Tagged: John Lackey

Some Hypocrisy Exists In Pineda Pine-Tar Incident

GAME 21

RED SOX 5, YANKEES 1

What is about the Yankees and pine-tar incidents? But, to be even more to the point, does anyone see the hypocrisy within the two?

Michael Pineda (2-2) was ejected on Wednesday in the bottom of the second inning by home-plate umpire Gerry Davis for having a foreign substance, Davis said it was pine tar, on his neck. New York, trailing 2-0 at the time, went on to lose to John Lackey (3-2) and Boston in front of a national television audience and a paid crowd of 37,015 at Fenway Park.

The most famous pine-tar incident in Yankee history dates back to July 24, 1983 when George Brett of the Kansas City Royals connected for a two-run home run off Rich “Goose” Gossage with two outs in the ninth inning to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead.

Manager Billy Martin correctly pointed out to home-plate umpire Tim McClelland that Brett’s bat had pine tar within 17 inches from the top in violation of baseball’s rules. McClelland agreed and called Brett out, which set the stage of the famous scene where Brett stormed out of the dugout to confront the umpiring crew and he even bumped into a few.

I have been harboring this question since 1983 but why wasn’t Brett ejected and fined for that outburst? Odd.

Anyway, American League president Lee MacPhail sided with the Royals and their protest of the game and he made the teams play out the bottom of the ninth inning with the Royals ahead 5-4.

He basically was saying that the rule was correctly applied but that pine tar did not have any effect in helping Brett hit the home run.

Now some 31 years later, every baseball manager and pitcher will tell you that pine tar has no effect in a pitcher’s ability to throw a baseball. It simply provides an opportunity for a pitcher to gain a better grip on the ball. So if we are to invoke the “MacPhail Doctrine” to this case than Major League Baseball should reinstate Pineda from his ejection and order the Yankees and Red Sox to resume that game from that point he was ejected, right?

Nope!

There is a definite double standard at play here.

I am not saying that Pineda was not naive to believe that the pine tar was not visible. But we have to accept his reasoning that after throwing a number of pitches out of the strike zone on a cold and windy night (gusts up into the mid-30s) that he was afraid he might hit somebody and injure them.

If pine tar made Pineda’s slider dive like a majestic eagle and made hitters look like Little League bench players, than I would be on the side of the ejection and the 10-game suspension he was handed. But, absent that, I think we should just replay that game as McPhail would have ordered if he were still in charge.

Red Sox manager John Farrell has now been put into a very dicey situation. The reason is that two of his pitchers, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, are widely known around the league for using pine tar when they are pitching. Buchholz was caught in a very widely publicized incident last season dipping his fingers to his left arm to get a better grip on the baseball.

The Yankees will be ready and waiting to have the umpires undress those pitchers down their jock straps should they suspect they are doing the same thing. So you may want to be careful and that phrase you reap what you sow comes to mind.

Of course, cheating and the Red Sox are pretty much synonymous. They just get better P.R.

David Ortiz was caught doing steroids but he is the Red Sox model held up to the kids in the community. He claimed that some doctor in the Dominican Republic gave him a shot and he did not know what it was. Huh?

Does anyone but me think it is extremely odd that in 2003 Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek and outfielder Trot Nixon hit their career highs in home runs? Varitek hit 25 and Nixon hit 28. In 2004, baseball instituted a new drug testing procedure and Nixon never hit more than 13 home runs in a season after that. Varitek’s power “faded’ suddenly also.

Sports Illustrated actually ran a story indicating that it was well known that both Varitek and Nixon were doing steroids but they were never named in any investigation or listed as failing any drug test.

But the only real reason they were not caught was they were fortunate that nobody in the clubhouse that witnessed it came forward to snitch on them.

So the Red Sox maintain this huge halo around them that seems to suggest that none of their players ever would consider cheating to gain an advantage on the field.

Now that they have fired the first salvo in 2014 at Pineda and the Yankees we will just see where that halo ends up by the end of this season. I am not really sure it will remain so high above their heads.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to win their second series against the Red Sox on Thursday.

CC Sabathia (2-2, 5.19 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees coming off his best outing of the season. Sabathia held the Tampa Bay Rays to two runs (one earned) in seven innings to even his record on Thursday. He lost his start to the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on April 11 after blanking them over the first five innings.

Left-hander Felix Doubront (1-2, 5.48 ERA) will throw for the Red Sox. Doubront allowed two runs on five hits and two walks and seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings but did not get a decision against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.

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

 

Ellsbury Returns To Fenway As Yanks Pester Lester

“The bad boy’s back
The bad boy’s back in town, oh yeah
The bad boy’s back
Don’t you shoot him down”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          – Asia

GAME 20

YANKEES 9, RED SOX 3

To Red Sox Nation, leaving the fold to play for the Yankees is tantamount to Benedict Arnold’s treachery during the Revolutionary War. They let Jacoby Ellsbury know it as he stepped into the batter’s box for his first at-bat. But Ellsbury quickly showed the Fenway Park faithful what they are missing in the leadoff spot and in centerfield.

Ellsbury was 2-for-5 with a double and a triple, scored two runs, drove in two runs and made a sensational sliding catch in center while Masahiro Tanaka pitched into the eighth inning as New York bedeviled Boston in front of a crowd of 37,041 and national television audience.

The Yankees frustrated and unnerved Jon Lester (2-3) for 4 2/3 innings, scoring eight runs (three earned) on 11 hits and four walks while Lester struck out seven.

Tanaka (3-0), in contrast, was cool, calm and in command as he held the Red Sox to two runs  –  on a pair of back-to-back homers by David Ortiz and Mike Napoli with one out in the fourth  –  on seven hits, no walks and he fanned seven to remain undefeated after posting a 24-0 record in his final season in Japan.

The Yankees rattled Lester from the beginning when Ellsbury ignored the boos  –  and a few cheers  –  to lace a ball to the wall in deep center that a fan reached into the field play to deflect and the umpires awarded Ellsbury a triple. Derek Jeter followed with an RBI single and the undoing of Lester began.

A combination of an A.J. Pierzynski passed ball and a Pierzynski throwing error allowed Jeter to advance to third. Jeter then scored on an RBI single by Carlos Beltran.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the third when Alfonso Soriano slapped a double off the Green Monster and Mark Teixeira followed with a bloop single to right that scored Soriano. Brian McCann then scored Teixeira with a RBI double off the Monster that made it 4-0.

After Ortiz and Napoli homered to fool the fans into thinking they were actually back in the game, the Yankees chased Lester in the fifth with four unearned runs.

With Teixeira on second after he was walked and McCann on first with a single, Lester struck out Yangervis Solarte and Ichiro Suzuki. However, Napoli was unable to hold Brian Roberts’ lined drive in his glove at first base for the third out and Teixeira scored when the ball rolled into rightfield.

The Red Sox had an opportunity to end the inning if Grady Sizemore had thrown the ball to second base because McCann did not see Napoli lose the ball and he was walking off the field. But Sizemore threw home to try to get Teixeira as McCann scrambled back to second.

It was that kind of night for Lester and the Red Sox. Leave it to Ellsbury to make the his old team pay for the mistake.

He followed with a two-run double on Lester’s 118th and final pitch of the evening.

Jeter then greeted left-hander Chris Capuano with an RBI single into center and Ellsbury crossed the plate to make a 8-2 laugher.

Beltran capped the scoring in the eighth by blasting his fifth home run of the season with one out in the eight inning off right-hander Edward Mujica.

The Red Sox scored an “oh-by-the way” run in the ninth off Dellin Betances on a one-out double by Jonny Gomes and and two-out double off the bat of Xander Bogaerts that scored Gomes.

The 11 hits the Yankees nicked Lester with were the most hits he has given up to them in his career. Every Yankee starter with the exception of Solarte had at least one hit in the game.

The Yankees have won four of the first five meetings against the Red Sox this season.

With the victory the Yankees improved their record to 12-8 and the lead the American League East by one game over the Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox are 9-12 and in last place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury, 30, proved to his former team he was worth the seven-year, $153-million contract he received from the Yankees. His hitting (.342), speed (leads American League with eight steals) and Gold-Glove defense in center are worth rewarding. The Red Sox two biggest weaknesses are their leadoff spot and the fact that centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting .228. The fans can boo him all they want but as Bob Costas said on his call of the game for the MLB Network, “They are booing the laundry and not the player.”
  • Tanaka was a great contrast to his mound opponent Lester. While Lester fumed about hits that dropped in, hard-hit balls off the Monster and the strike zone of home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott, Tanaka did not show any emotion at all and looked to be in command at all times. For all his hype, Lester’s career ERA is 3.73 and his WHIP is a staggeringly high 1.30. He also showed the Yankees you can rattle him. Tanaka proved pretty much the opposite.
  • Want to hear a stunning stat about Jeter? In the past 11 games that he has played he has at least one hit in all of them. In fact, he has only failed to get a hit in two of the 14 games in which played this season. His 2-for-4 night raised his season average to .298. Anybody really think he is washed up at age 39?

NAGGING NEGATIVES

On a night where the Red Sox had their ace pounded for 11 hits, the Yankees’ imported free agent from Japan made them look silly on his split-finger fastball and Ellsbury laid it on his former club there is nothing that I can say that would be close to being negative. The world is just a better place when the Yankees put the Red Sox in their place  –  last.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees activated closer David Robertson from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday and outrighted left-hander Cesar Cabral to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room on the roster. Robertson has been sidelined sidelined since April 6 with a strain in his left groin. With Robertson’s reinstatement, Shawn Kelley will move back into the eighth inning setup role after saving four games in four chances filling in as the closer.  . . .  An MRI on Tuesday indicated that right-hander Ivan Nova has a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and he likely will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. The recommendation for surgery came from Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the team’s physician. The recovery time for the surgery is 12 to 18 months.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game road series with the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (2-1, 1.00 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pineda is coming off six innings of shutout baseball to defeat the Chicago Cubs last Wednesday. He gave up four hits and one walk while he struck out three. Pineda also defeated the Red Sox on April 10, yielding just one run on six hits in six innings.

Pineda will be opposed by veteran right-hander John Lackey (2-2, 5.15 ERA). Lackey has been pounded for 12 runs on 20 hits and four walks in 11 innings in his past two starts against the Yankees (April 12) and the Baltimore Orioles on Friday. It is the first time in his career he has given up as many as 10 hits and six earned runs in two consecutive starts.

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

McCann Swats Two As Yankees Unravel Bosox

“I’ve seen all the movie stars
In their fancy cars and their limousines
Been high in the Rockies under the evergreens
But I know what I’m needing
And I don’t want to waste more time
I’m in a New York state of mind”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         –  Billy Joel

GAME 12

YANKEES 7, RED SOX 4

Ever since Georgia native Brian McCann left the Atlanta Braves to sign as a free agent with the Yankees the team’s fans have been waiting to see just how special this seven-time All-Star catcher can be. On Saturday they got a pretty good idea just how good.

McCann hit a pair of home runs and drove in three runs and the Yankees pounded out five homers in all as New York shelled John Lackey and Boston in front of a paid crowd of 48, 572 at Yankee Stadium.

Both of McCann’s homers came off Lackey (2-1), who ended up yielding a career-high four home runs. McCann, who entered the game hitting .162 in the midst of a 1-for-17 slump, hit a solo shot off Lackey in the fourth and a two-run shot in the sixth.

Carlos Beltran blasted a two-run shot of his own in the first inning and Alfonso Soriano followed McCann’s round-tripper in the fourth with a solo shot of his own. It is the first time the Yankees have gone back-to-back in home runs since June 6 last season when Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira did it.

Kelly Johnson added a solo homer off reliever Burke Badenhop in the eighth inning.

The power-driven run support worked to the benefit of Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda (2-1), who throughout his major-league career has not really been accustomed to getting so much offense.

Kuroda yielded only a two-run home run to A.J. Pierzynski in the second inning through his first six innings of work. However, a pair of walks sandwiched around a strikeout in the seventh brought David Ortiz to the plate and manager Joe Girardi replaced Kuroda with left-hander Matt Thornton.

Thornton struck out Ortiz for the second out but he then hit Mike Napoli with an 0-1 pitch and Mike Carp followed with a two-run single. Both runs were charged to Kuroda so he ended the day being charged with four runs on six hits and three walks while struck out five in 6 1/3 innings.

The Yankees, meanwhile, really put the wood to Lackey, who entered the game 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA. Lackey yielded six runs on 10 hits and no walks while he fanned six batters.

The Red Sox actually missed what might have been a golden chance to tie the game in the seventh after Thornton gave up the two-run single to Carp that made the score 6-4. A boneheaded decision by manager John Farrell ended up costing the Red Sox dearly.

With Napoli on third, Carp at first and Xander Bogaerts at the plate with an 0-2 count against right-hander Dellin Betances, Farrell  –  for some reason that escapes baseball logic  –  sent the slow-footed Carp (two career steals) to second. McCann rounded out his great afternoon by catching Betances’ high fastball and throwing Carp out easily at second base to end the inning.

Adam Warren pitched a perfect eighth and Shawn Kelley hurled a perfect ninth to preserve the victory. Kelley earned his second save in two opportunities this season subbing for David Robertson as the closer.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though McCann was only 6-for-37 with six singles it was only a matter of time before he was going to start hitting. Unfortunately for Lackey and the Red Sox it came on Saturday. McCann’s 2-for-4 day raised his average to .195. True, McCann’s swing is perfect for the short right-field porch. But neither of his two blasts were cheapies. The one hit to right in the fourth landed in the second deck and the one in the sixth was hit to deep right-center.
  • Carp’s two-run single ruined what what was a great performance by Kuroda despite the fact that he was having trouble with his curveball. Kuroda adjusted, however, and he has now pitched three excellent games to start the season. The 3.86 ERA is deceiving. He is pitching much better than that.
  • Beltran was 2-for-4 with a homer and a double, two runs scored and two RBIs. With Mark Teixeira out of the lineup the No. 4 (Beltran), No. 5 (McCann) and No. 6 (Soriano) hitters combined to hit four home runs and drive in six of the seven runs. That is very good production from the power slots.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

How can you say anything negative when you pound out five home runs, score seven runs and collect 14 hits to back some excellent pitching by Kuroda? The bullpen, despite the one slip by Thornton, did its job and the Yankees can’t end the four-game series with Bosox with anything less than a tie.

BOMBER BANTER

Major League Baseball admitted its replay system made a mistake after a challenge lodged by Farrell in the eighth inning. With Yangervis Solarte on first and one out, Dean Anna laced a ball to the right-field wall. Daniel Nava fielded the ball and threw to second base, where Bogaerts held the tag on Anna as he tried to stand up on the base. A replay showing Anna’s right foot briefly came off the base as the tag was applied was not made available to the representatives in New York, who upheld the original safe call by umpire Ron Kulpa. However, Brett Gardner and Brian Roberts were retired and Solarte and Anna were stranded anyway.  . . .  Girardi elected to sit shortstop Derek Jeter and play Anna at shortstop for Saturday’s day game following Friday’s night game. It was Jeter’s second day off this season and his first at home.  . . .  Teixeira told reporters on Saturday that he is targeting a return to the lineup against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, FL, on April 20, the first day on which he ca be activated from the disabled list. Teixeira, 34, is recovering from a mild strain of his right hamstring.

ON DECK

The Yankees can take the series against their much-hated rival on Sunday with a victory.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-1, 8.68 ERA) will get the call for the Yankees. Nova was tagged for seven runs on 10 hits in only 3 2/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday.

His mound opponent will be left-hander Felix Doubront (1-1, 9.00 ERA). Doubront gave up five runs on six hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday. He is 3-2 with a 4.17 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN (or as it is otherwise known, the Red Sox Promotional Network).

 

One Bad Pitch In One Bad Inning Dooms CC, Yanks

GAME 11

RED SOX 4, YANKEES 2

There is nothing in baseball more frustrating for a pitcher than to be in total command of a game and to have it all fall apart in the blink of an eye with one bad pitch in one bad inning. But that is exactly what happened to CC Sabathia on Friday.

Entering the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead, Jonny Gomes led off with a home run and four batters later Sabathia’s former teammate Grady Sizemore blasted a hanging slider for a three-run blast as Boston downed New York in front of a paid crowd of 44,121 at Yankee Stadium.

The game featured a pitcher’s duel between the two team’s aces.

Up until the sixth, Sabathia (1-2) had shut out the Red Sox on just one hit with two walks and six strikeouts. Left-hander Jon Lester (1-2) was just about as good. But he was victimized by a home run to leadoff the second inning by Alfonso Soriano.

If not for the “OBI” (one bad inning) Sabathia’s fate might have been different.

Gomes tied it with a long blast over the scoreboard in right, his first home run of the season.

One out later, David Ortiz was tied up on an inside pitch and rolled a swinging-bunt single near third base and against the shift the Yankees employ against him. Mike Napoli then laced a single up the middle and set the stage for Sizemore’s game-changing homer.

Sabathia ended up being charged with four runs on six hits and two walks and he struck out a season-high nine in seven innings.

Lester struggled in the seventh after he had retired the first two batters.

Ichiro Suzuki singled and Brian Roberts drew a walk after two close pitches home-plate umpire James Hoye called balls. Lester became visibly angry at the calls and Kelley Johnson ended Lester’s evening by stroking an RBI single to right that scored Suzuki.

Lester yielded two runs on six hits and two walks while fanning six batters in 6 2/3 innings.

Relievers Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica retired the final seven batters to preserve Lester’s first victory of the season. Mujica pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first save.

The loss dropped the Yankees’ season record to 5-6. The Red Sox have the same mark.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Soriano was 2-for-4 in the game including his second home run of the season. After his 0-for-17 start, Soriano has at least one hit in five of his past six games and is 8-for-21 (.381) with two home runs and three RBIs in that span.
  • Despite the fact Sabathia lost the game give the big left-hander some credit for perhaps turning a corner in which he is learning to pitch with diminished velocity. For the first five innings, he had the Red Sox flailing at his change-ups and sliders. “I look at it as one pitch  –  the slider he left up to Sizemore was the real difference in the game,” manager Joe Girardi said told reporters. “Besides that, I thought he had really good command and threw the ball well.”
  • Johnson was 0-for-14 in his career against Lester when he delivered his two-out RBI single that chased the left-hander from the game. Johnson is hitting just .258 but he has two homers and six RBIs and all six of them have come in his past six games.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The injury to Mark Teixeira forced Girardi into some odd lineup choices on Friday. He benched left-handed hitters Brett Gardner and Brian McCann, he used Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot and he had Francisco Cervelli batting fifth.  Until Teixeira returns, the Yankees are going to have a much weaker lineup against lefties.
  • Carlos Beltran entered the game on a pretty good roll with a four-game hitting streak. But he could not solve Lester. He killed a rally in the third inning by bouncing into a force play, stranding two runners. He also stranded Jacoby Ellsbury at second with one out by watching strike three on a 3-2 pitch. He ended up 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield.
  • Rookie sensation Yangervis Solarte is starting to fall back to Earth as pitchers are now giving him a steady diet of breaking pitches. Solarte was 0-for-4 in the game and he is hitless in his past nine at-bats to drop his batting average to .343.

BOMBER BANTER

The MLB Network and NESN showed Michael Pineda with what appeared to be pine tar on his pitching hand on Thursday and it stirred a lot of bellowing out of Boston (as one would expect anytime they lose). However, Joe Torre, baseball’s executive vice president of operations, told reporters that the right-hander will not face suspension. Because the Red Sox did have the umpires check Pineda’s hand there is nothing that can be done. Torre did say he would talk to the Yankees about the incident. Pineda claimed it was not pine tar on his hand; it was dirt.  . . .  The Yankees expect Teixeira to return from the disabled list before the end of April, however, backup infielder Brendan Ryan may be out for an extended period of time. Teixeira is progressing well recovering from a strained right hamstring. Ryan, who has a pinched nerve in his cervical spine, missed most all of spring training and he only begun some very light baseball-related activities.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend series with the Red Sox on Saturday.

The Yankees will send Hiroki Kuroda (1-1, 2.92 ERA) to the hill. Kuroda gave up just two runs on eight hits and struck four in 6 1/3 innings in defeating the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 on Monday.

The Red Sox will counter with veteran right-hander John Lackey (2-0, 1.38 ERA). Lackey shut out the Rangers on five hits and two walks in seven innings on Monday to keep his record perfect this season. He is 1-1 with a 7.64 ERA in three starts at the new Yankee Stadium.

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

 

Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:

NEW YORK YANKEES

After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.

Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.

Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.

The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.

Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.

The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.

Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.

The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.

Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.

If you don’t you lose.

The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.

The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.

The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.

The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.

Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.

The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.

As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.

In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.

BOSTON RED SOX

Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.

The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.

They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.

Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.

Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.

To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.

Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.

The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.

Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.

The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.

The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.

So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.

The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.

So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.

Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.

But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.

Now that is some reclamation project.

Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.

But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.

There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.

The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.

It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.

The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.

The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.

They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.

So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.

Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!

 

 

Soriano, Reynolds Homer As Yankees Rout Bosox

GAME 121

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.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • 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.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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.

BOMBER BANTER

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.

ON DECK

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.

 

Kuroda Defeats Red Sox For First Fenway Victory

GAME 97

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.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • 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.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • 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.

BOMBER BANTER

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.

ON DECK

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.