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Five questions facing the Yankees in the second half of the season

Former ace Luis Severino hasn't thrown a pitch

Former ace Luis Severino hasn't thrown a pitch this season for the Yankees, and it's possible that he won't.  Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Yankees' second half begins Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. Here are five questions that will define the Yankees’ next 2 1/2 months.

Who’s the big pitching acquisition?

There’s all but certain to be at least one. Everyone, starting with managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman, has stated the Yankees’ primary goal before the July 31 trade deadline. 

“I’d love to add pitching if I can. Whether it’s the bullpen, rotation, just reinforce our pitching,” Cashman said recently. “And get our pitching that’s hurt healthy and have the pitching we currently have stay healthy.”

The Yankees have been without Luis Severino all season, and his return is iffy. Domingo German notched his staff-leading 10th win just before the break, but he remains an unproven commodity. Masahiro Tanaka mostly has pitched well this season, but his down games are really down (see: London vs. Boston). James Paxton and J.A. Happ have been inconsistent. Madison Bumgarner of the Giants and the Jays' Marcus Stroman could be potential targets. The Yankees also may pursue Trevor Bauer and Robbie Ray if the Indians and Diamondbacks are selling before the deadline.

Will the conga line to the IL ever stop?

The injury bug hit during the spring and never really let up. Going into the All-Star break, the Yankees had placed 21 players on the injured list in 24 stints. They’ve more than survived the injuries, amassing the AL’s best record. But Cashman, while publicly supportive of the club’s medical staff, let some frustration out while in London after Severino’s most recent setback, making one wonder if there might be some offseason changes in that area. 

Will Severino or Dellin Betances throw a regular-season pitch this season?

Both pitchers have experienced setbacks in their rehabs from injuries during the spring that initially were not considered close to season-threatening. But neither is close to returning, among the reasons the Yankees are determined to acquire not only a starter at the trade deadline but a reliever as well.

Which team will challenge them for the AL East crown?

Cliché alert: Anything can happen in baseball. There was no metric, for example, that could have predicted the Red Sox's historic collapse from best team in the AL entering September 2011 – 31 games over .500 – to missing the playoffs. That out of the way, the short answer would seem to be no. Tough to go with the “Well, if player X or Y gets hurt, the Yankees would never overcome that,” because they’ve already overcome so many injuries. Tampa Bay’s pitching will allow it to hang tough, and Boston probably has a run left in it, but it’s difficult to envision the Red Sox — with the depth of their pitching issues— mounting anything sustained.

So what’s the No. 1 second-half priority for the Yankees, other than acquiring a starter?

Win the division title first, of course, then making sure they secure home-field advantage. Houston is slumping, which has allowed the Yankees to pull into the break with the AL’s best record. But, as Aaron Boone has said, his club needs to “keep on keeping on” in the second half. Home field doesn’t guarantee anything, but the Yankees have recent experience in seeing its importance. The Astros crumbled in the noisy cauldron that was Yankee Stadium in the 2017 ALCS, but the Yankees lost all four games in Houston, including Game 7.

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