The final game of the Yankees' regular season is Sept. 28 in Boston. There are 68 games between now and then that will decide if that is where it all ends for Derek Jeter's legendary career. But Jeter's final bows may not come at the Fens. Here's why.
1. Is the season over?
I don't think so. I also don't think the Yankees are going to make the playoffs, but there is a plausible way for them to get there.
Despite being just 3 1/2 games back in the wild card, compared to five back in the AL East, the easier path to the playoffs is probably the division because there are fewer teams to compete with for the top spot.
The Yankees are five back of the Orioles, but they play them nine more times. Let's say they go 6-3 in those games; then they just need to play two better in other games to tie the O's. I'm not saying that will happen, but it is far from impossible. The Yankees are just a game behind the Blue Jays, who have a shot, but also have holes.
Basically, the Yankees have a chance because this is a race among turtles.
2. Can they use the Yankee$' muscle?
If the Yankees were to make an impact trade, it would likely be for a high-salaried guy who won't cost much in the way of top prospects. Cliff Lee makes sense, though he has been hurt this year. Lee is 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA. He is scheduled to start for the Phillies on July 21. If he does, it is a pretty good bet the Yankees will be watching.
Lee, who turns 36 in August, is owed $25 million next year with an option for 2016. The Yankees would surely want the Phillies to eat some of that money if Philly asks for any type of prospect in return. Lee has a no-trade clause.
The Yankees will likely hold on to their top prospects unless it is for someone like David Price. Price could be the biggest difference-maker on the market. It is unclear if the Rays would trade him to the Yankees -- a division rival -- or if the Yankees would have the prospects to make such a deal.
3. How does the current roster improve?
New York Yankees
As one baseball official put it, you expect guys to reach the back of their baseball cards. So, in theory, the Yankees should get more in the second half from Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran than they did in the first half. Provided they are healthy, of course.
McCann, after hitting coach Kevin Long eliminated his toe tap, hit .364 with a .796 on-base percentage in the final eight games of the first half. Beltran's been hurt on and off all year, so the Yankees need him to be some semblance of the .830 OPS guy he was last year. This season, he has been at .631.
Shane Greene, impressive in two starts, is the man to watch in the rotation. Just a 25-year-old rookie, he needs to be a dependable starter if the Yankees are going to have any chance without Masahiro Tanaka. In spite of losing four-fifths of their Opening Day rotation, the Yankees' starters haven't been bad, but they will need Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps and Brandon McCarthy to stay strong. They also need an upgrade over Chase Whitley. While the bats were the problem in the first half, I think the starters might unglue the Yankees in the second.
4. What will happen with Tanaka?
There is a feeling among many media members and fans that Tanaka is headed for Tommy John surgery. I could very well see it. However, he went to four experts and they all said he could come back in six weeks or so with rehab ... so we shall see.
5. How about Michael Pineda?
New York Yankees
Joe Girardi said he still expects Pineda back this season. We'll see. Mr. Setback City will not return until mid-to-late August because of his upper back/shoulder problem.
6. Can the farm help?
Rob Refsnyder is a name we have mentioned often here. Refsnyder is being converted to second base, but was originally an outfielder. The Yankees have put him back in the outfield at Triple-A in anticipation of calling him up to share right field with Ichiro Suzuki.
Refsnyder has hit .300-plus at Double-A and Triple-A this season. He is a professional hitter, but the Yankees will likely give him a few more games to re-accustom himself to the outfield before calling him up. The right-handed Refsnyder is just 23. He was the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series, leading Arizona to the title in 2012.
7. How's the schedule look?
It actually seems pretty favorable, if the Yankees can figure out how to hit at home. Of the Yankees' final 68 games, 41 are at home and 27 are on the road. That seems like good news, except the Yankees are 18-23 at home and 29-24 on the road.
Recently, I asked Girardi why he thought that was and he said it might be because the Yankees aren't hitting as many home runs this season. They are ninth out of the 15 teams in the AL in homers. There is a big disparity between the top eight and the bottom seven. The eighth-place Indians have 90 homers, while the ninth-place Yankees, with 81, are just two and three homers ahead of the 10th- (Mariners) and 11th-place (Rays) teams, respectively. AL East rivals Toronto and Baltimore are first and second, with 116 and 114 -- both more than twice the number of the last-place Royals (55), and significantly outpacing the Yankees.
Here's something else to keep in mind: The Orioles have the toughest second-half schedule in baseball, according to Buster Olney.
1. (most difficult second-half schedule): Baltimore Orioles
Home/away: 32 games at home; 36 on the road.
Games against teams with records of .500 or better: 42
Schedule notes: With the rest of the division something of a mess, the Orioles appear to have a great opportunity to win the AL East. But they will be challenged right out of the All-Star break: 10 straight games against the AL West beasts, beginning with Oakland, then the Angels and Mariners. Then, as a topper, they go back home and play the Angels and Mariners again, followed by a makeup game in Washington. In fact, Baltimore's first 26 games after the All-Star break -- yes, that's twenty-six -- are against teams with records of .500 or better. Brutal.
Big finish: Not only are most of the Orioles' games on the road in the second half, and not only do they have to play tough teams, but their last seven games are on the road, with four games at Yankee Stadium and three in Toronto.
8. Why should you keep watching, other than for Jeter's farewell tour?
In fact, the Yankees' relievers make up the best strikeout bullpen in baseball history, with a rate of 10.57 strikeouts per nine innings that tops the 2010 Atlanta Braves' mark of 10.06. If the Yankees manage to overcome their various injuries and numerous slumping hitters and actually make the playoffs, it will be on the back of that bullpen and its strikeout ability.
The bullpen is the biggest reason to watch, besides Jeter. This team might have a run in it, but if it doesn't, the Bombers will be pretty boring outside of the bullpen.