By Peter Ghaly
Since the retirement of New York Yankees great Derek Jeter in 2014, the 27-time World Series champions have, quite frankly, been a shell of themselves.
The Yankees, who for the better part of the last two decades dominated the American League East, missed the playoffs in 2013, 2014 and 2016. While they made an appearance as a Wild Card team in 2015, they were shut out by the Houston Astros in the one-game elimination.
The 2016 season saw some dramatic changes for the Yankees, as franchise cornerstones Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira retired before the end of the year. With the team struggling to win consistently at the time of the trade deadline, the front office decided to buy into the team’s future and trade many core players for young, unproven talent.
However, 2017 has seen a drastic change of fortunes for the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees outperformed all expectations this season, making the postseason and winning the American League Wild Card game, despite being written off as a young, inexperienced team that many predicted would miss the playoffs.The Yankees placed second in MLB in runs scored and paced the league in home runs. Arguably the biggest contributor to their quick turnaround on offense was the play of rookie outfielder Aaron Judge. The 25-year-old Judge, a former top prospect, barely beat out veteran Aaron Hicks for the starting right field spot in Spring Training. However, the 6-foot-7 outfielder became one of baseball’s biggest stories of the season with his spectacular play.
Judge hit 30 home runs in the first half of the season, a Yankees rookie record, while displaying his jaw-dropping power in the Home Run Derby, which he won by a record margin. Despite a prolonged second-half slump, Judge bounced back, hitting 15 home runs in September and powering the Yankees’ late-season playoff push. He finished with 52 home runs on the year, setting the record for most home runs by a rookie in MLB history.
Bounce-back seasons from veterans Didi Gregorius, Hicks, Chase Headley and Brett Gardner also helped bolster an offense led by young stars Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez, who led baseball in home runs and RBI at his position.
The starting rotation, considered the team’s weakness heading into the season, was surprisingly effective. While resident ace Masahiro Tanaka had an up-and-down season, others stepped up. Veteran CC Sabathia was solid, even at age 37, with a 9-0 win-loss record when pitching following a Yankees loss. Twenty-three-year-old Luis Severino emerged as one of the most dominant starters in the American League, posting a 14-6 record with a 2.98 earned run average.
With the team playing above-.500 baseball at the halfway mark of the season, General Manager Brian Cashman decided to buy into the team’s success. He made a trade to acquire relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the Chicago White Sox to bolster a bullpen that already featured Dellin Betances, Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman.
The pieces were finally in place to make a postseason push, and the Yankees delivered. They surged in the second half, with a 46-29 record after the All-Star break. Finally, with a Sep. 23 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, the Bombers secured a playoff spot, returning to the postseason after a one-year hiatus.
Regardless of how their postseason fares, whether it be a Division Series exit or a dogpile on the mound after winning the World Series, the 2017 season will undoubtedly be considered an overwhelming success for the New York Yankees. However their season ends, one thing is for certain: The Bombers are back, and they are here to stay.