The New York Yankees have played nearly two-thirds of their 2012 season. It's still too early to make a definitive judgment, but certainly late enough to ask some legitimate questions about what they've done so far and what they are likely to do between now and the end of the World Series.
And some of the most legitimate questions are the ones I hear on a weekly basis in our Yankees live chat. Every Wednesday, I get a chance to answer those questions to the best of my ability.
This week, with a day off and what should be a soft landing spot for the weekend, three games against the Seattle Mariners at home, it feels like a good opportunity for me to ask the questions, and you to answer them. (I, of course, will give my opinion as well, for two reasons: I get paid to do it, and frankly, I can't help myself.)
The idea is, you read the questions and answers and then offer your opinions in the comments section below. Got it?
1. Should the lineup be changed? This is one I get just about every week in some form or another. This Wednesday it came from Jeremy in New York, who phrased it as follows: "Is Joe Girardi thinking of mixing up the lineup? Do you think Granderson should be moved down in the order?"
This is a question that the manager is asked repeatedly over the course of the year, and while he never outright rejects it, he seems to be hung up on the idea that he mustn't stack his lefties and must alternate his left-handed and right-handed hitters throughout the batting order to prevent the opposing manager from bringing in a lefty reliever late in the game. This even though Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher are switch-hitters, Robinson Cano punishes both lefties and righties on a equal basis and Curtis Granderson has improved tremendously against left-handed pitching.
2. Should the Yankees be worried about the starting pitching? This week, Mark in Chicago said: "I think the Yankees need another bona fide starter in a hurry. Do you see them doing a waiver deal to get one?"
The answer to that is an obvious no; unless a Cliff Lee or a Matt Cain winds up on the waiver wire and goes unclaimed, I doubt the Yankees will luck into anyone better than they already have. But there may be legitimate concerns with the rotation, especially if Andy Pettitte does not come back when expected, or more likely, does not come back pitching as well as he did when he went down.
The biggest concern might be Ivan Nova. Although it seems silly to worry about a pitcher who has gone 26-9 over the past two years, his performance Tuesday night, when he was staked to a 5-0 lead and couldn't get the third out of the second inning despite being 0-2 on Mark Reynolds and wound up allowing 11 runs, was troubling, as was his reaction afterward, when he seemed oblivious to his manager's exasperation.
For Girardi to call out one of his players publicly -- he never even did that to A.J. Burnett -- could be telling. It could mean he is still worried about Nova's focus and maturity. Or it could have been a sign that he was frustrated by losing four in a row and needed someone to take it out on. Your move.
3. Did the Yankees do enough at the trade deadline? No surprise that this one came up in multiple forms this week, and to me the answer is a question in itself: Who would you have traded for? Shane Victorino? Ryan Dempster? Brandon League?
None of them, IMHO, would have been a serious upgrade over who the Yankees already have at the prices they were likely to command. They got Ichiro for nothing and Casey McGehee, who might turn out to be a big help, for a seemingly immovable object in Chad Qualls. So I'm OK with Brian Cashman's trade deadline performance. How about you?
4. Has Nick Swisher done enough for the Yankees to consider bringing him back next year? This one comes up almost every week. Not this week, however, although I am expecting it again shortly.
My answer is that is really doesn't matter what Swisher does in the regular season -- even in a somewhat injury-shortened season, he is pretty much the same player this year that he had been for the previous eight -- but what he does in the postseason, where he has never come through. And even that may not matter; for the money he is likely to demand, upwards of $10 million a year for multiple years, the Yankees will probably opt to move on. You agree?
5. What if Rafael Soriano opts out? This question arises out of a conversation I had with my colleague Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes, who in chatting with Soriano got the distinct impression that he was seriously considering exercising the opt-out clause in his deal. That makes plenty of sense; there's no point in having an opt-out clause if you don't intend to use it, and like A-Rod following his MVP 2007 season, there's no better time than now for Soriano, who has proved to be a more than capable replacement for Mariano Rivera.
The question is, if you're the Yankees do you consider tearing up the last year of Sori's deal, which calls for $14 million, and give him more dollars and/or years? The answer obviously hinges on Rivera and whether the team believes he can successfully come back from knee surgery at age 43, and perhaps more so, on what the Yankees truly believe is the ceiling for David Robertson.
If they think Mo has one more good season in him and that D-Rob can be the closer of the future, you let Soriano walk. If the answer to either of those questions is a no, or even a maybe, then maybe you consider adding a year or two to Sori's existing contract. Thoughts?
6. Was the recent tailspin just a temporary downturn or a sign of bad things to come? This one came in two forms this week, from Grant in Chicago, who asked: "What do you think the reason for the Yankees' recent struggles are?" and from Alex in Anaheim, who asked: "Are the Yankees simply on a run of bad luck and injuries or is this team more flawed than I thought?"
Following Wednesday's 12-3 blowout of the Orioles, the easy answer is that the recent slump was merely the cyclical nature of the baseball season, in which not only players but entire teams go through hot and cold spells. As for the Yankees' flaws, they are the same they have been all season: They have some age on their roster at key positions and that tends to show as the season drags on, and precisely when they need it least, at playoff time.
The Yankees have shown one major flaw this season, which I will deal with in our next question. In the meantime, give me your own answer to this: Are the Yankees as good as they looked at the end of June, or as bad as they looked at the end of July?
7. Is this team built for the postseason? This question, of course, underlies every one of the previous questions, and it is the most puzzling of all.
Strict logic tells you that if a team is good enough to win between 95-100 games in the regular season -- and the Yankees are on pace for 95 wins this year -- they should be good enough to win the 11 games necessary to bring home a World Series championship.
But last year's Yankees were good enough to win 97 games and couldn't win three out of five games to get out of the first round of the playoffs. How can that be?
There's two answers, both of which are more like theories. One is that the postseason is a crapshoot (hat tip: Billy Beane) in which a small turn of events, like an ace having a bad start or a lineup suddenly going cold, can have huge consequences.
The other is that playoff baseball is a different animal, and what worked in the regular season, in which every team gets to feast on a pretty steady diet of the bad and mediocre, may not work when all but the top four -- and this year, five -- teams in the league are weeded out.
Last year, the Yankees and Detroit Tigers were pretty much a statistical wash. What decided that series was the Yankees' inability to get a clutch hit in Game 5, which they lost by one run. And if there is anything truly to worry about, it may be that the same ailment that afflicted that team seems to be troubling this one.
We write and joke a lot about the Yankees' RISP futility this season, although their performance with runners in scoring position has improved recently, all the way up to .245. And the truth is, although it's an easy stat to harp on and may have been the culprit in more than few losses this season, it really hasn't made a huge difference in the overall scheme of things.
That, of course, could change drastically in October, when all the three-run home runs that were hit in the regular season no longer matter and a playoff game, and series, can be lost for want of a timely hit.
That's what I would worry about as the Yankees head into the final two months of the regular season.