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.
PHILLIES 4, YANKEES 3
Domonic Brown blasted a solo home run with one out in the seventh inning and three batters later Tommy Joseph followed with a two-run shot off right-hander Zach Nuding as Philadelphia rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat New York on Tuesday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.
Despite the fact he was tagged by a two-run home run from catcher J.R. Murphy in the top of the seventh inning, Zach Miner (1-0) was credited with the victory. Jeremy Horst escaped a two-on, two-out jam in the ninth to earn a save. Nuding (0-1) was charged with the loss.
The Yankees behind s strong start from right-hander Jose Ramirez kept the Philiies scoreless and with only one hit until the sixth inning when Kevin Frandsen stroked a two-out double off Jim Miller to score Jimmy Rollins with their first run and tied the score 1-1.
The Yankees scored in the first inning on a one-out single by Ichiro Suzuki – one of his three hits in the game – and Mark Teixeira followed a Suzuki stolen base with a RBI double to right.
The Yankees are 1-3 on the young Grapefruit League season while the Phillies won their first game after an 0-3 start.
- Other than a walk to Ryan Howard in the second inning, Ramirez was perfect in his spring debut. The 23-year-old right-hander was 7-6 with an excellent 3.19 ERA in 18 starts for High-A Tampa last season with 94 strikeouts in 98 2/3 innings. He is worth keeping an eye on in the future because he throws an excellent change-up and slider. Manager Joe Girardi was raving about him after the game.
- Suzuki’s 3-for-3 afternoon gives him a .667 average in the early spring. He slapped one single to the opposite field in left and two up the middle. He also looked amazingly spry for his 39 years in stealing a base in the first inning to set up Teixeira’s RBI double.
- Both relievers David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain made their spring debuts and they each threw a scoreless inning. Chamberlain looked especially sharp in striking out the first two batters he faced.
- Though Austin Romine is trying to make the team and Gary Sanchez is a several years away, Murphy is a minor-league catcher the Yankees believe is being overlooked. He drew some notice for himself on Tuesday by stroking a 400-foot home run to center in the seventh and he added a 400-foot double off the centerfield fence in the ninth. Murphy had a disappointing season in 2012 in hitting a combined .248 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 110 games between Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
- Nuding, 23, was obviously a little out of his element on Tuesday. With one out he missed his location on a fastball and Brown made him pay with a mammoth 450-foot blast. Then with two out he gave up a double to Cody Asche and the game-winning homer to Joseph. Nuding was 8-3 with a 3.89 ERA at Tampa last season.
- Miller, 30, looked shaky in his second outing of the spring. The two-out double by Frandsen followed a walk to Rollins. Miller was 2-1 with 2.89 ERA in 49 2/3 innings in 33 appearances with the Oakland Athletics last season. He is a longshot to make the team but could provide veteran depth at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- The Yankees, once again, had no trouble getting runners on base. They had at least one hit in every inning and ended up with 12 in the game. But they only scored three runs because they did not get a hit that would break the game open. It also did not help they hit into three double plays and committed a batter interference to kill another rally.
Soon Girardi is going to insist his players stay in hyperbaric chambers after games. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup for precautionary reasons with a sore left oblique. Youkilis, 33, will not require any tests but will re-evaluated in a couple of days. Youkilis said he felt a pain just above his left hip. He thought that it was not serious and said if it were a regular season game he would have been able to play. . . . General manager Brian Cashman said the team has no interest in bringing former outfielder Johnny Damon to compete as a potential replacement to the injured Curtis Granderson. Cashman said he no longer sees Damon as a full-time outfielder and he believes that the answer to left-field could be in-house between Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera, Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte and Ronnier Mustelier. . . . Phil Hughes, who is recovering from a bulging disk in his upper back, continued his aquatic rehab at the Yankees’ minor-league complex on Tuesday and continues to progress, Girardi said. Hughes is expected to resume throwing in about a week.
The Yankees return back home to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, to face a Baltimore Orioles split squad.
Young left-hander Nik Turley will get the start for the Yankees. Turley, 23, who is compared to Andy Pettitte, was 9-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts between at Tampa. He will be opposed by veteran right-hander Jake Arrieta.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network and on tape delay at 2 a.m. on Thursday by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 13, ORIOLES 3
When you are talking about the New York Yankees since their season pinnacle on July 18 until now, it has been the proverbial one step forward and two steps back. But on Sunday their slumping bats awoke to take a giant leap forward and the Baltimore Orioles paid the price by allowing the Bronx Bombers to leave Oriole Park at Camden Yards in first place in the American League East.
Curtis Granderson has been so horrible at the plate that he was benched to start the game. But he came off the bench with a vengeance as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning to swat the first pitch he saw into the Orioles’ bullpen in left-center. He ended the day with five RBIs to lead a relentless 14-hit attack on Oriole pitching as New York salvaged a split of their four-game battle for supremacy in the division.
It was the Yankees’ biggest blowout victory of the season and it could not have come at a much better time.
Joba Chamberlain (1-0) pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief while striking out four of the five batters he retired to earn the victory.
Meanwhile, Oriole left-hander Zach Britton (5-2) found control to be an elusive thing in the fourth inning and he was saddled with the loss.
Britton perhaps got an inkling of how frustrating the day would be when Derek Jeter opened the contest with a infield single and he advanced to second on a throwing error by third baseman Manny Machado. Britton then walked Nick Swisher.
Alex Rodriguez stopped the momentum a bit by hitting into a double play but Britton then served up an RBI single to Robinson Cano.
In the fourth, Britton found that his sinker was sinking out of the strike zone and he paid dearly for it.
Rodriguez singled to begin the inning and Britton then walked Cano and Russell Martin to load the bases.
Steve Pearce then drew a bases-loaded walk to score Rodriguez to make 2-0. After Andruw Jones struck out, Jayson Nix hit a dying quail single into shallow center to score Cano. Ichiro Suzuki followed with a “Baltimore-chop” to shortstop J.J. Hardy and Suzuki beat out Hardy’s throw to first to score Martin.
Britton then ended his day appropriately by issuing a bases-loaded walk to Jeter that made it 5-0.
Britton gave up five runs on five hits and five walks and struck out two in 3 1/3 innings.
However, the Yankees were unable to savor their four-run inning for long because starter Freddy Garcia stumbled in the bottom of the inning.
Garcia walked Nate McLouth and then hit Hardy with a pitch. Wilson Betemit followed with a two-run double to center and, one out later, Matt Wieters plated Betemit with a single to right.
Manager Joe Girardi, showing the veteran Yankee right-hander one of the shortest leashes of the season, removed Garcia in favor of Chamberlain to keep the game at 5-3.
The Yankee bullpen of Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Cory Wade and Derek Lowe threw 4 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball, surrendering just one hit and two walks the rest of the way.
At the same time, the Yankees continued to pile on the runs in front of a paid crowd of 40,346.
Granderson, who has been benched the past two games mired in a 5-for-43 (.116) slump, then teed off on Jake Arrieta’s first offering in the sixth inning for his 35th home run of the season and his 100th home run with the Yankees.
Granderson later really broke the game open with a two-run single in the seventh that ran the score to 8-3 and he and Jeter keyed a five-run eighth inning that buried the Orioles and sent their new-found bandwagon fans home disappointed.
Jeter blasted a two-run home run, his 15th of the season, off Kevin Gregg and Granderson later added a two-run double.
The Yankees ran their record against the Orioles this season to 9-9 and they are 79-61 on the season. The Orioles are 78-62.
- Granderson’s 3-for-3 day with a homer, a double and five RBIs was a welcome sight for fans who were growing disgusted with him swinging and missing at breaking pitches in the dirt or out of the strike zone. Granderson is the team’s leading home run hitter and, in order to have a shot at the playoffs, he has got to start producing better. Sunday was a nice first step.
- Chamberlain has never looked better and perhaps has turned the corner in his comeback from Tommy John surgery. Chamberlain reached as high as 97 miles per hour on his fastball and, even better, he had command on the location of it. It is the first time Chamberlain has struck out four batters in an outing since his electric rookie season in 2007.
- Jeter was 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs. Jeter is batting .324 this season, which third in the American League. He trails Mike Trout of the Angels by .004 and he could possibly win his first batting title at age 38.
- Garcia’s magical run as a starter may be over. He has failed to pitch five innings in three of his last four starts and he is 0-1 with a 7.64 ERA in those four starts. With Ivan Nova poised to return to the rotation and Andy Pettitte right behind him, Garcia likely will not start another game this season. He is 7-6 with a 5.19 ERA overall.
- Swisher is in a worse slump than Granderson. He was 0-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout on Sunday and he is now hitless in his last 28 at-bats. His batting average has dipped from .271 to .255 in that span. The question is with the team in a pennant fight can they afford to bench him?
- Jones has also fallen on hard times and he was 0-for-2 with a strikeout on Sunday. He is now batting .202. Teams are beating the bushes to toss left-handers at the Yankees because it neutralizes lefty hitters like Cano and Gramderson and benches Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez. Jones’ ineptitude at the plate has been a big bonus for the opposing teams.
Mark Teixeira is scheduled to undergo an MRI in New York on Monday and it is possible he may miss the final 3 1/2 weeks of the season. Teixeira re-aggravated his left calf injury while unsuccessfully trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Girardi said he would use Swisher and Pearce at first base to replace Teixeira. . . . Pettitte is scheduled to throw a side session on Monday at Yankee Stadium and he hopes to be cleared to continue his comeback from a fractured left ankle. If the team physician clears him, Pettitte will then throw a simulated game of about 60 pitches and then could be activated off the disabled list.
The Yankees have earned a day off on Monday before resuming their pennant chase on Tuesday at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (13-10, 3.14 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks and struck out three in six innings in a victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in his last start. Kuroda is 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA against the Bosox this season.
The struggling Red Sox will counter with left-hander Jon Lester (9-11, 4.99 ERA). Lester surrendered three runs on nine hits over six innings in a victory over the Seattle Mariners. Lester is 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this season.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.
YANKEES 6, ORIOLES 4 (10 INNINGS)
If ever Nick Swisher needed redemption it was on Wednesday night and he could not have picked a better moment for it.
After Swisher had struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch with one out and a runner at third in the eighth inning he launched a two-run home run in the 10th inning that broke a 4-4 tie and New York went on to sweep Baltimore at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Swisher’s blast came off Orioles right-hander Kevin Gregg (0-1). Rafael Soriano (1-0) pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings of relief to earn the victory. Mariano Rivera came in to close out the Orioles in the 10th to earn his second save in as many nights.
For the second consecutive night, the two teams ended up in extra innings as the Yankees got a two-out, opposite-field single from Curtis Granderson in the seventh inning to tie the game up. Earlier in the game, Granderson had given the Yankees an early 2-0 lead with a two-run home run in the first inning off Orioles starter Jake Arrieta.
However, CC Sabathia surrendered that lead in the second inning when Robert Andino touched him for a two-out, two-run single with the bases loaded in the second inning.
Three innings later, Sabathia was given a 3-2 lead when Derek Jeter grounded out with the bases loaded to score Raul Ibanez with the tie-breaking run.
But, once again, Sabathia ran into trouble in the bottom of the fifth. After singles by J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones, Mark Reynolds stroked a two-out, two-run double to score both runners and the Orioles reclaimed the lead until the Yankees tied it and sent the game into extra innings.
With the victory, the Yankees evened their season record at 3-3. The hard-luck Orioles fell to 3-3 with the loss.
- Swisher’s second home run of the season was certainly heart-warming after he had failed so miserably to score runner from third in the eighth inning. But it also erased a bad play from Eduardo Nunez in that same 10th inning. With one out, Nunez had singled and he was on second with Mark Teixeira batting when he was picked off first base by catcher Matt Wieters. Teixeira managed to hit a bloop opposite field double off Gregg and Swisher erased his bad at-bat and Nunez’s brain cramp with a long blast into the bleachers in right-center.
- The Yankees’ bullpen again was again stellar. Sabathia was unable to give the Yankees a long outing for which they were hoping. Instead he left after six innings after having thrown 112 pitches. But Boone Logan, Soriano and Rivera combined to shut out the O’s on two hits and two walks and struck out four in four innings of work.
- Granderson drove in three runs after having gone 2-for-5 with a home run and a single. Granderson entered the game with a .150 average and had no home runs and no RBIs.
- Robinson Cano turned in a dazzling defensive play in the bottom of the eighth inning. Wieters bounced a grounder up the middle for what looked like would be a single. But Cano ranged to his right to scoop it and he threw off-balance to first base to get Wieters by six strides. The fact that Cano did not win his second Gold Glove last season was a crime.
- Though I am not worried about Sabathia in the long-term, it is still troubling that Sabathia recorded his second straight subpar performance. He gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks, although he did fan eight batters over six innings. Sabathia’s early ERA is at 6.75 but you still have to credit him for battling to keep the Yankees in the game.
- Nunez entered the game as a pinch-runner for Alex Rodrigiuz in the eighth and stole a base. He was later stranded at third when Russell Martin struck out to end the inning. Nunez, however, remains a butcher in the field. Nunez went in to play third base and promptly made a bad throw to first on Ronny Paulino grounder. Fortunately, Teixeira saved him an error by catching the ball and tagging Paulino before he reached the bag. Girradi wisely replaced Nunez with former six-time Gold Glove third baseman Eric Chavez in the 10th.
- Though the Yankees were 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position, they still keep failing to get big hits when they have runners on base – particularly with two outs. The Yankees loaded the bases with nobody out in the fifth and they promptly made three consecutive outs, though one run did score on a Jeter groundout. They also failed to push any runs across with runners in scoring position in the seventh and eighth innings.
The Yankees entered the game with a bullpen in tatters because David Phelps and David Robertson were unavailable to pitch and the Yankees were unsure whether Soriano would be able to throw because of a cracked fingernail on the middle finger of his right pitching hand. In addition, Rivera had pitched the past two days and his availability was unclear. Because Sabtahia was pitching and the Yankees had an off day on Thursday, they elected not call up another pitcher from Triple-A. Aa result, manager Joe Girardi shifted Phil Hughes into the bullpen just in case he was needed.
The Yankees get a well-deserved day off today and they will host their 110th home opener on Friday against the Los Angeles Angels.
Fan favorite Jorge Posada will be honored and he will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (0-1, 6.35 ERA) will make his home debut for the Yankees coming off a disappointing road debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. Kuroda gave up six runs (four earned) and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. He is 1-2 with a 2.45 ERA in his carer against the Angels.
Kuroda will be opposed by right-hander Ervin Santana (0-1, 7.94 ERA), who struggled in his first start of 2012 also. He gave up seven runs (six earned) on seven hits against the Royals on Sunday. He is 5-5 with a 5.55 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, ORIOLES 4 (12 INNINGS)
One month ago, Raul Ibanez was hitting .051 in spring training but his manager, his teammates and he never doubted that he could still contribute for the Yankees. With two out in the 12th inning on Tuesday, Ibanez stroked an RBI double that provided a hard-earned victory for his new team.
On a night when the Yankees were 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position as he stepped to the plate, the 39-year-old designated hitter drove in Robinson Cano with what proved to be the game-winning run as New York defeated Baltimore at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Former Orioles left-hander Clay Rapada (1-0) pitched a perfect two-thirds of an inning of relief in the top of the 12th to get credit for the victory. Orioles right-hander Pedro Strop (0-1) took the loss. Mariano Rivera came on to pitch a 1-2-3 bottom of the inning to earn his first save of the season and the 604th of his career.
The game was knotted at 4-4 since the top of the sixth inning when the Yankees rallied for three runs off Orioles left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen, a native of Taiwan who was making his major-league debut. Aided by a two-out error by Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds on a hard-hit grounder by Russell Martin, Brett Gardner followed with an RBI single to right to score the tying run.
A combination of hitting futility (the Orioles were 0-for-8 with RISP) and some excellent pitching, particularly by Yankees rookie right-hander David Phelps, kept the game going until the decisive 12th inning.
Cano led off the frame with a hard-hit smash off the glove of Reynolds that rolled into shallow left for a double. Alex Rodriguez advanced Cano to third by directing a slow grounder to second baseman Robert Andino. Mark Teixeira followed with a Baltimore chop grounder to Andino in which Cano would have been thrown out. However, Cano retreated to third as Teixeira was thrown out at first.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, perhaps remembering Ibanez’s spring problems, then ordered Strop to walk Curtis Granderson intentionally. Ibanez subsequently laced a 1-2 pitch from Strop over the head of Orioles center-fielder Adam Jones. The ball bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double and Cano trotted in with the eventual winning run.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 2-3. The Orioles fell to 3-2.
- Ibanez is proving to be an effective bat against right-handers this season. His game-winning RBI was his sixth RBI of the season and he leads the team in that category. Ibanez entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and he was 2-for-3 and he even stole a base after he singled in the eighth.
- The Yankees’ relief pitching was spectacular and a new bullpen star is born in Phelps. The 25-year-old right-hander entered the game with two out in the fifth inning and he pitched a perfect 2 1/3 innings, striking out four batters looking. The Yankees’ relievers (Phelps, Boone Logan, Cory Wade, David Robertson, Rapada and Rivera) combined to shut out the Orioles on just two hits and two walks and fanned 12 batters in 7 1/3 innings. By the looks of Phelps this bullpen is even stronger than it was in 2011, when it was the best in baseball.
- Rodriguez was 0-for-5 in the game and is now hitting .158 on the young season. But I have to give him major props for giving himself up in the 12th inning to advance Cano to third base. So many times this Yankee team seems so loaded with stars, it looks like it is beneath them to play “small ball” or do fundamental things like this. But give A-Rod credit. He did something that helped the team win.
- Derek Jeter was 2-for-5 in the game, including a leadoff home run in the first inning. In his two games at Camden Yards, Jeter is 6-for-10 with a home run, a double and four singles, two runs scored and two RBIs. Jeter has more RBIs against the Orioles than any active player.
- The usually reliable Freddy Garcia was anything but on Tuesday. The Orioles actually scored only one run via an RBI – a solo home run in the first inning by J.J. Hardy off Garcia. Another scored on a dropped throw, which was scored an error, by Martin. The other two runs scored on wild pitches by Garcia. In fact, Garcia uncorked a career-high five wild pitches in his 4 2/3 innings of work. He threw only four wild pitches all of last season. Garcia surrendered four runs (three earned on four hits, three walks and he hit one batter. Garcia said after the game the cold weather conditions left him unable to grip his split-finger pitch properly.
- I have to give a “What Was He Thinking” Bronx cheer to third-base coach Rob Thomson for a decision he made in the seventh inning. On a cold night, Nick Swisher was struck in the left toe on a pitch from Matt Lindstrom and he limped all the way to first base. When Cano followed with a double into the left-field corner, Thomson waved Swisher home from third and he was thrown out at the plate on a relay from left-fielder Endy Chavez to Hardy to Matt Wieters. That decision likely lengthened the game to the 12 innings the teams eventually played.
- Rodriguez, Teixeira and Granderson combined to go 1-for-15 in the game. All three are hitting below .200 on the season. Teixeira and Granderson are both hitting .150. But ice cold starts in April and Teixeira are no strangers, as Yankee fans are already aware.
If you perhaps were wondering why manager Joe Girardi did not use Rafael Soriano in the game, it was because of a split fingernail on his pitching hand. Soriano tore the nail on the middle finger of his right hand as he was warming up in the bullpen in the seventh inning. Girardi said he is unsure if Soriano would be available to pitch on Wednesday. . . . Tuesday actually marked the 99th birthday of the Yankees. On April 10, 1913 the New York Highlanders became the New York Yankees.
The Yankees will have a chance to sweep the Orioles in their own park on Wednesday night.
CC Sabathia (0-0, 7.50 ERA) hopes for some better luck than his 2012 debut against the Rays where he gave up five runs on hits and three walks in six innings. After a start like that the Orioles are the perfect team for Sabathia to face. He is 16-2 with a 2.74 ERA against them in his career.
Right-hander Jake Arrieta (1-0, 0.00 ERA) will pitch for the O’s after shutting out the Twins for seven innings in Baltimore’s opener. He is 2-1 with a 3.99 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 1 – BALTIMORE ORIOLES
The 2011 season began with a lot of optimism because of the great job Buck Showalter did in turning around the Orioles at the end of the 2010 season.
But 2011 was much like every season for the Orioles since 1999. It fizzled into frustration in a hurry. They finished with a record of 69-93 and they were a distant fifth in the A.L. East, 28 games behind the Yankees.
This coming season promises to pretty similar because the Orioles have not made a lot of changes to their roster. With the exeption of Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott and Derrek Lee, this pretty much the same group that floundered through much of 2011.
One big reason is that the Orioles banked their future hopes on a collection of young starting pitchers like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. They progressed through the minors but none of them have established themselves as major-league quality starters. And if you want to compete in this division, you have to have good starting pitching.
The Orioles compounded that issue by trading their best starting pitcher, Guthrie, to the Colorado Rockies for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. As a result, the Orioles’ “ace” is former Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter, who was 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA in an injury-shortened season.
The Orioles, led by general manager Dan Duquette, are now shifting their sites overseas and the team signed two pitchers from the Japanese League in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.
Chen, 26, is a left-hander from Taiwan who has compiled a 36-30 record and a 2.48 ERA in four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. He also has pretty good stuff with 500 career strikeouts in 631 1/3 innings.
Wada, 30, is another left-hander and he has overcome two injury-plagued seasons to compile a combined 33-13 record with a 2.29 ERA in the last two seasons with Fukuoda Softbank Hawks. While Chen has better stuff, Wada is considered to have better control.
Both figure prominently in the Orioles plans for 2012 and both likely will be in the rotation this season, depending on how they progress in the spring.
Hammel, 29, was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA last season with the Rockies. The tall right-hander figures to be slotted as the No. 4 starter.
The Orioles still have high hopes for Matusz, Britton, Arrieta and Tillman. But it appears Britton and Arrieta are going to get most of the attention this spring. The lefty Britton suffered a shoulder injury last season and he finished the season 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA. Arrieta was 10-8 with 5.05 ERA.
The bullpen was a strength of this team when Koji Uehara was around but he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline last July.
The closer job is up for grabs between incumbent closer Kevin Gregg, who saved 22 games but blew seven chances and was 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA, and Jim Johnson, who saved nine games and was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA. Lindtsrom, who saved 23 games for the Astros in 2010, can also be shifted into the closer role.
The rest of the bullpen will likely be made up with lefty Darren O’Day and former starters Alfredo Simon, Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken.
A few years ago, the Orioles seem to invested their future into second baseman Brian Roberts, right-fielder Nick Markakis and center-fielder Adam Jones and have built around those players.
Unfortunately, Roberts has suffered through injury after injury and Markakis and Jones have underperformed expectations.
With the Orioles lack of ability to attract high-priced free-agent talent, the Orioles have to rely on that trio as the core of the team again.
The Orioles may also begin getting what they expected out of catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 22 home runs and won a Gold Glove for his defensive work behind the plate. The former No. 1 pick also is showing some signs of leadership on the team.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy finally shook off injuries that plagued him since he was with the Brewers in 2008 as he hit 30 home runs and drove in 80 runs.
Third baseman Mark Reynolds was pretty much as advertised. He did not hit for average and struck out 196 times but he also hit 37 home runs and drove in 87 runs.
Former Rangers first baseman Chris Davis is pretty much a carbon copy of Reynolds at first base only he does most of his striking out from the left side.
The Orioles will likely platoon veterans Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold in the outfield and look for the Orioles to make a late bid for a DH.
They could re-sign veteran Vladimir Guerrero or chose from among Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to replace Scott.
Former Yankee Wilson Betemit will be the top reserve on the infield and middle infield reserve Robert Andino will return to provide glovework behind Roberts and Hardy. Former Rangers backstop Taylor Teagarden will be the backup to Wieters.
The Orioles could use the spring to look for some veteran help in the outfield to bolster their bench a bit.
With Jones, Wieters, Hardy, Reynolds and Davis the Orioles seem to have plenty of firepower. Plus when Roberts is healthy and Markakis is going good, they can get on base and steal a base or two. But the overall offense may be too geared towards power over putting the ball iin play and advancing runners.
The Orioles, as a team, strike out way too much and it cost them because their pitching is not that strong.
The Orioles are gambling on two Japanese League pitchers and two journeyman American starters (Hunter and Hammel) to give them time to develop their young pitchers like Britton and Arrieta. The jury is still out on Matusz, who looked like a surefire star in the making in 2010.
Without a consistent starting rotation, any effort Showalter makes in the bullpen could prove futile. A good bullpen only limits the damage. The bullpen should be strong but it is obvious they are going to tire quickly if they are constantly coming in the fourth or fifth inning.
Barring another Showalter miracle, this team is headed for more frustration in 2012. They simply can’t compete with the big boys (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox) and they merely hold their own against the Blue Jays. If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the Orioles will finish fifth again.
It is a spot for which they are built.
ON TUESDAY – PART 2 TORONTO BLUE JAYS