Hiroki Kuroda is having a remarkable season for the Yankees.
A 37-year-old veteran that was supposed to be a No. 3 starter who instead has a sub-3.00 ERA and is the staff’s ace. An aging All-Star—believed to be done last year—still at the top of his game. A 38-year-old future Hall of Famer acquired in a trade that’s fueling a mid-August surge.
The all-galaxy closer, who has perhaps been the most important player for the team over a 17-year stretch, sidelined for most of the year. And his replacement delivering outstanding results well beyond anyone’s expectations.
These are your 2012 New York Yankees!
So tell me, how in the world have we gotten here and how is this the best baseball team in the American League? Fresh off a 5-2 homestand that saw them dispatch their division rival and vanquish their nearest challenger on the junior circuit, the Yankees are rolling once again and gearing up for what they hope will be a championship run in October.
Alex Rodriguez is out on the disabled list. No matter, Eric Chavez is straight raking in his absence. Since A-Rod’s injury on July 24th, Chavez has elevated his OPS from .798 to .893. He’s also hitting .300 on the season.
Remember when Derek Jeter was supposedly done in the early part of last season? He’s currently hitting eight one-hundredths of a point above his career average of .313.
Jeter may still be the best overall shortstop in baseball, all things considered.
Jeter’s main differentiator has always been his leadership and intangibles. Those are the factors that you cannot quantify, so many sabermetricians are quick to dismiss. So here are some numbers: The Yankees are on the verge of reaching the playoffs for the 17th time in Jeter’s 18-year career.
He also has the highest offensive WAR of any shortstop in the game.
Which Yankees player has delivered the most surprising results in 2012?
Curtis Granderson’s powerful 2011 was no fluke. The Yankees leading home run man has bopped more long balls since the start of the 2011 season than any other player in baseball. No Brett Gardner? No worries. Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones have combined for 28 homers and 81 RBI in 486 at-bats to date.
After catching loads of flak for never quite becoming the star Yankees fans dreamed of, Phil Hughes has taken a positive step forward in 2012, and despite some inconsistencies, has given the Yankees plenty of fine starts.
Hughes is tied for sixth in the AL in wins and he’s tied for 15th in the AL in quality starts with 13—not bad for a guy everyone counted out back in April.
The Yankees certainly weren’t counting on Andy Pettitte—who retired after the 2010 season—for the 2012 campaign. Then suddenly, in mid-May, one of the greatest Yankees pitchers of all time was back on the bump, in rare form, helping to lift the Yankees performance and spirits for nine starts.
Pettitte has been on the disabled list for nearly two months—thought to be a crushing blow at the time—though the Yankees have hardly let up. Enter David Phelps, the Bombers' rookie that has shown himself to be a reliable arm for now and likely the future as well. Phelps has a cool 2.69 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 63-and-two-third innings pitched, including five starts.
Ichiro Suzuki, like Derek Jeter, another aging Hall of Famer thought to be done earlier this year, has hit .357 in the month of August and rocketed two home runs out to right field in the Yankees 4-1 victory over the Red Sox last night.
Ichiro is getting older and he has the grey hairs to prove it, but he’s found a fountain of youth with the Yankees here in the dog days of summer.
The Yankees reliable “hoss” and their ace, CC Sabathia, has had two—yes that’s correct—two disabled list stints this summer alone. Cause for concern? No, likely just preventive care from management for their No. 1 pitcher.
Though no one could have envisioned the Yankees enjoying a comfortable lead in the standings, while missing Sabathia for any extended period of time. Sabathia has been as durable as any big-league pitcher over the course of his career.
The Yankees hope that continues.
The Yankees have also survived at catcher thanks to some respectable hitting from backup, Chris Stewart and power from Russell Martin. Martin is still on the interstate, a dubious honor reserved for hitters batting under .200.
He's provided some power, belting 13 homers and playing excellent defense behind the plate. Stewart is batting .263 on the year and has drawn raves from Yankee pitchers for his ability to call a game.
The amazing thing is that the Yankees may get the Great Mariano back for October. Impossible? Hardly.
In a season featuring so many unexpected developments, anything is possible.