It's only the first week of June and already the New York Yankees are feeling the sweltering heat. As temperatures reach 100 degrees throughout the city and Lady Liberty opts for a lower, summer cut, the Yankees are still floudering around .500.
The pressure doesn't seem to be as intense this year after the comebacks of recent years and the experimentation with a younger starting rotation have created a lighter mood in the Bronx. However, the time for the Yankees to make a run is now as the pieces are beginning to melt into place.
The Yankees have a favorable schedule coming up that could prove helpful in making a push towards first. They open a three game set tonight in Oakland where they have something like a .900 winning percentage over the last decade.
The Yankees will then head to Houston for the weekend before returning home to face the lowly Padres and Broken Red Machine. They also get the Pirates, Mets, Rangers, Red Sox, Blue Jays and a cute two game series against the Rays before All-Star breaking in the Bronx. The Yankees haven't proved they can just go out there and take care of business just yet (splitting with the Royals this weekend) but if the road is favorable for at least this stretch of the schedule.
It's also about time the team starts clicking on all cylinders. Most of the bats are coming alive, but Girardi and Co. have to find a way to get them going all at once. Johnny Damon maybe the hottest player in baseball but Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu have cooled off a bit behind him. Alex Rodriguez continues to pound away at pitching with the discretion of Kimbo Slice. Hideki Matsui has been the most consistent cog in the lineup all year and Jason Giambi is morphing his porn star meets substitute teacher stache-look into a reliable power source. With Jorge back in the lineup, Cano and Cabrera need to constantly contribue to make the bottom of the order the most formidable in baseball.
Chien-Ming Wang started the year hotter than any other pitcher in the American League but recently he's been pitching like it's the postseason. Andy Pettite should start to strengthen and not allow teams to put up ten spots. Mike Mussina has emerged as the ace of the staff but they can't count on him to keep this pace up forever.
The Yankees need to solve the Joba dilemma and fast. It continues to distract the veterans as they constantly have to answer questions about how they think Joba faired. Also, a pitcher shouldn't have to deal with a pre-determined pitch count before he steps on the mound. Joba is a competitor and wants to last long into the game. In the back of his mind he has to always be thinking of the pitch count which forces him to press for outs and rush his rhythm. If he didn't feel pressured to end the inning on that pitch, Joba may have gone outside the zone looking to get Jose Guillen to chase on Sunday rather than hanging a 3-2 slider.
As the thermometer rises and the weather becomes more and more appropriate for golden thongs, the Yankees need to feel a sense of urgency. However, as long as the Rays control the Wild Card and Kyle Farnsworth's plans to sabotage the Yankees are kept at bay, the Yanks will always stand a chance.