So this is what the Yankees were supposed to look like

In the last run through the rotation, the Yankees got four quality starts and a 3.62 ERA. That’s not dazzling stuff, but it’s a nice step in the right direction. If C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes keep rolling out quality starts, the American League East is going to get awfully interesting. Even if the Orioles are the real deal, even if the Rays continue to play well, the Yankees are plenty capable of winning the division.

The Yankees began this season as a consensus pick to finish first or second in their division. If nothing else, they would be back in the playoffs for the 17th time in 18 seasons. That analysis seemed to be in doubt as the Bronx Bombers were gutted by injuries. Other teams have had injuries, especially the Rays, who have 10 players on the disabled list, but the Yankees have had a staggering number: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Michael Pineda. All four were penciled in for roles this season, and only Robertson will return.

Suddenly, Pettitte’s return wasn’t a luxury. With Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda pitching so poorly, the Yankees needed him to be a contributor. When Cashman telephoned him last winter to invite him to return after taking a year off, it seemed like a case of the rich getting richer. When he threw that first bullpen session, there were significant questions about where he’d fit in.

It’s not just the pitching that was worrying Cashman and Girardi. They kept talking about guys having track records and that eventually the numbers on the back of the bubble gum cards being the numbers that showed up on the field. But they knew that Alex Rodriguez was no longer a young player and that Mark Teixeira was coming off a year unsatisfying by his high standards. In their private moments, they must have wondered if too many parts of the team were trending downward.

The Yankees won their fourth game in a row Saturday, and at 25-21, are in third place, a mere 3 1/2 games out of first place. Four games is way too small a sample size even for those of us who prefer to make a pronouncement every 20 minutes. But there have been plenty of positive signs. The Yankees have won their last three by the combined score of 23-8, and in those three games, the guys in the middle of their lineup–Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano–have gone 14 for 38 with seven home runs.

If A-Rod and Tex have snapped back to normalcy, this will be a tough, tough team to beat. In addition to the sheer amount of talent up and down the roster, in addition to the confidence that comes from being in the postseason almost every year, the Yankees also have the resources–both financial and in minor league depth–to fill needs at the trading deadline.

Just a few days ago, it looked like Cashman would have so many needs that there’s no way he could fill them all. At the moment, with Robertson probably returning to the bullpen next month, the Yankees may not need a thing. If anything has changed, it’s the dynamics of the American League East.

The Orioles appear to have staying power, and the Rays will be a factor. The Blue Jays are throwing enough young players out there to make themselves a wild card, of sort. As for the Red Sox, it’s impossible to figure them out. If Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have big years, they’re likely to stay in contention, but it has been a rough ride so far.

In the last few weeks, as things have looked so unsettling around the Yankees, Cashman kept waiting to see the team he expected to see. He believed in the guys Girardi kept running out there and wasn’t about to make a change just for the sake of making a change. Now, at least for a few days, these are the Yankees a lot of us thought we’d see. Stay tuned.

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