I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Three Yankees pitched have debuted in the majors this year, which begs the question: When will Mark Montgomery? The Yankees have introduced Patrick Claiborne and Brett Marshall (albeit briefly), recycled Cody Eppley and David Huff, endured Joba Chamberlain, and still no Montgomery. The latter had a dominant 2012 — 64.1 innings, 35 hits, 99 strikeouts in Class A/AA — and a like start to 2013 in AAA, fanning 30 in 23.1 innings. All told, he’s fanned 180 in 116 minor-league innings. Either or both of two things could be holding him back: his control (16 walks this year) or his height (5-foot-11, the same as David Robertson). But next time the Yankees are tempted to promote Adam Warren, they might want to opt for Montgomery.
What is this man doing here? Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix have split time at shortstop in Derek Jeter’s absence. That’s bad enough. Reid Brignac is worse. The Yankees spent some of the money they didn’t extend to Nick Swisher or Raul Ibanez to buy Brignac from the Rockies. Here’s hoping it wasn’t much, because that’s what Brignac is worth. Brignac was a second-round draft pick of the Rays and reached the majors at age 22, mostly on the strength of a .326, 21-homer 2006 in the Class A California League. Brignac isn’t the last player whose career was given a boost it didn’t deserve by the Cal League’s inflated stats. The Rays gave Brignac 671 at-bats over three years and gave up after watching him hit .226 and slug .319. They passed him on to the Rockies who passed him on to the Yankees for whom Brignac is 0-for-6. He’s enough to make one miss Eduardo Nunez.
What he said: Yankees GM Brian Cashman on the injury-plagued season: “(Manager Joe Girardi) Joe’s been around here, and he realizes that there are no excuses. No matter what bad stuff happens, we’re supposed to find a way.” What he meant: “I claimed David Huff and bought Reid Brignac for him. What more does he want?”
Outlook: The Yankees spent two weeks of May in first place, which might be both blessing and curse. The former because the Yankees weren’t expected to, given all their injuries; the latter because now they will be.
The Yankees aren’t the best team in the AL East. They have the sixth-best record in MLB after Monday’s loss to the Mets, but just the 11th-best run differential; their 30-20 record should be 28-22, according to baseballreference.com’s pythagorean calculations. Only Joe Girardi credits the two-game difference to the manager.
They also aren’t the woebegones many thought they would be. The New York Times ran a piece on March on the 1965 Yankees’ fall from 99 wins to 77, and speculated that could be the 2013 Yankees. Except with all the injuries, the Yankees still started 2013 with CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, David Robertson and Robinson Cano. Does that sound like a last-place team?
Now the Yankees are far past lowered expectations. And therein is a problem: when the injured return, how much better will they be than their fill-ins?
This isn’t to suggest the Yankees won’t be better when their injured players return (and finally getting Michael Pineda to pitch may help more, and certainly more than the demoted Jesus Montero has helped the Mariners).
The Yankees will be better. But how much better it’s fair to ask, and how much of their superior record has been achieved with favor.
(This also assumes there won’t be more serious injuries, or their returnees won’t be reinjured, like Granderson — Youkilis is almost a given.)
The Yankees are 9-4 in their first 13 one-run games, and you can attribute that to their bullpen — they may well have the best eighth-ninth inning combination in baseball — or you can say they’ve been lucky. Perhaps it’s been both.
But the rest of the season will probably proceed much like the first two months: It will be a struggle for whoever wins the AL East, and given the Rays’ bullpen, the Yankees have as good a chance as anyone. But not as good as some may assume.
(An all-time Panamanian team: Catcher-Manny Sanguillen, 1967-1980, 296/326/398; 1b-Rod Carew, 1967-85, 32/393/429; 2b-Rennie Stennett, 1971-81, 274/306/359; ss-Ruben Tejada, 2010-active, 263/328/323; 3b-Olmedo Saenz, 1994-2007, 263/340/465; OF-Ben Oglivie, 1971-1986, 273/336/450; OF-Carlos Lee, 1989-2012, 285/339/483; OF-Roberto Kelly, 1987-2000, 290/337/430; Starting pitcher-Bruce Chen, 1998-active, 74-72, 4.57; setup-Juan Berengeur, 1978-92, 67-62, 3.90, 32 saves; closer-Mariano Rivera, 1995-active, 76-58, 2.20, 626 saves;
Team song: Dennis Brown: Money In My Pocket