At surface level, this is just another quintessential season in the storied history of the New York Yankees.
The Bronx Bombers are cruising toward their 19th American League East title since the division’s establishment in 1969. With a comfortable lead over the Tampa Bay Rays and — thanks to a four-game sweep over the weekend — the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees are set to take the division flag for the first time since 2012.
They’ve been paced by their explosive offense that ranks among the best in baseball. The Yankees rank second in runs scored, third in home runs, and third in team batting average.
Again, on the surface, it’s easy to see why. The Yankees have an embarrassment of riches offensively when looking at the roster.
The problem is that manager Aaron Boone hasn’t been able to field a fully healthy lineup all season.
In the Yankees’ first 110 games of the 2019 season, only five players have suited up 90 or more times as injuries continue to run rampant through the clubhouse.
As it stands, 16 players are on the injured list — most recently a pair of first basemen in Luke Voit and Edwin Encarnacion alongside center fielder Aaron Hicks.
It could have been two more in Gio Urshela and Glebyer Torres, but both seem to have escaped any serious injury issue after going down during Sunday night’s victory over the Red Sox.
Regardless, the Yankees have seen countless big-time contributors go down with injuries this season.
While Giancarlo Stanton continues to struggle with a sprained right knee (no timetable for a return yet), his bash brother in Aaron Judge also battled an oblique issue that held him out of over 50 games.
Catcher Gary Sanchez’s bounce-back campaign has been hampered by a groin issue, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius just eclipsed the 40-game mark this season after recovering from Tommy John surgery last October, and 2018 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar appeared in just 12 games this season after tearing his labrum.
Then there’s the pitching staff, which has yet to see ace Luis Severino or star reliever Dellin Betances toe the rubber once this year. Jordan Montgomery hasn’t either as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery, too.
CC Sabathia is on the 10-day IL due to knee issues while Jonathan Loaisiga’s shoulder injury landed him on the 60-day IL.
To simply put it, the Yankees should not be this good. They should not be 30-plus games over .500 in August within a division that had two other 90-plus win teams last season in the Red Sox and Rays.
Call it depth, call it timely depth signings, call it whatever you want, Boone is pulling all the right strings and is deserving of the American League Manager of the Year Award.
I never thought I’d be saying that sentence.
When Boone first took the Yankees job last season, it was like handing the first-year manager the keys to a Ferrari. It’s going to be awe-inspiring, breathtaking, fast. Just don’t wreck it.
After winning 100 games, an ALDS exit at the hands of the Red Sox was like driving the Yankees off the interstate and into a ditch.
But Boone has navigated this Yankees team through its injury-riddled campaign and has led them to the very top of the standings while turning everything he touches to gold.
Andujar’s replacement, Gio Urshela, had a career .225 batting average with eight home runs and 39 RBI in 167 career games with the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays.
In 92 games with the Yankees this year, the 27-year-old is slashing .314/.359/.522 with 12 home runs and 51 RBI.
DJ LeMahieu was considered to be on his way down after batting .276 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI with the Colorado Rockies last season after a three-year stretch in which he averaged .319.
He rediscovered that magic touch at the plate in the Bronx as he leads the league with a .335 average along with 17 home runs and 75 RBI. His reemergence guarantees that the Yankees have a capable bat to fill in at first base while Voit and Encarnacion recover.
Mike Tauchman, a 28-year-old utility outfielder and pinch hitter is batting .283 in 53 games this year after batting .153 in 59 at-bats with the Rockies between 2017-2018.
Veteran utility outfielder Cameron Maybin, with his .257 career batting average, is batting .312 with the Yankees.
Domingo German, the lone bright spot of a disastrous Yankees starting rotation, has gone from a nobody to 14-2 with a 3.98 ERA and a sterling strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.75.
Sure, it could be the culture that comes with playing for the Yankees. It could come from the organization up top beginning with general manager Brian Cashman. It could even come from the support of hitting coach Marcus Thames and pitching Larry Rothschild.
At the end of the day, however, it’s Aaron Boone has the Yankees on pace to win 105 games and nab home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Maybe it’s time to start giving the manager some credit, after all.