With a slew of preseason injuries all that was expected of the New York Yankees early on in 2013 was to stay afloat.
With Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez all sidelined with significant injuries this team wasn’t expected to spring out of the gait. A .500 record through the first two months seemed realistic- and acceptable. Then maybe, with some of their horses back, they might heat up with the weather.
Yet, six weeks into the season the Yankees are in first place in the American league East. Not only have they exceeded expectations, the Bronx bombers are off to one of their best starts in recent years at 24-14.
They are doing it with traditional baseball success. The Yanks rank fifth in E.R.A. and fourth in fielding percentage across the American league.
Offensively, it’s a different cast. A much cheaper cast. Guys like Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner comprise the middle of Joe Girardi’s lineup card these days. And whether the myth of older players being galvanized by the pinstripes is true or not, these 30-somethings are having renaissance seasons in the Bronx.
Consider Vernon Wells who, with the Angels last year hit 11 home runs and looked to be washed up player with slow bat. Los Angeles was willing to pay much of his salary just to get rid of him. Now, through May 13th of this season, the guy has almost matched last year’s total with nine home runs.
But the regulars are not going to be hurt forever. Granderson’s return is imminent. Once he does return, along with Jeter, Teixeira, and dare I say Rodriguez, filling out the lineup card will be like a jigsaw puzzle for Joe Girardi.
It is going to be tough to take playing time away from Wells rights now. Brett Gardner’s defense is too valuable in centerfield. Does that make Ichiro the odd man out? And Hafner is a guy who is strictly a DH. He isn’t even allowed to go near a glove considering his injury history the past five seasons. Once A-Rod and his brittle body returns Girardi will have an overabundance of DH types, if we assume Derek Jeter is going to command several half days off as well. That’s not even including Kevin Youkilis who was swinging the bat well prior to landing on the DL, and Eduardo Nunez, another wounded infielder and a guy the organization wants to stick with going forward.
Finding the right lineup chemistry, creating something whole and breathing with this collection of parts is not going to be easy for the manager. It is going to be key to get each and every one of these players enough at-bats to stay sharp. Of course, this is a good problem to have. A problem cross-town manager Terry Collins would sign up for in a heartbeat.
The hot start means the Yankees don’t have to rush their injured stars back. It means extra rehab for Teixeira, whose torn tendon sheath is a notoriously tricky injury. It also allows Granderson to play more minor league games learning the corner outfield positions, because taking Gardner out of centerfield is just a poor baseball decision.
There are difficult decisions down the road. Some will be released, others benched. If the Yankees are in the midst of a pennant race next September, we can’t forget the outstanding job some of these players have done in the wake of injuries.
Afloat? Swimming strong, really.