'Russell Martin' photo (c) 2011, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Today, I’m releasing the third installment of my “Five Questions with the Enemy” series.  Once again, my guest is the incomparable Matt Imbrogno, the Editor-in-Chief of the outstanding site Yankee Analysts.  If you don’t already read their work regularly, I highly suggest doing so immediately.  It’s one of the two or three “must read” sites for all things Yankee related.  As part of the interview exchange, Matt has also agreed to ask me a five questions about the Red Sox’s offseason and my expectations for the 2012 season.  Check out what I had to say here.

Before we jump into the interview, I just wanted to thank Matt for not only taking the time to answer a few questions about the Yankees prior to this weekend’s series.

1.  Now that we’ve just about reached the All-Star break, who has been the biggest surprise for you on the Yankees?  Why? 

This is tough to say. As a Sox fan, you’ll get this, too, but when a team is filled with stars, it’s hard for there to be surprises. You more or less know what you’re going to get out of them. If you asked me this in the beginning of June, I’d have to say Cory Wade, but he sort of fell apart in June before getting demoted; he’ll be back up as the 26th man this weekend. Boone Logan‘s season has been a nice surprise as well, as he’s seemingly been able to handle righties a little more easily. Andy Pettitte could’ve fit this bill, too. While I always had faith in Pettitte to come back and pitch well, he was borderline dominant in many of his outings and was definitely better than we expected. On the negative side of things, I guess the answer has to be Alex Rodriguez. While he’s still having a nice season in terms of batting average and on-base percentage, the power just is not there. Considering the offseason treatments he got and how healthy he was coming into the year, coupled with frequent rest, I thought we might see a bit of a resurgence from Rodriguez this year, but alas.
2.  The Yankees started out the season with the best offense in baseball.  Recently, they’ve dropped to fifth in the AL in total runs scored, largely in part due to a stretch where they struggled mightily with runners in scoring position.  What do you make of it?  Was it merely bad luck, or was their another reason we should consider?
At a certain point, the #RISPFail definitely seemed to be more than luck. It was almost pathological. The at bats seemed to be weaker and the contact did, too. With a team that has this much talent offensively, though, it’s hard to assume things stretches like that will continue. While it was a prolonged stretch of futility, it’s starting to come around now. Of course, the Yankees are buoyed by the fact that they hit the ball out of the park rather frequently, but the RISP thing has already started to correct itself, and will likely continue to do so, given the great hitters up and down the lineup.
3.  After a fairly solid bounce-back season in 2011, Russell Martin has completely fallen apart at the plate hitting .178/.297/.347.  How much longer can the Yankees continue to send him out there when he’s hitting this poorly?  Do you think they regret trading Jesus Montero to the Mariners?
Martin’s season has been rather odd. He started off not hitting much of anything, but he was taking a lot of walks and when he did hit the ball, it went for extra bases. Now, he’s just back to looking like trash at the plate most of the time.  He’s striking out a bit more than usual, but his walk rate is right where it has been for his career and his Iso is almost exactly what it was last year. His BABIP is an unsightly .190 despite batted-ball marks that are almost exactly at his career norms. Hopefully that starts to correct a bit, but how long can we hold our breaths for that? Despite his bad hitting, there really isn’t much of an alternative. He’s still a strong defensive catcher and Chris Stewart isn’t exactly knocking any doors down. Francisco Cervelli is hitting rather poorly in AAA and Austin Romine has yet to play in a game this year thanks to a back injury. If he were healthy and playing well, there’d probably be more pressure on Martin.
As for Montero, he’s not doing your question any favors by hitting as poorly as he is in Seattle. Granted, I don’t think he’d be hitting that poorly while playing in New York. Unless Michael Pineda doesn’t come back well from surgery and Montero quickly turns into the star hitter we think he can be, I don’t think the Yankees will regret the trade. I wasn’t the biggest fan of it because I think the Yankees’ future needs will be more offensively based, but I understand why it was made and I was okay with it (after swearing a lot and scaring my sister).
4.  Let’s talk about the closer role for a second.  Obviously, it was a huge blow to lose Mariano Rivera.  Luckily for the Yankees, they had an incredibly strong bullpen armed with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano to pick up the slack.  Initially, Robertson was given the closer role, but soon after ascending to the role; he got hurt.  This opened the door for Soriano to step in.  Clearly, Soriano’s earned the right to remain as the club’s closer.  Still, do you think it should be been turned back over to Robertson upon his return?  Furthermore, do you think the Yankees are keeping Soriano as closer in hopes he puts up a good season and opts out of his deal at the end of the season?
Robertson is already back and has resumed his set-up role. Joe Girardi publicly stated that Soriano will remain the closer from here on out and I’m fine with that. While Robertson may be the better pitcher some of the time, I’d rather he remain in a less rigid role. That way, he can come into the game in the middle of an inning or in the 7th instead of just the 9th. I want to say that Soriano will opt out, but I highly doubt he will. Unless he turns into 2008 Mariano Rivera for the rest of the season, I can’t see him getting a better deal than the one he has with the Yankees. And, frankly, I won’t mind it if he stays. It’d be more insurance for Rivera coming off of surgery and a full season of a bullpen including Rivera, Soriano, Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and possibly David Aardsma is something I’d really like to see. Strike out ALL the batters, please.
5.  Over the last few weeks, the Yankees have ridden a hot streak to build a five game lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles.  The Red Sox are still lurking back in fourth at 7.5 games back.  What do you objectively think about the Red Sox’s chances to battle back into the division race?  Have the Yankees tied it up, or do the Red Sox (or another division rival) have a chance to make things interesting down the stretch?
The Red Sox are a good team who are going to be getting back to All-Star caliber outfielders soon and when Clay Buccholz recovers from his medical issue, the Sox will be about as close to full strength as possible. They hit the hell out of the ball and their rotation will certainly be formidable. While they’ve dug themselves a hole, last year showed us (however unfortunate for Sox fans) that anything can happen in the course of a baseball season. I fully expect the Sox to be right in the thick of things in the coming months.