Three realities fueling the Yankees’ season, and whether they will continue

Go beyond the box score with the Bombers

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Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and while in the real world it serves as the unofficial start of summer and an opportunity to escape for a long weekend, in the baseball world it serves as the first true reference to the 162-game marathon.

In the first two months of the season, it can be difficult to tell which early numbers are signs of things to come and which can be written off because of the small sample size, which will even out as the season progresses.

But Memorial Day weekend gives teams a chance to vent and assess where they and their players are, nearly a third of the way through the season.

With that in mind, here are three trends the Yankees have set for the holiday weekend, examining whether or not they’re real:

Aaron Judge could give the 2022 season a run for his money

Beginning in spring training, whenever Aaron Judge was asked questions about his personal expectations, most cautioned that it was unrealistic to think he could repeat his 62 home run season after 2022.

And most of the time – he said it or he said it on his face – the Judge’s answer: “Why not?”

Aaron Judge may be behind last season’s home run pace, but it looks like he’ll be back in the MVP conversation.Paul J. Bereswill for the NY Post

Over the past two weeks, that answer has come to mind as Judge has returned from his IL season and gone on a tear. He is batting .288 with a 1.032 OPS and 14 home runs.

“I’m not going to compare it, especially to one of the most historic seasons ever,” Kyle Higashioka said. “But this year is as good as anyone has seen. We love seeing that from him. It’s special to see.”

OK, we’ll compare a little.

Last year, entering Memorial Day weekend, Judge was batting .313 with a 1.065 OPS and 17 home runs. But note: Because the lockout pushed back the start of the season, those numbers were 45 team games. This year, adding in the 10 games he lost in the IL, the number of umpires entering the holiday weekend is 52 team games.

It’s still not realistic to expect anyone to hit 62 home runs in a given season. That’s what’s so monumental when it happens.

But Judge looks poised to put together another monster season, though he may not break the all-time high.

The Yankees are using a committee closer

Clay Holmes entered the season as the starting closer, though Aaron Boone said during spring training that the Yankees wouldn’t be afraid to use him in the eighth inning if he dictated certain games.

New York Yankees reliever Michael King (34) pitches in the sixth inning of the New York Yankees' game against the San Francisco Giants, Saturday, April 1, 2023, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Michael King is one of seven pitchers to record a save for the Yankees this season, and could move into a co-closer role in the coming weeks.Robert Sabo for the NY Post

However, it has been remarkable how much the Yankees have mixed and matched late innings this season. Including Deivi Garcia’s three-inning save, the Yankees have used six different relievers to record saves.

Holmes still leads the team with five saves, but only one of those has come since April 14th. Between Holmes’ fourth and fifth shutouts, the Yankees got saves from Wandy Peralta (three), Michael King (three), Ron Marinaccio, Ian. Hamilton and even Ryan Weber.

“I like (Holmes) not strictly in the ninth,” Boone said recently. “There will be days when the line is closing the game. But I like to put him in situations where we feel he can thrive.”

Going forward, expect more ninth-inning responsibilities to be shared, with one wild card: If the Yankees feel comfortable using Michael King on back-to-back days, he could be an interesting and consistent late option.

They have been getting closer and closer to using King, they remain cautious about speeding up that process in light of the broken elbow he suffered last July.

For now, King remains valuable as a multi-inning threat who can pitch every few days.

“I think at its best, you have really good, complementary options that complement each other, who they’re equipped to pull off and who they’re dominant against, potentially,” Boone said. “When you match those things, it puts you in a good spot. Especially when we’re full, I feel like we have four or five guys, I’m very comfortable giving the ball in the ninth inning, if they’re in the right condition.”

Anthony Volpe’s hot-cold start

New York Yankees' Anthony Volpe (11) steals third base during the 8th inning of the New York Yankees' game against the Minnesota Twins, Saturday, April 15, 2023, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. It hasn’t been easy for Anthony Volpe to get on base, but when he does, he’s been perfect in his 13 steal attempts.Robert Sabo for the NY Post

When the decision was made for Anthony Volpe to break camp with the big league team, the Yankees knew struggles would be inevitable. They happen to almost every rookie, regardless of his prospect ranking or how he performed in spring training.

Volpe, 22, is now batting .199 with a .649 OPS and seven home runs. The power has been a bigger factor than some expected, and his baserunning instincts have been evident on 13-of-13 stolen base attempts. With positive defense at shortstop, he ranks fifth on the team with 1.2 bWAR.

But after Volpe hit at a strong clip early in the season — he finished April with a .333 on-base percentage — his OBP has dropped to .284.

Two things to note: Volpe was a slow starter in his minor league career, and the Yankees believe he has the baseball IQ to make adjustments well and the will to not be stopped by struggles.

So while we don’t expect Volpe to be among the league’s hitting leaders, he should finish the season with his batting average and OPS slightly higher than they are now, perhaps in the .240/. .750

Want to catch a game? The Yankees schedule with links to purchase tickets can be found here.

Spring Awakening

For a guy who has been so out of sight during his first year with the Yankees that social media thought he wouldn’t really exist, Ben Rortvedt has made a strong first impression.

New York Yankees catcher Ben Rortvedt (38) bats during the ninth inning of the New York Yankees game against the Baltimore Orioles, Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.  The New York Yankees lost 9-6.Ben Rortvedt has shown some flashes of the potential the Yankees hoped for when they traded him last year.Robert Sabo for the NY Post

The 25-year-old catcher, who came from the Twins last year along with Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela trade, was called up last week when Jose Trevino went on the injured list. hamstring strain

Rortvedt has started two of the Yankees’ six games since then, and has made the most of his opportunities. He went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored in Saturday’s win over the Reds, and in Thursday night’s loss to the Orioles, he walked in two plate appearances before being lifted for a pinch.

Boone was also impressed with Rortvedt’s work behind the plate, which included getting into the Yankees’ signal system, trying to stop the Reds’ run game and learning how to catch some new pitchers in the wing. Holmes sank, Rortevdt caught for the first time in the ninth inning of a 4-1 game with the shadows in effect at Great American Ball Park.

“(That) was a little different,” Rortvedt said with a smile.

Trevino is expected to be back for a long time — potentially by the time the Yankees begin their road trip in Seattle on Monday — but Rortvedt has made himself a more interesting option, if nothing else.

Of course, if Rortvedt hadn’t been injured all camp last year after being acquired by the Yankees, he might not have ended up trading Trevino at the end of that spring training.

“His ability and athleticism behind the plate (stands out),” Boone said. “He’s a little bit dense like Trevy, a very good receiver, very good hands and can really throw. Good athlete there. Why we got all these things. It’s great to see him healthy and contributing.”

Stand up boy

New York Yankees left fielder Aaron Hicks (31) hits a home run in the third inning as the New York Yankees play the Oakland Athletics, Monday, May 8, 2023, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Aaron Hicks became a regular target for the Yankee Stadium boobirds before being designated for assignment late last week.Robert Sabo for the NY Post

Much of the fan base seemed to be celebrating last Saturday when the Yankees drafted Aaron Hicks.

The move would have happened at some point this season, barring a major turnaround for the veteran outfielder, but that didn’t make it any easier for Hicks to swallow.

He appeared stunned and still teary-eyed as he said goodbye and exchanged hugs with his teammates in the visitors’ clubhouse at Great American Ball Park before returning to the team hotel to await his next instructions — the Yankees are in the middle. within seven days of whether to trade or waive Hicks (which will result in his release).

Hicks’ final three seasons with the Yankees were mostly brutal due to injuries and poor performance.

For the most part, though, he didn’t shy away from his struggles, staying available and honest (perhaps too much, from the band’s perspective) with reporters — including Saturday, when he agreed to speak with The Post a few minutes early. leaving the club, bags packed. From this reporter’s point of view, at least, it was much appreciated.

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