Following a disappointing season in which they were comprehensively beaten in the ALCS by the Texas Rangers, the New York Yankees enter the 2011 season with an unusual label—underdog. With the Boston Red Sox making all the headlines with their free agent acquisition of Carl Crawford and trade for Adrian Gonzalez, the Yankees have taken their place in the background.
Unlike some Red Sox fans, who spent the offseason saving up for World Series tickets, Yankee fans had other issues. Namely, will A.J. Burnett bounce back, is Derek Jeter still an All-Star shortshop and who will be the fourth and fifth starters?
These issues will be brought up by those who doubt the Yankees can win their division and progress far into the playoffs this year. Well here are five reasons why the Yanks will be celebrating their 28th championship in the Bronx.
Base runners stole at will against the Yankees last year. Whether it was Jorge Posada or Francisco Cervelli behind the plate, the Yankees simply could not throw anyone out. Among catchers with over 40 stolen base attempts against, Posada and Cervelli were the two worst in the American League in terms of caught stealing percentage. Between the two, only 22 runners were caught stealing compared to an astounding 127 bases allowed.
With new signing Russell Martin as the primary catcher for the Yankees, expect far less stolen bases against the Yankees. In 2010 among catchers with over 40 stolen base attempts against, Martin ranked third in the majors throwing out 27 of 70 possible runners.
When the players you depend on don't deliver, you know your team is in trouble. With the exceptions of Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano, no one in the Yankee batting lineup had a good year—particularly Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. With all three registering career lows in batting average, the batting lineup never had any form of consistency.
However, 2011 promises to be a different year. Granderson's work with hitting coach Kevin Long began to show as he was perhaps the Yankees best hitter in last year's postseason. Teixeira, who batted a measly 0.136 in April, has changed up his offseason routine in order to shake off his slow starts. With Jeter eager to prove to everyone he isn't washed up, expect a much more consistent and explosive lineup in 2011.
The Yankees enter the 2011 season with one of the strongest bullpens in the majors—a completely different description that was afforded to last years bullpen. With the signing of Rafael Soriano, the Yankees now have arguably the two best closers in the AL, giving manager Joe Giradi the luxury of finishing the game in the seventh inning.
And it doesn't stop there. The Yanks also picked up lefty killer Pedro Feliciano from the Mets. Feliciano, who led the majors in relief appearances last year, will be the Yankees go to guy when facing the Red Sox and their left handed lineup of Ellsbury, Crawford, Gonzalez and Ortiz.
Throw in an improving Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson, and the Yankees have turned their bullpen from a weakness into a strength.
When GM Brian Cashman re-signed with the Yankees a few years ago, he put an emphasis on developing young talent in the Yankee farm system. Refusing to trade prospects such as Phil Hughes for the Johan Santanas of the majors, Cashman has helped create what could be the best collection of prospects the Yankees have ever had. However, as he showed last year when he offered Jesus Montero to the Mariners for Cliff Lee, Cashman will not be afraid to pull the trigger to get another star player.
With catching talent galore in Montero, Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine, it is conceivable that Cashman offers one of them along with young phenom Manny Banuelos for a starting pitcher like the Mariner's Felix Hernandez.
Without a doubt the best news to come out of spring training was the return to form of Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod, who has had two down years due to a nagging hip injury, reported to camp 100 percent healthy and several pounds lighter. With his hip healthy, the Yankees clean-up man dominated the spring, hitting six home runs with an OPS of 1.342.
While A-Rod will be the first to say spring training stats don't matter, it certainly looks like he can revert back to 2007 Alex Rodriguez and put up another MVP-caliber season.
With Rodriguez leading the way expect the other Yankee hitters to follow, for what could be the leagues most explosive offense.