Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Half Time Report

Joe Torre acknowledges that his Yankees made it look easy during their run of four World Series titles in five years, in memories that grow foggier by the day. Maybe it was a little too easy.

For the first time in Torre's tenure at the helm of the Yankees, the team has struggled deep into the calendar months of the season.

The Yankees started 11-19 in 2005, and it appeared as though the Bronx walls would crumble before the roster pulled it together and peeled off another division title; with the calendar turning to July, this is unprecedented ground for a Torre Yankees team.He understands why the fan base -- spoiled, in a good way, as he says -- is growing more restless by the day.

In intermittent periods, the Yankees' energy and personality has been satisfactory, but there have been far too many outages, top to bottom, in the lineup.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has said that he will not sacrifice the organization's top prospects -- which include pitchers Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy -- for what could be perceived as a quick fix to help the Yankees regain footing in the American League East. That means that the roster, as currently comprised, needs to find a way to figure out what ails them and shake it -- quickly. Can they?

Club MVP:
Alex Rodriguez has led the American League in RBIs in two of the season's first three months and is having a spectacular all-around season, pacing the big leagues in homers. Unfortunately, he says he can't enjoy it all that much because the team is not winning.

Call him 'Ace':
Chien-Ming Wang went 4-0 with a 3.56 ERA in June, regaining the form that helped him to 19 victories last season and a second-place finish in the American League Cy Young voting behind Minnesota's Johan Santana.

Greatest strength:
If the Yankees could ever get their hitters on the same page and find consistent strokes, they have the potential to blow other clubs out of the water. A lineup that was projected to approach 1,000 runs this year hasn't changed all that much.

Biggest problem: Consistency. When the Yankees have been hitting, too many times they're not pitching well. When they pitch, the hitting falters. And sometimes it rains.

Biggest surprise: The projected first-base platoon of Doug Mientkiewicz and Josh Phelps somehow morphed into Andy Phillips and Miguel Cairo by midseason.

Team needs: The talent is on the team. The Yankees need to figure out what they can do to tweak the relief corps, which shows signs of overuse and general ineffectiveness, but those are smaller bandages on the whole body of the club. The Yankees desperately need to challenge their run of 14 of 17 wins, and July is a perfect time to do it -- after the All-Star break, they won't see another team with a winning record until Aug. 10 at Cleveland.

Oh, doctor:

• Johnny Damon -- For a while, it was another day, another malady for the banged-up Damon, who has seen his reliability improve since moving to the DH role. Damon has battled calf cramps all season, as well as a sore back and a mild abdominal strain that was eased when he had four ribs realigned during a recent Yankees off-day.

• Jason Giambi -- Giambi recently had a walking boot removed from his left foot. He had a partial tear of his plantar fascia while running out a home run at Toronto; no return date has been announced.

• Phil Hughes -- The organization's top pitching prospect suffered a strained left hamstring while pitching a no-hitter on May 1 at Texas, then rolled his left ankle while performing conditioning drills and had a severe sprain. He has resumed throwing.

• Derek Jeter -- Ice has been his friend this season, as Jeter consistently makes himself available for the lineup. A left hip flexor and knee tendinitis have been among his ailments.

• Jeff Karstens -- Karstens had his right leg fractured by a Julio Lugo comebacker on April 28 at Yankee Stadium and has resumed throwing at the club's facilities in Tampa, Fla.

• Hideki Matsui -- A strained hamstring forced him out of the lineup in the season's first homestand, but he returned on April 23 at Tampa.

• Mientkiewicz -- He was steamrolled by Boston's Mike Lowell on a play at first base at Fenway Park on June 2, suffering a concussion and a fractured right wrist. He is targeting an Aug. 1 return.

• Mike Mussina -- Moose suffered a strained left hamstring in an April 12 start at Minnesota and missed three weeks.

• Carl Pavano -- The hurler's career with the Yankees is likely over after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in early June. The club's $39.95 million investment yielded just 19 starts and six victories, including one in two starts this season.

• Jorge Posada -- The catcher has quietly been gritting through pain in his right knee that Torre periodically reports is "barking."

• Darrell Rasner -- The hurler fractured his right index finger on a ball hit back to him at Shea Stadium by the Mets' Endy Chavez. The right-hander is slated to resume throwing in early July.

He said it: "We've got a group of guys here that we have to win with. If they make changes, they make changes, but we can't sit around here and think about players who aren't here. Guys need to do the job."
-- Jeter

Mark your calendar: Aug. 10-12 at Cleveland; Aug. 28-30 vs. Boston; Sept. 14-16 at Boston; Sept. 28-30 at Baltimore

Fearless second-half prediction: Thinking back to their string of 14 victories in 17 games in June, the Yankees have at least one more similar run left in them this season. Two runs of that nature would vault them right back into serious contention.


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