Writing this morning’s blog post about optimism and belief got me thinking about this: What parts of this team do you believe in right now? The Yankees have shown how good they can be, and they’ve shown how flawed they ultimately are. It’s not a perfect team — none of them are — so here are 10 things you either believe or don’t. Go!
Derek Jeter as batting title contender
Remember when the Yankees captain was finished? It really wasn’t very long ago, right in the middle of last season as he was stumbling toward 3,000 career hits. He didn’t seem to be the same any more, and a bad year — at his age — suggested he was finished as an elite player. But now he’s hitting .324, just a few points behind Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for the American League lead in batting average. He was awfully good in Baltimore. Can he lead the league in batting average for the first time?
Mark Teixeira as a down-the-stretch contributor
Fourty-eight hours ago, Teixeira seemed healthy enough to step right back into the middle of the Yankees lineup. Now he’s going for another MRI. The Yankees believe he’ll be back this season, but Joe Girardi has acknowledged wondering whether his first baseman might actually be lost for the season. Even if he does come back, will it be an Alex Rodriguez situation like last year? In the lineup, but not producing? Especially against lefties, this lineup looks pretty thin without Teixeira.
Andy Pettitte as a division series starter
Hard to doubt him, right? Under almost any other circumstances, Pettitte has earned the Yankees blind faith in his ability to take the ball in the postseason and deliver a strong start. But he’s made only a handful of big league starts in the past two-plus seasons. He missed most of the second half in 2010, all of 2011 and he’s made only nine starts this year. What do you need to see from Pettitte, and how soon do you need to see it, to trust him with a Game 7?
CC Sabathia as the ace of the pitching staff
By name, title and contract, Sabathia is still the Yankees No. 1 starter, and assuming the Yankees hold onto this division lead, he’ll almost certainly start the first game of the division series. But after two stints on the disabled list, three disappointing starts in a row and an unexplained dip in fastball velocity, do you still believe in him as the go-to start on this staff?
Russell Martin as an everyday catcher
The strengths and weaknesses are obvious, and you know he’s going to be a Yankees regular the rest of the season, but has Martin’s recent offensive surge provided any additional confidence in his ability to be productive? If not, is his ability behind the plate — blocking balls, throwing to second, calling pitches — enough to deserve so much playing time? If not, do you have an alternative in mind?
Phil Hughes as a No. 3 starter
Expectations for Hughes have been sky high ever since he was compared to Roger Clemens as a minor leaguer. He clearly hasn’t emerged as an ace, but since the middle of May he’s pitched to a 3.62 ERA and been a pretty good No.3 starter for the Yankees. Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda are the only Yankees starters to have been in the rotation all year, and if the playoffs started tomorrow, I have to think Hughes would pitch Game 3. Would you be comfortable with that?
Nick Swisher as a productive hitter in Boston
Not so long ago, he was red hot. Now he can’t buy a hit, and even when he hits one over the fence — like he did in Baltimore a few days ago — it gets robbed. Swisher is stone cold these days, which is surprising considering how good he had been since moving into the No. 2 spot in the order. Does the fact he was hitting just a few weeks ago make you think he’ll be able to hit again after a day off?
Put these in order from most to least confident in ability to hit in a big spot…
Chris Dickerson, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Casey McGehee, Eduardo Nunez, Steve Pearce
Put these in order from most to least confident in ability to get out of late-inning jam…
Joba Chamberlain, Cody Eppley, Derek Lowe, David Phelps, Cory Wade
The Yankees as the best team in the American League East
This is the big one, isn’t it? Given the new wild card play-in game, a division title has gained importance, and the Yankees are clinging to a one-game lead coming down the stretch. They haven’t been in second place since the middle of June, and it’s clearly their division to win or lose. Jeter likes to say that the Yankees don’t have to worry about anyone else. Win their games and they’ll be fine. Have we been watching the AL East champions?
Associated Press photo