While having the Yankees atop the AL East standings is not a big surprise, few teams would be able to stay in first place with their two best starting pitchers and their closer on the DL.
Sure, ace C.C. Sabathia only missed a couple of starts and is expected back shortly after the break, but number two starter Andy Pettitte is gone for at least six weeks while closer Mariano Rivera is gone for the rest of the season.
The depth in the Yankees organization has been tested and so far, it has come through with flying colors. Rafael Soriano has gotten the job done in the bullpen, saving 20 games and having an ERA of just 1.60. He has blown only one save all season.
Meanwhile, Freddy Garcia has pitched well since returning to the starting rotation, going 1-0 and giving up just three earned runs in 12 innings for a 2.25 ERA. He has struck out nine and walked only two since he resumed being a starter.
Garcia’s performance will be key for the Yankees after Sabathia returns. Garcia doesn’t need to be a standout pitcher over the next month, he just has to be consistently good until Pettitte returns to action sometime in late-August or early September.
If for some reason Garcia falters, David Phelps is likely the next in line to join the rotation. Phelps has had a solid rookie season as a relief pitcher and spot starter. He is 1-3 with a very respectable 3.05 ERA. How the 25-year-old St. Louis, native would handle the pressure of a pennant race remains to be seen.
Another possible addition to the pitching staff is Joba Chamberlain who pitched well in his first rehab start last week in the Gulf Coast League. Chamberlain can be added to the rotation or the bull pen depending on where the greatest need is although the Yankees would probably be hesitant to allow Chamberlain to pitch too many innings so soon after his return so his pitch count would certainly be limited.
The Yankees may also seek to acquire some pitching help at the trade deadline which is less than three weeks away. Would GM Brian Cashman go out and get a big time rental player like Cole Hamels? Never say never with the Yankees but a less expensive starter is a more likely addition if needed. Either way, expect Cashmant to do something to solidify his pitching staff before the Yankees enter the dog days of August.
The schedule will not be easy down the stretch for the Bronx Bombers. They have 44 games remaining against the AL East, a division where every team is at least at .500 at the All-Star break. In the first half, the Yankees were just 15-13 against AL East opponents, a mark they will have to improve upon if they hope to win the division and avoid a one-game playoff as a wild card.
So far, the Yankees have done a good job of overcoming injuries that few other teams would have been able to survive. Whether they can do this over the long haul will be the key to the second half of their season.