Here we go. Last one.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Once upon a time, eight years ago, the New York Yankees finished the season with 87 wins. Though this number was significantly less than either of the last two years, the Yankees still found a way not just to win their division and advance to the World Series, but they beat the New York Mets in five games.
In 2008 87 wins could maybe buy a postseason berth in the weak NL Central, but it won’t even get the AL Wild Card. To win the AL East, the toughest (even if not the most wide-open) division in baseball, 95 wins is often cited as the minimum needed to even have a reasonable shot at it.
There’s an easy explanation for the 95 win mark: in the same division as the Red Sox and Yankees, there’s also Baltimore and Tampa Bay. When a legitimate playoff team plays Baltimore and Tampa, it’s newsworthy if the O’s or the Rays win. When you get to beat up on Baltimore and Tampa 19 times a year each, well, that’s 38 games, 38 wins right there. Of course, it never works out quite that way—Tampa likes to give Boston fits and Baltimore was a thorn in the Yankees’ side all the way until September.
Still, while some may say that 95 wins is because of a lack of competitiveness from many AL teams—the O’s, Rays, White Sox, Royals and Rangers will probably be written off from playoff contention at the beginning of May—you still have to find a way to beat the Red Sox (or Yankees), Indians, Tigers, Angels and Mariners.
Can the 2008 Yankees do it? Yes.
Will they? That’s another question, entirely.
At first glance, if you just look at 1-9 in the batting order and 1-5 in the rotation, the roster doesn’t look much different than 2007. In fact, with the exception of the manager (which I’ll get to in a second), the biggest off-season moves were Re-signing players (A-Rod, Posada, Rivera) and a trade they didn’t make. You know what I mean.
However, if you look a little closer, you’ll see that there are some noticeable differences.
The most obvious difference is that there’s a new Joe at the helm. Instead of the man sitting at 2nd place all-time on the managerial wins roster, there is a guy younger than my parents who has exactly one managerial season behind him. A guy that I remember as a (very solid) player, and I’m only 21. Okay, so I turn 22 in two weeks, but that’s not the point.
With a new manager, there’s a new coaching staff, as well. The most satisfying name to hear on the list is probably that of Dave Eiland as pitching coach. Eiland worked with Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain in the minors and knows them best, and whatever you call them—the Big Three, the Three Amigos, the Holy Trinity, the Three Musketeers, Menage a—their performance will likely be a crucial pivot to the Yankees’ season. If they’re successful, the Yankees’ 08 season could be one for the ages. If not…it could be a long summer. Eiland’s been successful with the youngsters, and you know what they say about if it’s not broke and whether or not you should fix it.
The bench this year is different, too. Instead of Miguel Cairo and Wil Nieves, we have Jose Molina and Shelley Duncan. While Cairo and Nieves are good guys and we certainly wish the best for them, which pair would you rather have hitting in a tight spot?
The biggest difference, however, has nothing to do with who is on the team, but everything to do with the health of the team. This season, it exists.
This season, not only is Carl Pavano not our Opening Day starter; he’s not even in the rotation. Same can be said of Kei Igawa in the two spot. Bobby Abreu doesn’t have a strained oblique. Jason Giambi doesn’t have a weird foot problem.
Right now the Yankees very strongly resemble the team that played from July-September in 07, a team that had to play near a .700 clip just to make the playoffs.
That said, there are some large, looming questions that need to be answered. Just a few of them here:
+ Can Mike Mussina have a bounce-back year?
+ Can the youngsters—including Melky, Shelley and Robbie as well as the pitchers—play to their full potential?
+ Can A-Rod and Posada come close to repeating their monster years?
+ Can the middle relief hack it?
+ Can Joe Girardi survive a New York baseball season?
(first guess: yes, yes, no, not since 1999, yes)
Opinions you read on the Yankees will vary everywhere. Pete Abraham says the Yankees will miss the playoffs. Tom Verducci has them out in the ALCS. The Sporting News doesn’t have them in October. Lindy’s has them at Wild Card.
However hard it is to predict what the Yankees will do this season, there is one thing the Optimism Campaign cannot deny: for a team that thrives on the historic, and legends of October ghosts, 2008 is not just any other baseball season.
FOR THE FANTASY BUFFS
Buy: Robinson Canò, Bobby Abreu, Alex Rodriguez, Joba Chamberlain
Sleepers: Ian Kennedy, Shelley Duncan
Team MVP: Robinson Canò
Team RoY: Ian Kennedy
Team Comeback Player of the Year: Jason Giambi
Team Gold Glove: Melky Cabrera
All Stars: A-Rod, Jeter, Canò
Team we love to play: Kansas City Royals
Team we can’t stand: Toronto Blue Jays
Best months: July, September
Worst months: April, August
AMERICAN LEAGUE—How they’ll finish
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Rays
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
Yankees over Tigers
Indians over Mariners
Yankees over Indians
(Do you honestly think I’d pick different?)
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Here we go. Last one.