YANKEES 8, TWINS 4
Great Major-League players soar to amazing peaks and yet they also can sink to some really deep valleys. The valley Alex Rodriguez was in entering Tuesday’s game was approaching the width of the Grand Canyon, having not gotten a hit in 18 at-bats and riding a 3-for-39 slide until he came to the plate in the seventh inning.
All of that changed with one big swing.
Rodriguez laced a 1-0 fastball into the Yankees bullpen in right-center for his 25th career grand slam to lead New York to a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Minnesota in front of 38,007 fans at Yankee Stadium.
Rodriguez’s 25th home run of the season and his first since his 40th birthday on July 27 came off right-hander T.J. Graham (0-1), who had inherited a bases-loaded, one-out jam from left-hander Ryan O’Rourke.
O’Rourke entered the seventh protecting a 4-1 Twins lead but Chase Headley led off with a pinch-hit single and Brendan Ryan drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. One out later, O’Rourke also walked Brett Gardner on a 3-2 pitch to set the stage for Rodriguez’s heroics.
Rodriguez already had passed former Yankee great Lou Gehrig for the most career grand slams with No. 24 on Sept. 20, 2013 against the San Francisco Giants. No. 25 put the Yankees in the lead for the first time since the fourth inning and received a fevered request for a curtain call from the crowd, which Rodriguez obliged.
The Yankees added three more runs in the bottom of the eighth inning off Graham to pad their lead to four runs. Headley keyed the rally with a two-run double and Jacoby Ellsbury added an RBI single.
Rookie right-hander Nick Rumbelow (1-0), who was just called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day, allowed an RBI single in the seventh but completed the inning by striking out Aaron Hicks to earn his first Major-League victory.
Left-hander Andrew Miller pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out three to earn his 27th save in 28 chances this season.
The game began as a pitcher’s duel between Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia and Twins right-hander Mike Pelfrey.
Sabathia opened the game by throwing 4 1/3 innings of perfect baseball and he held a 1-0 lead after a one-out ground-rule double in the fourth off the bat of Carlos Beltran and the first Major-League RBI on a single by Greg Bird, who was in the lineup replacing an injured Mark Teixeira.
However, Sabathia allowed a one-out free pass to Trevor Plouffe in the fifth. One out later, Eduardo Escobar singled to right and Kurt Suzuki followed with a double down the left-field line that scored Plouffe.
However, Escobar was thrown out at the plate on a perfect relay from Garder in left to shortstop Didi Gregorius to catcher Brian McCann, who tagged Escobar for the final out of the inning.
The game remained tied until the top of the seventh when Sabathia issued a leadoff walk to Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano hit his next offering into the first row of the left-field bleachers for his ninth home run of the season and his third against the Yankees.
After Sabathia retired the next two batters, Escobar and Suzuki chased him from the contest with a pair of singles. Shane Robinson then greeted Rumbelow with an RBI single that extended the Twins’ lead to 4-1.
Sabathia, 35, was charged with four runs on five hits and three walks and he struck out five batters in 6 2/3 innings. Sabathia has not won a game since July 8 at home against the Oakland Athletics, a stretch of six starts.
Pelfrey, 31, was charged with one run on five hits and one walk with four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.
The Yankees have rebounded from a five-game losing streak to have posted five victories in their past six games. They are now 66-52 on the season and they have maintained their one-game lead in the American League East over the second-place Toronto Blue Jays.
The Twins have fallen under .500 to 59-60.
- Sabathia did pitch well but the Yankees never seem to score runs until after he leaves the game. It happened again on Tuesday. Though Sabathia is 4-9 with a 5.23 ERA, he has a 3.38 ERA in his past three starts. He also pitched deep into the seventh inning on a night the Yankees needed length from their starter after rookie right-hander Bryan Mitchell left Monday’s game with a nasal fracture in the second inning.
- Rodriguez has always seemed to thrive on the big stage in the Bronx, NY, and he did again on Tuesday. It is not clear of his prolonged slump is over but he came up with a huge game-winning hit just when it was needed. With Teixeira nursing a bruised right shin the Yankees need Rodriguez to provide power and drive in runs. Though his season average has fallen to .261, he is second on the team in homers (25) and third in RBIs (67).
- Headley came off the bench in the seventh and provided a single that began the four-run uprising in the inning and then he added a two-run double in the eighth to extend the lead to 7-4. Since the All-Star break, Headley os batting .327 with one home run and 20 RBIs. His clutch hitting has been overshadowed by McCann, Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran but he has been producing a lot under the radar.
- Just as they did last night with right-hander Kyle Gibson, the Yankees allowed Pelfrey to lull their bats to sleep with a steady diet of breaking pitches. Fortunately for the Yankees, the Twins eventually have to use their bullpen and it is a powder keg just awaiting a spark. In the past two nights, the Yankees are 12-for-32 (.375) against Twins relievers and they scored 10 runs on them in seven innings.
The Yankees placed Mitchell, 24, on the seven-day concussion disabled list after he sustained a small nasal fracture on a line drive off the bat of Eduardo Nunez in the second inning of Monday’s 8-7 victory in 10 innings. In addition the Yankees also optioned right-hander Caleb Cotham, 27, to Scranton and recalled Rumbelow and selected the contract of left-hander Chris Capuano from the same club. Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Tuesday that it is possible that Mitchell could pitch in seven days depending how his recovery goes. . . . Teixeira, 35, was held out the lineup on Tuesday with a sore right leg after he fouled a pitch off himself in the sixth inning on Monday. Both X-rays and a CT scan indicate Teixeira has a deep shin bone bruise. But Girardi said it is unlikely to result in Teixeira being placed on the disabled list. Bird, 22, started in his place on Tuesday and was 2-for-4 with an RBI.
The Yankees can sweep the Twins in their three-game home series with a victory on Wednesday.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (12-2, 4.26 ERA) will start for the Yankees riding an eight-game winning streak. Eovaldi yielded four runs on seven hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings in a victory against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday.
The Twins will counter with veteran right-hander Ervin Santana (2-3, 5.66 ERA). Santana, 32, was rocked for five runs on eight hits and two walks in six innings in a no-decision against the Texas Rangers on Friday.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, ATHLETICS 4
Sometimes an insurance run in the late innings is just a meaningless addition to the score. Other times it ends up being the difference between winning and losing.
Stephen Drew’s two-out solo home run in the eighth inning on Wednesday off left-hander Fernando Abad proved to be in the latter category.
Mark Teixeira hit a pair of solo home runs and CC Sabathia pitched into the sixth inning but Drew’s home run proved to be the difference as New York edged Oakland in front of a paid crowd of 41,626 at Yankee Stadium.
Though the Yankees trailed 2-1 heading into the fourth inning, they got a break when left-hander Scott Kazmir was forced to leave the game with tightness in left triceps.
Athletics manager Bob Melvin sent in right-hander Evan Scribner and Teixeira greeted him by blasting a 1-2 high and outside fastball deep into the bleachers in right-center for his 21st home run of the season to tie the game at 2-2.
The Yankees were able to take the lead for good in the same inning when Chris Young drew a walk and John Ryan Murphy singled to left-center. After Young stole third and Murphy was able to advance to second on a wild pitch, Jose Pirela launched a one-out sacrifice fly to right to score Young.
The Yankees added to their lead in the sixth inning when Teixeira led off with almost a carbon-copy drive into right-center on a 2-2 high outside fastball from Scribner for his 22nd home run of the season. It also was his second two-homer game of the season.
Drew, who entered the game in the seventh inning as a defensive replacement at second base for Pirela, then added his 12th home run of the season in the eighth to give the Yankees a nice 5-2 cushion heading into the ninth.
But closer Andrew Miller, who was just activated from the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day after not pitching since June 9, show some rustiness in the ninth inning.
Mark Canha stroked a one-out single and Marcus Semien followed with a two-run homer into the left-field bleachers to bring the A’s to within a run.
After Stephen Vogt reached second on a two-base throwing error by third baseman Gregorio Petit, Miller retired Ben Zobrist on a groundout to Petit in which Teixeira had to make a long stretch that barely nipped Zobrist.
Sabathia (4-8) did have a rough second inning in which he was touched for five hits. Josh Phegley and Canha hit back-to-back one-out RBI singles to score Oakland’s only two runs until the ninth inning.
Sabathia was charged with two runs on seven hits and two walks with one strikeout in 5 1/3 innings for his first victory since June 7 against the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium.
The bullpen trio of right-hander Bryan Mitchell, Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances held the Athletics hitless and scoreless for 2 2/3 innings before turning the game over to Miller in the ninth.
Despite Miller’s struggles in his first game back, he still was credited with his 18th save in 18 opportunities this season.
Scribner (2-2) took the loss after yielding three runs on four hits and one walk with three strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings. He leads all relievers in homers allowed this season with 11.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 45-38 and they remain two games ahead of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Athletics dropped to 39-48.
- Teixeira’s potential American League Comeback Player of the Year run continues. His 22 home runs matches his total from all of last season and he still leads the league in RBIs with 61. In addition, Teixeira made several sparkling plays in the field. His selection to the American League All-Star team was well deserved. His is one of the main reasons the Yankees are in first place in the division.
- Give Drew some credit for a nine-pitch at-bat against Abad with two-out in the eighth. His 12th home run of the season proved to be the decisive run in the game. Drew may be hitting an anemic .179, but his 12 home runs and his steady infield defense have somewhat up for it.
- Betances was victimized on Tuesday by a 10th inning home run by Brett Lawrie that lost the game for the Yankees. But he got back on the horse in the eighth on Wednesday and looked very sharp. He struck out Billy Butler and Lawrie and retired pinch-hitter Josh Reddick on an outstanding fielding play by Teixeira.
There was not to much to complain about on this night. Sabathia was unable to get through six innings and Miller did look shaky in the ninth. But you have to give Miller a mulligan on this one. The Yankees are in first place and Teixeira is leading them.
In addition to Miller, 30, the Yankees also activated center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the disabled list on Wednesday. Ellsbury, 31, started the game and was 1-for-4 with an infield single. He had been on the disabled list since May 20 with a strained ligament in his right knee. To make room for Miller and Ellsbury, the team optioned right-hander Nick Rumbelow and outfielder Ramon Flores to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Rumbelow, 23, was 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in four appearances. Flores, 23, was hitting .219 with no homers and no RBIs in 32 at-bats. . . . Third baseman Chase Headley was held out of the game on Wednesday with inflammation in his right calf. Headley is listed as day-to-day. Petit started in Headley’s place and was 0-for-4.
The Yankees will have a chance to claim the rubber game of the three-game series against the A’s on Thursday.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (4-3, 3.94 ERA) will start of the Yankees. Tanaka pitched much better in a no-decision against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday. He yielded three runs on six hits and one walk with five strikeouts in six innings.
The Athletics will counter with right-hander Jesse Chavez (4-8, 3.20 ERA). Chavez lost to the Seattle Mariners on Thursday after giving up four runs on nine hits with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.
NEW YORK YANKEES
First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.
That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.
With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.
The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.
Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.
However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?
The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are – at least for now – going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.
The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.
If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.
Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.
All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.
A pair of speed demons – Ellsbury and Gardner – are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.
Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.
The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.
The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.
The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.
Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.
That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.
Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.
He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.
It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.
This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.
Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.
But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.
Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.
Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.
What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.
Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.
But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.
The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.
Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base – although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.
The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.
John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.
But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.
But the promise is even brighter longer term.
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.
Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.
At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.
Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.
Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.
Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.
This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.
Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.
With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.
Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.
They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.
A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.
BOSTON RED SOX
This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.
Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.
They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.
However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.
Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.
No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.
There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?
Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.
The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.
Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.
The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.
They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.
The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.
They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).
They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.
This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.
Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?
Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.
They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!
After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans – all of about 7,000 of them a game – it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.
Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.
To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.
The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.
Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.
You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.
Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.
So there is a lot to like.
The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.
They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.
It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!
But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)
3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)
4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86) Hello Montreal!
The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!
YANKEES 7, ASTROS 0
KISSIMMEE – Chase Headley pounded out three hits, including his third home run of the spring, and drove in three runs to support Nathan’s Eovaldi’s strong 4 2/3 innings of shutout baseball as New York blanked Houston on Sunday at Osceola County Stadium.
Headley got the Yankees’ offense started against right-hander Scott Feldman (0-2) with a two-out solo home run in the third inning that hit the top of the right-field field wall and bounced over. He later broke the game wide open in the sixth with a two-out, bases-loaded single off right-hander James Hoyt that drove in two runs to cap a four-run rally and extend the Yankees’ lead to 7-0.
Meanwhile, newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (1-1) continued a string of impressive appearances this spring by shutting down the Astros on just three hits. He did not walk a batter and he fanned five.
For the Yankees it was their second consecutive road shutout of the spring. On Friday, the Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 10-0 in a game called in the sixth inning due to rain.
With the victory the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 15-12.
The Yankees have historically leaned towards trading away young pitchers and acquiring veteran pitchers on the north side of 30.
There are many examples of young pitchers the Yankees traded before they became stars like Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek, Ted Lilly and Ian Kennedy. Just this winter the Yankees traded David Phelps and Shane Greene. It is just something for which Yankee fans have grown accustomed.
The script got flipped, however, when veteran infielder Martin Prado and Phelps were packaged to the Miami Marlins in a trade for first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, Eovaldi, a 25-year-old right-hander, and a promising 22-year-old right-hander Domingo German.
Basketball coaches always say that you can’t teach size and baseball managers say accordingly that you can’t teach a pitcher velocity. Eovaldi has a gifted right arm that possesses outstanding velocity. His fastball can reach as high as 98 miles per hour.
In fact, FanGraphs.com ranked Eovaldi’s fastball as the fourth highest in velocity last season among major-league pitchers. The oddity was Eovaldi led all National League pitchers in hits allowed (223) and he only managed 142 strikeouts in 199 2/3 innings.
His 6-14 record and 4.37 ERA also would have you scratching your head after you saw that sizzling heater of his.
So Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild did some tinkering with Eovaldi’s fastball and his secondary pitches this spring to bring his hits allowed down and raise his strikeout totals. In short, they want him to take the next step in being a dominant pitcher.
After Sunday’s sterling effort, it appears that Eovaldi – with Rothschild’s help – is doing just that. In Eovaldi’s four spring appearances (three starts) he is 1-1 with a team-best 0.66 ERA. He has yielded just one run on 10 hits with no walks and 14 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
If you add a potentially dominant Eovaldi to 26-year-old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and 26-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda then you might have an excellent trio of young starters to build a team around.
But don’t just take my word on Eovaldi. You can hear it from a fellow graduate of his from Alvin High School in Alvin, TX, who was watching Eovaldi on Sunday in his role as an executive advisor to the Astros – some guy named Nolan Ryan.
“I haven’t watched him in person, only on television, but I’ve followed him ever since he’s been in high school,” Ryan told reporters. “I really think that the better part of his career is still ahead of him.”
The Yankees might just have something special in this young Eovaldi. And the best part is he is not 34 years old and past his prime.
- I really ripped this team for how bad they looked on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, against the Baltimore Orioles in a 10-2 loss. But they bounced back nicely on Sunday and scored seven runs and collected 11 hits and drew seven walks. But he oddity this spring is that the Yankees are 8-5-1 and have outscored their opponents 77-44 on the road while they are 7-7 and have been outscored 64-46 at home. This may be because the young players have been doing most of the hitting this spring and they are playing more on the road.
- In addition to Headley’s three hits, the Yankees got another stellar effort at the plate from Rob Refsnyder. The 24-year-old second baseman was 2-for-3 with two doubles and two runs scored and an RBI. Refsnyder is now 12-for-35 (.343) with five doubles, one home run and five RBIs. He is ticketed for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he does need to get better in the field, but this young player has all the makings of a great hitter.
- Esmil Rogers, 29, may have blown his opportunity to be the team’s No. 5 starter this spring. But he still has some value in the bullpen. Rogers looked sharp in retiring all five batters he faced and he fanned two of them.
I will not nitpick this one. If you toss shutout ball and score seven runs there is not much there to fix.
Alex Rodriguez made his major-league debut as a first baseman on Sunday and handled three chances flawlessly in his three innings of work. Manager Joe Girardi envisions Rodriguez as potential fill-in at first base behind starter Mark Teixeira and Jones. “Catching the ball, I’m not worried about that. I’d think he’d be pretty good around the bag, even scooping, because you get a lot of those hot shots at third base,” Girardi told reporters. . . . Teixeira suffered a right knee contusion on Sunday playing in a minor-league game at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa. Teixeira left the game immediately and was limping afterward. But he told reporters that he was “fine.” . . . Shortstop Didi Gregorius received treatment and said there was improvement in his strained left wrist that he sustained in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Gregorius said he is sure he will be ready to play on Opening Day. . . . The Yankees released right-hander Scott Baker but they hope to re-sign him to a new minor-league contract. Baker, 33, originally was signed to a deal that would have forced the Yankees to pay him a retention bonus. The Yankees would like Baker to sign a minor-league deal without the bonus. That is the same basis they re-signed right-hander Jared Burton on Sunday. Burton, 33, had been released three days ago. He only pitched in four games this spring because he suffered a strained lat. In addition to the Burton signing, the Yankees also optioned right-hander Bryan Mitchell to Scranton and sent right-hander Kyle Davies to minor-league camp. The team also optioned outfielder Ramon Flores to Triple-A and re-assigned catchers Francisco Arcia and Kyle Higashioka, infielders Cole Figueroa and Jonathan Galvez, outfielder Slade Heathcott, left-hander Jacob Lindgren and right-hander Nick Rumbelow to minor-league camp.
The Yankees will take the day off on Monday before resuming their final week of spring training games on Tuesday at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, FL, as the Yankees play the Minnesota Twins.
Tanaka will make what will be his final spring appearance before he opens the season on April 6 at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays. Tanaka is 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA in his three spring starts.
The Twins will counter with left-hander Tommy Milone, who is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 3, ASTROS 2
The hallmark of the spring has been the play of what manager Joe Girardi calls the “Baby Bombers.” On Saturday, they struck again and this time the Astros paid the price.
Jake Cave lofted a sacrifice fly to deep right-field to score pinch-runner Slade Heathcott as New York rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to down Houston at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Nick Noonan opened the ninth inning with a ground single to right off right-hander Will Harris (0-1) and Aaron Judge followed with a lined single to left.
One out later, Eddy Rodriguez doubled in Noonan and Judge and advanced to third on a throwing error by left-fielder Andrew Aplin. Heathcott came off the bench to run for Rodriguez and later scored on Cave’s game-winning sac fly.
Left-hander Jacob Lindgren (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the victory.
The Yankees trailed from the first inning when George Springer launched a one-out triple and Chris Carter followed with a two-run home run off right-hander Michael Pineda. It was the first runs Pineda had allowed this spring.
Pineda later settled in and finished up by yielding just the two runs on four hits and no walks with six strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings of work.
With the victory the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 12-7.
- It is no accident that the young Yankees like Cave, Judge and Heathcott are leading late rallies. Cave, 23, is 5-for-12 (.417) with a home run and five RBIs. Cave’s spring average is the highest of any Yankee player with 10 or more at-bats. Heathcott, 24, is next on that list. He is 7-for-17 (.412) with a homer an four RBIs. Judge, 23, is 4-for-14 (.286) with a homer and three RBIs. Remember these names because they all could be playing in Yankee Stadium in a few years.
- Even though Pineda, 26, was rocked by a double, a triple and a home run in his outing on Saturday, he did throw well. He struck out five of the last 10 batters he faced. He also ended up throwing 42 of his 56 pitches for strikes. “I’m happy because today is a good outing. I’m feeling good,” Pineda told reporters. “This is very important for me. I’m feeling great.”
- Give a lot of credit also to the bullpen for holding the Astros scoreless. Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow and Lindgren combined to pitch 5 1/3 innings, yielding only one hit and one walk with eight strikeouts. Yankee pitchers combined to strike out 14 Astros. That is awesome.
- The regulars continue to struggle at home. Mark Teixeira was 2-for-3 and Carlos Beltran, Didi Gregorius and Brian McCann picked up a hit apiece. But Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Chris Young and Stephen Drew combined to go 0-for-10.
- Gardner, 31, is having a particularly bad spring so far. He is 5-for-34 (.147) with no homers and two RBIs. He also leads the team in strikeouts with 10. With just 13 exhibition games remaining it would be nice to see the speedy outfielder pick it up a little.
- Austin Romine, 26, started as the designated hitter and was 0-for-2. He is now 4-for-20 (.200) on the spring. Romine is battling John Ryan Murphy to be McCann’s backup behind the plate. But Murphy, 23, is doing even worse at the plate. He is 2-for-22 (.091), the lowest Yankee average among players with 10 or more at-bats. Romine is out of options so he could end up making the 25-man roster so that Murphy could catch full-time and get regular at-bats at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Gardner gave the crowd something to cheer and laugh about in the first inning. But it was no laughing matter to Girardi. When Young reached the wall on Carter’s blast he leaped to get it and lost his glove over the fence in the process. Gardner took it upon himself to scale the 8-foot fence to retrieve both Young’s glove and Carter’s home run ball. He then climbed back over the fence. Most of the crowd of 9.914 gave Gardner a standing ovation. Girardi, however, was not pleased. “We’ve seen guys hit a home run, jump up and land on the plate and break an ankle,” Girardi told reporters. “I told him, ‘This isn’t Little League.’ Gardy thought he was in the movie The Sandlot or something.”
The Yankees will make a 2 1/2-hour trip south to Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, FL, on Sunday to face the New York Mets.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1) will make the start for the Yankees. Sabathia’s first start on Tuesday against the Blue Jays was a bit shaky. Toronto scored two runs on four hits in two innings. He is scheduled to throw 45 to 50 pitches on Sunday.
Right-hander Matt Harvey, who is on the comeback trail after undergoing Tommy John surgery, will start for the Mets. Harvey is 0-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three starts.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES (SS) 4, TIGERS (SS) 1
There is an old saying that it hard to know what you missed until it is gone. When it comes to Michael Pineda the Yankees never want to find out again what they missed.
Pineda, 26, threw three dominant no-hit and scoreless innings as a New York split squad defeated a Detroit split squad on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound right-hander looked in complete control in striking out four and walking one in a 34-pitch outing in which he threw 24 of them for strikes. To cap off his outing, Pineda picked off Andrew Romine for the final out in the third inning after he had just walked him.
“My changeup and [other] pitches were working really good,” Pineda told reporters. “The command is still good. I was very happy.”
The Yankees opened the scoring in the third against left-hander Kyle Lobstein when Mason Williams led off with a triple and scored on Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice fly.
The Tigers tied it off Dellin Betances in the fourth when Rajai Davis led off with a ground-rule double. He advanced to third on a balk called on Betances and scored on a groundout by Josh Wilson.
The Yankees pulled ahead for good in the sixth against right-hander Rafael Dolis when Gregorius, Chase Headley and Stephen Drew all singled to load the bases and Mark Teixeira’s potential double-play grounder was botched when Dixon Machado threw wild to first and allowed Gregorius and Headley to score.
Rookie right-hander Nick Rumbelow (1-0) pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the victory. Jared Burton pitched tossed a perfect ninth inning to earn his second save. Doris took the loss.
The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 8-4.
- If starting pitching is indeed the key to success in the American League East the Yankees might have the best two starters in the division in a healthy Masahiro Tanaka and Pineda. It is still early but all indications are that this pair is primed for success in 2015. Pineda actually may look more dominant than Tanaka because he has pinpoint control and he is nearly impossible to hit.
- Headley is having a very good spring. After his 3-for-3 day in Sarasota against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday he appears to be on a groove. In his past three games, Headley is 6-for-9 (.667). He was 2-for-3 on Saturday to raise his spring average to .368. Perhaps signing the third baseman to a four-year, $50 million deal this winter was a stroke of genius.
- I have been on his rear end all spring for not hitting so I have to give kudos to Drew for his single in the sixth that loaded the bases. It was only Drew’s second hit of the spring and his first since March 6 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Drew was in 0-for-12 funk until that hit. He now is hitting .125 so he still has a ways to go. But at least it is encouraging.
- Betances struggled for the first time this spring. He gave up ground-rule doubles to Davis and Nick Castellanos and committed a balk to allow Davis to score later. He also did not strike out a batter, which is even more indicative that he did not have his good stuff on Saturday.
- Though he has had a decent spring, it was not a good day for Garrett Jones. He was 0-for-3 and he struck out twice. Jones has chance to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season and he is hitting .250 thus far.
The features Bronx Banter and On Deck will appear in my subsequent post.