Six reasons why the Yankees can win the American League East

Yes, I said it. Given, if it was the offseason or even the period before New York’s magnificent home stand, this headline would be laughable. The Yankees traded away some of their best players last July and focused on filling short-terms holes during the offseason with the exception of signing Aroldis Chapman. There was no question that their farm system was among baseball’s best, but 2017 was not the team’s slated year to be competitive. Most of the top prospects were still a year or two away, and the Yankees put a lot of reliance on young positions players to carry the offense.

Julie Jacobson | AP

The first month of the season is coming to a close, and the Yankees are coming off two extremely impressive victories against two teams who the vast majority of baseball experts picked to be much better than them. Both sides of the game were displayed as Masahiro Tanaka shutout out Boston and the offense got to their ace, Chris Sale and New York exploded for fourteen runs off of a strong Orioles pitching staff after being down 9-1 in the early going. The Yankees record is sitting at a healthy 14-7. They are tied with Baltimore for first place in the division. This brings up the question: Can the Yankees win the AL East? This scenario is reminiscent of the Cubs winning 97 games in 2015, which was also a year before they were supposed to be the powerhouse they currently are. While it’s a little unrealistic to believe the Yankees will win 97 games, it is not out of the question to consider them legitimate contenders for the division crown, which they have not owned since 2012. Here are six reasons why the Yankees have a fighting chance to end the season atop of the standings.

Veterans with something to prove.

If any Yankees fan was told that Jacoby Ellsbury was hitting cleanup and that Chase Headley was one of the team’s best hitters, it would most likely be followed by laughs and the question asking how many games are the Yankees below 500. It is not argued that neither Chase Headley nor Jacoby Ellsbury has lived up to their peak performance with their prior ball club yet with the Yankees, but their starts to this season respectively have turned baseball fans’ heads. 

Chase Headley is fourth in the American League in OBP at .425 and has a batting average above .300. Yes, this is the same Chase Headley that did not get a single extra base hit until May last year. He currently has ten. Ells is batting .295 and is stealing bases more often than he ever has since joining the Yankees. One of his biggest issues has also been staying on the field as injuries have cost him many games since signing his expensive contract with New York. He has played in every single game this season. Headley and Ellsbury have both been scrutinized on numerous occasions for their poor play that does not reflect their yearly salaries. While most contracts are known for rewarding players for past performance, Headley and Ellsbury are playing with a chip on their shoulders this season and primed for their best seasons in the Bronx.

The ability to overcome injury/ The bench

Like many teams across baseball the Yankees were struck early with injury bug. Didi Gregorius was injured in the World Baseball Classic and Gary Sanchez was placed on the disabled list days into the season. Two key players being injured for a team that was projected to be a middle of pack team in the league is extremely discouraging. The Yankees did not go outside of the organization to replace their injured stars allowing bench players, Ronald Torreyes and Austin Romine to handle starting duties for shortstop and catcher respectively. Both players exceeded expectations immensely. Thursday was Torreyes’s last game as the starting shortstop with Gregorius being activated Friday. Torreyes batted .308, fifteenth in the American league. 

Romine came into Friday’s game with the lowest catcher’s ERA in baseball and is batting a very respectful .273. Both of these players will be bench players for the team going forward, however, they are two of the team’s biggest assets. Aaron Hicks’s scorching starts also shows that he could easily step in for an outfielder if they became injured. This is encouraging for the Yankees as it proves that the team can call on someone without a starting role to step up and perform beyond expectations. Oh, and the Yankees have the reigning National League home run leader, Chris Carter on their bench. Other teams in the American League with injuries are not as capable. Baltimore is without all-star closer Zach Britton and it is a sure thing that Buck Showalter would have loved to have him secure the last outs. Toronto is sitting at the cellar of the division and, without Donaldson and two of their best pitchers, JA Happ and Aaron Sanchez, their record reflects their losses.

Adam Glanzman | Getty Images
Potent Offense

The Yankees offense has been extremely effective and entertaining to watch. Aaron Judge is hitting home runs out of every part of the ballpark and set the Statcast record for the hardest hit home run ever on Friday night. Judge is the most potent hitter that the Yankees have had since Alex Rodriguez’s prime and is a front-runner for American League Rookie of the Year. Starlin Castro is making the Yankees forget they have extremely talented infield prospects in the wings of the farm system. He has been a potent presence in the Yankees lineup and currently has the best strikeout to walk ratio he has ever had in his career, which is encouraging for a player known to be free-swinging. 

Matt Holliday is heating back up and proving that he still has something left in the tank. Combine this with Headley and Ellsbury’s start, the fact that Gregorius and Sanchez have yet to make major impacts, and that Greg Bird and Brett Gardner are hitting for horrendous averages, but are bound to bounce back and that is a scary offense. The offense has proven to be able to put up crooked numbers and come up in the clutch. The Yankees are first in the American League in home runs, runs, and OPS coming into Saturday’s game. Speed is also an asset of their offense, as they are third in the AL in stolen bases.

The bullpen

The Yankees have adopted the phenomenon that the Royals introduced years ago of having a lethal back end of the bullpen to shorten the game. This year is no different as the team is leading the league in bullpen ERA and the bullpen is home to many weapons. Adam Warren is reminding the Yankees why he should have never left in the first place as he sports a 0.84 ERA. Bryan Mitchell had pitched well until his outing against Baltimore on Friday night. Jonathan Holder is proving that his 1.65 minor league ERA last season was no fluke. Lefty specialist Tommy Layne has had limited opportunity, but is proving to be a serviceable arm. 

Then there’s the back of the bullpen weapons Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman, who have ERAs of 2.35, 1.29, and 1.23, respectively. All three pitchers have recorded big outs this season, and even when they pitch themselves into trouble, they have been able to get the job done. The bullpen is especially important, because the starting rotation has question marks. The Yankees offense has been especially impressive hitting teams’ bullpens this season, so the bullpen being able to keep the team in the game is especially important.

Adam Hunger | USA Today
Starting pitchers reaching their potential

The Yankees went against the popular opinion and opted to not sign a starting pitcher this offseason. They decided to let the players in their organization battle for the five spots and grind out the season. This season has had some of the best Yankee pitching performances in recent years. Michael Pineda almost threw a perfect game against the Rays, Masahiro Tanaka shutout Boston, and Luis Severino has struck out double-digit batters twice and pitched seven shutout innings against Boston on Thursday. For all three of these pitchers, consistency is the key. These performances are flashes of the overarching potential all three of them have. If this potential can be harnessed, the top of the rotation can be lethal. No three pitchers in all of baseball can be said to overwhelmingly best these three in terms of “pure stuff,” but utilizing this to their advantage every fifth day is key. 

The two southpaws in the rotation, CC Sabathia and rookie, Jordan Montgomery have also shown flashes of brilliance. CC Sabathia has been roughed up his past two starts, but Yankees fans forget how brilliant he was his first three starts including two starts where he only allowed three hits. Montgomery has not allowed more than three runs in a start this season, but one pitch in each start has drastically changed his pitching line for the worse. Montgomery needs to avoid these mistakes in order to be successful. His professionalism and veteran mentality will only help this. If the starting pitching can keep the offense in the ball game and be a bridge to the back end of the bullpen, the Yankees will contend in almost every game they play.

Team atmosphere

Team atmosphere is something that cannot be measured by a statistic (sorry sabermetricians), but nevertheless it is vital to the team’s success. The combination of youth and veteran presences on the team have created a team that never quits and has a lot of energy. This Yankees team appears to be having fun on an everyday basis and is one of the most fun teams to watch in a very long team. The team has depleted itself of any distractions that have haunted them over the past few seasons. Camera views of the dugout constantly shows players smiling, high fiving, and standing on the top step cheering their teammates on. Baseball is a game. Games are supposed to be fun and enjoyable. Every major league baseball player is blessed to make a living off their favorite game. The Yankees are playing the game the right way, having a good time, and winning. Joe Girardi said in the postgame press conference, after the Yankees miraculous eight run comeback against Baltimore, that this team does not give up and feels like they’re in every game they play.

Brad Penner | USA Today
While it is still only the end of April and the players on the team most likely will not sustain their current production, this first month of baseball has given Yankee fans a sense of optimism. The Yankees will be a competitive team in 2017. Will they win the division? It is too early to tell, but there’s no way anyone can rule it out after their start. All rise Yankee fans, it is going to be a heck of a season.

Article by: Ryan Thoms


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