There have been many discussions here and elsewhere about everything that has gone wrong for the Yankees so far this year. Presently, the Yankees are sitting in 4th place in the AL East at 13-10, 4 games behind the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays. This is not a position that Yankee fans are used to seeing their team occupy, and will not really be tolerated going forward. There have been major issues present on both sides of the ball thus far.
The 3-4-5 of Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira has underachieved tremendously so far, turning what was supposed to be a dominant middle of the order into a frustrating mess. Russell Martin, who started off 2011 on an offensive tear, is making Yankee fans nostalgic for the days of Jorge Posada because of his anemic performance ate the plate. Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner are both injured, and Yankee fans have been treated to the spectacle of Eduardo Nunez and Raul Ibanez playing multiple games in the outfield.
Plenty has gone wrong on the pitching side as well. Michael Pineda, who was supposed to be the young, hard-throwing complement to CC Sabathia that the Yankees have been seeking for years, is out for the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Phil Hughes, seemingly poised for a bounceback season after a shaky 2011, has had the same problems with home runs and inefficiency that plagued him last season. Freddy Garcia, a pleasant surprise in 2011, has fallen off a cliff, losing his rotation spot to David Phelps.
Overall, there have been plenty of frustrating losses, questionable managing moves, and poor performances so far, which can drive even the most level-headed fan batty. However, despite everything that has gone wrong so far, there is still plenty of room to be optimistic about the Yankees’ chances in 2012.
Derek Jeter, who looked over the hill in the beginning of 2011, has turned back the clock with a stellar start to the season, in which he is batting .385 and OPS’ins .992. He seems to have a little more spring in his step and pop in his bat, which has helped him be a major offensive threat at the top of the lineup. After a stellar 2011 season that most prognosticators deemed unrepeatable, Curtis Granderson has been even better this season, swatting 9 home runs in 24 games with a 1.004 OPS. Despite his early struggles, CC Sabathia looks to be rounding (no pun intended) into midseason form, and will be the reliable ace he has always been for the rest of the season. Hiroki Kuroda has been the reliable, stabilizing, veteran presence in the rotation that the Yankees hoped they were getting when they brought him to the AL.
Reinforcements will be here soon in the form of Brett Gardner, who could return in the next few days, and Nick Swisher, who was among the league leaders in RBI prior to his hamstring injury. Andy Pettitte’s comeback attempt is making progress, and I would guess that he is no more than a few weeks away from making his return to the big league rotation. Even if he is not the Andy Pettitte of old, he will almost certainly be an upgrade over the horrendous performance we have seen from the number 5 slot in the rotation.
The Yankees’ rivals have also had their fair share of problems. Boston’s pitching woes have somewhat obscured slow starts by Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis, and it is unclear when Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford will return. They are also 2 games behind the Yankees. The 1st-place Rays have lost star 3rd baseman Evan Longoria for 4-8 weeks with a hamstring injury, which is a major blow to their lineup depth. The Angels, potential wild card competitors, have seen Albert Pujols start his season on a homerless streak that has already started to raise anxiety about how his big contract will look 5 years from now. Things are going well for the Blue Jays (despite Jose Bautista’s slow start) and the Orioles so far, but let’s face it, I’m not going to lose too much sleep over them until they can show themselves to be legittimate contenders.
Of course, the season is young, and most if not all of the trends we have witnessed are likely to reverse. That said, the sometimes-myopic view of many fans often seems to overlook the difficulties that other teams are having while magnifying their own teams’ flaws. While the Yankees have had a lot of problems this year, most of them seem likely to sort themselves out through a combination of regaining health and overcoming slow starts. Of course, Jeter and Granderson may be due for some regression, though they are showing the underlying skills to continue to post strong performances. There are still some areas of legitimate concern (Hughes and Teixeira especially), but even with everything that has happened, I see no reason why the Yankees won’t end up with 90+ wins on the season and a playoff berth.
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