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Brett Gardner is emblematic of the 2014 Yankees. He gets on base and changes the game with his speed, a tactic outside of the usual Yankees approach that involves home runs and doubles.

Ben Margot, ASSOCIATED PRESS

La Velle E. Neal's Sunday Insider: Yankees not Bronx Bombers of past

  • June 29, 2014 - 5:41 AM

They don’t hit home runs like they used to. Their starting rotation isn’t glamorous. Their marquee player might be the 40-year-old shortstop.

Because of those factors, the demise of the New York Yankees has been expected this season. Yet the Pinstripers continue to hang around in the AL East and are in position to take over if Toronto falters or if a wild-card contender starts to fade.

New York comes to town this week for four games, including a July 4th special at Target Field that will commemorate the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s farewell address. That MLB has the Yankees on the road for that date is a little shocking. Nevertheless, thousands of Yankees fans will be in attendance this week — like they usually are — to watch a team that has been pluckier than expected.

The Yankees are grinding their way through the schedule instead of pulverizing it. They entered the weekend three games out of first place in the division and one game back in the wild-card race. That will make them players in the trade deadline market, where they often get what they want.

They have to scratch and sniff for runs now. They entered the weekend 12th in the AL in runs scored with 311. The Twins, by contrast, are seventh with 328 runs. We pause to allow you to process the fact that the Twins have a better offense than the Yankees. There’s not a lot of room for error, but Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are getting on base and using their speed. Ichiro Suzuki is batting over .300 again and Mark Teixeira is healthy and adding some pop. It’s a functional lineup of veteran hitters.

Shortstop Derek Jeter, winding down a Hall of Fame career, wants to go out a winner.

“We’ve had some guys who have stepped up and have done a great job,’’ Jeter said, “but we’ve got a lot of work to do.’’

What’s helped the Yankees through this stretch is that the rotation after Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka has been serviceable. Hiroki Kuroda remains effective at age 39, and Chase Whitley keeps the ball in the yard. They would like to get Vidal Nuno out of the rotation as soon as possible, but how many teams really like their fifth starter? Staff ace CC Sabathia is expected to return from knee surgery after the All-Star break, and Michael Pineda, out with shoulder problems, could return in August.

Tanaka’s two losses have been to teams he’s faced a second time — something to watch the second half of the season.

And the Yankees expect to have a few Bronx Bomber flashbacks as the season progresses.

“When we do start hitting more home runs — and I think you’re going to see it — you add that in there and it’s a pretty complete offense,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said recently.

While the Yankees have their flaws, they still might have a say in how the East will be won.

Central Intelligence

The Royals spent a few minutes in first place just over a week ago but have retreated back to their mediocre ways. First baseman Eric Hosmer has been one of the culprits, as he was batting .188 over his past 41 games heading into Friday, with a .507 OPS.

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Justin Masterson, who was expected to lead the Indians rotation, is 2-4 with a 6.94 ERA in his past nine starts. After another poor start on Tuesday, the Indians revealed that Masterson has a sore right knee and will miss his scheduled start at Seattle on Sunday.

• • •

Detroit’s J.D. Martinez finally had an 0-fer, going hitless in five at-bats Thursday. But he entered the game with a 14-game hitting streak in which he hit .411 with six home runs and 17 RBI. The Tigers now believe they have four starting-caliber outfielders. And to think Houston released this guy.

• • •

What started during the series with the Twins last week ended Thursday when the White Sox shook up their bullpen. Veteran Scott Downs was designated for assignment after failing in a lefty specialist role. He was replaced with minor leaguer Eric Surkamp.

Three observations …

• Could the Home Run Derby end up as a showdown between defending champion Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig (right)? I’m all for that.

• Anyone want to hang out with Yu Darvish? He will probably be named an All-Star but said he’ll skip the game and go sightseeing in the Twin Cities instead.

• I’m biased, but it has been cool to see a few USA soccer jerseys in the stands at some recent baseball games.

... and two predictions

• Who’s next to throw a no-hitter? I’m going with David Price, who’s locked in right now and pitching deep into games.

• The Tigers will run away with the division because they can fix the bullpen, their weakest link, with trades.

 

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