Yankees power their way to 19th AL East crown and the first since 2012

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The Evil Empire’s reign will persist into the postseason for the 21st time in the past quarter century.

New York clinched the American League Eastern division title for the 19th time and the first since 2012 on Thursday with a 9-1 victory against the Los Angeles Angels.

In total, the Yankees have finished atop their division 48 times in the club’s 116-year history.

Last year, the Yankees were the first 100-win team to not win their division since the 2001 Oakland Athletics, then lost to the eventual World Series champion Red Sox in the ALDS. Thursday’s win was their 100th of the 2019 season.

How the Yankees won the AL East

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 28: Gleyber Torres #25 of the New York Yankees celebrates a home run with Gary Sanchez #24 during the third inning against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on April 28, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Gary Sanchez, left, and Gleyber Torres, right, lead the Yankees in home runs. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

The Yankees won games the 2019 way.

As the league set new home run records, New York powered the most productive offense in baseball, scoring 905 runs. Throughout the season, the Yankees (currently 292 home runs) and the Minnesota Twins (currently with 292) went punch-for-punch at the top of the long ball leaderboards. That race will likely continue through Game 162.

In addition to the home-run record, the Yankees reached new heights in another category they’d probably have preferred to stay away from. New York’s injury report read like a tragic novel, as the club put an MLB-record 30 different players on the injured list.

But those injuries opened the door for some unlikely candidates to contribute to the best record in baseball.

Gio Urshela earned his place as a mainstay in the lineup despite being acquired as a defense-first third baseman once Miguel Andujar suffered a torn labrum. Mike Tauchman (currently on the IL with a grade-2 calf strain) was brought in as outfield insurance — which they needed once Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge spent a combined 222 days on the IL — but he’s produced a 3.5 WAR in 87 games.

Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez lead the club with 38 and 34 home runs, respectively. Along with Judge and Brett Gardner, they’ve been the best of the returning members of the 2018 club. But free-agent signing D.J. LeMahieu has been the most productive player in baseball’s best offense — perhaps most important, he’s stayed off the IL all season.

The Yankees also have bullpen depth that rivals any in baseball, producing a unit that sits top-10 in baseball in reliever ERA. They will, however, be without Dellin Betances who is now out for the year again after returning last week from injury.

The emergence of Domingo German helped stabilize an injury-riddled rotation, but his immediate future is now in question after being placed on administrative leave pending a domestic violence investigation by MLB. James Paxton had a disappointing start to the season, but discovered his form since August. Masahiro Tanaka has avoided the IL but hasn’t performed like the front-end starter the Yankees might need in the postseason.

What do they need to win the World Series?

If the club can get some consistency from the rotation, they’ll be very dangerous in October.

Actually, they’ll probably be a dangerous team regardless, but quality starting pitching should put them over the top. They have the lineup and bullpen depth to overcome mediocre starting pitching. And that Yankees starting unit, though it has struggled overall, has shown recent improvement.

If the starters can hold up their end, it will probably be very difficult to beat the Yankees.

Lingering questions

For pretty much the entire season, anyone who’s put on the pinstripes has performed “like a Yankee.” But how long can that last?

The players like Cameron Maybin and Mike Ford, who helped the team get to this point, probably won’t join them in October. Severino and Stanton have the ability to make a big impact, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll return to All-Star form after missing that much time.

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