Results tagged ‘ Andrew Miller ’

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

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

NEW YORK YANKEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAMPA BAY RAYS

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

If you don’t you lose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOSTON RED SOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

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

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

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

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

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

Now that is some reclamation project.

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

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

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

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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

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

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

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

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

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

 

 

Bosox Finger Kuroda As Buchholz Handcuffs Yanks

GAME 2

RED SOX 7, YANKEES 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

 

Yankees Launch Opening Volley In Red Sox Rivalry

GAME 10

YANKEES 5, RED SOX 2

It hardly can be called a Yankee-Red Sox rivalry without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz playing can it? Well, whatever it was, New York managed to fire the first salvo across the bow in the 2013 season with a victory over Boston in a Grapefruit League game played on Sunday at JetBlue Field in Fort Myers, FL.

Eduardo Nunez keyed a three-run sixth inning with an RBI single and Yankee pitchers only allowed four hits as they came from behind to defeat the Red Sox.

Jose Ramirez (1-0) pitched three shutout innings to earn credit for the victory, Red Sox closer Joel Hanrahan (0-1) was the losing pitcher  - although two fielding errors by third baseman Drew Sutton led to all three Yankee runs in the sixth being unearned.

The Yankees began the sixth trailing 1-0 on the strength of a leadoff home run by Mike Napoli in the second inning and five dominant shutout innings from starter Ryan Dempster and relievers Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller.

But Corban Joseph started the frame with a one-out, broken-bat single. Bobby Wilson then reached on the first of Sutton’s two errors and Hanrahan walked Brett Gardner to load the bases.

Nunez then stroked a single into right-field to tie the game at 1-1. Jayson Nix then scored Wilson on a RBI fielder’s choice and Gardner scored when Sutton was unable to glove a shot off the bat of Juan Rivera.

The Yankees added a single run in the eighth on a two-out double by Jose Pirela and an RBI double by J.R. Murphy. They added another run in the ninth on a leadoff home run by Thomas Neal.

With the victory the Yankees are now 3-7 this spring and the Red Sox dropped to 5-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though starter Adam Warren did give up the home run to Napoli, he was extremely sharp otherwise. The 26-year-old right-hander surrendered only the one hit and walked one while striking out two batters. Warren has opened the spring with a sparkling 1.80 ERA. In fact, Warren set the tone for the day because Ramirez followed with his three shutout innings and Chase Whitley, Preston Claiborne and Josh Spence combined to keep the Red Sox off the board until the ninth inning.
  • Nunez is making a strong bid to make the team with his clutch hitting and improved fielding. Nunez had hit into a double play and ground out in his first two at-bats before slapping a bases-loaded single just past a diving attempt of second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Nunez may only be hitting .176 this spring but he has committed just one throwing error. That deserves kudos because Nunez has been shaky in the field throughout his career.
  • Murphy continues to impress with his hitting this spring. He was 1-for-2 in the game and he is now hitting .500 with a home run and three RBIs in limited playing time. Murphy, 21, is catcher but he is overlooked because of prospects like Austin Romine and 20-year-old Gary Sanchez.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Melky Mesa had been having a fine spring until Sunday. He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and one of the punchouts came with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth. Mesa is now hitting .222 but he still leads the team with two home runs this spring. Mesa is bidding to make the team as either the replacement for Curtis Granderson while he recovers from a broken right forearm or as a reserve outfielder.
  • Right-hand reliever Kelvin Perez made it more interesting than it had to be in the ninth inning. Perez entered the inning with a 5-1 lead and gave up two walks and uncorked a wild pitch to allow a run to score before retiring the last three batters to end the game.
  • Errors have been killing the Yankees all spring and they made two more on Sunday. But the real culprits have been the third baseman. After third baseman Rob Segedin committed an error in the eighth, Yankee third basemen now have combined to make nine of the 17 errors the Yankees have been charged with in their first 10 games. They don’t call it the hot corner for nothing.

BOMBER BANTER

Ichiro Suzuki was able to avoid injury after his sports utility vehicle was totaled in a car crash in Tampa on Saturday. Suzuki was traveling south on Dale Mabry Highway at about 4 p.m. EST when his Land Rover was struck by a vehicle attempting to turn left from West Kennedy Boulevard about three miles from George M. Steinbrenner Field. Suzuki emerged from the vehicle unhurt and the driver of the other car was cited by the Tampa Police Department for failure to yield. Suzuki was not scheduled for the trip to play the Red Sox and he is not expected to miss any Grapefruit League action.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi said on Sunday that when Granderson returns to the team he will play centerfield and Gardner will stay in leftfield. Girardi had planned to shift Granderson to leftfield this spring but he was struck in the right forearm by a pitch from J.A. Happ of the Blue Jays in his first at-bat of the spring. He will miss about 10 weeks. Girardi believes it would be too much to ask Granderson to adapt to left during the regular season. Girardi said if Mesa makes the team and starts for the Yankees that he will play center. However, Gardner will play center if the any of the other candidates win the job (Zoilo Almonte, Matt Diaz, Ronnier Mustelier or Juan Rivera).  . . .  Left-hander Andy Pettitte and closer Mariano Rivera threw simulated games on Sunday at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, FL. Rivera threw 21 pitches and Pettitte threw 34. Neither pitcher has appeared in a spring game but both said they are on track to pitch in a game soon.  . . .  Phil Hughes began throwing again on Sunday as part of his rehab work after discovering a bulging disk in his upper back on Feb. 18. Hughes, 26, threw 25 tosses at about 60 feet and he pronounced it a “positive first step.”  . . .  An MRI on left-hander Boone Logan’s left elbow showed minor inflammation and he is expected to be back on the mound sometime within this week.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off from exhibition games on Monday.

They will resume their schedule on Tuesday by playing host to the Atlanta Braves.

David Phelps will make his third start of the spring for the Yankees. Left-hander Paul Maholm will start for the Braves, which will make it a rematch of the opener of the Yankees’ spring schedule on Feb. 23 at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST – the Yankees’ first home night game this spring – and the game will be televised live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.

NOTE: In my previous post I indicated that Sunday’s Yankees-Red Sox game would be broadcast by WCBS Radio in New York. This was incorrect information that was listed in the yankees.com web site’s 2013 Broadcast Schedule. I apologize for any inconvenience. The game only was broadcast by WEEI in Boston, which also was available on MLB Radio.

 

 

Ibanez Ties It In 9th, Wins It In 12th As Yanks ‘Raul’

GAME 161

YANKEES 4, RED SOX 3 (12 INNINGS)

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman badly wanted to sign Raul Ibanez this winter but the front office told him he had to trim salary before he could. Cashman finally was able to trade A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates the weekend before spring training opened to clear enough salary and Ibanez was signed.

That signing looks huge now because in the 161st game of the season Ibanez blasted a pinch-hit two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings and then delivered a game-winning RBI single in the 12th as New York reduced its magic number to just one with a thrilling come-from-behind classic defeat over arch-rival Boston on Tuesday.

The 40-year-old outfielder first brought the paid crowd of 41,564 at Yankee Stadium to its feet when he stroked a low line-drive home run off Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey into the fifth row of the right-field bleachers with Curtis Granderson aboard to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 3-3 tie.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, the team then managed to load the bases with one out in the same inning but Mark Teixeira, who spent all night dashing the team’s scoring hopes, and Robinson Cano could not deliver off reliever Mark Melancon.

So the game, played on a very chilly 62-degree and rainy evening, trudged on to the bottom of the 12th.

Things did not look promising when left-hander Andrew Miller retired Teixeira and Cano to begin the inning and Francisco Cervelli, pressed into service because manager Joe Girardi had pinch-run and pinch-hit for Russell Martin and Chris Stewart earlier in the contest, was making his first plate appearance of the season.

He also was down in the count 0-2 on the first two pitches. But Miller threw four straight pitches out of the strike zone to walk him. Granderson then came to the plate and he drew a four-pitch walk to advance Cervelli into scoring position.

Girardi was also forced to keep potential pinch-runner Chris Dickerson in the dugout because Cervelli was the last catcher on the roster.

But Girardi’s concerns became moot when Ibanez laced an 0-1 pitch into the hole between shortstop and third base. Cervelli raced around third and headed for home as Daniel Nava scooped the ball and threw it towards home plate. But Cervelli crossed the plate well before the ball arrived and the Yankees flooded the field to celebrate one of their most hard-fought comebacks of the season with the division title on the line.

The Yankees knew that the Baltimore Orioles had defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 earlier on Tuesday. A Yankee loss would have hurtled them back into a flat-footed tie with the Orioles atop the American League East.

The Yankees can clinch their third division title in the past four seasons on Wednesday with a victory over the Red Sox in the final game of the regular season or if the Orioles lose to the Rays.

Derek Lowe (9-11) came on pitch two scoreless innings in the 11th and 12th to pick up the victory. Miller (3-2) took the loss.

Frustration as a word does not begin to tell the story of the evening for the Yankees.

They collected 11 hits and a walk over the first eight innings of the game but they failed to get any big hits to add to the one run they scored in the second inning off Red Sox starter Jon Lester.

With two out, Granderson reached first on an infield single and advanced to second when third baseman Pedro Ciriaco’s throw to get Granderson bounced into the stands. Eduardo Nunez, who started as the designated hitter instead of struggling Andruw Jones, delivered a hard-hit single off the glove of shortstop Jose Iglesias to score Granderson.

That run halved the deficit to 2-1 because the Red Sox jumped on rookie right-hander David Phelps early.

Jacoby Ellsbury laced a leadoff single and Dustin Pedroia, playing despite a fracture in his left thumb, then stroked an RBI double in the gap in right-center to score Ellsbury.

Pedroia advanced to third on a infield groundout off the bat of Nava and he scored on a sacrifice fly to deep center by Cody Ross.

However, Phelps pitched well the rest of the way. He left with one out in the sixth after giving up just two runs on three hits and two walks while he struck out four.

Lester, in addition to his teammates in the bullpen, kept walking the tightrope between trouble and disaster but he kept escaping thanks to some poor hitting by the Yankees with runners in scoring position:

  • In the first inning, Derek Jeter singled and and reached third one out later on a bloop single by Alex Rodriguez. However, Teixeira – still hobbling on a sore left calf – hit into an inning-ending double play.
  • In the third inning, Nick Swisher slapped a one-out double and  advanced to third on an infield single by Rodriguez. But, Teixiera again hit into an inning-ending double play.
  • In the fifth inning, Cano led off with a single and Nunez stroked a two-out double. Alas, Ichiro Suzuki lined a shot into center but right at Ellsbury to end the inning.
  • In the ninth, Bailey gave up a one-out double to Jeter after Ibanez’s game-tying home run. Swisher was intentionally walked and Rodriguez followed by drawing a walk to load the bases. However, Melancon entered the game and retired Teixeira on a broken-bat pop to shallow center and Cano grounded out weakly to Pedroia at second.
  • In the 11th inning, Swisher slapped an opposite-field single with two out off Vicente Padilla and Rodriguez followed with a blast to the warning track in center that Ellsbury was able to run down before he crashed into the wall.

Lester left after five innings having given up one unearned run on eight hits and one walk while he fanned one.

The Red Sox added to their lead in the top of the ninth when James Loney uppercut a 2-1 offering from Rafael Soriano in to the second deck down the line in right-field. The Red Sox and their beleaguered manager Bobby Valentine were figuring that it was the insurance run that would put the Yankees away with Bailey on the mound.

Ibanez had other ideas.

The Yankees ended up with 16 hits and five walks in the game and they stranded a total of 14 runners. Teixeira left nine runners on base in his six at-bats.

But none of that all matters much now because of Ibanez.

The Yankees, thanks to the Oakland Athletics’ 3-1 defeat of the Texas Rangers late Tuesday, now also hold claim to the best record in the American League at 94-67.  The Red Sox had their season record fall to 69-92.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ibanez entered the game in the ninth and ended up 2-for-3 with a home run and three very big RBIs. Since Sept. 22, Ibanez is 14-for-34 (.412) with five home runs and nine RBIs in largely a platoon role against right-handers. He is hitting .235 with 18 homers and 59 RBIs on the season. His single in the 12th was his 11th career walk-off hit.
  • The bullpen, with the exception of Soriano’s hiccup to Loney, was actually very good. In  6 2/3 innings, they gave up one run on five hits and two walks and struck out seven batters. Lowe was especially good in his two innings of work. In a game when the relievers needed to hold the Red Sox down long enough to wake up the bats, they did a very good job.
  • Girardi chose to go with Phelps in place of Ivan Nova and Nunez in place of Jones. Both moves paid off for the Yankees. Nunez was 2-for-3 with an RBI until Ibanez pinch-hit for him in the ninth and Phelps pitched into the sixth and kept the Yankees in the game. You have to give the manager credit for those moves.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Fans do have a right to question Girardi’s move to put Swisher second in the order with Rodriguez and Teixeira behind him. That left Cano, the team’s hottest hitter batting fifth. Teixera ended up 0-for-6 and he only got that weak pop to shallow center out of the infield in those at-bats. Teixera’s at-bats killed the Yankees all night long and it was Girardi’s fault. Shifting Suzuki to ninth did not seem to make sense either. Suzuki has owned Lester throughout his career.

ON DECK

The Yankees end their regular season with a chance to clinch the division and home-field advantage in the playoffs with a series sweep of the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Hiroki Kuroda (15-11, 3.34 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda won his last start despite giving up 10 hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. He is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA this season against the Red Sox.

The Red Sox will counter with every hitter’s dream in Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-6, 7.68 ERA). Matsuzaka gave up five runs on nine hits and a walk in three innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in his last outing on Sept. 19. This likely will be the last start of his career for the Bosox, who can’t wait to shed his huge contract. He is 3-3 with a 5.52 ERA lifetime 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.

 

Tex Settles Score, Drives In 4 As Yanks Beat Bosox

GAME 82

YANKEES 10, RED SOX 8

Well, it all came down to, as it so often does, one very bitter rival getting the best of another bitter rival on Friday.

In this case, I am not speaking of the Red Sox and Yankees. I am referring to the very bitter and public feud between Mark Teixeira and his former Texas Rangers teammate Vicente Padilla. This time, Teixeira won.

Teixeira launched a 3-2 fastball from Padilla into the deepest recesses of center-field in Fenway Park for a one-out, two-run triple that ignited a four-run seventh inning and led New York to a 10-8 victory over Boston in a game that took three hours and 59 minutes to play.

Teixeira has publicly lashed out several times at Padilla for his penchant of hitting batters on purpose while he was a starter for the Rangers. After an incident in which Padilla hit Teixeira with a pitch in 2009 when Teixeira was in in his first season with the Yankees, the Rangers players and front office were so angry with Padilla that the team released him soon after the dustup.

In his 93 starts for Texas, Padilla hit 51 batters and he even admitted publicly that he would rather hit batters than walk them and ruin his walks to innings pitched ratio (WHIP).

But Teixeira got a measure of revenge with the Yankees trailing 7-6 in the seventh inning as Padilla entered the game after Andrew Miller had walked Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez scratched out an infield single off the glove of Mike Aviles at shortstop. Texeira’s triple easily scored Granderson and Rodriguez and gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the night.

“Almost every at-bat, he tries to throw at your head, throws behind you or something screwy,” Teixeira said. “With first and second and the game on the line, he’s not going to do it then, so I could actually dig in and look for a good pitch to hit.”

The Yankees tacked on a pair of runs in the inning on back-to-back two-out RBI doubles by Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez. Ibanez’s came off the head-hunting Padilla while Chavez’s came off reliever Scott Atchison.
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Teixeira led the Yankees’ 10-run, 14-hit attack with two hits, a walk, a stolen base, two runs scored and four RBIs. In the finale of a two-game series at Fenway Park on April 21, Teixeira had a double and two home runs and drove in a season-high six runs. So in his last two games at Fenway Park, Teixeira is 7-for-10 with a double, a triple, two home runs, five runs scored and 10 RBIs.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ bullpen ended up being better than Boston’s.

Boone Logan (4-0) was credited with the win though he did give up a leadoff home run in the seventh inning to Cody Ross that made it 10-8.

Rafael Soriano entered the game in the bottom of eighth with two out and two on but retired Adrian Gonzalez on a routine infield groundout to end the threat. He then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts to earn his 20th save in 21 opportunities.

You can pretty much expect the unexpected when these two teams hook up and so it was on this night in front of a sellout crowd of 38,066.

The Yankees jumped on ace right-hander Josh Beckett for five runs in the first inning, keyed by a bases-loaded two-run single by Teixeira and a pair of sacrifice flies from Nick Swisher and Chavez in an inning which the Yankees sent nine men to the plate.

However, the Red Sox jumped all over Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who entered the game 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA in his last seven starts. The Bosox struck for five runs of their own and also sent nine men to the plate. Jarrod Saltamacchia’s 17th home run of the season, a three-run shot, was the key blow in the inning.

Granderson stroked a one-out triple in the second inning and he scored on an RBI infield groundout by Rodriguez as the Yankees ended up scoring six runs on eight hits and two walks off Beckett in 5 2/3 innings.

Kuroda, however, allowed the Red Sox to tie it up again in the bottom of the second by hitting Daniel Nava with a pitch and allowing back-to-back singles by Ryan Kalish and David Ortiz. Nava scored on Ortiz’s single but Ortiz was thrown out at second base trying to stretch the hit in to a double.

The Red Sox took the lead off Kuroda in the fifth as Gonzalez opened the frame with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored one out later on an RBI single by rookie Mauro Gomez, the first RBI of his career.

Kuroda gave up seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits and one walk while striking out three in 5 2/3 innings.

But the Red Sox bullpen was unable to hold the one-run lead and the Yankees triumphed for the third time in three games this season against the Red Sox, all of them coming in Boston.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 50-32, which is the best record in the major leagues. They also maintained their lead in the American League East over the second-place Baltimore Orioles of 5 1/2 games games with the Orioles. The Red Sox fell to 42-41 and they are 8 1/2 games back in fourth place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After largely disappointing Yankee fans with a first half in which he had 14 home runs, 46 RBIs and hitting just .247, Teixeira has been on a bit of hot streak in his last three games. He is 5-for-10 with a home run and five RBIs. In his three games against the Red Sox this season, he is 5-for-14 (.357) with two home runs and 10 RBIs.
  • Even though Logan gave up the solo home run to Ross, the Yankee bullpen easily outshone the Red Sox pen. Logan, Cody Eppley, David Robertson and Soriano combined to give up one run on four hits and one walk and struck out five in 3 1/3 innings. In contrast, the Red Sox bullpen surrendered four runs on six hits and two walks and fanned five in four innings.
  • Soriano was sensational in retiring all four batters he faced and striking out two. These games are good tests to see if Soriano can hold up to the pressure of a playoff-like atmosphere. It is pretty clear that he was not phased with pitching in Fenway with the game on the line.
  • Give Chavez credit for another good game filling in for Rodriguez at third while A-Rod was the designated hitter. Though he was thrown out trying to stretch a single and committed an error which allowed an unearned run in the first inning, he was 2-for-3 at the plate with a double and a single and drove in two runs. Chavez is hitting .279 on the season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Kuroda is showing he is having difficulty winning on the road. He is 6-3 at home and 2-5 on the road and his road ERA is now 5.82. Kuroda missed the strike zone early and often in counts and got tattooed when he was forced to throw strikes. The Red Sox were without Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis has been traded but they still managed 10 hits off Kuroda.
  • Watching Russell Martin flail helplessly at pitches is just getting painful to watch. He was 0-for-3 with a walk and he has just four hits in his last 55 at-bats. His average has now dipped to .176. His last hit was on June 20 against the Braves. Since then he is hitless in his last 29 at-bats.
  • Swisher is also struggling big-time with the bat. He was 0-for-4 with an RBI on sac fly. However, he struck three times and he is hitless in his last 17 at-bats with eight strikeouts. He is now hitting .255 on the season.

BOMBER BANTER

Joba Chamberlain could be in line to begin a minor-league rehab stint next week. Chamberlain faced six batters at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, FL, on Friday and struck out three in a 25-pitch session. Chamberlain, who began the winter rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. However, in March he suffered a severely displaced right ankle playing on a trampoline with his son. The right-hander vows he will pitch for the Yankees this season.  . . .  As expected, the Yankees activated former Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald on Friday and sent right-hander David Phelps to Double-A Trenton to build up his pitch count as a starter. Phelps could return to the Yankees after the All-Star break but that has not been decided yet.  . . . The Yankees will recall right-hander Cory Wade from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to join the team for Saturday’s day-night doubleheader. League rules allow teams to add a 26th man on the day of doubleheader. Wade was optioned earlier in the week when the team added right-hander Chad Qualls to the roster. Wade had been struggling, giving up 13 runs on 17 hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings in his last six appearances.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play a day-night doubleheader against the Red Sox on Saturday which is necessary because of a rainout at Fenway Park on April 22.

GAME 1

Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (2-2, 5.94 ERA) will start the first game for the Yankees. Garcia pitched pretty well in his first start since April 28. He gave up only two solo home runs in 5 1/3 innings on Monday in a no-decision that the Yankees eventually lost to the Tampa Bay Rays. In the last 10 seasons, Garcia is 9-4 with a 4.76 ERA against the Red Sox.

The Red will counter with left-hander Franklin Morales (1-1, 2.51 ERA). Morales pitched seven innings of shutout baseball in a no-decision against the Seattle Mariners on June 28. Morales is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA against the Yankees but it all has been in relief.

Game-time will be 12:35 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

GAME 2

Right-hander Phil Hughes (9-6, 4.29 ERA) will pitch in the nightcap. Hughes allowed two runs and walked just one while striking out eight in eight innings in a victory over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday. Hughes is 2-5 with 6.65 ERA in his career against the Red Sox.

The Bosox will counter with left-hander Felix Doubront (8-4, 4.42 ERA). Doubront gave up just one run but left after throwing 103 pitches in 4 1/3 innings in a no-decision against the Mariners on Sunday. Doubront walked five batters. He has no record and a 2.53 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:15 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.

 

2012 Looks Like More Trouble For ‘Red Flops’

As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.

PART 4 – BOSTON RED SOX

A fellow Yankee fan once called the Red Sox the Red Flops because of their penchant for running out to big leads in the American League East and fading badly in the second half. After the famous “Collapse of 2011″ the term seems apropos.

On Sept. 3, they were 84-54, a half game behind the Yankees and nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the season with a dreadful 6-18 record and missed the playoffs by a game. In Boston that is not an oops, it is an eruption and it cost manager Terry Francona his job and general manager Theo Epstein fled to the Chicago Cubs.

Looking to 2012 the Red Flops hired ego-driven Bobby Valentine as manager. Ben Cherington, an Epstein assistant, took over as GM. They even dismissed first-year pitching coach Curt Young in favor of Bob McClure to keep their starting pitchers from getting bagged in the clubhouse on Samuel Adams.

Of course, that is odd because McClure pitched most of his career with the beer capital of the world in Milwaukee.

There is no doubt the starting pitching let the Red Sox down in 2011. They scored runs and the bullpen was good until it got overtaxed. But has this team addressed the areas of weakness enough to win the division in 2012?

Well, it does not look good.

STARTERS

The Red Sox were unable to acquire any starter of significance this winter because they had to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and the team was already perilously close to the salary mark that would incur the luxury tax.

So they return to the field with two of the pitchers who aided in the collapse (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester), one pitcher who was hurt most of the 2011 season (Clay Buchholz) and two big question marks behind them. That seems hardly like a recipe for success.

Beckett, 31, returns as the team ace after a season in which he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. But an ankle injury late in the season forced him to fade like a typical Red Flop in September. He posted a 5.48 ERA in September. He also was in the center of the beer issue that drew the ire of teammates and the front office.

If Beckett wants to remain the ace he better start showing some leadership by example.

Lester, 28, is starting to look like the Red Sox version of Mike Mussina. He has all the talent and the pitches to be successful but he never takes that big step forward to be an elite pitcher. He was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA but he also slid in September. He had only two quality starts from Aug. 27 to the season finale and was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the final month.

Buchholz, 27, made only 14 starts last season before ending up on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his back. He finished with a record of 6-3 and a 3.48 ERA. There is no doubt he was sorely missed last season because Epstein failed to stock the Red Sox with any depth and the team floundered after he was shelved on June 16.

The Red Sox other two starters were veteran right-handers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

If Lester is like Mussina then Lackey is looking like the Red Sox version of A.J. Burnett. Signed as free agent before the 2010 season, Lackey has done nothing but disappoint Red Sox Nation with bad pitching. He was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 but he got much worse in 2011 with a 12-12 mark and 6.41 ERA.

Red Sox fans have taken to calling him “Lacking.”

But there is good news for RSN, Lackey, 33, will not pitch at all in 2012 because he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. There is no real guarantee Lackey will be any better in 2013, which will be the final year of his four-year contract. His days in Beantown look to be limited at this point.

Speaking of that, Red Sox fans also would like to see Matsuzaka, 31, gone after three injury-filled seasons in which he was a combined 16-15 with a plus 5.00 ERA in only 44 starts. Last season, he was shelved in June with a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA. Like Lackey he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

He possibly could return late in the season but there is no one banking on him coming back pitching like in he did in 2008 when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is in the final year of lucrative six-year contract and the Red Sox seem to be counting the days they can part with him.

With Lackey and Dice-K on the shelf, the Red Sox have to come up with two starters and one of them is Daniel Bard, the team’s setup man the past two seasons. Bard, 26, does throw hard and he has two breaking pitches to mix in his arsenal.

But Bard also was the poster boy for the Red Sox collapse. Forced to pitch a lot to cover for weak starting pitching, Bard got hit hard and often in September, finishing the season 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and five blown saves. Only July 31, Bard had a 1.76 ERA.

Now the question is can he be an effective starter? It has not worked for relievers lately. It did not work for Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays has struggled to get past the fifth inning with the Blue Jays. Usually it works better when a starter becomes a reliever as it did with former Red Sox right-hander Dennis Eckersley.

Until Bard proves he can pitch deep into games consistently and does not fade late in the season as the innings pile up, he is big question mark in 2012.

For the fifth spot, the Red Sox issued an open casting call much like the Yankees did in 2011 with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

They are looking at holdovers Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller as possible candidates. Aceves, 29, was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA but made only four starts. He is better suited as a reliever, as he proved with the Yankees. Miller, a 26-year-old left-hander, was 6-3 but he had a horrible 5.54 ERA in 12 starts.

The Red Sox also signed former Yankee right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and three other right-handers including Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva to compete for the job this spring.

None of these candidates are going to impress the Red Sox faithful. They all have a lot of mileage on them and they all have not had much success in recent years.

This might be one of the weakest Red Sox rotations in many years and the lack of depth in it is the major problem. If Beckett, Lester or Buchholz are hurt, who steps up to replace them?

BULLPEN

The Red Sox allowed Jonathan Papelbon leave for the Philadelphia Phillies rather than pay him what he was worth as a closer for them over the past six seasons. The conventional wisdom was Bard would take over as the closer.

But the Red Sox made him a starter instead and opened up the job. They decided to fill it with 27-year-old right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.

Bailey is coming off two injury-plagued seasons but is pretty darn good when he is healthy. Bailey is 7-10 with a career ERA of 2.07 and 75 saves in 84 chances.

There is no doubt Bailey is an excellent closer. The only question is of the Red Sox can keep him healthy and can Bailey adjust to the very small dimensions of Fenway as opposed to the expansive Coliseum.

The Red Sox also traded with the Houston Astros for yet another former Yankee reliever in Mark Melancon. (Can the signing of Tanyon Sturtze be far behind?). Melancon, 26, was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 out of 25 games for the lowly Astros last season. Melancon, who was touted years ago as the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera when he was in the Yankees’ minor-league system, will set up Bailey and can close if Bailey should revert to past form and pull up lame.

Speaking of lame, the Red Sox suffered a huge blow to their bullpen before pitchers reported to camp on Sunday because 30-year-old right-hander Bobby Jenks will miss more time when a pulmonary embolism was discovered in his lung. This was discovered after he had two back surgeries after pitching only 19 games last season. He is on the 60-day DL and he will be on a long road back to health.

Aceves also figures in the late innings because he is much more valuable in that spot.

The Red Sox got some use out of 29-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who was 4-4 with 4.73 ERA in 56 games last season. The lefty specialist was 26-year-old Franklin Morales, who was 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances. The Red Sox are hoping Rich Hill will come back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow sometime this season.

The Red Sox think 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront can take the second left-hander spot in the bullpen. He had no record and 6.10 ERA in 11 appearances last season. Doubront could also get a chance to start and he has some upside.

This bullpen is definitely in a state of flux. New personnel, new roles and there are some pitchers coming off injuries or currently rehabbing injuries. It is not a recipe for success.

Valentine and McClure have a lot of decisions to make in the spring. For the Red Sox to succeed they need an excellent bullpen. For now, it looks just mediocre.

STARTING LINEUP

The Red Sox were largely a four-man offense – a very good four-man offense but a four-man offense nonetheless – in 2011.

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was as advertised. He hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs and played Gold Glove defense. The Red Sox hope Gonzalez, 29, is the fulcrum of the Bosox attack for many years to come.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 season to re-establish himself in 2011. He hit .307 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs and also won a Gold Glove. Pedroia, 28, remains the spark-plug in the Red Sox engine. His grit and determination makes him the heart and soul of the team.

Designated hitter David Ortiz followed up a bounce-back 2010 season with another solid campaign in 2011. Ortiz, 36, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. He is not the same feared hitter he was in his steroid days hitting behind Manny Ramirez but he is still good enough to help the offense.

The big surprise was center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played only 18 games in 2010 and was accused of milking his rib injury by some teammates. Ellsbury, 28, must have been angry because he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He hit .321 with easily a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also stole 39 bases.

To most Red Sox observers, Ellsbury was the team’s MVP and would have won the American League MVP if Justin Verlander of the Tigers had not.

The big disappointments in this lineup were Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.

Youkilis, who will be 33 when the season starts, still has not played any more than 147 games in a season. Last season, the combination of bursitis in his left hip and a sports hernia limited him to 120 games. He hit a disappointing .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and he did not play third base as well he played first base. Youkilis must stay healthy and return to form if the Red Sox are to make a move in 2012.

Left-fielder Crawford, 30, arrived in Beantown with 409 career steals and .293 career batting average. His seven-year, $142 million contract was the signing that limited the Red Sox from adding pitching this winter. He also proved he did not fit in well at Fenway. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs and only 18 stolen bases. He also proved weak in the field despite having won a Gold Glove with the Rays in 2010.

More bad news about Crawford: Late in the winter Crawford realized his left wrist required surgery and he is not likely to be able to play on Opening Day. Crawford will either turn his game around or become one of the biggest albatross signings in baseball history.

The Red Sox have shuffled the deck in right-field and shortstop this season.

The Red Sox released aging outfielder J.D. Drew and they used promising youngster Josh Reddick in the Bailey trade.

The Red Sox did obtain outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal and he is a left-handed hitter like Reddick. However, the 27-year-old has been a huge disappointment in Oakland. He is career .283 hitter but he lacks both power and speed.

Holdover Darnell McDonald, 33, was brought up last season and he hit .236 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 79 games. He could figure in an early platoon with Sweeney or win the job outright. Ryan Kalish, 23, hit .252 in 53 games and he will get a look also.

The Red Sox also picked up Cody Ross from the Giants. Ross, 31, bats right-handed and he figures to start n left-field until Crawford returns to health. Then he will shift to right in a platoon with either Sweeney or Kalish. Ross hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2011.

Shortstop also was shuffled for 2012. Starter Marco Scutaro was shipped to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Backup infielder Jed Lowrie was used in the Melancon trade with the Astros.

That leaves former Royals infielder Mike Aviles to start at the position. Aviles, 31, is a career .288 hitter but he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 91 games with the Royals and Red Sox.

The Jason Varitek era in Boston is officially over. Varitek was not re-signed and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his second season as the unquestioned starter for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, 26, is coming off a so-so 2011 season. He hit .235 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. He also struck out 119 times in 358 at-bats so he is not exactly a selective hitter. The Red Sox also wish he would continue to improve his defense and throwing.

BENCH

The Red Sox will likely keep Ross, McDonald and either Sweeney or Kalish as backup outfielders. McDonald is valuable because he play all three spots and he is better in center.

The Red Sox picked up former Twins infielder Nick Punto as a reserve at second, short and third. Punto, 34, hit .278 with one home run and 20 RBIs with the Cardinals last season. Having Punto means the Red Sox can allow 22-year-old shortstop Jose Inglesias another season to develop at Triple-A. Inglesias can field but has not developed much as a hitter.

The team also picked up former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. Shoppach, 31, hit .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs with the Rays and he replaces Varitek as the backup catcher. He is solid defensively.

This is a serviceable bench but I would hardly call it talent-laden or special.

ANALYSIS

The Epstein-Francona era is over. The main architects of the only two World Series championships in the last 96 years have fled. They left a financial constraint on the team that prevented them from addressing their crisis in starting pitching, the bullpen and in right-field.

The Crawford and Lackey signings along with the trades for since-departed Victor Matinez and Gonzalez left this very dollar-rich team weak in minor-league prospects and unable to find enough wiggle room to sign what they needed without breaking way past the level where the luxury tax kicks in.

This limits what the Red Sox will actually do this season. This is team that already is beset by injuries (Lackey, Dice-K, Crawford, Jenks) and they are severely lacking in depth before spring training has even started. It is hard to see how they find the money to fix what needs fixing if the ship should begin to flounder.

The Red Sox will only go as far their offense and their top three starters take them this season.

With the Rays a bit flawed it is easy to see both the Red Sox and Rays battling for second place behind the Yankees in 2012. Because of what happened to the Red Sox last season it hard to see how it could happen again. But that is what I am predicting.

I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Rays pitching will be the reason the Red Sox will finish third. The only question is can Valentine get out of town before RSN tries to lynch him. Good luck, with this bunch, Bobby. You are going to need it – along with a lot of Maalox.

Just call them the Red Flops.

 

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