Could it really be just four days since the Yankees last played a game?
George Steinbrenner died, BP capped the well (or so they tell us), Drew Brees cleaned up at the ESPYs and Mel Gibson ... Well, Mel Gibson happened all over the place. Maybe it is all that earth-shaking activity -- yes, we're kidding about Brees -- that makes it seem like we haven't watched the Yankees since the advent of color television, but it is certainly a happy feeling to know that the Bombers will be back on the field Friday night.
As discussed on Thursday, it's going to be an overstuffed weekend at the Stadium but the memorials and rembrances should give way to the more mundane worries about the state of the Yankees in short order. As their best record in baseball and division lead make clear, the state of the team is strong. But even the strongest of Yankee outfits has a few spots where things could be a little better and this one is no different.
The bullpen is at the top of that list, specifically Joba Chamberlain's role in the bullpen. The move back to the bullpen hasn't done much to make geniuses out of the camp that believed Chamberlain had some mystical relief powers that were being wasted in the starting rotation and the rest of the pen -- save Mariano, naturally -- has followed his shaky lead this season. There doesn't seem to be much question about the Yankees seeking bullpen help before the trade deadline, it's just a matter of if they will be looking to augment or replace Chamberlain as the primary set-up man.
Best guess? It will wind up being the latter, although perhaps not in the literal sense. Chamberlain is going to play a key role in the pen in the second half but it is easy to see the Yankees becoming less rigid in the way they get the ball to Rivera in the ninth. That might mean Jonathan Albaladejo gets a look after dominating AAA hitters for the first three months, it will certainly mean more micromanaging by Joe Girardi and, eventually, it could mean Phil Hughes's return to the pen as he nears his innings limit.
The only way that doesn't happen is if Chamberlain suddenly becomes a lights-out pitcher in the mold of 2007 and 2008. We've been over this but it doesn't look like it is going to happen and the next two weeks is nowhere near enough time to feel confident about any glimpses of that pitcher.
Outside of the bullpen, the concerns become a little harder to get heated up about. Curtis Granderson didn't do much in the first half and the big fallout from that has been the Yankees running second in the AL in runs scored instead of first. His bounceback would be nice but the biggest beneficiary would really be Brian Cashman who doesn't have much to show for his offseason work thanks to Granderson and Nick Johnson. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Yankees add a bat in the mold of Eric Hinske, a nice bench pickup last year, but a big name upgrade seems unlikely.
Beyond those issues, health is going to be the overriding reason to worry in the second half and the hardest one to put to rest. There's no way to make key players any younger and there's no way to avoid the possibility of the random injury that knocks out a star just before the playoffs.
In other words, spend more time worrying about Chamberlain because it's easier to tell yourself there's a simple way to alleviate that concern.