BALTIMORE — Maybe you can attribute this query to some serious New York bias, but can you find a more polarizing, agonizing, tantalizing player in Major League Baseball right now than Gary Sanchez?
Who else spends a weekend in Baltimore getting picked off twice and going deep four times? Leads his league in both home runs overall and errors at his position?
Generates so many questions to his manager about his amazing strengths and his obvious shortcomings?
Debate that all you’d like. Nevertheless, as the Yankees prepare to play their first fellow contender of this young 2019 season, there’s no debating this:
They are a considerably better team because they have Sanchez on their side.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards played host Sunday to a career day for The Kraken, who set personal bests with three homers and six RBIs as the Yankees went deep seven times overall to beat up on the Orioles, 15-3, and complete their first series sweep of the season. At 5-4, they raised their record over .500 for the first time since Opening Day.
With an American League-leading six homers, contributing greatly to his .813 slugging percentage, Sanchez looks more like his 2017 self: Replete with head-scratching moments in his catching gear and on the bases, yet more than worth the hassle thanks to the elite bat.
“Look, he’s a great player that’s still growing. It’s our job to help him continue to reach his peak in every facet of the game,” Aaron Boone said of Sanchez, who started at designated hitter on Sunday. “He’s making strides in a lot of areas of the game. We know we’ve got a special talent on our hands and a guy that impacts the game, period.”
“When things are going well, you’re going to feel more calm,” Sanchez said through an interpreter. “Right now, I’m hitting the ball well. I’m playing good defense as well. I feel calm. It’s nice to get a good start.”
That siren you just heard went off in response to Sanchez contention that he’s playing good defense. As always with the 26-year-old, it’s complicated. His four errors pace all major league catchers. And they’re all throwing errors — opposing base-stealers are 6-for-6 against him — belying his reputation for having a rocket arm while being immobile behind the plate. In seven starts at catcher, Sanchez has no passed balls on his name after tallying 18 last year and 16 in 2017.
Throw in his other random misadventures — on the plus side, include his pitch-framing skills — and you get the rich tapestry that is Gary Sanchez.
“When you see balls fly out of the yard off Gary’s bat, we all feel good,” said Sanchez’s backup, Austin Romine, who ironically committed a passed ball (and added a homer of his own) in Sunday’s game.
The problem last year came in Sanchez not hitting like that, his brutal .186/.291/.406 slash line complementing his other issues to create the biggest headache of Boone’s maiden managing voyage. We learned after the fact that Sanchez battled through a left shoulder issue that required offseason surgery, and on Sunday, he offered, “All I can say is that I definitely feel healthier this year. I just feel better overall.”
He exemplified that with his three two-run homers on Sunday, in the third, seventh and eighth innings. When he came up again in the ninth against O’s shortstop Hanser Alberto, the many Yankees fans in attendance roared with the hopes of a record-tying fourth round-tripper.
“I tried to do what everybody was thinking about,” Sanchez acknowledged. “But I got a little too anxious there.” He popped out to left field.
Speaking of getting picked off twice this weekend, Sanchez said, “Mistakes are going to happen. If you don’t make a mistake, then you don’t play baseball. … The important thing about that is to flip the page and focus on today. And I was able to do that today.”
Can he keep flipping as fast as his slipping? You can’t turn away from him, right? Understandably, neither can the Yankees.
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