Don’t look now, but eight games into the 2013 season the New York Yankees are leading the league in home runs- again.
After a beleaguered offseason during which papers and pundits forecasted the crumbling of an empire, The New York Yankees have won three games in a row and are skulling the ball. After a 1-4 start to the year, one that had doomsday preppers in the Bronx flashing back to 1965, the Bombers have reverted back to .500 on the year.
Tuesday featured a 14 run outburst as the Yankees beat up on the Cleveland Indians for the second game in a row. Five different players went yard and Andy Pettitte tossed his second straight gem to start the season.
Over a winter that seemed like it would never end was a hot stove season that was so un-Yankees like. Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez signed with other teams, and they took their combined 70 home runs with them. Yankees management, famously obdurate about getting under next year’s $189 million luxury tax line, was either outbid for these players or had merely accepted the fact that they were beyond the budget, and let them walk. Suddenly a one-year, $3 million dollar contract for Eric Chavez is too indulgent for a team valued at $2.3 billion.
Enter doubt and criticism. A team that was so reliant on the long ball in 2012 (245 dingers broke the team record) couldn’t compete with such a chunk of their arsenal gone. Choppy seas became stormy when Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira went down in spring training- two of their biggest boppers were on the shelf. (If we are talking about baseball operations, then Alex Rodriguez is out of the picture as far as I’m concerned. The Yankees can’t expect to get a single hit out of him in 2013.)
So general manager Brian Cashman went to the scrap heap. Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Ben Francisco became pinstripe reclamation projects. With Derek Jeter’s 38-year-old ankle healing at the pace of, well, a 38-year-old ankle, the Yankees opening day lineup looked as such:
CF Brett Gardner
SS Eduardo Nunez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Kevin Youkilis
LF Vernon Wells
DH Ben Francisco
RF Ichiro Suzuki
3B Jason Nix
C Francisco Cervelli
Not exactly Murderer’s row. With the Toronto Blue Jays stacking their roster and the Boston Red Sox bound to improve, the AL East looked like the toughest divison in baseball. And then the comparisons to 1965 were thrown around. That was the year where it all came crashing down. After a 15 year run during which the Yankees won 13 pennants and eight World Series the 65’ team floundered and ushered in a dark age of 11 straight years without postseason play.
Many see 2013 unfolding similarly. There is an aging core and the power numbers don’t project well. But somehow, through eight games, the Yankees are tied for the major league lead in home runs with 15.
It’s a small sample size, but Brian Cashman has has to be smiling so far in 2013. Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner, former sluggers who lost their mojo, are off to hot starts. These types of low risk, high reward acquisitions have worked for Cashman and the Yankees in the past. Like Chavez and Ibanez last year. Andruw Jones provided pop off the bench for a few years. Marcus Thames was productive in 2010.
Whether it’s the team wide approach to the longball, comfortable porch in right field or playing for a team that is usually competitive these 30-somethings find renaissance in the Bronx. And that means home runs.
The rotation is deep and very strong. The bullpen has David Robertson and some guy named Rivera at the back end. Assuming Jeter, Granderson and Teixeira can return healthy than Joe Girardi can run a pretty formidable lineup out there. Wells and Hafner can go back to being role players and hopefully stay healthy, going yard along the way.
Sports fans can be irrational, impatient creatures. The Yankees are perhaps the most beloved and hated team in baseball. People in both camps have predicted their demise. The fact remains that this team has one of the more talented rosters in the league with a rotation that can drive the wagon. If the offense can at least steer the damn thing than they’ll be in the hunt.