Three questions coming into Game 2 of the 2010 season:
1. Jorge and AJ -- The question is whether this is a dance that will repeat over and over again for the duration of Burnett’s contract in the Bronx. Will we endlessly repeat this cycle where the starting catcher and putative #2 starter promise to make a commitment to each other, only to break up after the first non-quality start? I’ve always been wary of the personal catcher phenomenon--I mean, you can’t help it if an in-his-prime Steve Carlton wants to throw to Tim McCarver, but it’s harder to justify when a non-demigod wants you to compromise the lineup just to make him feel more comfortable on the mound. Then again, I’m sure Burnett was watching the leaden way Posada worked Sunday’s game and thinking, “Couldn’t I just throw to that nice Venezuelan kid instead? Why isn’t that OK?”
2. How long will it take Joe Girardi to figure out this bullpen? -- Bullpen management isn’t exactly Girardi’s strong suit, a feeling that was reinforced when the skipper went all pitching change happy in last year’s playoffs. Right now, he has two pitchers with real defined roles: Mariano Rivera is Mariano Rivera, and (until he gets injured and/or Boone Logan is brought up from the minors) Damaso Marte is The Lefty. The vast undifferentiated mass of righthanders in the pen, however, look to be a problem. Not sure if Girardi turned to Dave Robertson in the sixth on Sunday because he’s the sixth inning guy, or because he thought the team needed a strikeout with a runner on third. Not sure why Girardi turned to Chan Ho Park at all, other than curiosity. And not sure under what circumstances, if any, Girardi would have called Al Aceves’s number. Hopefully, Girardi will remember that Sergio Mitre is supposed to be the long relief/emergency starter/garbage time guy, but there’s no way to be sure. Remember that for a short while last season, he was quite taken with Brett Tomko as a late inning reliever.
3. How will the lefty lineup work? -- The 2009 Yankees had a nice record against lefties, largely on the strength of the three players who are now gone from their lineup: Johnny Damon was able to hang in there against southpaws, Melky Cabrera had surprisingly even performance from both sides of the plate, and Hideki Matsui was downright fantastic when opponents tried to exploit the platoon advantage (.282/.354/.618 vs LHP). The main players who replaced them are all lefthanded, and there are some issues. Nick Johnson has actually been a bit better against lefties than righties, but over his career Curtis Granderson loses 281 points of OPS against lefties, and despite 65 good PA against them last year, there are questions about Brett Gardner’s ability to be a full-time player. The solution would be one or more platoons with the fourth and fifth outfielders on the roster, Marcus Thames and Randy Winn. Problems here are that even though Thames is a power guy with a rep for mashing lefties, he’s got OBP problems and is an “outfielder” with quotes around it; meanwhile Winn’s a good corner outfield glove, but no one really knows if his bat any life left in it at all. Both guys had a lousy time in Spring Training, so there’s really no telling. Tonight we’re going to see a configuration that has Gardner and Winn on the bench, and Thames and Granderson hitting 8-9 in the lineup. I have a feeling we’ll see a number of lineup permutations against lefties before everything is said and done.
As I guess question 1 makes clear, I’m less than optimistic about tonight’s Burnett/Lester matchup. Then again, Burnett is so unpredictable that he’ll probably go out and throw a 2-hitter. Or give up 8 runs in the second inning. Not sure which of these two.