Bombers Endured Rough Patch To Remain In Thick Of AL East Title Chase

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

One can almost sense it now, feel it, touch it.

The Yankees have turned the corner, which means this year could well become much more success than growing process.

They have used the trading period well, grabbing a couple of bullpen pieces from the White Sox in old friend Dave Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, and a hittter in Todd Frazier. They then swapped a couple of minor leaguers with Minnesota for back-of-rotation starter Jaime Garcia.

Yankees vs. Rays

The Yankees’ Brett Gardner celebrates with teammates after driving in the winning run in the ninth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 29, 2017, at Yankee Stadium. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

And before Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline hits, they may well add a Sonny Gray or Yu Darvish, or some other front-line arm out there.

But it’s not just the addition of assets that has allowed the sunshine to blot out the darkness of the weeks leading into the All-Star break, when the Yanks could neither score a run, get a decent pitching performance or win a series. It’s what they’re doing now — granted with the help of Robertson and Kahnle, but mostly with those who have peopled the roster since the beginning.

MORE: Hours Before Trade Deadline, Yankees Considered Favorites To Land Sonny Gray

They’re winning again. Eight of 10, with a six-game winning streak snapped in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to the Rays. As the calendar turns to August, a time when positioning for September drives becomes all important, the Yanks have turned hot. The streak allowed them to regain the AL East lead from Boston, stay right there with Sunday’s Red Sox loss to the Royals and convince the populace that the division title that appeared oh-so fleeting during the dark period, has again become a happy possibility.

Perhaps those 10 straight nonwinning series will end up as the real turning point of the season. The biggest issue that will sink a young team is sudden adversity. Things go well, then the inevitable bump in the road pops up, and everything from then on goes downhill.

The Yankees didn’t just hit a bump. They fell into a sinkhole that gobbled up the division lead and nearly knocked them from the second wild-card spot.

But then things got better. They climbed out of the hole.

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Chase Headley’s move from third base to first lit a fire that has him hitting .429 with six runs, three doubles, a homer and three RBIs in nine games since the shift.

Brett Gardner has added fireworks, striking walk-off hits twice in the first three games against the Rays. Of course, the first of those cost Aaron Judge a chipped tooth during the postgame celebration.

The bullpen has come around to post a 1.79 ERA the 18 games leading into Sunday after slogging their way through a 6.05 the previous 17. It’s no coincidence, then, that the Yanks have since gone 11-6 post-break.

Even Masahiro Tanaka seems to have learned how to pitch again, having produced Friday’s eight-inning, one-run gem.

Judge and Gary Sanchez have started looking again like the ferocious hitting combination Joe Girardi envisioned when he paired them up in the batting order. And Clint Frazier has been a steady, productive presence since his July 1 callup.

Luis Severino has put his troubles of last season so far behind him they have become an afterthought.

Time will tell whether Sunday’s loss was just another blip or the beginning of a finish that will prove the latest hot streak was just an aberration.

There’s too much baseball left to proclaim them a lock for the AL East title. But after the troubles of June and early July, it does appear the Yanks have learned from their struggles.

They’ve gotten back to winning regularly.

And even the division seems possible.

Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino

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