By Lenn Robbins
Watching the Yankees offense in 2018 was like being treated to a daily home run derby. The Bronx Bombers lived up to that moniker by blasting an MLB record 267 home runs. But this year, not so much.
Heading into Sunday’s games, the Yankees were 8th in home runs with 110, trailing the Twins by 25 long balls. Of course, the Yankees have been missing several key sluggers – Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius have missed major parts of the season.
Their absence has been highlighted by the fact that MLB is seeing a power surge this season. Three MLB teams –the Twins, Mariners and Brewers – are on pace to break the Yankees single-season home run record.
The Phillies and Diamondbacks slammed a record 13 home runs in their game on Friday, highlighting a 55-home run day in the majors. Teams are averaging 1.36 home runs per game, up from the record of 1.26 hit in 2017.
Never to be outdone, the Yankees bolstered their lineup by acquiring slugger Edwin Encarnacion from the Mariners for minor league pitcher Juan Then. Encarnacion was leading the American League in homers with 21. Encarnacion, who will DH and split time at first with Luke Voit (17 home runs) is expected to make his debut in pinstripes on Monday.
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez was second in the AL with 20 home runs. Stanton is expected to come off the injured list on Tuesday. Judge also could be back later this week.
“Potentially, over the next several days, Encarnacion, Stanton and Judge, that’s three elite power hitters plugged into our lineup,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters in Chicago before Sunday’s game against the White Sox. “Hopefully over time it creates a big-time advantage for us.’’
How’s that for an understatement?
The Yankees already got one boost to the lineup with the recent return of Gregorius. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI in Saturday’s win over the White Sox. Just as he made replacing Derek Jeter seem as effortless as possible, so has he made the return from Tommy John surgery.
As much as the Yankees will look to batter opposing pitchers, Didi’s defense is crucial. His 27 home runs last season is another danger sign to those hurlers: there are no easy outs in this lineup.
It’s a testament to the Yankees depth that they’ve managed to climb 15 games above .500 without so much firepower. With the addition of Encarnacion and return of those injured players, the Yankees can expert their lead in the AL East to grow – along with their home run numbers.