Re-evaluating the New York Yankees' Odds of Winning Their Division

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Re-evaluating the New York Yankees' Odds of Winning Their Division
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Manager Joe Girardi has his team poised for another run at a title in 2013.

By now, the New York Yankees' 2013 story is well-known. 

When the Yankees set foot into this season's campaign, many baseball experts predicted that the oldest team in the majors would not be able to overcome their numerous injuries and advancing years.

  • The face of the franchise—and arguably of baseball—Derek Jeter, could not recover in time from his devastating injury during the 2012 American League Championship Series. 
  • First baseman and RBI machine (425 RBI in his first four seasons with the Yankees) Mark Teixeira suffered a partially torn sheath in his wrist while preparing for the World Baseball Classic.
  • Curtis Granderson was out with a broken arm which came during his first at-bat of the spring. 
  • Ace CC Sabathia underwent surgery to remove a bone spur in October. 
  • Alex Rodriguez had yet another operation on his hip that would keep him out until the second half of the season.

Couple those injuries with the fact that catcher Russell Martin (21 HR in 2012) and fan favorite DH and occasional outfielder Raul Ibanez (19 HR) were not re-signed, and you have the makings of a disaster in the Bronx.

Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Russell Martin and his 21 HR went to Pittsburgh in 2013.

The Opening Day lineup, which ironically fell on April Fool's Day, featured error-prone (.931 fielding percentage) Eduardo Nunez at shortstop, perennial backup Jayson Nix at third base, former hated rival Kevin Youkilis at first base, journeyman Ben Francisco at DH and the much-maligned Francisco Cervelli (coming off back-to-back seasons where he threw out just 14 percent of runners attempting to steal) behind the plate.

Given that the Toronto Blue Jays had seemingly improved over the offseason via trades and free agency, and that the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays appeared poised for strong runs at a title, the majority of prognosticators felt the demise of the Bombers would finally be realized.

They may need to re-evaluate their predictions.

From the ashes of what the team was supposed to be, manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman have somehow managed to not only keep the team competitive, but against all odds remain near the top of the American League as well.

Their moves have seemed to click just long enough to make the team a viable contender for the AL East crown.

At shortstop Nunez showed that he could provide a competent glove (just three errors in 86 chances) before he too fell to injury, giving way to Nix who has raised his average from .167 on April 18th to where it sits at .256.

When Youkilis went on the DL, youngster David Adams flashed his glove and gave Yankees fans a glimpse of the future at third base.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Players like Lyle Overbay have raised their game to new levels keeping the Yankees in contention

At first base Lyle Overbay is currently tied for second on the team with 29 RBI.  He has hit eight home runs in 55 games after hitting only two in 65 games last season.  His resurgence while Teixeira recovered can be argued as one of the single most important reasons for the Yankees staying relevant this season.

In the outfield, Brett Gardner moved to center field and has raised the level of his game to the point where he was named American League Player of the Week on  Monday, June 10. 

The Los Angeles Angels couldn't get rid of Vernon Wells fast enough, but the veteran hit .300 with six home runs in April while providing the Yankees with solid defense in left field.

Behind the plate, Cervelli showed that hard work in the minor leagues translates to above-average results defensively as he threw out two of four runners trying to steal before going on the DL with a broken hand (the result of a foul tip) that required surgery.

In his place, Chris Stewart has hit .276 (he's a career .229 hitter) and thrown out seven of 14 runners.

So what does this mean?

After a slow start to the season, Sabathia is looking like the work horse of old (2.75 ERA with just one walk over his last two starts), and when designated seventh-inning specialist Joba Chamberlain left with an injury, rookie Preston Claiborne (0.49 ERA in over 18 innings pitched) stepped in to show just how deep the bullpen can be.

Al Bello/Getty Images
Rookie Preston Claiborne has been nearly untouchable out of the Yankees bullpen.

As players like Teixeira and Youkilis return to the lineup they find the team well within striking distance of the first-place Boston Red Sox, and the club will only get stronger as it approaches the All-Star break.

It is debatable if the Yankees will ever find themselves at full strength in 2013, but as they heal, their odds of reaching the postseason increase. 

Where so-called experts once saw the team as nothing better than a third-place club, they now realize you can never count out the boys in pinstripes. 

Key battles still await this team when it enters the second half of 2013, but the worst appears to be behind it.  With Toronto failing and the Rays and Orioles treading water, the Yankees will once again fight the Red Sox for the AL East championship and play well into October.

All non-referenced statistics are courtesy of baseball-reference.com and espn.com.

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