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The Evil Empire Plots to Return to Championship Ways

The New York Yankees have been a successful team despite a flawed roster. But 2021 has them fixing their issues, potentially for good.

Monument Park by Maxim Pierre is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Evil Empire Plots to Return to Championship Ways

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

Whether it’s 2017, 2018, 2019 or 2020, the Yankees have seemingly come THIS close to a World Series appearance only to be shot down in the prime. There’s a reason for that, of course. The Yankees have been the most successful team with a flawed roster of the last few years, but 2021 has them fixing their issues. Potentially for good.

The New York Yankees

2020: Record: 33 – 27

2020 Finish: 2nd in the AL East, 6th in the X League

Surprises in 2020

The Yankees biggest offseason signing has to be DJ LeMaheiu, who inked a 5-year, $90 million dollar deal to stay in pinstripes. The same DJ LeMahieu who two years ago was let go by the Colorado Rockies? The same DJ LeMahieu who was an AL MVP finalist on a team full of guys who’ve been in that same conversation?

That DJ LeMahieu? Yes, that exact one.

One of the most dangerous players at the plate with runners in scoring position last season, the thought that LeMahieu could carry this offense seemed an afterthought. On a team with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Luke Voit, and Giancarlo Stanton? No way. Oh wait, that’s exactly what happened.

Even more wild is the perfect pairing he was with Luke Voit, who hit more home runs in the shortened 2020 season than he did in the entirety of 2019. The Yankees have utilized a questionable offensive strategy for the past few years: get a man on base, and then hit a home run. Without the home run, they found themselves in a bit of a hole.

However, Voit and LeMahieu became the perfect one-two punch. Besides himself, the player a Voit home run drove in more times than any other was DJ LeMahieu. Perfect tandem.

Also, it should be said that Gerrit Cole had a terrific first season in pinstripes. Were it not for three starts in the latter half of the season, he would have been in the AL Cy Young conversation. But then again, with Shane Bieber‘s performance this year, winning it would have been a bit of a stretch.

But what the Yankees wanted by signing Cole came to fruition. Cole’s the Ace of the staff, and delivers consistency every 5 games.

Disappointments in 2020

There’s a lot we can talk about here. We could discuss Giancarlo Stanton’s inability to stay healthy. How about Aaron Judge’s inability to stay healthy? Or there’s always the implosion of James Paxton? Any of those?

Instead, I think we should take a look at Aaron Boone and one specific moment.

Because the fact of the matter is this: The Yankees should have been in the World Series in 2020, and in 2017 for that matter. But this micromanagement from Aaron Boone cost the Yankees big time, and we don’t think it’s talked about enough.

For Game 2 of the ALDS, as the Rays started their Ace and AL Cy Young Candidate Tyler Glasnow. Boone opts to give the ball to Deivi Garcia, deviating from his Wild Card rotation.

The first inning from Garcia is tough, as he gets the first two hitters out before giving up a home run to Randy Arozarena, who might have been the hottest player on the planet aside from Stanton at the time.

It’s a 27-pitch first inning for Garcia, but Boone already has Happ up in the bullpen warming up. But Giancarlo Stanton gets the Yankees back in the game with a solo moonshot off Glasnow, so the game’s now tied. No harm, no foul right?

In the bottom of the second, Boone takes out Garcia in favor of J.A. Happ, and it backfires.

Happ gives up a Joey Wendle single before retiring the next two Rays. However, none of that matters if Mike “I’m hitting below the Mendoza Line” Zunino takes you deep… which he does. Happ gets out of the inning, but the bottom of the third poses similar challenges, Manuel Margot smacks a two-run shot, giving the Rays a 5-1 lead heading into the fourth.

Giancarlo Stanton to the rescue, as he parks a 3-run shot off Glasnow, his second of the game, bringing the Yankees within one. Happ gets into some trouble in the fourth before being lifted in favor of Adam Ottovino, who gets out of the jam he created.

Four innings, three pitchers, five runs.

For the Yankees, Game 2 saw Boone use 6 different pitchers in a 7-4 loss that the offense couldn’t bail them out of. That’s not good management, that’s panic. Those are barely educated guesses.

When the game finished and Boone was asked about the move to pull Garcia in favor of Happ, the Yankee skipper alluded to an “Opener/Long Relief” type of gameplan. Using the Rays’ own medicine against them backfired big time.

“Just ’cause they’re so good at — their roster’s built to take advantage of the platoon advantage,” Boone said after the game. “Felt like I was gonna go to JA pretty early and aggressively, as long as they went with the heavy lefty lineup”, and that was the reason.

“It was a little lineup-based, but he kinda labored a little bit through that first inning. He was on the verge of getting out of it, though, with two strikes on Arozarena when he gets him, clips him. That was the plan all along: We were gonna go short with him, knowing we will have Deivi available later in the series if need be, too.”

Five of the eight lefties in the Rays lineups got on base against Happ in Game 2.

Aaron Boone could’ve just gone for the win and a 2-0 series lead, giving his team three opportunities to close out the series. Instead, he went with a gameplan the Yankees aren’t used to, and gave the Rays the chance to climb back into this ALDS and swing the momentum their way. And that’s exactly what happened.

Looking Ahead to 2021

All of that being said, the Yankees are the favorite to win the AL East. The Rays just sent Cy Young Winner Blake Snell to San Diego, and will have to rely on some magic again to get back to the World Series.

The Yankees, however, are only getting stronger. The signing of Corey Kluber is only the beginning, as Brian Cashman should get another arm before pitchers and catcher report.

The Yankee teams of the past were built on elite pitching in order to win rings. Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, were all brought in during the offseason in pursuit of a championship. That needs to be the recipe again. Gerrit Cole is great, but he’s only one piece.

If the Yankees get another starting pitcher they’ll be a World Series favorite. This team is built so well offensively, but they need help on the other side of the ball.

Projected 2021 Finish: 101-61, 1st in the AL East

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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