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Yankees continue to defy the statistics

Yankees' Brandon McCarthy delivers in the first inning

Yankees' Brandon McCarthy delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians Wednesday, July 9, 2014, in Cleveland. Credit: AP / Tony Dejak

Brandon McCarthy is a believer in the significance of run differential.

The statistic is simple: a comparison of the number of runs a team has scored against the number it has allowed. Many believe that stat is the truest measure of a team's quality and perhaps the best harbinger of its long-term fortunes.

And if that's so, the Yankees might be baseball's biggest overachiever. Even with their $209-million payroll.

"It's always hard to say the Yankees are an underdog,'' McCarthy said before Friday night's game, "but this isn't like those Yankee teams of the past where you're just rolling over people. Day in and day out, we're scrapping to win games.

"I would assume our differential isn't great because we don't go out there and bludgeon teams offensively.''

It's not, and they don't. Entering Friday night, the Yankees were 16th in the majors with 457 runs and 17th with a 3.81 ERA. That, coupled with all the injuries and the big names having subpar seasons, typically portends failure.

But the Yankees have defied those odds. They entered Friday night's game with 23 fewer runs than their opponents but were 60-54 and within a half-game of the Royals for the second American League wild-card berth. In fact, the Yankees were the only major-league team with a negative differential and a plus-.500 record.

The Padres, for example, had been outscored by 22, were 52-61 and essentially were out of contention in the National League. The Yankees were tied with Toronto, which had a plus-28. The A's had baseball's best run differential (plus-167) and best record.

"Since I've been here,'' McCarthy said, "I think we've pulled out close games by pitching well enough and getting some key hits when we've needed them.''

In the six games McCarthy has started for the Yankees since being traded from Arizona, three have been decided by a run. He is 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA.

The Yankees' success in close games is largely what has kept them afloat. Of their previous 18 games, only one (Wednesday night's 5-1 win over the Tigers) was decided by more than two runs. They won 11 of the 18.

"That's just the way the season goes sometimes,'' David Robertson said. "There's less room for error in close games, but as a pitcher, you want to put up zeros regardless of how many runs we've got.''

Chase Headley said that in some ways, the constant pressure can be beneficial.

"It's good, when you win,'' he said. "It wouldn't be bad to have a few 7-to-1 games, but playing close games, I think, is valuable experience. That's the type of baseball that's played in October.''

McCarthy warned, "We have to be able to maintain that in order to reach the postseason.''

The odds say they can't maintain it. Then again . . .

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