Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Yanks are lean, mean win machine
By Wallace Matthews ESPNNewYork.com
Covering the Yankees these days is about as much fun as writing technical manuals. And very similar.
It is difficult to imagine a subject more boring than writing about machinery, and right now, the Yankees are a machine.
A hitting, fielding, pitching, winning machine.
They played a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday afternoon that started at 1:56 p.m. -- there was a 51-minute non-rain delay -- and was over about six minutes later.
The only time Wednesday's win got truly interesting was when the ball was hit to Alex Rodriguez.
Unfortunately, the official end didn't come for another three hours, a period of time that included another rain delay -- this one a real one that lasted 58 minutes before the umpires did the sensible thing and waved this one off.
But after the Yankees put four runs on the board in the first inning -- three of them on the first 10 pitches thrown by Ricky Romero -- the only time the game was truly interesting to watch was whenever the baseball was hit to Alex Rodriguez.
The rest of it was so predictable the tickets to this one should have had "Foregone Conclusion" stamped across them.
That's how good the Yankees are right now.
They are 36-13 since May 21, 5-1 since the All-Star break and 8-2 since July 6, when they traveled to Boston for what would have been a pivotal midsummer series in years past but turned out to be a weekend massacre.
In this series, they not only swept the Blue Jays, who have traditionally been tough on them, they broke them as well. Toronto leaves town without its most fearsome hitter, Jose Bautista, who went on the DL on Monday after injuring his wrist on a swing, and possibly without Brett Lawrie, who took a frightening tumble into the photographer's well chasing a foul ball and miraculously came away with only a bruised calf.
"This was tough three days here in New York," said Blue Jays manager John Farrell, with more than a hint of understatement.
Now, the Yankees head to the West Coast for seven games, four against the weak Oakland Athletics, who they swept at Oakland in May, and three against the even weaker Seattle Mariners.
By the time they get back, they might well have a double-digit lead in the AL East, and be close to, if not at, 30 games over .500, with two months of baseball left to play.
"Two months ago, they said our season was over with," Derek Jeter said. "Seventy games ago, everyone was saying how bad we were playing. We were terrible. We weren't going to make the playoffs. Right, CC?"
The 50 Greatest Yankees
Choosing the 50 Greatest Yankees was a daunting task. ESPNNewYork.com rose to the challenge. Top 50Rank 'Em
"Yeah, I remember that," said CC Sabathia.
Well, I don't recall anyone saying that then -- Jeter never identified who "they" might be -- and I can guarantee no one is saying that now.
The numbers say that on July 18, 2012, the New York Yankees are the best team in baseball, and your eyes tell you that they win with a machine-like precision that over the past month or so has wrung almost all the suspense out of their games.
"This is probably as good as we've played," said Joe Girardi, who used to be kidded about relying on his collection of binders but lately has been making moves as if they were preordained in the Bible.
As a result, 90 games into the season, the only thing that has been able to stop the Yankees is Mother Nature, and even that powerful and bellicose lady has only been able to do that once this year.
They lost Michael Pineda in spring training? So what. They lost Brett Gardner nine games into the season? No big deal. They lost Mariano Rivera before Memorial Day? Pish.
Nothing seems to have any effect on this team, not even the news that Gardner, expected back months ago, may not be seen again until next year. So the Yankees will have to muddle through with a platoon of Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez, who between them have 75 years on earth and 24 home runs this season.
Or that Andy Pettitte, counted on to rescue the staff after Pineda went down, probably won't be back before September after breaking an ankle. In his place, suddenly Hiroki Kuroda is pitching like an ace and Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes are justifying the faith the Yankees have stubbornly showed in them.
No Rivera? It's OK, there's Rafael Soriano. No Joba Chamberlain? There's David Robertson. And Boone Logan, Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada.
Want to get the scoop on everything in pinstripes? ESPNNewYork.com has you covered. Blog
You want to give Jeter a DH day? Jayson Nix can play short. And pick up a couple of hits and score two runs. Curtis Granderson is overdue to sit out a game? Dewayne Wise can play center. And drive in a couple of runs with a single and a double.
"Our depth is the most important thing," said Mark Teixeira, who set the tone on Mark Teixeira Figurine Day by hitting a two-run homer off Romero before the Yankees had made an out in the first inning.
And if there is a difference between last year's Yankees and this year's, it is the fact that no injury is catastrophic, any absence can be overcome, and any area of under-performance can, and has been, compensated for.
"It's resiliency, man," Nick Swisher said. "These guys are role players and any time they get a chance to get in there, they seem to do well. I'm starting to expect that stuff every day now. It's a lot of fun coming to the ballpark right now."
So it seems silly to point out that A-Rod is still on pace for a disappointing, and possibly ominous, 26 home runs despite apparently being healthier than he has been in years; that Granderson is on pace for 182 strikeouts, which would not only be his career high, but also more than any Yankee has ever struck out in a single season, breaking the record held by -- you guessed it -- Curtis Granderson; that Teixeira is still struggling to keep his average at about .250; that Russell Martin, the starting catcher, continues to hit less than D.J. Mitchell's weight (.179); or that Freddy Garcia is back in their starting rotation.
Or, my favorite complaint of all, that the Yankees hit too many home runs.
The fact is, the same team that was shut out three times in the first month of the season has now scored at least three runs in each of its past 43 games, and who really cares how they do it?
"I've been really pleased with how it's kinda been shared," Girardi said of his offense. "You get contributions from so many different people it makes it difficult to get through this lineup. I think it wears on pitchers."
It certainly wore on the Blue Jays, and the Angels before them, and the Red Sox last week, and just about everyone the Yankees have played for the past two months.
"It just seems like everything is going our way," Swisher said.
And so it is. The machine is running smoothly now, and has been for a long enough time that you can be pretty sure it is no fluke.
Now the only thing left to do is keep an eye on it from now through October.