Yankees’ sweep of Royals is not redemption but just the start of that journey

Anthony Volpe completed his 100th game for the Yankees while playing against the Royals at Yankee Stadium on July 23, 2023.

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The Yankees’ 8-5 victory over the Royals completed their sweep of the three-game series. However, it shouldn’t be construed as redemption for the beleaguered team facing challenges. At best, the series win is the first step toward that long recovery process.

The team managed to achieve what they needed to by sweeping the Kansas City Royals in a three-game series. The Royals are currently in close competition with the Oakland Athletics for having the worst record in baseball.

Winning three games against a weaker team doesn’t necessarily mean the Yankees will go on a major winning streak, as they did in August 2021 when they won 13 games in a row. During that streak, their record improved significantly from 63-52 to 76-52. However, it’s worth noting that the Yankees were in a similar position back on July 4 with a record of 53-47, which is the same record they currently hold. The upcoming Subway Series against the Mets and the six games against the Orioles and Rays, two dominant teams in the AL East, will be crucial to watch.

The Yankees had a great weekend, and it made them feel good because they were only behind for a very short time during the entire series, about 10 to 15 minutes. The only time they were trailing was on Friday night until Billy McKinney hit a crucial three-run homer, which helped them take the lead. During that game, McKinney also made two impressive catches in center field.

Throughout the entire weekend, the Yankees showcased excellent baseball skills, with no baserunning mistakes and impressive defensive plays. They also had a low strikeout total of 23, which was positive. However, the Yankees’ low point came during a 7-3 loss to the Angels. After the game, manager Aaron Boone admitted that the team was not performing well, saying, “We stink.” During the three-game sweep by the Angels, the Yankees struck out 42 times, and there is speculation that the Angels might trade their star player, Shohei Ohtani.

The most encouraging aspect was how well Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, and DJ LeMahieu performed. Even though the Yankees faced challenges without Aaron Judge, these three players played significant roles and contributed effectively to the team’s success.

Yankees' Anthony Rizzo in action against the Royals.
New York Yankees

Rizzo had an outstanding performance, going 4-for-4, and he even hit a long-awaited home run. Prior to this game, he hadn’t hit a homer since May 20 in Cincinnati, and as a result, his batting average dropped from .303 to.244.

Rizzo’s impressive four-hit game marked the first time a Yankee achieved this since Judge hit his 58th and 59th home runs on September 18 in Milwaukee. The home run that Rizzo hit came after a dry spell of 45 games, during which he had 187 plate appearances and 166 at-bats without a home run.

Additionally, this game came at the conclusion of a weekend where Rizzo made some adjustments to his playing style. During the weekend, the Yankees first baseman made some changes to his approach at the plate. On Friday, he practiced swinging off a tee during early batting practice. Then on Saturday, he decided to go without batting gloves and choke up on the bat, which helped him break an 0-for-20 slump by getting a single. Lastly, on Sunday, he made a musical change by walking up to the song “Ready for It” by Taylor Swift.

Finally, when Rizzo hit the long-awaited homer, his teammates in the dugout initially gave him the silent treatment as a playful joke. But soon after, they all rushed to celebrate and show their support for him.

Rizzo explained that after seeing 25 pitches, he compared his situation to being in the water and feeling like he was drowning. However, he chose to stay positive and said he felt like he was on a boat, waiting for the winds to pick up. He emphasized the importance of having fun and finding ways to stay upbeat. The reaction from his teammates in the dugout showed the significance of maintaining a positive attitude and seeking highs even during challenging times.

LeMahieu, who hit the go-ahead homer on Saturday, managed to get another hit and has maintained a batting average of.318 since July 6, which was the night of the tough 14-1 loss to Baltimore.

Yankees Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu hit home runs against the Royals to give the Yankees lead on July 22, 2023, at Yankee Stadium.

Yankees’ hopes get a boost with Aaron Judge’s potential return

On Sunday, Aaron Judge started his day by spending a short time in the batter’s box, where he faced 16 pitches thrown by Jonathan Loaisiga. Even though none of those pitches resulted in home runs or were hit into play, the fact that Aaron Judge faced live pitching can be considered some of the most encouraging news for the Yankees in quite some time. This is particularly significant because Judge didn’t show any signs of favoring his right toe, which had a torn ligament from an incident on June 3 when he was chasing down J.D. Martinez’s fly ball in Dodger Stadium.

The Yankees have been steadily increasing the level of progress for Judge. They have a record of 18-22 without him, and that includes the time when he was on the injured list earlier. Additionally, their record without him is 22-28.

During the previous week, Aaron Judge began to take batting practice and practiced tracking pitches while in the batter’s box. This time around, he was given full clearance to swing the bat in front of a captive audience, which included most of his teammates.

Andy Pettitte with Aaron Judge at Yankee Stadium on July 23, 2023.
NYP

Manager Aaron Boone mentioned, approximately 20 minutes after Judge’s session against Loaisiga, that the ability to track pitches and hold back from swinging when necessary are essential tests that Judge needs to go through as he works his way back from injury. Boone also remarked that it seemed like a positive and productive day overall.

After Aaron Judge completed his latest step in the recovery process from the unique injury, it could be described as a good day all around with positive developments. The live hitting session that the Yankees slugger was looking forward to was just the beginning of an encouraging weekend for the Yankees.

After the wins, the Yankees are now only two games away from the final wild-card spot. Even though the Mets are struggling, the Yankees are in a decent position. The accomplishments they had this weekend can be seen as a positive start toward their goals.

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