Imagine for a second how the Red Sox would be faring if Mookie Betts had been limited to 20 games this season and J.D. Martinez only three because of injuries.
Toss in Chris Sale, Matt Barnes, and Xander Bogaerts being out all year and Rafael Devers playing only 12 games before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.
Think they would still be one of the best teams in the American League? The Yankees are, given what are equivalent losses.
What general manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone have accomplished so far this season has been remarkable.
The Yankees have 14 players on the injured list, including Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius, and Miguel Andujar. But they went into the weekend fighting with the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the division.
“Guys stepped up when they got a chance,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Domingo German has pitched like an ace. You can go down the list. We’ve been able to get through it.”
In other words, it’s not some fluke. The Yankees were prepared to the degree they could be.
“Good players. We’ve got good players,” Boone said. “Credit to them. Credit to our organization for the kind of depth that we’ve been able to create; the kind of acquisitions we’ve been able to make when we have had something happen.”
Boone also believes his coaching staff has done a good job of preparing the backups.
“But it comes down to the players,” he said.
German, an inconsequential player for four years, was 9-1 with a 3.43 earned run average after 11 games.
First baseman and designated hitter Luke Voit, obtained from the Cardinals for two Triple A pitchers last year, went into the weekend with 14 home runs and 38 RBIs.
DJ LeMahieu, signed to take on a super-utility role, settled in at second base and has kept his OPS over .800.
Gio Urshela, once a high-profile Indians prospect, was picked up in a waivers deal from Toronto in August. He has an .855 OPS filling in for Andujar at third base.
“I think it’s the attitude of the team,” said CC Sabathia, who is scheduled to come off the IL and face the Red Sox on Sunday night. “We know nobody is going to feel sorry for us. Just keep playing well no matter who’s in the lineup or what’s going on. Go out and play well every day.
“A lot of these guys, I think, saw themselves as everyday players but they weren’t on our team because of some of the superstars we had. It’s fun to see them step up and contribute in a big way.”
Gardner has been with the Yankees since 2008 and Sabathia since 2009. Both believe the organization’s culture helps to transform replacement-type players into valuable contributors.
“It doesn’t matter who we have. We know what the expectations are here,” Gardner said.
The Yankees haven’t had a losing season since 1992. It’s not an option to pack it in when it looks bleak. The Yankees haven’t always had a joyous clubhouse, but it has long been one where winning truly matters.
“I think it’s really important,” Boone said. “People who know me know how much the culture in that clubhouse matters. We’re fortunate that our older veteran guys are some of our best guys and help create an environment where people who come into our organization — whether it’s through our minor league system or whether it’s getting guys from outside — have come in and have the ability to be themselves and fit in.”
Culture is one of those buzzwords easily thrown around to a point where it doesn’t really mean anything. But when you see it in action, you know it. The 2013 Red Sox had it and this Yankees team does, too. Something good is happening.
“There’s something about the room just from an energy standpoint that can be a factor in helping you win some games along the way,” Boone said. “How do you quantify it? I don’t necessarily know. But I do believe that it matters.”
Because of what Alex Cora and the Red Sox did last season, that Boone won 100 games in his first season as a manager went unnoticed. He’s a big part of this, too.
“They did an outstanding job last year. I said it all along,” Cora said. “It took a historic season for them to finish second in the division. He knows what’s he doing. He was very calm last year. He dealt with adversity; he dealt with the media.
“It just happened that last year we won 108 games. If you tell me we’re going to win 100 games every season, I’ll take that. Most of the time you’re not going to finish second. He was good last year and he’s been great this year.”
The Yankees have the same financial might as the Red Sox. But Cashman has worked the margins to build a talent base in Triple A, and those players are helping to hold the team up.
Overall, the franchise successfully navigated the retirements of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and the other dynasty holdovers.
“When I was watching games at home, my mom used to say that’s a fun group to watch,” Cora said. “The energy [at Yankee Stadium] is a lot different than earlier. In ’17 when I was coaching against them this place was alive, and last year it was the same.”
For Boone, creatively building lineups and winning in different ways has been satisfying.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Boone said. “Everyone who’s come in, really to a man — large roles, small roles, been here for a few days — has brought something to the table. That’s been rewarding. That’s been something neat to be a part of.”
LET’S MAKE A DEAL
Trade winds will pick up very soon
The July 31 trade deadline is a true deadline now. Major League Baseball eliminated waiver trades as part of a new rules package approved in March.
Once teams get through the amateur draft, which starts on Monday and lasts three days, you can expect trade rumors to heat up.
There are 12-14 teams who have little realistic shot at contending for a playoff spot and will happily deal off veteran players.
The Red Sox, who clearly need relief help, will be among the contenders looking to improve in what should be a buyer’s market.
The Phillies also are evaluating relievers, along with the Cubs.
Two scouts offered up these names as potential targets: Alex Colome (White Sox), Jake Diekman (Royals), Ken Giles (Blue Jays), Shane Greene (Tigers), Ian Kennedy (Royals), and Will Smith (Giants).
All but Colome and Kennedy will be free agents after the season. The Nationals also could move Sean Doolittle if they can’t get over .500.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski skipped the last road trip to evaluate his own minor league prospects as part of the trade deadline preparations.
PROS AND CONS
Vazquez needs to sharpen defense
Christian Vazquez already has been charged with six passed balls and has been behind the plate for 17 wild pitches. And that’s without Steven Wright pitching.
What’s the story?
Blame pitch framing. Vazquez is one of the best in the game at stealing strikes by catching balls outside the strike zone in the webbing of his glove and making them look like strikes.
But the downside is missing those pitches entirely.
“Some of them were because of framing and some I just missed,” Vazquez said. “I need to make sure I catch the ball, obviously. That’s on me. I want to help the pitcher get a strike but I can’t let the ball get by me.”
Manager Alex Cora would prefer Vazquez think less about framing.
“I do feel people get caught up on framing pitches,” he said. “He’s working on it and he doesn’t like it. He’s been missing a few. You’ve got to be careful with that.”
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
■ Dustin Pedroia is with the Sox in New York this weekend but isn’t planning to go to Kansas City. You have to wonder if this will be the last road trip he takes as a player.
Pedroia is taking some time off from minor league games to decide whether to continue his comeback from a badly injured left knee and will return to his home in Arizona.
The Red Sox are being respectful of his wishes and won’t pressure Pedroia into a decision.
If there is any sort of deadline for that, it will come after the World Series when the 40-man roster has to be set before the Rule 5 Draft.
Pedroia can miss the remainder of the season on the 60-day injured list and not hamper the team’s ability to make moves. But once the season ends, he would have to be counted on the 40-man roster again.
That may not necessarily be an issue. But the Sox will need to protect infielders C.J. Chatham and Bobby Dalbec this year, and perhaps a few others.
■ One other note on Pedroia: He gave up dipping tobacco over the winter and stayed with it with the help of nicotine gum. It was a habit he had his whole career.
■ Glenn Jordan of the Portland Press Herald pointed out an interesting fact about lefthanded prospect Darwinzon Hernandez: He has allowed one home run against a lefthanded batter in six years of professional baseball.
That includes the Arizona Fall League and major league spring training games.
The home run was on April 17, 2017. Hernandez, pitching for Single A Greenville, allowed a home run by Wilmington first baseman Chris DeVito, who has since been released by the Royals.
It’s easy to understand why lefties would have trouble with Hernandez, who is 6 feet 2 inches with a high-velocity fastball.
Hernandez is in the rotation at Double A Portland but could eventually emerge as a key figure in the major league bullpen this season. That’s the path Brandon Workman took in 2013.
The Sox don’t have a lefthander in the bullpen now and could use one. Cora doesn’t view a lefty specialist as vital, but Hernandez certainly could be more valuable than some of the low-leverage types the Sox are carrying now.
Buckner praise was long overdue
It’s a shame that it took his death for some people to be reminded just how good of a player Bill Buckner was.
Buckner never struck out three times in a game, a remarkable accomplishment considering he played 22 seasons and started 2,110 games.
His strikeout high for a season was 39 in 1984. The only player in the expansion era with at least 10,000 career plate appearances and a lower strikeout rate was Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
Buckner was one of only five players who appeared in games in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. The others were Carlton Fisk, Rick Dempsey, Jerry Reuss, and Nolan Ryan.
Buckner also received MVP votes in five seasons and finished with more hits than dozens of Hall of Famers.
One other fact I came across while researching Buckner: Dave Stapleton, who was his defensive replacement in the 1986 playoffs — but not for Game 6 of the World Series — never played in the majors again.
Stapleton appeared in Game 5 for an inning and that marked the end of his career at age 32. He signed with the Seattle Mariners after the season as a free agent but was released in spring training and retired to become a housing contractor in his native Alabama.
Wednesday night’s incident at Minute Maid Park when a child was struck by a foul ball is again increasing calls to extend netting down to the foul poles at all major league parks. Here is really all you need to know: When the players arrange tickets for members of their family, they always make sure the seats are safely behind the netting because they know that even somebody paying rapt attention can’t get out of the way of a hard-hit line drive. Some teams remain hesitant because of complaints from season ticket-holders. Perhaps a person who is more concerned about his or her view being slightly impeded than the prospect of somebody dying is not worth having as a customer . . . The Arizona Diamondbacks designated John Ryan Murphy for assignment on May 25, leaving them with two catchers: Carson Kelly and Alex Avila. There are no plans to use Blake Swihart, who has been a corner outfielder since the Red Sox traded him. “I think having Blake here as a potential emergency guy gives me a lot of flexibility,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “But I’m not going to use Blake as a catcher unless it’s really, really necessary.” Many Red Sox fans wanted to believe Swihart had a bright future as a catcher. But the Sox didn’t view it that way and neither do the Diamondbacks. That is particularly telling when you consider that Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen was the Red Sox farm director when Swihart was drafted and assistant general manager Amiel Sawdaye was the scouting director who chose him in the first round . . . When the Indians were in town, MIT righthander Tommy Hannan and lefthander Adam Katz gave All-Star Trevor Bauer a tour of the campus and introduced him to Dr. Brian Anthony of the Institute of Medical Engineering & Science. They also toured the Nanotechnology Lab. Bauer is a big believer is using technology to guide how he pitches and where he can improve . . . The Rays drew a franchise-record-low crowd of 5,786 for Tuesday’s game against Toronto. They came into the game with a 32-19 record, having won five of six. It’s not anything to joke about anymore; it’s just grim. Kevin Cash and those players deserve a better market . . . Happy birthday, Mike Stanton, who is 52 on Sunday. Although the lefthander is best known for his time with the Yankees when he won three rings, Stanton appeared in 81 games for the Red Sox from 1995-96 and one game in 2005 after he was obtained on a waiver deal on Sept. 29. He pitched a scoreless inning. Stanton appeared in 53 postseason games, fourth all time. He now works for MLB Network Radio.