YANKEES 4, RAYS 1
Brian McCann signed with the New York Yankees because Yankee Stadium was perfectly suited to his swing. He entered play on Monday having hit 20 of his 24 home runs with the Yankees at home.
Make it 21 out of 25.
McCann connected for a one-out solo shot into the second deck in right-field to break a 1-1 tie and New York went on to end Tampa Bay’s five-game winning streak to take sole possession of first place in the American League East.
McCann’s second home run of the season came off right-hander Brandon Gomes (0-1) and was immediately followed by a double by Carlos Beltran. One out later, Stephen Drew doubled off left-hander Everett Teaford for an RBI double that gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
Justin Wilson (1-0) relieved starter Adam Warren in the sixth inning and pitched an inning to get credit for the victory.
As it did the previous night against the Mets, the Yankees bullpen consisting of Wilson, David Carpenter, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller shut down the Rays on one hit and one walk and four strikeouts over the final 3 1/3 innings.
The Yankees bullpen came into the game in second place in the America League in ERA and first in strikeouts.
Miller pitched the final inning to earn his eighth save in as many opportunities. He is the first Yankees pitcher to have recorded eight saves in the team’s first 20 games.
The Yankees’ two-run sixth broke up a pitcher’s duel between Warren and Rays right-hander Nathan Karns.
Karns shut out the Yankees on just two hits in the first four innings and recorded the first two outs in the fifth before walking Drew. Didi Gregorius followed with an infield single and Jacoby Ellsbury chased Karns by fighting through a eight-pitch at-bat to draw a walk that loaded the bases.
Rays manager Kevin Cash then brought in Gomes and the veteran reliever walked Brett Gardner on a 3-2 pitch to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
However, the Rays fought back in the sixth inning when David DeJesus led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and took third on a flyout by Steven Souza Jr.
With the infield drawn in, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a ground ball to Drew at second base. Drew fired a one-hop throw to McCann at home but DeJesus touched the plate before McCann could apply the tag to tie the game at 1-1.
Some curious strategy by Cash allowed the Yankees to add a run in the eighth inning off a noticeably struggling Teaford.
McCann led off with a single and, two outs later, Drew singled to right. Then Gregorius drew a walk to load the bases. As the inning unfolded, Cash did not have anyone warming up in the Rays bullpen.
It proved costly because Teaford then hit Ellsbury with a 1-1 pitch to force in another run.
The Yankees came into the game tied with the Rays at 11-8. Now they are 12-8 and the Rays fell to 11-9.
- McCann entered the contest hitting .232 and ended up going 2-for-4 with a home run, two runs scored and an RBI. McCann also showed that he is willing to hit against the overshift that opponents have been using against him. Leading off the eighth, he first attempted to bunt the ball towards third base and ended up hitting a single that way on the next pitch for a single.
- Warren actually pitched his best game of the season and it is unfortunate he could not stay in long enough to have earned the victory. Warren yielded just one run on five hits and no walks and he struck out six in 5 2/3 innings. He is now 1-1 with a 4.35 ERA after four starts. Warren had absolutely no command issues and pitched out of a tough jam in the first when Souza hit a one-out single and Cabrera followed with a bloop ground-rule double. Warren fanned Evan Longoria, who entered the game on a 7-for-7 hitting streak, and then retired James Loney on a groundout to end the threat.
- The Yankees bullpen is simply one of the best collections of power arms the Yankees have had. Wilson, Carpenter, Betances and Miller all throw in the mid-90s or better and opposing teams are quickly learning they will lose if they do not have the lead by the sixth inning. Betances and Miller are quickly making Yankee fans see there has been no dropoff after the retirement of Mariano Rivera and the free-agent departure of David Robertson.
I can’t complain about anything when the team gets good pitching and some timely hitting. They also scored two runs without having to swing the bat which proves they are finding all kinds of ways to win games. It looks as if all those so-called experts who were predicting gloom for the Yankees this season were dreadfully wrong.
Mark Teixeira was named the American League Player of the Week on Monday. Teixeira, 34, was 8-for-24 (.333) with five homers and 10 RBIs in his past seven games. His hot hitting fueled the Yankees to a 5-2 record for the week. It was the fifth time Teixeira has won the award. . . . Ellsbury returned the lineup on Monday after missing Sunday’s game against the Mets with a tightness in his right hip. Ellsbury was 1-for-3 with a walk and was hit by a pitch. He also stole a base and drove in a run.
The Yankees, who are 4-0 against the Rays this season, will look to continue their matter over them on Tuesday.
The Yankees will call up right-hander Chase Whitley from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to allow right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to have an extra day of rest while the Yankees are in the middle of playing 30 games in 31 days. Whitley, 25, is 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in three starts with the RailRiders.
The Rays will throw right-hander Jake Odorizzi (2-1, 1.65 ERA). Odorizzi’s lone loss came at the hands of the Yankees on April 18 at Tropicana Field. In his last start he gave up one run on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings of a no decision against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday.
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.
YANKEES 5, RAYS 3
After a slow start the first week of the season it took a weekend trip to St. Petersburg, FL, for the Yankees to become what could be a real good ballclub.
Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley each drove in a pair of runs and Michael Pineda pitched 5 1/3 solid innings to win his second game of the season on Sunday as New York completed its first sweep of Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field since Sept. 13-15, 2005.
Pineda (2-0) yielded three runs on seven hits and one walk while he struck out five in an outing in which he had to battle with less than his best stuff.
Staked to an early 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly by Teixeira in the first inning, Pineda was victimized in the bottom of the inning by a leadoff single by David DeJesus and a two-run home run by rookie Steven Souza Jr.
But the Yankees kept putting pressure on right-hander Matt Andriese when Brett Gardner reached on a one-out single in the third inning and Alex Rodriguez followed with a double. Teixeira scored Gardner on an infield groundout and Headley then slapped an RBI single up the middle to score Rodriguez..
The Yankees added another run in the fourth on a leadoff triple by Garrett Jones and a sacrifice fly by John Ryan Murphy.
Andriese (0-1) ended his day by yielding four runs on eight hits and two walks with one strikeout in 3 1/3 innings.
Rodriguez opened the fifth inning off right-hander Steve Geltz by drawing a four-pitch walk and, after one out, Headley roped an RBI double down the right-field line to score Rodriguez.
But the Rays drew to within 5-3 in the bottom of the frame when DeJesus stroked a one-out single and Souza followed with a double down the left-field line.
The Yankees bullpen took over with two out in the sixth and shut down the Rays on just two hits the rest of the way.
Chris Martin and Dellin Betances combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings and left-hander Andrew Miller pitched around a leadoff double by Ryan Brett to strike out the side in the ninth to earn his fourth save.
With their third straight victory the Yankees evened their season record to 6-6. The Rays fell to 6-7.
- While the Yankees are among the American League leaders in home runs, they proved on Sunday they could win playing “small ball.” They scored two runs on sac flies and another on a groundout. They also moved base-runners into scoring position and were patient enough to draw six walks to go along with their 11 hits.
- Teixeira ws 0-for-3 with a walk but still drove in two runs. Though he is batting only .184 in the early going, he is still hitting for power (three home runs) and driving in runs (eight). In addition, most Yankee fans are well aware of Teixeira’s sluggish Aprils. The good news is he is healthy and producing runs.
- After an excellent spring, Headley got off to a slow start also. But he has been picking it up of late. In his past six starts Headley is 8-for-25 (.320) with a home run and five RBIs. That has raised his season average to .234.
- The only real negative was that the Yankees had a multitude of chances to put the game out of reach but just could not get the big hit that could do it. They were just 2-of-9 with runners and scoring position, they stranded a total of 10 runners and they ended the seventh inning by leaving the bases loaded.
The Yankees will at least fly into Detroit to play the Tigers on Monday with a bit of momentum going for them.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-2, 5.68 ERA) will start the opener for the Yankees. He surrendered four runs on seven hits and and one walk while fanning seven batters in seven innings in a loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday.
The Tigers will start right-hander Alfredo Simon (2-0, 2.03 ERA), who pitched eight scoreless innings and yielded just two hits with no walks and two strikeouts against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.
Game-time will be 7:08 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 9, RAYS 0
“I’ve been there. I know that (Masahiro) Tanaka is probably at 65 percent. He might be better than a young kid rushed up from the minor leagues, but in the end, it’s going to come back to bite them. I think Tanaka is not committed to his pitches. Tanaka is a guy who’s aggressive in the strike zone and attacks the strike zone. He doesn’t look like he’s attacking the strike zone.”
– Supreme pitching expert Pedro Martinez on April 10
Flash forward to Saturday and I think Martinez may want to season his steaming plate of crow liberally with some salsa because he is going to have to eat his words.
Tanaka held the Rays to just two hits in a brilliant seven-inning performance to outduel Jake Odorizzi as New York went on to score seven runs in the seventh inning to thoroughly humiliate Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
So dominant was Tanaka (2-1) that after he allowed a leadoff single to David DeJesus in the first inning, he did not allow another hit until Logan Forsythe led off the sixth inning with a double. In retiring 15 batters in a row, Tanaka struck out six of them and only three balls made it into the outfield.
Oh, by the way, after Forsythe’s double, Tanaka fanned Rene Rivera and DeJesus and retired Steven Souza Jr. on a groundout.
Tanaka walked none and ended up with eight strikeouts on only 85 pitches (60 of them were strikes). It was as if the Japanese right-hander was telling Martinez that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.
By the looks of Tanaka on this evening, he looks as dominant as he ever was in his rookie season last year when he was 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA.
Odorizzi (2-1) entered the game with a 0.61 ERA in 14 2/3 innings over two starts and he pitched that way for the first five innings of the game. He matched Tanaka pitch-by-by-pitch in allowing only three hits and fanning seven in that span.
However, the sixth inning proved to be his undoing when he issued back-to-back one-out walks to Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez. One batter later, Brian McCann, who entered the game 5-for-10 with two homers off Odorizzi and was 2-for-2 against him at that point, spanked a hanging change-up to deep right-field.
The ball caromed off the very top of the yellow home-run line and rolled back into shallow right-field for a two-run triple for McCann, only the fourth triple of his career.
Buoyed by the 2-0 lead, the Yankees opened the seventh with a single by Chase Headley, which promptly chased Odorizzi.
Stephen Drew greeted left-hander C.J. Riefenhauser with a fly ball that fell out of the glove of Souza for a double. Gregorio Petit scored Headley with a sacrifice fly. Jacob Ellsbury singled and Gardner scored Drew with an opposite-field single to make it 4-0.
Right-hander Grant Balfour replaced Riefenhauser and he immediately issued a walk to Rodriguez to load the bases and Mark Teixeira scored Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly.
Balfour then hit McCann with a pitch to reload the bases and Chris Young ripped a 2-2 slider into the left-field bleachers for a grand slam home run, his third homer of the season, which put the game out of reach at 9-0.
Odorizzi was charged with three runs on five hits and two walks while he struck out nine in 6-plus innings.
With the victory the Yankees already clinched the three-game series and improved to 5-6. The Rays dropped to 6-6.
- Tanaka’s velocity was there. The command was there. He looked like, well, Tanaka. Perhaps this will finally shut up all the critics and naysayers who have been dogging out the Yankees all season like FOX Sports play-by-play man Joe Buck and everybody who works for the Red Sox Sports Network in Bristol, CT, also known as ESPN. Tanaka got advice not to have Tommy John surgery by FOUR of the best orthopedic experts in the country and he is fine. Now please shut up about him being one pitch away from oblivion. Please!
- McCann’s dominance over Odorizzi is just amazing. He is now 8-for-13 with two homers, a triple and two doubles. McCann ended up 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored. He came into the game batting .179 and ended up raising his average to .250. I said it many times but the Yankees need production from Teixeira, McCann, Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran. It appears after a slow start they may be getting it.
- Young was only in the lineup because Beltran was benched with a bad head cold and he ended up with the big blast that put the icing on drubbing of the Rays. In limited play, Young is batting .276 with three home runs and eight RBIs. The 31-year-old veteran was practically run out of Citi Field by the front office of the New York Mets last season but he has resurrected what was a pretty promising career with the Yankees. Young also made a fine running catch in right-field in the fifth inning on a drive off the bat of Desmond Jennings.
What is there to complain about? I could say that the Yankees failed to score 10 runs or they did not get to Odorizzi soon enough. But the fact is Tanaka pitched like the ace he is and the Yankees got a shutout to win their first season series. They are making the Rays look like the old Devil Rays they used to beat up on for all those years.
Beltran, 37, likely will sit out the weekend with that bad cold, Girardi said on Saturday. “He’s got that bad congestion, a bad cold that’s kind of been going around our team,” Girardi told reporters. “He sounds really bad. He was bad yesterday and he’s worse today.” Young started for him in right-field and he did a great job of filling in for him. . . . As I predicted in Friday’s post, Girardi opted to move the red-hot Rodriguez into the No. 3 spot in the order on Saturday and he ended up with a no-contact evening. A-Rod walked twice and struck out three times. Rodriguez was 3-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs while batting seventh against the Rays on Friday. . . . Also as predicted, Girardi decided to sit struggling shortstop Didi Gregorius on Saturday. Girardi shifted Stephen Drew to shortstop and started Petit at second base. Petit, 30, was 0-for-3 with a sac fly RBI. Gregorius, 25, is batting .152 and has been somewhat shaky in the field and on the bases.
The Yankees will look to sweep the shell-shocked Rays on Sunday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (1-0, 5.11 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. He is coming off a victory on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles despite yielding five runs on nine hits with nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.
Pineda will be opposed by rookie right-hander Matt Andriese (0-0, 3.86 ERA). Andriese, 25, gave up two runs on five hits and one walk in 3 2/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday.
Game-time will be 1:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by WPIX.
YANKEES 9, RAYS 3
Sometimes you can predict the game’s outcome by looking at how pitchers fare through the second and third time in the batting order. Saturday’s pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays came into the game as polar opposites.
The rookie right-hander Odorizzi tends to pitch well early and lose it the second time through the order. Tanaka gets hit early but gets much tougher the second and third times through the order. That is exactly the way Saturday’s game played out.
After the Rays nicked Tanaka for three runs on seven hits,, including two solo home runs, in the first four innings, the 25-year-old Japanese rookie right-hander shut out the Rays on just one hit in his last three innings of work. Meanwhile, after Odorizzi retired the first nine batters he faced, he was hammered for three runs on five hits and two walks by the next 10 batters he faced.
Tanaka (4-0) remained undefeated as a pitcher dating back to Aug. 19, 2012 when he was pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.
The Yankees got a solo home run from Kelly Johnson off right-hander Josh Lueke (0-2) to lead off the sixth inning that broke a 3-3 tie and the Yankees rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to score nine unanswered runs to defeat Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 43,325 at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka ended up giving up three runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in seven innings to earn a victory punctuated by adjustments he made to stop the Rays after their early assault.
“You know what you’re going to get from him,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters. “You’re going to get a guy that’s really going to compete and is going to give you distance and is going to keep you in the game. He’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”
The Rays jumped out early when Desmond Jennings sent Tanaka’s 12th delivery into the bleachers in right-center for a solo home run with one out in the first inning.
They added a run in the second inning on a little bit of luck and some well-placed hits.
James Loney singled to left against the shift to start the inning. One batter later, David DeJesus hit a line drive that deflected off Tanaka and rolled into left to advance Loney to third. After retiring Sean Rodriguez on a popup for the second out, Ryan Hanigan rolled a ball that just squirted through Johnson and Yangervis Solarte.
Wil Myers gave the Rays their 3-0 lead when he slapped Tanaka’s first pitch to the opposite field and in the corner of the right-field porch for home run.
True to form, Odorizzi fell apart in the fourth when Jacoby Ellsbury led off the frame with a lined single to left. After Brett Gardner forced out Ellsbury on a fielder’s choice groundout, Mark Teixeira launched a mammoth blast into the second deck in right field for his fifth home run and his fourth in his past five games.
The Yankees then chased Odorizzi in the fifth when Ichiro Suzki led off with a double to the wall in left-center and Solarte drew a four-pitch walk. After Ellsbury tied the game with a ground-rule double to left-center, Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled Odorizzi in favor of left-hander Cesar Ramos.
Odorizzi left after giving up three runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four in four-plus innings.
But after Johnson deposited his fourth home run of the season into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center, the floodgates opened as the Yankees blasted Lueke and right-hander Heath Bell for six runs on seven hits and one walk over the final three innings.
Teixeira added an RBI single and Alfonso Soriano scored another run with a sacrifice fly off Lueke in the seventh. That Yankees tagged Bell for three runs in the eighth, keyed by an RBI single by Brian Roberts and two-run single by Gardner.
With the victory, the Yankees broke a three-game skid and they reclaimed the lead in the American League East with a 16-12 record. They lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles by a half game. The Rays fell to 14-17 and they are three games back in fourth place in the tightly bunched division.
- Tananka, by all rights, should have lost. By his own admission, he did not have good stuff. “All my pitches weren’t there today,” he said through his interpreter. “As for the split, it was more like a changeup, I feel. Everything wasn’t crisp today.” Yet he was able to win because he did not panic and he found a way to shut down the Rays to allow the Yankees’ offense to get into the game. It shows that Tanaka, on a day when he was not as his best, can still win a game. That makes him special.
- It is May so that means that it is time for Teixeira to wake up and he has. He was 2-for-4 in the game with a single, a homer, he was intentionally walked and he scored a run while driving in three. In his past five games, Teixeira is 7-for-19 (.368) with four home runs and six RBIs. That has raised Teixeira’s season average from .212 to .269. For those pundits who doubted Teixeira’s recovery from wrist surgery have some Tabasco to put on your steaming plate of crow.
- You think the Boston Red Sox would not want Ellsbury back. Think again! In his two games against the Rays, Ellsbury is 7-for-10 with two walks and he has scored two runs and driven in a pair. That has raised Ellsbury’s season average from .309 to .346, which is second to Matt Wieters (.354) of the Orioles in the American League.
- Despite the victory there were some moments that the Yankees did not deliver with runners in scoring position. Brian McCann was 1-for-5 with a double but Ramos struck him out with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth after the Rays elected to walk Teixeira to load the bases. He then lined out to Rodriguez in shallow right in the seventh with two on and nobody out. He ended his day flying out to end the eighth with one on and two out. So he stranded six runners. McCann is still struggling, hitting just .228 on the season.
- Soriano, despite his sac fly in the seventh, was not much better than McCann. He was 0-for-3 and he followed McCann in the fifth by grounding out to short to leave the bases loaded. Despite going 3-for-7 with a home run and an RBI on Friday, Soriano is 4-for-22 (.182) in his past five games with six strikeouts. He is hitting .252 with five home runs and 12 RBIs on the season.
- Solarte’s magic touch appears to be waning quickly. He was 0-for-3 and he is 7-for-35 (.200) in his past nine games. It appears the league is catching up to him because pitchers are feeding him a steady diet of breaking pitches and Solarte seems to be expanding his strike zone instead of being patient. He has drawn only four walks this season.
The Yankees optioned right-hander Chris Leroux to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday and recalled veteran right-hander Alfredo Aceves from the same club. Aceves, 31, had no record with a 1.98 ERA in three games (two of them starts) with the RailRiders. Aceves pitched for the Yankees from 2008 through 2010, compiling a 14-1 record and a 3.21 ERA in 59 games (five of them starts). Aceves has pitched as a starter, long reliever, middle innings pitcher and as a closer in his career and he gives the Yankees some flexibility in how he can be used. Leroux, 30, was hammered for five runs on five hits in the 14th inning of Friday’s game against the Rays and he was charged with the loss. . . . Because of the 14-inning game on Friday, Girardi elected to rest shortstop Derek Jeter and outfielder Carlos Beltran. Solarte started in place of Jeter and Suzuki drew the start in right-field in place of Beltran.
The Yankees can claim the three-game series over the Rays with a victory on Sunday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-3, 5.11 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up four runs on nine hits in five innings a loss to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. Sabathia held the Rays to one earned run on seven hits in seven innings at Tropicana Field on April 17.
Veteran left-hander Erik Bedard (0-1 5.52 ERA) draws the start for the Rays. Bedard gave up one run on seven hits and three walks before having to leave due to a high pitch count after five innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday. He gave up four runs on six hits in just 3 2/3 innings to the Yankees at home on April 18.
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.
The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:
NEW YORK YANKEES
After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.
Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.
Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.
The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.
Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.
The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.
Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.
The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.
Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.
If you don’t you lose.
The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.
The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.
The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.
The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.
Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.
The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.
As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.
In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.
BOSTON RED SOX
Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.
The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.
They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.
Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.
Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.
To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.
Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.
The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.
Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.
The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.
The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.
So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Jays are all about redemption.
They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.
The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.
So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.
Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.
But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.
Now that is some reclamation project.
Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.
But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.
There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.
Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.
The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.
It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?
The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.
Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.
The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.
The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.
They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.
So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.
Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) NEW YORK YANKEES
2) TAMPA BAY RAYS
3) BOSTON RED SOX
4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS
5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!
YANKEES 3, RAYS 2 (11 INNINGS)
When the New York Yankees acquired Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs on July 26 they desperately needed him for his power from the right side. As a bonus, they also got whatever was left in his 37-year-old legs.
On Sunday the Yankees found out there was still plenty left in those old legs to help win them an important game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Soriano delivered a one-out double in the top of the 11th inning, then stole third and scored on Curtis Granderson’s sacrifice fly as New York salvaged the final game of a crucial weekend series against Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 34,078.
With the game tied at 2-2, Soriano lined a 2-1 pitch from Jamey Wright (2-2) into left field for a double. With Granderson at the plate, Soriano then surprised the Rays by taking off for third and sliding in head first ahead of the throw from catcher Jose Lobaton.
Granderson then skied the next pitch into deep center-field to score Soriano easily with what proved to be the winning run.
Boone Logan (4-2), who came into the game in the bottom of the 10th with one on and one out to retire Lobaton on a inning-ending double play, was credited with the victory.
Mariano Rivera needed only six pitches to retire the Rays in order in the bottom of the 11th to earn his 38th save of the season and notch only the Yankees’ sixth victory in their past 22 games at Tropicana Field dating back to July 21, 2011.
The game featured a pitching duel between a pair of young right-handers in 26-year-old Ivan Nova for the Yankees and 25-year-old Alex Cobb for the Rays.
The Rays struck in the bottom of the first off Nova when newly acquired David DeJesus led off with a single, Ben Zobrist drew a walk and Evan Longoria plated DeJesus with a sharp single to left.
But the Yankees responded in the top of the fourth when Robinson Cano lifted a one-out line-drive opposite-field home run to left for his 24th home run of the season to knot the score at 1-1.
The Yankees then took the lead in the top of the sixth when Ichiro Suzuki reached first on an infield chopper to second. Cano then followed with a double to the wall in right-center for his 84th RBI of the season.
But the lead was short-lived because in the bottom of the inning, Longoria launched a blast into the left-field bleachers off Nova with out to even the game back up at 2-2.
Cobb gave up two runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out five in 5 1/3 innings.
Nova also yielded two runs on six hits and six walks while he fanned three in 6 2/3 innings.
The Yankees bullpen of Shawn Kelley, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Logan and Rivera held the Rays hitless and scoreless over the final 4 1/3 innings to give the Yankees the opportunity to win the game in extra innings.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 69-61 and they are seven games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. However, the Yankees drew to within 3 1/2 games in the wild card standings. The Rays fell to 74-54.
- Soriano continues to pay dividends as a trade-deadline acquisition. He was 2-for-5 with a single, a double, a stolen base and a run scored. Along with his 26 home runs this season (nine with the Yankees), Soriano has stolen 14 bases (four with the Yankees). That is most stolen bases Soriano has racked up since he stole 19 bases for the Cubs in 2008. Along with his 384 career homers Soriano has 284 career steals.
- Cano entered Sunday’s game with just one single in his past 12 at-bats. But he heated back up Sunday, going 3-for-5 with a single, a double and a homer, a run scored and two RBIs, In his past eight games, Cano is 15-for-34 (.441) with two homers and eight RBIs. His season average is .307, one point below his career batting average of .308.
- The Yankees won with their bullpen, some timely double plays and some great throwing from Chris Stewart behind the plate. The bullpen shut the Rays down without a hit over 4 1/3 innings. The Yankees turned four double plays on the Rays including one with the bases loaded in the first, one in the third, one in the fourth and one to end the bottom of the 10th. Stewart nailed Yunel Escobar attempting to steal in the fifth and then gunned down DeJesus in the seventh. Stewart has thrown out 15 out of 48 base-stealers this season (31 percent), which is just below his 33 percent career average.
- Nova walked two batters in the first inning and ended up issuing six walks overall, a season high for him. Nova entered the game having walked 27 batters in 93 2/3 innings, which is less than three walks per nine innings. But he was bailed out by the four double plays and Stewart’s arm.
- Mark Reynolds connected for a home run in his first at-bat as a Yankee on Aug. 16 at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Since then he is 4-for-25 (.160) with nine strikeouts. On Sunday, playing third base in place of resting Alex Rodriguez, Reynolds was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
Derek Jeter completed a three-game stint with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and will be in uniform with the Yankees on Monday when they open a series with the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Jeter, who was a rehabbing a strained right calf, was 3-for-9 with one walk, a double, two runs scored and an RBI. The Yankees want Jeter to take it easy running the bases so they may keep him healthy as much as possible for the final 32 games. In order to get Jeter on the roster the Yankees are expected to trim one of their 13 pitchers.
After sweeping the Jays in four games at Yankee Stadium they will try to sweep them for three at Rogers Centre.
Right-hander Phil Hughes (4-12, 4.88 ERA). Hughes held the Blue Jays to two runs over six innings but did not get a decision. It was his 11th quality start of the season but he has not won a game in his past eight starts. He is 5-5 with a 4.80 ERA lifetime against the Jays.
Knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey (9-12, 4.49 ERA) will match up again with the Yankees. Dickey gave a two-run home run to Soriano in the eighth inning on Wednesday to end up with a loss in his last start. He is 3-3 with a 3.44 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 7, ATHLETICS 5
A victory is a victory. But there are some victories that expose what a team is missing.
Though New York defeated Oakland on Sunday, the mood at Yankee Stadium was relief the pesky A’s were leaving town.
Bartolo Colon (7-6) pitched seven solid innings and Curtis Granderson, Andruw Jones and Eduardo Nunez drove in two runs apiece as the Yankees staked their vaunted bullpen to a 6-2 lead to start the eighth inning. However, the usually reliable David Robertson and Mariano Rivera were tagged for three runs on seven hits and a walk to barely hold on to defeat the Athletics.
Robertson was pressed into service despite the fact he threw 25 pitches in an inning of work on Saturday. Robertson has been filling in the eighth inning role since the Yankees lost Rafael Soriano on May 14 with right elbow inflammation and Joba Chamberlain on June 6 for the season with Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. On Sunday, the heavy workload on the All-Star reliever Robertson showed.
The A’s battered Robertson for two runs on three doubles and a walk in 30 more pitches over two-thirds of an inning, prompting manager Joe Girardi to summon Rivera from the bullpen for a very rare four-out save. Rivera escaped the two-out, two on jam by inducing Cliff Pennington to ground out on his second pitch.
However, the A’s — trailing 7-4 after Derek Jeter drove in an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth on an infield groundout — refused to go gently in the ninth.
With one out, the A’s strung together four straight singles — the last an RBI single by Josh Willingham — off Rivera to score a run to draw them within two runs with the bases loaded. Rivera and the Yankees escaped disaster when David DeJesus’ line drive headed into the right-field corner was stopped by first baseman Mark Teixeira, who trotted to first to double up Willingham for a game-ending unassisted double play.
What little was left of the crowd of 45,596 seemed to all exhale with a collective sigh of relief just before the P.A. system struck up Frank Sinatra singing his familiar “New York, New York.” Perhaps, in this case, it would have been more appropriate to play Sinatra’s “Luck Be A Lady Tonight.”
The Yankees had trailed 2-0 early to the A’s and their talented lefty starter Gio Gonzalez before the Yankees began chipping away in the bottom of the second inning. Jones followed a two-out single and a stolen base by Russell Martin with his first RBI single of the day to draw the Yankees to within a run.
Two innings later, Nunez laced a line-drive two-out double to the gap in left-center to score Martin and Jones, who Gonzalez had hit with a pitch and walked on four pitches, respectively. The Yankees took the lead at 3-2 and never did surrender it the rest of the way.
Granderson padded the lead to 5-2 in the fifth when he followed a leadoff walk to Derek Jeter with his 27th home run of the season and his 11th off a left-hander this season, which leads the major leagues. Later in the inning, Jones delivered a bases-loaded single to score Teixeira and chase Gonzalez (9-7) from the game. Gonzalez left having given up six runs on seven hits and three walks and struck out five in 4 2/3 innings of work.
Colon meanwhile, relied a bit more on his slider than his fastball in holding the A’s to just two runs on eight hits and a walk and he struck out four to win his first start since July 2 against the Mets. It also was his first post-All-Star break victory since the 2005 season.
Colon and the Yankees were able to hold on that victory for him despite the rocky eighth and ninth innings. Rivera got credit for his 25th save in 29 chances and extended his major-league record of consecutive seasons of 25 or more saves to 15.
With the victory the Yankees remain three games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The A’s dropped to 44-57 on the season.
- Colon was not as sharp as he has been, but he was good enough to limit the opposition to two earned runs or fewer for the ninth time in 15 starts. The A’s only got to Colon in the second inning. With two out, Kurt Suzuki stroked a double to left. Cliff Pennington followed with a single to right that scored Suzuki when Nick Swisher’s throw from right-field skipped past Martin at the plate. Rookie Eric Sogard then doubled to right-center to score Pennington to give the A’s a 2-0 lead. Colon shut out the A’s from there thanks to a great defensive play by Granderson and Robinson Cano.
- Granderson and Cano teamed up to deny the A’s what might have been a key run in the fifth. With Sogard at first and two out, Hideki Matsui, who was 5-for-5 in the game, stroked his first of two doubles on the day to center. Granderson retrieved the ball and, as Sogard headed for home, Cano relayed the ball high but right on the plate to Martin. Martin caught it over his head and brought his glove down to tag Sogard out as he blocked the plate. Despite an inconsequential error charged to Cano in the sixth, the Yankees played exceptional defense led by a spectacular play earlier by Cano, three excellent stops by Teixeira and Martin threw out a base-stealer in the seventh.
- Granderson’s great season continues despite the fact he has been slumping of late and he has been striking out at an alarming rate. Granderson’s blast to right reached the second deck and was the key blow of the game. Granderson now has has 27 home runs, 74 RBIs and is hitting .265. Of course, he also leads the team in strikeouts with 107 and he fanned three times on Sunday, all on breaking pitches in the dirt.
- Nunez filled in nicely for Jeter when he was on the disabled list and now he is doing the same with Alex Rodriguez on the DL. Nunez was 2-for-4 with a double and a single, he drove in two runs, stole a base and scored a run on Sunday. From June 14 through Sunday, Nunez is 31-for-105 (.295) with two home runs and 15 RBIs. He also has eight stolen bases.
- Robertson entered Sunday’s game with a 3-0 record and 1.14 ERA and he had only allowed one earned run since June 9, a stretch of 15 appearances. So it is hard to fault Robertson for his poor showing on Sunday. But in this instance you have to blame Girardi for choosing to use Robertson after he threw so many pitches on Saturday when he loaded the bases on walks and struck out the final batter to escape without a run scoring. In these situations Girardi will have to trust Cory Wade or Luis Ayala more. Of course, if the Yankees get a healthy Soriano back as expected this week, Robertson’s heavy workload can be lessened some.
- Swisher entered the game as the hottest hitter on the team. But on Sunday he was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. After pushing his average over .261 for the first time this season, Swisher’s average has dipped back to .258.
- When Rivera struggles to get outs it is news. Rivera escaped the eighth on two pitches but ran into trouble with out in the ninth. Jemile Weeks singled sharply to center. Coco Crisp then rolled a single just off Cano’s glove and Matsui lined a single to right to load the bases. Willingham singled to left to score Weeks and suddenly the Yankees were faced with the tying run at second, one out and the bases loaded. DeJesus’ line drive could have easily doomed the Yankees to either a tie or a one-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth. Luckily, Teixeira bailed out Rivera and the Yankees by being at the right place at the right time.
The Yankees held on to win the rubber game their three-game home series with the A’s. They now will open a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners, who have lost 14 games in a row.
The Yankees will start the series with veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (8-7, 3.21 ERA). Garcia pitched 6 2/3 innings of shutout baseball against the Rays for his 12th quality start of the season. Garcia fanned seven and walked none and looked dominant with his off-speed assortment. He is 4-3 with a 5.46 ERA in his career against the Mariners.
Seattle will counter with left-hander Jason Vargas (6-8, 3.94 ERA). Vargas was blasted by the Blue Jays for five runs on six hits over just three innings. Vargas, 28, has given up 10 earned runs in his last two starts. He is 0-2 with a 7.66 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.