BALTIMORE — The proclamations from the owner, general manager and manager a little more than a month ago were met mostly with derision.
When the Yankees dealt Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline, the conventional wisdom was that the organization, muddling along at 52-52, had hoisted the white flag over the 2016 season. But Hal Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi insisted that the deals not only made the Yankees better for years but didn’t necessarily disqualify them from playoff contention this season.
The latter notion elicited widespread laughter, but a funny thing happened on the way to surrendering the season. The Yankees, buoyed by an infusion of youth and solid pitching from a staff that at times looks as if it were drawn out of a hat, went 17-11 in August to put themselves in the thick of the AL wild-card race as the calendar turned to September.
“We never felt our season was over when those moves were made,” Chase Headley said.
With 30 games to go, the Yankees (69-63) trail the Orioles, whom they will play at Camden Yards on Friday night, and the Tigers by 2½ games for the second wild-card spot.
“There’s a toughness in there,” Girardi said. “These guys rea l ly want it.”
The Yankees have won each of their last four series, taking two of three from the Angels, Mariners, Orioles and Royals. The spurt allowed the Yankees to leapfrog two teams that had been ahead of them, the Mariners and Royals.
The Royals had won seven straight series, and 17 of their last 21 games, before dropping two of three to the Yankees, who have won seven of their last eight series and have gone 15-9 since splitting a four-game series with the Mets to begin August.
“This is the best time of the year,” Brian McCann said. “The guys that have come up really made impacts on this team. It’s been impressive to watch and they’re a big reason we’re back in it.”
McCann lost his starting catcher’s job to one of them, Gary Sanchez. In 24 games since becoming an everyday player, Sanchez has a .389/.458/.832 slash line with 11 homers and 21 RBIs. Of his 37 hits, 20 have gone for extra bases.
But it hasn’t just been Sanchez, or Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, both of whom have cooled after hot starts. Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro have been terrific and Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have had their moments.
Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia have churned out consistent starts to anchor a rotation that suddenly includes rookies Chad Green and Luis Cessa. The bullpen is a somewhat odd mix that includes Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard, acquisitions made by Cashman at the trade deadline as a sign that he wasn’t quitting on the season, and a pair of 31-year-old journeymen, Blake Parker and Tommy Layne. There’s also rookie Ben Heller, a perhaps resurgent Chasen Shreve and, of course, the pen’s stalwart, closer Dellin Betances.
“We always thought we were better than we played,” Headley said. “Even once those guys got traded, I remember [third- base coach] Rob Thomson saying, ‘Hey, that doesn’t change anything we’re doing in here. All that matters is what we believe.’ We believe we’re good enough to compete and beat anybody that we’re playing. We’ve made up a decent amount of ground but we’ve still got a ways to go.”
Warren was part of the offseason trade with the Cubs that netted Castro, and he returned in the Chapman deal. Warren said a “nothing to lose” attitude permeates the clubhouse.
“We can see it right there in front of us now, so there’s a lot more motivation for that, but I think we still have to keep the same mindset,” he said. “We’ve been loose, playing like we have nothing to lose, and that’s worked for us. Just go out there free and easy and see what happens.”