With the commencement of the 2008 Yankees season just a week away, I thought now would be a good time to resurface and give my thoughts on another year of Yankee baseball.With only three games remaining, Spring Training has gone incredibly well for the New York Yankees (knock on wood). About this time last season, it was announced that Carl Pavano, of all people, would be the Opening Day starter, thanks to the plethora of injuries that befell the pitching staff before the games even counted.
Fast forward one year, and the staff, as well as the entire roster, is not only intact, but in excellent shape, thanks to Joe Girardi's renewed emphasis on conditioning and the Yankees' desire to avoid 2007's disastrous, injury-plagued beginning. Andy Pettitte is the only concern at this point, as he continues to deal with the back spasms that caused him to miss his last start.
Given that the biggest question mark going into the 2008 season surrounds the pitching staff, I figured today we'd take a look at the starting rotation.With the most wins of any Major League starter over the past two seasons, Chien-Ming Wang will start the season opener on March 31st, and the Yankees hope to see more of the same from their ace. Wang is a steady presence on the mound, and equipped with his devastating sinker, should have yet another successful campaign.
Andy Pettitte is slated to be the No. 2 starter, although the longer he is hampered by a sore back, the less likely he is to be ready to go on April 2nd. Pettitte is essential to the Yankees' success this season. If they hope to make the playoffs, the always consistent Pettitte will need to make about 35 starts and throw 200+ innings because the back end of the rotation have innings-limits and there is only so much of a burden Girardi can put on his bullpen. Pettitte also has to continue to contend with the fallout from the Mitchell Report and the Roger Clemens saga, but I honestly don't see that being an issue that will manifest itself on the playing field.
Veteran Mike Mussina is the No. 3 starter, and he looks to rebound from an injury-filled 2007 in which his season ERA ballooned to over 5.00 thanks, in large part, to an abysmal August. Mussina has had a very good spring and is about as intelligent a pitcher as you'll find in the game, so I look for a bounce back season for Moose, so long as he stays healthy and gets a little bit of luck (I don't know about anyone else, but it seems to me that Mussina is incredibly unlucky. Either he gets no run support, the bullpen blows a lead, or his fielders- especially A-Rod- fail him and make a ton of errors).
At the back end of the rotation, the Yankees are counting on a 21 and a 23-year-old with less than a full year of Major League service between them.
Phil Hughes is coming into his first full M.L. season after an up-and-down rookie campaign. While he may not always have looked like the highly-touted phenom that all the hype had suggested, there were flashes of brilliance from Hughes, especially his relief appearance and victory in the ALDS and, of course, the 6 1/3 no-hit bid in only his second big league start. A pulled hamstring forced him out of that game and onto the D.L., and he suffered a setback with an ankle injury while rehabbing. Coming into the 2008 season, Hughes is back to 100% and knows now what to expect at the big league level. He's gotten knocked around a bit in Spring Training, but that doesn't concern me in the least. I've loved what I've seen from him; he has command of all his pitches, he's poised on the mound, and he seems remarkably mature for a 21-year-old whose been called "Baby Rocket." I think we'll soon believe the hype surrounding Phil Hughes.Ian Kennedy is the final pitcher in the Yankees' starting formula. There is nowhere near as much publicity for him as there is for Hughes and Chamberlain, but Kennedy will play an equally important role in the pitching staff. He may not throw as hard as Hughes or intimidate batters the way Joba can, but he is arguably the most polished of the three, and showed last September that he absolutely belongs in the same company. Kennedy has impeccable control and can throw all of his wide assortment of pitches for strikes. He has already been compared to teammate Mike Mussina (who has taken him under his wing this spring) and Greg Maddux. Kennedy won't overpower you, but like the cerebral Mussina, he can outthink you. And the Yankees are banking on that.
(All photos, with the exception of my own Stadium shot, from Yahoo! Sports , Yankee Kids, and Getty Images)