The 5 Unsung Heroes of the New York Yankees
When the majority of experts were asked before the season who the winner of the AL East would be, the answer was becoming redundant.
The Boston Red Sox, obviously.
Fast-forward to late September, and it's the Yankees on top. Those same experts said the rotation wouldn't hold up, but the surprising performances of Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have kept the team going through a number of injuries.
Nova, Colon and potential-MVP Curtis Granderson can easily be defined as the heroes of the Yankees this season, and rightfully so. But there are other players and coaches that have played just as important of a role in the Yankees' success and don't seem to get enough of the credit for their superb work.
Here are my five "unsung heroes" for the probable AL East winners.
5. Andruw Jones
I thought giving up Marcus Thames was a bad move by the Yankees, but they decided to replace Thames (who's out for the season anyway) with the one-time 50 home run bat of Andruw Jones.
And damn, he sucked.
But then the All-Star break hit, and a talk with mom over lunch about his swing turned Jones into a more-than-serviceable bat for his role. Overall, he is hitting .291 after the Midsummer Classic, which is almost 100 points higher than the .195 he mustered before then.
Most of that average, however, is done when facing lefties. He is over .300 during the second half against southpaws, and has now managed to find his way into the lineup almost every time the opportunity presents itself.
Now would definitely be a good time for Andruw to thank mom for the hitting tips.
4. Cory Wade
When I saw Cory Wade on the mound for the Yankees for the first time, my initial thought involved the question "Who the hell is that guy?"
Turns out that guy is currently 6-1 with a 2.06 ERA. Now I definitely know won't forget the name Cory Wade.
During the middle of June, Wade was released by the Tampa Bay Rays and subsequently signed a minor league deal with the Yanks. Similar to Hector Noesi (who narrowly missed this list), Cory quietly racked up quality innings during the middle of ballgames. Eventually, we started to see him in more important situations, and he has passed all tests with flying colors.
Wade uses a curveball-changeup combination to keep the hitters off balance. Add in an above-90 fastball and he has more than enough to keep batters guessing.
3. Gary Denbo
Maybe I should have put "The Man Who Saved Derek Jeter's Career" in the title instead.
Jeter's numbers before and after his DL stint are illuminating, and he attributes the change to Gary Denbo, a current major league scout and former minor league instructor. After a .270 year in 2010, Jeter has been able to silence doubters and hover around the .300 mark for the time being.
Just looking at the splits for the first and second half of his seasons emphasize the U-turn Jeter made. He sported a .270 average before the injury, but after recovering and returning to get his 3,000th hit, his average has been above .325.
Often times, a fresh perspective is needed in order for a successful change to be made. In Jeter's case, something was clearly wrong beforehand and Denbo helped him to return to the theory that got him to the show: go the opposite way.
The picture of Derek Jeter lining a base hit to right field is much more enjoyable than one of him lunging for an outside pitch and hitting a soft ground ball to the shortstop.
Thank you, Gary Denbo.
2. Brett Gardner
Yes, Gardner is in a slump that has put him at an average down near .260. But that's not why he is on the list. And yes, Gardner can steal a whole lot of bases. But that's not why he is here either.
He's here for his glove work.
There is a new stat floating around this year known as "Defensive Runs Saved." Basically it indicates how many runs a fielder saved compared to the average fielder at his position. The leader in that category is Brett Gardner. He has 22 DRS as compared to 14 in 2010.
There are two keys to Gardner's success in the outfield.
First, his speed is a massive asset, and it allows Brett to track down deep fly balls and bloopers down the line. For the average left fielder, either one or the other would have to be guarded. Gardner, however, has the acceleration to get to both.
Secondly, Gardner gets rid of the ball ridiculously fast. He does not have the best arm, but he is able to get off an accurate throw to the necessary base. Because of this, he also has seven assists on the year.
The Yanks will live with his slump for now as long as he continues to prove his value in left field.
1. Kevin Long
Some guys just don't get enough credit for the jobs they do, and Kevin Long definitely fits in that category.
Sure, Curtis Granderson has hit over 40 home runs this year, but Long was the man who helped Curtis to keep his front shoulder closed for a split-second longer. Now there is an MVP candidate in the place of a center fielder who got benched every time a lefty was on the mound.
Long is the man who figured out how to get A-Rod back on the field pain-free with a nagging thumb injury. Sure, the half-inch of tape cuts down on power, but we're talking about Alex Rodriguez here, not Rey Ordonez. I'm sure A-Rod will manage.
On top of that, Long has helped guide Nick Swisher out of a slump in the beginning of the season that seemed like it would never end. And he's had a major hand in the development of Robinson Cano, the best pure hitter on the team.
In terms of the Yankees juggernaut offense, it begins and ends with the hitting coach. Now if only Mark Teixeira would take a couple of extra sessions to figure out that below-.250 average.
While the Yankees would most definitely be nowhere without the work of men like Nova, Granderson and Cano, the five people I listed also have a great effect on the overall direction of the team. Without them, the Yanks would be, at best, in an all-out war with Boston and Tampa Bay.
Fortunately, all of these factors have come together to help the Yanks enter the playoffs once again. Now let's see if these wild cards can push NY to the World Series.
Thanks for reading my first article here on Bleacher Report. Any comments or feedback you have are always appreciated, good or bad.