Blazing starts from Castro & Gregorius are helping Yankees stay atop AL East

By A.J. Herrmann

Yankees Castro-Gregorius middle infield duo playing their best baseball in 2017

In 2016, Yankees middle infielders Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro became the first pair of teammates in franchise history to both surpass 20 home runs from the shortstop and second base positions in the same year.

This year, the Bombers’ double-play duo (and “Step Brothers” in spirit) are on pace to threaten those career-high marks, and put forth their best season in pinstripes yet.

Castro has hit the ball as well as any infielder in baseball this year, and enters Tuesday ranking top-five in the American League in runs (31), hits (58) and batting average (.335).

Among all major league second basemen, Castro ranks first in each of the aforementioned categories, as well as top-five in home runs (7), RBI (27), on-base percentage (.372), slugging percentage (.514) and extra-base hits (17).

If Castro were to maintain his current slash line totals (unlikely as it may be), he’d finish with career-highs in each category; and with seven round-trippers in his first 42 games this year, Castro’s on pace to finish the full season with 27, which would best his previous career-high of 21, set last year in his first season with the Yankees.

While some have dubbed Castro the “unsung hero” of this dynamic Yankees lineup, his impact has helped the Bombers stay near the top of the AL East division for much of the 2017 season.

The Yankees offense has also been thriving despite the early absences of Gregorius, who has hit the lights out since his return from the disabled list on April 28, and Greg Bird, who has continued to recover from an ankle injury.

Following Monday night’s 4-2 Yankees win over the Royals, New York skipper Joe Girardi remarked that Gregorius has “picked up where he left off last year” since rejoining the Yankees lineup. Sir Didi finished the night with two hits, including a two-run home run, raising his batting average to .333 (30-90) on the season.

Despite playing in just 22 games so far this year, Gregorius’ bat appears to be in mid-season form, and the Yankees are thrilled to welcome him back to the clubhouse. Of those 22 games, Didi has recorded multiple hits in 10 of them (including each of his first three games of 2017), to go along with a pair of home runs, one of which came against a fellow leftyMonday night against Kansas City.

Gregorius’ 30 hits on the year are tied for 10th-most among AL shortstops with Baltimore’s JJ Hardy (who’s gotten 58 more at-bats than Didi this year), and Kansas City’s Alcides Escobar (who’s gotten 75 more at-bats than Didi this year).

Didi’s .333 batting average ranks second among AL shortstops with at least 20 games played, and his 16 RBI (again, in only 22 games!) ranks eighth. The 27-year-old shortstop is on pace to finish 2017 with 30 doubles, 82 runs and 118 RBI, and if last year was any indication, his power numbers should continue to grow.

It’s hard to forecast what Didi’s trajectory might look like over the rest of the season based on his small sample size, but after the blazing starts from both Gregorius and Castro, the Yankees middle infield once again looks like it could be one of the best keystone combos in all of baseball.