For Yanks, a winding road that led to October

September 21st, 2020

As the 2020 Yankees assembled for the first time in February, manager Aaron Boone said he saw his roster as one that had knocked on the door of greatness but had yet to break through. Heavily favored for a deep postseason run, no one could have anticipated the twists and turns of the next several months.

Having bolstered their rotation by adding Gerrit Cole and wielding one of the Majors’ most fearsome lineups, the Bombers once again enter October seeking the 28th World Series championship in franchise history, having notched their 28th consecutive winning record (since 1993) and securing their 22nd trip to the postseason in 26 years.

“I think our franchise, probably more so than anyone, is judged on the expectation of a championship,” Boone said. “Since I’ve been here as a player and now as a manager, I think it's always important to appreciate and celebrate success along the way. It's not easy and it shouldn't be taken for granted.”

How they were built:

Amateur Draft: Jonathan Holder, Aaron Judge, Jordan Montgomery, Nick Nelson, Tyler Wade

International signings: Miguel Andújar, Thairo Estrada, Deivi García, Gary Sánchez

Free agents: Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Gerrit Cole, Brett Gardner, J.A. Happ, Kyle Higashioka, DJ LeMahieu, Jonathan Loaisiga, Adam Ottavino, Mike Ford (undrafted FA)

Trades: Albert Abreu, Luis Cessa, Clint Frazier, Chad Green, Ben Heller, Aaron Hicks, Michael King, James Paxton, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Tauchman, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Luke Voit

(Gardner and Higashioka were originally selected by the Yankees in the Amateur Draft.)

Key offseason acquisition: Cole agreed to a nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees in December, fresh off a stellar ’19 campaign in which he paced the Majors with 326 strikeouts, 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a 185 ERA+, leading the AL in ERA (2.50) and FIP (2.64) while finishing second in the AL Cy Young Award balloting.

Managerial decision: Boone has expressed his intent to continue starting Frazier in the outfield, even with the returns of Judge and Stanton from the injured list. Long lauded for what GM Brian Cashman described as “legendary bat speed,” the 26-year-old Frazier has put it all together on both sides of the ball and appears to have a bright future in pinstripes.

Defining season stretch: The Yankees were at their nadir on the evening of Sept. 8 in Buffalo, N.Y., having endured a 5-15 stretch that erased the spoils of a torrid 16-6 start. Cashman gave the club a pep talk, Boone expressed confidence and Voit loudly provided a kick in the rear, a motivational cocktail that spurred a double-digit winning streak.

Breakout player: With Judge and Stanton absent due to injuries, Voit said he felt responsibility to take on a larger role. Has he ever -- the slugging first baseman was the first in the Majors to reach the 20-homer plateau, having used the quarantine to trim about 13 pounds from his frame while increasing strength. Voit legitimately belongs in the conversation for AL MVP.

Calling card: The Bronx Bombers have lived up to their nickname, highlighted by a stunning September sweep of the Blue Jays when they belted 19 home runs over a three-game span, establishing a Major League record. Though Boone credits the starting pitching for the recent turnaround, Stanton was right when he said that no postseason opponent should be eager to face this “scary” lineup.

Memorable moment: The Yankees enjoyed an inning for the ages on Sept. 17 against Toronto, mashing five home runs off right-hander Chase Anderson, including back-to-back-to-back blasts (on three consecutive pitches!) by Gardner, LeMahieu and Voit. After an out, Stanton and Torres slugged back-to-back drives, helping to power a 10-7 victory.