Yankees best at the break

07/09/2012 11:37 AM ET
By Jon Lane

Rafael Soriano's outstanding work as closer is one of many factors that has the Yankees in first place.(AP)

Off until Hiroki Kuroda toes the rubber Friday night against the Angels at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees get to bask in the glow of owning baseball’s best record at the All-Star break.

This guarantees absolutely nothing, but it’s obviously very encouraging. The Yankees own a seven-game lead over the Orioles, 7 ½ over the Rays, and 9 ½ over the Red Sox and Blue Jays after taking three of four from Boston over the weekend, in the game’s roughest division. As my media colleague Neil Keefe Tweeted, the Yankees would have to finish the season 39-38 and the Red Sox 48-28 to create a tie atop the AL East. “And the Yankees aren't going 39-38 in the second half.”

The BoSox may be buried in the East cellar, but they’re not dead. Thanks to a second wild-card berth at stake, Boston resides only 2 ½ games out of a shot at the postseason party. Yes, you have to be in it to win it, but for the first time wild-card winners will have to play in a one-game playoff to formally qualify for the playoffs. If the Yankees hold on to win the division, they earn homefield advantage and play the winner of said sudden-death game. It’d be a lot of fun if it were the Red Sox or an AL East rival. For the first time, teams from the same division will be able to face each other in a best-of-five Division Series.

A Yankees team that fell to last place on May 21 enters the break at 52-33 thanks to a remarkable June that saw them go 20-7, sparked by a starting rotation that went 15-4, 2.62. The Yanks are missing Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Andy Pettitte and for a time were without David Robertson, and there are those ongoing difficulties of hitting with runners in scoring position. Besides the work from the starters, Rafael Soriano has been near-perfect, the Yankees have clubbed a league-leading 134 home runs and everyone has contributed to where the Bombers are better than the sum of their parts.

“A lot of guys stepped up,” said Andruw Jones. “That’s what the team is about. We just have to have guys who come in and get the job done.

Jones is one example of how the Yankees have received bang for their bucks. Turning back the clock to his glory days, the part-time outfielder batted .357 (5-for-14) with four homers, six RBIs and had a couple of defensive gems in the outfield in the Red Sox series. More under-the-radar guys – Eric Chavez, Jayson Nix, Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley – have been valuable by doing things not seen in a box score or a stat sheet.

Other highlights from the Yankees’ first half:

• Ivan Nova just wins ballgames. Over his last seven starts the sophomore right-hander has pitched to a 1.70 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 47.2 innings pitched while holding opponents to a .225 batting average. Nova whiffed 10 Red Sox Sunday night to overcome sloppy defense and six hits allowed in his six innings of work. Manager Joe Girardi left impressed with Nova showing more signs of maturity.

• Robinson Cano is riding a 15-game hitting streak (.393-5-16), which ties Derek Jeter for the longest by a Yankee this season. It’s amazing how after batting .267 with one homer and four RBIs in April now stands at .313-20-51 and is a viable AL MVP candidate.

• Mark Teixeira hit .348 with two doubles, two homers, seven runs and 10 RBIs against the Rays and Red Sox, encouraging signs that he’ll bust out in the second half and improve on his current .250-15-54 numbers.

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