Veterans stepping up, prospects contributing big during streak
By Richard Justice
This is what an eight-game winning streak gets you: confidence, momentum and good vibes. That's true for every team, especially early in a season. That's emphatically true for the New York Yankees, who are trying to do one of the toughest things any team can do.
That is, transition to younger players while remaining competitive.
On Opening Day, all the young talent created a sense of the unknown the Yankees usually don't have. In that unknown was something thrilling: the next generation of Yanks was becoming this generation of Yanks.
Sure, Greg Bird might struggle. In that way, he was a normal young player. But the Yankees vowed to put him in the right environment and to allow him to experience the ups and downs almost every young player experiences.
Since losing four of five to open the season, the Yanks have won eight in a row and done a pretty good imitation of the best team in baseball. During the win streak, they've scored the most runs in the Majors (49) and allowed the third-fewest (22), which is a proven formula for success.
Eight games is just 4.9 percent of an entire season. Translation: be careful what you think you're seeing. But there are also plenty of reasons for optimism. Here are five.
1. Big Mike Michael Pineda has been dominant in his past two starts -- three earned runs, 17 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings. He has shown a very good fastball and a power slider. This is the Pineda the Yankees pretty much have to have to be competitive in the American League East. He's healthy. He's only 28 years old. Pineda has No. 1 starter stuff. For now, he's doing it.
2. CC Sabathia
Sabathia was a long time making the middle-age transition every veteran pitcher must make. Andy Pettitte had warned him that learning a reliable cutter would take at least a year. At times, Sabathia's body seemed to be breaking down. Things came together down the stretch last season, and that has carried over into this season. Sabathia has allowed three earned runs in three starts. If he stays healthy, he might still be capable of doing big things.
3. Old guys rock Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner still have game. Headley has a .509 on-base percentage. Ellsbury is hitting .326. Gardner has five stolen bases. At some point, the Yanks will -- they hope - lean more on young prospects like outfielder Clint Frazier. To compete in 2017, they need these veterans to be more productive than they've been in the recent seasons. So far, so good.
4. Young guys rock
When Bird started slowly and catcher Gary Sanchez got hurt, it was a reminder that young players require patience. Then came word that the team's top pitching prospect, James Kaprielian, would undergo Tommy John surgery. But there are still all kinds of bright spots. Right fielder Aaron Judge hit his fourth home run of the season on Monday night, and rookie left-hander Jordan Montgomery was solid (three earned runs in six innings) in his second Major League start. Second baseman Starlin Castro, who is only 27, is hitting .365.
5. Baseball's best bullpen
The Yankees' rotation is 6-0 with a 2.77 ERA during the eight-game win streak, which sounds good. But then there's that bullpen: 1.35 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 20 innings. It's not just Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, although neither has allowed a run during the win streak. Tyler Clippard has been a tremendous pickup, and right-hander Adam Warren pitched 2 1/3 innings Monday night to get the game to Chapman.
Is it time to get carried away with these Yankees? Sure, why not? This season was about running the young guys out there -- up and down the organizational ladder -- and letting them play.
But the Yankees always knew that if some of their veteran guys had another good run in them, they were capable of being competitive. Teams don't sign Matt Holliday and Chris Carter if they're in a full rebuild, which the Yanks will never do anyway.
Besides, baseball is more fun when the Yankees are good and when the AL East is a dogfight, which it just might be this season. After playing the White Sox twice more this week, the Yanks spend the weekend in Pittsburgh before going to -- wait for it -- Fenway Park next week. And that series suddenly seems more interesting.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.