YANKEES 9, ASTROS 6
Since he arrived in Houston on Thursday, Mark Teixeira had not been feeling real comfortable at Minute Maid Park. He entered the day 0-for-7 in the series and he stood at the plate in the eighth inning 0-for-4 in Saturday’s game.
But Teixeira is not feeling so bad about Houston now.
His one-out, two-run double in the eighth inning broke a 6-6 tie and allowed New York to defeat the Astros despite blowing a 6-0 lead earlier in the game.
Brett Gardner opened the eighth by drawing a walk from right-hander Pat Neshek (3-1). Chris Young followed by hitting a ground ball to third baseman Luis Valbuena, who threw to second baseman Jose Altuve in an effort to force Gardner.
However, second-base umpire Joe West ruled that Altuve never touched the base. after he caught the ball. Gardner was ruled safe and Altuve was charged with a what ended up being a very crucial error. Astros manager A.J. Hinch challenged the call but it was confirmed by replay.
One out later, Teixeira ended his 0-for-11 slump in Houston by driving a 3-2 pitch high off the wall in left-center for a double that scored both Gardner and Young with the go-ahead runs.
Chase Headley padded the lead to three runs by hitting his eighth home run of the season – a solo shot off left-hander Tony Sipp in the ninth.
Left-hander Chasen Shreve (5-1) pitched two-thirds of an inning of scoreless relief in the bottom of the seventh inning to get credit for the victory.
Left-hander Justin Wilson pitched a scoreless eighth and right-hander Dellin Betances finished the ninth to earn his sixth save in seven opportunities this season.
The Yankees opened the game as if it would be an easy victory for them when they loaded the bases against left-hander Brett Oberholtzer in the first inning.
Gardner led off with a double while Young and Alex Rodriguez both drew walks. After Teixeira flied out, Brian McCann blasted a 1-0 change-up well into the right-field bleachers for his 12th homer of the season and 11th career grand slam to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead.
With one-out in the second inning, Gardner stroked another double and Young, a Houston native who entered the game with a .410 career average and 10 homers at Minute Maid Park including a three-run game-winning home run on Friday, hit a two-run blast to left to give the Yankees a 6-0 lead.
Oberholtzer then threw a pitch so far inside to Rodriguez that it nearly hit him. Home-plate umpire Rob Drake immediately ejected Oberholtzer from the game for, in his judgment, deliberately trying to hit Rodriguez with a pitch.
Oberholtzer was charged with six runs on four hits and three walks with one strikeout in 1 1/3 innings, the shortest outing of his career. He entered the game 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA.
However, right-hander Masahiro Tanaka was unable to hold the big lead and suffered through his second bad outing in a row.
With one out in the second inning, Domingo Santana doubled to left and Chris Carter followed with an RBI double off the wall in center to score Santana. One out later, George Springer scored Carter with an RBI single to left.
With two in the fourth, Carter got to Tanaka again with a long blast into the left-field bleachers for his 13th home run of the season.
The Astros then opened the third with Springer drawing a walk and rookie Carlos Correa shooting an opposite-field home run to right for his fifth home run of the season. Altuve then followed by lacing a shot into the left-field stands for his sixth home run of the season to tie the game at 6-6.
Tanaka left having yielded six runs on seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts in five innings. The three home runs matched the three home runs he surrendered to the Tigers and the six runs allowed were a career high.
Fortunately for Tanaka, Teixeira was finally able to break out of his minor hitting slump in time to hand the Yankees their second victory in a row in the three-game series with the Astros.
With the victory the Yankees are now 41-34 on the season and they remain a half game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Astros fell to 43-34.
- Gardner continues to sparkle on offense. He was 3-for-6 with two doubles, a single, a walk and he scored three runs. On May 8, Gardner was hitting .326. But a prolonged slump saw his average drop all the way to .271 on June 3. Since June 3, Gardner is 31-for-86 (.360) with five home runs and 17 RBIs. That has raised his season average back to an even .300.
- Teixeira’s two RBIs now give him 53 on the season and that leads the team. It also puts him in a three-way tie with Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers and Stephen Vogt of the Oakland Athletics for first place in the American League. Teixeira is now hitting .263 with 14 homers and 42 RBIs against right-handers this season.
- One of the best-kept secrets on this team has been 24-year-old Shreve, who has won five games in relief and is sporting an excellent 1.72 ERA in 27 games. When the Yankees dealt left-hander Manny Banuelos to the Atlanta Braves they were expecting big things out of right-hander David Carpenter and they were hopeful Shreve would develop. Well, Carpenter has been released and Shreve has not given up an earned run since May 22, a stretch of 14 appearances and 14 2/3 innings. He has been very valuable since closer Andrew Miller has been on the disabled list.
- The elbow naysayers are already barking because Tanaka has been shelled for 13 runs (11 earned) on 17 hits and four walks in 10 innings in his past two starts. That includes six home runs and his ERA has climbed to 3.88. However, his fastball was clocked up to 94 and averaged 92. So the elbow is fine. The problem is Tanaka is throwing the cutter way too much and he is falling behind in the count too often. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told reporters that he will be working with Tanaka on tightening his mechanics on his delivery and that he should be better next time out.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury ran the bases and hit on the field at Minute Maid Park on Saturday and, if he does well doing the same on Sunday, he could be sent out to Tampa, FL, on a rehab assignment. Ellsbury has not played since May 19 due to a strained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. Manager Joe Girardi said he does not think Ellsbury will need many at-bats in the minor leagues to get ready but he refused to place a set number of at-bats on his return.
The Yankees could claim three of the four games in the road series with the Astros with a victory on Sunday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (8-4, 4.25 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Pineda is coming off a horrible outing against the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday when he was charged with a season high eight runs on 11 hits in 3 1/3 innings.
Right-hander Collin McHugh (8-3, 4.80 ERA) will start for the Astros. McHugh held the Los Angeles Angels to two runs on nine hits and one walk with six strikeouts in eight innings on Tuesday.
Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, MARINERS 1
Based on Masahiro Tanaka’s final rehab start last week and the fact that he had not pitched in a major-league game since April 23, expectations about his return were low and he was placed on a pitch count of 80 to 85.
Based on the results the Yankees received, Tanaka did not need 80 pitches because he dominated the Mariners over seven innings as if he were in midseason form.
Tanaka held the Mariners to one run on three hits with no walks and nine strikeouts in an ace-like performance that allowed New York to complete a three-game sweep of Seattle on Wednesday at Safeco Field.
Tanaka (3-1) needed only 78 pitches (58 of them for strikes) to wade through the Mariners lineup as if he was carving up a Thanksgiving turkey.
Trailing 1-0 to the Yankees, the Mariners scored their lone run off Tanaka in the third inning on a leadoff triple by Brad Miller and an RBI double off the bat of Dustin Ackley. After Mike Zunino struck out, Logan Morrison singled to left and rookie left-fielder Ramon Flores made a perfect throw to home plate to nail a sliding Ackley to keep the game tied.
Tanaka did not allow another base-runner to reach base for the next 4 1/3 innings. The 26-year-old right-hander retired the final 13 batters he faced and struck out five of them. His nine strikeouts are a season high.
The Yankees were able to take an early 1-0 lead on right-hander Taijuan Walker (2-6) on Mark Teixeira’s 16th home run of the season to lead off the second inning. It also was Teixeira’s second home run of the series and his 19th at Safeco Field, which leads all opposing players.
In the fourth inning, the Yankees were able to break the 1-1 tie on a leadoff walk Walker issued to Alex Rodriguez and a two-out, two-run home run deep into the bleachers in right-field by Garrett Jones, who had a three-run home run in the 11th inning on Tuesday that gave the Yankees a 5-2 victory.
It was only Jones’ third home run of the season but he is on a stretch where he has 10 hits in his past 22 at-bats (.455) with three homers and eight RBIs.
The Yankees, however, were unable to solve Walker other than the home runs by Teixeira and Jones.
Walker held the Yankees to three runs on five hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in eight innings. Tanaka was just a bit better.
After Chris Capuano allowed a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Justin Ruggiano and struck out Miller in the eighth, manager Joe Girardi summoned closer Andrew Miller for a five-out save.
But the Mariners made it uncomfortable for the 30-year-old left-hander when pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks reached after being plunked on the right foot by a 1-2 slider and Zunino walked to load the bases.
Miller, nonetheless, struck out Morrison after falling behind 3-0 and got Austin Jackson to bounce into a force out to leave the Mariners scoreless and strand all three base-runners. Miller was able to pitch around a two-out infield single by Kyle Seager in the ninth to earn his 17th save in 17 chances.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 29-25 and increased their lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games over the idle second-place Tampa Bay Rays. The Mariners have now dropped eight consecutive home games to the Yankees dating back to 2013 and they also have lost five straight games overall. Their record dropped to 24-29.
- The Yankees got Tanaka back at the perfect time. On May 12, the Yankees were 21-12 and seemingly undeterred by Tanaka’s absence. But from May 13 through May 31, the Yankees were 5-12. Tanaka’s performance gave the Yankees a sweep of the Mariners and seems to have broken a string of some really weak starting pitching performances. Tanaka now teams with Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi and Adam Warren give the Yankees a much stronger rotation.
- Teixeira is just having an amazing season and his 16 home runs and 41 RBIs projects out to 48 home runs and 123 RBIs for the season, barring any setbacks. The 48 home runs would top his previous career high of 43 he hit with the Texas Rangers in 2005. The 123 RBIs would be the most he has collected since he drove in 122 in his first season with the Yankees in 2009. That also was the last time the Yankees won a World Series.
- There is a very good possibility that Jones’ recent surge has earned him more playing time. Girardi may choose to play Jones in left with Brett Gardner in center and Carlos Beltran in right against right-handed pitchers until Jacoby Ellsbury returns late this month. That would leave Flores on the bench. But he could be used as a defensive replacement for Jones late in games.
- Ellsbury was injured on May 19 and Gardner became the team’s leadoff hitter on May 20. He started that stretch of games batting .291. Gardner was 0-for-4 on Wednesday and is now batting .271. In those 14 games as the leadoff hitter, Gardner is 12-for-54 (.222) with 16 strikeouts and only two stolen bases. The upshot is that Gardner is pressing to get on base, he is striking out more and he is less aggressive on the bases when he does reach base. The Yankees really need Ellsbury back badly.
In a shocking move, the Yankees on Wednesday elected to designate for assignment right-hander David Carpenter to make room on the roster to activate Tanaka from the 15-day disabled list. Carpenter, 29, was 0-1 with 4.82 ERA in 22 appearances. On Tuesday, Carpenter was summoned to pitch to Jackson in the sixth inning with two out and runners at first and third of a 1-1 game and surrendered an RBI double that gave the Mariners a 2-1 lead. The Yankees eventually rallied to tie the game in the ninth and won it in 11 innings. Carpenter was acquired along with left-hander Chasen Shreve on Jan. 1 in a trade with the Atlanta Braves for left-hander Manny Banuelos. With Carpenter’s release the Yankees have five lefties in the bullpen in Miller, Shreve, Capuano, Jacob Lindgren and Justin Wilson. . . . Catcher Brian McCann left the game after grounding out in the top of the second inning with continued soreness on the bottom of his right foot. McCann, 31, was replaced by John Ryan Murphy and now is scheduled to have an MRI on Thursday when the team returns to New York. McCann is batting .248 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 45 games this season.
The Yankees will have a day off after their West Coast swing and they will open a three-game weekend series at Yankee Stadium with the Los Angeles Angels on Friday.
Eovaldi (4-1, 4.40 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Eovaldi, 25, yielded three runs on 11 hits in a shaky 4 2/3 innings in a game the Yankees eventually won against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday.
Right-hander Jered Weaver (4-4, 4.08 ERA) will start for the Angels. Weaver, 32, gave up three runs on nine hits with no walks and three strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to defeat the Detroit Tigers on Saturday.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
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!
METS 7, YANKEES 0
The Mets hit three home runs off left-hander CC Sabathia and right-hander Matt Harvey shut out the Yankees over 5 2/3 innings as the Bronx Bombers’ crosstown rival handed them an embarrassing loss at sold-out Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, FL.
Juan Lagares opened the bottom of the first inning with an inside-the-park home run. Lucas Duda added a two-out solo shot to right-center in the same inning. Two innings later, David Wright tagged Sabathia with a one-out, two-run blast to make it 4-0.
Sabathia (0-2), making only his second start of the spring, left in the third inning after having given up four runs on five hits and no walks and he struck out four batters.
However, Harvey (1-0) was impossible for the Yankees to solve. He yielded just two hits with no walks and fanned four in 5 2/3 innings to earn the victory.
Eric Campbell added to assault on the Yankees with a two-out solo homer in the ninth off left-hander Chasen Shreve.
With the loss, the Yankees’ spring record falls to 12-8.
From 2008 through 2010, right-hander Scott Baker was sitting atop the world with the Minnesota Twins.
During those three seasons, the right-hander was a combined 38-22 with a 4.11 and he was clearly the ace of the young Twins’ staff. But in 2011, Baker – sporting an 8-6 record and sparkling 3.14 ERA after 21 starts – had his season ended with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.
He missed the entire 2012 season and Twins cut him loose, unsure about his future recovery and unwilling to pay him a multiyear deal.
So Baker has bounced around from the Chicago Cubs in 2013 to the Texas Rangers in 2014, making only 28 appearances in those two seasons. But the Yankees decided to take an chance on the 33-year-old veteran and they signed him to a minor-league contract on Jan. 30.
Baker was invited to spring training and he has a chance to earn $1.5 million if he makes the major-league roster. Baker was immediately thrown into the mix of potential starters for the spring but his importance grew larger when No. 5 starter Chris Capuano suffered a Grade 2 quad strain on March 11.
He may soon be paying a big dividend to the Yankees with what he did on Sunday.
Baker, making only his third appearance, entered the game in the fourth inning and promptly began mowing down the same Mets hitters that had no trouble hitting Sabathia and Shreve. He ended up being the highlight of the day for the Yankees.
Baker pitched 4 1/3 innings and gave up just a scratch looping single to Travis d’Arnaud to leadoff the seventh inning. He walked none and fanned two in needing only 53 pitches (37 of them strikes) to retire 13 batters.
It gives manager Joe Girardi some pause before just handing the fifth starter spot to right-hander Adam Warren, who is 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA. Warren has been battling with Baker along with right-handers Esmil Rogers, Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell.
But Baker may have something to say about it.
After a rough start against the Houston Astros on March 7, Baker has been sensational. He has yielded just one run on three hits in 7 1/3 innings with no walks and five strikeouts.
If Sunday’s game is any indication, Baker may just be of some help to the Yankees in 2015. The question now is just a matter of when that will be.
- There were no positives. The Yankees might have been better off skipping the long bus ride from Tampa, FL, and just forfeited the game considering the fact they mustered no runs on three singles, hit into three double plays and their pitchers gave up four home runs.
- The party line on the Yankees is that Sabathia’s velocity is up to as high as 93. They also are saying that his right knee is healthy and that is the important thing. But after two outings Sabathia also has been hammered for six runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings and he is 0-2. “For him it’s just just getting back to the consistency and getting him some work,” Girardi told reporters. Fine. We will see if Girardi is saying that in May. We need to start seeing results. Results, period.
- Girardi brought the starting infield of Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley. Teixeira was 1-for-3 and even stole a base off Harvey. But the rest were a combined 0-for-8 with a walk for Headley. They also combined for three strikeouts. Granted, Harvey is a tough pitcher but the regulars are not getting it done with the bat this spring and it is very troubling.
- The lefty Shreve, 24, came over with David Carpenter from the Atlanta Braves in the trade for left-hander Manny Banuelos and he has been touted as potential third left-hander in the bullpen. Girardi may want to revisit that idea because Shreve was lit up after there were two outs in the ninth inning for a solo home run by Campbell, a single by Kirk Niewenhuis and RBI double by light-hitting Ruben Tejada. In his past two outings, Shreve has given up five runs (four earned) on six hits in just 1 2/3 innings. Shreve may need some time refining his craft at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
On Thursday, Girardi elected to try infielder Jose Pirela in center-field in game against the Philadelphia Phillies. In the ninth inning, Pirela dropped a routine fly ball for a three-base error that allowed two additional runs to score in the inning. Girardi decided again on Sunday to try Pirela in center and he lasted one batter. Pirela, 25, failed to catch a fly ball off the bat of Lagares and ended up crashing into the wall. He sustained a concussion and had to be removed from the game. A CT scan and MRI conducted at Tradition Medical Center came back with no anomalies but Pirela will not be able to resume baseball activities until he completes the concussion protocol and it is unclear how long he will be out. Blame this on Girardi. Pirela has no business playing center. . . . Right-hander Dellin Betances threw a bullpen session in Tampa and told reporters that he will throw his first back-to-back outings of the spring on Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers and Wednesday against the Mets.
The Yankees will travel to play the Washington Nationals on Monday at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL.
Mitchell, 23, will get the start for the Yankees. He is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in two appearances this spring.
Right-hander Doug Fister will pitch for the Nationals. He faced the Yankees earlier in the spring and pitched two shutout innings. He is 0-1 with a 3.24 ERA in three starts overall.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network.
PHILLIES 7, YANKEES 3
Darin Ruf broke up a 3-3 tie with a leadoff home run in the eighth inning and the Phillies added three more in the ninth as Philadelphia outlasted New York on Thursday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL
Ruf’s blast into the right-field bleachers came off right-hander Nick Goody (0-1). Left-hander Andy Oliver (2-0) pitched 1 2/3 innings and fanned four batters to pick up the victory. Right-hander Luis Garcia pitched a perfect ninth to notch his third save of the spring.
The Yankees trailed from the first inning until the bottom of the sixth when Didi Gregarious singled, Stephen Drew walked and Carlos Beltran followed with an RBI single up the middle off left-hander Joely Rodriguez.
The loss drops the Yankees to a 10-7 record in Grapefruit League play.
Ever since Robin$on Cano took his bat, ball and glove to the Pacific Northwest in an angry huff, second base has been sort of a mess for the Yankees.
General manager Brian Cashman tried to replace a Michelin tire with a well-worn B.F. Goodrich with a blowout patch on it in Brian Roberts last season.
The 37-year-old veteran batted .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 91 games until he was released on Aug. 1. The former All-Star who suffered through four previous seasons of injuries just had nothing left in the tank. He announced he was retiring on Oct. 18.
The Yankees shifted gears and dealt infielder Kelly Johnson to the Boston Red Sox for Drew with the intention of making him a second baseman.
Drew played 46 games for the Yankees and ended up batting .150 with three home runs and 15 RBIs. To say that second base was a black hole for offense in 2014 would be putting it mildly.
It is also why there were raised eyebrows when Drew was offered a one-year, $5 million contract to stay with the Yankees and he was quickly named this spring by manager Joe Girardi as the team’s starting second baseman.
Eyebrows were raised even farther when Drew began spring training 1-for-13 (.077).
Since then Drew has picked up his offense and he is in the middle of a very encouraging hot streak. He was 1-for-2 with a walk and an RBI against the Phillies on Thursday.
That means in his past three games, Drew is 3-for-7 (.429) with a home run and four RBIs. Even when he is making outs now they are loud outs to the outfield.
The Yankees would like for Drew to return to his form of 2013 when he batted .253 with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs for the Red Sox. Those numbers for a second baseman with the Yankees would look great compared to what they got from the position last season.
Drew is just hopeful that he can continue his steady progression with the bat throughout the rest of the spring. He may not be a Michelin but he just might still have a decent amount tread life left at age 32.
- Considering the Yankees only managed four hits, the best thing you can say is that no one got injured. That is a positive, I guess.
- Chase Headley continues to swing a red-hot bat. Headley cracked a solo home run with one out in the second inning off Phillies starter Aaron Harang. Although it seemed unwise last season for the Yankees to trade for a third baseman who was struggling with back issues, Headley seems to be over the back problems and he seems primed for a big season. He is batting .370 with two home runs and three RBIs.
- Gregorius was 3-for-3 on Wednesday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, FL, and one of the hits came off a left-hander. On Thursday, he started a rally that tied the game in the sixth with a hit off the lefty Rodriguez. Perhaps he might be on the road to solving them after hitting below .200 against them for his career.
- Yankee starter Esmil Rogers, competing to replace the injured Chris Capuano as the team’s No. 5 starter, was not sharp at all on Thursday. After not being scored upon this spring, the Phillies touched Rogers, 29, for single runs in the first three innings. Ryan Howard tagged him for a two-out RBI single in the first. Cody Asche hammered a leadoff homer in the second and Carlos Ruiz added a two-out RBI single in the third off Rogers.
- Left-hander Chasen Shreve, acquired along with right-hander David Carpenter from the Braves in exchange for left-hander Manny Banuelos, is vying to become a third lefty in the bullpen behind Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson. But Shreve, 24, took a step backwards when he was shelled for three runs (two earned) on three hits in the ninth inning.
Jacoby Ellsbury told reporters that despite being restricted from all baseball activities for a week that he will be ready for Opening Day. Ellsbury, 31, sustained a mild oblique strain throwing in the outfield prior to Sunday’s game against the Phillies. “I think the good thing is we do have time and I’m fully confident that I’ll be there Opening Day, ready to play,” Ellsbury told reporters. . . . Right-hander Jared Burton, 33, sustained a strained lat and will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the injury. Burton is a non-roster invitee who is competing for a bullpen spot this spring. . . . Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, who has been sidelined all spring with a mid-back strain, is scheduled to make his spring debut on Friday.
The Yankees will travel to Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland FL, on Friday to face the Detroit Tigers.
Adam Warren, who is battling Rogers for the fifth spot in the rotation, will start for the Yankees. Warren is 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in three starts this spring.
The Tigers will counter with right-hander Alfredo Simon, who is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be not be broadcast via TV or radio.
YANKEES 3, BRAVES 2
With all the Bronx, the Yankee front office and the coaches having completely chewed off their fingernails all winter worrying about Masahiro Tanaka’s right elbow they can now relax. The Japanese right-hander made his spring debut on Thursday and he looked just fine – really.
Tanaka pitched two perfect dominant innings and Jake Cave’s RBI ground-rule double and Nick Noonan’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of seventh inning propelled New York to a come-from-behind victory over Atlanta at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
The Yankees entered the seventh trailing 2-1. With one out and pinch-runners Jonathan Galvez and Jose Pirela on second and first, respectively, Cave laced long double to center that plated Galvez to tie the game at 2-2. Noonan followed with a sacrifice fly to left that scored Pirela from third with the go-ahead run.
Left-hander Justin Wilson (1-0) pitched a perfect seventh inning and recorded two strikeouts to get credit for the victory. Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-1) was saddled with the loss. Right-hander Wilking Rodriguez pitched a scoreless ninth and earned a save.
The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 6-4.
Tanaka, 26, looked every bit the same pitcher who was 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 starts last season. It did not take the Braves too long to see it.
He retired Andrelton Simmons and Alberto Callaspo on routine grounders and struck out Freddie Freeman looking on a pitch that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez disputed so vehemently that he was ejected from the game after the first pitch of the bottom of the inning by home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna.
Tanaka then opened the second by fanning Jonny Gomes and inducing groundball outs from Christian Bethancourt and Chris Johnson. And that was Tanaka’s evening.
All told he threw only 19 pitches, 15 of them for strikes and he threw first-pitch strikes to four of the six batters. He was so efficient he had to go the bullpen to throw enough pitches to get up the 35 he had been allotted.
“Overall, I think it was good,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter. “Probably the best part is that I was able to get first-pitch strikes a whole lot tonight.”
He was clocked as high 94 miles per hour on his fastball and he stayed within 88 to 91 most of the outing. He drew raves from his catcher, Brian McCann.
“He looked great, kind of picking up right where he left off last year,” McCann told reporters. “His sinker tonight was what impressed me the most. He had good downward action on it. His split was there, and he had a couple of quick innings. He was putting the ball where he wanted.”
Manager Joe Girardi now feels relieved to have his ace pass his first test of the elbow.
“You want to get all your starters out there and try to get them going,” Girardi told reporters. “You can’t spend your time worrying about what might be. You just approach every day, you know what you have, and you go forward.”
Tanaka also was glad to have his first outing out of the way.
“I feel better right now,” he told reporters. “I’ve had the time to prepare myself up to this point. It has gone well thus far.”
Now all of Yankee Universe can exhale. The team’s ace is just fine – really.
- The concern about Didi Gregorius has not been his glove or arm because both have been sensational. The real issue has been his bat but Gregorius ripped a leadoff triple into left-center off Braves starter Shelby Miller. The 25-year-old shortstop later scored on a fielder’s choice groundout by Brett Gardner to give the team a 1-0 lead.
- After getting shelled for three runs on six hits in the first inning by the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, FL, on Saturday in his spring debut, non-roster invitee Scott Baker pitched two perfect innings before giving up a one-out double to Bethancourt and two-RBI single to Todd Cunningham in the fifth. Baker, 33, now has a chance to stick with the Yankees due to the right quad injury of left-hander Chris Capuano, who will sidelined for a month.
- Cave, 22, is very quietly have a great spring training. The speedy outfielder is 5-for-9 (.556) with a double and home run and four RBIs. Cave advanced from Class-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton in 2014 and batted a combined .294 with seven homers and 42 RBIs in 132 games.
- Right-hander David Carpenter looked a little shaky in his one inning work against his former teammates. Carpenter was tagged for a pair of singles by Pedro Ciriaco and Simmons to begin the sixth. Callaspo followed with a sac fly to score Ciriaco from third. Carpenter, 29, and left-hander Chasen Shreve were acquired over the winter in exchange for former Yankees No. 1 pitching prospect Manny Banuelos. Carpenter figures to be the primary setup man in the bullpen for Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.
- I am always being reminded that it is early but Stephen Drew keeps extending his hitting woes. He was 0-for-2 on Thursday and is 1-for-13 (.077) this far. Drew likely will break camp as the team’s starting second baseman. But after he hit a combined .162 with the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees last season he better get going with the bat sooner rather than later.
With the bad news about Capuano’s injury it is about time the Yankees got some good news about their starters. Along with Tanaka’s successful debut the Yankees were encouraged by left-hander CC Sabathia’s 29-pitch simulated session earlier in the day. Sabathia, 34, said he has not felt any pain in his surgically repaired right knee and thinks he is ready to take the next step of starting in an exhibition game. That could come as soon as next Tuesday at home against the Toronto Blue Jays or in Lake Buena Vista, FL, on Wednesday against the Braves.
The Yankees will make their only trip of the spring to Fort Myers, FL, on Friday to face the Red Sox at JetBlue Park.
Right-hander Adam Warren will make his third start of the spring for the Yankees. Warren, 27. has no record and has a 1.80 ERA.
McCann will play along with Garrett Jones, Chris Young and John Ryan Murphy.
The Red Sox will counter with right-hander Rick Porcello, 26, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers and is 0-0 and with 0.00 ERA after one outing.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will broadcast by the MLB Network.
PIRATES 3, YANKEES (SS) 1
Tony Sanchez cracked a two-run home run in the second inning and Jeff Decker added a mammoth solo shot to lead off the fifth inning on Friday as Pittsburgh edged a New York split squad on a chilly night at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
The Sanchez homer came off Yankee starter Chris Capuano (0-1). Jeff Locke (1-0) started for Pittsburgh and got credit for the victory. Wilfredo Boscan pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn a save.
The Yankees, who were limited to only five hits, scored their lone run in the eighth inning when Eddy Rodriguez doubled, advanced to third on a hit by Francisco Arcia and then scored on a single by Jake Cave.
- Carlos Beltran made his spring debut in right field and he drew a walk and struck out twice in his first action since undergoing surgery on his right elbow last September. Beltran reported no problems. “The good thing is I am pain-free,” Beltran told reporters.
- Right-handed reliever David Carpenter made his spring debut and he pitched a scoreless inning, striking out one batter. Carpenter, 29, was acquired along with left-hander Chasen Shreve from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for former No. 1 pitching prospect Manny Banuelos.
- Cave, 22, is speedy outfield prospect with a decent bat. He is making the most of his early chances and he is batting .400 in the early going. The non-roster invitee batted ..294 with seven homers and 42 RBIs in 132 games in two minor-league stops last season.
- Capuano gave up two runs on three hits and no walks while fanning four batters in two innings. Sanchez tagged him for a two-run shot over the right-field bleachers. Though Capuano was better than the result indicated, he still needs to make sure to keep the ball inside the yard.
- Pirate pitchers fanned the Yankees 12 times, including two each by Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jonathan Galvez. At times it appeared the Yankees were mailing this one in because of the temperatures, which dipped into the high 50s with a stiff breeze.
- Brian McCann was 0-for-2 with a walk and still has not had a hit this spring. It is still early and it is doubtful manager Joe Girardi is too concerned. But with the Yankees struggling to hit it would be nice if McCann, Beltran and Mark Teixeira would get untracked soon.
CC Sabathia pitched a 20-pitch batting practice session on Thursday and Masahiro Tanaka faced live hitters in a simulated game on Friday. The Yankees are encouraged by the progress of both starters and they are expected to be ready by Opening Day. . . . Alex Rodriguez played his second game of the spring as the team’s designated hitter and went 0-for-2 with a walk.
The Yankees are on the road on Saturday to face the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL.
Journeyman right-hander Scott Baker, a non-roster invitee, will start for the Yankees. Baker, 33, was 3-4 with a 5.47 ERA in 25 games (eight starts) with the Texas Rangers last season.
The Yankees’ starting infield of Teixeira, Gregorius, Stephen Drew and Chase Headley are expected to make the trip.
The Astros will start right-hander Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel, 27, was 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA in 29 starts with the Astros last season.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST an the game will be broadcast live on WFAN radio in New York through MLB Radio.