With Derek Jeter’s chase of 3,000 hits out of the way, the Yankees can get back to focusing on the second half of the 2011 season with only the usual New York distractions.
A questionable starting staff following ace C.C. Sabathia, the absence of Alex Rodriguez for at least a month due to a knee injury and Jeter’s advancing age and declining skills figure to be at the forefront of Yankee fans’ concerns entering Thursday’s second-half opener in Toronto.
Here’s a quick look at how the Yanks graded out for the first half:
Center fielder Curtis Granderson (25 HRs, 63 RBIs) has been by the far the most consistent of this group, though Brett Gardner (23 steals, .348 OBP) has come on strong after a brutal start in left. Right fielder Nick Swisher hit a sizzling .326 with 23 RBIs in June.
Corner Infield: B-
Sure, first baseman Mark Teixeira is slugging at his usual pace (25 HRs, 65 RBIs), but his paltry .244 average, coupled with A-Rod’s power outage (homerless in 89 at-bats) and subsequent injury, will leave the Yanks looking to Eduardo Nunez and oft-injured Eric Chavez for help at the hot corner.
Middle Infield: C+
Robinson Cano stole the show during Monday night’s Home Run Derby in Arizona. He also appears to have rediscovered the stroke that made him one of baseball’s most feared hitters over the past several seasons, batting .353 with six RBIs in nine July games. As for Jeter, the epic 5-for-5 performance that included his 3,000th hit figures to be the high point of what is shaping up as another sub-.300 campaign.
Russell Martin (10 HRs, 36 RBIs) has provided a solid presence behind the plate, something the Yankees needed while Jorge Posada was complaining about being pushed into the DH role. Francisco Cervelli remains an under-whelming backup.
CC and the “Sunshine Boys” (Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia) have helped the Yankees stay within a game of first-place Boston and five in front of their nearest wild-card competitors. A.J. Burnett has avoided embarrassing himself as thoroughly as last year, while Phil Hughes continues to be an enigma after winning 18 in 2010.
Despite four blown saves in 26 chances, Mariano Rivera is way ahead of the pace that saw him close out 33 games a season ago. His 1.85 ERA is still better than his career mark (2.22), despite a sore triceps muscle. David Robertson has been the key to this unit, setting up Rivera with a 1.27 ERA and 56 strikeouts in the absence of Rafael Soriano.
Joe Girardi has dealt well thus far with key injuries, questions regarding his biggest stars and, of course, the red-hot Red Sox, who have taken eight of the first nine meetings from the Yanks.