Thursday, August 2, 2012

Let's Take A Minute And Reset The Landscape

July was a bit of an eventful month, huh?  The Yankees ended it on a very rough 3-9 streak that saw them lose 6 games by 1 run right after starting the month 10-4 and looking like they were going to run away and hide with the division title sometime in early August.  They blew early leads, they blew late leads, and they made a couple comebacks that fell just short, all adding to a growing sense of frustration amongst the fans and some of the more pot-stirring writers.  Things have gotten a tad bit frazzled over the last 2 weeks.  I know I've been a bit more emotional and vocal with my displeasure this week, and the folks I write with for TYA can attest to that.  But as we rip another page off the calendar and put July in the rearview, I think it's important to take a step back and look at the overall landscape of Yankeeland heading into the stretch run of the season.

The Yankees start today with a 61-43 record, still first in the American League East and clear of 2nd place by 6.5 games, 7 in the loss column.  They're still got the best run differential in the AL (+86) and they're not only maintaining it but actually increasing it during this stressful last 2 weeks that have seen almost the entirety of the middle of their lineup sidelined with injuries.  They're going to have A-Rod on the shelf until mid-to-late September, Teix for at least another couple days while he waits to see how his wrist responds to the cortisone and rest, and Swish still isn't back to full strength after missing some time with his hip flexor and very well may not be for the rest of the season.

That continued roster fluctuation has brought a few new faces into the clubhouse thanks to the trade deadline, but nothing earth-shattering.  Ichiro's name carries far more weight than his game these days, and Casey McGehee is just emergency insurance for Teix at first and Eric Chavez at third, but with neither of them expected to carry a huge load offensively, anything they add to what the major lineup contributors produce is a plus.  Joba Chamberlain brings a much-needed shot in the arm to a regressing bullpen on paper, but as yesterday showed he still has an adjustment period to go through to get back to where he was.  If he can replicate some of the high-90s heat from his rehab starts he could be a weapon come September-October.

Even if he doesn't, the Yankees still have Soriano aN. Robertson at the end of games, and that's a combination that's as good as any in the business.  David Phelps has been lights out since returning to the bullpen, whether you think it's the right move or not, and if Boone Logan can get right the 'pen is still a strength with or without Joba throwing 99.  Derek Jeter has 13 hits in his last 7 games, Robinson Cano has 2 straight games with a HR, C-Grand is still murdering mistakes, and even Russell Martin is showing signs of life offensively.  Kuroda is pitching extremely well, Phil Hughes has his ERA under 4.00, and Freddy is giving us more than most of us expected from his spot in the rotation.  CC is going to get straightened out, Teix is going to come back from his injury, hopefully soon, A-Rod will come back from his eventually, and if somebody on the training staff can watch him and make sure he doesn't overwork his 40-year-old body, we might just see Andy Pettitte again.

Point being there's still a ton of talent on this team, and when all of it gets healthy and gets back to performing at levels we all know they're capable of, this is still one of if not the best and deepest team in baseball.  That 3-9 stretch to end July sucked, but with a few better pitches here and a few more hits there it could have easily been 9-3.  Yesterday's game could have been a sign that things are starting to turn back in the Yankees' favor.  They went 7-13 with RISP, got an early lead and held it, and got a blowout win on a day when their pitching wasn't all that great and helped by some timely double plays and their opponent's inability to get hits in big situations.  There are 58 games remaining in the regular season, 28 at home, 30 on the road, and 34 against the rest of the AL East.  That's a lot of opportunities to gain some of that lost division lead back, put more distance between first and second place, and get the roster back to full strength in time for when things really start to get serious.

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