NATIONALS 7, YANKEES 6
Jose Lobaton stroked a one-out, two-run double in the seventh inning off right-hander Kyle Davies to cap a three-run rally that gave Washington a victory over New York on Monday at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL.
The Yankees blew leads of 3-0 and 6-4 during the afternoon as the result of some shaky pitching from Chasen Shreve, Jose Ramirez and Davies.
Five of the Yankees’ runs came as the result of home runs by Chris Young and Brian McCann.
McCann capped a three-run inning in the third by connecting for a two-run home run off starter Doug Fister. It was his second home run of the spring.
After the Nationals took the lead with four runs in the fourth inning, Young tied the game in the fifth with his first home run of the spring, which also came off Fister.
In the sixth inning, Young connected again for a two-run shot to left off right-hander Casey Janssen.
Right-hander Craig Stammen (1-0) pitched a perfect seventh inning to get credit for the victory. Veteran right-hander Heath Bell earned a save. Davies (0-1) took the loss.
The Yankees have now lost their last two road contests and their Grapefruit League record fell to 12-9.
In his first full season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Young was considered one of the best young power hitters in the game after he hit 32 homers in 2007. He also stole 27 bases that season so the D-backs were thrilled to have a young player who could combine power and speed.
However, as the seasons wore on in the Arizona desert, Young could not get his batting average over the .257 he hit in 2010. The strikeouts also hovered around 140 per season and after a injury-marred season in 2012, Young was sent packing to Oakland.
After hitting .200 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs for the Athletics. Young ended up with the Mets. Met fans soon unleashed a chorus of boos at him when he hit .205 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs in 88 games.
Young found himself without a job at midseason until the Yankees called and asked him to audition for a job with them in the final month. Young responded by hitting three home runs and driving in 10 runs in just 23 games. More noteworthy, Young batted .282.
The Yankees decided to keep Young and he has already been named as the team’s fourth outfielder. Capable of playing all three outfield spots, Young provides insurance to the Yankees should center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury been unable to recover from an oblique injury enough to play Opening Day.
He also can spell 37-year-old right-fielder Carlos Beltran, who is coming off an injury-plagued 2014 season.
Young proved what he is capable of at Space Coast Stadium on Monday. Two at-bats in consecutive innings and two home runs. Young is now batting .265 with two home runs and four RBIs but his value is much more than those numbers.
The Yankees need his power from the right side of the plate. He provides some speed to the lineup and he is also above-average fielder. At age 31, Young may have a role suited for him and the Yankees.
It looks like it will be beneficial to both.
- Starter Bryan Mitchell looked pretty good in his outing against the Nationals. He yielded two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out two in 3 1/3 innings. Mitchell actually was not on the mound when those two runs scored. Shreve allowed a two-out, bases-loaded single to the pitcher Fister in the fourth inning. He is still a longshot to be the team’s fifth starter, but Mitchell, 25, might be a valuable fill-in starter should the Yankees need to call him up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- McCann is showing that he has got his timing down at the plate. In his past four games, McCann is 5-for-10 (.500) with two homers and five RBIs. McCann, 31, will likely bat fifth in the Yankee lineup and he will be expected to hit for power and drive in runs. McCann also would like to hit better than the .232 average he ended up with in 2014.
- Rob Refsnyder is showing that batting over .300 at Triple-A last season was not a fluke. He was 2-for-2 on Monday including a lined double off Fister and he scored two runs. Refsynder, who will turn 24 on March 26, is batting .346 this spring. The converted second baseman is still working on his defense but he can flat-out hit.
- Shreve stinks, period. In three consecutive outings the 24-year-old left-hander has yielded six runs (five earned) on seven hits in just two innings. There had been talk that Shreve possibly would join Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson as a third lefty in the bullpen. After Monday, it is safe to say that Shreve will be back at Scranton trying to figure out what went wrong and how he can fix it.
- Davies, 31, was once a potential fifth starter candidate but he likely will not make the team at all. The non-roster right-hander has not pitched in the majors since 2011, when he was 1-9 with a 6.75 ERA with the Kansas City Royals. This spring he is 0-1 with 5.14 ERA and he did himself no favors giving up three runs on three hits and a walk in the seventh inning to the Nationals.
Ellsbury, 31, told reporters that his strained right oblique is feeling better and he still believes that he can be ready to play on Opening Day. Ellsbury has not played in an exhibition game since March 15 when he felt a twinge throwing in the outfield before a game with the Philadelphia Phillies. “I guess all I can tell is just how I feel each and every day,” Ellsbury told reporters. “But until I swing a bat, until I throw, until I do really explosive stuff, that will be the real test. But it does feel better each and every day.” . . . Manager Joe Girardi said on Monday that infielder Jose Pirela was still feeling some neck soreness but was no longer feeling dizzy. Pirelli, 25, crashed into the wall at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, FL, in the first inning of a game against the Mets. Pirelli left the game and he will undergo a concussion protocol. It is unclear when he will be able to return to action. Pirela is batting .370 this spring with no home runs and five RBIs.
The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, to host the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.
Right-hander Esmil Rogers will have likely his last shot to claim the No. starting spot in the Yankee rotation. Rogers, 29, is 0-0 with a 2.89 ERA in five appearances (three starts) this spring.
The Tigers will start right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who is 0-0 with a 4.05 ERA in four spring starts. But he is coming off five shutout innings in his last start.
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.
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!
The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.
REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES
If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.
The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.
The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.
A DOMINANT KING
Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.
But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.
THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL
The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.
They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.
The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.
But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.
One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.
Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.
Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.
That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.
The offense has its own issues.
Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.
There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.
So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.
THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE
The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.
Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.
They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.
Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.
Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.
Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”
The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.
The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.
Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.
DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY
The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.
They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.
One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.
They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.
The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.
Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.
Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.
The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.
Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.
They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.
They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.
The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.
The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.
The gold remains in the Bronx.
THE STARKS OF BOSTON
In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.
That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.
Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.
They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.
They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.
The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.
Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!
It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.
There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.
Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.
THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING
The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.
It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,
Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.
So why should 2013 be any different?
The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.
Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.
They may even finish last.
But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.
But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.
The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.
You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.
They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.
The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.
The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.
Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.
The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.
It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.
Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.
That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.
They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.
- BLUE JAYS
- RED SOX
For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 2 – TORONTO BLUE JAYS
When you think of the Blue Jays these days, just one name comes to mind: Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays basically rode Bautista to an 81-81 record last season, the first season for manager John Farrell.
Though Bautista was able to slug his way to 43 home runs and 103 RBIs and a .302 average despite being pitched around and walked 132 times, the Blue Jays offense could not cover up problems in the Jays’ starting rotation and bullpen.
This season Bautista figures to have a lot more help with the offense but the Jays were unable to bid successfully for Japanese League star right-hander Yu Darvish. As a result, their pitching remains a big question mark heading into 2012. If they get some good pitching from their starters they could actually be much better than they were in 2011.
Left-hander Ricky Romero begins the 2012 season as the unquestioned ace of this team after compiling a 15-11 record and a 2.92 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 225 innings. Romero’s deadly change-up is his best pitch and he keeps hitters off-balance working off his low 90s fastball. At age 27, he has made great strides in just two major-league seasons.
Once again, right-hander Brandon Morrow will be the No. 2 starter, though he actually would be more valuable as a closer. Morrow, 27, throws high-octane gas but has a habit of missing the strike zone and getting bogged down in deep counts. That raises his pitch count and Morrow tends to tire quickly. Hence, he was 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA despite striking out 203 batters in 179 1/3 innings.
The big disappointment was left-hander Brett Cecil, who was 15-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 2010 but was 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA in 20 starts last season. Cecil, 25, regressed so badly he was sent back to the minors for a part of the season. Because the Jays have few options for their rotation, Cecil likely will be given another shot to stick in 2012. If he succeeds, as he did in 2010, the Jays will have a solid top three pitchers.
Right-hander Henderson Alvarez came up in the middle of the season and finished with a 1-3 record and a 3.53 ERA in only 10 starts. Alvarez, only 21, is an excellent control pitcher and he could end up making a huge leap forward if he can secure the No. 4 spot this season.
The Blue Jays are also counting on old friend to be their No. 5 starter in Dustin McGowan, who pitched briefly last season for the first time since the 2008 season. Shoulder problems derailed what looked to be a promising pitcher in 2007 when he was 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA for the Jays. The Jays are counting on him bouncing back this season.
The pressure is on McGowan, too. There is little depth behind him.
In short, this Blue Jays rotation looks to be a bit suspect but it has the potential to exceed expectations.
The most signifcant moves the Jays made was the signing 36-year-old right-hander Francisco Cordero as a free agent and acquiring 28-year-old right-hander Sergio Santos from the White Sox.
Leaky middle relief and the lack of a consistent closer cost the Jays dearly last season.
Cordero likely was signed to be a setup man for Santos despite the fact Cordero nailed down 36 saves in 43 chances with the Reds last season. Cordero was 5-3 with 2.45 ERA with the Reds but he still will to defer to Santos.
Santos came out of nowhere last season to become the White Sox closer with 30 saves in 36 tries and a 4-5 record with a 3.55 ERA. Should Santos falter for any reason, Cordero could easily slide into that role by virtue of his 327 career saves.
The Blue Jays also bolstered their bullpen by adding seemingly ageless left-hander Darren Oliver (who is 41) to a bullpen that already includes steady right-handers Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen. Former starter Jesse Litsch and long man Carlos Villanueva add depth to what now looks to be a strong group in 2012.
Bautista will not be shuttling from right-field to third base as he has in the past. The reason is the Jays think they have their third baseman for the forseeable future in Brett Lawrie.
Lawrie came up late in 2011 and showed he was ready for prime time by hitting nine home runs and driving in 25 runs with a .293 batting average in only 150 at bats. Projected over a full season, Lawrie’s numbers would approach Bautista’s. So Lawrie bears watching as a star of the future if he isn’t already.
Adam Lind also helped the Jays by slugging 26 home runs and driving in 87 runs hitting behind Bautiista. Though Lind could stand to hit better than the .251 mark he posted, the Jays have to be encouraged that he hit .243 against left-handers last season.
The Jays gave up on second baseman Aaron Hill and acquired Kelly Johnson from the Diamondbacks in a trade of Hill. However, Johnson and Hill are virtually alike in they are both mid-average power hitters. Johnson hit 21 home runs in 2011 after hitting 26 in 2010. Johnson also can steal bases. He swiped 16 last season.
The Jays also traded for troubled Cardinals outfielder Colby Ramus, who rejected hitting advice from coaches in St. Louis while posting a .225 batting average with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. Because the Jays have failed in developing prospect Travis Snider into a major-league hitter the team has moved on hoping Ramus fulfills his early promise.
Rounding out the outfield is left-fielder Eric Thames, who hit .282 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in just over half a season.
The Jays did seem to strike gold by prying shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Braves. Escobar, 29, hit .290 with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs as a leadoff hitter for most of the 2011 season.
The DH spot likely will go mostly to Edwin Encarnacion, who hit .272 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs in 134 games last season.
This Blue Jay offense is laden with power but Farrell introduced the concept of the stolen base to the formerly station-to-station Jays. However, the team leader, Rajai Davis, stole 34 bases but is now cast in a bench role so I am not sure how much stealing this team will do in 2012.
The Jays also developed a young catcher in J.P. Arencibia, who had 23 home runs and 78 RBIs in a his rookie season. But even with all that production, Arencibia hit just .219. He needs some work on defense too but the Jays are hopeful because he is only 26.
Davis, a speedster who had hit .284 with 50 steals for the A’s in 2010 fell off to hit .238 for the Jays in 2011. So he is locked in a battle with former Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco for a backup spot.
Though Snider has been a disappointment for the third straight season, the left-handed slugger just turned 24 and the Jays remain hopeful he someday will put it together. He may land back in Triple-A for the 2012 season, however.
Mike McCoy will be the primary infield reserve. He lacks range but is solid at second, short and third.
Jays backup catcher and defensive wizard Jose Molina left as a free agent for the rival Rays so the Jays acquired former Angels catcher Jeff Mathis to back up Arencibia.
The Jays figure to hit more home runs and still fewer bases in 2012. It is team that you can shut down if you have good stuff. But it also is a team that can destroy a pitcher who continually falls behind in the count and does not have good stuff.
The biggest weakness on the team looks to be in the thin starting rotation. Romero is the only real quality pitcher because Morrow has yet to take the next step in his development into a starter, Cecil is a biq question mark, Alvarez needs to prove he belongs and McGowan is pitching after three mostly inactive seasons rehabbing after major shoulder surgery.
The bullpen should be improved and both Santos and Cordero have experience closing. The Blue Jays have some good relievers besides them in Oliver, Frasor and Janssen.
With some real improvement the Jays could contend for the division this season. But in this division, their starting pitching could prevent them from staying competitive as the season unfolds.
I see the Jays perhaps creeping over the .500 mark but still finishing fourth.
ON WEDNESDAY – PART 3 TAMPA BAY RAYS
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4
When Robinson Cano is overanxious at the plate he looks awful. When he patiently works the count he is deadly. He proved that on Saturday to cost Ricky Romero and the Toronto Blue Jays a victory and save Bartolo Colon and the Yankees from a loss.
Cano, who who had seen four pitches in the game and made four outs, decided to wait on the sixth pitch from reliever Casey Janssen and drove it into the gap in right-center and to the wall for a double that drove in two runs in the seventh inning as New York rallied to defeat Toronto in front of 47,744 at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees trailed Romero and the Jays 4-3 with two out in the seventh inning and it looked like it was going to be an uphill battle. But Romero hit Granderson in the back with a 2-2 curveball that did not break and Alex Rodriguez, playing in his first game in a week, coaxed a four-pitch walk. Acting Blue Jays manager Don Wakamatsu replaced Romero with Janssen.
Cano worked the count to 2-2 and slashed an inside fastball into the gap and Granderson and Rodriguez scored easily to take the lead from the Blue Jays. The RBIs were No. 100 and No. 101 on the season for Cano and it is the second time in the past two seasons Cano has driven in 100 runs.
Nick Swisher followed with opposite-field single to left that scored Cano with an insurance run.
Colon, who has not won a game since July 30, did not win this one either. Locked in a 3-3 tie with Romero and Jays, Colon gave up his second home run of the game to DeWayne Wise with one out in the fifth inning. It was the 19th home run Colon has given up this season and the eighth since Aug. 5. Colon gave up four runs on seven hits and one walk and struck out seven in 6 1/3 innings.
Romero (13-10), meanwhile, ended up giving up five runs on eight hits and three walks and struck five in 6 2/3 innings.
Boone Logan (5-2) pitched a perfect two-thirds of an inning to get credit for the victory. David Robertson, summoned to pitch two innings because both Rafael Soriano and Maraino Rivera were unavailable, held the Jays scoreless to pick up his first save of the season and only the third of his major-league career.
The Jays took an early lead off Colon in the second inning on an Adam Lind leadoff home run and sacrifice fly by J.P. Arencibia to score Edwin Encarnacion later in the inning.
That lead, however, was short-lived. The Yankees struck back in the bottom of the second with three runs, highlighted by a one-out double by Andruw Jones, a two-out single by Eduardo Nunez that scored Jones and a two-run home run from “Babe,” uh, Francisco Cervelli.
Cervelli had only one home run in this season and two in his major-league career until he hit one against Boston on Wednesday night. He now has two home runs in his last six at-bats. The blast into the left-field bleachers gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
However, Wise — who was only in the game because starter Eric Thames left the game in the bottom of the first inning suffering from dizzy spells — led off the third inning with a triple off the first-base bag and down the right-field line. Jose Bautista followed with an RBI single to left.
With the victory, the Yankees remain a half-game ahead of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East with a 84-53 record. The Blue Jays dipped below .500 at 60-70 and they fell 16 games back in fourth place in the division.
- Cano’s barrage of RBIs continues. He now has eight RBIs in his last seven games. Cano started the game poorly by killing a two-on, one-out rally in the first by rolling into a double play on the first pitch he saw from Romero. He rolled out to first on a 1-0 pitch in the third and he lined out sharply to right on the first pitch in the fifth. Cano has been swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone but he is hitting. 307 with 23 home runs and 101 RBIs. Think how great he would be if he were a patient hitter.
- Cervelli has improved as a hitter during the course of the season and he is red hot. After a game in which he was 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs, Cervelli is now 14-for-44 (.386) with two home runs and seven RBIs since July 22 and he has raised his season average from .205 to .274. Cervelli is paid for his defense and handling the pitchers as a backup to Russell Martin. His bat has been a bonus.
- Brett Gardner is also showing definite signs of coming out of his funk. He was 1-for-3 with a home run and two RBIs on Friday. On Saturday, he was 2-for-3 with two stolen bases. He was in a 6-for-53 slide (.113) before Friday’s game. Gardner now has 41 stolen bases and he leads the A.L. Oakland’s Coco Crisp is second with 39.
I will not harp on any negatives considering Mark Teixeira (sore right knee) and Derek Jeter (getting a day off) were not in the lineup. No reason to complain when the team is in first place.
Rodriguez was 1-for-3 with a single, a walk and a run scored in his first game back after missing about a week with a sprained left thumb. With Teixeira out, manager Joe Girardi elected to bat Rodriguez third for the first time this season and Cano batted cleanup. . . . Yankee star prospect Jesus Montero started his second game and for the first time at Yankee Stadium and collected his first major-league hit off Romero with a two-out single in the sixth inning. . . . Teixeira sais his right knee was feeling better Saturday and that he hopes to be able to play on Sunday.
The Yankees have a chance to sweep the three-game series with the Blue Jays on Sunday.
They will have a good shot with ace left-hander CC Sabathia (18-7, 2.99 ERA) toeing the slab. Sabathia won his first game of the season over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday. He gave up 10 hits and two walks but only surrendered two runs in six innings. He is 2-0 this season and 11-3 with a 3.03 ERA lifetime against the Blue Jays.
Toronto will start left-hander Brett Cecil (4-7, 4.51 ERA). In his last start he gave up four runs in a no decision against the Orioles. He is 4-2 with a 4.82 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
Coming from behind had been a Yankee hallmark in 2009. But in 2011, it had only happened once and that was against the Mets on Sunday.
Well, it happened again on Tuesday night.
Curtis Granderson smashed a two-out RBI single in the ninth to tie it and Mark Teixeira drove in Granderson with a game-winning single as New York rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the last two innings to defeat Toronto in front of 41,946 fans at Yankee Stadium.
CC Sabathia (5-3), who was tagged for three runs on a series of sacrifice bunts, bloop hits and a costly error in the fourth inning, stuck around to pitch all nine innings to earn the victory.
The Yankees struggled, as they so often do, with the change-ups from left-handed starter Ricky Romero. He pitched seven innings and only allowed the Yankees a solo home run by Russell Martin in the second inning despite the fact he was tagged for seven hits and three walks. Once again, the Yankees could not get the big hit with runners in scoring position. That is until the Blue Jays bullpen entered the game in the eighth.
The Yankees scored two runs off Casey Janssen and Marc Rzepczynski on a Granderson double, a Robinson Cano two-out RBI double and a Martin single.
But they saved their best for the final stanza. With one out, pinch-hitter Jorge Posada stroked a double to right-center off Jays closer Frank Francisco (1-2). One out later, with pinch-runner Chris Dickerson on third, Granderson singled to right to score Dickerson with the tying run. It was Granderson’s fourth hit in five trips to the plate.
Granderson then stole second to set up Teixeira’s heroics. Teixeira hit a 3-1 Francisco fastball on the ground between second and first base. The ball rolled off the glove of second baseman Aaron Hill and trickled into right-field to allow Granderson to scamper home with the winning run.
The victory gave he Yankees a record of 26-21 and propelled them into first place in the American League East. The Boston Red Sox are a half-game back in second place. The Blue Jays fell to 24-24 and they are in fourth place in the division 2 1/2 games out.
- Granderson is so hot now it looks as if he could a ball the size of a marble. Granderson singled in the third and fifth innings, doubled in the eighth and singled in the ninth. He scored two runs, stole a base and drove in the game-tying run. He raised his season average to .275 and he is second in MLB in home runs with 16 and he fourth in the A.L. with 35 RBIs.
- Teixeira’s game-winning hit was his first in a regular season game for the Yankees. He had a game-winning home run against the Minnesota Twins in the 2009 Division Series. He finally got a face-full of whipped cream pie thanks to A.J. Burnett after the game.
- Give Posada credit for delivering a big hit in the ninth inning that ignited the rally. Posada has been struggling at the plate all season and has been routinely benched of late when left-handers start against the Yankees. But his double in the ninth inning was a clutch hit that was sorely needed.
- Martin is just exceeding everyone’s expectations as a hitter. The Yankees knew we was a top-notch defensive catcher. But they are reaping the rewards of his bat as well. His home run in the second was his ninth of the season and his clutch two-out RBI single in the eighth gave him 26 RBIs on the season. He is batting .270.
- Derek Jeter did not get the job done at all on Tuesday night. He was 0-for-5 with a strikeout and did not get a ball out the infield. In addition to that, he killed a rally in the seventh inning by grounding into a double play with Brett Gardner at second and Eduardo Nunez at third with one out. He also nearly derailed the ninth inning rally by grounding out again for the second out of the inning. Jeter is simply not getting it done with runners in scoring position this season. His average fell to .254.
- Nick Swisher, who was rested to for two days because of a minor forearm injury and the fact he has been struggling at the plate, was not much help either. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and he is now hitting .208 on the season.
- Cano has been a major disappointment in the field this season. His error on a flip from Sabathia on sacrifice bunt attempt by John McDonald kept the inning going and could have been worse if Jose Bautista had not grounded out with the bases loaded. It was Cano’s fifth error of the season. He made only four errors all last season.
The Yankees will go for a series victory on Wednesday against the Blue Jays before heading out on a three-city West Coast roadtrip.
The Yankees will start veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (2-4, 3.12 ERA). Garcia gave up just two runs on five hits over seven innings in a loss to the Mets on Friday. Garcia, as so many other Yankee starters have, fell victim to a lack of run support. He is 6-6 with a 6.06 ERA in 15 career starts against the Blue Jays.
Toronto will counter left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes (0-3, 4.07 ERA). Reyes did not allow a run over seven innings to Houston in his last outing but ended up with a no-decision. He is now winless in his last 27 starts, one away from a major-league record set by Matt Keough. He has never pitched against the Yankees.
Game-time is 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.