Results tagged ‘ Bartolo Colon ’

RBI Single By Yankees’ Hot ‘Stew’ Cooks Mariners

GAME 63

YANKEES 2, MARINERS 1

With the home run much less part of their arsenal the 2013 New York Yankees have had to rely on solid pitching from its starters and bullpen, a timely hit or two to claim a late lead and utilizing the best closer in baseball history to win games. That formula worked to perfection on Sunday.

Right-hander David Phelps matched the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez pitch-for-pitch, Chris Stewart hit a two-out RBI single in the top of the ninth inning to break a 1-1 tie and Mariano Rivera ended his career at Safeco Field with his 37th save in 39 tries against the Mariners as New York edged Seattle in front of a paid crowd of 43,389.

Stewart’s game-winning hit in the ninth off reliever Yoervis Medina (1-2) was set up by a leadoff walk by Ichiro Suzuki and a sacrifice bunt by Jayson Nix that moved Suzuki into scoring position. Stewart followed one out later by slapping a 1-0 pitch into left-field and Suzuki was able to beat the throw from left-fielder Raul Ibanez with ease.

David Robertson (4-1) got into a jam in the eighth inning by giving up a leadoff double to Alex Liddi and a sacrifice bunt by Brendan Ryan that advanced Liddi to third. But Robertson escaped further trouble and earned the victory by striking out Jason Bay and and Nick Franklin.

Rivera gave up two singles and a walk in the ninth inning but he earned his 23rd save in 24 opportunities this season by inducing Michael Saunders to fly out to left with two on and two out.

Phelps, however, deserves a lot of credit for holding the Mariners to just one run on three hits and three walks while he fanned six in six innings of work. In his past two starts, Phelps has given up one run on four hits and seven walks with 13 strikeouts in 12 innings.

Phelps held a 1-0 lead going into the second inning, but Kelly Shoppach touched him for a one-out double to left. Phelps then issued a costly two-out walk to Liddi before Ryan swatted a roller deep into the hole at short upon which Reid Brignac was unable to make a play, allowing Shoppach to score the tying run.

The Yankees, meanwhile, got to Hernandez early by pushing across a run in the top of the second.

Nix led off the frame with a single to center and he later stole second. One out later, Stewart dropped down a perfect bunt single to advance Nix to third. Brett Gardner, who would end up 4-for-5 in the game, then delivered a lined single to center to score Nix.

Hernandez yielded just the one run on five hits and two walks and he struck seven batters in seven innings.

With the victory the Yankees claimed three of the four games against the Mariners and they improved their season record to 37-27. They Yankees remain in second place in the American League East 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Mariners fell to 27-37.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Stewart’s value is going far beyond that of a great defensive catcher with a career .217 batting average. Since being pressed into a starting role due to a broken right hand suffered by starter Francisco Cervelli, Stewart has been contributing much better with the bat than was expected. He was 2-for-4 in the game to raise his season average to .276, which is second to only Gardner on the team.
  • Speaking of Gardner, the 29-year-old center-fielder is hotter than Hades with the bat. His 4-for-5 day raised his season average to a team-best .284. Since May 24, Gardner is 23-for-63 (.365) with three home runs and 11 RBIs. He has failed to get at least one hit in only two of his past 17 games and has a seven-game hitting streak.
  • Phelps is beginning to settle in nicely as the team’s No. 5 starter and it is doubtful we will be seeing Ivan Nova reclaim that spot anytime soon. Other than his terrible outing against the New York Mets on May 29 when he only lasted one-third of an inning, Phelps is 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA. He has given up just 13 runs on 31 hits and 17 walks with 40 strikeouts in 45 innings covering his other seven starts.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Mark Teixeira had a real tough day at the office. He was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield. Teixeira is now hitting just .167 in his first 10 games. But, at the same time, Teixeira has also delivered three home runs and eight RBIs.
  • Robinson Cano did reach base in the eighth after being hit by pitch and drew a walk in the ninth, however, he was 0-for-3 in the game. Cano is in a huge slump since May 31 in which he is 4-for-34 (.118) with one home run and four RBIs. That slump has lowered his season average from .292 to .272.
  • Brignac is a good defensive shortstop and he does have value as left-handed hitter. But Brignac was 0-for-4 on Sunday and he is just 4-for-29 (.138) without a homer or RBI since he joined the Yankees. It would be nice if Eduardo Nunez would get over that nagging oblique injury so the Yankees can cut Brignac loose.

BOMBER BANTER

It would not be a day with the Yankees without an injury to report. Corner infielder Kevin Youkilis missed Sunday’s game due to a recurrence of lower back stiffness. Youkilis re-injured his back on Saturday when he slid into first base to record an out of Ibanez in the second inning in the Yankees’ 3-1 victory over the Mariners on Saturday. Manager Joe Girardi hopes Youkilis will be able to return to the field on Tuesday. He is listed as day-to-day.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take the day off on Monday before resuming their West Coast road trip against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday.

Red-hot left-hander CC Sabathia (6-4, 3.74 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up four runs on seven hits and a walk while he fanned nine batters in a complete-game victory over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday. Sabathia is 8-9 with a 4.50 ERA against the A’s in his career.

Former Yankee right-hander Bartolo Colon (7-2, 3.14 ERA) will oppose Sabathia. Colon surrendered one run on eight hits and two walks while striking out four in seven innings in a victory against the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday. Colon is 3-7 with a 6.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 10:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Hughes Blanks A’s Over 8 Innings As Yankees Win

GAME 29

YANKEES 4, ATHLETICS 2

Phil Hughes missed all of spring training with a bulging disk in his upper back and he had to use his first two starts as “spring training on the fly.” But, if his last four starts are any indication, he is healthy and he is mowing down hitters with ease.

Hughes, 26, gave up only four hits and struck nine batters in shutting out the Athletics over eight innings as New York downed Oakland in front of a paid crowd of 41,349 at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.

Hughes (1-2) won his first game of the season and now has given up only six runs on 23 hits and five walks while striking out 30 in 28 innings over his last four starts for a 1.93 ERA.

“I feel like I’m kind of clicking right now with what I’m trying to do,” Hughes told reporters.

Meanwhile, the Yankees managed to put together enough offense against former Yankee right-hander Bartolo Colon (3-1).

Chris Stewart greeted Colon leading off the third inning by swatting a 1-0 fastball down the left-field line and into the bleachers for his second home run of the season. He entered the season with only four career home runs.

Two innings later, one of “The Replacements,” Lyle Overbay, jumped on Colon’s first offering in the fifth inning to connect for his fifth home run of the season, which landed in the second deck in the right-field bleachers.

The Yankees then added a single run in the sixth on a leadoff double off the wall in right-center by Robinson Cano and a one-out bloop opposite-field single by Travis Hafner that scored Cano and ended Colon’s afternoon.

Colon gave up three runs on six hits and no walks while he fanned three in 5 1/3 innings.

The Yankees added another run in the seventh when Eduardo Nunez laced a triple off the wall in left-center off reliever Chris Resop and he scored one out later on an infield single off the bat of Brett Gardner.

The Yankees entered the game with right-handed setup man David Robertson unavailable due to a sore left hamstring and right-hander Joba Chamberlain placed on the disabled list on Friday with a right oblique strain.

So when Hughes departed after eight innings manager Joe Girardi entrusted the Yankees 4-0 lead in the ninth to right-hander Shawn Kelley. But Kelley gave up a bloop single to left off the bat of Yoenis Cespedes to start the frame and Girardi abruptly pulled him in favor of closer Mariano Rivera.

Rivera then issued a controversial walk on a 3-2 pitch to Brandon Moss. Replays showed the ball caught the outside corner of the plate above the knee but was called a ball by fading veteran umpire Tim McClelland.

After a fielder’s choice grounder by Josh Donaldson advanced Cespedes to third and erased Moss at second, Seth Smith singled to right to drive in Cespedes.

Josh Reddick then grounded a ball to short that erased Smith but Reddick was just able to beat the relay from second by Cano to score Donaldson.

But Rivera retired Adam Rosales on a routine flyball to right to end the A’s’ threat and preserve the victory for Hughes.

With the victory, the Yankees now have won seven of their past nine games. Their season record improved to 18-11. The A’s fell to 17-14.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankees entered the season with major questions about their starting rotation behind CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte. But Hughes is proving that his 34-21 record in his two full seasons as a starter was not a fluke. Hughes threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 29 batters he faced and, after giving up five home runs in his first three starts, Hughes has not given up any in his past three outings.
  • Stewart is picking up where starting catcher Francisco Cervelli left off when he was placed on the disabled list on April 27 with a fractured right hand. Since April 27, Stewart is only 4-for 17 (.235)  but he has a home run and three RBIs. Even more impressive is that he has nailed five of nine base-runners this season, which is an amazing 56 percent.
  • “The Replacements” continue to contribute to the Yankees’ offense as the team bides its time until their injured players return. Overbay is 8-for-23 (.348) with three home runs and three RBIs in his last six games. Hafner’s RBI single in the sixth inning ties him with Cano for the team in RBIs with 18.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

It is hard to complain when a starting pitcher goes eight shutout innings, the offense gets him plenty of runs to support him and the team plays errorless defense. So no negatives on this day.

BOMBER BANTER

Infielder Chris Nelson made his first start for the Yankees in place of Jayson Nix at third base and was 4-for-4 with two strikeouts. Nelson was obtained earlier this week from the Colorado Rockies for cash considerations or a player to be named later after the Yankees placed Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back sprain.  . . .  Meanwhile, Yankees coach Mick Kelleher worked with Nix at first base before Saturday’s game so that Nix might provide the Yankees with an right-handed hitting option at the position.  . . .  When the Yankees placed Chamberlain on the 15-day disabled they purchased the contract of right-hander Preston Claiborne from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Claiborne was a perfect 3-for-3 in save chances and had a 3.48 in eight appearances with Scranton. In order to make room for Claiborne on the 40-man roster the team designated right-hander Cody Eppley for assignment.  . . .  Robertson had a MRI on his left knee on Thursday that was negative but Girardi said Robertson will not pitch until Tuesday in Colorado at the earliest.

ON DECK

The Yankees can win the three-game weekend series against Oakland with a victory on Sunday.

Pettitte (3-2, 3.86 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. He would like to forget his last start. He was shelled for seven runs on 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings on Monday against the Houston Astros. In the past 10 seasons, Pettitte is 5-3 with 3.13 ERA against the A’s.

Oakland will counter with right-hander Dan Straily (1-0, 6.35 ERA). Straily gave up six runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings on Monday against the Los Angels Angels in his first start replacing left-hander Brett Anderson. Straily has never faced the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Look Poised To Take Control Of A.L. East

The New York Yankees have played 33 percent of the season and their record stands just about where it was in 2011 when the Yankees were 31-23. That team ended up winning 97 games to lead the American League. The question is in 2012 can the Yankees reach the same heights with the loss of Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, young right-handed starter Michael Pineda and an offense that seems to sputter with runners in scoring position. Let’s examine how the Yankees have fared.

OFFENSE

Last season the Yankees wielded a powerful offense despite the fact only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had what could be called good seasons. Their hope in 2012 was that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner would join them along with new designated hitter Raul Ibanez, who replaced the retired Jorge Posada.

Instead, the Yankees can actually only point to one hitter who has truly carried the offense throughout the season and that is Jeter. The 37-year-old shortstop has reached the one-third mark with the third-highest batting average in the American League at .336 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.

It is an extension of the way he has hit since he returned from the disabled list last July and it has finally silenced talk throughout Yankee Universe that his productive days were behind him.

The only disappointing part of Jeter’s season is his run scored total of 30. That number points to the problems the Yankees have had in scoring runs this season when they are not hitting home runs.

The team’s batting average with runners in scoring position is atrocious. Jeter leads the team in that category hitting a mere .262. Ibanez is hitting .256. The rest is abysmal: Swisher, .236; Granderson, .222; Teixeira, .218; Martin, .172; Rodriguez, .170; and Cano, .140.

What is manager Joe Girardi to do? Should he bench A-Rod and Cano in favor of Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix? Should he bat A-Rod leadoff because he is hitting .346 with the bases empty and make Jeter the cleanup hitter?

The problem is all Girardi can do is trust that these hitters will begin to hit more like they have in the past and the law of averages will mean the Yankees will start to begin to punish pitchers who dare to load the bases. The Yankees are 9-for-57 (.158) in those situations this season.

The Yankees have also suffered from a dramatic shift in their offense away from speed because Gardner has been on the disabled list since April 19 with a strained right elbow that has been slow to heal. In addition, Eduardo Nunez was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after he continued to butcher balls so badly fielding he earned the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” With it, Nunez took his 22 steals playing half the time in 2011.

Without Gardner and Nunez, the Yankees are less of a threat on the bases. Rodriguez has six steals and that ties him for the team lead with Nunez, who had six before his demotion on May 11.

The Yankees hope to have Gardner back within a week and it will be a welcome sight. Gardner was hitting .321 when he was injured and he has the ability to spark the offense with his speed. His exceptional Gold Glove-worthy defense in left-field has also been missed.

There are also hopeful signs that Teixeira is coming out his usual early-season struggles at the plate. In his last 10 games, Tex is hitting .351 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. He has abandoned his “put the ball in play” strategy to increase his batting average and gone back to his “swing for production” approach and it appears to be working.

Just don’t expect Teixeira to anywhere near the .308 average he hit in the season before he joined the Yankees. Those days seem to be behind him much like they were for his predecessor Jason Giambi after he left Oakland.

Cano and Rodroguez also are showing signs of life with the bat. Rodriguez has four home runs in his last four games and Cano was hitting .308 on May 26 until a recent 4-for-29 (.138) slide has dropped his average back to .284.

The truth is that the Yankees only will go as far as the productive bats of Cano, Rodriguez and Teixeira take them. If you triple their current numbers, Cano would have 24 home runs and 72 RBIs, Rodriguez would have 27 homers and 66 RBIs and Teixeira would have 27 home runs and 96 RBIs.

Would anyone like to bet the house that those numbers will actually be their final numbers? It would be a fool’s bet, for sure. But they have to start hitting and soon.

Granderson is having a season much like his breakout 2011 season. He has 17 home runs and 33 RBIs. His .261 average is only a point lower than he hit last season. No problem there. But there are some negatives, too.

Granderson has struck out 61 times in 207 at-bats and that translates to 183 strikeouts for a full season. He also has stolen three bases in six attempts. He also has only one triple.

It would be nice to see Granderson elevate his speed game and cut the strikeouts as the season progresses.

Swisher helped carry the offense in April by hitting .284 with six home runs and 23 RBIs. But in May, Swisher suffered a hamstring injury and he has slumped ever since. He hit just .207 in May with two home runs and nine RBIs. With this being his contract year, Swisher has all the motivation in the world to get busy hitting again. Let’s see if he can.

Ibanez, meanwhile, has been a revelation. Only signed to be a left-handed DH, Ibanez has been forced to play left-field in Gardner’s absence and he has done fine there. Ibanez has also contributed nine home runs and 29 RBIs while hitting.252. Gardner’s return should allow him to get some occasional rest at age 40 and it also might help him stay fresh the remainder of the season.

Andruw Jones, the right-handed half of the DH platoon, is off to a slow start similar to his 2011 season. He has five home runs and 11 RBIs and he hitting .233.

The biggest disappointment in the Yankees’ offense this season has been Martin.

Last season, Martin hit 18 home runs and drove in 65 runs despite hitting .237. This season, Martin is hitting a mere .194 and has four home runs and 12 RBIs. With Martin’s defensive gifts behind the plate, it is inconceivable that Girardi would replace him.

But the Yankees have ben spoiled by the offense Posada provided and there are Yankee fans who are still angry that general manager Brian Cashman traded rookie catcher Jesus Montero to the Mariners. To make them even madder, Montero is on a pace to hit 21 home runs and drive in 81 runs with the Mariners this season.

Martin better pick it up and fast. Backup catcher Chris Stewart is hitting .227 with six RBIs catching just once a week.

STARTING PITCHING

The Yankees got tired of hearing that the quality of their starting pitching began and ended with CC Sabathia.

In 2011, they cobbled a starting staff together with retreads like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and a promising rookie in Ivan Nova and somehow won 97 games and made the playoffs. But they were quickly eliminated to a staff of pitchers that were better in the Tigers.

This season, they ignored the extravagant fixes like C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish and decided instead to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract and trade megastar Montero for Pineda. They also re-signed the 35-year-old Garcia after his 12-8 record with a 3.62 ERA.

They were counting on Nova’s continued development after a 16-4 mark and a 3.70 ERA and the return of 25-year-old Phil Hughes, who was throwing with velocity again much like he did in 2010 when he was 18-8 with a 4.16 ERA.

A funny thing happened on the way to the start of the regular season. None of this really worked out as Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.

Pineda showed up to camp this winter overweight by 20 pounds and the velocity on his fastball was down considerably. As spring training unfolded, Pineda never regained the velocity he had last season and after a late spring start he revealed he was pitching with a sore right shoulder.

He underwent surgery to repair a slight tear in his right shoulder and he hopes to return in the early stages of the 2013 season. Scratch Pineda.

The Yankees then hoped Garcia would be able to provide the same ability to keep them in games he showed last season. Unfortunately, Garcia was unable to regain even the modest velocity on his pitches he had last season and he was lit up like bottle rockets at the start of the Chinese New Year.

After four April starts in which he was 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA, Garcia was banished to long relief in the bullpen and there he sits. He has not pitched a game since May 21. Scratch Garcia.

The Yankees big surprise was when 39-year-old left-handed legend Andy Petitte decided to return to the Yankees after one year in retirement. After allowing Pettitte to build up his arm and legs in the minors early this season, Pettitte returned to the majors on May 13.

In his four starts, he is 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. By all measures it does not appear that Pettitte has suffered any regression of his abilities when he was idle. After the loss of Pineda for the season and Garcia’s demise, Pettitte has provided some optimism to the Yankees’ rotation.

The rest of the staff has been down early and getting better lately.

Kuroda in six of his 11 starts is 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA. In his other five starts he is 0-5 with a 8.03 ERA. Inconsistency with his command and perhaps having to adjust to a new league has a lot to do with the bad numbers. But, Kuroda is showing signs of improvement since April 24. Since then he is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA.

The Yankees have hope the 37-year-old right-hander will continue to improve as the season goes along as he adjusts to a much tougher division like the American League East.

Hughes has also shown signs of finding his rhythm after missing most all of 2011 with weakness in his right shoulder.

The 25-year-old right-hander was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in April. Since then he is 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA and he is coming off the first nine-inning complete game of his career as he held the Tigers to one run and struck out eight on Sunday. Hughes is beginning to show the form that he showed when he made the American League All-Star team in 2010.

The enigma of the group has been Nova.

When he is good, it seems he gets little support or he gives up a key home run that beats him. When he is shaky, the Yankees score a lot of runs and he wins anyway.

So Nova is 6-2 with a 5.60 ERA. That is a far cry from his 2011 rookie season when he won 13 straight games.

The home-run ball is killing Nova. Last season he gave up 13 in 165 1/3 innings. This season he has given up 13 in 62 2/3 innings.

The odd thing is Nova probably has more electric stuff than any starter apart from Sabathia. The problem is Nova has been unable to harness it. When you can’t command the strike zone you are reduced to throwing fastballs over the plate and fastballs over the plate can end up in the seats.

So the answer to Nova’s troubles might be easily fixed when he begins to harness that command. He struck out 12 Reds in six innings on May 19 but lost because of three-run home run hit by Joey Votto. That is pretty much defined Nova’s odd season so far.

But at age 25, Nova is capable of good things and the Yankees have to trust he will continue to improve as he gets older. As long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes are pitching well, Nova will be given that chance to grow. The alternatives of Garcia or rookie David Phelps or minor leaguers like D.J. Mitchell do not have the same arsenal Nova possesses.

That is why the Yankees have to continue to use him.

Sabathia has been, well, like Sabathia always has been.

At times shaky early in the season, Sabathia is 7-2 with a 3.12 ERA in his last nine starts. He has 74 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings and his WHIP is 1.24.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Sabathia is simply off to another season like his first three with the Yankees in which he 59-23 with a 3.05 ERA. The 31-year-old left-hander is the rock and foundation of this rotation.

He is pitching like it and as long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes provide quality innings behind him, the Yankees should win enough as Nova develops. If they don’t this season is simply doomed to be a pretty bad one for the Yankees. It is just that simple.

BULLPEN

For all intents and purposes the Yankees’ 2012 season should have ended on May 3 when All-Universe closer Mariano Rivera went down in a heap shagging a fly ball on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium.

No doubt about it, losing Rivera was a big blow to the Bronx Bombers.

But Girardi had faith that David Robertson and Rafael Soriano would pick up the slack and the Yankees would be able to carry on without their precious Mo.

However, not more than 12 days later Robertson ended up on the disabled list with a left oblique strain.

Suddenly, the team with the deepest and best bullpen in baseball was no longer as deep or perceived to be as good.

However, Soriano has been successful in all seven of his save opportunities and he is 2-0 with a 1.89 RRA. Those are not too far from Mo numbers so the Yankees still have faith in their bullpen.

Girardi is hoping Robertson is a few weeks away to returning to the team. It is unclear if Robertson will get another opportunity to close. It is more likely he will resume his eighth-inning setup role.

In the meantime, Girardi is getting yeoman work from a mix-and-match righty combination of Cory Wade (2.55 ERA) and Cody Eppley (4.22) and a lefty combination of Boone Logan (2.79) and Clay Rapada (3.86).  Phelps is providing quality long relief (2.94 ERA).

So somehow the Yankees’ bullpen is getting the job done despite the injuries and that is a credit to Girardi and Rothschild.

The long-term prospects for the bullpen also appear bright because the Yankees have a number of possible replacements in the pipeline.

One is David Aardsma, a former Mariners closer who is hoping to return to the majors at around the All-Star break. The Yankees also have sinkerball specialist Mitchell a phone call away at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Mitchell is a starter but his long-term major-league career may translate to the bullpen.

The Yankees are also holding out some hope that Joba Chamberlain may recover from his Tommy John surgery and the horrific ankle injury he suffered this spring to pitch some this season. The jury is out but he insists he is ahead of schedule.

FORECAST

The Yankees are pretty much paddling water like most of the other teams in the American League East.

They stand 1 1/2 games out of first place and they are playing the first-place Rays at home beginning on Tuesday.

That will allow the Yankees to get into position to make a push over the next 54 games. After the Rays they will open their interleague schedule starting against the Mets at home this weekend.

The Yankees have the best interleague record in baseball and this period will give them a chance to press into the lead in the division while pretenders like the Orioles and Jays are poised for a slide downward. The Rays and Red Sox look to be ready to keep pace with the Yankees moving into the summer.

The biggest keys to the Yankees’ success lies in its offense being able to turn itself around and begin to hit with runners in scoring position. The team also must get more consistent pitching from Kuroda, Hughes and Nova behind Pettitte and Sabathia.

The bullpen has held together for now and Girardi must hope it continues to hold up in the absence of Rivera.

If I was a betting man, I would not bet against the Yankees standing atop this division at the the two-thirds mark of the season. There is just too much talent on this roster for it not to start asserting itself.

The Yankees have always been a second-half team. They seem to be able to turn it on in the summer months and steam ahead of the pack. I see this happening again soon. The question is who will be with them.

The Rays, boosted by their pitching, should be one. I am not sure how much steam the Red Sox have but I do know that the Orioles and Jays do not look capable of staying with the big boys.

The Orioles are in a slide already and it appears that the ball is over for this Cinderella. The Jays have struggled all season and their pitching is not capable of keeping them in it over the long haul.

So even with no Mo, the Yankees seem to have enough “mo” (as in momentum) to carry them into the summer.

 

Tex Makes His Mark With 2 Homers To Bash A’s

GAME 46

YANKEES 9, ATHLETICS 2

He has been booed. He has been vilified on New York talk radio. He even has been demoted to seventh in the batting order. But on Saturday, Mark Teixeira extended what he hopes is a stretch where he can reclaim his place as one of the most feared hitters in the American League.

Teixeira went 4-for-5 including two home runs and drove in five runs to lead New York and ace left-hander CC Sabathia to a decisive defeat of Oakland at o.co Coliseum.

Teixeira began his assault on the Athletics in the third inning when he launched a 2-2 fastball from Bartolo Colon (4-5) deep into the bleachers in right-field to break a 2-2 tie.

He followed that with a two-out, two-run single in the fifth off Colon to increase the Yankees’ lead to 6-2.

After leading off the seventh inning with a single, Teixeira completed his best day of the season with a one-out, two-run home run into the left-field seats off A’s reliever Graham Godfrey to give the Yankees their winning 9-2 margin.

Meanwhile, Sabathia (6-2) was able to give the Yankees seven solid innings.

Jonny Gomes touched him for an RBI single to right to score Jemile Weeks in the first inning, which gave the A’s an early 1-0 lead.

After Robinson Cano tied it up for the Yankees with his seventh home run of the season and his second in two games, the Yankees pushed across another run in the third inning on a RBI single by Derek Jeter.

However, Josh Reddick greeted Sabathia with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the third inning to knot the game at 2-2.

Though Sabathia did struggle early with his command, he ended up giving up just the two runs on seven hits and two walks and he fanned four batters to snap a personal two-game losing streak.

Colon, who pitched for the Yankees last season, was rocked for six runs on 11 hits and no walks and three strikeouts in six innings of work.

After losing six of seven games in which they were outscored 34-15, the Yankees have now won four in a row and have outscored the opposition by a count of 26-10.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 25-21. The A’s are 22-25.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Teixeira told reporters on Wednesday that he was through trying to put balls in play to raise his average and he was going to return to his old approach of just hitting for power. The results seem encouraging. In his last two games, Teixeira is 6-for-10 with three home runs, a double, two singles, seven RBIs and three runs scored.
  • Jeter drove in two runs and had two hits in the game. The two hits gave him 3,154 career hits, which ties him with Kansas City Royals Hall-of-Famer George Brett for 14th place on the all-time hit list. Jeter’s 2-for-4 day raised his season average to a team-leading .342.
  • Cano was 3-for-5 with a homer, a double and a single, he scored three runs and he raised his batting average over the .300 mark to .302.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Curtis Granderson did not have a red-letter day. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a walk. When he did draw that walk in the seventh inning he was caught stealing by Oakland reliever Jordan Norberto. He also grounded out to end the eighth inning and left the bases loaded. He stranded a total of six runners in the game.
  • Sabathia was far from his ace form on Saturday but you do have to give him credit for holding the A’s scoreless after Teixeira’s solo home run in the fourth. Over the next four innings, Sabathia gave up just two hits and no walks and he retired 13 of the last 15 batters he faced.
  • Chris Stewart has been Sabathia’s personal catcher for all but one start this season and he was picked up off waivers because of his defensive prowess. However, he committed a passed ball in the fourth inning and he now has five this season in 94 innings behind the plate. In 460 1/3 innings catching with the Giants in 2011 he had two passed balls.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to sweep the A’s in their three-game series on Sunday.

Veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (3-6, 4.56 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Kuroda, 37, is coming off two disastrous starts in which he has given up 10 runs in 10 1/3 innings. He is 0-1 with a 7.50 ERA in his one start against the A’s in his career.

The A’s will call upon ace right-hander Tommy Milone (6-3, 3.75 ERA). Milone gave up just one run on five hits in seven innings in a victory against the Angels on Monday. He has never faced the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Go West Then Go Deep To Down Oakland

GAME 45

YANKEES 6, ATHLETICS 3

In the 1850s, newspaper editor Horace Greeley coined the phrase “Go West, young man” and some 160 years later the struggling Yankees took his advice on a road trip to Oakland. They seemed to have left their troubles back East.

Sparked by home runs from Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher and getting a solid seven innings out of right-hander Ivan Nova, New York won its third game in row after dropping six of their previous seven games by downing Oakland at o.co Coliseum on Friday.

The Yankees shook off the remnants of a horrible hitting slump to pound Athletics starter Tyson Ross (2-5) for six runs (three earned) on 11 hits and two walks in just 4 1/3 innings.

Curtis Granderson started the scoring with a one out single off Ross in the third inning. One out later, Cano lined a ball into center-field that ticked off the glove of Coco Crisp for a two-base error that scored Granderson. Teixeira followed with a two-run blast into the right-field bleachers.

Two innings later, Cano opened the frame by blasting a high drive over the wall in center-field for his sixth home run of the season. One out later, Raul Ibanez doubled to left-center and Swisher clubbed a 3-2 pitch to the opposite field in left for a two -run homer and ended Ross’ evening early.

Meanwhile, Nova was able to limit the damage from the A’s.

He surrendered a one-out solo home run to Josh Reddick in the fourth inning and a leadoff home run to Kila Ka’aihue in the seventh. The A’s other run scored in the fifth on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Kurt Suzuki after Josh Donaldson and Daric Barton led off the inning with a single and a double, respectively.

But Nova (5-2) managed to end a two-game losing streak, giving up the three runs on six hits and one walk while fanning four batters.

Boone Logan pitched a perfect eighth and Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his fourth save in as many chances.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 24-21. The A’s fell to 22-24.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Teixeira’s home run was his sixth of the season but it was his first since May 14 at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Teixeira also doubled in the game in the fifth inning but was thrown at at third base trying to stretch it into a triple. It was his first multi-hit game since that same game on May 14. Could this be the turning point for the slumping slugger?
  • Swisher doubled in the second inning to break an 0-for-13 drought and then he homered in the fifth. Both hits were to the opposite field and the home run was Swisher’s first home run since he hit a solo shot against the Royals in Kansas City on May 6. Swisher is hitting only .194 this month and has been slumping even worse that Teixeira has.
  • Nova, other than giving up the two home runs, actually pitched quite well. He used his curveball effectively to keep the A’s off-balance and he let his defense help him out when he needed to get out of jams. He threw 101 pitches and 63 of them were strikes (62 percent).

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • During the 2011 season, Nova surrendered 12 home runs in 165 1/3 innings. This season, including the two home runs he gave up on Friday, Nova has allowed 12 home runs in 56 innings. At this pace, Nova would give up more than 40 homers. He has to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard.
  • On May 4, Derek Jeter was hitting .404. On Friday, Jeter was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and his season average has dipped to .339. Jeter is only hitting .287 for the month and, more importantly, he has only one home run and three RBIs over the same period. Jeter has been swinging and missing at a lot of sliders off the outside corner and out of the strike zone low.
  • For those who might think the team’s runners in scoring position problem is a thing of the past, think again. The Yankees were 2-for-10 with RISP on Friday. They had the bases loaded and one out after Ross walked Granderson intentionally to face Alex Rodriguez in the fourth inning. Rodriguez promptly rapped into an inning-ending double play. If this problem is not fixed soon it will haunt this team for the rest of the season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend series with the A’s on Saturday.

On the mound for the Yankees will be nearby Vallejo, CA, native CC Sabathia (5-2, 3.78 ERA). Sabathia has lost his past two starts are starting the season 5-0. He is 7-8 with a 4.96 ERA in his 22 starts against Oakland in his career.

The A’s will counter with former Yankee right-hander Bartolo Colon (4-4, 4.09 ERA). Colon won his start Sunday against the Giants despite lasting only five innings. He struck out seven and he allowed only two earned runs. He is 3-5 with a 6.94 ERA in the last 10 seasons against the Yankees.

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

 

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.

 

Yankees To Open Spring Slate Soon And I’m Ready

Now that the pitchers and catchers have reported to the Yankees’ spring home in Tampa, FL, the target date is March 3.

After the Yankees begin the spring with an exhibition against the University of South Florida on March 2 at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees will open their official spring training schedule with the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, FL.

My calendar officially begins the next day when the Yankees return the favor against the Phillies and host them for their home opener. I received my spring season tickets this week and I am chomping at the bit to get the 2012 season started. In addition, I want to make sure my coverage of the Yankees this spring is the best you will read anywhere.

I plan to attend 18 Yankee games this spring, including the Yankees’ two road contests against the Braves at Lake Buena Vista, FL, and a road contest against the Astros in Kissimmee, FL. The rest of the games I will either see on ESPN or  MLB-TV or I will hear on MLB Radio.

So it is clear that I will be able to provide Yankee fans – whether you live in Boise, ID, or the Bronx, NY – with the best on-site coverage I can possibly offer. I want to continue, as I have through the offseason, with the most accurate information about the players, the news, the rumors, the aches and pains and the deals going on behind the scenes.

This is what I pledged to do since I started this blog three years ago and I have tried to improve that coverage each season.

I have a B.A. in Communications and an A.A. in Journalism. I have worked for five news organizations over the course of 13 years as a writer, columnist and editor. So I approach my craft with a journalistic intent to cover the story fairly and accurately. But, as a lifelong Yankee fan, I am not afraid to give you my opinion on the news as it unfolds.

This week I am going to be looking at the Yankees’ competition in the American League East. Despite the fact that the Yankees really made very few moves this winter, I did not notice a lot of activity with the Red Sox, Rays, Orioles or Blue Jays. So just how strong is the division this season? Do the Yankees have clear sailing to repeat as division champs?

Stay tuned to this blog for my analysis, which begins with the Orioles on Monday. Red Sox fans will have to wait until Thursday to see how I see them in 2012.

In addition, I will be looking at the Yankees’ keys to victory in 2012. Some players need to prove they stay healthy (Alex Rodriguez). Others need to step up their games to remain viable starters (Brett Gardner). I will also try to answer the hard questions about how the starting rotation stacks up.

I also will look at the spring battles. There are few spots available on the Yankees’ roster but I will let you know who is leading in those battles. I also will give some detailed analysis on the Yankees prospects who trying to make their way up to the big-league roster. If you want the scoop on top Yankee prospects like Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Brandon Laird and David Phelps, I will try to provide insight on how they are progressing and what they need to do to take the big leap forward.

By the end of spring training I will have enough information to forecast the 2012 pennant chase and how the Yankees should fare in that race. Last season, if you were reading, I told you that I thought the “so-called” solid rotation of the Red Sox was not so solid. I actually thought the Yankees’ quintet – even with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia – was better. I rankled a few Red Sox fans but I do not care when I am right.

Let’s see what 2012 holds and if I can rankle a few more Red Sox fans with my predictions.

Thank you for letting be part of your interest in baseball and I hope you love the game even half as much as I do. Let’s have some fun and “Let’s Go Yankees.”

 

Yankees Open Camp With Few Jobs Up For Grabs

2012 ROSTER ADDITIONS: Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Corey Wade, Cesar Cabral or Clay Rapada, Raul Ibanez.

2012 ROSTER SUBTRACTIONS: A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, Joba Chamberlain (starting season in disabled list) , Jorge Posada (retired).

Sunday is the day pitchers and catchers are required to report to the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL. To most teams the spring is a time where young players and veteran free agents can dream about making the roster with a good spring.

But not this year and not in the Yankees’ camp.

If the A.J. Burnett trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates is approved and the Yankees do sign free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez and corner infielder Eric Chavez, the Yankees would have a roster with very few jobs “up for grabs” and the 25-man roster – barring injury – is a foregone conclusion at this point.

The starting rotation has been bolstered by the trade for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and the free-agent signing of 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers. That gives the Yankees a rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda and Kuroda. The No. 5 spot will be a competition between 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. But it is pretty clear that if Hughes can prove his shoulder issues that plagued him in 2011 are in the past he will be the favorite to win the job.

That would leave Garcia in the bullpen and the Yankees also have bought themselves a season in order to develop promising young starters Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell at the Triple-A level.

Garcia will join a strong bullpen that includes the greatest closer in the history of baseball (Mariano Rivera), the American League’s best set-up man in 2011 (David Robertson) and the American League saves leader in 2010 (Rafael Soriano).

Add to that core left-hander Boone Logan, right-hander Corey Wade and a likely a second left-hander in a battle between 23-year-old Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral and 30-year-old journeyman Clay Rapada, and you pretty much have the bullpen complete even without rehabbing right-hander Joba Chamberlain.

Chamberlain underwent Tommy John surgery in July and has made remarkable progress since then. However, the Yankees will not push Chamberlain to return early. They do not expect him to be able to pitch for the Yankees until June or July.

The bullpen, even without Chamberlain, was a strength of the team last season and promises to be just as strong or better in 2012.

The Yankees also did not make any changes in their starting position players for 2012. It is the same crew that led the Yankees to the best record in the American League (97-65).

The Yankees picked up the option on Russell Martin and he returns at catcher. The rest of the infield has Mark Teixeira at first, Robinson Cano at second, Derek Jeter at shortstop and Alex Rodriguez at third. The outfield maintains Nick Swisher in right, Curtis Granderson in center and Brett Gardner in left.

The only major change looks to be at designated hitter. Last season the Yankees used Jorge Posada in that role. With Posada retired the job looked to be Jesus Montero’s. However, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman opted to trade Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.

The Yankees are now looking to fill that DH spot with former Phillies outfielder Ibanez. Ibanez, 39, likely will platoon with right-handed-hitting outfielder  Andruw Jones, who was retained after he had an excellent second half in 20111.

The rest of the bench could also be same as it was last season.

Francisco Cervelli figures to be the backup catcher again if he can prove that he has recovered from another concussion he suffered last September. Rookie Austin Romine, 22, is ready for the major leagues from a defensive standpoint but he needs to work on becoming a better hitter in order to vault past Cervelli.

He will get a look this spring, but he figures to be heading to Triple-A for a year of seasoning.

The Yankees also will have middle infielder Eduardo Nunez back this season. Nunez, 24, impressed the Yankees with his hitting and his base-stealing ability last season. But Nunez is a nightmare in the field. Despite playing only half the time, Nunez led the team in errors and he has to show some improvement there to stick.

The Yankees still have Ramiro Pena and they have invited veteran utility man Bill Hall to compete with Nunez but it is Nunez’s job to lose.

The Yankees also are likely to re-sign Chavez to back up at first and third base. Chavez, 34, had an impressive spring in 2011 but his season – just like the previous four – was cut short by injury. He fractured a bone in his left foot and missed 2 1/2 months. But the Yankees like having a former Gold Glove winner and lefty swinger at first and third base.

The Yankees still have veteran outfielders Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell and they have invited defensive wizard Dewayne Wise as a non-roster invitee this spring. But none of them figure to make a dent on the roster.

 

Get Real, Yankee Fans, Pineda Is Not Ken Phelps

Remember George Steinbrenner ‘s appearance on the “Seinfeld” episode where George’s father lights into him for trading Jay Buhner to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Ken Phelps?

For the last 24 hours the ghost of that ill-fated Buhner-for-Phelps trade has cast a pall around the reported most recent Yankees-Mariners swap of mega-prospect Jesus Montero for pitcher Michael Pineda. Yankee fans are unclear how the Yankees would think that trading their best young hitter for a young right-hander with a history of arm trouble and inconsistent mechanics helps the Yankees in the long run.

They are looking at the so-called “Big Picture,” You know that is the vast uncharted future when Robinson Cano is on a downward slide and Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are living a life of luxury in retirement. Yankee fans saw Montero as the centerpiece of the Yankees’ 2018 world championship team, hitting .330 with 42 home runs and driving in 130 runs batting fourth in pinstripes.

But mean, old general manager Brian Cashman took that comforting pipe dream away by dealing Montero for a pitcher who could blow out his arm in a bar fight tomorrow. (Yep, a Yankee fan never forgets what could have been with Brien Taylor.)

Nevermind that Montero’s career could come to an end with the next horrific home-plate collision. Yankee fans want to vent so let them vent.

But when have the Yankees ever looked way out to 2018?

I do not think they were thinking of 2018 when they made this trade. I think they were looking at 2012.

That is the Yankee tradition after all. You lose in the playoffs and fall short of your goal in 2011 so you immediately look to improving your team in 2012. That is Cashman’s job.

Cashman, along with Hank and Hal Steinbrenner and any scout in baseball will tell you that the magical 97 wins the Yankees got out of a rotation that included 38-year-old Bartolo Colon and 35-year-old Freddy Garcia was seen as a miracle that could not be duplicated.

The fact remains that besides CC Sabathia and his annual flirtation with 20 wins and a Cy Young Award there is not much to distinguish the Yankees’ rotation. That, keep in mind, is aware that Phil Hughes did win 18 games in 2010 and rookie Ivan Nova was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA last season.

What troubled the Yankees’ front office is that the Tampa Bay Rays made the playoffs in 2011 with a popgun offense and very good rotation of young pitchers behind James Shields, including lefty David Price, Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson and the rookie lefty who blanked the Rangers in the playoffs, Matt Moore.

Despite the fact that the Yankees spent most of Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers down one run and their vaunted offense could not produce it, the Yankees felt they had to bolster the starting staff without adding much to their $200 million payroll.

That is a tough task because free agents like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle and Yu Darvish were so tempting. Trade offers for Gio Gonzalez, Jair Jurrgens, John Danks and Matt Garza held promise but proved, in the end, to be pretty pricey. Heck, even the new president of the Cubs, Theo Epstein, thought Garza was worth Montero and left-hander Manny Banuelos and right-hander Dellin Betances!

Epstein may think of himself as the Lord’s holy gift to baseball but mere mortals like Cashman know the First Commandment of the National Pastime: Though shall not deal the best lambs in the stable for a .500 pitcher who is no better than a No. 3 in your rotation.

So give Cashman credit for not allowing Epstein to pull the wool over his eyes. Baaaaaad!!!!

With this trade, however, Cashman has acquired a pitcher who is 22 years old. (OK, he turns 23 on Wednesday if you want to get technical.)

When the Yankees traded for Phelps during the 1988 season he was 34 years old and Buhner was almost exactly 10 years his junior. Of course, history will show that Phelps would hit a whopping 13 home runs for the Yankees from the middle of the 1988 season to the middle of the 1989 season when he was traded away in disgrace to the Oakland Athletics.

Meanwhile, Buhner – beginning in 1991 – started a series of 10 seasons with the Mariners in which in eight of them he hit 21 or more home runs. In fact, from 1995 through 1997, Buhner had three seasons in which he hit 40, 44 and 40 home runs for the Mariners. He ended up with  310 major-league dingers, a total of three came when he was wearing pinstripes.

Now you can understand why Frank Constanza (played by actor Jerry Stiller) was so angry with George in that hilarious “Seinfeld” episode.

It may be why so many Yankee fans might be angry now. It is the ghost of Jay Buhner rearing his ugly head. (Check out Buhner’s baseball card. He was ugly.)

But Pineda is not Ken Phelps. Far from it.

There were times last season that scouts would have told you that Pineda looked better than Felix Hernandez himself. Pineda was rolling through lineups looking like a 6-foot-7, 260-pound Gulliver against a helpless band Lilliputians with matchsticks for bats.

In his first 11 starts he was 6-2 with a 2.30 ERA and 73 K’s in 70 1/3 innings and batters were hitting a woeful .190 off him and he had a WHIP of 1.00. That was pitching for arguably the weakest offense in baseball in the Mariners.

Granted, in his next six starts, Pineda came back to Earth some. He was 2-3 with 3.10 ERA. But he was chosen to represent the American League in the 2011 All-Star Game and he had earned it.

What many rookie pitchers have to contend with is how to continue to pitch well as the innings mount and your team continues to play poorly. The Mariners were simply awful as they ditched the second half in order to play their young prospects over their overpriced veterans like Chone Figgins.

Pineda won only one game the rest of the season. Of course, that game was against the Rays on July 30. But he ended the season 1-5 in his last 11 starts with an ERA of 5.71. The Mariners, seeing that Pineda was a valuable commodity, did not pitch him much in the month of September to protect his arm.

He finished 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 171 innings. Batters hit .211 off him and his WHIP was an amazing 1.10. He was right behind Hellickson as the second-best rookie pitcher in baseball in 2011.

But his second-half slide and the fact that Pineda had to be shut down by the Mariners back in 2009 due forearm and elbow stiffness has Yankee fans concerned about this trade. It is true that while a position player can fashion a long career despite injuries, a starting pitcher can be wrecked for an entire career with a severe elbow or shoulder injury.

But, Pineda seems as if he is a reasonable risk at this point because, Yankee fans, Betances at 6-foot-8 and age 23 is in the same boat as Pineda. The only difference is that Betances has already experienced elbow problems and had surgery to repair the damage. So if you are crying because the Pineda was acquired then, in that same breath, you must have to demand that Cashman get rid of Betances immediately because he is another elbow injury waiting to happen.

I guess the foot is in the other shoe, now, Yankee fans!

All I am saying is that perhaps it is better to allow the careers of Pineda and Montero to play out about five years before we say the Mariners have won this trade. After all, it took Buhner until 1991, three long seasons after the trade, to become the player the Yankees wished they had back.

Pineda will begin the 2012 season as the Yankees’ No. 2 starter behind the equally tall Sabathia. That is about as an imposing pair of starters a team can face to open a series. The Yankees can follow that up with Nova, who was the third best rookie pitcher in 2011 and Hughes, who did win 18 games for the Yankees when he was healthy.

And for good measure, Cashman added 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to the mix and Kuroda was 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA for a very mediocre Dodgers team in 2011.

That is not a bad starting five. It figures to better than the Sabathia, Nova, Colon, Garcia and A.J. Burnett quintet with which the Yankees won 97 games last season. Speaking of Burnett and Garcia, neither figures to make the rotation unless there are a few injuries in the spring.

Burnett figures to be on his way out of town if the Yankees can find a buyer for him and Garcia looks to be simply insurance for the injury-plagued Hughes and the other four starters.

So losing Montero for a significantly better rotation does not seem so bad.

His offense will be missed, for sure. I had no doubt that as a designated hitter and part-time catcher Montero could easily hit 30 home runs and drive in 75 or more runs in 2011. But the Yankees have been either number one or number two in runs scored the past three seasons without Montero. It seems they can manage to make it four in 2012 without Montero.

Also remember this important point. The Yankees got younger in their rotation and still have Banuelos, Betances, Adam Warren, David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell at the Triple-A level. Oh, and reports indicate this 6-foot-4 right-hander Jose Campos thrown into the Montero deal, at age 19, is an excellent pitching prospect with a live arm and great control. They also still have the defensively proficient Austin Romine bidding to be the backup to catcher Russell Martin this spring.

And, lo and behold, the Yankees’ No. 1 catching prospect Gary Sanchez turned 19 in December and he is considered to be every bit as good as Montero as a hitter and he is a defensive gem as well. He was ranked as the third-best catching prospect in 2011. Montero was No. 1.

So while you are crying about what Montero will do for Seattle, Sanchez is getting closer to an arrival date in 2014 and he may be very much the ultimate catcher for which Yankee fans have been waiting. Montero with his defensive deficiencies may eventually be the DH or first baseman for which the Mariners have been waiting.

So dry your eyes and let’s wait to see how Pineda develops before we get too emotional. Somewhere Ken Phelps is thinking you are all acting like idiots.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.