by Matt Luppino
Ah, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. No it’s not the holiday season, it’s not summer vacation, and it’s not even March Madness (technically it’s April Madness now).
That’s right. It’s baseball season once again. A time when everything in a sport completely resets. A time when last place teams can win a championship a season later. And a time when Yankee fans once again revel in the past… wait, that’s every day.
This year’s 2015 Yankees face an uphill battle after what frankly the ball club will call an unsuccessful season last year. Finishing 84-78 while marred by injuries, the Bronx Bombers missed the playoffs for the second year in a row for the first time since the early 90s, and did not do much to improve. Yes, long time captain, fan favorite, and baseball icon Derek Jeter retired, going out in spectacular fashion in his last home game, but the losses of closer David Robertson, who signed with the Chicago White Sox, and starter Hiroki Kuroda, to the Japanese league, were also unexpected and could prove costly. And of course, after a year-long suspension filled with lawsuits and media hysteria, Alex Rodriguez returns to the diamond.
Here are my grades and predictions for the Yankees this season:
Starting Rotation: B-
Masahiro Tanaka R
Michael Pineda R
CC Sabathia L
Nathan Eovaldi R
Adam Warren R
The entire Yankees team faces huge question marks, but this is one of their largest. The rotation was largely affected by injuries last year, some of which are still not resolved. Tanaka’s elbow, which shut him down after a masterful first half last season, appears healthy but not to full strength. The same can be said about Sabathia’s knee, though the aging left-hander still needs to learn how to adjust to the lack of velocity in his pitches now, a fact that has haunted him the past few seasons. The addition of the young flamethrower Eovaldi is intriguing, but last season his control often escaped him. This group has a lot of promise if they manage to pitch to their potential, but there is also a chance that Tanaka and Sabathia could reinjure themselves too. The X-factor here: Ivan Nova is expected to return from Tommy John surgery in May or June, which would add another strong starter to this team and put Warren back in the bullpen, where he was very strong last year. If he returns to form, Tanaka once again pitches like the ace we saw a glimpse of last year, and Eovaldi, and Pineda for that matter, find the strike zone, then this could be one of the stronger rotations in baseball.
Closer: Dellin Betances R
Set-Up: Andrew Miller L
David Carpenter R
Justin Wilson L
Esmil Rogers R
Chasen Shreve L
In spite of the loss of Robertson, one of the top closers in baseball, he could have just been replaced with someone even better. Betances, an All-Star last season, struck out 135 batters in only 90.0 innings last season, a rate of 13.5 K/ 9 IP. His ERA of 1.40 and WHIP of 0.78 were among the tops in baseball as well. He has struggled this spring, but if the adrenaline of a regular season game kicks in, he should be a dominant pitcher once more. Crafty lefty Andrew Miller offers a strong alternative, for he is equally strong against batters on both sides of the plate. David Carpenter and Justin Wilson are hard throwers, righty and lefty-specialists respectively. Plug Warren back into here, and this is one of the best pens in baseball.
Lineup: Ranging from C- to B+…let’s go with a B- for now
Jacoby Ellsbury L
Brett Gardner L
Carlos Beltran S
Mark Teixeira S
Brian McCann L
Chase Headley S
Alex Rodriguez R/Garrett Jones L
Stephen Drew L
Didi Gregorius L
Why a range? Because this lineup could be either really good or really bad. On the good side, Ellsbury and Gardner can both be scary on the basepaths and will set up well for the heart of the lineup. From the 1-7 spot in this lineup is homerun power, especially with the short porches at Yankee Stadium. Plus, Gregorius, though not known for his bat, could still be an improvement over the groundball-specialist Jeter. But, there are questions, mainly injuries. Beltran, Teixiera, and McCann all suffered from injuries last year, and were rather ineffective when they were playing. After a year of no baseball, we have no idea what kind of hitting shape A-Rod is in (though this spring has not been awful so far). Ellsbury and Gregorius suffered minor injuries this spring, though appear to be healthy now. And Stephen Drew frankly is not very good. This lineup is very unpredictable, but has the tools in place to score some runs for certain. If healthy, this is a Bronx Bombers-esque team.
Bench: Chris Young, Brendan Ryan, John Ryan Murphy, Jose Pirela
There is a fairly glaring problem created by the return of Alex Rodriguez. With two bad hips on a 39-year-old body, a year without baseball, and another 3rd baseman in Headley, Rodriguez is expected to spend most of his time at DH this season. Problem: Beltran and his two bad knees on a 37-year-old body are now forced to be an everyday right fielder. This is not only a defensive liability, but is also a great plan to get Beltran injured. Once he gets hurt, there is not a true backup. Garrett Jones is not much of an improvement, and while Chris Young could be, his lack of bat does not make up for it in the lineup. Otherwise, this is not an awful unit. While Headley and Drew are not great, Teixeira is one of the best fielding first basemen in the game, and Gregorius is a huge upgrade over Jeter, who lacked range in his later years. Gardner and Ellsbury can easily cover all of the extended left and center fields (and will probably need to cover most of right for Beltran) and are usually Gold Glove caliber fielders who make highlight reel players commonly. McCann is not a great fielder behind the plate, but he is adept at throwing out base stealers and is an excellent game caller.
Girardi has never had a losing record in the Bronx, even though the injuries suffered in each of the last two seasons easily warranted it. He is excellent at resting his players to keep them fresh when needed. He is also a very good bullpen manager. Of the 78 losses the Yankees had last season, only 27 were lost by a reliever, about 1/3 of the total. Girardi knows how to match up against opposing lineups well, and is good at managing innings to keep a pitcher ready for the next game. With three lefties in his pen and a plethora of long relievers at his disposal, do not expect this to change anytime soon. Girardi is one of the best.
Overall Prediction: 82-80
I don’t see many of the Yankees staying healthy all season. If they do, they can contend for the playoffs. But they are too old and fragile for my liking. The pitching especially could be troublesome; younger starters from last season like Shane Greene and Vidal Nuno have moved on, leaving open voids should anything happen. With a fairly weak farm system, the Yankees will struggle to fill the gaps. This could be a good season, or a disastrous one. We will wait to see the results.