As always, expectations are high for the New York Yankees this season. That’s the burden that comes with being the wealthiest, most historic franchise in Major League Baseball.
However, the Yankees took a more frugal approach when it came to fine-tuning the roster during the winter.
General manager Brian Cashman opted not to make a big splash by signing the likes of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. He didn’t do much to fix up his starting rotation, either, making the trade for James Paxton the lone change for a unit that struggled in 2018.
But the Yankees aren’t built on starting pitching. No, this is a franchise predicated on power both in the batter’s box and coming out of the bullpen.
The Bronx Bombers are expected to fully live up to their tagline once again this season as they challenge the record for most home runs hit in a season… which was set by them last year.
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will get another shot at living up to the hype of being the most prolific home-run-hitting duo in the game while the likes of Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, and Gary Sanchez are expected to step up in a big way to put the Yankees over the top.
It’s World Series or bust for the Yankees, who kick off their 2019 MLB season today at home against the Baltimore Orioles; an easy way to begin an encore of a 100-win season last year.
While a dogfight is expected with the arch-rival Boston Red Sox, there will be plenty of eyes fixated on the managing of Aaron Boone, who will be tasked in getting the best out of a stacked roster.
Here is what to watch for as we prepare for the first pitch of the season:
Yankees 2019 Opening Day Preview: Outfielders
On the week of Opening Day, Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton formed the “Bronx Yard Work Company,” a catchy tagline for Major League Baseball’s most powerful team.
After all, the Yankees did set an MLB record with 267 home runs last season.
However, it was an underwhelming season from the two most notable names inside the Yankees lineup in Judge and Stanton.
After jacking 59 home runs in 2017 with the Miami Marlins, Stanton had many believing that he could challenge the single-season home run record in the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.
Alongside Judge, who was coming off a 52-home-run rookie campaign, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities that the two could combine for 100 home runs in a season.
That didn’t happen.
Limited by injuries, Judge had just 27 round-trippers, tied with three others for second on the team. Granted, it came in just 112 games, which actually had the 26-year-old on a 40-home-run pace if he played close to a full 162-game season.
It was right around the pace also set by Stanton, who managed to stay healthy for most of the season. Yet the artist formerly known as “Mike” had 21 fewer home runs in 2018, recording 38. That’s still an impressive number, yet disappointing for many who placed some rather unfair expectations on his shoulders.
And Yankees fans had no issues making their displeasures heard. Stanton was booed mightily throughout the season, most notably as their season ended in the ALDS against the arch-rival Red Sox after striking out in the bottom-of-the-ninth in Game 4 with the Yankees trailing 4-3.
Stanton will be keen on winning over the Bleacher Creatures and will have a much better chance to do so if Judge remains in the lineup. However, don’t expect the two to have 50-plus-home-run seasons.
The Yankees official site has Stanton starting the season in left field and veteran Brett Gardner slotting in center until Aaron Hicks returns from injury. Judge will remain in right field.
YANKEES OUTFIELDER PROJECTIONS
Brett Gardner (CF/LF)- .255 BA, 10 HR, 35 RBI
Aaron Judge (RF)- .275 BA, 40 HR, 101 RBI
Giancarlo Stanton (OF/DH)- .262 BA, 42 HR, 104 RBI
Aaron Hicks(CF)- .258 BA, 21 HR, 60 RBI
Yankees 2019 Opening Day Preview: Catchers, Infielders
While all eyes are going to be on the Yankees this year, there is going to be a magnifying glass on catcher Gary Sanchez.
The 26-year-old had a nightmare of a 2018 season in which he was a liability both at and behind the plate.
Two years ago, Sanchez held the promise of developing into one of the Yankees’ best all-around hitters when he slashed .278/.345/.531 with 33 home runs and 90 RBI in 122 games in 2017.
The wheels fell off in 2018, which was limited to just 89 games because of injuries.
Defensively, Sanchez allowed an MLB-worst 18 passed balls in just 76 games behind the plate.
Yet his offense was even worse as he slashed just .186/.291/.406 with 18 home runs and 53 RBI. It was a puzzling display in a Yankees lineup that offered Sanchez even more protection compared to the season before.
Giancarlo Stanton joined Aaron Judge as the Bronx’s version of the Bash Brothers while Aaron Hicks, Gleyber Torres, and Didi Gregorius all hit 27 home runs in 2018.
The offseason brought about rumors of the organization being done with Sanchez, his name being included in trade talks in such deals that would have yielded a player like JT Realmuto.
Yet Sanchez is the starting backstop once again in 2019 and will still have high expectations set upon his shoulders. Should he revert to his 2017 form, the Yankees lineup becomes even more imposing.
If the struggles continue, we could be looking at the premature end of Sanchez’s time in New York.
On the infield, the Yankees will start the season with Luke Voit at first base while Greg Bird returns to health. Voit will have the difficult task of replicating his start with the Yankees after being acquired last summer when he hit 14 home runs in just 39 games.
The young Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar remain the future of the Yankees at second and third base. Both bats hold the promise of a home-run output in the mid-20s, though Andujar’s glove remains a major question at the hot corner.
At shortstop, veteran Troy Tulowitzki will get his chance to prove that he can still produce in the majors after the Toronto Blue Jays bought his massive contract out. He will serve as the starter until Didi Gregorius returns from his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Fellow veteran DJ LeMahieu, just three years removed from winning the National League batting title with the Colorado Rockies, will provide the Yankees with a proven offensive presence in the form of a utility infielder.
YANKEES CATCHER, INFIELD PROJECTIONS
Gary Sanchez (C)- .253 BA, 32 HR, 85 RBI
Luke Voit (1B/DH)- .265 BA, 20 HR, 60 RBI
Gleyber Torres (2B)- .272 BA, 26 HR, 84 RBI
Miguel Andujar (3B)- .284 BA, 24 HR, 88 RBI
Troy Tulowitzki (SS)- .242 BA, 12 HR, 40 RBI
Austin Romine (C)- .234 BA, 7 HR, 32 RBI
Greg Bird (1B)- .202 BA, 9 HR, 36 RBI
DJ LeMahieu (2B/DH)- .285 BA, 7 HR, 45 RBI
Didi Gregorius (SS)- .273 BA, 11 HR, 39 RBI
Yankees 2019 Opening Day Preview: Pitchers
There’s no denying that the largest weakness on a 100-win Yankees team last season was its starting pitching.
Luis Severino’s second-half struggles turned him from ace to liability while the depth behind him for most of the season in Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Sonny Gray were inconsistent.
JA Happ provided a solid stopgap for the stretch run after the trade deadline, going undefeated to close out the regular season while in a Yankees uniform. Though his postseason wasn’t nearly as fruitful when he was rocked for five runs in two innings of work in the ALDS against the Red Sox.
It made upgrading the starting rotation a top priority for the Yankees, which they attempted to do this offseason with the acquisition of James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners.
The problem is that Paxton was the lone big name added to the rotation and might not be enough to put the starting rotation over the top as there are plenty of questions surrounding his game.
Entering his seventh MLB season, Paxton has never been an innings eater. In fact, he reached a career-high in innings pitched last year with 160.1 in 28 starts. If the Yankees are expecting Paxton to be a top-two starter, he’ll be entering uncharted territory in terms of his workload.
There also comes questionable control, though it has slightly improved over the last year. After leading the league with 15 wild pitches in 2017, he had eight in 2018. That could be a recipe for disaster with Gary Sanchez behind the plate.
He’s also had a problem giving up home runs, allowing a career-high 23 of them last season. Twelve of them coming at a much more pitcher-friendly park in Safeco Field in Seattle.
As a fly-ball pitcher, Paxton will be in danger during every start at Yankee Stadium. In total, 41.1-percent of balls put in play against Paxton in 2018 were in the air, his worst mark as a pro. Of that number, over 14-percent of those flyballs resulted in home runs.
Now Paxton will be the Yankees ace while Severino heals up from shoulder inflammation that robbed him of a majority of spring training. He joined Sabathia on the injured list to start the season as the veteran southpaw recovers from heart and knee surgery.
Suddenly, the Yankees are looking at the first month of the 2019 season with Tanaka as their No. 2, Happ as their No. 3, and some combination of either Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga, and veteran Gio Gonzalez to round out the staff.
But as shaky as the rotation seems, the Yankees still have the top bullpen in baseball.
New York is stacked with late-inning talents such as Zach Britton, newly-signed Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, currently-injured Dellin Betances, and closer Aroldis Chapman.
The insurance out of the pen will allow the Yankees to piece together short outings for their starters should they show signs of faltering. It also makes the Yankees seemingly unbeatable should they hold a lead late in games.
James Paxton (LHP)- 12-7, 3.43 ERA
Masahiro Tanaka (RHP)- 10-8, 3.89 ERA
JA Happ (LHP)- 13-6, 3.65 ERA
Domingo German (RHP)- 4-7, 4.21 ERA
Luis Cessa (RHP)- 2-6, 4.92 ERA
Jonathan Loaisiga (RHP)- 5-4, 3.99 ERA
CC Sabathia (RHP)- 7-5, 4.12 ERA
Luis Severino (RHP)- 12-5, 3.06 ERA
Aroldis Chapman (Closer): 35 saves, 2.28 ERA
Adam Ottavino: 2.33 ERA, 90 K’s
Zach Britton: 2.13 ERA, 42 K’s
Chad Green: 2.76, 98 K’s
Jonathan Holder: 3.11 ERA, 59 K’s
Tommy Kahnle: 3.03 ERA, 44 K’s
Dellin Betances: 2.08 ERA, 92 K’s
Yankees 2019 Opening Day Preview: Season Prediction
The Yankees will win the AL East with a 99-63 record, defeat the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, but will fall to the Houston Astros in the ALCS.