Coming off one of the most unexpected and unforgettable seasons in recent history, the New York Yankees are back for the highly anticipated 2018 season.
After being picked to miss the playoffs altogether, and eventually falling to the Astros in game seven of last years ALCS, the Yankees are once again a World Series favorite.
Sitting here in mid-March, there is a lot to be excited about with regards to this young Yankee team. However, for this team to reach its full potential in 2018, there are a few things that need to happen.
Let’s highlight some of the keys to the Yankees 2018 season.
All Rise! Let’s start with the new king of New York and reigning AL Rookie of the Year, Aaron Judge.
Expectations for Judge heading into the 2018 season are very high. The all-star is coming off a season where he led the American League in homers with 52, walks with 127 and runs scored with 128.
At the same time, he led the majors with a whopping 208 strikeouts while having a horrible stretch during the months of July and August where he hit .230 and .185 respectively.
With the recent addition of superstar Giancarlo Stanton, who will most likely bat behind Judge, pitches will no longer have the luxury of giving Judge a free pass. Pitchers will need to attack the zone more, providing less opportunity for strikeouts and much more opportunity for the signature “Judgian” dingers.
If this came to fruition, it would fix the only major flaw in Judge’s game (strikeouts), leaving pitchers with a force to be reckoned with.
It’s either that, or face Stanton, Bird, Sanchez and Didi.
Pick your poison.
Although disregarded by many fans after his late season struggles in 2017, I believe the re-signing of relief pitcher Dellin Betances to a one-year, $5.1 million contract will pay dividends for the 2018 Yankees.
Betances has been an All-Star the past four seasons; In 2014 he set the Yankee record for most strikeouts by a reliever with 135, breaking the record previously held by Mariano Rivera.
Unlike previous seasons, Betances’ role heading into the season is unclear. Not because he isn’t capable, but because the Yankees bullpen is already loaded with quality arms.
For most of the 2017 season, the hope of a Greg Bird return seemed less and less likely as he kept facing setbacks with an ankle injury.
It was certainly worth the wait. Bird helped the Yankees make their playoff run, batting .244 with three home runs and six RBI in the postseason. He also showed that he was ready for the big stage, hitting a dramatic go-ahead solo shot in game three of the ALDS off ex-Yankee Andrew Miller.
Bird can hit to all fields, has power and the perfect left-handed uppercut swing for that short porch in right field. If he could carry his 2017 success into 2018, it would make this already dangerous lineup a pitchers worst nightmare.
Throughout his Yankee career, Tanaka has been incredibly inconsistent. He went 13-5 with a terrific 2.77 ERA in his rookie season, but injuries have slowed him down ever since.
Last year was certainly his worst. Posting a record of 13-12 with a disappointing 4.74 ERA.
However, like most of his career, Tanaka’s 2017 season was polarizing. He went 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA and tallied 18 strikeouts in the postseason.
His main problem in the 2017 regular season was the long ball. Out of the 62 qualified pitchers, Tanaka allowed the 58th most home runs per nine innings (1.6), a problem that he was able to keep under control in the 2017 postseason where he allowed no home runs.
With a rotation already consisting of Severino, Sabathia, Gray and Montgomery, a consistent Tanaka could propel the Yankees rotation to tops in the American League.
Let the chase for 28 begin. Let’s go Yankees!