Confusingly Bright Road Lies Ahead for New York Yankees

Typically, when you reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and win 100 games in the latter year, you’re poised to, at some point, break through and win the Fall Classic with the core you have in place — which would be fair to relate to the situation the New York Yankees find themselves in. But when considering their competition and the general makeup of their ballclub, the Yankees have a confusingly bright road ahead.

The Yankees went into the 2018 regular season as a favorite to win the American League pennant and rightfully so. They came one game away from reaching the World Series in 2017 and acquired the reigning National League Most Valuable Player of the Year in Giancarlo Stanton in the offseason. With a relatively young and blossoming core, the Yankees looked like a team ready to finish what they started in the playoffs. But they disappointed when it mattered most.

Finishing the year 100-62 and second in the American League East, the Yankees found themselves hosting the AL Wild Card Game for the third time in the last four seasons. After defeating the Oakland Athletics in convincing fashion, 7-2, the Yankees squared off with the archrival Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series, but they didn’t fare the same way they did in the one-game playoff. Losing in four games and being outscored 20-4 in the final two games of the series at Yankee Stadium, they ended their once promising season on a sour note.

Throughout the regular season, the Yankees possessed one of the most productive lineups in the game. They were second in Major League Baseball in runs (851), third in walks (625), first in home runs (267, an all-time single-season record), eighth in on-base percentage (.329), second in slugging (.451), and second in OPS (.781). Whether it be Aaron Judge, Stanton, Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, or Aaron Hicks, first-year manager Aaron Boone had several productive bats in his order. Boone also had one of the most lockdown bullpens in the game at his disposal.

Though the @Yankees have a bright future ahead of them, it's also a confusing one when considering their flaws and pennant competition. @RPStratakos explains.Click To Tweet

Finishing the year fourth in bullpen ERA (3.38), second in strikeouts (753), and third in opponent batting average (.221), the Yankees were one of the most automatic pens in the sport. Whether it be Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, David Robertson, or Jonathan Holder, the Yankees had a number of arms they could turn to in the late innings to relieve their starters — who, as a whole, were the Achilles heel of their ballclub.

Throughout the first half of the season, Luis Severino was looking like the favorite to win the American League Cy Young Award. Then, he began to labor, got hit hard, and was not a steady force on the rubber every fifth day; Masahiro Tanaka was steady, but not anywhere near the dominant righty the Yankees were accustomed to before 2017. Sonny Gray recorded an ERA over five in the 23 starts he made before being sent to the bullpen; CC Sabathia was efficient, but isn’t prone to pitching deep into games at this stage of his career.

General manager Brian Cashman acquired lefty J.A. Happ and righty Lance Lynn before the MLB trade deadline to put a band-aid on the Yankees rotation woes. Happ recorded a 2.69 ERA in the 11 starts he made, but was unable to get through the third inning in Game 1 of the ALDS. Lynn had has moments, but, for the most part, was an inconsistent presence.

All in all, the Yankees starting rotation was 14th in ERA in the regular season (4.05), which, while not a train wreck, wasn’t going to be enough to advance to the World Series. And while their lineup was electric, it had its holes. In the regular season, the Yankees were 16th in hits (1,374) and batting average (.249) and ninth in strikeouts (1,421).

In the ALDS, every one of the Yankees flaws were exposed. They, more often than not, recorded strikeouts in big moments, couldn’t get length out of their starting pitching, and Boone made some crucial mistakes when it came to how long he let his starters go. Outside of Judge, the Yankees offense was nonexistent. Severino didn’t surrender a run in the Yankees’ AL Wild Card Game matchup with the Athletics, but he labored and was only able to pitch through four innings. In his Game 3 start against the Red Sox, Severino surrendered six earned runs in three innings and gave up several hard hit balls — some that landed in fair territory and some that were caught at the warning track. In the 2017 postseason, he recorded a 5.63 ERA in four postseason outings.

To this point, Severino hasn’t been able to answer the call in the big moment. Tanaka is a reliable righty, but not an ace. Outside of the two righties, it’s unclear what the Yankees starting rotation will look like in 2019. Will they pull out all the stops to sign Patrick Corbin and/or Dallas Keuchel in free agency? Will they try to pull off a blockbuster trade for a big-time starter? Time will tell on those verdicts, but it can’t be assumed that the Yankees will execute such a plan to perfection.

The Red Sox are better than the Yankees, even if the Bombers add a starting pitcher or two. Headlined by Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, and Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox have one of the most lethal lineups in the sport. They also have All-Star lefty Chris Sale, and while their bullpen has been criticized often, they’ve found ways to get the job done in the postseason; they’re a complete team that isn’t going anywhere. It’s not to say that the Red Sox are guaranteed to win the World Series over the next week, or repeat as champions in 2019 if they finish off their memorable 108-win season in style, but they’re a large obstacle in the Yankees’ way. And they’re also not the only hurdle the Yankees have to overcome.

While they may lose some prominent figures such as Keuchel, Charlie Morton, and Marwin Gonzalez to free agency this offseason, the Astros are surely on the Yankees’ level in terms of both talent and execution. The Cleveland Indians are still one of the most talented ballclubs in the sport. The Rays won 90 games with one of the youngest rosters in the game. The Athletics came out of nowhere to win 97 games, and the Seattle Mariners strung together 89 wins. It isn’t a two-team race in the AL, let alone the AL East.

The Yankees are one of the most talented teams in the sport. They are, without a doubt, capable of winning 100 games for a second consecutive season. They have multiple All-Stars on their roster and many youngsters who haven’t reached their ceiling. Andujar struggled to lockdown third base in his rookie season, but he’s still 23 and arguably the Yankees best pure hitter. Torres is 21 and showcased the ability to be a source of power. In time, Judge may win the AL MVP. All but likely, Gary Sanchez won’t hit .186 again next season.

The Yankees are blocked within their own division by a better team in the Red Sox — and potentially have competition from the Rays — have a lineup that, while powerful, is strikeout prone, a mediocre starting rotation, and a manager who is hard to get a gauge on.

Franchise players are in place, but there is work to be done with the Yankees roster. Meanwhile, their competition in the AL is fierce and going nowhere. The future is bright for the New York Yankees, but only to a smidgen more of an extent than the end result of 2018.

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