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 14, ROYALS 1
After losing 10 of their past 11 games the Yankees went into Monday’s Memorial Day matinee just hoping to show some kind of life for a team that was 21-12 on May 11. Well, they quickly proved to the Royals that they were far from dead.
The Yankees jumped on Jeremy Guthrie for 11 runs with no outs in the second inning and Nathan Eovaldi pitched a solid seven-plus innings as New York ended a frustrating six-game losing steak by pounding Kansas City in the opener of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium.
After averaging just over three runs in their past 11 games, the Yankees received three-run home runs from Brian McCann, Brett Gardner and Stephen Drew, while also adding a pair of two-run homers by Chase Headley and rookie Slade Heathcott.
Guthrie (4-3) pitched to 13 batters in the first inning and three more in the second before departing charged with a career-worst 11 runs on nine hits (four of them homers) and three walks with one strikeout.
Headley started the Bronx bombing with a two-run shot after Gardner had led off the first with a double. Three batters later, McCann hit a hit-arcing fly ball that ticked off right-fielder Paulo Orlando’s glove and into the first row for a three-run home run.
Later in the inning, Gardner lined a round-tripper of his own to tack on three more runs, which made the score 8-0.
After McCann walked to open the second, Garrett Jones singled and both runners advanced on a fielding error in right by Orlando. Drew then ended Guthrie’s second-shortest career outing with a long blast into the second deck that padded the lead to 11-0.
Eovaldi (4-1), who was one of the worst-supported pitchers in the National League in 2014 when he was pitching for the Miami Marlins, was able to breeze his way through the Royals’ high-octane offense. He was charged with one run on eight hits and one walk with four strikeouts.
The Royals’ lone run came in the fifth inning on a one-out double by Alcides Escobar and a two-out bloop RBI single off the bat of pinch-hitter Jarrod Dyson.
The Yankees added a single run in the fifth off left-hander Franklin Morales on a one-out walk to Gardner, a wild pitch that allowed Gardner to take second and an RBI double by Headley.
They added two more in the seventh off right-handed closer Greg Holland on a leadoff walk to Didi Gregorius and the first major-league homer from Heathcott.
The 14 runs matched their season high the Yankees scored against the Boston Red Sox in a 14-4 victory on April 12. The five home runs also tied a season high set in an 11-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on May 11, which ended up being the beginning of a dreadful 11-game slide that started the next day.
With the victory the Yankees improved to 23-22 and they climbed to within a half-game of the first-place Rays in the American League East. Both teams are tied in the loss column. The Royals, who entered the day with the best record in Major League Baseball, dropped to 28-16.
- Gardner, Headley, McCann and Drew each drove in three runs. The Yankees now lead the majors with 48 runs scored in the first inning. They have not scored more than 25 runs in any other frame. This is the power and offense the Yankees need consistently and they also need to be able to put teams away once they do get out to early leads. Lately they have been coughing up leads and never getting them back.
- Even with the early 8-0 and 11-0 leads, there was still pressure on Eovaldi to pitch well and go seven innings since the past three days the starters only were able to pitch 6 2/3 innings. So give Eovaldi credit for continuing to pitch into the eighth inning. Eovaldi kept the hot-hitting Royals off-balance with a mixture of a lot of off-speed pitches. He had an especially sharp slider.
- Ostensibly, Heathcott was brought up to bolster the bench with Jacoby Ellsbury on the disabled list with a sprained knee. But the 24-year-old Texas native is 5-for-12 (.417) with a double, a homer and three RBIs in four games (three starts). Heathcott was the team’s first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft but he has been hampered throughout his minor-league career with serious shoulder and knee injuries. He likely will get a lot more playing time going forward. It also is no coincidence that Jones, 33, is 6-for-11 (.545) with a homer and three RBIs since his three-run pinch-hit homer on May 22. Jones was hitting .150 with no homers and one RBI before that home run. Heathcott still could make Jones expendable when Ellsbury returns.
I would hard-pressed to come up with anything negative. I could say they did not get the shutout but that would be quibbling. This is a game the Yankees really needed to stop the major bleeding this team inflicted upon itself during the previous 11 games. The thing now is to back it up with another victory, then another and another, etc.
The Yankees on Monday selected the contract another rookie, left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren, from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and optioned right-hander Branden Pinder to the same the club. They also made room on the 40-man roster for Lindgren by shifting backup infielder Brendan Ryan from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list. Lindgren, 22, made his major-league debut against the Royals and pitched two scoreless innings of relief. Lindgren, a starter for Mississippi State, was the team’s first selection in the second round (55th overall) in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. He is the first Yankee draft pick to play in the majors within 12 months of being drafted since Deion Sanders did it in 1989. . . . McCann was 1-for 3 with a homer, two walks, two runs scored and three RBIs on Monday despite being unsure if he would even be ready to play. McCann left Sunday’s game against the Texas Rangers in the eighth inning with tightness in his right calf and foot. McCann, 31, was able to play because the tightness turned out to be just cramps and nothing serious. Meanwhile, outfielder Carlos Beltran, 38, missed another game with flu-like symptoms. He is day-to-day, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Monday.
The Yankees will continue their three-game home series with the Royals on Tuesday.
Right-hander Adam Warren (2-3, 4.26 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Warren, 27, took a tough loss on Wednesday to the Washington Nationals. He was charged with yielding just two runs on four hits and four walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.
The Royals placed left-hander Danny Duffy on the 15-day disabled list on Monday with left biceps tendinitis and they will start left-hander Jason Vargas (3-1, 5.26 ERA) when they activate him off the disabled list on Tuesday. Vargas was on the DL with a left flexor strain and has not pitched since May 5.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast by WPIX.
With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.
NEW YORK YANKEES
First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.
That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.
With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.
The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.
Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.
However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?
The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are – at least for now – going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.
The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.
If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.
Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.
All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.
A pair of speed demons – Ellsbury and Gardner – are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.
Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.
The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.
The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.
The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.
Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.
That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.
Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.
He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.
It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.
This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.
Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.
But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.
Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.
Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.
What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.
Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.
But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.
The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.
Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base – although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.
The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.
John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.
But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.
But the promise is even brighter longer term.
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.
Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.
At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.
Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.
Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.
Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.
This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.
Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.
With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.
Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.
They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.
A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.
BOSTON RED SOX
This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.
Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.
They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.
However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.
Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.
No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.
There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?
Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.
The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.
Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.
The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.
They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.
The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.
They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).
They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.
This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.
Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?
Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.
They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!
After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans – all of about 7,000 of them a game – it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.
Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.
To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.
The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.
Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.
You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.
Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.
So there is a lot to like.
The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.
They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.
It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!
But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)
3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)
4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86) Hello Montreal!
The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!
NATIONALS 8, YANKEES 2
Stephen Strasburg held the Yankees to one run on six hits in 5 1/3 innings and Bryce Harper stroked an RBI triple to spark a three-run first inning as Washington downed New York on Friday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Strasburg (2-1) walked one and struck out six to get credit for the victory.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-3) yielded three runs on three hits and two walks in the first inning. But Sabathia recovered and ended up yielding no runs on just two hits and a walk in his remaining 4 1/3 innings of work.
Mike Carp hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning off right-hander Nick Goody to put the game out of reach.
The Yankees completed their Grapefruit League schedule with a 16-16-1 record.
- At first glance Sabathia’s 0-3 record and 8.10 ERA this spring is a bit alarming. However, Sabathia was a totally different pitcher after the first inning. He retired 12 of the final 15 batters he faced, striking out two. At least it is something to build upon for his next scheduled start on April 9 at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays.
- It also should not surprise anyone that the two Yankee RBIs against the Nationals came from Chase Headley and Rob Refsnyder. Headley laced a two-out RBI double into the right-center gap off Strasburg in the fourth inning. Refsnyder added a two-out RBI double of his own in the ninth inning. Headley led all of the Yankee roster players in batting this spring with a .321 average and he drove in eight runs. Refsnyder led all players with 16 or more at-bats in hitting for a .372 average.
- The Yankees did not play well at all in the final week of the spring. They entered the week 15-12 and ended up 16-16. The major reason why was they did not hit well as a team. That pretty much was an ongoing theme of the spring. In their four losses this week they scored five runs on just 15 hits. You can’t sugarcoat it. This team is just dreadful offensively.
- One of the biggest culprits this spring was Brett Gardner. The 31-year-old outfielder was 9-for-56 (.161) with no homers, three RBIs and 16 strikeouts. The odd thing is that Gardner was coming off his best season in terms of homers (17) and RBIs (53).
- With such bullpen stalwarts as David Robertson, Shawn Kelley and David Phelps gone and Adam Warren being moved into the rotation due to the injury to Chris Capuano, it stood to reason the bullpen might need time to gel. But it is a source of concern leaving camp because Dellin Betances (6.14 ERA), Chasen Shreve (4.67), David Carpenter (4.70) and Chris Martin (4.50) all had some shaky moments this spring.
Because of the struggles of Betances, manager Joe Girardi again on Friday refused to name a closer. It is looking as if the right-handed Betances and left-hander Andrew Miller will share the role and will be used depending on specific ninth inning matchups. “I really think that if you do it that way and as long as you’re prepared, it has a chance to be advantageous to you,” Girardi told reporters. . . . Right-hander Ivan Nova threw a 45-pitch bullpen session on Friday without any setbacks. Nova, 27, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, will remain in Florida to continue his rehab and is expected to be able to return sometime in June. . . . In a bit of a surprise, Slade Heathcott was named on Friday as the winner of the James P. Dawson Award as the the Yankees’ outstanding rookie of the spring, Heathcott, 24, was 11-for-31 (.355) with a homer and seven RBIs in 21 games. I think Refsnyder was a much better hitter and should have won the award.
The Yankees are now in Washington, DC, for the final exhibition game on Saturday against Nationals at Nationals Park.
Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi will start for the Yankees after going 1-1 with 0.66 ERA in four games (three starts) this spring.
The Nationals will start right-hander Doug Fister, who was 0-0 with 7.02 ERA in five spring starts.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast for free on MLB.com.
YANKEES 7, ASTROS 0
KISSIMMEE – Chase Headley pounded out three hits, including his third home run of the spring, and drove in three runs to support Nathan’s Eovaldi’s strong 4 2/3 innings of shutout baseball as New York blanked Houston on Sunday at Osceola County Stadium.
Headley got the Yankees’ offense started against right-hander Scott Feldman (0-2) with a two-out solo home run in the third inning that hit the top of the right-field field wall and bounced over. He later broke the game wide open in the sixth with a two-out, bases-loaded single off right-hander James Hoyt that drove in two runs to cap a four-run rally and extend the Yankees’ lead to 7-0.
Meanwhile, newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (1-1) continued a string of impressive appearances this spring by shutting down the Astros on just three hits. He did not walk a batter and he fanned five.
For the Yankees it was their second consecutive road shutout of the spring. On Friday, the Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 10-0 in a game called in the sixth inning due to rain.
With the victory the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 15-12.
The Yankees have historically leaned towards trading away young pitchers and acquiring veteran pitchers on the north side of 30.
There are many examples of young pitchers the Yankees traded before they became stars like Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek, Ted Lilly and Ian Kennedy. Just this winter the Yankees traded David Phelps and Shane Greene. It is just something for which Yankee fans have grown accustomed.
The script got flipped, however, when veteran infielder Martin Prado and Phelps were packaged to the Miami Marlins in a trade for first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, Eovaldi, a 25-year-old right-hander, and a promising 22-year-old right-hander Domingo German.
Basketball coaches always say that you can’t teach size and baseball managers say accordingly that you can’t teach a pitcher velocity. Eovaldi has a gifted right arm that possesses outstanding velocity. His fastball can reach as high as 98 miles per hour.
In fact, FanGraphs.com ranked Eovaldi’s fastball as the fourth highest in velocity last season among major-league pitchers. The oddity was Eovaldi led all National League pitchers in hits allowed (223) and he only managed 142 strikeouts in 199 2/3 innings.
His 6-14 record and 4.37 ERA also would have you scratching your head after you saw that sizzling heater of his.
So Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild did some tinkering with Eovaldi’s fastball and his secondary pitches this spring to bring his hits allowed down and raise his strikeout totals. In short, they want him to take the next step in being a dominant pitcher.
After Sunday’s sterling effort, it appears that Eovaldi – with Rothschild’s help – is doing just that. In Eovaldi’s four spring appearances (three starts) he is 1-1 with a team-best 0.66 ERA. He has yielded just one run on 10 hits with no walks and 14 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
If you add a potentially dominant Eovaldi to 26-year-old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and 26-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda then you might have an excellent trio of young starters to build a team around.
But don’t just take my word on Eovaldi. You can hear it from a fellow graduate of his from Alvin High School in Alvin, TX, who was watching Eovaldi on Sunday in his role as an executive advisor to the Astros – some guy named Nolan Ryan.
“I haven’t watched him in person, only on television, but I’ve followed him ever since he’s been in high school,” Ryan told reporters. “I really think that the better part of his career is still ahead of him.”
The Yankees might just have something special in this young Eovaldi. And the best part is he is not 34 years old and past his prime.
- I really ripped this team for how bad they looked on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, against the Baltimore Orioles in a 10-2 loss. But they bounced back nicely on Sunday and scored seven runs and collected 11 hits and drew seven walks. But he oddity this spring is that the Yankees are 8-5-1 and have outscored their opponents 77-44 on the road while they are 7-7 and have been outscored 64-46 at home. This may be because the young players have been doing most of the hitting this spring and they are playing more on the road.
- In addition to Headley’s three hits, the Yankees got another stellar effort at the plate from Rob Refsnyder. The 24-year-old second baseman was 2-for-3 with two doubles and two runs scored and an RBI. Refsnyder is now 12-for-35 (.343) with five doubles, one home run and five RBIs. He is ticketed for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he does need to get better in the field, but this young player has all the makings of a great hitter.
- Esmil Rogers, 29, may have blown his opportunity to be the team’s No. 5 starter this spring. But he still has some value in the bullpen. Rogers looked sharp in retiring all five batters he faced and he fanned two of them.
I will not nitpick this one. If you toss shutout ball and score seven runs there is not much there to fix.
Alex Rodriguez made his major-league debut as a first baseman on Sunday and handled three chances flawlessly in his three innings of work. Manager Joe Girardi envisions Rodriguez as potential fill-in at first base behind starter Mark Teixeira and Jones. “Catching the ball, I’m not worried about that. I’d think he’d be pretty good around the bag, even scooping, because you get a lot of those hot shots at third base,” Girardi told reporters. . . . Teixeira suffered a right knee contusion on Sunday playing in a minor-league game at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa. Teixeira left the game immediately and was limping afterward. But he told reporters that he was “fine.” . . . Shortstop Didi Gregorius received treatment and said there was improvement in his strained left wrist that he sustained in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Gregorius said he is sure he will be ready to play on Opening Day. . . . The Yankees released right-hander Scott Baker but they hope to re-sign him to a new minor-league contract. Baker, 33, originally was signed to a deal that would have forced the Yankees to pay him a retention bonus. The Yankees would like Baker to sign a minor-league deal without the bonus. That is the same basis they re-signed right-hander Jared Burton on Sunday. Burton, 33, had been released three days ago. He only pitched in four games this spring because he suffered a strained lat. In addition to the Burton signing, the Yankees also optioned right-hander Bryan Mitchell to Scranton and sent right-hander Kyle Davies to minor-league camp. The team also optioned outfielder Ramon Flores to Triple-A and re-assigned catchers Francisco Arcia and Kyle Higashioka, infielders Cole Figueroa and Jonathan Galvez, outfielder Slade Heathcott, left-hander Jacob Lindgren and right-hander Nick Rumbelow to minor-league camp.
The Yankees will take the day off on Monday before resuming their final week of spring training games on Tuesday at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, FL, as the Yankees play the Minnesota Twins.
Tanaka will make what will be his final spring appearance before he opens the season on April 6 at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays. Tanaka is 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA in his three spring starts.
The Twins will counter with left-hander Tommy Milone, who is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 9, TIGERS 8
In a pattern that is all to familiar the “Baby Bombers” once again snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on Tuesday.
Ramon Flores laced a three-run homer just barely over the right-field wall in the bottom of the ninth inning to bring New York all the way back from an 8-2 deficit to a walk-off victory over Detroit at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.
Flores, with the Tigers one pitch away from victory, connected on an inside fastball off right-hander Rafael Dolis (0-2) for his second home run of the spring to cap a four-run rally in the final frame.
Trailing 8-5, Aaron Judge started the rally by drawing a walk and stealing second base. John Ryan Murphy followed with a one-out RBI single.
Ali Castillo drew a two-out walk and Flores sent what was left of the crowd of 10,921 happy with his game-winning shot.
Diego Moreno (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to get credit for the victory.
The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 13-9.
When discussing the Yankees talented young players it is as if Flores is an afterthought.
That is probably because the 5-foot-10, 190-pound outfielder is not blessed with tremendous power (36 career home runs in the minors) or blazing speed (59 stolen bases). His career minor-league average is a rather ordinary .271.
But somehow when you put it all together Flores remains a viable young prospect at 22. (He will turn 23 on Thursday.)
His dramatic home run against the Tigers on Tuesday is not real surprising in that Flores has two home runs and five RBIs this spring despite the fact he is hitting just .172 (5-for-29).
Flores was considered one of the hottest prospects in the Yankees’ organization after his 2012 season as he hit a combined .303 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 132 between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
But he has been kind of running in place since then. He batted just .260 at Trenton in 2013 and had an injury-plagued season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014.
Though he will not make the 25-man roster this spring, Flores remains a pretty important player for the Yankees heading in the 2015 season. The reason is that should any of the Yankees’ outfielders sustain an injury, Flores likely would one of the first players the Yankees would look to call up.
That suits Flores just fine. He would love to get a chance to prove what he can do in the majors. He really opened some eyes on Tuesday.
- Give the young Yankees credit for bringing the Yankees back from a 8-2 deficit as the game entered the bottom of the seventh. The Yankees managed to bat around against left-hander Kyle Ryan and the Tigers. Chris Young doubled, Didi Gregorius slashed an RBI double and Slade Heathcott was hit by a pitch. Jonathan Galvez drew a walk to load the bases. Francisco Arcia drove in a run with a RBI groundout and after, another walk loaded the bases, Kyle Higashioka drew a bases-loaded walk off right-hander Buck Farmer, who had replaced Ryan. This three-run rally set up the game-winning rally in the ninth.
- Gregorius’ RBI double in the seventh came off a left-hander. The knock on Gregorius is that he was incapable of hitting lefties. But manager Joe Girardi is giving Gregorius the chance to prove he can hit them. Thus far, the 25-year-old shortstop is 4-for-13 (.308) against left-handers this spring and he is (5-for-20) .250 against right-handers. It is now appearing that Girardi will not use a platoon of Gregorius and Brendan Ryan at shortstop.
- Brett Gardner took a more aggressive approach on the bases on Tuesday and he ended up with his first two stolen bases of the spring. However, Gardner was also cut down in the first inning trying to take third on a fly ball off the bat of Chase Headley. Center-fielder Anthony Gose stunned Gardner on a perfect throw to Nick Castellanos at third for a double play.
- Esmil Rogers was making his last start as a contender for the No. 5 starter position and things did not go well for the 29-year-old right-hander. He was tagged for six runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks with two strikeouts in three innings. The reason only one run was earned was due to his own error in the second inning on high chopper off the bat of Jose Iglesias. That opened the floodgates to a two-run single by Ian Kinsler and a two-run double by J.D. Martinez.
- Stephen Drew actually did get a single in the fourth inning off starter Anibal Sanchez, which is wonderful because Drew entered the contest batting .161. But Drew either is crazy or he was not paying attention when Gose cut down Gardner. Trying to stretch the single into a double, Drew ended up a dead duck at second on a perfect throw from Gose. It was not a very bright play, Drew.
The Yankees will play host on Wednesday to the New York Mets.
Masahiro Tanaka will start his third contest of the spring. He is 1-0 with 0.00 ERA. His positioning also has him lined up to open the season for the Yankees on April 6 at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Mets will counter by starting right-hander Rafael Montero, who is 0-0 with a 5.40 ERA in two appearances this spring. This will be his first start.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, ASTROS 2
The hallmark of the spring has been the play of what manager Joe Girardi calls the “Baby Bombers.” On Saturday, they struck again and this time the Astros paid the price.
Jake Cave lofted a sacrifice fly to deep right-field to score pinch-runner Slade Heathcott as New York rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to down Houston at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Nick Noonan opened the ninth inning with a ground single to right off right-hander Will Harris (0-1) and Aaron Judge followed with a lined single to left.
One out later, Eddy Rodriguez doubled in Noonan and Judge and advanced to third on a throwing error by left-fielder Andrew Aplin. Heathcott came off the bench to run for Rodriguez and later scored on Cave’s game-winning sac fly.
Left-hander Jacob Lindgren (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the victory.
The Yankees trailed from the first inning when George Springer launched a one-out triple and Chris Carter followed with a two-run home run off right-hander Michael Pineda. It was the first runs Pineda had allowed this spring.
Pineda later settled in and finished up by yielding just the two runs on four hits and no walks with six strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings of work.
With the victory the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 12-7.
- It is no accident that the young Yankees like Cave, Judge and Heathcott are leading late rallies. Cave, 23, is 5-for-12 (.417) with a home run and five RBIs. Cave’s spring average is the highest of any Yankee player with 10 or more at-bats. Heathcott, 24, is next on that list. He is 7-for-17 (.412) with a homer an four RBIs. Judge, 23, is 4-for-14 (.286) with a homer and three RBIs. Remember these names because they all could be playing in Yankee Stadium in a few years.
- Even though Pineda, 26, was rocked by a double, a triple and a home run in his outing on Saturday, he did throw well. He struck out five of the last 10 batters he faced. He also ended up throwing 42 of his 56 pitches for strikes. “I’m happy because today is a good outing. I’m feeling good,” Pineda told reporters. “This is very important for me. I’m feeling great.”
- Give a lot of credit also to the bullpen for holding the Astros scoreless. Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow and Lindgren combined to pitch 5 1/3 innings, yielding only one hit and one walk with eight strikeouts. Yankee pitchers combined to strike out 14 Astros. That is awesome.
- The regulars continue to struggle at home. Mark Teixeira was 2-for-3 and Carlos Beltran, Didi Gregorius and Brian McCann picked up a hit apiece. But Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Chris Young and Stephen Drew combined to go 0-for-10.
- Gardner, 31, is having a particularly bad spring so far. He is 5-for-34 (.147) with no homers and two RBIs. He also leads the team in strikeouts with 10. With just 13 exhibition games remaining it would be nice to see the speedy outfielder pick it up a little.
- Austin Romine, 26, started as the designated hitter and was 0-for-2. He is now 4-for-20 (.200) on the spring. Romine is battling John Ryan Murphy to be McCann’s backup behind the plate. But Murphy, 23, is doing even worse at the plate. He is 2-for-22 (.091), the lowest Yankee average among players with 10 or more at-bats. Romine is out of options so he could end up making the 25-man roster so that Murphy could catch full-time and get regular at-bats at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Gardner gave the crowd something to cheer and laugh about in the first inning. But it was no laughing matter to Girardi. When Young reached the wall on Carter’s blast he leaped to get it and lost his glove over the fence in the process. Gardner took it upon himself to scale the 8-foot fence to retrieve both Young’s glove and Carter’s home run ball. He then climbed back over the fence. Most of the crowd of 9.914 gave Gardner a standing ovation. Girardi, however, was not pleased. “We’ve seen guys hit a home run, jump up and land on the plate and break an ankle,” Girardi told reporters. “I told him, ‘This isn’t Little League.’ Gardy thought he was in the movie The Sandlot or something.”
The Yankees will make a 2 1/2-hour trip south to Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, FL, on Sunday to face the New York Mets.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1) will make the start for the Yankees. Sabathia’s first start on Tuesday against the Blue Jays was a bit shaky. Toronto scored two runs on four hits in two innings. He is scheduled to throw 45 to 50 pitches on Sunday.
Right-hander Matt Harvey, who is on the comeback trail after undergoing Tommy John surgery, will start for the Mets. Harvey is 0-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three starts.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.