“…we are a fully operational Death Star”.
These are the words of Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, from December’s Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. The loose Star Wars quote brought a few different reactions. T-shirts were made, a slogan for a season was born, and for others, it was a bogus remark about a team that seemed to have been choosing to sit out on signing two of the biggest free agents of the decade. To be completely fair though, he wasn’t wrong. Even without the likes of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the team was poised for its second straight hundred win season with a lineup full of star power. Even without the two perennial All-Stars, a lineup that includes Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres is always going to be a good one. Yet, there was a sour taste on Opening Day. Sour for those that wanted to see Machado or Harper cushioned between Judge and Stanton in the lineup. Nonetheless, they weren’t here, and a season had to be played.
You heard the term “Next Man Up” more times than you can count during the 2019 season, and rightfully so. The Yankees dealt with injuries to big players right out of the gate. They were already without Didi Gregorius and Jordan Montgomery, who were recovering from their respective Tommy John surgeries, and very quickly added two others to the IL. SP Luis Severino and RP Dellin Betances, both thought to be short term injuries. As we know, they were far from short. Alas, the Yankees survived without them, as they did with plenty of other star players throughout the 2019 season. With the likes of Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman and Domingo German, the Yankees stayed afloat, and then some. During the dark times of Judge, Stanton, Sanchez and Hicks going on the IL, the team never wavered, and neither did the fans.
At the trade deadline, the Yankees sat at 68-39, first place in the American League East. The July 31st deadline came and went, and Brian Cashman stood pat, deciding not to add a starter. Showing faith in the rotation he had. To the surprise of many, his decision to not add a starter didn’t fault the Yankees. From August 1st through the end of September, the rotation was great. They were in the league’s top 10 in xFIP, SIERA, ERA, WHIP and even top 5 in K%. Although it would have been nice to add a starter, their decision to stay put and go with the rotation that helped them get to 29 games over .500 at the deadline, didn’t hurt. Instead, the team made just one deal before the deadline, acquiring 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, to make an already scary lineup even scarier.
Slowly, the team began to get healthy, adding big piece after big piece. As you know, they won the AL East rather easily, finishing the season a comfortable seven games ahead of the Rays. It wasn’t easy, but they got the job done and were headed back to the playoffs for the 55th time in franchise history.
The Minnesota Twins were the first team on the docket for the Yankees. With the best of 5 series starting off in the Bronx, the Yanks got off to a hot start, winning Game 1 with ease. ‘With ease’ is really the best way to describe how the 2019 ALDS went for the Yankees. They took care of Minnesota in three games, clinching the deciding game at Target Field in Minneapolis. Spirits were high. Once again, the only real worry throughout the regular season, the starting pitching, held its own and then some. The rotation posted a 2.65 ERA throughout the series, to go along with a 1.13 WHIP. It was smooth sailing in the Division Series for the Yanks. They couldn’t celebrate too long however, a familiar foe in the Houston Astros were ready and prepared to knock the Yankees out once again.
The ALCS was an up and down series for each the Yankees and Astros. The Yankees got off to a 1-0 lead, only to fall behind 3-1. With the threat of another elimination on their heels, they beat Justin Verlander and the ‘Stros in Game 5 and sent the series back to Houston. Aaron Hicks’ Game 5 heroics were all for not though, as the Astros finished off the series on a Jose Altuve walk-off home run. A crushing defeat, even more so because of DJ LeMahieu’s game tying 2-run home run in the top of the ninth inning. It all seemed over, then LeMahieu sliced a Robert Osuna fastball over the right field wall. Alas, as I said, it was all for not. Altuve sent an Aroldis Chapman fastball off the facing of the Minute Maid Park facade, and that was it. An incredible season, ended, with one swing of the bat.
The starting rotation was far from the issue for the Yankees in the ALCS. Some would argue it was the struggle to hit with runners in scoring position, others would argue that usual trusted relievers faltered when it mattered most. It’s all moot. The Astros were just the better team, that played a better series. It’s easy to point fingers at certain aspects of the game that could have been done better, but there’s no point. Yankee fans did get a little satisfaction when the Washington Nationals won their first World Series in franchise history, just 11 days later.
I won’t touch on what should be done in the offseason. That will be done by other great writers at this site. I’ll leave you with this. The 2019 New York Yankees were one of the most fun teams of my lifetime, and I, as did every other Yankee fan, wished they could have finished the job. When you read this, Spring Training will be a mere 4 months away, and I for one can’t wait to see what this team has in store for an encore.
I wanted to give out a couple awards at the end of this article, so here we go:
Team MVP: DJ LeMahieu
No, he should not be the AL MVP, and no, he shouldn’t even be considered for the award. However, he was the Yankees MVP. LeMahieu showed poise throughout the entire season. When asked to step up because of injury, or any other situation, he did it without wavering. He slashed .327/.375/.518, and put up 5.4 fWAR, second among MLB second basemen. He was nothing short of amazing in the 2019 season, and despite not being deserving of the league MVP award, deserves some recognition for his contribution to the team.
Team Cy Young: James Paxton
Paxton was nothing short of excellent this year. After coming over in a trade from Seattle last offseason, he showed he could handle the big stage. He won 15 games, put up a 3.68 ERA, along with a 29.8 K%, and a 3.72 xFIP. He wavered at points, but never broke. I for one am excited to see what the future holds for ‘Big Maple’ in the Bronx.
Featured Photo: CBS Sports