YANKEES 20, BRAVES 6
The Yankees came into Atlanta having surrendered first place to the Toronto Blue Jays, missing its top home run hitter and run producer in Mark Teixeira and desperately struggling to score runs. They left having swept the Braves by a combined score of 38-11 in three games.
Jacoby Ellsbury hit a three-run home run and Chase Headley and Stephen Drew added two-run shots off right-hander Julio Teheran while Nathan Eovaldi rolled to his ninth straight victory as New York thrashed Atlanta at Turner Field on Sunday.
Drew, who collected four hits and Headley, who added three, each drove in four runs as the Yankees scored eight runs in 4 1/3 innings against Teheran (9-7).
When the Braves managed to rally for two runs in the third inning and three runs in the sixth against Eovaldi (14-2) to draw to within 8-5 and chase the 25-year-old right-hander from the game, the Yankees put together a nine-run seventh inning against left-hander Ross Detwiler, right-hander Peter Moylan and right-hander Jake Brigham to put the game out of reach.
Pinch-hitter Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann and Headley each drove in two runs in the inning in which the Yankees sent 14 batters to the plate and pounded out nine hits.
The Yankees added three more runs off Brigham in the eighth inning, capped by an RBI double by rookie relief pitcher Branden Pinder.
Teheran, who entered the game with a 7-1 record and a 2.55 ERA at home this season, was charged with season-high tying eight runs on nine hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.
The rookie right-hander Brigham, who was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday, was charged with eight runs on nine hits and four walks with three strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings.
Eovaldi yielded five runs on eight hits and two walks with seven strikeouts to run his career-best winning streak to nine games spanning his past 13 starts. The nine-game winning streak is the best in Major League Baseball this season.
However, Eovaldi needed help from right-hander Adam Warren and Chasen Shreve to get out of the sixth inning. Pinder and right-hander Bryan Mitchell pitched the final three innings to preserve the victory.
Including the 1996 and 1999 World Series, the Yankees have now 17 of the 19 games they have played at Turner Field.
With the victory the Yankees improved to 72-57 and they remain 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Braves, who have now lost 12 of their past 13 games, are 54-76.
- Drew has been batting under .200 for most of the season after batting .162 last season. But he was 4-for-4 with a homer, three singles, two walks, three runs scored and four RBIs. The four-hit game raised his season average to .201.
- Headley was 3-for-3 with a homer, a double, a single, two walks, three runs scored and four RBIs. Headley was 6-for-11 with a home run and seven RBIs in the three-game series. He raised his season average to .277. While most of the team has been struggling in August, Headley is batting .297 for the month.
- After a prolonged slump at the plate, Ellsbury is showing signs of life. He was 2-for-6 with a homer, a single, a walk, two runs scored and three RBIs in the game. Since Aug. 13, Ellsbury is 24-for-69 (.348) with two homers and six RBIs and he has scored 10 runs. That has raised his season average from .260 to .278.
- Eovaldi seems to get bogged down when he gets a big lead, which happens often since the Yankees provide him with more than seven runs a game. Even with a 7-0 lead he ended up allowing the Braves back into the game and left after giving up three straight hits to begin the sixth. He has to do better despite the fact he is 14-2.
With Teixeira still nursing a deep bone bruise on his right leg, manager Joe Girardi is having Rodriguez resume workouts at first base as a potential right-handed option along with rookie Greg Bird, who bats left-handed. Rodriguez has not played in the field since May 23, when he finished a game at first base.
The Yankees will open a three-game series with the last-place Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park starting on Monday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (5-6, 4.50 ERA) will start the series for the Yankees. Nova is coming off two straight losses and gave up seven runs in a loss to the Houston Astros on Tuesday.
The hapless Red Flops will counter with left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (7-5, 4.39 ERA). Rodriguez gave up two runs on seven hits in six innings in a no-decision last Monday against the Kansas City Royals.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 13, RED FLOPS 3
Despite the fact it is August and the Yankees were facing the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday there seemed to be a subdued dynamic borne out of two teams headed in decidedly different directions, The Yankees have been shooting upward while the Red Flops are just playing out the string of what has been a disastrous season.
That scenario played out as the Yankees turned a 4-3 lead into a 13-3 rout in just one inning.
Brian McCann hit a three-run home run as part of a nine-run inning and drove in four runs and Masahiro Tanaka won his eighth game as New York showed its immense superiority over Boston in front of 48,522 happy fans and a national television audience.
For the Yankees it marked the seventh time this season they have scored 13 or more runs and there are three teams tied for the next most at three. They also have outscored their opposition 59-17 in their past four victories.
Until the seventh inning, the Yankees’ right-hander Tanaka and rookie left-hander Henry Owens were locked into a close battle in Owens’ Major-League debut.
The Yankees took an early lead against Owens (0-1) in the first inning on a one-out single by Chris Young, a walk to Alex Rodriguez and an RBI single by Mark Teixeira.
Tanaka threw four strong innings, yielding only a double by Mike Napoli with two out in the second inning when Young allowed the ball to drop thinking center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury would catch it.
But in the fifth, Tanaka allowed a one-double to Napoli and a bunt single by Alejandro De Aza. Rookie Blake Swihart followed with an RBI single and Jackie Bradley Jr. plated De Aza on a sacrifice fly.
Owens, meanwhile, sailed into the sixth inning having retired 14 of the next 15 hitters and the past 12 in a row after Teixeira’s first-inning RBI single.
But Young opened the sixth with a single to left and Rodriguez doubled to the left-center. Red Flops manager John Farrell, who ended up not exactly celebrating much of his 53rd birthday, removed Owens in favor of left-hander Robbie Ross Jr.
But Teixeira greeted Ross with an RBI single up the middle to score Young and McCann followed with a RBI double off the wall in right-center. Carlos Beltan gave the Yankees an additional run on an RBI groundout.
Owens was charged with three runs on five hits and one walk with five strikeouts in five-plus innings.
The Red Flops did draw to within one run when Pablo Sandoval opened the seventh with a home run off Tanaka, which ended his evening.
Tanaka (8-4) was charged with three runs on five hits and one walk with three strikeouts in six-plus innings to notch his fourth victory in his past five starts.
Justin Wilson came on to retire one batter before rookie Rusney Castillo singled and stole second on a 1-1 pitch to Bradley that was called a strike.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi opted to replaced the lefty Wilson with the right-handed Dellin Betances against the lefty-swinging Bradley in the middle of the at-bat. But Betances uncorked a wild pitch to allow Castillo to reach third and he ended up walking Bradley.
However, Betances struck out Brock Holt to preserve the 4-3 lead and keep Girardi from being raked over the coals in the media.
The Yankees then went to work by sending 13 batters to the plate off right-hander Jean Machi, left-hander Craig Breslow and right-hander Alexi Ogando.
It all started with a careless throwing error on shortstop Xander Bogaerts that allowed Ellsbury to reach first. Young drew a walk and Rodriguez chased Machi with an RBI single that extended the Yankees’ lead to 5-3.
McCann then blew the game wide open with a long three-run blast into the right-field bleachers off Breslow for his 18th home run of the season. But the Yankees were not satisfied with beating their rivals; they wanted to humiliate them.
Beltran doubled into the gap in right-center and Chase Headley scored him with a double of his own. One out later, Brendan Ryan walked and Ellsbury singled to drive in Headley.
Farrell replaced Breslow with Ogando to face the righty-swininging Young but Young delivered a three-run homer, his 13th of the season, that landed well into the left-field bleachers to make it 13-3.
By drilling the Red Flops the Yankees improved their season mark to 60-45 and they lead the second-place Toronto Blue Jays by 5 1/2 games in the American League East. The Red Flops fell to a dismal 47-60 mark and they are 14 games back in last place.
- McCann was 2-for-5 with a single, a home run, one run scored and four RBIs. McCann is simply a different player at home. He is batting .298 with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs at Yankee Stadium and he is hitting a lousy .218 with six homers and 27 RBIs on the road. His low road average is one reason he is hitting just .252 on the season.
- Teixeira entered the day having homered four times in his past five games but against the Red Flops he settled for a pair RBI singles. His 2-for-5 night raised his season average to a season-high .268 with 29 home runs and 76 RBIs.
- Young has been the unsung hero of this team as the fourth outfielder. He is hammering left-handers to the tune of .371 but his 13th home run and his three RBIs came off a right-handed pitcher in Ogando. In limited play, Young is batting .268 with 13 homers and 36 RBIs. For that reason we might want to overlook the fielding mistake he made in the second inning.
Watching the Yankees scored nine runs (eight earned) off the Red Flops bullpen was just pleasing to see. Many pundits predicted disaster for the Yankees this season and chose the Red Sox to win the division. It would be nice to gather up all that excrement they spewed and have them eat it all.
The Yankees made only one trade-deadline deal and that was to acquire outfielder Dustin Ackley from the Seattle Mariners. Five days later, Ackley is on the 15-day disabled list. The Yankees placed the 27-year-old veteran on the DL on Tuesday with a right lumbar back strain that will sideline him until at least early September. Ackley said the injury did not occur when he was with the Mariners and that he first felt the pain in his back on Friday in Chicago. An MRI showed a herniated disk and he was given an epidural to relieve the discomfort. To replace Ackley on the roster the Yankees recalled right-hander Caleb Cotham from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. . . . The Yankees announced on Tuesday that outfielder Mason Williams will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery. William, 23, hurt his right shoulder diving back into first base in a game against the Tigers in Detroit on June 19. The surgery is scheduled for Friday. Williams batted .286 with a home run and three RBIs in eight games with the Yankees.
With one thrashing out of the way, the Yankees would like to demolish the Red Flops again on Wednesday.
They have their No. 1 pitching prospect, right-hander Luis Severino, scheduled to make his Major-League debut in starting this game. Severino, 21, was quickly promoted from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton and he has been dominating there in his 11 starts. He was 7-0 with a microscopic 1.91 ERA.
The Red Flops will counter with right-handed knuckleballer Steven Wright (4-4, 453 ERA). The 30-year-old right-hander is coming off a two-run, six-hit effort in seven innings on Friday in which he defeated Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 12, WHITE SOX 3
The past two seasons the offense for the New York Yankees struggled to score even three runs a game because injuries decimated the roster. The 2015 version is healthy and – as the Chicago White Sox found out on Sunday – they are firing on all cylinders.
Stephen Drew drove in four runs and Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira each homered to back a strong six innings from right-hander Ivan Nova as New York captured the rubber game of weekend series at U.S. Cellular Field.
The Yankees put the game out of reach by scoring five runs in the fourth and three runs in fifth against right-hander Jeff Samardzija (8-6), who ended up leaving in the fifth inning in what was his shortest outing of the season.
The stage was set when Ellsbury led off the game with his fourth home run of the season to give the Nova (4-3) and the Yankees an early 1-0 lead.
The Yankees turned the game into a rout starting with what looked to be a routine popup in shallow center by Brian McCann that became a single that dropped between three White Sox fielders with one out in the fourth inning.
Carlos Beltran followed by drawing a walk and Chase Headley hit a lined single to right to load the bases. Didi Gregorius then looped a two-run, opposite-field single to left.
Drew singled to reload the bases and Ellsbury hit a sacrifice fly that scored Headley and Brett Gardner rolled a two-run single to center to extend the lead to 6-0.
Teixeira opened the fifth by launching his 29th home run of the season and his third in the weekend series.
Later in the inning, after two were out, Samardzjia finally succumbed to the 100-degree heat and a rising pitch count by hitting Headley with a pitch and walking Gregorius.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura replaced Samardzjia with right-hander Scott Carroll and Drew greeted him with a two-run double to left.
Samardzjia was charged with a season-high nine runs on eight hits and two walks with three strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings of work.
Nova, meanwhile, was able to hold the White Sox down despite coming off an outing in which he left after five innings with arm fatigue.
Nova kept the White Sox off the board until the sixth, when Adam Eaton drew a walk to lead off the inning and advanced to second on a groundout by Jose Abreu. He then scored on a two-out single by Melky Cabrera.
Nova yielded just the one run on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in six innings.
The Yankees scored three more runs off Carroll in the seventh on a two-run triple by Drew and an RBI groundout by Ellsbury.
In their past three victories, the Yankees have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 46-14.
The victory improves the Yankees’ season record to 59-45 and they hold a six-game lead over both the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The White Sox dropped to 50-53.
- Drew is doing a great job of recreating the Phoenix rising from the ashes. He was 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and three RBIs on Sunday. Drew has lost playing time this season to Gregorio Petit, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder and Brendan Ryan and seemed destined to be released by the team. But he lately has been hitting the ball well as a platoon second baseman. On July 22, Drew was hitting .179. Since that time, he is 11-for-31 (.355) with a homer and seven RBIs. That has raised his season average to .199.
- The bottom of the order did the most damage to the White Sox with Headley batting seventh, Gregorius eighth and Drew ninth. That trio combined for seven of the 11 hits, eight of the 12 runs scored and seven of the 12 RBIs. Pitchers are finding out lately that those supposed soft spots in the batting order are no longer there. Samardzija expended so much energy dodging Alex Rodriguez, Teixeira, McCann and Beltran that the bottom of the order ended being his downfall.
- Nova bounced back nicely after leaving his last start after just 75 pitches due to concerns about his arm after undergoing Tommy John surgery last season. Nova has now won his past three starts and he has a 2.65 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 17 innings in that span. With Michael Pineda on the disabled list, it is good to see Nova begin to start to get a good groove going heading down the stretch.
Normally reliable left-hander Chasen Shreve gave up a pair of solo home runs to Alexei Ramirez and Geovany Soto in the seventh inning but the Yankees were already leading 12-1. Other than that there was nothing to say about this victory. The offense is just devastating and it is carrying this team for the first time in three seasons.
The Yankees placed rookie right-hander Diego Moreno on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday due to discomfort in his right elbow. Moreno, 28, was impressive in throwing 5 1/3 innings of scoreless and hitless relief against the Texas Rangers last week to win in his Major-League debut. However, he was tagged for four runs in three innings in an 8-2 loss to the White Sox on Saturday. He reported the discomfort to the Yankees on Sunday and he is scheduled to visit Dr. Christopher Ahmad in New York on Monday. The Yankees recalled right-hander Branden Pinder from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take Moreno’s place on the roster.
The Yankees will try to keep their bats hot despite a day off on Monday before opening up a three-game home series with the Boston Red Flops on Tuesday.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (7-4, 3.80 ERA) will open the series of the Yankees. Tanaka gave up four runs on nine hits and three walks with three strikeouts in a loss to the Rangers on Wednesday.
The last-place Red Flops will have left-hander Henry Owens make his Major-League debut against the Yankees. Owens, 23, is 3-8 with a 3.16 ERA in 21 starts at Triple-A Pawtucket this season. The only reason he is pitching is because the Red Flops are now 13 games out and in last place in the division. So much for the pundits who predicted they would win the division. Hah!
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!
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.