RED SOX 5, YANKEES 1
What is about the Yankees and pine-tar incidents? But, to be even more to the point, does anyone see the hypocrisy within the two?
Michael Pineda (2-2) was ejected on Wednesday in the bottom of the second inning by home-plate umpire Gerry Davis for having a foreign substance, Davis said it was pine tar, on his neck. New York, trailing 2-0 at the time, went on to lose to John Lackey (3-2) and Boston in front of a national television audience and a paid crowd of 37,015 at Fenway Park.
The most famous pine-tar incident in Yankee history dates back to July 24, 1983 when George Brett of the Kansas City Royals connected for a two-run home run off Rich “Goose” Gossage with two outs in the ninth inning to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead.
Manager Billy Martin correctly pointed out to home-plate umpire Tim McClelland that Brett’s bat had pine tar within 17 inches from the top in violation of baseball’s rules. McClelland agreed and called Brett out, which set the stage of the famous scene where Brett stormed out of the dugout to confront the umpiring crew and he even bumped into a few.
I have been harboring this question since 1983 but why wasn’t Brett ejected and fined for that outburst? Odd.
Anyway, American League president Lee MacPhail sided with the Royals and their protest of the game and he made the teams play out the bottom of the ninth inning with the Royals ahead 5-4.
He basically was saying that the rule was correctly applied but that pine tar did not have any effect in helping Brett hit the home run.
Now some 31 years later, every baseball manager and pitcher will tell you that pine tar has no effect in a pitcher’s ability to throw a baseball. It simply provides an opportunity for a pitcher to gain a better grip on the ball. So if we are to invoke the “MacPhail Doctrine” to this case than Major League Baseball should reinstate Pineda from his ejection and order the Yankees and Red Sox to resume that game from that point he was ejected, right?
There is a definite double standard at play here.
I am not saying that Pineda was not naive to believe that the pine tar was not visible. But we have to accept his reasoning that after throwing a number of pitches out of the strike zone on a cold and windy night (gusts up into the mid-30s) that he was afraid he might hit somebody and injure them.
If pine tar made Pineda’s slider dive like a majestic eagle and made hitters look like Little League bench players, than I would be on the side of the ejection and the 10-game suspension he was handed. But, absent that, I think we should just replay that game as McPhail would have ordered if he were still in charge.
Red Sox manager John Farrell has now been put into a very dicey situation. The reason is that two of his pitchers, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, are widely known around the league for using pine tar when they are pitching. Buchholz was caught in a very widely publicized incident last season dipping his fingers to his left arm to get a better grip on the baseball.
The Yankees will be ready and waiting to have the umpires undress those pitchers down their jock straps should they suspect they are doing the same thing. So you may want to be careful and that phrase you reap what you sow comes to mind.
Of course, cheating and the Red Sox are pretty much synonymous. They just get better P.R.
David Ortiz was caught doing steroids but he is the Red Sox model held up to the kids in the community. He claimed that some doctor in the Dominican Republic gave him a shot and he did not know what it was. Huh?
Does anyone but me think it is extremely odd that in 2003 Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek and outfielder Trot Nixon hit their career highs in home runs? Varitek hit 25 and Nixon hit 28. In 2004, baseball instituted a new drug testing procedure and Nixon never hit more than 13 home runs in a season after that. Varitek’s power “faded’ suddenly also.
Sports Illustrated actually ran a story indicating that it was well known that both Varitek and Nixon were doing steroids but they were never named in any investigation or listed as failing any drug test.
But the only real reason they were not caught was they were fortunate that nobody in the clubhouse that witnessed it came forward to snitch on them.
So the Red Sox maintain this huge halo around them that seems to suggest that none of their players ever would consider cheating to gain an advantage on the field.
Now that they have fired the first salvo in 2014 at Pineda and the Yankees we will just see where that halo ends up by the end of this season. I am not really sure it will remain so high above their heads.
The Yankees will try to win their second series against the Red Sox on Thursday.
CC Sabathia (2-2, 5.19 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees coming off his best outing of the season. Sabathia held the Tampa Bay Rays to two runs (one earned) in seven innings to even his record on Thursday. He lost his start to the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on April 11 after blanking them over the first five innings.
Left-hander Felix Doubront (1-2, 5.48 ERA) will throw for the Red Sox. Doubront allowed two runs on five hits and two walks and seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings but did not get a decision against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 7, BRAVES 0
LAKE BUENA VISTA – Since 2011, Ivan Nova has been the type of pitcher who can delight a manager with his stuff while at the same time force the same manager to tear out his hair because of his inconsistency.
On Wednesday, Nova thrilled manager Joe Girardi by pitching 6 1/3 innings of shutout baseball, allowing only two hits and not walking a batter. He also had the Braves hitters pulling their hair out as he struck out five and New York blanked Atlanta in front of a sellout crowd of 10,413 at Champion Stadium.
Nova (2-1) was in total command from his first pitch to his last, throwing 49 of his 68 pitches for strikes and allowing only five balls to be hit beyond the infield. The only two hits Nova allowed was a leadoff bloop single to Andrelton Simmons in the third inning and a one-out double to pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit in the sixth.
Meanwhile, the Yankees got to work early against Braves right-hander David Hale (0-2).
Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk in the first, stole second and advanced to third on a fly ball off the ball of Derek Jeter. Carlos Beltran then scored Gardner on a sharp single to right.
The Yankees added a pair of runs after two were out in the fourth when Adonis Garcia laced a two-run double to left to score Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson.
Beltran keyed another two-run rally in the seventh off right-hander Luis Vazquez.
After Jose Gil drew a leadoff walk, pinch-runner Antoan Richardson stole second and Gardner drew his third walk of the day. Jeter’s infield grounder took out Gardner at second but Richardson scored on an error by Simmons, who threw wildly attempting to turn a double play.
Beltran, who entered the game with only three hits all spring, delivered his third single of the day to drive in Yangervis Solarte, who was pinch-running for Jeter in what was his final appearance in a game at Champion Stadium. Jeter drew a loud ovation as he jogged back to the Yankees’ dugout.
In their last four spring games, all of them victories, the Yankees have outscored their opponents 29-5.
The Yankees improved their spring ledger to 12-9-2. The Braves dropped to 8-13.
- Nova, 27, was coming off two outings in which he was shelled for six runs on 17 hits in nine innings. But Nova looked more like the pitcher who was 7-4 with a 2.59 ERA in his final 15 starts of the 2013 season. Nova had the Braves either locked up or flailing away at the 12-to-6 break on his curveball. For those so-called “experts” who have said the Yankees’ starting rotation looks shaky in 2014 may want to reconsider that view. This rotation actually might be its strongest group since 2009 when the team won its 27th world championship.
- Beltran, 36, was 3-for-4 with two RBIs to lead the offense against the Braves. Beltran looks much more relaxed at the plate and the Yankees will look to benefit this season from the veteran switch-hitter batting in the third slot in the order. The eight-time All-Star is a career .283 hitter with 358 major-league home runs.
- The fact that Gardner drew three walks, stole a base and scored a run shows how committed he is to building upon his 2013 season. Gardner is hitting .303 but his on-base percentage is .385. It indicates that he could do some serious damage from the No. 9 spot in the batting order this year.
The Yankees have won four games in a row and they are getting great starting pitching (CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Nova) and the offense is beginning to break out in a big way. They have averaged more than seven runs a game in their past four games. There is nothing negative to say.
The Yankees essentially brought all of their starters to Lake Buena Vista with the exception of first baseman Mark Teixeira and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. . . . Ellsbury remained at the Yankees’ spring complex at Tampa, FL, nursing a sore right calf and Girardi told reporters on Wednesday that the veteran outfielder will play on Friday at the earliest. Ellsbury has been shagging fly balls and hitting but has not tested his leg by running yet. . . . Girardi is noncommittal about who will be selected as the team’s backup at second base for Roberts and at third base for Johnson. Veteran Eduardo Nunez, 26, who also can play shortstop, would appear to be the front-runner. But Girardi said that Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore, Solarte and Zelous Wheeler remain in the fight. Solarte, 26, has been the sensation of the spring, leading the team in hits (15), batting .500 with two homers and a team-leading eight RBIs.
After thrashing Boston on Tuesday 8-1 at George M. Steinbrenner Field the Yankees travel to Fort Myers, FL, to face the Red Sox again on Thursday.
Right-hander David Phelps (0-0, 2.63 ERA) will make his fifth start for the Yankees. Teixiera, Ichiro Suzuki, Francisco Cervelli and Nunez are scheduled to make the trip.
The Bosox plan to pitch injury-prone right-hander Clay Buchholz (2-1, 1.13 ERA).
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
RED SOX 8, YANKEES 2
Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday was a lot like getting dressed to the nines, renting a limo with a beautiful girl escorting you and taking in a Broadway play only to find out that the part of Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” is not being played by Philip Seymour Hoffman but by Emilio Estevez.
No Derek Jeter. No Alex Rodriguez. No Mark Teixeira. No Curtis Granderson.
Heck, this production could be called “Death of a Ballclub” and it looked like it was put on by an amateur repertory company in Paducah, KY.
CC Sabathia (0-1) struggled with his command and gave up four runs in the second inning while the depleted Yankees offense could not make up the margin as Boston became the first team since 1986 to beat New York in a home opener in front of a paid crowd of 49,514.
Jon Lester (1-0) pitched five solid innings, giving up two runs on five hits and two walks while he struck out seven batters. The Red Sox bullpen shut down the Yankees the rest of the way on just one hit and two walks.
Newly acquired Shane Victorino keyed the four-run second inning with a two-out, two-run single that gave the Red Sox a 3-0 lead. He added an RBI single in the ninth that closed out the scoring for the Bosox.
The Yankees lone scoring came in the bottom of the fourth inning when Francisco Cervelli stroked a two-out, two-run single off Lester to draw the Yankees to within two runs at 4-2.
But the Red Sox added a single run in the seventh and three more in the ninth.
- Though it seems odd to say this, the Red Sox did not exactly rip the cover off the ball against the Yankees. There was a bunt single and four infield hits among the Red Sox 13 hits. The Red Sox got timely hits and they could not have rolled them into better spots. They were more lucky than good.
- Cervelli has always seemed to have a knack for getting the big hit at the right time and it is starting to look like his 2013 season may be no different. He laced a 1-2 cutter off Lester down the left-field line to score Kevin Youkilis, who led off the inning with a double, and Vernon Wells, who drew a walk.
- Former Mariners right-hander Shawn Kelley made his Yankee debut and pitched a perfect eighth inning, striking out one batter and needing only 12 pitches to dispatch the Red Sox. Kelley was the only Yankee relief pitcher to pitch a perfect inning.
- Sabathia has always been a slow starter so it is no surprise that he is 0-2 with a 7.42 over his five Opening Day starts with the Yankees. Sabathia was tagged for four runs on eight hits and four walks and he struck out five in his five innings of work.
- Joba Chamberlain’s 2013 debut was nothing to write home about either. He gave up a single and two walks to load the bases with one out. After fanning Jose Iglesias, Jacoby Ellsbury hit an infield single that scored two runs and Victorino followed with a single to left to end Chamberlain’s day. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and he is going to have to pitch better than he did on Tuesday if he wants to reman in pinstripes.
- With the lefty Lester pitching, manager Joe Girardi elected to bat Eduardo Nunez second and shift Ichiro Suzuki to the seventh spot in the order. Nunez ended up going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and he left three men on base while not getting a ball out of the infield.
As part of the Opening Day ceremonies, the Yankees paid tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting last December in Newtown, CT. The Yankees saluted the first responders to the tragedy and conducted a solemn moment of silence for the victims and their families. . . . Rodriguez was with the team for the first time since Game 4 of last October’s American League Championship Series and he told reporters than his rehab from surgery on his left hip is going well. But he did not say when he would be able to return – only that it would be this season. Rodriguez said, “I love when people say, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you’re old.’ I find it a great challenge.” He declined to comment on questions about the Miami clinic that has been alleged to have distributed performance-enhancing drugs to a number of major-league players including Rodriguez. . . . Right-hander Phil Hughes threw seven innings in an extended spring training game for High-A Tampa at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa, FL. Meanwhile, Jeter and Granderson also participated in workouts.
The Yankees will have a day off to regroup from their disappointing opener before playing the Red Sox on Wednesday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-2, 1.53 ERA) is coming off a career-year in 2012 with career highs in victories, starts, innings and strikeouts. He also had an excellent spring. He is 2-1 with a 3.43 ERA against the Red Sox in his career.
Kuroda will be opposed by right-hander Clay Buccholz (3-0, 0.79 ERA), who is coming of a disastrous 2012 campaign marred by injury and ineffectiveness. He was 11-8 with a 4.46 ERA. He is 2-5 with a 7.19 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast locally by the YES Network and nationally by ESPN2.
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.