We are still a little over ten games away from the Sparky Mark (40 games), but this year’s New York Yankees show no signs of slowing down or going away quietly – best exemplified by Sunday night’s 18 inning marathon victory over last year’s World Series champion Cubs. Even the most optimistic fan, which I am often accused of being, didn’t see foresee this squad playing .690 ball and making a legitimate claim at being the best team in baseball. This team is far from perfect and yet is finding ways to excel and make a case for World Series talk this year, not next.

Biggest Surprise: Aaron Judge/The Bench (tie) – Following a brief 2016 campaign that saw this Baby Bomber K in 42 of 84 at-bats, Aaron Judge is attempting to lay claim to both the A.L. Rookie of the Year and MVP – and he may just succeed in both. After a slow start, Judge has left little doubt as to who should be the Yankees starting RF for the near future with 13 HRs (tied for MLB league) and surprisingly good defense. I doubt he will keep this pace up with pitchers either making adjustments or dolling out free passes, but Aaron Judge has shown an early knack for overcoming 1-2 counts and deflecting any praise with Derek Jeter-like humility.

While Judge looks like he can carry the team, both figuratively and literally, he has plenty of help from surprising contributors. Injuries to Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez, allowed both Ronald Torreyes and Austin Romine a chance to step up and produce. Torreyes has hit .311 with a once team-leading 13 RBIs and Romine has a .281 BA to go with stellar game calling to ease along a young staff highlighted by Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery. And with Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury needing the occasional spell in the field, Aaron Hicks has finally justified his #1 draft selection by the Minnesota Twins in 2012. Hicks is showing 5-tool ability with a slash-line of .338/.459/.662 to go with 5 SBs. No telling how long this Yankee 4th OF will need a chance to be a #1 somewhere else, for the right compensation.

Biggest Disappointment: Greg Bird – After a monster spring where he looked like the heir apparent to Mark Teixeira, Greg Bird is looking more like the next Nick Johnson. Hitting only .100 through 19 games, Bird is currently on the DL dealing with a bone bruise in his leg. Apparently the injury happened at the end of spring training and its severity is still unknown. What is known is the faith and commitment that Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have in the young Yankee 1B. In the meantime, Chris Carter and Matt Holliday will split time in his absence.

No Surprise: The Bullpen – Sunday night’s 3-run hiccup aside, the Yankees lay claim to the best bullpen in the game, and the sky is still the limit. The new three-headed monster of Tyler Clippard/Dellin Betances/Aroldis Chapman is beastly to say the least. Throw in impressive early work from Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve, and the ever-reliable Adam Warren and the Yanks have little to worry about protecting a lead or giving their team a chance at a comeback as demonstrated in the 8-run rally against the Baltimore Orioles on April 28th.

Honorable Mention: Starlin Castro – In his 2nd year in pinstripes, the Yankees 2nd baseman is providing the type of offensive production that is making Yankee fans ponder, “Robinson who?” Surprisingly, Castro is flying under radar with his league leading .355 average along with 6 HRs and is 2nd to Judge in RBIs with 21. Despite a crowded field at 2nd with the aforementioned Cano, as well as Brian Dozier and Jose Altuve, Starlin Castro should garner serious All-Star consideration and I plan to do my part.

 

Depending on your point of view this year’s Yankees are either ahead of schedule or right on time. No longer being billed as a “re-building year” this team is ready to win now and is. Will they continue at this torrid pace? Most likely not. But they have shown they are adaptable to adversity and still have plenty of gems to deal in the farm system for any in-season adjustments (“Paging, Gerritt Cole”). In March, I had this team competing for a Wild Card slot but I see no reason they shouldn’t be jockeying for 1st in the AL East – especially once the Sawx inevitably get going.

Another great season of Yankee baseball lay ahead, along with the promise of a future filled with October baseball.