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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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In one of the weirdest scheduling moves I have seen in a long time, Major League Baseball announced the 2010 schedules, pitting the Yankees against the Red Sox to start and end each other’s season’s.  The most interesting is the location of both series: Fenway Park.

After starting and ending the 2009 season away, the Yankees will do the same thing in 2010, preventing them from celebrating Opening Day in their new stadium for the second season in a row.

Some people might come out and say this schedule is a conspiracy against the Yankees.  I’m not saying that, but it has to be pointed out that this schedule is, well, different.

First, I cannot remember the time the Yankees and Red Sox opened and closed the season with each other and both series were played at Fenway.

Second, April is a tough, tough month for the Yankees.  Now, I realize we have no guarantee that good teams this year will continue to play well next April, but considering this season’s record, April will be a doozy for the Bombers.

First road trip: at Boston (85-58) and at Tampa Bay (73-72)

First home stand: vs. LA Angels (86-58) and Texas (80-64)

Second road trip: at Oakland (66-78) and LA Angels and Baltimore (59-85)

Now, one thing to remember is that the schedule always evens itself out and it’s not how you start a season, its how you finish.  With 162 games, the first month really doesn’t matter.  The Yankees have proven themselves to be teams that get hot down the stretch.

So this April schedule probably won’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.  Still, its interesting news.

Back to 2009 and winning the pennant.

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Although many teams are just short of or just past the 81-game mark (halfway through the 162 game season) the Yankees played, and won, their 81st game Sunday afternoon with a 10-8 comeback win against the Toronto Blue Jays.  Since the only team that really matters, the Bronx Bombers, are at the halfway mark, its time to give out grades for the best and worst of the American League East Division.

Boston Red Sox – 49-32 – 1st in A L East, 2nd Best Overall – A- The 2009 Red Sox are in first for one reason and one reason alone – divisional dominance.  They are 8-0 against the rival Yankees, 6-1 against Baltimore and 4-2 against Toronto.  Only Tampa Bay has a winning record against the Sox, taking 6 of 9 games against Boston.  The Yankees and Boston typically split their season series.  If that was the case, the Yankees would hold a a three game lead on them.  Pitching is average, batting is below average.  Somehow though, they are on pace for 98 wins.  Figure that.

New York Yankees – 48-33 – 2nd in AL East, 3rd Best Overall Record – B+ Watching the Yankees this season has been a pleasure, especially lately.  Since getting off to a not-so-hot start to the season, the Yankees have been the best team in the majors since May 15.  They have two glaring weaknesses: starting pitching and head-to-head competition with the hated Red Sox.  The Yankees team ERA is ranked 23rd in the majors – horrible.  And 0-8 vs Boston?  Are you freakin’ kidding me?  With the streak the Yankees are on, I would have ranked them an A- had they not lost 8 in a row to Boston.

Tampa Bay Rays – 44-39 – 3rd in AL East, 10th Best Overall – B The Rays have it a little harder this year – people are expecting them to play hard and well – the Rays can no longer surprise people.  Despite a bad record against the crappy teams of the American League, the Rays did well in Interleague play (13-5) and against Boston (6-3).  They seemed destined to finish third in the toughest division in baseball.

Toronto Blue Jays – 42-41 – 4th in AL East, 18th Overall – C- When this team got off to a hot start, it seemed as if this might be a 4-team divisional race.  Then they started playing good teams and started losing.  The Yankees (6-1), Boston (4-2), Baltimore (3-0) and Tampa Bay (2-1) all seem to have little trouble beating up on the Jays.  Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in the AL this season, but he can only go out there every 5 days.  To get to the playoffs in this division you have to beat the other teams in head-to-head.  Period.

Baltimore Orioles 36-46 – 5th in AL East, 4th Worst Overall – D- I just plain feel bad for the fans of this team.  Its been 11 seasons since this team has had a winning record.  Ouch.  They suck at pitching, and are average at batting and fielding.  There are some bright spots to this team that they can build around and they have to in order to be competitive in this tough division.  Someone once told me that a fish stinks from the head down.  Its time to cut off the head.  Get a new owner, GM and manager in there to turn it around.

With all of the injuries and unexpected (and expected) cold starts, I don’t think the Yankees have much to worry about with their April record. They finished 12-10 for the month, their best since 2006.

I’m going to keep this post short. I’ve been sick since Saturday morning with what is a bad sinus attack. Plus I’ve been running ragged since arriving home from the Academic Bowl Nationals and finding out I got a promotion at my job. I guess my immune system crashed. Good thing I didn’t keep my original plans to go to NYC and ride in the 5-Boro Tour of NYC ride yesterday. Heard it was raining (like, duh, the game was postponded.)

We all know a few things have happened with the rotation. CC Sabathia has not been the pitcher we were expecting him to be. He went 1-2 in April (now 1-3 due to his Saturday loss). I think CC is trying too hard to fit in and get himself acclimated to the culture in the city. He even has stopped tweeting!  A few pleasant surprises: AJ has been mostly decent, going 2-0 with an abysmal 5.40 ERA.  Andy Pettitte has been strong, going 2-1 with a 3.82 ERA. However, I am very concerned that he will suffer from arm fatigue later this season. He needs to take it easy.

We all know that Chien-Ming Wang has had a disastrous start to the season, with 0-3 and his famous 34.50 ERA. He is now working on his mechanics, his hip and foot problems and hopes to get this corrected. If not, it’s time to give him the boot. He may not be the #2 or #3 ace the Yankees were looking for.

The bullpen has been 1/3 efficient and 2/3 disastrous. Kudos to Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, and Mark Melancon for providing the glowing pitching the Yankees needed. Joe Girardi needs to better manage his bullpen and so do Dave Eiland. The 2/3 I am talking about comes from Damaso Marte, Jose Veras, Jon Albaladejo, and Edwar Ramirez. All of them have a combined 37 appearances with an ERA of over 8. That is pitiful.

Mariano has been pretty good, except for one blown save against the Sox. If you omit that, he’s been nearly lights-out.

As for the batting line-up, we have a few lone stars. We had Robinson Cano’s hot month, which is unsual for him. We’ve also seen Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Johnny Damon have solid months. After a poor start, Hideki Matsui is back to hitting the ball effectively. Nick Swisher was the “Man of the Month” for his hot few weeks until the last couple of weeks when he cooled down considerably.

We have had some flashes of brilliance from Brett “the Jet” Gardner. We sorely need his speed, but his bat isn’t what it can be. Instead we have Melky “I can hit home runs and strike out too” Cabrera. We basically need someone better in CF. Third base is a huge black hole. Girardi puts too much confidence into Cody Ransom. If he cannot deliver, put in Ramiro Pena. That has given the Yankees a good glove to use. If Pena cannot deliver, put in *shudder* Angel Berroa. I’d rather vomit, but until Alex Rodriguez comes back, it’s not even worth it to get into discussion here.

Mark Teixeira has been abysmal. His wrist is bothering him and he isn’t hitting, but he is earning his walks.

The Yankees need to do 3 things.

1) Address their bullpen woes, and get their rotation in order. If Phil Hughes can keep this up, keep him in there and send Wang to the bullpen.
2) Get all the injuries fixed. It’s time to have the players ‘fess up if they hurt. Marte did not after the WBC and look at where that puts him.
3) Start hitting the damn ball.

The Yankees can get off to a good May if they can play well against the Red Sox and Rays this week. That will give them momentum.

YANKEES (12-10)
Jeter SS
Damon LF
Teixeira 1B
Matsui DH
Cano 2B
Posada C
Swisher RF
Cabrera CF
Pena 3B

Pitching: LHP Andy Pettitte (2-1, 2.96)

Comments:  I’m surprised with the lineup staying like this.  With Mark Teixeira hitting .200 for the season, I think putting Nick Swisher in the third spot would be more beneficial until Teixeira gets his swing back…Pena is the right choice for 3B.  He is quick and good defensively.  Also after his first career RBI last night he is probably fired up.

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