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Springtime Storylines: Are the Yankees the best team in baseball?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The New York Yankees.

The Big Question: Are the Yankees the best team in baseball?

The Yankees won 97 games last year and then they went out and fixed what most people considered to be their biggest problem: lack of starting pitching depth. That, plus the fact that they were six games ahead of the competition, and that the competition didn’t go crazy over the winter, has to make them the favorites this season, right?

I think so. Even with Michael Pineda ailing as the season gets underway, the addition of he and Hiroki Kuroda — and the elimination of A.J. Burnett and what I think will be an improvement in Phil Hughes, no matter where he pitches — makes the Yankees staff extremely formidable. Between what is now a deep rotation and the deadly 1-2 combination of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera in the late innings, there are few if any teams who can match the Yankees’ arms.

And of course the bats are there too. They’re boringly good, of course. What I mean by that is that it’s so expected and ho-hum by now that the Yankees are going to score a lot of runs, that it is hardly remarked upon during spring training. Think about it: how many times  have you heard Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson mentioned in the last month?  Not much. Because there isn’t much to say beyond “they’ll score at least 850 runs even if they have Raul Ibanez in the lineup.” Ho-hum.

Anyway, you can try to make an argument that there is a more complete team than the Yankees right now. And I might entertain said arguments from Rangers fans. But unless father time catches up with five of these guys at once, I think the Yankees get the nod as the top team in the league.

What else is going on?

  • I mentioned Ibanez. That’s brutal stuff, man. He had a bad year last year and has looked awful in spring training. While Andruw Jones mashes lefties just fine, the left-handed part of the Yankees’ DH platoon is going to stink on ice, methinks. Shoulda kept Jorge.
  • Speaking of old dudes from the glory days, Andy Pettitte is back and should be joining the rotation at some point during the season. Again I’ll offer the Pineda health caveat, but it seems to me that people are really underestimating the fact that the Yankees brought in three above average starting pitchers this winter to join what was a 97-win team.
  • There is another potential weakness here, and it’s akin to “half of the DH platoon sucking.”  It’s the lack of a solid lefty in the pen. Boone Logan ain’t exactly vintage Jesse Orosco. Of course, having a great lefty in the pen is not the most important thing on the planet. If that’s one of your biggest problems, you have a decidedly high class set of problems.
  • As mentioned above, one possible weakness here is age. If Jeter, Rivera, A-Rod and maybe, I dunno, Mark Teixeira suddenly went Dale Murphy on us, yes, it could be a horrible season. But people have been saying that about these guys for years. It’s an older team, sure. But their best hitter (Cano) and their best pitcher (Sabathia) are not particularly gray, so it’s more of a storyline/narrative issue than it is serious strategic issue.  One of the veterans could implode and the team would OK. Maybe two could.

So how are they gonna do?

They’re my choice for first place in the east. And I think you’re being a little too cute or optimistic about the Red Sox, Rays or maybe even the Blue Jays if you pick otherwise.

New Jersey woman files suit against the Brewers after being struck by a batting practice foul ball

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - APRIL 11: New protective netting now protects lower deck fans from dugout to dugout at Citizens Bank Park before an opening day game between the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies on April 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
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A woman from Camden County in New Jersey has filed suit against the Milwaukee Brewers after being struck by a foul ball during batting practice two years ago at Miller Park, Jeff Goldman of NJ.com reports. According to her lawsuit, she suffered an orbital fracture to her left eye socket, nerve and iris damage, and a concussion.

The woman, Dana Morelli, was in the second row behind third base along with her fiancee and his son when she was struck by the foul ball. She had to remain in a dark room in Milwaukee before being able to safely travel home. (Sensitivity to light is a common symptom of a concussion.)

Fan safety has become a hot button topic recently. This past December, Major League Baseball issued safety recommendations but ultimately left it up to each ballpark to decide by how much to extend the netting.

Earlier this month, Phillies infielder Freddy Galvis fouled off a pitch that struck a fan. After the game, he clamored for the Phillies to increase protective netting at Citizens Bank Park to extend to the seats behind the dugout, where the fan was hit. Another fan was hit the next day and Galvis threw up his hands in frustration. While fans and owners seem to mostly be against netting, the players seem to be for it.

Mike Leake placed on the disabled list with shingles

Mike Leake
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The Cardinals have placed starter Mike Leake on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to August 22, with shingles. Which: ugh. Anyone I’ve ever known who has had it wouldn’t wish it on their worst enemy.

Leake was diagnosed with the virus last week and had to be scratched from his scheduled start Saturday versus the Athletics. There is no timetable for Leake’s return. Leake is 9-9 with a 4.56 ERA in 25 starts for the Cardinals. Poor dude.