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New York Yankees

TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 30: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees runs to first base after hitting a single in the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during a Grapefruit League spring training game at George Steinbrenner Field on March 30, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

The Yankees begin the 2022 season on Friday afternoon against their heated rivals the Boston Red Sox at 1 p.m. Of course, as is the case every year in the Bronx, there are great expectations for the season and a lot of pressure.

The Yankees haven’t been to a World Series since 2009, and although the club has come close to getting back in recent years, it has consistently fallen short. Last year the season ended in Beantown in the AL Wild Card game. What are the keys that could bring the Bombers back to some late October baseball? Let’s look.

5) The rotation behind Gerrit Cole steps up big. The Yankees need for everyone in the rotation to step up behind Gerrit Cole. Cole had a tale of two seasons late year. Yes, he went 16-8 with a 3.23 ERA, but after getting ensnared in the Spider Tack controversy, he was not the same pitcher. In June, July and September his ERA was at or near five. In the wild card game against Boston, Cole lasted only two innings in the Yankees 6-2 loss. The Yanks need Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery to step up behind Cole. Injuries have really  hampered Severino’s career, and the Yanks are waiting for the 2018 Severino who won 19 games in 32 starts to show up again. If Severino can come close to those numbers, he will be a solid number two. Truth is the Yankees are going to have to acquire a top flight starter at some point before the August 2 trade deadline to push this team over the top.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 05: Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees walks to the dugout after being taken out against the Boston Red Sox during the third inning of the American League Wild Card game at Fenway Park on October 05, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

4) What can fans expect from Josh Donaldson and Isiah-Kiner Falefa? The two new faces the Yankees acquired from the Minnesota Twins for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela are going to have a great spotlight on them. The 36-year old Donaldson has never played in New York, spending most of his well traveled career with the likes of Toronto, Minnesota and Atlanta.  There will be a lot of attention on Donaldson because Urshela was not only younger, but a very good fielder at third base. Ironically, Urshela and Donaldson made about the same number of errors at third in 2019 and 2021 (13), but Urshela’s fielding percentage was slightly better .964 to .958 for Donaldson. This was a move about offense. Donaldson averages 21 homers a year, and when he was in Toronto had three straight years of 30+ homers, including a 41-homerun season in 2015.

Anthony Volpe Patriots

MINOR LEAGUE PHOTO DAY 2022. Photo: Somerset Patriots Media.

Falefa is a stop gap. The Yankees feel that Gleyber Torres is best fit at second base, and the organization is preparing for Anthony Volpe to come to the major’s probably by 2023. The 20-year old Volpe is making his debut with the Double-A Somerset Patriots this week.

The addition of Falefa and Donaldson also affect the Yankees behind the plate. The Bombers are expected to start Kyle Higashioka at catcher. Over the past couple of years he was a much better defensive catcher than Gary Sanchez. It will be fascinating to see if Higgy (as Yankees fans like to call him) can become a more prolific offensive hitter. He hit over .400 in the spring.

3) Will Gleyber Torres or DJ LeMahieu grab most of the starts at second? 

Who’s at second also plays into the changes that are coming for the Bronx Bombers at short stop. Gleyber Torres saw his offensive production dive last season, mostly due to injury. He hit .259 with nine homers and 59 RBI, but his biggest issue was defense. At short stop he committed 19 errors. The Yankees feel he is better equipped at second. When healthy, Torres is a tremendous offensive force, which means he could DH if needed. D.J. LeMahieu is also looking to bounce back from injury. He had core surgery last year to repair a sports hernia. When he was healthy in 2019 and 2020, LeMahieu was arguably one of the best hitters in baseball, hitting .327 and .364 respectively. Last year’s .268 batting average is not indicative of the kind of hitter LeMahieu has been in his career. Second base will be fascinating to watch. If both Torres and LeMahieu are healthy and produce, Aaron Boone will figure out how to get them both in the lineup.

2) Will the Big Boppers Bash When it Counts the Most? Hitting in the clutch is always key, especially in the AL East. The Yankees are not short on mashers in the middle of the lineup. From Aaron Judge to Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, Donaldson, and Joey Gallo, the Yankees are going to hit a lot of home runs. They always do. The question will be when the chips are down in September and October, can these guys get the big hit, or big walk that can make a difference against the likes of Boston, Toronto and Tampa, all of whom have better pitching than New York at the moment.  Keep an eye on a big year from Judge, who is in his walk year. The Yankees and Judge were said to be working on a new deal, but nothing seems imminent yet.  It’s hard to believe the Yankees would let Judge walk after the season, but hey with teams like the Mets and Dodgers willing to throw money around, anything is possible.

1) How well the season goes will dictate the pressure on Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman: 

When it comes to Yankees fans, unless their beloved Yankees finish hoisting up the World Series trophy the season is a failure. There has been a lot of fans who are upset at the Yankees for not tossing around big money at top free agents like they used to during the 1970s and later in the 2000s when George Steinbrenner was alive demanding World Series excellence.  Hal Steinbrenner has been incredibly patient, and Cashman has developed one of the best minor league systems in baseball that keeps producing top talent. Since 2017 the Yankees have seen the likes of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, and very soon players like Anthony Volpe come up through the system, and eventually burst onto the scene. Do the Yankees stay the course with Cashman if they don’t win this year? Furthermore what will Aaron Boone’s future be? He did sign a three year extension through 2024. While Boone is popular in the clubhouse, the team hasn’t won in the playoffs. This will be a question Yankees fans will revisit in September if things are getting tough.

Aaron Boone

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 05: Manager Aaron Boone #17 of the New York Yankees walks to the dugout after changing pitchers against the Boston Red Sox during the seventh inning of the American League Wild Card game at Fenway Park on October 05, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)