It was also their 14th in win in 18 games since getting swept by Boston earlier this month, a moment that according to many was proof this team was in serious trouble. Since then, the Yankees have been on an absolute tear, running through everyone they’ve faced along the way. Over those 18 games they’ve outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 110-59. And they’ve certainly played some quality teams in that stretch as well, posting a combined 10-2 against Cleveland, Texas, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee. And thanks to Boston’s troubles with the senior circuit, the Yankees have not only caught up to them in the standings, they currently hold a 2.5 game lead over their arch-rivals, after the Red Sox dropped another game to the Phillies tonight.
As intimidating as the Yankees may be at the moment, the thought that should be keeping the rest of the league up at night is the knowledge that they’ll be improving sooner rather than later, as several players get healthy and return, hopefully to productive roles on the team. The Yankees have yet to announce a starter for this Saturday’s game against the Mets, a contest Brian Gordon would be scheduled to pitch, because the game may well mark the return of Bartolo Colon to the rotation.Colon was pitching like a legitimate ace before he was sidelined with a tweaked hamstring a couple of weeks ago. He own an 8.3 strikeout rate a 4.0 K:BB ratio in 78.1 innings pitched. There’s no guarantee Big Bartolo will be able to get back to that form when he returns to the team, or that he’ll remain healthy much longer after that, but I certainly wouldn’t be looking forward to facing that 2-seam fastball if I were an opposing hitter, and if Colon can continue to produce as he’s done all year he’ll be a formidable compliment to C.C. Sabathia at the top of the rotation.
Speaking of guys who can help in the upper parts of the rotation, Phil Hughes had his second rehab start at Double-A Trenton today, and he was fantastic. Apparently his stuff and arm were so good general manager Brian Cashman stated that he might not even need another rehab start, meaning his next appearance may well be for the big league team. Staying on normal rest, that would have Hughes making his return Monday, the 4th of July. If I had to guess, I’d wager Hughes gets at least one rehab start in Triple-A just to be sure his arm is really okay, but this is still encouraging news that signals the talented youngster is close to coming back. We’ve talked about it before, but if Hughes can come back and replicate his performance from the first half of the 2010 season down the stretch this year, that would be the equivalent of adding a legitimate number two starter at the deadline without giving anything up in return. And if Hughes and Colon can both return as productive pitchers, a starting rotation head by Sabathia, Colon, and Hughes could be a surprising strength in the second half of 2011 for the Yankees.
On the positional player side of things, Eric Chavez and Derek Jeter both ran today, and should be returning shortly, replacing Ramiro Pena and Chris Dickerson and relegating Eduardo Nunez back to the utility infielder role. In the bullpen, Rafael Soriano‘s rehab appears to be progressing, and he could be back sometime next month as well. If this rehab stint allows him to pitch like he was expected to this season, a bullpen featuring Soriano, David Robertson, Mariano Rivera would certainly strike fear into the heart of just about any lineup, especially if Cashman can find a good LOOGY at the deadline, or add yet another strikeout artist like he did with Kerry Wood in 2010.
Not that any of this is necessarily needed, at the moment. The 2011 Yankees are a good baseball team playing about as well as a professional baseball team can play. And this time next week, they might be even better.