|5/14||4:05 pm PDT||CC Sabathia vs. Felix Hernandez|
|5/15||4:05 pm PDT||Phil Hughes vs. Hisashi Iwakuma|
|5/16||4:05 pm PDT||Andy Pettitte vs. Aaron Harang|
The Seattle Mariners look to continue their climb to .500 against the New York Yankees. Following an uncharacteristically conservative offseason, the Yankees have surprised with a hot start and are currently the co-owners of the American League's best record. SB Nation's MLB Editor Steve Goldman, also of Pinstriped Bible, joins us to discuss the Bronx' 2013 club.
Jon: An unusually quiet offseason and a jam-packed disabled list led many to expect the Yankees to take 2013 off and regroup before aggressively retooling for 2014. Instead, they're off to a great start thanks to big production from their remaining stars as well as surprising performances from a merry band of veteran misfits. What/who have been some of the more pleasant surprises on this Yankee squad? Can they keep it up all season?
Steve: It's hard to believe that they could keep it up all season, and perhaps they won't have to; Curtis Granderson should be back this week, possibly even today, so that takes some pressure off the outfield, where Ichiro has looked a lot like the guy the Mariners had at the end rather than the player the Yankees got. It's harder to project return dates for Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis, Francisco Cervelli, and Derek Jeter, or to know what they'll give you when they come back, but Yankees fans probably shouldn't get a -- well, not a "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality, that's not appropriate in this case. Maybe, "It is broke, but don't fix it," given how well things have gone. The team has won because of good pitching and just enough offense, and even though the team has gotten away with not having those players, it's going to need them contributing at a high level before it's all over.
For me, the most pleasant surprise is probably a tie between Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay. You can't see how good Overbay has been because he's had too many at-bats against left-handed pitching, but against the guys he's supposed to hit he's averaged .302/.355/.593. As for Wells, he's a man at war with himself. He started out the year being uncharacteristically patient and hitting the ball to all fields, but he wants to regress to the pull-happy, ineffective guy he was in Anaheim. It's like an addiction that he's fighting. He just broke a streak of 12 games without taking a walk. He hit three home runs in that span, so he still had value, but the line for those games, .267/.267/.467, that's Angels Wells in a nutshell. Sadly, I think that guy is going to win out in the long term, but with Granderson back, he can take away some of his plate appearances against right-handed pitching and mitigate the damage.
Jon: Robinson Cano, 30, has spent the last few seasons as one of the game's elite hitters and legitimate MVP contender. How was Cano viewed as a prospect coming up through the Yankees system? Was this ever entertained as a possibility?
Steve: He was considered a decent prospect, but not anything like the guy he's become. You might recall that the Yankees signed Tony Womack to play second base in 2005, and it was only when Womack was revealed to be, well, Womack that the team held its nose and let a young player have a try. Cano the minor leaguer was impatient, hit about .280 and showed some power, but not 25-30 home run power. When he came up, he swung at everything and was terribly raw on defense -- he kept trying to make these throws on force plays that could have been scored 4-(6)-7 -- that is, Cano intended to throw to Jeter covering, but mailed it into left field, where Hideki Matsui would pick it up. He's still not terribly patient, and will get into streaks where he gives away at-bats by taking a weak hack at the first pitch, wherever it is, but these stretches are fewer and shorter than they used to be.
He's become a real pleasure to watch. I confess that there were times early on that I thought he was an iron-gloved, hopeless hacker -- about a month into his major league career he was hitting something like .235/.250/.350, and while I never would have wanted Womack back in the lineup, I didn't think Cano was ever going to post anything like a league-average on-base percentage. I saw the error of my ways soon after.
Jon: Since 2007, CC Sabathia has logged more regular season innings than anyone, 40-some innings ahead of Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez, while also adding another half-season's worth of postseason innings. Has the big man, now 32, shown any signs of wearing down? Has he been the ace the Yankees and their fans were expecting when he signed that original 7 year mega-deal?
Steve: The Yankees will always be in unknown territory with Sabathia, age, and workload, because there just haven't been many 6'7", 300-pound pitchers in the history of the game. Everyone says, "He's the one guy who can handle the workload," and maybe that's true, but in this I'm reminded of something that soldiers used to say about their dugouts in World War I:
"Mine is bomb-proof."
"How do you know it's bomb-proof?"
"Son, until something hits it, they're all bomb-proof."
In other words, you can keep extending Sabathia, keep saying he's invulnerable until the inevitable moment that he's not. And this may be the year that he's not -- his velocity has been down, with a fastball just scraping 90 mph. Now, he's had low-velocity Aprils before, so this is not necessarily something to panic about, and he's had six quality starts in eight tries (I'm being generous and voting him a QS for his last, rain-shortened start), so you can't complain about the results. Still, if he's suddenly gone for hard-thrower to junkballer, it's going to be an interesting ride to 2016 or 2017 (depending on vesting option).
I can't speak for all Yankees fans, but I think you have to be pretty satisfied with Sabathia's performance as a Yankee. He has a 3.22 ERA in pinstripes, not too shabby for the AL and the park he pitches in, and has three top-five finishes in the Cy Young voting in five years. You can knock him a bit for his postseason pitching, but they wouldn't have gotten there without him.