Tagged: Josh Lueke

Tanaka Goes 4-0 As Patient Yankees Hammer Rays

GAME 28

YANKEES 9, RAYS 3

Sometimes you can predict the game’s outcome by looking at how pitchers fare through the second and third time in the batting order. Saturday’s pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays came into the game as polar opposites.

The rookie right-hander Odorizzi tends to pitch well early and lose it the second time through the order. Tanaka gets hit early but gets much tougher the second and third times through the order. That is exactly the way Saturday’s game played out.

After the Rays nicked Tanaka for three runs on seven hits,, including two solo home runs, in the first four innings, the 25-year-old Japanese rookie right-hander shut out the Rays on just one hit in his last three innings of work. Meanwhile, after Odorizzi retired the first nine batters he faced, he was hammered for three runs on five hits and two walks by the next 10 batters he faced.

Tanaka (4-0) remained undefeated as a pitcher dating back to Aug. 19, 2012 when he was pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.

The Yankees got a solo home run from Kelly Johnson off right-hander Josh Lueke (0-2) to lead off the sixth inning that broke a 3-3 tie and the Yankees rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to score nine unanswered runs to defeat Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 43,325 at Yankee Stadium.

Tanaka ended up giving up three runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in seven innings to earn a victory punctuated by adjustments he made to stop the Rays after their early assault.

“You know what you’re going to get from him,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters. “You’re going to get a guy that’s really going to compete and is going to give you distance and is going to keep you in the game. He’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”

The Rays jumped out early when Desmond Jennings sent Tanaka’s 12th delivery into the bleachers in right-center for a solo home run with one out in the first inning.

They added a run in the second inning on a little bit of luck and some well-placed hits.

James Loney singled to left against the shift to start the inning. One batter later, David DeJesus hit a line drive that deflected off Tanaka and rolled into left to advance Loney to third. After retiring Sean Rodriguez on a popup for the second out, Ryan Hanigan rolled a ball that just squirted through Johnson and Yangervis Solarte.

Wil Myers gave the Rays their 3-0 lead when he slapped Tanaka’s first pitch to the opposite field and in the corner of the right-field porch for  home run.

True to form, Odorizzi fell apart in the fourth when Jacoby Ellsbury led off the frame with a lined single to left. After Brett Gardner forced out Ellsbury on a fielder’s choice groundout, Mark Teixeira launched a mammoth blast into the second deck in right field for his fifth home run and his fourth in his past five games.

The Yankees then chased Odorizzi in the fifth when Ichiro Suzki led off with a double to the wall in left-center and Solarte drew a four-pitch walk. After Ellsbury tied the game with a ground-rule double to left-center, Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled Odorizzi in favor of left-hander Cesar Ramos.

Odorizzi left after giving up three runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four in four-plus innings.

But after Johnson deposited his fourth home run of the season into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center, the floodgates opened as the Yankees blasted Lueke and right-hander Heath Bell for six runs on seven hits and one walk over the final three innings.

Teixeira added an RBI single and Alfonso Soriano scored another run with a sacrifice fly off Lueke in the seventh. That Yankees tagged Bell for three runs in the eighth, keyed by an RBI single by Brian Roberts and two-run single by Gardner.

With the victory, the Yankees broke a three-game skid and they reclaimed the lead in the American League East with a 16-12 record. They lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles by a half game. The Rays fell to 14-17 and they are three games back in fourth place in the tightly bunched division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tananka, by all rights, should have lost. By his own admission, he did not have good stuff. “All my pitches weren’t there today,” he said through his interpreter. “As for the split, it was more like a changeup, I feel. Everything wasn’t crisp today.” Yet he was able to win because he did not panic and he found a way to shut down the Rays to allow the Yankees’ offense to get into the game. It shows that Tanaka, on a day when he was not as his best, can still win a game. That makes him special.
  • It is May so that means that it is time for Teixeira to wake up and he has. He was 2-for-4 in the game with a single, a homer, he was intentionally walked and he scored a run while driving in three. In his past five games, Teixeira is 7-for-19 (.368) with four home runs and six RBIs. That has raised Teixeira’s season average from .212 to .269. For those pundits who doubted Teixeira’s recovery from wrist surgery have some Tabasco to put on your steaming plate of crow.
  • You think the Boston Red Sox would not want Ellsbury back. Think again! In his two games against the Rays, Ellsbury is 7-for-10 with two walks and he has scored two runs and driven in a pair. That has raised Ellsbury’s season average from .309 to .346, which is second to Matt Wieters (.354) of the Orioles in the American League.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Despite the victory there were some moments that the Yankees did not deliver with runners in scoring position. Brian McCann was 1-for-5 with a double but Ramos struck him out with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth after the Rays elected to walk Teixeira to load the bases. He then lined out to Rodriguez in shallow right in the seventh with two on and nobody out. He ended his day flying out to end the eighth with one on and two out. So he stranded six runners. McCann is still struggling, hitting just .228 on the season.
  • Soriano, despite his sac fly in the seventh, was not much better than McCann. He was 0-for-3 and he followed McCann in the fifth by grounding out to short to leave the bases loaded. Despite going 3-for-7 with a home run and an RBI on Friday, Soriano is 4-for-22 (.182) in his past five games with six strikeouts. He is hitting .252 with five home runs and 12 RBIs on the season.
  • Solarte’s magic touch appears to be waning quickly. He was 0-for-3 and he is 7-for-35 (.200) in his past nine games. It appears the league is catching up to him because pitchers are feeding him a steady diet of breaking pitches and Solarte seems to be expanding his strike zone instead of being patient. He has drawn only four walks this season.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees optioned right-hander Chris Leroux to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday and recalled veteran right-hander Alfredo Aceves from the same club. Aceves, 31, had no record with a 1.98 ERA in three games (two of them starts) with the RailRiders. Aceves pitched for the Yankees from 2008 through 2010, compiling a 14-1 record and a 3.21 ERA in 59 games (five of them starts). Aceves has pitched as a starter, long reliever, middle innings pitcher and as a closer in his career and he gives the Yankees some flexibility in how he can be used. Leroux, 30, was hammered for five runs on five hits in the 14th inning of Friday’s game against the Rays and he was charged with the loss.  . . .  Because of the 14-inning game on Friday, Girardi elected to rest shortstop Derek Jeter and outfielder Carlos Beltran. Solarte started in place of Jeter and Suzuki drew the start in right-field in place of Beltran.

ON DECK

The Yankees can claim the three-game series over the Rays with a victory on Sunday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-3, 5.11 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up four runs on nine hits in five innings a loss to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. Sabathia held the Rays to one earned run on seven hits in seven innings at Tropicana Field on April 17.

Veteran left-hander Erik Bedard (0-1 5.52 ERA) draws the start for the Rays. Bedard gave up one run on seven hits and three walks before having to leave due to a high pitch count after five innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday. He gave up four runs on six hits in just 3 2/3 innings to the Yankees at home on April 18.

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

 

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Anna’s Bases-Loaded Walk In 12th Eclipses Rays

GAME 19

YANKEES 5, RAYS 1 (12 INNINGS)

Sometimes when they say it is game of inches they really mean it. On Sunday at Tropicana Field the Yankees ended up winning a game against the Rays on a very close checked swing by rookie infielder Dean Anna.

Anna just barely held up on a 3-2 pitch from left-hander C.J. Riefenhauser with the bases loaded and two out as part of a four-run uprising as New York gladly will leave St. Petersburg, FL, with split of their four-game series against Tampa Bay.

After right-hander Heath Bell (0-1) opened the 12th by walking Yangervis Solarte, Riefenhauser came on to retire Solarte on a fielder’s choice grounder by Brett Gardner and Brian Roberts on lineout.

However, Brian McCann singled to advance Gardner to third and Rays manager Joe Maddon decided to walk Jacoby Ellsbury intentionally in order to pitch to Anna. Niefenhauser’s  3-2 pitch to Anna was called a ball by home-plate umpire Clint Fagan and third-base umpire Marty Foster correctly called that Anna checked his swing in time to allow Gardner to score to break the 1-1 tie.

That opened the floodgates as right-hander Josh Lueke replaced Riefenhauser and was tagged by a two-run single by Carlos Beltran and an RBI single off the bat of Alfonso Soriano.

Preston Claiborne (1-0), who was called up on Sunday after the Yankees had been hammered for 27 runs on 32 hits in two days, pitched the final two innings to get credit for the victory.

The Yankees actually held a 1-0 lead in the game after the top of the fourth inning, when Soriano led off with a double and Gardner followed two batters later with a deep drive to right that outfielder Will Myers appeared initially to have caught at the wall.

However, after Yankees manager Joe Girardi challenged the call, replays clearly indicated that the ball landed just under the yellow home-run line on some netting and then caromed into Myers’ glove. Gardner was awarded a double and RBI that allowed Soriano to score.

Emergency starter Vidal Nuno actually held the Rays scoreless over five innings, yielding only three hits and two walks while fanned six batters in his first start since June of last season.

The Yankees bullpen, which had been shredded the past two days, held up well until a one-out error by Roberts in the bottom of the seventh inning allowed the Rays to tie it with an unearned run.

Matt Thornton entered the game with one out in the frame but was greeted by a single by James Loney. Brandon Guyer then rolled a easy two-hopper to Solarte at third. But Roberts bobbled the ball at second and umpire Joe West ruled Loney safe at second also.

Adam Warren came in to replace Thornton and Yunel Escobar singled to load the bases and pinch-hitter Matt Joyce launched a sacrifice fly that scored Loney just ahead of the tag from John Ryan Murphy on the throw from Beltran in right.

The victory allowed the Yankees to improve their season record to 11-8. They remain a game up on the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Rays fell to 9-10 and are two games back.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Give Nuno, 26, a lot of credit for tossing five spotless innings in his first start in almost a year. Nuno was used because of Tuesday’s rainout at Yankee Stadium in a game scheduled against the Chicago Cubs, which pushed back Masahiro Tanaka’s next start until Tuesday. But Nuno likely will get at least one more start since right-hander Ivan Nova likely will miss the rest of the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
  • Anna, 27, only was in the game because Girardi had elected to pinch-run Ichiro Suzuki in the 11th inning to replace Derek Jeter after he led off the frame with a single off Bell. Suzuki ultimately was called out on a steal attempt after he initially was called safe. The call was overturned on a replay requested by Maddon. So Anna ended up stepping into the batters’ box facing a left-hander and sporting a .136 batting average. But he earned the walk and it was a very impressive eight-pitch at-bat.
  • Shawn Kelley highlighted an unyielding performance by the bullpen after they had been shelled so badly in the two previous games. Kelley pitched a scoreless ninth and 10th innings and struck out four batters to allow the Yankees to win the game in the 12th. The bullpen of David Phelps, Thornton, Warren, Kelley and Claiborne shut out the Rays on three hits and three walks while fanning nine in seven innings.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Roberts had a day he would like to forget. Along with committing a senseless fielding error that cost the Yankees the lead he was 0-for-5 with a couple of strikeouts and he stranded four base-runners. Roberts is off to a slow start with the bat and is now hitting just .156.
  • Thornton is certainly nothing like his predecessor Boone Logan. He does not have Logan’s sweeping slider and lefties make him pay for it. He was called into the game to retire the left-handed Loney but Loney slapped a fastball to the opposite field for a single. Thornton has to be prepared to push good lefty hitters off the plate to keep them from going the other way.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees activated Mark Teixeira from the disabled list and he started at first base on Sunday and was 2-for-6 with fielding error in the game. Teixeira, 34, had been out of the lineup since he strained his right hamstring in a game against the Blue Jays on April 4.  . . .  David Robertson is on schedule to be activated on Tuesday. Robertson, 29,  suffered a strained left groin on April 6. He will resume his closer’s role and Kelley will move back into the main setup role. Kelley was 4-for-4 in save opportunities.

COMMENTARY

I have said this before and I will say this again: The Rays’ organization is great to its own players and fans (which is fantastic) but they treat everyone else with disdain because they are very insecure. One example: If there is giveaway such as an Evan Longoria T-shirt for kids age 14-and-under they will not hand the shirts to any kids wearing an opposing team’s jersey. Yep! They do that that at the Trop because they are small-minded people. But it all trickles down from the top. To most of the nation, Maddon is seemingly lovable guy. But witness him at a press conference and you see that he puts a capital A in the term a–hole. Asked to comment on Nuno and the Yankee bullpen’s performance after Sunday’s game, Maddon told reporters: “There really is no solid explanation. I can’t stand here and say that the Yankees pitched that great. We just did not have a good offensive day.” Most managers tip their cap to the opponent but Maddon can’t be bothered because when his team loses it can’t be because the other team is better that day. I’m sure that there was no explanation for Mark Buerhle’s perfect game either, Joe. He is an A–hole. Period!

ON DECK

The Yankees will have Monday off before making their first trip to Fenway Park to play the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.

Tanaka (2-0, 2.05 ERA) steps into his first foray into sports’  biggest rivalry after totally dominating the Cubs on Wednesday. Tanaka, 25, struck out 10 batters and only gave up two bunt singles and a walk in seven very strong innings. I am sure Cubs manager Rich Renteria has no explanation for it.

He will be opposed by left-hander Jon Lester (2-2, 2.17 ERA). Lester evened his record by giving up just one run on seven hits and he struck out nine en route to a victory over the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.

 

CC Uses Home Runs, Triple Play To Deflate Price

GAME 16

YANKEES 10, RAYS 2

David Price and CC Sabathia have squared off against each other nine times previous to Thursday and the Rays were 8-1 in those games. Price was 6-1 and Sabathia was 1-6. With those numbers you would have bet the house on Price and the Rays to win.

Well, if you did, you lost your house.

Sabathia pitched seven strong innings and had a triple play turned behind him while the Yankees hammered Price for six runs, including back-to-back homers by Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann, as New York pummeled Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 28,085 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Sabathia (2-2) held the Rays to two runs (one earned) on seven hits and two walks while he struck out six in pitching what was his best game of the season.

The Yankees, meanwhile, helped Sabathia in the field by turning their third triple play behind him since 2010 in the second inning with Evan Longoria on second and Will Myers at first. Sean Rodriguez hit a two-hopper to the right of third baseman Yangervis Solarte.  Solarte stepped on third to retire Longoria, fired to Brian Roberts at second to get Myers and first baseman Scott Sizemore  –  playing his first career game at first base  –  scooped Roberts’ low throw to first to beat Rodriguez.

Price (2-1) got off to bad start and never really recovered, giving up a run in the first when McCann laced an opposite-field, two-out single to score Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Yankees added three more runs in the second when Sizemore led off with a double and Roberts followed with an RBI triple. One out later, Ellsbury scored Roberts with a triple of his own and Ellsbury scored on Derek Jeter’s RBI single.

After the Rays scored an unearned run in the fourth when Logan Forsythe scooted home on a passed ball by McCann, the Yankees began putting the game away in the fifth inning when Soriano blasted his fourth home run of the season and McCann added his third with two out in the inning.

It was the second time this season that Soriano and McCann have hit consecutive homers.

Price was raked for 10 hits and one walk while he fanned six in five innings of work.

The Yankees added single runs in the sixth off Heath Bell and the seventh off Josh Lueke and they capped their 16-hit barrage in the ninth when Solarte blasted his first major-league homer with Soriano aboard off Rays closer Grant Balfour.

The Rays got a second run in the seventh when Rodriguez led off the frame with his third career home run off Sabathia.

With the victory, the Yankees have now won five games in row and they are 10-6 on the season They lead the American League East by two games over the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. The Rays have now lost four in a row and they are 7-9, tied with Boston Red Sox for fourth place.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Roberts played in his first game April 12 due to lower-back stiffness and he promptly went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and two RBIs. Roberts had entered the game hitting only .129. The Yankees are counting on the 36-year-old switch-hitter to stay healthy this season.
  • Solarte started the night by striking out twice against Price on change-ups. In his next three at-bats he hit a double off Price, a single off Bell and a homer off Balfour. His 3-for-5 night raised his season average from .348 to .373. He also started that triple play in the second inning. It is beginning to look like he 26-year-old Venezuelan infielder is the real deal and not just lucky.
  • Soriano also was 3-for-5 with a pair of singles and a homer. Since starting the season 0-for-17, Soriano is 15-for-41 (.366) with four homers and five RBIs. Opponents may want to hope Soriano does not get REAL hot as he did last season when he was acquired by the Yankees at the trade deadline.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

No negatives here. This team is rolling on offense, defense and with its pitching staff. When you club a division rival by eight runs on the road against a tough pitcher like Price you are doing something right.

BOMBER BANTER

First baseman Mark Teixeira played three innings in minor-league game at the team’s complex in Tampa, FL, on Thursday and he is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. Teixeira, 34, has been out since April 4 with a strained right hamstring. He is expected to play five innings in a minor-league game on Friday to prepare for his start on Sunday against the Rays.  . . .  Closer David Robertson threw a bullpen session on Thursday at Tropicana Field and he is on track to be activated next Tuesday, the first day he is eligible to come of the disabled list. Robertson, 29, has been recovering from a strained left groin.  . . .  Utility infielder Brendan Ryan, who has not played in a game since March 4 in spring training, is scheduled to play in minor-league game on Saturday. Ryan, who has been sidelined with a cervical nerve injury and an oblique strain, hopes to be able to be activated form the disabled list sometime in early May.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game road series against the Rays on Friday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 3.86 ERA) will get the starting assignment for the Yankees. Kuroda, 39, yielded four runs on six hits and three walks in six innings in a victory over the Red Sox on Saturday.

Left-hander Erik Bedard (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who was released by the Rays at the end of spring training only to be brought back, will be subbing for right-hander Alex Cobb, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique. Bedard, 35, was 2-2 with a 6.88 ERA in five games (three starts) in spring training.

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

 

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

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

NEW YORK YANKEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAMPA BAY RAYS

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

If you don’t you lose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOSTON RED SOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

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

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

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

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

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

Now that is some reclamation project.

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

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

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

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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

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

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

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

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

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

 

 

Overbay’s Homer Allows Yankees To Eclipse Rays

GAME 48

YANKEES 4, RAYS 3 (11 Innings)

Teams that win often seem to have this never-say-die attitude that carries them through difficult spots in games. The New York Yankees faced that in the ninth inning on Saturday when they were down 3-1 with two out and Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney on the mound with a 3-2 count on Lyle Overbay.

The Rays were within one strike of victory but Overbay drew a crucial walk and the Yankees rallied to tie the score in the ninth and Overbay smacked a two-out solo home run in the 11th inning to give New York a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Tampa Bay in front of 25,874 at Tropicana Field.

After Overbay walked, Rodney was called for a balk that allowed Overbay to take second.  Then pinch-hitter Brennan Boesch, who was just called up on Saturday to take the roster spot of injured outfielder Curtis Granderson, slapped an excuse-me-swing opposite-field double to left to score Overbay.

The Yankees then tied it when they were again down to their final strike as Brett Gardner poked a 1-2 pitch into centerfield that allowed Boesch to score just ahead of the throw of Desmond Jennings and the tag applied by catcher Jose Lobaton.

Rodney, who sported an 0.60 ERA and saved 48 games in 2012, has now blown a major-league-leading five saves this season and his ERA is 5.40.

Ivan Nova further frustrated the Rays in the 10th inning when he walked Ben Zobrist to load the bases with one out. But Nova escaped the jam by striking out James Loney swinging and retiring Matt Joyce on a routine grounder.

That set the stage for Overbay’s heroics in the 11th inning against right-hander Josh Lueke (0-2).

With two out and 1-0 count on him, Overbay drove an inside fastball deep into the rightfield bleachers for eighth home run of the season.

Mariano Rivera, showing a huge contrast between the teams’ two closers, came in the bottom of the 11th and he needed only nine pitches to strike out Lobaton swinging, getting Yunel Escobar on a routine groundout and fanning Jennings swinging to end the contest.

Rivera earned his 18th save in 18 chances this season.

The Yankees opened the scoring in the first inning off left-hander Matt Moore, who entered the game 8-0 with a 2.29 ERA.

Gardner opened the contest with a double in the rightfield corner and he scored two outs later on a lined single up the middle by Travis Hafner.

The Yankees held that lead until the Rays finally got to rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno in the fifth on a one-out double by Jose Molina and a two-out RBI double by Jennings to tie it at 1-1.

Moore left after six innings having given up five hits and two walks while he struck out a pair.

Nuno opened the seventh by giving up a leadoff single to Loney.

The usually reliable bullpen of the Yankees, however, was unable to keep the Rays from scoring a pair runs in the frame. Shawn Kelley yielded a double to the pinch-hitting Joyce and Boone Logan was unable to keep pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson from stroking an RBI single that scored Loney.

Joyce was able to score on a fielder’s choice when a ball off the bat of Escobar was fielded by Jayson Nix but catcher Austin Romine was unable to prevent Joyce from sliding home underneath his tag.

But, fortunately for the Yankees, they did not give up when they were down 3-1.

In fact, after having their American League record 19-game winning streak when they scored first in a game snapped in Baltimore on Tuesday, they were able to make it 20-1 behind Overbay’s remarkable at-bats in the ninth and the 11th.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season mark to 30-18 and they remain a full game ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Rays not only have lost the three-game series but they dropped to 24-24, six games behind the Yankees in fourth place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Overbay, 36, may be hitting only .255, but he is providing the Yankees with some quality at-bats, clutch hits and nearly flawless defense at first base. His eight home runs are tied for third on the club and his 28 RBIs are second on the team to Robinson Cano’s 34. It is going to be hard for Yankees to cut Overbay loose when Mark Teixeira returns but they may be forced into it.
  • Nuno, 25, was absolutely brilliant in his second major-league start. He surrendered two runs on five hits and one walk while he struck out two over six innings. That means Nuno has given up just one run on eight hits and four walks while fanning five in 11 innings in those two starts. That is an ERA of 0.82.
  • Gardner started the Yankees off with a leadoff double and he scored the Yankees’ first run in the first. In the ninth he delivered a key two-out RBI single that tied the game. Very quietly Gardner is beginning to pick up his offensive game. He has delivered at least one hit in eight of his past nine starts and he is 10-for-33 (.303) with a home run and five RBIs during that span. In fact, his two-run home run in the fourth inning was a key blow in Friday’s victory over the Rays.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Kelley and Logan did not do their jobs in the seventh inning and it cost the Yankees two big runs. Kelley was unable to retire Joyce and Logan was victimized by the lefty-swininging Johnson. One run was charged to Nuno and the other was charged to Kelley. But both Kelley and Logan should be ashamed of themselves for the way they pitched.
  • It is official: Vernon Wells is in a full-blown slump at the plate. He was 0-for-5 in the game and he did not get a ball out of the infield. He is also 0-for-10 in the series and he also has no hits in his past 11 at-bats. That has lowered his season average to .270 and it is falling fast.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees placed Granderson on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured knuckle on his left pinky finger and he is expected to be sidelined for at least four weeks. Boeach, 27, was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he was hitting just .179. Boesch hit .209 with two homers and five RBIs in 20 games in his earlier stint with the Yankees.  . . .  The Yankees also on Saturday claimed right-hander David Huff off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Huff, 28, made three relief appearances for the Indians, giving up five runs in three innings. He was 3-1 with a 4.07 ERA in nine games (two starts) with Triple-A Columbus. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated for assignment left-hander Francisco Rondon.  . . .  Hiroki Kuroda completed a full bullpen session on Saturday and he said he believes he will have no problem making his next start on Tuesday at Citi Field against the New York Mets. Kuroda was struck in the right calf on Wednesday in a game against the Orioles. Meanwhile, David Phelps reported that his right forearm felt a little sore after he was struck by a ball off the bat of Zobrist in the eighth inning of Friday’s game against the Rays. Phelps is scheduled to pitch in Wednesday’s game against the Mets but that will depend if he is able to throw a bullpen session.  . . . Left-hander Andy Pettitte (sore left trapezius muscle) said he felt fine after a bullpen session on Saturday and he expects to come off the 15-day disabled list on June 1, when he is eligible to be activated.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have their brooms out on Sunday for a potential sweep of the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.43 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia settled for this third straight no-decision after allowing a one-run lead to slip away against the Orioles in the seventh inning on Monday. He is 10-10 with a 3.30 ERA lifetime against the Rays.

Sabathia will be opposed by right-hander Alex Cobb (5-2, 2.73 ERA). Cobb held the Toronto Blue Jays to one run on three hits in 6 1/3 innings for a victory. He is 2-1 with a 2.22 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:40 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Repel Rays With Walk-Off Homer In 10th

GAME 28

YANKEES 7, TAMPA BAY 6 (10 Innings)

TAMPA  –  There are times when things may look its bleakest but a proud team decides it needs to make a statement. On Sunday the Yankees made a bold statement that they they will not go down without a pretty fierce fight.

Kevin Youkilis launched a pair of long-distance two-run home runs and Ronnier Mustelier cracked a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning as New York defeated Tampa Bay in a see-saw affair in front of a paid crowd of 10,894 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Youkilis reclaimed the lead for the Yankees in the bottom of the eighth inning with his second home run of the game his fifth of the spring. However, the Rays rallied for a run in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 6-6 on an RBI double by Jake Hager off David Aardsma.

That set the stage for Mustelier’s fly-ball home run off a 3-2 offering from Josh Lueke (2-1) that just cleared in the wall in left-field.

Preston Claiborne (1-0) retired the only two batters he faced in the top of the 10th to gain credit for the victory.

The Yankees improved to 12-17 this spring. The Rays fell to 14-14.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It appears that signing the Youkilis to replace Alex Rodriguez at third base while he recovers from hip surgery was about the smartest thing that general manager Brian Cashman accomplished this winter. With batting coach Kevin Long’s help, Youkilis has lowered his hands a bit and he’s making solid contact again. With his 2-for-4 day and two home runs, Youkilis now leads the team with five homers and 12 RBIs this spring and he is hitting .262.
  • Mustelier, 28, could not have picked a better time to hit his second home run of the spring. Though it appears his chances of making the team out of spring training are near zero, he is making a big impression on the front office with his .324 batting average.
  • Other than Aardsma, the Yankees bullpen was near flawless in the 5 1/3 innings they pitched. Vidal Nuno, Cody Eppley, Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Josh Spence and Claiborne combined to give up no runs on five hits and three walks while striking out six batters.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Though Youkilis drove in four runs it ended up being a wash because his error on a ground ball off the bat of Jose Molina with a runner on third and two out in the fourth inning opened the floodgates for four unearned runs to score that inning. Youkilis won a Gold Glove with the Boston Red Sox as a first baseman in 2007. However, he is not as accomplished as a fielder at third.
  • Aardsma, 31, simply did not get the job done in the bottom of ninth inning. He issued a leadoff single by Ben Zobrist, Jason Bourgeois bunted him to second and Hager scored him with his double. Aardsma’s spring ERA is now to 3.86 and it is unclear if he will make the bullpen coming out spring training.
  • There was some bad base-running that cost the Yankees in the fifth inning. After one out, Eduardo Nunez singled but was thrown out attempting to steal by Molina because he got a bad jump off first. Than Ichiro Suzuki rolled a ball down the line in left and was thrown out because he rounded first too far allowing Matt Joyce to gun him down.

BOMBER BANTER

Derek Jeter reported that he was experiencing soreness again in his surgically repaired left ankle and the team has ordered him to rest for at least two days. Cashman said it is looking extremely unlikely that the 38-year-old shortstop will be available on Opening Day. The team likely will place him on the 15-day disabled retroactively so that he could be activated as soon as April 6.  . . .  Reports indicate that the Yankees and Angels are trying to work out a trade that would send outfielder Vernon Wells to the Yankees. Wells, 34, is a fifth outfielder with the Angels but he was hitting . 361 (13 for 36) with four homers and 11 RBis this spring. Wells has a no-trade clause in his contract but he reportedly would be willing to waive it to get more playing time. The big stumbling block is how much the Angels will pay of the $42 million left on Wells’ contract.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take their third day off of the spring on Monday. On Tuesday they will play host to the Houston Astros.

CC Sabathia will make his final spring tuneup before pitching for the Yankees on Opening Day on April 1. The Astros have not named a starter.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast live by the YES Network and by the MLB Network.

 

Rays End Late Rally, Ruin Kuroda’s Yankee Debut

GAME 2

RAYS 8, YANKEES 6

Luke Scott slapped a two-out bases-loaded single to drive in two runs in the first inning as Tampa Bay built a 8-2 lead and held on late to edge New York on Saturday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

David Price (1-0) gave up two runs on five hits and four walks and he struck out five in 6 1/3 innings to pick up the win. Hiroki Kuroda (0-1) surrendered six runs (four earned) on eight hits and four walks and he fanned two in 5 2/3 innings to lose in his Yankee debut.

Fernando Rodney came in to face Alex Rodriguez as the tying run with two out in the ninth and he retired him on an infield grounder to pick up a save.

The Yankees rallied to put four runs on the board in the ninth, including a three-run home run by Nick Swisher off Joel Peralta, only to ultimately come up shorr.

The Yankees are 0-2 on the young season and the Rays are 2-0.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Not much was positive on this night though Swisher’s first home run of the season did bring the Yankees back from a 8-3 deficit to an within two runs in the ninth. He guessed fastball on an 1-0 count and got it from  Peralta and deposited the ball deep into the right-field bleachers. Swisher was 1-for-3 with two walks on the night.
  • Pinch-hitting for Andruw Jones in the ninth, Raul Ibanez hit a line drive to center-fielder Desmond Jennings to score Curtis Granderson, who had begun the inning with a triple off reliever Josh Lueke. Ibanez now has five RBIs in the first two games of the season.
  • Cory Wade was the only pitcher who seemed to know what he was doing on Saturday. He faced five batters and retired all of them, three by strikeout. Wade had struggled a lot during spring training and it was unclear if it would carry over to the regular season. But based on his first appearance, it looks as if Wade has straightened himself out.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Kuroda was very disappointing after having an exceptional spring. His command was off (four walks) and he looked to be pitching tentatively all night. After Scott’s two-run single in the first, the Rays added a RBI single by Carlos Pena in the second, a solo home run by Matt Joyce in the third and RBI hits by Scott and Jennings in the sixth, which finally chased the 37-year-old right-hander.
  • Lefty specialist Clay Rapada, who drew raves all spring when he recorded an 0.90 ERA, was ineffective in his Yankee debut also. He walked the lefty-swinging Pena to open the seventh. Then he gave up a disputed home run to Evan Longoria that the umpires used TV replays to change into a double. However, the ruling did not matter when the lefty-swinging Joyce slapped a bloop single to left to score both Pena and Longoria. In the long run, those runs really hurt the most.
  • The Yankees are getting frustrated by the Rays’ defensive shifts, which have taken away hit after hit in the series. Rodriguez’s game-ending groundout was stopped by second baseman Sean Rodriguez, who was positioned up the middle, right where A-Rod hit it. A fitting end to a frustrating night.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi opted to shift his lineup against the left-handed Price. He slotted Swisher in the No. 2 spot and moved Granderson into Swisher’s No. 6 spot. He also played Jones in left and benched Brett Gardner. Girardi said Swisher has a high on-base percentage against lefties and he might be used as the No. 2 hitter against lefties this season. He also said Gardner will still get playing time against lefties this season.  . . .  Girardi is considering giving Rodriguez a day off on Sunday after Derek Jeter was used as the DH on Saturday and Eduardo Nunez played shortstop. Girardi said Eric Chavez would replace Rodriguez in the lineup. Russell Martin also could sit in favor of new backup catcher Chris Stewart.

ON DECK

The Yankees look to salvage a game on Sunday in their finale with the Rays.

Phil Hughes will get the start for the Yankees. Hughes, 25, is looking to rebound from an injury-plagued 2011 campaign. Hughes is 403 with a 4.01 ERA lifetime against the Rays.

The Rays will counter with second-year right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who was 13-10 in his rookie season. Hellickson is 2-1 with a 4.10 ERA against the Yankees in his career.

Game-time will be 1:40 p.m. and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.