YANKEES 1, ASTROS 0
When two of the top three home run hitting teams in baseball meet at Yankee Stadium with its inviting short right-field porch it only stands to reason that the game will be . . . a pitchers’ duel!
Both the Yankees and Astros went against type but it was the Yankees who managed to win the game on Monday with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth.
Carlos Beltran scored Brett Gardner with the only run of the game with no outs in the ninth as New York edged Houston to reclaim a share of first place in the American League East in front of a paid crowd of 37,125 in the Bronx, NY.
Yankees right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and Astros right-hander Scott Feldman matched each other pitch for pitch for eight innings until Astros manager A.J. Hinch elected to use left-hander and former New York Mets headcase Oliver Perez to pitch the ninth.
Gardner was able to work a leadoff walk and, after Perez uncorked a wild pitch to allow Gardner to reach second, the Astros decided to walk Alex Rodriguez intentionally so Perez could face left-handed hitting Brian McCann.
But Perez ended up also walking McCann to load the bases and Hinch called upon right-hander Chad Qualls to pitch to the switch-hitting Beltran.
Beltran jumped on the first pitch and he lofted the ball into deep center-field to score Gardner easily with the game-winning run.
Left-hander Andrew Miller (2-2) struck out two batters in a scoreless ninth inning to earn the victory in relief. Perez (2-2) was saddled with the loss.
Eovaldi, who entered the game undefeated in his past 11 starts and winner of eight straight decisions, held the Astros to just four hits and three walks and he struck seven in eight innings.
He also managed to kept the Astros 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. He was at his best in the seventh inning after Carlos Correa singled to open the frame and Colby Rasmus drew a walk.
Carlos Gomez laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners but Eovaldi got out of the jam on a fielder’s choice off the bat off Evan Gattis that retired Rasmus roaming too far off second and Luis Valbuena flied out to center.
Feldman, 32, held the Yankees to six hits and he struck out six without issuing a walk in eight innings.
The Yankees had an excellent opportunity to score in the second when Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew opened the inning with singles. But Feldman retired Drew on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury, Gardner struck out swinging and Rodriguez flied out.
The Yankees also had a chance to score with McCann on third and Beltran on first with no outs in the seventh. However, Greg Bird struck out swinging and Chase Headley hit a fly ball to medium center and Gomez was able to throw out the slow-footed McCann at home plate on a three-hop heave for an inning-ending double play.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 69-55 and they jumped into a tie with the Toronto Blue Jays for the top spot in the division. The first-place Astros dropped to 69-57.
- Eovaldi has come a long way in his development as a starter this season. In his past 12 starts, he is 8-0 with a 2.93 ERA. He used his slider to compliment his 100-mile-per-hour fastball, splitter and curveball to keep the Astros guessing all night. The Yankees very quietly are developing a strong, young rotation in 26-year-old Masahiro Tanaka, 26-year-old Michael Pineda (who will be activated form the disabled list on Wednesday), 25-year-old Eovaldi, 27-year-old Ivan Nova and 21-year-old Luis Severino.
- McCann was 3-for-3 with a walk in the game and he is now 5-for-11 (.455) with his new forward-leaning stance. In addition, McCann also managed to throw out pinch-runner Jake Marisnick attempting to steal on a strike out of Valbuena in the ninth inning. McCann has now caught 22 of 55 base-runners stealing this season, which puts him at a career-best 40 percent. McCann credits bullpen coach Gary Tuck. “We work every single day on it,” McCann told reporters. “I’ve gotten better as the season’s gone on. It’s good to put the ball on the bag there.”
- Beltran’s night began with him striking out looking in the second and bouncing into a double play in the fourth. But he singled to advance McCann to third before McCann was thrown out to end the seventh. But his at-bat in the ninth was classic Beltran. Though Qualls is noted as a ground-ball pitcher, he was able to get under his first offering and hit it deep enough to get Gardner home with the winning run.
- Rodriguez was placed back into the lineup after two days off but he ended up 0-for-3 with a walk. He struck out in the sixth on a pitch that was about two feet outside and it nearly hit the dirt. Since Aug. 7, Rodriguez is 7-for-57 (.123) with two homers and six RBIs. That has dropped his season average from .281 to .259. As long as he slumps he is killing the Yankees offense.
- Gardner and Ellsbury combined to go 0-for-7 with two strikeouts. If you add Rodriguez batting third they were a combined 0-for-10, which makes you wonder how Perez was able to walk Gardner and Rodriguez to begin the inning. The Yankees need their top three hitters to HIT! If they don’t, the team loses to last-place teams like the Cleveland Indians and surrenders first place in the A.L. East. It’s that simple.
The Yankees will not say it but I will: CC Sabathia has thrown his last pitch of the 2015 season and his career in real jeopardy. Sabathia, 35, was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Monday with inflammation in his right knee. Sabathia left Sunday’s game against the Indians with two out in the third inning due to pain in the knee, which was drained twice this season and received a cortisone shot last week. After making only eight starts last season, Sabathia underwent debridement surgery on the knee and was told that he would have to follow strict procedures to limit recurring pain. Sabathia, who is 4-9 with a 5.27 ERA in 24 starts this season, will see a specialist on Tuesday. But Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters, “Is it possible that he doesn’t pitch the rest of the year? It’s a possibility.” To replace Sabathia on the roster the Yankees announced that left-hander Chris Capuano had elected free agency and then signed a new Major-League contract with the team of the rest of the season. . . . Mark Teixeira, who has been nursing a deep bone bruise on his right leg, said on Tuesday that he was available to pinch-hit in Monday’s game. He was not used and Teixeira has now missed the team’s past six games with the injury. Girardi told reporters that he is hopeful Teixeira will be able to start Tuesday’s game.
The Yankees will continue their three-game home series with the Astros on Tuesday.
Nova (5-5, 3.72 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Nova is coming off a loss against the Indians on Thursday in which he was tagged for three runs on six hits and two walks while he struck four in five innings.
The Astros will start left-hander Dallas Keuchel (14-6, 2.37 ERA). Keuchel did not get a decision while giving up two runs on seven hits and one walk with five strikeouts in seven innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.
NEW YORK YANKEES
First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.
That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.
With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.
The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.
Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.
However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?
The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are – at least for now – going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.
The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.
If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.
Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.
All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.
A pair of speed demons – Ellsbury and Gardner – are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.
Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.
The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.
The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.
The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.
Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.
That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.
Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.
He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.
It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.
This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.
Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.
But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.
Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.
Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.
What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.
Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.
But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.
The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.
Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base – although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.
The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.
John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.
But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.
But the promise is even brighter longer term.
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.
Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.
At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.
Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.
Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.
Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.
This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.
Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.
With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.
Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.
They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.
A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.
BOSTON RED SOX
This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.
Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.
They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.
However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.
Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.
No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.
There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?
Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.
The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.
Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.
The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.
They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.
The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.
They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).
They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.
This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.
Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?
Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.
They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!
After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans – all of about 7,000 of them a game – it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.
Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.
To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.
The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.
Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.
You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.
Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.
So there is a lot to like.
The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.
They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.
It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!
But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)
3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)
4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86) Hello Montreal!
The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4
When the Yankees came off their recent West Coast road trip to face the first-place Blue Jays at home they were hoping that they could just gain some ground on them. After completing a three-game sweep of them on Thursday the Yankees have to feel extremely blessed.
David Phelps pitched seven very gutty innings and the offense, while it did not send a single ball into the seats, wore down their American League East rivals as New York won its 16th straight game against Toronto at Yankee Stadium in front of a paid crowd of 40,169.
Phelps (3-4) held the booming bats of the Blue Jays in check except for a two-out two-run home run he served up to Melky Cabrera in the third inning that tied the score at 2-2. Those two runs were all Phelps would give up while holding the Jays to six hits while he walked two and struck out seven.
Phelps even helped himself out with a do-or-die fielding play in the fifth inning. With two out and Colby Rasmus on third, Cabrera hit a rocket shot that ricocheted off Phelps and rolled behind the mound. Phelps scrambled back to the ball and fired quickly to Mark Teixeira at first to barely nip Cabrera.
Meanwhile, the Yankees hitters were putting right-hander Drew Hutchinson (5-4) through a draining pitch-count wringer.
They scored single runs off him in the first two innings on sacrifice flies by Jacoby Ellsbury in the first and Kelly Johnson in the second. They then broke the 2-2 tie in the third inning when Ellsbury led off with a single, stole second and advanced to third on a single by Teixeira.
One batter later, Carlos Beltran scored Ellsbury with the Yankees’ third sacrifice fly of the evening. In the meantime, they had forced Hutchison to throw 76 pitches in the first three innings.
The Yankees added a run in the fifth when Ellsbury laced a one-out single and, again, stole second. Then Teixeira drew a walk that ended the night for Hutchison.
Left-hander Aaron Loup was able to retire Brian McCann on an infield liner but Beltran lofted a ground-rule double into the bleachers in left-center to score Ellsbury.
Hutchinson was charged with four runs on six hits and four walks while he struck out three in 4 1/3 innings.
The Yankees added single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to extend their lead to 6-2 on a night when two big contributors to their bullpen, Dellin Betances and closer David Robertson, were unavailable.
Brian Roberts and his base-running keyed the sixth inning when he led off the frame with a single and stole second and third base. But manager Joe Girardi deserves some credit for some strategy after Brett Gardner drew a one-out walk.
Girardi elected to send Gardner as Derek Jeter bounced a ball to Jose Reyes at shortstop. Instead of being able to turn a double play, Reyes was forced to retire Jeter at first as Roberts scored and Gardner was standing safely at second.
The Yankees were able to load the bases on right-hander Steve Delabar in the seventh inning when Roberts drew a walk with two outs. Delabar then walked Yangervis Solarte to force in a run.
The Blue Jays did manage to make things interesting in the eighth inning when Jose Bautista drew a one-out walk from right-hander Shawn Kelley and Edwin Encarnacion followed by planting his 21st home run of the season into the left-field bleachers.
However, Kelley retired Dioner Navarro and Matt Thornton got the final out in the eighth and the first out in the ninth before he was touched for a single off the bat of Rasmus.
Adam Warren then came in to get pinch-hitter Munenori Kawasaki and Reyes to complete the sweep and earn his second save of the season.
With the victory, the Yankees are 38-33 and they are 1 1/2 games out of first place in the A.L. East. The struggling Blue Jays fell to 41-33.
- Phelps lost four consecutive starts from May 22 through June 7 and he was 1-4 with a 4.88 ERA at that point. But in his past two starts he has defeated the team with the best record in the American League (Oakland) and the best team in the A.L. East (Toronto). In those two starts he has given up two runs on eight hits and two walks and struck out 11 in 13 2/3 innings. He is 2-0 with a 1.32 ERA in those starts, which has lowered his season ERA to 4.11.
- The Yankees very much need Beltran’s bat and they got it on Thursday. Beltran was 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs. It was his first multiple RBI game since he drove in two runs against the Boston Red Sox on April 22 at Fenway Park. Beltran entered the contest 7-for-40 (.175) with a home run and three RBIs since he came off the disabled list on June 5.
- Ellsbury had another good night in going 2-for-4 with two stolen bases, two runs scored and an RBI. Ellsbury is now hitting .279 with four homers and 31 RBIs. But he also has stolen a team-best 20 bases and has an on-base percentage of .346. Add his skilled fielding in center and you have a very good player and a very smart free-agent signing by the Yankees.
Why complain when starters Masahiro Tanaka, Chase Whitley and Phelps combined to give up just five runs in 19 innings (a 2.37 ERA) in the three games against the hard-hitting Blue Jays. Whitley and Phelps may be considered as blowout patches for a starting rotation that lost Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda. But they are more than holding their own for Yankees at a time when they are very much needed. No complaints about this game.
The game was delayed for some time in the fourth inning when a rare base-runner interference play was called on Encarnacion after he led off with a single. Navarro followed with a routine pop fly to Teixeira just inside the first-base bag. Encarnacion used both of his hands to slide around Teixiera to return to first base while the ball was in the air and he was immediately called for interference by first-base umpire Chris Conroy. After initially calling Navarro out on the pop fly, the umpires conferred and placed Navarro at first base on a fielder’s choice. . . . Johnson had to leave the game in the sixth inning when the fingers on his left hand were struck with the ball as he was attempting a bunt. Johnson was removed from the game and replaced by Solarte with a 3-2 count. Solarte struck out but the Yankees later scored Roberts on Jeter’s groundout. Johnson underwent X-rays that did not indicate any broken bones. But Johnson is listed as day-to-day.
The Yankees now hope to continue their momentum against their A.L. East rivals when they begin a weekend three-game home series against the Baltimore Orioles.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (4-5, 3.42 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda lost his start on Saturday, giving up four runs on five hits and three walks against the Oakland Athletics. Kuroda is 1-0 against the Orioles this season after beating them 4-2 on April 7 at Yankee Stadium in his second start of the season.
Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (2-8, 4.86 ERA) will start for the O’s. The disappointing free agent gave up two runs on three hits and five walks in six innings in a loss to the Blue Jays last Friday. He has not won a game since May 8 and he was the losing pitcher to Kuroda in that game on April 7.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.
YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 3
For most of the season, the Yankees have been wondering where their All-Star slugging catcher Brian McCann was because the one they have been watching was hitting ,220 with seven homers and 28 RBIs. Well, cross your fingers and do a sign of the cross, but there was a rare McCann sighting at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night.
McCann lined a two-run home run to put the Yankees ahead and later added a three-run triple as part of a career-best-tying five RBIs to lead New York past Toronto to bring them to within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Blue Jays in the American League East.
A paid crowd of 41,342 in the Bronx, N.Y., watched the Yankees win their 15th consecutive game over the Blue Jays at home.
Chase Whitley (3-0), buoyed by an early 1-0 lead, held the Blue Jays scoreless until the fourth inning when he was stung by back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Dioner Navarro and Colby Rasmus, who was just activated from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game.
But the Yankees were able to answer in the bottom of the fourth against left-hander Mark Buehrle (10-4), who has now lost his past three starts.
Carlos Beltran led of the frame with a single and McCann, after battling Buehrle to a 2-2 count in a nine-pitch at-bat, lined a curveball into the second row of the bleachers in right-field to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the evening.
The home run was McCann’s eighth of the season but his first since May 23 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
Buehrle was also touched for an unearned run in the first inning when Brett Gardner led off with a single, one of his four singles on the night. Derek Jeter then reached when Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie misplayed Jeter’s slow roller into an error.
Two batters later, another one of the Yankees struggling sluggers, Alfonso Soriano, slapped Buehrle’s first pitch up the middle to score Gardner.
Buehrle was charged with three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings.
Whitley, however, was able to hold on for his third straight victory and the Yankees are now 7-0 in his starts since he was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 15. He yielded two runs on five hits and one walk with two strikeouts in five innings.
The Yankees were able to put the game away in the seventh inning against right-hander Chad Jenkins and left-hander Brett Cecil.
Gardner singled and, two outs later, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira hit consecutive singles to load the bases. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Jenkins with Cecil and pinch-hitter Ichiro Suzuki drew a walk for score Gardner.
McCann then followed with a base-clearing triple into the gap in right-center to become the first Yankees catcher to hit a home run, a triple and drive in five runs in a game since Elston Howard did it in 1962.
The Blue Jays scored a run in the eighth off rookie right-hander Jose Ramirez on a leadoff double by Melky Cabrera and an RBI double off the bat of Jose Bautista. But the bullpen combination of Adam Warren, Dellin Betances and David Robertson pitched four scoreless innings on no hits, one walk and six strikeouts to close out the victory for Whitley.
The Yankees’ season record is now 37-33 and they only trail the Jays by one game in the loss column in the tightly bunched A.L. East. The Blue Jays fell to 41-32.
- McCann was 2-for-3 with a walk and his five RBIs on Tuesday leave him in a tie with Teixeira for the team lead with 33. McCann, 30, a career .274 hitter, is still hitting only .226 but the Yankees are hoping that he is about to break out of what has been a prolonged power and hitting drought to provide what he did for the Atlanta Braves in his previous eight seasons.
- Gardner entered the game hitting .325 at Yankee Stadium this season and he added to it with a 4-for-5 night with four singles and two runs scored. In 30 games at home, Gardner is now 41-for-119 (.345) with four home runs and 15 RBIs. In his past nine games, Gardner is 14-for-38 (.386) with two homers and five RBIs.
- Whitley, who turned 25 on Saturday, got caught up in a heavy pitch count in trying to battle the major league’s best home run hitting team. But he kept the Yankees in the game until the Yankees were able to take the lead in the fourth. Whitley’s walk to Cabrera with one out in the fifth was the first he has issued since May 21 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. In 38 2/3 innings, Whitley has walked just four batters. It looks like he is going to be a keeper in the rotation.
There are hints that the Yankees may be ready to bust out of their offensive funk and it could not have come at a better time because the Yankees are in the midst of 15 games against teams in their division. They have now won the first two of those 15 games against the best team in the division. They need to keep it going.
Left-hander CC Sabathia threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday for a second consecutive day and he is expected to throw another bullpen session on Saturday. Sabathia, who was limited to throwing just fastballs on Tuesday, mixed in some sliders on Wednesday and reported no problems with his right knee after the session. Sabathia has been sidelined since May 10 after having a stem-cell injection in his right knee. . . . Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Wednesday that he is not considering any shakeup in the starting rotation but he is watching left-hander Vidal Nuno closely. Nuno is 1-3 with a 5.90 ERA this season and he was shelled for eight runs on eight hits in three-plus innings against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. With right-hander Shawn Kelley back in the bullpen after a stint on the DL, Warren could be inserted into the rotation if Girardi needs to make a move.
The Yankees have a chance to sweep the first-place Blue Jays on Thursday and draw to within 1 1/2 games of the lead in the division.
Right-hander David Phelps (2-4, 4.32 ERA) gets the start for the Yankees. Phelps, 27, is coming off what may have been the best start of his career on Saturday when he shut out the A’s on two hits and three walks while fanning four in 6 2/3 innings. That victory broke a string of four straight losses for Phelps.
Right-hander Drew Hutchison (5-4, 3.62 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Hutchison, 23, shut out the Baltimore Orioles on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts in seven innings for his fifth victory on Friday. He was lit up for six runs on six hits and three walks in 3 1/3 innings by the Yankees in Toronto on April 6.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4
The Yankees entered play on Sunday without a home run in their first five games. How can the Bronx Bombers be the Bronx Bombers when they are not hitting homers?
Well, it finally was taken care of by, of all people, Brett Gardner. The 30-year-old outfielder lined a 3-2 slider over the right-field wall in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a 6-1 lead and New York held on edge Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,067 at Rogers Centre.
Gardner’s blast capped a three-run third inning after they had scored three runs on the first inning off right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-1).
It was just the fifth time since 1923 the Yankees have gone this far in to the season without hitting a home run and the first time since 1990 when Mel Hall hit the team’s first home run in the eighth game of the season.
Meanwhile, left-hander CC Sabathia (1-1) rebounded from a bad first outing to record his first victory of the season.
The Yankees broke out on top early, taking advantage of Hutchison’s poor command.
Hutchison walked Gardner to begin the game. Gardner then stole second and advanced to third on a Derek Jeter ground-out. He then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s ground-out.
Brian McCann then drew a two-out walk and Hutchison hit Alfonso Soriano with a pitch. Kelly Johnson then laced a two-run double off the wall in center-field, which gave the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.
After former Yankee Melky Cabrera clubbed his third home run in three days against his former teammates to lead off the bottom of the first inning, Sabathia settled in and held the Blue Jays to only two more hits through the first five innings.
The Yankees added to their lead in the third when Hutchison walked Brian Roberts to start the frame. Roberts then stole second and he scored one batter later on an RBI double off the bat of red-hot rookie Yangervis Solarte, who was 5-for-12 with five RBIs in the three-game series.
Gardner then homered to give the Yankees a commanding 6-1 lead.
Hutchison gave up all six runs on six hits and three walks while he struck out six in 3 1/3 innings. Four of the six runs he gave up scored after reaching base without the benefit of a hit.
The Blue Jays did mount a two-out rally in the sixth inning off Sabathia to get back into the game.
Jose Bautista hit a bloop opposite-field single and Edwin Encarnacion followed with an opposite field single of his own. Dioner Navarro then slapped a double down the left-field line to score Bautista and Eric Kratz followed with a two-run single to center.
But Sabathia got Brett Lawrie out on a fly ball to center and relievers Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley and David Robertson protected Sabathia’s lead the rest of the way to allow the Yankees to win the three-game series against the Blue Jays.
Sabathia gave up four runs on seven hits no walks and he struck out six in six innings.
Robertson did allow the Blue Jays to get the potential winning run to the plate with one out in the ninth when Lawrie singled and Robertson walked pinch-hitter Adam Lind. But Robertson retired pinch-hitter Colby Rasmus on an infield popup and Cabrera flied out to right.
Robertson earned his second save in two opportunities this season.
With the victory the Yankees evened their season record at 3-3. The Blue Jays fell to 3-4.
- Gardner’s home run was only the 24th of his career but it was his fourth against the Blue Jays. Gardner may only be 5-for-18 (.278) this season but his on-base percentage is a sparkling .409. When the Yankees are struggling to hit home runs it is vital that Gardner get on base and use his speed to get into scoring position as he did on the first inning.
- Solarte has only started in four of the Yankees’ six games but he is 8-for-15 (.533) with four doubles and five RBIs in those four games. There is a good chance that Solarte will cool off as opposing teams find out what his weaknesses are. But for now, Solarte looks to be the real deal and he is providing a spark to an offense that is not hitting on all cylinders yet.
- For a team struggling to hit with runners in scoring position, Johnson’s two-out double in the first was huge. They were Johnson’s first two RBIs of the season and it hopefully will get him started because he is just 4-for-18 (.222) in the early going.
- If it had not been for the sixth inning Sabathia would have had a very good outing. But the Blue Jays were able to take the veteran left-hander’s pitches to the opposite field. In his first two starts, Sabathia has yielded 10 runs on 15 hits and one walk in 12 innings. His ERA stands at 7.50. He is going to have to do better than that if the Yankees are to contend in the American League East.
- Robertson is 2-for-2 in save situations but his work on Sunday was a bit shaky. Lawrie ripped a single up the middle and Robertson pitched too carefully to Lind and walked him. That allowed manager John Gibbons to go to his bench to use Rasmus and Cabrera has been the hottest hitter on the Blue Jays since spring training started.
- Though Soriano finally singled in the fifth inning off right-hander Todd Redmond, he is still 1-for-19 (.053) to start the season.
Jeter was 2-for-5 on Sunday and those two hits moved him past Paul Molitor for eighth place on the all-time hits list with 3,320. The 39-year-old team captain singled in the first inning off Hutchison to tie Molitor. He then singled again in the fourth inning to pass Molitor and he chased Hutchison from the game. Jeter is also fourth on the all-time American League hits list. . . . Francisco Cervelli took ground balls at first base on Sunday as manager Joe Girardi said the backup catcher could be called on to play first base while Mark Teixiera is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Cervelli has never played first base but has appeared in four games at third base and two at second base.
After a opening week on the road the Yankees will play their home opener on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (0-1, 3.00 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Kuroda lost his first start on Wednesday against the Houston Astros despite yielding just two runs in six innings. The Yankees did not score any runs for him and he took a tough loss.
The Orioles will counter with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (0-1, 6.00 ERA). Jimenez was tagged for a pair of home runs in a loss to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. He is 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in two starts at Yankee Stadium.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
BLUE JAYS 4, YANKEES 0
The Yankees have been around enough to know that facing a knuckleball pitcher is always a 50-50 proposition. When the knuckleball is not working the game is easy. When it is working you can probably figure on losing.
R.A. Dickey held the Yankees scoreless for 6 2/3 innings and the three relievers who followed him completed the shutout as Toronto downed New York on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 45,446 at Rogers Centre.
Dickey (1-1) was shelled for six runs by the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day on Monday but he rebounded to yield only five hits and one walk while he struck out six to get credit for the victory on Saturday.
His mound opponent, Michael Pineda, was making his first major-league start since the end of the 2011 season and he deserved a better fate.
Pineda (0-1) held the Blue Jays to just one run on five hits, he did not walk a batter and he fanned five in six innings. He ended up on the short end because the Yankees could not solve Dickey or his knuckleball.
The Blue Jays lone run off Pineda came in the second inning when Adam Lind led off with a double and one batter later Josh Thole blooped a single into left to score Lind.
That run held up until the Blue Jays decided to play “Home Run Derby” in the eighth inning off reliever David Phelps. Melky Cabrera cranked a one-out solo shot, his second in two nights against his former teammates.
After Colby Rasmus stroked a ground-rule double, Jose Bautista blasted his third home run of the season to cap the scoring.
Sergio Santos pitched the final 1 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays to earn his second save.
The loss dropped the Yankees’ season record to 2-3. The Blue Jays evened their record at 3-3.
- After Pineda missed two full major-league seasons recovering from shoulder surgery the Yankees have to be extremely pleased with what the 25-year-old right-hander did on Saturday. His fastball reached as high as 95 miles-per-hour. Even more important was that Pineda did not issue a walk. If Pineda is the team’s No. 5 starter they have the makings of one of the best No. 5 starters in baseball.
- Yangervis Solarte continues to be impressive with the bat. The 26-year-old rookie was 2-for-3 with two singles and he is 7-for-13 (.538) on the young season. I was honestly stunned the Yankees would designate for assignment Eduardo Nunez to make room on the roster for Solarte. But now that they have made the move it looks like they made the right choice. The youngster is something special.
- Francisco Cervelli started behind the plate while Brian McCann was the designated hitter and Cervelli was 2-for-3 with a double and he threw out a runner on the bases. Jacoby Ellsbury, who was 3-for-4 on Friday, was 3-for-5 on Saturday. Cervelli, Ellsbury and Solarte combined to collect all seven of the Yankees’ hits.
- The middle of the order had a really rough time with Dickey and the Blue Jays’ relievers. Carlos Beltran, McCann, Alfonso Soriano and Kelly Johnson combined to go 0-for-16 with four strikeouts and they stranded nine base-runners. Beltran killed a big rally with no outs in the sixth after Ellsbury singled and Derek Jeter walked by hitting into a double play. After Ellsbury singled and and Jeter walked to start the eighth off left-hander Aaron Loup, Beltran struck out on a pitch that bounced in the dirt.
- It goes without saying that the Yankees were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. That hit came in the third inning after Cervelli had doubled and Ellsbury delivered a two-out single to center. However, Rasmus’ throw to Thole at home plate beat Cervelli as he slid into home plate. That is pretty much the way the day went for the Yankees.
- Phelps gave up eight home runs in 86 2/3 innings last season. This season he already has given up three in 3 1/3 innings. Phelps, 27, needs to start doing a better job of keeping the ball in the yard.
Before the game started the Yankees placed first baseman Mark Teixeira on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Teixeira, 33, sustained the injury in the second inning of Friday’s game against the Blue Jays as he tried to field a ground ball in foul territory. Teixeira will have an MRI on Monday in New York to determine the severity of the strain. To take his place on the roster the Yankees recalled catcher Austin Romine from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Johnson will take Teixeira’s place at first base and Solarte will take Johnson’s spot at third.
The Yankees will try to win the three-game series against the Blue Jays on Sunday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1, 9.00 ERA) will start for the Yankees trying to atone for a horrible Opening Day start in which he gave up six runs in the first two innings to the Houston Astros before finishing with four scoreless innings.
Sabathia, 33, will be opposed by 23-year-old right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-0, 0.00 ERA), who shut out the Rays on three hits and three walks while striking out four in 5 1/3 innings in his 2014 debut.
Game-time will be 1:07 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!