New York Yankees v Colorado Rockies

At the start of the 2013 season, the Yankees faced an uphill challenge. Starting the season without three of their key components, the Yanks would rely on veteran fill-ins, just hoping to scrap through the first two months of the season in decent enough shape that eventual returns of Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira would buoy a strong second half. Just get the Bronx Bombers through the early days of the season and let the stars carry the team to their requisite post-season appearance.

It hasn’t exactly gone to plan.

The Yankees currently lead the American League East by a game over the Baltimore Orioles. The important question is how? How is this team still ahead of the pack in this very difficult (the only division in baseball with two teams playing better than .600 baseball) leading the pack.

The Yankees do not excel in one particular facet of the game. Despite running out a less than exciting combination of Ivan Nova and David Phelps as their fifth starter, the Yankees rotation has performed brilliantly. Hiroki Kuroda is single-handedly destroying the “National League pitchers can’t hang in the AL East” narrative while CC Sabathia converted to CC v2.0, a craftier lefty still trying to recover some velocity. The career coda of Andy Pettitte is best left to chemists and scientists to figure out because I’m about done with the whole thing.

The bullpen remains brilliant, as it has under Joe Girardi‘s entire tenure has head binder in charge. Just nine blowups on the season (decreasing the team’s win probability by more than six percent) which ties for the for second best in all of baseball. The deadly 8th/9th inning combination of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera are pitching as well as anyone at the back of the pen. Joba Chamberlain and the rest of the mid-relief crew are more than doing the job when asked.

The offense is bizarre. The Yankees brought in Kevin Youkilis to fill-in for Alex Rodriguez until he was ready to return, only to see the oft-injured Youkilis get injured yet again. Jayson Nix has filled in…poorly, just as the Eduardo Nunez experiment hasn’t gone as well as hoped. Behind the plate the Yankees are a question mark, with injuries mounting after the inexplicable solid production of Francisco Cervelli.

Then we have the outfield. Ben Francisco? Terrible. Ichiro? A ghost of his former self. Brett Gardner brings exactly what was expected: strong defense and league-averageish offense by way of his speed and patience.

Which brings us to Vernon Wells. An expensive cast-off, a little bit of a punchline, Vernon Wells has produced beyond the wildest dreams of everyone, Vernon Wells included. After a weekend explosion against the Royals, Wells now has nine home runs on the year, two behind his total for all of 2012.

Wells currently sports a .374 wOBA powered by a .295/.343/.530 slash line. The man he’s “filling-in for” Curtis Granderson is only projected to hit .239/.329/.463 over the rest of the season. Going back to their starter represents a downgrade at this point.

Vernon Wells, Robinson Cano, Travis Hafner the DH and even Lyle Overbay at first base are doing the job. They’re more than doing the job, they’re leading the race. It makes no sense.

They just swept the Royals in a three game series. They cannot be stopped. They cannot be killed. If it isn’t bringing the like of Wells back to life, it’s getting four-hit nights from Lyle Overbay when he’s needed most. When the Yankee starters return from injury, Joe Girardi has to figure out where to play all his decaying bodies. To say nothing of the Jeter problem: can the Captain step right back in at shortstop? Do they have any choice.

It’s wholly unpleasant, this Yankee business. Watching so many dead cats bounce together, it’s almost poetic. It is never too late for a little subtraction by addition, however.

Good pitchers pitching good.

It was a pretty good weekend for good pitching performances. How about one-hitters, you like one-hitters? This weekend offered up THREE if they are to your liking. Chris Sale flirted with perfection last night on Sunday night baseball, mowing down the Angels in facing just one over the minimum. Only a Mike Trout single up the middle blemished his record.

Friday night saw two great outings, one from Shelby Miller of the Cardinals and another from Jon Lester of the Red Sox. Miller struck out 13 Rockies on Friday night, posting a game score of 98, equaling Matt Harvey‘s from his brilliant start earlier this month and Sale’s Sunday Night Baseball domination. Lester only managed to put up a game score of 90, thanks to his mere five strikeouts. Like he wasn’t even trying.

If you like watching pitchers run through opposing lineups like it’s nothing, I think the 2013 season has something for you. The apparent willingness of hitters to strikeout combined with improved defense (?) and a very large helping of random chance means great performances are on display nearly every night.

Game Chart of the Weekend


Source: FanGraphs

Huston Street recently made some offhand comments about how he doesn’t care about giving up “hits” or “runs” when he closed out games. Turns out doing both of those things in concert means you aren’t actually closing out games at all.

Photo of the Weekend

Colorado Rockies v St. Louis Cardinals

Yikes.

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You might notice the bat Carlos Gonzalez tossed aside yesterday was not pink, like his sweat band. You see, Carlos Gonzalez does not use Louisville Slugger bats and was therefore FORBIDDEN by Major League Baseball, thanks to an exclusive deal signed with the bat company. Good to see these two conglomerates refusing to allow charity get in the way of profit.

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Timmy forever and the Panda got wet.

Round and Round

Manny Machado is good. Joe Mauer is great. Jose Bautista is pretty good in his own right. Anthony Rizzo is rich!