Scott Thompson, SNY.tv | Twitter |
As the new season rolls around, Yankees legend Tino Martinez will find himself at yet another World Series reunion. It was 20 years ago the Yankees swept the Braves to capture the third championship of the four they collected in five years, as the dynasty was in full form.
Martinez, along with his former teammates, had a reunion last season for their '98 title. And as one would expect, they never get old.
"No, they're great. They're great reunions," Martinez told SNY during the Pepsi Zero Sugar "Judge for Yourself" campaign that transformed Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall into the "Judge's Chambers" where fans could try to match Aaron Judge's bat speed with a Bluetooth-powered bat on Wednesday. "It's fun to remember what you did and how hard it was to do it. It's fun to relive it."
Fast forward to now and these current Yankees have been compared to the late '90s dynasty on numerous occasions. Two seasons ago, rebuild was written all over the Yankee Stadium walls when Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino, were expected to hit a learning curve before reaching their stride.
That's something to laugh about now, isn't it?
Instead, the "rebuild" saw Sanchez break rookie home runs record, Severino showcase the stuff to be a fortified ace for years to come, and Judge capturing the Rookie of the Year in 2017. This all came as the Yankees made a surprising ALCS run that fell a single game short of reaching the World Series, and even higher playoff hopes last season.
With that instant success from this Yankees team, you can understand why expectations are that much higher in 2019. Vegas odds, MLB experts, and most likely your next-door neighbor are picking the Yankees to lift the trophy for the 28th time this season.
The legends of the yesterday are no different.
"I think everybody is expecting them to do huge things and they're capable no doubt," Paul O'Neill said. "The offense when the A-team was out there you can see what this offense is capable of doing. I think the pitching is going to surprise a lot of people and obviously the bullpen is second to none. So that's why the expectations are so high."
GM Brian Cashman didn't hook the biggest fish on the free agent market in Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, but the Yankees will still line up down the first base line during Opening Day introductions today with an even better team than their 100-game winner of 2018. Players like Adam Ottavino, James Paxton, DJ LeMahieu, and Troy Tulowitzki were added to the mix. And they add to the core mentioned before that now includes Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres - two more rookies that didn't need training wheels when they broke into the league.
New or established in pinstripes, these Yankees recognize how close they have been to writing their name on that trophy in October recently.
"They've come so close the last two years," Martinez said. "Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, those guys - they want to get to that next step of winning the World Series and they know what it takes. They know they've come up short and they've had a great spring. The guys played great."
The Yankees traveled north with hot bats from Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Sanchez -- a player who New York wants to see bounce back after a miserable 2018 campaign. Greg Bird and Luke Voit made the first base battle fun to watch all March, as both players make the Opening Day roster. And the pitching staff, especially Paxton, impressed as well.
Getting to watch this success up close and personal is why another legend in Bernie Williams was so positive about this year's Yankee team. But he knows their World Series dreams will need to go through a certain opponent.
"These guys are going to have a good year," Williams said. "They're building on what the last two years have been for them, going back into the playoffs on a consistent basis and having an opportunity to play in the World Series. I think it's going to have to go through Boston, but anything can happen."
Cashman's goal this offseason was to equip his team with an even better arsenal to defeat the Red Sox. The sting of losing in the ALDS on their home turf is still felt by these players, but they know the only way to heal it is to get revenge.
As long as health is on their side (injured have already come), the Yankees have the roster to wreak havoc through the 162-game long haul. It was the same thought that surrounded the team last year, but it feels different this time. There were still a few questions to answer despite a stacked lineup.
This year, there isn't. This team has the star power, the depth, the chemistry, and most important, the hunger to make their postseason experience worthwhile.
Will it be third times the charm for this Yankees team looking to fulfill their destiny of becoming the new dynasty?
"I expect them to win the World Series. That's their expectations, that's the type of team they have," Martinez said.