Yankees come into season as underdogs

yankees-spring-training

Bronx Baseball Daily has been fortunate enough to add a third writer in recent weeks, Rilwan Ameen, who will be joining the team with regular columns. His first piece takes a look at the fact that for the first time in probably 20 years the Yankees are not looked upon as favorites to make the playoffs. With a new found budget-concious Yankees and improvements to nearly every team in their division it’s not hard to imagine the Yankees finishing anywhere from first to last (well, maybe not last place). Anyway, enjoy Rilwan’s piece and join me in welcoming him to the team.

By Rilwan Ameen

For the first time in two decades, the New York Yankees come into a MLB season viewed as decided underdogs in their own division.

Throughout the 2012 Major League Baseball season, there was no division as competitive as the American League East. The Yankees won the division with a 95-67 record, making it all the way to the ALCS before bowing out in four games to the Detroit Tigers. The Baltimore Orioles finished second in the division, amassing a 93-69 record and then beating the Texas Rangers in a one game playoff before losing in a thrilling five game series to the Yankees. Also reaching the 90 win plateau were the Tampa Bay Rays, who finished 90-72, just missing the postseason.

That left the Toronto Blue Jays (73-89) and the Boston Red Sox (69-93) as the two teams in the division that did not threaten to crash the playoff party. However their records were not indicative of how competitive they were within the AL East.

This offseason, the entire division landscape changed on Nov. 13, when the Blue Jays struck a blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins. The Jays acquired all-star shortstop Jose Reyes, catcher John Buck, utility infielder Emilio Bonifacio and three starting pitchers to bolster what was an average rotation in Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and reigning NL CY Young award winner R.A. Dickey.

The Jays, already formidable with slugger Jose Bautista, who had 27 homers in only 92 games and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion who had a career year with 42 homers and 110 RBI’s, also added all-star game MVP Melky Cabrera at a discounted two-year, $8 million deal. These acquisitions make the Blue Jays a threat to take over the spot as top team in the AL East.

While the Blue Jays improved significantly on paper, the other contending teams in the AL East have mostly kept their playoff caliber squads intact. While the Yankees did not re-sign outfielder Nick Swisher and closer Rafael Soriano, they re-signed starting pitchers Andy Pettitte (who had a 2.87 ERA in his 12 starts before injury) and Hiroki Kuroda (who had 16 wins). Along with the returns of shortstop Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees are going into the 2013 season with the same expectations from their fan base as they have every year, world championship or bust. But this upcoming season seems different, beginning with vast improvement from the teams around them.

The Baltimore Orioles were the biggest surprise of the division last year, thanks to the managerial working of Buck Showalter, and their penchant for winning one-run games. With the injured Manny Machado returning to the lineup along with all-star Matt Wieters behind the plate, outfielders Adam Jones, Nick Markakis driving in runs, and closer Jim Johnson getting the final outs of the game, the O’s do not plan on heading to the basement of the AL East any time soon.

The Tampa Bay Rays also have plenty of talent in order to make a run at the playoffs. With 2012 Cy Young winner David Price leading a very deep pitching staff, with Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays are going to give up very few runs. Along with stud hitters Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist, it is also very easy to foresee the Rays playing October baseball as well. Trading James Shields hurt, but acquiring the Royals’ top prospect Will Myers trumps the loss of Shields and Wade Davis.

With the current MLB playoff format, only one of these teams will make the playoffs by winning the division and it is possible for two other teams in this division to claim the wild-card. In this situation, one playoff caliber team will miss the playoffs. That’s not even counting the fact that another division can produce a wild-card team. Factoring in the strength that lies in the AL West with the Angels, Rangers, A’s, and the young but improving Mariners, these teams threaten to take away one if not two wild-card spots from the AL East. Factor in a surprise team like the Indians in the AL Central and the playoff races will be hotly contested.

The AL East will be tough for all of the teams because they play every other team within the division 19 times. Also the Red Sox, who might not be in contention to make the playoffs next year, have improved greatly with obtaining Joel Hanrahan from the Pirates, Shane Victorino from the Dodgers, and Mike Napoli from the Rangers. The Red Sox would love nothing more than to play spoiler to an archrival like the Yankees or Rays.

In 2013, a changing of the guard in the AL East seems to be on the horizon. Come April, it will be unfamiliar territory in the Bronx, as for the first time since 1993 the Pinstripes are not expected to represent the American League, let alone their own division in October.

Will the Bronx Bombers relish the unusual role of playing the underdog with lessened expectations? Fewer expectations will be the best thing that happens to the New York Yankees this season. For a team needing a moment out of the spotlight after a tumultuous off-season, a blessing in disguise is in order.

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7 Responses to Yankees come into season as underdogs

  1. Mike says:

    As recently as 2011 the Boston Red Sox were the favoriets:

    2011 Red Sox Will Challenge 1927 Yankees for Title of Greatest Team in Major League Historyby Eric Ortiz on Sat, Jan 1, 2011 at 9:00PM

    2011 Red Sox Will Challenge 1927 Yankees for Title of Greatest Team in Major League History The Red Sox have won 100 or more games three times in their 110-year existence.

    They will make it four in 2011. But this team has the potential to accomplish something even bigger than winning 100 games.

    The last time the Red Sox reached the 100-win mark was 1946, when they went 104-50-2 and lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.

    Prior to that, the Red Sox posted 101 wins in 1915 and 105 in 1912. Both seasons ended with World Series titles.

    Will the duck boats be rolling through the streets of Boston again next fall?

    Bookmakers like the Red Sox’ chances. Current odds put them at 9-2 to win the 2011 World Series. Only the Phillies, at 7-2, are bigger favorites, with the Yankees not far behind at 5-1 shots.

    ESPN – http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/preview/2011/news/s… all 45 so-calle experts chose the Red Sox as the faorites to win the pennant.

    • jon says:

      Exactly, it's almost as if they play the games for a reason. I wouldn't claim this is anywhere near the best Yankees team I've seen but we also saw the Marlins crash & burn with some of the same guys the Jays now have, for instance.

  2. Rich says:

    Congrats rilwan

  3. Marc Perez says:

    Melky's contract is 2 years, 16 mil. Otherwise, good read.

  4. Tanned Tom says:

    Not a great team obviously, but 90 wins seems realistic. First this team is not too much worse than last year's. They almost have to be healthier. The pitching is if anything deeper: Sabathia had his elbow cleaned out, Chamberlain is healthy, Pettitte will make more starts than in 2012, Rivera should be good, etc. OF defense is markedly better with Gardner and Suzuki essentially replacing Swisher and Ibanez. Team speed takes a big jump, with Suzuki here for a whole year, Gardner back and Ibanez gone (I have a microwave oven that runs better than the does). Youkilis could replace some of A-Fraud's production, Martin's offense will not be missed. And the club could actually promote an OF from within and get younger.
    Secondly, whether this division is truly stronger is an open question. Boston's moves were pointless, the Orioles will be lucky to match last year's record, Tampa will be good, and the Blue Jays did improve, but by how much? They won 73 last year. If they win 15 more that would be gigantic, and give them 88, which will not cut it in the AL East. NY could still win this division with 90-92 wins if key players stay healthy.

    • hotdog says:

      I'm more concerned about this Yankees team than any other since the early 90's…they re-signed some players but did very little else to fill gaps other than Youkilis who I think may be ready for a decent year…i'd like to see the Yankees take advantage of their speed but the net gain will all be on Gardner's shoulders…they could win the division but they need to take those close games consistently…