Improved Yankees mean AL East will be no cakewalk this year

John Tomase
February 23, 2019 - 11:49 am

The Red Sox dominated the Yankees in the standings last season, and then in the Division Series, which they won in four games. But anyone expecting 2019 to unfold in similarly satisfying fashion should think again.

New York won 100 games last year, and as the two teams prepare to square off in Saturday's official Grapefruit League opener, it's worth noting exactly how much the Bombers have improved in their pursuit of the defending World Series champions.

Young standouts like Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres are a year older and wiser. Starter James Paxton considerably upgrades a rotation that now counts future Hall of Famer CC Sabathia as its fifth starter. And the bullpen, already one of the best in baseball, projects to get a full season out of Zack Britton, as well as contributions from highly sought newcomer Adam Ottavino, whom many of us thought might land with the Red Sox.

Just to get you up to speed, here's a primer on where New York stands in what should once again be baseball's best rivalry, with help from


CF Aaron Hicks
RF Aaron Judge
DH Giancarlo Stanton
C Gary Sanchez
3B Miguel Andjuar
2B Gleyber Torres
1B Luke Voigt
SS Troy Tulowitzki
LF Brett Gardner

The skinny: The Yankees mashed a record 267 home runs as a team last year, and that was despite relatively down seasons from Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez, who combined to hit 61 fewer homers in 2018 than they did in 2017. New York's lineup is a threat to leave the park from top to bottom, though the loss of shortstop Didi Gregorius (Tommy John surgery) until at least June is a blow. In the meantime, he'll be replaced by five-time All-Star Troy Tulowitzki, who batted .250 with minimal power in parts of three seasons with the Blue Jays. The X-factor may very well be first baseman Luke Voit, who emerged from nowhere to slam 14 home runs in only 39 games and has taken the job from the oft-injured Greg Bird, who arrived at camp 20 pounds heavier and declared himself fully healthy.


RHP Luis Severino
LHP James Paxton
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
LHP J.A. Happ
LHP CC Sabathia

The skinny: In an offseason of inertia, it's easy to forget the Yankees struck early. They acquired Paxton from the Mariners for a trio of minor leaguers, including top prospect Justus Sheffield. The 6-foot-4 left-hander went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA in Seattle last year, and looked like a breakout candidate before making only three starts in August with back and pectoral injuries. He struck out 208 in only 160.1 innings and has the stuff to front a rotation. His arrival provides definition to the rest of the staff, with ace Luis Severino coming off a disappointing second half, and veterans Tanaka, Happ, and Sabathia forming a solid back three. The Red Sox didn't have too many weaknesses last year, but they did struggle against left-handed pitching (.719 OPS), and the Yankees now start three southpaws.


LHP Aroldis Chapman
RHP Dellin Betances
LHP Zack Britton
RHP Adam Ottavino
RHP Chad Green
RHP Tommy Holder
RHP Tommy Kahnle
RHP Luis Cessa

The skinny: Not too many teams could lose David Robertson and expect their bullpen to improve, but the Yankees might be one of them. Ottavino, a Northeastern grad, was all kinds of nasty in Colorado, striking out 112 in 77.2 innings while limiting opponents to a .158 batting average. Chapman and Betances represent as dominant a 1-2 punch as you'll find, and Britton improved as last season progressed; he's only three years removed from finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting. With the Red Sox trying to figure out who will replace Craig Kimbrel, New York's bullpen is shaping up as the biggest separator between the two teams.