Here we are on June 14 and, in 21 very short days, three weeks, the New York Yankees have erased the six-game lead built by the Tampa Bay Rays on May 23. What will happen over the next month is anyone’s guess but I am fairly sure there are five big reasons why I think the Yankees will overcome the Rays and win the American League East. Here they are:
No. 1: A-Rod and Tex have not joined the party.
In the most competitive division in baseball, the most fearsome No. 3 and No. 4 hitters ply their trade in pinstripes. Yet neither Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira have really hit like they usually do.
Rodriguez has missed the last three games with a tendinitis in his left hip flexor but is expected to start at third base or DH beginning Tuesday night. He is doing OK if you are judging him as a second-tier star but his eight home runs, 43 RBIs and .290 batting average are pretty pedestrian statistics for a superstar like him.
The power numbers are way down and A-Rod has not had a hot streak anywhere approaching what he did in the postseason last year. You would have to think that the time is coming and when it happens I feel sorry for the pitchers who have to pitch to him with a red-hot Robinson Cano batting behind him.
Teixeira has always been a slow starter in April. But his April 2010 was his worst start ever. He hit .136 with two home runs and nine RBIs. He bounced back a bit in May but he has only one home and three RBIs in June. Mark Teixeira batting .229 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs and is nowhere near the Mark Teixeira who hit .292 with 39 home runs and 122 RBIs in 2009.
You would have to think Teixeira will put it all together soon. If Tex and A-Rod click at roughly the same time the balance of power will shift heavily towards the Bronx Bombers.
No. 2: The Yankees have the best rotation in baseball.
Their five starters have all won six or more games. Combined they are 35-14 with a 3.71 ERA. They have averaged 6 1/3 innings per start. They also have missed only two starts in the first 63 games.
They are pitching deep into games, they are pitching well enough to win and they are very stable, consistent and healthy. I predicted as much when I applauded the trade for Javier Vazquez over the winter.
Vazquez gives the Yankees a No. 4 starter who has never been on the disabled list and a pitcher who averages 200 innings a season. His start in 2010 did not make the trade look good initially. On May 11, Vazquez was 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA. He is 5-2 with a 3.90 ERA since that time.
The Boston Red Sox spent an awful lot of cash this winter to obtain right-hander John Lackey. I was very careful not to compare Vazquez to Lackey at the time because I knew Red Sox fans “think” Lackey is better.
Lackey is 7-3 but his ERA is 4.54 and a product of most of his wins has been his run support. But the fact Vazquez has settled in proves my point that his addition made the Yankees rotation deeper than it was last season with Joba Chamberlain and Sergio Mitre as the No. 4 and No. 5 starters.
Phil Hughes (9-1) at age 23 is going to make the A.L. All-Star staff and he simply has been the best No. 5 starter in baseball. Andy Pettitte (8-1) likely will also make the 2010 All-Star team at age 37. He has always been considered one the best second-half pitchers in baseball. If that is true, look out based on his current 2.46 ERA.
CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett are considered the top two Yankee starters, yet they have not really hit their stride. Sabathia is 6-3 with a very pedestrian 4.01 ERA and Burnett is 6-4 with a 3.86 ERA. You would have to think there is upside to both of them in the second half.
No. 3: Mariano Rivera is still the best closer in baseball
Rivera at age 40 is like fine wine. He just gets better with age. He is 0-1 with a 1.21 ERA and he converted 15 of 16 save opportunities. The fact that he has being doing this job for the Yankees since 1996 should tell you something.
So many times the Yankees have been in pennant chases, so many times in playoffs, so many times in World Series. The one constant has been Rivera. He is human, for sure. But nobody has closed for so long and done it at a higher level than Mo.
You can ask any manager or general manager in baseball that if they could pick a closer they would could have for the 2010 season and Rivera would be the No. 1 choice. I am not sure how Rafael Soriano of the Rays or Jonathan Papelbon of the Red Sox would fare, but I am sure they would not overtake Rivera.
Rivera also benefits from having a solid setup man in Joba Chamberlain. Though Chamberlain has stumbled a few times this season, he is quickly settling back into being the reliable eighth-inning man he was in 2007.
The Yankees bullpen will finally be completely built when Alfredo Aceves returns from his back injury. Damaso Marte, Chan Ho Park and David Robertson — though they had their bad moments — give the Yankees perhaps an even better bullpen they had in 2009. Mite has an ERA of 2.88 and has been effective as a swing man all season.
No. 4: The Yankees’ record has been built playing mostly on the road
Before their current six-game home-stand, the Yankees had played 34 of its first 57 games on the road. In those 57 games they were 35-22 — 17-6 at home and 18-16 on the road. This means the Yankees will spend a majority of the rest of the season at home, where they are playing at a .759 clip this season.
The new Yankee Stadium is clearly a huge advantage for the Yankees and they have been capitalizing on their home games this season at a better rate than they did last season.
The Rays, on the other hand, have been better on the road (22-6) than at home (18-15). That is very odd and it shows that that the Rays are not likely to continue to play at that high a level on the road. It just is not statistically conceivable they can.
The Red Sox meanwhile are downright human at home (20-15). That is unusual for them and they are going to have to improve at Fenway Park to catch the Yankees or the Rays.
No. 5: The Yankees always play better in the second half
Name a season other than the 2008 season where the Yankees have not played better from the All-Star break on? You can’t. The Yankees are a team usually that is dreadful out of the gate, hits it stride in the summer and steamrolls clubs in August and September.
This season was different. The Yankees never really let themselves fall out of contention. They kept pace with the Rays, waited for them to cool off and now they are poised to run right past them.
Injuries have certainly contributed to the Yankees’ early inconsistency. But they are slowly starting to get their players back: Curtis Granderson, Jorge Posada, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez.
They only major losses now are DH Nick Johnson and Aceves in the bullpen. And the loss of Johnson is not a killer because they can rotate A-Rod, Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Posada and Nick Swisher into that role to keep them healthier.
Don’t put it past the Yankees also to be looking to make one major deal for a hitter before the trade deadline. How would Lance Berkm
an look as a Yankee DH? It could very well happen within the next month.
I think these are five very well-thought out reasons why the Yankees will win the division they have dominated for 14 years. If you have a differing view, I would like to hear it. But I would like to hear it with cogent logic and not just the fact you hate the Yankees. I get enough those, thank you.