New York Yankees: 4 Burning Questions After Being Swept by Tampa Bay

Louis MustoContributor IIIApril 8, 2012

New York Yankees: 4 Burning Questions After Being Swept by Tampa Bay

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    The Major League Baseball season is upon us, and for the New York Yankees, it has evidently come a moment too soon.

    The defending AL East champions fell in three straight contests to the hated Tampa Bay Rays, struggling in every facet of the game during the series at Tropicana Field.

    The Yankees entered this season with high hopes after bolstering their starting rotation and ensuring some depth on their bench. Despite the belief that the Yanks had improved this offseason, their performance in the first three games of the season has raised some serious concerns going forward this season.

    There are many question marks following such a disappointing showing, but the Yankees will be hoping a positive answer will arise as time carries on.

Should the Starting Rotation Be a Concern?

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    If there was anything certain into the 2012 MLB season, it should have been the Yankees starting rotation. With ace CC Sabathia, veterans Hiroki Kuroda and Freddy Garcia and young pitchers Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes completing one of baseball’s best rotations, that should have been the case.

    However, three games into the season, the starting rotation has been underwhelming, allowing 11 earned runs and four home runs in 16 1/3 innings pitched.

    This abysmal performance came against one of baseball’s lesser-hitting teams, too. What happens when the Yanks try to match up with the Boston Red Sox, or worse, Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim?

    If the series with the Tampa Bay Rays is any indication, it could be a very long season for the Yankees. The same could be said for general manager Brian Cashman, who could find his head on a platter if he has missed on pitching talent once again with the acquisitions of Kuroda and Michael Pineda—whom came at the expense of one of the top hitting prospects in baseball.

Is Mark Teixeira Doomed for Another Disappointing Season?

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    When the Yankees acquired Mark Teixeira in 2009, he joined the team as a .300 hitter who did not strike out often.

    In 2010 and 2011, Teixeira’s batting average dipped below .260 for the first time since his rookie season. In his three seasons with the Yanks prior to 2012, he has struck out at least 110 times in each.  

    His on-base percentage has also dropped dramatically since joining the Yanks. In the first six seasons of his career, Teixeira’s on-base percentage was .378. In three seasons with New York, it has dropped 15 points to .363.

    This season, Teixeira appears headed in a similar direction after going 1-for-9 with two strikeouts during the Tampa Bay series.

    Though he has been a strong player at times for the Yankees with impressive power numbers, Teixeira has not lived up to expectations in New York. It is too early to call right now, but another rough season could be ahead for the talented first baseman.

Can Hiroki Kuroda Be Successful in New York?

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    I was skeptical when it had been announced that the Yankees had signed Hiroki Kuroda. His start in Tampa Bay did not turn me into a believer.

    Kuroda was poor from the get-go, and while a typical Eduard Nunez error did not help matters, he never seemed to find his stuff during the Yanks’ second loss of the season to the Rays. The 37-year-old pitcher struggled with his pitches throughout the night, leaving meatballs over the plate for the Rays hitters to clobber—they blasted two home runs off the righty.

    Whether what Kuroda showed is a preview of what's to come is yet to be seen, but it was not a promising performance for the Yankee hurler. Yankee fans have seen their fair share of disappointments come over from the National League before, fellow former Dodger Kevin Brown perhaps being the least pleasant of those memories, and they are hopeful the same will not be said for Kuroda.

Do the Tampa Bay Rays Have the Yankees' Number?

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    Yes, it is only three games into the 2012 regular season, but the New York Yankees’ struggles against Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays started long before this season.

    The Rays have won six straight games at home and eight straight overall against the Yankees dating back to last season. Maddon, meanwhile, appears to have learned how to stop every single hitter in the Yankees lineup, rendering the AL East champions’ most lethal weapon—their offense—entirely useless.

    With an already-stellar pitching staff, the ability to control the offensive output the Yankees are able to achieve while giving a pounding to the Yankees’ own staff much like they did in the opening series of the season will give them a massive advantage in the chase for the AL East crown.

    The Rays are seeking their third divisional title in five seasons and fourth postseason appearance. Maddon has them in prime position with a clear understanding on how to defeat the Yankees when the team is playing to the best of their ability. His own ability to outmanage opposing managers, especially the Yankees’ Joe Girardi, is vital for the Rays’ success.

    That could spell danger for a Yankees team that appeared as lifeless in their opening series of 2012 as they did in their crushing defeat in the 2011 postseason at the hands of the Detroit Tigers.