Opening Day is tomorrow, and the Yanks get things started at 1:05pm in the House that God Built against the Tigers. It's a classic Sabathia-Verlander duel to jumpstart the season and show all the Yankee haters that they're in for a long season of frustrated tantrums in THEIR MOTHER'S BASEMENTS.* This is supposedly "not our year," if you believe the chatter. Too many question marks in the lineup, too many vacancies in the staff. Well guess what? We'll see. (As far as votes of confidence go, that's all I can muster at the moment.)
*That's right, I'm changing the stereotype. Right now, the idea is that bloggers live in their mother's basements. Once the new lingo catches on, that changes from blogger to anyone who hates the Yankees. Theo Epstein? Mother's basement. In fact, the entire city of Boston is nothing but mother's basements.
As I've admitted to you all before, I'm the kind of fan who is pretty horrible at following a team in the offseason. I'm as obsessed as they come from opening day to the bitter or joyous end, but at that point something in me turns off. The great part about college basketball and major league baseball is that they basically span the entire calendar. And there's almost no overlap! That allows me to disconnect from one sport at the end of a season, turn to the other, and not miss a beat of game action. It also prevents me from knowing how the hell things have changed while I was away. And it's not that I pay no attention. I know all the trades and acquisitions the Yanks have made. It's just that I've spent no time analyzing it.
So yesterday, I started a thread on my favorite Yankee message board asking for everyone's top 5 concerns. I had my own ideas, but I wanted to see the consensus from the hardcore fans and make sure I didn't say something stupid.
So, newly armed with knowledge and ready to begin a season-long obsession, I've come up with the top 20 concerns at the start of the 2011 campaign. Some of them are fake. Today, we present the first half: pitching.
1. Is Hughes a legit #2 starter?
Hmmm. Is he ready? He had a fairly strong season last year in some respects, winning 18 games, but he tapered off at the end of the year and finished with an ERA north of 4. After a nice start against Minnesota in the divisional round of the playoffs, he struggled mightily against Texas. Some thought he got exposed, others that he just had a couple poorly-timed bad starts. But after a scintillating start to the year, his last 12 appearances weren't too impressive; 59 innings, 53 hits, 4.42 ERA. Those aren't second-starter numbers. At least not in the AL East. Hughes is a big question mark.
2. What about Hughes' obsession with police uniforms?
I personally don't think it's a big deal if he dresses up like a cop now and again; everybody has their own thing. But honestly, how long before that's not good enough anymore? How long before he takes it a step too far and actually impersonates a cop, arresting someone on the street? Then you have legal problems and everything else, and that could really hurt the team.
3. AJ Burnett: WHAT'S THE DEAL?
Can he come back from whatever the hell happened last year (rumors abounded, from a messy divorce to alcohol issues to something involving pitching coach Dave Eiland) to give us a solid season at #3 in the rotation? I mean, I don't think anybody would deny that the dude has some of the sickest stuff in the game. His curve can be devastating, his fastball moves, and at his best he's dominant in a way that only 10-15 other pitchers in the league can manage. But last year's 5.26 ERA with only 145 strikeouts in 187 innings (and 204 hits)? Not going to cut the mustard. I mean, Girardi barely had confidence to throw the guy in the playoffs. For $16.5 million, I think we can expect a little more.
4. Will Burnett keep writing his racist blog, "WhiteTimes"?
Look, I respect freedom of expression, but I think it really divided the guys last year. Maybe if he just wrote it and stopped promoting it all the time, it'd be better? I don't know. I just hope Girardi doesn't get roped into doing another guest post this year.
5. What about Ivan Nova? What about the 5th starter, whoever it may be?
As you can see, the top three concerns are all related to starting pitching. The Yanks were really banking on getting Cliff Lee, and it threw them for a loop when he chose Philly. Failing that, they hoped like hell that Andy would be back, but retirement proved too strong a lure. We know what we'll get from CC, but starts 2 through 5 are huge question marks, and the deeper you get, the bigger that question mark becomes.
Nova will be playing his first full season with the Yanks. He's a pretty well-regarded prospect, but nobody quite knows how he'll fare, especially so soon. His fastball averages around 93-94, and he throws a cutter about 1 in every 4 pitches. He'll go to the changeup infrequently, and that's about it.
Freddy Garcia should begin the year as starter #5, especially after his decent outing yesterday to close out spring training against the Tigers.
There are two reasons why these guys are so important. The first is obvious: we can't make the playoffs without some production from the 4-5 spots in the rotation. The second may be even more important: if they can't perform, it means we'll probably sacrifice a top prospect, maybe even Jesus Montero, for a starting pitcher somewhere near the trade deadline. And that would be kind of a shame.
6. Is SuperNova too obvious a nickname for Ivan Nova?
And what if he's bad? What's a hilarious nickname for a guy with the last name Nova who stinks? If he was white, it'd be a no-brainer: the White Dwarf. That would almost be a perfect nickname. Can we maybe ignore that he's not white? Is that too much of a stretch? And how about Garcia? He'll probably be bad, so we should get on this now. Is it better to just make it something sarcastic, like Freddy Franchise?
7. What's the bullpen look like?
Pedro Feliciano, one of our main offseason acquisitions, will be starting the year on the DL and probably won't return until early May. Rafael Soriano is the biggest add, and hopefully he'll live up to his $7.25 million salary. He's clearly the closer-in-waiting, which is fine, and it'll be awesome to have him as an 8th-inning guy. Joba is still around, unpredictable as ever, and he'll probably be competing with Robertson for 6th-7th inning duties. For long relief, we've got Boone Logan and Bartolo Colon. Luis Ayala, a righty, was the last man added to the roster yesterday. The big concern here is that With Marte on the 60-day DL and Feliciano out, Logan is our only lefty. Still, all in all the pen looks pretty solid. At least one ESPN writer is calling it the best in the bigs.
8. Who's going to play point guard on our bullpen basketball team?
I think we're really lacking at the point position, and I don't see a good answer. Sure, Logan is a strong center, and Joba and Colon are great at crashing the boards from the power forward. But we all know Robertson is more a shooter than a penetrator, and Ayala is a glorified cheerleader at best and a coward at worst. That leaves Soriano for the point, but he's always been defined as more of a slashing guard, and I worry that changing his position so late in his career will give him a complex and hinder his confidence.
9. Seriously, how much time does Mariano have left?
Father Time can play forever, motherfucker. Ask again and you'll get a one-way ticket to the headbutt factory. And guess what? I'm the foreman.
10. How's Mariano's bald spot doing?
He's gone past the 'Buddhist Monk' stage. His nickname for this year is "Siddhartha." Also, try to find a picture of his bald spot online. You can't do it. I think Mariano controls the internet.
Tomorrow: the offense. And don't forget to let us all know your precise CST.