Yes, Derek Jeter is no longer patrolling the left side of the infield and making his iconic jump throws. Yes, Mariano Rivera is no longer closing games, throwing the exact same deadly cutter over and over again. Yes, Andy Pettite is no longer picking off runners at first with one of the best pick off moves in the history of major league baseball. And yes, with Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and a bullpen that is one of the best in baseball, the 2015 New York Yankees are ready to contend. The Evil Empire is back.
After two average seasons in 2013 and 2014, in which the focus seemed to be more on the farewell tours of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera than actually winning baseball games. The Yankees are refocused on winning and are back in control of the American League East. With a lineup tailor-made to dominate at Yankee Stadium and a bullpen that has been nearly unhittable in the late innings, the Yankees are beginning to look like a team primed for a long postseason run in October.
It is important to remember that the Yankees have led the AL East for most of the season with key members of their starting rotation, bullpen, and lineup on the disabled list. First, it was Masahiro Tanaka, who was placed on the DL on April 28th with right wrist tendonitis and a slight strain in his right forearm. The loss of Tanaka has probably been the toughest injury for the Yankees to overcome due to the inconsistency of their starting rotation. Also, many fans were fearful that Tanaka’s injury would expedite Tommy John Surgery, an already inevitable procedure for Tanaka due to the slight tear in his UCL. However, Tanaka would return to the Yankees’ rotation on June 3rd vs Seattle and the Yankees were only one game under .500 (16-17) in his absence.
Next, it was Jacoby Ellsbury, who was placed on the disabled list on May 19th with a sprained knee and did not return to the lineup until after Independence Day. Through the first month and a half of the season, Ellsbury had been the Yankees’ best hitter and spark plug, posting a team best .330 batting average. As has been the theme all year, the Yankees were able to survive the loss of a key player and posted a 22-21 without him.
Finally, it was closer Andrew Miller who was placed on the disabled list on June 10th with a strained left forearm. Miller had been arguably the Yankees most valuable player before landing on the DL in early June, posting a 1.03 ERA and successfully saving all 17 of his save opportunities prior to his injury. Many wondered how the loss of Miller would affect the Yankees deadly late inning formula, which had consistently been setup man Dellin Betances in the 7th and/or 8th and Miller in the ninth. Yet, the Yankees once again survived the loss of a key member of their team, and posted a 12-12 record when Miller wasn’t there.
With Ellsbury, Tanaka, and Miller now all healthy and performing well, the Yankees are one of the more dangerous teams in all of baseball. The 3-4-5 hitters in the Yankee order, A-Rod, Teixeira and McCann, have driven in an impressive 174 runs in their first 92 games. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are two of the best table setters in the league and form a 1-2 punch that is difficult to handle at the top of the Yankees lineup. The return of Ellsbury has also given the Yankees good offensive depth. Hitting players like Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Chris Young in the six and seven holes has to feel pretty reassuring for Joe Girardi when he fills out his lineup card everyday.
Despite ranking 10th in ERA, the Yankee bullpen is one of the two or three best bullpens in all of baseball. Everybody knows about the lethal combination of Miller and Betances that has won the Yankees so many close games. However, the mid to late innings pitchers in the bullpen, namely Chassen Shreve and Justin Wilson have been very effective as well. Shreve has been one of the bigger surprises in all of baseball this season, posting an incredible 1.93 ERA after basically being “the other guy” in the Manny Banuelos trade which brought David Carpenter, who no longer even plays for the Yankees, to the Bronx. Justin Wilson, the fourth option in the Yankees bullpen, has also been very reliable with a 3-0 record and a 2.57 ERA. Having four pitchers in the bullpen who could dominant at any time makes the Yankees extremely dangerous in a playoff series.
The one major question mark for the Yankees is the consistency and depth of their starting rotation. The most consistent starting pitcher for the Yankees this season was Adam Warren, and he is not even in the rotation anymore. Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda have all been inconsistent throughout the season. The inconsistency has actually been greater at the top of the rotation. Michael Pineda has had starts where he has looked completely in control, such as his 16 strikeout gem on Mother’s Day vs the Orioles, and has had performances where he looked like he did not even belong in the MLB, like his start against the lowly Phillies in which he gave up 11 hits and 8 runs in 3.1 innings.
The inconsistency of their rotation does give any Yankee fan a cause for concern. One that features a potential fall out of first place in the next two months or suffer an early exit in the postseason. With that being said, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda do have the potential to be the dominant arms that the Yankees will need to get through the last two months of the season and October. If the starting pitching can become more consistent, they have all the pieces in place to make a deep run.
The Yankees are starting to win the one run games and get the clutch hits that make you think this season could be a special one. After the Yankees won their 27th championship in 2009, Joe Girardi switched his number to 28 signifying the new goal of winning their 28th championship. Predicted to finish at the bottom of the AL East by some, the Yankees have a chance to give Girardi good reason to change his number once again.
Don’t look now, but the old New York Yankees are back.