- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK -- The Yankees have a converted infielder in their starting rotation and a 24-year-old kid with nine errors in 44 games as their starting shortstop, and the one and only left-handed pitcher in their bullpen can't record outs against left-handed hitters.
Still, they are 15 games over .500, a game and a half ahead of the rest of the AL East and far and away the best baseball team I have seen all year. With the exception of one, of course.
Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees spanked the Milwaukee Brewers, one of the three best teams the National League has to offer, 12-2, in a game that was decided 20 minutes after it began and, unfortunately, more than three hours before it ended.
They roughed up Zack Greinke -- a Cy Young Award winner two years ago and a very sought-after commodity on the trade market last season when the Kansas City Royals made it known he was available -- for seven runs in two innings. They belted two home runs to run their major-league-leading total to 113, and their first baseman, Mark Teixeira, kept pace with the league leader, Jose Bautista, by hitting homer No. 24 in the sixth inning, a number he didn't reach last year until Aug. 6.
Obviously, the Yankees are a very flawed team. They are also a very, very good team.
And as currently constituted, they have zero chance of getting to the World Series this year. Unless, of course, they find a way to beat the one team I've seen so far this season that is clearly better than them, the Boston Red Sox.
After last night's manhandling of the Brewers, the Yankees record stood at 46-31. Impressive. But subtract their record against Boston -- 1-8 so far -- and they are 45-23. Phenomenal.
Clearly, they are one team against the Red Sox and another against everyone else. And unless that changes, the road to No. 28 -- world championships, that is -- stops for the second straight year at the ALCS.
As the Yankees were beating the Brewers, the Red Sox were losing to the Phillies -- who may well be the best team in baseball, but I have not seen them in person -- behind Cliff Lee's third straight shutout to fall 1.5 games behind the Yankees.
Even though the Red Sox are the better team, the Yankees still might win this division, because no matter who is in pinstripes or on the mound, they simply seem to know how to win.
They just don't know how to beat the Red Sox.
Already this season, the Yankees have lost 40 percent of their starting rotation, three key pieces of their bullpen, their number-one backup at third base and DH and their captain.
Still, they are playing better baseball than all but one other team, the Phillies. Incredible as it may seem, the $200 million-plus Yankees are, in fact, overachieving.
"I expected us to continue to play well, I did, because there's still so much talent on this team," manager Joe Girardi said. "It just seemed like it was one after another for a while there. But some of our guys have seized an opportunity and ran with it and played very well. I don't think the guys ever felt sorry for themselves and that's an important part of it."
Teixeira, who loaned the league home run lead to Jose Bautista for two innings only to reclaim his share with a two-run shot in the sixth, pointed to this team's depth as the reason for its current success.
"Whether it's a guy stepping up to get a spot start like Brian Gordon against the Rangers that day, or guys coming off the bench like [Eduardo] Nunez stepping in for Derek, we've been able to get past some of those injuries," Teixeira said. "Offensively we're starting to put some runs together. We're scoring in a lot of different ways. It's a lot of fun. And we're still hitting home runs."
The Yankees scored five runs on home runs, four others on timely hits, including Curtis Granderson's first-inning fly ball that was botched by Nyjer Morgan and went for an RBI triple, and three more on infield outs, two by Teixeira, who now has 62 RBIs, second only to Boston's Adrian Gonzalez in the AL.
Every player in the Yankee lineup had either a hit, an RBI or a run. And Freddy Garcia, enjoying a rare night of run support, survived some rocky moments to throw six capable innings, allowing two runs on eight hits. (Interestingly, the Brewers outhit the Yankees, 11 to 10).
Nick Swisher, who may have felt sorry for himself when he was hitting .204 back on May 27, is sounding like his old self again now that his average is up to .249. His three-run homer in the second inning gave the Yankees a 7-0 lead and finished off Greinke and the Brewers.
He attributes the Yankees' recent run of excellent play -- the win was their 13th in their last 17 games -- to clubhouse chemistry.
"There's still a lot more left to go in the season, but I think right now more than anything it's loose in here," Swisher said. "Guys are laughing, having a good time, not stressing about things. Right now we feel we have everything under control."
For now, they do. Phil Hughes is throwing his third rehab start at Trenton Wednesday afternoon and may be a week or so from coming back. Around the same time, Bartolo Colon will be at Yankee Stadium to be examined by the team doctor and may be well enough to pitch Saturday against the Mets. Jeter is running again and his return can't be all that far away.
And the Yankees don't see the Red Sox again until Aug. 5. Between now and then, they might very well remain the best team in the American League. Certainly, they are better than just about every team they have played so far.
The problem is, the only one they aren't better than is the only one they need to beat if their season is to end in anything other than the Yankees' definition of failure.
The Yankees are the best team I've seen all year. With the exception of one.