The Yankees have an inexperienced bullpen, an aging infield and 60 percent of their rotation on the disabled list. Their right fielder might need surgery, their Opening Day starter might need surgery, and they’ve already lost a 27-year-old to Tommy John.
But right now they’re in first place.
It means nothing in the bigger picture — there are no bonus points for leading the division on May 19 — but for the time being, it means that whatever’s happened these past seven weeks has actually been enough. The Yankees have been perhaps inconsistent, but they have not been so bad that they’ve put themselves in an inescapable hole. They’re in fine shape as long as they play well the rest of the way.
“It sure beats the alternative of not being in first,” manager Joe Girardi said. “But we know we have a long way to go.”
Question is whether the Yankees can play well the rest of the way. The bullpen has been an unexpected strength, Masahiro Tanaka’s been incredible, Michael Pineda seems to be progressing from that back/shoulder injury, and if there’s a position where the Yankees might have the short-term depth to make up for a long-term injury it’s probably right field where Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki and Zoilo Almonte are already in place to fill in for Beltran.
But Brian McCann has underperformed, and the everyday middle infielders are OPSing in the mid-.600s, and yesterday’s doubleheader split was a pretty solid example of the way this team can do what’s necessary to win one game, then turn around and blow opportunities the next game. But if there’s one concern overshadowing everything else, I have to think it’s the pitching staff. This is a team whose GM says that starting pitching is the “key to the kingdom,” yet right now the Yankees have Tanaka and a bunch of uncertainty. Hiroki Kuroda has lost his familiar consistency, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno are fifth-starter candidates turned middle-of-the-rotation keystones, and Chase Whitley is about to make the 16th start of his professional career. At any level.
“They’ve given us a lot of chances to win,” Girardi said. “We had a chance to win a doubleheader (yesterday). We won the game (Saturday). Obviously we’re dealing with some injuries in our rotation, but we had a chance to sweep the Pirates and we weren’t able to get it done. This was a playoff team last year that had done very well, with pretty much the same group of guys. We didn’t pitch too well the first two games of the home stand, but they had given us a chance most of the time to win games.”
The idea of trading for a pitcher makes a lot of sense, but supply and demand doesn’t only apply to economics. There aren’t many rotations overflowing with excess talent, but there are plenty of teams that would like to add a starter or two. Low supply and high demand makes this a seller’s market, and even a guy like Jeff Samardzija were to hit the trade market, the Cubs should and would ask for both the sun and the moon in return.
So here we are, on May 19 with the Yankees in first place. It really is better than the alternative, but the only thing that’s really going to matter is whatever happens next.
“I feel good about where we are,” Dave Robertson said. “Of course we had a little rough spell where we lost a few games in a row, but we turned it around, won a few ballgames here, and now on the road hopefully we’ll pick up some more. But as far as first place goes, it’s way too early to be looking at the standings.”
Associated Press photos