Tagged: Grady Sizemore

McCann’s Walk-Off 3-Run Homer Eclipses Rays

GAME 80

YANKEES 7, RAYS 5 (12 INNINGS)

Extra innings is a just a war of attrition and in the top of the 12th on Friday it looked as if the Yankees had just run out of ammunition to battle the Rays. The bullpen had coughed up two runs and it seemed the game was well in hand with the visitors.

But Brian McCann was not ready to give up in an important divisional game.

McCann blasted a three-run home run in the bottom of the 12th off right-hander Steve Geltz to cap an improbable four-run rally that handed the Yankees their first walk-off victory of the season in front of a paid crowd of 43,141 at Yankee Stadium.

With the victory the Yankees claimed first place in the tightly bunched American League East, one game ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles and two games ahead of the Rays, who have now lost six consecutive games.

Right-hander Chasen Shreve (6-1), who had a hand  –  along with Adam Warren  –  in allowing the Rays to score two runs in the 12th, was credited with the victory in relief. Geltz (1-4) took the loss.

Brett Gardner opened the 12th by drawing a walk. Alex Rodriguez followed with a one-out single and Mark Teixeira, whose three-run home run in the eighth sent the game into extra innings, laced an RBI single to score Gardner.

McCann then laced a 1-0 fastball from Geltz deep into the right-field bleachers for his 13th home run of the season and his 10th at home.

His teammates streamed out of the dugout and Gardner doused him with bucket of water after he touched home plate. It culminated in an unlikely victory on a night the Yankees had to battle from behind from very the first inning.

The Rays took an early lead against right-hander Masahiro Tanaka when Grady Sizemore led off with a double. Joey Butler drew a walk and Evan Longoria slashed a double to left to score Sizemore.

James Loney, who was activated from the disabled list earlier in the day, then plated Butler on a sacrifice fly.

The Rays added a run in the fifth on a leadoff triple off the bat of Kevin Kiermaier and a sac fly by Rene Rivera.

The Yankees, however, were unable to solve right-hander Chris Archer, was entered the game 5-0 with a 2.02 ERA in seven starts against the Yankees in his career.

In 6 2/3 innings, Archer shutout the Yankees on three hits and three walks with eight strikeouts.

But with one out in the eighth inning the Yankees mounted a rally against right-hander Kevin Jepsen.

Chase Headley hit an opposite-field single to left and Rodriguez followed with a bloop opposite-field single to right to set the stage for Teixeira.

Teixeira laid into a 1-0 change-up and drove into the second deck of the right-field bleachers for his 20th home run of the season. His four-RBI night gives him 58 on the season, which now leads the American League.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 42-37. Tampa Bay fell to 42-40.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The stuffing of the All-Star ballot box by the Kansas City Royals may rob McCann of a much-deserved trip to the All-Star Game. McCann is hitting .264 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs. Salvador Perez of the Royals is batting .263 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs. By any measure you want to use McCann is better than Perez. But the hicks in the sticks of K.C., who booed Robinson Cano for not selecting singles hitter Billy Butler for the Home Run Derby two years ago, are now keeping more deserving players off the All-Star team. Let’s hope the commissioner shoves it up that city’s rectum by taking the fan vote away for good. You abuse it, you lose it!
  • Teixeira’s magical season continues and the injury to Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers certainly will improve Teixeira’s chances of making the All-Star team. Royals fans had Eric Hosmer starting at first base despite the fact he is hitting .286 with only eight home runs and 40 RBIs. But Cabrera overtook him in the voting and the league is under no obligation to take Hosmer at all. So Teixeira has a great chance to start at first. Suck it, Kansas City!
  • After the first inning Tanaka actually pitched exceptionally well. After two shaky outings, Tanaka was charged with just one run on four hits with no walks and five strikeouts in the five innings after the first. Hopefully, this is a sign he has regrouped.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • One of the things that Archer does to the Yankees is to elevate his pitches. The Yankees just do him a great favor by swinging at them despite the fact they are balls. In addition to his eight strikeouts (some on the high fastball), Archer also induced nine air outs. If the Yankees lay off that pitch Archer ends up walking about six more hitters and he loses. But the Yankees never adjusted.
  • Chris Young was the hottest hitter on this team a week ago. But being forced to start against right-handers in the absence of both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran has exposed some weaknesses. He was 0-for-5 on Friday with two strikeouts and he also hit into a double play. Ouch!

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend home series with the Rays on Saturday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (8-5, 4.08 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pineda yielded three runs (two earned) on seven hits and struck out eight in eight innings in a loss to the Houston Astros on Sunday.

The Rays will counter with right-hander Nathan Karns (4-4, 3.21 ERA). Karns gave up two runs on nine hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in a loss to the Cleveland Indians on Monday.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports 1.

 

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Gregorius Puts Damper On Phils On Dreary Day

GAME 4

YANKEES (SS) 4, PHILLIES 1

Didi Gregorius capped a three-run inning in the fourth with an RBI double and made a sensational play in the field in the first as a New York split squad downed Philadelphia on a damp and rainy day at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.

Rookie right-hander Bryan Mitchell set the tone for the Yankees’ pitchers by facing the minimum in two innings. Jaron Long (1-0), the son of former hitting coach Kevin Long, took over for Mitchell and pitched a scoreless third to get credit for the victory. Branden Pinder did not give up a run in the final two innings to earn a save.

The Yankees batted around in the fourth off losing pitcher Michael Nesseth (0-1).

Mark Teixeira singled to begin the inning and Greg Bird followed with an RBI double to score Kyle Roller, who pinch-ran for Teixiera. One out later, Ramon Flores plated Bird with a single. Two batters later, Gregorius scored Aaron Judge with a ringing double off the wall in right-center.

The Yankees added a run in the sixth on an RBI single by Nick Noonan.

The Phillies scored their lone run when Xavier Paul led off the seventh with a home run off the first offering from right-hander Mark Montgomery.

FIELD FOCUS

Replacing a legend is not easy but Gregorius does not see himself as replacing Derek Jeter. He says that he is playing the same position Jeter did.

But he is not going to try to be Jeter. He is just going to be the best Gregorius he can be.

That was on display on Friday when speedy Odubel Herrera, who stole three bases in an exhibition game against the Yankees on Wednesday, slapped a high hopper to Gregorius’ left to start the game.

Aware of Herrera’s speed, Gregorius quickly gloved the ball, did a 360-degree spin behind the bag and fired a strike to Teixeira at first to beat Herrera by a step. Then, after a Freddy Galvis single, Mitchell fielded a Grady Sizemore comebacker, whirled to throw to Gregorius covering second and the 25-year-old shortstop lost the grip on the ball.

After recovering the ball, Gregorius fired quickly to first to nip Sizemore on what was a nifty recovery to save the double play.

Yankee fans realize though Jeter won five Gold Gloves in his storied career that his range over the past few seasons was not that good. Watching Gregorius glide to his right and to his left makes this new shortstop very dynamic.

His skills are going to be very obvious. Defense is no problem.

But when Gregorius added the RBI double in the fourth, it gave manager Joe Girardi a sign that just maybe there may be a bonus if Gregorius’ offense improves.

For now, it is only spring training. There will be time to develop that offense. It will just take a little time and a little patience. But get used to seeing Didi’s plays on ESPN pretty frequently. He is that good.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Yankee pitchers Mitchell, Long, Nick Goody, Matt Tracy, Montgomery and Pinder held the Phillies to only four hits. They struck out four and walked two. Mitchell, 23, made his major-league debut last season and he was impressive in his two innings. Mitchell has an outside shot at making the team as a reliever but more likely will go to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a starter and be available as a emergency starter should the Yankees require one.
  • The Yankees succeeded with a very balanced offense. They rapped out 10 hits in the game and no player collected more than one. Phillies pitchers made things harder for themselves by issuing six walks.
  • Bird continues to impress with the bat. The 22-year-old power-hitting first baseman broke open the scoring with a double in the fourth and he is hitting .429 in the early going. With Teixeira entrenched at first for a few more years the Yankees can afford to allow the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Bird develop as a hitter. He batted .271 with 14 homers and 43 RBIs in 102 games in two minor-league stops last season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The only real negative was that the Yankees struck out 11 times in the game. Top catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 22, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

The features BOMBER BANTER and ON DECK will be included in the next post.

 

Ellsbury Returns To Fenway As Yanks Pester Lester

“The bad boy’s back
The bad boy’s back in town, oh yeah
The bad boy’s back
Don’t you shoot him down”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          – Asia

GAME 20

YANKEES 9, RED SOX 3

To Red Sox Nation, leaving the fold to play for the Yankees is tantamount to Benedict Arnold’s treachery during the Revolutionary War. They let Jacoby Ellsbury know it as he stepped into the batter’s box for his first at-bat. But Ellsbury quickly showed the Fenway Park faithful what they are missing in the leadoff spot and in centerfield.

Ellsbury was 2-for-5 with a double and a triple, scored two runs, drove in two runs and made a sensational sliding catch in center while Masahiro Tanaka pitched into the eighth inning as New York bedeviled Boston in front of a crowd of 37,041 and national television audience.

The Yankees frustrated and unnerved Jon Lester (2-3) for 4 2/3 innings, scoring eight runs (three earned) on 11 hits and four walks while Lester struck out seven.

Tanaka (3-0), in contrast, was cool, calm and in command as he held the Red Sox to two runs  –  on a pair of back-to-back homers by David Ortiz and Mike Napoli with one out in the fourth  –  on seven hits, no walks and he fanned seven to remain undefeated after posting a 24-0 record in his final season in Japan.

The Yankees rattled Lester from the beginning when Ellsbury ignored the boos  –  and a few cheers  –  to lace a ball to the wall in deep center that a fan reached into the field play to deflect and the umpires awarded Ellsbury a triple. Derek Jeter followed with an RBI single and the undoing of Lester began.

A combination of an A.J. Pierzynski passed ball and a Pierzynski throwing error allowed Jeter to advance to third. Jeter then scored on an RBI single by Carlos Beltran.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the third when Alfonso Soriano slapped a double off the Green Monster and Mark Teixeira followed with a bloop single to right that scored Soriano. Brian McCann then scored Teixeira with a RBI double off the Monster that made it 4-0.

After Ortiz and Napoli homered to fool the fans into thinking they were actually back in the game, the Yankees chased Lester in the fifth with four unearned runs.

With Teixeira on second after he was walked and McCann on first with a single, Lester struck out Yangervis Solarte and Ichiro Suzuki. However, Napoli was unable to hold Brian Roberts’ lined drive in his glove at first base for the third out and Teixeira scored when the ball rolled into rightfield.

The Red Sox had an opportunity to end the inning if Grady Sizemore had thrown the ball to second base because McCann did not see Napoli lose the ball and he was walking off the field. But Sizemore threw home to try to get Teixeira as McCann scrambled back to second.

It was that kind of night for Lester and the Red Sox. Leave it to Ellsbury to make the his old team pay for the mistake.

He followed with a two-run double on Lester’s 118th and final pitch of the evening.

Jeter then greeted left-hander Chris Capuano with an RBI single into center and Ellsbury crossed the plate to make a 8-2 laugher.

Beltran capped the scoring in the eighth by blasting his fifth home run of the season with one out in the eight inning off right-hander Edward Mujica.

The Red Sox scored an “oh-by-the way” run in the ninth off Dellin Betances on a one-out double by Jonny Gomes and and two-out double off the bat of Xander Bogaerts that scored Gomes.

The 11 hits the Yankees nicked Lester with were the most hits he has given up to them in his career. Every Yankee starter with the exception of Solarte had at least one hit in the game.

The Yankees have won four of the first five meetings against the Red Sox this season.

With the victory the Yankees improved their record to 12-8 and the lead the American League East by one game over the Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox are 9-12 and in last place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury, 30, proved to his former team he was worth the seven-year, $153-million contract he received from the Yankees. His hitting (.342), speed (leads American League with eight steals) and Gold-Glove defense in center are worth rewarding. The Red Sox two biggest weaknesses are their leadoff spot and the fact that centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting .228. The fans can boo him all they want but as Bob Costas said on his call of the game for the MLB Network, “They are booing the laundry and not the player.”
  • Tanaka was a great contrast to his mound opponent Lester. While Lester fumed about hits that dropped in, hard-hit balls off the Monster and the strike zone of home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott, Tanaka did not show any emotion at all and looked to be in command at all times. For all his hype, Lester’s career ERA is 3.73 and his WHIP is a staggeringly high 1.30. He also showed the Yankees you can rattle him. Tanaka proved pretty much the opposite.
  • Want to hear a stunning stat about Jeter? In the past 11 games that he has played he has at least one hit in all of them. In fact, he has only failed to get a hit in two of the 14 games in which played this season. His 2-for-4 night raised his season average to .298. Anybody really think he is washed up at age 39?

NAGGING NEGATIVES

On a night where the Red Sox had their ace pounded for 11 hits, the Yankees’ imported free agent from Japan made them look silly on his split-finger fastball and Ellsbury laid it on his former club there is nothing that I can say that would be close to being negative. The world is just a better place when the Yankees put the Red Sox in their place  –  last.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees activated closer David Robertson from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday and outrighted left-hander Cesar Cabral to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room on the roster. Robertson has been sidelined sidelined since April 6 with a strain in his left groin. With Robertson’s reinstatement, Shawn Kelley will move back into the eighth inning setup role after saving four games in four chances filling in as the closer.  . . .  An MRI on Tuesday indicated that right-hander Ivan Nova has a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and he likely will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. The recommendation for surgery came from Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the team’s physician. The recovery time for the surgery is 12 to 18 months.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game road series with the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (2-1, 1.00 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pineda is coming off six innings of shutout baseball to defeat the Chicago Cubs last Wednesday. He gave up four hits and one walk while he struck out three. Pineda also defeated the Red Sox on April 10, yielding just one run on six hits in six innings.

Pineda will be opposed by veteran right-hander John Lackey (2-2, 5.15 ERA). Lackey has been pounded for 12 runs on 20 hits and four walks in 11 innings in his past two starts against the Yankees (April 12) and the Baltimore Orioles on Friday. It is the first time in his career he has given up as many as 10 hits and six earned runs in two consecutive starts.

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

One Bad Pitch In One Bad Inning Dooms CC, Yanks

GAME 11

RED SOX 4, YANKEES 2

There is nothing in baseball more frustrating for a pitcher than to be in total command of a game and to have it all fall apart in the blink of an eye with one bad pitch in one bad inning. But that is exactly what happened to CC Sabathia on Friday.

Entering the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead, Jonny Gomes led off with a home run and four batters later Sabathia’s former teammate Grady Sizemore blasted a hanging slider for a three-run blast as Boston downed New York in front of a paid crowd of 44,121 at Yankee Stadium.

The game featured a pitcher’s duel between the two team’s aces.

Up until the sixth, Sabathia (1-2) had shut out the Red Sox on just one hit with two walks and six strikeouts. Left-hander Jon Lester (1-2) was just about as good. But he was victimized by a home run to leadoff the second inning by Alfonso Soriano.

If not for the “OBI” (one bad inning) Sabathia’s fate might have been different.

Gomes tied it with a long blast over the scoreboard in right, his first home run of the season.

One out later, David Ortiz was tied up on an inside pitch and rolled a swinging-bunt single near third base and against the shift the Yankees employ against him. Mike Napoli then laced a single up the middle and set the stage for Sizemore’s game-changing homer.

Sabathia ended up being charged with four runs on six hits and two walks and he struck out a season-high nine in seven innings.

Lester struggled in the seventh after he had retired the first two batters.

Ichiro Suzuki singled and Brian Roberts drew a walk after two close pitches home-plate umpire James Hoye called balls. Lester became visibly angry at the calls and Kelley Johnson ended Lester’s evening by stroking an RBI single to right that scored Suzuki.

Lester yielded two runs on six hits and two walks while fanning six batters in 6 2/3 innings.

Relievers Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica retired the final seven batters to preserve Lester’s first victory of the season. Mujica pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first save.

The loss dropped the Yankees’ season record to 5-6. The Red Sox have the same mark.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Soriano was 2-for-4 in the game including his second home run of the season. After his 0-for-17 start, Soriano has at least one hit in five of his past six games and is 8-for-21 (.381) with two home runs and three RBIs in that span.
  • Despite the fact Sabathia lost the game give the big left-hander some credit for perhaps turning a corner in which he is learning to pitch with diminished velocity. For the first five innings, he had the Red Sox flailing at his change-ups and sliders. “I look at it as one pitch  –  the slider he left up to Sizemore was the real difference in the game,” manager Joe Girardi said told reporters. “Besides that, I thought he had really good command and threw the ball well.”
  • Johnson was 0-for-14 in his career against Lester when he delivered his two-out RBI single that chased the left-hander from the game. Johnson is hitting just .258 but he has two homers and six RBIs and all six of them have come in his past six games.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The injury to Mark Teixeira forced Girardi into some odd lineup choices on Friday. He benched left-handed hitters Brett Gardner and Brian McCann, he used Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot and he had Francisco Cervelli batting fifth.  Until Teixeira returns, the Yankees are going to have a much weaker lineup against lefties.
  • Carlos Beltran entered the game on a pretty good roll with a four-game hitting streak. But he could not solve Lester. He killed a rally in the third inning by bouncing into a force play, stranding two runners. He also stranded Jacoby Ellsbury at second with one out by watching strike three on a 3-2 pitch. He ended up 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield.
  • Rookie sensation Yangervis Solarte is starting to fall back to Earth as pitchers are now giving him a steady diet of breaking pitches. Solarte was 0-for-4 in the game and he is hitless in his past nine at-bats to drop his batting average to .343.

BOMBER BANTER

The MLB Network and NESN showed Michael Pineda with what appeared to be pine tar on his pitching hand on Thursday and it stirred a lot of bellowing out of Boston (as one would expect anytime they lose). However, Joe Torre, baseball’s executive vice president of operations, told reporters that the right-hander will not face suspension. Because the Red Sox did have the umpires check Pineda’s hand there is nothing that can be done. Torre did say he would talk to the Yankees about the incident. Pineda claimed it was not pine tar on his hand; it was dirt.  . . .  The Yankees expect Teixeira to return from the disabled list before the end of April, however, backup infielder Brendan Ryan may be out for an extended period of time. Teixeira is progressing well recovering from a strained right hamstring. Ryan, who has a pinched nerve in his cervical spine, missed most all of spring training and he only begun some very light baseball-related activities.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend series with the Red Sox on Saturday.

The Yankees will send Hiroki Kuroda (1-1, 2.92 ERA) to the hill. Kuroda gave up just two runs on eight hits and struck four in 6 1/3 innings in defeating the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 on Monday.

The Red Sox will counter with veteran right-hander John Lackey (2-0, 1.38 ERA). Lackey shut out the Rangers on five hits and two walks in seven innings on Monday to keep his record perfect this season. He is 1-1 with a 7.64 ERA in three starts at the new Yankee Stadium.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports 1 and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

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.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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!

 

 

Phelps Battles Starting Odds By Taming Red Sox

GAME 24

YANKEES 3, RED SOX 2

All of the pundits seem to agree that after Michael Pineda’s sterling effort against the Red Sox on Tuesday that the battle for the Yankees’ No. 5 spot in the starting rotation is over. The only problem is that right-hander David Phelps never got the memo.

Phelps pitched an impressive six innings and hot-hitting Francisco Cervelli and Ichiro Suzuki provided the offense as New York swept the two-game home and away series against Boston on Thursday at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.

Phelps (1-0) held the Red Sox to no runs on a hit and a walk and he had retired 14 of the first 16 batters he faced until he ran into trouble in the sixth while holding a 3-0 lead.

David Ross led off with a single and was erased on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Jonathan Herrera. Grady Sizemore singled and, one out later, Dustin Pedroia doubled in pinch-runner Carlos Rivero and Sizemore to draw the Bosox within a run.

After Phelps walked David Ortiz he ended the threat by retiring Mike Napoli on an infield popup.

The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead in the contest when Cervelli led off the second inning with a long blast over the Green Monster in left off right-hander Clay Buchholz (2-2). It was Cervelli’s fourth home run of the spring, which leads the team.

Buchholz retired the first two batters in the fifth but then walked Zoilo Almonte. Zelous Wheeler followed with a opposite-field double and Suzuki plated both Almonte and Wheeler with a single to right-center.

The Yankees’ relievers, Chris Leroux, Fred Lewis and Matt Daley, held the Red Sox scoreless over the final three innings to clinch the victory. Daley pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.

The Yankees have now won five straight Grapefruit League contests and they are now 13-9-2. The Red Sox slumped to 8-13.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Phelps looked confident and in command in his effort against the Red Sox. He threw 57 of his 86 pitches for strikes and actually came within one pitch of throwing a perfect pitcher’s inning in the second inning. He threw three consecutive called strikes to both Napoli and Daniel Nava. He then tossed two straight called strikes to Xander Bogaerts before throwing a ball. He then retired Bogaerts on an infield grounder. Phelps’ spring ERA ticked up a bit to 2.75 but he has done very well in his battle to start.
  • They need to start calling Cervelli “Babe” after his spring power display. In addition to his four home runs, Cervelli is 15-for-31 (.484) with six extra-base hits and seven RBIs. Because he is out of options he is not going to be sent to the minors. The Yankees will either keep him as the backup to All-Star catcher Brian McCann or he could be traded. It is beginning to look like the Yankees will not trade him. But nothing is certain.
  • After looking overmatched at the plate early this spring, Suzuki is starting to come on with the bat. In his past three spring games, Suzuki is 4-for-10 (.400) with four RBIs. That has raised his spring average to .219. Suzuki looks to be the team’s fifth outfielder this season unless he is traded before spring training ends.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The team has won five in a row, including two victories over the Red Sox. The starting pitching has been good and the offense really has picked up over the past week. There is nothing to complain about.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury had an MRI conducted on his sore right calf and the results came back negative, manager Joe Girardi informed reporters on Thursday. Ellsbury has not played in a game since March 14. He did not take batting practice on Thursday and he has not resumed running yet. Girardi said although there is no pain in Ellsbury’s calf, there is some lingering soreness. Ellsbury remains day-to-day.  . . .  Infielder Brendan Ryan had to be scratched from Thursday’s lineup with upper back spasms. Ryan, 31, has not played in a game since March 4 and he hoped to play Thursday. But Ryan felt his back tighten up as he participated in infield practice. Ryan is now in jeopardy of beginning the season on the disabled list. That would open a backup infield spot on the roster for either Dean Anna or Yangervis Solarte. Eduardo Nunez likely would claim the other backup spot and platoon with Kelly Johnson at third base.

ON DECK

The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, on Friday to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will make the start for the Yankees. He will be opposed by right-hander Edinson Volquez (0-2, 11.00 ERA).

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the MLB Network via ROOT Sports of Pittsburgh.