In a baseball sense, Peru is on another planet.
Despite my best efforts to propagate the faith on a trip two years ago, baseball remains a relatively unknown game in the Andean region of South America. At least some progress has been made, however. During a return trip that spanned the past 10 days, I observed nine Yankees caps atop the heads of Limeans (not including the ones I passed out two years ago) as well as two vehicle decals. In comparison, only one Red Sox’ and one Mets’ hat was observed, so although penetration remains light, at least the Yankees have an early foothold.
Even with occassional internet access, you can’t get further away from baseball consciousness than being in a country like Peru. As someone who usually doesn’t miss more than a handful of Yankees games during an entire season, being disconnected from the team was somewhat disconcerting, meaning it’ll probably take a few days to get back into the flow of the season. Nonetheless, below are some early observations culled from abroad as well as a few corresponding “what if” scenarios worth monitoring over the rest of April.
- The Yankees have been this year’s version of the 2010 Blue Jays. Despite leading the league with 18 HRs, the Yankees rank 22nd with a paltry on-base percentage of .311. The power surge has helped compensate for the lack of base runners, but if the Yankees hope to lead the league in runs, they’ll need to stop making so many outs.
- One of the reasons the Yankees’ offense has sputtered is because the top of the lineup has failed to get on base. In particular, Derek Jeter has done little to dispel concerns about his 2010 struggles. And, even more alarming than his .535 OPS has been the weakness of his outs. Over his first nine games, the Yankees’ captain has grounded out a shockingly high 79.3% of the time. Meanwhile, Brett Gardner has struggled just as much as Jeter, creating a significant void before the middle of the order. If both players’ struggles persist, Joe Girardi may be forced to shake up the lineup sooner than anticipated by even the most pessimistic in the fan base.
- Russell Martin’s early season resurgence has combined with initial contributions from Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones to portray Brian Cashman’s off season in a more favorable light. If all three wind up offering a positive contribution, the Yankees’ GM would enjoy at least a little bit of vindication. Of course, if the pitching staff continues to struggle, all fingers will once again be pointing at Cashman.
- Even though Freddy Garcia has yet to throw a pitch as a starter, the Yankees’ rotation has shown some early cracks. Ironically, A.J. Burnett has not contributed to the concern, but his history of getting off to a fast start means the jury is still out on his 2011 comeback. In the meantime, the Yankees have to be at least a little worried by Phil Hughes’ combined loss of velocity and lack of command as well as Ivan Nova’s continued struggles after one pass through the lineup. If both problems persist, Kevin Millwood could find himself in pinstripes before the end of the month.
- The bullpen hasn’t been the strength most envisioned because of its inconsistency. Both Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain had high-profile blowups, but the least effective reliever has been Boone Logan. If the Yankees’ only lefty reliever doesn’t regain his 2010 form, he could forfeit his spot on the active roster when Pedro Feliciano comes off the disabled list.
- Although the middle relief has been sketchy, Mariano Rivera remains near perfect. If the Yankees’ closer continues to rack up saves in the early going, he could become baseball’s all-time saves before the end of the year.