Results tagged ‘ A.L. East ’

Yankees Force Jays Back To Earth With Sweep

GAME 71

YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4

When the Yankees came off their recent West Coast road trip to face the first-place Blue Jays at home they were hoping that they could just gain some ground on them. After completing a three-game sweep of them on Thursday the Yankees have to feel extremely blessed.

David Phelps pitched seven very gutty innings and the offense, while it did not send a single ball into the seats, wore down their American League East rivals as New York won its 16th straight game against Toronto at Yankee Stadium in front of a paid crowd of 40,169.

Phelps (3-4) held the booming bats of the Blue Jays in check except for a two-out two-run home run he served up to Melky Cabrera in the third inning that tied the score at 2-2. Those two runs were all Phelps would give up while holding the Jays to six hits while he walked two and struck out seven.

Phelps even helped himself out with a do-or-die fielding play in the fifth inning. With two out and Colby Rasmus on third, Cabrera hit a rocket shot that ricocheted off Phelps and rolled behind the mound. Phelps scrambled back to the ball and fired quickly to Mark Teixeira at first to barely nip Cabrera.

Meanwhile, the Yankees hitters were putting right-hander Drew Hutchinson (5-4) through a draining pitch-count wringer.

They scored single runs off him in the first two innings on sacrifice flies by Jacoby Ellsbury in the first and Kelly Johnson in the second. They then broke the 2-2 tie in the third inning when Ellsbury led off with a single, stole second and advanced to third on a single by Teixeira.

One batter later, Carlos Beltran scored Ellsbury with the Yankees’ third sacrifice fly of the evening. In the meantime, they had forced Hutchison to throw 76 pitches in the first three innings.

The Yankees added a run in the fifth when Ellsbury laced a one-out single and, again, stole second. Then Teixeira drew a walk that ended the night for Hutchison.

Left-hander Aaron Loup was able to retire Brian McCann on an infield liner but Beltran lofted a ground-rule double into the bleachers in left-center to score Ellsbury.

Hutchinson was charged with four runs on six hits and four walks while he struck out three in 4 1/3 innings.

The Yankees added single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to extend their lead to 6-2 on a night when two big contributors to their bullpen, Dellin Betances and closer David Robertson, were unavailable.

Brian Roberts and his base-running keyed the sixth inning when he led off the frame with a single and stole second and third base. But manager Joe Girardi deserves some credit for some strategy after Brett Gardner drew a one-out walk.

Girardi elected to send Gardner as Derek Jeter bounced a ball to Jose Reyes at shortstop. Instead of being able to turn a double play, Reyes was forced to retire Jeter at first as Roberts scored and Gardner was standing safely at second.

The Yankees were able to load the bases on right-hander Steve Delabar in the seventh inning when Roberts drew a walk with two outs. Delabar then walked Yangervis Solarte to force in a run.

The Blue Jays did manage to make things interesting in the eighth inning when Jose Bautista drew a one-out walk from right-hander Shawn Kelley and Edwin Encarnacion followed by planting his 21st home run of the season into the left-field bleachers.

However, Kelley retired Dioner Navarro and Matt Thornton got the final out in the eighth and the first out in the ninth before he was touched for a single off the bat of Rasmus.

Adam Warren then came in to get pinch-hitter Munenori Kawasaki and Reyes to complete the sweep and earn his second save of the season.

With the victory, the Yankees are 38-33 and they are 1 1/2 games out of first place in the A.L. East. The struggling Blue Jays fell to 41-33.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Phelps lost four consecutive starts from May 22 through June 7 and he was 1-4 with a 4.88 ERA at that point. But in his past two starts he has defeated the team with the best record in the American League (Oakland) and the best team in the A.L. East (Toronto). In those two starts he has given up two runs on eight hits and two walks and struck out 11 in 13 2/3 innings. He is 2-0 with a 1.32 ERA in those starts, which has lowered his season ERA to 4.11.
  • The Yankees very much need Beltran’s bat and they got it on Thursday. Beltran was 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs. It was his first multiple RBI game since he drove in two runs against the Boston Red Sox on April 22 at Fenway Park. Beltran entered the contest 7-for-40 (.175) with a home run and three RBIs since he came off the disabled list on June 5.
  • Ellsbury had another good night in going 2-for-4 with two stolen bases, two runs scored and an RBI. Ellsbury is now hitting .279 with four homers and 31 RBIs. But he also has stolen a team-best 20 bases and has an on-base percentage of .346. Add his skilled fielding in center and you have a very good player and a very smart free-agent signing by the Yankees.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Why complain when starters Masahiro Tanaka, Chase Whitley and Phelps combined to give up just five runs in 19 innings (a 2.37 ERA) in the three games against the hard-hitting Blue Jays. Whitley and Phelps may be considered as blowout patches for a starting rotation that lost Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda. But they are more than holding their own for Yankees at a time when they are very much needed. No complaints about this game.

BOMBER BANTER

The game was delayed for some time in the fourth inning when a rare base-runner interference play was called on Encarnacion after he led off with a single. Navarro followed with a routine pop fly to Teixeira just inside the first-base bag. Encarnacion used both of his hands to slide around Teixiera to return to first base while the ball was in the air and he was immediately called for interference by first-base umpire Chris Conroy. After initially calling Navarro out on the pop fly, the umpires conferred and placed Navarro at first base on a fielder’s choice.  . . .  Johnson had to leave the game in the sixth inning when the fingers on his left hand were struck with the ball as he was attempting a bunt. Johnson was removed from the game and replaced by Solarte with a 3-2 count. Solarte struck out but the Yankees later scored Roberts on Jeter’s groundout. Johnson underwent X-rays that did not indicate any broken bones. But Johnson is listed as day-to-day.

ON DECK

The Yankees now hope to continue their momentum against their A.L. East rivals when they begin a weekend three-game home series against the Baltimore Orioles.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (4-5, 3.42 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda lost his start on Saturday, giving up four runs on five hits and three walks against the Oakland Athletics. Kuroda is 1-0 against the Orioles this season after beating them 4-2 on April 7 at Yankee Stadium in his second start of the season.

Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (2-8, 4.86 ERA) will start for the O’s. The disappointing free agent gave up two runs on three hits and five walks in six innings in a loss to the Blue Jays last Friday. He has not won a game since May 8 and he was the losing pitcher to Kuroda in that game on April 7.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.

 

McCann-ical: Yankee Catcher’s 5 RBIs Dumps Jays

GAME 70

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 3

For most of the season, the Yankees have been wondering where their All-Star slugging catcher Brian McCann was because the one they have been watching was hitting ,220 with seven homers and 28 RBIs. Well, cross your fingers and do a sign of the cross, but there was a rare McCann sighting at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night.

McCann lined a two-run home run to put the Yankees ahead and later added a three-run triple as part of a career-best-tying five RBIs to lead New York past Toronto to bring them to within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Blue Jays in the American League East.

A paid crowd of 41,342 in the Bronx, N.Y., watched the Yankees win their 15th consecutive game over the Blue Jays at home.

Chase Whitley (3-0), buoyed by an early 1-0 lead, held the Blue Jays scoreless until the fourth inning when he was stung by back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Dioner Navarro and Colby Rasmus, who was just activated from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game.

But the Yankees were able to answer in the bottom of the fourth against left-hander Mark Buehrle (10-4), who has now lost his past three starts.

Carlos Beltran led of the frame with a single and McCann, after battling Buehrle to a 2-2 count in a nine-pitch at-bat, lined a curveball into the second row of the bleachers in right-field to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the evening.

The home run was McCann’s eighth of the season but his first since May 23 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

Buehrle was also touched for an unearned run in the first inning when Brett Gardner led off with a single, one of his four singles on the night. Derek Jeter then reached when Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie misplayed Jeter’s slow roller into an error.

Two batters later, another one of the Yankees struggling sluggers, Alfonso Soriano, slapped Buehrle’s first pitch up the middle to score Gardner.

Buehrle was charged with three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings.

Whitley, however, was able to hold on for his third straight victory and the Yankees are now 7-0 in his starts since he was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 15. He yielded two runs on five hits and one walk with two strikeouts in five innings.

The Yankees were able to put the game away in the seventh inning against right-hander Chad Jenkins and left-hander Brett Cecil.

Gardner singled and, two outs later, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira hit consecutive singles to load the bases. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Jenkins with Cecil and pinch-hitter Ichiro Suzuki drew a walk for score Gardner.

McCann then followed with a base-clearing triple into the gap in right-center to become the first Yankees catcher to hit a home run, a triple and drive in five runs in a game since Elston Howard did it in 1962.

The Blue Jays scored a run in the eighth off rookie right-hander Jose Ramirez on a leadoff double by Melky Cabrera and an RBI double off the bat of Jose Bautista. But the bullpen combination of Adam Warren, Dellin Betances and David Robertson pitched four scoreless innings on no hits, one walk and six strikeouts to close out the victory for Whitley.

The Yankees’ season record is now 37-33 and they only trail the Jays by one game in the loss column in the tightly bunched A.L. East. The Blue Jays fell to 41-32.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • McCann was 2-for-3 with a walk and his five RBIs on Tuesday leave him in a tie with Teixeira for the team lead with 33. McCann, 30, a career .274 hitter, is still hitting only .226 but the Yankees are hoping that he is about to break out of what has been a prolonged power and hitting drought to provide what he did for the Atlanta Braves in his previous eight seasons.
  • Gardner entered the game hitting .325 at Yankee Stadium this season and he added to it with a 4-for-5 night with four singles and two runs scored. In 30 games at home, Gardner is now 41-for-119 (.345) with four home runs and 15 RBIs. In his past nine games, Gardner is 14-for-38 (.386) with two homers and five RBIs.
  • Whitley, who turned 25 on Saturday, got caught up in a heavy pitch count in trying to battle the major league’s best home run hitting team. But he kept the Yankees in the game until the Yankees were able to take the lead in the fourth. Whitley’s walk to Cabrera with one out in the fifth was the first he has issued since May 21 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. In 38 2/3 innings, Whitley has walked just four batters. It looks like he is going to be a keeper in the rotation.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There are hints that the Yankees may be ready to bust out of their offensive funk and it could not have come at a better time because the Yankees are in the midst of 15 games against teams in their division. They have now won the first two of those 15 games against the best team in the division. They need to keep it going.

BOMBER BANTER

Left-hander CC Sabathia threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday for a second consecutive day and he is expected to throw another bullpen session on Saturday. Sabathia, who was limited to throwing just fastballs on Tuesday, mixed in some sliders on Wednesday and reported no problems with his right knee after the session. Sabathia has been sidelined since May 10 after having a stem-cell injection in his right knee.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Wednesday that he is not considering any shakeup in the starting rotation but he is watching left-hander Vidal Nuno closely. Nuno is 1-3 with a 5.90 ERA this season and he was shelled for eight runs on eight hits in three-plus innings against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. With right-hander Shawn Kelley back in the bullpen after a stint on the DL, Warren could be inserted into the rotation if Girardi needs to make a move.

ON DECK

The Yankees have a chance to sweep the first-place Blue Jays on Thursday and draw to within 1 1/2 games of the lead in the division.

Right-hander David Phelps (2-4, 4.32 ERA) gets the start for the Yankees. Phelps, 27, is coming off what may have been the best start of his career on Saturday when he shut out the A’s on two hits and three walks while fanning four in 6 2/3 innings. That victory broke a string of four straight losses for Phelps.

Right-hander Drew Hutchison (5-4, 3.62 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Hutchison, 23, shut out the Baltimore Orioles on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts in seven innings for his fifth victory on Friday. He was lit up for six runs on six hits and three walks in 3 1/3 innings by the Yankees in Toronto on April 6.

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

 

Tanaka Earns 11th Win As Yankees Top Blue Jays

GAME 67

YANKEES 3, BLUE JAYS 1

Whispers around the American League caution teams that to beat Masahiro Tanaka you better get to him early in the count and in the game. The Toronto Blue Jays applied that game plan in Tanaka’s first major-league start and again on Tuesday and it did not work either time.

In Tanaka’s major-league debut, Melky Cabrera led off the game with a home run and the Blue Jays lost the game 7-3. Jose Reyes led off Tuesday’s game by hitting Tanaka’s first delivery into the right-field bleachers and Toronto still lost the game.

Tanaka (11-1) pitched six innings to record his major-league-leading 11th victory as New York cut a game off the Blue Jays’ lead in the American League East with a victory over Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 41,834 at Yankee Stadium.

The 25-year-old right-hander yielded just that one run on five hits and two walks and he fanned 10 to lower his A.L.-leading ERA to 1.99 and post his 14th quality start in as many games pitched.

“What he’s done has been remarkable,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters.

The victory also was Girardi’s 600th in his career as the team’s manager, the sixth skipper to reach that mark.

Tanaka and the Yankees weathered the early 1-0 deficit before taking the lead in the bottom of the third against rookie right-hander Marcus Stroman, who is a native of nearby Medford, N.Y.

Kelly Johnson laced a one-out double to the wall in right-center and Brett Gardner followed by lining a 2-1 slider off the netting of the right-field foul pole for his sixth home run of the season.

Stroman (3-2) was charged with two runs on four hits and three walks while he struck out two in 3 2/3 innings.

The Yankees pushed across another run against left-hander Aaron Loup when Derek Jeter reached on an infield single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. After Jacoby Ellsbury’s groundout advanced Jeter to third, Loup made a mistake by failing to walk Mark Teixeira on a 3-1 pitch.

Instead, the switch-hitting Teixeira lined Loup’s inside fastball up the middle for a one-out RBI single with the left-hand-hitting Brian McCann on deck.

Meanwhile, Tanaka got even tougher, striking out Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion on swinging strikes in succession in the fifth inning.

Rookie Dellin Betances pitched a perfect two innings, striking out three, and David Robertson pitched around a two-out triple by Munenori Kawasaki to notch his 17th save in 19 chances this season.

The victory improves the Yankees’ season record to 36-33 and boosts them into second place in the A.L. East 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays. The Jays are now  41-31.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The conventional wisdom prior to the game was that because Tanaka’s loss came against the only team he has faced twice this season, the Chicago Cubs, that the Blue Jays would have success against him in their second meeting. It did not happen. Tanaka was even better. “They mowed us down pretty good tonight,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters.
  • If you combined the numbers this season for Tanaka, Betances and Robertson they are 15-3 with a 2.09 ERA with 224 strikeouts in 164 innings. I doubt seriously you can name a better starter and two-man bullpen combination in baseball today. They just dominate hitters and they combined on Tuesday to strike out 15 batters against the best home-run hitting team in baseball.
  • Gardner was batting .344 in his past 14 home games and his home run on Tuesday was his fourth at Yankee Stadium. Overall, Gardner is hitting .325 at home this season and he also leads the Yankees in bating with runners in scoring position at .315. Despite mostly batting in the leadoff spot, Gardner is tied with McCann and Yangervis Solarte for third on the team in RBIs with 28.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The Yankees probably could have done better than just six hits against Stroman and the Blue Jays relievers but with Tanaka on the mound it just does not seem to matter. The Yankees face the Blue Jays in five of the next 10 games. So winning the first one is a good start in cutting their lead in the division.

BOMBER BANTER

As expected on Tuesday, the Yankees activated catcher Francisco Cervelli from the 60-day disabled list and John Ryan Murphy was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cervelli, 28, has been sidelined since April 13 with a torn right hamstring and just completed a 10-game minor-league rehab stint. Murphy, 22, hit .286 with a home run and eight RBIs and drew raves about his play over 24 games. Cervelli, however, was out of options and the Yankees did not want to risk losing him.  . . .  CC Sabathia reported no issues with his right knee of Tuesday after throwing a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium on Monday. Sabathia, 33, has been on the 15-day disabled list since May 11 after requiring a stem-cell injection to his knee when some degenerative breakdown in the cartilage was discovered by Dr. James Andrews. There is still no firm date for Sabathia’s return but it likely will be sometime after the All-Star break.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game midweek series with Blue Jays on Wednesday.

Rookie right-hander Chase Whitley (2-0, 2.41 ERA) will make his seventh start of the season. Whitley is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in past two starts including giving up just two runs on five hits with no walks and six K’s in his major-league best 7 2/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday.

Left-hander Mark Buehrle (10-3, 2.28 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Buehrle is coming off back-to-back losses and yielded four runs on eight hits and one walk in 6 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday.

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

 

Rivera Halts Late Rally As Yankees Sweep Chisox

GAME 139

YANKEES 6, WHITE SOX 5

If Yankees manager Joe Girardi wants to have a conversation after the season with Mariano Rivera just to make sure he really wants to retire who could blame him. The 43-year-old future Hall-of Fame closer has shown no signs of his age or lost an of his effectiveness.

Rivera came with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning on Wednesday and “Mo’ed” down all four batters he faced for a rare four-out save to propel New York to a three-game sweep of Chicago in front of a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 36,082.

The Yankees actually were cruising with a 6-1 lead behind CC Sabathia in the top of the eighth when Girardi pulled him with Alexei Ramirez on second and Paul Konerko on first after he singled with one out.

Little did Girardi and the Yankees realize that the usually reliable David Robertson would have a meltdown that allowed the White Sox to climb back into the game.

Avisail Gracia greeted Roberston with an RBI single to left to score Ramirez and, one out later, Dayan Viciedo drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.

Josh Phegley followed with a two-run single to left and Marcus Semien, who was making his major-league debut, ripped an RBI single up the middle to bring the Chisox to within a run of the Yankees and send Robertson to the dugout.

Rivera came on to strike out Alejandro De Aza looking to shut the rally down and he then pitched a perfect ninth to earn his 41st save in 46 opportunities this season.

Sabathia (13=11) pitched 7 1/3 string innings to run his career record against the White Sox to 19-4. He gave up three runs on five hits and four walks while he struck four in his longest outing since Aug. 7.

Other than the two runs, Sabathia was charged with in the eighth, he only gave up a single run in the first inning when Garcia stroked a two-out, opposite-field double to drive in Gordon Beckham, who had drawn a one-out walk.

The Yankees, however, tied it with two out in the bottom of the first when Robinson Cano blasted his 26th home run of the season to right-field off right-hander Erik Johnson, who was also making his major-league debut.

The Yankees added four runs in the fourth inning off Johnson (0-1) as Alex Rodriguez led off with a lined single to center and Ichiro Suzuki reached first when Johnson’s throw to first base pulled Jeff Keppinger off the bag for an error.

Lyle Overbay followed with an RBI single and, one out later, Brett Gardner laced a two-run triple off the wall in left-center. Cano then capped the inning by driving in his 91st run of the year by scoring Gardner on a sharp comebacker off Johnson that was scored as an infield single.

Johnson, 22, was charged with five runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks while he fanned one batter in six innings. That one batter was Suzuki, who struck out with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning.

The Yankees added what looked to be just another tack on run in the seventh inning off right-hander Daniel Webb, who was the third player for the White Sox who was making his major-league debut.

Derek Jeter drew a leadoff walk and Cano advanced him to third with a lined single to right for his third hit of the night.

Alfonso Soriano then scored Jeter with a sacrifice fly to deep right for his 91st RBI of the season and his 40th in just 37 games with the Yankees. That run actually ended up being the margin of victory for the Yankees, who managed a home sweep of the Chisox after they swept the Yankees in a three-game series at U.S. Cellular Field a month ago.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 75-64 and they remain in third place in the American League East eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. However, they are just 2 1/2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for a wild-card spot. The last-place White Sox fell to 56-82, assuring them a season below .500.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano is red-hot at the plate at just the right time for the Yankees’ playoff push. He was 3-for-4 on Wednesday with a pair of singles, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. Since Aug. 2, Cano is 42-for-117 (.359) with five home runs and 21 RBIs. Soriano is providing him with a lot of protection in the cleanup spot and he is getting better pitches to hit as a result.
  • Gardner has also been on fire of late. He was 2-for-4 with a single, a triple, a run scored and two RBIs on the night. In his past nine games, Gardner is 12-for-35 (.343) with six doubles and a triple, eight runs scored and four RBIs. His triple on Wednesday was his eighth of the season, which is a career high.
  • Sabathia actually pitched creditably after going through a stretch in which his ERA was an incredible 7.33 in his past nine starts. Sabathia has managed to win four his past five starts but he has been getting by with more run support than he received earlier in the season. The Yankees are hoping he can turn in a very good September to get the team into the playoffs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Robertson’s outing was very jarring because he was rocked for two runs on three hits and a walk in just one-third of an inning. Robertson had only given up one earned run over his past 29 1/3 innings covering 17 appearances since June 19. Considering his season ERA is still 1.88 after his outing on Wednesday I doubt Girardi will lose sleep over it.
  • Suzuki was 0-for-4 and did allow Johnson to escape a bases-loaded jam in the first when he struck out on a pitch that actually bounced in the batter’s box at his feet. He did not get a ball out of the infield and he is just 1-for-9 in his past four games and is hitting just .182 in his past 10 games.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi dropped a bombshell when he announced on Wednesday that right-hander Phil Hughes has been shifted from the starting rotation to the bullpen in favor of left-hander David Huff. Hughes, 27, is 4-13 with a 4.86 ERA in 26 starts this season. He has lost 11 of his past 13 decisions and he has a 6.12 ERA since August.  Huff, 29, has compiled a 2-0 record with 1.13 ERA in 16 innings covering seven appearances with the Yankees, most of them in long relief. Huff is scheduled to pitch in Saturday’s game against the Red Sox as part of the four-game home weekend series.  . . .  Right-hander Ivan Nova was named the American League Pitcher of the Month for August on Wednesday. Nova, 26, was 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his six starts and he is coming off his first major-league complete-game shutout in his last start against the Orioles on Saturday.

ON DECK

The Yankees’ hopes to win the A.L. East hinge on their four-game weekend series with the Red Sox that starts on Thursday.

Nova (8-4, 2.88 ERA) will be starting for the Yankees and he is the team’s hottest pitcher of late. Nova held the Orioles to three hits, walked one and struck out five batters in what was his most dominant start of the season. Nova is 2-2 with a 4.85 ERA in his career against the Bosox.

Nova will be opposed by right-hander Jake Peavy (3-1, 3.18 ERA). Peavy held the White Sox to two runs on five hits and a walk in seven innings to win his last start on Saturday. However, Peavy has had no luck against the Yankees. He is 0-4 with a 3.86 ERA lifetime against them.

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

 

Pettitte Hopes Last Season Includes Another Ring

The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.

PART 3

ANDY PETTITTE (5-4, 2.87 ERA)

When the announcement was made last March that Andy Pettitte was coming back to the Yankees to pitch, the euphoria was palpable.

After a year in retirement, Pettitte was determined to pitch again. The story was supposed to go that Pettitte would pitch great, he would lead the team to the playoffs and help them win their 28th world championship. However, that script landed in the dustbin after Pettitte ended up getting injured along the way.

On June 27, Pettitte was struck in the right ankle with a ball off the bat of Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians. It was only his ninth start of the season and the injury would shelve him until mid-September. The Yankees did make the playoffs and Pettitte helped them make it to the American League Championship Series.

However, the Yankees’ offense decided to sleep in and missed the series.

Immediately, Pettitte’s return in 2013 was in doubt. But, fortunately for the Yankees, Pettitte decided he still had some unfinished business and he was signed to a one-year, $12 million contract at age 40.

The numbers Pettitte produced when he was healthy last season certainly backed up his decision. His ERA was excellent at 2.87 and six of his 12 starts were quality starts. The biggest surprise was jump in Pettitte’s strikeout rate.

Last season, Pettitte struck out 69 batters in 75 1/3 innings. At that rate, Pettitte would have topped 200 Ks for the first time in his long and storied career. It is not that Pettitte had gained velocity or came up with a new pitch. It is just that he was pitching smarter and he was able to keep batters off balance.

Heading into the 2013 season, there are a lot of things that are breaking to Pettitte’s favor. For one, Pettitte will enter spring camp from the first day and be ready to pitch when the season begins instead of his May 13 debut last season.

In addition, Pettitte already knows he can get major-league hitters out, which is something he did not know last season after sitting out the 2011 season.

Pettitte is also a valuable commodity as a veteran left-handed starter in an American League with a lot of powerful left-handed hitters.

One thing about Pettitte that sets him apart from any other pitcher is his fierce competitiveness. It is – and has been throughout his career – a blessing. But it also can be a curse.

Last season, Pettitte was feeling frisky during his rehab and pushed his workouts past what the doctors had prescribed. He ended up paying for it by extending his rehab a few weeks. Sometimes Pettitte also can be own worst enemy.

The key to Pettitte’s 2013 season looks to be maintaining his health and stamina throughout the long grind of a season. Pettitte pitched into the sixth inning or better in each of his first eight starts before he was injured. But he finished six innings only once in his final three starts.

With CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda ahead of him in the rotation, Pettitte will form what will be a pretty formidable top tier of starters. Those three combined to go 36-21 with a 3.27 ERA. With a much tougher American League and stiffer competition in the A.L. East, this is threesome manager Joe Girardi can count on to meet the challenge.

They will have to because the Yankees’ offense did take a major hit this winter with the departures of Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones.

With Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez on the roster the Yankees might be looking to reintroduce more of a running game in 2013 with a lot of bunting, hit and runs and taking chances on the bases instead of waiting on the home run.

It could mean that the Yankees will have to settle for fewer runs and that puts a lot more pressure on the starting pitchers to keep the other team from putting the game out of reach. But Pettitte seems to up to that challenge.

If he can limit his pitch counts and make it deep into games, the Yankees stand a good chance of winning more than their fair share of them.

Pettitte enters the 2013 season with a career record of 245 wins and 142 losses (.633 winning percentage) and career ERA of 3.86. He has 208 career wins as a Yankees, which is third behind Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).

To Pettitte, those numbers are nice but they are not numbers he cares too much about. If the Hall of Fame should come calling he would be honored. But he does not expect it and need it to validate his career.

But his postseason numbers of 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA are something of which he is very proud. No pitcher in the modern postseason era has started (44) and won as many games as Pettitte. Last season he was 0-1 with a 3.29 ERA in his two starts. Victory eluded him because the Yankees did not score very many runs in the postseason.

But Pettitte understands that if the Yankees do make the playoffs and he does his job the way he expects to do it the Yankees have an excellent shot of winning most of the time.

This likely will be his last season and the Yankees would love to make sure the three members of what was the “Core Four,” Petitte, Jeter and Mariano Rivera have a chance to play for a world championship.

Nothing would be sweeter for the Yankees and nothing would be sweeter for Pettitte than having that chance one last time.

NEXT: PHIL HUGHES

 

Kuroda, Suzuki Say Sayonara To Reeling Red Sox

GAME 121

YANKEES 4, RED SOX 1

On a night where Japan’s Hajime Motegi hit a walk-off two-run blast in the bottom of the ninth to beat Taiwan, 2-0, in the International Bracket of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, two of the team’s major-league heroes were putting on a show on the big stage at Yankee Stadium.

Hiroki Kuroda turned in yet another stellar outing on the mound and Ichiro Suzuki homered twice as New York sent Boston packing from the Bronx, N.Y. on Sunday looking up out of a huge 13 1/2-game hole with just 41 games left to play.

Kuroda (12-8) gave up only a one-out solo home run to Adrian Gonazalez in the seventh as he shut down the listless Red Sox offense on just four hits and no walks over eight very breezy innings.

The 37-year-old right-hander ran his scoreless-inning streak to 16 2/3 innings before Gonzalez connected with his meaningless solo shot. Kuroda is 8-2 with a 2.73 in his last 20 starts dating back to May 27.

Meanwhile, the Yankees chipped away at the Red Sox’ disappointing ace Josh Beckett (5-11), scoring single runs in the first, third, fourth and sixth innings.

The runs in the fourth and sixth came on the sixth and seventh home runs of the season from Suzuki, marking his first multi-homer game as a Yankee. After Suzuki’s second home run of the night, many in the paid crowd of 48,620 chanted “Ichiro, Ichiro” until the 37-year-old veteran came of the Yankees’ dugout to take a curtain call.

The Yankees opened the scoring with Derek Jeter leading off the game with a ringing double to the wall in center, the first of three hits on the night for Jeter. With two out, Curtis Granderson stroked a lined double off the right-field wall to score Jeter.

Two innings later, Jeter again opened the inning with a ground-rule double to center off Beckett. Nick Swisher drew a walk and both Jeter and Swisher pulled off a double steal. Jeter then scored when a pitch from Beckett to Robinson Cano bounced in the dirt and eluded catcher Ryan Lavarnway, allowing Jeter to score easily.

Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth, punctuating the victory by retiring Gonzalez by striking out him swinging. Soriano saved two of the three games in the series and he has 31 saves in 33 chances this season.

With the loss, the Red Sox’s nightmarish August continues. They are 6-12 this month and they now trail in the wild-card standings by 7 1/2 games. If it is not time to stick a fork in the Bosox it is not far away.

With the victory, the Yankees improved to an American League-best record of 72-49 and they are five games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the A.L. East. The Red Sox are now 59-63 and their playoff chances are about as bright as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson winning the 2012 presidential election as the Libertarian candidate.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In the absence of CC Sabathia, Kuroda has turned out to be a true ace over his last 20 starts. Kuroda retired 16 of his 24 outs on 12 ground balls and four strikeouts. Out of his 112 pitches, 75 (67 percent) were strikes. He could not have looked in more command against the Red Sox if he were throwing from a La-Z-boy recliner.
  • Suzuki came to the Yankees with only four home runs but he now has three in his 26 games with the team. On his current pace, Suzuki possibly could become the 11th Yankee to reach double digits in home runs. The Yankees lead the major leagues in home runs with 189. Suzuki also has only failed to record at least one hit in just two of his starts since he was acquired on July 23.
  • Jeter was 3-for-4 with two doubles and two runs scored. The three hits give him 163 on the season, which leads the majors. Though he had his 13-game hitting streak snapped on Saturday, Jeter is hitting .351 with two home runs and 11 RBis in August. His season average is now .321.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Nothing to say here. Any win over the Red Sox is pretty much devoid of negatives.

BOMBER BANTER

Mark Teixeira, who has been sidelined throughout the three-game Boston series with a sore left wrist, hopes to return to action on Monday. Teixeira took ground balls on Sunday wearing a compression brace on his wrist. Teixeira missed games from July 31 through August 2 with the same problem and took a cortisone shot to ease the pain.  . . .  Left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano threw a scoreless inning for the Gulf Coast Yankees on Saturday and there is a strong possibility he could pitch some for the Yankees in September. Feliciano signed a two-year contract with the Yankees before the 2011 season and he has not pitched an inning for the Yankees because he had to undergo surgery to repair a torn capsule in his left shoulder.

ON DECK

The Yankees travel to the Windy City to play the Chicago White Sox in a three-game series beginning on Monday.

Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (7-5, 4.68 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Garcia is 5-3 with a 3.69 ERA in his eight starts replacing left-hander Andy Pettitte in the rotation. In his last time out, he gave up two home runs to Josh Hamilton but still beat the Texas Rangers for his third straight victory. Garcia is 5-5 with a 4.46 ERA in his career against the Chisox.

The White Sox will counter with right-hander Gavin Floyd (9-9, 4.43 ERA). Floyd notched his first career victory in Toronto and only his second road victory of the season by downing the Blue Jays in his last outing. He is 2-3 with a 6.07 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Swisher Hits 2 As Yanks Pelt Bosox With 5 Homers

GAME 119

YANKEES 6, RED SOX 4

When the New York City Grand Hyatt Hotel elevator opens for Bobby Valentine and the passengers announce the elevator is going down, the embattled Red Sox skipper must be thinking about heading for the stairs. But after Friday’s loss to the New York Yankees, Valentine and the Red Sox must clearly believe that their season is indeed going down – in flames.

Nick Swisher led a five-homer barrage with a pair of solo shots from each side of the plate as New York put yet another proverbial nail in Boston’s 2012 coffin on a rainy night at Yankee Stadium in front of paid crowd of 49,422.

Jayson Nix actually was one of the few Yankees who kept his hit in the yard as he broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning with an RBI single to give the Yankees their eighth victory in their last 10 games and increase their lead over the Red Sox in the American League East to 13 1/2 games.

Phil Hughes (12-10) snapped a personal two-game losing streak by allowing four runs (none of them earned) on four hits and one walk while striking out four in seven solid innings.

Hughes proved to be his own worst enemy after being staked to a 3-0 lead after a solo home run by Swisher in the first inning and Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin went back-to-back with solo home runs in the second inning off Red Sox starter Franklin Morales.

Mike Aviles led off the third inning with a lined single to center. Hughes then botched a potential double-play ball off the bat of Scott Posednik by throwing his relay toss second in the dirt and past Nix into center-field, putting runners on first and third with no outs.

Pedro Ciriaco scored Aviles by beating out another potential double-play ball and Jacoby Ellsbury battled Hughes to earn a 10-pitch walk.

That set the stage for a three-run home run into the left-field bleachers off the bat of Dustin Pedroia, giving the Red Sox a 4-3 lead on four unearned runs.

But the Yankees were not quite finished playing Home Run Derby with Morales.

Derek Jeter connected for his 10th home run of the season and extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a lined blast to left-field with two out in the fifth inning to tie it at 4-4. Morales has served up 11 home runs in 73 2/3 innings this season and eight of them have been to the Yankees.

The Yankees’ game-winning rally started in the sixth with a one-out single to center by Casey McGehee. Granderson followed with a hard-hit single off the wall in right that advanced McGehee to third and Valentine replaced Morales with right-handed reliever Clayton Mortensen.

One out later, Nix stroked a 0-2 slider to the opposite field in right to score McGehee.

Morales (3-4) gave up five runs on six hits and a walk and he fanned three in 5 1/3 innings. In his two starts against the Yankees this season, he has been tagged for 11 runs on 12 hits and three walks in 8 2/3 innings. Of those 12 hits, eight of the hits have been those pesky longballs.

Swisher capped the scoring with a solo home run that chased Mortensen in the seventh inning. It was his 16th home run of the season, his fourth home run over his last five games and it is the 12th time in his career he has hit a homer from both sides of the plate in a game.

David Robertson twirled a scoreless eighth and Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth to record his 30th save in 32 chances this season.

The Red Sox are 3-7 against the Yankees this season and their hopes of getting back into the wild-card race seem about as realistic as Kevin Youkilis throwing a tribute dinner for Valentine. The Red Sox are an anemic 5-11 in August and they seem to have as much life as Ted Williams’ preserved head.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their American League-best record to 71-48 and they are six games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the A.L. East. The Red Sox are mired in fourth at 58-62 and they are in danger of becoming the team with the highest payroll ever to miss three consecutive postseasons.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Swisher is on a flat-out tear that seems to have coincided with his move to the No. 2 spot in the batting order. He has at least one RBI in his last six games and is 9-for-25 (.360) with four home runs and 11 RBIs in that span. Swisher has raised his season average to .266.
  • Jeter’s 10th home run of the season gives the Yankees 10 players who have 10 or more home runs this season. During his 13-game hitting streak, Jeter is 22-for-64 (.344) with two home runs and eight RBIs. His current hot streak has raised his season average to .319, which leads the team and is fourth in the A.L.
  • If you leave out the nightmare third inning, Hughes gave up no runs on two hits and no walks and struck out four in six innings. As it is, Hughes retired 12 of the last 14 hitters he faced after the third. After going 0-2 with a 11.88 ERA in his last two starts, it was a nice bounce-back start for the 26-year-old right-hander.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I could complain about Hughes’ awful throwing error which led to four unearned runs. But the Yankees ratcheted up the power on the Red Sox and have them just about put away for good this season. So there are no real negatives when things look so good for Yankee fans.

BOMBER BANTER

Mark Teixeira was unable to play on Friday due to recurring soreness in his left wrist. It is the first game Teixeira has missed since he returned to the lineup on Aug. 3 after having a cortisone shot to ease the inflammation. It is unclear how much time Teixeira will miss. But manager Joe Girardi said he does not expect it to be a long-term issue.  Swisher played first in Teixeira’s absence against the Red Sox.  . . .  CC Sabathia threw on flat ground for the second consecutive day on Friday and it appears he is on schedule to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday and will make a start on Aug. 24 in Cleveland against the Indians. Sabathia has been sidelined with soreness in his left elbow.

ON DECK

The Yankees can embarrass the Bosox some more in a nationally telecast game on Saturday.

The Yankees will start 25-year-old rookie right-hander David Phelps (3-3, 2.53 ERA), who won his first major-league game as a starter by beating the Texas Rangers on Monday. Phelps gave up two runs on six hits and one walk and fanned three in five innings. He has no record and a 4.50 ERA in limited relief work against the Red Sox in his career.

The Red Sox will start left-hander Jon Lester (6-10, 5.20 ERA). Lester gave up one run on three hits and struck out 12 in his last start against the Indians on Sunday. However, Lester is 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA in his two starts against the Yankees this season.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.

 

CC Fans 10 Braves As Yankees Hang Ten In Bronx

GAME 66

YANKEES 6, BRAVES 2

When you think of perfect 10’s you might immediately conjure up images of Angelina Joile, Jessica Alba or Kate Beckinsale. Though they might not be in the same league as those women in terms of looks, the New York Yankees are now a perfect 10 themselves.

CC Sabathia pitched his first complete game in 11 months and Derek Jeter drove in three runs, including a clutch two-out, two-run single that a broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth inning, as New York overcame being no-hit for the first four innings on Monday to defeat Atlanta for their 10th straight victory.

Sabathia (9-3) gave up two runs on seven hits and one walk and he fanned 10 batters to join teammate Ivan Nova as the first two pitchers in the American League to win nine games.

Sabathia, however, got off to a rough start when Michael Bourn cranked his second offering into the gap and to the wall in left-center for a triple. Martin Prado pushed him across the plate on a groundout.

Four innings later, Bourn burned Sabathia for a second time.

Jason Heyward led off the fifth with a single up the middle and Andrelton Simmons reached on an infield single when his comebacker ticked off Sabathia’s glove. One out later, Bourn slapped a single up the middle to score Heyward and the Braves held a 2-0 lead with Mike Minor throwing a no-hitter through four innings.

But the bottom of the fifth inning proved to be very unkind to the 24-year-old left-hander, who shut down the Yankees on one run and four hits through 7 1/3 innings last Tuesday in Atlanta only to have the Yankees rally for six runs in the eighth inning and win the game, 6-4.

Alex Rodriguez started the inning with the Yankees first hit of the game, a solid lined single to center. Minor then walked Robinson Cano and, after one out, Russell Martin smacked a ground-rule double down the left-field line to score Rodriguez and halve the Braves’ lead to 2-1.

Jayson Nix drew a walk to load the bases and with two out Jeter smacked a single up the middle to score Cano and Martin and the Yankees grabbed their first lead of the night. A majority of the 42,709 fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium finally had a chance to get to their feet and cheer.

Sabathia was not about to give up the lead either.

In the final four innings, the Braves managed only a two-out single by David Ross in the seventh inning. Sabathia retired the other 12 batters he faced – six on strikeouts, five on groundouts and one on a flyout – to nail it down down for the Yankees.

Meanwhile, the Yankees tacked on single runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth.

Mark Teixeira blasted his 12th home run of the season off Minor to lead off the sixth. It was the 100th home run of the season for the Yankees, which leads the majors.

An inning later, Jeter followed a two-out double by Chris Stewart with an RBI single to make it 5-2 and Cano capped the scoring with his 13th home run of the season with one out in the eighth.

Minor (3-5) gave up four runs on four hits and three walks and he struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings.

Sabathia’s complete game was his first since an eight-inning loss to Tampa Bay on July 21, 2011. He has pitched at least seven innings in 11 of his 14 starts this season.

The Yankees’ 10-game winning streak is their longest such streak since May 2005. The Yankee starting rotation has an ERA of 2.09 during the streak and they have recorded eight of the victories.

The Yankee have improved their A.L.-best record to 41-25 and they extended their lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles to 2 1/2 games in the A.L. East. The Braves, who have now lost all four interleague contest they have played against the Yankees, are now 35-32.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In the month of June, Sabathia actually entered the game as the starter with the worst ERA at 3.80, though he was 2-1. But after a shaky start, Sabathia settled in the minute the Yankees took the lead and was in command the rest of the way. Sabathia lowered his season ERA to 3.55 and he is on pace for another run at a 20-win season.
  • Jeter two RBI hits both came with two outs and with runners in scoring position. There have not been many of those from the Yankees this season. Jeter extended his hitting streak to nine games and he is 14-for-41 (.341) over that stretch. He raised his season average to a team-best .317. Jeter also made a diving stop of a hard-hit grounder off the bat of Bourn to end the seventh inning.
  • When Martin stepped to the plate in the fifth inning he was one for his last 19 at-bats, including a strikeout in this first at-bat. But he doubled and later singled to push his batting average back over the Mendoza Line to .206 for the season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

What negatives? Despite the fact it took them five innings to get a hit, the Yankees dug down deep again and pulled another game out. Sabathia looked sensational after the Yankees got the lead and not many teams can say they have won 10 in a row. This one can.

ON DECK

The Yankees will go for No. 11 on Tuesday against these same Braves.

Red-hot right-hander Hiroki Kuroda ( 6-6, 3.43 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Kuroda limited the Braves to two runs on nine hits and he fanned a season-high eight last Wednesday for his third straight victory. Kuroda is 2-4 with a 2.23 ERA in his career against the Braves.

Kuroda will square off with Tim Hudson (4-3, 3.90 ERA) again. Hudson gave up three runs – two coming on a Curtis Granderson two-run homer in the sixth – in six innings and took the loss against the Yankees. He is 1-4 with a 3.84 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast on regional basis by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Nova Wins 9th As Yanks Extend Win Streak To Nine

GAME 65

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 1

Ask any manager and general manager in baseball to give you the three keys to winning and they all will tell that it is pitching, pitching and more pitching. The New York Yankees suddenly have the market cornered on pitching as they continue their destruction of the National League during interleague play.

Ivan Nova threw 7 1/3 innings of sparkling one-run baseball to become the first American League pitcher to win nine games as New York, on the strength of a pair of solo home runs by Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, swept Washington at Nationals Park on Sunday to win their ninth straight contest.

Nova (7-2) only surrendered a solo home run to Adam LaRoche to lead of the second inning. He gave up seven hits and one walk while striking out four batters to record his fifth straight victory and he remains undefeated (12-0) over his last 15 road starts dating back to June 3, 2011.

The Yankees, meanwhile, reverted back to their old ways of failing to hit with runners in scoring position but they still were able to get to Edwin Jackson (3-4) to push across enough runs to win the game.

The Yankees loaded the bases in the first inning on Jackson on an infield single by Derek Jeter, a Granderson double and an intentional walk to Cano with one out. Mark Teixeira followed with a sacrifice fly that brought Jeter home with the game’s first run.

That run held up until LaRoche tied it with his team-leading 12th home run for the Nationals.

But Granderson broke the tie leading off the fifth inning by crushing a high change-up off Jackson into the bullpen in right-field for his 21st home run of the season.

Even though the Yankees put runners on base in all six innings Jackson worked, they could not come up with the knockout blow. Jackson gave up seven hits and three walks but he kept the Yankees from adding to their lead. The Yankees were 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

The Yankees did manage to run up Jackson’s pitch count to 110 after six innings, which sent him out of the game and allowed the Yankees to tack on some runs against the Nationals’ bullpen.

They added a two runs in the seventh.

The first came on a solo home run by Cano off left-hander Tom Gorzelanny for Cano’s 12th home run of the season. Three batters later, Teixeira – who doubled – scored from third with two out when rookie reliever Ryan Mattheus threw a 3-2 pitch to Andruw Jones that catcher Jhonathan Solano could not catch for a passed ball. Teixeira scored easily when Mattheus failed to cover home plate.

The Yankees’ bullpen took it from there.

Boone Logan completed the eighth inning for Nova and Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth to record his 13th save, which makes him the Yankees reliever who has saved the second-most games since Mariano Rivera became the team’s closer in 1996. Steve Karsay previously held that mark with 12.

With the victory the Yankees improved their A.L.-best record to 40-25 and they maintained their 1 1/2-game lead on the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the A.L. East. The Nationals, who came into the series on a six-game winning streak, dropped to 38-26.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nova pitched another exceptional game on Sunday. In his last three starts, Nova is 3-0, giving up only two runs on 16 hits and three walks and he has struck out 15 batters over 22 2/3 innings. That has lowered his season ERA from 5.60 to 4.32. He has not lost since a May 19 start at Yankee Stadium against the Reds and his career record is now 25-6. Anyone still think this 25-year-old right-hander is a fluke or his record is just a product of great run support?
  • Granderson has been on a full-blown tear in his last eight games, which coincides neatly into the Yankees’ nine-game winning streak. Granderson has an eight-game hitting streak and he is 11-for-33 (.333) in that span with three home runs and seven RBIs. In fact, Granderson has now homered in three of his last four games and his 21 homers trails only Adam Dunn (23) of the White Sox and Josh Hamilton (22) of the Rangers in the major leagues.
  • Cano has been on a tear this June. He is hitting .333 with four home runs and eight RBIs. He has failed to get at least one hit in only two games this month. On May 5, Cano had one home run and four RBIs. Since that time, he has 11 home runs and 26 RBIs and he has raised his batting average from .255 to an even .300.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position statistic just hangs out there like an albatross on the Yankees. It can be forgotten with the nine-game winning streak but the longer it continues the harder it is going to be for the Yankees to correct it when they play tougher A.L. teams, not to mention in the playoffs.
  • Raul Ibanez gets the award for choking in the clutch on Sunday. He was 0-for-5 and he left seven men on base. But, to be fair to Ibanez, he hit the ball hard three times but it just so happened that it found a glove each time. Ibanez is one of the Yankees struggling during their current winning streak. In his last 10 games he is hitting .172 with a home run and three RBIs.
  • Alex Rodriguez also failed to contribute anything on Sunday. He was 0-for-5 including a strikeout. Though he has a home run and nine RBIs, he is only hitting .229 over his last 10 games. He is only hitting .222 in June.

BOMBER BANTER

As expected, Nick Swisher was held out of the lineup and did not play on Sunday due to a bone bruise in his left quad. Swisher was sliding into home plate when Nationals catcher Jesus Flores’ left shin guard struck Swisher on the left thigh as Flores tagged him out in the sixth inning of Saturday’s game. Swisher received treatment for the injury and he remains day-to-day.  . . .  Cano’s home run off Gorzelanny in the seventh inning was pretty much a given. In his career, Cano is 6-for-8 off Gorzelanny.

ON DECK

The Yankees completed a 6-0 road trip by sweeping two N.L. teams. They now come home to open a home series on Monday against one of those teams they swept, the Atlanta Braves.

CC Sabathia (8-3, 3.70 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Sabathia was tagged for four runs on 10 hits over seven innings against the Braves but he won the game when the Yankees came from 4-0 down in the eighth for a 6-4 victory. In his career against the Braves, Sabathia is 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA.

Lefty Mike Minor (3-4, 6.01 ERA) will face Sabathia and the Yankees for a second straight start. Last Wednesday, Minor pitched his best game of the season, limiting the Yankees to one run in 7 1/3 innings. But his bullpen – led by Jonny Venters – blew the lead and lost the game. This will be only Minor’s second start against the Yankees.

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

 

Power Shifts In A.L. East But Yankees Still Reign


Today marks the beginning of the 2012 season for the New York Yankees. After a 33-game spring schedule, the team took shape. How will they finish in the American League East? What about the other teams in the division? How will they do this season? Let’s take a look.

Last season marked a titanic shift in the division.

After the Boston Red Sox recorded the biggest implosion in major-league history in September, they are no longer looked upon as an elite in this division. The loss of general manager Theo Epstein and the decision to blame Terry Francona for the team’s demise were bad enough.

But the real shock was to watch the Red Sox take a different approach to trying to fix the team this winter. Instead of just going out and aggressively signing the best free agents available and making bold trades to infuse new blood, the Bosox actually started a coupon-clipping method of solving their problems.

The big names that could have helped them went elsewhere and the Red Sox found that their once-vaunted minor-league system was bereft of immediate-impact talent.

They begin the 2012 season with one of the most important positions on the team left n the hands of someone inexperienced.

If ever this was a microcosm of the Red Sox problems this is it. They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to walk away via free agency. Maligned for his foibles and his occasional blown saves, Papelbon was still an important piece of the success of the franchise. The fans and the press treatment of him bit the team in the rear end.

To replace him the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s, a competent closer who at the same time has had a series of arm ailments that have slowed his development. At the end of spring training, Bailey came up with a thumb injury that will require surgery to repair. He will miss two months – at least.

The Red Sox also traded for Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon. The conventional wisdom was Melanco would replace Bailey. After all, why trade for a closer if he is not going to close? But new manager Bobby Valentine announced that jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) reliever Alfredo Aceves would close instead.

Welcome to Red Sox Nation’s worst nightmare. On Opening Day, Aceves coughed the winning run in a non-save situation.

If there is anyone out there who honestly believes this team can win the A.L. East, I want to know what you are smoking.

There are only two elite teams in this division and they are the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays had an interesting spring where they played a lot like the some of the teams in 1960s like the Dodgers and White Sox, who were so deep in pitching talent they shut out any team. However, at the same time, the offense is so bad that scoring runs is going to take some real effort.

Don’t get me wrong. The Rays and manager Joe Maddon have ways of scoring. Carlos Pena may struggle to keep his average around .190 but he will likely hit 30 home runs. Evan Longoria, surrounded by lightweights, will be pitched around and his average will suffer also. But he will win his share of 2-1 games with home runs.

Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton and the rest of Rays also use their feet to create havoc on the bases. That will get them their share of runs at times. But the old adage “You can’t steal first base” comes into play. The Rays have to reach base in order to steal bases. This team also lacks the athleticism past teams had when Carl Crawford was here.

How many bases will catcher Jose Molina steal? I rest my case.

No, the Rays’ sole means of winning comes with their starting rotation. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann are the center of the ballclub. The Rays have attempted to build a bullpen around them but they begin the season with their closer, Kyle Farnsworth, on the disabled list with a sore elbow.

That is huge red flag to me.

Could you say that the Yankees would be favored to win a championship with Mariano Rivera on the DL and expected to miss two months like Bailey? How about if Rivera complained he had a sore elbow?

Nope. No matter how stacked your pitching staff is you have to have a closer and Farnsworth is the best the Rays had in 2011. If he is lost for a long period of time, it puts pressure on Maddon to “shorten” his bullpen. That means keeping his starters on the mound longer than most managers would allow.

That exposes them to possibly losing close games because starters do run out of steam at some point. While a manager like Charlie Manuel might take Cliff Lee out after 121 pitches because he has Papelbon and a deep bullpen, Maddon may say let’s let Price get out of this in the eighth because I do not think J.P. Howell has been effective lately.

It becomes a slippery slope and you start lengthening and lengthening your starters until they begin wearing down.

That is my concern with the Rays.

In addition, they do not have the money and means to ever go to a Plan B. What they have on the roster has to work or they fall.

One team that intrigues me is the Blue Jays.

They already have Jose Bautista. You add to that third baseman Brett Lawrie and a bunch of guys who hit the ball hard and you have the makings of a great offense. Too bad the Rays do not have this offense.

The Blue Jays will put a lot of runs on the board. They have a lot of power and line-drive hitters top to bottom in the lineup.

However, their pitching revolves around Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Brett Cecil has been sent to the minors and Dustin McGowan’s comeback has been slowed by injury.  Their bullpen does have a closer in Sergio Santos they stole from the White Sox and a former closer in Francisco Cordero they signed from the Reds.

If manager Jon Farrell can piece enough starters to go six, the Blue Jays just might have what it take to pass the Red Sox in third place in this division. Stranger things have happened.

The one given in the division is where the Orioles will finish. Mismanagement, bad luck and foolish spending have really derailed this franchise.

Buck Showalter is a good manager but this team is mired with problems. The young pitching the Orioles counted on has failed to take the big leap forward they expected.

They made big bets on players like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and they have underwhelmed. They lack a big bopper like a Bautista who can change a game. Instead, they can build around emerging star catcher Matt Wieters.

That just about sums up the Orioles.

Now we come to the Yankees.

They won 97 games last season despite the fact Alex Rodriguez played in 99 games, only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had good seasons with the bat and their rotation contained Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

How many will they win when they get a healthy season out of Rodriguez, more of their hitters have better seasons with the bat and a rotation that now has Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, a healthy Phil Hughes to go along with ace lefty CC Sabathia?

Their bullpen even without Joba Chamberlain is loaded with Rivera closing like he always has at age 42 and David Robertson and Rafael Soriano shortening games to six innings.

The team has closed the pitching gap with the Rays and their offense is simply the best in the division. Add to that the division’s best bullpen and a veteran bench and you have the makings of another A.L. East title for the team in the Bronx.

I have not seen evidence that would contradict the premise. The only thing that could derail the Yankees is the age of the team. Injuries also are a great equalizer. But, other than a bad spate of injuries there is nothing that will stop this team in 2012.

Here is the predicted order of finish:

1) New York Yankees 

2) Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)

3) Toronto Blue Jays

4) Boston Red Sox

5) Baltimore Orioles

If this order holds up, look for Valentine to be scanning the help wanted ads in October. He already has the team hating him. If it gets much worse he might be scanning those ads in July.

 

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