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Masahiro Tanaka will help, but the Yankees need much more than him to be a contender


The offseason distorts things. The wintertime focus on individual player signings and the underlying optimism everyone seems to have about the prospects of their local nine often makes us forget that, in baseball, one player cannot make the difference between winning and losing. Heck, sometimes even three players don’t. Just ask Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and thousands of disappointed Angels fans these past couple of seasons.

Which isn’t to say that Masahiro Tanaka was a bad signing for the Yankees. Anything but. The Yankees had serious issues in their rotation and Tanaka was, by far, the best pitcher available on the open market. Tanaka’s presence will dramatically improve the Bombers’ rotation even if his numbers pale compared to the video game stats he posted in Japan this past season.

But before Yankees fans clear their October calendars in favor of watching a deep playoff run, they need to remember that, despite the nearly half a billion dollars the Steinbrenners have devoted to free agents this offseason, their local nine still has a lot of holes.

Mariano Rivera is gone and, though David Robertson is one of the best relief pitchers in the game, one does not simply replace the greatest of all time. Maybe more to the point, with Robertson moving in to the closer’s role, the rest of the bullpen is thrust into flux. Lefty Matt Thornton was a nice pickup, but New York could really use another solid reliever.

The infield could be a much bigger problem. Heck, if things break bad it could be a hot mess. Mark Teixeira’s wrist, which kept him out of the entire 2013 season, is already giving him some problems, with MLB.com reporting earlier this week that he’s likely to have a late start to spring training as a result. Derek Jeter is back, but he is no safe bet to be healthy and/or effective at his advanced age. His fill-in — Brendan Ryan — is a slick fielder but worthless at the plate. And he may be covering second base anyway if Brian Roberts, imported from Baltimore, is unable to shake the durability issues he’s had for the past several years. Finally, while everyone is happy that A-Rod is gone, third base is a question mark. Kelly Johnson hasn’t played much third in his career., and he may need to cover first base if Teixeira is gimpy.

That sound you hear is Stephen Drew’s agent clearing his schedule to take meetings with Brian Cashman. Or, if Cashman is smart, it should be.

Even before the Tanaka signing, the Yankees addition of Brain McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran made them better. But there’s no escaping the fact that this was an 85-win team last year which arguably overachieved to get even that far (their Pythagorean expectation was 79 wins). To compete with the defending world champ Red Sox and the always pesky Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees needed to improve significantly.

There is no question that the Tanaka signing is a significant upgrade to the rotation. But to the extent anyone says it “buys the Yankees a championship” or anything close to it, they’re ignoring the fact that an awful lot has to go right for this team, as currently constructed, to even be assured of the playoffs. They’re a reliever, an infielder (or two) and a couple of bounceback years from some aging veterans away from printing playoff tickets.

Sometimes all of those things break just right. They’re not the sort of things people wager a lot of money on, however.

Game 2 will be played one way or another

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Grounds crew workers prepare the field prior to Game Two of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The weather in Cleveland is not that great at the moment. It’s cold, windy, there’s drizzle and the chance for heavier rain increases as the night wears on. At the moment Game 2 of the World Series is still scheduled to kick off at 7:08PM Eastern Time, however. So bundle up.

And maybe hunker down. Because this game is going to go nine innings no matter what. Maybe not tonight, but eventually.

That’s because, you may recall, ever since that rainy, snowy mix forced the suspension in the sixth inning of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series between the Phillies and the Marlins, Major League Baseball has held that all playoff games will be played in their entirety. There will be no six-inning, rain-shortened affairs.

The last word from MLB was that they would reassess the weather just before starting pitchers began to warm up this evening. If things still look about the same then, the game will proceed as scheduled. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, they’ll suspend the game and pick it up where it leaves off tomorrow.

A guy gave up his airline seat to Kenny Lofton, cashes in big

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Former Cleveland Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton reacts prior to throwing out the first pitch prior to Game One of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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A man named Ken Kostal of Marblehead, Ohio was just trying to get home from Los Angeles yesterday morning. He looked over and saw former Indians great Kenny Lofton in the boarding area, trying to fly standby to Cleveland. Why was Lofton trying to get to Cleveland? To throw out the first pitch in last night’s Game 1 of the World Series, of course.

Kostal gave up his seat to Lofton and Lofton made it to Cleveland in time. But don’t weep for Kostal. He got more than a ticket on the next flight and some federally-mandated bonus cash. The Indians just announced that they are giving Kostal tickets for Game 6, if necessary. In addition, United Airlines is giving Kostal 62,200 miles for his use on a future flight. Why 62,200? Because Lofton had 622 career stolen bases.

That’s pretty dang sweet. And now Kostal is probably rooting for the Tribe to drop a couple of games so he can go to the World Series on the house.