Though the Yankees' five-game winning streak has come against an offensively-challenged Atlanta team and a hapless and banged-up bunch of Mets, a number of occurrences over the past week should give Yankee fans like myself reasons to be encouraged as the team prepares for two more weeks of baseball prior to the All-Star break.
Though this collection of ballplayers may not exactly replicate the championship-winning teams of the late-'90s, the team's play in the last week should encourage both the Yankee brass and the enormous fan base that the team possesses.
First and foremost, contributions have come from nearly every piece of the puzzle. The lineup has become exactly what everyone expected it to be at the season's start. Jeter and Damon have set the table for Teixeira and A-Rod, and the rest of the bats who reside lower in the lineup have become better because of it.
The role players have nicely played their parts, similar to those on Yankee teams, especially ones that have had tremendous success in the past.
A five-hit game from Gardner, the first career home run from Cervelli, an RBI double from Ransom, and a few sparkling plays at shortstop from Pena reminded me of some of those Shane Spencer, Jim Leyritz, and Luis Sojo moments that young Yankee fans have become accustomed to.
Also, the biggest question mark of the early part of the season—the bullpen, is no longer much of an uncertainty at all. No need to talk about Mariano Rivera, except to give him his props, but the men leading up to him have improved their performance from month to month.
Yes, the starting rotation has indeed rounded into form as we all expected it would, but the contributions of the likes of Aceves, a reliable long or short man, Hughes, a pitcher as dominant out of the pen as Joba was, Coke, a deadly left-hander who has struck the likes of Morneau and Pena, and Bruney, who when is locating is pitches is as unhittable as any short reliever in the league, have combined to form what is essentially a shutdown brigade in front of the game's best closer.
Even in a game on Thursday night where Pettitte only gave the Yanks three and two thirds innings, the bullpen did the job and was able to stop the bleeding immediately, a distinguishing characteristic of relievers like Lloyd, Boehringer, and Nelson when New York's bullpen was robot-like.
His two-run single on Wednesday just may have been the turning point for what has been a tumultuous stretch for one of the game's biggest stars, and since then, he hasn't gone after the bait of pitches out of the zone, and has become the stalwart most Yankee fans have come to know, and hopefully, support.
His defense is as good as ever. Not that it means much anymore, but it is a shame that people overlook his defense en route to having won no Gold Gloves at third.
They dominated the Mets and have their swagger back. They were able to comeback in Atlanta on Wednesday after having no baserunners through five innings against the likes of Kenshin Kawakami and Kris Medlen.
It is noteworthy that this Yankee club has showed some grit on the road, unlike the come-from-behind wins at home where they beat up on some bad pitching and took advantage of their ability to bop and sock.
It is noteworthy that they have beaten the Mets in the regular season series for the first time since 2003 (the last time the Yankees went to the World Series). Sitting at Citi Field on Friday night, I was waiting for something to go wrong, but instead, the Mets faltered, the Yankees won, and subsequently went on the sweep the weekend series.
This team, their front office, and the fans should have some hope. Trailing by only three games June 29 is not exactly what we all expected, but is also not something that should have Yankee fans hitting the ever-popular panic button.