As Rivals Regroup, Yankees Look To Capitalize in 2021

Yankees rivals

No team that goes all in for a championship wants to feel the disappointment of unmatched expectations in October. For four consecutive years, the New York Yankees have felt that pain, losing to three AL rivals in that span.

Their championship window is still open, and general manager Brian Cashman plans to run with a similar roster in 2021. That plan includes re-signing DJ LeMahieu and making some tweaks to the pitching staff.

Cashman spoke to the media on December 16th, talking of his daydreams where the 2020 roster was able to return to full capacity. He thinks the way they played in the Wild Card series hints at what that looks like.

It is time for those daydreams to transform into a reality.

What helps is that all three of the Yankees rivals from this recent stretch are transitioning. The Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays have been the biggest roadblocks for the Yankees, but each team is in a different place now.

Therefore, 2021 is a crucial year for the Yankees’ championship hopes. As the 2020 calendar year comes to a close, the Yankees once again have one of the best teams on paper in the AL. After losing to the better team four years in a row, they need to capitalize on the changing landscape of the AL to finally return to the World Series.

Regrouping Rivals

The Astros have a new look from the teams that beat the Yankees in the 2017 and 2019 ALCS. They struggled at times in 2020 after the fallout of their sign-stealing scandal. Although they finished one win away from the World Series, they were still a sub-.500 team in the regular season.

Moving into 2021, it is likely they will be without their entire starting outfield with George Springer and Michael Brantley being especially significant losses, assuming both sign contracts elsewhere. Additionally, their starting rotation, which shows promise for 2021, is not nearly as dominant without Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole at the front.

The Red Sox have regressed each season since their title in 2018, and they traded Mookie Betts in February. Although they still have a competitive core in place from their 108-win-championship team of that year, they also have a lot of question marks.

Craig Kimbrel was never successfully replaced in their bullpen. Also, neither Chris Sale nor Eduardo Rodriguez, their two best starting pitchers, played in 2020 due to injuries and health concerns.

This trend continued with Sunday night’s news that Blake Snell is being dealt to the San Diego Padres. Charlie Morton has already walked, and the Rays team that was 11-4 against the Yankees in the regular and postseason has now lost two of its three best starting pitchers. Both of them are now on NL teams.

The Rays have done this before. They have a history of dealing a face of their franchise to sacrifice short-term success for long-term sustainability. This time they have pitchers whom they are confident can step into the rotation. Regardless, the production from the former-Cy-Young-winning Snell and big game reliability of Morton won’t be easy to replace.

Capitalize On 2021

With all of this turnover among their rivals within the AL, the Yankees have stayed in tact. They have seen some players depart, but the bulk of their team is still present.

Their toughest opponents from the last half decade will still be competitive in 2021. Considering how those teams are run and who is in charge, it is safe to assume this will be a quick transition on all accounts. However, all three lack some of the components that made them great in recent years.

The Yankees still need to re-sign LeMahieu and make some final adjustments to the starting rotation. If they can accomplish those things, then everything is lining up for them in 2021, and they need to take advantage.

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