Your "resident redhead" from The Bower Show, Jeff Peck here...so Bower asked me to provide my insight on my beloved New York Yankees for the rest of the season here at the website and I decided to kick things off for the rest of the season at the All-Star break. Here are some of my thoughts from the Yankees first half of the season as they enter the break with the best record in Baseball:
The New York Yankees enter the All-Star break with the best record in Baseball, 52-33 and a 7 game division lead in the AL East over the Baltimore Orioles (yes you read that right, the Baltimore Orioles). It hasn’t been easy for the New York Yankees (injuries to Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte to name a few) but the “Bronx Bombers” have stepped up and are the best team in Baseball right now. This hasn’t been your typical Yankee season either as the dominance that Yankee teams from yesteryears typically show hasn’t been there until recently.
Go back to May 21st of this season, the Yankees were tied in last place (with Boston) in the AL East (5 ½ games back) and there was growing concern towards the Yankees. There were grumblings that there was a “changing of the guard” in the AL East now that the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays were atop what some may call, the toughest division in all of Baseball. The same day, May 21st, would also prove to be a turning point in the first half of the Yankees 2012 campaign.
Since May 21st the Yankees have gone 31-12 moving from worst to first in the AL East and extending a division lead to 7 games at the halfway point of the 2012 MLB Season. Not bad for an “old” team that had “catastrophic injuries” that some said would prevent them from the postseason for the first time since 2008 and only the 2nd time since 1993. Overcoming some major obstacles in the first half has allowed the Bronx Bombers to rest easy as the two leagues play it out in the All-Star Game where it’s supposed to “count.”
In Football the old adage is that “defense wins championships,” while in Baseball “you are only as good as the depth of your bench” and the Yankees bench has been the “x-factor” (no not that horrible Simon Cowell show) for the pinstripes run so far this season. Who would’ve thought that Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, Jayson Nix and DeWayne Wise would be as crucial & important as they have been this season for the New York Yankees?
The bench has help solidify something that the Yankees truly haven’t had since that 2009 World Series run and that is a complete team effort. It has given Girardi the luxury to DH either Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez and not have any concern about a hole in the offense or on the field defensively (i.e. Eduardo Nunez). It has given Girardi the opportunity to “mix and match” with the hole in left field due to the Brett Gardner injury as all on the Yankees bench but Eric Chavez has played in left field so far this first half. The Yankees bench has been the biggest surprise by far this season (just ask Boston from the recent early July Fenway series) and will help control how far they go.
How about the unsung heroes in the Yankees bullpen as well? Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada, Boone Logan, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano and even Freddy Garcia (up until returning to the rotation) have been pretty fantastic in taking the ball from the starters to preserve a Yankee victory. Sure, they have their share of hiccups but they have been pretty “shutdown” so far this season, another good sign for the Bombers as Joba Chamberlain and former Mariners closer David Aardsma make their way off the DL & to the pen for the final stretch of the season. But just like any Yankee fan can confess too since 1997, the bullpen is as only strong as Mariano Rivera.
Losing Rivera was devastating and even more in the fashion it occurred. But Rafael Soriano, a former All-Star closer in 2010 for the then AL East division winning Tampa Bay Rays, has been lights out in his new role for the Bombers. In his 22 save opportunities this season he has saved 21 of those games, a huge statistic in the recent success for the Yankees this first half of the season. Like the bench, Soriano is the other “x-factor” on why New York is where they are this season in the standings entering the All-Star break.
Finally you got to give it up to the one thing the Yankees have been lacking for sometime now (even in 2009) and that’s their rotation. The Yankees had their question marks this season (who would be in the rotation) and their typical frustrations (Hughes & Garcia lose their control, Pineda season-ending injury, CC & Pettitte get injured in the same 24 hours span) but they have been able to keep their heads above water to hold onto a division lead.
The rest of the rotation outside of Sabathia & Pettitte has stepped up as Hughes was fantastic in most of his starts since May, Garcia was pretty good out of the bullpen & showed signs of resurgence once Pettitte went down with injury in his latest starts, Kuroda has also seemed to settle in with New York after going 5-1 in his last 6 starts with a 1.98 ERA before a bad outing in Boston and finally Nova has proven that he has the stuff to be a future #2 or #3 starter for this staff.
Out of the rest of the factors discussed in this blog (Yankees bench & bullpen) it’s going to be the Yankees rotation that will need to continue to step up at this halfway point of the season now that Sabathia (due to return next weekend) and Pettitte (out until September) are down with injuries. Taking 3 out of 4 in Boston was a good sign that this ballclub can carry those losses and still be a top Baseball team.
If there is one thing New York needs to improve upon in the 2nd half to become serious World Series contenders it will have to be hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP). It has been something that has really held the Yankees back from being compared to top teams like the Texas Rangers this season. When the game is on the line and a big hit can give the Bombers the lead it appears that the Yankees have struggled and just not get it done. They have survived this season due in part to the long ball and need that strategy to change once the likes of Brett Gardner return to the lineup where they can focus on some more “small-ball” type of strategies.
It certainly hasn’t been an easy road for New York as they can enter the All-Star break as the best team in Baseball but adversity makes Champions and they have certainly dealt with their fair share of adversity this season. How it will translate into the 2nd half of the 2012 MLB season is anyone’s guess but at least for the time being Yankee fans can relax at the All-Star break knowing that their team is playing at the highest quality of Baseball this season.
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