Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Yankees May Go That Extra Step This Season With Pitching And Depth

By Rich Mancuso

There is never satisfaction in and around the confines of Yankee Stadium unless the team is playing baseball games in the late part of October. Of course if the stadium is busy in October the New York Yankees are in the World Series and in quest of their franchise 28th championship.

And this could be the year of late October baseball in the Bronx. As the Yankees prepare to start another season in Tampa Bay tomorrow, with their home opener in the Bronx next Friday afternoon, there is optimism that the 2012 team will be playing baseball deep into October.

The important aspect for any team is pitching which is something the Yankees can say is a depth of their team. To go deep in October, it is the pitching that will get you there and New York has six quality starters for five spots. The return of Andy Pettitte gives them that extra mile, though the veteran, who came out of an early 2010 retirement, won’t be in the Bronx for a month. With most wins in post season baseball history, Pettitte appears strong but will he be the same pitcher after a brief hiatus from the game?

If newly acquired pitcher Michael Pineda, who will start the season on the disabled list, with shoulder stiffness, needs more time manager Joe Girardi has the depth. Pettitte returns, Phil Hughes works his way into the rotation, and there is hope and optimism that Ivan Nova will be the same pitcher that went 16-4 last season. There is also the addition of Hiroki Kuroda, a $10million investment, who throws hard and has a nasty cutter.

“Eventually Pineda will come back,” says Girardi. “It gives us some time to sort some things out. Things most of the time have a way of working things out. To speculate what might happen is kind of silly because we didn’t expect an injury because all of our starters have been so healthy.”

One thing is certain. Opening Day starter CC Sabathia, the fourth player in club history, with 19 wins the past four years is healthy and will throw close to 200 innings. The bullpen, without an injured Joba Chamberlain is perfect for the best relief pitcher in baseball history, Mariano Rivera, who may throw his last pitches after 18 years in Yankee pinstripes. David Robertson, and a healthy Rafael Soriano, as was the plan last season will get the ball to Mariano.

And getting the ball to Mariano for a save should not be an issue because the Yankees once again have a veteran offense and depth off the bench. They are capable of winning 97- games and take another AL east title in a competitive division with Tampa Bay and the Boston Red Sox. With the new post -season one game wild card that adds two more teams to the party in October, it will be important to have depth off the bench and good arms out of the bullpen.

Brian Cashman, the Yankees General Manager, with a reduced team payroll of a little under $200 million will be the first to say that Boston is still the team to beat. “This division is very close and people are underrating Boston,” he says. However, the Yankees are always the team t beat and to their credit favored to win every year.

They have to many weapons in the lineup to not be one of the four best teams in the long campaign. Robinson Cano is one of the best young players the game, improves as time goes on, and handy at second base. Mark Teixeira is healthy and ready for another 35- home run season and the outstanding glove at first base. Curtis Granderson in center field will once again have a MVP season.

Nick Swisher has another contract in right field and recovered from an injured groin that hindered him this spring. And 25 home runs are not out of the question as a starter and when he gets rest coming off the bench. Added to the equation is Brett Gardner in left. His speed is an asset though he does not give numbers, more so a catalyst at the bottom of the order.

The Yankees are rich in the catching area. Baseball experts will say they have an excess of wealthy and young catchers, good enough to trade away Jose Montero to Seattle for Pineda. So Russell Martin, a veteran, coming off a season of 18 home runs and 65 RBI will get the start again behind the plate.

It was an off-season of signings and little activity of acquisitions, and fans won’t miss pitcher A.J. Burnett who went to Pittsburgh for minor league players. Raul Ibanez,a veteran with some power was signed at minimal cost. The former Philadelphia Phillie adds depth coming off the bench and has power to the opposite field. He will also play right when Swisher needs to sit.

Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez were awarded contracts coming off a good 2011, hitters adapted to Yankee Stadium, and viable guys coming off the bench that can give the regulars some rest. As will Eduardo Nunez, a solid backup in the infield.

Two questions for Girardi, who did not have issues this spring with the exception of some injuries, and the return of Pettitte, are the captain Derek Jeter, one of the Core Four of the five championship teams, now three again with Mariano and Pettitte. Jorge Posada has retired and his leadership will be missed.

Jeter has not shown a decline on the field, though his production at the plate has dwindled the past two years, six home runs and 61 RBI last season, and the question is how much more will the 36-year old veteran have left in him? He does not answer that question and there are no signs that Derek Jeter is in a serious decline.

Which leads to the ultimate question, does the highest paid player in the game, Alex Rodriguez, rebound from a 16-home run and 62 RBI season of last year that also had him hindered with injuries? He has hit the ball with authority this spring and a key part of his body, the lower half is strong where he gets his power.

A-Rod, Teixeira, and Swisher when in the lineup together make the Yankees that more of a power threat, but they went a combined 3-for-18 in the AL division series loss to the Tigers last October, which contributed to an early exit from the post season. Last season the Yankees once again once led the American League in home runs but for the first time in three years at the new stadium failed to lead baseball in that category.

But this is a new season and the pitching should be that good for the Yankees to not be concerned about their tradition of being “Murders Row.”

They won 97 games last season and their 25th divisional title. There is no reason why the Yankees won’t win another one in September. How far they go in October will be the question. That answer could depend on how the health of Rodriguez is and if the pitching lives up to expectations.

e-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com

This post is sponsored in part by Woodmere Homes for Sale & Glen Cove Homes For Sale

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