New York Baseball Preview 2011

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New York Baseball Preview 2011

The best part about Opening Day is hope. Every team's win-loss record is the same. Yankee fans can say they're aging, but deep down, they know a 28th World Series banner is within reach. Met fans might not expect much, but deep down, they know the nickname "The Amazins" didn't create itself.

Naturally, the Yankees, just two years removed from being crowned World Series champs, are hopeful for another ticker tape parade down Broadway.

The off-season was unlike any other in New York not for immense free-agent signings but for those that got away. Cliff Lee chose Philadelphia over the Bronx. Andy Pettitte eschewed a shot at one more title and instead retired. While Boston announced a pair of whoppers in signing Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez, the Yankees remained relatively quiet.

Nevertheless, Joe Girardi's crew is stacked, particularly at the plate. The Yankees have 34 combined All-Star appearances in their starting lineup. Alex Rodriguez is coming off a 125- RBI season. Robinson Cano had a career year and finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting. Mark Teixeira still hit 33 homers and drove in 108 in what was considered a down year, and Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have defied critics before.

Rest assured, the Yankees, who led all of baseball in runs scored, are going to hit again. At the top of the lineup, Jeter will become the 28th member of Major League Baseball's 3,000 hit club soon enough, and between Cano, Rodriguez, Teixeira and 2010 All-Star Nick Swisher, production won't be an issue. Brett Gardner's a threat to steal every time he's on base, and Curtis Granderson combines pep and pop, coming off a postseason in which he batted .357.

The farm system's even chipping in. Catcher Jesus Montero, who hit 21 homers at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre last year, is one of the game's finest up-and-comers. With Posada relegated to designated hitter, Montero's apt to be in pinstripes for a long time.

The bigger concern in the Bronx is with the Yankee pitching. The front office hoped to have both Lee and Pettitte, and it figured on at least one wearing pinstripes. Instead, all eyes were on spring training as a stable of arms, both young and old, vied for two wide-open spots in the Yankee starting rotation.

Left-hander C.C. Sabathia won 21 games last year and has racked up 40 victories during his two seasons in the Bronx. He's the model of consistency, finishing in the top five in the American League Cy Young Award race every year since 2007, the year in which he won it. After that, though, fans don't know what to expect from A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes, two incumbents from the 2010 season.

There's no such cloudiness in the Yankee bullpen, particularly at the back end, where Mariano Rivera's been strong as ever. General manager Brian Cashman shored up the later innings by signing former Rays closer Rafael Soriano to a three-year deal as well as former Mets lefty Pedro Feliciano. If all else fails, there's flamethrowing southpaw Manny Banuelos. He'll start the year at Double-A Trenton, but his ability and poise screams ‘mid-season promotion' a la Joba Chamberlain circa 2007.

Mets fans are resigned to the fact that their team, as it's presently constituted, is not a legitimate National League contender. Of course, neither were the 1969 Mets at this juncture in the season, and a matter of months later, they were World Series champions.

The root of the potential Met success is on the left side of their infield – shortstop Jose Reyes and third baseman David Wright. It's safe to say that, without good years from them, it will be difficult to stay afloat. The same can be said about Jason Bay, the team's big-money acquisition prior to last season. A year after belting 36 homers for the Red Sox in '09, Bay socked all of six in 95 games.

Arguably the most consistent producer last summer was Angel Pagan, who hit .290 and stole 37 bases from the top of the order, the latter more than doubling his career total to that point. He was vital for New York in the absence of Carlos Beltran, the switch-hitting veteran whom the Mets hope to have at 100 percent for most or all of the season.

First baseman Ike Davis had a fine rookie season, racking up 19 homers to go with 71 RBI and a serviceable .264 batting average. Another 2010 impact player, Josh Thole, has emerged as the Mets' primary catcher.

Like their intra-city rivals, the Amazins' biggest concern is with their pitching. Johan Santana is out until the All-Star Break at least, making 15-game winner Mike Pelfrey the team's No. 1 starter. Jonathon Niese had his best season to date, but he faded down the stretch, with a post-All-Star ERA that hovered near 5. The Mets will also look for another big year from knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. The 36-year-old went 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA in 2010.

The Flushing inhabitants don't have the luxury of having Rivera, but Francisco Rodriguez is still one of baseball's best, having saved 60 games in two seasons with the Mets. He saved a major league record 62 in 2008 with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Without Feliciano, the Mets will count on veterans Taylor Buchholz and D.J. Carrasco to form the bridge to K-Rod.

It's a long season, one that will have its peaks and its valleys. However, every squad begins at the starting line – zero wins, zero losses – and with breakout stars, batting slumps, injuries, and the bounce of the ball, there's no telling which direction the season will go. One can only watch it unfold game by game.

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