Entering the second half of the season, the Yankees’ record stands at 42-43, a game below .500. With 77 games left to play, they are tied with Toronto in second place in the AL East, 10 games behind Boston, and tied for fifth in the Wild Card race, 8.5 games behind the Indians (who were recently passed in the Central standings by the defending AL Champion Tigers).
Things look bad, and indeed they are, but 54 of those remaining 77 games will come against teams that currently have equal or worse records than the Yankees themselves. If the Yankees can simply break even in their 23 games against contending teams (say a 12-11 record in their remaining series against the Red Sox, Tigers, Indians, Angels, and Mariners), the fate of their season lies in their ability to take advantage of the cupcake portion of their second half schedule. If they win two of every three games (in other words, just win their series) against those weaker teams, the Yankees will finish the season 90-72. That might not be enough to make the playoffs as the Wild Card-leading Indians are on a 96-win pace, but if they can mix in a few sweeps and a few 3-out-of-4 series wins, they’ll be right in the thick of it.
That said, it has to start tonight. It’s now or never. Any sort of stumble against Tampa, Toronto, Kansas City, Baltimore, or the White Sox will put the final nail in the coffin currently containing the Yankees’ season. Exactly half of those 54 games come in 27-game stretch that begins tonight in Tampa Bay. The only time the Yankees have to leave the eastern time zone during that 27-game stretch is for a four-game series in Kansas City in two weeks. If they can’t play something in the neighborhood of .700 baseball over those 27 games, that last flickering ember of hope for this season will be extinguished.
The good news is that the Yankees ended the first half of the season on a positive note, taking five of seven from the Twins and Angels, a pair of winning teams ahead of them in the standings. What’s more, Phil Hughes is on the comeback trail (he’ll make a rehab start with double-A Trenton on Friday and, if that goes well, another on Wednesday). Hughes could replace Kei Igawa as the fifth starter by the end of the month, which would give him a couple major league starts before the Yankees hit the tough part of their second-half schedule in mid-August. At this point just about everything has to go right for the Yankees to even sniff the playoffs, but the opportunity exists for that to happen.
As for the Devil Rays, their much-hyped offense has been undermined by injuries to B. J. Upton and the Pavano-like Rocco Baldelli, the frightening emotional problems of Elijah Dukes, a disappointing rookie performance by top-prospect Delmon Young (.278/.308/.412), and surprisingly average performance by All-Star Carl Crawford (.285/.336/.445). Carlos Peña has been a revelation at first base (.287/.395/.609, 20 homers), Brendan Harris has been a pleasant surprise at shortstop (.310/.365/.463), and Bronx Banter favorite Jonny Johnson Gomes has been on fire since being recalled in mid-June (.333/.370/.679, 7 homers in 23 games), but it’s not been enough.
The reason is that the Tampa Bay pitching has been on beyond awful. I mean, crazy irridiculous bad. The Devil Rays’ team ERA of 5.82 is nearly a run worse than the third-worst staff mark in baseball (the Phillies’ 4.95), and is just shy of three-quarters of a run worse than the second worst mark in baseball (the Rangers’ 5.08). Mix the earned runs back in and the D-Rays have allowed 6.17 runs per game. Edwin Jackson has a 7.23 ERA on the season after 16 starts and remains the team’s fourth starter. Who their fifth starter will be come Monday remains a mystery.
Exactly four Devil Rays pitchers, active or otherwise, have a 2007 ERA at or above league average: Emergent staff ace James Shields (tonight’s starter), 23-year-old future-stud Scott Kazmir (who has been merely average this year due in large part to an alarming walk rate), veteran waiver-wire closer Al Reyes (currently on the DL), and righty reliever Juan Salas (currently serving a 50-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy). That’s it. No one else who has played for the Devil Rays this year has posted an ERA below 5.00 (unless you count the scoreless inning tossed by infielder Josh Wilson).
It’s no surprise, then, that the D-Rays are limping into the second half having lost 13 of their last 14 and 20 of their last 25. Like I said, if the Yankees can’t beat up on teams like this, they might as well stop trying.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2007 Record: 34-53 (.391)
2007 Pythagorean Record: 33-54 (.366)
Manager: Joe Maddon
General Manager: Andrew Friedman
Home Ballpark (2007 Park Factors): Tropicana Field (102/102)
Who’s Replacing Whom?
Greg Norton (DL) replaces Rocco Baldelli (DL)
Jorge Cantu (minors) replaces B. J. Upton (DL) on the roster
Upton is replaced by Ty Wigginton at second base
Wigginton is replaced by Carlos Peña at first base
Dustan Mohr (minors) replaces Elijah Dukes (minors/inactive) on the roster
Dukes is replaced by Delmon Young in center field
Young is replaced by Jonny Gomes in right field
Josh Wilson replaces Ben Zobrist (minors) on the roster
Zobrist is replaced by Brendan Harris at shortstop
Raul Casanova (minors) replaces Josh Paul (DL)
Andy Sonnanstine (minors) replaces Jae Seo (minors)
Jason Hammel replaces Jae Kuk Ryu (minors)
Jay Witasick replaces Al Reyes (DL)
John Switzer (DL) replaces Ruddy Lugo
Juan Salas is serving a 50 game suspension for a performance enhancing drug violation
Opening Day Roster:
1B – Carlos Peña (L)
2B – Ty Wigginton (R)
SS – Brendan Harris (R)
3B – Akinori Iwamura (L)
C – Dioner Navarro(S)
RF – Jonny Gomes (R)
CF – Delmon Young (R)
LF – Carl Crawford (L)
DH – Greg Norton (S)
R – Dustan Mohr (OF
R – Jorge Cantu (IF)
R – Josh Wilson (IF)
S – Raul Casanova (C)
R – James Shields
L – Scott Kazmir
R – Andy Sonnanstine
R – Edwin Jackson
L – Casey Fossum
R – Shawn Camp
R – Brian Stokes
R – Gary Glover
R – Jason Hammel
L – John Switzer
R – Jay Witasick
L – Akinori Iwamura (3B)
L – Carl Crawford (CF)
R – Brendan Harris (SS)
L – Carlos Peña (1B)
R – Ty Wigginton (2B)
S – Greg Norton (DH)
R – Delmon Young (CF)
R – Jonny Gomes (RF)
S – Dioner Navarro (C)
15-day DL: R – B. J. Upton (R), R – Shawn Riggans (C), R – Al Reyes, R – Tim Corcoran
60-day DL: R – Rocco Baldelli (R), R – Josh Paul (C)
Restricted List: R – Juan Salas
Inactive List: R – Elijah Dukes (OF)