The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
“It is our right seven months out of the year to sit on the couch with a bowl of pretzels and a frosty cold one and watch baseball…baseball is America’s game. It belongs to the people and the people is…us. So I say, let there be baseball. Let there be life.”
It’s your ace vs. their ace. It’s new life. It’s hope of a winning season. It’s the best day of the year:
In less than 24 hours, the Yankees will embark on their quest for World Series Number 28, opening their 2011 regular season at home against the Detroit Tigers. It will mark the first time the Yankees have started a season in their two year-old Stadium, being that in 2009 and ’10 they opened their season on the road.
In a rather strange coincidence, the Yankees ended their Spring Training in the Grapefruit League on Tuesday with a 2-1 win over their Opening Day opponents, the Tigers. Now that camp has broken and baseball is officially back, there are a few storylines to discuss.
First off, Jesus Montero. The Yankees opted to send him and Austin Romine to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and they gave the backup catcher job to Gustavo Molina, who has hit .122 for his career (23 games) with no homers, seven RBIs. It’s apparent he hasn’t had much experience at the Major League level.
If you ask me, the Yankees should have let Montero join the big club. They keep stressing how they want to mold him and shape him to be the catcher of the future – and that is perfectly fine. In the coming years he will be the everyday catcher.
As for the present time however, he had an opportunity to at least see some big league action and the Yanks threw it away. I’d like to see Montero go through his trial time now.
There’s no doubt he is going to take his lumps when he first gets called up, and I would have liked to see it happen now – at the beginning of the season when there’s at least some room for error – rather than the end of the season when everyone needs to be producing.
What the Yankees should have done, in my opinion, is allow Montero to backup Russell Martin until Francisco Cervelli’s foot injury heals. When Cervelli gets healthy, they could have optioned Montero back to the minors – either way the Yankees win in that scenario.
If Montero struggles at the big league level, they send him down and he will know what to expect when he comes back up; he will be a little more mature. If he starts tearing the cover off the ball at the big league level, well…that’s self-explanatory.
One way or another, Montero could contribute this year. He is someone to keep in the back of your mind.
Another storyline is Derek Jeter. As it’s been documented, the Captain is 74 hits away from 3,000 for his illustrious career.
Undoubtedly he will reach the milestone this year and when he does, he will become the first Yankee to accomplish the feat. He will also be only the fourth shortstop to ever do it (Honus Wagner, Robin Yount, and Cal Ripken, Jr.).
Jeter has said that he will “enjoy the ride to 3,000.” And when the ride ends and he reaches destination 3,000, it will unquestionably be a wonderful moment for the Captain and the Yankee team.
The pitching is another storyline that is always examined throughout each season, and this year will be no different. The Yankees’ starting rotation has rightfully been nicknamed “CC and the Question Marks.”
Looking at it objectively, it’s a fitting name. CC Sabathia has already proven he is a front-line starter, a horse, and a Cy Young caliber pitcher. He has been in the Cy Young discussion both years he has been in pinstripes and captured the ALCS MVP in 2009.
It’s safe to say right now Sabathia has nothing to prove.
The other four guys, on the other hand, have a lot to prove. A.J. Burnett, who according to the beat writers is battling a cold, goes without saying. Everyone pretty much understands that in order for the Yankees to be successful, their number two man needs to turn things around and put up a big season.
Last year Burnett averaged over five earned runs a game and was 10-15. He needs to change that.
Phil Hughes may have recorded 18 wins last year, but he averaged over four earned runs per game. He lost two important games during last year’s ALCS, including the series-ending loss to the Texas Rangers.
Hughes flew under the radar for the most part because of his 18 wins. But what most fans don’t understand is that the Yankee offense gave him a good amount of run support; he won some games in which the Yankees scored a lot of runs.
This spring Hughes had a 4.09 ERA and gave up 10 runs on 24 hits in 22 innings. If this is what we are to expect of him from the number three spot in the rotation, he will need the run support he had last year.
Ivan Nova won the fourth spot in the starting rotation with a good spring (2-0, 1.80 ERA in 20 innings pitched, four walks, nine strikeouts). Last year he was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA and seemed to struggle when it came to the fifth inning.
It will be interesting to see how he holds up playing a full season.
Lastly there’s Freddy Garcia, who won the fifth spot in the rotation over Bartolo Colon. Garcia was the favorite to take the number five starter job because he was 12-6 last season for the Chicago White Sox and Colon had not pitched in an MLB game since 2009.
Garcia was 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA this spring – and yes, he too has a lot to prove.
Mark Prior did not make the team coming out Spring Training, much to my surprise. He had such a wonderful spring: 8 2/3 innings pitched, a 1.04 ERA, three runs (only one was earned), five walks, and 12 Ks.
Prior will go through extended Spring Training and has said he hopes to help the Yankees this year; he is still striving to make the big team and wants to contribute.
Honestly, I am disappointed in the Yankees. Prior is interchangeable; he can be a long reliever or a middle reliever. With Pedro Feliciano on the disabled list, it opened up a spot in the bullpen. What did the Yankees do?
Well, they gave it to Luis Ayala, which doesn’t look like a bad right out of the gate. Ayala pitched to a 0.79 ERA this spring, tossed 11 1/3 innings, and gave up just one earned run on nine hits. He walked no one and fanned nine.
Bear in mind though, Ayala was pitching mostly to minor leaguers late in spring games. If he scuffles against the major leaguers in the regular season games, I say dump him and bring up Prior.
On the offensive side of things, Alex Rodriguez had a monster spring. He averaged .388 and hit six homers in 18 games. He knocked in 15 runs and registered 44 total bases. He drew five walks and only struck out seven times.
There has been a lot of speculation that Rodriguez could be a potential MVP candidate. I think he has to get his feet wet and get going, but if this spring was any indication, A-Rod will have a spectacular year.
With all these storylines, new ones will emerge as the season rolls on. And so it begins.
Tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 (weather permitting) the Yankees and Tigers will square off on baseball’s Opening Day. Sabathia and Justin Verlander will start what will be a long, 162-game journey.
Ready or not, here we go. Let there be baseball. Let there be life.