New York Yankees
While the Yankees have won just one World Series since 2000, their Evil Empire reputation is back in 2018. Aaron Judge’s pleasant personality hardly mirrors Darth Vader’s, but the power-mad pinstripers, boasting ridiculous talent and depth, have fought through a rash of recent injuries and are tied with Houston for MLB’s second-best record at 87-53.
Last year’s Yanks were seen by New Yorkers as endearing underdogs due to a young corps of Baby Bombers (after faded stars like A-Rod, Mark Texeria, and Carlos Beltran had produced only one playoff game in the prior four years). But no one feels cuddly toward the 21st-Century Empire now. Power is their specialty; they’re on pace for 264 round-trippers, which would tie the 1997 Mariners’ MLB record. Aaron Judge, now a certified superstar, has not played since late July due to a broken wrist, and is still 1-2 weeks away. But other mashers include LF/DH Giancarlo Stanton and CF Aaron Hicks, who have crushed 33 and 24 homers, respectively (Hicks’ .373 OBP is second on the club to Judge’s .398). SS Didi Gregorius seemed to be Broadway’s newest star in April when he hit .330 with 10 homers; he’s since leveled off to a still-impressive 22 bombs and 74 ribbies.
The most infuriating/depressing development for Empire-haters is the plethora of young talent exploding from a resurgent farm system (credit cagey GM Brian Cashman, who finally convinced the late George Steinbrenner’s sons to build from within). As if fresh faces like Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez weren’t enough, the lineup now features two young phenoms who weren’t even around on Opening Day—3B Miguel Andujar (23 taters) and 2B Gleyber Torres (22), who provide plenty of offense and consistent clutch knocks.
The rotation is led by 24-year-old RHP Luis Severino (17-7, 3.52), who despite a late-summer swoon still boasts an array of dazzling stuff. Japanese great Masahiro Tanaka has been somewhat erratic (10-5, 3.83 ERA) but has looked like his old self in the second half. C.C. Sabathia, now 37, has reinvented himself as a cagey control artist forcing weak contact. Ex-Oakland ace Sonny Gray’s struggles have landed him in the 'pen, but deadline pickups J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn have filled out the rotation; Happ, in fact, is 5-0 in pinstripes and might even start the Wild Card game. But honestly, all a NY starter need do is keep the score close, and the lethal offense and stellar bullpen can do their thing.
And what a relief corps. The 'pen is stacked with dominating fireballers, led by closer Aroldis Chapman (.136 opposing BA, 16.1 K/9 innings). He’ll miss the M’s series with a balky knee, but setup studs include Dellin Betances (15.9 K/9 innings), David Robertson (12.0), Chad Green (10.8), and southpaw deadline pickup Zach Britton.
The Bronx Bombers are likely headed for the AL Wild Card game against either the A’s or M’s. The only question is whether their second-half injury woes will make them to have to fly 3,000 miles to play it. Gotham’s finest would certainly prefer a muscle-man contest in their homer-happy haven in the Bronx.
Players to Watch
Gleyber Torres: A front-runner for Rookie of the Year, Torres has all but put veteran Neil Walker out of a job. The 21-year-old Venezuelan came to New York from the Cubs' organization in the Aroldis Chapman trade and moved quickly up the Yankees' minor-league chain. He opened this year in Triple-A and put up an impressive .347/.393/.510 line to prove he was ready for The Show; he was promoted three weeks into the season and hasn't looked back.
Miguel Andujar: The 23-year-old Dominican native has enjoyed a hot second half, slashing .306/.340/.585 in his last 37 games. The Rookie of the Year candidate boasts tremendous bat speed and plate coverage, and his 63 extra-base hits easily leads all MLB rookies. On the down side, his third-base play is well below average, suffering from both weak range and an erratic arm.
Luis Severino: The ace of the Yankees' staff, Severino is second in the league in wins and fifth in strikeouts. The young Dominican throws hard—his fastball has been clocked as high as 101mph—and will mix in a slider and a changeup to keep batters off guard. Severino compares well to reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber except when it comes to reservedness; self-expression does not seem to be among Severino's problems.
Aaron Boone: Just as the Red Sox have a rookie manager who is the brother of a former Mariner fan-favorite second baseman, so do the Yankees. Brother of Bret Boone (and grandson of Ray Boone and son of Bob Boone, who also managed after his playing days), Aaron Boone was perhaps not the player his brother, dad, and grandpa were, but he did carve out a respectable Major League career for himself, playing for six teams from 1997-2009.
Becoming manager of the Yankees was a bit of a surprise, as Boone had zero coaching or managerial experience beforehand. The favorite to land the job after New York parted ways with longtime manager Joe Girardi was former Yankee and current Giants coach Hensley Meulens, who has managed in the minors and in the World Baseball Classic. Apparently Boone interviewed well and impressed the Yankee brass with knowledge and enthusiasm. Aside from Meulens, his competition was the recently-retired and equally inexperienced Carlos Beltran and the more experienced Eric Wedge, who had been Manager of the Year with Cleveland before managing the Mariners from 2011-2013, when he clashed hard with the dysfunctional and incompetent upper management regime here at the time.
J.A. Happ: The Happster is one of those players that leaves the Mariners a middling talent only to become an All-Star with someone else. In his one season in Seattle, 2015, Happ went 4-6 with an unremarkable 4.64 ERA, not far off from what was then his career average. Since the M's dealt him to Pittsburgh July 31st of that year, Happ has posted a record of 52-23 and a 3.32 ERA, notched a 20-win season, and even got a save in an All-Star Game.
He's relatively new to the Yankees, arriving in a late-July trade (the fourth time he's been dealt at the runup to a July 31 trade deadline). He's undefeated in seven starts thus far with New York, thanks in part to a stellar 1.008 WHIP in 41 innings.
|New York Yankees||(1913 - present)|
|World Champions:||1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009|
|League Champions:||1921, 1922, 1926, 1942, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1963, 1964, 1976, 1981, 2001, 2003|
|Division Titles:||1980, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012|
Austin Romine: New York's backup catcher is brother to Mariner utilityman Andrew Romine. The longtime Yankee is having a good year by his standards, posting career highs in most offensive categories.
Historical Accuracy: It had been accepted that the Yankees originated as a founding member of the American League called the Baltimore Orioles, and that those Orioles relocated to New York in 1903. Recently, though, baseball historians, including the authors of the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, have decided that it's more accurate to call the 1901-02 Orioles a separate franchise. Though when the AL was founded it was intended (secretly) that Baltimore would be a temporary home for a team while property in Manhattan was acquired for a ballpark, a feud erupted between league president Ban Johnson and John McGraw, who was running the Orioles, and McGraw connived to ruin the Baltimore club; the Orioles essentially had to fold in mid-season 1902, finishing out its schedule by fielding players borrowed from other teams. The New York team that began play in 1903 is now considered by these experts to be a new franchise created to fill the gap left by the Orioles' collapse. A fascinating article on the whole mess, by MLB official historian John Thorn, is recommended reading.