The Yankees finished the first half in strong fashion, taking three of four at Fenway Park against their heated rival Boston Red Sox. The series victory not only gave the Yankees the best record in baseball, but the biggest lead in any division with a seven-game lead over the second-place Orioles, and it also buried the Red Sox to nine-and-a-half games behind in the AL. East. This is a pretty impressive feat considering the team was 21-21 at one point. They subsequently went 31-12 to get to their spectacular mark of 52-33 heading into the All-Star break.
What's even more amazing is that the Yankees have done this essentially without the services of the greatest closer in the history of baseball, Mariano Rivera, who went down to a season-ending injury shagging fly balls earlier in the season in Kansas City. They also lost the services of starting leftfielder Brett Gardner early one, whose injury was not thought to be serious, but has lingered for several months. Recently, the Yankees lost their ace CC Sabathia to the disabled list for a couple of starts and Andy Pettitte, whose outlook for a return is not as bright.
They just continue to win and dominate and we'll hand out some awards to some of the deserving individuals who have gotten the Yankees to this point in the season.
First Half Team MVP
Robinson Cano continues to not only be the most valuable player on the Yankees, but one of the best players in all of baseball. He ended the first half riding a 15-game hitting streak that he will take with him into the unofficial second half of the season. During this stretch he is hitting .393, with 24 hits, five home runs and 16 RBIs. In fact, his hot streak can be traced back to late May when he finally started adding pop to his already gaudy statistics. He has hit 16 home runs since May 22, a 42-game clip. Oh by the way, May 22 just happened to be the day the Yankees went over .500 at 22-21 powered by Robinson's blast giving the Yankees a 3-2 win in Kansas City. Since then the team has never looked back. That is the ultimate definition of a most valuable player.
Cano is currently hitting .313 with 20 home runs and 51 RBIs, and is still just warming up.
First Half Team Cy Young Award Winner
How can there possibly be a winner in this category when the team has had great starting pitching and unbelievable work from the bullpen? Well there definitely is a clear cut winner in this category and the award goes to Rafael Soriano, who certainly can make a case for the MVP award.
All Soriano has done is move into a no-win situation by taking over for the greatest closer in the history of baseball and thrive. He is 20-for-21 in save opportunities and has a miniscule 1.60 ERA. Since May 10, he has those 20 saves in 24 games, throwing 21.2 innings, striking out 22, walking only seven and in a word has been dominant.
It's almost like the Yankees haven't missed a beat. You can never replace Mariano Rivera, but Soriano is a huge reason why the Yankees can feel confident that a game is over when winning after eight innings. This is definitely the same guy that the Yankees thought they were getting when they signed him after the 2010 season, when he had a league leading 45 saves with the Tampa Rays.
The Comeback Player After an Awful Start Award
The candidates for this award really reign in the starting rotation. The rotation had a bit of a rough start to the season, but has since picked it up. It was a tough choice on who would ultimately win this award, but Hiroki Kuroda wins the award over Phil Hughes. Hughes himself has had a rebirth after starting the season slow, but Kuroda has started to show why the Yankees signed him in the offseason to be a number two or three starter on a very good staff.
Kuroda did not end the half well, giving up six earned runs in 5.2 innings pitched in Boston, but the Yankees won the game and it turned out to be a slugfest, so maybe the conditions had something to do with it. Kuroda started the season 3-6, with a 4.56 ERA and was very inconsistent. In fact, there were way more bad outings than good ones. However, since then he has gone 5-1, with a 2.47 ERA in his last eight starts. That ERA is also including his disastrous showing to end the first half in Fenway.
If the Yankees are going to do some damage in the second half of the season and in the postseason, they will need Kuroda to be the pitcher from the second half of the first half.
The Ageless Award
Again this award could have gone to a couple of players, but ultimately the 38-year-old Derek Jeter beat out the 40-year-old Andy Pettitte. Pettitte has been stellar in his comeback, but Jeter essentially carried the team in April and into May. When the Yankees were 21-21 he was truly the lone bright spot still hitting .343 at that point. However, there were times during April and May that Jeter hovered around and above .400 and almost single-handedly winning games offensively while the rest of the bats were in a malaise.
Jeter has since come back to Earth a bit, but is still hitting .308 before the break and is hitting .378, 14-for-37 in eight July games. He is defying the odds and doing things at his age that no other shortstop in the history of baseball has done. He's playing the position at a high level, while climbing the ranks of the immortals right before our very eyes.
This Guy Just Wins Award
What can be said about Ivan Nova that hasn't already been said? He's 10-3 with a 3.92 ERA before the break and all he does is win. People can say all they want that his results are the result of terrific run support, but this guy knows how to win. That is an intangible that can't be taught. Even with the run support argument, Nova has pitched some really huge games for the Yankees over the last two seasons and done it in convincing fashion.
Over his last 33 starts dating back to June 10, 2011, Nova is 22-3 with a 3.59 ERA, while walking 64, striking out 169 in 215.2 innings pitched. I'm sorry, but 22-3 is 22-3, no matter how much run support you are receiving. That's almost a full season sample size and if he did put those numbers up during the course of a season he would win a Cy Young Award.
Bottom line is Ivan Nova is a winner.
The Unsung Hero Award
This award could be presented to a number of different players on this team. Andruw Jones has 11 home runs in just 127 at-bats essentially off the bench. Raul Ibanez has been a sparkplug at times for a reeling offense. Eric Chavez has been a rock as a backup player. The bench has been amazing for the Yankees. When it came down to it though, the bullpen really has been over and above the best unit on the team for long chunks of time this season. One of the catalysts for this meteoric rise as a unit has been Boone Logan.
Logan went from an untrusted lefty specialist to a legitimate setup man. He's 4-0 with a 3.77 ERA in 43 games and has given the Yankees some very important innings this season, while getting some extremely huge outs.
All in all, the Yankees should be proud of the first half output they've put forth. They have put themselves into a position to win another division and make another run for a championship. This team can do some very special things, but they ultimately need to get healthy and get contributions from everyone. Even the players that have had somewhat of a slow first half as compared to their career numbers, they are starting to heat up with the weather.
They win a team award for getting solid play from all of the separate units, stars and bench players alike. It also helps that this team award is given to the “best” team in the American League heading into the second half of play.
Follow Joe Auriemma on Twitter: @JoeAuriemmaYES