The Yankees, like all major teams, face the prospect of a full season following an aborted 2020 season. It’s simple, punt the regular season.
How do the Yankees transpose a 2020 season in which no one on their pitching staff hurled more than a hundred innings into a regular 2021 season of 162 games over six uninterrupted months – before even considering the impact of that stress entering the postseason?
The Yankees, of course, are not alone in measuring this challenge as teams across the league are trying to anticipate and conquer the challenge.
The “horses” in the league, like Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, Trevor Bauer, etc., are not generally part of the conversation as they ride to the beat of their own drums and are trusted to adjust along the way.
Yankees: Getting More When Less Is Expected
For the Yankees however, the main concern is how to coddle and protect pitchers like Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon, both of whom have essentially been out of action for more than a year.
How many innings (at best) can the Yankees expect from them, together with injury rebounding Jordan Montgomery?
Riding a hope and a prayer is not the usual modus operandi of general manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees. Therefore the hope among Yankees fans is that he knows something we don’t.
Not to be easily dismissed is the cadre of starting pitchers Brian Cashman will deposit at Triple-A Scranton. Deivi Garcia, Michael King, Albert Abreu, and Nick Nelson are all on hand as call-ups to afford an extra day of rest for the headliners.
And maybe that’s why he has not forfeited the stable of young pitchers in the Yankees system to engage in trades that might have yielded, for instance, Blake Snell, who was dealt of financial necessity by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Yankees: Gauging The Competition
But no matter how you shake it out, the Yankees have an advantage few other teams can claim as the 2021 season draws closer.
The Yankees, unlike even the Dodgers who must face the challenge of the upstart San Diego Padres in the NL West, have (okay – arguably) little or no concern for competition in the American League East.
The Toronto Blue Jays, a team without a home (still!), have done their best to add strength to a still-developing lineup by signing George Springer to a multi-year contract. But except for Hyun Jin Ryu, you need to dig deep to find a rotation capable of challenging in the AL East.
After Ryu, it’s up and down Robbie Ray and three days of rain, or serviceable at best starters like Tanner Roark, Ross Stripling, Nate Pearson, and Thomas Hatch. Even in a 60-game season, it’s not likely you would place a bet on this tandem.
If it’s not the Blue Jays who challenge the Yankees in 2021, then who is it? Is it possible the overachieving Tampa Bay Rays overcome the loss of Snell and Charlie Morton to receive the grace of God somehow – again! – in 2021?
Not likely, nor is it likely that the Boston Red Sox will exceed their rebuilding years by two to capture the imagination of baseball.
Yankees: It’s Yours – Don’t Screw It Up
So, that leaves the Yankees with the ability to put the 2021 regular season on cruise control. Not totally, of course, as they will strive to amass as many wins as they can, along with Batting Titles (DJ LeMahieu), Home Run Titles (take your pick – Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton).
Simultaneously, the all-important pitching staff (especially the starters) can be massaged by Aaron Boone and the Yankees front office to meet the bare minimum of needs to enter the postseason with a division win, and therefore an edge in the ensuing competition.
Yankees: Settling For Less To Get More
The Yankees will carry thirteen pitchers, nine regulars, and four bench-players to fulfill their 26-man roster regiment on Opening Day.
Their overall season will hinge on how Aaron Boone and his supporting staff manipulate those thirteen pitchers.
Preserving innings pitched by the starters while not overusing his bullpen – finding the mean – the soft spot – will fill out his report card as manager of the Yankees moving forward.
More than any other, this is a Yankees season destined to be measured by how far they get in the postseason – and most especially whether number 28 is at least challenged for in the World Series.
Be it a curse or not, the Yankees can afford to punt the 2021 regular season for lack of serious competition in their division.
Please make no mistake, though; it’s not the waltz through the regular season that counts. Instead, it’s the preparation and implementation of a season-long plan to put the Yankees’ pitching staff in its best possible position for the postseason.
Yankees: Taking What’s Given And Run To The Finish
It’s not easy to dismiss six months on the baseball calendar, nor is it wise. Anything can happen.
But in a season where strategy among teams is likely to supersede play on the field as teams adjust to a full season of 162-games, the Yankees appear to have the jump on teams in contention in other divisions.
Look beneath the wins and losses as the season progresses – and specifically at the number of innings each of their pitchers is logging (Cole excepted) – because that will reveal the Yankees strategy’s inner working to capture that all-illusive No. 28.