Results tagged ‘ Matt Wieters ’

Tanaka Goes 4-0 As Patient Yankees Hammer Rays

GAME 28

YANKEES 9, RAYS 3

Sometimes you can predict the game’s outcome by looking at how pitchers fare through the second and third time in the batting order. Saturday’s pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays came into the game as polar opposites.

The rookie right-hander Odorizzi tends to pitch well early and lose it the second time through the order. Tanaka gets hit early but gets much tougher the second and third times through the order. That is exactly the way Saturday’s game played out.

After the Rays nicked Tanaka for three runs on seven hits,, including two solo home runs, in the first four innings, the 25-year-old Japanese rookie right-hander shut out the Rays on just one hit in his last three innings of work. Meanwhile, after Odorizzi retired the first nine batters he faced, he was hammered for three runs on five hits and two walks by the next 10 batters he faced.

Tanaka (4-0) remained undefeated as a pitcher dating back to Aug. 19, 2012 when he was pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.

The Yankees got a solo home run from Kelly Johnson off right-hander Josh Lueke (0-2) to lead off the sixth inning that broke a 3-3 tie and the Yankees rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to score nine unanswered runs to defeat Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 43,325 at Yankee Stadium.

Tanaka ended up giving up three runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in seven innings to earn a victory punctuated by adjustments he made to stop the Rays after their early assault.

“You know what you’re going to get from him,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters. “You’re going to get a guy that’s really going to compete and is going to give you distance and is going to keep you in the game. He’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”

The Rays jumped out early when Desmond Jennings sent Tanaka’s 12th delivery into the bleachers in right-center for a solo home run with one out in the first inning.

They added a run in the second inning on a little bit of luck and some well-placed hits.

James Loney singled to left against the shift to start the inning. One batter later, David DeJesus hit a line drive that deflected off Tanaka and rolled into left to advance Loney to third. After retiring Sean Rodriguez on a popup for the second out, Ryan Hanigan rolled a ball that just squirted through Johnson and Yangervis Solarte.

Wil Myers gave the Rays their 3-0 lead when he slapped Tanaka’s first pitch to the opposite field and in the corner of the right-field porch for  home run.

True to form, Odorizzi fell apart in the fourth when Jacoby Ellsbury led off the frame with a lined single to left. After Brett Gardner forced out Ellsbury on a fielder’s choice groundout, Mark Teixeira launched a mammoth blast into the second deck in right field for his fifth home run and his fourth in his past five games.

The Yankees then chased Odorizzi in the fifth when Ichiro Suzki led off with a double to the wall in left-center and Solarte drew a four-pitch walk. After Ellsbury tied the game with a ground-rule double to left-center, Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled Odorizzi in favor of left-hander Cesar Ramos.

Odorizzi left after giving up three runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four in four-plus innings.

But after Johnson deposited his fourth home run of the season into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center, the floodgates opened as the Yankees blasted Lueke and right-hander Heath Bell for six runs on seven hits and one walk over the final three innings.

Teixeira added an RBI single and Alfonso Soriano scored another run with a sacrifice fly off Lueke in the seventh. That Yankees tagged Bell for three runs in the eighth, keyed by an RBI single by Brian Roberts and two-run single by Gardner.

With the victory, the Yankees broke a three-game skid and they reclaimed the lead in the American League East with a 16-12 record. They lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles by a half game. The Rays fell to 14-17 and they are three games back in fourth place in the tightly bunched division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tananka, by all rights, should have lost. By his own admission, he did not have good stuff. “All my pitches weren’t there today,” he said through his interpreter. “As for the split, it was more like a changeup, I feel. Everything wasn’t crisp today.” Yet he was able to win because he did not panic and he found a way to shut down the Rays to allow the Yankees’ offense to get into the game. It shows that Tanaka, on a day when he was not as his best, can still win a game. That makes him special.
  • It is May so that means that it is time for Teixeira to wake up and he has. He was 2-for-4 in the game with a single, a homer, he was intentionally walked and he scored a run while driving in three. In his past five games, Teixeira is 7-for-19 (.368) with four home runs and six RBIs. That has raised Teixeira’s season average from .212 to .269. For those pundits who doubted Teixeira’s recovery from wrist surgery have some Tabasco to put on your steaming plate of crow.
  • You think the Boston Red Sox would not want Ellsbury back. Think again! In his two games against the Rays, Ellsbury is 7-for-10 with two walks and he has scored two runs and driven in a pair. That has raised Ellsbury’s season average from .309 to .346, which is second to Matt Wieters (.354) of the Orioles in the American League.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Despite the victory there were some moments that the Yankees did not deliver with runners in scoring position. Brian McCann was 1-for-5 with a double but Ramos struck him out with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth after the Rays elected to walk Teixeira to load the bases. He then lined out to Rodriguez in shallow right in the seventh with two on and nobody out. He ended his day flying out to end the eighth with one on and two out. So he stranded six runners. McCann is still struggling, hitting just .228 on the season.
  • Soriano, despite his sac fly in the seventh, was not much better than McCann. He was 0-for-3 and he followed McCann in the fifth by grounding out to short to leave the bases loaded. Despite going 3-for-7 with a home run and an RBI on Friday, Soriano is 4-for-22 (.182) in his past five games with six strikeouts. He is hitting .252 with five home runs and 12 RBIs on the season.
  • Solarte’s magic touch appears to be waning quickly. He was 0-for-3 and he is 7-for-35 (.200) in his past nine games. It appears the league is catching up to him because pitchers are feeding him a steady diet of breaking pitches and Solarte seems to be expanding his strike zone instead of being patient. He has drawn only four walks this season.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees optioned right-hander Chris Leroux to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday and recalled veteran right-hander Alfredo Aceves from the same club. Aceves, 31, had no record with a 1.98 ERA in three games (two of them starts) with the RailRiders. Aceves pitched for the Yankees from 2008 through 2010, compiling a 14-1 record and a 3.21 ERA in 59 games (five of them starts). Aceves has pitched as a starter, long reliever, middle innings pitcher and as a closer in his career and he gives the Yankees some flexibility in how he can be used. Leroux, 30, was hammered for five runs on five hits in the 14th inning of Friday’s game against the Rays and he was charged with the loss.  . . .  Because of the 14-inning game on Friday, Girardi elected to rest shortstop Derek Jeter and outfielder Carlos Beltran. Solarte started in place of Jeter and Suzuki drew the start in right-field in place of Beltran.

ON DECK

The Yankees can claim the three-game series over the Rays with a victory on Sunday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-3, 5.11 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up four runs on nine hits in five innings a loss to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. Sabathia held the Rays to one earned run on seven hits in seven innings at Tropicana Field on April 17.

Veteran left-hander Erik Bedard (0-1 5.52 ERA) draws the start for the Rays. Bedard gave up one run on seven hits and three walks before having to leave due to a high pitch count after five innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday. He gave up four runs on six hits in just 3 2/3 innings to the Yankees at home on April 18.

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.

 

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.

 

Orioles Pound Nova, Yankees Into Submission

GAME 8

ORIOLES 14, YANKEES 5

The definition of the astronomical term “nova” is a star that suddenly bursts into extreme brilliance and then gradually reduces in intensity. That is an apt description of Ivan Nova, whose talent can burn brighter than any Yankee pitcher and then just as vexing it can fade like he did on Tuesday.

Delmon Young and Matt Wieters each homered and drove in three runs apiece as Baltimore pounded out 20 hits to drub New York in front of  paid crowd of 35,864 at Yankee Stadium.

Nova (1-1) was raked for seven runs on 10 hits and no walks while he struck out three in 3 2/3 innings. The Orioles also scored seven runs on eight hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings off left-hander Vidal Nuno in what was Nuno’s worst outing in the major leagues.

Wei-Yin Chen (1-1) was credited with the victory although he was tagged for four runs on nine hits and no walks while he fanned three batters in five innings.

But the Orioles jumped on Nova early and often, scoring three runs in the first inning capped by a two-run home run by Adam Jones.

They added a single run in the second and chased Nova with three runs in the third highlighted by RBI singles by Young and Chris Davis.

The Orioles turned the game into a rout in the sixth when Young blasted a two-run off Nuno as part of a four-run inning, Nuno had entered the comest having yielded only five earned runs in his major-league career.

With the loss the Yankees’ season record fell to 4-4. The Orioles improved to 3-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After a spring training in which he was slowed by the flu and starting the season 0-for-17, Alfonso Soriano is finally showing what he can do with his bat. Soriano was 2-for-4 with a double and his first home run of the season, which he hit leading off the fourth inning against Chen. In the past three games, Soriano is 5-for-10 (.500).
  • Yangervis Solarte is quickly becoming the new darling of the Bronx after he went 2-for-4 with two doubles and a RBI on Tuesday. Solarte’s two doubles give him six on the season, which leads the major leagues. Solarte’s .458 average also ties him with Chase Utley of the Philadephia Phillies for the fourth best in the majors.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury is on a tear of his own over the past five games. The 30-year-old outfielder was 3-for-4 with a double on Tuesday and is 12-for-22 (.636) since April 4. Unfortunately, Ellsbury has driven in only two runs in that span because nobody is getting in scoring position ahead of him.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova’s talent is undeniable but he makes you want to tear your hair out when he pitches like he did on Tuesday. He threw 45 of his 61 pitches for strikes (74%), but the strikes he threw were nearly all belt high in the middle of the plate. The Orioles made him pay, too. In his two starts, Nova has yielded nine runs on 16 hits and five walks in in 9.1 innings. His ERA is 8.68 and the Yankees know he is better pitcher than that.
  • Nuno, 27, also is capable of pitching better. He entered the sixth inning with the Yankees trailing 7-4 and he ended up getting shelled for four runs, which turned the game into a rout. Because this is the first time Nuno has taken a pounding you have to give him a pass. He has been very effective for the Yankees and the Yankees do need a good left-hander in the bullpen.
  • Brian McCann continues to struggle at the plate. He was 0-for-4 on Tuesday with two pretty weak infield rollers of his bat. McCann is 5-for-29 (.172) with no homers and two RBIs in seven games this season. There is no need to panic but the Yankees do need him to pick it up with Mark Teixeira on the disabled list.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees recalled left-hander Cesar Cabral from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday to replace closer David Robertson, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin. Cabral, 25, pitched 9 1/3 innings of scoreless relief for the Yankees this spring but did not make the 25-man roster. Cabral pitched one-thrd of an inning on Tuesday, giving up a hit and a walk.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi opted to use backup catcher Francisco Cervelli at first base on Tuesday. It was first time Cervelli had ever played first base in the major leagues. With Teixeira on the disabled list Girardi believes Cervelli can be a serviceable backup for Kelly Johnson at first base.

ON DECK

The Yankees can still salvage the three-game series with a victory on Wednesday against the Orioles.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (1-0, 2.57 ERA) will make his Yankee Stadium debut after he won his major-league debut on Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Tanaka gave up three runs (two earned) 0n six hits and no walks while he struck out eight in seven innings.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 18.90 ERA) was shelled for a career-high seven runs on nine hits and one walk in just 3 1/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers on Friday.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast 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!

 

 

Nova Tosses Goose Eggs As Yankees Down Birds

GAME 135

YANKEES 2, ORIOLES 0

When Ivan Nova took the mound on Saturday he carried the weight of a pennant race, a proud franchise and a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 42,836 on his broad shoulders. After watching him pitch, though, it appeared as if he was toying with the Baltimore Orioles as he calmly and cooly retired them one after another.

The 26-year-old Dominican right-hander surrendered only three hits and a walk while he fanned five en route to a complete-game shutout over Baltimore to allow the Yankees to claim third place in the American League East standings.

Nova (8-4) threw only 104 pitches in recording his first major-league shutout over an Oriole team that did more flailing at Nova’s sharp curveball than a dodo bird pointlessly trying to take flight.

Nova received all the support he really required in the bottom of the first inning when Brett Gardner led off with a sharply stroked double down the right-field line off Orioles right-hander Scott Feldman (11-10). One out later, Robinson Cano laced a double of his own off the right-field wall to score Gardner.

The game remained 1-0 until Feldman left the game after seven innings, giving up just the one run on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Left-hander Troy Patton opened the eighth by throwing a 2-1 slider that Cano drove over the auxiliary scoreboard in right and about 12 rows back for his 25th home run of the season, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Nova only gave up a bloop single off the bat of Matt Wieters with no outs in the second inning, a ground-ball single to left by Manny Machado with two out in the sixth and an infield single off Nova’s glove by Nate McLouth to leadoff the ninth.

Nova opened the second by hitting Adam Jones on a 1-0 pitch and Wieters followed with his single. But Nova escaped the jam by retiring Nick Markakis on a double-play grounder and J.J. Hardy flew out with Jones on third to retire the side.

Nova also hit Chris Davis with a errant curve with one out in the fifth. But Nova retired Jones and Wieters to end that inning.

Nova also walked Hardy to lead off the eighth but he then induced Wilson Betemit to hit into a double play and ended the inning by cutting down Brian Roberts on a come-backer to the mound.

After McLouth’s single in the ninth, Nova got Machado on a routine fly to left, survived a scare when Davis flew out to the warning track in right and ended the game by getting Jones on a line drive to short.

Since returning to the rotation as full-time starter on July 5  –  ironically with a complete-game 3-2 victory at Yankee Stadium over the Orioles  –  Nova is 5-2 with a 2.09 ERA in his 10 starts during that span.

The Yankees not only have won this crucial three-game weekend series with the Orioles. They now are 72-63 and are a half-game ahead of the Orioles in third place in the division. The Orioles fell to 71-63. In addition, the Cleveland Indians lost 10-5 to the Detroit Tigers, which allowed the Yankees to move ahead of the Indians in third place in the wild-card standings, four games away from a playoff spot.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes struggling of late, Nova came through with one his best starts in of his career. Nova threw no more than 16 pitches in any inning and retired the Orioles in six frames on 12 pitches or less. Nova also allowed the vaunted Yankee bullpen to get a well-deserved day off. After falling off measurably last season and spending most of the first half of this season on the disabled list, Nova is becoming the pitcher the Yankees thought he was when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season in 2010.
  • Cano was pretty much the team’s offense again on Saturday. He was 2-for-4 with a double, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. Cano finished August by batting a sizzling .370 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. He has raised his season average to .309 and he leads the Yankees in home runs (25) and RBIs (89).
  • Gardner reached base in three of his four plate appearances and ended up 2-for-3 with a single, a double and a run scored. Gardner’s double in the first inning gave him 133 hits for the season, which is a career high. Gardner had 132 hits in both 2010 and 2011. Gardner struggled in August, hitting just .238 with a home run and nine RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There is nothing negative to this effort. Nova was sensational from his first pitch to his last, Cano provided the team just enough offense and the defense helped Nova mow down the Orioles like tall blades of grass. This was a very important victory for the Yankees. But they can’t rest on their laurels. They have to keep winning.

BOMBER BANTER

Third baseman Alex Rodriguez had to be scratched late from the starting lineup due to weakness associated from flu-like symptoms. Mark Reynolds was moved from first base to third base to replace Rodriguez and Lyle Overbay was inserted into the lineup to play first. Overbay, who entered the game hitless in his past 16 at-bats, was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles in the game. Manager Joe Girardi said he is hopeful that Rodriguez will be able to play on Sunday.  . . .  Since Aug. 16 the Yankees can boast of having the best bullpen in the major leagues. In that span, the bullpen has an ERA of 1.05 with a 3-0 record and five saves.  . . .  The Yankees are undecided about what players and how many players they will add when the rosters expand on Sunday. The only obvious choice will be the recall of rookie right-hander Preston Claiborne to bolster the bullpen.

ON DECK

The Yankees can collect a sweep of the Orioles on Sunday and put some distance between them in the division.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (10-9, 4.05 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Pettitte, 41, has won his past three starts and he is coming off the seven scoreless innings he threw against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. In the past 10 seasons, Pettitte is 16-5 with a 3.05 ERA against the Orioles.

The Orioles will counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (7-7, 3.76 ERA). Chen was shelled for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday in what Chen said was the worst start of his career. Chen is 1-3 with a 5.10 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

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

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

REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES

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

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

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

A DOMINANT KING

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

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

THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The offense has its own issues.

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

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

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

THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gold remains in the Bronx.

THE STARKS OF BOSTON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING

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

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

Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.

So why should 2013 be any different?

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

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

They may even finish last.

STARK REALITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREDICTED FINISH

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

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

 

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