If your favorite team was 55-31, 7 games ahead in their division and had the best record in baseball, would you be worried? Or would you be enjoying a great season? That is the huge difference between the Yankee fan and the rest of the baseball world. Yankees fans are worried, even though right now they are the best team in baseball.
If you break the Yankees into three parts, you will find two very strong components and one component that is sub-par. Those components: starting pitching, hitting and the bullpen. Let's give a grade to each of these components, shall we?
Starting Pitching. Let's just start with the Yankees Achilles heel. The staff is comprised of Mike Mussina (9-6, 5.20), Kevin Brown (7-1, 4.13), Jon Lieber (7-5, 4.77), Jose Contreras (6-3, 5.64) and Javier Vasquez (10-5, 3.56), with Orlando Hernandez waiting in the shadows. At the beginning of the year Yankee fans all had the same concern, he are relying on a 40 year old pitcher with a history of injuries (Kevin Brown), a guy who hasn't pitched in two years and is coming off of Tommy John Surgery (Jon Lieber), and a Cuban defector who has not lived up to his billing (Jose Contreras). We lost Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte to the Houston Astros, but were able to retain Mike Mussina and acquire Javier Vasquez from the Montreal/San Juan/D.C. Expos. With the exception of Javier Vasquez, the rotation has been a nightmare. When Lieber is off he gets blasted all over the place, Contreras can pitch one solid inning and then implodes, Kevin Brown has spent a month on the D.L. (get used to it) and Mike Mussina has been dreadful. In a short playoff series, you only need three starting pitchers, only Javier Vasquez has proven that he will be ready for October.
The Bullpen: Where would they be without Paul Quantrill ( 47 games, 5-2, 3.05), Tom Gordon (44 games, 2-3, 1.78 and 2 saves) and Mariano Rivera (32 saves, 0.99)? In the cellar, that's where. The Yankees have 30-plus comeback victories, which would have been impossible without these three guys holding down the fort and keeping the game close. To say the least, they have been impressive.
Hitting: The Yankees have been putting runs up on the board at an amazing rate this year. Currently they rank 2nd in runs scored (483, behind the Rangers at 487), 2nd in home runs (132, behind the Rangers 134), 2nd in on-base percentage with .357 and third in the OPS rankings with .815. Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield have been the catalysts in this offense. Matsui is having and incredible year, finally living up to his reputation as a power hitter. Matsui is batting, .294, with 17 HR's and 58 RBI. Sheffield started slowly put has rebounded nicely to put up good numbers, batting. 302, 16 HR's and 59 RBI. Alex Rodriguez has struggled with runners in scoring position, but has managed to put up solid numbers, batting .270, 22 Hr's and 58 RBI.
The Yankees should be in cruise control until October, they are a team that is built to succeed in the regular season. The biggest news of the second half will be whether or not the Yankees get Randy Johnson or if they can add an arm like Kris Benson or Jamie Moyer. Play Ball!