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Treading water and primed to sink, here come the Yankees

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  July 19, 2013 09:32 AM

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Finally.

No, no, not the fact that we at long last, on July 19, get to welcome the Yankees to Boston for the first time this season, although that is pretty remarkable.

Thirteen days from the Major League Baseball trading deadline, one week until the beginning of Patriots training camp, the Red Sox finally have the stage to themselves.

For the meantime at least, the Bruins, Celtics, and the members of the Foxborough County Correctional Facility that once resembled Gillette Stadium are all on the back burner. The Red Sox return from the All-Star break with few other sports distractions, and, lo and behold, with the Yankees in town.

Perfect.

Fresh off Mariano Rivera Day in New York earlier this week, the Yankees closer leads an All-Star cast of … wait, what?

No Alex Rodriguez.

No Kevin Youkilis.

No Mark Teixeira.

No Curtis Granderson.

No Derek Jeter?

What the hell?

It hasn’t been the healthiest of seasons for the middling Yankees, ravaged by injuries to key cogs in the lineup. New York comes into this weekend’s series six games behind the Red Sox, who could put them away as a threat with a sweep. Still, while the Yankees’ 51 wins may be only fourth-best in the American League East, seven other AL teams chime in with worse records. So, there’s that.

In fact, the Yankees are closer to Toronto in last place than they are first and the Red Sox. Baltimore sits 1½ games ahead of New York, while Tampa Bay resides 2½ behind Boston. The Rays come in for four next week, followed by three at Camden Yards. Logic would tell you that those showdowns are more pivotal for the Red Sox in their quest for the division crown.

Nevertheless, 13 of Boston’s final 65 games come against the Yankees. That’s 20 percent of the remaining schedule, so get used to them. In fact, 38 of the final 65 games are against AL East opponents, 58 percent the rest of the way, which means a lot of beating up on each other, and possibly opening the door for the Yankees to sneak back into the race. Those same Yankees? They’re 2-4 against the Red Sox, 5-7 against the Orioles and 5-5 against the Rays this season. Pennant fever it ain’t.

“They’ve gone through a lot and they’ve played well. ... You don’t normally see the Yankees in fourth, but you know they’re going to be there in the end,” Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “We have to play well and win every game we possibly can, because every team in our division can win it. They all have the talent. The Yankees will be all right.”

Maybe. As it stands now, the Yankees are three games out in the wild card standings, with Cleveland, Baltimore, Texas, and Tampa Bay standing in their way. Staff ace CC Sabathia hasn’t quite evoked the words “Jon” and “Lester” in the Bronx, but still, his season can probably be best summed up as “meh.” In fact, outside of Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees starting staff has not only an air of vulnerability to it, but a stench of desperation. Andy Pettitte, Sabathia, Phil Hughes … it’s like an entire rotation of Ryan Dempsters.

From Newsday:

The Yankees' pitching is the primary reason they kept their head above water in the first half, despite the club being ravaged by injuries. But cracks began to show in the rotation toward the end of the first half, primarily CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. Sabathia (9-8, 4.07) referred to his first half as "terrible," and Pettitte struggled as well, particularly in his last six starts, leading to a 7-6, 4.39 ledger. Hiroki Kuroda (8-6, 2.65) has been the staff's anchor, but the righthander is 39 and can't do it by himself. Then there's the inconsistent Hughes and questions surrounding the injured David Phelps: Will he stay in the rotation or lose his spot to Ivan Nova? The uncertainty is one reason the acquisition of a pitcher can't be ruled out.

We’ll see whether or not that possibility comes to fruition over the next week-plus. The Yankees open the “second half” with a pivotal and brutal stretch against Boston, Texas, Tampa Bay, and the Nick Punto All-Stars leading up to the trading deadline. Matt Garza is likely headed to Texas. What’s really left?

That’s what the Yankees have to find out as they resume their disappointing season in Boston. By the looks of it, it’s not much.

But hey, it’s still the Yankees, even if they do suck.

“We’ve just got to get the rest of the guys back,” New York second baseman Robinson Cano said. “We’re still playing pretty good baseball now. We’re not in first place, but I would say that with the guys that we have, we’ve been doing a pretty good job. Now, hopefully we get the rest of the guys and we make a run.”

We’ll see. But it sure feels more like New York’s last stand than it does the start of something good.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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