Yesterday, I went over the best case scenario for the Yankees. The starting pitching has to click immediately, Teix has to get off to a hot start, and the team must defend their home turf with 18 of the first 26 games being played in the Bronx. However, with the good always comes the bad. Here are five things that could put the Bombers firmly behind the eight ball in April.
1. Bad AJ: I referenced AJ Burnett’s strong start to the season yesterday. Through his first eleven starts last year, Burnett threw 72 innings and posted an 3.28 ERA. Ex-pitching coach Dave Eiland then took a leave of absence and his ERA shot up to 5.28. Even when Eiland returned, Bad AJ kept rearing his ugly head. Burnett spent the off-season working on his delivery with new pitching coach, Larry Rothschild. The positive results have shown this spring as Burnett has posted a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings. Remember though, Spring Training is just that. Training. So we have to take these numbers with a grain of salt. If the Tigers come out and bang Burnett around the Stadium on Saturday, all of positives from Spring Training will be forgotten. Plus, let’s not forget the fan base either. We all remember Burnett’s historically bad season this year. If Bad AJ comes out early, the boo birds will be right there.
2. Teix’s April Woes: It’s been well-documented on this site that Mark Teixiera simply doesn’t hit at all in April. To combat this growing concern, the Yankees have gotten Teixeira involved in more Spring Training games. Teixeira has been producing, hitting at a .306 clip in 49 at-bats, but has only hit one home run. I’m a big believer in the power coming after a hitter get his first 60 at bats or so out of the way. If his production doesn’t carry over from the Spring, watch out. Even though the Yankees went 18-8 over their first 26 last season, the starting pitching flat out dominated while Teixeira was nowhere to be found. I consider Teix the linchpin of the Yankee lineup. When he’s clicking on all cylinders, the team is rocking. When he’s not, they are struggling.
3. Jeter’s Grounders: Another well-documented stat on this website is Derek Jeter’s alarming ground ball rate. Jeter committed 66% of his outs via the ground ball last season which was the highest in baseball. Jeter has dealt with distractions from Yankee ownership, Cashman, the real estate market, and Buck Showalter all off-season long. Do I think he lets this stuff get to him? No. But I do think he’ll be heavily scrutinized this season if he gets off to a slow start. People want to see Jeter’s range and for him to get back above .300 after hitting .270 in 2010. If Jeter struggles early on, could we see Girardi have the guts to slide him down in the order? That’d be one huge distraction for the Yanks.
4. Sweeping Up To Boston: The consensus around baseball is that the Red Sox and Phillies have the two best teams in the game. Both teams have added marquee players in the off-season. Boston is healed up after an injury-plagued 2010 campaign and ready to seek vengeance against the AL East. The first showdown between these two clubs happens on April 8th in Beantown. Getting swept up in Boston is not an option for the Yankees. They have to play strong, consistent baseball or else the media distractions will continue to grow.
5. Over-Managing: Joe Girardi is notorious for over-analyzing every single bullpen match-up with that silly little binder of his. The Yankees have restocked their bullpen with two plus arms in Pedro Feliciano and Rafael Soriano so using the binder a little loss often early makes sense to me. Consult it a little bit in October, but just let the guys carve out their roles early on.