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Could the New York Yankees Be This Year’s Boston Red Sox?

Before we go any further, let me state for the record, on March 8, that I am not declaring that I think the New York Yankees will be world champions in 2014. Not yet, anyway. But it’s never too early to start examining the possibilities.

Last year, I was one of the few people (possibly the only one outside the Boston Red Sox organization) who picked Boston to win it all. It took a thorough examination of the personnel and perhaps a slight homage to the law of averages. This year, the Yankees are coming off just their second non-playoff season since 1993. Following their other rare miss in 2008, they reloaded as only the Yankees do and won the World Series in 2009.

The Bronx Bombers have undergone a relatively large makeover this offseason. Much attention has been paid to the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte (and the pending retirement of Derek Jeter after this season), the season-long suspension of Alex Rodriguez, and the free-agent departures of Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Boone Logan. Those are major hurdles to clear, without a doubt.

But if any team can overcome such challenging obstacles, it’s the Yankees. Once again, owner Hal Steinbrenner has opened his checkbook and let general manager Brian Cashman go to work.

Exit the aforementioned names and enter Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Brian Roberts, Matt Thornton and, oh yeah, a hyped Japanese import named Masahiro Tanaka. Include the return of Francisco Cervelli (50-game suspension) and Mark Teixeira and Michael Pineda (injuries), and the Yankees have done more than adequately patch their roster holes.

But just as intriguing as all of their prized acquisitions are their core players. One of the highlights of their 85-77, tied-for-third-place finish in the AL East in 2013 was the opportunity afforded to a number of young players who otherwise may not have seen the field. These are players who now have some experience under their belts and provide the Yankees with some much-needed depth.

That five letter worddepthwas so instrumental in driving the Red Sox to a title a year ago.

Offensively, many wonder how the Yankees will be able to overcome the losses of Cano, Granderson and Rodriguez and still put up runs the way they have in the past. The element of their lineup that could elevate them is their speed.

Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are two of the American League’s best base stealers, and their presence at the top of the lineup could provide them a similar spark to the one that Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia had while forming an unconventional one-two-three in Boston’s lineup in 2013. (Also, don’t sleep on Alfonso Soriano after the scorching start he had to the reincarnation of his Yankees career after a midseason trade from the Chicago Cubs.)

There will be a large spotlight shining on 28-year-old David Robertson this season as he attempts to fill some major shoes in Rivera’s as the Yankees closer, but Robertson should be well-equipped to handle the role.

He has cut his teeth as Rivera’s setup man since 2010, emerging as a dominant reliever with a nearly unhittable curveball and a cutter that would make Mo proud. Whether he possesses the mental toughness to handle the role remains to be seen, but all indications point to Robertson making the transition quite smoothly.

The starting rotation justifiably enters 2014 with its share of questions.

CC Sabathia is coming off arguably the worst season of his career, and Hiroki Kuroda hasn’t lost a step but is 39 years old. Tanaka has the potential to dazzle but has never pitched in a major league game. Ivan Nova has “no ceiling,” at least in McCann’s opinion according to Brendan Kuty of, but has not consistently produced as a starter for an entire season. But Pineda could be the true wild card.

The 6’7” right-hander was once considered the gem of the Seattle Mariners‘ farm system before being traded to New York, where injuries have derailed his path to greatness.

Last season was a lost one for Pineda, but he has gotten off to a strong start this spring. If he comes anywhere close to what he is expected to be as a No. 5 starter, the Yankees could be in serious business with their starting pitching.

In the bullpen, bridging the gap to Robertson may not be as challenging as it seems. Even with Logan gone, veteran southpaw Matt Thornton, who earned a World Series ring with the Red Sox last year, will pick up the slack. Youngsters David Phelps, Adam Warren and Preston Claiborne all showed flashes last season, while veteran Shawn Kelley proved valuable despite an inauspicious track record with the Mariners. Prospects Dellin Betances and Mark Montgomery have potential, but their roles are undefined.

Youth can always spell disaster, but it also provides excitement. By the same token, because of injuries, ineffectiveness, etc., in 2013, Phelps, Warren and Claiborne now have had a taste of the big leagues and will benefit from that “trial by fire,” if you will.

From a managerial standpoint, the American League East may feature the best array of skippers in baseball. A major reason for that is Joe Girardi, who was shortchanged in the Manager of the Year voting last season after guiding a team that was at times full of castoffs to 85 wins.

Girardi earned instant credibility for winning the honors in his debut season with the Marlins in 2006 and is as adept at handling adversity and change as anyone in baseball. He is ready to tackle the challenges of a team that will look vastly different in 2014 than it did a year ago. That is an intangible quality not to be taken lightly.

While the Yankees have some talented company in their divisionthey still have to dethrone the reigning world champs, after allit is hard to imagine there isn’t some mystique left in the pinstripe uniforms, especially in the swan song season of one of the franchise’s all-time greats in Jeter. Competitive balance appears to be as robust as ever, but the Yankees taking consecutive playoff absences is almost unfathomable.

One guarantee I can make on March 8 is that they will return to the postseason. Whether they become “this year’s Red Sox” will be determined at a later date. But don’t be surprised if it happens. And once again, remember where you heard it first.

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American League Wild-Card Chase: Who Are the Favorites?

The American League wild-card is up for grabs with roughly 40 games to go. Which teams will break through this season?

It’s time to break down which teams on the bubble of the new five-team field will join the postseason party in October.

(Records Through Monday, 8/20)


Tampa Bay Rays (68-54)

The Rays are heavily reliant on strong starting pitching, always a good thing in the bat-heavy American League East. The return of Evan Longoria provides a major boost to a lineup that was middling for some time.

The team has gotten very hot at just the right time, having won eight of 10 and sweeping the Angels in four games in Anaheim. In fact, Tampa Bay is 20-9 against the American League West this year.

Staying strong within their division (they are 27-20 against the East) will be key down the stretch for the Rays.

Chances: 90%


Baltimore Orioles (66-56)

The Orioles have seemingly done it with smoke and mirrors this year. They’ve batted well under .250 as a team and their team ERA is well over 4.00, so what gives? A little Buck Showalter magic is what. Not to mention they are 12-0 in extra-inning games, aided by a magnificent bullpen.

Still, the key will be the starting pitching down the stretch. The likes of Wei-Yin Chen, Zach Britton and Tommy Hunter doesn’t scare anyone in the AL East, but the trio will have to get the job done if the O’s are to break their 14-year postseason drought.

Chances: 70%


Oakland Athletics (65-56)

Another team with a poor offense that has seemingly done it with smoke and mirrors, the A’s feature a bevy of strong, young arms that are carrying Oakland.

Jarrod Parker has been a revelation, as has Tommy Milone. Will they hold up down the stretch? More likely, will they carry the team?

Oakland’s offense at times has been so bad that they are forced to win successive games 2-1 and 1-0, but lo and behold they’ve gotten it done (see: 4-game sweep of the Yankees in late July). Cue the Moneyball theme music and the 2002 comparisons.

Chances: 55%


Los Angeles Angels (62-60)

The most shocking stat in baseball, perhaps, is that the Angels feature the league’s worst ERA among starting pitchers in August.Jered Weaver was bombed by Tampa Bay when the team was swept in four games. Zack Greinke has been a major disappointment thus far.

Los Angeles has a poor bullpen, meaning it’s all on the offense and starting pitching, and neither has been getting it done. Mike Trout is a legitimate MVP candidate, but Mike Scoscia’s job could be in jeopardy if his team continues its free-fall. The team’s upcoming series in Boston will say a lot about its chances.

Chances: 45%


Boston Red Sox (59-63)

The Red Sox have the talent to make a playoff run, there’s no question about it. So why haven’t they?

Injuries to David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks certainly haven’t helped, but the starting pitching has been a major disappointment. Only Clay Buchholz has been a stabilizing force in the rotation, turning his season around after a disastrous start. Jon Lester has been good of late, but Josh Beckett has been shoddy, and the rest of the rotation is patchwork at best.

The offense will have to carry the load in a major way down the stretch if the Red Sox are to reverse last year’s trend. Boston watched as a 9.5-game lead in the wild-card standings dissipated in September, allowing Tampa Bay to steal the final spot in the playoffs.

Chances: 20%


Seattle Mariners (59-64)

It’s almost safe to say that Felix Hernandez is the only reason the Mariners are on this list, but let’s give a little credit to Jason Vargas and Tom Wilhelmsen as well. Pitching is not the reason the Mariners struggle to win games. It’s an anemic offense.

Still, Seattle plays like Oakland—their games are close and they sometimes scratch out just enough offense to win—and they’ve gotten hot of late.

Seattle is well-buried as far as the division race is concerned, but if Hernandez, Vargas, and a few other names step it up down the stretch, you never know what might happen in the crazy Pacific Northwest.

Chances: 5%

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