Unexpected sources lifting Yanks

Originally Published: August 18, 2010
ESPN.com

Editor's note: Throughout August, ESPN.com is taking a close look at various teams in the hunt for a playoff spot to assess whether they have what it takes to survive the dog days of August and remain in contention come October.

At the bottom of the page, each team receives a dog bone rating based on our overall analysis: five bones = serious postseason contender; four bones = good contender; three bones = average contender; two bones = poor contender; one bone = no contender.

Cano
Cano

Robinson Cano

It's usually pretty hard to pick the most important player on a team with as many stars as the Yankees have, but this year it's pretty easy. With Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira all struggling to various degrees at different points of the season, no one has been more important to the offense than Cano. His .336/.389/.556 first-half batting line -- right in the middle of the Yankees' lineup -- carried the offense while Jeter, A-Rod and Teixeira were putting up OPS' of .732, .826 and .825 respectively (and with Jorge Posada limited by injuries and general creakiness). Great starting pitching helped, but as far as any individual effort, no one has outshined Cano this year for the Bombers.

-- Jason Rosenberg (It's About The Money, SweetSpot Blog Network)

A.J. Burnett
Burnett

A.J. Burnett

Every Yankee is supposed to step it up this time of year, but the guy who must step it up is Burnett. To understand why, look at the Yankees' starting pitching. Andy Pettitte is hurt, Phil Hughes is approaching his innings limit and Javier Vazquez has misplaced his fastball. With the bottom of the rotation so shaky, the top of the rotation must excel. Burnett has excelled, but not consistently. According to ESPN Stats & Information team, Burnett is the most inconsistent pitcher in baseball. In his wins, Burnett has the lowest ERA of any pitcher with at least five wins. In his losses, he has the worst ERA of any pitcher with at least five losses. At his best, Burnett dominates. His performance in Game 2 of the World Series last fall was key to the Yankees' 27th world championship. But in contrast, consider Burnett's July 17 outing against the Rays: two innings, four runs, one temper tantrum and multiple lacerations.

-- Jason Rosenberg (It's About The Money, SweetSpot Blog Network)

If you had told Yankees fans that more than 100 games into the season the three most valuable players on the roster, according to Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement statistic, would be Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher -- and the Yankees would have the best record in baseball -- you would have gotten more than a few strange looks and some laughs.

A key theme of the Yankees' season has been their ability to overcome subpar seasons from three of their core offensive players -- Jeter, Rodriguez and Teixeira -- and yet still nearly be on pace for another 100-win season.

Jeter, A-Rod, Tex struggling

Jeter is posting career-low marks across the board, and nearly two-thirds of his balls put into play have been groundballs, easily the highest rate of his career and the highest in the majors.

Jeter
Jeter

Rodriguez, despite his three-homer game Saturday, is averaging a home run every 20 at-bats, his lowest rate since he was a 21-year-old in 1997, and slugging a career-worst .486.

Teixeira's batting average was hovering near the Mendoza line through the first two months, and although he has reached base safely in 56 of his last 61 games, he is still hitting a career-worst .252.

Cano, Swisher, Gardner soaring

Cano has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate, ranking fifth in the American League in batting average, and is also in the top 10 in slugging, on-base percentage and OPS.

Swisher
Swisher

Swisher has raised his batting average almost 50 points from last season and is on pace to surpass his RBI and home run totals from 2009.

Gardner is posting career highs in nearly every offensive category and has been the team's primary threat on the basepaths, ranking among the top five in the league in stolen bases.

Don't forget about the arms

The rotation was stellar in the first half of the season, as they entered the break with the second-best starters ERA (3.68) in the league and sent three-fifths of the rotation to the All-Star Game.

Rivera
Rivera

The bullpen struggled out of the gate and entered June with the fourth-worst ERA in the league (4.56) but has been solid since, posting an ERA under 3.50 over the last three months.

And it doesn't hurt that Mariano Rivera is arguably having his greatest season ever at the age of 40, with an career-best ERA of 1.04, helping the team to a 63-0 mark when leading after eight innings.

Heading down the homestretch

Yankees fans should have a lot to smile about when looking back on the first four-plus months of the season: Since late June, the Yankees have spent nearly every day in first place, boosted by a 19-7 record in July that was matched only by the Tampa Bay Rays. They are the only team in the majors that has yet to be swept in a three-game series and, along with the Padres, are one of two teams to have not lost more than three games in a row.

But the team has hit a skid recently, going 7-9 in August, and it hasn't won a series since taking three of four from the Indians July 26-29. The Yankees have scored three runs or fewer in nine of the 18 games since that series in Cleveland and are hitting .192 with runners in scoring position during the stretch.

-- Katie Sharp, ESPN Stats & Info blog

From Baseball Prospectus

As August dawned, the Yankees had owned sole possession of first place in the AL East for seven weeks, but the dog days are clearly upon them. On Sunday, they fell victim to a two-hit shutout which provided 2002 first-pick flop Bryan Bullington of the Royals with his first major league victory. On Monday, they were held scoreless for eight innings before falling to the Tigers, who came into the Bronx with a 9-22 record since the All-Star break. That loss gave the Yankees a 6-9 record for the month and dropped them into a tie for first place with the Rays. Is their hold on a postseason spot secure?

For more of BP's analysis, click here Insider