By Billy Lewis
The time is finally here folks! Spring Training games are finally completed and Thursday begins the 162 game marathon that is a Major League Baseball season. The Yankees will kick off their 2018 campaign north of the border against the Blue Jays. Opening Day will see a matchup of Luis Severino and J.A. Happ.
Last year the Yankees were thought to be in a “rebuild” year. Many thought it would be a season in which the Yankees would fall to below .500. Instead, the Yankees had a magical season that would go deep into October. Aaron Judge was the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year and Severino finished third in AL Cy Young voting. The Yankees would contend for the division title but would have to settle for the Wild Card as the Red Sox won the AL East.
The Yankees fell behind 3-0 in the first inning against the Twins in the Wild Card Game. Severino only managed to get one out before getting pulled for Chad Green. Any worries were quickly erased when Didi Gregorius hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning to tie the game.
The Yankees won that game and advanced to beat the Indians in the Division Series. The Yankees then held a 3-2 series lead against the Astros in the Champion Series but lost games 6 and 7 in Houston and had to watch the World Series at home.
Ready for 2018
Getting to Game 7 of the ALCS means two things for the 2018 Yankees: they’re going to come into the season hungry and they’re not going to be able to sneak up on anybody. In the offseason, they added NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton is fresh off of a 59 home run campaign and paired with Judge’s 52 bombs, one can expect a lot of fireworks in the Bronx.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news as the Yankees get set to begin 2018. Greg Bird was expected to be the starting first baseman to start the season. Perhaps, more importantly, he was going to be a left-handed power bat that could split up Stanton and Judge. Bird needed a bone spur removed in his right ankle and will be sidelined for 6-8 weeks.
The Yankees have enough depth to be able to fill the first base void until Bird gets back. In the meantime, Tyler Austin and Neil Walker will platoon at first base. Even without Bird, the Yankees lineup should not be an issue. If I had to guess I would say the lineup would look something like this:
- Brett Gardner LF
- Aaron Judge RF
- Giancarlo Stanton DH
- Didi Gregorius SS
- Gary Sanchez C
- Aaron Hicks CF
- Brandon Drury 3B
- Neil Walker 1B
- Tyler Wade 2B
Gregorius isn’t your prototypical cleanup hitter but Didi did hit a Yankee shortstop record 25 home runs last season. His lefty swing also helps to break up the right-handed power bats of Stanton and Sanchez.
The biggest question mark surrounding the Yankees heading into the season is their starting rotation. The Yankees starting five: Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, C.C. Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery. Personally, I am not concerned with the rotation. Severino should build off of his breakout 2017. Tanaka struggled in 2017 but has been an ace before and was tremendous in the playoffs. Gray was 4-7 with the Yanks last year but also was the victim of low run support.
Montgomery and Sabathia might be the X-factors. Montgomery will look to build off a solid rookie campaign, while Sabathia looks to fight off Father Time. Even if they do struggle the bullpen will be able to bail them out.
The Yankees have one of, if not the best bullpens in baseball. They can throw out Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green. It seems baseball is becoming a bullpen game and the Yankees are well prepared in that department.
Fangraphs projects the Yankees to finish 95-67. According to this projection that would make the Yankees AL East champs. I’d have to agree with the folks at Fangraphs. All in all, I would expect the AL East to be a two-team race between the Yankees and Red Sox. I believe the Yankees are a deeper team and will end the 2018 season as division champs. After that, this team certainly appears to have the talent to be a World Series contender.
The 1997 Seattle Mariners hold the single-season record for team home runs with 264. I’ll predict the 2018 Yankees breeze past this number hitting 285 home runs and truly living up to the Bronx Bomber nickname.