Results tagged ‘ Bobby Valentine ’

Yankees Will Prevail In 2013’s ‘Game Of Thrones’

The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.

REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES

If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.

The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.

The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.

A DOMINANT KING

Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.

But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.

THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL

The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.

They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.

The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.

But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.

One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.

Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.

Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.

That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.

The offense has its own issues.

Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.

There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.

So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.

THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE

The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.

Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.

They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.

Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.

Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.

Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”

The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.

The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.

Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.

DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY

The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.

They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.

One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.

They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.

The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.

Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.

Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.

The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.

Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.

They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.

They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.

The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.

The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.

The gold remains in the Bronx.

THE STARKS OF BOSTON

In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.

That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.

Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.

They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.

They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.

The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.

Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!

It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.

There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.

Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.

THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING

The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.

It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,

Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.

So why should 2013 be any different?

The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.

Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.

They may even finish last.

STARK REALITY

But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.

But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.

The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.

You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.

They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.

The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.

The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.

Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.

The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.

It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.

Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.

That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.

They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. YANKEES
  2. BLUE JAYS
  3. RAYS
  4. ORIOLES
  5. RED SOX

For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven. 

 

Yankees Hoping Youkilis Healthy, A-Rod Returns

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

THIRD BASE – KEVIN YOUKILIS (19 HRs, 60 RBIs, .235 BA)

With Alex Rodriguez headed for surgery to his left hip this month the Yankees were forced to take a plunge into the free-agent market for a replacement and they chose 33-year-old Kevin Youkilis.

The former Red Sox nemesis has had his own issues with injuries throughout his career but the Yankees needed someone who could play the position and provide some offense until Rodriguez is ready to to return to action, which won’t come until at least June.

Youkilis enters 2013 free of the swirling rumors of his commitment to the game former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine thrust upon him last season. After he was traded to the Chicago White Sox he did pick up his production, hitting .236 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs, largely batting second.

After undergoing sports hernia surgery that ended his 2011 season, Youkilis suffered through the early part of 2012 with a groin injury that landed him on the disabled list. When Will Middlebrooks produced good numbers in his absence, the Red Sox decided to send him packing to make room for the rookie.

Youkilis has never played in more than 147 games in any of his seven full major-league seasons, which was in first full season with the Red Sox in 2007. His best season with the Bosox was in 2008, when he hit 29 home runs and drove in 115 runs.

But Youkilis’ all-out style of play has also left him susceptible to nagging injuries, which have lessened his power and production numbers. In addition, Youkilis’ unusual batting style, which worked well for him when he was younger (He hit a career-high .312 in 2008), has left him less effective the last two seasons in which he has hit .258 and .235.

It will be the job of hitting coach Kevin Long to get Youkilis back on track at the plate with is timing and to get Youkilis driving the ball as he did so well at Fenway Park. As a right-hand hitter, the Yankees will not be looking for big-time power from Youkilis. But they would like him to get back to hitting closer to his lifetime .283 average and driving in runs.

There is a good possibility that Youkilis might slide into the No. 3 or No. 5 spots in the batting order to separate left-handers Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. That means the Yankees will be counting on Youkilis to provide solid production in the heart of the batting order.

A lot will depend if Youkilis is 100 percent healthy when he reports to camp in Tampa, FL, and he can remain healthy. He will have to because the Yankees’ options behind him are quite limited and much less productive.

As a fielder, Youkilis is considered an excellent first baseman. He won a Gold Glove for his work there in 2007. However, he is not as accomplished as a third baseman. Of course, he is actually still considered above average at the position.

There is no doubt that injuries have had an effect on his fielding at third the past two seasons. He made nine errors in 2011 and he committed the same total in 2012. So the slip in his fielding percentage at third had to be due in large part to the sports hernia and groin injuries.

His career fielding percentage at first is .997 but at third it is .966. But the Yankees feel if he is healthy, he can play the position more than adequately. Fielding, after all, was not a strength of A-Rod’s game either.

Of course, it is hard to know what the strength of Rodriguez’s game is really. Last season was another one of those seasons that he has failed to provide the production the Yankees needed and his season ended with a late injury which may or may not have contributed to his poor postseason.

After playing in just 99 games in 2011, largely due to a right knee injury, Rodriguez played in 122 games in 2012. He missed more than a month of the season and returned in early September after being struck in the left hand with a pitch from Seattle Mariners ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.

But when he was healthy, Rodriguez did not produce much in the way of power or runs batted in. He finished the season hitting .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs. Batting in the middle of the most productive lineup in baseball in 2012, A-Rod  hit .200 with the bases loaded and .230 with runners in scoring position.

But the most telling statistic is this: Rodriguez hit a home run every 25.7 at-bats in 2012. In his career, he has hit a home run every 14.9 at-bats. To say the 37-year-old three-time Most Valuable Player is suffering through a serious erosion of his skills is putting it mildly. It even lead to his being pinch-hit for at a critical point in the 2012 American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

So even when Rodriguez returns the question is how much can the Yankees count on him? Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since 2007.

What looked to a be a lock that he would eventually break Barry Bonds’ dubious all-time home run record of 762 looks to a longshot now. But the real problem is the Yankees are on the hook for paying Rodriguez, in sickness and unproductive health, through the 2017 season.

So unless A-Rod gets tired of being booed, looking like a fool striking out against mediocre pitchers and he decides to retire, the Yankees have a 6-foot-3, 225-pound albatross around their necks. General manager Brian Cashman has been ordered to reduce payroll to $189 million by 2014 and it will be hard to see how they can remain competitive as long as they are paying big bucks to an unproductive has-been.

But we will see how it all plays out when Rodriguez does make it back to the field in 2013.

Likely, he will not play much third base.

Though Rodriguez two Gold Gloves as a shortstop with the Texas Rangers in 2002 and 2003, he has never been considered a very good fielder at third base. His career fielding percentage at the position is .964 and it was .957 in 2012. He committed eight errors in 81 games at the position last year.

The previous injury to his right hip pretty much has robbed him of some of the lateral quickness and smoothness he needs to field at the hot corner.

So upon Rodriguez’s return it is more likely he will assume the designated hitter role for most of the rest of the season in order to keep his surgically repaired left hip from acting up again.

The Yankees do not have much in the way of options at third base behind Youkilis.

They were hoping that they could convince Eric Chavez, 35, to come back for a third season. But the free agent elected to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Though Chavez was unable to physically handle playing third base on a daily basis, he did contribute mightily to the Yankees at third and first base and as a DH and pinch-hitter. He hit .281 with 16 home runs and 37 RBIs in 2012. He also played 64 games at third base and flashed some of the form that led to him winning six consecutive Gold Gloves at the position from 2001 through 2006 with the Oakland Athletics.

He and his left-hand bat will be missed in 2013.

Instead the Yankees will have to look to Jayson Nix, 30, as the primary backup in 2013.

Nix entered the 2012 season as a minor-league player invited to spring training by the Yankees. After hitting over .300 in the spring Nix was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he was recalled on May 3 when the Yankees decided that Eduardo Nunez was ill-suited to be a utility infielder.

Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats as largely a backup to Rodriguez at third base and Derek Jeter at shortstop.

Nix was designated for assignment by the Yankees on Nov. 30, 2011 to make room on the 40-man roster for All-Star reliever Mariano Rivera, who was signed to a one-year contract. But Nix agreed to accept an assignment to Triple A in order to remain with the team. He will be invited to spring training and he has an excellent chance of retaining his backup infielder role.

Though Nix will not knock down any fences, he will play solidly in the field and give a good effort at the plate. That is what the Yankees hope he can do.

Nunez, 25, started the season as the team’s infield backup but his careless errors in the field cost him the job. Manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees’ front office agreed to send Nunez back to Triple A to play shortstop exclusively.

However, Nunez spent most of his time in the minors sidelined with a right-hand injury. There are no questions about Nunez’s bat. He is a career .272 hitter with the capability of stealing 40 bases in a full season.

But Jeter, 38, is still the shortstop and Nunez is a butcher in the field, hence the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” He was on a pace to commit 42 errors if he had played every day in 2012.

The Yankees look at Nunez as a potential right-hand DH in 2013 at this point. Nunez is not a home run hitter but he could possibly hit 10 home runs and drive in 60 runs if he got 425 or so at-bats. The Yankees also missed his speed last season.

Nunez stole 22 bases in 112 games in 2011 and he actually led the Yankees for most of the 2011 season with 11 until A-Rod and Ichiro Suzuki passed him in September. Nunez along with left-fielder Brett Gardner and Suzuki would give the Yankees a speed game they were lacking in 2012.

But the Yankees likely will not use Nunez at third base and there is a good possibility that Nunez could be traded to a team needing a shortstop before the season starts. They will listen to offers anyway.

Behind Nix the Yankees do not have a lot of major-league-ready options at the position.

David Adams, 25, and Corban Joseph, 24, are on the 40-man roster but both are primarily second basemen.

Adams hit .306 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs at Double-A Trenton in 2012 while Joseph hit a combined .276 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton.

Adams, a third-round draft selection out of the University of Virginia in 2008, has been held back by a severe ankle injury. Joseph is a fourth round pick in 2008 out of Franklin High School in Franklin, TN.

Joseph would seem to have more upside because of his power and the fact that he bats left-handed. The Yankees could use a left-handed hitting infield backup. But Joseph is not considered as a shortstop. The same for Adams.

Both were elevated to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule V draft in 2013 and both will get opportunities to play in spring training. But Nix and Nunez have a huge upper hand on them because neither of the youngsters have played a significant amount of time at third base. In addition, neither player is among the Yankees’ Top 20 prospects.

The only third baseman among the Top 20 prospects is the Yankees’ first selection in the 2011 draft Dante Bichette Jr., son of the former Colorado Rockies slugger of the same name.

Bichette, 20, opened eyes last spring when he was placed on the traveling squad for an exhibition game against the Houston Astros and he hit a pair of solo home runs in his two at-bats in the only game in which he played. However, his 2012 season was a major disappointment because he hit only three home runs, drove in 46 runs and batted .248 at Class-A Charleston (SC).

But because he was the Most Valuable Player of the Gulf Coast League in 2011 and he has adapted better than expected at third base, the Yankees have high hopes for the Maitland, FL, native. However, he appears to be more than two years away from being ready for the major leagues.

Third base appears to be a big issue for the Yankees entering 2013.

Rodriguez is sidelined once again and his replacement Youkilis has had issues with injuries of his own. There appears to be an adequate backup in Nix but the Yankees have limited options behind him. The jury on Bichette is out for now but the Yankees remain optimistic he can follow in his father’s footsteps.

This is definitely not the Yankees’ strongest position entering the season and there will be a lot of people crossing their fingers Youkilis stays healthy and Rodriguez come back strong. It seems an awful lot to ask for at this point.

NEXT: SHORTSTOP

 

A-Rod’s Injury Clouds Yanks’ 2013 Pennant Hopes

PART 3: THE STARTING LINEUP

The New York Yankees enter the 2013 season with more uncertainty in their starting lineup than they have in the past two decades.

A combination of committed contracts to aging veterans, expired contracts to some helpful contributors, injuries and underperformance have left the Yankees in a real bind to fix their problems knowing they have an edict by the boss Hal Steinbrenner to trim payroll to $189 million by 2014.

The most significant issue is the impending January left hip surgery for third baseman Alex Rodriguez which will shelve him for at least half the season. Because Rodriguez has not played a full healthy season of baseball since 2007 it should not be considered that big a deal.

However, it points up the problem with offering lengthy and lucrative contracts to players past the age of 30. Players break down at a rapid rate after that and that is particularly true of players who have dabbled in the use of performance enhancing drugs as A-Rod has.

The plain fact of the matter is that Rodriguez IS NOT nor WILL HE EVER BE AGAIN the impact player he was in 2007 when he hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs for the Yankees. Unfortunately, the Yankees are committed to paying him through the 2017 season.

If you want to look up the definition of the euphemism “albatross around the neck” A-Rod’s picture would be displayed prominently.

Seemingly healthy to begin the 2012 season, Rodriguez neither produced with power or run production. Every day manager Joe Girardi cautioned the media that A-Rod always produced home runs in bunches and it would be any day now. But that day never arrived.

He was struck in the left hand by a pitch from Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners on July 24 and the injury sidelined him until the first week of September. At season’s end, Rodriguez had 18 home runs and 57 RBIs and batted .272. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Clutch when he was healthy either.

With runners in scoring position he hit a miserable .230 and with the bases loaded he hit .200.

Unfortunately, the Yankees may be saddled with A-Rod for the remainder of his contract because his skills have eroded so fast no team would be willing to take him and his bloated contract now that he is 37.

So all the Yankees can do is look to find a replacement for him for 2013 because there is no guarantee he will be able to come back in July.

Last year’s insurance policy, Eric Chavez, who hit 16 home runs and drove in 37 runs in 278 at-bats, has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Eduardo Nunez fielded to so poorly at third base he was demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Yankees have vowed to keep him primarily at shortstop.

So the Yankees have signed free-agent Kevin Youkilis.

Youkilis, 33, has had some injury issues of his own. He does not have a season in which he has played more than 147 games. He had not played but one season in which he passed 136 games in four seasons. His all-out style was popular in Boston but it also led to some significant injuries and a decline in production.

After a 2011 season in which he hit only .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs, Youkilis ran afoul of then Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine and he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox. He ended up hitting a career-low .235 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs.

But the Yankees hope he can help fill the void at third while Rodriguez is out and fall into a right-handed designated hitter and corner infield backup role when Rodriguez returns. Though it may seem odd that the heart and soul of the Red Sox would be wearing pinstripes, Johnny Damon had no trouble adapting to life in the Yankee Universe. Neither did Wade Boggs or Roger Clemens. “Youk” would seem to be in the same mold.

There is an issue at shortstop as well.

Though Derek Jeter vows his broken ankle will be healed and he will be ready to go by Opening Day of 2013, he also is 38 years old. So the Yankees will want their captain and emotional leader to be cautious in spring training.

Jeter’s injury in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers pretty much sounded the death knell for a team that was already reeling in the midst of an horrific team batting slump.

Jeter was one of the few who actually contributed positively to the offense in 2012.

He led the major leagues in hits with 219 and he ended up hitting .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. Though this is the not the Jeter who hit .349 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs in 1999, the Yankees are happy to have this more mature Jeter, who has learned how to adapt to his age and still produce positively to the team.

He simply was the team Most Valuable Player last season and the Yankees seem to have stopped talking nonsense like moving him to center-field or resting him two days a week. He will rest some but he will play a lot in 2013 because the Yankees need him at the top of the lineup.

The Yankees’ best player is also one who poses the most uncertainty heading into 2013. Robinson Cano, 30, is simply the best second baseman in baseball both with his glove and his bat. He also hit a career-high 33 home runs in 2013 while batting over .300 (.308) for the seventh time in his eight major-league seasons.

However, Cano hardly could call 2012 his “breakout” season because he drove in a paltry 94 runs hitting in the heart of baseball’s top run-scoring team. The reason: He hit poorly most of the season with runners in scoring position. Also, in a huge reversal in a trend, Cano hit just .239 against left-handers.

That will have to change in 2013 because he figures to continue to see a steady diet of them.

There is a big incentive for Cano to improve. His contract for 2013 was renewed by the Yankees but he can become a free agent after this season. With the Yankees looking to trim payroll, Cano’s impending free agency presents a huge challenge. Will general manager Brian Cashman have the financial backing to present a package that can keep Cano in pinstripes for the rest of his career?

That is huge question only the Steinbrenner family can answer. But one thing is certain: The Yankees would certainly regress in 2014 without their best player.

Speaking of regression, Mark Teixeira has found out just how fast a career can regress when you follow former Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi’s pull-happy approach at Yankee Stadium.

Teixeira, however, changed his tune about it in 2012. Instead of trying to change back as he did at the start of the 2012 season, he decided to keep the “pull” approach figuring the Yankees pay him to hit home runs and drive in runs. So he hit 24 home runs and drove in 84 runs in a season that was cut to just 123 games due to a calf injury he suffered in August.

He hit just .251 but that is coming off seasons in which he hit .256 (2010) and .248 (2011). So Yankee fans are just going to have to accept lower batting averages and big production out of Teixeira. He more than makes up for it with his glove.

He and Cano both won Gold Gloves in 2012 and they form the best right side of an infield in baseball history from a fielding and production standpoint. Can you name a better pair?

The Yankees will have one huge hole filled in their lineup in left-field with the return of Brett Gardner and having to fill two more at catcher and in right-field.

Gardner’s loss last season proved to be more problematic in hindsight than it was at the time. With Gardner, 29, sidelined and Nunez in the minors the Yankees lost their two best base-stealers for most of the 2012 season. That made the Yankees much more of a station-to-station team and brought to the forefront their reliance on the home run to win games.

It also goes beyond saying that Gardner’s Gold-Glove quality in defense in left was missed, too. The Yankees need Gardner to come back healthy, get on base consistently and be disruptive to the team’s opponents on the bases.

For the past two seasons, the Yankees have reaped the benefit of having a stalwart defensive catcher in Russell Martin, who actually deterred teams who like to run the bases with reckless abandon. Though Martin struggled most of the season hitting under the “Mendoza Line” until he got hot in September, his power will be missed also.

But Martin has signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Yankees are looking for a new catcher in 2013.

At the moment, the Yankees list Francisco Cervelli as the heir apparent. Cervelli, 26, was the primary backup for three seasons from 2009 through 2011 until the Yankees acquired San Francisco Giants catcher Chris Stewart in a trade just as spring training drew to a close.

Because Stewart, 30, was out of options, the Yankees elected to keep Stewart as the backup catcher in 2012 and shipped Cervelli to Scranton.

Cervelli hit .246 with two home and 39 RBIs in 99 games at Scranton in 2012. His defense is fine but his throwing can be erratic at times.

Stewart surprisingly hit .241 with a home run and 13 RBIs in 55 games with the Yankees. His defense and throwing are superior to Cervelli but his offense is severely lacking.

The Yankees did sign former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to a minor-league contract. Wilson was non-tendered a contract by the Blue Jays after he hit .211 with three home runs and 13 RBIs with the Angels in 2012. Wilson is excellent defensively but is a career .208 hitter in the majors. So it is hard to see how he will figure in as anything but a potential backup and insurance in case the Yankees need to trade a catcher or sustain an injury.

The Yankees do have very high hopes for 24-year-old rookie Austin Romine. They believe his defensive skills make him a major-league ready receiver but his bat and his chronic back issues have been delaying his progess. He missed most all of the 2012 season with a back injury.

He has been cleared to come to spring training and he has a shot at supplanting either Cervelli or Stewart if he can show some improved skills with the bat. But realistically, the team may take a more cautious approach with Romine and he could head back to Scranton to convince the front office his back issues are over.

This area seems ripe for a deal to obtain a free agent. Cashman did have former Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in mind. Pierzynski, 35, would fit in with the Yankees because he hits left-handed and he has some power. He hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBis in 2012.

But Pierzynski elected to sign a contract with the Texas Rangers. So unless the Yankees elect to make a trade they will be choosing between the four catchers they have now.

The biggest hole in the Yankees lineup and perhaps the biggest blow to the bleacher bums in right-field will be the loss of fan favorite Nick Swisher.

Swisher might not have been a superstar but his consistency was his calling card. What you saw was what you got.

Swisher, 32, has played four seasons in pinstripes and did not deviate from between 24 through 29 home runs and between 82 and 93 RBIs. There are not many outfielders who can claim that and the Yankees would be hard-pressed to find anyone at the level, except perhaps the oft-injured star Josh Hamilton.

The Yankees did have an opportunity to sign the former Texas Rangers’ star if they wanted. But they have some restriction to them doing so.

If the Yankees were to sign Hamilton, Cano’s departure would be a foregone conclusion unless there was a major dump of salary after the 2013 season. Hamilton signed with the Angels and the Yankees played it safe.

The Yankees instead decided to bring back Ichiro Suzuki, who came over in a trade in June and sparked the Yankees down the stretch. At age 39, Suzuki is no longer the player he was when he was the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001 but he showed a renewed vigor in the Bronx in 2012, hitting over .300 after the deal.

He ended the season hitting. 283 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs and he stole 29 bases.

It is obvious if the Yankees want to return to a slash and dash attack Girardi favors, Suzuki would be the correct choice.

Center-field is an interesting situation for the Yankees.

The team renewed Curtis Granderson’s contract for 2012 but there are all kinds of rumors swirling around about him.

The Yankees first floated the idea they could move Gardner from left to center and put Granderson in left next season. They also sent Granderson to an eye specialist to check his vision because of his habit of losing balls in flight to the outfield and his penchant for swinging at pitches that bounced in front of home plate.

Granderson struck out a team record 195 times last season. The Yankees can live with the strikeouts for his 43 home runs and 106 RBIs, which were both team highs in 2012. But his .232 average is 30 points below his career average of .262 and he hit just .218 against left-handers last season. Granderson is also in the final year of his contract.

The Yankees also seemed intent on keeping outfielder and left-handed DH Raul Ibanez.

Ibanez, 40, was forced to play more than he was expected in the outfield because of Gardner’s injury. But Ibanez came through with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs while hitting .24o in 384 at-bats. But Ibanez’s biggest impact was the clutch home runs he hit down the stretch against the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox to get the Yankees into the playoffs.

He carried that into the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

His clutch hitting was not lost on the front office and they wanted him back badly in 2013. But Ibanez dealt a blow to the Yankees by electing to sign with his old Mariners team so the Yankees now have a huge hole at the DH spot.

The Yankees made it clear that right-hand DH Andruw Jones would not retained for the 2012 season and Jones shopped himself to a team in Japan. The Yankees likely will use a veteran free agent to fill the role until A-Rod returns in July. Rodriguez figures to DH a lot when he returns and Youkilis can fill the role when A-Rod does play third.

Nunez figures to have an opportunity to win the right-hand DH role until A-Rod returns. The left side of the equation might come down to an offer to Jim Thome or a similar veteran.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, most of their best minor-league hitting prospects are a few years away of making an impact at the major-league level.

The top prospect in the organization, catcher Gary Sanchez, is only 20. But he may be worth the wait because he hit a combined .290 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs with Class-A Charleston and High-A Tampa in 2012. Sanchez is being touted as “Jesus Montero with defense.” However, his glovework slipped a notch last season.

But the Yankees still believe he is their future behind the plate.

Outfielder Mason Wiiliams, 21, had a torn labrum ended his season his August. However, Williams was able to flash some five-tool talent by hitting a combined .298 with a 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and stole 20 bases at Charleston and Tampa.

Some are comparing him to another Williams named Bernie. He has a good bat and he is developing power as he progresses through the system. The Yankees absolutely love his high ceiling for improvement.  The lefty swinger looks like a future center-fielder for the Yankees.

Somewhat lost in all the talk about Sanchez and Williams is 21-year-old outfielder Tyler Austin, who hit an organization-best .354 in 2011 and hit .322 in four minor-league stops in 2012. He hit 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs while stealing 23 bases.

Austin played his first two minor-league seasons at the corner infield spots but was moved to right-field last season and the Yankees see him as the real deal as a right-hand hitter.

The Yankees also have a trio of promising outfielders in power-hitting Zoilo Almonte, 23, who hit 21 bombs at Double-A Trenton, and slash-and-dash hitters in 2009 No. 1 draft pick Slade Heathcott, 22, and Ramon Flores, 20.

Third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., 20, the team’s first selection in the 2011 draft, hit only three home runs at Charleston in 2012 but the Yankees believe he will develop into the kind of power hitter his father was. Called up to appear in an exhibition game against the Astros last March, Bichette hit a pair of solo home runs in only two exhibition at-bats. His star is definitely on the rise.

The Yankees also have a trio in promising infielders in Angelo Gumbs, 20; Jose Pirela, 23; and Austin Aune, 19. However, only Pirela has advanced as far as Double A and Gumbs and Aune may eventually be moved to the outfield. For now Gumbs and Pirela are second basemen and Aune is power-hitting shortstop.

 

Robby’s 6 RBIs Rip Red Sox As Yankees Rule East

GAME 162

YANKEES 14, RED SOX 2

Most baseball experts pegged the Yankees to win the American League East and to have the best record in the American League in 2012. However, those same experts were not counting on them needing 162 games to accomplish it.

But in a season in which the team lost baseball’s best closer ever, a 24-year-old hard-throwing starting pitcher, their best base-runner and defensive outfielder and their All-Star third and first basemen for long stretches of games while they blew a 10-game lead they owned on July 18. But they held on to win their division and maintain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Robinson Cano was 4-for-4 with two mammoth home runs and six RBIs and Curtis Granderson added a pair of home runs and four RBIs as the New York erupted with some heavy lumber to throughly thrash a hapless, listless and joyless Boston team on Wednesday in front of a jubilant paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 47,393.

Combined with the Oakland Athletics’ 12-5 victory over the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays’ 4-1 defeat of the Baltimore Orioles earlier, the Yankees’ victory gave them the dual prize of champions of their division and the best record in the league. It was the Yankees’ third division title in the past four seasons and they made the playoffs for the 17th time in the past 18 seasons.

The Yankees will open their postseason quest for their 28th world championship on Sunday when they play on the road against the winner of the Baltimore-Texas inaugural one-game Wild-Card playoff game, which will be played on Friday in Arlington, TX.

After Freddy Garcia struck out the side in the ninth inning, the stadium broke into delirious cheers as the team and coaches celebrated on the field and put on their charcoal-gray American League East champion shirts and caps.

Though the journey was a long one and it was fraught with many ups and downs, the Yankees came into the game confident they held their fate in their own hands. They only needed to win this one game.

The Red Sox put up a run in the first inning off Hiroki Kuroda on a Jacoby Ellsbury single and he scored – after advancing to third on two groundouts – on Cody Ross’ sacrifice fly.

The rest of the night belonged to Cano, Granderson and some booming hits all over the turf off Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka and a tattered Red Sox bullpen.

After a 1-2-3 first inning, the real Matsuzaka (1-7) appeared in the second when Cano ignited the fireworks with a single to center and Nick Swisher drew a walk. One out later, Granderson launched his 42nd home run of the season into the bleachers in right-center to give the Yankees a lead they would not dare give up the rest of the evening.

An inning later, Alex Rodriguez rolled a one-out single into left and Cano crushed a Matsuzaka change-up into the second deck in right-field for his 32nd home run of the season. After a Swisher single, Bobby Valentine – rumored to be managing what will be his last game with the Red Sox – removed Matsuzaka after he gave up five runs on six hits and a walk in just 2 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, Matsuzaka’s fellow countryman Kuroda (16-11) settled in nicely after the first frame to pitch a solid seven innings in which he gave up two runs on seven hits and two walks while he struck out four batters. Kuroda’s 16 victories are a career high since he came to the United States in 2008 and he also evened his career record to 57-57.

The Yankees were determined, however, to keep the pressure on the Red Sox and they did in the fifth when Rodriguez slapped a one-out double in the corner in left and Cano hit the first offering he saw off reliever Clayton Mortensen even deeper that his first homer into the second deck down the right-field line.

Though Cano entered the game with an eight-game hitting streak in which he had multiple hits in each game and he was hitting an unbelievable .571 over that stretch, he was not through punishing Boston’s beleaguered pitching staff.

With reliever Pedro Beato on the mound in the sixth, the Yankees rallied again when Russell Martin reached base when he was struck in the left elbow on a 3-2 pitch. Derek Jeter singled and, after Suzuki forced Jeter on a groundout and stole second, Rodriguez drew a walk to load the bases.

Valentine removed Beato in favor of Scott Atchison and Cano said hello to him with a single into right to score Martin and Suzuki. The Yankees were up 9-1 and Cano had six RBIs.

After the Red Sox scratched out a two-out run in the seventh on a Pedro Ciriaco double and a Jose Iglesias RBI single, the Yankees put the game away by sending 10-men to the plate and scoring five runs on the Red Sox in the bottom of the frame.

Granderson keyed that inning with his 43rd home run of the season, a solo-run shot over the Yankee bullpen wall in right-center to start the uprising. The home run was also a historic one for the team. Granderson’s blast was the 245th home run for the team this season, which broke the previous record of 244 by the 2009 Yankees, who won their 27th world championship that season.

By that time, the Orioles had already lost to to the Rays and the Yankees already knew they reached their goal. That just left playing out the string of the next few innings against a dispirited Red Sox team, which were outscored 28-7 over the three-game series sweep.

The loss of Mariano Rivera and Michael Pineda for the season and the injuries that shelved starting left-fielder Brett Gardner for most of the season and took Rodriguez and Teixiera out the lineup for key parts of the campaign are but a distant memory now.

The next step will be to rest the wounds of the season and await manager Joe Girardi’s difficult choices for a 25-man playoff roster.

But the champagne still flowed freely in the clubhouse, the smiles were genuine and there is, no doubt, a lot of relief that their epic struggle to get to this point was finally over. As Jeter said it after the game, “Now the real season begins.”

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Is it possible for the Yankees to send Cano to play some games somewhere so his red-hot bat does cool off before Sunday? In his final nine games, Cano was 24-for-39 (.615) with seven doubles, three home runs and 14 RBIs. Cano finished the season hitting .313 with a career-high 33 home runs and 94 RBIs. In his last at-bat, Valentine brought in left-hander Craig Breslow to face him with one out and two on. Breslow walked him on four pitches to load the bases. Smart move!
  • Granderson’s two home runs and four RBIs give him a team-leading 43 home runs and 106 RBIs on the season despite the fact he struck out a career-high 193 times and hit just .232 this season. It goes without saying the Yankees’ lineup is a deep one but Granderson was hitting seventh on Wednesday despite the fact his 43 homers tied him with Josh Hamilton of the Rangers for second in the majors to Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, who hit 44.
  • Kuroda put in a good performance in advance of his next start behind CC Sabathia in the playoffs. Kuroda had struggled somewhat in September (3-1 but with a 5.22 ERA). His outing was very sharp and he pitched very well once the Yankees had staked him to a big lead. Kuroda was, by far, the Yankees’ best and most consistent pitcher this season. The Yankees need him to pitch well in the playoffs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

A typical New Yorker might have found some faults here or there in this game. Yankee fans are a hard bunch to please. But I am not going to go there. They needed to win this game and they did it. Why be negative?

BOMBER BANTER

After some questioning from the media about his lineup on Tuesday, Girardi moved Suzuki back to the second spot, shifted Cano up to fourth and batted Teixiera sixth. Good thing, too, because Teixiera still does not have his timing at the plate down and he was 0-3 with a walk and a run-scoring fly ball. Cano, meanwhile, cleaned up in the cleanup spot.  . . .  It will be interesting to see how Girardi selects his bench and bullpen for the playoffs. Backup catcher Chris Stewart, outfielder Raul Ibanez, corner infielder Eric Chavez and middle infielder Eduardo Nunez are assured of spots but Andruw Jones may lose his spot in favor of Gardner. There also is a good possibility that Derek Lowe will make the roster and Garcia won’t because Lowe has proven to be valuable as a reliever.

ON DECK

The Yankees will open their playoff series in either Baltimore or Texas on Sunday. Sabathia (15-6, 3.38 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees.

The best-of-five American League Division Series will be telecast nationally by TBS.

 

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.

 

‘Comfy’ Yankees Rip Bosox To Go One Up In East

GAME 160

YANKEES 10, RED SOX 2

There is something to be said for feeling comfortable in your own environment and having a full compliment of players to fill out a powerful lineup. The  Yankees returned to the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium on Monday with Mark Teixeira back in the lineup for the first time since Sept. 8 and they celebrated with an old-fashioned pounding of the remnants of what was the Boston Red Sox.

They unleashed a torrent of four home runs and nine runs in the second inning off right-hander Clay Buchholz while CC Sabathia turned in another dominant eight-inning outing as New York reclaimed sole possession of first place in the American League East with a thrashing of what essentially was a Triple-A Pawtucket squad.

The Tampa Bay Rays did the Yankees a great favor by defeating the Baltimore Orioles 5-3 to push the Orioles back into second place and the loss reduced the Yankees’ magic number to clinch the division to two.

Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin and Teixiera all connected for home runs in the second inning, marking the first time the Yankees had accomplished that feat since June 21, 2005 against the then Devil Rays.

Buchholz (11-8) was rocked for eight runs on six hits and two walks and struck out two in 1 2/3 innings as the pennant-hungry Yankees laid into him like a starving lion on the prowl.

Cano opened the inning with a mammoth 446-foot blast off the glass off the restaurant in center-field for his 31st home run of the season. He joins Russell Branyan, who was with the Seattle Mariners at the time but played at the Yankees’ Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate this season, as the only two players to have accomplished the feat.

Three batters later, Granderson smacked his 41st home run of the season with one out and Nick Swisher aboard. Martin then smacked Buchholz’s next offering into right-center when a Red Sox fan wearing a Dustin Pedroia jersey reached over into the field with his hat to catch the ball in the first row.

The ball, however, struck the fan in the wrist and was ruled a home run by second-base umpire C.B. Bucknor. Beleaguered Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine protested the call but Martin’s home run was upheld after a brief review of the video replay by the umpires. It was Martin’s career-high 22nd home run of the season.

The Yankees then loaded the bases against Buchholz on back-to-back walks to Eric Chavez and Derek Jeter and a hard-hit single to right by Ichiro Suzuki. Alex Rodriguez then hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Chavez.

It was Rodriguez’s first RBI since Sept 19, a stretch of 12 games.

Cano, who came into the game hitting .625 over his last seven games, laced a two-run double into right-center to score Jeter and Suzuki.

Valentine pulled Buchholz in favor of former Yankee right-hander Alfredo Aceves and Teixeira slammed a 3-2 offering deep into the bleachers in right-center for his 24th home run of the year.

Sabathia (15-6) pretty much took it from there.

He gave up a solo home run to Daniel Nava to lead off the fourth inning and the Red Sox added a run in the sixth without the benefit of a hit.

Mauro Gomez walked to open the frame and advanced to second on a wild pitch. He moved to third on an infield groundout by Ryan Lavarnway and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

The Red Sox lineup was without injured stars David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury was benched because Sabathia was starting.

Sabathia gave up just four hits and one walk and struck out seven batters en route to his third consecutive outing of eight innings. In those three outings, Sabathia was 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, giving up just four runs on 13 hits and four walks while fanning 31 in 24 innings of work.

Sabathia will next pitch the opening the game of the playoffs for the Yankees.

The Yankees tallied the last run in the ninth off Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey when pinch-hitter Eduardo Nunez reached first on an infield single, took second a groundout by Brett Gardner and he scored on the first-major-league hit and RBI from pinch-hitter Melky Mesa.

Despite the fact a lot of intensity of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry has been muted by the ineptitude of the last-place Bosox, a paid crowd of 45,478 witnessed the beatdown on a mild 71-degree evening in the Bronx.

The Yankees improved their season ledger to 93-67. They can wrap up their third division crown over the past four years with a victory over Boston on Tuesday combined with loss by the Orioles to the Rays. The Red Sox are ridiculously woeful 69-91, 24 games behind the Yankees in last place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano is getting hot at just the right time to perhaps carry the Yankees into the playoffs. He was 3-for-5 with two doubles, a home run, three RBIs and three runs scored on the night. During his eight-game hitting streak Cano has had multiple hits in each one and is 18-for-29 (.621) during that span. He is sizzling hot!
  • Sabathia has finally quieted the whispers over his lack of velocity when he first came off the disabled list. He has been exceptional over his last three starts and looks to be in prime form heading into the playoffs. Since he was signed as free agent by the Yankees in 2009, Sabathia is 74-29.
  • Swisher was 3-for-4 in the game and has been red hot since Sept. 19. Over that span, Swisher has failed to get a hit in just one game and is 20-for-52 (.385) with four home runs and 14 RBIs. Swisher also ably played first base in place of Teixiera.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

It was worth it just to look at that scoreboard after Teixeira’s home run and see the Yankees ahead 9-0 over the Red Sox. It appears with the Boston franchise in such disarray the rivalry with the Yankees will be a distant memory. The Red Sox have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons. How can it be a rivalry now?

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi made it official on Monday that Ivan Nova would not start on Tuesday against the “Dead” Sox. Rookie right-hander David Phelps will make the start instead. With the division on the line, Girardi did not have much faith in Nova, who was 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA in his three starts since coming off the disabled list.  . . .  Teixeira’s return marked the first time the lineup has been together since Sept. 8 but that was only for one game. Teixeira originally injured his left calf on Aug. 27 and the Yankees have definitely missed his defense as well as his offense. Teixeira was 1-for-3 in the game with a walk and home run. He has been told not to run hard while his calf is still healing.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their crucial home series with the PawSox on Tuesday.

Phelps (4-4, 3.44 ERA) gets the start for the Yankees. He gave up only one run on three hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings in a victory in his last start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 19 at home. Phelps is 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in his two career starts against the Red Flops.

Left-hander Jon Lester (9-14, 4.94 ERA) will get the start for Boston. Lester gave up four runs (three earned) on four hits and a walk against the Rays last Wednesday. Lester is 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA against the Yankees this season.

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

 

Red Sox Receive Their ‘Phil’ Of Yankees’ Hughes

—————————————————————————————-

What’s up Yankees the Red Sox got something to say to you
It’s late September and we really should be playing golf
We know we keep you amused but we feel we’re being “Hughesed”

                          –  Apologies to Rod Stewart for the revision of his classic Maggie May

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GAME 143

YANKEES 2, RED SOX 0

From the first crisp fastball out of Phil Hughes hand to Jacoby Ellsbury in the first inning the Red Sox knew they might be in for a difficult night. Seven and one-third innings later Hughes’ fastball was still crackling and the Red Sox were still staring at a big, fat zero on the Fenway Park scoreboard.

Hughes pitched a thoroughly dominant game in which he shut out the Red Sox on five hits and a walk while he struck out seven batters on his high-riding four-seam fastball as New York downed Boston to retain their share of first place in the American League East on Thursday.

For Hughes (15-12) it was his first time this season he has won back-to-back starts since June 15 while it was the first time the Yankees have won back-to-back games since they defeated Texas from Aug. 13 through Aug. 15.

Hughes and Red Sox left-hander Felix Doubront traded zeros until the fourth inning when Alex Rodriguez led off the frame with his second single of the night and he stole second base.

Doubront then walked Robinson Cano and Russell Martin to load the bases and Andruw Jones launched a line drive into right that scored Rodriguez.

The game remained 1-0 until the seventh when Steve Pearce drew a one-out walk and Eduardo Nunez, starting at shortstop for a hobbling Derek Jeter, lined his second single of the night into left.

Embattled Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine then removed Doubront in favor of right-hander Junichi Tazawa to face Jeter, who was in the game as the designated hitter.

Jeter battled the hard-throwing Tazawa to a 3-2 count before lifting a bloop single into center in front of Ellsbury and Pearce scored a very important insurance run for Hughes.

In addition, the hit was personally important to Jeter. It was the 3283rd hit of Jeter’s career, which ties him with Willie Mays for 10th place on the all-time hit list.

Doubront (10-9) gave up two runs on five hits and five walks and struck out five in his 6 1/3 innings of work.

But Hughes was much better, retiring the first 10 batters he faced  and only giving up one extra-base hit during a 95-pitch outing – the 100th start of his career.

Hughes escaped trouble in the fourth when he had Scott Podsednik on third and Cody Ross on first with two out by inducing Daniel Nava into a infield groundout.

He also had Ellsbury at second and James Loney on first with two out in the sixth but retired Ross on flyout to right.

Boone Logan was summoned in the eighth to face Ellsbury after Hughes had allowed a leadoff double to Pedro Ciriaco and pinch-hitter Mauro Gomez flew out to center.

Logan retired Ellsbury on a flyout and David Robertson came in to retire pinch-hitter Ryan Lavarnway on a flyout to end the threat and keep the shutout intact.

Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his 38th save in 41 chances this season.

The victory improved the Yankees’ record to 81-62 and kept them in first place in the division with the Baltimore Orioles, who completed a sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays with a 3-2 victory in 14 innings earlier in the day. The Red Sox are 60-84 and 17 1/2 games out in last place in the division. They are sinking faster than new FOX sitcom.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes at age 26 has had his ups and downs in his career with the Yankees and even during the 2012 season. But his performance on Thursday has to be one of the best of his career and likely the most important. While the pundits keep disparaging the Yankees’ starting pitching, Hughes has quietly compiled a 15-12 record and a 3.96 ERA. That is not bad for someone who was considered the team’s No. 5 starter.
  • After the bullpen let the Red Sox get back into Wednesday’s game it was nice to see them bounce back with a good effort to maintain the shutout, It was the first time the Yankees had shut out the Red Sox at Fenway since the 2008 season.
  • Give Jeter a lot of credit. He hobbled through this game with a severe bone bruise on his left shin and he got the timely hit that put the Yankees up by two runs. Tying Mays on the all-time hit list is just gravy for the 38-year-old shortstop. Jeter’s .323 average speaks volumes as to what he has meant to the Yankees this season as a leader and the team’s Most Valuable Player.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I will mention the Yankees were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position but because Hughes was so dominant it did not seem to matter. The fact the Yankees won with a great pitching and without hitting a home run is kind of refreshing. So there are no negatives in this one.

BOMBER BANTER

It’s official! Andy Pettitte will start for the first time since he suffered a broken left ankle on June 27 on Tuesday in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. Pettitte believes he will be able throw about 60 to 65 pitches in the game. Pettitte will take the rotation spot of rookie right-hander David Phelps, who will likely enter the game in relief of Pettitte should he need to leave early on Tuesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will open a vital home series against the Rays beginning on Friday.

The Yankees will send out ace left-hander CC Sabathia (13-5, 3.56 ERA). Sabathia lost in his last start against the Orioles despite the fact he entered the game with a 16-3 career record against them. He is 10-8 with a 3.12 ERA in his career against the Rays.

The Rays will counter with left-hander David Price (17-5, 2.54 ERA), who has not pitched since Sept. 2 due to shoulder soreness. He is 6-3 with a 3.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Granderson Powers Yankees To Remain Atop East

GAME 142

YANKEES 5, RED SOX 4

Just when it looks like the Yankees’ grip on first place in the American League East appears to be slipping the team seems to right itself in time to claim a narrow victory. Such was the case on Wednesday at Fenway Park.

Curtis Granderson smacked a pair of home runs and the Yankees’ bullpen bent some but did not break as New York kept its share of first place with a huge victory over Boston.

The Yankees scored three runs in the fourth inning to take an early 3-0 lead and they never relinquished it. But getting from point A to point B proved to be a bit tougher than it should have against a Red Sox team that is playing out the string of a season in which they are in last place in the division and 16 1/2 games back.

Granderson opened the scoring with a titanic moon shot home run over the Red Sox bullpen in right-center off journeyman right-hander Aaron Cook (3-10) to lead off the fourth.

After Alex Rodriguez blooped a single into center, Robinson Cano launched a high shot of his own into the Green Monster seats in left-center. It was the 30th home run of the season for the All-Star second baseman and it is a new career high for him.

The Red Sox drew first blood off rookie right-hander David Phelps (4-4) in the bottom of the fourth. Dustin Pedroia stroked a one-out double off the Green Monster in left-center and James Loney rolled a single through the hole between first and second base into right-field to score Pedroia.

But the Yankees tacked on a pair of runs against former teammate Alfredo Aceves in the seventh on a leadoff single by Derek Jeter and Granderson followed with his second home run into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center. The two home runs give Granderson 37 home runs on the season, which leads the team.

Phelps left the game with two out and two on on the sixth inning. But he really earned his pitching stripes after he opened the fifth by surrendering a leadoff triple by Jarrod Salatalamacchia. Phelps stranded the Bosox catacher by striking out Daniel Nava, inducing Scott Podsednik to hit an infield popup and fanning Jose Iglesias looking.

The bullpen for the Yankees, however, was another story.

With one out in the seventh Cody Eppley gave up a ground-rule double to Saltalamacchia. Boone Logan came in to relieve Eppley and he gave up a double off the wall in center that Saltalamacchia misjudged and failed to score.

Joba Chamberlain came in for Logan and promptly gave up an infield groundout off the bat of pinch-hitter Mauro Gomez that plated Saltalamacchia (who must have breathed a sigh of relief heard all the way in the Bronx). Then pinch-hitter Mike Aviles doubled off the wall in left to score Gomez to make it 5-3.

The Yankees’ offense, meanwhile, struggled to put additional runs across by doing what they do best: Choking with runners in scoring position. They left 10 men on base on the night and they were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

Closer Rafael Soriano was summoned to relieve David Robertson with a Loney on second and two out in the eighth. He escaped further trouble by striking out Cody Ross looking on a 3-2 pitch that Ross thought was low. Ross actually waved the bat menacingly at home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez before he was tossed from the game.

Boston skipper Bobby Valentine had to restrain Ross to keep him from bumping Marquez. But Valentine must have an important date with his clubhouse office mirror because he also got ejected by Marquez just before the ninth inning started. It was Valentine’s sixth ejection of the season and a new Boston record for managers.

It is about all Bobby can really be stoked about this season.

Valentine could not view first-hand a bottom of the ninth inning in which Saltalamacchia launched a home run off Soriano into the bleachers in right to lead off the inning. He also had to watch on TV as Aviles reached first on an infield hit off the glove of Soriano with two out.

The Fenway faithful among the 37,230 in attendance were virtually in a frenzy. Bobby smiled into his trusty mirror.

That brought up the potential winning run in last night’s hero Jacoby Ellsbury. But Ellsbury’s string of good fortune eluded him when he bounced the first pitch right into Soriano’s glove and Soriano dispatched Ellsbury and the reeling “Dead Sox” with an easy underhand toss to Nick Swisher for the final out.

Though it might not have been pretty, Soriano earned his 37th save in 40 opportunities this season.

Coupled with Baltimore’s 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees remain in first place for the 85th consecutive day and they are tied with the Orioles with identical 80-62 records. The Rays fell three games back. The Red Sox are now 64-79 and headed for oblivion.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Granderson seems to be showing signs of coming out of his long September slide. He is 5-for-11 (.455) with three home runs and eight RBIs in his last three games. Of course, Granderson did strike out two more times, which gives him 170 on the season, second in the American League to Adam Dunn.
  • Phelps pitched extremely well in a game the Yankees desperately wanted to win. He gave up one run on five hits and a walk and he struck out five in 5 2/3 innings. It is a shame but Phelps may not get another start this season because Andy Pettitte is expected to take his place in the rotation next week.
  • Cano’s home run gave him a personal high with 30 (he hit t 29 in 2010) but he remains some 43 RBIs shy of 2011 high of 118. Cano only has 77 RBIs this season mostly because he is hitting a career low .223 against left-handers and he is hitting just .235 with runners in scoring position.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Eppley, Logan, Chamberlain and Soriano looked shaky in a game the Yankees should have breezed through. In 3 1/3 innings, the bullpen gave up three runs on six hits (four of them doubles and one homer) and they actually allowed the Red Sox back into the game. They also faced the possibility of letting the Red Sox tie it or win it in the ninth. That is just plain bad.
  • Boston pitchers used Ichiro Suzuki and Chris Stewart, who were batting eighth and ninth, respectively, as escape hatches out of even bigger innings. They were 0-for-6 and they combined to strand nine base-runners.
  • The 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position line speaks for itself. The Yankees were able to put the leadoff batter on in six consecutive innings from the third through the eighth innings. They only scored runs on the Cano and Granderson home runs in the fourth and seventh innings. So they squandered a lot of chances to pad the lead and let Boston have a chance to mount a comeback, which they did.

BOMBER BANTER

Jeter left the game in the eighth inning after he injured his left ankle trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended the inning. Jeter was removed from the game by manager Joe Girardi, but Jeter vowed he will be in the lineup in the Boston series finale on Thursday. Jeter also revealed he has been battling thorough a deep bone bruise on his left shin.  . . .  The Yankees announced that right-hander Ivan Nova will come off the 15-day disabled list on Saturday and will start in place of Freddy Garcia against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Nova has been sidelined since Aug. 21 with inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Garcia will now pitch out of the bullpen after he was 0-1 with a 7.64 ERA over his last four starts.  . . .  Pettitte threw a 55-pitch simulated game on Wednesday at Fenway Park and he likely will make a start next week for the Yankees. Pettitte has not pitched since June 27 when he fractured his left ankle. Pettitte almost certainly will replace Phelps in the rotation in order to prepare the 40-year-old left-hander for some potential starts in the postseason.

ON DECK

The Yankees will hope to win the rubber game of their three-game series with the “Red Flops” on Thursday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (14-12, 4.13 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes is coming off a victory over the Orioles on Friday in which he gave up three runs (two earned) in six innings. Hughes is 4-6 with a 5.51 ERA in his career against the Bosox, but he won his last start against them at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 17.

Left-hander Felix Doubront (10-8, 5.21 ERA) will take the hill for Boston. Doubront is 1-4 with a 7.22 ERA since the All-Star break, which likely is because Doubront pitched 134 innings this season and he has not thrown more than 129 1/3 innings since 2008. He is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Swisher Hits 2 As Yanks Pelt Bosox With 5 Homers

GAME 119

YANKEES 6, RED SOX 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

 

Yankees Poised To Stick Fork In Red Sox Season

The New York Yankees welcome their old pals, the Boston Red Sox, to Yankee Stadium for the first time this season beginning on Friday. The Dead Sox, as they are being referred to many Boston circles, are limping in having lost five of their last six games and are 10 1/2 games back in last place in the American League East. This series is pretty much their season. If they get swept, it’s over. If they sweep, there is still a glimmer of hope. But in some ways the Red Sox have the look of Custer at Little Big Horn, the Texas Army at The Alamo and the Red Sox in September 2011. Here is why they will fail this weekend:

PITCHING IS KING

Looking at the pitching matchups this weekend does not instill much confidence in Boston.

Journeyman right-hander Aaron Cook (2.3, 3.50 ERA) will open the series for Red Sox. Cook, 33, is a symbol of the inability of the Red Sox to build a starting rotation this season. In past years the Red Sox would trade for a Josh Beckett and sign free agents like Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey while they developed young stars like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

But with the team’s record 13-24 in games started by Beckett and Lester this season it really has not mattered much what three pitchers follow them in the rotation. Buchholz is 8-3 with an elevated 4.93 ERA and he has been hampered by injuries for a good part of the year.

Lackey is out for the season after Tommy John surgery. Dice-K came back from the same surgery only to make five ill-fated starts with an 0-3 record and 6.65 ERA before landing on the DL again. Matsuzaka has made only 49 starts since the 2008 season in which he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. The Red Sox have their own version of Carl Pavano, collecting huge paychecks while he constantly rehabs.

That is why the Red Sox have been forced to use Cook and Felix Doubront in their rotation. Doubront is 12-7 with a 4.62 ERA but he has become less effective as the innings have piled up. His ERA has steadily risen all season and was 5.83 in June.

So Cook enters this game actually as the the team’s most effective starter lately. He has a 2.79 ERA in July. But he also is 0-2 in his three July starts, which means he has not got much in the way of run support.

The Red Sox also will be facing right-hander Phil Hughes, who has rediscovered his 2010 form this season. Hughes is 9-8 with a 4.09 ERA, however, those numbers are misleading.

Hughes is 5-3 with a 2.77 ERA in his last nine starts and he has issued only 15 walks while striking out 53 in his last 61 2/3 innings. Add to that, the Red Sox have been outscored 43-17 in their last six games and you have the makings of a very ugly opening night for them in the Bronx.

The Red Sox will just have to hope they score enough runs early to keep Cook in the game and get Hughes out of it early. In other words, a typical Red Sox-Yankees four-hour marathon where the total of runs scored is about 24. But I do not think that is going to happen on Friday.

The Red Sox are without their Yankee kryptonite in designated hitter David Ortiz. Without his bat, the Red Sox become less potent against the Yankees. In a 9-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday, the Red Sox collected 10 hits against fill-in starter Scott Feldman. But they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base.

The Yankees do come in having lost five of their last seven and they are without Alex Rodriguez and possibly may be without Nick Swisher.

But the Yankees also come back home for this series and home is where they shine.

The addition of Ichiro Suzuki could make a big impact in this series with is bat, his legs and his glove. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira come into the series hot and the Yankees are getting contributions from their bench in Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Nix.

Look for Game 1 to be close early but the Yankees will eventually burn Cook and serve him up as a special at NYY Steak over the weekend.

TOO MANY CCs

Even if the Red Sox do succeed on Friday, they will have to face CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30) on Saturday. That is bad news for the lefty-dominant Red Sox lineup of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who stinks as a right-hand hitter.

The Yankees, meanwhile, face Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). In Lester’s last three starts, he is 0-3 and has given up 22 runs (21 earned) on 25 hits and 10 walks over 12 1/3 innings. That is an ERA of 15.32. Ouch!

The word from scouts is that Lester decided to develop a cutter a few years ago. He used it to compliment his other pitches, which were nasty. He was able to control both sides of the plate and he was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA last season despite a September slide that coincided with the epic collapse of the Red Sox.

But this season, Lester has become cutter crazy and it cost him in velocity and command of his fastball. Hughes found the same thing happened to him in 2011 and he junked his cutter this season. But Lester has tried to carry on with his same arsenal and he is getting pounded harder than a herd of cattle in a butcher shop.

In his last start against the Yankees on July 8 at Fenway Park, Lester lasted just 4 1/3 innings and he surrendered five runs (four earned) on nine hits and a walk.

The bottom line is Lester is just not the Lester that Red Sox Nation is used to seeing dominate lineups. He is headed for a big fall on Saturday.

COUP DE GRACE

The Red Sox will face on Sunday the Yankees’ best pitcher, of late, in Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.34 ERA).

Kuroda is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA in last 11 starts. Though he did struggle against Boston at Fenway Park, Kuroda has proven to be a much more effective pitcher at Yankee Stadium this season. He is 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA in the Bronx.

That is bad news for the Red Sox, who have not announced a mound opponent for Kuroda.

Doubront defeated the Yankees at Fenway on July 7 but he also was shelled for six runs on eight hits and three walks in five innings against the Rangers on Monday. The Red Sox may, instead, call upon Buchholz to pitch the finale. He gave up just one run on four hits and three walks in seven innings against the Rangers on Tuesday.

If Buchholz pitches on Sunday it indicates that manager Bobby Valentine is desperate. He has to be if the Red Sox pick up the Sunday New York Times facing a 12 1/2-game deficit to the Yankees.

The game will be very close on Sunday but the Yankees have a decided edge on the mound. They should win in a very close game.

IN THE END

The truth is that the seeds of the 2012 season for the Red Sox were sown in the aftermath of their historic collapse in September 2011. The departures of manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein have left Valentine and new general manager Ben Cherington with a mess.

He has some prima donnas like Beckett and Lackey and a huge albatross of a contract to Crawford tied around his neck. The team can’t rebuild only through free agency because they are right up against the edge of having to pay the luxury tax.

They could start shipping high-priced underachievers out and let their free agents like Ortiz walk. But there are so many holes on this roster it looks like Swiss cheese.

Young talent the Red Sox are hoping to develop is in short supply and that is really the biggest problem they have going forward. They likely would be better off with a roster purge and rebuild effort. But that also will mean they have to be candid with Red Sox Nation that they will not be competitive for some time.

That is hard sell. But after this weekend, it could be quite likely you will see Beckett go and others will follow.

The Curse may be over but it might be a long, long time before we see a Red Sox team capable of competing with the Yankees.

To us Yankee fans, that is just fine.

 

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