YANKEES OFF TO A GREAT START, BUT …

                                                                                       Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Not surprisingly, the Yankees are off to a wonderful 7-3 start and are in first place in the ultra-tough A.L. East. Even more impressive, they did it by winning series from the Red Sox, the Rays and the always-tough-on-the-Yankees Angels. After losing two of the toughest, clutch lefties ever, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, the Yankees seem to have not missed a beat – they are well on their way to another playoff berth and World Series appearance.

Or are they?

WHAT’S UP WITH MARK TEIXEIRA?

All the alleged experts who attributed Mark Teixeira’s great turnaround after a miserable start in 2009 to the return of A-Rod into the Yankee line-up didn’t know what they were talking about. It had virtually nothing to do with A-Rod. If you knew what you were talking about last year (that is, that Teixeira is (historically) a notoriously poor starter in April with or without protection in the line-up), you wouldn’t be shocked by Teixeira’s slow start this year.

The problem this year, with A-Rod batting behind Teixeira from Day 1, is that Teixeira’s not cold, he’s frigid. Batting under .100 has to at least give the Yankees pause. But it says here, even though this start is worse than cold, Teixeira will do what Teixeira does – become an excellent hitter/RBI man. Teixeira is a guy who must pray it’s going to be May rather than April from the get-go. To his credit, of course, no excuses (and look what the Yankees have done while he is in his offensive – not defensive – funk).

WHAT’S UP WITH A-ROD?

Maybe you could argue that part of Teixeira’s slump is due to a lack of production from his “protection,” A-Rod. That would be unfair, of course, because A-Rod is still A-Rod and ten games isn’t going to change that.

But say what you want, A-Rod has no homers in ten games. And while that is too small a sample to get worried about and one would expect that A-Rod will bust out of it sooner rather than later, maybe these are tiny chinks in the Yankee armor.

Of course, the flip side of that is that, without much offensive contribution from their two best offensive players, the Yankees are still in first and rolling over their toughest opponents. But questions remain and they can’t possibly be answered until the playoffs.

SO, WHAT’S THE “BUT” IN THE TITLE OF THIS ARTICLE?

The “but” still remains: how will the Yankees replace the clutchness and lefty-on-lefty talent of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon IN THE PLAYOFFS? Of course, no matter what happens during the regular season, that question can’t be answered, by definition, until the playoffs.

How’s Curtis Granderson doing? Well, he’s doing great overall and his numbers against lefties are OK in a small sample: 4-15, one triple, .267 against lefties. Better than his .183 against lefties in 2009 or his .211 against lefties lifetime.

But the questions remain and there are two of them: Can he do it against lefties IN THE PLAYOFFS and can he hit in general in the clutch in the playoffs? Nobody knows.

The other part of the “but” is Nick Johnson. Hitting under .200 but with an OBP of .432 (astounding!), there are a lot of “buts” with Nick. Can he stay healthy? If the Yankees let Matsui go (remember, he only signed with the Angels for $6.5 million) because they wanted to “free up” the DH for Posada and once-in-a-while for Teixeira, A-Rod, Jeter, you fill in the blank, how is it that Johnson is now essentially viewed as a full-time DH?

It’s preposterous, but that’s where we are.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Well, the Yankees are off to a great start and, with their excellent pitching staff, seem like a cinch to make the playoffs. But questions still abound. It will just be a number of months until they can possibly be answered.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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