Are The Yankees Really Contenders?

yanks logoThe honest answer to the headline continues to be, “not yet, but the future is very bright”. As of this Struming, the Yankees are 5 games over .500 at 51-46, 2.5 games out of first in the AL East and they have a one game lead as the first American League wild card. That puts them on an 86 win pace. Going into the season I would have said that’s better than they could have hoped, as a .500 season (or below) seemed likely. Still, there’s no guarantee that they will finish over .500 in 2017.

Baseball fans (and even zealots like me) were surprised at their fast start. They were playing .700 ball early at 21-9 after sweeping the Cubs in early May. They peaked at 15 games over .500 but obviously have been playing losing baseball since, hence their current 5 games over .500 record. They seem to be stabilized for the moment having come back from the All-Star break off an 11 game road trip (in 10 days) with a 6-5 record. Not great, but obviously an improvement.

As the season began the key goal was to see if 4 young players could perform:

1. Would Gary Sanchez be a good/great player or merely a 2 month wonder?
2. Would Aaron Judge become any kind of player or just a strikeout machine?
3. Is Severino really a starter or at best merely a reliever?
4. Can Greg Bird pick up where he left off in 2015 after a season long injury in 2016?

3 out of 4 is impressive, with Bird hurting himself early and recently having surgery, so 2017 is lost for him. For the others the verdict is:

1. Gary is damn good (but not as great but that’s OK. If he has a “Jorge-like” career I will be thrilled)
2. Judge is other-wordly. Nothing more be said.
3. Severino is now the Yankees ace, and getting better each time out.

I had also hoped that 3 “can’t miss” prospects—outfielder Clint Frazier, infielder Gleyber Torres, pitcher James Kaprielian would shine in the minors and be Bronx bound by the summer (by the way the odds for “can’t miss” are 50% at best). There are also many other prospects right behind, and the Yankees cupboard is full of (potential) future stars. Again potential is nice, but the reality is that even the best prospects often flame out.

But between Frazier, Torres and Kapielian alas, we are 1 out of 3 here. Clint Frazier is up in the Bronx now and playing well. Torres is hurt and out for the year and is still probably a season away. Kaprielian is gone for the year, and next with arm surgery (ugh).

The current 2017 Yankees still have concerns (third, first, starting pitching) and their stud relievers have been less than studly (though I love the return of D Rob). On the downside Tanaka their “ace” has been awful and their starting rotation is thin, to be kind.

However, other than the Astros, the American League is laden with flawed teams and while hardly a guarantee, the Yankees probably have a 50% chance of making the playoffs as a wild card, or even the AL East winner. But even if they did I suspect they would not last long (but who knows). Most importantly, they’ve found their ace (Severino), their slugger (Judge) and a fine catcher (Sanchez) along with other emerging players and veterans.

Not too shabby. But my best guess is that the next era of sustained Yankees greatness I’ve come to love will begin in 2019 (the 100th anniversary of when Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees) and then last through the 20s, when baseball fans will again complain about the Damn Yankees.

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