How big of a spark can the return of the Yankees captain be?
The New York Yankees have managed to both overachieve and underachieve through 76 games in 2013.
The Yankees and their payroll set expectations of first place or bust, and sitting 2.5 games behind the rival Boston Red Sox can be seen as a disappointment to some.
However, considering that the Yankees have been without three quarters of their starting infield and their starting center fielder for the majority of the season, the fact that they are even over .500 is a true testament to the effort that guys currently on the field are putting forth.
So the Yankees sit with a 42-34 record three weeks before the All-Star break, and there is no reason to believe the Yankees won't be better in the second half.
They can finish the first half on a real high note as their schedule difficulty gets a little lighter.
It is a big opportunity to go on a winning streak and potentially overtake the Red Sox for first place going into the break.
The Yankees will have to take advantage of that light scheduling, though, because coming out of the break will be one of their toughest stretches left on the season.
If the Yankees can survive the seven-game road trip against Boston and Texas, followed by three games at home versus the Rays, it'll be July 29 and the Yanks will have a very clear idea of what moves they will need to make before the deadline.
As I mentioned in a previous article, there are several moves the Yankees could make that could really boost their roster and make them true contenders.
But at this point in the season, the Yankees could also hope the the improvements come from within.
Heading into the dog days of August, the Yankees will hopefully be receiving some assistance from several returning stars.
Pitcher Michael Pineda is the closest to returning, as he just completed his third rehab start.
Pineda is expected to make one or two more starts before the Yankees make a decision on where to put him and when he will make his debut for the team.
Curtis Granderson recently had a pin removed from his hand as he attempts to recover from a fractured left pinkie.
Which returning player is most important to the Yankees?
I feel it is safe to assume that the odds the Yankees build off their first-half success will increase with the return of those three players.
Factor in that the Yankees pitching staff, which was considered to be their strength entering the season, has struggled with consistency, and you have a team bound to come around.
Four of the Yankees five regular starters have an ERA over four, including supposed team ace C.C. Sabathia.
There are plenty of reasons for Yankees fans to feel optimistic about their chances the rest of the way.
The Yankees have been able to overcome the early-season struggles and difficulties and are positioning themselves for a big second half.
The Yankees are currently eight games over .500. There is no reason, with their returning stars and improved play from those that are struggling, the Yankees can't double that with their remaining games.
I see the Yanks going 51-35 over their remaining 86 games and finishing with a record of 93-69 on the season.
That number has not been good enough to take the division in recent years and would be the Yankees' lowest win total since 2009.
However, 93 wins puts the Yankees very much in the drivers seat for a Wild Card spot and a playoff ticket.