COMMENTARY | To say it's been a strange season for the New York Yankees is akin to noting the Mojave Desert is a bit warm.
It doesn't even come close.
The Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-4 on Saturday, July 6, for their sixth straight win. Quietly, New York has climbed back into second place in the American League East at 48-39, five games behind the Boston Red Sox, who have the best record in the AL at 54-35.
That the Yankees are nine games better than .500 with a run differential of just plus-1 means they've had a little luck, some good breaks and a lot of perseverance.
Shortstop Derek Jeter hasn't played a game in 2013 after breaking his ankle during last year's American League Championship Series sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. Jeter suffered a break in a different area of the same left ankle in spring training and just began a rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday (per Newsday). Jeter was 0-for-2 with a walk in five innings and cleanly handled the only chance he had at shortstop. General Manager Brian Cashman told Newsday that Jeter could return to the majors during New York's current 10-game homestand.
Eduardo Nunez was expected to carry much of the load at shortstop while Jeter was on the mend ... until he strained an oblique on May 5 and missed more than two months. He returned to the Yankee lineup on Saturday and provided two RBIs and a pair of hits.
Yankee shortstops have not exactly been Silver Slugger-worthy this season. Jeter's stand-ins have hit a combined .211/.272/.286 with two home runs and 24 RBIs, scoring 30 runs while striking out 84 times in 304 at-bats. Jayson Nix has started 40 games at shortstop, with Nunez starting 27, Reid Brignac (since released) 12, Alberto Gonzalez five and recently acquired Luis Cruz three.
While Jeter has just returned to competitive action, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who has been out since hip surgery in January, played his third rehab game Saturday night for the High-A Tampa Yankees Saturday night, getting his first hit since returning (per Newsday). Rodriguez had earlier played two games for the Class-A Charleston River Dogs before heading to Florida. He is 1-for-5 in three rehab games thus far and also passed another test when he was hit on the surgically repaired hip by a pitch on Saturday.
Rodriguez is further away from returning. He told CBSSports.com on July 2 that he would need the maximum 20 rehab games allowed before considering a return to the bigs.
Yankee third basemen rank among the worst in baseball this season, hitting a combined .231/.294/.313 with four homers and 25 RBIs in 316 at-bats. David Adams has made 29 starts at third, Nix has 25, Kevin Youkilis made 20 before he landed on the disabled list with a back injury, Chris Nelson started nine times, Gonzalez three and Cruz one.
The Yankees got only 63 plate appearances from first baseman Mark Teixeira before he was shut down to have surgery on the right wrist he initially injured during spring training and outfielder Curtis Granderson has played just eight games this season, missing time with a broken arm sustained when he was hit by a pitch in New York's Grapefruit League opener and then breaking his finger when hit by a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays in late May.
Catcher Francisco Cervelli, who won the starting job with a strong spring, was hitting .269/.377/.500 with three home runs before breaking his hand when he was hit by a foul tip in late April. The Newark Star-Ledger reported on Thursday that he had a setback during his rehabilitation efforts and won't be back until August at the earliest.
So somehow, through all of this, the Yankees are nine games better than .500 ... with a decidedly un-Yankee-like offense that ranks 11th in the American League in runs, 13th in batting average, 12th in slugging percentage and 13th in OPS. The Yankees 84 home runs are 12th in the American League.
So, no, these aren't your grandfather's Bronx Bombers to be sure.
And yet they keep hanging around. Based on the standings through Saturday, the Yankees would join the Texas Rangers as one of the two American League wild cards.
Not bad for a plucky underdog.
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