Who are the 2013 Yankees? That’s a question that has and will be asked many different times this season for many different reasons. I’ll admit that, despite an extensive familiarity with the careers of the new faces on the team, my gut reaction to the player introductions on Opening Day was, "who the hell are these guys?" Lyle Overbay? Vernon Wells? Kevin Youkilis? Ichiro Suzuki? Travis Hafner? Ben Francisco? Brennan Boesch? Shawn Kelley? That’s roughly a third of the active roster, all of whom were on the major league rosters of other teams last July, and six of whom had been acquired since the end of January. Derek Jeter, meanwhile, wasn’t in the building.Then the Yankees took the field. In their first five games against the Red Sox and Tigers, the Yankees went 1-4 while scoring just 3.4 runs per game. In their sixth game, they scrapped out three runs in seven 1/3 innings against Justin Verlander, but then broke out for four more runs against the Detroit bullpen in the final inning and two thirds. Including that game and the two they managed to play in Cleveland in a four-game series bifurcated by rain, the Yankees have gone 3-0 while averaging 10.7 runs per game in their last three contests.
So, again, who are the 2013 Yankees? Are they a pathetic hodgepodge of castoffs and over-the-hill stars who would be lucky to scrape out runs at a league average rate (currently 4.6 runs per game)? Are they a wily gang of veterans and underappreciated home-grown regulars who Know How To Win, can legitimately play the "no one believed in us" card, and are going to surprise a lot of people?
As always, the answer is somewhere in the middle. I very much believe the Yankees outburst in Cleveland to have been largely a product of the Indians’ awful pitching, but I don’t believe that the Yankees are as bad as they looked in the season’s opening week. Of course, a further complication to this matter is that who the Yankees are will literally change as the season progresses and Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez return from injury, likely in that order. Still, whatever the actual quality of the 2013 Yankees lineup, and to be sure I’m really talking about the lineup here, the pitching is plenty familiar as previously discussed, it should become clear over the remainder of April, as, with the exception of three games early next week at home against the Diamondbacks, a team in early contention anyway, 13 of the Yankees’ next 16 games will come against intradivision rivals.
That stretch begins this weekend with the once-again first-place Orioles coming to town for a three-game set and continues after the Diamondbacks series with three games in Tampa Bay sandwiched between away and home series against the Blue Jays totaling seven games. Heading into that stretch, no more than a game and a half separates the Yankees and any of their prospective opponents, Arizona included. The Yankees are 4-4. The Orioles are a half-game better. The Rays a half-game worse, and Toronto, a popular pick to win the division, is off to a slow start at 3-6.
What’s interesting here is that, consistent with my preseason notion that all five of the teams in the American League East could wind up winning 85 games this year, the true nature of those other teams also remains a mystery. The Blue Jays are dead last in the league run prevention and third-worst in run scoring to this point in the season. That screams fluke given the talent they added to their starting rotation this winter and the roughly average scoring rate of their offense a year ago, before the additions of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera (who thus far isn’t hitting for power, but is hitting for average and drawing walks). The Rays are dead last in the league in run scoring which . . . okay, I could buy that actually. They were fourth-worst last year, but they do have Wil Myers in Triple-A, and I don’t believe that their run prevention is going to remain below average.
Then there are the Orioles, a team that played 168 games last year without anyone really knowing what to make of them. They’re back, and while their one-run game mojo has, predictably, evaporated (they’re already 1-3 in such games), they actually look a lot like last year’s team in that they’re around league average in run prevention but showing underappreciated production at the plate. Of course, thus far nearly all of that production at the plate has come from Adam Jones’ batting average (18-for-39, .462) and Chris Davis’s power (nine of his 12 hits have gone for extra bases, six of them home runs), but Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis are holding their own, Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy are heating up, and, well, don’t look now, but Chris Dickerson was called up on Wednesday and reached base twice in his first start on Thursday setting him up for a little revenge on his former team this weekend.
Could it actually be that the Orioles have a more defined identity than the Yankees right now? I think so, but come the evening of April 28, with those 13 intradivision games in the rearview, we should have a much better idea of just who the 2013 Yankees are.