The Yankees have not gotten off to the start people expected. They continue to hover around .500 and have lacked consistency. They have battled injuries in the infield, outfield, rotation and bullpen. The big offseason acquisitions have yet to produce. Power hitting Giancarlo Stanton has yet to find a groove, Brandon Drury is out indefinitely and Aaron Boone has not pushed the right buttons.
It's only halfway through April and many are already panicking. The Boston Red Sox are off to their best start in team history as the Yankees are simply mediocre. With the Red Sox hot start, the Yankees are already playing major catch-up as the division title seems to be slipping out of reach.
The last time the Yankees won the World Series, in 2009, the Bronx Bombers finished the month of April with a 12-10 record. Not far off the pace the 2018 team is headed. They also lost the first 8 games versus the Red Sox and didn't take the division lead until July 21st, 93 games into the season. They finished the year with 103 wins and tied the season series with Boston at 9 wins apiece.
With this in mind, along with other good Yankee teams who've had rough Aprils and still went on to win the division, hope should not be lost. Whatever expectation you may have had for this ball club should remain, as only a measly portion of the season has been played thus far.
One reason to still be optimistic is that they have yet to play in warm weather. The crazy weather baseball has endured this April has a lot to do with the performance of this team. Extreme conditions and a few rain outs have made it difficult for the Yankees to gain a rhythm or momentum. Their big sluggers, namely Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez, have yet to bust out and produce to their capabilities, consistently. It may be naïve to think this rainy and blistery April has not had an effect. Same goes for some of the pitching performances we have seen from the rotation and bullpen. Expect a major improvement as the season heads toward the summer months.
Health has also been an issue that this team has battled since the end of spring training and early into the season. After losing Greg Bird, Clint Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury in spring, the Yankees depth took a big hit during the first week of the season. Starting center fielder Aaron Hicks missed a big portion of the month after straining a muscle on opening day. Then outfielder Billy McKinney hurt his shoulder running into the wall a couple of days later. This forced the Yankees to go with an outfield consisting mainly of Judge, Stanton and Gardner because of the lack of depth. This left a weak spot at DH.
In the infield, with the exception of Didi Gregorius, the Yankees have under-performed. When Brandon Drury hit the DL with severe migraines and blurry vision, New York has had to rely on struggling Tyler Wade and rookie Miguel Andujar, along with Tyler Austin to fill key positions in the infield. Calls for Gleyber Torres to be called-up have heated as he has been raking in Triple- A. With Greg Bird on the mend and showing good progress, the roster may look very differently in the month of May. This should add optimism and major improvement in the coming months.
The Bronx Bombers seem to have caught a break with CC Sabathia returning from the DL April 19th. With the help of rain outs and off days, they were able to avoid a spot start from Luis Cessa, who recently injured himself in a relief appearance the other night. They were unable, however, to avoid taking a hit to their bullpen. Set-up man Tommy Khanle hit the DL April 16th after concerns of a shoulder issue.
The bullpen was expected to be a major strength and an integral part of this team's success. A slow and disappointing start to the year has been concerning. A deep playoff run last year, where the bullpen was heavily used in non-Masahiro Tanaka starts, may have a lingering effect this April. As the season moves towards the month of May, I expect them to improve drastically in this department. As concerning as it is, I'm a believer that the stats by the end of the year will eventually reflect that of the back of these player's baseball cards, which is a good thing for the Yankees. Again, more optimism things will get better in Yankees land.
The starting rotation is another question mark so far in 2018, as it has been for some time now. Luis Severino is the clear cut ace and has proven as much, despite a poor start in Boston where the weather was terrible. Tanaka looks more like he did the first half of last season and nothing like he did last October. Jordan Montgomery has pitched like a fifth starter and nothing more, as Sonny Gray has looked very unimpressive.
This is where the Yankees need to improve the most in order to stay relevant in the division race. The track record indicates that they will be able to overcome a slow April and string together consistent starts. The lineup backing them should help ease the pressure of having to go 7 plus innings every start. They aren't being asked to do too much. The focus on quality starts and not having to be perfect will generate a lot of wins with a team that should average close to five runs a game.
The Yankees fielding, to put it bluntly, has been horrendous. That leads to questions of rookie manager Aaron Boone's ability to properly prepare this team. They lead the league in errors and often that can be attributed to the manager. Unfair as it may be, it is a legitimate argument. To add in questionable decisions by the manager in other areas like bullpen management, there is much improvement needed in the coaching area. This all figures to improve with experience, but will he continually be looked at as just a puppet to GM Brian Cashman or take a more leading and decisive role in the club house?
Harsh criticism, maybe, but the reality is that the New York fans and media add extreme pressure to high profile players and management to perform. Giancarlo Stanton is a prime example how volatile the fan base can be. He has been booed relentlessly for his lack of performance. Can Boone and him handle the criticism and overcome the early struggles without pressing too much? With proper time to adjust to the tense environment and get comfortable in pinstripes, I believe they can.
If you look back to the not too distant past, the Yankees were in rebuild mode. Not to the extent of the Houston Astros who lost 92 games a year before making the playoffs in 2015. If you remember though, the following year they regressed and missed the playoffs. With the competition in the American League this season, it isn't a lock for the Yankees to make the playoffs. As high as the expectations are for the Baby Bombers, some believe it should be tempered a bit.
With that being said, it is too early to ride this team off. There are many areas of improvement to be expected and this team has expectations of their own. Talks of a historic season with this lineup featuring the duo of Stanton and Judge hitting a record amount of home runs is still possible. The modern day Murderer's Row will continue to put pressure on opposing staffs and will wear down opponents. If we are having the same discussion come all-star break, then it would be time to pull the reigns on title hopes. As of right now though, the expectations should remain high.
The season is a grind and there are many games left to be played. There are many more divisional games to be played to help gain ground. As well as Boston has played, they too will come back down to Earth. The season is a marathon and not a sprint, and who knows what the trade deadline might bring to the roster to help for the mad dash to the finish line. It could be a great summer in the Bronx, so keep the faith.