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Currently 36-25, first place
(For the record, and because no team is as fiercely defended on this and other websites more than the Tampa Bay Rays, I flip-flopped them three times before giving the edge to New York, but it could go either way.)
1. Production from the corners. The New York Yankees are as good up the middle as any team in baseball with Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. But the production of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez is crucial to the overall performance of the team. They have a combined 23 years of 30-plus HR and 100-plus RBI between them. Last year, Rodriguez battled injuries to a disappointing year while Teixeira had 39 HR, 111 RBI and 90 runs scored. Both will need to produce for the Yankees to hold onto the division lead.
2. The rotation behind CC has to be good enough. Hiroki Kuroda is the only Yankees starter with a K/9 under 8.0. Ivan Nova (8.0), Phil Hughes (8.3) and Andy Pettitte (8.6) are topping his 5.7 mark. However, Kuroda's 3.46 ERA is behind only Pettitte. The point is, these four need to be good enough to win the four days of the week CC Sabathia can't pitch.
3. Rafael Soriano has to do his best Mariano Rivera impression. Baseball fans tore apart Brian Cashman for signing Soriano to a 3-year, $35 million contract with Rivera still in town, a crazy salary for a clear setup man. They laughed when Soriano was relegated to the seventh inning in 2011, behind David Robertson. But Cashman gets the last laugh as both Rivera and Robertson land on the DL and Soriano will be asked to repeat his 2010 performance, when he led the league with 45 saves with a 0.802 WHIP for the Tampa Bay Rays. He has a 2.11 ERA and nine saves so far, but the 1.547 WHIP is a concern.
4. Production from role playing veterans. The Yankees have given over 90 plate appearances each to Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones. Ibanez is batting .256 with 10 HR and 31 RBI playing almost everyday. The others have played sparingly, splitting time as pinch-hitters and designated hitters, but the Yankees will need to get something from all of them to keep the aging regulars fresh.
5. Enjoy the talent, aging as it may be. Having Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, Rodriguez, Granderson, Ibanez, Granderson, and Russell Martin in the daily lineup gives the Yankees eight former All-Stars. Add Jones, Soriano, Hughes, Pettitte, and the injured David Robertson and you're up to 13. This team is aging but stacked, and Joe Girardi doesn't have to over-manage to reap the rewards of a $200-million payroll. They are good enough to win the division right now.