The New York Yankees hoped to be competitive and not fall behind in the season's opening month as they did in 2016. A rough start on the road was erased by an eight-game winning streak and the Yanks won five of their last six series, propelling them into a surprising position in the standings.
Where the Yankees stand
Record: 15-8, T-1st AL East, Home: 10-2, Road: 5-6
Runs Scored: 128, 1st in American League, 4th in MLB
Run Differential: +43, 1st AL, 2nd MLB
Team OPS+: 121, 2nd AL, 3rd MLB
Team ERA+: 127, 1st MLB
How did the Yankees get here?
After the season's first two series in which they went 2-4, the Yankees headed home where the rotation began to roll and the bats started to sizzle to catch up with the team's excelling bullpen. The Yankees' rotation owns a 3.76 ERA, while the relievers' mark sits at 2.53. At the plate, the Yankees have hit an AL-best 37 home runs (T-3rd in MLB). The Yankees have also been effective on the bases, stealing 18 bags in 22 attempts.
The Yankees were uncertain what they would receive from their starters after ace Masahiro Tanaka. So far, the consensus is the rest of the rotation can hold its own and as a group can exceed middling expectations. Michael Pineda and Luis Severino have contributed some dominating performances, while CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery have done enough to keep the team in games.
The bullpen, which came into the season projected to be the best faction of the team, did not disappoint. Solid performances went beyond Dellin Betances (1.13 ERA, 15.8 K/9) and Aroldis Chapman (0.96 ERA, 14.5 K/9), as Adam Warren proved to be the correct choice to play the swingman role. Warren set down the first 26 batters he faced this season and owns a 0.68 ERA in 13 1/3 innings.
Despite leadoff hitter Brett Gardner underachieving (80 OPS+), first baseman Greg Bird struggling mightily (35 OPS+), starting catcher Gary Sanchez playing in just five games and shortstop Didi Gregorius missing 20 games, the team has received contributions from the rest of the regulars at the plate.
Aaron Judge has been the Yankees' undisputed star of the month, tying the major league rookie record for home runs in a month (10). Judge hit several tape-measure homers in the month, but it was his patience and approach at the plate that has truly impressed and points to a player who can be much more than just a power source with a hole in his swing. Judge finished the month hitting .303 with a .411 on-base percentage, .750 slugging percentage and a whopping 213 OPS+.
Austin Romine and Ronald Torreyes proved to be more than capable playing in place of Sanchez and Gregorius. Chase Headley pushed aside his typical early season struggles to the tune of a .301/.402/.494 slash line (147 OPS+), while free-swinging Starlin Castro leads the team with 32 hits and a .352 batting average. Newcomer Matt Holliday is heating up, Jacoby Ellsbury was consistently productive in the unfamiliar middle of the lineup and Aaron Hicks performed well in a part-time role.
What will May bring for the Yankees?
The Yankees will face AL East teams just nine times in May, so they'll have to keep pace by beating teams outside the division. The Yankees will play 18 of their 28 games this month against teams currently playing under .500 baseball. Finally, the Yanks will play 14 games on the road in May, an area of struggle in April.
The Yankees' offense is deep enough to survive extended skids from regulars as they endured with Gardner and Bird in April. However, those two players must find their strokes soon in order to offset any regression from the offensive stars from April.
The Yanks could get Sanchez back in the lineup later this week and, assuming all others remain healthy, their lineup whole for the first time this season. This bodes well for a Yankees lineup that has already demonstrated it can produce much more than it did in 2016.
There is little to be concerned about with the bullpen, but the rotation still seems to be the area in which the Yankees could experience some back peddling. Tanaka has gotten better each time out, but Pineda and Sabathia are still somewhat inconsistent start to start. The young guns of Severino and Montgomery have plenty of upside, but there could still be some growing pains to endure. If the Yankees can pitch collectively to the same level as they did in April, May could be another fine month.
The Yankees entered the season poised to work through a transitional period in which they tested some of the young players in the system. April's results were shockingly positive in some areas, to the point that expectations are beginning to expand beyond "wait and see" to potential postseason aspirations.