Saturday, April 18, 2015

I See Doughnuts: A Homer's Guide
To How The Yankees Can Win AL East

Originally published 4/5/15

By Barry Millman
At last, our long national nightmare is over and baseball season is finally here.

And where others may  forecast a season of dark and stormy nights ending in a shipwreck on some rocky barren shore, I search for lighthouses.

I like to think that's a quality that keeps my viewpoint balanced as a fan. 

But many of my friends of the pinstripe and other persuasions tell me that just makes me a homer. 

Whatever it makes me, it doesn't make me blind.

I can see the doughnuts and I can see the holes in the Yankees roster as clearly as anyone.

But when it comes to predicting how I think the Yankees will do this year, I'll focus on the doughnuts over the holes every time -- and not because of what kind of fan I am. 

It's because they're the Yankees, and winning is in their DNA like no other organization in sports. 

It's because over the last 20 seasons  Derek Jeter played in only one game the team wasn't battling for a spot in the playoffs.

And it's because good things are just as likely to happen as bad things; and bad things often don't play out as expected even when they do happen.

So with the above caveats in mind, here's my bold five predictions that will lead the Yankees to the American League East title this year.

1) The bullpen is always one of the team's major bulwarks. But this year, its role and contribution will be extraordinary. Bigger, younger, stacked with several closer-caliber arms, three lefties and high heat from top to bottom scorching the rubber, its length and depth will make it the best in the game. It will be credited with preserving Masahiro Tanaka's elbow,  putting manager Joe Girardi's binder on the NY Times best-seller list and leading MLB's efforts to shorten game times.  

2) The rotation led by Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi will hold its own the first two months while Sabathia and Adam Warren do yeoman work five and six innings at a time. When Ivan Nova replaces Warren around June 1st, the rotation will kick it up a notch and become the best in the division. After the All-Star break, Sabathia will run out of gas following his short season last year and take a seat; Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell will elbow their way into the show as spot starters, and the team will make the final turn for home with one of the deepest, most dangerous flame-throwing contingents in the league.  

3) The team's defense will go from spotty at best to solid respectability with regular flashes of wowness, especially in the infield with Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, Mark Teixeira and -- for as long as he can manage to hit his weight -- Stephen Drew.  Gregorius will lead the way with the biggest defensive upgrade at shortstop of any team in the game; performing superhuman tricks that win him the abiding love of Yankee fans, a regular spot on nightly highlight shows, the nickname "Dr. D" and his first Gold Glove -- thus restoring three legitimate winners of the award to the same Bronx infield for the first time since Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira last played together.  

4) The offense will see an upsurge in aggressive hitting with the firing of hitting coach Kevin "Watch Two Strikes Go By" Long and a sharp drop in baserunners nailed at the plate with the reassignment of former third base coach Rob "Wave The Gimp Home" Thomson.  Alex Rodriguez will thrive in the full-time DH role, approaching Hideki Matsui's 2009 DH slash line with 25 home runs; raise all boats from the middle of the order and win Comeback Player of the Year. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner will engage in a friendly home run race that sees them each hit over 20.  Rebound seasons will come from a surgically repaired Carlos Beltran, a healthier Mark Teixeira, a motivated Brian McCann, and newly acquired Garrett Jones will provide unexpected pop on a regular basis as he provides regular days off for Beltran and Teixeira. Chase Headley will thrive in his first full season as a Yankee and play himself back into the All-Star conversation once again. Gregorius, whose OPS last season was 63 points higher than the player he now replaces, will shock and amaze fans by being an asset at the plate. The team will lead the division in one-run wins and the league in walkoffs.

5) The much maligned farm system will become a powerful weapon as it supplies the big club a steady stream of big bats and fresh arms throughout the season as starters get dinged up so the club's winning pace doesn't miss a beat; culminating in several additions to the rotation, pen and bench in the second half that will prove crucial in the Yankees' final drive to secure the division title and their first playoff berth in three years.