OAKLAND, Calif. — Aaron Boone acknowledged what most observers saw for much of the first half of the season: The Yankees weren’t hitting balls in the air enough.
“I think, early on, some of the narratives around us [involved] the strikeout,” Boone said before the Yankees faced the Athletics on Saturday at Oakland Coliseum. “The biggest issue for us the first months was probably hitting too many balls on the ground.”
That hasn’t been the case lately. The Yankees went into Saturday having homered 10 times in their previous three games— a season-high for that span — and they had scored at least five runs in their previous eight games, also a season-best.
Much of the improvement can be traced to their ability to hit the ball in the air more often.
Boone had several theories about why the Yankees struggled in that category for much of the first half of the season.
“It could be the result of trying to put the ball in play too much,’’ the manager said. “You get outside yourself and expand a little bit with runners on base, so we were hitting the ball on the ground more than we were accustomed to.”
Their struggles with runners in scoring position have disappeared. They were hitting .358 with seven doubles, five homers and 44 RBIs with runners in scoring position in their previous 10 games.
Sluggers like Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge have been significantly more productive of late. Newcomers Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo, even if their numbers aren’t great, have been adept at working counts to force opposing pitchers to work harder.
“Our at-bat mentality is paying dividends,’’ Boone said. “It’s net us some mistakes. We’re taking advantage of mistakes now. … It’s good to see guys taking a lot of pride in, ‘We’re gonna wear you down as a pitcher.’ ”
That has resulted in more homers.
“That’s a big part of who we are,’’ Boone said of the home run surge. “The heaviness and toughness of at-bat to at-bat … when you’re doing that over time, you’re gonna fall into more mistakes. We have a lot of guys capable of doing damage on mistakes of late.”
Luke Voit is one of them. His return to form after battling injuries since spring training has also had an impact on the entire lineup.
“I think it’s probably as good as he’s looked at any point this year,’’ Boone said. “He’s really under control and in a strong hitting position. He’s making good swing decisions and not wailing away.”
Voit entered Saturday having gone 14-for-31, with eight runs, three doubles, four homers and 14 RBIs in his previous eight starts.
And Stanton’s ability to play the outfield on a somewhat regular basis has opened up a spot for Voit to DH, as he did again Saturday.
Boone said he thought the offensive outburst was mostly a product of “good players coming around as a group.”
For much of the season, it didn’t seem that was going to happen.
But after misfiring for months, the offense that was supposed to be among the most feared in baseball is living up to its reputation.
Now Judge, Stanton and Voit just need to stay healthy for the Yankees to be in a good position to possibly chase down the Rays in the AL East and make a run in October.