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Palladino: Yankees Power Company Shuts Down, But Will Be Back

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‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

The Bronx Power Company will go dark for a few days now.

But don’t worry. That utility, known to most of us as the New York Yankees, won’t shut down because of some storm that worked its way up from Delaware or New Jersey. It’s just the All-Star break, which begins tonight with one of those contrived, muscle-flex events called the Home Run Derby. Kind of like the baseball’s version of the Slam Dunk contest.

The question here doesn’t involve past achievement, although the Yanks’ prolific 134 homers after Sunday night’s series-ending win over Boston certainly sets them on near-record pace for most home runs in a season. It’s about continuing that pace after the break.

If they do cool off, it won’t be because of the four-day respite. It’s not like the hitters are going to lose their swings because of an extended rest. One, Robbie Cano, won’t even have a long gap, since he’s the AL’s Derby captain. Like all the rest of the contestants, Cano will likely treat the competition as a glorified BP session, which is basically what it is.

And then there is Tuesday’s All-Star game, where starters Curtis Granderson (23 homers), Cano (20), and Derek Jeter (7), will get the first few innings to keep their collective batting eye intact. Especially Cano, despite that painful jam job he suffered on his right pinkie in the Game 1 win of Saturday’s day/night doubleheader at Fenway.

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The AL East-leading Yanks will head into the second half fairly healthy. They’ll also go in well ahead of second-place Baltimore, poised to run away with the division title.

Whether they’ll do it with the same kind of power that they put up in the first half is debatable. Teams can cool off after the All-Star break, not just because the respite can throw things off a little for the non-All Stars who are used to competing every day, but because the season gets awful long around the end of July and August. Summer heat, few days off and doubleheaders that make up for early-season rainouts can sap a team of its energy and turn an otherworldly first-half performance ordinary in the second half. Will that happen to the best team in baseball right now?

It could. Though the bet here is that the Yanks will continue busting fences around the league, here’s one factor that could turn the lightning off: The Yankees play in the toughest division in baseball.

At this point, none of their division mates sit below .500. That tells us that any of those guys can beat the Yanks on any given day. Boston proved that in Game 2 Saturday as the Yanks threw the ball all over the park. They hit seven homers in the double-dip, three in the Game 2 loss, but fielding lapses sunk them.

Also know that teams are going to step up their efforts to keep the Yankee hitters in the park. The league knows by now that if the Yanks aren’t hitting homers, they’re generally not scoring. These are not the Mets, who manufacture runs with clutch hitting. The Yanks score their runs in bunches, with the long ball. It’s their 2012 personality. They’ve bailed out starters and relievers alike via the home run. But people like Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes do give up runs, especially Hughes on the too frequent occasions when his breaking pitch and changeup aren’t working. The recent decline of relievers Cory Wade and Boone Logan adds another red flag for the second half.

Opposing pitchers are going to make it ever harder for this lineup to continue the power show it put on in the first half. And if the pitching wilts in the upcoming segment that includes just two days off in the next 39 games between July 13 and Aug. 22, the pressure to produce home runs at their first-half rate will only increase.

The collection of power up and down the lineup — seven players have double-figure homers — gives Joe Girardi’s club the potential to withstand that kind of heat. Whether it continues to produce at a record rate is another story.

But guaranteed, the Yanks won’t be shutting the power off completely. Even a somewhat diminished power supply should allow them to stay on top of the AL East until the final stretch.

Will the Yankees cool off because of the All-Star break? Sound off in the comments below…

Special CBS Local Offer:  Visit CBS Local Offers today for 42% off Yankees tickets for select home games in July.