MLB: What We Can Take from New York Yankees' Opening Game Against Rays

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIApril 7, 2012

MLB: What We Can Take from New York Yankees' Opening Game Against Rays

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    By now, most of you are well aware of the heartbreaker that was today's opening game for the New York Yankees.

    Just in case you didn't know, here's a quick rundown.

    The Tampa Bay Rays jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first, when CC Sabathia served up a grand slam to Carlos Pena.

    The Yankees answered in the top of the second with two runs of their own. Raul Ibanez recorded an RBI groundout, and Mark Teixeira scored on a wild pitch.

    Nick Swisher then added on an RBI of his own in the top of third, and with runners now on first and second, Ibanez did some more damage. He launched a three-run home run to give the Yankees a 6-4 lead.

    Evan Longoria answered in the bottom of the third with a solo home run, cutting the lead to one.

    No more runs were scored until the bottom of the ninth, when Ben Zobrist hit a game-tying triple off Mariano Rivera.

    With the bases loaded later on in the inning, Pena struck again. He launched a ball deep into the outfield for a walk-off single.

    There was much to take away from today's opening game against the Rays.

CC Sabathia's Opening Day Struggles Continue

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    CC Sabathia became the ninth Yankees pitcher to start four separate Opening Days for the club and the first to do so since Roger Clemens.

    It was also his ninth career Opening Day start.

    In his previous eight starts, Sabathia compiled an ERA of 5.40 (that's 26 earned runs in 43.1 innings).

    He clearly struggled today, as he was not able to command his fastball or put hitters away. Sabathia labored through six innings, allowing five runs on eight hits while walking three and striking out seven.

    He threw 104 total pitches, 63 of which went for strikes.

    Thankfully for the Yankees, Sabathia's struggles in the first game of the season have never translated to any sort of long-term issues.

Alex Rodriguez Looks Really, Really Well

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    Yeah, it was only the first game of the season.

    I can't help but to be redundant when I say that Alex Rodriguez looked really, really good in today's game, though.

    Let's start with his game at the plate.

    Rodriguez went 2-for-3 with a double, two runs scored and two walks.

    The double was the highlight of his day at the plate, as he put a fantastic swing on an inside pitch from James Shields to drive the ball into the gap between Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings.

    Because of the extension on his swing, he was able to drive the ball past both outfielders and up against the wall.

    At third base, Rodriguez looked excellent.

    He went to his left with great swiftness, first moving all the way over to cut a ball off from Derek Jeter, and then making a diving stab and gunning out Jose Molina (Molina's lack of speed helped out on that one).

    Later on, he snagged a rocket down the third-base line off Elliot Johnson that would have knocked in two runs for the Rays.

    Even with the Yankee loss, today should be considered a very good day for A-Rod.

Curtis Granderson Is the Newest Victim of the Shift

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    Rays' manager Joe Maddon did something to Curtis Granderson defensively that the Yankee center fielder had never seen before.

    Similar to the shift used against Mark Teixeira—but not nearly as drastic—Granderson stepped up to the plate with three infielders on the right side of second base in each of his five at-bats.

    The shift proved its worth in the first inning, as Granderson hit a rocket up the middle that shortstop Sean Rodriguez snagged behind second base. He subsequently stepped on second and threw to first to double up Granderson.

    Later on in the game, Granderson hit another ball up the middle that again found Rodriguez's glove.

    Granderson hit 41 home runs last season, most of which went to right field.

    His new approach at the plate is not very conducive to beating this new shift, so Granderson will have to think about taking a few pitches the other way every so often to keep defenses honest.

    It remains to be seen if other teams will use the same shift against him that the Rays used, but they'd be smart to as it seems like it works.

Don't Read Too Much into Raul Ibanez's Spring

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    Raul Ibanez had a terrible spring training. Despite leading the team with three home runs, Ibanez hit a measly .150 with just nine hits in 60 at-bats.

    He went on a tear of sorts in the final week of exhibitions, crushing two home runs and showing that he hadn't lost all of his run-producing ability.

    His RBI in the second inning today was pretty pedestrian, but his clutch three-run home run in the third proved that he is on a legitimate hot streak.

    After turning on an inside pitch and sending it deep into the right-field seats, Yankees fans should be excited to have the former-Philly hitting seventh in the lineup.

    The Yankees aren't expecting him to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs, nor are they expecting him to hit .270.

    But, if Ibanez can hit around .250 with 20 home runs and 70 RBI this season, it will be considered a success.

The Team Needs to Be Better with RISP

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    You can attribute the Yankees' loss to a number of different things—a bad start by Sabathia, a good outing by the Tampa bullpen or even the blown save by Rivera.

    The thing that probably hurt the Yankees most, though, was the lack of timely hitting.

    The Yankees were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position in today's ballgame, leaving 12 men on base. In comparison, the Rays were 1-for-9 with just seven left on base.

    Teixeira was the biggest culprit, going hitless in two at-bats with runners on base.

    Jeter and Granderson were both 0-for-1, while Nick Swisher was 1-for-4 and Ibanez was 1-for-3.

    James Shields was on the ropes throughout most of his five innings, and the Yankees definitely could have capitalized on his inability to put hitters away even further.

    It's obviously early, but the Yankees will have to fix this glaring issue with the offense.

David Robertson's 2011 Season Was Not a Fluke

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    David Robertson was absolutely ridiculous in 2011.

    In 66.2 innings, Robertson struck out exactly 100 batters and recorded a 1.08 ERA. He also recorded a WHIP of 1.125.

    When Rivera announced that he doesn't want to tell the media of his retirement plans just yet, there were many saying that Robertson would be the likely heir to the greatest closer of all time.

    In order for that to come to fruition, Robertson will have to prove that 2011 was not a one-time deal.

    Today against the Rays, he took a big step in that direction.

    In his one inning of work this evening, Robertson walked one but struck out three. Of his 25 pitches, 15 went for strikes.

    After Rivera, Robertson is the most important piece of the Yankees' bullpen. If he continues to pitch at this level, New York's 'pen will rank towards the top of the league.

Mariano Rivera Still Struggles in March/April

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    Mariano Rivera struggles in March and April, relative to the success that he sees during the rest of the season.

    He really struggled in today's game.

    In just a third of an inning, Rivera walked two batters (he walked just eight batters last season) and allowed two runs on three hits.

    Even though he struck out one, Rivera was unable to put hitters away and record outs.

    Writers around the nation are probably gearing up to publish their several-year-old articles about Rivera's demise for tomorrow's morning paper, but there's absolutely no indication that he will continue to struggle this season.

    Rivera is the best closer of all time, period.

    Rivera is one of the smartest men in the game. If he didn't think he had anything left, he would have retired this past offseason.

    Judging by the fact that he's still on the roster, I'd say he still has plenty left.