What a year.
The New York Yankees had a season that no one expected, not even the most optimistic of Yankee fans. Most called this season a rebuilding year, saying they’d win 80-83 games, make a run at the 2nd Wild Card. But, young stars like Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Chad Green, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius had other plans.
Out of spring training, there was a question mark as to who the everyday Right Fielder would be. There was a question mark as to who the Yankees 4th and 5th starter would be. Those two huge questions were answered and in a big way.
Let’s start with Aaron Judge. Judge, 25, struggled mightily in his MLB debut back in August of 2016. He hit .179 with only 4 home runs in 84 at-bats, raising major concerns as to whether or not he’d make an impact in 2017. Judge worked his butt off to put a stop to those doubts, by working with hitting coach Alan Cockrell during the offseason. In his first spring training at bat, Judge launched a home run that hit the scoreboard as George Steinbrenner field in Tampa, FL. From that moment on, Judge never looked back. He took Major League Baseball by storm in the 2017 season… hitting 52 home runs, driving in 114 runs, scoring 128 runs, and posting a 1.049 OPS. Judge was selected to his first All- Star team, and he won the Home Run Derby in the process. His jersey was the most purchased of any player in the MLB, and he also has his own section of Yankee Stadium, called “The Judge’s Chambers”. Pretty impressive for a rookie, right? With fame comes responsibility, and the thing Judge deserves most credit for is his consistent “team-first” attitude. He never got too high or too low, even through struggles, and he always displays class both on and off the diamond. Aaron Judge became a superstar and MVP candidate in one year, and he is the type of person who should be a role model for kids who love baseball.
The second biggest surprise the Yankees had this season was the emergence of 23 year old fireballer, Luis Severino. Severino, like Judge, had a rough 2016 campaign. He posted a 3-8 record, along with a 5.83 ERA. Being disappointed in his season, Luis turned to Yankees rival Pedro Martinez for help. Martinez helped Severino with all aspects of pitching, including his mechanics, demeanor, and the development of his off-speed stuff. Severino took the Hall of Famer’s advice and ran with it, making the team out of Spring Training and eventually becoming the Yankees ace. He made his first All-Star team, going 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA. Severino will likely finish 3rd in A.L Cy Young voting, and he is going to be a huge part of the Yankees bright future.
While Judge and Severino were perhaps the Yankees biggest bright spots of the 2017 season, there was no shortage of runner-ups. Second year sensation Gary Sanchez had another monster offensive season, blasting 33 homers and posting an .876 OPS. Gary did have some problems behind the plate, allowing a league high 15 passed balls. However, people tend to forget Sanchez is only 24 years old, and has a lot of time to improve. 26 year old RHP Chad Green also had a superb season, going 5-0 out of the bullpen, posting an ERA of 1.83 in 69 innings pitched. 27 year old Shortstop Didi Gregorius was the team’s most consistent player, leading the team in Batting Average (.287), while also hitting 25 homers and driving in 87 RBI’s… in just 534 At-Bats. Didi is a favorite amongst the fans and his teammates, becoming a leader at such a young age. He will undoubtedly be an impactful player on the Yankees for many years to come, and there is some belief the Yankees will award him with a new contract extension this offseason.
Perhaps the greatest thing the Yankees had this year was team chemistry. There was perfect blend of veteran leadership and young, fun talent. Veterans like Matt Holliday, Brett Gardner, C.C. Sabathia, Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury, Todd Frazier, and David Robertson were all mentors to the younger players. They have referenced the veterans like older brothers to them, and they were a big part of their success. The team bonded over jokes like “Thumbs Down” and “The Toe-Night Show”. There is no doubt they all enjoyed playing and battling with one another, and it should remain that way for years to come.
The Yankees also enjoyed big seasons from guys like Brett Gardner (21HR, 96R, 1.000FP%, 4.9WAR), C.C. Sabathia (14.5, 3.69ERA), Starlin Castro (.300BA, .792OPS), Aaron Hicks (3.9 WAR, .847OPS, 122OPS+), and Jordan Montgomery (9-7, 3.88ERA, 29G). Chase Headley, Masahiro Tanaka, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Matt Holliday also had productive parts of the season, but battled some minor injuries and slumps along the way.
The notion that the Yankees were “not contenders” was officially put to rest at the July 31st trade deadline, where they acquired 3B Todd Frazier, RP Tommy Kahnle, RP David Robertson, and SP Sonny Gray. These moves did cut into their very strong farm system, but they were able to retain highly regarded prospects such as Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Estevian Florial, Justus Sheffield, and Chance Adams. All 4 acquisitions improved the Yankees both in the short and long term, as everyone besides Todd Frazier is under contract for 2018 and beyond.
The Yankees really took off in September, ending the season with a 21-9 record in their final 30 games. They went 91-71 overall, just finishing behind the rival Boston Red Sox in the American League East. After their crazy and successful regular season was over, the playoff gauntlet started. The Yankees hosted the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card Game, and were heavy favorites to win. Despite falling behind 3-0 in the 1st Inning, the Yankees battled back like they have all year. Big home runs from Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Judge, as well as terrific relief from Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Aroldis Chapman, led the Yankees to an 8.4 victory. They were off to Cleveland the next morning.
The Cleveland Indians were heavy favorites to win the series against the Yankees, and were many people picked them to win the World Series. Just like at the start of the season, the Yankees were being written off. The Yankees offense laid an egg in Game 1, getting blanked by Trevor Bauer, and losing 4-0. Game 2 was a forgettable game for everyone involved with the Yankees, especially for manager Joe Girardi, who did not challenge a call that could have saved the game. The Yankees, led by Girardi, blew an 8-3 lead, and the Indians took a commanding 2-0 lead in the ALDS. With their backs against the wall, the Yankees turned to Masahiro Tanaka to keep their season alive. Tanaka pitched a gem in Game 3, going 7 scoreless innings, and being helped by an Aaron Judge robbery of a home run. First basemen Greg Bird hit a solo home run off a dominant LHP in Andrew Miller, setting up a Game 4. Game 4 was all Yankees, led by big performances from Aaron Judge, Todd Frazier, and Luis Severino, the Yankees forced a series and season deciding Game 5 in Cleveland. The Indians had ace Corey Kluber going for them in Game 5, and the Yankees turned to 37 year old veteran C.C. Sabathia to outduel Kluber and lead them to victory. C.C. did just that. Led by Sabathia, Gregorius, and Gardner, the Yankees pulled off one of the greatest upsets in franchise history, knocking off the 100 win Indians. This unexpected defeat led the Yankees to a date with the Houston Astros.
In Houston, things did not go so well for the Yankees. The Astros won games 1 and 2, and again, put the Yankees in a hole. The Yankees battled back in Game 3, led by brilliant games from C.C. Sabathia, Todd Frazier, and Aaron Judge, and made the series 2-1. In Game 4, the Yankees trailed 4-0 in the 7th inning, and their chances of winning the series were flashing before their eyes. On the first pitch of the 7th inning, Judge hit a solo homer to dead center to cut the lead to 4-1, and from there, the comeback was on. Didi Gregorius, Todd Frazier, Chase Headley, and Gary Sanchez all had big hits in the 8th inning, resulting in a 6-4 comeback win. Yankee Stadium was shaking, and it was said by many to be “the loudest it’s been since the Old Stadium”. In their final home game of 2017, the Yankees won 5-0, capped off by another big performance from Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees went back to Houston with a 3-2 series lead, but the Astros shut down the Yankees bats in Games 6 and 7, and Houston won its first ever AL pennant.
Joe Girardi, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, and C.C. Sabathia were all emotional after the painful defeat, but vowed to come back next year and take care of unfinished business. The Yankees young talent and hungry team leaves no doubt in peoples mind, that they will be a force to be reckoned with in 2018. All in all, it was a fantastic season for the Yankees. They won 91 games, and have every reason to believe they will keep getting better and better for years to come. I had a ton of fun watching them every night, and cannot wait until Spring Training. In 2018, watch out… MLB.
AL East Finish: 2nd
MLB Top 10 Leaders: HR: Judge, 2nd (52), WAR: Judge, 2nd (8.1), RBI: Judge, 6th (114), BB: Judge, 2nd (127), Runs: Judge, 2nd (128), OBP: Judge, 3rd (.422), SLG: Judge, 4th (.627), OPS: Judge, 2nd (1.049), wRC: Judge, 3rd (149), OPS+: Judge, 2nd (171).
Potential Award Winners: Gardner: Gold Glove. Judge: Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player. Gregorius: Silver Slugger, Gold Glove. Sanchez: Silver Slugger. Severino: Cy Young. Green: Breakout Player of the Year. Robertson: Reliever of the Year.
All Star Selections: Judge, 1st. Sanchez, 1st. Castro, 4th. Severino, 1st. Betances, 4th.
Home Run Derby Participants: Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez.
Home Run Derby Champion: Aaron Judge.
Yahoo All-MLB Team Selections (Link: https://sports.yahoo.com/2017-mlb-team-150523671.html):
First Team: Gary Sanchez, Catcher. Aaron Judge, Right Fielder. Luis Severino, Starting Pitcher.
Second Team: RP, Chad Green.
Third Team: RP, David Robertson. RP, Tommy Kahnle.
Yankees Team MLB Ranks:
Team Runs Scored: 2nd, 858.
Team Home Runs: 1st, 241.
Team OPS: 3rd, .785.
Team ERA: 5th, 3.72.
Team Wins: 91, 8th.
Team Fielding PCT%: .984, 17th.
Yankees Team MVP: Aaron Judge, RF.
Yankees Cy Young: Luis Severino, RHP.
Average Attendance: 39,835 per game, 4th MLB, 1st AL. Season Attendance: 3,146,966, 4th MLB, 1st AL (Longest active streak in MLB)
Heck of a year, Yankees Universe! The fans came out to the ballpark, superstars were born, and the everyone bought in. They were such a fun team to watch. SO much to be proud of, and so much to look forward to. AND the best is yet to come….
Morristown High School Class of 2020. Faith, Family, School, Baseball. Contributor for the New York Yankees.