By Joe Commesso
The 2014 season left a lot to be desired for the New York Yankee’s organization and fan base. It marked the first time in two decades that the Yankees missed consecutive postseasons, including 2013. The Bombers were a favorite to win their division last year with the addition of top free agents like Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka. The Yanks were bit hard by the injury bug last year, constantly altering their pitching rotation and daily lineup. Another reason the team didn’t have a successful year was due to under production from key players. McCann, Beltran and Mark Teixeira were expected to be the primary run contributors, but they all had one of the worst seasons of their careers. Coming into this season, there were still many unanswered questions. Can A-Rod still produce? How will Tanaka’s elbow hold up? Will the rest of the Yankees be able to stay off the DL this year? After playing the first half of the 2015 season, almost all of those questions have found their answer.
Sitting in first place of the AL East with a 48-40 record, it has been so far so good for the New York Yankees. They currently find themselves three and a half games in front of the second place Tampa Bay Rays as the All-Star break commences. The Yank’s early success can be heavily attributed to their offense, scoring 409 runs and belting 116 homers which both rank second among all teams in the majors. Mark Teixiera’s new gluten-free diet has done him well thus far, for he leads the American League in RBIs with 62. Big Tex has also already matched his last year’s home run tally, leaving the yard 22 times in the first half. It is clear that Brian McCann has put last season in his rear-view mirror, as the Yankees catcher is batting .269 with 14 home runs and 55 runs batted in. McCann has changed his approach this year by driving more balls to left field and avoiding the shift, which proved to be his kryptonite in the past.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have provided the Yanks with a dangerous 1-2 punch at the top of the batting order. Although he missed substantial time this year with a knee injury, Ellsbury is back in the leadoff spot doing his table-setting job very well. Brett Gardner picked up the slack with Ellsbury on the DL, hitting .302 with 10 home runs, 42 RBIs and 15 stolen bases; thus earning him a spot on the 2015 All-Star roster. Perhaps the most under-rated offensive player for the Yankees has been Chris Young. He was re-signed this year to be the club’s fourth outfielder, but has logged a respectable amount of playing time with injuries to Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. The Yankees have a predominant left-handed lineup, which can be a nightmare for right-handed pitchers. Chris Young however, gives right-handed pitchers little trouble, batting only .180 against them this year. That is not where he earns his value. Chris Young has mashed left-handed pitching this year, which is usually a weakness of the Yankees. Young is batting a solid .354 against lefties, marketing himself as a primary run producer and a power threat in games where the Yanks are facing a left-handed pitching. Carlos Beltran’s offensive has been sporadic, though better right before he went on the disabled list. A major flaw in the offense has been the middle infielders. Didi Gregorius struggled heavily early on this year, but consistent playing time has proved beneficial to the young shortstop who has been hitting better as of late. The biggest offensive issue is second baseman Stephen Drew, whose .182 average is the second worst in baseball. Rob Refsnyder, the Bomber’s second base prospect, made his MLB debut on Saturday and collected his first hit and homer on Sunday. Although, it is not clear that Refsnyder will become the every day starter, or if the front office will explore the trade market and attempt to find a new second baseman externally. Either way, the Yankee’s bats have to stay hot in the second half of the season if they want to play in October.
Perhaps the biggest concern for the New York Yankees this year was the pitching staff. Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow that ailed him last year hasn’t caused him any problems, however a mild forearm strain put him on the DL and caused him to miss some time. Despite a few location issues that have prompted Tanaka a few short outings this year, The 26-year-old has certainly displayed surges of the dominance the Yankees need. Currently sporting a 3.63 ERA, Tanaka must be able to provide consistent solid outings in the second half. Injury-prone Michael Pineda has been able to maintain his health during the first half of the season. He has also slid into the “ace” role of the club while Tanaka was gone. Pineda, who has gone 9-5 with a 3.64 ERA and 111 strikeouts has been dominant for the Yankees. Nathan Eovaldi, the fire-ball righty acquired from the Marlins has done his job in pinstripes. Although his earned run average is at a shaky 4.50, Eovaldi holds a 9-2 record.
The biggest issue of the starting rotation has been the poor performance of veteran left-hander CC Sabathia. CC’s 5.47 ERA ranks the fifth worst in the MLB. It seems as if everything Sabathia is putting over the plate is getting crushed, leaving the front office scratching their head unable to find a solution so far. Ivan Nova, who has pitched in just four games since coming back from Tommy John surgery, has had trouble generating swings and misses. He has gotten hit pretty hard in his outings to date, but has also shown reasons to believe he can be an asset to the pitching staff. The starting pitching has received stellar relief all year from one of the best bullpens in baseball. With the increased chances of injuries and pitchers not going deep into games, it was a priority of the Yankees to construct a solid bullpen. Adam Warren, the fifth starter for the majority of the year, has gotten moved back to the pen to make room for Ivan Nova. Though he experienced success as a starter, Warren knows his value is best used as a long reliever. Lefties Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson have both proven themselves to be commendable seventh inning options in close games. The most outstanding part of the bullpen has been the two-headed monster known as Betances and Miller. Dellin Betances, the 27-year-old flamethrower, was just selected to his second straight All-Star team. Betances has 77 strikeouts in 47 innings and has emerged as one of the best set-up pitchers in the game. Andrew Miller, who also spent a little time on the disabled list, has been exceptional for the Yankees. Miller’s 1.53 ERA demonstrates his comfortability in his new role of the New York Yankees closing pitcher.
The Bomber’s fielding percentage of the first half (.980) leaves much room for improvement as they are currently ranked 27th in the majors. Chase Headley, the third baseman formerly known for his defensive prowess, has already committed a career-high 16 errors on the season. Didi Gregorius struggled defensively as well in the beginning of the season, but has been solid as of late. Perhaps the biggest reason why Stephen Drew is still wearing pinstripes is because of his impressive defense. The former shortstop has portrayed himself as one of the best defensive second baseman in baseball. With Ellsbury and Gardner in the outfield, many base hits and extra base hits have been taken away as a direct result of their speed. Carlos Beltran’s veteran status constitutes his impressive judgement and routes to balls, but his slow speed has proven detrimental to the club. Brian McCann has been a brick wall behind the plate while showing off the arm as well, throwing out almost every runner who attempts to steal as of late. The most influential defensive player of the first half was Mark Teixeira, whom has saved many of his fielders and has made Gold Glove quality plays himself. The Bomber’s bats were hot during the first half of the season while the pitchers’ performances fluctuated and the defensive struggled to make plays on occasion. The New York Yankees have put themselves in a good spot to succeed, but they need to excel in all aspects of the game going forward to have a chance to be playoff contenders.