May 25, 2022

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New York fans shouldn’t take Yankees’ success for…

5 min read
New York fans shouldn't take Yankees' success for...

It is April in New York so … 

The Knicks’ scintillating one-year playoff run is over and somehow they are as disappointing as ever

The Giants and Jets will familiarly pick in the top 10 — and this year’s draft is like their Super Bowl (or as close as they get) with each New York team holding two top-10 selections. 

The Mets’ offseason was the dream of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, yet on Opening Night it was Tylor Megill as the first step for a rotation showing its fragility before Pitch 1. Megill pitched well, however, the ominous preseason staff pains were perhaps a reminder that you can take the Wilpons out of Flushing, but you might not be able to take the Mets out of the Mets.

And then there are the Yankees. Yep, if recent October tradition holds, there will be large pitchfork and torch assemblage coming for the jobs of Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone, and lambasting Hal Steinbrenner for not being his father and calls to trade half the roster for Juan Soto. 

But that is for October. 

In April the Yankees promise annually what no other team around here does — at minimum, relevance, and quite often excellence. Every projection system is forecasting at least the high 80s in wins, which would mean a 30th straight year over .500. In the history of North America’s four major sports leagues, only the 39 straight seasons by the 1926-64 Yankees and 32 straight of the 1952-83 Canadiens have had more consecutive winning seasons. 

The Yanks, of course, are measured by championships, not just doing better than 81-81. And they have won only one division title in the last nine years and one World Series this century. 

Aaron Boone
Aaron Boone speaks to the media Thursday ahead of Opening Day.
Robert Sabo

Still, let’s not jump to October so quickly. Let’s appreciate that in the disappointing realm that has become New York sports, the Yankees again will begin a season with a legitimate shot at being the last team standing. As Red Sox manager Alex Cora said, “They are a good baseball team, as always.” 

Boone has labeled this year’s club already better in his view than last year’s at any point. He used the term “more complete.” Gerrit Cole, who will start Friday’s opener against Boston, defined a versatility “to win different type of ballgames.” Caked into that response is the reality that the Yankees had become Sonny Liston in recent years — they could knock you out, but not win a matchup in any other way. Remove their power and the Yanks were featherweights. 

Baseball operations had in recent years arrogantly swatted aside persistent complaints that the team was too righty, too unathletic, too homer dependent and too defensively deprived. Then last year the offense became unplugged and the Yankees streaked wildly between world beaters and beaten by the world. 

The wake-up call led to in-season changes, notably the lefty bats and defense of Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, plus finally accepting that Gleyber Torres is not a regular shortstop. This offseason they removed the soap opera that was Gary Sanchez behind the plate and emphasized defense, defense, defense at catcher, and then at shortstop by adding Isiah Kiner-Falefa. They concentrated in spring on running the bases better and putting the ball in play more. 

Whether offseason philosophy and spring practice holds through the long season begins to get answered on Friday. As Boone said, “Reality is that talk is cheap.” 

Fittingly, the starting point is not just the Yanks’ historic rival, but the team that ended their postseason in one game last year. Then, like now, it will be Nathan Eovaldi vs. Cole. 

Brian Cashman
Brian Cashman
Corey Sipkin

And if the Yankees wanted to take anything out of an erratic and ultimately disappointing 2021, it is that they got to that wild-card game, that they had 92 wins. They really did not play well last year overall. Yet something in the culture, in the organizational DNA — something no other New York team currently has — still had them win nearly 57 percent of their games. 

With all the fan disappointment that neither Carlos Correa nor Freddie Freeman will run out to a position shortly after 1 p.m. Friday, the Yanks still have the kind of talent that has the unbiased projection systems and gambling houses predicting lots of wins. I asked a top analytics executive from a rival what their club projection was for the Yankees. The response: “A really good team.” I asked why. There was a momentary pause designed to make me feel dumb before, “Because they have lots of really good players.” 

We should get a measure of how good pretty quickly. For the first time in the division era (since 1969) four teams won at least 91 games in one division last year in the AL East. All are going for it again in 2022. The Yanks had a losing record last year against each of Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay, going 25-32 in all. They open with seven at home against the Red Sox and Blue Jays, or as Boone said, “We are jumping right in the deep end.” 

Hal Steinbrenner
Hal Steinbrenner
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

They jump in with relatively good health, with signs from spring that the offense that struggled so much last year still has the smash factor but perhaps more diversity and nuance too, with indicators that the defense should be far superior than recent seasons and that the pitching staff — especially the bullpen — is deep. Plus, they still have that winning pedigree, that knowledge how to get through a long season with lots of wins. 

The Yankees are again good enough that they will be judged by high standards. Around the City these days, it is nice to have a team that annually sets the bar in that fashion.