Home runs by sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira; a strong pitching performance by CC Sabathia; and Skipper Joe Girardi managing the first-place New York Yankees to another win.
You’d think it was 2009 all over again. Or even 2012. But not 2015—the year they were supposed to finish in third.
The aging Yankees were to struggle this season if you listened to early-season predictions from pundits—like myself. Instead, it’s mid-May and they’re on top of the AL East. The team has taken full advantage of turn-back-the-clock performances from a number of veterans to get there.
And it all started with A-Rod’s (surprising) early hitting.
The 39-year-old, who we all had written off as done before spring training even started, is currently tied for fifth in the league with eight home runs. Should he stay at this pace—while remaining healthy in the DH role—he’s projected to end up with 39 home runs, 98 RBIs, and 83 walks.
That would easily be his best year since 2010 and would help Yankees fans ease the pain of his ghastly $20 million-a-year salary.
A-Rod’s pace actually falls behind that of Teixeira, though, whose 11 home runs (in just 31 games) are good for second in the AL and are already half of what he hit in 123 games last season. The 35-year-old first baseman, who hasn’t reached the 25 home run plateau since 2011, is projected to hit 54 home runs at this rate—an unlikely number—this season. The Yankees would surely settle for 40 (even 30) and a healthy season from the former Gold Glover who’s seen injuries derail his career.
On the mound, Michael Pineda has picked up right where he left off in last season’s successful, yet injury-shortened year. His 16 strikeouts on Sunday gave him a league-high 54 on the season—against just three walks—while sporting a 5–0 record and an ERA of just 2.72.
This is what the Yankees were holding out hope for when they traded highly regarded prospect Jesús Montero for him in 2012.
It also makes up for the unsightly 1–5 record (with a 5.20 ERA) that Sabathia is sporting these days as the Monday night win was his first in nine starts.
The strength of the pitching staff is the bullpen, though. No, Mariano Rivera isn’t back, but as a whole, the relievers have an ERA of 2.22—the third-best in the AL, behind Houston and Kansas City. Late-inning throwers Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances have yet to allow an earned run in the 35 innings between them, and Miller’s 13 saves lead all of baseball.
It all adds up to a 21–12 start and their most well-rounded team since the 2012 version—which was the last one that made the postseason.