NEW YORK — The Yankees think they have the right stuff to end 11 years without a World Series title. Maybe too much right stuff.
New York used right-handed batters for 72% of plate appearances last year, the second-highest percentage in the major leagues behind 72.3% for the Chicago White Sox and up from 71.2% for the Yankees in 2019, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Switching-hitting centre fielder Aaron Hicks projects as the only non-righty bat in New York’s first-choice batting order, now that Clint Frazier has displaced Brett Gardner as the top left-fielder.
“There’s going to be lanes for other managers to navigate with if they have a starter/reliever that is really difficult on right-handers,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “Of course, that’s an area of weakness, the fact that we’re so right-handed and don’t have as much mix and match there. So it’s definitely something that we’re aware of.”
New York lost to eventual AL champion Tampa Bay in a five-game Division Series last year after Aroldis Chapman allowed a go-ahead home run to Mike Brosseau in the eighth inning of Game 5 -- a little more than a month after the closer threw a 101 mph pitch near Brosseau’s head on Sept. 1, resulting in a suspension for the first two games of the 2021 season.
Zack Britton also will be missing at the start of the season, not expected back until between May and summer following surgery to remove a bone chip from the left-hander’s pitching elbow.
A revamped bullpen includes side-arming right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Justin Wilson to join right-hander Chad Green.
Ace Gerrit Cole is joined in the rotation by newcomers Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon along with holdover Jordan Montgomery. Domingo Germán, back from a domestic violence suspension that had sidelined him since September 2019, appeared likely to beat out Deivi García for the No. 5 starter, at least at the season’s start. Luis Severino is expected back in June or July from Tommy John surgery on Feb. 27, 2020.
“The decision for April 1 isn’t the final decision,” manager Aaron Boone said. "I go back to a couple years ago when DJ LeMahieu wasn’t in the starting lineup on opening day. I knew he was going to play pretty much every day, but it’s like somebody’s got to sit on opening day and that’s the story, but it’s a long season. And I just feel really good about where all our starters or -- slash guys who give us length -- I feel like we’re in a pretty good spot with them right now, and we’re going to need them all.”
A roster devoid of rookies expected to play significant roles includes a batting order virtually unchanged from last year, when right fielder Aaron Judge and designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton were hurt again for major stretches. New York expects a rebound from catcher Gary Sánchez, who hit a career-worst .147 and was benched in favour of Kyle Higashioka for four of five Division Series games.
New York went 33-27 in the pandemic-shortened season, seven games behind the Rays. The Yankees were 22-9 at home but 11-18 on the road.
“Talk is always cheap, obviously, at this point,” Boone said. “But I really like the winter that we’ve had, with some of the additions we’ve made that I think are going to be impactful, to go along with already the makeup of this team that is of championship calibre .”
Masahiro Tanaka signed with Rakuten in Japan’s Pacific League, James Paxton with Seattle and J.A. Happ with Minnesota. That created room for Kluber, who has pitched one inning since May 2019 after being hit on the right forearm by a comebacker and then tearing a muscle in his right shoulder in his Texas debut last July 26, and Taillon, out since May 2019 while recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. Jay Bruce, a rare lefty bat, was trying to earn a job over Michael Tauchman as a backup outfielder and first baseman.
New York’s 2020 season included a 16-6 start followed by a 5-15 slide, a 10-game winning streak and six losses in the last eight games.
ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL
A long-ball dependent offence scored 156 of 315 runs on homers.
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