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Brett Borzelli

The 2017 Yankees Year in Review

Between an unexpected ALCS run and the acquisition of the NL MVP, 2017 was a thrilling year for the New York Yankees. Perhaps someday we will look back at 2017 in the same way that they do 1995 or 1920. That is, a stepping stone to something much greater.

The New York Yankees reported to Spring Training in 2017 with many unanswered questions. The team was coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in the American League East. They had undergone an uncharacteristic mid-season sell off and had missed the playoffs.

A number of trade deadline deals reaped a treasure trove of prospects. But it also resulted in a lot of talent walking out the door. Star relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman had been traded, although the latter returned after the season via free agency. Veteran run producer Carlos Beltran was gone, as well as the fifth starter and longest-tenured Yankee, Ivan Nova. Superstar Alex Rodriguez was released in August, while Gold Glove first baseman Mark Teixeira retired and catcher Brian McCann was dealt following the season.

Spring Training Battles

The players reported to camp in Florida with a number of position battles on tap. Manager Joe Girardi announced that holdovers Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda would form the front end of the rotation, while Luis Severino, Adam Warren, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Cessa would compete for the two remaining slots. Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge would battle for the starting job in right field.

Judge won the job, while Hicks was named the fourth outfielder. Judge, of course, went on to produce one of the most spectacular rookie campaigns in baseball history. Hicks became the starting center fielder after an injury sidelined Jacoby Ellsbury and had a fine year until getting hurt as well.

Luis Severino was named the fourth starter before camp ended, with left-hander Jordan Montgomery coming out of nowhere to claim the final slot after a stellar spring. Montgomery went on to throw over 150 innings while earning down-ballot votes for Rookie of the Year.

Best Record in Baseball

The Yankees got off to a fast start. After 30 games, they held the best record in baseball with a 21-9 mark. They were the only remaining team with single-digit losses, and they led the Baltimore Orioles by a slim half-game lead in the East.

New York boasted the MLB’s best run differential, a good portion of which could be attributed to the early-season success of the pitching staff. Yankee pitchers had allowed the second-fewest runs in the AL and third-fewest overall. The group was at or near the top in every major pitching rate stat for the American League.

Michael Pineda was the Yankees’ best and most consistent starter to that point, but Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia were also very good. The team was 15-4 in games started by that trio.

The bullpen, featuring Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Tyler Clippard, and Adam Warren was also great. Overall, the New York ‘pen limited opponents to a .568 OPS, while recording 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings over the first 30 games.

Mid-Summer Slump

Unfortunately, the Yankees dominance did not last. Tanaka and Sabathia went through terrible rough patches, and Pineda suffered a season-ending injury in early July. The bullpen also had problems, with Betances, Chapman, and Clippard all struggling.

A dreadful West Coast trip in mid-June saw the Yankees relinquish first place. Although they remained competitive, even regaining the top spot briefly at the end of July, New York spent the rest of the season chasing Boston while trying to fend off a pack of rivals for the top Wild Card berth.

Mid-Summer Classic

Five Yankees were selected for the All-Star Game in Miami, with Aaron Judge being the top vote-getter in all of baseball. Joining him were first-timers Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino, while Dellin Betances was selected for the fourth straight year. Starlin Castro was also named to his fourth All-Star team, but it was his first as a member of the Yankees.

Judge stole the show in Miami. He won the Home Run Derby decisively, as he launched one moonshot after another.

Mid-Season Trades

With a playoff spot in hand and a division title in sight, General Manager Brian Cashman made a few mid-season trades aimed at shoring up some of the club’s weaknesses. Starters Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia were acquired to lengthen the rotation, while a blockbuster deal with the Chicago White Sox netted three key players.

Tommy Kahnle and former Yankees closer David Robertson were brought in to boost the beleaguered bullpen. Lifelong Yankees fan Todd Frazier was tabbed to help lift a weak corner infield tandem. Frazier took over at the hot corner, allowing incumbent third baseman Chase Headley to shift to first until the injured Greg Bird was healthy enough to return.

All of these moves worked out. Gray and Garcia combined to make 19 starts and eat up over 100 innings. Frazier belted 11 homers and drove in 32 runs over 66 games in pinstripes. The shift across the diamond also saw Headley have a much better second half.

The biggest impact was from the two relievers. Robertson instantly became the leader of the bullpen, while both he and Kahnle pitched very well in helping the Yankees to both lock up their playoff berth and to advance once there.

Wild Card Victory

Earning their second ever berth in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, the Yankees once again won home field advantage for this exciting baseball novelty. Things did not start off so well, however, as starter Luis Severino gave up three runs to the Minnesota Twins while managing to record only one out.

Severino had moved up the depth chart quickly through the season, having emerged as the staff ace long before it ended. His rate stats for the year were third across the board among AL starters, and he finished third in the Cy Young Award voting as a result.

Another 2017 breakout performer, Chad Green took the ball when Severino faltered in the Wild Card Game. Green had been the runner-up in the spring training fifth starter competition, but after losing out to Jordan Montgomery was added to the bullpen. He ended up having a historically great year for a reliever and quickly moved up the depth chart and into Joe Girardi’s circle of trust.

Green bailed Severino out in the first inning, keeping the Yankees in the game so they could mount a comeback. Didi Gregorius hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the first to tie it, while Greg Bird’s single in the third put the Yankees ahead for good.

Division Series Comeback

Having lost the first two games of the Division Series at Cleveland, the Bombers returned home facing elimination. But Masahiro Tanaka pitched one of the best games of his career, a seven-inning shutout to keep New York alive. Greg Bird, who had returned from a season-long injury in time to start at first base throughout the playoffs, scored the only run of the game in a 1-0 Yankees victory.

After beating the Indians in Game Four at Yankee Stadium to knot the series at two games apiece, the Yankees headed back to Cleveland for the decisive fifth game. Starter CC Sabathia and the New York bullpen kept the Tribe’s bats at bay, and Didi Gregorius belted two homers to clinch the series for the Yankees and send them to the storied franchise’s 16th League Championship Series.

Five Wins Short

The 2017 Yankees came up five wins short of their goal, which was to win their 28th championship. They didn’t go down without a fight, however.

After dropping the first two games of the LCS in Houston, the Yankees won three straight at “the House That Ruth Built.” They returned to Minute Maid Park needing only one victory to advance to their 41st World Series. But it wasn’t to be. The Astros won games six and seven behind the lights out pitching of Justin Verlander and Charlie Morton, and the Yankees’ season came to an end.

All Rise

Although Aaron Judge was forced to compete for a starting job in spring training, he won it and went on to produce arguably the greatest debut season in baseball history. Judge was the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year, while finishing second in the MVP balloting. Along the way, he set new rookie marks for both home runs (52) and walks (127).

Judge was a Triple Crown contender for most of the first half, before cooling considerably after the All-Star break. He rebounded to put up his best numbers in September, and he was the Bomber’s top run-producer during the team’s dramatic 13-game postseason run. All Rise was not only the Yankees’ biggest story of the year; he was one of the most celebrated figures in all of baseball.

The Bronx Bombers Return

Aaron Judge became only the fifth member of the Yankees to hit more than 50 homers in a season. He follows Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, and Alex Rodriguez.

Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez also added their names to pinstripe home run lore during the 2017 campaign. Gregorius hit 25 dingers, breaking Derek Jeter’s single-season record by a Yankee shortstop. Meanwhile, Sanchez hit 33 bombs, breaking the single-season mark by a Yankee catcher held by Yogi Berra and Jorge Posada. Remarkably, both Gregorius and Sanchez missed about a month due to injury.

Overall, the Bronx Bombers hit 241 home runs in 2017, which was the most in the majors.

Remaining in Pinstripes

Following the season, two of the team’s most important players agreed to remain in pinstripes. Former aces Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia will pitch for the Yankees in 2018.

After the World Series, Tanaka announced that he was not going to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract. Tanaka had a really rough first half. He had the worst ERA in the league at one point. But there were some brilliant starts mixed in. He threw probably the best game of his career in April, a complete game shutout at Fenway Park. Later in the season, he set his career high with 13 strikeouts in a game. He later topped it with 14 and bested it again with 15 Ks in his final regular season start.

But Tanaka was just getting started. He threw a pair of seven-inning shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game Three elimination contest against the Tribe. Tanaka also outdueled Dallas Keuchel in their LCS rematch at Yankee Stadium, after having lost a 2-1 heartbreaker in Houston. In all, Tanaka gave up two runs in three postseason starts.

Tanaka has been the Yankees most effective starter over the last four years. In 2017, he stayed healthy all year for the first time since joining the club in 2014.

CC Sabathia recently agreed to a one-year contract which will keep him with the Yankees. Sabathia continued his bounce-back in a big way in 2017. He became the Yankees’ stopper, going 10-1 in games following a New York loss. The lone defeat came in ALCS Game Seven.

Giancarlo Stanton Joins the Fold

Keeping a pair of impact players in the fold is great hot stove news. But the Yankees managed to pull off a blockbuster deal that overshadows everything else that has happened in baseball this winter.

New Marlins owner Derek Jeter dealt Giancarlo Stanton to New York for Starlin Castro and a pair of low-level prospects. The deal unites the two defending home run champs for the upcoming season.

Stanton clubbed 59 homers last year, becoming only the third player outside of the steroids era to reach that plateau. Fittingly, the other two sluggers (Ruth and Maris), were both Yankees when they did it.

The 28-year-old Stanton is now the veteran in the heart of the Yankees order. Surrounded by Baby Bombers like Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird, Stanton’s addition to the lineup is already causing Yankees fans to salivate over the possibility that New York might reclaim the single-season team home run record.

A Year Yankees Fans will Remember

Having a homegrown prospect produce a season for the ages is a very exciting thing to watch unfold. Witnessing your team acquire a defending MVP is quite another thrill. Yankees fans managed to enjoy both experiences this year.

Coming within one win of the World Series is quite an accomplishment, especially considering 2017 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. The Yankees changed managers this Winter, but will be returning mostly the same group of players that got them five wins away from a title.

Perhaps someday Yankees fans will look back at 2017 in the same way that they do 1995 or 1920. That is, a stepping stone to something much greater.

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Brett Borzelli writes about the New York Yankees on Pinstripe Alley and Baseknock MLB. He is a member of the IBWAA. You may peruse his Baseknock MLB articles by clicking here.

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