Friday, July 16, 2010

Pleasant surprises in first half for Yanks

The first half of the season was filled with plenty of surprises and more than a few disappointments for the New York Yankees, who despite having the best record in the big leagues, have plenty of room to improve their performance in the second half.

Biggest surprise: I expected Brett Gardner to play well this year. Instead, he played like an All-Star, even if he didn't actually make the team (seems like Gardner preferred the rest). He is hitting .309 with an on-base percentage near .400. He's already scored 56 runs and stolen 25 bases and his ability to steal almost at-will adds an element that the Yankees lineup had been sorely missing during the championship drought years.

Runner-up: Andy Pettitte decided against retirement after his remarkable playoff run and it was good for the Yankees because they would not be in first place without him. Sports Illustrated's recent cover story on the Year of the Pitcher didn't feature a photo of Yankees ace CC Sabathia or future ace Phil Hughes. It featured the veteran lefty who is giving a clinic on how to be a successful, older, but wiser big-league pitcher. What are the odds against a 38-year-old pitcher having an 11-2 record and a 2.70 ERA? Don't know, but if I had bet on the lefty, I would have made a lot of money this year. I'll settle for the best record in baseball. Thanks, Andy.

Least surprising: Javier Vazquez struggling through the first two months of the season and being banished to the bullpen was not a surprise at all. But he has managed to get his mind and mechanics straightened out. He's had several stellar performances recently, most notably against King Felix Hernandez, but has lost games mostly due to a lack of run support.

Biggest disappointment: I thought that Joba Chamberlain would be able to return to his fierce ways once he was free of the Joba Rules and knew he would be the 8th inning guy. But he hasn't yet been able to pull it together and has been right in the middle of some of the team's worst losses this year. Joba is going to have to get himself straightened out or he will find himself supplanted by Hughes, who will be on a strict innings limit for his own protection.

Runner-up: I expected Derek Jeter to build on what was one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame career, especially now that he is in his walk year (not that he's actually going anywhere). Instead, it seems like he's regressed, with a batting average about 40 points below his career mark and his defensive range limited again. Perhaps Jeter is playing hurt or playing every day is too much at this point in his career. But I think even Jeter would acknowledge that he hasn't met what are his and his fans' admittedly high expectations. I'll be looking for a big second half from the Yankees Captain.

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