The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
RIGHT-FIELD – NICK SWISHER (24 HRs, 93 RBIs, .272 BA)
CENTER-FIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (43 HRs, 106 RBIs, .232 BA)
LEFT-FIELD – ICHIRO SUZUKI (9 HRs, 55 RBIs, .283 BA, 77 Runs, 29 SB)
Sometimes the outfield you leave spring training with is not the one you end up with. That us true for the Yankees this season.
Left-fielder Brett Gardner,29, played in only nine games before a diving catch in left resulted in a right elbow injury that eventually required surgery and wiped out pretty much his entire season. With his loss the Yankees also lost his 40-plus stolen bases and his Gold Glove-quality defense.
So the Yankees improvised and used 40-year-old Raul Ibanez and 35-year-old Andruw Jones to fill the hole Gardner left. Since Ibanez and Jones were expected to be the team’s platoon designated hitters, it allowed manager Joe Girardi to use veterans like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter on more occasions at DH.
It worked pretty well.
Though the Yankees lacked speed on the bases and lost some defense in left, Ibanez and Jones combined to hit 18 home runs and drive in 51 runs in the team’s first 81 games. But because of their advanced age and because the Yankees kept hoping Gardner would return, the Ibanez-Jones platoon in left was expected to be only temporary.
When Gardner was unable to return after a second rehab stint, the Yankees decided they had to make a move and they obtained All-Star and multiple Gold Glove-winning outfielder Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners in a trade completed on July 23.
Suzuki, 38, immediately brought all the elements to the Yankees that Gardner was expected to provide. Suzuki agreed to come to the Yankees to play left-field, hit eighth in the lineup and to sit against some left-handed pitching.
Suzuki had been a shell of his former self in Seattle. He hit a career low .272 in 2011 and he was hitting just .261 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with the Mariners when he was obtained. General manager Brian Cashman hoped a change in scenery and an opportunity to play for a contender would re-energize Suzuki.
It did, too.
Suzuki immediately meshed in the clubhouse and, as he got more comfortable in pinstripes, his bat heated up and he took off.
Suzuki hit .297 in August and an amazing .385 in September. He also was so instrumental in the Yankees’ late-season push to the American League East title that Girardi moved him to the No. 2 spot in the order and kept him in the lineup against left-handers.
With Derek Jeter batting leadoff, the Yankees have the two best singles hitters of their generation in one lineup. Between the two of them, they have 5,910 major-league hits and a career batting average of .317.
They may have seen their better days on the bases but both are capable to stealing a bag when it is necessary.
Since becoming a Yankee, Suzuki has hit five home runs, drove in 27 runs and batted .317 with 14 stolen bases. With a chance to win his first championship since coming from Japan in 2001, Suzuki is playing as if he wants it real bad.
This deal by Cashman was a real gem and it could pay off big this postseason.
Meanwhile, in right, just call Nick Swisher “Mr. Consistency.”
In his four seasons with the Yankees, Swisher, 31, has hit between 23 and 29 homers and driven in between 82 and 93 runs each season. In the first half of this season, Swisher hit 12 home runs and drove in 46 runs. In the final 81 games, Swisher hit 12 home runs and drove in 47 runs.
How about that for numbers you can count upon?
That has been a Swisher hallmark throughout his career and the Yankees needed him to deliver this season in the absence of Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira for big stretches of the second half. Swisher even hit .273, which is his second highest average in the majors since he hit .288 for the Yankees in 2010.
Swisher also was forced to move from right-field to play first base when Teixeira was injured and he played above-average defense there.
This was an important time for Swisher because he is in the final year of his contract and he can become a free agent at the end of the season.
With the Yankees committed to reducing payroll by the start of the 2014 season and with Robinson Cano looking for lucrative multi-year deal to stay in pinstripes, there is a good possibility Swisher may be playing his last season for the Yankees.
That would be a shame because Swisher’s ability to provide power, production, work pitch counts, play solid defense and his enthusiasm for the game are valuable assets to the team. He would be very hard to replace.
The same goes for Curtis Granderson in center-field.
Granderson followed up a career year in 2011 with 41 home runs, 119 RBIs and a league-leading 136 runs scored with another powerful season in 2012. He hit 43 home runs, drove in 106 runs and scored 102 runs.
Of course, with Granderson you have to take the bad with the good. Granderson hit a respectable .262 in 2011, which is exactly what his career average is. But this season, Granderson hit a career-low .232 and he struck out a career-high 195 times.
Pitchers gave him a steady diet of breaking balls in the dirt and fastballs away and Granderson seemed reluctant to go to the opposite field, particularly with the short porch in right-field of Yankee Stadium a tempting target.
So when Granderson slumps, he can go into long periods where he can’t buy a hit. After a first half in which hit 23 home runs, drove in 48 runs and hit .241, his average dropped nine points while he hit 20 home runs and drove in a much better 58 runs.
Again, with Granderson you take the bad with the good and give Granderson credit because he did lead the team in home runs and RBIs. His contract expires after the 2013 season so the Yankees have to do some head-scratching to figure out how to please Cano, Swisher and Granderson without breaking the bank.
Though the plan when Suzuki was acquired to play Ibanez and Jones less in the outfield, injuries forced Girardi to use both a lot more in the second half than he would have liked.
When Swisher moved to first base to replace Teixeira, Ibanez and Jones were platooned in left-field while Suzuki played right.
Ibanez finished with some pretty good numbers.
He hit 19 home runs, drove in 62 runs and hit .240. He fell off a bit from his first-half numbers (11 homers, 35 RBIs and .237) but that was mostly because he played a bit less and also because he went into a terrible slump at the end of August that extended until he finally caught fire again in the final 11 games he played.
Jones, on the other hand, was a much different story in the second half.
After hitting seven home runs, driving in 16 runs and hitting .230 in the first half, Jones went AWOL pretty much for the entire second half.
He hit another seven home runs, drove in 18 runs but his average dipped an alarming 33 points and he finished at .197. Late in the season Girardi opted to use Eduardo Nunez at DH rather than start Jones against a left-hander.
As a result, Jones was given the word that he will not be on the postseason roster and his days in pinstripes are likely over.
GARDNER – I
GRANDERSON – A-
SWISHER – B-
IBANEZ – B
JONES – C
GRANDERSON – B+
SWISHER – B+
SUZUKI – B+
IBANEZ – C
JONES – D
GRANDERSON – B+
SWISHER – B+
SUZUKI – B+
IBANEZ – C+
JONES – D+
The Yankees also played Nunez, Jayson Nix, Dewayne Wise, Chris Dickerson and Melky Mesa in the outfield this season.
Nix and Nunez are primarily infielders, but Nix has played some outfield in the past and acquits himself well in left. The Nunez experiment in the outfield was declared over after some awful misplays early in the season proved he was not suited to play the outfield.
Wise, 34,was released at midseason when Suzuki arrived and he was later picked up by the Chicago White Sox. He got more playing time there and ended up hitting .259 with eight home runs and 30 RBIs and 19 stolen bases for the Yankees and Chisox combined.
Dickerson, 30, has spent the past two seasons with the Yankees, mostly at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Dickerson was recalled on Sept. 1 and hit .286 with two home runs and five RBis in 14 at-bats.
Mesa, 25, was also recalled on Sept. 1 when the rosters expanded and hit .500 in two at-bats in three games.
Dickerson hit .316 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs and he stole 17 bases in 69 games. Mesa hit .230 with nine home runs and 21 RBIs in just 33 games after being promoted from Double-A Trenton.
Colin Curtis, 27, struggled in his comeback season at Scranton after suffering a separated shoulder in spring training in 2011. He hit only .220 with one home run and 23 RBIs in 71 games.
Cole Garner, 27, hit .258 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 64 games.
Neither Curtis or Garner figure much in the Yankees’ future plans.
However, the Yankees do have a boatload of good young outfield prospects below Triple A.
Mason Wiiliams, 21, is a five-tool center-fielder who hit a combined .298 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs in 91 games with Class-A Charleston and High-A Tampa of the Florida State League. Williams is the Yankees No. 2 prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez. A torn labrum in his right shoulder ended his season in August but the Yankees are high on his future.
Tyler Austin, 21, followed up a season in which he hit .345 in 2011 by hitting a combined .322 in 110 games as he advanced from Class-A Charleston to Double-A Trenton. He also hit a combined 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs this season. Austin was used at first and third base in previous seasons but played exclusively in right-field this season. Austin is ranked third right behind Williams.
Former 2009 No. 1 pick Slade Heathcott, 22, caught fire this season at High-A Tampa and hit .302 with five homers and 29 RBIs in 60 games. Heathcott is a lefty hitter who slashes at the plate and has very good speed. Heathcott is ranked fifth as a prospect for the Yankees.
In spring training this past March, Zoilo Almonte, 23, caught Girardi’s eye with his bat. Almonte hit .277 with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs in 106 games at Trenton. Originally thought of as a potential fourth outfielder in the majors, if Almonte’s power continues to improve he could change that opinion. Almonte is ranked seventh.
When you think Ramon Flores, 20, think of a very raw Ichiro Suzuki. Flores hit a robust .302 with six homers, 39 RBis and 24 stolen bases in 131 games with High-A Tampa. Flores is the 10th-rated Yankee prospect but he is rising like a bullet.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+
With a postseason outfield of Granderson, Suzuki and Swisher you have an excellent mix of power (76 homers), production (254 RBIs), some speed (41 stolen bases) and some range and ability on defense, particularly with Suzuki in left.
You add outfield backups in Ibanez, Gardner and Nix and you have a pretty solid veteran bench, too.
Swisher and Granderson provide premium power and Suzuki is a perfect table setter with Jeter in the first two spots of the batting order.
Give Cashman credit for striking the perfect deal to replace Gardner in left with Suzuki and the Yankees enter the postseason with the most productive outfield of all the teams who made it to the playoffs. Offensively and defensively it is hard to match this trio.
It has been a strength of the Yankees for most of the season, particularly since Suzuki was added to the mix on July 24 to replace the defensively inferior tandem of Ibanez and Jones.
This may be an older group but in the playoffs experience counts for a lot.
YANKEES 4, MARINERS 1
On a day the New York Yankees welcomed their new acquisition Ichiro Suzuki to the team it was another Japanese star who catured the spotlight in defeating Suzuki’s former Seattle Mariners teammates.
Hiroki Kuroda held the the Mariners spellbound for seven innings on Monday and the Yankees scored three runs in the fourth inning as New York snapped its first four-game losing streak of the season and beat Seattle in front of crowd of 29,911 at Safeco Field.
Suzuki began a whirlwind day with a press conference, interviews and a switch to the visitors’ clubhouse before taking the field on which he starred for 10 1/2 seasons in Yankee pinstripes and sporting No. 31. He was given a loud standing ovation from the fans in his first plate appearance.
Suzuki responded by stepping of the batter’s box, removing his batting helmet and bowing to the crowd. He was, however, not a factor in the game. He singled and stole a base in his first at-bat but finished the day 1-for-4.
Kuroda (10-7), however, was brilliant in giving up only one run on three hits, walking one batter (which came back to bite him) and striking out nine.
Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez started the offense off with a one-out double in the fourth off veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood (3-8). Robinson Cano then drew a four-pitch walk and Mark Teixeira laced a 2-0 fastball off the wall in right-field to score Rodriguez.
Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones followed with back-to-back RBI singles to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead they needed to bolster Kuroda’s exceptional outing.
Rodriguez added a solo home run to lead off the eighth inning off reliever Steve Delabar. It was Rodriguez’s 15th home run of the season and the 644th of his career.
The Mariners’ only tally off Kuroda came in the third inning when Kuroda issued a one-out walk to Dustin Ackley. Ackley later stole second and scored with two out when John Jason laced a single to right-field.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and Rafael Soriano shook off his second blown save of the season on Sunday to record his 25th save of the season with a perfect ninth.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 58-38 and they were able to re-establish a seven-game lead in the American League East over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The last-place Mariners fell to 42-56.
- Kuroda has established himself as the team’s No. 2 starter behind CC Sabathia with his last 11 starts since shutting out the Oakland A’s on May 27. In that span, Kuroda is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA. Kuroda is using his devastating split-finger fastball and sharp slider to ring up strikeouts. He has struck out 66 batters in his last 68 innings.
- Rodriguez is beginning to pick up the pace a bit at the plate. He was 2-for-4 and two runs scored and an RBI and he is 14-for-41 (.341) with two home runs and six RBIs in his last 10 games. He has raised his season average to .274 but his 15 home runs and 44 RBIs still remain well below his usual norms.
- Teixeira was 3-for-4 in the game, including his RBI double. He is 8-for-20 (.400) on the road trip and he is hitting .387 with two home runs and seven RBIs in his last nine games.
- The Yankees’ station-to-station offense has a huge downside: The team ends up hitting into a lot of double plays. The Mariners turned three double plays in the game and it ended up keeping the game closer than it should have been.
- Curtis Granderson is starting to look like Mark Reynolds at the plate. He was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the game and he has a club-high 114 strikeouts on the season. He has struck out at least once in his last seven games and he also has fanned 12 times in his last 26 at-bats.
To acquire Suzuki the Yankees shipped right-handed pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the Mariners. The Yankees also will assume $2.5 million of Suzuki’s contract until he is free agent next year. Outfielder Dewayne Wise was designated for assignment to make room for Suzuki on the roster. Suzuki, 38, is hitting just .261 with four home runs and 28 RBIs this season. But the Yankees see him replacing outfielder Brett Gardner in left-field, batting at the bottom of the lineup and providing speed and defense. Along with amassing 2,534 hits, Suzuki has won 10 Gold Gloves. . . . Suzuki started his first game with the Yankees in right-field and batted eighth because Yankees right-fielder Nick Swisher is still hampered by a sore left hip flexor. Manager Joe Girardi said Swisher will miss the Seattle series but could return to the lineup on Friday.
The Yankees will continue their three-game series with the Mariners on Tuesday.
Former Mariners right-hander Freddy Garcia (4-3, 5.37 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Garcia gave up four runs on nine hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings in his last start on Thursday against the Oakland Athletics. He is 5-3 with a 5.23 ERA against the Mariners in his career.
Garcia will be opposed by Felix Hernandez (8-5, 2.82 ERA). Hernandez gave one run on eight hits and struck out three in eight innings in a victory over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday. He is 6-5 with a 3.45 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 10:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 0 (7 INNINGS, RAIN)
Often times the Yankees open spring training with an exhibition game against a college baseball team and they generally win those games in a cakewalk. The Yankees have been so good and so hot lately that the regular-season games they are playing now look just like those exhibitions.
Hiroki Kuroda brilliantly tossed seven innings of shutout baseball and the Yankees offense erupted for four runs in the first inning as New York completed a three-game sweep of Toronto at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday in a game shortened by rain.
Kuroda (9-7) was completely in command from the opening pitch, giving up only four hits with no walks and he struck out five and he is now undefeated in eight of his last nine starts since May 27.
A lightning storm delayed the start of the game for 51 minutes but it did not take long for the Yankees to crack some thunder against Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero (8-6).
Derek Jeter opened the inning with a double to right-center and Nick Swisher followed with a lined single off the right-field wall to score Jeter. Mark Teixeira then laced a 2-2 Romero change-up into the bleachers in left-center for his 19th home run of the season.
One out later, Robinson Cano extended his career-long hitting streak to 21 games with an opposite-field double to left and Andruw Jones scored Cano with an opposite-field single to right.
The Yankees added a pair of single runs in the fourth and sixth innings and both were driven by Dewayne Wise, who was getting a rare start in centerfield for Curtis Granderson.
Romero gave up six runs on 12 hits and two walks and struck out two batters in his six innings of work.
The game was halted heading to the bottom of the seventh inning and was finally declared an official game after a 58-minute rain delay.
With the victory the Yankees have now won nine of their last 11 games and the six runs they scored extended their string of games in which they scored three or more runs to 42 since May 30. They join the 1994 Indians (48 games) as the only teams in the live-ball era to have accomplished the feat.
The Yankees have the best record in baseball (57-34) and they are now 10 games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Blue Jays fell to 45-47 in last place in the division 12 1/2 games in back of the Yankees.
- Kuroda was at his best on Wednesday in recording what will go into the books as the third complete game of his career. Kuroda used his slider and trademark splitter to keep the Blue Jays off balance all afternoon. Of his 108 pitches he threw 78 strikes for a 72 percent rate. Only one Blue Jays base-runner made it as far as third base.
- Teixeira has been on a full-blown home run and RBI tear this month. Since July 2, Teixeira has six home runs and 19 RBIs in what has become his most productive month of the season. Teixeira is also hitting .326 for the month to raise his average to .255.
- Wise drove in Jayson Nix in the fourth with a ground-rule double and again scored Nix from second in the sixth inning with a two-out single to center. Give manager Joe Girardi credit for using his bench wisely – no pun intended – in the series. Wise started on Wednesday and was 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Nix started at third on Tuesday and at shortstop on Wednesday and was 5-for-7 in those two games with three runs scored.
OK. Alex Rodriguez made a two-base throwing error in the first inning. But that was about all that went wrong all day for the Yankees. Kuroda was super, the offense scored early and tacked a few runs later. They are simply playing great baseball right now. There is nothing bad to say.
After Wednesday’s game the Yankees recalled right-hander David Phelps from Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre and optioned right-hander D.J. Mitchell back to the same club. Phelps, 25, was 1-3 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 games (three starts) and Mitchell, 25, had no record with a 3.86 ERA in 4 2/3 innings in two appearances with the Yankees. Phelps will reclaim the role of long reliever and emergency starter he had earlier in the season.
The red-hot Yankees will open their final West Coast road trip of the season with a four-game weekend series against the Oakland Athletics that starts on Thursday.
Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (4-2, 5.25 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Garcia has a 3.17 ERA in his three starts since being placed back in to the rotation, including a 5-3 victory over the Angels in his last start on Saturday. In the last 10 seasons, Garcia is 7-7 with a 5.22 ERA against the A’s.
Right-hander A.J. Griffin (1-0, 2.63 ERA) will be making his fifth major-league start of the season for Oakland. Griffin, 24, allowed three runs in six innings in his first major-league victory over the Minnesota Twins last Friday. Griffin will be facing the Yankees for the first time.
Game-time will be 10:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, ANGELS 5
When Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher trotted to the mound at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 5-5 tie to talk to reliever Kevin Jepsen, he told Jepsen to pitch around pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez by walking him with pinch-runner Dewayne Wise on second and a struggling Russell Martin due to hit next.
So with two out, Jepsen walked Ibanez intentionally to face Martin, who entered the game hitting .179 and was 0-for-2 on the evening.
But Martin delivered a two-out, opposite-field RBI single that gave the Yankees a 6-5 lead and Martin later ended the game by nailing Howard Kendrick trying to take second base a pitch in the dirt for his third Angel base-runner caught stealing as New York rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the eighth to send Los Angeles to a crushing defeat on Friday.
Mark Teixeira set the stage for Martin’s heroics earlier in the eighth with a clutch three-run home run to left off reliever Scott Downs (1-1) to tie the game at 5-5. It was Teixeira’s second home run of the night. He had given the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third inning with a two-run shot to the same area of the left-field bleachers off Angels starter C.J. Wilson.
Teixeira also saved a run in the top of the inning when he made a diving stab of a hard-hit bouncer to his right off the bat of Kendrick. Teixeira scrambled to his feet and shuffled a perfect toss to Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda covering first to retire Kendrick. Erick Aybar followed by hitting Kuroda’s next pitch into the second deck in right-field to give the Angels what proved to be a short-lived 1-0 lead.
Kuroda and Wilson then battled over the next three innings in a game steeped in a playoff-like atmosphere with a crowd of 47,873 hanging on every pitch.
But the seventh inning proved to be Kuroda’s undoing.
Albert Pujols opened the frame with a single to left and Kuroda hit Kendrys Morales with a 1-2 pitch. Mark Trumbo then blasted a 1-1 fastball over the wall in center-field to give the Angels a 4-2 lead.
The Angels tacked on a run off Kuroda in the eighth after Mike Trout led off with a double and one out later Pujols hit a ball that sounded like he hit it with a wet newspaper but it nestled comfortably in shallow right-field just inside the line out of the reach of a diving Nick Swisher and bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double to score Trout.
Over the first six innings, Kuroda had given up just one run on three hits and one walk and he fanned two. In the next 1 1/3 innings, he gave up four runs on five hits and a hit batter and struck out four.
Meanwhile, Wilson got back on track after Teixeira’s two-run home run in the third. He left after seven innings having given up just the two runs on five hits and two walks and struck seven. However, the Angels’ bullpen let him way, way down, as in the lefty Downs.
Downs started the eighth and immediately gave up a leadoff double to Derek Jeter. He then dug a deeper hole for himself by missing with a 3-2 pitch in the dirt to walk Curtis Granderson.
Teixeira then lined a 1-2 curveball into the left-field bleachers to tie the game.
With two out, Swisher worked a walk from Downs, which ended Downs’ night in favor of Jepsen and set up Wise’s stolen base as a pinch-runner and Ibanez’s intentional walk. Martin then delivered what proved to be the game-winner.
Chad Qualls (2-1) relieved Kuroda in the eighth inning and pitched a perfect two-thirds of an inning to get credit for his first victory with the Yankees.
Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth to notch his 21st save in 22 opportunities this season.
With the victory the Yankees reached a season-high 20 games over .500 at 53-33. They also have opened up a commanding eight-game lead on the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Angels must lick their wounds after dropping a game they should have won. Their record is 48-39.
- Teixeira’s two home runs and five RBIs on Friday give him 17 home runs and 59 RBIs this season. His 59 RBIs leads the team. In his last seven games, Teixeira has been on an RBI tear. He is 10-for-22 (.455) with four home runs and 15 RBIs in that stretch. To contrast that, Teixeira collected only three home runs and 12 RBIs in April and four home runs and 14 RBIs in June.
- Martin’s clutch single had to feel great because his single against the Red Sox last Saturday had ended an 0-30 stretch. But what must have really pleased Martin was the three Angels he nailed on the basepaths. He threw out Trumbo stealing in the second inning and Alberto Callaspo in the fifth. He then nabbed Kendrick after a Soriano pitch got away from him but he was able to recover quickly and throw a dart to Jeter to end the game.
- Kuroda gave up five runs in 7 1/3 innings but his first six innings were absolutely brilliant. He deserved a better fate but he obviously lost something after throwing only 64 pitches in the first six innings. In his last nine starts, Kuroda is 5-1 with a 2.89 ERA.
- Now that Cano and Teixeira have gotten hot, the pressure shifts to Alex Rodriguez. He was 0-for-4 in the game including a weak groundout to short with one out and Granderson at third with a leadoff triple in the sixth. In his last 10 games, Rodriguez is 9-for-38 (.237) with no home runs and three RBIs.
- Andruw Jones entered the game after a his red-hot weekend at Fenway Park, where he hit four home runs in the three games in which he played. However, he struck out twice looking and flew out to right off the lefty Wilson. His 0-for-3 night dropped his season average to .238.
- The Yankees were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and those two hits came on Texiera’s eighth-inning home run and Martin’s game-winning single. They were 0-for-11 up to that point. Somehow they win despite this problem but will it catch up to them in the playoffs?
The Yankees on Friday signed veteran outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to a mimor-league contract and he was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Fukudome, 35, batted .171 with four RBIs in 24 games with the Chicago White Sox and was released on July 22. Fukudome is a career .258 hitter in five major-league season with the Cubs, Indians and White Sox. . . . CC Sabathia threw 30 pitches in a simulated game at Yankee Stadium on Friday and is still expected to be activated on Tuesday for a start against the Toronto Blue Jays. Sabathia has been on the 15-day disabled list with a mild left groin strain he suffered pitching in a June 24 game against the New York Mets.
The Yankees will continue their weekend three-game series at home against the Angels on Saturday.
Right-hander Freddy Garcia (3-2, 5.23 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Garcia gave up just one run in 6 2/3 innings last Friday against the Red Sox. It was Garcia’s best outing of the season. In the last 10 seasons, Garcia is 15-3 with a 2.69 ERA against the Angels.
Right-hander Jerome Williams (6-5, 4.46 ERA) will oppose Garcia. Williams is being activated from the 15-day disabled list after a serious bout of asthma. Williams is 0-1 with a 16.87 ERA against the Yankees after he was shelled for five runs on five hits and three walks in only 2 2/3 innings on April 15.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.
RIGHT-FIELD – NICK SWISHER (12 HR, 46 RBIs, .258 BA)
CENTER-FIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (23 HR, 48 RBI, .241 BA)
LEFT-FIELD – RAUL IBANEZ (11 HR, 35 RBIs, .237), ANDRUW JONES (7 HR, 16 RBIs, .230)
The team Joe Girardi is managing now is much different from the team he left spring training with in April. The loss of left-fielder Brett Gardner took with it the element of speed of out the lineup and reinforced it with more devastating power.
As a result, these players are pretty much cut from the same cloth. They hit a lot of home runs (53 combined), drive in a lot of runs (145 combined) and they hit for a relatively low batting average (.249 combined). They also won’t blaze many trails on the basepaths. They have 10 steals in 14 attempts and Gardner usually matches that total in about a month.
Gardner, 28, injured his right elbow making a diving catch and has played in only nine games this season. He has just about completed two rehab assignments before experiencing recurring pain in his elbow.
But after seeing three different physicians, Gardner is hopeful of returning for good (please rub your rabbit’s foot now) by the end of July. The Yankees have missed not only his speed on the bases but his Gold-Glove quality defense in left-field.
Girardi has had little choice but to use Ibanez, 40, and Jones, 35, a lot more in the field than he expected. While Ibanez and Jones have not embarrassed themselves out in the field (they each have not committed an error), they do not cover much ground either.
Jones is a long way removed from his days of 10 Gold Gloves when he was in his prime with the Atlanta Braves and Ibanez never was considered a great fielder, even in his heyday.
But you have to give the pair credit for providing power and production to the lower part of the lineup and that is what both of them were signed this winter to do.
Speaking of signing, Swisher, 31, is in the final year of his contract and he clearly wants to remain with the Yankees. There is no doubt his bleacher buddies in right want him back also.
But Swisher’s contract drive is not really predicated on performance, though that is one small factor. The Yankees are looking to trim payroll before the start of the 2014 season and handing out long-term deals (except to Robinson Cano) does not look like it will be in the Yankees’ plans.
Nonetheless, Swisher does provide power and he is a switch-hitter with a good eye at the plate. This season, however, Swisher has changed his style a bit. He is walking less (He is on pace to draw a career-low 52 walks this season) and he is striking out at a high rate (He has fanned 66 times in the first half which translates to 132 for the season).
Perhaps he is walking less in order to try to produce more and get the contract he wants to stay with the Yankees.
But give Swisher credit for being one of the more consistent players the Yankees have. He has not produced less that 23 home runs and 82 RBIs in his three previous seasons with the Yankees. This season he is on apace to hit 24 home runs and drive in 92 runs.
In fact, for most of the first half of the season, Swisher led the Yankees in RBIs. That was largely because the heart of the batting order – Alex Rodriguez, Cano and Mark Teixeira were failing so miserably with runners in scoring position. Swisher is hitting a respectable .263 with RISP and .400 with the bases loaded.
As a fielder, Swisher will never won a Gold Glove but he gives maximum effort on every play. He has made two errors but he is not considered awful either. He has an above average arm in right but he only has three outfield assists this season, which is down from his career-high of 10 in 2010.
Granderson, 31, was the team MVp in 2011, hitting 41 home runs, driving in 119 runs and scoring a major-league-best 136 runs. Many people figured that Granderson could never duplicate those numbers.
But Granderson is on a pace to hit 46 home runs and drive in 92 runs and score 112. That is not a bad follow-up to his remarkable 2011 season.
There are some oddities in Granderson’s numbers, however.
For instance he has only two triples and Granderson led the American League in triples in 2007 with 23 when he was with the Detroit Tigers. Granderson also has stolen only six bases in nine attempts. He stole 25 in 35 attempts last season.
You would have thought with Gardner out, Granderson would be more aggressive on the bases. But it has been the opposite.
Granderson has made great strides as an outfielder with the Yankees. The Tigers criticized his jumps on balls and the routes he would take to them. But with the Yankees, Granderson is playing more shallow to take advantage of his ability go back on balls. It seems to be working well also.
Granderson has not committed an error and he has two outfield assists. Granderson’s arm is not a strength. It is just average and his throws can be erratic at times.
As major-league outfields go, it is hard to find any that is close to producing the 53 the Yankees have at the halfway point. But when Gardner returns this outfield will change into a more balanced group with a combination of speed and power. As a whole it will be excellent group defensively with Gardner leading the way.
BACKUPS – DEWAYNE WISE (3 HR, 6 RBIs, .271 BA), JAYSON NIX (2 HR, 6 RBIs, .228 BA)
Wise, 34, is forever linked to his amazing ninth inning catch that preserved Mark Buerhle’s perfect game for the Chicago White Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays. But he can hit a little also.
Wise hit .359 this spring to make the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster and he hit .333 for the first 20 games he played there until he was recalled to replace Gardner on the roster.
Wise provides versatility in that he can play all three outfield spots. He also has excellent defensive skills and a very good arm.
At the plate, Wise is a career .222 hitter. But when he gets hot he can really go on tears, as he did most recently when he was given four starts in a week.
Girardi’s major failing was not starting Wise some in center to rest Granderson. Granderson’s batting average suffered from the fact he played in all but one game this season and he was in the field for nearly every inning in the ones he did play.
When Gardner returns look for him to be used some in center to spell Granderson.
Nix can only play the corner spots and is passable out in left. He has good instincts and he won’t make major mistakes. But if you are looking for spectacular diving catches and highlight-reel leaps at the wall to bring back potrential home runs, you are looking at the wrong guy in Nix.
He gets to what he can and he catches them. That is pretty much what Nix does as an outfielder. Nothing special.
The Yankees have a pair of promising 20-year-old outfielders in Mason Williams and Tyler Austin.
Williams hit .304 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs at Class-A Charleston before being promoted to High Class-A Tampa. Williams can also run and plays good defense so if you want a comparison think of a smaller-framed version of Bernie Williams.
Austin hit .320 with 14 home runs and 54 RBIs and 17 steals in 70 games for Class-A Charleston. He was slated to play in the Futures Game but he was hit in the head with a pitch in his first game at High Class-A Tampa and is was placed on the disabled list. Austin is primarily an outfielder by he is being tried at the corner infield spots.
The Yankees have no real prospects at Triple-A Scranton. There are just former major leaguers like Jack Cust, 33, who is hitting .260 with 19 home runs and 57 RBIs in 83 games.
There also is Chris Dickerson, Cole Garner and Colin Curtis. Each of the three are 27 or or older and they have long passed the prospect status. Their chances for making the Yankees 25-man roster are virtually nil.
Second-tier outfield prospects Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa are Double-A Trenton. Mesa, 25, is hitting .276 with 11 homers and 40 RBIs in 58 games while Almonte, 23, is hitting .286 with nine home runs and 39 RBIs in 58 games.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B-
In Granderson, the Yankees have an All-Star center-fielder with power, some speed and someone who is solid defensively. Granderson is showing his 2011 season was not a fluke and, despite what he says about not being a power hitter, he is on pace to hit 46 home runs.
Swisher is the Swiss Army knife of the outfielders. You can put him in any spot in the batting order and he will produce home runs and RBIs. Though he is drawing fewer walks, he still is valuable in the No. 6 spot in the order because he is one of the few Yankees who is producing with runners on base this season. Though it looks like he will not signed to a new contract, Swisher is motivated to produce good numbers so he can maximize his value on the free-agent market.
Very soon (we promise) Gardner will return to his left-field spot and the Yankees will have a base-runner who can actually steal bases at the bottom of the order. Gardner was hitting .321 at the time of his injury. But the Yankees will take anything they can get from him in the second half because they really missed a guy who stole 49 bases in 2011.
In the meantime, Ibanez and Jones are available to play the outfield. The veterans are not even close to as good as Gardner on defense but they provide a lot of power and production to the Yankees at the lower portion of the batting order. When Gardner returns, Ibanez and Jones will resume their designated hitter roles. Of course, with Derek Jeter and Rodriguez requiring half-days off at DH, both Ibanez and Jones will have to settle for a more limited role at DH.
As a group this outfield is pretty good. They won’t hit for average but they can hit for power and drive in runs. This is very much a strength for the Yankees. They have a lot of depth and they have an experienced group of very professional hitters.
YANKEES 4, WHITE SOX 0
Nothing will put the chill on some red-hot bats like a real cool pitcher on a sweltering afternoon in the Bronx, N.Y. That is exactly what 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda did to the Chicago White Sox on Saturday.
Kuroda, who was having trouble all afternoon throwing his swing-and-miss split-finger fastball, calmly switched gears and used his mid-90’s fastball and slider to baffle the White Sox for seven shutout innings as he ran his record to 5-1 in his last seven starts and give the Yankees’ pitching staff a much-needed boost.
Kuroda (8-7) struck out a career-tying high of 11 batters and gave up just three singles and one walk in a dazzling display of pitching artistry over 104 pitches in 93-degree heat in front of a crowd of 46,895 at Yankee Stadium.
To back up the strong starting pitching they got from Kuroda, the Yankees used their favorite weapon – the home run – to saddle right-hander Jake Peavy (6-5) with yet another loss in June. During the month of June, Peavy was 0-4 with two no-decisions in his six starts despite compiling an ERA of 2.76.
Curtis Granderson hit the first of a trio of solo home runs Peavy surrendered in the first inning. Granderson smacked a 1-0 fastball into the second deck in straightaway right-field to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. It was Granderson’s 23rd home run of the season.
An inning later, newly discovered super-sub Dewayne Wise laced a first-pitch fastball off the wall in right-center to score Nick Swisher from first to give the Yankees another run with two outs in the second inning.
Wise then added to his most recent hot streak on this homestand in the fifth inning with a second-deck rainbow solo shot into right-field for his second home of the season and his second in his last three starts. In the five games in which he played in the field in this homestand, Wise was 7-for-11 (.636) with two home runs and five RBis. And don’t forget his perfect two-thirds of an inning of relief on Friday to take the lead on the Yankees in ERA with 0.00.
Robinson Cano ended his red-hot June with his 11th home run of the month in the sixth, a titanic blast into the second deck in right on the first offering of the inning from Peavy. It was Cano’s 19th home run of the season.
Though he pitched all eight innings, Peavy gave up four runs on eight hits and he also struck out 11.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth, striking out two and Boone Logan and Rafael Soriano combined to finish the ninth as the Yankees ended the four-game winning streak of the White Sox and halted their disastrous two-game losing streak to the Chisox in which they were outscored 18-10.
With the victory, the Yankees’ season record improved to 47-30 and they are five games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The White Sox fell to 42-36.
- Kuroda certainly stepped up in the absence of CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte and pitched like an ace on Saturday. Ten of 11 strikeouts were swinging strikes and some of them came on fastballs up in the strike zone. During his 5-1 run in his seven starts, he has failed to pitch seven innings only once and his ERA over that stretch is 1.65.
- Wise has mostly been used as a late-inning defensive replacement for Raul Ibanez in left-field. But in his three starts in the past six games, Wise is 6-for-10 with two home runs and five RBIs. The 34-year-old veteran perhaps is proving to manager Joe Girardi that he is deserving of some more starts.
- Cano probably does not want June to end. During the month he hit a robust .340 with 11 home runs and 21 RBIs. In the 30 games this month, Cano failed to get at least one hit in only four games and he had multiple hits in 10 games. After a slow start in April, Cano is hitting .308 with 19 home runs and 44 RBIs.
- Alex Rodriguez was 0-for-4 on the day with two strikeouts looking, a fielder’s choice groundout and a double-play grounder. That lowered his season average to .265. Though Rodriguez had his best month by hitting six home runs and driving in 16 runs, he hit a miserable .232 and struck out 30 times in 95 at-bats.
- Mark Teixeira also was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a routine groundout. He finished June in a 3-for-28 (.107) slide that has dropped his season average back to .244. He hit .219 in June with four home runs and 14 RBIs. The Yankees had a hot June in winning 20 games but Teixeira and Rodriguez had very little to do with it.
- Derek Jeter was 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in Saturday’s game. Very quietly, Jeter’s batting average is getting close to slipping under .300. Jeter is 8-for-42 (.190) with one home run and one RBI and that has lowered his season average to an even .300. On June 1, Jeter was hitting .340.
A day after rookie right-hander Adam Warren was shelled for six runs on eight hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings in his major-league debut against the White Sox on Friday, he was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and replaced on the 25-man roster by right-hander D.J. Mitchell. Mitchell, 25, is in his second stint with the Yankees and he will used as a long man out of the bullpen. Mitchell was 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two relief appearances with the Yankees in his last call-up. . . . The Yankees announced on Saturday that 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps will start in place of the injured Sabathia on Wednesday in St. Petersburg, FL, against the Tampa Bay Rays. Phelps gave up two runs in 3 1/4 innings and took the loss in relief against the White Sox on Friday. But he is 1-3 with a 3.16 ERA for the Yankees this season. Like Mitchell, Phelps is in his second stint with the Yankees. . . . Russell Martin got his first start in the last three days and only his second since June 23 because of lower-back stiffness. Martin was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts but threw out Alejandro De Aza attempting to steal second in the first inning.
On Sunday, the Yankees will conduct their 66th Annual Old-Timers Day at Yankee Stadium and legends such as Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and Paul O’Neill will be on hand for the ceremonial introductions and the game. The festivities begin at 11 a.m. EDT and it will be broadcast by the YES Network.
After the game, the Yankees will look for a split of their four-game weekend series with the White Sox.
Phil Hughes (8-6, 4.48 ERA) will look to continue his most recent success as he takes the mound on Sunday. Hughes has won five of his last six starts and spun eight scoreless innings on Tuesday in a victory over the Cleveland Indians in his last start. He is 2-1 with a 0.75 ERA in his career against the Chisox.
Hughes will be opposed by veteran right-hander Gavin Floyd (6-7, 4.80 ERA). Floyd tossed seven scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, his second straight start he has not allowed a run. However, he is just 2-2 with a 5.98 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 2:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, INDIANS 4
On a day when fate seemed to be frowning upon the New York Yankees, the team scratched and clawed its way to a late lead and, despite being the verge of handing it back, they held on to win a tough one in the Bronx.
The Yankees began Wednesday’s game knowing they had lost ace left-hander CC Sabathia to the 15-day disabled list with a strained left groin and they later found out that starter Andy Pettitte suffered a fractured left ankle after being struck by a hard shot off the bat of Casey Kotchman in the top of the fifth inning.
So a spirited Yankee Stadium crowd of 45,022 was hoping for some good news to brighten the gloom.
Robinson Cano provided some good news in the bottom of the sixth inning when he stroked a two-run, opposite-field home run to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead and Eric Chavez drove in three runs, including a huge insurance run in the eighth inning, as New York held on – barely – in the ninth to complete a three-game sweep of Cleveland.
The Yankees began the sixth inning down 3-2 after the Indians took advantage of Pettitte’s departure to put together back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Astrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis off reliever Clay Rapada.
However, Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez opened the sixth by falling behind Alex Rodriguez 2-0 and Rodriguez blooped a double into the right-field corner. Cano then stroked a 1-2 slider on the outside corner into the left-field bleachers for his 17th home run of the season his seventh homer in his last 10 games.
Freddy Garcia (2-2), who entered the game with two out in the fifth, pitched 2 1/3 perfect innings and struck out two to pick up the victory in relief. David Robertson followed him with a perfect eighth inning in which he fanned a pair also.
Chavez then stepped to the plate in the eighth inning against Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano with two out and Mark Teixeira on second and pinch-runner Dewayne Wise on first after Raul Ibanez singled.
On a 2-2 pitch, Chavez was able to roll a ball through the hole between first and second base into right-field to score Teixeira with what looked to an ordinary insurance run at the time.
However, the Indians refused to lose their season-worst fifth game in a row without a fight and closer Rafael Soriano did not have his best stuff as he sought his 17th save in the ninth.
Pinch-hitter Lonnie Chisenhall slapped a single to right to open the frame and Soriano walked Shin-Soo Choo. After retiring Kotchman on a flyout, Lou Marson singled into left to load the bases.
After Soriano struck out pinch-hitter Johnny Damon. Soriano issued a walk to Michael Brantley to force in a run and the restless natives in the Bronx were fearing the worst.
However, Soriano got Cabrera to hit a routine fly ball to left and Wise let it settle into his glove for final out that gave the Yankees their fifth straight victory and their 15th victory in their last 18 games.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their season mark to 46-28 and they extended their lead in the American League East to a full five games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The Indians dropped to 37-37.
- Cano’s June home run binge has been amazing. In his last 10 games, Cano is 14-for-36 (.389) with seven home runs and 11 RBIs. His 3-for-4 day also raised his season average to .308 with 18 home runs and 41 RBIs. After an extremely slow start and struggling with runners in scoring position, it appears Cano is back to the dangerous hitter he has always been.
- Chavez was called upon to play first so Teixeira could rest as the designated hitter and Chavez made manager Joe Girardi look clairvoyant. Chavez was 2-for-3 with a two-run double, an RBI single and a walk. He also played flawlessly in the field. His two-run double in the fourth off Jimenez gave the Yankees their first lead of the game at 2-1.
- With the injuries to Sabathia and Pettitte, Garcia becomes relevant again as a starter. Fortunately for the Yankees, the 35-year-old right-hander has 147 career major-league victories. In addition, Garcia is throwing with better velocity than he did in spring training and in April as a starter. If he can be as effective as he was last season when he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA the Yankees might not need to make a deal for a pitcher to fill in until Pettitte returns.
- The righty-lefty sidewinding combo of Cody Eppley and Rapada did not fare well in the fifth inning in relief of Pettitte. Eppley gave up an infield single and a sac bunt and Rapada came on to get Brantley to hit into a fielder’s choice. But Cabrera and Kipnis struck for a pair of RBI singles to give the lead back to the Tribe. Fortunately, Garcia came in and retired the next seven batters in a row.
- Jayson Nix was given a start at shortstop to allow Derek Jeter to rest a day after his 38th birthday. But Nix had a rough game. He struck out twice and rolled out weakly to short. Also, in the field, he actually lost Kipnis’ pop fly single in the sun, which gave the Indians the lead. Jeter would have caught it easily.
- Soriano is not exactly your typical shutdown closer, but his high-wire act on Wednesday was pretty scary. Soriano is 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 17 saves – all excellent numbers. However, in 28 2/3 innings he has given up 30 hits and walked 12 for a WHIP of 1.47. That is a very bad number for a closer.
The Yankees placed Sabathia on the disabled list with what is being listed as a Grade 1 groin strain. He is expected to miss two starts and be able to rejoin the Yankees after the All-Star break. An MRI on Tuesday indicated a strained abductor muscle in his left leg that Sabathia injured in the fourth inning of his start on Sunday against the Mets at Citi Field. He has not missed a start as a Yankee and he has not missed any starts since 2006. The Yankees announced that right-hander Adam Warren will be recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he will start in Sabathia’s place on Friday against the Chicago White Sox. . . . Pettitte had his injured left ankle placed in a protective boot and he is expected to miss at least six weeks. Pettitte held a 2-1 lead and he had given up one unearned run on three hits and one walk and he struck out seven in four-plus innings when he had to leave the game. Garcia is expected to fill in for Pettitte as a starter until he returns.
The Yankees will open a four-game home weekend series with the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (9-2, 4.25 ERA) will begin the series on the mound for the Yankees. Nova allowed three runs (two earned) in 5 2/3 innings on Saturday against the Mets. Nova got a no-decision, which snapped his streak of five straight victories, but the Yankees won the game. Nova is 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in his three starts against the White Sox.
The White Sox will counter with right-hander Dylan Axelrod (0-1, 4.85 ERA). Axelrod allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers in his first start replacing the injured Phillip Humber. Axelrod has never faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.