Man, is it ever good to see the hated Yanks “evil empire” vs. those Beantown “idiots”... well not quite since my good buddy Kevin Mill“ah”rrrr left... but who cares, this is baseball, and this is what makes us long for great game during the dead-of-winter! Notice that MLB is not stupid, and knows how to drive ratings. Put arguably the greatest rivalry in sports on the Opening Night, and let them have a slugfest. Say what you want – realignment, balanced schedule, equal opportunity... baseball has never been more popular than it is right now, so why go ahead and break-up a great thing?
The last time the World Series was won in consecutive years by the same team, recall the late ‘90’s, and the start of the new millennium, by those same Yanks (’98 – ’00). The Yankees have won multiple World Series, 6 different times in the club’s storied history, and managed 4 in-a-row (mid 30’s), and 5 in-a-row (’49-’53).
Even though Jonathan Papelbon closed the door on the Yanks tonight in a 9-7 victory in Game 1, with the “little dirt-bag” Dustin Pedroia stealing the show, we still have to reflect on what makes the Yankees so strong, and why they are coming off an impressive 2009 ( 103-59), first place – AL East, and a World Series Championship.
The answer: Power up the middle!
We’ll do a quick comparison of the 2010 Yankees up the middle, vs. the only Canadian member of the MLB fraternity, the Toronto Blue Jays (2009 offensive stats):
Lets start with the catching duties; Jorge Posada (.285, 22, 81, 383 at-bats) vs. John Buck (.247, 8, 36 in 59 games with Kansas City). Posada is a work-horse and a leader. He’s 38 going on 39, but you look at his switch-hitting ability, and his ability to hit in the “clutch,” I’ll take “Georgie” all day, every day. Buck has a long swing, and is at best a decent catch and thrown man behind the plate. Advantage Yanks – Posada.
Now arguably the most important position on the diamond, shortstop. Is there a more natural-born leader than Derek Sanderson Jeter (.334, 18 HRs, 66 RBIs, 30 SB, 107 runs, .406 on-base percentage)? #2 and the pride of Kalamazoo, MI is 36 years-old, and up for free agency at the end of this year. Do you really expect GM Brian Cashman to let the most popular current Yankee go anywhere? Heck NO! BTW, the last time a 36 year-old SS led his team to a WS victory? – 1955, Pee Wee Reese and the Brooklyn Dodgers… their 1st and only WS in Brooklyn, beating their cross-town rivals, the Yankees. Alex Gonzalez (.238, 8, 41 in 112 games with Cincinnati and Boston). Slick fielder, but no comparison to Sport’s Illustrated ‘2009 Sportsman of the Year,’ Mr. Jeter. Advantage Yanks – Jeter.
Segundo Basa (2nd base) is a closer battle between Jays super-stud, Aaron Hill (.286, 36, 108, AL comeback player of the year), and the Yankees up-and-down performer, Robinson Cano (.320, 25, 85, 103 runs). Cano edges Hill in the BA, but Aaron gets him in the HRs. Both field their position very well, but where the rubber hits the road, and you need a clutch performer, Aaron destroys Cano hitting with “Runners in Scoring Position,” Hill (.299), Cano (.204) in similar numbers of AB’s. I’ve always loved Aaron’s quiet confidence and demeanour. Advantage Jays – Hill.
We end our journey in the largest area needed to be patrolled on the diamond, center field. Can the Jays $126 million-dollar-man Vernon Wells (.260, 15, 66, 17 SB), have a more abdominal year than ’09? Factor in that he’s healthy, after a bad shoulder and wrist / hand plagued him last season, he can’t be much worse... can he? Curtis Granderson (.249, 30, 71, 20 SB, 91 runs with Detroit), acquired in a Dec. 2009 trade with the Detroit Tigers for Phil Coke (LHP) and minor leaguer Austin Jackson (OF), has been criticized for his ball-tracking routes in CF... for me, take his 30 HRs as part of the Tigers in Comerica Field (a.k.a Yellowstone Park), and compare with the ‘314ft Right Field line dimension of Yankee stadium (a.k.a. NASA launching pad), look out! If Johnny Damon could 24 HRs in the “new” shrine of baseball, think what Granderson can do? Advantage Yanks – Granderson.
Granted, the Jays have it over the Yankees when it comes to the fountain of youth, but until the Jays can develop a “home-grown” talent at the catching position and at shortstop, to compliment a young pitching staff and a perennial All-Star in Aaron Hill, they will continue to languish in the world of mediocrity.
Thank God baseball is finally here... every team and their legion of fans has a chance to win a World Series at this point! Okay, maybe not the Pirates and the Nationals, but they can always dream. Things could always be worse Jays’ fans. Later today we get to see the Alex Anthopoulos era start to take fold. I’m excited, how ‘bout you?