With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.
NEW YORK YANKEES
First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.
That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.
With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.
The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.
Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.
However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?
The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are – at least for now – going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.
The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.
If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.
Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.
All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.
A pair of speed demons – Ellsbury and Gardner – are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.
Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.
The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.
The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.
The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.
Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.
That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.
Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.
He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.
It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.
This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.
Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.
But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.
Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.
Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.
What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.
Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.
But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.
The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.
Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base – although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.
The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.
John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.
But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.
But the promise is even brighter longer term.
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.
Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.
At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.
Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.
Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.
Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.
This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.
Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.
With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.
Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.
They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.
A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.
BOSTON RED SOX
This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.
Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.
They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.
However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.
Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.
No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.
There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?
Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.
The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.
Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.
The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.
They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.
The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.
They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).
They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.
This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.
Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?
Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.
They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!
After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans – all of about 7,000 of them a game – it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.
Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.
To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.
The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.
Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.
You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.
Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.
So there is a lot to like.
The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.
They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.
It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!
But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)
3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)
4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86) Hello Montreal!
The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!
The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:
NEW YORK YANKEES
After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.
Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.
Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.
The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.
Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.
The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.
Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.
The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.
Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.
If you don’t you lose.
The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.
The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.
The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.
The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.
Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.
The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.
As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.
In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.
BOSTON RED SOX
Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.
The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.
They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.
Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.
Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.
To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.
Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.
The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.
Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.
The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.
The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.
So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Jays are all about redemption.
They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.
The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.
So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.
Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.
But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.
Now that is some reclamation project.
Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.
But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.
There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.
Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.
The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.
It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?
The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.
Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.
The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.
The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.
They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.
So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.
Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) NEW YORK YANKEES
2) TAMPA BAY RAYS
3) BOSTON RED SOX
4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS
5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!
YANKEES 5, RED SOX 2
It hardly can be called a Yankee-Red Sox rivalry without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz playing can it? Well, whatever it was, New York managed to fire the first salvo across the bow in the 2013 season with a victory over Boston in a Grapefruit League game played on Sunday at JetBlue Field in Fort Myers, FL.
Eduardo Nunez keyed a three-run sixth inning with an RBI single and Yankee pitchers only allowed four hits as they came from behind to defeat the Red Sox.
Jose Ramirez (1-0) pitched three shutout innings to earn credit for the victory, Red Sox closer Joel Hanrahan (0-1) was the losing pitcher – although two fielding errors by third baseman Drew Sutton led to all three Yankee runs in the sixth being unearned.
The Yankees began the sixth trailing 1-0 on the strength of a leadoff home run by Mike Napoli in the second inning and five dominant shutout innings from starter Ryan Dempster and relievers Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller.
But Corban Joseph started the frame with a one-out, broken-bat single. Bobby Wilson then reached on the first of Sutton’s two errors and Hanrahan walked Brett Gardner to load the bases.
Nunez then stroked a single into right-field to tie the game at 1-1. Jayson Nix then scored Wilson on a RBI fielder’s choice and Gardner scored when Sutton was unable to glove a shot off the bat of Juan Rivera.
The Yankees added a single run in the eighth on a two-out double by Jose Pirela and an RBI double by J.R. Murphy. They added another run in the ninth on a leadoff home run by Thomas Neal.
With the victory the Yankees are now 3-7 this spring and the Red Sox dropped to 5-5.
- Though starter Adam Warren did give up the home run to Napoli, he was extremely sharp otherwise. The 26-year-old right-hander surrendered only the one hit and walked one while striking out two batters. Warren has opened the spring with a sparkling 1.80 ERA. In fact, Warren set the tone for the day because Ramirez followed with his three shutout innings and Chase Whitley, Preston Claiborne and Josh Spence combined to keep the Red Sox off the board until the ninth inning.
- Nunez is making a strong bid to make the team with his clutch hitting and improved fielding. Nunez had hit into a double play and ground out in his first two at-bats before slapping a bases-loaded single just past a diving attempt of second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Nunez may only be hitting .176 this spring but he has committed just one throwing error. That deserves kudos because Nunez has been shaky in the field throughout his career.
- Murphy continues to impress with his hitting this spring. He was 1-for-2 in the game and he is now hitting .500 with a home run and three RBIs in limited playing time. Murphy, 21, is catcher but he is overlooked because of prospects like Austin Romine and 20-year-old Gary Sanchez.
- Melky Mesa had been having a fine spring until Sunday. He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and one of the punchouts came with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth. Mesa is now hitting .222 but he still leads the team with two home runs this spring. Mesa is bidding to make the team as either the replacement for Curtis Granderson while he recovers from a broken right forearm or as a reserve outfielder.
- Right-hand reliever Kelvin Perez made it more interesting than it had to be in the ninth inning. Perez entered the inning with a 5-1 lead and gave up two walks and uncorked a wild pitch to allow a run to score before retiring the last three batters to end the game.
- Errors have been killing the Yankees all spring and they made two more on Sunday. But the real culprits have been the third baseman. After third baseman Rob Segedin committed an error in the eighth, Yankee third basemen now have combined to make nine of the 17 errors the Yankees have been charged with in their first 10 games. They don’t call it the hot corner for nothing.
Ichiro Suzuki was able to avoid injury after his sports utility vehicle was totaled in a car crash in Tampa on Saturday. Suzuki was traveling south on Dale Mabry Highway at about 4 p.m. EST when his Land Rover was struck by a vehicle attempting to turn left from West Kennedy Boulevard about three miles from George M. Steinbrenner Field. Suzuki emerged from the vehicle unhurt and the driver of the other car was cited by the Tampa Police Department for failure to yield. Suzuki was not scheduled for the trip to play the Red Sox and he is not expected to miss any Grapefruit League action. . . . Manager Joe Girardi said on Sunday that when Granderson returns to the team he will play centerfield and Gardner will stay in leftfield. Girardi had planned to shift Granderson to leftfield this spring but he was struck in the right forearm by a pitch from J.A. Happ of the Blue Jays in his first at-bat of the spring. He will miss about 10 weeks. Girardi believes it would be too much to ask Granderson to adapt to left during the regular season. Girardi said if Mesa makes the team and starts for the Yankees that he will play center. However, Gardner will play center if the any of the other candidates win the job (Zoilo Almonte, Matt Diaz, Ronnier Mustelier or Juan Rivera). . . . Left-hander Andy Pettitte and closer Mariano Rivera threw simulated games on Sunday at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, FL. Rivera threw 21 pitches and Pettitte threw 34. Neither pitcher has appeared in a spring game but both said they are on track to pitch in a game soon. . . . Phil Hughes began throwing again on Sunday as part of his rehab work after discovering a bulging disk in his upper back on Feb. 18. Hughes, 26, threw 25 tosses at about 60 feet and he pronounced it a “positive first step.” . . . An MRI on left-hander Boone Logan’s left elbow showed minor inflammation and he is expected to be back on the mound sometime within this week.
The Yankees will have a day off from exhibition games on Monday.
They will resume their schedule on Tuesday by playing host to the Atlanta Braves.
David Phelps will make his third start of the spring for the Yankees. Left-hander Paul Maholm will start for the Braves, which will make it a rematch of the opener of the Yankees’ spring schedule on Feb. 23 at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST – the Yankees’ first home night game this spring – and the game will be televised live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.
NOTE: In my previous post I indicated that Sunday’s Yankees-Red Sox game would be broadcast by WCBS Radio in New York. This was incorrect information that was listed in the yankees.com web site’s 2013 Broadcast Schedule. I apologize for any inconvenience. The game only was broadcast by WEEI in Boston, which also was available on MLB Radio.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 1 – BALTIMORE ORIOLES
The 2011 season began with a lot of optimism because of the great job Buck Showalter did in turning around the Orioles at the end of the 2010 season.
But 2011 was much like every season for the Orioles since 1999. It fizzled into frustration in a hurry. They finished with a record of 69-93 and they were a distant fifth in the A.L. East, 28 games behind the Yankees.
This coming season promises to pretty similar because the Orioles have not made a lot of changes to their roster. With the exeption of Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott and Derrek Lee, this pretty much the same group that floundered through much of 2011.
One big reason is that the Orioles banked their future hopes on a collection of young starting pitchers like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. They progressed through the minors but none of them have established themselves as major-league quality starters. And if you want to compete in this division, you have to have good starting pitching.
The Orioles compounded that issue by trading their best starting pitcher, Guthrie, to the Colorado Rockies for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. As a result, the Orioles’ “ace” is former Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter, who was 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA in an injury-shortened season.
The Orioles, led by general manager Dan Duquette, are now shifting their sites overseas and the team signed two pitchers from the Japanese League in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.
Chen, 26, is a left-hander from Taiwan who has compiled a 36-30 record and a 2.48 ERA in four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. He also has pretty good stuff with 500 career strikeouts in 631 1/3 innings.
Wada, 30, is another left-hander and he has overcome two injury-plagued seasons to compile a combined 33-13 record with a 2.29 ERA in the last two seasons with Fukuoda Softbank Hawks. While Chen has better stuff, Wada is considered to have better control.
Both figure prominently in the Orioles plans for 2012 and both likely will be in the rotation this season, depending on how they progress in the spring.
Hammel, 29, was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA last season with the Rockies. The tall right-hander figures to be slotted as the No. 4 starter.
The Orioles still have high hopes for Matusz, Britton, Arrieta and Tillman. But it appears Britton and Arrieta are going to get most of the attention this spring. The lefty Britton suffered a shoulder injury last season and he finished the season 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA. Arrieta was 10-8 with 5.05 ERA.
The bullpen was a strength of this team when Koji Uehara was around but he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline last July.
The closer job is up for grabs between incumbent closer Kevin Gregg, who saved 22 games but blew seven chances and was 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA, and Jim Johnson, who saved nine games and was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA. Lindtsrom, who saved 23 games for the Astros in 2010, can also be shifted into the closer role.
The rest of the bullpen will likely be made up with lefty Darren O’Day and former starters Alfredo Simon, Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken.
A few years ago, the Orioles seem to invested their future into second baseman Brian Roberts, right-fielder Nick Markakis and center-fielder Adam Jones and have built around those players.
Unfortunately, Roberts has suffered through injury after injury and Markakis and Jones have underperformed expectations.
With the Orioles lack of ability to attract high-priced free-agent talent, the Orioles have to rely on that trio as the core of the team again.
The Orioles may also begin getting what they expected out of catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 22 home runs and won a Gold Glove for his defensive work behind the plate. The former No. 1 pick also is showing some signs of leadership on the team.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy finally shook off injuries that plagued him since he was with the Brewers in 2008 as he hit 30 home runs and drove in 80 runs.
Third baseman Mark Reynolds was pretty much as advertised. He did not hit for average and struck out 196 times but he also hit 37 home runs and drove in 87 runs.
Former Rangers first baseman Chris Davis is pretty much a carbon copy of Reynolds at first base only he does most of his striking out from the left side.
The Orioles will likely platoon veterans Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold in the outfield and look for the Orioles to make a late bid for a DH.
They could re-sign veteran Vladimir Guerrero or chose from among Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to replace Scott.
Former Yankee Wilson Betemit will be the top reserve on the infield and middle infield reserve Robert Andino will return to provide glovework behind Roberts and Hardy. Former Rangers backstop Taylor Teagarden will be the backup to Wieters.
The Orioles could use the spring to look for some veteran help in the outfield to bolster their bench a bit.
With Jones, Wieters, Hardy, Reynolds and Davis the Orioles seem to have plenty of firepower. Plus when Roberts is healthy and Markakis is going good, they can get on base and steal a base or two. But the overall offense may be too geared towards power over putting the ball iin play and advancing runners.
The Orioles, as a team, strike out way too much and it cost them because their pitching is not that strong.
The Orioles are gambling on two Japanese League pitchers and two journeyman American starters (Hunter and Hammel) to give them time to develop their young pitchers like Britton and Arrieta. The jury is still out on Matusz, who looked like a surefire star in the making in 2010.
Without a consistent starting rotation, any effort Showalter makes in the bullpen could prove futile. A good bullpen only limits the damage. The bullpen should be strong but it is obvious they are going to tire quickly if they are constantly coming in the fourth or fifth inning.
Barring another Showalter miracle, this team is headed for more frustration in 2012. They simply can’t compete with the big boys (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox) and they merely hold their own against the Blue Jays. If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the Orioles will finish fifth again.
It is a spot for which they are built.
ON TUESDAY – PART 2 TORONTO BLUE JAYS
ase. Manager Joe Girardi said Swisher still is not running well but that the veteran outfielder is closer to returning. . . . Burnett pitched on Friday night with a black right eye and both he and Girardi refused to discuss it with the media after the game. “The story is, he putched well tonight,” Girardi said. . . . Orioles manager Buck Showalter was not happy that Ted Barrett did not call an inside 1-2 pitch on Alex Rodriguez a strike, which would have ended the game. Barrett called it a ball as the Orioles’ players in the dugout were jumping up thinking the game was over. Showalter told reporters that the pitch was closer to being a strike than a strike Barrett called on Matt Wieters in the bottom of the inning. Well, let me clue Mr. Showalter in on the truth about strike one that Barrett called on Rodriguez. It was high and inside and the pitch tracker on MASN indicated it was more than six inches inside. So, if Mr, Showalter wants the 1-2 pitch as a strike, the Yankees would like the 0-1 pitch to be called a ball. In that case, it still would be 2-2 on Rodriguez and Rodriguez hits his game-winning home run. Nice try, Buck!
- Swisher missed three games last week due to a sore left knee and did not return to the lineup until Monday. He was 0-for-7 in the previous two games before going 2-for-4 on Wednesday. The two RBIs also give him 82 for the season, which ties the total he drove in for the Yankees last season. His career high in RBIs is 95 set with Oakland in 2006.
- Ivan Nova pitched a career-high six innings for the Yankees and he pitched well enough to have won. Nova gave up six hits and walked two (both intentional) and fanned six. His only mistake was serving up a 3-0 fastball that Matt Wieters slammed into the second deck in left-field for a two-run home run in the fifth inning. In his four starts, Nova is 1-0 with a 3.32 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings.
- Once again, the bullpen shined and allowed the Yankees to mount their comeback by holding the Orioles to two runs. Boone Logan, David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain combined to give up no hits and no walks and strike out six in three innings. Chamberlain (3-4), who pitched a scoreless ninth inning, won the game in relief.
- Curtis Granderson, Francisco Cervelli and Brett Gardner worked in unison in the third inning to give the Yankees an initial 1-0 lead. Granderson drew a walk from Orioles starter Brad Bergesen and stole second. He moved to third on Cervelli’s groundout to first and scored on Gardner’s double to left. Gardner was thrown out at third base trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
- Derek Jeter was 0-for-4 and he finished the 10-game home-stand 5-for-36 (.139). He is hitting .172 for the month and his season average is down to .262. Yankee fans are still wondering what is happening to their captain.
- Mark Teixeira started the home-stand 9-for-13 (.692) in the four games against Oakland. In the next six games he was 3-for-20 (.150), including an 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Wednesday.
- Gardner really hurt the Yankees badly by getting thrown out at third in the third inning but he really hurt them worse with his at-bat in the fifth inning. With one out and Lance Berkman at second and Cervelli on first, Gardner grounded into an inning-ending double play and allowed Bergesen to wriggle off the hook for another inning.
On Sunday I published an item here under the headline “Leaving a Bad First Impression” that detailed how six relatively unknown starters had stymied the Yankees this season.
- The Nationals came into the game with the worst record in baseball by far. They were 16-45 and weak on offense, defense and pitching.
- Martis carried a road ERA of 7.66 entering the game. In addition his overall ERA was 5.04.
- Sabathia, despite a bad April, has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since then and he has pitched deep into games in virtually every start.
- The Yankees have been a hot team, recording a 23-12 record since May 8.
According to MLB.com:
Martis was the second relatively unknown pitcher in three games to hold the Yankees down, joining the Mets Nieve on Saturday. Mark Teixeira said Martis kept them guessing.
“Every pitcher that we face, if you know them, you recognize pitches,” Teixeira said. “You recognize tendencies and look for certain pitches. If you don’t know a guy, you’re going up there cold and hoping to swing at strikes.
“The way he was throwing, he was throwing a really good sinker and changeup, and we didn’t always know which one was a strike.”
The point is that the Yankees may be revealing a problem here: A club of veteran hitters who seem to be unable to solve pitchers they know very little about. This could be concern to Manager Joe Girardi and his coaches going forward.
Teams are not stupid and, if they see a trend like this, they are prone to exploit it. So unless the Yankees begin to start hitting these marginal unknowns they may expect to see teams start calling up minor leaguers and scrap heap finds with no track record and little scouting information to face the Yankees.
I know if I was a manager facing the Yankees, I might try it.
It’s a challenge the Yankees better respond to soon. Very soon!