Two days later and it still stings just the same…
The Yankees were eliminated from the ALCS on Saturday, getting shut out by Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers 4-0. After building up all the momentum in the world, after finally solving Dallas Keuchel, after making Yankee Stadium rock like the ’90s, all they needed to do was win one game. Long story short, it didn’t happen. They couldn’t win with Cy Young-candidate Luis Severino on the mound on Friday. They couldn’t win with big-game pitcher CC Sabathia on the mound on Saturday. They couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat inside Minute Maid Park. And it cost them, heartbreakingly.
But enough about the ALCS; this season was a lot more than seven games in the middle of October. A lot of ups, a lot of downs, but at the end of the day, there’s a rekindled interest in baseball in the Bronx, and perhaps a rekindled dynasty.
What Went Well
The Core Five
As Yankee fans, we all rave about the Core Four. Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada. These four guys were around for five World Series wins, competitive teams every season, and two stadiums. They resurrected the Yankees out of a brutal 1980s. There are nothing but good things to say about all four of them, and the teams that they played on.
Relight that flame, because there’s a new core in the Bronx: Judge, Sanchez, Severino, Gregorius, Bird.
Aaron Judge just had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time. 52 home runs speaks for itself. 114 RBI speak for itself. Already becoming the face of the franchise after one season speaks for itself. He was brilliant. However, the biggest takeaway from Judge’s season is despite his slumps—and when he slumps, he SLUMPS—he always bounced back. After a brutal month and a half, Judge hit 13 home runs in September. After striking out in seemingly every at-bat in the ALDS, he went deep three times against the Astros in the ALCS, and had a huge tying hit in game four. The best part? He’s only going to get better.
Gary Sanchez had a very solid sophomore campaign as well, despite false media narratives. He has already become the best hitting catcher in baseball, slugging 33 home runs despite missing a month of the season. He got off to a slow start, and I think that can be attributed to batting second in the lineup, as well as shaking off an injury. Once Girardi moved him down, he started to rake.
A big concern with Sanchez was supposedly his defense. However, this should be taken in context. The Yankees throw a lot of breaking balls, so it’s natural to expect that there will be a bit more passed balls with this pitching staff than one that throws primarily fastballs. Granted, some things need to improve (catching throws to the plate, ALCS…), but he will be just fine. Even with the overblown concerns with his play behind the dish, he is an integral part to this team, and he will be for a long time.
Plain and simple, Luis Severino is a problem for opposing hitters. A hard-thrower, Sevy seemingly came out of nowhere this season, and if not for Chris Sale or Corey Kluber, he’d run away with the AL Cy Young. His postseason was a little up-and-down, though. He was putrid in the Wild Card, but bounced back nicely against Cleveland. He was ok against the Astros, but could’ve been a bit better. All negatives (and a very small amount of those) aside, he’s only 23, and will be a force for at least a decade.
Didi Gregorius has made fans forget about Derek Jeter in a hurry. Improving with every season in the Bronx, Sir Didi leapt into the elite tier of shortstops in baseball, batting .287 with 25 home runs, and hitting three of the biggest home runs of the Yankees’ season this year. He’s already inherited Jeter’s clutch gene, and that is a very good thing. He also plays stellar defense, something that doesn’t get enough attention. He’s been so good that the Yankees are having to move prospect Gleyber Torres from short to 2nd or 3rd because Gregorius has been so good.
Greg Bird had a rough season. The best hitter in spring training hit just .100 to start the season due to an injury. Said injury sidelined him until late August, but when he returned, he immediately became a force in the Yankees lineup. He was slugging home runs at a high clip, and took the best reliever in baseball WAY deep in the ALDS. Bird will only continue to improve, and being able to unleash him on the baseball world for a full season is scary for opposing pitching.
Yankee pitching is arguably the team’s biggest asset. What was once a weakness is now a huge strength. A rotation that started off with a ton of question marks performed admirably for most of this past season. Severino emerged as the team’s ace. CC Sabathia showed us that he still has a lot left in the tank. Jordan Montgomery showed flashes of brilliance. Sonny Gray also showed what he could be if you give him a full season to become acclimated with New York. Masahiro Tanaka, as bad as he was in the first half, was much better after the All-Star Game, and was one of the postseason’s best pitchers, spinning masterpieces against Cleveland and Houston.
The bullpen became one of the game’s best as well. A unit that looked like Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman keeping the team alive in Spring Training became one with ridiculous depth. Ironically, Betances could be the worst in there right now, and if he’s your worst, then something is being done very well in terms of roster building. Chad Green emerged as one of the best relievers in the game seemingly out of nowhere. Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson came from the White Sox and were the team’s two most reliable arms in the postseason. Adam Warren had a very nice season. Chapman was up and down, but rediscovered his old touch in September and was damn near perfect in October.
This pitching is only going to get better, too. Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, Dillon Tate, and more are flying through the farm system. The Yankees could develop an elite rotation in a year or two using only internal call-ups. That speaks wonders to the kind of depth in the organization.
Maybe Green will be asked to start. Maybe Tanaka doesn’t come back. Maybe CC doesn’t come back. Either way, pitching will be the team’s most consistent element for a long, long time going forward.
Seriously, we have to tip our hats to everyone involved with management. Brian Cashman has done an OUTSTANDING job constructing a roster that will be dominant for years to come just one year after having old, overpaid veterans making up the team. He’s done it with draft picks, international signings, and trades, both big and small. Judge was drafted in 2013. Severino and Sanchez were signed as international prospects and they have already panned out big time. He pulled off a bunch of really under-the-radar trades as well. He grabbed Aaron Hicks for John Ryan Murphy. He got Starlin Castro for Adam Warren, who came back after just a half-season in the Windy City. He acquired Didi Gregorius in a three-team trade in which he only lost Shane Greene.
Oh, and then there were the blockbusters. Chapman went to Chicago for half a season, and in return the Yankees got the best prospect in the game, Gleyber Torres, soon to be an absolute stud in the MLB. Andrew Miller was sent to Cleveland for a package headlined by Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. Both of these guys have looked really good, with Frazier cracking the big-league roster and showing a flair for the dramatic. Carlos Beltran was shipped for Dillon Tate, a former #4 pick who is rediscovering himself in the Yankees system. Cashman has done a brilliant job in a short amount of time in fixing this roster; he deserves a big contract, maybe the best in the game.
Another tip of the hat has to go to Joe Girardi. Yes, sometimes he manages by the book too much. Yes, sometimes his trust in slumping players can get ridiculous. Yes, the ill-fated non-challenge in game two of the ALDS almost cost the Yankees their season. And yes, Girardi has been one of the best managers in baseball this season. He may have saved the Yankees season with his incredible management of the bullpen against the Twins in the Wild Card. His quick trigger finger in the playoffs may have also won the Yankees the ALDS; if CC pitched to another batter instead of Robertson, Cleveland may have snatched the lead in the fifth inning.
Girardi’s borderline excessive patience with Aaron Judge also paid off; despite struggling for a month and a half, Girardi never pulled the young slugger for more than a game or two, and Judge responded by hitting the cover off the ball in September. It’s crucial that a young player knows that his manager has his back through all the ups and downs. He also let the players be themselves, and that’s a big reason why the Yankees were so fun this season.
Down the Road
Going forward, honestly, there’s really not that much that this team needs to change in terms of personnel. The bullpen is there. The lineup in the field is there. Some spots need to be cleared for other players, but that should speak to the depth in the organization. I can see Jacoby Ellsbury being moved just to dump some of his contract, I can see Starlin Castro being moved to clear second for Gleyber Torres, but other than that, this should be largely the same team. Sabathia and Frazier should be brought back, and hopefully Tanaka doesn’t opt out. The only big acquisition I can see is Otani. If the Yankees go out and get him, they have another arm for a now-loaded rotation, along with a DH whenever he is not pitching. We literally may have another Babe Ruth on our hands here.
The sky’s the limit for this squad next season. If they can cut back on the strikeouts as a team, they’re going to be one of the best in baseball, no question. Until then, we just have to lament what could’ve been, if Greg Bird slides in safely, if Brett Gardner doesn’t get gunned out at third, if Gary Sanchez hangs onto a relay throw…ugh.
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