We’re still a month and a half from the July 31 trade deadline, but the arms race has already begun in the American League. The Yankees, one of the AL’s premier teams, pulled off a stunning move Saturday in acquiring prolific slugger Edwin Encarnacion from the Mariners for young pitching prospect Juan Then. Including the 21 home runs he has already racked up this season, no major leaguer has hit more HRs than Encarnacion’s 284 dating back to his 2012 breakout with the Blue Jays.
It’s clear the Yankees are trying to construct a super lineup, and it’s likely that’s what they’ll have when injured star outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton return from their long absences in the coming weeks. A full-strength Yankees lineup will include Encarnacion at designated hitter, Judge in right field, Stanton in left, Aaron Hicks in center, Gary Sanchez at catcher, Luke Voit at first, Gleyber Torres at second, Didi Gregorius at short and DJ LeMahieu at third. If you’re an opposing pitcher set to face that lineup, you may hope for a torrential downpour.
On the other hand, the Yankees’ starting staff looks far from foolproof, as noted earlier this week. Injured ace Luis Severino should be in position to finally make his season debut after the All-Star break. Even if that happens, the Yankees will need slumping second and third starters James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka to right themselves. The club also has to find answers behind those two, as Domingo German (now injured), CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ haven’t been able to provide any of late. Don’t be surprised if general manager Brian Cashman, after acquiring Encarnacion, makes another significant trade for starting pitching as a result.
The Yankees’ bullpen, meanwhile, doesn’t need a lot of help. Their relief corps hasn’t matched some of the “best ever” talk that was out there entering the season, but it remains a strength. And the group will become all the more formidable if Dellin Betances, yet another injured standout, returns sometime in the summer. Betances, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman forming Voltron at the end of games would certainly make life easier on the Yankees’ rotation, regardless of whether the team adds a starter from outside.
At 42-27, the Yankees don’t carry the AL’s best record – not by a long shot. Both Minnesota and Houston are five games ahead of the Yankees, and the Astros have a few of their own cornerstones mending from injuries in Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa.
Let’s also not discount two of the Yankees’ division rivals, Tampa Bay and reigning World Series champion Boston. The Rays are just a half-game behind the Yankees and, for what it’s worth, own a far better run differential (plus-96 to plus-65). Furthermore, they could get back an important in-season reinforcement in budding ace Tyler Glasnow, out since May with a forearm strain, as early as next month.
The Red Sox don’t look as if they’ll approach last year’s 108-win outburst, and they have 5 1/2 games to make up on the Yankees. However, the sleeping giant in Boston may finally be waking up, having won four in a row. The Sox also own a plus-47 run differential that’s not quite befitting of their 38-34 record, and they’re another team with an injured starter (Nathan Eovaldi) who may return soon to complete its rotation.
Considering the presences of the Twins, Astros, Rays and Red Sox – not to mention a few other playoff contenders – the Yankees have their work cut out for them if they’re going to earn their first pennant since 2009. Plus, any or all of those teams could bolster themselves by the deadline. The Yankees, though, have managed one of the game’s top records thus far without many (or any) contributions from Encarnacion, Judge, Stanton – three players about to grace their lineup on a daily basis – and may see Severino and Betances return. With that in mind, is New York the favorite in the AL?
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