The New York Yankees have fought their way into first place. No surprise, there. But for THESE first-place Yankees, it’s a remarkable achievement…
The first place Yankees are where most pre-season predictions said they would be. But it’s this particular Yankees team that continues to defy logic as a first-place team in the competitive American League East. Logic has no bearing though – because it has everything to do with the 25-men in the Yankees clubhouse who don the pinstripes every night to form a team.
The story of the Yankees devasted by injuries is well known by now. And the news gets progressively worse and not better, as seen by today’s story in the New York Post, in which Aaron Judge admits it’s “obvious” that when he returns to the lineup (no timetable), he will never be 100% this season.
Luis Severino, the pre-season Ace of the Yankees starting rotation is teetering on the brink of a season lost, while teammate and offensive powerhouse, Miguel Andujar, is having season-ending surgery on Tuesday. Giancarlo Stanton – another case of who knows?
Meanwhile, Brian Cashman’s magic is as active and productive as ever. Pick-em-ups Cameron Maybin and Kendrys Morales enter the Yankees clubhouse with energy and vitality that comes with the tag of a player deemed as “washed up” and given a second chance with a team that has always been in their rear-view mirror as the team they want to play for.
CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner, the lone holdovers from the Yankees last World Championship in 2009, provide a quiet but very pronounced theme of leadership and professionalism demonstrating the Yankees way of doing things.
The first place Yankees are now 19-6 in their last 25 games, winning at a clip better than three of every four games they play. Okay, let’s hear it from their naysayers… their schedule is soft. It could be true, but you still have to pitch and hit better than the team you are playing, each equipped with 25 players earning a major league salary. So please, shut up. It’s the first-place Yankees and not the first-place Red Sox.
First-Place Yankees – Can It Last?
There was but there no longer is a script for the Yankees 2019 season. Can these Yankees maintain the .750 pace they’ve been on? Not likely. But the next question is will they need to? The Red Sox had their predictable run, driving them back into the race. And the Tampa Bay Rays, with a formidable pitching staff, and contributions from a most unlikely source in Austin Meadows, whom the Pirates let go in the deal for Chris Archer (.355, .434 OBP, and a remarkable 1.222 OPS).
But these are the Tampa Bay Rays and they are not going away. Neither are these New York Yankees. The Red Sox are maxed out salary-wise with millions due at the end of the season as contributions to the luxury tax. Theirs is the team they have, and it remains to be seen what they really have.
All of which means the AL East is shaping up as the race the NL East was supposed to be until the Mets, Braves, and Nationals told the Phillies – go ahead, it’s yours for the taking if you want it. And they will. But in our race, tenacity is the operative word. Hanging in there…avoiding a streak that looks like 2-8, playing hard every day – and only then – looking up at the scoreboard at the standings.
It’s All About Chemistry And Leadership
While there’s no apparent dissension in either the Red Sox or Rays clubhouse, it is the Yankees clubhouse that has unquestionably been the driving force in the success of their season to date. That, plus the ability of Aaron Boone to keep everyone content with their playing time in a lineup that gets juggled every day.
Not a peep was heard from either Mike Tauchman or Mike Ford when they were “demoted” to Triple-A Scranton to make room for the return of Aaron Hicks. They did their job, performed well, and there’s always the possibility of tomorrow when the Yankees wouldn’t hesitate to promote either, if necessary. A lesson perhaps that still awaits Keon Broxton, the Mets disgruntled outfielder, who talked himself into a DFA when he mouthed off about his lack of playing time.
Sabathia and Gardner are the glue and this is their time to shine, both on and off the field. Gardner has been struggling and if he doesn’t lead the Yankees in innings played at 35, he’s darn close to it. He’s the first player from his corner locker to greet each newly arriving teammate. But it’s still his ever forever pesky approach at the plate that drives the Yankees, even if only to set an example for his teammates.
Meanwhile, CC continues to confound all odds by going out there every fifth day with virtually nothing – except for guile, know-how, and the ability to get hitters out with less than what is (today) considered major league “stuff”. Notice how teammates gather on the top-step whenever he is pitching and that tells you all you need to know about CC Sabathia.
Saturday Afternoon Update
The Yankees lost today at Yankee Stadium by a score of 2-1 in eleven innings on a home run by – you guessed it – Austin Meadows. The loss moves the Yankees back into second-place, a half-game behind the Rays.
Tomorrow’s another day and another game. To be sure, these Yankees, while they are disappointed, are walking into the player’s parking lot with the “feeling” they left behind in their clubhouse – only to be recovered again when they return for another round of the routines now set in to make this a winning team in the AL East Division…
Take hold, this is fun and something we may never see again…
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Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball
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