Admit it . . . you thought the New York Yankees had no chance of being in first place at this point in the season. The list of prominent names they had on the disabled list as they broke spring camp made even the most optimistic Yankee fans wonder about their prospects. They’ve played the first quarter of the season without three-fourths of their All-Star infield, including one of the most beloved Yankees of all-time, Derek Jeter.
There was a time when every New York Yankee fan dreaded the day when someone other than Jeter played shortstop. The fear of the unknown created an almost palpable anxiety for pinstripes supporters. Now, with Jeter having missed the first 43 games of the season, Yankee fans know they can at least survive without “The Captain” . . . at least in the short term.
The Yankees’ 27-16 start has not only surprised most of Major League Baseball, but it’s afforded the Yankees the opportunity to take things slowly with Jeter. As is well-documented, Jeter rushed to try to return in time for the start of the 2013 season, only to have a setback that will likely keep him out until the All-Star break. In his absence the Yankees have played Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix, and light-hitting Alberto Gonzalez. While none of them has provided consistent offense, they’ve played well defensively and come up with a few timely hits. It hasn’t been the nightmare many Yankees feared it would be when the idea of playing without Jeter seemed unfathomable.
However, it’s no secret that the Yankees need Jeter in the lineup to make any kind of run in the postseason. Interestingly, it’s been the work of his fill-ins that might be the reason they get to October. Had the Yankees stumbled at the start, Jeter likely would have felt a sense of urgency to get back on the field. But if the Yankees continue to play .600 baseball, the team can bring Jeter along slowly to ensure he doesn’t rush back too quickly this second time around.