The 2017 Yankees built up a lot of goodwill for the franchise. This was a team that was getting younger, relying on prospects to play for them instead of trading them away for older, expensive players. Their unanimous Rookie of the Year was also an MVP candidate, they had fun in the dugout, and even though they lost in the ALCS, it was okay because they arrived early.
Even though they’ve made the playoffs every year since 2017 and been mostly a good team, the way their seasons have ended have mostly just been frustrating and left a bad taste. Now? All that good will has been exhausted and it’s time for the Yankees to put up or shut up in these playoffs. And honestly, shutting up isn’t even an option anymore.
There’s no more silver linings to be found; these Yankees simply have to show up in the playoffs. I’ll stop short of saying it’s “World Series or bust” for them, but it’s pretty close to that feeling. It’s not just because patience has been running out that facilitates these thoughts, but the way the Yankees have set themselves up this year, this is probably their best opportunity in years.
Let’s start with the obvious. The 2022 Yankees are home to Aaron Judge and perhaps the greatest walk year in history. Behind that man and the season he’s had, nothing is impossible. While many times this season it’s felt like Aaron Judge and his band of merry men, the lineup is looking pretty well-balanced and starting to click again at the right time.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing for these Yankees is that for the first time in a long time, they actually have a rotation that can carry them through the playoffs. No matter how one personally ranks them in 2022, there are three starters in Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, and Luis Severino who can legitimately pitch like aces. Behind them, Jameson Taillon is a reasonable fourth starter, and Clarke Schmidt and Domingo Germán provide fine depth behind them if needed.
The biggest question mark for the Bombers this year is the one area that usually has no questions: the bullpen. The bullpen is not lacking in talent, but it’s lacking in reliability and availability. The most dependable reliever this season has been Wandy Peralta, and he’s currently on the IL and looking to hopefully be back in time for the ALDS. Still though, even if the bullpen doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, they’re overall not a problem. It’s just more dependent on Aaron Boone and Matt Blake pressing the right buttons on any given night than it has been in the past. Still though, the bullpen is solid enough to help carry the Yankees especially behind a rotation that does, in fact, inspire confidence.
It’s not just that the talent pool on this roster sets them up for success. As the Yankees showed in the first half, they have the ability to play like the absolute best team in baseball and flat out dominate for stretches. On top of that, their miserable August stretch and subsequent September turnaround also provides some relief in knowing that while they might have played above their head, they’re not nearly as bad as they showed in August, and have the ability to bounce back. It speaks to the team’s to keep fighting and not give up just when it looked like things were hopeless.
The pieces are all in place for the Yankees to make some noise this postseason. I said before, I’ll stop short of declaring “World Series or bust” but I won’t say they don’t need to at least make a deep run and defeat their demons of the past few years during these playoffs. They need to not have an embarrassing early exit, and if they face Houston in the ALCS, they have to learn how to win a game there. Aaron Boone already set them up for that back in July:
Aaron Boone on facing the Astros again: It's not going to matter unless it's October. If we happen to come back here in October, we're going to show up. We're going to expect to win. pic.twitter.com/ukzdH0dUrp— YES Network (@YESNetwork) July 22, 2022
Boone’s already set the expectations, now it’s time for them to deliver on their promise. If not, it’s another long and disappointing winter for the Yankees, and with Aaron Judge’s free agency looming, it’s possible they won’t get a shot like this for a long time.