Wednesday, July 2, 2008


ARE THE YANKEES done for the year? It may only be the start of July, but the chances of them winning the division – or even the wild card – are looking increasingly unlikely.

On the evidence of the first half of the season, only a blind optimist could see the Yanks (44-40) catching the Tampa Bay Rays (51-32) and the Boston Red Sox (50-36).

They went into the current nine-game homestand knowing 5-4 wouldn’t really be good enough.

Now, after successive one-run reverses against the Texas Rangers, they are in real danger of dropping out of the pennant race completely before the All-Star break.

Even if Sidney Ponson saves them from a sweep against his former team tonight, they’re going to be under enormous pressure to win the following series against the Red Sox, then the Rays.

Even if the surging Rays cool off in August and September, the Yanks will have to play .700 baseball or better for the rest of the year.

Even though they did it last year, there are plenty of good reasons to doubt that they can do it again.

Rays, Red Sox setting a scorching pace

For a start, they only had Boston to contend with in the American League East. They didn’t have three pitchers on the DL, their catcher wasn’t playing with a shoulder injury that will require surgery in the winter and their bats weren’t quite as silent as they are now.

They also had the calming influence of Joe Torre at the helm. Torre had seen it all before. His successor, Joe Girardi, is already showing signs of feeling the strain.

His decision not to bunt with a runner on first and no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning last night was baffling to say the least.

You could perhaps have understood it had A-Rod been coming to the plate. But, no, it was Melky Cabrera, who had not managed a hit in his previous 18 at bats.

Cabrera took two strikes before hitting into a double play and the Bronx cheers could be heard above the sounds of New York, New York.

That whole inning was symptomatic of the Yankees’ problems this season. They haven’t been able to come up with a big hit when they’ve needed one.

The pride and the power usually associated with the pinstripes have been sadly lacking. Even when they’ve managed to paper over the cracks in their pitching, the hitters haven’t been able to do the job they are handsomely paid for.

Tampa payroll a fifth of the Yanks

It’s hard to believe the current team was built on a payroll in excess of $200 million (compared to Tampa Bay’s $43 million).

Forecast to score between 900 and 950 runs this season, they have managed just 388 in 84 games so far. Even the Baltimore Orioles have hit more home runs (90 against the Yanks’ 83).

Jason Giambi has accounted for 17 of those but has now had around 40 at bats since going deep.

It’s going to cost the Yankees a lot to bring him back next year and after his slow start, you have to question whether he’s worth it.

In Giambi, Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, the Yanks have too many aging players whose careers are heading in the wrong direction. That's not including Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, who both signed new, long-term deals last winter.

Matsui has the best on-base percentage of any Yankee (.404) and he is being sorely missed in the middle of the order.

The bottom of the line-up has been nothing short of disastrous. Robinson Canó (.245 average) is an out waiting to happen. He has taken a massive step backwards this year. His stance looks awkward and his technique suspect.

Back-up catcher José Molina (.228) was not signed for his batting and Cabrera (.240) has not turned into the every day player the Yanks had hoped for.

The trouble is they need his arm in the outfield – he’s the only one who can throw – but they also need more production from him at the plate.

The Yanks don’t have a good bench and their pitching problems have been well documented. Chien-Mien Wang might not be back until September and Phil Hughes has yet to start throwing.

It all adds up to a scenario unimaginable at the start of the season. Unless the Yanks turn it around against the Red Sox and Rays later this week, they should be a selling club rather than a buyer when trading starts in earnest.

It will be time to clear the decks … and start planning for 2009.

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