By Matt Citak
The Yankees' success in 2017 took a lot of people by surprise. New York seemed to be at least one more year away from their rebuild being complete, yet managed to put together an amazing season, winning 91 games and securing one of the American League's Wild Card berths. They rode that momentum all the way to Game 7 of the ALCS before falling to the eventual World Series Champion Houston Astros.
While last year's accomplishments may not have been expected at the beginning of the year, the same cannot be said about the 2018 season.
New York made the biggest splash of the offseason when they acquired slugger Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins, adding the reigning NL MVP to a lineup that already featured Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. General Manager Brian Cashman continued to add talent to the roster throughout the winter, re-signing CC Sabathia while signing Neil Walker and trading for Brandon Drury.
The Bronx Bombers entered the season with sky-high expectations. After coming so close in 2017, the Yankees were considered one of the favorites to win the World Series this year.
And, a quarter of the way through the season, the Yankees are fully living up to the hype.
After 40 games, New York finds itself 28-12, tied with the Boston Red Sox for the division lead. This is an incredible feat considering the Yankees were middling around .500 for the first three weeks of the season.
Heading into play on April 21, the Yanks were 9-9 and trailing Boston by a sizable margin in the division race. Since that day, New York has won 19 of 22 games, winning every series and completely obliterating the Red Sox's cushion in the AL East.
This sort of hot streak is impressive by itself. But when you take a look at who exactly the Yankees beat over the last few weeks, you begin to see just how good this young team is.
4-0 against the Minnesota Twins. 3-1 against the Astros. 3-0 against the Cleveland Indians. 2-1 against the Red Sox.
That's an incredible 12-2 against the four other American League teams that qualified for the playoffs last season.
Add in a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels and you realize that the Yankees are not only winning, but they're beating the creme de la creme of the American League.
The biggest reason for New York's early-season success has been the dominance of the lineup. Stanton hit his 10th home run of the season on Sunday, making him the fourth member of the Yankees to reach double-digit home runs in 2018.
Prior to this season, the Yankees never had four players get to 10 or more home runs by the 40th game of the year, or even the 50th game of the year, for that matter.
But Stanton's blast on Sunday had him join Judge (11), Sanchez (10), and Didi Gregorius (10) in the double-digit homer column. The foursome became the first quartet of teammates to accomplish this feat within the first 40 games of a season since 2003, when Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Carl Everett, and Juan Gonzalez of the Texas Rangers did the same, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
That's some pretty good company.
New York has been almost unstoppable over the last four weeks, despite getting mediocre performances from some of their big-name players.
While he has 10 home runs on the season, Sanchez has really struggled at the plate. In 36 games, the 25-year-old catcher is hitting a measly .206.
Brett Gardner, the veteran of the lineup, is hitting just .227 with six extra-base hits in 141 at-bats.
Gregorius, who was New York's best hitter through the first few weeks of the season, has seen his average drop from .372 on April 25 to .260 today, and is batting .125 in the month of May.
In addition to these three big names, the Yankees have not received much production from Aaron Hicks, Neil Walker, Tyler Austin, or Brandon Drury in limited action this year.
It's actually quite amazing the run New York has been on considering the lack of efficiency the team has seen from so many important players, especially in the starting rotation.
While Luis Severino and CC Sabathia have both been amazing, the rest of the rotation has gotten off to a very rocky start.
Sonny Gray is currently sporting a horrid 6.39 ERA, while Masahiro Tanaka's is resting at 4.66. The Yankees also lost Jordan Montgomery for 2-3 months, leaving them rather thin with their starting pitching.
Luckily, even with all of the homegrown talent already in the majors and performing well, New York still boasts one of the league's top farm systems. If Gray continues to get rocked, while Montgomery remains out for a while, Cashman can dip into the minors and use some of the organization's top prospects as trade bait in order to acquire another starter. Gleyber Torres is certainly not going anywhere, but other youngsters such as Estevan Florial and Justus Sheffield could net the Yankees a very talented pitcher.
New York's streak over the last few weeks has been truly special. And while the season is still young, it's quite evident that this 2018 Yankees squad has the potential and talent to be playing deep into October.
Unfortunately for the fans of the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball, it appears as if the Evil Empire is back.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.
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