(The 2013 Yanks are off to a surprisingly hot start. Can fans believe in this team, or will the Yanks shortly fall to the bottom of the A.L. East?)
Yeah, Yeah. We know. All fans have heard this before. A team that looks good on paper does not always translate to wins. (Ahem…..Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.) But hold on here. This year, on paper, the New York Yankees looked oddly anemic, yet they are out performing all the preseason disses. (Ahem…..Curt Schilling. Actually, I am unaware of what Curt was saying about the Yanks. I just assume at this point.)
Last night was quite the spectacle. A late inning rally, followed by a bottom of the 8th inning, game-winning pinch hit home run. The Bombers are now 7-1 in their last eight, placing them second in the A.L. East with an 8-5 record. Who exactly is this patchwork team? Is this the team that was 1-5 in their first four, or are they the team who is 7-1 in their last eight? What exactly can we expect from this team until the regulars return?
Let’s start off by examining Francisco Cervelli. Yankee fans have to be slowly falling in love with this kid. This is secretly what we always dream of. Young blood coming up from the farm and injecting some energy into an aging lineup. It also appears Girardi is quietly rewarding Cervelli with the Yank’s primary backstop role. But can we depend on Cervelli based upon his 2012 AAA season? Cervelli batted a disappointing .246 with 2 home runs and 43 RBI in 417 at bats. Odd considering he batted .271 in 2010, the year he had his most at bats in the bigs. Now let us not forget that the Yanks ripped Cervelli’s heart out last spring by sending him back down to Scranton, days before the start of the season. It took a surprise visit from his parents who brought some tough love to snap him back to reality. Francisco has verbalized that he views this year as his opportunity. It is clear that he has a chip on his shoulder and that he wants to prove to Yankee brass that he can indeed be their everyday catcher. Francisco is currently batting .310 with 6 RBI. Don’t expect Russell Martin power, but do expect serviceable numbers, and tons of hustle.
Travis Hafner should scare Yankee fans most. It has been five seasons since he has produced any serious production at the plate. This off-season he simply hoped a team, any team, would take a chance with him. After a slow spring training, Pronk has erupted with a .342/.432/.711 line. Pronk has also hit 4 homers and driven in 8. Data tells us he won’t keep this up, but after seeing him go yard last night versus the Diamondbacks in a pinch-hit situation, Pronk is a righty specialist the Yanks will love having on their bench as key players begin to trickle back.
Vernon Wells is making the Angels second-guess their decision to trade him. Well, that my not be totally true, but they have to be feeling some degree of regret for giving him away to New York. Wells is currently batting .295/.380/.591 with 3 HR and 5 RBI. Fans should be fearing that this may just be a hot start. His numbers prove this, as his batting average for the past two seasons was .224. However there is something to be said for players looking for another opportunity to establish themselves, especially when that opportunity comes from a team that is contending. The Yankees have a knack for giving such players a perfect platform for reestablishing themselves. Think Ichiro. It would not be the oddest event for Wells to have a productive season, especially since he is only two seasons removed from hitting 31 home runs. Plus, once Grandy returns, the Yanks will have a great bench weapon in Wells as he can serve the role of fourth outfielder, pinch hitter, and occasional designated hitter.
And now we come to Youk. The first significant Jewish-American player in years to don the pinstripes. Contrary to some of the above players, Youk’s statistics do prove he still has a little left in the tank. In 2011, Youkilis drove in 80RBI. Last year can essentially be considered a wash as he became Bobby Valentine’s favorite target, then had to weather a mid-season trade to Chicago. A strong spring training has lead to a hot start. Yankee fans are finding it easy to root for this former Red Sock. Youk’s .327 average, 2HR and 7RBI has Yankee fans hoping A-Rod stays on the DL even longer.
Statistics do prove that these early contributors will cool off. But it feels like we can somewhat ignore statistics and factor in non-numerical circumstances. At least for now, fans should enjoy this unique feeling of coming in as an underdog, and over performing. It would be nice to say that they Yankees are the only A.L. East team over performing. Ironically, the Red Sox are doing it too, only better (with a 10-4 record). And the baseball gods would not have it any other way.
-Michael J. DeCicco