Opening Day is three days away. Previously, I had mentioned the transactions that have improved this team, and that now includes the acquisition of Gio Gonzalez. This team has the talent to win the Fall Classic this year, but will require drastic improvement in various facets of the game, and some serendipity in other areas. Here is how the Yankees can win their 28th World Series championship…
Stay Healthy: Yes, this goes for any team in any sport, but the injuries have already piled up at an alarming rate during spring training this year. Ace Luis Severino is out until at least May due to shoulder inflammation, CC Sabathia has to serve a suspension and is recovering from an angioplasty, Aaron Hicks is recovering from lower back stiffness, Didi Gregorius is out until at least June, and setup man Dellin Betances does not yet have a timetable for a return, but will begin the season on the injured list with a right shoulder impingement.
Last year, the Yankees sustained an almost incalculable number of injuries. Greg Bird (shocker) was hurt, Gleyber Torres missed time, Aaron Judge missed several weeks, Aaron Hicks was injured, and every member of the rotation had some sort of ailment.
Despite that, the Yankees did win 100 games last year and were the most prolific home run-hitting team in history. This team has enough depth to be able to withstand some absenteeism, but hopefully the injuries stop here (wishful thinking). When healthy, the Yankees may have the best roster in baseball.
Avoid Playing Down to Competition: The Yankees had just the eighth-best record against losing teams last year, so do not let the 59-32 record fool you. They struggled against teams like the Orioles, White Sox, and Rangers. Although the Rays did win 90 games last year and have the reining AL Cy Young winner, they were still a non-playoff team, and the Yankees struggled against them last year as well. They were just 44-32 against divisional foes, and while that may seem like a nice record, it was not good enough. Aaron Boone must find ways to keep the team focused against weak teams.
Be Better With RISP: Last year, the Yankees had just the fifth-best OPS in the AL with RISP, and also ranked seventh in the AL in run production in high-leverage situations. Additionally, they had the fourth-most runners left on base last year in the AL (1,100). A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that the Yankees, like the majority of MLB teams, are one-dimensional in their plate approach, with the home-run-or-die method. They did have the second-best team OPS (.781), but that was not reflected in their RISP production, or lack thereof.
Take Advantage of Easy Early Schedule: From Opening Day through June, the Yankees play against just three playoff teams from 2018 (Astros, Indians, Red Sox). Aside from a West Coast trip from April 22nd-May 1st (during which the Yankees face the Angels, Giants and Diamondbacks), they will not have to do much long-distance traveling. Their season begins with a six-game home stand against the Orioles and the Tigers. In 2018, the Yankees started off at just 9-9, and if Aaron Boone and Co. want to avoid another do-or-die wild card game, then they must exploit the underwhelming competition they will have in the early months of the season. A fast start will facilitate giving the Yankees home field advantage in the ALDS and beyond.
Production From Gary Sanchez and First Base: All Yankees fans know how abysmal last year was for Gary Sanchez, and his spring training has not been any better. But Aaron Boone has noted the catcher’s mental maturation, and his defensive improvements.
Due to the aforementioned number of injuries, Luke Voit and Greg Bird will both be on the Opening Day roster. Both were outstanding during spring training, but it comes down to this: what do the Yankees really have in Voit, and can Greg Bird finally stay healthy and be productive? Bird has to be on a short leash at this point, and Voit has provided far too small of a sample size to really warrant any kind of judgement just yet. Bottom line, the Yankees need Sanchez to rebound, and either Voit or Bird need to give the Yankees sustainable production at a position in which the Yankees have had virtually none since 2015, up until Voit’s astonishing late-season performance last year.
Should the Yankees get all of those things right, there is no doubt they can win the World Series this year, and well beyond that. This is a team that has been ostentatiously outperformed by its Bostonian counterpart this entire century, and the time has come to close the gap.