The Yankees, who are now an American League-best 36-25 (half-game better than the Texas Rangers), swept the Mets out of Yankee Stadium last weekend and have taken two straight in Atlanta behind Ivan Nova's seven shutout innings in a 3-0 win on Monday and the game-tying grand slam and go-ahead two-run home run hit by Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher, respectively, in Tuesday night's 6-4 triumph. New York's great stretch of play has also earned it a one-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles in the AL East.
This still young season has featured plenty of admonishing signs for the 27-time World Series champions, causing many to suspect not long ago that it would be a repeat of 2008, the year which ended short of a postseason berth for Derek Jeter and Co.
Closer Mariano Rivera was lost for the season after suffering a torn right ACL and meniscus in Kansas City on May 3; reliever David Robertson, who was supposed to replace Rivera, went down after straining his left oblique last month (although he could, according to The Star-Ledger, be back this weekend); speedster Brett Gardner injured his right elbow in April and will miss an additional, undisclosed amount of time; first baseman Mark Teixeira battled a persistent throat infection while already in the throes of a protracted hitting slump; and Rodriguez was the face of the Yankees' ineptitude with runners in scoring position.
And yet Rafael Soriano has been solid since taking over as closer, saving 10 games in 11 chances thus far, and the starting rotation is pitching into the seventh and eighth innings frequently enough to lessen the workload of the Yankees' middle relievers. The Bombers depend heavily on the long ball to score runs, but that's just who they are offensively, as Swisher pointed out during the Subway Series--especially with Gardner sidelined.
Tampa Bay is a proven winner, so its place within this divisional race goes unquestioned. The Orioles obviously didn't create enough separation while the Yankees' record hovered around .500 earlier this season, and you can expect their credibility to keep getting challenged due to how long they've been bad.
Baseball's long season always produces runs in which teams go from being considered contenders to pretenders, and vice versa. For a while, it appeared as though the Yankees were hopelessly headed toward a slow death a la '08.
That's hardly the case right now, which just shows you how quickly the narrative changes in this business.