Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton is a pitcher-destroying beast who could be postseason 'unicorn'

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Giancarlo Stanton looks at homer to right field vs. Braves
Giancarlo Stanton looks at homer to right field vs. Braves

Right now, he’s a “unicorn” who is part of the Jumbo Package of enormous Yankees outfielders. He’s riding a 20-game on-base streak, still hitting balls harder than anyone else, and thriving as the Bronx Bombers wreak havoc on the rest of baseball.

But it wasn’t so long ago that Giancarlo Stanton was a fitting metaphor for a team going, it seemed, nowhere. He was too one-dimensional, too expensive and too susceptible to sliders darting out of the strike zone. Why couldn’t Brian Cashman have gotten (insert here your favorite big-name player not in pinstripes) instead? The Yanks won’t ever succeed with Stanton such a big part of the lineup, and his swing-and-miss predilections spell Postseason doom.

Who knows how this all ends in the chill of October? But Stanton and the Yankees are their best selves right now. The Yanks, winners of 10 straight games, are the hottest team in baseball, in possession of a playoff spot, and a blossoming juggernaut no team would want to see in a short series.

Stanton has a 1.201 OPS during the winning streak, with three home runs and eight RBI, and he’s got 21 homers this year with an .844 OPS overall. He’s even back to playing the outfield, something he had not done since 2019. Maybe there’s a link to his recent hitting? Hmmm.

In Monday night’s 5-1 victory over the Braves, a first-place team, Stanton supplied much of the oomph, going 2-for-3 with three RBI, a homer and a double. And he only played five and a half innings -- he came out of the game for defense after hitting a two-run double in the sixth inning, a ball that left his bat at 119.2 miles per hour. It’s the hardest-hit ball in the history of Truist Park, the Braves’ home.

Of course, that’s not to say Stanton is the sole architect of the Yankees’ magnificent streak or their MLB-best 27-8 record (.771) since July 17. Or the reason they currently hold the AL’s top Wild Card spot and sit just four games behind Tampa Bay in the AL East race.

The pitching has been terrific, even with injury, COVID-19 issues, and some recurring bullpen angst. In this 10-game winning streak, the Yanks starters have a 2.40 ERA. Overall, they’re fourth in MLB in team ERA (3.60).

Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo have helped balance a lineup that was too right-handed. Luke Voit, the reigning AL Player of the Week who didn’t even start Monday in an NL park, has reverted to slugging form. Other underperformers have helped, too. The Yanks have scored at least five runs eight times during their streak.

They’re not the boneheaded-est baserunning team in baseball anymore either, and have introduced the stolen base as a weapon, too. Aaron Boone’s Jumbo Package -- big fellas Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gallo in the outfield together -- seems like a good way to get everyone’s bat in the lineup. And did you see Judge sprint to run down Jorge Soler’s drive to the right-center warning track on Monday? Maybe he can hold down center field after all.

And maybe, just maybe, Boone deserves a slice of credit for maintaining a mostly-even personality during struggles that had his club sitting at just 41-40 in early July.

Stanton’s talent for exit velocity is part of why Boone called him “a unicorn” after Monday’s game. His best rockets send his teammates scurrying to Statcast for velo numbers, Boone said.

“He does things every night that are a little bit different than anyone else,” Boone said.

Maybe the “unicorn” does something else Tuesday night to spur the Yanks as they try to extend their winning streak to 11. They haven’t had one that long since 1985.

Nights like Monday are probably why it’s healthier for all of us to just accept what Stanton is -- a streaky player who is a towering, pitcher-destroying beast when he’s right. It’s harder to deal when he flails at unhittable pitches, sure, but it’s part of the package.

If you’re waiting for him to hit 59 homers again, like he did in his final season in Miami, try to grasp that it might not happen. It’s also not the only measure of Yankee success with Stanton.

What if Stanton is rolling when the Yankees (inevitably, it seems) get to the postseason? He offered a full look at what he’s capable of last October when he had six home runs and 13 RBI in seven playoff games. He single-handedly could wreck a series.

Here’s where a cynic would bring up how Stanton can streak badly, too. Fair point. But these Yankees might get enough from others that the club could withstand any of his struggles.

Maybe those players aren’t unicorns. But after playing so well for so long, the Yanks look like they could be good enough to only need the one.