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 6, WHITE SOX 5
If Yankees manager Joe Girardi wants to have a conversation after the season with Mariano Rivera just to make sure he really wants to retire who could blame him. The 43-year-old future Hall-of Fame closer has shown no signs of his age or lost an of his effectiveness.
Rivera came with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning on Wednesday and “Mo’ed” down all four batters he faced for a rare four-out save to propel New York to a three-game sweep of Chicago in front of a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 36,082.
The Yankees actually were cruising with a 6-1 lead behind CC Sabathia in the top of the eighth when Girardi pulled him with Alexei Ramirez on second and Paul Konerko on first after he singled with one out.
Little did Girardi and the Yankees realize that the usually reliable David Robertson would have a meltdown that allowed the White Sox to climb back into the game.
Avisail Gracia greeted Roberston with an RBI single to left to score Ramirez and, one out later, Dayan Viciedo drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.
Josh Phegley followed with a two-run single to left and Marcus Semien, who was making his major-league debut, ripped an RBI single up the middle to bring the Chisox to within a run of the Yankees and send Robertson to the dugout.
Rivera came on to strike out Alejandro De Aza looking to shut the rally down and he then pitched a perfect ninth to earn his 41st save in 46 opportunities this season.
Sabathia (13=11) pitched 7 1/3 string innings to run his career record against the White Sox to 19-4. He gave up three runs on five hits and four walks while he struck four in his longest outing since Aug. 7.
Other than the two runs, Sabathia was charged with in the eighth, he only gave up a single run in the first inning when Garcia stroked a two-out, opposite-field double to drive in Gordon Beckham, who had drawn a one-out walk.
The Yankees, however, tied it with two out in the bottom of the first when Robinson Cano blasted his 26th home run of the season to right-field off right-hander Erik Johnson, who was also making his major-league debut.
The Yankees added four runs in the fourth inning off Johnson (0-1) as Alex Rodriguez led off with a lined single to center and Ichiro Suzuki reached first when Johnson’s throw to first base pulled Jeff Keppinger off the bag for an error.
Lyle Overbay followed with an RBI single and, one out later, Brett Gardner laced a two-run triple off the wall in left-center. Cano then capped the inning by driving in his 91st run of the year by scoring Gardner on a sharp comebacker off Johnson that was scored as an infield single.
Johnson, 22, was charged with five runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks while he fanned one batter in six innings. That one batter was Suzuki, who struck out with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning.
The Yankees added what looked to be just another tack on run in the seventh inning off right-hander Daniel Webb, who was the third player for the White Sox who was making his major-league debut.
Derek Jeter drew a leadoff walk and Cano advanced him to third with a lined single to right for his third hit of the night.
Alfonso Soriano then scored Jeter with a sacrifice fly to deep right for his 91st RBI of the season and his 40th in just 37 games with the Yankees. That run actually ended up being the margin of victory for the Yankees, who managed a home sweep of the Chisox after they swept the Yankees in a three-game series at U.S. Cellular Field a month ago.
With the victory the Yankees improved to 75-64 and they remain in third place in the American League East eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. However, they are just 2 1/2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for a wild-card spot. The last-place White Sox fell to 56-82, assuring them a season below .500.
- Cano is red-hot at the plate at just the right time for the Yankees’ playoff push. He was 3-for-4 on Wednesday with a pair of singles, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. Since Aug. 2, Cano is 42-for-117 (.359) with five home runs and 21 RBIs. Soriano is providing him with a lot of protection in the cleanup spot and he is getting better pitches to hit as a result.
- Gardner has also been on fire of late. He was 2-for-4 with a single, a triple, a run scored and two RBIs on the night. In his past nine games, Gardner is 12-for-35 (.343) with six doubles and a triple, eight runs scored and four RBIs. His triple on Wednesday was his eighth of the season, which is a career high.
- Sabathia actually pitched creditably after going through a stretch in which his ERA was an incredible 7.33 in his past nine starts. Sabathia has managed to win four his past five starts but he has been getting by with more run support than he received earlier in the season. The Yankees are hoping he can turn in a very good September to get the team into the playoffs.
- Robertson’s outing was very jarring because he was rocked for two runs on three hits and a walk in just one-third of an inning. Robertson had only given up one earned run over his past 29 1/3 innings covering 17 appearances since June 19. Considering his season ERA is still 1.88 after his outing on Wednesday I doubt Girardi will lose sleep over it.
- Suzuki was 0-for-4 and did allow Johnson to escape a bases-loaded jam in the first when he struck out on a pitch that actually bounced in the batter’s box at his feet. He did not get a ball out of the infield and he is just 1-for-9 in his past four games and is hitting just .182 in his past 10 games.
Girardi dropped a bombshell when he announced on Wednesday that right-hander Phil Hughes has been shifted from the starting rotation to the bullpen in favor of left-hander David Huff. Hughes, 27, is 4-13 with a 4.86 ERA in 26 starts this season. He has lost 11 of his past 13 decisions and he has a 6.12 ERA since August. Huff, 29, has compiled a 2-0 record with 1.13 ERA in 16 innings covering seven appearances with the Yankees, most of them in long relief. Huff is scheduled to pitch in Saturday’s game against the Red Sox as part of the four-game home weekend series. . . . Right-hander Ivan Nova was named the American League Pitcher of the Month for August on Wednesday. Nova, 26, was 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his six starts and he is coming off his first major-league complete-game shutout in his last start against the Orioles on Saturday.
The Yankees’ hopes to win the A.L. East hinge on their four-game weekend series with the Red Sox that starts on Thursday.
Nova (8-4, 2.88 ERA) will be starting for the Yankees and he is the team’s hottest pitcher of late. Nova held the Orioles to three hits, walked one and struck out five batters in what was his most dominant start of the season. Nova is 2-2 with a 4.85 ERA in his career against the Bosox.
Nova will be opposed by right-hander Jake Peavy (3-1, 3.18 ERA). Peavy held the White Sox to two runs on five hits and a walk in seven innings to win his last start on Saturday. However, Peavy has had no luck against the Yankees. He is 0-4 with a 3.86 ERA lifetime against them.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, WHITE SOX 0
Nothing will put the chill on some red-hot bats like a real cool pitcher on a sweltering afternoon in the Bronx, N.Y. That is exactly what 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda did to the Chicago White Sox on Saturday.
Kuroda, who was having trouble all afternoon throwing his swing-and-miss split-finger fastball, calmly switched gears and used his mid-90’s fastball and slider to baffle the White Sox for seven shutout innings as he ran his record to 5-1 in his last seven starts and give the Yankees’ pitching staff a much-needed boost.
Kuroda (8-7) struck out a career-tying high of 11 batters and gave up just three singles and one walk in a dazzling display of pitching artistry over 104 pitches in 93-degree heat in front of a crowd of 46,895 at Yankee Stadium.
To back up the strong starting pitching they got from Kuroda, the Yankees used their favorite weapon – the home run – to saddle right-hander Jake Peavy (6-5) with yet another loss in June. During the month of June, Peavy was 0-4 with two no-decisions in his six starts despite compiling an ERA of 2.76.
Curtis Granderson hit the first of a trio of solo home runs Peavy surrendered in the first inning. Granderson smacked a 1-0 fastball into the second deck in straightaway right-field to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. It was Granderson’s 23rd home run of the season.
An inning later, newly discovered super-sub Dewayne Wise laced a first-pitch fastball off the wall in right-center to score Nick Swisher from first to give the Yankees another run with two outs in the second inning.
Wise then added to his most recent hot streak on this homestand in the fifth inning with a second-deck rainbow solo shot into right-field for his second home of the season and his second in his last three starts. In the five games in which he played in the field in this homestand, Wise was 7-for-11 (.636) with two home runs and five RBis. And don’t forget his perfect two-thirds of an inning of relief on Friday to take the lead on the Yankees in ERA with 0.00.
Robinson Cano ended his red-hot June with his 11th home run of the month in the sixth, a titanic blast into the second deck in right on the first offering of the inning from Peavy. It was Cano’s 19th home run of the season.
Though he pitched all eight innings, Peavy gave up four runs on eight hits and he also struck out 11.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth, striking out two and Boone Logan and Rafael Soriano combined to finish the ninth as the Yankees ended the four-game winning streak of the White Sox and halted their disastrous two-game losing streak to the Chisox in which they were outscored 18-10.
With the victory, the Yankees’ season record improved to 47-30 and they are five games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The White Sox fell to 42-36.
- Kuroda certainly stepped up in the absence of CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte and pitched like an ace on Saturday. Ten of 11 strikeouts were swinging strikes and some of them came on fastballs up in the strike zone. During his 5-1 run in his seven starts, he has failed to pitch seven innings only once and his ERA over that stretch is 1.65.
- Wise has mostly been used as a late-inning defensive replacement for Raul Ibanez in left-field. But in his three starts in the past six games, Wise is 6-for-10 with two home runs and five RBIs. The 34-year-old veteran perhaps is proving to manager Joe Girardi that he is deserving of some more starts.
- Cano probably does not want June to end. During the month he hit a robust .340 with 11 home runs and 21 RBIs. In the 30 games this month, Cano failed to get at least one hit in only four games and he had multiple hits in 10 games. After a slow start in April, Cano is hitting .308 with 19 home runs and 44 RBIs.
- Alex Rodriguez was 0-for-4 on the day with two strikeouts looking, a fielder’s choice groundout and a double-play grounder. That lowered his season average to .265. Though Rodriguez had his best month by hitting six home runs and driving in 16 runs, he hit a miserable .232 and struck out 30 times in 95 at-bats.
- Mark Teixeira also was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a routine groundout. He finished June in a 3-for-28 (.107) slide that has dropped his season average back to .244. He hit .219 in June with four home runs and 14 RBIs. The Yankees had a hot June in winning 20 games but Teixeira and Rodriguez had very little to do with it.
- Derek Jeter was 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in Saturday’s game. Very quietly, Jeter’s batting average is getting close to slipping under .300. Jeter is 8-for-42 (.190) with one home run and one RBI and that has lowered his season average to an even .300. On June 1, Jeter was hitting .340.
A day after rookie right-hander Adam Warren was shelled for six runs on eight hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings in his major-league debut against the White Sox on Friday, he was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and replaced on the 25-man roster by right-hander D.J. Mitchell. Mitchell, 25, is in his second stint with the Yankees and he will used as a long man out of the bullpen. Mitchell was 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two relief appearances with the Yankees in his last call-up. . . . The Yankees announced on Saturday that 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps will start in place of the injured Sabathia on Wednesday in St. Petersburg, FL, against the Tampa Bay Rays. Phelps gave up two runs in 3 1/4 innings and took the loss in relief against the White Sox on Friday. But he is 1-3 with a 3.16 ERA for the Yankees this season. Like Mitchell, Phelps is in his second stint with the Yankees. . . . Russell Martin got his first start in the last three days and only his second since June 23 because of lower-back stiffness. Martin was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts but threw out Alejandro De Aza attempting to steal second in the first inning.
On Sunday, the Yankees will conduct their 66th Annual Old-Timers Day at Yankee Stadium and legends such as Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and Paul O’Neill will be on hand for the ceremonial introductions and the game. The festivities begin at 11 a.m. EDT and it will be broadcast by the YES Network.
After the game, the Yankees will look for a split of their four-game weekend series with the White Sox.
Phil Hughes (8-6, 4.48 ERA) will look to continue his most recent success as he takes the mound on Sunday. Hughes has won five of his last six starts and spun eight scoreless innings on Tuesday in a victory over the Cleveland Indians in his last start. He is 2-1 with a 0.75 ERA in his career against the Chisox.
Hughes will be opposed by veteran right-hander Gavin Floyd (6-7, 4.80 ERA). Floyd tossed seven scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, his second straight start he has not allowed a run. However, he is just 2-2 with a 5.98 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 2:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, WHITE SOX 2
There is an old baseball axiom that states the best way to measure a great pitcher is not when he is pitching at his best but how effective he can be pitching without his good stuff. Never was that old saying more true than on Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
CC Sabathia was handed an early 3-0 lead and he had to finesse and reach deep into his arsenal to pitch eight innings and win a major league-best 16th game as New York edged Chicago to bring them within one game of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East.
Sabathia (16-5) was touched for two runs on 10 hits and he walked none and struck out six over eight innings. Alexei Ramirez accounted for the two runs in the fourth when he followed a leadoff infield single by Juan Pierre with line drive home run deep into the left-field bleachers for his 10th home run of the season.
Protecting that slim one-run lead over the next four innings proved difficult because the White Sox put a total of six base-runners on during that stretch. However, Sabathia wriggled off the hook each time.
In the fifth, the White Sox had runners on first and second with no outs but Sabathia induced a popup from Brent Lillibridge and Brent Morel lined into a double play. In the sixth, Ramirez cracked a one-out double but Sabathia got Carlos Quentin on a flyout and he struck out Adam Dunn swinging for the second time. In the seventh, A.J. Pierzynski stroked a one-out double and one out later Lillibridge reached on an infield single. Sabathia ended the inning by getting Morel to fly out.
In the eighth, Quentin reached on a two-out single. But Sabathia closed out his night by striking out Dunn swinging for the third time.
Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth to preserve the victory for his 28th save of the season, which ties Tigers hotdog closer Jose Valverde for the American League lead in saves.
The Yankees scored two runs early off White Sox starter Jake Peavy (4-5).
Brett Gardner opened the game with an infield single and he scored on Curtis Granderson’s double into the right-field corner. One out later, Robinson Cano sliced a ball past Dunn at first and into right-field to score Granderson and the Yankees led 2-0.
They added a run in the third inning after Granderson doubled and Mark Teixeira followed with single to right to move Granderson to third. Cano hit into a double play but Granderson scored from third and Peavy got tough the rest of the way, limiting the Yankees to just two hits and a walk over the next four innings.
But the Yankees’ ace left-hander and their Hall-of-Fame closer managed to shut down the White Sox as well.
With the victory the Yankees are a season-high 23 games over .500 at 65-42. They also now have won four games in a row and, by virtue of the Red Sox’ 9-5 loss to Cleveland, they have drawn to within one game of Boston in the division despite the fact that the Red Sox recorded their best July record in their history. The White Sox fell to 52-55.
- Granderson hit two doubles and scored two more runs as he continues to make a joke out of the runs scored category. He has a major league-best 94 runs scored, which leads Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury by 13. Taking into account his 28 home runs and 79 RBIs and his excellent play in center-field this season, he is becoming a bone fide MVP candidate.
- Sabathia may have given up 10 hits and he only had one 1-2-3 inning (the first) in the game), but he showed his mettle by buckling down whenever the White Sox mounted a threat. Sabathia is now 9-1 since June 14 and he lowered his season ERA to 2.55, which is fourth in the American League.
- Rivera looked especially sharp in recording his 28th save. He needed only nine pitches to retire the White Sox in order in the ninth. Rivera lowered his season ERA to 1.74 and he now has 587 career saves, 14 away from tying Trevor Hoffman for the top spot.
- Cano may have singled in a run in the first inning but in his next three at-bats he grounded into a pair of double plays and struck out swinging. After his five-hit night against the Orioles on Saturday, Cano is 1-for-6.
- Nick Swisher also struggled, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield. After his 3-for-6 night on Saturday, Swisher is 1-for-7.
- Francisco Cervelli was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts looking.
Derek Jeter did not play on Monday because of bruise on his right middle finger. Jeter was struck on the knuckle on a pitch from Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta in the third inning of Sunday’s game at Yankee Stadium. Jeter was removed from the game in the fourth inning and X-rays taken later showed no broken bones. Manager Joe Girardi said the injury does not appear to be serious and Jeter should be able to play on Tuesday. . . . The Yankees have elected to keep Ivan Nova on the roster and he is scheduled to pitch the finale of the four-game series against the White Sox on Thursday. Nova (9-4, 4.01 ERA) may actually be auditioning for the No. 5 spot in the rotation against right-hander Phil Hughes, who has not pitched well since his return form the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. If Nova pitches another good game, Hughes may be shifted to the bullpen. . . . Alex Rodriguez is scheduled to begin baseball-related workouts at the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa, FL, on Thursday. There is no date for his return but the Yankees believe he could be ready by the second week of August. Rodriguez has been on the disabled list since undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee on July 11. . . . Brian Cashman told reporters on Monday that he was not upset the Yankees were unable to make deal for pitching and a bench player. Cashman said teams were looking at the Yankees’ most prized minor-league prospects and Cashman said he would rather keep them for what was being offered in return.
The Yankees will continue their four-game road series with the White Sox on Tuesday and it will be an important day for Phil Hughes.
Hughes (1-3, 8.24 ERA) will be pitching to retain his spot in the rotation. He is 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA in his four starts since coming off the disabled list. He is 1-1 with a 1.00 ERA in his career against the White Sox.
The White Sox will start left-hander John Danks (4-8, 3.79 ERA). Danks has not allowed more than two runs in any of his last five starts. He is 4-0 with 0.86 ERA since June 6. However, lifetime he is 2-2 with a 7.36 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.