By Jon Lane
The Yankees are 14 games over .500. They are three behind the Red Sox in the American League East and lead the Wild Card by two-and-a-half over the Rangers. Their 495 runs scored, 132 home runs, 358 on-base percentage and.471 slugging percentage lead the Major Leagues, and their 25 road victories are tops in the American League.
Life is good in Yankeeland, but not great. Both the Wild Card and division races will be fierce, and in the AL East, you cannot dismiss the Rays. Will the Yankees have the legs to return to October? Here are five storylines for the second half:
Will the Yankees reverse their fortunes against the Red Sox?
This is ugly: The Yankees are 9-19 against the Red Sox, Tigers, Angels and Phillies – all first-place teams – as well as the Rays. They resume the season tomorrow against Detroit at Yankee Stadium and still have to deal with the Angels in Southern California in mid-September. Anthony McCarron presented the brutal truth in today’s New York Daily News. Among the cliff notes, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte are a combined 3-10 with a 5.41 ERA against those elite teams.
This is ghastly: The Yankees are 0-8 against the Red Sox. The last time they saw them was at Fenway Park in June. They arrived to Boston in first place and with the AL’s best record, and hungry for revenge. Instead they were blown out 7-0 and dropped the next two games each by one run. Never mind the dormant offense, something was affecting the Yankees psychologically from where I sat.
The teams play 10 more times starting August 6 at Yankee Stadium. Since the Rays and Rangers won’t go away, how the Yankees perform against their rivals may determine who wins the AL East -and who misses the October party.
Will they pull the trigger for Roy Halladay?
Will Roy Halladay become a Yankee? Probably not. Do the Yankees have to have him? No, but they must explore every angle on what it’ll take to get him. As Bill Madden wrote today, “The teams that seemingly have the biggest need and are the best fits for a premier player coming on the market aren’t necessarily willing to pay the premium price, leaving the trading club no choice but to take the best package available.”
Outside of Sabathia and Burnett, there are growing holes in the Yankees’ rotation. Fans have spoken out against Brian Cashman dipping into his farm system he so painstakingly rebuilt, but as I suggested the other day, I’d offer Chamberlain, Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero only because it’s Roy Halladay. When you make a deal like this, it’s painful, but it’ll be worth a front three of Doc, CC and A.J. – not to mention the reunion of Halladay and Burnett.
Can Joba Chamberlain turn it around?
Go ahead, members of the Loyal Order of the Joba to the Bullpen Army, gloat. Chamberlain is struggling mightily as a starting pitcher. Alas, barring a complete collapse he’s staying in the rotation because that’s where he’s needed and Phil Hughes isn’t moving anywhere. Since June 1, Chamberlain has reached the seventh inning just once in seven starts and his body language has been terrible. But the Yankees are staying the course. The learning curve is a lot slower for some compared to others, but how much longer can they afford Chamberlain throwing 100-plus pitches in under five innings?
Is this Andy Pettitte’s last ride?
Andy Pettitte has won just one of his last four starts while seeing his ERA balloon from 4.26 to 4.85. His numbers in June: 2-2, 5.06; this month: 1-2, 7.27; in two starts against the Angels: 0-1, 9.90.
His next start will be against the Orioles next week. If he doesn’t pick it up in the second half, you’ll have to wonder if at age 37 his career would be coming to an end. Pettitte is signed for only one year, this after contemplating retirement and the Yankees firm in their stance of offering only a one-year deal to return.
Will Chien-Ming Wang salvage a rough 2009 season?
Sabathia is 1-2 with a 5.59 ERA in three July starts, but remember what he did last year in Milwaukee in the second half (11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and the Brewers were 14-3 in his starts). He is capable of carrying a staff and the way Burnett has performed (two runs or less in five straight starts; 6-2, 2.00 in his last eight), he’ll have help.
Beyond that, there’s Chamberlain, Pettitte and who knows? Sergio Mitre will likely provide a band-aid until (or if) Chien-Ming Wang returns. The Yankees need Wang, and not just in body, but in spirit. At 1-6, Wang has shown little to nothing of the form that won him 46 games over the past three seasons.