The off-season is over, at least for pitchers & catchers…

Tuesday, pitchers and catchers invited to Spring Training camp reported for duty at the Yankees minor league campus in Tampa. Yesterday, they spent Valentine’s Day working out for the first time together this season, doing throwing and catching drills and starting this season right with a sense of team unity. For the last few days, people have lingered on the sidewalk outside the complex, fans on the right, media on the left, and players have showed up to chat with the media and sign for the fans periodically leading up to this week. Now that things are in full swing, the location has shifted from the smaller facilities (on Himes Ave.) to those at Steinbrenner Field, with limited fan viewing available for the daily workouts (free for anyone with the time).

But for the media, it means official press conferences and pictures that aren’t shot through the chain link fence. Tuesday was new manager Aaron Boone’s first official conference addressing the media, and as expected, most of the questions included how he will approach managing differently. Of course, it’s going to be different because Boone is a different person than his predecessor Girardi or his predecessor (and Boone’s own manager when he was last in pinstripes) Torre. And right now, not a single pitch has been thrown or home run hit or out made, so discussion of play, potential, or even approach is really a little premature. It takes a while for players to gel with each other, and gelling with an almost entirely new different coaching staff could also take some time. Best case scenario: all the kinks get worked out in Spring Training because that’s what it’s for.

Last November, Aaron Judge underwent shoulder surgery to remove excess and loose cartilage in his left shoulder (non-throwing) and has been rehabbing this off-season. According to a press conference Wednesday, Judge has been a frequent face around the minor league complex this off-season and is considered “right on schedule”, despite potentially missing the first few Spring Training games. Fortunately, the goal isn’t February 23 (the first Spring game) but rather March 29 (the first season game).

Meanwhile, other teammates have focused on their own aspects of prepping for 2018. Gary Sanchez spent the off-season refining his defensive skills, something of much discussion last year. Dellin Betances dropped some weight in hopes of being able to have a better 2018 than some of the lag he experienced in 2017. CC Sabathia also focused on his health, adopting a vegan diet, and hoping to build strength to combat lingering knee issues. And new Yankee Giancarlo Stanton used his social media to show #NoOffSeason in anticipation of becoming a Yankee this year.

Pitchers and catchers continue their daily workouts this week, as more fielders show up ahead of their check-in day Sunday (February 18), with the first full squad workout day this coming Monday. Meeting the team this year are an interesting group of guest instructors — veteran guests: Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Lee Mazzilli, Stump Merrill, and Willie Randolph; and new(ish) guests: Tino Martinez, Hideki Matsui, Alfonso Soriano, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, and Bernie Williams. I expect the Opening Day cheers to be intense as they see some of these fan favorites back in pinstripes and on the field during introductions.

Spring Training is just days away, and it’s already shaping up to be quite the adventure. One that I think we’re all hoping can translate into that elusive #28, the ultimate goal of every season, but one that is completely possible at this point in the year.

Go Yankees!

Note: I was setting up to work on this post yesterday when the news broke out of south Florida, just 270 miles (about 3.5-4 hours) southeast of Tampa. In light of the unfolding story, it didn’t feel right to preempt the news with baseball preparations and wishing people a “Happy Valentine’s Day”, when for far too many it will now never be a happy day. Instead, we remember those once again lost to mass shooting, our hearts and prayers with their families and friends. I hope I never have to delay a post for such an awful reason or write another of these postscripts. It is heartbreaking and disheartening. Parkland, we mourn with you and anticipate days when such terrible news is as rare as violent home plate collisions are now in baseball.

Hall of Fame near miss & other random off-season moments

After several months of speculation and journalists openly sharing their votes, the Baseball Writers Association of America released the much-anticipated results of the annual Hall of Fame election. In December, the Veterans Committee selected 4-time World Series pitcher Jack Norris (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, 1992-93 Blue Jays) and his 1984 Tigers’ teammate, 6-time All-Star shortstop and 1984 World Series MVP, Alan Trammel. Joining them, the BBWAA announced newest inductees Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero, all well-deserved honorees.

Elected with 97.2% of the vote, Jones spent his entire 19 year career with the Braves at 3rd base and became a fixture in the Atlanta area. He was part of the 1995, 1996, and 1999 World Series teams, winning a ring with the Hall of Fame worthy 1995 team against the Indians. (Jones joins other 1995 Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddox (HOF class of 2014) and John Smoltz (class of 2015) at Cooperstown.) Jones also earned the NL MVP Award in 1999 and was an 8-time All-Star.

{Worth reminding my primary audience here: the Braves team in 1996 and 1999 faced and lost to the last dynasty of the Yankees. It was 6 games in the 1996 series, before they were swept in the 1999 series by the unstoppable Yankees that year.}

On the other side of that World Series was a noted 1st baseman and fellow 2018 inductee Jim Thome (89.8% of the votes). Thome spent his 22 year career primarily with the Indians (1991-2002, 2011), helping them reach the 1995 and 1997 World Series but failed to get a ring (losing to the Braves and Marlins, respectively). Over the course of his career, he was a 5-time All-Star and led the National League with 47 home runs in his 2003 season with the Phillies. Thome also won the 2002 Roberto Clemente Award for his outstanding contributions both on the field and off.

Reliever Hoffman (79.9%) spent the bulk of his 18 year with the Padres (1993-2008), including the year they met the Yankees in the World Series in 1998. The Yankees swept them in 4 games (again, part of that unstoppable dynasty era). But Hoffman still made quite the impact in his career as a 7-time All-Star and leading the NL in saves both in 1998 (with 53) and in 2006 (with 46).

Guerrero (92.9%) spent his 16 year career in the outfield, the bulk of which first with the Expos (1996-2003) and then with the Angels (2004-2009). He also got a shot at the World Series with the 2010 Rangers, but they fell to the Giants that year. Guerrero was a 9-time All-Star and 2004 AL MVP. He also polishes his well-earned 8 Silver Slugger Awards in his trophy case as part of his career accomplishments.

Falling just short of the 75% of the votes needed included Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, getting 63.5% . Any player receiving less than 5% of the votes are automatically dropped from the ballot the following year (including former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui). However, those above 5% and less than 75% move on to hope for another year including Mussina, Roger Clemens (57.3%), Gary Sheffield (11.1%), and Andruw Jones (7.3%). Mussina keeps missing the mark, while Clemens battles the rumors of his past PED use, similar to Giants legend Barry Bonds (who fell short at 56.4%).

It is also worth noting that there were 422 submitted ballots, including 1 left intentionally blank (because where would the fun be in someone getting elected with 100% of the votes). Of those, only 12 ballots didn’t elect Jones, which is why he only got 97% of the vote. Notably, there was also one voter that only voted for Indians alumni (Thome and Omar Vizquel). And if you’re feeling a weird flashback to high school elections for prom court or student council, you’re 100% on track. Some people use their vote to make a point (the blank ballot or all Indians ballot), some to play favorites (a few intentionally anti-Yankee alumni), and some thought through the process of such an honor and chose players that rightfully deserve legacy status. I have mixed feelings every year — I agree every time with who will be feted in July, but I am always irked by who “falls short” due to those who vote in the first two categories.

No, I don’t have a vote. But I do have an opinion.

In lighter news, and back to focusing on Yankees, the off-season has been pretty good for the boys. They’ve been working out, having fun on the practice fields, and enjoying fan art. Meanwhile, the biggest end of season trend last year was Gary the “Thumbs Down” Guy, a Mets fan who flashed the “thumbs down” during a Todd Frazier home run at the special game at CitiField in September. It became a huge meme and thing for the Yankees to do during something amazing and gave New Yorker Gary Dunaier his 15 minutes of fame (or rather 4 months and counting). Frazier and Dunaier finally met earlier this week at an event on Staten Island.

Legend-in-the-making and video game cover guy Aaron Judge got to practice his swing (and bat flip) in a motion-capture suit. He will premier on the cover of MLB The Show 2018 and show off his home run swing for Play Station come March 27 (or March 23 for pre-orders). I’m sure video game players are eagerly awaiting the chance to be the 2017 Rookie of the Year, but I’m just looking forward to the real live player in Spring Training next month.

In Yankees’ Minor League news: The Yankees AA team, the Trenton Thunder, will honor its 25th anniversary this year by playing every Friday game as the “Trenton Pork Rolls“, starting May 18. I swear this is not a “fake” story. Apparently, it’s a local thing, the pork roll, and I’m sure it’s delicious (albeit not very Kosher). And sadly, that is not the weirdest name (and this doesn’t include the Jumbo Shrimp and the Baby Cakes) of a minor league team in the system. And fortunately, it’s only on Fridays. (But what a thing to have on your resume!)

Meanwhile, the Advanced-A Yankees affiliate (and current Steinbrenner Field residents), the Tampa Yankees, made the announcement last month that they would begin the 2018 season with their own name change — the Tampa Tarpons. The Tarpons were a team for about 3 decades in the middle of last century, though baseball has been played in Tampa for over 100 years, including extensively hosting Spring Training. Locally, the tarpon is a large fish, popular with sports fisherman and found off the Gulf Coast, and a neighboring local city is Tarpon Springs. So the Tampa Tarpons found something steeped in local tradition and lore.

The 2018 season is rapidly approaching. 20 days until pitchers and catchers report (Feb. 13). 30 days until the first Spring Training game (Feb. 23 against the Tigers). 65 days until the first game of the season (March 29 in Toronto). And 69 days until the home opener (April 2 against the Rays).

But who’s counting?

Go Yankees!

Game 63: DET vs. NYY — A Grand Old Time, but a disappointing loss

In Motor City, they have a small reason to celebrate. Today’s win for the Tigers made it the first time since the Tigers have won a series at the new Yankee Stadium (built for the 2009 season). This, of course, means the Yankees have slipped back under par in the standings. This weekend hasn’t exactly been the strongest showing for the Yankees in some aspects, but they’ve been pretty good in minor areas that unfortunately collectively don’t add up to wins.

For example, Michael Pineda started this afternoon’s finale against the Tigers, throwing 114 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, and solidly striking out 8 batters. In what amounted to a weird summary of the game, the 4th inning was a bit of an issue. Pineda quickly loaded the bases with singles from the strongest hitters on the Detroit roster. A sacrifice fly scored one and a single quickly loaded up the bases again. But then things started working for the Yankees as a great line out to Gregorius and nice strike out closed the door on what could’ve been a messy outing. In the 5th, with 1 out and runners on the corners, a ground out scored the runner from 3rd to double the Tigers’ lead at that point.

But that was all Pineda allowed in the scheme of things. Anthony Swarzak picked up the ball in the 7th inning. A single and a 2-run home run kicked things off roughly for him, but then between his strikeout and a couple of fly outs for the defense, that would be it for the Tigers. Goody and Green closed things out with an inning a piece without allowing any further Tigers’ runs.

So we turn to the quieted offense once again for a sign of something off. They Yankees even faced two former teammates now with the Tigers’ bullpen, but with a single exception, it didn’t seem to make much of an impact. It wasn’t until the 8th inning that the Yankees poked through the Tigers’ pitching. Ellsbury led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Beltran’s 1-out walk, and then scored on Chase Headley’s 2-out single.

Yankee pitchers managed to strike out 12 Detroit batters, yet gave up 9 total hits. Meanwhile, the Yankees offense managed 4 hits and 4 walks and struck out 9 times, and only managed a single run.

Final score: 4-1 Tigers, Tigers win series 2-1.

Roster moves: After the game, the Yankees optioned reliever Chad Green to AAA to make room for their other big move today. The Yankees signed 1st baseman Ike Davis. After all the recent blows their string of 1st basemen and their replacements have taken, the Yankees were looking for a strong, tested (albeit somewhat ideally temporary) veteran presence at 1st. Davis is mostly known for his time with the Mets (2010-2014), but after a short stint with the Pirates and the Athletics, Davis spent most of this year with the Rangers’ AAA team before being released and then signed by the Yankees today.

Also, today, the Yankees celebrated the 70th Annual Old Timers’ Day. On the roster for the game between the “Bombers” and the “Clippers” included Hall of Famers like Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, and Joe Torre and other Yankee greats like Don Larsen, Stick Michael, Lou Pinella, Willie Randolph, John Wetteland, and Bernie Williams. But the talk of the day was 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui celebrating his 42nd birthday today with a monster 2-run homer into the 2nd deck in right field off another great Yankee David Cone.

But the greatest presence this afternoon was the greatest absence. Yogi Berra was a fixture at this day nearly every year, and today’s OTD game was played in his honor, complete with special plaques on the bases and patches on the uniforms. Berra continues to be honored and celebrated this year, deservedly so.

{Media note: you can watch the entire Old Timers’ Day pre-game ceremony, including all the introductions of the former Yankee greats here. Or watch the shorter version and game highlights here.}

Go Yankees!

Also, I want to send my thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families of today’s terrible tragedy in Orlando. My heart goes out to the city in light of this and the other tragic loss of just a few days ago. May we learn how to bind together as a community to make smart, active decisions on how to prevent such terrible things from happening ever again and become a community that prove our differences are really our greatest strength as they become such an amazing unique pattern that is humanity at its strongest and most beautiful.

Game 1: HOU vs. NYY — Opening Day foibles and protests

Today in the Bronx at first pitch it was 36° and sunny. The sun was a great addition after a rather sloppy weekend and Monday. The sky — pure blue and cloudless for miles. The air — freakishly cold and windy at times. I found out that the freezing bathroom sinks are warmer than the temperature outside today, enough to warm up my hands. Skipping all cold treats, I thanked the powers-that-be for things like hot tea and coffee at the stadium shops. I also did something I never do during a game — I roamed the gift shop for an inning just to warm up some. Fortunately, John & Suzyn were broadcasting loud and clear throughout the stadium, so I didn’t miss a second.

And in front of a nearly sold out crowd of 47,820, the Yankees hosted the Astros for their delayed Opening Day this afternoon. Hideki Matsui threw a beautiful strike for the ceremonial first pitch. Matsui and Suzyn Waldman (from the Yankees’ radio game broadcasts on WFAN with John Sterling) were honored last night at the Yankees’ homecoming dinner; Matsui received the “Pride of the Yankees” award, and Waldman was celebrated for her 30 years in broadcasting.

Masahiro Tanaka took the mound to start today’s chilly game and just shut down the Astros’ roster the first time through. For three straight innings, it was 9 consecutive batters denied any access to the bases. In the 4th, back at the top of the batting order, the Astros finally got a hit off him to lead off the inning — a double. A single put runners in the corners, and a forced ground out scored the first Astros’ run. But despite a few minutes of scare when the runner stole 2nd and Gregorius came up limping, Tanaka got out of the inning with that lone run. A 2-out solo home run in the 6th pushed the Astros up to 2 runs scored, and with a walk on base, Tanaka’s day was over — 4 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, striking out 4 Houston batters over his 5+ innings today.

So the Yankees turned to the pitcher they’ve come to trust as ultra-reliable this Spring — Chasen Shreve. Shreve shut down the 6th in a couple of pitches with ground out, and only gave up 1 hit in the 7th before chalking up 2 strikeouts and escaping cleanly.

Now, before things look bleak, the Yankees actually got things started off right. In the 2nd inning, Beltran got on base with a 1-out single and McCann walked. Headley’s messy ground out moved them up to scoring position, which they did on Starlin Castro’s nice double.

So the game was tied going into the 8th inning, and then it all went sideways. Dellin Betances on the mound for the Yankees, he allowed a walk and stolen base to the lead-off runner before getting a fly out. Then the next batter kind of hit the ball weird and it dribbled into the infield. Betances charged the ball and tried to throw over the runner down to first but shot it too far above his head. The runner was safely at 1st and the other runner scored. And the fans (what was left of us freezing in the stands) cheered on Girardi as he stormed out to protest the play as interference as the runner was too far in the base path to get a clear shot. Surprisingly, he did not get ejected, the umpires conferred with one another, the call came back as it was called, and then Girardi declared the game under protest.

(To clarify: this means, that if MLB decides to side with Girardi on this, the game will have to be replayed from the point of protest at some point. However, more times than not, MLB dismisses the case as erring with the side of the umpires as “judgement calls” in the moment unless there is a severe grievance to the rules.)

Anyway, so from the protest: the runner at 1st stole 2nd base. At first, it looked like McCann got him out, as was the original call. But the Astros deemed it worthy to review, and we had our first challenge and replay of the season. Honestly, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove he was out; it looked like the tag was late, and the runner never left the bag once tagged. So the right thing to do (unfortunately) was to overturn the call and give him the stolen base. A walk put another runner on base, before Betances got a much-needed 2nd out. A single scored 2 more runs (all unearned this inning due to the error earlier, the protested play), but Betances’ day was done.

And it was on to Johnny Barbato who, despite a questionable hit-by-pitch, got out of the 8th inning unscathed and continued this through the 9th inning with a flawless outing for him today, racking up 3 nice strikeouts.

Didi Gregorius’ efforts to lessen the Astros’ lead paid off with his lead-off solo home run into the right field seats to start the 8th inning. Unfortunately, no one else after him for 2 innings came up with anything to help.

Final score: 5-3 Astros.

Okay, the Yankees’ pitchers did manage to get 10 total strikeouts, which means that despite the outcome and mess that was part of this game, they are off to a decent start. And here were a couple of firsts for the Yankees this year: first walk – Aaron Hicks; first hit – Carlos Beltran; first RBI – Starlin Castro; and first stolen base – Alex Rodriguez (no one saw that one coming).

Roster update: Bryan Mitchell had surgery on his foot yesterday at the orthopedic specialist in North Carolina. He is expected to be out about 4 months, though the timing on when he can resume baseball activities is still rather vague.

Keep your heads up, people. It’s a long season — 1 down, 161 to go.

Go Yankees!

Reporting for duty, part 1

Well, it’s that time of year again, ladies and gentlemen. Today, the Yankees Minor League Complex in Tampa swarmed with pitchers and catchers reporting in for Spring Training. As usual, many are already in town taking advantage of a week of 70°+ highs to get back into pinstripe-worthy shape.

Joe Girardi gave his usual pre-season press conference, focusing the season on some retooling, especially in the bullpen so that the annual goal of being World Series Champions doesn’t get pushed back to “next year” once again. If it seems like he says the same thing every year to you, imagine what it must feel like on his side of the table. He’s asked to make predictions based on guys he’s never really seen play, some he’s had limited interaction with, and somehow promise people a championship. Realistically, the goal is championship, but the failure to get there is a combination of factors, most of which cannot be predicted or even imagined here in February.

Masahiro Tanaka was also available for the press, who were keen to know more details after his off-season surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow. It caused a bit of a stir when he mentioned the other day that he may not be ready for Opening Day (April 4), but let’s clear something up. First, Tanaka may not be the guy they choose for Opening Day anyway in the grand scheme of things. And second, I think it’s just wisdom to not make blanket promises. The most important thing isn’t that Tanaka is ready for April 4th, but that he will still be ridiculously healthy and fierce come October.

Some old faces popped up at the complex this past week to lend their experienced voice to the young players hoping for a roster spot or at least some encouragement to keep chasing their dreams. Both Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter contributed in their own way — Pettitte threw batting practice to prospects like Aaron Judge (the veteran was impressed with the power from Judge’s bat), and Jeter took the invitees out to dinner for a chat about being a young Yankees (about the same time most of those guys were born).

Other former Yankees are scheduled to appear at camp as Guest Instructors include many familiar faces like “Goose” Gossage, Ron Guidry, “El Duque” Orlando Hernandez, Reggie Jackson, Hideki Matsui, Lee Mazzilli, Stump Merrill, and Willie Randolph. Comforting sights every Spring as it represents the continuing legacy of the Yankees — one generation helping the next succeed and even surpass them. I mean, you never know which of these random invitees might one day have their likeness emblazoned on the walls in Monument Park, or even Cooperstown.

Position players report on Wednesday, with the first full-squad workout held next Thursday. And from there, it’s just 6 days until the Yankees host the Tigers for their Spring Opening Day. Winter, your days are numbered! It’s almost Spring!

Masahiro Tanaka and his wife welcomed their first child, a son, born Monday in New York. A great addition to the Yankee family! Congratulations to their growing family!

Select single game tickets for Yankees regular season games are open to MasterCard ticket holders this weekend. All tickets will go on sale to the general public on Monday, February 22 at 10:00 am EST (including online tickets).

And a little motivation via a sign posted in the Yankees’ Clubhouse…

 

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 9: NYY vs. BAL — Headley shines in loss

It’s another bright, sunshiney, steamy day in Florida, and today brought the Yankees to Sarasota to visit the Orioles.

Chase Whitley took the start today and struggled some in the 1st of his 3 innings, but still managed to keep the Orioles from scoring. Rogers continued Whitley’s work in the 4th inning, but Branden Pinder’s struggles in the 5th were a point-of-no-return for the Yankees. A lead-off single, a wild pitch, an RBI double, and an RBI single put the Orioles on top of the Yankees 2-0 all before an out was scored. Pinder tamped down and got himself quickly out of the inning, but the damage was done. In the 7th, pitcher Chasen Shreve’s sole weak pitch became a solo home run to give the O’s their 3rd and final run of the afternoon.

But the Yankees weren’t hitting much today. Well, except for Chase Headley, who went 3-for-3 after some early Spring troubles (coming into the game going 1-for-12). Headley got 3 of the Yankees’ 6 total hits in today’s game. The other hitter who made a decent impact for the Yankees was Gary Sanchez, whose 9th inning lead-off solo home run put the Yankees on the board with their lone score of the day.

In the end, it would be 3-1 Orioles. And if it makes anyone feel any better, the Yankees are 5-3-1 to the Orioles 3-6-0 for the Spring so far. But then again, all these scores mean absolutely nothing come April 6. It’s still very much anyone’s game.

And in Yankee Universe news, the Yankees announced today that they are appointing Yankee great Hideki Matsui as Special Advisor to the GM. He will be scouring through the farm system looking for hitters and hitting needs of the Baby Bombers. A press conference will be held tomorrow for the formal announcement. It makes me smile that Matsui will continue to build on his legacy and impact in a new capacity with the Yankees.

Go Yankees!

A chip on the shoulder works

Spring Training batting practice, Chase Headley (#12) waits his turn (Photo via YES Network)

Today, beneath ironically overcast skies in the Sunshine State, the Yankees hosted their first full squad work-out day. 67 men found their way on the field in pinstriped pants and navy BP jerseys to run drills, hit some BP, and show off their stuff for the coaching staff.

This coaching staff included several of the guest coaches, former Yankee players asked to return to camp to help the new guys work on their stuff with the guys “who’ve been there”. Today, noted Yankee alumni included Hideki Matsui, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, and Mariano Rivera. Former Yankee and current Yankee scout Eric Chavez has been seen around camp for the last week; he will also get some time in the broadcasting booth this season. Other guest coaches will include familiar face often seen during Spring Training like Andy Pettitte, Billy Connors, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Lee Mazzilli, Stump Merrill, and Reggie Jackson.

Of course, for the last couple of days, much of the chatter has been centered around Rivera, who stated he probably could still pick up and throw his famous cutter if he wanted to. No doubt about that. But Rivera isn’t here for himself, and he enjoys spending time working with some of the young pitchers. Actually, he always has. In his last year (2013), Rivera was often seen talking to young pitchers in the bullpen, something I think many cherished — whether a lesson in pitching or a lesson in life. When Rivera talks, you listen.

Steinbrenner Field opened its doors this week to any fans who want to watch their favorite players work out before the games officially begin (First Game is March 3, Opening Day is March 4). Many are interested in seeing how returning players like Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Carlos Beltran, and Masahiro Tanaka are doing after their struggles this last year(s) or how Alex Rodriguez is transitioning back to the team after his suspension. And fans are interested in the new guys like Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, Didi Gregorius, and Andrew Miller (and more!). I’m glad to report that for the first time, everyone seems happy and healthy and fired up to win this year.

Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury called it a “chip on their shoulder” — that undercurrent that seems to prevail in camp this year after falling short last year. Players come to New York to win, and anything short of that is frustrating, especially for guys like Ellsbury who signed up for that kind of team. I was thinking about his comment, and I think I have to agree with that mentality. But I also have to say that this is the right season for that kind of attitude. It’s a very new team, a weird combination of the “old guys”, the “career veterans”, and the “new kids”. And I have to say it again. It reminds me oddly of another weird year — 1996. So I guess that’s why I’m holding out some hope. It’s too eerily familiar.

I spoke with a Cubs’ fan recently, and we joked about the Back to the Future II prediction for the World Series. If you don’t remember, Marty McFly heads into the future to 2015 and sees on a digital billboard that the Cubs won the Series over Miami, something that he finds weird because at that point Miami didn’t have a team. Now, Miami does have a team (though it’s not the “gators” as seen in the movie), but they are in the National League with the Cubs. Cubs fans are assuming that this means they’ll be celebrating the NLCS victory over the Marlins instead of the Series. And due to the date Marty travels into the future (October 22, 2015) and how late the season will go this year, an NLCS prediction at this point seems more likely… that is if the movie is an accurate predictor of baseball.

It’s amusing to dream about such things, but like so many other media-soaked predictions, they are just that — predictions. Some teams are already assuming they have the best team. One player already asked for his “ring” due to some recent acquisitions for his team, only really half-joking. A broadcaster I didn’t expect to be so level-headed clarified that player’s comment by saying that he is right in a sense because his team does look amazing on paper. But paper doesn’t mean squat at the end of the season. Other teams seem to build similar patterns of strong starting rotations, but really lack where it ultimately matters — offense.

This left me thinking. Lately, so much of the focus has been on pitching. And I understand that. The old adage “if you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything” isn’t just an adage. But if all you have is pitching, you won’t win that many games. To win games, you must score runs. To score runs, you must have hits. To have hits, you need a good offense. So (pardon the corruption of the adage) if you don’t have offense, you won’t win any games and thus no World Series. Many teams have a small group of players capable of some power, but relying on a small group of guys isn’t enough. Far too many teams seem to rely on this formula, which usually leads to divas and reduces a team to a single star carrying the weight of the hopes and dreams of an impossible goal.

Instead, I’d prefer to see a balance. Good rotation + good offense + good defense + great morale = championship. Teams win games. Good teams win lots of games. Great teams win championships.

Here’s to a great team this year…

Go Yankees!