Yankees 2014 storylines at the halfway pointA look at how the big spring stories have shaken out through 80 games
Back in February, YESNetwork.com's feature The Niner spotlighted nine spring training storylines to watch. They were all "spring specific," so to speak, but as time went on, many became storylines to watch throughout the season.
The nominal first half still has about two weeks to go, but as the Yankees prepare to host Tampa Bay Monday night in game No. 81 of 162, we take a look at how those stories have played out so far, with each number in the text reflecting its corresponding storyline in that edition of The Niner.
No. 9: How effective will Mark Teixeira be?
Coming off a season lost to wrist surgery, Teixeira (and everyone else) maybe feared the worst when he was placed on the disabled list less than a week into the season with a hamstring strain - but he came back seemingly stronger than ever as soon as he was eligible, and, numbers-wise, has been the team's biggest offensive threat at times.
Teixeira has played in 60 of the Yankees' first 80 games, and while his .243 average is a tick below his Yankees career average if .259, he does lead the team with 15 home runs and 41 RBI and is tied for second with 33 walks. Yes, he missed a few games with inflammation in his surgically-repaired wrist and has already made five errors at first base - as many as he made in 280 defensive games from 2011-13 combined - but overall, you can't complain with how steady Tex has been.
No. 8: How will the backup catcher role shake out?
Maybe a stretch on our part, as it seems Francisco Cervelli had the job sewn up all along, but as the Yankees fans found out when Cervelli hurt his hamstring on April 13, nothing is ever fully set in stone.
Sandwiched around a 60-day stint on the DL with that hamstring injury, Cervelli has played in nine games and hit .217 with two RBI his replacement, John Ryan Murphy, hit .286 with a homer and eight RBI in 24 games in Cervy's absence, and their other competitor, Austin Romine, is also on the map thanks to a one-game cameo in early April.
Despite Murphy's success, the Yankees seem to feel he's better poised playing every day in Triple-A, so the job remains Cervelli's until injury or departure take it away again.
No. 7: How will the outfield roles develop?
Having five former All-Star outfielders may have seemed like overkill in February, but in June, it has turned out to be a blessing.
Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have been pretty much as expected, playing nearly every day (156 of 160 possible games played) with great speed (36 stolen bases combined), good average (Gardner .288, Ellsbury .285) and decent power (11 homers and 64 RBI between them).
However, Ichiro has turned out to be more than just a bit-player, taking advantage of playing time that has come because of Carlos Beltran's injury and Alfonso Soriano's inconsistency. Both Beltran (.220-8-24) and Soriano (.228-6-23) have been underwhelming at the plate, but Ichiro (.297-0-10) has done his best to make up for that.
Nos. 6, 5, and 2: Who plays second and third, who fills the bench, and who makes their name known?
When it comes to No. 6, we can note that it has been a nice rotation; projected starters Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson and Yangervis Solarte (who wins the awards for Nos. 5 and 2) have made 153 of a possible 160 starts at the positions, with most of the cameos coming on days where Johnson had to fill in for Teixeira at first base and one of the others needed a day off.
That said, whether or not they've been a success is all in how you look at it. Roberts has stayed healthy and has decent peripherals (16 extra-base hits, three HR, 16 RBI, seven steals, 25 BB/39 K), but at .233, he is 44 points below his .277 career batting average; Solarte started hot, hitting .303 in April and then .293 with five of his six homers in May, but he has regressed to .164 in June thanks to an 0-for-27 skid mid-month and a 2-for-34 clip since June 10; and while Johnson has hit better of late, going for a .262 clip in June and homering Friday for the first time since May 3, he's still at just .229 overall and has only five homers, disappointing stats for those who thought the pop in his lefty bat would translate very well to Yankee Stadium.
No. 4: Who will be the fifth starter?
Michael Pineda of course beat out Vidal Nuno, David Phelps, and Adam Warren to win the fifth spot in the rotation, but thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, the question as the season has elapsed has morphed into simply "who will be in the rotation?"
Pineda pitched well in his four starts, going 2-2 with a 1.83 ERA, but a suspension and a back injury have kept him off the mound since his ejection in Boston on April 23; his replacement, Nuno, is 2-4 with a 4.85 ERA in 13 starts, and thanks to injuries to CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, both Phelps (3-4, 4.45 in 10 starts) and call-up Chase Whitley (3-2, 4.70 in nine starts) have had to step into starting roles. Warren is the only member of the derby not to get a look, but given that he has been dominant in the bullpen, don't expect him to anytime soon.
No. 3: How does the bullpen replace the G.O.A.T.?
So far, so good here, right? David Robertson has a 3.08 ERA, 18 saves, and 47 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings as the closer, Shawn Kelley filled in nicely as interim closer when Robertson was hurt and has been effective on the whole, Dellin Betances (1.33 ERA, 76 K in 47 1/3 IP) and Warren (2.79 ERA) have both come out of nowhere to become huge pieces of the bridge to D-Rob, and Matt Thornton (2.55 ERA, .220 BAA vs. lefties) has been good enough in a mostly lefty-specialist role.
Injuries and inconsistency have seen about a dozen others (including Phelps and Nuno) fill the final two spots, so we can't really hold that against anyone, but on the whole, the bullpen has been a strength in Year 1 P.S. (Post Sandman).
No. 1: How will the Captain's Farewell play out?
In all fairness, we have to note that Derek Jeter has not quite had a Jeter-esque season; numbers unfortunately don't lie, and his say that The Captain (.275-2-19, 21 BB, .663 OPS) is on pace for full-season lows across the board offensively. History also doesn't lie, though, and history says that after a rough first half in 2011, Jeter returned from a DL stint rejuvenated and became the best hitter in baseball in the second half. We've learned to never bet against The Captain, and with the Yankees fighting to bring him to the postseason one last time, you never know what kind of Jeter magic will emerge.