Originally expected to be at least one year away from being a contender, the New York Yankees are now just one win away from the World Series.
“Rebuilding”. “Retooling”. “Transition Year”. Whatever you want to call it, this was not supposed to be the New York Yankees’ year.
“They’re likely one year away from contention after the 2016 trade deadline selloff.” I’m not quoting anyone specifically. However, this was the sentiment of just about everyone in the baseball community and the New York media.
No one saw this coming. The Yankees are not supposed to be here. But WE’RE STILL HERE.
So how did a team that was one year away from contention get one win away from the World Series?
The “young kids” who were supposed to help in the future are helping now. Veterans found and accepted new roles. Brian Cashman bought into the first half success and added key pieces at the trade deadline. And Joe Girardi has masterfully pushed the buttons to put his team in position to win night in and night out. (If anyone mentions Game 2 in Cleveland, you’re a very bitter person and need to let go of that grudge.)
Youngsters Stepping Up
Everyone knows how great Aaron Judge has been. His numbers jump off the page but what’s most impressive is the adjustments he makes and how he’s been able to bounce back from two major slumps.
After an otherworldly first half of the season and a Home Run Derby title, Judge stumbled to start the second half and damn near fell on his face by the end of August. Then, Judge adjusted and had a monster September, hitting .311 with 15 HR and 32 RBI.
Things were looking good heading into the playoffs. Judge then went deep in the American League Wild Card Game and everything seemed right with the world. Then, Judge started to struggle again. He struck out at an extremely high clip and couldn’t even put the ball in play.
However, just like this entire Yankees team, Judge was down but not out. The MVP candidate is now giving New York big-time production, hitting .444 with two doubles, two homers, and six RBI in his last three games.
Through it all, Aaron Judge played great defense, making a handful of highlight reel plays, especially in the playoffs, and handled the New York media with the kind of grace we haven’t seen since Derek Jeter. This kid is special.
Judge wasn’t the only Baby Bomber playing a huge role this year though.
Luis Severino, the man who couldn’t handle the starting rotation and was destined for a career as a setup reliever, bounced back better than anyone could’ve hoped for. Sevy quickly became the Yankees ace. He picked up an uneven Masahiro Tanaka and provided the Yankees with a frontline starter.
Severino delivered a clunker in the AL Wild Card Game (0.1 IP, 3 ER) but has returned to form in his last two starts and will take the hill in Game 6 of the ALCS, looking to clinch a trip to the World Series.
Whether or not Tanaka opts out of his contract at the end of the season, the New York Yankees have their ace for the foreseeable future.
Vets Buying In
When young players come in and have this kind of success, it can sometimes cause issues for the veterans. A young player could take a veteran’s spot in the lineup. Veterans could become envious of the young player’s success. There are plenty of opportunities for clubhouse drama.
For this New York Yankees team, however, there is no such drama. That is a credit to manager Joe Girardi for keeping everyone happy, but more credit should be given to the veterans of this team.
Three specific veterans are worth mentioning: CC Sabathia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Chase Headley.
One of the reasons the Yankees were thought to be one year away was because no one expected to see the CC Sabathia of eight years ago.
CC seems to have found a fountain of youth. The wily vet has been downright dominant this postseason and was effective all regular season, when healthy.
Sabathia’s “fountain of youth” is his ability to pitch and not just throw hard. Back in his heyday, CC could light up the radar gun. Nowadays, however, the big man sits around 91-92 mph with his fastball. For most pitchers who throw gas in their prime, a loss of velocity means it’s time to hang up the cleats. *cough* Tim Lincecum *cough*
I don’t mean to pick on Big Time Timmy Jim but he won back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards, is a three-time World Champion, threw two no-hitters, and is out of baseball at just 33 years old.
Meanwhile, 37-year-old CC Sabathia is the rock of the New York Yankees rotation.
When CC injured his knee in August, there was thought his career might be over and rightfully so. Father Time is undefeated and it looked like he was coming for Sabathia. However, it appears now that CC is taking Father Time to seven games, pitching as well as anyone in the playoffs.
You didn’t think CC would just roll over down 0-2 to Father Time, did you??
Another veteran who has accepted his role is Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury was the Yankees starting center fielder and was holding his own offensively until crashing into the wall in late May and suffering a concussion.
Aaron Hicks took over for Ellsbury and played so well that “Chief” couldn’t get his job back. Ellsbury was demoted to a $153 million pinch runner. The New York media was ripping him for being such an expensive bench player. Ellsbury could’ve requested a trade or demanded more playing time. Instead, Ellsbury accepted his role, told Girardi he was ready when needed, and waited his turn.
Hicks then went down with an oblique injury and it was Ellsbury’s time to shine. Just as Hicks did to him, Ellsbury made it hard for Hicks to regain his spot. Ellsbury hit .337 in September, continued to play good defense, and stole a few bases.
Ellsbury is hitless in nine postseason at-bats but the way he handled his loss of playing time during the regular season cannot be overlooked as one of the reasons the New York Yankees are where they are.
Chase Headley also took his reduced role in stride towards the end of the season. Headley has been the Yankees starting third baseman for the better part of the last three seasons. However, when New York acquired Todd Frazier, Headley’s reign was over.
Like Ellsbury, instead of causing a problem, Headley went with it. He told Girardi that he would do anything the team needed him to do, including moving across the diamond to play first base.
With Greg Bird still recovering from ankle surgery and Frazier at the hot corner, Girardi did move Headley to first and it couldn’t have worked out any better. Headley adjusted defensively with little issue and his offense seemed to improve at the new position as well.
With Bird now back in the lineup, Headley has been platooning with Ellsbury at DH. Although his at-bats have been scarce, Headley came up big in the New York Yankees Game 4 comeback win, delivering a pinch-hit single to get the rally going in the eighth inning.
Having veterans who accept reduced playing time and do anything the team needs to win is special. Those players sometimes get overlooked but they are crucial to a team making a deep playoff run.
From the Top Down
General manager Brian Cashman knew this group was special, which is why he added to it at the trade deadline, despite people saying this team was still a year away and needed to hang onto its top prospects.
Cashman brought in Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Jaime Garcia, and Sonny Gray. Gray has given the Yankees another reliable starter while Robertson and Kahnle turned the bullpen from great to elite.
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Frazier, however, is perhaps the most important piece Cashman added and it really has nothing to do with what he does on the field. Yes, Frazier plays great defense at third and has picked up his offensive game in the postseason. However, the best thing the Toddfather brings to the New York Yankees is his love of baseball and infectious kid-like joy.
Frazier has fun playing the game and gets the entire team excited. As the heart and soul of this team, acquiring Todd Frazier at the trade deadline may have pushed the New York Yankees over the edge.
Brian Cashman, as always, has done a fantastic job bringing talent to the Bronx. Joe Girardi has also been masterful in the way he has managed this talented team. He keeps guys fresh, manages his bullpen to get the most out of it, and gets everyone enough playing time so that there are no complaints. He gelled together a team mixed with youngsters and veterans, which is no easy task.
This is a special team. You can feel it when you watch them play. Every single player, coach, scout, and executive has done a great job setting this team up for success.
Thanks to everyone in the New York Yankees organization, the team that was one year away is instead just one win away from the American League pennant.