YANKEES 2, PIRATES 1
Tyler Austin preserved a 1-1 tie with his arm in the sixth inning and then handed New York its first Grapefruit League victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday with a solo home run to lead off the eighth at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.
Austin fielded a single in right-field off the bat of Deibinson Romero in the bottom of the sixth inning and threw out Jeff Decker at home plate right after Decker had tied up the game with an RBI single that scored Willy Garcia from second base.
Two innings later, Austin blasted a tape-measure home run into the left-field stands off right-hander Deolis Guerra (0-1) that broke the 1-1 tie and eventually stood up as the game-winning run.
Left-hander Fred Lewis (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning in the seventh to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Taylor Garrison pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.
With all the early buzz in camp about 22-year-old right-fielder Aaron Judge’s 6-foot-7 size and his tremendous power potential, you could not blame Austin for feeling like a forgotten man.
Austin, 23, was once among what looked to be a golden group of young outfielders the Yankees had in the minor leagues. They included Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores, Mason Williams and Austin. In many circles, Austin was considered the cream of the crop.
While myriad injuries, off-field problems and poor performance have plagued Heathcott, Flores and Williams, Austin has had his share of misfortune also.
Austin was not a heralded 13th-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, but he had thrust himself into hot prospect status by batting a combined .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs in 110 games in four minor-league stops in 2012. He was named the organization’s best minor league player that season.
In 2013, he sustained both a thumb and a wrist injury that limited the right-handed hitter to a .265 average with six homers and 40 RBIs in 85 games in two minor-league assignments. Though he was injured, he remained the team’s third-rated prospect entering 2014.
Instead of getting untracked at Double-A Trenton, Austin slumped to a .275 average, nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games. The thumb injury he suffered in 2013 was still an issue, robbing him of his ability to hit the ball with authority.
As a result, he entered camp in 2015 as the team’s No. 15 prospect and Judge has shot past him to No. 5. So it has been Judge who has been getting all the attention early while Austin has quietly tried to put the injuries behind him and recover his patented line-drive stroke.
At 6-foor-1, 220 pounds Austin may not have the imposing stature of Judge. But if he can put up some good numbers this spring and have a rebound 2015 season, Austin might just get re-establish himself as a up-and-coming prospect again.
After Thursday’s throw from right-field and his game-winning home run it appears that Austin is well on his way to reopening some eyes in the organization. He obviously is hoping more of those days will come.
- Both right-handed starter Emil Rogers and fellow right-hander Chase Whitley threw two scoreless innings for the Yankees. Rogers, 29, only yielded a two-out double to South Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang in the second inning. He fanned one and did not issue a walk in a 28-pitch outing. Whitley, 25, surrendered two hits, struck out one and did not walk a batter as he also threw 28 pitches. Both pitchers are eventually slated for the bullpen, but manager Joe Girardi wants Rogers, Whitley, Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell to be stretched out as starters in case the Yankees opt for a sixth starter early in the season or if they are needed to start in case of an injury.
- Former Pirate Garrett Jones started at first base and was 2-for-2 with a double and he drove in the team’s first run off Pirates closer Mark Melancon in the fifth inning. Jones, 33, followed Chris Young’s two-out double with a hit that was scored as a double. Jones actually hit a routine fly ball that dropped between outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and second baseman Sean Rodriguez.
- Second base prospect Rob Refsnyder, 23, has a horrible debut in Tuesday’s opener against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, FL. But he atoned for that on Thursday by going 2-for-3 against the Pirates. Refsnyder doubled to right in the second off starter Francisco Liriano but was thrown out attempting to stretch it to a triple on a perfect relay from Rodriguez to third baseman Justin Sellers. He then added an infield single in the fourth off right-hander Charlie Morton that loaded the bases with two outs. However, Cito Culver ended the threat with a weak popout.
I am going to give the Yankees a pass in this one because they managed to put together nine hits after collecting just five in their home opener on Wednesday. The pitching, led by Rogers and Whitley, also held the Pirates to just one run. On defense, the Yankees threw out two runners on the basepaths. All things considered it was a good effort.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters on Thursday that he has no intention of issuing the title of captain to any Yankee in the near term. In fact, he even added that he thought retired shortstop Derek Jeter, who held the honor for 12 seasons, should be the last Yankee captain. “From my chair, it’s not something I think we have to fill,” Cashman said to reporters. . . . Outfielder Carlos Beltran, 37, is scheduled to play in right-field for the team’s Grapefruit League game against the Pirates on Friday. It will the first game action for Beltran, who played in only 109 games last season due to a bone spur and three bone chips in his right elbow. As a result, Beltran batted a career low .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. So Beltran underwent surgery to repair the elbow last September. “I feel pretty good, making improvement every day,” Beltran told reporters. “I’m taking a lot of swings like I used to in the past in spring training. The elbow feels good.”
The Yankees will play on Friday in the first of what will be three scheduled split-squad games.
In the afternoon, the Yankees will play the Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater. It will be their third meeting with the Phillies in the past four days.
The Yankees will start Mitchell, a 23-year-old right-hander who was 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 23 games (21 of them starts) at two minor-league stops before making his major-league debut with the Yankees. He was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in three games (one of them as a spot starter).
Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley will be among the group of players who will play in the game.
The Phillies will counter with veteran left-hander Cole Hamels, 31, who was 9-9 with a 2.46 ERA in 30 starts last season. Rumors claim that the Phillies are shopping Hamels for a trade before the end of spring training.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis by the MLB Network at 9 p.m.
The Yankees also on Friday will host the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, for what will the team’s first night tilt this spring.
Left-hander Chris Capuano, 36, will get his first start of the spring. Capuano was 2-3 with a 4.35 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees after he was acquired last July from the Colorado Rockies for cash considerations. He also is the favorite to become the team’s No. 5 starter this spring.
Alex Rodriguez, coming off his excellent debut on Wednesday, will serve as the team’s designated hitter in the game.
The Pirates have scheduled 27-year-old left-hander Jeff Locke to start. Locke is competing to be the team’s No. 5 starter after going 7-6 with a 3.91 ERA in 21 starts with the Pirates last season.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live via MLB Radio through station KDKA in Pittsburgh.
YANKEES 4, PIRATES 3
The Yankees’ hitters must have gotten an early wakeup call on Sunday because they came out blazing against the Pirates.
The Yankees scored three runs in the first inning and added a run in the second and then they let Hiroki Kuroda and their bullpen hold it as New York extended its winning streak to four games with a victory over Pittsburgh in the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.
Kuroda (3-3) was touched for a run in the first inning on a one-out solo home run off the bat of Neil Walker but he settled in after the Yankees came back to give him a 4-1 cushion.
The Yankees jumped on hard-luck right-hander Charlie Morton (0-6) when the first five batters he faced reached base.
Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk and Derek Jeter followed with a perfectly placed bunt single. Morton then loaded the bases when he hit Jacoby Ellsbury with a curveball.
Mark Teixeira stroked a two-run single and Brian McCann scored Ellsbury with a RBI single.
The Yankees added a run in the second inning on a leadoff single by Kelly Johnson, who later stole second and reached third on an error by catcher Tony Sanchez. Gardner then scored him with an RBI double.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, their bats promptly went to sleep after Gardner’s double. Morton went on to retire 16 of the 17 batters he faced. The only batter who reached, Zoilo Almonte singled with two out in the fourth inning, was picked off first base by Morton.
Morton was charged with four runs on six hits and on walk while he struck out six in seven innings.
Kuroda was touched for two runs in the fifth when Sanchez led off with a home run into the left-field bleachers. Clint Barmes then doubled and he scored one batter later on an RBI single by Walker.
Kuroda left after giving up three runs on six hits and two walks while he fanned seven batters in six innings.
The Yankee bullpen combination of Matt Daley, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and David Robertson held the Pirates scoreless on one hit over the final three innings to seal the victory for the Yankees.
Robertson pitched 1 1/3 innings of perfect relief to earn his eighth save in eight chances this season.
PIRATES 5, YANKEES 3
Reserve utility player Josh Harrison broke a 3-3 tie with two out in the seventh inning with a home run as Pittsburgh salvaged one game of the three-game series with New York in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader.
Gerrit Cole (4-3) yielded three runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out eight in six innings of work to earn the victory. Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth to earn his sixth save of the season.
Reliever Alfredo Aceves (0-2), who came in relief of left-hander Vidal Nuno in the seventh, was charged with his second loss in the past eight days.
Nuno yielded three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk and he struck out five batters in six innings.
Despite splitting the doubleheader, the Yankees – with a season record of 23-20 – pulled into a half-game lead in the American League East over the Baltimore Orioles. The Pirates are now 18-25.
- Kuroda was hardly at his best. But he did pitch much better than he has previously this season. Kuroda had much better command of his slider, which made his fastball and split-finger fastball much more effective. After winning two of his first three starts, Kuroda was 0-2 with a 5.10 ERA in his past five starts.
- Teixeira extended his hitting streak to eight games in the opener and managed to end the day one RBI in back of Yangervis Solarte for the team lead in RBIs with 22.
- Gardner has been on a hitting tear that began on May 3 and he has not stopped. In his past 15 games he is 20-for-58 (.345) with two home runs and 10 RBIs. He was 3-for-7 in the doubleheader and has raised his season average to .297.
- Manager Joe Girardi basically gutted the Yankees’ offense in the second game by holding out Jeter, Ellsbury, McCann and Alfonso Soriano. I understand that he needed to rest McCann (as the catcher) and Ellsbury (due to his recent illness). My only quibble is he could have balanced it so that two of them played in one game and two the other. In the second game, Johnson batted cleanup. Huh?
- Aceves, 31, may be quickly paving his way to being designated for assignment of he does not get his act together real soon. In his past four appearances, he has yielded eight runs on nine hits and three walks in six innings. That is an ERA of 12.00 and a Walks-To-Innings-Pitched (WHIP) ratio of 2.00. Pitchers who get shelled in relief do not stay in a Girardi bullpen for long.
- Solarte and Brian Roberts cost Nuno and the Yankees a valuable run in the second inning when Solarte made an errant throw after fielding a Starling Marte grounder and Roberts then dropped a potential double-play relay from Solarte one out later which would have ended the inning. Instead, Chris Stewart, of all people, drove in a run with a two-out single.
The Yankees will get a well-deserved day off on Monday before flying to Chicago to open a two-game series with the Cubs on Tuesday at Wrigley Field.
Rookie right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (6-0, 2.17 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Tanaka is coming off his his first major-league complete-game shutout, which he threw against the New York Mets on Wednesday. He gave up only four hits, did not walk a batter and struck out eight. He also beat the Cubs by shutting them out for eight innings ay Yankee Stadium on April 16.
Veteran right-hander Jason Hammel (4-2, 3.06 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for the Cubs. Hammel surrendered five runs on five hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings in loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in his last start on Thursday. He also took the loss to the Yankees on April 16 at Yankee Stadium.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MY9.
YANKEES 4, RED SOX 3 (12 INNINGS)
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman badly wanted to sign Raul Ibanez this winter but the front office told him he had to trim salary before he could. Cashman finally was able to trade A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates the weekend before spring training opened to clear enough salary and Ibanez was signed.
That signing looks huge now because in the 161st game of the season Ibanez blasted a pinch-hit two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings and then delivered a game-winning RBI single in the 12th as New York reduced its magic number to just one with a thrilling come-from-behind classic defeat over arch-rival Boston on Tuesday.
The 40-year-old outfielder first brought the paid crowd of 41,564 at Yankee Stadium to its feet when he stroked a low line-drive home run off Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey into the fifth row of the right-field bleachers with Curtis Granderson aboard to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 3-3 tie.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, the team then managed to load the bases with one out in the same inning but Mark Teixeira, who spent all night dashing the team’s scoring hopes, and Robinson Cano could not deliver off reliever Mark Melancon.
So the game, played on a very chilly 62-degree and rainy evening, trudged on to the bottom of the 12th.
Things did not look promising when left-hander Andrew Miller retired Teixeira and Cano to begin the inning and Francisco Cervelli, pressed into service because manager Joe Girardi had pinch-run and pinch-hit for Russell Martin and Chris Stewart earlier in the contest, was making his first plate appearance of the season.
He also was down in the count 0-2 on the first two pitches. But Miller threw four straight pitches out of the strike zone to walk him. Granderson then came to the plate and he drew a four-pitch walk to advance Cervelli into scoring position.
Girardi was also forced to keep potential pinch-runner Chris Dickerson in the dugout because Cervelli was the last catcher on the roster.
But Girardi’s concerns became moot when Ibanez laced an 0-1 pitch into the hole between shortstop and third base. Cervelli raced around third and headed for home as Daniel Nava scooped the ball and threw it towards home plate. But Cervelli crossed the plate well before the ball arrived and the Yankees flooded the field to celebrate one of their most hard-fought comebacks of the season with the division title on the line.
The Yankees knew that the Baltimore Orioles had defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 earlier on Tuesday. A Yankee loss would have hurtled them back into a flat-footed tie with the Orioles atop the American League East.
The Yankees can clinch their third division title in the past four seasons on Wednesday with a victory over the Red Sox in the final game of the regular season or if the Orioles lose to the Rays.
Derek Lowe (9-11) came on pitch two scoreless innings in the 11th and 12th to pick up the victory. Miller (3-2) took the loss.
Frustration as a word does not begin to tell the story of the evening for the Yankees.
They collected 11 hits and a walk over the first eight innings of the game but they failed to get any big hits to add to the one run they scored in the second inning off Red Sox starter Jon Lester.
With two out, Granderson reached first on an infield single and advanced to second when third baseman Pedro Ciriaco’s throw to get Granderson bounced into the stands. Eduardo Nunez, who started as the designated hitter instead of struggling Andruw Jones, delivered a hard-hit single off the glove of shortstop Jose Iglesias to score Granderson.
That run halved the deficit to 2-1 because the Red Sox jumped on rookie right-hander David Phelps early.
Jacoby Ellsbury laced a leadoff single and Dustin Pedroia, playing despite a fracture in his left thumb, then stroked an RBI double in the gap in right-center to score Ellsbury.
Pedroia advanced to third on a infield groundout off the bat of Nava and he scored on a sacrifice fly to deep center by Cody Ross.
However, Phelps pitched well the rest of the way. He left with one out in the sixth after giving up just two runs on three hits and two walks while he struck out four.
Lester, in addition to his teammates in the bullpen, kept walking the tightrope between trouble and disaster but he kept escaping thanks to some poor hitting by the Yankees with runners in scoring position:
- In the first inning, Derek Jeter singled and and reached third one out later on a bloop single by Alex Rodriguez. However, Teixeira – still hobbling on a sore left calf – hit into an inning-ending double play.
- In the third inning, Nick Swisher slapped a one-out double and advanced to third on an infield single by Rodriguez. But, Teixiera again hit into an inning-ending double play.
- In the fifth inning, Cano led off with a single and Nunez stroked a two-out double. Alas, Ichiro Suzuki lined a shot into center but right at Ellsbury to end the inning.
- In the ninth, Bailey gave up a one-out double to Jeter after Ibanez’s game-tying home run. Swisher was intentionally walked and Rodriguez followed by drawing a walk to load the bases. However, Melancon entered the game and retired Teixeira on a broken-bat pop to shallow center and Cano grounded out weakly to Pedroia at second.
- In the 11th inning, Swisher slapped an opposite-field single with two out off Vicente Padilla and Rodriguez followed with a blast to the warning track in center that Ellsbury was able to run down before he crashed into the wall.
Lester left after five innings having given up one unearned run on eight hits and one walk while he fanned one.
The Red Sox added to their lead in the top of the ninth when James Loney uppercut a 2-1 offering from Rafael Soriano in to the second deck down the line in right-field. The Red Sox and their beleaguered manager Bobby Valentine were figuring that it was the insurance run that would put the Yankees away with Bailey on the mound.
Ibanez had other ideas.
The Yankees ended up with 16 hits and five walks in the game and they stranded a total of 14 runners. Teixeira left nine runners on base in his six at-bats.
But none of that all matters much now because of Ibanez.
The Yankees, thanks to the Oakland Athletics’ 3-1 defeat of the Texas Rangers late Tuesday, now also hold claim to the best record in the American League at 94-67. The Red Sox had their season record fall to 69-92.
- Ibanez entered the game in the ninth and ended up 2-for-3 with a home run and three very big RBIs. Since Sept. 22, Ibanez is 14-for-34 (.412) with five home runs and nine RBIs in largely a platoon role against right-handers. He is hitting .235 with 18 homers and 59 RBIs on the season. His single in the 12th was his 11th career walk-off hit.
- The bullpen, with the exception of Soriano’s hiccup to Loney, was actually very good. In 6 2/3 innings, they gave up one run on five hits and two walks and struck out seven batters. Lowe was especially good in his two innings of work. In a game when the relievers needed to hold the Red Sox down long enough to wake up the bats, they did a very good job.
- Girardi chose to go with Phelps in place of Ivan Nova and Nunez in place of Jones. Both moves paid off for the Yankees. Nunez was 2-for-3 with an RBI until Ibanez pinch-hit for him in the ninth and Phelps pitched into the sixth and kept the Yankees in the game. You have to give the manager credit for those moves.
- Fans do have a right to question Girardi’s move to put Swisher second in the order with Rodriguez and Teixeira behind him. That left Cano, the team’s hottest hitter batting fifth. Teixera ended up 0-for-6 and he only got that weak pop to shallow center out of the infield in those at-bats. Teixera’s at-bats killed the Yankees all night long and it was Girardi’s fault. Shifting Suzuki to ninth did not seem to make sense either. Suzuki has owned Lester throughout his career.
The Yankees end their regular season with a chance to clinch the division and home-field advantage in the playoffs with a series sweep of the Red Sox on Wednesday.
Hiroki Kuroda (15-11, 3.34 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda won his last start despite giving up 10 hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. He is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA this season against the Red Sox.
The Red Sox will counter with every hitter’s dream in Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-6, 7.68 ERA). Matsuzaka gave up five runs on nine hits and a walk in three innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in his last outing on Sept. 19. This likely will be the last start of his career for the Bosox, who can’t wait to shed his huge contract. He is 3-3 with a 5.52 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 10, RED SOX 3
The Boston Red Sox are like a cockroach who is on its back with its legs swinging like crazy to stay alive as a huge boot is poised to rub out its very existence. The New York Yankees are that boot and on Friday they came a step closer to bringing it down on the helpless insect.
Curtis Granderson blasted a grand slam home run and Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin both stroked two-run shots as New York demolished Boston in front of an ebullient crowd of 49,571 at Yankee Stadium.
Phil Hughes pitched around the three solo home runs he allowed to complete a solid seven innings to earn his 10th victory of the season. Hughes (10-8) gave up three runs on five hits and one walk and fanned five batters en route to raising his record to 6-3 with a 2.88 ERA in his 10 starts since July 1.
Hughes was touched for a solo home run in the first inning by Dustin Pedroia that gave the Red Sox a short-lived 1-0 lead. Hughes later surrendered solo shots to Carl Crawford in the third and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the fourth but recovered to retire 11 of the last 12 hitters he faced.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to take advantage of a Red Sox starting rotation that entered the game with 12th-ranked staff ERA in the American League.
Journeyman 33-year-old right-hander Aaron Cook (2-4) was greeted rudely with three runs in the opening inning, two of them coming on a two-run home run by Ibanez on a pitch that was actually about neck high on the outside corner. However, Ibanez was able to tomahawk the pitch and line it into the right-field bleachers for his 13th homer of the season.
Ibanez’s at-bat would never have occurred if Mark Teixeira had not beat out a potential inning-ending double-play grounder that scored Granderson to tie the game.
Two innings later, Derek Jeter and Granderson started the inning with back-to-back singles. After a fielder’s choice moved the pair up a base, Teixeira drove in his second run of the game with a sacrifice fly to left.
The next inning, Ichiro Suzuki, who was making his Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes, lined a one-out single and Martin followed by smacking a low line-drive shot into the left-field bleachers to give the Yankees a 6-3 lead.
Cook left after four innings, having given up six runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out one.
The Yankees removed all hope of a late rally by the Red Sox with four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning off former Yankee right-hander Mark Melancon.
Andruw Jones led off the inning with a double to the gap in right-center. Melancon then hit Eric Chavez with his next offering. After a pair of fielder’s choice outs left Suzuki at second and Martin at first, Melancon walked Jeter on a 3-2 pitch.
Granderson then launched a 1-0 fastball deep into the bleachers in right-center to clear the bases and give the Yankees a seven-run margin the Red Sox knew they could not overcome.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their record to a major-league best 60-39 and they now lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East by 8 1/2 games. The Red Sox, meanwhile have lost six of their past seven games and they are 11 1/2 games out in last place in the division.
- Hughes now has been tagged for 25 home runs at Yankee Stadium this season, which is tied for the most in the majors. However, all three were solo shots and Hughes only gave up two other hits in the game and both were in the first inning after Pedroia’s homer. Hughes ended that inning by fanning Saltalamacchia. Hughes has registered 58 strikeouts in his last 68 2/3 innings.
- Granderson’s home run was the Yankees’ seventh grand slam of the season and it was Granderson’s 28th home run overall. Granderson was 3-for-5 in the game and in his last five games he is 8-for-22 (.364) with three home runs and six RBIs. Granderson also moved into second on the team in RBIs with 58.
- Ibanex entered the game 3-for-20 (.150) in his last six games but was 1-for-2 with two walks and a strikeout. His home run was only his fourth since May 28.
Nothing! Hughes was solid and the Yankees used three homers to score 10 runs and they beat their arch-rival in a very decisive fashion. So I can’t complain about a thing.
Nick Swisher took batting practice and ran the bases on Friday before the game. But he did not start and only was available as a pinch-hitter, manager Joe Girardi said. Swisher has missed the past six games with a strained left hip flexor. It is possible that Swisher could start in Saturday’s game depending on how he feels. . . . Right-handed reliever Joba Chamberlain threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium before Friday’s game and he is scheduled to make his next rehab appearance for Double-A Trenton on Sunday. Chamberlain is poised to return to the Yankees soon after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year and suffering an open dislocation of his right ankle this spring.
The Yankees are now 6-1 this season against the Red Sox as they continue their weekend series with Boston on Saturday.
The Yankees could deal another knockout blow to the Red Sox with ace left-hander CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30 ERA) on the mound. Sabathia pitched seven strong innings and could have won his 11th game if Rafael Soriano had not blown a save against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. Sabathia is 7-9 with a 4.14 ERA lifetime against the Bosox.
The Red Sox will counter with struggling left-hander Jon Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). Lester is coming off the worst start of his major-league career. He was blasted for four home runs and 11 runs against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday. Lester also has lost his only start against the Yankees this season at Fenway Park on July 8. He is 8-4 with a 4.33 in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.
The New York Yankees will pay a visit on Friday with their old pals in Beantown.
They also will see a team in the Red Sox reeling after a week of injuries, bad pitching and a blowup between the Bosox egotistical skipper and the most committed player in his clubhouse.
Ahhh! Good times!
I do not like to say I told you so to Red Sox Nation and Kevin Youkilis but I did write a post on March 1 titled “Bosox Just Finding Out Valentine Is Big Scumbag.” In it I wrote the following:
Congratulations, Red Sox, on hiring the complete opposite of a classy and knowledgeable baseball man in Terry Francona. I am now counting the days Valentine will be the manager when the Red Sox finish third and about three Red Sox guys are grousing under the cloak of anonymity about what an idiot Valentine is as a manager.
Trust me, the day is coming. Bobby V. has a way of wearing out his welcome with the players, management and the fans. Why else would it have taken him this long to get an offer to manage? Boston needed a name manager and Bobby was out there self-promoting himself for the job before the ink was dry on Francona’s walking papers.
I hate being wrong, though. Those three players likely will not be grousing what an idiot Valentine is anonymously. They likely will be saying it his face. Such is the turmoil that engulfed this team in a few short weeks into the 2012 season.
Youkilis might have been hitting .200. He might have had an awful spring. Injuries may have ruined the second half of the 2011 season for him. But he always has been emotionally and physically committed to the Red Sox. He and Dustin Pedroia bring the intensity to the team that drives it.
It appears that Valentine has stupidly lost both players’ support. Youkilis will play hard no matter what but he won’t be chilling in Bobby’s office after the game sipping a brew after a victory either.
Pedroia, for his part, went on record with a public castigation of the manager by saying: “That is not the way we do things around here.”
Pedroia is right, too. Valentine did his questioning of Youkilis in a public forum and not in his office with the door shut, mano a mano.
But this gutless stuff and Valentine have a way of following him around from his various managing gigs.
He purposely tried to fan the flames of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry this spring by picking on Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. He also publicly dissed manager Joe Girardi for ending a tied exhibition game after nine innings.
Whoa, the gall of that Girardi to save his pitching for a two split-squad games scheduled 12 hours from that point. But we all know Bobby V was stoking the fire for the regular season. It is what he has to do to take the fans and pundits off the subject that his team is not a very good one right now.
Short on quality starters, even the good ones like Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz are getting battered like punch-drunk fighters. The bullpen was centered around the acquisitions of closer Andrew Bailey and setup man Mark Melancon. Now Bailey is out two months and Melancon is riding buses in the International League after taking an unmerciful pounding on Monday.
The team was without starting left-fielder Carl Crawford, who is still yet to prove he is worth the seven-year contract GM Theo Epstein kissed his feet to sign last season. Now MVP runnerup Jacoby Ellsbury ia out two months with a bad shoulder.
Because the Red Sox spent so much money on players like Crawford and John Lackey and traded their best prospects to get players like Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez, they are right at the very edge of incurring the luxury tax. So they can’t go out and buy their way out of mediocrity.
So Valentine’s hands are tied because of a bereft minor-league system and the realization they can’t add payroll to fix what needs fixing.
Meanwhile, the players are already not on board with Valentine and his way of doing things. Pedroia already signaled that at the exhibition game Valentine got upset with Girardi in Fort Myers, FL. When asked by Buster Olney of ESPN what it has been like with Valentine as manager, Pedroia refused to spout the company line.
He said, “It has only been a few weeks so I can’t tell you.”
That speaks volumes about the chasm Valentine has driven between himself and the players. Pedroia did not say it was different than with Terry Francona and he was excited to play for a knowledgeable baseball man like Valentine, etc. He just said nothing and at the same time he said an awful lot to us reading between the lines.
Red Sox Nation is no longer a democracy, or even a plutocracy. It is now dictatorial and repressive. It will not take long for the combination of the unhappiness and the losing gets to the players and they start venting what they really think.
If I were Bobby V, I would not put a down-payment on that sprawling mansion in Beacon Hill just yet. He might be using Bekins to pack him and his sorry butt back to New York. I just have a feeling this marriage was forced and needs to be annulled immediately.
The Red Sox never knew what hit them when the canned the best manager they ever had and their GM got out of Dodge just ahead of the posse. Now they are finding what life used to be like before 2004 and it couldn’t have happened to more arrogant and obnoxious fanbase in the history of baseball.
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.
YANKEES 4, RED SOX 4 (9 INNINGS)
If the quote “a tie is like kissing your sister” applies than the Yankees probably feel like they lip-smacked the ugliest sister they have in the Red Sox.
Jason Repko laid down a suicide squeeze bunt to score Ryan Sweeney with one out in the ninth inning as Boston overcame a 4-0 lead in the final two innings to tie New York on Wednesday night at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.
If Yankee fans want a culprit for blowing the big lead, look no further than right-handed reliever Cory Wade. Wade gave up three runs on four hits (three of them long doubles) in a less-than-stellar two-thirds of an inning.
Juan Cedeno struck out Josh Kroeger with a tying run on second to end the eighth, however, he ran into trouble in the ninth by allowing a leadoff single by Sweeney. George Kontos entered the game and after one out, Mike Aviles slapped a double off the left-field wall to setup Repko’s squeeze bunt that tied the game.
The Yankees built their four-run lead with two runs off Red Sox starter Aaron Cook in the fourth inning, keyed by a RBI double by a red-hot Curtis Granderson and RBI single by Andruw Jones.
They added two runs in the fifth off of former Yankees right-hander Ross Ohlendorf. Brandon Laird led off the frame with a double, Jose Gil singled to right to advance Laird to third. Then with one out, Doug Bernier rolled a single into right to score both runners.
Yankees right-hander Adam Warren started the game and pitched an excellent four innings. Warren, 24, blanked the Bosox on two hits and no walks and he fanned three.
- Originally the Yankees had announced David Phelps would start. But Warren pitched instead and he looked sensational. Warren is 0-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 innings spanning four appearances this spring. The Yankees obviously have no room for Warren with seven pitchers vying for five starting spots but Warren will be part of the “Fab Five” starting for Triple-A Empire State with Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, D.J. Mitchell and Phelps.
- Granderson’s RBI double raised his spring average to .393. Granderson has six doubles, a triple and a home run among his 11 hits and he is slugging at a .786 clip this spring. For those of you who might have thought that 2012 was a fluke you had better think again.
- Bernier is 31 and there s no way he will make the team with Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena ahead of him on the depth chart at shortstop. But he has had a sensational spring in the field and he is hitting .364. If Bernier ends up staying with the Yankees he will play at Triple-A Empire State.
- Wade, 28, has given up four runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings over his last two appearances. That has forced his ERA to balloon to a very ugly 7.04 this spring. Wade was integral to the Yankees’ bullpen last season, recording a 6-1 record and a 2.04 ERA. But with potentially two starters being shifted to the bullpen when Andy Pettitte returns in May, Wade might be out of a job if he does not turn it around soon.
- The Raul Ibanez spring hit meter is still stuck on two. Ibanez was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and his average has dipped (and we do mean dipped) to .054. That means the Yankees are paying Ibanez a whopping $2.25 million per hit. Where do I sign up for that gig?
- The spring “Siesta Award” will have to shared by Jones and Eric Chavez. Chavez singled to lead off the second but was picked off first base by Cook. After Jones drove in Granderson with his single in the fourth inning he was promptly picked off first by Cook also. Getting caught napping is embarrassing enough but worse when it s the Red Sox. Wake up, guys!
Pettitte will throw a live batting practice session for the Yankees on Friday at their spring complex. The Yankees are also saying that it is possible the lefty could pitch in a spring training game. Pettitte, 39, said he is targeting May for his return to the big leagues. . . . Infielder Jorge Vazquez was struck in the right hand on a pitch from former Yankees right-hander Mark Melancon in the eighth inning and he left the game immediately. Vazquez, 29, will have precautionary X-rays done on the hand and it is unclear how much, if any, time he will miss. . . . Jeter participated in a full team workout on Thursday and he is expected to start on Friday. Jeter has missed the last seven games with a sore left calf. . . . Nick Swisher said his sore groin is improving and he could return to the lineup sometime this weekend. Swisher left Tuesday’s game against the Pirates when he felt his groin tighten up as he ran out a ground ball. . . . CC Sabathia gave up one run in six innings in a game against Double-A hitters on Wednesday. He is on track to pitch the opener for the Yankees on April 6 in St. Petersburg, FL., against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Once again, Red Sox manager “Booby” Valentine has shown his hindquarters. Manager Joe Girardi informed home-plate umpire Mark Lollo that he did not have any pitchers available to pitch a 10th inning against the Red Sox. Girardi did have Mitchell on the trip but he had thrown a side session earlier because Girardi did not expect him to get into the game. By the typical spring rules, managers are within their rights to end a tie game after nine innings if they do not feel it is in their interest to push a pitcher into throwing too much. Valentine took umbrage because he chose to warm up Clayton Mortensen in the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth. “It was regretful that Mortensen warmed up, though, and then we were told they weren’t going to play extra innings,” Valentine said. “I don’t think that was very courteous.” Courtesy is extended to those who earn it, “Booby.” Your remarks about Jeter and Alex Rodriguez earlier this spring, which were designed to get back to the Yankees, were uncalled for and extremely discourteous. So as far as see it, “Booby,” you can just suck on it. It is so ironic that it is you that are fit to be tied. Welcome to the rivalry you stoked!
The Yankees will play a pair of games on Friday.
The home squad will face the Minnesota Twins at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Ivan Nova, coming off a horrible performance against the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota on Sunday, is expected to pitch for the Yankees in that game. The Twins will start veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay and live locally on the YES Network.
The road squad will travel to Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL., to face the Philadelphia Phillies. Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda is scheduled to start for the Yankees. The Phillies will start right-hander Vance Worley.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay.
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 4 – BOSTON RED SOX
A fellow Yankee fan once called the Red Sox the Red Flops because of their penchant for running out to big leads in the American League East and fading badly in the second half. After the famous “Collapse of 2011” the term seems apropos.
On Sept. 3, they were 84-54, a half game behind the Yankees and nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the season with a dreadful 6-18 record and missed the playoffs by a game. In Boston that is not an oops, it is an eruption and it cost manager Terry Francona his job and general manager Theo Epstein fled to the Chicago Cubs.
Looking to 2012 the Red Flops hired ego-driven Bobby Valentine as manager. Ben Cherington, an Epstein assistant, took over as GM. They even dismissed first-year pitching coach Curt Young in favor of Bob McClure to keep their starting pitchers from getting bagged in the clubhouse on Samuel Adams.
Of course, that is odd because McClure pitched most of his career with the beer capital of the world in Milwaukee.
There is no doubt the starting pitching let the Red Sox down in 2011. They scored runs and the bullpen was good until it got overtaxed. But has this team addressed the areas of weakness enough to win the division in 2012?
Well, it does not look good.
The Red Sox were unable to acquire any starter of significance this winter because they had to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and the team was already perilously close to the salary mark that would incur the luxury tax.
So they return to the field with two of the pitchers who aided in the collapse (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester), one pitcher who was hurt most of the 2011 season (Clay Buchholz) and two big question marks behind them. That seems hardly like a recipe for success.
Beckett, 31, returns as the team ace after a season in which he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. But an ankle injury late in the season forced him to fade like a typical Red Flop in September. He posted a 5.48 ERA in September. He also was in the center of the beer issue that drew the ire of teammates and the front office.
If Beckett wants to remain the ace he better start showing some leadership by example.
Lester, 28, is starting to look like the Red Sox version of Mike Mussina. He has all the talent and the pitches to be successful but he never takes that big step forward to be an elite pitcher. He was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA but he also slid in September. He had only two quality starts from Aug. 27 to the season finale and was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the final month.
Buchholz, 27, made only 14 starts last season before ending up on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his back. He finished with a record of 6-3 and a 3.48 ERA. There is no doubt he was sorely missed last season because Epstein failed to stock the Red Sox with any depth and the team floundered after he was shelved on June 16.
The Red Sox other two starters were veteran right-handers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
If Lester is like Mussina then Lackey is looking like the Red Sox version of A.J. Burnett. Signed as free agent before the 2010 season, Lackey has done nothing but disappoint Red Sox Nation with bad pitching. He was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 but he got much worse in 2011 with a 12-12 mark and 6.41 ERA.
Red Sox fans have taken to calling him “Lacking.”
But there is good news for RSN, Lackey, 33, will not pitch at all in 2012 because he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. There is no real guarantee Lackey will be any better in 2013, which will be the final year of his four-year contract. His days in Beantown look to be limited at this point.
Speaking of that, Red Sox fans also would like to see Matsuzaka, 31, gone after three injury-filled seasons in which he was a combined 16-15 with a plus 5.00 ERA in only 44 starts. Last season, he was shelved in June with a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA. Like Lackey he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
He possibly could return late in the season but there is no one banking on him coming back pitching like in he did in 2008 when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is in the final year of lucrative six-year contract and the Red Sox seem to be counting the days they can part with him.
With Lackey and Dice-K on the shelf, the Red Sox have to come up with two starters and one of them is Daniel Bard, the team’s setup man the past two seasons. Bard, 26, does throw hard and he has two breaking pitches to mix in his arsenal.
But Bard also was the poster boy for the Red Sox collapse. Forced to pitch a lot to cover for weak starting pitching, Bard got hit hard and often in September, finishing the season 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and five blown saves. Only July 31, Bard had a 1.76 ERA.
Now the question is can he be an effective starter? It has not worked for relievers lately. It did not work for Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays has struggled to get past the fifth inning with the Blue Jays. Usually it works better when a starter becomes a reliever as it did with former Red Sox right-hander Dennis Eckersley.
Until Bard proves he can pitch deep into games consistently and does not fade late in the season as the innings pile up, he is big question mark in 2012.
For the fifth spot, the Red Sox issued an open casting call much like the Yankees did in 2011 with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.
They are looking at holdovers Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller as possible candidates. Aceves, 29, was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA but made only four starts. He is better suited as a reliever, as he proved with the Yankees. Miller, a 26-year-old left-hander, was 6-3 but he had a horrible 5.54 ERA in 12 starts.
The Red Sox also signed former Yankee right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and three other right-handers including Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva to compete for the job this spring.
None of these candidates are going to impress the Red Sox faithful. They all have a lot of mileage on them and they all have not had much success in recent years.
This might be one of the weakest Red Sox rotations in many years and the lack of depth in it is the major problem. If Beckett, Lester or Buchholz are hurt, who steps up to replace them?
The Red Sox allowed Jonathan Papelbon leave for the Philadelphia Phillies rather than pay him what he was worth as a closer for them over the past six seasons. The conventional wisdom was Bard would take over as the closer.
But the Red Sox made him a starter instead and opened up the job. They decided to fill it with 27-year-old right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.
Bailey is coming off two injury-plagued seasons but is pretty darn good when he is healthy. Bailey is 7-10 with a career ERA of 2.07 and 75 saves in 84 chances.
There is no doubt Bailey is an excellent closer. The only question is of the Red Sox can keep him healthy and can Bailey adjust to the very small dimensions of Fenway as opposed to the expansive Coliseum.
The Red Sox also traded with the Houston Astros for yet another former Yankee reliever in Mark Melancon. (Can the signing of Tanyon Sturtze be far behind?). Melancon, 26, was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 out of 25 games for the lowly Astros last season. Melancon, who was touted years ago as the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera when he was in the Yankees’ minor-league system, will set up Bailey and can close if Bailey should revert to past form and pull up lame.
Speaking of lame, the Red Sox suffered a huge blow to their bullpen before pitchers reported to camp on Sunday because 30-year-old right-hander Bobby Jenks will miss more time when a pulmonary embolism was discovered in his lung. This was discovered after he had two back surgeries after pitching only 19 games last season. He is on the 60-day DL and he will be on a long road back to health.
Aceves also figures in the late innings because he is much more valuable in that spot.
The Red Sox got some use out of 29-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who was 4-4 with 4.73 ERA in 56 games last season. The lefty specialist was 26-year-old Franklin Morales, who was 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances. The Red Sox are hoping Rich Hill will come back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow sometime this season.
The Red Sox think 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront can take the second left-hander spot in the bullpen. He had no record and 6.10 ERA in 11 appearances last season. Doubront could also get a chance to start and he has some upside.
This bullpen is definitely in a state of flux. New personnel, new roles and there are some pitchers coming off injuries or currently rehabbing injuries. It is not a recipe for success.
Valentine and McClure have a lot of decisions to make in the spring. For the Red Sox to succeed they need an excellent bullpen. For now, it looks just mediocre.
The Red Sox were largely a four-man offense – a very good four-man offense but a four-man offense nonetheless – in 2011.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was as advertised. He hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs and played Gold Glove defense. The Red Sox hope Gonzalez, 29, is the fulcrum of the Bosox attack for many years to come.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 season to re-establish himself in 2011. He hit .307 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs and also won a Gold Glove. Pedroia, 28, remains the spark-plug in the Red Sox engine. His grit and determination makes him the heart and soul of the team.
Designated hitter David Ortiz followed up a bounce-back 2010 season with another solid campaign in 2011. Ortiz, 36, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. He is not the same feared hitter he was in his steroid days hitting behind Manny Ramirez but he is still good enough to help the offense.
The big surprise was center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played only 18 games in 2010 and was accused of milking his rib injury by some teammates. Ellsbury, 28, must have been angry because he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He hit .321 with easily a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also stole 39 bases.
To most Red Sox observers, Ellsbury was the team’s MVP and would have won the American League MVP if Justin Verlander of the Tigers had not.
The big disappointments in this lineup were Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.
Youkilis, who will be 33 when the season starts, still has not played any more than 147 games in a season. Last season, the combination of bursitis in his left hip and a sports hernia limited him to 120 games. He hit a disappointing .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and he did not play third base as well he played first base. Youkilis must stay healthy and return to form if the Red Sox are to make a move in 2012.
Left-fielder Crawford, 30, arrived in Beantown with 409 career steals and .293 career batting average. His seven-year, $142 million contract was the signing that limited the Red Sox from adding pitching this winter. He also proved he did not fit in well at Fenway. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs and only 18 stolen bases. He also proved weak in the field despite having won a Gold Glove with the Rays in 2010.
More bad news about Crawford: Late in the winter Crawford realized his left wrist required surgery and he is not likely to be able to play on Opening Day. Crawford will either turn his game around or become one of the biggest albatross signings in baseball history.
The Red Sox have shuffled the deck in right-field and shortstop this season.
The Red Sox released aging outfielder J.D. Drew and they used promising youngster Josh Reddick in the Bailey trade.
The Red Sox did obtain outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal and he is a left-handed hitter like Reddick. However, the 27-year-old has been a huge disappointment in Oakland. He is career .283 hitter but he lacks both power and speed.
Holdover Darnell McDonald, 33, was brought up last season and he hit .236 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 79 games. He could figure in an early platoon with Sweeney or win the job outright. Ryan Kalish, 23, hit .252 in 53 games and he will get a look also.
The Red Sox also picked up Cody Ross from the Giants. Ross, 31, bats right-handed and he figures to start n left-field until Crawford returns to health. Then he will shift to right in a platoon with either Sweeney or Kalish. Ross hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2011.
Shortstop also was shuffled for 2012. Starter Marco Scutaro was shipped to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Backup infielder Jed Lowrie was used in the Melancon trade with the Astros.
That leaves former Royals infielder Mike Aviles to start at the position. Aviles, 31, is a career .288 hitter but he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 91 games with the Royals and Red Sox.
The Jason Varitek era in Boston is officially over. Varitek was not re-signed and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his second season as the unquestioned starter for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, 26, is coming off a so-so 2011 season. He hit .235 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. He also struck out 119 times in 358 at-bats so he is not exactly a selective hitter. The Red Sox also wish he would continue to improve his defense and throwing.
The Red Sox will likely keep Ross, McDonald and either Sweeney or Kalish as backup outfielders. McDonald is valuable because he play all three spots and he is better in center.
The Red Sox picked up former Twins infielder Nick Punto as a reserve at second, short and third. Punto, 34, hit .278 with one home run and 20 RBIs with the Cardinals last season. Having Punto means the Red Sox can allow 22-year-old shortstop Jose Inglesias another season to develop at Triple-A. Inglesias can field but has not developed much as a hitter.
The team also picked up former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. Shoppach, 31, hit .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs with the Rays and he replaces Varitek as the backup catcher. He is solid defensively.
This is a serviceable bench but I would hardly call it talent-laden or special.
The Epstein-Francona era is over. The main architects of the only two World Series championships in the last 96 years have fled. They left a financial constraint on the team that prevented them from addressing their crisis in starting pitching, the bullpen and in right-field.
The Crawford and Lackey signings along with the trades for since-departed Victor Matinez and Gonzalez left this very dollar-rich team weak in minor-league prospects and unable to find enough wiggle room to sign what they needed without breaking way past the level where the luxury tax kicks in.
This limits what the Red Sox will actually do this season. This is team that already is beset by injuries (Lackey, Dice-K, Crawford, Jenks) and they are severely lacking in depth before spring training has even started. It is hard to see how they find the money to fix what needs fixing if the ship should begin to flounder.
The Red Sox will only go as far their offense and their top three starters take them this season.
With the Rays a bit flawed it is easy to see both the Red Sox and Rays battling for second place behind the Yankees in 2012. Because of what happened to the Red Sox last season it hard to see how it could happen again. But that is what I am predicting.
I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Rays pitching will be the reason the Red Sox will finish third. The only question is can Valentine get out of town before RSN tries to lynch him. Good luck, with this bunch, Bobby. You are going to need it – along with a lot of Maalox.
Just call them the Red Flops.
doubled in the third inning to extend his spring hitting streak to nine games. . . . Girardi was beaming about Vazquez after the game: “I’m very happy. He threw the ball well tonight. He was ahead on the count all night.” . . . Backup catcher Francisco Cervelli added to his versatility by playing third base for the final two innings. He handled an Eric Bruntlett grounder in the ninth inning perfectly in his only chance in the field. Cervelli could be used as emergency infielder behind utility infielder Ramiro Pena this season. . . . A crowd of 10,850 attended Wednesday night’s game.