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July 10, 2005

2½ back
by SG

Today's Yankee victory over Cleveland coupled with Boston's loss to Baltimore has pulled the Yankees with 2½ games of first place in the AL East. Heading into the All Star Break, it's been a harrowing first half for the Yankees and their fans.

The Yankees started the season 11-19. They then proceeded on a 10 game winning streak en route to going 16-2. They followed that up by going 3-11. They followed that up by going 7-1, then went 2-6, before finishing up the pre-All Star break by winning 7 of their last 8 games.

None of that is particularly meaningful at this point. What is meaningful is that they now sit within striking distance of a playoff spot, despite horrendous play for much of the season.

The stretch of games immediately after the All Star Break will likely make or break the season.

The next 29 games of the Yankee schedule are all with teams over .500.

4 @ Boston
3 @ Texas
4 @ Los Angeles of Anaheim
3 vs. Minnesota at home
3 vs. Los Angeles of Anaheim at home
3 @ Cleveland
3 @ Toronto
3 vs. Chicago White Sox at home
3 vs. Texas at home

Obviously, a lot of the focus will be on the 4 game set with Boston to open the second half. However, regardless of how the Yankees do there, it will be up to them to maintain a decent pace in this stretch. From there, the schedule will get much more favorable.

Can they do it? It's tough to say. The majority of the flaws that have hurt this team early in the season are still there for the most part. The starting pitching has been inconsistent and injury-depleted. The bullpen is weak outside of the big three, although getting Felix Rodriguez back may end up being a big help. However, the offense is clicking now, fueled by Hideki Matsui's continued solid play and the resurrection of Jason Giambi as a power threat. Giambi's resurgent power stroke has been a big factor in the latest Yankee run. If he can continue it, this is likely the best offense in baseball, especially with Tony Womack riding the bench. They currently lead baseball in runs scored, with 478.

The Melky Cabrera experiment has had decidely mixed reviews so far, but Robinson Cano also struggled initially so I'd be willing to give it a little more time, especially when the team is winning. Lost in some of his defensive struggles was a ball hit by Coco Crisp in the third inning yesterday. Cabrera's arm was able to hold Crisp at second, whereas he likely would have gone on to third on Bernie or Womack. Travis Hafner's groundout would then have scored Crisp, instead of moving him to third. It turned out to be meaningless in the end, but at the time it was a noteworthy play.

The big thing I am seeing on offense now is that the team is making pitchers work again. This was evidenced in particular in the fifth inning. After Jake Westbrook retired Derek Jeter and Cano on two pitches to start the frame, Gary Sheffield worked a 6 pitch walk. Alex Rodriguez followed with an 8 pitch walk. What shaped up as an easy inning for Westbrook became a nightmare following these 2 walks, as he ended up giving up 3 runs. They need to continue doing this.

One random note. The team is now 14-6 in games started by John Flaherty. This is really bizarre, considering Flaherty's .164/.197/.194 line, so I checked the Yankees runs allowed in games started by Posada vs. Flaherty.

In Posada's games, the team allows 5.06 runs per game. In Flaherty's, it's 4.85. In other words, it's not really significant. I guess Flaherty may benefit from catching most of Randy Johnson's starts, who despite underperforming expectations has helped the team win 13 of his 19 starts.