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Yankees Hot Corner – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly from the first half

There’s really not all that much to complain about the Yankees considering they’re 62-33, have the second best record in baseball and are doing all of this with really only two reliable starting pitchers. Being 29 games over .500 at the halfway point (really the two-thirds point) is fantastic. What isn’t fantastic is they’re still 4 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East. Let’s put it this way: If the Yankees played in the A.L. Central they would have a ten-game lead on the Cleveland Indians. You can’t choose what division you’re in, so they’re just going to have to suck it up and play good baseball down the stretch.

All of that being said, it hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies for the Yankees. While some hitters have stayed consistent throughout the season, there have been weeks and sometimes even months where multiple hitters in the lineup look completely lost. There’s also been a real lack of depth in starting pitching, and that could be an issue come September. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the first half of Yankee baseball.

The Good

Luis Severino is a CY Young candidate

To put it lightly, without Luis Severino the Yankees would barely be in the hunt for the playoffs. He is the legitimate ace the Bombers have needed for years, and he is turning into one of the best young pitchers in baseball before our very eyes.

Severino is currently 14-2 with a 2.31 ERA.  He already has as many wins this year as he had all of last year, and is on pace for a career high in strikeouts.  Sevy and C.C. Sabathia have been the steadying forces of a mediocre pitching staff, and you know that even without his best stuff Severino will gut it out and will give you as close to a quality start as he can. He is also in the running for his first CY Young award, given to the best pitcher in baseball. Look for Severino to continue his quest for the CY Young and hopefully a World Series.

C.C. Sabathia has turned back the clock

Sabathia must have either started eating his Cap’n Crunch again, or drove down to Florida to find the fountain of youth, because he’s been excellent once again for the Yankees. After a surprising 14-5 season where he was looked to be on his last legs, C.C. has reinvented himself once again, starting the season off with a 6-4 record and a 3.51 ERA.

C.C.’s last few starts haven’t been great, but having a guy like that to rely on down the stretch is exactly what the Yanks need right now. He is a consummate professional, a great clubhouse guy, and has established himself as a real pitcher.  Even if Sabathia can’t sling the ball like he used to, he’s going to eat up innings in September. He may even start a few games if the Bombers make it deep into the postseason.

Aaron Judge is continuing to succeed under pressure

If last year was any indication, Aaron Judge can do no wrong in New York right now. The youngster is off to another great start, hitting .276 with 25 home runs and 60 RBIs. He’s a stalwart in right field, patrolling that pesky short porch and throwing out runners with his rocket of an arm.

For what it’s worth, I thought Judge would severely regress this season after a huge dip in production towards the end of the year.  I truly thought pitchers had figured him out and that he was going to be a boom or bust hitter. I was very wrong, and though .276 isn’t amazing, it’s sure serviceable as long as Judge is also drawing walks. He’s become a more patient hitter, has learned to hit the other way even more, and isn’t chasing those pitches down and away as much as he used to.

The Bad

Pretty much everyone else in the lineup

This isn’t to say that the Yankee lineup hasn’t been good at points, but if you really look at the season as a whole you’ll see that certain guys have covered up a lot of flaws in the lineup. On paper it looks like the best lineup of all time, but when you have Gary Sanchez batting under .200 and Greg Bird grounding into a double play every at-bat, sometimes things just look better on paper.

For example: Didi Gregorius was money in the bank the first month of the season. He was in consideration for MVP and was the talk of the town. What happened in May? He fell off dramatically and is now barely hovering above .260. Out of players in the lineup not named Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez has been terrible even though his run production has been good, Giancarlo Stanton has heated up after a dismal start that saw him get booed every time he struck out at Yankee Stadium and the rest of the lineup has been a mix of meh and Kyle Higashioka.

The saving graces of the first half?  Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. The two rookies already have a combined three walk-off hits, have put together at-bats way beyond their years, and have overall been two of the more consistent hitters on the team. Let’s hope they continue to shine, as they’re going to need someone to heat up soon.

Aaron Boone’s use of his starting pitchers and bullpen

Before I get to a negative, I want to give a quick shoutout to the Yankees’ bullpen. They’ve been excellent so far, from Aroldis Chapman down to A.J. Cole. All have contributed to the success, so much so that Tommy Kahnle is still in AAA waiting for his shot to come back. However, the bullpen didn’t need a paragraph in the “Good” section of the article because they were supposed to be the best part of the team anyway. What’s not great about the bullpen? Aaron Boone’s mismanagement of it.

Aaron Boone has been good as manager of the Yankees.  It’s hard to say how good a manager can be with such an immensely talented team, but it’s also unfair to say that they could win with just about anyone as manager. Boone has made some great moves, but for the most part still has a lot to learn when it comes to pitching management. In recent memory, he left Masahiro Tanaka out there too long against the Indians, refused to go to his bullpen with Domingo German getting shelled, pitched Dellin Betances for multiple innings, and refused to pitch some of his best arms even with the All-Star break coming up. He hasn’t been great, but there’s always room for improvement and if the Yankees are going to win the World Series, that improvement needs to come soon.

The Ugly

Gary Sanchez’s defense (and his average)

Even though Gary Sanchez has not had a good year at the plate, he is still pretty productive. He still walks (his OBP is nearly .300), he has 14 home runs and 41 RBIs and he’s looked more comfortable at the plate. However, he has not been the same Gary Sanchez of last year and is missing that sweet swing. A .190 average cannot cut it if the Yankees are going to be a formidable team in the playoffs.

Even worse, his defense has been just as bad if not worse than last year. Now, defense is misleading because he still has a great arm, but he has nine passed balls this year, on pace for more than last year (16), and looks completely out of position on a lot of wild pitches.  What’s troubling is that he’s coming off a groin injury that could debilitate his movement behind the plate. Be prepared Yankee fans, it might get worse before it gets better.

Sonny Gray

If you haven’t read it yet, I’ve compiled a list of reasons why Sonny Gray has been just terrible this year. It’s an easy read, because everyone knows exactly why he’s been so bad.  He needs to stop getting in his own head and just pitch strikes. That’s literally it.

Sonny Gray may have saved his spot in the rotation with a nice quality start against the Orioles, but he’s still skating on thin ice.  He’s currently 6-7 with a 5.46 ERA. He can’t be relied upon to pitch with any consistency, and he’s pretty much a liability at this point. Hopefully, this break will give him some time to think about things and get back to the Sonny Gray the Yankees traded for a year ago.

The Yankees have a good foundation to build upon, even if there are some flaws to their team. They are always in every game, have a bonafide ace pitcher, and the best bullpen in baseball. If they can shore up their team with a good starting pitcher (aim higher than J.A. Happ) and even more bullpen help they can be World Series favorites. They’ve been in this position before, and the Yankees are ripe to take another crack at the World Series.

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