The Yankees have now won 9 games in a row, and 21 out of their last 31 games. The team has surged to the front of the AL East pack by decimating the top of the NL East. In the last 10 days the Yanks have swept the 3rd place Mets, 2nd place Braves, and 1st place Nationals, putting together the most impressive streak of victories in all of baseball this season. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons the Yankees dominated the NL East:
The recent surge inNew Yorkhas been led by a dominant pitching staff, which has allowed only 19 runs in the last 9 games. The entire bullpen has been sublime, from goofy lefty specialist Boone Logan to hard-throwing Rafael Soriano, the newly minted closer.
The bullpen has been even nastier during the 9 game winning streak, allowing only 4 runs while posting a combined 21/7 K/BB ratio with 15 hits allowed over 26 innings. And all those scoreless innings have come from pitchers other than David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, who were 2 of the 5 most valuable relievers in baseball a year ago. Guys like Corey Wade (2.89 ERA), Logan (2.31), Cody Eppley (2.76) and Clay Rapada (3.26) have been solid in front of new closer Rafael Soriano (1.85), who’s back to his shutdown ways after a difficult 2011 season. Back in the closer’s spot, Soriano has regained the ability to locate his fastball, and other than a hiccup against the Mets a week ago, he’s been absolutely lights-out.
Power Packed Offense
Over the past 3 seasons the Yankees have generally been an offensive team, ranking top-2 in runs scored each season. This year has been a little different for the Bronx Bombers. New York’s offense ranks only 7th in baseball this season, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still fearsome. The Yankees lead baseball in homers by a wide margin, slugging 97 dingers so far this season. Six separate Yankees already have double digits in homers, led by Curtis Granderson who has a team-high 21.New York is able to send wave after wave of power hitters to the plate, which has proved to be a daunting task for National League staffs, which are used to lighter hitting lineups, which tend to feature a pitcher as well as the typical good glove/bad bat utility player at the bottom of the lineup.
The Return of Andy Pettitte
The 40-year-old lefty with the best pickoff move in baseball hasn’t appeared to have missed a beat after taking the entire 2011 season off. Pettitte is having a vintage season despite his underwhelming velocity, posting a 2.77 ERA with 46 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 48.2 innings. If Pettitte continues to pitch at this rate, he will post the highest K/9 rate of his career (min 100 innings pitched in a season). If he continues on this pace, Pettitte could set career-best marks in WHIP, hits allowed per 9 innings, and ERA+ as well. He had an excellent start against the Nationals on Saturday, going 7 innings, allowing only 5 hits 2 runs and 3 walks. Pettitte recorded 6 strikeouts, 3 of which were on youngster Bryce Harper, who looked absolutely foolish against the lefty, particularly on his 1st at-bat, when Pettitte got him to chase a pitch 2 feet off the plate. Not too shabby for an old man who wasn’t sure how much he had left in the tank as recently as January.
The Resurgent Robinson Cano
Cano had a bit of a slow start to the season, hitting only .267 in April with 1 homer. But once the calendar turned flipped to May, Cano really turned it on and is now hitting .296/.359/.520 with 12 homers and 31 RBI. During the Yankees’ 9 game streak he’s been even better, hitting .364 with 6 runs scored, 3 homers, 6 RBI, 7 walks, and 4 multi-hit games. Cano has never been a player who draws many walks so the recent binge is a good sign. His career high in walks is 57 in 2010, when he was 3rd in the MVP vote, and when he posted the best on-base % of his career. He’s on pace to match or better his walk total from 2010, which could lead to a new career high in OBP. And we haven’t even discussed his defense, which has been excellent as usual, giving the Yankees a Swiss army knife in the middle of their infield.
A Deep Veteran Bench
When the Yankees decided to give Raul Ibanez a contract and a bench position in the offseason, the reaction among statheads and fans was mixed. Ibanez has been a consistent .280 hitter in his career with 20 homer pop, who has driven in at least 80 runs every season since 2004. The downside to Ibanez is that he’s 40 and looks more like a statue than a nimble outfielder when he is asked to play defense. Ibanez has been solid, garnering nearly 200 at-bats already this season, with 10 homers and 32 RBI showing he still has power. Andruw Jones, another aging outfielder, has also shown good power off the bench, hitting 6 homers in just 89 at-bats. Eric Chavez, considered a castoff two off-seasons ago, has been reliable off the bench, hitting .263 with 3 homers while playing above average defense. DeWayne Wise and Jason Nix are also in the mix, and they giveNew Yorka good burst of speed. This is a group with 6 All-Star appearances and 15 Gold Gloves, giving manager Joe Girardi plenty of options to mix-and-match with.
There are other reasons for the team’s success this year as well. Mark Teixiera has once again turned his season around after yet another slow start. Derek Jeter is still a .310-.320 hitter at short, and Alex Rodriguez has 25-30 homer potential at 3rd. The rotation is deep with solid pitchers and led by CC Sabathia, which makes New York, not Texas, the team to beat in the American League. Hopefully we get to see the two franchises square off again in October, because its guaranteed to be a doozy of a series.