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American League Preview from The Sports Network
Tuesday, April 1st (All times Eastern)
New York Yankees (0-0) at Houston Astros (0-0), 7:10 p.m.
Probable Starting Pitchers: NY Yankees - CC Sabathia (0-0, 0.00) Houston - Scott Feldman (0-0, 0.00)
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Derek Jeter farewell tour gets underway on Tuesday when the New York Yankees kick off their 2014 season against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Jeter has already announced that this will be his final season, marking the end of one of the more illustrious careers in New York sports. And like Mariano Rivera a year ago, teams apparently plan on honoring Jeter in his last visit.
The Astros will pay tribute to him prior to Wednesday's contest.
"I'm trying to treat it like any other Opening Day," the 13-time All-Star and 5-time world champion said. "and every Opening Day is special where you have butterflies and you have nerves and I think that's a good thing. I don't foresee this being any different."
After missing out on the playoffs for the first time in 14 years in 2008, the Yankees went out and pillaged the free agent market, committing more than $420 million to three players -- pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira. The payoff was instant, as the Bronx Bombers led the majors with 103 wins and captured their 27th -- and most recent -- World Series title with all three newcomers playing prominent roles.
Fast forward five years, and the recipe's the same. After recording their lowest win total in a full season since 1992 and failing to reach the playoffs, the Yankees abandoned a previous goal to get under the luxury tax threshold and aggressively pursued nearly all the top names on this offseason's free agent list. They landed the best catcher (Brian McCann and most coveted pitcher (Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka) available, lured one of the game's premier leadoff hitters (Jacoby Ellsbury) away from their most bitter rival and added a proven postseason performer in veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, with the total bill for the four new superstars pushing $440 million over the life of their contracts.
While the Yankees' methods haven't changed, the roster sure has. Closer Mariano Rivera and pitcher Andy Pettitte, two essential and iconic components to the team's last dynasty of the late 1990's and early 2000's, both retired at the conclusion of last year's trying 85-77 campaign. All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano, the one player New York actually showed some financial prudence with during its winter splurge, took his talents across the country to Seattle. And gone for now is Alex Rodriguez, suspended for the entire upcoming season for his involvement in last year's Biogenesis PED scandal.
Still, this team will only go as far as the pitching will carry them, specifically left-hander CC Sabathia, who posted the highest ERA (4.78) of his career and witnessed a significant drop-off in velocity. Sabathia showed up to camp in terrific shape and was terrific this spring, pitching to a 1.29 ERA over 21 innings.
This will be his sixth Opening Day assignment for the Yankees, leaving him one short of a club record shared by Whitey Ford, Mel Stottlemyre and Ron Guidry.
"I think they're all exciting," said Sabathia. "I think it's exciting just because of the fact that we got Carlos Beltran and Mac (Brian McCann) and (Jacoby) Ellsbury. It's always a different feeling that you get. I think this is a year that we can try to make the playoffs and hopefully make a run at winning the title. Those things are exciting. I put last year behind me and just keep going forward."
Houston, meanwhile, greeted its shift from National League to American League in milestone fashion in 2013, though establishing a record for most losses in a season - 111, breaking the record of 107 set in the final NL year. Although, 15 straight losses to close the previous year is hardly the sort of thing that gets a fan base riled up for a new schedule.
And, unless manager Bo Porter is dressing the 1998 Yankees in Houston uniforms this season, more of the same frustration could be on the way before the ponderous rebuilding project pays dividends.
The Astros will once again go into April with an everyday lineup only the hardest of hardcore fans are familiar with - one that's stocked with an assortment of unproven youngsters and low-budget castoffs amid an AL West Division bursting at the seams with higher-profile talent in three cities.
The Houston farm system consistently grades out among the best in the majors, but it's been of little comfort thus far as the franchise has plummeted from a World Series appearance in 2005 to sub-.500 records in six of eight subsequent seasons and reached triple-digit losses in the last three.
The Astros, whose 2013 payroll was a league-low $24 million, dipped their toes into the free-agent market and came away with a veteran addition in the form of right-hander Scott Feldman, who was signed to a three-year, $30 million deal after winning 12 games with the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles in 2013 and will take the mound on Opening Day.
"Scott's body of work speaks for itself," Porter said. "He was a guy we targeted early on and we were happy to get something done. He satisfied all the needs that we had. He has great qualities as far as leadership skills. It was a huge deal for us to get done."
Feldman, 30, split the 2013 season between the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles, going 12-12 with a 3.86 earned run average in 30 starts.
The Yankees swept the Astros to close last season and were 5-1 against them a year ago.
04/01 10:26:17 ET
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