YANKEES 4, RED SOX 1
On a night where Japan’s Hajime Motegi hit a walk-off two-run blast in the bottom of the ninth to beat Taiwan, 2-0, in the International Bracket of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, two of the team’s major-league heroes were putting on a show on the big stage at Yankee Stadium.
Hiroki Kuroda turned in yet another stellar outing on the mound and Ichiro Suzuki homered twice as New York sent Boston packing from the Bronx, N.Y. on Sunday looking up out of a huge 13 1/2-game hole with just 41 games left to play.
Kuroda (12-8) gave up only a one-out solo home run to Adrian Gonazalez in the seventh as he shut down the listless Red Sox offense on just four hits and no walks over eight very breezy innings.
The 37-year-old right-hander ran his scoreless-inning streak to 16 2/3 innings before Gonzalez connected with his meaningless solo shot. Kuroda is 8-2 with a 2.73 in his last 20 starts dating back to May 27.
Meanwhile, the Yankees chipped away at the Red Sox’ disappointing ace Josh Beckett (5-11), scoring single runs in the first, third, fourth and sixth innings.
The runs in the fourth and sixth came on the sixth and seventh home runs of the season from Suzuki, marking his first multi-homer game as a Yankee. After Suzuki’s second home run of the night, many in the paid crowd of 48,620 chanted “Ichiro, Ichiro” until the 37-year-old veteran came of the Yankees’ dugout to take a curtain call.
The Yankees opened the scoring with Derek Jeter leading off the game with a ringing double to the wall in center, the first of three hits on the night for Jeter. With two out, Curtis Granderson stroked a lined double off the right-field wall to score Jeter.
Two innings later, Jeter again opened the inning with a ground-rule double to center off Beckett. Nick Swisher drew a walk and both Jeter and Swisher pulled off a double steal. Jeter then scored when a pitch from Beckett to Robinson Cano bounced in the dirt and eluded catcher Ryan Lavarnway, allowing Jeter to score easily.
Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth, punctuating the victory by retiring Gonzalez by striking out him swinging. Soriano saved two of the three games in the series and he has 31 saves in 33 chances this season.
With the loss, the Red Sox’s nightmarish August continues. They are 6-12 this month and they now trail in the wild-card standings by 7 1/2 games. If it is not time to stick a fork in the Bosox it is not far away.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to an American League-best record of 72-49 and they are five games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the A.L. East. The Red Sox are now 59-63 and their playoff chances are about as bright as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson winning the 2012 presidential election as the Libertarian candidate.
- In the absence of CC Sabathia, Kuroda has turned out to be a true ace over his last 20 starts. Kuroda retired 16 of his 24 outs on 12 ground balls and four strikeouts. Out of his 112 pitches, 75 (67 percent) were strikes. He could not have looked in more command against the Red Sox if he were throwing from a La-Z-boy recliner.
- Suzuki came to the Yankees with only four home runs but he now has three in his 26 games with the team. On his current pace, Suzuki possibly could become the 11th Yankee to reach double digits in home runs. The Yankees lead the major leagues in home runs with 189. Suzuki also has only failed to record at least one hit in just two of his starts since he was acquired on July 23.
- Jeter was 3-for-4 with two doubles and two runs scored. The three hits give him 163 on the season, which leads the majors. Though he had his 13-game hitting streak snapped on Saturday, Jeter is hitting .351 with two home runs and 11 RBis in August. His season average is now .321.
Nothing to say here. Any win over the Red Sox is pretty much devoid of negatives.
Mark Teixeira, who has been sidelined throughout the three-game Boston series with a sore left wrist, hopes to return to action on Monday. Teixeira took ground balls on Sunday wearing a compression brace on his wrist. Teixeira missed games from July 31 through August 2 with the same problem and took a cortisone shot to ease the pain. . . . Left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano threw a scoreless inning for the Gulf Coast Yankees on Saturday and there is a strong possibility he could pitch some for the Yankees in September. Feliciano signed a two-year contract with the Yankees before the 2011 season and he has not pitched an inning for the Yankees because he had to undergo surgery to repair a torn capsule in his left shoulder.
The Yankees travel to the Windy City to play the Chicago White Sox in a three-game series beginning on Monday.
Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (7-5, 4.68 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Garcia is 5-3 with a 3.69 ERA in his eight starts replacing left-hander Andy Pettitte in the rotation. In his last time out, he gave up two home runs to Josh Hamilton but still beat the Texas Rangers for his third straight victory. Garcia is 5-5 with a 4.46 ERA in his career against the Chisox.
The White Sox will counter with right-hander Gavin Floyd (9-9, 4.43 ERA). Floyd notched his first career victory in Toronto and only his second road victory of the season by downing the Blue Jays in his last outing. He is 2-3 with a 6.07 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, RED SOX 4
When the New York City Grand Hyatt Hotel elevator opens for Bobby Valentine and the passengers announce the elevator is going down, the embattled Red Sox skipper must be thinking about heading for the stairs. But after Friday’s loss to the New York Yankees, Valentine and the Red Sox must clearly believe that their season is indeed going down – in flames.
Nick Swisher led a five-homer barrage with a pair of solo shots from each side of the plate as New York put yet another proverbial nail in Boston’s 2012 coffin on a rainy night at Yankee Stadium in front of paid crowd of 49,422.
Jayson Nix actually was one of the few Yankees who kept his hit in the yard as he broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning with an RBI single to give the Yankees their eighth victory in their last 10 games and increase their lead over the Red Sox in the American League East to 13 1/2 games.
Phil Hughes (12-10) snapped a personal two-game losing streak by allowing four runs (none of them earned) on four hits and one walk while striking out four in seven solid innings.
Hughes proved to be his own worst enemy after being staked to a 3-0 lead after a solo home run by Swisher in the first inning and Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin went back-to-back with solo home runs in the second inning off Red Sox starter Franklin Morales.
Mike Aviles led off the third inning with a lined single to center. Hughes then botched a potential double-play ball off the bat of Scott Posednik by throwing his relay toss second in the dirt and past Nix into center-field, putting runners on first and third with no outs.
Pedro Ciriaco scored Aviles by beating out another potential double-play ball and Jacoby Ellsbury battled Hughes to earn a 10-pitch walk.
That set the stage for a three-run home run into the left-field bleachers off the bat of Dustin Pedroia, giving the Red Sox a 4-3 lead on four unearned runs.
But the Yankees were not quite finished playing Home Run Derby with Morales.
Derek Jeter connected for his 10th home run of the season and extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a lined blast to left-field with two out in the fifth inning to tie it at 4-4. Morales has served up 11 home runs in 73 2/3 innings this season and eight of them have been to the Yankees.
The Yankees’ game-winning rally started in the sixth with a one-out single to center by Casey McGehee. Granderson followed with a hard-hit single off the wall in right that advanced McGehee to third and Valentine replaced Morales with right-handed reliever Clayton Mortensen.
One out later, Nix stroked a 0-2 slider to the opposite field in right to score McGehee.
Morales (3-4) gave up five runs on six hits and a walk and he fanned three in 5 1/3 innings. In his two starts against the Yankees this season, he has been tagged for 11 runs on 12 hits and three walks in 8 2/3 innings. Of those 12 hits, eight of the hits have been those pesky longballs.
Swisher capped the scoring with a solo home run that chased Mortensen in the seventh inning. It was his 16th home run of the season, his fourth home run over his last five games and it is the 12th time in his career he has hit a homer from both sides of the plate in a game.
David Robertson twirled a scoreless eighth and Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth to record his 30th save in 32 chances this season.
The Red Sox are 3-7 against the Yankees this season and their hopes of getting back into the wild-card race seem about as realistic as Kevin Youkilis throwing a tribute dinner for Valentine. The Red Sox are an anemic 5-11 in August and they seem to have as much life as Ted Williams’ preserved head.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their American League-best record to 71-48 and they are six games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the A.L. East. The Red Sox are mired in fourth at 58-62 and they are in danger of becoming the team with the highest payroll ever to miss three consecutive postseasons.
- Swisher is on a flat-out tear that seems to have coincided with his move to the No. 2 spot in the batting order. He has at least one RBI in his last six games and is 9-for-25 (.360) with four home runs and 11 RBIs in that span. Swisher has raised his season average to .266.
- Jeter’s 10th home run of the season gives the Yankees 10 players who have 10 or more home runs this season. During his 13-game hitting streak, Jeter is 22-for-64 (.344) with two home runs and eight RBIs. His current hot streak has raised his season average to .319, which leads the team and is fourth in the A.L.
- If you leave out the nightmare third inning, Hughes gave up no runs on two hits and no walks and struck out four in six innings. As it is, Hughes retired 12 of the last 14 hitters he faced after the third. After going 0-2 with a 11.88 ERA in his last two starts, it was a nice bounce-back start for the 26-year-old right-hander.
I could complain about Hughes’ awful throwing error which led to four unearned runs. But the Yankees ratcheted up the power on the Red Sox and have them just about put away for good this season. So there are no real negatives when things look so good for Yankee fans.
Mark Teixeira was unable to play on Friday due to recurring soreness in his left wrist. It is the first game Teixeira has missed since he returned to the lineup on Aug. 3 after having a cortisone shot to ease the inflammation. It is unclear how much time Teixeira will miss. But manager Joe Girardi said he does not expect it to be a long-term issue. Swisher played first in Teixeira’s absence against the Red Sox. . . . CC Sabathia threw on flat ground for the second consecutive day on Friday and it appears he is on schedule to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday and will make a start on Aug. 24 in Cleveland against the Indians. Sabathia has been sidelined with soreness in his left elbow.
The Yankees can embarrass the Bosox some more in a nationally telecast game on Saturday.
The Yankees will start 25-year-old rookie right-hander David Phelps (3-3, 2.53 ERA), who won his first major-league game as a starter by beating the Texas Rangers on Monday. Phelps gave up two runs on six hits and one walk and fanned three in five innings. He has no record and a 4.50 ERA in limited relief work against the Red Sox in his career.
The Red Sox will start left-hander Jon Lester (6-10, 5.20 ERA). Lester gave up one run on three hits and struck out 12 in his last start against the Indians on Sunday. However, Lester is 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA in his two starts against the Yankees this season.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.
YANKEES 6, BRAVES 2
When you think of perfect 10’s you might immediately conjure up images of Angelina Joile, Jessica Alba or Kate Beckinsale. Though they might not be in the same league as those women in terms of looks, the New York Yankees are now a perfect 10 themselves.
CC Sabathia pitched his first complete game in 11 months and Derek Jeter drove in three runs, including a clutch two-out, two-run single that a broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth inning, as New York overcame being no-hit for the first four innings on Monday to defeat Atlanta for their 10th straight victory.
Sabathia (9-3) gave up two runs on seven hits and one walk and he fanned 10 batters to join teammate Ivan Nova as the first two pitchers in the American League to win nine games.
Sabathia, however, got off to a rough start when Michael Bourn cranked his second offering into the gap and to the wall in left-center for a triple. Martin Prado pushed him across the plate on a groundout.
Four innings later, Bourn burned Sabathia for a second time.
Jason Heyward led off the fifth with a single up the middle and Andrelton Simmons reached on an infield single when his comebacker ticked off Sabathia’s glove. One out later, Bourn slapped a single up the middle to score Heyward and the Braves held a 2-0 lead with Mike Minor throwing a no-hitter through four innings.
But the bottom of the fifth inning proved to be very unkind to the 24-year-old left-hander, who shut down the Yankees on one run and four hits through 7 1/3 innings last Tuesday in Atlanta only to have the Yankees rally for six runs in the eighth inning and win the game, 6-4.
Alex Rodriguez started the inning with the Yankees first hit of the game, a solid lined single to center. Minor then walked Robinson Cano and, after one out, Russell Martin smacked a ground-rule double down the left-field line to score Rodriguez and halve the Braves’ lead to 2-1.
Jayson Nix drew a walk to load the bases and with two out Jeter smacked a single up the middle to score Cano and Martin and the Yankees grabbed their first lead of the night. A majority of the 42,709 fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium finally had a chance to get to their feet and cheer.
Sabathia was not about to give up the lead either.
In the final four innings, the Braves managed only a two-out single by David Ross in the seventh inning. Sabathia retired the other 12 batters he faced – six on strikeouts, five on groundouts and one on a flyout – to nail it down down for the Yankees.
Meanwhile, the Yankees tacked on single runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth.
Mark Teixeira blasted his 12th home run of the season off Minor to lead off the sixth. It was the 100th home run of the season for the Yankees, which leads the majors.
An inning later, Jeter followed a two-out double by Chris Stewart with an RBI single to make it 5-2 and Cano capped the scoring with his 13th home run of the season with one out in the eighth.
Minor (3-5) gave up four runs on four hits and three walks and he struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings.
Sabathia’s complete game was his first since an eight-inning loss to Tampa Bay on July 21, 2011. He has pitched at least seven innings in 11 of his 14 starts this season.
The Yankees’ 10-game winning streak is their longest such streak since May 2005. The Yankee starting rotation has an ERA of 2.09 during the streak and they have recorded eight of the victories.
The Yankee have improved their A.L.-best record to 41-25 and they extended their lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles to 2 1/2 games in the A.L. East. The Braves, who have now lost all four interleague contest they have played against the Yankees, are now 35-32.
- In the month of June, Sabathia actually entered the game as the starter with the worst ERA at 3.80, though he was 2-1. But after a shaky start, Sabathia settled in the minute the Yankees took the lead and was in command the rest of the way. Sabathia lowered his season ERA to 3.55 and he is on pace for another run at a 20-win season.
- Jeter two RBI hits both came with two outs and with runners in scoring position. There have not been many of those from the Yankees this season. Jeter extended his hitting streak to nine games and he is 14-for-41 (.341) over that stretch. He raised his season average to a team-best .317. Jeter also made a diving stop of a hard-hit grounder off the bat of Bourn to end the seventh inning.
- When Martin stepped to the plate in the fifth inning he was one for his last 19 at-bats, including a strikeout in this first at-bat. But he doubled and later singled to push his batting average back over the Mendoza Line to .206 for the season.
What negatives? Despite the fact it took them five innings to get a hit, the Yankees dug down deep again and pulled another game out. Sabathia looked sensational after the Yankees got the lead and not many teams can say they have won 10 in a row. This one can.
The Yankees will go for No. 11 on Tuesday against these same Braves.
Red-hot right-hander Hiroki Kuroda ( 6-6, 3.43 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Kuroda limited the Braves to two runs on nine hits and he fanned a season-high eight last Wednesday for his third straight victory. Kuroda is 2-4 with a 2.23 ERA in his career against the Braves.
Kuroda will square off with Tim Hudson (4-3, 3.90 ERA) again. Hudson gave up three runs – two coming on a Curtis Granderson two-run homer in the sixth – in six innings and took the loss against the Yankees. He is 1-4 with a 3.84 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast on regional basis by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 1
Ask any manager and general manager in baseball to give you the three keys to winning and they all will tell that it is pitching, pitching and more pitching. The New York Yankees suddenly have the market cornered on pitching as they continue their destruction of the National League during interleague play.
Ivan Nova threw 7 1/3 innings of sparkling one-run baseball to become the first American League pitcher to win nine games as New York, on the strength of a pair of solo home runs by Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, swept Washington at Nationals Park on Sunday to win their ninth straight contest.
Nova (7-2) only surrendered a solo home run to Adam LaRoche to lead of the second inning. He gave up seven hits and one walk while striking out four batters to record his fifth straight victory and he remains undefeated (12-0) over his last 15 road starts dating back to June 3, 2011.
The Yankees, meanwhile, reverted back to their old ways of failing to hit with runners in scoring position but they still were able to get to Edwin Jackson (3-4) to push across enough runs to win the game.
The Yankees loaded the bases in the first inning on Jackson on an infield single by Derek Jeter, a Granderson double and an intentional walk to Cano with one out. Mark Teixeira followed with a sacrifice fly that brought Jeter home with the game’s first run.
That run held up until LaRoche tied it with his team-leading 12th home run for the Nationals.
But Granderson broke the tie leading off the fifth inning by crushing a high change-up off Jackson into the bullpen in right-field for his 21st home run of the season.
Even though the Yankees put runners on base in all six innings Jackson worked, they could not come up with the knockout blow. Jackson gave up seven hits and three walks but he kept the Yankees from adding to their lead. The Yankees were 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
The Yankees did manage to run up Jackson’s pitch count to 110 after six innings, which sent him out of the game and allowed the Yankees to tack on some runs against the Nationals’ bullpen.
They added a two runs in the seventh.
The first came on a solo home run by Cano off left-hander Tom Gorzelanny for Cano’s 12th home run of the season. Three batters later, Teixeira – who doubled – scored from third with two out when rookie reliever Ryan Mattheus threw a 3-2 pitch to Andruw Jones that catcher Jhonathan Solano could not catch for a passed ball. Teixeira scored easily when Mattheus failed to cover home plate.
The Yankees’ bullpen took it from there.
Boone Logan completed the eighth inning for Nova and Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth to record his 13th save, which makes him the Yankees reliever who has saved the second-most games since Mariano Rivera became the team’s closer in 1996. Steve Karsay previously held that mark with 12.
With the victory the Yankees improved their A.L.-best record to 40-25 and they maintained their 1 1/2-game lead on the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the A.L. East. The Nationals, who came into the series on a six-game winning streak, dropped to 38-26.
- Nova pitched another exceptional game on Sunday. In his last three starts, Nova is 3-0, giving up only two runs on 16 hits and three walks and he has struck out 15 batters over 22 2/3 innings. That has lowered his season ERA from 5.60 to 4.32. He has not lost since a May 19 start at Yankee Stadium against the Reds and his career record is now 25-6. Anyone still think this 25-year-old right-hander is a fluke or his record is just a product of great run support?
- Granderson has been on a full-blown tear in his last eight games, which coincides neatly into the Yankees’ nine-game winning streak. Granderson has an eight-game hitting streak and he is 11-for-33 (.333) in that span with three home runs and seven RBIs. In fact, Granderson has now homered in three of his last four games and his 21 homers trails only Adam Dunn (23) of the White Sox and Josh Hamilton (22) of the Rangers in the major leagues.
- Cano has been on a tear this June. He is hitting .333 with four home runs and eight RBIs. He has failed to get at least one hit in only two games this month. On May 5, Cano had one home run and four RBIs. Since that time, he has 11 home runs and 26 RBIs and he has raised his batting average from .255 to an even .300.
- The 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position statistic just hangs out there like an albatross on the Yankees. It can be forgotten with the nine-game winning streak but the longer it continues the harder it is going to be for the Yankees to correct it when they play tougher A.L. teams, not to mention in the playoffs.
- Raul Ibanez gets the award for choking in the clutch on Sunday. He was 0-for-5 and he left seven men on base. But, to be fair to Ibanez, he hit the ball hard three times but it just so happened that it found a glove each time. Ibanez is one of the Yankees struggling during their current winning streak. In his last 10 games he is hitting .172 with a home run and three RBIs.
- Alex Rodriguez also failed to contribute anything on Sunday. He was 0-for-5 including a strikeout. Though he has a home run and nine RBIs, he is only hitting .229 over his last 10 games. He is only hitting .222 in June.
As expected, Nick Swisher was held out of the lineup and did not play on Sunday due to a bone bruise in his left quad. Swisher was sliding into home plate when Nationals catcher Jesus Flores’ left shin guard struck Swisher on the left thigh as Flores tagged him out in the sixth inning of Saturday’s game. Swisher received treatment for the injury and he remains day-to-day. . . . Cano’s home run off Gorzelanny in the seventh inning was pretty much a given. In his career, Cano is 6-for-8 off Gorzelanny.
The Yankees completed a 6-0 road trip by sweeping two N.L. teams. They now come home to open a home series on Monday against one of those teams they swept, the Atlanta Braves.
CC Sabathia (8-3, 3.70 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Sabathia was tagged for four runs on 10 hits over seven innings against the Braves but he won the game when the Yankees came from 4-0 down in the eighth for a 6-4 victory. In his career against the Braves, Sabathia is 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA.
Lefty Mike Minor (3-4, 6.01 ERA) will face Sabathia and the Yankees for a second straight start. Last Wednesday, Minor pitched his best game of the season, limiting the Yankees to one run in 7 1/3 innings. But his bullpen – led by Jonny Venters – blew the lead and lost the game. This will be only Minor’s second start against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
Today marks the beginning of the 2012 season for the New York Yankees. After a 33-game spring schedule, the team took shape. How will they finish in the American League East? What about the other teams in the division? How will they do this season? Let’s take a look.
Last season marked a titanic shift in the division.
After the Boston Red Sox recorded the biggest implosion in major-league history in September, they are no longer looked upon as an elite in this division. The loss of general manager Theo Epstein and the decision to blame Terry Francona for the team’s demise were bad enough.
But the real shock was to watch the Red Sox take a different approach to trying to fix the team this winter. Instead of just going out and aggressively signing the best free agents available and making bold trades to infuse new blood, the Bosox actually started a coupon-clipping method of solving their problems.
The big names that could have helped them went elsewhere and the Red Sox found that their once-vaunted minor-league system was bereft of immediate-impact talent.
They begin the 2012 season with one of the most important positions on the team left n the hands of someone inexperienced.
If ever this was a microcosm of the Red Sox problems this is it. They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to walk away via free agency. Maligned for his foibles and his occasional blown saves, Papelbon was still an important piece of the success of the franchise. The fans and the press treatment of him bit the team in the rear end.
To replace him the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s, a competent closer who at the same time has had a series of arm ailments that have slowed his development. At the end of spring training, Bailey came up with a thumb injury that will require surgery to repair. He will miss two months – at least.
The Red Sox also traded for Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon. The conventional wisdom was Melanco would replace Bailey. After all, why trade for a closer if he is not going to close? But new manager Bobby Valentine announced that jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) reliever Alfredo Aceves would close instead.
Welcome to Red Sox Nation’s worst nightmare. On Opening Day, Aceves coughed the winning run in a non-save situation.
If there is anyone out there who honestly believes this team can win the A.L. East, I want to know what you are smoking.
There are only two elite teams in this division and they are the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays had an interesting spring where they played a lot like the some of the teams in 1960s like the Dodgers and White Sox, who were so deep in pitching talent they shut out any team. However, at the same time, the offense is so bad that scoring runs is going to take some real effort.
Don’t get me wrong. The Rays and manager Joe Maddon have ways of scoring. Carlos Pena may struggle to keep his average around .190 but he will likely hit 30 home runs. Evan Longoria, surrounded by lightweights, will be pitched around and his average will suffer also. But he will win his share of 2-1 games with home runs.
Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton and the rest of Rays also use their feet to create havoc on the bases. That will get them their share of runs at times. But the old adage “You can’t steal first base” comes into play. The Rays have to reach base in order to steal bases. This team also lacks the athleticism past teams had when Carl Crawford was here.
How many bases will catcher Jose Molina steal? I rest my case.
No, the Rays’ sole means of winning comes with their starting rotation. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann are the center of the ballclub. The Rays have attempted to build a bullpen around them but they begin the season with their closer, Kyle Farnsworth, on the disabled list with a sore elbow.
That is huge red flag to me.
Could you say that the Yankees would be favored to win a championship with Mariano Rivera on the DL and expected to miss two months like Bailey? How about if Rivera complained he had a sore elbow?
Nope. No matter how stacked your pitching staff is you have to have a closer and Farnsworth is the best the Rays had in 2011. If he is lost for a long period of time, it puts pressure on Maddon to “shorten” his bullpen. That means keeping his starters on the mound longer than most managers would allow.
That exposes them to possibly losing close games because starters do run out of steam at some point. While a manager like Charlie Manuel might take Cliff Lee out after 121 pitches because he has Papelbon and a deep bullpen, Maddon may say let’s let Price get out of this in the eighth because I do not think J.P. Howell has been effective lately.
It becomes a slippery slope and you start lengthening and lengthening your starters until they begin wearing down.
That is my concern with the Rays.
In addition, they do not have the money and means to ever go to a Plan B. What they have on the roster has to work or they fall.
One team that intrigues me is the Blue Jays.
They already have Jose Bautista. You add to that third baseman Brett Lawrie and a bunch of guys who hit the ball hard and you have the makings of a great offense. Too bad the Rays do not have this offense.
The Blue Jays will put a lot of runs on the board. They have a lot of power and line-drive hitters top to bottom in the lineup.
However, their pitching revolves around Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Brett Cecil has been sent to the minors and Dustin McGowan’s comeback has been slowed by injury. Their bullpen does have a closer in Sergio Santos they stole from the White Sox and a former closer in Francisco Cordero they signed from the Reds.
If manager Jon Farrell can piece enough starters to go six, the Blue Jays just might have what it take to pass the Red Sox in third place in this division. Stranger things have happened.
The one given in the division is where the Orioles will finish. Mismanagement, bad luck and foolish spending have really derailed this franchise.
Buck Showalter is a good manager but this team is mired with problems. The young pitching the Orioles counted on has failed to take the big leap forward they expected.
They made big bets on players like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and they have underwhelmed. They lack a big bopper like a Bautista who can change a game. Instead, they can build around emerging star catcher Matt Wieters.
That just about sums up the Orioles.
Now we come to the Yankees.
They won 97 games last season despite the fact Alex Rodriguez played in 99 games, only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had good seasons with the bat and their rotation contained Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
How many will they win when they get a healthy season out of Rodriguez, more of their hitters have better seasons with the bat and a rotation that now has Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, a healthy Phil Hughes to go along with ace lefty CC Sabathia?
Their bullpen even without Joba Chamberlain is loaded with Rivera closing like he always has at age 42 and David Robertson and Rafael Soriano shortening games to six innings.
The team has closed the pitching gap with the Rays and their offense is simply the best in the division. Add to that the division’s best bullpen and a veteran bench and you have the makings of another A.L. East title for the team in the Bronx.
I have not seen evidence that would contradict the premise. The only thing that could derail the Yankees is the age of the team. Injuries also are a great equalizer. But, other than a bad spate of injuries there is nothing that will stop this team in 2012.
Here is the predicted order of finish:
1) New York Yankees
2) Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
3) Toronto Blue Jays
4) Boston Red Sox
5) Baltimore Orioles
If this order holds up, look for Valentine to be scanning the help wanted ads in October. He already has the team hating him. If it gets much worse he might be scanning those ads in July.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 1 – BALTIMORE ORIOLES
The 2011 season began with a lot of optimism because of the great job Buck Showalter did in turning around the Orioles at the end of the 2010 season.
But 2011 was much like every season for the Orioles since 1999. It fizzled into frustration in a hurry. They finished with a record of 69-93 and they were a distant fifth in the A.L. East, 28 games behind the Yankees.
This coming season promises to pretty similar because the Orioles have not made a lot of changes to their roster. With the exeption of Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott and Derrek Lee, this pretty much the same group that floundered through much of 2011.
One big reason is that the Orioles banked their future hopes on a collection of young starting pitchers like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. They progressed through the minors but none of them have established themselves as major-league quality starters. And if you want to compete in this division, you have to have good starting pitching.
The Orioles compounded that issue by trading their best starting pitcher, Guthrie, to the Colorado Rockies for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. As a result, the Orioles’ “ace” is former Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter, who was 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA in an injury-shortened season.
The Orioles, led by general manager Dan Duquette, are now shifting their sites overseas and the team signed two pitchers from the Japanese League in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.
Chen, 26, is a left-hander from Taiwan who has compiled a 36-30 record and a 2.48 ERA in four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. He also has pretty good stuff with 500 career strikeouts in 631 1/3 innings.
Wada, 30, is another left-hander and he has overcome two injury-plagued seasons to compile a combined 33-13 record with a 2.29 ERA in the last two seasons with Fukuoda Softbank Hawks. While Chen has better stuff, Wada is considered to have better control.
Both figure prominently in the Orioles plans for 2012 and both likely will be in the rotation this season, depending on how they progress in the spring.
Hammel, 29, was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA last season with the Rockies. The tall right-hander figures to be slotted as the No. 4 starter.
The Orioles still have high hopes for Matusz, Britton, Arrieta and Tillman. But it appears Britton and Arrieta are going to get most of the attention this spring. The lefty Britton suffered a shoulder injury last season and he finished the season 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA. Arrieta was 10-8 with 5.05 ERA.
The bullpen was a strength of this team when Koji Uehara was around but he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline last July.
The closer job is up for grabs between incumbent closer Kevin Gregg, who saved 22 games but blew seven chances and was 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA, and Jim Johnson, who saved nine games and was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA. Lindtsrom, who saved 23 games for the Astros in 2010, can also be shifted into the closer role.
The rest of the bullpen will likely be made up with lefty Darren O’Day and former starters Alfredo Simon, Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken.
A few years ago, the Orioles seem to invested their future into second baseman Brian Roberts, right-fielder Nick Markakis and center-fielder Adam Jones and have built around those players.
Unfortunately, Roberts has suffered through injury after injury and Markakis and Jones have underperformed expectations.
With the Orioles lack of ability to attract high-priced free-agent talent, the Orioles have to rely on that trio as the core of the team again.
The Orioles may also begin getting what they expected out of catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 22 home runs and won a Gold Glove for his defensive work behind the plate. The former No. 1 pick also is showing some signs of leadership on the team.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy finally shook off injuries that plagued him since he was with the Brewers in 2008 as he hit 30 home runs and drove in 80 runs.
Third baseman Mark Reynolds was pretty much as advertised. He did not hit for average and struck out 196 times but he also hit 37 home runs and drove in 87 runs.
Former Rangers first baseman Chris Davis is pretty much a carbon copy of Reynolds at first base only he does most of his striking out from the left side.
The Orioles will likely platoon veterans Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold in the outfield and look for the Orioles to make a late bid for a DH.
They could re-sign veteran Vladimir Guerrero or chose from among Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to replace Scott.
Former Yankee Wilson Betemit will be the top reserve on the infield and middle infield reserve Robert Andino will return to provide glovework behind Roberts and Hardy. Former Rangers backstop Taylor Teagarden will be the backup to Wieters.
The Orioles could use the spring to look for some veteran help in the outfield to bolster their bench a bit.
With Jones, Wieters, Hardy, Reynolds and Davis the Orioles seem to have plenty of firepower. Plus when Roberts is healthy and Markakis is going good, they can get on base and steal a base or two. But the overall offense may be too geared towards power over putting the ball iin play and advancing runners.
The Orioles, as a team, strike out way too much and it cost them because their pitching is not that strong.
The Orioles are gambling on two Japanese League pitchers and two journeyman American starters (Hunter and Hammel) to give them time to develop their young pitchers like Britton and Arrieta. The jury is still out on Matusz, who looked like a surefire star in the making in 2010.
Without a consistent starting rotation, any effort Showalter makes in the bullpen could prove futile. A good bullpen only limits the damage. The bullpen should be strong but it is obvious they are going to tire quickly if they are constantly coming in the fourth or fifth inning.
Barring another Showalter miracle, this team is headed for more frustration in 2012. They simply can’t compete with the big boys (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox) and they merely hold their own against the Blue Jays. If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the Orioles will finish fifth again.
It is a spot for which they are built.
ON TUESDAY – PART 2 TORONTO BLUE JAYS