By Father Gabe Costa
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The days of spring training are rapidly dwindling, and hope springs eternal as a new season approaches.
While final rosters are not yet totally determined, most clubs have a pretty good idea as to who will be with the big club on Opening Day.
In this installment of By The Numbers, after briefly considering the division in which the Yankees play, I would like to give one man’s view of the Bronx Bombers, and what may happen this season.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST: If this is not the toughest division in Major League Baseball, it certainly ranks near the top.
The Tampa Bay Rays have, as usual, great pitching and a perennial All-Star in Evan Longoria. Joe Maddon is a seasoned, crusty skipper and should have — as usual — a pretty good season, perhaps his fifth in a row with 90-plus wins.
Buck Showalter’s Birds have come across as a gritty club over the past two years or so. This unsung team has steady players like Nick Markakis and slugger Chris Davis, who drove in 138 runs and swatted 53 home runs. And with third baseman Manny Machado returning, this team could be tough.
The Blue Jays did not do well last year (only 73 victories) and, even with some improvement, it is difficult to envision John Gibbons’ team finishing higher than fourth (third?) in the division.
The last-place BoSox of 2012 became the World Champion Red Sox of 2013. John Farrell did a marvelous job, and the Beantowners must be considered favorites to repeat as division winners, at least at this time.
Which brings us to this season’s Yankees.
MANAGER: Given the injuries in 2013, the fact that Joe Girardi led the team to 85 victories was nothing short of admirable. Girardi applies his logic and discipline from an academic background in engineering, and continues to reap its benefits.
Girardi is one of the top managers in the game.
STARTING PITCHING: CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda could/should be responsible for many of the starts. At this point, it’s much too early to tell. There will be pitchers sliding back and forth (David Phelps?) between the starting rotation and the bullpen.
If all goes well, the starting pitching might be the bright light for this year’s team.
RELIEVERS: Beginning at the end, David Robertson has to replace the great Mariano Rivera. If that works out, as best as it can, the middle relievers will fall into place. If Robertson cannot do the job, then the bullpen is in real trouble.
This is a real question mark for this season.
CATCHING: Brian McCann was an excellent addition. He will probably be backed up by Francisco Cervelli.
Barring injuries, this should be a solid part of this year’s Yankees.
INFIELD: The two main questions, of course, are first baseman Mark Teixeira and shortstop Derek Jeter.
Tex is a great defender, but the question is his hitting.Wwill he hit .280, drive in 100-110 runs and slug 25-30 home runs? Over the past few seasons, injuries (and defensive shifts) have neutralized him quite a bit.
Jeter, who will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, is in his last year of a storied career. But injuries and age have slowed him down. Will he be able to put together a great season in his swan song?
Mixing and matching Kelly Johnson (age 32), Brian Roberts (will be 37 in October) and Eduardo Nunez (will be 27 in June) will probably round out the infield.
A few years ago, the loss of a superstar like Alex Rodriguez would have been devastating. However, given all the physical (and legal) factors, this year’s club will probably not be as adversely affected as it would have been by his loss.
There are a lot of “ifs” concerning this infield.
OUTFIELD: Age and proneness to injury are prevalent factors with regard to the Bombers’ outfielders. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran are both welcome additions to the Yankees, and with veterans like Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki and Brett Gardner, the Yankees have five talented players. The term “mixing and matching” also applies here.
Barring injuries, this quintet could do a lot of damage offensively.
DESIGNATED HITTER AND BENCH: If they are not starting, the DH position could be taken by Teixeira, Jeter, Beltran or Soriano. Outfielder Zoilo Almonte may also see some action from the bench.
Both the DH and the bench will be adequate, but not extraordinary.
BOTTOM LINE: Unless one of the other teams runs away with the division title, the Yankees have a chance to finish first, but there are too many “if’s.” If they come in second place with, say, 90-plus wins, Girardi will have done another fine job.
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