MLB: Are the Yankees contenders or pretenders?

For the first time since 1981, the New York Yankees missed the playoffs in back to back seasons in 2013 and 2014. Many expected major changes this past offseason, but the Yankees chose to stay put and bring back the same team that barely won 85 games in the last two seasons.

alex rodriguez

There are questions surrounding the Yankees’ franchise that fans want to know. How will they truly replace Derek Jeter? Will the starting rotation be efficient enough to win games and will Alex Rodriguez be as good as he once was after an 18-month suspension?

Halfway into the season, the Yankees (57-42) are sitting at the top of the American League East by 7.5 games over the Toronto Blue Jays, a team that many predicted would win the division.

Why are the Yankees playing solid baseball thus far in the season? It’s simple. They are staying healthy.  Last season, the Yankees dealt with many injuries to key players such as CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Ivan Nova and the list continues. At this point of the season, the team has only four injured players, none who are major contributors to their current success.

The Yankees starting pitchers have combined for a 38-32 record and 4.25 ERA. Pitchers Michael Pineda (9-7, 3.97 ERA) and Masahiro Tanaka (7-3, 3.64 ERA) are leading the way while rising star Nathan Eovaldi (10-2, 4.27 ERA) has made a case by winning his last five starts.

However, all season long, it has been their shutdown bullpen that has led the way in the team winning 57 games. It is arguably one of the best the Yankees have ever had with the likes of Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. The Yankees’ bullpen has a combined record of 16-13 in the last 30 days. Not to mention, the one-two punch of Dellin Betances (6-2, 1.35 ERA) and Andrew Miller (23 saves, 1.57 ERA) has been one of the best in baseball this season in regard to relief pitching.

Like the bullpen, the Yankees offense has been much better this season than the past two. They currently rank second (477) in runs, third (133) in homers and second (456) in runs batted in (RBIs).

With Mark Teixeira staying healthy and the resurgence of Alex Rodriguez, the two have been able to carry the load on offense this season. In 2013, Teixeira battled injuries that saw his numbers drop tremendously. This season, Teixeira is on the verge of enjoying his best career power numbers (avg .257, HR 24, RBI 65) if he stays healthy and producing at the same level in the second half of the season.

After being suspended last season for PED use, Alex Rodriguez is back and better than ever. A-Rod is hitting .279, 24 HR, with 60 RBIs. Many fans are questioning how he will do as the year progresses following the year off and turning 40 years oldIn spring training, Rodriguez was told he would have to earn his playing time as a designated hitter, but now the Yankees cannot afford to keep him out of the lineup.

Will this be enough for the Yankees to make a strong push deep into October? If they continue to do the things that have helped them to be successful thus far, they are well on their way. They must stay healthy, the bullpen must continue to close out games successfully and the offense must continue to produce each game.

Only time will tell how far they will go this season, but they could very well find themselves playing in the 2015 MLB World Series.