We have arrived at the Major League Baseball All-Star break, traditionally considered the halfway point of the season. So, let's take a midseason look at the New York Yankees 88 games into the 2011 season. Without doubt, there have been ups, downs, surprises and disappointments. Let's look at them.
Checking The Standings
The Yankees are, basically, about where they were expected to be when the season began. Everyone on the planet, at least outside the Yankee organization, expected the Boston Red Sox to win the American League East and the Yankees to end up as the American League wild-card team. If the season ended today, that is exactly what would happen.
The Yankees are an impressive 53-35 (.602), a game behind Boston and five games in front of Tampa Bay in the wild-card standings. That .602 winning percentage is third-best in baseball behind Philadelphia (.626) and Boston (.611).
The Yankees are old. They have plenty of aches and pains. They are, however, still pretty darn good.
AL East Standings
Curtis Granderson: Named as a starting outfielder for the American League All-Star Game, Granderson is having a phenomenal season. With the help of Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, Granderson revamped his swing at the end of last season and the dividends are obvious. Granderson has already hit more home runs than he did a season ago (25 to 24), scored more runs (79 to 76) and has nearly matched his RBI total (63 to 67). The Yankees have needed every bit of the offense the Grandy Man has provided.
Starting Pitching: Andy Pettitte retired. Cliff Lee said 'no, thanks' and went to the Phillies. Phil Hughes stunk and went on the DL with a mysterious shoulder ailment. Yet, the Yankees' starting pitching has been excellent. Bartolo Colon has revived his career, and at times been the team's second-best starter. Freddy Garcia (3.13 ERA) is pitching better than he has in years. A.J. Burnett has been good more often than he has been bad following a disastrous 2010. The Yankee starters have been so good that Ivan Nova (8-4, 4.12 ERA), a perfectly capable big-league starting pitcher, is now back at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre simply because there is no spot for him.
David Robertson: No Rafael Soriano? No problem. No Joba Chamberlain? Same thing. Pedro Feliciano? Damaso Marte? Who needs any of 'em? The Yankees have Robertson, who has been phenomenal during the first half, has been named to the AL All-Star team, and has positioned himself to be thought of as a future Yankee closer once Mariano Rivera finally retires. Robertson has pitched to a 1.27 ERA and struck out an amazing 56 in 35.1 innings (14.3 per nine innings). He still has the dominant curveball, and at age 26 has found some extra oomph for his fastball, consistently reaching 95 mph.
This one is easy. Derek Jeter, as anyone who has not been living around a rock knows, became the first player in franchise history to reach 3,000 hits with Saturday's amazing 5-for-5 performance. Jeter is 27th on the all-time hit list.
Phil Hughes' First Half: The 25-year-old right-hander went on the disabled list in April after three starts with a 13.94 ERA. The Yankees spent more than two months trying to figure out what was wrong with Hughes' shoulder, then rehab him for a return. Hughes was pedestrian in that return, giving up six hits and two earned runs in five innings. His stuff was mediocre. This version of Hughes looks like a far cry from the guy once known as the Phranchise, and thought to be the guy who would be the ace of the Yankees' staff for the next decade.
Bullpen Injuries: Robertson has been great, and Rivera has been Rivera. With Soriano, Chamberlain, Feliciano and Marte, though, the Yankees have about $21 million worth of 2011 bullpen on the disabled list.
Jorge Posada's Temper Tantrum: The veteran's refusal to play after being dropped to ninth in the batting order by manager Joe Girardi was definitely the lowlight of the season thus far, and a stain on the terrific career of a proud veteran. Posada has been better since, and did hit .382 in June, but his tantrum is still a moment I'm certain he wishes he could take back.
Brian Gordon got two starts with the Yankees and pitched decently after spending 15 years in the minor leagues, most of that as a power-hitting outfielder. The 32-year-old Gordon went 0-1 with a 5.23 ERA in those two games and is now back at AAA with Scranton-Wilkes Barre. He worked incredibly hard for his big-league cup of coffee, and anyone who is a baseball fan should be happy that he got it.
Biggest Remaining Question Marks
Offense: With Alex Rodriguez out for as many as six weeks, do the Yankees need more offense? Posada has been terrible hitting right-handed (.122), Andruw Jones is hitting just .195, every-day catcher Russell Martin has not been the same since injuring his back. He hit .293 in April, but has hit .200 in May, .185 in June and just .143 so far in July. His overall mark is .220.
Starting Pitching: As good as they have been, can the Yankees depend on Colon and Garcia to keep up their surprising work? Can Hughes give them anything? Can the enigmatic Burnett continue to give the Yankees more good than bad?
Bullpen: Will Soriano return? If he doesn't, do the Yankees need to go out and get some help for Robertson? Oh, and will Rivera's tender forearm turn into a major headache?