The Yankees are in first place with just over 71 games to play, 17 of which are set to be played against the second place Tampa Bay Rays and third place Boston Red Sox (who trail New York by three and 6 1/2 games, respectively).
Here are some things to watch out for as baseball heads into its home stretch:
Nick Swisher: Since Swisher was announced as a candidate for the final spot on the American League All-Star team on July 4, he's hit .381 with a .435 OBP, 3 home runs, 8 runs scored and a walk-off game-winning hit. Swish showed us last year that when he gets hot he can carry an offense....unfortunately, we also learned last year that he can also go dead cold at the plate for long stretches of time.
As the #2 hitter, when Swisher's hitting well and getting on base, it creates opportunities for the Yankees' power front to see hittable pitches. If Swisher can carry his career-year through the second half, we could see the Yankees offense become even more potent. But, if his bat goes dead, it'll put extra pressure on Mark Teixeira and Álex Rodriguez, who have already had struggles this year.
Speaking of Mark Teixeira: It's no coincidence that he's suddenly become the Tex the Yankees paid for. Since July 4, the first baseman has been on a rampage. He's hit five home runs for 11 RBI (in 10 games!), while improving his average from .243 to .253, and his OBP from .352 to .363 (neither is by any means good, but improvement should be noted).
Derek Jeter: On June 1, the Captain's batting average was .307....it now stands at a very un-Jeter .271. During that period, he's hit .228 and at one point he went 19 games without an RBI. In the past, when Jeter has had slumps like this he's recovered in grand fashion, which is why he's never finished a season with an average below .291.
Those Starting Pitchers: Each month this season, one of the Yankee starters has gone through a terrible slump. But when four pitchers are rocking it, it doesn't matter much how the fifth guy is faring. However, things could start getting rocky soon. A.J. Burnett still can't quite figure out how to avoid devastating innings, and Andy Pettitte will be out for the next month or so with a strained groin. The pressure's going to be on C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Javier Vazquez to produce quality starts, so the bullpen doesn't get too strained.
Oh Yeah, the Bullpen: It's gonna be a fight (in a good way)! Joba Chamberlain's been inconsistent, while David Robertson's in recovery mode and Jonathan Albaladejo's been lighting up triple-A opponents of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, and manager Joe Girardi has taken notice. He might just be trying to add extra motivation for Chamberlain to turn things around, but Girardi hinted this weekend that his role as primary setup man might be in jeopardy. Girardi told the Daily News:
"I'm not saying on a daily basis I am going to change our eighth-inning guy, but you have to earn your roles here," Girardi said. "And we evaluate on a daily basis."Note: Make sure to check back every week for The Yankees, Unobstructed BxNN's Yankees opinion column.