The New York Yankees are back at the summit of baseball headed into the 2012 MLB All-Star break, but the Bronx Bombers are far from satisfied headed into the second half of the season.
Nearly a month ago, the Yankees were just six games over .500. Now, they’re the proud owners of the best record in baseball with the largest lead in any division. At 52-33, the Yanks are 31-12 since posting a 21-21 record on May 21st to tie the Boston Red Sox for last place in the American League East. Over the weekend, the Bombers took three of four games from their storied rivals at Fenway Park, dealing Boston its sixth loss in the last seven games, to place the plummeting ball club 9 ½ games out of first place and tied for last-place in the division with the Toronto Blue Jays, at 43-43. Last year, the Yankees were 53-35 at the break but trailed the Red Sox by a game for second place. It’s safe to say that New York is relishing looking down at Boston at this point of the season. But still, despite their recent success, the Yanks have yet to play their best baseball– which does not bode well for Boston or the rest of the majors.
Much of the Yankees’ victories have come without several key players. Despite injuries to pitchers C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and outfielder Brett Gardner, New York has found ways to pile on the wins. Yanks’ manager Joe Girardi has been able to turn to his bullpen to gain solid contributions from pitchers like Ivan Nova, Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada and reliever Rafael Soriano, who has filled in nicely for Rivera. Soriano has 20 saves in 21 chances.
Other reserves that have come on, at the right moment, are Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez. On Sunday, Jones hit his fourth home run in three games, over the weekend, against the Red Sox at Fenway. At 127 at-bats, he now has two homers less than starter Alex Rodriguez’s 13. Another key contributor has been 34-year-old Eric Chavez. The backup third baseman is hitting .282 with seven home runs in 131 at-bats. All role players have been key, but no one has been more invaluable than Robinson Cano. After a slow start, the Yankees second baseman has heated up to become frontrunner for AL MVP. On Sunday, Cano doubled in the ninth inning to extend his hitting streak to 15 games, tying team captain Derek Jeter for the longest streak on the Yankees this year.
In addition to the injuries, the Yanks have also overcome a few on-field deficiencies, most notably their inability to hit with runners in scoring position. They went into Sunday with a .231 batting average in those situations, a mark that put them 26th out of the 30 major league teams, for worst in the AL. But the Bronx Bombers have excelled at knocking balls out of the park. They had 133 homers going into Sunday’s game, the most in baseball and 10 more than the second best long-ball team, the Blue Jays.
With a new player stepping up every day for the Yankees, they’ll need more of that in the second half. If the Yanks can stay healthy –Sabathia is slated to return to the starting rotation on July 17– and continue to swing the bat with as much ferocity as they’ve been doing, they will be the best team in baseball at the end of the season. And perhaps will raise their 28th World Series banner come October. They hold a seven-game lead in the AL East over the Baltimore Orioles. In what place will the Yankees finish this season?