Yankees 2023 MLB season preview and prediction, including playoff fate
The Yankees rampaged through the early stages of the 2022 season, looking so invincible that it was easy to start thinking about how gaudy their World Series rings could get. But while it sure profiled like an end to the Fall Classic "drought" the Yanks have experienced since 2009, everything cratered in the second half.
Oh, they still made the playoffs. But injuries helped turn the final few months into a slog – the Bombers were 61-23 on July 8 and went 38-40 the rest of the way. Aaron Judge’s record homer chase gave their troubles some cover, so optimism bloomed again when the postseason began and the Yanks beat the Cleveland Guardians in the first round. But they were humiliated in a four-game sweep by the Houston Astros in the ALCS.
Where do they go from here? Their two biggest bits of winter business were to re-sign Judge – whew! – and add Carlos Rodón to a dangerous rotation. But they probably should’ve added a strong left fielder and addressed third base. Instead, incumbents Aaron Hicks and Josh Donaldson seem to have roles there.
And the Yanks sat out another mega free agent class at shortstop, preferring to hold an "open competition" during camp between youngsters Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe that Volpe, an outstanding prospect, won.
So they’re banking on bounce-back, youth and, of course, pinstriped stars such as Judge, Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo. But injuries are already a roster plague with Rodón, Luis Severino, and center fielder Harrison Bader, among others, starting the season on the Injured List. Cripes, the real games haven’t even started.
If the Yanks are healthy, they’ve certainly got enough to reach the postseason for a seventh consecutive season. The real question is if they can do real damage once they get there.
What the Yankees have going for them
Judge, first and foremost. He probably won’t hit 62 home runs again. But 50 would be great, and he’s certainly capable. Rizzo (32 homers last year) is back and provides nice lineup protection for No. 99. With Judge, Rizzo and Stanton, the Yankees -- who led MLB with 254 home runs last season -- won’t have any trouble hitting the ball over the fence, and their ballpark certainly helps that endeavor.
The rotation, if healthy, is very strong and figures to be a difficult matchup for anyone over a short playoff series as well as the engine that powers the team through the regular season. It’s fronted by Cole, a Cy Young Award waiting to happen, and Rodón, who was 14-8 with a 2.88 ERA for the San Francisco Giants last season. Last year, Rodón led MLB qualifiers with 12 strikeouts per nine innings. Nestor Cortes and Severino provide a potentially-elite three-four, in whichever order they eventually fall.
While closer Aroldis Chapman is gone, the Yanks still should have a strong bullpen, even if Chapman’s successor isn’t clear cut. Clay Holmes had 20 saves last season, but injuries and unevenness marred his season, though he has terrific stuff. Jonathan Loáisiga could close, too, and Wandy Peralta, Michael King and Ron Marinaccio figure to be key relievers.
In the field, the Yanks led MLB in defensive runs saved last year and their gloves should be strong again. When Bader’s oblique heals, he’ll be a weapon in center. "He makes their pitchers better, with the real estate he can cover," said an NL executive who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Yankees will make the playoffs if…
They play to even an approximation of their capabilities. The Yanks scored 4.98 runs per game last year, second in MLB to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and will be a potent offense again behind Judge, Rizzo and Stanton. Rizzo might get help from the shift ban – perhaps he won’t see so many liners to right turned into easy outs.
And the lineup might truly become unstoppable if a few other things happen. Noodle on these: Volpe channels a young Derek Jeter, injecting vigor into the lineup; DJ LeMahieu, whose 2022 was subpar because of injuries, returns to the contact, gap-to-gap star he’s been in the past; Donaldson (.682 OPS last year, worst in a full season in his career) and Hicks (.642 OPS) show they can contribute. Two of those would make the Yanks a tough out in October.
Cole and Rodón should push each other to big seasons as the Nos. 1 and 1A in the rotation. Severino has plenty to pitch for as a pending free agent, and Cortes may just be tapping his talent. The bullpen might be a work-in-progress all season, but the Yankees have been adept at finding contributors.
We know the Yanks have the appetite to adjust the roster at the trade deadline, so they can see what works in the first half. They just have to start being right more often on their midseason acquisitions.
The Yankees will miss the playoffs if…
Their health woes don’t end. Like, immediately. Spring attrition hit every member of the rotation except Cole, though Cortes seems over his hamstring issue. These injuries are alarming, too, because Rodón and Severino have struggled with health in the past.
If Rodón’s season is significantly compromised by injury, where, exactly, did these Yankees get better from the 2022 version? And since the start of the 2019 season, Severino has only appeared in 26 regular season games.
The Yanks sacrificed a young lefty starter, Jordan Montgomery, in a deadline deal for Bader last season, but Bader only played 14 games in the regular season for them because of injury (Bader starred in the playoffs, though, smacking five homers in nine games and notching a 1.262 OPS). But now he’s hurt again. Relievers Tommy Kahnle and Lou Trivino will start the season on the IL, too, as will starter Frankie Montas, who could be facing a lost year.
Furthermore, while it seems unlikely Judge has a bad year, what if he gets hurt? If that happens, there’s probably not enough bounce-back in the rest of the roster to make the Yankees much of a threat. No Judge, no rebound and little production from the kids would mean a long – and loud– season in the Bronx.
Final record and playoff prediction
The Yanks will grind through injuries and finish 93-69, tussling for the AL East Division title with the Toronto Blue Jays for much of the season. But they’ll fall short and grab the first Wild Card spot in the AL instead.
They’ll win their Wild Card Series, but an old nemesis will take them down in the Division Series – the Astros. The "drought" continues.