Saturday, July 13, 2013

Yankees limp to All-Star break after dismal first half


The Yankees are not used to being second best. They don’t like it – and they don’t particularly play the role well. So their current home just above the American League East cellar has to be disappointing to both players and management.


Going into the All-Star break, the Yankees are barely treading water (six games out of first place) and dealing with a parade of injuries. Both Alex Rodriguez and Captain Derek Jeter, their two biggest names, haven’t contributed to the team at all in recent months.


Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Francisco Cervelli are also out with significant injuries. There just aren’t enough standouts on the roster to fill their cleats adequately and keep this team in contention for a playoff berth. 


Jeter’s much-heralded return to the lineup came Thursday after rehabbing his broken left ankle through the first 91 games of the season. Unfortunately, he had to be pulled late in the game due to quad tightness. He was expected to undergo an MRI on Friday to determine if he can continue his comeback.


Jeter can be a potent weapon if he stays in good health. He blasted a single Thursday on the first pitch he faced this season and later scored a run. He also notched his first RBI this season on a ground out. Even going 1-4 on the day, he helped his team stop a three-game losing streak with an 8-4 win over the Royals Thursday. 


Meanwhile, Rodriguez, who is six games into a 20-day rehab assignment with the Tampa Yankees minor league team, could be destined for a potential 100-game suspension related to his involvement with a Florida clinic tied to a major PED investigation.


A-Rod is trying to come back from hip surgery, and his outrageous salary structure has been a bone of contention for team management. Though GM Brian Cashman has yet to openly admit the signing was a huge mistake, Yankees brass (and a growing number of fans who buy New York Yankees tickets) seem to regret locking up the aging slugger for so long.


The Yankees will have a tough time catching the Red Sox for the divisional crown – or even lock down a wild card playoff spot – without a major miracle. That could come in the form of some blockbuster trades, but even a few bold moves might not be enough. It might take a complete collapse by the teams above them, and maybe a few key injuries hitting their competitors as theYanks finally get healthy.


Tampa Bay and Baltimore are playing excellent baseball this year and could gain even more separation from the Yankees in the second half if nothing changes. 


Unlike the surging, offensively stacked Red Sox, the Yankees’ main strength is their pitching corps. But even that crew only breaks the top 10 in ERA (3.79).


On the flip side, they rank 23rd in quality starts. Closer Mariano Rivera is doing well in his final year before retirement with 29 saves, and the team’s starters are doing the best they can without the biggest bats on the team available to provide some decent run support. C.C. Sabathia has 9 wins and 112 strikeouts to his credit, while Hiroki Kuroda leads the team in ERA (2.77) – despite a lackluster 7-6 record on 18 starts so far. 


The main issue with this year’s squad is the anemic offense. Their highest ranking category is runs, where they are 19th in the league. Robinson Cano is simply carrying the team with a .299 batting average, 21 home runs, 62 RBIs, and 53 runs scored. 


The Yankees always seem to be in the trade deadline mix every year, but this time they will have to produce some serious magic. They’ll have to find a way to shore up their pitching and their batting with some players who can become immediate contributors.


There may not be enough high-caliber bats and arms available to give them what they need, though. Yankees fans might just have to get used to watching their team struggle to stay out of last place for the remainder of the season.

- Rich Bergeron

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