By Steve Silverman
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The Yankees can look at the standings and the Baltimore Orioles are within reach.

The Orioles are playing winning baseball and the Yankees are falling down the ladder as they confront Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers.

The Orioles are not the Yankees’ biggest problem. They are a good team worthy of respect and Buck Showalter has gotten the most out of them. But it’s pretty difficult to see Baltimore keeping up their solid play and actually running down the Yankees. These are not the Orioles of Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell.

These are the Orioles of Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters. They are good and getting better, but they are not ready for prime time.

The real problem for the Yankees is the Yankees.

Specifically, the pitching staff is going to short-circuit this team once the playoffs start. You know it, I know it and Joe Girardi knows it. So do all the players on the team.

Once you get past CC Sabathia, the Yankees pitchers are vulnerable to a major shellacking. That’s not going to get much better when the Yankees have to face Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers. It may not even be enough against the Chicago White Sox.

Perhaps you are feeling better because you have seen reports that Andy Pettitte’s broken leg is healing and he could return sometime in September.

That’s hardly good news when you are talking about a 40-year-old pitcher. Even if he can begin to pitch again by September, will he last three inning? Five innings? Is it realistic to expect him to be back in form and take his spot in the rotation?

Here’s the bad news. The Yankees can’t afford anything less than Pettitte at his best. Pettitte was a shockingly good 11-3 with a 3.28 earned run average before he broke his leg. They need him to be at that level or beyond when he comes back.

They shouldn’t have to depend on a 40-year-old coming off the 60-day disabled list, but the rest of the staff is shaky at best.

The Yankees should have two stars in Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes. When those two go to the mound, it’s a crap shoot.

Nova has just been getting pounded since the all-star break. He has won one game since mid-June and his earned run average keeps climbing. Nova’s ERA is over 8.00 since the All-Star game.

Hughes got hit hard by the Tigers Tuesday night, but he has been good more often than he has failed. He has an 11-9 record and a 4.10 ERA, which would be decent jumping off points, but there’s nothing about his demeanor that tells you he will be on his game against the better American League teams in the postseason.

Hiroki Kuroda is probably the Yankees’ most dependable starter outside of Sabathia. He is smart and confident and that allows him to make key pitches at key moments. He would seem to have a fighting chance in the postseason.

The same cannot be said of Freddy Garcia. Brian Cashman and Girardi have to know that while Garcia might be able to get by in the regular season, he is just a firecracker ready to get lit up when the Yankees have to face the Angels, Tigers or Rangers. There is just too much firepower for this soft tosser to control.

The lineup may not be in peak form, but the Yankees can batter any pitching staff. However, if you don’t have the starting pitching when you are facing the best American League teams, you are not going to get the job done.

Cashman is not likely to find a miracle on the waiver wire, but that’s just what he needs.

What is the biggest problem for the Yankees, the starting pitching? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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