Thursday was exactly what the Yankees needed, a 12-1 win over the Rays setting them up for their final regular-season series this weekend.
The Bombers cut their magic number to clinch home-field advantage over the A’s to one and head into Boston with a chance to get that done early.
Now, the Yankees just have to hope that Thursday’s game was also what Giancarlo Stanton needed to get their slumping slugger back to dangerous form.
Stanton hit two home runs in the rout of the Rays Thursday. They were two of four homers hit by the Bombers at Tropicana Field. That gives the Yankees 260 total home runs this season, four shy of the major league record set by the 1997 Mariners, with three games to play at Fenway this weekend.
“We’d rather get home field advantage first,” Stanton told reporters at Tropicana Field. “This would be icing on the cake. It would be cool to get it, but it’s not the main goal right now.”
But then after asking how many they needed, Stanton laughed and added: “We’ve got time, we can do it.”
Stanton and the Yankees are built for power.
It was the 24th multi-home run game of the season by a Yankee hitter, tying the record set by the ‘61 Yankees and the ‘66 Braves. It was the fourth multi-home run game of the season for Stanton, who now has 37 homers in his first year with the Yankees.
The two home runs, however, also matched the total homers he had hit in the 21 previous games in September. In other words, Stanton was not getting the job done at the plate. In that span, the slugger was hitting just .159 with a .293 on-base and .255 slugging percentage.
Actually, Stanton’s struggles have been going on since the middle of last month and the Yankees cannot afford to have them extend into October. This will be a big test for Stanton. In eight seasons in Miami, the 28-year-old has never played a meaningful game in September or October. No playoff games, no real serious pennant chases.
But the Yankees can’t have him feeling his way into this. They desperately need him to deliver in the postseason.
That’s why they got him last winter. The 2017 National League MVP hit 59 homers and drove in 132 runs last year. The Yankees traded for him because his swing is a good fit for Yankee Stadium and this lineup is built to win on power.
In fact, the Yankees have scored 421 of their 830 runs this season via the home run.
It isn’t just Stanton. They have a major-league record 12 hitters with 10 home runs or more — but two of those guys are on the sidelines right now.
The Yankees said they are optimistic they will have Aaron Hicks (tight hamstring) and Didi Gregorius (torn cartilage right wrist) back in the lineup before the wild card game Wednesday. Even though they do have Aaron Judge back, the slugger is yet to show that he is fully back from the fractured right wrist that cost him seven weeks on the disabled list.
So, it is even more important that Stanton is ready to deliver in the postseason. Stanton is a streaky hitter, he goes through peaks and valleys every season. He’s been in a very deep valley since the middle of last month. In his previous 32 games, Stanton hit .161 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 124 at-bats.
Of course, Stanton has been carrying a heavy load.
He was hitting in the second spot for the nearly two months Judge was on the disabled list and he was doing it with a tight left hamstring for most of that period. Both Aaron Boone and Stanton have been adamant that his leg has not been an issue. It was just a matter of getting his timing back. When asked after Thursday’s game if he was close, Stanton nodded his head emphatically and said yes.