Baseball starts tonight. We celebrate the milestones that line the path to this point like pitchers and catchers reporting and follow along with the "competitions" and roster cuts during Spring Training, but that stuff is only enjoyable because of what it all leads up to. This.
It's been five cold, dark and lonely months since Robinson Cano fielded a routine grounder from Shane Victorino, flipped it to Mark Teixeira at first base and converted the final out of the 2009 World Series. While 151 days is a pretty long time, we Yankee fans have relatively little to complain about; this was a very short offseason in the grand scheme of things, particularly when compared to the break between 2008 and 2009.
The Yanks were pretty much dead to rights with a month left in the '08 season, floated lifelessly through September and cleared out their lockers by the time the postseason had begun. The organization moved swiftly and compensated by snatching up three major free agents in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeria. However, the ensuing winter was tainted by excerpts from Joe Torre's book, backlash surrounding the opening of the New Yankee Stadium and most of all, A-Rod's steroid use and hip surgery.
By now, most fans have forgotten what was contained in The Yankee Years and accepted the New Stadium for what it is. A-Rod recovered in time to contribute significantly during the regular season and damn near carry the team through the playoffs. The three newest Yankees have already captured their first World Series ring.
Coming off a 103 win season and a World Championship, this winter was significantly less maddening for supporters of the Bronx Bombers. The franchise said goodbye to two solid veterans who played crucial roles in the Fall Classic (Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui), along with their best homegrown pitcher in the past decade (Chien-Ming Wang). But they made some significant additions as well. The Yanks welcomed back Nick Johnson, Javier Vazquez and Marcus Thames while bringing in newcomers Curtis Granderson and Chan Ho Park.
As we discussed with Patrick Sullivan on Thursday, the Red Sox were equally active this offseason. They signed John Lackey to a five year contract while picking up Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro on shorter deals, all with the primary benefit of run prevention. To that end, both teams shifted their young center fielders to left in favor of a newly acquired veteran, ensuring that it's going to be much more difficult to find the gap in left-center against either of these teams this season.
The first test of the new defenses will come tonight in the cozy quarters of Fenway Park. Amidst the rumors of an impending contract extension, Josh Beckett will take the mound for the Red Sox. The Sox' ace-in-name-only had a solid 2009, tallying up an 3.86 ERA over 212 IP with an even lower FIP of 3.63. He will look to build upon that campaign along with his strong effort in his final Spring Training start in which he struck out 8 Rays in six innings.
Unlike Beckett, whose numbers in April are align closely with his career averages, CC Sabathia is a notoriously slow starter; his ERA in April is almost a full run higher than it is in total (4.54 to 3.62). However, did you know that his ERA in July is ever higher (4.61)? Does that make him a slow "middler" or somesuch? No, in all likelihood, it means that Sabathia has stacked up some poor starts in those months that skew his overall numbers. And as they say in those commercials for ambulance-chasing law firms, "prior results don't guarantee similar future outcomes".
As Matt noted earlier, there's a beautiful symmetry in that the baseball season is beginning anew on Easter. Both events celebrate a joyous return. Each carries its own connotations of a new beginning.
From here on out, slowly but surely, the season will work its way into the record books, pitch by pitch and swing by swing. Hundreds upon hundreds of hours of entertainment; of ups and downs; of great plays and miscues; of pinch hits and pitching changes; of triumph and defeat are on the horizon. But we don't need to concern ourselves with that just yet. Tonight is a night to appreciate what's in store without having to worry about how it's going to turn out.
Baseball is back, Fackers.
People can you feel it? Love is everywhere.
People can you hear it? Love is in the air.
We're in a revolution, don't you know we're right.
Everyone is singing, there'll be no one to fight.
People can you feel it? Love is everywhere.
Derek Jeter SSRed Sox
Nick Johnson DH
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada C
Curtis Granderson CF
Nick Swisher RF
Brett Gardner LF
Jacoby Ellsbury LF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Victor Martinez CKevin Youkilis 1B
David Ortiz DH
Adrian Beltre 3B
J.D. Drew RF
Mike Cameron CF
Marco Scutaro SS
*Feel free to leave some thoughts in the comments during the game and perhaps we can get a good conversation going.