Around the start of May last year I was asking people what was wrong with the team and when they thought the bombers would turn it around. I know its only three games into the season, but this looks and feels different. To come into Boston and win the series is huge. That we should have swept will be over looked, but is comparably big as well.
The Yankees lost their opening series last year, and looked shaky all of April. They also lost their first 8 matchups with the Sox last year and faced questions about the rivalry until August; not so this year. This year the Bombers look more polished (albeit after only three games) than they did last year.
Although the triumphant return of Alex Rodriguez got most of the attention last season, the real catalyst for change on the 2009 Yankees was stability from the bullpen. Remember Jose Veras?
Bullpen performance was also the difference between Game 1 and Games 2 and 3 versus the Sox so far this year. In Game 1 the bullpen gave up three runs and let one inherited run cross the plate, as bad a performance as the team could get. In the subsequent games the pen allowed zero runs to score.
If the bullpen continues to perform as well as it did in Games 2 and 3 then the Yankees may finally be able to burst out of the gate. Once the team put Game 1 in its rearview mirror it got solid performances from Alfredo Aceves, Chan-Ho Park and Joba Chamberlain. Damaso Marte and David Robertson also showed flashes of strength.
That’s two long relievers, a lefty specialist and two set-up guys, if you’re keeping score at home. Joe Girardi loves to spread the workload, so its important to have options. And waiting in the 9th is Mariano, whose velocity is up around 92-93 mph in 2010, versus 88-89 mph last year.
Here are a few more observations, from a very small sample of games:
- The Yankees can hit. Bizarrely enough, through three games Nick Johnson, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are the worst three hitters on the team. Everyone else is off to a solid start. These guys will come around. When they do, watch out.
- Curtis Granderson looks like one of the best players on the team, and certainly the best outfielder we’ve had in years. Obviously he won’t continue to hit at his current pace, but the combination of power, defense and speed he provides the team late in the lineup is already paying dividends. For fun, this is what Johnny Damon has done so far this year.
- The Yankees’ big three starters look like they are one or two starts from dominance. Pettitte was great last night. A.J. and CC were both mortal in their first starts, but their weakness was fatigue more than anything else. That will change, probably soon.
- Brett Gardner is getting the job done. He’s got no power at all, but after a terrible spring he’s doing what the team needs him to do.
- The lineup has a different feel this season than it did at the end of last season. Last year’s team featured a steady diet of better-than-average OBP guys with 20-plus home run power (Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher all fit this profile).
Replacing Damon, Matsui and Melky Cabrera with Johnson, Granderson and Gardner changes the profile of the lineup. Behind the scenes at Yankeeist we’re already calling Johnson “Nick the Walk,” while Granderson hit 20 homers on the road last year. We’ve added an outstanding OBP guy and a player who could easily hit 30-plus homers in 2010. We won’t know what this means until deeper in the season but is anyone else really excited to get these two into the Stadium for the short porch in right?
Two quick observations on the Red Sox:
1) Boston is an excellent defensive team. If you don’t believe me, just ask Johnson, Teixeira and A-Rod. All three of those guys hit the ball well, sometimes not even right to opposing defenders, but not out of the opponents’ defensive ranges either. These guys make their plays and their outfield gets to a lot of well-hit balls, moreso than ours.
2) The Boston focus on defense seems like a tactical error. Sure, the team will prevent a lot of runs, but where’s that big bat? Through three games my (totally biased) opinion is that the Yankees’ offense is much better. The team gets on base more, and gets more big hits. The Yankees were one bullpen meltdown from a sweep.
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