Reports of the New York Yankees’ demise have so far been greatly exaggerated

Going into the season, there were so many predictions of doom and gloom for the New York Yankees. Some of them were warranted, given all the injuries and age on this squad and a disastrous offseason. Some were just ridiculous, completely ignoring the strengths the Bronx Bombers still had.

They were ready to explode after a 1-4 start in which they looked completely anemic in every way. But after a 13-5 stretch since, they’re starting to calm a bit.

That’s right. Your New York Yankees are 14-9, only 2.5 games behind the also surprising Red Sox for first in the AL East. How has it happened?

Quite simple: Pitching, pitching and more pitching: The Yankees’ staff has a 3.91 ERA. Not elite, but good enough to keep them in ballgames. CC Sabathia, with his best stuff and velocity still yet to come, has been steady with a 4-2 record and 3.35 ERA.

Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda have been spectacular, both 3-1 with ERA+’s over 140. They are too invaluable to this team and the Yankees need to be able to keep them healthy and fresh.

Mariano Rivera is back and as good and consistent as ever. He’s a perfect 8 for 8 in save opportunities, surrendering just two runs in nine appearances. Outside of one poor outing, set-up man and escape artist David Robertson has been solid, eight strikeouts and just two walks in 8.2 IP.

What has also gotten the Yankees going is the offense. Robinson Cano has played like an early frontrunner for MVP, posting a .326/.379/.632/1.010 line with seven homers and 17 RBIs.

But what’s been really shocking is the contributions from Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner. After hitting .222 in his previous two seasons in Anaheim, Wells is hitting .309 with a .954 OPS. The man they call “Pronk” is tearing the cover off the ball, hitting .309 and posting a monster .727 slugging % (1.160 OPS).

Of course, there still remains plenty of room for improvement and some more concerns. None more than the ever continuing injuries. With Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira all still out with no clear time-tables with either of them, the Yankees will need to stick with the replacement guys they have right now.

It doesn’t help when there have been more injuries. Kevin Youkilis has been bothered by a bad back, which it all of last year. Francisco Cervelli broke his hand on April 26th and will be out for six weeks. Very unfortunate considering how well he was played as the Yankees’ starting catcher.

Another concern right now is the team’s depth in all facets, especially against LHP and in the backend of the rotation and bullpen. The Yankees hit just .217 with a .631 OPS against lefties, both second worst in the AL. Brett Gardner and Ichiro have struggled at the dish so far, but they should get the benefit of the doubt. Give them time and I’m sure they’ll start to play better.

Probably more to do with injuries and the amount of left-handed bats in the lineup, but the struggles versus lefties is a serious problem right now. For some reason, Joe Girardi keeps batting Ben Francisco in the middle of the order against LHP, and he has three hits in 29 at-bats.

The back-end of the rotation and bullpen has also been poor. Phil Hughes struggled in his first two starts after being rushed back from a back injury but has pitched better in his last two: four runs in 14 innings. Ivan Nova has been totally ineffective and has already found himself on the DL due to inflammation in his arm.

Despite deceiving ERA’s, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan has been inefficient: too many baserunners and blown leads. Chamberlain was forced to save a one run lead on April 27th and barely escaped. Logan has come in and twice has blown a lead via inherited runners. Not good for somebody who was the only LOOGY in the pen.

But hey, if you’re a Yankees fan, you cannot help but be pleased with the success they’ve been able to have thus far, considering all the apocalyptic predictions by fan and pundit alike. Look at the Blue Jays, whom everyone predicted to win it all. 9-16 and the Yankees have already taken 5 of 6 from them.

I think it’s encouraging that the Yankees still have room for improvement. It just remains to be seen whether it will happen or things will simply get worse. But hey, that’s why it is a long season with 162 games. Nothing’s decided yet; we got a LONG way to go. But right now the Yankees are trending upward.

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