When Aaron Judge surveys the Yankees' chances for this upcoming season, the slugging outfielder sees no reason that his loaded team shouldn't be favored -- not only to reclaim the American League East, but to reach the franchise's first World Series since 2009.
"We’ve seen it all Spring Training,” Judge said. “With this lineup, from the very first pitch, there’s no rest. There’s no break. All the way down, if you’ve got Gary Sánchez or Clint Frazier batting seven, eight, nine -- that’s a scary thought right there. We’re looking forward to keeping everybody healthy and seeing what this lineup can do.”
Scoring runs should be no issue for a lineup that featured batting champion DJ LeMahieu and home run leader Luke Voit last season. The Yankees have been encouraged by a rotation that may be stronger than anticipated, with ace Gerrit Cole joined at the front of the mix by newcomers Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon.
The relief corps figures to offer a variety of looks and speeds to keep opponents off balance, prominently featuring Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Darren O’Day and others.
“Everybody is a little bit different,” Green said. “It’s been proven to work in the past. The more diverse you can be as a bullpen, I think it makes hitters feel uncomfortable. It can only help us and be to our advantage.”
Even the most optimistic observers had to acknowledge significant questions in almost every corner of the rotation, with Kluber, Taillon and Domingo Germán having combined for one big league inning last year.
The right-handers all arrived without signs of rust, bolstering the Bombers’ hopes that they can eat innings throughout the season. A two-time Cy Young Award winner during his time as the Indians’ ace, Kluber has the same intense demeanor and focus that the Yankees hated seeing on trips to Cleveland.
“He looks like he’s on top of his game,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “His ball moves a lot and he’s really good at locating it as well. He looks healthy, which I think is the main thing for him. When he’s on top of his game, he’s one of the best. He’s one of the toughest guys to plan against. We look forward to playing behind him and having him on our side.”
Zack Britton underwent surgery to remove a bone chip and loose bodies from his pitching elbow in February. The left-hander is expected to miss the first three months of the regular season, creating a void in the late-inning mix that leads to Chapman. Boone has said that he envisions innings six through eight as a “fluid situation,” with Green and O’Day among those who will be summoned based upon matchups.
“Somebody is going to get an opportunity now to pitch some important innings for us,” Britton said. “Hopefully they run with it. I'm hopeful that whoever steps into my role is going to do a great job and I can concentrate on getting back with the team. It's going to be a great opportunity for somebody.”
Player who opened eyes
Even Lucas Luetge was surprised by his performance. A non-roster invitee who has not pitched in the Majors since 2015, the left-hander muscled into the bullpen conversation with an impressive strikeout rate. Through Thursday, Luetge had pitched to a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 Grapefruit League innings, registering 16 strikeouts against two walks.
“My spring has gone better than I expected,” Luetge said. “You always want to come in starting off good. I didn’t know it’d be this good with the strikeouts, but I just want to keep it rolling. I’ve been able to throw all my pitches for a strike and my ball is moving a lot right now.”
Giancarlo Stanton destroyed a baseball in a March 10 exhibition against the Pirates, launching a three-run homer that cleared the left-field fence and came to rest near a pond beyond Steinbrenner Field. The blast came off Stanton’s bat at 115.1 mph and traveled 420 feet, as calculated by Statcast.
“I wouldn't want to put a limit on what he's capable of,” Boone said that night. “He's such a more evolved player in his focus, his process, his plan, his understanding of what he needs to do to be successful up there. ... What he was able to do in the postseason, I think that's what he's capable of.”
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“That first year, DJ was a man of few words. Now he’s really open with me. I feel like he’s my older brother. I feel really confident right now playing with him. We have the best conversations. DJ is a really complete player. He just wants to win games.” -- Gleyber Torres, on his budding friendship with LeMahieu