New York Yankees Season Wrap Up: Ups and downs, but Yankees to meet the Indians in the playoffs

The New York Yankees, just like the other 29 MLB teams, navigated their way through a peculiar coronavirus shortened baseball season. In doing so, the Yankees somehow managed to complete all sixty games of the imposed season, affected very little by the virus pandemic. Many thought the baseball season would not be completed, as the COVID-19 virus ravaged many Americans and several baseball teams.

At the beginning of the season, it seemed that the New York Yankees would be the odds on favorite to win the East and go on to their 28th World Championship.  After all, the Yankees had had two 100 game winning seasons but failed to get that World Series appearance.  The Yankees decided not to let that happen again.  In the offseason, the Yankees appeared to seal the deal by purchasing one of the best pitchers in the game, Gerrit Cole. Hal Steinbrenner and company paid $324 million to make the deal happen, and the Yankees were primed to be the winning team.

In spring training, that outlook seemed to develop cracks, as the Yankees already short their best 2019 pitcher of the year, Domingo German, who had been issued a domestic violence suspension. Then the Yankees learned that James Paxton had just had back surgery and wouldn’t be ready to start the season. Then came the big blow, co-ace Luis Severino would need Tommy John surgery ,and would be out for the season.

Another surprise came when slugger Aaron Judge came to spring camp with a sore and bothersome shoulder.  It was later learned the sore shoulder was suffered at the end of the season when he dived for a catch.  After lengthy tests, it was finally determined that it wasn’t the shoulder its was a fractured rib that would keep him from the opening day as well. Giancarlo Stanton and catcher Gary Sanchez also had minor injuries.

On March 12 the baseball world was turned on its head. The COVID-19 virus was spreading wildly, and Dr. Tony Fauci warned against people gathering. MLB had no choice, and Commissioner Rob Manfred shut down all spring training camps and postponed the start of the season for one month.  As horrible as this was for the country and all of the sports, it appeared to be a Godsend for the Yankees, as it would allow some of it’s injured players to be ready to play when the season got underway.

As it turned out, the delay of the season would stretch beyond three months, and MLB and the MLBPA (players union) would have to iron out what a season would look like, and who would be paid for what, without any blueprint to follow.  All of the negotiations, contentious at times, led Commission Manfred to impose a 60 game season starting on July 27th, with players being paid pro-rata.

The agreement also allowed players to opt-out of the season if they were concerned about playing with the coronavirus still swirling around.  Several did opt-out.  But, no New York Yankee choose to exercise that option. The Yankees were one of the top teams to implement all of the coronavirus protocols to protect players and crew, and even got a reward for their efforts.  Although the Yankees had a few minor positives, the Yankee remained mostly unaffected from the virus that ravaged some teams.

On July 27th, the season started, and the Yankees were geared up and healthy.  With the Yankees healthy and winning 9 of their first 11 games, the New York Yankees looked primed not to disappoint in those early rosy predictions. Then it hit, the injury bug that the Yankees so wanted to avoid rose its ugly head.  In 2019 the Yankees had an unprecedented number of injuries, no one would have expected it would repeat itself in 2020, but it did.

Injuries to Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, James Paxton, Ben Heller, and even DJ LeMahieu ravaged the Yankees. They had them setting the Scranton Shuttle in motion on a daily attempt for manager Aaron Boone, just to put together a lineup for that the day’s game.  During this period the Yankees lost 15 of 20 games.

At periods during the season, particularly when losing game after game, the Yankees pitching had failed them.  J.A Happ and Masahiro Tanaka got off to slow starts.  Jordan Montgomery pitched well at the beginning of the season but has slumped coming down the stretch. Luckily for the Yankees, ace, Gerrit Cole has pitched well, and J.A. Happ has come up strong late in the season.  One very concerning situation for the Yankees is that their bats have been silent for long stretches.  Last year the “next man up” mentality kicked in, and the Yankees did well, despite being missing key players.  This year fill-in players, for the most part, did not perform.

One of the big stories of the season was the horrible performance of catcher Gary Sanchez.  He had passed balls and other than hitting ten homers, couldn’t get on base, failing and leaving numberous Yankees on base while striking out 64 times, that equates to 173 strikeouts in a regular season, while only garnering a batting average of .147. It was Sanchez’a worse season with the Yankees.

Regardless of the ups and downs of the season, one thing has been consistent, performances of leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu and the home run hitting Luke Voit. Basically they have carried the team on their backs this whole season.  DJ did go on the IL, but only missed ten games.  Luke Voit remained on the field all year, once going 38 consecutive games. That’s not to say Voit hasn’t been injured, but like an old-time player, he has played through it, although in pain at times. Voit can’t hide his foot injury, especially when he’s hobbling around the bases during his home run trots. It’s unclear exactly what’s wrong with Voit’s left foot, but he has chosen to play through it.

The bottom line on the performance of the two Yankee stars is that DJ LeMahieu has garnered the baseball hitting title, the first player in the modern era to achieve the batting title in both major leagues.  Luke Voit, on his behalf, has gotten the home run title, hitting 22 long balls on the season with 52 runs batted in.  In a regular-season, that equates to 60 home runs in a regular season. That puts Voit in the rarified air of the likes of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris.

Regardless of the hurtles the New York Yankees have overcome during the season, they nevertheless have found a place in the 2020 postseason.  Yesterday with every run scored, it bounced back and forth as to who the Yankees would face in the first round of the postseason. As it turned out, the New York Yankees will face the Cleveland Indians in the three-game Wild Card round. In the first game of the series in Cleveland’s Progressive Field, the Yankees ace Gerrit Cole will face the potential Cy Young Award winner and defacto ace, Shane Bieber.  Bieber is 8-1 with an unbelievable 1.63 ERA in 12 starts.  The Cole/Bieber pitching matchup will be must-watch television.

The second game in as many days will pit the Yankees Masahiro Tanaka against the Indians Carlos Carrasco. The first two games will start at 7 pm central time.  A third game, if necessary, will be at a time to be determined, on Thursday.  That third game may feature J.A. Happ or Deivi Garcia against the Indian’s Zack Piesac.  The stats favor the Cleveland Indians, but postseason experience favors the New York Yankees.  The one thing for sure is that it will be one of the most exciting Wild Card series in baseball history, in a year of unexpected surprises.