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Scorching Yankees About to Get Hotter With Return of Bruised Bombers

New York is one of the hottest teams in baseball despite missing a slew of players due to injury and COVID-19, and it's putting the American League on notice.

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In their last game before the All-Star Break, the Yankees watched glumly as the Astros walked them off to keep them at eight games out of first place. Since that day, even with half of its roster on the injured list, New York is 20–9, best in the sport. Over that span, the team has increased its playoff odds, per FanGraphs, by 12 percentage points, to 53.7%. The Rays still probably own the division, but suddenly the Yankees are two games behind the A’s and the Red Sox in the wild-card race.

The star of New York’s latest win, 2–1 over the Angels, was ace Gerrit Cole, who was making his first appearance in three weeks after a positive COVID test sidelined him. He threw 5 ⅔ one-run innings, struck out nine and hit 100 mph.

It served as a reminder of how dearly the team misses many of its best players. The Yankees’ injury list doubles as a pretty good major league roster: Gary Sánchez (COVID-19) at catcher, Anthony Rizzo (COVID-19) at first base; Gleyber Torres (sprained left thumb), Miguel Andújar (strained left wrist) and Gio Urshela (strained left hamstring) rotating through second, third and short; Clint Frazier (vision problems), Aaron Hicks (torn sheath in his left wrist) and Trey Amburgey (right hamstring strain) in the outfield; Tim Locastro (torn right ACL) at DH; Luis Severino (right-shoulder tightness), Jordan Montgomery (COVID-19), Domingo Germán (right-shoulder inflammation), Corey Kluber (strained right shoulder) and Yoendrys Gómez (COVID-19) in the rotation; and Aroldis Chapman (left-elbow inflammation), Michael King (bruised right middle finger), Darren O’Day (strained left hamstring) and Clay Holmes (COVID-19) in the bullpen.

That’s 18 players currently on the IL, most in the sport. The team has lost 32 players total, for 1,294 days and $40 million. Going just by their preseason Steamer projections on FanGraphs, those hitters would average an .801 OPS, the pitchers for a 4.30 ERA. Three-quarters of the way through the season, if the projections held, the injured Yankees offense would be worth about 11 WAR to this point. The real Yankees offense has been worth 13.8.

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New York Yankees left fielder Joey Gallo (13) celebrates his two-run home run against the Los Angeles Angels with designated hitter Aaron Judge (right) during the first inning at Yankee Stadium.

Yankees left fielder Joey Gallo (13) celebrates his two-run home run against the Los Angeles Angels with designated hitter Aaron Judge (right) during the first inning at Yankee Stadium.

“It feels like once we get somebody back, somebody else gets hit with COVID, or somebody else gets hurt,” right fielder Aaron Judge said Monday. “But this team, we’re fighters.”

They’re about to get some help: The Bruised Bombers are on their way back to the Bronx. Montgomery is expected to start on Tuesday against the Red Sox. Sánchez could join him. Rizzo is expected to resume workouts on Tuesday. Urshela ran at an 80% effort level on Monday and could begin a rehab assignment this week. Holmes could be back with the big-league club this week. Germán should not be far behind. Kluber threw 45 pitches in a rehab appearance last week and should be activated in September.

This team has a chance to be the club that most everyone expected to cruise all season. Still, the Yankees dug themselves a hole with their uneven start to the season, and they now face a tougher stretch-run schedule than most of their division rivals: They get only six more games against the Orioles (currently on pace for 53 wins) and three against the Rangers (58), while the Red Sox and Blue Jays each get a dozen chances to beat up on the league’s worst teams.

Still, the Yankees are one of the hottest teams in baseball. The players who aren’t there are almost as good. And the bad news for the rest of the American League is that many of them are on their way back.

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