Thursday, March 27, 2008


AS A YANKEES fan I hate to admit it … but Joe Girardi could be in for a tough first season as boss in the Bronx.

Just for once, the New York Yankees go into the 2008 Major League Baseball season as neither favorite to win the World Series nor the American League East.

Money can’t buy you love, sang The Beatles. These days, it seems it can’t buy you a pennant either.

For all the Steinbrenner millions, and an annual payroll of more than $200m, the Yankees have not been able to call themselves the best team in baseball since 2000.

That doesn’t look about to change this season.

While the Yankees are 0 for 7 since 2000, their bitter rivals the Boston Red Sox have gone 2 for 4 in the last four years. Yankee fans still bear the scars of blowing a 3-0 lead in the 2004 AL Championship Series.

The Yankees have had their moments during the past two seasons. Memorably, they swept the Sox 5-0 at Fenway in 2006 and last year, recovered from losing five of the first six meetings to take the season series 10-8.

But after such a dreadful first half of the season, it was a case of too little too late as they finished two games behind the BoSox and failed to win their division for the first time since 1997.

Winning the wild card was some consolation, but the anguish of losing 3-1 to the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the play-offs was compounded by the Sox going on to whitewash the Colorado Rockies in the World Series.

Hank Steinbrenner may believe the Yankees are still baseball’s Goliath. But Boston have landed a few slingshots in recent years and, at the moment, Red Sox Nation rules.

So what are Steinbrenner and the Yankees basing their hopes of a turnaround on this year? Little more than blind faith, it would seem.

Bronx Bombers no stronger than 2007

Are the Yankees stronger than 2007? No. Relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins was the only significant arrival in the winter and he’s a direct replacement for Luis Vizcaino.

Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina are another year older; Andy Pettite continues to be plagued by back spasms.

The Yanks will start the season with Chien-Ming Wang, followed by Mussina. Okay, so Wang won 19 games last season and is a decent starter. But they hardly pack a one-two punch like the Indians’ Sabathia and Carmona.

Given the poor performances by Phil Hughes during spring training, I wonder whether Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman wish they could turn back the clock and trade for Johan Santana? At least they have Kei Igawa to fall back on. That was $20 million well spent.

Joba Chamberlain begins the season in the bullpen and the Yankees will be keeping their fingers crossed that their starters can at least keep them in the game up to the eighth inning.

Of course, the Yankees still have a powerful batting line up, led by 275 million-dollar man Alex Rodriguez. But there are question marks about some of their “veterans.”

How many games will Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi play before getting injured? Will Hideki Matsui hit like Godzilla or Bridezilla?

The Red Sox have their injury worries too. With Curt Schilling out, they can’t afford to do without Josh Beckett for too many games.

But with emerging players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and pitcher Clay Buchholz, not to mention the redoubtable double act of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, they are a worthy favorite to win the division – and repeat as World Series champions.

That will leave the Yankees again scrapping for the wild card and it’s not even guaranteed they will finish second in the AL East.

Toronto Blue Jays have better starters

In A.J. Burnett, Roy Halladay, Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan, the Toronto Blue Jays – the Yankees’ opening-day opponents – have better starting pitching. If closer B.J. Ryan is back to full health, they could pose a few problems for the Yankees too.

But while the Yankees’ prospects for 2008 may seem a little gloomy, the long-range forecast looks a lot brighter. They will shed around $80 million from the payroll at the end of the season and will then be able to do some serious rebuilding.

Elsewhere, the AL Central once again looks to rest between the Indians and Detroit Tigers. The Tigers, too, have an awesome batting line-up with the arrival of Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins.

But, like the Yankees, there are major doubts about their starting pitching, despite the addition of Dontrelle Willis. Key relief pitchers Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney both start the season on the DL.

The Angels are again in pole position to win the AL West. But the Seattle Mariners, with a new ace in Erik Bedard, who caused the Yanks so many problems when he pitched for Baltimore last season, could mount a serious challenge.

With most of the top hitters plying their trade in the American League, the National League doesn’t amount to much more than a second division.

That statement won’t go down too well, however, with fans of the New York Mets, still smarting from their collapse down the stretch last season.

Santana and Mets to have last laugh

If Santana performs as advertised, and Pedro Martinez is anywhere near his best, the Mets should run away with the NL East. With John Maine at No. 3 and Oliver Perez at No. 4, they will only require minor contributions from Orlando Hernandez and Mike Pelfrey.

In fact, manager Willie Randolph’s biggest problems will probably be keeping the lid on the ebullient José Reyes and 41-year-old Moisés Alou healthy.

There would be no more popular winner of the NL West than the Los Angeles Dodgers now Joe Torre has taken charge.

How ironic it will be though if ex-Yank Randy Johnson overcomes his back problems and propels the Arizona Diamondbacks to the division title. Even with the power of Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki, the Colorado Rockies will find it hard to repeat last season’s heroics, when they won 14 of their last 15 games.

The NL Central looks sweet for the Chicago Cubs and Lou Piniella, although the Milwaukee Brewers won’t go down without a fight.

Come October, I think we could well see the Red Sox going for their second successive World Series title, only to be outpitched by Santana and the Mets. Perish the thought!

My selections are:

AL East:
Red Sox
AL West:
AL Central:
Wild card:

NL East:
NL West:
NL Central:
Wild card:

AL Champions:
Red Sox
NL Champions:
World Series winners:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Most impressive Mr. Beckett.