Murti: 10 Keys To Yankees Winning World Series This Season

Sweeny Murti
March 27, 2019 - 11:45 am
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It’s time to make this count.

This has nothing to do with losing to the Red Sox last year, and it has nothing to do with the Red Sox leading the Yankees 4-1 in the rings department over the last 15 years.

It has everything to do with the fact that the Yankees are finally in position to do what they haven’t done in a long time.

The Yankees haven’t won a division title in seven years, a pennant or a World Series in 10 years. The rebuild has been happening since the night Derek Jeter broke his ankle in the 2012 ALCS, and the Yankees have been looking up since. They’ve won one playoff series since Jeter retired.

Here are 10 keys to the Yankees winning it all in 2019:

JUDGE-MENT DAY

Aaron Judge is the guy who makes this team go. In the last two seasons, the Yankees are 159-100 when Judge starts, and 32-33 when he doesn’t. If there was anyone in spring training who looked like he was ready for the season to start, it was Judge, who batted .324 with 11 extra-base hits and eight walks. That equaled an OPS of 1.417. 

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I asked Judge one day late in spring training -- after one of his six home runs -- if he wished he was able to save a few of these for the season. He just flashed that sheepish grin with a shake of his head, unable to come up with a good explanation for how good he felt at the plate and what it might mean for him to get off to a good start when the games begin for real Thursday.

THE SECOND ACT OF STANTON

It’s Judge’s team, but so many more are part of the ride. Giancarlo Stanton looked like a different person this spring. There was an ease in his manor, no longer the freakish center of attention that he was a year ago. I don’t know whether that will translate directly to more production, but the comfort level of the second year is what so many people believe brings out the best in the stars who come to New York.

MAX PAX

James Paxton is the new guy who has the potential to have the biggest impact. He was brought here to be the No. 2 starter. Even though Masahiro Tanaka is the Opening Day starter in the wake of the spring injury to Luis Severino, Paxton is the one who is being counted on for top-of-the-rotation dominance. He did nothing to diminish that notion during exhibition play. 

James Paxton
USA TODAY Images

Granted, that means very little. I can still recall my bravado in telling Mike and the Mad Dog how good Jeff Weaver looked in the spring of 2003 and how dominant he was going to be. So I take the spring numbers with a grain of salt. But here I am again going out on a limb with Paxton.

RETURN OF THE KRAKEN

Gary Sanchez showed improved athleticism and agility behind the plate this spring. The Yankees' coaches were all encouraged by his look in exhibition play. It’s up to Sanchez now to make it last for six more months. He will have bad games, he will have passed balls, he will have slumps. But if he looks closer to his 2017 version than the 2018 version, then the Yankees bet wisely on him.

It’s Judge and Sanchez who make this lineup run. For all their record-setting firepower a year ago, the missing ingredient was getting those two players healthy and hot at the same time. It never happened. If it does, watch out.

TULOGORIUS

This is essentially what the Yankees are hoping for from the shortstop position -- a good half season from two players. They gambled with Troy Tulowitzki, who hasn’t played a real game since July 2017. He showed flashes of his old self on both offense and defense this spring. Now it’s on to the real test.

Didi Gregorius has given the Yankees everything they could have hoped for and more in the last four seasons. His recovery from Tommy John surgery is expected to bring him back anywhere from June to August. Not a lot of time for a free agent-to-be to show he’s all the way back, but that’s what it will have to be.

There is a great deal of unknown with both of these guys, so keep your fingers crossed.

NEXT-LEVEL SEVY

Severino’s recent history isn’t good. His dominant first half of 2018 disappeared in a whirl of fatigue, pitch tipping and shoulder inflammation that now has him on the injured list for the first month of the season.

Every team gets hit with injuries to their rotation, even to their ace. The Yankees gave Severino a four-year, $40 million contract that was meant to show their faith in him and give the 25-year-old right-hander the peace of mind to go back to work and do what he’s capable of. 

Last June after Severino threw seven shutout innings in Philadelphia, folks around the Phillies told me that was the most dominant performance they’d seen in a long time -- and they are in the same division with Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. That’s the guy the Yankees need to see again. 

HEALTHY HICKS

Aaron Hicks didn’t completely shake the injury bug a year ago but still played in a career-high 137 games, hit 27 homers and turned in a 4.7 WAR. He hit his peak at age 28, and the Yankees rewarded him with a seven-year, $70 million contract extension. 

Then Hicks got hurt. Again.

Aaron Hicks hits a two run home run against the Washington Nationals in the fifth inning at Nationals Park.
USA Today Sports Images

There is hope that his back issues have finally cleared up, but it’s going to cost Hicks perhaps the first two to three weeks of the season, after which he will be counted on to be the two-way threat he was last season.

There are days and weeks when Hicks looks like Bernie Williams. But Bernie had months and years like that, not just days and weeks.

SUPER SOPHS

Infielders Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are no longer the surprise rookies. They need to show consistency and improvement, proving they are part of the long-term core.

Torres has a lot on his plate, having to split time between second base and shortstop while Didi recovers. Andujar, the Yankees' third baseman, is a gifted hitter who needs to make the improvements on defense that the Yankees have been harping on since last year. 

They will both bat in the bottom half of the order if things go well, so they won’t carry the same pressure as some of the others in the lineup.  But with a championship on the line they can’t have letdowns or sophomore slumps.

BETTING ON BETANCES

While extensions are being handed out like candy, Dellin Betances enters his walk year and starts on the injured list while trying to find the extra five to eight miles per hour on his fastball that went missing in March.

Betances has been a consistent performer in a bullpen that’s been a team strength every one of his five full seasons. Whether he can cash in as a free agent after the season is another matter, but in order to do that, he needs to bring back the dominant fastball and knee-buckling curve.

Betances has year in and year out been a team MVP.  Even with other golden arms such as Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, and Chad Green, the Yankees need Betances to return and do his thing again.

BOONE’S TIME

Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, Ralph Houk, Billy Martin, Joe Torre, Joe Girardi -- together these managers have accounted for 23 of the Yankees' 28 world championships. And they all won their first one by their second full season at the helm.

Aaron Boone had a good first season, but we all know what kind of season gets called great around here. The talent on the field is the biggest part of the equation, but Boone’s demeanor in the dugout and in the clubhouse on a daily basis will set the tone. 

Pitching decisions always come under scrutiny. Boone’s slow hook in the Division Series might not have cost the Yankees the series -- remember, the Red Sox were historically good. But he didn’t help, either, so how Boone matures in his second year as manager will also have a big impact on where the roads lead come October.

Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN