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Yankees 2019 first-half superlatives

From best newcomer to most improved, here's New York's top performers thus far

The Yankees celebrate Gio Urshela's walk-off hit against the Rays in May. (AP)

The Yankees come into the All-Star break with a 57-31 record and a 6 1/2 game lead in the division despite a spate of injuries that could have derailed the season. The team has persevered and found every way imaginable to win.

With a little less than half the season to go, let's hand out some superlatives for the 2019 campaign thus far:

Best Newcomer: DJ LeMahieu

When the Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu in January, some fans couldn't help feeling a little disappointed as the move signaled the team passing on Manny Machado. Little did they know that the new pinstriped infielder would produce more than any other Yankee in the first half.

Beginning the year in a utility role, LeMahieu has filled in at second, third and first base with his Gold Glove-caliber defense. He's given the team plenty of defensive highlights and anchored an improved infield.

Switching between positions failed to hamper his bat, which has been unleashed in the Bronx. The former Colorado infielder leads the American League with a .336 batting average. 

Beyond the batting title, LeMahieu has come through in the clutch consistently by hitting an eye-popping .462 with runners in scoring position. Despite primarily batting leadoff, he leads the team with 63 RBI.

Best Power Display: Gary Sanchez's three-homer game

Gary Sanchez hit 24 home runs in the first half, third-most in the American League despite taking games off as a catcher and for a brief IL stint. The Bombers backstop highlighted his offensive turnaround in the season's second week in Baltimore.

Facing the last-place O's, Sanchez smashed three two-run homers as the Yankees ran away with a 15-3 victory. The win punctuated the team's first sweep of the season.

Sanchez has hit the ball farther than he did in Camden Yards that day, including a 481-foot shot against the Astros and his 461-foot blast in extra innings against the Rays just before the break. But his three-homer afternoon was a moment where his power came together fully realized.

Best Defensive Play: Tie: Gio Urshela vs. Toronto and LeMahieu's double play in Tampa

The Yankees' top two defenders this year, Gio Urshela and LeMahieu, have each had their share of dazzling plays, leading to a tie in this superlative. First up, Urshela ended a game two weeks ago with this play ranging into foul territory.

Urshela displays a tremendous aptitude at third base, which the Yankees haven't had in years. He's a highlight reel of diving stops and tremendous plays to his right.

Meanwhile, LeMahieu turned this 1-4-3 double play in a key game against the Rays in May.

Craziest Victory: London Series Game 1

What can you say about Yankees-Red Sox in London that hasn't already been said? Both teams scored six runs in the first inning of the first game and knocked out the opposing pitcher. Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge all went deep. DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit each had four hits. The Red Sox nearly came back but fell short in a 17-13 decision.

The Yankees scored 11 unanswered runs in the middle innings on the London Stadium turf to give Europe a show reminiscent of a long inning in test cricket. The four-hour, 42-minute marathon provided fans with more offense than some football games, let alone non-Coors Field baseball games.

Best Comeback: Urshela walks off against Tampa

Urshela made it to the Major Leagues for his defense, but he's found staying power in New York for his offense. He's hit .304 with seven home runs and a 117 OPS+ this year, earning an extended role on the roster.

His best moment came May 17 in the Bronx against the Rays. The Yankees trailed 3-1 going into the ninth inning and had to fight back against Tampa flamethrower Jose Alvarado. Voit led off the inning with a solo home run before the Yankees loaded the bases with one out. A wild pitch tied the game before Urshela came up with two outs.

Urshela also hit a game-winning single in the 14th-inning in Anaheim during an April winning streak, but this hit fully endeared him to Yankees fans.

Best in Baltimore: Gleyber Torres

Torres was elected to his second All-Star game in as many seasons, all before turning 23. Perhaps the Orioles' pitching staff deserves some thanks for this second appearance.

In 12 first-half games against the Orioles, the 22-year-old infielder hit 10 home runs and batted .465/.540/1.233. No, that slugging percentage is not a typo. Thirteen of his 33 extra-base hits and more than half of his 19 home runs have come against the AL East's cellar dwellers in 2019.

He's saved his best for Camden Yards with seven home runs and a scorching-hot .522/.621/1.522 batting line. At this point, Torres may as well call Baltimore home along with the Bronx.

Best Slow Pitch: Nestor Cortes Jr.

Cortes brings the sensibilities of a throwback pitcher into the modern game, getting by without the best stuff or velocity. He finds ways to mess with hitters' timing through quick pitches, slow pitches and changes in arm angles.

The southpaw eventually gave up five runs in his London Series outing, but he found ways to strike out All-Stars Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez. His slow pitch on Martinez may have been his best work of the year.

Most Consistent Starter: Masahiro Tanaka

The Yankees have had just about every position player go down and quite a few starters as well. Masahiro Tanaka, despite concerns in previous years about his elbow, has made every start and helped carry New York since Opening Day.

Though his 3.86 ERA exceeds his 3.75 mark from a year ago, he earned his second All-Star bid and first since his rookie season. While he deserved the nod in the interim -- his strong 2016 comes to mind -- his ability to come through in big spots this season has been critical for the Yankees.

Tanaka has a 1.79 ERA in six games against the Rays and Astros, two of the Yankees' top competitors. That includes his two-hit shutout of Tampa in June.

Most Improved Player: Domingo German

German had his moments last season, including a three-start stretch where he struck out 28 batters and walked just two. However, he finished the year with a 5.57 ERA and questions about his role moving forward.

Luis Severino's Spring Training injury opened the door for a permanent spot in the rotation for German, and he's cracked it wide open. The right-hander leads the Yankees with 10 wins and a 3.67 ERA in the rotation, unexpectedly becoming one of the Yankees' key contributors.

If it weren't for a hip injury that sidelined him in June, he could have been in line for an All-Star bid himself.