With AL East Crown Within Reach, What's Next for the Yankees?

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With AL East Crown Within Reach, What's Next for the Yankees?
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

As the Yankees put the finishing touches on the Red Sox last night, the question turned away from the AL East race, and to the larger picture.

It wasn't the prettiest of series wins for the Yankees, especially considering the pitchers they had going. But at the end of the day, New York is seven games up in the loss column, a deficit that figures to be hard for Boston to make up the way the Yankees are playing.

Yes, I know, great comebacks happen all the time. I was alive in 2004 and remember it well. But those comebacks are special for one reason: They rarely happen.

If the Yankees played even .500 ball the rest of the season, they'll win 97 games. The Red Sox would need to go 27-12 the rest of the way to equal that total. Frankly, while the Red Sox may have a run in them, the Yankees probably won't struggle that much.

So where do we go from here?

If you're the Yankees, your primary concerns are probably as follows:

(1) Get players rested and keep them healthy ( Corollary: Keep Joba's innings down)

(2) Figure out roles in the bullpen beyond Hughes and Rivera

(3) Keep A.J. Burnett in Yankee Stadium in October at all costs. An ankle bracelet may be needed.

As far as the first point goes, the Yankees have some players who, while not hurt, aren't 100% healthy. A-Rod's got his hip, Matsui's got his knee. Gardner's got his thumb. The Yankees need to make sure that all those players are as close to healthy as they can get.

The outfield/DH situation is one of musical chairs, with Johnny Damon, Matsui, Gardner, Melky Cabrera and Nick Swisher fighting for four spots. In all likeyhood, it's a question of Gardner vs. Cabrera, as they're the only two guys who can play center, and neither would give you enough production from a DH.

The "Chamberlain Corollary" while the subject of much furor, would seem to be a little more straightforward given the Yankees lead in the standings. Why push it if there's no need? Even saving 10 innings could be beneficial down the line.

As for the bullpen, the reintroduction of Damaso Marte may have some Yankee fans wringing their hands. However, the Yankees also only have one other left-hander in the bullpen, Phil Coke. Marte's also a veteran presence in an otherwise young middle relief corps. The Yankees would be remiss not to at least give him a chance.

But there's also the question of Chad Gaudin and where he fits. He certainly won't be starting for the Yankees in October, that's for sure. Would that push out young fireballer David Robertson?

As for the third point...

Look, we all know A.J. Burnett has great stuff. Keith Law of ESPN recently said in a chat he thinks it's the best in the majors (If you don't agree, yell at him, not me)

But for whatever reason, Burnett doesn't pitch as well on the road.

The funny thing is, other than his ERA being a run and a half higher, there's not a great indicator of what the problem is. He's allowing virtually the same number of hits and striking out the same number of batters on the road, and his walk rate is actually better away from the stadium, as are his home run numbers. So you figure it out.

But he's now been kicked around three times at Fenway, which should be worth something. If i'm the Yankees, he's pitching at home, especially because Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain are both pitching better on the road than in the Bronx.

On a semi-related note, there continue to be more stories about supposed tension between Burnett and Jorge Posada. Nothing explicit, mind you. Mostly just interpretations of looks and possible heated words. Regardless, here's hoping the two of them have a compatible relationship going forward.

The Yankees are going to need it.

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