#NextManUp: The 2019 Yankees have been a joy to watch
The 2019 New York Yankees have been riddled with injuries from the beginning of the season. That statement is no exaggeration.
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Before the season even officially began, Didi Gregorius found himself on the Injured List after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Giancarlo Stanton’s first injury of 2019 came in the form of a biceps injury, then a shoulder injury, then a calf injury and finally, a knee sprain during one of the nine games he played throughout the season. Fans looked forward to the return of Miguel Andjuar, only to have him sidelined with a labrum injury from May 21 onward. Aaron Hicks didn’t make his 2019 season debut until May 19 thanks to an injury to his back. And mostly everyone forgot about the likes of Ben Heller and… dare I say it… Jacoby Ellsbury. Oh, and Greg Bird finding himself injured once again, seemingly eliminating any battle for the job at first base between him and Luke Voit.
While us fans were pretty anxious about this laundry list of injuries, the Yankees found solutions from the near get-go. While the first month or so of the 2019 season was a bit rougher than anyone would have hoped, it wasn’t a terribly lengthy rough patch. By May, they found themselves in first place in the American League East.
Gio Urshela came up to replace Andjuar at third base, and he proved to be an upgrade from the defensive side right away. At the plate, Urshela stepped right up, and wowed… well, everyone. As of September 28, he’s logged 21 home runs and is batting .316. Gleyber Torres took over at shortstop for Gregorius. While Torres’ accomplishments didn’t come as a surprise to the same extent that Urshela’s did, the talks about the number of home runs he blasted out of the park, at age 22, did not stop all season long (with 38 of them recorded, to be exact, as of September 28). Of course, DJ LeMahieu took over at 2B when Torres had his work cut out for him at shortstop, and no elaboration is even necessary for the AL MVP hopeful. Mike Ford’s performance at first base also came as a surprise from the minor leagues.
As far as Hicks and Stanton, Brett Gardner stepped up his game both in the outfield and at the plate. Cameron Maybin was an excellent acquisition by Brian Cashman (for his fielding, his offense and yes, his hugs). Mike Tauchman, made a fantastic showing as one of the “next men up.” And, one of the surprises of the season didn’t come from a Triple-A hopeful who had no choice but to come up to The Show; it came from the team veteran in the outfield. Brett Gardner logged his career-high home run record with 28 as of September 28, and (knock on wood) has had just a brief ten-day stint on the IL for a knee issue in July.
The season-opening injuries didn’t end with offensive players; Luis Severino came down with a rotator cuff injury during spring training, leaving him to not pitch a regular-season game until September. Jordan Montgomery was recovering from his own Tommy John to the point that he wasn’t even a thought for the starting rotation. Dellin Betances’ story is nearly too sad for words, after rehabbing his right shoulder and strained lat only to make one game appearance, in September -- which was followed-up by a partially-torn Achilles tendon.
However, this situation on the mound led Aaron Boone to have no choice but to rely on an opener, even more than usual. Chad Green, whose performance at the beginning season was abysmal enough to send him back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, finally stepped it up in an opener role. While I hesitate to speak about Domingo German right now, his accomplishments early in the season, growing into the Yankees’ ace in Sevy’s absence, came before he was exposed as a potential domestic abuser. Tommy Kahnle had a remarkable comeback season, filling a similar role to Betances as a setup man (along with Zack Britton) for Aroldis Chapman.
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But… the injuries didn’t stop as the season went on. Gary Sanchez found himself on and off the IL three different times, leaving spots open for both Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka. Aaron Judge went on the IL in April for an oblique injury, and did not return until July. Hicks returned to the active roster after the All-Star break, only to be sidelined again in August. Tauchman, one of the “next men up,” has now found himself on the IL. Urshela has thankfully returned, but he spent more time injured as well. Edwin Encarnacion, another wonderful mid-season acquisition, was active… then injured… then active… then (and currently) injured again. But, Encarnacion’s injuries have left the 1B spot open for LeMahieu, and then, the DH spot open for Luke Voit (who has proven not to be a 2018 fluke).
Over the course of what could have been a disastrous season for the Yankees, their “savage” spirit rallied the “next man up” at nearly every turn. They clinched their division, they’ve avoided the American League Wild Card game for the first time since 2012, they’ve won over 100 games, they beat their team home run record (set last year), and they’re currently in the lead for the MLB season home run record. Even if they don’t advance past the ALDS, they have much to celebrate; however, Yankees fans won’t remember these statistics if World Series win #28 does not become a reality. 2019 will be just another “lost year,” and will also be remembered as the year that marked “10 years since the Yankees won it all.”
While the critics are a reality of being part of the New York Yankees, and they won’t be stopped by anything short of a World Series win, the 2019 series should go down in history a bit differently than other seasons in recent years have. World Series victory or not, this team has been fun -- and not just because minor leaguers became near-superstars. Gardy banging his bat was iconic. Boone’s passion for defending his players was long overdue. The unlikely bonding between players, such as FaceTime calls shared between CC Sabathia and Montgomery (as Montgomery discussed in a recent interview on WFAN), boosts the morale of both the players and the fans. Hicks’ extra-innings catch back in August that robbed the Minnesota Twins of a win for the ages will play on the highlight reels for years now. Even if these Yankees don’t win it all, they’ll have won. Their camaraderie is exemplary.
Article by: Mary Grace Donaldson