After taking three of four from the Cleveland Indians, the Yanks finish the first half 2 1/2 games behind the Red Sox, 1/2 a game behind the Orioles. Aside from the Orioles part, that's not terribly unexpected. Here are the parts that have been unexpected:
1. The AL East Sucks -- pretty much just what it sounds like. The Yanks and Red Sox were supposed to be leviathans casting a shadow over all of baseball. Instead, they've been bit players--playing second (and third, and sometimes worse) fiddle to the Orioles for much of the season, by far underperforming the West and Central leaders. It was always assumed that regardless of their order of finish, the Yanks and Sox would both make the playoffs, as they have the two previous seasons. That doesn't look likely right now.
2. Youth Movement the Hard Way -- The Yankees reach the All-Star Break with Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera as starters in the lineup, and with Chien Ming Wang in the starting rotation. Cano and Cabrera are not temporary fill-ins for injured veterans--the men they replaced, Bernie Williams and Tony Womack are still on the roster, and as healthy as could be expected. While Wang was an injury replacement, but the least you could say is that he's more than held his own compared to the Yankees' top two starters, the inconsistent Randy Johnson and the aging-before-our-eyes Mike Mussina.
None of these rookies had a role with the club coming out of Spring Training. The only one who was thought to be able to contribute this year was Wong, as a long reliever or spot starter. Bad planning by the front office has meant rushing Cano a bit, and Cabrera a whole lot. We can only hope that neither player's development is stunted by the bad choices the Yanks made regarding second base and centerfield this offseason.
3. Surprising Good Judgment -- The Yanks have, in past seasons, shown a tendency to stick with their mistakes. Identifying that Bernie Williams should be a DH, and that Tony Womack and Tino Martinez should be bench players, was a good, timely move.
4. Surprisingly Fragile Roster -- Sure, Jaret Wright we expected. The guy failed his post-signing physical, and the Yankees signed him anyway. Kevin Brown was virtually guaranteed DL time this season. But the Carl Pavano and Felix Rodriguez injuries weren't predictable, and neither was Rey Sanchez's breakdown. To some extent, these injuries have cleared the scrub away for the young players, but even as they are in the thick of contention, the Yankees' roster has all the depth of onion skin. Darrell May, a reject from the Royals and the Padres, has been pressed into the starting rotation. Scott Proctor and Wayne Franklin are now important members of the bullpen. How long can the team bear up, under these circumstances?