The first half of the 2012 Major League Baseball season is in the rearview mirror. Let's take a look at the first half of the season for the New York Yankees.
First Half Review
The Yankees reached the All-Star break sitting pretty. At 53-33, their .612 winning percentage is the best in baseball. They have a seven-game lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East.
On May 10 the Yankees were just 17-14, in fourth place in the AL East. Since then they have gone 35-19. The starting pitching has rounded into form, even with CC Sabathia missing some time and Andy Pettitte out for two months. The bullpen has been spectacular, with Rafael Soriano taking over for the injured Mariano Rivera, and with Boone Logan, Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley giving manager Joe Girardi more key outs than he ever could have expected. Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano have overcome slow starts and the Yankees lead baseball in home runs with 134 and are fourth in the AL in runs scored. Offense is not really an issue for this team, which has struggled at times with runners in scoring position, but is still putting plenty of runs on the board.
The Yankees have watched the Boston Red Sox flail away in the first half of the season, and at 43-43 Boston is 9.5 games out. The Orioles have surprised, and the Tampa Bay Rays are in third place, 7.5 games out.
Kudos To ...
Let's look at three players deserving of praise as the season enters its second half.
1. Robinson Cano -- The Yankees best player has been playing like it for the past two months. After ending April with a .267 batting average and only four RBI, Cano has been a hitting machine. He has 12 home runs in his last 133 at-bats (one every all at-bats) and now has 20 home runs, 51 RBI, a .313 batting average and a .953 OPS. The 20 home runs put him on a pace to come close to 40 for the season, smashing his 2011 career-high of 28. Maybe the fans in Kansas City should not have been booing Cano during the All-Star festivities. Maybe they should have been booing Royals management for not being able to find any players nearly this good.
2. Derek Jeter -- The Yankee Captain, 38, continues to defy Father Time. He hit .308 in the first half, putting him on pace for his best season since hitting .334 in 2009. His seven home runs are already more than the six he hit in 2011, and his .411 slugging percentage and .765 OPS are also his best since 2009. Jeter is now 14th on the all-time hits list with 3,199.
3. Rafael Soriano -- Where would the Yankees be without Soriano, the high-priced relief pitcher GM Brian Cashman did not want to sign before last season? With Mariano Rivera out for the year and David Robertson having missed his chance to close games, Soriano has looked worth every penny of that three-year, $35-million deal he signed with the Yankees. Soriano has 20 saves in 21 opportunities, a 1.60 ERA and -- unbelievably to fans having watched Rivera close games since 1996 -- has thus far made Rivera's absence in the ninth inning a non-factor.
Wet Willies To ...
Here is a look at three Yankees who have not lived up to expectations thus far in 2012.
1. Alex Rodriguez -- A-Rod's numbers continue to slide as he ages. Can he rebound in the second half of the season? Is I detailed earlier this week, I have my doubts. He has been 'Average Alex' so far in 2012 with a .269 batting average, 13 home runs, only 38 RBI, and a slugging percentage (.436) and OPS (.793) that would be career worsts and are more than 100 points below his career averages. You simply can't continue to hit third or fourth for the best team in baseball when there are at least four players -- five if you want to count Raul Ibanez -- driving in runs more consistently.
2. Russell Martin -- A .179 batting average in 207 at-bats is just not going to cut it. Cashman says he is not looking for catching help as the trade deadline approaches, but the Yankees can't like what they see from the 29-year-old Martin. His batting average and on-base percentages have slid each of the past four seasons, from .280 and .385 with the Dodgers in 2008 to his current .179/.300 this season. He has missed a little time with a back injury, and the Yankees have to be wondering if he is the long-term answer behind the plate. Martin has thrown out a career-worst 23 percent of runners attempting to steal (12-of-40) in 2012.
3. Your choice -- To be honest, I can't pick a third guy. Freddy Garcia? Awful early, but has redeemed himself and pitched well of late. Eduardo Nunez? His awful defense got him banished to the minor leagues. Cory Wade? Earned his demotion to AAA Scranton-Wilkes/Barre with a 6.48 ERA. Other than that I'm not really sure who you would choose.
[SB Nation: Forgotten Things About The First Half]
Second Half Outlook
There really is no reason to be anything other than optimistic about the Yankees in the second half of the season.
Sure, Jeter might tail off some, but Rodriguez might come on. Sure, the Yankees have some older players, but they have a deep, talented, veteran bench to rely on. They might get even deeper if outfielder Brett Gardner can finally return from an elbow injury.
On the pitching front, maybe journeyman relievers Eppley and Rapada won't be as effective the rest of the way as they have been thus far. Both, though, have already done more than expected. Plus, Joba Chamberlain could be back in August to help the bullpen. The starting rotation has been good, and Sabathia will be back shortly after the break. Pettitte should return in time to get ready for the playoffs, and it looks like Garcia can hold down the fort until then.
At this point there seems to be no reason to anticipate that the Yankees won't win the AL East and have a chance to make a deep playoff run.