The AL East has completely flipped from what many predicted prior to the season. The Rays are stuck in the sand following key injuries. The Red Sox can’t hit. The Orioles are riding Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones and currently occupy second place, while the Blue Jays have punished everybody with their bats and lead the way. This weekend’s opponent, the New York Yankees, are right in the middle of the pack — and improved health and contributions from some key veterans could launch them right to the top.
The Bombers would have the division in their pocket if their vets were healthy and hitting (Brian McCann: .223, Carlos Beltran: .218 , Alfonso Soriano: .231) and their rotation wasn’t absolutely decimated (C.C. Sabathia out, Michael Pineda on the shelf long-term and Ivan Nova already out for the season). That said, they’re still only 2.5 games back of the Jays.
The Red Sox actually have a chance in this series given the pitching matchups: the Yanks send unproven Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitley to the mound in two of the three starts, while the Sox pitch Jon Lester and John Lackey in two of three games. But the Red Sox haven’t been hitting against anybody; it’s entirely possible the Boston bats hold silent throughout the series, particularly opposite Masahiro Tanaka in the Saturday night game. In his previous start against Boston, the phenom recorded a win with 7 and 1/3 quality innings, yielding two earned runs and striking out seven.
A Yankee sweep would mean the Sox are ten under and sounds the alarm for Ben Cherington to sell off his assets. A series win for the Sox, or a sweep the other way, gets Boston on track for the old “they’re gonna win eight in a row and get right back in the race” (hat tip: Danny from Quincy) I’ve been waiting for all season. If it’s going to happen, now is the time.
BSI: So here we are, near the halfway point of the season, and the Yankees are 12th in the AL in runs scored (yet still ahead of the Red Sox). This, after spending a lot of money Beltran, Ellsbury and McCann in the offseason. What happened?
YGY: I think Ellsbury has been exactly what the Yankees expected. Girardi hitting him in the #3 hole isn’t helping the lineup production. Injuries and inconsistency have forced his hand, and Ellsbury is one of the few productive bats. Unfortunately for Carlos Beltran, he started out slow, and the bone spur in the elbow isn’t helping his situation now. If he continues to struggle at the plate, the best thing he could do is call it a day, have the surgery, and be ready for spring training next year. As for Brian McCann, it’s a long season, and yes he’s struggled, but I think at some point he will heat up and have a nice run, where his numbers come back to his career norms, perhaps not with the batting average, but the run production numbers.
YGY: With Dellin Betances, it’s simplifying everything. I’ve always believed his issues as a starter were between the ears, so when you take away the things that come with being a starter – the extra pitches, having to go through a lineup multiple times – and just say “Go out there and blow ’em away,” Betances as a young guy can relate to that, and he is using his natural ability and not over-thinking.
BSI: What’s the number one move this team needs to make right now?
YGY: As anemic as the offense has been, the team needs a top of the rotation starting pitcher. At some point, this lineup and many of its parts (Soriano, McCann, etc.) have to wake up and start raking. Without a top flight arm, this team is dead in the water, and come October, they’ll be a handful of games over .500 and watching the postseason from Fort Livingroom. The Yankees cannot continue to roll guys like Vidal Nuno out to the bump every five days and expect different or better results.
BSI: How’s the Derek Jeter Retirement Tour going? What’s your favorite parting gift among those he’s gotten from other teams?
YGY: While it’s been nice to see the different teams do special things for Jeter, it’s getting a little tiresome for both media and fans, especially on the heels of Rivera’s retirement tour from last season. I believe it’s a bit of a distraction for a team that can ill-afford to deal with those things. As for my favorite parting gift, I like the gifts the Chicago White Sox gave Jeter: the box of dirt from Old Comiskey, and the bench made from baseball bats. I’m sure before it’s all said and done though, he’ll have some other items that are pretty interesting as well.
The set kicks off with Brandon Workman (1-0, 2.88) returning from suspension against rookie lefthander Vidal Nuno (1-4, 5.88) at 7:05 PM. The Saturday and Sunday matchups are both nightcaps, with Jon Lester (8-7, 3.14) squaring off against Masahiro Tanaka (11-2, 2.11) on Saturday night at 7:15, and John Lackey (8-5, 3.45) facing rookie righty Chase Whitley (3-1, 4.07) on Sunday Night Baseball at 8:05 PM.