The Yankees spent the better part of nine months playing baseball, from the opening of training camp to the bitter end in Houston. Throughout that time many factors influenced their season, from general game plans and decisions down to specific dates and plays. There are hundreds of moments that you could point out from the year, but a few stand out as crucial turning points that created this team for better or worse.
Often spring training is a much-anticipated-but-quickly-forgotten type of affair, with fans eagerly looking forward to the team coming together and then wanting to jump right into official baseball. This year’s spring set the tone in a different way, however, as it began the long line of injuries that would mold the roster and the overall tone of the team. Staff ace Luis Severino, centerfielder Aaron Hicks, and reliever Dellin Betances were the first to hit the injured list, but they wouldn’t be alone for long.
Jumping ahead to April 14, the Yankees lost a 5-2 affair to the White Sox. The Bombers were sitting at 6-9 and had dropped all three of their home series to that date. Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, and Gary Sanchez had all joined the IL by this point and things were looking dire. The team was in need of a spark, and the Red Sox were coming into town for a two-game set. The Yankees swept them handily to begin an unbeaten series streak at home that lasted the remainder of the regular season.
Fast forward to June 17, and the beginning of a massive 10-game homestand for New York. The Rays were their first opponent of the stretch, and sat just half a game behind the Yankees in the standings. Masahiro Tanaka twirled an absolute gem, striking out ten and allowing just three baserunners en route to a shutout 3-0 victory. Tanaka’s shutout started a stretch where the Yankees swept the Rays, took three out of four against the Astros, and swept the Blue Jays to establish a solid hold over the AL East that they wouldn’t relinquish.
The trade deadline was nearing by this point, and rumors were already swirling, but the Yankees stuck to their guns of not overpaying for their targets and not looking for overly significant moves. The players tied to the Yankees by the rumor mill, most notably Marcus Stroman, went elsewhere, while the Yankees settled for under the radar trades like the one they made for Edwin Encarnacion earlier in the year. The market was indeed unfavorable for the Yankees, with few quality options available and prices for them varying wildly, but it was a decision that the Yankees ultimately had to live with.
The Yankees followed the trade deadline with a four-game set against the Red Sox in the Bronx, which was also proceeded by a near-sweep for the Bad Guys up in Boston a week before. The Yankees got their revenge, sweeping their rivals and putting them in jeopardy of not contending for the division crown. They would wind up eliminating them officially a month later and push them to the peripheral of the wild card race.
On September 19, the Yankees hosted the finale of a three-game series against the Angels. The Yankees won decisively, 9-1, securing their first division championship since 2012. With the division wrapped up, and home field for the ALDS secured a few days later, the Yankees embarked on a strategy that went against expectations. Instead of continuing to put out their star players for all nine innings and fighting for home field advantage, the Yankees used the final week of the regular season to rest starters and continue to rest key relievers over the month as they had been. The move was controversial considering their history with match ups against Houston and expecting to play them in the ALCS, but with hindsight it was the right move to make.
The Yankees entered the ALDS against the Twins properly rested and with a bullpen fully reloaded for a tough stretch of work. They made quick fashion of the Twins, sweeping them 3-0, and went up on Houston in the ALCS 1-0 after crushing them in Game One 7-0. They went ahead in Game Two 2-1 but couldn’t come away with a victory, as Adam Ottavino surrendered the lead as soon as he entered the game and the Astros stalled the Yankee ‘pen until the 11th inning to even the series. The Astros took over the series from this point and got ahead 3-1 before the Yankees managed to bring things back to Houston with a Game Five win, but still fell in Game Six. The rested bullpen Aaron Boone preserved in September allowed them to get to this point, but it couldn’t carry them any further as the bats went silent against Houston’s stellar starting staff.
A lot of factors worked against the Yankees in spite of their success, but they can take away some positive and negative lessons from their year. They built a roster full of depth and rode it to a division title, and they created a lineup that was able for most of the year to deal damage with a variety of methods. They’re talented, and certainly championship-caliber, but in an era of superteams and tanking, talented often isn’t enough. Certain things, mainly injuries, will always be out of their control, but the process is almost good enough to go all the way. Whether they’re able to take that next step next year will be determined by what they took away from this year.