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!
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.
Hit By Pitch Early, A-Rod Spurs 4-Run Rally With Homer
YANKEES 9, RED SOX 6
Revenge may be a dish best served cold. But when Alex Rodriguez is the chef, the pot somehow boils over from a steaming cauldron.
After being deliberately hit with the fourth of four inside pitches from right-hander Ryan Dempster as he led off the second inning, Rodriguez blasted a 400-plus-foot rocket to the deepest part of centerfield at Fenway Park to lead off the sixth as part of a four-run rally that led New York to a victory over Boston on Sunday.
After Rodriguez’s second home run of the season the Yankees loaded the bases and chased Dempster from the premises. Left-hander Drake Britton came on and Brett Gardner greeted him with a three-run triple to center that turned what had been a 6-4 deficit into a 7-6 lead.
With a national television audience watching via ESPN, the sellout crowd of 37,917 that had cheered loudly when Rodriguez was hit in the second inning suddenly became eerily quiet, perhaps realizing that when their team is holding an 8 1/2 lead on the Yankees it might not have been too prudent for Dempster to awakened a sleeping lion.
Dempster (6-9) faced 22 batters after he purposely plunked A-Rod – seemingly to show his displeasure at Rodriguez’s legal right to appeal his 211-game suspension through an agreement long ago reached by the Major League Players’ Association – and he gave up seven runs on eight hits and a walk in that span before departing after pitching 5 1/3 innings.
“Whether you like me or hate me, that was wrong. It was unprofessional and silly. Kind of a silly way to get somebody hurt on your team as well. Today kind of brought us together.”
– Alex Rodriguez
Sleeping lion no more.
The Red Sox stormed out to an early 2-0 lead against CC Sabathia (11-10) in the first inning after Sabathia walked David Ortiz to load the bases. Jonny Gomes drove in Jacoby Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly and Jarrod Saltalamacchia scored Shane Victorino with a lined single to center.
But Dempster opened the second frame by tossing his first pitch so far inside at Rodriguez it sailed behind him. Dempster then followed with two pitches that backed Rodriguez from the plate. His fourth pitch was a hard fastball that grazed Rodriguez’s left elbow and struck his ribs.
As both benches and bullpens began to empty, home-plate umpire Brian O’Nora immediately leaped from behind the plate to warn both both benches. However, Yankees manager Joe Girardi disputed O’Nora’s failure to toss Dempster from the game since all four pitches were thrown inside. But O’Nora rejected his argument and ejected an irate Girardi from the game.
The Yankees immediately got even.
Curtis Granderson slapped a double down the right-field line and Eduardo Nunez followed with an RBI single to left-center that scored Rodriguez. Lyle Overbay then plated Granderson with a sacrifice fly to left.
The Yankees added a run in the third off Dempster thanks to Rodriguez.
Ichiro Suzuki and Robinson Cano opened the frame with consecutive singles and Suzuki was able to move up third on a flyout to right by Alfonso Soriano.
Rodriguez then got his first measure of revenge off Dempster on the night when he rolled a ball to short that scored Suzuki on the groundout to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
However, Sabathia was unable to hold the lead.
Victorino lead off the third inning with a double and he advanced to third on a flyout off the bat of Dustin Pedroia and scored on a rollout to first by Ortiz.
The Red Sox added a pair of runs in the fourth on a sacrifice fly from Stephen Drew and a solo home run by Will Middlebrooks. They added another run in the fifth when Sabathia issued an Intentional walk to Saltalamacchia to load the bases with two out only to have Sabathia throw low on a 3-1 pitch to Daniel Nava to score the Bosox’s sixth run.
But Sabathia ended the inning by striking out Drew on three pitches to leave the bases loaded. That turned out to be THE key out of the game.
Rodriguez then opened the sixth with what proved to be the longest home run hit by a Yankee all season. Rodriguez made sure he gave a little grief back to Dempster and the booing crowd by throwing up his right fist as the ball cleared the centerfield wall and he stopped at home plate to look up and point his two index fingers skyward.
One out later, Nunez slammed a long single off the Green Monster in left. Overbay then dumped a single into right and Chris Stewart drew a four-pitch walk to end Dempster’s evening.
Britton, who was tagged for three runs on five hits in one inning by the Yankees on Friday, then was greeted by Gardner’s high-arcing drive to center that just missed landing over the wall, ending up as a bases-clearing triple that turned the game to the Yankees favor for the rest of the evening.
The Yankees added a run in the seventh when pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds blooped a single to center off left-hander Franklin Morales to score Granderson.
They added another run n the ninth off wild right-hander Rubby De La Rosa after he hit Jayson Nix to open the frame. He later uncorked a wild pitch to advance Nix to second, Nix stole third and he scored on Stewart’s one-out single to left.
Despite not pitching at his best, Sabathia got credit for the victory. He gave up six runs on seven hits and five walks while he fanned five in 5 1/3 innings.
The Yankees’ vaunted bullpen – which has been a source of strength all season – behind Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera kept the Red Sox scoreless over the final 3 2/3 innings on two hits and two walks while they punched out five batters to preserve the victory.
Rivera, who entered the game after blowing his past three saves opportunities for the first time in his 17-season major-league career, pitched around a two-out single by Ortiz and a walk to Gomes to retire the tying run in Saltalamacchia on a fly ball to left to earn his 36th save in 41 chances this season.
Dempster ended up a bigger loser than he already was in the second inning. He gave up a whopping seven runs on nine hits and one walk while he struck out three in 5 1/3 innings.
But the bigger loss is that he perhaps awoke the Yankees from a slumbering state and allowed then to rally around their controversial teammate to win a very important three-game series at Fenway.
The Yankees are now 64-59 and they are in fourth place in the American League East, 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox, who are 73-53. The Yankees are just six games behind in the wild-card standings.
- Opposing fans and even some Yankee fans can hate Rodriguez all they like, but the man is helping this team’s offense in a big way. He finished the game 3-for-4 with a home run, two runs scored and two RBIs. Since his return from the disabled list on Aug. 5, Rodriguez is hitting .319 with two home runs and six RBIs in 12 games.
- When both benches emptied in the second inning, Gardner had to be physically restrained by Cano from storming out to the mound to get Dempster. However, Gardner paid Dempster back the best way he could with that triple off Britton that added three more runs to Dempster’s ERA and turned him from a potential winning pitcher to what he really is now – a loser. Dempster’s ERA would have been 4.58 without the three-run triple. As it is, Dempster’s ERA rose to 4.77. Gardner was 2-for-5 with three RBIs and he is now hitting .315 with runners in scoring position and is .429 with the bases loaded.
- Nunez was having himself a very good game until he had to leave in the sixth inning with a tight right hamstring. Nunez was 3-for-3 with two lined shots off the left-field wall, two stolen bases and an RBI. In his past nine games, Nunez is 12-for-34 (.353) with six runs scored and six RBIs. But if Nunez is placed on the disabled list it would be the third time this season he would have missed significant time due to injury.
The only true negative is that the Yankees needed to win the game so badly that they were unable to take the opportunity to get some retribution for Dempster’s cowardly act. If you think Dempster was standing up for his fellow major-league players, he wasn’t because those same players agreed to the rules that allowed Rodriguez to appeal his suspension. If Dempster had a beef, he should have taken it up with Commissioner Bud Selig for not issuing a ban through the Collective Bargaining Agreement or the Players’ Association. Dempster made himself look like a fool, lost the game, rallied the Yankees around their embattled teammate and woke them up enough to beat the Red Sox. I can’t see any positives for Dempster or the Red Sox in it. It was stupid decision.
On the same day his manager and his teammates rallied around him, Rodriguez will not be hearing much from general manager Brian Cashman and other members of the Yankees’ front office. Cashman said on Sunday that he does not feel comfortable talking with Rodriguez other to say hello or goodbye because of Rodriguez’s lawyers intentions to file a grievance with the Players’ Association alleging the Yankees knew Rodriguez was seriously injured during the end of the 2012 season and played him anyway. One of Rodriguez’s attorney, Joseph Tacopina, told The New York Times on Saturday that the Yankees concealed MRI results that would have shown Rodriguez’s left hip was injured during the 2012 playoffs. Yankees president Randy Levine said the claim was inaccurate, adding that Tacopina “needs to put up or shut up.” . . . Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter took batting practice and fielded ground balls at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa, FL, but he will not be activated when he is eligible to come off the disabled list on Tuesday. Jeter, who is recovering from a strained right calf, still has not run the bases or participated in a simulated game, which he needs to do before he will be activated.
The Yankees will have Monday off before opening a four-game homestand on Tuesday with a day-night doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The doubleheader was scheduled as a result of a rainout on May 19.
Ivan Nova (6-4, 2.99 ERA) will start the day game and Phil Hughes (4-12, 4.97 ERA) will pitch in the nightcap. Right-hander Esmil Rogers (3-7, 4.91 ERA) will pitch in the afternoon contest for the Blue Jays while Mark Buehrle (9-7, 4.29 ERA) will pitch the late game.
Game-time for the opener is 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network. The night game will begin at 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by MY9.
YANKEES 10, RED SOX 3
After playing most of the season with players like Brent Lillibridge, David Adams and Melky Mesa in the starting lineup it had to please manager Joe Girardi and veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte to open a series at Fenway Park with some power in the lineup.
It was that power and the pitching of Pettitte that allowed the Yankees to bludgeon the Red Sox in front of a sellout crowd of 38,143 on Friday.
Red-hot Alphonso Soriano connected for yet another home run and drove in four runs and newly acquired first baseman Mark Reynolds launched a two-run shot over the Green Monster in his first at-bat as a Yankee as New York rolled to an easy victory in an important series against Boston.
Pettitte (8-9), meanwhile, pitched into the seventh inning, giving up three runs (none earned) on six hits and a walk while striking out six batters to notch his 20th career victory against the Red Sox.
Soriano and Reynolds did most of their damage against left-hander Felix Doubront (8-6).
Soriano opened the scoring against Doubront with an RBI infield single in the first inning that scored Brett Gardner.
Reynolds launched an 0-2 fastball into the seats in left with Vernon Wells aboard and one out in the second inning to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
Soriano, who entered the game 10-for-14 (.714) with four home runs and 14 RBIs in his past three games, padded the lead to 6-0 when he ripped a 1-1 fastball into the Green Monster in center-field with two on and one out in the third inning.
The Yankees added a single run off Doubront in the fourth when Robinson Cano stroked a two-out RBI single to center to score Eduardo Nunez to make it 7-0.
Doubront was tagged for seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and two walks while he fanned four in four innings of work.
The Red Sox scored an unearned run off Pettitte in the bottom of the fourth after Dustin Pedroia reached second on a leadoff single off the glove off Alex Rodriguez at third and a fielding error off the resulting carom into foul territory charged to Nunez. Jonny Gomes then stroked a two-out RBI single to score Pedroia.
They Red Sox added a pair of unearned runs in the seventh after Pedroia reached on a two-base error on Nunez. David Ortiz followed with an RBI single to left that scored Pedroia but Ortiz was thrown out at second by Soriano trying to stretch the hit into a double.
Stephen Drew singled with two outs and Pettitte walked Mike Napoli. Jarrod Saltalamacchia then chased Pettitte from the game with an RBI single to center to score Drew.
The Yankees added three runs in the ninth off left-hander Drake Britton on an RBI infield single by Ichiro Suzuki, a line-drive RBI single to left by Reynolds and lined single to right off the bat of Chris Stewart.
The Yankees have now won six of their past eight games and are 63-58 on the season. The first-place Red Sox are 72-52 and have now lost six of their past eight games and their lead on the Yankees has been cut to 7 1/2 games. With the victory the Yankees also pulled to within 5 1/2 games in the wild-card standings.
- Soriano, 37, is now 13-for-18 (.722) with five home runs and 18 RBIs in his past four games. He is tied with five other players, including former Yankee Tony Lazzeri, for the most RBIs over a four-game stretch. Since being obtained on July 26 from the Chicago Cubs, Soriano is 24-for-75 (.320) with eight home runs and 26 RBIs.
- Pettitte, 41, won his first game since a July 11th victory against the Kansas City Royals six starts ago. In his 17 previous major-league seasons Pettitte has never ended up with a losing record. With his victory on Friday he is just a game under .500 for the season.
- Reynolds, 30, was picked up off waivers on Friday from the Cleveland Indians after he was designated for assignment last week and he paid immediate dividends in his first game, going 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs. Reynolds hit .215 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs in 99 games with the Tribe. He will provide the Yankees with a much-needed right-handed power bat to platoon at first base with the lefty-swinging Lyle Overbay, 36, who is hitting only .200 against left-handers this season.
Although the injuries and weak offensive lineups the Yankees had to play as a result dug the Yankees a huge hole from which to climb out, their is a huge ray of hope they can do it. If the pitching can hold up for the final 41 games, the Yankees might actually have a shot to make the playoffs. This was a good first step. Nothing to complain about here.
In order to make room on the 25-man roster for Reynolds, the Yankees surprisingly shipped right-hander Preston Claiborne to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Claiborne, 25, was 0-1 with a 2.88 ERA in 34 games with the Yankees this season. In addition, infielder Luis Cruz was designated for assignment to make room for Reynolds on the 40-man roster. . . . Rodriguez denied on Friday a “60 Minutes” report that representatives of his leaked information to Major League Baseball concerning the involvement of teammate Francisco Cervelli and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun in the Biogenesis scandal.
The Yankees will continue their vital three-game weekend series with the Red Sox on Saturday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-7, 2.33 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda, 38, allowed only three hits over eight innings in a victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Monday. He has not allowed more than three runs in any of his starts since June 30. He is 3-3 with a 3.72 ERA lifetime against the Angels.
Kuroda will be opposed by right-hander John Lackey (7-10, 3.32 ERA). Lackey has not won a game since July 12 and he yielded four runs on 10 hits in 6 2/3 innings in a loss to the Yankees on July 20. He is 8-10 with a 4.73 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.
YANKEES 5, RED SOX 2
There were some eyebrows raised from some Yankees when Hiroki Kuroda was not selected to pitch for the American League in last week’s All-Star Game. But Kuroda never said a word and just used the time to get rested up for the second half of the season.
That was bad news for the Boston Red Sox.
Kuroda (9-6) shut down the Red Sox on two runs on five hits over seven strong innings and the Yankees got three hits each from Lyle Overbay, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez as New York downed Boston in front of a paid crowd of 37,601 at Fenway Park.
For Kuroda, 38, it was his firs career victory at Fenway and his first triumph in three starts against the Red Sox this season. The veteran right-hander walked one and struck out four while benefitting from some excellent Yankee defense that cut down two runners at home plate.
Meanwhile, the Yankees chipped away at Red Sox right-hander John Lackey (7-7) until they were able to chase the veteran from the game in the seventh inning.
The Yankees used a “Plan B’ offense to score their first run in the fifth inning when Nunez led of the frame with a lined single to left and he later stole second. Chris Stewart then laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Nunez to third but Luis Cruz slapped a ground ball right at Stephen Drew that allowed Drew to cut down Nunez at the plate.
But with Cruz at first, Lackey uncorked a wild pitch that permitted Cruz to move into scoring position and Gardner scored him with a two-out single to center.
The Yankees’ seventh began much like the fifth with Nunez opening the inning with a double off the Green Monster in left-center. Stewart advanced him to third with a slow bouncing groundout to first and Cruz delivered an RBI single to center that scored Nunez.
After Gardner singled, Red Sox manager John Farrell replaced Lackey with veteran left-hander Matt Thornton.
Thornton did get Ichiro Suzki to hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Gardner at second but Robinson Cano laced a opposite-field RBI single to score Cruz and Overbay followed with an RBI single of his own to give Kuroda and the Yankees some breathing room with a 4-0 lead.
Lackey was touched for four runs on 10 hits and he struck out seven in 6 1/3 innings for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox did manage to score a pair of runs off Kuroda in the bottom of the seventh after a leadoff single from David Ortiz and a double off the bat of Mike Carp. Jonny Gomes scored Ortiz on a sacrifice fly and, after Carp advanced to third on a groundout, he scored on a wild pitch from Kuroda.
But the Yankee bullpen tandem of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the Red Sox in the eighth and ninth innings to preserve the victory for Kuroda. For Rivera, his save in the ninth was his 31st in 33 opportunities this season and his 639th career save.
The Yankees added an unearned run off right-hander Pedro Beato in the ninth without the benefit of a hit.
Beato hit Cruz with a pitch to start the inning and Gardner reached on an fielding error by second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Then with Suzuki at the plate, Cruz was caught taking too big a lead off second. But Cruz dashed to third on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s throw to second and he just beat Drew’s throw to third to get credit for a stolen base.
He then scored on a sac fly off the bat of Cano.
But the Yankees really owe their victory to some sterling plays in the field that frustrated the Red Sox all afternoon.
In the first inning, Daniel Nava was on second with two out when Ortiz laced a single to left-field. Nava stumbled as he rounded third and was thrown at the plate on a throw by Vernon Wells.
In the fifth inning, the Red Sox threatened with a pair of leadoff singles by Carp and Gomes. But Saltalamacchia and Drew were retired, leaving Carp at third and Gomes on second with two out.
Kuroda then tossed a 1-2 pitch to Jose Iglesias in the dirt that rolled away from Stewart, allowing Carp to head for home. But Stewart was able to corral the ball quickly and he made a perfect throw to Kuroda at home plate in time to nail a sliding Carp.
Stewart then capped off his day behind the plate with a spectacular play in the eighth inning.
Nava reached first on Robertson with a one-out single. Pedroia then fouled off a 0-2 pitch to the left of the screen. Stewart lunged into the first row of the stands to catch the ball and then fired a perfect one-hop throw to Cano at second base to easily nail a sliding Nava for a rare 2-4 double play.
The victory evened the three-game series at a game apiece and drew the Yankees to within six games of the first-place Red Sox in the American League East with a 52-45 record. The Bosox dropped to 59-40.
- If there was any doubt that Kuroda has been the Yankees’ best and most consistent pitcher of the season then his performance on Saturday had to be the clincher. Kuroda held a lineup that boasted six hitters sporting batting averages of .287 or better to only five hits – including two hits each for Ortiz and Carp. He really was never threatened other than in the fifth and the seventh, but he limited the damage to preserve an important victory that keeps the Yankees in the pennant race.
- Overbay was moved up in the batting order to cleanup and he delivered three hits – two of them doubles – and drove in a run. Other than Cano, Overbay has been the most consistent run producer the Yankees have had all season. He is now hitting .259 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs. Though Overbay, 36, is not producing Mark Teixeira-type numbers, he is doing yeoman work for the team at the plate and in the field.
- Nunez’s 3-for-4 day with two doubles, a run scored and a stolen base must have Yankee fans wondering where he has been all season. Nunez was handed an opportunity to show what he could do at shortstop in the absence of Derek Jeter and up to now he has blown it. Nunez is hitting .226 with no home runs and eight RBIs in 38 games this season.
- Though Travis Hafner was dropped to the sixth spot in the order he still could not produce anything. With a right-hander pitching the lefty designated hitter was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. His season average is now down to .215. At age 36, it appears Hafner’s bat is too slow to catch up with fastballs and he has no clue when he is thrown tough breaking pitches. He needs to be benched.
- Though Wells was 1-for-4 on Saturday he looks similarly overmatched at the plate. He has not homered in his last 49 games and the pitches he was able to drive are now being fouled back to the screen. And when pitchers need Wells out they just throw him either a high fastball or a slider on the outside corner for a guaranteed strikeout. Lackey fanned him twice – once on the slider and once with the high fastball. Wells is hitting .239 on the season.
The Yankees were forced to place outfielder Zoilo Almonte on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday with a sprained left ankle. Almonte, 24, suffered the injury hitting the first-base bag hard running out a ground ball in the fourth inning of Friday’s game. The Yankees also designated for assignment infielder Alberto Gonzalez. Almonte was hitting .261 with a home run and nine RBIs in 26 games with the Yankees and the rookie switch-hitter had taken over as the team’s starting left-fielder for Wells. Gonzalez, 30, hit .176 with no home runs and four RBIs in 13 games with the Yankees. To fill the two roster spots the Yankees recalled outfielders Thomas Neal and Melky Mesa from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Neal, 25, was hitting .314 with two homers and 29 RBIs in 66 games at Scranton, In a previous stint with the Yankees, Neal hit .182 in four games. Mesa, 26, was hitting .249 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs at Scranton. . . . Alex Rodriguez was shifted from third base to designated hitter on Saturday for Scranton due to a tight left quadriceps. The Yankees, at this time, still plan to activate Rodriguez from his 20-day rehab assignment on Monday in time for the Yankees’ game in Arlington, TX against the Rangers.
The Yankees can win the three-game series against the Red Sox and draw to within five games of first place with a victory on Sunday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia ( 9-8, 4.07 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Sabathia is coming off a horrible first half that culminated with a game in which the team’s defense let him down against the Minnesota Twins on July 13. Sabathia gave up eight runs (only three of them earned) on eight hits and two walks in four-plus innings. He is 1-1 against the Red Sox this season, including a victory on 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on May 31.
The Red Sox were forced to scratch left-hander Jon Lester with an undisclosed injury. Right-hander Ryan Dempster (5-8, 4.24 ERA) will start in Lester’s place. Dempster did not make it out of the fourth inning of his last start against the Seattle Mariners on July 11. He was tagged for four runs on nine hits and a walk. He is 0-4 with a 7.22 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN.
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.