Tagged: Alfonso Soriano

2015 Yanks Likely Will Extend Playoff Drought

Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.

The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.

The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.

George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.

The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.

During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.

Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.

Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.

Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).

How did this happen?

Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.

The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.

It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.

Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.

There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.

After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.

From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.

That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.

The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.

If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.

But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.

It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.

Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.

He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.

When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.

He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.

So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.

Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.

The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.

Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for  a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.

Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.

So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)

There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.

It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.

The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.

It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.

But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.

The offense? Don’t ask.

Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.

They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.

The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.

His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.

The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.

The bench has some veterans, of course.

Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.

If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.

But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.

But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.

Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.

In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.

I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!

 

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Kuroda, Tex Help Yankees End Skid Against Jays

GAME 77

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3

There are some managers who will say that their team needs to learn how to win. After four straight losses, Yankees manager Joe Girardi must have given his team a master class in Winning 101 on Wednesday.

Hiroki Kiroda gave the Yankees a solid effort, pitching into the seventh inning, and Mark Teixeira homered and drove in three runs as New York salvaged the final game of a three-game set against Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,710 at Rogers Centre.

Kuroda (5-5) yielded three runs on eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to win his first game since May 28 when he defeated the Cardinals in St. Louis.

Initially, it did not look good for Kuroda when Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first by cranking Kuroda’s first offering into the second deck in the right-field bleachers to give the Blue Jays an early 1-0 lead.

However, Huroda settled in and the Yankees were able to score four runs in the third inning off right-hander Drew Hutchison.

Kelly Johnson opened the frame by drawing a walk and Francisco Cervelli slammed a double into the gap in right-center to score Johnson and tie the game. It was only Cervelli’s second RBI of the season.

Two batters later, Jacoby Ellsbury singled up the middle to score Cervelli and Teixeira then launched a 0-1 change-up into the right-field bleachers to give Kuroda and the Yankees a comfortable 4-1 lead. It was Teixeira’s 14th home run of the season and his second in three games in Toronto.

“The whole dugout was excited about those four runs,” Teixeira told reporters after the game. “It had been a while since we had a lead.”

The Blue Jays, however, did draw closer in the bottom of the fifth.

Munenori Kawasaki drew a one-out walk and with two out Reyes stroked a ground-rule double. Then Melky Cabrera slapped an opposite-field single to left to score two runs to cut the Yankees’ lead to a run.

Hutchison (5-6) left after six innings having given up four runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned six batters.

The Yankees did add a run in the sixth after Blue Jays left-hander Rob Rasmussen walked Brett Gardner, hit Derek Jeter in the foot with a pitch and then issued another free pass to Ellsbury to load the bases.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summoned right-hander Sergio Santos to pitch to Teixeira and Teixeira was able to loft a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Gardner.

The Yankees’ bullpen took it from there as Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and David Robertson held the Blue Jays scoreless on just two hits with no walks and three strikeouts over the final 2 2/3 innings.

Robertson retired all five batters he faced, including striking out the first three batters he faced, to earn his 18th save in 20 opportunities this season.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 40-37 and they are now 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays in third place in the American League East. The Blue Jays dropped to 44-36.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After poor outings from Chase Whitley and David Phelps the past two games, Kuroda was able to keep the Blue Jays contained to allow the Yankee offense to get untracked. Kuroda, 39, has been somewhat of a disappointment after he pitched so well in 2012 and 2013. With his 4.23 ERA, Kuroda could stand to start putting together some good outings and pitch more consistently.
  • Teixiera’s three RBIs give him 39 on the season, which currently leads the team. The Yankees are nearly at the halfway point of the season and it is embarrassing that their team leader only has 39 RBIs. But with Teixiera slowed by a hamstring injury and a sore right wrist and Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran all underperforming the Yankees will take anything they can get from Teixeira.
  • Ellsbury was 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Ellsbury has now put together a stretch of eight games in which he is 11-for-31 (.355). But he only has one extra-base hit (a double) and three RBIs in that span.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Brian Roberts was the only Yankee starter who failed to reach base in the game. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Roberts was 7-for-18 (.389) with a home run and two RBIs in his previous five games. Roberts, 36, had his season average fall to .240.
  • Despite the victory the Yankees were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and they left the bases loaded in both the fifth and seventh innings. It is getting to the point where pitchers might just as well just intentionally walk the first three Yankees each inning because the odds the Yankees will score any runs is virtually nil.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off on Thursday before opening a three-game home series starting on Friday against the reeling Boston Red Sox.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-4, 5.88 ERA) will begin the series for the Yankees. His one victory was on May 7 and he is 0-4 with a 6.12 since then. He gave up four runs on six hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.

The Red Sox will pitch right-hander Brandon Workman (1-0, 2.88 ERA). Workman surrendered two runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in six innings in a no decision against the Cleveland Indians on June 15.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

McCann-ical: Yankee Catcher’s 5 RBIs Dumps Jays

GAME 70

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 3

For most of the season, the Yankees have been wondering where their All-Star slugging catcher Brian McCann was because the one they have been watching was hitting ,220 with seven homers and 28 RBIs. Well, cross your fingers and do a sign of the cross, but there was a rare McCann sighting at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night.

McCann lined a two-run home run to put the Yankees ahead and later added a three-run triple as part of a career-best-tying five RBIs to lead New York past Toronto to bring them to within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Blue Jays in the American League East.

A paid crowd of 41,342 in the Bronx, N.Y., watched the Yankees win their 15th consecutive game over the Blue Jays at home.

Chase Whitley (3-0), buoyed by an early 1-0 lead, held the Blue Jays scoreless until the fourth inning when he was stung by back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Dioner Navarro and Colby Rasmus, who was just activated from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game.

But the Yankees were able to answer in the bottom of the fourth against left-hander Mark Buehrle (10-4), who has now lost his past three starts.

Carlos Beltran led of the frame with a single and McCann, after battling Buehrle to a 2-2 count in a nine-pitch at-bat, lined a curveball into the second row of the bleachers in right-field to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the evening.

The home run was McCann’s eighth of the season but his first since May 23 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

Buehrle was also touched for an unearned run in the first inning when Brett Gardner led off with a single, one of his four singles on the night. Derek Jeter then reached when Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie misplayed Jeter’s slow roller into an error.

Two batters later, another one of the Yankees struggling sluggers, Alfonso Soriano, slapped Buehrle’s first pitch up the middle to score Gardner.

Buehrle was charged with three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings.

Whitley, however, was able to hold on for his third straight victory and the Yankees are now 7-0 in his starts since he was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 15. He yielded two runs on five hits and one walk with two strikeouts in five innings.

The Yankees were able to put the game away in the seventh inning against right-hander Chad Jenkins and left-hander Brett Cecil.

Gardner singled and, two outs later, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira hit consecutive singles to load the bases. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Jenkins with Cecil and pinch-hitter Ichiro Suzuki drew a walk for score Gardner.

McCann then followed with a base-clearing triple into the gap in right-center to become the first Yankees catcher to hit a home run, a triple and drive in five runs in a game since Elston Howard did it in 1962.

The Blue Jays scored a run in the eighth off rookie right-hander Jose Ramirez on a leadoff double by Melky Cabrera and an RBI double off the bat of Jose Bautista. But the bullpen combination of Adam Warren, Dellin Betances and David Robertson pitched four scoreless innings on no hits, one walk and six strikeouts to close out the victory for Whitley.

The Yankees’ season record is now 37-33 and they only trail the Jays by one game in the loss column in the tightly bunched A.L. East. The Blue Jays fell to 41-32.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • McCann was 2-for-3 with a walk and his five RBIs on Tuesday leave him in a tie with Teixeira for the team lead with 33. McCann, 30, a career .274 hitter, is still hitting only .226 but the Yankees are hoping that he is about to break out of what has been a prolonged power and hitting drought to provide what he did for the Atlanta Braves in his previous eight seasons.
  • Gardner entered the game hitting .325 at Yankee Stadium this season and he added to it with a 4-for-5 night with four singles and two runs scored. In 30 games at home, Gardner is now 41-for-119 (.345) with four home runs and 15 RBIs. In his past nine games, Gardner is 14-for-38 (.386) with two homers and five RBIs.
  • Whitley, who turned 25 on Saturday, got caught up in a heavy pitch count in trying to battle the major league’s best home run hitting team. But he kept the Yankees in the game until the Yankees were able to take the lead in the fourth. Whitley’s walk to Cabrera with one out in the fifth was the first he has issued since May 21 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. In 38 2/3 innings, Whitley has walked just four batters. It looks like he is going to be a keeper in the rotation.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There are hints that the Yankees may be ready to bust out of their offensive funk and it could not have come at a better time because the Yankees are in the midst of 15 games against teams in their division. They have now won the first two of those 15 games against the best team in the division. They need to keep it going.

BOMBER BANTER

Left-hander CC Sabathia threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday for a second consecutive day and he is expected to throw another bullpen session on Saturday. Sabathia, who was limited to throwing just fastballs on Tuesday, mixed in some sliders on Wednesday and reported no problems with his right knee after the session. Sabathia has been sidelined since May 10 after having a stem-cell injection in his right knee.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Wednesday that he is not considering any shakeup in the starting rotation but he is watching left-hander Vidal Nuno closely. Nuno is 1-3 with a 5.90 ERA this season and he was shelled for eight runs on eight hits in three-plus innings against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. With right-hander Shawn Kelley back in the bullpen after a stint on the DL, Warren could be inserted into the rotation if Girardi needs to make a move.

ON DECK

The Yankees have a chance to sweep the first-place Blue Jays on Thursday and draw to within 1 1/2 games of the lead in the division.

Right-hander David Phelps (2-4, 4.32 ERA) gets the start for the Yankees. Phelps, 27, is coming off what may have been the best start of his career on Saturday when he shut out the A’s on two hits and three walks while fanning four in 6 2/3 innings. That victory broke a string of four straight losses for Phelps.

Right-hander Drew Hutchison (5-4, 3.62 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Hutchison, 23, shut out the Baltimore Orioles on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts in seven innings for his fifth victory on Friday. He was lit up for six runs on six hits and three walks in 3 1/3 innings by the Yankees in Toronto on April 6.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Jeter Sparks Yanks Past M’s In His Seattle Farewell

GAME 65

YANKEES 6, MARINERS 3

A paid crowd of 40,596 at Safeco Field, the second largest attendance of the season, came on Thursday to see Derek Jeter play his final game in Seattle, where his career began 19 years ago in the nearby Kingdome. He sent them home quite happy.

Jeter collected three hits and drove in two runs to spark the offense and rookie right-hander Chase Whitley won his second consecutive start to boost New York to a 6-3 victory over Seattle to sweep the three-game series.

After Mariners left-hander left-hander Roenis Elias (5-5) left the game with two on and one out in the fourth inning in favor of right-hander Dominic Leone, Jeter slapped his second delivery into right-field to score two runs and give the Yankees a commanding 6-1 lead.

Jeter finished the series 7-for-12 with a double, two walks, two stolen bases, four runs scored and two RBIs.

Meanwhile, Whitley (2-0) held the Mariners to just two runs on just five hits with no walks and six strikeouts in a season-best 7 2/3 innings of work.

The Yankees gave him an early 2-0 lead in the first inning when Jeter touched Elias for a one-out single and Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a lined shot that landed in the bleachers in right-center for his fourth home run of the season. It also extended his hitting streak to 16 games, which is currently the longest active streak in the majors.

Elias got into further trouble in the third inning after Jeter reached on a single and Ellsbury drew a walk. One out later, Alfonso Soriano delivered a two-run double off the wall in left-center to make it 4-1.

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon elected to remove Elias in the fourth after he walked Brian Roberts, John Ryan Murphy singled to center and Brett Gardner advanced them with a sacrifice bunt.

Jeter then delivered his two-run single off Leone.

Elias was charged with six runs on six hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings, the shortest outing of the season for the rookie from Cuba.

The Mariners scored on Whitley with two out in the second inning when Logan Morrison laced his first home run as a Mariner into the first row of the bleachers in right-center.

They added a run in fifth when Brad Miller stroked a one-out double off the wall in center and James Jones bounced a a two-out single up the middle to score Miller to bring the M’s to within reach at 6-2.

However, Whitley was backed up by some spectacular outfield defense and it helped keep the Mariners from drawing any closer.

Robin$on Cano hit the next pitch from Whitley to the wall in center-field but Ellsbury leapt, caught the ball as it was about to reach the seats and he hit the wall hard. But he was able to keep the ball in his glove to end the threat.

Two innings later, Mike Zunino hit another ball into roughly the same spot in center but Gardner, who had replaced Ellsbury in center to start the inning, made another great catch just below the yellow line on the padded wall.

The Mariners added a run in the ninth off right-hander Shawn Kelley, who was making his first appearance since being placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lumbar back strain on May 6.

After right-fielder Ichiro Suzuki made another spectacular catch at the wall on Stefen Romero, Dustin Ackley doubled off the tip of Gardner’s glove in center and Morrison scored him with an RBI ground-rule double to right.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced Kelley with David Robertson and Robertson struck out Zunino and Miller swinging to preserve the victory for Whitley and earned his 16th save in 18 chances this season.

The victory gives the Yankees a season record of 34-31 and they are now tied with the Baltimore Orioles for second place in the American League East, 3 1/2 games in back of the slumping first-place Toronto Blue Jays.

The Mariners fell to 34-32.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Jeter’s 7-for-12 (.583 series against the Mariners has raised his season average from .254 to .271. Jeter, 39, was hitting .275 on May 25 before he went into a tailspin that sank his average to .254. After this series it seems that Jeter is back on track.
  • Ellsbury’s home run was only his fourth of the season but it was his second off Elias. On May 1 at Yankee Stadium, Ellsbury led off the game with a homer off the lefty for his first homer of the season. With his 1-for-3 evening, he is now 24-for-63 (.381) in that span. Of course, Ellsbury’s catch off Cano in the fifth was even more important because it preserved a 6-2 lead.
  • Whitley is now 2-0 in his past two starts. He has given up just four runs on 10 hits and no walks with nine strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings. That is a 2.45 ERA and Walks-To-Innings-Pitched (WHIP) ratio of 0.68, which is exceptional. Even more important is that the Yankees are undefeated in all six of his starts. The converted reliever does not look like he will be going back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when starters CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda come off the disabled list in July.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Great starting pitching, the offense scores six runs and the defense and the bullpen help preserve the victory. That is a recipe for success and the Yankees look to be a roll at a good time. Nothing negative here.

BOMBER BANTER

Ellsbury left the game in the seventh inning with tightness in his right hip. However, the Yankees said the injury is not serious and that they expect Ellsbury to be available to play on Friday. Ellsbury re-injured his hip making his catch at the wall in the bottom of the fifth inning. Ellsbury has been having issues with his right hip for the past week. He was scratched from the lineup from Monday’s game against the Kansas City Royals but the game was postponed by rain. Girardi said no tests are planned for the outfielder.  . . .  Catcher Francisco Cervelli is eligible to be activated from the 60-day disabled list on Friday and it appears that will mean Murphy will be sent back to Scranton soon. Cervelli, 28, has been sidelined since April 13 with a pulled right hamstring. He has played six games on a rehab assignment at Double-A Trenton and likely will be activated sometime next week when the team returns to New York. Murphy, 22, started the game on Thursday and was 2-for-4 to raise his season average to .310 in 58 at-bats covering 22 games.

ON DECK

The Yankees will open a three-game weekend series with the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum beginning on Friday.

Right-hander David Phelps (1-4, 4.88 ERA) will pitch in the opener. Phelps is coming off two terrible outings in which he was shelled for 13 runs on 16 hits and five walks in 11 2/3 innings. He also has lost his past four starts.

Right-hander Sonny Gray (6-2, 2.83 ERA) will oppose Phelps. Gray yielded five runs on four hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the Orioles on Saturday. He has allowed 10 earned runs in his past three starts.

Game-time will be 10:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Tanaka Notches 9th Win As Yankees End Skid

GAME 59

YANKEES 2, ATHLETICS 1

The last time the Yankees won a game, Masahiro Tanaka pitched eight innings to defeat the Minnesota Twins 3-1 on May 31 on his way to being named May’s American League Pitcher of the Month. So on Thursday all Tanaka did was pitch six gutty innings to defeat Oakland to begin June.

Tanaka weathered a home run from the second batter he faced, John Jaso, in yielding five hits and one walk while striking out four as New York ended its four-game skid to edge Oakland in front of a paid crowd of  44,346 at Yankee Stadium.

The A’s deliberately tried to press Tanaka (9-1) in the fourth and fifth innings after they could manage just Jaso’s homer off the right-hander. They decided to take pitches until they got to two strikes and shortened their swings on two strikes to foul off tough pitches.

Tanaka was forced to throw 26 pitches in both the fourth and fifth innings. The A’s did manage to post a pair of two-out singles in the fourth by Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes before Jed Lowrie struck out on nine pitches. In the fifth Tanaka yielded a leadoff single to Stephen Vogt and a two-out walk to Coco Crisp but Jaso popped out weakly to end the threat.

The strategy was clear: Get Tanaka’s pitch count up to attack him in a weakened condition or force him out of the game so the Athletics could attack the Yankees’ bullpen, which has been leaking like a sieve during the Yankees’ seven-game homestand.

But the strategy did not work.

Tanaka left after 104 pitches and six innings with the lead.

Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and David Robertson did not yield a run in the final three innings to give the Yankees a 2-5 record during the homestand. Both of the victories were Tanaka’s.

However, both Warren and Robertson had to complete their innings with the potential tying run standing on third base as they recorded the final out.

Warren began the eighth by giving up singles to Crisp and Jaso and even uncorked a wild pitch to allow both runners to advance. But he escaped any damage by striking out Josh Donaldson, retiring Moss on a liner to right and fanning Cespedes.

Robertson had to earn his 13th save in 15 tries this season after Vogt muscled a bloop one-out single to center and pinch-runner Craig Gentry stole second base.

Alberto Callaspo hit a hard grounder that ticked off Robertson’s foot and bounded toward first baseman Mark Teixeira. Teixeira alertly fielded the ball and was able to retire Callaspo with a toss to Robertson covering first base.

“I was probably the happiest guy in the stadium that the ball hit me,” Robertson told reporters after the game. “I felt even more fortunate that we get an out of it.”

Robertson then finished the game by striking out pinch-hitter Derek Norris.

Tanaka and the relievers were working within a slim margin of error because the Yankees’ offense again sputtered against left-hander Drew Pomeranz (5-3).

The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the second when Brian McCann singled and reached second when the left-fielder, Moss, allowed the ball to scoot past him to the wall for an error. Alfonso Soriano, who had been mired in an 0-for-16 slide with eight strikeouts dating back to May 25, then delivered an RBI single to right-center that scored McCann without a throw.

Brett Gardner later gave the Yankees a lead they ultimately would not relinquish with a leadoff home run in the third inning on Pomeranz’s first offering. The home run, a no-doubter that landed in the second deck in the right-field stands, was his fourth of the season and his first since May 17.

From that point on, the Yankees did absolutely nothing with Pomeranz for the rest of the afternoon.

The 25-year-old left-hander did not allow another base-runner until the sixth when Jacoby Ellsbury drew a one-out walk. The Yankees only “hit” off Pomeranz after the Gardner’s blast came with two out in the seventh when Crisp lost Soriano’s fly ball to center in the sun and it was scored a double.

Pomeranz was charged with two runs on six hits and one walk and he struck out seven in seven innings of work.

However, he could not outduel Tanaka, who lowered his American League-leading ERA from 2.06 to 2.02.

“I don’t think it was my best performance for the season,” Tanaka told reporters through a translator. “But given the fact that our team was in a little bit of a funk, and that we were facing one of the best teams in the league right now, I’m really happy to contribute to the team’s win.”

With the victory the Yankees climbed back over the .500 mark to 30-29. They are third place in the American League East and they trail the first-place Toronto Blue Jays by six games. The A’s are 37-23.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka has bristled at being called the team’s ace but he is proving in his first season in the major leagues that he is every bit the ace the staff has needed. “A true ace stops losing streaks. There’s not another guy we want out there after losing a few in a row than Tanaka,” Teixeira told reporters after the game. The Yankees are 11-1 in his starts and it is hard to imagine where they would be without him.
  • Soriano’s two hits, even though one was dubious, hopefully will get him out of one of his worst slumps in his 14 full major-league seasons. The Yankees always knew that the 38-year-old outfielder was a streaky hitter but Soriano has not really had a sustained hot streak this season. He is batting .233 with six homers and 2o RBIs a third of the way into the season. That is not what the Yankees were expecting from him.
  • There also may be hope that Gardner will get going again after slumping from May 22 through June 3 on a 9-for-48 (.188) slide. Gardner finished the final two games of the Oakland series 3-for-9. This team-wide hitting slump has been very frustrating to manager Joe Girardi and the pitching staff because it left them feeling they have to be perfect in every inning to every batter on every pitch. It is hard to pitch that way.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Why dwell on the obvious offensive woes. Let’s chalk this one up as a victory thanks to Tanaka and the bullpen. The Yankees just have to hope the bats wake up before the Blue Jays run away with the division.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees did get one potentially big bat back in the lineup when Carlos Beltran was activated from the disabled list prior to the game and he was inserted into the lineup into the fifth spot at designated hitter. Beltran, who missed 21 games while dealing with a bone spur in his right elbow, was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game. To make room for Beltran on the roster the Yankees designated for assignment infielder Scott Sizemore.  . . .  Ellsbury had a two-run home run in the first inning taken away when a video review indicated that the ball struck about three inches below the top of the wall in right-field. Instead the umpires awarded him a double and placed Derek Jeter, who had singled with one out, at third base. Teixeira lined out and Beltran struck out swinging and the Yankees did not score in the inning.

ON DECK

The Yankees are off to Kansas City to open a wraparound four-game weekend series with the Royals beginning on Friday.

Rookie right-hander Chase Whitley (0-0, 2.37 ERA) will try to earn his first major-league victory in his fifth start of the season. Whitley held the Twins to one run on five hits while he struck out six in five innings on Sunday before Robertson blew his second save of the season and the Yankees lost the game.

The Royals will start veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (2.5, 4.00 ERA) who is 0-5 in his past 10 starts. Guthrie gave up two runs on eight hits and two walks while fanning five in seven innings in a loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday.

Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

McCann’s RBI Double Hands Tanaka 8th Victory

GAME 54

YANKEES 3, TWINS 1

When a hitter has a chance to deliver a big hit in a key situation and he fails, most times they can’t wait for a shot at redemption. That is exactly how Brian McCann felt as he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning on Saturday.

This time he delivered.

McCann slapped a double down the right-field line with one out to score Jacoby Ellsbury from third to break a 1-1 tie as rookie Masahiro Tanaka and New York went on to defeat Minnesota in front of a paid crowd of 44,346 on a rainy afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

McCann came up in the first inning with the bases loaded and one out and right-hander Kevin Correia induced him to hit into an inning-ending double play. So the veteran All-Star catcher was more than anxious to give Tanaka and the Yankees a lead.

Tanaka (8-1) gave up an unearned run on just four hits and two walks while he struck out nine over eight innings to earn the victory. Tanaka entered the game leading the American League in ERA and he lowered that league-leading mark on Saturday from 2.29 to 2.06.

David Robertson pitched around an error, one of three the Yankees committed in the game, and he struck out the side in the ninth to earn his 12th save in 13 chances this season.

With one out in the eighth, Ellsbury stroked a single to center off left-hander Brian Duensing (1-2) to extend his hitting streak to five games. He then stole second and took third when catcher Josmil Pinto’s throw to second rolled into center.

Brian Roberts drew a walk and McCann followed by slashing 0-1 pitch into the right-field corner to score Ellsbury and advance Roberts to third. Alfonso Soriano was walked to load the bases and the skies, which had been spouting rain throughout most of the day, opened up into a deluge and the game was delayed by rain for 34 minutes.

After the delay, right-hander Jared Burton replaced Duensing on the mound and he got on a infield popup Yangervis Solarte, who had accounted for the Yankees’ only run of the game prior to the eighth with his sixth home run of the season off Correia in the fourth inning.

Kelly Johnson then provided the Yankees an insurance run when he was able to leg out a ground ball to second baseman Brian Dozier for an RBI single that scored Roberts.

Errors, both physical and mental, plagued the Yankees most of the day and Johnson’s error in the first inning set the tone for it.

Dozier hit the first pitch from Tanaka to Johnson at third but the ball ticked off his glove for an error. Dozier then advanced to second on a one of two wild pitches Tanaka uncorked on the day.

Eduardo Escobar advanced Dozier to third with a groundout and, one out later, Josh Willingham plated him with an opposite-field single to right.

Though Solarte tied it in the fourth, the Yankees were unable to get any offense going against Correia, who entered the game with a 2-5 record and an ERA of 6.34, the worst ERA among all major-league starters this season.

The Yankees squandered a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the first on McCann’s double play. Brendan Ryan also hit into an inning-ending double play in the second with two on and one out.

In the sixth, McCann was on second with two out when Solarte slapped a lined single into right. Though third-base coach Rob Thomson smartly held McCann at third, Solarte attempted to take second on right-field Oswaldo Arcia’s throw to the plate. But Pinto cut down Solarte with a perfect throw to Escobar at second base.

As a result, Correia yielded just the one run despite being touched for nine hits and one walk with three strikeouts in six innings.

In Friday’s loss to the Twins, the Yankees managed just one run on seven hits and four walks in seven innings against right-hander Ricky Nolasco, who entered the game with an ERA of 6.12, the second-worst ERA in the American League to his teammate Correia.

The victory improves the Yankees’ season ledger to 29-25. They are in second place in the American League East 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The Twins dropped to 25-28.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With the Yankees struggling to score runs, Tanaka needed to pitch a near-flawless game and he did. The Yankees are 9-2 in his starts and he now has struck out 88 batters in 78 2/3 innings. The Twins managed just four singles. Two of them were infield singles and none of the four singles were hit hard. Without McCann’s hit Tanaka was headed for a very frustrating no decision. He deserved to win this game.
  • McCann may be starting to get out of the hitting doldrums. He was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and with what proved to be the game-winning hit. He now has at least one hit in his past four games and he is 6-for-15 (.400) in that span. That has raised his season average to .232, which is as high as it has been since April 29.
  • Solarte had fallen into a 7-for-47 (.149) tailspin from May 15 through May 28. Now Solarte is getting hot again. After not starting in the series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, Solarte was 3-for-4 on Saturday and is 5-for-8 (.625) in the two games against the Twins. After his average dipped to .283 he is now back to.299.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • After a solid April in which he hit .247 with four homers and 10 RBIs, Soriano has been virtually useless in May. Soriano was 0-for-3 with a strikeout on Saturday and he is now 4-for-30 (.133) in his past 12 games dating back to May 18. Soriano also dropped a routine fly ball off the bat of Dozier in the third inning for an error. Soriano leads the team in strikeouts with 52 in 179 at-bats.
  • Bad base-running continues to plague the Yankees in this series against the Twins. Solarte’s base-running blunder brings the Yankees to four runners cut down on the basepaths in the past two games. On Friday, Derek Jeter was caught in a rundown after rounding first base too far. Roberts later in the game was thrown out at the plate by Arcia and he also was caught stealing after taking too big a lead at first. This just has to stop. Period!
  • Johnson, Soriano and Solarte were also charged with errors in the game. Three errors in a close game can be very costly. Asking Tanaka to pitch around errors is asking an awful lot, even for a pitcher of Tanaka’s ability. Mental and physical errors seem to be spreading through the team like a virus. The team needs to stop pressing in the field, at the plate and on the bases.

BOMBER BANTER

Mark Texeira left the game in the sixth inning with a recurrence of the soreness in his surgically repaired right wrist. The Gold-Glove first baseman was administered a cortisone injection and he will miss at least the next two games, the Yankees told reporters after the game. Teixeira, 33, had missed three games and rested on the off day Thursday before returning to the lineup on Friday. He was 0-for-1 with a strikeout and three walks in that game. He struck out with the bases loaded in the first inning and grounded out in the third on Saturday before leaving in the sixth in favor of Roberts, who was 0-for-1 with a strikeout and a walk.  . . .  Right-hander Michael Pineda’s timetable to return to the roster from the disabled list has hit a setback. Pineda, 24, is feeling more discomfort in a muscle behind his right shoulder and an outing for him in an intrasquad game scheduled for Sunday in Tampa, FL, has been postponed. Pineda felt pain playing catch on Friday and flew to New York to have an MRI on Saturday that revealed inflammation of the teres-major muscle behind his right shoulder. Manager Joe Girardi said Pineda will be shut down and it is not clear when he will be able to resume throwing.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to win the three-game series against the Twins with a victory on Sunday.

Rookie right-hander Chase Whitley (0-0, 2.57 ERA) will look for his first major-league victory in his fourth start. Whitley held the Cardinals to no runs in the first five innings before being charged with three runs in the sixth on Monday. Whitley yielded eight hits and no walks with two strikeouts. The Yankees ended up winning the game and they are now 3-0 in games Whitley has started.

The Twins will start former Yankee right-hander Phil Hughes (5-1, 3.23 ERA). Hughes did not receive a decision either in his last start against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday. Hughes left after surrendering three runs on eight hits with no walks and three strikeouts in seven innings. Hughes was 56-50 in seven seasons with the Yankees. He was 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts for the Yankees in 2014.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Ellsbury Shines As Yankees Clip Cardinals’ Wings

GAME 52

YANKEES 7, CARDINALS 4

Since May 3, Jacoby Ellsbury has been struggling at the plate. So much so that his season average dipped from .346 to .259 entering Wednesday’s contest. By the time the game was over Ellsbury seemed back on track.

Ellsbury was 3-for-5 with three RBIs, two stolen bases and two runs scored to lead a seven-run, 12-hit attack to help Hiroki Kuroda and New York take a three-game series over St. Louis in front of a paid crowd of 45,267 at Busch Stadium.

The Yankees scored four runs in the third and three in the fourth against right-hander Shelby Miller and Ellsbury had a hand in both rallies.

With one out in the third, Brett Gardner drew a walk and Brian Roberts followed with a single up the middle. Ellsbury then scored Gardner with the game’s first run with a single to right-center as Roberts hustled into third.

Ellsbury stole second without a throw from catcher Yadier Molina and Brian McCann walked on four pitches to load the bases because Miller was pitching around him to face rookie catcher John Ryan Murphy.

But Murphy spoiled the strategy by delivering a single to center to score both Roberts and Ellsbury and Ichiro Suzuki capped the scoring by beating out a potential double-play grounder to score McCann.

With two out in the fourth and Kelly Johnson on first base after a single, Roberts doubled into left-center and Ellsbury scored both of them with a lined single to center. Ellsbury then stole second, again without a throw from Molina, and McCann followed with a single to right to score Ellsbury, giving the Yankees a 7-0 lead.

Miller (6-4) was charged with seven earned runs on nine hits and two walks with one strikeout in five innings.

Kuroda (4-3), who has spent most of major-league career as a pitcher who has received very little run support, suddenly has an abundance of runs provided by his teammates.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals took advantage of Kuroda’s desire to limit walks and keep his pitch count down by teeing off on Kuroda’s fastball.

The Cardinals managed to score single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth and they chased Kuroda from the game in the sixth when Matt Carpenter laced an RBI double off the wall to score pinch-hitter Jhonny Peralta from first with two out.

Kuroda yielded three runs on nine hits with no walks and three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees bullpen quartet of Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and David Robertson were knocked around a bit, giving up four hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings. In fact, after Warren was chased by a two-out double by Carpenter, Kolten Wong greeted Robertson with an RBI single, his fourth hit in five at-bats on the night.

But Robertson ended the eighth by striking out Matt Holliday looking.

Then in the ninth, Robertson was touched by a leadoff single by Allen Craig and he walked Molina to bring up the potential tying run.

But Robertson ended the night with a flourish by striking out in succession John Jay, pinch-hitter Matt Adams and Daniel Descalso.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 28-24. They are in second place in the American League East, three games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The Cardinals fell to 29-24.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury’s night also included an impressive sliding catch of a sinking line drive off the bat of Craig in the second inning. Ellsbury is an extremely talented player who was responsible for carrying the team through the first month of the season. He now has at least one hit in four of his past five games and is 7-for-20 (.350) with a homer and seven RBIs in that span.
  • Murphy was 1-for-5 in the game but that single drove in two big runs with the bases loaded in the third inning. It raised a few eyebrows when manager Joe Girardi had him batting fifth in the lineup. But the 22-year-old rookie is batting .357 with a home run and eight RBIs in limited playing time behind McCann.
  • Give Roberts credit for doing well in the second spot in the order replacing a resting Derek Jeter. Roberts was 2-for-4 with a double and a walk and two runs scored. Roberts also extended his hitting streak to five games and he is 7-for-19 (.368) in that span. He has raised his season average to .248.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It was hard to judge whether the Cardinals were knocking Kuroda around or if he was losing his competitive edge because he had such a big lead. Kuroda is 4-3 and he has not lost a start since May 1. But his ERA is hovering now at 4.57 and his highest ERA since he came to the United States was in his first season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008 when it was 3.73. The Yankees need him to pitch better.
  • The Yankees had a chance to extend their lead in the eighth when they loaded the bases on right-hander Sean Maness. But left-hander Randy Choate struck out Gardner and Roberts smacked a 3-0 pitch to Carpenter at third and ended up in an inning-ending double play. The Yankees have to stop coming up empty in bases loaded and no out situations.
  • Robertson looked a little shaky in yielding two hits and a walk but he made up for it with recording all four of his outs on strikeouts. The Yankees know that comparing Robertson to Mariano Rivera is not fair but it is inevitable. The fact that Robertson has one blown save in 12 tries and a 2.20 ERA in 16 appearances is pretty darn good.

BOMBER BANTER

It is amazing that the Yankees got seven runs out of their offense with Mark Teixeira nursing a sore right wrist, Jeter sitting out to rest and slumping Alfonso Soriano and Yangervis Solarte held out of the lineup. McCann even started his first professional game at first base. But it all worked. Solarte was benched after hitting just .152 since his nine-game hitting streak was stopped on May 15. So Johnson moved to third, which opened first base for McCann.  . . .  Teixeira will have his right wrist examined on Thursday by Dr. Keith Raskin, who performed Teixeira’s surgery to repair the torn sheath in the wrist in the offseason. Teixeira will also have precautionary ultrasound. However, the Yankees are saying the stiffness and soreness are normal after this type of surgery and Teixeira is expected to be back in the lineup soon.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have Thursday off and they return home to begin a three-game weekend series against the Minnesota Twins on Friday.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-1, 5.49 ERA) will start for the Yankees coming off what was his best start of season on Saturday. Nuno gave up three runs in the first inning to the Chicago White Sox but did not give up another run in the following six innings. Nuno walked one and struck out five.

Veteran right-hander Ricky Nolasco (2-5, 6.12) will get the nod for the Twins. Nolasco has lost his past two starts and was shelled by the San Francisco Giants on Sunday. Nolasco was tagged for seven runs on nine hits and a walk in  4 2/3 innings.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.