AL East: Why New York Yankees Lead MLB's Most Competitive Division
If you told me during Spring Training that the Yankees would own baseball’s best record and the largest divisional lead through 91 games, I would have had my reasonable doubts.
If you told me this would be the case despite suffering significant injuries to their top two starters, their starting center fielder and three key relievers, I would have one response.
But here we are in the middle of July, and New York holds a 10-game lead in what many believe to be the toughest division in baseball.
They are a season-high 23 games above .500 (57-34), and they’ve done it without several key pieces:
- CC Sabathia started on Tuesday for the first time in more than two weeks (15-day DL)
- Andy Pettitte broke his fibula and has been placed on the 60-day DL
- Brett Gardner has missed all but nine games with an elbow injury and could be out for the year
- Joba Chamberlain has missed the entire season thus far, but could return in August
- Dave Robertson missed 30 games with a strained left oblique
- Mariano Rivera is expected to miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL
- Michael Pineda failed to make a single start after coming to New York in a blockbuster trade this past offseason.
Who has been the Yankees' most impressive bench player?
The list is so long it wouldn’t fit fluently into prose. The names are so big, even Joe Girardi might have to take a second look at the current standings.
But the number of injuries New York has endured isn’t even the most surprising part. It is how the Yankees have overcome such adversity to claim the league’s best record.
Or perhaps more importantly, who.
With a payroll just shy of $200 million, one might suspect that the Yankees’ $83 million/year infield would be responsible for shouldering the weight. But while household names like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are slotted into the daily lineup card, it has been the Yankees’ bench that has made the difference.
That’s right…the bench.
Now certainly the organization can’t complain about the production they have received from their stars. Jeter ranks second in the league in hits and Robinson Cano should most definitely be in consideration for the MVP. But beyond the numbers that are expected with such large contracts, it has been the role players that separate New York from the rest of the league.
While the entire lineup struggled early on in the year to come up with the big hit, it was Raul Ibanez that came through in the clutch. When A-rod needs the day off at third base, it is Eric Chavez filling in like an everyday player.
Maybe because he is an everyday player.
The difference between the Yankees and the rest of baseball is their depth. They have bench players at every position that are accustom to playing and producing on a daily basis.
I mean, how many teams can say that they have a five-time All-Star coming off the bench to platoon against lefties? How many All-Stars can say that they would welcome an opportunity to bat in the bottom of the order?
Look at it this way. The Yankees’ three main bench players have more gold gloves (16) and All-Star selections (six) than a majority of baseball’s 40-man rosters.
Now that’s what I call depth.
Oddly enough, I came up with the idea for this article on Monday morning. I collected the stats for the role players assuming their home run and production numbers would provide sufficient evidence for my claim that the Yankees bench has been responsible for much of the team’s success.
And then Raul Ibanez hit a tie-breaking grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Blue Jays that same evening.
I began writing my article the following morning; planning to mention the veteran’s clutch performance as reference.
And then Andruw Jones smacked a three-run shot of his own in the second inning of Tuesday’s game.
The point is that the Yankees’ depth has helped account for the injuries they’ve endured. Yes Jones, Chavez and Ibanez are all past their prime, but that doesn’t mean that the Seattle Mariners wouln’t be slotting them into the batting order each and every night.
I think a lot of teams would.
Over a strenuous 162-game schedule, injuries are unavoidable and depth is invaluable. Having experienced, professional hitters (and fielders) to substitute in the late innings is a luxury that few organizations have.
But the Yankees are one. And they’re showing why they’re the best.
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