- The New York Yankees are back in the playoffs. Here is what you need to know about the Evil Empire before the playoffs begin.
Case For: The Yankees lost Aaron Judge, last year’s AL MVP runner-up, for six weeks to a broken right wrist; then they lost slugging shortstop Didi Gregorius for two weeks and then five days to right-wrist and left-heel injuries, respectively; after that, they weathered a season in which catcher Gary Sánchez hit .186 and led the league with 18 passed balls in only 75 games behind the plate; then they watched as last year’s deadline splash Sonny Gray struggled so profoundly he had to be demoted to the bullpen. Throughout this, they somehow won 100 games. Judge is back. Gregorius is back. Sánchez continues to be something of a liability defensively, but the Yankees insist he gives them their best chance to win. And Gray has the potential to be a weapon out of the bullpen.
Speaking of which, if ever a team was built for the modern October game, this might be it. New York employs at least four dominant relievers—Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson and Zach Britton—any of whom could be counted on in a save situation. As a group the bullpen has produced 9.8 Fangraphs WAR this season, the most in history. Its 11.38 K/9 is also best of all time. The offense’s 266 home runs were most ever, too. In short, if this is an especially 2018 postseason, one of the most 2018 teams of all time should be well positioned.
Case Against: This team couldn’t even win its own division and that some of those aforementioned injuries may linger. Sánchez’s defensive problems could become magnified in the do-or-die postseason. But mostly the AL field is just dramatically deeper than the NL’s; just to make the World Series the Yankees will have to navigate the A’s (97 wins), the Red Sox (108) and either the Astros (103) or the Indians (91). (The Cubs and Brewers share the NL’s best total, 95.) It’s boring, but if the Yankees fall short, that will probably be why: A very good team will have run into another very good team.
X-Factor: In parts of two seasons before the Yankees got him from the Cardinals at the deadline for nothing in particular, first baseman Luke Voit did little worth mentioning. He slashed .240/.307/.432—good for a .739 OPS and a 93 OPS+. He hit five home runs in 70 games. He struck out nearly four times as often as he walked. So naturally he joined Aaron Small and Shawn Chacón on the long list of castoffs who inexplicably and infuriatingly arrive in New York and play like All-Stars. Since the trade, Voit has a .328/.403/.672 slash line, a 1.075 OPS, a 181 OPS+, 13 home runs in 38 games, a 2.47 K/BB ratio and his own web store. (The Louis Voiton shirt alone makes him one of the most delightful players in the playoff field.) Chacón’s magic lasted into the postseason. Small’s didn’t. If Voit’s does, a lineup with a few holes suddenly looks much deeper.
Why You Should Root For: I know. You’re not a monster; there’s nothing I can say here that would make you root for the Yankees to win the World Series. I grew up in Boston. I get it. But hear me out: What is the second best part of sports, after loving your own team? Hating another team. And the Yankees are the perfect target for that hatred … usually. Fact is, these Yankees just haven’t been very hateable of late. How can you begrudge aw-shucks, gap-toothed Aaron Judge his rockets to all fields? And Didi Gregorius, the knighted artist who speaks four languages between delivering web gems and clutch hits? Giancarlo Stanton has the stature, the power and the contract to serve as heel, but after a career spent languishing with the Marlins, it’s hard to resent him now that he’s tasting success. CC Sabathia is so respected that when he hit the Rays’ Jesús Sucre with a pitch last week, costing himself a $500,000 innings bonus to protect a teammate, even the Rays praised him. This is a catastrophe. We turned our heads and this team turned fun. The best way for them to fix that is to win a few titles and start being nasty about it. If you can’t bring yourself to root for that, at least root for them to lose in the World Series.
Most Famous Fan: Unfortunately, it’s probably Donald Trump. (On the bright side, that brings us one step closer to our goal of making this team hateable again.)
Fun Fact: The Yankees have not won the World Series in nine years. There are third-graders who think this franchise is a disappointment.