The Yankees. As an Orioles fan I am not sure what is the worst part about when the Yankees come to Camden Yards- the play on the field or the fans in the stands, who find a way to rip the O’s and the city of Baltimore even if their team is getting hammered. Now granted, not all Yankees fans I have met are like that- the innumerable fair weather or lackadaisical fans are sometimes capable of a reasonable baseball conversation, but the ones who invade Camden Yards are unfortunately not of this breed. However, this preview is of the team on the field, the reigning World Series Champions and dominant power of the baseball universe. It won’t be pretty folks, so hold on.
Let’s start with the rotation, shall we? Any of the Yank’s top four starters, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Javier Vazquez, would be the ace of the Orioles staff if they joined the team this offseason. None of them had an ERA above 4.16 (that belonging to Pettitte, who has had great success against the Orioles) and all of whom were able to pitch at least 195 innings. The 5th starter? Phil Hughes, who is the only player who could be called a wild-card. As with Joba Chamberlain, they started Hughes out in the rotation a couple years ago, where he struggled and was sent back down. Last season they pulled him into the bullpen with great success and will now try to ease him back into the rotation following. Considering how this plan has gone for Chamberlain, the Orioles should be grateful that New York in continuing their “unorthodox” pattern of grooming young pitchers- namely, bouncing them around and not giving them a definitive role or allowing them to fulfill the role when they get it.
The bullpen will be led by set-up man Joba Chamberlain, who has been much more successful in the bullpen than in the rotation and Mariano Rivera, who shows no sign of cooling down. With Rivera on the mound, the opposing team gets 8 innings and the Yankees get 9, that’s all there is to it. Middle relief is still something of a weakness for this team, but given the endurance of the Yankee’s starters this might not be exposed very often.
If there is any other weakness on this team it could be an outfield that is lacking in traditional New York All-Stars. The projected outfield of Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, and Brett Gardner will deliver some home runs (except Gardner), but Granderson could increase the MLB-lowest 15.7 strikeout percentage the Yankees lineup had in 2009. Granderson was a hero in Detroit regardless of his slumping average and propensity to strike out from the leadoff spot, but he won’t get that kind of leeway with this team. For his part, Nick Swisher is an average but streaky player who didn’t deserve the contract he got last year in the first place- don’t be surprised if Swisher doesn’t hold down right field for the entire season. Brett Gardner is young and could develop as the season goes on, but the jury is still out on him.
As usual, the infield will be stacked with the likes of Mark Teixiera, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and the underrated (yes, I said that about a Yankee) Robinson Cano, who might be one of the best all-around hitters at second base (I said “one of”), and another year with the short porch in right field will likely increase their major-league leading 244 home runs. Nick Johnson, the new DH to replace Hideki Matsui, will likely see his power numbers start to come back playing in Yankee Stadium and will do a good job of getting on base for the other brutes behind him in the lineup.
Despite not making many moves in the offseason, I believe this team is better than it was last season due if nothing else to the addition of Javier Vazquez. In my opinion Johnson is a slight downgrade from Matsui and Granderson is a big wildcard to trust with center field, but they will likely take better advantage of the hitters park than would their predecessors. The Yankees didn’t have to spend much in the offseason because they had broken the bank the year before. For my money there is no more complete team in this division- expect 100 wins and an AL East crown, taking it by at least 3 or 4 games over the Red Sox.