Tagged: J.J. Hardy

Yankees Sweep O’s As Early Big Lead Aids Tanaka

GAME 94

YANKEES 9, ORIOLES 4

The 1927 Yankees with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were also characterized by the term “Five O’Clock Lightning” because somewhere around that time would come a barrage that put an opponent away. The 2015 Yankees should be called “1:30 Lightning” for their penchant for their first-inning outbursts.

They did again in style on Thursday.

Chase Headley stroked a base-clearing double with two out as part of a four-run first inning and Masahiro Tanaka pitched masterfully into the eighth as New York swept reeling Baltimore in front of a paid crowd of 46,875 at Yankee Staduim.

Jacoby Ellsbury added to the onslaught with three hits, four RBIs and finished the day just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle as the Yankees rapped out 13 hits to win their ninth game out of their past 11 to take a commanding 5 1/2 game lead in the American League East.

Tanaka (7-3) capitalized on the 9-1 lead his was given by the bottom of the fifth inning and cruised to victory despite yielding solo home runs to Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado. Tanaka gave up three runs on just five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings.

The Yankees, meanwhile, immediately jumped all over right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (7-6) in the first as Ellsbury singled to left and Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez drew walks on 3-2 pitches to load the bases.

After Jimenez looked to be just about out of danger after striking out Mark Teixeira and retiring Carlos Beltran on a shallow outfield fly, Headley laced a three-run double off the center-field wall. Didi Gregorius followed with an RBI single to score Headley.

After Davis crushed a fastball into the right-field bleachers for his second home run in as many at-bats and his 21st of the season to lead off the second inning, Ellsbury delivered a long home run of his own to lead of the bottom of the inning.

The Yankees then proceeded to put the game away for good in the fourth inning after Gregorius and John Ryan Murphy reached on one-out singles. Stephen Drew delivered the knockout blow to Jimenez with a lined single to right to score Gregorius.

Right-hander Tommy Hunter replaced Jimenez and was greeted with a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ellsbury that scored Murphy to make the score 7-1.

Jimenez was charged with all seven runs on eight hits and three walks and two strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings, his shortest start of the season. In his previous outing, Jimenez also surrendered seven runs on seven hits (including three home runs) to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park last Friday.

The Yankees added a pair of runs off right-hander Bud Norris in the fifth inning on an opposite-field single by Headley and a single off the second-base bag by Murphy. Ellsbury capped his big day with a two-out, two-run double to left to pad the Yankees lead to 9-1.

Tanaka, meanwhile, was dazzling the Orioles with pinpoint command. He yielded just the one run and three hits through 7 1/3 innings until Hardy cracked a solo home run to left and, one out later, Machado laced a shot of his own for his 21st home run of the season.

It was Tanaka’s third consecutive victory in his past three starts and he has not lost a game since the Tigers defeated him 12-4 on June 21 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees are now a season-high 53-41 and they are 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays in the division. The Orioles dropped to 46-48 and they trail the Yankees by seven games.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury was hitting .327 on July 11, one day before the All-Star break. He immediately fell into a 3-for-26 (.115) slide until Thursday’s game. He was 3-for-4 with a single, double, home run, two runs scored and added four RBIs. In order to light the match to their offense, the Yankees need Ellsbury getting on base along with Gardner. They set the table for the hitters that follow them.
  • Headley is one of those players that just by definition is steady. From May 25 through Thursday Headley’s batting average has stayed within the .242 and .259 range. But since July 1, Headley is 17-for-50 (.340). Oddly though, Headley had no home runs and just seven RBIs during the streak. It is really hard to hit that well and have so little to show for it but Headley is hitting .259 with eight homers and 35 RBIs on the season.
  • Forget the three homers Tanaka gave up. The 26-year-old right-hander seems to be in a nice groove over the past month. In his past four starts, Tanaka is 3-0 with a 3.18 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings. If there is any doubt he is the ace of this staff he is quickly dispelling it.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Tanaka pitched exceptional baseball, the team scored nine runs and they swept a very dangerous division rival. There is no reason to complain about anything about Thursday’s effort. It is clear that after two injury-plagued seasons, the Yankees have gotten their swagger back. They look like they will be tough to beat for the A.L. East title.

ON DECK

The Yankees are off to Minnesota to play the Twins in a weekend series at Target Field that starts on Friday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (9-6, 3.77 ERA) will start the series for the Yankees. Pineda, 26, allowed four runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts in six innings in a 4-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

The Twins will look to former Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes (8-6, 4.15 ERA). Hughes, 29, took a no-decision on Saturday against the Oakland Athletics despite giving up just one run on six hits and a walk with two strikeouts in seven innings.

Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

A-Rod, Tex Back Nova As Yankees Ground Birds

GAME 93

YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 3

The Yankees started the second half of the season with a lead that they hoped they could maintain. In order to that they were looking for continued production from the two biggest bats in their lineup in Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.

On Wednesday, both those two bats delivered some big blows that left the Orioles in their dust.

Teixeira hit a two-run home run in the first inning and Rodriguez added a mammoth tape-measure solo blast in the fifth to back six strong innings by right-hander Ivan Nova as New York clinched the three-game series with Baltimore in front of a paid crowd of 43,887 at Yankee Stadium.

In what has been their trademark all season the Yankees jumped on right-hander Kevin Gausman (1-2) in the first inning as Jacoby Ellsbury led off by slicing a double down the right field line.

Brett Gardner followed with a lined single up the middle into center that scored Ellsbury. One out later, Teixeira cranked out his 24th home run of the season into the bleachers in right field to give the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.

Nova, making only his fifth start of the season, was able to hold that lead despite running into some difficulty in both the third and fifth innings.

J.J. Hardy led off the third inning by lacing a single to left and Ryan Flaherty followed by smacking his fourth home run of the season to the bleachers right-center to bring the Orioles to within a run.

Later that same inning Nova gave up a one-out double to Manny Machado. But he stranded him by getting Travis Snider and Adam Jones on groundouts.

In the fifth, Nova issued walks to both Hardy and Flaherty to start the frame and Caleb Joseph advanced them with a sacrifice bunt. However, Nova wriggled out of trouble by retiring Machado and Snider on groundouts.

Gausman was able to recover from the first inning to retire 12 of the next 14 batters he faced until there was one out in the fifth and Rodriguez hit an estimated 453-foot blast into the base of the wall in front of the bleachers in left-center for his 20th home run of the season.

The home run also marked Rodriguez’s 3,024th career hit, which moved him past Lou Brock to 24th on the all-time hit list.

Gausman was charged with four runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings.

Nova surrendered two runs on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts before turning the game over to the bullpen in the seventh.

Left-hander Chasen Shreve and right-hander Dellin Betances pitched a perfect seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Left-handed closer Andrew Miller pitched around a solo home run by Chris Davis with on out in the ninth to record his 22nd save in 22 chances this season.

With the victory the Yankees have improved their season record to 52-41 and the 11 games over .500 is a season high for them. They also remain five games in front of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East.

The Orioles fell under .500 to 46-47 and they are now six games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Texeira is not letting up on what has been a revival season for him. He was 2-for-4 with a double, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. He leads the Yankees in home runs (24) and RBIs (65). he also has more extra-base base hits (44) than he does singles (34).
  • If anyone believes that Rodriguez’s first half was a fluke you can dispel that myth now. At age 39, Rodriguez can still turn on a mid-90s fastball. It was his first home run since July 12 against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. He now has 20 homers and 54 RBIs on the season.
  • Nova, 28, is still trying to find his rhythm after missing most of last season having to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. But this effort was a step in the right direction. Nova was able to keep both his curveball and his two-seam fastball down in the strike zone and that led to nine of his 18 outs coming on ground balls. This is start Nova can build upon after losing three straight starts.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Last night the bottom part of the order was actually responsible for pushing across the game-winning run. But they took a step backward in this game. Chase Headley (batting seventh), Didi Gregorius (eighth) and Stephen Drew (ninth) combined to go 0-for-8 with a walk and three strikeouts. Gregorius lined out to left in the sixth and that was the only ball they got out of the infield.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to sweep their division rivals and deal a serious blow to their playoff hopes on Thursday.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (6-3, 3.65 ERA) will get the call for the Yankees. Tanaka, 26, is coming off a victory against the Seattle Mariners on Friday in which he yielded three runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in seven innings. He does not have a victory in his career against the Orioles.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (7-5, 3.29 ERA). Jimenez, 31, is coming off a disastrous shelling in which he gave up seven runs and three home runs in just 4 2/3 innings in a loss to the Detroit Tigers on Friday.

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

 

Yankees Deliver Blow To Chen On Ryan’s Double

GAME 92

YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 2

Tough luck and injuries shelved Brendan Ryan for most of spring training and he was making only his fourth start of the season on Tuesday. But in the bottom of the sixth inning he delivered a tie-breaking RBI double that gave the Yankees an important victory.

Ryan’s two-out double off scored Didi Gregorius from first base and the Yankees’ vaunted bullpen shut down the Orioles over the final three innings as New York extended their lead in the American League East to five games by edging Baltimore in front of a paid crowd of 37,993 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees had held an early 2-0 lead on left-hander Wei-Yin Chen and the Orioles after scoring a pair of runs in the first two innings.

Jacoby Ellsbury opened the bottom of the first with a ground-rule double, reached third on a sacrifice bunt by Brett Gardner and scored on a sacrifice fly by Alex Rodriguez, his 53rd RBI of the season.

Brian McCann led off the second inning with an opposite-field single and Chris Young followed with a single of his own. Chase Headley then scored McCann on an RBI double down the line in left.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, who was seeking his 10th victory, held the Orioles scoreless over the first five innings, yielding only an infield single to Adam Jones with two out in the fourth and three walks. However, he ran into difficulty in the sixth.

Jimmy Paredes stroked a one-out single and Jones reached on another infield single. One out later, Matt Wieters laced an RBI single to right to score Paredes.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced Eovaldi with left-hander Justin Wilson and J.J. Hardy greeted him with a lined single to right that scored Jones but Wieters was retired in a rundown attempting to advance to third.

Eovaldi, who has not lost a game since June 16, was charged with two runs on four hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees, however, were able to break through against Chen (4-6) in the sixth when Gregorius slapped an opposite-field single to left with two out. That set the stage for Ryan, who pulled a 0-1 fastball down the left-field line that scored Gregorius easily with the tie-breaking run.

Chen was charged with three runs on 10 hits and no walks with three strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings of work.

Wilson (3-0) pitched an inning of scoreless relief to earn the victory and the “Twin Towers” of right-hander Dellin Betances and left-hander Andrew Miller combined to hold the Orioles to just one hit over the final 2 1/3 innings to close out the victory.

Miller threw a nine-pitch 1-2-3 inning in the ninth to notch his 20th save in 20 opportunities this season.

With the victory the Yankees are now 51-41 and they are five games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Orioles, who are in a three-way tie for second place in the division. The Orioles fell to 46-46.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ryan is fortunate that he has a guaranteed two-year contract because he very well could have lost his roster spot to rookie Rob Refsnyder. But the Yankees chose to keep both the weak-hitting Stephen Drew and Ryan instead and it paid off on Tuesday. “It’s been obviously pretty frustrating. I haven’t really gotten to contribute in the first half at all, with injury after injury,” Ryan told reporters. “Hopefully that’s all behind me. I was excited to get the opportunity today, and obviously glad that I was able to come through.”
  • The bottom three spots in the order have been a black hole most of the season for the Yankees but Headley (hitting seventh), Gregorius (eighth) and Ryan (ninth) combined to go 4-for-12 (.333) with two doubles, two singles, one run scored and two RBIs. Ryan likely will continue to start at second base against left-handers because Drew is batting .215 in 65 at-bats against lefties. Of course, Drew is batting .168 against right-handers so why he is still on the roster at all is a head-scratcher.
  • Betances and Miller continue to dominate hitters out of the bullpen. The pair are a combined 6-3 with 28 saves, a 1.42 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 82 2/3 innings. It also appears after adding right-hander Adam Warren and getting Miller back off the disabled list, the bullpen has hit its stride again. It is the strength of this club and the major reason why the team is in first place.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • While Gregorius and Ryan came up big in the sixth inning, Chen was using them to escape big innings earlier in the game. In the second inning with Young on third and Headley on second and no outs, Gregorius struck out and Ryan popped up weakly. In the fourth inning with Young on second and Headley on first with one out, Gregorius flew out to center and Ryan grounded into a force out to end the threat. As a result, the Yankees were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and could not give Eovaldi a big enough lead to protect.
  • The Yankees also had a chance to extend their lead in the seventh when right-hander Tommy Hunter entered the game with one out and walked Rodriguez, allowed a double to Teixeira and walked McCann intentionally to load the bases. With the Yankees forced to keep the righty-handed-hitting Young in the game for his defense, he struck out swinging and Headley grounded out to leave the bases loaded. Ouch!

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to win the series and deal another huge blow the Orioles with a victory on Wednesday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-3, 3.42 ERA) will make his fifth start of the season for the Yankees. Nova was tagged for four runs on eight hits with three strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings in a 5-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox on July 11, marking the first time in his career he has lost three consecutive starts.

The Orioles are expected to call up right-hander Kevin Gausman (1-1, 5.00 ERA) from Triple-A Norfolk to start this game. Gausman was optioned on July 8 in order to keep him on a five-day schedule. He was hammered for eight runs (seven earned) on seven hits and one walk in 3 2/3 innings in a loss to the Minnesota Twins on July 7.

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

 

Yankees Take Walk On Wild Side To Defeat Birds

GAME 62

YANKEES 5, ORIOLES 3

There is an old saying in sports that you should “take what they give you.” When the Orioles began losing control of the strike zone on Sunday the Yankees took advantage for a come-from-behind victory at Camden Yards.

John Ryan Murphy laced a two-out, two-run single off left-hander Brian Matusz in the fifth inning to break a 3-3 tie as New York was able to salvage one game against Baltimore in their three-game weekend series.

Trailing 3-2 to start the inning, Chase Headley, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira drew three consecutive walks on 3-2 pitches off right-hander Mike Wright to load the bases.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter yanked Wright in favor of Matusz, who was just returning to action from an eight-game suspension. But Garrett Jones also was able to draw a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Headley came in to score the game-tying run.

After Matusz struck out Stephen Drew and Didi Gregorius, Murphy was able to slap a 2-0 pitch that caromed off the glove of Orioles third baseman Manny Machado and rolled into left-field for a double that allowed Rodriguez and Teixeira to score.

Wright (2-2) was charged with five runs on six hits and three walks with two strikeouts in 4-plus innings of work.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ bullpen shut down the red-hot Orioles for the remainder of the game.

Left-hander Chasen Shreve (3-1) entered the game with two in the fifth inning and he pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn credit for the victory.

Left-hander Justin Wilson followed Shreve to hurl two perfect innings and Dellin Betances threw up a scoreless ninth to earn his third save in three opportunities this season.

Right-hander Adam Warren started for the Yankees and he was staked to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning after Brett Gardner led off with an infield single and later scored on a two-out RBI double by Teixeira. It was Teixeira’s American-League-leading 47th RBI of the season.

But Warren was unable to hold the lead after Machado led off the bottom of the frame with a single and advanced to third on a single by Adam Jones. Chris Davis drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases and Nolan Reimold hit a bloop single to center to score Machado and Jones.

The Yankees tied the game in the second after they loaded the bases on Wright on consecutive singles by Drew, Gregorius and Murphy, who had three hits on the day. One out later, Gardner hit a line-drive sacrifice to center that scored Drew.

The Orioles broke the 2-2 tie in the fourth after Reimold walked and J.J. Hardy advanced him to second on a one-out single. But after Warren fanned Ryan Flaherty, Caleb Joseph hit a bloop double to right-center that scored Reimold.

Warren was charged with three runs on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.

The victory by the Yankees snapped a three-game losing streak and allowed them to maintain a share of the lead in the American League East with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees are 34-28 and lead the Rays in the loss column by one game. The Orioles fell to 31-31 and they are three games back in fourth place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Murphy entered the game batting .208 in only 155 at-bats. But he ended up 3-for-4 with a double, two singles and two RBIs. The 24-year-old backup catcher deserves a lot of credit for coming up big in a two-out situation and provide a huge game-winning hit with starter Brian McCann resting.
  • Shreve, Wilson and Betances combined to shut out the Orioles over 4 1/3 innings on no hits, two walks and five strikeouts. Over the past three games the bullpen has not been what it should have and this game hopefully re-establishes them as a strength of the team. With Andrew Miller on the disabled list and Esmil Rogers and Jacob Lindgren shipped out to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, right-handers Sergio Santos, rookie Jose Ramirez and Chris Martin have the task of holding the bullpen together until Miller returns.
  • Teixeira’s double extended his hitting streak to five games. Over those five games, Teixeira is 8-for-17 (.471) with three doubles and two RBIs. That has raised his season average from .237 to .256. He is tied for fourth in the A.L. with 17 home runs and his 47 RBIs lead the league.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Manager Joe Girardi elected to remove Warren in the fifth inning despite the fact that he needed only one out to qualify for a victory. Perhaps the reason why was because Jimmy Paredes was on second after a single and Davis drew a one-out walk. After Warren struck out Reimold looking, Girardi brought in the left-hander Shreve to face the lefty-swinging Travis Snider, who was representing the potential go-ahead run. Warren had little to complain about because he had thrown 92 pitches and only 56 were strikes (61 percent).
  • If you take away Murphy’s game-winning double, the Yankees would have been 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. That pretty much tells you that if it were not for the four walks they drew in the fifth, they might have lost the game. The offense needs to be more consistent if this team wants to remain in first place.

BOMBER BANTER

Jacoby Ellsbury, 31, told reporters on Sunday that he hopes to be back with the Yankees before the end of the month. Ellsbury has been on the disabled list since injuring himself on a swing on May 19, spraining lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. Doctors told him it would take six weeks for him to recover, which would put his return date on June 30. But Ellsbury thinks he can return sooner. “I’m optimistic I can be back before that,” Ellsbury told reporters. “If I can trim any time off that, I think it would be a success.”  . . .  Right-hander Ivan Nova pitched six innings of one-run baseball on Saturday for Scranton and the team may decide soon whether he is ready to return. Nova, 28, who has been recovering from Tommy John surgery last year, gave up five hits, walked one and struck out three in his second rehab start. If the Yankees activate Nova he will be slotted back into the rotation and Warren could possibly be shifted back to the bullpen.

ON DECK

The Yankees will begin a four-game home-and-home series with Miami Marlins on Monday beginning at Marlins Park.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (4-1, 2.48 ERA) will start the series for the Yankees. Tanaka has given up just two runs in 14 innings in his two starts since he came off the disabled list on June 3. He has not faced the Marlins before.

Right-hander Tom Koehler (4-4, 4.00 ERA) will pitch for the Marlins. Koehler, 28, yielded five runs on eight hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday.

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

 

Pineda Fans 16 Orioles As Yanks Continue To Roll

GAME 32

YANKEES 6, ORIOLES 2

dominant  –  (adj) dom·i·nant: more important, powerful or successful than most or all others.

That word most accurately describes what the Yankees, the Orioles and a paid crowd of 39,059 at Yankee Stadium witnessed in the pitching performance turned in by right-hander Michael Pineda.

Pineda did give up one run on six hits but his dominance of the Orioles on Sunday went much deeper than that because he also struck out a career-high 16 batters and he did not issue a single walk as New York won the four-game series against Baltimore three games to one.

It was as if on this Mother’s Day that Pineda was asking the Orioles “Whose your Daddy?”

Pineda (5-0) not only remained undefeated for the season but he also remained undefeated against the Orioles in his career. The 16 strikeouts tied Pineda with the second highest strikeout total recorded in Yankee history behind Ron Guidry’s 18 strikeouts.

The 16 strikeouts tied Pineda with David Cone (against the Detroit Tigers in 1997) with the most by a right-handed pitcher and they were the most by any Yankee pitcher since David Wells did it (against the Oakland Athletics in 1997).

The only blemish in Pineda’s afternoon was a solo one-out home run by J.J. Hardy in the second inning.

Meanwhile, the Yankees scored four runs in the fourth inning off right-hander Bud Norris (1-4), who pitched despite the fact he was dealing with a stomach virus. But it was mostly the Yankee batters who made him really sick.

Carlos Beltran, who entered the game batting .194 and had no home runs, belted his first homer of the season with one out in the fourth inning to tie the game at 1-1.

Norris then walked Chase Headley and yielded a single to Stephen Drew. Didi Gregorius followed with an RBI single to score Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury capped the inning with a two-run double.

Norris was charged with four runs on six hits and three walks with two strikeouts in four innings. Norris’ ERA rose to an unsightly 9.88 on the season.

Brian McCann added a solo homer with one out in the fifth off left-hander Brian Matusz. The blast was McCann’s fourth of the season and now 23 of the 29 home runs he has hit with the Yankees have been at home.

The Yankees added a run in the seventh inning off right-hander Jason Garcia on a RBI double by Gregorius.

The Yankees had hoped to finish the game without using either right-hander Dellin Betances or left-hander Andrew Miller, however, right-hander Esmil Rogers gave up a one-out double to Jimmy Paredes and an RBI single to Adam Jones that made the score 6-2.

Manager Joe Girardi summoned Betances and the 6-foot-8 reliever got the final five outs, two of them by strikeout, to lock up the victory for the Yankees.

The Yankees ran their season record to 20-12 and they extended their lead over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East to three games. The slumping Orioles are now 13-16 and they 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pineda was so efficient that he struck out 16 of the 21 batters he retired and 14 of the first 17 outs he recorded were by strikeout. Pineda is now 5-0 with a 2.72 ERA and his 54 strikeouts leads the American League. I think it is safe to now say he is the ace of the Yankees. “His stuff today was electric,” McCann said told reporters. “Almost every time he takes the ball, it is.”
  • As I posted on Saturday, Beltran seems to have turned his season around finally. He was 2-for-2 with a double, a home run, two walks and an RBI. That pulled his average up from .194 to .210. It may not seem like much but the Yankees do need Beltran to contribute in the middle of the order. Perhaps he will begin doing it more often now.
  • All the attention on Pineda allowed Gregorius’ day to almost go unnoticed. He was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs in what was one of his best games with the Yankees. Gregorius is now batting .225 and he seems to have settled down considerably on defense at shortstop also.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Beating the defending division champions in a four-game series is a great achievement. This was a signature game for Pineda also. He is serving notice to the other teams in the division that he is the best pitcher in it. He won’t get any argument here. No one in this division is really that close.

ON DECK

The Yankees now head back out in the road on Monday to play a four-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-5, 5.45 ERA) will try for his first victory of the season. Sabathia was tagged with four runs on nine hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday.

The Rays will start right-hander Alex Colome (2-0, 1.80 ERA). Colome gave up two runs on four hits with no walks and four strikeouts in five innings in a victory at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.

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

 

Yankees’ ‘Twin Towers’ Shut Down Orioles Again

GAME 30

YANKEES 5, ORIOLES 4

You made me love you
I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it
You made me want you
And all the time you knew it, I guess you always knew it

                                           –  “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want To Do It)” by Al Jolson

In a game in which the Yankees took a 5-0 lead after three innings the last thing manager Joe Girardi was thinking was that he would have to use his “Twin Towers” to have to close out the game. But that is just what happened on Friday night in front of a paid crowd of 38,731 at Yankee Stadium.

Girardi was forced into using 6-foot-8 right-hander Dellin Betances and 6-foot-7 left-hander Andrew Miller to close out the final 2 1/3 innings as New York downed Baltimore for a second straight game.

Betances (4-0) pitched 1 1/3 innings of perfect relief to get credit for the victory and Miller hurled a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his Major-League-leading 13th save in 13 opportunities.

The Yankees stormed out to an early lead on right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (3-2) when Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a leadoff infield single and Brett Gardner followed with a double.

Alex Rodriguez scored Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly and, one out later, Brian McCann laced a 3-0 fastball into the seats in right-field for his third home run of the season.

Two innings later, Ellsbury reached on a leadoff walk and Gardner advanced him to third with a single. Gardner subsequently stole second. Two outs later, McCann was walked intentionally to load the bases and struggling veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran then cracked a two-run double to pad the Yankees’ lead to 5-0.

However, right-hander Adam Warren encountered both pitch count and command issues in the fifth inning.

J.J. Hardy and Ryan Flaherty opened the frame by drawing back-to-back walks. Manny Machado followed with an RBI single that scored Hardy.

One out later, Adam Jones loaded the bases with a single and Delmon Young scored Flaherty and chased Warren with a fielder’s choice groundout that erased Jones at second.

Warren left having been charged with two runs on seven hits and three walks with two strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. He left having thrown 88 pitches and he has now failed to complete six innings in any of his eight career starts.

Left-hander Justin Wilson struck out Chris Davis to end the inning, however, he ran into trouble of his own in the sixth inning.

After retiring the first two batters, Wilson allowed a double to J.J. Hardy and Flaherty reached after being hit with a pitch. Girardi brought in right-hander Chris Martin to replace Wilson.

But Martin ended up issuing a walk to Machado to load the bases and rookie Jimmy Paredes singled in two runs to draw the Orioles within a run.

So the combination of Warren’s inability to go further in the game and shaky bullpen work from Wilson and Martin forced Girardi’s hand to use his best bullpen tandem for a second straight game.

Meanwhile, the Yankees offense went to sleep after Gonzalez left having given up five runs on five hits and two walks with two strikeouts in four innings.

Left-hander T.J. McFarland, right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Zach Britton held the Yankees to three hits and one intentional walk over the final five innings to keep the O’s in the game.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 19-11 and they maintained a three-game lead over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Orioles, who lost their third straight contest, fell to 12-15 and they are tied with the Boston Red Sox in fourth place, 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury was 1-for-3 and scored two runs and he is now batting .362, which now leads the American League. Jones, who entered the game hitting .367, was 1-for-5 and that dropped his average to .359. Ellsbury and Gardner combined to go 3-for-7 with a double, two singles, a stolen base and four runs scored. The tandem is a combined 71-for-205 (.346) on the season.
  • McCann continues to love Yankee Stadium because 22 of his 26 home runs with the Yankees have come at home. McCann entered the contest in a 1-for-14 (.071) funk before he connected for his third home run of the season. McCann is now batting .231.
  • The “Twin Towers” of Betances and Miller have now combined for a 4-0 record, 13 saves and a 0.00 ERA in 31 games. They have yielded only 11 hits and 16 walks with 54 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings. Their combined WHIP is 0.81. Unfortunately, neither will be available for Saturday’s game.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Warren is showing everyone what I already knew: He is better suited coming out of the bullpen. He is 2-1 with a 4.65 ERA in six starts but his failure to pitch six complete innings is hurting the team because it is draining the bullpen. It is a good thing that left-hander Chris Capuano is making some minor-league rehab starts because the Yankees could use Capuano so they can shift Warren back to the bullpen, where he recorded a 2.97 ERA in 69 games last season.
  • Chase Headley went 0-for-4 and he seems to be really mired a three-week slump. On April 22, Headley was hitting .254 with two homers and nine RBIs. Since then he is 10-for-50 (.200) with one homer and one RBI. After a hot spring it looked as if Headley was primed for a big season, but it is looking like he has fallen back in some old bad habits at the plate.
  • Martin’s 0-1 record and 3.55 ERA in 15 appearances seem like pretty good numbers. However, one very ugly number for him is that he has allowed five of seven inherited runners to score and two of them scored on Friday on Paredes’ bases-loaded single in the sixth. Martin has to do better when he enters the game with runners on base.

BOMBER BANTER

After being harassed by the press for two months, Girardi finally named Miller as the team’s closer after the left-hander earned his 13th save. Asked again if Miller was his closer at his postgame press conference, Girardi told reporters: “Is there a reason I have to? He’s been closing games for us. He’s our closer. Is that better? Is that going to be the headline tomorrow?”  . . .  Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka played catch for a second straight day prior to Friday’s game and reported no issues with his right wrist or forearm. Tanaka, who has been on the disabled list since April 28 with tendinitis in his wrist and a mild strain in his forearm, made 25 throws from 60 feet and another 25 from 90 feet. The Yankees believe he is on schedule to be back in about a month.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the O’s on Saturday having clinched at least in a series split already.

Right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0, 0.75 ERA) will make his third start of the season since being recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Whitley, 25, needs to pitch the same way he pitched on Monday when he shut out the Toronto Blue Jays on six hits and no walks with six strikeouts in seven innings for his first victory.

The Orioles will start left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (0-1, 2.83 ERA), who surrendered two runs on seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings in a no-decision against the Rays on Sunday.

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

 

Tex’s Double, A-Rod’s 661st Spur Yankees Past O’s

GAME 29

YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 3

The Pythagorean Theorem. Newton’s Law. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. You can now add to those “The Joe Girardi Formula,” which is (1) get a lead by the sixth inning (2) go to your terrific bullpen and (3) win the game.

As an equation it would read: L(6th) + B(GAS) = V

That is exactly the formula the Yankees have used all season and it worked again against the Orioles on Thursday at Yankee Stadium.

Alex Rodriguez blasted the 661st home run of his career to pass Willie Mays, Mark Teixeira drove in two runs  –  including a game-winning double in the fifth  –  and New York’s awesome bullpen held Baltimore scoreless over the final 3 1/3 innings for their 18th victory of the season.

The Yankees and Orioles were locked in a bit of a seesaw affair for five innings in a pitching matchup between right-handers Chris Tillman and Nathan Eovaldi.

The Orioles drew first blood when Jimmy Parades tagged an Eovaldi fastball into the bullpen right-center for his fourth home run of the season and an early 1-0 lead with one out in the first inning.

But the Yankees responded the bottom of the frame when Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to nine games with a leadoff single and he advanced to third on a single by Brett Gardner.

Rodriguez then launched a high-arcing ball to right that right-fielder Delmon Young grabbed off the top of the wall to rob him of what would have been No. 661. But he settled for a sacrifice fly that scored Ellsbury. Teixeira then followed with a shot off the wall in right that scored Gardner. Teixeira was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double on a throw from Young.

The Orioles tied it in the third inning on a one-out solo home run off the bat of Caleb Joseph, his third of the season.

The Yankees then took back the lead with two out in the third inning when Rodriguez launched a Tillman fastball just to the left of straightaway center for his seventh home run of the season and the one that now places him alone in fourth place on the all-time home run list behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth.

Most of the paid crowd of 39,816 were on their feet demanding a curtain call for the 40-year-old designated hitter and Rodriguez obliged with both arms raised in front of the home dugout.

Eovaldi, however, was unable to hold that lead either. Travis Snider led off the fifth with a ringing double down the right-field line and Joseph scored him with an RBI double.

But Eovaldi was able to wriggle out of a jam when Manny Machado sacrificed Joseph to third and he walked Paredes. First, he picked off Paredes and then he retired hot-hitting Adam Jones, who ended up 0-for-4 on the night, on a groundout.

The Yankees then reclaimed the lead for good in the fifth after Gardner doubled to start the inning and, one out later, Teixeira laced an RBI double into right to score Gardner.

Tillman (2-4) was charged four runs on 10 hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. The Orioles’ ace entered play with a career ERA of 7.47 at Yankee Stadium, his highest ERA in any ballpark.

Eovaldi (4-0) also left in the sixth with Young on third and J.J. Hardy on first with two out. Left-hander Justin Wilson came on to retire Snider on a groundout.

Eovaldi was charged with three runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings to earn his first career victory at Yankee Stadium.

Wilson pitched a perfect seventh and Dellin Betances hurled a perfect eighth. Andrew Miller pitched around a leadoff four-pitch walk to Steve Pearce by retiring the next three hitters, two of them via the strikeout, to earn his Major-League-leading 12th save of the season in 12 chances.

With the victory, the Yankees are 18-11 and they have opened up a three-game lead over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Orioles fell to 12-14 and they are tied with the Boston Red Sox for last place in the division, 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • A-Rod had himself a good night by going 2-for-3 including his historic home run and he drove in two runs. Though he is batting only .245, he is second on the team with seven homers and 18 RBIs. Gardner and Ellsbury combined to go 4-for-7 with a walk, a double and three runs scored and they are making it very easy for Rodriguez and Teixeira to drive in runs.
  • Tex is also holding up his end in the cleanup spot. He was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs and he now leads the team with 10 homers and 25 RBIs despite batting only .223. Teixeira is on a pace to drive in more than 130 runs this season.
  • Wilson, Betances and Miller combined to retire 10 of the final 11 batters they faced, striking out three and only allowing one ball to reach the outfield. Though Eovaldi was shaky at times, he at least pitched far enough into the contest to allow this very special bullpen to do its work.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Although Carlos Beltran was 0-for-4 in the game, which lowered his season average to .187, I did see some encouraging signs. Beltran hit two balls hard into the deepest part of center-field in the fourth and the fifth innings. Beltran remains without a home run and he has driven in just nine runs. The Yankees keep hoping he gets into a groove but for now we are still waiting.
  • Though A-Rod and Tex got into the swing of things, Brian McCann did not in the fifth spot in the order. He also was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. McCann keeps hitting right into the teeth of the shift and that has dragged his season average down to .227.
  • Eovaldi might remind Yankee fans of Phil Hughes, who also dealt with problems getting outs with two strikes and keeping the ball in the ballpark. There is no denying that Eovaldi’s velocity is impressive. But the command of his pitches is still an issue that he needs improve. With Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list, the Yankees need Eovaldi to step up.

BOMBER BANTER

Tanaka took a first step in his recovery from tendinitis in right wrist and mild strain in his right forearm by making 50 throws from 60 feet prior to Thursday’s game. The 26-year-old right-hander did not feel any pain and general manager Brian Cashman told reporters that Tanaka remains on a timetable that will allow him to return in a month.  . . .  Despite the fact Jose Pirela had two hits in his season debut at second base on Wednesday, Stephen Drew will remain the starter at second for now. Drew was 1-for-3 with a double and a walk on Thursday but he is still batting .169 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 26 games.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game home weekend series with the Orioles on Friday.

Right-hander Adam Warren (2-1, 4.78 ERA) will start for the Yankees. He got credit for a victory over the Red Sox on Sunday despite yielding four runs on four hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. It will be Warren’s first appearance against the O’s as a starter.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (3-1, 2.59 ERA). Gonzalez, 30, shut out the Rays on four hits and a walk with six strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings for a victory on Saturday. He defeated the Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 14.

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

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Yanks Hoping Gregorius Doesn’t Come Up Short

With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.

SHORTSTOP

Didi Gregorius, 25 (.226, 6 HRs, 27 RBIs, 80 games)

It is tough to ask any player to take the place of a legend but it must be an even greater lift to ask Didi Gregorius to follow the 19 seasons Derek Jeter gave the New York Yankees.

Throughout the offseason the names of Troy Tulowitzki, Elvis Andrus and J.J. Hardy were bandied about in the press as the speculation on who would replace Jeter grew louder. When the Yankees elected instead to offer right-handed starter Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gregorius was anointed as Jeter’s replacement.

The shock may still have not worn off.

Gregorius has been a top prospect with the D-backs for several years after he was obtained from the Cincinnati Reds in 2012. His first taste of the majors came in 2012 when he was a September call-up of the Reds and he hit .300 in just 20 at-bats.

After his trade to Arizona, Gregorius played in 103 games for the D-backs in 2013 and he was a bit of a disappointment in batting .257 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs. The D-backs were expecting a lot offensively from a player that was so gifted defensively.

Looking at Gregorius’ 2014 numbers would have you surmise he was a complete failure. But the D-backs will tell you that was not the case. Instead, Gregorius was passed on the depth chart by fellow prospect Chris Owings, who hit .261 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 91 games after taking over as the team’s primary shortstop.

Ask anyone in the D-backs organization and they will tell you that Gregorius is far superior to Owings as a fielder (5 errors for Gregorius to 11 for Owings) with far superior range. They also will tell you although Owings won the job with his offense that Gregorius has a far higher ceiling with his offense than Owings.

So the Yankees were not taken. It actually may be that the Yankees took the D-backs.

The Yankees looked at lefty-swinging Gregorius’ splits against right-handers and left-handers and discovered that he batted . 262 against right-handers in 544 at-bats and only .184 in 180 at-bats against southpaws.

The Yankees are looking into the possibility of using Gregorius in a platoon with veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan this season. Ryan, 32, would take most of the at-bats against left-handers and leave Gregorius to face the right-handers he feasts upon.

The Yankees believe that Gregorius has the ability to hit double-digit homers at Yankee Stadium as he develops. Though Gregorius did steal 44 bases in the minors, including 16 for with two Class-A Reds farm teams in 2010, he has not developed into a skillful base-stealer at the major-league level.

It appears that 2015 is going to be a proving ground for Gregorius and Yankee fans obviously will compare their young shortstop to the legend that was Jeter.

But the Yankees point out that Jeter batted .256 with four homers and 50 RBIs in 145 games in his final season. The Yankees believe Gregorius could top those totals in 2015.

Should Gregorius falter to such a degree that he will have to be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees would be forced to move their starting second baseman Stephen Drew back to his original shortstop position.

Drew, 31, was shifted to second base by the Yankees after he was obtained from the Boston Red Sox in a deal for Kelly Johnson on July 31. The former Diamondbacks shortstop had only played shortstop since he began his major-league career in 2006.

But with Jeter in his final season Drew was forced to move and when the Yankees made the deal for Drew it was just assumed he would shift back to shortstop after Jeter retired. But the Yankees had other ideas.

The Gregorius deal at first seemed to indicate Drew’s stint with the Yankees was over but the Yankees finalized a one-year, $5 million deal in January with Drew and they installed him as the team’s starting second baseman for 2015.

Drew is coming off his worst offensive season of his career after hitting woeful .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games with Red Sox and Yankees.

Though Drew has never won a Gold Glove his defense is considered well above average at shortstop. He is coming to spring training still learning the intricacies of second base.

Should the Yankees be forced to send Gregorius down and shift Drew the team would need a second baseman. They have super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, who made a great impression with the team in his late-season call-up, hitting .333 in seven games

But the Yankees seem very committed to their new shortstop who was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He already appears to have the right attitude.

“You can’t replace a legend, and it’s not replacing,” Gregorius told listeners on MLB Network Radio. “He (Jeter) has been playing for a long time at shortstop and he decided to retire. The spot was open. So I’m not thinking about replacing anything. It’s just me just coming in there to try to play my game.”

The Yankees minor-league options at shortstop are not real good, hence the deal for Gregorius.

Carmen Angelini, 26, hit .212 in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton last season. Ali Castillo, 25, batted .254 with two homers and 42 RBIs in 120 games at Trenton.

Former first-round draft pick Cito Culver, 22, hit .220 with five homers and 48 RBIs at Class-A Tampa. Culver has major-league defensive tools but his offense is holding up his progress.

The big buzz at shortstop for the Yankees surrounds 19-year-old Jorge Mateo. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Mateo made his pro debut last June and teams are already asking about him in trade talks.

His biggest asset is his speed. He stole 11 bases in just 15 games with the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League team. He has a wiry build but he already shows an ability to hit for average and the promise provide double-digit home run power down the line.

Scouts are already saying that the Yankees have not had a shortstop at this level with as much of a ceiling since Jeter. That is high praise.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: AVERAGE

The decision to deal for Gregorius was a bold move and it will define what direction the Yankees will take in the post-Jeter era. General manager Brian Cashman has stayed away from high-priced free-agents to fill spots.

We will see if it is successful.

Gregorius can certainly field the position and that is going to be very helpful. His offense could be a problem but at least the Yankees are thinking of using a platoon in order to keep Gregorius hitting only against right-handers.

There also will be less pressure for the young shortstop batting ninth in this order. Plus, if the Yankees are correct about his power they could catch lightning in a bottle and have something very special for many years to come.

I know Yankee fans would have wanted Tulowitzki to play short so the Yankees could make a run at the World Series. However, Cashman and manager Joe Girardi may have more of a long-term strategy in mind.

Both Gregorius and Ryan are terrific defensive players and that is what you want in the middle of infield. Drew can also play the position so there is some depth.

The problem is that most of the Yankees’ minor-league shortstops are not real prospects. But keep an eye on Mateo. He seems to have the makings to be the real deal.

NEXT: OUTFIELD

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!