With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.
NEW YORK YANKEES
First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.
That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.
With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.
The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.
Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.
However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?
The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are – at least for now – going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.
The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.
If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.
Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.
All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.
A pair of speed demons – Ellsbury and Gardner – are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.
Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.
The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.
The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.
The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.
Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.
That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.
Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.
He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.
It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.
This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.
Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.
But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.
Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.
Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.
What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.
Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.
But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.
The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.
Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base – although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.
The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.
John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.
But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.
But the promise is even brighter longer term.
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.
Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.
At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.
Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.
Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.
Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.
This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.
Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.
With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.
Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.
They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.
A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.
BOSTON RED SOX
This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.
Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.
They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.
However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.
Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.
No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.
There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?
Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.
The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.
Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.
The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.
They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.
The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.
They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).
They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.
This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.
Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?
Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.
They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!
After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans – all of about 7,000 of them a game – it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.
Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.
To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.
The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.
Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.
You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.
Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.
So there is a lot to like.
The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.
They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.
It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!
But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)
3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)
4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86) Hello Montreal!
The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!
YANKEES 5, RED SOX 3
Non-roster invitee Jonathan Galvez laced a two-out, bases-loaded double in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish as New York downed Boston on Friday at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.
With the Yankees trailing 2-0, Garrett Jones and Brian McCann opened the frame with back-to-back singles to chase right-hander Rick Porcello. One out later, Rob Refsynder loaded the bases on a slow-roller single between home plate and third base off reliever Dalier Hinojosa.
With two out, Galvez, 24, lofted an opposite-field fly ball that dropped out of right-fielder Daniel Nava’s glove as he hit the side wall for a triple.
The Yankees added a pair of runs in the seventh inning off right-hander Edward Mujica on a two-run double by Mason Williams.
Yankees starter Adam Warren (1-0) yielded two runs on four hits while striking out two in three innings to get credit for the victory. Left-hander Jacob Lindgren pitched a scoreless ninth to get a save.
Hinojosa (0-1) was saddled with the loss.
The Yankees earned a split in their two Grapefruit League games with the Red Sox. They lost to the Bosox 10-6 at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday. Their spring record improves to 7-4.
The majority of players enter spring training camp with very long odds of making a team and Galvez is looking at some of the longest of odds.
He was signed by the Yankees as minor-league free agent and given an invitation to spring training after he batted .280 with 10 home runs and 52 RBIs in 103 games for the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A El Paso team in the Pacific Coast League.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Dominican entered camp knowing that starter Chase Headley is just beginning a four-year contract and that three-time American League Most Valuable Player Alex Rodriguez is next in line to play third base.
But Galvez is hoping that he might open enough eyes in the Yankees front office to stay in the organization to provide infield depth at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. If not, there is a chance he might catch some interest from another team needing a third baseman with some power.
Galvez actually began his minor-league career as middle infielder with the Padres. But he has not played shortstop since 2011 and he has played only one game as second baseman since 2012. He now mostly plays first base, third base and left-field.
The Yankees have used him primarily at third and in one game as a left-fielder. After Friday’s game, Galvez is 4-for-15 (.267) with no home runs and the three important RBIs he picked up against the Red Sox.
Even if Galvez fails to stick with the Yankees this season he can take comfort in knowing he helped the team beat its bitter rival in their own ballpark. That is pretty good feather to have in your cap.
- Galvez finished the evening 2-for-3 in what was, by far, he best game of the spring. The Yankees only sent veterans McCann, Jones and Chris Young on the long bus ride to Fort Myers but it was Galvez who ended up being the hero.
- Williams entered the game in the bottom of the fifth inning and began the day just 2-for-10. But his opposite-field, ground-rule double in the seventh scored Galvez (who singled earlier) and Aaron Judge (who had doubled). Williams, 23, is coming off a disappointing season in which he hit .228 at Double-Trenton.
- If you throw out the innings that Warren and right-hander Branden Pinder (who gave a run in the seventh) pitched the other four Yankee relievers combined to give up one hit and three walks with eight strikeouts in five innings. Those pitchers included Chasen Shreve, Jose Ramirez, Nick Goody and Lindgren.
- Warren was nicked for two hits and a run in the first inning as Mookie Betts scored on a Hanley Ramirez groundout. Then in the third Betts doubled and scored on an infield single by David Ortiz. Warren was supposed to pitch four innings but he left after three because his pitch count was up to 58. He threw 29 pitches in the third inning alone. Warren has to be sharper in order to limit his pitch count.
- Young was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and he did not get a ball out of the infield. Young, 31, is now 3-for-18 (.167) with four strikeouts in what has been a slow spring with the bat. The Yankees are looking to the former National League All-Star to provide power from the right side, some speed on the bases and solid defense in the outfield.
Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Friday that left-hander CC Sabathia will make his spring debut at home on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Sabathia is coming off surgery on his right knee after he was limited to just eight starts last season. In addition, Girardi announced that Masahiro Tanaka will make his second start on Wednesday against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
The Yankees will play the second of three split-squad games scheduled for this spring on Saturday.
At their complex in Tampa, FL, the Yankees will host the Detroit Tigers, who also are fielding a split squad.
Right-hander Michael Pineda will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. The Tigers will counter with left-hander Kyle Lobstein.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
Meanwhile, the Yankees will send a team to play the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Nation Stadium in Dunedin, FL.
Right-hander Esmil Rogers will start that game for the Yankees. He will be opposed left-hander Daniel Norris, who is competing for the No. 5 starter’s job.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MLB Network on a delayed basis at 11 p.m.
YANKEES 3, BRAVES 2
With all the Bronx, the Yankee front office and the coaches having completely chewed off their fingernails all winter worrying about Masahiro Tanaka’s right elbow they can now relax. The Japanese right-hander made his spring debut on Thursday and he looked just fine – really.
Tanaka pitched two perfect dominant innings and Jake Cave’s RBI ground-rule double and Nick Noonan’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of seventh inning propelled New York to a come-from-behind victory over Atlanta at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
The Yankees entered the seventh trailing 2-1. With one out and pinch-runners Jonathan Galvez and Jose Pirela on second and first, respectively, Cave laced long double to center that plated Galvez to tie the game at 2-2. Noonan followed with a sacrifice fly to left that scored Pirela from third with the go-ahead run.
Left-hander Justin Wilson (1-0) pitched a perfect seventh inning and recorded two strikeouts to get credit for the victory. Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-1) was saddled with the loss. Right-hander Wilking Rodriguez pitched a scoreless ninth and earned a save.
The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 6-4.
Tanaka, 26, looked every bit the same pitcher who was 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 starts last season. It did not take the Braves too long to see it.
He retired Andrelton Simmons and Alberto Callaspo on routine grounders and struck out Freddie Freeman looking on a pitch that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez disputed so vehemently that he was ejected from the game after the first pitch of the bottom of the inning by home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna.
Tanaka then opened the second by fanning Jonny Gomes and inducing groundball outs from Christian Bethancourt and Chris Johnson. And that was Tanaka’s evening.
All told he threw only 19 pitches, 15 of them for strikes and he threw first-pitch strikes to four of the six batters. He was so efficient he had to go the bullpen to throw enough pitches to get up the 35 he had been allotted.
“Overall, I think it was good,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter. “Probably the best part is that I was able to get first-pitch strikes a whole lot tonight.”
He was clocked as high 94 miles per hour on his fastball and he stayed within 88 to 91 most of the outing. He drew raves from his catcher, Brian McCann.
“He looked great, kind of picking up right where he left off last year,” McCann told reporters. “His sinker tonight was what impressed me the most. He had good downward action on it. His split was there, and he had a couple of quick innings. He was putting the ball where he wanted.”
Manager Joe Girardi now feels relieved to have his ace pass his first test of the elbow.
“You want to get all your starters out there and try to get them going,” Girardi told reporters. “You can’t spend your time worrying about what might be. You just approach every day, you know what you have, and you go forward.”
Tanaka also was glad to have his first outing out of the way.
“I feel better right now,” he told reporters. “I’ve had the time to prepare myself up to this point. It has gone well thus far.”
Now all of Yankee Universe can exhale. The team’s ace is just fine – really.
- The concern about Didi Gregorius has not been his glove or arm because both have been sensational. The real issue has been his bat but Gregorius ripped a leadoff triple into left-center off Braves starter Shelby Miller. The 25-year-old shortstop later scored on a fielder’s choice groundout by Brett Gardner to give the team a 1-0 lead.
- After getting shelled for three runs on six hits in the first inning by the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, FL, on Saturday in his spring debut, non-roster invitee Scott Baker pitched two perfect innings before giving up a one-out double to Bethancourt and two-RBI single to Todd Cunningham in the fifth. Baker, 33, now has a chance to stick with the Yankees due to the right quad injury of left-hander Chris Capuano, who will sidelined for a month.
- Cave, 22, is very quietly have a great spring training. The speedy outfielder is 5-for-9 (.556) with a double and home run and four RBIs. Cave advanced from Class-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton in 2014 and batted a combined .294 with seven homers and 42 RBIs in 132 games.
- Right-hander David Carpenter looked a little shaky in his one inning work against his former teammates. Carpenter was tagged for a pair of singles by Pedro Ciriaco and Simmons to begin the sixth. Callaspo followed with a sac fly to score Ciriaco from third. Carpenter, 29, and left-hander Chasen Shreve were acquired over the winter in exchange for former Yankees No. 1 pitching prospect Manny Banuelos. Carpenter figures to be the primary setup man in the bullpen for Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.
- I am always being reminded that it is early but Stephen Drew keeps extending his hitting woes. He was 0-for-2 on Thursday and is 1-for-13 (.077) this far. Drew likely will break camp as the team’s starting second baseman. But after he hit a combined .162 with the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees last season he better get going with the bat sooner rather than later.
With the bad news about Capuano’s injury it is about time the Yankees got some good news about their starters. Along with Tanaka’s successful debut the Yankees were encouraged by left-hander CC Sabathia’s 29-pitch simulated session earlier in the day. Sabathia, 34, said he has not felt any pain in his surgically repaired right knee and thinks he is ready to take the next step of starting in an exhibition game. That could come as soon as next Tuesday at home against the Toronto Blue Jays or in Lake Buena Vista, FL, on Wednesday against the Braves.
The Yankees will make their only trip of the spring to Fort Myers, FL, on Friday to face the Red Sox at JetBlue Park.
Right-hander Adam Warren will make his third start of the spring for the Yankees. Warren, 27. has no record and has a 1.80 ERA.
McCann will play along with Garrett Jones, Chris Young and John Ryan Murphy.
The Red Sox will counter with right-hander Rick Porcello, 26, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers and is 0-0 and with 0.00 ERA after one outing.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will broadcast by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 9, TIGERS 4
In the play “Richard The Third” King Richard says “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”
In the second inning, Yankees manager Joseph Elliott Girardi (The First) must have been beseeching his charges with the refrain, “A hit, a hit, my stewardship for a hit.” After all, the Yankees have been like a barren desert when it comes to hits with the bases loaded this season.
Thankfully, Curtis Granderson must have heeded the calling and delivered a grand slam home run that staked the Yankees to a 5-1 lead they never relinquished as CC Sabathia and his New York teammates vanquished Detroit in a contest Friday at Comerica Park.
Sabathia (7-2) wobbled in the first (he gave up a run) and third innings (he gave up two runs) and threw 71 pitches in the first three innings. However, he shut out the Tigers on just two hits over the final four innings to record his sixth quality start in his last seven outings.
Meanwhile, the Yankees preyed upon 23-year-old Casey Crosby in his major-league debut. Crosby opened the second inning by walking three of the first four batters he faced. After Chris Stewart was unable to get his fly ball to left deep enough to score a run (My stewardship for a hit), Derek Jeter stepped to the plate with two out.
Crosby missed with a 3-2 pitch and Jeter drove in a run to tie the game at 1-1. (I’ll take the walk but my stewardship for a hit.)
Granderson, who struck out looking on three pitches in his first at-bat, lashed out at a 1-1 fastball and hit into the seats in deep right-field for his 17th home run of the season. (King, uh, manager Girardi’s prayers were finally answered.)
But once Sabathia found his footing with the game at 5-3 after three innings, the Yankees managed to tack on a run in the fourth on an RBI single by Stewart, which chased Crosby, a run in the eighth on a two-out double by Andruw Jones and two runs in the ninth on Alex Rodriguez’s eighth home run of the season.
Crosby (0-1) became the third pitcher who has made his debut against the Yankees this season and the third who has gone down to defeat. He was touched for six runs on four hits and four walks and struck out three in 3 1/3 innings.
Sabathia gave up three runs on eight hits and two walks and he struck out five in seven innings. Rafael Soriano came in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and one out and induced Miguel Cabrera to hit into a game-ending double play to earn his seventh save in as many tries.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 28-23. The Tigers fell to 24-28.
- Granderson is beginning to get hot with the longball again. He now has homered in three of his last four games. In that span he is 6-for-19 (.316) with three home runs and eight RBIs. His 17 home runs leads the team and he is tied with Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion for the second most home runs in the American League this season.
- Sabathia was not sharp but he somehow found a way to win his team-leading seventh game. The key point of the game was after he gave up two runs in the the second inning, Sabathia loaded the bases with two out by walking Gerald Laird. He ended up striking out Brennan Boesch swinging to end the threat.
- Jeter was 2-for-4 along with his RBI walk in the second inning and he extended his modest hitting streak to six games. In that span, Jeter is 9-for-26 (.346). His .340 season average is fourth in the A.L.
- The normally very reliable bullpen was not that good on Friday. Cody Eppley faced one batter (Cabrera) in the eighth inning and gave up a double. Boone Logan faced two batters and gave up an infield single to Delmon Young that advanced Cabrera to third. Cory Wade then came in and gave up a sac fly to pinch-hitter Jhonny Peralta. Clay Rapada opened the ninth with a 9-4 lead and ended up leaving in favor of Soriano with the bases loaded and one out after walking two batters and giving up a hit.
- Prior to Rodriguez’s two-run home run in the ninth, he was 0-for-4 in the game with three strikeouts. Crosby fanned him twice, once looking, and Brayan Villarreal blew a fastball past him in the eighth inning. Rodriguez is struggling with just eight home runs and 21 RBIs on the season despite the fact he is hitting .280.
- Though he walked and scored in the second inning, Robinson Cano was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he grounded into an inning-ending double play in the fifth. In his last four games, Cano is just 2-for-18 (.111) with seven strikeouts. His season average has dipped to .286.
The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend series with the Tigers on Saturday.
The Yankees will start 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (4-6, 3.96 ERA), who is coming off a sterling eight innings of shutout baseball against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. Kuroda held the A’s to only four hits to win his first road contest of the season. He is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA against the Tigers in his career.
The Tigers will counter with right-hander Rick Porcello (3-4, 5.21 ERA). Porcello threw a quality start against the Twins on Sunday but ended up with a no-decision. He is 2-2 with a 5.56 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.
AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES – GAME 4
YANKEES 10, TIGERS 1
When the Detroit Tigers traded Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees in 2009 they never could have envisioned how badly the principal in that trade would come back to the Motor City to haunt them.
With the Tigers needing only one victory to advance to the ALCS in front of sellout crowd of 43,527 at Comerica Park on Tuesday night, Granderson made two spectacular highlight-reel catches and drove in a key run early to back the solid pitching of A.J. Burnett as the Yankees staved off elimination with a decisive thrashing of the Tigers.
For Burnett (1-0), the night was sweet redemption from past postseason failures and the travails of two very bad regular seasons. Burnett was not even scheduled to start in this series before rain forced a suspension of Game 1. Coming off a season in which he was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA, Yankee fans had there hearts in their throats in the opening frame as Burnett, almost true to expected form, walked the bases loaded with two outs and Don Kelly heading to the dish.
After Burnett fell behind 1-0, Granderson’s grandiose evening in the city where he started his career began. Kelly laced a sharp line-drive that was heading right over Granderson’s head in centerfield. Granderson first took a step in and then retreated, spun his head around, extended his glove as high as he could and corralled the ball in the tip of the webbing of his glove to save three runs from scoring.
From that moment on Burnett was a different pitcher. Other than giving up a solo home run to Victor Martinez to lead off the fourth, Burnett was able to command the strike zone with his fastball and unleash his deadly curveball to keep the Tigers off balance.
Burnett gave up only four hits and, despite walking four batters, he struck out three in 5 2/3 innings. It was Burnett’s first postseason victory for the Yankees since his scintillating shutout of the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series. The road from an anathema to a postseason savior has been a very long one for the 34-year-old right-hander.
Granderson’s catch also seemed to spark the offense, which was oddly dormant for the last two innings on Monday and the first two innings against Tigers starter Rick Porcello (0-1).
Pocello opened the third by hitting designated hitter Jorge Posada with an 0-1 pitch. Russell Martin followed with the Yankees’ first hit.
One out later, Derek Jeter laced a double over the head of Austin Jackson (who the Tigers acquired from the Yankees in the Granderson deal) off the base of the centerfield wall that scored Posada easily. But Martin had to slide to the extreme outside of the plate and reach back with his left hand to avoid the relay throw from Jhonny Peralta and the swipe tag of catcher Alex Avila.
After Martinez’s home run that sliced the lead to 2-1, the Yankees added to their margin in the fourth off Porcello.
Martin opened the frame with a another single. Instead of laying down a sacrifice bunt to move Martin, Gardner fooled the Tigers and sliced an opposite field single to left.
Jeter then botched a sacrifice bunt by hitting the ball right back to Porcello, who turned and forced Martin at third.
But Granderson bailed out Jeter and the Yankees by lacing a double off the wall in centerfield to score Gardner and advance Jeter to third. After Robinson Cano was walked intentionally to load the bases, Alex Rodriguez drove in his third run of the series without the benefit of a hit with a sacrifice fly to deep center.
Energized by a 4-1 lead, Burnett was able to keep the Tigers off the board and he was removed in the sixth inning after he gave up a two-out single to Kelly.
Rafael Soriano came in to relieve Burnett with Peralta strolling to the plate.
Peralta turned on Soriano’s first offering and lofted a high fly ball into the gap in left-center. That is when Granderson came back to take another giant bite out of the hand of the team that once fed him.
Granderson raced into left-center and laid out his body in a full dive and caught the ball again in the tip of the webbing in a play that easily outshone the multi-run-saving catch he made in the first inning. Tiger players and Tiger fans watched stunned as the centerfielder they once cheered and loved had come back to put a nice leather-laced dagger in their collective hearts.
While Soriano, Phil Hughes and Boone Logan pitched no-hit ball the rest of the way, the Yankees’ offense unleashed a torrent of hits on the Tigers’ bullpen to ensure that any thoughts of a Tiger comeback was futile.
The Yankees ripped former teammate Phil Coke (who was also part of the Granderson trade), poor mistreated Al Alburquerque, Daniel Schlereth and Ryan Perry for six runs on seven hits as they sent 11 batters to the plate in a 35-minute eighth inning.
The Tigers did really get generous when Alburquerque balked in a run and Schlereth uncorked a wild pitch to allow another run to score.
Cano capped off the inning with a two-run single that pushed the margin to 10-1, marking the most runs the Yankees have scored in an ALDS game.
By that time, most of the Tiger faithful had abandoned their playoff seats and headed home, which is where they will have to watch the fate of their team in Game 5 on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.
With Granderson’s support in the field and with his bat, the night truly belonged to Burnett, however.
Manager Joe Girardi said it best: “I was proud of what he did. In a must-win situation for us, he pitched one of his best games of the year.”
There is no player in Major League Baseball that I despise more than Jose Valverde.
If you have not caught his caught his act, it is a lot like watching a very hammy and awful lounge singer in pink sequins. With the every out he prances around the mound in as if somebody in the Tigers locker room slathered his jock strap with itching powder.
He is in, more than a few words, a overweight slob and a hot dog without an ounce of genuine professionalism. You want an example?
How about this quote: “(Justin) Verlander has it [Monday]. Next day, have the celebration in Detroit – 100 percent. The Yankees have a good team, but I think that’s it for them.”
Now some in the Detroit media are passing it off as if Valverde were joking in order to tamp down any potential harm may come if the prediction does not come true. But the fact is Valverde has been baiting opposing teams and hitters for years with his tired act on the mound.
Closers with class walk off the mound and take congratulations from their teammates. They don’t contort themselves and gyrate like they never have a retired a major-league hitter in their life.
But “Valveeta” (I will call him from now on because his act all cheese and them some) took it to a whole new level on Monday night. Not content with the fact that he was a few pitches close to being pulled from the game in favor of left-hander Phil Coke, Valveeta had to go way over the line in professionalism.
In the ninth, after retiring Nick Swisher, our rotund frankfurter walked Jorge Posada. Then he allowed pinch-runner Eduardo Nunez to steal second easily. The next batter, Russell Martin, came within a few choice feet of real estate in right-field of putting the Yankees ahead by a run against this supposedly unshakeable closer.
Then the man French’s could use in an ad campaign, continued to walk the tightrope (which is tough to do when your off-season training regimen consists of lifting Budweisers by the caseload to your gullet), walked No. 9 hitter Brett Gardner on four straight pitches.
Manager Jim Leyland had Coke throwing hard and fast in the bullpen because he had seen this same thing before when Valveeta pitched the ninth on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Valveeta then got ahead of Derek Jeter with two quick strikes. As most closers would do in this situation, you would want to waste a pitch outside and maybe get Jeter to chase. That is what most closers would not do. Not Valveeta.
He decides that he needs to intimidate Jeter and he buzzes him with a pitch that was not only up and in, but was sailing directly for his noggin.
Now in baseball, there is an unwritten rule that there is nothing wrong with throwing inside. Heck, when Martin was hit with a pitch by Verlander in the seventh, I had absolutely no issue with it.
You also have a right, if you wish, to attempt to throw at someone. That is all part of the game.
But there is also an unwritten rule that you do not aim for someone’s head, particularly when it is someone like Jeter.
If it was A-Rod or Barry Bonds, I could maybe see the reasoning. It still would be a bush league tactic. But, at least I would understand the motivation of this degenerate a–hole.
However, Jeter is the symbol in baseball of a genuine professional. He plays the game right and he has never done anything in his entire career to show up another player or brought anything but class to the game.
But Senor Valveeta thinks it is the only way he can win and, after all, that is the bottom line. It is not how you play the game. It is just that you got to win, right?
You better be careful where you tread, Valveeta. Karma can be a female dog. A “caliente” female dog.
I am not saying that the Yankees might retaliate on Tuesday night, I am saying they will retaliate on Tuesday. It is only a question of when and to whom.
Knowing the Tigers and how Leyland thinks, he would probably have his starter Rick Porcello plunk a Yankees hitter in the first inning to see if he can get the umpires to issue a warning early. But umpires are usually loathe to issue a warning, especually in a playoff game, before a second incident occurs.
The Yankees thus have one shot at this and they better make it a good one. I am not talking CC Sabathia’s polite fastball to David Ortiz’s hindquarters either. I am talking an A.J. Burnett riding fastball, inside and head high, to Miguel Cabrera. He probably will be so tanked up on Jose Cuervo he would not feel it anyway.
It is just too bad that Valveeta does not play in the National League where pitchers bat. Of course, he knows that closers don’t bat so he hides behind that fact like a little boy scrambling behind a mother’s skirt.
He is gutless, classless and revolting.
Other than that, I have no issue the hot dog.
Do not be surprised if this all wakes up the Yankees and brings them back into the series. Mr. Valvetta may regret the can of worms he opened. Maybe he thought he was opening another can of beer!
- Freddy Garcia pitched a solid 4 2/3 innings in his last start before he becomes the No. 5 starter. He gave up one run on four hits and two walks and he struck out three batters. The only run came on a change-up to Brennan Boesch that he deposited in the right-field pavilion in the fourth inning to tie the game at 1-1.
- The Yankees scored their only run in the third inning off Tigers starter Rick Porcello on a one-out, bases-loaded walk to Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez battled Porcello in an eight-pitch at-bat until he coaxed the walk. Rodriguez had at least one RBI in 10 of his last 12 games this spring.
- Mark Prior, who will stay in Florida before reporting to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, pitched an impressive inning of relief. He gave up one hit but ended the inning by striking Miguel Cabrera swinging.
- I have been harping on it all spring and I hope it does not carry over to the regular season, but the Yankees were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. It was not a coincidence the Yankees were the worst hitting team in the Grapefruit League. The offense will come, but Yankee fans hope it comes starting on Opening Day.
- Robinson Cano had a rough day at 0-for-3. He grounded out, lined out to second with the bases-loaded and struck out. He finished the spring hitting .236.
- Derek Jeter also had a rough day. He was 0-for-3 on three routine infield grounders. But Jeter did finish the spring hitting .304 with his “no-stride” hitting approach.