Yankees enter O's showdown on offensive tear.
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Yankees enter O’s showdown on offensive tear.

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We’re coming off a great weekend series between the first-place Guardians and the first-place Braves, with four games starting on Monday night between the Yankees and the Orioles, which will cap April in the American League East and carry into May. The two teams prepare to duke it out now, as they are anticipated to do at the top of the division throughout the season. This will be one of those early-season series that includes September.

The Yankees reclaimed first place on Sunday by scoring 15 runs for the second straight game in Milwaukee, and it wasn’t even the greatest news for Aaron Boone’s squad, because Aaron Judge began to bat over the weekend. That is, of course, not good news for the Orioles and everyone else.

Judge got hot in Milwaukee. Juan Soto continued to appear like he was going to be hot all season. Even without Gerrit Cole, the Yankees continue to receive strong beginning pitching, but they are also gaining the top-to-bottom batting-order balance that they have lacked in recent years. So they have 19 victories heading into Baltimore, having finished 19 games behind the Orioles last season. That occurred one year after the Yankees finished 16 games ahead of them. And the 35-game turnaround is one of the most significant in Yankees history.

“We’re excited,” Judge said in Milwaukee on Sunday, addressing his team’s upcoming series in Baltimore. “We’ve been watching [the Orioles] from afar. They’re a great team. They’ve got a young, great team, did a lot of great things last year, especially winning the division. We’re excited to get out there and have some fun.”

Even this early in the season, major games provide a lot of excitement.

The Yankees fell to the Brewers in 11 innings on Friday night; Judge struck out twice more, and his batting average at the end of the night was.178. It had dropped to.179 a little more than a week ago, when he struck out four times and was booed by his own supporters at Yankee Stadium. However, on Saturday against the Brewers, he collected two hits, one of which was his fifth home run of the season. On Sunday, when the Yankees were putting 15 on the Brewers, he went 3-for-4 with another home run, bringing his batting average up to.211.

What’s most impressive about the Yankees’ play, beginning with their four-game sweep of the Astros in Houston to open the season, is that they’ve essentially done what they’ve been doing without Cole and Judge, who had given them so little until this past weekend. Judge appears to be back, but the Yankees are still waiting for their ace to return.

The Yankees did not expect to have an offense capable of scoring 36 runs in three games, but that is exactly what transpired. However, in Milwaukee, we saw the Yankees swinging the big stick they hoped for after trading for Soto and hitting him ahead of Judge. A 1-2 punch at the 2-3 position in the batting order.

This weekend, however, it was more than just the two of them. They did it all for the Yankees. Anthony Volpe, now the leadoff hitter, added two more hits. Alex Verdugo, who joined the Yankees from the Red Sox — something that doesn’t happen every day — was hitting.267 at the end of the series and had established himself as the team’s cleanup hitter. Gleyber Torres has begun to hit after a poor start like Judge’s, while Oswaldo Cabrera, who began out hot as a substitute for DJ LeMahieu at third base, had two hits on Sunday and was back up to.269.

Catcher Jose Trevino, who got to pitch the ninth inning in Saturday night’s blowout win, batted ninth again in the series finale, driving in three runs and improving his own average to.280. And none of those individuals were the hitting stars of Sunday’s game because Anthony Rizzo, who had a lost 2023 season due to concussion aftershocks, went 4-for-4, lifted his personal average to.277, and blasted his 300th career home run.

The Yankees, who were nine games over.500 before this series with the Orioles, were ten games ahead when Judge ran into that outfield door at Dodger Stadium on a Saturday night in June. At the time, they were in third place, two games behind the Orioles, who were second behind the Rays. From that point until the end of the season, the Yankees were eight games under.500. And it wasn’t just Judge; the Yankees did little over the last two months, even after he returned at the end of July. A lot of things went wrong for the ’23 Yankees, beginning with the numerous injuries.

Eleven months later, a lot of things are going right for them — a right time for them to face the Orioles and see exactly where they are. The Yankees look as if they’re back. We know the Orioles aren’t going anywhere. Let’s play four.

 

 

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