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Red Sox are the superior team, but Yankees deserve credit for hanging around

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 5, 2013 09:01 AM

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Hey, what's this? Are those standings accurate? They are?

Well, then: What are those guys still doing hanging around?

Weren't the Yankees, after slogging through June with an 11-16 record, supposed to be an autumn afterthought, their ill-conceived veteran-laden roster as tattered and torn as Alex Rodriguez's legacy?

I believe "the Yankees are done" was the consensus opinion. Which just goes to show, it's always wise to resist writing off those in pinstripes until the math offers irrefutable confirmation that they are indeed done. So many of the names have changed, but the old habit remains the same. These guys are still pretty good at kicking the dirt off their premature graves.

This isn't about final respects, but simple respect.

The Yankees, who host the Red Sox for a four-game series beginning Thursday night, then face their rival three more times next week with a series with Baltimore in between, should not be doing this.

They've scored just six more runs than they've allowed this season. They're below the American League average in runs per game (4.05), ahead of only Kansas City, Minnesota, Houston, Seattle, and Chicago. They Red Sox have scored 157 more runs this season than the Yankees. And they are tied with the Red Sox for fifth in the league in runs allowed per game (4.01). They have all the statistical characteristics of an irrelevant mediocrity. Logic suggests they should be what the Blue Jays are.

Yet here they are, with a record of 75-64, eight games back of the sizzling Red Sox in the American League East, but just 2.5 back of Tampa Bay in the chase for the second wild card. The Yankees have won 17 of their last 24 games, and 15 of their last 18 at home. It's remarkable in that it really should not be happening.

Oh, sure, some of it can be explained. They do have some very good players in important roles. Hiroki Kuroda has been a true ace for most of the season at the top of the rotation, and Ivan Nova, the AL's pitcher of the month for August, has been exceptional lately. Mariano Rivera and David Robertson, the closer and his heir, have locked down the late innings with their usual aplomb.

Robinson Cano, just a few months away from that inevitable nine-figure deal with the Dodgers, has been excellent as usual with 26 homers and a .901 OPS. Alfonso Soriano has 12 homers since coming over from the Cubs. Steady Brett Gardner is somehow third on the team in RBIs (47), proof that half the battle is just showing up.

And manager Joe Girardi has done an exceptional job, one that should get him Manager of the Year consideration along with John Farrell, Terry Francona, Bob Melvin, and, semi-facetiously, Bo Porter, who somehow has coaxed 46 wins out of a historically horrendous Houston roster.

But the Yankees have real and major flaws, certainly more than any team even on the fringes of postseason contention. Six of nine regulars have an OPS of .658 or lower. Their disabled list -- and those who have recently returned from prolonged absences -- could be a 2008 All-Star roster: A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner. I half-expect to see Grady Sizemore in their lineup batting seventh tonight.

More? Twenty-two position players have played 40 games or fewer this season, among them David Adams, Brent Lillibridge, Zoilo Almonte, Reid Brignac, Brennan Boesch, Travis Ishikawa, Melky Mesa, and Corban Joseph, whom I'm pretty sure isn't an actual person but a name someone in the Yankees public relations department made up just to see if anyone was actually looking at the game notes.

Maybe a team with a payroll north of $180 million shouldn't have so many craters in its roster. I'm certainly not about to peg the Yankees as charming underdogs.

The Red Sox, playing their best baseball since April after an affirming pair of victories over the Tigers the past two days, are the superior team. The rest of September and beyond will bear that out. There's something special going on with this ball club right now.

But credit it where it is due. The Yankees have done a pretty damn good job of McGyvering this roster together as one thing after another has gone wrong.

They've positioned themselves as a roadblock the Red Sox will have to navigate around the next few days, and then again a few days from now. Chances are they won't slow the Red Sox's acceleration toward October. Still, it's to the Yankees' credit that they weren't far out of the rear-view mirror's range long ago. They've made sure this series matters.

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About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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