welcomed back tolerated the return of Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees were a mess. They'd just been swept by the lowly White Sox, who won the last of those three game by getting Mariano Rivera to blow a save and then scoring twice off the illustrious Adam Warren in the 12th inning.
With that, they fell to 57-56, just a game above .500 and as close to the third-worst record in the American League as they were to its second wild card berth. The gap was seven games either way.
It was Aug. 7 -- which means it was 11 days before Ryan Dempster would hit Rodriguez -- and it was then that something sparked within the Yankees, who since then have posted an AL-best record of 18-8, and who sit just 2.5 games out of a playoff spot as they welcome the Red Sox to the Bronx tonight for the first of a four-game set.
They're still eight back of Boston, so barring a weekend sweep they may need the Delorean to take them back to 2011 if they're going to catch the Red Sox, but they're suddenly very much a factor in the playoff race -- especially considering they close the regular season with three series against last-place teams, plus a three-game head-to-hear set against Tampa Bay in between.
From the top down they deserve credit for sticking around, and for finding a way to rally from the circus floor where Rodriguez met them not even a month ago. The personnel doesn't seem to be there, yet they and the Tigers have scored the most runs of any AL team since Aug. 7 (135), and they've found ways to win without great pitching.
In no particular order, here's a look at five factors that have been key to this resurgence for New York, and what the Sox will need to be wary of this weekend:
1. The infielders. Robinson Cano is obviously the centerpiece, and he has delivered on that expectation by hitting .400 with 1.073 OPS over the 26-game surge. But he's had help among the Yankee infielders. Eduardo Nunez struggled for most of the year but has batted .310 over this stretch, Lyle Overbay has hit .296, Mark Reynolds has been serviceable with an .806 OPS -- and even Rodriguez has been solid, posting an .820 OPS and ranking third on the team in slugging (.458) during this period. Derek Jeter hasn't been very good since his return, hitting .212 with a .289 on-base percentage, but the Yanks have survived it.
2. Curtis Granderson. After spending two long stretches on the disabled list, Granderson has been impactful since his latest return. The power isn't quite there, as he's homered just twice in the past 25 games, though he's stealing bases again and he's worked decidedly more walks (15) than any Yankee since Aug. 7, leading to a .402 OBP.
3. Brett Gardner. Alfonso Soriano is still New York's leader in runs (18), home runs (10), RBIs (34) over the past four weeks, but lately he's returned to the all-or-nothing, low-percentage hitter he was in Chicago. Over the past two weeks, the cog that's made the Yankees' engine go has been Gardner, the leadoff man who has hit .341 with a .438/.585/1.023 slash line, 10 runs scored and eight extra-base hits over his past 12 games. He's always a pest, and when he's going well he's a guy the Sox need to keep off the bases.
4. Nova and Pettitte. The supposed aces of the staff, C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, have ERAs of 5.58 and 5.52, respectively, since this run began. Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte, meanwhile, have combined to yield for a 1.88 ERA over 67 innings. Nova takes the ball Thursday coming off a three-hit shutout, while Pettitte takes the mound Friday having not allowed more than one earned run in any of his last five starts. Even Saturday's starter, David Huff, has limited opponents to one run in 15 innings while working out of the bullpen the past month.
5. Robertson and Rivera. As it has been for much of the past 17 years, the back of the bullpen is a strength for the Yankees. Rivera blew his next two save chances, too, after coughing one up in Chicago -- but he hasn't been scored upon since. David Robertson, as the eighth-inning guy, had yielded just a single tally in 29.1 innings since June until the White Sox touched him for a couple on Wednesday night. Still, they give the Yanks and manager Joe Girardi a chance to turn these into seven-inning games.
YANKEE HITTERS DURING 18-8 STRETCH
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