The Yankees finally won a baseball game last night to snap a brutal five-game losing streak. It was far from the sexiest win of all-time. While they did get five strong innings from Jameson Taillon, the Yankee offense came on a Gio Urshela home run, a wild pitch & a bases-loaded walk. Regardless, a win is a win as the Yanks’ 3-1 victory lifted them to 6-10 on the young season.
The Bombers’ slow start has generated a lot of panic from the fanbase, yours truly included. I don’t know what to make of this team right now. Will they be this bad all year? No. But will they be as good as we originally anticipated? I have no idea. There are reasons to be optimistic that the Yanks will turn it around. On the flip side, some of the panic is justified. Let me give you guys three reasons to be optimistic about the Yankees right now, as well as three not to be.
You know what they say, always give the bad news first.
Three Reasons to Panic
1. This is the healthiest they’ve been in years
The 2019 Yankees’ regular season was so defined by injuries that “Next Man Up” became their rallying cry. Injuries plagued them once again in 2020. Yet, they haven’t been a factor in this rough start. Sure, they’re missing Luke Voit, Luis Severino, and Zack Britton. But every starting position player besides Voit is available. Severino got Tommy John surgery over a year ago, he’s had an estimated summer return for awhile. And the bullpen has flourished even without Britton.
How many games have Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton & Aaron Hicks played together the last three seasons? They’re all healthy right now. They’re also collectively not producing nearly what they should. Gary Sanchez was hit on the hand with a foul tip on Saturday, and thankfully was okay. Gary hasn’t had the best health track record in his career either. The injury bug will bite the Yankees at some point. It would be nice if they could win some ballgames before it happens.
2. They’re already in the hole to division rivals
Coming into the season, people anticipated the Blue Jays & Rays would be the Yankees’ biggest competition in the AL East. The Red Sox are surprisingly leading the division at 12-6, however the Yankees don’t play them until June. The Yankees are off to a less than stellar start against their other division competition though.
They’ve dropped all four series against the Rays & Jays thus far for a combined record of 3-9. The 1-5 start against the Rays is especially painful. Tampa dominated the Yankees in the 2020 regular season and then eliminated them from the postseason in a down-to-the-wire ALDS. We heard plenty from the Yankees all offseason about how they felt they were the better team. And you come out and drop two straight series to them? Get swept at home with your ace on the mound in the third game? It’s absolutely embarrassing.
Luckily, the Yankees will see both Tampa and Toronto 13 more times each. But digging themselves an April hole against them is less than ideal.
3. It’s scary that they’re capable of this
The Yankee offense going cold isn’t a new concept. We’ve seen it happen for short periods in each of the last four postseasons. But I can’t remember this group being this cold for this long during any regular season. Getting shut down by the likes of Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, etc. in October? Frustrating, but understandable. Making Michael Wacha look like prime Pedro Martinez? Utterly infuriating.
I don’t know how this group seems to always slump at the same time, but they just do. A lineup with this much firepower shouldn’t struggle this much to score runs. There should always be a couple guys picking up the slack for their slumping teammates. That just isn’t the case with this Yankee team. It’s scary to see, but this is a nice spot to transition to the positivity portion of the blog.
Three Reasons Not to Panic
1. They will hit
I get that the Yankees will go through cold stretches as we’ve seen before. But they simply can’t be this bad. We’re talking about a team that’s currently ranked 25th in runs scored, 29th in OPS, and dead last in slugging. For reference, here’s where they ranked each of the past four seasons:
2020 – 4th in runs, 5th in OPS, 7th in slugging
2019 – 1st in runs, 3rd in OPS & slugging
2018 – 2nd in runs, OPS & slugging
2017 – 2nd in runs, 3rd in OPS, 4th in slugging
The back of these guys’ baseball cards are too impressive for this to hold up. Is this team an absolute nightmare at the plate right now? Yes. Is that sustainable? No.
2. The starting pitching past Cole will contribute
Outside of the lineup and the defense, the biggest concern for the Yankees thus far has been their rotation. They’ve struggled to get length from any starting pitcher not named Gerrit Cole. While they didn’t go out and get an established number two starter as I would’ve liked them to, I still have confidence in this Yankee rotation.
Jameson Taillon looked extremely sharp last night, throwing five innings & giving up one run. It’ll be a slow build for Taillon, who hadn’t pitched since May 1, 2019 coming into this season after his second Tommy John surgery. Taillon is still only 29 and struck out 179 batters in 191 innings his last full season. I think he has a lot left in the tank. Same applies to Corey Kluber, who only threw one inning last year due to an injury. Not as much faith from me on Kluber considering the fact that he is 35, but regardless we need some time to see what he has left.
On top of those two, Jordan Montgomery is off to a promising start. He’s given the Yankees a chance to win every game he’s pitched thus far. Michael King hasn’t actually started a game yet, but he’s a potential rotation piece that’s thrown nine scoreless innings. Despite his struggles, I anticipate some sort of contribution from Domingo German this season. And Deivi Garcia is still waiting in the wings in AAA.
The Yankee rotation hasn’t been great early, but I fully expect it to round into shape.
3. The bullpen has been incredible
The Yankee bullpen was exposed in the ALDS last season. A lack of starting pitching & Aaron Boone only trusting three relievers ended about as poorly as you’d think it would. Luckily, the trust tree has grown in 2021.
The early returns on free agent signings Darren O’Day & Justin Wilson have been great. Jonathan Loaisiga seems to be taking a step towards becoming the elite back-end arm the Yankees have wanted him to. Chad Green is doing Chad Green things. And Aroldis Chapman has yet to surrender a run, having added a nasty splitter to his arsenal. This group has combined for baseball’s second-best bullpen ERA. All without their setup man in Zack Britton. While the Yankee bullpen was a glaring issue last postseason, it looks to once again be a strength in 2021.
What causes optimism or concern about this Yankee team to you? Let me know @ncostanzo24 or in the comments!