YANKEES 5, RED SOX 1
The Boston Red Sox came into Friday’s opener against the New York Yankees riding a four-game winning streak and hoping to elbow their way out of the cellar to get closer that the 5 1/2 games back they were in the American League East.
Instead they ran into right-hander Michael Pineda and they may have lost their ace pitcher to a serious elbow injury.
Pineda used his laser-like control to hold the Red Sox to one run over 6 2/3 innings and the Yankees took advantage of Clay Buchholz leaving the game in the fourth inning as New York downed Boston in front of a national TV audience at Fenway Park.
The Yankees won their third straight game and not only maintained their three-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the division but also dropped the last-place Red Sox to 6 1/2 games back.
Pineda (9-5) only gave up a solo home run to Mookie Betts with one out in the fifth inning to bring the Bosox to within three runs at 4-1. Pineda yielded one run on seven hits and no walks while he fanned six batters to record his first victory since he defeated the Miami Marlins 2-1 at Yankee Stadium on June 17.
Meanwhile, the Yankees took an early lead on Buchholz and the Red Sox with two out in the first inning when Alex Rodriguez blasted his 17th home run of the season over the Green Monster in left and onto Landsdowne Street.
Coming into the contest Rodriguez was 11-for-27 (.407) with two home runs in his career against Buchholz.
The Yankees added to their slim lead in the fourth in an inning that the Red Sox committed two errors while the Yankees batted around and scored three runs by getting only two balls into the outfield.
Brian McCann started the rally with a bloop single to shallow left-center. One out later, Didi Gregorius laced a double off the Green Monster in left to advance McCann to third.
After Buchholz delivered a ball to Stephen Drew to even the count at 1-1, the right-hander called his catcher Sandy Leon and later the team trainer to the mound. Without testing his right elbow, Buchholz left the game in favor of left-hander Robbie Ross Jr.
That is when the Red Sox fielding issues and the speed of both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner came into play to allow the Yankees to extend their lead.
Drew hit a ball to first baseman Mike Napoli but the ball caromed away from him and Ross was unable to get his foot on the base to retire Drew for an error, which loaded the bases.
One out later, the Red Sox had an opportunity to end the inning but All-Star infielder Brock Holt bobbled a grounder off the bat of Ellsbury and he was unable to beat him with his throw to first.
Gardner then hit another routine ground ball to Napoli. But Gardner was able to slide head first into the bag before Ross could get his foot down for an RBI single. Ross then compounded the Red Sox problems by walking Rodriguez on a 3-2 pitch to force in a run.
Buchholz (7-7) ended up being charged with three runs (one earned) on six hits and no walks with three strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings.
He left the game in what was reported later by the team as tightness in his right elbow. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI late Friday to determine the severity of the injury but there was no report on what the results indicated.
The Yankees added a final run in the eighth inning off right-hander Matt Barnes and left-hander Craig Breslow. Barnes walked Chris Young and then hit Gregorius with a pitch. Breslow entered the game and managed to retire Young at third on a botched sacrifice bunt by Drew and Cole Figueroa on a weak popup. However, Ellsbury slapped a single to center to score Gregorius to extend the lead to 5-1.
The Yankees turned to their vaunted bullpen to close out the Red Sox and preserve the victory for Pineda.
Left-hander Justin Wilson, right-hander Dellin Betances and left-hander Andrew Miller held the Red Sox hitless over the final 2 1/3 innings to seal it.
With the victory the Yankees are now 47-39. The Red Sox fell to 41-46.
- Pineda managed to follow up an excellent pitching performance by Masahiro Tanaka against the Oakland Athletics on Thursday. The Yankees’ right-handed duo combined to give up just three runs (two earned) on nine hits and one walk with 12 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings. That is a 1.26 ERA and a 0.70 WHIP. If Pineda and Tanaka pitch like this on a consistent basis there is no team in the division that stay with the Yankees in the second half.
- Rodriguez added to his totals against Buchholz with the home run and a single he hit in the third inning. He is now 13-for-29 (.448) with three home runs in his career against the right-hander. Rodriguez was 2-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and two RBIs on the night. He is now batting .279 with 17 home runs and 49 RBIs on the season.
- Ellsbury came back to haunt his former team by going 1-for-5 with an RBI. But it was his and Gardner’s speed that set the stage for the three-run inning that sunk the Red Sox. Running out the error allowed the Yankees to load the bases and Gardner’s infield RBI single started the scoring. This is the toughest 1-2 hitting tandem in baseball, period.
Pineda was great. A-Rod got two big RBIs and the Yankees’ speed helped force some shoddy defense. If the Red Sox lose Buchholz for any length of time, which looks very likely at this point, they will have a very difficult time climbing out of the division cellar. How could things be any better for the Yankees?
Although third baseman Chase Headley ran in the outfield before the game Friday, the Yankees did not use him in the game. Manager Joe Girardi said it is possible that the Yankees could elect to rest Headley until after the All-Star break. Headley, 31, has missed the past three games with inflammation in his right calf. Figueroa started in his place on Friday and was 0-for-4. . . . Outfielder Carlos Beltran, 38, is scheduled to play a few minor league rehab games in Tampa, FL, during the All-Star break and he hopes to be able to return to the team on July 17 when the Yankees play host to the Seattle Mariners. Beltran was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 1 with a left oblique strain. Beltran is hitting .260 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs in 66 games. . . . With the Red Sox scheduled to throw two left-handers this weekend, the Yankees are planning to recall rookie second baseman Rob Refsnyder from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Refsnyder, 24, is batting .290 with seven homers and 37 RBIs in 81 games with the RailRiders. Refsnyder bats right-handed and Drew, who bats left-handed, is hitting .182 with 12 homers and 25 RBIs in 78 games.
The Yankees will have a chance to win the three-game series against the Red Sox on Saturday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-2, 2.65 ERA) will make his fourth start of the season for the Yankees. Nova, 28, surrendered three runs on six hits and three walks with one strikeout in five innings in a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.
The Red Sox will send left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (4-2, 3.69 ERA) to the mound. Rodriguez gave up one run on six hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in five innings in a no-decision against the Houston Astros on Sunday.
Game-time will be 7:15 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports.
YANKEES 6, ATHLETICS 2
Masahiro Tanaka was well aware of the whispers after he went 0-2 with a 6.26 ERA in his past four starts. They were saying that he was not pitching well because of that slightly torn right elbow ligament.
On Thursday he got a chance to silence those naysayers and he did it in style.
Tanaka (5-3) pitched two-hit baseball over 7 2/3 innings and newly selected All-Star team replacement Brett Gardner homered while Jacoby Ellsbury added two RBIs as New York won the three-game series over Oakland in front of paid crowd of 40,084 at Yankee Stadium.
After Gardner hit his 10th home run with one out in the first inning to hand him an early 1-0 lead, Tanaka struggled in the second inning.
Josh Reddick reached on a rare catcher’s interference call on Brian McCann. Billy Butler followed with an RBI double to left that scored Reddick. Two outs later, Mark Canha plated Butler with an RBI double off the center-field wall.
Though the Athletics did not know it, Tanaka would then go on to retire the next 18 batters he faced without giving up a hit or a walk. Butler did reach first with one out in the fourth inning after striking out on a wild pitch.
So Tanaka ended his day being charged with two runs (one earned) on two hits and no walks and he struck out six in a masterful season-high 114-pitch performance.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were able to tie the game in the bottom of the third inning against right-hander Jesse Chavez.
Ellsbury drew a leadoff four-pitch walk and Gardner followed with a single to center as part of his three-hit day. Mark Teixeira then scored Ellsbury on a single up the middle for his 62nd RBI of the season, which leads the American League.
The Yankees took the lead for good in the fourth after Chavez issued Stephen Drew a one-out walk and Cole Figueroa, who was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day, delivered one of his two doubles on the afternoon to advance Drew to third. Ellsbury then laced a two-run single to right to score Drew and Figueroa.
Chavez (4-2) surrendered four runs on seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts in five innings.
The Yankees added a pair of unearned runs in the eighth inning off right-hander Fernando Rodriguez.
Chris Young drew a one-out walk and Figueroa followed one out later with a ground-rule double to right. Both Young and Figueroa scored when Marcus Semien fielded Ellsbury’s ground ball but committed his major-league-leading 28th error of the season when first baseman Ike Davis was unable to catch his errant throw.
Left-hander Chasen Shreve and right-hander Adam Warren combined to throw 1 1/3 scoreless innings to close out the victory for Tanaka.
With the victory the Yankees are now 46-39 and they have opened up a three-game lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The A’s dropped to 39-49.
- Tanaka’s final start before the All-Star break was just what he needed to build upon after he missed more than a month with an arm injury unrelated to his elbow ligament tear. He is 5-3 with a 3.63 ERA in 11 starts. In order for the Yankees to maintain their lead in the division it will be important for Tanaka to pitch closer to the 13-5 and 2.77 ERA he recorded last season in 20 starts. I would not want to bet against him doing it after seeing him on Thursday.
- Ellsbury’s return to the lineup on Wednesday after being activated from the disabled list paid big dividends in this game. He and Gardner combined to go 4-for-9 with a walk, a home run, three singles, two runs scored and three RBIs. They reached base in seven of their 10 at-bats. Gardner was 3-for-5 and is now hitting .303 on the season. This speedy tandem is going to create a lot of havoc on the bases in the second half as long as they stay healthy.
- Figueroa, 28, was called up to play third base in the absence of Chase Headley, who has some minor inflammation in his right calf. All Figueroa did was go 2-for-4 with two doubles and he scored two runs in his first major-league game. Figueroa was hitting .317 with three homers and 36 RBIs in 77 games at Scranton.
Nothing negative here. The Yankees got a great effort from their ace right-hander and with Gardner and Ellsbury getting on base often it is going to be difficult for teams to keep the Yankees from scoring runs in bunches. The rest of the division better watch out.
In order for the team to call up Figueroa the Yankees sent Jose Pirela, 23, to Scranton. Pirela was hitting a disappointing .212 with one home run and four RBIs in 29 games. Pirela hit.305 at Scranton last season and batted a robust .370 this spring. But he has not found his stroke with the Yankees this season. In addition, the Yankees had to designate for assignment outfielder Taylor Dugas, 25, to make room on the 40-man roster for Figueroa. . . . In the fifth inning the public address announced that Gardner, 31, had been selected by Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals – who is managing the American League All-Star team – to replace outfielder Alex Gordon of the Royals on the roster. Gordon suffered an injured groin in a game on Wednesday and will be sidelined for a minimum of six weeks. Gordon had been selected to start for the American League in the fan vote. For Gardner it was the first time he had been selected for the team. Gardner is batting .303 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs this season.
The Yankees will open their final pre-All-Star Game series with their hated rival Boston Red Sox on Friday at Fenway Park.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (8-5, 3.79 ERA) will start the series for the Yankees. Pineda pitched a brilliant seven innings of shutout baseball. yielding only five hits and one walk while striking out 10 against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. He did not get a decision but the Yankees eventually won the game in the ninth inning.
Right-hander Clay Buchholz (7-6, 3.27 ERA) will start for the Red Sox. Buchholz threw nine innings of one-run baseball, giving up six hits, no walks and striking five in a complete-game victory over the Houston Astros 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 WPIX.
YANKEES 14, RED SOX 4
Just when the fans and media were in panic mode the Yankees had a big surprise awaiting their hated rival on Sunday. After scoring only 17 runs in their first four games, the Yankees pounded the Red Sox for 14 runs and 16 hits.
Alex Rodriguez lashed a bases-clearing double and Chase Headley and Stephen Drew hit back-to-back home runs as New York pounded Boston’s Clay Buchholz for seven first-inning runs in a rout witnessed by a paid crowd of 43,019 at Yankee Stadium and a national TV audience.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (1-1) was the beneficiary as he yielded four runs (three earned) on four hits and three walks while he fanned four in five innings of work. Although Tanaka was far from dominant, he did manage to silence those who believed he was pitching hurt.
Meanwhile, the Yankees sent 10 batters to the plate against Buchholz (1-1), who entered the season as the Red Sox ace despite an 8-11 record and 5.34 ERA last season.
After the Red Sox scored three runs off Tanaka in the fourth inning, keyed by a two-run double off the bat of Xander Bogaerts, the Yankees chased Buchholz in the bottom of the frame with three runs of their own.
After Didi Gregorius and Jacoby Ellsbury reached on singles, Brett Gardner hit a two-run single up the middle to score both. After an infield hit by Carlos Beltran, the Yankees chased Buchholz on a sacrifice fly by Mark Teixeira that made it 10-3.
Buchholz was charged with 10 runs (nine earned) on nine hits and two walks with three strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings.
It was the worst beating a Red Sox starting pitcher has suffered from the Yankees in nearly 70 years. The last time the Yankees scored 10 runs off a Red Sox starter was against Dave “Boo” Ferriss on June 21, 1945.
With the victory the Yankees prevented a Red Sox sweep of the three-game series and improved their record to 2-4. The Red Sox are 4-2.
- Rodriguez was pinch-hit for in the eighth and ended up 1-for-2 with a double, two walks, a run scored and four RBIs. He is 6-for-20 (.300) on the season with a homer and a team-leading six RBIs. His three-run double in the first inning set the tone for the whole evening and it certainly appears that if he remains healthy he is primed for what could be an impressive comeback season.
- Headley was 3-for-5 with two singles, a homer, a run scored and three RBIs. He entered the game 3-for-22 (.136) and he already had committed two errors on the young season. But on Sunday he looked like the same player who won the Silver Slugger Award and the Gold Glove with the San Diego Padres in 2012 when he hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs.
- Brian McCann homered to lead off the eighth inning off closer Edward Mujica to complete the scoring. It was McCann’s first home run of the season the 200th of his career. The shot was a line drive that scraped to the top of the wall in right-field but it still counts as a home run. He is now 4-for-11 (.364) in his past two starts.
The Yankees committed another error, had a runner caught stealing and had another doubled up running the bases but it really does not matter much in the end. Watching them bust out the heavy lumber to thrash their hated rival is never worth nitpicking over.
The Yankees on Sunday designated for assignment left-hander Matt Tracy and selected the contract of right-hander Kyle Davies from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Davies, 31, had not pitched in a major-league game since 2011 with the Kansas City Royals. Davies entered the game with two in the seventh and did not yield a run on three hits and no walks. Tracy, 26, pitched two innings in Saturday’s 8-4 defeat, giving three runs (none earned) on two hits and two walks and one strikeout. The Yankees were forced to make the moves to bolster their bullpen because of the 19-inning game they lost to the Red Sox 6-5 on early Saturday morning.
The Yankees will head out on their first road trip and the first stop is at Camden Yards to face the Baltimore Orioles on Monday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda will start for the Yankees. Pineda, 26, held the Toronto Blue Jays to two runs on six hits and one walk while he struck out six in six solid innings on Wednesday. However, Pineda did not get a decision though the Yankees rallied to win the game later.
Pineda will be opposed by left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who did not get a decision either after giving up three runs on four hits and two walks in 4 1/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by WPIX.
RED SOX 8, YANKEES 4
Joe Kelly limited the Yankees to one run and one hit over seven innings and Boston took advantage New York’s fatigued bullpen to post a victory in front of a paid crowd of 46,678 at Yankee Stadium and a national television audience.
Kelly (1-0), who was just activated off the 15-day disabled list to make his first start for the Red Sox, yielded a leadoff single to Alex Rodriguez, issued a one-out walk to Garrett Jones and then uncorked a wild pitch to allow both runners to advance. Didi Gregarious then lofted a sacrifice fly to score Rodriguez.
Kelly retired the last 17 batters he faced.
Meanwhile, Adam Warren (0-1) was undone by some shaky Yankees defense and a pair of RBI singles by Daniel Nava. Warren, making only his fourth major-league start, was charged with two ones (one earned) on five hits and two walks with one strikeout in 5 1/3 innings.
The Red Sox then added to their lead in the seventh inning with three runs keyed by a two-run double off the bat of Dustin Pedroia against right-hander Chris Martin. They added more in the eighth on Brock Holt’s three-run double off left-hander Matt Tracy.
All the runs were unearned due to a costly error by third baseman Chase Headley. The Yankees committed three errors in the game and they now have eight on the season.
Tracy was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in place of Chasen Shreve after Shreve was forced to throw 3 1/3 innings in Friday’s 19-inning marathon that the Red Sox won 6-5.
The Yankees did manage to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the eighth on a three-run home run by Chris Young off right-hander Alexi Ogando. It was Young’s first home run of the season.
The Yankees are now 1-4 on the young season and the Red Sox are 4-1.
- Give Young credit for the home run. The 31-year-old outfielder was starting in place of Jacoby Ellsbury, who manager Joe Girardi elected to rest along with first baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Stephen Drew and catcher Brian McCann. Young had a good spring and it appears that he will be a big help to the Yankees off the bench this season.
- One hit in seven innings against a pitcher who spent two weeks on the disabled list? In anybody’s book that is real bad and Girardi is scratching his head for answers. Management decided to fire long-time hitting coach Kevin Long and hired Jeff Pentland to get the offense untracked this season. It appears it was not Long’s fault. The problem rests with the hitters who are not producing. The Yankees are hitting .193 as a team. Ouch!
- The three errors also puzzle me because the defense was supposed to be a big strength. But if you look at the fact the Yankees were playing Rodriguez out of position at first, a backup second baseman and two reserve outfielders it can create problems. John Ryan Murphy has been a mess defensively behind the plate this season. In Saturday’s game he committed a throwing error and his second passed ball of the season. Poor fielding and mental errors in the field are killing this team.
- Carlos Beltran got a “half-day off” as the team’s designated hitter and ended up going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He is batting .100 on the season and is one of the big reasons why the Yankees are sputtering on offense. The team needs him to hit and produce numbers to contend. If he doesn’t this team is not going very far at all.
The Yankees will try to salvage the third and final game of the series against the Red Sox on Sunday.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (0-1) will start for the Yankees off a lackluster debut on Monday in which he yielded five runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks in four innings against the Toronto Blue Jays. There are a lot of concerns about his reduced velocity.
The Red Sox will counter with right-hander Clay Buchholz (1-0), who pitched three-hit shutout baseball for seven innings to defeat the Philadelphia Phillies.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN.
With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.
NEW YORK YANKEES
First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.
That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.
With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.
The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.
Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.
However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?
The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are – at least for now – going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.
The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.
If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.
Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.
All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.
A pair of speed demons – Ellsbury and Gardner – are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.
Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.
The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.
The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.
The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.
Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.
That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.
Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.
He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.
It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.
This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.
Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.
But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.
Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.
Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.
What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.
Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.
But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.
The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.
Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base – although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.
The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.
John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.
But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.
But the promise is even brighter longer term.
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.
Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.
At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.
Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.
Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.
Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.
This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.
Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.
With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.
Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.
They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.
A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.
BOSTON RED SOX
This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.
Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.
They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.
However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.
Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.
No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.
There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?
Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.
The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.
Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.
The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.
They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.
The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.
They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).
They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.
This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.
Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?
Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.
They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!
After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans – all of about 7,000 of them a game – it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.
Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.
To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.
The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.
Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.
You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.
Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.
So there is a lot to like.
The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.
They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.
It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!
But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)
3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)
4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86) Hello Montreal!
The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!
Is makin’ me late
Is keepin’ me waitin’ “
– By Carly Simon
YANKEES 4, RED SOX 1
The New York Yankees have bided their time for two years to see Michael Pineda pitch off the mound in Yankee Stadium in pinstripes and on Friday they finally got a front-row seat. Judging by the results of his outing it was well worth the wait.
Pineda (1-1) threw six-plus dazzling innings of one-run, four-hit baseball while striking out seven in his debut in the Bronx as New York struck the first blow against their hated rival Boston in front of paid crowd of 42, 821.
The 25-year-old Dominican right-hander did not give up a hit until Xander Bogaerts singled to lead off the fifth inning, he walked two and he threw 64 of his 94 pitches for strikes. The only run he surrendered was a leadoff home run to Daniel Nava in the seventh inning.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to score a pair of runs in the fourth and fifth innings against right-hander Clay Buchholz (0-1).
The Yankees used an error by third baseman Jonathan Herrera on Jacoby Ellsbury’s slow roller to lead off the fourth to score a pair of unearned runs. Carlos Beltran followed with a single through an exaggerated shift in right-center to advance Ellsbury to second.
Brian McCann, who entered the game hitting .152 and was hitless in his previous 14 at-bats, then delivered an RBI single down the right-field line to score Ellsbury.
Beltran advanced to third and scored on a double-play grounder off the bat of Alfonso Soriano.
The Yankees padded their 2-0 lead with one out in the fifth when Dean Anna, who was playing in order to allow second baseman Brian Roberts rest, hit his first major-league home run 15 rows deep into the right-field bleachers.
With two out, Derek Jeter laced a ground-rule double to right and Ellsbury, playing in his first game against the team for which he played for seven major-league seasons, slapped an opposite-field single to left to score Jeter.
Left-hander Cesar Cabral and David Phelps held the Red Sox hitless over the final three innings to preserve the victory.
Phelps pitched 2 1/3 innings of perfect relief while striking out three to earn his first major-league save.
But no one shined brighter than Pineda on this evening with a national television audience watching on the MLB Network.
The Yankees acquired Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos from the Seattle Mariners on Jan. 23, 2012 in exchange for catcher Jesus Montero, the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, and right-hander Hector Noesi.
Pineda ended spring training in 2012 with a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required surgery. He missed all of the 2012 season and he only pitched 10 games in three minor-league stops in 2013 rehabbing after the surgery.
For the Yankees the wait was a long one but the on-field result could not have been much better if they scripted it.
With the victory the Yankees evened their season record to 5-5. The Red Sox fell to 4-6.
- On the heels of his tough-luck loss against the Toronto Blue Jays last Saturday, Pineda is looking like the best No. 5 starter in baseball. He has yielded two runs on nine hits and two walks while he has struck out 12 in his first 12 innings. His ERA is a team-best 1.50 among the starters and his WHIP is an amazing 0.92. Pineda’s slider looks devastating because all seven of his punch-outs on Thursday were swinging.
- As a seven-time All-Star, McCann is just too good a player to struggle with the bat for long. Perhaps his RBI hit Thursday will get him going. Although McCann is hitting .152, he only has struck out four times in 33 at-bats. So it only is only a matter of time before some opponents start paying the price.
- Phelps, 27, entered the game with a 9.62 ERA and he had given up three home runs in his first 3 1/3 innings this season. But Phelps came into the game with two outs in the seventh and retired seven Red Sox in a row to earn a save for a bullpen that had closer David Robertson on the disabled list and his replacement Shawn Kelley unavailable to pitch.
When your No. 5 starter is as dominant as Pineda was and you are getting a home run from the 25th man on the roster in Anna than you do not have much to complain about. That is especially true when the opponent you beat is the Red Sox. To me that is a, pardon the pun, a red-letter day.
Pineda, Cabral and Phelps saved the Yankees by pitching so well on Thursday. Manager Joe Girardi told reporters that Kelley would not pitch because he threw 30 pitches in the ninth inning when he gave up two runs in 5-3 loss the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. Adam Warren, who had pitched in three of the previous four games, and Vidal Nuno also were unavailable. That left Girardi with left-handers Cabral and Matt Thornton and right-handers Phelps, Dellin Betances and rookie Shane Greene. . . . Ellsbury, 30, and Thornton, 37, will be presented their 2013 World Series rings by Red Sox manager John Farrell on Friday.
The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Red Sox on Friday with a battle between the team’s aces.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (1-1, 7.50 ERA) will be on the mound for the Yankees. Sabathia yielded four runs on seven hits in six innings to defeat the Blue Jays on Sunday.
He will be opposed by left-hander Jon Lester (0-2, 2.51 ERA). Lester surrendered four runs (two earned) on seven hits and a walk in 7 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.
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.
ORIOLES 5, YANKEES 4
With Mariano Rivera retired and his successor David Robertson on the disabled list the Yankees will admit that their bullpen is not as strong as it could be. Robertson’s replacement Shawn Kelley found out just how frustrating life can be pitching in the ninth inning.
Nick Markakis hit a bloop RBI single and Chris Davis later added a sacrifice fly off Kelley to break a 3-3 tie as Baltimore edged New York to win their three-game series in front of a paid crowd of 39,412 at Yankee Stadium.
The Orioles opened the ninth off Kelley(0-1) with a double off the bat of Ryan Flaherty and a bloop single by Jonathan Schoop. Markakis then muscled his single that scored Flaherty.
Delmon Young then dunked in another bloop single to load the bases and Davis smacked a deep fly ball to center that scored Schoop.
Brian Matusz pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning of relief to earn the victory. Tommy Hunter was credited with a save despite being tagged with a sacrifice fly off the bat of Brian Roberts that scored Alfonso Soriano, who doubled to lead off the frame.
The game actually was supposed to feature Japanese right-hander Masohiro Tanaka, who was making his debut at Yankee Stadium.
However, Schoop put a damper on that with two outs in the second inning.
With Matt Wieters on first and Flaherty at second, Schoop launched a 1-0 pitch high and deep down the left-field line for his first home run of the season and only the second of his career. That cast a huge hush over the crowd.
But the Yankees managed to recover against right-hander Miguel Gonzalez when Carlos Beltran led off the second inning with a his first home run as a Yankee and the 359th of his career, which pushed him past Yogi Berra on the all-time list.
Two batters later, Kelly Johnson hit his second home run in as many nights to make it 3-2.
Beltran also sparked the rally that tied the game in the fourth when he led off with a double, advanced to third on a flyout and scored on Soriano’s RBI groundout.
Although Tanaka gave up the three-run homer he ended up giving up seven hits and one walk but he frustrated the power-laden Orioles by striking out 10 batters, most of them on his signature split-finger fastball.
After striking out eight batters in Toronto in his first start, Tanaka became only the second pitcher in Yankee history to strike out at least eight batters in his first two games since Allen Russell did it in 1915.
With the defeat the Yankees fell under the .500 mark at 4-5. The Orioles have the same record.
- Tanaka, 25, may still be learning that No. 9 hitters in the major leagues are tougher than those in Japan but he still pitched a quality game. He threw 71 of his 101 pitches for strikes. Tanaka also struck out Young, Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz twice apiece and Markakis, Davis, Wieters and Schoop once.
- Beltran had himself a very nice breakout game in which he was 3-for-3 with a homer, a double, a single, two runs scored and and an RBI. With Brett Gardner on third and two outs in the eighth inning, Orioles manager Buck Showalter had Matusz walk Beltran intentionally in order to pitch to Brian McCann. McCann flied out to end the threat.
- Johnson was 2-for-4 with a homer, a single, a run scored and an RBI. He has now raised his early-season average to .280. The Yankees need Johnson to provide power in the absence of first baseman Mark Teixeira and Johnson is proving that he can do just that.
- McCann’s struggles at the plate continue though he did do better than the his 0-4 indicated. He had one hit taken away by the severe shift the Orioles employed with third baseman Schoop fielding his ground ball in shallow right and throwing him out. His flyout to center in the eighth just missed the warning track and was well struck. Nonetheless, McCann is hitting just .152 and his struggles are hurting the offense.
- After coming into the game as the Yankees’ hottest hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury was 0-for-4 in the game. In his defense, however, he lined out hard to left- and right-field in two of his at-bats. Ellsbury is still hitting a robust .364 and the Yankees seem to like him in the No. 3 spot with Teixeira out of the lineup.
- Kelley gave up two runs on four hits in a very ugly ninth inning but he was not hammered all over the yard. The Orioles benefitted from three consecutive singles by Schoop, Markakis and Young that sounded like they were hit with a wet newspaper. Two out them came on two-strike pitches and the 1-0 pitch Markakis hit was ankle high. The point is that you can blame the loss on Kelley but he did not pitch poorly. The Orioles were more lucky than good.
The Yankees elected to option catcher Austin Romine to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday and they recalled right-hander Shane Greene from the same club. Greene, 25, was the Yankees’ Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in 2013 after he was 12-10 with a 3.38 ERA. Though Greene is starting pitcher he will pitch out of the bullpen for the Yankees. The move gives the Yankees 13 pitchers and 12 position players. . . . Jones, the Orioles’ loud-mouth outfielder got touchy when reporters asked him about having to face Tanaka. “Why don’t you ask Tanaka about me?,” Jones bellowed. “I’m the one who’s been over here in the major leagues for a while. Congratulations, he did it over there. Don’t make it like he’s the dirtiest guy in the world. He was 24-0-in Japan . . . At the end of the day, we’ve got to judge it off major-league hitters, not the Japanese hitters. We’re a little bit better over here as hitters.” Tanaka struck out Jones the first two times he faced him.
The Yankees open a four-game home weekend series against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (0-1, 1.50) will make his Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes. After missing two full seasons, Pineda yielded one run on five hits with no walks while he fanned five in six innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.
The Red Sox will start right-hander Clay Buchholz (0-0, 12.46 ERA), who was hammered for six runs on 13 hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday. He has not fared well against the Yankees. He enters the game with an ERA of 5.32 against them.
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!
YANKEES 3, RED SOX 2
All of the pundits seem to agree that after Michael Pineda’s sterling effort against the Red Sox on Tuesday that the battle for the Yankees’ No. 5 spot in the starting rotation is over. The only problem is that right-hander David Phelps never got the memo.
Phelps pitched an impressive six innings and hot-hitting Francisco Cervelli and Ichiro Suzuki provided the offense as New York swept the two-game home and away series against Boston on Thursday at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.
Phelps (1-0) held the Red Sox to no runs on a hit and a walk and he had retired 14 of the first 16 batters he faced until he ran into trouble in the sixth while holding a 3-0 lead.
David Ross led off with a single and was erased on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Jonathan Herrera. Grady Sizemore singled and, one out later, Dustin Pedroia doubled in pinch-runner Carlos Rivero and Sizemore to draw the Bosox within a run.
After Phelps walked David Ortiz he ended the threat by retiring Mike Napoli on an infield popup.
The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead in the contest when Cervelli led off the second inning with a long blast over the Green Monster in left off right-hander Clay Buchholz (2-2). It was Cervelli’s fourth home run of the spring, which leads the team.
Buchholz retired the first two batters in the fifth but then walked Zoilo Almonte. Zelous Wheeler followed with a opposite-field double and Suzuki plated both Almonte and Wheeler with a single to right-center.
The Yankees’ relievers, Chris Leroux, Fred Lewis and Matt Daley, held the Red Sox scoreless over the final three innings to clinch the victory. Daley pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.
The Yankees have now won five straight Grapefruit League contests and they are now 13-9-2. The Red Sox slumped to 8-13.
- Phelps looked confident and in command in his effort against the Red Sox. He threw 57 of his 86 pitches for strikes and actually came within one pitch of throwing a perfect pitcher’s inning in the second inning. He threw three consecutive called strikes to both Napoli and Daniel Nava. He then tossed two straight called strikes to Xander Bogaerts before throwing a ball. He then retired Bogaerts on an infield grounder. Phelps’ spring ERA ticked up a bit to 2.75 but he has done very well in his battle to start.
- They need to start calling Cervelli “Babe” after his spring power display. In addition to his four home runs, Cervelli is 15-for-31 (.484) with six extra-base hits and seven RBIs. Because he is out of options he is not going to be sent to the minors. The Yankees will either keep him as the backup to All-Star catcher Brian McCann or he could be traded. It is beginning to look like the Yankees will not trade him. But nothing is certain.
- After looking overmatched at the plate early this spring, Suzuki is starting to come on with the bat. In his past three spring games, Suzuki is 4-for-10 (.400) with four RBIs. That has raised his spring average to .219. Suzuki looks to be the team’s fifth outfielder this season unless he is traded before spring training ends.
The team has won five in a row, including two victories over the Red Sox. The starting pitching has been good and the offense really has picked up over the past week. There is nothing to complain about.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury had an MRI conducted on his sore right calf and the results came back negative, manager Joe Girardi informed reporters on Thursday. Ellsbury has not played in a game since March 14. He did not take batting practice on Thursday and he has not resumed running yet. Girardi said although there is no pain in Ellsbury’s calf, there is some lingering soreness. Ellsbury remains day-to-day. . . . Infielder Brendan Ryan had to be scratched from Thursday’s lineup with upper back spasms. Ryan, 31, has not played in a game since March 4 and he hoped to play Thursday. But Ryan felt his back tighten up as he participated in infield practice. Ryan is now in jeopardy of beginning the season on the disabled list. That would open a backup infield spot on the roster for either Dean Anna or Yangervis Solarte. Eduardo Nunez likely would claim the other backup spot and platoon with Kelly Johnson at third base.
The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, on Friday to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will make the start for the Yankees. He will be opposed by right-hander Edinson Volquez (0-2, 11.00 ERA).
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the MLB Network via ROOT Sports of Pittsburgh.
ORIOLES 5, YANKEES 3
Ryan Flaherty, Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold each hit solo home runs and Jason Hammel pitched six solid innings as Baltimore edged New York on Saturday in front of a paid crowd of 41,851 at Yankee Stadium.
All three solo home runs came off Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes (0-2), who is showing signs that he is now paying for missing all of spring training with a bulging disk in his upper back.
Hughes was hammered for five runs on nine hits and two walks and struck out three in four-plus innings of work.
The Yankees scored all their runs as a result of their new acquisitions. They got a pair of solo home runs from Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells and an RBI single from Lyle Overbay. But the Yankees could not overcome Hughes’ struggles enough to mount a late charge against the Baltimore bullpen.
Brian Matusz, Darren O’Day and closer Jim Johnson shut out the Yankees in the final three innings and Johnson was credited with his fifth save of the season.
Hammel (2-1) gave up three runs (two earned) on eight hits and a walk while he struck out four to pick up the victory.
The Yankees had their four-game winning streak halted and their season record fell to 5-5. The Orioles improved to 6-5.
- Wells blasted his third home run of the season to bring the Yankees to within 5-3 but the Yankee offense pretty much died after that. Wells was 2-for-4 in the game and even got himself an outfield assist in throwing out Adam Jones trying to stretch a hit into a double. Wells is hitting .333 in the early going and it appears he is loving the fact he is playing every day again.
- Hafner also stroked his third home run of the season to lead off the second inning. It was a laser shot that landed in the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center. Hafner is hitting .303 so far and he is looking more like the star he was with the Indians than the injured wreck he has been the past five seasons.
- David Phelps made a case for himself to be inserted into the starting rotation. He came into the game in the fourth with the Yankees trailing 5-3 and a runner on second and no outs. He then proceeded to retire six batters in a row, four of them by strikeout. He ended up pitching four shutout innings and the only hit he gave up was Jones’ single and Wells threw him out at second.
- Hughes, 26, is basically pitching his own version of spring training and it shows. Hughes simply lacked command of all of his pitches and the Orioles just teed off on him. The Yankees have to hope he will right himself as he gets stronger. Hughes, who was second in the American League in giving up 35 home runs in 2012, also needs to try harder to keep the ball in the ballpark.
- It is hard to criticize Kevin Youkilis because he came into the game hitting a team-best .424 and he had at least one hit in all of the team’s first nine games. But he was Missing In Action (MIA) on Saturday. He was 0-for-5, including a strikeout and hitting into an inning-ending double play. His average fell to .368.
- Hammel used shortstop Jayson Nix as an escape hatch to maintain the lead for the Orioles. Nix bounced back to Hammel in the second inning with a runner on. In the fourth, Nix struck out looking with two on and in the sixth he fouled out to first baseman Chris Davis with two on.
Shortstop Eduardo Nunez only was available to pinch-run and the Orioles took advantage by targeting Nix to shut down rallies. Manager Joe Girardi used pinch-hitter Brennan Boesch for Nix in the eighth inning with two and two out, but Boesch struck out swinging against O’Day. That forced Girardi to shift catcher Francisco Cervelli to second base, Robinson Cano moved from second base to shortstop and Chris Stewart was inserted behind the plate for the ninth inning. It was Cano’s first major-league appearance at shortstop and only Cervelli’s second appearance at second base. Nunez, who left Friday’s game with a bruised wrist after being struck by a pitch from Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, will not be available to play in the field until at least Tuesday. . . . Girardi refused to comment on new allegations surrounding Alex Rodriguez and a clinic in Miami that allegedly supplied players with performance-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball reportedly believes it has unearthed evidence that a representative for Rodriguez attempted to have documents purchased from the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic. Girardi said the team is aware of the charges but he said the news has not affected the clubhouse at all.
The Yankees will hope to win the rubber game of the three-game weekend series with the Orioles on Sunday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-1, 6.75 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda, still suffering the effects of a bruised right middle finger incurred in his first start, gave up three runs in the first inning and struggled with his command in 5 1/3 innings against the Cleveland Indians on Monday. But still he won the game. He is 1-1 with a 2.93 ERA in his career against the O’s.
The Orioles will start left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (0-1, 3.75 ERA). Chen gave up three runs on five hits and two walks while striking out three over 6 1/3 innings in a loss to Clay Buchholz and the Boston Red Sox. Chen was 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA against the Yankees in 2012.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN.