Still Too Soon To Bank on the Yanks

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Still Too Soon To Bank on the Yanks
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Johnny Damon rented a party bus and treated teammates to a Creed reunion concert in Connecticut on Thursday night.

(That was the funniest sentence I've ever written.)

This likely led to a moment during the chest-bump-laden ride down I-84 in which Damon, Eric Hinske, Brian Bruney, Dave Robertson, Phil Coke and Kevin Long slugged down Jaeger bombs before belting out the soaring final coda of "My Sacrifice".

After the show, a tuckered-out Damon fell asleep on Bruney's shoulder as the reliever gently hummed "With Arms Wide Open".

God, I love this team.

I don't know what's more surprising-the fact that people are still paying U.S. currency to witness Scott Stapp emote like a mortally-wounded grizzly bear, or that I'm actually getting used to hearing all these great Yankees bonding stories.

It's certainly a refreshing change of pace after years of teams that dressed like the New York Yankees but acted like Don Draper.

Everything about this team has been refreshing. But as the national media, tipped off by the Red Sox massacre, begins to catch on to how good this team really is, it's important to note that the Yankees have accomplished nothing yet.

The Yanks have much work to do, and not just once the postseason begins in October. Let's take a look at the unfinished regular-season business facing your Bronx Bombers.

 

Kick dirt on the Red Sox

The Yankees all but wrapped up the AL East following the four-game sweep of their longtime rival back on Aug. 6-9. New York leads Boston by a healthy 6.5 games in the standings, a deficit that has certainly let some air out of the latest showdown between the two giants.

Despite the gap separating the teams, the Yankees must be careful not to let the Red Sox back within striking distance. The Sox are coming off a three-game beating of the free-fallin'-out-into-nothin' Blue Jays, and if they were able to return the sweep favor this weekend against the Yanks, things would suddenly be interesting again.

You don't want to aim for mediocrity, especially when you're talking about a Yankees team that is 31 games over .500. But taking even one game of this series will keep the Red Sox from getting back their mojo.

 

Protect your bullpen

If you read this blog regularly, you know my feelings about how the Yankees have handled Joba Chamberlain. To use a strained analogy, the Yankees are the nursery that puts a healthy nine-pound infant in an incubator. Their reluctance to stretch out their miracle baby has created a reality in which Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre will get regular starts from here until October.

Both journeymen are basically five-inning guys. That means in virtually every one of their starts, the bullpen will be asked to get at least 12 outs...and that's not even factoring in the usual nine to 12 outs the 'pen will pick up in Chamberlain's six remaining starts.

The point is, big lead or not, the bullpen is going to be very busy down the stretch. And as we learned in 2004, it's generally not a good thing to have a blown-out bullpen pitching in games that decide your season.

The expanded rosters on Sept. 1 will help here, but forgive me if I'm not sold on Edwar "79-mph changeup/81-mph fastball" Ramirez serving as a cure-all here.

This is definitely a subplot to keep an eye on.

 

Get A-Rod going again

It was in the aftermath of the greatest moment of the Yankees season when we finally stumbled across the smoking gun on the physical state of Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod had just connected on the 15th-inning walk-off homer that vanquished the Red Sox on a wild Friday night at the Stadium. After reaching the plate and getting swallowed up by his celebrating teammates, YES cameras caught a smiling A-Rod fleeing the celebration while clutching his hip.

It was a revealing glimpse into the impaired health of the slugger. The evidence has been there all season, of course: his range at third is non-existent, the second-gear on the basepaths has disappeared, and he can't seem to find those missing 50 points on his lifetime batting average.

But this was the first time when you saw how close to the surface the situation is.

The Yankees need A-Rod to be as healthy as he can possibly be heading into the playoffs. We're not going to see him at 100 percent, only offseason surgery will manage that, but it's important he returns to being a consistent slugger who can adequately protect Mark Teixeira in the lineup.

Rodriguez has just one RBI in the past eight games and has homered just twice in the past month. Perhaps the man could use a 15-day respite? Maybe a Chien-Ming Wang-sanctioned "weakness in the hips" sick note is in order?

A little bit of R&R could end up doing A-Rod, and the Yankees, a whole lot of good.

 

Take a stand against the Angels

Despite all the noble things the Yankees have accomplished this season, one truth has remained, seemingly unconquerable for seven years and counting...

The Angels are the Yankees' daddy.

The Halos damn near ruined the first half for Bombers fans; the excruciating three-game bloodletting in Anaheim representing the worst-possible way to go into the All-Star break.

The Yanks have lost five-of-six overall to the Angels this season, and you just get the feeling these teams are destined to meet again come playoff time. But before that, they will square off for a three game series in Anaheim on Sept. 21-23.

It would behoove the Yankees to take at least two of three in that set. It's time to make a statement that these aren't the same old Yankees of the 2000s.

A winning series in September can be a building block for a winning series in October.

 

Secure home-field advantage

After a slow start, the Yankees have morphed into a juggernaut at home this season. Their 41-18 mark at the Stadium is the best in baseball; they have lost just twice (twice!) in the Bronx since the All-Star break.

So seeing as they have become virtually unbeatable at home, it makes complete sense that the Yankees put themselves in position to play as many games at Yankee Stadium as possible.

But it goes beyond that. As Stephen over at Heartbeat of the Bronx detailed, the team with the league's best record gets to choose between two schedule layouts in the ALDS: one with extra off-days and one that more closely mirrors the regular season in pacing.

With the Yankees loaded at the top of their rotation, they would likely opt for a series with the extra off-days. In the event of a five-game series, it's likely they'd want their rotation to break down like this:

  • Game One: A.J. Burnett
  • Game Two: CC Sabathia
  • Game Three: Joba Chamberlain or Andy Pettitte
  • Game Four: Burnett
  • Game Five: Sabathia

You have to like your chances with Sabathia on the mound at the Stadium for a Game 5, but you have to get there first...

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