The New York Yankees Are Suddenly a Very Serious Playoff Contender

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterApril 20, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 19: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees is congratulated by Luis Severino #40 during a game against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on April 19, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The road ahead will present bigger challenges for the New York Yankees. That's understood.

Not every opponent will be as accommodating as the three who showed up for their first homestand: the mediocre Tampa Bay Rays, the out-of-sync St. Louis Cardinals and the rebuilding Chicago White Sox. That's understood too.

But at least for now, a Yankee season that was supposed to be all about the future can be about the present. At least for now and maybe for most of the summer.

Maybe for all of the summer and into the fall, because what the Yankees have already shown is they're worth taking seriously. Seriously as a team on the rise, and seriously as a team whose rise can include a run at the postseason this year.

They're 10-5, with as many wins as any team in the big leagues. They're worth watching, and not just because you don't want to chance missing the next huge home run from their huge right fielder, Aaron Judge.

Judge hit another one Wednesday in the Yankees' 9-1 win over the White Sox, and it was so special it had his teammates standing in the dugout, hands on heads in amazement:

Surprise teams are often fueled by quickly developing young talent, and there's no doubt the Yankees' nine wins in their past 10 games have been powered by Judge. He started it off with three home runs in as many games, and his 10-game totals were five homers, 11 RBI and a 1.307 OPS.

Judge is reason enough to watch but not reason enough to believe the Yankees can get to the postseason for what would be just the second time in the past five years. But what if what we saw from the rotation over the past week and a half is real too? As Erik Boland of Newsday pointed out via Twitter, Yankee starters combined for a 2.69 ERA over the 10 games.

The starters are still where this could all fall apart because not one of them is anything close to a guarantee to maintain it over a full season. Every question everyone had about the Yankee rotation this spring still exists, even if the Yankees can find encouragement in the way CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino and young Jordan Montgomery look and in the way Masahiro Tanaka pitched Wednesday against the White Sox.

If this team gets to June or July and still looks like a contender, general manager Brian Cashman may well need to revisit trade talks with the White Sox for Jose Quintana.

Already, there are reasons to believe they can contend.

Judge's quick development has helped change the lineup, but veterans like Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury also look revived. The Yankees hit 17 home runs and scored 59 runs over the past 10 games, and that was with Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez on the disabled list.

They'll get those two back. Gregorius is due to begin a rehabilitation assignment in the minor leagues Friday night, and Sanchez tweeted Wednesday that his rehab "is going well:"

The Yankees will hope that's true, and they'll also hope the mild right rotator cuff tendinitis that put top prospect Gleyber Torres on the disabled list at Double-A Trenton really is mild. They don't need any more bad health news about prospects after top pitching prospect James Kaprielian needed Tommy John surgery earlier in April.

For now, though, the Yankees can afford to think about 2017 at least as much as they think about 2018 and beyond. They always said they wanted to keep contending even as they built for a better future, and what has happened so far suggests they can.

It's not only what has happened at Yankee Stadium, either. The Toronto Blue Jays are off to a 3-11 start and just put two of their starting pitchers on the disabled list. The Boston Red Sox still deserve to be called favorites in the American League East, but the rest of the division may have enough issues to leave an opening for a surprise team to stay in the wild-card race.

Could the Yankees be that team? Yes. They absolutely could be.

The past 10 games don't guarantee it, but what happened over those contests is reason enough to believe it.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.