After a tidy three-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend, the New York Yankees have surpassed the magic number — 30 games above .500, a mark of a playoff team. However, a closer examination of the stats show this to be an amazing accomplishment considering the obstacles that stood in their way.
Heading out of Spring Training the Yankees had severe question marks abound in their rotation. Would Phil Hughes match his 18-win season of one year prior? Would Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia get through an entire season healthy? Would A.J. Burnett finally live up to his $82.5 million contract?
As it turned out, Garcia and Colon would pitch like years past, dominating the opposition and becoming key contributers to the Yankees rotation. However, the questions surrounding Hughes and Burnett proved warranted as both have struggled throughout the season.
In fact, the Yankees rotation currently features three starting pitchers with losing records: Hughes, Burnett and Colon. If one was to say the Yankees would be 32 games over .500 with three members of the staff with losing records, they would have laughed at the suggestion.
However, that has been the case because of the outstanding and unexpected contribution from Ivan Nova. Nova received a cup of coffee in the bigs last season and impressed with his moxie, but no one expected him to deliver a season quite like the campaign he is in the midst of.
With a record of 15-4, the most wins by a Yankees rookie since Ron Guidry, Nova has established himself as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation. Without Nova, the Yankees would not be in the position they currently find themselves in — first place in the American League East.
Nova isn’t the only player who needed to step up for the Yankees to succeed this season. In fact, their offense, normally one of the most potent in the league, struggled to begin the season. Star players either did not play up to their career norms, or just couldn’t get on the field.
Within the first two months the Yankees and their fans saw two cornerstone Bombers, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter, struggle, making those wonder if age caught up and it was the beginning of the end. For Posada, it may have been a true statement as he has played his way out of the DH role and onto the bench for the remainder of the season.
Meanwhile, Jeter and his .220 batting average at the end of April, is now over .300 for the season, marking an improbable turnaround. Many wondered if Jeter was done after seeing him swing through even average fastball, but constant work in the cage changed his season around.
Even Jeter’s co-star on the leftside, Alex Rodriguez, is a shadow of his former self — that is when he has been able to get on the field. Having played in only 86 games this season, the former A.L. MVP has blasted a measly 15 home runs, easily the lowest in his career.
With so many of their stars either struggling or not healthy who stepped up for the Yankees offense. Robinson Cano has given his typical season, this time surpassing the 100 RBI mark while Curtis Granderson is having himself an MVP-caliber season.
Mark Teixeira also has helped provide some pop in the middle of the order as has Nick Swisher after hitting only one home run during the seasons first month and a half — he now has 22 to his total.
To win a championship everything must go right for a team: Players need to get clutch hits, play solid defense and receive unexpected boosts from players not counted on previously. The Yankees have recorded 85 wins with this formula and they hope it will be an additional 11 in October.
Ryan Lazo is a Senior Writer for BaseballDigest.com. He can be reached at RMLazo13@gmail.com, followed on Twitter @RMLazo13 and read his blog Artificially Enhanced.