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.
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.
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4
The Yankees entered play on Sunday without a home run in their first five games. How can the Bronx Bombers be the Bronx Bombers when they are not hitting homers?
Well, it finally was taken care of by, of all people, Brett Gardner. The 30-year-old outfielder lined a 3-2 slider over the right-field wall in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a 6-1 lead and New York held on edge Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,067 at Rogers Centre.
Gardner’s blast capped a three-run third inning after they had scored three runs on the first inning off right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-1).
It was just the fifth time since 1923 the Yankees have gone this far in to the season without hitting a home run and the first time since 1990 when Mel Hall hit the team’s first home run in the eighth game of the season.
Meanwhile, left-hander CC Sabathia (1-1) rebounded from a bad first outing to record his first victory of the season.
The Yankees broke out on top early, taking advantage of Hutchison’s poor command.
Hutchison walked Gardner to begin the game. Gardner then stole second and advanced to third on a Derek Jeter ground-out. He then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s ground-out.
Brian McCann then drew a two-out walk and Hutchison hit Alfonso Soriano with a pitch. Kelly Johnson then laced a two-run double off the wall in center-field, which gave the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.
After former Yankee Melky Cabrera clubbed his third home run in three days against his former teammates to lead off the bottom of the first inning, Sabathia settled in and held the Blue Jays to only two more hits through the first five innings.
The Yankees added to their lead in the third when Hutchison walked Brian Roberts to start the frame. Roberts then stole second and he scored one batter later on an RBI double off the bat of red-hot rookie Yangervis Solarte, who was 5-for-12 with five RBIs in the three-game series.
Gardner then homered to give the Yankees a commanding 6-1 lead.
Hutchison gave up all six runs on six hits and three walks while he struck out six in 3 1/3 innings. Four of the six runs he gave up scored after reaching base without the benefit of a hit.
The Blue Jays did mount a two-out rally in the sixth inning off Sabathia to get back into the game.
Jose Bautista hit a bloop opposite-field single and Edwin Encarnacion followed with an opposite field single of his own. Dioner Navarro then slapped a double down the left-field line to score Bautista and Eric Kratz followed with a two-run single to center.
But Sabathia got Brett Lawrie out on a fly ball to center and relievers Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley and David Robertson protected Sabathia’s lead the rest of the way to allow the Yankees to win the three-game series against the Blue Jays.
Sabathia gave up four runs on seven hits no walks and he struck out six in six innings.
Robertson did allow the Blue Jays to get the potential winning run to the plate with one out in the ninth when Lawrie singled and Robertson walked pinch-hitter Adam Lind. But Robertson retired pinch-hitter Colby Rasmus on an infield popup and Cabrera flied out to right.
Robertson earned his second save in two opportunities this season.
With the victory the Yankees evened their season record at 3-3. The Blue Jays fell to 3-4.
- Gardner’s home run was only the 24th of his career but it was his fourth against the Blue Jays. Gardner may only be 5-for-18 (.278) this season but his on-base percentage is a sparkling .409. When the Yankees are struggling to hit home runs it is vital that Gardner get on base and use his speed to get into scoring position as he did on the first inning.
- Solarte has only started in four of the Yankees’ six games but he is 8-for-15 (.533) with four doubles and five RBIs in those four games. There is a good chance that Solarte will cool off as opposing teams find out what his weaknesses are. But for now, Solarte looks to be the real deal and he is providing a spark to an offense that is not hitting on all cylinders yet.
- For a team struggling to hit with runners in scoring position, Johnson’s two-out double in the first was huge. They were Johnson’s first two RBIs of the season and it hopefully will get him started because he is just 4-for-18 (.222) in the early going.
- If it had not been for the sixth inning Sabathia would have had a very good outing. But the Blue Jays were able to take the veteran left-hander’s pitches to the opposite field. In his first two starts, Sabathia has yielded 10 runs on 15 hits and one walk in 12 innings. His ERA stands at 7.50. He is going to have to do better than that if the Yankees are to contend in the American League East.
- Robertson is 2-for-2 in save situations but his work on Sunday was a bit shaky. Lawrie ripped a single up the middle and Robertson pitched too carefully to Lind and walked him. That allowed manager John Gibbons to go to his bench to use Rasmus and Cabrera has been the hottest hitter on the Blue Jays since spring training started.
- Though Soriano finally singled in the fifth inning off right-hander Todd Redmond, he is still 1-for-19 (.053) to start the season.
Jeter was 2-for-5 on Sunday and those two hits moved him past Paul Molitor for eighth place on the all-time hits list with 3,320. The 39-year-old team captain singled in the first inning off Hutchison to tie Molitor. He then singled again in the fourth inning to pass Molitor and he chased Hutchison from the game. Jeter is also fourth on the all-time American League hits list. . . . Francisco Cervelli took ground balls at first base on Sunday as manager Joe Girardi said the backup catcher could be called on to play first base while Mark Teixiera is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Cervelli has never played first base but has appeared in four games at third base and two at second base.
After a opening week on the road the Yankees will play their home opener on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (0-1, 3.00 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Kuroda lost his first start on Wednesday against the Houston Astros despite yielding just two runs in six innings. The Yankees did not score any runs for him and he took a tough loss.
The Orioles will counter with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (0-1, 6.00 ERA). Jimenez was tagged for a pair of home runs in a loss to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. He is 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in two starts at Yankee Stadium.
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.
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.
BLUE JAYS 3, YANKEES 1
TAMPA – Mark Buehrle pitched 6 1/3 strong innings and Toronto took advantage of some sloppy defensive lapses to end New York’s seven-game wining streak on Sunday in front of a paid crowd of 10,983 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
On this 35th birthday, Buehrle (1-1) yielded one run on seven hits and he did not walk or strike out a batter in a 98-pitch outing. Left-hander Aaron Loup recorded the final two outs in the ninth to earn a save.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (2-1) entered the game not having given a run in nine innings of work covering four appearances (three of them starts).
However, the Blue Jays touched him for a run in the second inning after a Edwin Encarnacion reached first on a fielding error by Eduardo Nunez. Adam Lind followed with a single and Dioner Navarro scored Encarnacion with a lined single to center.
They added a pair of runs in the fifth when Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie led off the frame with back-to-back singles. On an attempted sacrifice bunt by Ryan Goins, Pineda threw the ball wildly past first to allow Rasmus to score. Lawrie later scored when Pineda uncorked a wild pitch.
Despite the loss, Pineda pitched well in giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk while he struck out two.
The Yankees’ lone run came in the sixth when Ichiro Suzuki led off with a double and Brett Gardner singled him to third. Suzuki then scored on a double play off the bat of Derek Jeter.
The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record dropped to 15-10-2. The Blue Jays are now 12-11.
- With Jacoby Ellsbury out of the lineup for the past week with a sore right calf, Gardner has been doing a great job in the leadoff spot for the Yankees. He was 2-for-3 on Sunday and is 12-for-42 (.286) this spring with a .354 on-base percentage. The Yankees now look very smart in deciding to not trade him and instead sign him to a four-year extension.
- Dellin Betances made a giant statement toward staking his claim to a bullpen spot in the seventh inning. With one out, Cesar Cabral entered the game and promptly gave up a single to Maicer Izturis and then walked Munenori Kawasaki and Melky Cabrera to load the bases. Betances came in and struck out Jose Bautista and then retired Encarnacion on a fly ball. In eight games, Betances is 0-0 with an 0.87 ERA with nine strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings.
- Carlos Beltran is looking much more comfortable at the plate lately. He was 2-for-3 on Sunday with a single and a double. In his past five starts, Beltran is 8-for-17 (.471) to raise his spring average from .120 to .262.
- Because backup infielder Brendan Ryan is nursing a back injury that likely will land him on the disabled list to start the season, Nunez is probably going to earn a spot on the roster. But is becoming increasingly apparent that Nunez’s act is wearing thin. His throwing error, his second of the spring, helped open the floodgates. In addition, he was 0-for-3 and he is hitting .238 this spring. The Yankees need to look into cutting ties with this infielder I have dubbed “Eduardo Scissorhands.”
- It is a good thing that Jeter is Derek Jeter and not Derek Smith. If he were Derek Smith he would be booed unmercifully for his struggles hitting this spring. After going 0-for-3 on Sunday and hitting into a double play that killed a potential rally, he is 5-for-44 (.114). Jeter also leads the team this spring by grounding into five double plays. Manager Joe Girardi can say he is not concerned all he wants but WE are very concerned.
- Cabral’s outing on Sunday was shocking considering how well he had pitched up to that point. Despite the hiccup, Cabral has not given an earned run this spring and has eight strikeouts in 8 innings of work. His competition, Fred Lewis, also has 0.00 ERA but hitters have hit .242 off him while they hitting only .115 off Cabral.
Ellsbury participated in a full workout on Sunday and will play in a minor-league game on Tuesday, Girardi told reporters. Ellsbury has been nursing a sore right calf he injured last Friday. An MRI taken two days ago revealed no structural damage but the Yankees want to make sure their starting center-fielder is 100 percent before he plays. . . . With the Yankees not playing a game on Monday, Girardi will have right-hander Ivan Nova pitch in a minor-league game at the team’s complex in Tampa to stay sharp. Nova pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in his most impressive outing of the spring.
The Yankees will not play again until Tuesday when they play host to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Right-hander David Phelps (1-0, 2.75 ERA) will have his last chance to show he deserves the No. 5 spot in the rotation. He will start for the Yankees.
The Phillies will counter with right-hander Jeff Manship (1-0, 2.25 ERA).
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3
If the Yankees could play the Blue jays every day they would never have to worry about making the playoffs. After sitting out a three-hour and thirty-two minute rain delay on Thursday the Yankees showed Canada’s team that trying to beat them these days is pretty much a futile exercise.
The Yankees got six strong innings out of Andy Pettitte and they used some timely hitting in the middle innings to sweep Toronto in the four-game series and end the 2013 season with a 10-0 record against them at home in front of a paid crowd of 40,116.
The Yankees not only have won five in a row and 11 of their past 14 games, but they also moved to within 3 1/2 games of an American League wild-card spot with 35 games left to play in the season.
Pettitte (9-9) held the Jays to just one run on four hits and three walks while he fanned three to win his second straight start after not having won in his previous five starts. Pettitte also evened his record as he has never recorded a losing season in his 18 years in the majors.
The Blue Jays scored their only run off Pettitte when J.P. Arencibia led off the fifth inning with a home run into the left-field bleachers.
But the Yankees quickly evened it up at the start of the bottom of the fifth when Curtis Granderson launched a rocket of his own into the second deck in right-field off left-hander J.A. Happ (3-3) for his fourth home run of the season.
In a sense it was a bit of retribution for Granderson because it was Happ who hit him in the right forearm on the first pitch he saw in his first spring training game on Feb. 24 and it forced him to miss the first six weeks of the regular season.
The Yankees ended up taking the lead later in the inning but how it unfolded and how they scored the run was just about as bizarre as it can get.
With one out, Happ walked Eduardo Nunez and Chris Stewart followed with a single to center. The Yankees then loaded the bases when Happ issued a walk to Ichiro Suzuki.
Vernon Wells then slapped a sinking line drive into center-field that replays showed was caught on a sliding attempt by Rajai Davis.
However, first-base umpire Scott Barry ruled the ball was trapped and Davis threw the ball to second baseman Munenori Kawasaki as Nunez tagged up and headed home with the lead run.
Kawasaki first tagged Stewart off second base and then tagged Suzuki on second base. Stewart was ruled out and Suzuki was ruled safe. However, the Yankees got credit for the run because Nunez touched home plate just before Stewart was tagged.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons argued the call and was ejected by Barry. Moments later crew chief Ted Barrett also gave Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle the heave-ho.
Despite the missed catch call Nunez would have scored the tie-breaking run in either case.
The Yankees then broke the game open and chased Happ in the sixth inning when Happ walked both Alex Rodriguez and Granderson with one out.
Right-hander Brad Lincoln was summoned from the bullpen and he promptly loaded the bases by walking Mark Reynolds. Nunez followed with a two-run single to right-center.
Blue Jays left-hander Aaron Loup then relieved Lincoln and Stewart closed out the Yankees’ scoring for the evening by plating Reynolds on a sensational grab of a grounder and a jump throw from well into foul territory by third baseman Brett Lawrie.
Happ was charged with four runs on three hits and five walks while he struck out four in 5 1/3 innings. The other run was charged to Lincoln.
The Blue Jays did make it interesting by scoring a pair of runs in the seventh inning off right-hander Shawn Kelley on an RBI single by Kawasaki and a RBI groundout off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion.
But Boone Logan shut the door on the rally by striking out Adam Lind with two on and two out.
Rookie right-hander Preston Claiborne, who was just recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before the game, pitched a scoreless eighth and David Robertson twirled a perfect ninth to earn his second save because Mariano Rivera was unavailable to pitch.
The Yankees’ season record now stands at 67-59 and they remain six games behind first-place Boston in fourth place in the American League East. The Blue Jays are now 57-71 and they remain deep in the division basement.
- After struggling much of the summer, Pettitte is showing signs of coming around. In his past two starts he has yielded only four runs (one earned) on 10 hits and four walks with eight strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. That is an ERA of 0.71. If the Yankees are to make a legitimate run a playoff spot they will need their No. 4 starter to pitch well.
- Nunez two-run single with the bases loaded in the sixth inning proved to be the back-breaker for the Blue Jays. Nunez is having much more success at the plate. Since Aug. 7, Nunez is 17-for-50 (.340) with a home run and nine RBIs. It is shame he is likely to lose his starting spot to Derek Jeter this weekend.
- Rodriguez was 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored. But he actually helped win the game with his glove in the fifth inning. After Arencibia’s homer, the Jays loaded the bases with one out when Reyes reached on an infield single. Davis then smashed a scorching ground ball that Rodriguez was able to glove before it scooted past him. He then stepped on third and threw to first to double up the speedy Davis to end the inning.
When the Yankees win five in a row there is not much to complain about. The team is finding ways to win games and a large part of it is the batting order they now have is not the one of three weeks ago that looked like the team was playing a split-squad game in Clearwater, FL, in March. The pitching is beginning to shine again also.
The human yo-yo, Claiborne, was recalled on Thursday to replace infielder Jayson Nix on the 15-man roster. Nix likely will miss the rest of the regular season with a fractured left hand he suffered when he was struck by a pitch from R.A. Dickey in second inning of Wednesday’s game. Last Friday, Claiborne was optioned to the RailRiders to make room for Reynolds on the roster. On Tuesday, he was called up as the team’s 26th roster player for a doubleheader with the Blue Jays and he was sent back to Scranton the next day. But on Thursday he was back with the team. . . . Jeter batted second and played shortstop on Friday in a minor-league rehab game for Scranton against the Pawtucket Red Sox on Thursday. Jeter, who is recovering from a mild calf strain, likely will play another rehab game for Scranton on Friday and he could rejoin the Yankees on Saturday when the Yankees face the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
The Yankees open a critical weekend road series with the Rays on Friday.
Ace right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-8, 2.41 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Kuroda is looking to bounce back after giving up 11 hits on Saturday in a loss to the Red Sox. It was just his second loss in his past eight starts. Kuroda is 2-1 with 6.11 ERA in his career against the Rays.
Right-hander Chris Archer (6-5, 2.95 ERA) will pitch for the Rays. Archer allowed one run on four hits in seven innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday but he did not get a decision. He is 2-0 with 0.60 ERA against the Yankees in two starts this season.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by MY9.