The mighty Yankees haven't really been the mighty Yankees the last few seasons, winning 84 games in 2013 and 85 last year. In Year One of "A.J." (After Jeter), you might expect the Yankees to further deteriorate without the leadership skills of future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter to show the Bronx Bombers how to win. That hasn't been the case thus far, as the Yankees have been flying high with the best record in the Eastern Division at 21-15.
The reputation of the Yankees has historically been a team of slow-footed big boppers, but their success this year stems largely from their pitching. They lead the league in ERA and FIP and are third in strikeouts-per-nine innings. Michael Pineda, in his first full season since recovering from EDIT:
Tommy John labrum surgery, has been phenomenal. Since returning to action last year, he has a 2.20 ERA in 20 starts with over eight strikeouts per nine innings and just ten walks in 122 2/3 innings.
Former All-Star C.C. Sabathia is not the pitcher he once was, having last posted an ERA under four in 2012. He is quite hittable now, although he can still get strikeouts at times. He is only averaging about 88 mph on his fastball now, and at age 34, he might be the worst starter in Yankees rotation now. Twenty-five year old Nathan Eovaldi, acquired from Miami last winter, has introduced a splitter to his repertoire this year, with some success.
What has made the Yankees pitching remarkable this year, however, is the bullpen. Like the Royals, the Yankees have a dominating pen full of flamethrowers who are untouchable in late innings. Their 3.04 bullpen FIP is actually lower than the Royals FIP of 3.30, and they strike out over ten hitters per nine innings, easily the best in the league. Closer Andrew Miller has been ridiculous, having yet to allow a run over 16 2/3 innings, and yielding just three hits while striking out 29 hitters. Setup man Dellin Betances has been almost as untouchable, giving up just two unearned runs in 20 innings of work with 31 strikeouts. Overall, hitters are hitting just .185/.275/.282 against the Yankees bullpen this year.
The Yanks can still hit the ball out of the ballpark, and their homer-friendly ballpark hasn't been the reason why, as they've actually hit more dingers on the road. The Bronx Bombers have hit 44 home runs, second in the league, and are fourth in the league in runs scored. The much-maligned Alex Rodriguez has rebounded well after a year off due to suspension, although the Yankees don't want to acknowledge his achievements. Mark Teixeira has re-discovered his power stroke after failing to slug better than .400 in each of the last two seasons. The Yankees are fourth in the league in stolen bases, although only three players have even stolen a base this year - Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Didi Gregorious.
The Yankees defense has been slightly below average with -6 Defensive Runs Saved. Young Didi Gregorious has been a major upgrade over old man Jeter at shortstop, but outfielders Chris Young, Carlos Beltran, and even the usually excellent Brett Gardner have all been defensive liabilities this year.
The Royals took four out of seven from the Yankees last year, splitting the four games at Kauffman Stadium. Its early, but this battle of first place clubs should have a lot of intensity as both teams still feel the need to prove that their hot start is no fluke.