Believe it or not, the New York Yankees are the hottest team in baseball. This wouldn’t have come as a surprise even a year ago, but then again, this year’s Yankee team has been anything but ordinary. Jeter’s played in a grand total of five games, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte have looked lost on the mound and the team has had FIFTY players (and counting) on the major league roster. But somehow the Yankees are still fighting for their playoff lives, a mere 3.5 games out of a wildcard spot and 6 games of the AL East.
How have they overcome these seemingly insurmountable obstacles? Frankly, it’s hard to say. At the beginning of the season it was Overbay, Wells and Hafner that were keeping the Yankees in the hunt, turning back the clock and making Brian Cashman look like a genius. But those three regressed to the mean long ago, leaving others to step up. Players like Brett Gardner, who’s quietly played a gold glove center field and the best baseball of his career. Like Jason Nix, who before going down for the season on Wednesday, saved games with his glove and won them with his timely bat. And of course, Hiroki Kuroda, who has been the Yankees most consistent starter all season, pitching to the tune of a 2.41 ERA and simply refusing to walk anyone.
Pitching? Defense? Clutch hits?? Doesn’t sound much like the all-or-nothing, short porch Bomber teams of late. In fact, for the first time in years, the Yankees may not even have a player hit thirty home runs. And if the previously unthinkable should happen, they’d actually be in good company: On the 1996 championship squad, the home run king was none other than Bernie Williams, who smacked a grand total of 29 long balls.
Okay, I may be a dreamer, but I’m not not the only one. Even back in March, at the very beginning of spring training, Derek Jeter couldn’t help but draw parallels to the ’96 club: “I know home runs are exciting, but you face good pitching, you’re not going to hit a lot of home runs…[in ’96] I don’t think we had one guy on the team that hit 40 home runs.”
All dingers aside, the real reason this club is reminiscent of the legendary ’96 team is that they’ve managed to win without any one player doing the heavy lifting. When Soriano finally cooled down after his historically hot streak, Cano was right there to pick up the slack. When David Phelps went down with injury, Ivan Nova stepped up and became arguably the Yankees second best pitcher. And just this Wednesday against the Blue Jays, when it became clear that spot starter Adam Warren did not have his best stuff, David Huff of all people emerged from the bullpen to get the win, providing five innings of one hit, scoreless ball.
With thirty-six games left, and nearly half against sub .500 opponents, the Yankees are a solid bet to make a run at the playoffs. The worst part for the teams that stand in their way is that there’s no one to pitch around. The next big blow could come from anyone, one through nine.