Baseball seasons have a strange rhythm. For the first few months, if our team isn’t doing well, we console ourselves by saying that it is still early. Then, sometime around late-May, we look up and realize the season is more than a third over and that it is not as early as we think. It is now mid-April and still, by any measure, early in the season, but it wont be early forever. Thus far, the Yankees have been a disappointing 5-6 and have given up two more runs than they have scored. More significantly, they are 4.5 games behind the Red Sox, who have the best record in the AL at 9-1. The Sox are not going to play .900 ball year, and the Yankees will likely get better, but 4.5 games is a real difference, even this early in the season.
As the season takes shape, some impressions about this team are becoming more clear. Starting pitching has been fine thus far. The injury to CC Sabathia will stress the pitching some, but most teams lose a back of the rotation starter or two to injury over the course of the season. The bullpen has been adequate, but it is clear that while the Yankees may end up with a shutdown bullpen as they did for much of last year, they are not there yet. Great bullpens are generally made over the course of a season, as teams tinker with roles add a pitcher or two and figure out who is having a hot year. This will be the biggest challenge for rookie manager Aaron Boone.
The Yankee offense has been a bit of a puzzle to date. Didi Gregorius and Aaron Judge have both been playing well and have OPS north of 1.000. Along with Tyler Austin in a part-time role, these two have more or less carried the offense. Thus far, Gary Sanchez, (.056/.081/.168) and Giancarlo Stanton (.196/..288/.457) have been big disappointments. If either of them were hitting as they have in the past, the Yankees would have a better record. Fans should not be too worried about these two sluggers. They will probably begin hitting soon as they are both much better than their numbers to date indicate. If they don’t hit, the Yankees season will be pretty much lost so all we can do now is wait.
The rest of the Yankee offense is a collection of question marks or proven journeymen. Miguel Andujar could start hitting-I think he will; Brett Gardner probably has one more good season left in him. Neil Walker, Ronald Torreyes, Austin Romine, Shane Robinson, Tyler Wade, Brandon Drury or whoever else the Yankees pick up from the baseball scrap heap are not likely to be impact players or, in many cases, stay with the team to long. Aaron Hicks and Greg Bird are waiting to get healthy. Both have value, but neither is proven in any real way.
The Yankees are a better team than we have seen this year, but it is also apparent that assumptions about an unhittable bullpen or an historically great offense that were developed during the offseason should be revisited. This will become a bigger issue for the Yankees because if they continue to underperform, the pressure to make a move will grow. The Yankees still have a good shot at winning the World Series this year, but it would be wrong for them to think of themselves as being in win now mode. They future has not arrived quite yet as Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Andujar and Estevan Florial are still top prospects who could help the team in the next year or two.
The Yankees are a good team now and came within a game of the World Series because they, albeit very briefly, stepped off the win now treadmill that had mired them in being a good but never good enough team for all but one of the years from 2001-2015. Jumping back into that position too quickly by trading off prospects for veterans who are no longer very good or losing confidence in young players too quickly would be a big mistake, but it is not hard to see the Yankees going down that road. They spent the offseason raising expectations. If the next month looks like the last two weeks, things could get ugly in the Bronx pretty quickly.
In a baseball season, the space between “don’t worry its still April” and “how are we eight games out and its only late May” is smaller than it seems. The Yankees may never get to the latter place, but it is not hard to see how that could happen. If it does, preparing for 2019 would be a lot smarter than going all in this year.
Photo: cc/Arturo Pardavila III