Like a Rubik's Cube in the early '80s, the 2008 brand of the New York Yankees is a puzzle I just cannot figure out.
Just what is it that gives the men in pinstripes a pass this year? Is it the fact that they FINALLY found a way to rid themselves of Joe Torre? Is it the fact that they FINALLY found a way to rid themselves of the best pitcher of this era? Is it that they FINALLY found a way to push the best owner in the bigs onto the back burner when every team in the American League is improving?
Don't get me wrong, the Yankees have been the class of the big leagues since the start of the divisional playoff era. Since the playoffs expanded to eight teams in 1995, the Yankees have made the postseason every year, winning six American League pennants and four World Series titles.
Year in and year out, the Bronx Bombers lead the majors in payroll, ranking themselves among the top contenders each and every year.
So does this give them a free pass?
In a year where the AL East is stronger than ever with the Red Sox looking better than ever, the Blue Jays being regarded as one of the biggest sleepers in the league, and even the Tampa Bay Rays making strides toward being competitive, it's hard to believe the Yanks are well on their way to a 14th straight postseason berth.
As usual, New York has put together a potent lineup with emerging players like second baseman Robinson Cano and center fielder Melky Cabrera, surrounded by the household names of Jeter, Rodriguez, Damon, Posada, Matsui, Abreu, and Giambi. A lineup like this could be the envy of upwards of 25 teams across the majors.
Looking outside the box, however, there is the potential for many questions to be brought up.
Will A-Rod perform at the level he did last year now that there is not $200+ million hanging in the balance?
Will the inconsistencies of aging stars Matsui, Giambi, and Abreu worsen?
Can the youth continue to rise and carry the team through rough spots?
Realistically, it is hard to believe that the entire offense would collapse this season, which turns the ship toward the Yankees' largest yet seemingly ignored hole: the pitching staff.
While the opposition can roll out Beckett, Bedard, Sabathia, Verlander, and Halladay, the Yanks rotation relies on the still-budding Chien-Ming Wang as the ace to go along with two unproven starters and two over-the-hill aces.
In Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees have a power pitcher who was enough to sweep Yankee Nation by storm last year. If it weren't for a run-in with insects off the Erie shore, he could have helped them to a deep playoff run. However, Chamberlain's major league experience features a grand total of 24 innings pitched—hardly enough to be considered the next savior.
Phil Hughes was marketed as the centerpiece in a deal to bring in Johan Santana, but never really caught the Twins' eyes enough to consider the Yanks as serious players in the deal.
In my eyes, Mike Mussina is one of the most underrated pitchers in the past 20 years. He has 250 career wins, but Moose has been in a steady decline for years now and at 39 years old is far from a reliable starter.
Then comes everybody's favorite pseudo-hero. Andrew Eugene Pettitte is now praised for his honesty for being one of the few to admit to using performance enhancing drugs. Also in the latter years of his career and fighting off injuries, it's hard to believe Pettitte will be able to return to previous form. It's hard to believe Andy will not be the center of attention this year every time kingpins McNamee and Clemens make a move, creating another media circus around the Yanks.
Pitching wins in the big leagues. Ask A-Rod—who was part of a very potent lineup in his Texas years—how far the pitching staff took them. This begs me to ask the question: When did the Yankees put together a formidable pitching staff?
Leading up to this season it seems the Bombers have their free pass once again to set up another push to October. But this year with the American League and more specifically the AL East as strong as ever, it's time for the Yankees' regular-season dominance to end.
It's sad...but true.