Sports

Klein ’20: Why the Yankees should be considered World Series favorites

By
Sports Columnist
Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Houston Astros won a thrilling, seven-game World Series last October. The victory made for a nice underdog story, as a team without a single championship in its history defeated the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers. But now as spring training commences, all is not harmonious and joyful in the baseball universe. The Evil Empire in New York is back. The Yankees are loaded from the top to the bottom of their roster and boast the best pair of sluggers — Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton — since David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez starred in Boston. Not only that, the Bronx Bombers aren’t even that evil, not with Judge’s sheepish grin leading the team out onto the field. The Yankees are almost unfairly good and fun. The other 29 teams better look out.

New York’s depth chart reads like a creation on franchise mode in MLB The Show. By acquiring Stanton in the offseason, the Bombers now possess the only player in the league who hit more home runs than Judge’s 52. Stanton slammed 59 round-trippers last year, tying the ninth-highest total ever in a single season. The only players who surpassed Stanton’s mark were Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Maris and Babe Ruth. And three of those players were on steroids. Judge, meanwhile, tied the 20th-highest total for homers in one season as a rookie. Stanton and Judge combined for 111 home runs, 246 runs batted in and 15.7 wins above replacement. Yikes.

And the rest of the Yankees are good too. Lost in all the Stanton excitement is catcher Gary Sanchez, who collected 33 home runs and 90 RBIs last season. He’s an All-Star player and a dark horse MVP candidate. Shortstop Didi Gregorius hit 25 home runs and 87 RBIs. Outfielder Brett Gardner added 21 home runs and 64 RBI (and 23 stolen bases). It’s difficult to perceive any real weakness in New York’s offense. Even if pitchers are able to escape the Judge-Stanton nightmare, the rest of the lineup is no joke.

New York is solid in pitching too and will surely be in the running for an in-season trade. Luis Severino broke out in 2017 at age 23 with 230 strikeouts, a 2.98 earned runs average and 1.04 walks and hits per innings pitched. Masahiro Tanaka bounced back from a rough regular season to dominate in the playoffs, allowing only 10 hits, three walks and two earned runs in 20 innings. Sonny Gray looked closer to his Oakland self in 2017 — he should only improve from here on out. C.C. Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery round out the rotation. The bullpen is also overpowering. Between David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees should be able to close out games with no problems. Chapman and Betances suffered through brutal stretches last season, and the bullpen was still plenty threatening. There is no reason that New York’s relievers cannot perform at a more consistent level in 2018.

There are plenty of other fanbases that would be eager to contest the claim of New York’s dominance, but to put it simply, none of the other teams in the league can match the Yankees.

What about the rival Boston Red Sox, who just signed slugging free agent J.D. Martinez? Boston certainly has a talented team on paper, but something is not clicking in the clubhouse. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts both talked about the need for an attitude adjustment. David Price caused a variety of internal issues last season, namely accosting Red Sox broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley on a team plane. Price needs to show that he is worth his massive contract if Boston hopes for playoff success. That doesn’t seem likely the way things have gone so far.

Another World Series contender, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a terrific all-around team but lack the punch of a Judge-Stanton pairing. First baseman Cody Bellinger struggled in the playoffs after hitting 39 home runs in his rookie year — he must make an adjustment heading into 2018. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. However, he still has not put it all together in the postseason, with a 4.35 ERA in 122 playoff innings. The lefty will have to step up if Los Angeles faces New York in the World Series.

As a Cubs fan, I’d love to write that the addition of pitcher Yu Darvish pushes Chicago into contention with New York. It isn’t true though. The Cubbies still fall short among the league’s best. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are special, but there are too many disappointments on this roster. Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist all underperformed last year. The Cubs could really use improvements from those players this season, but Heyward is already a lost cause offensively at this point, and Zobrist is yet another year older. Chicago is not quite back at the top.

The Houston Astros are the Yankees’ biggest threat. Between Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and others, the Astros are just as good as the Yankees on offense. Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel are stars at the top of Houston’s starting rotation. The bullpen does not have as much potential to dominate as New York’s, but still held off the Dodgers enough in the World Series when it mattered most. The fact remains though that in recent times, repeating a championship has proven too daunting a challenge for top teams. The Cubs looked ready to win for the foreseeable future after 2016 but fell off dramatically the following season. The Kansas City Royals dropped out of the postseason altogether. The San Francisco Giants declined precipitously over the next couple of years after 2014. The Astros will have to stay away from the championship hangover, which is easier said than done. The Yankees, meanwhile, are coming in after missing the World Series by one game, with everything still left to play for. My money is on the hungrier team.

 

George Klein can be reached at george_klein@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.