Yankees in St Louis! A preview and Q&A with Pinstripe Alley

Jeter - David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees (26-23) make their first ever visit to Busch III starting this afternoon. Andrew Mearns from the SBN Yankees blog Pinstripe Alley fills us in on what to expect.

The Schedule

About their pitching...

The Yankee rotation is a mess. Ivan Nova is out for the year with Tommy John surgery, CC Sabathia has a knee issue that has him shelved indefinitely,  and Michael Pineda has been out with a lat strain. Pineda should return sometime fairly soon, but what's left is the marvelous Masahiro Tanaka, 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda, and a trio of fill-ins, the most interesting of which we won't see (Vidal Nuno, who had a strong minor league career). Phelps and Whitley, who is currently building his pitch count after beginning the year in relief, look to be adequate emergency or back-of-the-rotation guys, but the Cardinals surely hope to take advantage of weak opposing pitching this series. John Sickels finds plenty to work with in New York's minor league system, so a trade for someone like Jeff Samardzija seems like a strong possibility down the road.

Jeter

Whether you think Derek Jeter is overrated, underrated, or properly rated, and whether you think Derek Jeter is charming or smarmy, and whether you think farewell tours are nostalgically grand affairs for heroes of a sentimental game or obsequious cynical marketing ploys, the facts remain: Derek Jeter was the face of a baseball dynasty, Derek Jeter is third all-time in fWAR among post-deadball era shortstops (I wonder if #1 on that list will be as celebrated...), and Jeter's surely first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame will be well-deserved. Busch III will be the 42nd ballpark the man has played in. Enjoy watching it.

Cardinals Notes

  • At 28-22, six games over .500 is the high-water mark on the Cardinals' young season.
  • Today's game begins a nine-game home stand. So far, the Redbirds are 14-7 at Busch.
  • The Cardinals are 8-2 over their last ten games and now own trail only SF and COL in run differential.
  • Michael Wacha can pass last year's regular season IP with four innings this afternoon.
  • Jhonny Peralta did this and this last series. Defensive stats take a notoriously long time to stabilize, but enjoy anyhow the fact that Bonny Jhonny currently grades out as the 5th best defensive SS in all of baseball.

The Q&A

1. The AL East is tightly bunched around .500 at the moment. How do you expect the division to look at the end of the season?

I fully expect the teams to end up bunched together by September. Entering the season, I was surprised at how overly optimistic people seemed to be about the Red Sox considering how many freakishly good seasons they got out of guys like John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Mike Carp, and Daniel Nava. So far this year, numerous players have come back to Earth, and I expect them to be tightly in the mix with all the other teams in the division. The Orioles have power but not much pitching, the Rays' oft-vaunted rotation is already ravaged by injuries with not much offense anyway, and the Blue Jays have a aways to go before they're considered favorites after their last-place dud in 2013.

All these facts combined with the Yankees' up-and-down group make me think that the 2014 AL East division title race might be one of the most competitive in recent history, with all five teams competing unless Tampa decides to give up and trade David Price.  The teams might very well all wind up within 10 games of each other around .500.

2. I expected to see a huge BABIP when I looked at Yangervis Solarte’s fangraphs page, but at .322, that doesn’t seem to have been the primary factor in his surprising start.  What has driven his surprising early success, and what do you expect from him going forward?

Solarte's production has been just about the biggest shocker in baseball. After two years of mediocre numbers on the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate, the Yankees took a flyer on him since they needed infield help and invited him to spring training with no guarantees of a spot. Since then, he pretty much has been hitting non-stop other than a few brief slumps, impressing the team enough to take him over maligned backup Eduardo Nunez at the end of camp.

While at first we were thrilled to observe this change since Nunez was awful, it only got better when Solarte found himself in a starting role following Mark Teixeira's early hamstring injury, and he took advantage of it so much that Opening Day third baseman Kelly Johnson (who filled in at first base for Tex) was the one who went to the bench upon Tex's return. Solarte's swing is quite fluid, and he's been getting more than his fair share of extra-base hits. He'll sometimes catch Sorianoitis and get overly aggressive, swinging at bad pitches, but he does exercise decent plate discipline. I don't expect Solarte to play this well all year, but even if he hits around average production for an infielder, he'll wind up with fine numbers for the season, more than worth the initial investment. He's been a blast to watch.

3. Masahiro Tanaka has been brilliant thus far in his Major League career. It looks like we’ll miss out on seeing him pitch. What are we missing?

You are likely missing your team swinging over a ton of splitters. Tanaka has been dynamite so far, striking out more batters over his first nine starts (73) than anyone else in Yankees history. He's also had impeccable control and demonstrated remarkable poise on the mound, given the high expectations surrounding him. His superb pitching has been the clear highlight of the Yankees' season thus far.

4. Dellin Betances is putting up some eye-popping strikeout numbers. What does the future hold for him?

Betances was always a high-ceiling pitching prospect in the organization given his dynamite repertoire, but due to control problems, he could just never take the next step. Since his move to a relief role last year in Triple-A Scranton though, he's turned his career around from former Top 100 Prospect bust to bullpen weapon. Obviously, he needs more than a couple months of success to prove that he's not just another reliever who fools batters at first until they make adjustments, but his future is brighter than it's been in years. His sharp-breaking slurve, plus velocity, and ability to pitch more than one inning would all play well in pretty much any bullpen role.

5. What do you think of management's choices this past off-season? (Cano, Ellsbury, Tanaka, Beltran, McCann)

Robinson Cano was my favorite player from the moment he debuted in 2005, so I was unsurprisingly quite bummed when he left for Seattle. That being said, I completely understand both parties' reasons for the split. Cano was offered three years and about $65 million more from the Mariners, and if anyone ever turned that much of a raise down, I'd be stunned. At the same time, I think Cano will stay productive for awhile, but I am glad the Yankees decided not to tackle that contract. They've had enough experience with big money contracts hamstringing payroll late in various players' careers while not receiving much production. I would have liked to see the Yankees make a more aggressive offer than their final bid, but oh well.

I was a fan of all of the other contracts (I've already gushed about Tanaka), though they did seem to overpay for Ellsbury. Nonetheless, he was their best player on offense in April, and even though he's been slumping lately, he still provides great value on defense. The lineup last season was basically Cano, Brett Gardner (who earned a deserved four-year extension in the off-season), and nothing else, so I don't blame the Yankees for splurging on McCann, Ellsbury, and Beltran to improve the lineup. Beltran hasn't worked out so far due to injury and McCann's not off to a good start with the bat, but his previous hitting prowess on the Braves makes me confident that he'll right himself before long. Maybe he just needs to witness an unwritten rules violation to motivate him.

6. What do you think the next several years will look like for the Yankees? Is there a clear plan in place? What's in the minors?

Sometimes, it can be very difficult to discern the Yankees' plan since it's ever-changing. With McCann, Gardner, Ellsbury, and Tanaka all locked up long-term though, they seem to have a core in place though. The minors do have some interesting prospects who could help in a couple years, but there isn't really anything at Triple-A right now. Somewhere down the road, good-hitting prospects like catcher Gary Sanchez, first baseman Greg Bird, third baseman Eric Jagielo (their top pick in 2013), and others could either contribute or be parts of future trade packages. Given the organization, prospect fans like us at Pinstripe Alley have to be constantly aware that they will not hesitate to trade anyone, so it's a challenge projecting where any of them might end up long-term.

7. Here's a totally subjective question. The context is this: Over the past couple of seasons, the Cardinals have been the subject of greater than average attention and animosity from opposing fanbases and even media. It's been sociologically interesting being a fan of theirs through this period. So, what's it like being a Yankees fan?

For me personally, I love being a Yankees fan. It's an important connection with my family, they've been very successful over the course of my fandom, and I'm not the type of Yankees fan who considers a season without a championship an abject failure. I recognize that people tend to not like Yankees fans due to the team's success and the fact that, admittedly, most Yankees fans can be rather annoying and obnoxious. I try to have a good sense of humor about it.

Many thanks to Andrew for his time! The other part of the Q&A can be found at Pinstripealley.com

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