Considering their massive fan base, their general public appeal and the usual media firestorm that follows them everywhere, it’s not unusual for us to ponder aloud whether the Yankees are a championship team or not. They’re absolutely in the hunt, which is more of a compliment that it sounds like given the quality of their division.
The New York Yankees were so bad in 2013 that it’s hard to remember that they were in the ALCS the season before (click here for more Yankee news and odds). Fortunately, they were able to distract most fans with a ridiculously long retirement party for the great Mariano Rivera. The Yankees weren’t supposed to be contenders this year either, and have used a similar tactic with Derek Jeter’s impending retirement to keep fans interested.
But that might all change now that they’re actually competitive. The Yankees are a consensus top-10 team in the league right now and stand at 12-8 SU, which is good enough for top honors in the ultra competitive AL East. The problem is that the Most Competitive Division In Baseball is actually going to be the most competitive division in baseball.
Usually, the issue with the AL East is that there are three definitive World Series contenders in the bunch and a few other teams just clinging on for dear life. Tampa, Boston and New York Yankees are championship teams no matter how much the fans or pundits try to pretend that the sky is falling. In 2012, Baltimore made an insane push by winning 93 games and are still very much in the mix this season. Even the Toronto Blue Jays, who were the World Series favorites entering last season have started to show serious signs of life on the mound.
To put things simply, there is no clear cut front runner in this division. Everyone thought that the Yankees would be miserable in the wake of Jeter’s swan song and the ongoing drama brought to you by Alex Rodriguez (who remains completely out of baseball while he routinely appeals a lengthy ban). Instead, the Yankees have somehow put themselves right at the top of the heap. It’s not a stretch to say that the Yankees are a championship team in the slightest.
Nobody in the AL East is going to survive without good (or good enough) pitching. The Yankees just lost Ivan Nova, one of the stalwarts of the backend of their rotation, but have an insane amount of depth on the dirt hill. CC Sabathia gets crucified because of his reputation and salary but he’s been solid, and the arrival of Masahiro Tanaka has been a blessing. Toss in Hiroki Kuroda and a very impressive bullpen and you have the makings of a championship pitching staff in Manhattan.
The pitching for New York is up there, though not on the level of the Tigers or the Dodgers. But it’s still strong enough to cover up some of the insane in-field deficiencies of the aging club. Jeter is a dinosaur and should not be holding down the shortstop position, and Brian Roberts can no longer be depended on as a legitimate second base defender. That doesn’t mean they won’t have their moments, but consistency through the regular season is going to be an issue.
All this being said, what makes the Yankees a championship team to consider is that they are punching well above their weight class at the moment and banking early wins that may be harder to come by later in the season. It’s still far too early to really grade any team in baseball; we’re only twenty games in to a 162-game season after all. Still, there’s a resiliency in this team that nobody expected and that will give them the staying power to continue the long haul in the gauntlet of the AL East.
Ultimately, it’s not about predicting a World Series team at this point. More so, it’s about calculating whether or not a team can just get to the playoffs and bask in the glory of a Sweet October. In general terms, with a solid rotation, a strong set of bats and a great bullpen, New York is absolutely in the discussion.
If they get there, the emotional boost they’ll have with Jeter playing in his final games during the playoffs might be just enough to overcome their defensive deficiencies. Obviously, anything can happen between now and the Fall Classic. So are the Yankees a championship team? You bet they are.