Surprise Teams for the First Quarter of the 2013 Season

On opening day of the season all the teams are tied for first place in their respective divisions. Sportswriters and ordinary fans digest all of the off-season team personal changes and use this information to make predictions about how the teams will finish in their respective divisions after the 162 games are played.

Now that close to 40 games have been played by each team, I would like to look at the four teams that have provided the biggest surprises. One team has exceeded what was expected and the other three have flopped so far.

Let’s begin with the New York Yankees. If you have been in outer space for a couple of years you might say: Aren’t the Yankees expected to win every year so how could they have exceeded their expectations? Their four core players Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez have not played in a single game in 2013. Only Granderson is expected back before the All-Star break. After 17 games, Kevin Youkilis joined them on the DL. Add to the DL list Eduardo Nunez, Francisco Cervelli and Joba Chamberlain. Although not on the DL, Ivan Nova is sidelined. These players represent the starting and replacement third baseman, the starting and replacement shortstop, the starting first baseman, the starting centerfielder, the starting catcher, the seventh-inning specialist and their fifth starter. Of course, second baseman Robinson Cano is as advertised and is in good health. Ichiro Suzuki is also a returning starter who can play any of the three outfield positions but is mainly used in right field. The return of Brett Gardner after missing most of last year has solidified the centerfield position.

How have the Yankees filled their six vacant positions? General Manager Cashman signed a combination of veteran players thought to be past their prime along with young utility players. The veteran players signed include Vernon Wells (34 year-old, LF), Kevin Youkilis (34 year-old, 3B or 1B), Lyle Overbay (36 year-old, 1B) and Travis Hafner (36 year-old, DH). Currently third base is manned by Chris Nelson and the shortstop is Jayson Nix. Both these players, considered utility players discarded by other teams, have replaced HOF players Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the left-side of the infield.

So how has it worked out? Vernon Wells seems to have reverted to his 2010 form (31 HRs and 88 RBIs in 157 games). He currently is tied for eighth in the AL with 9 HRs and also has contributed 22 RBIs. Hafner has hit 6 HRs with 18 RBIs in 31 games. All-Star Robinson Cano has hit 10 HRs with 23 RBIs. Gardner has successfully returned batting .252 with three HRs and 14 RBIs and patrolling centerfield flawlessly. Overbay has provided timely hitting (6 HRs and 20 RBIs) and has played a sparkling first base.

At the end of play on May 13, 2013, the Yankees are in first place in the AL East with a record of 24-14. The Yankee Team, compared to the other 29 ML teams, ranks 13th in batting average, 11th in runs scored (RS) and 5th in HRs.

However, it has been the Yankee pitching that has saved the day. The six starting pitchers (Kuroda, Sabathia, Pettitte, Hughes, Phelps, and Nova) have a combined 3.23 ERA. Looking at all the Yankee pitchers their combined ERA of 3.49 ranks 8th best in the ML. Their pitching and defense have a runs allowed (RA) total of 139 runs (9th best in the ML). If we look at the important statistic of RS-RA, their 25 run difference ranks them 7th in the ML. Rivera is still as good as ever with a perfect 15 for 15 in saves. Joe Girardi has a wonderful dilemma. When the first string returns from the DL, how does he divide up the playing time?

The next posting will examine what is wrong with the Dodgers, Angels, and Blue Jays.

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