Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 Yankees begin season as underdogs

Beyond health and bounce-back seasons, Yanks must demonstrate will to win

It has been 190 days since the New York Yankees played a game that counts in the standings, and honestly longer if you consider how the 2014 season ended much earlier than the official last game. The Bombers will step onto the field Monday afternoon for the seventh Opening Day at Yankee Stadium III with Masahiro Tanaka taking the hill against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Masahiro Tanaka
Photo courtesy of Keith Allison
via Flickr.
In many ways, there is a different vibe about the Yankees this season than in years past. While they have been designated as an old team for many years (a label they are working to shed), they had been able to stay above the fray in the American League. But, the last two seasons they missed the postseason and this year many pundits have them finishing well out of the playoff picture.

It seems the only people who believe this club has an opportunity to be successful (meaning at minimum a playoff berth) are the members of organization. My prediction is more optimistic than most, but there is no guarantee in my language that the Yanks can return to the postseason in 2015.

So the Yankees, a team with a $200 million-plus payroll, are playing the part of underdogs? Narrative lovers will tell you the Yankees cannot win the AL East crown because they are a walking injury waiting to happen and need too many bounce-back performances otherwise.

The same people will state there is no star power on the club. Derek Jeter is gone, CC Sabathia is washed up, Alex Rodriguez is a "problem," Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran are not the same players. Tanaka and Michael Pineda have not completely elevated themselves into elite territory because of their limited big league experience and injury history. Young players like Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi are just not ready for stardom.

On the flip side the players, coaches and management are all saying the same thing – this team will compete and surely that’s what fans want to hear. But, until the Yankees can prove they’re healthy and that they have put their dismal 2014 season behind them, they will be considered a team that just doesn’t have enough to contend.

The questions that surround the club are numerous and it is true that the Yankees will have to answer many of them in the positive before being taken seriously around the league. However, it might not be as desperate as some think.

Health is an issue for all teams, not just the Yankees. The argument that teams with players who have injury histories are automatically out of the playoff running in April is tiresome. Teams entering the season with no health concerns can have their season derailed rather quickly with a quirky injury to their best hitter, or a now customary elbow ligament tear to their best pitcher.

The Yankees are different this season. They seem to have embraced each other and what needs to be accomplished. It’s a clubhouse that looks tight-knit and while chemistry should not be overstated, it is better to have positive energy than bad. They understand they cannot coast to the top of the division. Each player has discussed to some extent the pride in which they play and many of them worked extremely hard in the offseason to get back on track.

Further, the Yankees are deeper than in years past. They have moveable parts within the roster than allows for more flexibility. They have bench players who will not be out of their element with extended time on the field. The pitching as a whole is quite deep, and while it would require some players to log to their first major league innings, they are no worse than some on the roster now.

Yes, the Yankees are no longer “guaranteed” a spot in the playoffs. Their financial might doesn’t carry as much weight as it did in the past. But, the entire group seems to finally understand one thing – they have to play hard for each other and if they do the desired results will come.

Just like any other season, the 2015 Yankees have one goal in mind, a championship. The difference is that this year they’ll have to demonstrate from the beginning that they will fight for it.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.