The New York Yankees are the only team in baseball whose fans can frequently think that the sky is falling, particularly after any kind of losing streak.
Yet as Robert Plant and Jimmy Page once wrote, “The Song Remains the Same.” The Yankees are the team with the best record in their division and the American League.
There have been injuries to CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Brett Gardner, Mariano Rivera—heck, doesn’t it seem like almost the entire team has been injured at some point or another in 2012?
It hasn’t mattered. Manager Joe Girardi has kept his club soldiering along, weathering injury storms to maintain a four-game lead in the division and have full expectations of representing the American League in this fall’s World Series.
It won’t be easy but it’s hard to make a claim that any other American League team is better overall than the Yankees right now. They simply don’t have the records to prove it, and all teams competing for a spot in the postseason have flaws.
The Yankees are out to correct theirs and work out kinks here as we’re right in the midst of the stretch run, though they’ll be less patient with poor pitching performances like the one they received from Ivan Nova last night.
Either way, the Yankees' 72-51 record is currently best in the AL, and at the three-quarter mark of the 2012 MLB season, I felt it was a perfect time to hand out the New York Yankees' report card grades with only 39 games left on the slate. Here they are:
Derek Jeter: The captain started at shortstop for the American League All-Star team, and he leads the major leagues in hits. Jeter recently passed Eddie Murray on the all-time hits list, and the beat goes on, as he continues to put more and more Hall-of-Famers in his rear view.
Jeter catches loads of grief for his fielding, but the fact is, he's hitting .324, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any manager in baseball that would take another shortstop over him.
Curtis Granderson: Like Jeter, The Grandy Man had a red-hot month of April and has since regressed slightly with each passing month. What cannot be debated is the consistency of the power that Granderson brings to the table.
Since the start of the 2011 season, no player in Major League Baseball has hit more homers than C Grand. He's fourth in the major leagues in homers currently, though hitting a surprisingly low .241, .23 points below his career average. The Yankees will undoubtedly pick up Granderson’s $13 million club option for 2013.
But will they lock him into a longer-term deal after next season. There are signs that they will. This is a player that has an incredible work ethic, and while he’s become a bit pull-conscious over the past two seasons, he’s worth keeping for several more years.
Robinson Cano: Cano has slumped a bit over the past month, but he’s still on pace for one of the best years of his excellent career. After a surprisingly slow start, Cano had a stellar month of May, then followed that up with a Ruthian month of June, where he hit .340 and belted 11 home runs.
The Yankees could certainly use a late-season boost from their best hitter both in home runs and average. Expect him to hit the cage just a little bit harder with Kevin Long to make sure he’s right here for the stretch run.
Mark Teixeira: The Yankees first baseman got off to his usually slow start and then turned it up for a very productive month of May.
Since then, Teixeira has slowed down a bit at the plate. He’s been fighting a nagging wrist injury that has affected his performance, but he’s still putting together quality at-bats.
As mentioned in my previous report card column at the midway point, Teixeira has hit the second-most home runs in the majors among full-time first basemen, though he's simply not the complete hitter he once was.
He does remain a quality glove at first base, leading the majors in fielding percentage for first basemen.
Alex Rodriguez: Rodriguez has been out since mid-July with a broken bone in his non-throwing hand. A-Rod is hitting .276 on the season with 15 home runs and 44 RBI. Yankees fans, it’s true: You are witnessing the decline of a once incredible big-league slugger.
That said, the Yankees lineup should benefit significantly when Rodriguez returns in the month of September.
Nick Swisher: Nick Swisher simply continues to perform at a very good level for the Yankees. Swisher has never been an elite slugger, and he never will be. But what he is, is a guy that the Yankees have consistently been able to rely on for a .260 average, 25 homers and 85 RBI.
Just remember when he’s not playing in the Bronx next season that you’re going to miss those highly desirable and coveted numbers coveted from this fan-favorite corner outfielder.
Raul Ibanez: For the value of just over $1 million for this season, Ibanez has been an indispensable value for the Bombers. Ibanez has maintained a very respectable .807 OPS against right-handed pitching, and due to Brett Gardner's early season injury, has played very regularly for the Bombers. He has exceeded expectations and then some.
Ibanez is a true professional and gentleman that has represented the Yankees with solid production and class.
Russell Martin: It’s been a rough season for Russell Martin. So rough it’s hard to believe that he’ll be back in pinstripes in 2013. Sadly, he's continuing to ride it out on the interstate with a lowly .196 average.
It’s worth noting that Martin has hit for respectable power, cranking out 14 long balls, and he does grade out as an above-average defensive catcher. Everyone keeps expecting Martin to break out of his slump, but time is of the essence, both this season and for Martin’s Yankee career.
Andruw Jones: Jones was brought in to hit southpaws, and instead, has fared quite a bit better against right-handed pitchers. Manager Joe Girardi still almost exclusively plays this masher against lefties.
A huge series in Boston before the All-Star break showed that the veteran from Curacao still has monstrous power. Jones is a solid bat to have off the bench, though far from a regular at this stage of his career.
Ichiro Suzuki: The Yankees were in need of an outfielder with speed and strong defense to replace Brett Gardner. They went out and got a future Hall-of-Famer who’s near the end of the road but doing just fine in pinstripes.
Ichiro is hitting .312 in 93 at-bats with the Bombers, and he has a .817 OPS. Still a very small sample size, but Ichiro has paid dividends for the Yankees both on the offensive and defensive end. You can never count an all-time great out, especially as we get nearer to October.
Eric Chavez: Eric Chavez has delivered the goods for the Yankees this season, showing us a glimpse of how awesome he once was in his prime with Oakland. Chavez currently has an .883 OPS on the season and his month of August, albeit in limited at-bats, has been unbelievable.
Chavez has been a superb fill-in for A-Rod and deserves more regular at-bats the rest of the way—even when A-Rod comes back from injury.
Chris Stewart, Jayson Nix and Casey McGehee have all produced mixed results, but the consensus is that they have been productive enough to last the majority of the season.
DeWayne Wise, now hurting the Yankees in this current Chicago series, gave the Bombers some solid production in a limited role during the summer.
The bench has had some highs and lows all around. Eduardo Nunez hit well earlier in the season but demonstrated he could not play shortstop. He was demoted to Triple-A in May. No minor leaguers have arrived to help out the bench hitting. Frankly, there’s just not a lot there right now at the higher levels of the Yankees' minor league system.
It’s not out of the question that the Yankees could make a late waiver pickup in the next week, but don’t count on it. Brian Cashman doesn’t want to give up any significant players in order to get a short-term rental who may not be much of an upgrade.
CC Sabathia: Will CC come back healthy and dominant? Those are two gigantic wonders on the minds of every Yankees fan. Sabathia is 12-3 on the season with a 3.56 ERA, but has missed several starts this summer thanks to nagging injuries.
None of the injuries appear serious, and the Yankees have had the benefit of a nice lead in first place to allow Sabathia time to rest and heal. That lead is shrinking, and the Bombers are hoping CC comes back in a big way both over the final quarter of the season and as their ace in October.
Hiroki Kuroda: Hiroki Kuroda has been a revelation in the rotation for the Bombers and has supplanted Sabathia—for this season—as the Bombers’ ace. Simply put, Kuroda has been one of the better pitchers in the American League this season and has far exceeded expectations so far.
Phil Hughes: After a horrendous start, Hughes rebounded and is back to being a credible pitcher in the highly competitive AL East. He has had some inconsistent moments, but by comparison, he sure looks like a better bet than Ivan Nova, and even Freddy Garcia, to start a playoff game right now.
Hughes is tied for seventh in the AL in wins, and he’s tied for 15th in the AL in quality starts with 13—not bad for a guy everyone counted out back in April.
Ivan Nova: The wheels are starting to come off of Ivan Nova’s second full season in the Bronx. His ERA is back hovering near 5.00, and he’s getting hit hard—very hard. Nova’s strikeouts are way up this season, but unfortunately, so are his hits.
Nova has already given up more hits this season—in eight less innings—than he did in all of 2011. He has excellent stuff, and it would be foolish to think he cannot turn it around this season, and particularly next season.
The facts remain: Nova is tied for allowing the most hits in the majors and he’s given up more opponent total bases than any pitcher in baseball. Here’s hoping he can find the magic that helped him become a mainstay in the Bombers’ rotation.
Andy Pettitte: In nine starts, Andy Pettitte was everything the Yankees could have asked for and more. Unfortunately, the ninth start involved Pettitte getting hit with a liner and breaking his fibula. He's out until a date to be named later in September, and fans are already greatly awaiting his return.
Freddy Garcia: Freddy Garcia has been back in the rotation since early July following a dismal start to the season. Garcia struggled on Monday night in Chicago, though that’s hardly been the tale of his past two months.
Since rejoining the rotation in early July, Garcia is 4-3 with a 4.19 ERA, 49 strikeouts and only 18 walks. Oh yeah, in nine of Garcia’s 10 starts— since his exodus to the bullpen—he has five quality starts and no less than five innings pitched in each game.
David Phelps: David Phelps has shown a promising future in three starts for the Yankees and has opened a lot of eyes. Phelps is keeping a 2.69 ERA, and the chatter coming out of the Bronx is whether he may keep his spot in the rotation now that CC Sabathia is set to come back from the disabled list.
Here’s one vote for allowing Phelps to stay on for now. Until he falters, you have to ride this hot arm who has shown he deserves every opportunity to start games for the Yankees.
Mariano Rivera's loss for the season in early May was a heart-breaker. He will never be replaced, though give Rafael Soriano credit for doing an exceptional job of filling in for the future Hall-of-Famer. Soriano has saved 31 of his 33 games and keeps a tidy 1.64 ERA.
David Robertson got off to a dominating start and has balanced out a bit. He’s not a guarantee for a shutdown inning right now ,and that has to cause some unrest for Joe Girardi. Cody Eppley and Boone Logan have each struggled of late and are becoming less and less reliable.
Cory Wade is gone, Joba Chamberlain may soon be back in the minors and Derek Lowe is now on board to help with length in the bullpen. The Yankees' former strength is now something of a topic of concern. Though Soriano and Robertson are still as good of a 1-2 punch as you’ll find in the game.
Joe Girardi has mostly done a fine job of not over-managing and letting his players get sufficient rest when needed. He’s possibly leaned a little too much on Cody Eppley, and especially Joba Chamberlain of late, but that’s more a reflection of their lackluster performance.
It's really hard to knock Girardi for any one thing. He's keeping his players fresh, and the Bombers are in first place. There are some adjustments that need to be made, and the hope is that Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez all return healthy.
Girardi has his club primed for another run at a World Series title.