There is a sense of fun around the New York Yankees that I haven’t felt in quite some time. This group of guys has no quit in them, they’ve inspired fans to rally around them and they’re a total pleasure to watch. With so many stars on the disabled list, expectations were low at the start of the season, but this cast of second chances and young unprovens have played their hearts out to rise atop the AL East. Some fans are even concerned that things may go pear-shaped once all the All-Stars return to the line up.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why, in a season when everything has seemingly gone wrong, the New York Yankees have made it go right. Here’s what’s been working:
The starting pitching. While the pitching hasn’t been perfect, it’s been pretty darn good. CC Sabathia, even with his reduced velocity, is still the anchor of the rotation, although Hiroki Kuroda has the best numbers on the staff (a 1.05 WHIP, five wins and hitters are batting a measly .217 against him). Andy Pettitte continues to defy father time and Phil Hughes has gotten his groove back. While Ivan Nova is still nursing injuries, David Phelps has filled in nicely. It all begins with the pitching, and if you’ve got quality starters giving you quality starts, that’s half the battle.
Young guys getting a chance. The New York Yankees went from being one of the oldest teams in baseball to getting an infusion of youth thanks to, well, the old guys breaking down. Catcher Austin Romine, infielder Corban Joseph, and relievers Adam Warren and Preston Claiborne are all homegrown players who are making the most of their call-ups.
Then there’s the feel good story of Vidal Nuno. The 25-year-old lefty was pitching in an independent league when a New York Yankees scout signed him to minor league deal in 2011. He made his first start of the season on Monday and earned his first big-league win, pitching five scoreless innings. His only other MLB appearance was two weeks ago when he pitched three scoreless innings in relief. Let’s hope we see more of Nuno in the future.
Production from the unexpected. I admit (happily) that I was wrong about Vernon Wells. He has reclaimed his pre-ridiculous-contract form. Lyle Overbay seems to be on a mission to prove the Red Sox were wrong to cut him. Plus, I have to admit watching a first baseman who doesn’t consistently hit into a shift has been nice.
With Curtis Granderson returning from the DL, I wasn’t sure who would be the odd man out. Wells continues to swing a mean bat and Ichiro has returned to form. However, the news that DH Travis Hafner will have an MRI on his shoulder means the timing of Granderson’s return was excellent. Hey, we knew Hafner was going to break down at some point.
No A-Rod. The three-ring circus that is Mr. Rodriguez has been a non-factor this season thanks to the hip surgery that will keep him out at least through the All-Star Break. Sure, A-Rod and the allegations of his PED use are still in the news, but with the third baseman on the DL and out of the clubhouse, his off-field antics are not a constant distraction to his teammates and New York Yankees fans. We can actually focus on, you know, the team and its on-field performance.
This is Robinson Cano’s team. Cano has been the lone marquee name in the line-up. He’s risen to the occasion, putting up his typical All-Star stats: .306 BA, .895 OPS and 10 home runs. Here’s hoping the New York Yankees and Jay-Z (Cano’s new agent) can keep him in pinstripes as he should be the heir apparent to Derek Jeter for the face of the franchise.
Chemistry is a word that gets bandied about a lot in sports. I’m usually dubious of proclamations one way or another about team chemistry, especially from those of us outside the clubhouse. Yet this year, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi really seem to have stumbled upon the magic formula.