Scott Thompson, SNY.tv | Twitter |
We don't know for certain when the 2020 MLB season will get underway, as everyone's main priority is stopping the coronavirus spread throughout the country.
But when it eventually does, the Yankees have a few players who need to step up big time. Or it could be a lost season.
And it isn't as dramatic as it sounds. A lost season for the Yankees means not reaching the World Series because, well, that's what this stacked roster is more than capable of achieving. These catalysts, x-factors, pivot players -- whatever you want to call them -- are present on the Yankees depsite so much talent on the roster.
So, without further ado, here are five pivot players for the Bombers this season with the most obvious coming in first:
1) Gerrit Cole
Shocker, I know. But the pressure on Cole to perform like the bonafide ace the Yankees paid him $324 million to be rose even more when Luis Severino was lost for the season after needing Tommy John surgery. James Paxton is also out until late May to early June.
So what was supposed to be one of the best three-man combos in a rotation this season has quickly changed for the Yankees. Now it's up to Cole to remain consistent, and while there may be a couple bumps in the road, his overall performance will truly set the tone for New York once the postseason rolls around. Then, that's where Cole will truly need to be the team's catalyst at the top of the rotation.
2) DJ LeMahieu
Some believed LeMahieu would've made this list last season, and he did much more than that as the team's MVP. Through all the injuries the Yankees incurred, LeMahieu provided consistency in the lineup, and he put up career numbers during a 103-win season.
So, with injuries hitting players like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton already, LeMahieu is once again tasked with being that tone-setter at the top of the lineup. Will it be a .327 average with 26 homers and 102 RBI again? Maybe not. But you can bet he'll continue to get on base, and also provide the Yankees with his versatile glove despite being the everyday second baseman.
3) Masahiro Tanaka
Speaking of consistency, this man right here provided it when pitchers were struggling and went down last season. Yes, Tanaka had a shaky second half, but fast forward to the postseason and he was his dominant self once again.
He may not be the ace-like pitcher the Yankees got in 2014, but that's not his role anymore. He is the glue in the middle of the rotation, and depending on what happens with the new start to the season, he is currently slated to be the No. 2 behind Cole.
Tanaka had a 4.45 ERA over 32 appearances last season, with a 2.13 ERA in the postseason.
4) Gary Sanchez
Catching blunders, nagging injuries, and inconsistent at-bats have plagued the Yankees' catcher for the past couple seasons. Last season, he had a .232/.316/.525 slashline with 34 homers and 77 RBI. It was actually a career-high in homers, but the truth is Sanchez isn't really scaring pitchers as he much as he did earlier in his career.
The 2019 postseason is a prime example when Sanchez simply looked overwhelmed by the moment. He had 16 strikeouts in nine games, with an awful 12 in the six ALCS games.
To be the true powerhouse this Yankees team is capable of, Sanchez needs to perform in those high-pressure situations. It makes the lineup that much harder to maneuver. A .176 career postseason average doesn't cut it.
5) Giancarlo Stanton
You could make the argument here for Judge, but Stanton is more of an x-factor because of how badly he wants to have a comeback season in 2020. And that could either work into his achieving that goal -- or missing it completely.
Stanton shouldn't put too much pressure on himself like he did in 2018, especially in the postseason. It only leads to gripping the bat a little too tight and swinging at pitches he shouldn't.
But there is certainly nothing wrong with having a chip on your shoulder, and that's definitely what Stanton will have once he's fully healthy. Like Sanchez, getting him to produce to the point where pitchers are scared to throw anything in the strike zone is the obvious goal.
Stanton is a former MVP for a reason. Keeping him on the field throughout the season will only help the Yankees -- as long as he doesn't stress perfection too much.