After an unsuccessful 2010 campaign in the eyes of fans, the 2011 Yankees look to right the wrongs of yesteryear.
The Yankees settled for a wild card spot last season after falling a game short of the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL East title. They swept the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the playoffs, but were knocked off by the Texas Rangers in six games in the American League Championship Series.
Toward the end of the season when the Yankees lost, they lost badly. They posted an 8-11 record in their final 19 regular season games, all against division opponents, which allowed the Rays to jump them in the standings. The Twins series led many to believe they were back on track and ready for a World Series run, but they quickly let it slip away with all around bad play against the Rangers. In the four games they lost to Texas, they were outscored by 25 runs – a pitiful ending for a team that won 95 games.
It’s a new season now, and the Yankees come in as underdogs for the first time in years. It’s no secret that the Boston Red Sox had a very successful offseason. They added all-star veterans Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to bolster their lineup. Their rotation hasn’t changed, but it’s still one of the strongest in the league.
The Yankees attempted to answer these moves by signing the hottest free agent pitcher on the market, Cliff Lee, but were unsuccessful in that effort. Instead, the Yankees were left with a questionable starting rotation, especially with the retirement of Andy Pettitte. Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon were brought in to battle with Ivan Nova for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. In the end, Nova and Garcia took the final two spots, while Colon will stay in the majors as a long reliever.
The rotation has more questions to answer though. There is always confidence in CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes was an all-star last season, but A.J. Burnett is coming off of 2010 with a 10-15 record and a 5.26 ERA, both career lows. New pitching coach Larry Rothschild has worked with Burnett throughout the offseason and feels he has made progress and will have an improved 2011. It would not be a surprise to see the Yankees trade for a starter such as the Houston Astros’ Brett Myers by the All-Star Break.
The biggest signing for the Yanks this offseason was relief pitcher Rafael Soriano, who led the AL with 45 saves with the Rays last season. This gives the Yankees a solid eighth inning guy to set up Mariano Rivera. The Yankees also grabbed reliever Pedro Feliciano from the New York Mets, but he will start the season on the disabled list.
Having Mariano Rivera in the closer role always means good things. Rivera came into the season only 42 saves behind Trevor Hoffman’s career saves record of 601. It is not realistic to expect Mo to reach this number this season, but he will come very close if he cannot break it. Whether he reaches it this season or not, that record will be his before we know it.
After deciding to make Jorge Posada the full time designated hitter, the Yankees signed Russell Martin to compete for the starting catching job with top prospect Jesus Montero. Montero will start the season in AAA and the speedy Russell Martin will get another chance at redemption after two straight subpar seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yanks also signed veterans Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones as backups and potentially big bats off the bench.
Manager Joe Girardi decided to change things up this year and place the speedy Brett Gardner at the top of the lineup and move Derek Jeter back to the second slot. Gardner scored 97 runs last season out of the nine hole, so a move to the top of the lineup should improve this stat. His base stealing abilities will also come in handy in the leadoff spot. This will give Jeter more RBI opportunities and puts less pressure on him to get on base. Joe Girardi seems to want to get Andruw Jones some at bats against lefties so when Gardner sits for Jones, Jeter will likely move back into that top spot.
Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira all won Gold Gloves last season. It is safe to say that the Yankees will have one of the best infields in the league again in 2011, especially since Alex Rodriguez is just as solid at third base as the others are at their respective positions.
Jeter comes into the season needing just 74 hits to reach the 3,000 hit milestone. He should be able to reach this before the All-Star Break. After the worst season of his career, the chase for 3,000 should help Jeter get back on the fans’ good sides. This will solidify Jeter as a first ballot hall of famer.
There are no surprises in the Yankees outfield this year. Gardner and Curtis Granderson are fast enough to track down any fly ball, but neither has that strong of an arm. Nick Swisher is the weak link out in right field. While he probably has the best arm of the three, he is by far the most inconsistent when it comes to defense. Getting Andruw Jones out there every few games will make the outfield that much stronger, as he is a 10-time Gold Glove winner.
Looking back on last season, many Yankee hitters underachieved. Only Cano and Swisher had standout seasons for what we are used to. Expect many of the hitters, especially Teixeira, A-Rod and Granderson, to improve their numbers from last season. Posada will likely have a better season as well since he no longer needs to worry about catching.
Although they did not make many big signings in the offseason, the Yankees have much more potential than they are getting credit for. With some hitters likely to have improved seasons, the Yankees should lead the league in runs scored for a third straight season. This will be the key to victory for the Yanks because of the questionable rotation. The Red Sox may be the favorites, but do not be surprised if you see the Yankees at the top of the standings by season’s end.
LF – BRETT GARDNER – He gets his chance at the top of the lineup this year.
SS – DEREK JETER– Is coming off the worst season of his career, but will look to bounce back on his way to 3,000 hits.
1B – MARK TEIXEIRA – Always has a dreadful first month, but is currently off to one of the hottest starts in the league.
3B – ALEX RODRIGUEZ – Should he be healthy, expect numbers close to 35 HRs, 120 RBIs.
2B – ROBINSON CANO – Was an MVP candidate and gold glove winner last season. Expect the same this year.
RF – NICK SWISHER – Sir Swish had a standout season in 2010, but repeating will be tough.
DH – JORGE POSADA – Being the everyday DH means he will get more at bats than he ever has. His numbers should improve.
CF – CURTIS GRANDERSON– He has 30 HR potential, especially at Yankee Stadium. Needs to stay healthy this year.
C – RUSSELL MARTIN – He won the starting job in spring training. The question is, how long can he hold off top prospect Jesus Montero?
No. 1 C.C. SABATHIA – He should have an ERA in the low 3s and close to 20 wins once again.
No. 2 A.J. BURNETT – There is not much confidence in him, except from new pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
No. 3 PHIL HUGHES – After a hot start last year, Hughes consistently gave up plenty of runs. Needs to improve with the extended innings he will be pitching.
No. 4 IVAN NOVA – Earned his right to the fourth spot in the rotation. Has great potential in this slot.
No. 5 FREDDY GARCIA – Once a very good pitcher, his 30s have been a nightmare for him. This may be his last chance in the majors.