Yankees open series vs. Guardians knowing every win is key

CLEVELAND — It’s a refrain that the Yankees have used rarely this year, but effectively: “It’s time to start a new streak.” Having not won a World Series in 12 seasons, the Yankees came into this season motivated to be relentless.

So, the Bombers come into Progressive Field to face the Guardians looking to start another streak after losing to the Astros Thursday in a very weird one-game stop in Houston (because it is a series that was postponed by the lockout). That still counts as a series loss (yes, we know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s how MLB counts it), which the Yankees only have three of this season. In fact, the Yankees have only lost back-to-back games five times this season and their longest losing streak is three games. The Yankees are 14-5 after losses this season, one of the facts that is making a lot of people predict that this could be a special team.

Winning series and games that they are supposed to was a point of emphasis this season — partly because of what they went through in Houston in past years.

“I think everyone in here is motivated, no one’s satisfied,” Yankees slugger Aaron Judge said. “We know what’s ahead of us. We know, it’s halfway through the year now. Still a long way to go, but every win is important. There’s been so many years we look back and we’re getting down to the end of September and it’s like we’re fighting and clawing and we’re half  a game out or just half a game up and I think guys are starting to realize the importance of  all these games.”

They come into this three-game series as the favorites, having already swept the Guardians in a three-game set in the Bronx last month. They are heavy favorites with an incredible +150 run differential — no other team in the American League is above +73 (Houston). Cleveland, a game back in the AL Central, has a +14 run differential.

That’s ominous for the Guardians.

“We don’t let games we’re supposed to win slip away,” Giancarlo Stanton said Thursday. “There were definitely games last year and in years prior, for sure, that we should win and we let slip somehow. That’s not happening anymore.”

“That’s the key,” Stanton continued. “If teams give us an extra out or two, we jump them. And we don’t give teams extra outs. That’s the difference in the season and in the playoffs. Extra outs are so huge and key.’’

The Yankees were not as ruthless in recent years. They’d struggled against some teams that they were not supposed to. Last season, for example, the Rays (who won the AL East) went 18-1 against the Orioles. The Yankees let Baltimore hang around and went just 11-8 against the AL East cellar dwellers.

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“You learn over the years from what’s happened before,” Stanton said. “Our season has ended because of us having more mistakes than the other team. You have it happen to you enough, you understand you have to turn the page and execute. This year, we’ve succeeded more often than not.”

Not this team. The Yankees are the most well-rounded they have been in years.

The pitching staff has the best ERA in the big leagues and has allowed the fewest runs in baseball. The offense leads the majors in runs scored and home runs. In fact, they set a major league record for homers in the month of June with 58.

So, pick your poison.

“We have a lot of ways to beat you,” Stanton said. “It makes it a lot easier when the home run ball isn’t there — and when it is.”

It becomes a lot easier when the balls are flying out of the park — which obviously is happening a lot this season. Judge leads the majors with 29 homers. There are only six other players in baseball who have hit at least 20. Antony Rizzo has 21 and Stanton has 19. The Yankees are the only team that has more than one player in the top eight home runs hitters this season.

“We’ve just got a smart, patient offense, where everyone is wearing the pitchers down, which creates more mistakes,” Stanton said. “It’s not like everyone is taking home run swings. We have professional at-bats and that wears guys down. It makes for a smaller room for error if you’re a pitcher. If you haven’t been through that too many times, you’re gonna make more mistakes. And even if you have, it’s been almost impossible to not make mistakes. The more we see them, the more we try to capitalize.”

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