The Yankee Universe experienced something in 2016 that they haven't in many, many years. After a long, grueling series in Tampa, where the Yankees were swept by the Rays in a 3 game set at the end of July, Yankee fans woke up to the breaking headline that Andrew Miller was dealt to the Cleveland Indians. It was the first time since before the dynasty of the late 90's that the 27 time World Series Champion New York Yankees decided to sell at the trade deadline. As difficult as it may have been to accept, a weight was lifted in the Yankee franchise, and it was time to finally rebuild.
As players began reporting to spring training for the 2017 season, the Yankees, for the first time in decades, weren't expected to ruffle any feathers in the American League. Expectations went from winning a World Series to nurturing young prospects and getting them ready for the big leagues. The season began and the New York Yankees went 1-4 in their first 5 games. It was going to be a long season, and fans weren't sure if they were ready to encounter a season of rebuilding. And then, with confidence and ease, the Yankees found themselves on top of the AL East with a 21-9 record, and with a team that everyone around the world was debating could be a true playoff contender.
The tables quickly turned within the organization. The 2017 New York Yankees found themselves once again buying at the deadline, and building a team that could sustain itself through October. What happened to this team that turned this season from a "rebuilding" year to a "let's go out and win a title" season? It's time to dissect the expectations vs. reality of this team and what it will take for the Yankees to land a spot in the postseason.
(Luis Severino - NYPost.com)
Pre-Season Expectation : The Yankee's starting rotation has too many holes and too many question marks to be effective enough to win the AL East. Tanaka will be the ace, of course. Pineda is always hit or miss and Severino has high expectations internally but is still a young pitcher finding himself as a starter. CC will be your inning eating veteran but you can't expect him to be anything more than a 5th starter. Oh, and the Yankees aren't sure who will round out the rotation just yet, stay tuned.
Reality : The Yankees starting rotation has been pleasantly surprising, despite Tanaka being an absolute disaster for most of the season (he has sprinkled in a few brilliant performances). Luis Severino has now earned himself the title of "ace of the staff" and rookie south paw Jordan Montgomery was the perfect choice to round out the rotation. CC has had some outstanding outings, but since his DL stint in mid June, he has crept closer to what the Yankees expected of him this year. Pineda, after looking like he was going to have his break through season early on, fell back into his old ways, frustrating fans every other time he took the mound. Season ending Tommy John surgery left Pineda on the DL and the Yankees to go out and pick up a solid number 2 starter. The new rotation, after Montgomery was recently sent back down to AAA, is as follows:
Luis Severino (9-4, 2.91 ERA)
Masahiro Tanaka (8-10, 4.93 ERA)
Sonny Gray (6-6, 3.41 ERA)
CC Sabathia (9-4, 3.81 ERA)
Jaime Garcia (5-8, 4.49 ERA)
All things considered, the Yankees find themselves within the top 5 best ERA's for starting pitchers, something none of us could have expected.
Verdict : If Tanaka can finish out the season proving to be the dominant pitcher he once was, and Severino continues shutting teams down, the Yankees have enough SP to take them through October. Garcia will have to prove to be a better option than Montgomery sooner than later or else the rookie could find himself back in the rotation before we know it. And Sonny Gray needs to be a solid 2nd/3rd starter to give the Yankees a legitimate chance at making a run for another title. At the end of the day, the starting rotation will NOT be the reason the Yankees miss the playoffs.
*Update*-- CC Sabathia was pulled from last night's game in the 3rd inning after tweaking his 'bad' knee. Looks like a DL stint isn't out of the question just yet.
(Dellin Betances - Wikipedia.org)
Pre-Season Expectation : Anytime you can throw Betances and Chapman at an opponent, late in a game, your bullpen is in good shape. The Yankee bullpen is easily the strength of this team heading into April. With guys like Clippard and Warren to bridge the gap to your setup man and closer, it will be tough to lose games after having a lead through 5 innings.
Reality : The Yankees would be sitting comfortably atop the AL East if it weren't for their disappointing bullpen performance. In the blink of an eye, the Yankee pen went from being lights out to unable to hold a lead. Tyler Clippard, who was traded to the White Sox several weeks ago, was absolutely atrocious in his final outings with the Yankees. He couldn't be trusted with a 5+ run lead, that's how bad it had gotten. Betances had been unhittable throughout the bullpen struggles, however, when you walk 4 guys an inning it doesn't matter much how filthy your "stuff" is. And Chapman, after being injured for a month or so, came back flat and unimpressive. Tough to imagine when talking about a guy who throws 100+ MPH, but that no longer seemed to matter. This rough patch left GM Brian Cashman no other choice but to acquire extra arms for the bullpen. Sending Tyler Clippard and a couple of prospects to the White Sox (including #1 pick Blake Rutherford), the Yankees acquired Tommy Kahnle, Todd Frazier, and their old friend David Robertson. With the additions of Robertson and Kahnle to the bullpen, the Yankees seemed to be back on track. Betances and Chapman have settled back into form and the Yankees once again have some of the best relief options in baseball.
Verdict : As long as Aroldis Chapman stays sharp and can shut the door in close games in the 9th, the Yankee bullpen is once again the strength of this team. If the Yankees make the playoffs they will have this dominant bullpen to thank. That's as long as the offense can find a way to score runs early and often. Which leads us to our final segment, the offense.
(Aaron Judge - SportingNews.com)
Pre-Season Expectation : With guys like Sanchez in the lineup for a full season and rookies Aaron Judge and Greg Bird, the Yankee offense should be quite entertaining this season. They should put up some decent numbers throughout the year and keep the Yankees relevant in most games. Hopefully we will see young prospects like Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres make their way into the Major League lineup before the season's end.
Reality : This Yankees lineup has the potential to be an absolute powerhouse. In the first half of the season it was literally impossible to keep them off the scoreboard (they were the only team that hadn't been shutout until late July). Until recent struggles, Aaron Judge was making a case as the shoe in vote for MVP. Frazier has had some early success, as well as Gardner, Castro and Didi. Unfortunately, the offense has really hit a brick wall of late. Judge, Sanchez, T. Frazier and C. Frazier have all felt like automatic outs. Bird has been injured for what feels like the entire season and Matt Holliday, who was a jolt in the middle of the lineup in the first half, hasn't been the same since coming off the DL with a viral infection. Not having his bat has really damaged offensive production, and now Holliday finds himself back on the DL looking to recover from a back injury. Starlin Castro, who was having a career year, is on his second DL stint and looking to come back soon to rejuvenate this anemic offense. If the Yankees can start scoring runs like they did in the first half of the season, they should be in good shape down the stretch.
Verdict : The season lives and dies on the offense at this point. With the SP holding its ground and the bullpen locked and loaded, the Yankees need to score runs early and take advantage of the power arms in relief to shut their opponents down. If the offense comes back to life, this team will become almost unbeatable. If they continue to struggle, then the starting pitching and lights out pen goes to waste. The formula is simple. Score early, score often, and let your bullpen finish the rest. If they can follow that recipe, this team will coast into the postseason. If not, I don't think they will even hold a wild card spot when all is said and done.
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