Tagged: Ernesto Frieri

Bombers Five Homers Boosts CC To First Victory

GAME 33

YANKEES 11, RAYS 5

For the past two seasons the Bronx Bombers have had an offense that launched a lot of duds. But on Monday they proved the long-ball is back in their arsenal and their opponents better start ducking for cover.

The Yankees blasted five home runs to back a seven-inning outing in which CC Sabathia won his first game in more than a season as New York pummeled Tampa Bay into submission at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Alex Rodriguez opened the onslaught in the first inning off Alex Colome (2-1) with a 428-foot laser shot deep into left-field bleachers for the 662nd home run of his career.

Three innings later, Chase Headley broke a 1-1 tie with a two-out three-run home run into the right-field stands for his fourth of the season. An inning later, Carlos Beltran, who hit his first home run of the season on Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles, collected his second  –  a high-arcing blast to right  –  to make the score 5-1.

Colome, who entered the game 2-0 with 1.80 ERA, gave up yet another home run an inning later when Brett Gardner hit a three-run blast to straightaway center-field for his third home run of the season. That ended Colome’s nightmare.

He was charged with eight runs on 11 hits and one walk with six strikeouts in six innings to raise his season ERA to 5.63.

The Yankees added a solo run in the seventh off right-hander Ernesto Frieri on a double by Mark Teixeira, a single by Brian McCann and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Headley.

Teixeira added two more runs and the Yankees’ fifth homer of the evening with one out in the ninth with an opposite field shot to extend his home run total to a team-leading 11.

Meanwhile, Sabathia (1-5) started off his outing shaky by walking the first two batters he faced on nine pitches and then yielding a one-out RBI double to left by Logan Forsythe that scored Brandon Guyer to tie the game at 1-1.

However, Steven Souza Jr. was thrown at the plate on the play on a relay from Gardner in left to Didi Gregorius to home plate to McCann, who tagged Souza out. Rays manager Kevin Cash claimed McCann had blocked the plate illegally but a video review showed McCann did not block Souza’s path.

From that point Sabathia retired 15 of the next 17 batters through the sixth inning to gain his first victory since April 24, 2014.

The Rays tried to mount a rally in the seventh as Forsythe and Joey Butler opened the frame with back-to-back home runs. One out later, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a double into center that Chris Young overran to allow Cabrera to take third. Tim Beckham then scored Cabrera with a sacrifice fly.

Sabathia gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks while he struck out nine in seven innings.

The Rays added another run in the eighth off right-hander David Carpenter on an RBI single by Forsythe, who had three RBIs on the evening and he now leads the Rays with 15 on the season.

With the victory the Yankees extended their lead over the second-place Rays in the American League East to four games. They are 21-12 on the season and 18-6 since April 17. They also are 6-1 against the Rays, who fell to 17-16.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After a horrible spring and April, Beltran has turned the corner in May. He was 2-for-5 with a single, a homer, scored two runs and two RBIs on Monday. Since May 1, Beltran is 12-for-37 (.324) with two homers and seven RBIs. Just when it looked as if the 38-year-old outfielder was about to either be platooned or lose his job entirely to Young, Beltran is starting to look like the player who hit 24 home runs and drove in 84 RBIs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.
  • It is also official: We have a Chase Headley sighting. The 31-year-old third baseman was 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs on Monday. Headley entered the game batting only. 224 with three homers and 10 RBIs. His last RBI came on April 29 on a home run against the Rays at Yankee Stadium. Nice to see you are back, Chase.
  • Sabathia’s line would have looked a lot better if he had not given up three runs in the seventh inning. But between the first and the seventh, Sabathia gave up only a bloop one out single to Cabrera in the fifth and an infield single to Souza with two out in the sixth. His nine strikeouts were a season high. The trick for the 34-year-old left-hander now is pitch like he did on Monday consistently.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

You know when it is your night when a ball caroms off the roof walkway of Tropicana Field and is caught for the final out. That is exactly what happened in the ninth for the Yankees. Beckham hit a high drive towards left-field off right-hander Branden Pinder. The ball, however, struck what is called the B ring of the stadium and it was caught by Gregorius in shallow left for the final out. No complaints about this laugher. Anyone doubt the Yankees now?

BOMBER BANTER

Right-hander Masahirio Tanaka is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday at Tropicana Field as part of his recovery from tendinitis in his right wrist and a mild strain in his right forearm. Tanaka, 26, has been on the 15-day disabled list since April 24 and he is targeting a return for early June.  . . . Left-hander Chris Capuano, who has been on the disabled list with a right quad strain, is scheduled to throw 6 innings or 90 pitches for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at Norfolk on Tuesday. Meanwhile, right-hander Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) is slated to throw 3 innings or 45 pitches in an extended spring training game in Tampa, FL, on Tuesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Rays on Tuesday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (3-0, 3.97 ERA) will go the mound for the Yankees. Eovaldi, 25, held the Orioles to three runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings for a victory on Thursday.

The Rays will pitch right-hander Chris Archer (3-4, 2.59 ERA), who was 3-2 with a 0.84 ERA in April but is 0-2 with a 8.68 ERA in two starts in May. However, Archer is 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

A-Rod’s MVP Throwback Evening Shocks Rays

GAME 10

YANKEES 5, RAYS 4

In 2007, Alex Rodriguez hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs in leading the Yankees to the playoffs in what was his third season as the American League’s Most Valuable Player. On Friday, the Rays got a glimpse of what that A-Rod could do.

Rodriguez homered twice and drove in the go-ahead run with a single in the eighth as New York came from behind to defeat Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Losing pitcher Kevin Jepsen (0-1) said it best after the game: “That guy just killed us tonight.”

Right-hander Dellin Betances and left-hander Andrew Miller combined to pitch 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to close out the Rays. Betances (2-0) earned the victory while Miller notched his third save in three opportunities.

Rodriguez, 39, staked the Yankees to an early lead with a 471-foot blast into left-center off starter Nathan Karns to lead off the third inning. Two innings later, Stephen Drew touched Karns for a two-out home run to right-center.

However, Yankees starter Adam Warren was unable to hold the 2-0 lead for long.

Evan Longoria started a rally in the fourth inning with an infield single and Desmond Jennings followed with a walk. Rookie Allan Dykstra then launched a high-arcing blast that hit the foul pole in right for a three-run homer, the first of his career.

Four pitches later Logan Forsythe lined a solo shot into left to give the Rays a lightning-quick 4-2 lead.

But Rodriguez was just getting started.

Right-hander Ernesto Frieri entered the game in the sixth and he issued a one-out walk to Brian McCann. Rodriguez then followed with a line-drive rocket into the stands in left for the 558th home run of his career, his 49th against the Rays and his fourth of the season.

Carlos Beltran opened the eighth against Jepsen by singling against the shift into left-center. Manager Joe Girardi sent Brett Gardner in to pinch-run for Beltran.

With two out and Rodriguez at the plate, Gardner stole his first base of the season. Rodriguez followed it with a lined single to center that scored Gardner with what proved to be the game-winning run.

The Yankees managed only five hits in the game. Rodriguez collected three of them and three of them were home runs.

“He was really good. Without Alex, we’re going to lose that ballgame,” Girardi told reporters. “Four RBIs, two home runs, a big hit in the eighth inning to put us ahead. Just a great night for Alex.”

With the victory the Yankees are 4-6 on the season. The Rays dropped to 6-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It looks as if Girardi might have to move Rodriguez up in the batting order. With his 3-for-4 night, he is now leading the Yankees in batting (.344), home runs (4) and RBIs (11). After the hip surgeries and the suspension it was not clear what the Yankees had in A-Rod. I think we have a good idea now. He looks like the three-time MVP he always has been.
  • After the bullpen’s meltdown at Camden Yards in Baltimore on Wednesday it was good to see both Betances and Miller come in and combine for 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Miller looked especially sharp after giving up a leadoff infield single to Forsythe. He struck out the side to earn his third save.
  • Drew is only hitting .167 but he does have three homers and seven RBIs. His home run in the fourth inning was the 100th of his career and it is starting to look as if he will be able to contribute offensively at the low end of the batting order.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Warren started off well but hit a brick wall in the fourth inning. Girardi yanked him after he allowed four runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts in four innings. In his two starts, Warren has yielded six runs (five earned) on 11 hits and four walks in 9 1/3 innings. After pitching so brilliantly this spring, Warren appears lost as a starter. If he continues to struggle look for Esmil Rogers to make another bid to be the No. 5 starter that he lost to Warren this spring.
  • Chase Headley had a night at the plate he would love to put behind him. He was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts (two of them looking) and in his final at-bat he laced a hard-hit ground ball that shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera turned into a double play. Headley is batting .204 on the season.
  • The Yankees are not saying anything publicly, but they are concerned that Didi Gregorius is putting too much pressure on himself. His base-running gaffes, some shaky fielding and his slow start with the bat have them worried. Gregorius, 25, was 0-for-4 on Friday and he is now hitting .152.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi told reporters on Friday that because the Yankees have started a stretch of 30 games in the next 31 days they are considering using a sixth starter to take some strain off their rotation. Girardi said that Rogers and right-handers Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell, who are at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, are viable options as starters. “I wouldn’t really call it a six-man rotation. I’d call it more of inserting a sixth man one time through, and my guess is you might see it,” Girardi told reporters. “Weather could play a role, so you just have to wait and see, but it’s something that’s in the back of our minds. We’ve kind of prepared ourselves for it.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend road series with the Rays on Saturday.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (1-1, 7.00 ERA) will make his third start of the season for the Yankees. His is coming off a 14-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, when he gave up four runs in 5 innings.

The Rays will start right-hander Jake Odorizzi (2-0, 0.61 ERA), who has given up just one run in 14 2/3 innings this season. He held the Toronto Blue Jays to one run on two hits in 8 innings on Monday.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by Fox Sports 1.

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

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.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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!

Roberts Hits First Yankee Homer To Sink Halos

GAME 32

YANKEES 4, ANGELS 3

He heard the whispers. At age 33, Brian Roberts was sporting a .213 batting average on May 1 and the team that once counted on All-Star second baseman Robin$on Cano was not getting much production out of its winter free-agent signing. It was time for Roberts to show what he could do.

Roberts did just that by blasting the first pitch he saw from Ernesto Frieri deep into the right-field bleachers in right with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning to break a 3-3 tie as New York edged Los Angeles on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 40,106 at Angel Stadium.

For Roberts is was his first home run in a Yankee uniform and it culminated a night in which Roberts went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in leading a team that lately has been struggling to score runs.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who started for the Yankees, once again was denied a victory because of a lack of run support and a major hiccup from the bullpen.

Kuroda pitched his best game of the season, going 7 2/3 innings and having held the Angels to two runs (both unearned) on four hits with no walks and eight strikeouts before giving up a two-out triple to Mike Trout while holding a 3-2 lead.

Manager Joe Girardi summoned Shawn Kelley to pitch to Albert Pujols and for the second consecutive evening Kelley was unable to do what he called upon to do. Pujols laced a full count pitch for an RBI single that allowed the Angels to tie the game.

Despite the failure, Kelley (1-2) was credited with the victory. David Robertson pitched a perfect ninth inning to collect his fifth save in as many chances this season.

Frieri (0-3) took the loss.

It looked as if when the Angels scored two unearned runs off Kuroda in the third inning it was going to be another one of those frustrating nights for the Yankees of late.

Hank Conger opened the frame with a single to center and Collin Cowgill then laid down a sacrifice bunt that third baseman Yangervis Solarte fielded but he threw wildly past first baseman Mark Teixeira for an error.

Erick Aybar and Trout followed with consecutive sacrifice flies to score Conger and Cowgill.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were having problems early with left-hander C.J. Wilson, who entered the game with a 4-0 record against the Yankees as a member of the Angels.

They finally broke through in the fifth inning as Solarte and Brett Gardner hit back-to-back singles to start the inning. Roberts then followed with a slow roller up the middle into center that scored Solarte and advanced Gardner to third.

Jacoby Ellsbury then hit into a double play that allowed Gardner to tie the game at 2-2.

The Yankees took a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth inning when Wilson hit Derek Jeter with a pitch and Carlos Beltran singled into center to advance Jeter to third.

It then looked as if disaster would again short-circuit a rally by the Yankees when Teixeira hit a ground ball to third and Jeter was tagged out in a rundown by Conger.

But Alfonso Soriano, who was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in his previous at-bats against Wilson, rolled a single into left that scored Beltran.

Wilson was charged with three runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out five batters in 8 innings.

The victory by the Yankees ended a two-game losing streak and a stretch in which the Yankees had lost five of their past six games. The victory gives the Yankees a season record of 17-15 and they climbed back into a tie with the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the American League East. The Angels fell to 16-16.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Because Kuroda, 39, had pitched so poorly in his last six starts in 2013 and he was 2-3 with a 5.14 ERA in his first six starts of 2014 there were fears that he was washed up and he no longer could be an effective major-league pitcher. He proved that was not the case. Holding the Angels to four hits in the first seven innings is no small feat. Kuroda had command of his slider and his split-finger fastball and he was was able to work effectively on both sides of the plate.
  • Roberts’ 2-for-4 evening gives him a modest four-game hitting streak and he is 7-for-17 (.412) with a homer and two RBIs in that span. That has raised Roberts’ season average from .213 to .250. Roberts did hit eight home runs and drive in 39 runs in roughly half a season with the Orioles in 2013 so it is possible that he could hit 16 homers and drive in 78 runs in a full season with the Yankees if he stays healthy.
  • Robertson is now 5-for-5 in save opportunities and he is sporting a sparkling 1.13 ERA with seven strikeouts and two walks in eight innings. While no one is saying he is as good as the great Mariano Rivera, Robertson has more than held as own as the team’s closer. The Yankees have only had problems getting him leads late and, when they have gotten late leads, the setup guys have botched them.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • After the five-walk debacle between Kelley and Matt Thornton on Monday night that cost the Yankees a victory, it was not very encouraging to see Kelley give up the single to Pujols that allowed the Angels to tie the game in the eighth. Kelley has to throw strikes and be more aggressive with his pitches in order to be effective in the role Robertson did so well the past four seasons.
  • Double plays have been killing the Yankees of late and they hit into two more of them on Tuesday. Ellsbury’s double play did allow Gardner to score to tie the game but it also turned a two-on, no-out situation into a two-out, nobody-on situation. And after Soriano’s single gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead in the eighth, Brian McCann hit into a double play that ended the inning. The Yankees simply have to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
  • McCann, 30, ended up 0-for-4 and he did not get a ball out of the infield on Wednesday. McCann is now 3-for-36 (.083) in his past nine games and he seems absolutely perplexed at the plate. He is swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and taking strikes right down the middle. With his season average at .209 he is going to need to wake up soon because he is killing rallies right and left.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Tuesday finally were able to place right-hander Michael Pineda on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right shoulder muscle and activated backup infielder Brendan Ryan. Pineda, 27, had to be carried on the 25-man roster as he served a 10-game suspension for using pine tar. Ryan, 32, was shelved in spring training on March 4 after suffering a cervical spine nerve injury. Ryan primarily will serve as a backup to Jeter at shortstop, although he could also be used at second and third base.

COMMENTARY

Major League Baseball and its teams are now suffering the consequences of what was a planned effort on their part to expand its number of minority umpires by promoting them over more qualified candidates. One such example of that program is Laz Diaz. Another is C.B. Bucknor. If you ask players, coaches, managers and front-office personnel who are among the worst umpires in baseball the names Diaz and Bucknor come up. The reason is they are terrible at calling balls and strikes. Their strike zones will actually “move” from inning to inning and sometimes from batter to batter. Hence, on Tuesday night the Yankees had the bases loaded and nobody out in the eighth inning. Gardner had a 1-0 count on him as Jered Weaver threw a pitch that fell low out of the strike zone. But Diaz called it a strike. Look at the replays and you can clearly see the ball fell below Gardner’s knee as it crossed the plate. Also watch the following inning as two of Kelley’s pitches hit the same plain Diaz had called the strike on Gardner. He called them balls. That is why Girardi argued the strike call to Gardner and why Diaz ejected him. It is also why Kelley questioned Diaz about the calls and he was ejected by Diaz. But baseball needs to get useless pieces of excrement like Diaz out of baseball. Surely there are some minorities knocking on the door of being umpires who can actually see. That would be great for all involved and Diaz can go back to be an a–hole to his nephews and nieces. So the score of Monday’s game should be: Diaz 2, Yankees 1.

ON DECK

The Yankees can win the three-game road series against the Angels on Wednesday with a victory.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno (0-0, 6.87 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Nuno, 26, yielded three runs on five hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings on April 26 to the Angels at Yankee Stadium in his third start of the season. The Yankees need him to pitch better or he may may be replaced by David Phelps or Alfredo Aceves.

The Angles will counter with left-hander Hector Santiago (0-5, 5.01 ERA). Santiago was shelled for five runs on seven hits and two walks in six innings in a loss to the Texas Rangers on Friday. The Yankees scored four run son six hits and a walk in 4 1/3 innings to defeat Santiago on April 26.

Game-time will be 10:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Overcome Angels On Wild Pitch In Eighth

GAME 25

YANKEES 3, ANGELS 2

On a night where Masahiro Tanaka was not at his best  –  yet still plenty good enough  –  the Yankees struggled to get their offense going against the Angels. It was one of those “just get ‘er done” situations and the Yankees did just that on Sunday night.

With the game tied at 2-2 in the bottom the eighth inning Jacoby Ellsbury scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch as New York somehow took a series victory over Los Angeles in front of a national television audience and a paid crowd of 40,028 at Yankee Stadium.

Mark Teixeira led off the seventh inning with his second home run of the season to tie the game.

It remained that way until Angels right-hander Michael Kohn (1-1) opened the eighthly walking Ellsbury and  –  one batter later  –  he walked Carlos Beltran.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia then summoned left-hander Nick Maronde from the bullpen to pitch to Brian McCann but catcher Chris Iannetta was charged with a passed ball that allowed Ellsbury and Beltran to advance a base.

Then Maronde uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Ellsbury and the Yankees to score the game-deciding run without the benefit of a hit.

David Robertson pitched a scoreless ninth, striking out pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez with the potential game-tying run at second, to earn his fourth save and his second in two days against the Angels.

Tanaka entered the game having only issued two walks in 29 1/3 innings but he ended up matching that total by the second inning against the hot-hitting Angels.

The Angels did finally break through against Tanaka in the fourth inning as Erick Aybar led off with a double and one out later the usually in command Tanaka hit Ian Stewart with a pitch. Iannetta then worked a walk to load the bases and J.B. Schuck scored Aybar on a fielder’s choice groundout.

Right-hander Garrett Richards, meanwhile, was mowing down the Yankees, yielding only one hit in the first four innings.

The Yankees were able to tie the game in the fifth when Teixeira drew a leadoff walk and one out later Brian Roberts hit an opposite-field double to left to advance Teixeira to third. Ichiro Suzuki then scored Teixeira on an infield groundout for his first RBI of the season.

Tanaka, however, was unable to hold the lead when David Freese jumped on Tanaka’s first offering in the sixth and deposited it in the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center.

Though Tanaka was not at his best, he left with one out in the seventh inning having given up just two runs on five hits and four walks while he struck out 11 on his magical split-finger fastball in the dirt that the Angels could not seem to resist.

Adam Warren (1-1) came in the seventh and held the Angels to one hit in 1 2/3 innings to get credit the victory.

Richards left with the game tied after seven innings and he was charged with two runs on three hits and two walks while he ended up with seven strikeouts.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 15-10 and they have moved to a 2 1/2-game lead in the American League East over the Baltimore Orioles. The Angels fell to 11-13.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It must be nice to be so good that in a game where you issue four walks and you hit a batter while yielding only two runs and striking out 11 is considered a bad outing. But that is what some observers might have thought about Tanaka on Sunday. It was a chilly and windy night in the Bronx. So Tanaka had some command issues probably associated with trying to grip the ball. But he was still very good. In five starts covering 35 2/3 innings, Tanaka has given up 10 runs (nine earned) on 27 hits and six walks while he struck out 46. His ERA is a sparking 2.27 and you might as well face it but he IS the ace of the pitching staff already.
  • Robertson is falling into the closer’s role nicely after the retirement of the legendary Mariano Rivera. In the past two days Robertson has held one run leads facing some pretty tough hitters. The Angels have hit more home runs than any team in baseball. Yet, Robertson gave up a hit and a walk but fanned four in those two innings of work. Give him credit. He is doing the job.
  • Teixeira’s home run was significant not only because it tied the game. It also was his first homer from the left side of the plate this season. It was a no doubter, too. It landed well into the second deck in the right-field bleachers. The left side is the side where Teixeira might have trouble hitting after undergoing right wrist surgery last season. It appears that the wrist is getting better as the season moves along.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It was hard to tell if the Yankees were that bad or if it was Richards making them look that way. Believe me, it was Richards, who was throwing 97-mile-per-hour fastballs with movement. Nonetheless, nobody looked worse that Alfonso Soriano, who was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a groundnut into a double play. He stranded four runners.
  • The pitching on both sides was so good that the teams combined to go 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position. The Yankees were 0-for-5. Kelly Johnson reached third base on a wild pitch with one out in the third inning but Suzuki struck out and Ellsbury flied out to end the treat. That kind of summed the Yankees’ futility early in the game.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees played Sunday with two starters not in the lineup. Brett Gardner was held out of the game due to a sore left foot he incurred when he was struck by a pitch from Angels right-hander Ernesto Frieri in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game. X-rays taken on the foot were negative but Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Gardner still had some lingering soreness.  Suzuki started in left field for Gardner. Girardi also planned to play rookie Yangervis Solarte at second base but he had to scratched just before the game because of a sore right shoulder. Solarte injured the shoulder diving for a ball in Friday’s game and he did not look good in batting practice on Sunday. So Roberts started at second base and Solarte is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Right-hander Michael Pineda threw a bullpen session on Sunday and he will throw a simulated game on Tuesday in order to keep him sharp during his 10-game suspension for using pine tar. Pineda is scheduled to pitch Monday in Anaheim, CA, against the Angels.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off on Monday before welcoming back old “friend” Robinson Cano and the Seattle Mariners to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-2, 4.78 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Sabathia, 33, is coming off two straight victories, including holding the Boston Red Sox to two runs on three hits and three walks while fanning eight in six innings on Thursday. Sabathia seems to have recaptured his old mojo after a horrible 2013 season.

The Mariners will start right-hander Chris Young (0-0, 3.50 ERA). Young, 34, surrendered three runs on five hits and four walks while striking out six in seven innings of a no-decison against the Houston Astros on Wednesday.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.