BLUE JAYS 3, YANKEES 1
Former Yankee Russell Martin hit a two-out infield RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning off Dellin Betances to break a 1-1 tie as Toronto rallied late to defeat New York on Monday at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
The Yankees entered the inning with a 1-0 lead on the strength of seven shutout innings from right-hander Chase Whitley. But Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista hit consecutive one-out singles off right-hander Chris Martin.
Betances then replaced Martin and was greeted by a bloop RBI double off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion that tied the game. One out later, Martin hit a ball down the third-base line on which Chase Headley was able to make a diving stop. However, Garrett Jones was unable to dig out Headley’s one-hop throw and both Bautista and Encarnacion scored on the play.
R.A. Dickey (1-3) yielded just one run on three hits and three walks with no strikeouts in eight innings to earn the victory.
Martin (0-1) was charged with the loss in one of the rare occasions this season that the Yankees’ bullpen was unable to protect a lead. They entered play in second place in the American League in bullpen ERA.
Brett Cecil pitched a perfect ninth to earn his second save.
The loss dropped the season record for the Yankees to 16-10 but they remain two games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Blue Jays are 13-14 and 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees.
- Whitley was brilliant and he deserved a much better fate. He shut out the high-powered Blue Jays on six hits, did not walk a batter and fanned six in what was only his second start of the season replacing Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation. Whitley also showed some “Houdini-like” skills by wriggling out of two tough spots. With one out in the third, Ezequiel Carrera laid down a bunt that Whitley fielded and threw wildly down the right-field line for a two-base error that allowed Carrera to advance to third. But Whitley escaped by striking out Devon Travis and retiring Donaldson on a groundout. In the sixth, Travis led off with a single and Donaldson followed with a double. However, Whitley kept the Jays from scoring by getting Bautista on a groundout, striking out Encarnacion and inducing Kevin Pillar to hit a weak infield popup. Whitley’s ERA after two starts is 0.75.
- The Yankees were able to score a run off Dickey in the seventh on a leadoff double by Carlos Beltran. He advanced to third on a groundout by Stephen Drew and he scored on a groundout off the bat of Jones. Beltran was 1-for-3 but he actually hit the ball hard all three times off Dickey’s knuckleball. Beltran entered the game batting .197 and the Yankees need him to get going with the bat.
- Jacoby Ellsbury was 1-for-4 with a single in the sixth, which extended the 31-year-old outfielder’s hitting streak to seven games. Ellsbury is 15-for-30 (.500) in that span.
- I was not happy with manager Joe Girardi’s decision to rest both first baseman Mark Teixeira and catcher Brian McCann in this game. Those two hitters combined the night before against the Boston Red Sox for a double, a home run and four RBIs in an 8-5 victory. I can understand resting McCann because you do need to find a day to rest a catcher. However, Teixeira and McCann are the No. 4 and No. 5 hitters in the lineup so Girardi had a struggling Beltran batting fourth and a struggling Drew hitting fifth in their place. It is lucky the Yankees managed even one run with the lineup they deployed.
- Here is another criticism for Girardi. He thought enough about replacing Beltran in right-field defensively with Chris Young to begin the bottom of the eighth. But he did not think of inserting Teixeira at first in place of Jones. Is it possible that a five-time Gold Glove award winner like Teixeira digs out Headley’s one-hop throw in the eighth? If that had happened the Yankees would have gone into the ninth tied 1-1 instead of losing 3-1.
- One last Girardi criticism. In the ninth, he allowed Alex Rodriguez and Young to hit to start the inning, as he should. However, he opted not to use either McCann or Teixeira to pinch-hit for Drew. Instead he chose to use Gregorio Petit, who was batting .200. It was almost as if Girardi conceded the game after the Blue Jays scored three runs. It was just odd.
The Yankees continue their three-game series with the Blue Jays on Tuesday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (3-0, 3.73 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Pineda held the Rays to two runs on six hits and he fanned five in 5 2/3 innings in a victory on Wednesday.
He will be opposed by right-hander Marco Estrada (1-0, 0.84), who will be making his first start of the season after the Blue Jays optioned rookie left-hander Daniel Norris to Triple-A Buffalo. Estrada will be limited to 75 pitches so watch the Yankees keep attacking the first pitch and make easy outs like fools.
Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 3
Some rallies are loud and thunderous. Others are executed with a little pluck and a lot of luck.
On Wednesday night, the Yankees came from behind using the latter method.
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees sent nine men to the plate and scored three runs thanks to a wind-blown double, two hit batters, a wild pitch, an intentional walk and a single that hit off a pitcher’s glove and rolled into left-field.
Chase Headley’s single off left-hander Brett Cecil’s glove scored Brett Gardner with what proved to be the winning run as New York pulled off late-inning comeback to down Toronto in front of a chilly crowd of 31,020 at Yankee Stadium.
Dellin Betances (1-0) got credit for the victory despite struggling mightily with his command in the eighth inning. Andrew Miller pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first save with the Yankees and only the second of his career.
The Yankees opened the eighth against left-hander Aaron Loup (0-1) with a pinch-hit double off the bat of Chris Young that just eluded second baseman Devon Travis 25 feet behind first base. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a lined single to center that advanced Young to third.
Loup then hit Gardner on the right forearm to load the bases. Manager John Gibbons replaced Loup with Cecil and, with Carlos Beltran batting, the Blue Jays closer uncorked a wild pitch that scored Young.
After Cecil fanned Beltran, Gibbons elected to walk Mark Teixeira to reload the bases but it backfired when Cecil hit Brian McCann with a pitch to bring in the tying run. Headley then followed with his game-winning single.
The Yankees actually squandered what was an excellent outing from right-hander Michael Pineda, who limited the Blue Jays to two runs on six hits and one walk and struck out six in six innings of work.
The Blue Jays used a lot of luck of their own to score their two runs, using an infield roller by Kevin Pillar, a double by Justin Smoak and another infield single off the bat of Travis to score their first run in the third inning.
They added another run on a one-out single by Travis, a infield bouncer by Jose Reyes followed with a throwing error by Stephen Drew that allowed Travis to reach third before Russell Martin hit a sacrifice fly to score Travis.
The Yankees cut the lead in half in the sixth when Ellsbury singled, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on Beltran’s sacrifice fly.
But Betances struggled with one out in the sixth by walking Jose Bautista, allowing a single by Edwin Encarnacion and a walk to Josh Donaldson.
However, Bautista actually scored to make 3-1 when McCann threw wildly to first base in an attempt to pick off Donaldson.
The implosion of the Blue Jays’ bullpen spoiled a solid effort from knuckeball right-hander R.A. Dickey, who limited the Yankees to one run on four hits and three walks and struck out four in 6 1/3 innings.
- Ellsbury reached base in all four of his plate appearances with two walks and two singles and he scored two runs. In addition, he stole a base. His only negative was he allowed himself to get picked off first base by Dickey in the first inning. But replays showed Dickey actually got away with a balk by moving his left knee.
- Based on what I saw on Wednesday, I am not sure that Betances will be able to wrest the closer’s role away from Miller. The 6-for-7 left-hander overpowered pinch-hitter Danny Valencia, breaking his bat on an infield roller, struck out Travis and retired Reyes on a grounder. As long as Betances struggles, Miller should be the main man.
- The Yankees were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position until Headley’s game-winning single in the ninth. Give Headley credit because he put the ball in play and Cecil could not field it cleanly. Headley was 2-for-4 in the game after going 0-for-4 in the opener on Monday.
- Granted, it was a cold and windy evening that made both teams have to resort to “small ball.” But the Yankees offense again looked sluggish against Dickey. They managed just four hits off him. Of their three hits in the eighth, only Ellsbury’s single was hit hard. I think Yankee fans are just going to have to resign themselves to the fact this Yankee team is going to have trouble scoring runs.
- Betances not only is dealing with less velocity. He also is dealing with some messed up mechanics. He was missing his spots badly and the Blue Jays were able to make him throw 32 pitches in the inning. Fortunately, Betances got out of the mess by inducing both Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar to hit weak comebackers to the mound.
- In a close game, errors can kill you. The errors by Drew and McCann both were costly because the Blue Jays scored a pair of runs off them. Defense was supposed to be a strength of this team. They need to tighten it up.
Catcher Austin Romine cleared waivers and the Yankees outrighted him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Romine, 26, lost a spring training battle to unseat John Ryan Murphy, 23, as the backup to McCann. Romine has batted .204 in 76 games with the Yankees. Murphy has a .252 average in 48 games. Romine is the son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine and the brother of Andrew Romine, who is an infielder with the Detroit Tigers.
The Yankees will play the rubber game of their three-game home series with the Blue Jays on Thursday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia, 34, will start for the Yankees for the first time since May 10 of last season. Sabathia missed the rest of the season and underwent surgery on his right knee. He was 0-3 with a 8.10 ERA in spring training but showed that his velocity has returned.
The Blue Jays will counter with left-hander Daniel Norris, who will be making only his second major-league start. The rookie was 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA in seven spring starts.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast 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!
YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 3
For most of the season, the Yankees have been wondering where their All-Star slugging catcher Brian McCann was because the one they have been watching was hitting ,220 with seven homers and 28 RBIs. Well, cross your fingers and do a sign of the cross, but there was a rare McCann sighting at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night.
McCann lined a two-run home run to put the Yankees ahead and later added a three-run triple as part of a career-best-tying five RBIs to lead New York past Toronto to bring them to within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Blue Jays in the American League East.
A paid crowd of 41,342 in the Bronx, N.Y., watched the Yankees win their 15th consecutive game over the Blue Jays at home.
Chase Whitley (3-0), buoyed by an early 1-0 lead, held the Blue Jays scoreless until the fourth inning when he was stung by back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Dioner Navarro and Colby Rasmus, who was just activated from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game.
But the Yankees were able to answer in the bottom of the fourth against left-hander Mark Buehrle (10-4), who has now lost his past three starts.
Carlos Beltran led of the frame with a single and McCann, after battling Buehrle to a 2-2 count in a nine-pitch at-bat, lined a curveball into the second row of the bleachers in right-field to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the evening.
The home run was McCann’s eighth of the season but his first since May 23 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
Buehrle was also touched for an unearned run in the first inning when Brett Gardner led off with a single, one of his four singles on the night. Derek Jeter then reached when Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie misplayed Jeter’s slow roller into an error.
Two batters later, another one of the Yankees struggling sluggers, Alfonso Soriano, slapped Buehrle’s first pitch up the middle to score Gardner.
Buehrle was charged with three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings.
Whitley, however, was able to hold on for his third straight victory and the Yankees are now 7-0 in his starts since he was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 15. He yielded two runs on five hits and one walk with two strikeouts in five innings.
The Yankees were able to put the game away in the seventh inning against right-hander Chad Jenkins and left-hander Brett Cecil.
Gardner singled and, two outs later, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira hit consecutive singles to load the bases. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Jenkins with Cecil and pinch-hitter Ichiro Suzuki drew a walk for score Gardner.
McCann then followed with a base-clearing triple into the gap in right-center to become the first Yankees catcher to hit a home run, a triple and drive in five runs in a game since Elston Howard did it in 1962.
The Blue Jays scored a run in the eighth off rookie right-hander Jose Ramirez on a leadoff double by Melky Cabrera and an RBI double off the bat of Jose Bautista. But the bullpen combination of Adam Warren, Dellin Betances and David Robertson pitched four scoreless innings on no hits, one walk and six strikeouts to close out the victory for Whitley.
The Yankees’ season record is now 37-33 and they only trail the Jays by one game in the loss column in the tightly bunched A.L. East. The Blue Jays fell to 41-32.
- McCann was 2-for-3 with a walk and his five RBIs on Tuesday leave him in a tie with Teixeira for the team lead with 33. McCann, 30, a career .274 hitter, is still hitting only .226 but the Yankees are hoping that he is about to break out of what has been a prolonged power and hitting drought to provide what he did for the Atlanta Braves in his previous eight seasons.
- Gardner entered the game hitting .325 at Yankee Stadium this season and he added to it with a 4-for-5 night with four singles and two runs scored. In 30 games at home, Gardner is now 41-for-119 (.345) with four home runs and 15 RBIs. In his past nine games, Gardner is 14-for-38 (.386) with two homers and five RBIs.
- Whitley, who turned 25 on Saturday, got caught up in a heavy pitch count in trying to battle the major league’s best home run hitting team. But he kept the Yankees in the game until the Yankees were able to take the lead in the fourth. Whitley’s walk to Cabrera with one out in the fifth was the first he has issued since May 21 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. In 38 2/3 innings, Whitley has walked just four batters. It looks like he is going to be a keeper in the rotation.
There are hints that the Yankees may be ready to bust out of their offensive funk and it could not have come at a better time because the Yankees are in the midst of 15 games against teams in their division. They have now won the first two of those 15 games against the best team in the division. They need to keep it going.
Left-hander CC Sabathia threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday for a second consecutive day and he is expected to throw another bullpen session on Saturday. Sabathia, who was limited to throwing just fastballs on Tuesday, mixed in some sliders on Wednesday and reported no problems with his right knee after the session. Sabathia has been sidelined since May 10 after having a stem-cell injection in his right knee. . . . Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Wednesday that he is not considering any shakeup in the starting rotation but he is watching left-hander Vidal Nuno closely. Nuno is 1-3 with a 5.90 ERA this season and he was shelled for eight runs on eight hits in three-plus innings against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. With right-hander Shawn Kelley back in the bullpen after a stint on the DL, Warren could be inserted into the rotation if Girardi needs to make a move.
The Yankees have a chance to sweep the first-place Blue Jays on Thursday and draw to within 1 1/2 games of the lead in the division.
Right-hander David Phelps (2-4, 4.32 ERA) gets the start for the Yankees. Phelps, 27, is coming off what may have been the best start of his career on Saturday when he shut out the A’s on two hits and three walks while fanning four in 6 2/3 innings. That victory broke a string of four straight losses for Phelps.
Right-hander Drew Hutchison (5-4, 3.62 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Hutchison, 23, shut out the Baltimore Orioles on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts in seven innings for his fifth victory on Friday. He was lit up for six runs on six hits and three walks in 3 1/3 innings by the Yankees in Toronto on April 6.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
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!
BLUE JAYS 10, YANKEES 6
Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie combined for five hits and four RBIs to lead Toronto on Wednesday as they rallied from a 6-0 deficit to pound New York in front of a paid crowd of 5,541 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.
The Yankees jumped on the Blue Jays’ Opening Day starter R.A. Dickey for six runs on seven hits and four walks in four innings.
Carlos Beltran led the assault with a two-run double in the second inning and Kelly Johnson added a two-run single in the first as it appeared the Yankees would coast to an easy victory.
However, Preston Claiborne (0-1) had his spring nightmare continue as the Blue Jays scored eight runs in the fifth inning, six of them courtesy of Claiborne. The 26-year-old right-hander was shelled for six runs on four hits, a walk and a hitter batter as he did not retire any of the six batters he faced.
The big blows in the inning were a pair two-run singles by Adam Lind and Maicer Izturis. The hit by Izturis turned a 6-6 tie into a 8-6 lead for the Blue Jays.
Left-hander Brett Cecil (2-0) struck out a pair of batters en route to a perfect inning in the fifth to get credit for the victory.
With the loss, the Yankees dropped to a 15-12-2 Grapefruit League record. The Blue Jays improved to 13-13.
- Beltran was 2-for-3 with a double, a run scored and two RBIs in the game. Beltran is now 14-for-48 (.292) with two homers and nine RBIs this spring. The 36-year-old outfielder has at least one hit in his past seven games and is 11-for-23 (.478) during that span.
- Johnson has quietly had a productive spring. He was 1-for-2 with a walk, scored a run and drove in a pair. The 32-year-old infielder is 11-for-42 (.262) with a home run and seven RBIs this spring. He has been a bit shaky in the field at third but it looks as if he is going to contribute a lot offensively.
- The only pitcher who contributed much was Dellin Betances, who pitched a perfect sixth inning and struck out a batter. It appears that Betances, 26, has earned a spot in the bullpen after posting a 0.79 ERA in 11 1/3 innings over nine appearances. He also has struck out 10 batters while walking four.
- The Claiborne of 2013 was a promising right-handed reliever who sported a great ERA up until he was sent up and down to the minors four times in August. His final 13 appearances were awful but there was plenty to build upon entering 2014. But this spring Claiborne’s struggles have continued. He is 0-1 with a 14.29 ERA having been shelled for nine runs on 14 hits and a walk in 5 2/3 innings. It appears that Claiborne is heading back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to regain his confidence.
- After getting the final two outs in the fourth, Fred Lewis was tagged with a leadoff double by Ryan Goins and an RBI single by Cabrera. He ended up giving up two runs on two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. Lewis entered the game having not yielded an earned run in his first eight appearances this spring. Lewis, 27, is battling Cesar Cabral for the lefty specialist role in the bullpen.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury played five innings in center-field in a minor-league game on Wednesday and he reported no problems with his sore right calf that has shelved him since March 14. Ellbury was 1-for-4 with a walk in a Class-A game against the Pirates at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa, FL . . . The Yankees optioned catcher Austin Romine on Wednesday, which officially makes Francisco Cervelli the backup catcher to Brian McCann. Cervelli, 28, won the job by going 15-for-36 (.417) with a team-leading four homers and seven RBIs. . . . Outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano is receiving treatment for a sore right shoulder. Soriano was 1-for-2 with an RBI on Wednesday against the Blue Jays. Soriano will get a day off on Thursday and manager Joe Girardi told reporters he will re-evaluated.
The Yankees travel to Bradenton, FL, on Thursday to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (2-1, 1.59 ERA) will make his fifth and final start of the spring before pitching the team’s opener on April 1 in Houston against the Astros.
The Pirates will counter with right-hander Stolmy Pimentel (1-0, 3.86 ERA).
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live locally by the YES Network and on tape-delay nationally by the MLB Network at 6 p.m.
YANKEES 8, BLUE JAYS 4
Two weeks ago, if the Yankees fell behind 4-0 it was a good bet they would end up losing the game. But on Tuesday, bolstered by a new lineup that features a lot more power, they were able to come from behind in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.
Robinson Cano rapped out four hits, including a three-run home run – the 200th of his career – and drove in four runs and Chris Stewart hit a three-run shot of his own that put the Yankees ahead to stay as New York again frustrated Toronto at Yankee Stadium.
Despite not having his best stuff, right-hander Ivan Nova (7-4) pitched 6 1/3 innings to win his third straight decision in front of a paid crowd of 40,248 for a makeup game resulting from a May 19 rainout..
The Blue Jays batted around against Nova as part of four-run second inning to take early command of the game. Maicer Izturis and rookie Kevin Pillar drove in a run apiece and Rajai Davis closed out the scoring by ripping a two-out, two-run double in the gap in right-center.
But the Yankees, who entered the day having won seven of their past nine games, started their comeback in the third inning off right-hander Esmil Rogers.
Brett Gardner stroked a one-out single and Ichiro Suzuki followed by slapping a double down the left-field line to advance Gardner to third.
Cano then lined a 1-0 fastball into Monument Park in center-field for his 23rd home run of the season and became the 16th player in Yankee history to reach the 200-homer plateau.
The score remained 4-3 until the bottom of the sixth inning when Rogers opened the frame by yielding a lined single to left by Alex Rodriguez.
Rogers was removed in favor of left-hander Brett Cecil, who struck out Curtis Granderson, and right-hander Neil Wagner (2-4) came in to strike out pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds.
However, Wagner ended up hitting Jayson Nix with on a 3-1 pitch and Stewart followed by launching a high-arcing blast into the left-field bleachers for only his fourth home run of the season and his first home run since May 15, a span of 173 at-bats.
The Yankees added a pair of solo runs in the seventh and eighth innings on an RBI single in the seventh by Cano and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Gardner that scored Nix in the eighth to close out the scoring.
Nova gave up four runs on nine hits and two walks while he struck out two in 6 1/3 innings. Relievers Boone Logan, Shawn Kelley, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera held the Blue Jays hitless and scoreless over the final 2 2/3 innings.
Nova’s counterpart, Rogers, surrendered four runs on seven hits and two walks and fanned four batters in five-plus innings.
With the victory the Yankees have now won all seven home games they have played against the Blue Jays this season. They also have won 10 straight games against them at the stadium and they have won 19 of the past 21 games there dating back to May 2011.
- Cano is getting red hot at just the right time for the Yankees. Cano was 4-for-4 with a homer, a double, two singles, a run scored and four RBIs. After having his 11-game hitting streak snapped on Saturday at Fenway Park, Cano is 7-for-9 (.777) in his past two games. He has raised his season average to .307, the highest it has been since he was hitting .310 on May 10.
- Suzuki was 2-for-5 with a double, a single and two runs scored. The two hits gave him 3,999 in his professional career, including his 1,278 hits he recorded in Japan. Pete Rose and Ty Cobb are the only players to have reached 4,000 hits in baseball history.
- Stewart has pretty much been an automatic out for most of the season. He came into the game hitting .230 with three home runs and 20 RBIs as the team’s No. 9 hitter. Though Stewart contributes a lot with his work behind the plate and his ability to throw out base-runners, it is nice to see him get a big hit that won a game for the Yankees.
- Nova did not have good command of his pitches early in the ballgame. He came into the game 4-2 with a 1.89 ERA in his past seven starts. But after giving up four runs in the second inning, Nova was able to hold the Blue Jays scoreless on five hits over the next 4 1/3 innings.
- After going 15-for-22 (.6820 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in five games through Saturday, Alfonso Soriano was 0-for-4 in the first game and now is 0-for-10 in his past two games.
The features Bomber Banter and On Deck will appear in the post reporting on the second game of the doubleheader.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 9, BLUE JAYS 4
A lot of the experts predicted the Toronto Blue Jays would win the American League East in 2013 and that the injury-riddled New York Yankees would finish in last place. I wonder after watching Friday’s game at Roger’s Centre if those so-called “experts” feel the same way.
Andy Pettitte showed no signs of any problems with his back in pitching into the eighth inning and the Yankees teed off on the Blue Jays for three home runs – two of them by former Blue Jays – as New York pounded Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 40,028.
Pettitte (3-0) gave up three runs on six hits and one walk while he struck out five in 7 1/3 innings to notch his 23rd career victory against the Blue Jays. The 40-year-old left-hander had not pitched in 10 days because his spot in the rotation was skipped due to back spasms.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to build Pettitte a huge lead early against right-hander Brandon Morrow (0-2).
The Yankees scored two runs in the opening frame on Travis Hafner’s RBI double and a RBI groundout off the bat of former Blue Jays Vernon Wells.
They added three more runs in the third inning on Hafner’s fifth home run of the season and a two-base throwing on Toronto center-fielder Colby Rasmus that allowed two unearned runs to score.
The Yankees finally chased Morrow in the sixth when former Blue Jay Lyle Overbay led off with a solo home run and Francisco Cervelli slapped an opposite-field ground-rule double.
Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Morrow with left-hander Brett Cecil and Brett Gardner greeted him with an RBI triple. Robinson Cano then scored Gardner and on an RBI groundout to make the score 8-1.
Wells, who was booed heavily by Blue Jays fans each time he was introduced, closed out the scoring for the Yankees by slapping a line-drive home run to left off Cecil in the seventh.
Morrow gave up seven runs (five earned) on nine hits and one walk and he struck out four in 5 1/3 innings of work.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 9-6. The Blue Jays fell to 7-10.
- Hafner’s early-season hot streak continued on Friday. He was 2-for-5 with a double, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. He now leads in the team in hitting with a .349 average. He also is tied for the team lead in home runs with Cano with five and second to Cano in RBIs with 10.
- Wells and Overbay came back to the Rogers Centre with a vengeance. They were a combined 3-for-10 with a single, two home runs and three RBIs. Both were booed heavily throughout the game by the fans that used to cheer them. But they both also got a measure of revenge of against the team for which they used to toil.
- Pettitte did give up a leadoff triple to Rajai Davis that led to an RBI groundout by Melky Cabrera in the inning. He also gave up a two-run home run to Jose Bautista in the seventh following a Cabrera single. But the rest of night he was in command. He threw only 90 pitches on the night and 61 of them were strikes (68 percent). He also lowered his season ERA to 2.01.
- Kevin Youkilis was 0-for-4 and he is in a bit of batting slump over his past six games. He is 3-for-25 (.120) with no home runs or RBIs. That has lowered his season average from .424 to .293.
- Eduardo Nunez is also in a bit of a batting funk. He was 0-for-4 and his season average is at .206. Nunez got the news on Thursday that he will have a chance to start at shortstop until Derek Jeter returns after the All-Star break but he might lose the role to Jayson Nix if he does not produce.
- Shawn Kelley came in to pitch the final 1 2/3 innings and he could not resist giving up a solo home run to J. P. Arencibia with two outs in the ninth. Kelley has been tagged for four home runs in just seven innings over five appearances this season. His season ERA is 9.00.
For those baseball experts who thought the Yankees would be in big trouble without Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson on the disabled list and with free agents like Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez elsewhere here is a statistic for you to chew on. The Yankees lead the American League with 25 homers.
The Yankees will continue their weekend three-game series in Toronto on Saturday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 2.87 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda is coming off a complete-game shutout against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. He gave up five hits, walked none and fanned five. Kuroda, 38, is 2-1 with a 4.67 ERA lifetime against the Jays.
The Jays will counter with left-hander Mark Buehrle (1-0, 7.31 ERA). Buehrle shut down his former Chicago White Sox teammates on just two runs for his first victory of the season. He is 1-8 with a 6.38 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, BLUE JAYS 0
It is an old adage but it has always proved true: Good pitching and timely hitting are a perfect recipe for baseball success.
David Phelps pitched five excellent scoreless innings and Juan Rivera was 3-for-4 including a bases-clearing double in the fifth inning as New York shut out Toronto on Sunday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.
Phelps (2-1) continued to stake his strong claim to the No. 5 starter spot by surrendering only three hits and a walk while striking out three batters to get credit for the victory.
Rivera’s bases-loaded double came off losing pitcher Brett Cecil (1-2) after the veteran left-hander had walked Brett Gardner, Blue Jays shortstop Mike McCoy botched a potential double play grounder off the bat of Jayson Nix and Cecil also issued a free pass to Kevin Youkilis.
The victory snapped the Yankees’ four-game spring losing streak and improved the Grapefruit League record to 4-11. The Blue Jays are now 7-8.
- Phelps, 26, is making it down-right impossible for manager Joe Girardi to send him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In his four spring starts, Phelps is 2-1 with 0.64 ERA with six strikeouts in 14 innings. Phelps is battling right-hander Ivan Nova, 26, for the final rotation spot. The loser could land in the bullpen, although Nova has virtually no experience as a reliever.
- Rivera’s 3-for-4 day with a double and three RBIs improved his spring batting average to .346 and it is looking like he is going to win a spot on the 25-man roster. Rivera is primarily an outfielder but Girardi has been using him at first base as a potential fill-in for Mark Teixeira when the season starts.
- Youkilis was 1-for-2 with a double and a walk on Sunday. His first-inning double was his first hit of the spring and his first with the Yankees. He entered the contest 0-for-9. Youkilis also has been impressive fielding his position at third base. Though Youkilis won a Gold Glove with the Red Sox as a first baseman in 2007 there does not seem to be any thought of moving him there in Teixeira’s absence.
After going 3-11 in the first part of spring the Yankees finally put together a game in which they scored on a big hit with the bases loaded, they did not allow a run and they did not commit an error in the field. So I am not going to mention anything negative. Perhaps things will start looking up now.
Ace left-hander CC Sabathia, who has been recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur in his left elbow, will make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL. Sabathia, 32, threw about 50 pitches in a simulated game in Tampa on Sunday and he will be on about a 65 pitch count on Friday. . . . Left-hander Boone Logan threw some pitches off flat ground and also threw some in the bullpen on Sunday. Logan has been bothered by soreness in his left elbow. He is scheduled to threw a few more bullpen sessions and one batting practice session before he will be ready to return to game action. Girardi said Logan is still on track to be ready by Opening Day. . . . Derek Jeter, who made his spring debut on Saturday, will play on Monday and again will serve as the designated hitter. Jeter hopes to be able to play shortstop in a game on Wednesday.
The Yankees will be at home on Monday to face the St. Louis Cardinals.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, 38, will make his second official start of the spring for the Yankees. His last start was Wednesday against the Dominican Republic team from the World Baseball Classic. He pitched three shutout innings in that exhibition game.
Kuroda will be opposed by right-hander Lance Lynn.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast live by ESPN.