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2018 Preview: New York Yankees

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The New York Yankees.

The Yankees weren’t supposed to contend last year. I mean, sure, the Yankees are always, on some level supposed to contend, but last year was really and truly considered to be what passes for a rebuilding year in New York. A lot of veterans were shipped out or sidelined and a lot of young kids were getting opportunities. It wasn’t a rebuild like most teams rebuild, but it was certainly thought to be a time of transition in the Bronx.

Then all that happened were massive breakouts from Aaron Judge and Luis Severino, a full season from Gary Sanchez in which he built on his 2016 promise, solid performances from a lot of positions which were thought to be question marks, some key deals to patch holes, rebounds from CC Sabathia and a masterful performance from a shutdown bullpen all season long. That led to 91 wins, a Wild Card and a deep playoff run in which they managed to take the eventual World Series champs to Game 7 of the ALCS. Some transition year, eh?

This offseason the Yankees were buyers and sellers, shedding payroll in order to get under the luxury tax but also acquiring the biggest contract in the history of baseball. That the contract is attached to the reigning NL MVP in Giancarlo Stanton makes the “buying” part of that “buying and selling” offseason a lot more significant. The Yankees other moves were all pretty minor, but it’s safe to say that in acquiring Stanton they made the biggest splash of the offseason. In light of that, to think they are anything but the favorites in the AL East and one of the top five teams in baseball is folly.

The lineup will, obviously, be this team’s calling card. The Yankees scored 858 runs last season, second in the majors to the Astros, and they added a 59-home run hitter. And they’ll have Greg Bird all season long. And Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are going to drop bombs in the middle of that order all season long too. There will not be many times the Yankees will be outgunned in 2018.

Still, it’s possible to dwell too much on the slugging stars in the middle of the order and lose perspective. While the local tabloids are holding naming contests to give a “Murderer’s Row” or “Bronx Bombers” nickname to this crew, more grounded folks should at least acknowledge a few question marks. Stuff like the depth of the outfield, with Jacoby Ellsbury (oblique) and Clint Frazier (concussion) each suffering spring training injuries. Neither of them were necessarily going to play a huge role on a day-to-day basis, as Judge, Stanton, Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks are slated to start and/or DH depending on manager Aaron Boone’s whim. Winning teams always depend on depth, though, so it’s not nothing.

The infield is going to look a lot different this year, obviously. Sanchez will be behind the plate like last year, but first, second and third will have new looks compared to last year’s Opening Day.

Bird, who missed most of last season, will start the year at first where the Yankees hope he will show everyone what he’s capable of for an extended period. It seems safe to say he’s capable of a lot, but he needs to show that he can stand up to the grind of the season before he’s anointed the fourth Bomber.

Starlin Castro left in the Stanton trade, Chase Headley was salary-dumped to San Diego and they will be replaced by whoever wins the second/third base competitions currently afoot. Taking their places: some combination of Tyler Wade, the newly-acquired Brandon Drury, the hot-spring-hitting Miguel Andujar, Ronald Torreyes and top prospect Gleyber Torres, who will likely be manning second for good some time this season if he doesn’t get the job out of camp. Veterans Danny Espinosa and Jace Peterson are knocking around for depth. The upshot: there is a chance that the infield will be considerably better, offensively and defensively, than it was in 2017, but there is a lot of uncertainty any time you insert young players and the Yankees will be inserting young players at two key positions.

While the offense is getting all the press this spring, the pitching staff will be every bit of a strength for the 2018 Yankees.

As mentioned above, Luis Severino established himself as an ace in 2018 and, some playoff hiccups notwithstanding, will be one of the top pitchers in the game this season. Beyond him is more consistency and durability than true greatness, but people really underrate consistency and durability. Masahiro Tanaka struggled at times last year but is obviously one of the games’ better starters when he’s on. The re-signed and resurgent CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery were all above-average starters last year. Even if you figure father time brings Sabathia back down to earth, it’s just as likely that Tanaka regains form. The Yankees had the third best pitching staff in the game last year and a more than respectable rotation. There’s nothing I’m seeing suggesting they’ll take a big step back. It’s a solid bunch.

The bullpen, of course, may be the strongest part of this strong team.

Last year the season started with the Yankees bullpen looking like this:

During the course of the season some radical changes were made, obviously, with the Yankees acquiring Chad Green, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, all of whom dominated in the second half and the postseason. With only partial seasons from those guys, the Yankees’ pen still stood as the best in the game. They’ll all be back and, with a couple of moves around the edges notwithstanding — and with some concern built in for Dellin Betances’ late season erraticism — the pen that was lights out late last year figures to be lights out all season long. They were the best bullpen last season and look better heading into this season.

The final new thing: manager Aaron Boone. He has no coaching or managing experience and, joining a team that almost made the World Series last year, the blame for anything short of that outcome will fairly or unfairly be laid at his feet. Still, if you have to be inserted into a high-expectations situation, landing on a team with the arguably the best lineup in baseball, likely the best bullpen in baseball and a solid rotation is not a bad place to be. Managing is not an easy job, obviously, but if you’re gonna cut your teeth someplace, cutting them with the 2018 New York Yankees is about as good as it gets.

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Players get injured. Players regress. The competition can outperform expectations and your own squad can underachieve their own. Stuff happens. That said, it’s hard to predict anything but greatness for the 2018 New York Yankees.

Prediction: First place, American League East.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 4, Angels 3: I know I wake up kinda early, but the fact that people were still tweeting about this game from Angel Stadium when I woke up tells ya that it was something of a marathon. Fourteen innings with starting pitchers pinch-hitting and all of that kind of zaniness. Not terribly dramatic, though, as it was tied in the third inning and no one scored again until the 12th. The teams traded runs that frame — Aroldis Chapman blew the save — and then played two more. In the 14th Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela, who hit a sac fly to give New York their temporary 12th inning lead, singled home the go-ahead run. Thanks to all of their injuries the Yankees lineup was so anonymous that a split squad lineup for a mid-March trip to Sarasota looked at it and said “damn,” but the Bombers have won six of seven anyway.

As for the Angels:

I don’t know about “all around,” Brad, given that y’all lost, but it’s good to see that fan-pleasing media savvy you cultivated in Detroit has not abandoned you now that you’re in Anaheim.

Mets 5, Phillies 1: Everyone was talking about Bryce Harper getting ejected last night. I know he’s a big star and stuff, but a player getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes is one of the least exciting things around. No one ever gets ejected for interesting things like, I dunno, dancing like Jarvis Cocker after taking a walk or something.

That would be dope.

Anyway, Steven Matz bounced back from his nightmare outing last week to allow only one run on three hits over six innings. Jeff McNeil homered. Peter Alonso was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, which is one of the tougher ways to knock one in. The Phillies have lost four of five.

Diamondbacks 12, Pirates 4: Pittsburgh took a 4-1 lead into the seventh and then disaster struck. The Dbacks put up 11 runs in the seventh and eighth, which was bad enough, but it got worse. Pirates pitcher Nick Burdi appeared to seriously injure his arm, crumpling to the mound and doubling over in tears after throwing a fastball. This really sucks for a kid who had Tommy John surgery back in 2017 and now, no doubt, has something seriously wrong with his elbow or bicep. The Pirates will likely update today.

As for the Dbacks, Christian Walker hit a two-run homer, Eduardo Escobar homered and and finished with three RBI. It was the Dbacks’ ninth comeback win of the year. They’ve won 12 games overall.

White Sox 12, Orioles 2: José Abreu went 3-for-6 with a homer and five RBI. James McCann went deep for a three-run shot. The Orioles’ highlights: two errors from their shortstop, a base runner getting picked off of third base with the bases loaded and a reliever tossing three wild pitches in a single inning. They only drew 8,555 fans, though, so maybe they can pretend this didn’t happen.

Rays 6, Royals 3: Mike Zunino hit a two-run homer in the seventh to turn a 3-3 game into a 5-3 game as the Rays came from behind. Yandy Díaz, Brandon Lowe and Daniel Robertson knocked in runs as well. This was Zunino’s first game back after paternity leave so he probably had a bit more adrenaline coursing through his veins. Which, if he is a new father is actually terror, but let’s be nice and call it adrenaline.

Cardinals 13, Brewers 5: There were a ton of one-run games on Sunday. On Monday we get three teams scoring more than a dozen and winning in laughers. Here Dexter Fowler atoned for his boner on Sunday by going 4-for-4 with a homer and driving in four. Paul Goldschmidt homered — his ninth — among three hits and three driven in. The Cardinals outhit Milwaukee 18-5.

Twins 9, Astros 5: Jorge Polanco had four hits, including a two-run homer and drove in four, Jason Castro dingered as well, Max Kepler and Nelson Cruz had RBI singles and C.J. Cron hit a two-run double. The Twins win their fourth straight. The Astros pitching staff has now allowed 29 runs in their last three contests.

Rockies 7, Nationals 5: If you’re gonna get your 998th career hit, why not make it an RBI double? If you’re gonna get your 999th career hit, why not make it another double? If you’re gonna get your 1,000th career hit, why not make it a homer that breaks a 5-5 tie late in the game and serves to be the winning run? That’s what Nolan Arenado did last night. A shame he didn’t make 999 a triple for symmetry’s sake, but that’s on MLB for not making me their show-runner. Mark Reynolds and  Raimel Tapia also homered for Colorado and Trevor Story extend his hitting streak to 11 games.

Athletics 6, Rangers 1: Toledo Ohio’s own Chris Bassitt tossed five shutout frames for Oakland. No, I have no idea if Toledo claims him with pride or anything. I mean, they should, but I just said that because I looked up his player page and saw that he was born in Toledo. For all I know his family actually lived in some hoity-toity neighborhood in Maumee. Which I guess would be fine. I had a client who once lived and owned a business in Maumee. Nice guy. He’s in jail, but the last time I talked to him he was in good spirits. Of course that was 13 years ago, he’s still in jail and has a few more to go on his sentence so he may be grumpy these days, but at heart I’m sure he’s still a nice guy. Don’t look at me like that. I did my best on that case.

Wait, where was I? Ah, yes, the A’s-Rangers game: Stephen Piscotty homered and drove in three and Matt Chapman added a sac fly. Fernando Rodney pitched in his 907th career game, which puts him 24th on the all-time list, passing Cy Young. Bob Melvin after the game: “Fernando Rodney broke Cy Young’s record, pretty cool stuff.” Get you a manager who tells dad jokes about you. Not one who says a 14-inning loss was “a great baseball game all-around.”

Tigers vs. Red Sox — POSTPONED:

This morning it was summer
By noon a cold front building
Where did you go?
Where did you go?
I got to find some shelter
’cause any minute now
It’s gonna blow
It’s gonna blow
But I don’t mind the rain
So strike me once again:
I’ve got nothing to lose
And it looks like we are in for stormy weather
With death and destruction coming through
Oh, look out there she blows
Now everybody knows:
Stormy weather always makes me think of you
And watch out ’cause the storm is coming through