By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/thenyextra.com
The Yankees will open their 119th season early Thursday afternoon hoisting the Toronto Blue Jays.
The expectations again will be the same — World Series or bust. More than any other time in recent years, the AL East seems prime for the taking for them.
This isn’t an April Fool — it is real.
Baseball officiatos believe the Yanks have the bats and the arms to get through the American League to challenge the Dodgers (Here’s the Karma — they last met in the World Series 40 years ago in 1981).
With baseball apparently back to normalcy after their COVID-shortened season last year, the Yanks begin their trek with familiar expectations, hesitations, and consternations.
The early hesitations and consternations involve the starting staff and Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge.
Can Corey Kluber, Domingo German, Jordan Montgomery, and Jameson Tallion be the support behind ace Garrit Cole? In the spring, all of them showed they could with some stellar stats.
Luis Severino will be back after the All-Star break, and Deivi Garcia is the insurance in Scranton.
If Kluber regains his Cy Young form, the Yanks will be in the driver’s seas. But that won;t be known likely until mid-May to see if his arm can again handle the rigors after he pitched just one inning last year.
German has all the tools to be a No. 2 starter , and the Yanks’ best move was keeping him with the parent club. Kluber and German can take some pressure off Montgomery and Tallion, the latter who will be on a slow track.
The real telltale sign will be Stanton, who has looked like his 2017 MVP form as he has relied more on cardio and flexibility workouts rather than the strength-training workouts that have hampered his progress in pinstripes. The facts? He has played in just 41 games since late 2018.
Judge falls into the same category, possibly even worse. He has been injury prone for the past three seasons with pulls and strains that have halted his MVP potential.
Judge currently has a $10 million deal, and a healthy and productive 2021 could earn him a huge raise in his final year of arbitration before his free-agency 2023 year.
If Judge again stumbles with injuries, the Yanks will face a crucial decision on his future.
Stanton took up yoga, and Judge made an effort to stretch more. Go figure.
Oh, don’t forget Gary Sanchez.
He began camp with an upbeat and revived outlook, praised for his offseason work with his bat and glove.
The once Yankee prodigy ended spring with a roller-coaster month of high and lows, collecting just four hits in 32 at-bats.
Sanchez still has the approval of manager Aaron Boone and management, but he will be on a short leash. He can be a free agent in 2022, and this will be the make -or- break year. Don’t rule out a midseason trade if he doesn’t produce.
The rest of the lineup looks solid, although Gleyber Torres will be under the microscope, as he will be expected to have an outbreak year.
Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, and Chad Green anchor a bullpen that has some new looks, but their usual successful results should be there.
The Yanks should be able to open with a rapid start with Toronto and Baltimore at the Stadium before a trip to Tampa next weekend that will be the first test.
Yes, it will be World Series or bust as the expectation, and it also the usual and new hesitations and consternations will be there.
There is a good chance it can all come together, and the Yanks push down the pedal by Memorial Day.
We’ll soon see. Heath will be the key.
You know you still have some unsettled feelings.
April 1 seems like a fitting start for a team for a team whose season could be covered in champagne or be shelved with strains and pulls.