Yankees season preview: So much turns on which Gary Sanchez shows up

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One hundred victories a year ago weren’t nearly enough to finish ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East. A wild-card win over the A’s sent them to the ALDS where they were flattened by their blood rivals, who used that as a springboard to another World Series title.

Now in Aaron Boone’s second season as manager, the Yankees didn’t come close to signing Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Instead, they sprinkled their dollars through several neighborhoods. Relievers Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton signed free-agent deals. Like fellow lefty Britton, starter J.A. Happ returned to The Bronx with CC Sabathia via free agency. Infielders DJ LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki arrived as free agents.

While the Yankees had spent years scouting lefty starter Patrick Corbin, he signed with the Nationals. Instead, lefty starter James Paxton came from the Mariners in a trade for a package of minor leaguers headed by Justus Sheffield, who was considered by some — but not all — the Yankees’ top pitching prospect.Was the eight-game difference between the Red Sox and Yankees a direct result of Aaron Judge missing 45 games with a chip fracture in his right wrist? In each of his two full big-league seasons, Judge has battled injuries. He avoided the disabled list in 2017, but played the second half of the season nursing a left shoulder problem that required postseason surgery. A healthy and productive Judge is a must for the Yankees to win the AL East.

Most important hitter: Gary Sanchez is coming off a nightmarish 2018 season in which he landed on the disabled list twice due to right groin strains, batted .188, led the majors in passed balls with 18 and was behind the plate when Yankee hurlers were charged with 45 wild pitches. The brutal season was followed by surgery on his left shoulder. At this time a year ago, Sanchez was considered by many to be the Yankees’ most complete hitter. Today the 26-year-old is a colossal question mark.

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