Yankees Have Broom, Will Travel

It's three straight sweeps after the Yankees handle the Nationals

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Nova sparkles again and the Yankees win again.

    The Yankees went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position on Sunday.

    Cue the groaning about how an aging lineup is coming apart at the seams because players like Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira are unclutch, overpaid bums who will drag the whole team down with them. There's no way to win with prima donnas like that on the roster, which makes Brian Cashman to blame for the whole thing.

    What's that, the Yankees won on Sunday even though they didn't get a hit with runners in scoring position? That seems impossible given how little they were winning earlier this season when they couldn't get hits in those big spots.

    OK, so Ivan Nova pitched 7.2 innings of one-run ball on the way to a 4-1 victory over the Nationals. When you get an outing like that you can win in spite of mediocre offense, but there's no way that it is sustainable.

    Nine wins in a row? So this offensive showing was just an aberration because, obviously, the Yankees can't win unless they are bludgeoning the opposition offensively thanks to their ineffective starting rotation.

    We'll end this one-sided conversation now because the point has hopefully been made about what has propelled the Yankees to nine straight wins and three straight sweeps of three-game series. The hitting's a bit better than it was a month ago, but the issues with runners in scoring position linger even as Curtis Granderson blasts home runs in bunches.

    The pitching, on the other hand, has taken a right turn into a much more successful place. After turning in just 14 quality starts (six innings pitched, three earned runs or less) in the first 50 starts of the season, the Yankees have gotten 14 of them in the last 15 games.

    Nova and Phil Hughes have been the biggest reason for this change in fortunes. Both right-handers were struggling to find their way early this season -- for Hughes, it was an even longer stretch of ineffectiveness -- but they've found their footing at exactly the right moment to be the engine for a winning streak.

    You don't go on jags like the Yankees are on, 19 wins in 23 games overall, without getting really good starting pitching. You can win a game here or there despite a bad start, but it is impossible to sustain a winning streak unless you're getting the kind of pitching the Yankees are getting almost every night.

    They are getting it, though, and they are taking full advantage of the joy it provides by supplementing it with an offense that has scored the seventh-most runs in all of baseball. Not the gaudy offense of past years, perhaps, but more than enough to make a big winner out of a team that can pitch well.

    The Yankees are pitching well right now and that's why they are putting together the kind of run that makes the rest of your season easier. If the Yankees go 50-47 from this point, they are a 90-win team and almost certainly in the playoffs.

    A 50-47 record would be a crushing disappointment, of course, but that's the beauty of a streak like this. The Yankees are smiling now and making it much more likely that they'll be smiling later because they have pitched themselves into the driver's seat.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.