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Yankees Look to Rebound after Falling Short Last Season


Kevin Healy, center, David Hollenbach, left, and Cecilia Kunath, right paint a logo on the field at Yankee stadium in preparation for opening day Tuesday, March 29, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The New York Yankees will win the World Series.


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Well, I don’t think so, but some enthusiastic Yankees fans might.

The Yankees come back this season after they were dismantled by the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Season.  So what do the Yankees do to come back bigger and badder than last year?  They add on Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Russel Martin–three guys that they’re expecting to get through the grueling 162-game season with.

If losing to the Rangers wasn’t bad enough, the Yankees got embarrassed even worse when Cliff Lee spurned them to go to the Philadelphia Phillies, leaving general manger Brian Cashman to go to plan B.  Of course, there wasn’t really a plan B. Lee is the guy they wanted, the guy that would give them the best one, two combination in baseball.

Now, the Yankees go into the season with more questions than they have had since they didn’t reach the playoffs in 2008. They go into the season with only one sure thing in the pitching rotation: C.C. Sabathia.

Can the Yankees win the AL East after the Boston Red Sox went out and added former Tampa Bay Ray Carl Crawford through free agency, and Adrian Gonzalez in a trade with the San Diego Padres?

Will they get enough production out of their 4th and 5th starters?

Will Derek Jeter’s and Alex Rodriguez’s respective ages catch up to them?

And the biggest mystery of all: Can A.J. Burnett  rebound from a dreadful 2010 campaign?

LOOK BACK

Let’s take a quick look back at last season. After winning the World Series in 2009 the Yankees came back with relatively the same team. Unfortunately for the Yankees, though, they looked old after sweeping the Minnesota Twins in the Divisional series, and were totally picked apart by the up-and-coming Texas Rangers–losing in 6 games to the Rangers in the American League Championship series (although the series never felt that close).

The biggest disaster of the 2010 season was Burnett.  Although his 2009 season (13-9) wasn’t anything to write home about, last year was even worse.  Burnett was 10-15, with a 5.26 ERA, not nearly good enough to defend the Yankees signing him to a 5-year, $82.5 million contract two years ago.

Derek Jeter had the worst season of his career.  His batting average (.270) was .64 points below his 2009 season (.334). He hit eight less home runs, and his on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) was .161 lower than 2009.  Of course, everybody knows Jeter isn’t defined by stats, only by winning.  So when the Yankees collapse like they did against the Rangers, Jeter will get scrutinized much more.

The team as a whole were up and down for most of the 2010 season.  Mark Teixeira’s usual early-season slump continued way past April, and other than Sabathia, the Yankees pitching staff was up and down for most of the season.

Phil Hughes pitched great during the first half of the season, earning a trip to the All-Star game, but struggled in the second half.  Andy Pettitte started off the season looking like his old self until he got injured, and wasn’t prepared for the stressful innings in the post season.  And the aforementioned Burnett seemed lost even before he stepped on the mound.

LOOK AHEAD

Everybody knows the Yankees can slug there way to the playoffs, they did it for years under Joe Torre, but of course they didn’t win a world series after 2000, by just knocking the ball out of the ball park.

The No. 1 question going into the 2011 season for the Yankees is their pitching. More so than questions regarding their 4th and 5th spots in the rotation, A.J. Burnett is the biggest question mark of the season.

Can he rebound from an abysmal 2010 season? Nobody knows.

Burnett has been inconsistent his entire career, and no pitching coach has shown that they can solve his problems. Everybody thinks its mental with Burnett, and if he hasn’t figured it out yet, it doesn’t look like he’ll ever figure it out. New pitching coach Larry Rotschild now has to try to solve one of baseballs great mysteries: how can a guy with electric stuff not have figured out how to pitch during 12 years in baseball?

The man backing up Sabathia in the rotation had a successful spring training this season, going 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA.  He allowed 9 hits in 13 innings pitched and struck out 11.  Of course, spring training stats mean nothing to the average baseball player, but even something as small as a 2.77 spring training ERA can be a positive for  both Burnett and the Yankees.

Burnett will make strides this season, but very small strides.  He will pitch better than he did last season, he has too.  But if anybody thinks Burnett will become a consistent staring pitcher, you’re highly mistaken.

NUMBERS 4 AND 5

Coming into spring training the Yankees had no idea who was going to fill in the back end of the rotation.  Newly acquired veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia got a look, along with Yankees long relief man Sergio Mitre, and last years stand out, Ivan Nova. The Yankees announced last week that Nova and Garcia will make up the last two spots in the rotation.  Garcia beat out Colon, who by all accounts had the better spring training.  His velocity was far greater than Garcia’s, and his stuff was dominating at times, whereas Garcia is more of a battler.

Ultimately the Yankees brass went with Garcia because he’s an innings eater, and Colon hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2009 when he started 12 games for the Chicago White Sox. It’s difficult to go into a tough American League East with Nova, who is pretty much a rookie, and Garcia, a guy passed his prime, and be confident that you’re going to coast to the playoffs. Nova was impressive at the tail end of last season, and during the spring, so its exciting too see a young pitcher take the hill for the Yankees.

With Phil Hughes and Nova, the Yankees have two home-grown players in the rotation, and for some Yankees fans I’m sure its get boring at times just buying players to get to the top.  But I’m not naive.  The majority of Yankees fans wanted Lee, and if they can get Felix Hernandez or Roy Halladay or Tim Lincecum, they would want them too.

It’s refreshing to know that the 40 percent of the rotation were brought up through the farm system.  I’m not saying its going to be easy, but it will be interesting to see the Yankees respond, after for the first time in a long time, the one guy that the Yankees wanted, didn’t want them.

The Yankees will make a move this season, because there is no excuse for them not to, and Brian Cashman has the Steinbrenner’s to answer too. The second that it was announced that Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals needed Tommy John Surgery, Chris Carpenter’s name was the first to come up. Without Wainwright, and the money that the Cardinals are going to have to throw at Albert Pujols when his contract ends this season, the Cardinals may have to dump Carpenter.  If the Yankees are desperate, don’t be surprised if there No. 1 prospect, Jesus Montero gets traded.  It’s not because he struggled during the spring, but the Yankees have a bevy of catching prospects in the minors, and they’re going to have to give up a big time prospect for the former National League Cy Young Award winner.

BULLPEN

before their spring training baseball game at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, March 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees may have one of the best bullpens in baseball after acquiring former Tampa Bay Rays closer, Rafael Soriano, during the winter.  Soriano had a 1.73 ERA last season to go along with 45 saves.  Of course, with Mariano Rivera, Soriano will be the bridge the Yankees haven’t had since their dynasty days in the late ’90s. The Yankees bullpen will be dominating.  You know what you’re going to get from Rivera, and Soriano for the most part.

It will be interesting too see how Soriano responds to pressure after a history of personal issues with his former manger Joe Maddon of the Rays. But Soriano is a professional and he signed with the Yankees knowing that Rivera is the closer, and he’s going to be the setup man.

The one guy who can really makes this bullpen dominant is Joba Chamberlain.  If Chamberlain is the pitcher who they thought he was, than this is a make or break season for Chamberlain. Chamberlain has no room for error, and his love affair with fans is over.  Chamberlain needs to take the next step, and dominate like he did when he came up. If Chamberlain does that, the bullpen can be a huge weapon for the Yankees.

WHAT TO BE EXCITED FOR

Can Robinson Cano top his performance from last season? He was undoubtedly the Yankees best player in 2010, and carried them during the Twins series, and seemed to be the only guy who showed up against the Rangers. Cano was an MVP candidate last season after hitting .319 and knocking in 109 runs as a second baseman.  Cano also improved his defense, winning the Gold Glove for the first time in his career. Yankees fans should be excited knowing that the best may be yet to come for the smooth-swinging Cano.

COME BACK SEASON FOR JETER AND A-ROD?


After having his worst season in his career Derek Jeter comes back with something to prove. It’s hard too see the ultra-competitive Jeter having as bad of a season as had in 2010.  Jeter has been working with hitting coach Kevin Long on making adjustments to his swing to help speed up his bat, so pitchers can’t continuously jam him inside.

There’s no reason to doubt that Jeter can’t make a comeback even at 36.

As for Alex Rodriguez, the last two spring trainings he has been rehabbing and strengthening his hip for baseballs long 162-game season.  This year he came into spring training in the best shape since 2007.

Rodriguez has crushed the ball in the spring and it looks like he’s prepared to have one last great season in the majors.  Rodriguez had a decent season for him, hitting 30 home runs and knocking in 100 runs.  His batting average, however, dipped to .270.

After disappointing seasons for both Jeter, and A-Rod it’s not a stretch to say, both players have one big year left in the tank.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR?

before their spring training baseball game at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., Friday, March 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A couple of important things to look for if you’re a Yankees fan revolves around their two all-time greats.

Jeter will be on the hunt for his 3,000 hit, which would surprisingly make him the only Yankee in history to accomplish that feat.  Jeter is only 74 hits away, and look for him to get his hit in mid-June.

And if you think fans, and the media went crazy when he broke Lou Gehrig’s all-time Yankees hit record in 2009, just imagine how it will be at Yankees Stadium during his pursuit for 3,000.

Mariano Rivera is 42 saves away from Trevor Hoffman’s all-time saves record of 601.  After another stellar season last year, Rivera (1.80 ERA) will likely have another good season.

When will Rivera slow down?   Honestly, “never” doesn’t seem like a stretch.

As for the record, it’s hard to predict how many saves a closer will have because its not entirely up to them.  It just depends on how many save situations they go into.  Rivera can break the record this season, but after signing a new 2-year deal in the offseason, there’s little doubt he will break the record over the course of two seasons.

PREDICTION

The Yankees have a lot to prove.  Their pitching will be the key, but we all know the Yankees can bludgeon the ball, and they will.  Jeter will come back and have a season that we have all grown accustom too.  It’s hard for me to doubt Jeter, when his back is up against the wall, and everybody is writing him off.

Jeter will have over 200 hits this season and score over 100 runs.

Alex Rodriguez will be the AL MVP. With everybody focusing their attention on Cano, A-Rod might surprise some people with a big offensive season.  

A-Rod will hit 40 home runs and have over 130 RBI.

What does this mean for the Yankees?  They will hit their way to the playoffs but it will end there.  If the rotation stays as is, it won’t be enough in the postseason.

The Yankees reach the playoffs as the Wild Card.  They will probably see the Minnesota Twins again in the ALDS, and will lose in the ALCS.

But of course, with the Yankees resources you never know what can happen.  One trade, can change the complexion of the whole season.

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