Title charge requires more Yankees lineup punch beyond Judge-Soto fireworks

Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, and other Yankees stars at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, FL, in 2024 spring.

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The New York Yankees are set to embark on their latest quest for baseball glory as Opening Day looms, with their journey kicking off in Houston on Thursday. As perennial contenders, the Yankees have their sights firmly fixed on capturing the illustrious World Series title, fueled by the arrival of superstar Juan Soto.

The bitter taste of a disappointing 2023 season lingers. Last year’s 82-80 record marked the franchise’s worst performance since 1992, a stark contrast to their stellar runner-up finish in 2022. A key factor in the Yankees’ struggles was their offensive inconsistency. Ranking 19th in runs scored per game in 2021 and plummeting further to 25th in 2023, the Yankees are acutely aware of the need for improvement on the offensive front.

However, a wave of optimism reigns supreme in the Bronx. The addition of Juan Soto, a generational talent, injects a potent dose of power and consistency into the batting order. Soto’s presence alongside established stars like Aaron Judge promises to create a nightmarish scenario for opposing pitchers. With a revitalized offense and Nestor Cortes poised to take the mound on Opening Day, the Yankees are determined to reclaim their place as a dominant force in Major League Baseball.

Yankees aim for consistent offense with Soto in tow

Juan Soto during a home run, on march 10, 2024.

The New York Yankees have not shied away from acknowledging their recent offensive struggles. Looking back at the 2022 campaign, a glaring disparity emerged. Aaron Judge‘s dominant season, mirroring Mickey Mantle’s legendary 1956 Triple Crown campaign with a staggering 1.111 OPS, masked underlying issues within the batting order.

The rest of the team, excluding Judge, presented a stark contrast. Their collective OPS of .708 resembled the numbers seen during Billy Martin‘s 1956 Yankees squad. This imbalance became even more pronounced in the second half of the season. While Judge continued his historic tear with a phenomenal 1.286 OPS and an MLB-leading 62 home runs, the remaining hitters faltered, plummeting to a collective .652 OPS after the All-Star break, ranking among the league’s worst.

The trend persisted into the 2023 season. Over the past three years, Judge has reigned supreme with the best OPS in the league at 1.017, leaving Shohei Ohtani in second place at .964. Meanwhile, the rest of the Yankees’ lineup lagged, averaging a meager .698 OPS. According to research conducted by MLB Network, this statistic, excluding pitchers, would place them among the worst six teams in the league.

The Yankees attribute these offensive struggles partly to injuries. Key players like Judge and Anthony Rizzo missed significant time, playing in only 106 and 99 games, respectively. This overreliance on individual performances, particularly Judge’s, became a vulnerability for the team.

To address this imbalance, the Yankees made a major move by acquiring Juan Soto. A healthy Judge and Soto together are expected to significantly elevate the offense, propelling the team back into the top ten offensive rankings. However, the Yankees believe they’ve secured more than just a dynamic duo.

Another area of concern has been the team’s lack of success with left-handed hitters. Despite boasting a rich history with legendary lefties like Ruth, Mantle, Reggie Jackson, and Don Mattingly, the Yankees haven’t cracked the top 22 in lefty OPS since 2012. Over the past six seasons, their left-handed hitters have also consistently ranked below 22nd in plate appearances. In 2023, the situation reached a low point, with the Yankees’ lefties recording the second-fewest plate appearances in the league, struggling with a paltry .217 batting average and a team-worst .673 OPS.

In response, the acquisition of Soto, along with Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham, directly addresses this weakness. Combined, these new additions logged more plate appearances (1,865) last season than the Yankees’ entire group of left-handed hitters have managed since 2018.

The Yankees are committed to building a more balanced and effective lineup. By addressing their offensive shortcomings and adding players like Soto, Verdugo, and Grisham, they hope to create a more potent and well-rounded offensive force for the upcoming campaign.

Judge and Soto’s combined might to lift Yankees


The arrival of Juan Soto in New York has reignited excitement for a monster home run duo in the Bronx. This isn’t the first time the Yankees have dreamt of such a partnership.

Back in 2018, the arrival of Giancarlo Stanton, fresh off a 59-homer MVP season in Miami, alongside the young slugger Aaron Judge, who had just smashed the AL rookie record with 52 homers, fueled expectations of a historic power duo. However, injuries derailed Stanton’s consistency, leaving the dream unfulfilled.

Enter Juan Soto. With a blockbuster trade landing the generational talent, the Yankees might have finally found their answer. Assuming both Judge and Soto can stay healthy and approach 150 games played each, reaching a combined total of 100 home runs seems like a very realistic possibility.

Judge’s record-breaking 62-homer season in 2022 showcases his immense potential, with the possibility of him repeating or even exceeding that number. For Soto, the transition from the cavernous, pitcher-friendly Petco Park in San Diego to the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, particularly the short right porch, could unlock a new level of power. His career-high of 35 homers last season could easily be surpassed in pinstripes.

The combination of Judge and Soto has the potential to be the most potent power duo the Yankees have seen since the legendary Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris terrorized pitchers in the early 1960s. With their bats in the lineup, opposing pitchers will have their work cut out for them, and Yankee Stadium could be treated to a record-breaking display of long balls throughout the season.

Yankees need to withstand Cole’s early absence


The New York Yankees face a significant hurdle to begin the season: the absence of ace Gerrit Cole for the first two months due to an elbow injury. This begs the question – can the Yankees weather this storm and maintain their competitive edge?

The answer might lie in the performances of their remaining healthy starters. While relying on a trio of All-Stars – Carlos Rodon, Nestor Cortes, and Marcus Stroman – to consistently excel may appear ambitious, their recent spring training outings provide a glimmer of hope. All three displayed impressive form and haven’t succumbed to any injuries.

Furthermore, Clarke Schmidt, despite a shaky debut season in 2023 that began poorly before stabilizing, has shown promise as a potential contributor to the rotation.

Among this group, Carlos Rodon holds particular importance. His past All-Star seasons with the White Sox (2021) and Giants (2022) suggest his potential to function as a reliable second ace alongside Cole. However, injuries have been a recurring theme throughout Rodon’s career, and his first year with the Yankees in 2023 fell short of expectations considering his hefty contract.

Despite Cole’s absence, there’s a silver lining. His projected return by late May or early June could see him refreshed and dominant upon his return. The reduced workload during the regular season might even translate into a rejuvenated Cy Young-caliber performance come playoff time.

The upcoming weeks will be a critical test for the Yankees’ pitching staff. If the healthy trio of Rodon, Cortes, and Stroman can live up to their potential, and Schmidt continues to develop, the Yankees have a chance to stay afloat until Cole’s return bolsters their rotation and propels them into championship contention.

Avoiding the injury bug is the key

Yankees captain Aaron Judge busted the bullpen door at Dodger Stadium while making a spectacular catch on June 3, 2023.

A recurring theme has haunted the Yankees since 2019: a seemingly endless string of injuries to key players. Be it training issues, bad luck, or a combination of factors, the impact on performance has been undeniable.

One major setback last year involved Aaron Judge’s collision with the Dodger Stadium wall on June 3rd, tearing a ligament in his right toe. This unfortunate event sidelined him for nearly two months and coincided with a sharp decline in the team’s success.

In total, the Yankees endured a staggering 39 stints on the injured list (IL) in 2023, affecting nearly every core player except Gleyber Torres, Gerrit Cole, and rising prospect Anthony Volpe. This figure represented the third-highest total in the American League, and the Yankees accumulated the second-most total IL days (2,158).

A reversal of fortune on the injury front this year could significantly boost several key players who missed significant time last season. This list includes Anthony Rizzo, Jose Trevino, Jonathan Loaisiga, Tommy Kahnle, Aaron Judge, Carlos Rodon, Nestor Cortes, and more.

However, concerns linger regarding veterans DJ LeMahieu (35), Anthony Rizzo (34), and Giancarlo Stanton (34). A bizarre spring training incident involving a foul ball off his foot could potentially sideline LeMahieu for Opening Day. Rizzo, while downplaying its severity, battled a lat issue on top of managing a chronic back problem. Though looking physically fit in spring training, Stanton’s history of eight IL stints in the past five seasons raises a red flag.

Fortunately, there are positive signs as well. Rizzo was performing exceptionally well before his concussion last season. LeMahieu demonstrated improvement after a coaching change and further recovery from his foot injury towards the end of 2023. Stanton appears to be incorporating his legs more effectively into his swing, potentially reducing reliance on his upper body and minimizing injury risk. These developments offer a glimmer of hope for a healthy and productive lineup alongside stars Soto and Judge.

Ultimately, a healthy team is a winning team. The Yankees will be hoping to avoid the injury pitfalls of recent years and leverage a healthier roster to maximize their championship aspirations.

The Baby Bombers must supplement


New York Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe, a local hero from Watchung, N.J., made a remarkable debut last season. He achieved the rare feat for a Yankee rookie of a 20-20 season (21 home runs and 24 stolen bases), solidifying his defensive prowess by earning a Gold Glove Award.

However, despite the impressive power-speed combination, Volpe’s .209 batting average and a hefty 167 strikeouts, ranking sixth-highest in Yankees history, were areas for improvement.

Determined to refine his approach at the plate, Volpe dedicated his offseason to working on a flatter swing path. This adjustment appears to be paying dividends. Spring training games showcased improved contact and a reduction in strikeouts, but the true challenge will be carrying this success over to the regular season against elite major league pitching.

Still just 22 years old at the start of the season, Volpe’s undeniable talent and offseason dedication suggest a potential leap in batting average and contact rate. While maintaining his impressive power and stolen base numbers, the Yankees would be thrilled with a .255 batting average and around 110 strikeouts, reflecting a significant step forward offensively.

The upcoming season will be a crucial test for Volpe as he looks to solidify his place as a cornerstone of the Yankees’ future.

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