As pitchers and catchers were shaking off early spring training rust and position players were closing in on their report day, an opposing team executive contemplated the mostly negative predictions accompanying the 2015 Yankees.

"It's not that they're bad," he said. "And I think if everything goes right, they can win 90 games and get in [the playoffs]."

The veteran executive paused and smiled.

"But," he added, "when does everything go right for anybody over 162?"

Eighty-eight games into the season, however, things mostly have for the Yankees, who enter the second half, which starts Friday night against the Mariners at the Stadium, with a 3 1/2-game lead in the tightly bunched AL East.

The lead has been achieved mostly because of unanticipated bounce-back offensive seasons from two players who were huge question marks -- Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira -- a breakthrough half-season by Brett Gardner, a slam-the-door bullpen and, with a few exceptions, better-than-expected health.

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"I think you've seen, when healthy, we have the talent to win," said Teixeira, named an All-Star for the third time. "Great seeing Ells [Jacoby Ellsbury] come back, great seeing Andrew Miller come back. We're getting Carlos [Beltran] back here soon. We have all the pieces we need to make a playoff run."

Something Gardner, a first-time All-Star, said is considered "very important" in the clubhouse after a two-year hiatus from October baseball, a drought made even worse because it meant two icons -- Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter -- ended their Yankees career without a postseason run.

"I know the last couple of years, they both have been a big disappointment because of Mariano and Derek going out the way that they did," Gardner said. "You'd give anything to get those guys in to the playoffs and make a push to the World Series one last time, and it just didn't work out. I know our fans and our front office and everybody's been disappointed in the way we've finished [the last two seasons]. Nobody's been as disappointed as us, the players."

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The inconsistent Yankees, at 48-40, have been the best of a weak division, with only 6 1/2 games separating them from the last-place Red Sox (42-47). The Rays (46-45) would seem to be the most likely team to collapse in the second half because they are unlikely to make any big moves before the trade deadline, but they arguably have the best rotation.

"Anybody can beat anybody on any given night," Rays All-Star righthander Chris Archer said.

The Orioles (44-44) and Blue Jays (45-46) have rarely put consistent stretches together, but many opposing team scouts think Baltimore, should it land a top rotation arm such as the Phillies' Cole Hamels or Reds' Johnny Cueto, is more than capable of breaking away in the second half.

And if the Blue Jays can get an experienced closer, such as Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies, their chances increase significantly.

"The trade deadline's coming in two weeks and that generally helps a team in some fashion," Orioles All-Star centerfielder Adam Jones said. "Let's see who makes a move and what impact that could have."

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Jones added: "We haven't played as good of baseball as we'd hope to and we're still right in the middle of it. So now let's come out in the second half ready to go, ready to do something."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has mostly stayed away from big-game hunting before the trade deadline in recent years, with last year a prime example of his minor-surgery approach to the roster, landing Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Brandon McCarthy and Martin Prado, each of whom helped the club.

"We finished the first half strong, which is key, hopefully we get things rolling right away [in the second half]," said Dellin Betances, an All-Star for a second straight season. "I think it's going to be fun . . . We've had our bumps and bruises but we continue to fight. It shows the team we have."