After coming so close to beating the eventual AL Champs, the Tampa Bay Rays, do the Yankees have it in them to make it over that final hurdle into the World Series?
By: Brendan Brown
The Yankees once again in recent years overcame injuries, and underperformance from their rotation and bullpen, to once again put in a winning season for the 28th season in a row and make the playoffs for the 4th year in a row, and the 24th out of 28 years. Things seem to always be so good in the Bronx that any season that doesn’t end with them hoisting a World Series trophy and taking a trip down the Canyon of Heroes, almost seems like a disappointment. While last year didn’t end up with any of that happening, it could legitimately be called a disappointing season even to an unbiased observer. A team with as much talent as the Yankees had last year, and also have this year, they are absolutely in the conversation as a top 5 team, and a real World Series contender. So let’s take a little look at what went wrong and right last year, and what can go right this year for this squad.
The Bronx Bombers are coming off a season in which they went 33-27, which was good for 2nd place and 7 games back of the Rays in the division, and good for 6th in the American League and 10th best between the two leagues. That is probably not where that team wanted or expected to be, especially when on paper they were easily a top 5 team in terms of true talent. But as has been the story with the Yankees the past few years, the injury bug again bit their big boppers in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, their flamethrower closer Aroldis Chapman, and James Paxton in the rotation. Combine all that with players underperforming at the plate, like headlined by a Gary Sanchez that simply could not make consistent contact en route to a .147 batting average, and underperformers on the mound, notably Adam Ottavino going from a 1.90 ERA in 2019 to a 5.89 in 2020, and the Yankees very clearly did not end up with they wanted to last year.
It wasn’t all bad for Aaron Boone’s squad, however, that 33-27 record was still enough to make the playoffs and make it to the 2nd round before being eliminated by the Rays 3-2. The teams new $324 million aces, Gerrit Cole, pitched well enough atop the rotation to earn himself a 4th place finish in the AL Cy Young race; DJ LeMahieu won the batting crown all while playing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base(parlaying that performance into a 6 year, $90 million extension), and finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting race; Clint Frazier continued his offensive breakout of 2019 into 2020, all while vastly improving his defense to become a Gold Glove finalist, and Luke Voit mashed his way to an MLB-leading 22 home runs and led the Yankees by 22 RBI’s over the next guy on the team. Talk about carrying the team on your back.
With Spring Training coming up now Yankees have plenty of reason to be excited about their squad. The lineup is largely unchanged and the talent there is a high bar for other teams to match. Voit has ridiculous “light-tower-power”, DJ is one of the best bats around, Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela on the left side of the infield round out one of the best offensive infields around. Frazier, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge form a Gold Glove outfield that can more than handle the bat. And Stanton likely hopes to hit as he did in last year’s playoffs, where he put up a 1.381 OPS and 4 HR in 5 games.
The bullpen still looks solid with Zack Britton, Chapman, and Chad Green at the back end of things. Veteran relievers Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson add important experience, while young arms like Luis Cessa, Jonathan Losaiga, and Nick Nelson look to continue their improvements and become important high-leverage arms for a playoff team.
The rotation on the other hand seems like an interesting experiment, as Cole (barring injury) is guaranteed about 32-33 starts, the Yankees just need to find about 130 league average starts out of a group of about a dozen guys. The Yankees 2-7 starters in their rotation depth chart have a combined 197 innings pitched at the Major League level over the past 2 seasons. For those that don’t know, 197 innings pitched for 1 pitcher would have ranked tied for 18th in 2019(our most recent full MLB season). For that to be the amount that 6 players have combined to do is worrying, to say the least. There are massive concerns with that group of players and the lack of big-league experience for anyone behind them makes this an incredibly high risk, high reward element to them.
With PECOTA projections slating the Yankees to finish with a 97-65 record, good for best in the American League and 2nd best in the majors, and a clear top 5 true talent team, there is plenty for Yankees fans to be excited about.