Results tagged ‘ Nick Swisher ’

Tex’s Six RBIs Blow Away Chisox in Windy City

GAME 102

YANKEES 13, WHITE SOX 6

After the Yankees landed in Chicago at 4 a.m. after their long flight from Dallas most all of the players were pretty tired after a grueling four-game series in the Texas heat. But Mark Teixeira was not one of those players because he was rested on Thursday.

He definitely was wide awake playing against the White Sox on Friday at U.S. Cellular Field.

Teixeira blasted a pair of homers, including his 10th career grand slam, and drove in six runs to lead New York to a rout of Chicago and allow right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to notch his 11th victory of the season.

The Yankees jumped on rookie left-hander Carlos Rodon (4-4) for eight runs in three-plus innings and they scored five runs and sent 10 men to the plate in both the second and fourth innings to post an early 11-2 lead.

Eovaldi (11-2), who has been getting 7.09 runs of a support per start, was able to pitch into the sixth inning to earn his sixth consecutive victory over his past eight starts to lead the Yankees starters in wins.

Eovaldi yielded three runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees scored a single run in the first on a two-out double by Alex Rodriguez. Teixeira then drew a walk and Carlos Beltran followed with an RBI double.

They added five runs in the second keyed by a two-out RBI single from Rodriguez and Teixeira’s grand slam home run to center.

The White Sox drew to within four runs in the third inning on a one-out single by Adam Eaton and two-out, two-run home run by Jose Abreu, his 18th of the season.

But the Yankees chased Rodon and put the game away in the fourth starting with a leadoff double by Chris Young and Young later scored on a pair of wild pitches by Rodon with Rodriguez at the plate.

Rodriguez ended up drawing a four-pitch walk and White Sox manager Robin Ventura replaced Rodon with right-hander Matt Albers.

Teixeira then greeted the veteran right-hander by blasting a 2-2 pitch into center-field for his second home run of the evening and his 28th of the season.

With the home run Teixeira also became the Major League leader among switch-hitters who have hit home runs from both sides of the plate in a game. It was the 14th time the 35-year-old first baseman had done it to pass former teammate Nick Swisher, who was tied with Teixeira at 13.

The Yankees then reloaded the bases on Albers and Brendan Ryan stroked an RBI single and Didi Gregorius followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 11-2.

Rodon was charged with a career-high eight runs on seven hits and four walks with four strikeouts. He also threw three wild pitches in what also was the shortest outing of his career.

The Yankees added single runs in the fifth and sixth innings on RBI singles by Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury, respectively, as each member of the Yankees starting lineup collected at least one hit.

In their past two victories the Yankees have outscored their opposition 32-10 and rapped out a total of 37 hits.

The Yankees have now won a Major-League-best 17 games after the All-Star break and their overall record improved to 58-44.

They lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays by six games in the American League East. The White Sox dropped to 49-52.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It took this season to remind Yankee fans how valuable Teixeira was before injuries ruined the past two seasons of his career. Teixeira was 3-for-4 with a double, two home runs, two walks, two runs scored and six RBIs. Teixeira is now batting .269 with 28 homers (tied for third in the American League) and 73 RBIs (tied for first in the A.L.). You can’t do much better than what he has done, especially when you factor in his defense at first base (only two errors).
  • Teixeira was batting fourth between Rodriguez and Beltran. Those 3-4-5 hitters combined to go an unbelievable 8-for-10 with five walks, seven runs scored and eight RBIs. Rodriguez was 2-for-2 with three walks, four runs scored and one RBI. Beltran was 3-for-4 with a single and two doubles, a run scored and one RBI.
  • Ryan, 33, has been amazing ever since he was inserted as the starting second baseman against left-handers. On Friday, the career .234 hitter was 3-for-6 including a double and an RBI. In his past three starts, Ryan is 6-for-16 (.375) and he has driven in four runs. The hot streak will not last but Ryan’s bat is helping lengthen the Yankees’ lineup along with Headley and Gregorius.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The White Sox obviously used the the same game plan all teams use against Eovaldi by shortening their swings in order to foul off multiple pitches to drive up his pitch count. It has not worked in beating him. But it has kept him from pitching six innings in 13 of his 20 starts. It took Eovaldi 117 pitches to make it through 5 2/3 innings and the Yankees would prefer he go deeper into games.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Dustin Ackley made his debut with the Yankees on Friday after being acquired in a trade-deadline deal with the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Jose Ramirez and outfielder Ramon Flores. Ackley, 27, pinch-hit for Beltran in the seventh inning and played left-field. He ended up going 0-for-2. Ackley will fill the role that was held by Garrett Jones, who was designated for assignment on Friday. He will backup Teixeira at first base and play some outfield. He is hitting .213 with six homers and 19 RBIs. Though Ackley primarily was a second baseman early in his career, he likely will not play there much because he only played one game there in the past two seasons.  . . .  The Yankees announced on Friday that the team’s No. 1 prospect, right-hander Luis Severino, will make his Major-League debut as a starter next week in the Boston Red Sox series at Yankee Stadium. Severino, 21, is 7-0 with a 1.91 ERA in 11 starts at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. He is coming off a career-high 10-strikeout performance while pitching one-hit ball over six innings on Wednesday for the RailRiders. Severino will take the place of right-hander Michael Pineda, who was placed in the 15-day disabled list with a right forearm flexor strain. General manager Brian Cashman said that Severino could get a extended look.

ON DECK

The Yankees can clinch a series victory if they are able to defeat the White Sox in the second game of their weekend set on Saturday.

Right-hander Bryan Mitchell (0-0, 2.89 ERA) will make his second career Major-League start and his first of the season. Mitchell, 24, is replacing Pineda for this start after being called up from Scranton on Thursday. Mitchell was 5-5 with a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts for the RailRiders this season.

The White Sox will counter with left-hander John Danks (5-8, 4.87 ERA). Danks, 30, is coming a disastrous outing in which he gave up six runs on nine hits and one walk in 4 1/3 innings to the Red Sox. He is 2-3 in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by WPIX.

 

Beltran’s Health Key To Yankees’ 2015 Outfield

With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.

OUTFIELD

RIGHT-FIELD: Carlos Beltran, 37, (.233, 15 HRs, 49 RBIs, 109 games)

CENTER-FIELD: Jacoby Ellsbury, 31, (.271, 16 HRs, 70 RBIs, 39 SBs, 149 games)

LEFT-FIELD: Brett Gardner, 31, (.256, 17 HRs, 58 RBIs, 21 SBs, 148 games)

In the Yankees’ 2009 championship season they featured at outfield of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher that combined to hit 81 home runs. The 2014 edition of the Yankees only managed 48.

That tells you a lot about a team that limped to a 84-78 record and finished a distant second to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

The Yankees had envisioned a speedy and defensive outfield that also featured some power from Beltran and Ellsbury. Instead, Gardner wound up out-homering the group and doesn’t that say a lot on how bad things were last season?

Beltran was a major disappointment but it was not through any fault of his own. In late April, Beltran was suffering through a very painful bone spur in his right elbow. It was easy to see how it affected his offense, too.

On April 23, Beltran was batting .307 with five homers and 13 RBIs in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. From that point until he was placed on the disabled list on May 13, he hit .132 with no homers and two RBIs.

The Yankees can be faulted for signing the aging outfielder to a three-year contract. However, general manager Brian Cashman felt compelled to give in to Beltran’s demands for a third year after Robinson Cano left the team in a huff after the signing of Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153-million deal. The Yankees needed to find a solid No. 3 hitter and Beltran was the choice.

Beltran did return to the Yankees in June after attempting to rehab the elbow rather than have season-ending surgery. But he never was really the same hitter the rest of the season, batting .208 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs.

Beltran was basically playing with one arm and it showed. Even though he did return, he was unable to play the outfield until very late in the season because the bone spur in his elbow did not allow him to throw freely.

So Beltran decided to have surgery to remove the spur in September. He reported to training camp healthy and ready to prove himself as the player who hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs for the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.

So heading into 2015 the Yankees are counting on the switch-hitting Beltran to bat third and put up big home run and RBI numbers. As a player who has hit 373 career homers and driven in 1,376 runs while batting .281 over 16 major-league seasons, Beltran is certainly capable of doing that if . . .

Yep, there is that big if. The big if is can he remain healthy throughout the season? Beltran and the Yankees are anxious to find out.

“I trained hard, I did everything that I did in the past,” Beltran told reporters. “I want to be out there, no doubt.”

The Yankees are counting on Beltran, Mark Teixiera and Brian McCann to post numbers that will prevent the Yankees from ending up with the third-fewest runs scored in the American League as they did last season.

Much was also expected of Ellsbury after he signed that big contract to leave the Boston Red Sox.

For the most part, Ellsbury did deliver what was expected of him except when Beltran and Teixeira succumbed to injuries and Ellsbury was taken out of his comfortable leadoff spot and placed in the third spot in the batting order.

Ellsbury did not produce the runs the Yankees would have expected and his bat cooled off considerably as the season wore on. He ended up batting .155 in September and he did not even get close to the .298 average he put up in 2013 with the Red Sox.

By virtue of batting third, Ellsbury also did not get as many opportunities to steal bases, ending up with 13 less from his major-league-leading total of 52 in 2013.

The bottom line is that Ellsbury still led in the team in hits (156), doubles (27) and stolen bases while posting his best home run and RBI totals since 2011. He was, by all accounts, the Yankees’ most consistent hitter in 2014.

“Ellsbury is Ellsbury,” Cashman told reporters. “I thought he was basically right where he was when he left Boston. I thought he was terrific last year.”

There were moments last season that Gardner appeared to be on the verge of having a breakout season.

On June 20, Gardner was batting .290 with six homers, 28 RBIs and 15 SBs. For a club struggling with offense, Gardner was providing opportunities to score by getting on base.

But as the season wore on, a core muscle injury in his abdomen dragged Gardner down. He hit a terrible .218 with eight homers and 21 RBIs after the All-Star break. It ruined what looked to be what would easily be Gardner’s best in the majors.

After Gardner underwent surgery in October to correct the problem, he is reporting to camp at 100 percent.

With his return to health the Yankees would like for him to be more aggressive on the bases. After stealing 47 bases in 2010 and 49 in 2011, Gardner has regressed to just 24 steals in 2013 and 21 last season.

Manager Joe Girardi must also decide how to deploy Ellsbury and Gardner in the batting order. At this point, it appears Ellsbury will resume his leadoff role and Gardner will bat second. But Girardi likely will flip the two throughout the spring to get a feel how best to bat them.

One thing is clear, however. Both Ellsbury and Gardner give the Yankees excellent defense in the outfield. It stands to reason since they are both legitimate center-fielders.

Ellsbury won a Gold Glove with the Red Sox in 2011 and his fielding in 2014 was just as superlative. He committed only one error all season and playing the wide-open spaces of center in Yankee Stadium is not an easy assignment.

Gardner has never won a Gold Glove but he should have. Last season, Gardner committed just two errors and he was able to blend well with Ellsbury. Between the two of them it takes a lot to get a ball past them in left-center.

Beltran won three Gold Gloves with the New York Mets from 2006 through 2008. However, he will not be winning anymore of them. Knee problems have robbed Beltran of the range he used to have as a center-fielder.

He was charged with three errors in 31 starts in the outfield last season. But the good news is that right-field does not have as much ground to cover so the Yankees will only ask Beltran to catch what he can reach.

Though the Yankees realized his best days were behind him they will still miss the defensive prowess of Ichiro Suzuki in right-field. Suzuki has moved on to the Miami Marlins.

The Yankees have some depth in the outfield with a pair of players who have a lot of experience.

Garrett Jones was obtained in trade with the Marlins and is slated to have some important roles with the team this season.

Jones, 33, batted .246 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as a first baseman.

The Yankees would like the lefty-swinging Jones to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season because his swing is perfect for the short dimensions in right-field. In addition, Jones will back up Teixeira at first base and Beltran in right-field.

Jones is not a great fielder at first base (13 errors in 129 games in 2014) but he holds his own in the outfield. He does not have much range but he can make the plays. The Yankees feel they now have a serviceable backup for both Teixeira and Beltran and they are glad to have him.

The Yankees also have 31-year-old veteran Chris Young back after an impressive late-season audition with the team in 2014.

Young was cut loose by the Mets in early August and the Yankees signed him to a minor-league deal on Aug. 27. In the final month of the season, Young batted .282 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 23 games.

On that basis the Yankees elected to re-sign the veteran to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He will be the team’s fourth outfielder and as a right-handed hitter he can give Gardner or Ellsbury a rest against a tough-left-handed pitcher.

Young is a power hitter who hit 20 or more home runs in four of five seasons between 2007 and 2011, including 32 in 2007. However, Young has never batted above .257 in any of his eight major-league seasons and he enters 2015 as a career .234 hitter.

Young still has some speed. He has 130 career steals and eight in limited play last season.

The former 2010 National League All-Star also can play all three outfield spots and he is an above average defender.

The additions of Jones and Young give manager Joe Girardi some flexibility in making out lineups and they are solid insurance policies should someone land on the disabled list.

One of the biggest failings of Cashman and the scouting department has been the inability of the Yankees to develop minor-league outfielders who can contribute to the Yankees. It seems that whatever prospects have been in the system are languishing and they aren’t progressing.

Zoilo Almonte, 25, has been up and down with the Yankees the past two seasons and has a .211 batting average in 47 games to show for it. The Yankees elected to let him go as a minor-league free agent and Almonte has since signed with the Atlanta Braves.

The other prospect names are virtually the same from last season: Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores. Further behind them is Slade Heathcott.

They all will get another look this spring but they all will not make the roster unless there are some injuries.

Williams, 23, was once considered one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system but he has slid to No. 16 this season after batting a horrible .223 with five homers and 40 RBIs in 128 games at Double-A Trenton.

Williams is a gifted athlete and he is sensational defensive outfielder. But at the plate he has become more of a slap hitter and it is obvious that he not making enough contact. Williams’ hustle has also been questioned and he was arrested on a DUI in 2013.

Austin, 23, also dropped as a prospect to No. 15. But he was a bit better at Trenton. He batted .275 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games last season. But after he batted .322 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs in 2012, Austin has been dogged a persistent sprained right thumb.

The Yankees still have hope that he can he can develop. The Yankees think he can become a high-average power hitter. Austin is mainly a corner outfielder and likely would figure in as a right-fielder in the majors.

Flores, 22, is ranked as the team’s 14th best prospect after he batted a .247 with seven homers and 23 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A high-ankle sprain kept him from progressing as the Yankees would have liked.

Right now Flores is pegged as all-fields hitter who lacks power. It’s that reason why he is beginning to look like more of a fourth outfielder than a starter. Though he can play all three spots he works out best as a left-fielder because he lacks speed.

Heathcott, 24, was a former first-round pick of the Yankees in 2009 and he was not tendered a contract offer by the Yankees in December. Yet the Yankees re-signed him and invited him to camp as a non-roster player.

Though Heathcott has great talent, his all-out style of play has landed him on the minor-league disabled list many times. In 2013, it was a knee injury that required surgery.

He played only nine games at Trenton in 2014 before re-injuring the knee and missing the rest of the season. It looks like the Yankees are offering Heathcott one last make-or-break attempt because he is 24 and he has not advanced past Double-A.

One non-roster player that the Yankees can’t wait to check out is 6-foot-7, 230-pound Aaron Judge, who was a first-round selection by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

Judge, 22, has a resemblance to NBA forward Blake Griffin and because of his size he has drawn comparisons to Dave Winfield and Giancarlo Stanton. But Judge does not just look the part.

In 131 games in two Class-A stops in 2014, Judge batted .308 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. His right-hand power stroke is awesome to see. Scouts say he does not just hit balls; he crushes them.

With his long swing he is prone to fail to make contact and strike out a lot. But the Yankees see him fitting nicely into right-field because for a big man Judge can move pretty well and he is a decent outfielder defensively.

He is rated as the No. 5 prospect in the organization and the Yankees can’t wait to see what he can do this spring.

The No. 8 prospect is 22-year-old Jake Cave, who hit a combined .294 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs between Class-A Tampa and Trenton.

Cave hits consistently from the left side. Not a big power threat, he mostly is a gap hitter. Cave is a above-average outfielder and as a former pitcher he has a great arm in center-field. He has good but not great speed but scouts love his max effort.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD

The Yankees have been snakebit for the past two seasons with injuries and the one to Beltran really derailed the outfield and caused a significant drop in run production in 2014. It is easy to say that Beltran, Ellsbury and Gardner are an excellent mix of speed, power, run production and defense but they all have to stay healthy.

The fact that Beltran has not missed a lot of time in the past indicates the odds he will be able to play a full season and he should be able to provide some power (20 plus homers) and 90 or more RBIs. The Yankees will need that from him in the No. 3 spot in the order.

Ellsbury and Gardner combined for 60 stolen bases but they should steal a whole lot more this season.

The shift of Ellsbury to the third spot cut his steals to 39 and Gardner has seemed more and more reluctant to run the last two seasons. It is hard to figure out why.

But the Yankees need both of them to get on base, advance and score runs if the team is going to succeed. There is not as much power on this team as there once was and that is why Ellsbury and Gardner will have to make the engine go.

The fact the two combined to hit 33 home runs was a bonus. The Yankees would love to have a repeat of those numbers in 2015.

The Yankees are blessed to have two backup outfielders capable of hitting double-digit homers in Young and Jones.

Young can play all three positions and Jones is a corner outfielder. But Jones likely will get more work as the team’s primary DH and as the backup to Teixeira at first base.

But Jones could also end up as a starter in right-field if Beltran goes down for any length of time.

Most of the Yankees’ most advanced outfield prospects have been major disappointments. Williams, Austin, Flores and Heathcott have all been highly touted prospects but they have flamed out so far.

Of that group, only Austin appears capable of turning it around if he can overcome his injury problems.

The best news on the farm is that Judge appears to the man-mountain power threat he appears to be. The Yankees just have to hope he can keep the strikeouts in check and keep his average up. The Yankees would like to have Judge be more like Winfield rather than Dave Kingman.

He is worth watching this spring.

NEXT: STARTING PITCHERS

Keeping Tex Healthy First Priority For Yankees

With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.

FIRST BASE

Mark Teixeira, 34 (.216,22 HRs, 62 RBIs, 123 games)

There was a time not long ago that Teixeira was considered to be among the best players at his position and he was a feared hitter in the middle of Yankees’ lineup.

But the past three seasons Teixeira has had to deal with a series of injuries that have rendered him ineffective when he did play and unavailable to play for long stretches. He has played in only 138 games in the past two seasons largely because of a wrist injury he suffered in March 2013.

Teixeira was taking batting practice before an exhibition game for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic when he tore the sheath in his right wrist. Rather than surgery on the wrist, Teixeira elected to rehab it and come back to play for the Yankees in May of 2013.

However, after 15 excruciatingly painful games Teixeira had to admit he needed surgery and 2o13 ended up being a lost season after he hit just .151 with three homers and 12 RBIs.

So Teixiera entered 2014 hopeful that after the surgery in July and a chance to heal slowly that he would be back to averaging the 37 homers and 114 RBIs he put up for the Yankees from 2009 to 2012.

After a cautious spring things looked good when Teixiera displayed his old power and he was producing offense for a very weak Yankees’ lineup. There also were some hints along the way that things were still not right with the wrist.

Early in the season he suffered a calf strain that shelved him for two weeks and then there were short stretches where Teixeira had to admit to manager Joe Girardi that he could not play because wrist was sore.

Many MRIs and cortisone shots followed and Teixeira learned from doctors that the wrist surgery was successful and the soreness was normal. But it pained Teixiera that he could not suit up and play. Even more, he also could not produce the power and runs the team needed when it so badly needed it.

Teixeira was not able to generate much for the Yankees in the second half, hitting only five homers after the All-Star break. He also struggled from the right side of the plate, where he managed just four of his 22 home runs.

There also were signs of fatigue from not being able to work out over the winter as he would have liked because of the surgery. He also suffered through a ribcage injury, a left lat strain and an injury to his left pinkie finger.

The problem for Girardi and the Yankees was exacerbated by the fact that the Yankees had precious little power at all and there was no one on the roster who specifically was designated to play first base behind Teixiera in 2014.

As a result, the Yankees were forced to use eight other players when Teixeira was sidelined: Kelly Johnson (23 starts), Brian McCann (11), Chase Headley (6), Francisco Cervelli (5), Scott Sizemore (1) and Carlos Beltran, Brendan Ryan and Austin Romine were moved there during games.

None of these players had any significant experience at the position and it showed.

Teixeira has always been considered among the best fielding first basemen in baseball. He has five Gold Gloves to his credit, including three of them won with the Yankees. But even that skill left Teixeira to some degree last season.

After averaging 4.3 errors a season over 10 seasons in the major leagues, Teixiera committed six in just 116 starts in 2014.

The Yankees do have to be asking themselves if Teixeira is in a permanent decline due to advancing age or can he somehow regain his health enough to produce the 39 homers and 111 RBIs he produced in 156 games in 2011.

The other problem Teixeira has had to face is his sinking batting averages.

From his second season with the Texas Rangers in 2004 through his first season with the Yankees in 2009, Teixiera never hit below .281 while hitting all those home runs and driving in all those runs.

But since 2010 Teixeira has never batted above .256. Teixeira even understood this and tried to correct it in 2012. But he gave up when he realized that he was signed in 2009 by the Yankees to a eight-year, $180 million contract to hit a lot of home runs and drive in a lot of runs no matter where his batting average landed.

So Teixeira continues to take a pull-happy approach and utilize an uppercut swing designed to elevate the ball over the short porch in right-field. That is why he receives a pretty steady diet of breaking pitches and a lot of pitches on the outside corner that are harder for him to pull. Hence, the lower batting averages.

At this point, the Yankees open camp hoping that Teixeira is healthy and the wrist is no longer an issue. After all, both David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox and Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays were able to put up great numbers in their second season after similar wrist surgeries. The same should hold for Teixeira.

The Yankees, however, do have a fallback position for Teixeira in 2015 to make up for the grievously stupid mistake they made of not having an experienced backup in 2014.

The Yankees were able to acquire veteran first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones from the Miami Marlins in December as part of a five-player deal where the Yankees shipped infielder Martin Prado in exchange for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi.

Jones, 33, is a left-handed hitter with power who hit 15 homers and drove in 53 runs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as their starting first baseman (122 starts).

Much like Teixeira, Jones is not looking to win a batting title. He has averaged .253 in his seven major-league seasons. But he also has hit 117 home runs in that span, including a career-high of 27 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012.

So Jones gives Girardi and the Yankees some flexibility if Teixeira can’t answer the bell for a game or two this season or is simply in need of a day off. Jones’ power also means the Yankees won’t suffer as much of a dropoff without Tex.

It is first time the Yankees have had a creditable backup for Teixeira since the Yankees had outfielder Nick Swisher, who the Yankees allowed to walk as free agent after the 2012 season.

The Yankees attempted to trade for Jones in the past when he was with the Pirates but were not successful. The reason general manager Brian Cashman wanted Jones so badly is because he has a swing tailor-made for Yankee Stadium’s shorter dimensions in right field.

“Obviously, his left-handed bat is made for our ballpark,” Cashman told reporters. “You saw us go through a season last year where we didn’t have a legitimate backup first baseman. Now we do.”

Jones came to the major leagues as an outfielder and he is not considered a skilled fielder at first base. He committed 13 errors there last season. But even with the defensive shortcomings it is good to know he can play the position for significant stretches if he is needed.

Jones’ versatility also makes him a potential backup in right field for Beltran, who also went through a injury-plagued 2014 season that was derailed by a bone spur in his right elbow. Jones has started as many as 78 games in a season in the outfield in his career and Girardi would be comfortable playing him there if he is needed.

In addition, Jones is the odds-on favorite to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season. Because of Jones’ defensive shortcomings he is a natural DH because the Yankees would love to have his power bat available on a team that desperately needs it in 2015.

Behind Jones the Yankees may be doing some experimentation this spring with third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

The 39-year-old veteran might see some work at the position this spring since Headley is projected to start the season as the team’s third baseman. Though Rodriguez did move from shortstop to third base when the Yankees signed him as a free agent in 2004, he has never played a single game at first base in his career.

So it remains to be seen how A-Rod will fare at first base. But his former Rangers teammate Teixeira made the switch in 2003 and became proficient. The jury is out on Rodriguez being able to make the same switch at this advanced stage of his career.

And even should he be successful in making the switch, he will not be playing the position much with Teixeira and Jones ahead of him on the depth chart.

The Yankees also were very pleased with what they saw of McCann in the 11 games he started at first base in 2014. McCann, 31, showed good reflexes and some defensive skill at the position.

However, he would just be an emergency candidate in 2015, although we could see the Yankees eventually shift McCann to the position when Teixeira’s contract expires after the 2016 season.

The Yankees also have a potential replacement for Teixeira in their minor-league system named Greg Bird.

The 22-year-old former high school catcher for Baltimore Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman in Aurora, CO, has flourished as a hitter ever since he was moved to first base.

Bird, who bats left-handed, hit a combined .271 with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs in 102 games between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last season.

Bird takes a very patient approach to the plate and he led the minor leagues with 103 walks in 2013. The Yankees believe he has the ability to hit for both power and average at the major-league level.

Bird was the sensation of Arizona Fall League in 2014. He was named the AFL Most Valuable Player representing Scottsdale this winter. The Yankees have issued him a non-roster invite to spring training.

Realistically, Bird has no shot of making the team. But he will get his first chance to see how he measures up against some of the best in the game. He is ticketed for Double-A with a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season possible.

In any event, Bird gives the Yankees a solid young player who could be a productive first baseman at the major-league level.

Kyle Roller, 26, hit .300 with 26 home runs and 74 RBIs in 125 games between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014. His 26 home runs actually was the not only the best minor-league total, it was also the best in the entire organization.

Unlike Bird, Roller takes more of an all-or-nothing approach to the plate as his 289 strikeouts in his past two minor-league seasons would attest. Though Roller does have very good power from the left side, his path to the majors is blocked.

He also is a non-roster invitee to spring training. He likely will end up at Scranton for another season but could see a temporary call-up should the Yankees need a backup first baseman.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD

Because of Teixeira’s declining batting average and injury problems, he is no longer considered among the elite first basemen. Having said that the Yankees still do need a healthy Teixeira in 2015.

They need the more than 30 home runs and 100 RBIs he produced from 2004 to 2011. Only one other first baseman did that for a longer period of time and that was Albert Pujols.

If you throw in Teixiera’s sparkling defense and his ability to save his fellow infielders errors, you have the makings of a quality first baseman. However, Father Time seems to have caught up with Tex.

He begins the spring with a lot to prove this season. The Yankees hope he is up to the challenge. They see him as a player who will fill either the fourth or fifth spot in the batting order so they do have a lot riding on his health.

Having a quality backup like Jones available makes the Yankees feel a whole lot better have the parade of players they out there in 2014. Though his defense is nowhere near that of Teixeira’s, Jones gives the Yankees a productive power bat to deploy at first should Teixeira for some reason be unable to play.

Bird appears to be a potential star in the making if he continues to develop as he has in the minors. It gives the Yankees some hope when the Teixeira era at first base finally ends.

NEXT: SECOND BASE

 

Yankees Boast Outfield With Power, Speed Mix

For the Yankees, 2013 was pretty much a lost season and the biggest weakness on the team was in the outfield.

The projected outfield after the Yankees let right-fielder Nick Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians included Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, only Gardner had a productive season.

Granderson, 32, was struck in the right arm on a pitch from Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Jay Happ in his first at-bat of spring training and he missed the first month and a half of the season.

He returned on May 14 and played in just eight games before suffering a fractured left knuckle on May 25 after being hit by a pitch by Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos. He did not return until Aug. 2.

Granderson ended up his final season of a four-year contract with just seven home runs and 15 RBIs and a .229 batting average in 61 games. The Yankees opted not to make an offer to the outfielder and he signed with the crosstown New York Mets for 2014 season.

The Yankees, devoid of power they lost through free agency before the 2013 season, missed out on Granderson’s power that saw him slug a major-league best 84 home runs in the previous two seasons. But it is pretty safe to say that Granderson will not be hitting 40 home runs in spacious Citi Field and the Yankees will not miss the 364 strikeouts he compiled in the two seasons he hit the 84 home runs.

Granderson’s strikeout totals rose as his batting average dropped and the front office doubted his ability to play center-field by installing Gardner there in 2013.

Suzuki, 40, on the other hand, was perfectly healthy throughout the 2013 season. However, as the season wore on, Suzuki’s ability to get on base waned to the point that he ended up being benched for most of the final month of the season.

He hit a career-low .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases, which also was a career low. Although Suzuki is in the second year of a two-year contract he signed with the Yankees, his spot on the roster is now tenuous at best. The Yankees package him in a trade before spring training starts.

But it is safe to say that Suzuki’s days as a everyday player with the Yankees have come to an end.

On July 19, Suzuki was helping a team that was ravaged by injury, hitting a respectable .283. From that point on the former American League Most Valuable Player and perennial All-Star hit .198. Father Time looks have claimed what little magic was left in Suzuki’s bat.

That is a shame.

Gardner, 30, ended up coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season to have his best season in the majors. He hit .273 with eight homers and 52 RBIs and stole 24 bases for a team that finished out of the playoffs for only the second time in 18 seasons.

He also played Gold Glove-quality defense in center-field.

But, like many of his teammates, Gardner succumbed to a strained left oblique on Sept. 12 and he missed the rest of the season. Before spring training in 2014, Gardner looks to be a player without a position because of the Yankees’ decision to trade for left-fielder Alfonso Soriano in the middle of the 2013 season and the free-agent signings of center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right-fielder Carlos Beltran.

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman and team president Randy Levine made it clear at the winter meetings that the team was not looking to trade Gardner. Levine said, the team “absolutely had no intention” trading the speedy outfielder.

But because the team has also said they will not carry a permanent designated hitter, Soriano looks to be the team’s left-fielder, leaving Gardner relegated to backup status. That would not seem to make much sense. However, the Yankees have had to make a lot of shifts to the outfield this offseason.

On Jan. 10, the Yankees designated for assignment veteran outfielder Vernon Wells, who was acquired in a late 2013 spring training trade with the Los Angeles Angels to replace the injured Granderson.

Wells, 35, looked like a godsend on May 15 when had 10 home runs, 23 RBIs and was batting .301. But the league caught up to Wells’ aggressive approach at the plate and he ended up with just two home runs and 27 RBIs and hit only .145 the rest of the season.

Like Suzuki, Wells ended up being benched most of the final month of the season. His future with the Yankees was in serious doubt and the Yankees have opted to cut him loose now so that he might be able to sign with another team.

Unlike Wells, Soriano, 38, was a true revelation when he donned the pinstripes on July 26 for the first time since 2003.

Soriano was hitting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs with the Chicago Cubs when he was acquired. From that time on, Soriano hit .256 with 17 home runs and and 50 RBIs in only 58 games with the Yankees.

His impact was almost immediate for a team missing Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Soriano became the team’s cleanup hitter and he along with Robinson Cano gave the team a one-two punch the lineup had not had all season long.

On top of that, Soriano showed the Yankees he had improved as an outfielder. He committed only one error in the outfield for the Yankees and he made some pretty sparkling plays in the field for his old team. So enters 2014 as the team’s starting left-fielder.

The Yankees upgraded their outfield nicely by signing Ellsbury, 30, to a shockingly rich seven-year, $153 million contract that prompted Cano to pitch a temper tantrum and storm off to the Seattle Mariners.

Ellsbury is what the Yankees had hoped Gardner would be by this stage: A hitter who could get on base a lot and score a lot of runs by being daring and disruptive on the bases.

In 2013, Ellsbury hit .298 with nine homers and 35 RBIs while leading the American League with 52 stolen bases. Ellsbury is also an excellent defender, having won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2011 when he hit .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.

Ellsbury has compiled 241 career stolen bases and has a career success rate of 84 percent. Gardner, in contrast, has 161 bags with a 81 percent success rate. The Yankees envision both being in the lineup and wreaking havoc on the basepaths. However, in order to do that they would have to find a spot for Gardner to play.

The Yankees determined pretty early that with Swisher having left last season and Suzuki on his last days as a player they needed to upgrade right-field and they did that by signing Beltran to a three-year, $45 million contract on Dec. 19.

Beltran, 36, hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs with the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. He also is a switch-hitter with a career average of .283 and 358 home runs and 1,327 RBIs. With Cano missing from the middle of the Yankees’ lineup Beltran will provide a powerful bat to replace him in 2014.

The trio of Beltran, Soriano and Teixeira could easily combine to hit 100 home runs for the Yankees in 2014, which would address one of their biggest shortcomings last season.

Though Beltran did win three Gold Glove awards from 2006 through 2008 with the New York Mets, knee injuries have cut down his ability to play center-field with the skill he used display. However, he is no slouch in right-field and he has an above-average arm.

So the Yankees’ quintet of Gardner, Ellsbury, Soriano, Beltran and Suzuki provide a nice mix of power and speed. They also provide superb defense.

The signings of Ellsbury and Beltran and the acquisition of Soriano are an admission that is painful for Cashman and the Yankee front office that the team’s minor-league outfield prospects are not progressing at a pace they would have wanted.

The Yankees entered 2013 with a handful of promising outfield prospects. But not many have stepped up and most were disappointments last season.

The team’s No. 2 prospect Mason Williams suffered a shoulder injury that cut short his season and he ended up hitting a combined .245 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 117 games between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

The 22-year-old speedster has the ability to become a smaller version of Bernie Williams with line-drive power, speed and a very good-fielding center-fielder. But he has to shake off the injuries that sidetracked him and accelerate his development in 2014.

The team’s No. 3 prospect, Tyler Austin, is also 22 and he also suffered some injury issues in 2013. A wrist injury cut his season short and he left the Arizona Fall League when it recurred.

Austin hit a combined .257 with six home runs and 40 RBIs in 83 games with Trenton. Austin is a converted infielder who has the ability to hit for average (He hit a combined .354 in 2011.). But it does not appear he will hit for a lot of power as you might expect from an outfielder.

He has the ability to be an above average fielding right-fielder and the Yankees hope he shows some real progress as a hitter in 2014.

The No. 7 prospect, 2009 top draft pick Slade Heathcott, has been a victim of his all-out style that periodically kept him off the field up until 2013.

Now he is starting to put it all together and he hit .261 with eight homers and 49 RBIs with 15 steals in 103 games at Trenton last season. Heathcott, 23, has a line-drive bat that could develop into power and is way above-average fielder with a plus arm.

The Yankees just hope he can remain healthy enough to progress to the majors.

The No. 6 prospect actually played in the majors last season due to the injuries the team sustained. Zoilo Almonte, 24, was actually rushed to the majors despite the fact he did not spend a full season above the Double-A level.

In 68 games at Triple-A Sranton/Wilkes-Barre, Almonte hit .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs. He made his major-league debut on June 19 and he ended up hitting .236 with one home run and nine RBIs in 34 games with the Yankees.

Like most of the Yankees, he ended up on the 15-day disabled list on July 20 with a left ankle sprain. He was not activated until Sept. 9 and played sparingly the rest of the season. But the Yankees do believe he could turn into a solid run-producing outfielder.

Almonte is not a speedster and he will not win any Gold Gloves with his defense. But his bat could make him a solid starter or a real good fourth outfielder. The Yankees like the fact he is switch-hitter and they would like to see what he can do with a full season at Triple A.

His chances of making the roster are slim unless the Yankees choose to deal away Gardner or Suzuki.

Almonte’s Scranton teammate, Melky Mesa, also made his major-league debut with the Yankees last season. Mesa, batted .385 with no homers and one RBI in five games with the Yankees last season.

But Mesa, who will be 27 at the end of January, has pretty much played himself out of prospect status after hitting .261 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs with 13 steals in 84 games with Scranton. His 112 strikeouts in .314 at-bats pretty much make him a right-handed hitting version of Granderson.

His power is and speed are special but those numbers come at the cost of a lot of swinging at air. Mesa is an above-average center-fielder who can run down flies with the best of them. But his all-or-nothing approach at the plate make him less likely to have much success at the major-league level.

These are the Yankees’ cream of the crop outfielders at this stage. With Beltran signed for three years and Ellsbury signed for seven there will be lots of time for them to develop in the minors.

In the meantime, Beltran and Ellsbury have elevated the quality of the outfield and there is plenty of depth with former starters Gardner and Suzuki considered as backups for the time being.

The combination of power and speed with quality defensive play makes this the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster in 2014. It could very well be one of the best outfields they have fielded in some time.

 

Cano Inching Closer To Re-Signing With Yankees

When Robinson Cano fired combative player agent Scott Boras to become the first sports client for recording artist Jay-Z and his new agency, Yankee fans figured it was a given that a loyal Yankee fan like Jay-Z would steer his client to the Yankees without any problem.

Well, it has not quite been that way so far.

Cano, 31, and the Yankees still remain very far apart in negotiations on a new contract for the All-Star second baseman.

Representatives for Cano kind of stunned the Yankees and the baseball world as a whole by seeking a 10-year contract in excess of $300 million. Many observers claim that Cano’s agents are marketing him as a baseball version of Michael Jordan and it is hard to see the analogy.

Cano is a talented player with great appeal but his jersey and other gear is not even selling among the top 20 players in the sport. He even trails fellow second baseman Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox.

However, Yankee fans, reality and circumstances may be settling in at Camp Cano now.

Cano’s representatives, Brodie Van Wagenen and Juan Perez of CAA Baseball, met with Yankees president Randy Levine on Tuesday and Cano has reportedly lowered his contract demands. However, the two sides remain far apart. After all, the Yankees were offering seven years at $160 million.

But the fact that Cano’s people are lowering his demands shows there is some wiggle room in the talks. More talks are planned and we could see the Yankees raise their offer a bit.

The Yankees were extremely fortunate to gain an upper hand in the negotiations when two prime teams Cano could have coaxed into a bidding war for his services solved their second base problems early.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed 27-year-old Cuban star Alexander Guerrero to fill their big need at the position. That was strike one on Cano.

Then this week the Detroit Tigers dealt first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in return for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Strike two.

That has given Yankees general manager Brian Cashman just the kind of leverage he needed to lower Cano’s very lucrative demands. Now it appears common sense will prevail and the two sides can work something out because their is one very salient fact about all this: The Yankees can’t afford to lose Cano.

Cano is simply the best player the Yankees have and on the heels of a disastrous injury-marred 2013 campaign the Yankees don’t want their franchise player to leave.

The Yankees are playing it like they are cool with it. I’m sure the rumor the Yankees were talking with free agent Omar Infante had all the hallmarks of Cashman behind the scenes fanning the flames.

But even he knows that Infante is not even a blip on the radar compared to what Cano can do for a team. But, hey, if it works, it works for Cashman.

Infante, 31, hit a robust .318 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs for the Tigers last season. Cano, on the other hand, batted .314 with 27 home runs and drove in 107 runs and should have won a Gold Glove after just committing six errors last season. (Pedroia dives and flops around like a dying carp while Cano glides to everything and the voters think Pedroia is better. Geesh!)

Cano’s growth as a player has been immense. He came up as a colt in 2005 but he is now a bona fide thoroughbred.

He is a career .309 hitter with 204 home runs and 822 RBIs. He is four-time All-Star, he has won two Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards and he is simply the best second baseman in baseball today. You don’t replace that with Infante.

Last season, the Yankees lost a huge chunk of its power when players such as Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez left as free agents. Then the team lost most of its remaining power with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter rehabbing from offseason surgeries and Curtis Gramderson and Mark Teixeira sustaining injuries before the season even started.

The one constant the Yankees could count on all season long was Cano. Despite the fact teams pitched around him all season, Cano delivered.

The other hallmark of Cano’s career has also been his durability.

Since 2007, Cano has not played in less than 159 games in any season. Last season, he answered the bell for 160.

The only knock on Cano has been that label of “lazy” that dogged his early career and cost him a few more Gold Gloves because he made everything seem so dang easy. He has mostly beaten that rap in the field but it still dogs him as a base-runner.

Cano has a habit of coasting to first on grounders and he has been embarrassed by getting thrown out at second base on balls he thought were going out of the park. But all his positives far outweigh that negative. The sum of the parts adds up to the greatest second baseman in Yankees history.

And should Cano remain in pinstripes, he could certainly make a case for himself up against the likes of Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth. He and Jeter have formed the best double-play combination in Yankees history.

There is no telling what Cano will do if he remains a Yankee.

The only question remains is will he?

There is no doubt Infante remains the only viable fallback position should Cano leave.

After all, the Yankees have some players who play the position but none of them hold a match, much less a candle, to Cano.

The Yankees dealt right-hander Ben Paullus to the San Diego Padres for second baseman Dean Anna on Nov. 20. Anna, 27, was a Triple-A All-Star at Tucson in 2013 and batted .331 with nine home runs and 73 RBIs. Another big plus in his favor is that he bats left-handed.

The word on Anna is that he is solid fielder. In fact, he also played 60 games at shortstop and seven at third base. His versatility seems to make him a player worth watching this spring. But he is not likely going to be the heir apparent to Cano if he leaves. The Yankees are not fools.

Anna is going to compete for a backup infield spot, period. He will get some stiff competition from holdover Jayson Nix.

The Yankees have not given up on David Adams but they certainly were disappointed with what he produced when he was pressed into service as a third baseman in 2014.

Adams, 26, has primarily been a second baseman in the minor leagues and he will get a shot at both second and third this spring. But after hitting .193 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 43 games with the Yankees in 2013, he will be on a very short leash if he does not produce this spring.

Meanwhile, after a very strong 2012 season, 25-year-old Corban Joseph slipped mightily in 2013 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He hit .239 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 47 games. With the acquisition of Anna, Adams and Joseph are quickly dropping off the radar as prospects if they were at all.

At lower levels the Yankees have hot-hitting Jose Pirela, 24, who batted .272 in 124 games at Double-A Trenton and 21-year-old speedster Angelo Gumbs, who hit .213 in 91 games at two stops at the A level last season. Though Gumbs is pretty raw with the bat the Yankees love his potential.

But all talk surrounding second base with the Yankees begins and ends with Cano. Yankee fans would just love to hear that Cano has re-signed with the team. It is hard to imagine 2014 without him.

The signs, though, are pointing toward the Yankees retaining him. The question just remains at what price. It is looking at this point that it will be the Yankees price and Cano will just have to settle on a more realistic number.

Then he can start racking up more big numbers with his bat.

 

CC Goes Route To Lead Yanks To Sweep Of Indians

GAME 59

YANKEES 6, INDIANS 4

During a long major-league season bullpens get taxed and sometimes it is up to the team’s ace pitcher to go the distance for the good of the club. That is exactly what CC Sabathia did for the Yankees on Wednesday.

Sabathia pitched his first complete game of the season and New York benefitted from a pair of early home runs to claim a three-game sweep of Cleveland in front of a paid crowd of 42,477 at Yankee Stadium.

Sabathia (6-4), bolstered by an early 6-0 lead, shut down the Indians to pitch 4 2/3 innings of perfect baseball before he surrendered a bloop single to left by Mike Aviles.

The Yankees, meanwhile, got off to quick start against right-hander Corey Kluber (3-4) when Robinson Cano reached on a two-base fielding error by center-fielder Michael Bourn with one out in the first inning. One out later, Travis Hafner blasted a tape-measure home run deep into the second deck in right-field for his 10th home run of the season and his second in as many at-bats.

Hafner hit his ninth home run on Monday in the seventh inning off Justin Masterson of the Indians, Hafner’s former team.

The Yankees added to their lead in the second inning when Lyle Overbay reached on an infield single and, one out later, Jayson Nix advanced him to third on an opposite-field double to right.

Chris Stewart scored Overbay on a lined single to left and Brett Gardner followed with his sixth home run of the season.

But Kluber settled down and allowed the Yankees only two singles until he left after seven innings having given up six runs (four earned) on seven hits and one walk while he struck out eight.

But Sabathia was the better pitcher on this day.

The Indians did score a pair of runs in the sixth inning on back-to-back one-out singles by Drew Stubbs and Bourn and an RBI single off the bat of Jason Kipnis and an RBI groundout by Nick Swisher.

They added another two runs in the seventh inning on a two-out single by Michael Brantley and a two-run home run from Yan Gomes that brought the Indians back into the contest.

The Yankees entered the game with relievers Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera all having pitched the previous two games and they preferred not to have to use them for a third straight day.

However, Sabathia only allowed a two-out walk to Swisher in the eighth and he retired the the Indians in order in the ninth to preserve the victory for the Yankees.

The veteran left-hander gave up four runs on seven hits and one walk while he fanned nine batters for his second consecutive victory in as many starts after not winning any of his previous five outings.

The series sweep gives the Yankees a 6-1 record in their season series with the Indians and they also salvaged a 4-4 homestand.

The victory also improves the Yankees’ season record to 34-25. Combined with losses by both the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees broke their second-place tie with the O’s and are only 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Bosox in the American League East. The Indians dropped to 30-29.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVE

  • Sabathia pitched a whole lot better than the four runs he ended up yielding might indicate. He struck out five of the first 12 batters he faced and he did not allow a ball out of the infield until Swisher flew out to center to end the fourth inning. The hardest hit ball of the game was Gomes’ homer in the seventh. Sabathia is now 117-5 in his career with 6 or more runs of support.
  • Hafner had only four hits against the Indians in the five games he played against his former team, however, three of them were home runs. His round-tripper in the first inning took such high flight they could served a meal before it landed. Hafner’s two home runs in the series followed a homer drought of 10 games. His eighth home run came on May 20 against the Orioles at Camden Yards.
  • Gardner’s home run in the second inning was his sixth of the season, which is one away from his career high of seven in 2011, even though the Yankees are just a little over having played just one-third of the season. The home run also had nothing to do with the short porch in right. Gardner really tagged it and it would have been a home run anywhere.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Manager Joe Girardi is going to have to make a decision on what to do about the slumping Vernon Wells. The 34-year-old outfielder was 0-for-4 in the game and was 0-for-8 in the series. In the past 10 games, Wells is 3-for-34 (.088) and he is hurting the offense. Why Girardi did not elect to start Ichiro Suzuki in left against the right-handed Kluber is just beyond me.
  • Cano is also in the midst of a slump. He was 0-for-3 in the game and 1-for-12 in the series. He also is 2-for-20 (.100) since May 31. Cano’s batting average has dipped to a season low of .279 and it looks like some pitchers the Yankees will be facing in the coming few weeks may be paying a big price for it.

BOMBER BANTER

Suzuki entered the game as a defensive replacement for Overbay in the seventh inning and he singled to lead off the eighth inning. That single gave him 2,655 career hits and allowed him to pass Ted Williams for 72nd place on the all-time hits list. Suzuki also has 1.278 hits from his career in Japan, which means he is just 67 hits away from a combined total of 4,000 hits.

ON DECK

The Yankees will embark on their longest road trip of the year beginning with a four-game weekend series in Seattle against the Mariners.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (2-4, 5.37 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes is coming off an outing in which he gave up five earned runs on seven hits and two walks in just 4 1/3 innings against the Red Sox on Sunday. He is 4-3 with a 4.29 ERA in his career against the Mariners.

The Mariners will counter with veteran right-hander Aaron Harang (2-5, 5.82 ERA). Harang has allowed only one run in his past 15 innings covering two starts. Harang has never faced the Yankees in his career.

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

 

Tex Guns Down Tribe With Another Big Home Run

GAME 58

YANKEES 4, INDIANS 3

Yankee fans were very worried that when Mark Teixeira returned to the lineup on May 31 that he would get off to the same slow starts he always did in April. Well, after hitting a grand slam home run on Monday, Teixeira added a three-run shot on Tuesday.

So much for that slow-start theory.

Teixeira connected on a 3-1 change-up off left-hander Scott Kazmir with one out in the third inning to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead and David Phelps pitched six innings of one-hit shutout baseball to lead New York to another victory over Cleveland in front of a paid crowd crowd of 36,208 at Yankee Stadium.

Teixeira’s second home run in as many nights followed a leadoff double by Lyle Overbay, an RBI single by Ichiro Suzuki and a single by Jayson Nix off Kazmir (3-3). Teixeira laced a line-drive just inside the foul pole in left to give him two home runs and seven RBIs against the Indians in the first two games of the series.

Meanwhile, Phelps (4-3) redeemed himself for his previous start against the New York Mets on May 30 in which he was tagged for five runs (four earned) on four hits and two walks in only one-third of an inning in what was easily the worst effort of his major-league career.

Phelps only allowed a hustle infield single to Drew Stubbs with one out in the third inning. Phelps walked four and struck out seven in an 102-pitch outing before giving way to right-hander Joba Chamberlain in the seventh.

The Indians were able to rally against Chamberlain, who issued a leadoff walk to Carlos Santana before he retired the next two batters. Mike Aviles then stroked a single to center and Stubbs clubbed a home run to right that just cleared the wall into the bleachers.

Left-hander Boone Logan then came on to strike out Michael Bourn swinging to end the inning.

The Indians did manage to put the first two batters on in the eighth against right-hander David Robertson. Jason Kipnis drew a leadoff walk and Michael Brantley dumped an opposite-field single to left.

But Robertson induced former Yankee Nick Swisher to line into a double play and Santana grounded out weakly to end the Indians’ threat.

Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth, striking out the first two batters, to record his 21st save in 22 opportunities this season.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 33-25 and they remain tied with the Baltimore Orioles for second place in the American League East, 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Indians fell to 30-28.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After going 1-for-9 in his first three games back from the disabled list, Teixeira is 3-for-6 with a walk and two home runs and seven RBIs in his two games against the Indians. The Yankees were hoping that Teixeira’s return would add a legitimate power threat to the middle of the order and he has done just that. Teixeira also has hit homers on both sides of the plate. His grand slam on Monday came while he was batting left-handed. His three-run shot on Tuesday came batting right-handed.
  • Phelps may have walked too many batters and he got mired in some deep counts that forced him to leave after six innings. But he was absolutely determined not to give an inch to the Indians’ batters. Phelps was a hard-luck 1-0 loser to right-hander Justin Masterson and the Indians on May 13. If you discount his awful outing against the Mets on May 30, Phelps is 4-2 with a 2.77 ERA in his other six starts this season.
  • Suzuki, who batted leadoff and started in center-field in place of Brett Gardner, extended his hitting streak in the past games in which he has started to 10 with a 1-for-3 night. Suzuki has had at least one hit in each of 10 starts since May 25 and is 13-for-35 (.371) in that span. That has raised his season average from .238 on May 25 to .262.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Though the return of Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis on May 31 should be helping Robinson Cano. It pretty much has had the opposite effect. Cano was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he hit into an inning-ending double play in the eighth inning with the bases loaded. In the past five games with Teixeira and Youkilis available to play, Cano is 2-for-17 (.118) without either an extra-base hit or an RBI.
  • Vernon Wells has been pretty much useless to the Yankees dating all the way back to May 15. He was 0-for-4 on Tuesday with a strikeout and he is 7-for-61 (.115) with no home runs, 1 RBI and 12 strikeouts since May 15. Wells, 34, is not getting the high fastballs he was smashing earlier in the season and he is being fooled by breaking pitches out of the strike zone.
  • Chamberlain was roughed up for the first time since he came off the disabled list on May 28. It was a bit curious why manager Joe Girardi had rookie Preston Claiborne warming in the sixth but elected to use Chamberlain for a second consecutive night instead to start the seventh inning. Claiborne deserves to be used in the seventh and it would allow Chamberlain to get some rest between outings.

BOMBER BANTER

Many of the Indians were angry over the balls and strikes calls of home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo throughout the game and it culminated with the ejection of Aviles after he made the final out against Rivera. Aviles was angered by a strike-one call that he thought was low. After he flew out he followed Randazzo toward the third-base dugout and was ejected. Indians manager Terry Francona also had some harsh words for Randazzo but was not ejected.  . . .  Chris Stewart returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with dizziness. Stewart was 1-for-1 with a walk and he also threw out Brantley at second base as part of a “strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out” double play in the fourth inning. Stewart has nailed seven of 14 potential base-stealers this season. Of course, Stewart did pull a base-running blunder in the third inning when he rounded second base too far and got thrown out in a rundown.  . . .  Suzuki’s RBI single in the third inning was the 2,654th hit of his major-league career, which ties with him Ted Williams for 72nd place on the all-time hits list.  . . .  Eduardo Nunez sustained another setback in his bid to return from a left oblique strain, which landed him of the 15-day disabled list on May 12. Nunez was unable to swing a bat without experiencing pain and his return will be delayed further.

ON DECK

The Yankees will go for a sweep of their three-game home series against Cleveland on Wednesday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (5-4, 3.71 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia is coming off what was his best start of the season on Friday, a one-run, 10-strikeout performance over 7 1/3 innings against the Red Sox. Sabathia is 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA against his former team.

Sabathia will be opposed by right-hander Corey Kluber (3-3, 4.36 ERA). Kluber struck out three and walked one but had his outing against the Tampa Bay Rays cut to just two innings because of rain. He has no record and 1.80 ERA 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.

 

Pettitte, Backed By 3 Homers, Clips Jays’ Wings

GAME 15

YANKEES 9, BLUE JAYS 4

A lot of the experts predicted the Toronto Blue Jays would win the American League East in 2013 and that the injury-riddled New York Yankees would finish in last place. I wonder after watching Friday’s game at Roger’s Centre if those so-called “experts” feel the same way.

Andy Pettitte showed no signs of any problems with his back in pitching into the eighth inning and the Yankees teed off on the Blue Jays for three home runs  –  two of them by former Blue Jays  –  as New York pounded Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 40,028.

Pettitte (3-0) gave up three runs on six hits and one walk while he struck out five in 7 1/3 innings to notch his 23rd career victory against the Blue Jays. The 40-year-old left-hander had not pitched in 10 days because his spot in the rotation was skipped due to back spasms.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to build Pettitte a huge lead early against right-hander Brandon Morrow (0-2).

The Yankees scored two runs in the opening frame on Travis Hafner’s RBI double and a RBI groundout off the bat of former Blue Jays Vernon Wells.

They added three more runs in the third inning on Hafner’s fifth home run of the season and a two-base throwing on Toronto center-fielder Colby Rasmus that allowed two unearned runs to score.

The Yankees finally chased Morrow in the sixth when former Blue Jay Lyle Overbay led off with a solo home run and Francisco Cervelli slapped an opposite-field ground-rule double.

Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Morrow with left-hander Brett Cecil and Brett Gardner greeted him with an RBI triple. Robinson Cano then scored Gardner and on an RBI groundout to make the score 8-1.

Wells, who was booed heavily by Blue Jays fans each time he was introduced, closed out the scoring for the Yankees by slapping a line-drive home run to left off Cecil in the seventh.

Morrow gave up seven runs (five earned) on nine hits and one walk and he struck out four in 5 1/3 innings of work.

With the victory, the Yankees improved to 9-6. The Blue Jays fell to 7-10.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hafner’s early-season hot streak continued on Friday. He was 2-for-5 with a double, a home run,  a run scored and two RBIs. He now leads in the team in hitting with a .349 average. He also is tied for the team lead in home runs with Cano with five and second to Cano in RBIs with 10. 
  • Wells and Overbay came back to the Rogers Centre with a vengeance. They were a combined 3-for-10 with a single, two home runs and three RBIs. Both were booed heavily throughout the game by the fans that used to cheer them. But they both also got a measure of revenge of against the team for which they used to toil.
  • Pettitte did give up a leadoff triple to Rajai Davis that led to an RBI groundout by Melky Cabrera in the inning. He also gave up a two-run home run to Jose Bautista in the seventh following a Cabrera single. But the rest of night he was in command. He threw only 90 pitches on the night and 61 of them were strikes (68 percent). He also lowered his season ERA to 2.01.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Kevin Youkilis was 0-for-4 and he is in a bit of batting slump over his past six games. He is 3-for-25 (.120) with no home runs or RBIs. That has lowered his season average from .424 to .293.
  • Eduardo Nunez is also in a bit of a batting funk. He was 0-for-4 and his season average is at .206. Nunez got the news on Thursday that he will have a chance to start at shortstop until Derek Jeter returns after the All-Star break but he might lose the role to Jayson Nix if he does not produce.
  • Shawn Kelley came in to pitch the final 1 2/3 innings and he could not resist giving up a solo home run to J. P. Arencibia with two outs in the ninth. Kelley has been tagged for four home runs in just seven innings over five appearances this season. His season ERA is 9.00.

BOMBER BANTER

For those baseball experts who thought the Yankees would be in big trouble without Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson on the disabled list and with free agents like Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez elsewhere here is a statistic for you to chew on. The Yankees lead the American League with 25 homers.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend three-game series in Toronto on Saturday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 2.87 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda is coming off a complete-game shutout against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. He gave up five hits, walked none and fanned five. Kuroda, 38, is 2-1 with a 4.67 ERA lifetime against the Jays.

The Jays will counter with left-hander Mark Buehrle (1-0, 7.31 ERA). Buehrle shut down his former Chicago White Sox teammates on just two runs for his first victory of the season. He is 1-8 with a 6.38 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Hafner’s Four RBIs Ruin Ex-Indian Mates’ Opener

GAME 7

YANKEES 11, INDIANS 6

For 10 seasons Travis Hafner played for the Cleveland Indians and  –  when he was healthy  –  he drew loud cheers with his prodigious power and consistent run production. But the Indians elected to cast him aside last winter and the New York Yankees decided to give him a chance to recapture some of his old magic at age 35.

On Monday, Hafner returned to where he still makes his home and he had a big hand in spoiling the Indians’ home opener.

Hafner went 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBIs and an ice-cold Robinson Cano rediscovered his stroke for a double and pair of solo home runs as New York laid a heavy war club all over Cleveland in front of a sellout crowd of 41,567 at Progressive Field.

During the pregame introduction of the players Hafner, nicknamed “Pronk,” drew a nice ovation from his former home fans. But those cheers quickly turned into stunned silence with one out in the first inning when Hafner launched a 2-0 fastball off starter Ubaldo Jimenez (1-1) over 400 feet clearing the wall in centerfield for a three-run home run.

Hiroki Kuroda (1-1), making his second start and admittedly not 100 percent after getting nicked on his right middle finger by a line drive off the bat of Shane Victorino of the Boston Red Sox last Wednesday, struggled through a 33-pitch first inning that yielded three runs to the Tribe on three hits and two walks to knot the game back up.

But Hafner provided the Yankees with a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the day in the third. Cano slapped an opposite-field double to lead off the inning and one out later Hafner delivered an RBI single to center to score Cano.

Kuroda, though not at his best, was still able to settle in to keep the Indians scoreless until he left the game in the sixth inning. Kuroda ended up surrendering just the three runs on five hits and four walks while he struck out six batters.

The Yankee offense, meanwhile, was able to continue to tack on runs against Jimenez.

Cano, who entered the game hitting .130, led off the fifth inning with a home run to left-center. One out later, Hafner drew a walk and Jimenez was removed from the game in favor of right-hander Matt Albers.

After Vernon Wells singled to right and Hafner was able to thunder into third, Ichiro Suzuki scored him with a bloop single to right.

Jimenez was charged with seven runs on seven hits and three walks and he fanned four in 4 1/3 innings.

With two out an inning later, Cano blasted the first offering he saw from Albers into the right-field seats for his second home of the game and the his second of the season. The rout was pretty much on after that.

The Yankees added three more runs in the seventh off veteran left-hander Rich Hill to increase the margin to 11-3. The team that supposedly was so decimated with injuries to their best hitters ended the game with 13 hits and the Yankees have scored 18 runs on 26 hits in their past two games.

With the victory the Yankees improved their early-season record to 3-4. The Indians fell to the same record.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hafner entered the game hitting .350 and he ended up 2-for-3 with two walks, three runs scored and four RBIs. Hafner is now batting .391 for the Yankees with two home runs and six RBIs. For those Yankees fans who believed that the Yankees were dead offensively without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson may want to  rethink that position.
  • Cano busted out of his six-game funk in a big way. He was 3-for-4 with a double, two home runs, four runs scored and two RBIs. The good news for Yankee fans is that Cano started hitting the ball the opposite way instead of trying to pull everything and making easy outs.
  • Wells, 34, is another reclamation project that is paying big dividends for the Yankees. Wells entered the game hitting .294 and went 3-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and a stolen base. Wells is now hitting .381 with two home runs and four RBIs. All of Wells three hits on Monday were hit to the opposite field. In 2012 Wells posted the worst statistical average of any player hitting to the opposite field.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Granted, Kuroda was not sharp as his four walks would indicate. But you have to give the 38-year-old right-hander some credit for pushing through a difficult start with command issues as a result of his bruised middle finger on his pitching hand. After the first inning, Kuroda only gave up two hits until he was removed with one out in the sixth inning.
  • Shawn Kelley is trying manager Joe Girardi’s patience. He entered the game with two out in the seventh inning and held a 11-3 lead when he started the eighth. He ended up giving up a double, a two-run home run to Mike Aviles and a triple and allowed a third run to score on a wild pitch. In 5 1/3 innings of work over four appearances, Kelley has coughed up six runs on seven hits and three walks. He also has been tagged for three homers.
  • Joba Chamberlain is also walking a fine line. He entered the ninth inning sporting a 21.60 ERA and ended up walking two batters and needing 29 pitches to get out of the ninth unscored upon. However, Girardi had Mariano Rivera get up to warm up in the bullpen and Girardi was not pleased.

BOMBER BANTER

After missing two starts at shortstop, Eduardo Nunez returned to the starting lineup and he was 0-for-4 but he did drive in a run in the seventh with a sacrifice fly. Nunez has been sidelined with a bruised right biceps after he was struck by a pitch by Tigers right-hander Doug Fister on Friday.  . . .  While the Indians and their fans saw Hafner wearing Nick Swisher’s old No. 33 for the Yankees on Monday, Swisher was wearing No. 33 for the Indians in his first meeting against the Yankee team he played for the past four seasons. Swisher played first base and batted fourth for the Tribe and he was 1-for-3 with two walks and a run scored.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their midweek four-game series with the Indians on Tuesday.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (1-0, 1.13 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Pettitte was in vintage form in his first start of the season, limiting the Red Sox to one run on eight hits over eight innings last Thursday. Pettitte is 5-4 with a 3.87 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Indians.

He will be opposed by right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who is making his first start of the season replacing injured left-hander Scott Kazmir. Carrasco is 10-15 with a 4.93 ERA in 33 career major-league starts. He is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 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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