The New York Yankees could be facing problems at the back of the pitching rotation

New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, James Paxton

Injuries, injuries, injuries, that’s all the New York Yankees have dealt with over the past two years. While they have managed to scrape by and get close to a World Series appearance, they haven’t been able to get over the hump as players continue to miss time, and pitchers struggle with ailments.

Ahead of the 60-game condensed schedule, the MLB and Players Association have come to a conclusion on, the Yankees are ironing out their starting team and active roster, which will be expanded from 26 to 30 players.

With extra players available, the Yankees will be looking at some of their more injury-prone positions, specifically in the outfield, to add reserve options to.

Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake is looking for consistency and continuity in their pitching rotation, something they will be working on this spring training.

“The initial thought is we come in with a five-man [rotation] with five healthy starters,” the first-year pitching coach said on Thursday after a handful of Yankees worked out at Yankee Stadium. “Obviously as we look at some of the matchups and how some of the guys are performing or feeling out of the gate, I think there’s definitely some different routes we can go.”

How are the New York Yankees setting up their roster this summer?

The club’s 30-man roster will likely incorporate 15-18 pitchers, composed of multiple starters and bullpen arms. Thirty-three of their current 58 summer camp players are pitchers, and that includes five of the organization’s top 10 prospects. The expectation is that the Yankees will utilize a five-man rotation, but a four-man group could also be the case.

Ultimately, a smaller pitching rotation will be acceptable during the shortened campaign, as fatigue will be less of an issue. That makes me believe that the Yankees will feature Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and situate a position battle for the last spot.

That fourth spot is the one I’m most concerned about, as Jordan Montgomery and JA Happ or both gunning for starting reps. I wouldn’t rule out Clarke Schmidt or Deivi Garcia making a push as well, but they are more spring training inclusions.

The Yankees could also look to utilize an opener, similar to what they did with Chad Green in 2019. While I believe they will rely mostly on their everyday starters, if fatigue and injury starts to set in, they can lean on Green to take the stress off their starters. Having a bigger staff allows them to have a deeper bullpen, and the Yankees have one of the best groups in the entire league.

“Obviously an opener is something we’ve been using here in the past and we’ve got some really interesting options if we went that route or a bullpen day,” he explained. “So I do think all of those things are on the table starting with a template of a five-day starting rotation and then navigating from there.”

Can J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery be trusted?

My primary concern is Montgomery and Happ, who both either struggled or played minimal innings last year. Happ finished 2019 with an abysmal 4.91 ERA, allowing a career-high 34 home runs and 88 earned runs. While his deficiency might be a result of juiced baseballs, the expectation is that he will bounce back after a clear outlier in his career averages.

Of course, there’s no guarantee he will return to form. Montgomery, on the other hand, pitched in 4.0 innings last year, allowing one home run and three runs altogether. This spring training, he pitched in 11.0 innings, allowing four homers and a 4.09 ERA. On paper, he looks nowhere near ready to handle a starting workload, which is why the fourth spot in the rotation is still very much problematic. With Luis Severino and Domingo German set to miss the entire 2020 campaign, the Yankees will be rotating players around to see who emerges as a consistent starter.

New York Jets: Three new Patriots to fear more than Cam Newton

Cam Newton certainly complicates matters for the New York Jets’ AFC East chances, but he’s far from their only new problem.

Cam Newton cast his shadow over the AFC East and announced six more years of New England Patriot dominance.

Fans of the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins sang of liberation after Tom Brady announced his departure from Foxboro for the warmer fields of Tampa Bay. After passing on a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft and signing only career journeyman Brian Hoyer on the throwers’ market, the assumed successor to the Brady throne was Jarrett Stidham, he of a 2019 fourth-round selection whose third NFL pass was taken back by Jamal Adams for.a touchdown. The arrival of Newton seemed to restore the Patriots to their former glory without even suffering a single instance of on-field regression.

But the fact remains…just because Brady left doesn’t mean the glory ever did.

It’d be foolhardy for even Brady’s biggest detractor to call him a bad quarterback, but there’s no denying that the six-time Super Bowl champion’s 2019 ledger wasn’t what football surveyors were accustomed to. Brady posted a passer rating under 90 in 10 games last season (in comparison, he had only 10 such games in 2017-18 combined), and the Patriots still managed to go 6-4 in such events. Even during New England’s most recent Super Bowl run, Brady had a combined 74.6 rating in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIII.

It’s undeniable that Newton does make the Patriots a better team. This is, after all, a dual-threat not far removed from a legendary MVP campaign. Time will tell if he can fully recover from injuries that limited him to two games last season, but if you have to replace arguably the greatest quarterback in football history, you can do far worse than Cam Newton.

But, as New England’s recent track record proves, success wasn’t determined by a single name. Whoever the new quarterback was, be it Newton, Stidham, or some third party, he was going to walk into a strong situation where he would work with veteran receivers (Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, first-round project N’Keal Harry), a multi-faceted run game (James White, Sony Michel), and a strong, tenured defense and offensive line…and a Bill Belichick in a pear tree.

In fact, there are other New England newcomers that should warn the Jets and their East brethren that their Patriot problems were still active long before Newton’s arrival…

S/PR Kyle Dugger

The Patriots’ never-ending dynasty has been kept running by countless diamonds in the draft’s rough. No school is exempt from examination from Belichick’s relentless scouts, not even tiny Lenoir-Rhyne University football. The Division II program yielded New England’s first pick in Dugger (37th overall), who shot up the draft board after a strong showing at Senior Bowl week. New England was already relatively set in the secondary (Devin McCourty was re-signed) so the scariest part about Dugger is that he’s a potential force to be reckoned with down the road. Scouts have praised his size and speed, and he’ll have an elite group of mentors working with him (Stephon Gilmore, Patrick Chung, Devin and his brother Jason). More immediately, Dugger can make in the return game, serving as the primary punt man with the Bears.

S Adrian Phillips

Further depth was added in the form of Phillips, the ex-San Diego/Los Angeles Charger. A safety who has made a name for himself as a strong special teams defender, Phillips is coming off a lost 2019, limited to seven games after suffering a broken arm in Week 2. It overshadowed a breakthrough year in which he earned a career-best 94 tackles (an NFL-best 17 coming on special teams) and nine pass breakups. For his efforts, Phillips was named to his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams. Quarterbacks also posted a mere 44.8 passer rating when throwing into his area. Defensive upgrades seem redundant for the Patriots, but, Brady or no Brady, they seem to be operating on a time-honored axiom that should be obvious: can’t win if you can’t score.

LB Josh Uche

The Jets spent a good portion of the 2020 offseason upgrading their offensive line, which makes all too much sense when you look back on what Sam Darnold and Le’Veon Bell had to deal with last year. New England earned 6 of their 47 sacks (second-best in the AFC) in the pair of matchups against the Jets, and while Darnold was the victim of only one, as Luke Falk was the unfortunate soul who started the original game, the relentless pass rush had him infamously “seeing ghosts”. One could see the Patriots losing a defensive edge with their sack leaders Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy respectively leaving for Detroit and Miami, but the Patriots restocked by taking Uche out of Michigan. Reuniting him with fellow former Ann Arbor resident Chase Winovich, Uche can fill the roles the absconders left behind. His speed was particularly impressive, breaking into backfields for 14.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Uche’s arrival ensures that the numerous newcomers on the Jets’ frontline will still have a lot to deal with, as will the new mobile franchise quarterbacks in Buffalo (Josh Allen) and Miami (Tua Tagovailoa).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Yankees News: Zack Britton talks about a season without fans

New York Yankees, Zack Britton

The New York Yankees relief pitcher Zack Britton is talking about what it’s like to play in a stadium with no fans. He knows what it’s like to play in that atmosphere; he pitched in a game when he was with the Baltimore Orioles with no fans in the stands.  On April 29, 2015, the Orioles played the Chicago White Sox. It was a game that made history because it was the very first game in MLB history to be played with no fans in the stands.

In April of that year, there was civil unrest that caused protesters to fill the streets, and there were fears about public safety in the city due to the controversy caused by the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody. Oriole Stadium at Camden Yards was closed to Oriole fans.

“When I played in the no-fan game in Baltimore and it was something that I remember directly saying, ‘I hope I never have to do this again,’ ”

Zack Britton spoke those words in a Zoom call from New York’s Yankee Stadium yesterday. Britton was working out at the Stadium and going through coronavirus testing just one day before the start of summer camp 2.0. He spoke about talking to other Yankee players about playing in that empty stadium and what it felt like. He added that it would be a topic of conversation in the days to come as well.  He also mentioned that the team that can adjust best to this new environment might be the team that is most successful during the coronavirus pandemic tainted season.

“I think the team that can self-motivate the best is going to be the team that comes out on top. I honestly do believe that it might not be the most talented team this year. I think it will be the guys who come to the ballpark and not be relying on the adrenaline that the atmosphere would give you but be able to self-motivate and accomplish what they want to accomplish. I truly believe it is going to be that team that wins it.’’

He continued to speak about how the New York Yankees could be that team with its mix of young, dynamic players and veterans that have played in all circumstances. But he also said that its difficult to predict how players will play in a stadium that is more like a funeral home.

“That’s a tough question. I do believe we have the guys who can do it. We have guys who have played at a top level for a long time,’’ said Britton, who fits in that group. “The more I have been around those types of players the more I realize those are the guys who can self-motivate, guys that can maintain a performance level throughout the course of a season at a high level. I am hopeful our team is that team that can do it. I will have a better feeling for that once we get into that environment but my gut reaction is that we are going to be fine.’’

Britton has chosen to leave his family at home in back in Austin, Texas as a safety measure, saying that if things improve later in the season he may bring them to New York.

The New York Yankees have a big plus going for them this year that just might make a big difference.  That plus is Gerrit Cole that became the Yankees pitching ace when he signed a $324 million contract to play for the Yankees for the next nine years.  Cole is a veteran that can lead the team out of the coronavirus funk.  Cole, with his enthusiasm, will automatically become a team leader just as CC Sabathia was.

There is no question that it will be a challenge playing without the motivation of fans cheering in the stands, but if any team can do it, the Yankees can. All of the Yankees players are motivated to getting to that 28th World Championship.

BREAKING: Gilbert Burns out of UFC 251 headliner after testing positive for COVID-19

UFC 251 has taken a hit as Gilbert Burns (19-3) has tested positive for COVID-19. Burns was set to take on welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman (16-1), on Fight Island next Saturday night. MMA Junkie was the first to report the news late Friday evening.

Tough blow for the UFC and Burns

Burns was on the cusp of cementing his status as UFC male fighter of the year. Burns entered 2020 as a solid welterweight contender, but after dominant wins over Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley, it was apparent that Burns was championship material.

Kamaru Usman was originally scheduled to take on Jorge Masvidal at UFC 251. However, contract negotiations fell apart. The surging Burns jumped at the opportunity to take on his now former teammate Usman. Burns became the top ranked welterweight and was given the shot.

What happens next?

As of now, nothing has been announced from the UFC so there is no real idea on what comes next. The likely scenario is that we will see the fight get rebooked for later this year. Perhaps next month on the same card as Cormier/Miocic 3 or perhaps it gets pushed back to September. No matter what, this is a tough blow to next week’s first card on Fight Island. With this news, the featherweight title fight between Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway will slide into the main event slot.

I do wonder if the UFC tries to revisit the Masvidal fight now that the Burns fight has fallen through. The Masvidal fight had a ton of heat behind it, and it would sell very well. It is unlikely that the UFC would pass over Burns in favor of Masvidal, but it wouldn’t be completely surprising. I still think the likely scenario will be that we see Burns and Usman fight in either August or September.