A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Yankees feel different this year. I wasn’t able to put my finger on exactly why the team felt different (instead, I just kind of gestured vaguely at my surroundings and chalked it up to “the vibes”), but this team had a heartbeat that I had felt wasn’t there in previous years.
Then came this recent stretch of games. Jose Trevino has been playing like a man possessed on both sides of the plate for the last month or so, Nestor Cortes turned in a performance against two of the best hitters in the league that officially put us on early Cy Young watch, Jameson Taillon flirted with perfection against the same lineup on the same day, Luis Severino threw a gem against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday afternoon, and Clay Holmes continued his run as the best reliever in the league.
As I watched Trevino open the scoring against the Detroit Tigers on Friday evening with his fourth home run of the year, which puts him just one behind his career high despite the fact that he’s only had 89 plate appearances this season, and then follow it up with an even unlikelier triple the very next inning, I finally realized why this team feels different to me — it’s made up of a bunch of guys who are getting a second (or third, in some cases) chance at a career and taking full advantage of it.
Now, I know you might be rolling your eyes right about now, which would be a totally fair reaction to me injecting this game with what is probably too much emotion, but hear me out. This Yankees roster is certainly not short on big names. Aaron Judge very well may be the face of baseball right now, and behind him is one of the best pitchers on the planet in the form of Gerrit Cole, two former MVPs in Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson, and former All-Stars DJ LeMahieu, Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo, and Aroldis Chapman. But, aside from Judge making this team pay handsomely for his services in the offseason, what narratives have dominated the headlines this season? The unlikely rise of Nasty Nestor, the theft of Holmes from Pittsburgh, the revitalization of Taillon’s career, the nothing deal for Trevino, and the return of Severino.
Coming into this season, the narratives surrounding these players were very different. For Cortes and Holmes, there were legitimate concerns about whether or not their 2021 campaigns were legit. For Severino and Taillon, there were legitimate concerns about what, if anything, they had left in the tank, given their extensive injury histories. And for Trevino, well, I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t on anyone’s radar.
But now, 53 games into the season, these five players have all been key contributors to this team’s incredible start. While there are still some question marks that surround their future — in particular, things like innings limits and sustainability are always going to crop up in these discussions — the narratives surrounding them are no longer shrouded in concerns and doubt, but rather based on an embrace of their unlikely runs. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Down the stretch last year, everyone — myself included — was seriously wondering when Cortés would turn into a pumpkin again. This year, after 153 innings (2021 and 2022 combined) of truly excellent pitching from him, that narrative has turned instead to lobbying for him to start the All Star Game and wondering when it’s appropriate to consider him a legitimate Cy Young candidate.
As I mentioned in my earlier piece about vibes and all that nonsense, winning has the ability to mask a lot of issues. We can poke and prod at this roster all we want, but if your favorite team starts the season 38-15, you’re likely going to be pretty damn happy with those results. And I, of course, am exceptionally pleased with how the team has played thus far. But, as a fan of the game, it has been so incredible to see these guys who were either cast aside (Cortes) or floundering (Holmes) or not given an opportunity (Trevino), or who had serious concerns about whether they’d ever be able to step foot on a baseball field again (Severino and Taillon), not only perform well, but perform so well that their names are mentioned right alongside guys like Judge, Stanton, and Cole.
Because of my word count, I had to limit myself to only the main contributors on this team, but this same principle can be applied to players who once showed a ton of promise but who, for whatever reason, were never able to take the step that was expected of them. This includes guys like Miguel Castro, Clarke Schmidt, Miguel Andújar (trade rumors notwithstanding), and, of course, Manny Bañuelos, the once-favorite pitching prospect of every Yankees fan of a certain age.
Basically, all of this is to say that winning is sweet, but when the winning is coming on the backs of contributions from the unlikeliest of sources, well, that’s even sweeter.