So remember back at the beginning of the season, I pointed out 13 reasons to be optimistic about the 2013 Yankees? This was to contrast all the pessimism about the team in light of a moribund offseason and a regular season that was starting with Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, Eduardo Nunez, and Kevin Youkilis in place of Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez.
One month later, the Bronx Bombers are at 15-9. I'm not overly concerned with standings one month in (just look at the standings of exactly one year ago), but the Yanks are in second place, which is pretty good for a team everyone left for dead.
Anyhow, keeping the "13" theme going, here are 13 notable things about the Yankees' April 2013, 11 of which are positive:
1. Robinson Cano is still Robinson Cano. .316/.374/.612. Seven home runs, eight doubles. Leading the league with 60 total bases. Yeah.
2. Pronk! Travis Hafner is actually leading the team with a 1.117 OPS, and that includes his start against left-hander J.A. Happ on Saturday, where he hit a game-tying three-run home run and then followed it with his first career triple*. I get why Girardi rests him against left-handers—besides the platoon split, Hafner's bones are made of glass** and he needs regular rest—but given how woeful Ben Francisco is (when your DH is hitting .103/.212/.103, you may as well let the pitcher hit and have done with it), we may be seeing more ABs against lefties from Pronk. Which makes me happy, as I love any excuse I can take to make use of the nickname "Pronk."
* Not actually his first career triple, though it's only his third triple since the start of the 2008 season...
** Hafner's bones are not actually made of glass.
3. The catchers don't suck too badly. Chrisco Stewvelli has been pretty decent, though that tandem took a blow when Francisco Cervelli's hand was broken by a foul tip. He had surgery, and we will be denied Francisco Face for six weeks.
How-some-ever, Cervelli was at .269/.377/.500 for the 17 games he played. He had three homers, which considering his career total coming into this year was five, is not too shabby. (Russell Martin, by contrast, is at .267/.345/.547, which makes him pretty much the exact same player, only costing more money and with less entertaining facial expressions.)
Austin Romine has been brought up to take Cervelli's place. Joe Girardi's fetish for catchers who are just like he was as a player (good defensive rep, can't hit for shit) will, I fear, mean waaaaaay too many at-bats for Defensive Warlock Chris Stewart ($1, Greg Kirkland). This is an opportunity to see if Romine really is the Yanks' catcher of the future, and they won't find that out if he's Stewart's backup.
4. There are more right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers in the world. The Yankees have a .217/.289/.343 line against southpaws for this first month, and it's only that good thanks to the team getting to face Happ and Aaron Laffey this past weekend. The handedness of those two gentlemen is of far less relevance than their skill set. Happ is still trying to regain his Philadelphia glory days, and Laffey was cut by the Mets, a team so desperate for pitching they're thinking of dragging Ron Darling down from the SNY booth to throw a few frames.
But overall, the Yanks have sucked the wet farts out of dead pigeons when a lefty's on the mound. Luckily, it's a smaller sample—327 ABs against lefties vs. 456 against righties—and the Yanks are a much stronger .289/.358/.507 against starboard siders. (Yes, their BA against righties is the same as their OBP against lefties.) Still, Jeter (career .911 OPS vs. lefties), A-Rod (.944), and Tex (.930) can't come back soon enough...
5. They beat both reigning Cy Young winners in the space of a week. Okay, it's not much, but still, you gotta love a week when they beat both David Price and R.A. Dickey—in both cases in games started by Phil Hughes.
6. The Blue Jays kinda suck right now. Quoting myself: "First of all, I have yet to jump on the Blue Jays bandwagon. Yes, they acquired half the Marlins roster, but where many focus on the word "acquired," I prefer to focus on the word "Marlins." Expecting both Melky Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion to repeat their career years rather than be the player they were is optimistic as hell, and I don't think playing 81 games on turf will do anything good for what's left of Jose Reyes's legs. There's a lot more wishcasting in Canada than I think people are realizing."
Sure enough, Reyes is out for a couple months, Encarnacion's line to date is more in line with 2005-2011 than 2012, and Melky's only hitting .250/.303/.300. The Jays currently sit at the bottom of the AL East. They have the talent to come back from that, of course, but the team that just got swept by the Yankees is now stuck digging themselves out of a 9-17 hole. They've got a -35 run differential; the only teams that are worse in that regard are the expected laughingstocks in Houston and Miami.
Games in April count as much as games in September, and a bad start makes it that much harder to come back. Look at last year's Phillies. Hell, look at the 2011 Red Sox. Everyone talks about their September collapse, but if they hadn't started out 2-10 in April, Terry Francona might still be working in Boston.
7. The Rays kinda suck, too. The other sexy favorite in the AL East besides the Jays is the Rays, and they're the textbook definition of mediocre right now: at 12-13 with a +6 run differential. It doesn't help that Price and The Artist Formerly Known As Fausto Carmona are struggling mightily with over 5 on their ERAs. Meanwhile the offense is as moribund as expected, with the team 11th in the league in OPS, and 12th in OBP, which is very not good.
8. The team has been an offensive juggernaut so far. Yes, really. The Yankees right now are:
· Tied for first in the league in home runs with 33.
· Second in the league in OPS.
· Second in the league in SLG.
· Fourth in the league in runs scored.
· Fifth in the league in OBP.
· Fifth in the league in total bases.
9. They're bunting waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much. Okay, it's Friday night. The Yankees are facing the Jays, who have been forced to throw Mets castoff Laffey out there because Josh Johnson is hurt.* Laffey has just walked the worst hitter on the team, Ben Francisco, who had only walked twice prior to that, and who hadn't even gotten his OBP above .200 until that walk. So what does Brett Gardner do? Does he work the count on the Mets castoff who just walked the worst hitter on the team? No, he bunts on the second pitch, handing back the out that the Jays handed the Yanks when they walked the worst hitter on the team. Adding insult to injury, Laffey then walks Nix and Cano, loading the bases with only one out. The Yanks only scored one run in that inning, and it's primarily due to Gardner and Girardi playing baseball like it's the National League in 1964 and the pitcher's at bat. The Yanks are currently tied for second in the league in sacrifice hits, which is obscene. Notwithstanding #8 on this list, this isn't a team that can afford to throw away outs.
10. Ichiro and Eduardo are kinda sucking. One doesn't have high hopes for Francisco (did I mention he's the worst hitter on the team?) or Brennan Boesch—seriously, wouldn't it have been more useful to bring Melky Mesa north and see what he can do?—and one fears that Vernon Wells will come down to Earth eventually, but what to make of Ichiro Suzuki and Eduardo Nunez? They both look absolutely lost at the plate. Ichiro is rapidly playing himself into a very expensive, two-year fifth outfielder/defensive replacement role, while Nunez is blowing his great opportunity to prove himself to be Jeter's successor. Right now Nunez has only avoided being the worst hitter on the team by virtue of Francisco's continued inexplicable presence.
11. Vernon Wells? Seriously? Yes, I was right there with everyone else wondering what the hell the Yankees were thinking trading for the desiccated remains of Wells, but sure enough, he's the team's third best hitter (after Cano and Hafner), has played a good left field, and is making a serious case for being the one left in the lineup when Granderson comes back, especially given Ichiro's struggles.
12. Phil Hughes might have his shit together. Okay, we've all been lulled into false sense of security by Hughes having a few good outings before falling apart again, and people seem to be going out of their way to dismiss any good performance as not being as good as it could have been. All these years later, and Hughes is still the victim of high expectations. Any other pitcher gives up two runs on seven hits with one walk and nine strikeouts over six innings would be getting praise, but the reaction to his Sunday game against the Jays has been lukewarm.
Yes, his first two starts sucked, but the poor guy didn't actually get any spring training, and then had his rehab cut short by Andy Pettitte's bad back and Ivan Nova's bad pitching.
But in his last three starts, after he shook the rust off, he's pitched 20 innings, given up only six runs (exactly two per start, as it happens), 19 hits, three walks, 21 strikeouts, and only two home runs—none in the previous two starts. He's also pounding the zone, getting a whole mess of first-pitch strikes. I'm standing by my hope of a month ago: that Phil will put it all together this year.
13. The rest of the pitching staff is pretty amazing. Leaving aside the nightmare of newly-DL'd Ivan Nova, the starters have also been excellent. CC Sabathia's not been at his best—though he tends to start slow in April, and he's pitched well enough to keep the team in the game—but Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte have been simply amazing. Honestly, Pettitte looks like a better pitcher now than he was ten years ago. CC's likely to improve with the weather getting warmer, and if the other three can continue the trend, that's as good a top four as you'll see on one team. Plus the bullpen has settled down nicely after a shaky start.
It's only April, yes, but those 15 wins are in the bank, and the Yanks get to end the month feasting on the Double-A team from Houston.* A good April eases the pressure on the next five months, and considering that May is when we're hoping to see Granderson back, and maybe Tex too, there's room for optimism that the Yanks can keep it up.
* I was gonna say Triple-A, but I suspect that even the Scranton-Wilkes Barre RailRiders could slaughter the 'Stros these days.