As we pointed out in our last column, the Yankees are having a steady, productive and successful season so far. The same can be said of their pitching. With the exception of Aroldis Chapman whose struggles led to further medical examination and then to the 10-day disabled list, most everyone is living up to or exceeding expectations. Let’s look in a little more detail:
The Yankees got off to a strong start in April – stronger than most had anticipated. They tussled for the lead in the American League East with the Baltimore Orioles.
In May, even more surprisingly, they maintained that trajectory whilst Baltimore faded slightly and the Boston Red Sox came into the picture. But by the end of the month, there was a couple of games clear lead that the Yankees had carved out ahead of their two rivals. Impressive.
The Yankees’ pitching rotation, going into the season, looked quite evidently their greatest weakness.
By contrast, their bullpen looked like their greatest strength.
What would happen if the bullpen lived up to its billing and the rotation was more consistent than expected?
That would be April 2017, which is the way that it has worked out in practise!
The Yankees went into the regular season with a positive outlook. They had led the league in Spring Training game wins and the young heart of the line-up (Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez) had had a phenomenal spring. There were still large questions about the depth of durability of their pitching rotation but their bullpen was the strongest around. At the very least, they had given themselves hope.
…And then the season began…
The New York Yankees’ pitching situation in 2017 is complicated by their failure to sign a new starting pitcher in the off-season.
Last year, they had Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova to add to their supposedly “big three” of Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda. Now Eovaldi is injured and has signed for Tampa should he return to the Major League level and Nova was given away very cheaply to Pittsburgh (where he has performed well). Of the three write-ins, Sabathia is stumbling towards the end of his career and Pineda was hideously inconsistent last season. Tanaka, if he can stay free of injury, is a true ace but this only points up what is the real weakness of the Yankees’ roster.
The Yankees have to this point in Spring Training (22nd March) achieved more wins than any other team. On one hand this could be due to the fact that they have lost less players to the World Baseball Classic (WBC) nations than most teams, but, on the other, winning games can never be a bad sign. Spring Training is no great way of measuring the outcome of the regular season but being top of the Grapefruit League beats the heck out of being at the bottom.
The Yankees said, as the 2016 season came to an end, that they were targeting pitching for the coming season and that particularly strengthening their bullpen was their big target. As Spring Training approaches, it would seem that they have failed to even come close to meeting either of those two inter-related targets.