1) Andy Pettitte's Resurgence- Seriously, who the hell saw this coming? I know he was good last year, but with the additions of Hughes and Vazquez to the rotation, it certainly wasn't outside the realm of possibilities to consider Pettitte being the "real" 5th starter on the team. Instead he has gone out and been the Yankees' best and most consistent pitcher from Opening Night to the All-Star break. 11 wins (good for 3rd in the AL), a 2.70 ERA (good for 4th), a 1.15 WHIP (good for 10th), and a .234 BAA. Sure, if you dig deeper into the sabermetrics as some blogs have done, they will show that some luck has been involved in Pettitte's big start, but overall it has been his combination of still dangerous stuff and veteran savvy that has made him one of the best pitchers in the AL at age 38.
2) Phil Hughes' Emergence- I think we all had high hopes for Phil after he won the 5th spot in the rotation, but I don't think anybody expected this kind of performance. Hughes hit the ground running in April and May, going 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA. And despite some rough outings in June and recently in July, his overall numbers are still solid across the board (everything comparable to Pettitte's except ERA). His ability to work with his best pitches and manage a game have been the most surprising signs, especially after he worked almost exclusively with 2 last year out of the 'pen. Hughes still needs to master his changeup and incorporate it into his arsenal, but for what has amounted to his first "real" season as a full-time starter, you can't be anything but happy with what you've seen from him.
P.S.- He's still just 24.
3) Robbie Cano's Ascension Into Stardom- After Matsui and Damon left for greener pastures, the pressure was put directly on Cano's shoulders to pick up the slack as the new number 5 hitter. And he hasn't disappointed. Robbie was hands down the best player in baseball through April and May, putting up scary good, Triple Crown-caliber numbers. He cooled down a bit in June and so far even more in July, but is still sitting at .336/.389/.556 with 16 HRs, 58 RBIs, 61 Runs scored, 115 hits, and 23 2Bs. Throw in the Gold Glove-caliber defense and newfound maturity and consistency to his game and you are talking about the new best second baseman in baseball.
4) The Bullpen Being A Revolving Door Of Ineffectiveness- Between the strong finishes from guys last year (Aceves, Robertson, Marte), the addition of Chan Ho Park, and the 8th-9th inning combo of Joba and Mo, the bullpen was supposed to be a strength for the Yankees for the first time in years. Well things haven't exactly worked out that way, have they? Ace and Sergio Mitre have been hurt, D-Rob and Joba have been shaky at best, and CHoP has been so fucking bad that it's inconceivable that he's still on the 25-man roster. Mo has been Mo, but he is showing some wear and tear so there will be extra pressure on the rest of these clowns to perform. It's only a matter of time before we start seeing some new faces coming out of those outfield doors in the later innings, because the fantastic starting pitching can't continue to be wasted by the horseshit bullpen.
5) Offensive Woes- Cano has done his job to pick up the slack left by Matsui and Damon's departure, but if you look around the Yankee lineup he really hasn't had much help. Free agent signees Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson have combined to do next to nothing in pinstripes, and Johnson is not surprisingly out for the year. But more important than that has been the down years across the board to date for Jeter, A-Rod, and Teix. You can attribute it to age and being banged up for Jeet and The Horse, but Teix has no excuse. He has been MIA all season up until about 2-3 weeks ago. Pleasant surprises from Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner have helped ease the sting of these others' underperformance so far. But it does make you think how many more games the Yanks could have won with the offense firing on all cylinders.
**Coming Up Tomorrow- The 5 Biggest Potential Stories For The Second Half**
Here is the patch the team will wear to honor George Steinbrenner for the rest of the season.
Official statement from the Yankees, via LoHud:
"The Steinbrenner commemorative patch will be worn above the interlocking NY on the left breast of the Yankees’ home jerseys and above the letters “YORK” on the left breast of the Yankees’ road uniforms. Both locations are over the heart."
There will also be a commemorative patch to honor Bob Sheppard. As soon as I see a picture of that one, it'll be on here. Check out morereactions to The Boss' passing from past and present members of the Yankee family and those outside of it here at LoHud.
It was an up and down night for the 8 Bombers who were on the roster. Here's how everybody's night went:
- Derek Jeter: started at SS, batted 2nd, and went 1-2 with a walk and a clean game in the field in 6 innings of play. He walked off of Ubaldo Jimenez in the 1st inning, struck out looking against Josh Johnson in the 3rd, and singled off Roy Halladay in the 6th. One of the few AL players who didn't look completely overmatched at the plate.
- Robinson Cano: started at 2B, batted 8th, and went 0-1 with a sac fly that could have been a double or a homer if he got a little better wood on it, and an RBI in 5 innings of play. Cano also bobbled 2 balls hit to his left in the field, turning one into an out and failing to make a play on a diving attempt that was ruled a hit.
- Andy Pettitte: Pitched a scoreless 3rd inning after David Price worked the first 2, and worked quickly and efficiently, striking out Andre Ethier and Corey Hart swinging and getting Hanley Ramirez to ground into a fielder's choice after allowing a base hit to Yadier Molina. Andy threw just 9 pitches, 8 for strikes, and his inning of work was shorter than most of FOX's commercial breaks last night.
- Phil Hughes: Hughes started the bottom of the 7th for the AL, and after getting Joey Votto to ground out to 2nd, allowed 2 consecutive singles to Scott Rolen and Matt Holliday to put runners on the corners with 1 out. When Matt Thornton allowed Brian McCann's bases-clearing 2B later in the inning, Hughes was tagged with the first 2 runs and took the loss. He wasn't awful with his stuff, but did catch a little too much of the plate with his pitches to Rolen and Holliday.
- Nick Swisher: Pinch hit for Ty Wigginton in the bottom of the 7th and struck out swinging against Adam Wainwright. Swish never got to play in the outfield as his spot in the order was replaced by Adrian Beltre in the top of the 8th.
- CC Sabathia: Not available after pitching in the Yanks' last game before the break, CC probably spent most of the night chatting and cheering with guys in the dugout and eating his fair share of assorted seeds and gum. Don't forget about the few cups of Gatorade too. Dude's gotta stay hydrated.
- Mariano Rivera: Also not available because of lingering bumps and bruises, Mo most likely spent his night the same way CC did, with the added bonus of teaching the other AL guys in the bullpen how to walk on water, cure cancer, and balance the federal budget.
- Alex Rodriguez: In what had to be one of the strangest managerial decisions of the night, The Horse was the lone AL position player to not make it into the game. Joe did plenty of mixing and matching with pinch hitters and replacement fielders to try to get everybody in and yet, bottom 9th, here's A-Rod still riding the pine. There was an opportunity for him to pinch run for Big Sloppi or pinch hit for John Buck or Ian Kinsler, but Joe had already painted himself into a corner with his roster and couldn't afford to lose either of those 2 if the game ended up being tied after 9.
Joe's curious decision does open the door for speculation about A-Rod's health, but I wouldn't read too much into it. I think it was just a case of Joe getting too cute with the lineup card, trying to get everybody their participation trophy, and leaving himself up that old creek without a paddle. Unfortunately The Horse was the one that had to suffer because of it.
FOX did a nice job of honoring George Steinbrenner as well, so all in all it wasn't a bad night for the Yankees, losing home field advantage for the World Series they will inevitably make aside. It will be curious to see the reaction today around the blogosphere about A-Rod's benching.