Monday, April 14, 2014

Random Thoughts & Afterthoughts From The First Two Weeks

(Gotta be the early leader for play of the year, no?  Courtesy of Getty Images)

The opening 2 weeks of the 2014 regular season have come and gone, and there's already an abundance of things to talk about in Yankeeland.  The Bombers woke up this morning atop the AL East, albeit as part of a 3-way tie with the Blue Jays and Rays.  Considering all the injury problems they've had to deal with and the slow start the heart of their order got off to, I'm more than happy to see them where they are with a 7-6 record.  The starting pitching has been very good (1st in MLB in IP, 2nd in BB/9, 10th in K/9, tied for 9th in fWAR), the offense is starting to heat up and really hasn't been as horrible as their run total might indicate (.335 team wOBA is 6th best in MLB), and they've gotten just enough from their makeshift bullpen (specifically Kelley, Warren, and Betances) to not have the loss of D-Rob be a total disaster.

While the team rests up and ices down in preparation for their interleague series with the Cubs tomorrow, here are some of my thoughts on what we've seen in the first 2 weeks.

- Carlos Beltran can hit.  Like a lot.  Last night was my first chance to see him live this season and he looked to me like he's got plenty left in the tank.  He's never in a rush up there, always seems like he's thinking 1 step ahead of the pitcher, and can adapt to almost any pitch.  He had 3 different hits last night (single, HR, double) on 3 different pitches in 3 at-bats against Felix Doubront in which Doubront went after him 3 different ways.  That's "Professional Hitter 101" right there.

- Liked what I saw out of Brian McCann at the plate too this weekend.  He was more patient the last 2 games, put good swings on mistake pitches, and drove the ball hard for power and runs.  Once he starts to get familiar with the pitchers in the AL, I think he's going to be just fine.

- And while I mentioned this in last night's live blog, I want to talk about McCann's defense and game calling again.  He basically willed that last out of the 8th out of a shaky David Phelps through his insistence that Phelps stick with his fastball and his excellent framing skills on the corners.  I don't know if McCann is calling the game on his own back there or if Girardi still has input while McCann is learning his new staff, but that curveball call after Carp had just fouled one off and was looking fastball again was brilliant.  It's those types of little plays that McCann makes back there that will go mostly unnoticed but will also add up to partial wins over the course of the year.

- He doesn't make his 3rd start until tomorrow, but if I was giving out the 2-Week Cy Young Award for the team it would go to Masahiro Tanaka.  He's the only starter to go 7+ innings in each of his starts and he's fanned 18 in 14 innings.  His stuff is top notch, his competitiveness and ability to make big pitches when he needs to has been as advertised when he's gotten into trouble, and so far there doesn't seem to be any problem adjusting to the shorter rest period between starts.  If his command is on early tomorrow, I could see him striking out a ton of Cubs.  They're a young team with a lot of hackers.

- While the bad innings have been frustrating, I'm relatively happy with what CC Sabathia has done in his 3 starts.  His command has been much improved, his 2-seamer looks like a real weapon for him, and his slider is still good enough to strike a lot of people out.  His HR rate (38.5% will come down) and his strand rate (58.5%) will go up.  There's no reason to panic based on any of his bad-looking early numbers.  Just focus on the K/BB splits and that 2.35 xFIP.

- Solarte, Anna, and Kelly Johnson have all looked pretty good in the field, easing my concern about the team's infield defense.  Brian Roberts' back injury may turn out to be a blessing in disguise if it gives the 3 of them more time in the field.

- Johnson has been arguably the most pleasant surprise at the plate too, Solarte aside.  He's been everything he was supposed to be: lefty power, ability to draw walks, and just enough contact and batting average to be dangerous at the bottom of the order.  When all is said and done, he could end up being the sneaky best signing of the past offseason.

- Adam Warren will take over the 8th inning role full time by the end of June.  Mark it down.

- Romine is coming up to take Cervelli's place on the 25-man when he inevitably gets put on the DL later today.  The question now becomes who gets sent down to make room for another infielder if Roberts follows Frankie to the DL?  The obvious candidates are Shane Greene and Cesar Cabral, the 7th and 8th men in the bullpen right now.  Greene hasn't been used once so he makes the most sense, but I'm not sure I like a 7-man 'pen with 3 lefties.

- As for who gets the 40-man boot to open a spot for Sizemore or Canzler, it wouldn't surprise me if it was Preston Claiborne.  There are a handful of guys pitching better than him out of the Triple-A 'pen right now and he's already fallen out of favor with Joe.  If the Yanks don't want to dump a guy, I hope they move Turley or Brendan Ryan to the 60-day DL.  That would free up some space temporarily.  Once again though, the 40-man squeeze looks like it's setting up to be a season-long problem.

- Speaking of injuries and the roster crunch problems they cause, does everybody remember how the Yankees fired their strength and conditioning coach last October and brought in a new guy to focus on injury prevention?  Glad to see that's working out so well in the first 2 weeks...

- Still not sure how I feel about all the shifting.  I haven't checked the numbers to see if it's helped or hurt more, but I was surprised to see how much they've been doing it when ESPN ran the graphic showing the total number of shifts employed and New York was 2nd in MLB.  When it's such a new thing to your guys and people are still talking about how everybody is trying to get on board and get familiar with it, do you really need to use it that much?

- Michael Pineda, best 5th starter in baseball.

- As good as the timing was for an off-day today, it's even better to know that the Yanks won't have to wait long for the next one.  After the 2-game series against the Cubs, they go to Tampa for 4 through this weeknd and then get next Monday off.  From there, it's Boston for 3, back home for 3 against the Angels, and then another Monday off.  The Yanks could easily be 9-4 right now instead of 7-6.  They didn't take full advantage of their easy-ish early schedule and now they need to make up for it in these next 12 games.  That'll be no small feat given their injury problems, but returns by Teix and D-Rob in the next week or so would be a tremendous boost.

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