Gary Sanchez's Strong Return Can Keep Streaking Yankees on Top of MLB

Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 14:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)   Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees in action against the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium on April 14, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Cardinals 4-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Yankees have won six straight games. They own the best record in baseball at 21-9 entering play Tuesday.

That's excellent news in the Bronx, to state the obvious, and here's some more: Gary Sanchez is back. 

He's back in a literal sense, as he came off the disabled list Friday after missing most of the season with a strained biceps. 

He's also back in a yep-he-can-still-rake sense.

On the heels of a marathon, 18-inning win over the Chicago Cubs Sunday, Sanchez helped propel the Yanks to a 10-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds by going 3-for-3 with a pair of RBI on Monday. 

He reached base five times. He looked every bit the player who took the Show by storm last season, cracking 20 home runs with a 1.032 OPS in 53 games and finishing second in American League Rookie of the Year balloting. 

What could that guy mean for a Yankees team that has streaked to the top of the AL East and appears primed for a postseason run? 

In a word, everything.

Sanchez went 3-for-3 Monday after missing most of the season with a biceps injury.
Sanchez went 3-for-3 Monday after missing most of the season with a biceps injury.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Oh, New York did just fine in his absence. Second baseman Starlin Castro and outfielder Aaron Hicks got hot, and rookie right fielder Aaron Judge has clubbed 13 home runs. Veterans such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Holliday have chipped in as well.

Sanchez, though, can be a difference-maker. If he reemerges as the beating heart of the Bronx Bombers, it takes pressure off other hitters and turns an already potent attack into a genuine juggernaut. 

Granted, we're talking about a 24-year-old kid with fewer than 300 big league plate appearances under his belt. 

"I felt confident against every pitcher I faced. I didn't feel overmatched against anybody," Sanchez told me in November of his charmed rookie season. "Now, having said that, next year is when they're going to start seeing me a second, third, fourth time, so now the challenge is they're going to adapt and adjust to me."

He's right. A sophomore slump could be in the offing. Pitchers from coast to coast are studying tape of Sanchez and seeking to exploit his weaknesses, such as they are.

Then again, some dudes simply keep hitting. In his admittedly small MLB sample, Sanchez looks like one of those dudes.

Steamer projects a 2017 line of .269/.332/.493 with 23 home runs, per FanGraphs. Even factoring in Sanchez's DL stint, that seems like a baseline rather than a ceiling. 

Oh, and he's a weapon behind the dish, too, where he's gunned down 39 percent of would-be base-stealers over the past two seasons.

Sanchez has flashed impressive skills behind the plate in addition to his hitting.
Sanchez has flashed impressive skills behind the plate in addition to his hitting.G Fiume/Getty Images

Marry him to Judge, and the Yanks could be sitting on a historic two-headed monster, as Ryan M. Spaeder of Sporting News highlighted:

That's not even addressing outfielder Clint Frazier and shortstop Gleyber Torres, who are marinating in the minors, part of an enviably loaded farm.

New York, as I noted, may go shopping for starting pitching at the trade deadline. They've got stiff competition in the crowded, noisy AL East. The Baltimore Orioles are off to a fine start, and the arch-rival Boston Red Sox lurk.

This is a burgeoning, hungry squad, however, a far cry from the creaky, payroll-crushing Yankees of recent vintage. Sanchez exemplifies that vibe.

New York's sweep of the Cubs felt like a harbinger. Last year, Chicago rode its emerging core on a curse-busting title run. 

The Yankees last hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy in 2009, but that counts as a drought at 1 East 161st Street. 

Forget a rebuild. From the vantage point of May, the Yanks can make October noise, especially if Sanchez stays healthy and does his thing.

"I can tell you that we are going to work hard to bring a championship to New York," Sanchez told me in November.

Six months later, that sounds prescient and entirely plausible.

     

All statistics current as of Monday and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball Reference