Their homer-less and winless streak lasted one game. Then the Yankees returned to familiarity Wednesday. They went deep twice. They won a game. This has been their first half — tons of long balls, lots of victories.
They are at three weeks without losing consecutive games after beating the Mets 5-1 Wednesday. And there was much to like as they extended their AL-best record to 55-29.
After their major league record homer streak ended at 31 games in a Tuesday loss to the Mets, the Yanks received homers from Didi Gregorius to knock out Jason Vargas in the sixth followed by Gio Urshela greeting Wilmer Font with a homer. Every Yankee position player reached safely. Hit-machine DJ LeMahieu had two doubles. Gleyber Torres had a pair of RBI singles to improve his batting average to .412 with runners in scoring position this season.
Urshela played a masterful game at third and Chad Green continued his resurgence to value with two innings of four-strikeout relief. Green has not permitted a run in his last 11 ²/₃ innings.
Nothing was as meaningful, though, as Domingo German coming off the injured list to pitch efficiently and effectively.
The Yankees move now to St. Petersburg, Fla. to close the first half and perhaps close out the Rays. They lead the division by 6 ¹/₂ games and have four against Tampa Bay, against whom they are 7-2 this season. A strong weekend will further a sense of inevitability toward the Yankees’ first division title since 2012. But even if the road to the Division Series proves rather stress free, the question about who will be starting once the Yankees reach October will hover over the team.
Brian Cashman’s July job is to find that species before the trade deadline at the end of the month. History says that when the Yankees are good their GM addresses areas of need. But on the off chance that someone outdoes the Yanks for what currently looks like slim pickings, then the internal options will only climb in importance — remember by new rule there are no longer waiver trades allowed in August.
Plus, it is never easy to determine just who can thrive in the Yankee cauldron. On Wednesday night, Yankee exile Sonny Gray threw eight shutout innings with 12 strikeouts for the Reds against the Brewers to lower his ERA to 3.59.
German opened the year looking as if he could handle New York and excel in the rotation, going 9-1 with a 2.60 ERA. Then in his next three starts he had an 8.59 ERA and seven homers allowed in 14 ²/₃ innings. And the first pitch he threw against the Mets was turned into a homer by Jeff McNeil.
But German found precision with his fastball and dominance with his curve. He did not yield another run, striking out six and walking none over 80 pitches. Aaron Boone had hoped for four innings, perhaps five, and got six. It was the kind of return that suggests German’s downturn was about a strained left hip flexor that bothered him before he finally went to the IL in early June.
“Stuff tempo, command, everything,” Aaron Boone said of what he liked with German. “That was kind of the good dominant version of Domingo we saw the first couple of months of the season.”
At minimum, German has the type of arm that promises the possibility of length and outs in the playoffs in some role. Cashman has not dismissed landing another reliever, though the Yanks appear to have a stacked deck there. And they hope against the ticking clock and injury setbacks that Dellin Betances and Luis Severino return. Perhaps the Yankees lack an ace come October, but can they load their staff with 12 or 13 arms they like and trust, and then try to find 11 postseason victories that way?
It is not traditional. But the Nationals are back in the NL East race and Washington was probably never considering moving Max Scherzer anyway. Will the contending Indians with Trevor Bauer or Rangers with Mike Minor deal a rotation asset? If not, how far do the Yanks go for San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner or Toronto’s Marcus Stroman or whatever else might pop onto the market?
None of that is guaranteed. For sure, the Yankees have German and performances like in this Subway Series only encourage about what the righty can offer.
“For him to come off the IL and pitch six really good innings and probably could have gone more, really, really impressive,” LeMahieu said. “Just like he’s been doing all year.”