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Today is July 14, 2010.  There’s no baseball being played anywhere.  So I’m going to take this opportunity to do my mid-season Yankee rankings.  Overall, I don’t think Yankee fans could be much happier with the team.  The Yankees lead the entire league with a 56-32 record, two games ahead of Tampa for best in the AL and four games ahead of the NL-leading Atlanta Braves.

Most Valuable Player – Robinson Cano

Hands down the Yankees MVP this season, Cano has been almost unstoppable at the plate and has played superbly on defense as well.  He earned his second all-star appearance this season and his first ever appearance as a starter.  Cano leads the Yankees in batting average, runs scored, doubles and slugging percentage.  He is second in on-base percentage and homers, and third in RBI.  He also boasts a team low 40 strikeouts out of all Yankees with at least 200 at-bats.

Most Improved Player – Nick Swisher

Swish is one of my favorite Yankees and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.  The attitude and passion that Swisher brings to the game is unmatched.  His fun-loving personality is a big reason for the Yankee’s success the past season and a half.  Swisher has improved his eye at the plate, putting in a lot of work with hitting coach Kevin Long.  Last season, Swish hit .249 with 29 homers, 124 hits 82 RBI, scored 84 runs and had a .371 on-base percentage in 498 at-bats.  Midway through this season, in 315 at-bats, he is hitting, .296, with 94 hits, 15 homers, 49 RBI and has scored 55 runs due to his extra hits.  His OBP is .377.

Biggest Disappointment – AJ Burnett

The sad thing is Burnett is exactly what everyone has criticized him for in the past – being inconsistent.  Only two years removed from an 18-10 season for the Blue Jays, Burnett is performing below his salary at 7-7 with a 4.70 ERA.  He is arguably the Yankees weakest starting pitcher right now, especially considering his win on July 7 in Oakland was his first since May 30th.  He was 0-5 in five starts with an 11.35 ERA in June.  The sad thing is Burnett started the season 4-0 with an ERA under 2.40, then was 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA before things went very downhill.  The Yankees will need his veteran presence on the mound in the second half, especially since Phil Hughes will face innings limits later this season.  Burnett needs to find a way to turn his season around.

Biggest Surprise – Phil Hughes

In spring training, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain had to compete for the fifth spot in the Yankees starting rotation.  Hughes had a successful spring while Joba struggled, earning Hughes the nod.  Hughes dominated for the Yankees from the beginning.  He started his season 5-0 with a 1.38 record, taking advantage of massive run support from the Yankee offense.  Hughes is one of the top ten pitchers in the American League this season, boasting an 11-2 record with a 3.65 ERA, earning him a spot on the All-Star team.  However, he will face inning limits later on this season, requiring the Yankees to get someone else to finish the season after he hits the limits.  No word on his post season availability.

Grades

Offense: A The team is 2nd in runs scored and RBI, 5th in hits and 7th in batting average.

Starting Pitching:          A- Sabathia & Co. are 1st in wins, 7th in ERA(2nd in AL only) and 10th in strikeouts.  By the way, Andy Pettitte is 11-2 with a team leading 2.70 ERA.  He could end up having the best season of his career at age 38.

Relief Pitching:              B- Joba and David Robertson are the go-to guys in the pen’ but their ERA’s are 5.79 and 5.46,          respectively.  The bullpen has also only lost 10 games, a little better than average.  But the Bombers still have the best closer of all time, Mariano Rivera.

Coaching:                        A Joe Girardi appears to have a good thing going with the Yankees right now and a great support staff, including pitching coach Dave Eiland and hitting coach Kevin Long.  Whatever they’re doing, it’s working.  The Yankees are in first place, enough said.

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The Yankees have just finished their toughest stretch of the schedule all season and are currently riding a three game win streak and have won 6 of their last 8 games.  They still own the second-best record in the bigs.

I was really disappointed with the team’s results from May 7-27.  The Bombers played 20 games in those 21 days against some pretty tough opposition.

The team started off strong, taking two of three from Boston at Fenway Park from May 7-9.  The Yankees then traveled to Detroit, where former Yankees like Johnny Damon and Austin Jackson (former minor leaguer) hit up the Yankee pitching pretty well to take three of four from May 10-13.  On May 14, they headed home for a three game set against the red-hot Minnesota Twins, where the Bombers domination of the Twinnies continued and they took 2 of 3 from May 14-16.

Ten games in, and the Yankees were a respectable 5-5 against three winning teams.  It was here that things went downhill.

The Yankees split a two game set with Boston in the Bronx, with Mariano Rivera blowing his first save at home in nearly 3 years.  They then endured a two game sweep by the league-best Tampa Bay Rays before losing two of three to the Mets at CitiField.

Seventeen games in, the Yankees are now 7-10.  Fortunately, after a day off, the Yankees got another series with the Twins, this time in Minnesota at brand new Target Field.  Twins domination continued, with the Yankees taking 2 of 3 to finish the 20 games at 9-11.

I was disappointed because I honestly saw a 9-11 record as the worst possible way the Yankees could have gotten through this.  The team is truly too talented to have lost more than 11, but honestly could have posted a winning record during the schedule.  I saw the team finishing 12-8 – I expected a 2-2 series tie or 3-1 series win against Detroit, a split series with the Red Sox and Rays the next week, and a 2 of 3 series win against the Mets.  Add those three-four wins back in there and the Yankees go 12-8 or 13-7.

Lately though, the Yankees have made up for it, winning 6 of their last 8 with some pretty soft competition ahead.  The Bombers are in the middle of a three game set with Baltimore, winning 3-1 on some pretty decent pitching from Javier Vasquez who is slowly repairing his horrible win-loss record and ERA and demonstrating he might just be the pitcher the Yankees hoped he would be.

I try to keep reminding myself that the Yankees are doing well despite injuries to Nick Johnson, Jorge Posada and more.  The team just got Curtis Granderson back this weekend and he has gone 6-16 (.375) with three doubles and a solo home run.  If the guys in front of him were getting on base, he would also have somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-6 RBI in those 5 games, but he only has one off the solo shot.

Two more against Baltimore, three at Toronto, three more at Baltimore and three at home against the NL worst Houston Astros are on the horizon.  The Yankees could very easily go 11-1 during those 12 games, but 8-4 or 9-3 is much more likely.

ESPN released their weekly MLB Power rankings today and there were several changes in the top 10 this week, most notably the Yankees losing their grip on the number one spot.  After a week which saw the Tampa Bay Rays go 5-2 and improve their record to an MLB-best 14-5 compared to the Yankees 3-3 record during the week.

Tampa Bay is looking stronger as this short season progresses with a ridiculous, I repeat, ridiculous run differential of +50.  All this without major starting pitching and without a dominating closer.

The Yankees have struggled to hold leads over the last week and suffered a bad outing from struggling starting pitcher Javy Vasquez.  Nonetheless, they are still winners of 7 of their last 10 and face the 3-16 Baltimore Orioles and 8-11 Chicago White Sox in their next 9 games.

Finishing off the top ten are Minnesota and Philadelphia at 3 and 4 after swapping spots last week, St Louis at 5, Oakland moved up to 6 from the 9 spot, San Diego jumped from 21 to 7, San Francisco, Florida and Los Angeles Angels round off the top ten.

You can check it out at ESPN by clicking here.

The

The Yankees are in a great place right now, having gotten off to one of their best starts in years and against some pretty tough opposition at that.  After three impressive series wins against Boston, Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, the Yankees have shown that they’re a dominating team – even without all cylinders firing.

The Yankees are nowhere near their peak form – pitching seems a little weak and a few of the teams stars are not producing at the plate – but the team has come together and strung some nice wins together.  Boston and Los Angeles both made it to the playoffs last year and Tampa Bay would have made it if they were in any other division except the AL East.  The Bombers took 2 of 3 from all three teams and added a victory over the Texas Rangers Friday night.

Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Jorge Posada are all hitting over .300 for the Yanks.  Those four have led the Yankees to a .287 BA – good enough for second in the American League.  Nick Johnson and Nick Swisher have low batting averages, but are getting on base with .432 and .415 OBP’s, respectively – good enough for top five on the team.  In fact, the team has the highest OBP in the AL this season.

From a pitching standpoint, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte are dominating for the Yankees.  Sabathia has only allowed only 11 hits in 19 innings over three starts.  He has also struck out 18 while getting off to a 2-0 start.  Pettitte is proving to be even more dominating in his old age.  After a below-average 2008, he has come back to his peak form in 2009 and 2010.  Right now he is 1-0 in two starts with a 0.75 ERA.  His third start comes this Sunday against the Rangers.

Oh, and old man river himself, 40 year-old Mariano Rivera, has appeared in 5 games this season, pitching 4 innings and picking up 4 saves.  He has been dominant – allowing only 2 hits and one walk, while boasting a 0.00 ERA.

The rest of the bullpen looks a little shaky and the Yankees just called up Boone Logan to cover for Chan Ho Park, who is going on the DL with a leg muscle strain.  I’d like to see the bullpen get a little stronger.  Also, the Yankees need to figure out what is up with Mark Teixeira (hitting 0.83 with 4 RBI and 0 homers) and Alex Rodriguez (hitting .256 with 6 RBI and 0 homers).  These two guys are supposed to be the heart of the lineup at the 3 and 4 spots, but are not doing what the Yankees need them to do.

But still, the season is young and talent is proving to be deep.  I’m excited to see what the Yankees do with the next week with a west coast road trip at Oakland and LA.

With the Yankees clinching their record 40th American League Pennant Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels, I am inclined to take a look back at the history of those 40 Pennants.  The Yankees have won exactly two-thirds of the World Series they have been in, 26-40 for a .666 record.

It has been 88 years since the Yankees won their first AL Pennant in 1921.  With 40 pennants in 88 years, the Yankees manage to win the pennant every 2.2 years.  The Yankees won 5 straight from 1949-1953 and 1960-1964 and 4 straight from 1936-1939 and 1998-2001.

In the 28 years from 1936-1964, the Yankees won 22 AL pennants and a total of 15 World Series.  Even though the Yankees have been shut-out from winning the pennant since 2003, if you go back to 1996 – 13 years – the Yankees have still won 7 pennants and 4 World Series – and hopefully a fifth World Series this time around.

ESPN has a great compilation of the World Series winners and Pennant winners dating back to the first World Series in 1903.

For a look at World Series match-ups and results, click here.

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