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The Yankees keep overpowering opposing teams in spring training. Count this as a serious thing? No, but impressive, yes.

Is it because of the payroll disparity. I think not but payroll software systems are another matter to consider later.

The Yankees defeated the Cincinnati Reds in their final road game before heading back to New York to open an exhibition series against the Chicago Cubs. The final score over the Reds was 6-3.

Melky Cabrera’s fourth-inning double and sixth-inning sacrifice fly accounted for three runs. Starting center fielder Brett Gardner had three hits, but he got doubled off in the first inning and was thrown out trying to steal second base in the third.

Joba Chamberlain made his final start of the spring and put up zeroes through five innings. He ran into trouble in the sixth, allowing a pair of runs before yielding to Brian Bruney, who got out of the jam. Chamberlain gave up five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings while striking out six.

The Yankees return home for their final Grapefruit League game on Wednesday at 1:15 p.m. ET. They’ll host the Phillies, with CC Sabathia getting the start before heading up to New York for a pair of exhibition games against the Cubs at the new Yankee Stadium. It’s Sabathia’s final tuneup outing — he’s expected to throw 60-70 pitches — before his Opening Day start on Monday in Baltimore.

Hey…Trevor and I will be in Baltimore that day, downing hot dogs (and Boog’s famous pit BBQ beef) and beer. Awesome.

2008 Record: 95-67 2nd AL East (AL Wildcard) red-sox-logo
2009 Prediction: 2nd, AL East

Impact Player: Dustin Pedroia
Impact Pitcher: Daisuke Matsuzaka
Top Prospect: Lars Anderson, 1B

Significant Acquisitions: P John Smoltz, P Brad Penny, P Takashi Saito, OF Rocco Baldelli, C Josh Bard, P Ramon Ramirez
Significant Loses: P David Aardsma, P Paul Byrd, 1B Sean Casey, C Kevin Cash, P Bartolo Colon, INF Alex Cora, OF Coco Crisp, P Mike Timlin

Two World Series titles in five years and a real shot at making it three in six have all but put the BoSox in a class by itself.   A very strong pitching staff, lineup, and great leadership may give Boston its third Series in six years.

Pitching
The top of the rotation will look the same as it did at the end of the ’08 season with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester.  Those three combined for an astounding 46-19 record, a 3.37 ERA, and 7.79 K/9 in ’08.  Lester had a breakout year finishing 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA and was the only Sox pitcher to log more than 200 innings (210.1).  Outside of those three, Boston has no shortage of outstanding arms.  Ageless John Smoltz (42), who signed a one-year, $2.5-million deal to leave the only team he’s ever played for in Atlanta, should be the #4 starter, but is coming off of shoulder surgery that caused him to miss almost all of last year.  The 5th spot could go to any of three pitchers depending on health and spring training performance: Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (42), who was 10-11 last year and provided some solid starts for the BoSox down the stretch; Brad Penny (31), who was acquired from the Dodgers and when healthy is still capable of 15 wins; and youngster Clay Buckholz (24) who may find it hard to crack the rotation barring injuries to other, older pitchers, but has thrown a no-hitter and has the most upside of any Boston pitcher.

The bullpen will be one of baseball’s best again with Jonathon Papelbon at its back end.  Papelbon had another outstanding season in ’08 recording 41 saves in 46 attempts and posting a 2.34 ERA and 9.99 K/9.  Lefties Hideki Okajima and Javier Lopez return after each posted ERAs under 2.75 in ’08, and young righties Justin Masterson and Manny Delcarmen also return having put up solid number last year.  One addition comes in veteran Takashi Saito who signed a free-agent deal in the off-season.  Saito, although 39-years-old, posted 81 saves in 91 attempts in three years with the Dodgers and has a diminutive Major League career ERA of 1.95.

Rotation (Throws)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (R)
Josh Beckett (R)
Jon Lester (L)
John Smoltz (R)
Brad Penny (R)

Bullpen
Jonathon Papelbon (R) — CLOSER
Hideki Okajima (L)
Takashi Saito (R)
Javier Lopez (L)
Justin Masterson (R)
Manny Delcarmen (R)
Tim Wakefield (R)
Ramon Ramirez (R)

Lineup
Returning nearly the same lineup that ended last year, the Red Sox will once again be a force to be reckoned with offensively in ’09.  The outfield of Jason Bay (LF), Jacoby Ellsbury (CF), and J.D. Drew (RF) will be one of the more talented in the American League.  On the infield, 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia comes back at second after putting up great numbers in only his second full season posting a .326 BA, 17 HR, 83 RBI, a .376 OBP, and a .952 SBP.  Veteran Mike Lowell returns at third but might have trouble coming back from off-season hip surgery and Kevin Youkilis is back at first after leading the team with 29 HR in ’08.  The only question mark is at shortstop where veteran Julio Lugo will battle in spring training with Jed Lowrie for the starting job.  The loser might see time at third if Lowell has troubles with injuries.  At catcher, Jason Varitek is back after signing a one-year, $5-million deal with an option for a second year and the team brought back former draft pick Josh Bard from San Diego after he was dealt there almost two years ago for Doug Mirabelli.  At DH will be “Big Papi” David Ortiz who is coming off an injury-riddled ’08 where he still put up 23 HR and 89 RBI in 109 games.

On the bench, besides who loses the battle at shortstop, will be Bard, veteran OF/1B Mark Kotsay, and another off-season signing, injury-prone Rocco Baldelli. Youngsters Lars Anderson, Argenis Diaz, Jeff Bailey and journeyman minor-league outfielder Jonathon Van Every will also vie for spots with the big club in the spring.

Lineup (Bats)
CF  Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
2B  Dustin Pedroia (R)
1B  Kevin Youkilis (R)
DH  David Ortiz (L)
LF  Jason Bay (R)
RF  J.D. Drew (L)
3B  Mike Lowell (R)
C    Jason Varitek (S)
SS  Julio Lugo (R)

Bench
C   Josh Bard (S)
OF/1B  Mark Kotsay (L)
OF Rocco Baldelli (R)
INF Jed Lowrie (S)
1B  Jeff Bailey (R)

Outlook
The Red Sox will again be in the race for October baseball in ’09 in spite of being chased by both the Yankees and Rays in the tough AL East.  There are very few recognizable holes on this team (at least on paper) and barring injury should clinch a playoff spot at season’s end. Final Prediction – 93-69, 2nd AL East

The Yankees will not carry a long man in the bullpen. Instead they’ll carry Jonathan Alblajadejo, who impressed the coaching staff this month enough to warrant a roster spot. He’ll join Mariano Rivera, Damaso Marte, Brian Bruney, Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, and Phil Coke in the Yanks bullpen. All three of the long man candidates — Dan Giese, Al Aceves, and Brett Tomko — have been sent to AAA, as has catcher Kevin Cash. The only roster spot remaining is the utility infielder job, which is yet to be determined. Either way the Yanks will have to designate a player for assignment, which would almost certainly be Giese.

Earlier this off season it was reported that bleachers would once again be alcohol-free. Well, it turns out that is not totally true. Here’s more from Jeremy Olshan:

The raucous fans who populate Yankee Stadium’s bleachers should return to form this season, now that the team has lifted its nine-year prohibition on performance-enhancing suds.

Beer was banned in Section 39 at the old Stadium in 2000 to tame the sometimes overly passionate Bleacher Creatures, but with the move to the new ballpark, the taps will be turned on once again, a team official told The Post.

No beer vendors will come through Section 203, but fans will be permitted to purchase 12-ounce beers for $6 in the stadium and take them back to their seats or imbibe at the new Bleacher Cafe.

“The good news is we can drink again; the bad news is I’m going to be spending a lot more money, I guess,” said “Sheriff Tom” Brown, 40, a Creature since 1993.

…”There is something to be said for a cold frosty one on a hot July day, and the ban had been a turnoff for a lot of people,” [Bald Vinny] said.

$6 for a 12 oz. is pretty good, considering what you’d get in a bar outside the Stadium. Plus you get the live action. Now I’m going to get myself some bleacher seats soon! And chant the Roll Call!

I stand up and scream at the top of my lungs each time Mariano Rivera comes out to the music of Enter Sandman — even though I cannot hear the music.

I will cheer each position player on my team. I will boo if they strike out too many times or if they bumble a routine play. But, I will never, never hate a player or be relieved that he is hurt.

Welcome to my world, the anti-”I-am-glad-A-Rod-isn’t-playing-for-6-9-weeks” club.

Look at all the fans who are looking at this as a big relief. No more prima donna comments. No more blonde strippers. No more Derek Jeter looking to his right and seeing a whiner on third base.

Think again, says Ken Davidoff.

All right, world, you have your chance now.

For the next six to nine weeks, you’ll get to see what life is like without Alex Rodriguez. You’ll view the mighty, regal Yankees, rid of their “albatross.”

Somehow, the belief is now pervading that the Yankees will be better off without A-Rod: That he costs as much in anguish and headaches as he pays in home runs and walks.

I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense on any level, and the only evidence used to back it up – that the Yankees haven’t reached a World Series since they acquired A-Rod – could also be deployed to prove that A-Rod’s a heck of a player, but he ain’t no Clay Bellinger.

If you recall, Jeter dislocated his left shoulder in the 2003 season opener. The Yankees proceeded to go 25-11 without him, a phenomenal .694 winning percentage. Not a soul said, “Hey, they’re better without Jeter!” No, people understood that a) the Yankees had a deep offense, and b) sometimes, freaky things happen for short periods of time.

You know that many won’t have such perspective if these Yankees get off to a similarly hot start without A-Rod. Nope, it’ll be all of the proof they need that this guy is not an asset, despite all appearances, but a liability.

Davidoff also explains how A-Rod unfairly gets all of the attention where there are other players who do the same thing he does.

I like how Davidoff ends his article:

If the Yankees do struggle, however, if the new guys can’t live up to the expectations and the old guys can’t reach back for better days, then perhaps the haters will finally have their question answered. They’ll finally realize the old “Be careful what you wish for” axiom.

Nah. They’ll probably just hate A-Rod all the more for getting injured.

The sad truth is, Davidoff is right. Welcome to the Bronz Zoo.

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