YANKEES 2, RED SOX 1
With the series between the Yankees and Red Sox on the line in the seventh inning on Thursday it would stand to reason that the deciding hit would come from a former Red Sox star – and one that was coming into the series struggling at the plate.
Jacoby Ellsbury launched a 2-1 pitch from left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez into the second deck of the right-field stands to break a 1-1 tie and give New York a decisive series victory over rival Boston in front of a paid crowd of 48,608 at Yankee Stadium.
Ellsbury’s fifth home run of the season broke up a spirited and emotional pitcher’s duel between 35-year-old veteran left-hander CC Sabathia and the 22-year-old rookie Rodriguez.
The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on a two-out single by Brett Gardner and an RBI double off the bat of Alex Rodriguez.
But the Red Sox broke through against Sabathia in the fifth on a one-out single by Ryan Hanigan, a costly two-out walk to Jackie Bradley Jr. and an RBI single by Rusney Castillo that just eluded shortstop Didi Gregorius enough to allow Hanigan to score.
The Red Sox extended the inning when Xander Bogaerts drew a four-pitch walk to reload the bases. But Sabathia bowed his neck and struck out David Ortiz swinging on a 1-2 fastball to leave the bases loaded. Sabathia punctuated the moment by shaking his fist and screaming as he left the mound.
Unfortunately, on a night where Sabathia displayed his best stuff in what has been a frustrating season for him, he was not able to get the victory. But he did hold the Red Sox to one run on just three hits with three walks and a season-high eight strikeouts in six innings.
“Hopefully, I can just keep building on this and take this into my next start, and give us a chance to win,” Sabathia told reporters.
Left-hander Justin Wilson (4-0) gave up a two-out single but struck out the side in the seventh to earn the victory in relief. The Yankees vaunted “Twin Towers,” right-hander Dellin Betances and left-hander Andrew Miller, threw a scoreless frame each to preserve the victory. Miller was credited with his 24th save in 24 chances this season.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez held the Yankees to one run until Ellsbury came to the plate with one out in the seventh and launched a massive blast into the bleachers to bite the team that had drafted him and for which he played seven seasons.
“It’s nice to put some good swings on balls and get results. Tonight for sure was a big hit, contributing to a win,” Ellsbury said.
Rodriguez was charged with two runs on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts in seven innings.
Sabathia’s emotion spilled over with one out in the fourth inning when home-plate umpire Rob Drake called a 2-2 pitch to Hanley Ramirez – Sabathia’s seventh pitch of the at-bat – a ball. Sabathia turned away from home plate visibly upset with the call.
Drake walked out to the mound and said something to Sabathia that angered him even more. After Sabathia retired both Ramirez and Mike Napoli on groundouts he shouted at Drake again as he walked to the dugout.
“I didn’t complain about one pitch all night, so for him to come out and tell me not to walk around the mound, it pissed me off,” Sabathia told reporters.
For the Red Sox it was another game and series loss that has been the story of their dismal season. Their offense is dreadful and their bullpen leaks more a bamboo roof. That is why they are playing out the string and the Yankees are planning to make a huge playoff run.
The Yankees ran their season record to 61-46 and they are 4 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Red Sox are 48-61 and in last place in the division 14 games behind the Yankees.
- Ellsbury’s average was .324 when he was injured on May 19. Going into this game he was 19-for-94 (.202) since then to lower his average to .277. But on Thursday, Ellsbury was 2-for-4, including his game-winning blast. If the Yankees are to succeed they need Ellsbury to get on base and create havoc with his speed.
- Sabathia’s effort was just special to see unfold. Coming into the contest he was 4-8 with 5.54 ERA in his 20 starts. But his velocity and his slider were big reasons why he looked like his former ace self. “CC pitched great,” Ellsbury told reporters. “I thought his velocity was up, his location, showing emotion out there.”
- I can never give too much credit to the Yankees’ bullpen. It has been the foundation of this team and they are deadly when the Yankees take a late lead as they did on Thursday. Wilson, Betances and Miller combined to strike out five of the last nine outs they recorded. They just give a team no hope to come back.
- After struggling to hit off a gimmick pitch like a knuckleball on Wednesday the Yankees struggled to get anything going again tonight. It may not be a sign of anything. But with a big series coming up it is a concern.
Brian McCann sat out a second straight game due to a strained right knee. McCann, according to manager Joe Girardi, is available to pinch-hit and he could catch in an emergency. But Girardi said McCann needs a few days to allow the injury to heal and he is still day-to-day. John Ryan Murphy started in McCann’s place and he was 0-for-3.
The Yankees will begin a huge three-game series with the hot Blue Jays on Friday at Yankee Stadium.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (11-2, 4.30 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Eovaldi has been just as hot as the Blue Jays, having won eight straight decisions including a 13-6 thrashing of the Chicago White Sox on Sunday. Eovaldi, 25, gave up three runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.
The Yankees will face a knuckleball pitcher again. The Blue Jays will use right-hander R.A. Dickey (6-10, 4.06 ERA). Dickey, 40, shut out the Kansas City Royals on two hits and two walks with six strikeouts in seven innings on Sunday.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 13, RED FLOPS 3
Despite the fact it is August and the Yankees were facing the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday there seemed to be a subdued dynamic borne out of two teams headed in decidedly different directions, The Yankees have been shooting upward while the Red Flops are just playing out the string of what has been a disastrous season.
That scenario played out as the Yankees turned a 4-3 lead into a 13-3 rout in just one inning.
Brian McCann hit a three-run home run as part of a nine-run inning and drove in four runs and Masahiro Tanaka won his eighth game as New York showed its immense superiority over Boston in front of 48,522 happy fans and a national television audience.
For the Yankees it marked the seventh time this season they have scored 13 or more runs and there are three teams tied for the next most at three. They also have outscored their opposition 59-17 in their past four victories.
Until the seventh inning, the Yankees’ right-hander Tanaka and rookie left-hander Henry Owens were locked into a close battle in Owens’ Major-League debut.
The Yankees took an early lead against Owens (0-1) in the first inning on a one-out single by Chris Young, a walk to Alex Rodriguez and an RBI single by Mark Teixeira.
Tanaka threw four strong innings, yielding only a double by Mike Napoli with two out in the second inning when Young allowed the ball to drop thinking center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury would catch it.
But in the fifth, Tanaka allowed a one-double to Napoli and a bunt single by Alejandro De Aza. Rookie Blake Swihart followed with an RBI single and Jackie Bradley Jr. plated De Aza on a sacrifice fly.
Owens, meanwhile, sailed into the sixth inning having retired 14 of the next 15 hitters and the past 12 in a row after Teixeira’s first-inning RBI single.
But Young opened the sixth with a single to left and Rodriguez doubled to the left-center. Red Flops manager John Farrell, who ended up not exactly celebrating much of his 53rd birthday, removed Owens in favor of left-hander Robbie Ross Jr.
But Teixeira greeted Ross with an RBI single up the middle to score Young and McCann followed with a RBI double off the wall in right-center. Carlos Beltan gave the Yankees an additional run on an RBI groundout.
Owens was charged with three runs on five hits and one walk with five strikeouts in five-plus innings.
The Red Flops did draw to within one run when Pablo Sandoval opened the seventh with a home run off Tanaka, which ended his evening.
Tanaka (8-4) was charged with three runs on five hits and one walk with three strikeouts in six-plus innings to notch his fourth victory in his past five starts.
Justin Wilson came on to retire one batter before rookie Rusney Castillo singled and stole second on a 1-1 pitch to Bradley that was called a strike.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi opted to replaced the lefty Wilson with the right-handed Dellin Betances against the lefty-swinging Bradley in the middle of the at-bat. But Betances uncorked a wild pitch to allow Castillo to reach third and he ended up walking Bradley.
However, Betances struck out Brock Holt to preserve the 4-3 lead and keep Girardi from being raked over the coals in the media.
The Yankees then went to work by sending 13 batters to the plate off right-hander Jean Machi, left-hander Craig Breslow and right-hander Alexi Ogando.
It all started with a careless throwing error on shortstop Xander Bogaerts that allowed Ellsbury to reach first. Young drew a walk and Rodriguez chased Machi with an RBI single that extended the Yankees’ lead to 5-3.
McCann then blew the game wide open with a long three-run blast into the right-field bleachers off Breslow for his 18th home run of the season. But the Yankees were not satisfied with beating their rivals; they wanted to humiliate them.
Beltran doubled into the gap in right-center and Chase Headley scored him with a double of his own. One out later, Brendan Ryan walked and Ellsbury singled to drive in Headley.
Farrell replaced Breslow with Ogando to face the righty-swininging Young but Young delivered a three-run homer, his 13th of the season, that landed well into the left-field bleachers to make it 13-3.
By drilling the Red Flops the Yankees improved their season mark to 60-45 and they lead the second-place Toronto Blue Jays by 5 1/2 games in the American League East. The Red Flops fell to a dismal 47-60 mark and they are 14 games back in last place.
- McCann was 2-for-5 with a single, a home run, one run scored and four RBIs. McCann is simply a different player at home. He is batting .298 with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs at Yankee Stadium and he is hitting a lousy .218 with six homers and 27 RBIs on the road. His low road average is one reason he is hitting just .252 on the season.
- Teixeira entered the day having homered four times in his past five games but against the Red Flops he settled for a pair RBI singles. His 2-for-5 night raised his season average to a season-high .268 with 29 home runs and 76 RBIs.
- Young has been the unsung hero of this team as the fourth outfielder. He is hammering left-handers to the tune of .371 but his 13th home run and his three RBIs came off a right-handed pitcher in Ogando. In limited play, Young is batting .268 with 13 homers and 36 RBIs. For that reason we might want to overlook the fielding mistake he made in the second inning.
Watching the Yankees scored nine runs (eight earned) off the Red Flops bullpen was just pleasing to see. Many pundits predicted disaster for the Yankees this season and chose the Red Sox to win the division. It would be nice to gather up all that excrement they spewed and have them eat it all.
The Yankees made only one trade-deadline deal and that was to acquire outfielder Dustin Ackley from the Seattle Mariners. Five days later, Ackley is on the 15-day disabled list. The Yankees placed the 27-year-old veteran on the DL on Tuesday with a right lumbar back strain that will sideline him until at least early September. Ackley said the injury did not occur when he was with the Mariners and that he first felt the pain in his back on Friday in Chicago. An MRI showed a herniated disk and he was given an epidural to relieve the discomfort. To replace Ackley on the roster the Yankees recalled right-hander Caleb Cotham from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. . . . The Yankees announced on Tuesday that outfielder Mason Williams will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery. William, 23, hurt his right shoulder diving back into first base in a game against the Tigers in Detroit on June 19. The surgery is scheduled for Friday. Williams batted .286 with a home run and three RBIs in eight games with the Yankees.
With one thrashing out of the way, the Yankees would like to demolish the Red Flops again on Wednesday.
They have their No. 1 pitching prospect, right-hander Luis Severino, scheduled to make his Major-League debut in starting this game. Severino, 21, was quickly promoted from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton and he has been dominating there in his 11 starts. He was 7-0 with a microscopic 1.91 ERA.
The Red Flops will counter with right-handed knuckleballer Steven Wright (4-4, 453 ERA). The 30-year-old right-hander is coming off a two-run, six-hit effort in seven innings on Friday in which he defeated Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
“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”
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.
- 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?
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.
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.
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.
YANKEES 3, RED SOX 2
Carlos Beltran has wanted to be a Yankee for a long time. At age 36, he is finally getting the chance to wear pinstripes and he is loving every minute of it.
Beltran slugged a two-run home run and collected three hits overall to back the solid pitching of Ivan Nova as New York held on to beat Boston on Sunday to win the home weekend series three games to one.
As rivalries go, this one is the greatest in sports. There have been many memorable games over the years and this one – played in front of a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 46,081 and a national television audience – was pretty eventful for an early April contest.
Nova (2-1) entered the game with a 8.68 ERA but he weathered some early problems to pitch into the eighth inning.
His mound opponent, Felix Doubront, posted an ERA of 9.00 and he did not make it out of the third inning of his last start. Yet, Doubront pitched into the seventh inning.
How this pair of starters made it that far was a testament to their toughness and some very odd things, which usually occur when these two teams meet.
Doubront started out as if he would not last the first inning after Beltran laced a one-out single to left and Jacoby Ellsbury lined a double into the right-field corner. Alfonso Soriano then lofted a sure-fire sacrifice fly into center.
But Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. fired the ball to third base and Ryan Roberts tagged a sliding Ellsbury before Beltran could cross the plate with the run.
The Red Sox then literally took aim at Nova with two out in the second inning.
Roberts singled and Bradley followed with ball that caromed off Nova’s foot for a single. Jonathan Herrera then scored Roberts with a lined single that narrowly missed Nova’s head. Grady Sizemore then came through with the fourth straight single off Nova but left-fielder Brett Gardner threw Bradley out at the plate.
The Yankees then took the lead in the third inning when Gardner stroked a one-out single and Beltran followed with the 361st home run of his career, a lined shot that landed in the first row in the left-field bleachers.
The Yankees padded their lead in the fourth when Doubront opened the frame by walking Brian McCann and Yangervis Solarte. After Solarte was retired on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Kelly Johnson, Francisco Cervelli hit a ball to Roberts that he turned into a double play.
Cervelli stumbled through about a half-dozen steps past first base and fell holding the back of his right leg.
Manager Joe Girardi challenged the out call at first base by umpire Bob Davidson as Cervelli was helped off the field with an obviously severe pull in his right hamstring.
Meanwhile, television replays indicated Cervelli touched first base before the ball hit first baseman Mike Napoli’s glove, which allowed McCann to score the Yankees’ third run without the benefit of a hit. The umpires reversed the out call.
Red Sox manager John Farrell stormed out onto the field to protest the reversal and immediately was ejected from the game by Davidson. Managers are not allowed to argue calls that have been overturned.
Nova, meanwhile, settled in and pitched well. He only allowed a leadoff home run in the sixth inning to Napoli, which drew the Bosox to within a run at 3-2. He exited with one out in the eighth having given up two runs on eight hits, no walks and four strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings.
The Yankee bullpen then turned the game into an adventure.
Matt Thornton replaced Nova to face David Ortiz and Ortiz laced a deep drive that would have hit the top of the auxiliary scoreboard for a sure double. However, Ichiro Suzuki, who only entered the game as the right-fielder when Cervelli left the game, leapt and caught the ball before it reached the wall.
David Phelps then replaced Thornton and he ended up yielding a double to Napoli, a walk to Daniel Nava and hit A.J. Pierzynski with a pitch to load the bases. He then got locked into a tense eight-pitch battle with pinch-hitter Mike Carp that – luckily for Phelps and the Yankees – ended with Carp swinging and missing to end the threat.
Shawn Kelley pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two batters, to earn his third save in three opportunities.
Doubront (2-1) was tagged with loss, giving up three runs on seven hits and three walks while he fanned three in 6 2/3 innings.
The victory gives the Yankees a 7-6 record on the young season. The Red Sox dropped to 5-8.
- Beltran has always been a big-stage performer throughout his career and his 3-for-4 night substantiated that reputation. In his past six games, Beltran is 11-for-26 (.423) with three home runs and six RBIs. This is the production the Yankees were expecting when they signed Beltran as free agent to the three-year contract after Robinson Cano signed with the Seattle Mariners.
- Nova always has been a captive to his pitches working. When they are not working he gets lit up like a roman candle. When they are working he can be very good. His stuff was working on Sunday and he was able to hold the Red Sox to just the one run on three hits over his last 5 1/3 innings.
- Suzuki’s catch on Ortiz’s deep drive was set up by Cervelli’s injury. Suzuki entered the game as a pinch-runner for Cervelli in fourth and he was placed in right-field. That moved right-fielder Beltran to first base, a position he has never played in 17 major-league seasons. If Beltran had been in right it is likely that drive would have not been caught. It truly was a game saver. For a 40-year-old player, Suzuki can still flash some leather.
- It appears the Yankees’ issues with injuries that beset them in 2013 seem to have cropped up again early in 2014. The Yankees are already without first baseman Mark Teixeira, closer David Robertson and backup infielder Brendan Ryan. All three are on the disabled list. They played Sunday’s game with shortstop Derek Jeter nursing a mild quad injury and second baseman Brian Roberts out with a back injury. The loss of Cervelli left the team with no other bench players and no backup catcher. McCann took a ball off the fingers of his right index finger catching in the eighth inning and Solarte took an inadvertent shot to the groin from Napoli as he was running out a grounder in the sixth. Fortunately, both players were able to stay in the game. The Yankees will need to add some depth to their roster in a hurry.
Cervelli was taken for an MRI after he left the game but it is certainty that he will be placed on the 15-day disabled list. The Yankees are expected to recall catcher Austin Romine from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace Cervelli on the roster. . . . Jeter said he felt his right quadriceps tighten up in Friday’s game against the Red Sox. He already was scheduled for a day off on Saturday but Girardi opted to hold Jeter out a second day. Jeter was not scheduled to have any tests and he is expected to play to play on Tuesday. . . . Roberts is listed as day-to-day after he experienced some lower-back soreness. A precautionary MRI came back negative but it is not clear when Roberts will be able to play.
The Yankees will finally get their first day off of the season and it is a good thing with all of their walking wounded. They will open a two-game home series with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (1-0, 3.21 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Tanaka struck out 10 batters in seven innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. But he had to settle for a no-decision.
Right-hander Jason Hammel (2-0, 2.63 ERA) will start for the Cubs. Hammel gave up three runs on three hits (all homers) and struck out six in seven innings as he defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MY9.
The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:
NEW YORK YANKEES
After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.
Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.
Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.
The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.
Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.
The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.
Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.
The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.
Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.
If you don’t you lose.
The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.
The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.
The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.
The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.
Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.
The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.
As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.
In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.
BOSTON RED SOX
Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.
The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.
They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.
Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.
Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.
To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.
Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.
The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.
Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.
The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.
The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.
So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Jays are all about redemption.
They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.
The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.
So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.
Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.
But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.
Now that is some reclamation project.
Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.
But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.
There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.
Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.
The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.
It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?
The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.
Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.
The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.
The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.
They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.
So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.
Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) NEW YORK YANKEES
2) TAMPA BAY RAYS
3) BOSTON RED SOX
4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS
5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!
YANKEES VS. PIRATES (CANCELED RAIN)
The New York Yankees’ exhibition game scheduled against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL, was canceled on Monday due to rain.
The Pirates placed the tarp on the field 30 minutes before the scheduled 1:05 p.m. EDT start time and they opted to cancel the game 40 minutes later because of weather reports indicating an advancing storm that was expected to cover the Florida Gulf Coast the rest of the day.
The Yankees were scheduled to start right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-0, 6.48 ERA), who was coming off a start last Wednesday against the Detroit Tigers in which he was raked for six runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings.
Right-hander Stolmy Pimentel (1-0, 0.00 ERA) was the scheduled starter for the Pirates.
With most of the Yankees’ starters returning from the Legends Series in Panama this weekend, the Yankees only brought three starters: second baseman Brian Roberts, first baseman Mark Teixeira and catcher Brian McCann on the trip to Bradenton.
The Yankees split the two-game series against the Miami Marlins at Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City, Panama. They were no-hit by a combination of four Marlins pitchers on Saturday en route to a 5-0 defeat. Brad Hand (2-0) pitched five perfect innings to get credit for the victory. Adam Warren (1-1) gave up a run on two hits while fanning six in 4 1/3 innings to take the loss. CC Sabathia got himself and the Yankees back on track on Sunday by pitching five hitless innings as the Yankees got even with the Marlins for a 7-0 victory. Sabathia struck out five and evened his record to 1-1. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (0-1) was tagged with the loss. Francisco Cervelli and Yangervis Solarte led the offense with three hits apiece and catching prospect Gary Sanchez added a solo home run. The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 10-9-2. The Marlins fell to 11-6. . . . The Legends Series was a chance for the Yankees to honor retired closer Mariano Rivera in his native country and most of the proceeds from the series will go to Rivera’s foundation.
The Yankees will return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday to play their fiercest rival in the Boston Red Sox.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (1-0, 0.00 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Yankees coming off two shaky outings. The Yankees are also expected to play most of their starters in this game. However, former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury will not play due to tightness in his right calf.
The Red Sox will counter with left-hander Felix Doubront (0-0, 0.00 ERA). The Red Sox are scheduled to bring Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp and David Ross.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
In the world of baseball free agency there is one maxim that is absolute: It is no-brainer to want to strengthen your club but it is extremely smart to weaken your opponent’s while you are strengthening your club.
The New York Yankees not only added to their roster with the signing of Gold Glove center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, they significantly weaken the Boston Red Sox. Toche’.
Following in the footsteps of Johnny Damon in 2006, Ellsbury will – after passing a physical – sign a lucrative seven-year, $153 million contract with an option for an eighth year that will bring the total contract to $169 million.
Ellsbury, 30, batted .298 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs while leading the major leagues in stolen bases with 52 in 134 games last season. In 2011, Ellsbury batted .318 with a career-high 32 homers and 105 RBIs and earned his only All-Star selection and a Gold Glove.
On the heels of the five-year, $85 million contract offer to catcher Brian McCann last week, the Steinbrenner family, general manger Brain Cashman and the entire Yankees braintrust are serving notice to the other major league teams they are through with fiscal constraints that have seen them largely sit out free agency period for top-name talent for the past four seasons.
After the team suffered through a horrific string of free-agent departures and crippling injuries to the core of the team in 2013 that saw the club limp to the finish line with only 85 wins, missing the playoffs for the second time in five seasons, the Yankee hierarchy is saying enough is enough.
The McCann signing I told you last week was just the start of this new era in spending and it definitely is not over.
Ellsbury’s signing certainly brings an end to the team’s pursuit of Carlos Beltran, who had the Yankees balking at giving the 37-year-old a third year on a potential contract. The Yankees shifted off Beltran and then contacted Scott Boras, who is is Ellsbury’s agent.
The Yankees also will be saying so long to Curtis Granderson, who led the majors by hitting 84 home runs in 2011 and 2012, but he also struck out 360 times in that span. The Yankees figure his power was largely a product of Yankee Stadium and that he will not be able to maintain that level of power elsewhere.
The big question Ellsbury’s signing poses is what happens to center-fielder Brett Gardner?
Gardner, 30, is coming off his best season with the Yankees after hitting .273 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs and stealing 24 bases in 145 games. Ellsbury’s deal likely means he will become the center-fielder. So if Gardner stays with the Yankees, does he move to left?
If Gardner moves to left, where will the Yankees put left-fielder Alfonso Soriano? If Soriano moves to right-field, what happens to holdovers Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, who are both signed for the 2014 season?
The Yankees could choose to package Gardner in a trade and get something of value back for him but they will not get much back for either Wells or Suzuki. Both showed signs that indicated that their careers, which were once quite productive, are coming to a quick end.
Wells, who will turn 36 on Dec. 8, batted .233 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs in 130 games last season. But he hit only one home run after May 15 and he largely was pretty useless unless he was facing a left-handed pitcher. Because the Los Angels Angels are paying a huge portion of his contract, the Yankees would have no problem releasing him if they wanted to do so.
Suzuki, 40, hit .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 150 games. He was mostly a non-factor late in the season, hitting .228 in August and .205 in September. Suzuki, however, does have some value as a platoon designated hitter, a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield and a pinch-runner. But his days of full-time play appear to be over.
There also is another big question about the Ellsbury signing. Where does this leave the Yankees with respect to second baseman Robinson Cano?
With the two main rivals of the Yankees for Cano’s services, the Los Angels Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers, out of the bidding, Cano has lowered his 10-year, $305 million demands. But the Yankees have not raised their offer from their initial seven-year, $160 million bid.
But the Yankees seem to have the cash sufficient enough to get into the eight-year, $240 million range and talks with Cano will continue.
The Yankees are also looking to add 400 innings to their starting rotation by signing a pair of free-agent starting pitchers this winter.
Phil Hughes , 27, is poised to sign a three-year, $24 million with the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees, however, felt Hughes was more suited to a bullpen role after he turned in a horrific 4-14 record and a 5.14 ERA last season.
The Yankees are targeting the re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda, 38, who was 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA last season for the Yankees, and fellow Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, 25, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles this season.
The Yankees intend to be much more aggressive in the bidding process for Tanaka than they were for right-hander Yu Darvish, who signed with Texas after the Rangers posted $51.7 million bid for the right to sign him.
The Yankees could bid as much as they want without the cost affecting the $189 million salary limits for 2014. They also have some salary flexibility with the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, the decision to allow Granderson to leave and the likely suspension of third basemen Alex Rodriguez for the entire 2014 season, which means they will not have to pay his annual $25 million salary.
The best part of the Ellsbury deal was that it is the first shot off the bow on Red Sox Nation.
The Red Sox have a number of key contributors to their 2014 season like Ellsbury, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli trolling the free-agent waters. Each one of those losses forces the Bosox to find replacements elsewhere and there is no guarantee those replacements will maintain the same chemistry the team had last season.
The Red Sox Nation social media is already doing the usual “Ellsbury stinks” and “Ellsbury is old” rants and they are already touting Jackie Bradley Jr. as the next Willie Mays in center. But, to be sure, they are hurting deeply on the inside. Ellsbury was part of the corps that the Red Sox counted upon last season and he is gone to the “Evil Empire” no less.
He expects to be booed in Boston. It will just be interesting to see how he is treated in New York. My guess is, like Damon and Kevin Youkilis (very briefly) last season, the Yankees will warm up to Ellsbury.
After all, any signing that weakens the Red Sox is fine by me. It also will be just fine with the Yankee Universe.
YANKEES 4, RED SOX 2
Most major-league teams conduct “Turn-Back-The Clock” nights to feature vintage era teams. The New York Yankees held their own version of “Turn-Back-The-Clock” night on Thursday and they did it only with a 40-year-old starter and a 43-year-old reliever.
Andy Pettitte threw eight dominant innings of one-run ball and Mariano Rivera began his final season in Major League Baseball with his first save as New York recovered from an 0-2 start to the season to beat Boston in front of a paid crowd of 40,611 on another chilly night at Yankee Stadium.
Pettitte looked to be in vintage 1996 form, when he won 21 games for the Yankees. Using his patented style of peering over the edge of his glove, Pettitte (1-0) scattered eight hits, walked one and struck three while holding the hated Bosox scoreless through six innings.
Their lone score off Pettitte came with two out in the seventh inning when Will Middlebrooks punched an opposite-field single and Jackie Bradley Jr. plated him with a double high off the wall in right-center.
Much earlier in the game, the Yankees finally took their first lead of the season in the second inning when Travis Hafner led off the frame with a single off veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster (0-1). Two outs later, Eduardo Nunez blasted a ground-rule double in right-center and Lyle Overbay scored Hafner and Nunez with an opposite-field single to left-center.
Though the Yankees are missing a lot of power with Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez injured, the Yankees broke out the long-ball on Thursday from two of their least likely “Bronx Bombers.”
Brett Gardner led off the third inning with a first-pitch golf shot off Dempster that just scraped over the wall into the first row of the right-field bleachers for his first home run of the season and only the 16th of his career.
With the Yankees leading 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Francisco Cervelli touched off a mammoth shot to left-center on a 3-1 offering from reliever Clayton Mortensen for Cervelli’s first home run of the season and only the fifth of his career. The ball actually struck high off the wall in the Red Sox bullpen and nearly landed in the bleachers.
Pettitte left after eight innings and handed the ball to a familiar teammate, Rivera.
The future Hall-of-Fame closer did give up a leadoff walk to Dustin Pedroia and a one-out double down the left-field line by Jonny Gomes. Pedroia scored on a groundout by Middlebrooks but Rivera struck out Bradley looking to record the 609th save of his 19-season career.
It also was the 69th time that Rivera had saved a victory for Pettitte, which is tops in the majors since the statistic was first recorded in 1969.
Though the Red Sox won the series, the Yankees at least got a measure of payback to improve their record to 1-2.
- For those who thought Pettitte might be through at age 40, you are dead wrong. Though Pettitte did allow nine base-runners, he kept the ball in the ballpark and used three double plays to prevent the Red Sox from manufacturing any offense. Pettitte threw 64 of his 94 pitches for strikes (68 percent) and he never was seriously in much danger of losing his 3-0 lead.
- Overbay, 35, came through with a huge two-out hit in the second inning and general manager Brian Cashman’s decision to sign him after the Bosox released him in the final week of spring training may prove to be a good move while the Yankees await Teixeira’s return from a torn tendon his right wrist.
- Gardner and Cervelli showed that the Yankees do not always have to rely on “little ball” to win games. But don’t expect this pair to be piling up a lot of dingers this season. The Yankees won this game with good pitching, good defense and some opportunistic hitting.
- If the Yankees are going to have to rely on more of a running game this season it would nice if their top base-stealers would not get thrown out on the basepaths. Gardner was thrown out at second base in the first and Nunez was nabbed the same way in the sixth. Both of them were nailed by backup Red Sox catcher David Ross.
- After his 3-for-4 night on Wednesday, the Red Sox made sure Vernon Wells did not get a fastball to hit on Thursday. Wells did not adjust and was 0-for-4 with a strikeout.
- In this series the Red Sox trotted out a new shift on Robinson Cano in which they shifted third baseman Middlebrooks into short right-field. It evidently bothered Cano because he hit two balls right to Middlebrooks and was 0-for-3 with a walk and is hitting .091 after three games.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda told reporters on Thursday that he still is feeling discomfort in his bruised right middle finger but that he still hopes to be able to be ready for his next start in Cleveland on Monday. Kuroda was struck on the finger as he reached up to stop a hard line drive off the bat of Shane Victorino in the second inning and he later was forced to leave the game. Kuroda is scheduled to throw a bullpen session in Detroit on Friday and he will know then if he will be able to pitch. . . . Manager Joe Girardi changed the lineup to have Cano batting second and Kevin Youkilis batting third. Girardi said he decided to make the change to break up three left-handed hitters at the top of the lineup against Dempster. . . . The Yankees decided to give right-hander David Aardsma his unconditional release on Thursday. Aardsma, 31, had a 3.52 ERA this spring, but he was designated for assignment because the team preferred right-hander Shawn Kelley, who could offer multiple innings out the bullpen.
The Yankees travel to Detroit on Friday for the Tigers’ 2013 home opener.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-0, 4,19 ERA this spring) will start for the Yankees seeking redemption from a 2012 season in which he was 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA. In his short career, Nova is 0-1 with a 9.24 ERA against the Tigers.
He will be opposed by right-hander Doug Fister (2-3, 5.68 ERA this spring), who pitched 6 1/3 innings of shutout baseball in Game 1 of the 2012 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. He is 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA versus the Yankees in the regular season.
Game-time will be 1:08 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
RED SOX 7, YANKEES 4
Yankee fans realize there is something wrong with this team but they just can’t seem to put a finger on it. On Wednesday night, Hiroki Kuroda put a finger on a screaming line drive in the second inning and it ended his evening – and with him went pretty much any chance of a victory.
Clay Buchholz pitched seven innings of one-run baseball and the Red Sox took advantage of Kuroda’s early departure as Boston downed New York on a crisp, cold and windy evening at Yankee Stadium.
Already down 1-0, Kuroda (0-1) opened the second frame by giving up a lined single up the middle off the bat of Shane Victorino. Unfortunately, Kuroda threw up his pitching hand and the ball grazed his right middle finger as it zipped into centerfield. After a few warmup tosses, Kuroda elected to stay in the game.
However, the normally pinpoint control Kuroda displays was gone. He hit the next batter, Jackie Bradley Jr., and – after recording an out – he walked Jacoby Ellsbury to load the bases and then hit Daniel Nava to force in a second run. Kuroda was then forced to leave the game.
The Red Sox subsequently pounced on a less-than-sharp Cody Eppley in the third after he induced an inning-ending double play in the second.
The Red Sox pounded Eppley for four runs on four hits, scoring all four runs after two were out in the inning. The big blow was a two-run single by Ellsbury off reliever Adam Warren.
Buchholz, meanwhile, held off the Yankees, giving up only a solo home run to Travis Hafner with two out in the fourth inning.
Buchholz (1-0) surrendered six hits and two walks while he struck out four batters.
The Yankees did manage to rally in the eighth inning off left-hander Andrew Miller and right-hander Alfredo Aceves.
Miller opened the frame by hitting Ichiro Suzuki with a pitch and Aceves entered the game one out later and gave up a single to Kevin Youkilis. After Hafner grounded out, Vernon Wells launched a line-drive blast into the left-field bleachers to bring the Yankees to within three runs.
But it was the proverbial too little and too late for the Yankees.
Joel Hanrahan pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up his first save as a Red Sox closer.
- Warren pitched well in his 5 1/3 innings of work in relief. He gave up one run on five hits and a walk while he fanned four. But his real contribution was saving the rest of the bullpen from having to pitch after Kuroda was forced to leave the game so early. Though I still think Warren is not a great long-term solution to the Yankees’ pitching puzzle, you have to give him kudos for this outing.
- Hafner was 1-for-2 in the opener and he was 1-for-4 on Wednesday with his first home run in pinstripes. Hafner’s blast was a legitimate Yankee Stadium home run. It landed in the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center. Now if he could only connect with men on base we might have a good designated hitter here.
- Wells collected three of the team’s eight hits and all of them came off fastballs. Wells was 3-for-4 with his first Yankee homer and three RBIs. The Yankees’ scouting department noticed this spring that Wells had a much quicker bat than he had shown the past few years and the gamble to sign him may be paying off.
- Eppley pitched poorly after not pitching well this spring. The 27-year-old side-winding right-hander was a valuable piece to the bullpen in 2012, going 1-2 with a 3.33 ERA and limiting right-handers to a .227 average in 46 innings. Of course, manager Joe Girardi exposed him by having him pitch to two switch-hitters in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Victorino and the lefty-swinging Bradley in the third inning. All three got hits off Eppley.
- It is hard to get runners on base and score runs when your leadoff hitter goes 0-for-5. Brett Gardner did not have a good night. He struck out twice and looked overmatched at the plate in just about every at-bat.
- The Yankees were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and they are 3-for-15 in the first two games of the season. You can blame it on the free-agent defections and injuries if you like, but the bottom line is it is going to have to improve if the Yankees want to contend in 2013.
Kuroda underwent X-rays and CT scan of his right hand after the game and the tests only showed a bruised middle finger. However, Kuroda told reporters he is not sure if he will be able to make his next start. Kuroda is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday in Detroit and he should know more then. Warren would likely make the start of Kuroda is unable to pitch. . . . Mark Teixeira told reporters that he believes he could be ready to play for the Yankees by May 1. Teixiera is recovering from a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist. He was expected to miss eight to 10 weeks but Teixeira said he thinks he could be ready by the first of the month. That is roughly the same time Curtis Granderson (broken right forearm) and Derek Jeter (recovering from a surgery on a fractured left ankle) are expected to be back. . . . Right-hander Phil Hughes (bulging disk in his upper back) was cleared to pitch on Saturday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in a rehab start. Hughes will likely rejoin the rotation after that start. . . . The Yankees elected to release left-handed reliever Clay Rapada after designating him for assignment last week. Rapada, 30, has been sidelined with bursitis in his left shoulder but the Yankees decided they needed to make room on the 40-man roster. Rapada was 3-0 with a 2.82 and limited left-handers to a .186 in 38 1/3 innings.
The Yankees will try to salvage the last game of the opening homestand on Thursday against the Red Sox.
Left-hander Andy Pettitte (2-0, 3.52 ERA) will toe the rubber for the Yankees. Pettitte, 40, was 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees last season, a season cut short by fractured right ankle. Pettitte is 15-9 with a 4.16 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Bosox.
He will opposed by veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster (1-2, 3.74 ERA). Dempster, 35, was a combined 12-8 with a 3.34 ERA between the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers last season. He is 0-4 with a 7.62 ERA in five career starts against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.
REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES
If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.
The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.
The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.
A DOMINANT KING
Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.
But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.
THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL
The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.
They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.
The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.
But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.
One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.
Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.
Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.
That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.
The offense has its own issues.
Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.
There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.
So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.
THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE
The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.
Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.
They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.
Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.
Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.
Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”
The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.
The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.
Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.
DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY
The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.
They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.
One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.
They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.
The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.
Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.
Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.
The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.
Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.
They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.
They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.
The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.
The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.
The gold remains in the Bronx.
THE STARKS OF BOSTON
In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.
That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.
Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.
They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.
They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.
The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.
Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!
It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.
There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.
Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.
THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING
The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.
It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,
Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.
So why should 2013 be any different?
The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.
Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.
They may even finish last.
But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.
But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.
The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.
You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.
They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.
The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.
The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.
Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.
The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.
It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.
Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.
That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.
They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.
- BLUE JAYS
- RED SOX
For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven.