Results tagged ‘ Buck Showalter ’

Orioles Stave Off Late Rally To Frustrate Yankees

GAME 8

ORIOLES 4, YANKEES 3

Adam Jones drove in two runs and Miguel Gonzalez limited the Yankees to one run while he struck out a career-high 10 batters as Baltimore withstood a late rally by New York to win on a shower-filled Tuesday evening at Oriole Park in Camden Yards.

The Orioles took an early 3-0 lead against left-hander CC Sabathia on a two-out solo home run by Jones in the first inning, a sacrifice fly RBI by Jones in the third and a costly two-out RBI double by Caleb Joseph in the fourth.

Gonzalez (1-1) limited the Yankees to just two hits until the sixth inning when Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out double by Mark Teixeira.

The Orioles added a run in the seventh on a leadoff triple by Joseph and sacrifice fly RBI off the bat of Everth Cabrera.

Sabathia (0-2) pitched well but still yielded four runs on seven hits and one walk while he struck out seven in seven innings.

Gonzalez, however, surrendered one run on four hits and one walk in seven innings to earn the victory.

The Yankees mounted a late rally against right-hander Kevin Gausman in the eighth when Didi Gregorius reached on a bloop single. After Alejandro De Aza made a running catch of Ellsbury’s opposite-field fly ball, Chase Headley singled to advance Gregorius to third.

Then second baseman Jonathan Schoop made a diving stop of Carlos Beltran’s ground ball to retire Beltran as Gregorius scored.

Then Teixiera lofted a fly ball into left that ticked off De Aza’s glove for an error and allowed Headley to score to cut the deficit to one run.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was forced to bring his closer, left-hander Zach Britton, to quell the rally with the tying run on second.

Schoop made another running grab of Brian McCann’ roller into shallow right-field to end the rally.

Britton pitched a perfect ninth to earn his second save of the season.

The Yankees are now 3-5 on the season. The Orioles are 4-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia was plagued by an inability to pitch one clean inning. He was tagged by single hits in every inning he pitched except the fourth when he yielded two. Still, with all that, the Yankees’ inability to score him any runs doomed him despite his seven strikeouts. So you can say that Sabathia was outpitched but he was not outclassed.
  • Teixeira looks locked in at the plate in the early going. He drove in one run with a double and his fly ball did allow Headley to score. While most of the Yankees are struggling with the bat, Teixeira appears to be primed for a big season in the cleanup spot.
  • Beltran has been struggling to find his groove and yet he was 1-for-4 with an RBI and he hit the ball hard in each trip to the plate. His grounder in the eighth almost was a single and the play by Schoop that retired him saved the Orioles was the crucial play of the game.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • I am not a big fan of Garrett Jones. The veteran first baseman/outfielder struggled all through spring training and he has started the season off slowly as well. He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and he bounced back weakly to the pitcher in his first at-bat. He is hitting .154. Jones is being paid to hit right-hand pitching and if he doesn’t the Yankees will have to look elsewhere.
  • McCann looked as if he was getting hot and then he regressed on Tuesday by going 0-for-4 on four groundouts. The Yankees need McCann to deliver big numbers in power and RBIs this season. His at-bat against Britton in the eighth was critical and he failed to deliver.
  • Sabathia is a waste of space as a fielder. The Yankees had a potential double-play ball in the second inning off the bat of Chris Davis. Teixiera fielded it and he threw to Gregorius to retire Delmon Young, who had singled. But when Gregorius made the return throw to first, Sabathia failed to cover the bag. Second baseman Stephen Drew tried to cover but was late. Later that inning, Sabathia was charged with an error when his throw to retire Joseph hit the runner. Luckily he retired De Aza to end the inning without a run scoring. Once again, manager Joe Girardi needs to lay down the law on Sabathia to do his job.

BOMBER BANTER

Starting left-fielder Brett Gardner did not play on Tuesday and Girardi said he likely will serve as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner until Friday. Gardner was struck on the right wrist by a pitch from left-hander Wei-Yin Chen on Monday and he was forced to leave the game in the seventh inning.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to win the series against the Orioles on Wednesday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi will make his second start of the season for the Yankees. Eovaldi had a sensational spring but he had a bit of a hiccup in his first start against the Boston Red Sox on Friday. He was charged with three runs on eight hits and a walk while he struck out one in 5 1/3 innings of a game that lasted 19. The Red Sox won it, 6-5.

The Orioles will call on right-hander Bud Norris, who was gouged for eight runs on seven hits and one walk in just three innings by the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. The Orioles say they are not concerned about Norris but he was 0-3 with a 9.26 ERA this spring.

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

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

2015 Yanks Likely Will Extend Playoff Drought

Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.

The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.

The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.

George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.

The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.

During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.

Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.

Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.

Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).

How did this happen?

Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.

The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.

It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.

Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.

There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.

After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.

From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.

That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.

The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.

If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.

But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.

It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.

Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.

He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.

When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.

He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.

So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.

Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.

The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.

Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for  a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.

Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.

So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)

There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.

It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.

The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.

It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.

But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.

The offense? Don’t ask.

Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.

They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.

The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.

His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.

The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.

The bench has some veterans, of course.

Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.

If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.

But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.

But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.

Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.

In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.

I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!

 

Orioles Edge Yankees On Bloop Singles In Ninth

GAME 9

ORIOLES 5, YANKEES 4

With Mariano Rivera retired and his successor David Robertson on the disabled list the Yankees will admit that their bullpen is not as strong as it could be. Robertson’s replacement Shawn Kelley found out just how frustrating life can be pitching in the ninth inning.

Nick Markakis hit a bloop RBI single and Chris Davis later added a sacrifice fly off Kelley to break a 3-3 tie as Baltimore edged New York to win their three-game series in front of a paid crowd of 39,412 at Yankee Stadium.

The Orioles opened the ninth off Kelley(0-1) with a double off the bat of Ryan Flaherty and a bloop single by Jonathan Schoop. Markakis then muscled his single that scored Flaherty.

Delmon Young then dunked in another bloop single to load the bases and Davis smacked a deep fly ball to center that scored Schoop.

Brian Matusz pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning of relief to earn the victory. Tommy Hunter was credited with a save despite being tagged with a sacrifice fly off the bat of Brian Roberts that scored Alfonso Soriano, who doubled to lead off the frame.

The game actually was supposed to feature Japanese right-hander Masohiro Tanaka, who was making his debut at Yankee Stadium.

However, Schoop put a damper on that with two outs in the second inning.

With Matt Wieters on first and Flaherty at second, Schoop launched a 1-0 pitch high and deep down the left-field line for his first home run of the season and only the second of his career. That cast a huge hush over the crowd.

But the Yankees managed to recover against right-hander Miguel Gonzalez when Carlos Beltran led off the second inning with a his first home run as a Yankee and the 359th of his career, which pushed him past Yogi Berra on the all-time list.

Two batters later, Kelly Johnson hit his second home run in as many nights to make it  3-2.

Beltran also sparked the rally that tied the game in the fourth when he led off with a double, advanced to third on a flyout and scored on Soriano’s RBI groundout.

Although Tanaka gave up the three-run homer he ended up giving up seven hits and one walk but he frustrated the power-laden Orioles by striking out 10 batters, most of them on his signature split-finger fastball.

After striking out eight batters in Toronto in his first start, Tanaka became only the second pitcher in Yankee history to strike out at least eight batters in his first two games since Allen Russell did it in 1915.

With the defeat the Yankees fell under the .500 mark at 4-5. The Orioles have the same record.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka, 25, may still be learning that No. 9 hitters in the major leagues are tougher than those in Japan but he still pitched a quality game. He threw 71 of his 101 pitches for strikes. Tanaka also struck out Young, Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz twice apiece and Markakis, Davis, Wieters and Schoop once.
  • Beltran had himself a very nice breakout game in which he was 3-for-3 with a homer, a double, a single, two runs scored and and an RBI. With Brett Gardner on third and two outs in the eighth inning, Orioles manager Buck Showalter had Matusz walk Beltran intentionally in order to pitch to Brian McCann. McCann flied out to end the threat.
  • Johnson was 2-for-4 with a homer, a single, a run scored and an RBI. He has now raised his early-season average to .280. The Yankees need Johnson to provide power in the absence of first baseman Mark Teixeira and Johnson is proving that he can do just that.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • McCann’s struggles at the plate continue though he did do better than the his 0-4 indicated. He had one hit taken away by the severe shift the Orioles employed with third baseman Schoop fielding his ground ball in shallow right and throwing him out. His flyout to center in the eighth just missed the warning track and was well struck. Nonetheless, McCann is hitting just .152 and his struggles are hurting the offense.
  • After coming into the game as the Yankees’ hottest hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury was 0-for-4 in the game. In his defense, however, he lined out hard to left- and right-field in two of his at-bats. Ellsbury is still hitting a robust .364 and the Yankees seem to like him in the No. 3 spot with Teixeira out of the lineup.
  • Kelley gave up two runs on four hits in a very ugly ninth inning but he was not hammered all over the yard. The Orioles benefitted from three consecutive singles by Schoop, Markakis and Young that sounded like they were hit with a wet newspaper. Two out them came on two-strike pitches and the 1-0 pitch Markakis hit was ankle high. The point is that you can blame the loss on Kelley but he did not pitch poorly. The Orioles were more lucky than good.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees elected to option catcher Austin Romine to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday and they recalled right-hander Shane Greene from the same club. Greene, 25, was the Yankees’ Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in 2013 after he was 12-10 with a 3.38 ERA. Though Greene is starting pitcher he will pitch out of the bullpen for the Yankees. The move gives the Yankees 13 pitchers and 12 position players.  . . .  Jones, the Orioles’ loud-mouth outfielder got touchy when reporters asked him about having to face Tanaka. “Why don’t you ask Tanaka about me?,” Jones bellowed. “I’m the one who’s been over here in the major leagues for a while. Congratulations, he did it over there. Don’t make it like he’s the dirtiest guy in the world. He was 24-0-in Japan  . . .  At the end of the day, we’ve got to judge it off major-league hitters, not the Japanese hitters. We’re a little bit better over here as hitters.” Tanaka struck out Jones the first two times he faced him.

ON DECK

The Yankees open a four-game home weekend series against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (0-1, 1.50) will make his Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes. After missing two full seasons, Pineda yielded one run on five hits with no walks while he fanned five in six innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.

The Red Sox will start right-hander Clay Buchholz (0-0, 12.46 ERA), who was hammered for six runs on 13 hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday. He has not fared well against the Yankees. He enters the game with an ERA of 5.32 against them.

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

 

Jeter Helps Yanks Down O’s In Final Home Opener

GAME 7

YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 2

On a cold and gusty afternoon in the Bronx, the Yankees reunited the “Core Four” to throw out a pair of ceremonial Opening Day pitches at Yankee Stadium. Andy Pettitte threw to Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera did the same to Derek Jeter, who will join the other three in retirement at the end of the season.

Then Jeter took the field for his final home opener and cracked a double and scored a run to help lead New York to a victory over the Baltimore Orioles in front of a sellout crowd of 48,142.

Hiroki Kuroda (1-1) held the Orioles to just two runs on eight hits and no walks while he fanned four to pick up his first victory of the season.

The Yankees, meanwhile, made Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (0-2) throw strikes to run up his pitch count to 109 in less than five innings.

The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Yangervis Solarte drew a leadoff walk and Brett Gardner advanced him to third with a single to center. Jeter then rapped into a double play that allowed Solarte to score.

The Orioles tied it in the fourth when Adam Jones singled and advanced to second on a flyout off the bat of Chris Davis. He then scored on an RBI single by Matt Wieters.

But the Yankees reclaimed the lead for good in their half of the fourth when Alfonso Soriano stroked a one-out single and Kelly Johnson drew a two-out walk. Solarte, who came into the game leading the team in RBIs with five, then slapped a single to right to score Soriano.

The Yankees added a pair of runs and chased Jimenez from the game in the fifth.

Jeter led off the frame with a high arcing drive to left that Jeter thought was a home run. However, the ball hit just below the top of the wall and Jeter had to scramble into second to beat a relay throw from left-fielder David Lough.

Jacoby Ellsbury then looped the next pitch into right-center to score Jeter.

After Ellsbury was thrown out attempting to steal second, Carlos Beltran singled. One batter later, Soriano singled and Jimenez walked Brian Roberts to load the bases.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter removed Jimenez and called in left-hander Zach Britton.

Johnson then drew another walk on to score Beltran to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead.

Jimenez was charged with four runs on eight hits and five walks while he struck out four in 4 2/3 innings.

The Orioles did mount a rally in the seventh off Kuroda when Davis led off with a double. Wieters followed with a bloop single to advance Davis to third and Nelson Cruz singled to score Davis.

However, Kuroda retired Steve Lombardozzi on a line out to left and relievers Matt Thornton and David Phelps retired Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop, respectively, to end the threat.

Kuroda yielded two runs on eight hits and no walks and he struck out four in 6 1/3 innings.

Adam Warren hurled a scoreless eighth and Shawn Kelley pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first career save.

With the victory, the Yankees moved over the .500 mark for the first time this season at 4-3. The Orioles fell to 2-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It seems that in every game he plays Solarte does something to help the team win. Today he was 1-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and an RBI. On the season the 26-year-old rookie from Venezuela is 9-for-20 (.450) with four doubles and six RBIs. In the eighth, Solarte cranked a high drive off right-hander Ryan Webb that looked to be home run to right-field. However, the wind held it up and Nick Markakis caught it just in front of the wall.
  • Soriano entered the game 1-for-19 after beginning the season 0-for-17. But he was 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored in the game and he looks to be coming out of his early-season funk.  Soriano had been swinging at pitches that were bouncing in the dirt.
  • Despite looking shaky in the seventh inning, Kuroda actually pitched a very good game. In his two starts Kuroda has given up four runs on 11 hits and one walk while he struck out nine in 12 1/3 innings. Kuroda gave up only two runs to the Astros last Wednesday but got no run support and ended up losing the game. He got some run support on Monday and he won.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Brian McCann was 0-for-4 in the game and he is 5-for-25 (.200) with no homers and two RBIs this season. Despite the slow start at the plate, McCann is playing well defensively. In the fifth inning he picked off Schoop straying too far away from second base to end the inning.

BOMBER BANTER

The season is just one week old and the Yankees have now suffered their second significant injury. The Yankees will have to place closer David Robertson on the 15-day disabled list with a Grade 1 strain of his left groin, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Monday. Robertson sustained the injury on Sunday closing out the Yankees’ 6-4 victory in Toronto against the Blue Jays. Kelley, who closed out Monday’s victory over the Orioles will assume the closer’s role. The Yankees could recall either left-hander Cesar Cabral or right-hander Shane Greene to take Robertson’s spot on the roster.  . . .  Mark Teixeira, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring, was cleared on Monday to begin an exercise program on Tuesday. Teixeira hopes to be able to return on April 19, the day when he is first eligible to come off the DL.  . . .  The Yankees announced on Monday that they have traded infielder Eduardo Nunez to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for 20-year-old minor-league left-hander Miguel Sulbaran. Nunez was designated for assignment on March 31 after the Yankees elected to make room on the 40-man roster for Solarte. Sulbaran is 21-10 with a 3.15 ERA in 55 games (45 starts) in the minors. The Twins assigned Nunez to Triple-A Rochester.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game home-opening series with the Orioles on Tuesday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-0, 3.18 ERA) will start for the Yankees coming off a victory over the Astros on April 3. Nova won despite giving up six hits, walking five and hitting two batters in 5 2/3 innings of work. Nova used four double plays to hold the Astros to only two runs.

Nova will be opposed by left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (0-1, 6.35 ERA), who was blasted for four runs on 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings in a loss to the Boston Red Sox last Wednesday. He is 0-2 with a 4.86 ERA in three career starts at Yankee Stadium.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

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

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

NEW YORK YANKEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAMPA BAY RAYS

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

If you don’t you lose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOSTON RED SOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

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

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

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

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

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

Now that is some reclamation project.

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

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

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

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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

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

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

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

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

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

 

 

Buck Cries Over A-Rod’s Pact Off Yanks’ Payroll

When it comes to Alex Rodriguez and the impending suspension amid the Biogenesis scandal, I have been silent because it really does not concern me much.

I mean, I do write a blog about the New York Yankees but I do not consider Rodriguez a true member of the team. After all, how long has he been AWOL or virtually useless to the team? Three years?

But I got my dander up when Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter decided to open his big mouth about it on Friday.

“If [Commissioner] Bud [Selig] lets them get away with that, they’re under the luxury tax,” Showalter told USA TODAY Sports. “If they can reset, they can spend again and I guarantee you in two years Matt Wieters is in New York.”

Of all the managers in Major League Baseball you would think that Showalter, who formerly toiled for the so-call “Evil Empire,” would know when he should hold his tongue before looking like the horse’s ass he now appears.

First of all, the decision MLB makes concerning Rodriguez is none of his business. The second point is does he really in his right mind think the Yankees’ front office will go to Selig and request that baseball should apply the portion of A-Rod’s contract he forfeits while on suspension be applied to the team’s payroll and the luxury tax?

Geesh, to hear Showalter you would think that the Yankees have dear old Bud wrapped around their finger and they were dictating the penalty they want for A-Rod so they avoid paying him the $82 million they owe him through the 2017 season. That is just plain poppycock.

The Yankees have been MIA since 2009 in the annual free-agent signing sweepstakes. They have let free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson go to the highest bidders while they have filled their roster with blowout patches like Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones. That suited the Old Buckeroo just fine because it allowed teams like the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays to play on a more even playing field.

But now that the Yankees might get to write off A-Rod’s contract for the rest of 2013 and all of the 2014 season (if A-Rod accepts the the deal baseball is offering) to get under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million in 2014. In addition, they can write off the entire $82 million if Rodriguez draws a lifetime ban.

That has Buck soiling his Pampers.

He obviously fears his team’s potential future free agents like Wieters, Chris Davis and Manny Machado may see the Yankees holding up stacks of cash and have them running from the exits at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Poor Buck sees the potential to lose his best players to the enemy and it irks him.

But there is one way to prevent any of that from happening, Buck. Pay those damn players what they worth to keep them happy. Period. Exclamation point!

In the meantime, the Bucker needs to shut his fat trap and stay out of the whole business.

The Yankees were victimized by Rodriguez. Remember in 2007 when A-Rod opted out of his $275 million deal he originally signed with the Texas Rangers (while the Buckeroo was managing them I recall)? A-Rod’s venomous agent Scott Boras was seeking a mega-deal by getting other teams to bid on his All-Star client.

Unfortunately, no bidders were looking to pony up the $200 million-plus it was going to take to get Rodriguez to put his signature on a contract.

Rodriguez sheepishly told Boras to take a hike and he put his enormous tail between his legs to crawl back to the Yankees for forgiveness. Perhaps the Steinbrenners, Randy Levine and Brian Cashman should have kicked that enormous tail of his back to the curb.

But they instead hammered out a 10-year, $252 million deal that Rodriguez for which Rodriguez is now beholden. It also is the one contract that has hung around the Yankees’ necks like an albatross ever since Rodriguez’s effectiveness as a run producer has moved from an upper tier to the level of an ordinary third baseman like Juan Uribe of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Be sure that Rodriguez wants all the money that is due him whether he plays at a respectable level or not. I honestly believe he could hold on through 2017 hitting .210 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs as a part-time player with the Yankees. A-Rod has no real pride in his craft and abilities. As long as he is being paid he has no shame.

So the partial ban and the ever-looming potential of a lifetime ban does benefit the Yankees in their ability to rebuild the ballclub going forward. But it is not if the Yankees deliberately staged the whole thing with A-Rod so they could sign Wieters in 2015, Buck!

So, Mr. Showalter, you go about patching that disaster area of a pitching staff that has your team falling like a stone in the American League East and keep your bulbous nose out of issues that do not really concern you. Come to think of it, the Orioles recent drop in the standings is likely behind much of this childish tirade.

It is perfect for the papers in Baltimore. After all, it takes attention away from his deficient managing and makes the Yankees the bad guys. That is the strategy after all, Buck. Deflect your shortcomings off to another subject.

It seems to me that Orioles owner Peter Angelos has done his share of spending on free agents over the years. If Buck is really worried about the Yankees getting his players he should just beg Angelos to open his huge saddlebags  to keep the players he wants to remain as Orioles.

That would make sense, right?

After all this I actually do hope the Yankees do sign a few Orioles so the Bucker can wail like Kim Kardashian’s North West over it.

Now, now little Bucky, quiet down. Sssshhhh! Here is your pacifier. We are here to make it all better. How about some Gerber split pea? That will make it all okay.

Even Wieters thinks you are acting like a child and he is less than half your age.

 

Wells’ Walk-Off Hit Hands Victory To Nova, Yanks

GAME 86

YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 2

There are defining moments within a season and in a pennant chase. But the New York Yankees delivered a very big message to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday: You are NOT going to push us around anymore.

Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, who had failed to deliver in the same situation four innings earlier, came through with the tying and winning RBIs in the ninth inning off Orioles closer Jim Johnson and Ivan Nova pitched the game of his life as New York  –  bullied and bruised from a sweep at Oriole Park at Camden Yards last week  – broke the heart of Baltimore with a walk-off victory in front of a raucous paid crowd of 43,396 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees entered the ninth trailing 2-1 with Johnson (2-7) on the mound facing No. 9 hitter David Adams, who was hitting .183 as he stepped into the batter’s box. Adams ripped an 1-1 fastball and delivered an opposite-field single to right.

Brett Gardner, attempting to sacrifice Adams to second with a sacrifice bunt, reached on a single when Johnson overran the ball and was unable to make a play.

Surprisingly, Ichiro Suzuki then elected to drop down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Adams to third and Gardner to second because the move effectively allowed Orioles manager Buck Showalter to intentionally walk Robinson Cano to load the bases, as he had done in the fifth inning.

Trailing 2-1 with Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez on the mound in the fifth, Showalter had Gonzalez walk Cano intentionally to load the bases with one out. Hafner then flied out to shallow center, leaving Adams at third base. Wells followed with a weak foul popup to first baseman Chris Davis that left the bases loaded.

But in the ninth inning against Johnson both Hafner and Wells were hoping the outcome would be different. Fortunately for the Yankees, they redeemed themselves.

Hafner drew a walk on four straight pitches to bring in the tying run in Adams. Wells followed by slapping a 2-2 sinker from Johnson just past the dive of third baseman Manny Machado and into left-field to score Gardner with the run that made a winner out Nova.

Nova (3-2) was only starting the game due to a sore left hip flexor injury to right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. But the 26-year-old right-hander took advantage of his first start since June 23 and only his sixth start this season.

Despite opening the second inning by hitting Davis with a pitch and allowing a two-run opposite-field home run to Matt Wieters that hit off the top of the wall and bounded into the bleachers, Nova shut down the Orioles the rest of the way on just two singles and a walk while he struck out 11 batters  –  one less than his career best of 12 in 2011 against the Cincinnati Reds.

Mixing his 95-mile-per-hour fastball with a devastating curveball that had the powerful Orioles, who lead the major leagues in home runs, flailing at air all night in what was Nova’s first major-league complete game in 67 career starts. Over nine innings, Nova threw 102 pitches and 70 of them were strikes, a strike percentage of 69%.

This was much like the Nova of 2011 who burst onto the scene as a rookie to post a 16-4 record with a 3.70 ERA and win his final 12 games in a row. It was not the same Nova who was so awful in going 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 2012 and who was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA in his first four starts of 2013 before he landed on the 15-day disabled list for two months with a right triceps strain.

It looked as if Nova would end up taking a hard-luck loss because the Yankees’ offense could only manage one hit off Gonzalez until the fourth inning.

Wells delivered a two-out lined single to left and Gonzalez then issued a walk to Lyle Overbay, seemingly pitching around the veteran first baseman in order to face light-hitting shortstop Luis Cruz. However, Cruz spoiled the strategy when he laced a sharp single to left and Wells was able to slide home just a beat ahead of the throw from Nate McLouth and the tag of Wieters at the plate.

The game remained that way until the Yankees mounted their rally off Johnson in the ninth that handed the closer his sixth blown save of the season, two of them to the Yankees.

Gonzalez gave up four hits and five walks while striking out four in six innings of work. Left-hander Troy Patton and right-hander Darren O’Day both pitched an inning shutout baseball for the Orioles.

The victory for the Yankees, their fifth in a row, allowed them to climb within percentage points of the second-place Orioles in the American League East with a 47-39 mark. The Orioles defeat left them 48-39, five games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are playing the Los Angeles Angels in a late game in Anaheim, CA.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • How can six go into five? That the problem for manager Joe Girardi now that Nova has served notice he belongs in the rotation. You can’t possibly remove hard-throwing Dominican after what he did on Friday. When Nova is on like he was on Friday, he actually has the arguably the best stuff of any of the current Yankee starters. The most likely candidate to go could be David Phelps. But Phelps pitched a fine game against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday. Stay tuned.
  • Wells was given a second consecutive start against a right-handed pitcher and he made the most of it. Despite hitting that weak foul pop in the fifth, Wells finished the evening 2-for-5 with a run scored and the game-winning walk-off RBI. In his past three games, Wells is 6-for-12 with four RBIs. That streak has raised his season average from .223 to .235.
  • Cruz is showing signs he may be a better hitter than his .136 mark with the Los Angeles Dodgers that led to his designation for assignment and eventual release. Cruz is 3-for-11 (.272) and has RBIs in the past two of his three starts at shortstop for the Yankees. Cruz also made a fine pair of plays on ground balls off the bat of Machado and Nick Markakis in the third inning that robbed both of potential hits.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

You can’t fault the pitching because Nova was sensational. Besides Cruz’s two gems, Cano turned in a pair of dazzlers in the fourth inning. So you can’t fault the defense. You could rip Hafner and Wells for failing the fifth inning with the bases loaded and one out. However, they atoned for those sins by coming through when it counted in the ninth. No complaints here.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees announced Friday that shortstop Derek Jeter will begin a rehab assignment on Saturday with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Jeter, who has spent the better part of eight months rehabbing a broken left ankle after undergoing surgery, is expected to play at least five innings at shortstop in the RailRiders’ game against Lehigh Valley. Jeter originally broke the ankle in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers last October. After undergoing surgery Jeter attempted to return to action during spring training but felt discomfort and had to be shelved. An MRI on April 18 indicated a second small break of the ankle and Jeter has been on the disabled list the entire season. Girardi refused to set a firm date for Jeter’s return to the Yankees.   . . .  Kuroda has been cleared to resume throwing again but it is not clear when he will make his next start. Kuroda first felt discomfort in his left hip warming up for last Saturday’s game against the Orioles in Baltimore. He pitched in the game and ended up losing 4-2. Kuroda is 7-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 17 starts this season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will put their five-game winning streak on the line on Saturday in a matinee against the O’s.

Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-6, 4.40 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Pettitte passed Whitey Ford to become the team’s the all-time team strikeout leader but he ended up with a no-decision on Monday after giving up four runs on six hits and four walks in five innings against the Twins. Pettitte is 18-5 with a 3.48 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Orioles.

Baltimore will start right-hander Chris Tillman (10-2, 3.68 ERA). Tillman yielded two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out six in six innings against the Yankees on Sunday, his seventh consecutive winning decision. He is 3-3 with a 7.27 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

‘Pronk’ Bonks O’s In Ninth, Wells Wins It In 10th

GAME 44

YANKEES 6, ORIOLES 4 (10 Innings)

Some teams are built with a lot of money. Some teams are built with a collection of players with special skills. But successful teams are built with lots of players who have heart.

The 2013 New York Yankees are a team with an awful lot of heart and that was on display Monday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Down 4-3 with one out in the ninth inning and Orioles closer Jim Johnson on mound, Travis Hafner blasted an opposite-field home run into the bleachers in left-center to tie it and Vernon Wells laced a game-winning RBI double in the 10th inning as New York came from behind to down Baltimore in front of a paid crowd of 24,133.

Hafner and Wells embody the heart of what has been called “The Replacements” and they provided the Yankees with the clutch hitting just when they needed it.

The Orioles took a 3-2 lead away from left-hander CC Sabathia and the Yankees in the bottom of the seventh inning when Nick Markakis slapped an RBI double to left-center to score Alexi Casilla and J.J. Hardy followed one out later with an RBI double down the right-field line.

The Orioles made their 2012 wild-card run largely on the strength of their incredible 24-6 record in one-run games. But 2013 is looking like a much different season for them.

Johnson, who had entered the game having blown his last two save opportunities, fell behind Hafner 3-1 when the 35-year-old designated hitter sent a belt-high outside fastball into the 80-degree evening air and by the time it landed Johnson was hanging his head in disbelief.

David Robertson (3-0) came in to pitch a scoreless ninth inning that sent the game into extra innings, where the Orioles posted an incredible 16-2 record in 2012.

What a difference a year makes!

Ichiro Suzuki opened the top of the 10th with a line-drive double into the right-field corner off right-hander Pedro Strop (0-2)

Wells, who entered the game as pinch-hitter in the eighth inning then picked on a 1-2 hanging slider from Strop and slashed it to the base of the wall in left and the ball bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double that scored Suzuki.

After Austin Romine bunted Wells to third, Brett Gardner was retired on hard grounder and Strop walked Robinson Cano intentionally.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter replaced Strop with left-hander Brian Matusz to face Hafner. But Hafner spoiled the strategy by slashing a 0-1 slider into right for a single to score Wells with an insurance run.

Mariano Rivera, who entered the evening a perfect 16-for-16 in saves this season, pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th, punctuating his 17th save by striking out Chris Dickerson swinging to push the Orioles’ current losing streak to six games.

Believe me when I say that this one really hurt the Orioles.

Sabathia, who was 19-4 with a 2.90 ERA in his career against the Orioles including two victories in the 2012 playoffs, was unable to keep any of leads the Yankees kept providing him with throughout the evening.

Cano opened the scoring with a solo home run  –  his American League-leading 13th of the season  –  off former Yankee right-hander Freddy Garcia with one out in the first frame. David Adams followed with a one-out homer of his own, his first in the major leagues, in the second inning.

But Chris Davis reclaimed a share of the A.L. lead in homers with his 13th home run off Sabathia with one out in the bottom of the second.

Two innings later, Markakis tied it up at 2-2 with a one-out RBI single to score Steve Pearce, who led off the inning with a double.

But Lyle Overbay promptly untied it for the Yankees in the seventh with a leadoff home run in the bleacher sin right center off left-hander Troy Patton.

Sabathia then ran out of gas in the seventh and surrendered the lead to the Orioles.

Sabathia gave up four runs on 11 hits and he struck out two in 6 1/3 innings. Garcia, meanwhile, yielded two runs on three hits and two walks while he fanned two in six innings for the O’s.

The Yankees extended their winning streak to three games and, combined with the loss by the Boston Red Sox to the Chicago White Sox, they extended their lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games. The Orioles fell to 23-21 and they are now a whopping five games behind the Yankees in third place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hafner’s dramatic home run and RBI single in the 10th must have Yankee fans saying “Raul who?” because Hafner is making them forget how important Raul Ibanez was to the Yankees during the stretch drive and in the playoffs last season. Hafner is hitting .267 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs.
  • Wells, another reclamation project courtesy of general manager Brian Cashman, knew his playing time would be reduced when Curtis Granderson returned but he is proving to be very valuable off the bench. With his game-winning double in the 10th, Wells is hitting .267 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs, which is third on the club behind Cano and fellow “Replacement” Overbay.
  • Adams’ rookie legend may be growing by leaps and bounds in just five major-league games. Adams was 2-for-4 including his homer. Adams also made some sterling plays in the field, which is surprising because he is not considered to be a good fielder. Adams is 6-for-18 (.333) with a home run and two RBIs and is looking like he might be staying long after Kevin Youkilis comes off the 15-day disabled list.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sabathia was just not very sharp at all in this game. In his past two starts, Sabathia has given up 21 hits and two walks in 12 1/3 innings for Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched (WHIP) of 1.82. The Orioles used an opposite-field approach against the left-hander and they burned him repeatedly with it. Sabathia is also paying for a dip in velocity in his fastball.
  • Granderson is struggling at the plate and it may be a byproduct of rushing through his rehab in just five games. Granderson was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and he did not get a ball out of the infield. He is 4-for-19 (.211) without a home run and an RBI in five starts.

BOMBER BANTER

First baseman Mark Teixeira reported on Monday that he took his first at-bats in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, and he was 1-for-2 with a double and a walk. It was the first at-bats for Teixeira since he tore the sheath in his right wrist in March. Teixiera is hoping to play in his first game of the season by June 1 but that timetable may be a bit too optimistic.  . . .  Both Youkilis (back) and Alex Rodriguez (hip) took ground balls and batting practice at the team’s spring complex on Monday as both rehab their injuries. Manager Joe Girardi said that Youkilis likely will not be activated before the Yankees return home in a week. Though Rodriguez was able to take ground balls at third base on Monday, his timetable has not changed. He is expected back some time after the All-Star break.  . . .  The Yankees entered the day with a all-time major-league best 18-0 record in one-run games this season and they were within two outs of losing their first one-run game. But Hafner’s homer and Wells’ RBI double allowed them to extend the mark to 19 games.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game road series with the Orioles on Tuesday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (2-3, 5.88 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes will have to better on Tuesday because he is coming off what he called his worst major-league start on Wednesday against the Seattle Mariners. Hughes lasted only two-thirds of an inning and gave up seven runs on six hits and two walks. He is 6-5 with 5.47 ERA lifetime against the Orioles.

Baltimore is countering with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (2-2, 4.58 ERA). Gonzalez is being activated from the 15-day disabled list after he sustained a troublesome blister on his right thumb. He is 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Yanks, ‘Jonesing’ For Victory, Triple Up On Orioles

GAME 9

YANKEES 5, ORIOLES 2

As the old saying goes “If you watch enough baseball you can guarantee that you will see something you never saw before,” Yankee fans saw some pretty strange things on Friday in their game against the Orioles.

With the game hanging in the balance in the late innings, the Yankees pulled out the victory when a Gold Glove center-fielder dropped a fly ball with the bases loaded and the Yankees protected that lead by turning one of the craziest triple plays ever.

In the end, CC Sabathia pitched eight solid innings and Mariano Rivera tossed a scoreless ninth for his second save as New York ran its current winning streak to four games by defeating Baltimore on a damp, cold and windy evening in front of paid crowd of 35,033 at Yankee Stadium.

After the Orioles tied the game at 2-2 in the seventh by scoring an unearned run, Miguel Gonzalez (1-1) opened the bottom of the inning by walking Francisco Cervelli and Orioles manager Buck Showalter removed Gonzalez in favor of left-hander Troy Patton.

Brett Gardner advanced Cervelli to second with a sacrifice bunt, his second of the game. One out later, Patton walked Kevin Youkilis intentionally so he could pitch to the left-handed-hitting Travis Hafner. But Patton hit Hafner on the left thigh on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases and Showalter brought in right-hander Pedro Strop to pitch to the right-handed-hitting Vernon Wells.

Wells lofted a 2-0 fastball to the warning track in straightway center-field and Orioles outfielder Adam Jones had the ball carom off the tip of his glove to allow all three runs to score without the benefit of a hit in the inning.

The Orioles rallied against Sabathia in the eighth inning when Alexi Casilla and Nick Markakis led off the frame with back-to-back singles. Then, on a full count, Manny Machado slapped a sinking liner that second baseman Robinson Cano caught on a short hop and he flipped the ball to shortstop Jayson Nix to erase Markakis at second.

Instead of firing the ball to first, Nix turned and threw the ball to Youkilis at third to catch Casilla in a rundown. Youkilis flipped back to Nix and Nix tossed back to Youkilis, who then was able to get Casilla with lunging tag about halfway back to second.

Youkilis got up and fired the ball to first baseman Lyle Overbay to catch Machado halfway between first and second base. Overbay then threw back to Cano at second to tag a sliding Machado to complete a very odd triple play.

The last time the Yankees turned a triple play at home was June 3, 1968, against the Minnesota Twins. It was also the first 4-6-5-6-5-3-4 triple play in major-league history, dating back to 1876.

Meanwhile, Sabathia (2-1) was actually cruising with a 2-1 lead going into the seventh until a Youkilis error on a Matt Wieters ground ball was followed by an odd balk call from first-base umpire Larry Vanover. Sabathia was standing on the mound wiping his left hand on his pant leg waiting for a sign when the call was made.

One out later, J.J. Hardy bounced a slow roller up the middle to score an unearned run for the O’s that tied the game.

Sabathia scattered eight hits, walked none and struck out nine in his eight innings of work.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, struggled with his command, giving up five hits and five walks while fanning four in six-plus innings.

With the victory the Yankees surpassed the .500 mark for the first time this season at 5-4. The Orioles fell to 5-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano did not cool off much after the two rainouts in Cleveland. The All-Star second baseman was 2-4 and he drove in the tie-breaking run in the fifth inning after the Yankees perfectly executed some “small ball.” Cervelli worked Gonzalez for a walk and Gardner advanced him to second on a sacrifice bunt. Cano then slapped an opposite-field bullet into left to score Cervelli. Cano is now batting .324 and he leads the Yankees in RBIs with eight.
  • Youkilis has not cooled off either. He was 3-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and an RBI. He drove in the tying run in the third after Gardner walked and Cano advanced to third with a single. Youkilis then ripped a line-drive single to left to score Gardner. Youkilis is batting a team-best .424 and he is second on the team with seven RBIs.
  • Despite the bogus balk call, Sabathia was excellent for the second outing in a row. His career record against the Orioles is now 17-4 and in his last two starts he has given up two runs (one earned) on 12 hits and three walks while he has struck out 13 batters. He lowered his season ERA to 2.25.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Youkilis sometimes giveth and sometimes he giveth away. He committed one fielding error and one base-running blunder that cost the Yankees dearly. In the third inning when he singled in Gardner he rounded first base way too far and Casilla was able to throw him out attempting to slide back into first base on a throw to Chris Davis. If he had held the Yankees would have had runners at first and third and one out. His fielding error in the seventh eventually led to the score being tied.
  • Ichiro Suzuki looks lost at the plate early in the season. He came into the game hitting .185 and was 0-4 with two strikeouts and he failed to get a ball out of the infield.
  • On a night that was cold and the wind was blowing in Wells insisted on hitting towering fly balls that went nowhere until he connected on the ball in the seventh that Jones dropped in center. Wells ended up 0-for-4 and his batting average fell to from .360 to .310. He also stranded a team-high four base-runners.

BOMBER BANTER

It would not be the Yankees if we did not report on some new injuries. Shortstop Eduardo Nunez, who is starting for the injured Derek Jeter, had to be removed from his second game within a week after being hit by a pitch. Nunez was struck in the right wrist by a pitch from Gonzalez and he was forced to leave the game in the top of the third inning. He was replaced by Nix. X-rays indicated no break in the wrist and only a contusion. He is listed as day-to-day. Nunez was struck in the right bicep on a pitch from Doug Fister last Friday in Detroit and missed two starts.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Friday that Andy Pettitte will not be able to make his scheduled start on Sunday due to back spasms. Girardi said the injury is not serious and he hopes Pettitte will be able to pitch Tuesday or Wednesday at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Phil Hughes, who had his start on Thursday skipped, will now pitch Saturday and Saturday’s scheduled starter, Hiroki Kuroda, will pitch on Sunday.  . . .  Cleveland Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who was ejected from Tuesday’s game against the Yankees for hitting Youkilis with a pitch after Cano hat hit a two-run home run, was suspended by Major League Baseball for eight games and fined an undisclosed amount. Carrasco, who was forced to serve out a six-game suspension last week stemming from a similar incident when he threw at the head of Billy Butler against the Royals in July 2011, is at Triple-A Columbus and can’t be used in a major-league game until he serves out the eight-game suspension at the major-league level. Carrasco’s six-game suspension was delayed to this season because he underwent Tommy John surgery before he could serve the suspension.

ON DECK

The Yankees put their four-game winning steak on the line on Saturday in the second game of the series against the Orioles.

Hughes (0-1, 6.75 ERA) was tagged for four runs (three earned) on eight hits and in four-plus innings in a loss to the Tigers on April 6. Hughes is 6-4 with a 5.10 ERA in his career against Baltimore.

He will be opposed by right-hander Jason Hammel (1-1, 4.97 ERA). Hammel allowed four runs in 6 2/3 innings in Sunday’s series loss to the Twins. Hammel is 1-3 with a 6.20 lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

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