The Baseball Notebook

April 21, 2010 12:12 PM

Is There Vulnerabiliy In The Bronx?

No lineup in professional sports has more stars than the New York Yankees. Coming off a 103-win season and World Series title, the Yanks have roared out of the gate by winning their first four series and taking the opener last night in Oakland. Is there any way they can be stopped?

The biggest problem New York has is what might happen if key players start to show their age. There are four—Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada in the everyday lineup, along with Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera on the pitching staff. Let’s look at some the players that would have to carry the load if any of them start to slow down.

In the lineup…

The corner men, Mark Texieria and A-Rod are the ones who carry the offense to begin with. Robinson Cano was already an excellent hitter for both contact and power has warmed to his role in the #5 spot. It’s a good fit, as Cano is better at hitting for power than he is at being patient and that works well for middle-of-the-lineup guy. Curtis Granderson has excellent numbers across the board so far, although his history suggests the on-base percentage will decline. But if Granderson is slightly overrated, that is compensated by the fact Nick Swisher is underrated. The rightfielder only hit .249 last year, but his batting eye is so good, that the OBP soared to .371. Imagine having to work your way through the heart of this lineup, and then deal with grinding at-bats by the #8 guy. And the #9 guy is now Brett Gardner, who’s shown a nice ability to be a pesky on-base guy himself. The backups to Jeter and Posada are Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli respectively, but as the list of names above shows, there’s no reason to think New York couldn’t score runs anyway.

In the rotation…

C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett have everything taken care of at the top. If Pettite can’t hold up, there are potentially serious problems behind them. Javier Vazquez has not pitched well. Phil Hughes is getting another chance as a starter. He seemed to get his career underway last year as a setup man, but the lack of pitching depth moved him back to the rotation. I like this kid a lot and think he will probably make it, but it is a risk that becomes even more acute if Pettite’s body betrays him in midsummer.

In the bullpen…

This is where the rubber hits the road. Mariano has to keep going. Joba Chamberlain seems to be settling back into the setup role he should never have been removed from and could probably close if he had too. Beyond that though, Damaso Marte, Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson are very inconsistent. The Yanks probably need some help here as it is, and if the Ageless One shows any cracks in the façade, the late innings will become a real adventure.

Prognosis: New York should be in good shape for at least another year. Jeter and Rivera show no signs of slowing down and the offense could survive any decline from Posada. There are risks in the pitching rotation, but that is just a sign that New York is not unbeatable and it’s not an automatic cakewalk to another title. They still have fewer pitfalls than most and have to be on any sane person’s short list of 2-3 teams who can look championship-caliber.

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