Proving the critics wrong: How the 2017 Yankees reached the postseason

Coming into the 2017 campaign, the New York Yankees had already been written off before a single game had even been played. Everywhere you looked, the Bombers were being billed as a .500 team at best. They were too young, too inexperienced, and played in a division where they MIGHT be the third best team. The team used the negativity as a driving force, and courtesy of last Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees find themselves in a familiar place, albeit one that has eluded them since 2015; the postseason.
Photo Credit: @TheJudge44/Twitter

When talking about the Yankees’ starting rotation, there was an overall sense of uncertainty about how effective the pitching would be. The general thinking was that Masahiro Tanaka would be the one arm the team could rely on, while everybody else was a question mark. Ironically, the exact opposite came to pass. Luis Severino dominated all season long, turning into one of the best pitchers in the American League. Sonny Gray has been solid since his July 31st arrival in the Bronx, even though he has received very little run support. Jordan Montgomery has given the Yankees more than they could have hoped for out of a rookie pitcher in the back end of the rotation. CC Sabathia has put together another very reliable year at age 37. Even Michael Pineda, who has been inconsistent at best since joining the team in 2012, was enjoying one of the best seasons in his career before Tommy John surgery brought his season to an abrupt halt. 

Masahiro Tanaka, however, had easily the worst year of his career, going 12-12 with an ERA close to five. He has become a home run machine, allowing 35 long balls, which averages out to 1.2 per start. The results (or lack thereof) are baffling, even more so when you look at the dominant Spring Training that he enjoyed. In 23.2 innings, Tanaka allowed only one run, and overpowered seemingly everybody that he faced. Come the regular season, all those stats are meaningless, but it is perplexing how quickly things went south for the 28-year-old. With just a week until the playoffs begin, it will be interesting to see how Girardi uses Tanaka in the postseason, if at all.

Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/AP
The Bombers have also enjoyed a season of offensive success. The team ranks second in the AL in both runs scored and run differential, while also hitting the third most homers in the league. They’re led by two of the Baby Bombers, both of who are enjoying unbelievable campaigns. First we’ll talk about Aaron Judge, who is putting together one of the greatest rookie seasons in the history of Major League Baseball. He is slashing .283/.417/.620 to go along with 108 RBI, 124 runs scored, and 120 walks. He has hit 50 home runs, passing Mark McGwire for the most in a rookie season in MLB history. Judge still has six games left to add onto his record-breaking mark. Judge is the runaway favorite for the American League Rookie of the Year award, and is in the thick of MVP race.

Next up is Gary Sanchez. The 24-year-old is leading all major league catchers in HR (33), SLG (.535), OPS (.881), and WAR (4.0), despite missing a month of the season with an injury. Along the way, he broke the Yankees franchise record for most home runs hit in a season by a catcher. Joe Girardi has been batting the two consecutively, giving them an intimidating one-two punch in the lineup. The team has enjoyed success from Didi Gregorius as well, who is also having a career year. He broke the Yankees record for HRs in a season by a Yankees shortstop, passing future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. They’ve also seen a revitalized Jacoby Ellsbury in the second half, who has produced many timely hits that helped the team reach October. When the team is clicking, they send out a lineup that no pitcher wants to face.

The bullpen was thought to be the team’s biggest strength going into the year. Some days, that looked to be the case. Other days, however, it couldn’t be further from the truth. For about a month and a half in the middle of the season, the bullpen blew lead after lead, regardless of who was on the mound. The faltering arms over that stretch are a contributing factor to the Yankees 17-25 record in one run games. Over the last several weeks, the bullpen has looked much more consistent and dominant. Most notably, Aroldis Chapman looks focused and appears to have his swagger back after struggling mightily in July and the beginning of August. A prime example is his outing against the Twins on September 19th. Chapman entered the game with one out in the eighth and the bases loaded. Girardi was asking him to get a five out save to protect a 2-1 New York lead. He did that, recording all 5 outs using just 16 pitches. He had the look of a man who was in a zone, and blew away whoever stepped in front of him. With a bullpen that consists of David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, Dellin Betances, and a soon-returning Adam Warren, the Yankees wouldn’t need more than five or six innings from their starters come playoff time.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens/AP
With October quickly approaching, the Yankees have not only silenced the doubters and reached the postseason, but the team is clicking in a way fans haven’t seen since the first two months of the season. This is not a team anybody can afford to look past during the most crucial part of the year. The Yankees have built the type of club that thrives in the playoffs. They’ve got good hitters throughout the lineup, and this team can put up gaudy numbers in the blink of an eye. They have the starters to pitch well and keep them in the game, even if the offense is having an off night. And when needing to protect a lead, Girardi has a bullpen at his disposal that can shut down any lineup in the league. The rest of the MLB should take note.

Simply put, this is a dangerous team.  This is a hungry team. And most importantly for Yankees nation, this a young team who will only continue to improve and enjoy plenty of success in the coming years.

Article by: Dan DeGregorio


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