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Gearing Up for the Second Half

It’s been a rough whirlwind of a week in Yankeeland, not only with the passing of Bob Sheppard but also the Big Boss Man, George Steinbrenner, but as the second half dawns, things are looking up in terms of their on-field situation. I’ve got a pair of pieces up at Baseball Prospectus and ESPN Insider today to that effect.

The first (BP/Insider) compares each team’s current Playoff Odds with what they were as of Opening Day, dividing teams into the 10 biggest gainers, the 10 biggest losers, and the 10 least changed. The Yankees, whom PECOTA saw as being the team on the outside looking in, are in that upper tier:

Team Win % 3Ord% Div WC Total Proj. +/-
Padres .580 .531 38.9 18.6 57.5 4.2 53.3
Rangers .568 .528 79.3 0.1 79.4 37.9 41.5
Reds .544 .513 48.3 5.3 53.6 12.8 40.8
Yankees .636 .592 58.0 26.4 84.4 44.4 40.1
Braves .591 .548 69.5 8.6 78.1 44.9 33.2
White Sox .563 .528 40.9 1.3 42.2 26.1 16.1
Rays .614 .571 27.1 37.8 64.9 51.3 13.6
Mets .545 .507 16.1 11.5 27.6 15.0 12.6
Tigers .558 .526 31.9 1.4 33.2 26.5 6.7
Rockies .557 .558 37.2 19.0 56.2 49.6 6.6

The above columns represent each team’s actual winning percentage (Win%), third-order winning percentage (3Ord%), estimated chances of winning their division (Div) and wild card (WC), total chance of reaching the postseason, their pre-season odds of reaching the postseason (Proj.), and the change in those cumulative odds over the course of the first half (+/-).

…Elsewhere, the Rangers have put themselves in a commanding position in an AL West race with no overwhelming favorite as of opening day, with Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero rebounding impressively from subpar 2009 showings. Their acquisition of Lee to prop up an underperforming rotation is as much about playing deep into October as it is getting there. The Yankees, who failed to land Lee just when they appeared to have sewn up a deal, have overtaken the Red Sox and Rays to finish the first half with the majors’ top record. Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes have formed a strong big three, and Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher have picked up the slack for an offense elsewhere affected by injuries, age, and subpar performances by Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. The Braves have filled the void atop the NL East thanks to timely comebacks by Troy Glaus, Tim Hudson and Billy Wagner, not to mention the emergence of rookie Jason Heyward.

Given that the Yankees boast the best record in baseball, it’s not surprising that their odds of making the postseason (84 percent) are the highest in the majors. By comparison, the Rays are at 66 percent, the Red Sox 45 percent.

The second piece (BP/Insider) is part of a six-piece series of midseason prescriptions for what ails each team, offering suggestions about what they can do to fix it. Here’s what I had to say about the Yanks in the AL East Rx:

In the wake of their failed attempt to trade for Cliff Lee, Saturday night’s game exemplified why the Yankees’ bullpen remains a bigger concern than their rotation, which ranks second in SNLVAR. Beyond the still-incredible Mariano Rivera, their relievers have a 4.75 Fair Run Average, as righties Joba Chamberlain (4.85), David Robertson (5.01) and Chan Ho Park (6.79) and lefty Damaso Marte (5.84) have failed to build a reliable bridge to Mo. Internally, Jonathan Albaladejo has reinvented himself with an improved four-seamer; he’s whiffing 11.9 per nine with a 4.9 K/BB and 1.01 ERA at Scranton/Wilks-Barre. Beyond their own system, plays for Toronto lefty Scott Downs or righty Jason Frasor would make sense, while their ability to take on salary might appeal to the Indians in a deal for Kerry Wood, who’s got a 3.55 ERA since June 1. Their bench needs an experienced bat; aside from Marcus Thames and slumping backup backstop Francisco Cervelli (.202/.277/.246 since May 18), weak-hitting Ramiro Peña, who often plays third while Alex Rodriguez DHs, is the only player with more than 100 career PA. Freshly-signed cornerman Chad Tracy is a minor upgrade on Peña, though it’s worth seeing if the Royals would part with Alberto Callaspo.

Albaladejo, who closed out the International League’s win over the Pacific Coast League in Wednesday night’s Triple-A All-Star Game, has certainly caught Joe Girardi’s attention, and it would appear as though there’s a good chance the Yanks will give him a look sometime over the next couple of weeks so that they can more properly gauge their needs as the July 31 trading deadline approaches.

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