Thursday, July 13, 2006

Second Helping

It's time for the second half of the baseball season to get under way. Of course, we are technically past the half way point, but there's no reason for me to get technical. Anyway, the Yankees find themselves three games behind the Red Sox for first place in the east and six games behind the White Sox for the wild card. I've read many a column that says that the Yankees have no shot at the wild card and that they have to win the east to make the playoffs. First of all, that's simply not true. While six games is a healthy lead at the all star break, it's not unassailable. The Yankees have certainly made up bigger deficits before. Just last year at this point, they were trailing the Red Sox and they had basically lost four starters. They were down to two starters from their original five man rotation. The nay sayers couldn't wait to write about how the Yankees had no chance of making the playoffs. They had no pitching, the team was in shambles. The Yankees somehow managed to turn things around and win the division despite all of their problems. I'm not saying that the Yankees will definitely win the division or even make the playoffs this year, but at this point, it's really far too early to count them out.

Mike Lupica's column today talked about how the onus is on Randy Johnson and Arod to step it up in the second half. This is just more of the usual shit from Lupica. Arod is currently producing at a clip that will net him 40 home runs and 130 rbi's and Johnson is on a pace to win 20 games. What the Yankees need from not only those two, but everyone on the team is consistency. Arod has been hot and cold as has Johnson. The same can said about every player on the team except Derek Jeter and to a lesser extent Mike Mussina and Wang, who have been very consistent throughout the season. Consistency is hard to come by in baseball, but it is what is needed if the Yankees are to continue their playoff streak. Given the injuries to Matsui and Sheffield, the Yankees cannot afford to have one of their key run producers go into an extended slump. In the past, they had various players who could carry the offense if one of their top hitters was going through a slump. That is not the case today. They need consistent production from 1-6 in the lineup. Damon, Jeter, Giambi, Arod, Posada and Cano have to avoid long unproductive periods or the team will not be able to win at the pace needed to overcome their current deficit.

The Red Sox aren't going to collapse in the second half and neither are the White Sox. The Yankees have to hope that they begin to play better baseball and that Detroit starts to play more like the team they actually are. It's not inconceivable that the Yankees could finish up with 95 wins and still fall short of the playoffs. It's also possible that Sheffield and Matsui come back too late the prevent the Yankees from missing the playoffs. With those two in the lineup, the Yankees do have the most potent lineup in baseball, however having them return in September might not be enough to get the team into the playoffs. The Yankees cannot depend on a late push to secure a playoff spot. They must do more than tred water until those players come back. They are expecting bullpen help when Octavio Dotel joins the team sometime in July. That will certainly help shore up their sometimes shaky and definitely overworked bullpen.

The biggest problem the Yankees have is at the 5th starter spot. Shawn Chacon has been ineffective since his return from the DL and unless he steps up immediately in the second half, he will not have his spot in the rotation much longer. There are not a lot of options for the Yankees at this point. Teams are not really willing to part with quality pitchers and most are still in playoff contention. Brian Cashman may have to get lucky with some cast aways (as he did last year with Chacon and Small). However if Chacon can turn it around and Carl Pavano ever comes back, the Yankees will be solid once again in the pitching department. There are rumors of a trade with Philadelphia to bring either Bobby Abreu or Pat Burrell to the Yankees. The Yankees at this point have been unwilling to deal Phillip Hughes in order to get either of those players. If the asking price goes down as the trade deadline approaches, then I could see the Yankees pulling the trigger on one of those deals. Abreu is the more attractive option, considering that his salary would fit right into the slot that's going to be vacated by Sheffield and he only has one year left on his deal. He's also an OBP machine. They Yankees may have to pick up the salary of Jon Lieber in order to get the deal done, but I think it would be worth the cost.

The second half is going to be interesting. I'm looking forward to it. Regardless of what the papers say, I know that the Yankees are going to put up one hell of a fight to get to the playoffs. Now if there's an injury to Mariano in the second half, then they can all start making vacation plans for early October.



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