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Somehow, some way, Yankees are winning

8/7/2014



Over the past week or so, somebody has been bombing media members with emails under various aliases, including Brian Cashman, Alex Rodriguez, Mickey Rivers, Babe Ruth and, oddly, Earl Weaver, since all the emails are about the Yankees. Most of them are criticizing Cashman for building a mediocre team despite a high payroll.

Well, it's true that despite a $208 million Opening Day payroll that ranked second in the majors behind the Dodgers, the Yankees haven't exactly put out a $208 million product.

But they certainly aren't lacking in interesting plots and surprising stories.

They just took three out of four against the Tigers, facing the past three American League Cy Young Award winners in the series. They held the Tigers to six runs in four games, just 24 hits, and Thursday's hero was a rookie named Shane Greene, who pitched eight scoreless innings to outduel Rick Porcello 1-0. When Greene allowed a leadoff single in the ninth (I'm not sure why manager Joe Girardi was letting him face the meat of the Detroit lineup for a fourth time) and then closer David Robertson walked Victor Martinez with Miguel Cabrera coming up as a pinch hitter, it appeared the Yankees may squander Greene's gem. Instead, Robertson induced a double-play grounder from Cabrera and got Don Kelly to pop out for his 31st save in 33 chances.

The Yankees are 60-54, tied with the Royals at just a half-game behind the Blue Jays for the second wild card (Kansas City and Toronto both play Thursday night). No, 60-54 isn't remarkable considering the $200-plus million payroll, but it is pretty remarkable considering four of the Yankees' original five starters are currently on the disabled list.

The Opening Day rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have started exactly half of the Yankees' 114 games. Only Kuroda has survived the injury bug (and now David Phelps, third on the team with 17 starts, is also out). In this age with so much parity across the sport, it's often good health that determines standings as much as talent and payroll. Of course, you can invest in durable players; it's not necessarily a surprise that the opening rotation didn't stay on the field considering Pineda hadn't pitched in the majors in two years, Nova missed time last year and Sabathia had years of wear on his left arm. The Yankees aren't in this position merely because of bad luck.

The Yankees began the day 10th in the AL in runs and eighth in runs allowed. The bullpen has been terrific with Dellin Betances setting up Robertson, but the Yankees' record when leading entering the seventh, eighth or ninth innings isn't any better than the major league average. Brett Gardner has been getting the attention for his recent power surge, but the Yankees lead the majors with 24 home runs since the All-Star break. Still ... the numbers don't seem to add up to a playoff contender.

But they keep finding a way to win. Take Greene. A year ago, the right-hander gave up 175 hits in 154⅓ innings between Class A and Double-A. Baseball America rated him the team's No. 16 prospect before the season. That scouting report in Baseball America didn't mention a cutter, but he threw it 28 times against the Tigers. With a 93-95 mph sinking fastball that he keeps down in the zone, and a hard slider, there's talent here that suggests he isn't a complete fluke despite his mediocre minor league numbers.

Of course, the Yankees also added reinforcements at the trade deadline; it remains to be seen what Stephen Drew, Chase Headley and Martin Prado will contribute, but while they may not be huge impact players, they should provide at least minor upgrades over the likes of Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson and Ichiro Suzuki.

When Tanaka went down, it certainly seemed like the Yankees' season was over. Now, the rest of the American League teams may wish they had knocked out the Yankees when they had a chance. This is a better team than last year's scrappy bunch that somehow won 85 games (OK, "scrappy" and "Yankees" don't exactly go together) and while I'm still skeptical of this team's playoff chances, I'm pretty skeptical of all the teams fighting for that second wild card. We can do all the analysis and run all the projections, but it's wide-open for the second wild card.

And the Yankees may just sneak in with this group of past-their-prime veterans and Plan B starters.

It's an intriguing story, even if you don't like the Yankees, and even if Mickey Rivers isn't happy with the state of the franchise.