Results tagged ‘ Koji Uehara ’

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!

 

 

Yankees Launch Opening Volley In Red Sox Rivalry

GAME 10

YANKEES 5, RED SOX 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Orioles Seem To Have Stranglehold On 5th Place

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

PART 1 – BALTIMORE ORIOLES

The 2011 season began with a lot of optimism because of the great job Buck Showalter did in turning around the Orioles at the end of the 2010 season.

But 2011 was much like every season for the Orioles since 1999. It fizzled into frustration in a hurry. They finished with a record of 69-93 and they were a distant fifth in the A.L. East, 28 games behind the Yankees.

This coming season promises to pretty similar because the Orioles have not made a lot of changes to their roster. With the exeption of Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott and Derrek Lee, this pretty much the same group that floundered through much of 2011.

STARTERS

One big reason is that the Orioles banked their future hopes on a collection of young starting pitchers like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. They progressed through the minors but none of them have established themselves as major-league quality starters. And if you want to compete in this division, you have to have good starting pitching.

The Orioles compounded that issue by trading their best starting pitcher, Guthrie, to the Colorado Rockies for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. As a result, the Orioles’ “ace” is former Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter, who was 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA in an injury-shortened season.

The Orioles, led by general manager Dan Duquette, are now shifting their sites overseas and the team signed two pitchers from the Japanese League in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Chen, 26, is a left-hander from Taiwan who has compiled a 36-30 record and a 2.48 ERA in four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. He also has pretty good stuff with 500 career strikeouts in 631 1/3 innings.

Wada, 30, is another left-hander and he has overcome two injury-plagued seasons to compile a combined 33-13 record with a 2.29 ERA in the last two seasons with Fukuoda Softbank Hawks. While Chen has better stuff, Wada is considered to have better control.

Both figure prominently in the Orioles plans for 2012 and both likely will be in the rotation this season, depending on how they progress in the spring.

Hammel, 29, was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA last season with the Rockies. The tall right-hander figures to be slotted as the No. 4 starter.

The Orioles still have high hopes for Matusz, Britton, Arrieta and Tillman. But it appears Britton and Arrieta are going to get most of the attention this spring. The lefty Britton suffered a shoulder injury last season and he finished the season 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA. Arrieta was 10-8 with 5.05 ERA.

BULLPEN

The bullpen was a strength of this team when Koji Uehara was around but he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline last July.

The closer job is up for grabs between incumbent closer Kevin Gregg, who saved 22 games but blew seven chances and was 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA, and Jim Johnson, who saved nine games and was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA. Lindtsrom, who saved 23 games for the Astros in 2010, can also be shifted into the closer role.

The rest of the bullpen will likely be made up with lefty Darren O’Day and former starters Alfredo Simon, Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken.

STARTING LINEUP

A few years ago, the Orioles seem to invested their future into second baseman Brian Roberts, right-fielder Nick Markakis and center-fielder Adam Jones and have built around those players.

Unfortunately, Roberts has suffered through injury after injury and Markakis and Jones have underperformed expectations.

With the Orioles lack of ability to attract high-priced free-agent talent, the Orioles have to rely on that trio as the core of the team again.

The Orioles may also begin getting what they expected out of catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 22 home runs and won a Gold Glove for his defensive work behind the plate. The former No. 1 pick also is showing some signs of leadership on the team.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy finally shook off injuries that plagued him since he was with the Brewers in 2008 as he hit 30 home runs and drove in 80 runs.

Third baseman Mark Reynolds was pretty much as advertised. He did not hit for average and struck out 196 times but he also hit 37 home runs and drove in 87 runs.

Former Rangers first baseman Chris Davis is pretty much a carbon copy of Reynolds at first base only he does most of his striking out from the left side.

The Orioles will likely platoon veterans Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold in the outfield and look for the Orioles to make a late bid for a DH.

They could re-sign veteran Vladimir Guerrero or chose from among Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to replace Scott.

BENCH

Former Yankee Wilson Betemit will be the top reserve on the infield and middle infield reserve Robert Andino will return to provide glovework behind Roberts and Hardy. Former Rangers backstop Taylor Teagarden will be the backup to Wieters.

The Orioles could use the spring to look for some veteran help in the outfield to bolster their bench a bit.

ANALYSIS

With Jones, Wieters, Hardy, Reynolds and Davis the Orioles seem to have plenty of firepower. Plus when Roberts is healthy and Markakis is going good, they can get on base and steal a base or two. But the overall offense may be too geared towards power over putting the ball iin play and advancing runners.

The Orioles, as a team, strike out way too much and it cost them because their pitching is not that strong.

The Orioles are gambling on two Japanese League pitchers and two journeyman American starters (Hunter and Hammel) to give them time to develop their young pitchers like Britton and Arrieta. The jury is still out on Matusz, who looked like a surefire star in the making in 2010.

Without a consistent starting rotation, any effort Showalter makes in the bullpen could prove futile. A good bullpen only limits the damage. The bullpen should be strong but it is obvious they are going to tire quickly if they are constantly coming in the fourth or fifth inning.

Barring another Showalter miracle, this team is headed for more frustration in 2012. They simply can’t compete with the big boys (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox) and they merely hold their own against the Blue Jays. If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the Orioles will finish fifth again.

It is a spot for which they are built.

ON TUESDAY – PART 2  TORONTO BLUE JAYS

 

Down To Last Strike, A-Rod Victimizes O’s’ Uehara Again

GAME 147
YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 3

Before the first pitch was delivered at Camden Yards on Friday night, Baltimore Orioles broadcaster Jim Palmer said on MASN that it was a good thing for Orioles closer Koji Uehara that Nick Swisher was not in the lineup.
The bad news for Uehara and the Orioles was that Alex Rodriguez was in the lineup and he hit a three-run home run into the left-field bleachers that rescued the Yankees from a 3-1 ninth-inning deficit with the New York Yankees a strike away from defeat.
The miraculous and dramatic home run, Rodriguez’s second of the night and the his 24th of the season, was the second consecutive game between the two teams that Uehara had blown a save by giving up a home run in the ninth inning.
On Sept. 8 at Yankee Stadium, Swisher blasted a two-run walk-off home run off Uehara (1-2) with one out in the ninth inning. Uehara has nine saves in 11 chances this season and both blown saves have come against the Yankees. Uehara’s two losses this season also come courtesy of the Yankees.
The victory was fortuitous for the Yankees because the Tampa Bay Rays dropped a 4-3 decision to the Los Angeles Angels and it allowed the Yankees to reclaim first place in the American League East.
With the Twins’ 3-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics, the Yankees also have reclaimed the best record in baseball at 89-58.
David Robertson (4-4), who pitched a perfect eighth inning in relief of starter A.J. Burnett, was credited with the victory. Mariano Rivera pitched a similarly perfect ninth inning to notch the 557th save his career and his 31st of the season in 34 chances.
Before the ninth inning, the Yankees’ only dent in the scoreboard came from Rodriguez, who led off the second inning with a towering blast to left-field off Orioles starter Kevin Millwood that gave the Yankees a short-lived 1-0 lead.
Millwood got stingy after that, holding the Yankees to the one run on five hits and four walks in seven innings.
But when Uehara took the mound, the Yankees finally got busy. Jorge Posada battled Uehara in an epic 11-pitch at-bat that resulted in a lined single to left-center. After Derek Jeter struck out, Curtis Granderson singled to right-field.
Mark Teixeira then popped up to third baseman Robert Andino to set the stage for Rodriguez’s two-out heroics.
The Yankees now lead the major leagues in come-from-behind victories this season with 46. This one, due to A-Rod, may have been one of their best.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Despite the fact that he was victimized by a hit batter that scored the Orioles’ first run and a pair of solo home runs by Adam Jones and Andino, Burnett actually pitched a very creditable game. Over seven innings, Burnett gave up three runs on six hits and a walk and he struck out five.
  • Rodriguez was 2-for-5 with two home runs and he drove in all of the Yankees’ four runs. That gives Rodriguez 25 home runs and 111 RBIs this season. If Rodriguez hits five more home runs, it will mark the 14th straight season in which he has produced at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.
  • Robinson Cano and Lance Berkman combined for four hits and walk but they did not get much support from the bottom of the order behind them. The bottom of the order was 1-for-8 before Posada entered the game in the seventh inning and walked. Cano is hitting .481 against the Orioles at Camden Yards this season.
NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Burnett still needs work on his command and he really needs to try harder to keep base-runners a little more honest. Burnett hit weak-hitting Cesar Izturis on an 0-2 pitch to start the third inning. Izturis promptly stole second, advanced to third on a Brian Roberts’ groundout and scored on Nick Markakis sacrifice fly. Burnett also hit Jones on an 0-2 pitch in the seventh inning but he was erased on a double play.
  • Who is the Yankees’ worst batter to have up with the bases loaded this season? The answer is Jeter. He has only one hit all season with the bases loaded. In the second inning, Jeter lined out hard — but it still was an out — with the bases loaded in the second inning.
  • The Yankees also had a great opportunity to score in the seventh and eighth innings with two runners on. However, Teixeira struck out to end the seventh and Swisher, who was pinch-hitting, and Brett Gardner bounced out to end that threat.
BOMBER BANTER

Swisher is still have lingering issues associated with his bruised left knee and he missed his fifth straight start on Friday night. He did pinch-hit in the eighth inning and grounded out to first b
ase. Manager Joe Girardi said Swisher still is not running well but that the veteran outfielder is closer to returning.  . . . Burnett pitched on Friday night with a black right eye and both he and Girardi refused to discuss it with the media after the game. “The story is, he putched well tonight,” Girardi said.  . . .  Orioles manager Buck Showalter was not happy that Ted Barrett did not call an inside 1-2 pitch on Alex Rodriguez a strike, which would have ended the game. Barrett called it a ball as the Orioles’ players in the dugout were jumping up thinking the game was over. Showalter told reporters that the pitch was closer to being a strike than a strike Barrett called on Matt Wieters in the bottom of the inning. Well, let me clue Mr. Showalter in on the truth about strike one that Barrett called on Rodriguez. It was high and inside and the pitch tracker on MASN indicated it was more than six inches inside. So, if Mr, Showalter wants the 1-2 pitch as a strike, the Yankees would like the 0-1 pitch to be called a ball. In that case, it still would be 2-2 on Rodriguez and Rodriguez hits his game-winning home run. Nice try, Buck!
ON DECK

The Yankees go into the second game of their three-game set with the Orioles walking on air after snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat on their last strike on Friday.
They also have CC Sabathia (9-6, 3.03 ERA) on the mound going for the first 20-victory season in his career. Sabathia pitched eight shutout innings against the Rays on Monday night but he did not get his 20th win because David Price matched him zero for zero. But Sabathia has a good chance on Saturday because he is 13-2 with a 2.81 ERA against the Orioles in his career.
His opponent will be right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (10-13, 3.74 ERA). Guthrie is 7-3 with a 2.38 ERA in his last 10 starts. He tossed seven shutout innings against the Tigers last Friday. However, he is 3-8 with a 5.20 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

‘Swishalicious’ Walk-Off Homer Hands Yanks Victory

GAME 140
YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 2
The Yankees were right in the crosshairs of history as they began the ninth inning down by a 2-1 score to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday afternoon.
They were on the verge losing their status as the only team in Major League Baseball not to have lost four games in a row this season. The team also had not been swept in a series at the new Yankee Stadium and they had not been swept at home at the old Yankee Stadium since the Detroit Tigers did it to them in 2008. The Yankees also had not been swept in home series against the Orioles since 1986, when Nick Swisher was five years old. 
With one out and one on and Orioles closer Koji Uehara on the mound looking to record his second save of the series, Swisher stared down the throat of at all that history and said, “Not today.”
Swisher, looking for a fastball up in the strike zone to drive, took two low split-finger fastballs but pounced at a 2-0 fastball up and out over the plate and drove in up and out on a line into the Orioles’ bullpen in left-field to give the Yankees a dramatic come-from-behind, walk-off victory to end their 10-game home-stand with a 7-3 record.
Swisher took his victory lap around the bases as his Yankee teammates gathered at home plate to celebrate with their hero of the moment. A few minutes later, Swisher became the fourth recipient this season of a whipped-cream facial from teammate A.J. Burnett.
The taste of sweet victory.
The Yankee fans among what was left of a crowd of 44,163 that paid to see the game exulted in delight as their team had pulled another victory out of some very tight jaws of defeat.
The bottom of the ninth inning started with Alex Rodriguez lining a first-pitch fastball from Uehara into the hole between shortstop and third base and into left-field for a single. As Rodriguez ran to first, he exhorted his teammates in the dugout with a “Let’s go.”
Eduardo Nunez replaced Rodriguez as a pinch-runner at first. Robinson Cano followed by flying out to relatively deep center on an 0-2 pitch for the first out. That was Swisher’s cue and he didn’t let the fans down by hitting his 26th home run if the season.
After the game, Swisher paid homage to the fans: “The fans have been great to me, the city has been amazing and you want to go out there and give it all you got for this organization.”
He also mentioned something unusual about his home run. “I’ve never [hit a home run] out over there. That is a first for me but the wind was blowing out that way.”
The playoff winds seem to be blowing right for the Yankees as well. The victory gives them a major-league-best 87-53 record and the second-place Tampa Bay Rays took an 11-5 thrashing from the Boston Red Sox to fall 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES
  • Swisher missed three games last week due to a sore left knee and did not return to the lineup until Monday. He was 0-for-7 in the previous two games before going 2-for-4 on Wednesday. The two RBIs also give him 82 for the season, which ties the total he drove in for the Yankees last season. His career high in RBIs is 95 set with Oakland in 2006.
  • Ivan Nova pitched a career-high six innings for the Yankees and he pitched well enough to have won. Nova gave up six hits and walked two (both intentional) and fanned six. His only mistake was serving up a 3-0 fastball that Matt Wieters slammed into the second deck in left-field for a two-run home run in the fifth inning. In his four starts, Nova is 1-0 with a 3.32 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings.
  • Once again, the bullpen shined and allowed the Yankees to mount their comeback by holding the Orioles to two runs. Boone Logan, David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain combined to give up no hits and no walks and strike out six in three innings. Chamberlain (3-4), who pitched a scoreless ninth inning, won the game in relief.
  • Curtis Granderson, Francisco Cervelli and Brett Gardner worked in unison in the third inning to give the Yankees an initial 1-0 lead. Granderson drew a walk from Orioles starter Brad Bergesen and stole second. He moved to third on Cervelli’s groundout to first and scored on Gardner’s double to left. Gardner was thrown out at third base trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • Derek Jeter was 0-for-4 and he finished the 10-game home-stand 5-for-36 (.139). He is hitting .172 for the month and his season average is down to .262. Yankee fans are still wondering what is happening to their captain.
  • Mark Teixeira started the home-stand 9-for-13 (.692) in the four games against Oakland. In the next six games he was 3-for-20 (.150), including an 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Wednesday.
  • Gardner really hurt the Yankees badly by getting thrown out at third in the third inning but he really hurt them worse with his at-bat in the fifth inning. With one out and Lance Berkman at second and Cervelli on first, Gardner grounded into an inning-ending double play and allowed Bergesen to wriggle off the hook for another inning.
BOMBER BANTER
Yankee fans were wondering why Jorge Posada did not pinch-hit for Cervelli in the eighth inning with Cano at third and Granderson on first with two out. The reason was that Posada was sent to New York-Presbyterian Hospital for neurological tests after Posada complained of feeling “foggy” after taking a foul tip off his mask on Tuesday night. The results of the tests were negative and Posada is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  The Yankees announced on Wednesday that Phil Hughes will be skipped in next start scheduled for Sunday in Texas. Dustin Moseley will get the start instead. The Yankees are concerned about Hughes reaching his innings limit and decided to skip him for one turn.  . . .  The Yankees also said they do not expect left-hander Damaso Marte or right-hander Alfredo Aceves back for the rest of the season. Aceves is having his strained lower back re-evaluated and may require surgery. Marte has been bothered by left shoulder inflammation and has been unable to resume a throwing regimen.
ON DECK
The Yankees will get a day off on Thursday to travel to Arlington, TX, to begin an 11-day, nine-game road trip with the Rangers on Friday.
Javier Vazquez (10-9, 5.01 ERA) will get the start in the opener for the Yankees. Vazquez should be channeling his anger towards the Rangers from his last start on Saturday in which he was removed form the game by manager Joe Girardi one out away from a potential victory. Vazquez allowed five runs (but had only allowed three and had a 5-3 lead when he left) on four hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings. He is 2-2 with a 6.56 ERA against the Rangers lifetime.
The Rangers will rely on left-hander C.J. Wilson (14-6, 3.10 ERA). Wilson had a seven-game winning streak snapped by the Minnesota Twins with a 6-5 loss on Friday. Wilson is 7-1 with a 2.67 ERA in his 10 starts after the All-Star break. He is 0-3 with a 3.47 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

Unknowns Still Vexing Yankees

On Sunday I published an item here under the headline “Leaving a Bad First Impression” that detailed how six relatively unknown starters had stymied the Yankees this season.

Well, it happened again Tuesday night. So make it seven.
The Washington Nationals sent a 22-year-old righthander named Shairon Martis to the mound versus veteran ace lefty CC Sabathia. On paper it looked like it could be another a laugher given these facts:
  • The Nationals came into the game with the worst record in baseball by far. They were 16-45 and weak on offense, defense and pitching.
  • Martis carried a road ERA of 7.66 entering the game. In addition his overall ERA was 5.04.
  • Sabathia, despite a bad April, has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since then and he has pitched deep into games in virtually every start.
  • The Yankees have been a hot team, recording a 23-12 record since May 8.
But one statistic was in Martis’ favor. The Yankees have had trouble of late with these rookie or journeyman starters this season. These starters include Japanese rookie Koji Uehara of the Orioles (twice), Justin Masterson of the Red Sox, Angels 30-year-old journeyman rookie Matt Palmer, Phillies lefty J.A. Happ, Rangers righty Scott Feldman and Mets righty Fernando Nieve, who vexed the Yankees in a 6-2 loss on Saturday.
Combining their statistics in their starts against the Yankees they have pitched a total of 42 innings, gave up just 32 hits, only 10 earned runs, walked nine and struck out 22. That’s an ERA of 2.14 and a Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched (WHIP) of 0.98. (Any WHIP under 1.20 is considered excellent. A WHIP under 1 is considered dominant.)
So by now adding Martis’ statistics to those of the previous starters who made the Yankees look bad, it becomes clear this is a continuing trend the Yankees must overcome. 
The seven pitchers have a combined pitching line that reads 48 innings, 36 hits, 11 runs, 14 walks and 23 strikeouts. That is a combined ERA of 2.06 and a WHIP of 1.04.

According to MLB.com: 

Martis was the second relatively unknown pitcher in three games to hold the Yankees down, joining the Mets Nieve on Saturday.  Mark Teixeira said Martis kept them guessing.

“Every pitcher that we face, if you know them, you recognize pitches,” Teixeira said. “You recognize tendencies and look for certain pitches. If you don’t know a guy, you’re going up there cold and hoping to swing at strikes.

“The way he was throwing, he was throwing a really good sinker and changeup, and we didn’t always know which one was a strike.”

The point is that the Yankees may be revealing a problem here: A club of veteran hitters who seem to be unable to solve pitchers they know very little about. This could be concern to Manager Joe Girardi and his coaches going forward.

Teams are not stupid and, if they see a trend like this, they are prone to exploit it. So unless the Yankees begin to start hitting these marginal unknowns they may expect to see teams start calling up minor leaguers and scrap heap finds with no track record and little scouting information to face the Yankees. 

I know if I was a manager facing the Yankees, I might try it.

It’s a challenge the Yankees better respond to soon. Very soon!


Leaving a Bad First Impression

After 62 games it has become apparent that teams who really want to beat the New York Yankees have a pretty good shot at wining by starting a pitcher Yankees have never seen before.

It has happened several times this season and the result has been pretty much the same.]: The Yankees flail at pitches, struggle to get runners on base and they lose the game. It happened again Saturday afternoon when the New York Mets started Fernando Nieve.
With the Yankees countering with Andy Pettitte the matchup looked decisively one-sided. It was. The only problem for Manager Joe Girardi and his team it was the Yankees who were overmatched by Nieve.
The 26-year-old righthander with but 11 previous major league starts with the Houston Astros under his belt, managed to fool the Yankees for 6 2/3 innings. He gave up just four hits, two walks and two runs to pick up his fourth major-league victory.
This is the same pitcher who was 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA as a relief pitcher for the Astros last season. This the same pitcher who had been in the Houston organization since he was 16 years old and never could impress the Astros enough to use him in the major leagues until 2007.
He was a candidate for the fifth spot in the Astros 2009 rotation but his 11.27 ERAin spring training forced the Astros to place him on irrevocable waivers on March 14. The Mets decided to take a flier on him and claimed him.
The only reason he was starting against the Yankees Saturday is because righthander John Maine came down with a fatigued shoulder and had to placed on the disabled list. The fact that Nieve ended up besting Pettitte and the Yankees in a 6-2 defeat at Yankee Stadium should not have been a real surprise to Yankees fans.
The Yankees have been losing to pitchers like Nieve all season.
Here are the others:
APRIL 8 Yankees at Orioles: Veteran Japanese righthander Koji Uehara gives up just one run in five innings against the Yankees to win his major-league debut.

APRIL 26 Yankees at Red Sox: Justin Materson yields one run in 5 1/3 innings leading the Red Sox to  4-1 victory and a sweep of the series.

MAY 2 Angels at Yankees: 30-year-old journeyman Matt Palmer gives up one run in 6 1/3 innings to best CC Sabathia and the Yankees 8-4.

MAY 10 Yankees at Orioles: Uehara yields just one run in six innings in a game the Yankees came from behind to win 5-3 with a rally in the seventh inning.

MAY 23 Phillies at Yankees: Rookie J.A. Happ surrenders just two runs in six innings in a game the Yankees rallied to win the ninth inning 5-4.

JUNE 3 Rangers at Yankees: Scott Feldman teases the Yankees with 6 1/3 innings, giving up just two runs on five hits as the Yankees lose 4-2.

The combined pitching lines from these games with Nieve’s totals added is enough to break a Yankees fan’s heart: 42 innings, 32 hits, 10 runs, nine walks and 22 strikeouts. That is an ERA of 2.14 and a Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched (WHIP) ratio of .098. Any WHIP under 1.20 is considered excellent. Anything under 1.00 is dominant.
For a comparison look at these five pitchers current ERAs: Uehara, 4.37; Palmer, 4.11; Feldman, 3.70; Masterson, 3.88 and Happ, 3.53. This quintet has pitched well but obviously kicked it up a notch when they faced the Yankees.
Or . . .
The Yankees hitters were unable to solve a very hittable pitcher simply because they did have enough familiarity with them to have a game plan against them. The answer lies somewhere between the two most likely.
To be sure, the Yankees have given some other young pitchers fits this season:
APRIL 9 Yankees vs. Orioles: The Yankees blasted O’s lefty Alfredo Simon for four runs in five plus innings en route to an 11-2 romp.

APRIL 22 Athletics at Yankees: The Yankees hammered rookie Brett Anderson for five runs in 5 1/3 innings in a game they won 9-7 in 14 innings.

APRIL 29 Yankees at Tigers: The Yankees rudely greeted Tigers righty phenom Rick Porcello with six runs in only 3 2/3 innings in an 8-6 victory.

MAY 13 Yankees at Blue Jays: The Yankees pounded righthander Scott Richmond for seven hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings for five runs en route to 8-2 thrashing of Toronto.

MAY 19 Orioles at Yankees: The Yankees finally get to Brad Bergeson in the seventh inning for a total of four runs in 6 1/3 innings as the Yankees won 9-1.

MAY 25 Yankees at Rangers: The Yankees light up Matt Harrison for 10 hits and seven earned runs in five innings during an 11-1 rout.

MAY 27 Yankees at Rangers: The Yankees get to lefty Derek Holland for 10 hits and five earned runs in just five innings in a 9-2 thrashing of Texas.

These examples show that the Yankees are capable of giving nightmares to some young starters who do not have command of their pitches or are prone to mistakes. But it strictly is a 50/50 proposition at this point.
What this does show is that if the Yankees want to improve their record and move into first place in the American League East they are going to have to do a better job of hitting the talented young pitchers they face.



































































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