After starting the season 9-9, the Yankees went on a tear, winning 41 of their next 54 games. The surge began when they claimed nine straight victories over teams that were holding playoff spots at the time. They beat Toronto twice and swept a four-game series against the Twins at Yankee Stadium, before flying to the West Coast to sweep a three-game set from the Angels.
The Bombers won three of four against the first-place Astros in Houston, then returned home to sweep the AL Central-leading Indians. New York concluded that homestand by taking two of three from the Red Sox, who led MLB with a .735 winning percentage at the time, and winning a three-game set against the upstart Athletics.
The incredible run ended on June 21st, when the Yankees wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Mariners in the Bronx. The Bombers boasted a gaudy 50-22 record, and were on pace to win 113 games. They also held a two-game lead over Boston in the AL East race. The Yankees looked like world-beaters at the time, but are actually at their strongest right now.
One significant area of improvement has been the starting pitching. Through 101 games, the Yankees got a whopping 46 starts from Sonny Gray, Domingo German, Luis Cessa, Jordan Montgomery, and Jonathan Loaisiga. The club went an uninspiring 26-20 during those contests. With the addition of J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn at the end of July, the rotation has stabilized and improved.
Happ has been especially great, with the team going 8-1 in his starts. The 35-year-old has emerged as the staff ace, and is currently the favorite to start the Wild Card game for the Yankees.
The bullpen has also improved, with Zach Britton essentially replacing Chasen Shreve. Britton missed substantial time over the last two seasons due to injury, but appears to be regaining the dominant form he displayed during his historically great 2016 campaign.
With Aroldis Chapman declaring no issues with his knee since returning from the disabled list, Dellin Betances regaining his All-Star form, and David Robertson continuing to show versatility in his usage while remaining dominant, the Yankees have four legitimate closers to finish games. Add to that the continued success of Chad Green and emergence of Jonathan Holder, and the Yankees do indeed possess a potentially historic bullpen from top to bottom. They also have a wealth of power arms from which to choose a seventh man (and eighth, if they want), including Loaisiga, German, Justus Sheffield, Tommy Kahnle, and Stephen Tarpley.
Andrew McCutchen may have regressed from his run of MVP-caliber seasons in Pittsburgh. At least one might come away with that impression when looking at the back of his baseball card. But you wouldn’t know it by watching him play. Since joining the Yankees at the end of August, he seems to get on base all the time. He gets clutch hits, including home runs, and has been stellar playing the field. McCutchen is a perfect top-of-the-order bat for the Bombers.
At the time, it seemed the best part of the deal that sent Shreve to St. Louis was the international bonus money coming back. We didn’t even know who Luke Voit was, much less have any inkling of what he would come to mean for this team. That all changed in a blink of an eye, though.
Stepping in for a slumping Greg Bird at first base, Voit has been a godsend for the Yankees since being acquired at the end of July. This week against Boston, Voit produced his second multi-homer game for the Yankees. The following night, he became the 12th Yankees player to reach the double-digit mark in home runs, setting a new major-league record. The blast was also the 246th of the year for the team, which set a new franchise record. Yesterday, Voit belted yet another home run, this time helping the Yankees beat the Orioles to clinch a playoff spot.
Voit’s 11 home runs and 28 RBI in only 105 at-bats across 32 games is absolutely Ruthian. The 27-year-old’s performance thus far has evoked memories of the late-season heroics by Shelley Duncan and Shane Spencer.
New York has endured injuries to key players like Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Judge. But they’re all back now, and ready to help the team make their mark in the postseason. Their return, combined with the success of recent arrivals McCutchen and Voit, pushes Neil Walker, Brett Gardner, Greg Bird, and Austin Romine to the bench. Each of the four produced 10 plus home runs for the Bombers this year, and the group lines up to provide a deep, powerful, and versatile bench as the team heads into the playoffs.
On paper, the 2018 Yankees are stronger right now than they have ever been this season. Whether or not this translates into October glory is yet to be seen. Stay tuned, it promises to be a wild ride.