When one thinks of the 2017 New York Yankees, they usually picture all the young talent on the team. Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and more are the both the present and the future of the team. However, it hasn’t been the kids that have provided the biggest spark to the Yankee lineup this season (Judge notwithstanding).
Rather, the renaissance of several key Yankee veterans has been a principal reason for why the team has rattled off an 8-game win streak. Guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley, CC Sabathia, Matt Holliday, and Starlin Castro have done more for the team than their younger teammates, and the result has been a winning product on the field.
Let’s start with the top of the order. Brett Gardner hasn’t hit much to start the season, but he has stolen five bases and looks reinvigorated on the basepaths. His counterpart Ellsbury has looked even better, both with the bat and between the bases. Ellsbury has even batted cleanup and fifth on the young season, a benefit of his improved power production. Gardner and Ellsbury have started off other seasons looking good only to fade into the summer. But with a Joe Girardi-mandated goal of 100 runs scored set forth for each player, you can be sure that the Yankee speedsters will keep looking for ways to set the table for the Yankee sluggers.
And as for those sluggers? No, it hasn’t been Sanchez and Bird driving runners home. Rather, it’s been veterans Holliday, Castro, and particularly Headley. Holliday came to the Bronx with a reputation for slugging, but had been injury-prone in recent years. So far though, Holliday has mostly stayed fresh as a designated hitter, and the results have been fun to watch. Holliday has world-class power, and is getting on base at a .404 clip. Castro has gotten hits in 9 out of his last 10 games, including 2 home runs. His development as a middle-of-the-order run producer has been a pleasant progression for the 27-year-old middle infielder.
Castro’s double play partners are also getting the job done. Light-hitting substitute shortstop Ronald Torreyes has 10 RBI on the season, and Chase Headley is second in the American League in average with a .395 clip. After many seasons of slow starts, Headley has gotten off to an All-Star start this year.
In fact, all of this allows the Yankees to lengthen their lineup. The Yankees of years past would get little production from the lineup after the cleanup batter, but the 2017 Yankees are able to score in any inning. These players will inevitably begin to slump soon, but when they do, hopefully Bird can get things going again and Sanchez and Didi Gregorius will be healthy again. The Yankees could’ve crumbled after their big guns failed to produce, but their other weapons have picked up the slack in their stead.
But the Yankees’ biggest question mark was supposed to be on the mound this season, as the young rotation set sail sink or swim. Instead though, the pitchers have been a bright spot, keeping the Yankees in games. Ironically, the worst pitcher on the club has been ace Masahiro Tanaka, but much like Bird and Sanchez, his history tells us that he will bounce back, possibly right when the rest of the rotation is struggling.
Luis Severino has been inconsistent and Jordan Montgomery is still an unknown, but the other starters have stepped up big time. CC Sabathia has continued to turn back the clock, and Michael Pineda has flirted with perfection while firing strikeouts left and right. While Pineda has a reputation for being wildly inconsistent over his career, maybe the fact that he’s pitching in a contract year will help him regain some focus.
On the other hand, Sabathia’s re-emergence has been better than the Yankees could have ever expected. After two-plus years of mediocrity, Sabathia learned how to pitch with diminished velocity, and he completely reinvented himself on the mound. Two years later, the Yankees simply cannot open up next season without Sabathia in the rotation, a thought that seemed highly unlikely back in 2015.
The Yankees are as close to a complete team right now as they ever will be. When their big stars are struggling, their teammates have been right there to pick them up. It is still remarkably early in the season, but it’s hard not to see the Yankees as a playoff team given the way they’ve kicked off the season, even without some of their best players at full strength.