That first-place margin is the largest of the six division leaders in baseball. So it's understandable if Yankees general manager Brian Cashman likes the way his team is playing and how the AL East race is developing.
With that in mind, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that Cashman didn't make a splashy move before Tuesday's trade deadline. The GM is happy with his team, so why do anything drastic? (Over in Washington, D.C., Nationals GM Mike Rizzo gives an affirmative nod.)
However, the other playoff contenders in the American League added key pieces with big deadline deals. The one that could particularly trouble the Yankees is losing out on Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers. Not only could Cashman have strengthened his starting rotation, but he could have prevented a potential playoff opponent from doing the same.
Now that the trade deadline frenzy has settled down, do the Yanks still look like the AL favorites? Are they better than the Rangers or Los Angeles Angels? Are they even better than the Detroit Tigers, who beat them in last year's playoffs?
The Bombers' lackluster effort leading up to the annual July 31 deadline could cost them. And it didn't have to be that way. Cashman had an opportunity for his team to really assert itself over the competition. Instead, he's betting that a deep roster and a flurry of reserves will be enough to carry the squad through to the postseason. It's taking a rather significant risk.
The Starting Rotation Is Lacking
Cashman may have thought that his starting rotation was fine with CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda at the top. Andy Pettitte should probably be included in that grouping as well, but after his injured ankle swelled up during rehab, his ability to return has to be a concern.
Following those three (or two) are three question marks.
Ivan Nova couldn't have inspired much confidence while giving up nine runs against the Orioles Tuesday night. Phil Hughes has pitched well in his past six starts, however. During that span, he's allowed three earned runs or fewer in each appearance.
Then there's Freddy Garcia, who's given up 76 hits in 67 innings. But to be fair, he wouldn't be in the rotation if Pettitte was healthy.
But let's compare that to the competition in the AL. How do the Yankees stack up?
Look at the Angels, who now feature Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Zack Greinke at the top of their rotation.
The Rangers now have Dempster leading a rotation that includes Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Scott Feldman. While Darvish and Holland have had their struggles this season, either is capable of shutting down an opposing lineup in a playoff game.
What about the Oakland Athletics, who lead the AL in team ERA at 3.45? Each one of the pitchers in their rotation has an ERA under 4.00. They lack pennant race and postseason experience, but the A's have shown little regard for such perception this season. Wasn't this team supposed to be battling with the Seattle Mariners to avoid last place?
The Tigers, of course, have Justin Verlander. But Anibal Sanchez joins Doug Fister and Max Scherzer to form an imposing top of the rotation. That relegates Rick Porcello to the fifth spot, giving Detroit a deep starting five.
Is Cashman sure his rotation couldn't have used one more starting pitcher?
Depth, but Little Sizzle
No contender could withstand losing its left fielder, third baseman and first baseman for an extended period of time. But that's what the Yankees are faced with, with Brett Gardner out for the season, Alex Rodriguez sidelined until September and Mark Teixeira fighting a sore wrist.
Cashman's approach has been to fill those holes with several reserves.
Third base alone is being filled by a carousel of players including Eric Chavez, Jayson Nix, Ramiro Pena and newly acquired Casey McGehee. McGehee could also fill first for Nick Swisher in spot duty.
That combination of bodies should substitute for A-Rod capably, but Cashman had an opportunity to add someone more impressive, such as the San Diego Padres' Chase Headley or even Hanley Ramirez, before the Dodgers acquired him from the Miami Marlins. Either player could have provided a longer-term fix as well.
And though Ichiro Suzuki is an impressive name to add to the lineup, he's not the hitter he once was. The Yankees don't need him to be, looking instead for Suzuki to provide excellent outfield defense and speed. But it would surely help if he returned to his .300-batting, 200-hit form.
Never Enough Relievers
Rafael Soriano has done an excellent job as closer since taking over for David Robertson, who stepped in for Mariano Rivera. He's just about justified the crazy three-year, $35 million contract that Yankees ownership went over Cashman's head to offer.
Robertson has done his usual fine work as a setup man, striking out an average of 13.5 batters per nine innings, and helping the Yankees lock down the final two innings of a ballgame.
But wouldn't the Yankees benefit from a reliable, veteran reliever to use in place of Cory Wade, Cody Eppley or David Phelps?
The Yanks were supposedly in on Colorado Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt, depending on which reporter you choose to believe. What about another proven commodity, such as Jonathan Broxton or Brandon League?
Again, Cashman apparently feels that what his bullpen may lack in name recognition, it makes up for in depth. The Yankees can throw a variety of arms at a relief situation, rather than have to rely heavily on one pitcher in particular. But if this bullpen falters, Cashman might end up lamenting what could have been.
Actually, that doesn't just apply to the bullpen, but to the rest of the Yankees roster. Being patient and conservative might ultimately pay off for Cashman. However, if it doesn't, agonizing over squandered opportunities could make for an anxious offseason.
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