The New York Yankees don’t do statement games in early May, not when they already have 27 World Series titles, 53 Hall of Famers in Cooperstown and zero losing seasons since the year Kris Bryant was born.
But the Yankees just swept the defending World Series champs at Wrigley Field without Masahiro Tanaka throwing a single pitch, showing that the Cubs don’t have the only blueprint or a monopoly on young talent.
A dream scenario for Major League Baseball and its TV partners – a Cubs-Yankees World Series at some point – doesn’t feel like wishful thinking anymore. The Evil Empire is rising again.
“They got a lot of things going their way,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who clashed with the Yankees for years in the brutal American League East while guiding the small-market Tampa Bay Rays. “They got a lot of good athletes. That’s what they were after. It’s something they knew they had to do – and they finally did it.
“It was always a wonderful battle. I worked against them when they had all the boys working over there from the mid-90s group. It looks like they’re on their way to rebuilding something like that.”
That’s what the Cubs are trying to become – the first team to successfully defend a World Series title since the Yankee dynasty that did the three-peat (1998, 1999, 2000) after winning it all in 1996.
A 16-15 start has revealed a shaky rotation, young hitters still learning on the job and a bullpen now running on fumes. But it doesn’t change the big-picture reality that the Cubs are positioned to dominate the National League Central for years to come.
A 20-9 start has shown the reloading Yankees to be ahead of schedule, the season after becoming trade-deadline sellers for the first time in a generation. The Steinbrenner family’s DNA and the business-side pressure at Yankee Stadium and on the YES Network meant there could never be the kind of five-year plan followed in Wrigleyville.
After flipping superstar closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs and shipping dynamic reliever Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians last summer, the Yankees shaped the World Series and restocked a farm system Baseball America and ESPN now rank second in the industry, with Baseball Prospectus putting nine New York prospects on its top 101.
“They weren’t a bad team by any means, but it was clear that they felt like that wasn’t their year,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They had two pieces (where) it was obvious they were going to get back a lot. I thought they did a brilliant job.
“They got really good talent back. And when you add that young talent to what they have already, I think they’re going to be exciting to watch for a long time.”
The Yankees play by their own rules, giving Chapman the biggest contract ever for a closer – a five-year, $86 million megadeal – at a time when they are supposed to be cutting payroll and slashing luxury taxes and ramping up for the future.
The Yankees won the weekend with Cubs backup catcher Miguel Montero having as many scoreless ninth innings as Chapman (one) and getting as many outs as Dellin Betances (three), the All-Star setup guy built like an NBA power forward at 6-foot-8, 265 pounds.
The Yankees showed guts and determination, beating the Cubs with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning on Friday afternoon when Brett Gardner drove a Hector Rondon slider into the right-field patio deck for a three-run homer.
The Bronx Bombers scored 11 runs on Saturday night – and forced the Cubs into scramble mode with their pitching staff this week at Coors Field – even with Aaron Judge going 0-for-5.
It’s not at the level of “Bryzzo Souvenir Co.” yet. But catcher Gary Sanchez needed only 53 games last season to blast 20 homers and finish second in the AL Rookie of the Year race. The Yankees chose Judge 30 picks after the Cubs grabbed Bryant in the 2013 draft and have watched the enormous slugger crush 13 homers through 28 games this year.
A “SportsCenter” update on Twitter noted that Judge – at 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds – is larger than 1,815 players who took an NFL snap last season.
Just your casual reminder that Aaron Judge is bigger than 1,815 NFL players. pic.twitter.com/Dd3lxpOQEr— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 6, 2017
“He’s Frank Howard all over again,” Maddon said. “(Giancarlo) Stanton and him right now are probably the two biggest, strongest guys in the game. If you make a mistake, it’s going to get hit far.”
Luis Severino – the kind of young, homegrown starter the Theo Epstein administration is still trying to develop – would have beat Jon Lester and notched a signature win on “Sunday Night Baseball” if not for the Chapman meltdown that led to nine more innings and the game ending at 1:14 Monday morning.
But this won’t be the last you’ll see of the Cubs competing against the Yankees, whether or not it actually happens this October. These are two iconic franchises with the trade chips to be dealmakers at the July 31 deadline and the financial muscle to move the monster free-agent market after the 2018 season. Imagine Bryce Harper in pinstripes or Manny Machado playing next to Gleyber Torres in The Bronx.
“Some of their youth’s not here,” Maddon said. “(Chase) Headley’s not young. (Didi) Gregorius has been around. Starlin (Castro’s) been around. (Aaron) Hicks has been around. They’re not as youthful as people are giving them credit for right now, but I think some of the youth is on the way.”