YANKEES 9, ORIOLES 4
The 1927 Yankees with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were also characterized by the term “Five O’Clock Lightning” because somewhere around that time would come a barrage that put an opponent away. The 2015 Yankees should be called “1:30 Lightning” for their penchant for their first-inning outbursts.
They did again in style on Thursday.
Chase Headley stroked a base-clearing double with two out as part of a four-run first inning and Masahiro Tanaka pitched masterfully into the eighth as New York swept reeling Baltimore in front of a paid crowd of 46,875 at Yankee Staduim.
Jacoby Ellsbury added to the onslaught with three hits, four RBIs and finished the day just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle as the Yankees rapped out 13 hits to win their ninth game out of their past 11 to take a commanding 5 1/2 game lead in the American League East.
Tanaka (7-3) capitalized on the 9-1 lead his was given by the bottom of the fifth inning and cruised to victory despite yielding solo home runs to Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado. Tanaka gave up three runs on just five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings.
The Yankees, meanwhile, immediately jumped all over right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (7-6) in the first as Ellsbury singled to left and Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez drew walks on 3-2 pitches to load the bases.
After Jimenez looked to be just about out of danger after striking out Mark Teixeira and retiring Carlos Beltran on a shallow outfield fly, Headley laced a three-run double off the center-field wall. Didi Gregorius followed with an RBI single to score Headley.
After Davis crushed a fastball into the right-field bleachers for his second home run in as many at-bats and his 21st of the season to lead off the second inning, Ellsbury delivered a long home run of his own to lead of the bottom of the inning.
The Yankees then proceeded to put the game away for good in the fourth inning after Gregorius and John Ryan Murphy reached on one-out singles. Stephen Drew delivered the knockout blow to Jimenez with a lined single to right to score Gregorius.
Right-hander Tommy Hunter replaced Jimenez and was greeted with a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ellsbury that scored Murphy to make the score 7-1.
Jimenez was charged with all seven runs on eight hits and three walks and two strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings, his shortest start of the season. In his previous outing, Jimenez also surrendered seven runs on seven hits (including three home runs) to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park last Friday.
The Yankees added a pair of runs off right-hander Bud Norris in the fifth inning on an opposite-field single by Headley and a single off the second-base bag by Murphy. Ellsbury capped his big day with a two-out, two-run double to left to pad the Yankees lead to 9-1.
Tanaka, meanwhile, was dazzling the Orioles with pinpoint command. He yielded just the one run and three hits through 7 1/3 innings until Hardy cracked a solo home run to left and, one out later, Machado laced a shot of his own for his 21st home run of the season.
It was Tanaka’s third consecutive victory in his past three starts and he has not lost a game since the Tigers defeated him 12-4 on June 21 at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees are now a season-high 53-41 and they are 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays in the division. The Orioles dropped to 46-48 and they trail the Yankees by seven games.
- Ellsbury was hitting .327 on July 11, one day before the All-Star break. He immediately fell into a 3-for-26 (.115) slide until Thursday’s game. He was 3-for-4 with a single, double, home run, two runs scored and added four RBIs. In order to light the match to their offense, the Yankees need Ellsbury getting on base along with Gardner. They set the table for the hitters that follow them.
- Headley is one of those players that just by definition is steady. From May 25 through Thursday Headley’s batting average has stayed within the .242 and .259 range. But since July 1, Headley is 17-for-50 (.340). Oddly though, Headley had no home runs and just seven RBIs during the streak. It is really hard to hit that well and have so little to show for it but Headley is hitting .259 with eight homers and 35 RBIs on the season.
- Forget the three homers Tanaka gave up. The 26-year-old right-hander seems to be in a nice groove over the past month. In his past four starts, Tanaka is 3-0 with a 3.18 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings. If there is any doubt he is the ace of this staff he is quickly dispelling it.
Tanaka pitched exceptional baseball, the team scored nine runs and they swept a very dangerous division rival. There is no reason to complain about anything about Thursday’s effort. It is clear that after two injury-plagued seasons, the Yankees have gotten their swagger back. They look like they will be tough to beat for the A.L. East title.
The Yankees are off to Minnesota to play the Twins in a weekend series at Target Field that starts on Friday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (9-6, 3.77 ERA) will start the series for the Yankees. Pineda, 26, allowed four runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts in six innings in a 4-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.
The Twins will look to former Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes (8-6, 4.15 ERA). Hughes, 29, took a no-decision on Saturday against the Oakland Athletics despite giving up just one run on six hits and a walk with two strikeouts in seven innings.
Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, ORIOLES 2
dominant – (adj) dom·i·nant: more important, powerful or successful than most or all others.
That word most accurately describes what the Yankees, the Orioles and a paid crowd of 39,059 at Yankee Stadium witnessed in the pitching performance turned in by right-hander Michael Pineda.
Pineda did give up one run on six hits but his dominance of the Orioles on Sunday went much deeper than that because he also struck out a career-high 16 batters and he did not issue a single walk as New York won the four-game series against Baltimore three games to one.
It was as if on this Mother’s Day that Pineda was asking the Orioles “Whose your Daddy?”
Pineda (5-0) not only remained undefeated for the season but he also remained undefeated against the Orioles in his career. The 16 strikeouts tied Pineda with the second highest strikeout total recorded in Yankee history behind Ron Guidry’s 18 strikeouts.
The 16 strikeouts tied Pineda with David Cone (against the Detroit Tigers in 1997) with the most by a right-handed pitcher and they were the most by any Yankee pitcher since David Wells did it (against the Oakland Athletics in 1997).
The only blemish in Pineda’s afternoon was a solo one-out home run by J.J. Hardy in the second inning.
Meanwhile, the Yankees scored four runs in the fourth inning off right-hander Bud Norris (1-4), who pitched despite the fact he was dealing with a stomach virus. But it was mostly the Yankee batters who made him really sick.
Carlos Beltran, who entered the game batting .194 and had no home runs, belted his first homer of the season with one out in the fourth inning to tie the game at 1-1.
Norris then walked Chase Headley and yielded a single to Stephen Drew. Didi Gregorius followed with an RBI single to score Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury capped the inning with a two-run double.
Norris was charged with four runs on six hits and three walks with two strikeouts in four innings. Norris’ ERA rose to an unsightly 9.88 on the season.
Brian McCann added a solo homer with one out in the fifth off left-hander Brian Matusz. The blast was McCann’s fourth of the season and now 23 of the 29 home runs he has hit with the Yankees have been at home.
The Yankees added a run in the seventh inning off right-hander Jason Garcia on a RBI double by Gregorius.
The Yankees had hoped to finish the game without using either right-hander Dellin Betances or left-hander Andrew Miller, however, right-hander Esmil Rogers gave up a one-out double to Jimmy Paredes and an RBI single to Adam Jones that made the score 6-2.
Manager Joe Girardi summoned Betances and the 6-foot-8 reliever got the final five outs, two of them by strikeout, to lock up the victory for the Yankees.
The Yankees ran their season record to 20-12 and they extended their lead over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East to three games. The slumping Orioles are now 13-16 and they 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees.
- Pineda was so efficient that he struck out 16 of the 21 batters he retired and 14 of the first 17 outs he recorded were by strikeout. Pineda is now 5-0 with a 2.72 ERA and his 54 strikeouts leads the American League. I think it is safe to now say he is the ace of the Yankees. “His stuff today was electric,” McCann said told reporters. “Almost every time he takes the ball, it is.”
- As I posted on Saturday, Beltran seems to have turned his season around finally. He was 2-for-2 with a double, a home run, two walks and an RBI. That pulled his average up from .194 to .210. It may not seem like much but the Yankees do need Beltran to contribute in the middle of the order. Perhaps he will begin doing it more often now.
- All the attention on Pineda allowed Gregorius’ day to almost go unnoticed. He was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs in what was one of his best games with the Yankees. Gregorius is now batting .225 and he seems to have settled down considerably on defense at shortstop also.
Beating the defending division champions in a four-game series is a great achievement. This was a signature game for Pineda also. He is serving notice to the other teams in the division that he is the best pitcher in it. He won’t get any argument here. No one in this division is really that close.
The Yankees now head back out in the road on Monday to play a four-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-5, 5.45 ERA) will try for his first victory of the season. Sabathia was tagged with four runs on nine hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday.
The Rays will start right-hander Alex Colome (2-0, 1.80 ERA). Colome gave up two runs on four hits with no walks and four strikeouts in five innings in a victory at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
ORIOLES 6, YANKEES 2
The Orioles hit three home runs within a seven-batter sequence off right-hander Chase Whitley and Wei-Yin Chen held the Yankees to one run in seven innings as Baltimore derailed New York on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
Jimmy Paredes homered on the first pitch from Whitley with two out in the third inning. With one out in the third, Chris Davis also went yard on the first pitch and, two batters later, Alejandro De Aza connected with a man on to give the Orioles a quick 4-0 lead.
Chen (1-1), meanwhile, held the Yankees to one run on five hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings to earn his first victory of the season. Zach Britton retired the last two batters to earn his sixth save.
Whitley (1-1), who only gave up three home runs over 143 batters in Yankee Stadium prior to this game, was charged with five runs on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts in six innings.
The Yankees only run off Chen came in the fifth on a Chase Headley one-out single, a double by Stephen Drew and a sacrifice fly off the bat of John Ryan Murphy.
They added an unearned run in the eighth inning when Jacoby Ellsbury reached on a fielding error by Ryan Flaherty. Brett Gardner singled him to second and Carlos Beltran scored Ellsbury on a two-out RBI single.
The loss dropped the Yankees season record to 19-12. They are two games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The O’s are 13-15 and 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the division.
- Beltran was 1-for-4 with an RBI and he does appear to be slowly shaking his hitting woes. On April 28, he was batting .159. Since then Beltran is 9-for-35 (.257) with five RBIs. That has raised his average to .194. He still has some work to do but he appears to be getting somewhere.
- Jose Pirela has only played in three games but he already appears ready to spark the bottom of the batting order. He was the Yankee to have more than one hit on Saturday. He was 2-for-4 and is 4-for-11 (.364) in those three games. Considering that Drew is batting .182 and Didi Gregarious is batting .209, Pirela looks to getting more and more playing time at second base.
- This was in every sense of the word a “throwaway” game for the Yankees. Manager Joe Girardi knew going into the contest that his “Twin Towers” in the bullpen, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, were unavailable and Gregorius, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann did not start. It does not mean that the Yankees did not try to win the game. But let’s just say they played it with one hand tied behind their back. They chose to rest some people and were definitely looking at the big picture.
- Whitley started off with a bang by striking out four of the first six batters he faced but he got caught up in trying to pound the zone early with strikes. Paredes and Davis made him pay by cranking out first-pitch fastballs. It happens and remember that Whitley is, in every sense, the team’s No. 8 starter behind Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Adam Warren and both Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova, who are rehabbing injuries.
- Ellsbury was 0-for-5, which snapped his 11-game hitting streak. Even with that he reached base on an error and scored one of the team’s two runs. The 0-for-5 day dropped his season average to .347 to fall behind Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who was 1-fo-4 and is batting .355 to lead the American League.
Rodriguez missed Saturday’s game with what Girardi told reporters was tightness n both legs. Girardi said the he hoped to have the veteran designated hitter back for Sunday’s game. Rodriguez, 40, felt tightness in his legs after Friday’s game in which he hit his first triple since 2012. Rodriguez is second on the team with seven home runs and 19 RBIs and he has played in 26 of the Yankees’ 31 games. . . . The Yankees placed right-hander Chris Martin, 28, on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday with tendinitis in his right elbow. The Yankees recalled right-hander Branden Pinder, 26, from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace Martin on the 25-man roster. Martin is 0-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 12 2/3 innings over 15 appearances. Pinder was up with the Yankees previously this season and he has pitched two scoreless innings.
The Yankees can still claim a 3-1 series victory on Sunday against the Orioles.
Right-hander Pineda (4-0, 2.97 ERA) will go to the mound for the Yankees. Pineda has never lost in his career to the Orioles and he is coming off a game in which he shut out the Toronto Blue Jays on five hits and one walk with six strikeouts in eight innings on Tuesday. It was, by far, the most dominant outing for Pineda this season.
The Orioles will counter with right-hander Bud Norris (1-3, 9.75 ERA), who was ill on Saturday. Norris yielded three runs on seven hits and one walk with four strikeouts in seven innings in a loss to the New York Mets on Tuesday.
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.
ORIOLES 7, YANKEES 5
Nathan Eovaldi struck out nine batters in five innings and provided the bullpen a 3-2 lead on Wednesday but the Orioles scored five runs in the sixth inning as Baltimore handed New York a difficult defeat at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Jonathan Schoop, who batted .209 last season, greeted right-hander David Carpenter (0-1) with a first-pitch home run into the bleachers in left-center to erase a 3-2 lead and end Eovaldi’s bid for his first victory with the Yankees.
Alejandro De Aza followed with a single and was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Everth Cabrera. Adam Jones was walked intentionally and Carpenter was replaced by left-hander Justin Wilson with left-handed hitters Travis Snider and Chris Davis due up.
However, Delmon Young pinch-hit for Snider and he delivered an RBI single to score De Aza and Davis followed with a two-run double. One out later, Caleb Joseph, who batted .207 last season, completed the five-run onslaught with an RBI single off right-hander Chris Martin.
Right-hander Brad Brach (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings to get credit for the victory. Zach Britton pitched the ninth to earn his second consecutive save against the Yankees and his third of the season.
The Yankees fell to 3-6 on the season while the Orioles improved to 5-4.
- The Yankees finally are beginning to get some offense from Carlos Beltran. The 38-year-old outfielder gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the third inning when he followed a two-out double by Jacoby Ellsbury and a walk to Chase Headley with a two-run double to center off Orioles starter Bud Norris. Beltran is 4-for-15 (.286) in his past four games with two doubles and two RBIs.
- The Yankees continue to consistent at-bats from Alex Rodriguez, who homered with one out in the fourth inning to give Eovaldi and the Yankees a 3-1 lead. It was Rodriguez’s second home run of the season and he finished the game 2-for-3 with a walk and he now hitting .286 on the season.
- Eovaldi was far from perfect against the O’s but he battled hard to yield just two runs on eight hits and three walks. He pitched only one clean inning but his nine strikeouts prevented the Orioles from scoring any more runs. Though the 25-year-old right-hander needs to work on his command, he showed a lot of grit and deserved a better fate.
- The bullpen entered the evening with a 1.73 ERA, which ranked second in the American League. But it blew up in a hurry. Carpenter, 29, was the main culprit. Remember that Carpenter was 4-1 with a sparkling 1.78 ERA in 56 games with the Atlanta Braves in 2013. But he slipped to a 6-4 mark with a 3.54 ERA in 65 games last season. His line on Wednesday was three runs on two hits and a walk in one-third of an inning. Ouch!
- Wilson, 27, is a similar story. He was 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 58 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013 but he fell back to 3-4 with a 4.20 ERA in 70 games last season. Wilson yielded two runs on two hits while not retiring a batter. Double ouch!
- Stephen Drew was only starter who did not get a hit or drive in a run in the game. He was 0-4 with two strikeouts and he grounded into a double play. After showing signs last week he may be coming back with the bat after his disastrous 2014 season, he is now batting .148.
The Yankees made yet another roster move to bolster the bullpen. The team recalled right-hander Branden Pinder from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and they optioned right-hander Joel De La Cruz to Double-A Trenton. De La Cruz, 25, did not appear in a game. Pinder, 26, was 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA in three games with the RailRiders. He pitched in the eighth inning on Wednesday and yielded no runs on one hit. The Yankees also announced that right-hander Kyle Davies, 31, cleared waivers and he was optioned to Scranton. Davies had been designated for assignment on Monday when the Yankees recalled De La Cruz. . . . Minor-league right-hander Wilking Rodriguez received an 80-game suspension without pay on Wednesday for a violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Rodriguez, according to the commissioner’s office, tested positive for Furosemide, a performance-enhancing substance. Rodriguez, 25, was 1-0 with 0.00 ERA and two saves with the Yankees this spring and he was assigned to Scranton.
The Yankees have Thursday off and will begin a weekend series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
Right-hander Adam Warren, 27, will open the series for the Yankees. Warren surrendered two runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the Boston Red Sox on Saturday.
The Rays will start 28-year-old right-hander Nathan Karns, who is 1-1 with a 4.97 ERA in two starts. Karns held the Miami Marlins to two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks in seven innings in a victory on Sunday.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
ORIOLES 4, YANKEES 3
Adam Jones drove in two runs and Miguel Gonzalez limited the Yankees to one run while he struck out a career-high 10 batters as Baltimore withstood a late rally by New York to win on a shower-filled Tuesday evening at Oriole Park in Camden Yards.
The Orioles took an early 3-0 lead against left-hander CC Sabathia on a two-out solo home run by Jones in the first inning, a sacrifice fly RBI by Jones in the third and a costly two-out RBI double by Caleb Joseph in the fourth.
Gonzalez (1-1) limited the Yankees to just two hits until the sixth inning when Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out double by Mark Teixeira.
The Orioles added a run in the seventh on a leadoff triple by Joseph and sacrifice fly RBI off the bat of Everth Cabrera.
Sabathia (0-2) pitched well but still yielded four runs on seven hits and one walk while he struck out seven in seven innings.
Gonzalez, however, surrendered one run on four hits and one walk in seven innings to earn the victory.
The Yankees mounted a late rally against right-hander Kevin Gausman in the eighth when Didi Gregorius reached on a bloop single. After Alejandro De Aza made a running catch of Ellsbury’s opposite-field fly ball, Chase Headley singled to advance Gregorius to third.
Then second baseman Jonathan Schoop made a diving stop of Carlos Beltran’s ground ball to retire Beltran as Gregorius scored.
Then Teixiera lofted a fly ball into left that ticked off De Aza’s glove for an error and allowed Headley to score to cut the deficit to one run.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter was forced to bring his closer, left-hander Zach Britton, to quell the rally with the tying run on second.
Schoop made another running grab of Brian McCann’ roller into shallow right-field to end the rally.
Britton pitched a perfect ninth to earn his second save of the season.
The Yankees are now 3-5 on the season. The Orioles are 4-4.
- Sabathia was plagued by an inability to pitch one clean inning. He was tagged by single hits in every inning he pitched except the fourth when he yielded two. Still, with all that, the Yankees’ inability to score him any runs doomed him despite his seven strikeouts. So you can say that Sabathia was outpitched but he was not outclassed.
- Teixeira looks locked in at the plate in the early going. He drove in one run with a double and his fly ball did allow Headley to score. While most of the Yankees are struggling with the bat, Teixeira appears to be primed for a big season in the cleanup spot.
- Beltran has been struggling to find his groove and yet he was 1-for-4 with an RBI and he hit the ball hard in each trip to the plate. His grounder in the eighth almost was a single and the play by Schoop that retired him saved the Orioles was the crucial play of the game.
- I am not a big fan of Garrett Jones. The veteran first baseman/outfielder struggled all through spring training and he has started the season off slowly as well. He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and he bounced back weakly to the pitcher in his first at-bat. He is hitting .154. Jones is being paid to hit right-hand pitching and if he doesn’t the Yankees will have to look elsewhere.
- McCann looked as if he was getting hot and then he regressed on Tuesday by going 0-for-4 on four groundouts. The Yankees need McCann to deliver big numbers in power and RBIs this season. His at-bat against Britton in the eighth was critical and he failed to deliver.
- Sabathia is a waste of space as a fielder. The Yankees had a potential double-play ball in the second inning off the bat of Chris Davis. Teixiera fielded it and he threw to Gregorius to retire Delmon Young, who had singled. But when Gregorius made the return throw to first, Sabathia failed to cover the bag. Second baseman Stephen Drew tried to cover but was late. Later that inning, Sabathia was charged with an error when his throw to retire Joseph hit the runner. Luckily he retired De Aza to end the inning without a run scoring. Once again, manager Joe Girardi needs to lay down the law on Sabathia to do his job.
Starting left-fielder Brett Gardner did not play on Tuesday and Girardi said he likely will serve as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner until Friday. Gardner was struck on the right wrist by a pitch from left-hander Wei-Yin Chen on Monday and he was forced to leave the game in the seventh inning.
The Yankees will try to win the series against the Orioles on Wednesday.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi will make his second start of the season for the Yankees. Eovaldi had a sensational spring but he had a bit of a hiccup in his first start against the Boston Red Sox on Friday. He was charged with three runs on eight hits and a walk while he struck out one in 5 1/3 innings of a game that lasted 19. The Red Sox won it, 6-5.
The Orioles will call on right-hander Bud Norris, who was gouged for eight runs on seven hits and one walk in just three innings by the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. The Orioles say they are not concerned about Norris but he was 0-3 with a 9.26 ERA this spring.
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.
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 5, ORIOLES 3
After he was activated from the disabled list on June 5, Carlos Beltran hit .171 through June 18. Then on Thursday Beltran showed signs of coming around with the bat by driving in two runs and one of those RBIs coming on a ground-rule double.
Well, on Friday there can be no doubt that Beltran is back to the old form that allowed him to make eight National League All-Star teams.
With two out and two on and the Yankees trailing by one run in the ninth, Beltran clobbered a high 3-1 fastball from left-hander Zach Britton and sent it majestically to the back of the lower-level bleachers in left-field as New York scored four runs in the frame to take a sure victory away from Baltimore.
As Beltran rounded third base, most of the paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 46,197 were on their feet cheering as Beltran’s teammates greeted him exuberantly at home plate thankful for the team’s first walk-off home run of the season and Beltran’s first since June 11, 2008 with the New York Mets.
“It really means a lot for us right now,” Beltran told reporters after he received a Gatorade shower from his teammates. “We’re playing against teams that are in our division, so it’s important.”
The Yankees have now won four consecutive games – all against division opponents – and they have won eight of their past 10 games to move to a season-high six games over the .500 mark.
The improbable rally began when Brett Gardner led off with a single against Britton (3-1), who entered the contest having only blown one save in 10 chances this season.
Things then looked bleak for the Yankees when Britton struck out Derek Jeter looking and retired Jacoby Ellsbury on a routine fly ball to center.
However, Mark Teixeira drew a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Kelly Johnson. Then Brian McCann came through with an RBI single to center to score Gardner. McCann then was replaced by pinch-runner Francisco Cervelli.
That set up Beltran’s dramatic home run off Britton.
Up to that point it had been a pretty frustrating evening for the Yankees.
Despite the fact that right-hander Hiroki Kuroda held the Orioles hitless for the first five innings and Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez gave up six hits and walked six batters, the Yankees found themselves trailing from the sixth inning on.
The Yankees held an early 1-0 lead thanks to a two-out single in the first inning by Ellsbury, who later stole second. Teixeira then brought Ellsbury home with a double into the right-field corner.
However, the Yankees’ offense failed to take advantage of chances to score that Jimenez provided them.
The Yankees loaded the bases off Jimenez in the second, the fifth and the sixth innings. Yet they could not push across a run.
Gardner hit a fly ball to center with the bases loaded and one out in the second but center-fielder Adam Jones was able to cut down Beltran at home plate for a double play that ended the inning.
Teixeira bounced out to first with the bases loaded in the fifth and left-hander T.J. McFarland, who replaced Jimenez when he walked the bases loaded after getting the first two outs in the sixth, was able to retire Gardner on a groundout.
Jimenez was charged with one run on six hits and six walks while he fanned three in 5 2/3 innings.
Kuroda, however, was unable to keep the Orioles off the board in the sixth.
Nick Hundley broke up Kuroda’s no-hitter with a leadoff double to right-center and, one out later, Steve Pearce doubled to left to score Hundley. Jones gave the Orioles the lead with an RBI single to right.
Kuroda yielded two runs on four hits and one walk while he struck six in six innings.
The game remained 2-1 until the Orioles were able to tack on what looked to be a key insurance run in the ninth inning off left-hander David Huff.
Pinch-hitter Jonathan Schoop led off with a ground ball that was misplayed by third baseman Yanjgrevis Solarte for an error. Hundley advanced Schoop to second with a sacrifice bunt.
Nick Markakis moved Schoop to third when his ground ball struck Huff’s foot and caromed away for a single. Pearce then plated Schoop with a lined single to center.
Huff (2-0) was credited with the victory despite giving up the run. However, the run was unearned due to Solarte’s error.
With the victory the Yankees improved to 39-33 and they remain 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who the Yankees had swept just before opening the series with the O’s. The Orioles trail the Yankees by two games and they are 37-35.
- Beltran, 37, batted .296 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs for the National League-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. So anyone could understand he was not going to finish the season batting .218 as he was for the Yankees on June 18. The Yankees signed Beltran to a three-year contract to be a force in the middle of the lineup with his power and production. After missing 21 games with a bone spur in his right elbow and a slow start when he first came back, Beltran appears primed to provide big numbers the rest of the way.
- Beltran’s heroics overshadowed McCann’s RBI single that preceded the walk-off home run. McCann was 2-for-5 in the game and, like Beltran, he appears to ready to start contributing with the bat after a dreadful 2 1/2 months of hitting in the .220s. Despite the fact that McCann is hitting .226, his RBI single in the ninth tied him for the team lead in RBIs with Teixiera with 34.
- Kuroda deserved a much better fate. He yielded two runs in six innings and was handed a no decision because the offense could not come through with a big hit against Jimenez when they had so many chances, In the past four games, Yankees starters have now given up just seven runs in 24 innings for a sparkling 2.63 ERA.
If the team had lost I would had a lot of negatives. There was just no excuse for scoring just one run on Jimenez. But they rallied in the ninth and this was a “statement” victory. The Yankees seem to be riding the crest of a wave right now and it is coming while they are playing teams within their division.
Johnson was held out the starting lineup on Friday nursing sore fingers on his left hand. Johnson injured himself attempting a sacrifice bunt in the sixth inning against the Blue Jays on Thursday. As he attempted the bunt, the ball struck Johnson’s fingers and he left the game in favor of Solarte. Though Johnson pinch-ran in the ninth, he is listed as day-to-day. . . . Brian Roberts, 36, singled in the second inning off Jimenez for the 1,500th hit of his career. The milestone came against the team for which he played from 2001 through 2013.
The Yankees will continue their weekend series with the Orioles on Saturday.
Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-3, 5.90 ERA) will start for the Yankees with his spot in the rotation on very shaky ground. Nuno served up a pair of three-run homers in the first and second innings in a 10-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday and he has not won a game since May 7.
Right-hander Bud Norris (6-5, 3.73 ERA) will pitch for the Birds. Norris held the Blue Jays to one run on seven hits and one walk in seven innings on Saturday to win his third straight game. He has not faced the Yankees this season.
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!
YANKEES (SS) 6, ORIOLES 0
TAMPA – Michael Pineda pitched 2 2/3 shutout innings in his first start of the spring and Brett Gardner collected two hits, scored two runs and drove in another as a New York split squad blanked Baltimore on Thursday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Pineda (1-0) yielded three hits, a walk and struck out five in a performance marked by both brilliance and some inconsistency. Pineda reached three-ball counts on five batters.
Meanwhile, the Yankees jumped on Orioles starter Bud Norris (0-1) for a single run in the first and a pair of runs in the second.
Carlos Beltran singled in Gardner in the first and Gardner doubled in Zoilo Almonte in the second. A Norris throwing error trying to nail Gardner at third ended up allowing Gardner to score to give the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.
The Yankees added a run in the fifth on an RBI single by Alfonso Soriano off reliever Kevin Gausman.
The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 8-5-2. The Orioles fell to 9-5.
- Pineda was far from sharp but still showed signs he can definitely handle the No. 5 spot in the rotation. You can pin the inconsistency to his two years of rust. The five strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings shows he has good stuff. He will just have to harness it.
- Gardner hit the ball hard three times and he is now batting .304 on the spring. The Yankees can’t wait to see how Gardner works out of the ninth spot this season with Jacoby Ellsbury leading off.
- Almonte followed up his two-run, game-tying home run in the ninth on Wednesday with a double and a single on Thursday. Almonte will not make the roster but will be a call away at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- The Yankees hoped that Russ Canzler might have a place on the roster with his power and his ability to play both corner infield and corner outfield spots. Canzler, though, was 0-for-3 on Thursday and struck out swinging each time. He is hitting .158.
- After showing some early promise, Dean Anna is cooling off. He was 0-for-3 on Thursday and he is hitting .316.
The On Deck feature will be in the next post.
YANKEES 6, ASTROS 3
Major-league pitchers like to look at the batting averages of the hitters they will face in an upcoming game and Astros pitcher Bud Norris must have relished seeing that Robinson Cano was batting .190 as of Saturday.
Unfortunately for Norris, Cano connected on an 0-2 pitch with two out in the second inning and launched a tape-measure three-run home run over the picnic pavilion in right-field to help New York to defeat Houston in a Grapefruit League game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The Yankees led 2-0 beginning the second inning and Norris retired the first two batters before he walked Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson. Cano then made him pay for his wildness with a mammoth blast that stretched the Yankees’ lead to 5-0.
Hiroki Kuroda (1-1), making his third start of the spring, turned his most impressive performance to date, giving up just one run on three hits, no walks and he struck out two over his four innings of work. Right-hander Dellin Betances worked a scoreless ninth inning to earn a save.
Norris (1-1) was tagged with the loss after giving up five runs on five hits and four walks in just three innings of work.
Granderson stroked an RBI double to score Gardner with the game’s first run and Andruw Jones added a two-RBI single in the same frame to score Granderson. The Yankees final run came on a solo home run off the bat of Bill Hall in the seventh inning.
With the victory the Yankees evened their spring record at 8-8, The Astros, meanwhile, fell to 7-7.
- It can’t be good news to pitchers that Cano is getting hot. In his last two games, Cano is 2-for-6 with a double and home run and four RBIs. He has raised his spring average over the Mendoza Line at .208.
- Kuroda looked extremely sharp in his four innings of work. Despite the fact he gave up a pair of doubles to J.D. Martinez and Chris Johnson in the fourth, Kuroda showed excellent command of all of his pitches. Kuroda threw 59 pitches and 39 were strikes (66 percent).
- Although a lot of the Yankees have been struggling in the first two weeks of spring games, Granderson is not among that group. He walked and doubled, scored two runs and drove in another on Saturday. He is hitting a sizzling .333 on the spring and it looks like he is ready to start 2012 like he left off in his career year in 2011.
- Mariano Rivera continues to amaze at age 42. He hit the first batter he faced but he still needed just eight pitches to retire the side in the fifth inning. Rivera struck out Brett Wallace on three pitches and then retired Marwin Gonzalez on a double-play grounder. Rivera has not given up an earned run in spring training since the spring of 2008. Amazing!
- Raul Ibanez did draw a walk in the first inning but finished the day 0-for-2 and his spring average has now dipped to a polar-capped .077. Ibanez seems to be just missing good pitches in the strike zone and a bit slow on fastballs. There is still time for him to recover. But Ibanez seems anxious at the plate.
- What a difference a spring makes. Last season Jorge Vazquez tore the cover off the ball and he hit .412. He followed up on that with 32 home runs and 93 RBIs in only 118 games at Triple- A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, Vazquez can’t buy a hit this spring and is hitting an anemic .059.
- Boone Logan struggled for the first time this spring. He gave up two runs on three hits in the eighth inning. Logan had looked sharp in his previous four outings.
Although most all of the Yankees seem to be willing to welcome back Andy Pettitte with open arms, it does not appear right-hander Freddy Garcia is as thrilled as they are. Garcia, who was signed to a one-year contract before the Yankees traded for Michael Pineda and signed Kuroda as a free agent, is trying to win a job in the rotation and now finds Pettitte on his way back also. When asked if the Pettitte signing was good for the team, Garcia said “I don’t know, man. Ask the people. I don’t know. I guess.” . . . Eduardo Nunez (bruised right hand) retunred to the starting lineup and was 1-for 2 in his four innings of work against the Astros on Saturday. Nunez was struck on the right hand by a pitch from Austin Hyatt of the Phillies on March 5. . . . Nick Swisher (left groin), Russell Martin (left groin) and Derek Jeter (left calf) all were held of action on Saturday but they could return to action on Tuesday.
The Yankees will travel to Sarasota, FL., on Sunday night for a contest against a split squad of the Baltimore Orioles.
The Yankees’ scheduled starter will be right-hander Ivan Nova, who will be making his fourth start of the spring. Nova is 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA but pitched four scoreless innings against the Red Sox last Tuesday.
The Orioles are scheduled to start right-hander Alfredo Simon, who will be making his second spring start. He has not given up a run in five innings of work.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network.