YANKEES 2, MARINERS 1
As a closer for both the Tampa Bay Rays and the Seattle Mariners, Fernando Rodney has earned 13 career saves against the Yankees and all 13 were punctuated with his trademark – but annoying – shooting of an arrow gesture after the final out.
On Sunday, Mark Teixeira shot a figurative arrow through Rodney’s and the Mariners’ hearts.
Teixeira launched a high-arcing home run into the right-field bleachers off Rodney (2-4) with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning to break a 1-1 tie as New York took two of three games from Seattle in front of a sweltering paid crowd of 42,926 at Yankee Stadium.
Teixeira’s home run, his 23rd of the season, handed a victory in relief to right-hander Dellin Betances (6-2) and left-hander Andrew Miller tossed a perfect ninth, striking out two, to earn his 20th save in as many chances this season.
The early innings of the contest were marked by a fierce pitcher’s duel between 2007 American League Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia of the Yankees and 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez of the Mariners.
The left-handed Sabathia and the right-handed Hernandez matched zeroes until the top of the fifth inning when former Yankee Jesus Montero and Chris Taylor opened the frame with a pair of opposite-field singles.
After Mike Zunino successfully laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners, former Yankee Austin Jackson laced a lined single to center to score Montero. But Sabathia was able to limit the damage by striking out Kyle Seager and former Yankee Robin$on Cano with Taylor on third.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were able to tie the contest in the bottom of the sixth after Brett Gardner started the inning by drawing a walk. One out later, Teixeira grounded a hit-and-run single just past Taylor into center-field to advance Gardner to third.
With two out, Carlos Beltran, who had just been activated from the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day, slapped an opposite-field single to left to score Gardner with the tying run.
Hernandez, 29, was charged with just the one run on five hits and three walks while he fanned five batters in six innings. “King Felix” is 5-1 with a 1.38 ERA in his eight starts at the new Yankee Stadium.
Sabathia, 34, in one of his better outings of the season, also yielded one run on six hits and one walk as he struck out seven in six innings.
“CC pitched extremely well,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon told reporters. “His command was exceptional. He did a tremendous job. So did Felix. He was one pitch away from getting out of that [sixth] inning.”
Despite leading Major League Baseball with 48 saves last season and being chosen as an American League All-Star, Rodney has blown four saves and entered the contest with a 5.45 ERA. As a result, he had lost his closing duties to rookie right-hander Carson Smith.
McClendon opted to use the 38-year-old right-hander with one out in the eighth inning. Rodney was able to retire Alex Rodriguez on an infield popup and he had Teixeira down on a 1-2 count.
But he threw a 98-mile-per-hour fastball over the heart of the plate and Teixeira was able to make good contact with it.
“[I] just put a good swing on it. He threw the pitch earlier, the pitch before, right by me and I just knew I had to get ready a little bit earlier,” Teixeira told reporters. “The second one I was ready for.”
With the victory the Yankees earned the 50th victory with 41 losses. They hold a four-game lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Mariners dropped to 42-50.
- Teixeira entered the contest 20-for-66 (.303) with a league-best six home runs off Hernandez. He was 2-for-3 with two singles against Hernandez on Sunday and is now hitting .319 off him. In addition, his 23rd home run surpasses the 22 he hit all of last season. Teixeira’s 3-for-4 day raised his season average to .249. To top off his day he made an outstanding grab of a foul ball in the second row of the stands off the bat of Nelson Cruz in the eighth inning.
- Give Sabathia a lot of credit for holding the Mariners to one run on a day the Yankees were facing a tough right-hander in Hernandez. He entered the game 4-8 with a 5.47 ERA. But since May 28 when he was 2-7 with a 5.67 ERA, Sabathia is 2-1 with a 4.70 in his past eight starts. More importantly, the Yankees are 5-3 in those contests. So the 34-year-old veteran is keeping the Yankees in position to win his starts.
- Beltran’s RBI single to tie the game in the sixth was a testament to a good veteran hitter not trying to do too much and shooting an outside curveball the opposite way. Though Beltran has been a huge disappointment to the Yankees between his injury-plagued 2014 season and his .262 average with just seven homers and 30 RBIs this season, he still adds a solid switch-hitter to lengthen the lineup for the second half of the season.
- Jacoby Ellsbury entered the day with a plus-.300 career average against Hernandez but he ended up grounding out weakly to first all three times he faced him. He ended the day 0-for-4 and his average has slipped to .302. He is 1-for-17 (.059) in his past four games dating back to July 12.
Once again, when the Yankees have a choice between a up-and-coming homegrown player and a veteran free agent they side with the veteran. When the Yankees activated Beltran from the disabled list on Sunday they surprisingly optioned second baseman Rob Refsnyder, 24, to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre despite the fact that Stephen Drew, 32, is batting .181 after hitting .162 last season. Refsnyder hit .167 with a homer and two RBIs in four games including his first major-league home run on July 12 that allowed the Yankees to beat the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park last Sunday.
The Yankees will have Monday off before welcoming the Orioles to Yankee Stadium for a crucial three-game series.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (9-2, 4.50 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Eovaldi, 25, has not lost a game since June 16 and he won his last start by holding the Red Sox to three runs on seven hits with four strikeouts in five innings last Sunday.
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen will start for the Orioles. Chen allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits with seven strikeouts in eight innings in tough-luck loss to the Washington Nationals last Sunday.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by WPIX.
YANKEES 5, MARINERS 3 (11 INNINGS)
When the Yankees obtained Garrett Jones from the Miami Marlins this winter they envisioned his left-handed power and versatility as an outfielder and first baseman would be perfect fit. But up until Tuesday, Jones has struggled to bat .232 with one home run and four RBIs.
With one swing that all changed.
Jones connected on a 2-0 pitch with two on and two out in the 11th inning for a three-run homer off left-hander Joe Beimel that allowed New York to come from behind to defeat Seattle at Safeco Field.
The Yankees were granted the opportunity to win their first extra-inning game of the season in four tries after Stephen Drew delivered a two-out RBI double off closer Fernando Rodney in the bottom of the ninth inning that tied the game at 2-2.
That set the stage for 11th, which hit a speed bump when Brian McCann had erased a leadoff single by Didi Gregorius by hitting into a double play. However, Drew singled off right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen (0-2) and Brett Gardner followed with a single of his own.
Jones, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and struck out, then faced Beimel. His blast off Beimel landed well into the bleachers in right-center to reclaim a lead the Yankees had lost in the third inning.
Left-hander Justin Wilson (2-0) pitched a scoreless 10th, making a spectacular diving grab of a popped up bunt by Rickie Weeks and turning it into a double play, to earn the victory.
Andrew Miller was touched for a run in the 11th on an RBI single by former Yankee Robinson Cano. But Miller struck out the major-league leader in home runs, Nelson Cruz, representing the potential winning run to earn his 16th save in 16 tries this season.
The Yankees grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning after Gardner drew a one-out walk on a disputed checked swing and advanced to second on a wild pitch by left-hander Mike Montgomery, who was called up from Triple-A Tacoma and was making his first major-league start.
One out later, Alex Rodriguez also drew a walk on a disputed checked swing. Mariners catcher Mike Zunino and manager Lloyd McClendon were ejected from the game by first-base umpire Will Little for arguing the call. On the very next pitch from Montgomery, Mark Teixeira stroked an RBI double to score Gardner.
The Mariners responded in the bottom of the frame off left-hander CC Sabathia. Austin Jackson, who was 4-for-4 with two walks in the game, slapped a one-out single to left. One out later, Cano hit a lined single to right that Carlos Beltran bobbled to allow Jackson to reach third.
Cruz followed with an opposite-field single to right that scored Jackson to tie the game.
The Mariners broke the tie in the sixth after Logan Morrison reached on a one-out single and Welington Castillo, who had replaced Zunino in the third inning, followed one out later with a single that advanced Morrison to third. Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced Sabathia with right-hander David Carpenter and Jackson greeted him with a double that scored Morrison.
But the Yankees tied it in the ninth off Rodney, starting with a leadoff walk by Chase Headley and a two-out single by McCann, who was pinch-hitting for John Ryan Murphy, to move Headley to third. Drew then laced a double to right that scored Headley easily.
Montgomery was charged with one run on four hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings of work in his debut. Sabathia was charged with two runs on nine hits and two walks with five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 28-25 and they maintained their one-game lead over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Mariners are 24-28.
- Oddly enough, Jones’ three-run home run was his his second of the season. Jones, 33, also hit a pinch-hit three-run homer with one out in the eighth inning off right-hander Tanner Scheppers to draw the Yankees to within 10-8 of the Texas Rangers in a game the Yankees eventually lost 10-9 on May 22. At that point, Jones was batting .150 with no homers and one RBI. Since then, Jones is 9-for-19 (.474) and that surge just may have rescued Jones’ tenure with the Yankees.
- If you throw out Carpenter’s inability to get Jackson out in the sixth that lost the lead, the Yankees bullpen was spectacular the rest of the way. The Mariners had many chances to win the game but Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, Dellin Betances, Wilson and Miller combined to yield just one run on four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in five innings. The biggest reason the Yankees are on first place is their formidable bullpen.
- Drew, 32, also may have saved his future with the team with his RBI double in the ninth and his clutch two-out single in the 11th. Drew entered the game batting .160 with five homers and 15 RBIs after he batted a combined .162 in 2014 with the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees. The Yankees hope that Drew can turn it around soon but the team’s other second baseman, Jose Pirela, is batting just .222. Second base prospect Rob Refsnyder is batting only .276 with two homers and 18 RBIs and he also has committed 11 errors in 46 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- Carpenter, 29, was called upon to do one thing – get out Jackson with two outs and runners on first and third – and he failed to do it. Carpenter is 0-1 with a bloated 4.82 ERA despite being able to throw 95-mph fastballs. But Carpenter has given up 20 hits and seven walks in 18 2/3 innings (1.45 WHIP) covering 22 appearances. There is just no excuse for how awful he is pitching.
- Gregorius, 25, would have ended up with big goat horns if the Yankees ended up losing the game. Gregorius was on first on a pinch-hit single off right-hander Mark Lowe to lead off the seventh. Murphy followed with a hard-hit single to right that should have allowed Gregorius to reach third with no outs. However, Gregorius tripped over the second-base bag and ended up being thrown by Cruz. The young shortstop was 2-for-3 after entering the game but his mental mistakes and physical errors at short sometimes hurt this team.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury likely will not return to Yankees off the 15-day disabled list until late June, general manager Brian Cashman told Michael Kay on ESPN Radio on Tuesday. Cashman said Ellsbury will wear an immobilizing brace on his right knee for at least another week. Then the 31-year-old veteran, who has not played since May 19, will have 10 days to resume baseball activities and perhaps begin a rehab assignment. Ellsbury is leading the team in batting (.324) and steals (19) with one homer and six RBIs.
The Yankees will have an opportunity to sweep the three-game series with Mariners on Wednesday.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (2-1, 3.44 ERA) will come off the disabled list to start of the Yankees. Tanaka, 26, last pitched on April 23 and was sidelined with tendinitis in right wrist and tightness in his right forearm.
The Mariners will counter with right-hander Taijuan Walker (2-5, 6.18 ERA), who is baseball’s equivalent of the little girl with the curl. When he is good – like his last outing – he is really good. He shut out the Cleveland Indians on just two hits with no walks and eight strikeouts in eight innings on Friday. But his record and ERA indicate how bad he has been in his other nine starts.
Game-time will be 3:30 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:
NEW YORK YANKEES
After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.
Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.
Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.
The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.
Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.
The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.
Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.
The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.
Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.
If you don’t you lose.
The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.
The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.
The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.
The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.
Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.
The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.
As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.
In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.
BOSTON RED SOX
Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.
The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.
They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.
Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.
Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.
To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.
Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.
The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.
Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.
The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.
The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.
So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Jays are all about redemption.
They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.
The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.
So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.
Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.
But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.
Now that is some reclamation project.
Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.
But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.
There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.
Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.
The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.
It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?
The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.
Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.
The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.
The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.
They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.
So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.
Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) NEW YORK YANKEES
2) TAMPA BAY RAYS
3) BOSTON RED SOX
4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS
5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!
This season’s ninth innings are going to seem very strange for the New York Yankees.
For the first time since 1997 the team will not have the benefit of the greatest closer in baseball history.
Mariano Rivera was the gold standard of the modern era one-inning closer and won’t it be odd not hearing “Enter Sandman” reverberate throughout the Yankee Stadium?
Rivera leaves taking his major-league 652 saves and career ERA of 2.21. He also removes the security blanket that managers Joe Torre and Joe Girardi had that made them so successful. Opponents will enter the 2014 season extremely happy that No. 42 will not be in the Yankees’ bullpen.
The question is who will take Mo’s place?
Though no promises have been made, David Robertson will have the opportunity to fill the biggest shoes in baseball.
Robertson, 28, like Rivera, is a product of the Yankees’ minor-league system and he has been Rivera’s set-up man for the past three seasons.
In four full seasons and parts of a fifth, Robertson has compiled a 21-14 record with a sparkling 2.76 ERA. Last season, Robertson was 5-1 with 2.04 ERA and superbly set up Rivera in his final season.
The big question is can the former University of Alabama closer handle the job at the major-league level. Robertson has a mere eight saves in 18 chances in the majors.
When handed the role in 2012 when Rivera injured his knee early in the season, Robertson faltered and was replaced by Rafael Soriano. That experience leaves enough doubt about him heading into the new season.
But Robertson has the goods to close. He can bring a low- to mid-90s fastball, a cutter he learned from the master Rivera and a knee-buckling curveball. The only question is can he keep his pitch counts down to get through a clean ninth inning consistently?
Rivera’s lifetime WHIP (Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched) was 1.00, which is excellent. Robertson is sporting a career WHIP of 1.25, which is not great for a reliever. However, his WHIPs over the past three seasons have been 1.13, 1.17 and 1.04.
The 1.04 WHIP from last season is a career low. That is closer material. So Robertson stands as the No. 1 candidate as of today.
The Yankees still could sign a closer before spring training opens. But that is not looking likely.
The best closer on the market, Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics, signed a two-year deal with his former team the Tampa Bay Rays. Former Rays closer Fernando Rodney, 36, was excellent in 2012 but regressed in 2013 with 37 saves and 3.38 ERA and a high WHIP of 1.34.
In addition, the Yankees have already spent a lot of money on free agents this offseason. Can they afford to add more?
A more likely scenario would be a trade packaging some players in return for an experienced bullpen pitcher who can set up and close out games. Stay tuned.
The Yankee bullpen also will be without some other familiar names in 2014.
The Colorado Rockies signed left-hander Boone Logan to a three-year deal. The Detroit Tigers signed right-hander Joba Chamberlain to a one-year deal.
The Yankees did sign veteran left-hander Matt Thornton, 37, from the Boston Red Sox. Thornton has some heavy mileage on him but he provides the team a quality left-hander who has had experience as a set-up man and closer.
Thornton has a career record of 32-42 with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and 23 career saves. He was 0-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 60 games with the Chicago White Sox and the Red Sox last season. He will essentially replace Logan as the team’s main left-hander.
The Yankees also have a holdover in right-hander Shawn Kelley, 29, who was 4-2 with a 4.39 ERA in 57 games with the Yankees last season. The former Seattle Mariner essentially made Chamberlain obsolete after recording 71 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings with his devastating slider.
Kelley and Thornton are likely to be Girardi’s main seventh and eighth inning options this season.
The Yankees also have high hopes for right-hander Preston Claiborne, 26, who was impressive in the early stages of his rookie season.
Called up in May, Claiborne did not issue a walk in his first nine appearances. On July 28, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.06 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 29 games. However, the wheels came off the wagon quickly and he was 0-1 with a 8.80 ERA in his last 15 games.
The Yankees still believe the big Texan nicknamed “Little Joba” can pitch as he did in his first 29 games in the major leagues. As long as Claiborne is attacking the strike zone to get ahead he can be a huge weapon for Girardi this season. Claiborne has a very high ceiling and spring training will determine just how far he can go in 2014.
Speaking of high ceilings, the reliever to watch this spring will be left-handed specialist Cesar Cabral, 25.
A Rule 5 draft pick in 2011, Cabral was competing for a job with the Yankees in 2012 when he suffered a fracture of his left elbow in his final appearance of spring training and he missed the entire 2012 season.
His rehab also extended into 2013. In 30 games in three stops in the minors, Cabral was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. But he had 43 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. He was called up to the majors when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 and he made his major-league debut on Sept. 2.
Cabral ended up 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in eight late-season games, striking out six in 3 2/3 innings. Lefties hit .125 off him.
It looks as if the Yankees have found a gem in the young lefty. Cabral enters 2014 as almost a shoo-in to make the team to give the team a lefty specialist they have lacked since Clay Rapada injured his arm in spring training last season. Mark my words, Cabral is something special.
The other two spots in the bullpen are up for grabs. But the Yankees have a lot of options to fill those spots.
Should Michael Pineda claim a spot in the starting rotation and join CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda, one obvious choice to fill out the bullpen is David Phelps.
Phelps, 27, has served as reliever and spot starter for the past two seasons.
In two seasons he is 10-9 with a 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 starts). His ERA is inflated because he been less successful as a starting pitcher the past two seasons. Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would like to see Phelps resume his role in the bullpen because of his versatility and effectiveness.
Phelps does not possess a crackling fastball but he does have extreme confidence in his stuff. He throws strikes and his control is excellent.
Along with Phelps, the Yankees used rookie right-hander Adam Warren as a long reliever and spot starter last season. Warren, 26, responded with a 3-2 record and a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two of them starts).
Warren enters spring training in the running for the No. 5 spot in the rotation but could very well end up as the long man out of the bullpen again. Unlike Phelps though, Warren has a mid-90s fastball and he has been better as a starter.
The same can be said for 26-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno.
Nuno won the James P. Dawson Award in 2013 for being the most impressive rookie in spring training. He then went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before making his major-league debut as a reliever in last April.
He was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in five games (three starts) before a strained left groin sustained on May 30 shelved him for the rest of the season.
Nuno is a soft-tosser but he has exceptional control. His ability to fool hitters with his breaking stuff makes him a good possibility as a No. 5 starter if he is impressive again this spring. He also could become a third lefty as a long man in the bullpen.
At the very least, Nuno could return to Scranton and be ready for fill in as a starter or reliever for the Yankees should they need to replace an injured pitcher. Nuno is an excellent insurance policy for Girardi.
One very intriguing bullpen possibility for the Yankees is former top prospect starter Dellin Betances, 25.
The 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander flamed out as a starter in 2012 when he recorded a 6-9 record and 6.44 ERA with 99 walks in 113 1/3 innings at two minor-league stops. The Yankees made him a reliever in 2013 and he was much better.
Betances was 6-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 84 innings at Scranton. He cut his walks to just 42.
He was called up in September and had a 10.00 ERA in six games late in the season. But the Yankees believe he has potential to be a dominant reliever in the major leagues is he continues to harness his control. He has mid-90s fastball and his power curve is getting better.
Betances enters this spring as a dark-horse bullpen candidate with the tools to become an excellent reliever someday and perhaps a future closer.
The same can be said of right-hander Mark Montgomery, 23, the team’s current No. 11 prospect.
Montgomery has a 93-mile-per-hour fastball but his biggest weapon is a drop-off-the-table slider that has shot him through the minor-league ranks.
In 2012 he struck out 13.8 batters per nine innings as he advanced through Double-A Trenton. He also led the organization in saves. Last season, Montgomery was 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 40 innings at Scranton.
He will get an opportunity to show his progress this spring but he likely will start the season in Scranton. The Yankees still see him as a future setup man or closer. He may get his shot sometime in 2014.
Another minor-leaguer worth watching this spring is 24-year-old right-hander Chase Whitley, who spent most of last season at Scranton.
Whitley was 3-2 with a 3.06 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings in 29 games. The Alabama native also showed some ability as a starter late in the season.
In five late-season starts, Whitley was 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. The Yankees will evaluate him this spring and determine what role he might be best suited. But his solid numbers in the minors indicate he is on track to make the major leagues in a few years.
One interesting aspect of the candidates I have mentioned so far is that seven of them (Robertson, Claiborne, Phelps, Warren, Betances, Montgomery and Whitley) were originally drafted by the Yankees. Two others (Cabral and Nuno) are products of the team’s minor-league system.
The other two candidates (Thornton and Kelley) were signed as a free agent and via a trade, respectively.
Although the Yankees’ position players in the minors are progressing slowly. The same can’t be said for the starters and relievers they have been developing the past few seasons. That is a testament to the scouting department and general manager Brian Cashman.
The Yankees need to continue that development as they move forward.
The biggest testimony to that progress will be if Robertson seamlessly settles in as the team’s closer. He may be replacing a huge legend. But if anyone can do it, it is Robertson.
A lot is riding on Robertson;s right arm and the Yankees are very hopeful he can meet the challenge.
YANKEES 4, RAYS 3 (11 Innings)
Teams that win often seem to have this never-say-die attitude that carries them through difficult spots in games. The New York Yankees faced that in the ninth inning on Saturday when they were down 3-1 with two out and Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney on the mound with a 3-2 count on Lyle Overbay.
The Rays were within one strike of victory but Overbay drew a crucial walk and the Yankees rallied to tie the score in the ninth and Overbay smacked a two-out solo home run in the 11th inning to give New York a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Tampa Bay in front of 25,874 at Tropicana Field.
After Overbay walked, Rodney was called for a balk that allowed Overbay to take second. Then pinch-hitter Brennan Boesch, who was just called up on Saturday to take the roster spot of injured outfielder Curtis Granderson, slapped an excuse-me-swing opposite-field double to left to score Overbay.
The Yankees then tied it when they were again down to their final strike as Brett Gardner poked a 1-2 pitch into centerfield that allowed Boesch to score just ahead of the throw of Desmond Jennings and the tag applied by catcher Jose Lobaton.
Rodney, who sported an 0.60 ERA and saved 48 games in 2012, has now blown a major-league-leading five saves this season and his ERA is 5.40.
Ivan Nova further frustrated the Rays in the 10th inning when he walked Ben Zobrist to load the bases with one out. But Nova escaped the jam by striking out James Loney swinging and retiring Matt Joyce on a routine grounder.
That set the stage for Overbay’s heroics in the 11th inning against right-hander Josh Lueke (0-2).
With two out and 1-0 count on him, Overbay drove an inside fastball deep into the rightfield bleachers for eighth home run of the season.
Mariano Rivera, showing a huge contrast between the teams’ two closers, came in the bottom of the 11th and he needed only nine pitches to strike out Lobaton swinging, getting Yunel Escobar on a routine groundout and fanning Jennings swinging to end the contest.
Rivera earned his 18th save in 18 chances this season.
The Yankees opened the scoring in the first inning off left-hander Matt Moore, who entered the game 8-0 with a 2.29 ERA.
Gardner opened the contest with a double in the rightfield corner and he scored two outs later on a lined single up the middle by Travis Hafner.
The Yankees held that lead until the Rays finally got to rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno in the fifth on a one-out double by Jose Molina and a two-out RBI double by Jennings to tie it at 1-1.
Moore left after six innings having given up five hits and two walks while he struck out a pair.
Nuno opened the seventh by giving up a leadoff single to Loney.
The usually reliable bullpen of the Yankees, however, was unable to keep the Rays from scoring a pair runs in the frame. Shawn Kelley yielded a double to the pinch-hitting Joyce and Boone Logan was unable to keep pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson from stroking an RBI single that scored Loney.
Joyce was able to score on a fielder’s choice when a ball off the bat of Escobar was fielded by Jayson Nix but catcher Austin Romine was unable to prevent Joyce from sliding home underneath his tag.
But, fortunately for the Yankees, they did not give up when they were down 3-1.
In fact, after having their American League record 19-game winning streak when they scored first in a game snapped in Baltimore on Tuesday, they were able to make it 20-1 behind Overbay’s remarkable at-bats in the ninth and the 11th.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season mark to 30-18 and they remain a full game ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Rays not only have lost the three-game series but they dropped to 24-24, six games behind the Yankees in fourth place in the division.
- Overbay, 36, may be hitting only .255, but he is providing the Yankees with some quality at-bats, clutch hits and nearly flawless defense at first base. His eight home runs are tied for third on the club and his 28 RBIs are second on the team to Robinson Cano’s 34. It is going to be hard for Yankees to cut Overbay loose when Mark Teixeira returns but they may be forced into it.
- Nuno, 25, was absolutely brilliant in his second major-league start. He surrendered two runs on five hits and one walk while he struck out two over six innings. That means Nuno has given up just one run on eight hits and four walks while fanning five in 11 innings in those two starts. That is an ERA of 0.82.
- Gardner started the Yankees off with a leadoff double and he scored the Yankees’ first run in the first. In the ninth he delivered a key two-out RBI single that tied the game. Very quietly Gardner is beginning to pick up his offensive game. He has delivered at least one hit in eight of his past nine starts and he is 10-for-33 (.303) with a home run and five RBIs during that span. In fact, his two-run home run in the fourth inning was a key blow in Friday’s victory over the Rays.
- Kelley and Logan did not do their jobs in the seventh inning and it cost the Yankees two big runs. Kelley was unable to retire Joyce and Logan was victimized by the lefty-swininging Johnson. One run was charged to Nuno and the other was charged to Kelley. But both Kelley and Logan should be ashamed of themselves for the way they pitched.
- It is official: Vernon Wells is in a full-blown slump at the plate. He was 0-for-5 in the game and he did not get a ball out of the infield. He is also 0-for-10 in the series and he also has no hits in his past 11 at-bats. That has lowered his season average to .270 and it is falling fast.
The Yankees placed Granderson on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured knuckle on his left pinky finger and he is expected to be sidelined for at least four weeks. Boeach, 27, was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he was hitting just .179. Boesch hit .209 with two homers and five RBIs in 20 games in his earlier stint with the Yankees. . . . The Yankees also on Saturday claimed right-hander David Huff off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Huff, 28, made three relief appearances for the Indians, giving up five runs in three innings. He was 3-1 with a 4.07 ERA in nine games (two starts) with Triple-A Columbus. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated for assignment left-hander Francisco Rondon. . . . Hiroki Kuroda completed a full bullpen session on Saturday and he said he believes he will have no problem making his next start on Tuesday at Citi Field against the New York Mets. Kuroda was struck in the right calf on Wednesday in a game against the Orioles. Meanwhile, David Phelps reported that his right forearm felt a little sore after he was struck by a ball off the bat of Zobrist in the eighth inning of Friday’s game against the Rays. Phelps is scheduled to pitch in Wednesday’s game against the Mets but that will depend if he is able to throw a bullpen session. . . . Left-hander Andy Pettitte (sore left trapezius muscle) said he felt fine after a bullpen session on Saturday and he expects to come off the 15-day disabled list on June 1, when he is eligible to be activated.
The Yankees will have their brooms out on Sunday for a potential sweep of the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.43 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia settled for this third straight no-decision after allowing a one-run lead to slip away against the Orioles in the seventh inning on Monday. He is 10-10 with a 3.30 ERA lifetime against the Rays.
Sabathia will be opposed by right-hander Alex Cobb (5-2, 2.73 ERA). Cobb held the Toronto Blue Jays to one run on three hits in 6 1/3 innings for a victory. He is 2-1 with a 2.22 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:40 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, RAYS 3
Ichiro Suzuki entered Tuesday’s game batting just .200 and it was beginning to look as if all those years of playing baseball were starting to take its toll. But the Tampa Bay Rays found out there is no hitter more dangerous than a great hitter in the throes of a horrible slump.
Suzuki slapped a two-out bases loaded single off reliever Fernando Rodney to drive in two runs to break a 2-2 tie in the ninth inning as New York edged Tampa Bay in front of an embarrassingly small paid crowd of 17,644 at Tropicana Field.
David Robertson (1-0) pitched a perfect ninth inning in relief of starter Phil Hughes to earn credit for the victory. Though Evan Longoria greeted him with a first-pitch home run in the bottom of ninth, Mariano Rivera retired the next three hitters to earn his sixth save in as many chances this season.
Robinson Cano started the ninth inning with a single off Rays starter David Price (0-2). Rays manager Joe Maddon then elected to bring Rodney to face left-hander Vernon Wells.
Wells struck out but Cano was able to swipe second base, which forced Maddon to walk pinch-hitter Travis Hafner intentionally to set up a potential double play.
However, Lyle Overbay was able able to draw a walk on a 3-2 pitch from Rodney to load the bases and, after Chris Stewart popped out, Suzuki came to the plate.
Suzuki also was instrumental in allowing the Yankees to tie the game in the eighth with a one-out single and he advanced to third on a single to left by Jayson Nix. He then scored on a infield groundout by Brett Gardner.
Price entered the eighth with a 2-1 lead on a two-out RBI single by Jose Molina that scored Matt Joyce.
Price gave up three runs on eight hits and no walks while he struck out five in eight-plus innings of work.
However, Hughes matched him pitch-for-pitch after a shaky first inning in which he gave up a walk to Desmond Jennings, a double by Ryan Roberts and sacrifice fly to Ben Zobrist that scored Jennings.
Hughes then settled in giving up just two runs on six hits and two walks and he struck out six batters in seven innings. It was his second consecutive strong outing but he has received a no decisions in both of them.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 11-8. The Rays fell to 9-11.
- Suzuki, 39, has had the Yankees concerned because he slumped miserably in the final three weeks of spring training and began the season in the same hitting funk. Manager Joe Girardi elected to bench him in favor of Brennan Boesch twice against left-handers in the past week. Hopefully his two hits in the last two innings, scoring the game-tying run and driving in the game-winning runs will get him going.
- In his last two starts, Hughes has given up four runs on 12 hits and two walks and he has fanned 12 in 14 innings. After giving up the sacrifice fly to Zobrist in the first inning, Hughes retired 16 of the next 19 batters he faced until he opened the seventh inning by walking Joyce. Joyce eventually scored on Molina’s hit and it likely cost Hughes the victory. But Hughes is pitching well after two dreadful starts to begin the season. He lowered his season ERA to 5.14.
- Cano was 2-for-4 and both his hits set up runs. After Eduardo Nunez reached first to lead off the fourth inning on a wild pitch on a swinging third strike, Cano advanced him third on a single. Wells then drove in Nunez with an opposite-field single to right that tied the game at 1-1. Cano raised his season average to .342, which currently leads the team.
- It is just about decision time for the Yankees on Ben Francisco, who started for a second consecutive game as the designated hitter. Francisco was 0-for-3 in the game and he is hitting a miserable .080 on the season after hitting a combined .308 with eight doubles, three homers and nine RBIs for the Cleveland Indians and the Yankees in spring training. The Yankees chose to keep Francisco over Juan Rivera, though Rivera also had a good spring. Rivera is currently a free agent and could be signed by any club.
- The Yankees are finding out their Achilles’ heel is left-handed pitching. With Kevin Youkilis out of the lineup for a third straight game with lower back stiffness, the Yankees were forced to start Francisco at DH in place of Hafner, the lefty swinging Overbay at first and Nix at third. After Matt Moore shut them down on one run and two hits on Monday, Price held them to two runs on seven hits on Tuesday until the ninth inning when they rallied off the right-handed Rodney.
- The Yankees were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position until Suzuki delivered his game-winning single in the ninth.
Youkilis was held out of the lineup for a third straight game on Tuesday and he now is not expected to play until Thursday. Youkilis originally injured the back in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game in Toronto against the Blue Jays and re-aggravated the injury on Monday during batting practice in St. Petersburg, FL. . . . Mark Teixeira admitted on Tuesday that he will not meet his stated goal to return to the lineup by May 1. Though Teixiera has been cleared to take dry swings from both sides of the plate, he has not advanced far enough to begin hitting a baseball. Instead of remaining in Tampa to continue his workouts, Teixiera will return with the team to New York after Wednesday’s game. . . . Derek Jeter will be in New York on Thursday and will hold a press conference. Jeter, who found out last week that he sustained another small fracture in his surgically repaired left ankle, has not made any public comment since he learned will be out until after the All-Star break.
The Yankees will have a chance to win the rubber game of their three-game set with the Rays on Wednesday.
Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (3-0, 2.01 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pettitte is coming off another strong 7 1/3 innings in a victory over the Blue Jays on Friday. Pettitte, 40, gave up three runs on six hits and a walk while he struck out five. In his last 10 seasons, Pettitte is 16-5 with a 4.13 ERA against the Rays.
The Rays will start right-hander Alex Cobb (2-1, 2.53 ERA). Cobb also allowed three runs in 7 1/3 innings in a victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday. He is 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA in three career starts against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.
REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES
If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.
The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.
The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.
A DOMINANT KING
Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.
But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.
THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL
The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.
They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.
The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.
But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.
One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.
Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.
Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.
That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.
The offense has its own issues.
Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.
There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.
So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.
THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE
The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.
Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.
They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.
Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.
Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.
Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”
The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.
The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.
Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.
DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY
The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.
They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.
One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.
They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.
The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.
Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.
Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.
The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.
Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.
They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.
They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.
The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.
The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.
The gold remains in the Bronx.
THE STARKS OF BOSTON
In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.
That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.
Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.
They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.
They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.
The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.
Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!
It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.
There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.
Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.
THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING
The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.
It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,
Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.
So why should 2013 be any different?
The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.
Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.
They may even finish last.
But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.
But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.
The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.
You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.
They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.
The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.
The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.
Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.
The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.
It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.
Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.
That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.
They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.
- BLUE JAYS
- RED SOX
For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven.