New York Yankees: Mediocrity simply will not do

The Yankees are 5-5 and in the first 10 games of the season. It’s time to prove they’re supposed to be one of the best.

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(Photo Credit: Arturo Pardavila III)

Mediocrity, gentlemen, will not do.

A 5-5 start is pedestrian for a team that must swim with the expectations heaped upon their heads. There is no other option. The expectations—both the Yankees’ own and the expectations of pundits across the country—will grow heavier with each passing game. Sinking is out of the question considering last year’s unexpected run to Game 7 of the ALCS. Not only do the 2018 Yankees have to tread water, but they must become the masters of the sea.

Except, at 5-5, their mastery lies only in their own fate. The Houston Astros are 8-2. The Red Sox are 8-1. Yes, a season is neither won nor lost within the first 10 games. Yes, a few timely performances by the Yankees’ bullpen could easily give them an equally impressive record as the defending World Series champions and AL East champs, respectively. 

Except, the Yankees’ stumble out of the has been exasperated by the shockingly pitiful starts to the season by not only key players to the team, but marquee names to all of baseball. Compared to the Astros and Red Sox, the injury bug has been far more unforgiving to the Yankees. But great teams stand in the face of adversity and defy it.

That’s not to say the Yankees’ won’t be a great team in 2018. There are 152 games left in the season, and the Yankees can make some serious headlines beginning in Boston tomorrow for the first head-to-head matchup of the season. Sweep the Red Sox, and the Yankees fandom will be at peace. Get swept by the Red Sox, and the finger will hover over the big red button with ‘PANIC’ written right across it.

But for the Yankees to turn this slow start around, a few things need to change:

They need to get healthy

It took three games for the Yankees’ depth to be put to the test.

It started with the trio of Clint Frazier, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Greg Bird landing on the DL to begin the year. Frazier suffered a concussion in the early days of Spring Training, followed by Ellsbury with a strained oblique shortly after. Bird, who was mired in an unimpressive spring, made it to the last game before the season when he complained about foot discomfort. A bone spur in his ankle—the same ankle operated on in 2017—and subsequent surgery has him sidelined for 6-8 weeks.

Then the season started. Aaron Hicks strains an intercostal muscle after Opening Day. His replacement, Billy McKinney, sprains his shoulder crashing into the outfield wall two games into his big league career. CC Sabathia and Brandon Drury land on the 10-day DL in the same game, an extra-innings affair that also saw Tyler Wade develop flu-like symptoms and Gary Sanchez pulled from the game with a calf cramp.

Now, the Yankees’ bottom half of the lineup is filled with bench players and kids trying to make their mark in the big leagues. New York fans got their wish with Miguel Andújar, whose hot swinging in Spring Training has yet to carry over into the regular season. Ronald Torreyes has made a name for himself by succeeding in whatever role the Yankees’ need him in, much like he did last year. 

All the credit goes to the role players who have provided emergency relief to what appears to be a suddenly fragile and unpredictable team. But for the Yankees to claim AL East supremacy from the surging Red Sox, they need their starters in the lineup every day. Bird isn’t expected back until the beginning of May at the earliest. There is hope Hicks will return by Tuesday’s game against Chris Sale and the Red Sox. Sabathia remains a question mark, and Brandon Drury’s severe migraines and blurred vision—which he’s apparently been hiding for six years—have Yankees’ front office biting their nails.

We’ve seen what happens to a team with a ton of potential plagued by injuries. The Yankees only have to look at their crosstown rival New York Mets to remind themselves of the cautionary tale of the 2017 season.

Stars need to perform

Namely Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez.

The Yankees boasted one of the most powerful lineups in baseball, highlighted by Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius. But only Judge and Gregorius have lived up to the hype. Stanton and Sanchez have looked lost at the plate more times than not.

Stanton, the reigning NL MVP who slugged 59 home runs and 132 RBI, has struck out 20 times in 42 at-bats to go with a .167 batting average. Yes, he has three home runs, but he also has struck out five times in two games in his first homestand as a Yankee. NL MVP or not, the boos are warranted after the second Platinum Sombrero. 

Meanwhile, Sanchez has done little to contribute offensively. If Stanton is amid a slump, what do you call Sanchez’s .067 batting average and .091 on-base percentage? He’s failed to work a walk in 32 at-bats, while only a home run and a double account for his two hits on the year. 

Judge has been dependable with his .289 BA and .438 OBP, and Gregorius would be the team MVP if the season were to end today with .375 average and 10 RBI. But with the Yankees’ lineup suddenly thinned by injuries, the stars need to play like stars. 

And there’d be no better time for Stanton and Sanchez than this week at Fenway.

Final thoughts

The season isn’t lost. The Yankees began the 2017 season at 1-4 and nearly made it to the World Series.

But this Yankees team will be scrutinized by fans and media alike. The expectation to not only make it to the World Series but to win it all will hang over their heads like Damocles’ sword. One misstep and it could plunge down on them in ruin.

It would serve the team best if the turnaround was sooner rather than later. They sit three and a half games out of first place, not an insurmountable number by any means, but Yankees fans have to decide whether the Red Sox 8-1 record stings more than the fact that the Blue Jays sit in second place. 

The baseball season is one arduous odyssey over the course of 162 games. That can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the team.

And it entirely depends on the Yankees and what type of season they want to have.

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