New York Yankees fans enter every season with larger than life expectations. With the most storied franchise in sports, it's easy to understand why.
Every offseason acquistion is the best available; every trade rumor involves the biggest names.
Yes, it's safe to say that Yankees fans expect the best and have often received it.
It was no different this offseason when, despite general manager Brian Cashman's protestations, the Yankees added Rafael Soriano to a bullpen that already had the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera.
The addition of Soriano have the Yankees a one-two punch that no other team in baseball could match. Along with Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Pedro Feliciano, the Yankees had seemingly made sure that any lead they brought into the sixth inning or later would stand up.
But the Yankees bullpen has been anything but effective.
The trouble started in spring training when Feliciano went down and is likely out for the season, with Cashman screaming at the New York Mets as the cause.
But Soriano to Rivera was still in tact and just as intimidating, at least on paper.
But through the first month of the season, Soriano hasn't been able to live up to the hype.
How could any team pay a reliever $10 million to pitch the eighth inning? Not to mention the two trap door clauses built into the contract, which would allow Soriano to escape the Bronx in each of the next two seasons if he wasn't enjoying himself.
It's safe to say Soriano isn't having a good time. Well, neither are the fans.
Last night, Soriano surrendered a two-run home run to Paul Konerko to give the Chicago White Sox a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning. It was the second-straight game in which Soriano entered the eighth inning with a lead and then proceeded to cough it up in embarrassing fashion.
White Sox right fielder, Brent Lillibridge, made two spectacular catches to rob the Yankees of potentially game-tying hits in the bottom of the ninth to send the Bombers to their second straight loss.
In 10 1/3 innings this season, Soriano has surrendered nine runs, all earned, on 12 hits. His 7.84 ERA is the highest he's posted in April since 2005.
Last season, Soriano led the majors with 45 saves and was statistically the best closer in baseball. But it's been a disgusting start to his Yankees career this far.
Consider this: Soriano only gave up 12 earned runs last year. He didn't give up his ninth until July 31! We're not even out of April and Soriano has already given up half as many walks (8) as he allowed all of last season (14).
"It's not easy for me," Soriano told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com after last night's game. "I'm trying to figure it out, how I can do the same thing that I did last year. I'm struggling right now."
Yeah, no kidding.
The list of excuses offered up for Soriano is almost endless. Everything from the cold weather (it was 66 degrees at game time last night) to the pressure of pitching in New York has been brought up.
Certainly those excuses have some merit, but when you're paying a guy $10 million to get through an inning with a lead, or keep a game close, there aren't any excuses.
That doesn't stop Soriano from offering up his own of course.
"It's a little different to me, being the closer or the setup man," Soriano told Hoch. "It's a bad day, a bad month. I remember in '07 with Atlanta, I did almost the same thing. I came back, and everyone saw the numbers I put up in Atlanta."
For $10 million, Soriano should be willing to pitch in any inning, for any team, in any city. There's no excuse for simply not getting the job done. Unless he has an injury, there's nothing that will make up for lack of performance.
The most common excuse, "It's still early," can only be used so much longer, if it can still be used at all.
The longer Soriano struggles, the sooner manager Joe Girardi will need to shake things up in the eighth inning. David Robertson is pitching well and could get a chance to test his mettle, with Soriano moving into the seventh inning.
Girardi reiterated that Soriano is his guy and that back-to-back poor outings hasn't swayed him.
But if Soriano continues to struggle, the more he's going to hate pitching in the eighth inning and the less likely he'll opt-out after this season.
Why? Because the opt-out is there for Soriano to have a huge season and then find big money closing games somewhere else. If he struggles, that big contract won't be there for him and he'll be happy to collect his money in the Bronx.
If he does, the Yankees might have paid Soriano big money to cost them big games.
Or perhaps Soriano's performance will improve with the weather.
Either way, Cashman must be watching Soriano pitch with a little smile on his face and muttering "I told you so" to himself.