Tagged: Reds

A-Rod Drives In Five As Yankees Pummel Tigers

GAME 68

YANKEES 14, TIGERS 3

Alex Rodriguez drove in five runs and homered to reach yet another milestone, Carlos Beltran hit a pair of homers and Brett Gardner came up just one home run shy of the cycle as New York routed Detroit on Saturday at Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees pounded the Tigers with season-high 18 hits and the 14 runs tied a season high as they clinched the three-game series by winning the first two games by a combined score of 21-5.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2), who entered the game supported by 6.2 runs per game as a starter, pitched six-plus innings to earn the victory and bounce back from his last start when he was shelled for eight runs in only two-thirds of an inning by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.

The Yankees, meanwhile, scored 13 runs in the first five innings to put right-hander Alfredo Simon (7-4) and the Tigers away early.

Gardner started the onslaught with a leadoff triple in the first inning and he scored a fielder’s choice by Rodriguez.

Didi Gregorius led off the second inning with his fourth home run of the season and his second in two games against the Tigers. The Yankees then loaded the bases in the same inning with one out when Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly that scored Stephen Drew.

Beltran led off the third inning with a long blast that cleared the Yankees bullpen and landed in the bleachers in right-center. With two on and two out in the same inning, Chase Headley hit an RBI single to score Chris Young, which ended Simon’s night.

Rodriguez then greeted left-hander Ian Krol with a deep blast into the left-field bleachers for a three-run home run  –  his 14th of the season  –  and the 3,001st hit of his career, which put him ahead of Roberto Clemente in 28th place on the all-time list.

Simon was charged with seven runs on eight hits and three walks with two strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings. Simon entered the contest with a 2.58 ERA in 12 starts and the seven runs he yielded was a season high.

The Yankees added two more runs off Krol in the fourth. Beltran blasted his second home run of the game and his seventh of the season with one out and later Young scored Gregorius on a bloop single to left.

The Yankees added three runs off left-hander Tom Gorzelanny in the fifth in an inning in which they sent eight men to the plate.

Young added the team’s fifth home run of the night and the final run in the eighth inning with a home run off Josh Wilson, who entered the game as a second baseman in the fifth inning and was pressed into duty as an emergency reliever by Tigers manager Brad Ausmus.

Eovaldi was charged with two runs on three hits and one walk and he left in the seventh inning having thrown 93 pitches.

The Yankees have now defeated the Tigers in five of the six games they have played this season.

The team also improved their season record to 38-30 and they remain one game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Tigers are now 34-34.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Rodriguez was 2-for-3 with a single, a homer, two runs scored and five RBIs. In his past four games, he is 7-for-13 (.538) with two homers and eight RBIs. That spurt has raised his season average to .283 and he has 14 home runs and 40 RBIs.
  • Beltran extended his modest hitting streak to five games and over that span he is 6-for-16 (.375) with three homers and six RBIs. Just when it looked as if Beltran would never hit as he did in the past he now is batting .252 with seven homers and 29 RBIs. Teams have had their hands full handling Mark Teixiera, Rodriguez and Brian McCann. If you add Beltran to the mix and it will be even harder to navigate this batting order.
  • Gardner is absolutely smoking hot with the bat. He was 3-for-6 with a single, a double and a triple and two runs scored. In his past three games, he is 9-for-16 (.563) with two doubles, a triple, two home runs, six runs scored and five RBIs. For the season Gardner is batting .282 with seven homers and 33 RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

When the team is cranking out hits and runs in bunches and the pitching is solid there is nothing to complain about. The team has been very streaky this season but it is nice to see that they have now won four in a row. They are playing like a team that wants to go to the playoffs.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Mason Williams, 23, had a MRI on his jammed right shoulder on Saturday and the rookie is still listed as day-to-day. Williams injured his shoulder in the fifth inning of Friday’s game as he dove back into first base on a pickoff attempt by Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander. Williams stayed in the game but was replaced in the sixth inning by Young.  . . .  On a day the Yankees honored former second baseman Willie Randolph with a plaque, the team also surprised right-handed pitcher Mel Stottlemyre with his own plaque in Monument Park. Both players wore No. 30 during their Yankee careers. Their ceremonies drew standing ovations from the sellout crowd of 48,092.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to sweep the three-game weekend series with the Tigers on Sunday.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (4-2, 2.49 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Tanaka is coming off a loss to the Marlins on Monday despite giving up just two runs on nine hits in seven innings.

The Tigers will counter with right-hander Anibal Sanchez (5-7, 4.65 ERA). Sanchez pitched a nine-inning, two-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds in his last start on Monday. He struck out seven and did not walk a batter.

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.

 

Yanks Hoping Gregorius Doesn’t Come Up Short

With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.

SHORTSTOP

Didi Gregorius, 25 (.226, 6 HRs, 27 RBIs, 80 games)

It is tough to ask any player to take the place of a legend but it must be an even greater lift to ask Didi Gregorius to follow the 19 seasons Derek Jeter gave the New York Yankees.

Throughout the offseason the names of Troy Tulowitzki, Elvis Andrus and J.J. Hardy were bandied about in the press as the speculation on who would replace Jeter grew louder. When the Yankees elected instead to offer right-handed starter Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gregorius was anointed as Jeter’s replacement.

The shock may still have not worn off.

Gregorius has been a top prospect with the D-backs for several years after he was obtained from the Cincinnati Reds in 2012. His first taste of the majors came in 2012 when he was a September call-up of the Reds and he hit .300 in just 20 at-bats.

After his trade to Arizona, Gregorius played in 103 games for the D-backs in 2013 and he was a bit of a disappointment in batting .257 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs. The D-backs were expecting a lot offensively from a player that was so gifted defensively.

Looking at Gregorius’ 2014 numbers would have you surmise he was a complete failure. But the D-backs will tell you that was not the case. Instead, Gregorius was passed on the depth chart by fellow prospect Chris Owings, who hit .261 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 91 games after taking over as the team’s primary shortstop.

Ask anyone in the D-backs organization and they will tell you that Gregorius is far superior to Owings as a fielder (5 errors for Gregorius to 11 for Owings) with far superior range. They also will tell you although Owings won the job with his offense that Gregorius has a far higher ceiling with his offense than Owings.

So the Yankees were not taken. It actually may be that the Yankees took the D-backs.

The Yankees looked at lefty-swinging Gregorius’ splits against right-handers and left-handers and discovered that he batted . 262 against right-handers in 544 at-bats and only .184 in 180 at-bats against southpaws.

The Yankees are looking into the possibility of using Gregorius in a platoon with veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan this season. Ryan, 32, would take most of the at-bats against left-handers and leave Gregorius to face the right-handers he feasts upon.

The Yankees believe that Gregorius has the ability to hit double-digit homers at Yankee Stadium as he develops. Though Gregorius did steal 44 bases in the minors, including 16 for with two Class-A Reds farm teams in 2010, he has not developed into a skillful base-stealer at the major-league level.

It appears that 2015 is going to be a proving ground for Gregorius and Yankee fans obviously will compare their young shortstop to the legend that was Jeter.

But the Yankees point out that Jeter batted .256 with four homers and 50 RBIs in 145 games in his final season. The Yankees believe Gregorius could top those totals in 2015.

Should Gregorius falter to such a degree that he will have to be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees would be forced to move their starting second baseman Stephen Drew back to his original shortstop position.

Drew, 31, was shifted to second base by the Yankees after he was obtained from the Boston Red Sox in a deal for Kelly Johnson on July 31. The former Diamondbacks shortstop had only played shortstop since he began his major-league career in 2006.

But with Jeter in his final season Drew was forced to move and when the Yankees made the deal for Drew it was just assumed he would shift back to shortstop after Jeter retired. But the Yankees had other ideas.

The Gregorius deal at first seemed to indicate Drew’s stint with the Yankees was over but the Yankees finalized a one-year, $5 million deal in January with Drew and they installed him as the team’s starting second baseman for 2015.

Drew is coming off his worst offensive season of his career after hitting woeful .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games with Red Sox and Yankees.

Though Drew has never won a Gold Glove his defense is considered well above average at shortstop. He is coming to spring training still learning the intricacies of second base.

Should the Yankees be forced to send Gregorius down and shift Drew the team would need a second baseman. They have super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, who made a great impression with the team in his late-season call-up, hitting .333 in seven games

But the Yankees seem very committed to their new shortstop who was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He already appears to have the right attitude.

“You can’t replace a legend, and it’s not replacing,” Gregorius told listeners on MLB Network Radio. “He (Jeter) has been playing for a long time at shortstop and he decided to retire. The spot was open. So I’m not thinking about replacing anything. It’s just me just coming in there to try to play my game.”

The Yankees minor-league options at shortstop are not real good, hence the deal for Gregorius.

Carmen Angelini, 26, hit .212 in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton last season. Ali Castillo, 25, batted .254 with two homers and 42 RBIs in 120 games at Trenton.

Former first-round draft pick Cito Culver, 22, hit .220 with five homers and 48 RBIs at Class-A Tampa. Culver has major-league defensive tools but his offense is holding up his progress.

The big buzz at shortstop for the Yankees surrounds 19-year-old Jorge Mateo. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Mateo made his pro debut last June and teams are already asking about him in trade talks.

His biggest asset is his speed. He stole 11 bases in just 15 games with the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League team. He has a wiry build but he already shows an ability to hit for average and the promise provide double-digit home run power down the line.

Scouts are already saying that the Yankees have not had a shortstop at this level with as much of a ceiling since Jeter. That is high praise.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: AVERAGE

The decision to deal for Gregorius was a bold move and it will define what direction the Yankees will take in the post-Jeter era. General manager Brian Cashman has stayed away from high-priced free-agents to fill spots.

We will see if it is successful.

Gregorius can certainly field the position and that is going to be very helpful. His offense could be a problem but at least the Yankees are thinking of using a platoon in order to keep Gregorius hitting only against right-handers.

There also will be less pressure for the young shortstop batting ninth in this order. Plus, if the Yankees are correct about his power they could catch lightning in a bottle and have something very special for many years to come.

I know Yankee fans would have wanted Tulowitzki to play short so the Yankees could make a run at the World Series. However, Cashman and manager Joe Girardi may have more of a long-term strategy in mind.

Both Gregorius and Ryan are terrific defensive players and that is what you want in the middle of infield. Drew can also play the position so there is some depth.

The problem is that most of the Yankees’ minor-league shortstops are not real prospects. But keep an eye on Mateo. He seems to have the makings to be the real deal.

NEXT: OUTFIELD

2015 Yanks Likely Will Extend Playoff Drought

Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.

The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.

The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.

George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.

The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.

During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.

Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.

Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.

Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).

How did this happen?

Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.

The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.

It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.

Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.

There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.

After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.

From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.

That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.

The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.

If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.

But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.

It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.

Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.

He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.

When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.

He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.

So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.

Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.

The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.

Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for  a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.

Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.

So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)

There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.

It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.

The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.

It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.

But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.

The offense? Don’t ask.

Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.

They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.

The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.

His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.

The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.

The bench has some veterans, of course.

Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.

If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.

But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.

But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.

Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.

In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.

I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!

 

Yankees’ 4-Run Fourth Keeps Tanaka Unbeaten

GAME 34

YANKEES 5, BREWERS 3

In a town famous for its beer Masahiro Tanaka came into Milwaukee and dropped a baseball version of a sake bomb on the Brewers on Friday.

Tanaka pitched into the seventh inning to push his record to 5-0 and the Yankees got a three-run home run from Yangervis Solarte as part of a four-run fourth inning as New York edged Milwaukee in front of a paid crowd of 40,123 at Miller Park.

Tanaka, 25, shut the Brewers out for five innings on only two hits before yielding a pair of runs on three hits in the sixth inning. But Tanaka had already proved to the Brewers earlier in the game that he can be a tough pitcher to crack under pressure.

The Brewers leadoff man Carlos Gomez drew a walk in the first, stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Scooter Gennett. But Jonathan Lucroy popped out and Aramis Ramirez struck out swinging to strand Gomez at third.

After the Brewers opened the sixth with a leadoff double by Gomez, an RBI double by Gennett and an RBI single by Lucroy off Tanaka to get the Brewers to within two runs, Ramirez hit into a double play and Mark Reynolds struck out looking.

In the seventh, Jean Segura hit a one-out single and Logan Schafer added another single to move him to third. Manager Joe Girardi replaced Tanaka on the mound with right-hander Adam Warren and Warren was able to get Tanaka off the hook by striking out pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay and catcher Brian McCann gunned down Schafer attempting to steal second in a double play that ended the rally.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to get to right-hander Yovani Gallardo (2-2) in the fourth when Carlos Beltran drew a leadoff walk and, one out later, McCann singled to center. Solarte then ripped Gallardo’s first offering into the right-field bleachers for his second home run of the season.

Brett Gardner then reached on an infield single and Brian Roberts laced a double down the right-field line that scored Gardner easily.

The Yankees added an insurance run in the eighth inning off right-hander Brandon Kintzler when Beltran looped an opposite-field double. Ichiro Suzuki pinch-ran for Beltran and stole third. He then scored on a slow-rolling groundoutoff the bat of Mark Teixeira.

David Robertson was touched for a solo opposite-field homer off the bat of Reynolds but he struck out the other three batters he faced to earn his sixth save in six chances on the season.

Tanaka finished the evening giving up two runs on seven hits and one walk and he fanned seven in 6 1/3 innings of work. Tanaka has now reached 41 consecutive regular-season starts dating back to Aug. 19, 2012 in Japan without suffering a loss.

Gallardo was touched for four runs on five hits and three walks and fanned seven in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees extended their winning streak to three games and now are 19-15 on the season. They are a half-game behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Brewers fell to 22-14.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In Tanaka’s seven starts this season he has not pitched less than 6 1/3 innings, yielded more than eights hits or three runs and struck out less than five. He is 5-0 with a 2.57 ERA and 58 strikeouts and just seven walks in 49 innings. Tanaka has already learned that when teams lay off his split-finger fastball in the dirt he can go to his slider to get strikeouts. Even with all the hype and all the money Tanaka was paid he has proven he is well worth it.
  • Solarte, 26, went through a cold streak from April 19 through May 3 in which he was 5-for-34 (.147). But the rookie infielder has put together a four-game hitting streak and he is 6-for-14 (.429) with a home run and five RBIs in that span. His 18 RBIs lead the team. It also seems that he has replaced Kelly Johnson as the team’s primary third baseman. Solarte has started 21 games at third to Johnson’s 10 this season.
  • Roberts extended his hitting streak to six games and he is 9-for-24 (.324) with a home run and four RBIs in that stretch. That has raised Roberts’ season average from .213 to .253. It appears that Girardi’s faith in the 36-year-old second baseman is paying off.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • After going 5-for-11 (.455) in the three-game series against the Angels, Derek Jeter was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and he did not get a ball out of the infield on Friday. That dropped his season average to .252, which is low as it has been since he was hitting .250 on April 8.

BOMBER BANTER

A man interrupted play in the sixth inning by running onto the field to ask Jeter for a hug. Security personnel apprehended the man, who appeared to be in his 20s and was wearing a Ryan Braun jersey and a headband, without getting his hug from Jeter. “I said, ‘You’re going to get in trouble, man,'” Jeter told reporters. “And then he repeated that he wanted a hug, and I said, ‘Look out.’ That’s pretty much what happened.”  . . .  Right-hander Shawn Kelley was unavailable to pitch in Friday’s game due to stiffness in his lower back. Kelley underwent an MRI, which came back negative, after he experienced discomfort after the team’s flight from Anaheim, CA, to Milwaukee. Kelley said he hopes to be available to pitch on Saturday.  . . .  Former Yankees manager Joe Torre will have his No. 6 retired in a pregame ceremony scheduled for Aug. 23 at Yankee Stadium. Torre is also scheduled to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. in July. Torre’s No. 6 will be the 17th number retired by the team and it leaves Jeter’s No. 2 as the only single-digit number that has not been retired. Of course, Jeter will have his No.2 honored in Monument Park sometime soon.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend interleague series with the Brewers on Saturday.

Former Brewer left-hander CC Sabathia (3-4, 5.75 ERA) will return to Miller Park after helping the Brewers make the playoffs in 2008. Sabathia, however, is nothing like the 2008 version. He was shelled for five runs on 10 hits and one walk in only 3 2/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

He will be opposed by veteran right-hander Kyle Lohse (4-1, 2.72 ERA). Lohse surrendered just two runs on eight hits and one walk in 6 2/3 innings against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday and he did not get a decision.

Game-time will be 7 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Nuno Cruises As Yanks Win Jeter’s SoCal Farewell

GAME 33

YANKEES 9, ANGELS 2

San Diego native Vidal Nuno invited 50 family members and friends to come to see him pitch against the Angels on Wednesday night. What they got to see was the 26-year-old left-hander pitch one of his best major-league games.

Nuno (1-0) pitched into the seventh inning and yielded just one run-on four hits and one walk and the Yankees took advantage of two errors to score five runs in the first inning as New York beat Los Angeles in a series in Anaheim, CA, for the first time since 2004.

Nuno, 26, entered the game with no record and 4.50 ERA in his three previous starts. But he held the Angels high-scoring offense to only one run that scored in the third inning after back-to-back singles by Howie Kendrick and C.J. Cron and a RBI fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Erick Aybar.

The Yankees, meanwhile, got an early break off left-hander Hector Santiago (0-6) after Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a single when right-fielder Collin Cowgill ran into center-fielder Mike Trout just as he was about to catch a routine fly ball off the bat of Derek Jeter for an error on Cowgill that left Ellsbury at third and Jeter at first.

Santiago then walked Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira made the Angels pay for the error by delivering a two-run double down the left-field line.

One out later, Yangervis Solarte lofted a sacrifice fly to score Beltran and Brett Gardner followed with an infield single in which Santiago hit Gardner with the ball and it rolled down the right-field line to allow Teixeira to score.

Jeter, who was honored before the game and presented with pinstriped paddle board by the Angels, commemorated his final regular-season game at Angel Stadium with his first home run of the season with two out in the second inning to make it 6-0. Many of the announced crowd of 44,083 gave the Yankee captain a standing ovation as he crossed the plate.

The Yankees chased Santiago in the third inning and he was charged with six runs (only two of them earned) on five hits and three walks in 2 1/3 innings. In his two starts against the Yankees this season Santiago was 0-2 with a 8.10 ERA.

In contrast, Nuno ended up giving up a two-out single to Grant Green in the third inning that advanced Aybar to third and he walked John McDonald to load the bases. But he escaped the bases-loaded jam by retiring Cowgill on a foul popup to Teixeira.

He then retired 12 consecutive batters over the next four innings until Cron led off the seventh inning with a double. After retiring Aybar on a flyout to deep left, he was removed in favor of right-hander Dellin Betances, who gave up a RBI single to Cron in the eighth inning.

But, by that time, the Yankees had padded their lead to 9-1 by scoring three runs off left-hander Nick Maronde and right-hander Cory Rasmus, keyed by a two-run double by John Ryan Murphy and a sacrifice fly by Beltran.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 18-15 and they remain tied with the Baltimore Orioles in first place in the American League East. The Angels dropped to 16-17.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After Alfredo Aceves pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of CC Sabathia on Sunday it was generally assumed that if Nuno did not pitch well in his outing on Wednesday that Aceves could take the No. 5 spot in the rotation. For now, it appears that Nuno will remain in the rotation because he is 1-0 with a 3.54 ERA. Aceves might be better served by replacing Sabathia and his 5.75 ERA but that is never going to happen.
  • Jeter entered the game with a .332 career average at Angel Stadium, the third highest among players with 500 or more at-bats. With his 2-for-5 night Jeter ended the three-game series 5-for-11 (.455), which has raised his season average to .262.
  • The decision to call up Murphy to replace the injured Francisco Cervelli was a stroke of genius. The 22-year-old former second-round draft pick is hitting .348 with a home run and five RBIs. In addition, his home run and five RBIs have all come against the Angels. Murphy homered and drove in three runs in a game against the Angels at Yankee Stadium on April 26.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees collected 12 hits on Wednesday and the only starter who did not produce one was designated hitter Alfonso Soriano, who ended up 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Soriano has always been a very streaky hitter but he looks terrible at the plate lately. In his past five games he is 2-for-18 (.111). Perhaps he needs a day or two off.
  • Even in a victory the Yankees can manage to screw up a bases-loaded, no-out situation. In the fourth inning Murphy singled, Ellsbury doubled and Jeter reached on an infield single to load the bases. But, Beltran hit a grounder to Albert Pujols and Pujols cut down Murphy at the plate. Then Teixeira hit into an inning-ending double play. The Yankees hit into five double plays in the series.

ON DECK

The Yankees have Thursday off before opening a three-game weekend series against the Brewers in Milwaukee starting on Friday.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (4-0, 2.53 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Tanaka gave up three early runs to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday but ended up with a 9-3 victory. Tanaka has 51 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings this season.

The Brewers will counter with right-hander Yovani Gallardo (2-1, 2.47 ERA). Gallardo was charged with four runs on nine hits and a walk while striking out one in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday.

Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MY9.

 

Pineda Helps Yankees Shut Out Cubs In 2nd Game

GAME 15

YANKEES 2, CUBS 0

When Michael Pineda last pitched all the focus was on what may or may not have been on his hands. On Wednesday, the focus was right where it should have been: On how well Pineda is pitching.

Pineda threw six scoreless innings and Scott Sizemore scored a run and drove in another in his Yankee debut as New York completed a pair of shutouts against Chicago in a day-night twin bill at Yankee Stadium.

The Cubs managed just four hits and a walk against Pineda (2-1) and the 6-for-7 right-hander struck out three to lower his season ERA to 1.00.

The Yankees backed him by scoring single runs in the fourth and fifth innings.

After Pineda defeated the Boston Red Sox in his last start on Thursday controversy erupted over what appeared to be pine tar on his pitching hand during the game. Both the MLB Network and NESN showed shots of Pineda’s hand but neither the Red Sox or the umpires ever checked Pineda for an illegal substance and Pineda was not disciplined.

Pineda said after the game that it was not pine tar but dirt on his hand.

Sizemore started the fourth-inning rally against left-hander Travis Wood with a one-out single. One out later he advanced to second on a single by John Ryan Murphy and he scored on an RBI single by Brett Gardner.

Alfonso Soriano and Yangervis Solarte hit back-to-back one-out singles in the fifth and Soriano scored one out later on Sizemore’s single to left.

Wood (0-2) was charged with two runs on 11 hits while he struck out two in 5 2/3 innings.

Pineda, meanwhile, was backed by three innings of scoreless relief by David Phelps, Matt Thornton and Adam Warren, who got the final three outs for his first major-league save.

For the Yankees the doubleheader shutouts were their first since April 19, 1987 when the Yankees blanked the Kansas City Royals in both contests.

Sizemore, 29, was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to add depth to an injury-depleted infield. His RBI in the fifth was his first since August, 2011 because Sizemore has missed virtually all of the past two seasons after undergoing a pair of surgeries to repair torn ligaments in his right  knee.

The victory was the Yankees’ fourth in a row and boosted their won-loss record to 9-6. The Cubs are now 4-10.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pineda was brilliant in his 89-pitch outing. After an impressive spring that won him the No. 5 spot in the rotation, Pineda has picked up where he left off by yielding just two earned runs on 13 hits and two walks while he has struck out 15 in 18 innings of work. His Walks to Innings Pitched ratio (WHIP) is an astounding 0.89.
  • Sizemore played in both games of the doubleheader and was 2-for-3 in the second game with a pair of singles and a line-out. Sizemore had played in only two games since the end of the 2011 season and he was only playing because the Yankees have were missing first baseman Mark Teixeira, who is on the disabled list, and second baseman Brian Roberts, who has missed the past two games with back spasms.
  • Carlos Beltran was 3-for-7 with a home run, a double, a walk and one RBI in the doubleheader. He was 2-for-4 in the second game and since April 7, Beltran is 14 for 33 (.424).

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I could point out Kelly Johnson was 0-for-4 and he was the only Yankee starter who did not get a hit or reach base on Wednesday. But the Yankees shut out the Cubs in both games on just nine hits and four walks with 17 strikeouts. Enough said!

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees honored late South African President Nelson Mandela on the same day they honored Jackie Robinson. A pre-game ceremony was conducted to honor both men and each team’s players wore Robinson’s No. 42 to honor the man who broke the color barrier in baseball 67 years ago.  . . .  Derek Jeter returned to the lineup in the second game on Wednesday and was 1-for-5 with a single and he also reached on a two-base error by Darwin Barney. Jeter had missed the past three games with a tight right quad.  . . .  Roberts told reporters on Wednesday that he is feeling better after missing his fourth straight game with a lower back strain. Manager Joe Girardi said Roberts is day-to-day and he will be re-evaluated on Thursday.

ON DECK

The Yankees ended their first home stand with a 6-3 record and they travel to St. Petersburg, FL to open a four-game series with Tampa Bay Rays that begins on Thursday at Tropicana Field.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (1-2, 6.63 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Sabathia has been hampered this season with one bad inning in each of his first three starts. He ended up losing to the Red Sox last Friday after giving up four runs on two homers in the sixth inning.

The Rays will counter with left-hander David Price (2-0, 2.91 ERA). Price held the Cincinnati Reds to one run on four hits in 8 1/3 innings for his second victory of the season last Friday. He struck out 10 batters.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:

NEW YORK YANKEES

After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.

Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.

Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.

The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.

Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.

The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.

Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.

The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.

Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.

If you don’t you lose.

The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.

The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.

The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.

The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.

Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.

The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.

As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.

In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.

BOSTON RED SOX

Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.

The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.

They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.

Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.

Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.

To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.

Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.

The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.

Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.

The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.

The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.

So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.

The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.

So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.

Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.

But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.

Now that is some reclamation project.

Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.

But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.

There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.

The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.

It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.

The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.

The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.

They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.

So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.

Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!

 

 

Icons Jeter, Soriano Spark Yanks’ Walk-Off Victory

GAME 105

YANKEES 6, RAYS 5

On a day that the Yankees paid tribute to retired icon Hideki Matsui, two of his former teammates provided some spark to what has been a listless offense to deliver a dramatic walk-off victory.

Derek Jeter came of the disabled list for the second time this season to swat the first pitch he saw for his first home run of the season and Alfonso Soriano, playing in only his third game back in pinstripes, was 4-for-5 with a two-run homer and a game-winning RBI single in the ninth as New York salvaged one of three games against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Jeter strode to the plate in the first inning with most of the paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 47,714 on their feet and  –  just about the time they sat down  –  the Yankee captain launched a high fastball from Rays left-hander Matt Moore into the first row of the bleachers over the auxiliary scoreboard in right-center to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead.

The fans remained standing until their All-Star shortstop took a trip back up the dugout steps for a curtain call. It was not so much what Jeter had just done but a feeling from the fans that this team that has suffered so much turmoil from injuries was on the way back to respectability.

It set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.

The Yankees added two more runs in the first inning off Moore, who started the day tied for the American League lead with 14 victories.

Robinson Cano reached on an infield single that caromed off the glove of Moore and Soriano rolled a single that shortstop Yunel Escobar kicked into center-field to allow Cano to reach third.

Vernon Wells scored Cano with a sacrifice fly to center and  –  after a wild pitch allowed Soriano to move up to second  –  Ichiro Suzuki scored him with a lined single to center as part of a day in which Suzuki was 4-for-4.

Unfortunately, Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes was not able to hold the 3–0 lead he was handed.

The Rays scored a single run in the second inning when Kelly Johnson lashed a one-out RBI double to score Wil Myers.

The following frame Hughes allowed a pair of one-out singles to Evan Longoria and James Loney and Myers followed with a three-run blast to left-field that gave the Rays a 4-3 lead.

But Jeter and Soriano answered in the bottom of the third.

Jeter led off the frame with a single just over the glove of Johnson at second base and Soriano, one out later, blasted a ball just over the glove of Myers in right-field that landed in the bleachers in the short porch in right to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead.

Hughes, however, was not able to hold that lead either.

Myers led off the fifth with an opposite-field home run into the short porch for the rookie outfielder’s first multiple homer game of his career.

The game remained tied after both Moore and Hughes left the game.

Moore, who entered the game having won all six of his previous starts, gave up five runs on eight hits and no walks while he struck out three in five innings. Moore also uncharacteristically uncorked two wild pitches and was called for a balk just before Soriano homered.

Hughes also yielded five runs on nine hits and two walks and he fanned four in 4-plus innings.

But the Yankees’ bullpen corps of Preston Claiborne, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera held the Rays to just one hit and did not issue a walk over the final five innings. Rivera (2-2) pitched a perfect ninth inning to get credit for the victory.

The Yankees opened the ninth facing  Jake McGee (2-3) and the left-hander missed high on a 3-2 pitch to Brett Gardner to start off the frame. With Jeter squared around to bunt, McGee tossed the Rays’ third wild pitch of the day to allow Gardner to reach second. It ended up being extremely costly.

Rays manager Joe Maddon then opted to walk Jeter intentionally to bring up the lefty-swinging Cano and to set up a potential double play.

But Cano struck out and Soriano followed by bouncing the first pitch from McGee to the left of Escobar of shortstop and on into center-field to score Gardner with the game-winner.

Soriano finished the game with a homer, three singles, two runs scored and three RBIs.

Jeter was 2-for-4 with a homer, a single, a walk, an RBI and two runs scored.

Jeter’s home run was the Yankees’ first home run sine the All-Star break and the first home run from a right-handed batter since June 21. Soriano added the second right-handed homer two innings later.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 55-50 and they are 7 1/2 games out in fourth place in the American League East. The Rays dropped to 62-43 and they surrendered first place back to the Boston Red Sox.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • What a difference Jeter made in his first game off the disabled list. Having Jeter’s right-handed bat in the second spot in the order allows manager Joe Girardi to break up the stack of five or six left-handed batters at the top of the lineup. Jeter has always had a flair for the dramatic but his home run in the first inning spoke volumes about how the Yankees suffered after opening the season 30-18 and then recording a 24-32 mark through Sunday. Perhaps a new day is dawning and the Yankees, behind their captain, may be righting the ship.
  • Soriano has always been a popular player with Yankee fans and they have not forgotten him after 10 years. The Yankees acquired him for his power from the right side and to provide protection for Cano in the cleanup spot. If his 4-for-5 day is any indication, he will do both. He is doing what Wells did before May 15 and he has not homered since. Soriano is going to be a very important player for the Yankees for the rest of the season.
  • Jeter’s presence allowed Girardi to slide Suzuki down to the No. 6 spot in the order and he responded with four singles and a big two-out RBI in the first inning. After going 0-for-7 in the first two games of the series, Suzuki’s perfect day raised his season average to .279.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Hughes’ start was very disappointing because in his previous five starts, Hughes had a 2.53 ERA, even though was 1-3 over that stretch dating back to June 27. Hughes is nothing if not vexing as a starter. He is a flyball pitcher in a ballpark ill-suited for them and most of his success in the major leagues has come as a reliever. I wish the Yankees would realize that and put him back there before they make a mistake by allowing him to walk as a free agent after this season.
  • Though the Yankees field a great lineup one through six now, the seven, eight and nine spots still are an issue. Brett Lillibridge (seven), David Adams (eight) and Chris Stewart (nine) were a combined 0-for-11 with three strikeouts and just one ball hit of the infield. It will be nice to have Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez back in the lineup.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees actually offered Matsui a one-day contract with the team on Sunday so that he could retire officially as a Yankee. In a pregame ceremony,  Jeter and the Yankees presented the former outfielder with a framed jersey sporting his number 55. Matsui, fondly nicknamed “Godzilla” in his native country, came over from Japan to play nine seasons with the Yankees and he hit .292 with 140 home runs and 597 RBIs  during that span. He also was named the Most Valuable Player in the Yankees’ victory in the 2009 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees also marked the occasion by handing out Matsui bobblehead figures to the first 18,000 fans who entered the stadium.  . . .  After activating Jeter on Sunday the Yankees plan to activate infielder Jayson Nix on Tuesday. Nix, 30, has been on the disabled list for 3 1/2 weeks with a hamstring strain.  Adams was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after Sunday’s game to make room for Nix on the roster.  . . .  After Granderson was 0-for-4 as a designated hitter with Class-A Tampa on Sunday, Girardi said the veteran outfielder will move up to Double-A Trenton on Tuesday. Girardi also said Granderson could be activated on Saturday when the Yankees are in San Diego to play the Padres. Granderson has been sidelined twice this season with a broken bone in his left arm and a broken left pinkie finger as a result of being hit by pitches.

ON DECK

The Yankee will have Monday off before they open a West Coast road trip with a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (7-7, 4.39) will open the series for the Yankees. Pettitte, 41, allowed just two runs on hits over six innings on Wednesday against the Texas Rangers but still took his second straight loss. He is 2-0 with a 3.94 ERA in his career against the Dodgers.

Right-hander Zack Greinke (8-3, 3.49 ERA) will start for the Dodgers. Greinke allowed four runs on six hits in seven innings in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday. Greinke is 2-4 with a 6.45 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 10:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Wells’ Walk-Off Hit Hands Victory To Nova, Yanks

GAME 86

YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 2

There are defining moments within a season and in a pennant chase. But the New York Yankees delivered a very big message to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday: You are NOT going to push us around anymore.

Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, who had failed to deliver in the same situation four innings earlier, came through with the tying and winning RBIs in the ninth inning off Orioles closer Jim Johnson and Ivan Nova pitched the game of his life as New York  –  bullied and bruised from a sweep at Oriole Park at Camden Yards last week  – broke the heart of Baltimore with a walk-off victory in front of a raucous paid crowd of 43,396 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees entered the ninth trailing 2-1 with Johnson (2-7) on the mound facing No. 9 hitter David Adams, who was hitting .183 as he stepped into the batter’s box. Adams ripped an 1-1 fastball and delivered an opposite-field single to right.

Brett Gardner, attempting to sacrifice Adams to second with a sacrifice bunt, reached on a single when Johnson overran the ball and was unable to make a play.

Surprisingly, Ichiro Suzuki then elected to drop down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Adams to third and Gardner to second because the move effectively allowed Orioles manager Buck Showalter to intentionally walk Robinson Cano to load the bases, as he had done in the fifth inning.

Trailing 2-1 with Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez on the mound in the fifth, Showalter had Gonzalez walk Cano intentionally to load the bases with one out. Hafner then flied out to shallow center, leaving Adams at third base. Wells followed with a weak foul popup to first baseman Chris Davis that left the bases loaded.

But in the ninth inning against Johnson both Hafner and Wells were hoping the outcome would be different. Fortunately for the Yankees, they redeemed themselves.

Hafner drew a walk on four straight pitches to bring in the tying run in Adams. Wells followed by slapping a 2-2 sinker from Johnson just past the dive of third baseman Manny Machado and into left-field to score Gardner with the run that made a winner out Nova.

Nova (3-2) was only starting the game due to a sore left hip flexor injury to right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. But the 26-year-old right-hander took advantage of his first start since June 23 and only his sixth start this season.

Despite opening the second inning by hitting Davis with a pitch and allowing a two-run opposite-field home run to Matt Wieters that hit off the top of the wall and bounded into the bleachers, Nova shut down the Orioles the rest of the way on just two singles and a walk while he struck out 11 batters  –  one less than his career best of 12 in 2011 against the Cincinnati Reds.

Mixing his 95-mile-per-hour fastball with a devastating curveball that had the powerful Orioles, who lead the major leagues in home runs, flailing at air all night in what was Nova’s first major-league complete game in 67 career starts. Over nine innings, Nova threw 102 pitches and 70 of them were strikes, a strike percentage of 69%.

This was much like the Nova of 2011 who burst onto the scene as a rookie to post a 16-4 record with a 3.70 ERA and win his final 12 games in a row. It was not the same Nova who was so awful in going 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 2012 and who was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA in his first four starts of 2013 before he landed on the 15-day disabled list for two months with a right triceps strain.

It looked as if Nova would end up taking a hard-luck loss because the Yankees’ offense could only manage one hit off Gonzalez until the fourth inning.

Wells delivered a two-out lined single to left and Gonzalez then issued a walk to Lyle Overbay, seemingly pitching around the veteran first baseman in order to face light-hitting shortstop Luis Cruz. However, Cruz spoiled the strategy when he laced a sharp single to left and Wells was able to slide home just a beat ahead of the throw from Nate McLouth and the tag of Wieters at the plate.

The game remained that way until the Yankees mounted their rally off Johnson in the ninth that handed the closer his sixth blown save of the season, two of them to the Yankees.

Gonzalez gave up four hits and five walks while striking out four in six innings of work. Left-hander Troy Patton and right-hander Darren O’Day both pitched an inning shutout baseball for the Orioles.

The victory for the Yankees, their fifth in a row, allowed them to climb within percentage points of the second-place Orioles in the American League East with a 47-39 mark. The Orioles defeat left them 48-39, five games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are playing the Los Angeles Angels in a late game in Anaheim, CA.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • How can six go into five? That the problem for manager Joe Girardi now that Nova has served notice he belongs in the rotation. You can’t possibly remove hard-throwing Dominican after what he did on Friday. When Nova is on like he was on Friday, he actually has the arguably the best stuff of any of the current Yankee starters. The most likely candidate to go could be David Phelps. But Phelps pitched a fine game against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday. Stay tuned.
  • Wells was given a second consecutive start against a right-handed pitcher and he made the most of it. Despite hitting that weak foul pop in the fifth, Wells finished the evening 2-for-5 with a run scored and the game-winning walk-off RBI. In his past three games, Wells is 6-for-12 with four RBIs. That streak has raised his season average from .223 to .235.
  • Cruz is showing signs he may be a better hitter than his .136 mark with the Los Angeles Dodgers that led to his designation for assignment and eventual release. Cruz is 3-for-11 (.272) and has RBIs in the past two of his three starts at shortstop for the Yankees. Cruz also made a fine pair of plays on ground balls off the bat of Machado and Nick Markakis in the third inning that robbed both of potential hits.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

You can’t fault the pitching because Nova was sensational. Besides Cruz’s two gems, Cano turned in a pair of dazzlers in the fourth inning. So you can’t fault the defense. You could rip Hafner and Wells for failing the fifth inning with the bases loaded and one out. However, they atoned for those sins by coming through when it counted in the ninth. No complaints here.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees announced Friday that shortstop Derek Jeter will begin a rehab assignment on Saturday with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Jeter, who has spent the better part of eight months rehabbing a broken left ankle after undergoing surgery, is expected to play at least five innings at shortstop in the RailRiders’ game against Lehigh Valley. Jeter originally broke the ankle in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers last October. After undergoing surgery Jeter attempted to return to action during spring training but felt discomfort and had to be shelved. An MRI on April 18 indicated a second small break of the ankle and Jeter has been on the disabled list the entire season. Girardi refused to set a firm date for Jeter’s return to the Yankees.   . . .  Kuroda has been cleared to resume throwing again but it is not clear when he will make his next start. Kuroda first felt discomfort in his left hip warming up for last Saturday’s game against the Orioles in Baltimore. He pitched in the game and ended up losing 4-2. Kuroda is 7-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 17 starts this season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will put their five-game winning streak on the line on Saturday in a matinee against the O’s.

Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-6, 4.40 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Pettitte passed Whitey Ford to become the team’s the all-time team strikeout leader but he ended up with a no-decision on Monday after giving up four runs on six hits and four walks in five innings against the Twins. Pettitte is 18-5 with a 3.48 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Orioles.

Baltimore will start right-hander Chris Tillman (10-2, 3.68 ERA). Tillman yielded two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out six in six innings against the Yankees on Sunday, his seventh consecutive winning decision. He is 3-3 with a 7.27 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Injury Cuts Down Tex For First Time In Pinstripes

The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.

FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)

When you look at Mark Teixiera’s career numbers you see the amazing consistency he has provided since 2004, his second season in the majors. He entered the 2012 season as the only active player who had hit 30 or more home runs and drove 100 or more runs for eight consecutive seasons.

Teixeira, 32, was on track to make it nine this season when on Aug. 27 he incurred a Grade 1 strain of his left calf.

He returned to the lineup Sept. 8 and re-injured the calf trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended a loss against the Orioles in Baltimore. He did not return until Oct. 1, when the Yankees opened their final series of the season against the Red Sox.

Though he blasted a two-run home run in his first game back, Teixeira’s contributions at the plate during the playoffs may be limited. It is unclear how long it will take him to sharpen up his stroke from both sides of the plate.

But Teixeira’s presence in the lineup means far more than what he actually contributes himself. The lineup deepens when he is back in it and, no matter what Teixeira delivers at the plate, he provides world-class defense at first base and saves the pitchers runs and his infield teammates errors.

The only real knock on his game has been the steady decline in his batting average since he signed with the Yankees as a free agent in 2009.

After hitting .259 in his rookie season with Texas, Teixeira batted .281, .301, .282 and .306 in his next four seasons. Teixeira hit .306 and .308 in combined seasons with Texas and Atlanta in 2007 and Atlanta and the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.

But when he joined the Yankees in 2009, Teixera found the short porch in right very inviting, much like his predecessor Jason Giambi did. He hit .292 in 2009 but since then he has hit .256, and .248.

The criticism of his low average stung a bit and Teixeira vowed this season that he would take a new approach into the season with him. He would not be a strict pull hitter, but try to go the other way with pitches. This, he hoped, would raise his average while not hurting his production.

But it was obvious early in the season that Teixeira was struggling with the new approach. In his typically slow April, he hit .244 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.

Teixeira abandoned the approach altogether in May and by the All-Star break he had 14 home runs 46 RBIs and a .247 average. Teixeira basically said: “I do not care what my batting average is. I am paid to hit home runs and drive in runs and that is what I am going to do.”

Judging by his numbers, Teixeira was on a pace in which he would have reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had he not been injured. Injuries are new with him, too.

Teixeira had not played less than 156 games since 2007, when he played in 132 games.

So you take two things out of Teixeira’s injury this season: No. 1, it a rare occurrence and No. 2, it is just bad luck it happened so late in the season.

Though Teixeira has fallen a notch below the elite first basemen in baseball such as Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, he is still one of the most productive hitters at his position and he is still considered the elite fielding first basemen in the game.

The proof of his fielding prowess is that Teixeira set a career low by committing only one error all season. That is not a fluke either. He has not committed more than five errors in a season since his rookie year in 2004, when he was shifted to first base by the Rangers for the first time and he was charged with 10.

The error totals don’t really measure how good Teixeira is at first base. He has unbelievable range, cat-quick reflexes, an accurate arm and an uncanny ability to scoop bad throws out of the dirt.

Over the years, the Yankees have gotten excellent glove-work out of first baseman such as Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Teixeira could be considered as good as those two if not maybe a bit better. The errors he saves his fellow infielders have become part of his legend now.

So even when Teixeira is slumping at the plate, he contributes so much in the field that it does not show unless he is gone for periods of time like he was this season.

Though Nick Swisher is above average at the position, Teixeira’s defense was missed when he was gone.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

SECOND HALF GRADE: I

OVERALL GRADE: C

BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)

Despite the fact that manager Joe Girardi elected to use Swisher as Teixeira’s primary backup when he was injured, Swisher’s report card will be with the outfielders.

Chavez, 34, made six starts at the position and played in 10 games here during the season. The Yankees also used Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce at the position during Teixeira’s stint on the disabled list.

But Chavez is still considered the primary backup at first base and his season was magical. He avoided injury, which is always a plus considering he has not played more than 137 games since 2006.

Chavez was signed primarily as a backup at third and first base and an occasional designated hitter against right-handers. In those roles Chavez seemed to thrive because, though his midseason numbers were good (six home runs, 16 RBIs and a .270 batting average), his second-half numbers were even better.

He had 10 home runs, 21 RBIs and raised his season average 11 points.Chavez made 50 starts at third base and that is the position for which he collected six consecutive Gold Gloves with the Oakland Athletics from 2001 to 2006. First base is a little tougher for him though he committed only one error at first in his limited time there.

No one can come close to providing the defense Teixeira can at the position but Chavez does not embarrass himself either.

MIDSEASON GRADE: B

SECOND HALF GRADE: B+

OVERALL GRADE: B

The fact that the Yankees were forced to trade for McGehee and sign Pearce as a free agent shows just how devoid of talent the Yankees are at the position in the minor leagues.

Pearce, 29, and former major league slugger Russell Branyan, 36, played the position at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They combined for 22 home runs (11 apiece) there but neither obviously are considered are long-term solutions at the position for the Yankees.

Of course, Teixeira is signed through the 2016 season but the Yankees still need to be looking at grooming a replacement soon.

At Double-A Trenton the Yankees had a pair of powerful right-handed-hitting first basemen in Addison Maruzak and Luke Murton.

Maruszak, 25, had 16 homers, 59 RBIs and hit ,276 and Murton, 26, put up 25 home runs, 68 RBIs and batted .249. But the Yankees do not consider either player a prospect because they are playing at the Double-A level at a decidedly advanced age.

The Yankees do not have a first baseman among their Top 20 minor-league prospects so this position could stand to be strengthened.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C

As long as the Yankees have Teixeira they can count on 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a batting average in the .240s or so. In addition, they will get Gold Glove defense from arguably the best-fielding first baseman in the game.

Teixeira’s consistency is his hallmark. Up to this season, he also has been quite durable. But the Yankees are going to have to admit that as Teixeira gets older he is going to be more susceptible to injury and he will require more rest during the season.

What Teixeira will able to contribute in the playoffs is questionable right now. Because Teixeira has always been a slow starter when the season begins, it stands to reason he might be real rusty when the playoffs begin. He also is not playing at 100 percent on his left calf now.

But just having him in lineup makes it stronger and there is no doubt Teixeira can save runs and errors with is glove. So the sum of all the parts adds up to being a huge positive for the Yankees.