NEW YORK -- It might be time for the Yankees to start inching away from the panic button. In two competitive games in the Subway Series, the Yankees held their own against a Mets team that came to the Bronx with baseball's second-best record -- a series that, as both teams acknowledged, could become a preview of the World Series.
"They're a great ballclub over there. We're just trying to have good at-bats," Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said. "This is potentially a team we can see down the stretch."
After the Yankees took both games against the Mets in the Bronx this week, evening the season series at 2-2, here are some takeaways the team can use to help swing momentum back from its 4-14 stretch earlier this month.
Aaron Judge broke out of his drought
When a player is hitting as well as Judge has this season, it's hard to call any stretch a slump. But in the nine games leading up to the Subway Series, Judge was hitting .133 with 13 strikeouts, marking one of the only down stretches of his season at the plate.
Two homers in two games can change things quickly. Judge hit two mammoth shots, a 404-foot opposite-fielder against Max Scherzer and a 453-foot line drive to left against Taijuan Walker. Talk of any slump seemed to surprise Judge.
"Home run drought, that's news to me," Judge said. "I really don't worry about that. I'm happy to barrel something up."
The pitch Judge hit off Scherzer wasn't a meatball, either. It was a well-located fastball on the outside part of the plate that Judge simply did a good job of driving the opposite way. The future Hall of Fame pitcher and Mets ace acknowledged it after the game.
"I thought if I kept the ball down on Judge, I could keep him in the ballpark," Scherzer said. "But he put a better swing on it."
Where Judge goes, the Yankees' offense goes. Judge's recent struggles at the plate exacerbated the troubles plaguing the rest of the lineup. Heading into Tuesday night, the Yankees were hitting .218/.289/.359 in August, after hitting .245/.331/.444 from April through July. Judge represents the through line for the group's success, and if he has found his power stroke again after a brief dry spell, it should be a sign of good things to come.
Andrew Benintendi started to find his footing as a Yankee
Benintendi represented one of the team's biggest additions at the trade deadline after he put together a strong start to the season with the Kansas City Royals, hitting .320/.387/.398 with three homers and 14 doubles. But in his first 22 games with the Yankees, he hit just .192/.302/.301.
"I wouldn't necessarily use that as why I was not performing the way that I would like to," Benintendi said. "It's unfortunate that it happened right as I got over here. It's a hard game and you keep that working and pray that it will turn around. Continue working with the guys and put good at-bats together."
The newly minted Yankees outfielder has begun to turn things around, hitting .320/.414/.640 with a homer, triple and three doubles in 29 plate appearances across seven games from Aug. 16 to Aug. 22. In the Subway Series, Benintendi went 2-for-3 with a double in the first game and 2-for-4 in the second game.
Manager Aaron Boone expressed no concerns that Benintendi would eventually find his way with the Yankees.
"Benny is one of those guys, because he is so low-key and such a good hitter, that you don't worry about over the long haul, coming into a new environment, getting settled, all those things that factor into your life," Boone said. "I think the biggest thing is he's starting to settle and we're starting to see it kind of level out and be the hitter that we know we're getting."
The rotation got the version of Frankie Montas it needed
Along with Benintendi, Montas represented the team's prize addition at the trade deadline, and they'll need him to perform for the team to be a threat to win the World Series.
He struggled out of the gate after dealing with a death in his family and coming back from a shoulder injury. Entering his start on Tuesday, Montas had allowed 14 runs in 14 innings for a 9.00 ERA. That, combined with Jordan Montgomery's standout performance in St. Louis, made the contrast even more stark. Through four starts with the Cardinals, Montgomery has a 0.35 ERA and a 0.62 WHIP, allowing just one run in 25⅔ innings.
The struggles got to the point where general manager Brian Cashman needed to address the trade for Montas a few weeks after the swap with the Oakland Athletics.
"You wouldn't change the attempt to acquire him, but we were unaware of him being out of pocket," Cashman said. "So you add in being out for 10 to 12 days before his next start on top of him building back from being down for a period of time and now transition to another club, he just hasn't gotten out of the gates as well."
But Montas turned in his first strong start of his Yankees tenure on Tuesday against the Mets, going 5⅔ innings, allowing two runs while striking out six, walking one and hitting another, giving New York a taste of what made him among the most sought-after pitchers at the trade deadline after he posted a 3.18 ERA in 19 starts for the A's.
"You feel way better," Montas said. "I was hoping to go out there and compete, throw good pitches. Just trying to keep it going and go out there and do my best."
The Yankees started doing the small things again
Aside from a Gleyber Torres mishap that allowed the Mets to tie the score in the sixth inning on an outfield relay in the finale, the Yankees put together a clean two-game set defensively and had better at-bats than the group had through most of August. The team made multiple double plays on Tuesday behind Montas, getting him out of tough jams.
"For 10 to 12 days, we were having a hard time scoring runs," Boone said. "A lot of good things the last couple of days defensively, on the bases, different guys stepping up whether it be in the bullpen or the rotation. You got clutch hits, clutch at-bats from guys."
Judge noticed the improvement during the team's three-game winning streak, dating to the series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I don't want to think about those past couple series we had, but I think the most important thing is we learned from it," Judge said. "We learned about what not to do. We don't do the little things, we don't make the little plays, you don't prepare the right way, teams are going to come after you. You learn from those mistakes, learn from those series and time to move on and go back to playing."
The bullpen depth clicked
While Boone can't rely on former closer Aroldis Chapman for high-leverage innings at the moment, Michael King and Chad Green are out for the year and Clay Holmes is on the injured list, the bullpen displayed its potential beyond its star contributors.
The Yankees saw strong contributions from Ron Marinaccio, Jonathan Loaisiga, Clarke Schmidt and Wandy Peralta throughout the two-game set against the Mets. Schmidt stood out, going three innings, allowing three hits, three walks, no strikeouts and no runs in the second game of the series.
"Right now, we're searching to kind of find some defined roles in our bullpen as we look forward to getting more guys back in the mix," Boone said.
Oswaldo Cabrera's charm necklace brought spark
The Yankees called up Cabrera for his versatility and ability to play many positions, including second base, third base, shortstop and right field so far in his short Yankees tenure. He has also brought new energy to the clubhouse.
One great example of that spark of youth has been the necklace Cabrera sports, which features pearls and charms. The necklace was handmade by Milton Ramos, a third-round pick of the Mets in 2014, and features the lettered beads spelling "OZ."
Hot dogs became straws
Dare to be as fearless as the Yankees fan who made a hot dog into a straw during Game 1 of the Subway series.
Life sentence. No parole.— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) August 23, 2022
(via NewYorkNico / IG) pic.twitter.com/Y24wnYmdbc
This is the American spirit of innovation at its finest. People laughed at the Wright Brothers for trying to fly a plane. People mocked Alexander Graham Bell for trying to develop the telephone.
The hot dog straw is the next step.