New York Yankees: Gary Sanchez is hot at the right time

A disheartening start to the season seems to have been left in the dust, and it’s no coincidence Sanchez and the Yankees are taking off at the right time.

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(Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports via REUTERS/KELVIN KUO)

The Kraken has been unleashed. 

Actually, the Kraken has been unleashed for some time, now. It’s been no coincidence the Yankees have become the Flying Dutchman, mastering the seas due to the forceful combination of the (mainly) starboard swinging lineup and crafty pitching, at the same time as Gary Sanchez’s reemergence as the best offensive catcher in baseball.

And if the Yankees will continue to instill fear across the league, they will need their best players playing at their best. Aaron Judge has been consistent, showing 2017 was no fluke, and Didi Gregorius has been playing at an MVP level in the early going. With Sanchez swinging the bat the league has respected and feared over the past two years, the Yankees’ add a third threat to the heart of the lineup while also buying themselves time to allow Giancarlo Stanton to find his footing.

Say what you will about his defensive struggles; his propensity for allowing passed balls obscures one of the strongest arms in the game at his position. But don’t discount what he’s been able to do at the plate.

A dreadful start

Baseball is a game predicated on failure.

We’ve all heard the adage: you can fail seven out of ten times and still be in the Hall of Fame. It’s what makes the sport beautiful and unique, but also unforgiving.

Sanchez’ 2 for 36 start at the plate taught him how true that was. He had taken the league by storm in 2016 after slugging 20 home runs in only 53 games. For an encore performance, he slugged 33 home runs and 90 RBI while missing the entire first month of the 2017 season. 

There was no question he could hit, which was why his batting average of .081 after an April 10th matchup with the Boston Red Sox was equally disturbing and astounding.  A 9-1 start for the Sawx was only salt in an open wound as the Yankees struggled to find their footing as they matched every win with a loss for the first throughout the beginning of April.

Sanchez’s early struggles seemed to be the product of rotten luck; his strikeout rate was down as his six strikeouts in those 36 at-bats, at 16.7%, was far lower than his 22.9% from a year ago. Perhaps it was the cold weather that plagued all of baseball for that first month of the season, but Sanchez’s track record—although only two years old—proved he was more than that .167 slugging percentage he owned.

What he needed was something, or someone, to turn the tides for him.

The turnaround

Enter David Price.

The tale of Gary Sanchez and David Price is well known amongst both Yankee and Red Sox fans alike. It’s a one-sided tale, favoring the former. Think of Price, if you can, as Superman, and Sanchez as his kryptonite.

Leading into their fated April 11th matchup, both players, like their teams, were trending in the wrong direction.  The Red Sox, 9-1 after walloping Luis Severino the night before in a 14-1 rout, were feeling good about the matchup at hand. David Price had failed to give up one earned (or unearned) run in his first two starts against the Tampa Bay Rays. Impressive as it was to throw 14 consecutive shutout innings against a team that was expected to be historically bad, Price’s first real test would be against Sanchez and the Yankees, a nemesis of his that seemed to bring out the worst in him.

So when Sanchez stepped into the batter’s box on a cold April night in Fenway, there was an expectation, and hope, that he would continue his success against the southpaw. The two-run home run that promptly cleared the Green Monster in left field was Sanchez’s fifth home run in 12 at-bats against Price.

And for good measure, Sanchez added a second off of Heath Hembree three innings later.

Since then

It’s best not to wake a sleeping bear.

Or a kraken.

Since that April 11th game, Sanchez has reasserted himself as the best hitting catcher in all of baseball. The following 17 games have seen the Yankees post a 13-4 record on the strength of a nine-game win streak. Sanchez has hit .309 in that span, with seven of his eight home runs and 24 of his 27 RBI on the season. 

The average is an ungainly sight; even with his improved play it sits at a mere .214, but that stands as a testament to his horrible start rather than his production throughout the early going. His eight home runs, 27 RBI, and 54 total bases pace every player at his position. 

And he’s shown the ability to hit the meaningful home run. His three-run shot against the Astros in the ninth inning on Tuesday broke a 0-0 deadlock that saw the Yankees’ lose starter Jordan Montgomery after the first inning and Justin Verlander stymie their offense on a 14 strikeout, eight-inning performance. 

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