2013 Preview: New York Yankees

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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 2013 season. Up next: The New York Yankees.

The Big Question: Is the Jeter Dynasty over?

People used to predict the end of the Jeter/Rivera/whoever dynasty every year. Then they won another World Series in 2009. Then they resumed predicting the end of the dynasty. Then the Yankees won 95, 97 and 95 games and went to the playoffs a three more times. Now here we are back again.  If I had a dime for every time a New York columnist claimed that this is 1965 redux and that we’re in for a decade of the Yankees in the wilderness, well, with apologies to Slim Pickens for mangling his quote, I’d have a bunch of dimes.

This year, however, there is way more ammo for the doomsayers. Because of the front office’s seeming obsession to get the 2014 payroll under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million, Brian Cashman was apparently constrained from signing or re-signing guys who would help the 2013 Yankees a lot.  Gone are Russell Martin and, in his place is, well, no one nearly as good as Russell Martin. Gone is Nick Swisher who woulda been nice to have as it was, but who would have been REALLY nice to have now that Mark Teixeira is injured. Gone is Eric Chavez who was pretty darn useful last year and would have helped cover for Alex Rodiguez’s extended absence.  And of course there are all of the injuries: Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson, Rodriguez. It’s kind of a mess at the moment.

Yet despite all of that I can’t bring myself to join the doomsayers.  Yes, it’s gonna be a tough year. Especially for the first couple of months as so much of the Bombers’ firepower is going to be on the shelf.  But what I said in the Blue Jays’ preview still holds true: there is no alpha team in the AL East. The Yankees, though diminished, are going to look a lot more like the Yankees come June than they seem now, and as long as no one has run away with the division or as long as the AL’s two wild card leaders aren’t themselves some 95-win juggernauts, you can’t count the Yankees out. You can never count them out, many of us have learned to our annoyance, because even when diminished they are talented.

I’ll believe the Jeter dynasty is over the moment Derek Jeter stops playing baseball. I’ll believe the Yankees are through being competitive the moment they end a season with, say, 80 losses and are surrounded by drama and strife.  Until then I’ll realize that this was a 95-win team last year and that they still have just as good a chance to come out of this division as anyone, even if the downside — Last place? A sub-.500 record? Armageddon? — seems a lot more likely this year than it has in any year since, oh, 1992 or so.

So what else is going on?

  • Part of the reason you can’t count the Yankees out is something that no one really talks about a lot lately: the pitching.  CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda are a pretty good 1-2-3 punch. Yes there are questions — Pettitte and Kuroda have to age eventually and this year could be it — but it’s not hard to see those three pitching pretty well in 2013 either. The back end is a lot sketchier — David Phelps, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova are either injury or performance risks — but there isn’t a black hole here. The likes of Jonathan Sanchez and Aaron Cook aren’t walking in that door, thank God.
  • Also, while the offseason additions weren’t inspiring, there is certainly upside. Kevin Youkilis is not what he was but he’s still capable of a bounceback season. Travis Hafner’s power from the left side is tailor made for Yankee Stadium. I don’t think that Ichiro Suzuki is gonna replicate his post-trade numbers from last season and the less said about the Vernon Wells acquisition the better, but it’s not like Brian Cashman sat in his office and looked at lolcats all winter.
  • Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter’s injuries get more press, but the Yankees need Curtis Granderson back before anyone. He didn’t look at lolcats all winter, but Brian Cashman’s outfield acquisitions make my head hurt. Wells, Brennan Boesch, Juan Rivera and Ben Francisco are no saviors. For the Yankees to have a punchers’ chance they need Granderson’s power back in the lineup and they need to limit their lineup holes to catcher and, until Mark Teixeira comes back, first base.
  • Mariano Rivera’s last hurrah is going to be sad to see. We’ve been in the presence of greatness for many years and often took it for granted. I’m sure someone has figured out how many different dudes held full time closer jobs since Rivera took over ninth inning duties for the Yankees. The number has to be huge. The worst part about Rivera leaving, however, will come if the Yankees are out of it come September. Because you just know the wannabe Roger Angells who work for the tabloids are gonna pen the most hamfisted quasi-poetic tributes you’ve ever seen, equating the Yankees’ demise with the end of Rivera’s career.  Actually, I kinda want this to happen. Bad prose is awful, but truly wretched prose can be sublime in its own twisted way.

So how are they gonna do?

More AL East bet-hedging. I could see first place or last place or anyplace in between. For now let’s call them Third Place, American League East, but don’t give me any “ah-has!” if they’re in the playoffs again. Because I’m one of the few people not burying these guys at the moment, and could easily see them make the playoffs again.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Indians 8, Blue Jays 1: Sometimes I’ll talk about a “quintessential [team] win.” When I say that I mean a win that seems like something that someone in the team’s marketing department would dream up. The stuff of program and media guide covers. Something that dovetails nicely with a season ticket sales campaign. The most obvious version of that is “Team Ace pitches wonderfully, Team Leader hits well and Team wins.” This game fit that mold, constituting a quintessential Cleveland Indians win. In it Corey Kluber fanned 14 Jays in seven and two-thirds innings while allowing one run on five hits while Michael Brantley singled home one run and knocked in two more with a three-run homer. If the Indians were mapping out their season back in February, there would be a healthy number of games like this. It’s almost enough to make you want to say that a team should get one-and-a-half wins for such an outcome instead of just one.

Reds 6, Marlins 3: Sal Romano allowed one run over six innings and doesn’t seem to hold a grudge about being unceremoniously dumped from the art department of Sterling Cooper after season three. Scooter GennettEugenio Suarez and Tucker Barnhart all homered as the Reds avoid a sweep. Really, though: how do you not show Sal in the “Mad Men” series finale? How do you not let us know what happened to him? I’m still salty about that.

Athletics 3, Mets 2: Marcus Semien, Khris Davis and Matt Chapman all homered for Oakland, with Chapman’s breaking a 2-2 tie in the seventh. That made up for him getting picked off third base with no outs in the fifth, which is not a cool thing to do. Daniel Gossett got the win after allowing two runs over six. This was Bob Melvin’s 999th win as a big league manager.

Rangers 6, Rays 5: Two homers for Rougned Odor, the second one coming back to back with a Carlos Gomez bomb in the eighth. The Rangers sweep and the Rays, once again, lose a game in which they held a lead. They’ve done that 31 times this year, actually, which leads all of baseball. They’re 51-48 and 3.5 games out of first place. Imagine if they were even slightly better at locking down leads.

Orioles 9, Astros 7: The Astros fell behind by three runs twice but came back each time. They actually took a one-run lead in the sixth, but Baltimore tied it back up. That’s where it stood, tied 7-7 in the eighth, when the O’s scored two to take the lead. That set the stage for Zack Britton‘s first save since April. It was a record-breaking save, too: his 55th consecutive save without blowin’ on, breaking the AL mark set by Tom Gordon almost 20 years ago. The MLB mark is still a ways away: Eric Gagne’s 84 straight from 2002-04. Of course Gagne was juiced to the gills, but a record is a record.

Phillies 6, Brewers 3: Rookie Nick Williams remained hot, homering driving in three. Howie Kendrick knocked in two himself. Starter Jerad Eickhoff got into the act too, smacking two hits and driving in two himself. He also pitched six strong innings.

Tigers 9, Twins 6: This one was tied at two in the seventh when everyone apparently woke up and started to hit, with Detroit scoring seven runs in the final three frames and Minnesota scoring four. Seven is more than four, though, so you know how this ended. Ian Kinsler hit a two-run homer in the seventh and he, James McCann and Alex Presley had three hits apiece. The game lasted four hours and nineteen minutes. Woof.

Royals 5, White Sox 4: Nine straight losses for Chicago. This one stung, too, as they had a 4-3 lead in the eighth. That’s when Whit Merrifield homered to tie things up. In the ninth, Mike Moustakas singled and then Alcides Escobar was hit by a pitch. New White Sox reliever Tyler Clippard was brought into the game and promptly gave up a walkoff double to Brandon Moss. The trade deadline brings lots of changes in baseball, but some things remain the same.

Rockies 13, Pirates 3Trevor Story, Pat Valaika and Mark Reynolds each hit two-run homers in the sixth inning, a frame in which the Rockies scored seven in all, so yeah. Kyle Freeland got his first start since July 9 (he made one relief appearance to keep sharp) and he allowed two runs on six hits over six innings.

Angels 3, Red Sox 2: Rick Porcello was dealing quite efficiently, but a Mike Trout homer tied it at two in the sixth inning and a Luis Valbuena solo shot put the Angels up for good in the seventh. That efficiency allowed Porcello to pitch the entire game, needing only 96 pitches, giving him the rare CG-loss. Cool? Angels starter Parker Bridwell and two Angels relievers were also efficient, needing a combined 106 pitches to get through the whole thing, meaning this contest lasted only two hours and thirteen minutes. It came one day after the 20th anniversary of Greg Maddux needing only 76 pitches to toss a complete game against the Chicago Cubs. That one lasted two hours and seven minutes.

Padres 5, Giants 2: All the scoring was over with by the fourth inning. The fact that the Padres scored four in that inning was the difference. Wil Myers homered in the first — the third straight game in which he went deep — and Jabari Blash doubled in two in the fourth. Padres starter Dinelson Lamet allowed two runs in all and pitched into the seventh.

Yankees 6, Mariners 4: The Yankees take three of four, winning their first series in six weeks, a stretch in which they went 0-8-2, series-wise. The bullpen had been a big reason for all of those losses, but they shined here, with Chad GreenDellin Betances and Daniel Robertson combining for 4.1 perfect innings before Chapman bent but didn’t break in closing it out. For all of the crap they’ve gone through, New York remains a mere two and a half back of Boston.

Dodgers 5, Braves 4: A win, but an unpleasant one for Los Angeles, as starter Clayton Kershaw had to leave after two innings due to pain in his back that is going to place him on the disabled list. He’s suffered from back issue in the past, costing him a good bit of time. We’ll know more how much time after he undergoes an MRI today. As for the game, the Dodgers had a three-run lead in the eighth before Matt Adams tied it up with a three run homer off of Kenley Jansen of all people. Logan Forsythe saved his and everyone else’s bacon, however, with a walkoff RBI single in the 10th. Nice win, but a bad day for the Dodgers.

Nationals 6, Diamondbacks 2: The Dodgers weren’t the only one to lose a starter after two innings: Stephen Strasburg was knocked out of this one with “achiness” in his forearm. That was his term, not the medical staff’s, as they did not go to the Hollywood Upstairs Medical College. Dusty Baker turned things over to the bullpen and five relievers combined to allow two runs over seven innings to give Washington the win. They had a cushion, though, as Brian Goodwin hit a leadoff homer and the Nats scored four runs in the first.

Cubs 5, Cardinals 3: Willson Contreras hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth. Kyle Schwarber went deep as well and Jose Quintana allowed three runs over six innings to give the Cubs their eighth win in nine games, pulling them into a tie for first place, a mere tenth of a percentage point ahead of the Brewers. We were all waiting for the Cubs to wake up. They’re up.

Kenley Jansen’s consecutive saves streak ends at 34

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Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen gave up three runs in the top of the ninth inning during Sunday’s game against the Braves, blowing his first save since August 26 last season. He had converted 34 consecutive saves.

Jansen yielded back-to-back singles to lead off the ninth inning, staked to a 4-1 lead. After getting two outs, Matt Adams hit a three-run home run down the right field line to knot the game at four apiece.

After Sunday’s lackluster performance, Jansen is now 24-for-25 in save chances this season with a 1.49 ERA and a 62/2 K/BB ratio in 42 1/3 innings.