YANKEES 6, MARINERS 3
There are some days when an ace pitcher carries to the mound what looks to be no-hit stuff and on Friday it looked for all the paid crowd of 45,872 in attendance at Yankee Stadium that they were going to see just that from CC Sabathia.
Instead, the Yankees and their fans had to settle for a complete-game three-hit victory with 10 strikeouts as Sabathia shut down the Mariners and New York ended Seattle’s seven-game winning streak.
Sabathia (12-3) retired the first 10 batters he faced until Casper Wells connected on a first-pitch fastball and deposited into the Mariners’ bullpen in left-center. He then retired the next 12 batters before giving up a one-out double down the left-field line to Miguel Olivo.
The Mariners then opened the ninth by drawing a leadoff walk from Brendan Ryan and Dustin Ackley smacked a 1-0 fastball into the the bleachers in right-field, which brought manager Joe Girardi out to the mound apparently to replace his left-hander as a chorus of boos rained down upon him. But Girardi allowed Sabathia to get the last threw outs and the Yankees coasted to victory.
Meanwhile, the Yankees offense built an early lead for Sabathia in the third inning off veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood (4-9).
Ichiro Suzuki opened the frame with an infield chopper to the left of the mound for a single to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. Russell Martin followed with a double into left-center that advanced Suzuki to third. Curtis Granderson then scored both Suzuki and Martin with a lined single to center.
Three innings later, the Yankees padded their 2-1 lead with two out and Raul Ibanez on first when Eric Chavez hit a high fly ball that eluded the glove of right-fielder Eric Thames at the right-field wall and bounced into the seats for Chavez’s 10th home run of the season. Chavez beccame the ninth member of the team to reach double figures in home runs, which is the most in the major leagues.
Millwood left the game after six innings having given up four runs on nine hits and a walk while he struck out three.
The Yankees added a pair of runs in seventh off Mariners relievers Carter Capps and Oliver Perez on RBI singles by Robinson Cano and Ibanez. Though both hits came off Perez the runs were charged to Capps, who was making his major-league debut.
The victory gives the Yankees a season record of 62-43, which is tied for the best record in the American League with the Texas Rangers. The victory also maintained the Yankees’ 6 1/2 game lead in the American League East but the Tampa Bay Rays grabbed second place in the division by shutting out the Baltimore Orioles 2-0. The Mariners dropped to 50-58.
- Sabathia came into the game as the pitcher with the best major-league winning percentage in August and he promptly won his first start of the month. He also entered the game with an 11-4 career record and a 2.42 ERA against the Mariners. Sabathia is also tied with three others pitchers for the third-most victories in the American League and he still has a shot to win 20 games for a second time in his career. He has not won less than 19 games in his three previous seasons with the Yankees.
- Chavez’s home run definitely had the benefit of the short porch in right and a little help from a fan. Replays showed a fan with glove impeded Thames’ glove from reaching the ball, but the fan did not appear to lean out into the field. The ball hit the top of the concrete wall and bounced into the stands. Thames and Mariners manager Eric Wedge did not dispute the call of home run by first-base umpire Larry Vanover.
- Suzuki’s hitting streak has been of the vitamin variety, “One-A-Day.” He has 10 hits in his 40 at-bats in his 10 games as a Yankee. If he collects a single hit in his next game, Suzuki would set a team record of a 11-game hitting streak with 11 hits.
Nothing to criticize in this game. Sabathia was dominant despite giving up the two home runs and the offense and defense was exceptional. Even with the game locked up at 2-1 into the bottom of the sixth inning, it appeared Sabathia was in command and the Yankees would win. They did and it was a good victory.
Mark Teixeira returned to the lineup after missing two games with an inflamed left wrist. Teixeira responded well to a shot of cortisone and he was 1-for-4 in the game. . . . Chavez was removed from the game in the ninth inning with a sore right ankle. Chavez twisted the ankle awkwardly on a swing in the bottom of the eighth inning and he was replaced at third base by Jayson Nix. Girardi said the injury does not appear to be serious. . . . Martin caught Sabathia for the first time since April 11 and it did not seem to bother Sabathia at all. Chris Stewart had caught Sabathia’s 16 previous starts. . . . With Alex Rodriguez out of the lineup, Girardi elected to bat Granderson in the leadoff spot and Jeter in the second spot in order to keep from stacking too many left-handed hitters in a row. It was only the second time this season Granderson has batted leadoff.
The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend home series with the Mariners on Saturday.
The Yankees will call upon veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.28 ERA) to start the game. Kuroda held the Mariners to one run on three hits over seven innings and fanned nine on July 23. He gave up two runs on seven hits and one walk in seven innings against the Red Sox on Sunday but did not get a decision. Kuroda is 2-1 with a 3.10 ERA in his career against the M’s.
The Mariners will counter with ace right-hander Felix Hernandez (9-5, 2.79 ERA). Hernandez is 5-0 with a 1.60 ERA in his last nine starts. He is 7-5 with a 3.38 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 2 – TORONTO BLUE JAYS
When you think of the Blue Jays these days, just one name comes to mind: Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays basically rode Bautista to an 81-81 record last season, the first season for manager John Farrell.
Though Bautista was able to slug his way to 43 home runs and 103 RBIs and a .302 average despite being pitched around and walked 132 times, the Blue Jays offense could not cover up problems in the Jays’ starting rotation and bullpen.
This season Bautista figures to have a lot more help with the offense but the Jays were unable to bid successfully for Japanese League star right-hander Yu Darvish. As a result, their pitching remains a big question mark heading into 2012. If they get some good pitching from their starters they could actually be much better than they were in 2011.
Left-hander Ricky Romero begins the 2012 season as the unquestioned ace of this team after compiling a 15-11 record and a 2.92 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 225 innings. Romero’s deadly change-up is his best pitch and he keeps hitters off-balance working off his low 90s fastball. At age 27, he has made great strides in just two major-league seasons.
Once again, right-hander Brandon Morrow will be the No. 2 starter, though he actually would be more valuable as a closer. Morrow, 27, throws high-octane gas but has a habit of missing the strike zone and getting bogged down in deep counts. That raises his pitch count and Morrow tends to tire quickly. Hence, he was 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA despite striking out 203 batters in 179 1/3 innings.
The big disappointment was left-hander Brett Cecil, who was 15-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 2010 but was 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA in 20 starts last season. Cecil, 25, regressed so badly he was sent back to the minors for a part of the season. Because the Jays have few options for their rotation, Cecil likely will be given another shot to stick in 2012. If he succeeds, as he did in 2010, the Jays will have a solid top three pitchers.
Right-hander Henderson Alvarez came up in the middle of the season and finished with a 1-3 record and a 3.53 ERA in only 10 starts. Alvarez, only 21, is an excellent control pitcher and he could end up making a huge leap forward if he can secure the No. 4 spot this season.
The Blue Jays are also counting on old friend to be their No. 5 starter in Dustin McGowan, who pitched briefly last season for the first time since the 2008 season. Shoulder problems derailed what looked to be a promising pitcher in 2007 when he was 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA for the Jays. The Jays are counting on him bouncing back this season.
The pressure is on McGowan, too. There is little depth behind him.
In short, this Blue Jays rotation looks to be a bit suspect but it has the potential to exceed expectations.
The most signifcant moves the Jays made was the signing 36-year-old right-hander Francisco Cordero as a free agent and acquiring 28-year-old right-hander Sergio Santos from the White Sox.
Leaky middle relief and the lack of a consistent closer cost the Jays dearly last season.
Cordero likely was signed to be a setup man for Santos despite the fact Cordero nailed down 36 saves in 43 chances with the Reds last season. Cordero was 5-3 with 2.45 ERA with the Reds but he still will to defer to Santos.
Santos came out of nowhere last season to become the White Sox closer with 30 saves in 36 tries and a 4-5 record with a 3.55 ERA. Should Santos falter for any reason, Cordero could easily slide into that role by virtue of his 327 career saves.
The Blue Jays also bolstered their bullpen by adding seemingly ageless left-hander Darren Oliver (who is 41) to a bullpen that already includes steady right-handers Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen. Former starter Jesse Litsch and long man Carlos Villanueva add depth to what now looks to be a strong group in 2012.
Bautista will not be shuttling from right-field to third base as he has in the past. The reason is the Jays think they have their third baseman for the forseeable future in Brett Lawrie.
Lawrie came up late in 2011 and showed he was ready for prime time by hitting nine home runs and driving in 25 runs with a .293 batting average in only 150 at bats. Projected over a full season, Lawrie’s numbers would approach Bautista’s. So Lawrie bears watching as a star of the future if he isn’t already.
Adam Lind also helped the Jays by slugging 26 home runs and driving in 87 runs hitting behind Bautiista. Though Lind could stand to hit better than the .251 mark he posted, the Jays have to be encouraged that he hit .243 against left-handers last season.
The Jays gave up on second baseman Aaron Hill and acquired Kelly Johnson from the Diamondbacks in a trade of Hill. However, Johnson and Hill are virtually alike in they are both mid-average power hitters. Johnson hit 21 home runs in 2011 after hitting 26 in 2010. Johnson also can steal bases. He swiped 16 last season.
The Jays also traded for troubled Cardinals outfielder Colby Ramus, who rejected hitting advice from coaches in St. Louis while posting a .225 batting average with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. Because the Jays have failed in developing prospect Travis Snider into a major-league hitter the team has moved on hoping Ramus fulfills his early promise.
Rounding out the outfield is left-fielder Eric Thames, who hit .282 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in just over half a season.
The Jays did seem to strike gold by prying shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Braves. Escobar, 29, hit .290 with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs as a leadoff hitter for most of the 2011 season.
The DH spot likely will go mostly to Edwin Encarnacion, who hit .272 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs in 134 games last season.
This Blue Jay offense is laden with power but Farrell introduced the concept of the stolen base to the formerly station-to-station Jays. However, the team leader, Rajai Davis, stole 34 bases but is now cast in a bench role so I am not sure how much stealing this team will do in 2012.
The Jays also developed a young catcher in J.P. Arencibia, who had 23 home runs and 78 RBIs in a his rookie season. But even with all that production, Arencibia hit just .219. He needs some work on defense too but the Jays are hopeful because he is only 26.
Davis, a speedster who had hit .284 with 50 steals for the A’s in 2010 fell off to hit .238 for the Jays in 2011. So he is locked in a battle with former Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco for a backup spot.
Though Snider has been a disappointment for the third straight season, the left-handed slugger just turned 24 and the Jays remain hopeful he someday will put it together. He may land back in Triple-A for the 2012 season, however.
Mike McCoy will be the primary infield reserve. He lacks range but is solid at second, short and third.
Jays backup catcher and defensive wizard Jose Molina left as a free agent for the rival Rays so the Jays acquired former Angels catcher Jeff Mathis to back up Arencibia.
The Jays figure to hit more home runs and still fewer bases in 2012. It is team that you can shut down if you have good stuff. But it also is a team that can destroy a pitcher who continually falls behind in the count and does not have good stuff.
The biggest weakness on the team looks to be in the thin starting rotation. Romero is the only real quality pitcher because Morrow has yet to take the next step in his development into a starter, Cecil is a biq question mark, Alvarez needs to prove he belongs and McGowan is pitching after three mostly inactive seasons rehabbing after major shoulder surgery.
The bullpen should be improved and both Santos and Cordero have experience closing. The Blue Jays have some good relievers besides them in Oliver, Frasor and Janssen.
With some real improvement the Jays could contend for the division this season. But in this division, their starting pitching could prevent them from staying competitive as the season unfolds.
I see the Jays perhaps creeping over the .500 mark but still finishing fourth.
ON WEDNESDAY – PART 3 TAMPA BAY RAYS
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4
When Robinson Cano is overanxious at the plate he looks awful. When he patiently works the count he is deadly. He proved that on Saturday to cost Ricky Romero and the Toronto Blue Jays a victory and save Bartolo Colon and the Yankees from a loss.
Cano, who who had seen four pitches in the game and made four outs, decided to wait on the sixth pitch from reliever Casey Janssen and drove it into the gap in right-center and to the wall for a double that drove in two runs in the seventh inning as New York rallied to defeat Toronto in front of 47,744 at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees trailed Romero and the Jays 4-3 with two out in the seventh inning and it looked like it was going to be an uphill battle. But Romero hit Granderson in the back with a 2-2 curveball that did not break and Alex Rodriguez, playing in his first game in a week, coaxed a four-pitch walk. Acting Blue Jays manager Don Wakamatsu replaced Romero with Janssen.
Cano worked the count to 2-2 and slashed an inside fastball into the gap and Granderson and Rodriguez scored easily to take the lead from the Blue Jays. The RBIs were No. 100 and No. 101 on the season for Cano and it is the second time in the past two seasons Cano has driven in 100 runs.
Nick Swisher followed with opposite-field single to left that scored Cano with an insurance run.
Colon, who has not won a game since July 30, did not win this one either. Locked in a 3-3 tie with Romero and Jays, Colon gave up his second home run of the game to DeWayne Wise with one out in the fifth inning. It was the 19th home run Colon has given up this season and the eighth since Aug. 5. Colon gave up four runs on seven hits and one walk and struck out seven in 6 1/3 innings.
Romero (13-10), meanwhile, ended up giving up five runs on eight hits and three walks and struck five in 6 2/3 innings.
Boone Logan (5-2) pitched a perfect two-thirds of an inning to get credit for the victory. David Robertson, summoned to pitch two innings because both Rafael Soriano and Maraino Rivera were unavailable, held the Jays scoreless to pick up his first save of the season and only the third of his major-league career.
The Jays took an early lead off Colon in the second inning on an Adam Lind leadoff home run and sacrifice fly by J.P. Arencibia to score Edwin Encarnacion later in the inning.
That lead, however, was short-lived. The Yankees struck back in the bottom of the second with three runs, highlighted by a one-out double by Andruw Jones, a two-out single by Eduardo Nunez that scored Jones and a two-run home run from “Babe,” uh, Francisco Cervelli.
Cervelli had only one home run in this season and two in his major-league career until he hit one against Boston on Wednesday night. He now has two home runs in his last six at-bats. The blast into the left-field bleachers gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
However, Wise — who was only in the game because starter Eric Thames left the game in the bottom of the first inning suffering from dizzy spells — led off the third inning with a triple off the first-base bag and down the right-field line. Jose Bautista followed with an RBI single to left.
With the victory, the Yankees remain a half-game ahead of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East with a 84-53 record. The Blue Jays dipped below .500 at 60-70 and they fell 16 games back in fourth place in the division.
- Cano’s barrage of RBIs continues. He now has eight RBIs in his last seven games. Cano started the game poorly by killing a two-on, one-out rally in the first by rolling into a double play on the first pitch he saw from Romero. He rolled out to first on a 1-0 pitch in the third and he lined out sharply to right on the first pitch in the fifth. Cano has been swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone but he is hitting. 307 with 23 home runs and 101 RBIs. Think how great he would be if he were a patient hitter.
- Cervelli has improved as a hitter during the course of the season and he is red hot. After a game in which he was 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs, Cervelli is now 14-for-44 (.386) with two home runs and seven RBIs since July 22 and he has raised his season average from .205 to .274. Cervelli is paid for his defense and handling the pitchers as a backup to Russell Martin. His bat has been a bonus.
- Brett Gardner is also showing definite signs of coming out of his funk. He was 1-for-3 with a home run and two RBIs on Friday. On Saturday, he was 2-for-3 with two stolen bases. He was in a 6-for-53 slide (.113) before Friday’s game. Gardner now has 41 stolen bases and he leads the A.L. Oakland’s Coco Crisp is second with 39.
I will not harp on any negatives considering Mark Teixeira (sore right knee) and Derek Jeter (getting a day off) were not in the lineup. No reason to complain when the team is in first place.
Rodriguez was 1-for-3 with a single, a walk and a run scored in his first game back after missing about a week with a sprained left thumb. With Teixeira out, manager Joe Girardi elected to bat Rodriguez third for the first time this season and Cano batted cleanup. . . . Yankee star prospect Jesus Montero started his second game and for the first time at Yankee Stadium and collected his first major-league hit off Romero with a two-out single in the sixth inning. . . . Teixeira sais his right knee was feeling better Saturday and that he hopes to be able to play on Sunday.
The Yankees have a chance to sweep the three-game series with the Blue Jays on Sunday.
They will have a good shot with ace left-hander CC Sabathia (18-7, 2.99 ERA) toeing the slab. Sabathia won his first game of the season over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday. He gave up 10 hits and two walks but only surrendered two runs in six innings. He is 2-0 this season and 11-3 with a 3.03 ERA lifetime against the Blue Jays.
Toronto will start left-hander Brett Cecil (4-7, 4.51 ERA). In his last start he gave up four runs in a no decision against the Orioles. He is 4-2 with a 4.82 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, BLUE JAYS 2
The saying “It’s not how you start but how you finish” aptly applies to Ivan Nova.
Nova came into Friday’s game at Yankee Stadium riding a 10-game winning streak and was pushing himself into American League Rookie of the Year consideration. Toronto had him on the ropes early but Nova, buoyed by some highlight-reel defense behind him, righted himself and pitched the Yankees past the Blue Jays.
Nova (15-4) not only extended his winning streak to 11 and lowered his season ERA to 3.44, he also helped propel the Yankees back into first place in the A.L. East as the Boston Red Sox were pummeled 10-0 by the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park.
Brett Gardner not only contributed some dazzling defense in leftfield, he also was the source of some unlikely power. With the Yankees trailing 2-0 in the bottom of third inning and Russell Martin at first via a walk, Gardner slapped a one-out line-drive home run off Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow into the first row of seats over the Yankees’ auxiliary scoreboard to tie the game.
Gardner, who entered the game in a 6-for-53 (.113) slide, established a new career high with his sixth home run of the season.
Two frames later, the Yankees again were able to get to Morrow (9-10) after two were out in the inning. Derek Jeter reached on a bloop single to shallow center. Curtis Granderson then worked a walk.
Morrow, who had struck out Robinson Cano in his two previous at-bats with sliders inside and breaking into the dirt, threw one too many to him. Cano fought off an inside slider and looped it into shallow center to score Jeter with what proved to be the winning run.
Morrow was tough, having struck out eight batters and given up only four hits over six innings. But the Yankees made the hits and two walks they did receive count to defeat the 27-year-old right-hander.
Nova, 24, just proved to be better.
The Blue Jays jumped all over Nova’s fastball in the first inning. Yunel Escobar started the inning with a walk and Eric Thames followed with a sharp single to right-center that advanced Escobar to third.
Major-league home run leader Jose Bautista then slapped an opposite field roller between second and first and into right to score Escobar and advance Thames to third.
Adam Lind then lined a screaming liner to the opposite field in left. That is when Gardner took over. Running quickly to his right, Gardner was able to catch the liner but he was unable to prevent Thames from scoring the Jays’ second run.
In what probably was the defensive play of the game, Gardner then robbed Edwin Encarnacion of at least a double and he prevented Bautista from scoring with another running catch of a line drive hooking away from him. Gardner caught the ball at the very tip of the webbing and it almost rolled out as he fell to the turf. But he was not finished.
Bautista was all the away around second when the catch was made and he was doubled off easily when Gardner relayed the ball to Jeter and Jeter rolled it to Nick Swisher, subbing for an injured Mark Teixeira, at first. Nova was off the hook in a very rocky first.
After that double play, Nova started mixing in his devastating curveball and slider to hold the Blue Jays off the scoreboard. Over the next six innings, the Blue Jays managed just one hit — a one-out double in the sixth inning from Thames. Nova walked two and struck out four in his seven innings of work.
Nova got more glittering glovework in the fourth from 10-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones in right when he tracked down and caught a Bautista drive that was close to becoming his 39th home run. And in the sixth, Granderson ran all the way to the wall at the 385-mark to snare a deep fly off the bat of Lind.
After Nova left, Rafael Soriano came into pitch a scoreless eighth and Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth to record his 37th save of the season and the 596th of his career. Rivera stands just five saves away from all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman.
The Yankees improved their season record to 83-53. The Blue Jays fell to 69-69 and they are 15 games back in fourth place in the East.
- Nova has been sensational this season and he seems to getting better each time out. His last loss was on June 3. Since then, Nova is 11-0 with a 2.17 ERA in 78 2/3 innings. With this start , Nova has perhaps put himself on the inside track to be the team’s No. 2 starter when the playoffs begin. He is making the team’s decision to send him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in July seem stupid.
- Gardner needed to pick up his offensive game because he has been leading off against right-handed pitching and his silent bat made scoring runs more difficult. Sabermetric tables indicate Gardner is the top defensive left-fielder in baseball and he proved it on Friday with his running grabs off Lind and Encarnacion. If Gardner is not awarded a Gold Glove this season there is no justice.
- Cano continues to drive in big runs. Cano has driven in six runs in his last six games and he now has 99 RBIs on the season. After not reaching the 100-RBI mark in his first five seasons, Cano is poised to reach the century mark in RBis for the second straight season. He drove in 109 runs last season.
Jeter committed a sloppy throwing error in the third but it did not cost Nova a run and the team only managed four hits, but I can’t complain. Timely hitting, great pitching and sensational defense is good enough for me. Why complain when the team is in first place?
The Yankees played the game without both Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez decided to take an extra day to let his sprained left thumb heel and he hopes to be able to return to the lineup on Saturday. Rodriguez has played only four games since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 21 because of the thumb injury. Teixiera was out with a bruised right knee he sustained after being hit by a pitch from Alfredo Aceves of the Red Sox on Thursday night. Manager Joe Girardi said Teixiera’s knee is very sore and he may miss the entire weekend series. . . . Girardi hopes to have a decision soon on his five-man starting rotation. It appears that the decision comes down to who will start on Tuesday against the Orioles. It will come down to either A.J. Burnett, who had an 11.91 ERA in August but pitched well Thursday against Boston, or Phil Hughes, who is 4-5 with a 6.75 ERA. . . . Before the game the Yankees honored some members of the Latin baseball Hall of Fame and their newest member is former Yankee outfielder Bernie Williams. Williams was on hand and he received a loud ovation from the the crowd of 47,240.
The Yankees will continue their weekend three-game series with the Blue Jays.
They will call on 38-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon (8-9, 3.63 ERA). Colon held the Orioles to just two runs in 7 2/3 innings but lost 2-0. Colon has not won a game since July 30 and he is 0-3 with a 4.85 ERA over that time frame. He is 8-4 with a 3.63 ERA against the Jays.
Toronto will pitch its ace lefty Ricky Romero (13-9, 2.84 ERA). Romero allowed three runs in six innings against the Rays in his last start. He is 6-0 with a 2.11 ERA in his last eight starts. Romero is 3-3 with a 4,80 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.