The HardballTalk Season Preview

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It’s Opening Day Eve, everyone. And the quicker we get to bed tonight, the quicker Baseball Claus comes and brings us our precious games.

Until then, however, here are links to all 30 of HardballTalk’s Springtime Storylines entries, cataloging the Big Questions, the Not so Big Questions the continuing nagging issues and dramas of each and every team and, of course, a prediction as to each team’s chances. The predictions are guaranteed to be right or your money back.

By the time you’re done with these, you’ll be able to talk turkey about the 2011 season with anyone. Added bonus: when these previews and predictions start looking silly come Mother’s Day, you’ll need only go to this link as a quick-reference for our collective ignorance and folly.  We believe, however, that we did a pretty darn good job with these.

Enjoy!

AL EAST
Red Sox: Are they the best team in baseball?
Yankees: Do they have enough pitching?
Rays: Did they lose too many guys?
Blue Jays: Are they doomed by baseball’s toughest division?
Orioles: How soon can Buck Showalter turn them into contenders?

AL CENTRAL
White Sox: Can they slug their way to division crown?
Twins: Can they win a third AL Central title?
Tigers: Can they win their first division title since 1987?
Indians: Will they ever finish rebuilding?
Royals: Will they avoid a third straight 95-loss season?

AL WEST
Rangers: Can they survive the departure of Cliff Lee?
Athletics: Did they add enough offense?
Angels: Did anyone have a worse offseason than these guys?
Mariners: Has the offense improved enough to be merely awful?

NL EAST
Phillies: How far can the Big Four carry them?
Braves: Will they miss a beat without Bobby Cox?
Marlins: Is this the year they finally break the mold?
Mets: Will they look the same in September?
Nationals: Is it just another season in limbo?

NL CENTRAL
Reds: Can they do it again?
Brewers: Did they improve enough this offseason?
Cardinals: Can they survive the loss of their ace?
Cubs: Do they have what it takes to change history?
Astros: Are they headed for a long stretch of rough results?
Pirates: Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

NL WEST
Giants: Can they repeat?
Rockies: Do they have enough offense?
Dodgers: Are we gonna talk ourself into liking their chances?
Padres: Is there life after Adrian Gonzalez?
Diamondbacks: Is character and passion enough?

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.