YANKEES 9, ASTROS 6
Since he arrived in Houston on Thursday, Mark Teixeira had not been feeling real comfortable at Minute Maid Park. He entered the day 0-for-7 in the series and he stood at the plate in the eighth inning 0-for-4 in Saturday’s game.
But Teixeira is not feeling so bad about Houston now.
His one-out, two-run double in the eighth inning broke a 6-6 tie and allowed New York to defeat the Astros despite blowing a 6-0 lead earlier in the game.
Brett Gardner opened the eighth by drawing a walk from right-hander Pat Neshek (3-1). Chris Young followed by hitting a ground ball to third baseman Luis Valbuena, who threw to second baseman Jose Altuve in an effort to force Gardner.
However, second-base umpire Joe West ruled that Altuve never touched the base. after he caught the ball. Gardner was ruled safe and Altuve was charged with a what ended up being a very crucial error. Astros manager A.J. Hinch challenged the call but it was confirmed by replay.
One out later, Teixeira ended his 0-for-11 slump in Houston by driving a 3-2 pitch high off the wall in left-center for a double that scored both Gardner and Young with the go-ahead runs.
Chase Headley padded the lead to three runs by hitting his eighth home run of the season – a solo shot off left-hander Tony Sipp in the ninth.
Left-hander Chasen Shreve (5-1) pitched two-thirds of an inning of scoreless relief in the bottom of the seventh inning to get credit for the victory.
Left-hander Justin Wilson pitched a scoreless eighth and right-hander Dellin Betances finished the ninth to earn his sixth save in seven opportunities this season.
The Yankees opened the game as if it would be an easy victory for them when they loaded the bases against left-hander Brett Oberholtzer in the first inning.
Gardner led off with a double while Young and Alex Rodriguez both drew walks. After Teixeira flied out, Brian McCann blasted a 1-0 change-up well into the right-field bleachers for his 12th homer of the season and 11th career grand slam to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead.
With one-out in the second inning, Gardner stroked another double and Young, a Houston native who entered the game with a .410 career average and 10 homers at Minute Maid Park including a three-run game-winning home run on Friday, hit a two-run blast to left to give the Yankees a 6-0 lead.
Oberholtzer then threw a pitch so far inside to Rodriguez that it nearly hit him. Home-plate umpire Rob Drake immediately ejected Oberholtzer from the game for, in his judgment, deliberately trying to hit Rodriguez with a pitch.
Oberholtzer was charged with six runs on four hits and three walks with one strikeout in 1 1/3 innings, the shortest outing of his career. He entered the game 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA.
However, right-hander Masahiro Tanaka was unable to hold the big lead and suffered through his second bad outing in a row.
With one out in the second inning, Domingo Santana doubled to left and Chris Carter followed with an RBI double off the wall in center to score Santana. One out later, George Springer scored Carter with an RBI single to left.
With two in the fourth, Carter got to Tanaka again with a long blast into the left-field bleachers for his 13th home run of the season.
The Astros then opened the third with Springer drawing a walk and rookie Carlos Correa shooting an opposite-field home run to right for his fifth home run of the season. Altuve then followed by lacing a shot into the left-field stands for his sixth home run of the season to tie the game at 6-6.
Tanaka left having yielded six runs on seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts in five innings. The three home runs matched the three home runs he surrendered to the Tigers and the six runs allowed were a career high.
Fortunately for Tanaka, Teixeira was finally able to break out of his minor hitting slump in time to hand the Yankees their second victory in a row in the three-game series with the Astros.
With the victory the Yankees are now 41-34 on the season and they remain a half game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Astros fell to 43-34.
- Gardner continues to sparkle on offense. He was 3-for-6 with two doubles, a single, a walk and he scored three runs. On May 8, Gardner was hitting .326. But a prolonged slump saw his average drop all the way to .271 on June 3. Since June 3, Gardner is 31-for-86 (.360) with five home runs and 17 RBIs. That has raised his season average back to an even .300.
- Teixeira’s two RBIs now give him 53 on the season and that leads the team. It also puts him in a three-way tie with Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers and Stephen Vogt of the Oakland Athletics for first place in the American League. Teixeira is now hitting .263 with 14 homers and 42 RBIs against right-handers this season.
- One of the best-kept secrets on this team has been 24-year-old Shreve, who has won five games in relief and is sporting an excellent 1.72 ERA in 27 games. When the Yankees dealt left-hander Manny Banuelos to the Atlanta Braves they were expecting big things out of right-hander David Carpenter and they were hopeful Shreve would develop. Well, Carpenter has been released and Shreve has not given up an earned run since May 22, a stretch of 14 appearances and 14 2/3 innings. He has been very valuable since closer Andrew Miller has been on the disabled list.
- The elbow naysayers are already barking because Tanaka has been shelled for 13 runs (11 earned) on 17 hits and four walks in 10 innings in his past two starts. That includes six home runs and his ERA has climbed to 3.88. However, his fastball was clocked up to 94 and averaged 92. So the elbow is fine. The problem is Tanaka is throwing the cutter way too much and he is falling behind in the count too often. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told reporters that he will be working with Tanaka on tightening his mechanics on his delivery and that he should be better next time out.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury ran the bases and hit on the field at Minute Maid Park on Saturday and, if he does well doing the same on Sunday, he could be sent out to Tampa, FL, on a rehab assignment. Ellsbury has not played since May 19 due to a strained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. Manager Joe Girardi said he does not think Ellsbury will need many at-bats in the minor leagues to get ready but he refused to place a set number of at-bats on his return.
The Yankees could claim three of the four games in the road series with the Astros with a victory on Sunday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (8-4, 4.25 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Pineda is coming off a horrible outing against the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday when he was charged with a season high eight runs on 11 hits in 3 1/3 innings.
Right-hander Collin McHugh (8-3, 4.80 ERA) will start for the Astros. McHugh held the Los Angeles Angels to two runs on nine hits and one walk with six strikeouts in eight innings on Tuesday.
Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, INDIANS 3
In a very short time Travis Hafner, nicknamed “Pronk” for “Project Donkey,” is making fans in The Bronx forget all about Raul Ibanez and his trademark clutch home runs in 2012.
Hafner carved out his own niche on Wednesday with two out in the eighth inning when the pinch-hitter grabbed a piece of lumber that looked like a maestro’s baton in his beefy hands and swatted the first pitch he saw from David Hernandez (0-1) and sent the ball into a high-arcing orbit into the right-centerfield bleachers to give New York a dramatic 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Arizona at Yankee Stadium.
Hafner’s fourth home run of the season followed a dramatic three-run rally in the seventh inning against Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley and reliever Tony Sipp.
CC Sabathia (3-1) was looking like a sure loser trailing 3-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. The Diamondbacks jumped on him in the first inning for two runs on a leadoff single by A.J. Pollock and a two-run opposite-field home run by Paul Goldschmidt.
The D-backs added another run in the fifth on a leadoff triple off the bat of Josh Wilson and a sacrifice fly by Pollock.
Miley, meanwhile, kept the Yankees off-balance all evening with his assortment of tailing fastballs, sliders and change-ups. Through the first six innings, the Yankees had just two hits, a walk and a hit batter to show for an offense. Miley retired 17 of the 20 hitters he faced after Brett Gardner led off the game with a single.
But Miley appeared to run out of gas and lose his control in the seventh.
With one out, Ben Francisco singled down the left-field line and one out later Brennan Boesch hit an opposite-field, excuse-me-swing double into left to advance Francisco to third.
Miley then walked Eduardo Nunez on a 3-2 pitch and he followed that by issuing a bses-loaded walk to Jayson Nix that scored Francisco and put the Yankees on the scoreboard.
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson removed a spent Miley in favor of the left-hander Sipp and Gardner greeted him with a two-run single to left to score Boesch and Nunez and tie the game.
Sabathia pitched a scoreless eighth and he left the game having given up three runs on six hits and one walk while he struck out four.
Miley also yielded three runs on four hits and three walks and struck out three in 6 2/3 innings.
Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning and earned his fourth save of the season and his second in two nights against Arizona.
The Yankees have now won eight of their past nine games and they are 8-5 on the season. The D-backs fell to 8-6.
- It was Hafner’s fourth career pinch-hit home run and he became a big hero to the most of the paid crowd of 34,369 at Yankee Stadium. Hafner, who is hitting .342 with four home runs and eight RBIs, was held out of the lineup with the left-handed Miley on the mound. But when the Yankees tied the score on Gardner’s two-run single, the D-backs elected to use the righty Hernandez in the eighth. That gave manager Joe Girardi the perfect opportunity to use Hafner to pinch-hit for Francisco with two out and Hafner delivered a huge hit.
- “The Replacements” did it again. Francisco and Boesch singled in the seventh. Then Nunez, who is subbing for Derek Jeter, and Nix drew walks to score the team’s first run. Gardner drove in Boeasch and Nunez and Hafner won the game with his big home run.
- Sabathia did not look good at all in the first inning. He gave up the single and the two-run home run to Goldschmidt and then gave up a walk and single before retiring the last two hitters. He threw 31 pitches that inning. Yet he settled in and retired 23 of the last 26 batters he faced to earn his third victory. So many times Sabathia has rescued the Yankees but this time the Yankees’ late offense rescued him.
- It is very odd but Robinson Cano and Kevin Youkilis were a combined 0-for-7 with two strikeouts between them on Wednesday. They managed to get only one ball out the infield. Cano and Youkilis have been the heart and soul of the team’s recent run of success and they are human after all.
- Francisco Cervelli also struggled in this game. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He also committed a throwing error in the sixth inning but it did not cost Sabathia and the Yankees a run. It appears that Cervelli has taken the reins of the catching duties away from Chris Stewart because he is hitting .310.
Injured first baseman Mark Teixeira received clearance on Wednesday to start swinging a bat and he is cautiously optimistic that he will be able to rejoin the team in May. Teixeira is on the 15-day disabled list with a torn sheath in his right wrist, an injury he suffered working out with Team USA before a an exhibition game in March. . . . Cano and Teixeira were presented with trophies before the game for winning Gold Gloves from Rawlings at their respective positions in 2012. Cano won his second award within the past three seasons for his fielding at second while Teixeira collected his fifth award as a first baseman.
The Yankees can earn a sweep of their three-game inter-league series with Arizona on Thursday.
The Yankees will start right-hander Phil Hughes (0-2, 10.29). Hughes has shown signs of obvious rust in his first two starts of the season after missing all of spring training with a bulging disk in his upper back. In his last start the Baltimore Orioles clubbed three home runs off him and he left the game in the fourth inning. Hughes has never faced the D-backs.
The Diamondbacks will start left-hander Steve Corbin (2-0, 1.50 ERA). Corbin outdueled fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers in his last start, pitching six shutout innings in a 3-0 victory. Corbin has never faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, INDIANS 2
Lately it seems the Yankees are having a tough enough time scoring runs as it would be for them to toss manhole covers. Fortunately, on Sunday they managed to use the “Goldilocks” approach to scoring by putting up a number on the scoreboard that was “just right.”
Curtis Granderson homered in the sixth inning and Nick Swisher contributed three hits and an RBI as New York held down punchless Cleveland at Progressive Field to win the three-game series two games to one.
The Yankees did most of their damage in the second inning off Cleveland right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (9-13).
Eric Chavez started the uprising with a leadoff opposite-field single to left. Raul Ibanez followed by drawing a walk and Ichiro Suzuki lashed a line drive that caromed off Jimenez’s glove and rolled into center-field to score Chavez easily with the game’s first score.
Chris Stewart then advanced Ibanez and Suzuki one base with a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt.
Derek Jeter ended the day hitless but he still contributed with a infield bouncer to third that scored Chavez. Swisher then laced an opposite-field single to left to score Suzuki, staking Yankees right-hander Freddy Garcia with an early 3-0 lead.
The Indians, however, got to Garcia with two out in the fifth inning with an Indian uprising of their own.
Jason Kipnis sliced a double to the wall in the right-field corner and Garcia, trying to pitch Asdrubal Cabrera inside, hit him with a breaking pitch. Garcia then walked the base loaded by missing on a 3-2 pitch to Shinn-Soo Choo.
In the third inning, the Indians loaded the bases with two out when Garcia missed on a similar 3-1 pitch to Choo. However, Garcia escaped by getting Carlos Santana on a routine fly to right.
The fifth inning was a different story. Santana lined the first pitch up the middle into center-field to score Kipnis and Cabrera.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi pulled Garcia in favor of Boone Logan, who ended the threat by retiring Michael Brantley on a routine groundout.
Garcia pitched 4 2/3 innings and gave up two runs on four hits and two walks and he struck out six batters.
Jimenez gave up three runs on eight hits and a walk and he fanned four.
Granderson greeted left-hander Tony Sipp with his 33rd home run of the season and the 200th home run of his career to lead off the sixth inning. He smacked a 1-2 slider just over the wall and into the first row of seats in the right-field bleachers.
Granderson becomes the eighth current Yankee to have 200 or more home runs, joining Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones, Mark Teixeira, Ibanez, Chavez, Jeter and Swisher.
Logan (5-2) then combined with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano to pitch 4 1/3 scoreless innings the rest of the way to earn his fifth victory in relief this season.
Soriano pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless ball to earn his 33rd save in 35 chances this season.
Soriano actually also literally saved face. With Ezequiel Carrera on first and one out in the ninth, Soriano used his glove to deflect a line drive off the bat of Kipnis that was headed for his face and threw Kipnis out at first to help preserve the victory for the Yankees.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 74-53. They also picked up a half-game on the idle second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. They now lead the Rays by four games. The Indians, meanwhile, have now dropped 10 of their last 11 games and are 55-72.
- Swisher was easily the Most Valuable Player of the series. Back in his native Ohio, Swisher was 7-for-11 (.636) with a home run and four RBIs against the Indians. Since Aug. 7, Swisher is 28-for-74 (.378) with five home runs and 19 RBIs. The hot streak nearly exactly corresponds with his shift to the No. 2 spot in the batting order, which came on Aug. 8.
- Soriano has now converted his last nine save chances dating back to July 23 in Seattle. Over that span Soriano has given up just two runs on nine hits and two walks with 11 strikeouts over 12 2/3 innings of work. That is an ERA of 1.42 and a WHIP of 0.87. Soriano is 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 33 saves on the season. Mariano who?
- Granderson’s home run was his 33rd of the season, which is fourth-best in the American League. It also was his first round-tripper since an Aug. 18 game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. It was also his 12th home run this season off a left-handed pitcher.
This was a big victory considering the Rays and the Baltimore Orioles did not play and the Yankees were able to salvage the final road series before returning home for six games at Yankee Stadium. Garcia could have pitched a little longer and the Yankees should have scored more runs in the series but the bottom line is they won a game they needed to win.
The Yankees return to the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium on Monday to begin a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Rookie right-hander David Phelps (3.4, 2.69 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees starting in place of Ivan Nova, who is on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. Phelps lost his last start on Aug. 18 against the Boston Red Sox despite giving up three runs in 6 2/3 innings of work. Phelps has never faced the Blue jays.
The Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Henderson Alvarez (7-11, 4.84 ERA). Alvarez surrendered a career-high eight runs and 12 hits in his 4 1/3 innings in his last start against the Texas Rangers. he has not won a game since July 28. He has no record and 5.25 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, INDIANS 4
In his last outing, Phil Hughes gave up six runs on four home runs in 4 1/3 innings to become the first Yankee starter to fail to pitch at least innings in June. He made up for that poor showing in spades on Tuesday in the Bronx.
Hughes scattered six hits and blanked Cleveland over eight innings to win his fourth game in his last five starts as New York pummeled the Indians for the second straight night to maintain the best record in the major leagues.
Hughes (8-6) was in complete command throughout, walking one and striking out four, mixing an effective curveball with his 94-mile-per-hour fastball to keep the Indians off the board. In the last two nights, Hiroki Kuroda and Hughes have given up just one run on 11 hits and three walks and struck out 11 in 15 innings.
At the same time, the Yankees managed to strike early against Indians right-hander Justin Masterson, using two weapons the Yankees have been terrible at this season: two-out hits and hitting with runners in scoring position.
Masterson had Nick Swisher on first on a fielder’s choice with two out in the second inning when Dewayne Wise singled to right-field to advance Swisher to third. Chris Stewart, starting his third straight game behind the plate, followed with a soft liner that bounced off the glove of Jack Hannahan and rolled behind him into foul territory.
Swisher scored and Indians manager Manny Acta argued that the ball appeared to be foul when Hannahan touched it. However, replays on MY9 showed third-base umpire Mike DiMuro had made the correct call of a fair ball.
Derek Jeter, celebrating his 38th birthday, then hit a hard ground ball off the leg of Masterson for an infield single that loaded the bases.
Curtis Granderson capped the inning with an opposite-field two-run single to left and the Yankees had another early lead on the Tribe at 3-0.
The Yankees tacked on single runs in the fifth, the seventh and the eighth innings to extend their margin to 6-0.
Mark Teixiera’s sacrifice fly in the fifth scored Granderson, who had walked to leadoff the inning. Alex Rodriguez smacked a long line-drive home run – his 13th of the season – into the second deck in left-field in the seventh off reliever Tony Sipp. In the eighth, Stewart, who entered the game with only seven RBIs all season, knocked his second run of the night with a sacrifice fly of his own.
Masterson (4-7) was tagged with the loss, giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks and he struck out two in six innings of work.
The Indians, meanwhile, took out their two nights of frustration on Yankees right-hander Cory Wade in the bottom of the ninth. With two out and Jason Kipnis on third, Johnny Damon looped a dying quail single just in front of Granderson in center to end Hughes’ shutout. After a Casey Kotchman single, Jose Lopez, who was only in the game because Hannahan was ejected in the 8th inning by DiMuro, blasted a three-run home run.
Manager Joe Girardi then brought in closer Rafael Soriano to retire Lonnie Chisenhall on an infield grounder after just two pitches and earn his 16th save of the season.
The Yankees improved their season record to 45-28 and they have now won 14 of their last 17 games. They also increased their lead in the American League East to four games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The Indians have lost four straight games and are 37-36.
- Hughes pretty much proved that his June 20 start against the Braves was an aberration from the positive work he has been doing since he was 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA on May 5. Since then Hughes is 7-2 with a 3.44 ERA. He finished June with a 4-1 mark and a 2.97 ERA.
- Russell Martin’s pain was Stewart’s gain on Tuesday. Stewart’s two-out single scored the first run and he drove in the Yankees’ last tally of the night with a sac fly. Stewart was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and he is hitting a respectable .258 on the season as the backup catcher. That is not too bad.
- Granderson’s two-run single set the tone for the rest of the night because Hughes was in such total command the Indians seem demoralized after the lead got to be 3-0. Granderson has been struggling at the plate over his last nine games. He was 5-for-35 (.143) with one home run and two RBIs entering play Tuesday. In 13 of those at-bats, Granderson had struck out.
- The only downer on the night was the shoddy relief effort from Wade. He was tagged four four runs on four hits and his ERA shot up from 3.34 to 4.45. But Wade has been struggling a lot lately. In his last five appearances, Wade has given up seven runs on 10 hits and two walks over just three innings. His ERA on June 11 was 2.63. With former Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma expected to be ready to come off the disabled list just after the All-Star break, Wade best clean up his act soon.
DiMuro had an interesting night as the third-base umpire. After correctly ruling Stewart’s soft liner a hit, Wise went leaping into the stands behind third base to catch a foul pop off the bat of Hannahan in the seventh inning. The ball hit into his glove but rolled out as he fell into the first row. A fan a few seats down held up the ball. However, Hannahan was ruled out by DiMuro. The umpire owned up the mistake after the game, but he was not pleased when Hannahan told him the replays showed he blew the call. DiMuro immediately ejected Hannahan before the start of the bottom of the eighth inning. . . . Martin took batting practice for the first time since suffering stiffness in his lower back. But Girardi chose to give him another day of rest so he can receive further treatment. Martin said he hopes to be able to play on Wednesday.
Because MY9 was broadcasting the game locally in New York, I was forced to listen to the Indians broadcast of Tuesday’s game and I was not happy with what I heard.
The play-by-play man Matt Underwood and color man Rick Manning are naturally looking at the game from the Indians’ perspective. But I do not understand why these broadcast teams have to openly root for their team on the air.
In the top of the third inning, the Indians were trailing 3-0 and they managed to start the inning with back-to-back hits from Hannahan and Chisenhall. As Shin-Soo Choo stepped to the plate, Manning says, “Come on, hit one out and tie it up.”
I know the team is in the midst of fight for the Central Division and they have been slumping at the plate and losing a lot. But do you have to go to the trouble of donning saddle shoes and shaking pom-poms to blatantly wish the Indians to win instead of just calling what happens like most professional broadcast teams do?
In the second inning, Manning and Underwood were throwing daggers at DiMuro for calling Stewart’s soft liner a fair ball. Manning looked at one inconclusive replay and said, “That ball was definitely a foul ball.” The next half-inning Underwood sheepishly admitted that after looking at the “down-the-line” shot the Yankee broadcasters showed him it appeared that DiMuro got the call right. Oops.
Of course, Manning never apologized. He said squat.
Then in the seventh inning when DiMuro did make a mistake on Wise’s play, Manning pounced. They showed the replay several times and complained about DiMuro. Heck, the fact the Indians were flailing at Hughes’ pitches and looking like a high school baseball team doing it had nothing to do with it. It was all DiMuro’s fault.
Manning got in one last dig in the ninth when Rodriguez caught a foul pop navigating the tarp near the stands. Manning said: “Well, we know that if it hits leather it is out tonight.”
In the second inning, after DiMuro’s call, Underwood said “Well, you know other teams who come here say it is impossible to get a call in this stadium.”
I am sick of broadcasters making these types of comments because they not only are stupid, baseless and unprofessional, they also foster the hostility the Yankees receive in visiting ballparks.
Just face it, the Yankees are just a good baseball team. They play the game right and they do respect their opponents. Jeter is the perfect ambassador for the way the Yankees approach the game and the team follows his lead.
So finding scapegoats for why their team loses is just what a Bush League broadcaster would do. The real culprit for the losses is in the mirror when the Indians look at themselves. It is not the umpire, the fans or some weird karma at the stadium. If the Indians stink it is because they stink.
The Yankees will go for their fifth straight victory and a sweep of the Indians on Wednesday.
Left-hander Andy Pettitte (3-3, 3.29 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Pettitte suffered through a five-run first inning and lost in his last start against the the New York Mets on Friday. He is 5-4 with a 3.97 ERA in the last 10 seasons against the Indians.
The Indians will counter with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (7-5, 4.59). Jimenez gave up four hits and four walks and struck out eight in holding the Houston Astros scoreless over 6 2/3 innings in his last start. He is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA against the Yankees lifetime.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.
PART 2 – Relief Pitching
PRIORITY NO. 1 – Finding a second left-hander or two
NOTE: As I predicted, the New York Yankees were able to keep CC Sabathia off the free-agent market by signing him an one-year contract extension that will pay him $122 million over the next five seasons and the Yankees will control an option to bring him back in 2017. This means the Yankees can turn their sights to Priority No. 2 (Fixing A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes) and Priority No. 3 (signing or trading for another starting pitcher). Sabathia’s signing is double bad news for the Texas Rangers. They were looking to add Sabathia to their rotation and now they face the prospect of losing C.J. Wilson to the Yankees. That would be enough to send Rangers manager Ron Washington back on drugs.
The Yankees, simply stated, had the best bullpen in the major leagues in 2011.
The proof is in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series with the Tigers. The only run given up after Ivan Nova left the game with an injury after the first inning was off of Sabathia. The bullpen itself kept the Tigers within striking distance for a comeback that never came.
Looking at 2012, the Yankees can again point to their bullpen as being the strongest part of this team.
At age 41, Mariano Rivera showed no real signs of aging by saving 44 of 49 games and becoming the major-league leader in all-time saves with 603. For the fourth straight season and the eighth season out of the last nine, Rivera recorded an ERA under 2.00. Rivera is under contract for another season and that is just fine with the Yankees because having the greatest reliever in major-league history in your bullpen is a huge plus.
The Yankees also have managed to shorten games by the use of their setup men.
Nobody did that better than David Robertson last season. With injuries shelving both Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain, Robertson, 26, stepped up his game to go 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA and strike out 100 batters in 66 2/3 innings. He also tied Daniel Bard of the Red Sox for the American League in holds with 34 and he earned a selection to pitch in the 2011 All-Star Game.
Robertson’s best work, though, came in pressure situations – either ones he inherited or those messes he created for himself. Robertson was able to wriggle out of bases-loaded situations with amazing regularity.
The Yankees also will have 32-year-old right-hander Rafael Soriano back for the 2012 season. Soriano has elected not to opt out of his three-year contract and remain with the Yankees for $11 million this coming season and $14 million for 2013.
Soriano, who led the major leagues with 45 saves in 2010, was 2-3 with a 4.12 ERA and two saves in a season plagued by elbow soreness. Soriano pitched exceptionally well after he returned from the disabled list in July. He was 1-2 with a 3.33 ERA and he ended up with 23 holds.
The only question is will Soriano regain his eighth inning role from Robertson in 2012? Either way the Yankees know that most teams will have to obtain the lead by the sixth inning or face the prospect of losing the game because Robertson, Soriano and Rivera are pretty tough to beat when they are all healthy and pitching well.
The Yankees also possibly may have Joba Chamberlain back healthy again.
Chamberlain, 26, missed most of the 2011 season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He was effective in the 27 games he pitched. He was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA and he recorded 12 holds.
Reports indicate Chamberlain is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and he hopes to be ready to go once spring training begins in February. But with Robertson and Soriano filling the setup roles in the bullpen, the Yankees can afford to be cautious with Chamberlain. They will gladly start the season with Chamberlain on the disabled list and bring him along slowly to make sure he is 100 percent.
The rest of the Yankees’ bullpen in 2011 was pretty good. The Yankees got good work out of right-handers Cory Wade and Luis Ayala.
Wade, 28, was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA after being acquired off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays in June. Ayala, 33, made the team out of spring training after being signed as free agent and was 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA.
Wade is likely to be retained for 2012 as insurance policy on Chamberlain but Ayala likely will not return.
That leaves the only left-hander the Yankees had in 2011, Boone Logan. Next to A.J. Burnett, the 27-year-old Logan is the pitcher Yankee fans love to the hate the most.
At times, Logan can be brilliant. Other times, Logan can be awful. Overall, Logan was 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA for the Yankees. However, he is terribly miscast as “lefty specialist.” It is sort of like asking Owen Wilson to play the part of Tony Soprano in the “The Sopranos.” It just doesn’t work.
Left-handed hitters hit .260 off of Logan while right-handers hit .262 off him.
That points up the Yankees’ biggest need in 2012: Looking for a reliable and effective lefty specialist.
The Yankees ignored my pleas to go all out to sign free-agent lefty Scott Downs last off-season. Downs ended up signing a multi-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels and he was 6-3 with a 1.34 ERA with 26 holds for the Angels. Instead, the Yankees overpaid Soriano to accept a setup role.
The Yankees did sign left-hander Pedro Feliciano from the New York Mets. But the 35-year-old free agent developed a shoulder soreness in spring training and ended up undergoing rotator cuff surgery without ever throwing a pitch for the Yankees in 2011. He likely won’t pitch in 2012 and his two-year contract with Yankees will end with him very much a question mark as a free agent in 2013.
The Mets abused Feliciano by pitching him in a major-league high of 344 appearances over the four previous seasons, including 92 in 2010. Feliciano paid the price for it and he likely will never be the same pitcher he was.
The Yankees also hoped to have veteran left-hander Damaso Marte back in 2011. But the 36-year-old hero of the 2009 postseason championship run for the Yankees has not be able to recover from left shoulder surgery he underwent in 2010. The Yankees have since declined an option on him and released him.
So the Yankees are in the market for a lefty specialist in 2012 who can either augment or replace Logan.
There are no other left-handers listed on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. There no lefties who would be of much help in the bullpen in the minor leagues. So general manager Brian Cashman must look to acquire several candidates to audition in spring training.
One pitcher the Yankees would love to have is Rafael Perez of the Indians. Perez, 29, was 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA and 12 holds with the Indians in 2011. Perez was replaced as the primary lefty in the bullpen by 28-year-old Tony Sipp.
But Perez can still get out left-handed batters. They batted only .237 against him last season.
The Yankees also might be interested in Eric O’Flaherty, 26, of the Braves and Sean Marshall, 29, of the Cubs. Both of them had excellent 2011 seasons. But they would cost dearly in a trade.
Guillermo Mota, 38, could be a big free-agent target. He was 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA in 52 appearances with the Giants. More impressive was his 77 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings. Lefties hit just .234 off him in 2011. His age might be a concern but, given the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen, he might be worth an offer.
Look for the Yankees to bring in at least two left-handed relievers to compete for a spot in the bullpen in spring training.
Of course, the Yankees’ right-handers do have an ability to get out lefties.
Left-handers hit only .240 off Rivera, .156 off Robertson, .250 off Chamberlain, .246 off Wade and .250 off Ayala. They only feasted on Soriano, who was hit for a .302 by left-handers last season. The effectiveness of the right-handers against left-handers is one reason why the bullpen was such a strength in 2011.
Given the depth here, it looks like the bullpen – barring injury – looks to be just as strong in 2012.
NEXT: PART 3 – STARTING LINEUP
PRIORITY NO. 1 – Who will the Yankees keep at catcher?