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There's one major issue that prevents the Yanks from locking down the No. 1 spot in 2011: starting pitching.
I am not even going to feed into the Cliff Lee drama because as nice as it would have been to see him in pinstripes—being a lifelong Yankee fan and all—I was one of the few fans that knew that was never going to happen.
There is absolutely no doubt that CC Sabathia will be CC in 2011, but how will AJ Burnett and Phil Hughes fare?
More importantly, who is going to fill the fourth and fifth spots?
Burnett is one of the wildest pitchers in the game, and this past year made that blatantly obvious.
But do I see a repeat of last year?
The chances are slim that Burnett would perform as poorly as he did last season, but just how much he will improve is up in the air.
I am not doubting that he is aware of just how much he has to work on, but the whole “I don’t need to be fixed” thing is a bit baffling.
On the other hand, Hughes has been working on fixing his problems with his changeup.
Once he figures all of that out, he will be back to the Phil Hughes we saw in the first half of last season.
Now comes the biggest issues—the fourth and fifth starters.
It will be a battle between Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre to fill those two spots.
Nova only pitched about a month or so in pinstripes and did not do all that bad for his first time in the big leagues.
As much as Yankee fans rip Mitre for his 2009 performance, he had a pretty nice bounceback in 2010 and really would not be a bad choice for either spot.
The Yanks will also be deciding if Colon and Garcia will be thrown into the mix.
Colon did not even pitch in the big leagues last year and Garcia was pretty reliable for the White Sox, but his numbers were not all that amazing.
The good news is that the Yanks did improve their bullpen.
As the whole world knows, they signed Rafael Soriano to finally provide them with a quality setup man in front of Mariano Rivera.
They also added another much needed lefty to their pen when they signed Pedro Feliciano.
So I expect to see a decent improvement in the pen from last year.
If the kinks in the starting rotation are worked out, they get the job done and do not leave it all up to the offense and bullpen to dig them out of huge run deficits, the Yanks will most definitely lock down the second spot in the AL East.
Who knows—if all of the pieces fall into place, they could quite possibly be battling Boston for the top spot.