July 20, 2014

State of the Yankees: Midseason Review

The Yankees just finished off a sweep of the Reds to start the second half and sit three games out of first with a 50-47 record. Despite how poorly they've played, the AL East is still, somehow, wide open for the taking.

Last time I checked in, Yangervis Solarte was leading the team in just about all offensive categories and CC Sabathia had just hit the DL for his knee, which, at the time, I thought was a cover for his poor performance. Today, Solarte is back on the active roster after a massive cold streak sent him down to the minors, and we just found out CC is getting season-ending knee surgery.

Injury Bug
While CC's injury is certainly a concern for his career, it doesn't compare to the impact Masahiro Tanaka's elbow surgery will have on the Yankees season outlook. Tanaka was an AL Cy Young candidate, and now he's likely out for the year. Now, the only member of the Opening Day rotation who hasn't spent time on the DL this season is Hiroki Kuroda.

Offensively, most of the lineup has been healthy, except for one big piece of the puzzle. Carlos Beltran is a total mess with injuries all over, so my expectations for him in the second half aren't good, especially as a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. He's not the threat he used to be when he's playing at 50 percent.

Trade Deadline
Brian Cashman already has begun making moves with what looks to be a great swap with the Diamondbacks: Vidal Nuno, a slow-throwing lefty with questionable stuff, for Brandon McCarthy, who has excellent stuff but has proven to be erratic. With the AL East up for grabs, you have to think Cashman will go after Phillies southpaws Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels, or Cubs righty Edwin Jackson. Pitching is an absolute must with guys like Chase Whitley, a career minor-league reliever, starting every five days. 

On the other hand, among AL teams only the Mariners, Red Sox and Astros have scored fewer runs than the Yankees. There have been a number of games when Phelps, Kuroda or Tanaka turned in a quality start and either took a loss or no-decision this year. If you look at the Yankees lineup, not one hitter jumps off the page. Jacoby Ellsbury? He's had a good season, but he's not bringing the pop everyone expected he'd have in Yankee Stadium. Mark Teixeira? He leads the team in homers, but that doesn't mean the Yankees will have a hitter with 30 homers this season.

Unfortunately, the market for power hitters is even thinner than it is for starting pitchers. I could see the Yankees trading for a right fielder and a utility infielder, but not a monster trade. After topping out at .373 on May 23, Ichiro's batting average has dipped 88 points to .285. He may not be ready to be an everyday player again, and the Yankees don't really have an everyday player at second and third either.

Season Outlook
The fate of the Yankees season could lie in the hands of two McC's: McCarthy & McCann. Both have been great lately – McCarthy has allowed two runs in his first two starts and Brian McCann is hitting .340 in July.

While the team doesn't look too great overall, the fact is there may not be a better bullpen in the bigs and that, coupled with a mediocre offense and rotation, may just be enough to capture the AL East crown.

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