Tagged: Shane Victorino

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

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.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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!

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

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

NEW YORK YANKEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAMPA BAY RAYS

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

If you don’t you lose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOSTON RED SOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

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

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

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

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

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

Now that is some reclamation project.

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

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

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

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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

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

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

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

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

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

 

 

Re – Dempster – tion:

Hit By Pitch Early, A-Rod Spurs 4-Run Rally With Homer 

GAME 123

YANKEES 9, RED SOX 6

Revenge may be a dish best served cold. But when Alex Rodriguez is the chef, the pot somehow boils over from a steaming cauldron.

After being deliberately hit with the fourth of four inside pitches from right-hander Ryan Dempster as he led off the second inning, Rodriguez blasted a 400-plus-foot rocket to the deepest part of centerfield at Fenway Park to lead off the sixth as part of a four-run rally that led New York to a victory over Boston on Sunday.

After Rodriguez’s second home run of the season the Yankees loaded the bases and chased Dempster from the premises. Left-hander Drake Britton came on and Brett Gardner greeted him with a three-run triple to center that turned what had been a 6-4 deficit into a 7-6 lead.

With a national television audience watching via ESPN, the sellout crowd of 37,917 that had cheered loudly when Rodriguez was hit in the second inning suddenly became eerily quiet, perhaps realizing that when their team is holding an 8 1/2 lead on the Yankees it might not have been too prudent for Dempster to awakened a sleeping lion.

Dempster (6-9) faced 22 batters after he purposely plunked A-Rod  –  seemingly to show his displeasure at Rodriguez’s legal right to appeal his 211-game suspension through an agreement long ago reached by the Major League Players’ Association  –  and he gave up seven runs on eight hits and a walk in that span before departing after pitching 5 1/3 innings.

“Whether you like me or hate me, that was wrong. It was unprofessional and silly. Kind of a silly way to get somebody hurt on your team as well. Today kind of brought us together.”

                                                                                                                                                                                            – Alex Rodriguez 

Sleeping lion no more.

The Red Sox stormed out to an early 2-0 lead against CC Sabathia (11-10) in the first inning after Sabathia walked David Ortiz to load the bases.  Jonny Gomes drove in Jacoby Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly and Jarrod Saltalamacchia scored Shane Victorino with a lined single to center.

But Dempster opened the second frame by tossing his first pitch so far inside at Rodriguez it sailed behind him. Dempster then followed with two pitches that backed Rodriguez from the plate. His fourth pitch was a hard fastball that grazed Rodriguez’s left elbow and struck his ribs.

As both benches and bullpens began to empty, home-plate umpire Brian O’Nora immediately leaped from behind the plate to warn both both benches. However, Yankees manager Joe Girardi disputed O’Nora’s failure to toss Dempster from the game since all four pitches were thrown inside. But O’Nora rejected his argument and ejected an irate Girardi from the game.

The Yankees immediately got even.

Curtis Granderson slapped a double down the right-field line and Eduardo Nunez followed with an RBI single to left-center that scored Rodriguez. Lyle Overbay then plated Granderson with a sacrifice fly to left.

The Yankees added a run in the third off Dempster thanks to Rodriguez.

Ichiro Suzuki and Robinson Cano opened the frame with consecutive singles and Suzuki was able to move up third on a flyout to right by Alfonso Soriano.

Rodriguez then got his first measure of revenge off Dempster on the night when he rolled a ball to short that scored Suzuki on the groundout to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

However, Sabathia was unable to hold the lead.

Victorino lead off the third inning with a double and he advanced to third on a flyout off the bat of Dustin Pedroia and scored on a rollout to first by Ortiz.

The Red Sox added a pair of runs in the fourth on a sacrifice fly from Stephen Drew and a solo home run by Will Middlebrooks. They added another run in the fifth when Sabathia issued an Intentional walk to Saltalamacchia to load the bases with two out only to have Sabathia throw low on a 3-1 pitch to Daniel Nava to score the Bosox’s sixth run.

But Sabathia ended the inning by striking out Drew on three pitches to leave the bases loaded. That turned out to be THE key out of the game.

Rodriguez then opened the sixth with what proved to be the longest home run hit by a Yankee all season. Rodriguez made sure he gave a little grief back to Dempster and the booing crowd by throwing up his right fist as the ball cleared the centerfield wall and he stopped at home plate to look up and point his two index fingers skyward.

One out later, Nunez slammed a long single off the Green Monster in left. Overbay then dumped a single into right and Chris Stewart drew a four-pitch walk to end Dempster’s evening.

Britton, who was tagged for three runs on five hits in one inning by the Yankees on Friday, then was greeted by Gardner’s high-arcing drive to center that just missed landing over the wall, ending up as a bases-clearing triple that turned the game to the Yankees favor for the rest of the evening.

The Yankees added a run in the seventh when pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds blooped a single to center off left-hander Franklin Morales to score Granderson.

They added another run n the ninth off wild right-hander Rubby De La Rosa after he hit Jayson Nix to open the frame. He later uncorked a wild pitch to advance Nix to second, Nix stole third and he scored on Stewart’s one-out single to left.

Despite not pitching at his best, Sabathia got credit for the victory. He gave up six runs on seven hits and five walks while he fanned five in 5 1/3 innings.

The Yankees’ vaunted bullpen  – which has been a source of strength all season  –  behind Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera kept the Red Sox scoreless over the final 3 2/3 innings on two hits and two walks while they punched out five batters to preserve the victory.

Rivera, who entered the game after blowing his past three saves opportunities for the first time in his 17-season major-league career, pitched around a two-out single by Ortiz and a walk to Gomes to retire the tying run in Saltalamacchia on a fly ball to left to earn his 36th save in 41 chances this season.

Dempster ended up a bigger loser than he already was in the second inning. He  gave up a whopping seven runs on nine hits and one walk while he struck out three in 5 1/3 innings.

But the bigger loss is that he perhaps awoke the Yankees from a slumbering state and allowed then to rally around their controversial teammate to win a very important three-game series at Fenway.

The Yankees are now 64-59 and they are in fourth place in the American League East, 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox, who are 73-53. The Yankees are just six games behind in the wild-card standings.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Opposing fans and even some Yankee fans can hate Rodriguez all they like, but the man is helping this team’s offense in a big way. He finished the game 3-for-4 with a home run, two runs scored and two RBIs. Since his return from the disabled list on Aug. 5, Rodriguez is hitting .319 with two home runs and six RBIs in 12 games.
  • When both benches emptied in the second inning, Gardner had to be physically restrained by Cano from storming out to the mound to get Dempster. However, Gardner paid Dempster back the best way he could with that triple off Britton that added three more runs to Dempster’s ERA and turned him from a potential winning pitcher to what he really is now   –  a loser. Dempster’s ERA would have been 4.58 without the three-run triple. As it is, Dempster’s ERA rose to 4.77. Gardner was 2-for-5 with three RBIs and he is now hitting .315 with runners in scoring position and is .429 with the bases loaded.
  • Nunez was having himself a very good game until he had to leave in the sixth inning with a tight right hamstring. Nunez was 3-for-3 with two lined shots off the left-field wall, two stolen bases and an RBI. In his past nine games, Nunez is 12-for-34 (.353) with six runs scored and six RBIs. But if Nunez is placed on the disabled list it would be the third time this season he would have missed significant time due to injury.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The only true negative is that the Yankees needed to win the game so badly that they were unable to take the opportunity to get some retribution for Dempster’s cowardly act. If you think Dempster was standing up for his fellow major-league players, he wasn’t because those same players agreed to the rules that allowed Rodriguez to appeal his suspension. If Dempster had a beef, he should have taken it up with Commissioner Bud Selig for not issuing a ban through the Collective Bargaining Agreement or the Players’ Association. Dempster made himself look like a fool, lost the game, rallied the Yankees around their embattled teammate and woke them up enough to beat the Red Sox. I can’t see any positives for Dempster or the Red Sox in it. It was stupid decision.

BOMBER BANTER

On the same day his manager and his teammates rallied around him, Rodriguez will not be hearing much from general manager Brian Cashman and other members of the Yankees’ front office. Cashman said on Sunday that he does not feel comfortable talking with Rodriguez other to say hello or goodbye because of Rodriguez’s lawyers intentions to file a grievance with the Players’ Association alleging the Yankees knew Rodriguez was seriously injured during the end of the 2012 season and played him anyway. One of Rodriguez’s attorney, Joseph Tacopina, told The New York Times on Saturday that the Yankees concealed MRI results that would have shown Rodriguez’s left hip was injured during the 2012 playoffs. Yankees president Randy Levine said the claim was inaccurate, adding that Tacopina “needs to put up or shut up.”  . . .  Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter took batting practice and fielded ground balls at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa, FL, but he will not be activated when he is eligible to come off the disabled list on Tuesday. Jeter, who is recovering from a strained right calf, still has not run the bases or participated in a simulated game, which he needs to do before he will be activated.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have Monday off before opening a four-game homestand on Tuesday with a day-night doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The doubleheader was scheduled as a result of a rainout on May 19.

Ivan Nova (6-4, 2.99 ERA) will start the day game and Phil Hughes (4-12, 4.97 ERA) will pitch in the nightcap. Right-hander Esmil Rogers (3-7, 4.91 ERA) will pitch in the afternoon contest for the Blue Jays while Mark Buehrle (9-7, 4.29 ERA) will pitch the late game.

Game-time for the opener is 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network. The night game will begin at 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by MY9.

 

Hafner’s Four RBIs Ruin Ex-Indian Mates’ Opener

GAME 7

YANKEES 11, INDIANS 6

For 10 seasons Travis Hafner played for the Cleveland Indians and  –  when he was healthy  –  he drew loud cheers with his prodigious power and consistent run production. But the Indians elected to cast him aside last winter and the New York Yankees decided to give him a chance to recapture some of his old magic at age 35.

On Monday, Hafner returned to where he still makes his home and he had a big hand in spoiling the Indians’ home opener.

Hafner went 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBIs and an ice-cold Robinson Cano rediscovered his stroke for a double and pair of solo home runs as New York laid a heavy war club all over Cleveland in front of a sellout crowd of 41,567 at Progressive Field.

During the pregame introduction of the players Hafner, nicknamed “Pronk,” drew a nice ovation from his former home fans. But those cheers quickly turned into stunned silence with one out in the first inning when Hafner launched a 2-0 fastball off starter Ubaldo Jimenez (1-1) over 400 feet clearing the wall in centerfield for a three-run home run.

Hiroki Kuroda (1-1), making his second start and admittedly not 100 percent after getting nicked on his right middle finger by a line drive off the bat of Shane Victorino of the Boston Red Sox last Wednesday, struggled through a 33-pitch first inning that yielded three runs to the Tribe on three hits and two walks to knot the game back up.

But Hafner provided the Yankees with a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the day in the third. Cano slapped an opposite-field double to lead off the inning and one out later Hafner delivered an RBI single to center to score Cano.

Kuroda, though not at his best, was still able to settle in to keep the Indians scoreless until he left the game in the sixth inning. Kuroda ended up surrendering just the three runs on five hits and four walks while he struck out six batters.

The Yankee offense, meanwhile, was able to continue to tack on runs against Jimenez.

Cano, who entered the game hitting .130, led off the fifth inning with a home run to left-center. One out later, Hafner drew a walk and Jimenez was removed from the game in favor of right-hander Matt Albers.

After Vernon Wells singled to right and Hafner was able to thunder into third, Ichiro Suzuki scored him with a bloop single to right.

Jimenez was charged with seven runs on seven hits and three walks and he fanned four in 4 1/3 innings.

With two out an inning later, Cano blasted the first offering he saw from Albers into the right-field seats for his second home of the game and the his second of the season. The rout was pretty much on after that.

The Yankees added three more runs in the seventh off veteran left-hander Rich Hill to increase the margin to 11-3. The team that supposedly was so decimated with injuries to their best hitters ended the game with 13 hits and the Yankees have scored 18 runs on 26 hits in their past two games.

With the victory the Yankees improved their early-season record to 3-4. The Indians fell to the same record.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hafner entered the game hitting .350 and he ended up 2-for-3 with two walks, three runs scored and four RBIs. Hafner is now batting .391 for the Yankees with two home runs and six RBIs. For those Yankees fans who believed that the Yankees were dead offensively without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson may want to  rethink that position.
  • Cano busted out of his six-game funk in a big way. He was 3-for-4 with a double, two home runs, four runs scored and two RBIs. The good news for Yankee fans is that Cano started hitting the ball the opposite way instead of trying to pull everything and making easy outs.
  • Wells, 34, is another reclamation project that is paying big dividends for the Yankees. Wells entered the game hitting .294 and went 3-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and a stolen base. Wells is now hitting .381 with two home runs and four RBIs. All of Wells three hits on Monday were hit to the opposite field. In 2012 Wells posted the worst statistical average of any player hitting to the opposite field.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Granted, Kuroda was not sharp as his four walks would indicate. But you have to give the 38-year-old right-hander some credit for pushing through a difficult start with command issues as a result of his bruised middle finger on his pitching hand. After the first inning, Kuroda only gave up two hits until he was removed with one out in the sixth inning.
  • Shawn Kelley is trying manager Joe Girardi’s patience. He entered the game with two out in the seventh inning and held a 11-3 lead when he started the eighth. He ended up giving up a double, a two-run home run to Mike Aviles and a triple and allowed a third run to score on a wild pitch. In 5 1/3 innings of work over four appearances, Kelley has coughed up six runs on seven hits and three walks. He also has been tagged for three homers.
  • Joba Chamberlain is also walking a fine line. He entered the ninth inning sporting a 21.60 ERA and ended up walking two batters and needing 29 pitches to get out of the ninth unscored upon. However, Girardi had Mariano Rivera get up to warm up in the bullpen and Girardi was not pleased.

BOMBER BANTER

After missing two starts at shortstop, Eduardo Nunez returned to the starting lineup and he was 0-for-4 but he did drive in a run in the seventh with a sacrifice fly. Nunez has been sidelined with a bruised right biceps after he was struck by a pitch by Tigers right-hander Doug Fister on Friday.  . . .  While the Indians and their fans saw Hafner wearing Nick Swisher’s old No. 33 for the Yankees on Monday, Swisher was wearing No. 33 for the Indians in his first meeting against the Yankee team he played for the past four seasons. Swisher played first base and batted fourth for the Tribe and he was 1-for-3 with two walks and a run scored.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their midweek four-game series with the Indians on Tuesday.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (1-0, 1.13 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Pettitte was in vintage form in his first start of the season, limiting the Red Sox to one run on eight hits over eight innings last Thursday. Pettitte is 5-4 with a 3.87 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Indians.

He will be opposed by right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who is making his first start of the season replacing injured left-hander Scott Kazmir. Carrasco is 10-15 with a 4.93 ERA in 33 career major-league starts. He is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Pettitte Turns In Vintage Outing To Unravel Bosox

GAME 3

YANKEES 4, RED SOX 2

Most major-league teams conduct “Turn-Back-The Clock” nights to feature vintage era teams. The New York Yankees held their own version of “Turn-Back-The-Clock” night on Thursday and they did it only with a 40-year-old starter and a 43-year-old reliever.

Andy Pettitte threw eight dominant innings of one-run ball and Mariano Rivera began his final season in Major League Baseball with his first save as New York recovered from an 0-2 start to the season to beat Boston in front of a paid crowd of 40,611 on another chilly night at Yankee Stadium.

Pettitte looked to be in vintage 1996 form, when he won 21 games for the Yankees. Using his patented style of peering over the edge of his glove, Pettitte (1-0) scattered eight hits, walked one and struck three while holding the hated Bosox scoreless through six innings.

Their lone score off Pettitte came with two out in the seventh inning when Will Middlebrooks punched an opposite-field single and Jackie Bradley Jr. plated him with a double high off the wall in right-center.

Much earlier in the game, the Yankees finally took their first lead of the season in the second inning when Travis Hafner led off the frame with a single off veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster (0-1). Two outs later, Eduardo Nunez blasted a ground-rule double in right-center and Lyle Overbay scored Hafner and Nunez with an opposite-field single to left-center.

Though the Yankees are missing a lot of power with Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez injured, the Yankees broke out the long-ball on Thursday from two of their least likely “Bronx Bombers.”

Brett Gardner led off the third inning with a first-pitch golf shot off Dempster that just scraped over the wall into the first row of the right-field bleachers for his first home run of the season and only the 16th of his career.

With the Yankees leading 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Francisco Cervelli touched off a mammoth shot to left-center on a 3-1 offering from reliever Clayton Mortensen for Cervelli’s first home run of the season and only the fifth of his career. The ball actually struck high off the wall in the Red Sox bullpen and nearly landed in the bleachers.

Pettitte left after eight innings and handed the ball to a familiar teammate, Rivera.

The future Hall-of-Fame closer did give up a leadoff walk to Dustin Pedroia and a one-out double down the left-field line by Jonny Gomes. Pedroia scored on a groundout by Middlebrooks but Rivera struck out Bradley looking to record the 609th save of his 19-season career.

It also was the 69th time that Rivera had saved a victory for Pettitte, which is tops in the majors since the statistic was first recorded in 1969.

Though the Red Sox won the series, the Yankees at least got a measure of payback to improve their record to 1-2.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • For those who thought Pettitte might be through at age 40, you are dead wrong. Though Pettitte did allow nine base-runners, he kept the ball in the ballpark and used three double plays to prevent the Red Sox from manufacturing any offense. Pettitte threw 64 of his 94 pitches for strikes (68 percent) and he never was seriously in much danger of losing his 3-0 lead.
  • Overbay, 35, came through with a huge two-out hit in the second inning and general manager Brian Cashman’s decision to sign him after the Bosox released him in the final week of spring training may prove to be a good move while the Yankees await Teixeira’s return from a torn tendon his right wrist.
  • Gardner and Cervelli showed that the Yankees do not always have to rely on “little ball” to win games. But don’t expect this pair to be piling up a lot of dingers this season. The Yankees won this game with good pitching, good defense and some opportunistic hitting.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • If the Yankees are going to have to rely on more of a running game this season it would nice if their top base-stealers would not get thrown out on the basepaths. Gardner was thrown out at second base in the first and Nunez was nabbed the same way in the sixth. Both of them were nailed by backup Red Sox catcher David Ross.
  • After his 3-for-4 night on Wednesday, the Red Sox made sure Vernon Wells did not get a fastball to hit on Thursday. Wells did not adjust and was 0-for-4 with a strikeout.
  • In this series the Red Sox trotted out a new shift on Robinson Cano in which they shifted third baseman Middlebrooks into short right-field. It evidently bothered Cano because he hit two balls right to Middlebrooks and was 0-for-3 with a walk and is hitting .091 after three games.

BOMBER BANTER

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda told reporters on Thursday that he still is feeling discomfort in his bruised right middle finger but that he still hopes to be able to be ready for his next start in Cleveland on Monday. Kuroda was struck on the finger as he reached up to stop a hard line drive off the bat of Shane Victorino in the second inning and he later was forced to leave the game. Kuroda is scheduled to throw a bullpen session in Detroit on Friday and he will know then if he will be able to pitch.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi changed the lineup to have Cano batting second and Kevin Youkilis batting third. Girardi said he decided to make the change to break up three left-handed hitters at the top of the lineup against Dempster.  . . .  The Yankees decided to give right-hander David Aardsma his unconditional release on Thursday. Aardsma, 31, had a 3.52 ERA this spring, but he was designated for assignment because the team preferred right-hander Shawn Kelley, who could offer multiple innings out the bullpen.

ON DECK

The Yankees travel to Detroit on Friday for the Tigers’ 2013 home opener.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-0, 4,19 ERA this spring) will start for the Yankees seeking redemption from a 2012 season in which he was 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA. In his short career, Nova is 0-1 with a 9.24 ERA against the Tigers.

He will  be opposed by right-hander Doug Fister (2-3, 5.68 ERA this spring), who pitched 6 1/3 innings of shutout baseball in Game 1 of the 2012 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. He is 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA versus the Yankees in the regular season.

Game-time will be 1:08 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Bosox Finger Kuroda As Buchholz Handcuffs Yanks

GAME 2

RED SOX 7, YANKEES 4

Yankee fans realize there is something wrong with this team but they just can’t seem to put a finger on it. On Wednesday night, Hiroki Kuroda put a finger on a screaming line drive in the second inning and it ended his evening  –  and with him went pretty much any chance of a victory.

Clay Buchholz pitched seven innings of one-run baseball and the Red Sox took advantage of Kuroda’s early departure as Boston downed New York on a crisp, cold and windy evening at Yankee Stadium.

Already down 1-0, Kuroda (0-1) opened the second frame by giving up a lined single up the middle off the bat of Shane Victorino. Unfortunately, Kuroda threw up his pitching hand and the ball grazed his right middle finger as it zipped into centerfield. After a few warmup tosses, Kuroda elected to stay in the game.

However, the normally pinpoint control Kuroda displays was gone. He hit the next batter, Jackie Bradley Jr., and  –  after recording an out  –  he walked Jacoby Ellsbury to load the bases and then hit Daniel Nava to force in a second run. Kuroda was then forced to leave the game.

The Red Sox subsequently pounced on a less-than-sharp Cody Eppley in the third after he induced an inning-ending double play in the second.

The Red Sox pounded Eppley for four runs on four hits, scoring all four runs after two were out in the inning. The big blow was a two-run single by Ellsbury off reliever Adam Warren.

Buchholz, meanwhile, held off the Yankees, giving up only a solo home run to Travis Hafner with two out in the fourth inning.

Buchholz (1-0) surrendered six hits and two walks while he struck out four batters.

The Yankees did manage to rally in the eighth inning off left-hander Andrew Miller and right-hander Alfredo Aceves.

Miller opened the frame by hitting Ichiro Suzuki with a pitch and Aceves entered the game one out later and gave up a single to Kevin Youkilis. After Hafner grounded out, Vernon Wells launched a line-drive blast into the left-field bleachers to bring the Yankees to within three runs.

But it was the proverbial too little and too late for the Yankees.

Joel Hanrahan pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up his first save as a Red Sox closer.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Warren pitched well in his 5 1/3 innings of work in relief. He gave up one run on five hits and a walk while he fanned four. But his real contribution was saving the rest of the bullpen from having to pitch after Kuroda was forced to leave the game so early. Though I still think Warren is not a great long-term solution to the Yankees’ pitching puzzle, you have to give him kudos for this outing.
  • Hafner was 1-for-2 in the opener and he was 1-for-4 on Wednesday with his first home run in pinstripes. Hafner’s blast was a legitimate Yankee Stadium home run. It landed in the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center. Now if he could only connect with men on base we might have a good designated hitter here.
  • Wells collected three of the team’s eight hits and all of them came off fastballs. Wells was 3-for-4 with his first Yankee homer and three RBIs. The Yankees’ scouting department noticed this spring that Wells had a much quicker bat than he had shown the past few years and the gamble to sign him may be paying off.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Eppley pitched poorly after not pitching well this spring. The 27-year-old side-winding right-hander was a valuable piece to the bullpen in 2012, going 1-2 with a 3.33 ERA and limiting right-handers to a .227 average in 46 innings. Of course, manager Joe Girardi exposed him by having him pitch to two switch-hitters in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Victorino and the lefty-swinging Bradley in the third inning. All three got hits off Eppley. 
  • It is hard to get runners on base and score runs when your leadoff hitter goes 0-for-5. Brett Gardner did not have a good night. He struck out twice and looked overmatched at the plate in just about every at-bat.
  • The Yankees were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and they are 3-for-15 in the first two games of the season. You can blame it on the free-agent defections and injuries if you like, but the bottom line is it is going to have to improve if the Yankees want to contend in 2013.

BOMBER BANTER

Kuroda underwent X-rays and CT scan of his right hand after the game and the tests only showed a bruised middle finger. However, Kuroda told reporters he is not sure if he will be able to make his next start. Kuroda is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday in Detroit and he should know more then. Warren would likely make the start of Kuroda is unable to pitch.  . . .  Mark Teixeira told reporters that he believes he could be ready to play for the Yankees by May 1. Teixiera is recovering from a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist. He was expected to miss eight to 10 weeks but Teixeira said he thinks he could be ready by the first of the month. That is roughly the same time Curtis Granderson (broken right forearm) and Derek Jeter (recovering from a surgery on a fractured left ankle) are expected to be back.  . . .  Right-hander Phil Hughes (bulging disk in his upper back) was cleared to pitch on Saturday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in a rehab start. Hughes will likely rejoin the rotation after that start.  . . .  The Yankees elected to release left-handed reliever Clay Rapada after designating him for assignment last week. Rapada, 30, has been sidelined with bursitis in his left shoulder but the Yankees decided they needed to make room on the 40-man roster. Rapada was 3-0 with a 2.82 and limited left-handers to a .186 in 38 1/3 innings.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to salvage the last game of the opening homestand on Thursday against the Red Sox.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (2-0, 3.52 ERA) will toe the rubber for the Yankees. Pettitte, 40, was 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees last season, a season cut short by fractured right ankle. Pettitte is 15-9 with a 4.16 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Bosox.

He will opposed by veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster (1-2, 3.74 ERA). Dempster, 35, was a combined 12-8 with a 3.34 ERA between the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers last season. He is 0-4 with a 7.62 ERA in five career starts against the Yankees.

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.

 

No Rave Reviews For Sabathia, Yankees In Opener

GAME 1

RED SOX 8, YANKEES 2

Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday was a lot like getting dressed to the nines, renting a limo with a beautiful girl escorting you and taking in a Broadway play only to find out that the part of Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” is not being played by  Philip Seymour Hoffman but by Emilio Estevez.

No Derek Jeter. No Alex Rodriguez. No Mark Teixeira. No Curtis Granderson.

Heck, this production could be called “Death of a Ballclub” and it looked like it was put on by an amateur repertory company in Paducah, KY.

CC Sabathia (0-1) struggled with his command and gave up four runs in the second inning while the depleted Yankees offense could not make up the margin as Boston became the first team since 1986 to beat New York in a home opener in front of a paid crowd of 49,514.

Jon Lester (1-0) pitched five solid innings, giving up two runs on five hits and two walks while he struck out seven batters. The Red Sox bullpen shut down the Yankees the rest of the way on just one hit and two walks.

Newly acquired Shane Victorino keyed the four-run second inning with a two-out, two-run single that gave the Red Sox a 3-0 lead. He added an RBI single in the ninth that closed out the scoring for the Bosox.

The Yankees lone scoring came in the bottom of the fourth inning when Francisco Cervelli stroked a two-out, two-run single off Lester to draw the Yankees to within two runs at 4-2.

But the Red Sox added a single run in the seventh and three more in the ninth.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though it seems odd to say this, the Red Sox did not exactly rip the cover off the ball against the Yankees. There was a bunt single and four infield hits among the Red Sox 13 hits. The Red Sox got timely hits and they could not have rolled them into better spots. They were more lucky than good.
  • Cervelli has always seemed to have a knack for getting the big hit at the right time and it is starting to look like his 2013 season may be no different. He laced a 1-2 cutter off Lester down the left-field line to score Kevin Youkilis, who led off the inning with a double, and Vernon Wells, who drew a walk.
  • Former Mariners right-hander Shawn Kelley made his Yankee debut and pitched a perfect eighth inning, striking out one batter and needing only 12 pitches to dispatch the Red Sox. Kelley was the only Yankee relief pitcher to pitch a perfect inning.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sabathia has always been a slow starter so it is no surprise that he is 0-2 with a 7.42 over his five Opening Day starts with the Yankees. Sabathia was tagged for four runs on eight hits and four walks and he struck out five in his five innings of work. 
  • Joba Chamberlain’s 2013 debut was nothing to write home about either. He gave up a single and two walks to load the bases with one out. After fanning Jose Iglesias, Jacoby Ellsbury hit an infield single that scored two runs and Victorino followed with a single to left to end Chamberlain’s day. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and he is going to have to pitch better than he did on Tuesday if he wants to reman in pinstripes.
  • With the lefty Lester pitching, manager Joe Girardi elected to bat Eduardo Nunez second and shift Ichiro Suzuki to the seventh spot in the order. Nunez ended up going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and he left three men on base while not getting a ball out of the infield.

BOMBER BANTER

As part of the Opening Day ceremonies, the Yankees paid tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting last December in Newtown, CT. The Yankees saluted the first responders to the tragedy and conducted a solemn moment of silence for the victims and their families.  . . .  Rodriguez was with the team for the first time since Game 4 of last October’s American League Championship Series and he told reporters than his rehab from surgery on his left hip is going well. But he did not say when he would be able to return – only that it would be this season. Rodriguez said, “I love when people say, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you’re old.’ I find it a great challenge.” He declined to comment on questions about the Miami clinic that has been alleged to have distributed performance-enhancing drugs to a number of major-league players including Rodriguez.  . . .  Right-hander Phil Hughes threw seven innings in an extended spring training game for High-A Tampa at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa, FL. Meanwhile, Jeter and Granderson also participated in workouts.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off to regroup from their disappointing opener before playing the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-2, 1.53 ERA) is coming off a career-year in 2012 with career highs in victories, starts, innings and strikeouts. He also had an excellent spring. He is 2-1 with a 3.43 ERA against the Red Sox in his career.

Kuroda will be opposed by right-hander Clay Buccholz (3-0, 0.79 ERA), who is coming of a disastrous 2012 campaign marred by injury and ineffectiveness. He was 11-8 with a 4.46 ERA. He is 2-5 with a 7.19 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast locally by the YES Network and nationally by ESPN2.