One good rule for baseball, and also the broader world, is that when there is no good reason for a phenomenon to persist it will probably stop. A career .230 hitter very likely won't hit .330 for an entire season, but he might very well hit .330 for a month. Any pitcher can throw a no-hitter on any given day, but it's much more likely that Jake Arrieta will throw his third than Mike Fiers will throw his second. Sustained high-level performance requires high-level talent. Things don't just happen.
Heading into Tuesday night, Yankees pitchers were on a hot streak. Per Katie Sharp of ESPN, the Yankees had, "allowed 14 runs in last 9 games combined, their fewest allowed in any 9-game span since July 1998." Indeed, their July ERA as a team is 3.27, which is third in the league for the month, behind only Houston and Toronto. As a result, the Yankees have had their best month of the season, winning percentage-wise, at 13-9. Should we expect that to last?
The Yankees, whose opinion matters most, are still agnostic. After taking advantage of an insane trade market in dealing off closer/domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for a Barrel o' Prospects, general manager Brian Cashman said, "I have a green light to continue to do my job, which is to assess market values both coming and going and make recommendations, and [owner Hal Steinbrenner will] tell me what he wants done. Then I'll execute as told." So this is not yet a rebuild, and more of a redecoration in limbo, if only because a Steinbrenner never says die, even when the body has been cold since April.
And so into the Valley of Death rides the Brian Cashman; it was a foolhardy attack with no chance of success, but orders are orders. As good as Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia have been over those nine games, they're still only the pitchers that they are. Which is to say: a reliable pitcher whose arm has evaded the surgeon's knife more often than Indiana Jones has escaped death traps, a borderline Hall of Famer having a feelgood comeback season because he's pitching to roughly the league average, and three guys who you wouldn't trust with your credit card, metaphorically speaking. Meanwhile, the offense is still miserable and old.
In part, what the Yankees might be seeing is the effect of getting Carlos Beltran's aged legs out of right field. Neither Aaron Hicks nor Rob Refsnyder is Roberto Clemente, but they're spry compared to Beltran. Pitching is strikeouts plus defense, and even one extra ball caught a game can make a big difference in outcomes. Still, that shouldn't be enough to turn a mediocre rotation good, and whatever the HickSnyder outfield timeshare has done on defense, it's hasn't kept up on offense: this month the two have combined to hit .164/.247/.215. You gain something, you lose something.
On Tuesday night, Sabathia pitched well for the first time in about six weeks and the team won again. With the Red Sox losing, the Yankees drew to within four games of the lower wild card slot. They have ossifying veterans to deal and will need a busload of kids to rejuvenate the team if they're to be more than a long shot next year. So ask yourself: Is what you're seeing a real echo of 1998, or one of those phenomena that has no reason to continue and will soon stop? Brian Cashman has looked at the evidence and seemingly has his answer. He, and Yankees fans, are just waiting for his boss to do the same.