The Yankees look early on as a team to beat in the American League

Just before the season started, I asked Yankees manager Aaron Boone on TV what it felt like to lead a third-place team, or similar words. While Harold Reynolds gasped in the room down the hall, Boone seemed unimpressed, not annoyed. Boone replied calmly, saying he had great faith in his team, more than many (including me, obviously).

When I asked Boone on Sunday if he remembered that conversation, he said no. And the reason is clear: he hears a lot of stupidity and does not pay attention to it. That’s a great gift.

I’ve known Boone a little since he was 14, the middle of Bob Boone’s three ball-playing boys (the eldest, Bret, you know; Matt, was a Tigers draftee). I was a writer covering the California Angels and Bob, their first catcher. Yes, it was eons ago. The middle Boone son always seemed optimistic. Today he drowns out negativity and noise, even if it comes from a misguided sometime TV “talent.”

Boone is so confident you’re wondering if it’s real. I asked him if he meant what he said that day. No wonder he did. you believe him

He is optimistic but honest. Remember, he’s pretty much the only player to ever admit to injuring himself by doing something against his contract when he broke his knee playing basketball off-season, costing him a huge paycheck and has taken us more than a decade of A-rod drama. That rare honesty might have gotten him his current job 13 years later.

Anyway, as good as Boone felt with the Yankees when spring ended, he must be feeling that much better now that they are 19-8 after sharing Sunday’s doubleheader against Texas, still the best in AL. It’s early days, but they’re beginning to establish themselves as the team to beat in the American League.

The Yankees celebrate after their walk-off win over the Rangers.
The Yankees celebrate after their walk-off win over the Rangers.
Robert Sabo for the NY POST

Gerrit Cole, such a perfectionist, cursed his one bad pitch, the last of 114 (a Kole Calhoun homer), in the press conference after 6 1/3 mostly brilliant innings. Walk-off specialist Gleyber Torres scored the win, his seventh walk-off hit in MLB since 2018.

There’s daily justification, and the much-criticized Cole (ERA down to 2.67), Torres and the rest deserve it. In the last 16 days they have lost a game. As wrong as I was, Boone looks right today.

Like many people, I was concerned about a winter when the Blue Jays made headlines and the Yankees did little, or so it seemed.

The Blue Jays signed Kevin Gausman, who almost won a Cy Young, I told Boone. But Boone pointed out that they also lost a Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray.

The Blue Jays took over Matt Chapman, as I also mentioned. But they also lost Marcus Semien, as Boone correctly countered.

Meanwhile, the Yankees might one day grab the back when they traded Gary Sanchez and Gio Ursehla for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Josh Donaldson and Ben Rortvedt. Back then, the deal looked like both a wash and a gamble. But it gave them a defensive shortstop worthy of the pinstripes and it removed a catcher in Sanchez that should have been dealt with sooner.

Boone recalled being “a little depressed” when Kiner-Falefa first went to the Twins, but the Yankees made sure he stayed there only briefly, adding a shortstop who gets the little things done in a winter , if they did enough small things to improve their team significantly. Boone suggested they are “incrementally” better in several areas.

Aaron Boone (left) hugs Gleyber Torres (right) after his walk-off home run.
Aaron Boone (left) hugs Gleyber Torres (right) after his walk-off home run.
Robert Sabo for the NY POST
Aaron Boone reacts during the Yankees' win over the Rangers.
Aaron Boone reacts during the Yankees’ win over the Rangers.

In one area they are much better. They were saved 29th of 30 on defensive runs last year. With a rank that low, it doesn’t matter how many runs you’ve saved, but how many you’ve given away. You are third this year.

“Oh yeah,” Boone replied when asked if he meant what he said on the eve of the season. “I think we have a chance to be really good. We will see. The beauty of it is that we get a chance to find out.”

The verdict is far from out, but a month and a day into the season, the Yankees look like the best team in the AL. There are two reasons. First, they look pretty good. And second, no one else does.

While the American League always wins the All-Star Game and the well-known free-agent shortstops, the Yankees, haven’t been promoted to the AL, the better teams are in the NL. The Dodgers are looking their best again, the Mets and Brewers are up there and the Braves will be.

There are now many ifs and buts in the AL.

The Jays booked a negative run differential. The White Sox may be better lately, but in the end. The Rays still own their Smoke and Mirrors, but that’s not enough. The Mariners, who had magic last year, have settled into a more normal routine. The Red Sox, well, they just stink (OK, I’m bitter after picking them for the postseason).

Yes, the angels and twins have been improved. But both still have serious questions about pitching depth.

The Astros, on the other hand, who pitch a lot, look like the real threat.

Yes sir, things are going well for the Yankees. And when they meet the Astros in the ALCS, they can get revenge for the bitter taste that won’t go away – the taste of 2017. The Yankees look early on as a team to beat in the American League


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