YANKEES 3, BLUE JAYS 2
When you look at Jayson Nix you see a player without much power, speed, skill as a hitter and he lacks range in the field. But when you watch him play the game, all you can say is that he is just solid all-around player. He proved it on Tuesday.
Nix hit the game-tying homer with two out in the seventh inning and then delivered the game-winning RBI single in the ninth as New York swept a day-night doubleheader over Toronto with a walk-off victory in front of a Yankee Stadium crowd of 37,190.
With the Yankees trailing left-hander Mark Buehrle 2-1, Nix launched the first pitch he saw halfway up the left-field bleachers for only his third home run of the season and his first since June 25.
The game remained tied until the bottom the ninth when Blue Jays left-hander Darren Oliver opened the frame by walking Mark Reynolds on four pitches.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi inserted Ichiro Suzuki in to pinch-run for Reynolds and Eduardo Nunez advanced Suzuki to second with a sacrifice bunt..
With Nix at the plate, Suzuki then stole third and Nix lined the next pitch from Oliver (3-4) into left to score Suzuki with the game-winning run. It was the first walk-off hit of Nix’s career.
Mariano Rivera (4-2) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn credit for the victory, the Yankees’ eighth victory in their past 10 games. They also are 10-1 against the Blue Jays this season.
Buehrle entered the game with a 1-10 career record and a 1-5 mark with 5.57 ERA against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. And it looked as if, until Nix’s home run, that Buehrle was in line for a rare victory over a team that has tormented him throughout his career.
The Yankees’ only touched Buehrle in the third inning when Robinson Cano delivered a two-out single to score Austin Romine to tie the game at 1-1. It was Cano’s fifth RBI of the day after he went 4-for-4 with four RBIs in the first game of the doubleheader.
Buehrle gave up six hits and walked one while striking out five in seven innings of work.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, got to right-hander Phil Hughes in the first inning as Rajai Davis led off with a single, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.
But Hughes settled in to match Buehrle until the fifth when Munenori Kawasaki laced an 0-2 curveball into the gap in right-center for a triple and Davis followed with a sacrifice fly to give the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead.
Hughes yielded seven hits and two walks while fanning six batters six-plus innings. The no-decision for Hughes runs his streak of winless starts to eight. Hughes last won a game on July 2 when defeated the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.
With the pair of victories the Yankees’ season record stands at 66-59 and they 6 1/2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox, who are in a virtual tie for first place in the American League East. In addition, the Yankees climbed to within five games in the wild-card standings. The hard-luck Blue Jays are 57-69.
- Nix was the hero of the second game of the doubleheader, going 2-for-4 with a game-tying homer, a game-winning single, a run scored and two RBIs. But he also was 1-for-2 with a single, two walks, a stolen base and two runs scored in the first game. Nix is only hitting .236 with three homers and 24 RBIs in 86 games but he is so valuable as a bench player for this team.
- Cano was 2-for-4 with a pair or singles and an RBI and he ended up 6-for-8 (.750) with a home run and five RBIs in the two games on Tuesday. That has raised his season average to .308, which leads the team along with his 23 home runs and 81 RBIs.
- Romine had himself a great day at the plate. He was 3-for-3 with two singles and a double and a run scored. In his last nine starts, Romine is 12-for-29 (.414) with a home run and two RBIs. During that span dating back to July 25, Romine has raised his season average from .165 to .231. At age 24, Romine might show the Yankees that he can be a starting catcher if he can continue to hit this way.
- Alfonso Soriano was 0-for-3 with a walk in the second game and is now 0-for-13 in his past three games. Soriano has been considered as a streaky hitter throughout his 15-season major-league career.
- Alex Rodriguez had a game he would love to forget. He was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and he hit into a inning-ending double play to squelch a rally in the eighth inning. As each at-bat unfolded the crowd at Yankee Stadium booed louder after he drew a rousing ovation in his first at-bat in the first game.
- Brett Gardner was 0-for-4 in the second game and only managed to get one ball out of the infield. His season average dropped to .269.
Major League Baseball suspended Boston Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster for five games and fined him an undisclosed amount for intentionally hitting Rodriguez with a pitch on Sunday at Fenway Park. However, because of the Red Sox’s schedule, Dempster can serve the suspension without missing a start, which angers Girardi and the Yankees. It also renders a moot point if Dempster had received a longer suspension and chose to appeal it. It just shows that Commissioner Bud Selig and the baseball’s hierarchy spends most of its days with their heads lodged in their rectums and they always let the Red Sox get away with murder. . . . An MRI taken on Nunez’s left hamstring was negative and he started in the second game of the doubleheader. Nunez injured his hamstring sliding back into first base after he singled on Sunday against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. . . . Derek Jeter ran the bases for the first time in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Tuesday. It is not clear when Jeter, who has been sidelined with a strained right calf since Aug. 3, will be activated form the disabled list.
The Yankees will continue their four-game home series against the Jays on Wednesday.
Rookie right-hander Adam Warren (1-2, 3.57 ERA) will make only his second major-league start and his first of the season. Warren has been the team’s long reliever this season. Warren has never faced the Blue Jays.
Knuckleballing right-hander R.A. Dickey (9-11, 4.49 ERA) will start for Toronto. Dickey was touched for four runs on six hits and two walks while he struck out six in seven innings in a no-decision against the Rays on Friday. Dickey is 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4
Some victories are just victories but on Friday the New York Yankees earned a hard-fought victory that came at a very high price.
Lyle Overbay stroked an RBI triple in the bottom of the fourth inning that broke a 2-2 tie and New York went on to defeat Toronto in front of paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 36,151 despite the fact they lost their starting battery within the first three innings of the game.
The seemingly cursed Yankees lost starting catcher Francisco Cervelli in the first inning with a fractured right hand after he was struck by a foul tip off the bat of Blue Jays leadoff hitter Rajai Davis. Cervelli’s hand will require surgery and he will be sidelined a minimum of six weeks.
Two innings later, right-hander Ivan Nova was removed from the game with soreness in his right elbow. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI late Friday but his status is unclear.
But the Yankees were able to win the game behind the stellar relief pitching of David Phelps (1-1). Phelps took over for Nova with two on and no out in the third inning and he was able to mostly shut the Blue Jays down over the next four innings.
After Phelps surrendered an RBI single to Colby Rasmus in the third inning, he settled in and only was touched for a solo home run – his second of the game – by Edwin Encarnacion to lead off the sixth inning. Phelps gave up one run on two hits and walked two while he struck out a career-high nine batters.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were the beneficiaries of a season-high 10 walks from Blue Jays pitchers. They also benefitted from a wild pitch and a passed ball to score a pair of runs.
Two pitches after Overbay tripled in the tie-breaking run off Blue Jays reliever Brad Lincoln (0-1) in the fourth, Lincoln uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Overbay to score.
The Yankees also scored in the seventh after Robinson Cano doubled and advanced to third on a Vernon Wells groundout. One out later, Ichiro Suzuki was intentionally walked and Cano trotted home when J.P. Arencibia was unable to catch a pitch thrown by Blue Jays reliever Steve Delabar.
After Jose Bautista blasted a solo home run in the eighth off Yankees reliever David Robertson to draw the Blue Jays to within a run at 5-4, Brett Gardner closed out the scoring for the Yankees with a solo home run in the bottom of the inning off Blue Jays left-hander Darren Oliver.
Although the Blue Jays were able to string out three hits in the ninth inning off closer Mariano Rivera to load the bases with two out, Rivera struck out Rasmus swinging to record his eighth save in eight opportunities this season.
With the victory, the Yankees are 13-9. The slumping Blue Jays fell to 9-15.
- Overbay’s triple in the fourth came off the only right-hander that the lefty swinging first baseman faced on Friday. Overbay was 0-for-3 against three different left-handers on Friday and he is now 1-for-24 (.042) against lefties this season. Overbay is 15-for-48 (.313) against right-handers. He has been forced to make a lot of starts at first base against left-handers due to the back injury that has sidelined Kevin Youkilis since last Saturday.
- Though he gave up an RBI single to Rasmus and a solo home run to Encarnacion, Phelps was absolutely brilliant in his four innings of relief. Phelps faced 15 batters over his four innings of work and struck out nine, seven of them swinging. Phelps had devastating command off both sides of the plate and he likely will replace Nova in the starting rotation should he have to miss time with his right elbow injury.
- Wells continues to swing a hot bat. The Yankees only collected six hits but Wells had two of them. He was 2-for-3 with two singles and a sacrifice fly that tied the game at 2-2 in the third inning. In five games against his former team, Wells is 12-for-26 (.462) with three home runs and and five RBIs.
- The Yankees were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Friday and they stranded nine runners in the game. The Yankees mainly took advantage of the 10 walks, the wild pitch and passed ball from Blue Jays starter Aaron Laffey, relievers Lincoln, Aaron Loup, Delabar and Oliver, and the catcher Arencibia. This was a night of being lucky and not especially being good.
- The Yankees had chances for big innings in the second and third against Laffey but Overbay grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners at first and third and one out in the second inning. In the third inning, Laffey was removed when he walked the bases loaded with two out but Suzuki struck out swinging against Lincoln to end that threat.
- It was almost a blessing Nova was removed in the third inning. He was not pitching well again. He left having given up two runs on four hits and he struck out two in two-plus innings. Nova has been unable to recapture his rookie season form of 2011. Phelps promises to be a big improvement as the No. 5 starter.
Youkilis, 33, took swings in a batting cage on Friday but was unable to start for the sixth consecutive game. Manager Joe Girardi said if Youkilis is unable to play on Saturday the Yankees likely will place him on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 21. That means Youkilis could not return until May 7 when the Yankees open a series against the Colorado Rockies in Denver. . . . Laffey started for the Blue Jays on Friday because the scheduled starter, right-hander Josh Johnson, reported pain in right triceps and he had to be scratched.
The Yankees have a shot to win the four-game weekend series against the Jays with a victory on Saturday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-2, 3.34 ERA) will start for the Yankees. He is coming off a very poor outing against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday in which he gave up five runs in seven innings, serving up three home runs. Sabathia, 32, is 13-4 with a 2.98 ERA in his career against the Blue Jays.
Sabathia will be opposed by left-hander J.A. Happ (2-1, 3.68 ERA). Happ allowed just one run on four hits in his last start against the Baltimore Orioles. But he did not get a decision. Happ is 2-0 with 5.40 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 9, BLUE JAYS 6
Through the course of a 162-game season, teams have to go through many difficult tests to prove their worthy of moving on to the playoffs. On Sunday, the Yankees were down 5-1 to Blue Jays after five innings in a game the Yankees desperately needed to win.
Somehow and someway they got off the mat and scored one of their most crucial victories of the season in front of a paid crowd of 31,418 at Rogers Centre.
The Yankees benefitted from a wild pitch to tally a run in the sixth, tied it with three runs in the eighth (the tying run scoring on another wild pitch) and Eduardo Nunez hit a sacrifice fly to deep left to score Curtis Granderson with the tie-breaking run in the eighth as New York came back from the brink of despair to down Toronto and clinch their 17th playoff spot over the past 18 seasons.
The victory also allowed the Yankees to maintain a first-place tie in the American League East with the Baltimore Orioles, who completed a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox.
The heroic comeback began in the sixth when Robinson Cano led off with a double and he advanced to third on Nick Swisher’s line-drive single to right off Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez. With Granderson at the plate, Alvarez tossed 1-2 pitch into the dirt past catcher J.P. Arencibia to allow Cano to score.
The Yankees opened the seventh against lefty reliever Brett Cecil with a lined single by Eric Chavez, who had accounted for the Yankees’ first run of the game in the third with a solo home run, his 16th of the season.
Manager John Farrell replaced Cecil with right-hander Steve Delabar and Derek Jeter greeted him with a ground-rule double down the right-field line to chase Chavez to third. Ichiro Suzuki scored Chavez with a sacrifice fly to center.
Alex Rodriguez then battled back from 0-2 count to draw a walk and Cano laced a double into deep right to score Jeter and advance Rodriguez to third.
Farrell replaced Delabar with left-hander Aaron Loup and, with Swisher at the plate, Loup tossed a slider into the dirt past Arencibia to allow Rodriguez to tack on the tying run.
The Yankees hoped the rally would continue with Cano on third and one out, but Swisher laced a bullet line-drive that Yunel Escobar caught with a dive to his right and he threw to Brett Lawrie at third to double up Cano.
But the Yankees were not through by any stretch.
In the eighth, Granderson drew a leadoff walk from veteran left-hander Darren Oliver (3-4) and Raul Ibanez followed it by lashing a single into right, forcing Farrell to replace Oliver with right-hander Brandon Lyon.
Russell Martin slapped a sacrifice bunt to Lawrie at third to advance Granderson and pinch-runner Brett Gardner and Nunez hit the very next pitch to deep right and right-fielder Moises Sierra made a spectacular grab of the ball before it reached the wall. However, it was plenty deep enough to score Granderson and give the Yankees their first lead in the game.
Jeter provided insurance by dropping a sinking liner into right to score Gardner.
The Yankees even added a pair of runs in the ninth by loading the bases with no outs against veteran right-hander Jason Frasor and Granderson laced a two-run single into right to give the Yankees a seemingly “comfortable” 9-5 lead. The RBIs for Granderson gave him exactly 100 on the season.
While the Yankees did not receive much in the way of pitching from 16-game winner Phil Hughes, the bullpen pitched well enough to allow the Yankees to make their comeback.
Hughes was tagged for five runs on eight hits and two walks while he struck out four batters in 4 2/3 innings.
Veteran sinker specialist Derek Lowe relieved Hughes in the fifth after Hughes gave up three runs on five hits and left the game with runners on first and third and two out. But Lowe ended the inning by getting Arencibia on a flyout.
Lowe then retired the next four batters he faced on groundouts before Boone Logan (7-2) came with one out in the seventh and he retired the side despite issuing a two-out walk to Escobar.
David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth, which set up the Yankees hoped would be a routine ninth with Rafael Soriano on to close it out.
However, anyone who has followed this tortuous and trying season with the Yankees knows there is no such thing as routine when it comes to the Yankees and their victories.
Lawrie opened the frame with a single and Rajai Davis added his ninth hit of the series with a single to center. Soriano then walked Colby Rasmus to load the bases.
But Soriano was able to induce Escobar to hit into a double-play, which scored Lawrie but left the Yankees with just one out to get. Soriano then retired Adam Lind on a groundout from Cano to Swisher to end the game.
The Yankees collected on the field to celebrate but it was a subdued one. They are waiting to really celebrate when they win the division.
The Yankees are 92-67 – as are the Orioles. But they also are one game behind the Texas Rangers for the best record in the American League. The Blue Jays, who seemed to play this series to a tie as if their lives were on the line, fell to just 70-89, 21 games back in fourth place in the division.
- Nunez’s sacrifice fly was huge and it could not have happened to a more deserving player. Nunez battled his way back from a demotion to Triple-A and a thumb injury to come back with vengeance since his Sept. 1 recall. He has driven in runs in three of his last four games and there is a good possibility that the Yankees might use him as a right-handed designated hitter in the playoffs over outfielder Andruw Jones.
- After slumping much of September, it appears Cano is getting back on track at the plate. He was 3-for-5 with two doubles, one RBI and two runs scored. He now has a six-game hitting streak in which he is 15-for-24 (.625) with five RBIs. With Mark Teixeira out of the lineup and Alex Rodriguez scuffling all month, Cano pretty much has had to produce for the Yankees to have a chance to win.
- Lowe stopped the bleeding in the fifth and retired all five batters he faced. Though Lowe got cuffed around pretty good in his first eight appearances (0-1 with a 5.79 ERA), he has pitched much better over his last eight appearances (0-0 with a 1.46 ERA). There is a good chance Lowe could make the postseason roster over Freddy Garcia because he has more value out of the bullpen.
- Hughes did not pitch very well at all. But the Blue Jays are a bad matchup for a flyball pitcher like Hughes. The Blue Jays scored two off Hughes in the first, keyed by a one-out double by Escobar. Lawrie tagged him for a two-run homer in the fifth, the 28th Hughes has given up this season. Sierra chased him with an RBI single later in the fifth. Hughes is 1-1 with a 7.16 ERA in his last three starts. This is not how Hughes wanted to enter the playoffs.
- Soriano’s shaky ninth was a bit of a concern. But you have to chalk that up to the fact that he has only pitched one-third of an inning overt the past week because he has not gotten save opportunities in the games the Yankees have won in that stretch. His last save was on Sept. 19 at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays.
- Lost in the excitement over the victory is the fact the Yankees did not take full advantage of their situation in the sixth after Alvarez uncorked a wild pitch to allow Cano to score. Granderson was up with Swisher at second but he grounded out to Alvarez, which was an unproductive out. Ibanez grounded out weakly to Lind at first and Martin struck out swinging. This is a microcosm of the Yankees’ season. They blow a lot of chances to score runs by not delivering with runners in scoring position.
Girardi said Teixeira will start at first base on Monday for the Yankees in his first action since he reinjured his left calf on Sept. 8. Teixiera worked out in Tampa, FL, on Sunday after playing the previous day in an Instructional League game and he reported no issues with his injured calf. Teixeira will see the team physician in New York on Monday and he is expected to be cleared to play. . . . Nunez will make the postseason roster because reserve infielder Jayson Nix is expected to miss the next 10 to 14 days with a strained left hip flexor. Nix sustained the injury during Thursday’s game against the Blue Jays. . . . The Yankees continue to have Ivan Nova penciled in as the starter for Tuesday’s game but no definite word has been issued. Nova is 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA in his three starts since coming off the disabled list.
The division title is on the line and the Yankees will have to beat the “Dead” Sox to win it over the last three games.
Ace lefty CC Sabathia (14-6, 3.42 ERA) will open the series. Sabathia is coming off an impressive outing in which he gave up two runs on six hits and struck out 10 in eight dominant innings against the Minnesota Twins. He is 7-9 with a 4.35 ERA lifetime against the Red Sox.
Clay Buchholz (11-7, 4.22 ERA) will start for the last-place Red Sox. Buchholz gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks over six innings in loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in his last start. He is 2-4 with 5.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 2
Since June 27, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been dreaming about the return of all five of his starters, including 40-year-old left-hander Andy Pettitte. On Wednesday afternoon he got his wish and what he got had to exceed even his expectations.
Pettitte threw five scoreless frames, giving up four hits and two walks in a workmanlike 75-pitch outing, as New York put up three runs in the first inning and made them hold up to defeat Toronto in the opener of a day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.
Pettitte (4-3) was making a comeback from a broken left fibula he suffered on a hard-hit comebacker by Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians on June 27. Held to a pitch count of about 70 pitches, Pettitte stranded six Blue Jays by inducing ground ball outs to escape any damage. He also struck out three batters.
His most impressive inning was his last in which he retired Rajai Davis, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie in order using only seven pitches.
The Yankees’ offense got busy early off Blue Jays right-hander Henderson Alvarez (9-13).
Ichiro Suzuki opened the frame with a solid single to right. Nick Swisher followed with a lined single up the middle and Robinson Cano scored Suzuki with line-drive double that Rasmus misjudged in center-field and allowed to bounce off the wall.
Alex Rodriguez scored Swisher and advanced Cano to third with an RBI grounder and Curtis Granderson drove in Cano with a sacrifice fly to center.
The 3-0 margin held up until the eighth inning when David Robertson again got smacked around by the Blue Jays.
Lawrie greeted him with a double off the wall in left-center and he advanced to third on a seeing-eye single by pinch-hitter J.P. Arencibia that got past Jayson Nix at shortstop and rolled into left-field.
Pinch-hitter Kelly Johson then slapped a single into left to score Lawrie.
Robertson fanned Moises Sierra looking but veteran Omar Vizquel doubled into the corner in right to score Arencibia and advance Johnson to third.
Robertson fanned Adeiny Hechavarria looking and Girardi chose to bring in closer Rafael Soriano for what would be his sixth four-out save of the season.
Soriano walked rookie Anthony Gose to load the bases but Davis was retired on a sharp sinking line drive to left that Suzuki made a sliding grab on and barely held onto as the ball rolled up his right arm.
The Yankees added a crucial insurance run with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning off Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver.
Suzuki started it by slapping a bloop ground-rule double just inside the line in shallow left-field that was just out of the reach of a diving Gose.
Swisher followed with a hot smash that snuck under the glove of Lawrie at third base and rolled into left to plate Suzuki.
Soriano retired the Blue Jays in order in the ninth, striking out two batters, to record his 41st save in 44 opportunities this season. What was left probably one-third of the paid crowd of 39,859 from last night’s rainout stood and cheered the clutch victory.
The Yankees, for the moment, pulled back ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East by a half game. Their season record is 83-63. The Blue Jays fell to 66-80.
- The Yankees got rolling in May when Pettitte joined CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova and that quartet was 30-5 over a stretch of a month and half before Pettitte was injured. Since then the Yankees have also lost Nova and Sabathia in certain stretches and their 10-game lead on June 18 shrunk to zero. But Pettitte showed he could still compete and he has two more starts to build up his stamina for the playoffs. I think the Yankees are breathing a lot easier than they were a few weeks ago.
- Suzuki was 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored to raise his season batting average to .272. His catch on Davis’ sinking liner in the eighth inning preserved the victory for Pettitte and Yankees. With Derek Jeter out of the lineup, Suzuki fulfilled his role as a the consummate table-setter at the top of the lineup and he threw in a game-saving catch to boot. The trade the Yankees made to obtain from the Mariners is starting to pay major dividends.
- Swisher was 2-for-4 with a huge RBI single in the eighth that made the ninth inning more comfortable for Soriano and the Yankees. Swisher entered the contest in an 0-for-10 slide but he got a big hit when it counted.
- The way Robertson is pitching lately has to concern the Yankees some. He was tagged for two runs on four hits two-thirds of inning and he is now 0-3 with a 7.88 ERA in his last 10 appearances. Although his overall ERA is still a respectable 2.98, Robertson has been far more hittable lately and the Yankees need him to shut down teams in the eighth to go anywhere in the postseason.
- Swisher has played marvelous defense at first base for the most part but he actually made two errors on one play in the third inning. With Davis on first and one out, Lawrie hit a ball well off the bag at first. Swisher should have held the ball but attempted an awkward toss to Pettitte covering first and it rolled to the dugout screen to allow Davis to reach third. Pettitte bailed out Swisher by retiring Adam Lind on an inning-ending double-play ball.
- The top three Yankee hitters in the lineup – Suzuki, Swisher and Cano – collected all seven of the Yankees’ hits in the game. The rest of the batting order was a combined 0-for-17. That is a big reason why Alvarez stayed in the game for seven innings despite giving up three runs in the first frame.
NOTE: The BOMBER BANTER and ON DECK features will appear in the post from the second game of the doubleheader.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 2 – TORONTO BLUE JAYS
When you think of the Blue Jays these days, just one name comes to mind: Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays basically rode Bautista to an 81-81 record last season, the first season for manager John Farrell.
Though Bautista was able to slug his way to 43 home runs and 103 RBIs and a .302 average despite being pitched around and walked 132 times, the Blue Jays offense could not cover up problems in the Jays’ starting rotation and bullpen.
This season Bautista figures to have a lot more help with the offense but the Jays were unable to bid successfully for Japanese League star right-hander Yu Darvish. As a result, their pitching remains a big question mark heading into 2012. If they get some good pitching from their starters they could actually be much better than they were in 2011.
Left-hander Ricky Romero begins the 2012 season as the unquestioned ace of this team after compiling a 15-11 record and a 2.92 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 225 innings. Romero’s deadly change-up is his best pitch and he keeps hitters off-balance working off his low 90s fastball. At age 27, he has made great strides in just two major-league seasons.
Once again, right-hander Brandon Morrow will be the No. 2 starter, though he actually would be more valuable as a closer. Morrow, 27, throws high-octane gas but has a habit of missing the strike zone and getting bogged down in deep counts. That raises his pitch count and Morrow tends to tire quickly. Hence, he was 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA despite striking out 203 batters in 179 1/3 innings.
The big disappointment was left-hander Brett Cecil, who was 15-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 2010 but was 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA in 20 starts last season. Cecil, 25, regressed so badly he was sent back to the minors for a part of the season. Because the Jays have few options for their rotation, Cecil likely will be given another shot to stick in 2012. If he succeeds, as he did in 2010, the Jays will have a solid top three pitchers.
Right-hander Henderson Alvarez came up in the middle of the season and finished with a 1-3 record and a 3.53 ERA in only 10 starts. Alvarez, only 21, is an excellent control pitcher and he could end up making a huge leap forward if he can secure the No. 4 spot this season.
The Blue Jays are also counting on old friend to be their No. 5 starter in Dustin McGowan, who pitched briefly last season for the first time since the 2008 season. Shoulder problems derailed what looked to be a promising pitcher in 2007 when he was 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA for the Jays. The Jays are counting on him bouncing back this season.
The pressure is on McGowan, too. There is little depth behind him.
In short, this Blue Jays rotation looks to be a bit suspect but it has the potential to exceed expectations.
The most signifcant moves the Jays made was the signing 36-year-old right-hander Francisco Cordero as a free agent and acquiring 28-year-old right-hander Sergio Santos from the White Sox.
Leaky middle relief and the lack of a consistent closer cost the Jays dearly last season.
Cordero likely was signed to be a setup man for Santos despite the fact Cordero nailed down 36 saves in 43 chances with the Reds last season. Cordero was 5-3 with 2.45 ERA with the Reds but he still will to defer to Santos.
Santos came out of nowhere last season to become the White Sox closer with 30 saves in 36 tries and a 4-5 record with a 3.55 ERA. Should Santos falter for any reason, Cordero could easily slide into that role by virtue of his 327 career saves.
The Blue Jays also bolstered their bullpen by adding seemingly ageless left-hander Darren Oliver (who is 41) to a bullpen that already includes steady right-handers Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen. Former starter Jesse Litsch and long man Carlos Villanueva add depth to what now looks to be a strong group in 2012.
Bautista will not be shuttling from right-field to third base as he has in the past. The reason is the Jays think they have their third baseman for the forseeable future in Brett Lawrie.
Lawrie came up late in 2011 and showed he was ready for prime time by hitting nine home runs and driving in 25 runs with a .293 batting average in only 150 at bats. Projected over a full season, Lawrie’s numbers would approach Bautista’s. So Lawrie bears watching as a star of the future if he isn’t already.
Adam Lind also helped the Jays by slugging 26 home runs and driving in 87 runs hitting behind Bautiista. Though Lind could stand to hit better than the .251 mark he posted, the Jays have to be encouraged that he hit .243 against left-handers last season.
The Jays gave up on second baseman Aaron Hill and acquired Kelly Johnson from the Diamondbacks in a trade of Hill. However, Johnson and Hill are virtually alike in they are both mid-average power hitters. Johnson hit 21 home runs in 2011 after hitting 26 in 2010. Johnson also can steal bases. He swiped 16 last season.
The Jays also traded for troubled Cardinals outfielder Colby Ramus, who rejected hitting advice from coaches in St. Louis while posting a .225 batting average with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. Because the Jays have failed in developing prospect Travis Snider into a major-league hitter the team has moved on hoping Ramus fulfills his early promise.
Rounding out the outfield is left-fielder Eric Thames, who hit .282 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in just over half a season.
The Jays did seem to strike gold by prying shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Braves. Escobar, 29, hit .290 with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs as a leadoff hitter for most of the 2011 season.
The DH spot likely will go mostly to Edwin Encarnacion, who hit .272 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs in 134 games last season.
This Blue Jay offense is laden with power but Farrell introduced the concept of the stolen base to the formerly station-to-station Jays. However, the team leader, Rajai Davis, stole 34 bases but is now cast in a bench role so I am not sure how much stealing this team will do in 2012.
The Jays also developed a young catcher in J.P. Arencibia, who had 23 home runs and 78 RBIs in a his rookie season. But even with all that production, Arencibia hit just .219. He needs some work on defense too but the Jays are hopeful because he is only 26.
Davis, a speedster who had hit .284 with 50 steals for the A’s in 2010 fell off to hit .238 for the Jays in 2011. So he is locked in a battle with former Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco for a backup spot.
Though Snider has been a disappointment for the third straight season, the left-handed slugger just turned 24 and the Jays remain hopeful he someday will put it together. He may land back in Triple-A for the 2012 season, however.
Mike McCoy will be the primary infield reserve. He lacks range but is solid at second, short and third.
Jays backup catcher and defensive wizard Jose Molina left as a free agent for the rival Rays so the Jays acquired former Angels catcher Jeff Mathis to back up Arencibia.
The Jays figure to hit more home runs and still fewer bases in 2012. It is team that you can shut down if you have good stuff. But it also is a team that can destroy a pitcher who continually falls behind in the count and does not have good stuff.
The biggest weakness on the team looks to be in the thin starting rotation. Romero is the only real quality pitcher because Morrow has yet to take the next step in his development into a starter, Cecil is a biq question mark, Alvarez needs to prove he belongs and McGowan is pitching after three mostly inactive seasons rehabbing after major shoulder surgery.
The bullpen should be improved and both Santos and Cordero have experience closing. The Blue Jays have some good relievers besides them in Oliver, Frasor and Janssen.
With some real improvement the Jays could contend for the division this season. But in this division, their starting pitching could prevent them from staying competitive as the season unfolds.
I see the Jays perhaps creeping over the .500 mark but still finishing fourth.
ON WEDNESDAY – PART 3 TAMPA BAY RAYS
nder Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72 ERA). In the ALDS against the Rays, Lewis pitched five scoreless innings but he did not get a decision because — stop me if this sounds familiar — the bullpen gave up the lead late to the Rays. Lewis did not face the Yankees this season but he has a 6.89 ERA against them in three career starts.