There were a lot of questions going into this spring training, especially considering how the Yankees did last year, as well as all the roster changes. Who is our third baseman? Who is our second baseman? Who is our closer? Who is replacing Derek Jeter? What is the plan for first base? The Yankees have answered some of these questions, and some answers are still working themselves out. It has made for a lot of noise in spring training. Add to that the media’s addiction to all things Alex Rodriguez, and I think it serves up for some major distractions from bigger issues.
The biggest question right now is around the ace of the starting rotation. Who is it? Well, for a few years prior to last season, the answer was CC Sabathia. He was signed as an ace, and he delivered as an ace for the early part of his contract. Now, CC is recovering from various leg injuries, and the last two seasons have made him more of a question mark. Masahiro Tanaka provided a lot of firepower to make the case for him being the ace last year, but then UCL injury happened, and his future is not as obvious as it once was. Although, going 2 scoreless innings in his Spring debut last night is a good thing.
You might be asking, why is the ace so important? Simply put, the ace sets the tone for the rest of the rotation. He is the guy you expect to win 80% of the time or better, the point in the rotation where the team expects to win the game because the pitcher is going to throw a gem. Because they always throw a gem, it sets the tone for the rest of the rotation and the rest of the series in play. It's also why the ace usually starts the first game of an important series. They almost always start Game 1 of every postseason series. It's much easier to win when you have the momentum of the previous game's win under your belt. The team is more relaxed when leading the series, regular season or postseason.
Who will it be for the Yankees this season? C.C. Sabathia needs to get his ERA below 4 for him to get consideration, not to mention the durability of his knees and ankles. Masahiro Tanaka needs a miracle in his UCL, while returning to his first-hand 2014 form. An uphill battle, to say the least. Then, of course, Michael Pineda's name has been mentioned as an anchor of the rotation. When he's healthy, he certainly has the stuff to do it. But I suspect there's more than a few pools where people are picking the day he goes on the DL (the over/under on that is June 1 - kidding!). His judgment is also questionable, following last year's pine tar incidents.
I entitled this piece with a question, and I'm not giving any good answers. Good possibilities, but nothing predictive. The fact is that this is a key area to watch. If no one steps up, this is going to be a long season. But if one more of these guys delivers at ace level consistently and for the duration of the season, be prepared to see some serious magic this year.
--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Senior Staff Writer
My blog is: Shots from Murderer's Row
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