Tagged: Cardinals

Warren Courts Dominance To Overturn Royals

GAME 46

YANKEES 5, ROYALS 1

Critics assessing Adam Warren’s first six starts argued that he was ill-suited to start games, he had lost velocity he had as a reliever and he would be more productive in the bullpen. Well, after his past three starts, including the gem he threw on Tuesday, those critics need to just shut up.

Warren pitched one-run baseball into the seventh inning and Mark Teixeira fueled the offense with a double, a home run and four RBIs as New York stormed back into first place in the American League East with a victory over Kansas City at Yankee Stadium.

The Royals’ only tally came in the sixth inning on a one-out solo home run by Paulo Orlando as Warren (3-3) held the Royals to just two hits with no walks and five strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

The Yankees, meanwhile, jumped on left-hander Jason Vargas (3-2) with two out in the first inning when Alex Rodriguez drew a walk and Teixeira followed with a blast that caromed off the wall of the visitor’s bullpen in left-center for his 14th home run of the season.

Vargas, who was making his first start after being activated from the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day, left after four innings yielding two runs on four hits and one walk with six strikeouts.

The Yankees padded their lead in the fifth off veteran right-hander Joe Blanton.

Chris Young reached on a one-out infield hit and Rodriguez advanced him to third with an opposite-field single to right. Teixeira then lined a double into the gap in right-center that rolled to the wall that scored both runners.

Teixeira was able to advance to third when center-fielder Lorenzo Cain briefly bobbled the ball for an error. Chase Headley then scored Teixeira with a sacrifice fly.

That was all the support Warren needed. Justin Wilson got the final two outs in the seventh and the “Twin Towers,” Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, each pitched a scoreless inning between them to seal the victory for the Yankees.

The Yankees are now 24-22 on the season and, as a result of the Tampa Bay’s 7-6 loss to the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees have reclaimed a half-game lead in the division on the Rays. The Royals dropped to 28-17.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Warren, 27, was unable to pitch six full innings in any of his first six starts this season and in all nine of his career starts. But he now has pitched into the seventh inning in each of his past three starts. Despite losing his previous two starts, Warren in his past three starts has allowed only six runs on 13 hits and five walks with 16 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings for a 2.75 ERA and an excellent 0.92 ERA. It appears that when right-handers Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova are activated off the disabled list over the next several weeks, Warren may not be so easy to remove from the rotation.
  • Teixeira’s “turn-back-the-clock” season back to 2011, when he hit 39 home runs and drove in 111 runs, continues. Teixeira’s 14 home runs are second in the American League to Nelson Cruz of the Mariners, who has 17. His 35 RBIs are tied for third in the AL with Cruz. Teixeira, 35, is on a pace to hit 48 home runs and drive in 120 runs. His career high in homers is the 45 he hit in his final season with the Texas Rangers in 2006.
  • Though Rodriguez has not hit a home run since May 16 in Kansas City, he now has a modest five-game hitting streak and he is 8-for-18 (.444) over that span. That has raised his season average to .270. Rodriguez was 2-for-3 with two runs scored in Tuesday’s game.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Other than Headley committing his 10th error at third base this season there is not much to criticize. After losing 10 of 11 games through Sunday, the Yankees have now got off the mat to win two games in a row against the team with the best record in baseball to retake first place. I can’t complain about that.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to sweep the Royals and win the season series four games to two with a victory on Wednesday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (5-2, 3.59 ERA) will go to the mound for the Yankees looking to get back on track. Pineda has been blasted for nine runs on 18 hits and one walk with five strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings over his past two starts  –  losses to the Royals and Rangers.

Right-hander Chris Young (4-0, 0.78 ERA) will pitch for the Royals. Young, 36, shut out the St. Louis Cardinals on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts over six innings on Friday. He also defeated the Yankees on May 15 in Kansas City.

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

 

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Bombers Five Homers Boosts CC To First Victory

GAME 33

YANKEES 11, RAYS 5

For the past two seasons the Bronx Bombers have had an offense that launched a lot of duds. But on Monday they proved the long-ball is back in their arsenal and their opponents better start ducking for cover.

The Yankees blasted five home runs to back a seven-inning outing in which CC Sabathia won his first game in more than a season as New York pummeled Tampa Bay into submission at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Alex Rodriguez opened the onslaught in the first inning off Alex Colome (2-1) with a 428-foot laser shot deep into left-field bleachers for the 662nd home run of his career.

Three innings later, Chase Headley broke a 1-1 tie with a two-out three-run home run into the right-field stands for his fourth of the season. An inning later, Carlos Beltran, who hit his first home run of the season on Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles, collected his second  –  a high-arcing blast to right  –  to make the score 5-1.

Colome, who entered the game 2-0 with 1.80 ERA, gave up yet another home run an inning later when Brett Gardner hit a three-run blast to straightaway center-field for his third home run of the season. That ended Colome’s nightmare.

He was charged with eight runs on 11 hits and one walk with six strikeouts in six innings to raise his season ERA to 5.63.

The Yankees added a solo run in the seventh off right-hander Ernesto Frieri on a double by Mark Teixeira, a single by Brian McCann and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Headley.

Teixeira added two more runs and the Yankees’ fifth homer of the evening with one out in the ninth with an opposite field shot to extend his home run total to a team-leading 11.

Meanwhile, Sabathia (1-5) started off his outing shaky by walking the first two batters he faced on nine pitches and then yielding a one-out RBI double to left by Logan Forsythe that scored Brandon Guyer to tie the game at 1-1.

However, Steven Souza Jr. was thrown at the plate on the play on a relay from Gardner in left to Didi Gregorius to home plate to McCann, who tagged Souza out. Rays manager Kevin Cash claimed McCann had blocked the plate illegally but a video review showed McCann did not block Souza’s path.

From that point Sabathia retired 15 of the next 17 batters through the sixth inning to gain his first victory since April 24, 2014.

The Rays tried to mount a rally in the seventh as Forsythe and Joey Butler opened the frame with back-to-back home runs. One out later, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a double into center that Chris Young overran to allow Cabrera to take third. Tim Beckham then scored Cabrera with a sacrifice fly.

Sabathia gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks while he struck out nine in seven innings.

The Rays added another run in the eighth off right-hander David Carpenter on an RBI single by Forsythe, who had three RBIs on the evening and he now leads the Rays with 15 on the season.

With the victory the Yankees extended their lead over the second-place Rays in the American League East to four games. They are 21-12 on the season and 18-6 since April 17. They also are 6-1 against the Rays, who fell to 17-16.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After a horrible spring and April, Beltran has turned the corner in May. He was 2-for-5 with a single, a homer, scored two runs and two RBIs on Monday. Since May 1, Beltran is 12-for-37 (.324) with two homers and seven RBIs. Just when it looked as if the 38-year-old outfielder was about to either be platooned or lose his job entirely to Young, Beltran is starting to look like the player who hit 24 home runs and drove in 84 RBIs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.
  • It is also official: We have a Chase Headley sighting. The 31-year-old third baseman was 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs on Monday. Headley entered the game batting only. 224 with three homers and 10 RBIs. His last RBI came on April 29 on a home run against the Rays at Yankee Stadium. Nice to see you are back, Chase.
  • Sabathia’s line would have looked a lot better if he had not given up three runs in the seventh inning. But between the first and the seventh, Sabathia gave up only a bloop one out single to Cabrera in the fifth and an infield single to Souza with two out in the sixth. His nine strikeouts were a season high. The trick for the 34-year-old left-hander now is pitch like he did on Monday consistently.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

You know when it is your night when a ball caroms off the roof walkway of Tropicana Field and is caught for the final out. That is exactly what happened in the ninth for the Yankees. Beckham hit a high drive towards left-field off right-hander Branden Pinder. The ball, however, struck what is called the B ring of the stadium and it was caught by Gregorius in shallow left for the final out. No complaints about this laugher. Anyone doubt the Yankees now?

BOMBER BANTER

Right-hander Masahirio Tanaka is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday at Tropicana Field as part of his recovery from tendinitis in his right wrist and a mild strain in his right forearm. Tanaka, 26, has been on the 15-day disabled list since April 24 and he is targeting a return for early June.  . . . Left-hander Chris Capuano, who has been on the disabled list with a right quad strain, is scheduled to throw 6 innings or 90 pitches for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at Norfolk on Tuesday. Meanwhile, right-hander Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) is slated to throw 3 innings or 45 pitches in an extended spring training game in Tampa, FL, on Tuesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Rays on Tuesday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (3-0, 3.97 ERA) will go the mound for the Yankees. Eovaldi, 25, held the Orioles to three runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings for a victory on Thursday.

The Rays will pitch right-hander Chris Archer (3-4, 2.59 ERA), who was 3-2 with a 0.84 ERA in April but is 0-2 with a 8.68 ERA in two starts in May. However, Archer is 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Drew’s Pinch-Hit Grand Slam Clips Orioles’ Wings

GAME 7

YANKEES 6, ORIOLES 5

Yankees manager Joe Girardi was forced to replace Brett Gardner in the lineup with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh inning on Monday so he called upon Stephen Drew. The 31-year-old infielder made Girardi look like a genius when he won the game with a pinch-hit grand slam.

Drew’s home run came on a 3-1 count off right-hander Tommy Hunter and it turned a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 Yankee lead as New York held on to edge Baltimore at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Orioles had just taken a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth when Adam Jones victimized right-hander Michael Pineda with a two-out, two-run home run.

But the Yankees managed to load the bases against Hunter (0-2) on a single by Chris Young, a walk to John Ryan Murphy and an infield single by Jacoby Ellsbury.

Gardner was due up but his right wrist was swollen after being hit by a pitch in the first inning by Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen. So Girardi sent Drew up to pinch-hit and the result was the 11th pinch-hit grand slam in team history.

Pineda (1-0) yielded five runs on nine hits with no walks and nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory despite not looking as sharp as he did in his first start. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller held the Orioles scoreless the rest of the way with Miller earning his second save of the season.

The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead on the O’s with two out in the second inning when Young cracked his second home run of the season off Chen.

The Orioles quickly answered with two runs in the bottom of the frame on consecutive one-out RBI doubles by Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop.

But the Yankees were able to tie the game up with two out in the fourth when Mark Teixeira took Chen deep for his third home run of the season.

With the game 6-4 in the seventh, the Orioles loaded the bases with a pair of hits off Pineda and another off Betances. Alejandro De Aza then hit a potential double-play ball to Drew but Didi Gregorius’ throw to first was wide of the bag and it allowed Machado to score to draw the Orioles to within a run.

However, Betances was able to end the threat with a bases-loaded strikeout of Chris Davis, who struck out in all of his four at-bats.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 3-4. The Orioles are also 3-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Drew entered the game 3-for-20 (.150) but he had homered and driven in two runs in Sunday’s 14-4 thrashing of the Boston Red Sox. Drew is coming off his worst season as a professional and the Yankees are hoping he can bounce back this season. His grand slam goes a long way towards proving he could be on the road back.
  • Teixeira might be on the same road back also after hitting three home runs in his first six games of the season. In 2011, Teixeira hit 39 home runs and drove in 111 runs. But since then the 35-year-old first baseman has been plagued by injuries. After going on a gluten-free, non-dairy diet this offseason, Teixeira looks fit and his early results look real good.
  • Miller entered the game with one out in the eighth and ended up striking out three batters to earn a five-out save. Miller helped carry the Orioles into the playoffs last season but on Monday he used his patented slider to make them look bad. Given Betances’ shaky outings, Miller looks like he has a solid grip on closing duties for now.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Carlos Beltran was 0-for-4, including hitting into a double play and a strikeout. He is batting .143 early this season. The 38-year-old outfielder is coming off a injury-marred 2014 campaign and the Yankees need him to return to the form that saw him hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.
  • Gregorius was also 0-for-4 and is batting .130 on the season. The Yankees are hoping that the 25-year-old shortstop can develop as offensive threat this season. His defensive skills are excellent but he has looked a bit shaky in the field early. But his biggest problem has been base-running gaffes. The Yankees can afford to be patient with him though.
  • Betances walked two batters and gave up two hits in his one inning of work. He was lucky he was able to get Davis to strike out with bases loaded in the seventh but he needed help in the eighth when Jones singled to open the inning. Murphy threw out Jones attempting to steal, one of two base-runners he cut down attempting to steal. Betances promptly walked Travis Snider and Girardi was forced to pull him early in favor of Miller.

BOMBER BANTER

Gardner is listed as day-to-day but he likely will miss at least one game with a bruised right wrist. X-rays on Gardner’s wrist were negative. Gardner, 31, was hit almost in the same spot in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays.  . . .  In yet another bullpen move in the wake of Friday’s marathon 19-inning 6-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees on Monday recalled right-hander Joel De La Cruz from Double-A Trenton and designated for assignment right-hander Kyle Davies. Cruz, 25, was 7-9 with a 4.44 ERA in 28 games (22 starts) with Trenton and Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre last season. Davies, 31, pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday against the Red Sox. It was his first appearance in a major-league game since 2011.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game series with the Orioles on Tuesday.

Veteran left-hander CC Sabathia gets the start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up five runs (four earned) on eight hits but did strike out eight batters in a loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, who surrendered a run on three hits and five walks in 5 2/3 innings in a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.

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 Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

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.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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!

Yanks Loss To Bosox Pales With Capuano Injury

GAME 10

RED SOX 10, YANKEES 6

The Yankees lost an exhibition game on Wednesday but it is meaningless compared to what it lost with respect to the start of the 2015 season.

Veteran left-hander Chris Capuano was covering first base with one out in the first inning to complete a groundout by Brock Holt to first baseman Garrett Jones when he suddenly pulled up in pain in his right leg. He then threw the ball to the ground in frustration and had to be helped off the field by guest trainer Gene Monahan.

An MRI taken later confirmed what was obvious: Capuano suffered a Grade 2 strain in his right quadriceps and he will begin the season on the disabled list.

The Yankees used a total of 13 starting pitchers in 2014 and manager Joe Girardi, knowing he had starters such as Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia coming off injuries, has been using a number of additional starters this spring.

Those pitchers include right-handers Adam Warren, Emil Rogers, Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell and Scott Baker. Now Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild will have to select one of those pitchers to fill in for Capuano, who was likely to be named the No. 5 starter.

“I’d be surprised if he’s not down for a while,” Girardi told reporters.

Capuano, 36, was acquired at midseason from the Colorado Rockies and he recorded a 2-3 mark with a 4.25 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees. The Yankees liked Capuano in the rotation because he gave the team a second left-handed starter in addition to Sabathia.

With the defeat the Yankees’ spring ledger is now 5-4.

To say this was not a good day for the team is putting it mildly.

FIELD FOCUS

Sometimes when opportunity knocks you not only have to answer: You have to grab the opportunity and close the door behind you.

There could not be a better time for that knock after the Capuano injury for the 29-year-old right-hander Rogers, who has failed before in his trials as a starter with the Rockies and the Toronto Blue Jays despite having a great arm and immense talent.

Rogers has made 43 starts in his career and he has an overall record as both a starter and reliever of 18-21 with a hideous 5.54 ERA. The Blue Jays designated him for assignment last May after he posted a no record and a 6.97 ERA in 16 relief appearances.

The Yankees picked him up in August and he was 2-0 with a 5.72 ERA in 34 games (one as a spot starter). But that did not tell the whole story.

The minute Rogers arrived Rothschild took him to the bullpen to work on some things to make him better. They did a little tinkering here and a little there. They picked it up again when Rogers arrived in camp.

Strangely enough, Rogers has been very impressive in his three outings this spring. He has 0-0 record and 0.00 ERA with three strikeouts in three innings. It is early, true, but Girardi is seeing the big picture and he likes what he sees.

“Larry worked with him long and hard last year during some bullpen sessions about changing a few things,” Girardi told reporters. “I thought he pitched pretty well for us. He’s started in his career and he’s got a number of pitches he can go to. He’s been really good this spring. He’ll be one of the guys we’re really looking at.”

So even in the dark cloud of Capuano’s injury there may be just a sliver of a silver lining.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The bright spot for the Yankees had to be Alex Rodriguez. After facing a lot of harassment from the Red Sox fans at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Rodriguez launched his first home run of the spring to lead off the fourth inning against right-hander Brandon Workman. There is nothing better for a player who is being abused than to shut those fans up with a good long blast. A-Rod is now 5-for-11 (.455) with home run and two RBIs.
  • We have been singing the praises of infielder Jose Pirela and with good reason. The 25-year-old Venezuelan was 2-for-2 in the game is now 8-for-24 (.333) in Grapefruit League play. Fellow second base prospect Rob Refsnyder is 5-for-12 (.455) while the veteran slated to start at second, Stephen Drew, is batting .091. Hmmm!
  • Injuries have wrecked the career of former first-round draft pick Slade Heathcott. After the team had cut Heathcott loose over the winter they decided to offer him a non-roster invite this spring. Heathcott, 24, is taking advantage of what may be his last chance with the team. He slugged a two-run home run in the ninth against the Red Sox and is 5-for-8 (.625) with a home run and three RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Mitchell, 23, was forced into the game in the fourth inning due to Capuano’s early exit. He was tagged for four runs on seven hits and a walk while he struck out two in two innings. He is a much better pitcher than he showed against the Red Sox. He was 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 23 games (21 starts) at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Mitchell even made his major-league debut with the Yankees last season and was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in three games (one start).
  • Relievers Tyler Webb and Chris Martin did not fare much better as they allowed the Red Sox to tack on five runs between the seventh and eighth innings. Webb gave up two runs on three hits and Martin yielded three runs (two earned) on three hits. It was the first runs of the spring scored off the 24-year-old lefty Webb and the 28-year-old righty Martin. The timing could not have been worse, though.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play host to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday in Tampa, FL.

It will be the spring training debut for right-hander Tanaka, who is recovering from a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Tanaka was 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 starts last season. He is expected to pitch just two innings.

The Braves will counter with right-hander Shelby Miller, who was 10-9 with a 3.74 ERA with the St. Louis Cardinals last season. The Braves acquired him in trade for outfielder Jason Heyward.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally on the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Beltran’s Health Key To Yankees’ 2015 Outfield

With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.

OUTFIELD

RIGHT-FIELD: Carlos Beltran, 37, (.233, 15 HRs, 49 RBIs, 109 games)

CENTER-FIELD: Jacoby Ellsbury, 31, (.271, 16 HRs, 70 RBIs, 39 SBs, 149 games)

LEFT-FIELD: Brett Gardner, 31, (.256, 17 HRs, 58 RBIs, 21 SBs, 148 games)

In the Yankees’ 2009 championship season they featured at outfield of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher that combined to hit 81 home runs. The 2014 edition of the Yankees only managed 48.

That tells you a lot about a team that limped to a 84-78 record and finished a distant second to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

The Yankees had envisioned a speedy and defensive outfield that also featured some power from Beltran and Ellsbury. Instead, Gardner wound up out-homering the group and doesn’t that say a lot on how bad things were last season?

Beltran was a major disappointment but it was not through any fault of his own. In late April, Beltran was suffering through a very painful bone spur in his right elbow. It was easy to see how it affected his offense, too.

On April 23, Beltran was batting .307 with five homers and 13 RBIs in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. From that point until he was placed on the disabled list on May 13, he hit .132 with no homers and two RBIs.

The Yankees can be faulted for signing the aging outfielder to a three-year contract. However, general manager Brian Cashman felt compelled to give in to Beltran’s demands for a third year after Robinson Cano left the team in a huff after the signing of Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153-million deal. The Yankees needed to find a solid No. 3 hitter and Beltran was the choice.

Beltran did return to the Yankees in June after attempting to rehab the elbow rather than have season-ending surgery. But he never was really the same hitter the rest of the season, batting .208 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs.

Beltran was basically playing with one arm and it showed. Even though he did return, he was unable to play the outfield until very late in the season because the bone spur in his elbow did not allow him to throw freely.

So Beltran decided to have surgery to remove the spur in September. He reported to training camp healthy and ready to prove himself as the player who hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs for the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.

So heading into 2015 the Yankees are counting on the switch-hitting Beltran to bat third and put up big home run and RBI numbers. As a player who has hit 373 career homers and driven in 1,376 runs while batting .281 over 16 major-league seasons, Beltran is certainly capable of doing that if . . .

Yep, there is that big if. The big if is can he remain healthy throughout the season? Beltran and the Yankees are anxious to find out.

“I trained hard, I did everything that I did in the past,” Beltran told reporters. “I want to be out there, no doubt.”

The Yankees are counting on Beltran, Mark Teixiera and Brian McCann to post numbers that will prevent the Yankees from ending up with the third-fewest runs scored in the American League as they did last season.

Much was also expected of Ellsbury after he signed that big contract to leave the Boston Red Sox.

For the most part, Ellsbury did deliver what was expected of him except when Beltran and Teixeira succumbed to injuries and Ellsbury was taken out of his comfortable leadoff spot and placed in the third spot in the batting order.

Ellsbury did not produce the runs the Yankees would have expected and his bat cooled off considerably as the season wore on. He ended up batting .155 in September and he did not even get close to the .298 average he put up in 2013 with the Red Sox.

By virtue of batting third, Ellsbury also did not get as many opportunities to steal bases, ending up with 13 less from his major-league-leading total of 52 in 2013.

The bottom line is that Ellsbury still led in the team in hits (156), doubles (27) and stolen bases while posting his best home run and RBI totals since 2011. He was, by all accounts, the Yankees’ most consistent hitter in 2014.

“Ellsbury is Ellsbury,” Cashman told reporters. “I thought he was basically right where he was when he left Boston. I thought he was terrific last year.”

There were moments last season that Gardner appeared to be on the verge of having a breakout season.

On June 20, Gardner was batting .290 with six homers, 28 RBIs and 15 SBs. For a club struggling with offense, Gardner was providing opportunities to score by getting on base.

But as the season wore on, a core muscle injury in his abdomen dragged Gardner down. He hit a terrible .218 with eight homers and 21 RBIs after the All-Star break. It ruined what looked to be what would easily be Gardner’s best in the majors.

After Gardner underwent surgery in October to correct the problem, he is reporting to camp at 100 percent.

With his return to health the Yankees would like for him to be more aggressive on the bases. After stealing 47 bases in 2010 and 49 in 2011, Gardner has regressed to just 24 steals in 2013 and 21 last season.

Manager Joe Girardi must also decide how to deploy Ellsbury and Gardner in the batting order. At this point, it appears Ellsbury will resume his leadoff role and Gardner will bat second. But Girardi likely will flip the two throughout the spring to get a feel how best to bat them.

One thing is clear, however. Both Ellsbury and Gardner give the Yankees excellent defense in the outfield. It stands to reason since they are both legitimate center-fielders.

Ellsbury won a Gold Glove with the Red Sox in 2011 and his fielding in 2014 was just as superlative. He committed only one error all season and playing the wide-open spaces of center in Yankee Stadium is not an easy assignment.

Gardner has never won a Gold Glove but he should have. Last season, Gardner committed just two errors and he was able to blend well with Ellsbury. Between the two of them it takes a lot to get a ball past them in left-center.

Beltran won three Gold Gloves with the New York Mets from 2006 through 2008. However, he will not be winning anymore of them. Knee problems have robbed Beltran of the range he used to have as a center-fielder.

He was charged with three errors in 31 starts in the outfield last season. But the good news is that right-field does not have as much ground to cover so the Yankees will only ask Beltran to catch what he can reach.

Though the Yankees realized his best days were behind him they will still miss the defensive prowess of Ichiro Suzuki in right-field. Suzuki has moved on to the Miami Marlins.

The Yankees have some depth in the outfield with a pair of players who have a lot of experience.

Garrett Jones was obtained in trade with the Marlins and is slated to have some important roles with the team this season.

Jones, 33, batted .246 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as a first baseman.

The Yankees would like the lefty-swinging Jones to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season because his swing is perfect for the short dimensions in right-field. In addition, Jones will back up Teixeira at first base and Beltran in right-field.

Jones is not a great fielder at first base (13 errors in 129 games in 2014) but he holds his own in the outfield. He does not have much range but he can make the plays. The Yankees feel they now have a serviceable backup for both Teixeira and Beltran and they are glad to have him.

The Yankees also have 31-year-old veteran Chris Young back after an impressive late-season audition with the team in 2014.

Young was cut loose by the Mets in early August and the Yankees signed him to a minor-league deal on Aug. 27. In the final month of the season, Young batted .282 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 23 games.

On that basis the Yankees elected to re-sign the veteran to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He will be the team’s fourth outfielder and as a right-handed hitter he can give Gardner or Ellsbury a rest against a tough-left-handed pitcher.

Young is a power hitter who hit 20 or more home runs in four of five seasons between 2007 and 2011, including 32 in 2007. However, Young has never batted above .257 in any of his eight major-league seasons and he enters 2015 as a career .234 hitter.

Young still has some speed. He has 130 career steals and eight in limited play last season.

The former 2010 National League All-Star also can play all three outfield spots and he is an above average defender.

The additions of Jones and Young give manager Joe Girardi some flexibility in making out lineups and they are solid insurance policies should someone land on the disabled list.

One of the biggest failings of Cashman and the scouting department has been the inability of the Yankees to develop minor-league outfielders who can contribute to the Yankees. It seems that whatever prospects have been in the system are languishing and they aren’t progressing.

Zoilo Almonte, 25, has been up and down with the Yankees the past two seasons and has a .211 batting average in 47 games to show for it. The Yankees elected to let him go as a minor-league free agent and Almonte has since signed with the Atlanta Braves.

The other prospect names are virtually the same from last season: Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores. Further behind them is Slade Heathcott.

They all will get another look this spring but they all will not make the roster unless there are some injuries.

Williams, 23, was once considered one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system but he has slid to No. 16 this season after batting a horrible .223 with five homers and 40 RBIs in 128 games at Double-A Trenton.

Williams is a gifted athlete and he is sensational defensive outfielder. But at the plate he has become more of a slap hitter and it is obvious that he not making enough contact. Williams’ hustle has also been questioned and he was arrested on a DUI in 2013.

Austin, 23, also dropped as a prospect to No. 15. But he was a bit better at Trenton. He batted .275 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games last season. But after he batted .322 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs in 2012, Austin has been dogged a persistent sprained right thumb.

The Yankees still have hope that he can he can develop. The Yankees think he can become a high-average power hitter. Austin is mainly a corner outfielder and likely would figure in as a right-fielder in the majors.

Flores, 22, is ranked as the team’s 14th best prospect after he batted a .247 with seven homers and 23 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A high-ankle sprain kept him from progressing as the Yankees would have liked.

Right now Flores is pegged as all-fields hitter who lacks power. It’s that reason why he is beginning to look like more of a fourth outfielder than a starter. Though he can play all three spots he works out best as a left-fielder because he lacks speed.

Heathcott, 24, was a former first-round pick of the Yankees in 2009 and he was not tendered a contract offer by the Yankees in December. Yet the Yankees re-signed him and invited him to camp as a non-roster player.

Though Heathcott has great talent, his all-out style of play has landed him on the minor-league disabled list many times. In 2013, it was a knee injury that required surgery.

He played only nine games at Trenton in 2014 before re-injuring the knee and missing the rest of the season. It looks like the Yankees are offering Heathcott one last make-or-break attempt because he is 24 and he has not advanced past Double-A.

One non-roster player that the Yankees can’t wait to check out is 6-foot-7, 230-pound Aaron Judge, who was a first-round selection by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

Judge, 22, has a resemblance to NBA forward Blake Griffin and because of his size he has drawn comparisons to Dave Winfield and Giancarlo Stanton. But Judge does not just look the part.

In 131 games in two Class-A stops in 2014, Judge batted .308 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. His right-hand power stroke is awesome to see. Scouts say he does not just hit balls; he crushes them.

With his long swing he is prone to fail to make contact and strike out a lot. But the Yankees see him fitting nicely into right-field because for a big man Judge can move pretty well and he is a decent outfielder defensively.

He is rated as the No. 5 prospect in the organization and the Yankees can’t wait to see what he can do this spring.

The No. 8 prospect is 22-year-old Jake Cave, who hit a combined .294 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs between Class-A Tampa and Trenton.

Cave hits consistently from the left side. Not a big power threat, he mostly is a gap hitter. Cave is a above-average outfielder and as a former pitcher he has a great arm in center-field. He has good but not great speed but scouts love his max effort.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD

The Yankees have been snakebit for the past two seasons with injuries and the one to Beltran really derailed the outfield and caused a significant drop in run production in 2014. It is easy to say that Beltran, Ellsbury and Gardner are an excellent mix of speed, power, run production and defense but they all have to stay healthy.

The fact that Beltran has not missed a lot of time in the past indicates the odds he will be able to play a full season and he should be able to provide some power (20 plus homers) and 90 or more RBIs. The Yankees will need that from him in the No. 3 spot in the order.

Ellsbury and Gardner combined for 60 stolen bases but they should steal a whole lot more this season.

The shift of Ellsbury to the third spot cut his steals to 39 and Gardner has seemed more and more reluctant to run the last two seasons. It is hard to figure out why.

But the Yankees need both of them to get on base, advance and score runs if the team is going to succeed. There is not as much power on this team as there once was and that is why Ellsbury and Gardner will have to make the engine go.

The fact the two combined to hit 33 home runs was a bonus. The Yankees would love to have a repeat of those numbers in 2015.

The Yankees are blessed to have two backup outfielders capable of hitting double-digit homers in Young and Jones.

Young can play all three positions and Jones is a corner outfielder. But Jones likely will get more work as the team’s primary DH and as the backup to Teixeira at first base.

But Jones could also end up as a starter in right-field if Beltran goes down for any length of time.

Most of the Yankees’ most advanced outfield prospects have been major disappointments. Williams, Austin, Flores and Heathcott have all been highly touted prospects but they have flamed out so far.

Of that group, only Austin appears capable of turning it around if he can overcome his injury problems.

The best news on the farm is that Judge appears to the man-mountain power threat he appears to be. The Yankees just have to hope he can keep the strikeouts in check and keep his average up. The Yankees would like to have Judge be more like Winfield rather than Dave Kingman.

He is worth watching this spring.

NEXT: STARTING PITCHERS

Kuroda, Tex Help Yankees End Skid Against Jays

GAME 77

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3

There are some managers who will say that their team needs to learn how to win. After four straight losses, Yankees manager Joe Girardi must have given his team a master class in Winning 101 on Wednesday.

Hiroki Kiroda gave the Yankees a solid effort, pitching into the seventh inning, and Mark Teixeira homered and drove in three runs as New York salvaged the final game of a three-game set against Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,710 at Rogers Centre.

Kuroda (5-5) yielded three runs on eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to win his first game since May 28 when he defeated the Cardinals in St. Louis.

Initially, it did not look good for Kuroda when Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first by cranking Kuroda’s first offering into the second deck in the right-field bleachers to give the Blue Jays an early 1-0 lead.

However, Huroda settled in and the Yankees were able to score four runs in the third inning off right-hander Drew Hutchison.

Kelly Johnson opened the frame by drawing a walk and Francisco Cervelli slammed a double into the gap in right-center to score Johnson and tie the game. It was only Cervelli’s second RBI of the season.

Two batters later, Jacoby Ellsbury singled up the middle to score Cervelli and Teixeira then launched a 0-1 change-up into the right-field bleachers to give Kuroda and the Yankees a comfortable 4-1 lead. It was Teixeira’s 14th home run of the season and his second in three games in Toronto.

“The whole dugout was excited about those four runs,” Teixeira told reporters after the game. “It had been a while since we had a lead.”

The Blue Jays, however, did draw closer in the bottom of the fifth.

Munenori Kawasaki drew a one-out walk and with two out Reyes stroked a ground-rule double. Then Melky Cabrera slapped an opposite-field single to left to score two runs to cut the Yankees’ lead to a run.

Hutchison (5-6) left after six innings having given up four runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned six batters.

The Yankees did add a run in the sixth after Blue Jays left-hander Rob Rasmussen walked Brett Gardner, hit Derek Jeter in the foot with a pitch and then issued another free pass to Ellsbury to load the bases.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summoned right-hander Sergio Santos to pitch to Teixeira and Teixeira was able to loft a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Gardner.

The Yankees’ bullpen took it from there as Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and David Robertson held the Blue Jays scoreless on just two hits with no walks and three strikeouts over the final 2 2/3 innings.

Robertson retired all five batters he faced, including striking out the first three batters he faced, to earn his 18th save in 20 opportunities this season.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 40-37 and they are now 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays in third place in the American League East. The Blue Jays dropped to 44-36.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After poor outings from Chase Whitley and David Phelps the past two games, Kuroda was able to keep the Blue Jays contained to allow the Yankee offense to get untracked. Kuroda, 39, has been somewhat of a disappointment after he pitched so well in 2012 and 2013. With his 4.23 ERA, Kuroda could stand to start putting together some good outings and pitch more consistently.
  • Teixiera’s three RBIs give him 39 on the season, which currently leads the team. The Yankees are nearly at the halfway point of the season and it is embarrassing that their team leader only has 39 RBIs. But with Teixiera slowed by a hamstring injury and a sore right wrist and Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran all underperforming the Yankees will take anything they can get from Teixeira.
  • Ellsbury was 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Ellsbury has now put together a stretch of eight games in which he is 11-for-31 (.355). But he only has one extra-base hit (a double) and three RBIs in that span.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Brian Roberts was the only Yankee starter who failed to reach base in the game. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Roberts was 7-for-18 (.389) with a home run and two RBIs in his previous five games. Roberts, 36, had his season average fall to .240.
  • Despite the victory the Yankees were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and they left the bases loaded in both the fifth and seventh innings. It is getting to the point where pitchers might just as well just intentionally walk the first three Yankees each inning because the odds the Yankees will score any runs is virtually nil.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off on Thursday before opening a three-game home series starting on Friday against the reeling Boston Red Sox.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-4, 5.88 ERA) will begin the series for the Yankees. His one victory was on May 7 and he is 0-4 with a 6.12 since then. He gave up four runs on six hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.

The Red Sox will pitch right-hander Brandon Workman (1-0, 2.88 ERA). Workman surrendered two runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in six innings in a no decision against the Cleveland Indians on June 15.

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.