The New York Yankees made the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs for the third consecutive season in 2019. However, the team came up short in its hopes of winning the World Series. New York lost its best-of-seven American League Championship Series (ALCS) 4-2 against the Houston Astros following a two-run, walk-off home run by Astros’ star Jose Altuve in Game 6.
Despite the fact the Yankees won its first division title in seven years, the season was labeled a failure by Yankees’ outfielder Aaron Judge. New York hasn’t played in the World Series since 2009. Additionally, the past 10 years marks the first decade the team hasn’t played in the annual MLB championship since 1910-19.
However, there were reasons for this. There was also cause for genuine celebration. Below are four things to take into account regarding the Yankees’ performance in 2019:
1. Injuries to Key Players
Although the team had World Series aspirations, making the ALCS in itself was an accomplishment for the Yankees given the team’s injury situation this season. In fact, 30 of the team’s players spent time on the injured list this past season, a new MLB record.
Injuries began piling up during the spring and continued into the regular season. While this provided opportunities for lesser-known players to step up, New York clearly missed some of its more established players.
Giancarlo Stanton, for instance, was limited to only 18 games this season. Stanton, who won the National League MVP in 2017, missed the majority of the season due to a variety of injuries. He had only three home runs and 13 runs batted in (RBI), whereas last season, in 158 games, he had 38 home runs and 100 RBI.
New York was also without outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury all season, while others like Greg Bird and Miguel Andujar suffered season-ending injuries during the first two months of the season. Andujar had 27 home runs and 92 RBI last season, but was limited to only 12 games this season.
2. Home Run Records
Even without prominent power hitters like Stanton and Andujar in its lineup, the Yankees had little trouble hitting home runs this past season. The team set a new franchise record for home runs in a single season with 306 and was second in the league behind the Minnesota Twins, which had 307 home runs.
Both teams, along with the Houston Astros (288) and Los Angeles Dodgers (267) broke the previous MLB record for most home runs in a single season. That record was set by the 2018 Yankees with 267 home runs.
It was a collective effort for the Yankees as 14 different players hit at least 10 home runs, setting another MLB record. Gleyber Torres led the team with 38 home runs, while Gary Sanchez and Brett Gardner finished second and third, respectively. Others to hit at least 10 home runs included Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, Edwin Encarnacion, and Clint Frazier.
3. Retirement of CC Sabathia
Prior to Game 5 of the ALCS, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia acknowledged it was the end of his career. The 19-year veteran and future Hall of Famer experienced a left shoulder injury in Game 4 of the ALCS after delivering a 90-mph fastball to Astros infielder Aledmys Diaz.
Originally selected by the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the 1998 MLB Amateur Draft, Sabathia spent 11 seasons with the Yankees and compiled a win-loss record of 134-88 to go along with an earned run average of 3.81 and 1,700 strikeouts. He won a World Series with the team in 2009 and was named ALCS MVP that year.
Sabathia received a standing ovation from Yankees fans upon leaving the game, while even Houston players clapped out of respect for the 39-year-old: “I think that’s what got me more emotional than the actual injury,” he told reporters prior to Game 5. “Just hearing the fans and the way that they were cheering me. It just makes me feel good [. . .] It was just awesome to hear that and get that on the way out.”
4. The Emergence of DJ LeMahieu
Yankees fans were a little skeptical, or even disappointed, that the team’s first big free-agent signing last offseason was DJ LeMahieu. The 31-year-old infielder didn’t have the same name recognition as Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, both of whom were free agents.
However, LeMahieu was one of the team’s best players this past season, establishing career-high marks in home runs (26) and RBI (102). One popular publication, FiveThirtyEight, even compared him to Yankees legend Derek Jeter.
A three-time All-Star and Gold Glove recipient, LeMahieu was known more as a contact hitter while playing for the Colorado Rockies. While he led the National League with a .348 batting average in 2016 and registered a .299 batting average through seven seasons with the Rockies, he only achieved double digit home run figures in two of those seven seasons. Moreover, his career high in RBI was 66. He is under contract with the Yankees for one more season before he is eligible for free agency.