At this writing, the Yankees have played a grand total of two games, which makes it difficult to detect any meaningful trends and patterns. Still, every game provides us with at least one storyline. As is usually the case in Yankeeland, there is no shortage of plots and themes as we evaluate the first series of the season.
*Sometimes Opening Day makes you feel very good about a pre-season prediction. I picked the Yankees to win the American League East, in large part because of their bullpen, which has far superior depth to the pen in Beantown. So what did the Yankee relievers do on Opening Day after Carl Pavano dropped the ball in the fifth inning? The five-man tag team of Brian Bruney, Sean Henn, Luis Vizcaino, Kyle Farnsworth, and Mariano Rivera combined for four and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief. That sort of pattern could become a trend in 2007. Given the depth at Joe Torre's disposal, this might be the Yankees' best bullpen since the dynasty days of Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton.
(And just when I had finished patting my back after the opener, the Yankee bullpen allowed three runs in game two, including the game-winning run in the top of the eighth. Ah, so much for predictions.)
The improvement of Farnsworth could be the key to just how good the bullpen can be. Farnsworth has dipped into his pre-2006 arsenal and brought back a sinking fastball that provides a nice contrast to his rising 98 mile-per-hour four-seamer. If Farnsworth is willing to throw the sinkerand more importantly, is able to throw strikes with his sinkerhe could be the eighth-inning force the Yankees thought they had acquired in 2006.
*For the first time since the first half of 1996, the Yankees appear to have enough versatility in their lineup to play "small ball"or "Billy Ball," in homage to a former Yankee skipper who had some fun with the A's in the early eighties. The Yankees stole three bases and laid down two sacrifice bunts in the opener, giving them an extra dimension to a lineup that is already packed with power. With Alex Rodriguez having lost 12 pounds over the winter, he could resume being a significant basestealing threat. The Yankees now have four regulars capable of stealing 20 or more basesthe others are Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and Bobby Abreuwhich should erase the team's image as being slow and plodding. When's the last time the Yankee lineup could boast that many basestealers? You might have to go back to the failed speed experiment of 1982, when the Yankees brought in Dave Collins and Ken Griffey and tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to become the "Go-Go" Bombers.
*The Yankees' defensive play has been atrocious through the first two games. I don't care what their zone rating or range factor might be; six errors, a passed ball, and a near passed ball in 18 innings is horrifically bad. I'm willing to excuse some of the poor play because of the cold, but certainly not all of it. Derek Jeter has made several poor throws and has displayed less range than usual to his left, Josh Phelps looked like he'd been taking lessons from Jason Giambi with his Opening Day throw to second base, and even supposed glove wizard Doug Mientkiewicz has made an error. (By the way, if Mientkiewicz doesn't play an absolutely brilliant first base this month, I want him out of the lineup by May 1.) What can the Yankees do about their defensive woes? Well, they're going to have to live with Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the left side of the infield, but they need to get Melky Cabrera as many innings as possible in the outfield. He is their best outfielder, both in terms of range and throwing armand it's not even close.
*The nicest development of the first week involved an off-the-field concern, specifically someone who hasn't played for the Yankees in more than two decades. The much-loved Bobby Murcer returned to Yankee Stadium for Opening Day, spending a couple of innings in the YES Network broadcast booth, after a winter filled with cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy treatments. I have to admit it was a bit odd to see the cancer-stricken Murcer sporting a bald lookhe's always had a full shock of hair, even in recent yearsbut he sounded very good during his stint in the booth. His voice came across as strong, as did his usual sense of humor. Murcer says he hopes to completely fulfill his broadcast schedule this year. I think it's safe to say that every Yankee fan has the same wish for 2007.