How do the Yankees do it? Seriously, year after year the seemingly ageless New York Yankees continue to be at the top of the division. This year has been the worst of it. The lineup is essentially spare parts and Robinson Cano. Lyle Overbay routinely bats clean-up. The rusted behemoth Travis Hafner sits behind him and then it is a collection of backups and stopgaps as the normal travelling all-stars nurse various and sundry injuries. This was supposed to be the year that the Yankees’ age and dollars catch up to them. It was not a n uncommon belief to think that the Yankees might even finish at the bottom of the AL East. And, yet again, here we all are looking at the Yankees with 30 wins before June.
As a Baltimore fan watching the Yankees do this year after year causes me a special kind of pain. My first game of the year was the contest against the Yankees this past Monday. I was given a remarkable ticket by a colleague of mine. Sitting in section 42, which is a grandly significant number for those of us who always know where our towel is at, I noticed immediately that I was, of course, surrounded by fans of the hated pinstripes.
Maybe it is something about the uniform that makes the Yankees just be. I know that there are only a few things that I see that cause me such a visceral reaction of disgust: seeing those symbols elicits a physical reaction of dread and revulsion. The point of that little meander is this: the Yankee uniform carries with it the game’s greatest histories and the souls of its greatest players. The interlocking NY, as much as it makes me want to wretch every time I see it, carries with it a certain power. And the players know that. How else do you explain a guy like Vernon Wells?
Wells was left for dead in Los Angeles. He comes to New York and suddenly he is playing like he did five years ago. Same can be said for Hafner. Or how about players like Francisco Cervelli, who should never be as good as he is, or Lance Nyx, or Melky Cabrera for that matter? Players that on any other team you know would be also-rans and benchwarmers come to New York, are thrust into the spotlight while wearing that uniform and they suddenly succeed. I know for a fact that I am not the only non-Yankee fan in the world that is repulsed by the sight of the team when they come to town. And the team knows it to, I am sure the hatred fuels this team on some level. Why else would they be called the Evil Empire?
Still as much as I absolutely loathe the Yankees, they are the Yankees. They are the standard bearer of the great American game. And with that comes power and a certain mysticism that cannot simply be ignored.
However, that is a bunch of malarkey. There has to be a rational, scientific explanation for the Yankees continuing success. The real heroes seem to be the aforementioned Overbay and Hafner. Overbay is having his best start to a year since 2010, his last year with the Blue Jays. His SLG is the highest it has ever been right now at .484. Now logic states that he will not be able to sustain that all season, he never has been able to, but right now he is literally playing his best baseball ever at 36. Hafner too is seeing his career revitalized in the Bronx. He is OPS’ing right now at .917, he hasn’t put up numbers like that since 2006. Hafner already has eight homers in 119 at bats, he hit 12 all last season with only 100 more AB’s. So , like Overbay it is simply not logical that he would continue this but then again it is the Yankees and this is what they do.
The rest of the Yankee lineup outside of Cano is brutally bad, I mean bad. They are routinely throwing sub 90 OPS+ players in the starting lineup. Austin Romine, their backup catcher, has an OPS+ right now of -14, let that sink in for a moment. Only Cano has a batting average over .280 and only three players in the regular lineup have OBP’s over .330. Their pitching and Mariano Rivera have saved the Yankees and kept them in games allowing for what you are seeing.
One more piece of the puzzle: The schedule. The Yankees have played the Blue Jays and the Astros a total of 12 times, they are 11-1 against them meaning the Bronx Bombers are 19-18 against the rest of baseball. It is still very early and math and logic dictate that the Yankees simply cannot keep doing what they are doing. Vernon Wells has already begun to cool off after his hot start and Curtis Granderson is back on the DL. But, being an Orioles fan and witnessing what I witnessed last year I know that every so often logic and math can be jettisoned for a great story. The Yankees have finished in last place only twice since 1965. They haven’t had a losing record since 1992. They are 12 games over .500 right now and unless they go into complete free fall they will likely be there at the end, once again.
The Orioles will have to deal with them if they wish to get back to playoffs in 2013.