Takeaways from a “Breakout” 2017 Yankees Season

The 162-game season that Major League Baseball brings to us every year is a lot to follow sometimes. But coming off an extraordinary season where a 108-year curse was broken, the 2017 season was destined to be, in my opinion, one of the most highly-anticipated years of baseball.

Why? Because after last November, when the Cubs took Game 7 of the World Series and brought a championship trophy back to Chicago for the first time since 1908, you truly realize that baseball is a sport where absolutely anything could happen.

But for one team, this season wasn’t supposed to be the most exciting, especially since campaigns in the past couple years didn’t exactly match up to par. Incumbent New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi went into this season as a “lame duck,” meaning that if his team didn’t produce, he’d be getting the pink slip of disapproval at the end of the year.

And here we are now; throughout chipped teeth, thumbs-down hand signals, and fans being struck by foul balls, the Yankees made it further into the postseason than anybody could have possibly predicted. Among all the talks that this would be a rebuilding year and that they wouldn’t win more than 80 games, they laid all the speculations to rest and made this their season.

For most of us Yankee fans, it all ended abruptly when, in Game Seven of the ALCS, we watched the Astros offense tear up the field like they have all season. Most, if not, all of us, went to bed feeling defeated. I myself went up to bed early before the game even ended, partly because I couldn’t stand to watch anymore and mostly because I had a rugby game the next day.

We showed such promise in the previous postseason games leading up to that and to have it all come to a close the way that it did, it was heartbreaking. The name of the game for the American League postseason was “home field advantage.” If you played at home, the chances of you winning were extremely high. The Yankees won each one of their home games during the postseason, but so did the Astros. When an entire city that has recently come off a tragedy is rallying behind their team, you can’t be surprised when they take the whole enchilada.

And yet, people will still hate the Yankees, no matter who’s on the team. Young faces, old faces, you name it. The Baby Bombers will still get the hate that their predecessors have dealt with for years. Just ask a disgruntled Barstool Sports employee.

Hate to say it, but he’s right. Having the highest payroll and the most tenured history out of anyone in the game of baseball won’t make you the most popular team among nationwide fans. The Yankees have always been good, even dominant. It’s the progression and development of opposing organizations that have caused New York to fall behind and catch up.

The end of the season brought along high hopes though. For one, both Girardi and GM Brian Cashman have both been extended invitations to stick around for next year, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t (update as of 10/26: Girardi announced that he wouldn’t be returning as the team’s manager after 10 years at the helm). As for overall team and player gameplay, many things need to be addressed and dealt with before the team can come anywhere near where they left off.

Hitting

The bats were hot, and then they were cold, and then they were hot again; a frequent trend of this season. The highs and lows of the offense showed us that there’s more to come from a lineup that definitely has a lot of building room for next season.

Aaron Judge made our hopes for this year strong when he when on a home run rampage, hitting tape-measure-worthy moonshots that left his teammates, fans and opponents with their jaws on the ground. He proved he was no joke in the Home Run Derby in July, but afterwards, things went on the decline. He kept striking out, finishing games with no hits and leaving the batter’s box frustrated. When you’re that age and you create a media frenzy on yourself, everyone’s out to criticize you. Sports media outlets continued to keep track of how many consecutive games Judge would strikeout and how far his average was dipping below .300. But you’ve got to hand it to him: no matter how many times he came up short in an at-bat, he didn’t argue with the umpire and moved on to the next one. Around the end of the season, he started to pick back up and had a couple big-time home runs for the team during the postseason. He even broke the rookie record for most dingers in a single season. What he needs to work on for next season is consistency, because that’s what would’ve landed him the AL MVP trophy. The Rookie of the Year award will certainly do.

(Sir) Didi Gregorius became an unlikely household name. The Yankees will never, ever (in my opinion) find a more prolific, franchise shortstop whose name is not Derek Jeter. For Didi to take up this role in the fashion that he did with all the love and enthusiasm he has for both the game and his players, it’s what us fans love to see. He led the team in batting average and was third on the team in home runs… may I remind you he’s a shortstop? Having his attitude and energy in the clubhouse certainly boosted everyone’s morale. Having his ability at the plate was an added bonus. Those two home runs in Game Five of the ALDS were a nice touch, too. I hope to see him do even greater things in 2018.

Gary Sanchez was yet another Baby Bomber that showed what fierce bat could do for a powerful offense. There’s just one thing that needs to be worked on for next season: plate defensiveness. There were too many passed balls and wild pitches that made for costly mistakes. Although he is young, proving yourself as a well-rounded catcher early on will go a long way. In the offseason, I know for a fact that he’ll be taking a lot of bumps and bruises trying to block pitches from going to the backstop. He has a wide base that should be used to his advantage, and the organization will be pleased once they see the improvements he’s made come time for pitchers and catchers to report for spring training.

Baseball is not easy. Its a physically and mentally challenging sport. Criticism, whether constructive or otherwise, does not phase me. I welcome it because at the end of the day most of it comes with love and the desire to help me be better. And you know what? Nobody, nobody expects more from me than me. So I take it all in and just smile because I am blessed. Have a great day. #iamgary #elgary // El béisbol no es fácil. Es un deporte que te reta física y mentalmente. Las criticas, sean constructivas u otras, no me molestan. Las invito porque al final del día la mayoría vienen con amor y el deseo de ayudarme. Y saben qué? Nadie, nadie espera mas de mi que yo mismo. Por eso lo tomo todo tranquilo y con una sonrisa. Buen día.

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All around the offense was poised for a phenomenal year, and it looks like 2018 will be the same story, but hopefully with something bigger in the fall.

Pitching

Without run support, your pitcher is going to have a terrible time. That’s why when the bats are hot, the more the ace is going to feel composed up on the mound, but the rest of the team around you is going to hold you accountable to keep the momentum rolling. But as much as the defense can’t rely on the offense to get the job done, the same can be said vice versa. Perfect example: Brett Gardner’s two-RBI single in Game Five of the ALDS saved us from facing total playoff elimination after Sabathia hit the wall in the fifth inning.

The Yankees rotation this year was shaky, up-and-down, sometimes inconsistent, synonyms… to a point where we questioned whether we could survive in the playoffs behind the starters we put out there. Even acquiring Sonny Gray didn’t exactly help either. Am I the only one who felt it was agonizing to watch opposing runs being given up in the first inning or earlier?

It all came down to the bullpen, which was one of the best in baseball. Acquiring Tommy Kahnle and bringing back David Robertson at the deadline proved to be beneficial to how the team decided to round out regular season play. Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman could only do so much, so the extra heat was extremely necessary. Plus, I only had so much faith in Chapman after blowing a couple saves that I wasn’t sure having him as our main closer would help us in October.

Luis Severino: a fiery inferno on the mound. Masahiro Tanaka: a lit match that burns out after a while. I’ve said before that Severino could have been a dark horse in the AL Cy Young nominations if not for Chris Sale and Corey Kluber. I’ve also said before that Masahiro Tanaka is the most inconsistent, international pitcher that the Yankees have seen in a while. Both statements are opinions. The stats are there to form your own.

We may also have seen the end of CC Sabathia’s career in pinstripes. This being the final year in his contract, his future is uncertain. He told the New York Post that New York is where he wants to be, but whether the front office wants to negotiate a new contract remains to be seen. If this is the last time that we see him take the mound for the Yankees, then it’s been a hell of a career. He’ll go down in history as one of the best lefties to ever play the game of baseball.

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Now I can’t wait for 2018. I’ll stick with football for now up until the last second of the Super Bowl, but baseball has continued to blossom its excitement factor. Fans young and old are falling in love all over again with the new, young faces of the game that have been plastered all over sports media outlets, front pages of magazines and newspapers and the posters that hang overhead of a child’s bed. The World Series may still be well underway, but us Yankees fans are definitely looking forward to the future.

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