By Steve Silverman
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The Fourth of July is about fireworks, food, baseball, food, sweating and food.
As most of the country tries to find some way not to melt in 90-plus degree temperatures while stuffing their mouths with hot dogs, New York gets to celebrate one first-place baseball team and another that may be in contention all year.
The Yankees are in their usual first-place spot. While C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte are both on the disabled list, the Yankees have a 5-game lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles (huh?) on July 4. The Mets are in second place to the offensively challenged Washington Nationals, and there’s no reason they won’t be able to chase them down and steal the National League East title.
New York’s two teams are having solid seasons because five key players are having outstanding individual years.
Start off with the best third baseman in the city. No, it’s not Alex Rodriguez any longer. It’s David Wright, who is hitting the ball consistently hard and has enjoyed a resurgence. Wright is hitting .354 with 9 home runs and 50 RBI. His slugging percentage is up by 133 points over last season.
As good as his first half has been, it seems quite likely that his second half will be even better. Since he’s hitting the ball so hard, his long ball total will surge as the season approaches the home stretch. There will be times when the Mets need the home run and Wright should be able to make the adjustment – even in the Citi Field canyon.
Second baseman Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees is probably going to end up as one of the all-time greats who has ever played his position. After a slow start, Cano is hitting .315 with 20 home runs and 48 RBI. Cano hit 11 home runs in the month of June and he could finish the season with 35-plus home runs. Cano is a brilliant athlete who appears to play effortlessly, but he is the best player at his position in baseball.
Shortstop Derek Jeter was in the process of getting written off just two years ago by many outside of New York who said that his skills were eroding. While Jeter is not as athletic as he once was in the field, he does what all great veterans have done in the past. He makes his positioning adjustments based on his experience and game situations. Offensively, Jeter is getting it done with a .301 average, 7 homers and 25 RBI. While his average has taken a bit of a drop in the last month, he is still slugging .409 and that’s not bad for a 38-year-old shortstop.
Centerfielder Curtis Granderson continues to grow as a power hitter. He can chase down fly balls and then make the spectacular catch in Yankee Stadium, but it’s his ability to drive the ball and take advantage of the jet stream in the Bronx that makes him one of the elite outfielders in the game. Forget his .244 batting average. He has bashed 23 home runs and that means he’s going to fly past the 40-home run mark again this season. He is slugging .503 and has become a hitter who has become a consistent game changer.
R.A. Dickey is not just the best pitcher in the National League. He is the best pitcher in all of major league baseball through the first half of the season. His power knuckleball has gotten dramatic results and the Mets know they are going to win just about every time he takes the mound.
With a 12-1 record, a 2.15 earned run average and a better than 4-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio, Dickey is performing better than any knuckleball pitcher in decades. He may not get the same win-loss results over the second half of the season, but Mets fans can take heart from Dickey’s working-class attitude.
He’s not satisfied and he’s still trying to get better. He always puts the last game behind him. He figures out what he did right and he corrects the mistakes.
He’s a pro’s pro, and he’s not going to pull a muscle from patting himself on the back.
Enjoy the fireworks, and pass me a hot dog while you’re at it. Plenty of kraut and brown mustard.
Follow Steve on Twitter — @ProFootballBoy