Tagged: Athletics

Yankees Put Angels Away Early To Win 5th Straight

GAME 56

YANKEES 8, ANGELS 2

There a various scouting reports about certain pitchers that say, “You had better get to him early.” The 2015 version of the New York Yankees obviously are taking those assessments seriously because they did it again at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.

Brian McCann slugged a two-run home run and Brett Gardner laced a two-run single as New York scored six runs in the first inning to dump Los Angeles to win their fifth straight game.

The Yankees sent 11 men to the plate and knocked out right-hander Garrett Richards (5-4) after only two-thirds of inning.

McCann’s home run was his ninth of the season. Chase Headley also scored on a wild pitch by Richards and Mark Teixeira lofted a sacrifice fly as Richards was charged with six runs on five hits and two walks.

Right-hander Adam Warren (4-4) was the beneficiary of those runs. He started off pitching three perfect innings and ended up throwing 6 2/3 innings of two-run baseball. He gave up only four hits, walked three and struck out two to even his season record.

In his past five starts, Warren is 2-3 but he has yielded only 10 runs on 23 hits and nine walks with 22 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings for a 2.70 ERA.

The Yankees added a single run in the second inning after Teixeira and McCann stroked one-out singles off Cesar Ramos. Carlos Beltran slapped a bloop single to right to greet left-hander Hector Santiago to score Teixeira.

They added a run in the eighth inning off right-hander Cam Bedrosian after they loaded the bases with one out and Bedrosian walked Teixeira. It was Teixeira’s second RBI of the game and the 45th of the season, which leads the American League.

The Angels scored a run in the fifth off Warren as Matt Joyce doubled and C.J. Cron was hit by a 0-2 pitch. After Carlos Perez advanced Joyce to third on a flyout, Johnny Giavotella lofted a fly ball that left-fielder Ramon Flores caught at the base of the wall for a sacrifice fly that scored Joyce.

Millville, New Jersey native Mike Trout added the Angels’ second run leading off the sixth inning with an opposite field blast to right off Warren for his 15th home run of the season.

Left-hander Justin Wilson pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings for the Yankees but the toast of the paid crowd of 40,086 was left-hander Chris Capuano, who pitched a perfect ninth inning and struck out two.

On Friday evening, the Yankees led the Angels 8-1 in the ninth and right-hander Esmil Rogers and right-hander Dellin Betances combined to give up six earned runs before they could get the final three outs to win the game 8-7.

Capuano had other ideas and the Yankees were able to nail down the victory in front of a national television audience without any ninth-inning drama.

The Yankees ran their season record to 31-25 and they Yankees increased their lead over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East to 1 1/2 games. The Angels fell to 28-28.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • McCann, 31, had a stretch in which he hit four home runs in four consecutive games from May 25 through May 29. But McCann was 2-for-14 (.143) with no homers since then. His 2-for-5 game raised his batting average to .255 and he now has nine home runs and 35 RBIs. McCann has hit 26 of his 32 home runs with the Yankees at home.
  • Teixeira’s two RBIs extended his RBI streak to five straight games of at least one RBI. His one-out single in the second inning extended his hitting streak to seven games. During that stretch Teixeira is 7-for-27 (.260) with three homers and 10 RBIs.
  • Warren finally got some run support after losing to the Oakland Athletics 2-0 in his last start. Warren has been the team’s most consistent pitcher behind right-hander Michael Pineda over the past month and any thoughts the Yankees might have had to moving him to the bullpen are currently on hold.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The offense chased Richards in the first inning and Warren pitched his fifth consecutive quality start. The defense also was superb with Didi Gregorius turning in a gem taking away a ground-ball hit from Albert Pujols with a diving grab in the first inning. Headley made a diving stop of a liner off the bat of Trout in the fourth and Flores held Giavotella to just a sac fly in the fifth with a great grab at the wall in left. So the Yankees turned in a complete spanking of the Angels. No negatives here.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance on Sunday to sweep the three-game weekend series against the Angels.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (2-7, 5.45 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia, 34, gave up two runs on nine hits and two walks with six strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision against the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. He has not won a game at Yankee Stadium since Sept. 20, 2013, a span of six starts.

Veteran left-hander C.J. Wilson (3-4, 3.55 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Wilson, 34, yielded five runs in six innings in loss to the Rays on Tuesday and he has 5.48 ERA in his past four starts.

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

 

Yanks Thank Heaven After Halos’ 9th-Inning Scare

GAME 55

YANKEES 8, ANGELS 7

It is always considered a moral strength for those who have so much to do charitable acts of kindness for those who have so little. But some of the New York Yankees pitchers on Friday took that sentiment too seriously.

The Yankees scored eight runs for Nathan Eovaldi while right-handers Esmil Rogers and Dellin Betances gave most of them back but New York managed to hold on to beat Los Angeles by a single run in front of 40,310 paid at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees took an early and decisive lead on right-hander Jered Weaver and the Angels on a pair of two-out, two-run homers by Stephen Drew and Mark Teixeira in the second and third innings, respectively.

They added another run off Weaver (4-5) in the fifth  –  again with two out  –  on an RBI single by Alex Rodriguez that scored Brett Gardner, who had tripled earlier in the frame. It was Rodriguez’ 1,997 career RBI, which allowed him to pass Barry Bonds for second place on the all-time RBI list.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the fifth to chase Weaver from the game.

Brian McCann led off with a double and moved to third on a groundout. He then scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat Didi Gregorius. Drew followed with solo home run, his second of the game and his seventh of the season.

Weaver, 32, left he game and was charged with a season-high seven runs on nine hits and no walks with two strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

Eovaldi (5-1), meanwhile, was cruising through the first five innings, holding the Angels scoreless on four hits and one walk with four strikeouts until he completely lost command of the strike zone in the sixth inning.

He walked three of the first four batters he faced, throwing five strikes and 12 balls, which ended his evening.

Left-hander Chasen Shreve came on and allowed an RBI infield groundout to Kirk Nieuwenhuis before ending the threat by striking out Erick Aybar.

Shreve and rookie left-hander Jacob Lindgren pitched scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth, respectively, while the Yankees added a run in the seventh off left-hander Edgar Ibarra on a double by Rodriguez, his third hit of what was a four-hit night, and an RBI single by pinch-hitter Chris Young.

Then the real drama began when Rogers was summoned by manager Joe Girardi to get the final three outs after Angels manager Mike Scioscia had removed Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Aybar from the lineup.

Johnny Giavotella opened the “House of Horrors” inning with a single and Tyler Featherston, who had just entered the game for Aybar and was 1-for-29 on the season, doubled to left.

Grant Green, who had replaced Trout in the batting order, then hit a pop-up between newly inserted second baseman Jose Pirela and Chase Headlley, who had been shifted from third base to first base.

Neither player made the catch and the ball just landed harmlessly between them to score Giavotella.

Rogers then uncorked a wild pitch to allow both Featherston and Green advance and later walked Efren Navarro, who had replaced Pujols, to load the bases. Kole Calhoun then lined a single up the middle to score Featherston.

Girardi replaced Rogers with Betances, who entered the game with 0.00 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings.

David Freese greeted the right-hander with a two-run single to center. Matt Joyce walked to reload the bases and Chris Iannetta drew a bases loaded walk to bring the Angels to within two runs at 8-6.

After Betances was able to strike out Niewenhuis for the first out, Giavotella rolled into a fielder’s choice to short that allowed Joyce to score to narrow the margin to a single run.

Beatances then righted the ship just in time to fan pinch-hitter Carlos Perez with the potential tying run on third to gain credit for his second save of the season, though he would likely tell you that he did not deserve it.

Rogers was charged five runs on four hits and a walk facing five batters and he did not record a single out.

Betances ended up giving up his first earned run of the season on the Giavotella fielder’s choice.

Girardi appeared to lose some more of what little hair he had and the hair he did have grew visibly grayer in the ninth. But, in the end, the Yankees were able to send the Angels to their third consecutive defeat while the Yankees won their fourth straight game.

The Yankees lead the second-place Tampa Bay Rays by a half game in the American League East and have a 30-25 season record. The Angels dropped to 28-27.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Drew entered the game with the lowest batting average of any qualifying player in Major League Baseball at .165 and yet he was 3-for-11 in the three-game series against the Seattle Mariners. His 2-for-4 night with two homers and three RBIs give him a .173 average with seven homers and 19 RBIs. Drew is just very lucky that Pirela is batting a weak .237 and top prospect Rob Refsnyder is scuffling on defense at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Yankees dropped second baseman Brian Roberts on July 28, 2014 after he hit just .237.
  • Texeira is on a real roll during the Yankees’ four-game winning streak. In those games, Teixiera is only 4-for-16 (.250) but he has three homers and eight RBIs. Teixiera is now batting .240 with 17 home runs and 43 RBIs. The 17 homers are second in the majors to Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners, who has 18. The 43 RBIs lead the American League.
  • Rodriguez’s 4-for-5 night raised his batting average from .270 to .284. He now only needs nine more hits to reach the 3,000 hit mark of his career. On May 5, Rodriguez was batting .227. Since then he is 32-for-95 (.337) with five homers and 12 RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Eovaldi, 25, was largely very good on Friday. His split-finger fastball was a devastating pitch for him and kept the Angels off balance. However, he had a 5-0 lead heading into the sixth inning and imploded. He has pitched into the seventh inning in only four of his 11 starts and he is going to have to do better than he did against the Angels. He is 5-1 but it has more to do with his run support than his pitching.
  • Rogers, 29, actually has been worse as a right-hander out the bullpen than David Carpenter, who was designated for assignment on Wednesday. With his dreadful showing on Friday, he is 1-1 with a 6.39 ERA in 31 innings over 17 games. With Carpenter gone, the Yankees have only two right-handers in the bullpen (Rogers and Betances). It appears that with starter Ivan Nova on the way back that right-hander Adam Warren is headed back to the bullpen real soon. It also may be a good idea for Rogers to keep his bags packed.
  • Betances was bad but I actually fault more both Headley and Pirela for allowing that pop-up to drop. That also is a product of Girardi shifting players out of position. It also is not wise to rest a Gold Glove first baseman (Teixeira) when your second baseman (Pirela) is wearing a glove for no particular reason. Still, Headley needed to take charge to call that ball and he did not. It is just a microcosm of the mental and physical errors this team has made on defense. It just has to stop.

BOMBER BANTER

McCann was able to start on Friday because both an MRI and CT scan done on his sore right foot on Thursday were negative. McCann said that the soreness in his foot ran up to his calf and forced him to leave Wednesday’s game in the second inning. However, the 31-year-old catcher said he was fitted we new orthodics for his right arch and he was able to play on Friday. He was 1-for-3 with a double, a walk and he scored a run.  . . .  The Yankees said on Friday that Michael Pineda’s turn in the rotation will be skipped, citing they want to cut the right-hander’s workload after he pitched just 76 1/3 innings last season. Pineda, 26, will not pitch again until June 12 against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. Pineda is 7-2 with a 3.33 ERA this season. Girardi told reporters that Pineda was injured and that it only was a concern about the 70 1/3 innings he already has logged.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game home series with the Angels on Saturday.

Warren (3-4, 3.75 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Despite the fact that Warren held the Oakland Athletics to just two runs in seven innings on Sunday, he lost because the Yankees did not score him any runs. Warren is 1-3 in his past four starts despite posting a 2.70 ERA in that span.

The Angels will counter with hard-throwing right-hander Garrett Richards (5-3, 3.26 ERA). Richards is 2-1 despite yielding 13 runs (11 earned) in his past 18 1/3 innings over his past three starts.

Game-time will be 7:15 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports.

 

Tanaka’s Sharp Return Gives Yanks Sweep Of M’s

GAME 54

YANKEES 3, MARINERS 1

Based on Masahiro Tanaka’s final rehab start last week and the fact that he had not pitched in a major-league game since April 23, expectations about his return were low and he was placed on a pitch count of 80 to 85.

Based on the results the Yankees received, Tanaka did not need 80 pitches because he dominated the Mariners over seven innings as if he were in midseason form.

Tanaka held the Mariners to one run on three hits with no walks and nine strikeouts in an ace-like performance that allowed New York to complete a three-game sweep of Seattle on Wednesday at Safeco Field.

Tanaka (3-1) needed only 78 pitches (58 of them for strikes) to wade through the Mariners lineup as if he was carving up a Thanksgiving turkey.

Trailing 1-0 to the Yankees, the Mariners scored their lone run off Tanaka in the third inning on a leadoff triple by Brad Miller and an RBI double off the bat of Dustin Ackley. After Mike Zunino struck out, Logan Morrison singled to left and rookie left-fielder Ramon Flores made a perfect throw to home plate to nail a sliding Ackley to keep the game tied.

Tanaka did not allow another base-runner to reach base for the next 4 1/3 innings. The 26-year-old right-hander retired the final 13 batters he faced and struck out five of them. His nine strikeouts are a season high.

The Yankees were able to take an early 1-0 lead on right-hander Taijuan Walker (2-6) on Mark Teixeira’s 16th home run of the season to lead off the second inning. It also was Teixeira’s second home run of the series and his 19th at Safeco Field, which leads all opposing players.

In the fourth inning, the Yankees were able to break the 1-1 tie on a leadoff walk Walker issued to Alex Rodriguez and a two-out, two-run home run deep into the bleachers in right-field by Garrett Jones, who had a three-run home run in the 11th inning on Tuesday that gave the Yankees a 5-2 victory.

It was only Jones’ third home run of the season but he is on a stretch where he has 10 hits in his past 22 at-bats (.455) with three homers and eight RBIs.

The Yankees, however, were unable to solve Walker other than the home runs by Teixeira and Jones.

Walker held the Yankees to three runs on five hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in eight innings. Tanaka was just a bit better.

After Chris Capuano allowed a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Justin Ruggiano and struck out Miller in the eighth, manager Joe Girardi summoned closer Andrew Miller for a five-out save.

But the Mariners made it uncomfortable for the 30-year-old left-hander when pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks reached after being plunked on the right foot by a 1-2 slider and Zunino walked to load the bases.

Miller, nonetheless, struck out Morrison after falling behind 3-0 and got Austin Jackson to bounce into a force out to leave the Mariners scoreless and strand all three base-runners. Miller was able to pitch around a two-out infield single by Kyle Seager in the ninth to earn his 17th save in 17 chances.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 29-25 and increased their lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games over the idle second-place Tampa Bay Rays. The Mariners have now dropped eight consecutive home games to the Yankees dating back to 2013 and they also have lost five straight games overall. Their record dropped to 24-29.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankees got Tanaka back at the perfect time. On May 12, the Yankees were 21-12 and seemingly undeterred by Tanaka’s absence. But from May 13 through May 31, the Yankees were 5-12. Tanaka’s performance gave the Yankees a sweep of the Mariners and seems to have broken a string of some really weak starting pitching performances. Tanaka now teams with Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi and Adam Warren give the Yankees a much stronger rotation.
  • Teixeira is just having an amazing season and his 16 home runs and 41 RBIs projects out to 48 home runs and 123 RBIs for the season, barring any setbacks. The 48 home runs would top his previous career high of 43 he hit with the Texas Rangers in 2005. The 123 RBIs would be the most he has collected since he drove in 122 in his first season with the Yankees in 2009. That also was the last time the Yankees won a World Series.
  • There is a very good possibility that Jones’ recent surge has earned him more playing time. Girardi may choose to play Jones in left with Brett Gardner in center and Carlos Beltran in right against right-handed pitchers until Jacoby Ellsbury returns late this month. That would leave Flores on the bench. But he could be used as a defensive replacement for Jones late in games.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Ellsbury was injured on May 19 and Gardner became the team’s leadoff hitter on May 20. He started that stretch of games batting .291. Gardner was 0-for-4 on Wednesday and is now batting .271. In those 14 games as the leadoff hitter, Gardner is 12-for-54 (.222) with 16 strikeouts and only two stolen bases. The upshot is that Gardner is pressing to get on base, he is striking out more and he is less aggressive on the bases when he does reach base. The Yankees really need Ellsbury back badly.

BOMBER BANTER

In a shocking move, the Yankees on Wednesday elected to designate for assignment right-hander David Carpenter to make room on the roster to activate Tanaka from the 15-day disabled list. Carpenter, 29, was 0-1 with 4.82 ERA in 22 appearances. On Tuesday, Carpenter was summoned to pitch to Jackson in the sixth inning with two out and runners at first and third of a 1-1 game and surrendered an RBI double that gave the Mariners a 2-1 lead. The Yankees eventually rallied to tie the game in the ninth and won it in 11 innings. Carpenter was acquired along with left-hander Chasen Shreve on Jan. 1 in a trade with the Atlanta Braves for left-hander Manny Banuelos. With Carpenter’s release the Yankees have five lefties in the bullpen in Miller, Shreve, Capuano, Jacob Lindgren and Justin Wilson.  . . .  Catcher Brian McCann left the game after grounding out in the top of the second inning with continued soreness on the bottom of his right foot. McCann, 31, was replaced by John Ryan Murphy and now is scheduled to have an MRI on Thursday when the team returns to New York. McCann is batting .248 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 45 games this season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off after their West Coast swing and they will open a three-game weekend series at Yankee Stadium with the Los Angeles Angels on Friday.

Eovaldi (4-1, 4.40 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Eovaldi, 25, yielded three runs on 11 hits in a shaky 4 2/3 innings in a game the Yankees eventually won against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday.

Right-hander Jered Weaver (4-4, 4.08 ERA) will start for the Angels. Weaver, 32, gave up three runs on nine hits with no walks and three strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to defeat the Detroit Tigers on Saturday.

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.

 

Tex’s Slam Allows Pineda To Depose King Felix

GAME 52

YANKEES 7, MARINERS 2

At one time the king held court over the young prince and showed him how to hold dominion over his rivals. But on Monday the prince outlasted the king as his army was able to storm the castle and vanquish his former mentor.

Michael Pineda struck out nine over six-plus innings and Mark Teixeira blasted a grand slam home run in the fifth inning off “King Felix” Hernandez as New York defeated Seattle at Safeco Field.

Hernandez (8-2) pitched three perfect innings to open the contest, striking out three and not allowing a single ball out of the infield. However, a heavy rain in the bottom of the third inning muddied the mound as the top of the fourth started and Hernandez was unable to command his pitches the rest of the evening.

Brett Gardner opened the fourth with a single and Chase Headley followed with a looping single to center. Hernandez then walked Alex Rodriguez and later uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Gardner to score.

Teixeira then drew a walk and Headley scored on a double-play groundout off the bat of Brian McCann.

The Yankees were able to put the game away against Hernandez in the fifth when Stephen Drew led off with a walk and rookie Ramon Flores singled to right for his first major-league hit. Gardner then walked, Hernandez’s fifth walk within the last eight batters he faced, to load the bases.

Headley launched a deep sacrifice fly to center that scored Drew and Rodriguez followed with a sharp single to left that reloaded the bases to set up Teixeira’s game-changing hit.

Teixeira entered the game with nine career grad slams. He also had posted five career home runs off Hernandez.

He was able to connect on a 2-0 fastball and sent it some 400 feet into the fourth row of the bleachers in center-field to make the score 7-0. It was also Teixeira’s 18th home run at Safeco Field, which broke a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for the most home runs by a Mariners opponent.

Hernandez entered the game with a 1.91 ERA, but left having given up seven runs on six hits and five walks with four strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.

Pineda, who spent his rookie season in 2011 with Hernandez, coasted for six innings in his first start against his former team since he was traded in January 2012 along with right-hander Jose Campos to the Yankees in exchange for catcher Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi.

Pineda (6-2) held the Mariners to four hits and one walk and fanned nine in the first six innings. But he was greeted with a leadoff single by Kyle Seagar, an RBI triple by Seth Smith and an RBI double to Austin Jackson.

He then walked Brad Miller and was replaced by left-hander Justin Wilson, who was able to end the threat on a strikeout and a double-play groundout.

Wilson combined with right-hander Dellin Betances and left-hander Chasen Shreve to hold the Mariners to just one hit over the final three innings to seal the victory for the Yankees.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 27-25 and they remain one game ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Mariners have dropped four of their past five games and they are 24-27.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Teixeira’s booming bat allowed the Yankees to put this game out of reach. Teixeira leads the Yankees with 15 home runs and 39 RBIs. He is now 20-for-66 (.303) in his career against Hernandez and that is no easy feat. Teixeira may be moving his way into consideration for the American League All-Star team.
  • Pineda seems to have righted himself after giving up nine runs on 18 hits in 11 1/3 innings in two consecutive starts. In his past two starts, Pineda has yielded just three runs on 13 hits and three walks in 12 2/3 innings. That has lowered his season ERA to 3.33. Pineda got a number of his nine strikeouts against the Mariners with a change-up that his former teammate Hernandez had urged him to learn.
  • Give Wilson a lot of credit for staving off a rally by the Mariners in the seventh. He entered the game with two runs in and runners on first and second and no outs. Wilson ended the threat by striking out Mike Zunino and getting pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks to bounce into a double play. Wilson sported a hefty 5.79 ERA on May 24 but he has not been scored upon in his past four outings covering 2 2/3 innings. That has lowered his ERA to 4.86.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I can’t nitpick this one. Give the Yankees credit for beating a pitcher who entered the contest 9-5 against them. It is not every day that you beat one of the best pitchers in baseball on the road. So there is nothing negative to say.

BOMBER BANTER

Left-hander Chris Capuano has been shifted to the bullpen in order to make way for the return of right-hander Masahiro Tanaka from the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Monday. The decision means that right-hander Adam Warren, 27, who had replaced Capuano as the team’s No. 5 starter when Capuano was injured in spring training, will remain in the rotation. Capuano, 36, is 0-3 with a 6.39 ERA in three starts since coming of the disabled list on May 17. Warren is 3-4 with a 3.75 ERA, but he has a sparkling 2.70 ERA in his past four starts despite a 1-3 record in those outings. Tanaka, 26, will be activated in time to start the final game of the series against the Mariners. He is 2-1 with a 3.22 ERA in four starts, but he has not pitched since April 27 after sustaining tendinitis in right wrist and tightness in his right forearm.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game road series with the Mariners on Tuesday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (2-7, 5.67 ERA) will start for the Yankees. In his last effort on Thursday, Sabathia coughed up a 3-0 lead by yielding five runs on eight hits and one walk with four strikeouts against the Oakland Athletics.

The Mariners will activate 25-year-old left-hander Mike Montgomery to make his major-league debut. Montgomery, who was obtained during spring training from the Rays in exchange for right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, was 4-3 with a 3.74 ERA in nine starts for Triple-A Tacoma.

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

 

Pinpoint Pineda Posts Win As Yankees Sweep KC

GAME 47

YANKEES 4, ROYALS 2

After giving up 12 runs (nine of them earned) in 11 1/3 innings in his past two starts, Michael Pineda was just determined to re-establish himself as the as the ace of the Yankees staff. On Wednesday, Pineda rediscovered his slider and held the hot-hitting Royals to just a single run.

The Yankees used Pineda’s strong effort over 6 2/3 innings and Alex Rodriguez stroked a three-run home run in the fourth inning to lead New York to a sweep of Kansas City in front of a paid crowd of 32,734 at Yankee Stadium.

Pineda (6-2) held the Royals to six hits and one walk with eight strikeouts to snap a two-game personal losing streak. The Royals’ lone run off Pineda came in the first inning on a one-out solo home run by Mike Moustakas, his fifth homer of the season.

The Yankees were able to tie the contest in the second inning on a leadoff home run off right-hander Chris Young (4-1) by Brian McCann. It was McCann’s sixth home run of the season and now 25 of McCann’s 29 homers hit as a Yankee have come at home.

Young entered the contest having given up just one earned run in his past four starts. But the Yankees were able to break the 1-1 tie against Young in the fourth on a leadoff double by Brett Gardner, a walk to Chase Headley and Rodriguez’s 11th home run of the season and the 684th of his career.

The three RBIs also allowed Rodriguez to pass Lou Gehrig on the all-time RBI list at 1,995. Rodriguez is in third place on the list and he is just one RBI behind Barry Bonds, who is second.

Young was charged with four runs on seven hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in seven innings of work.

Once again the “Twin Towers” of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller closed out the game in the final two innings to nail down the sweep.

The Royals did score an unearned run off Betances in the eighth after Lorenzo Cain drew a walk and later stole second. With one out, Kendrys Morales topped a slow roller to the right of second base. Didi Gregorius fielded it but threw wildly past Mark Teixeira at first for an error that allowed Cain to score.

It was the third unearned run Betances has allowed the season but he still has not allowed an earned run this season. Morales’ infield single was the first hit Betances had allowed in the past 31 batters he had faced.

Miller pitched a perfect ninth to remain 14-for-14 in saves on the season.

The sweep of the Royals allowed the Yankees to claim the season series with the defending American League champions four games to two.

The victory also improved the team’s season record to 25-22 and  –  combined with Tampa Bay’s 3-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners  –  the Yankees have a 1-1/2-game lead over the Rays in the American League East. The Royals, who now have lost four straight games, are 28-18.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pineda, 26, wobbled a bit in the middle innings but he was able to get out of a major jam in the fifth inning that was crucial to the Yankees winning the game. With Paulo Orlando, who had hit a one-out double, on third and Alcides Escobar on second after a single and a wild pitch, Pineda was able to strike out swinging both Moustakas and Cain with sliders that broke out of the strike zone. With his effort on Wednesday, Pineda lowered his season ERA to 3.36.
  • Rodriguez now has 11 home runs and 26 RBIs on the season, which is second on the club in both categories to Teixeira. Rodriguez was 2-for-4 in the game and also extended his hitting streak to six games. In that span the 40-year-old designated hitter is 10-for-22 (.455), which has raised his season average to .276. That as high as his batting average has been since April 20, when it was at .286.
  • Headley may have committed his 10th error of the season on Tuesday but he still can play some excellent defense at third base. He proved it in the first inning on Wednesday when he took base hits away from both Escobar and Eric Hosmer. Escobar hit a one-hop bullet to Headley’s left but Headley was able to glove it on a short hop and throw out Escobar. Hosmer later hit ball well to Headley’s right because he was shifted against the left-handed batter. However, Headley was able to dive to his right and glove the ball behind him. He then righted himself and barely nipped with the throw as Hosmer slid head first into the bag. If those two plays are not made than Moustakas’ home run would have made a multi-run inning likely. So defense DOES matter.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Gregorius committed his sixth error of the season and cost the team a run but it is hard to quibble with the Yankees after they were all but left for dead when they lost 10 of 11 games entering this series. They not only got off the mat, they also swept a team that had the best record in baseball at the time. The Yankees three starting pitchers in the series, Nathan Eovaldi, Adam Warren and Pineda, combined to yield just three runs on 18 hits and two walks in 20 innings against the hottest offense in baseball. Amazing!

BOMBER BANTER

Masahiro Tanaka gave up three runs on four hits and two walks with three strikeouts in three innings on Wednesday in his second rehab start with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against the Pawtucket Red Sox. Tanaka threw 62 pitches and reported no issues with either tendinitis in his right wrist or tightness in his right forearm. It is not clear if the Yankees intend to activate Tanaka from the disabled list or whether he will be asked to make a third start.

ON DECK

The Yankees will begin their first West Coast road trip of the season on Thursday when they open a four-game weekend series with the Oakland Athletics at o.co Coliseum.

Northern California native CC Sabathia (2-6, 5.47 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia, 35, was charbroiled for six runs on seven hits and one walk in only 2 1/3 innings against the Texas Rangers on Friday.

Sabathia will be opposed by 24-year-old right-hander Kendall Graveman (2-2, 6.04 ERA), who blanked the Rays on three hits and two walks with six strikeouts in six innings on Friday.

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

 

Pineda Fans 16 Orioles As Yanks Continue To Roll

GAME 32

YANKEES 6, ORIOLES 2

dominant  –  (adj) dom·i·nant: more important, powerful or successful than most or all others.

That word most accurately describes what the Yankees, the Orioles and a paid crowd of 39,059 at Yankee Stadium witnessed in the pitching performance turned in by right-hander Michael Pineda.

Pineda did give up one run on six hits but his dominance of the Orioles on Sunday went much deeper than that because he also struck out a career-high 16 batters and he did not issue a single walk as New York won the four-game series against Baltimore three games to one.

It was as if on this Mother’s Day that Pineda was asking the Orioles “Whose your Daddy?”

Pineda (5-0) not only remained undefeated for the season but he also remained undefeated against the Orioles in his career. The 16 strikeouts tied Pineda with the second highest strikeout total recorded in Yankee history behind Ron Guidry’s 18 strikeouts.

The 16 strikeouts tied Pineda with David Cone (against the Detroit Tigers in 1997) with the most by a right-handed pitcher and they were the most by any Yankee pitcher since David Wells did it (against the Oakland Athletics in 1997).

The only blemish in Pineda’s afternoon was a solo one-out home run by J.J. Hardy in the second inning.

Meanwhile, the Yankees scored four runs in the fourth inning off right-hander Bud Norris (1-4), who pitched despite the fact he was dealing with a stomach virus. But it was mostly the Yankee batters who made him really sick.

Carlos Beltran, who entered the game batting .194 and had no home runs, belted his first homer of the season with one out in the fourth inning to tie the game at 1-1.

Norris then walked Chase Headley and yielded a single to Stephen Drew. Didi Gregorius followed with an RBI single to score Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury capped the inning with a two-run double.

Norris was charged with four runs on six hits and three walks with two strikeouts in four innings. Norris’ ERA rose to an unsightly 9.88 on the season.

Brian McCann added a solo homer with one out in the fifth off left-hander Brian Matusz. The blast was McCann’s fourth of the season and now 23 of the 29 home runs he has hit with the Yankees have been at home.

The Yankees added a run in the seventh inning off right-hander Jason Garcia on a RBI double by Gregorius.

The Yankees had hoped to finish the game without using either right-hander Dellin Betances or left-hander Andrew Miller, however, right-hander Esmil Rogers gave up a one-out double to Jimmy Paredes and an RBI single to Adam Jones that made the score 6-2.

Manager Joe Girardi summoned Betances and the 6-foot-8 reliever got the final five outs, two of them by strikeout, to lock up the victory for the Yankees.

The Yankees ran their season record to 20-12 and they extended their lead over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East to three games. The slumping Orioles are now 13-16 and they 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pineda was so efficient that he struck out 16 of the 21 batters he retired and 14 of the first 17 outs he recorded were by strikeout. Pineda is now 5-0 with a 2.72 ERA and his 54 strikeouts leads the American League. I think it is safe to now say he is the ace of the Yankees. “His stuff today was electric,” McCann said told reporters. “Almost every time he takes the ball, it is.”
  • As I posted on Saturday, Beltran seems to have turned his season around finally. He was 2-for-2 with a double, a home run, two walks and an RBI. That pulled his average up from .194 to .210. It may not seem like much but the Yankees do need Beltran to contribute in the middle of the order. Perhaps he will begin doing it more often now.
  • All the attention on Pineda allowed Gregorius’ day to almost go unnoticed. He was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs in what was one of his best games with the Yankees. Gregorius is now batting .225 and he seems to have settled down considerably on defense at shortstop also.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Beating the defending division champions in a four-game series is a great achievement. This was a signature game for Pineda also. He is serving notice to the other teams in the division that he is the best pitcher in it. He won’t get any argument here. No one in this division is really that close.

ON DECK

The Yankees now head back out in the road on Monday to play a four-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-5, 5.45 ERA) will try for his first victory of the season. Sabathia was tagged with four runs on nine hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday.

The Rays will start right-hander Alex Colome (2-0, 1.80 ERA). Colome gave up two runs on four hits with no walks and four strikeouts in five innings in a victory at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Pineda Reins In Phillies Before Rain Halts Play

GAME 26

YANKEES 10, PHILLIES 0 (CALLED IN SIXTH – RAIN)

Michael Pineda tossed five scoreless innings and the Yankees erupted for seven runs in the fifth inning as New York blanked Philadelphia in a rain-shortened contest on Friday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.

Pineda (2-0) looked impressive in limiting the Phils to five hits, he walked none and fanned five batters. The five shutout innings lowered Pineda’s spring ERA to 1.32.

The Yankees’ offense, meanwhile, jumped on left-hander Jake Diekman (0-1) for seven runs on six hits and a walk in just one-third of inning to put the game away in the fifth. The key blows in the inning were a two-run single by Stephen Drew, who was 3-for-3 in the game, and a two-run double off the bat of Chris Young.

The Yankees added three more runs in the sixth inning off right-hander Hector Neris and all three runs came on a bases-loaded double by Tyler Austin.

The game was played delayed 35 minutes by rain and finally was called with one out in the top of the sixth.

The victory improved the Yankees’ Grapefruit League mark to 14-11.

FIELD FOCUS

When it came time for the Yankees to settle upon a second baseman after Brian Roberts failed to produce last season, the Yankees decided against looking for the pedigree and instead went to the rescue shelter.

They traded infielder Kelly Johnson to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for a shortstop, Drew. You read that right. The Yankees traded for a shortstop to play second base.

Drew had been a shortstop his entire professional career, which started in 2005. He became the starting shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of the 2006 season and he stayed in that role through 2012.

Drew’s best season was in 2008 when he batted a career-high .291 with 21 homers and drove in 67 runs for the D-backs. Much like his older brother J.D., Drew came out of the minors tagged as a future star. After all, he was the team’s first selection and the 15th overall in the 2004 draft.

Though Drew had some fine seasons with the bat and he was a pretty steady fielder, stardom somehow eluded him and the D-backs traded him to the Oakland Athletics in 2012 in his free-agent year.

But he ended up signing a free-agent contract with the Red Sox in 2013 and he had a throwback season at the plate. He batted .253 with 13 homers and 67 RBIs and he ended up collecting a championship ring in the process.

But Drew’s fortunes went from penthouse to outhouse quickly when Drew refused the Red Sox’ qualifying offer and then ended up sitting out all of the winter, spring training and the early portion of the 2014 season without a place to play.

Drew finally relented and signed with the Red Sox at a huge discount. But without any spring training, Drew was basically thrown into the fray cold and it showed. He batted .176 with four home runs and 11 RBIs until the Red Sox made the deal with the Yankees for Drew.

The 32-year-old Georgia native did not fare much better with the Yankees, batting .150 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 46 games, most of them (34) at an unfamiliar second base.

Rather than cut Drew loose and look for another second baseman, the Yankees signed him this winter to a one-year, $5 million deal. But the onus on Drew is to produce with the bat quickly or be replaced by up-and-coming second base prospects Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, who have both hit extremely well this spring.

Manager Joe Girardi ended the speculation early and stated that Drew was the team’s starting second baseman. But Drew has foundered at the plate and he was hitting just .167 going into Friday’s contest.

Drew has been changing his mechanics with new hitting coach Jeff Pentland. It may be starting to pay off.

Drew had a double and two singles, scored a run and drove in two. The good day at the plate raised his spring average to .231. It is not much yet, but it is a start.

The 2015 season will begin soon and there will be no player more scrutinized than Drew. He is no stranger to pressure and expectations. But this challenge may be the biggest he has to overcome in a long time.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pineda, 26, has simply been the most impressive starter the Yankees have this spring. That includes Masahiro Tanaka. Pineda has been absolutely unhittable this spring and he is showing the same great control. One scout said that Pineda has been the best starter he has seen in Florida this spring. Look for a big season from the right-hander if he can stay healthy.
  • Young, 31, has been real hot lately with the bat. In his past four games Young is 4-for-13 (.308) with two doubles, two homers and five RBIs. Young provides the team with solid right-handed power and a reliable outfielder who can play all three positions. He is going to be very helpful coming off the bench this season.
  • Alex Rodriguez was 1-for-2 in the game and now is batting .303 on the spring. The 39-year-old infielder has proven that he has not been overmatched at the plate. Though he might not be the A-Rod of 2007 when he was the American League Most Valuable Player, he has proven that he can be a productive contributor for the Yankees. They will need his right-hand power in 2015.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

When your pitcher shuts out the opposition and your offense scores 10 runs there can be nothing to nitpick about. This was an impressive victory.

BOMBER BANTER

As expected, Girardi named Tanaka as the team’s Opening Day starter on Friday. Tanaka, 26, will be followed by Pineda, CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi. The team’s fifth starter will be named later this weekend and it is expected to be right-hander Adam Warren. It will be the first time in six seasons that Sabathia has not drawn the opening assignment.  . . .  The Yankees said on Friday that Rodriguez will play first base for five innings in Sunday’s exhibition game against the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, FL. Girardi envisions Rodriguez as a potential third option at first behind Mark Teixeira and Garett Jones. “I’m excited,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I told Joe to really keep a close eye on me. He said he will.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will return to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL on Saturday to host the Baltimore Orioles.

There was a switch in plans and Sabathia will start in a minor-league game instead of giving the Orioles a peak at him. In his place, non-roster right-hander Scott Baker will draw the start. Baker, 33, is 0-0 with a 4.32 ERA in three games this spring.

Baker will be opposed by right-hander Bud Norris, who is 0-3 with a 9.26 ERA in four spring starts.

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

 

Mets’ Power Hands Tanaka First Spring Defeat

GAME 25

METS 7, YANKEES 2

Juan Lagares stroked a two-run homer and John Mayberry Jr. added a solo shot of his own as the Mets completed a sweep of their home-and-away with the Yankees on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Right-hander Rafael Montero (1-0) held the Yankees to one run on three hits and no walks while he struck out four in four innings of work to get credit for the victory.

Masahiro Tanaka (1-1) took the loss yielding three runs (two earned) on four hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. He threw 49 of his 57 pitches for strikes.

Of more concern to the Yankees was that the two pitchers being considered as the team’s closer, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, combined to give up two runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning.

With the loss the Yankees’ spring record dropped to 13-10.

FIELD FOCUS

At one time, Andrew Bailey, 30, was considered as one of the best young relievers in baseball.

He burst onto the scene in 2009 with the Oakland Athletics recording 26 saves in 30 opportunities with a 1.84 ERA. As a result, Bailey was named American League Rookie of the Year.

In his three seasons with Oakland, he saved 75 games and it looked as if Bailey would join the elite club of good young closers like Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves.

However, injuries have plagued the 6-foot-3, 240-pound right-hander since the Boston Red Sox traded for him as a their choice to replace Jonathan Papelbon as the team’s closer.

He had surgery on his right thumb before the 2012 season and ended up a disappointing 1-1 with a 7.04 ERA. Bailey was a bit better in 2013. He was 3-1 with a 3.77 ERA but he was only able to save six out of 13 chances before succumbing to major right shoulder surgery in July.

The Red Sox decided rather than pay him in 2014 they opted not to tender him an offer and released him.

The Yankees signed him last winter to a one-year deal with a option, knowing Bailey would not be able to pitch at all in 2014. Now perhaps the Yankees’ patience with Bailey will pay off.

Held back early in the spring, the Voorhees, New Jersey native has made three appearances, including a scoreless inning of work against the Mets on Wednesday.

Bailey has no record with 0.00 ERA in those outings. He has given up two hits and a walk with four strikeouts in three innings. If Bailey continues to look good the Yankees might have found some experienced bullpen help.

Given the struggles of Betances and Miller, Bailey also possibly could be shifted back into a closer’s role down the road. Of course, the Yankees could also allow him to build up his arm strength and stamina at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

If Bailey continues to progress he possibly could make a big impact on the team’s bullpen in 2015. the only question is what his role might be.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Despite the fact he got knocked around a bit Tanaka was still impressive in outing on Wednesday. Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter after the game that he was working on throwing his two-seam fast ball more. That pitch was the one the Mets were whacking all over the park. His splitter and slider were devastating enough to strike out seven. So give Tanaka a mulligan for this outing.
  • While a lot of the regulars have been struggling at the plate, Chase Headley has not been one of them. Headley had another good day at the plate  –  going 2-for-3 and driving in one of the Yankees’ two runs with a two-out RBI double in the third inning. Headley is now 12-for-38 (.316) overall with two homers and four RBIs. He has been a real surprise this spring.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Betances, 26, has been plagued all spring with reduced velocity on his fastball and he has been paying a dear price for it. In his past four outings, Betances has yielded single runs in each on six hits and two walks in just 3 1/3 innings. Even more telling is that he has only four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings this spring. It is looking more and more that Betances will not be named as the team’s closer.
  • Miller, 29, has been slightly better although he was ineffective on Wednesday. Miller is 0-0 with a 2.84 ERA and he has fanned eight in 6 1/3 innings. If the decision had to be made today, manager Joe Girardi likely would name Miller as the closer. But keep in mind that Miller has never been closer either and has just one career save.
  • It is one step forward and two steps back for Brett Gardner this spring. He was 0-3 with two strikeouts against the Mets and he is batting a woeful .140 this spring. With Jacoby Ellsbury out Gardner has been batting leadoff and he has not succeeded in getting on consistently at all.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Port Charlotte, FL, on Thursday to take on the Tampa Bay Rays.

Right-hander Adam Warren (2-0 with a 2.77 ERA in his four starts) will have a chance to lock up the No. 5 starting spot with a good outing.

The Rays will counter with right-handed reliever Kevin Jepsen, who has no record and a 1.80 ERA in five relief appearances this spring.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis by MLB Network on Friday at 9 a.m.

 

Nats Rally For 3 Runs In Seventh To Nip Yankees

GAME 22

NATIONALS 7, YANKEES 6

Jose Lobaton stroked a one-out, two-run double in the seventh inning off right-hander Kyle Davies to cap a three-run rally that gave Washington a victory over New York on Monday at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL.

The Yankees blew leads of 3-0 and 6-4 during the afternoon as the result of some shaky pitching from Chasen Shreve, Jose Ramirez and Davies.

Five of the Yankees’ runs came as the result of home runs by Chris Young and Brian McCann.

McCann capped a three-run inning in the third by connecting for a two-run home run off starter Doug Fister.  It was his second home run of the spring.

After the Nationals took the lead with four runs in the fourth inning, Young tied the game in the fifth with his first home run of the spring, which also came off Fister.

In the sixth inning, Young connected again for a two-run shot to left off right-hander Casey Janssen.

Right-hander Craig Stammen (1-0) pitched a perfect seventh inning to get credit for the victory. Veteran right-hander Heath Bell earned a save. Davies (0-1) took the loss.

The Yankees have now lost their last two road contests and their Grapefruit League record fell to 12-9.

FIELD FOCUS

In his first full season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Young was considered one of the best young power hitters in the game after he hit 32 homers in 2007. He also stole 27 bases that season so the D-backs were thrilled to have a young player who could combine power and speed.

However, as the seasons wore on in the Arizona desert, Young could not get his batting average over the .257 he hit in 2010. The strikeouts also hovered around 140 per season and after a injury-marred season in 2012, Young was sent packing to Oakland.

After hitting .200 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs for the Athletics. Young ended up with the Mets. Met fans soon unleashed a chorus of boos at him when he hit .205 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs in 88 games.

Young found himself without a job at midseason until the Yankees called and asked him to audition for a job with them in the final month. Young responded by hitting three home runs and driving in 10 runs in just 23 games. More noteworthy, Young batted .282.

The Yankees decided to keep Young and he has already been named as the team’s fourth outfielder. Capable of playing all three outfield spots, Young provides insurance to the Yankees should center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury been unable to recover from an oblique injury enough to play Opening Day.

He also can spell 37-year-old right-fielder Carlos Beltran, who is coming off an injury-plagued 2014 season.

Young proved what he is capable of at Space Coast Stadium on Monday. Two at-bats in consecutive innings and two home runs. Young is now batting .265 with two home runs and four RBIs but his value is much more than those numbers.

The Yankees need his power from the right side of the plate. He provides some speed to the lineup and he is also above-average fielder. At age 31, Young may have a role suited for him and the Yankees.

It looks like it will be beneficial to both.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Starter Bryan Mitchell looked pretty good in his outing against the Nationals. He yielded two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out two in 3 1/3 innings. Mitchell actually was not on the mound when those two runs scored. Shreve allowed a two-out, bases-loaded single to the pitcher Fister in the fourth inning. He is still a longshot to be the team’s fifth starter, but Mitchell, 25, might be a valuable fill-in starter should the Yankees need to call him up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
  • McCann is showing that he has got his timing down at the plate. In his past four games, McCann is 5-for-10 (.500) with two homers and five RBIs. McCann, 31, will likely bat fifth in the Yankee lineup and he will be expected to hit for power and drive in runs. McCann also would like to hit better than the .232 average he ended up with in 2014.
  • Rob Refsnyder is showing that batting over .300 at Triple-A last season was not a fluke. He was 2-for-2 on Monday including a lined double off Fister and he scored two runs. Refsynder, who will turn 24 on March 26, is batting .346 this spring. The converted second baseman is still working on his defense but he can flat-out hit.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Shreve stinks, period. In three consecutive outings the 24-year-old left-hander has yielded six runs (five earned) on seven hits in just two innings. There had been talk that Shreve possibly would join Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson as a third lefty in the bullpen. After Monday, it is safe to say that Shreve will be back at Scranton trying to figure out what went wrong and how he can fix it.
  • Davies, 31, was once a potential fifth starter candidate but he likely will not make the team at all. The non-roster right-hander has not pitched in the majors since 2011, when he was 1-9 with a 6.75 ERA with the Kansas City Royals. This spring he is 0-1 with 5.14 ERA and he did himself no favors giving up three runs on three hits and a walk in the seventh inning to the Nationals.

BOMBER BANTER

Ellsbury, 31, told reporters that his strained right oblique is feeling better and he still believes that he can be ready to play on Opening Day. Ellsbury has not played in an exhibition game since March 15 when he felt a twinge throwing in the outfield before a game with the Philadelphia Phillies. “I guess all I can tell is just how I feel each and every day,” Ellsbury told reporters. “But until I swing a bat, until I throw, until I do really explosive stuff, that will be the real test. But it does feel better each and every day.”  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi said on Monday that infielder Jose Pirela was still feeling some neck soreness but was no longer feeling dizzy. Pirelli, 25, crashed into the wall at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, FL, in the first inning of a game against the Mets. Pirelli left the game and he will undergo a concussion protocol. It is unclear when he will be able to return to action. Pirela is batting .370 this spring with no home runs and five RBIs.

ON DECK

The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, to host the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.

Right-hander Esmil Rogers will have likely his last shot to claim the No. starting spot in the Yankee rotation. Rogers, 29, is 0-0 with a 2.89 ERA in five appearances (three starts) this spring.

The Tigers will start right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who is 0-0 with a 4.05 ERA in four spring starts. But he is coming off five shutout innings in his last start.

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.