If You Want to Compete in the AL East, You Better Have Good Pitching or Else
The AL East is a highly competitive division. That's not to say that the other divisions don't have competition amongst each other, but year after year the AL East is right in the middle of the playoff race.
The AL East has some of the best hitters in the game like Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. It is that good hitting that makes good pitching even more valuable. Sometimes when players are dazzling fans with home runs, the importance of good pitching is forgotten.
Good pitching is what got Tampa Bay to the World Series this year. While their pitchers were young and relatively inexperienced, the combination of Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonanstine were putting away the big boppers like A-Rod and Big Papi without batting an eyelash.
Not to mention, their bullpen was stocked with good arms like JP Howell, Grant Balfour, Trevor Miller, David Price, Dan Wheeler, and Troy Percival. Those guys, in junction with the starting rotation, are what got the Rays past Boston in the ALCS.
The Yankees realize that most of why they haven't been able to make it through the first round of the playoffs, or get there this past year, is due to inferior pitching. That is why pitching was their top priority for the offseason and why they signed not only CC Sabathia, but AJ Burnett to multi-year, lucrative contracts. Both of those guys are aces and the Yankees need more than one gun in their arsenal if they want to go all the way.
During their championship years, they did not have a lot of home run hitters on their teams and were instead led by good pitching. David Cone, David Wells, Andy Pettitte, El Duque, and Roger Clemens solidified the rotation. No matter who had the ball, the team knew those guys were more than capable of doing their job.
It didn't hurt that the bullpen was stocked with good arms too. Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton, Ramiro Mendoza, and Mariano Rivera finished off games for the other guys and made it look easy.
That is not to say that the Baby Bombers like Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy are without potential. Chamberlain has already proved that he can more than hold his own in the big leagues. The Yankees just have to find one spot for him and keep him there. However, these guys can't be expected to anchor a rotation, at least not yet.
Andy Pettitte had the benefit of being a young pitcher and pitching behind the likes of David Cone, Dwight Gooden, and David Wells. He was not expected to shoulder the responsibility of the pitching staff at 24, and was able to learn the importance of being a gamer and how to take care and preserve his body for the days that he was on the mound from the vets.
At 36, Pettitte now knows how to do his job and help the young pitchers around him who want to take from all of his successes.
The Yankees were able to win four World Series in five years due mostly to their pitching. The Red Sox won two World Series in three years thanks to their rotation, and I'm sure the World Champion Phillies are really glad that MVP Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, and Brad Lidge were pitching for them because those guys are a huge part of why they won it all.
So now the Yankees are ready to seriously compete again. They have a rotation that is going to feature CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, hopefully Andy Pettitte, and Joba Chamberlain with Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy in the wings.
The bullpen could use a little bolster, but it is hoped that guys like Phil Coke, Edwar Ramirez, and Jose Veras can be a real solid bridge to Mariano. If so, the Yankees are back in business and the AL East will really be exciting to watch come 2009.
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