These last two games against the Orioles didn’t go according to plan, and while I think intra-division games are going to be extra important this season, the two losses aren’t the end of the world this early in the season. Yes, every game counts, but there are still 153 games left to make up ground. If you’re going to drop two of three to an AL East rival, this is the time to do it. Here are some thoughts before the Red Sox come to town for another division matchup.
1. There’s been a lot of talk about infield shifts so far this season, and not just from the YES booth either. I’ve heard it on other broadcasts as well. I understand that people don’t like them because they’ve drastically hurt some players (Mark Teixeira, for example) and are taking a bite out of offense around the game in general, but shifts are here to stay. Think about what it was like when pitchers starting throwing curveballs and sliders. Breaking balls were once a new fad that especially hurt some players and lowered offense around the game. That’s life. The strong survive. If you can avoid the shift with some kind of regularity, you will be in high demand. Few things are as annoying as a player beating a ball into the shift, but once upon a time the same was true of players swinging over a slider in the dirt. Baseball is changing and this is just something players and teams will have to adjust to.
2. The Teixeira injury really exposes how inflexible the 40-man roster is right now. The Yankees have too many good but not great prospects — Nik Turley, Jose Campos, Bryan Mitchell, and Ramon Flores jump to mind — occupying 40-man spots even though they are in no real position to help the big league team this year. The Yankees can’t designate those guys for assignment because they’ll lose them on waivers for nothing, meaning they’re essentially working with a 36-man roster. That’s how you end up recalling a third catcher when your starting first baseman gets hurt. In a perfect world, the Yankees would package three or four of those good but not great 40-man prospects for one player, a young infielder or something, clearing the logjam and addressing a need in one fell swoop. Too bad it’s not that easy. Teams usually aren’t looking to take on some other team’s clutter.
3. Carlos Beltran has started to snap out of his early-season slump, and of all the guys who struggled early in the year, he surprised me the most. That’s not necessarily because he is the best hitter of the bunch, but because he’s the most complete hitter on the team (average, power, discipline, etc.) and never has the platoon disadvantage as a switch-hitter. Those guys, like Bernie Williams and Chipper Jones, usually don’t struggle very long. Of course, Beltran will be 37 in two weeks and there’s always a chance he’s starting to slip as a hitter, but I didn’t believe he had fell off the cliff that hard, that soon after one bad week. Dude is a force when right. I didn’t expect Beltran to struggle out of the gate and I certainly didn’t expect it to last very long.
4. I get that he’s hitting well right now and Teixeira is injured (and Brett Gardner is on the roster), but I’m not a fan of Jacoby Ellsbury batting third. He’s hit with two outs and the bases empty four times in the last two games, including both first innings. Ellsbury doesn’t have much power and it’s really hard to create runs in those situations because it takes at least two hits to do it — one to get him on base, one to drive him in. (To be fair, they did score a run after he singled in the first inning of Tuesday’s game.) I like Ellsbury much better as a leadoff hitter, especially because he steals so much and gives the guys behind him so much of an opportunity to drive him in. I mean, batting third is fine, it’s not like he’s batting fifth or something. I just think the lineup is at its absolute best when he’s setting the table, not being counted on as a run producer.
5. It has only been a week, but things seem to be going well so far in the farm system. The pitchers have barely gotten any work in, but 3B Eric Jagielo and RF Aaron Judge are hitting and so have OF Mason Williams and C Gary Sanchez. You can make a pretty strong case that those are the four most important prospects in the system. Others like C Peter O’Brien are off to nice starts as well. The only top prospect who has not hit so far is C John Ryan Murphy. One week doesn’t mean much of anything, but I am glad to see some of these guys start the new season on the right foot. If, say, Williams came out of gate struggling, it would have been hard not to think “here we go again.” The good starts are nice, now they have to keep them going into the dog days of summer.
6. Now that he has two starts under his belt, what do you think about Masahiro Tanaka? I’m pretty excited even though he’s shown a penchant for the longball. He’s getting a ton of strikeouts and swings and misses, which I kinda expected to happen. He also doesn’t seem to get rattled by anything. Kei Igawa used to practically curl up in the fetal position after giving up a base hit. That is reportedly one of things that made Tanaka so appealing to the Yankees, his toughness and competitiveness. It’s not often you can see that stuff on the field, but the guy is coming into a new culture in a brutal division in a new league. I don’t think anyone could blame him if he looked like a deer in the headlights early on, but we haven’t see that. I really think Tanaka’s going to be ace-like once he really settles in acclimates himself. Everything is there for him to be that type of pitcher.