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Today is July 14, 2010.  There’s no baseball being played anywhere.  So I’m going to take this opportunity to do my mid-season Yankee rankings.  Overall, I don’t think Yankee fans could be much happier with the team.  The Yankees lead the entire league with a 56-32 record, two games ahead of Tampa for best in the AL and four games ahead of the NL-leading Atlanta Braves.

Most Valuable Player – Robinson Cano

Hands down the Yankees MVP this season, Cano has been almost unstoppable at the plate and has played superbly on defense as well.  He earned his second all-star appearance this season and his first ever appearance as a starter.  Cano leads the Yankees in batting average, runs scored, doubles and slugging percentage.  He is second in on-base percentage and homers, and third in RBI.  He also boasts a team low 40 strikeouts out of all Yankees with at least 200 at-bats.

Most Improved Player – Nick Swisher

Swish is one of my favorite Yankees and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.  The attitude and passion that Swisher brings to the game is unmatched.  His fun-loving personality is a big reason for the Yankee’s success the past season and a half.  Swisher has improved his eye at the plate, putting in a lot of work with hitting coach Kevin Long.  Last season, Swish hit .249 with 29 homers, 124 hits 82 RBI, scored 84 runs and had a .371 on-base percentage in 498 at-bats.  Midway through this season, in 315 at-bats, he is hitting, .296, with 94 hits, 15 homers, 49 RBI and has scored 55 runs due to his extra hits.  His OBP is .377.

Biggest Disappointment – AJ Burnett

The sad thing is Burnett is exactly what everyone has criticized him for in the past – being inconsistent.  Only two years removed from an 18-10 season for the Blue Jays, Burnett is performing below his salary at 7-7 with a 4.70 ERA.  He is arguably the Yankees weakest starting pitcher right now, especially considering his win on July 7 in Oakland was his first since May 30th.  He was 0-5 in five starts with an 11.35 ERA in June.  The sad thing is Burnett started the season 4-0 with an ERA under 2.40, then was 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA before things went very downhill.  The Yankees will need his veteran presence on the mound in the second half, especially since Phil Hughes will face innings limits later this season.  Burnett needs to find a way to turn his season around.

Biggest Surprise – Phil Hughes

In spring training, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain had to compete for the fifth spot in the Yankees starting rotation.  Hughes had a successful spring while Joba struggled, earning Hughes the nod.  Hughes dominated for the Yankees from the beginning.  He started his season 5-0 with a 1.38 record, taking advantage of massive run support from the Yankee offense.  Hughes is one of the top ten pitchers in the American League this season, boasting an 11-2 record with a 3.65 ERA, earning him a spot on the All-Star team.  However, he will face inning limits later on this season, requiring the Yankees to get someone else to finish the season after he hits the limits.  No word on his post season availability.

Grades

Offense: A The team is 2nd in runs scored and RBI, 5th in hits and 7th in batting average.

Starting Pitching:          A- Sabathia & Co. are 1st in wins, 7th in ERA(2nd in AL only) and 10th in strikeouts.  By the way, Andy Pettitte is 11-2 with a team leading 2.70 ERA.  He could end up having the best season of his career at age 38.

Relief Pitching:              B- Joba and David Robertson are the go-to guys in the pen’ but their ERA’s are 5.79 and 5.46,          respectively.  The bullpen has also only lost 10 games, a little better than average.  But the Bombers still have the best closer of all time, Mariano Rivera.

Coaching:                        A Joe Girardi appears to have a good thing going with the Yankees right now and a great support staff, including pitching coach Dave Eiland and hitting coach Kevin Long.  Whatever they’re doing, it’s working.  The Yankees are in first place, enough said.

The Yankees ended their six-game road trip on a strong note against two AL East rivals Sunday afternoon. The day after CC Sabathia’s near no-hitter A.J. Burnett pitched seven strong innings and Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez drove in two runs apiece to lead the Yankees over the Tampa Bay Rays 7-3.

Burnett allowed two runs and six hits as he earned his first win of the season. Burnett gave up singles to Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford to start the game then limited Tampa Bay to four hits over the next six innings.

Joba Chamberlain pitched the eighth, allowing a RBI triple to Crawford. Mariano Rivera worked a scoreless ninth in a non-save situation.

Posada’s two-run homer off Randy Choate gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the sixth. Rodriguez doubled off the wall in left field to drive in two to make it 6-2 in seventh, and Nick Swisher added a solo homer in the eighth off Andy Sonnanstine.

In a note that Chad Jennings wrote on LoHud, Swisher made a split-second decision to bring his warm-up bat to the plate. That 34-oz bat is three ounces heavier than his regular bat. He promptly hit a home run.

Burnett, who walked three and struck out one, worked out of a jam in the sixth after the Rays loaded the bases, helped by Evan Longoria’s infield pop single that struck one of the catwalks in the domed stadium before falling to the field. Burnett improved to 12-4 lifetime against the Rays, including 6-2 in 11 starts at Tropicana Field. He was 4-0 with a 1.97 ERA in five starts against Tampa Bay last season.

Bartlett singled leading off the first, stole second and scored on Crawford’s single. Carlos Pena later grounded into a force play to drive home Crawford.

Curtis Granderson’s RBI double began New York’s comeback against Rays starter James Shields in the second inning. Granderson got two hits today to raise his season average to .348. The day after getting three hits in his last three ABs, Mark Teixeira went 0-4 on his birthday. Although Tex is having a slow start, the Yankees are fueled by Rodriguez and their new #5 hitter, Robinson Cano, who’s leading the team with a .360 average.

The Yankees are off tomorrow (again) before starting their homestand with their own Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. They will host the Los Angeles Angels and will present their players with their World Series rings. Present will be former Yankee Hideki Matsui, who is now a member of the Angels. He’ll more likely be greeted by the Yankee faithful for his World Series game six masterpiece.

Andy Pettitte will pitch the home opener against Ervin Santana. Pregame ceremonies will start at 12:15 and the game will start at 1:05 p.m.

(Photo above from the AP)

Two nights ago the Yankees bullpen was simply awful. Chan Ho Park and his teammates allowed 4 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks in just 2.2 innings, blew a two-run lead and the game. Last night the combination of Alfredo Aceves, Damaso Marte, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera shut down the Red Sox and led the Yankees to victory, 6-4 over the Sox.

Aceves threw two perfect innings on his way to the win. Marte retired the only batter he needed to, David Ortiz. Joba threw the ball better than he has in a long time. And Mo was Mo.

Joba was the biggest story tonight for the Yanks, especially after that shaky performance on Sunday. For this one night, he look a lot like the Joba of old. Maybe he wasn’t throwing as hard, but he was just as dominating. With the tying run on second base and one out in a noisy Fenway Park, Joba came in to strike out Adrian Beltre and J.D. Drew on nine pitches. Behind 2-1 in the count, Joba got Drew to swing and miss on back-to-back sliders to end the inning. Joba then threw in one of his fist pumps.

A.J. Burnett lasted just five innings. He made two major mistakes in the game, both to Victor Martinez. The first coming with the score tied in the 3rd when Martinez launched a two-run homer. Then, with the score now tied at three in the 5th, Martinez struck again with an RBI double. In five innings Burnett allowed 4 runs (3 earned) on 7 hits and a walk, and struck out 5.

Jon Lester was no better for Boston, although early on it looked like he would be. In 5 innings he allowed 4 runs on 5 hits, walked 3, and struck out 4.

Nick Swisher got the Yankees on the board with an RBI double. He’s now 3-for-7 on the young season and has looked very good.

Lester would hold the Yankees off the board for the next two innings and by the fifth they were finally able to break through. Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter started the inning with back-to-back singles. Lester then loaded the bases for Mark Teixeira by hitting Nick Johnson with a pitch. Tex didn’t do much damage, but he hustled his way out of a DP and drove in the Yankees second run. Alex Rodriguez tied the game win a line drive RBI double into the left field corner. Robinson Cano then gave the Yankees the lead with a sac fly, and Cano had a solo homer in the ninth to give the Yankees an insurance run.

It took the Yankees four months to get their first win against the Sox last year. This year it took them only two days. Tonight they should go for their second victory over the Sox. Tonight should be another battle with Andy Pettitte facing former Angel, John Lackey as he makes his Boston debut. Game time is 7:10 p.m. and you can catch the game on YES and ESPN2.

One story that I enjoyed finding out about Yankee traditions is that Yogi Berra has his golf clubs shipped to Tampa. These clubs were at first stored in Joe Torre’s office. Now they’re in Joe Girardi’s office.

Guess who was at the camp today? None other than Yogi.

The Yanks had a bunch of bullpen sessions. Both Hughes and Chamberlain threw today. The aces of the team — Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, and Vazquez are all not pitching for a few days as to preserve their arm for a possible long season ahead of them.

Chad Jennings has photos and a summary of today’s workout. He reports that Pettitte feels good, even though he did the most innings since 2002, and Pettitte says it’s because the team was able to preserve the starters in September for the playoff run.

Enjoy the photos and the summary from Chad!

…is what Tyler Kepner characterizes the season by the Yankees in one of his blogs yesterday afternoon.

Everything came together for the Yankees this year. They shed a lot of unnecessary contracts, and actually trimmed payroll this year, in spite of a $450 million spending spree. A-Rod stopped trying to do too much and became more natural, aided by Tex and Swisher.

The Yankees finally had good arms after the struggles of Brown, Johnson, Pavano, et al.

So this year was peaceful and easy….definitely!

 

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