By Guest Blogger Richie Graeber
So let’s just get this out in the open, right now….
I’m tired of reading about how the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox are on a collision course for baseball supremacy in the October classic!! It’s the second week of spring training for crying out loud.
Despite everything I have read about these two clubs, both of whom have made significant free agent signings and trades this off-season, as a true Yankee fan, I know that my Pinstripers are NOT chasers in this pennant race.
I’m not at all concerned about who each team did, and my Yankees didn’t, sign this winter…..as much as I wanted Cliff Lee for the Yankees, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have merely a “decent” season….I mean, he wasn’t exactly “lights out” after joining Texas last year, except against the Yankees. Up in Boston, Lester & Clay Burkholz are the only pitchers who seem to push the Yankees around a bit. Dice K, a seemingly always injured Josh Beckett and one-time bulldog John Lackey are all good…..but they are certainly not Yankee killers. Bullpen stalwarts Papelbon and Jenks have both seen better days and the sheer fact that Red Sox management has considered trading the skirt wearing Papelbon is proof, to me.
Anyone who has followed baseball for any length of time should realize that no one has ever won a pennant or World Series on paper. We Yankee fans can surely attest to that. Is there anyone outside of the “City by the Bay”….. or for that matter IN the “City by the Bay”….who thought the Giants would come to spring training this year as reigning World Champions? I am in no way saying they don’t deserve it, they most certainly do – but games aren’t won with rosters, they are won with plays….crucial and timely plays…..with both the stick and the leather.
Great pitching alone can’t guarantee a championship…just ask the Smoltz, Avery, Maddux and Glavine led Braves of the 90s…. or the Orioles or Mets of the late sixties, early 70s ….winners of just one World Series title each with what most would admit were 3 of the better top to bottom staffs in recent memory!
When it comes to winning, health is a major factor too, of course. One can only imagine where the Red Sox would have finished in the AL East, and beyond, last year had injuries not decimated their daily line-up for huge chunks of time. In my opinion, whether on his own or as mandated by GM Brian Cashman, handling the starting line-ups “workload” is one of the best things Yankee skipper Joe Girardi does.
While I may bleed pinstripe blue….when projecting our chances for this coming season, I am enough of a baseball realist to look at my Yankees, and our roster and talent level, objectively.
We have an outstanding front 7, led by a slimmer and trimmer CC Sabathia, a maturing Phil Hughes and the much maligned AJ Burnett, whose off-season efforts to change his delivery after a very frustrating June – September period last year, looks to provide great improvement and consistency in his return to form. In the back of the rotation, I like the competition among the young guns the Yanks have shown so far this spring….so much so that I’d love to see this young talent on our major league roster ASAP (it seems to me that we’re the only team that waits till a guy is 25 before we bring him up). I like Nova to secure the 4th….and I think the aging but one time successful Freddy Garcia will win the 5th spot….although my actual rotation would bump Freddie to the 4th slot and drop Nova to the 5th as it should mean less innings for the youngster. Should Garcia pull-off a season delivering 200 innings and 15 wins, Cashman would deserve to be carried down Broadway on fans shoulders for such an astute signing. And I volunteer to do it! (And by the way, what did Chien- Ming Wang, after two straight Staff ACE years with 19 wins, ever do to be banished from Yankeedom?)
But the real Yankee defensive power rests in the bullpen. Every team that has ever won has not had 4 or 5 All-Star pitchers but instead maybe 2 or at most 3. Mariano and the newly acquired set-up man Soriano will combine to make each Yankee start simply a 6 inning affair as they combine to close out game after game. Our Yankees just need to throw strikes , stop giving into hitters by walking them and get to producing more ground balls that our infield can easy turn into automatic outs.
Don’t let me forget the offense….and clearly Boston’s will challenge the Yankees… the thing I fear most is the Carl Crawford/ Jacoby Ellsworth base stealing combo. From what we saw last year, the Sox and most other teams as well, have no fear of stealing second…and maybe even third….against Mariano late in games…essentially turning a single or walk into a quick double or triple…and run scoring opportunity….just 2 pitches later! As for the Phils, great team, great pitching staff(?) that will compete day in and day out….but the story will come to light as the season plays on over time. And don’t forget, these Phillies have the defending World Champions to contend with on their path to the World Series.
Ain’t baseball great…………we can talk and write all season long and then, in November, we find out who’s right and who’s wrong. Regardless of the feared line-ups of Phils and Red Sox, I gotta still like the Yankee chances. In 2010, we snared 95 wins with Pettite out 1/2 a season, Burnett “pitching” at a minor league level and a carousel of faux starters for the better part of the year.
This Yankee team can and will improve on last year. They are showing more depth and experience along with their youthful potential. I’m excited. And just in case you missed it….the Yankees are NOT chasers in this pennant race.
Richie Graeber is a true Yankee living in Lousiana…Rebel country. “I never give up on the Yankees until mathematically eliminated so don’t you!!”