After a very disappointing 2008 season, Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman went on an off-season mission to rebuild his team’s starting rotation. Brian knew that in order for the Yankees to have a chance to win their 27th world championship in the upcoming campaign, he would have to put together a starting five that would rival the ones the Yanks had in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Well, with two big signings, and a healthy return of an ace, the Yankee General Manager not only rebuilt his starting staff, but he may have put together arguably the best rotation in baseball.
Entering the 2009 season, the Yankees starting five will consist of CC Sabathia (17-10, 2.70), Chien-Ming Wang (8-2, 4.07), A.J. Burnett (18-10, 4.07), Andy Pettitte (14-14, 4.54), and Joba Chamberlain (4-3, 2.60). By far, this is the best starting rotation the Yankees have had in years. In Sabathia, Wang, and Burnett, you have three aces. CC (251) and A.J.(231) are both strikeout pitchers who eat up lots of innings. Wang is a ground ball pitcher, who, if he didn’t get hurt last season, might have notched his third straight 19 win season with the “Bombers”. These three starters are proven winners, and when pitching for the Yankees in a three game series, you’ve got to like the Yanks chances of winning at least 2 of 3.
While the starting three in this rotation are aces, the backend of this starting five is not too shabby either. Andy Pettitte struggled through the second part of the season last year with a sore shoulder. With the loss of Wang and Chamberlain, and the failures of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, Andy felt he had to pitch with pain for the good of the team. His performances were subpar, and everyone knew the gusty lefty was pitching in pain. Pettitte got healthy during the off-season, and has pitched very well this spring. Basically, the Yankees could have a 16-17 game winner in the fourth slot of the rotation.
Joba Chamberlain will be the wildcard in the Yankees 2009 starting rotation. If Joba struggles, the rotation will still be strong (as most team’s fifth starter struggles). But if Chamberlain excels, as most believe, the Yankees will have the best starting five in baseball. The key point to watch for in Chamberlain is, Joba must be efficient in the way he gets hitters out. Many times last year, Chamberlain would throw too many pitches early on, and thus, would have early exits in games he was pitching very well. Unlike when he would come out of the bullpen and just blow hitters away with a fastball, Chamberlain uses four pitches as a starter. Joba must gain a better control of all his pitches to become the top of the rotation starter many project for him. If he succeeds, he could become a real big winner out of the five slot in the rotation.
Earlier this spring, Manager Joe Girardi set his rotation as follows:
1) Sabathia (L)
2) Wang (R)
3) Burnett (R)
4) Pettitte (L)
5) Chamberlain (R)
If your team sets a goal of winning a world championship, it better have a strong bullpen. The Yankees have such a pen.
Before we get into the names, the bullpen will be improved because the Yankees added two starters (Sabathia 7.2 innings, Burnett 6.5 innings) who go deep into games. When you don’t over-use your relievers, your pen becomes much more effective.
Once again, Mariano Rivera will be the Yankees closer. At age 39 he shows no sign of slowing down. Yes, many have been waiting for the day to come where he can’t do it anymore, but not me. Look, when the guy can’t succeed at his high level, we all will know it. Until it starts happening, I have no reason to doubt that “Mo” can continue to effectively close out games. Mariano had a great season last year, and he has looked very strong this spring. In short, once again the Yankees have one of the best closers in baseball.
Brian Bruney will probably the “bridge” to Mariano. Bruney, despite a foot injury which kept him out for a good part of the year, pitched very effectively for the Yankees when called upon. This spring, Brian showed up in great shape, and in his “walk” year, is determined to show all of baseball how valuable he is.
While some teams look long and hard for an effective lefty for their pen, the 2009 Yankees have two. Damaso Marte (though Girardi over-used him last year) should be the Yankees lefty specialist and Phil Coke can be a lefty you can bring in to pitch a full inning. Billy Martin always said don’t believe what you see in September and March, but I honestly feel the Yankees have a very good pitcher in Coke. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Phil Coke becomes the Yankees second most valuable arm in the bullpen.
Another “sleeper” in the Yankee pen could be Jonathan Albaladejo. Jonathan, who was out for most of last season with a strained right elbow, wowed the Yankees in camp this spring with a 94 mph fastball. The 26-year old right hander turned in a 0.93 ERA this spring.
Rounding out the Yankee pen will be Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras.
So in summary, here is what Joe Girardi has to chose from in the Yankee Bullpen:
Mariano Rivera – Closer
Brian Burney – Bridge Man
Damaso Marte -Lefty Specialist
Phil Coke – Lefty
Jonathan Albaladejo – Long Man
Edwar Ramirez – Righty
Jose Veras – Righty
The 2009 Yankee Offense
Whey you look at the projected Yankee lineup for 2009, you can assume this team will put up a sufficient number of runs.
Derek Jeter SS
Jonhnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Hideki Matsui DH
Xavier Nady RF
Jorge Posada C
Robinson Cano 2B
Brett Gardner CF
When the Yankees signed Johnny Damon three years ago, I felt he would be a better fit on this team as the second place hitter. Well, it took the Yankees three years, but they finally got it right.
Derek Jeter is a better leadoff hitter than Damon, and Johnny can be a more effective number two hitter than Derek. Jeter has a better on base percentage than Damon, and Johnny strikes out less than Jeter. You want someone who can put his bat on the ball batting second, and Damon does just that. Johnny has more “pop” in his bat than Jeter so there will be many situations where the Yankees may have runners on second and third with less than two outs, with Teixeira and Rodriguez coming to bat.
Speaking of Teixeira and Rodriguez, with these two hitters back-to-back, the Yankees arguably have the finest 3-4 hitting combination in the game. Adding to the strength of the lineup, is the fact that Teixeira is a switch hitter and really balances the Yankee attack.
This Yankee lineup could be an extremely explosive one if Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui bounce back from their 2008 injuries. Both players have had a terrific spring, and if it carries over to the regular season and playoffs, this lineup may average 6-runs per game.
For the past few years in my previews, I have touted Robinson Cano as being the best pure hitter on this team. I still feel this way, BUT, Cano must learn how to play hard, so he can reach his potential as a player. Cano has the ability to bat .300, hit 25 homers, and drive in 100 runs. That said, ability is just part of the equation. Robinson must show the drive and determination needed for a player’s true ability to come out.
There are lots of big names in the Yankee lineup, but please, don’t overlook Brett Gardner. Gardner has had a fabulous spring, but as everyone knows, once the regular season starts, that’s when the real test comes. If Brett can hit .260-.275, he will become an offensive force because of his ability to steal bases almost at will.
One of the weak points of the 2009 Yankee ball club is their defense. We all saw Derek Jeter slow up a bit at short.
Jorge Posada is coming off shoulder surgery, and we really don’t know how well he will be throwing once the season begins. Damon’s weak arm can be hidden in left, and so far, Brett Gardner has looked pretty good in center. As with his hitting, Cano, who has the ability to play a great second base, has to put in a better effort in the field. He must stop waving at balls, and instead, try to knock them down. The Yankees are going to remarkably improved at first base defense with Teixeira guarding the bag. For the first time since Tino Martinez was let go after the 2001 season, the Yankees will have a full-time first baseman that can actually turn the 3-6-3 double play.
Again, the thing to watch for here is Jeter’s range and Posada’s arm.
Nick Swisher is going to be a great bench addition to the Yankees. Nick could spell Teixeira at first, and could also give one of the outfielders a rest when need. Look for Melky Cabrera to be a late inning defensive replacement for Johnny Damon. Melky will also spell Garnder in center when needed. Once again, Jose Molina will backup Jorge Posada. When Alex Rodriguez comes back, Cody Ransom will be the Yankees infield utility man. It’s not the best bench in baseball, but when you look at the starting lineup, there really is no need to pinch hit for anyone except Gardner. All this bench needs to do is give selected players a blow every once in awhile.
Down On The Farm:
During the course of a baseball season, one or two pitchers always get hurt. If this happens to the Yankees, the “Bombers” will tab one of their three top starters in Scranton to fill the void. Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, and Brett Tomko will be at the ready if one of the Yankees aces goes down to injury.
Putting It All Together
I’m a firm believer in the saying, “pitching wins championships”. A solid starting rotation helps a team avoid long losing streaks. When you have a team with a strong starting five, coupled with a lineup that can score six runs per game, long winning streaks will occur throughout the season. While Tampa and Boston both have fine starting staffs, I believe the Yankees have a better 1 through 5 than both teams. I also believe the Yankee offense is superior to both the Rays and the Sox. Thus, I’m picking the Yankees to win the 2009 Eastern Division title. Because I feel the Yankees have three aces in Sabathia, Wang, and Burnett, I’m also picking the Yankees to win the American League Pennant, and the 2009 World Championship. Pitching wins championships, and the Yankees will win #27 this year because of their superior pitching.
American League East Projected Order of Finish
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
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