7 Yankees storylines to watch with 2021 MLB season underway

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Scott Thompson
·6 min read
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Gary Sanchez/Jameson Taillon/Corey Kluber Treated Art
Gary Sanchez/Jameson Taillon/Corey Kluber Treated Art

The fresh white chalk is on the baselines. The grass is cut. And the dirt has been raked to perfection. Opening Day is finally here for the Yankees in the Bronx.

Entering the 2021 season, the Yankees are once again at the top of World Series conversations because their star power just continues to return by the year.

Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gerrit Cole and a re-signed DJ LeMahieu highlight a group that is looking to break the World Series drought that has spanned to 11 years now.

So, as the Yankees gear up for their first regular-season game against the Toronto Blue Jays on their way to accomplish that goal, here are some storylines to watch throughout the season that could make or break the Yankees’ World Series chances:

Is their starting pitching enough?

We know what Cole brings to the table every five days, so that won’t be a question. In fact, Cole has been the early favorite to win the Cy Young Award in the American League this year, which also shouldn’t come as a surprise.

But a big problem for the Yanks last season was their lack of consistency after Cole’s day to start. This season, Corey Kluber, Domingo German, Jordan Montgomery and Jameson Taillon – the order that Aaron Boone announced he will be starting Opening Day with – will have to step up if they want to fulfill their World Series dreams.

Kluber and Taillon are the biggest question marks, though, because they both are coming off serious injuries that have kept them off the field. But Taillon has looked phenomenal for New York, while Kluber also had solid starts this spring.

We know that pitching is a deciding factor for teams when the postseason begins. When a starter can set the tone on the mound, momentum is immediately shifted to his team. That’s what the Yanks hope Kluber and Taillon can give as well as German and Montgomery in the middle of the pack.

With Luis Severino returning at some point, and others like Deivi Garcia waiting their turn in Triple-A, the Yankees do have depth here this season.

Will Gary Sanchez return to his slugging self?

If a spotlight is going to be placed on one position player this season, Sanchez is the guy. For obvious reasons.

The 2020 shortened campaign is one Sanchez wants erased from his mind because it was that bad. Kyle Higashioka became Cole’s preferred catcher. Sanchez couldn’t hit a fastball to save his life. And he was eventually benched when the postseason rolled around.

But the Yankees still have faith in Sanchez to be a menacing force at the plate like he has been in the past. He burst onto the Grapefruit League scene this year, hitting balls out of the park immediately. His stance looked to be more controlled and timing was on. But then he fell back down to Earth, collecting strikeouts and showing some old habits at the dish.

Which Sanchez will show up during the season? That will be very interesting to watch from the outset.

Can Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton stay healthy?

It’s a tale as old as time at this point, but a storyline that these two All-Stars have adopted because of their injury pasts.

Stanton was only available a handful of games during the regular season before he took off in the postseason. Judge was also off to an MVP-like tear when the season finally began, but injuries had him fall off that momentum as well.

When these two are in the Yankees’ lineup, good things happen. And while other Yankees have been hurt over the year and the lineup has been decimated, these two are crucial for a team looking to win a tough AL East division and ride through the postseason with one of the best teams on paper.

Once again, both players look good now. But preventing injuries and keeping them consistency in the lineup will be a major key for New York this season.

Is this the year Miguel Andujar is traded?

Andujar isn't on the Opening Day roster as he deals with nerve issues in his hand and wrist. And it’s just another disappointing mark on a timeline that has gone from AL Rookie of the Year runner-up to a player without a position on a really good team.

Talks about trading the young stud at the plate have been constant since Gio Urshela won the third base role with his stellar defense and timely at-bats. But could this be the year Brian Cashman finally lets him go? There really isn’t anywhere to keep him on the roster, and the Yankees may be looking for upgrades near the trade deadline when the summer rolls around.

Will Aroldis Chapman clean it up in the postseason?

As a closer, games are won or lost most of the time by your hand. And Chapman just hasn’t had good luck in the past two postseasons (Yankee fans, I won’t explain those moments to avoid the hurt).

The Yankees rely heavily on Chapman to close the door based off his experience and stuff. Though his fastball doesn’t clock triple digits every time it's thrown anymore, his slider is still devastating and he’s developed a splitter as well as to go along with a rarely-used changeup.

No matter what he throws, though, Chapman needs to step up in those big games this season. He’s done it in the past and the Yankees need him to do it again. If Chapman can’t be trusted in the regular season, however, does Cashman make a move?

Forget the World Series: Can they beat the Rays?

One of the main reasons the Yanks didn’t win the division last season was because the Rays just owned them. There’s no other way around it. During the regular season, they met 15 times and the Rays took 11 games.

The Yanks obviously don’t want to be one of the Wild Card teams in the postseason, and beating division opponents more often than not is always a good recipe to win the division. The Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox are still formidable teams, but the Rays have developed into a heated rival with the Yanks recently and they had the upper hand in their World Series 2020 campaign.

Can the Yanks flip the script in 2021?

Is it finally the year to get back to the World Series?

The best storyline is saved for last, as it truly is pressing on the Yankees this year to get back to the final series of the season.

It’s Year 4 for Boone and he knows this team is more than capable of making it happen. They just haven’t been able to put it together in the postseason, whether it’s untimely hitting or a bad outing by a pitcher.

It’s obviously easier said than done, especially when going back to the 162-game schedule. But the Yanks are confident in all aspects from the front office, to Boone, to the players and even the equipment managers. This team is a World Series favorite right now for a reason.

And they’re done falling off that wagon before they can compete for the trophy. Let’s see if they can finally prove everyone right and get into the World Series to compete for No. 28.