Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How are the Yankees Doing So Far?

After last night's thrilling 4-3 win over King Felix and the Mariners, the Yankees are 25-14 through 39 games, just shy of the one-quarter mark through the season. It's always smart to hold off on judging a baseball team too early in the season, but April and half of May are enough to draw some conclusions despite the still-small sample size.

In mid-March, I wrote an optimistic post in which I detailed the five things the Yankees had to do in order to make the playoffs this year. Let's look back and see how they've done with those five keys to the season so far:

1. Healthy Starting Pitching
Awesome. I wish I had a bigger wooden table to knock on. Let's quickly move on.

2. Robbie Cano for MVP 
Say it with me: Contract year. Robbie fired Scott Boras and signed on with Jay-Z's sports agency early in April, which seemed like a silly move to many people. Still, with the way Cano started in 2013, it shouldn't matter. He's cooled off a little bit after a torrid start, but the most potent threat in the Yankees lineup still has 10 homers and 25 RBIs. Both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference have him at about 1.5 wins above a replacement player, so he should again finish near the top of the league in WAR. While he hasn't quite been MVP-caliber, he's becoming the face of the team and he's got a big contract coming.

Also, his swing is one of the most beautiful things to watch in all of sports.

3. Winter Signings
Yankees fans know that, every year, a couple bargain-basement signings come through in a big way. This year, it's been Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, and Lyle Overbay, all of whom are slugging about .500 and raking like it's 2006. Pronk, Wellsy, and Big Ly...three of my new favorites.
How does Brian Cashman do it, year in and year out? Even Joe Posnanski, a great baseball writer who rarely doubts the science and numbers of the game, has begun to believe in Yankee Witchcraft and Wizardry.

4. Make Your Own Luck
This is where I think the Yanks have been most impressive.
Here's what I wrote in March:
The Yankees probably need to have a winning record in close games to have a shot at making it out of the tough AL East. I'm not saying that they need to play .763 ball in one-run games like the Orioles did, but they can't blow a bunch of tight contests. Luckily for them, the best way to make your own luck is to have a good bullpen to hold late leads. And the Yankees figure to have a pretty strong 'pen, with David Robertson, Boone Logan, Phelps/Nova, and whatever Joba Chamberlain has left. Most importantly, let's hope the Great Mariano has enough beautiful cutters left in his 43-year-old arm.

Well, after last night, the team is 8-2 in one-run games and Mo has converted all 16 of his save opportunities with a 1.56 ERA. Unbelieveable -- must be the headgear.

5. No More Steroid Scandals
Yankees fans got a small scare in April with rumors of Cano being linked to Anthony Bosch and his Biogenesis clinic, but it seems that there is no connection. Either way, I think that many of us are hoping that Kevin Youkilis comes back soon and A-Rod stays away. Just doesn't seem like A-Rod's comeback will bring much good.

So, if you're scoring at home, the Yanks have gone 5-for-5 on FranT's Keys to the Season. Again, it's not a huge sample size, but it's also not too shabby for a team that many expected to finish close to the AL East basement.

As for the next few weeks, let's hope the Yankees get a few of their actual big leaguers back to replace the likes of Jayson Nix and Alberto Gonzalez. Curtis Granderson is back and some more of the cavalry should be returning soon. Now that we know what we're getting out of some of the team's question marks, health will probably be the biggest issue the rest of the way. The Bombers need some of their stars to return while avoiding long-term injuries to anyone else important.

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