A Tale of Two Boroughs: Yankees thrive while Mets struggle (Yankees Lens)

The early returns have been nothing but positive for the New York Yankees in 2017. The Bronx Bombers have defied even the most optimistic of preseason projections by sitting in first place for much of the season. Led by rookie right fielder Aaron Judge, the Yankees offense has been scoring runs at a pace not seen since the days of the perennially contending teams of the 2000s.

While Judge has gotten all the attention, the Bombers have received contributions from all over the diamond. Brett Gardner, his counterpart in left field, has hit home runs at a frantic pace and seems poised to set a new career high. The resurgence of power from Gardner and the emergence of rookie sensation Judge have been pleasant surprises from the Bombers. However, one could argue that no Yankee has been a bigger surprise than outfielder Aaron Hicks.

Hicks, a former first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins, had an abysmal first season in the Bronx in 2016, struggling mightily while serving as backup for Carlos Beltran. Now, only about a quarter into the 2017 season, Hicks has been a model of consistency and has already surpassed his 2016 offensive totals. On any given night, he is capable of beating teams with his powerful bat, his blazing speed and his solid defense in center field. Hicks’ performance thus far has been so strong, that it will likely lead to his continued starting in center, even after former All-Star Jacoby Ellsbury returns from injury.

On the mound, the Yankees have received more than they could have ever hoped from rookie left-hander Jordan Montgomery. The lefty did not win a spot in the rotation until a week into the season, yet has shown a poise and confidence on the pitching mound that has not been seen since Andy Pettitte. However, despite the surprise emergence of Montgomery as a fixture in the rotation, perhaps nothing on the Yankee pitching staff has been more unexpected than Masahiro Tanaka’s uncharacteristic struggles.

The Yankee’s ace for the previous three seasons has struggled mightily in 2017. Tanaka has been clobbered by opponents to the tune of a 6.55 ERA. Tanaka’s struggles are made even more baffling by his insistence that his arm is perfectly healthy. Now, with the Yankees seeming like legitimate contenders for the AL East crown, it remains to be seen just how much time they give Tanaka to turn it around. Likewise, with C.C. Sabathia now on the DL with a hamstring, Tanaka will have to turn it around if the Yankees are to survive in an offensive division.

Going forward, the Yankees are positioned well with first baseman Greg Bird and closer Aroldis Chapman, both due to return from injury soon. The team also has top prospect Gleyber Torres playing third base at its minor league affiliate in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Additionally, the Yankees possess the prospects to make any deal they may need to at the trade deadline, as well as prospects acquired at last year’s deadline.

This Yankee team seems poised to return to postseason play, but they have not entered the playoffs with a cast of characters this inexperienced since their 1996 World Series winning team. The baby bombers look to defy the expectations baseball pundits everywhere, and take what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, and turn it into playoff glory. Whether they continue to defy expectations, or come down to Earth, it will be an intriguing summer for the Yankees.