Yankees Back On Top, Clinch First AL East Crown Since 2019

After a rough August, the New York Yankees turned things around in September to close out the year strong and once again clinch the AL East.

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees celebrates on field after their team defeated the Toronto Blue Jays to clinch first place in the AL East following their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on September 27, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

And breathe! The New York Yankees have clinched their first division title in three years. It may look easy to gloss over their current record of 96-59 and think it was easy, but boy was this a rollercoaster. This team is at the end of a historic season with a historic hitter in Aaron Judge, who is still looking to set the American League home run record.

The expectations for this team coming into 2022 were all over the place. After an embarrassing bow out in the 2021 Wild Card game, what were we expecting?

The defense was poor last season. General manager Brian Cashman made improvements in specific areas, bringing in both Josh Donaldson and Isaiah Kiner-Falefa to fill in on the left side of the infield. First baseman Anthony Rizzo was re-signed after a trade from Chicago, and the team traded for defensive specialist Jose Trevino behind the dish with Gary Sanchez finally out the door.

On the face of it, this team didn’t seem super exciting. The hope for a big-name free agent signing like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager or Freddie Freeman never came to fruition, and it seemed very similar to the 2021 team. Could they really expect different results with a similar product?

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Well now it seems to have paid its dividends.

The third-most expensive team in baseball saw many ups and downs throughout their 2022 campaign. But it all panned out in the end. How did we get here? Let’s take a closer look.

Aaron Judge’s Historic Offensive Season

The 2022 New York Yankees start and end with Aaron Judge. Judge has now tied Roger Maris’ single season record of 61 home runs, which was set 61 years ago to the year. The slugger’s historic season sees him leading the pack in a majority of the hitting statistics. There is a chance that this is the most impressive season we will ever see in our lifetimes. Where would this team be without his greatness?

Judge is the league leader in home runs (61), RBI (130), ISO (.382), slugging (.696), wRC+ (209), and is the current AL leader in batting average (.314), and OBP (.425). He’s fully in line to record a record-breaking homer season, while simultaneously winning the Triple Crown. Truly a groundbreaking accomplishment. Three of his amazing 61 home runs went for walk-offs, truly carrying the team on his back at this point.

Aaron Judge is the face of MLB. His heroics for the most storied franchise in baseball history have been mesmerizing. Whether he will stay with the Yankees or not has yet to be determined. But if this is his final ride with the Bronx Bombers, it sure has been memorable.

The job has yet to be finished with a World Series ring on everyone’s mind at the moment. But for a squad that has suffered a rollercoaster of a season, Judge has been the one constant. The baseball gods are looking down and smiling, because this has been a magical season.

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Power, Power, Power

The Yankees have accumulated a 115 wRC+ as a team, good for the second-best mark in the bigs behind just the Dodgers (120). The franchise has always been known for their uncanny ability to churn out power bats, and they’ve done that once more in 2022. Their 243 home runs are the most in baseball, nine more than the defending world champion Atlanta Braves. While Judge has reached a historic mark that none of us saw coming, he had a little help from his friends.

Outside of Judge, the Yankees lineup includes three other hitters with 20-plus home runs. Anthony Rizzo has completely changed his approach at the plate, leading to him matching his career-high of 32 home runs. Through an injury-riddled campaign only allowed him to appear in 106 games, Giancarlo Stanton still churned out a 28-homer season. And the forgotten second baseman, Gleyber Torres, seemed to rediscover his stroke with 24 bombs.

Matt Carpenter, Jose Trevino, Josh Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu and even the late Joey Gallo all hit over 10 home runs for the club this season.

The mash fest of home runs has led to a .187 ISO as a team, good for third-best in the sport. Yankees hitters are also third in slugging at .428. The team’s success will always come from the longball, as proven again in 2022. The Bronx Bombers wouldn’t be anywhere without the home runs, and here we are again!

Matt Blake’s Pitching Lab

Yankees pitchers saw severe improvement in the pitching department from 2021 to 2022. The team’s starters have accumulated a 3.54 ERA, along with the bullpen’s 3.03 ERA. Both rank fourth in the game. While the offense severely struggled during the month of August, as the Yankees completed the month 10-18, the pitching staff truly kept them afloat.

The ace of the staff, Gerrit Cole had another solid season. Following Cole’s outing last night in Toronto, he has tied Ron Guidry’s franchise record for the most strikeouts in a single season with 248. Cole’s 3.51 ERA matched with a 3.51 FIP isn’t entirely impressive, but he’s been great in spots this season.

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The true standout of this group, Nestor Cortes Jr., has shined. The first time All-Star has pitched to the tune of a 2.56 ERA. He has impressed with funky deliveries and low velocity, but he’s gotten the job done.

Subsidiary starters like Luis Severino and Jameson Taillon have been solid for the squad, with Taillon providing a magnificent first half. Trade deadline acquisition Frankie Montas has unfortunately not panned out the way Yankees fans thought he would, but its too early to give up on the player.

The bullpen has always been a strong suit for the Yankees. It hasn’t stopped in 2022. Numerous names have stepped up for the team including Clay Holmes, Ron Marinaccio, Scott Effross, Lucas Luetge, Lou Trivino, Michael King, Jonathan Loaisiga and Clay Holmes.

Despite the complete fall off of long-time closer Aroldis Chapman, many have stepped up in his place. Holmes seemed to fully have taken the closer role away from Chapman, but recent outings have proved differently. They’ve moved to a committee, and it’s worked in their favor.

Beating the Best

The AL East has the highest winning percentage of any division at .545. To be the best you have to beat the best, and the Yankees have done that in 2022.

The team has racked up a .630 win percentage against their division this season, good for a record of 46-27. This includes a 13-6 record against the Red Sox and 11-8 records against the Rays and Blue Jays. While Boston won’t be in the World Series race this year, both Toronto and Tampa Bay could face off against the Yankees in October.

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An impressive record against the AL East is also partnered with a 45-38 record against teams above .500, the most wins against teams in that caliber in MLB. The team has racked up a stellar +235 run differential, good for the second-most in MLB. This team has beaten the best and have given themselves a solid chance to succeed in October.

World Series in the Cards?

With the division firmly clinched, it’s time to look ahead to the playoffs. Can this team bring another World Series title back to the Bronx?

An incredible lineup with a historic hitter, paired with a solid rotation and stellar bullpen, the sky is the limit. The team has been incredibly hot during the month of September, posting a 17-7 record through 24 games.

These boys are hot and could ride their momentum all the way into October with the way they’ve played. A first-round bye will suit them well, as they’ve accumulated the second-best record in the AL this season, giving them plenty of rest. Names like Matt Carpenter, DJ Lemahieu and Andrew Benintendi will be given the opportunity to come back and appear in the playoffs as all three are currently on the IL.

At the least, Judge’s run and this team’s incredible power have given us a season to remember. This team has all the potential in the world to make it happen, so let’s see how they kick on in October.