YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 3
Carlos Beltran has 180 career postseason at-bats and 16 home runs. So he knows a lot about pressure situations. On Friday, he used that experience to hit what could be one of the most memorable home runs in New York Yankees’ history.
The 38-year-old outfielder came off the bench to deliver a mammoth three-run home run off right-hander Aaron Sanchez with one out in the top of the eighth inning to propel New York back into first place in the American League East with a victory over Toronto at Rogers Centre.
Beltran’s blast capped a clutch four-run rally to overcome a 3-0 deficit against left-hander David Price and also ended the Blue Jays’ 11-game winning streak.
Price held a 3-0 lead, having scattered eight hits with no walks and striking six batters, heading into the eighth.
Mark Teixiera singled to center with one out and Brian McCann followed with s single to left. Chase Headley then drove in the Yankees’ first run and chased Price with a ground-rule double into the gap in left-center.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Price with the hard-throwing Sanchez and Yankees manager Joe Girardi countered that move by sending up the switch-hitting Beltran in place of Chris Young.
After swinging and missing two high fastballs, Beltran allowed a head-high fastball go to make the count 1-2. Sanchez then delivered a belt-high 97-mile-per-hour fastball that Beltran sent high up into the first deck of the bleachers in center-field to give the Yankees a dramatic come-from-behind victory.
Price was charged with three runs on 11 hits in 7 1/3 innings. Sanchez (6-5) was saddled with the loss.
Dellin Betances pitched a perfect eighth to protect the victory for right-hander Ivan Nova (5-4) but left-hander Andrew Miller had to withstand a nail-biting attempted rally by the Blue Jays in the bottom of the ninth to earn his 26th save in 27 tries.
Pinch-hitter Chris Colabello drew a one-out walk and Kevin Pillar followed with a single to left. On the first pitch to Ben Revere, Miller crossed up McCann and threw a wild pitch to allow pinch-runner Cliff Pennington and Pillar to move into scoring position.
Miller subsequently struck out Revere swinging, but he ended up locked into a dramatic 11-pitch showdown with newly purchased All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in which Tulowitzki was able to foul off seven sliders from Miller – three in a row after the count reached 3-2.
But on the 12th pitch, Tulowitzki’s bat swung under Miller’s 86-mph slider for strike three. The normally stoic Yankees raced from the dugout onto the field to congratulate Miller as a sellout crowd of 46,689 at Rogers Centre saw their team get ambushed after they swept the Yankees last weekend at Yankee Stadium.
The Beltran home run and the Tulowitzki-Miller showdown overshadowed what was a very good outing from Nova, who Price had defeated 6-0 on Saturday.
Nova was charged with three runs on only five hits and one walk and three strikeouts. He also hit two batters and one of those ended up costing him in the third inning.
Nova hit Pillar on an 0-2 pitch to open the frame. Revere singled to left to advance Pillar to third. Tulowitzki then scored Pillar on what was an amazing recovery by shortstop Didi Gregorius to record a fielder’s choice.
Tulowitzki hit a hard come-backer to the mound that Nova attempted to grab with his bare right-hand. But the ball deflected behind him and Gregorius scooped it up between shortstop and second base and touched second with his glove to retire Revere.
Josh Donaldson singled to left and Jose Bautista scored Tulowitzki on a double to left and Edwin Encarnacion scored Donaldson on a sacrifice fly.
The victory gave the Yankees a season record of 63-51 and restored them to a half-game lead over the Blue Jays in the division. The stunned Blue Jays dropped to 64-53.
- There is no doubt that Beltran has been a bust as a free-agent signing since 2014. He was ineffective last season playing with bone chips in his right elbow and he got off to a terrible start this season in April. Since then he is 71-for-.239 (.297) with 10 homers and 32 RBIs. He also has been the Yankees’ hottest hitter in August with a .323 average and three homers and six RBIs. His big home run tonight was reminiscent of Raul Ibanez’s heroic home runs during the 2012 season. Perhaps this is why the eight-time All-Star is on the roster.
- Also lost in the drama was the clutch hitting of Headley on Friday. He was 3-for-4 with a single and two doubles and one huge RBI off Price. Headley, 31, turned his season around after the All-Star break by sacrificing power for contact. As a result, he is 31-for-91 (.341) with just one homer and 17 RBIs since the break and that has raised his season average to .274.
- Nova, 28, was valiant through seven innings on Friday. If you take away the three-run third inning, Nova shut out the powerful Blue Jays on just two hits and one walk over the other six innings. Of the 21 outs Nova recorded, 14 of them were on ground balls, which indicates that his sinking fastball and sharp-breaking curve had the Blue Jays off balance. Yankee fans may have forgotten than Nova was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011. This was a great effort.
- Miller, 30, may have won the 12-pitch battle with Tulowitzki to earn the save but his recent outings continue to be very shaky. In his past three outings, Miller has given up three runs on six hits. He blew his first save on Tuesday and came close to blowing two others in the past two days. If it continues Girardi might have to consider switching to Betances to close out games.
The Yankees announced on Friday they will conduct a pregame ceremony to celebrate Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th career hit on Sept. 13, against the Blue Jays. Rodriguez, 40, became the 29th player to reach the 3,000-hit plateau on June 19, hitting a first-inning home run off the Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are the only players to join the 3,000-hit club while wearing a Yankees uniform.
The Yankees will have another chance at blessed retribution against the cocky Blue Jays on Saturday in Game 2 of the weekend series.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (8-5, 3.79 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Tanaka, 26, lost but gave up only two runs on three hits with five strikeouts against the Blue Jays on Sunday. He has seven consecutive starts in which he has pitched six innings or more.
Right-hander Marco Estrada (10-6, 3.21 ERA) will start for the Jays. Estrada shut out the Yankees on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to defeat Tanaka on Sunday. His career ERA against the Yankees is 4.50.
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.
YANKEES 8, INDIANS 6
As it has been for most of the season, if the New York Yankees are in a hitting slump all they have to is start right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to break them out it. That is just what happened on Thursday night at Progressive Field.
Brian McCann blasted a three-run homer and Brett Gardner had three hits and drove in three runs to back Eovaldi as New York ended a poorly timed five-game losing streak with a victory over Cleveland.
McCann’s 20th home run of the season came with two out in the first inning off right-hander Trevor Bauer (9-9) and scored Jacoby Ellsbury and Gardner, who have both struggled to get on base throughout the Yankees latest skid.
They added a run on a solo home run by Stephen Drew with one out in the second inning.
Eovaldi (12-2) did not pitch sharply but he was the beneficiary of the same run support he has been getting all season. The Yankees average just over seven runs per start for Eovaldi.
The Yankees finally chased Bauer in the fourth inning on a leadoff single by Didi Gregorius, an RBI double by Drew and a one-out double by Gardner.
Bauer was charged with six runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned one in 3 1/3 innings.
The Indians managed to hang close by scoring two runs in both the third and six innings off Eovaldi.
Michael Brantley hit a sacrifice fly in the third to score the Indians’ first run and Carlos Santana followed with an RBI single to halve the Yankees’ lead to 4-2.
Former Yankee farmhand Abraham Almonte stroked an RBI double in the sixth and Lonnie Chisenhall ended Eovaldi ‘s night with an RBI single one out later to bring the Indians to within two runs at 6-4.
Eovaldi yielded four runs on seven hits and three walks and struck out four batters in 5 1/3 innings to win his eighth game in a row and he now is undefeated in his past 10 starts.
Right-hander Adam Warren rescued Eovaldi by coming on the sixth inning and inducing an inning-ending double play off the bat of Giovanny Urshela.
The Yankees added solo run in both the sixth and eighth innings and they came on RBI singles by Gardner.
The Indians hung close by scoring a run off left-hander Justin Wilson when right-hander Dellin Betances uncorked a wild pitch with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh inning. But Betances got out of the jam by striking out Almonte swinging.
The Indians added a run in the ninth off left-hander Andrew Miller on a two-out RBI single by Yan Gomes. But Miller struck out Chisenhall looking to record his 24th save after blowing his hist first save of the season against the Indians on Tuesday.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 62-51. They are a half-game behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Indians fell to 53-60.
- America may run on Dunkin’ but the Yankees run on Ellsbury and Gardner. After the both of them stinking it up for a week, the pair reached base in a combined 7 times in 10 plate appearances. Gardner was 3-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and three RBIs. Ellsbury was 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored.
- McCann’s 20th home run puts him in rare company. He becomes only the fifth catcher since 1900 to hit 20 or more home runs in nine straight seasons. The other four are Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter and Johnny Bench. The home run was McCann’s eighth on the road this season. He is now batting .242 with 20 homers and 69 RBIs on the season.
- Drew entered the game batting .190 but managed to go 2-for-3 with a homer, four runs scored and two RBIs. Drew’s home run was his second of the series against the Indians and his 15th of the season, which leads all second baseman in the American League.
- Eovaldi once again got hurt by his high pitch count. Between inconsistency in throwing strikes and the Indians putting 10 base-runners on against him in 5 1/3 innings, he was not able to either allow the bullpen to rest or to keep the Indians from getting back into the game. It does not matter now but it could hurt a lot in a potential playoff game.
- Alex Rodriguez is swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone and it shows that he is pressing. Rodriguez was 0-for-4 with a walk and he struck once and hit into a double play in another at-bat. In his past six games, Rodriguez is 2-for-25 (.080) with six strikeouts. His season average has dipped to .268.
The Yankees on Thursday optioned right-hander Nick Goody to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and selected the contract of first baseman Greg Bird. Bird, 22, was batting a combined .277 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. Bird made his Major-League debut on Thursday starting at first base in place of a resting Mark Teixeira and he was 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. . . . Right-hander Michael Pineda is scheduled to make his first rehab start on Sunday for Trenton and he hopes to make it back into the rotation before Sept. 1. Pineda was placed on the disabled list since July 30 with a right flexor forearm muscle strain. He is 9-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 19 starts this season.
Because of their home meltdown against the Blue Jays last weekend the Yankees open a very important three-game weekend road series at Rogers Centre starting on Friday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (4-4, 3.42 ERA) will start the opener for the Yankees. Nova won three games in a row and stymied the Blue Jays for five innings before surrendering a grand slam to Justin Smoak in the sixth on Saturday.
Left-hander David Price (11-4, 2.35 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Price shut out the Yankees on three hits and three walks while striking out seven in a victory against the Saturday.
Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 13, TIGERS 4
There are 28 major-league teams who rightly fear facing left-hander David Price and there is one team that does not. After Wednesday’s game between the Tigers and the Yankees at chilly Comerica Park it became obvious the Yankees do not.
The Yankees hounded and harassed Price (1-1) for 10 hits, three walks and a hit batter on 88 pitches in just 2 1/3 innings as New York put a serious hurting on Detroit on a 38-degree night that even included snow flurries.
The last time the Yankees faced Price was last August at Yankee Stadium as he was making his debut with the Tigers. Price ended up getting shelled for nine consecutive hits in the first inning and eight runs in all in what was the worst outing of his career.
The Yankees seemed to have picked it where they left off.
The Yankees sent 11 men to the plate in the first inning and forced Price to throw 56 pitches in a six-run inning keyed by a bases-loaded double by Gregorio Petit that drove in three runs.
Things for the Price and the Tigers began to look a bit better when right-hander Adam Warren struggled with his command so badly that he walked four of the first five batters he faced and he ended up yielding four runs while the Tigers batted around in the bottom of the first.
However, while the Yankees added a pair of runs in the second inning off Price on back-to-back two-out RBI triples by Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley, Warren (1-1) settled down to keep the Tigers off the board for the next 4 1/3 innings to earn his first victory of the season.
The Yankees padded their lead in the fourth inning off right-hander Angel Nesbitt on a two-run double by Didi Gregarious. The closed out the scoring in the seventh when Mark Teixeira connected for his fifth home run of the season – a three-run shot – off right-hander Al Albuquerque.
After two disappointing starts, Warren was charged with four runs on five hits and four walks while he fanned three in 5 2/3 innings.
Yankee relievers Justin Wilson, David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve combined to pitch 3 1/3 scoreless innings to close out the rout as the Tigers did not advance a runner past first base after the first inning.
The Yankees defense also combined for inning-ending double plays in the fourth and fifth innings and they have now turned nine double plays against the Tigers in the first three games of the series.
With the victory the Yankees climbed above the .500 mark for the first time this season as 8-7. Since opening the season 3-6, the Yankees have now won five of the past six games. The Tigers fell to 11-4.
- Teixeira’s home run was his fifth and the Yankees’ 21st of the season, which leads all of Major League Baseball. Who would have believed having seen this team struggle to score runs all through spring training would evolve into the Bronx Bombers again? Despite batting .204, Teixeira leads the Yankees with five home runs and 13 RBIs.
- Give Petit credit for setting the tone for the rout with his bases-clearing double with two out in the first inning. Petit was starting in place of lefty-swinging second baseman Stephen Drew and he made the most of it despite entering the game batting .111. The Yankees actually scored seven of their eight runs off Price with two out.
- Chris Young followed up on his 3-for-3 night on Tuesday by going 3-for-6 with a double and two runs scored. In his past three starts, Young is 7-for-14 (.500) with two home runs and five RBIs. Overall he is 14-for-38 (.394) with four homers and nine RBIs. Manager Joe Girardi has a difficult problem in getting Young at-bats at a time when he is the hottest hitter on the team.
I will admit it did not look promising when Warren was throwing pitches in the first inning that were going everywhere but the strike zone. But he settled down and the Yankees have now beaten a very good Detroit team like they own them. They are showing signs that the dire predictions of the so-called experts were egregiously wrong.
The weather may be cold but the red-hot Yankees will have a chance to win the four-game series against the Tigers on Thursday.
Ace right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (2-1, 3.94 ERA) will start for the Yankees coming off an impressive performance on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays. Tanaka blanked the Rays on just two hits and no walks while he struck out eight in eight innings.
The Yankees lead in home runs and the will face a right-hander Anibal Sanchez (1-2, 7.71 ERA), who has already given up five. Sanchez was shelled for nine runs on nine hits (two of them home runs) and two walks in just 3 1/3 innings against the Chicago White Sox on Saturday.
Game-time will be 1:08 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, TIGERS 2
When the Yankees acquired 25-year-old right-hander Nathan Eovaldi from the Miami Marlins they knew he would be a work in progress. After watching him throw seven-plus innings of one -run ball against the mighty Tigers on Tuesday, it appears the work is paying off.
Eovaldi (1-0) held the Tigers to a single run on eight hits and one walk while he struck four and the Yankees got a pair of solo home runs from Chris Young and Stephen Drew as New York cooled off the red-hot Tigers at rainy, windy and chilly Comerica Park.
The Yankees staked Eovaldi an early 1-0 lead in the first inning against left-hander Kyle Lobstein (1-1) when Brett Gardner drew a one-out walk and, one batter later, Mark Teixeira stroked an opposite-field double to plate Gardner.
Eovaldi, meanwhile, was buoyed by four double plays that kept the Tigers’ vaunted offense from scoring a run. In fact, the Yankees have turned seven double plays on the Tigers in the past two games.
The Yankees, however, were unable to get any more runs off Lobstein, who left after six innings yielding one run on three hits and four walks with three strikeouts.
But the Yankees were able to take advantage of a porous Tigers’ bullpen in the seventh inning as Young led off the frame with his fourth home run of the season on a 3-1 offering from left-hander Ian Krol. One batter later, Drew touched Krol for his fourth home run of the season.
Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny replaced Krol and, with two out Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk and stole second base. Gardner then hit an infield single that deflected off Gorzelanny’s glove, allowing Ellsbury to advance to third.
Right-hander Al Alburquerque then replaced Gorzelanny and Alburquerque uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Ellsbury to score to extend the Yankees’ lead to 4-0.
The Tigers did get to Eovaldi in the bottom of the seventh as J.D. Martinez laced a one-out double, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on sacrifice fly off the bat of Yoenis Cespedes.
The Yankees added an unearned run in the ninth inning when Gardner led off with a single, advanced to second on a long fly ball to deep left-center by Alex Rodriguez and scored from second on a hard-hit ground ball into left by Brian McCann that was scored as an error on third baseman Nick Castrellanos.
The Tigers mounted a two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth with a single by Martinez and a double by Cespedes off right-hander Chris Martin. Closer Andrew Miller then entered the game and walked Castellanos and pinch-hitter Rajai Davis, which scored Martinez and brought the potential winning run to the plate.
However, Miller was able to preserve the victory by striking out Jose Iglesias to record his fifth save in as many chances.
With the victory the Yankees pulled back to the .500 mark at 7-7. The Tigers dropped to 11-4.
- Eovaldi had only one perfect inning but the double plays and strikeouts allowed him to frustrate the Tigers. The Yankees have to be encouraged by the starts they have gotten the past two nights against the Tigers from CC Sabathia and Eovaldi. They combined to yield just three runs on 15 hits and six walks while striking out nine in 15 innings of work. If Sabathia and Eovaldi do that consistently then the Yankees might have a solid rotation that will allow them to contend.
- Carlos Beltran may want to watch out for his job because Young, 31, has been absolutely sensational as a starter against right-handed pitching. Young started for Beltran in right and was 3-for-3 with a homer, a double, a single, a walk, a run scored and one RBI. In limited play, Young is 11-for-32 with four homers and nine RBIs. Beltran, 37, is batting .171 with no home runs and six RBIs.
- The Yankees turned four double plays and Teixeira turned in a gem to cut off a potential tying run in the third inning after Castellanos and Avila opened the inning with back-to-back singles off Eovaldi. After Iglesias legged out a fielder’s choice grounder that erased Avila at second, Anthony Gose hit a chopper to Teixeira at first. Teixeira froze Castellanos between third and home plate and Chase Headley tagged him before he could get back to third. Eovaldi then retired Ian Kinsler on a pop up to end the threat. Good pitching and great defense go hand-in-hand and the Yankees got both on Tuesday.
The Yankees were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position but I am not going to complain because (1) they won the game and (2) the Tigers were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. The Yankees have stood toe-to-toe with what could be the best team in baseball the past two nights so I have no complaints.
The Yankees on Tuesday recalled left-hander Chasen Shreve, 24, from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and optioned right-hander Branden Pinder, 26, to Scranton. Shreve was sent down on April 11 after throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox in a 19-inning loss on April 10 so that the Yankees could recall a fresh arm from Scranton, left-hander Matt Tracy. The Yankees were forced to wait a mandatory 10 days before they could recall Shreve, who now gives manager Joe Girardi a third left-hander in the bullpen.
The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Tigers on Wednesday.
Right-hander Adam Warren (0-1, 4.82 ERA) will make his third start of the season. Warren, 27, has been a bit of a disappointment after pitching so well in spring training to earn the job as the fifth starter. He yielded four runs on six hits (two of them home runs) and two walks in four innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday.
The Tigers will start left-hander David Price (1-0, 0.40 ERA), who gave up one run on four hits and two walks while striking out nine in eight innings in a no-decision against the Chicago White Sox on Friday.
Game-time will be 7:08 p.m. EDT an the game will be broadcast 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 10, RAYS 2
David Price and CC Sabathia have squared off against each other nine times previous to Thursday and the Rays were 8-1 in those games. Price was 6-1 and Sabathia was 1-6. With those numbers you would have bet the house on Price and the Rays to win.
Well, if you did, you lost your house.
Sabathia pitched seven strong innings and had a triple play turned behind him while the Yankees hammered Price for six runs, including back-to-back homers by Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann, as New York pummeled Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 28,085 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
Sabathia (2-2) held the Rays to two runs (one earned) on seven hits and two walks while he struck out six in pitching what was his best game of the season.
The Yankees, meanwhile, helped Sabathia in the field by turning their third triple play behind him since 2010 in the second inning with Evan Longoria on second and Will Myers at first. Sean Rodriguez hit a two-hopper to the right of third baseman Yangervis Solarte. Solarte stepped on third to retire Longoria, fired to Brian Roberts at second to get Myers and first baseman Scott Sizemore – playing his first career game at first base – scooped Roberts’ low throw to first to beat Rodriguez.
Price (2-1) got off to bad start and never really recovered, giving up a run in the first when McCann laced an opposite-field, two-out single to score Jacoby Ellsbury.
The Yankees added three more runs in the second when Sizemore led off with a double and Roberts followed with an RBI triple. One out later, Ellsbury scored Roberts with a triple of his own and Ellsbury scored on Derek Jeter’s RBI single.
After the Rays scored an unearned run in the fourth when Logan Forsythe scooted home on a passed ball by McCann, the Yankees began putting the game away in the fifth inning when Soriano blasted his fourth home run of the season and McCann added his third with two out in the inning.
It was the second time this season that Soriano and McCann have hit consecutive homers.
Price was raked for 10 hits and one walk while he fanned six in five innings of work.
The Yankees added single runs in the sixth off Heath Bell and the seventh off Josh Lueke and they capped their 16-hit barrage in the ninth when Solarte blasted his first major-league homer with Soriano aboard off Rays closer Grant Balfour.
The Rays got a second run in the seventh when Rodriguez led off the frame with his third career home run off Sabathia.
With the victory, the Yankees have now won five games in row and they are 10-6 on the season They lead the American League East by two games over the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. The Rays have now lost four in a row and they are 7-9, tied with Boston Red Sox for fourth place.
- Roberts played in his first game April 12 due to lower-back stiffness and he promptly went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and two RBIs. Roberts had entered the game hitting only .129. The Yankees are counting on the 36-year-old switch-hitter to stay healthy this season.
- Solarte started the night by striking out twice against Price on change-ups. In his next three at-bats he hit a double off Price, a single off Bell and a homer off Balfour. His 3-for-5 night raised his season average from .348 to .373. He also started that triple play in the second inning. It is beginning to look like he 26-year-old Venezuelan infielder is the real deal and not just lucky.
- Soriano also was 3-for-5 with a pair of singles and a homer. Since starting the season 0-for-17, Soriano is 15-for-41 (.366) with four homers and five RBIs. Opponents may want to hope Soriano does not get REAL hot as he did last season when he was acquired by the Yankees at the trade deadline.
No negatives here. This team is rolling on offense, defense and with its pitching staff. When you club a division rival by eight runs on the road against a tough pitcher like Price you are doing something right.
First baseman Mark Teixeira played three innings in minor-league game at the team’s complex in Tampa, FL, on Thursday and he is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. Teixeira, 34, has been out since April 4 with a strained right hamstring. He is expected to play five innings in a minor-league game on Friday to prepare for his start on Sunday against the Rays. . . . Closer David Robertson threw a bullpen session on Thursday at Tropicana Field and he is on track to be activated next Tuesday, the first day he is eligible to come of the disabled list. Robertson, 29, has been recovering from a strained left groin. . . . Utility infielder Brendan Ryan, who has not played in a game since March 4 in spring training, is scheduled to play in minor-league game on Saturday. Ryan, who has been sidelined with a cervical nerve injury and an oblique strain, hopes to be able to be activated form the disabled list sometime in early May.
The Yankees will continue their four-game road series against the Rays on Friday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 3.86 ERA) will get the starting assignment for the Yankees. Kuroda, 39, yielded four runs on six hits and three walks in six innings in a victory over the Red Sox on Saturday.
Left-hander Erik Bedard (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who was released by the Rays at the end of spring training only to be brought back, will be subbing for right-hander Alex Cobb, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique. Bedard, 35, was 2-2 with a 6.88 ERA in five games (three starts) in spring training.
Game-time will be at 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 2, CUBS 0
When Michael Pineda last pitched all the focus was on what may or may not have been on his hands. On Wednesday, the focus was right where it should have been: On how well Pineda is pitching.
Pineda threw six scoreless innings and Scott Sizemore scored a run and drove in another in his Yankee debut as New York completed a pair of shutouts against Chicago in a day-night twin bill at Yankee Stadium.
The Cubs managed just four hits and a walk against Pineda (2-1) and the 6-for-7 right-hander struck out three to lower his season ERA to 1.00.
The Yankees backed him by scoring single runs in the fourth and fifth innings.
After Pineda defeated the Boston Red Sox in his last start on Thursday controversy erupted over what appeared to be pine tar on his pitching hand during the game. Both the MLB Network and NESN showed shots of Pineda’s hand but neither the Red Sox or the umpires ever checked Pineda for an illegal substance and Pineda was not disciplined.
Pineda said after the game that it was not pine tar but dirt on his hand.
Sizemore started the fourth-inning rally against left-hander Travis Wood with a one-out single. One out later he advanced to second on a single by John Ryan Murphy and he scored on an RBI single by Brett Gardner.
Alfonso Soriano and Yangervis Solarte hit back-to-back one-out singles in the fifth and Soriano scored one out later on Sizemore’s single to left.
Wood (0-2) was charged with two runs on 11 hits while he struck out two in 5 2/3 innings.
Pineda, meanwhile, was backed by three innings of scoreless relief by David Phelps, Matt Thornton and Adam Warren, who got the final three outs for his first major-league save.
For the Yankees the doubleheader shutouts were their first since April 19, 1987 when the Yankees blanked the Kansas City Royals in both contests.
Sizemore, 29, was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to add depth to an injury-depleted infield. His RBI in the fifth was his first since August, 2011 because Sizemore has missed virtually all of the past two seasons after undergoing a pair of surgeries to repair torn ligaments in his right knee.
The victory was the Yankees’ fourth in a row and boosted their won-loss record to 9-6. The Cubs are now 4-10.
- Pineda was brilliant in his 89-pitch outing. After an impressive spring that won him the No. 5 spot in the rotation, Pineda has picked up where he left off by yielding just two earned runs on 13 hits and two walks while he has struck out 15 in 18 innings of work. His Walks to Innings Pitched ratio (WHIP) is an astounding 0.89.
- Sizemore played in both games of the doubleheader and was 2-for-3 in the second game with a pair of singles and a line-out. Sizemore had played in only two games since the end of the 2011 season and he was only playing because the Yankees have were missing first baseman Mark Teixeira, who is on the disabled list, and second baseman Brian Roberts, who has missed the past two games with back spasms.
- Carlos Beltran was 3-for-7 with a home run, a double, a walk and one RBI in the doubleheader. He was 2-for-4 in the second game and since April 7, Beltran is 14 for 33 (.424).
I could point out Kelly Johnson was 0-for-4 and he was the only Yankee starter who did not get a hit or reach base on Wednesday. But the Yankees shut out the Cubs in both games on just nine hits and four walks with 17 strikeouts. Enough said!
The Yankees honored late South African President Nelson Mandela on the same day they honored Jackie Robinson. A pre-game ceremony was conducted to honor both men and each team’s players wore Robinson’s No. 42 to honor the man who broke the color barrier in baseball 67 years ago. . . . Derek Jeter returned to the lineup in the second game on Wednesday and was 1-for-5 with a single and he also reached on a two-base error by Darwin Barney. Jeter had missed the past three games with a tight right quad. . . . Roberts told reporters on Wednesday that he is feeling better after missing his fourth straight game with a lower back strain. Manager Joe Girardi said Roberts is day-to-day and he will be re-evaluated on Thursday.
The Yankees ended their first home stand with a 6-3 record and they travel to St. Petersburg, FL to open a four-game series with Tampa Bay Rays that begins on Thursday at Tropicana Field.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (1-2, 6.63 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Sabathia has been hampered this season with one bad inning in each of his first three starts. He ended up losing to the Red Sox last Friday after giving up four runs on two homers in the sixth inning.
The Rays will counter with left-hander David Price (2-0, 2.91 ERA). Price held the Cincinnati Reds to one run on four hits in 8 1/3 innings for his second victory of the season last Friday. He struck out 10 batters.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast 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 4, RAYS 3
Ichiro Suzuki entered Tuesday’s game batting just .200 and it was beginning to look as if all those years of playing baseball were starting to take its toll. But the Tampa Bay Rays found out there is no hitter more dangerous than a great hitter in the throes of a horrible slump.
Suzuki slapped a two-out bases loaded single off reliever Fernando Rodney to drive in two runs to break a 2-2 tie in the ninth inning as New York edged Tampa Bay in front of an embarrassingly small paid crowd of 17,644 at Tropicana Field.
David Robertson (1-0) pitched a perfect ninth inning in relief of starter Phil Hughes to earn credit for the victory. Though Evan Longoria greeted him with a first-pitch home run in the bottom of ninth, Mariano Rivera retired the next three hitters to earn his sixth save in as many chances this season.
Robinson Cano started the ninth inning with a single off Rays starter David Price (0-2). Rays manager Joe Maddon then elected to bring Rodney to face left-hander Vernon Wells.
Wells struck out but Cano was able to swipe second base, which forced Maddon to walk pinch-hitter Travis Hafner intentionally to set up a potential double play.
However, Lyle Overbay was able able to draw a walk on a 3-2 pitch from Rodney to load the bases and, after Chris Stewart popped out, Suzuki came to the plate.
Suzuki also was instrumental in allowing the Yankees to tie the game in the eighth with a one-out single and he advanced to third on a single to left by Jayson Nix. He then scored on a infield groundout by Brett Gardner.
Price entered the eighth with a 2-1 lead on a two-out RBI single by Jose Molina that scored Matt Joyce.
Price gave up three runs on eight hits and no walks while he struck out five in eight-plus innings of work.
However, Hughes matched him pitch-for-pitch after a shaky first inning in which he gave up a walk to Desmond Jennings, a double by Ryan Roberts and sacrifice fly to Ben Zobrist that scored Jennings.
Hughes then settled in giving up just two runs on six hits and two walks and he struck out six batters in seven innings. It was his second consecutive strong outing but he has received a no decisions in both of them.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 11-8. The Rays fell to 9-11.
- Suzuki, 39, has had the Yankees concerned because he slumped miserably in the final three weeks of spring training and began the season in the same hitting funk. Manager Joe Girardi elected to bench him in favor of Brennan Boesch twice against left-handers in the past week. Hopefully his two hits in the last two innings, scoring the game-tying run and driving in the game-winning runs will get him going.
- In his last two starts, Hughes has given up four runs on 12 hits and two walks and he has fanned 12 in 14 innings. After giving up the sacrifice fly to Zobrist in the first inning, Hughes retired 16 of the next 19 batters he faced until he opened the seventh inning by walking Joyce. Joyce eventually scored on Molina’s hit and it likely cost Hughes the victory. But Hughes is pitching well after two dreadful starts to begin the season. He lowered his season ERA to 5.14.
- Cano was 2-for-4 and both his hits set up runs. After Eduardo Nunez reached first to lead off the fourth inning on a wild pitch on a swinging third strike, Cano advanced him third on a single. Wells then drove in Nunez with an opposite-field single to right that tied the game at 1-1. Cano raised his season average to .342, which currently leads the team.
- It is just about decision time for the Yankees on Ben Francisco, who started for a second consecutive game as the designated hitter. Francisco was 0-for-3 in the game and he is hitting a miserable .080 on the season after hitting a combined .308 with eight doubles, three homers and nine RBIs for the Cleveland Indians and the Yankees in spring training. The Yankees chose to keep Francisco over Juan Rivera, though Rivera also had a good spring. Rivera is currently a free agent and could be signed by any club.
- The Yankees are finding out their Achilles’ heel is left-handed pitching. With Kevin Youkilis out of the lineup for a third straight game with lower back stiffness, the Yankees were forced to start Francisco at DH in place of Hafner, the lefty swinging Overbay at first and Nix at third. After Matt Moore shut them down on one run and two hits on Monday, Price held them to two runs on seven hits on Tuesday until the ninth inning when they rallied off the right-handed Rodney.
- The Yankees were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position until Suzuki delivered his game-winning single in the ninth.
Youkilis was held out of the lineup for a third straight game on Tuesday and he now is not expected to play until Thursday. Youkilis originally injured the back in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game in Toronto against the Blue Jays and re-aggravated the injury on Monday during batting practice in St. Petersburg, FL. . . . Mark Teixeira admitted on Tuesday that he will not meet his stated goal to return to the lineup by May 1. Though Teixiera has been cleared to take dry swings from both sides of the plate, he has not advanced far enough to begin hitting a baseball. Instead of remaining in Tampa to continue his workouts, Teixiera will return with the team to New York after Wednesday’s game. . . . Derek Jeter will be in New York on Thursday and will hold a press conference. Jeter, who found out last week that he sustained another small fracture in his surgically repaired left ankle, has not made any public comment since he learned will be out until after the All-Star break.
The Yankees will have a chance to win the rubber game of their three-game set with the Rays on Wednesday.
Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (3-0, 2.01 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pettitte is coming off another strong 7 1/3 innings in a victory over the Blue Jays on Friday. Pettitte, 40, gave up three runs on six hits and a walk while he struck out five. In his last 10 seasons, Pettitte is 16-5 with a 4.13 ERA against the Rays.
The Rays will start right-hander Alex Cobb (2-1, 2.53 ERA). Cobb also allowed three runs in 7 1/3 innings in a victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday. He is 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA in three career starts against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.
REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES
If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.
The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.
The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.
A DOMINANT KING
Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.
But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.
THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL
The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.
They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.
The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.
But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.
One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.
Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.
Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.
That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.
The offense has its own issues.
Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.
There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.
So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.
THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE
The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.
Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.
They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.
Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.
Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.
Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”
The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.
The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.
Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.
DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY
The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.
They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.
One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.
They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.
The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.
Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.
Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.
The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.
Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.
They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.
They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.
The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.
The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.
The gold remains in the Bronx.
THE STARKS OF BOSTON
In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.
That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.
Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.
They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.
They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.
The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.
Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!
It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.
There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.
Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.
THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING
The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.
It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,
Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.
So why should 2013 be any different?
The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.
Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.
They may even finish last.
But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.
But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.
The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.
You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.
They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.
The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.
The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.
Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.
The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.
It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.
Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.
That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.
They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.
- BLUE JAYS
- RED SOX
For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven.