Monday, July 5, 2010

Game 82: Mississippi Half Step

Today is the first day of the second half of the season. The Yankees, despite weathering a seemingly never-ending storm of injuries of varying severity and playing fairly mediocre baseball over the past three weeks or so, still find themselves on top of the standings and on pace for 100 wins.

It's easy to forget because of how dominant last year's team was from the All-Star Break on, but when the midpoint of the '09 season rolled around, the team was only 48-33, two games behind the pace set by the 2010 Yanks. Of course, the '09 squad won an incredible 55 games in the second half and rolled through the playoffs, but it's worth noting that this year's team had put itself in pretty good position despite all that has gone wrong for them so far.

Big injuries to Nick Johnson, Curtis Granderson and Jorge Posada (and countless other bumps and bruises distributed throughout the rest of the roster) have kept the team from being at full strength since early May. Robinson Cano has been a man possessed over these first 81 games, but he's had to pick of the slack left by Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, three of the teams biggest stars who have been producing below their career statlines. Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher have helped fill in some of those gaps as well, but the third starting outfielder, Granderson, has been below league average as a hitter in the 57 games he's appeared in.

Without Alfredo Aceves there to pitch crucial bridge innings since May 8th, the bullpen has been the Yanks' biggest weakness. Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Chan Ho Park, the three relievers the Yankees have depended on in late inning, high leverage situations, all have ERA's over 5 and are allowing from 1.46 (Park) to 1.9 (Robertson) baserunners per inning. Luckily for the Bombers, their starting rotation has taken a lot of pressure off of them.

Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and CC Sabathia have all collected 10 wins and are pitching admirably and aside from some sustained rough patches, A.J. Burnett and Javy Vazquez have been okay as well.

Vazquez goes tonight in Oakland against Ben Sheets, who the Yankees might have been in the market for, had they not pulled off the deal for Javy. Sheets is in an eight game streak during which he has either gone six or seven innings and given up three or four runs and watched his ERA hover right around the 5.00 mark.

The main difference between the situation the Yankees were in last year and this year at the midway point of the season is that there is a very tight three team race atop the division. The Yanks were a game behind the Red Sox and Tampa was six games back and fading fast at this point, whereas this year, all three teams are within two games of each other.

Like Nick Swisher said, coming into the season, if the Yanks knew they would have the best record in baseball at this point, they would have signed up for it immediately. The Yanks have no reason to be ashamed of the half season that they've left behind and there are reasons to hope that the one upcoming could be a little better.

If all you've got to live for, is what you left behind,
Get yourself a powder charge, and seal that silver mine.
Lost my boots in transit baby, a pile of smokin' leather,
I nailed a retread to my feet and prayed for better weather.

Halfstep, Mississippi uptown, toodeloo,
Hello baby, I'm gone, goodbye,
Half a cup of rock and rye,
Farewell to you old southern skies,
I'm on my way, on my way.
[Song Notes: Naturally, with the Yankees visiting the Bay area, we turn to their native sons, The Grateful Dead. This has long been one of my favorite Dead tunes and was one of the first songs I managed to sing and play at the same time - while I was on Semester at Sea. This two part video is from a show they played on April 26th, 1977 at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ, right in the Yanks' backyard.]


Yankees: X-Rays were negative but Jorge Posada is day to day after the foul tip that deflected awkwardly off of his glove hand. As a result, Nick Swisher takes his place in the six hole, Derek Jeter slides into the two slot for the first time this year and Brett Garnder makes his third appearance at leadoff.
Brett Gardner LF
Derek Jeter SS
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher DH
Curtis Granderson CF
Francisco Cervelli C
Colin Curtis RF
Coco Crisp CF
Daric Barton 1B
Ryan Sweeney RF
Kurt Suzuki C
Jack Cust DH
Kevin Kouzmanoff 3B
Gabe Gross LF
Mark Ellis 2B
Cliff Pennington SS