NEW YORK — Baseball’s taxing calendar has flipped to August, but the New York Yankees remain a carefree bunch.
In the home clubhouse before starter Sonny Gray laid a dud against Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon, smiles were a common theme. Injured right fielder Aaron Judge and catcher Austin Romine — who passionately voiced his distaste for reggae music — engaged in hijinx over control of the auxiliary cord. Ace Luis Severino expressed glee unwrapping a fresh pair of kicks. Gray and others shook hands with newly acquired pitcher Lance Lynn, welcoming him to a home in pinstripes.
The Yankees have much at which to grin.
Despite losing, 7-5, to the Orioles, New York sits 30 games clear of .500 as they head north for a four-game set with Boston beginning Thursday evening. The Bronx Bombers have the second-best record in baseball at 68-38 and entered Wednesday leading the majors in slugging (.458) and OPS (.791).
Yet the Red Sox loom over the Yankees with every win Boston tacks onto its sparkling ledger. New York enters the series trailing Boston by 5½ games in the AL East. Yankees manager Aaron Boone knows he would drive himself loony tracking Boston’s every move, so he’s steering clear of scoreboard-watching.
“I don’t think [Boston’s success] has been frustrating and I don’t really allow myself to worry about things that are completely out of my control,” said Boone. “We know when we go [to] Fenway Park, it’s a great team that can beat you in a lot of different ways. We have to be at our best.”
The Yankees boarded their plane to New England coming off a month of July in which the team went 15-10 and mashed a MLB-high 37 home runs while averaging 5.6 runs per game.
Rookie infielders Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are two of the most alluring young hitters in baseball and have provided a consistent boost when others in the order have sputtered.
Torres hit his 16th and 17th homers of 2018 on Wednesday, the latter a three-run blast with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. New York is 49-21 when Torres plays and 19-17 without him. He became the eighth player in major league history, and first Yankee, to hit 17 home runs in his first 70 career games before turning 22, joining names such as Albert Pujols, Frank Robinson, and Willie Mays.
Meanwhile Andujar’s three-run jack on Tuesday capped a month in which he hit .330/.379/.443. He exited July leading all rookies with 45 extra-base hits and a .497 slugging percentage.
“He’s been really consistent,” said Boone of his third baseman. “He’s playing for the New York Yankees and is an impact player for us so it’s probably not fair to say he doesn’t get talked about, but I think he does get a little bit of that second billing.”
Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton has rid the early-April demons that plagued him, accumulating a slash line of .277/.342/.505 with 24 homers and 64 RBIs.
New York’s brawny mashers aren’t the only ones carrying their weight.
Starter Masahiro Tanaka, who will oppose David Price on Sunday night, has regained his form after being placed on the disabled list with a pair of strained hamstrings on June 9. Since his return just over a month later, Tanaka is 2-0 with a 1.75 ERA, tallying 27 strikeouts while allowing just six walks. He hasn’t lost since getting battered by Miami on April 17.
CC Sabathia is sturdy as ever at age 38, and never one to cower at a meaty Boston order.
“You look forward to it,” said Sabathia on pitching at Fenway. “Any time you get a chance to play a team leading the division, you want to go out and play well.”
Headed by Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, and David Robertson, New York’s bullpen remains full of zest. Entering Wednesday, the unit led baseball in strikeouts per nine (11.66), ERA (2.91), and WAR (6.9).
And former Orioles southpaw closer Zach Britton joins the already formidable bullpen after being obtained for prospects July 24.
“I’m feeling good,” said Britton. “Good guys in the clubhouse so they’ve made it easy for me.”
It’s not all rosy in the Big Apple. Severino has seen his ERA plummet nearly a run — from 1.98 to 2.94 — in four rocky July starts. Judge will stay on the shelf for at least another couple weeks with a broken wrist. Lefty starter J.A. Happ, another trade deadline acquisition, is questionable for Saturday’s outing after contracting hand, foot, and mouth disease.
Veteran outfielder Brett Gardner is no stranger to the cozy quarters at Fenway Park, and isn’t concerned about the aforementioned blemishes.
“It’s always a great atmosphere,” he said. “If we play the ball we’re capable of playing, we’ll catch them.”
The state of the Yankees is unequivocally strong. Just not as strong as the state of the Red Sox.
Owen Pence can be reached at email@example.com.