Tomorrow is the day we have all been eagerly awaited for two years: an AL Wild Card Game that the Yankees did not need to win to reach the ALDS! It has been one heck of a ride this year, filled with home runs, large winning streaks, and, most notably of all, the simultaneous ownership of the American League East and a wing at each of the many hospitals throughout New York. All this combined to bring together 54 different players en route to an AL East-leading 103-59 record, good for third best in MLB. So, to quote Franklin Shepherd, “How did we get to be here?” (Props to you if you know that reference without looking)
An Army of Savages
Fresh off a record season in 2018 that saw the team set a new Major League record with 267 home runs, the Yankees upped the ante, mashing a franchise-record 306 home runs, good for second all-time. This powered them to a 118 OPS+ and an MLB-high 943 runs. What was so special was not what they did, however, but how they did it.
If you were to make a starting lineup out of players that spent time on the IL for the Yankees, you would come fairly close to making the Yankees’ primary starting lineup. The starting catcher (Gary Sanchez), three first basemen (Luke Voit, Greg Bird, Edwin Encarnacion), two middle infielders (Didi Gregorius, Troy Tulowitzki), two third basemen (Miguel Andujar, Gio Urshela), all four starting outfielders (Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge), and three other outfielders (Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier, Cameron Maybin) all spent time on the IL, and yet the Yankees continued to chug along all season.
Out of the 15 players who have more than 100 plate appearances, all but Austin Romine and Didi Gregorius have an OPS+ over 100. Seven players recorded 20 or more home runs, and 14 reached double-digits. And all this despite Aaron Judge playing only 102 games, Gary Sanchez only 106, and Giancarlo Stanton only 18.
Even if Edwin Encarnacion does not make it back in time for the postseason, there will be no shortage of mashers in the lineup of savages.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Many Biblical scholars have not realized it, but when John wrote the Book of Revelation, he was referring not to the end of the world, but to the Yankees’ bullpen. The White Horse, pestilence, represents the infectious excitement of Tommy Kahnle, the bullpen’s madman, the first out of the pen. The second horsemen, the fiery red horse of war, so named because he was originally drafted by the red St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. Third came famine, the Black Horse, foretelling the famine that opposing bats would have for fly balls when facing the master of groundouts, Zack Britton. And lastly came the pale horse of Death, for with Aroldis Chapman, that’s where your dreams of taking a lead died.
This may or may not be what the original author meant in the first century CE, but it fairly accurately describes the Yankees bullpen in 2019. The foursome shut down opposing hitters all year, combining to give up only 75 runs in 246 innings. If the Yankees were able to get a lead by the mid-to-late innings, a win was all but secured.
Chad Green and a Collection of Misfits
It may seem odd, but the Yankees only used six true starters all year: Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia, Domingo German, and Luis Severino — and since Severino only returned in the last two weeks, they spent most of the season with only five. Instead of turning to Triple-A or the waiver wire for starting pitchers, however, the team opted to roll with bullpen days to replace an injured starter or whenever a spot start was needed.
Chad Green served as the team’s primary opener this season, notching fifteen starts; in eleven of them, he did not give up a run. Behind him, the team used a variety of bulk arms, including Nestor Cortes Jr., Chance Adams, and David Hale, among others. At surface level, this should not have worked, and yet, somehow, it did. Bullpen games were remarkably successful for the Yankees this season in lieu of sixth and seventh starters. Their deployment — especially in the month of June, when Chad Green and Nestor Cortes were at their best — was a big reason as to why the Yankees won 103 games this year.
An Emperor in Command
Aaron Boone entered the season not exactly well-liked by much of the Yankees fanbase, but his performance this season has been one for the ages. Whether it be due to his vocal fights with umpires regarding balls and strikes or his careful managing of the team’s bullpen arms to keep them as fresh and healthy as possible this season, he has been front and center, both for this team and its fanbase.
Most importantly, he has gotten the entire team to believe in the mantra of “Next Man Up,” and the culture he created is arguably the number one reason why this club did not falter under the weight of its expectations and excessive injury luck, but instead thrived. Like a captain guiding his ship through dangerous waters, Boone has brought the Yankees through a cannon barrage of injuries, and made them all the stronger for it.