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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.

Two seasons ago, Robinson Cano was at the top of every diehard Yankees fan’s sh*tlist.  He had just finished a season which saw his batting average drop over 40 points from the previous season and over 80 points from the 2006 season.  He made a committment that off-season to turn things around and get back to his previous form.

Fast forward to 2010 and Robinson Cano is most definitely the best player on the Yankee roster this young season.  He has led the Yankees in virtually every statistical category at the plate and was tops in the majors in many categories.  Through 22 games in April, Cano was hitting .400, with 8 homers and 18 RBI.

In fact, Cano was the first player in Yankees history to do that in April.

While normally strong hitters Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez struggled to slow starts, Cano provided much of the spark at the plate for the Yankees offense and earned the #5 spot in the lineup going into May.

“You can teach someone to pull the ball,” Yankee Captain Derek Jeter told ESPNNewYork. “It’s tough to teach someone to hit the ball the other way, and Robby’s always been able to do it. That makes it tough to pitch to him.”

Big kudos to Cano.  I think he is making a good argument that the Yankees should be concerned with locking him into a long-term deal this off-season.

Just about three weeks into the season, baseball is led by two teams in virtually every category.  Both have won more than two-thirds of their games and took several in pretty dominating fashion.  One will most likely win the AL East this season, while the other will settle for the wild card.  These two teams will most likely face each other in the ALCS this season, too.

After wins again on Saturday, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays are dominating.  At 12-5 and 13-5, respectively, they boast the two best records in baseball this season.  With Philadelphia, they are the only teams to have scored more than 90 runs in the majors and along with Minnesota, the only teams to allow less than 63 runs in the American League.

Since losing two of three from the Yankees earlier in April, the Rays are and impressive 10-2, sweeping Baltimore and Boston – not to mention in Baltimore and Boston – along the way.  The Yankees have been almost as impressive, going 9-3 in that span, sweeping Texas and taking three of five from the LA Angels.

When you seem them on the field, the two teams seem to be in a whole other league.  Both are dominant offensively and defensively.  Both boast speedy outfields with defense-minded infielders who happen to hit very well.

Of the nine players on the Yankees with 50 or more at-bats, 5 are hitting over .300 and seven of the nine boast on-base percentages of .350 or greater.  Robinson Cano has earned the fifth spot in the order after getting off to a great start.  He’s hitting .369 with 13 RBI and 4 homers – all team highs.

The Yankee rotation has four pitchers with very good outings this season, including two almost no-hitters from CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes.  Andy Pettitte leads the team and is tied for the league-lead in wins, with 3, and leads the league with a 1.29 ERA.  Mariano Rivera leads the league in saves, with 6.

The Tampa Bay offense is far less impressive from a numbers standpoint, but somehow they manage to get on base and score runs.  They only have one hitter with 50 AB hitting over .300 – Carl Crawford – but the Rays seem to make it happen when it counts.  Seven guys have 8 or more RBI this season, putting each on pace for 100+ this season.  Carlos Pena, at a staggering 17 RBI, is on pace for 229.  And he’s hitting only .233.

On the mound, the Rays are a little more impressive with Matt Garza sitting at 3-1 with a 2.17 ERA and 25 strikeouts.  David Price and James Shields each have 2 wins apiece.  Rafael Soriano has been a half-way decent closer, with 4 saves on the season, but he’s no Rivera.

I have a feeling these teams will battle strong throughout the season.  Boston has begun the season 7-10 and can’t figure out how to hit or pitch consistently.  I think they won’t finish under .500 this season, but I don’t think they’ll challenge either of these teams for a playoff spot this season.  Baltimore and Toronto are not strong either.

The road to the World Series will most likely travel through the Bronx or St Pete in October.  The two teams next face off on May 19 in the Bronx with the Yankees in the midst of a tough 7-game homestand.

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The Yankees opened the 2010 season on a good note, hitting back to back home runs to give them a 2-0 lead, which they squandered in the 7th inning and lost to the Boston Red Sox tonight in Fenway Park, 9-7.

CC Sabathia pitched 5.1 innings in his start and his counterpart Josh Beckett struggled, allowing five runs, eight hits, and only struck out one in 4.2 innings. Sabathia had six hits, five runs and four strikeouts.

Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson hit back to back home runs in the second inning, for the first Opening Day back-to-back jacks since 1983. Posada went 3 for 4 on the evening, with two RBIs. That home run was Granderson’s only hit. Robinson Cano came up big tonight, getting two hard-hit balls, going 2 for 5 with one RBI. Everyone in the Yankees’ lineup except Nick Johnson and Mark Teixeira had hits. Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner were the only other Yankees to get multiple hits. Jeter went 2 for 5 and Gardner hit .500 with one RBI.

There was one brilliant play in the fourth inning when a double-steal happened when Jeter dashed for second base and Gardner sped home and stole home from third base. That was a payback for Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home last year. Brilliant play by the Yankees there.

While CC Sabathia did not earn the decision tonight, he was good for the first five innings, but outfield mental errors by Brett Gardner gave the Red Sox an opportunity to tie the game. It was Gardner’s first game in left field, but he definitely acted that way, not making good jumps on the ball and at one point missing the cut off man and throwing it past Jorge Posada at catcher.

Granderson, however, made an excellent back-to-wall catch in the second inning and he may be a nice asset for the Yankees in centerfield. Only the rest of the season will tell if he’s a good fit than he was in Comerica Park.

The Yankees’ bullpen imploded after Sabathia exited. David Robertson entered the game and allowed a hit, but it was Chan Ho Park, formerly of the Phillies, that allowed three runs, giving the Red Sox the advantage. Park earned the loss for the Yankees tonight. Joba Chamberlain entered in the 8th inning and wasn’t effective allowing two hits and walking one while throwing 33 pitches for 1.1 innings.

Yes, the Yankees may have lost tonight, but keep in mind the Yankees lost eight straight to open the season against the Red Sox, but look at who won the World Series last year.

Both teams are off tomorrow, and the second game is on Tuesday and it features AJ Burnett vs. Jon Lester.

With the Fall Classic slated to start tonight, here’s the preview from Generation Third.

The Bombers are coming off a thrilling 5-2 win in ALCS game 6 to eliminate the Angels and head to the World Series for the first time since 2003. Andy Pettitte pitched great, Mariano Rivera got a 6-out save.

And right down the Turnpike is Philadelphia, the defending champs, and after winning the NLCS almost a week ago, the Phillies were resting up to see who they would face in the Fall Classic. Last year the Phillies waited 6 days until playing the Rays in last year’s WS, and this year it will be 7 days until first pitch is thrown.

Let’s get to the comparisons.

First Base: Both Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard had huge years, but as soon as the playoffs started, Howard jumped in front of Teixeira by driving in 14 runs combined in the NLDS and NLCS, while Tex struggled and drove in only 4 combined. But, while Howard may be a bit better offensively, Tex provides much better defense at first, and after hitting that big 3-run double in Game 5 and then after picking up a couple hits in Game 6, Tex may be on the verge of a huge World Series. But it isn’t the same as actually doing it.

Edge: Phillies

Second Base: Both Chase Utley and Robinson Cano are slick fielding, power hitting, RBI machines, and both of them proved that in the regular season as Cano knocked 25 out of the park and drove in 85, and Utley slammed 31 out and drove in 93. Defensively, Cano has a better arm, but other than that, they’re pretty much even.

Edge: EVEN

Third Base: Alex Rodriguez is having the postseason of his life, as the slugger has finally gotten out of his playoff slump. ALCS and ALDS stats combine show A-Rod is hitting .438 with 5 home runs and 12 RBIs. Hopefully he can continue his dominance in the World Series, and if he does that, the Yanks have a very good chance to bring home #27. Pedro Feliz is having the complete opposite of the postseason that A-Rod is having. He’s batting .161 with just 1 walk in all 9 playoff games.

Edge: Yankees

Shortstop: Derek Jeter had an MVP-caliber year for the Yanks during the regular season, and Jimmy Rollins didn’t do that much worse for the Phillies. They’re both pretty even, regular season stats wise. But in the playoffs, Rollins has failed to pick up an RBI, while the Captain has drove in 5 and hit 3 long balls. Even if Rollins played better than Jeter this postseason, Jeter would get the edge, because of his postseason experience.

Edge: Yankees

Catcher: Jorge has more experience and is having a good postseason, hitting a couple homers and driving in 3 RBIs. The only bad thing – 7 strikeouts and leaving 10 men on base in ALCS game 6. He needs to swing at more pitches, and needs to actually make contact when he does swing. Fixes that, and he’s golden. Carlos Ruiz is in his 4th year in the Bigs, and had a pretty nice year. He hit 9 homers, drove in over 30 RBIs, and is a pretty good defensive catcher. He also had a big NLCS. But like with the shortstop comparison, its the experience that plays a factor, and Jorge has much more experience and really, is a better player overall.

Edge: Yankees

Designated Hitter: Back in May, when in Yankee Stadium, the Phillies used a better fielding outfielder twice and used Ibanez as a DH (Mayberry Jr. as the outfielder). Their DH/OF, in this case Matt Stairs and John Mayberry Jr. went a combined 3/13, with 1 HR, 3 RBI, and 3 Ks. Matsui is the more experienced DH, and obviously has better numbers than Stairs/Mayberry.

Edge: Yankees

Outfielders: For the Yankees, Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Nick Swisher, is good – offensively, at least. Defensively, Damon, even though he’s one of my favorite players, plays a terrible outfield and Swish is right about average defensively if not a bit below average. Melky really is the only really good defender out in the outfield, but thanks to the power of Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher, putting them out there inning after inning isn’t a bad thing at all. For the Phillies, you got Raul Ibanez in left, Shane Victorino in center, and Jayson Werth in right. Ibanez has power and plays an average outfield, Shane Victorino “The Flying Hawaiian” has speed and plays a very good outfield, and Werth is a big home-run hitter and plays a good enough outfield to get by.

Edge: Phillies

Bench: The Yankees have Eric Hinske and Brett Gardner off the bench. Hinske went on a mini-offensive tear when he was acquired. Brett Gardner, if he had gotten more playing time, might have gotten ROY. For the Phillies, they removed former Yank Miguel Cairo in favor of pitcher Brett Myers. I think having Cario on your bench speaks volumes.

Edge: Yanks

Pitching Rotations: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte have all shined during the postseason, and rightfully so have been tabbed as the best rotation in the World Series. CC was the ALCS MVP, A.J. tossed a couple nice games before allowing 6 runs in Game 5, and Andy has been his normal postseason self. The Phillies’ have Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Pedro Martinez. Cliff Lee has been great as expected, Cole Hamels, has been okay, and Pedro, in his only playoff start, allowed a run against the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS. Besides CC against Cliff Lee in Games 1, 4, and 7, it doesn’t look like the other matchups will be intriguing. The edge goes to the Yanks here.

Edge: Yankees

Bullpen: The Phillies have two reliable arms out of the ‘pen. Closer Brad Lidge and Scott Madson. Even though Lidge blew 11 saves this season, he’s regained his form. The Yanks have a potential unstoppable 7-8-9 bridge in Joba-Phil-Mo, along with Dave Robertson, Damaso Marte, Al Aceves, and Chad Gaudin. Lidge he does not compare to the best closer in baseball in Mariano Rivera.

Edge: Yankees

Managers: And last, but certainly not least, the managers. Charlie Manuel, coming off his first World Series Championship last year, has been the Phillies manager since 2006, and has lead the Phillies to three straight NL East titles. Joe Girardi has improved this year, and while I believe he handles the line-up better, he has made some questionable decisions regarding the bullpen. I’m hoping his bench coaches will help him make decisions.

Edge: Phillies

I don’t believe in making predictions ‘cuz I don’t want to jinx anything. It’s obvious, being a third generation fan, who I want to win.

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