Tagged: Ben Francisco

Astros Flip Script To Take Opener Over Yankees

CC Sabathia continued his fine work from spring training with six strong innings and Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira led a newly retooled Yankee offense as the New York downed Houston in their season opener at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Oops!

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

GAME 1

ASTROS 6, YANKEES 2

Somehow the Astros did not get the memo on how Opening Day was supposed to go.

The Astros scored six runs in the first two innings off CC Sabathia, including home runs by Jesus Guzman and L.J. Hoes, as Houston rolled to an Opening Day victory over New York on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 42,117 at Minute Maid Park.

Sabathia (0-1) was tagged for four runs in the first and two more in the second before he settled in and pitched four scoreless innings to save the bullpen. Meanwhile, Astros starter Scott Feldman (1-0) held the Yankees in check by using a series of slow-pitch softball speed pitches.

Feldman held the powerful Yankee lineup to no runs on two hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings. The 31-year-old right-hander entered the contest with a career record of 51-56 with a 4.59.

The Yankees did not get their first hit off Feldman until Carlos Beltran slapped a one-out single to left in the fourth inning. Mark Teixeira looped a one-out single to right in the seventh for the team’s only other hit off Feldman.

The Astros did not waste any time against Sabathia when Dexter Fowler led off the first with a double to deep center. He moved to third on a flyout and scored on an RBI single by Jose Altuve. After a stolen base and a wild pitch advanced him to third, Altuve scored when Teixeira’s throw to home on a grounder off the bat of Jason Castro was thrown wide past McCann.

Guzman lined the first offering from Sabathia deep into the left-field bleachers to make the score 4-0. Guzman entered the game with only 23 career homers over the past 2 1/2 seasons.

Hoes opened the second inning with a solo blast of his own. Hoes entered the contest with only one previous major-league homer in 49 games.

The Astros capped the scoring in the second when Fowler laced another double with one out. Altuve later added a two-out single to score Fowler.

The Yankees had two chances to score against Feldman. In the fourth, Beltran singled with one out and Teixeira drew a two-out walk. However, Alfonso Soriano struck out to end the threat.

In the seventh, Teixeira’s one-out single was followed by a pair of two-out walks to Brett Gardner and Brian Roberts to load the bases.

Astros manager Bo Porter replaced Feldman with left-hander Kevin Chapman and he induced Kelly Johnson into a force out to leave the bases loaded.

The Yankees did finally break through in the eighth inning when Chapman opened the frame by walking Jacoby Ellsbury. Jeter then greeted right-hander Chad Qualls with a single to right.

Beltran advanced Ellsbury and Jeter with a groundout and Brian McCann and Teixeira followed with RBI singles.

However, Qualls ended the rally by getting Soriano to hit into an inning-ending double play.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Two big concerns the Yankees had opening the season was how Jeter and Teixeira would fare after both players, who missed most of the 2013 season with injuries, struggled to hit this spring. But Jeter was 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored and Teixeira was 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.
  • Give both McCann and Teixeira a lot of credit for the their RBI singles. Both decided to hit to the opposite field with shifts on against them and a ground-ball pitcher on the mound in Qualls. If you try to pull outside pitches you end up grounding into the shift. Both recognized that and hit to the opposite field.
  • Both Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno pitched an inning of relief and both were impressive. Betances struck out two in a perfect inning in the seventh and Nuno struck out the side in the eighth. The Yankees are hoping that Betances, 26, and Nuno, 26, will contribute a lot to a completely retooled bullpen that is missing closer Mariano Rivera.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The reality is that Sabathia was NOT defeated by his reduced velocity. Sabathia was beaten because he missed location with his pitches. When he was up in the strike zone he got hammered. When he got the ball down he was successful in the final four innings. Sabathia was making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start for the Yankees and the 11th of his career. He is the team’s ace out of courtesy and you can actually make a case that he is the weakest of the Yankees five starters. Once Yankees fans accept that fact they may just be able to accept Sabathia for what he is at age 33.
  • Soriano can be a maddening player. When he is red hot you can’t get him out. When he is cold he can kill your offense. He killed the offense pretty well on Tuesday by going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a inning-ending double play. Soriano stranded a team-high five runners. Ouch!
  • Though the Yankees were charged with one error they actually were extremely sloppy in the field in this game. McCann overthrew third base trying to nab Altuve. Teixeira’s throw home to get Altuve was to the first-base side of home plate and skipped past McCann. They just did not look sharp in the field with the exception of some fine plays at third by Johnson.

BOMBER BANTER

Before the game the Yankees purchased the contract of infielder Yangervis Solarte from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and designated infielder Eduardo Nunez for assignment. The team will have 10 days to trade, release or outright Nunez to the minor leagues. Nunez, 26, was once viewed as the heir apparent to Jeter at shortstop but he was outplayed this spring by Solarte, 26, and Dean Anna, 27.  . . .  The Yankees Opening Day lineup had only one holdover from Opening Day in 2013 and that was Gardner. Last season, both Jeter and Teixeira were on the disabled list and 2013 starters Ichiro Suzuki and Francisco Cervelli were on the bench on Tuesday. The 2013 lineup also included Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, Ben Francisco, Jayson Nix and Nunez.  . . .  The Astros plan to honor Jeter with a special ceremony on Wednesday with former teammates Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens on hand. Jeter announced just before spring training began that this will be his final season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have to recover from their loss as they play the second game of a three-game seres with the Astros.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.31 ERA in 2013) will make his first start of the season. He was 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA this spring.

He will opposed by right-hander Jarred Cosart, who was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts last season. He was 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA this spring.

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

 

Hiroki Dokey: Kuroda Clips Blue Jays’ Wings Again

GAME 42

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 0

While the injuries seem to mount for the New York Yankees on a daily basis there are pretty much three things the team had going its favor on Friday: They were playing the Toronto Blue Jays, they had Hiroki Kuroda on the mound and they have not lost more than two games in a row this season.

Kuroda pitched two-hit shutout baseball over eight innings as New York  snapped a two-game losing streak by defeating Toronto for the seventh time in eight games this season in front of paid crowd of 40,008 at Yankee Stadium.

Melky Cabrera led off the game with a double and Edwin Encarnacion laced a one-out single in the seventh and those were the only two hits the Blue Jays could muster off of the 38-year-old right-hander. Kuroda walked one and struck out five batters to run his career record against the Blue Jays to 4-1.

Meanwhile, the Yankees scored the only run they really needed in the bottom of the first inning when Brett Gardner rolled a leadoff triple to the wall in left-center off left-hander Mark Buehrle (1-3), who entered the game with a 1-9 record against the Yankees and his last victory against them was way back in 2004.

After Buehrle walked Jayson Nix, Robinson Cano scored Gardner with a infield groundout.

The rookie tandem of David Adams and Austin Romine sparked the rest of the Yankees’ offense.

Adams led off the fifth with a single to left-field and Romine followed one-out later with a single to left that advanced Adams to second. After Gardner drew a walk to load the bases, Nix drove in Adams with a sacrifice fly.

The Yankees added three runs by getting to Buehrle and reliever Aaron Loup in the seventh.

Adams again started the rally with a leadoff double off the wall in left-field and Ichiro Suzuki dropped down a bunt single that advanced Adams to third. Romine then chased Buehrle with an RBI double in the left-field corner.

Loup came in and Gardner greeted him with an RBI single to left to score Suzuki and Nix closed out the scoring with his second sac fly of the game.

With the victory, the Yankees improved to 26-16 and they hold a one-game lead in the American League East over the second-place Boston Red Sox. The Blue Jays fell to 17-25 and they are nine games out in last place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Kuroda, if it seems possible, is pitching even better than he did last season when he established his career high with 16 victories. For Kuroda it was his seventh straight quality start dating back to April 14. Kuroda also lowered his season ERA to 1.99, which is fourth best in the American League. His six victories are tied for third in the league. I will say this and believe me when I do: CC Sabathia may be the team’s ace but Kuroda is the Yankees’ best pitcher.
  • It may have seemed like an insignificant move at the time when the Yankees designated for assignment infielder Chris Nelson and recalled the 26-year-old Adams from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. But there was a big reason for the move: Adams can flat-out hit. He is proving it, too. He was 2-for-4 with two runs scored on Friday and he is 4-for-11 (.364 ) with two doubles and an RBI in his first three major-league games. Adams was hitting .316 in 27 games at Scranton and he is a .296 career minor-league hitter.
  • Romine came into the game hitting .063 but he took advantage of an injury to Chris Stewart to go 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI. Romine, 24, is going to be a work in progress as a hitter but his defense and throwing are top-flight. So when he contributes to the offense he deserves to be applauded for it.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Cano is absolutely lost at the plate lately. He was 0-4 with a a strikeout despite his 27th RBI, which leads the team. He is 6-for-32 (.188) in his last eight games, which has lowered his season average from .314 to .291. Cano is getting back to his old habit of swinging at pitches way off the outside corner and in the dirt.
  • Vernon Wells came into the game owning the Blue Jays this season and Buehrle throughout his career. But he ended up going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball past the infield. He is 0-for-7 with four strikeouts in his past two games.
  • In fact, Buehrle and the Blue Jays shut down the No. 3 through No. 6 hitters in the Yankees’ lineup (Cano, Wells, Ben Francisco and Lyle Overbay) were 1-for-16 with one RBI but the No. 7 through No. 2 hitters (Adams, Suzuki, Romine, Gardner and Nix) were 6-for-13 with five runs scored and four RBIs.

BOMBER BANTER

NOTE: If you are absolutely fed up and ready to slit your wrists over the mounting injuries of the Yankees, please do yourself a service by not reading the following information.

Just before the game started the Yankees announced they have placed left-hander Andy Pettitte on the 15-day disabled list and they recalled rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno from Scranton to replace him in the rotation. Pettitte left his start on Thursday in the fifth inning with what was later diagnosed as a strain of the left trapezius muscle, located below in the neck in the back. General manager Brian Cashman said the injury is not serious and that he expects Pettitte to be back with the team after the 15 days are up. Pettitte becomes the 13th player to land on the DL this season.  . . .  Stewart, however, was able to dodge the disabled list for now. Cashman said Stewart suffered a mild strain in his left groin in the eighth inning of Thursday’s game against the Seattle Mariners and he is listed as day-to-day. In fact, Stewart would be able to catch in an emergency, Cashman told reporters. Romine will continue to start at catcher until Stewart recovers.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try get through another game without an injury as they continue their weekend three-game series against Toronto on Saturday.

Right-hander David Phelps (1-2, 4.33 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Phelps gave up just one run in 6 2/3 innings against the Cleveland Indians on Monday but he lost because Justin Masterson shut out the Yankees. Phelps is 1-0 with a 4.37 ERA lifetime against the Jays.

Toronto will counter with right-hander Brandon Morrow (1-2, 4.69 ERA). Morrow has missed his past two starts with back and neck issues. He is 5-3 with a 4.01 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Overbay’s Base-Running Boosts Yanks Over Astros

GAME 27

YANKEES 5, ASTROS 4

With the loss of some free agents and a spate of injuries to some key players most people thought the New York Yankees would have to play baseball exactly the way they played it on Wednesday night. I mean how many teams win a game by delaying the execution of a opponent’s double play?

That is exactly how the Yankees beat the Astros, though.

Lyle Overbay delayed running from first base on a double-play grounder in order to allow Eduardo Nunez to score the tie-breaking run in the sixth inning and the team’s strong bullpen protected the lead as New York edged Houston and claimed the series victory in front of a paid crowd of 34.117 at Yankee Stadium.

Nunez opened the sixth against Astros reliever Paul Clemens (1-1) with a line-drive double off the wall in the left-field corner and he advanced to third on a wild pitch while Overbay was at the plate. Overbay then was able to coax a walk.

One out later, Astros manager Bo Porter brought in left-hander Wesley Wright to pitch to Ichiro Suzuki. On a 3-2 pitch, Suzuki hit a slow-hop grounder to second baseman Jose Altuve. Overbay, realizing it would be an inning-ending double play, stopped a few steps off first, forcing Altuve to throw to first to retire Suzuki.

Overbay then broke for second and was eventually tagged out by first baseman Carlos Pena. However, Nunez was able to cross home plate before Overbay was tagged out to break the 4-4 tie.

Boone Logan (2-1) pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the victory for the Yankees.

David Robertson and Mariano Rivera then mowed down the Astros in the final two innings to seal the victory. Rivera pitched the ninth to earn his 11th save in 11 opportunities this season.

The Yankees actually looked like they would coast to an easy victory when they got out to an early 4-0 lead by scoring singles runs in the first and second innings and adding a pair of in the third off Astros left-hander Erik Bedard.

Jayson Nix followed Suzuki’s leadoff triple in the first with a RBI single to plate the Yankees’ first tally of the game.

After Bedard loaded the bases by walking the first three batters in the second, Chris Stewart lofted a sacrifice fly with one out to increase the lead to 2-0.

Robinson Cano then greeted Bedard with a home run blast into the bleachers in right-field for his eighth home run of the season. Two outs later, slumping outfielder Ben Francisco then added another run with a line-drive solo shot into the left-field bleachers for his first home run and first RBI as a Yankee.

Bedard lasted only four innings, giving up four runs on six hits and four walks while striking out two batters.

However, David Phelps, making his first start of the season replacing injured right-hander Ivan Nova in the rotation, was unable to hold the lead.

With one out, Altuve singled, Juan Castro doubled to advance Altuve to third and Pena scored Altuve with a hard-hit single off Nunez at shortstop.

Phelps then hit Chris Carter and Fernando Martinez with pitches with Martinez getting credit for RBI for scoring Castro.

Brandon Barnes then drove in Pena by beating out a potential double-play ball by sliding head-first into first base just ahead of the relay throw from Cano.

Matt Dominguez then closed out the scoring with an RBI single to right that scored Carter to tie the game.

Phelps pitched 5 2/3 innings and was touched for eight hits and two walks, in addition to the two hit batters, while he fanned five.

While winning the series, the Yankees also have won six of their past seven games. They increased their season record to 17-10 and they are two games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Astros fell to 8-20.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Suzuki did hit into the crucial double play in the sixth, he still was 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in the game. Suzuki, 39, is now 13-for-31 (.419) in his last eight games and that has raised his season average from .200 to .279. 
  • Overbay is helping the Yankees in a lot of ways this season. Some things like his game-winning home run off R.A. Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday show up in the box-score. Some things like his delay in running to second on a sure double play do not. Overbay is hitting only .247 but he does have four home runs and 12 RBIs. But Overbay’s biggest contribution has been his defense at first. On Wednesday, Overbay was 1-for -2 with a double and two walks.
  • Some experts thought that Rivera could not recover from a serious knee injury at age 43 and pitch well this season. Well, they were dead wrong. Rivera is 11-for-11 in save chances and has a 1.59 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings. It seems the future Hall of Fame closer has not lost anything.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Phelps looked great in his first three innings, pitching to the minimum and only surrendering a leadoff single to Pena in the second. But he totally lost command in the fourth and cost himself what could have been victory. Phelps, 26, is still a talented young right-hander but it seems that after pitching as a starter all spring and then switching to the bullpen left him vulnerable as his pitch count increased. He should be able to pitch better as he gets re-acclimated to going further in games.
  • Though Stewart did drive in the Yankees’ second run on a sac fly in the second inning, he really hurt them team with his last thee at-bats. Stewart made an unproductive out when popped out after Overbay led off the fourth with a double. He followed that by striking out looking with runners on first and third and no outs in the sixth just before Overbay won the game with his delayed double play. Then Stewart grounded out to third base with Overbay on first and Brett Garner on third and one out in the eighth.
  • Stewart stranded five runners but Nix did him one better by stranding six. Nix popped out with the bases loaded to end the second inning. He also struck out swinging to end the eighth with the sacks full. Nix is hitting .221 on the season and the Yankees need him to step up in the absence of Kevin Youkilis.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees acquired infielder Chris Nelson from the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday in exchange for cash considerations and a player to be named later. Nelson, 27, is 16-for-66 (.242) with the Rockies this season before he was designated for assignment on Sunday. Nelson is a right-handed hitter who can play both second and third base. To add Nelson to the 40-man roster, the Yankees shifted catcher Francisco Cervelli to the 60-day disabled list. In order to get Nelson onto the 25-man roster, the Yankees are expected to option infielder Corban Joseph, who was called up on Monday, back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  . . .  Youkilis told reporters on Wednesday that his strained lower back feels much better after he received an epidural injection and he expects to be able to rejoin the team when he is eligible to be activated on May 13.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take a well-deserved break on Thursday before opening a weekend home series against the Oakland Athletics on Friday.

Ace left-hander CC Sabathia (4-2, 3.35 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Sabathia allowed four runs (three earned) in seven innings against the Blue Jays on Saturday. He has completed at least seven innings in his past five starts. He is 8-8 with a 4.56 ERA in his career against the A’s.

Right-hander A.J. Griffin (2-2, 4.65 ERA) will pitch for Oakland. Griffin has allowed 13 runs over his last 17 innings and is 0-2 in his past three starts. He is 1-0 with a 5.23 ERA in his only start against the Yankees.

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

 

Hafner Helps Limping Yanks Take Bite Out Of Jays

GAME 23

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 4

The New York Yankees season is looking like the scene in the 1975 film classic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” when the Black Knight insisted on continuing his sword fight with the Green Knight despite having no limbs left and saying “I will bite your leg off.” The only difference is that the injury-riddled Yankees have a lot of bite left in them.

The Yankees’ knight in shining armor on Saturday was Travis Hafner and his bat was mightier than the sharpest sword. Hafner was given a rare start against a left-hander and proved to manager Joe Girardi he should have been starting against lefties all along.

Hafner blasted a three-run home in the fourth inning that drew the Yankees into a 3-3 tie and he added an RBI triple in the seventh inning that broke a 4-4 tie as New York defeated Toronto for a third straight game in front of a paid crowd of 40,258 at Yankee Stadium.

Despite not having his best stuff, CC Sabathia (4-2) pitched eight innings to win a fourth game in April for the first time in his 10 major-league seasons.

The Blue Jays opened a 1-0 lead on Sabathia by pushing a run across in the third on infield groundout by Rajai Davis following a one-out single by Maicer Izturis and a double by Emilio Bonifacio.

They added a run in the fourth on a leadoff home run by Jose Bautista.

Edwin Encarnacion followed Bautista’s home run with a single and he advanced to second on an infield groundout by J.P. Arencibia. He then advanced to third on a passed ball by Chris Stewart, who was playing in his first game as the new starting catcher replacing Francisco Cervelli.

Brett Lawrie then lofted a fly ball to medium right that Ichiro Suzuki caught and Suzuki fired a strike to home plate in time to nail Encarnacion, however, Stewart dropped the ball as he applied the tag, giving the Blue Jays a 3-0 lead.

The Yankees were able to get to left-hander J.A. Happ in the bottom of fourth when Vernon Wells and Kevin Youkilis, playing in his first game in a week, opened the frame by drawing walks. Hafner then launched a 2-1 fastball into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center field for his sixth home run of the season.

Unfortunately, Sabathia coughed up another home run to begin the sixth inning when Lawrie connected for an opposite-field shot to right-center.

But Sabathia battled and did not allow a base-runner after the home run, retiring the final nine hitters he faced.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to rally in the seventh inning when Robinson Cano slapped a one-out double into right-field off right-hander Esmil Rogers (1-2) and Wells followed with an RBI single to center to score Cano with the tying run.

One out later, Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Rogers with left-hander Brett Cecil. Hafner, who was 0-for-11 lifetime off Cecil, then launched a fly ball to center that ticked off Davis’ glove at the wall in center-field for an RBI triple that scored Wells with the go-ahead run.

The injury-riddled Yankees also were without their two top relievers in David Robertson and Mariano Rivera because Girardi did not want to use them in a third consecutive game. So Girardi instead used Joba Chamberalin to close out the game in the ninth.

Despite giving up a one-out infield singles to both Izturis and Bonifacio, Chamberlain was able to retire Davis and Melky Cabrera for his first major-league save since the 2010 season.

With their third victory in a row the Yankees improved their season record to 14-9. The Blue Jays have sunk to 9-16.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With Ben Francisco hitting a miserable .103, Girardi elected to start Hafner against a left-hander and it paid off big-time. Hafner was 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs and he is now hitting .309 with six home runs and 14 RBIs. His 14 RBIs are now second on the club behind Cano’s 17. 
  • Wells was 1-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored as he continues his assault on his former team. Wells is 13-for-29 (.448) with three home runs and six RBIs in six games against the Blue Jays this season. For the Yankees, Wells is hitting .309 with six home runs and 12 RBIs.
  • Cano is also continuing his hot streak. He was 2-for-4 with a run scored on Saturday and is 28-for-72 (.389) with seven homers and 17 RBIs since April 8.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Stewart is kind of a mixed bag as a starting catcher. Though he threw out two base-stealers on Friday he has committed two passed balls in consecutive games and his dropping of Suzuki’s perfect peg to home plate to get Encarnacion in the fourth inning was inexcusable. It hurt Suzuki and Sabathia and it cost the team a run. He better have thanked Hafner after the game for bailing him out.
  • I hate to pick on Youkilis but he returned to the lineup in the midst of a slump and he was the only starter without a hit in the game. He is now 3-for-31 (.097) in his last eight starts. In addition, Youkilis is just 1-for-21 against left-handers this season! You would think Youkilis would be smashing lefties but he is not. He needs to start doing it and soon.
  • Sabathia gave up four runs (three earned) on nine hits and no walks while he struck out four in eight innings. Though he won the game, Sabathia looked very pedestrian at times. He also has given up five home runs in last two starts and that is very much not like the veteran ace left-hander.

BOMBER BANTER

Cervelli was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a broken right hand on Saturday and rookie catcher Austin Romine was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace him on the roster. Cervelli underwent successful surgery on his hand on Saturday and he is will miss a minimum of six weeks. Romine was 14-for-42 (.333) with a home run and four RBIs in 14 games with Scranton. Girardi said he will play matchups in deciding between Stewart and Romine as starters.  . . .  The Yankees also placed right-hander Ivan Nova on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right triceps. Nova, who was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA in four starts, was replaced on the roster by left-hander Vidal Nuno, who was the rookie sensation of spring training. Nuno was 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts at Scranton and he will join Boone Logan as a second left-hander in the bullpen. Girardi said David Phelps will replace Nova in the starting rotation. Because Nuno was not on the 40-man roster the Yankees were forced to shift Derek Jeter to the 60-day disabled list in order to call him up.

ON DECK

The Yankees will go for a very rare four-game sweep of their home series against the Blue Jays on Sunday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (0-2, 5.14 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes pitched seven innings of two-run baseball against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday but he did not get a decision. He is 5-5 with a 5.03 ERA lifetime against Toronto.

Hughes will be opposed by reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey (2-3, 4.66 ERA). Despite tightness in his upper neck and back, Dickey is 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his last three starts. He is 3-1 with a 3.13 ERA against the Yankees in his career.

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

 

 

Yankees Play Bombs Away Against Buehrle, Jays

GAME 21

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3

The New York Yankees entered the 2013 season believing they would need to bunt, steal and scrap for runs without the vaunted power that made them the famous “Bronx Bombers.” But on Thursday they proved they could still slug with the best of teams by hitting three big home runs.

Robinson Cano slammed a three-run homer and Vernon Wells and Francisco Cervelli added a pair of solo shots to back Hiroki Kuroda as New York outslugged Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 31,445 at Yankee Stadium.

Cano’s seventh round-tripper of the season came with two out and two on in the third inning off veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle with the Yankees trailing 3-1. Cano launched a 3-1 fastball into the bleachers in right-center that gave the Yankees a lead they would not surrender the rest of the night.

Kuroda (3-1) got off to a rocky start in the first inning by giving up a two-out walk to Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion followed with a two-run homer to left. Brett Lawrie later greeted Kuroda with a leadoff opposite field solo shot to right in the second frame that gave Toronto an early 3-0 lead.

However, Kuroda pitched brilliantly after Lawrie’s home run, retiring 15 of the last 17 batters he faced. Kuroda gave up just the three runs on six hits and one walk and he struck out three in seven inning of work.

Wells, who played for the Blue Jays for 12 seasons, continued his reign of terror against his former team by leading off the second inning with a 400-foot-plus blast that landed in Monument Park in center-field. It was Wells’ sixth home run of the season, his third against his former team and his second within five days off Buehrle.

Cervelli led off the third inning with his third home run of the season  –  a lined shot into the left-field bleachers to give the Yankees their final margin of victory.

Buerhrle (1-1) gave up five runs on seven hits and no walks and he struck three in 5 1/3 innings.

The bullpen trio of Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the Jays over the final three innings to preserve the victory for Kuroda. Rivera pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two of the three batters he faced, to earn his seventh save in as many chances this season.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano has basically strapped the Yankees on his back is carrying the team after a slow start. Since April 8, Cano is 25-for-64 (.391) with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. His three-run shot came after a one-out infield single by Jayson Nix and Brett Gardner bounced a single up the middle. One out later, Buehrle, with Wells looming on deck, opted to challenge Cano on a 3-1 pitch and lost. 
  • Wells entered Thursday’s game owning Buehrle. Wells was hitting .500 in his career against the left-hander with four home runs. For a player who was ticketed to be just a fifth outfielder with the Los Angeles Angels, Wells, 34, is hitting .293 with six home runs and 10 RBIs for the Yankees after being obtained in trade late in spring training.
  • We are going to have to change Cervelli’s first name to “Babe” the way he has been hitting for the Yankees. Cervelli entered this season with only five career home runs and now he has three in his 15 starts. Cervelli is making the Yankees forget about departed free agent Russell Martin. He is batting .269 with three homers and eight RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Manager Joe Girardi said he was going to stick with Ben Francisco as the designated hitter against left-handers but Francisco continues to struggle. He did leg out a bunt single in the seventh inning but he is only hitting .103 this season. The Yankees have struggled against left-handers this season and Francisco is part of the reason why.
  • The back injury to Kevin Youkilis also has forced Girardi to play lefty swinging Lyle Overbay against left-handers and it is exposing his inability to hit them. In his last 15 at-bats, Overbay is hitless. He was 0-for-4 on Thursday including hitting into a double play and a strikeout. His season average has skidded to .221.
  • Eduardo Nunez is also off to a horribly slow start. He was 0-for-3 on Thursday and is 3-for-29 (.103) in his last nine games. His season average has plunged to .173. He is getting a chance to show with Derek Jeter out that he should be a starting shortstop and he is not proving it.

BOMBER BANTER

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was ejected from the game in the seventh inning by crew chief Jeff Kellogg after the four umpires agreed to reverse an out call by first-base umpire Chad Fairchild on Francisco’s bunt single in the seventh inning. Television replays indicated that Encarnacion trapped the throw from Lawrie.  . . .  Youkilis was held out Thursday’s game after his stiff lower back acted up when he attempted to take swings in a batting cage. The 33-year-old corner infielder has now missed five straight games since leaving in the sixth inning of Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays in Toronto. He is still listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Jeter conducted a news conference at the stadium before the game on Thursday and said he definitely will play this season. Jeter is not expected to play until after the All-Star break as he recovers from surgery on a fractured left ankle. Jeter says he has a date for his return in mind but he would not reveal it.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game weekend series with Toronto on Friday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-1, 6.14 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Nova issued a season-high four walks in five-plus innings in a no-decision against the Blue Jays on Saturday. He allowed four runs and has not pitched six innings in any of three starts. He is 3-2 with a 4.39 ERA lifetime against the Jays.

He will opposed right-hander Josh Johnson (0-1, 6.86 ERA). Johnson unraveled in the fifth inning against the Yankees on Saturday walking two batters with bases loaded. He gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings. He is 1-0 with a 3.65 ERA in two starts against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast in a regional basis by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Rays Pay Steep Price In 9th On Ichiro’s 2-Run Hit

GAME 18

YANKEES 4, RAYS 3

Ichiro Suzuki entered Tuesday’s game batting just .200 and it was beginning to look as if all those years of playing baseball were starting to take its toll. But the Tampa Bay Rays found out there is no hitter more dangerous than a great hitter in the throes of a horrible slump.

Suzuki slapped a two-out bases loaded single off reliever Fernando Rodney to drive in two runs to break a 2-2 tie in the ninth inning as New York edged Tampa Bay in front of an embarrassingly small paid crowd of 17,644 at Tropicana Field.

David Robertson (1-0) pitched a perfect ninth inning in relief of starter Phil Hughes to earn credit for the victory. Though Evan Longoria greeted him with a first-pitch home run in the bottom of ninth, Mariano Rivera retired the next three hitters to earn his sixth save in as many chances this season.

Robinson Cano started the ninth inning with a single off Rays starter David Price (0-2). Rays manager Joe Maddon then elected to bring Rodney to face left-hander Vernon Wells.

Wells struck out but Cano was able to swipe second base, which forced Maddon to walk pinch-hitter Travis Hafner intentionally to set up a potential double play.

However, Lyle Overbay was able able to draw a walk on a 3-2 pitch from Rodney to load the bases and, after Chris Stewart popped out, Suzuki came to the plate.

Suzuki also was instrumental in allowing the Yankees to tie the game in the eighth with a one-out single and he advanced to third on a single to left by Jayson Nix. He then scored on a infield groundout by Brett Gardner.

Price entered the eighth with a 2-1 lead on a two-out RBI single by Jose Molina that scored Matt Joyce.

Price gave up three runs on eight hits and no walks while he struck out five in eight-plus innings of work.

However, Hughes matched him pitch-for-pitch after a shaky first inning in which he gave up a walk to Desmond Jennings, a double by Ryan Roberts and sacrifice fly to Ben Zobrist that scored Jennings.

Hughes then settled in giving up just two runs on six hits and two walks and he struck out six batters in seven innings. It was his second consecutive strong outing but he has received a no decisions in both of them.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 11-8. The Rays fell to 9-11.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Suzuki, 39, has had the Yankees concerned because he slumped miserably in the final three weeks of spring training and began the season in the same hitting funk. Manager Joe Girardi elected to bench him in favor of Brennan Boesch twice against left-handers in the past week. Hopefully his two hits in the last two innings, scoring the game-tying run and driving in the game-winning runs will get him going.
  • In his last two starts, Hughes has given up four runs on 12 hits and two walks and he has fanned 12 in 14 innings. After giving up the sacrifice fly to Zobrist in the first inning, Hughes retired 16 of the next 19 batters he faced until he opened the seventh inning by walking Joyce. Joyce eventually scored on Molina’s hit and it likely cost Hughes the victory. But Hughes is pitching well after two dreadful starts to begin the season. He lowered his season ERA to 5.14.
  • Cano was 2-for-4 and both his hits set up runs. After Eduardo Nunez reached first to lead off the fourth inning on a wild pitch on a swinging third strike, Cano advanced him third on a single. Wells then drove in Nunez with an opposite-field single to right that tied the game at 1-1. Cano raised his season average to .342, which currently leads the team.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It is just about decision time for the Yankees on Ben Francisco, who started for a second consecutive game as the designated hitter. Francisco was 0-for-3 in the game and he is hitting a miserable .080 on the season after hitting a combined .308 with eight doubles, three homers and nine RBIs for the Cleveland Indians and the Yankees in spring training. The Yankees chose to keep Francisco over Juan Rivera, though Rivera also had a good spring. Rivera is currently a free agent and could be signed by any club.
  • The Yankees are finding out their Achilles’ heel is left-handed pitching. With Kevin Youkilis out of the lineup for a third straight game with lower back stiffness, the Yankees were forced to start Francisco at DH in place of Hafner, the lefty swinging Overbay at first and Nix at third. After Matt Moore shut them down on one run and two hits on Monday, Price held them to two runs on seven hits on Tuesday until the ninth inning when they rallied off the right-handed Rodney.
  • The Yankees were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position until Suzuki delivered his game-winning single in the ninth.

BOMBER BANTER

Youkilis was held out of the lineup for a third straight game on Tuesday and he now is not expected to play until Thursday. Youkilis originally injured the back in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game in Toronto against the Blue Jays and re-aggravated the injury on Monday during batting practice in St. Petersburg, FL.  . . .  Mark Teixeira admitted on Tuesday that he will not meet his stated goal to return to the lineup by May 1. Though Teixiera has been cleared to take dry swings from both sides of the plate, he has not advanced far enough to begin hitting a baseball. Instead of remaining in Tampa to continue his workouts, Teixiera will return with the team to New York after Wednesday’s game.  . . .  Derek Jeter will be in New York on Thursday and will hold a press conference. Jeter, who found out last week that he sustained another small fracture in his surgically repaired left ankle, has not made any public comment since he learned will be out until after the All-Star break.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to win the rubber game of their three-game set with the Rays on Wednesday.

Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (3-0, 2.01 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pettitte is coming off another strong 7 1/3 innings in a victory over the Blue Jays on Friday. Pettitte, 40, gave up three runs on six hits and a walk while he struck out five. In his last 10 seasons, Pettitte is 16-5 with a 4.13 ERA against the Rays.

The Rays will start right-hander Alex Cobb (2-1, 2.53 ERA). Cobb also allowed three runs in 7 1/3 innings in a victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday. He is 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA in three career starts against the Yankees.

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

 

Yankees Sting D-Backs On Hafner’s Pinch-Hit Blast

GAME 13

YANKEES 4, INDIANS 3

Raul who?

In a very short time Travis Hafner, nicknamed “Pronk” for “Project Donkey,” is making fans in The Bronx forget all about Raul Ibanez and his trademark clutch home runs in 2012.

Hafner carved out his own niche on Wednesday with two out in the eighth inning when the pinch-hitter grabbed a piece of lumber that looked like a maestro’s baton in his beefy hands and swatted the first pitch he saw from David Hernandez (0-1) and sent the ball into a high-arcing orbit into the right-centerfield bleachers to give New York a dramatic 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Arizona at Yankee Stadium.

Hafner’s fourth home run of the season followed a dramatic three-run rally in the seventh inning against Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley and reliever Tony Sipp.

CC Sabathia (3-1) was looking like a sure loser trailing 3-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. The Diamondbacks jumped on him in the first inning for two runs on a leadoff single by A.J. Pollock and a two-run opposite-field home run by Paul Goldschmidt.

The D-backs added another run in the fifth on a leadoff triple off the bat of Josh Wilson and a sacrifice fly by Pollock.

Miley, meanwhile, kept the Yankees off-balance all evening with his assortment of tailing fastballs, sliders and change-ups. Through the first six innings, the Yankees had just two hits, a walk and a hit batter to show for an offense. Miley retired 17 of the 20 hitters he faced after Brett Gardner led off the game with a single.

But Miley appeared to run out of gas and lose his control in the seventh.

With one out, Ben Francisco singled down the left-field line and one out later Brennan Boesch hit an opposite-field, excuse-me-swing double into left to advance Francisco to third.

Miley then walked Eduardo Nunez on a 3-2 pitch and he followed that by issuing a bses-loaded walk to Jayson Nix that scored Francisco and put the Yankees on the scoreboard.

Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson removed a spent Miley in favor of the left-hander Sipp and Gardner greeted him with a two-run single to left to score Boesch and Nunez and tie the game.

Sabathia pitched a scoreless eighth and he left the game having given up three runs on six hits and one walk while he struck out four.

Miley also yielded three runs on four hits and three walks and struck out three in 6 2/3 innings.

Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning and earned his fourth save of the season and his second in two nights against Arizona.

The Yankees have now won eight of their past nine games and they are 8-5 on the season. The D-backs fell to 8-6.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It was Hafner’s fourth career pinch-hit home run and he became a big hero to the most of the paid crowd of 34,369 at Yankee Stadium. Hafner, who is hitting .342 with four home runs and eight RBIs, was held out of the lineup with the left-handed Miley on the mound. But when the Yankees tied the score on Gardner’s two-run single, the D-backs elected to use the righty Hernandez in the eighth. That gave manager Joe Girardi the perfect opportunity to use Hafner to pinch-hit for Francisco with two out and Hafner delivered a huge hit.
  • “The Replacements” did it again. Francisco and Boesch singled in the seventh. Then Nunez, who is subbing for Derek Jeter, and Nix drew walks to score the team’s first run. Gardner drove in Boeasch and Nunez and Hafner won the game with his big home run.
  • Sabathia did not look good at all in the first inning. He gave up the single and the two-run home run to Goldschmidt and then gave up a walk and single before retiring the last two hitters. He threw 31 pitches that inning. Yet he settled in and retired 23 of the last 26 batters he faced to earn his third victory. So many times Sabathia has rescued the Yankees but this time the Yankees’ late offense rescued him.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It is very odd but Robinson Cano and Kevin Youkilis were a combined 0-for-7 with two strikeouts between them on Wednesday. They managed to get only one ball out the infield. Cano and Youkilis have been the heart and soul of the team’s recent run of success and they are human after all. 
  • Francisco Cervelli also struggled in this game. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He also committed a throwing error in the sixth inning but it did not cost Sabathia and the Yankees a run. It appears that Cervelli has taken the reins of the catching duties away from Chris Stewart because he is hitting .310.

BOMBER BANTER

Injured first baseman Mark Teixeira received clearance on Wednesday to start swinging a bat and he is cautiously optimistic that he will be able to rejoin the team in May. Teixeira is on the 15-day disabled list with a torn sheath in his right wrist, an injury he suffered working out with Team USA before a an exhibition game in March.  . . .  Cano and Teixeira were presented with trophies before the game for winning Gold Gloves from Rawlings at their respective positions in 2012. Cano won his second award within the past three seasons for his fielding at second while Teixeira collected his fifth award as a first baseman.

ON DECK

The Yankees can earn a sweep of their three-game inter-league series with Arizona on Thursday.

The Yankees will start right-hander Phil Hughes (0-2, 10.29). Hughes has shown signs of obvious rust in his first two starts of the season after missing all of spring training with a bulging disk in his upper back. In his last start the Baltimore Orioles clubbed three home runs off him and he left the game in the fourth inning. Hughes has never faced the D-backs.

The Diamondbacks will start left-hander Steve Corbin (2-0, 1.50 ERA). Corbin outdueled fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers in his last start, pitching six shutout innings in a 3-0 victory. Corbin has never faced the Yankees.

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

 

CC Outguns Verlander As Yankees Blank Tigers

GAME 6

YANKEES 7, TIGERS 0

After being outscored 16-7 and outhit 26-12 in the first two games and having to face the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner in Sunday’s series finale, the Yankees countered that by throwing a former Cy Young Award winner of their own. The result was the polar opposite of what happened in the first two games.

CC Sabathia shut out the Tigers on just four hits in seven innings to outduel Justin Verlander and the Yankees busted loose for seven runs and 13 hits as New York salvaged the third game of the series to whitewash Detroit in front of a paid crowd of 39,829 at Comerica Park.

Sabathia (1-1) put the controversy surrounding the reduced velocity on his pitches by showing excellent command of his fastball and changeup to prevent any Tiger baserunner to get past second base. Sabathia also improved his career record against the Tigers to 19-12.

Meanwhile, Sabathia received some welcome run support from a pair of unlikely run producers in the second inning.

Picking on a less-than-sharp Verlander (1-1) with one out and Ichiro Suzuki on first, Francisco Cervelli laced a line-drive double to the wall in left-center to score Suzuki with the game’s first run. One out later, Jayson Nix, who was subbing at shortstop for Eduardo Nunez, who was subbing for Derek Jeter, cranked a fat changeup into the first row of bleachers in left-field to give the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.

It was a lead that Sabathia refused to relinquish to a deep power-laden lineup that had destroyed the Yankees the past two games.

Sabathia ended his afternoon having walked three and striking out four. It was hardly a dominant outing but it did best Verlander, who left after 7 1/3 innings having surrendered seven hits and two walks while striking out four.

The Yankees then added a pair of runs in both the eighth and ninth innings off left-hander Phil Coke and right-hander Octavio Dotel, respectively.

Suzuki touched Coke with a run-scoring fly ball in the eighth and Cervelli followed with a lined RBI single to center.

Red-hot Kevin Youkilis capped the scoring with one out in the ninth off Dotel by lacing a two-run single.

David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth and Mariano Rivera tossed a scoreless ninth to allow the Yankees to complete the shutout of the Tigers and salvage the series finale.

The Yankees’ season record improves to 2-4. The Tigers fell to 3-3.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia hovered mostly in the 88-91 mile-per-hour range on Sunday but it was good enough to keep the Tigers at bay. The Tigers 3, 4 and 5 hitters  –  Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez  –  were a combined 0-for-9 with two strikeouts off Sabathia. More importantly Sabathia quieted the critics who ripped him after his Opening Day loss to the Boston Red Sox.
  • Nix entered the game 0-for-7 with five strikeouts but he broke out of it in a big way against Verlander and Dotel. He was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Nix was pleased because he has not had much success against Verlander in the past. “It’s great. It feels really good,” Nix said. “I haven’t had a whole lot of success off him. He is who he is, you know?”
  • With Nix batting ninth, Cervelli held up his end batting seventh. He was 2-for-4 with two big RBIs. That raised Cervelli’s early-season batting average to .308.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Every starter had at least one hit except Lyle Overbay (0-for-4), Sabathia pitched with great precision to shut down a powerful lineup and the team did not commit an error in the field. That is a reason not to dwell on any negatives in what has been a rough week for the team.

BOMBER BANTER

Nunez was unable to get back into the starting lineup on Sunday but he was able to pinch-run for Travis Hafner in the eighth inning and he scored a run. Nunez has been hampered the past two games because of a bruised right bicep he sustained when he was hit by a pitch from Tigers right-hander Doug Fister on Friday. Nunez tried to swing a bat and throw on Sunday but his right arm was still sore. He is still listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Most experts figured the Yankees would not succeed with a bunch of aging newcomers and journeymen starting or filling in for injured starters. But Youkilis, Hafner, Overbay, Vernon Wells, Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch were a combined 22-for-75 (.293) with four homers and 12 RBIs in the Yankees’ first five games.

ON DECK 

The Yankees boarded a flight for Cleveland late Sunday and will open a three-game series against the Indians on Monday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (0-1, 13.50 ERA) recovered from a bruised right middle finger he suffered in the second inning of his first start against the Bosox on Wednesday and will pitch for the Yankees. Kuroda is 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA in his two career starts against the Indians.

The Indians will counter with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (0-0, 1.50 ERA). Jimenez allowed one run on three hits, walked two and struck six in six innings in his season debut against the Blue Jays in Toronto on Wednesday. He is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Will Prevail In 2013’s ‘Game Of Thrones’

The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.

REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES

If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.

The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.

The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.

A DOMINANT KING

Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.

But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.

THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL

The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.

They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.

The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.

But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.

One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.

Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.

Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.

That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.

The offense has its own issues.

Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.

There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.

So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.

THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE

The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.

Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.

They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.

Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.

Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.

Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”

The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.

The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.

Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.

DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY

The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.

They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.

One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.

They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.

The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.

Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.

Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.

The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.

Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.

They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.

They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.

The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.

The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.

The gold remains in the Bronx.

THE STARKS OF BOSTON

In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.

That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.

Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.

They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.

They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.

The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.

Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!

It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.

There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.

Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.

THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING

The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.

It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,

Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.

So why should 2013 be any different?

The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.

Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.

They may even finish last.

STARK REALITY

But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.

But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.

The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.

You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.

They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.

The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.

The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.

Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.

The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.

It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.

Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.

That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.

They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. YANKEES
  2. BLUE JAYS
  3. RAYS
  4. ORIOLES
  5. RED SOX

For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven. 

 

Beating Nationals Boosts Yankees’ Hopes For 2013

GAME 33

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 2

For nearly three hours on Friday Yankee fans saw their injury-riddled heroes play an exhibition game against a team that some believe might win the world championship in 2013 and what they learned is that this Yankee team just might measure up.

Andy Pettitte threw six strong innings, Kevin Youkilis homered and Mariano Rivera recorded the last three outs as New York defeated a powerful Washington team in front of a paid crowd of 38,161 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Pettitte (2-0) was touched for two runs (one earned) on five hits and no walks while he struck out six batters.

Meanwhile the Yankees scored all of their four runs in the fourth inning off Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (1-2).

Youkilis opened the frame with his sixth home run of the exhibition season. Travis Hafner followed with single and Vernon Wells doubled to left-center to move Hafner to third. One out later, Eduardo Nunez laced a two-run single.

The Yankees then added a run on a base-running mistake by Chris Stewart. The veteran catcher singled sharply to right, rounded first base too far and was caught in a rundown as Nunez reached third. When Nunez broke for home, Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa threw home to catcher Wilson Ramos. But the throw was too late and bounced off Ramos’ glove as Nunez scored.

The Nationals scored an unearned run in the bottom of the fourth when Youkilis committed a two-base throwing error on a ground ball off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman. One out later, Ian Desmond drove in Zimmerman on a single to center-field.

They added a run in the sixth when Zimmerman slapped a two-out double down the left-field line and Adam LaRoche slapped an RBI single to center.

Rivera, 43, followed Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson to the mound in the ninth and he needed only 10 pitches to dispatch the Nationals for his first spring save.

The Yankees exhibition season record improved to 14-18. The Nationals ended the season with the same mark.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pettitte, 40, was masterful and totally in command throughout his six innings of work. What is more impressive was it came against what largely was the Nationals 2013 starting lineup and they led the majors last season with 98 victories. Anyone still want to make a case that Pettitte and the rest of  the Yankee starting rotation is too old and battered to be effective?
  • Nunez, 25, shone like a bright diamond in this game. Batting eighth, Nunez was 2-for-3 with a stolen base and two RBIs. His two-run single in the fourth proved to be game-winning hit. Though the Yankees seem to be at a disadvantage without their starting shortstop and captain, Derek Jeter, Nunez is proving to be capable replacement. He hit .293 on the spring and he looked much better in the field.
  • Teams can’t win division championships or go far in the playoffs without an excellent bullpen. The Yankees’ bullpen on Friday looked to be formidable with Chamberlain, Robertson and Rivera not surrendering a hit or walk in the final three innings.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sloppy defense has been a problem for the Yankees all spring. Youkilis’ throwing error in the fourth cost the Yankees a run and was his fourth error of the spring, all of them coming at third base. I have said this before and it bears repeating: Youkilis is more skilled at first base than he is at third. 
  • Lyle Overbay made the team after a short three-day audition but he was not so helpful at the plate in this game. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield. Overbay did, however, have a pretty good game in the field. Though Overbay is not in Mark Teixeira’s class as a fielder, he is above average.
  • Ichiro Suzuki’s slump at the tail-end of the spring continues. He was 0-for-4 and grounded out weakly all four times. Suzuki’s spring batting average has fallen from a high of .462 on March 13 to .286. Over that span, Suzuki was 6-for-30 (.200). I don’t think fans have to worry about him too much. He is a career .322 hitter after all.

BOMBER BANTER

Teixeira, who is rehabbing a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist, told reporters on Friday that he is determined to return to the Yankees by early May. Teixeira was expected to miss eight to 10 weeks after he sustained the injury preparing for the World Baseball Classic in March. But Teixeira said he hopes to be back closer to eight weeks.  . . .  The Yankees officially confirmed on Friday that Overbay made the 25-man roster. In addition, veteran reliever David Aardsma was designated for assignment and right-hander Shawn Kelley was chosen to round out the bullpen.

PROJECTED 2013 YANKEE LINEUP (Not including players currently on the disabled list)

AGAINST RIGHT-HANDERS

  1. Brett Gardner CF
  2. Ichiro Suzuki RF
  3. Robinson Cano 2B
  4. Kevin Youkilis 3B
  5. Travis Hafner DH
  6. Vernon Wells LF
  7. Lyle Overbay 1B
  8. Eduardo Nunez SS
  9. Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli C

AGAINST LEFT-HANDERS

  1. Brett Gardner CF
  2. Ichiro Suzuki RF
  3. Robinson Cano 2B
  4. Kevin Youkilis 1B
  5. Vernon Wells LF
  6. Ben Francisco DH
  7. Eduardo Nunez SS
  8. Jayson Nix 3B
  9. Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli C

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to West Point, NY, on Saturday as the team will end its exhibition schedule with a game against the Black Knights of Army.

Right-hander Adam Warren will start for the Yankees. Warren will open the 2013 season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Game-time will be at 2 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.