YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4
Some victories are just victories but on Friday the New York Yankees earned a hard-fought victory that came at a very high price.
Lyle Overbay stroked an RBI triple in the bottom of the fourth inning that broke a 2-2 tie and New York went on to defeat Toronto in front of paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 36,151 despite the fact they lost their starting battery within the first three innings of the game.
The seemingly cursed Yankees lost starting catcher Francisco Cervelli in the first inning with a fractured right hand after he was struck by a foul tip off the bat of Blue Jays leadoff hitter Rajai Davis. Cervelli’s hand will require surgery and he will be sidelined a minimum of six weeks.
Two innings later, right-hander Ivan Nova was removed from the game with soreness in his right elbow. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI late Friday but his status is unclear.
But the Yankees were able to win the game behind the stellar relief pitching of David Phelps (1-1). Phelps took over for Nova with two on and no out in the third inning and he was able to mostly shut the Blue Jays down over the next four innings.
After Phelps surrendered an RBI single to Colby Rasmus in the third inning, he settled in and only was touched for a solo home run – his second of the game – by Edwin Encarnacion to lead off the sixth inning. Phelps gave up one run on two hits and walked two while he struck out a career-high nine batters.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were the beneficiaries of a season-high 10 walks from Blue Jays pitchers. They also benefitted from a wild pitch and a passed ball to score a pair of runs.
Two pitches after Overbay tripled in the tie-breaking run off Blue Jays reliever Brad Lincoln (0-1) in the fourth, Lincoln uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Overbay to score.
The Yankees also scored in the seventh after Robinson Cano doubled and advanced to third on a Vernon Wells groundout. One out later, Ichiro Suzuki was intentionally walked and Cano trotted home when J.P. Arencibia was unable to catch a pitch thrown by Blue Jays reliever Steve Delabar.
After Jose Bautista blasted a solo home run in the eighth off Yankees reliever David Robertson to draw the Blue Jays to within a run at 5-4, Brett Gardner closed out the scoring for the Yankees with a solo home run in the bottom of the inning off Blue Jays left-hander Darren Oliver.
Although the Blue Jays were able to string out three hits in the ninth inning off closer Mariano Rivera to load the bases with two out, Rivera struck out Rasmus swinging to record his eighth save in eight opportunities this season.
With the victory, the Yankees are 13-9. The slumping Blue Jays fell to 9-15.
- Overbay’s triple in the fourth came off the only right-hander that the lefty swinging first baseman faced on Friday. Overbay was 0-for-3 against three different left-handers on Friday and he is now 1-for-24 (.042) against lefties this season. Overbay is 15-for-48 (.313) against right-handers. He has been forced to make a lot of starts at first base against left-handers due to the back injury that has sidelined Kevin Youkilis since last Saturday.
- Though he gave up an RBI single to Rasmus and a solo home run to Encarnacion, Phelps was absolutely brilliant in his four innings of relief. Phelps faced 15 batters over his four innings of work and struck out nine, seven of them swinging. Phelps had devastating command off both sides of the plate and he likely will replace Nova in the starting rotation should he have to miss time with his right elbow injury.
- Wells continues to swing a hot bat. The Yankees only collected six hits but Wells had two of them. He was 2-for-3 with two singles and a sacrifice fly that tied the game at 2-2 in the third inning. In five games against his former team, Wells is 12-for-26 (.462) with three home runs and and five RBIs.
- The Yankees were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Friday and they stranded nine runners in the game. The Yankees mainly took advantage of the 10 walks, the wild pitch and passed ball from Blue Jays starter Aaron Laffey, relievers Lincoln, Aaron Loup, Delabar and Oliver, and the catcher Arencibia. This was a night of being lucky and not especially being good.
- The Yankees had chances for big innings in the second and third against Laffey but Overbay grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners at first and third and one out in the second inning. In the third inning, Laffey was removed when he walked the bases loaded with two out but Suzuki struck out swinging against Lincoln to end that threat.
- It was almost a blessing Nova was removed in the third inning. He was not pitching well again. He left having given up two runs on four hits and he struck out two in two-plus innings. Nova has been unable to recapture his rookie season form of 2011. Phelps promises to be a big improvement as the No. 5 starter.
Youkilis, 33, took swings in a batting cage on Friday but was unable to start for the sixth consecutive game. Manager Joe Girardi said if Youkilis is unable to play on Saturday the Yankees likely will place him on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 21. That means Youkilis could not return until May 7 when the Yankees open a series against the Colorado Rockies in Denver. . . . Laffey started for the Blue Jays on Friday because the scheduled starter, right-hander Josh Johnson, reported pain in right triceps and he had to be scratched.
The Yankees have a shot to win the four-game weekend series against the Jays with a victory on Saturday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-2, 3.34 ERA) will start for the Yankees. He is coming off a very poor outing against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday in which he gave up five runs in seven innings, serving up three home runs. Sabathia, 32, is 13-4 with a 2.98 ERA in his career against the Blue Jays.
Sabathia will be opposed by left-hander J.A. Happ (2-1, 3.68 ERA). Happ allowed just one run on four hits in his last start against the Baltimore Orioles. But he did not get a decision. Happ is 2-0 with 5.40 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3
The New York Yankees entered the 2013 season believing they would need to bunt, steal and scrap for runs without the vaunted power that made them the famous “Bronx Bombers.” But on Thursday they proved they could still slug with the best of teams by hitting three big home runs.
Robinson Cano slammed a three-run homer and Vernon Wells and Francisco Cervelli added a pair of solo shots to back Hiroki Kuroda as New York outslugged Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 31,445 at Yankee Stadium.
Cano’s seventh round-tripper of the season came with two out and two on in the third inning off veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle with the Yankees trailing 3-1. Cano launched a 3-1 fastball into the bleachers in right-center that gave the Yankees a lead they would not surrender the rest of the night.
Kuroda (3-1) got off to a rocky start in the first inning by giving up a two-out walk to Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion followed with a two-run homer to left. Brett Lawrie later greeted Kuroda with a leadoff opposite field solo shot to right in the second frame that gave Toronto an early 3-0 lead.
However, Kuroda pitched brilliantly after Lawrie’s home run, retiring 15 of the last 17 batters he faced. Kuroda gave up just the three runs on six hits and one walk and he struck out three in seven inning of work.
Wells, who played for the Blue Jays for 12 seasons, continued his reign of terror against his former team by leading off the second inning with a 400-foot-plus blast that landed in Monument Park in center-field. It was Wells’ sixth home run of the season, his third against his former team and his second within five days off Buehrle.
Cervelli led off the third inning with his third home run of the season – a lined shot into the left-field bleachers to give the Yankees their final margin of victory.
Buerhrle (1-1) gave up five runs on seven hits and no walks and he struck three in 5 1/3 innings.
The bullpen trio of Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the Jays over the final three innings to preserve the victory for Kuroda. Rivera pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two of the three batters he faced, to earn his seventh save in as many chances this season.
- Cano has basically strapped the Yankees on his back is carrying the team after a slow start. Since April 8, Cano is 25-for-64 (.391) with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. His three-run shot came after a one-out infield single by Jayson Nix and Brett Gardner bounced a single up the middle. One out later, Buehrle, with Wells looming on deck, opted to challenge Cano on a 3-1 pitch and lost.
- Wells entered Thursday’s game owning Buehrle. Wells was hitting .500 in his career against the left-hander with four home runs. For a player who was ticketed to be just a fifth outfielder with the Los Angeles Angels, Wells, 34, is hitting .293 with six home runs and 10 RBIs for the Yankees after being obtained in trade late in spring training.
- We are going to have to change Cervelli’s first name to “Babe” the way he has been hitting for the Yankees. Cervelli entered this season with only five career home runs and now he has three in his 15 starts. Cervelli is making the Yankees forget about departed free agent Russell Martin. He is batting .269 with three homers and eight RBIs.
- Manager Joe Girardi said he was going to stick with Ben Francisco as the designated hitter against left-handers but Francisco continues to struggle. He did leg out a bunt single in the seventh inning but he is only hitting .103 this season. The Yankees have struggled against left-handers this season and Francisco is part of the reason why.
- The back injury to Kevin Youkilis also has forced Girardi to play lefty swinging Lyle Overbay against left-handers and it is exposing his inability to hit them. In his last 15 at-bats, Overbay is hitless. He was 0-for-4 on Thursday including hitting into a double play and a strikeout. His season average has skidded to .221.
- Eduardo Nunez is also off to a horribly slow start. He was 0-for-3 on Thursday and is 3-for-29 (.103) in his last nine games. His season average has plunged to .173. He is getting a chance to show with Derek Jeter out that he should be a starting shortstop and he is not proving it.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was ejected from the game in the seventh inning by crew chief Jeff Kellogg after the four umpires agreed to reverse an out call by first-base umpire Chad Fairchild on Francisco’s bunt single in the seventh inning. Television replays indicated that Encarnacion trapped the throw from Lawrie. . . . Youkilis was held out Thursday’s game after his stiff lower back acted up when he attempted to take swings in a batting cage. The 33-year-old corner infielder has now missed five straight games since leaving in the sixth inning of Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays in Toronto. He is still listed as day-to-day. . . . Jeter conducted a news conference at the stadium before the game on Thursday and said he definitely will play this season. Jeter is not expected to play until after the All-Star break as he recovers from surgery on a fractured left ankle. Jeter says he has a date for his return in mind but he would not reveal it.
The Yankees will continue their four-game weekend series with Toronto on Friday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-1, 6.14 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Nova issued a season-high four walks in five-plus innings in a no-decision against the Blue Jays on Saturday. He allowed four runs and has not pitched six innings in any of three starts. He is 3-2 with a 4.39 ERA lifetime against the Jays.
He will opposed right-hander Josh Johnson (0-1, 6.86 ERA). Johnson unraveled in the fifth inning against the Yankees on Saturday walking two batters with bases loaded. He gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings. He is 1-0 with a 3.65 ERA in two starts against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast in a regional basis by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3 (11 INNINGS)
Some days you win when you play great and some days you win by sheer luck. On Saturday the Yankees won on a misplay by the Blue Jays.
After blowing a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Yankees pushed across two runs in the top of the 11th inning on a throwing error by left-hander Aaron Loup on a bunt play as New York edged Toronto in front of a sellout crowd of 46,095 at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Tied at 3-3, Vernon Wells opened the eleventh inning with a single to center and Francisco Cervelli followed with a single to left.
Ichiro Suzuki then laid down a sacrifice bunt to Loup (1-1) but Loup threw wide of third baseman Brett Lawrie attempting to throw out Wells and the ball rolled down the left-field line. That allowed both Wells and Cervelli to score.
Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth inning to record his fifth save in as many chances this season. Shawn Kelley (1-0) retired the only two batters he faced in the bottom of the 10th inning to get credit for the victory.
But the bullpen really let down Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who entered the game having pitched scoreless baseball through his last 14 innings and he proceeded to throw seven more innings of shutout baseball against the Blue Jays.
He had held Toronto to only two hits and a walk while he struck out six strikeouts and he was leading 3-0 as he opened the bottom of the eighth.
After striking out Lawrie, Colby Rasmus slipped a ground single into right-field and manager Joe Girardi elected to bring in right-hander David Robertson.
The usually reliable Robertson was anything but on Saturday.
After striking out Maicer Izturis, Robertson unraveled and walked pinch-hitter Adam Lind and Rajai Davis followed with a an RBI single that scored Rasmus to end Kuroda’s scoreless inning streak at 21 1/3 innings.
Then Melky Cabrera laced a two-run single to center that scored pinch-runner Emilio Bonifacio and Davis and tied the game at 3-3.
The Yankees scored all their runs off Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle.
Wells opened the scoring by slapping a line-drive solo home run to left that struck the foul screen with one out in the second inning. It was Wells’ second home run in two games against his former team.
The Yankees tacked on a pair of runs in the fifth inning after Jayson Nix singled and Brett Gardner doubled. Robinson Cano drew an intentional walk to load the bases and Kevin Youkilis rocketed a liner just under the glove of Lawrie at third that scored Gardner and Cano.
The Yankees have now won nine of their last 11 games and five of their last six. Their season record is now 10-6. The struggling Blue Jays fell to a convenience store mark of 7-11.
- Wells obviously is up for this series against his old team. He was 3-for-5 with a home run, two runs scored and an RBI on Saturday. In the first two games of the series, he is 5-for-10 with two home runs, three runs scored and three RBIs. Wells raised his season average to .310 and he is tied with Cano and Travis Hafner for the team lead in home runs with five.
- Kuroda really deserved a better fate in this game. He was absolutely brilliant for the second consecutive start. In those two starts he has given up one run on eight hits and one walk while he struck out 12 in 16 1/3 innings. He should, by all rights, be 3-1.
- Youkilis had been in a bit of slump but he at least did come through with a big two-run single in the fifth inning to extend the Yankees’ lead to 3-1. Youkilis is tied with Gardner for third on the team in RBIs with nine.
- It is hard to get really down on Robertson because he usually is very reliable in the eighth inning. He just had a bad day at the office on Saturday. His big mistake was walking Lind with one on and two out. That opened the floodgates for Davis’ RBI single and Cabrera’s game-tying two-run single. Robertson entered the game with a scoreless inning streak of 11 2/3 innings dating back to last season.
- Eduardo Nunez continues to struggle at the plate. He was 0-for-4 and now is hitting .184 on the season.
- Nunez and Cervelli also get the “Let the Pitcher Off the Hook” Award for Saturday. Nunez popped up to the infield with the bases loaded in fourth and Cervelli hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the fifth. They let Buehrle off the hook in two straight frames and it cost the team dearly later.
Youkilis left the game in the sixth inning with tightness in his lower back he will not play in Sunday’s finale. Lyle Overbay entered the game in the sixth at first base for Youkilis and was 1-for-2. Nix will start for Youkilis at third base on Sunday.
The Yankees will have a chance to sweep their three-game series with Toronto on Sunday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-1, 5.59 ERA) will make the start for the Yankees. Nova held the Arizona Diamondbacks to two runs in five innings in a victory on Tuesday. Nova, 26, is 3-2 with a 4.00 ERA lifetime against the Blue Jays.
Nova will be opposed by right-hander Josh Johnson (0-1, 6.91 ERA). Johnson allowed two runs on four hits and a walk and fanned eight in seven innings in no decision against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday. He is 1-0 with a 1.29 in his only start against the Yankees when he was with the Marlins.
Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.
REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES
If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.
The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.
The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.
A DOMINANT KING
Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.
But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.
THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL
The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.
They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.
The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.
But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.
One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.
Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.
Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.
That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.
The offense has its own issues.
Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.
There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.
So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.
THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE
The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.
Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.
They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.
Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.
Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.
Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”
The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.
The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.
Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.
DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY
The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.
They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.
One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.
They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.
The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.
Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.
Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.
The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.
Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.
They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.
They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.
The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.
The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.
The gold remains in the Bronx.
THE STARKS OF BOSTON
In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.
That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.
Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.
They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.
They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.
The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.
Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!
It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.
There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.
Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.
THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING
The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.
It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,
Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.
So why should 2013 be any different?
The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.
Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.
They may even finish last.
But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.
But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.
The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.
You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.
They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.
The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.
The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.
Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.
The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.
It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.
Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.
That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.
They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.
- BLUE JAYS
- RED SOX
For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven.
BLUE JAYS 17, YANKEES 5
Jose Bautista ran for two touchdowns and Melky Cabrera kicked a long field goals as . . . Oops! Right score but wrong sport.
Cabrera was 3-for-3 and drove in four runs and Maicer Izturis was 2-for-3 with five RBIs as Toronto took advantage of 10 walks and three errors to crush New York on Thursday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.
Josh Johnson (3-0) threw three shutout inning, giving up two hits – one of them a solo home run to Kevin Youkilis in the first inning – and striking out five to earn the victory.
Right-handers Jose Ramirez (1-1) and Adam Warren were tagged for a combined 14 runs on six hits and nine walks in just 1 2/3 innings.
The Yankees’ four game spring winning streak was snapped and they are now 7-12. The Blue Jays are 8-10.
- Without a doubt the Yankees allowing to Blue Jays to run so much around the bases on Thursday will certainly tire them out for their scheduled exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland on Friday.
- Youkilis is starting to come around with the bat in a big way. He was 2-for-3 with his second spring homer and a triple. He scored two runs and drove in another. In his last four games, Youkilis is 5-for-10 with two home runs, a triple, two doubles and three RBIs. He has raised his spring to .263. It appears the work with hitting coach Kevin Long has paid off because Youkilis has dropped his hands to allow himself to get to the ball quicker.
- With Clay Rapada sidelined with a sore shoulder, Josh Spence is showing he is pretty capable as a lefty reliever. Spence 25, gave up just one hit and struck out three and is still unscored upon this spring.
- It is real easy to get down on Ramirez for his poor start but, in truth, the 23-year-old has not pitched above High-A Tampa. Entering the game he had pitched nine scoreless innings this spring so the Yankees are a long way from giving up on him.
- The same can’t be said for Warren, 26. In his last two outings, Warren has given up 12 runs on 10 hits and and six walks in 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander had no shot to make the team this spring but was being looked upon as a potential call-up as a emergency starter during the season. Let’s hope the Yankees do not need him because he is never going to be a good major-league starter.
- The Yankees committed three errors but that mostly was attributable to the windy conditions on the field and the fact the Yankees were already down 9-1 after two innings.
Phil Hughes, 26, threw a 26-pitch bullpen session on Thursday and said that he believes he still can be ready to pitch when the regular season begins. Hughes has been sidelined all spring with a bulging disk in his upper back. Hughes will pitch in a simulated game on Monday but it unclear if he will be able to be able to get up the 90 to 100 pitches necessary to make his first start.
The Yankees return home to George M. Steinbrenner Field to play host to the Miami Marlins.
Yankee ace left-hander CC Sabathia, 32, will make his spring training debut. He has been rehabbing from minor elbow surgery this offseason. Sabathia will be opposed by former New York Mets right-hander John Maine.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast on tape delay by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 6, PHILLIES 2
TAMPA – So much of the early weeks of spring were filled with such bad news for the Yankees but on Wednesday night a page seemed to turn and it all of it centers around the presence of the team’s “Key Three.”
Andy Pettitte threw three-plus innings his spring debut, Derek Jeter played shortstop for the first since his ankle injury last October and Mariano Rivera pitched another perfect inning as New York flexed its collective muscle to down Philadelphia at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Pettitte (1-0) gave up one run on four hits and three walks while striking out three to pick up the victory. An uncharacteristically out-of-sync Cliff Lee (0-1) took the loss after giving up five runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings.
In addition to Lee’s inability to command his breaking pitches, the Phillies did not help his cause by committing four errors behind him.
The surprise hitting star of the night was the newly acquired Ben Francisco, who laced a two-run double to the wall in centerfield with two out in the first inning to score the Yankees’ first runs. Francisco batted fifth and played rightfield.
With the victory the Yankees have now reeled off four straight victories and they are 7-11 in Grapefruit League play. The Phillies dropped to 7-10.
- Although Pettitte’s outing was less than stellar, there were some positives. He wriggled out of a two-on, two-out situation in the first by getting Domonic Brown on a flyout. And after giving up a two-out RBI single up the middle to Brown in the third, he retired Darin Ruf on a great play by third baseman Kevin Youkilis and a great stretch by first baseman Juan Rivera. Petitte’s command was off but it was not a bad 58-pitch first effort in spring.
- Francisco has a great opportunity to make the club and his debut could not have been better. Francisco was hitting .400 and he had six doubles when he was released on Monday by the Cleveland Indians at his request. With Rivera seemingly looking like the team’s replacement first baseman for Mark Teixeira, Francisco could emerge as the starting leftfielder until Curtis Granderson returns in mid-May.
- It is easy to overlook Ichiro Suzuki but opposing teams are learning that is unwise. Suzuki was 2-for-3 with a run scored, a stolen base and a key two-out RBI single in the second inning. For those fans and so-called experts who think Suzuki is over the hill at age 39 listen to this: He is hitting .462 this spring, which leads the team.
- Pettitte gave up a run in the third inning which broke the Yankees’ earned run scoreless inning streak at 30 innings. Before that the last earned run the Yankees had allowed was on March 9 when Jim Miller allowed a ninth-inning run on a Jordan Parraz sacrifice fly in 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
Just before Wednesday’s game the Yankees announced three roster moves. They optioned outfielder Zoilo Almonte, infielder Corban Joseph and right-hander Adam Warren to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Almonte, a 23-year-old switch-hitter with power, had an outside shot to make the team after Granderson’s injury on Feb. 24. But Almonte has not played above the Double-A level and the Yankees would like to see him continue to develop at Scranton.
The Yankees will travel to Dunedin, FL on Thursday to square off with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Jose Ramirez, a 23-year-old who has been the best young pitcher the Yankees have showcased this spring, will make his third start. He will be opposed by newly acquired right-hander Josh Johnson.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will not be telecast.
MARLINS 2, YANKEES 1
“I didn’t execute, that’s the bottom line,” Jeter told MLB.com later. “It was a big part of the game, and I didn’t get the bunt down.”
“Both guys were really good,” Joe Girardi said. “Our guy, A.J., I thought he threw the ball great. It’s unfortunate that Josh Johnson was really good, too.”