Hamburger Helper is better than you think

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You might think they're slumming by cutting back on expensive stars, but the new frugality is making games fun again.

The entirety of Yankee Nation needs a season like 2013; from Son of Steinbrenner to GM Brian Cashman to the players to the fans. Burdensome expectations are like a boiler. The higher you dial them up, the greater the need to release the stress.

Ever since the latest peak in performance, from 1996-2001, the Yankees have been chasing their own success the way a blind dog hunts a meal in a meat locker: in the vicinity, but the tastiest morsel is dangling on a hook out of reach just above them.

The corporate philosophy of "win or bust" led them to the situation where 2013 was inevitable. The brass seemed to forget the way Stick Michael’s dynasty was built in the first place. They eschewed minor league player development and homegrown talent in favor of surrounding the Core Four with high-priced free agents and stars acquired in exchange for prospects. The result has been one title, several albatross contracts to aging veterans, and nine, mostly joyless, postseasons where the player’s hands choked the sawdust out of their bats. You might think they're slumming by cutting back on expensive stars, but the new frugality is making games fun again.

Give credit to Cashman. He recognized in the offseason his team was old, over budget and bereft of talent in the high minors. Thanks in great part to having more incapacitated stars than a Hollywood rehab, the active roster has less talent than any season since perhaps 1990 (in case you blocked it from memory, it included such luminaries as Mel "One Flap Down" Hall and the late Oscar Azocar). Although the suits won’t admit it, this is a transition year. Maybe even (gulp!) a rebuild. It’s why Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco and Lyle Overbay are here. Cashman’s clearing the books, looking beyond Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and the smoldering corpse of Alex Rodriguez’s career to the next cycle of sustainable brilliance.

But here’s the immediate upshot: the Yankees are fun again as underdogs. They have managed a 17-10 record with a mishmash lineup of role players, waiver wire pickups, one superstar and a little Gorilla Glue. It is satisfying to win with that formula. Ask any fan of the 2013 New York Islanders.

Anything beyond mediocrity is like playing with the house’s money. Vernon Wells is exceeding expectations free of the burden of his Blue Jays/Angels contract. Sure, he might regress. But who cares. There are no expectations, remember? Travis Hafner has a fresh start. History tells us there’s a spot on the DL awaiting him as sure as Mayor Bloomberg hates Pepsi and free will. We all know in our minds that Chris Stewart’s not a major league starting catcher. But let us ignore it a while longer.

No one knows if this iteration of the Yankees will make the playoffs. But uncertainty is what makes sports exciting and I’ve enjoyed this April more than I have any month since Paulie Baseball retired. If the Yankees keep winning until the stars return, this might just be a storybook season. Despite the smug stereotype of Yankee fans, deep down we all prefer hugs, high fives and "can you believe they won?!?!" in October to a handshake and "we knew it all along".

Dispatches from Mos Yahoo Space Station, the Most Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy:

Wallowing in the Yahoo comments section after Yankee losses to battle trolls is a particular hobby of mine. I’ve culled some of the best anti-Yankee vitriol from the past week. Slim pickings since the Yankees only lost once. Without further ado, your Yankee Hater of the Week.

User John S. said, "If dead george was still kicking he would be trying to sign tebow to pitch. Jsut to see the sox with the best record in baseball it would make him #$%$ crazy."

Hater score: 7. He’s a Red Sox fan. The lack of capitalization, the gratuitous mention of Tim Tebow, the tasteless besmirching of a deceased Yankee icon, and the light cussing combine to give John high marks in trolling. If it was IN ALL CAPS! it might have been a 9.

2013 - A Stats Oddity:

Shin-Soo Choo of the Reds is on pace to break one of the oldest records on the books: most times hit by a pitch in one season. Hughie Jennings was plunked 51 times in 1896. Choo needs only 42 more to pass Jennings, who took almost as many balls high and tight as the commander of the Ming army in 1460.

During a heat wave, the best place to be is near Chris Carter of the Astros, who generates more cool breeze than my Lasko 3000. He’s struck out an astounding 49 times in 118 plate appearances.

April’s Best Work Ethic Award for-those-who-want-to-earn-their-way-on goes to Jeff Keppinger of the Chicago White Sox for his resilience to the base on ball. He’s yet to draw a walk in 95 PAs.

Speaking of Keppinger, he was talked about as a free-agent target of the Yankees to replace Alex Rodriguez. Be glad he signed elsewhere. He has an OPS+ of 8. Yes 8. That is 180out of 180 of those qualifying. Fellow FAs B.J. Upton and old friend and HGH-free Melky Cabrera are 178 and 166 respectively. B.J.’s little brother Justin Upton is fourth. I guess we know who’s going to get head noogies at the next family get-together.

Tell me you went to Vegas with this one: John Buck of the Mets, a throw-in of the R.A. Dickey trade, leads the National League in RBIs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Buck has never even broken the top 100 in the league leaders before.

Sucking Up:

To wind up my inaugural article for The Pinstriped Bible, I want to say thank you to Steven, Andrew, Tanya and the crew for the opportunity. I’m looking forward to any comments and suggestions from the supremely intelligent and handsome/beautiful readers of this site.

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