The old baseball adage states that three-run homers win games but pitching wins championships. Should that statement hold true, the New York Yankees come into the season a little short-handed in the arms race.
They lost out on coveted free agent Cliff Lee and just before the start of spring training they were dealt another blow when Andy Pettitte decided to call it a career.
That left a gaping hole in the side of the Yankees’ ship that will try to reach the post-season for the 16th time in the last 17 years. The Yankees staff consists of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, AJ Burnett. Then they’ll have to pray for rain.
Sabathia came off a 19-8 year his first season in the Bronx to post a 21-7 mark last year with a 3.18 ERA and 197 strikeouts. Hughes, 24, got his first shot at the rotation last year and didn’t waste the opportunity turning in a 18-8 ledger.
Burnett has not lived up to expectations after the Yankees got him to autograph an $80 million deal two years ago. He took a 6-2 record with a 3.28 ERA into June when the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario unfolded and Burnett made Yankee history, finishing 4-13 down the stretch to become the first Yankee pitcher to lose 15 games in a season.
There are few prospects to fill the No. 4 and No. 5 voids on the staff with Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova battling it out with has-beens Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.
Just when I was ready to throw the Yankees under the bus, Nova, a late call-up last year, threw six no-hit innings against the Orioles last week and has appeared to lock up the No. 4 spot.
Garcia, a former 18-game winner, is 19-16 since 2004, including a 12-6 record with the White Sox last year. Colon looks like he’s been working out in the offseason at the local Pizza Hut.
Neither has pitched badly, but getting a host of young players out in March is a far cry from sneaking by a full-count pitch in the heat of a pennant race.
The Yankees can’t feel secure with their No. 5 option as they recently tried out veteran Kevin Millwood. Yes, that’s the one who went 4-16 with the Orioles last year. Talk about reaching—they could strain an oblique muscle doing that.
New York does have two of the best late-game pitchers in baseball going for them and that should certainly help. Mariano Rivera may be 41 but he’s posted ERAs under 2.00 in seven of the last eight seasons and last year posted a 1.80 ERA with 33 saves.
General Manager Brian Cashman still insists it was the owner’s idea to bring in reliever Rafael Soriano, who led the AL with 45 saves and a 1.73 ERA for Tampa Bay last season while neglecting the team’s need for a starter. Either way, pitching coach Larry Rothschild has to be happy with the bullpen that includes Joba Chamberlain, Dave Robertson, and Pedro Feliciano.
On the other side, the Yankees have a lineup that led the majors in runs (859) and was third in homers (201).
Yes, three of their prominent stars produced career lows in batting average that could be alarming as they approach baseball’s golden years. But Alex Rodriguez (36), Derek Jeter (37) and Jorge Posada (40) aren’t going anywhere.
A-Rod hit a career low of .270 but continued his record streak of 13 consecutive seasons of 30 homers and 100 RBI. Last year the third baseman clubbed 30 homers and knocked in 125 runs.
Jeter also hit a career-low .270 but the career .314 hitter is quickly approaching the 3,000-hit milestone and will become the first Yankee to break that barrier.
Posada hit .248 but yanked 18 out of the yard. Maybe a break from the everyday grind behind the dish will restore the average as the Yanks move him to the DH spot.
New catcher Russell Martin is only 28 but has been around for a while with the Dodgers. Martin can only hope to find the bat that produced 19 homers and 87 RBI four years ago. Last year he batted a weak .248 with five homers and 26 RBI.
Robinson Cano, 28, was third in the AL MVP voting with a .319 average, 29 home runs, 103 runs, and 109 RBI last season.
Mark Teixeira, 30, led the AL in runs (113) to go along with 108 RBI and 33 homers, giving Yankee fans hope that there just may be enough bats in the bag to carry a short-armed pitching staff to the finish line.
Last year was a career year for Nick Swisher as he hit 29 homers for the second year in a row with 89 RBI and a career high .288 average.
Curtis Granderson was a bit of a disappointment, batting at a .247 clip, but his 24 home runs and 76 RBI showed promise that he can get back to the .280, 112-run production he posted with Detroit three seasons ago. He managed to straighten out some of his issues at the plate as he clouted nine homers in September.
At the top of the order is Brett Gardner, who in his first full big-league season batted .277 with 97 runs and 47 stolen bases. The Yankees haven’t seen that kind of speed on the base paths since the Rickey Henderson days.
The Yankees are a couple of arms short in the pitching department and return an aging lineup that led the majors in runs. So how does that all play out in the grand scheme of things for 2011? The Yanks will win their share of games with the bats, there is no denying that fact. But going into a season without the strength of a five-man rotation will take its toll and they are an injury away from being left behind at playoff time. But so is every other team in baseball.
After losing out on the services of Cliff Lee at the trade deadline last year and then seeing him knock them out of the playoffs, the Yankees have learned their lesson and they will not go down that road again.
Should a valuable arm go on the blocks in July—say Johan Santana—New York will be the frontrunner in the arms race to bolster their chances. But when all said and done don’t lose sight of the Orioles with ex-Yankee manager Buck Showalter at the helm.
Ken’s Prediction: Yankees lose out on playoff spot and finish third behind—yikes—Baltimore.
Ken Morse is a contributing sports writer for the Citizen’s News.