2018 MLB Preview: Have the Yankees Improved Enough?

No sports franchise has been as dominant in the United States as the New York Yankees. The Yankees have won an incredible 27 World Series titles. New York has also taken home 40 American League Championships. The Yankees are known as the greatest Major League Baseball franchise in the nation’s longest-living organized sport.

The Yankees improved enough in 2017 for odds makers to install the New York Yankees as a co-first choice in the AL to face the L.A. Dodgers in the 2018 World Series. Both the Yankees and the Houston Astros are at +550 to win the World Series. The Dodgers remain a solid +500 favorite to take home the Fall Classic.

Are the Yankees good enough to beat the defending champion Astros? What changes has NYY made to put them into World Series contention? Below, I attempt to answer those questions.

NY Yankees 2018 MLB Preview: Have they Improved Enough?

Going into 2017, the Yankees were expected to finish behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East Division. There was some talk that NYY was the worst team in the AL  East Division. It didn’t turn out that way. The Yankees became one of the absolute best teams in baseball, not just in the American League.

How well did the New York Yankees perform in a supposedly down year? The Yanks delivered magnificently. NYY was a game away from winning the American League. If the Yanks had pulled off the massive upset over the Houston Astros, they might have sauntered into the 2017 World Series with a shot at a twenty-eighth World Series Championship.

After the season, the Yankees pulled off the biggest move in MLB. NYY pulled the trigger on reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton adds arguably the best bat in baseball to a line-up that already includes last year wunderkind Aaron Judge.

Will the move to add Stanton pay off? And, if it does, will it be enough for the Yankees to overtake the Houston Astros in the American League?

New York Yankees Batting Lineup

LF Brett Gardner (L)

RF Aaron Judge (R)

DH Giancarlo Stanton (R)

C Gary Sanchez (R)

SS Didi Gregorious (L)

CF Aaron Hicks (S)

1B Greg Bird (L)

3B Miguel Andujar (L)

2B Ronald Torreyes (R)

Acquiring Stanton is absolutely huge. Stanton delivered 59 home runs and 132 RBIs last season while hitting .281. What it means is that Giancarlo is one of those rare power hitters that can blast it yard but can also hit for average. Because Stanton can hit for average, he’ll protect Aaron Judge.

Judge was brilliant in last season’s first half. He took a minor step backwards in the second half of the season. He still managed to hit .284 with 52 home runs and 114 RBIs. The biggest question is how well Judge responds to off-season shoulder surgery. If he responds the way that the Yankees expect, he should be better in 2018 now that Stanton bats behind him. Pitchers must decide how to pitch to both Stanton and Judge. Strategy wise, it should work like a charm for the Yankees.

Pitchers must also figure out what to do after they get through Gardener, Judge, and Stanton. I’ve listed Gary Sanchez batting cleanup. Other MLB fans believe Gregorious bats cleanup. It probably doesn’t matter. Sanchez is a catcher, which means he won’t play every day. Sanchez did bat .278 with 33 home runs last season.

Gregorious should play every day. Didi’s an excellent shortstop. But, that’s not the reasons for new manager Aaron Boone to play him as much as possible. Didi hit .287 with 25 home runs last season. He batted in 87 runs.

After Sanchez and Gregorious, the Yankees bats don’t let up. Aaron Hicks is a switch hitter. That makes him ultra valuable in the second half of the lineup. Greg Bird only hit .190 with 9  home runs last season. He should be much better at the plate this season because 2017 was marked by multiple injuries. Manager Boone has already said that he expects Bird to flash the power he had before last year’s injuries.

If Bird does flash his former power, the New York Yankees’ batting lineup should surpass the Astros’ as the best in MLB. It’s already on par with Houston’s batting lineup after trading for Giancarlo Stanton.

New York Yankees Starting Rotation

RHP Luis Severino

RHP Sonny Gray

RHP Masahiro Tanaka

LHP CC Sabathia

LHP Jordan Montgomery

Luis Severino turned into a true ace pitcher last season. He went 14 and 6 with a 2.98 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. Severino was one of four pitchers last season that had a 25% strikeout rate and a 50% ground ball rate. That’s impressive. He should be even better in 2018. He’s only 24-years-old.

While Gray threw for the Oakland Athletics, the pressure was always on him to lead the charge. Severino is the Yankees’ ace. That means Gray can take the pressure off a bit this season. A relaxed Sonny Gray should be difficult to hit. He’s still got great stuff. Knowing the bullpen is tight should help Gray significantly improve upon his 3.55 ERA from last season.

Masahiro Tanaka’s ERA exploded to 4.74 in 2017 after he recorded a 3.07 ERA in 2016. Tanaka had some moments where he dominated. Those moments happened in the second half of the season. If Masahiro gets his stuff working early, there’s no doubt he could add to what appears to be a surging starting rotation.

What can I write about CC Sabathia? The man has been a steady force in the Yankees rotation for a long time. He performed admirably in last year’s playoffs. What it means is that CC can still pitch his best when he must. A veteran arm like that in the bullpen is a wonderful thing.

Jordan Montgomery is the other left-hander in the starting rotation. Montgomery could be up or down. His 3.88 ERA was pretty good. He’s also only 25-years-old. If he improves at all, the Yankees rotation could challenge some of the best rotations in MLB.

New York Yankees Bullpen

RHP Dellin Bentances

RHP Luis Cessa

RHP David Robertson

RHP Chad Green

RHP Tommy Khanle

RHP Adam Warren

RHP Chasen Shreve

LHP Aroldis Chapman (C)

In 2018, the Yankees will be a classic MLB team with a couple of set-up guys and a closer. Chapman’s the main closer. He recorded 22 saves last season. He also went 4 and 3. That means the Yankees relied way too heavily on Chapman. Closers work best when they’ve got a lead in the 9th inning. They also work best if they mustn’t pitch every day.

Knowing this, Brad Cashman, the Yankees’ GM, decided to allow David Robertson to pick up some saves starting last August. Aaron Boone has pounced on that idea during spring training. Expect Robertson to fill in for Chapman as the closer in plenty of games this season.

Bottom Line:  Are the New York Yankees Worth a Look at +550?

Everything appears to be in place for a huge New York Yankee resurgence this season. Adding Stanton truly helps the bats. Also, both Severino and Gray should be better in the pinstripes in 2018 than they were in 2017. That’s scary for those looking to take down Severino, who was fantastic last season.

The key for the Yankees will be, like it is for many teams, the bullpen. Robertson posted a sub 2.00 ERA last season. However, moving into a closer’s role always doesn’t work out for a reliever that’s been a set-up man most of his career. Chapman has a chance to get back to his days as the best closer in MLB. I’m  not holding my breath for that to happen.

When the Yankees were favored over the Dodgers and Astros, I had an issue with it. Now that New York isn’t, I believe they’re a toss-up. I’d prefer higher odds than +550. But, the Yankees appear to be the team with the best chance of upsetting the Houston Astros in the American League this season.

Because of that, and because it’s rare that a team repeats in modern baseball, I believe +550 on the Yankees to return to glory are fair.

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson

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