As the Hot Stove League rounds third and heads for home, the Yankees are again in everyone’s crosshairs. With the World Series trophy once again ensconced in the Bronx, the Yankees are baseball team’s to beat, and as AL teams gear up to take on the champions, the runners-up have their eyes on them too.
During his first press conference of the year, the svelte-looking Charlie Manuel, manager of the NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies, spoke about the Yankees. First, he spoke about losing to the Yanks in November:
“If you go back and look and followed us playing the Rockies and the Dodgers, we played real good. We didn’t really play as good as we can against the Yankees. It might have been because of their bullpen and their pitching. We ran into a situation in the World Series with how it went, the Yankees were a well-balanced team with their offense. At the end, Rivera did what he’s been doing all these years. We can play better and we can pitch better offensively and defensively. I felt like in the ones they beat us, they were like a step ahead of us. We were always chasing them and trying to catch up. They were always ahead of us … It was who got the breaks and they got the good breaks. We can beat them. At the end of the World Series last year when I talked to our team, I told them that I feel like we owe the Yankees one … They got us.”
Later, he spoke again about facing the Yankees and beating them the next time around. “We can play with the Yankees. We could have beaten the Yankees but we didn’t,” he said. “That give us more determination and everything. We definitely want to get back to the World Series. I know that. I know we want to go back to the World Series and win it. It’s hard to go two years in a row to win the World Series. We got there but didn’t get it done. This year, we’re going to key on that. We’re going to keep our same philosophy.”
As we sit here on the edge of February, it’s not a stretch to imagine an October rematch between the Yankees and the Phillies. With Javier Vazquez aboard to beef up the rotation and Curtis Granderson patrolling the outfield, the Yankees have more depth from the get-go and are becoming younger in the field while maintaining their prodigious offensive output. The Red Sox have put together a defensive-minded team that should score runs, and they have the pitching to compete; the Mariners are the prohibitive favorites in the West; but the Yanks remain the American League’s team to beat.
In the National League, the Phillies are the clear-cut pre-season favorites. They will enjoy a full season of work from Roy Halladay and have a solid rotation behind him. Perhaps the Cardinals could unseat them; perhaps everything could go just right for the Marlins; perhaps the Rockies have the pieces to regain their 2007 NL title. As the Yankees are in the AL, though, the Phillies should be primed for a wire-to-wire run at their third consecutive National League crown.
As the Yankees and Phillies remain baseball’s crown jewels heading into 2010, I can’t help but think about the Mets, a historical rival to both teams and a rival to neither right now. In an e-mail to me and Joe last night, Mike expressed his condolences for Mets’ fans. In the face of their worst finish since 1993 and their second highest loss total since 1993, Omar Minaya and the Mets have basically stood pat. Their biggest move came when Jason Bay signed with them for too many years and too many dollars, and their loudest recent splash involved a move that netted them an outfielder who can’t hit, can’t field and hasn’t flashed much power lately.
It’s true that some of the Mets’ 2009 failures stemmed from bad luck. The team was not equipped to handle the injuries that befell them. But at the same time, they’re heading into 2010 with Fernando Nieve as their fifth starter and Omir Santos as their starting catcher. Bengie Molina saved the team from themselves, but they couldn’t find a league average innings eater type such as Jon Garland to shore up a shaky rotation.
I don’t root against the Mets. I have nothing against the Flushing Faithful, and I believe the city benefits with two competitive baseball teams fighting it out for a playoff spot and media attention. But as the Mets reach a recent nadir, I’m glad to be a Yankee fan. I’m glad to see Brian Cashman actively working to improve the team and generally knowing what does and does not work. If the stars align properly, the Yankees and Phillies should be back in the World Series, and as long as Omar Minaya is in charge in Queens, the Mets will be at home watching.