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.

_________

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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If You Weren’t Aware, That Home Run Derby Was Hype

I may have lost a follower or two with my incessant rambling and allotment of tweets, but that Home Run Derby was probably the most exciting thing I’ve seen this month and I couldn’t help but be expressive.

This was the most anticipated Home Run Derby since 1999, when Mark McGwire cracked moonshots over the Green Monster, across Lansdowne Street and on to the Mass Pike. Names like the Fenway favorite Nomar, Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa, and Larry Walker were also included in the star-studded event. Not to mention the man with the sweetest swing in the game ever won the event in Boston that year, Ken Griffey Jr.

Everything leading up to this event spelled perfection: two rookies, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, are numbers one and two respectively on the home run list with both emerging to be top contenders for the MVP at the end of the year. It’s unheard of for a rookie win the award and as the season goes on, they continue to improve and make their claim for the title.

Giancarlo Stanton, last year’s champion, had to defend his crown on his home turf at Marlins Park. The seasoned veteran and slugger was placed in a field of young stars and had to compete with them. People doubted whether or not he could, not because of the rookies hitting home runs, but the fact that today’s generation of MLB players is younger, faster, stronger, and more groomed to take the league by storm in the next couple years.

But every round last night displayed and drew some level of interest one way or another. Every contestant had a great opportunity to try and win and advance further thanks to the new rules of the Derby.

First Round: 4 Mike Moustakas vs. 5 Miguel Sano

I remember watching a documentary years ago about Sano in my 11th grade Spanish class. The Twins’ third baseman is from the Dominican Republic and the documentary was about how strict signing and recruiting for baseball players in Central and South American countries is.

Ballplayer: Pelotero, narrated by John Leguizamo, followed the lives of two Dominican baseball prospects, one being Sano. Sano faced issues when the league suspected him of lying about his age. He had the look of a 20 year old and wrote that he was 16. Usually, players in southern countries are signed to a maximum $5 million contract by the age of 16. The league went on a witch hunt, doing various, intense background checks to find documentation that he was who he said he was. The league ended the investigation finding nothing.

So I was very surprised that he was there. It was amazing to see how far he had come, rising up the ranks in the Twins’ organization and the entire league in general.

By the end of the round, Royals’ Mike Moustakas was so close to taking the win. Sano had put up 11 home runs to start off, leaving Moustakas to try and beat it. He came within one home run of tying it in the last thirty seconds and couldn’t hit one that could find its way over the fence. He choked, plain and simple.

First Round: 1 Giancarlo Stanton vs. 8 Gary Sanchez

Sanchez took the plate first to blast 17 home runs, shocking considering he was facing last year’s event’s champion.

Stanton didn’t look in form, however, come time for him to start hitting. Within the first minute and a half, he only had four home runs. You’d think he’d find a zone with this being his event. He took his timeout very early to regain his composure. It seemed to help out because he started clobbering ball after ball (five in a row at one point) to come within two home runs of tying Sanchez. Some of them were the longest of the night before Judge came up.

Unfortunately, Stanton couldn’t outmatch him. The champ had been dethroned by the Baby Bomber, El Kraken. Many thought it would come between Judge and Stanton, the matchup everybody was waiting for. But it was Judge’s young, teammate to take him down. Who woulda thought? I guess it’s possible for an eight seed to take down a number one seed.

Also, is Logan Morrison still talking now or? No? That’s what I thought.

First Round: 3 Cody Bellinger vs. 6 Charlie Blackmon

This season, the Rockies have had a breakout season behind surprising breakout star, Charlie Blackmon, who brought himself into the top-10 list for league home runs. He hit a strong 14 homers in his first round matchup before Bellinger was able to take his swings.

Bellinger was looking to cruise right past him until the very end of the round; he had only hit one 440 foot home run and needed another one to get the 30 second bonus time. Sure enough, he got it with one second left on the clock. With the best luck in the world, the young Dodgers rookie then had an easy time hitting a couple more to beat Blackmon.

First Round: 2 Aaron Judge vs. 7 Justin Bour

Aaron Judge had been hyped up all throughout the media coverage. During batting practice, the All-Star nominees took to the field to shag fly balls and watched as Judge left them speechless. He even hit the ceiling at one point.

Amazing.

But Justin Bour? 1. I had no idea he could hit. 2. He gave Judge a run for his money.

Bour hit 22 home runs in his first round swings, the most of any participant up until that point. During his timeout, his teammate and fellow participant Stanton supplied him with a doughnut, you know, for a little extra sugar-intensified energy. Then he still continued to lash out.

As a Yankee fan, I was worried; Judge had some competition and a high bar to reach. Thank god he loves competition. 23 home runs looked effortless to him, and the fact that some went over 500 feet was an added bonus.

Semifinals: 8 Gary Sanchez vs. 5 Miguel Sano

The way Sanchez was hitting in the first round failed to translate over to his semifinal bout against Sano. He only managed 10 home runs, making it easy for Sano to take the round and advance to the finals.

It was a valiant effort and would’ve been interesting to see Judge against his fellow Baby Bomber teammate, but alas we were denied such a fantasy.

Semifinals: 3 Cody Bellinger vs. 2 Aaron Judge

Everyone wanted to see this matchup as well. Both Judge and Bellinger are arguably the best rookies the game of baseball has seen in the past couple years. Both are in contention for MVP, an accomplishment unheard of for a rookie to reach. Here they are now, leading both their teams in major offensive statistical categories and leading the league in home runs. They’re performing better than some of the seasoned veterans today. So it surely made for an interesting competition.

After Bellinger set the margin at 12 home runs, he was put on the panel alongside Mark Teixeira and Tim Kurkjian to commentate while Judge tried to surpass him. This was how ESPN wanted to happen: Judge beat him, but the station wanted to let the audience at home watch and hear Bellinger react to losing. Storybook set of events.

Championship: 5 Miguel Sano vs. 2 Aaron Judge

This was it, the big moment everyone around baseball was waiting for: Judge competing to be crowned the Home Run Derby Champion. The people in the stands were booing him in the beginning during introductions only to watch in awe as he defied gravity with his custom-made, Miami-themed bat sending balls into orbit.

The one thing I noticed, however, was the pitcher throwing to Sano in the first half of the championship. Maybe his arm was getting tired, but he was throwing junk at him. Inside, outside, top of the strike zone… his pitches were going everywhere, giving Sano hardly anything to hit. That may have very well ruined his chances at putting up a good number for Judge to compete against.

Judge wanted him to hit more. He left the batting cage down in the depths of the dugout early to watch Sano and cheer him on. He wanted him to hit more. Like I said, he loves the sense of competition.

Big Cat from Barstool Sports was sitting in the left field stands and tweeted out during Judge’s final round that he had hit one to the ceiling where it bounced around in the rafters for a little bit, came down, and still went over the wall.

Like taking candy from a baby, Judge made it look easy and took the throne to become the first rookie ever to win the event.

This is what baseball is need of: young, bright, and exciting stars to bring in a new wave of sensational athleticism that even the least likely of baseball fans can get behind. I’ve said Aaron Judge’s name a lot in this post, but he’s one, if not, the leader in this smashing generation that will bring the game further into the future to compete in a tough American sports market dominated by football and basketball.

Baseball needs these young stars, and Monday night was simply a showcase for them to realize that.