Five questions facing Yankees in the second half
Health issues and trade possibilities sit on the horizon in the Bronx
With their playoff odds hovering above 98 percent, according to Fangraphs, the Yankees sit in a lofty position following the All-Star Game. However, as with any top contender, the Bombers aren't perfect and still have challenges to overcome before the season concludes.
Here are five questions whose answers could define the Yankees' chase for ring No. 28:
Will the Yankees approach full health?
Alhough the Yankees are 57-31 at the All-Star break, they've had to contend with a bevy of misfortunes to players along the lines of Mr. Burns' ringers in "Homer at the Bat."
The team has seen many of its injured players return -- namely Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks -- while avoiding the equivalent to the Springfield Mystery Spot.
Still, neither the Yankees' top starter nor reliever -- Luis Severino and Dellin Betances -- has thrown a pitch yet this season. Giancarlo Stanton is out until August. That's before one accounts for non-stars like Jordan Montgomery, Greg Bird and Jonathan Loaisiga.
If New York can get contributions from their top players currently on the IL, the team could improve immensely despite already sitting atop the AL standings -- and without considering possible outside additions.
Will the team add at the deadline?
Speaking of additions from the outside, there's just one trade deadline this year: July 31. There's no waiver deadline in August to supplement your roster, which is how the Yankees picked up Andrew McCutchen and Adeiny Hechavarria last season. If the Yankees are going to add to the roster, it'll have to be this month.
The Yankees have been connected to just about every starting pitcher on the market this year. Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer. You name him, he's been mentioned in rumors with the Yankees.
While Brian Cashman and New York's brass may want another starter, the market could force him to focus elsewhere. The Bombers' bullpen has helped carry the roster so far, yet Cashman could further cement the bullpen's dominance by adding a reliever, as he did with Zack Britton last year. He already unexpectedly added to the offense with Edwin Encarnacion.
How will the rotation shake out?
This question is intrinsically tied to the two above. If Severino, Stroman or another starter joins the rotation by season's end, the staff will take on a decidedly different outlook.
At the moment, the Yankees have a fine rotation after Domingo German returned from his IL stint. Is it one that can win in October, however?
That remains to be seen. Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton could be poised for strong second halves while CC Sabathia keeps chugging in his farewell season.
Still, there's room for improvement. The Yankees have gotten by with the opener when their depth has been tested, but the team would likely prefer Chad Green to make an impact in the late innings rather than be part of the rotation. Even a depth addition, as Lance Lynn was a year ago, could make a significant difference.
Will we see Deivi Garcia in pinstripes in 2019?
Just as Gleyber Torres was in 2017 before needing Tommy John surgery, Deivi Garcia is the silent X-factor for the Yankees: A top prospect who could contribute earlier than expected in the postseason chase.
If you're unfamiliar with Garcia, the 20-year-old starting pitcher blazed through the Florida State League and Eastern League before earning a promotion to Triple-A after starting the Futures Game on Sunday. Featuring a mid-90s fastball, a high-spin curveball and an improving slider, Garcia has a 3.01 ERA and has struck out just south of 15 batters per nine innings in 2019, leading all Minor League qualifiers.
RHP Deivi Garcia started the All-Star Futures game with a strikeout, and he ultimately turned in a clean 1-2-3 inning for the American League squad. Next stop: Scranton 🔥 pic.twitter.com/C83hDqu6FR- NYYPlayerDev (@NYYPlayerDev) July 8, 2019
Signed in the 2015 offseason, Garcia will need to be added to the 40-man roster after the season. Therefore, before he hits his innings limit this fall, the Yankees may opt to see what he can provide in the Majors. His fastball-curveball combo could play well against MLB competition and allow him to hit the ground running. Or, as with many young pitching prospects, he could stagnate. If the Yankees can build on their division lead by September, they'll have more freedom to play with Garcia and other young players.
Otherwise, Garcia could be a top trade chip if the Yankees want to make a big splash before July 31.
Is there an AL offense that can touch the Yankees?
The Yankees may have some holes, but their offense has very few. Early-season injuries failed to expose significant weaknesses in New York's roster and instead reinforced the team's tremendous depth.
With Stanton and Cameron Maybin on the IL, Encarnacion in a slump and Frazier in Triple-A, we've yet to see the A+ lineup the Yankees can roll out. Sure, Gio Urshela or Brett Gardner may have troulbe maintaining their production, but the Yankees are set up to take any lumps and still dish out six-run innings before the average starter has settled in.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Astros, Twins and Red Sox have strong lineups. The Rays have a pitching staff that, when fully healthy, can hold teams in check.
Even with those caveats, the Yankees bring a starting nine (and more) into the second half that could make them the favorites come October.