How they got there: Yanks never lost faith

October 5th, 2021

aptly described the Yankees’ 2021 campaign as “a roller coaster,” a 162-game sequence of gleeful celebrations and agonizing gut punches. Like any amusement-park ride worth the price of admission, there were dizzying twists and turns, but they have returned to the intended destination: the postseason.

The Yankees’ stated objective was to run away with the American League East, but their inconsistent play and the Rays’ strong performance left them to settle for an AL Wild Card spot. It’s a place they’ve been before, and manager Aaron Boone said that even in the club’s darkest days, they truly believed that they would find a way to keep playing into October.

“Even in the valleys when we’ve struggled, I’ve always felt like this is a confident group,” Boone said. “This group feels like they’re capable of special things. We’ve been playing meaningful games now for a couple of months as we’ve turned this around.”

How they were built
Amateur Draft:
OF Brett Gardner, C Kyle Higashioka, OF Aaron Judge, LHP Jordan Montgomery, IF/OF Tyler Wade.
International signings: RHP Domingo Germán, C Gary Sánchez, RHP Luis Severino.
Free agents: LHP Aroldis Chapman, RHP Gerrit Cole, LHP Nestor Cortes, RHP Corey Kluber, IF DJ LeMahieu, LHP Lucas Luetge, RHP Jameson Taillon.
Trades: RHP Albert Abreu, RHP Chad Green, RHP Clay Holmes, OF Joey Gallo, RHP Michael King, IF Rougned Odor, LHP Wandy Peralta, 1B Anthony Rizzo, LHP Joely Rodríguez, OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton, IF Gleyber Torres, IF Gio Urshela.

Key acquisition: 1B Anthony Rizzo
The Yankees scooped up Rizzo, a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove Award winner, in a July trade with the Cubs. Rizzo’s arrival added left-handed balance and a patient presence to the Bombers’ lineup. The 32-year-old has helped to solidify first base in a year when Luke Voit was unable to remain healthy and the now-retired Jay Bruce was the Opening Day first baseman.

Managerial decision: Moving Gleyber Torres to second base
Torres struggled to find a comfort zone at shortstop, though to his credit, he worked frequently at the position with infield coach Carlos Mendoza. Boone entertained the idea of moving Torres off shortstop earlier in the season, but it took a September swoon for the manager to push that button. Reasoning that a return to second base would take pressure off Torres, the 24-year-old responded with one of his best offensive stretches of the season. Urshela has been capable in a fill-in role, though the Yanks may seek a new shortstop in free agency.

Breakout player: LHP Nestor Cortes
The mustachioed Cortes has become the folk hero of the Yankees’ postseason push, one of the driving forces behind the team’s adoption of a pet turtle named Bronxie and his image emblazoned on a T-shirt depicting him as Mario from the Nintendo classics. Cortes has unlocked his potential this year, keeping opponents off-balance with a dizzying array of offspeed pitches and funky deliveries. Cortes could start or relieve in the postseason, using his unique skills to limit hard contact and soak up important outs in long relief.

Calling card: Power
Ruth and Gehrig, Mantle and Maris, Judge and Stanton. Power is deeply embedded within the Yankees’ DNA, and this season finally presented an opportunity to see what Judge and Stanton could do in the batting order if both remained healthy. Judge was the club’s most consistent performer from wire to wire, and Stanton caught fire in September, blasting four homers with 13 RBIs over a four-game span. Both should receive AL MVP Award consideration, and more importantly, they can carry the team if they continue slugging through October.

Memorable moment: Corey Kluber’s no-hitter
A two-time Cy Young Award winner during his time with Cleveland, there were valid questions about how much Kluber had left in the tank, having been limited to one inning last year due to injuries. Kluber put it all together on May 19, no-hitting the Rangers in Texas. Kluber walked one and struck out nine in the 101-pitch performance, though he landed on the injured list after his subsequent start with a strained right shoulder that would keep him out until August.