When a team owns the second-best record in baseball in early July, leads the league in home runs and has yet to lose more than three games in a row, one needs to dig deep to find reasons to be critical of it.
And yet, there are nits to pick about the Yankees. Aside from Luis Severino, their starting pitching has been spotty. Their offense, while capable of jaw-dropping displays of power, can sometimes look punchless with runners in scoring position. Their middle relief is erratic at times, and there have been questions about whether the team is too reliant on the long ball.
Some have even criticized Manager Aaron Boone for his habit of wearing a batting practice pullover instead of the iconic pinstriped Yankees home jersey.
Those criticisms seemed especially petty as the Yankees ran up an a 6-0 lead over the Atlanta Braves through four innings on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
But then starter Domingo German allowed the Braves to claw their way back into the game with a pair of fifth-inning home runs, and some of those complaints began to grow teeth.
It was enough to make Boone nervous despite what seemed like a commanding lead.
“Tonight it felt like Domingo was struggling a little bit,” he said. “I was hoping he could kind of lock it in and get us through the middle innings.”
Even after Giancarlo Stanton’s two-run homer in the eighth inning helped to nail down a tougher-than-expected 8-5 victory, some nagging questions persisted.
How had the Yankees failed, once again, to come up with a clutch hit for the first seven innings? After going 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position in Monday’s 5-3, 11-inning loss, the Yankees were 1 for 11 through seven innings on Tuesday, and that one — a single by Aaron Judge — didn’t even drive in a run, with Brett Gardner merely advancing from second to third.
And aside from a pair of home runs — a two-run blast by Aaron Hicks in the first inning and a solo shot by Kyle Higashioka in the second — the Yankees had scored without the benefit of a base hit, using five walks in the third and a wild pitch in the fourth to add three more runs.
A. J. Cole, who was reinstated from the disabled list earlier in the day, had a stellar appearance in relief of German, but the normally reliable Adam Warren allowed the Braves to pull within a run, 6-5, by surrendering a two-run homer to Nick Markakis in the seventh.
When Warren allowed two more hits in the eighth, putting the tying run in scoring position with one out, Boone had no choice but to summon Chasen Shreve, who has struggled in many of his appearances this season, in an attempt to salvage what had earlier looked like an easy victory.
On this night, Shreve came through, striking out Ender Inciarte and getting Ozzie Albies to ground out, preserving the slim lead.
Stanton, who has not performed well at home, then came up with the only truly timely Yankees hit of the night. With Judge on base, Stanton hit an opposite-field fly ball that landed just inside the foul pole and a couple of rows beyond the 314-foot sign on the right-field wall, providing closer Aroldis Chapman with some breathing room.
“We just kept fighting,” Stanton said. “We all contributed, and we know that’s what we need. So that’s how it’s going to be.”
Chapman, who struck out the side in an overpowering ninth-inning Monday night, fanned Freddie Freeman and Markakis and got Kurt Suzuki to fly out to earn his 24th save in 25 opportunities.
Despite the flaws, Boone — who wore a jersey rather than his customary pullover — came away from the win focusing on the positives.
“I’m always so impressed with these guys,” he said. “The way they battle, they way they go about things, their professionalism. The fun they have playing the game.”
He then added, “I think the one thing about this club that they’ve shown through the first 80-plus games is that we’ve shown an ability to win games in a lot of different ways.”
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