Friday, April 16, 2010

Yanks start season with three straight series wins

After a series-clinching 6-2 victory against the Angels last night (which I was there to witness, as well as Tuesday's win), the Yankees have now won each of their first three series of the season and they've done it against good competition (Red Sox, Rays, Angels). Despite these wins, they still trail the division-leading Blue Jays (?!?) by a half-game.

Toronto was my pick to finish last in the division after losing Roy Halladay but the healthy return of Shawn Marcum and the return of Ricky Romero to 2009 first-half form, not to mention the resurgence of Vernon Wells has been enough to jumpstart the Jays to a 7-3 start to the season. Do I think it lasts? In a word, no. But we've seen enough in two weeks to assume they will once again finish ahead of the woeful Orioles, who sit in the cellar at an MLB-worst 1-9.

Back to the Yankees though and namely Phil Hughes. In his first start as a full-time member of the rotation, Hughes threw 5 innings of three-hit ball, allowing 2 earned runs to pick up the win. He was pulled after allowing the first two batters to reach in the sixth inning and threw 108 pitches, thanks in part to 5 walks and 6 strikeouts and an inability to avoid working deep into counts.

Outside of the control issues Hughes looked good and you could describe his performance as effectively wild. Angels hitters had no idea whether he was going to throw a strike, making it difficult to find a hitting rhythm when he did. But he will need to harness his great stuff if he wants to work 6-7 innings a night, which would be a boon to the Yankees particularly while Javier Vazquez builds up his arm strength.

Vazquez has allowed 12 runs in 11 innings pitched so far this season, but just 2 in the first three innings of either outing. After the third inning, he has allowed 10 runs. I already hear Yankees fans pissing and moaning about the trade, which so far has brought back memories of the second half in 2004 when Vazquez was terrible in a Yankee uniform.

First off, anybody who expected the 2.87 ERA Vazquez of last season was foolish. That was the only season of his career where he posted an ERA below 3.24 and he has just three under 3.50, all in the National League. In terms of what the Yankees gave up to get him (Melky Cabrera), they didn't pay for a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher anyway. If C.C. Sabathia can't do it in the AL, neither can Vazquez.

Al Leiter says the ERA difference between leagues is three-quarters of a run, but I think it's closer to a full run or even 1.25 in the AL East if you consider the lineups cards written out by managers in the division. Vazquez's ERA should settle around 4.00 or 4.25 this season, but once he gets his arm stretched out he should be able to work deep into games and give the potent Yankee lineup a chance to win every night. I still expect 15 wins and an ERA and anybody who's going to complain about his production as the Yankees' fourth starter is beyond clueless.

Back to something positive and that's the performance of Robinson Cano through nine games this season. Cano had 2 home runs on Jackie Robinson Day last night, which means even more to a player named after the Dodger great. And what better way to honor your namesake than by putting on a show on the day honoring him. Great players can take it to the next level under circumstances like this (like Brett Favre on Monday Night Football after his father died) and Cano is well on his way to being a truly great player.

Cano finally looks like he may be realizing his full potential. If you thought his numbers were good last season (.320-103-25-85), you may be floored by what he does this season. I think Cano puts up Chase Utley-type numbers with a higher average.

He finally seems intent on driving the ball out of the park when he's ahead in counts rather than just spraying the gaps and I think a .325+ average, 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI are well within reach for the Yankees second baseman. Hitting behind Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez should provide him with ample RBI opportunities once Teixeira starts hitting again, which is a matter of when not if.

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