And we're back. No, we don't have Home Run Derby winner Prince Fielder (though his father, Cecil, was a key part of the '96 World Series team).
But we do have some midseason grades.
FIRST BASE: It's been quite a summer for Mark Teixeira thus far. At the quarter pole, we gave him a B- and said "We all knew the slow start was inevitable, and it looks like he's busting out of it in typical fashion and should end the season just fine." Are we psychic, or what? Teix-Mex has raised his average 80 points since then and is among the AL leaders in home runs and RBIs. The All-Star gets an A-.
SECOND BASE: Over the past two years, we've lost out on Johan Santana and who knows who else because Robinson Cano has been 100 percent off the table in any trade talks. The free-swinging Cano is making the Yankee brass look good this season, hitting .308 with 46 RBIs. Despite his continued aversion to taking pitches (just 17 walks), Cano has been a valuable run producer when A-Rod and Jorge Posada missed significant time. That said, a .341 OBP gets him a B+.
SHORTSTOP: For the captain, we say: "Give that man an A." Derek Jeter has channeled his inner Michelangelo and given us a renaissance to be proud of. After a mediocre 2008 by his standards, Jeter is projected to exceed last year's season totals in every major category -- and score another .300 average/200 hit/100 run season in the process. Joe Girardi rolled the dice in hitting Jeter leadoff instead of Johnny Damon, and the captain has made the gamble pay off.
THIRD BASE: Discouting the ill-fated Ramiro Pena/Angel Berroa era, A-Rod gets a solid B- for his July surge. After an awful start, the $30 million man has keyed the Yanks' recent hot streak, hitting .350 this month with a sick 1.250 OPS. Sunday's 0-5 performance was the first time since June 18 that A-Rod failed to reach base safely. And his return to the lineup after missing the first six weeks with a hip injury helped break Teixeira out of his slump. As for clutch hits, see our 5/23 live blog.
CATCHER: You can't blame Jorge Posada for his injuries, though you have to wonder how many more season the 37-year-old catcher has in him. A solid .285 average and good power numbers don't do justice to how important Posada's bat is to the middle of lineup, which suffers when he's not around to knock in Teixeira and A-Rod. He gets a B+.
OUTFIELD: This group really need their own post, but let's try to summarize. Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, Eric Hinske and Xavier Nady have all started at some point, and everyone (except for Nady) is expected to contribute going forward. Damon has been the steadiest, though his .276 average and incredibly limited range in the field suggests he may struggle in the second half. Losing Nady to Tommy John surgery has been a major blow, and though Melky, Gardner and Swisher have filled in admirably, there's no denying that this group is patchwork at best -- C+.
DESIGNATED HITTER: Hideki Matsui has put on a game performance this season, and like Damon, he's certainly benefited from the shorter right-field fence. And yet ... every time I see him roll his hands over and ground weakly to second, I want to tear my hair out. To improve on his B- in the second half, he has to start going the other way again.
BENCH: Half the bench is in the outfield at this point, so it's hard to say who the reserves really are. All in all, though, the outfield platoon has done as well as a bunch of bench players can do. And despite my continued gripings about him, Francisco Cervelli was solid in place of Posada. Earns a B, though a "good-hitting" backup infielder would be nice.
STARTING PITCHING: The top three have been very good: C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett are a combined 24-15 and form a potent 1-2-3 punch. The No. 4 has been OK -- Joba Chamberlain has a 4-2 record but can't get deep enough into games (see Part 1). And the No. 5 spot has been bad and worse, with Phil Hughes and Chien-Ming Wang throwing up far more bad starts than good. But if pitching is the key to success, and the Yanks have the third-best record in baseball, then a B+ is certainly appropriate.
CLOSER: Here are Mariano Rivera's career stats. Can we get him in the Hall of Fame early? A.
That leaves only middle relief and coaching. The two have been quite intertwined so far this year, so I'll cover them tomorrow, in the third and final installment of Midseason Report. Get excited.
--- Jake Simpson