Four reasons Yankees fans should be optimistic

Banner for TTFB columnist Jackie Micucci's "The Bombers Blast" -- Mark Teixeira

Yangervis Solarte
Masahiro Tanaka (crouching) and Yangervis Solarte have been stealing headlines for the New York Yankees so far this season. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

This season has not been all lollipops and roses for the Yankees. Yet with three starters down, including CC Sabathia who has a deteriorating knee that could keep him out until July, and one of their most productive bats, Carlos Beltran looking more and more like he’s heading for surgery, the Bombers are only a game out of first place. No need to push the panic button at the moment, especially because all the beasts of the American League East are flawed this season.

So, even with all the injuries and an offense that has yet to fire on all cylinders, there are still reasons for fans to be optimistic about this still-young baseball season. Here are four things to keep Yankees fans smiling through some of the early frustrations.

Masahiro Tanaka

Tanaka has been as advertised, proving wrong the naysayers who thought his pitching style wouldn’t translate to success in the majors. He is 6-1 with 73 strikeouts, a 0.97 WHIP and 2.39 ERA, not only making him the ace of the staff, but also one of the league’s top pitchers. Tanaka just suffered his first loss (to the lowly Cubs), and even though he didn’t have his best stuff at Wrigley, the righty still struck out seven and allowed only two earned runs in six innings. It was his first regular season loss season in 21 months — a span that also encompasses his time in Japan’s Pacific League. Tanaka has warranted the hype and is must-see TV whenever he takes the mound.

Mark Teixeira

Count me as among those who thought Tex’s days as a fearsome hitter where dwindling away. Instead, he’s leading the team in offensive production — slugging .527 with an OPS of .899, 23 RBI and nine home runs. In addition, his defense is stellar as usual. Those power numbers seem to confirm that his wrist is feeling good. If Teixeira can continue to be a steady force in the lineup, the Yankees will be in good shape once the rest of the offense wakes up.

The bullpen

When you lose a Hall of Fame closer who was the best to ever play the position, you have to figure there’ll be a bit of a downgrade. However, David Robertson has transitioned nicely from Mariano Rivera‘s set-up man to closer. There was some concern in the past that he may not have “the make up” of a closer. He lost the job to Rafael Soriano two seasons ago when Rivera went down with season-ending knee surgery. Yet, this season, he has notched nine saves and owns a 1.42 ERA, 0.63 WHIP and 17/2 strikeout-per-walk ratio.

And it’s not just Robertson who has been dominant. Dellin Betances has been a strike-throwing machine, and Adam Warren has been a formidable bridge to Robertson thanks to a repertoire of four pitches. Throw Shawn Kelley into the mix once he returns from his back injury and you have a bullpen that can shorten the game by several innings … something the Yankees need given their banged up starting rotation.

Yangervis Solarte

Who would have thought that a 26-year-old career minor leaguer would be one of MLB’s top hitters? At best, the Yankees were hoping Solarte would be a serviceable switch-hitting, utility infielder who would average in the .250 to .235 range. What they’ve seen is a player with a .313/.387/.500 slash line. Of course, there is no way Solarte can keep putting up those numbers, but the Yankees have already gotten their return on investment and then some. Plus, it’s been a feel good story. (Is that Disney I hear calling?)

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