YANKEES 13, WHITE SOX 6
After the Yankees landed in Chicago at 4 a.m. after their long flight from Dallas most all of the players were pretty tired after a grueling four-game series in the Texas heat. But Mark Teixeira was not one of those players because he was rested on Thursday.
He definitely was wide awake playing against the White Sox on Friday at U.S. Cellular Field.
Teixeira blasted a pair of homers, including his 10th career grand slam, and drove in six runs to lead New York to a rout of Chicago and allow right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to notch his 11th victory of the season.
The Yankees jumped on rookie left-hander Carlos Rodon (4-4) for eight runs in three-plus innings and they scored five runs and sent 10 men to the plate in both the second and fourth innings to post an early 11-2 lead.
Eovaldi (11-2), who has been getting 7.09 runs of a support per start, was able to pitch into the sixth inning to earn his sixth consecutive victory over his past eight starts to lead the Yankees starters in wins.
Eovaldi yielded three runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.
The Yankees scored a single run in the first on a two-out double by Alex Rodriguez. Teixeira then drew a walk and Carlos Beltran followed with an RBI double.
They added five runs in the second keyed by a two-out RBI single from Rodriguez and Teixeira’s grand slam home run to center.
The White Sox drew to within four runs in the third inning on a one-out single by Adam Eaton and two-out, two-run home run by Jose Abreu, his 18th of the season.
But the Yankees chased Rodon and put the game away in the fourth starting with a leadoff double by Chris Young and Young later scored on a pair of wild pitches by Rodon with Rodriguez at the plate.
Rodriguez ended up drawing a four-pitch walk and White Sox manager Robin Ventura replaced Rodon with right-hander Matt Albers.
Teixeira then greeted the veteran right-hander by blasting a 2-2 pitch into center-field for his second home run of the evening and his 28th of the season.
With the home run Teixeira also became the Major League leader among switch-hitters who have hit home runs from both sides of the plate in a game. It was the 14th time the 35-year-old first baseman had done it to pass former teammate Nick Swisher, who was tied with Teixeira at 13.
The Yankees then reloaded the bases on Albers and Brendan Ryan stroked an RBI single and Didi Gregorius followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 11-2.
Rodon was charged with a career-high eight runs on seven hits and four walks with four strikeouts. He also threw three wild pitches in what also was the shortest outing of his career.
The Yankees added single runs in the fifth and sixth innings on RBI singles by Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury, respectively, as each member of the Yankees starting lineup collected at least one hit.
In their past two victories the Yankees have outscored their opposition 32-10 and rapped out a total of 37 hits.
The Yankees have now won a Major-League-best 17 games after the All-Star break and their overall record improved to 58-44.
They lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays by six games in the American League East. The White Sox dropped to 49-52.
- It took this season to remind Yankee fans how valuable Teixeira was before injuries ruined the past two seasons of his career. Teixeira was 3-for-4 with a double, two home runs, two walks, two runs scored and six RBIs. Teixeira is now batting .269 with 28 homers (tied for third in the American League) and 73 RBIs (tied for first in the A.L.). You can’t do much better than what he has done, especially when you factor in his defense at first base (only two errors).
- Teixeira was batting fourth between Rodriguez and Beltran. Those 3-4-5 hitters combined to go an unbelievable 8-for-10 with five walks, seven runs scored and eight RBIs. Rodriguez was 2-for-2 with three walks, four runs scored and one RBI. Beltran was 3-for-4 with a single and two doubles, a run scored and one RBI.
- Ryan, 33, has been amazing ever since he was inserted as the starting second baseman against left-handers. On Friday, the career .234 hitter was 3-for-6 including a double and an RBI. In his past three starts, Ryan is 6-for-16 (.375) and he has driven in four runs. The hot streak will not last but Ryan’s bat is helping lengthen the Yankees’ lineup along with Headley and Gregorius.
- The White Sox obviously used the the same game plan all teams use against Eovaldi by shortening their swings in order to foul off multiple pitches to drive up his pitch count. It has not worked in beating him. But it has kept him from pitching six innings in 13 of his 20 starts. It took Eovaldi 117 pitches to make it through 5 2/3 innings and the Yankees would prefer he go deeper into games.
Outfielder Dustin Ackley made his debut with the Yankees on Friday after being acquired in a trade-deadline deal with the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Jose Ramirez and outfielder Ramon Flores. Ackley, 27, pinch-hit for Beltran in the seventh inning and played left-field. He ended up going 0-for-2. Ackley will fill the role that was held by Garrett Jones, who was designated for assignment on Friday. He will backup Teixeira at first base and play some outfield. He is hitting .213 with six homers and 19 RBIs. Though Ackley primarily was a second baseman early in his career, he likely will not play there much because he only played one game there in the past two seasons. . . . The Yankees announced on Friday that the team’s No. 1 prospect, right-hander Luis Severino, will make his Major-League debut as a starter next week in the Boston Red Sox series at Yankee Stadium. Severino, 21, is 7-0 with a 1.91 ERA in 11 starts at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. He is coming off a career-high 10-strikeout performance while pitching one-hit ball over six innings on Wednesday for the RailRiders. Severino will take the place of right-hander Michael Pineda, who was placed in the 15-day disabled list with a right forearm flexor strain. General manager Brian Cashman said that Severino could get a extended look.
The Yankees can clinch a series victory if they are able to defeat the White Sox in the second game of their weekend set on Saturday.
Right-hander Bryan Mitchell (0-0, 2.89 ERA) will make his second career Major-League start and his first of the season. Mitchell, 24, is replacing Pineda for this start after being called up from Scranton on Thursday. Mitchell was 5-5 with a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts for the RailRiders this season.
The White Sox will counter with left-hander John Danks (5-8, 4.87 ERA). Danks, 30, is coming a disastrous outing in which he gave up six runs on nine hits and one walk in 4 1/3 innings to the Red Sox. He is 2-3 in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by WPIX.
ASTROS 3, YANKEES 1
When the Yankees ended spring training knowing they were starting the season with the lowly Astros it seemed the perfect way to start the season with a completely revamped starting lineup. After what happened on Wednesday the Yankees should be careful what they wish for.
The Astros scored a pair of early runs against Hiroki Kuroda and the Yankees – for the second straight evening – could not muster an offense as Houston defeated New York in front of a paid crowd of 23,145 at Minute Maid Park.
Dexter Fowler, who is 4-for-8 in the series, had a hand in both Astros runs off the right-handed Kuroda (0-1).
Fowler ripped Kuroda’s second offering in the first inning into the center-field bleachers to give the Astros an early 1-0 lead. Two innings later, Fowler laced a one-out triple to deep center and he scored on RBI grounder off the bat of Robbie Grossman that was misplayed by Mark Teixeira.
Kuroda gave up two runs on only there hits and one walk while he fanned five batters in six innings. But he could have sued the Yankees hitters for nonsupport.
The Yankees offense just could not push any runs across against Astros 23-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart (1-0).
Cosart shut out the Yankees on four hits, he did not walk a batter and he struck out three in his five innings of work.
They did not fare much better against the four relievers who followed Cosart.
The Yankees did finally score a run in the seventh inning after Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk from left-hander Kevin Chapman and Brian Roberts followed with his third consecutive single to advance Gardner to third.
Manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit for Kelly Johnson with rookie Yangervis Solarte and, in his first major-league at-bat, Solarte hit into a double play that scored Gardner.
The Astros got that run back in the bottom half of the seventh when Matt Dominguez touched right-hander David Phelps for an opposite-field home run into the right-field bleachers. In the first two games of the series, the Astros have hit four home runs and the Yankees have none.
Right-hander Josh Fields pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his first save of the season.
The Yankees stranded eight runners and were a combined 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
- Do not blame this loss on Kuroda. Unlike CC Sabathia in the the season opener, Kuroda, 39, held the Astros to just two runs in six innings. This has been the story of Kuroda’s major-league career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Yankees. He pitches well and he does not get the run support to show for the effort. That is why his career record is 68-71 and his ERA is a sparkling 3.40, the lowest ERA of any starting pitcher from Japan.
- Roberts did his part for the offense. He was 3-for-4 with three singles that helped ignite scoring opportunities that his teammates failed to capitalize upon. Roberts, 36, is trying to re-establish his career after suffering through four seasons marred by injury. The early results show that he still has a lot left in the tank.
- The Yankees managed just seven hits and Brian McCann and Roberts combined to post seven of them. McCann, 30, was 2-for-4 with a pair of singles. McCann is 3-for-8 with an RBI in the first two games hitting out of the cleanup spot. The five-time Silver Slugger award winner looks very comfortable at the plate in the early part of the season.
- Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano, batting fifth and sixth, respectively, were a combined 0-for-8 in the game, they struck out five times and they stranded seven base-runners. If you need to point at the two biggest culprits in the Yankees’ demise in this game you need to look no further than this pair. Soriano actually swung and missed at two pitches that hit the dirt and one of those pitches nearly hit him. In the first two games Soriano is 0-for-8 with four strikeouts.
- The Yankees have had a history of not being able to hit pitchers they know little about and Wednesday’s game was another example. Cosart was making only his 11th major-league start and his first against the Yankees. The Yankees managed to get their first hit and base-runner with one out in the third inning on Roberts’ single. McCann added a two-out single in the fourth. Then Gardner and Roberts hit back-to-back one-out singles in the fifth. But Johnson into a fielder’s choice and Jacoby Ellsbury grounded out and Cosart left the game without yielding a run.
- The inning that defined the evening is the eighth. Carlos Beltran led off with a double against right-handed reliever Matt Albers. However, McCann, Teixeira and Soriano all struck out swinging. Futility is contagious.
Former teammates Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Mike Stanton were among the guests who honored Jeter before the game with a ceremony marking his impending retirement. The Astros presented him with a pair of pinstriped cowboy boots emblazoned with his No. 2, a huge Stetson hat and a free stay and golf lessons at a golf resort operated by Astros owner Jim Crane. The Astros players all came out of the dugout to give a standing ovation to Jeter before he took his first at-bat. Jeter tipped his batting helmet to the crowd.
The Yankees will try to salvage one game and some of their pride in the final game of the series with the Astros on Thursday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (2-1, 3.66 ERA in spring truing) will make his 2014 debut after ending the 2013 season as the team’s best pitcher in the second half of the season. Nova, 27, was 9-6 with a 3.10 ERA last season.
The Astros will counter with24-year-old right-hander Brett Oberholtzer (0-2, 11.00 ERA). Oberholtzer was 4-5 with a 2.76 ERA in 13 games (10 of them starts) with the Astros last season.
Game-time will be 8:10 EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 11, INDIANS 6
For 10 seasons Travis Hafner played for the Cleveland Indians and – when he was healthy – he drew loud cheers with his prodigious power and consistent run production. But the Indians elected to cast him aside last winter and the New York Yankees decided to give him a chance to recapture some of his old magic at age 35.
On Monday, Hafner returned to where he still makes his home and he had a big hand in spoiling the Indians’ home opener.
Hafner went 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBIs and an ice-cold Robinson Cano rediscovered his stroke for a double and pair of solo home runs as New York laid a heavy war club all over Cleveland in front of a sellout crowd of 41,567 at Progressive Field.
During the pregame introduction of the players Hafner, nicknamed “Pronk,” drew a nice ovation from his former home fans. But those cheers quickly turned into stunned silence with one out in the first inning when Hafner launched a 2-0 fastball off starter Ubaldo Jimenez (1-1) over 400 feet clearing the wall in centerfield for a three-run home run.
Hiroki Kuroda (1-1), making his second start and admittedly not 100 percent after getting nicked on his right middle finger by a line drive off the bat of Shane Victorino of the Boston Red Sox last Wednesday, struggled through a 33-pitch first inning that yielded three runs to the Tribe on three hits and two walks to knot the game back up.
But Hafner provided the Yankees with a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the day in the third. Cano slapped an opposite-field double to lead off the inning and one out later Hafner delivered an RBI single to center to score Cano.
Kuroda, though not at his best, was still able to settle in to keep the Indians scoreless until he left the game in the sixth inning. Kuroda ended up surrendering just the three runs on five hits and four walks while he struck out six batters.
The Yankee offense, meanwhile, was able to continue to tack on runs against Jimenez.
Cano, who entered the game hitting .130, led off the fifth inning with a home run to left-center. One out later, Hafner drew a walk and Jimenez was removed from the game in favor of right-hander Matt Albers.
After Vernon Wells singled to right and Hafner was able to thunder into third, Ichiro Suzuki scored him with a bloop single to right.
Jimenez was charged with seven runs on seven hits and three walks and he fanned four in 4 1/3 innings.
With two out an inning later, Cano blasted the first offering he saw from Albers into the right-field seats for his second home of the game and the his second of the season. The rout was pretty much on after that.
The Yankees added three more runs in the seventh off veteran left-hander Rich Hill to increase the margin to 11-3. The team that supposedly was so decimated with injuries to their best hitters ended the game with 13 hits and the Yankees have scored 18 runs on 26 hits in their past two games.
With the victory the Yankees improved their early-season record to 3-4. The Indians fell to the same record.
- Hafner entered the game hitting .350 and he ended up 2-for-3 with two walks, three runs scored and four RBIs. Hafner is now batting .391 for the Yankees with two home runs and six RBIs. For those Yankees fans who believed that the Yankees were dead offensively without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson may want to rethink that position.
- Cano busted out of his six-game funk in a big way. He was 3-for-4 with a double, two home runs, four runs scored and two RBIs. The good news for Yankee fans is that Cano started hitting the ball the opposite way instead of trying to pull everything and making easy outs.
- Wells, 34, is another reclamation project that is paying big dividends for the Yankees. Wells entered the game hitting .294 and went 3-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and a stolen base. Wells is now hitting .381 with two home runs and four RBIs. All of Wells three hits on Monday were hit to the opposite field. In 2012 Wells posted the worst statistical average of any player hitting to the opposite field.
- Granted, Kuroda was not sharp as his four walks would indicate. But you have to give the 38-year-old right-hander some credit for pushing through a difficult start with command issues as a result of his bruised middle finger on his pitching hand. After the first inning, Kuroda only gave up two hits until he was removed with one out in the sixth inning.
- Shawn Kelley is trying manager Joe Girardi’s patience. He entered the game with two out in the seventh inning and held a 11-3 lead when he started the eighth. He ended up giving up a double, a two-run home run to Mike Aviles and a triple and allowed a third run to score on a wild pitch. In 5 1/3 innings of work over four appearances, Kelley has coughed up six runs on seven hits and three walks. He also has been tagged for three homers.
- Joba Chamberlain is also walking a fine line. He entered the ninth inning sporting a 21.60 ERA and ended up walking two batters and needing 29 pitches to get out of the ninth unscored upon. However, Girardi had Mariano Rivera get up to warm up in the bullpen and Girardi was not pleased.
After missing two starts at shortstop, Eduardo Nunez returned to the starting lineup and he was 0-for-4 but he did drive in a run in the seventh with a sacrifice fly. Nunez has been sidelined with a bruised right biceps after he was struck by a pitch by Tigers right-hander Doug Fister on Friday. . . . While the Indians and their fans saw Hafner wearing Nick Swisher’s old No. 33 for the Yankees on Monday, Swisher was wearing No. 33 for the Indians in his first meeting against the Yankee team he played for the past four seasons. Swisher played first base and batted fourth for the Tribe and he was 1-for-3 with two walks and a run scored.
The Yankees will continue their midweek four-game series with the Indians on Tuesday.
Left-hander Andy Pettitte (1-0, 1.13 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Pettitte was in vintage form in his first start of the season, limiting the Red Sox to one run on eight hits over eight innings last Thursday. Pettitte is 5-4 with a 3.87 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Indians.
He will be opposed by right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who is making his first start of the season replacing injured left-hander Scott Kazmir. Carrasco is 10-15 with a 4.93 ERA in 33 career major-league starts. He is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 15, RED SOX 9
Fenway Park turned 100 years and one day old on Saturday and the Red Sox honored the occasion by providing their fans with one of their worst meltdowns in their history.
Trailing 9-0 in the sixth inning, the Yankees came back to strike for 15 unanswered runs over the next three innings to leave embattled skipper Bobby Valentine, a depleted Bosox roster and an incredibly ineffective and shellshocked bullpen in tatters amid an embarrassing a five-game losing streak that is rapidly angering the Fenway faithful.
Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher led the comeback for the Yankees, combining for three home runs and 12 RBIs against a Red Sox pitching staff that has earned its position as the worst in baseball.
It was Teixeira who innocently began the rally with a two-out solo home run to left off Red Sox starter Felix Doubront in the sixth inning. Doubront left the game with a 9-1 lead having given up four hits and two walks and fanning seven batters. Little did he know his bullpen would not be able to hold an eight-run lead.
The Yankees got back into the game in the seventh inning against journeyman right-hander Vicente Padilla.
With one out, Russell Martin blooped a single to right and Eduardo Nunez followed with a slow roller to third in which third baseman Nate Spears could not get Nunez at first. Derek Jeter walked to load the bases and Swisher cut the lead to 9-5 on one swing by smashing a grand slam home run into the Green Monster seats in left.
After Robinson Cano singled, Valentine – serenaded with a cascade of loud boos – brought in Matt Albers to replace Padilla.
Albers induced Alex Rodriguez to hit a infield grounder but shortstop Mike Aviles misplayed it and Granderson advanced to third. Teixeira then delivered his second home run of the game, another opposite-field blast to left to bring the Yankees to within one run at 9-8.
A stunned Fenway Park crowd of 36, 770 sat in deafening silence. That silence would not last when the Yankees’ half of the eighth began with Franklin Morales on the mound.
Nunez opened the frame with a single to left and Valentine then publicly alerted the Yankees and Red Sox Nation that he was officially panicking. He elected to bring in closer Alfredo Aceves with six outs to hold a one-run lead.
Jeter immediately worked a walk from Aceves and Swisher then crushed a 2-1 pitch off the center-field wall to score Nunez and Jeter, giving the Yankees an improbable 10-9 lead.
Valentine ordered Aceves to walk Cano intentionally, but Aceves made things worse by walking Rodriguez to load the bases again. Teixeira made him pay with a ground-rule double down into the right-field corner to make it 12-9.
After Aceves walked Granderson intentionally, Valentine – fielding even more boos – removed him for lefty Justin Thomas.
Thomas was able to get an unassisted double play by Adrian Gonzalez off the bat of pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez. However, Martin stroked a two-run single to center. Nunez then reached on an infield single to Aviles.
Jeter made the Red Sox pay with a grounder to Aviles in which he slipped and could not throw Jeter out at first, which scored Martin and pushed the Yankee lead to 15-9. Fortunately for the Red Sox it was not worse.
The Yankee bullpen closed it out and the Red Sox left the field with some embarrassed faces in front of a national television audience on FOX Sports.
Rafael Soriano (2-0) pitched a scoreless seventh to get credit for the victory. Aceves (0-1) gave up five runs on two hits and four walks without recording a single out to take the loss.
The Red Sox bullpen combined to give up 15 runs on 12 hits and five walks in just three innings.
It overshadowed an absolutely horrible third start of the season for 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. He was hammered for five runs on seven hits in just 1 2/3 innings. Fortunately for him, that was forgotten hours later with the complete ineptitude of the Red Sox bullpen to get nine outs and hold what looked to be a very comfortable lead.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 9-6 and claimed first place in the American League East for the first time this season. The reeling Red Sox – or shall we say Dead Sox – are now 4-10 and they are five games back in last place in the division.
- Swisher had a week in basically two at-bats. His six RBIs are a career high. He was 3-for-6 with a grand-slam, a two-run double and a single. he also scored two runs and he now leads the American League in RBIs with 20. He raised his average to .283 and it looks as if he is making a huge push for a new contract at the end of the 2012 season.
- The slow-starting Teixeira hit two home runs – one of them to the opposite field in left, which is one more than he hit in all of 2011. He added a huge two-run double in the eighth to give him six RBIs in the game also. Tex was 3-for-6 in the game and raised his batting average to .288. Hey, Mark, it’s April. What gives?
- Jeter quietly had another sensational game, though Swisher and Teixeira overshadowed him. He was 3-for-4 with two walks, three singles, two runs and an RBI. He raised his average to a ridiculously hot .382. The Captain is not looking like he will be retiring anytime soon.
- Simply put, Garcia has to go. After three starts, Garcia has given up 14 runs (13 earned) on 20 hits and three walks in 12 innings. His ERA is 9.75 and he is looking like he is unable to put away hitters with his splitter any more. At times it looked as if the Red Sox were taking batting practice. Perhaps David Phelps should take the No. 5 spot until Andy Pettitte is ready.
- Phelps was knocked around a bit for the first time this season. He was tagged for three runs on six hits and one walk in four innings. The big blow off him was a two-run home run to center by Cody Ross in the fifth. But he actually did not pitch as bad the numbers indicate and he could be given a start soon.
- Although the Yankees scored 15 runs and pounded out 16 hits, Rodriguez was 0-for-5 with a walk and he did not get a ball out of the infield. The 0-for-5 day lowered his batting average to .241.
There is one bit of very bad news for Yankee fans and Yankee fans who loved Jesus Montero. Michael Pineda had to end his bullpen session in Tampa, FL., after 15 pitches with discomfort in the back of his right shoulder. Manager Joe Girardi said Pineda will see a physician on Monday and there is no immediate timetable for his return. Pineda, 23, was placed in the disabled list at the start of the season after being diagnosed with right shoulder tendinitis. . . . Pettitte is scheduled to make a start on Wednesday for Double-A Trenton as part of his return to the major leagues scheduled for early May. Pettitte is expected to throw about 80 to 85 pitches. The Yankees obviously will be glad to see him the way Garcia has been pitching.
The Yankees can complete a sweep of the Red Sox on Sunday and if it happens I would not want to be Valentine on Monday.
Ace left-hander CC Sabathia (1-0, 5.99 ERA) is coming off his first victory of the season. He gave up three runs in six innings to beat the Twins. He is 7-9 with a 4.14 ERA in his career against the Bosox.
Boston will counter with right-hander Daniel Bard (0-2, 4.63 ERA). Bard gave up one run but walked seven against the Rays in his last start, which he lost. He is 2-1 with a 4.13 ERA against the Yankees but all those numbers came from the bullpen.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN.
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.