As their East Coast rivals the Boston Red Sox flail away in futility below .500 (finally snapping a five-game losing streak on Wednesday), nearly every piece of the Yankee puzzle that GM Brian Cashman constructed is coming together as planned.
The offense is hitting, getting on base, and scoring runs. The starting pitching has been dominate at times and effective consistently. And the bullpen — even beyond Mariano Rivera — has shown that there should be no issue bridging the gap to their future-Hall of Fame closer.
Let's examine each unit (stats through Tuesday, April 20):
Leading off, Yankees captain Derek Jeter continues to play in an ageless fashion. On a tear in his first 12 games, Jeter carries a .345 batting average, a .368 OBP, 3 home runs, and 9 RBIs into Wednesday night.
Although Nick Johnson is batting only .146, his .407 OBP with 16 walks (1st in the AL) and seven runs makes this temporary slump less than problematic. Considering that those walks have come with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez behind him in the lineup, his value out of the No. 2 slot in the lineup is more than evident.
While Teixeira has also struggled badly to start the season, Robinson Cano (327/4/10), Alex Rodriguez (.304 avg, .448 OBP), and Jorge Posada (.357/3/8 with a .438 OBP) have more than picked up the slack. Throw in the mix the hot bats of Brett Gardner and Marcus Thames along with the resurgence of Curtis Granderson (.263 against lefties is a lot better then his sub .200 mark from last season), and the lineup should provide consistent production from a variety of different sources for the entirety of the season.
The Yankees' big three (CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Andy Pettitte) have been untouchable in their first three starts. Each of them stands at 2-0 with CC carrying a 2.84 ERA, AJ at 2.37, and the elder Pettitte at a staggering 1.35. Sabathia has been overpowering, striking out 18 batters in 19 innings while walking only four. Burnett's 13 strikeouts in 19 innings are nothing to scoff at, but it has been his ability to utilize command over his complete arsenal to wriggle out of jams that has prove so effectiveness. And Pettitte has shined on pure pitching knowledge and guile, allowing a team low 15 hits in 20 innings, resulting in a meager three runs.
At the back end of the rotation Javier Vazquez's struggles have been well documented. His 1-2 record and 8.27 ERA have already summoned the boo birds after one poor start at Yankee Stadium. But Javier looked to be settling in on Tuesday, giving up three runs on six hits in the 7-3 win over the A's in Oakland. Although he lasted only 5 1/3 innings, Javy struck out six and looked very much like the Vazquez who posted a 2.87 ERA, 1.026 WHIP, and struck out 9.8/G last season for Atlanta.
Phil Hughes has made only one start but gave up only two runs on three hits and struck out six in five innings. Hughes may struggle at times, but the confidence he inevitably gained from his successful bullpen work last season is seemingly transfering to his mindset on the mound from the onset of the game.
The weakest cog in the Yankees' machine has been shaky at times, but promising often. As always, Mariano Rivera continues to be untouchable despite his advanced age. "The Sandman" has already worked six innings without surrendering a run, notching five saves while striking out a batter per inning. And while his new setup man Joba Chamberlain hasn't been quite as unstoppable (who is?), his 2.35 ERA and 10 Ks in 7 2/3 innings are good indicators that the Yankees have innings 7 through 9 well under control.
The rest of the roster's statistics have not been stellar but are slightly misleading. Chan Ho Park's 4.76 ERA is obviously less than desirable but the pitcher has looked effective at times and is still adjusting to a new league. Alfredo Aceves (9.00 ERA) should inevitably return to form as he has displayed "starter's stuff" at various points in his Yankee career and as well during his time as a starter in the Mexican Leagues. David Robertson (9.00 ERA) has been dynamic in nearly every appearance, allowing all of his four surrendered runs in one nightmarish appearance against the Angels.
And while Damaso Marte has worked only 2 2/3 innings, he has yet to surrender a run, giving the Yankees the possibility at attaining the lefthander they've been struggling to find since Mike Stanton left after the 2002 season
The Yankees are better defensively than perhaps at any time in their history.
The infield needs no explanation. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Cano are all Gold glove-caliber defenders (with 9 actual Gold Gloves between them). With Curtis Granderson in center, Gardner in right, and Nick Swisher/Randy Winn in left, the Yankees have an outfield that, at the very least, covers more ground than nearly any unit in baseball. All four outfielders are fast, have great range and instincts, and can throw the baseball well (definitely better than Johnny Damon).
While Jorge Posada behind the plate will likely never be christened with a Gold Glove of his own, the success of his pitchers combined with his collection of World Series rings says something about his abilities behind the dish.
Roughly 15 games into the season, it is hard to draw conclusions about the final fate of any baseball team. If Sabathia or Teixeira suffer an injury, the outlook could change drastically; just ask the Red Sox brass. But with their current structure, depth, approach, and execution, the Yankees are without a doubt the team to beat in the American League. And while this early season perception may not be anything original this season the reality is there for justification.