While this story could wrap up in about five seconds and contain only the words, “They’re beating bad teams, they’re beating good teams, and they’re consistently winning baseball games,” the 2022 New York Yankees‘ hard work to differentiate themselves from their predecessors deserves a deeper dive.
2021 would’ve been a watershed season for most MLB franchises, but once you look under the hood, it stands as a black mark on the Yankees’ recent record. After all, 2020 was supposed to be the year, with Gerrit Cole finally atop the rotation. Instead, 100 regular season games were stolen, the Yanks never gelled, and the Rays ultimately won a five-game ALDS that took place entirely in an empty ballpark in San Diego.
Expectations were notably high for a return to normalcy in 2021, and yet … regression across the board greeted Yankee fans during a 162-game season where 98% of the games felt like hanging on for dear life. Nobody got better. Everybody got worse. The team’s 92-70 record featured at least eight unconscionable bullpen losses, and yet the metrics claim the Yankees actually got lucky; their pythagorean record was just 86-76.
They were terrible. They should’ve been worse. And the experience was particularly grating because of how close every game was. When the starting pitching worked, the offense faltered. When they offense smashed, the starters bailed early. When the bullpen was handled a three-run lead, the game was a coin flip.
After a 7-6 start to 2022 that felt devastatingly familiar, in both record and roller-coaster vibe, the Yankees have turned this season around by doing the two things they couldn’t in 2021: winning blowouts, and pushing starters deep into games (because they’re dominating).
Tuesday’s 9-1 series opener against the Angels was a perfect example of something that’s no longer an outlier, and is essential to a team’s long-term health.
Yankees winning blowouts in 2022, absorbing amazing starts
Stop me if you’ve heard this, but the Yankees don’t exactly have a deep bullpen at the moment. Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loaisiga both got off to shaky starts to 2022, and are now on the shelf. Say what you want about Chad Green, but his high-leverage struggles came in part because he was trusted to handle high-leverage innings, a role that will now go to untested prospects like Clarke Schmidt and Ron Marinaccio.
The fewer 2022 games that come down to the stretched-thin bullpen, the better. Occasionally, a really good team has to punish its opponents, allowing Miguel Castro and David McKay to finish off an easy victory (we’ll ignore Clay Holmes warming up … for now …).
This applies to losses, as well; at some point, an unfortunate blowout will give the ‘pen an extra breather. But that’s no fun to talk about. Losses suck. For now, the Bombers have to keep their feet on the gas pedal and control as many victories as they can from start to finish.
That task will be easier, in large part, due to their stunning rotation (though ex-Marlins president David Samson might think otherwise). Snake-bitten Jordan Montgomery dominated the Angels on Tuesday night, marking the Yankees’ ninth start of seven or more innings out of the team’s first 49 games. Over the first two weeks of the season, featuring countless 4-to-5-inning starts, did that seem possible?
There are four months left on the clock, but the 2022 Yankees are fundamentally different than the team that preceded them, ready to absorb struggles from Joey Gallo and Aaron Hicks because of pitching, defense, and a usually-relentless offensive attack that transcends personnel.
They may have stretches of weakness, but as long as the starters are going deep and the offense keeps the pressure on, things should eventually normalize again. Remember trusting the Yankees? An incredible feeling.