BLUE JAYS 6, YANKEES 3
The Blue Jays strung together four consecutive hits to open the second inning against CC Sabathia and all four runners later scored as Toronto went on to defeat New York on Thursday in front of a paid crowd of 32,152 at Yankee Stadium.
Sabathia (0-1), who making his first start since May 10 of last season, was touched for an opposite-field single by Edwin Encarnacion, a lined single to center by Josh Donaldson, a ground single by Danny Valencia that ticked off the glove of Sabathia and a lined single to left by Kevin Pillar that scored Encarnacion.
The Blue Jays added runs on consecutive RBI groundouts by Steve Tolleson and Devon Travis and completed the scoring with an RBI single by Jose Reyes.
Meanwhile, rookie left-hander Daniel Norris (1-0) yielded three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five over 5 2/3 innings for his first major-league victory in only his second career start.
The Blue Jays added an unearned run off Sabathia in the fifth inning when Donaldson reached on a two-out infield single and then Valencia followed with a seeing-eye single that rolled past second baseman Gregorio Petit into right-field. Right-fielder Carlos Beltran’s throw to third base caromed off Donaldson and allowed him to score on the throwing error.
Sabathia was charged with five runs (four earned) on eight hits and no walks while he struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings.
The Yankees scored a run in the fifth on a leadoff double by John Ryan Murphy and a one-out RBI single by Didi Gregorius, however, Gregorius was picked off straying too far off first by Valencia.
Alex Rodriguez blasted his first home run since Sept. 20, 2013 and his first of the season off Norris to lead off the sixth inning and one batter later Mark Teixeira added his first of the season to draw the Yankees to within two runs at 5-3.
But Encarnacion connected for his second home run of the series with two out in the eighth inning off right-hander Esmil Rogers.
Twenty-year-old right-hander Miguel Castro, who was named the closer earlier in the day, pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first career save.
- I am not crazy for saying this but Sabathia actually pitched a lot better than the results showed. If you take away the O.B.I. (One Bad Inning), Sabathia yielded just one unearned run on three hits and no walks. One big surprise was the eight strikeouts. Two of those strikeouts were against Jose Bautista, who ended up 0-for-12 with eight strikeouts in the series. There is something for Sabathia to build upon in this game despite the defeat.
- The Yankees managed only seven hits, which is nothing new when it comes to their weak offense. However, the backup catcher, Murphy, ended up with two of them and both were lined doubles. Much was made of the spring training battle between Murphy and Austin Romine for the backup job, but manager Joe Girardi obviously made the right choice in the 23-year-old Murphy.
- It was nice to see A-Rod and Teixeira connect for their first home runs of the season. The Yankees will require both of them to put up a lot of them and drive in a lot of runs if they are to contend at all in the American League East. It would just be nice if the homers weren’t solo shots.
- Fielding has been a bit of an issue and it hurt the Yankees badly in the four-run second inning. With Encarnacion on second and Donaldson at first, Valencia hit a ground ball that ticked off Sabathia’s glove for an infield single. If Sabathia had either fielded it cleanly or had let it get by to Gregorius at shortstop it would have been an easy double play and it would have changed the complexion of the game. Sabathia also failed to back up third on Beltran’s throw to nail Donaldson in the sixth and it cost the Yankees a run. When it comes to fielding, Sabathia is just plain lazy and Girardi needs to lay down the law by fining players for mental errors like this.
- After Rodriguez and Teixeira homered and there were two out in the sixth, Chris Young drew a walk from Norris, which ended Norris’ outing. Murphy then doubled off right-hander Roberto Osuna to put the tying run in scoring position. Girardi sent Stephen Drew up to pinch-hit for Petit. On a 1-2 count, Drew got a good pitch to hit but he fouled it off. On the next pitch he struck out swinging. That at-bat really cost the Yankees dearly.
- Gregorius drove in his first run of the season with his first hit of the season in the fifth. That is a good thing. However, Gregorius also killed the inning by roaming too far off first on Pillar’s throw home as Murphy scored. Valencia cut off the throw and Travis snuck in behind Gregorius at first to tag him out. In two instances in this series, Gregorius has been thrown out on base-running gaffes. Derek Jeter might have done that twice in his entire career. The young shortstop has a lot to learn.
The Yankees will play host to the evil scourge of the East in the Boston Red Sox on Friday.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, 25, will make his debut as a starter with the Yankees. Eovaldi was obtained in the offseason from the Miami Marlins and he had an excellent spring with a 1-1 record and a 1.93 ERA in four starts.
The Red Sox will counter with left-hander Wade Miley, who was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Miley had no record with a 3.71 ERA in four spring appearances (three starts).
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by WPIX.
YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 3
Some rallies are loud and thunderous. Others are executed with a little pluck and a lot of luck.
On Wednesday night, the Yankees came from behind using the latter method.
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees sent nine men to the plate and scored three runs thanks to a wind-blown double, two hit batters, a wild pitch, an intentional walk and a single that hit off a pitcher’s glove and rolled into left-field.
Chase Headley’s single off left-hander Brett Cecil’s glove scored Brett Gardner with what proved to be the winning run as New York pulled off late-inning comeback to down Toronto in front of a chilly crowd of 31,020 at Yankee Stadium.
Dellin Betances (1-0) got credit for the victory despite struggling mightily with his command in the eighth inning. Andrew Miller pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first save with the Yankees and only the second of his career.
The Yankees opened the eighth against left-hander Aaron Loup (0-1) with a pinch-hit double off the bat of Chris Young that just eluded second baseman Devon Travis 25 feet behind first base. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a lined single to center that advanced Young to third.
Loup then hit Gardner on the right forearm to load the bases. Manager John Gibbons replaced Loup with Cecil and, with Carlos Beltran batting, the Blue Jays closer uncorked a wild pitch that scored Young.
After Cecil fanned Beltran, Gibbons elected to walk Mark Teixeira to reload the bases but it backfired when Cecil hit Brian McCann with a pitch to bring in the tying run. Headley then followed with his game-winning single.
The Yankees actually squandered what was an excellent outing from right-hander Michael Pineda, who limited the Blue Jays to two runs on six hits and one walk and struck out six in six innings of work.
The Blue Jays used a lot of luck of their own to score their two runs, using an infield roller by Kevin Pillar, a double by Justin Smoak and another infield single off the bat of Travis to score their first run in the third inning.
They added another run on a one-out single by Travis, a infield bouncer by Jose Reyes followed with a throwing error by Stephen Drew that allowed Travis to reach third before Russell Martin hit a sacrifice fly to score Travis.
The Yankees cut the lead in half in the sixth when Ellsbury singled, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on Beltran’s sacrifice fly.
But Betances struggled with one out in the sixth by walking Jose Bautista, allowing a single by Edwin Encarnacion and a walk to Josh Donaldson.
However, Bautista actually scored to make 3-1 when McCann threw wildly to first base in an attempt to pick off Donaldson.
The implosion of the Blue Jays’ bullpen spoiled a solid effort from knuckeball right-hander R.A. Dickey, who limited the Yankees to one run on four hits and three walks and struck out four in 6 1/3 innings.
- Ellsbury reached base in all four of his plate appearances with two walks and two singles and he scored two runs. In addition, he stole a base. His only negative was he allowed himself to get picked off first base by Dickey in the first inning. But replays showed Dickey actually got away with a balk by moving his left knee.
- Based on what I saw on Wednesday, I am not sure that Betances will be able to wrest the closer’s role away from Miller. The 6-for-7 left-hander overpowered pinch-hitter Danny Valencia, breaking his bat on an infield roller, struck out Travis and retired Reyes on a grounder. As long as Betances struggles, Miller should be the main man.
- The Yankees were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position until Headley’s game-winning single in the ninth. Give Headley credit because he put the ball in play and Cecil could not field it cleanly. Headley was 2-for-4 in the game after going 0-for-4 in the opener on Monday.
- Granted, it was a cold and windy evening that made both teams have to resort to “small ball.” But the Yankees offense again looked sluggish against Dickey. They managed just four hits off him. Of their three hits in the eighth, only Ellsbury’s single was hit hard. I think Yankee fans are just going to have to resign themselves to the fact this Yankee team is going to have trouble scoring runs.
- Betances not only is dealing with less velocity. He also is dealing with some messed up mechanics. He was missing his spots badly and the Blue Jays were able to make him throw 32 pitches in the inning. Fortunately, Betances got out of the mess by inducing both Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar to hit weak comebackers to the mound.
- In a close game, errors can kill you. The errors by Drew and McCann both were costly because the Blue Jays scored a pair of runs off them. Defense was supposed to be a strength of this team. They need to tighten it up.
Catcher Austin Romine cleared waivers and the Yankees outrighted him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Romine, 26, lost a spring training battle to unseat John Ryan Murphy, 23, as the backup to McCann. Romine has batted .204 in 76 games with the Yankees. Murphy has a .252 average in 48 games. Romine is the son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine and the brother of Andrew Romine, who is an infielder with the Detroit Tigers.
The Yankees will play the rubber game of their three-game home series with the Blue Jays on Thursday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia, 34, will start for the Yankees for the first time since May 10 of last season. Sabathia missed the rest of the season and underwent surgery on his right knee. He was 0-3 with a 8.10 ERA in spring training but showed that his velocity has returned.
The Blue Jays will counter with left-hander Daniel Norris, who will be making only his second major-league start. The rookie was 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA in seven spring starts.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
BLUE JAYS 6, YANKEES 1
Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run home run and Russell Martin added a two-run single as part of a five-run third inning off right-hander Masahiro Tanaka as Toronto defeated New York on Opening Day on Monday at Yankee Stadium.
Right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-0) held the Yankees to just one run – a solo home run by Brett Gardner – on three hits and two walks while he struck out three batters in six innings.
Tanaka (0-1) sailed through the first two innings, yielding only one hit and striking out three. But he ran into trouble in the third inning when Kevin Pillar opened the inning with a single and rookie Devon Travis drew a walk.
Jose Reyes then laid down a sacrifice bunt between the mound and third base. Tanaka moved into the path of third baseman Chase Headley and Headley ended up throwing wide of first base for an error that allowed Pillar to score, Travis to reach third and Reyes to second.
Martin followed with a single to right that scored Pillar and Reyes, One batter later, Encarnacion blasted a 2-1 fastball into the left-field bleachers to make it a 5-0 margin.
Tanaka was charged with five runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts in 82 pitches covering for innings.
The Blue Jays added their final tally to begin the seventh inning when Travis belted his first major-league home run to left-field off left-hander Chasen Shreve.
The Yankees were limited to just three hits and three walks in losing their fourth consecutive home opener.
- Gardner has always hit the Blue Jays well and on Monday it was no different. Last season, Gardner hit two of his 17 home runs off Hutchison so it was no surprise when he connected off the 24-year-old right-hander for blast into the right-field seats. Gardner ended up 1-for-4 but he hit the ball well three times.
- Rookie reliever Chris Martin could not have made a better debut with the Yankees than he did in the fifth inning. The 6-foot-8 right-hander faced three hitters who combined last season to hit 98 homers in Jose Bautista, Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. He fanned all three and looked impressive doing it.
- Alex Rodriguez drew loud cheers from the sellout crowd of 48,469 as he was introduced and he ended getting more cheers as he drew a walk and singled in the game. The 39-year-old designated hitter lined out to right-field in his last at-bat to finish his day 1-for-2.
- Tanaka, 26, revamped his pitching style to put less stress on his elbow but it backfired on him on Monday. Tanaka shelved his 94-mile-per-hour fastball in order to use his lower velocity two-seam fastball. That was the pitch Encarnacion hit out. The Blue Jays basically stopped swinging at pitches diving out the strike zone and Tanaka was forced to serve up batting practice fastballs to them. He is going to have to rethink his strategy next time out.
- I bemoaned the lack of offense all spring and it reared its ugly head again on Monday. The Yankees made Hutchison look much better than he really is. They hammered him pretty good in his six starts last season. But on Monday they allowed him to use stuff that tops out at around 92 mph to make them look bad. Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira combined to go 0-for-6 in the heart of the order.
- Headley committed a costly throwing error that began Tanaka’s demise but it really was not all his fault. Tanaka sprinted after the ball and ran right into Headley’s path just as he was fielding the bunt. If Tanaka had let it go I do not think Headley would have made the error.
Manager Joe Girardi did not even try to hide his displeasure with Didi Gregorius’ decision to try to steal third base with two out in the eighth inning. Gregorius reached after being hit in the right elbow by a pitch from reliever Aaron Loup. He moved to second when Beltran drew a two-out walk. Then with Teixeira at the plate and the Yankees trailing 6-1, Gregorius dashed for third with third baseman Donaldson shifted over. But Martin was able to gun down Gregorius easily on the first pitch from reliever Miguel Castro. “You know, I’m just going to chalk it up as someone trying to do too much, and in a game like this you’re looking for a three-run homer there,” Girardi told reporters. “Your run doesn’t mean a whole lot.”
The Yankees will have a day off to wash the bitter taste of defeat out of their mouths before resuming their series with the Blue Jays on Wednesday.
The Yankees will send to the mound right-hander Michael Pineda, who was the team’s most impressive starter this spring. Pineda was 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and just one walk in 19 innings.
The struggling Yankee offense will face right-handed knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey. Dickey, 40, was 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three spring starts.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.
NEW YORK YANKEES
First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.
That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.
With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.
The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.
Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.
However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?
The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are – at least for now – going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.
The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.
If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.
Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.
All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.
A pair of speed demons – Ellsbury and Gardner – are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.
Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.
The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.
The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.
The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.
Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.
That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.
Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.
He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.
It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.
This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.
Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.
But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.
Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.
Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.
What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.
Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.
But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.
The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.
Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base – although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.
The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.
John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.
But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.
But the promise is even brighter longer term.
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.
Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.
At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.
Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.
Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.
Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.
This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.
Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.
With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.
Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.
They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.
A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.
BOSTON RED SOX
This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.
Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.
They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.
However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.
Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.
No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.
There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?
Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.
The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.
Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.
The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.
They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.
The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.
They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).
They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.
This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.
Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?
Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.
They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!
After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans – all of about 7,000 of them a game – it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.
Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.
To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.
The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.
Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.
You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.
Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.
So there is a lot to like.
The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.
They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.
It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!
But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)
3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)
4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86) Hello Montreal!
The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!
BLUE JAYS 4, YANKEES 2
The Blue Jays received a two-out RBI double from Dayan Viciedo and a RBI single by Devon Travis in the second inning off left-hander CC Sabathia as Toronto defeated New York to ruin Sabathia’s spring debut on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Sabathia, 34, pitched a 1-2-3 first inning before being greeted by a leadoff single in the second by former Yankee Dioner Navarro. Two outs later, Viciedo doubled to deep center to score Navarro and Travis followed with a lined single to left to score Viciedo.
Josh Thole then doubled to left, however, Brett Gardner relayed the ball to Didi Gregorius and Gregorius fired a perfect strike from shallow left-field to Brian McCann to nail a sliding Travis at home plate.
The Blue Jays added a run in the third inning off Dellin Betances on a leadoff triple by Jose Reyes and an RBI groundout by Josh Donaldson.
The Yankees got a run in the second inning on a one-out RBI single by Stephen Drew after Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchinson had walked Garrett Jones and Chris Young singled.
They also scored in the fourth on the first spring homer by Mark Teixeira to lead off the frame. Teixiera’s homer was an opposite-field blast to the deepest part of the ballpark in left.
Hutchison (2-0) was the winning pitcher. Sabathia (0-1) took the loss. Roberto Osuna pitched two scoreless innings to earn a save.
The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record is now 9-6.
So much has been made of the Yankees’ starting trio of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Sabathia all returning from injury-plagued seasons. There obviously is a fair amount of concern about Tanaka’s right elbow, Pineda’s right shoulder and Sabathia’s right knee.
But on Tuesday, Sabathia joined Tanaka and Pineda on the road to health. The result was not what Sabathia wanted. But the Yankees will just be happy that their 6-foot-7 former ace is pitching again after a serious knee injury limited him to just eight starts in 2014.
Sabathia looked free and easy in the first, retiring Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista on routine grounders and striking out Donaldson.
Getting lit up for four hits and two runs in the second was not supposed to be part of the plan. But Sabathia is taking a longer view.
“Obviously, you don’t want to give up runs, but it being spring training, it is what it is,” Sabathia told reporters. “But just being able to command the baseball and let it go, throw it hard, it feels good.”
Sabathia’s career was in jeopardy because of a degenerative condition in his knee that could have resulted in a risky microfracture procedure that no pitcher has undergone. Instead, Sabathia opted for a less invasive surgery that stabilized the knee.
The veteran left-hander, however, does not have any cartilage in the knee and he will have to maintain a program of exercises and conditioning to keep it from flaring up. But Sabathia has added weight to increase his strength and endurance and he believes that he can stay healthy throughout the 2015 season.
Manager Joe Girardi was pleased with what he saw on Tuesday.
“I liked the way the ball was coming out of his hand tonight,” Girardi told reporters. “I just thought he threw the ball really well. I’m not worried about the runs he gave up because he’s still trying to work on things, obviously, but first step really positive for me.”
There is a certain kind of calm in the clubhouse now knowing that Tanaka, Pineda and Sabathia are all able to pitch again. Losing all three to injury last season, in addition to right-hander Ivan Nova, was the major reason why 2014 was not a successful campaign.
The success of 2015 is predicated on them each being able to pitch an entire season. Sabathia sees no reason why they can’t.
- If there is any doubt about Gregorius’ defensive abilities at shortstop, he erased them with his spectacular long relay throw that nipped Travis at the plate that saved a run. Much has been made of Gregorius’ range but what really sets him apart his cannon of an arm. Get used to seeing some highlight reel plays from the young shortstop. He is a very special player in the field.
- Teixeira’s home run was a huge moment for him and for Yankee fans. Last spring, Teixeira was recovering from surgery on his right wrist and residual pain limited him to 123 games in which he hit 22 home runs and drove in 62 runs. His home run to left-center proves that his right wrist is just fine. The Yankees would like to see him return to his 2011 form, when he hit 39 homers and drove in 111 runs.
- Young was inserted into the lineup to replace a slightly injured Jacoby Ellsbury and he responded with a 2-for-3 night. Young, 31, gives the Yankees a fourth outfielder who is capable of playing all three outfield spots and he provides right-hand power, some speed and steady fielding. In 23 games with the Yankees last September, Young hit .282 with three home runs and 10 RBIs to earn a contract for 2015.
- Seeing Sabathia get lit up in the second inning was not an encouraging sign if you are a pessimist. After all, the knee injury Sabathia suffered only prevented him from pitching. It had nothing to do with the 14-13 record and 4.78 ERA he recorded in 2013. Sabathia’s next step is to find a way to be successful without his mid-90s fastball. So in addition to proving he is healthy, Sabathia will have to show he can win with a fastball that tops out at 90.
- Gardner has been a batting funk of late. Since March 9, he is 1-for-17 (.059). Gardner is being counted upon along with Ellsbury to set table at the start of the lineup for the power hitters that follow him. It is darn near impossible for Gardner to score runs from the dugout after recording outs. He needs to pick it up soon.
- McCann is also having a sluggish spring. He is batting only .143 and does not have a home run and just a single RBI. After hitting a career low .232 the Yankees are counting on McCann to provide offense in the middle of the lineup this season.
Ellsbury sat out the game with what was termed a “mild, mild, mild mild” abdominal strain. Ellsbury, 31, noticed the injury on Sunday and he was sent to a doctor, who said it did not require an MRI. Girardi said Ellsbury will sit out two games and will be reevaluated on Thursday. “Am I concerned? I’m not too concerned.” Girardi said.
The Yankees will travel to Lake Buena Vista, FL, on Wednesday to face the Atlanta Braves at Champion Field.
Tanaka will make his second start of the spring and he is expected to pitch three innings. Tanaka recorded two strikeouts and four groundouts in a very impressive two-inning debut against the Braves on March 12 in Tampa.
Right-hander Mike Foltynewicz will get the start for the Braves. Vying for a spot in the Braves’ rotation, the 23-year-old is 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA in his first two starts.
Game-time will be 6:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis at 11 p.m. by MLB Network and live on MLB Radio through WFOM in Atlanta.
YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3
There are some managers who will say that their team needs to learn how to win. After four straight losses, Yankees manager Joe Girardi must have given his team a master class in Winning 101 on Wednesday.
Hiroki Kiroda gave the Yankees a solid effort, pitching into the seventh inning, and Mark Teixeira homered and drove in three runs as New York salvaged the final game of a three-game set against Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,710 at Rogers Centre.
Kuroda (5-5) yielded three runs on eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to win his first game since May 28 when he defeated the Cardinals in St. Louis.
Initially, it did not look good for Kuroda when Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first by cranking Kuroda’s first offering into the second deck in the right-field bleachers to give the Blue Jays an early 1-0 lead.
However, Huroda settled in and the Yankees were able to score four runs in the third inning off right-hander Drew Hutchison.
Kelly Johnson opened the frame by drawing a walk and Francisco Cervelli slammed a double into the gap in right-center to score Johnson and tie the game. It was only Cervelli’s second RBI of the season.
Two batters later, Jacoby Ellsbury singled up the middle to score Cervelli and Teixeira then launched a 0-1 change-up into the right-field bleachers to give Kuroda and the Yankees a comfortable 4-1 lead. It was Teixeira’s 14th home run of the season and his second in three games in Toronto.
“The whole dugout was excited about those four runs,” Teixeira told reporters after the game. “It had been a while since we had a lead.”
The Blue Jays, however, did draw closer in the bottom of the fifth.
Munenori Kawasaki drew a one-out walk and with two out Reyes stroked a ground-rule double. Then Melky Cabrera slapped an opposite-field single to left to score two runs to cut the Yankees’ lead to a run.
Hutchison (5-6) left after six innings having given up four runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned six batters.
The Yankees did add a run in the sixth after Blue Jays left-hander Rob Rasmussen walked Brett Gardner, hit Derek Jeter in the foot with a pitch and then issued another free pass to Ellsbury to load the bases.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summoned right-hander Sergio Santos to pitch to Teixeira and Teixeira was able to loft a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Gardner.
The Yankees’ bullpen took it from there as Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and David Robertson held the Blue Jays scoreless on just two hits with no walks and three strikeouts over the final 2 2/3 innings.
Robertson retired all five batters he faced, including striking out the first three batters he faced, to earn his 18th save in 20 opportunities this season.
The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 40-37 and they are now 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays in third place in the American League East. The Blue Jays dropped to 44-36.
- After poor outings from Chase Whitley and David Phelps the past two games, Kuroda was able to keep the Blue Jays contained to allow the Yankee offense to get untracked. Kuroda, 39, has been somewhat of a disappointment after he pitched so well in 2012 and 2013. With his 4.23 ERA, Kuroda could stand to start putting together some good outings and pitch more consistently.
- Teixiera’s three RBIs give him 39 on the season, which currently leads the team. The Yankees are nearly at the halfway point of the season and it is embarrassing that their team leader only has 39 RBIs. But with Teixiera slowed by a hamstring injury and a sore right wrist and Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran all underperforming the Yankees will take anything they can get from Teixeira.
- Ellsbury was 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Ellsbury has now put together a stretch of eight games in which he is 11-for-31 (.355). But he only has one extra-base hit (a double) and three RBIs in that span.
- Brian Roberts was the only Yankee starter who failed to reach base in the game. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Roberts was 7-for-18 (.389) with a home run and two RBIs in his previous five games. Roberts, 36, had his season average fall to .240.
- Despite the victory the Yankees were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and they left the bases loaded in both the fifth and seventh innings. It is getting to the point where pitchers might just as well just intentionally walk the first three Yankees each inning because the odds the Yankees will score any runs is virtually nil.
The Yankees will have a day off on Thursday before opening a three-game home series starting on Friday against the reeling Boston Red Sox.
Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-4, 5.88 ERA) will begin the series for the Yankees. His one victory was on May 7 and he is 0-4 with a 6.12 since then. He gave up four runs on six hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.
The Red Sox will pitch right-hander Brandon Workman (1-0, 2.88 ERA). Workman surrendered two runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in six innings in a no decision against the Cleveland Indians on June 15.
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.
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4
When the Yankees came off their recent West Coast road trip to face the first-place Blue Jays at home they were hoping that they could just gain some ground on them. After completing a three-game sweep of them on Thursday the Yankees have to feel extremely blessed.
David Phelps pitched seven very gutty innings and the offense, while it did not send a single ball into the seats, wore down their American League East rivals as New York won its 16th straight game against Toronto at Yankee Stadium in front of a paid crowd of 40,169.
Phelps (3-4) held the booming bats of the Blue Jays in check except for a two-out two-run home run he served up to Melky Cabrera in the third inning that tied the score at 2-2. Those two runs were all Phelps would give up while holding the Jays to six hits while he walked two and struck out seven.
Phelps even helped himself out with a do-or-die fielding play in the fifth inning. With two out and Colby Rasmus on third, Cabrera hit a rocket shot that ricocheted off Phelps and rolled behind the mound. Phelps scrambled back to the ball and fired quickly to Mark Teixeira at first to barely nip Cabrera.
Meanwhile, the Yankees hitters were putting right-hander Drew Hutchinson (5-4) through a draining pitch-count wringer.
They scored single runs off him in the first two innings on sacrifice flies by Jacoby Ellsbury in the first and Kelly Johnson in the second. They then broke the 2-2 tie in the third inning when Ellsbury led off with a single, stole second and advanced to third on a single by Teixeira.
One batter later, Carlos Beltran scored Ellsbury with the Yankees’ third sacrifice fly of the evening. In the meantime, they had forced Hutchison to throw 76 pitches in the first three innings.
The Yankees added a run in the fifth when Ellsbury laced a one-out single and, again, stole second. Then Teixeira drew a walk that ended the night for Hutchison.
Left-hander Aaron Loup was able to retire Brian McCann on an infield liner but Beltran lofted a ground-rule double into the bleachers in left-center to score Ellsbury.
Hutchinson was charged with four runs on six hits and four walks while he struck out three in 4 1/3 innings.
The Yankees added single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to extend their lead to 6-2 on a night when two big contributors to their bullpen, Dellin Betances and closer David Robertson, were unavailable.
Brian Roberts and his base-running keyed the sixth inning when he led off the frame with a single and stole second and third base. But manager Joe Girardi deserves some credit for some strategy after Brett Gardner drew a one-out walk.
Girardi elected to send Gardner as Derek Jeter bounced a ball to Jose Reyes at shortstop. Instead of being able to turn a double play, Reyes was forced to retire Jeter at first as Roberts scored and Gardner was standing safely at second.
The Yankees were able to load the bases on right-hander Steve Delabar in the seventh inning when Roberts drew a walk with two outs. Delabar then walked Yangervis Solarte to force in a run.
The Blue Jays did manage to make things interesting in the eighth inning when Jose Bautista drew a one-out walk from right-hander Shawn Kelley and Edwin Encarnacion followed by planting his 21st home run of the season into the left-field bleachers.
However, Kelley retired Dioner Navarro and Matt Thornton got the final out in the eighth and the first out in the ninth before he was touched for a single off the bat of Rasmus.
Adam Warren then came in to get pinch-hitter Munenori Kawasaki and Reyes to complete the sweep and earn his second save of the season.
With the victory, the Yankees are 38-33 and they are 1 1/2 games out of first place in the A.L. East. The struggling Blue Jays fell to 41-33.
- Phelps lost four consecutive starts from May 22 through June 7 and he was 1-4 with a 4.88 ERA at that point. But in his past two starts he has defeated the team with the best record in the American League (Oakland) and the best team in the A.L. East (Toronto). In those two starts he has given up two runs on eight hits and two walks and struck out 11 in 13 2/3 innings. He is 2-0 with a 1.32 ERA in those starts, which has lowered his season ERA to 4.11.
- The Yankees very much need Beltran’s bat and they got it on Thursday. Beltran was 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs. It was his first multiple RBI game since he drove in two runs against the Boston Red Sox on April 22 at Fenway Park. Beltran entered the contest 7-for-40 (.175) with a home run and three RBIs since he came off the disabled list on June 5.
- Ellsbury had another good night in going 2-for-4 with two stolen bases, two runs scored and an RBI. Ellsbury is now hitting .279 with four homers and 31 RBIs. But he also has stolen a team-best 20 bases and has an on-base percentage of .346. Add his skilled fielding in center and you have a very good player and a very smart free-agent signing by the Yankees.
Why complain when starters Masahiro Tanaka, Chase Whitley and Phelps combined to give up just five runs in 19 innings (a 2.37 ERA) in the three games against the hard-hitting Blue Jays. Whitley and Phelps may be considered as blowout patches for a starting rotation that lost Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda. But they are more than holding their own for Yankees at a time when they are very much needed. No complaints about this game.
The game was delayed for some time in the fourth inning when a rare base-runner interference play was called on Encarnacion after he led off with a single. Navarro followed with a routine pop fly to Teixeira just inside the first-base bag. Encarnacion used both of his hands to slide around Teixiera to return to first base while the ball was in the air and he was immediately called for interference by first-base umpire Chris Conroy. After initially calling Navarro out on the pop fly, the umpires conferred and placed Navarro at first base on a fielder’s choice. . . . Johnson had to leave the game in the sixth inning when the fingers on his left hand were struck with the ball as he was attempting a bunt. Johnson was removed from the game and replaced by Solarte with a 3-2 count. Solarte struck out but the Yankees later scored Roberts on Jeter’s groundout. Johnson underwent X-rays that did not indicate any broken bones. But Johnson is listed as day-to-day.
The Yankees now hope to continue their momentum against their A.L. East rivals when they begin a weekend three-game home series against the Baltimore Orioles.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (4-5, 3.42 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda lost his start on Saturday, giving up four runs on five hits and three walks against the Oakland Athletics. Kuroda is 1-0 against the Orioles this season after beating them 4-2 on April 7 at Yankee Stadium in his second start of the season.
Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (2-8, 4.86 ERA) will start for the O’s. The disappointing free agent gave up two runs on three hits and five walks in six innings in a loss to the Blue Jays last Friday. He has not won a game since May 8 and he was the losing pitcher to Kuroda in that game on April 7.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.
YANKEES 3, BLUE JAYS 1
Whispers around the American League caution teams that to beat Masahiro Tanaka you better get to him early in the count and in the game. The Toronto Blue Jays applied that game plan in Tanaka’s first major-league start and again on Tuesday and it did not work either time.
In Tanaka’s major-league debut, Melky Cabrera led off the game with a home run and the Blue Jays lost the game 7-3. Jose Reyes led off Tuesday’s game by hitting Tanaka’s first delivery into the right-field bleachers and Toronto still lost the game.
Tanaka (11-1) pitched six innings to record his major-league-leading 11th victory as New York cut a game off the Blue Jays’ lead in the American League East with a victory over Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 41,834 at Yankee Stadium.
The 25-year-old right-hander yielded just that one run on five hits and two walks and he fanned 10 to lower his A.L.-leading ERA to 1.99 and post his 14th quality start in as many games pitched.
“What he’s done has been remarkable,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters.
The victory also was Girardi’s 600th in his career as the team’s manager, the sixth skipper to reach that mark.
Tanaka and the Yankees weathered the early 1-0 deficit before taking the lead in the bottom of the third against rookie right-hander Marcus Stroman, who is a native of nearby Medford, N.Y.
Kelly Johnson laced a one-out double to the wall in right-center and Brett Gardner followed by lining a 2-1 slider off the netting of the right-field foul pole for his sixth home run of the season.
Stroman (3-2) was charged with two runs on four hits and three walks while he struck out two in 3 2/3 innings.
The Yankees pushed across another run against left-hander Aaron Loup when Derek Jeter reached on an infield single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. After Jacoby Ellsbury’s groundout advanced Jeter to third, Loup made a mistake by failing to walk Mark Teixeira on a 3-1 pitch.
Instead, the switch-hitting Teixeira lined Loup’s inside fastball up the middle for a one-out RBI single with the left-hand-hitting Brian McCann on deck.
Meanwhile, Tanaka got even tougher, striking out Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion on swinging strikes in succession in the fifth inning.
Rookie Dellin Betances pitched a perfect two innings, striking out three, and David Robertson pitched around a two-out triple by Munenori Kawasaki to notch his 17th save in 19 chances this season.
The victory improves the Yankees’ season record to 36-33 and boosts them into second place in the A.L. East 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays. The Jays are now 41-31.
- The conventional wisdom prior to the game was that because Tanaka’s loss came against the only team he has faced twice this season, the Chicago Cubs, that the Blue Jays would have success against him in their second meeting. It did not happen. Tanaka was even better. “They mowed us down pretty good tonight,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters.
- If you combined the numbers this season for Tanaka, Betances and Robertson they are 15-3 with a 2.09 ERA with 224 strikeouts in 164 innings. I doubt seriously you can name a better starter and two-man bullpen combination in baseball today. They just dominate hitters and they combined on Tuesday to strike out 15 batters against the best home-run hitting team in baseball.
- Gardner was batting .344 in his past 14 home games and his home run on Tuesday was his fourth at Yankee Stadium. Overall, Gardner is hitting .325 at home this season and he also leads the Yankees in bating with runners in scoring position at .315. Despite mostly batting in the leadoff spot, Gardner is tied with McCann and Yangervis Solarte for third on the team in RBIs with 28.
The Yankees probably could have done better than just six hits against Stroman and the Blue Jays relievers but with Tanaka on the mound it just does not seem to matter. The Yankees face the Blue Jays in five of the next 10 games. So winning the first one is a good start in cutting their lead in the division.
As expected on Tuesday, the Yankees activated catcher Francisco Cervelli from the 60-day disabled list and John Ryan Murphy was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cervelli, 28, has been sidelined since April 13 with a torn right hamstring and just completed a 10-game minor-league rehab stint. Murphy, 22, hit .286 with a home run and eight RBIs and drew raves about his play over 24 games. Cervelli, however, was out of options and the Yankees did not want to risk losing him. . . . CC Sabathia reported no issues with his right knee of Tuesday after throwing a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium on Monday. Sabathia, 33, has been on the 15-day disabled list since May 11 after requiring a stem-cell injection to his knee when some degenerative breakdown in the cartilage was discovered by Dr. James Andrews. There is still no firm date for Sabathia’s return but it likely will be sometime after the All-Star break.
The Yankees will continue their three-game midweek series with Blue Jays on Wednesday.
Rookie right-hander Chase Whitley (2-0, 2.41 ERA) will make his seventh start of the season. Whitley is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in past two starts including giving up just two runs on five hits with no walks and six K’s in his major-league best 7 2/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday.
Left-hander Mark Buehrle (10-3, 2.28 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Buehrle is coming off back-to-back losses and yielded four runs on eight hits and one walk in 6 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
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!
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.