In 2010, the Yankees were adamantly clear that it was repeat or bust.
The reigning 2009 champion New York Yankees lost in the ALCS, eventually passing the World Series crown to the San Francisco Giants.
Most teams would be elated if that was how their last two seasons had panned out, but up in the Bronx expectations run high.
Reading the 2011 roaster is not going to provide much comfort, as the Bombers have more holes to fill this season compared to the last two combined.
Still, there are positives that weren’t there in 2009 or 2010, in particular the emergence of outfielders Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson.
Gardner and Granderson’s roles are more vital than ever this coming season.
The Yankees are confident in this duo’s abilities, so much so that GM Brian Cashman did not go after Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth during the offseason.
Why, and how, is this tandem so important in 2011?
Let’s look at both guys individually:
Granderson’s first year in pinstripes did not start on the right foot. After hitting a game-winning home run in Fenway on Opening Day weekend, Granderson started to struggle, which turned into a slump and fans were starting to stamp him as a bad trade.
Granderson had only posted seven home runs, 24 RBIs and 51 strikeouts in the first half of the 2010. He also missed the entire month of May due to a pulled hamstring.
Things were not looking good, and frustrations were growing on both sides. Had Grandy forgotten his talents in Detroit? At the All-Star break it sure seemed that way.
After tweaking his swing with Yankee hitting coach/miracle-man Kevin Long, Granderson starting crushing balls again, and he hasn’t looked back since.
In the second-half of 2010, Granderson more then doubled his home runs going from seven to 17. His meager 24 RBIs in the first half raised by 19, as in July, August and September he had 43 RBIs, 71 hits, nine double and four triples.
Granderson has been known to strikeout a ton, but in those three months he only bit it 72 times in 282 at-bats, which was a marked improvement.
Granderson has always been an elite outfielder and his skills never faltered defensively in 2010, which kept Yankee fans optimistic.
What I love about Granderson is that neither clutch situations, nor location faze him. It is as simple as, he is either hitting or he is not.
Heading into the 2011 season, Granderson needs to continue being productive at the plate because even just getting him on base is a threat. With his leg all healed, expect Granderson to double his 12 stolen bases from last year.
Unlike his buddy above, Gardner did not struggle much in 2010. Right out of the gate, Gardner produced.
Gardner does not have the power bat like Granderson does, but stealing 47 bases and constantly hitting deep into pitch counts with long at-bats surely makes up for it.
Gardner is unique because he is a pest that pitcher absolutely dread. When at the plate, Gardner has a superior eye for pitches and draws a lot of walks, 73 in total in 2010.
Pitchers don’t want Gardner types to walk all the time because they’re more lethal while on the base. One extra blink, and Gardner will be on the next base.
Gardner is as fast as a Tasmanian devil, stealing 47 bases, but only getting caught nine times last season. Gardner’s speed was easily in the top-four in baseball, as he tied with Crawford for third in 2010.
Gardner finished the year with a .382 OBP, with 20 doubles, five home-runs, seven triples, 47 RBIs and 102 strikeouts.
Like Granderson, Gardner is a stellar defender and, at a ripe 27 years old, he is not even in his prime yet.
The Yankees expect big things for Gardner, not only in 2011, but also for years to come. I really like what I have seen of Gardner since he emerged in 2009 and am happy the Yankees GM and ownership did, too.