If baseball’s the New York Yankees have taught you anything this season, it’s that they are a team no one wants to face come October.
Just like the expectations entering the season were for these Baby Bombers, the playoffs are shaping up to be an uphill battle for the young squad.
The potent Cleveland Indians squad has erupted to the top of the AL rankings thanks to a 38-6 run that dates all the way back to Aug. 11. and their 3-to-1 odds to win the World Series are the best in the sport. The Boston Red Sox also have a five-game edge on the Yankees in the division race while other teams, such as the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, shove the Yankees out of the spotlight.
Lost in all the hoopla when discussing the postseason, however, is the fact that New York’s run differential of +179 is the second-best in the sport. It’s lower than the Indians but higher than any other postseason contender.
Plus, their 16-7 mark since Aug. 31 is tied for the second-best in all of baseball, trailing only Cleveland. They are also 24-13 since Aug. 14, 38-24 since July 20 and 41-28 since the All-Star break, the third-best in the AL and fifth-best in baseball.
It’s not just that the Yankees are hot at the right time and that they could cool down. Albeit, they are hot, but this version of New York is better than most teams that will contend for a World Series title in just over a week for several of reasons.
The first reason is where it all starts: Pitching.
Leading the rotation is one of the best pitchers in the AL, Luis Severino. The 23-year-old has gone from promising young-stud to staff ace this season thanks to a 13-6 record and 3.03 ERA in 30 starts this season. It’s been his play since the All-Star break that has defined him, however, as only Justin Verlander (1.89 ERA) and Corey Kluber (1.92) own better ERA’s than Severino (2.34) does since the midsummer classic.
Beyond him is Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. That trio, which would likely round out the postseason rotation, is responsible for posting the third-best ERA in the AL since the All-Star break. As the saying goes: “momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.” The Yankees have the capability of creating a ton of momentum against any opponent in a five or seven-game series.
And in case of an unspectacular performance, one of baseball’s best bullpens is there to clean up the mess. That’s right, the bullpen that general manager Brian Cashman crafted for postseason dominance is about to be put on display and it should be dreaded by any opponent.
The Yankees’ bullpen leads the Major Leagues with a 10.93 strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio and third with a 3.37 ERA.
While Betances has grappled with control all season (especially as of late), Chapman is finally back to his old self while Robertson has gone 5-0 with a 1.20 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 25 appearances since returning to the Bronx. Both also have World Series experience, adding the “been there, done that” factor that is essential in bullpen arms come playoff time.
The duo of Kahnle and Green, perhaps even Robertson, will unquestionably be called upon in the early innings to bridge the gap. Whether it’s the fourth or sixth inning, every out becomes significant.
While the pitching gives the 2017 Yankees a chance, it’s the offense that has been jaw-dropping ever since the lineup became whole and slumps were done with.
Aaron Judge is closing in on Mark McGwire‘s rookie home run record while also turning around what was a cataclysmic slump since his participation in this year’s home run derby. After hitting three homers in August, Judge has hit gone yard 11 times in September.
Tag-teaming with Judge is Gary Sanchez, who has hit 18 home runs over his last 50 games after hitting three home runs over his previous 30. Todd Frazier has also turned around a slow start to his Yankee career, Chase Headley has become a staple since moving to first base, Didi Gregorius has authenticated himself as one of the best shortstops in the game on both sides and Jacoby Ellsbury‘s late-season surge expands the lineup to a ridiculous degree.
The numbers back it up, as well. In September, the Yankees’ offense ranks inside the Top-5 in wRC+ (117), runs scored (128), home runs (35), WAR (4.4), wOBA (349) and slugging percentage (.477). Complimented with a pitching staff that can go toe-to-toe with baseball’s best lineups, it’s difficult to structure a team as deep as the healthy version of the 2017 Yankees.
There is one last factor to this team that makes it difficult to write them off. They weren’t supposed to be here. Yet, some Baby Bombers took off, Cashman worked his magic at the trade deadline and veterans produced when needed the most.
It took an up-and-down year full of slumps, injuries and growing pains, but the Yankees are here and saying that they’re built for postseason play would be an understatement. They have proven the game wrong all year, what makes you think they can’t do it again?