YANKEES 6, RAYS 4
When things are going bad on the field and nothing seems to help, baseball teams sometimes revert to one tried-and-true method to get back on track: A closed-door team meeting. The New York Yankees held one two hours before the game on Wednesday and it maybe turned their fortunes around.
The Yankees benefitted from a seventh-inning throwing error by Elliot Johnson to score two runs as New York downed Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 16,711 at Tropicana Field to reclaim sole possession of first place in the American League East.
After a slide that eroded a 10-game lead on the second-place Baltimore Orioles on July 18 to a tie going into Wednesday’s game, the players and coaches held a 20-minute meeting in the visitors’ clubhouse to stress what Alex Rodriguez suggested as “doing the little things” the rest of season instead of trying to hit home runs all the time. They then put the new credo into practice and it appeared to work.
With the game tied 4-4 in the seventh, Andruw Jones and Steve Pearce opened the inning with back-to-back singles off Rays left-hander Matt Moore. Manager Joe Girardi then put the team’s new motto into action by having Jayson Nix drop down a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners.
Rays manager Joe Maddon then removed Moore in favor of former Yankee fan punching bag and reliever Kyle Farnsworth.
Derek Jeter slapped a high-hop bouncer into a drawn-in infield and second baseman Johnson fielded it and fired to home plate to nip pinch-runner Ichiro Suzuki. However, Johnson’s throw was high and up the third-base line and eluded catcher Jose Lobaton. Suzuki scored and Pearce also was able to score as the ball caromed along the fence in front of the Yankees’ dugout.
The bullpen trio of Boone Logan, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano blanked the Rays over the final three innings to preserve the victory for starter Hiroki Kuroda (13-10). Kuroda gave up four runs – including a solo home run by Luke Scott in the sixth that re-tied the game – on eight hits and two walks and he struck out three batters.
Soriano hurled a perfect ninth to record his 36th save in 39 chances this season.
The Yankees awoke from their hitting doldrums, which saw them limited to six hits or less in their previous five games, as they trailed 1-0 in the fourth inning against Moore (10-9).
Jeter opened the frame with a bloop single that Johnson actually had in his glove but dropped in shallow center-field. One out later, Robinson Cano drew a walk. Rodriguez then followed with an RBI double down the left-field line to score Jeter and advance Cano to third.
Russell Martin then stroked an opposite-field, ground-rule double to score Cano and Rodriguez.
However, Kuroda could not hold the lead. In the fifth, Sam Fuld drew a two-out walk, Desmond Jennings singled and Ben Zobrist smacked a two-run triple.
Martin regained the lead for Kuroda and the Yankees with a two-out home run, his 15th of the season and with the hit he also raised his season batting average over the “Mendoza line” at .202.
Moore ended up surrendering six runs (four earned) on eight hits and one walk while he fanned nine.
The victory, combined with the Orioles’ 6-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, allowed the Yankees to reclaim first place in the division to themselves, a position they had held for 84 consecutive days until Tuesday. The Yankees’ season record is now 77-59. With the loss, the Rays drop 2 1/2 games back in third place. They are 75-62.
- They finally won a game. Shall we have a ticker-tape parade for them on Thursday?
- Martin, batting fifth behind Rodriguez despite his low batting average, came up with a clutch double and home run and drove in three runs. This season has been very disappointing for the 29-year-old catcher and his contract expires at the end of the season. It is about time he starts contributing to the offense.
- Jeter continues his amazing resurgence at the plate. He was 3-for-5 to raise his season average to .319. He also tossed in a clutch running catch of a two-out flare to shallow left off the bat of Matt Joyce that stranded two runners and perhaps saved the game.
- Kuroda somehow was unable to pitch as well as he had been pitching for the Yankees. He came in having lost his last two games because he gave up three runs early and the Yankees’ offense could not get back into the game. This time, the Yankees handed him two leads and he handed them right back. The Yankees need Kuroda to pitch great down the stretch to have a chance to win the division.
- Nick Swisher was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and it appears his recent hot streak has come to an end. He was 0-for-11 in the three-game series with the Rays and he struck out seven times. Perhaps he needs to take to heart the Rodriguez mantra and not try to do too much.
- Curtis Granderson was also 0-for-4 and 0-for-8 in the series. Granderson, all of a sudden, has become virtually useless at the plate. He is 3-for-31 with 10 strikeouts in his last 10 games. His season average has dipped to .231 and it is sinking fast. Granderson seems to have reverted back to his early 2010 form before hitting coach Kevin Long restructured his swing.
Left-handed pitcher Andy Pettitte threw a short simulated game to hitters at Tropicana Field on Wednesday to get a step closer to rejoining the team. Pettitte threw 15 pitches off a mound in his rehab from a fractured left ankle. However, there is no firm date for his return. Pettitte is scheduled for another throwing session in Baltimore this weekend.
The Yankees open an important four-game series with the Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday.
Rookie David Phelps (3-4, 3.13 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Phelps allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Orioles in his last start. Despite the fact that Phelps had absolutely no command of any of his pitches, he still limited the O’s to three hits and the Yankees won the game. He is 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA against the Orioles this season.
Right-hander Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.54 ERA) will come off the disabled list to pitch. Hammel has not made a start since July 13 because he had surgery on his right knee. His pitch count will be limited in this game, Hammel is 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, RAYS 3
The Yankees had lost their last nine games at Tropicana Field. Rays starter David Price was throwing near no-hit stuff. The Yankees had to dip into their bullpen early and they were losing 3-1 heading into the eighth inning.
The Yankees were, indeed, facing long odds.
But former Bronx fans punching bag Kyle Farnsworth and hotter than a Fourth of July firecracker Robinson Cano provided the Yankees just what they needed to put the frustration of the last two days behind them and win a game late.
Farnsworth (0-1) walked four of the five batters he faced and Cano delivered a game-winning two-run single with the bases loaded off reliever Jake McGee in the eighth as New York rallied for three runs to down Tampa Bay in front of a holiday crowd of 28,033 on Wednesday.
Boone Logan (3-0), who gave up a two-run home run from Carlos Pena in the seventh inning, was credited with the victory.
Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth to record his 19th save in 20 opportunities.
Rays fans seemed to ready to set off firecrackers and bottle rockets to celebrate their 10th straight home victory over the Yankees after Logan gave up a leadoff single to Elliot Johnson and Pena followed one out later by launching Logan’s first offering into the right-field bleachers for his 13th home run of the season.
But the Yankees opened the eighth inning with a very patient approach and Farnsworth, as he did so often when he was wearing pinstripes, obliged by handing the game over to the opponents.
Pinch-hitter Eric Chavez drew a leadoff walk. Derek Jeter then struck out. But Farnsworth dug his own grave deeper by walking, in succession, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira (on four pitches) and Alex Rodriguez. The walk to Rodriguez scored Chavez and brought the Yankees to within a run at 3-2.
Rays manager Joe Maddon then summoned the lefty McGee to face the lefty-swinging Cano. But Cano can hit a pitcher throwing with his left foot as hot as he has been the past month. He proved it to Maddon and McGee.
He laced a 2-2 fastball on a line into center-field to score Granderson and Teixeira and the Yankees took a 4-3 lead they would not relinquish.
Price, an All-Star selection who entered the game 11-4 with a 2.92 ERA, did not allow a baserunner until there was one out in the fourth inning when Granderson drew a walk in a contentious 10-pitch at-bat. The Yankees did not get their first hit off Price until the next inning when Cano led off with an opposite-field single to left.
The Yankees finally broke through in the top of the seventh against Price when led off Teixeira by slapping a 2-1 fastball into the bleachers in left-center to tie the game at 1-1.
The Yankees faced even longer odds against Price by having to start rookie right-hander David Phelps in place of the injured Andy Pettitte. However, Phelps pitched exceptional baseball until conditioning and a high pitch count forced him out of the game in the fifth inning.
But Price no-hit the Rays over the first 3 2/3 innings and struck out eight batters over that span.
Unfortunately for Phelps, Ben Zobrist turned a leadoff walk into a “walking double” by stealing second base. Phelps did strike out Luke Scott and Jose Lobaton looking. However, weak-hitting Sean Rodriguez got the Rays’ first hit by singling into right to score Zobrist to stake the Rays to a 1-0 lead.
With the victory, the Yankees salvaged one game of the three-game series and improved their season record to 49-32. The Yankees remain five games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Rays are 43-39 and they are 6 1/2 games back in the third place in the division.
- Cano was 2-for-5 in the game with the two big RBIs. Cano is not only a tear with his batting average. He also has been on an unbelievable RBI tear as well. On June 16, Cano had 27 RBIs. In his last 17 games, Cano has driven in 23 runs. His two RBIs on Wednesday also gave him the team lead in RBIs this season with 50. Granderson is second with 48.
- Phelps was matching Price pitch-for-pitch and strikeout-by-strikeout. Entering the fifth, Phelps had thrown 78 pitches. Since he had been sent down by the Yankees he had not built his arm back up to 100 pitches to allow him pitch further in the game. But this start proved he could be very effective. He gave up only two hits, three walks and hit two batters in 4 1/3 innings. If he pitches like this, Freddy Garcia may go back to the bullpen when CC Sabathia returns after the All-Star break.
- Teixeira’s home run off Price – his 14th of the season – was a huge factor in getting Price out of the game. Entering the seventh, Price had given up two hits and one walk and struck out eight. Teixeira is showing a little life with his bat in going 3-for-6 in last two games.
- Logan is perhaps showing some fatigue after pitching in 41 of the Yankees’ first 81 games. In June, Logan gave up only two earned runs the entire month. In his first two appearances in July he has been scored upon in both outings, giving up three runs on two hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings. If anybody needs rest during the All-Star break it is Logan.
- Andruw Jones and Russell Martin failed to deliver in the seventh inning with the game tied and runners at first and third with one out. Jones flew out to right (I will have more on this later) and Martin grounded out. The Yankees also left the bases loaded in the eighth when Martin hit a routine fly ball to right. Martin is now hitting .178 this season. Ouch!
- Granderson had another no contact day with two walks and three strikeouts. Granderson is on a pace to strike out a career-worst 192 times this season. His previous season high was 174 in 2006 when he was playing for the Detroit Tigers.
An obscure ground rule cost the Yankees another run in the seventh inning. With Rodriguez on second and Nick Swisher on first and one out, Rodriguez attempted a steal with Andruw Jones at the plate with a 1-2 count. Price delivered the pitch and home plate umpire Mike Estabrook called it a ball. As Lobaton drew his right hand back to throw to third base, Estabrook’s mask came in contact with the ball and the throw to third was late. However, Estabrook ruled that his interference prevented the throw and ordered Rodriguez back to second. On the next pitch, Jones lofted a fly ball to deep right that would have scored Rodriguez easily. If that is a correct rule it needs to be changed. Why if a ball strikes an umpire in the field of play isn’t the hitter made to hit again? The same logic applies, right? . . . The Yankees announced on Wednesday that they have claimed outfielder Darnell McDonald off waivers from the Red Sox and he will be placed on the 25-man roster before the Yankees’ game on Friday. The Yankees will be facing three left-handed starters this weekend and McDonald is a right-handed hitter who is hitting .214 this season with two home runs and nine RBIs.
The Yankees will have a day off at the actual halfway point of the season before beginning a four-game weekend series at Fenway Park with the Boston Red Sox starting on Friday.
The Yankees hottest pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda (8-7, 3.17 ERA), will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda tied a career high with 11 strikeouts as he blanked the Chicago White Sox over seven innings on Saturday. Kuroda is 0-1 with a 2.57 ERA against the Red Sox lifetime.
Kuroda will be opposed by Josh Beckett (4-7, 4.06 ERA). Beckett gave up two runs in six innings in his first start back from right shoulder soreness. In his career, Beckett is 14-7 with a 5.36 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
Today marks the beginning of the 2012 season for the New York Yankees. After a 33-game spring schedule, the team took shape. How will they finish in the American League East? What about the other teams in the division? How will they do this season? Let’s take a look.
Last season marked a titanic shift in the division.
After the Boston Red Sox recorded the biggest implosion in major-league history in September, they are no longer looked upon as an elite in this division. The loss of general manager Theo Epstein and the decision to blame Terry Francona for the team’s demise were bad enough.
But the real shock was to watch the Red Sox take a different approach to trying to fix the team this winter. Instead of just going out and aggressively signing the best free agents available and making bold trades to infuse new blood, the Bosox actually started a coupon-clipping method of solving their problems.
The big names that could have helped them went elsewhere and the Red Sox found that their once-vaunted minor-league system was bereft of immediate-impact talent.
They begin the 2012 season with one of the most important positions on the team left n the hands of someone inexperienced.
If ever this was a microcosm of the Red Sox problems this is it. They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to walk away via free agency. Maligned for his foibles and his occasional blown saves, Papelbon was still an important piece of the success of the franchise. The fans and the press treatment of him bit the team in the rear end.
To replace him the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s, a competent closer who at the same time has had a series of arm ailments that have slowed his development. At the end of spring training, Bailey came up with a thumb injury that will require surgery to repair. He will miss two months – at least.
The Red Sox also traded for Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon. The conventional wisdom was Melanco would replace Bailey. After all, why trade for a closer if he is not going to close? But new manager Bobby Valentine announced that jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) reliever Alfredo Aceves would close instead.
Welcome to Red Sox Nation’s worst nightmare. On Opening Day, Aceves coughed the winning run in a non-save situation.
If there is anyone out there who honestly believes this team can win the A.L. East, I want to know what you are smoking.
There are only two elite teams in this division and they are the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays had an interesting spring where they played a lot like the some of the teams in 1960s like the Dodgers and White Sox, who were so deep in pitching talent they shut out any team. However, at the same time, the offense is so bad that scoring runs is going to take some real effort.
Don’t get me wrong. The Rays and manager Joe Maddon have ways of scoring. Carlos Pena may struggle to keep his average around .190 but he will likely hit 30 home runs. Evan Longoria, surrounded by lightweights, will be pitched around and his average will suffer also. But he will win his share of 2-1 games with home runs.
Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton and the rest of Rays also use their feet to create havoc on the bases. That will get them their share of runs at times. But the old adage “You can’t steal first base” comes into play. The Rays have to reach base in order to steal bases. This team also lacks the athleticism past teams had when Carl Crawford was here.
How many bases will catcher Jose Molina steal? I rest my case.
No, the Rays’ sole means of winning comes with their starting rotation. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann are the center of the ballclub. The Rays have attempted to build a bullpen around them but they begin the season with their closer, Kyle Farnsworth, on the disabled list with a sore elbow.
That is huge red flag to me.
Could you say that the Yankees would be favored to win a championship with Mariano Rivera on the DL and expected to miss two months like Bailey? How about if Rivera complained he had a sore elbow?
Nope. No matter how stacked your pitching staff is you have to have a closer and Farnsworth is the best the Rays had in 2011. If he is lost for a long period of time, it puts pressure on Maddon to “shorten” his bullpen. That means keeping his starters on the mound longer than most managers would allow.
That exposes them to possibly losing close games because starters do run out of steam at some point. While a manager like Charlie Manuel might take Cliff Lee out after 121 pitches because he has Papelbon and a deep bullpen, Maddon may say let’s let Price get out of this in the eighth because I do not think J.P. Howell has been effective lately.
It becomes a slippery slope and you start lengthening and lengthening your starters until they begin wearing down.
That is my concern with the Rays.
In addition, they do not have the money and means to ever go to a Plan B. What they have on the roster has to work or they fall.
One team that intrigues me is the Blue Jays.
They already have Jose Bautista. You add to that third baseman Brett Lawrie and a bunch of guys who hit the ball hard and you have the makings of a great offense. Too bad the Rays do not have this offense.
The Blue Jays will put a lot of runs on the board. They have a lot of power and line-drive hitters top to bottom in the lineup.
However, their pitching revolves around Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Brett Cecil has been sent to the minors and Dustin McGowan’s comeback has been slowed by injury. Their bullpen does have a closer in Sergio Santos they stole from the White Sox and a former closer in Francisco Cordero they signed from the Reds.
If manager Jon Farrell can piece enough starters to go six, the Blue Jays just might have what it take to pass the Red Sox in third place in this division. Stranger things have happened.
The one given in the division is where the Orioles will finish. Mismanagement, bad luck and foolish spending have really derailed this franchise.
Buck Showalter is a good manager but this team is mired with problems. The young pitching the Orioles counted on has failed to take the big leap forward they expected.
They made big bets on players like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and they have underwhelmed. They lack a big bopper like a Bautista who can change a game. Instead, they can build around emerging star catcher Matt Wieters.
That just about sums up the Orioles.
Now we come to the Yankees.
They won 97 games last season despite the fact Alex Rodriguez played in 99 games, only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had good seasons with the bat and their rotation contained Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
How many will they win when they get a healthy season out of Rodriguez, more of their hitters have better seasons with the bat and a rotation that now has Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, a healthy Phil Hughes to go along with ace lefty CC Sabathia?
Their bullpen even without Joba Chamberlain is loaded with Rivera closing like he always has at age 42 and David Robertson and Rafael Soriano shortening games to six innings.
The team has closed the pitching gap with the Rays and their offense is simply the best in the division. Add to that the division’s best bullpen and a veteran bench and you have the makings of another A.L. East title for the team in the Bronx.
I have not seen evidence that would contradict the premise. The only thing that could derail the Yankees is the age of the team. Injuries also are a great equalizer. But, other than a bad spate of injuries there is nothing that will stop this team in 2012.
Here is the predicted order of finish:
1) New York Yankees
2) Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
3) Toronto Blue Jays
4) Boston Red Sox
5) Baltimore Orioles
If this order holds up, look for Valentine to be scanning the help wanted ads in October. He already has the team hating him. If it gets much worse he might be scanning those ads in July.
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 3 – TAMPA BAY RAYS
Last season was supposed to be the time that the Tampa Bay Rays dropped from contention in the American League East. After all, they lost their star outfielder in Carl Crawford, their slugging first baseman Carlos Pena, their league-leading closer in Rafael Soriano and almost all the elements of what was a very good bullpen in 2010.
Yet, the Rays made the playoffs with a miracle finish that overtook a Boston Red Sox team that choked its way to the finish line. The Rays qualified with a 91-71 record but they lost in the first round of the A.L. Division Series against the Texas Rangers.
What is in store for the Rays in 2012? Do they have another miracle or two left in them?
It is real easy to see what the Rays strategy is for 2012. Run out the best five starters you have and keep them in the game as long as you can to cover up a weak middle of the bullpen and hope the offense can muster enough stolen bases and home runs to eke out a victory.
Right-hander James Shields was the poster boy for this team. In 2010, he was 13-15 with a 5.18 ERA. Last season, he was 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and 11 complete games. The question is will Shields pitch like he did in 2010 or 2011? As the dean of the staff at age 30, his fortunes will set the tone for the rest of the staff.
The ace of this staff was supposed to have been David Price, who was 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 2010. Price, 26, fell from his perch with a 12-13 mark and a 3.49 ERA. The problem is that Price is basically a one-pitch pitcher: his fastball. His breaking stuff was inconsistent and as a result he was a .500 pitcher. Price needs to harness control of his slider and develop even a decent change-up in order to be successful.
Many people were stunned the Rays dealt Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs. But the Rays knew they had rookie right-hander Jeremy Hellickson ready to jump into the rotation. Heliickson, 24, pitched as the Rays hoped with a 13-10 record and a 2.95 ERA. While Price is still searching for a change-up, Hellickson uses his as a weapon and the Rays hope he gets even better.
The Rays used right-handers Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann in the No. 4 and No. 5 spots last season. But both pitchers struggled with command and injuries in 2011.
Davis, 26, was 11-10 with a 4.45 ERA in 29 starts and Niemann was 11-7 with a 4.06 ERA in 23 starts.
One of these two pitchers is likely to lose their starting spot this spring. The Rays believe 22-year-old left-hander Matt Moore may be ready for prime time in 2012. Moore made one start during the regular season, a five-inning shutout of the Yankees. Then he threw a gem to defeat the Texas Rangers in the ALDS. Moore is a consensus pick to follow Hellickson as A.L. Rookie of the Year.
Though this is the best rotation in the division, there are still concerns. If Shields and Price do not pitch well and Hellickson and Moore do not follow up on their success, the Rays are in big trouble. This is a team that does not have much of Plan B behind its five starters.
The Rays luck in 2011 even extended to their bullpen in 2011.
They replaced Soriano with former Yankee scapegoat Kyle Farnsworth as their closer and Farnsworth ended up pitching well. (Yankee fans may let out a primal scream now). Yep, Farnsworth, was 5-1 with a 2.18 ERA and he saved 25 games out of 31 chances.
Journeyman right-hander Joel Peralta also did a nice job replacing Joaquin Benoit, who left to sign with Detroit. Peralta, 35, was 3-4 with a 2.93 ERA and he added six saves. Veteran right-hander Juan Cruz also helped tighten up the bullpen in the late innings but he was allowed to leave as a free agent.
So the Rays will be building their bullpen around Farnsworth and Peralta in 2012.
The Rays did pick up former closer Fernando Rodney from the Los Angeles Angels. Rodney, 34, has good stuff but has been bothered with back problems. He was 3-4 with 4.50 ERA with the Angels in 2011.
The Rays are hoping left-hander J.P. Howell will get over his arm problems and pitch like he did in 2009 when he was 7-5 with a 2.84 ERA. In 2011, Howell struggled and was 2-3 with 6.16 ERA in 46 games.
The Rays bullpen likely will be rounded out by disappointing left-hander Jake McGee, right-hander Brandon Gomes and the loser of the battle between Davis and Niemann for the final spot in the rotation.
There is no guarantee Farnsworth and Peralta will pitch like they did in 2011. There also is some real soft spots in middle relief and the lack of an effective left-hander may really hurt in a division filled with lefty hitters like Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira.
That means manager Joe Maddon might be forced to leave his starters in the game longer than he might like to cover up the deficiencies and that takes its toll on those starters late in the season. The bullpen is an area of some concern.
The Rays have always been a running team who like to bunt, take extra bases and force opponents into making errors. The loss of Crawford did not change that in 2011. However, the Rays newest emphasis is on the home run.
The Rays had five players hit 16 or more home runs in 2011 and they re-signed first baseman Carlos Pena as a free agent and he hit 28 for the Cubs last season.
The team still revolves around third baseman Evan Longoria, who shook off another season of injuries to hit .244 with 31 home runs and 99 RBIs. The batting average has to be worrisome but Longoria is the team’s only real all-around threat as a hitter and power source.
The Rays also was boosted by a comeback season from Ben Zobrist, who hit .269 with 20 home runs and 91 RBIs. He will likely play a lot at second base and some in right-field as he did last season.
The Rays also rely on the power and speed of centerfielder B.J. Upton, who hit .243 with 23 home runs, 81 RBIs and 36 stolen bases.
Rookie Desmond Jennings arrived and he played well in 63 games. He hit .259 with 10 home runs and 25 RBIs as the team’s leadoff hitter. The Rays have high hopes he will surpass Crawford as an athlete and player.
The Rays also caught a bit of luck when Matt Joyce finally began to live up to the promise he showed with the Detroit Tigers. Joyce started off hot but collapsed badly after the All-Star break. He finished with a .277 batting average with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs as a platoon right-fielder and DH.
Sean Rodriguez figures to be the primary shortstop in 2012 though he hit just .223 with eight homers and 36 RBIs. That is because incumbent shortstop Reid Brignac was worse, hitting .193 with one home run and 15 RBIs.
The Rays also reshuffled their catchers for 2012 and they are looking to start former Yankee backup Jose Molina as a starter after he hit .281 with the Blue Jays. Molina, 36, was signed because the Rays were getting beat at their own game. Teams like the Yankees and Rangers were stealing on them at will.
Molina figures to end that with his defensive abilities and arm. However, an offense that relies on the stolen base will be slowed considerably with Molina on base. That is the big tradeoff.
To show how much more the Rays are valuing power, look no further than the signing of left-hander Luke Scott as the team’s primary DH. Scott averaged 28 home runs from 2008 through 2010 with the Orioles before injuries short-circuited his 2011 season. Scott and Joyce will certainly slow down any running game. But the Rays will hit their share of home runs in 2012.
Maddon uses his bench a lot and he will again in 2012.
Brignac will battle career backup Eliot Johnson for the backup middle infield job. Johnson is the better hitter but Brignac is a bit better on defense.
For a while it looked Sam Fuld was going to be the next Pete Rose. Instead, reality set in and he ended up being the next Reggie Willits. But Fuld does provide speed and effort off the bench as an occasional outfield starter and pinch-runner.
Rookie Jose Lobaton will likely back up Molina. Lobaton hit .118 in 34 at-bats last season. The Rays do have a hitting catcher in Robinson Chirinos, however, his inability to throw base-stealers make him a project behind the plate for right now.
This bench is merely adequate. Maddon will use it a lot but there is not much of substance to it.
The 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers may be most interesting world championship team in history. They beat the Yankees in four straight games to win the World Series despite having one power hitter in Frank Howard, who led the team with 28 home runs. Outfielder Tommy Davis led the team with 88 RBIs.
How did they win? Well, they had Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres combine to win 58 games and they had Maury Wills and Davis’ brother, Willie, combine to steal 65 bases.
So they relied on pitching, defense, line-drive hitters and speed and athleticism to win. This is similar to what the Rays would like to build in 2012.
They will go as far as their rotation will allow them to go. Maddon will have to rely on them a lot.
As far as offense goes, Maddon is actually counting more on the home run than the stolen base because only Jennings, Upton and Zobrist are consistent base stealers. Maddon will use his other players like Longoria and Rodriguez to steal in certain situations.
But this team did need the Red Sox to go through a monumental collapse to make it 2011. I do not think their luck extends to 2012. They will not fall precipitously as they should have last season. But I do not see them winning the division. They look to be a contender for second place with the Red Sox. Nothing more and nothing less.
ON THURSDAY – PART 4 BOSTON RED SOX
YANKEES 5, RAYS 4
To offer a variation of the Mark Anthony’s famous speech about Julius Caesar, the Yankees did not come to St. Petersburg, FL, to praise the Rays but to bury them — in the standings.
In the opening act of a four-game drama on Monday, the Yankees patiently allowed a rookie Rays pitcher to self-inflict all the damage in his major-league debut on the same night a bolt of lightning almost brought down the curtain in the fifth inning when a bank of lights failed at Tropicana Field.
The result of the patience was a tortuous ninth inning of 44 pitches as New York scored the winning run on a bases-loaded walk to Russell Martin off Alex Torres to down Tampa Bay.
The beginning of the end for the Rays actually unfolded in the eighth inning with the Rays clinging to a 4-2 lead. Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to bring in closer Kyle Farnsworth with two runners on and one out. Bringing a closer into an eighth inning can either be a masterstroke or disaster.
On this night it was a disaster.
Martin grounded a hard single to left to load the bases and Brett Gardner followed with an RBI single to left to bring the Yankees to within one run. Eduardo Nunez then tied it with a grounder when Gardner upended Sean Rodriguez at second base to break up a potential double play, allowing Nick Swisher to score.
The Rays’ bullpen, depleted because of a 16-inning 1-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the early hours of Monday morning, was down to the left-handed Torres (0-1), who was just recalled from Triple-A Durham that day and he had arrived at the ballpark at 5:50 p.m.
Granderson greeted Torres with a single to center-field. He later stole second but Torres was able to retire Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano. With Swisher due up, Maddon elected to walk him and have Torres face Andruw Jones instead. That decision also proved costly to the Rays.
Jones drew a five-pitch walk and Martin stepped to the plate with the bases loaded.
Torres was forced into a 3-2 count, his third of the inning. His last offering to Martin was well up and out the strike zone and Granderson trotted in with the tie-breaking run.
Mariano Rivera needed only eight pitches to dispatch the Rays in the ninth to earn his 24th save of the season.
The Yankees’ three-run rally in the final two frames spoiled the first six innings of Rays starter Alex Cobb, another rookie. Cobb gave up two runs (one earned) on three hits and four walks while striking out three batters.
The right-hander gave up an unearned run in the first inning after a Rodriguez error allowed Granderson to reach third and Teixeira first with one out. Cano hit what looked to be a double-play grounder but Cano beat the relay from Rodriguez and Granderson scored.
The Rays, meanwhile, built a lead off a wild and inconsistent A.J. Burnett. The Rays used a two-run double by Evan Longoria and a Burnett throwing error to score three runs in the first. They added a run in the second on a base-loaded single by Casey Kotchman.
The Yankees drew to within 4-2 in the fifth on a two-out RBI single by Teixeira to score Gardner.
Then the lights went out as Cano awaited a 3-2 pitch from Cobb with Granderson and Teixiera on and two out. The umpires halted play as the Rays maintenance staff needed to climb to the inner ring to fix the bank of lights. It caused an 18-minute delay in which both teams left the field.
I know what you are thinking. Isn’t it ironic that there was a lack of juice at Tropicana?
When play resumed, Cano bounced out on the first pitch and the Rays held on to the lead — for three more innings anyway.
David Robertson (3-0) pitched a perfect eighth inning to earn the victory in relief.
With the comeback win, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 56-37 and they remain 1 1/2 games in back of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. But, more importantly, the Rays’ loss — their sixth in their last eight games against the Yankees and Red Sox — dropped them a full eight games out in third place. This the farthest the Rays have trailed first place all season and they have three more games with the Yankees.
- Granderson was 2-for-3 with two singles, two walks, he stole two bases and he scored two runs, adding to his major league-leading total of 84 runs scored. The best thing Granderson did is run up pitch totals of the Rays’ pitchers. In five plate appearances, Granderson saw a total of 32 pitches. His patience against Ramos in the ninth inning set the tone for the winning rally.
- The Yankees drew a total of nine walks in the game, seven of them from rookies Cobb and Torres. The team’s eight hits and the nine walks gave the Yankees enough chances to score despite the fact they were only 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position on the night.
- Gardner was 1-for-3 with two walks and he scored a run. He also stole a key base in the fifth inning and later scored a run to draw the Yankees to within two of the Rays. That stolen base was his 13th straight stolen base without being caught, which is a career high. In his last six games, Gardner is 12-for-22 (.545).
- The unsung hero of the night was reliever Hector Noesi, who entered the game in the sixth inning for a very shaky Burnett. Noesi did walk a batter but escaped a base-loaded jam by striking out B.J. Upton looking. He also pitched a scoreless seventh to set up the Yankees’ rally in the eighth.
- Burnett had not pitched in since July 9 against these same Rays and the rust showed. Burnett gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits and six walks in 5 1/3 innings. He has not won a game since June 29. Burnett did not have command of his fastball for most of the night and was mainly using his curveball to keep the Rays off balance.
- Burnett also caused some his own problems in addition to the six walks. Burnett committed an inexcusable error in the first that allowed the Rays to tack on an unearned third run. After B.J. Upton had grounded into double play in which Longoria failed to break from third, Rodriguez hit a bouncer Burnett had to retreat in back of the mound to field. Burnett threw awkwardly to first and the ball went straight down and past Teixeira at first. That allowed Longoria to get off the hook and put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole.
- Cano failed twice in key spots to deliver big RBIs. He failed with two on and two out in the fifth by grounding out to second off Cobb after the lights came back on. In the ninth, he had Granderson at second and one out and again rolled out to second base. Both times he was bested by rookie pitchers.
The Yankees placed reserve infielder Ramiro Pena on the 15-day disabled list after he was hospitalized and underwent an appendectomy on Monday, which was also his 26th birthday. The Yankees recalled infielder Brandon Laird from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take Pena’s place on the roster. . . . Derek Jeter singled in the seventh inning off Joel Peralta. The hit was No. 3,008 of his career and moved him past Al Kaline into 26th place on the all-time hit list. Jeter needs three hits to pass former Yankee and Ray Wade Boggs, who has 3,010 career hits. . . . Reserve infielder Eric Chavez and reliever Rafael Soriano will both play in a rehab game on Tuesday for Class-A Tampa. Chavez has been on the disabled list since May 5 with a broken bone in his left foot. Soriano has been on the disabled list since May 13 with right elbow inflammation.
The Yankees will continue their four-game road series with the Rays on Tuesday night.
The Yankees are calling on right-hander Bartolo Colon (6-5, 3.47 ERA). Colon is coming off two straight losses and he gave up eight runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Blue Jays on Thursday. Only three of the runs were earned. He is 7-3 with a 4.13 ERA against the Rays in his career.
The Rays are countering with right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (8-7, 3.21 ERA). It will be his first start in 16 days. On July 3, he won his eighth game of the season in giving up three runs in 7 1/3 innings against the Cardinals. He is 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by MY9.