As soon as Robbie Cano crossed the plate after Marcus Thames blooped that broken bat single into center the 10th inning yesterday, the Yankees’ 2010 season was officially halfway complete. They simultaneously became the first team to 50 wins this season, the first time they’ve won that many games in the first half in more than half a decade. With the game’s best record, second best run differential, second most runs scored, and the third fewest runs allowed in the league, everything seems to be going well for the defending World Champs.
Of course, it’s really not. There are very real issues with the current Yankees squad that have been masked by rather spectacular starting pitching, timely hitting, and the great Mariano Rivera. Let’s take a look at what needs to stay the same, and what needs to change to make the Yanks even more dangerous in the second half.
What Needs To Stay The Same (Or At Least Not Fall Off Too Much)
Overall, the Yanks’ starting pitching has been fantastic. As a group, they boast a 3.93 ERA and a 4.25 xFIP, the fourth and third best marks in the league, respectively. The quintet of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Javy Vazquez, and Phil Hughes has started all but two of the team’s first 81 games, and when one pitcher hit a rough patch – say Vazquez in April or Burnett in June – the other guys picked them up.
It was unrealistic for Hughes to maintain the 2.71 ERA he had in his first 11 starts over the full season, but if he remains static at his current 4.02 xFIP level, he’ll be the best fifth starter in the game. Burnett is going to have his ups and downs, ditto Vazquez, so it’ll be important for Sabathia and Pettitte to really lead the staff. They need to be the guys that when you go to the park, you know you’re going to get a quality outing. Health, as always, is the biggest thing. If these five can made say, 70 starts in the final 81 games, the Yanks are golden.
As fantastic as Robbie Cano was in the first half (.411 wOBA, second in MLB with 4.5 WAR), he needs to continue to perform in the second half. Even a dip back to last season’s .370 wOBA for 81 games will hurt a lineup that featured far too many underachieving stars in the first half. Same deal with Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner. Swish has to continue to be a middle-of-the-order producer from the two-spot, and Gardner needs to be the second leadoff man in the bottom third of the lineup. All three of these guys have performed better than expected, and the Yanks’ need them to keep it up.
Finally, and quite obviously, Mariano Rivera needs to continue to be the rock at the end of games. There’s absolutely no reason to expect he won’t be.
What Needs To Improve
The bullpen. Aside from Mo, the only reliever who’s consistently done his job this year is Damaso Marte vs. lefthanded batters (.154/.209./282 against, more than 28% strikeouts). David Robertson was rock solid for about eight weeks in May and June, though hit a little hiccup this past week. Joba Chamberlain … I don’t even know where to start with him. Those three are going to be the primary setup crew going forward, and they need to be better, plain and simple.
Chan Ho Park is going to be cut loose at some point this month, ditto Chad Gaudin, and it’s hard not to believe that GM Brian Cashman will go outside of the organization at some point to add another bullpen arm. There’s plenty of inventory to put lipstick on the pig, such as Jon Albaladejo, Romulo Sanchez, Dustin Moseley, Boone Logan, and Sergio Mitre, but those guys shouldn’t be counted on as high leverage relievers. At least not yet.
Some of the stars need to start producing like stars. Derek Jeter’s .348 OBP and .338 wOBA are the worst full season marks of his career. Mark Teixeira, although hot of late (.332/.421/.589 in his last 24 games), has still underperformed as a whole and needs to produce like the MVP candidate he’s expected to be in the second half. Ditto Alex Rodriguez, who has been straight mashin’ of late like Tex (.273/.346/.636 in his last 12 games). These three are the Yankees’ best players, and they need to be their best players the rest of the season.
Curtis Granderson needs to pick it up as well. He’s certainly had a knack for the timely homerun, which is always appreciated, but his overall performance (.313 wOBA) has been Melky Cabrera-esque. The injury didn’t help and it’s good that the team doesn’t need him to be anything more than a threat in the bottom third of the order, but he still hasn’t performed as expected. By no means is this a declaration that the trade is a failure, that’s just silly 227 plate appearances into his Yankee career, it’s just a little reminder that hey, he’s kinda sucked.
Oh, and then there’s the bench. It’s horrendous. Marcus Thames coming off the disabled list should not be such a huge upgrade. Ramiro Pena is a black hole with the bat, Kevin Russo has disappeared off the face of the Earth, and Colin Curtis simply can’t be your most dangerous lefthanded pinch hitter. I fully expect the Yanks’ to acquire not just one, but two bench pieces before the trade deadline like they did last summer.
Health. Health health health. A healthy Al Aceves deepens the bullpen. The healthy Jorge Posada improves the offense. A healthy Nick Johnson lengthens the lineup. The Yankees can’t really count on any of these things (especially the first and last ones), but anything from those guys is icing on the cake. Really, it’s all about not losing anyone else to injury.
No team is perfect, and remember that the Yanks are still ahead of last year’s pace by two full games. The bullpen and bench are the only areas of the team in real need of an overhaul, the rest of the improvements should come from guys simply performing like they have in the past and staying health. The common refrain is that this is the worst first place team ever, to which I say: How quickly we forget the 2004-2006 teams.