After the Yankees fell down 4-1, it felt as if the Yankees would go quietly and finally drop a game after a hot stretch in May where they’ve absolutely dominated offensively. Instead, Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo combined for six RBIs in this 7-4 win that went into extra innings, with the bullpen stepping up to allow the Yankees to stay in the game and hold the Reds off of the scoreboard in crucial moments of the contest. With the Yankees improving to 28-20 on the season, they continue their strong surge in May, improving to the 6th-best record in baseball.
It was an action-packed game with plenty of twists and turns, but ultimately resulted in a big win for the Bronx Bombers
Good News: Yankees’ Dynamic Duo Continues to Mash, Bottom of the Lineup Stepping Up
Excluding Chris Bassitt and the Blue Jays shutting the Yankees out across 10 innings, the Yankees have been a force to be reckoned with offensively. In the month of May, the Yankees averaged 5.6 runs per game, and Aaron Judge and Harrison Bader are massive reasons for this. Both returned from injury this month, and both have excelled, with Bader slowing down as of late but Aaron Judge continues to be the best hitter in the entire sport. Despite not hitting a home run today, Judge was still impeccable, going 4-4 with three RBIs including a huge go-ahead single in the 10th.
Aaron Judge’s quality of contact is on-par if not better than his historic 2022 season, with his exit velocity, barrel rate, xwOBACON, and sweet spot rate all being better than his 2022 numbers. The Yankee captain is locked in, and the Yankees are scoring a ton of runs because of it. He’s the life of this offense, but he can’t do it all alone. On top of Aaron Judge’s surge, the Yankees have seen Anthony Rizzo be Mr. Consistent for them once again.
Anthony Rizzo’s offensive success has gone overlooked on a national level, as while Aaron Judge is the best hitter and player on the team by far, Rizzo’s been remarkable. With 11 HRs and a 155 wRC+, Rizzo’s batting average and on-base rate are significantly higher than where it’s been in recent years, and that’s been a huge difference-maker for the 3x All-Star. The Yankees are seeing the results of the shift being limited, but also seeing Rizzo change his approach at the plate. Rizzo made a massive change in his approach in 2022 to generate more flyballs, but in 2023 he’s found an even more optimal swing path.
It’s Rizzo’s best line drive rate of his career, and while I’m not entirely sure what the approach change is, we’re currently looking at the best version of Anthony Rizzo offensively at the plate. With 1.6 fWAR, Rizzo’s just 0.8 WAR short of matching his 2022 fWAR, and that’s also because his defense has matched his offense in terms of improvement. With +2 DRS and +2 OAA, Rizzo’s been one of the better defensive first basemen in baseball as well, a dramatic improvement on his -3 DRS and -2 OAA the year prior.
The Yankees have an incredible duo in Judge and Rizzo, and with Stanton nearing a rehab assignment, the Yankees could have one of the most formidable trios in the sport offensively. It’s a matter of whether the depth of the team can continue to hit, but so far it seems like they have enough to weather the storm at least until the deadline. That being said, two of their biggest contributors in today’s game came from unlikely heroes in Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt (who does exist!).
Isiah Kiner-Falefa continues a strong month of May, clubbing his second home run of the season and his second in his last three starts. The Yankees saw IKF get off to a brutal start in April, but his defensive utility in the outfield and infield alongside his speed made him a valued player to the organization. If he can continue to swing the bat at a respectable clip, an 80-85 wRC+ IKF with plus defense in the outfield is a valuable bench piece. IKF’s looking to take advantage of the playing time opportunities he can get, even if they come sparingly, and his selfless nature’s helped him garner plenty of respect from his teammates and fans.
It took IKF until September 5th last season to hit his second homer of the season, and while I don’t believe IKF is going to have an offensive explosion, he’s certainly trending upwards on the year. As for Ben Rortvedt, he simply hasn’t been healthy enough to find the field for the Yankees. He dealt with an aneurysm in Spring Training, a scary development that had much larger implications than simply missing games. After powering through that shocking situation, Rortvedt had put together solid numbers in Triple-A, and he was able to tag on two hits in the Yankees’ win.
He didn’t drive in any runs, but his hits were still vital as he came around to score twice in the game. Without Rortvedt’s efforts, the Yankees don’t get a chance in extra innings to add on three runs and secure the win, and if the left-handed catcher can hold his own at the plate, his glove and utility as a lefty will draw questions from the front office regarding his role in the organization. It’s far too early to start speculating on changing roles, but Kyle Higashioka is a free agent after next season, and they could look to move him at the deadline or in the offseason.
Bad News: Jhony Brito Still Needs Work
After a remarkably Spring Training, Jhony Brito failed to stick with the big league team after a golden opportunity and a strong first start. It’s unfortunate for the young righty, who displayed excellent velocity and an amazing changeup, but his lack of a strong breaking pitch and general inability to locate reliably caused him to struggle against the Reds and on the season. He was tagged for four runs across four innings, allowing four walks while striking out six batters as well. He’ll finish his first stint in the big leagues with a 5.58 ERA and 5.55 FIP, as he was demoted as the corresponding move for Luis Severino.
The book’s far from closed on the 25-year-old starter, as Triple-A is a great opportunity for him to work on developing a quality breaking ball that he could use against right-handed hitters. Personally speaking, a sweeper would work extremely well for him, though maybe he feels a little more comfortable with a firmer slider that has less horizontal break and more vertical break. He’s toyed around with a curveball, but I don’t think the pitch will do him much good against righties, since curveballs rely more on vertical movement rather than the horizontal kind that typically works in right-on-right matchups.
It’s a learning experience for Brito, who hopes to use this and learn from it to improve his e