Tagged: Kevin Jepsen

McCann’s Walk-Off 3-Run Homer Eclipses Rays

GAME 80

YANKEES 7, RAYS 5 (12 INNINGS)

Extra innings is a just a war of attrition and in the top of the 12th on Friday it looked as if the Yankees had just run out of ammunition to battle the Rays. The bullpen had coughed up two runs and it seemed the game was well in hand with the visitors.

But Brian McCann was not ready to give up in an important divisional game.

McCann blasted a three-run home run in the bottom of the 12th off right-hander Steve Geltz to cap an improbable four-run rally that handed the Yankees their first walk-off victory of the season in front of a paid crowd of 43,141 at Yankee Stadium.

With the victory the Yankees claimed first place in the tightly bunched American League East, one game ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles and two games ahead of the Rays, who have now lost six consecutive games.

Right-hander Chasen Shreve (6-1), who had a hand  –  along with Adam Warren  –  in allowing the Rays to score two runs in the 12th, was credited with the victory in relief. Geltz (1-4) took the loss.

Brett Gardner opened the 12th by drawing a walk. Alex Rodriguez followed with a one-out single and Mark Teixeira, whose three-run home run in the eighth sent the game into extra innings, laced an RBI single to score Gardner.

McCann then laced a 1-0 fastball from Geltz deep into the right-field bleachers for his 13th home run of the season and his 10th at home.

His teammates streamed out of the dugout and Gardner doused him with bucket of water after he touched home plate. It culminated in an unlikely victory on a night the Yankees had to battle from behind from very the first inning.

The Rays took an early lead against right-hander Masahiro Tanaka when Grady Sizemore led off with a double. Joey Butler drew a walk and Evan Longoria slashed a double to left to score Sizemore.

James Loney, who was activated from the disabled list earlier in the day, then plated Butler on a sacrifice fly.

The Rays added a run in the fifth on a leadoff triple off the bat of Kevin Kiermaier and a sac fly by Rene Rivera.

The Yankees, however, were unable to solve right-hander Chris Archer, was entered the game 5-0 with a 2.02 ERA in seven starts against the Yankees in his career.

In 6 2/3 innings, Archer shutout the Yankees on three hits and three walks with eight strikeouts.

But with one out in the eighth inning the Yankees mounted a rally against right-hander Kevin Jepsen.

Chase Headley hit an opposite-field single to left and Rodriguez followed with a bloop opposite-field single to right to set the stage for Teixeira.

Teixeira laid into a 1-0 change-up and drove into the second deck of the right-field bleachers for his 20th home run of the season. His four-RBI night gives him 58 on the season, which now leads the American League.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 42-37. Tampa Bay fell to 42-40.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The stuffing of the All-Star ballot box by the Kansas City Royals may rob McCann of a much-deserved trip to the All-Star Game. McCann is hitting .264 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs. Salvador Perez of the Royals is batting .263 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs. By any measure you want to use McCann is better than Perez. But the hicks in the sticks of K.C., who booed Robinson Cano for not selecting singles hitter Billy Butler for the Home Run Derby two years ago, are now keeping more deserving players off the All-Star team. Let’s hope the commissioner shoves it up that city’s rectum by taking the fan vote away for good. You abuse it, you lose it!
  • Teixeira’s magical season continues and the injury to Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers certainly will improve Teixeira’s chances of making the All-Star team. Royals fans had Eric Hosmer starting at first base despite the fact he is hitting .286 with only eight home runs and 40 RBIs. But Cabrera overtook him in the voting and the league is under no obligation to take Hosmer at all. So Teixeira has a great chance to start at first. Suck it, Kansas City!
  • After the first inning Tanaka actually pitched exceptionally well. After two shaky outings, Tanaka was charged with just one run on four hits with no walks and five strikeouts in the five innings after the first. Hopefully, this is a sign he has regrouped.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • One of the things that Archer does to the Yankees is to elevate his pitches. The Yankees just do him a great favor by swinging at them despite the fact they are balls. In addition to his eight strikeouts (some on the high fastball), Archer also induced nine air outs. If the Yankees lay off that pitch Archer ends up walking about six more hitters and he loses. But the Yankees never adjusted.
  • Chris Young was the hottest hitter on this team a week ago. But being forced to start against right-handers in the absence of both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran has exposed some weaknesses. He was 0-for-5 on Friday with two strikeouts and he also hit into a double play. Ouch!

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend home series with the Rays on Saturday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (8-5, 4.08 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pineda yielded three runs (two earned) on seven hits and struck out eight in eight innings in a loss to the Houston Astros on Sunday.

The Rays will counter with right-hander Nathan Karns (4-4, 3.21 ERA). Karns gave up two runs on nine hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in a loss to the Cleveland Indians on Monday.

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

 

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A-Rod’s MVP Throwback Evening Shocks Rays

GAME 10

YANKEES 5, RAYS 4

In 2007, Alex Rodriguez hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs in leading the Yankees to the playoffs in what was his third season as the American League’s Most Valuable Player. On Friday, the Rays got a glimpse of what that A-Rod could do.

Rodriguez homered twice and drove in the go-ahead run with a single in the eighth as New York came from behind to defeat Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Losing pitcher Kevin Jepsen (0-1) said it best after the game: “That guy just killed us tonight.”

Right-hander Dellin Betances and left-hander Andrew Miller combined to pitch 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to close out the Rays. Betances (2-0) earned the victory while Miller notched his third save in three opportunities.

Rodriguez, 39, staked the Yankees to an early lead with a 471-foot blast into left-center off starter Nathan Karns to lead off the third inning. Two innings later, Stephen Drew touched Karns for a two-out home run to right-center.

However, Yankees starter Adam Warren was unable to hold the 2-0 lead for long.

Evan Longoria started a rally in the fourth inning with an infield single and Desmond Jennings followed with a walk. Rookie Allan Dykstra then launched a high-arcing blast that hit the foul pole in right for a three-run homer, the first of his career.

Four pitches later Logan Forsythe lined a solo shot into left to give the Rays a lightning-quick 4-2 lead.

But Rodriguez was just getting started.

Right-hander Ernesto Frieri entered the game in the sixth and he issued a one-out walk to Brian McCann. Rodriguez then followed with a line-drive rocket into the stands in left for the 558th home run of his career, his 49th against the Rays and his fourth of the season.

Carlos Beltran opened the eighth against Jepsen by singling against the shift into left-center. Manager Joe Girardi sent Brett Gardner in to pinch-run for Beltran.

With two out and Rodriguez at the plate, Gardner stole his first base of the season. Rodriguez followed it with a lined single to center that scored Gardner with what proved to be the game-winning run.

The Yankees managed only five hits in the game. Rodriguez collected three of them and three of them were home runs.

“He was really good. Without Alex, we’re going to lose that ballgame,” Girardi told reporters. “Four RBIs, two home runs, a big hit in the eighth inning to put us ahead. Just a great night for Alex.”

With the victory the Yankees are 4-6 on the season. The Rays dropped to 6-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It looks as if Girardi might have to move Rodriguez up in the batting order. With his 3-for-4 night, he is now leading the Yankees in batting (.344), home runs (4) and RBIs (11). After the hip surgeries and the suspension it was not clear what the Yankees had in A-Rod. I think we have a good idea now. He looks like the three-time MVP he always has been.
  • After the bullpen’s meltdown at Camden Yards in Baltimore on Wednesday it was good to see both Betances and Miller come in and combine for 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Miller looked especially sharp after giving up a leadoff infield single to Forsythe. He struck out the side to earn his third save.
  • Drew is only hitting .167 but he does have three homers and seven RBIs. His home run in the fourth inning was the 100th of his career and it is starting to look as if he will be able to contribute offensively at the low end of the batting order.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Warren started off well but hit a brick wall in the fourth inning. Girardi yanked him after he allowed four runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts in four innings. In his two starts, Warren has yielded six runs (five earned) on 11 hits and four walks in 9 1/3 innings. After pitching so brilliantly this spring, Warren appears lost as a starter. If he continues to struggle look for Esmil Rogers to make another bid to be the No. 5 starter that he lost to Warren this spring.
  • Chase Headley had a night at the plate he would love to put behind him. He was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts (two of them looking) and in his final at-bat he laced a hard-hit ground ball that shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera turned into a double play. Headley is batting .204 on the season.
  • The Yankees are not saying anything publicly, but they are concerned that Didi Gregorius is putting too much pressure on himself. His base-running gaffes, some shaky fielding and his slow start with the bat have them worried. Gregorius, 25, was 0-for-4 on Friday and he is now hitting .152.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi told reporters on Friday that because the Yankees have started a stretch of 30 games in the next 31 days they are considering using a sixth starter to take some strain off their rotation. Girardi said that Rogers and right-handers Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell, who are at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, are viable options as starters. “I wouldn’t really call it a six-man rotation. I’d call it more of inserting a sixth man one time through, and my guess is you might see it,” Girardi told reporters. “Weather could play a role, so you just have to wait and see, but it’s something that’s in the back of our minds. We’ve kind of prepared ourselves for it.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend road series with the Rays on Saturday.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (1-1, 7.00 ERA) will make his third start of the season for the Yankees. His is coming off a 14-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, when he gave up four runs in 5 innings.

The Rays will start right-hander Jake Odorizzi (2-0, 0.61 ERA), who has given up just one run in 14 2/3 innings this season. He held the Toronto Blue Jays to one run on two hits in 8 innings on Monday.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by Fox Sports 1.

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Mets’ Power Hands Tanaka First Spring Defeat

GAME 25

METS 7, YANKEES 2

Juan Lagares stroked a two-run homer and John Mayberry Jr. added a solo shot of his own as the Mets completed a sweep of their home-and-away with the Yankees on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Right-hander Rafael Montero (1-0) held the Yankees to one run on three hits and no walks while he struck out four in four innings of work to get credit for the victory.

Masahiro Tanaka (1-1) took the loss yielding three runs (two earned) on four hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. He threw 49 of his 57 pitches for strikes.

Of more concern to the Yankees was that the two pitchers being considered as the team’s closer, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, combined to give up two runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning.

With the loss the Yankees’ spring record dropped to 13-10.

FIELD FOCUS

At one time, Andrew Bailey, 30, was considered as one of the best young relievers in baseball.

He burst onto the scene in 2009 with the Oakland Athletics recording 26 saves in 30 opportunities with a 1.84 ERA. As a result, Bailey was named American League Rookie of the Year.

In his three seasons with Oakland, he saved 75 games and it looked as if Bailey would join the elite club of good young closers like Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves.

However, injuries have plagued the 6-foot-3, 240-pound right-hander since the Boston Red Sox traded for him as a their choice to replace Jonathan Papelbon as the team’s closer.

He had surgery on his right thumb before the 2012 season and ended up a disappointing 1-1 with a 7.04 ERA. Bailey was a bit better in 2013. He was 3-1 with a 3.77 ERA but he was only able to save six out of 13 chances before succumbing to major right shoulder surgery in July.

The Red Sox decided rather than pay him in 2014 they opted not to tender him an offer and released him.

The Yankees signed him last winter to a one-year deal with a option, knowing Bailey would not be able to pitch at all in 2014. Now perhaps the Yankees’ patience with Bailey will pay off.

Held back early in the spring, the Voorhees, New Jersey native has made three appearances, including a scoreless inning of work against the Mets on Wednesday.

Bailey has no record with 0.00 ERA in those outings. He has given up two hits and a walk with four strikeouts in three innings. If Bailey continues to look good the Yankees might have found some experienced bullpen help.

Given the struggles of Betances and Miller, Bailey also possibly could be shifted back into a closer’s role down the road. Of course, the Yankees could also allow him to build up his arm strength and stamina at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

If Bailey continues to progress he possibly could make a big impact on the team’s bullpen in 2015. the only question is what his role might be.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Despite the fact he got knocked around a bit Tanaka was still impressive in outing on Wednesday. Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter after the game that he was working on throwing his two-seam fast ball more. That pitch was the one the Mets were whacking all over the park. His splitter and slider were devastating enough to strike out seven. So give Tanaka a mulligan for this outing.
  • While a lot of the regulars have been struggling at the plate, Chase Headley has not been one of them. Headley had another good day at the plate  –  going 2-for-3 and driving in one of the Yankees’ two runs with a two-out RBI double in the third inning. Headley is now 12-for-38 (.316) overall with two homers and four RBIs. He has been a real surprise this spring.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Betances, 26, has been plagued all spring with reduced velocity on his fastball and he has been paying a dear price for it. In his past four outings, Betances has yielded single runs in each on six hits and two walks in just 3 1/3 innings. Even more telling is that he has only four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings this spring. It is looking more and more that Betances will not be named as the team’s closer.
  • Miller, 29, has been slightly better although he was ineffective on Wednesday. Miller is 0-0 with a 2.84 ERA and he has fanned eight in 6 1/3 innings. If the decision had to be made today, manager Joe Girardi likely would name Miller as the closer. But keep in mind that Miller has never been closer either and has just one career save.
  • It is one step forward and two steps back for Brett Gardner this spring. He was 0-3 with two strikeouts against the Mets and he is batting a woeful .140 this spring. With Jacoby Ellsbury out Gardner has been batting leadoff and he has not succeeded in getting on consistently at all.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Port Charlotte, FL, on Thursday to take on the Tampa Bay Rays.

Right-hander Adam Warren (2-0 with a 2.77 ERA in his four starts) will have a chance to lock up the No. 5 starting spot with a good outing.

The Rays will counter with right-handed reliever Kevin Jepsen, who has no record and a 1.80 ERA in five relief appearances this spring.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis by MLB Network on Friday at 9 a.m.

 

No Bull: Yankees’ Pen Shows Halos How It’s Done

GAME 87

YANKEES 5, ANGELS 3

Within 18 hours, the New York Yankees showed the difference between their team and the Los Angeles Angels.

Handed a  5-2 lead in the eighth inning of Friday, the Angels’ bullpen, behind Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen, imploded and gave up four runs in a 6-5 defeat.

On Saturday, Freddy Garcia left the Yankees with a 4-3 lead after five innings and the bullpen, behind setup man David Robertson and closer Rafael Soriano, held the lead as New York took its second straight game this weekend over Los Angeles in front of a paid crowd of 47,789 at Yankee Stadium.

Garcia (4-2) battled the Angels as best he could, giving up three runs on five hits and five walks and striking four batters before having to leave after five innings having thrown 98 pitches.

The Yankees, who lead the major leagues in home runs, hit two more on Saturday to give them 138 on the season and provide the Yankees with a lead they would not relinquish.

After the Angels loaded the bases on Garcia with two out in the first inning, Alberto Callaspo laced a 2-1 pitch into right-field for a two-run single to give the Angels an early 2-0 lead.

However, the Yankees answered in the bottom of the inning after two men were out and Derek Jeter was still on first with leadoff infield single off Angels starter Jerome Williams (6-6). Robinson Cano extended his season-high 17-game hitting streak by lining a long blast into the depths of Death Valley in left-center that struck the top of the wall and bounced into the bleachers for his 21st home run of the season.

Two innings later, Chris Stewart reached first on a single to center and one out later Curtis Granderson lashed a 2-2 pitch down the line into the right-field bleachers for his 24th home run of the season.

The Angels got one of those two runs back in the fourth inning when Howie Kendrick drew a leadoff walk, stole second, moved to third on a Peter Bourjos groundout and scored on a groundout off the bat of Bobby Wilson.

The Yankees added an insurance run in the sixth inning when Alex Rodriguez hit he first pitch of the inning into the gap in left-center for a double and Cano followed with a single up the middle that caromed off the second base bag and rolled into center, allowing Rodriguez to score easily.

Williams gave up five runs on seven hits and one walk and struck out four in six innings.

The Yankees’ vaunted bullpen took it from there.

Cody Eppley pitched two scoreless innings, Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth and Soriano pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two batters, to collect his 22nd save in 23 opportunities this season.

Though the Angels have been one of the Yankees’ toughest opponents over the last decade, the Yankees have now won 30 of their last 45 contests against them.

With the victory, the Yankees have increased their major-league-best record to 56-33 and their lead in the American League East remains at 8 games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles.. The Angels are now 48-43.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano was 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs and is now hitting .315 with 21 home runs and 54 RBIs on the season. During his 17-game hitting streak, Cano is 27-for-69 (.391) with six home runs and 19 RBIs. The Yankees are 12-5 over that 17-game stretch and Cano is a big reason behind the surge.
  • Granderson’s home run was his 24th of the season, which puts him in fifth place in the American League in that category. It was Granderson’s first home run since June 30, though he is hitting .281 over that 10-game stretch. Granderson has also struck out 11 times in his 32 at-bats over the last 10 games.
  • Eppley was sensational in his two innings of work. He only gave up a one-out single to Wilson in the sixth. Robertson is also beginning to look more like the Robertson the Yankees were accustomed to seeing before he suffered his left oblique injury. He struck out the first two batters he faced before giving up a single to Bourjos. Soriano has been a revelation in replacing a living legend like Mariano Rivera. Soriano struck out Mike Trout to open the ninth and ended the game by fanning Albert Pujols. This bullpen is just amazing.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I am not going to post any negatives when Garcia kept the lead through five innings, the Yankees got power from Cano and Granderson and the bullpen held the lead late. The Yankees also were 3-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left only two men on base. Hallelujah!

ON DECK

The Yankees will get out their brooms on Sunday and look for a three-game sweep of the Angels.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (10-3, 3.92 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Nova gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks while striking out 10 in six innings in a victory over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday. Nova beat the Angels on May 30 and is 3-1 with a 5.11 ERA in four starts against them in his career.

All-Star right-hander Jered Weaver (10-1, 1.96 ERA) will pitch for the Angels. In his last start on July 7, Weaver shut out the Baltimore Orioles on three hits and one walk and fanned five in eight innings to notch his 10th victory. Weaver is 5-2 with a 4.79 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Teixeira, Martin Leave Halos’ Downs In The Dumps

GAME 86

YANKEES 6, ANGELS 5

When Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher trotted to the mound at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 5-5 tie to talk to reliever Kevin Jepsen, he told Jepsen to pitch around pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez by walking him with pinch-runner Dewayne Wise on second and a struggling Russell Martin due to hit next.

So with two out, Jepsen walked Ibanez intentionally to face Martin, who entered the game hitting .179 and was 0-for-2 on the evening.

But Martin delivered a two-out, opposite-field RBI single that gave the Yankees a 6-5 lead and Martin later ended the game by nailing Howard Kendrick trying to take second base a pitch in the dirt for his third Angel base-runner caught stealing as New York rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the eighth to send Los Angeles to a crushing defeat on Friday.

Mark Teixeira set the stage for Martin’s heroics earlier in the eighth with a clutch three-run home run to left off reliever Scott Downs (1-1) to tie the game at 5-5. It was Teixeira’s second home run of the night. He had given the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third inning with a two-run shot to the same area of the left-field bleachers off Angels starter C.J. Wilson.

Teixeira also saved a run in the top of the inning when he made a diving stab of a hard-hit bouncer to his right off the bat of Kendrick. Teixeira scrambled to his feet and shuffled a perfect toss to Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda covering first to retire Kendrick. Erick Aybar followed by hitting Kuroda’s next pitch into the second deck in right-field to give the Angels what proved to be a short-lived 1-0 lead.

Kuroda and Wilson then battled over the next three innings in a game steeped in a playoff-like atmosphere with a crowd of 47,873 hanging on every pitch.

But the seventh inning proved to be Kuroda’s undoing.

Albert Pujols opened the frame with a single to left and Kuroda hit Kendrys Morales with a 1-2 pitch. Mark Trumbo then blasted a 1-1 fastball over the wall in center-field to give the Angels a 4-2 lead.

The Angels tacked on a run off Kuroda in the eighth after Mike Trout led off with a double and one out later Pujols hit a ball that sounded like he hit it with a wet newspaper but it nestled comfortably in shallow right-field just inside the line out of the reach of a diving Nick Swisher and bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double to score Trout.

Over the first six innings, Kuroda had given up just one run on three hits and one walk and he fanned two. In the next 1 1/3 innings, he gave up four runs on five hits and a hit batter and struck out four.

Meanwhile, Wilson got back on track after Teixeira’s two-run home run in the third. He left after seven innings having given up just the two runs on five hits and two walks and struck seven. However, the Angels’ bullpen let him way, way down, as in the lefty Downs.

Downs started the eighth and immediately gave up a leadoff double to Derek Jeter. He then dug a deeper hole for himself by missing with a 3-2 pitch in the dirt to walk Curtis Granderson.

Teixeira then lined a 1-2 curveball into the left-field bleachers to tie the game.

With two out, Swisher worked a walk from Downs, which ended Downs’ night in favor of Jepsen and set up Wise’s stolen base as a pinch-runner and Ibanez’s intentional walk. Martin then delivered what proved to be the game-winner.

Chad Qualls (2-1) relieved Kuroda in the eighth inning and pitched a perfect two-thirds of an inning to get credit for his first victory with the Yankees.

Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth to notch his 21st save in 22 opportunities this season.

With the victory the Yankees reached a season-high 20 games over .500 at 53-33. They also have opened up a commanding eight-game lead on the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Angels must lick their wounds after dropping a game they should have won. Their record is 48-39.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Teixeira’s two home runs and five RBIs on Friday give him 17 home runs and 59 RBIs this season. His 59 RBIs leads the team. In his last seven games, Teixeira has been on an RBI tear. He is 10-for-22 (.455) with four home runs and 15 RBIs in that stretch. To contrast that, Teixeira collected only three home runs and 12 RBIs in April and four home runs and 14 RBIs in June.
  • Martin’s clutch single had to feel great because his single against the Red Sox last Saturday had ended an 0-30 stretch. But what must have really pleased Martin was the three Angels he nailed on the basepaths. He threw out Trumbo stealing in the second inning and Alberto Callaspo in the fifth. He then nabbed Kendrick after a Soriano pitch got away from him but he was able to recover quickly and throw a dart to Jeter to end the game.
  • Kuroda gave up five runs in 7 1/3 innings but his first six innings were absolutely brilliant. He deserved a better fate but he obviously lost something after throwing only 64 pitches in the first six innings. In his last nine starts, Kuroda is 5-1 with a 2.89 ERA.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Now that Cano and Teixeira have gotten hot, the pressure shifts to Alex Rodriguez. He was 0-for-4 in the game including a weak groundout to short with one out and Granderson at third with a leadoff triple in the sixth. In his last 10 games, Rodriguez is 9-for-38 (.237) with no home runs and three RBIs.
  • Andruw Jones entered the game after a his red-hot weekend at Fenway Park, where he hit four home runs in the three games in which he played. However, he struck out twice looking and flew out to right off the lefty Wilson. His 0-for-3 night dropped his season average to .238.
  • The Yankees were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and those two hits came on Texiera’s eighth-inning home run and Martin’s game-winning single. They were 0-for-11 up to that point. Somehow they win despite this problem but will it catch up to them in the playoffs?

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Friday signed veteran outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to a mimor-league contract and he was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Fukudome, 35, batted .171 with four RBIs in 24 games with the Chicago White Sox and was released on July 22. Fukudome is a career .258 hitter in five major-league season with the Cubs, Indians and White Sox.  . . .  CC Sabathia threw 30 pitches in a simulated game at Yankee Stadium on Friday and is still expected to be activated on Tuesday for a start against the Toronto Blue Jays. Sabathia has been on the 15-day disabled list with a mild left groin strain he suffered pitching in a June 24 game against the New York Mets.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend three-game series at home against the Angels on Saturday.

Right-hander Freddy Garcia (3-2, 5.23 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Garcia gave up just one run in 6 2/3 innings last Friday against the Red Sox. It was Garcia’s best outing of the season. In the last 10 seasons, Garcia is 15-3 with a 2.69 ERA against the Angels.

Right-hander Jerome Williams (6-5, 4.46 ERA) will oppose Garcia. Williams is being activated from the 15-day disabled list after a serious bout of asthma. Williams is 0-1 with a 16.87 ERA against the Yankees after he was shelled for five runs on five hits and three walks in only 2 2/3 innings on April 15.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.