Second half begins for Yankees: Is it the playoffs or all about Jeter?

By Rich Mancuso

There are 68 games remaining for the New York Yankees beginning Friday night in the Bronx with a three-game inter league series against the Cincinnati Reds. After a mediocre first half and a decimated pitching staff, do the Yankees have the horses to avoid not making the post season a second consecutive year?

Or will the second half be all about Derek Jeter and his last days as a New York Yankee?

"With everything that we had go wrong, we're still in it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi says. "That's the big thing. We've got to take advantage of that when we get back to work on Friday." That has been the predominant quote from Girardi who worked around the unexpected injuries to four-fifths of his starting pitching staff.

The manager went to David Phelps, 3-4 with a 3.94 ERA and is 2-0 with a 3.13 ERA in his last six outings, and will get the start at Yankee Stadium Friday night to start the unofficial second half. Phelps has been reliable, giving up two runs over six-plus innings in his last start, July 10 in a 9-3 loss to Cleveland.

The Yankees, so much an offensive threat have not been, as they try and overcome a five-game deficit to the first place Baltimore Orioles.  And with a mediocre AL east division, pitching will be detrimental down the stretch for the Yankees to have any chance of playing post season baseball in the Bronx come October.

GM Brian Cashman has made it known, with the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline approaching, that the Yankees will need an upgrade with their pitching staff. However, with minimal depth to make a trade, and with teams looking to keep what they have in place, getting another quality pitcher will be a difficult task for the Yankees GM.

CC Sabathia was scheduled for a further diagnosis on his bad left knee. If surgery is required it could be career ending. The Yankees hope their ace can get further treatment and, if there is anything positive, expect Sabathia to recover and return in 2015.  Michael Pienda, who was outstanding before pine tar, a bad right shoulder and upper back, could be back on the mound sometime next month.

But, Pineda is pending.  Ivan Nova is not (Tommy John Surgery) and Masahiro Tanaka, who inherited the ace role, is pending, with speculation he will be the newest list to the Tommy John surgery parade of all-star pitchers.

So, the Yankees will go with Phelps, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, Chase Whitley and a 22-year old rookie Shane Greene, who has made an impression in his first two starts.

However, those are not the horses you want to go to war with, and there has not been any word about the Yankees bringing in another rookie with potential to help them during the stretch.  The consensus is, Cashman will not sit still, and over the years the Yankees have always seemed to find a missing piece to the puzzle as a way to assure they will be playing baseball in October.

The bullpen, overall, has been exceptional. David Robertson has been exceptional, though not an everyday Mariano Rivera. And, the rookie, Dellin Betances has shown he can be a valuable closer and for now valuable as a set up tool, and tops when it comes to innings and strikeout ratio out of the pen.

The Yankees have the best strikeout pen in baseball, 10.57 per nine innings.

Except, this time the missing pieces are not only the pitching staff. The Yankees, always an offensive threat one-to-nine in the lineup, are no more. They have resorted to playing small ball and the home run ball has them sitting ninth in the league.  Their big free agent acquisitions, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, who were supposed to offer that production, have been far from that.

Beltran will start the second half on the sidelines, though expected back in the series with the Reds or when the Rangers come to the Bronx for four-games Monday.  Between a bad elbow and accidental injuries, it has not been a good first half tenure for the aging Beltran. McCann, with 10-home runs and 39 RBI, with an OBP of .294, either has not adjusted to American League ballparks or the stage of playing in New York.

Or, perhaps, McCann is having one of those off years, because the numbers are not Brian McCann, not what the Yankees expected when they signed him to a five-year multi contract. Indeed, if the Yankees want to be a part of October baseball, they need the punch from McCann and more situational hitting.

That lack of situational hitting, and lack of runs, is something the Yankees also need to do more of in these final two months of the season and they need to play better at home. If not, and with the pitching staff the way it is, they stand a better chance of once again sitting on the sidelines in early October.

Assume they stay healthy, Beltran and McCann of course are, a key to this. And if Mark Teixeira continues to show his home run power is back, the offense could resemble those Yankees teams of the past of ten or so years. Brett Gardner is having an MVP type of season, the bottom of the lineup and bench leaves a lot to be desired.

Then there is Jeter, who at times does not resemble a 40- year old shortstop in his final season of an illustrious career.  The accolades will continue with the Jeter farewell tour, his final game in the Bronx will be September 25th against the Orioles. 

The Yankees hope they will be playing for something that night, and so will Jeter who only has one thought in mind, and that is extending the season after the final game up in Boston a few days later in the season finale.

Yes, much as to be done for the Yankees to make this a perfect finale of a season for their captain. And in a mediocre division with two wild card spots up for grabs, anything is possible. But all signs show, the Yankees will once again go home early as the second half begins.

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