NEW YORK -- If you subscribe to the adage that all of us are as good as we are on our best days, then you must believe that the Yankees are a pretty good baseball team.
After all, over the past three weeks they have played nine games against first-place teams and won seven of them, and they have won eight of their last 12 games overall. Several of those wins rank among their best efforts of the season.
But if you think more along the lines of Bill Parcells -- to wit, you are what your record says you are -- then you still must harbor more than a few doubts about the legitimacy of the 2016 Yankees, or the integrity of their recent run of victories.
Their 3-2 win over the San Francisco Giants, leaders of the NL West, and their formidable ace, Madison Bumgarner, made for an entertaining night of baseball and arguably one of their best wins of the season. And yet, it left them a mere two games over .500 (49-47), their high-water mark of the season. It's a "pinnacle" they have reached three times this season, only to lose ground in the very next game on the two previous occasions.
By that standard, the Yankees are barely better than mediocre, and judging by their history this season, due to begin slipping backward again.
This is the dilemma GM Brian Cashman and owner Hal Steinbrenner must grapple with as the season lurches toward the trade deadline on Aug. 1. Before that, a decision must be made from the following three choices:
Do the Yankees attempt to fortify themselves for the stretch run by adding another piece or two to an unquestionably flawed roster? Do they run up the white flag and shed as many of the bloated contracts on their payroll as possible in exchange for prospects unlikely to do much for them this season, and possibly not for several seasons to come, if ever? Or do they stand pat and play the cards they have, confident in the belief that the team they have seen since the final series before the All-Star break is the team the Yankees will be for the remainder of the season?
There was no champagne in the clubhouse after their win over the Giants, which came on the heels of taking three of four from the Baltimore Orioles, who came to New York rather comfortably atop the AL East, but now cling to a half-game lead. And that success came after taking three of four from the Indians in Cleveland, who continue to cruise atop the AL Central. In between, there was a jolt of reality when the Red Sox came to town and took two of three. But why dwell on the negative?
Friday's victory at the Stadium was a positive night for the Yankees, even if the winning run scored on an eighth-inning throwing error -- the fourth of the game by the Giants and one of three on the night by their usually dependable shortstop Brandon Crawford. It was positive even if their normally fearsome bullpen triumvirate of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman was rendered toothless for the night.
All that mattered was that they beat the second-best team in baseball despite facing the best pitcher on their staff. Even if Bumgarner did not take the loss -- that went to reliever Josh Osich -- the Yankees succeeded in making him look if not bad, at least ordinary, reaching on seven hits and three walks in seven innings. Three of those hits came from Starlin Castro, who handles Bumgarner as if he were a batting-practice pitcher. The three hits raised his career average against MadBum to .468 (14-for-30).
The Yankees got six strong innings out of Masahiro Tanaka, who worked out of jams in the second, third and fourth. The third inning was particularly impressive because the Giants loaded the bases with one out on a pair of singles and a walk. Tanaka got ex-Yankee Ramiro Pena to foul out to the catcher, then blew a fastball that he dialed up to 95.5 mph past Gregor Blanco to end the inning.
But it was really a pair of defensive gems that sealed the win: Carlos Beltran's bullet throw from right field in the third that cut down Blanco trying to score on a single, and Brett Gardner's nimble snag of pinch hitter Mac Williamson's drive off the left-field fence in the eighth that tied the game at 2. Without Gardner's quick grab and throw home, the Giants would have taken the lead right there, and who knows how the night would have ended?
As it was, there were sweaty palms right to the end, and not just because of the 92-degree gametime temperature. Chapman gave up a leadoff double, then two hard-hit balls that, luckily for him and the Yankees, were hit right at infielders. Chapman found his 103 mph heater to strike out Brandon Belt on a 3-2 pitch to end the game.
Count Joe Girardi firmly in the camp that believes the Yankees are as good as they looked against the Indians, Orioles and Giants.
"It means we’re capable of playing good baseball," he said. "There’s just been inconsistencies and it’s been in a number of areas. You figure tonight there weren't going to be a lot of runs scored with Madison on the mound, and we got enough across the board to win the game. But it shows that we're capable of playing better."
Beltran -- who made a running catch of a Crawford liner with double written all over it in the sixth inning -- also believes the Yankees we have seen for the past three weeks are the real Yankees, and the ones we suffered through in the first half of the season are the impostors.
"Right now, I feel like the way we (played) in Cleveland, that told us right there that we are a good team," he said. "Unfortunately in the first half, we couldn’t be consistent as a team. Now we feel like we are playing better baseball. So we are happy where we are at. We just need to continue to put up wins and see what happens."
A lot of things can change over the next nine days, and given the nature of baseball and the 2016 New York Yankees, they probably will.
But you can't change the fact that since July 7, the Yankees have been a different baseball team, a better baseball team. And dare we say it? A good baseball team.
Good enough to contend? Too early to tell.
But maybe good enough to still be together on Aug. 2, a prospect that seemed unthinkable barely a month ago.