YANKEES 7, TIGERS 2
When it comes to building drama it was obvious on Friday that Alex Rodriguez was not really interested in that at all. He took Justin Verlander deep on the first pitch in his first at-bat to join the 3,000-hit club and then just allowed the Yankees to concentrate on winning the game.
They did just that as Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner also homered off Verlander and Adam Warren pitched eight solid innings to help New York thump Detroit in front of a paid crowd of 44,588 who came, in part, to witness more history at Yankee Stadium.
Rodriguez, 39, entered the game 10-for-34 (.294) with four homers off Verlander and he hit high outside fastball into the bleachers in right-center with two out in the first inning to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead.
Rodriguez becomes only the third player out of the 29 who have collected 3,000 hits to hit a home run to reach the mark. The others were Wade Boggs with the Tampa Bay Rays and Derek Jeter, Rodriguez’s former Yankee teammate.
The milestone drew a standing ovation from the crowd and Rodriguez was greeted by hugs by all teammates before he reached the dugout. He then came back out of the dugout to raise his hands to the crowd in a curtain call.
The Tigers, however, managed to get to Warren in the second inning when Victor Martinez led off with a single and Yoenis Cespedes followed with a double. One out later, Warren hit Nick Castellanos with a pitch to load the bases and Bryan Holaday slapped a 1-0 pitch into left-center to score Martinez and Cespedes and give the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
It was short-lived because with one out in the bottom of the second, Gregorius laced a 1-2 fastball into the Yankees bullpen in right-center for his third home run of the season.
The game remained tied until Mason Williams singled with one out in the fifth and Gardner blasted a hanging 1-1 slider from Verlander into the Yankees bullpen for his seventh home run of the season and his second two-run homer in two nights.
Gardner’s two-run homer with two out in the sixth inning on Thursday allowed the Yankees to tie the Miami Marlins 3-3 in a game the Yankees eventually won 9-4.
The Yankees added a pair of runs off an obviously tiring Verlander in the seventh inning when Gardner reached on a one-out bunt single and advanced to third when Chase Headley’s hard-hit grounder caromed off Verlander’s foot and rolled into right-field.
With Rodriguez at the plate, Verlander uncorked a pitch in the dirt that rolled less than five feet away from Holaday but Gardner was able to slide to home without a play.
After Verlander retired Rodriguez, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus brought left-hander Tom Gorzelanny in to face Mark Teixeira. But Teixeira hit an opposite-field single to right that scored Headley.
Verlander was charged with six runs on 10 hits and one walk with two strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings and 117 pitches.
Warren, meanwhile, was able to keep the Tigers off the scoreboard through eight full innings, which was his longest outing in his career of 16 starts. He gave up only two runs on seven hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in an effort that may have saved his job as starter.
The Yankees added another run in the eighth on a two-out double by Chris Young and an RBI single by Gardner.
Right-hander Branden Pinder, who was only called up earlier in the day, pitched a scoreless ninth to close out the game and hand the Yankees their third straight victory.
With the triumph the Yankees improved to 37-30. They remain one game behind the first-place Rays in the American League East. The Tigers dropped to 34-33.
- Though Rodriguez’s entire career with the Yankees has been shrouded in controversy, the Yankee fans did not hold back in their celebration of the moment. Though Rodriguez’s numbers are certainly tainted by the performance-enhancing drugs, the 3,000-hit milestone still means something. He did it in dramatic fashion off a name-brand pitcher and he is having a grand comeback season. He is batting .277 with 13 home runs and 35 RBIs.
- If not for A-Rod’s milestone, Gardner would have gotten all the ink for his best night of the season. Gardner was 4-for-5 with a three singles, a homer, two runs scored and three RBIs. He basically stole home off Verlander in the seventh a wild pitch that barely rolled five feet away from the plate. Gardner raised his average back to .277 and he has seven homers and 33 RBIs hitting mostly from the leadoff spot.
- Warren, 27, basically told manager Joe Girardi that he was not coming out of the rotation without a fight. With right-hander Ivan Nova pitching in a rehab start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre on the same night, it was no secret Warren was going to be moved out of the rotation after this start. But Warren was so good that Girardi may have to rethink his plans. Warren is 5-4 with a 3.62 ERA in 13 starts. Nathan Eovaldi, in contrast, is 5-2 with a 5.12 ERA. Who would you shift to the bullpen for Nova?
Warren was sensational and the Yankees hit three homers and scored six runs off Verlander. You can’t fault that effort. The only vexing thing about the Yankees is they win seven in a row and then they lose six of seven. Now they have won three in a row. Consistency is not their thing but they are playing well now.
Williams, 23, left the game in the sixth inning after jamming his right shoulder attempting to get back to first base on a pickoff attempt by Verlander in the bottom of the fifth inning. Though he remained the game and scored on Gardner’s two-run homer, he was replaced in center-field by Young. Williams was examined by Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the team physician, and no tests are planned. Williams is listed a day-to-day. . . . The Yankees were forced to shuffle their bullpen again on Friday. The team placed right-hander Sergio Santos on the 15-day disabled list and optioned right-hander Chris Martin to Scranton. The Yankees then recalled right-handers Bryan Mitchell and Pinder from the same club. Santos, 31, was placed on the disabled list retroactive to June 15 with inflammation in his right elbow. Santos last pitched on Monday when he escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the eighth inning of a 2-1 loss to the Marlins. Martin, 29, is 0-2 with a 5.62 ERA in 18 games.
The Yankees will continue their three-game home series with the Tigers on Saturday.
Eovaldi will make his 14th start of the season against the Tigers. He also better hope it goes better than his outing against his former Marlins team on Tuesday when he gave up eight runs on nine hits in just two-thirds of an inning. With Warren’s great start on Friday he will be on the hot seat to perform against the Tigers.
The Tigers will counter with right-hander Alfredo Simon (7-3, 2.58 ERA). Simon shut out the Cleveland Indians on three hits and one walk with five strikeouts in five innings in a victory on Sunday.
Game-time will be 7:15 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, ORIOLES 3
There is an old saying in sports that you should “take what they give you.” When the Orioles began losing control of the strike zone on Sunday the Yankees took advantage for a come-from-behind victory at Camden Yards.
John Ryan Murphy laced a two-out, two-run single off left-hander Brian Matusz in the fifth inning to break a 3-3 tie as New York was able to salvage one game against Baltimore in their three-game weekend series.
Trailing 3-2 to start the inning, Chase Headley, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira drew three consecutive walks on 3-2 pitches off right-hander Mike Wright to load the bases.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter yanked Wright in favor of Matusz, who was just returning to action from an eight-game suspension. But Garrett Jones also was able to draw a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Headley came in to score the game-tying run.
After Matusz struck out Stephen Drew and Didi Gregorius, Murphy was able to slap a 2-0 pitch that caromed off the glove of Orioles third baseman Manny Machado and rolled into left-field for a double that allowed Rodriguez and Teixeira to score.
Wright (2-2) was charged with five runs on six hits and three walks with two strikeouts in 4-plus innings of work.
Meanwhile, the Yankees’ bullpen shut down the red-hot Orioles for the remainder of the game.
Left-hander Chasen Shreve (3-1) entered the game with two in the fifth inning and he pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn credit for the victory.
Left-hander Justin Wilson followed Shreve to hurl two perfect innings and Dellin Betances threw up a scoreless ninth to earn his third save in three opportunities this season.
Right-hander Adam Warren started for the Yankees and he was staked to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning after Brett Gardner led off with an infield single and later scored on a two-out RBI double by Teixeira. It was Teixeira’s American-League-leading 47th RBI of the season.
But Warren was unable to hold the lead after Machado led off the bottom of the frame with a single and advanced to third on a single by Adam Jones. Chris Davis drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases and Nolan Reimold hit a bloop single to center to score Machado and Jones.
The Yankees tied the game in the second after they loaded the bases on Wright on consecutive singles by Drew, Gregorius and Murphy, who had three hits on the day. One out later, Gardner hit a line-drive sacrifice to center that scored Drew.
The Orioles broke the 2-2 tie in the fourth after Reimold walked and J.J. Hardy advanced him to second on a one-out single. But after Warren fanned Ryan Flaherty, Caleb Joseph hit a bloop double to right-center that scored Reimold.
Warren was charged with three runs on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.
The victory by the Yankees snapped a three-game losing streak and allowed them to maintain a share of the lead in the American League East with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees are 34-28 and lead the Rays in the loss column by one game. The Orioles fell to 31-31 and they are three games back in fourth place in the division.
- Murphy entered the game batting .208 in only 155 at-bats. But he ended up 3-for-4 with a double, two singles and two RBIs. The 24-year-old backup catcher deserves a lot of credit for coming up big in a two-out situation and provide a huge game-winning hit with starter Brian McCann resting.
- Shreve, Wilson and Betances combined to shut out the Orioles over 4 1/3 innings on no hits, two walks and five strikeouts. Over the past three games the bullpen has not been what it should have and this game hopefully re-establishes them as a strength of the team. With Andrew Miller on the disabled list and Esmil Rogers and Jacob Lindgren shipped out to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, right-handers Sergio Santos, rookie Jose Ramirez and Chris Martin have the task of holding the bullpen together until Miller returns.
- Teixeira’s double extended his hitting streak to five games. Over those five games, Teixeira is 8-for-17 (.471) with three doubles and two RBIs. That has raised his season average from .237 to .256. He is tied for fourth in the A.L. with 17 home runs and his 47 RBIs lead the league.
- Manager Joe Girardi elected to remove Warren in the fifth inning despite the fact that he needed only one out to qualify for a victory. Perhaps the reason why was because Jimmy Paredes was on second after a single and Davis drew a one-out walk. After Warren struck out Reimold looking, Girardi brought in the left-hander Shreve to face the lefty-swinging Travis Snider, who was representing the potential go-ahead run. Warren had little to complain about because he had thrown 92 pitches and only 56 were strikes (61 percent).
- If you take away Murphy’s game-winning double, the Yankees would have been 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. That pretty much tells you that if it were not for the four walks they drew in the fifth, they might have lost the game. The offense needs to be more consistent if this team wants to remain in first place.
Jacoby Ellsbury, 31, told reporters on Sunday that he hopes to be back with the Yankees before the end of the month. Ellsbury has been on the disabled list since injuring himself on a swing on May 19, spraining lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. Doctors told him it would take six weeks for him to recover, which would put his return date on June 30. But Ellsbury thinks he can return sooner. “I’m optimistic I can be back before that,” Ellsbury told reporters. “If I can trim any time off that, I think it would be a success.” . . . Right-hander Ivan Nova pitched six innings of one-run baseball on Saturday for Scranton and the team may decide soon whether he is ready to return. Nova, 28, who has been recovering from Tommy John surgery last year, gave up five hits, walked one and struck out three in his second rehab start. If the Yankees activate Nova he will be slotted back into the rotation and Warren could possibly be shifted back to the bullpen.
The Yankees will begin a four-game home-and-home series with Miami Marlins on Monday beginning at Marlins Park.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (4-1, 2.48 ERA) will start the series for the Yankees. Tanaka has given up just two runs in 14 innings in his two starts since he came off the disabled list on June 3. He has not faced the Marlins before.
Right-hander Tom Koehler (4-4, 4.00 ERA) will pitch for the Marlins. Koehler, 28, yielded five runs on eight hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by WPIX.
YANKEES 6, NATIONALS 1
With Masahiro Tanaka and Max Scherzer locked into an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel on Tuesday the question among the paid crowd of 36,613 at Yankee Stadium was “Which one of them would blink first?” In the bottom of the seventh inning it was Scherzer.
Stephen Drew hit a pair of solo home runs, the Yankees scored four runs in the seventh and Tanaka outpitched his counterpart as New York downed Washington to stretch their winning streak to seven games.
Tanaka (4-1) cruised through seven innings having held the Nationals to a solo home run by Bryce Harper, who launched his 20th of the season with two out in the fourth inning that tied the game at 1-1.
Tanaka yielded just the one run on five hits and no walks with six strikeouts throwing just 87 pitches to earn his second straight victory since being activated from the disabled list on June 3.
Scherzer (6-5), meanwhile, entered the seventh inning having held the Yankees to a solo home run by Drew that opened the bottom of the third inning. It was Drew’s eighth home run of the season and it was his 1,000th career hit.
Scherzer had a very close call with one out in the sixth inning when the Yankees had Mark Teixeira on third after a double and Brian McCann at first on a single. Carlos Beltran then hit a sinking line drive to Michael Taylor in center-field.
Taylor dove and appeared to have caught the ball rolling forward. However, second-base umpire Lance Barksdale ruled that Taylor trapped the ball. So Taylor threw the ball in to second baseman Danny Espinosa and Espinosa flipped the ball to shortstop Ian Desmond, who touched second base to retire McCann on what was scored a fielder’s choice.
However, Teixeira failed to make any attempt to score from third despite the fact that Taylor was on the ground in center-field. Didi Gregorius struck out to end the threat and the game remained tied.
Teixeira and the Yankees earned some redemption in the seventh inning when rookie Ramon Flores stroked a one-out single to right, one of three hits Flores’ had on the night. Brett Gardner followed with an bloop opposite-field single to left to advance Flores to second.
One out later, Alex Rodriguez hit a ground ball to the right of Desmond between second and third. Desmond dove to stop the ball and he elected to try to force out Flores at third. But the ball struck Flores and rolled away in foul territory to allow him to score what proved to be the game-winning run.
Scherzer was removed from the game and replaced by former Yankee left-hander Matt Thornton.
The Nationals elected to walk Teixeira intentionally to load the bases and pitch to McCann. However, McCann ruined the strategy by lacing a lined single down the right-field line that scored Gardner and Rodriguez while Teixeira advanced to third.
Beltran capped the uprising by lining a single to left. Fortunately, this time Teixeira did not stay at third and he was able to score on the hit.
Scherzer, who entered the game with a 1.85 ERA, was charged with four runs on eight hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. Teixeira’s run was charged to Thornton.
Drew added his second home run of the game and his fourth in his past three games while leading off the eighth inning off right-hander Taylor Hill.
Right-hander Dellin Betances, left-hander Chasen Shreve and left-hander Andrew Miller combined to pitch two scoreless frames to preserve the victory for Tanaka.
The Yankees are now 33-25 on the season and – combined with the Tampa Bay’s 8-2 defeat by the Los Angeles Angels – they have now moved to a 2 1/2 games up on the second-place Rays in the American League East. The Nationals have now lost 8 of their past 10 games and are 30-28.
- In his two starts since coming off the disabled list, Tanaka has yielded two runs on eight hits with no walks and 15 strikeouts in 14 innings for a sparkling 1.29 ERA. Those two outings lowered his season ERA to 2.48. For those of you who are thinking that Tanaka’s right elbow is being held together with balsa wood and duct tape, you may want to rethink that belief. Tanaka has re-established himself as an ace for the hottest team in baseball.
- Drew is having a very confounding season. Even with his two-homer night he is still only hitting .175. But the 32-year-old second baseman now has nine home runs and 21 RBIs. In addition, he has been the team’s best fielder in terms of sabermetrics. The question is when backup infielder Brendan Ryan comes off the disabled list will the Yankees send hot-hitting Jose Pirela back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre? Drew appears to be saving his job.
- Flores, 23, came up when fellow rookie Slade Heathcott suffered a knee injury on May 27. One thing he has proven since he arrived is that he can play the outfield. He already has thrown two runners out at the home plate and he also made some excellent catches. On Tuesday, he was 3-for-4, scored the game-winning run and he added another sensational catch. In the eighth inning he made a diving catch of a sinking fly ball off the bat of Espinosa for the first out in the eighth inning.
The way the Yankees have been playing I may have to retire this blog category. When you combine good pitching, good defense and some timely hitting off a very tough pitcher in Scherzer you having the makings of great victory. The Yankees are playing with such confidence now that they are showing that they very well may be the class of the A.L. East.
Sorely in need of some right-handed bullpen help the Yankees have signed veteran Sergio Santos to a minor-league contract. Santos, 31, recorded a 4.73 ERA in 12 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season. He elected to become a free agent rather than accept an assignment to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Santos saved 30 games with the Chicago White Sox in 2011. He has been limited to just 65 innings since then due to a rash of injuries.
The Yankees will have a chance to sweep their third consecutive series with a victory over the Nationals on Wednesday.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (5-1, 4.16 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Eovaldi, 25, was sailing along against the Angels on Friday, allowing one run on four hits and one walk through five innings. But he walked the bases loaded in the sixth and had to be removed even though he ended up getting credit for the victory.
The Nationals will send left-hander Gio Gonzales (4-3, 4.57 ERA) to the mound. Gonzales, 29, lost to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, yielding two runs on four hits and four walks with six strikeouts in six innings.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3
There are some managers who will say that their team needs to learn how to win. After four straight losses, Yankees manager Joe Girardi must have given his team a master class in Winning 101 on Wednesday.
Hiroki Kiroda gave the Yankees a solid effort, pitching into the seventh inning, and Mark Teixeira homered and drove in three runs as New York salvaged the final game of a three-game set against Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,710 at Rogers Centre.
Kuroda (5-5) yielded three runs on eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to win his first game since May 28 when he defeated the Cardinals in St. Louis.
Initially, it did not look good for Kuroda when Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first by cranking Kuroda’s first offering into the second deck in the right-field bleachers to give the Blue Jays an early 1-0 lead.
However, Huroda settled in and the Yankees were able to score four runs in the third inning off right-hander Drew Hutchison.
Kelly Johnson opened the frame by drawing a walk and Francisco Cervelli slammed a double into the gap in right-center to score Johnson and tie the game. It was only Cervelli’s second RBI of the season.
Two batters later, Jacoby Ellsbury singled up the middle to score Cervelli and Teixeira then launched a 0-1 change-up into the right-field bleachers to give Kuroda and the Yankees a comfortable 4-1 lead. It was Teixeira’s 14th home run of the season and his second in three games in Toronto.
“The whole dugout was excited about those four runs,” Teixeira told reporters after the game. “It had been a while since we had a lead.”
The Blue Jays, however, did draw closer in the bottom of the fifth.
Munenori Kawasaki drew a one-out walk and with two out Reyes stroked a ground-rule double. Then Melky Cabrera slapped an opposite-field single to left to score two runs to cut the Yankees’ lead to a run.
Hutchison (5-6) left after six innings having given up four runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned six batters.
The Yankees did add a run in the sixth after Blue Jays left-hander Rob Rasmussen walked Brett Gardner, hit Derek Jeter in the foot with a pitch and then issued another free pass to Ellsbury to load the bases.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summoned right-hander Sergio Santos to pitch to Teixeira and Teixeira was able to loft a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Gardner.
The Yankees’ bullpen took it from there as Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and David Robertson held the Blue Jays scoreless on just two hits with no walks and three strikeouts over the final 2 2/3 innings.
Robertson retired all five batters he faced, including striking out the first three batters he faced, to earn his 18th save in 20 opportunities this season.
The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 40-37 and they are now 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays in third place in the American League East. The Blue Jays dropped to 44-36.
- After poor outings from Chase Whitley and David Phelps the past two games, Kuroda was able to keep the Blue Jays contained to allow the Yankee offense to get untracked. Kuroda, 39, has been somewhat of a disappointment after he pitched so well in 2012 and 2013. With his 4.23 ERA, Kuroda could stand to start putting together some good outings and pitch more consistently.
- Teixiera’s three RBIs give him 39 on the season, which currently leads the team. The Yankees are nearly at the halfway point of the season and it is embarrassing that their team leader only has 39 RBIs. But with Teixiera slowed by a hamstring injury and a sore right wrist and Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran all underperforming the Yankees will take anything they can get from Teixeira.
- Ellsbury was 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Ellsbury has now put together a stretch of eight games in which he is 11-for-31 (.355). But he only has one extra-base hit (a double) and three RBIs in that span.
- Brian Roberts was the only Yankee starter who failed to reach base in the game. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Roberts was 7-for-18 (.389) with a home run and two RBIs in his previous five games. Roberts, 36, had his season average fall to .240.
- Despite the victory the Yankees were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and they left the bases loaded in both the fifth and seventh innings. It is getting to the point where pitchers might just as well just intentionally walk the first three Yankees each inning because the odds the Yankees will score any runs is virtually nil.
The Yankees will have a day off on Thursday before opening a three-game home series starting on Friday against the reeling Boston Red Sox.
Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-4, 5.88 ERA) will begin the series for the Yankees. His one victory was on May 7 and he is 0-4 with a 6.12 since then. He gave up four runs on six hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.
The Red Sox will pitch right-hander Brandon Workman (1-0, 2.88 ERA). Workman surrendered two runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in six innings in a no decision against the Cleveland Indians on June 15.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
BLUE JAYS 4, YANKEES 0
The Yankees have been around enough to know that facing a knuckleball pitcher is always a 50-50 proposition. When the knuckleball is not working the game is easy. When it is working you can probably figure on losing.
R.A. Dickey held the Yankees scoreless for 6 2/3 innings and the three relievers who followed him completed the shutout as Toronto downed New York on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 45,446 at Rogers Centre.
Dickey (1-1) was shelled for six runs by the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day on Monday but he rebounded to yield only five hits and one walk while he struck out six to get credit for the victory on Saturday.
His mound opponent, Michael Pineda, was making his first major-league start since the end of the 2011 season and he deserved a better fate.
Pineda (0-1) held the Blue Jays to just one run on five hits, he did not walk a batter and he fanned five in six innings. He ended up on the short end because the Yankees could not solve Dickey or his knuckleball.
The Blue Jays lone run off Pineda came in the second inning when Adam Lind led off with a double and one batter later Josh Thole blooped a single into left to score Lind.
That run held up until the Blue Jays decided to play “Home Run Derby” in the eighth inning off reliever David Phelps. Melky Cabrera cranked a one-out solo shot, his second in two nights against his former teammates.
After Colby Rasmus stroked a ground-rule double, Jose Bautista blasted his third home run of the season to cap the scoring.
Sergio Santos pitched the final 1 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays to earn his second save.
The loss dropped the Yankees’ season record to 2-3. The Blue Jays evened their record at 3-3.
- After Pineda missed two full major-league seasons recovering from shoulder surgery the Yankees have to be extremely pleased with what the 25-year-old right-hander did on Saturday. His fastball reached as high as 95 miles-per-hour. Even more important was that Pineda did not issue a walk. If Pineda is the team’s No. 5 starter they have the makings of one of the best No. 5 starters in baseball.
- Yangervis Solarte continues to be impressive with the bat. The 26-year-old rookie was 2-for-3 with two singles and he is 7-for-13 (.538) on the young season. I was honestly stunned the Yankees would designate for assignment Eduardo Nunez to make room on the roster for Solarte. But now that they have made the move it looks like they made the right choice. The youngster is something special.
- Francisco Cervelli started behind the plate while Brian McCann was the designated hitter and Cervelli was 2-for-3 with a double and he threw out a runner on the bases. Jacoby Ellsbury, who was 3-for-4 on Friday, was 3-for-5 on Saturday. Cervelli, Ellsbury and Solarte combined to collect all seven of the Yankees’ hits.
- The middle of the order had a really rough time with Dickey and the Blue Jays’ relievers. Carlos Beltran, McCann, Alfonso Soriano and Kelly Johnson combined to go 0-for-16 with four strikeouts and they stranded nine base-runners. Beltran killed a big rally with no outs in the sixth after Ellsbury singled and Derek Jeter walked by hitting into a double play. After Ellsbury singled and and Jeter walked to start the eighth off left-hander Aaron Loup, Beltran struck out on a pitch that bounced in the dirt.
- It goes without saying that the Yankees were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. That hit came in the third inning after Cervelli had doubled and Ellsbury delivered a two-out single to center. However, Rasmus’ throw to Thole at home plate beat Cervelli as he slid into home plate. That is pretty much the way the day went for the Yankees.
- Phelps gave up eight home runs in 86 2/3 innings last season. This season he already has given up three in 3 1/3 innings. Phelps, 27, needs to start doing a better job of keeping the ball in the yard.
Before the game started the Yankees placed first baseman Mark Teixeira on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Teixeira, 33, sustained the injury in the second inning of Friday’s game against the Blue Jays as he tried to field a ground ball in foul territory. Teixeira will have an MRI on Monday in New York to determine the severity of the strain. To take his place on the roster the Yankees recalled catcher Austin Romine from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Johnson will take Teixeira’s place at first base and Solarte will take Johnson’s spot at third.
The Yankees will try to win the three-game series against the Blue Jays on Sunday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1, 9.00 ERA) will start for the Yankees trying to atone for a horrible Opening Day start in which he gave up six runs in the first two innings to the Houston Astros before finishing with four scoreless innings.
Sabathia, 33, will be opposed by 23-year-old right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-0, 0.00 ERA), who shut out the Rays on three hits and three walks while striking out four in 5 1/3 innings in his 2014 debut.
Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
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.
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!
The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.
REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES
If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.
The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.
The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.
A DOMINANT KING
Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.
But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.
THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL
The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.
They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.
The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.
But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.
One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.
Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.
Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.
That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.
The offense has its own issues.
Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.
There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.
So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.
THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE
The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.
Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.
They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.
Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.
Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.
Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”
The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.
The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.
Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.
DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY
The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.
They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.
One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.
They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.
The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.
Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.
Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.
The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.
Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.
They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.
They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.
The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.
The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.
The gold remains in the Bronx.
THE STARKS OF BOSTON
In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.
That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.
Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.
They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.
They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.
The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.
Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!
It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.
There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.
Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.
THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING
The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.
It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,
Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.
So why should 2013 be any different?
The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.
Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.
They may even finish last.
But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.
But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.
The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.
You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.
They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.
The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.
The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.
Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.
The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.
It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.
Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.
That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.
They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.
- BLUE JAYS
- RED SOX
For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven.
Today marks the beginning of the 2012 season for the New York Yankees. After a 33-game spring schedule, the team took shape. How will they finish in the American League East? What about the other teams in the division? How will they do this season? Let’s take a look.
Last season marked a titanic shift in the division.
After the Boston Red Sox recorded the biggest implosion in major-league history in September, they are no longer looked upon as an elite in this division. The loss of general manager Theo Epstein and the decision to blame Terry Francona for the team’s demise were bad enough.
But the real shock was to watch the Red Sox take a different approach to trying to fix the team this winter. Instead of just going out and aggressively signing the best free agents available and making bold trades to infuse new blood, the Bosox actually started a coupon-clipping method of solving their problems.
The big names that could have helped them went elsewhere and the Red Sox found that their once-vaunted minor-league system was bereft of immediate-impact talent.
They begin the 2012 season with one of the most important positions on the team left n the hands of someone inexperienced.
If ever this was a microcosm of the Red Sox problems this is it. They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to walk away via free agency. Maligned for his foibles and his occasional blown saves, Papelbon was still an important piece of the success of the franchise. The fans and the press treatment of him bit the team in the rear end.
To replace him the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s, a competent closer who at the same time has had a series of arm ailments that have slowed his development. At the end of spring training, Bailey came up with a thumb injury that will require surgery to repair. He will miss two months – at least.
The Red Sox also traded for Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon. The conventional wisdom was Melanco would replace Bailey. After all, why trade for a closer if he is not going to close? But new manager Bobby Valentine announced that jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) reliever Alfredo Aceves would close instead.
Welcome to Red Sox Nation’s worst nightmare. On Opening Day, Aceves coughed the winning run in a non-save situation.
If there is anyone out there who honestly believes this team can win the A.L. East, I want to know what you are smoking.
There are only two elite teams in this division and they are the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays had an interesting spring where they played a lot like the some of the teams in 1960s like the Dodgers and White Sox, who were so deep in pitching talent they shut out any team. However, at the same time, the offense is so bad that scoring runs is going to take some real effort.
Don’t get me wrong. The Rays and manager Joe Maddon have ways of scoring. Carlos Pena may struggle to keep his average around .190 but he will likely hit 30 home runs. Evan Longoria, surrounded by lightweights, will be pitched around and his average will suffer also. But he will win his share of 2-1 games with home runs.
Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton and the rest of Rays also use their feet to create havoc on the bases. That will get them their share of runs at times. But the old adage “You can’t steal first base” comes into play. The Rays have to reach base in order to steal bases. This team also lacks the athleticism past teams had when Carl Crawford was here.
How many bases will catcher Jose Molina steal? I rest my case.
No, the Rays’ sole means of winning comes with their starting rotation. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann are the center of the ballclub. The Rays have attempted to build a bullpen around them but they begin the season with their closer, Kyle Farnsworth, on the disabled list with a sore elbow.
That is huge red flag to me.
Could you say that the Yankees would be favored to win a championship with Mariano Rivera on the DL and expected to miss two months like Bailey? How about if Rivera complained he had a sore elbow?
Nope. No matter how stacked your pitching staff is you have to have a closer and Farnsworth is the best the Rays had in 2011. If he is lost for a long period of time, it puts pressure on Maddon to “shorten” his bullpen. That means keeping his starters on the mound longer than most managers would allow.
That exposes them to possibly losing close games because starters do run out of steam at some point. While a manager like Charlie Manuel might take Cliff Lee out after 121 pitches because he has Papelbon and a deep bullpen, Maddon may say let’s let Price get out of this in the eighth because I do not think J.P. Howell has been effective lately.
It becomes a slippery slope and you start lengthening and lengthening your starters until they begin wearing down.
That is my concern with the Rays.
In addition, they do not have the money and means to ever go to a Plan B. What they have on the roster has to work or they fall.
One team that intrigues me is the Blue Jays.
They already have Jose Bautista. You add to that third baseman Brett Lawrie and a bunch of guys who hit the ball hard and you have the makings of a great offense. Too bad the Rays do not have this offense.
The Blue Jays will put a lot of runs on the board. They have a lot of power and line-drive hitters top to bottom in the lineup.
However, their pitching revolves around Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Brett Cecil has been sent to the minors and Dustin McGowan’s comeback has been slowed by injury. Their bullpen does have a closer in Sergio Santos they stole from the White Sox and a former closer in Francisco Cordero they signed from the Reds.
If manager Jon Farrell can piece enough starters to go six, the Blue Jays just might have what it take to pass the Red Sox in third place in this division. Stranger things have happened.
The one given in the division is where the Orioles will finish. Mismanagement, bad luck and foolish spending have really derailed this franchise.
Buck Showalter is a good manager but this team is mired with problems. The young pitching the Orioles counted on has failed to take the big leap forward they expected.
They made big bets on players like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and they have underwhelmed. They lack a big bopper like a Bautista who can change a game. Instead, they can build around emerging star catcher Matt Wieters.
That just about sums up the Orioles.
Now we come to the Yankees.
They won 97 games last season despite the fact Alex Rodriguez played in 99 games, only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had good seasons with the bat and their rotation contained Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
How many will they win when they get a healthy season out of Rodriguez, more of their hitters have better seasons with the bat and a rotation that now has Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, a healthy Phil Hughes to go along with ace lefty CC Sabathia?
Their bullpen even without Joba Chamberlain is loaded with Rivera closing like he always has at age 42 and David Robertson and Rafael Soriano shortening games to six innings.
The team has closed the pitching gap with the Rays and their offense is simply the best in the division. Add to that the division’s best bullpen and a veteran bench and you have the makings of another A.L. East title for the team in the Bronx.
I have not seen evidence that would contradict the premise. The only thing that could derail the Yankees is the age of the team. Injuries also are a great equalizer. But, other than a bad spate of injuries there is nothing that will stop this team in 2012.
Here is the predicted order of finish:
1) New York Yankees
2) Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
3) Toronto Blue Jays
4) Boston Red Sox
5) Baltimore Orioles
If this order holds up, look for Valentine to be scanning the help wanted ads in October. He already has the team hating him. If it gets much worse he might be scanning those ads in July.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 2 – TORONTO BLUE JAYS
When you think of the Blue Jays these days, just one name comes to mind: Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays basically rode Bautista to an 81-81 record last season, the first season for manager John Farrell.
Though Bautista was able to slug his way to 43 home runs and 103 RBIs and a .302 average despite being pitched around and walked 132 times, the Blue Jays offense could not cover up problems in the Jays’ starting rotation and bullpen.
This season Bautista figures to have a lot more help with the offense but the Jays were unable to bid successfully for Japanese League star right-hander Yu Darvish. As a result, their pitching remains a big question mark heading into 2012. If they get some good pitching from their starters they could actually be much better than they were in 2011.
Left-hander Ricky Romero begins the 2012 season as the unquestioned ace of this team after compiling a 15-11 record and a 2.92 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 225 innings. Romero’s deadly change-up is his best pitch and he keeps hitters off-balance working off his low 90s fastball. At age 27, he has made great strides in just two major-league seasons.
Once again, right-hander Brandon Morrow will be the No. 2 starter, though he actually would be more valuable as a closer. Morrow, 27, throws high-octane gas but has a habit of missing the strike zone and getting bogged down in deep counts. That raises his pitch count and Morrow tends to tire quickly. Hence, he was 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA despite striking out 203 batters in 179 1/3 innings.
The big disappointment was left-hander Brett Cecil, who was 15-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 2010 but was 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA in 20 starts last season. Cecil, 25, regressed so badly he was sent back to the minors for a part of the season. Because the Jays have few options for their rotation, Cecil likely will be given another shot to stick in 2012. If he succeeds, as he did in 2010, the Jays will have a solid top three pitchers.
Right-hander Henderson Alvarez came up in the middle of the season and finished with a 1-3 record and a 3.53 ERA in only 10 starts. Alvarez, only 21, is an excellent control pitcher and he could end up making a huge leap forward if he can secure the No. 4 spot this season.
The Blue Jays are also counting on old friend to be their No. 5 starter in Dustin McGowan, who pitched briefly last season for the first time since the 2008 season. Shoulder problems derailed what looked to be a promising pitcher in 2007 when he was 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA for the Jays. The Jays are counting on him bouncing back this season.
The pressure is on McGowan, too. There is little depth behind him.
In short, this Blue Jays rotation looks to be a bit suspect but it has the potential to exceed expectations.
The most signifcant moves the Jays made was the signing 36-year-old right-hander Francisco Cordero as a free agent and acquiring 28-year-old right-hander Sergio Santos from the White Sox.
Leaky middle relief and the lack of a consistent closer cost the Jays dearly last season.
Cordero likely was signed to be a setup man for Santos despite the fact Cordero nailed down 36 saves in 43 chances with the Reds last season. Cordero was 5-3 with 2.45 ERA with the Reds but he still will to defer to Santos.
Santos came out of nowhere last season to become the White Sox closer with 30 saves in 36 tries and a 4-5 record with a 3.55 ERA. Should Santos falter for any reason, Cordero could easily slide into that role by virtue of his 327 career saves.
The Blue Jays also bolstered their bullpen by adding seemingly ageless left-hander Darren Oliver (who is 41) to a bullpen that already includes steady right-handers Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen. Former starter Jesse Litsch and long man Carlos Villanueva add depth to what now looks to be a strong group in 2012.
Bautista will not be shuttling from right-field to third base as he has in the past. The reason is the Jays think they have their third baseman for the forseeable future in Brett Lawrie.
Lawrie came up late in 2011 and showed he was ready for prime time by hitting nine home runs and driving in 25 runs with a .293 batting average in only 150 at bats. Projected over a full season, Lawrie’s numbers would approach Bautista’s. So Lawrie bears watching as a star of the future if he isn’t already.
Adam Lind also helped the Jays by slugging 26 home runs and driving in 87 runs hitting behind Bautiista. Though Lind could stand to hit better than the .251 mark he posted, the Jays have to be encouraged that he hit .243 against left-handers last season.
The Jays gave up on second baseman Aaron Hill and acquired Kelly Johnson from the Diamondbacks in a trade of Hill. However, Johnson and Hill are virtually alike in they are both mid-average power hitters. Johnson hit 21 home runs in 2011 after hitting 26 in 2010. Johnson also can steal bases. He swiped 16 last season.
The Jays also traded for troubled Cardinals outfielder Colby Ramus, who rejected hitting advice from coaches in St. Louis while posting a .225 batting average with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. Because the Jays have failed in developing prospect Travis Snider into a major-league hitter the team has moved on hoping Ramus fulfills his early promise.
Rounding out the outfield is left-fielder Eric Thames, who hit .282 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in just over half a season.
The Jays did seem to strike gold by prying shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Braves. Escobar, 29, hit .290 with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs as a leadoff hitter for most of the 2011 season.
The DH spot likely will go mostly to Edwin Encarnacion, who hit .272 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs in 134 games last season.
This Blue Jay offense is laden with power but Farrell introduced the concept of the stolen base to the formerly station-to-station Jays. However, the team leader, Rajai Davis, stole 34 bases but is now cast in a bench role so I am not sure how much stealing this team will do in 2012.
The Jays also developed a young catcher in J.P. Arencibia, who had 23 home runs and 78 RBIs in a his rookie season. But even with all that production, Arencibia hit just .219. He needs some work on defense too but the Jays are hopeful because he is only 26.
Davis, a speedster who had hit .284 with 50 steals for the A’s in 2010 fell off to hit .238 for the Jays in 2011. So he is locked in a battle with former Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco for a backup spot.
Though Snider has been a disappointment for the third straight season, the left-handed slugger just turned 24 and the Jays remain hopeful he someday will put it together. He may land back in Triple-A for the 2012 season, however.
Mike McCoy will be the primary infield reserve. He lacks range but is solid at second, short and third.
Jays backup catcher and defensive wizard Jose Molina left as a free agent for the rival Rays so the Jays acquired former Angels catcher Jeff Mathis to back up Arencibia.
The Jays figure to hit more home runs and still fewer bases in 2012. It is team that you can shut down if you have good stuff. But it also is a team that can destroy a pitcher who continually falls behind in the count and does not have good stuff.
The biggest weakness on the team looks to be in the thin starting rotation. Romero is the only real quality pitcher because Morrow has yet to take the next step in his development into a starter, Cecil is a biq question mark, Alvarez needs to prove he belongs and McGowan is pitching after three mostly inactive seasons rehabbing after major shoulder surgery.
The bullpen should be improved and both Santos and Cordero have experience closing. The Blue Jays have some good relievers besides them in Oliver, Frasor and Janssen.
With some real improvement the Jays could contend for the division this season. But in this division, their starting pitching could prevent them from staying competitive as the season unfolds.
I see the Jays perhaps creeping over the .500 mark but still finishing fourth.
ON WEDNESDAY – PART 3 TAMPA BAY RAYS
MLB WINTER MEETINGS
The mood at the Hotel Anatole in Dallas is edgy as there is just one major player this winter and it is not the New York Yankees.
Nor the Boston Red Sox.
Nope, it is the Miami Marlins, who seem to be like the woman who used pepper spray on other shoppers at a Wal-Mart on Black Friday. They have landed a closer in Heath Bell, a shortstop in Jose Reyes and they are trying to land the biggest fish (pardon the pun) in the free-agent waters in Albert Pujols with a 10-year offer.
OK, Red Sox Nation, where are the angry posts and tweets about the Marlins trying to buy a pennant?
Yankee general manager Brian Cashman has not been invisible but he is finding potential moves to improve the roster frustrating. To carry the Marlins pun a bit further, the big fish are at the deep end of monetary limits and Cashman is finding it hard to find the right bait on the hook to land the mid-priced filets.
The Oakland Athletics are shopping 26-year-old Gio Gonzalez, who was 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA in 2011. Gonzalez figures to command a lot of money come arbitration and the A’s know they likely can’t afford to keep him. However, the A’s are looking for a young power-hitting outfielder in return. The Yankees do not have anyone fitting that description on their roster. So it is not likely that this will be a trade that bodes promise.
The White Sox dealt their 2011 closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays on Tuesday and now general manager Ken Williams is saying that it is unlikely that they will trading anyway of their other pitchers.
“As we currently sit, I do not like what is currently being offered for any of our valuable veteran pieces,” Williams told reporters, “so I’m of the mindset that … we’ll probably keep most of the pitching intact.”
Which means that any potential interest the Yankees might have had in 26-year-old left-hander John Danks is pretty much dead in the water. The White Sox were asking for a combination of young Yankee prospects including catcher Jesus Montero and lefty pitching prospect Manny Banuelos or right-hander Dellin Betances. In other words, the Chisox were seeking two of the Yankees’ three best prospects.
That price may be bit too high for Cashman.
Cashman has also heard trade offers for Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Ivan Nova and Brett Gardner. But it does not seem to make much sense to open an outfield spot, a starting rotation spot or give up an important piece of the bullpen in order to acquire a No. 2 or No.3 starter in return.
Oh, and by the way, you notice that teams are asking for the Yankees’ homegrown talent? For all the talk about the Yankees “buying pennants” they have made significant strides in bringing up talented players out of their minor-league system and this winter we are seeing how valuable those commodities are to other teams.
One potential Yankee free-agent target could be 37-left-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who apparently has dropped his objection to pitching in New York. The Yankees actually discussed acquiring Kuroda last July but the deal fell through and Kuroda ended up 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA wit the Dodgers. Besides never having pitched in the American League, Kuroda also is 36. So there are some concerns with the former Japanese All-Star.
Cashman is still listening but he feels he can wade through the offers carefully since the Yankees can leave Dallas empty-handed and still be happy about their current roster. At some point the GMs positions will have to soften and the agents representing the free agents might have to lower their sights.
Cashman is betting on that. But the timing for those bargains will not be in Dallas. It likely will come in January. In this game, patience can be a virtue.
Fortunately, Cashman has lots of it. Like the Marlins, he can do a little fishing of his own.