Schott: Yankees Answered All Questions To Exceed Expectations

(Neil Miller / Sportsday Wire)

The Yankees have exceeded expectations this season, and on Thursday, they clinched a playoff spot when they beat the Red Sox 4-1. It also was the 10,000th win for the Yankees franchise.

Before the season, they were predicted to miss the playoffs for the third straight season, mainly due to all the unknowns of what they could expect from Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and the piching staff.

Yankees Manager Joe Girardi recently said of their season, “I think you can start in spring training, where there was a lot of question marks in our rotation, the health of our rotation and how we were going to get through that. I think everything surrouding Alex (Rodriguez) – was he going to be productive? We had Tex (Mark Teixeira) coming back from an injury. We just had a lot of stuff going on, and you added all the new pieces to your bullpen. This club has been through a lot. We’ve had some good streaks, had some bad streaks and responded very well.”

Girardi said of the injuries they dealt with during the season, “You lose your first baseman who’s leading your club in RBI and home runs and is amongst the league-leaders; we lose him for the rest of the year. We’ve had to deal with injuries. Every one of our starters has been on the DL. I give those guys a lot of credit for where we are today; how resilient they’ve been and how hard they fought.”

Let’s go through those questions they faced and how they turned out:

What kind of year would they get from Alex Rodriguez after he missed 2014 due to suspension? 

One thing was certain in spring training: this team would be only as good as Alex Rodriguez was playing. As he went, they went.

A-Rod is having one of his vintage seasons, as he is hitting .252 with 33 home runs and 85 RBI, and a .357 on-base percentage.

Rodriguez has given the Yankees more than they could have dreamed of, as he is the same threat he was in their lineup before the suspension. He has the milestones, such as his 3,000th hit and passing Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run list. Rodriguez needed seven to do it, and he has had a few more than that, as he has 687 to Mays’ 660.

One thing Rodriguez deserves a ton of credit for is his leadership, taking young players under his wing and showing that characteristic fiery determination. There is even talk of him being in the running for Comeback Player of the Year.

How would Mark Teixeira bounce back from a disappointing season in 2014? And who else would be over at first base?

Teixeira had a big year. He hit 31 home runs, with 79 RBI, with a .905 on-base plus slugging percentage in 111 games. He also played his usual top-notch defense at first base.

He started to wear down in August, as did Rodriguez, and then he fouled a ball off his leg and was never the same. The injury they thought was a bruise in his right leg turned out to be a fracture.

The Yankees faced a big challenge when he went down with a leg injury in late August and then was ruled out for the season on September 11.

That meant rookie Greg Bird, the first baseman of the future, would have to step up now, in the middle of a pennant race.

Bird delivered, and his biggest moment came when he hit a game-winning three-run homer in the 10th inning at Toronto on September 22nd in a 6-4 Yankees win.

Entering Friday, Bird is hitting .255 (38-for-149) with 11 home runs and 30 RBI in 43 games.

How would Didi Gregorious do replacing Derek Jeter at shortstop?

Gregorious faced a big challenge, as he was replacing a legend and had never played a full season at the major-league level in his time with the Diamondbacks.

He had a tough start to the season, including when he made multiple errors on Opening Day. He was also hitting just .221 through the end of May.

The turning point for Greogrious was June, when he hit .258 and started to look a lot better in the field, with a range far surpassing Jeter’s.

For the season, Gregorious is hitting .263 with nine home runs and 54 RBI and a .317 on-base percentage and is a big part of the Yankees lineup as they head to the playoffs.

The biggest difference between Gregorious and Jeter is that Gregorious hits eighth or ninth in the lineup, while Jeter never gave up the second spot despite having a tough 2014 at the plate. This prevented the Yankees from putting Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury at the top two spots of the order. Garnder and Ellsbury have been a lethal combo, and if they were able to hit 1-2 last season, they probably would have made the playoffs.

How would the bullpen perform, especially Andrew Miller replacing David Robertson?

Andrew Miller, the hard-throwing lefty, has had an amazing year as the Yankees closer, with 36 saves, a 1.91 ERA, and 100 strikeouts.

Miller anchors the “Big Three” in the bullpen, with Dellin Betances and Justin Wilson setting him up.

Betances had a superb rookie season in 2014 and just kept going this season as their primary set-up man. He has just a 1.41 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 83 innings, with nine saves and 29 holds.

Wilson came from the Pirates in the Francisco Cervelli trade, and the lefty has had a strong season. Wilson has proven to be a power arm out of the ‘pen, with 65 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings, and has a WHIP of 1.14, as he allowed 49 hits and 20 walks.

Would Masahiro Tanaka hold up despite a UCL tear in his elbow?

Tanaka went 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 24 starts, while only missing May due to issues with his elbow. He stepped up down the stretch, with a three big starts against the Blue Jays, including a shutout on September 13. Against the Mets on September 18, he suffered a right hamstring strain while running the bases. He had to miss a start and then had a subpar outing against Boston on Wednesday, allowing four runs in five innings.

Tanaka has certainly pitched well enough overall to claim the role of ace, and start the Wild Card Playoff.

How would Nathan Eovaldi do in his first year in pinstripes?

Eovaldi was brought in from the Miami Marlins in the offseason, and he had a superb year, eventually becoming acknowledged to be the Yankees ace.

Eovaldi went 14-3 with a 4.20 ERA in 27 starts before his season ended prematurely when he was diagnosed with elbow inflammation on September 7th.

When the Yankees made the trade with Miami, Cashman took some heat for giving up David Phelps, who became a reliable starter last season.

Cashman was proven right, as he was with a lot of things this season, as Phelps went 4-8 with a 4.50 ERA and his season ended with a broken arm in mid-August.

How would Brian McCann do in his second year with the Yankees?

McCann has had a big year, with 26 home runs and 94 RBI in 133 games. He has shown tremendous leadership, helping to fill the void left by Captain Derek Jeter. Though McCann hit just .234, his on-base percentage is .321 and his slugging percentage is .441.

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