YANKEES 5, ATHLETICS 4
Sometimes an insurance run in the late innings is just a meaningless addition to the score. Other times it ends up being the difference between winning and losing.
Stephen Drew’s two-out solo home run in the eighth inning on Wednesday off left-hander Fernando Abad proved to be in the latter category.
Mark Teixeira hit a pair of solo home runs and CC Sabathia pitched into the sixth inning but Drew’s home run proved to be the difference as New York edged Oakland in front of a paid crowd of 41,626 at Yankee Stadium.
Though the Yankees trailed 2-1 heading into the fourth inning, they got a break when left-hander Scott Kazmir was forced to leave the game with tightness in left triceps.
Athletics manager Bob Melvin sent in right-hander Evan Scribner and Teixeira greeted him by blasting a 1-2 high and outside fastball deep into the bleachers in right-center for his 21st home run of the season to tie the game at 2-2.
The Yankees were able to take the lead for good in the same inning when Chris Young drew a walk and John Ryan Murphy singled to left-center. After Young stole third and Murphy was able to advance to second on a wild pitch, Jose Pirela launched a one-out sacrifice fly to right to score Young.
The Yankees added to their lead in the sixth inning when Teixeira led off with almost a carbon-copy drive into right-center on a 2-2 high outside fastball from Scribner for his 22nd home run of the season. It also was his second two-homer game of the season.
Drew, who entered the game in the seventh inning as a defensive replacement at second base for Pirela, then added his 12th home run of the season in the eighth to give the Yankees a nice 5-2 cushion heading into the ninth.
But closer Andrew Miller, who was just activated from the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day after not pitching since June 9, show some rustiness in the ninth inning.
Mark Canha stroked a one-out single and Marcus Semien followed with a two-run homer into the left-field bleachers to bring the A’s to within a run.
After Stephen Vogt reached second on a two-base throwing error by third baseman Gregorio Petit, Miller retired Ben Zobrist on a groundout to Petit in which Teixeira had to make a long stretch that barely nipped Zobrist.
Sabathia (4-8) did have a rough second inning in which he was touched for five hits. Josh Phegley and Canha hit back-to-back one-out RBI singles to score Oakland’s only two runs until the ninth inning.
Sabathia was charged with two runs on seven hits and two walks with one strikeout in 5 1/3 innings for his first victory since June 7 against the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium.
The bullpen trio of right-hander Bryan Mitchell, Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances held the Athletics hitless and scoreless for 2 2/3 innings before turning the game over to Miller in the ninth.
Despite Miller’s struggles in his first game back, he still was credited with his 18th save in 18 opportunities this season.
Scribner (2-2) took the loss after yielding three runs on four hits and one walk with three strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings. He leads all relievers in homers allowed this season with 11.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 45-38 and they remain two games ahead of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Athletics dropped to 39-48.
- Teixeira’s potential American League Comeback Player of the Year run continues. His 22 home runs matches his total from all of last season and he still leads the league in RBIs with 61. In addition, Teixeira made several sparkling plays in the field. His selection to the American League All-Star team was well deserved. His is one of the main reasons the Yankees are in first place in the division.
- Give Drew some credit for a nine-pitch at-bat against Abad with two-out in the eighth. His 12th home run of the season proved to be the decisive run in the game. Drew may be hitting an anemic .179, but his 12 home runs and his steady infield defense have somewhat up for it.
- Betances was victimized on Tuesday by a 10th inning home run by Brett Lawrie that lost the game for the Yankees. But he got back on the horse in the eighth on Wednesday and looked very sharp. He struck out Billy Butler and Lawrie and retired pinch-hitter Josh Reddick on an outstanding fielding play by Teixeira.
There was not to much to complain about on this night. Sabathia was unable to get through six innings and Miller did look shaky in the ninth. But you have to give Miller a mulligan on this one. The Yankees are in first place and Teixeira is leading them.
In addition to Miller, 30, the Yankees also activated center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the disabled list on Wednesday. Ellsbury, 31, started the game and was 1-for-4 with an infield single. He had been on the disabled list since May 20 with a strained ligament in his right knee. To make room for Miller and Ellsbury, the team optioned right-hander Nick Rumbelow and outfielder Ramon Flores to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Rumbelow, 23, was 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in four appearances. Flores, 23, was hitting .219 with no homers and no RBIs in 32 at-bats. . . . Third baseman Chase Headley was held out of the game on Wednesday with inflammation in his right calf. Headley is listed as day-to-day. Petit started in Headley’s place and was 0-for-4.
The Yankees will have a chance to claim the rubber game of the three-game series against the A’s on Thursday.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (4-3, 3.94 ERA) will start of the Yankees. Tanaka pitched much better in a no-decision against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday. He yielded three runs on six hits and one walk with five strikeouts in six innings.
The Athletics will counter with right-hander Jesse Chavez (4-8, 3.20 ERA). Chavez lost to the Seattle Mariners on Thursday after giving up four runs on nine hits with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.
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.
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.
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!
The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:
NEW YORK YANKEES
After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.
Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.
Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.
The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.
Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.
The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.
Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.
The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.
Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.
If you don’t you lose.
The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.
The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.
The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.
The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.
Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.
The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.
As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.
In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.
BOSTON RED SOX
Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.
The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.
They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.
Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.
Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.
To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.
Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.
The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.
Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.
The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.
The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.
So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Jays are all about redemption.
They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.
The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.
So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.
Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.
But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.
Now that is some reclamation project.
Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.
But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.
There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.
Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.
The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.
It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?
The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.
Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.
The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.
The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.
They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.
So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.
Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) NEW YORK YANKEES
2) TAMPA BAY RAYS
3) BOSTON RED SOX
4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS
5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!
RAYS 5, YANKEES 4
Desmond Jennings blasted a three-run home run in the fifth inning that tied the game at 4-4 and two batters later Matt Joyce hit a wind-aided solo shot that was the eventual game-winner as Tampa Bay edged New York in an exhibition game on Wednesday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.
A steady 10-mile-per-hour wind with higher gusts were blowing out throughout the game.
Both home runs for the Rays came off right-hander Robert Coello (0-2), who was pounded for four runs on three hits in only a third of an inning to take the loss.
Non-roster invitee Erik Bedard (1-1), who is competing for the fifth spot in the Rays’ rotation, threw three scoreless innings of relief to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Jake Odorizzi struck out Pete O’Brien with two on and two out in the ninth to earn a save.
The Yankees scored a pair of runs in the first inning off Rays starter Cesar Ramos on an RBI single by Russ Canzler and an RBI groundout by Kelly Johnson. They added two more runs in the fourth inning off Rays closer Grant Balfour on Brett Gardner’s two-out, bases-loaded single, which gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
The Rays cut the Yankees’ 2-0 lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the first when Ben Zobrist lifted a solo home run to left off Yankee starter Adam Warren in his first at-bat of the spring.
The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record is now even at 4-4. The Rays improved to 4-1.
- Gardner’s two-run single in the fourth produced his first two RBIs of the spring. Gardner is off to a very good start to the spring, going 4-for-10 (.400) and an on-base percentage of .500 in the four games in which he has played. With a four-year, $52 million extension in hand and all the trade rumors quashed, Gardner is hoping to build on his solid 2013 season.
- Warren, 26, actually pitched pretty well despite giving up the leadoff home run to Zobrist in the first inning. He gave up just the one run on four hits and no walks while he struck out two in 2 1/3 innings. Warren still hopes to earn the No. 5 starting job with the Yankees after spending most of his rookie season in 2013 as a long reliever.
- Yangervis Solarte came through again on Wednesday. The 26-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder was 1-for-3, reaching on a single and an error and scoring a run. Solarte is 8-for-12 (.667) with two homers and six RBIs in six games so far. “He’s going to get a good look. He’s got some versatility. We’re looking for versatility because of our infield situation, and he has that,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters.
- Dellin Betances is quickly inserting himself into the bullpen mix and he was awesome again on Wednesday. Betances, 26, threw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, giving up no hits, walking one and striking out two. The 6-foot-8 right-hander has always had a crackling mid-90s fastball but he seems to have conquered the control problems he had as a starter.
- The annual award for the “Putrid Pitching in Pinstripes Award” may have been locked up for this spring by non-roster invitee Coello, 29, who has now surrendered nine earned runs on eight hits (three of them home runs), a walk and a hit batter in three appearances covering 1 2/3 innings. His spring ERA is a stratospheric 48.60! Coello, who has pitched briefly with the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Angels, sports a 2-3 record and 5.90 ERA in his career. I have two suggestions for him: (1) Either try to hook back up with the Red Sox or (2) Look for another line of work. He, in a word, stinks.
- John Ryan Murphy had some early success at the plate this spring battling for a backup catching role behind Brian McCann. But he took a giant step backwards on Wednesday. Murphy, 22, popped out with one out and the bases loaded in the fourth inning and killed a two on, one out rally in the sixth by grounding into a double play. The Yankees lost by one and he left five runners on base. That is not good.
After battling through a serious form of the flu, outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano is scheduled to make his spring training debut on Thursday, Girardi told reporters. Soriano has been limited to batting practice and off-field workouts. . . . Thursday will also mark the spring debut of first baseman Mark Teixeira, who is recovering from surgery on his right wrist. Teixeira was limited to just 15 games last season before requiring surgery. Teixeira hopes to get two or three at-bats in the game. . . . Former Yankee right-hander Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez has joined the Yankees as a minor-league pitching instructor. Hernandez, 48, spent nine seasons in the major leagues after defecting from Cuba and was 90-65 with a 4.13 ERA. He won three World Series rings with the Yankees from 1998 to 2000.
In addition to the debuts of Soriano and Teixeira, the Yankees will give their first starting assignment to Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka as they travel on Thursday to Clearwater, FL, to face the Philadelphia Phillies and Bright House Field.
Tanaka, 25, pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Phillies on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL. The Yankees were pleased and the Phillies were impressed with the $155 million free agent.
The Phillies will start veteran right-hander Kyle Kendrick, who was 10-13 with a 4.70 ERA in 30 starts last season.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live nationally by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 3, RAYS 2 (11 INNINGS)
When the New York Yankees acquired Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs on July 26 they desperately needed him for his power from the right side. As a bonus, they also got whatever was left in his 37-year-old legs.
On Sunday the Yankees found out there was still plenty left in those old legs to help win them an important game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Soriano delivered a one-out double in the top of the 11th inning, then stole third and scored on Curtis Granderson’s sacrifice fly as New York salvaged the final game of a crucial weekend series against Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 34,078.
With the game tied at 2-2, Soriano lined a 2-1 pitch from Jamey Wright (2-2) into left field for a double. With Granderson at the plate, Soriano then surprised the Rays by taking off for third and sliding in head first ahead of the throw from catcher Jose Lobaton.
Granderson then skied the next pitch into deep center-field to score Soriano easily with what proved to be the winning run.
Boone Logan (4-2), who came into the game in the bottom of the 10th with one on and one out to retire Lobaton on a inning-ending double play, was credited with the victory.
Mariano Rivera needed only six pitches to retire the Rays in order in the bottom of the 11th to earn his 38th save of the season and notch only the Yankees’ sixth victory in their past 22 games at Tropicana Field dating back to July 21, 2011.
The game featured a pitching duel between a pair of young right-handers in 26-year-old Ivan Nova for the Yankees and 25-year-old Alex Cobb for the Rays.
The Rays struck in the bottom of the first off Nova when newly acquired David DeJesus led off with a single, Ben Zobrist drew a walk and Evan Longoria plated DeJesus with a sharp single to left.
But the Yankees responded in the top of the fourth when Robinson Cano lifted a one-out line-drive opposite-field home run to left for his 24th home run of the season to knot the score at 1-1.
The Yankees then took the lead in the top of the sixth when Ichiro Suzuki reached first on an infield chopper to second. Cano then followed with a double to the wall in right-center for his 84th RBI of the season.
But the lead was short-lived because in the bottom of the inning, Longoria launched a blast into the left-field bleachers off Nova with out to even the game back up at 2-2.
Cobb gave up two runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out five in 5 1/3 innings.
Nova also yielded two runs on six hits and six walks while he fanned three in 6 2/3 innings.
The Yankees bullpen of Shawn Kelley, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Logan and Rivera held the Rays hitless and scoreless over the final 4 1/3 innings to give the Yankees the opportunity to win the game in extra innings.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 69-61 and they are seven games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. However, the Yankees drew to within 3 1/2 games in the wild card standings. The Rays fell to 74-54.
- Soriano continues to pay dividends as a trade-deadline acquisition. He was 2-for-5 with a single, a double, a stolen base and a run scored. Along with his 26 home runs this season (nine with the Yankees), Soriano has stolen 14 bases (four with the Yankees). That is most stolen bases Soriano has racked up since he stole 19 bases for the Cubs in 2008. Along with his 384 career homers Soriano has 284 career steals.
- Cano entered Sunday’s game with just one single in his past 12 at-bats. But he heated back up Sunday, going 3-for-5 with a single, a double and a homer, a run scored and two RBIs, In his past eight games, Cano is 15-for-34 (.441) with two homers and eight RBIs. His season average is .307, one point below his career batting average of .308.
- The Yankees won with their bullpen, some timely double plays and some great throwing from Chris Stewart behind the plate. The bullpen shut the Rays down without a hit over 4 1/3 innings. The Yankees turned four double plays on the Rays including one with the bases loaded in the first, one in the third, one in the fourth and one to end the bottom of the 10th. Stewart nailed Yunel Escobar attempting to steal in the fifth and then gunned down DeJesus in the seventh. Stewart has thrown out 15 out of 48 base-stealers this season (31 percent), which is just below his 33 percent career average.
- Nova walked two batters in the first inning and ended up issuing six walks overall, a season high for him. Nova entered the game having walked 27 batters in 93 2/3 innings, which is less than three walks per nine innings. But he was bailed out by the four double plays and Stewart’s arm.
- Mark Reynolds connected for a home run in his first at-bat as a Yankee on Aug. 16 at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Since then he is 4-for-25 (.160) with nine strikeouts. On Sunday, playing third base in place of resting Alex Rodriguez, Reynolds was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
Derek Jeter completed a three-game stint with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and will be in uniform with the Yankees on Monday when they open a series with the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Jeter, who was a rehabbing a strained right calf, was 3-for-9 with one walk, a double, two runs scored and an RBI. The Yankees want Jeter to take it easy running the bases so they may keep him healthy as much as possible for the final 32 games. In order to get Jeter on the roster the Yankees are expected to trim one of their 13 pitchers.
After sweeping the Jays in four games at Yankee Stadium they will try to sweep them for three at Rogers Centre.
Right-hander Phil Hughes (4-12, 4.88 ERA). Hughes held the Blue Jays to two runs over six innings but did not get a decision. It was his 11th quality start of the season but he has not won a game in his past eight starts. He is 5-5 with a 4.80 ERA lifetime against the Jays.
Knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey (9-12, 4.49 ERA) will match up again with the Yankees. Dickey gave a two-run home run to Soriano in the eighth inning on Wednesday to end up with a loss in his last start. He is 3-3 with a 3.44 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, RAYS 2
For years the Yankees have stockpiled minor-league talent simply so they could trade them away for well-traveled veterans. This season, out of necessity, they are having to let some of those youngsters play. One of them helped spark the Yankees to victory on Friday in his first major-league start.
Zoilo Almonte was 3-for-4 including his first major-league home run as New York got 5 2/3 innings of solid pitching from David Phelps and downed Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 41,123 at Yankee Stadium.
Almonte, 24, was part of what was an offense that emphasized “small ball” against sinkerball right-hander Roberto Hernandez (4-8).
Brett Gardner opened the first inning with a bunt single and Ichiro Suzuki followed with a hit-and-run single to right that advanced Gardner to third. Robinson Cano then gave the Yankees an early lead with a sacrifice fly to center to plate Gardner.
The Rays tied it in the top of the third on a two-out single off the bat of Ben Zobrist that Cano nearly fielded to retire the side. Instead, the ball caromed off the tip of Cano’s glove and Yunel Escobar scored from third.
The Yankees reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning when Austin Romine led off the frame with a double and he was advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Gardner. Suzuki followed with a slow roller to the Hernandez down the first-base line that allowed Romine to score.
The Rays tied it back up in the fourth on a one-out single by Luke Scott that slid under Cano’s glove in right-center and James Loney scored from second after Phelps had uncorked a wild pitch.
But the Yankees took the lead in the fourth for good by loading the bases with no outs against Hernandez. Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay and Almonte hit a succession of ground-ball singles that found holes in the infield.
Jayson Nix then hit into a double play that scored Hafner and advanced Overbay to third. David Adams followed with a slow roller to Evan Longoria at third and Longoria’s throw got past Loney at first base in what was scored as an infield single, which allowed Overbay to score.
Almonte then extended the Yankees’ lead to 5-2 in the sixth by launching a towering shot that landed in the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center. The fans rose to their feet and implored Almonte to take a ceremonial curtain call, which he did to the delight of the crowd.
Meanwhile, the Yankees bullpen quartet of Boone Logan, Shawn Kelly, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera held the Rays to to just one hit and struck out four over the final 3 1/3 innings to preserve the victory for Phelps.
Phelps gave up two runs on eight hits and one walk while he struck out four in 5 2/3 innings.
Hernandez yielded five runs on nine hits and no walks while he fanned four. He is career record in 13 games against the Yankees is now 1-7.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 40-33 and they remain 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in third place in the American League East. The Rays dropped to 38-36 and they are now six behind the Red Sox in fourth place.
- In only three games, Almonte is quickly winning over Yankee fans. He is now 4-for-6 (.667) with a home run and an RBI. Almonte hit a low-inside fastball and used a quick uppercut stroke to launch it over the wall. Almonte is a very impressive young switch-hitting outfielder who was hitting .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs in 68 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was called up to replace Mark Teixeira on the roster and, by the looks of things, he may be staying for some time.
- Overbay was 2-for-4 with a run scored and he closed out the Yankees’ scoring with a two-out RBI single in the eighth off reliever Cesar Ramos. Cano set up the score with a one-out single and he stole second and scored easily on Overbay’s hit. The veteran first baseman now has 33 RBIs, which is tied for second on the club with Hafner.
- Phelps, 26, might not have had dominant stuff and he may have been in trouble in just about every inning. But he did manage to limit the damage to two ground balls that barely eluded Cano. Phelps has more than held his own as the fifth starter since he replaced Ivan Nova in May. There seems to be no reason to take him out the rotation either.
- Nix had a game he would just as soon forget. He was the only Yankee starter to fail to get a hit and to reach base. Nix was 0-for-3 and hit into two double plays. Nix is 0-for-6 in his past two games after he was 15-for-49 (.306) in his previous 13 games. Nix also fouled two pitches off himself in his second at-bat. It just was a bad day at the office for him.
Nova, 26, will be recalled from Scranton in order to make a spot start on Sunday against the Rays. Nova was scratched from a scheduled start with the RailRiders on Friday and he will pitch for the Yankees because both Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda would have had only three days rest from their starts in a doubleheader with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. Nova is 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA in three starts with Scranton. He was 2-1 with a 5.12 ERA before he landed on the 15-day disabled list with a strain in his right triceps. . . . The Yankees on Friday recalled infielder Alberto Gonzalez from Scranton and designated Reid Brignac for assignment. The Yankees were disappointed with Brignac’s lack of production with the bat. He was 5-for-44 (.114) in 17 games with the Yankees. Gonzalez was hitting .224 with eight RBIs in 23 games for the RailRiders. . . . The Yankees also shored up its roster on Friday by trading for Brent Lillibridge of the Chicago Cubs in exchange either for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Lillibridge, 29, is a career .207 hitter who was 1-for-24 in eight games with the Cubs earlier this season. Lillibridge has played second base and third base this season with the Cubs but he has played every position in the major leagues except catcher. He was hitting .281 in 48 games with Triple-A Iowa.
NOTE: Because of blackout restrictions where I live I am relegated to having to watch the Yankees on the Rays on their SunSports network. Their post-game show featured former major-league first baseman Orestes Destrade bemoaning the bad luck for Hernandez because of the Yankees’ series of ground-ball hits that helped them win the game. There is nothing like partisan pity parties after a game. But if Destrade had been accurately reporting things he would have told the viewers that the Rays scored their two runs off Phelps on ground balls that just eluded Cano at second base. Two can play that game, Orestes.
The Yankees will continue their four-game weekend series with the Rays on Saturday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (7-5, 3.93 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up just two runs in eight innings in a victory against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday. Sabathia is 10-11 with a 3.48 ERA lifetime against the Rays.
Sabathia will be opposed by rookie right-hander Alex Colume (1-0, 0.00 ERA). Colume allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings in a victory over the Miami Marlins on May 30. Colume was 4-6 with a 3.07 ERA at Triple-A Durham.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, RAYS 3 (11 Innings)
Teams that win often seem to have this never-say-die attitude that carries them through difficult spots in games. The New York Yankees faced that in the ninth inning on Saturday when they were down 3-1 with two out and Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney on the mound with a 3-2 count on Lyle Overbay.
The Rays were within one strike of victory but Overbay drew a crucial walk and the Yankees rallied to tie the score in the ninth and Overbay smacked a two-out solo home run in the 11th inning to give New York a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Tampa Bay in front of 25,874 at Tropicana Field.
After Overbay walked, Rodney was called for a balk that allowed Overbay to take second. Then pinch-hitter Brennan Boesch, who was just called up on Saturday to take the roster spot of injured outfielder Curtis Granderson, slapped an excuse-me-swing opposite-field double to left to score Overbay.
The Yankees then tied it when they were again down to their final strike as Brett Gardner poked a 1-2 pitch into centerfield that allowed Boesch to score just ahead of the throw of Desmond Jennings and the tag applied by catcher Jose Lobaton.
Rodney, who sported an 0.60 ERA and saved 48 games in 2012, has now blown a major-league-leading five saves this season and his ERA is 5.40.
Ivan Nova further frustrated the Rays in the 10th inning when he walked Ben Zobrist to load the bases with one out. But Nova escaped the jam by striking out James Loney swinging and retiring Matt Joyce on a routine grounder.
That set the stage for Overbay’s heroics in the 11th inning against right-hander Josh Lueke (0-2).
With two out and 1-0 count on him, Overbay drove an inside fastball deep into the rightfield bleachers for eighth home run of the season.
Mariano Rivera, showing a huge contrast between the teams’ two closers, came in the bottom of the 11th and he needed only nine pitches to strike out Lobaton swinging, getting Yunel Escobar on a routine groundout and fanning Jennings swinging to end the contest.
Rivera earned his 18th save in 18 chances this season.
The Yankees opened the scoring in the first inning off left-hander Matt Moore, who entered the game 8-0 with a 2.29 ERA.
Gardner opened the contest with a double in the rightfield corner and he scored two outs later on a lined single up the middle by Travis Hafner.
The Yankees held that lead until the Rays finally got to rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno in the fifth on a one-out double by Jose Molina and a two-out RBI double by Jennings to tie it at 1-1.
Moore left after six innings having given up five hits and two walks while he struck out a pair.
Nuno opened the seventh by giving up a leadoff single to Loney.
The usually reliable bullpen of the Yankees, however, was unable to keep the Rays from scoring a pair runs in the frame. Shawn Kelley yielded a double to the pinch-hitting Joyce and Boone Logan was unable to keep pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson from stroking an RBI single that scored Loney.
Joyce was able to score on a fielder’s choice when a ball off the bat of Escobar was fielded by Jayson Nix but catcher Austin Romine was unable to prevent Joyce from sliding home underneath his tag.
But, fortunately for the Yankees, they did not give up when they were down 3-1.
In fact, after having their American League record 19-game winning streak when they scored first in a game snapped in Baltimore on Tuesday, they were able to make it 20-1 behind Overbay’s remarkable at-bats in the ninth and the 11th.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season mark to 30-18 and they remain a full game ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Rays not only have lost the three-game series but they dropped to 24-24, six games behind the Yankees in fourth place in the division.
- Overbay, 36, may be hitting only .255, but he is providing the Yankees with some quality at-bats, clutch hits and nearly flawless defense at first base. His eight home runs are tied for third on the club and his 28 RBIs are second on the team to Robinson Cano’s 34. It is going to be hard for Yankees to cut Overbay loose when Mark Teixeira returns but they may be forced into it.
- Nuno, 25, was absolutely brilliant in his second major-league start. He surrendered two runs on five hits and one walk while he struck out two over six innings. That means Nuno has given up just one run on eight hits and four walks while fanning five in 11 innings in those two starts. That is an ERA of 0.82.
- Gardner started the Yankees off with a leadoff double and he scored the Yankees’ first run in the first. In the ninth he delivered a key two-out RBI single that tied the game. Very quietly Gardner is beginning to pick up his offensive game. He has delivered at least one hit in eight of his past nine starts and he is 10-for-33 (.303) with a home run and five RBIs during that span. In fact, his two-run home run in the fourth inning was a key blow in Friday’s victory over the Rays.
- Kelley and Logan did not do their jobs in the seventh inning and it cost the Yankees two big runs. Kelley was unable to retire Joyce and Logan was victimized by the lefty-swininging Johnson. One run was charged to Nuno and the other was charged to Kelley. But both Kelley and Logan should be ashamed of themselves for the way they pitched.
- It is official: Vernon Wells is in a full-blown slump at the plate. He was 0-for-5 in the game and he did not get a ball out of the infield. He is also 0-for-10 in the series and he also has no hits in his past 11 at-bats. That has lowered his season average to .270 and it is falling fast.
The Yankees placed Granderson on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured knuckle on his left pinky finger and he is expected to be sidelined for at least four weeks. Boeach, 27, was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he was hitting just .179. Boesch hit .209 with two homers and five RBIs in 20 games in his earlier stint with the Yankees. . . . The Yankees also on Saturday claimed right-hander David Huff off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Huff, 28, made three relief appearances for the Indians, giving up five runs in three innings. He was 3-1 with a 4.07 ERA in nine games (two starts) with Triple-A Columbus. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated for assignment left-hander Francisco Rondon. . . . Hiroki Kuroda completed a full bullpen session on Saturday and he said he believes he will have no problem making his next start on Tuesday at Citi Field against the New York Mets. Kuroda was struck in the right calf on Wednesday in a game against the Orioles. Meanwhile, David Phelps reported that his right forearm felt a little sore after he was struck by a ball off the bat of Zobrist in the eighth inning of Friday’s game against the Rays. Phelps is scheduled to pitch in Wednesday’s game against the Mets but that will depend if he is able to throw a bullpen session. . . . Left-hander Andy Pettitte (sore left trapezius muscle) said he felt fine after a bullpen session on Saturday and he expects to come off the 15-day disabled list on June 1, when he is eligible to be activated.
The Yankees will have their brooms out on Sunday for a potential sweep of the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.43 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia settled for this third straight no-decision after allowing a one-run lead to slip away against the Orioles in the seventh inning on Monday. He is 10-10 with a 3.30 ERA lifetime against the Rays.
Sabathia will be opposed by right-hander Alex Cobb (5-2, 2.73 ERA). Cobb held the Toronto Blue Jays to one run on three hits in 6 1/3 innings for a victory. He is 2-1 with a 2.22 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:40 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.