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    Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez.Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    After pounding the Kansas City Royals 11-7 Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium, the New York Yankees sit at 24-13, tops in the American League East and good for the second-best record in baseball.

    The Bronx Bombers are, by virtually any measure, crushing it. 

    The question is whether they can keep it going.

    The eyeball test says they can. Anyone who has watched this Yankees club in 2017 will attest they’re the real McCoy.

    Let’s drill a little deeper, however, and examine five reasons why these burgeoning Yanks are true postseason contenders in a crowded, competitive division.

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    It’s an odd time to be beating this drum, as flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman landed on the disabled list May 14 with inflammation in his left shoulder. 

    The injury isn’t necessarily serious or season-threatening, but it’s a flapping crimson flag.

    The good news for the Yankees is that Dellin Betances, who assumed ninth-inning duties, owns a 0.73 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 12.1 innings.

    Overall, New York’s pen ranks second in baseball with a 2.55 ERA, with shout-outs to Chasen Shreve (9.2 IP, 7 ER, 9 SO, .094 opponents’ average), Tyler Clippard (1.08 ERA, 16.2 IP, 22 SO, .140 opponents’ average) and Adam Warren (1.19 ERA, 22.2 IP, 21 SO, .118 opponents’ average).

    If Chapman doesn’t return soon with health and his triple-digit heater, it’ll cripple the Yankees’ chances and cast a pall over the five-year, $86 million contract New York handed him this winter.

    For now, though, this is a strength for the Yanks, and one that’s proved to be a key ingredient for postseason success.

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    After a biceps injury kept him out for much of the early going, it was worth wondering if catcher Gary Sanchez would continue the breakthrough performance he put together in 2016.

    “Honestly speaking, this first time around, I felt confident against every pitcher I faced,” Sanchez told me in November of his do-no-wrong rookie campaign. “I didn’t feel overmatched against anybody. Now, having said that, next year is when they’re going to start seeing me a second, third, fourth time, so now the challenge is they’re going to adapt and adjust to me.”

    So far, Sanchez is adjusting to the adjustments, as he sports a .293 average with three home runs and 10 RBI in 15 games.

    Is a sophomore slump coming? Maybe. Or maybe the 24-year-old Dominican native will continue raking.

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    We’re far enough into the Aaron Judge experience to leave the “fluke” labels behind.

    Yes, Judge hit a scant .179 with the Yankees last season and had a propensity for strikeouts during his minor league career.

    The towering, 25-year-old right fielder has put MLB on notice this season, however, crushing 14 home runs with a .320 average and 1.146 OPS in 35 games.

    He adjusted his swingcutting down on his leg kick, per Mike Mazzeo of the New York Daily News—but more than anything he looks consistently confident at the plate. 

    ZiPS projects 27 home runs and an .835 OPS, per FanGraphs. Those are fine numbers for a rookie, but they feel like a floor rather than a ceiling.

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    Designated hitter Matt Holliday.

    Designated hitter Matt Holliday.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    The emphasis is on the kids, and for excellent reason. But New York’s veteran hitters have been doing their part.

    Second baseman Starlin Castro is hitting .351 with seven homers. Outfielder Aaron Hicks is hitting .326 with seven homers of his own. 

    Outfielder Brett Gardner is slashing .285/.373/.515, while designated hitter Matt Holliday has seven homers and 25 RBI.

    We could go on, but the point is the long-in-the-tooth dudes are chipping in, a far cry from the days when the Yankees roster was populated by underperforming, payroll-killing vets.

    And don’t discount the importance of experience and leadership in the clubhouse. The ol’ intangibles.

    “Those veterans really took us under their wing when we all got there,” Sanchez told me of the team’s 2016 run. “They made it a point to reach out to all of us and make us feel comfortable and make us feel at home. I think that helped us contribute.”

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    Chicago White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana.

    Chicago White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    The Yankees have gotten solid to strong starting pitching at times from the likes of Luis Severino, Michael Pineda and, in flashes, struggling ace Masahiro Tanaka. 

    Overall, however, New York’s starting pitchers own a 4.45 ERA, 19th in baseball. If this team has a weak link, here it is.

    The good news is the Yankees have a loaded farm system, ranked No. 2 in the game by MLB.com’s Jim Callis, meaning general manager Brian Cashman can raid but not mortgage it for an arm or two at the trade deadline.

    Chicago White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana is sure to churn through the rumor mill. Or what if the San Francisco Giants keep faltering? Might they dangle Johnny Cueto in his opt-out year?

    No matter what, the Yanks can work the phones and quite possibly land an ace, even if they make top prospects such as outfielder Clint Frazier and shortstop Gleyber Torres untouchable. 

    Cashman has skillfully collected ships. Soon, it may be time to cash a few in.

          

    All statistics current as of Wednesday and courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.



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