With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.
NEW YORK YANKEES
First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.
That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.
With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.
The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.
Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.
However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?
The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are – at least for now – going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.
The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.
If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.
Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.
All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.
A pair of speed demons – Ellsbury and Gardner – are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.
Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.
The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.
The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.
The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.
Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.
That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.
Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.
He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.
It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.
This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.
Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.
But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.
Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.
Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.
What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.
Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.
But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.
The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.
Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base – although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.
The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.
John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.
But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.
But the promise is even brighter longer term.
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.
Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.
At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.
Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.
Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.
Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.
This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.
Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.
With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.
Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.
They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.
A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.
BOSTON RED SOX
This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.
Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.
They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.
However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.
Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.
No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.
There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?
Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.
The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.
Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.
The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.
They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.
The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.
They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).
They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.
This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.
Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?
Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.
They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!
After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans – all of about 7,000 of them a game – it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.
Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.
To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.
The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.
Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.
You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.
Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.
So there is a lot to like.
The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.
They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.
It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!
But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)
3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)
4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86) Hello Montreal!
The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!
YANKEES 9, RAYS 3
Sometimes you can predict the game’s outcome by looking at how pitchers fare through the second and third time in the batting order. Saturday’s pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays came into the game as polar opposites.
The rookie right-hander Odorizzi tends to pitch well early and lose it the second time through the order. Tanaka gets hit early but gets much tougher the second and third times through the order. That is exactly the way Saturday’s game played out.
After the Rays nicked Tanaka for three runs on seven hits,, including two solo home runs, in the first four innings, the 25-year-old Japanese rookie right-hander shut out the Rays on just one hit in his last three innings of work. Meanwhile, after Odorizzi retired the first nine batters he faced, he was hammered for three runs on five hits and two walks by the next 10 batters he faced.
Tanaka (4-0) remained undefeated as a pitcher dating back to Aug. 19, 2012 when he was pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.
The Yankees got a solo home run from Kelly Johnson off right-hander Josh Lueke (0-2) to lead off the sixth inning that broke a 3-3 tie and the Yankees rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to score nine unanswered runs to defeat Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 43,325 at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka ended up giving up three runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in seven innings to earn a victory punctuated by adjustments he made to stop the Rays after their early assault.
“You know what you’re going to get from him,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters. “You’re going to get a guy that’s really going to compete and is going to give you distance and is going to keep you in the game. He’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”
The Rays jumped out early when Desmond Jennings sent Tanaka’s 12th delivery into the bleachers in right-center for a solo home run with one out in the first inning.
They added a run in the second inning on a little bit of luck and some well-placed hits.
James Loney singled to left against the shift to start the inning. One batter later, David DeJesus hit a line drive that deflected off Tanaka and rolled into left to advance Loney to third. After retiring Sean Rodriguez on a popup for the second out, Ryan Hanigan rolled a ball that just squirted through Johnson and Yangervis Solarte.
Wil Myers gave the Rays their 3-0 lead when he slapped Tanaka’s first pitch to the opposite field and in the corner of the right-field porch for home run.
True to form, Odorizzi fell apart in the fourth when Jacoby Ellsbury led off the frame with a lined single to left. After Brett Gardner forced out Ellsbury on a fielder’s choice groundout, Mark Teixeira launched a mammoth blast into the second deck in right field for his fifth home run and his fourth in his past five games.
The Yankees then chased Odorizzi in the fifth when Ichiro Suzki led off with a double to the wall in left-center and Solarte drew a four-pitch walk. After Ellsbury tied the game with a ground-rule double to left-center, Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled Odorizzi in favor of left-hander Cesar Ramos.
Odorizzi left after giving up three runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four in four-plus innings.
But after Johnson deposited his fourth home run of the season into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center, the floodgates opened as the Yankees blasted Lueke and right-hander Heath Bell for six runs on seven hits and one walk over the final three innings.
Teixeira added an RBI single and Alfonso Soriano scored another run with a sacrifice fly off Lueke in the seventh. That Yankees tagged Bell for three runs in the eighth, keyed by an RBI single by Brian Roberts and two-run single by Gardner.
With the victory, the Yankees broke a three-game skid and they reclaimed the lead in the American League East with a 16-12 record. They lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles by a half game. The Rays fell to 14-17 and they are three games back in fourth place in the tightly bunched division.
- Tananka, by all rights, should have lost. By his own admission, he did not have good stuff. “All my pitches weren’t there today,” he said through his interpreter. “As for the split, it was more like a changeup, I feel. Everything wasn’t crisp today.” Yet he was able to win because he did not panic and he found a way to shut down the Rays to allow the Yankees’ offense to get into the game. It shows that Tanaka, on a day when he was not as his best, can still win a game. That makes him special.
- It is May so that means that it is time for Teixeira to wake up and he has. He was 2-for-4 in the game with a single, a homer, he was intentionally walked and he scored a run while driving in three. In his past five games, Teixeira is 7-for-19 (.368) with four home runs and six RBIs. That has raised Teixeira’s season average from .212 to .269. For those pundits who doubted Teixeira’s recovery from wrist surgery have some Tabasco to put on your steaming plate of crow.
- You think the Boston Red Sox would not want Ellsbury back. Think again! In his two games against the Rays, Ellsbury is 7-for-10 with two walks and he has scored two runs and driven in a pair. That has raised Ellsbury’s season average from .309 to .346, which is second to Matt Wieters (.354) of the Orioles in the American League.
- Despite the victory there were some moments that the Yankees did not deliver with runners in scoring position. Brian McCann was 1-for-5 with a double but Ramos struck him out with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth after the Rays elected to walk Teixeira to load the bases. He then lined out to Rodriguez in shallow right in the seventh with two on and nobody out. He ended his day flying out to end the eighth with one on and two out. So he stranded six runners. McCann is still struggling, hitting just .228 on the season.
- Soriano, despite his sac fly in the seventh, was not much better than McCann. He was 0-for-3 and he followed McCann in the fifth by grounding out to short to leave the bases loaded. Despite going 3-for-7 with a home run and an RBI on Friday, Soriano is 4-for-22 (.182) in his past five games with six strikeouts. He is hitting .252 with five home runs and 12 RBIs on the season.
- Solarte’s magic touch appears to be waning quickly. He was 0-for-3 and he is 7-for-35 (.200) in his past nine games. It appears the league is catching up to him because pitchers are feeding him a steady diet of breaking pitches and Solarte seems to be expanding his strike zone instead of being patient. He has drawn only four walks this season.
The Yankees optioned right-hander Chris Leroux to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday and recalled veteran right-hander Alfredo Aceves from the same club. Aceves, 31, had no record with a 1.98 ERA in three games (two of them starts) with the RailRiders. Aceves pitched for the Yankees from 2008 through 2010, compiling a 14-1 record and a 3.21 ERA in 59 games (five of them starts). Aceves has pitched as a starter, long reliever, middle innings pitcher and as a closer in his career and he gives the Yankees some flexibility in how he can be used. Leroux, 30, was hammered for five runs on five hits in the 14th inning of Friday’s game against the Rays and he was charged with the loss. . . . Because of the 14-inning game on Friday, Girardi elected to rest shortstop Derek Jeter and outfielder Carlos Beltran. Solarte started in place of Jeter and Suzuki drew the start in right-field in place of Beltran.
The Yankees can claim the three-game series over the Rays with a victory on Sunday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-3, 5.11 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up four runs on nine hits in five innings a loss to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. Sabathia held the Rays to one earned run on seven hits in seven innings at Tropicana Field on April 17.
Veteran left-hander Erik Bedard (0-1 5.52 ERA) draws the start for the Rays. Bedard gave up one run on seven hits and three walks before having to leave due to a high pitch count after five innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday. He gave up four runs on six hits in just 3 2/3 innings to the Yankees at home on April 18.
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 5, RAYS 1 (12 INNINGS)
Sometimes when they say it is game of inches they really mean it. On Sunday at Tropicana Field the Yankees ended up winning a game against the Rays on a very close checked swing by rookie infielder Dean Anna.
Anna just barely held up on a 3-2 pitch from left-hander C.J. Riefenhauser with the bases loaded and two out as part of a four-run uprising as New York gladly will leave St. Petersburg, FL, with split of their four-game series against Tampa Bay.
After right-hander Heath Bell (0-1) opened the 12th by walking Yangervis Solarte, Riefenhauser came on to retire Solarte on a fielder’s choice grounder by Brett Gardner and Brian Roberts on lineout.
However, Brian McCann singled to advance Gardner to third and Rays manager Joe Maddon decided to walk Jacoby Ellsbury intentionally in order to pitch to Anna. Niefenhauser’s 3-2 pitch to Anna was called a ball by home-plate umpire Clint Fagan and third-base umpire Marty Foster correctly called that Anna checked his swing in time to allow Gardner to score to break the 1-1 tie.
That opened the floodgates as right-hander Josh Lueke replaced Riefenhauser and was tagged by a two-run single by Carlos Beltran and an RBI single off the bat of Alfonso Soriano.
Preston Claiborne (1-0), who was called up on Sunday after the Yankees had been hammered for 27 runs on 32 hits in two days, pitched the final two innings to get credit for the victory.
The Yankees actually held a 1-0 lead in the game after the top of the fourth inning, when Soriano led off with a double and Gardner followed two batters later with a deep drive to right that outfielder Will Myers appeared initially to have caught at the wall.
However, after Yankees manager Joe Girardi challenged the call, replays clearly indicated that the ball landed just under the yellow home-run line on some netting and then caromed into Myers’ glove. Gardner was awarded a double and RBI that allowed Soriano to score.
Emergency starter Vidal Nuno actually held the Rays scoreless over five innings, yielding only three hits and two walks while fanned six batters in his first start since June of last season.
The Yankees bullpen, which had been shredded the past two days, held up well until a one-out error by Roberts in the bottom of the seventh inning allowed the Rays to tie it with an unearned run.
Matt Thornton entered the game with one out in the frame but was greeted by a single by James Loney. Brandon Guyer then rolled a easy two-hopper to Solarte at third. But Roberts bobbled the ball at second and umpire Joe West ruled Loney safe at second also.
Adam Warren came in to replace Thornton and Yunel Escobar singled to load the bases and pinch-hitter Matt Joyce launched a sacrifice fly that scored Loney just ahead of the tag from John Ryan Murphy on the throw from Beltran in right.
The victory allowed the Yankees to improve their season record to 11-8. They remain a game up on the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Rays fell to 9-10 and are two games back.
- Give Nuno, 26, a lot of credit for tossing five spotless innings in his first start in almost a year. Nuno was used because of Tuesday’s rainout at Yankee Stadium in a game scheduled against the Chicago Cubs, which pushed back Masahiro Tanaka’s next start until Tuesday. But Nuno likely will get at least one more start since right-hander Ivan Nova likely will miss the rest of the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
- Anna, 27, only was in the game because Girardi had elected to pinch-run Ichiro Suzuki in the 11th inning to replace Derek Jeter after he led off the frame with a single off Bell. Suzuki ultimately was called out on a steal attempt after he initially was called safe. The call was overturned on a replay requested by Maddon. So Anna ended up stepping into the batters’ box facing a left-hander and sporting a .136 batting average. But he earned the walk and it was a very impressive eight-pitch at-bat.
- Shawn Kelley highlighted an unyielding performance by the bullpen after they had been shelled so badly in the two previous games. Kelley pitched a scoreless ninth and 10th innings and struck out four batters to allow the Yankees to win the game in the 12th. The bullpen of David Phelps, Thornton, Warren, Kelley and Claiborne shut out the Rays on three hits and three walks while fanning nine in seven innings.
- Roberts had a day he would like to forget. Along with committing a senseless fielding error that cost the Yankees the lead he was 0-for-5 with a couple of strikeouts and he stranded four base-runners. Roberts is off to a slow start with the bat and is now hitting just .156.
- Thornton is certainly nothing like his predecessor Boone Logan. He does not have Logan’s sweeping slider and lefties make him pay for it. He was called into the game to retire the left-handed Loney but Loney slapped a fastball to the opposite field for a single. Thornton has to be prepared to push good lefty hitters off the plate to keep them from going the other way.
The Yankees activated Mark Teixeira from the disabled list and he started at first base on Sunday and was 2-for-6 with fielding error in the game. Teixeira, 34, had been out of the lineup since he strained his right hamstring in a game against the Blue Jays on April 4. . . . David Robertson is on schedule to be activated on Tuesday. Robertson, 29, suffered a strained left groin on April 6. He will resume his closer’s role and Kelley will move back into the main setup role. Kelley was 4-for-4 in save opportunities.
I have said this before and I will say this again: The Rays’ organization is great to its own players and fans (which is fantastic) but they treat everyone else with disdain because they are very insecure. One example: If there is giveaway such as an Evan Longoria T-shirt for kids age 14-and-under they will not hand the shirts to any kids wearing an opposing team’s jersey. Yep! They do that that at the Trop because they are small-minded people. But it all trickles down from the top. To most of the nation, Maddon is seemingly lovable guy. But witness him at a press conference and you see that he puts a capital A in the term a–hole. Asked to comment on Nuno and the Yankee bullpen’s performance after Sunday’s game, Maddon told reporters: “There really is no solid explanation. I can’t stand here and say that the Yankees pitched that great. We just did not have a good offensive day.” Most managers tip their cap to the opponent but Maddon can’t be bothered because when his team loses it can’t be because the other team is better that day. I’m sure that there was no explanation for Mark Buerhle’s perfect game either, Joe. He is an A–hole. Period!
The Yankees will have Monday off before making their first trip to Fenway Park to play the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.
Tanaka (2-0, 2.05 ERA) steps into his first foray into sports’ biggest rivalry after totally dominating the Cubs on Wednesday. Tanaka, 25, struck out 10 batters and only gave up two bunt singles and a walk in seven very strong innings. I am sure Cubs manager Rich Renteria has no explanation for it.
He will be opposed by left-hander Jon Lester (2-2, 2.17 ERA). Lester evened his record by giving up just one run on seven hits and he struck out nine en route to a victory over the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.
GAME 17 AND GAME 18
The past two days have been like a House of Horrors for the New York Yankees with that house being Tropicana Field.
On Friday night it was an implosion of the bullpen that allowed an early 4-0 lead to end in an 11-5 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays. David Phelps, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and Cesar Cabral combined to give up eight runs on nine hits and one walk while Cabral hit three batters before she was ejected by home-plate umpire Joe West with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Because it is the first time this season the team has had a meltdown of the bullpen it perhaps can be overlooked as an aberration.
The Yankees immediately sought to rectify the situation by designating for assignment the left-handed Cabral, 25, who had no record but an ERA of 27.00 after yielding three runs on four hits and two walks in one inning of work in four appearances.
Cabral was a Rule V selection from the Kansas City Royals via the Boston Red Sox and he was impressive in spring training in 2012 before he fractured his left elbow in his final appearance. After two seasons of rehab, Cabral pitched 9 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball this spring, although he did walk six batters while striking out 10.
Cabral was replaced on the roster by 31-year-old right-hander Matt Daley, who was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in six games.
On Saturday night the Rays played Home Run Derby against right-hander Ivan Nova to win 16-1.
Ryan Hanigan hit two home runs and Will Myers and Evan Longoria added one apiece as Nova was raked for eight runs on eight hits and one walk in four-plus innings. He was removed in the fifth when he visibly winced on his 2nd delivery to Longoria.
A subsequent MRI on his right elbow showed a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament and he will examined on Monday in New York by Dr. Christopher Ahmad. It is likely Nova, 27, will require season-ending Tommy John surgery.
For the moment, he will be replaced in the rotation by left-hander Vidal Nuno, who has no record and 14.54 ERA in only 4 1/3 innings of work in relief over three appearances. Nuno, 26, was already chosen to start Sunday’s series finale against the Rays. He will be opposed by fellow left-hander Cesar Ramos, who is 0-1 with a 7.50 ERA.
The Yankees bolstered their bullpen for Sunday when they recalled right-hander Preston Claiborne from Scranton and right-hander Bryan Mitchell from Double-A Trenton with Nova being placed on the 15-day disabled list.
Claiborne, 26, has no record with a 1.50 ERA in five games with the Rail-Riders. Mitchell, 23, is 1-2 with a 5.14 ERA in three starts with the Thunder.
The Yankees also designated for assignment Daley, who was hammered for six runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks in 1 1/3 innings on Saturday in relief of Nova.
First baseman Mark Teixeira, who has been on the disabled list since April 4 with a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring, was activated from the diasbled list for Sunday;s game and the Yankees optioned infielder Scott Sizemore back to Scranton.
Sizemore, 29, hit .308 with four RBIs in 13 at-bats over five games with the Yankees.
YANKEES 10, RAYS 2
David Price and CC Sabathia have squared off against each other nine times previous to Thursday and the Rays were 8-1 in those games. Price was 6-1 and Sabathia was 1-6. With those numbers you would have bet the house on Price and the Rays to win.
Well, if you did, you lost your house.
Sabathia pitched seven strong innings and had a triple play turned behind him while the Yankees hammered Price for six runs, including back-to-back homers by Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann, as New York pummeled Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 28,085 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
Sabathia (2-2) held the Rays to two runs (one earned) on seven hits and two walks while he struck out six in pitching what was his best game of the season.
The Yankees, meanwhile, helped Sabathia in the field by turning their third triple play behind him since 2010 in the second inning with Evan Longoria on second and Will Myers at first. Sean Rodriguez hit a two-hopper to the right of third baseman Yangervis Solarte. Solarte stepped on third to retire Longoria, fired to Brian Roberts at second to get Myers and first baseman Scott Sizemore – playing his first career game at first base – scooped Roberts’ low throw to first to beat Rodriguez.
Price (2-1) got off to bad start and never really recovered, giving up a run in the first when McCann laced an opposite-field, two-out single to score Jacoby Ellsbury.
The Yankees added three more runs in the second when Sizemore led off with a double and Roberts followed with an RBI triple. One out later, Ellsbury scored Roberts with a triple of his own and Ellsbury scored on Derek Jeter’s RBI single.
After the Rays scored an unearned run in the fourth when Logan Forsythe scooted home on a passed ball by McCann, the Yankees began putting the game away in the fifth inning when Soriano blasted his fourth home run of the season and McCann added his third with two out in the inning.
It was the second time this season that Soriano and McCann have hit consecutive homers.
Price was raked for 10 hits and one walk while he fanned six in five innings of work.
The Yankees added single runs in the sixth off Heath Bell and the seventh off Josh Lueke and they capped their 16-hit barrage in the ninth when Solarte blasted his first major-league homer with Soriano aboard off Rays closer Grant Balfour.
The Rays got a second run in the seventh when Rodriguez led off the frame with his third career home run off Sabathia.
With the victory, the Yankees have now won five games in row and they are 10-6 on the season They lead the American League East by two games over the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. The Rays have now lost four in a row and they are 7-9, tied with Boston Red Sox for fourth place.
- Roberts played in his first game April 12 due to lower-back stiffness and he promptly went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and two RBIs. Roberts had entered the game hitting only .129. The Yankees are counting on the 36-year-old switch-hitter to stay healthy this season.
- Solarte started the night by striking out twice against Price on change-ups. In his next three at-bats he hit a double off Price, a single off Bell and a homer off Balfour. His 3-for-5 night raised his season average from .348 to .373. He also started that triple play in the second inning. It is beginning to look like he 26-year-old Venezuelan infielder is the real deal and not just lucky.
- Soriano also was 3-for-5 with a pair of singles and a homer. Since starting the season 0-for-17, Soriano is 15-for-41 (.366) with four homers and five RBIs. Opponents may want to hope Soriano does not get REAL hot as he did last season when he was acquired by the Yankees at the trade deadline.
No negatives here. This team is rolling on offense, defense and with its pitching staff. When you club a division rival by eight runs on the road against a tough pitcher like Price you are doing something right.
First baseman Mark Teixeira played three innings in minor-league game at the team’s complex in Tampa, FL, on Thursday and he is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. Teixeira, 34, has been out since April 4 with a strained right hamstring. He is expected to play five innings in a minor-league game on Friday to prepare for his start on Sunday against the Rays. . . . Closer David Robertson threw a bullpen session on Thursday at Tropicana Field and he is on track to be activated next Tuesday, the first day he is eligible to come of the disabled list. Robertson, 29, has been recovering from a strained left groin. . . . Utility infielder Brendan Ryan, who has not played in a game since March 4 in spring training, is scheduled to play in minor-league game on Saturday. Ryan, who has been sidelined with a cervical nerve injury and an oblique strain, hopes to be able to be activated form the disabled list sometime in early May.
The Yankees will continue their four-game road series against the Rays on Friday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 3.86 ERA) will get the starting assignment for the Yankees. Kuroda, 39, yielded four runs on six hits and three walks in six innings in a victory over the Red Sox on Saturday.
Left-hander Erik Bedard (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who was released by the Rays at the end of spring training only to be brought back, will be subbing for right-hander Alex Cobb, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique. Bedard, 35, was 2-2 with a 6.88 ERA in five games (three starts) in spring training.
Game-time will be at 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:
NEW YORK YANKEES
After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.
Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.
Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.
The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.
Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.
The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.
Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.
The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.
Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.
If you don’t you lose.
The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.
The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.
The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.
The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.
Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.
The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.
As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.
In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.
BOSTON RED SOX
Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.
The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.
They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.
Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.
Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.
To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.
Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.
The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.
Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.
The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.
The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.
So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Jays are all about redemption.
They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.
The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.
So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.
Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.
But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.
Now that is some reclamation project.
Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.
But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.
There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.
Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.
The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.
It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?
The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.
Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.
The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.
The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.
They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.
So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.
Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) NEW YORK YANKEES
2) TAMPA BAY RAYS
3) BOSTON RED SOX
4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS
5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!
YANKEES 6, RAYS 5
On a day that the Yankees paid tribute to retired icon Hideki Matsui, two of his former teammates provided some spark to what has been a listless offense to deliver a dramatic walk-off victory.
Derek Jeter came of the disabled list for the second time this season to swat the first pitch he saw for his first home run of the season and Alfonso Soriano, playing in only his third game back in pinstripes, was 4-for-5 with a two-run homer and a game-winning RBI single in the ninth as New York salvaged one of three games against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Jeter strode to the plate in the first inning with most of the paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 47,714 on their feet and – just about the time they sat down – the Yankee captain launched a high fastball from Rays left-hander Matt Moore into the first row of the bleachers over the auxiliary scoreboard in right-center to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead.
The fans remained standing until their All-Star shortstop took a trip back up the dugout steps for a curtain call. It was not so much what Jeter had just done but a feeling from the fans that this team that has suffered so much turmoil from injuries was on the way back to respectability.
It set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
The Yankees added two more runs in the first inning off Moore, who started the day tied for the American League lead with 14 victories.
Robinson Cano reached on an infield single that caromed off the glove of Moore and Soriano rolled a single that shortstop Yunel Escobar kicked into center-field to allow Cano to reach third.
Vernon Wells scored Cano with a sacrifice fly to center and – after a wild pitch allowed Soriano to move up to second – Ichiro Suzuki scored him with a lined single to center as part of a day in which Suzuki was 4-for-4.
Unfortunately, Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes was not able to hold the 3–0 lead he was handed.
The Rays scored a single run in the second inning when Kelly Johnson lashed a one-out RBI double to score Wil Myers.
The following frame Hughes allowed a pair of one-out singles to Evan Longoria and James Loney and Myers followed with a three-run blast to left-field that gave the Rays a 4-3 lead.
But Jeter and Soriano answered in the bottom of the third.
Jeter led off the frame with a single just over the glove of Johnson at second base and Soriano, one out later, blasted a ball just over the glove of Myers in right-field that landed in the bleachers in the short porch in right to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead.
Hughes, however, was not able to hold that lead either.
Myers led off the fifth with an opposite-field home run into the short porch for the rookie outfielder’s first multiple homer game of his career.
The game remained tied after both Moore and Hughes left the game.
Moore, who entered the game having won all six of his previous starts, gave up five runs on eight hits and no walks while he struck out three in five innings. Moore also uncharacteristically uncorked two wild pitches and was called for a balk just before Soriano homered.
Hughes also yielded five runs on nine hits and two walks and he fanned four in 4-plus innings.
But the Yankees’ bullpen corps of Preston Claiborne, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera held the Rays to just one hit and did not issue a walk over the final five innings. Rivera (2-2) pitched a perfect ninth inning to get credit for the victory.
The Yankees opened the ninth facing Jake McGee (2-3) and the left-hander missed high on a 3-2 pitch to Brett Gardner to start off the frame. With Jeter squared around to bunt, McGee tossed the Rays’ third wild pitch of the day to allow Gardner to reach second. It ended up being extremely costly.
Rays manager Joe Maddon then opted to walk Jeter intentionally to bring up the lefty-swinging Cano and to set up a potential double play.
But Cano struck out and Soriano followed by bouncing the first pitch from McGee to the left of Escobar of shortstop and on into center-field to score Gardner with the game-winner.
Soriano finished the game with a homer, three singles, two runs scored and three RBIs.
Jeter was 2-for-4 with a homer, a single, a walk, an RBI and two runs scored.
Jeter’s home run was the Yankees’ first home run sine the All-Star break and the first home run from a right-handed batter since June 21. Soriano added the second right-handed homer two innings later.
With the victory the Yankees improved to 55-50 and they are 7 1/2 games out in fourth place in the American League East. The Rays dropped to 62-43 and they surrendered first place back to the Boston Red Sox.
- What a difference Jeter made in his first game off the disabled list. Having Jeter’s right-handed bat in the second spot in the order allows manager Joe Girardi to break up the stack of five or six left-handed batters at the top of the lineup. Jeter has always had a flair for the dramatic but his home run in the first inning spoke volumes about how the Yankees suffered after opening the season 30-18 and then recording a 24-32 mark through Sunday. Perhaps a new day is dawning and the Yankees, behind their captain, may be righting the ship.
- Soriano has always been a popular player with Yankee fans and they have not forgotten him after 10 years. The Yankees acquired him for his power from the right side and to provide protection for Cano in the cleanup spot. If his 4-for-5 day is any indication, he will do both. He is doing what Wells did before May 15 and he has not homered since. Soriano is going to be a very important player for the Yankees for the rest of the season.
- Jeter’s presence allowed Girardi to slide Suzuki down to the No. 6 spot in the order and he responded with four singles and a big two-out RBI in the first inning. After going 0-for-7 in the first two games of the series, Suzuki’s perfect day raised his season average to .279.
- Hughes’ start was very disappointing because in his previous five starts, Hughes had a 2.53 ERA, even though was 1-3 over that stretch dating back to June 27. Hughes is nothing if not vexing as a starter. He is a flyball pitcher in a ballpark ill-suited for them and most of his success in the major leagues has come as a reliever. I wish the Yankees would realize that and put him back there before they make a mistake by allowing him to walk as a free agent after this season.
- Though the Yankees field a great lineup one through six now, the seven, eight and nine spots still are an issue. Brett Lillibridge (seven), David Adams (eight) and Chris Stewart (nine) were a combined 0-for-11 with three strikeouts and just one ball hit of the infield. It will be nice to have Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez back in the lineup.
The Yankees actually offered Matsui a one-day contract with the team on Sunday so that he could retire officially as a Yankee. In a pregame ceremony, Jeter and the Yankees presented the former outfielder with a framed jersey sporting his number 55. Matsui, fondly nicknamed “Godzilla” in his native country, came over from Japan to play nine seasons with the Yankees and he hit .292 with 140 home runs and 597 RBIs during that span. He also was named the Most Valuable Player in the Yankees’ victory in the 2009 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees also marked the occasion by handing out Matsui bobblehead figures to the first 18,000 fans who entered the stadium. . . . After activating Jeter on Sunday the Yankees plan to activate infielder Jayson Nix on Tuesday. Nix, 30, has been on the disabled list for 3 1/2 weeks with a hamstring strain. Adams was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after Sunday’s game to make room for Nix on the roster. . . . After Granderson was 0-for-4 as a designated hitter with Class-A Tampa on Sunday, Girardi said the veteran outfielder will move up to Double-A Trenton on Tuesday. Girardi also said Granderson could be activated on Saturday when the Yankees are in San Diego to play the Padres. Granderson has been sidelined twice this season with a broken bone in his left arm and a broken left pinkie finger as a result of being hit by pitches.
The Yankee will have Monday off before they open a West Coast road trip with a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Left-hander Andy Pettitte (7-7, 4.39) will open the series for the Yankees. Pettitte, 41, allowed just two runs on hits over six innings on Wednesday against the Texas Rangers but still took his second straight loss. He is 2-0 with a 3.94 ERA in his career against the Dodgers.
Right-hander Zack Greinke (8-3, 3.49 ERA) will start for the Dodgers. Greinke allowed four runs on six hits in seven innings in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday. Greinke is 2-4 with a 6.45 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 10:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.