At 21-10 the New York Yankees have, as I write this, the best winning percentage in all of baseball. I would be lying if I said I saw that coming. In fact, I was openly and aggressively down on this team heading into the year. In a division in which the Red Sox have disappointed and the Blue Jays have been a disaster, the Yankees are taking care of business. We are not quite even a fifth of the way through the regular season, though, so as impressive as the start has been it doesn't really mean anything. Can the Yankees sustain this? Or will their soaring April be followed by a sinking June? Here are six factors to consider when looking at those two questions:
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Aaron Judge: Judge is a guy who the team has been resting a lot of expectations on, but most observers thought that his usefulness was a year away. Well, not only has he been useful for a rookie, but he's tearing up the league. He's tops in baseball in home runs and WAR and fourth in OPS. He's been a revelation. There is obviously no way to know if he can keep it up. He is certainly full of power and has all sorts of talent. Rookies who sustain strong performance for a whole season are rare, though. He has been key to the success of this team, so your opinion on his strength going forward will go a long way towards determining your view of this team.
Old guys: I wasn't alone in thinking that a big issue with this team was their collective age. They had too many guys coming into the season who were old and coming off of rough seasons last year. Well, through 31 games the guys are still old, but they are playing at a very solid level. Matt Holliday has been a great leader for the team, and he is much better than last year, too. Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley were burning hot out of the gate. They have cooled down somewhat but are still both much better than they were last year. And Brett Gardner is heating up and playing good baseball. Each of those guys was an issue coming into the season, and each of them hasn't been an issue so far. There is still time for that to change, and it quite possibly will, but so far so good.
July: The team spent years emptying their cupboards as they chased championships with their veteran lineup back in the glory days. Their farm system was bleak for a while, but now it is actually in pretty reasonable shape. Good enough that they will have the option to make some moves to add pieces at the trade deadline if they are still in strong contention. That's a big asset, and so is the almost bottomless bankroll to make things happen. It also makes things interesting, though, because surely with a roster this old they are relying on some of those babies to carry the load as soon as next year. Management will have to walk a highwire to balance the needs of today and tomorrow.
Division: The AL East is very different than it was expected to be. Toronto has been just awful. And while they have been playing better lately the holes they dug, their struggles staying healthy, and the issues with their lineup, make it all but impossible for them to be a factor. And while the Red Sox are in decent position and have lots of room to grow, their offensive struggles are a concern, and they have shown how vulnerable to injury their rotation is. Baltimore is the biggest threat to the Yankees right now, but their pitching just doesn't feel like that of a championship contender. This division just doesn't seem like the impossible force that it once was.
Bullpen: Aroldis Chapman has done everything that fans had hoped for since returning. Dellin Betances has been absolutely incredible as a setup guy. That duo has meant that a lot of games this year have ultimately just been seven innings long - they are over once the ball gets handed to Betances. That's a huge asset for a team both for the results and for the confidence of everyone. And it's not like either guy is dramatically better than seemed reasonable. This is going to be a strength all year as long as they stay healthy.
Rotation: I have been very positive so far - far more positive than I like to be about the Yankees. That changes now, though. I just hate this rotation, and it's by far the biggest cause for concern about this team and what they can do. CC Sabathia has been terrible the last four starts and just doesn't seem like a guy who can or will get it back on track. He's done. Masahiro Tanaka is 5-1, but the amount of luck involved in that record given his shaky underlying numbers is a real problem. Jordan Montgomery is fine but nothing more at this early stage in his career. That means that Michael Pineda and Luis Severino are left to do the heavy lifting. If you see that as a good thing then you are a far more optimistic person than I am. The one positive of this rotation, though, is that the team has gone "over" the total in 20 of 31 games - the rotation and the offense have combined to be a profit machine.
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