COMMENTARY | The last time the New York Yankees were in fourth place in the American League East at the All-Star break, Mariano Rivera was a 25-year-old starting pitcher.
So, yeah, that's a long time ago -- 1995 to be specific. At the break in 1995, the Yankees were 30-36 and trailed the first-place Boston Red Sox by eight games in the division race during the lockout-shortened, 144-game season. They were 7.5 games in back of the California Angels in the hunt for the wild card and had six other teams in front of them.
New York recovered to go 49-29 after the break, the second-best record in the American League, and won the wild card by a game over the Angels (technically, it was 1.5 games after California lost a tiebreaker for the AL West title to the Seattle Mariners).
This year, the Yankees are six games behind the Red Sox in the division race at 51-44 and are tied with the Cleveland Indians at three games in back of the Texas Rangers for the second AL wild-card position.
As the second half approaches, there are just two primary questions the Yankees have to address after the break:
1. Will they buy or will they sell? Ravaged by injuries, the Yankees' offense is a shell of its former self. The Bronx Bombers have sputtered at the plate all season long, outside of All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano. New York is tied with Seattle for 11th in the American League with 373 runs. Their .243 team average leads only the Houston Astros' .235 mark in the AL. The Yankees are slugging just .376, 13th in the league and ahead of only the Astros and Kansas City Royals. Their 88 home runs are also 13th in the AL.
Cano is hitting .302/.386/.531 and has already matched his career high with 14 intentional walks. He leads the club with 107 hits, 21 home runs, 53 runs and 65 RBI.
And that, sports fans, is both the beginning and the end of the Yankees' first-half offensive highlights.
If not for the bounce-back year being put together by first baseman Lyle Overbay, it's almost hard to fathom where the New York offense would be. While we shouldn't confuse Overbay's production with All-Star level numbers, he's having his best season in at least four years with 11 homers, 18 doubles and 42 RBI in 313 plate appearances.
The Yankees have gotten a total of 216 plate appearances from injured All-Stars Kevin Youkilis (118), Mark Teixeira (63), Curtis Granderson (31), Derek Jeter (four) and Alex Rodriguez (zero). Of that group, only Granderson is certain to return at some point, telling ESPN.com that he hopes to be back by the end of July. Youkilis had back surgery and is out until September at the earlier. Teixeira is done for the year after wrist surgery. Jeter came back from his broken ankle on Thursday, July 11, strained his quad in his return and his status is up in the air. Rodriguez is on minor-league rehab assignment, but has the Biogenesis mess hanging over his head.
So it's worth asking whether the Yankees will be looking to buy or sell as the waiver trade deadline approaches July 31. The Colorado Rockies are reportedly interested in starting pitcher Phil Hughes, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The Yankees have been shopping Hughes in hopes of getting another hitter.
2. Can the wobbly starters right the ship? With the offense already sputtering along at 1968 levels, the Yankees have had to rely much more on their pitching to keep them in games. While Hiroki Kuroda and the bullpen have been terrific, the rest of the starting rotation has been leaky at times.
CC Sabathia is a very un-CC-like 9-8 with a 4.07 ERA and 1.234 WHIP through 20 starts and 137 innings. He's been susceptible to the long ball, already surrendering 21 home runs (one off the career high he allowed last year) and his ERA is the highest it's been since 2004.
Andy Pettitte has been pitching much more like an old Andy Pettitte than the Pettitte of old with a 4.39 ERA and 1.373 WHIP through 98.1 innings. At 41, his stuff is no longer at the point where he can get away with mistakes in the strike zone, of which he's been making plenty, as evidenced by the .280 average opposing hitters are posting against him. Hughes is only 4-9 with a 4.57 ERA in 18 starts and David Phelps' ERA is at 5.01.
Given how little the offense is producing, those numbers being posted by every starter not named "Hiroki Kuroda" won't keep the Yankees in the race.
Manager Joe Girardi deserves at least some Manager of the Year consideration for having this group at seven games over .500 at the break. But without some turnarounds by the offense and starting rotation, it's just not realistic to think the Yankees can hang around in a competitive, deep AL East.
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