We're just one day away from meaningful baseball games starting up again, and that time can't pass quickly enough. It's been absolutely brutal without them this week because there is NOTHING on TV. I barely paid attention to the HR Derby on Monday, started tuning out of the All Star Game around the 3rd inning and turned it off completely by the 5th on Tuesday, and don't even get me started on how stupid the ESPYs are. The Yankees are coming back into my life at the perfect time, and as some people say, the season REALLY starts now. There are plenty of obvious second half storylines to follow, like the trade deadline, Andy's return, September call-ups, and the always fun start of the magic number countdown, but there are plenty of other things I'll be following as well. Like what, you might ask? Well, how about...
The David Aardsma comeback trail is still on a detour, but Joba Chamberlain stepped up to fill that void and made his return to game action on Tuesday for the GCL Yanks. It's been over a full calendar year since we last saw Joba pitch in the Majors, and I actually kind of miss the guy. He's recovered quickly from both his TJS and ankle surgery, and appears to be in tremendous shape from the few pictures I've seen recently. If reports of him touching 97 on the gun on Tuesday are accurate, then following his trip back to the Majors is going to be even more exciting. Love him or hate him, Joba throwing smoke is always an entertaining watch, and even sans command, a smoke-throwing Joba would be a nice bullpen weapon to have on standby. It's not even worth getting into the "should the Yankees strech him out as a starter" debate, because it's not going to happen. I just want to see Joba on the mound again.
Brett Gardner's Return
Speaking of seeing guys playing again, the timetable for Gardner's return is starting to loosely take shape with the announcement yesterday that he could be back by July 27th "at the earliest." That makes an early-to-mid August return more likely, but Gardner is another guy I think I've taken for granted a bit strictly from the "enjoyment of watching" standpoint. I get a little uneasy sometimes watching Swish track flyballs, I get downright nervous watching C-Grand, and I practically hide my eyes with my hands watching Raul, so it will be a refreshing change of pace to see somebody back out there who knows what he's doing. The speed, versatility, and count-working skills that Gardner brings to the table will also be welcome additions to the Yankee lineup, and will allow Ibanez to shift back to the DH spot full-time to keep him fresh down the stretch. Just please, no more setbacks.
Andruw Jones' Awakening
There was some squabbling last season after Jones got off to a slow start (.195/.278/.356 in the first half), and Jones made efforts to get into better shape before this season to try to combat that. Those efforts didn't bring much of a return, as Jones was hitting just .206/.310/.412 on June 20th. In the 9 games since then, though, he has 11 hits (including 2 doubles and 5 homers), 6 R, and 9 RBI in 31 PA, raising his season line to .244/.326/.535 (.366 wOBA). Last season, Jones was a monster off the bench in the second half of the season (.291/.416/.612 w/ 9 HR), and the 4-homer barrage he had at Fenway just before the ASB, along with the much improved overall production over the past 9 games, may have been a sign that he's fixing to repeat 2011's monster performance.
Robinson Cano's MVP Chase
It's still a little bit too early to start really talking AL MVP, but if the award was being handed out today Cano would have to be right at the top of the list of legitimate candidates. Yes, Mike Trout is having an unbelievable season and is the sole reason that the Angels woke up, and yes, Josh Hamilton is putting up ridiculous numbers again, but Robbie's case this season is stronger than it was in the past 2. He's once again the best player on the team with the best record in baseball, he's played out of his mind for the past 2+ months, and he's on pace to set new career highs in hits, HR, R scored, wOBA, wRC+, and fWAR, where he happens to rank 2nd in the league right now at 4.3. With A-Rod on a serious decline, and Teix and Swish both having down years, Cano also won't have as big of a battle to fight against the "he plays on a team full of All Stars" perception that always hampers Yankee MVP candidates.
Assuming he's not too heartbroken from the boo beating he took in KC and can pick up where he left off before the break, Cano has a great chance to bring home the hardware this season. He's always been a great second half player, and he's coming off the best first half he's had in his career. He's finished top-6 in the last 2 seasons; it'd be cool to see him win the award this year and give himself that final push into mainstream recognition as one of the game's best players.
So that's what I got. What's everybody else looking forward to in the second half of 2012?