Friday, April 6, 2012

Yankees 2012 Season: Five Areas for Success

Associated Press
The 2012 baseball season officially begins for the Yankees in just a few, as they visit the Tampa Bay Rays for their home opener. There is much anticipation for what should be an "improved" Yankees team, as both the lineup and rotation have seemingly resolved their issues. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher have gotten over the injury hump, and Raul Ibanez has found his stroke in the past two weeks. The rotation is set; Freddy Garcia will take over the fifth spot fior the time being. What will happen when Andy Pettitte returns and when Michael Pineda is released from the disabled list remains to be seen.

Even with all their "ducks in a row" for the moment, there are still questions surrounding the team. Many things will have to go right in order for the Yankees to have a succesful season. Post season play is no longer as sure a bet for this team as it has been in the past; with the new wildcard rule in place, the Yankees, like any other team, can easily find themselves being eliminated after only one game in the playoffs. So securing the AL East is essential. In order for that to happen, here are five things that the Yankees should look for this year:

A Healthy A-Rod - It was said many times this offseason, but is still worth mentioning: A-Rod must have a stellar 2012 season. Meaning, he has to be available for at least 130 games (by my estimate), and he needs to be hitting in the ballpark of .285 or better. His SLG numbers have continuously dropped since the .645 in 2007; he's normally teetered between .550 and .600 for his career, and if he truly is healthy, I'd expect him to slug around that mark again. What I noticed during Spring Training was A-Rod's ability to make full turns with his swing, which he had not been able to do very well since the hip surgery in '09. With that improved, he should be able to increase the number of hits on balls pitched inside.

Associated Press
 A More Productive Tex - That may sound somewhat unfair, considering Mark Teixeira blasted 39 home runs and drove in 111 RBIs last season. But ending the year with a paltry BA of .246 is nothing to be proud of and Teixeira knows it. Just think of where his HR and RBI numbers could have been sans all the pop-ups, hits into the shift and double-play grounders. Mark also needs to work on reducing the number of fastballs in the "zone" that he allows per plate appearance. It's something that is never really talked about, but he allows too many hitable fastballs to cross the plate without taking a swing. It would definitely explain his strikeout numbers; he's averaged 113 SOs per season since 2009. Hitting behind A-Rod in the lineup this season, Tex will see better pitches; hopefully the result will be an improvement in his offense.

Increased Numbers for Gardy - With the stellar numbers Brett Gardner put up in 2010 (.277/.345/.369), it is now expected of him to take those numbers to the next level. Adding the bunt to compliment his speed should allow Gardy hit above his watermark of .277, and increase his on-base numbers as well. If he can get on base more and raise his stolen base numbers, runs scored for the team overall could improve by a number serviceable enough to put the Yankees in a position to win more games.

A Full Season in the Rotation for Hughes - Phil Hughes needs to pitch well enough to remain in the rotation for a full season. It's that simple. He looked great this Spring and has improved not only the speed on his fastball, but the movement on his changeup. Health has been the biggest issue for Hughes thus far, so like A-Rod, he must do whatever he has to to keep himself from any stints on the disabled list. If he can do that, he can give the Yankees at least 18 wins again this year.

Associated Press
Continuation of 2011 for Nova - I've learned not to put much stock in Spring Training numbers, so I'm going to overlook Ivan Nova's not-so-impressive totals. His first start of the Spring was his only decent one, and he seemed to come undone in each start thereafter. But we've seen many players have horrible Springs and turn things around once the season begins (think Robinson Cano), so Nova should be afforded the same benefit. Barring any injuries and getting back to throwing the changeup that gave him so much success last year, I see no reason why Nova can't reach his watermark again, or give the Yankees at least 12-15 wins. For him, it will come down to learning how to make adjustments mid-game. If he can do that, everything will fall into place.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

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