(Coach 'em up, guy. Courtesy of Ron Antonelli/NY Daily News)
For all the talk about the projected strengths and weaknesses of this year's team, and the adjustments that now have to be made to make up for the loss of Curtis Granderson, nobody out there (myself included) has really looked at the schedule to see how difficult or easy a time the Yankees will have making those adjustments. It's easy to say that every team in the AL East has gotten better (not all of them have) and the Yankee have gotten worse, but what teams the Yanks play and when they play them can have just as big an effect on their early-season success or failure as the makeup of their own club. With that in mind, and as a way to tie together all the "what are they going to do to get by without C-Grand?" talk and this morning's sobering offensive projection, let's take a look at the early schedule and set some realistic expectations for what the Yankees can do.
April 1st-4th: 3 games at home vs. Bahhston
Season-opening series, home opening series, what will hopefully be three days of a packed Stadium, and the three best Yankee starters on the mound. Even with a weakened lineup, this is a series that the Yankees can easily win 2 out of 3 games and get started on the right foot. Call it 2-1.
April 5th-7th: 3 games at Detroit
The Tigers are going to have one of the best lineups in the AL and the Yankees are going to catch Verlander for one of these games. Give 2 of 3 to Detroit and put the Bombers at .500. 3-3.
April 8th-11th: 4 games at Cleveland
The Indians might be a little better than they were last year at best, and could very well be worse than they were last year. The Yankees should still stack up well on paper against them minus C-Grand, but I don't want to get too aggressive here. Call this series a split. 5-5.
April 12th-14th: 3 games at home vs. Baltimore
Back home and back against a divisional opponent. The rotation will have cycled back around to the top, so the Yankees will get their big 3 against Baltimore. I don't expect Baltimore's close-game luck from last year to continue, so this is definitely a winnable series. Give the Yanks 2 games. 7-6.
April 16th-18th: 3 games at home vs. Arizona
The Yankees get to stay at home and get a day of rest while the D-backs travel west to east for this series. That should bode well for New York but I'll play it safe and say they lose this series. 8-8.
April 19th-21st: 3 games at Toronto
April 22nd-24th: 3 games at Tampa Bay
I'm going to lump these 6 games together as the first inter-divisional road trip of the year and say the Yanks split it. They'll catch the bottom part of one of those rotations and Tampa's lineup is nothing special this year either. 11-11.
April 25th-28th: 4 games at home vs. Toronto
Toronto flexes their muscle in this series and the Yankees hit a few pitching speed bumps. Toronto takes 3 of 4 and the Yanks have their first truly rough series of the season. 12-14.
April 29th-May 1st: 3 games at home vs. Houston
The Astros are going to suck this year. I mean really suck. Hard. There's no reason why this year's version of the Yankees can't sweep these guys, but I'm trying to be overly cautious here so we'll call this a 2-1 series win instead. 14-15.
May 3rd-5th: 3 games at home vs. Oakland
Another rest day for the Yankees while their west coast opponent travels. Nice. Oakland is another team I don't expect to repeat last year's success and the Yankees always seem to handle them at home. Chalk this up as another 2-1 series win. 16-16.
May 7th-9th: 3 games at Colorado
Yanks finally play their first road series where they have to do some serious travel over a month into the season, and they get the benefit of playing one of the worst teams in the NL. That's reason to get excited, but stay grounded and call it a third straight 2-1 winning series. 18-17.
May 10th-12th: 3 games at Kansas City
A quick stop on the way back home and another marginal opponent, even if KC is expected to be better than last year. Assuming nobody gets hurt or gets skipped in the rotation, the Yanks will have their top 3 set to go again, and I'll take them over any 3 starters KC wants to roll out. Another series win for the Yanks. 20-18.
This would bring the team to a travel day on Monday May 13th, exactly six weeks after the start of the regular season and 11 weeks after C-Grand's injury. Assuming he stays on his 10-week schedule, this would be an ideal date to get him back into the lineup for the next day's series opener against Seattle, another weak opponent. Following the path I just laid out, the Yankees would be 20-18, 2 games over .500, and presumably right in the mix of the AL East race. They'd be coming off four straight series wins, with more than one good opportunity to sweep a series, and would only have the 1-3 series against Toronto as a bad spot.
With respect to the Yankees' current situation and the uncertainty that will surround the potential Opening Day roster, the early-season schedule is relatively favorable. 19 home games, 19 road games, only 3 of which will be played more than one time zone away and the final 12 of which will be against teams who could be in the bottom half of their respective divisions. The Yankees have 2 series where they will be staying home and getting an extra day of rest before starting the next series, which will help keep the Jeter-Youkilis-Hafner-Ichiro crew fresh and keep the bullpen from getting overworked.
The AL East matchups are going to be tough all year, which is why I don't think any one team will run away with the division early, but the Yankees are facing plenty of other weak pitching and hitting teams in the early going to balance that out. 20-18 is very achievable even without Granderson, with room for improvement against Cleveland, Arizona, Houston, and Colorado, and would be a good place for the Yankees to be when he comes back. All they have to do is stay within striking distance in that first month of the season, and the schedule is laid out in a way that gives them a very good chance to do just that.