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Yanks might be strongest of the weak

7/24/2014

NEW YORK -- The Yankees might not be good, but they might be good enough.

The beat-up Yankees (53-48) are piecing it together a week into the second half, and it is paying off. They entered Thursday night's Baltimore-Seattle game tied for the AL's second wild-card spot with Robinson Cano's Mariners and just 2½ games behind the Orioles in the AL East. The Yankees are tied with the Toronto Blue Jays (54-49), who come to the Stadium for three this weekend.

It is sort of hard to tell if the second-half Yankees are any better than the .500 first-half club. They just took three of four from the worst team in baseball in a weird series. Somebody had to win each game, and this year, that team has not been the Texas Rangers in most cases.

But that is not the Yankees' issue. They lost the first game of the series with five errors. They needed nearly five hours and 14 innings to win the second. In the third, their grounds crew was their MVP, as poor tarp placement allowed the Yankees to escape a Yu Darvish start with a rain-shortened win after just five innings. Thursday, played in a tidy two-hours, 47 minutes, was of the more conventional variety, 4-2 in nine innings.

Well, if conventional, you had the Yankees winning games with Brandon McCarthy, pitching as well as any starter over the past month, on the mound, Chase Headley smashing RBI singles off the right-field wall and Francisco Cervelli swinging like Thurman Munson in his prime.

Add it up, and it left manager Joe Girardi intent on tuning in to the O's and M's on Thursday night.

"I'm sure I'll put it on," Girardi said. "And it will help me go to sleep."

Girardi is sleeping a bit easier because the Yankees have won six of seven after the break. After Thursday, they are an MLB-best 32-20 (.615) in games decided by two runs or less, which is mostly a tribute to Dellin Betances and David Robertson and the way Girardi has used them.

The Yankees might have found a little something with McCarthy and Headley. McCarthy is 4-0 with a 1.72 ERA in his past five starts, three of which have been with the Yankees.

"It is a nice feeling," McCarthy said. "It is the opposite of how I felt earlier this year, where I was a burden on a team. I was the guy holding things up."

Headley has hit in 14 of his past 16 games, batting .322 (22-for-66) over that span. He is starting to feel like himself, he said.

Both have brought a little urgency to the clubhouse, energized by the pennant race.

"I was really at a point where I feel I really wanted more pressure, kind of the fight-or-flight thing," McCarthy said. "I've always responded well to it."

Headley has been in only one pennant race. Back in 2010, his San Diego Padres lost to the San Francisco Giants on the last day of the season to miss October.

"It is a tough pill to swallow, especially if you have been in the league as long as I have and not been in the playoffs," said the 30-year-old Headley, who broke into the majors at 23 years old. "Those opportunities don't come all the time, so you want to take advantage of those."

The Yankees have chances every year. The level of talent is in the eye of the beholder. Most fans and media haven't been impressed with this 2014 club. Headley has never seen anything like it.

"It is certainly far superior than anything I’ve ever been a part of," Headley said. "I don’t say that to knock the guys in San Diego. I have a lot of tremendous friends and teammates over there, but the collection that is in this clubhouse is much different than anything I’ve ever been a part of."

With Brian McCann shifting to first with Mark Teixeira out, Cervelli continues to step up. He played every inning behind the plate of this long series. Cervelli called it no sweat, smiling, saying his season just started since he was out with a hamstring injury for a couple months.

"He is probably as energetic as any player I've got," Girardi said. "He loves to play."

The Yankees need grinders, like Cervelli, if they are somehow going to be one of the strongest of the weak. Being good -- maybe even just OK -- might just be good enough this year.