Five questions for the Yankees in the second half

Starting pitcher Phil Hughes of the Yankees is Starting pitcher Phil Hughes of the Yankees is seen in the dugout after giving up a two-run home run in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins and being taken out of the game on Military Appreciation Day in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. (July 13, 2013) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

advertisement | advertise on newsday

1. How do the Yankees handle a brutal schedule to open the second half?

If the Yankees start the second half the way they ended the first -- going 3-4 against the Royals and Twins at the Stadium -- they could bury themselves. After opening with three games in Boston, the Yankees head to Arlington, Texas, to face the Rangers for four games, then return home to face the surging Rays for three. After that, it's back on the road for 10 days where the Yankees face the Dodgers, Padres and White Sox. These games likely will set the tone for the club's 2013 finish.

2. Are they buying or selling?

advertisement | advertise on newsday

It's hard to imagine the Yankees ever being strictly a seller at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but a poor showing the rest of the month could put them in that position. The more likely scenario involves the club doing some buying and selling. They are looking for a bat -- keep an eye on OF/1B/DH Michael Morse of the Mariners -- but don't discount the possibility of the Yankees making a run at a pitcher. General manager Brian Cashman has long been after Matt Garza, whom the Cubs are expected to move. There are clubs interested in Phil Hughes, a free agent after the season, though he wouldn't bring much in return. Joba Chamberlain also is a free agent at season's end. His struggles lost him his seventh-inning job to Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne.

3. What to expect from the injured stars?

Derek Jeter lasted less than one full game -- and that was at designated hitter -- before getting reinjured (he's questionable for this weekend's Red Sox series). Curtis Granderson played in eight games before another HBP again landed him on the disabled list, and Cashman has given early August as a possible return date. Alex Rodriguez expects to be back Monday when the Yankees start a four-game series against the Rangers, but reviews from scouts observing his rehab assignments have been less than flattering. And then there's that Biogenesis thing . . . The Yankees likely will need significant contributions from at least one of the three, if not all, in order for them to make a serious run at a postseason berth.

4. How will the rotation hold up?

The Yankees' pitching is the primary reason they kept their head above water in the first half, despite the club being ravaged by injuries. But cracks began to show in the rotation toward the end of the first half, primarily CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. Sabathia (9-8, 4.07) referred to his first half as "terrible," and Pettitte struggled as well, particularly in his last six starts, leading to a 7-6, 4.39 ledger. Hiroki Kuroda (8-6, 2.65) has been the staff's anchor, but the righthander is 39 and can't do it by himself. Then there's the inconsistent Hughes and questions surrounding the injured David Phelps: Will he stay in the rotation or lose his spot to Ivan Nova? The uncertainty is one reason the acquisition of a pitcher can't be ruled out.

5. Speaking of CC, what's going on there?

Sabathia is the first to admit he hasn't lived up to his status as staff ace. "I need to pitch better," the lefthander said before the break, and few would disagree. He is not the same pitcher he was for much of his career, a power arm who could blow away batters with a mid-90s fastball. Sabathia's adjustment to being a different kind of pitcher is a work in progress. If he fails to figure it out, the Yankees' second-half goals are also likely to result in failure.

You also may be interested in: