2019 Yankees Recap: May Edition

The New York Yankees had an absolutely dominant month of May and now we will recap the last month of Bronx Bombers baseball. 

After an up-and-down first month of the season, the Yankees broke out in May and put up an impressive 20-7 record as they also started to get some of their injured players back from the IL. After losing their series in Arizona at the start of the month, the team has won eight consecutive series for the first time since 1998 and they have gone 31-10 since April 16 after starting the season 6-9. Highlights of the month included the team taking 2-of-3 in two separate series against the Rays and also taking 2-of-3 from the Minnesota Twins, who currently have MLB’s highest winning percentage. Here’s a look at the team’s top infielder, outfielder, starting pitcher and relief pitcher from the incredibly successful month.

Infielder: Gleyber Torres

The team saw the fantastic all-around play from the infield during the month of May, with Gio Urshela, Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu all playing very well and establishing themselves as key everyday players. Thairo Estrada also proved himself to be a valuable bench piece with some pop. Despite all those other great performances, the top infielder for the month of May has to be Torres. After hitting a respectable .272 with five home runs and 15 RBIs across 29 games in March and April, Torres burst onto the scene in May with nine home runs and 16 RBIs across 24 games, hitting .308 with a 1.023 OPS.

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He played particularly well in games against other AL East teams, especially the Baltimore Orioles, as he homered seven times in the team’s six games against them in May. Another high point in the month for Torres was his at-bat in the 9th inning of the team’s dramatic come from behind walk-off win against the Rays on May 17th. Trailing by one run with a runner on first and one out, Torres fouled off five consecutive pitches in a 10 pitch at bat against Rays closer Jose Alvarado before doubling off the left field wall to put the game-tying and game-winning runs in scoring position. After a wild pitch scored the tying run, Urshela laced a 2-0 offering from Alvarado to the center field wall to score Clint Frazier as the game’s winning run.

Torres’ grueling at-bat perfectly set the stage for this picture-perfect ending, which also put the Yankees back atop the AL East. If Torres can continue producing the way he has recently for the rest of the season, he will no doubt continue to be a key factor in the team’s lineup, capable of spraying the ball all around the field as well as hitting more than his fair share of home runs.

Outfielder: Brett Gardner

Although Clint Frazier has been on a torrid streak with the bat of late, his slump after coming off the IL on May 6th hurt his overall numbers for the month, and he has been a liability defensively in the outfield. Aaron Hicks has also yet to look like the player we have seen in recent years since he came off the IL, so Gardner gets the honors of being the team’s top outfielder for the month of May. Gardner hit just .221 in March and April, with his only notable moment being his go-ahead grand slam in the team’s 5-3 win over the Red Sox on April 17th. He hit .269 in May, scoring 16 runs and posting a .814 OPS while being his usual reliable self with the glove in the outfield.

With the team struggling to find a go-to everyday lineup since they have so many injured players, Gardner has hit in every position in the batting order this year except for 2nd. He has played in 52 of the team’s 55 games so far, being one of their most reliable everyday players, and has worked 20 walks, setting the order for the bigger bats behind him. Although his numbers may not be the flashiest, he contributes a lot to the team defensively and on the basepaths while recognizing that his job is to get on base however he can instead of swinging for the fences (though the team is 31-6 since 2017 when he homers in a game).

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He could see diminished playing time when the team gets Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge back, but for now, if he can keep producing at the top of the order and playing stellar defense in left field, the Yankees will gladly take that from him.

Starting Pitcher: Masahiro Tanaka

With James Paxton missing most of the month with a knee injury, the team was forced to use an “opener” a number of times in May, but among the team’s traditional starting pitchers, Tanaka had the best month. His performance in May is a bit of an odd case, as he was the rotation’s horse and its most reliable pitcher, even if his record doesn’t show it. In his six May starts, Tanaka led the team’s starters in ERA (2.80), strikeouts (35) and innings pitched (35.1), while walking just six batters and pitching to a 1.08 WHIP. His overall 1-2 record for the month doesn’t accurately portray how often he gave the team a chance to win when he toed the slab.

Tanaka allowed three or fewer runs in five of his six starts in the month, and he also pitched six or more innings in five of his six starts. The one outing where he didn’t go at least six innings was in an interleague game against the Diamondbacks, as manager Aaron Boone opted to pinch hit for Tanaka in the fifth inning despite him only having thrown 74 pitches. He took a number of tough no-decisions in the month, one of which came on May 18th when he went six scoreless innings against the Rays, but the offense let him down as the team lost 2-1 in extra innings.

He also went six innings and allowed just one run in his next start against Baltimore, but the bullpen blew a 5-1 lead after he exited, though the Yankees still won the game 6-5. As the team’s most consistent pitcher, if Tanaka can be his usual reliable self for the rest of the season, it would definitely help soften the blow of not having Luis Severino until after the All-Star Break.

Relief Pitcher: Adam Ottavino

The bullpen was a strong suit for the team in May, as Aroldis Chapman was flawless as a closer and other relievers like Zack Britton and Tommy Kahnle continued to pitch effectively when called on. Ottavino followed up his stellar April with a fantastic May, as he didn’t allow any earned runs across 13 appearances. His WHIP was just 1.000 and he struck out 14 batters, only allowing five hits across his 12 innings of work. Boone experimented with using him for more than one inning a number of times in April, but 12 of Ottavino’s 13 appearances in May lasted three or fewer outs (he pitched 1.1 innings in the team’s May 6th win against the Mariners).

Boone has primarily gone to him for the 6th or 7th inning, though he has gone to him for the 8th inning a few times as well. Aroldis Chapman is the only pitcher in the bullpen with a set role, so between Ottavino, Britton, Kahnle, Jonathan Holder and the rest of the bullpen, Boone plays the matchups with each hitter rather than having a set reliever for each inning. The team went 11-1 in the 12 games Ottavino appeared in May and he recorded eight holds, showing that Boone prefers to go to him when the team is winning tied rather than when they are losing.

With Chad Green struggling to start the season (though he has looked better of late) and Dellin Betances likely out until August, the team needs Ottavino and the rest of the bullpen to continue to be a force late in games, and so far they have done just that.

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