After game one into the 2019 season, I highlighted a few key areas the Yankees needed to be successful in this year to win a championship. Now, 61 games in — a little over a third into the season, the Yankees are in first place. But have they gotten here because of these 3 key areas? Let’s break down my previous article and see if we can give them a check mark for each. What I previously wrote is in italics.
They need to stay on the field. CC and Sevy are already on the shelf, but seemingly will be back with not much concern. Once they’re back, health is the number one priority, and Severino needs his first-half mojo to last all year long. He is the ace, and we don’t win without him.
CC Sabathia has already been back on the Injured List due to his knee, and we can surmise he’ll go back on the IL one or two more times to give that knee a break. Luis Severino, when this was written, was on the IL due to rotator cuff inflammation. However, shortly after that he was diagnosed with a lat strain and completely shut down. We are now in June and he’s not expected back until after the All-Star break, barring any more setbacks. James Paxton missed nearly a month for inflammation in his knee, and Dellin Betances has yet to debut this season, as well. Health has not been key for this Yankee pitching staff so far this season, so in that respect, it does not get a check mark.
Looking at the above you’d then expect the Yankees to be in bad shape, yet here they are in first place despite a lack of health up-and-down the roster. They at one point had an unprecedented seventeen players on the IL at one time, many of them All-Stars, but they’ve overcome. The ace of the staff along with one of their top relievers has yet to throw a pitch this season and yet you could argue their pitching has been their strength thus far. They’ve held opponents close in games and allowed the offense to claw back when needed. Domingo German has put together a season resembling that of Severino’s 2018 start, and Tommy Kahnle has been resurrected from an ugly ’18 that had him spend more time in Scranton than the Bronx.
So staying healthy gets no check mark, but the pitching staff that’s still on the field gets a gold star.
2. El Gary
Gary Sanchez needs to be the comeback player of the year. Enough said.
The Kraken has indeed been unleashed so far this season, and it’s safe to say he has got to be the top candidate for comeback player of the year thus far. He has 19 home runs, already surpassing his season total of 18 last year. He gets a check mark, 3 gold stars, 10 smiley faces, and all the little hearts he desires. If he keeps this historic season up, not only will he be comeback player of the year, but in the conversation for MVP as well. If they want to win a championship, Sanchino needs to continue to rake.
P.S. His defense has also improved tremendously, which brings us to our last key area:
3. Catch The Ball
Offense wins games. Defense wins championships. The defense last year was one of the worst in the league. It seems so minor, but it really is a big deal. Improving the D will improve the Yankees chances in winning that ring. It’s important, and if you don’t think so, then ask Cashman why he acquired gold glove caliber infielders, DJ LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki and why Andujar didn’t win Rookie of the Year last year. Defense matters, ya’ll.
I’d like to give this one a half check mark, if there is such a thing. The defense has definitely improved, but the ironic thing is it came at the expense of health. Miguel Andujar is out for the season after shoulder surgery, giving an opportunity to Gio Urshela. And we all know how this has gone down. Urshela has become a fan favorite, impressing us with his with his gold-glove defense and surprising us with his clutch bat. Urshela at the hot corner has us falling in love with defense again and even questioning if he should ever leave the position once Andujar comes back next year. DJ LeMahieu can seriously pick it and is a gold glove winner himself, so the improvement from last year is there. And the best part? Double plays are happening again. The Yankees were the worst in the league last year in turning them and are now above league average.
However, I still give half a check mark. Why? Because here and there, they just have a downright clunker of a game, two just in the last week during their three game skid. They make dumb mistakes on the bases and in the field, and play sloppy baseball when they lose focus. Gleyber Torres, while looking so much more comfortable at SS, can also sometimes act lazy in his play. Luke Voit can’t move his feet at first base and has trouble picking it, and Clint Frazier, well … we all know about his play in right field as of late along with what’s inside his soul after he bared it on Tuesday night.
Even with Urshela and DJLM on the field everyday, the overall defensive play needs to improve, as they still just rank 12th out of 15 American League teams in fielding percentage. Perhaps it improves when Didi Gregorious comes back (tonight!) and Aaron Judge, as well. After Sunday’s disaster for Frazier and Wednesday night’s debacle in Toronto, with errors causing runs galore, it’s safe to say it’s brought the Yankees, and the fans, back down to earth a little bit.
Can this last?
The nine straight series wins (the first time they’ve done that since 1998, and we all know what happened in 1998!), plus timely hitting up and down this lineup has been a great deodorant thus far for some of the key areas the Yankees aren’t winning in: health and defense. They’ve overcome a lot and have played with house money, but eventually things like poor health and bad defense will catch up to you. So I stand by the fact these need to improve in order for them to win a championship. As great as they’ve played during this next man up era, I don’t think they win a championship as presently constituted. The team needs to get healthy and needs to button up on defense. Gary Sanchez has answered the call, and the rest of the team needs to follow suit.
And the most important key area in all of this, which was never mentioned in the previous article, is one that has been the biggest reason they are in first place: hitting with runners in scoring position. The narrative over the last couple years has been the Yankees are home run or bust. The reason they lost in the playoffs the last two years was because they could never get the clutch hit. The reason they’re winning so much this year is because the clutch hit has become the norm. DJLM is leading the way with his .491 BA with RISP. Let’s say that again, shall we? He has a .491 BA with RISP. He’s been a machine and it’s been refreshing to see such good hitting, rather than just mammoth home runs. The home runs have come, but mixing in the little ball has proven to be the perfect concoction for winning baseball.
Baseball is a long season and DJLM will (you would think) slump at some point, as will others. At one time or another the hitting will go quiet during tough stretches. When that happens the Yankees will need to lean on good health, good defense, and solid pitching. It’s rare when a team is firing on all cylinders, so it’s important for each cylinder to have their time to shine. The first step is health. The rest will follow.
But what do I know? They’ve “struck out” out in two of my three key areas, with only Gary Sanchez making me look smart, yet they continue to win. They have fought with their backs against the wall and guys have stepped up every night. I can break this down all I want, but the fact is they are winning, regardless of where a broken cylinder might be, proving to me that the only key area for success for any team, in its simplest form, is this: Just find a way to get it done.
Put a star on that one baby, because the Yankees are doing just that.