Friday, July 18, 2014

The Yankees have 68 regular season games left to do what they haven't been able to do thus far -- play consistent, winning baseball.

Through the first 94 games of 2014, New York has been consistently inconsistent as it has won as many games as it has lost en route to a 47-47 record. The .500 mark in the first half of the season hasn't buried the Yankees, but also hasn't given them much room to falter.

When baseball resumes Friday night, the Yankees will begin a three-game series in New York against the Cincinnati Reds. New York stands five games out of first place in the American League East, behind first place Baltimore and the struggling Blue Jays.

The Yankees started the season by winning 15 of their first 25 games before Carlos Beltran tried to run through a wall at The Trop and 80 percent of the starting rotation went down with injuries. Since then, the Yankees have been an unmitigated disaster while winning just 32 of the next 69 games.

The bullpen has been the only bright spot of the season as they have racked up 10.57 strikeouts per nine innings, which would be the best mark in baseball history and would top the Braves' mark of 10.06 in 2010.

As impressive as the Yankees' relievers have been, with all the injuries to the starting rotation, Joe Girardi will have to manage the arms in the bullpen to avoid running down Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and David Robertson.

With Hiroki Kuroda and a band of castoffs in the starting rotation, the Yankees will need a lot of luck and some big-time pitching performances if they have chance to play in the postseason. While the thought of depending on David Phelps, Chase Witley, Brandon McCarthy and Shane Greene late in the season might sounds nauseating, pitching upgrades could be available before the Trade Deadline.

Long time Yankee trade target Cliff Lee could help get the Yankees to the postseason. Lee has a 4-4 record with a 3.18 ERA in 2014, but has battled injuries in Philadelphia. Lee has struck out 61 and walked just nine in 68 innings with a 1.28 WHIP.

With Lee's salary topping $25 million this season and next with a $27.5 vesting option for 2016,   Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman might be able to acquire Lee for far less than market value. Lee hasn't pitched since May 18 and is expected to return to the mound Monday.

Despite the six-week rehabilitation prognosis from four different doctors, Girardi would be fooling himself if he thought he would get anything useful out of Japanese transplant Masahiro Tanaka this season. Instead, Girardi needs to lean on the nine hitters in the lineup each day.

With the exception of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, the Yankee offense has underachieved. It starts with regaining the Bronx Bomber moniker. In the first half of the season, the Yankees have compiled an 18-23 record at home and 29-24 on the road. The Yankees rank 13th out of 15 teams in the American League in runs (375), ninth in home runs (81), tied for 10th in slugging percentage (.381) and 12th in OPS (.694).

The struggles at home stand in stark contrast to the dominant home play from 2009 when the Steinbrenner's new palace opened through the end of last year when the Yankees played to a .637 win percentage. It might seem simple, but getting easy runs off the long ball could cure a lot of what has made Girardi scratch his head in 2014.

If nothing else, this year's Yankee team should fight to at least get Derek Jeter to a play-in wild card game in his last season of professional baseball. It would be a shame if Jeter ended what is sure to be a Hall of Fame career the same way his Core Four teammates Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera did a year ago.


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