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Yankees living up to expectations

With a few weeks of this shortened baseball season in the books, teams are already starting to distance themselves from the rest of their divisions.

In the National League, Atlanta, Chicago, and Colorado have jumped out to leads. In the American League, the West, surprising many, has Oakland atop the rung. Minnesota is showing their prowess in the Central. But no team in all of the Majors has catapulted themselves as the team to beat as in the AL East and New York.

As of Tuesday, the Yankees owned baseball’s best mark at 8-1. New York, was in fact the preseason favorite to take the AL pennant. Many prognosticators feel they will have an eventual World Series showdown with Los Angeles.

The pitching staff ranks 10th with a team ERA of 3.67. Ace Gerrit Cole has already notched three wins with 16 strikeouts. Zack Britton has four saves. And they are now just seeing the return of their best closer, and perhaps the most feared reliever in baseball, Aroldis Chapman. The left-hander has acquired 273 saves in his career. It’s scary to think that this pitching staff is actually going to get better as Chapman comes back.

But, they don’t call them the Bronx Bombers for nothing. In just nine games, they have 51 runs scored (5.66 RPG), 69 hits, with 20 home runs, and have drawn 34 walks. D.J. LeMahieu, who many think is a true AL MVP candidate, is batting .412 with 14 hits in just 34 at bats. From top to bottom, this lineup is just about the most dangerous there is today.

But in all sincerity, once again, the player that most pitchers least want to face is Aaron Judge. He is batting .314, with 11 hits, 14 RBI’s, blasting six home runs and a slugging percentage of .886. Judge is what baseball fans call an “all-around ballplayer.” He is an amazing fielder, arguably has one of the strongest arms playing today, is fast, not just for a big man, but plain old speedy around the bases as well as in RF, and also splits the leadership role with Brett Gardner.

He seems to really enjoy playing baseball. He is humble and a team player in the truest sense of the term. In today’s troubling times and lack of role models, he is a guy that you can point to for your children to look up to. In my opinion, a true ambassador for the sport of baseball.

Since 1891, there has only been 15 captains of the storied New York Yankees. I wouldn’t be surprised if down the road Judge would be given the honor.

As someone who puts a lot of stock in starting pitchers, I know it has been tough so far this season. Lines are coming out later than usual and pitchers are being scratched at the drop of a hat. My advice is to tread lightly and go with your gut.

Here are this week’s best bets (all records, stats, and trends are as of Tuesday and may change as can starting pitchers):

Thursday

Twins at Pirates: Here we have one of baseball’s worst teams hosting one of its best. Minnesota, at 8-2, has won four straight to take a two-game lead in the AL Central. Pittsburgh is riding the worst current skid in all of the Majors, dropping five straight and sits in last place in the NL Central, at 2-8. The Twins are averaging over 5.10 RPG while the Pirates account for a dismal, 3.40 RPG.

Kenta Maeda is scheduled to get the road start. The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA on the season, striking out 12 batters in 11.0 IP. There is no confirmed starter for Pittsburgh right now, but it won’t matter as none of their starters are a threat to the powerful Twins lineup.

Minnesota has taken the last four meetings in this series by an average of 2.50 RPG. Pittsburgh is 2-8 the last 10 vs. righty starters. TWINS RUN LINE

Yankees at Phillies: For me, this matchup is all about the numbers. New York and their potent lineup is posting over 5.66 RPG while Philadelphia’s pitching staff has a team ERA of 5.91.

It looks like Masahiro Tanaka will be taking the mound here. The right-hander had a short outing in his season debut so look for the seasoned veteran (75-43, 3.75 ERA career) to bounce back here while getting some solid run support. There is no confirmed starter for Philly, but once again, it doesn’t matter who takes the hill against the Yanks’ lineup.

The Yankees have taken four of the last five meetings with the Phillies, with the average margin of victory coming by 4.75 RPG. Even if Tanaka doesn’t go here, I still side with New York. YANKEES RUN LINE.

Rangers at Athletics: These two AL West rivals are a lot further apart than just the two games separating them right now. Texas is playing some ugly baseball. Their pitching staff is mediocre (17th, 4.24 team ERA). Their offense ranks 28th, averaging an anemic 3.38 RPG.

Winners of three straight and sitting atop the AL West, Oakland’s lineup is starting to produce while their pitching staff ranks fifth, with a 2.87 Team ERA.

It looks like left-hander Mike Minor and righty Mike Fiers are getting the nod here. The A’s have taken seven of the last eight meetings in this series and Fiers has started three of those matchups, all wins for the A’s.

Texas is 6-22 the last 28 games played at Oakland, 1-8 the last nine played vs. the AL West, and 2-6 the last eight played on the road. ATHLETICS

Last week: 0-1

Season: 2-2