Are the New York Yankees Back in the Race?

gregory caldarellaAnalyst IJuly 10, 2008

The New York Yankees have been following an awful trend for the last couple of years. They seem to love to dig themselves a first-half hole; whether it's due to injuries, awful pitching, or a full-on offensive slump.

This team was considered done and aging last season at this exact point in the year, and it looked as though this year was a carbon copy of last year. Once again, all the analysts declared this the season that the mighty Yankees fall short of the postseason for the first time in 13 seasons.

I had to say, this year more than last year, I found myself resigned to the fact that all the naysayers may be right.

They began closing the gap on the division when they racked up sweeps in back-to-back series of interleague play versus the Astros on the road and the Padres at home.

But on the road trip in Houston, they were dealt a huge blow when ace starter Chien-Ming Wang suffered a lisfranc sprain to his foot while rounding third base. He will likely be out until late August at best, hopefully early September.

The Yankees' staff was already nothing to write home about, and now it looked as though a major move to add depth to the rotation was imminent. But the Yankees had decided to stay with their current philosophy of stockpiling young talent in the minors and not make any brash moves that have haunted them in the past.

Joba Chamberlain was finally getting into a groove as a starter, and he is being heavily counted on to provide a spark behind veterans Andy Pettite and Mike Mussina. The pitching staff turned out not to be the problem during a 10-game stretch following the two consecutive series sweeps, in which they dropped six out of 10 to the likes of the Pirates, Mets, and Reds.

Just when you thought they were turning the corner, they dig themselves a nice hole yet again.

This time they were floundering, with the Red Sox coming to town after they had been swept by the surprising first-place Rays. With both teams looking to bounce back, I figured this is where the Yanks make a stand against their bitter rivals and turn their season around...wrong. The opening game of the series was a complete disaster as the bats looked anemic versus lefty Jon Lester.

They lost that game with zero effort from anybody, especially on offense. The next game, they seemed fired up early on after getting ripped into by manager Joe Girardi behind closed doors the night before. They had scored three runs in the first off of Beckett, and then proceeded to not sniff a run until the last inning of the game, when it was all pretty much over.

I had attended the next game of the series, and this game turned out to be bigger than I thought it would be at the time.

It was more of a pitchers duel and Mike Mussina once again looked terrific for six innings and the bullpen continued their dominance, bridging to Mariano. It was only a 2-0 game when Mo came in, but he quickly made that game of the interesting nature.

He had surrendered one run and the loading the bases with nobody out, and now all the Boston fans began to cheer and felt as though they had gotten to Mo yet again.

Only Mariano would be able to get out of such a jam, and he did as he struck out Coco Crisp, popped out Varitek, and struck out Lugo to end the game. This game seemed to translate well to the next game, where Joba pitched extremely well, despite a few bad walks. His performance was better than his actual line of three runs in six innings.

The Yanks fought from behind in that game and ended up winning that game late, splitting the series, which was a must at this point.

The sky-high Rays now came into town for a two-game set and this was a series the Yankees had to have. Andy Pettitte proved to be the stopper he always has been, when he went eight scoreless innings in a 5-0 victory to out duel the All-Star Scott Kazmir.

The next game, I figured, would have to be a high-scoring affair, thanks to the matchup of Edwin Jackson and Sidney Ponson, but this did indeed turn out to be a low-scoring game.

Ponson actually cruised after getting shalacked by his former team, the Rangers, in his previous outing. The game went into extra innings and with Jeter on first and one out, the struggling Bobby Abreu delivered with a deep double to right center for his first walk-off hit in pinstripes.

With this recent surge, New York now finds themselves in striking distance of the division and the wild card.

Matsui should be coming off the disabled list any day now, and a healthy Johnny Damon is expected after the All-Star break. This team is far from finished, and they are not aging. If they are so aging, then how do you explain the revivals of Mike Mussina, Johnny Damon, and "The 'Stache Man" Jason Giambi.

It should be interesting to see how it all plays out down the stretch once again in the Bronx, but it seems as though this team wouldn't have it any other way than to come from behind and prove that they are still the Yankees.


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