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Three reasons why Yankees are World Series favorite

BOSTON — After overcoming the “disaster” of an 82-80 record in 2023, the Yankees are the real Bronx Bombers again, and their MLB-best 50th win on Friday night in their arch-rival city was a sweet punctuation mark on a brilliant start.

Their big winter additions and nasty, steadfast progress in believing the team would get healthier (and it couldn’t be otherwise) made them a slight contender to win the AL early in the year, but few expected this (including me, who projected them as the third-place team. Sorry about that prediction!).

The Yankees are dominating their schedule, posting big numbers (50-22 through Saturday, with a plus-134 run differential that speaks volumes), and former Red Sox player Alex Verdugo, known for his sparkly jewelry and unique way of speaking (“nine” refers to Aaron Judge, who wears the number 99) won the series opener against the Red Sox, 8-1, adding another impressive notch to his team belt, one that’s just as impressive as Verdugo’s diamond-studded necklace.

Alex Verdugo was huge in the Yankees’ win on Friday. Getty Images

History is on their side as they are where they are now, and teams that dominate early on like this often go on to win championships, but things are becoming more unpredictable, as happened just two years ago when the team’s health dwindled and they started strong but then fizzled out in the second half.

“The guys have played great since the start of the season, but we know it’s just the beginning,” head coach Aaron Boone said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

The 2022 team also looked good initially, with one difference: They have more backing now than they did during the great Coach Judge’s record-setting platform season. Here are three reasons why the Yankees are already World Series favorites in all fairness:

No one in the Clubhouse wanted to pick the nominees for the awards. (I know, I tried to ask, but was denied.)

But Soto was grateful to the judges for lighting a fire under Soto’s ice.

The outfield is a big reason why the Yankees have already won 50 games. Getty Images

“It’s great to bat for him,” Soto said. “I just try to walk and swing when I can. It’s great to have a guy like Judge behind me. … I don’t have to be the hero all the time.”

Judge has been Mr. May (in the most positive sense possible), but Soto’s consistency has also been noteworthy: Despite an elbow injury that forced him to miss an unusual three games in the midst of his current hot streak, he has reached base at least twice in 10 straight games. When told this by The Washington Post, Soto said he didn’t know it at first.

“That’s pretty cool,” he said.

Meanwhile, Boone is pleased to have two of the league’s MVP candidates at the top of the lineup (though, predictably, he didn’t say who was leading that race).

Juan Soto is already the favorite to win the American League MVP award. Getty Images

“when [Soto] “Jazzy’s doing what they’re doing,” Boone said, “It’s just on a different level than the rest of them.” [else]. ”

2. Verdugo brings something new.

Boone said he’s been pushing for Verdugo for quite some time now, and it’s becoming clear why. Sure, left field was becoming a burden, but that’s because of Verdugo. Verdugo has good skills (hitting, defense) and also an interesting personality (or is that a trait?) that will liven up a previously quiet clubhouse.

Boone called it “the edge,” and you could tell that in Game 1 when Verdugo hit a home run on the first pitch at his old ballpark, screamed as he rounded first base, then turned up the volume to hear the bench’s reaction when the ball flew into the center-field stands.

Alex Verdugo hit a home run against the Red Sox on Friday. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

“There was a lot of energy in our dugout,” Boone noted.

Besides his nine homers and nine runs stopped (leading all left fielders), Verdugo has added some serious spice to a clubhouse that’s traditionally been dominated by a mostly silent crew of pros. Maybe Verdugo is just what they need. Or maybe they just needed a fun distraction.

3. Pitching is a plus every day.

The Yankees traded away half their starting pitching to acquire Soto, and somehow they performed better.

They looked thin early in the spring, and then lost the best pitcher in baseball (Gerrit Cole said he’ll be back “definitely” and “soon”), but now they have arguably the best starting pitcher in baseball, and a solid bullpen that’s ranked among the best overall with an MLB-leading 2.88 ERA.

There is talent, but almost everyone came in with question marks.

Luis Gil, who came on in the second half to replace Cole, has been a phenomenal player this season, displaying exceptional talent and making him an All-Star worthy player.

Luis Gil has been a mainstay in the starting rotation this year. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Hard-working Marcus Stroman (with Cole out) has a game plan to compensate for the velocity.

Nestor Cortez developed the changeup.

And Carlos Rodon, who was a disaster in his first year in pinstripes, has had a makeover and is back to being the pitcher he was meant to be: a pitcher who once had only two pitches, now throws a curveball and a changeup to right-handed batters with two strikes.

“He’s becoming a more complete pitcher,” pitching coach Matt Blake said.

For now, this team is complete and looks like a worthy World Series contender today.