NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Yankees entered Monday’s game against Toronto tied for the best record in the American League, not startling for the sport’s most successful franchise but a major surprise for a Bronx turnaround project.
The Yankees have long been known for assembling the best talent money could buy through free agency but the Baby Bombers are relying heavily on younger, home-grown talent spearheaded this season by towering 25-year-old slugger Aaron Judge.
“I’m enjoying this right now,” general manager Brian Cashman told Reuters during batting practice.
“It’s good to see the excitement around our team again, and to win. It allows me to sleep better at night and I hope that continues.
“It’s great to see the buzz and excitement around a lot of the players that are young and have a chance to be around here a long time.”
The 6-foot-7 (2.01 m) Judge has been punishing opposing pitchers with a league-leading 10 home runs and 20 runs batted in while hitting over .300, and his sky-rocketing blasts have made his at-bats must-see Major League Baseball entertainment.
Gone are MLB’s former top-paid Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, giving way to younger blood. But manager Joe Girardi said he was not surprised by their 15-8 record.
“I was more surprised by our 1-4 start than where we are today,” Girardi told reporters. “I felt that we were going to score more runs, which we have. I felt like the bullpen was going to be really good.
“The one question mark that everyone had a little bit was how are our starting pitchers were going to do,” he said. “And they’ve done a great job.”
Luis Severino, 23, has taken a big step forward as the team’s next best starter behind Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, and the bench have helped offset injuries to last year’s young slugging sensation Gary Sanchez and shortstop Didi Gregorius.
Infielder Ronald Torreyes and back-up catcher Austin Romine have filled in admirably in the field and at the plate.
“This team is loose, it’s fun. There’s a lot of guys that are close and we have fun when we go out there,” Romine told Reuters before the game.
“It’s contagious when everybody is excited and relaxed and having fun.”
Yankees television commentator and former major league catcher John Flaherty said: “I would say it’s a perfect mix. A guy like (designated hitter) Matt Holliday was brought in for his veteran leadership and all these young players trying to establish themselves.
“But it’s a five-month grind. It’s not going to be this easy the whole way.”
Girardi gave his young players a vote of confidence, particularly Judge.
Asked if the soft-spoken Judge reminded him of any previous player, the manager paid the outfielder the ultimate compliment.
“He’s a little bit like Derek (Jeter), to me,” said Girardi. “He’s got a smile all the time. He loves to play the game. You always think he’s going to do the right thing on the field and off the field.
“When you look at him, he has a presence about him. He plays the game to win all the time and that’s the most important thing. It’s not about what you did that day.
“And I understand that’s a big comparison. But I remember Derek when he was young, and he grew into that leadership role.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney