays that showcased a reasonable range and strong arm.
All of this will seem commonplace, even quaint, come September, with a season of stats in the rear-view mirror. But right now, it’s exciting to see this rising star take the next step.