New York Yankees: Five Things We Learned on Opening Day
After an offseason of turmoil and questions, the Yankees could finally put everything aside and let their play do the talking. Opening Day has finally come and gone and the Yankees are 1-0 and ahead of Boston in the AL East.
Everything is right in New York tonight.
Even though we are just one game into the long and strenuous regular season, we already have a feel for just what this Yankee team could be and is capable of.
Strengths shined through, but there are still some questions that have yet to be spoken for.
1. Russell Martin Looks to Return to His Old Form
Russell Martin was looked at as a placeholder for some of the big-name prospects that the Yankees have in their farm system. Today, though, he played as if he is here for the long haul.
In his Yankee debut, he filled in nicely behind the plate and managed CC Sabathia and the bullpen like he has been behind the dish in pinstripes for years. He understood that in the cold weather, Sabathia might have trouble getting the feel for his offspeed pitches, but he continued to make the right calls and keep hitters off balance.
Coming off offseason knee surgery, his ability to catch a full game was in question and stealing bases like he did with the Dodgers seemed to be a thing of the past. Martin silenced all doubt by stealing third base off Justin Verlander, who is no slouch at keeping runners at bay.
The transition from Jorge Posada to Martin was something that could have posed a problem for New York this season. The Yankee faithful now feel a bit more comfortable with Martin behind the plate after his Opening Day performance.
2. Alex Rodriguez Builds off His Spring Dominance
A-Rod built off his recent spring success and nearly launched his first home run of the season off Justin Verlander. He had his best spring in recent memory, with 19 hits, six home runs, 15 RBI and a .898 slugging percentage.
After an offseason that didn't include any rehab, Rodriguez looks primed for a 35-plus home run season with well over 100 RBI. He is once again striking fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.
His coaches have noticed the change in him and were quite happy by just how locked in he has been since day one.
With his surgically repaired hip a distant memory, A-Rod is poised to reclaim his place as the best player in the major leagues. Even at 35 years old, Rodriguez hasn't looked this good in years.
3. Robinson Cano Is Only Human
Robinson Cano is coming off one the best seasons of his short career. After posting a .319 BA, hitting 29 HR and his second 200-hit season, everyone was expecting Cano to pick up right where he left off.
Instead, Cano had an Opening Day to forget. He went 0-3 with two K's and uncharacteristically committed an error after only surrendering three all of 2010. He looked a bit overmatched at the plate against Verlander, but making solid contact against the Tigers ace is no easy feat, even for a MVP candidate.
One off game is by no means a sign that Cano will struggle this season. Let's chalk this one up to shaking off the rust.
4. Bullpen Will Be a Strength This Season
The Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee this offseason, so they went out and brought in the best reliever on the market in Rafael Soriano.
It was documented throughout the press that Cashman didn't seem to be thrilled with the signing. According to Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog, Soriano and Cashman held a private meeting this offseason to make sure they were on the same page.
After one game, this signing looks to be worth every penny. Joba Chamberlain, Soriano and Mariano Rivera finished what Sabathia started. In three innings of work, this combination didn't allow a baserunner and struck out one apiece.
The Yankees didn't use David Robertson, who had a fantastic second half to the 2010 season, posting a 2.27 ERA and striking out 39 hitters in 31.2 innings, or Boone Logan, who proved to be the only good thing that came out of the Javier Vazquez debacle.
With the starting rotation a big question mark this season, a rock-solid bullpen will be able to keep the Yanks in games when their starters fall short.
5. Granderson Is Primed for a Big Season
Just a few days ago, Curtis Granderson was looking at starting the season on the DL. The oblique bug bit him right at the end of spring training and his status was in question. After some work at the minor league complex, Granderson was ready to go and the Yankees had their starting center fielder.
It was a blessing that they did.
In the first inning, Granderson laid out for a Will Rhymes line drive, making a beautiful diving catch. He later robbed Alex Avila of a possible extra-base hit by making the necessary adjustments and covering the left-center gap. In the ninth, he made a spectacular over-the-shoulder snag after Brandon Inge laced a ball over his head, as he was playing shallow with Rivera on the mound.
Without his glove, this game might have ended quite differently.
Let's not overlook what he did with the bat as well. Continuing his recent success in the batter's box after making adjustments with hitting coach Kevin Long, Granderson launched a tie-breaking home run into the second deck in right field—off a southpaw, nonetheless.
Whatever Granderson is eating, he'd better share it with the rest of the team, because he is looking to turn in a career year in 2011.
A Few Questions That Still Need Answering
Even though the Yankees have answered some of the questions they've had leading into this season, there are still a few left on the table.
How will A.J. Burnett do after his horrific 2010 campaign? He had a strong spring, to the tune of a 2.77 ERA and no walks, but is battling a head cold that could possibly put his Saturday start in jeopardy. I'm sure Burnett wants to take the mound and quiet his doubters as soon as possible.
Also, will Mark Teixeira continue his annual disappointing April, or was his three-run bomb a sign of things to come? It has been noted that Tex has put in extra work in the cage with Long to make sure that he breaks his recent trend. Let's not forget that Opening Day was only March 31st, so there is still a chance that a slump could ensue. With Rodriguez ripping the cover off the ball, pitchers are giving Teixeira better pitches to hit, which could help turn the tides in April.
For now, let's celebrate the fact that the Yankees are on top of the AL East and baseball is finally upon us.