Allow me to first say that I take no great joy in composing a column that's certain to offend a certain segment of the population. I'm required to write what I see while offering my opinion and perspective, even when it goes against my natural instincts as a devout Yankees basher.
It's best to understand the background. The Yankees for years have been the source of an extended family feud. My father, wife and in-laws are Yankees fans. They dragged three of my children to the dark side before I had a chance to turn them against the Yanks and join me in pulling for the Orioles.
Why such disdain?
I'm not sure, exactly. My father's Yankees were Mantle and Yogi and Whitey and Billy and folklore. I understand why people loved them in the 1960s. It was different for me. In the 1970s, my youth, the Yanks were George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson with their bombastic, egomaniacal and obnoxious behavior.
This figured to be an uplifting season for people who share my contempt for the Yanks, picked for fourth in numerous preseason polls. Derek Jeter was the one player Yankee haters admired, and he retired after last season. Plus, Alex Rodriguez was returning from a one-year suspension for using performance enhancing drugs.
The combination was certain to test the resolve of Yankees fans who climbed aboard over the past 20 years. This year would separate true Yankees fans from people disguised as Yankees fans who actually were Jeter fans. Only a few players from their last World Series title in 2009 were still around.
They were stuck with A-Rod. Mark Teixeira was turning 35 and coming off wrist problems and a miserable season that included a .216 batting average. Masahiro Tanaka, who won 13 games last season, won three of his first four starts this year before having arm problems. CC Sabathia was a colossal mess.
For anti-Yankites, this would be a season to rejoice after watching them spend $213 million for the right to become irrelevant. It was a matter of time before their fans overreacted and demanded heads on platters while talking about the good ole days under the Boss, their late, great baseball genius.
The same Yankees who appeared destined for failure are leading the American League East. They beat the Twins, 7-2, Sunday and had a 6½-game lead after the Blue Jays lost to the Mariners, 6-5 in 10 innings. The Yanks are 14-5 in July and have won six of their last seven games and 11 of 14, including six straight series.
It couldn't get much worse than seeing A-Rod hit three homers Saturday against the Twins. Rodriguez, banned for all 162 games last season, celebrates his 40th birthday Monday. He has 23 homers and 58 RBIs through 90 games. He's on pace for his best season in five years. He could hit 40 homers for the first time since 2007.
In the Bronx, all has been forgiven.
You know what I see, as much as it pains me to say so? I see a team coming together at the right time for the stretch run. Even the most ardent Yanks detractors need to give them the credit they deserve.
It starts with A-Rod. The Yanks would have dumped him if found a taker. They didn't want his contract. They definitely didn't want clauses in his contract in which he would be given big bonuses for hitting career milestones, including his 3,000th hit.
Who knows where the Yanks would be without him? A-Rod no longer is the best player in baseball, but only a few have had a greater impact on their teams this season. He entered Sunday's game in the Top 20 in the big leagues in homers, runs batted in, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Teixeira was seventh in homers (24) and eighth in RBIs (65) and was batting .324 in July. The Yanks are winning without a single everyday player batting higher than .300. All but shortstop DiDi Gregorius is over 30 years old.
Chase Headley, hitting .344 in July, had a homer and three RBIs in the win Sunday. Gregorius still isn't hitting, but he's a terrific fielder. Stephen Drew isn't hitting for average, but he hit his 13th homer Sunday. They've putting the right pieces in place and found the right chemistry.
Brian Cashman's critics viewed him as a marginal general manager throughout his tenure despite building World Series winners. You couldn't find another sports executive who was more aptly named than Cashman.
Really, how much baseball acumen was required to lure top free agents with monster contracts to the most storied franchise in sports in a major market? The Yanks have the second-highest payroll in baseball, but the money has been well spent. Sabathia is the only one who isn't earning his keep.
Cashman traded for Nathan Eovaldi, who become a key member of their rotation. Eovaldi posted a 15-35 record in his first four seasons and led the league in hits allowed last season. He improved to 10-2 Sunday after throwing eight solid innings. He developed a deadly split-finger fastball and has found his groove.
Adam Warren gave them 14 starts and a 3.51 ERA, best in the rotation. Tanaka won his last three starts. Middle relievers Dellin Bestances, Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson weren't at the top of your fantasy draft, but they're a combined 15-3 with a 1.86 ERA. Andrew Miller is perfect in 23 save opportunities.
The Yanks are 51-0 when leading after eight innings. They were trailing after eight Saturday before A-Rod's third homer started a four-run rally in the ninth. The better they get, the more they suck the fun out of rooting against them.
How can anyone bash them now?