NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — October baseball is almost a divine right in the view of the Yankees. They’ve made the playoffs in 17 of the last 18 seasons, their fans block out autumn nights for baseball months in advance and clubhouse celebrations break out with regularity.
But there are doubts this year. Lots of them.
Nick Swisher is gone. So are Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Rafael Soriano.
Derek Jeter will start the season on the disabled list. He’ll be joined by Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Phil Hughes.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,” ace CC Sabathia said. “We’ve got guys in here who can hopefully step up and try to fill the void until these guys get back.”
The power supply seems a bit depleted, especially while they wait for the return of Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson and A-Rod, who combined for 100 home runs last year. Add in Swisher, Martin and Ibanez, and that’s 164 of the team-record 245 hit by the Yankees.
“I anticipate it’s going to be different because we don’t quite have the home-run hitters that we’ve had in the past,” said Joe Girardi, starting his sixth season as manager. “So, we’re going to have to find different ways to score runs. I think when you look at our club this year, there’s more speed.”
Older clubs generally aren’t known for swiftness, and the Yankees once again will be among the majors’ elderly. Hoping their veterans age like wine and not become akin to rotary phones in the wireless era, New York counts on the health of a pitching staff closer to AARP than MVP.
“I’m excited as I am every year,” Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner told WFAN radio Tuesday. “We’re facing some adversity with the injuries, no doubt about it. But these guys are professionals and they’ve faced adversity before. I’m confident that we have a good group of veterans that’s been through the fire before, and they’re going to produce.”
Mariano Rivera, the 43-year-old reliever who is the greatest closer ever, returns for a valedictory season after missing most of 2012 with a torn knee ligament. Just hearing Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Rivera’s introductory music, makes the Yankees and their fans feel better.
“I can’t say anything else other than he has been absolutely amazing to watch,” Andy Pettitte said. “You don’t have to worry about him when he walks out there and takes that mound.”
Pettitte, who turns 41 in June, was 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts last year, when he missed almost three months because of a broken lower left leg, sustained when he was hit by a line drive off the bat of Cleveland’s Casey Kotchman on June 27.
Hiroki Kuroda, 38, became the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher last year and went 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA in his first season in pinstripes, leading New York with 33 starts and 219 2-3 innings.
More is expected of Sabathia, who turns 33 in July. He was 15-6, 3.38 ERA, slowed by trips to the disabled list for a strained groin and an inflamed elbow – which needed postseason surgery. With Hughes still coming back from a spring training back injury. Ivan Nova (12-8, 5.02) and David Phelps (4-4, 3.34) also will be in the rotation when the season starts.
“There’s been a lot of talk about our age, but I like having those veterans,” owner Hal Steinbrenner said. “I like the age. I like the experience. And I think it’s great for the young players to have that around. Injuries are a big part of it. We’re just going to have to keep our fingers crossed that we don’t get any strange injuries like Andy last year, and Mo.”
With the departure of Soriano, who signed with Washington, a larger bullpen burden will fall on David Robertson, who never completely bounced back from a strained left oblique last May, and Joba Chamberlain, who returned in August from 14 months of injuries.
On the offensive side, all the major additions are members of the 30-plus club. Kevin Youkilis (34) was brought in to play third base while A-Rod’s hip heals, and Vernon Wells (34) was added in the final week of spring training to fill a corner outfield spot while Granderson’s broken forearm gets better. He’ll be joined in the outfield by Brett Gardner, limited to 17 games last season because of an elbow injury, and Ichiro Suzuki (39), who revived his career after he was acquired from Seattle last summer.
Travis Hafner figures to get a lot of at-bats at designated hitter, if he avoids injuries that have limited him to fewer than 100 games in four of the last five seasons. Juan Rivera is the fill-in at first base until Teixeira returns from a wrist injury and Eduardo Nunez until Jeter’s left ankle recovers sufficiently from surgery last October.
Francisco Cervelli, dropped to Triple-A for almost all of last season, is likely Martin’s replacement behind the plate.
Even the general manager is wounded. Brian Cashman broke a leg and dislocated the ankle skydiving in Florida during spring training while raising funds for the Wounded Warrior Project.
He knows George Steinbrenner wouldn’t have tolerated any whining. He’d insist an aged team become a team for the ages.
“I was raised under the Boss, and with the Boss there’s no excuses,” he said. “So these are the obstacles you deal with, and you find ways to get over. No one cares about anything else. All they care about is the bottom line is what you put in that win column. We’re not going to allow this to bury us. We’re just not. We can’t.”
Will the Yankees crash and burn, or overcome all the obstacles? Make your prediction for 2013 in the comments!
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