We are nearly a third of the way through the season and the Yankees (30-21) have been tearing up the American League as of late. In fact, the only team with a better record are the Rangers (30-20) – the team they play tonight.
While they do blow out teams every once in a while, they are also winning a lot of close games. To be exact, 20 of their 30 wins have winning margins of three runs or less. I think this is a critical stat to look at when judging a good team to a great team, because usually the close games are decided late in the game. Another stat to back up that these wins aren’t flukes is their ridiculously high batting average in the late innings. The Yanks are sporting a .355 average, while the closest trailer are the Cubs at .294.
The staff struggled in April, but has made major improvements and been another key to their recent success. In the last 30 days, their team ERA is 3.93, good for fourth in the AL. Prior to that, it was 5.97. A full two run difference is definitely reflected in the team’s winning percentage (63% compared to 54%).
Although fielding percentage isn’t necessarily the best signal for defensive rankings, it does show that the team is “focused and prepared,” as Joe Girardi put it. I couldn’t agree with him more. Errorless defense is also a huge morale booster for pitchers. Since they trust their defense, they know they don’t have to strike every batter out.
A prime example of team chemistry occurred in last night’s win when Joba Chamberlain “belly-flopped” to make a catch on a bunt. He said after the game that he had to gather himself on the mound because CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were laughing at the flop from the dugout. Sabathia and Brian Bruney have the video game feud going on in the clubhouse as well. Things like that ease the tension in a clubhouse and takes away a lot of pressure. I know Nick Swisher has definitely been a positive influence as well. I can’t think of any selfish player on this team – even A-Rod has been quiet since his return.
Put these four ingredients together, and you have yourself a first place team.