So here we are, a week from Day One, having enjoyed a Yankee spring unlike any in recent times. With the exception of Mateo (.136), every one of our vaunted prospects has raked well beyond expectations (Billy McKinney: .417!), and in the case of Gleyber Torres, the hype is almost worrisome. He's gone from "future starter" to "future star," expectations that can only leave us disappointed. (Thus, I'm downgrading his career HR projection from 810 to a modest 650.) So let's close our eyes, sniff the medicinal roach, and think upbeat.
Obviously, no one can beat beat the Redsock '17 Hall of Fame Superteam of Destiny (TM). Any team with Babe Benintendi goes straight to immortality. The nations of the world understand this, thus we must play for runner-up. That said, here are 10 reasons to be optimistic about a Wild Card. (Why ten, you ask? Because I have 10 fingers, and basically, we are chimps.)
1. Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez in the middle of the lineup, squished around Matt Holliday. Two righties and a lefty, and all three could hit 25 HRs. (Last year, Beltran led us with a measly 22.) This year, John's Yankee Indian Point Power Report could actually be worth hearing.
2. Masahiro Tanaka looks like Cy Young. Last year, he ascended to the upper tier of MLB starters, and this year - his opt-out season - he looks even better. Yeah, his meat-joint can go at any time. But name me someone for which that cannot be said. We have an ace!
3. Aroldis and Dellin in the pen. Last year, we learned that three shut-down closers is like a plane with five wings. It was more like an art piece than a winning tool. In a tight game, we can bring out two of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball. That's not tuna salad.
4. Even if he's not the starter we wanted, Luis Severino looks like a potential lights-out closer. In a worst-case scenario (beyond injury, of course), he settles in as yet a bullpen cog. Add Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren and maybe a surprise from Scranton, and we have the AL's best bullpen. It's not just happy talk.
5. The Aarons remain viable. On February 15, every Yank fan in captivity knew there was a chance that Aaron Judge would be over-matched, out-gunned and moving back to Moosic. That hasn't happened. Likewise, nobody held out the slightest hope for Aaron Hicks. We won't commission his CF plaque, but Hicks clearly realizes that it's now or never for his career. Fingers still crossed. Both look decent.
6. Jacoby Ellsbury could bounce back. Around here, you get bloodied by saying anything nice about Pariah Ellsbury. But he's taken every bullet, and he's hitting over .300. Clearly, he sees the wave of young outfielders - several play CF - as more than a mere existential threat. Often, such premonitions inspire players to have good years.
7. The wave is coming. By 2019, we could have the best lineup in baseball. (Or we could suck - "could be" is the shit phrase of fan blogs.) But if a few vets fail, they can be Wally Pipped... (or Tony Womacked, if you're new.) We have prospects at every position (don't forget Tyler Austin at 1B.) If Chase Headley has the April-May that he had last year, he won't be around for June.
8. Somebody could step up in the rotation. Okay, we're starting to count little fingers. Right now, Jordan Montgomery looks like a savior. Let's not anoint him yet - last year, it was Bryan Mitchell until the end, and I remember a fellow named Christian Parker in the 1990s: won a spot in Tampa and then saw Dr. Andrews. Still, we have a well spring of young arms - a bad March doesn't eliminate Luis Cessa - and where there is youth, there is hope.
9. CC and Pineda. Okay, we're down to nubs. Who the fuck knows? CC could throw 200 innings. Pineda... gah. Pour me another glass of Kool-Aid! Make it a double.
10. We have trade chips for a late season run. Hate to think of us turning back to the tired, losing, dead-end strategy of trading prospects for salary dumps, but our farm system next winter could be brimming with Rule 5 draft losses. We can't keep them all. Next July, one or two kids could be converted to a usable piece.
Don't get me wrong. This week, Sports Illustrated predicts the Yankees to come in third, with a win total in the mid-80s. I think that's about right. But 85 wins chases a wild card, and 88 can take it. Three wins. It's a long season. Where there is life, there is hope. Right? And hey, it's spring. WE'RE IN LOVE!