Your worst nightmare comes true: The Yankees are good

The columnist Mike Royko once wrote, "Hating the Yankees is as American as pizza pie, unwed mothers and cheating on your income tax."

White Sox owner Bill Veeck once said, "Hating the Yankees isn't part of my act. It is one of those exquisite times when life and art are in perfect conjunction."

Graig Nettles, the longtime third baseman for the Yankees in the 1970s and early '80s, summed his career up like this: "When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a baseball player and join a circus. With the Yankees, I've accomplished both."

The New York Yankees have finished one-fifth of their schedule, and this much is obvious: The 2015 Yankees are not a circus act.

Before the season, I thought there was a good chance that would happen. The return of Alex Rodriguez would surely turn into a three-ring showstopper, complete with comedy, tragedy and plenty of opportunity for satire; the lineup was too old, and the starting rotation too injury-prone; we would be subject to countless "the Yankees miss Jeter" columns that would drive us to drink like Don Draper, if not for the fact that the Yankees would likely be stewing in their own misery.

Instead, while there is no joy in Mudville, there is plenty of it in the Bronx. After hammering the Rays 11-5 on Monday in a five-homer outburst that included Rodriguez's eighth, the Yankees are 21-12 and owners of the best record in the American League. Maybe you dreamed of an under .500 season; maybe you dreamed of Rodriguez getting released in July, the Yankees finally just eating his contract; maybe you dreamed of Joe Girardi losing his cool one evening and going on a Hal McRae-like rant in his postgame interview.

Instead, it's your worst nightmare. The Yankees are good. They're not going away, especially in what's shaping up to be a mediocre AL East. This isn't the year we get to bury the Yankees. This is a Stephen King novel come to life, and the Yankees are once again the bad guys ... only they're disguised as the good guys.

That's right. I'm going to say it, and I rewrote this sentence 49 times because it's hard to admit: This team is likable, fun to watch and giving us a story much more interesting than an aging, broken-down team on its way to 85 or 90 losses.

It starts with Rodriguez, the onetime golden child -- so long ago, of course -- turned pariah seeking his moment of redemption. I don't know if he'll get that; he remains, after all, the most disliked player in the game. But he is hitting .250/.360/.558, has knocked in 20 runs, is saying all that right things and has sort of become the anchor of the lineup.

Then again, maybe it starts with the top of the order, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. Ellsbury sat out Monday, but he is hitting .341/.415/.397; Gardner hit a three-run homer in the sixth Monday and is batting .308/.385/.462. At a time when many teams are struggling to get production from the top of their order, the Yankees are second in the majors in OBP from the leadoff spot and fifth in OBP from the No. 2 spot. Combine the two, and they're first with a .394 OBP, with only six other teams above .350.

Or maybe it starts with Michael Pineda, the new ace, who is 5-0 with a 2.72 ERA and the "You're Making It Up" strikeout-to-walk ratio of 54-to-3 in seven starts. The Yankees entered the night ranked second to the Nationals in FanGraphs' version of WAR from starting pitchers. CC Sabathia even won his first game Monday by throwing six strong innings before tiring and giving up two home runs in the seventh. He's not the Sabathia of old, but maybe he's an above-average, back-of-the-rotation innings-eater.

Perhaps it has to start with the towering bullpen duo of 6-foot-8 Dellin Betances and 6-foot-7 Andrew Miller, who have yet to allow an earned run in 35 innings while striking out 56 and allowing a meager 11 hits. They're good, they're intimidating and with teams more reliant than ever on bullpens, it's game over when Girardi turns to those two.

Yes, the Yankees are old and potentially brittle. Mark Teixeira isn't going to slug .615 all season, and I assume Pineda will walk a batter or two again before the end of the season. The rotation could be a problem if Sabathia's ERA remains over 5.00 and Masahiro Tanaka's elbow gives when he returns from the DL. Girardi has to be careful not to overuse Betances and Miller, and the Yanks haven't received much offense from shortstop and second base.

But in a flawed division, the Yankees appear to be the least flawed team right now. According to FanGraphs, the Yankees' odds of winning the division are at 54 percent.

Back in April, Derek Jeter said of baseball, "I don't miss it at all."

After last year's worldwide retirement tour, nobody is missing Jeter, either -- least of all, his former team.