Varying degrees of difficulty in April schedules
Yanks, Tigers, Red Sox, Rays among those with early challenges
The Yankees, like all teams in baseball, hope their season will end with a playoff run. But not all teams will experience a sense of postseason competition like the Yankees will during the first month of the season.
The Bronx Bombers aren't alone. The Cubs, Tigers, Twins, Red Sox and Rays are also among those facing difficult April schedules -- and they certainly have taken notice of the early challenges.
"It's a long season. It's just a long season," Yankees manager Brian Cashman said. "Obviously it's certainly a tough schedule at the front end but hopefully people feel it's tough to be playing us, too. We're playing a lot of real talented teams. That doesn't mean you can take a break against teams that aren't talented, though."
In the first 22 games of their schedule, the Yankees have a combined nine games against three 2011 playoff teams -- Detroit, Tampa Bay and Texas -- and six more against the Red Sox and Angels, clubs that just missed October last year.
Boston's April schedule includes 12 games against last year's American League playoff teams, including the Yankees, with nine straight against a combination of those foes.
The Tigers opened the season with three against the Red Sox, whom they swept, and will see the Rays, Rangers and Yankees 10 times combined.
"We just got to keep going," Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "We got thrown right into the fire here right off the start. Boston, with these three [starting] pitchers we've seen here, and Tampa Bay coming right behind them with three more good ones so we're right in the fire early, getting tested early."
The Twins and Rays each have three series against playoff teams, plus additional series against the Red Sox and Angels in the first month of the season.
In the National League, it's tough to find a more brutal early slate than Chicago's. The Cubs opened against the Nationals, and that will be followed by the NL Central-champion Brewers and the World Series-champion Cardinals. They've also got series against the Marlins, Reds, another series against the Cardinals and four games against the Phillies.
"I think the most important thing you can do is be prepared every game and have a team that plays hard every game and if you have that, anything can happen," said Cubs GM Jed Hoyer.
Conversely, the defending NL West-champion D-backs only have one series -- three games against the Phillies -- against a 2011 playoff team. The Orioles, Astros, Phillies, Mets, Royals, Dodgers and Rockies also have it pretty cushy, with just one series each against a 2011 playoff squad this month.
The only NL team without a single game against a 2011 playoff team is the Nationals. Instead, they have the misfortune of ending the season with four against the Brewers, three in Philadelphia and three in St. Louis.
In the AL, the Indians and Athletics go the entire month of April without games against a single 2011 playoff team, though each has a series against the reloaded Angels.
But both clubs will pay for it later in the year. The Indians have August series against the Tigers, Red Sox, Angels, Yankees and Rangers, while the A's play the Red Sox, Angels (twice), Tigers, Yankees and Rangers in September.
As for the early returns? The Cubs have won just one of three. The Tigers emerged victorious in a contentious series against Boston, taking all three in Detroit.
"Well, I don't know what a start means," Boston manager Bobby Valentine said. "Is two games a start or is a month a start? I think we can get off to a good start very easily."
The Rays, too, made a statement by sweeping the defending AL East-champion Yankees.
"We've all been through three-game losing streaks, but because it's the beginning of the year, it seems to be magnified a bit," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "This has been a team that over the years has been very resilient, and I expect to see that again."