Russell: How The Yankees Got To The Playoffs

It’s the final day of the regular season. In his pre-game press conference, Joe Girardi said that he may have some fun with this game, maybe use a player-manager. And the skipper pointed out that he didn’t work on as many charts as he usually does, which was fun for him.

Before the Yankees finish the regular season, it’s worth looking back to see how they surprised many pundits to make the postseason.

The season began in Tampa Bay with the Rays knocking around Masahiro Tanaka. Pete Kozma was the shortstop and he was pinch-hit for by Chris Carter. Aaron Judge was batting seventh.

The Yankees began 1-4 and put Gary Sanchez on the Disabled List. But then the Yankees won eight games in a row.
In late April, the Yankees erased a 9-1 deficit and beat the Orioles 14-11 on Matt Holliday’s walk-off homer.

One week later, Brett Gardner hit a two-out, two-strike, three-run homer in the ninth to give the Yankees a 3-2 win at Wrigley. New York would sweep the defending champions, finishing the series with an 18-inning win on Sunday Night Baseball.

After beating the Angels on June 12, the Yankees were 38-23. Then came a seven-game losing streak, with four losses by one run.

The team was 44-40 when Clint Frazier hit a three-run homer in the ninth to beat Milwaukee in early July. A week later, Holliday homered off Craig Kimbrel to tie Boston in the ninth at Fenway, as the Yankees would go on to win in 16 innings.

The team took three games from Tampa Bay in late July, including two walk-off hits off the bat of Brett Gardner.
A four-game sweep of the Mets in mid-August seemed to get the team back on track after some struggles.

The Indians took three straight in the Bronx, but the Yankees have gone 21-8 since then.

There have been many contributors. Obviously there is Aaron Judge and his 52 home runs. The slugger will win AL Rookie of the Year and be an MVP contender.

Gary Sanchez has hit 33 home runs, showing 2016 was not some rookie fluke.

Didi Gregorius has set the single-season home run record for a Yankee shortstop. His 25 homers surpassed Derek Jeter’s career-high of 24 in 1999.

Starlin Castro was named to the All-Star team although injuries kept him from playing.

Brett Gardner hit 20 home runs, several of which came in key situations. Aaron Hicks has set career-highs in home runs and RBI, despite lengthy stints on the DL. And Jacoby Ellsbury has had a hot bat in September, hitting .337 and scored 21 runs in 27 games. Chase Headley struggled early on, but has played much better since moving to first. He got some power back, hitting eight home runs in his last 53 games after hitting four in his first 93.

And then there’s the pitching. Luis Severino went from struggling as a starter in 2016 to an All-Star, the ace of the staff, and the starter in Tuesday’s Wild Card Game.

Joe Girardi said he knew if CC Sabathia could stay healthy, the veteran lefty would contribute. Sabathia went 14-5, and was a stopper for the Bombers. Jordan Montgomery entered his final start with nine wins, an impressive season for a rookie southpaw who surprised many by earning a spot in the rotation with a strong spring.

Masahiro Tanaka struggled at times but improved as the season went along, finishing 13-12.

Aroldis Chapman returned, pitched well, then struggled mightily, and then got his groove back again. Dellin Betances was an All-Star again, impressive for a pitcher who spent most of this season, and the past few, as a set-up man.

Don’t forget Tyler Clippard, who was excellent early in the season. When he struggled over the summer, the team sent him to the White Sox for David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle.

And Chad Green’s contribution can’t be overlooked, as the righty has struck out 103 batters in 69 innings as a valuable weapon for Joe Girardi. Green is 5-0 with a 1.83 ERA.

David Robertson is 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA in 30 appearances since being re-acquired in July.

Brian Cashman turned over 20 percent of the roster in July as the team decided to go for it. Sonny Gray came from Oakland. Jaime Garcia from Minnesota. And the trio from the White Sox acquired in the Clippard deal.

Joe Girardi said he thought he had a good team and meant it, even if few people outside the Bronx agreed.

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