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Yankees looking forward to challenge of catching Boston in second half

Aaron Judge of the Yankees celebrates after hitting

Aaron Judge of the Yankees celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the second inning during the 89th MLB All-Star Game at Nationals Park on Monday in Washington. Credit: Getty Images / Rob Carr

By any objective measure the Yankees had a successful first half.

They pulled into the All-Star break 29 games over .500, good for the third-best record in the majors.

“We had a great first half,” Aaron Judge said.

And yet . . .

“We’re not where we want to be,” Judge said. “Especially chasing Boston right now, but we’ll recover. Rest up a little bit over the break and get going in the second half.”

Indeed, there are the Red Sox.

Boston burst from the gate 17-2 and, for the most part, have kept winning.

Despite their overall impressive first half that saw the Yankees go 62-33, they’re 4 1⁄2 games behind the Red Sox, who are 68-30.

Asked about his club’s archrival just before the break, Aaron Boone gave a weary smile.

“I see that they win every day,” he said. “I’m aware they win every game.”

Not quite but close.

For instance, after the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 11-1, July 1 to tie them atop the AL East, Boston went on a 12-1 run to end the first half. After that victory, which allowed the Bombers to win two of three that series and five of nine so far against the Red Sox, they finished the first half 8-6. That was enough of a “slump” to put the Yankees in their largest deficit since April 23 when they trailed by five games.

“They’ve been playing great baseball,” Brett Gardner said of the Red Sox. “But we can’t really worry about that except when we play them. We’ve got a lot of games coming up against them in the second half, both at home and at Fenway, and I’m sure they’ll all be exciting and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Boone said looking up at the scoreboard nightly and, for the most part, seeing the Red Sox winning again hasn’t frustrated him.

“Honestly, I don’t worry about it that much,” he said. “At this point I just kind of smile at it. I mean, the bottom line is we don’t control anything [they do], and it’s July. There’s a long way and a lot of baseball to play. We’re so uber-focused on us. In the end if we take care of business and play to our capabilities, we’ll put ourselves in a great position. I see that they win every day, but I don’t really worry about it. I’m worried about us going out and playing our best. If we do that hopefully we’ll get to where we want to go.”

Which, of course, is just about anywhere other than the one-game wild-card game every team in playoff contention wants to avoid. For the Yankees, and Red Sox for that matter, the very real prospect of winning 100-plus games and being faced with the crapshoot that is a one-and-done game to advance is scary to say the least.

That’s one reason why the first part of the second half, which begins Friday for the Yankees at the Stadium against the dreadful Mets, will be dominated by trade deadline talk.

The Yankees, while featuring one of baseball’s top offenses and perhaps its best bullpen, have been in the market for starting pitching depth, a pursuit of GM Brian Cashman’s since the winter.

It’s been for good reason.

Besides Luis Severino, an AL Cy Young award candidate once again, the rotation has mostly treaded water. The unit ranks sixth in the AL in starter ERA (4.00) and ninth in innings pitched with 520 (the Astros are first at 613). A stalwart bullpen has mostly picked up the slack but over the 162-game grind continuing to rely with such frequency on the relief corps could be problematic.

“I think it’s important that we improve on that number,” Boone said of the innings logged by his starters. “Now we’re, I think, a little more equipped to handle that than a lot of other teams because we are so dynamic and pretty deep down in our pen. So I think we can pick up more innings from our pen than just about anyone, but that said, you still have to be able to preserve those guys and protect those guys over the course of the long season and you do that with starting pitching and being able to go deep into the game.”


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