Will the Yankees Clinch by Flag Day?

You people all have a life but I don’t. While everyone else spent the winter celebrating holidays, visiting warm climates that weren’t devastated by tropical storms, binge watching sensational Netflix shows, and chatting on social media about the coming fall of the Empire and Russian conspiracies, here I sat shivering in the cold slurping lukewarm tofu soup and reading about how the New York Yankees were going to hit 312 home runs after the 2018 season started while running away with the World Series championship by the time the next Halloween arrived. It was dull. It all is because the Yanks not only traded for Giancarlo Stanton but also replaced sullen manager Joe Girardi with the irrepressible Aaron Boone, which prompted clueless executives at ESPN to replace Boone on Sunday night telecasts with Alex Rodriguez and his girlfriend. What hath Steinbrenner wrought?

However, now that the birds are nesting and the flowers are blooming and the ashes of winter are being hauled, things look a little better. Perhaps the Yankees will actually have competition. Three of their divisional rivals have apparently thrown in the towel already, but the defending East champions, the Boston Red Sox, threaten to keep things interesting.

For one thing, the trade for Stanton created a bit of a hole at second base. Starlin Castro was not the second coming of Joe Gordon but he did play adequately on defense while hitting .300 with 16 home runs. By the way, the Marlins also received minor league prospects Jose Devers and Jorge Guzman, and we could be hearing from them before too long. In our financial system the future is now, however, and Stanton, despite a history of injuries, shines brightly today. The current replacement at second base for New York is Neil Walker, who is a step or two slower and has a bit less range than in his Pittsburgh Pirates days. Walker can also hit the ball over the wall at the Yankees’ P.O.N.Y. league yard.

The powerful Stanton joins Aaron Judge in the lineup, and like their predecessors Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, they are both good outfielders as well. Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks are good outfielders too, so Boone has depth and can play around with the designated sitter position.

First base could prove to be a problem area as Greg Bird continues to spend more time on the disabled list than on the field. Shortstop will not be a problem so long as Didi Gregorius can play. He may be the best all around player on the team. Miguel Andujar is projected to be the answer at third, and Gary Sanchez will keep them solid at catcher along with Austin Romine. The pitching staff is not so hot. The bullpen is deep but Aroldis Chapman no longer has that invincible aura. C.C. Sabathia was  a good comeback story last year but he is injured now and his age is a factor. Luis Severino is gathering credentials but after that there is inconsistency.

Boston missed David Ortiz last season and they are thinking that home run machine J.D. Martinez will keep their offense rolling. He certainly did that in Detroit and Arizona. Injury problems are currently worrying the Sox with Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts ailing but they have a very solid lineup of gloves and bats. Eduardo Nunez is a good player to have around because he is versatile and he can hit. They are excited about young third baseman Rafael Devers and we all have seen the work of outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, and Mookie Betts by now. Perhaps the best addition to this team will be new manager Alex Cora. Mitch Moreland is as good a first baseman as Hanley Ramirez is not.

As with most teams, pitching will be the make or break factor for the Red Sox. In particular, Rick Porcello and David Price have to do better than  last season while Craig Kimbrel  needs to remain strong.

Take your pick among the also rans in the race for third place. Toronto, which looked so good not so long ago, is fading fast. Troy Tulowitzki is perhaps finished, and that is sad. Josh Donaldson‘s injury is perhaps not as devastating, but it must be troubling to John Gibbons. Russell Martin is not what he once was, so Kevin Pillar is now the the brightest star for the Blue Jays. J.A.Happ and Marcus Stroman lead a just above mediocre starting pitching staff, and a good crew of relievers  leads to closer Roberto Osuna, who often holds the lead. Pillar will be busy in center field,as he is currently flanked by 37 year old Curtis Granderson in left and occasionally effective Randall Grichuk in right. Aledmys Diaz will try to be the answer at shortstop. Justin Smoak, frustrated offensively while in Seattle, likes the hitter friendly artificial yard in Canada while he continues to play a stellar first base.

Tampa Bay has a pretty good lineup featuring Kevin Kiermaier in center field, Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, and Wilson Ramos at catcher, but the pitching looks weird. The Rays list three starters, which would be a little like 1910 except for the fact that there are apparently ten relievers. We’ll be keeping an eye on manager Kevin Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snider for further developments. Matt Duffy is a good third baseman but he hasn’t played for the past season and a half so we’ll see how his heel heals playing on that turf. Former La Habra Angel C.J. Cron  is the first baseman. They will miss Evan Longoria in Tampa but what they need more than anything else is a major, or at least minor, league field.

Buck Showalter‘s Orioles have been “sleeper” picks a couple of times in Baltimore in recent seasons but, alas, they are putting their fans to sleep lately. It’s a tough yard to be a pitcher in but some hurlers have been successful in the past. Dylan Bundy seems to have good potential but it doesn’t look like Chris Tillman or Kevin Gausman  are ever going to start reminding folks of Jim Palmer or Mike Mussina. Manny Machado is still young and still All World but he’s not getting much help. Adam Jones is very good and Trey Mancini can hit. Jonathan Schoop, now on the disabled list, has become very solid at second base and at the plate. Adding Alex Cobb to the mound staff was good, but these Orioles need help.


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