A brief look at an opponent we play this week.
When we play them: 4/25-4/28 @ New York, 8/1-8/4 at home
Offense: Derek Jeter-SS, Curtis Granderson-CF, Mark Teixeira-1B, Alex Rodriguez-3B, Robinson Cano-2B, Nick Swisher-RF, Jorge Posada-DH, Russell Martin-C, Brett Gardner-LF. Bench: Eric Chavez-UTIL, Andruw Jones-OF, Gustavo Molina-C.
The grand demise of the Yankee Empire that was foretold by a great many this winter (OMG THEY DIDN"T LAND CLIFF LEE THEY ARE DOOMED!) seems to have been a bit premature. This is due in large part to a an offense that is currently leading the American League in runs per game. Fantastic. Derek Jeter continues his inevitable march towards hit number 3,000 (expect it in late June, maybe early July). The Captain is leading off, though this is more due to Brett Garnder's early struggles than anything new or different Jeter is doing. In fact, he's struggling almost as much as Gardner so far (.525 OPS). As one would expect from any 36 year old, Jeter is beginning to show his age at the plate. His power has been declining and his days of stealing 20+ bags seem to be in the past. It's a good thing that whenever he decides to retire, he's already built a strong foundation for his golden years. Local boy and incredibly likeable guy Curtis Granderson has been absolutely crushing the ball so far this season (6 HR so far). It's unfortunate that John Danks pitched Sunday, as Grandy has a very obvious problem hitting lefties (.638 career OPS as opposed to .888 against right handers). Curtis has the speed and skill to steal 20+ bases, but Joe Girardi doesn't seem to give the green light often enough for this to happen. While he'll never repeat that magical 2007 season, there is a great deal of value in a lefty with 30 homer potential who plays great center field defense. I'm not quite sure which is more surprising: Mark Teixeira actually getting off to a hot start or his love of musicals. Tex had the second worst season of his career last year and is looking to rebound in a big way. So far, so good (5 HR, 1.064 OPS). The switch-hitter should finish near the league lead in homeruns and brings good defense to the table to boot.
Alex Rodriguez continues his assault on the homerun record list, now a mere 12 behind Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth place. Last season was A-Rod's first sub-.900 OPS season since he joined the Yankees back in 2004. This seems to have been more a result of a career low BABIP than true aging, as he is off to a torrid start (a semi-common theme for this team). What's his secret? Steroids. You should probably read more. Even with the subpar defense and rapidly deteriorating speed, Rodriguez is still one of the best right-handed hitters in the game. Robinson Cano proved that his random power outburst in 2009 was no fluke, topping his homerun total an additional four for a career high 29 last season. Cano also almost doubled his walk rate, making him into a deadly well-rounded hitter. If Robinson can keep his OPS above .900, it will go a long way towards making up for the fact that the he is half of one of the weakest defensive middle infields in baseball. Which brings us, of course, to Nick Swisher. So much has been said about Nick around these parts, but I believe this current entry on his Wikipedia page says it best, "Swisher is just too cool and too awesome. Everyone dreams of becoming someone close to him. Overall he is way better than anyone else on the planet. When he goes in the water he doesn't get 'wet', the water gets 'swished'". Yes my friend, the water does indeed get swished. When he's not guest-starring on terrible television shows, Swisher continues to make Kenny Williams look foolish by putting up career best numbers every season since leaving the White Sox. C'est la vie. Swisher plays okay defense and puts up a nice mid-.800s OPS as a switch hitter with 25+ homerun power. I still wish it had worked out better for him on the South Side.
Jorge Posada has made the positional switch to DH this year. The 39 year old cannot play behind the plate with any regularity any more, but his bat is still good enough to squeeze another season or two out of. Even the shift away from the backstop won't be able to prevent his numbers from continuing to decline though. His current ceiling seems to be a wOBA around .350 with an .800 OPS at best. Dodgers outcast Russell Martin has replaced him behind the plate, at least until Jesus Montero proves that he knows what he is supposed to be doing defensively. The $4MM contract seems to be working out very well for the Yankees, as Martin is thriving in his first season away from the catcher-abusing Joe Torre. Even with the inevitable cooling off that will happen (there is no way in hell Martin continues to slug over .700), Russell could easily have the best season of his career, which would be huge for the 28 year old going into free agency again. Martin will hit between 15-20 homeruns and steal 10+ bases, all while throwing out his fair share of would be thieves (31.3% career CS rate). As mentioned earlier, Brett Gardner was supposed to be batting leadoff this season. White Lightning (if this is not his actual nickname it totally should be) is off to a horrendous start. He's a victim both of bad luck (.194 BABIP) and not seeing the ball well (15 K and 4 BB). Gardner's blazing speed always makes him a threat on the basepaths and allows him to be one of the top defensive left fielders in baseball. His bat will come around soon, hopefully it just takes another week to do so.
If the Yankees somehow don't make the playoff this year, the rotation will be the reason why. The only true exception to this is CC Sabathia. The slightly less hefty lefty has managed to be worth his gargantuan contract thus far. He gets around 200 strikeouts a year, rarely walks more than 70, and doesn't allow as many homeruns as you'd think a guy pitching in such a bandbox normally would (averaging 18 over the past three seasons). CC throws a low to mid-90's fastball, a power sinker, a dominant slider, a plus changeup, and the occasional curveball. A.J. Burnett is the living definition of failed promise and potential. Pre-Tommy John, this was a guy who could hit 97 mph with ease. Now his fastball sits in the lower 90's and is nowhere close the dominant pitch it once was. Burnett can get a bit wild and does suffer some problems with the longball (25 each season the past two). Other than his fastball he throws the best knucklecurve in the game, and sometimes shows a cutter, slider, and changeup in an attempt to keep hitters honest. Ivan Nova (whose name sounds like that of a crappy superhero) is being given his first full season in the majors. The 24 year old lacks true strikeout stuff (and good control for that matter), but makes up for his shortcomings by inducing a great deal of groundballs. Nova throws a powerful four-seamer that can touch the mid-90's, a two-seam fastball, a decent changeup, and a good 12-6 curveball.
And now we enter the strange part of the rotation. The Yankees are rich enough that they shouldn't have to rely on retreads in their pitching staff the way a team like, oh let's say the White Sox, may have to. But that is exactly what seems to have happened in the Bronx. Freddy Garcia somehow continues to stave off retirement despite being a right-handed pitcher with a fastball slower than Mark Buehrle's. You have to give credit to the guy though. He had to completely reinvent himself as a junkballer when he lost his velocity and it seems to be working. Freddy throws the aforementioned "fastball", a slider, a changeup, and a curveball. It'll be interesting to see how long the magic lasts being away from the only team he's been decent for over the past six years. Even more shocking than Freddy Garcia pitching for the Yankees is Bartolo Colon pitching for the Yankees. This is a man who disappeared from the White Sox in the middle of the 2009 season, seeming to ride off into (while blocking the) sunset for the final time. And then his fat ass appeared in Florida this spring and made it onto the 25 man roster. Colon has been off to a great start, but you have to wonder how much faith you can put in a man who hasn't pitched over 100 innings since 2005. His current BABIP (.298) is sustainable. His K/9 (10) is not. I honestly wouldn't be shocked if he went and disappeared again once he gets hurt this season. And that's not really an if on the injury, but much more of a when. Mariano Rivera has already blown a couple of saves this year, but it almost seems pointless to worry about that anymore. It seems like his done this the last few seasons and ultimately ends the year as the Mo we've all known since before my age reached double-digits. Mo is perhaps the best one-pitch pitcher ever, as hitters know the cutter is coming and it rarely seems to make a difference. Enjoy watching the best closer ever pitch this week, he probably doesn't have more than three seasons left.
Conclusion: We haven't been playing well at all lately. The Yankees have been but let's be honest, they were playing Baltimore. And if you let the damn near annual Orioles hot start to the season deceive you, I've got a beautiful bridge to sell you when you're out visiting Yankee Stadium. That being said, the Bombers still have the position of power over us during this series. I don't know if it really counts as pessimism when one predicts a 3-5 season record against New York, but so be it if it is.