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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

With Bombers back, might not matter if Yanks pitching bombs


NEW YORK -- Curtis Granderson hit leadoff on a team that went to the World Series.

The same guy batted eighth on opening day for a team I just picked to miss the playoffs.

And no, I'm not changing that pick. Not yet.

Not until the Yankees win a game started by A.J. Burnett.

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Not until they win a game started by anyone other than CC Sabathia, who didn't get credit for a win but did hand the bullpen a tie game in the seventh inning Thursday. Granderson broke that tie with his leadoff home run in the bottom of the seventh, the Yankees beat the Tigers 6-3, and I started thinking that if the Yankees are going to score six runs a game, it might not matter who fills out their starting rotation.

It was popular to criticize the Yankees this spring, and some of that criticism was justified. With $200 million to spend, they shouldn't have this uncertain a rotation.

But by focusing on their weakness -- even a big, significant weakness -- we tend to forget about their strength.

This team, especially in this ballpark, is going to score a ton of runs. They scored 41 more runs than any other team last year, and they might outdo that this year -- especially if their left-handed hitting, eighth-place hitter is going to hit big tie-breaking home runs off left-handed pitchers.

It's dangerous to put too much focus on what we see on opening day, and maybe we shouldn't read too much into the fact that Granderson was able to turn on a fat 2-0 fastball from Phil Coke. But it's not a small sample size when we remember that after working with hitting coach Kevin Long late last year, Granderson hit nine home runs in 95 at-bats over his final 28 games.

It's not small a sample size when we remember that Granderson hit 30 home runs when he was still playing his home games at Comerica Park two seasons back, or that everyone thought he'd increase that total with half a season's worth of games at Yankee Stadium.

And he's batting eighth.

"And we have Russell Martin batting ninth, and a Hall of Fame catcher batting ahead of me," Granderson said.

We should probably call Jorge Posada an ex-catcher. Asked Thursday morning if he would put Posada behind the plate in an emergency, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "You'd probably put him in there before [utility infielder Eduardo] Nunez."


So let's call Posada a designated hitter rather than a catcher, but let's also remember that he's still a 20-homer guy hitting seventh.

"It's just a very good lineup," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "A very versatile lineup."

When the Tigers played (and beat) the Yankees in the 2006 playoffs, Leyland dubbed that Yankee lineup as "Murderer's Row, and then Cano."

He didn't have any snappy name for this group, and Tiger starter Justin Verlander (who held the Yankees to three runs on three hits in six innings Thursday) said this team doesn't compare to that one.

"You take the team they had in '06, with [Jason] Giambi and [Johnny] Damon and put it in this ballpark, how many runs would they score?" Verlander asked. "But they do still have a fantastic lineup. I'm not trying to dog these guys. They're still a great team."

The Yankees showed some of what makes them so tough Thursday against Verlander, when they forced him to throw 31 first-inning pitches. Five Yankees batted in that inning, and four of them took the first three pitches they saw.

Verlander said he was more responsible for that than the Yankees were ("Some unnecessary pitches," he said), and he recovered to match Sabathia with six innings pitched, but this is what we've come to expect Yankee lineups to do.

They work pitchers. They hit home runs. And, more often than not, they win -- even when their starting pitchers aren't all that good.

As Joel Sherman pointed out in Thursday's New York Post, the Yankee rotation wasn't great last year, either. Their combined 4.35 ERA ranked 22nd in the major leagues, and not one of the eight teams behind them finished with a winning record.

The Yankees, meanwhile, won 95 games.

So they can score enough runs to overcome bad starting pitching. We've seen them do it.

There might be more pressure on them to do it this year, because the rotation looks even shakier than it did a year ago, but maybe they can.

One game in, I'm not changing my pick. I'm still saying the Red Sox top the Yankees in the American League East, and the Tigers get by them for the AL wild card.

I'm also saying that with Curtis Granderson (the guy who hit leadoff for the 2006 Tigers) hitting eighth, there is some chance that my pick was a bad one.

But I'm not changing it. Not yet.


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