With all the negative storylines that have dominated the Yankee talk this year, it would be easy to think they were having a down season. They traded away their best prospect and lost the pitcher for whom they traded him for the season due to injury. They've had major injuries to their most important relief pitchers and their best starters. They've gotten inconsistent performances and declining production from key spots in the middle of their lineup. And they are too one-dimensional without their speedy starting left fielder and rely too much on the home run to score runs and win games.
And yet despite all of that negativity, the Yankees find themselves 23 games over .500 with an MLB-best 57-34 record. They've won 5 of 6 since the All Star break, 10 of 14 since the start of July, 26 of 35 since the start of interleague play, and 34 of 47 since their last West Coast trip. They've got a +80 run differential, which is 2nd best in baseball by 1 run, they lead everybody in team wOBA (.348) and wRC+ (115), and are top 3 in the AL in team ERA (3.72) and FIP (3.88). They've built a 10-game division lead in what is widely considered to be the best division in Major League Baseball, and have already started shoveling dirt on their competition for the division title.
Despite all the negative press from the MSM and occasional nitpicking from the blogosphere, it turns out that the Yankees are actually a pretty damn good baseball team. They're also in the middle of a stretch where they're playing damn good team baseball. They're hitting for average and power, getting good work from their pitching staff, and playing solid defense. Everybody on the 25-man roster is getting a chance to contribute and it seems like everybody is contributing something when their name is penciled into the lineup card or their number is called from the bullpen. It's good times in Yankeeland right now.
The luxury that these good times afford the Yankees is the luxury of flexibility in their decision-making. The Yankees have the luxury of giving their ace some extra time off while he's on the DL; they have the luxury of taking him out of a game at just 87 pitches so as not to put added stress on his body. Joe has the luxury of being able to give Curtis Granderson a full day off yesterday prior to their travel out to Oakland, and he has the luxury to continue to use the DH spot liberally as a rest stop for the Alexes Rodriguez and Dereks Jeter of the world to keep them rested and healthy. The Yankees also have the luxury of not having to make a move at the deadline to fill their roster gaps. We're in the middle of the dog days of summer, the division and Wild Card races are starting to heat up, injuries and fatigue are starting to become a factor, and the Yankees have the luxury of being able to be relaxed and patient in their strategy.
In this cushy situation they find themselves in, it would be easy for the Yankees to take their collective foot off the gas for a little bit and enjoy the breathing room they've given themselves. That's why the most important thing for the Yankees to do right now is to keep doing exactly what they have been doing. Keep playing ball and keep playing to win. Keep rolling out the two-headed monster of Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones as long as they keep raking; keep finding at-bats for Eric Chavez and his hot bat; hell, keep using Rafael Soriano in 9th inning situations for an out or 2 even if you don't have to if it makes getting the W easier. Keep giving your guys rest when they need it, and don't overwork your relief corps, but do not let up. There's dirt on the rest of the AL East while they lie in the graves the Yankees have dug for them . Now's the time to keep shoveling and bury them.
There's some truth to the theory that the teams who go into the postseason playing the best baseball are the ones that end up more successful than the teams who are well-rested. We've seen the Yankees get beaten by teams coming in on hot streaks before. The best way to ensure that you're playing good baseball when the playoffs come around is to keep playing good baseball all the way through and not change anything up because of your situation. The Yankees' situation is golden at the moment, and they should feel confident about their situation moving forward. But confidence should not turn into complacency. Keep grinding, keep playing hard, and let's see if that division lead can't get to 15 or 20 games.
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