- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

POINT/COUNTERPOINT

Each week, Nationals beat writers Mark Zuckerman and Ben Goessling debate an issue in major league baseball. This week’s question: Should Yankees fans be worried their club won’t contend?

BEN GOESSLING: I know it’s only a month into the season, but I’d say yes. As good as the lineup is (or has the potential to be), I’m still not sold on the pitching. CC Sabathia has been borderline awful, and the bullpen is a mess. But if the Yankees move Joba Chamberlain back to the setup role, it leaves another hole in the rotation.

Both you and I picked them third in the AL East. I’m still feeling pretty good about that pick. Are you?

MARK ZUCKERMAN: I still feel good about my third-place pick, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees won’t contend. I fully expect them to win anywhere from 85 to 93 games, which puts them right in the thick of the race, either the AL East or the AL wild card. Their suspect pitching is what probably will keep them from making the playoffs, but you’re forgetting that their lineup is good enough to keep them in the hunt all year. They’re second in the league in runs scored, and they’ve done that with A-Rod on the DL and Mark Teixeira hitting below the Mendoza line.

BG: I’m with you on them being somewhere between 85 and 93 (I’d say closer to 85), but the problem is that division is too good to get it done without pitching. The Rays have plenty of it, the Red Sox have plenty of it, and while I don’t expect the Blue Jays to last, they at least have some of it.

Sabathia and A.J. Burnett could come around any day, but getting leads to Mariano Rivera will continue to be a problem. The Yankees will score plenty of runs, but that lineup wasn’t exactly ineffective last year either. They were in the top five in the AL in hits, homers, batting average and on-base percentage. Pitching was the problem then, and $200-some million later, it’s the problem now.

MZ: Amazing how $200 million just doesn’t get you what it used to. Entering spring training, everyone was raving about how dominant the Yankees’ rotation would be with Sabathia, Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Chamberlain leading the way. Obviously, it hasn’t been that great so far. But the key, to me, is Wang. If he gets healthy and returns to his previous form, the Yankees will have something to say about the AL East race yet.

BG: Yeah, with those four teams (Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays), it’s at least going to be a good race. Now, about that other team…

MLB POWER POLL

Rank, Team Record Comment

1. DODGERS 18-8 Chad Billingsley (5-0, 2.21 ERA) continues to roll.

2. RED SOX 15-10 Came down from last week, but the offense still impressive.

3. CARDINALS 17-8 Should they get the MVP trophy ready for Albert Pujols now (nine HR, 29 RBI)?

4. BLUE JAYS 18-9 Offense is generating surprising amount of pop early.

5. MARINERS 15-10 Shouldn’t have been so bad last year, and they’re showing why now.

6. ROYALS 14-11 Trey Hillman’s scrappy group has a chance to contend in the wide-open AL Central.

7. CUBS 13-11Starting to rise in NL Central despite the struggles of Derrek Lee and Milton Bradley.

8. PHILLIES 12-10 Raul Ibanez (eight HR, 21 RBI) looking like a perfect replacement for Pat Burrell.

9. MARLINS 14-11 No games against Nationals for a while, so they’re coming back to earth.

10. TIGERS 13-11 Brandon Inge (eight HR, 19 RBI, .443 OBP) is finally getting some recognition.

* Records through Sunday

AWARD TRACKER

Looking at the front-runners for baseball’s season awards. This week: AL MVP

Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox

Long revered for his plate patience - and little else - Youkilis is completing his transformation into a middle-of-the-lineup force. He’s hitting .407 with a .519 on-base percentage. He’s slugging .744 and has hit six homers. Youkilis could have won the award last season if teammate Dustin Pedroia hadn’t siphoned some votes from him. He’s the early pick this year.

Others to watch: Evan Longoria, Rays; Ian Kinsler, Rangers; Justin Morneau, Twins

- Ben Goessling

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