The baseball season has reached its virtual midpoint which means that the tone for the league is set. Hot starts have cooled, early struggles have had a chance to correct themselves and we have a good idea of where teams truly lie in the pecking order. So where do the Yankees stand and what can we say about the team so far?
The Yankees are legit contenders
As of Friday's games the Yankees have a three game lead in a suddenly resurgent AL East that has become the best division in baseball again. This appears to be no fluke as their pythagorean record falls right in line with their actual results. Furthermore, according to Fangraphs projections the Yankees currently have about a 75% chance at making the playoffs after a two year drought with a 10% shot at winning the World Series. By the same projections only the Nationals and Dodgers have a better chance at the Commissioner's Trophy.
Don't call it a comeback
While Brett Gardner is heading to the All-Star game, and deservedly so, it should really be no surprise after his breakout 2014 campaign. Perhaps the biggest reason for the Yankees' success this year is the All-Star caliber play from three players who disappointed for various reasons last year. Brian McCann has shaken off his dud of a debut in pinstripes with a more consistent power stroke and better plate discipline. After struggling with wrist injuries for a couple of years, Mark Teixeira appears to be fully healthy. He's already matched his home run total from last year and is drawing walks at the highest rate of his Yankee career. Alex Rodriguez has done what seemed impossible just a few months ago, silencing his many haters with a monster bat and overall great attitude. His time away from the game has served him very well.
Middle infield is still a question mark
Given the unenviable task of replacing a legend, Didi Gregorius struggled mightily at shortstop to start the season. To his credit he's steadily improved since then but by no mean's has a stranglehold on the position in the Bronx. It wouldn't be a total surprise if the Yankees picked up a shortstop at the trade deadline. At the keystone Stephen Drew has stayed afloat to this point thanks solely to his 12 home runs. The organization has finally come to its senses, though, as they called up promising second base prospect Rob Refsnyder to the majors yesterday. They now have a half season to find out if Refsnyder, who has raked at every level of the minor leagues, can cut it against big league pitching.
The starting rotation is solid enough
Considering all the question marks in the rotation before the season started, it's hard not to be pleased with how they've done so far. As a unit, Yankee starters have pitched to a 4.21 ERA with a much better 3.76 FIP and Fangraphs ranks them as the eleventh best rotation in the major leagues. It appears that Masahiro Tanaka has survived an early injury scare and with Ivan Nova back in the picture, there are two ample arms, Chris Capuano and Adam Warren, in the bullpen ready to fill a spot should another injury occur. Because they're the Yankees, the team will be mentioned in rumors involving the best starters at the trade deadline, but should they swing and miss it won't be the end of the world.
The bullpen is still top-heavy
The Yankees made efforts to revamp their bullpen this year to offset the losses of David Robertson and Shawn Kelley and overall, the results have been great. According to Fangraphs, only the Dodgers have a better bullpen to this point. The problem is that nearly all of its value is tied to Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. While Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson have done well in middle relief the team's bullpen will be thin down the stretch if Miller goes down again for any reason or if Adam Warren is called back into the starting rotation. Like most contending teams, the Yankees will be looking for a proven bullpen arm leading up to the trade deadline, and it should be a priority.