By Steve Silverman
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The Yankees find themselves with the best record in the American League as the second half gets underway, and they have a seven-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles. That’s something of a surprise, given the state of the team at the start of the season.
The starting pitching was loaded with question marks at the start of the season. Once you got past CC Sabathia, you really weren’t sure of what Joe Girardi was going to come up with on a regular basis.
And then there was the little bit of bad news early in the season, when the greatest closer in the history of baseball — Mariano Rivera — went down with a knee injury that looked like it would keep him from pitching for the rest of the season, and possibly forever.
That may no longer be the case. There is now a chance that Mo may be back before the end of the year, although that is yet to be confirmed.
While nothing is certain, the Yankees should be able to hold off the competition in the American League East. Actually, they almost certainly will turn their current margin into a double-digit lead in the next six weeks and cruise the rest of the way.
Normally, the AL East is the most competitive of divisions. The archrival Red Sox are normally capable of pushing the Yankees hard, and the well-managed Rays usually have the pitching to cause a ton of problems.
The 2011 season ended badly for the Red Sox and 2012 has been no better. The team has been hurt badly by injuries and illness –- Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Clay Buchholz have been among the primary victims — but they should all be back in the second half.
That’s not enough to make the Red Sox a contender. Here’s the bottom line on Boston: They are good enough to beat the bad teams and the average teams, but they can’t beat the good teams. They are no longer a factor.
The Rays have some hope of improving if and when Evan Longoria returns to the lineup and finds his hitting stroke. Longoria has been out with a hamstring injury since May 1 and he is not ready to return yet. The Rays have wonderful pitching, but they don’t hit a lick without Longoria.
Kudos to Buck Showalter for making the Orioles a much-improved team over the first half of the season. They may improve over the second half, but it won’t be enough to match strides with the Yankees. Next year? Perhaps, but the Orioles are still feeling their way and learning.
It should be an easy run in the second half of the season to the division title. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of concerns.
Those concerns come from the AL West and the AL Central. The Detroit Tigers eliminated the Yankees in last year’s postseason and are just beginning to find their stride this year. They are trailing the Chicago White Sox, but they have the best hitter in baseball in Miguel Cabrera and the power of Prince Fielder. They should race by the White Sox, and are primed to be a major force in the postseason.
The other two factors are the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels. The Rangers probably have the best one-through-nine batting order in the American League, and the Angels have found their way thanks to young stars Mike Trout and Mike Trumbo. Both have been dynamic in the first half, and they have taken the pressure off of free-agent prize Albert Pujols.
The regular season is not the issue for the Yankees. But once they get to the postseason, there may be dark times around the corner. They will have a tough time matching up with the Angels, Rangers and Tigers, and finding a way to beat one or two of those teams may not be realistic.
Yankees fans, which American League team scares you the most as the second half of the season gets under way? Sound off with your thoughts and comments in the section below…