Memorial Day weekend has arrived, and while in the real world it serves as the unofficial beginning of summer and a chance to get away for a long weekend, in the baseball world it serves as the first real benchmark of a 162-game marathon.
Over the first two months of the season, it can be difficult to know which early numbers are a sign of things to come and which can be written off as being a small sample size that will even out as the season goes on.
But Memorial Day weekend gives teams a chance to come up for air and evaluate where they and their players are, nearly a third of the way through the season.
With that in mind, here are three trends the Yankees have established heading into the holiday weekend, with a look at whether they are real or not:
Aaron Judge could give his 2022 season a run for its money
Starting in spring training, whenever questions about personal expectations were posed to Aaron Judge, most were prefaced by a caveat that it was unrealistic to think he could repeat his 62-homer season from 2022.
And most of the time — whether he said it or his face did — Judge’s response was, “Why not?”
Over the past two weeks, that answer has come to mind as Judge has returned from his IL stint and gone on a tear. He is batting .288 with a 1.032 OPS and 14 home runs.
“I’m not gonna compare, especially to one of the most historic seasons ever,” Kyle Higashioka said. “But he’s as good as anyone’s seen him this year. We love seeing that from him. He’s special to watch.”
OK, we’ll compare just slightly.
Last year, entering Memorial Day weekend, Judge was batting .313 with a 1.065 OPS and 17 home runs. But one disclaimer: Because the lockout pushed back the start of the season, those numbers were through 45 team games. This year — adding in the 10 games he missed while on the IL — Judge’s numbers entering the holiday weekend are through 52 team games.
It still remains unrealistic to expect anyone to hit 62 home runs in a given season. That’s what makes it so monumental when it does happen.
But Judge looks primed to put together another monster season, even if it may not rise to the historic, record-breaking level.
The Yankees are using a closer-by-committee
Clay Holmes entered the season as the incumbent closer, though Aaron Boone did say in spring training the Yankees wouldn’t be afraid to use him in the eighth inning if certain matchups dictated it.
Still, it has been notable how much the Yankees have truly mixed and matched the late innings this season. Not including a three-inning save from Deivi Garcia, the Yankees have used six different relievers to record saves.
Holmes still leads the team with five saves, but only one of them has come since April 14. In between Holmes’ fourth and fifth saves, the Yankees got saves from Wandy Peralta (three), Michael King (three), Ron Marinaccio, Ian Hamilton and even Ryan Weber.
“I like [Holmes] not strictly in the ninth,” Boone said recently. “There’s going to be days where it does line up where he’s closing the game. But I like putting him in situations that we feel he can thrive in.”
Moving forward, expect to see more shared ninth-inning responsibilities, with one wild card: If the Yankees get to a point where they feel comfortable using Michael King on back-to-back days, he could become an intriguing and consistent closing option.
They have been getting closer to potentially using King on back-to-back days, but remain cautious about rushing that process in light of the broken elbow he suffered last July.
For now, King remains valuable as a multi-inning threat who can pitch every few days.
“I think, at its best, you got a lot of really good, complementary options that complement one another with who they’re more equipped to get out and who they’re more dominant, potentially, against,” Boone said. “When you match those things up, it puts you in a good spot. Especially when we’re whole, I feel like we have four or five guys I’m really comfortable handing the ball to in the ninth inning if they’re in the right situation.”
Anthony Volpe’s hot-and-cold start
When the decision was made to have Anthony Volpe break camp with the big league team, the Yankees knew that struggles would be inevitable. They happen for just about every rookie, regardless of his prospect ranking or how well he did in spring training.
The 22-year-old Volpe is now batting .199 with a .649 OPS and seven home runs. The power has been a bigger factor than some expected, and his baserunning instincts have been evident in going 13-for-13 on stolen-base attempts. With positive defense at shortstop, he ranks fifth on the team with 1.2 bWAR.
But after Volpe was getting on base at a solid clip early in the season — he ended April with a .333 on-base percentage — his OBP has fallen to .284.
Two things to keep in mind: Volpe was a slow starter during his minor league career, and the Yankees believe he has the baseball IQ to make adjustments well and the mindset to not get bogged down by the struggles.
So though we’re not expecting Volpe to rise all the way up to be among the league’s hitting leaders, he should finish the season with his batting average and OPS a good bit higher than it is now — perhaps along the lines of .240/.750.
Want to catch a game? The Yankees schedule with links to buy tickets can be found here.
For a guy who was so out of sight over his first year-plus with the Yankees that social media believed he might not actually exist, Ben Rortvedt has delivered a solid first impression.
The 25-year-old catcher, who came over from the Twins last year along with Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the trade for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela, was called up last week when Jose Trevino landed on the injured list with a hamstring strain.
Rortvedt has started two of the Yankees’ six games since then, and has made the most of the opportunities. He went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored in a win over the Reds on Saturday, and in Thursday night’s loss to the Orioles, he walked in both of his plate appearances before being lifted for a pinch-hitter.
Boone was also impressed by Rortvedt’s work behind the plate, which included getting incorporated into the Yankees’ sign system, trying to stop the Reds’ running game and learning to catch some new pitchers on the fly. That included the sinker-balling Holmes, whom Rortevdt caught for the first time ever in the ninth inning of a 4-1 game with the shadows in effect at Great American Ball Park.
“[That] was a little different,” Rortvedt said with a grin.
Trevino is expected back before long — potentially by the time the Yankees begin a road trip on Monday in Seattle — but Rortvedt has made himself a more intriguing option, if nothing else.
Of course, had Rortvedt not been injured for all of camp last year after the Yankees acquired him, they may not have ended up trading for Trevino at the end of that spring training.
“His ability and athleticism behind the plate [stands out],” Boone said. “He’s compact like Trevy a little bit, really good receiver, really good hands and can really throw. Good athlete back there. All those things are why we got him. It’s good to see him healthy and contributing.”
A large portion of the fan base seemed to be celebrating last Saturday when the Yankees designated Aaron Hicks for assignment.
The move was destined to happen at some point this season, barring a huge turnaround from the veteran outfielder, but that didn’t make it any easier for Hicks to swallow.
He appeared shell-shocked and still had tears in his eyes as said his goodbyes and exchanged hugs with teammates in the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park before heading back to the team hotel to await his next instructions — the Yankees are in the midst of a seven-day period in which they must either trade Hicks or place him on waivers (which will result in his release).
Hicks’ final three seasons with the Yankees were mostly brutal, because of injuries and underperformance.
For the most part, though, he did not run from his struggles, remaining available and honest (perhaps too much so, from the team’s perspective) with reporters — including on Saturday, when he agreed to speak with The Post for a few minutes before heading out of the clubhouse with his bags packed. From this reporter’s perspective, at least, that was much appreciated.
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