By Brad Carroll
The New York Yankees enter the second half of the season in first place in the AL East, with a 3.5-game cushion over second place Tampa Bay. That's a surprise to most of the so-called experts who predicted the Yankees would be at the bottom of the standings at this point. But we weren't part of that misguided group, predicting a division crown for the Yankees in our preseason look at the team.
In fact, we made five bold predictions in that primer, with the first being the Yankees would win the division. That obviously is on track to be proven correct. But what about the other four predictions? Let's break each of them down before we move forward into the second half of the season with our preview of the Yankees playing a three-game home series with the Seattle Mariners.
Our second bold prediction had Michael Pineda emerging as the best pitching in the Yankees rotation. Considering Pineda leads the Yankees in wins, ERA and strikeouts, it's a safe bet to say this pick is right on track. Of course, the injury to Masahiro Tanaka helped Pineda emerge as the leader of the Yankees staff. But one thing is for sure, when Pineda has his stuff working on the mound, there are few pitchers in baseball who are better.
The third prediction was beyond bold at the time, but seems like a no-brainer at this point. We predicted Alex Rodriguez would hit 20 home runs and reach 80 RBI by the end of the season. Well, A-Rod is on pace to obliterate those lofty numbers we set before the season. Rodriguez already has 18 home runs and 51 RBI, which puts him on pace to hit 33 homers and reach 94 RBI. A-Rod, who should have made the All-Star team, has certainly blown away any realistic or bold predictions made before the season.
One prediction that didn't hold up was our fourth, as Tanaka couldn't last the whole season without landing on the disabled list, as we said he would. Tanaka ended up missing six weeks with a strained forearm, ruining our pick early on.
The final prediction could be labeled incomplete, as we had Stephen Drew being replaced at second base this season by either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder. Well, Drew is still on the roster, which we hoped wouldn't be the case, but with Refsnyder seemingly getting a shot to prove his worthiness in the second half, this prediction could come true sooner rather than later. And that would make all Yankees fans beyond excited.
All are something to watch in the second half of the season, which kicks off this weekend with a series against the Mariners. Here is our insider's preview of the three-game set.
Seattle Mariners (41-48, 7.5 GB in AL West)
at New York Yankees (48-40, 1st Place AL East)
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
Mike Montgomery (4-3, 2.29) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (5-3, 3.63)
Saturday, 1:05 p.m.
Hisashi Iwakuma (1-1, 5.22) vs. Michael Pineda (9-5, 3.64)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
Felix Hernandez (11-5, 2.84) vs. CC Sabathia (4-8, 5.47)
The Yankees lead the AL East by 3.5 games over the Tampa Bay Rays and four games over the Baltimore Orioles heading into the second half of the season. The Toronto Blue Jays are 4.5 games back and the Boston Red Sox 6.5 back. The Mariners are seven games behind the Houston Astros for the second wild card spot.
The Yankees won seven of their last 10 games heading into the All-Star break, opening up a solid lead in the division. The Mariners are 5-5 over their last 10 games. Seattle has the second worst record in the American League, but are still in wild card contention.
Three Mariners To Watch
1. The Yankees need to win the first two games of this series because they have to face Seattle ace Hernandez in the finale Sunday afternoon. Hernandez is one of the best pitchers in baseball, but he's just 3-4 over his last eight starts, watching his ERA jump from 1.91 to 2.84. That stretch includes a start against the Yankees where he allowed seven runs in just 4.2 innings on June 1. Hernandez was his usual self in his last start, however, throwing seven shutout innings in beating the Angels.
2. Nelson Cruz leads the Mariners in every major offensive category and is in the top five in the American League in home runs, slugging and OPS. Cruz is batting .308 with 21 home runs and 53 RBI on the season and was blazing hot entering the break, going 7-for-17 (.412) with a double and three RBI in a four-game series against the Angels.
3. Robinson Cano is still struggling this season, but has the talent to have a huge second half. Cano is batting just .251 with six homers and 30 RBI this season, but does have 23 doubles. In his last five games before the break, Cano was 5-for-22 (.227) with two doubles and an RBI.
The Yankees remain home for a big three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles starting Tuesday night.