Before the season started I posited that betting against the Yankees' winning 96 or more games (Sportsbook.com soon after dropped the over/under from 95.5 to 94.5) was a good deal. A recent hot streak after a very mediocre start, though, has them on a pace to threaten that 96-win barrier. Their 31-21 record (through June 2) puts them on a 97-win pace. Baseball Prospectus's proprietary "PECOTA" projections currently have them looking at 97 wins as well.
So how are they doing it?
In a nutshell, offense. While New York's pitching staff is only 12th out of fourteen in earned-run average (all numbers per ESPN's Web site), it is tied for the AL in runs scored with 300, 46 total runs above the league average. They are second in batting average, second in home runs, and fourth in bases on balls, all leading to a number-one ranking in on-base average, that most important of batting stats, and a second-to-Texas rank in slugging average. Driving the train are Derek Jeter, who three weeks shy of his 35th birthday has arrested a two-year slide and is now hitting .319 with power; Johnny Damon (.301 with 10 home runs and a .536 SLG); and Hideki Matsui, whose .500 SLG is tied for third among DHs. For the most part, the Yankees' run production has been driven more by balance than anything else. The only position at which they to date have received below-average production has been third base, where they now have Hall of Famer Alex Rodriguez returning from injury.
I'm still pretty comfortable in picking them to fall below the standard. Jeter and Damon in particular are playing over their heads considering their advancing ages and the pitching staff has shown nothing to inspire real confidence. Plus the age- and durability-related injury risks remain.