Results tagged ‘ R.A. Dickey ’

Bosox Edge Yankees In Marathon 19-Inning Game

GAME 4

RED SOX 6, YANKEES 5 (19 INNINGS)

Anytime the Red Sox and Yankees play each other you can count on seeing something you never saw before and Friday’s marathon that lasted into the wee hours of Saturday morning was no different.

It took 19 innings and six hours and 49 minutes to play  –  not including a 16-minute delay in the bottom of the 12th inning to repair a power outage in some banks of lights  –  but Mookie Betts stroked a sacrifice fly in the top of the 19th inning to score Xander Bogaerts with the game-winner as Boston outlasted New York in the longest game played at the new Yankee Stadium.

The game was the longest played measured by time in Red Sox history and the second longest in Yankees history. The Yankees played 22 innings in exactly seven hours on June 24, 1962 against the Detroit Tigers.

The game lasted so long that Mark Teixiera turned from age 34 to 35 during the contest.

The Yankees did lose the game, however, they also were able to extend it in the ninth inning, the 16th inning and the 18th inning by answering Red Sox tallies with scores of their own.

Down to their final out in the ninth, Chase Headley homered off closer Edward Mujica to tie the game at 3-3.

After David Ortiz had homered off Rogers in the 16th inning, Teixeira answered in the bottom of the frame with a home run off right-hander Steven Wright.

The Red Sox then took a 5-4 lead in the 18th inning on an RBI single by Pablo Sandoval to score Dustin Pedroia. But the Yankees answered when Carlos Beltran doubled to score pinch-runner John Ryan Murphy.

Wright (1-0), who was scheduled to be optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket today, yielded two runs on six hits and three walks with one strikeout in five innings to get credit for the victory.

Rogers (0-1) gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk with four strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings and was the losing pitcher.

The Yankees’ record is now 1-3. The Red Sox are 3-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankee bullpen was superb from the time starter Nathan Eovaldi, making his Yankees debut, left the game with one out in the sixth inning. Chris Martin, Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve combined to shut the Red Sox for nine innings on four hits and six walks with 11 strikeouts. The newly acquired Shreve pitched an exceptional 3 1/3 innings of shutout baseball. This bullpen looks to be just as strong although David Robertson and Shawn Kelley have departed and Adam Warren has moved into a starting role.
  • Headley is proving to be a master of the big moment in his burgeoning Yankee career. His home run in the ninth off Mujica came on a 2-1 pitch that he drilled into the second deck in straightaway right-field. It was the first of the season for him. The downside, however, is that Headley was 1-for-7 in the game and he stranded a team-leading seven runners.
  • Teixeira’s home run was his second of the season. The oddity is that they both came off knuckleball right-handers (R.A. Dickey and Wright) and they both came while Teixeira was batting right-handed despite the fact he is a switch-hitter. Teixeira obviously has discovered the key to hitting the knuckleball for him is batting right-handed.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There were some ugly things in this game. The must obvious was Brett Gardner both getting picked off and caught stealing and Headley getting picked off first also. The Yankees are struggling offensively and they can’t just lose runners on mistakes. Base-running has been a big problem in the early going. However, I give the Yankees a lot of credit for coming back on the Red Sox three times and pushing the game further.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play the Red Sox again on Saturday.

Warren, 27, will make his only his fourth career start and his first since 2013 for the Yankees. Warren is filling in for injured left-hander Chris Capuano is the team’s fifth starter and was 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in first starts this spring.

The Red Sox will counter with right-hander Joe Kelly, who will be activated for the game after missing time in the spring with a biceps injury. Kelley was 1-0 with a 11.05 ERA in three spring starts.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast by nationally FOX Sports 1.

 

Yanks’ ‘Small-Ball’ Rally In 8th Leaves Jays Blue

GAME 2

YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 3

Some rallies are loud and thunderous. Others are executed with a little pluck and a lot of luck.

On Wednesday night, the Yankees came from behind using the latter method.

Down 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees sent nine men to the plate and scored three runs thanks to a wind-blown double, two hit batters, a wild pitch, an intentional walk and a single that hit off a pitcher’s glove and rolled into left-field.

Chase Headley’s single off left-hander Brett Cecil’s glove scored Brett Gardner with what proved to be the winning run as New York pulled off late-inning comeback to down Toronto in front of a chilly crowd of 31,020 at Yankee Stadium.

Dellin Betances (1-0) got credit for the victory despite struggling mightily with his command in the eighth inning. Andrew Miller pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first save with the Yankees and only the second of his career.

The Yankees opened the eighth against left-hander Aaron Loup (0-1) with a pinch-hit double off the bat of Chris Young that just eluded second baseman Devon Travis 25 feet behind first base. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a lined single to center that advanced Young to third.

Loup then hit Gardner on the right forearm to load the bases. Manager John Gibbons replaced Loup with Cecil and, with Carlos Beltran batting, the Blue Jays closer uncorked a wild pitch that scored Young.

After Cecil fanned Beltran, Gibbons elected to walk Mark Teixeira to reload the bases but it backfired when Cecil hit Brian McCann with a pitch to bring in the tying run. Headley then followed with his game-winning single.

The Yankees actually squandered what was an excellent outing from right-hander Michael Pineda, who limited the Blue Jays to two runs on six hits and one walk and struck out six in six innings of work.

The Blue Jays used a lot of luck of their own to score their two runs, using an infield roller by Kevin Pillar, a double by Justin Smoak and another infield single off the bat of Travis to score their first run in the third inning.

They added another run on a one-out single by Travis, a infield bouncer by Jose Reyes followed with a throwing error by Stephen Drew that allowed Travis to reach third before Russell Martin hit a sacrifice fly to score Travis.

The Yankees cut the lead in half in the sixth when Ellsbury singled, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on Beltran’s sacrifice fly.

But Betances struggled with one out in the sixth by walking Jose Bautista, allowing a single by Edwin Encarnacion and a walk to Josh Donaldson.

However, Bautista actually scored to make 3-1 when McCann threw wildly to first base in an attempt to pick off Donaldson.

The implosion of the Blue Jays’ bullpen spoiled a solid effort from knuckeball right-hander R.A. Dickey, who limited the Yankees to one run on four hits and three walks and struck out four in 6 1/3 innings.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury reached base in all four of his plate appearances with two walks and two singles and he scored two runs. In addition, he stole a base. His only negative was he allowed himself to get picked off first base by Dickey in the first inning. But replays showed Dickey actually got away with a balk by moving his left knee.
  • Based on what I saw on Wednesday, I am not sure that Betances will be able to wrest the closer’s role away from Miller. The 6-for-7 left-hander overpowered pinch-hitter Danny Valencia, breaking his bat on an infield roller, struck out Travis and retired Reyes on a grounder. As long as Betances struggles, Miller should be the main man.
  • The Yankees were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position until Headley’s game-winning single in the ninth. Give Headley credit because he put the ball in play and Cecil could not field it cleanly. Headley was 2-for-4 in the game after going 0-for-4 in the opener on Monday.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Granted, it was a cold and windy evening that made both teams have to resort to “small ball.” But the Yankees offense again looked sluggish against Dickey. They managed just four hits off him. Of their three hits in the eighth, only Ellsbury’s single was hit hard. I think Yankee fans are just going to have to resign themselves to the fact this Yankee team is going to have trouble scoring runs.
  • Betances not only is dealing with less velocity. He also is dealing with some messed up mechanics. He was missing his spots badly and the Blue Jays were able to make him throw 32 pitches in the inning. Fortunately, Betances got out of the mess by inducing both Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar to hit weak comebackers to the mound.
  • In a close game, errors can kill you. The errors by Drew and McCann both were costly because the Blue Jays scored a pair of runs off them. Defense was supposed to be a strength of this team. They need to tighten it up.

BOMBER BANTER

Catcher Austin Romine cleared waivers and the Yankees outrighted him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Romine, 26, lost a spring training battle to unseat John Ryan Murphy, 23, as the backup to McCann. Romine has batted .204 in 76 games with the Yankees. Murphy has a .252 average in 48 games. Romine is the son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine and the brother of Andrew Romine, who is an infielder with the Detroit Tigers.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play the rubber game of their three-game home series with the Blue Jays on Thursday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia, 34, will start for the Yankees for the first time since May 10 of last season. Sabathia missed the rest of the season and underwent surgery on his right knee. He was 0-3 with a 8.10 ERA in spring training but showed that his velocity has returned.

The Blue Jays will counter with left-hander Daniel Norris, who will be making only his second major-league start. The rookie was 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA in seven spring starts.

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

Blue Jays Smack Tanaka To Spoil Yanks’ Opener

GAME 1

BLUE JAYS 6, YANKEES 1

Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run home run and Russell Martin added a two-run single as part of a five-run third inning off right-hander Masahiro Tanaka as Toronto defeated New York on Opening Day on Monday at Yankee Stadium.

Right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-0) held the Yankees to just one run  –  a solo home run by Brett Gardner  –  on three hits and two walks while he struck out three batters in six innings.

Tanaka (0-1) sailed through the first two innings, yielding only one hit and striking out three. But he ran into trouble in the third inning when Kevin Pillar opened the inning with a single and rookie Devon Travis drew a walk.

Jose Reyes then laid down a sacrifice bunt between the mound and third base. Tanaka moved into the path of third baseman Chase Headley and Headley ended up throwing wide of first base for an error that allowed Pillar to score, Travis to reach third and Reyes to second.

Martin followed with a single to right that scored Pillar and Reyes, One batter later, Encarnacion blasted a 2-1 fastball into the left-field bleachers to make it a 5-0 margin.

Tanaka was charged with five runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts in 82 pitches covering for innings.

The Blue Jays added their final tally to begin the seventh inning when Travis belted his first major-league home run to left-field off left-hander Chasen Shreve.

The Yankees were limited to just three hits and three walks in losing their fourth consecutive home opener.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Gardner has always hit the Blue Jays well and on Monday it was no different. Last season, Gardner hit two of his 17 home runs off Hutchison so it was no surprise when he connected off the 24-year-old right-hander for blast into the right-field seats. Gardner ended up 1-for-4 but he hit the ball well three times.
  • Rookie reliever Chris Martin could not have made a better debut with the Yankees than he did in the fifth inning. The 6-foot-8 right-hander faced three hitters who combined last season to hit 98 homers in Jose Bautista, Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. He fanned all three and looked impressive doing it.
  • Alex Rodriguez drew loud cheers from the sellout crowd of 48,469 as he was introduced and he ended getting more cheers as he drew a walk and singled in the game. The 39-year-old designated hitter lined out to right-field in his last at-bat to finish his day 1-for-2.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Tanaka, 26, revamped his pitching style to put less stress on his elbow but it backfired on him on Monday. Tanaka shelved his 94-mile-per-hour fastball in order to use his lower velocity two-seam fastball. That was the pitch Encarnacion hit out. The Blue Jays basically stopped swinging at pitches diving out the strike zone and Tanaka was forced to serve up batting practice fastballs to them. He is going to have to rethink his strategy next time out.
  • I bemoaned the lack of offense all spring and it reared its ugly head again on Monday. The Yankees made Hutchison look much better than he really is. They hammered him pretty good in his six starts last season. But on Monday they allowed him to use stuff that tops out at around 92 mph to make them look bad. Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira combined to go 0-for-6 in the heart of the order.
  • Headley committed a costly throwing error that began Tanaka’s demise but it really was not all his fault. Tanaka sprinted after the ball and ran right into Headley’s path just as he was fielding the bunt. If Tanaka had let it go I do not think Headley would have made the error.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi did not even try to hide his displeasure with Didi Gregorius’ decision to try to steal third base with two out in the eighth inning. Gregorius reached after being hit in the right elbow by a pitch from reliever Aaron Loup. He moved to second when Beltran drew a two-out walk. Then with Teixeira at the plate and the Yankees trailing 6-1, Gregorius dashed for third with third baseman Donaldson shifted over. But Martin was able to gun down Gregorius easily on the first pitch from reliever Miguel Castro. “You know, I’m just going to chalk it up as someone trying to do too much, and in a game like this you’re looking for a three-run homer there,” Girardi told reporters. “Your run doesn’t mean a whole lot.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off to wash the bitter taste of defeat out of their mouths before resuming their series with the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

The Yankees will send to the mound right-hander Michael Pineda, who was the team’s most impressive starter this spring. Pineda was 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and just one walk in 19 innings.

The struggling Yankee offense will face right-handed knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey. Dickey, 40, was 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three spring starts.

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

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

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

NEW YORK YANKEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOSTON RED SOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAMPA BAY RAYS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

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

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

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

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

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

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

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

So there is a lot to like.

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

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

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

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

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

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

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

Yankees Knuckle Under To Dickey, Jays’ Bullpen

GAME 5

BLUE JAYS 4, YANKEES 0

The Yankees have been around enough to know that facing a knuckleball pitcher is always a 50-50 proposition. When the knuckleball is not working the game is easy. When it is working you can probably figure on losing.

R.A. Dickey held the Yankees scoreless for 6 2/3 innings and the three relievers who followed him completed the shutout as Toronto downed New York on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 45,446 at Rogers Centre.

Dickey (1-1) was shelled for six runs by the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day on Monday but he rebounded to yield only five hits and one walk while he struck out six to get credit for the victory on Saturday.

His mound opponent, Michael Pineda, was making his first major-league start since the end of the 2011 season and he deserved a better fate.

Pineda (0-1) held the Blue Jays to just one run on five hits, he did not walk a batter and he fanned five in six innings. He ended up on the short end because the Yankees could not solve Dickey or his knuckleball.

The Blue Jays lone run off Pineda came in the second inning when Adam Lind led off with a double and one batter later Josh Thole blooped a single into left to score Lind.

That run held up until the Blue Jays decided to play “Home Run Derby” in the eighth inning off reliever David Phelps. Melky Cabrera cranked a one-out solo shot, his second in two nights against his former teammates.

After Colby Rasmus stroked a ground-rule double, Jose Bautista blasted his third home run of the season to cap the scoring.

Sergio Santos pitched the final 1 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays to earn his second save.

The loss dropped the Yankees’ season record to 2-3. The Blue Jays evened their record at 3-3.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After Pineda missed two full major-league seasons recovering from shoulder surgery the Yankees have to be extremely pleased with what the 25-year-old right-hander did on Saturday. His fastball reached as high as 95 miles-per-hour. Even more important was that Pineda did not issue a walk. If Pineda is the team’s No. 5 starter they have the makings of one of the best No. 5 starters in baseball.
  • Yangervis Solarte continues to be impressive with the bat. The 26-year-old rookie was 2-for-3 with two singles and he is 7-for-13 (.538) on the young season. I was honestly stunned the Yankees would designate for assignment Eduardo Nunez to make room on the roster for Solarte. But now that they have made the move it looks like they made the right choice. The youngster is something special.
  • Francisco Cervelli started behind the plate while Brian McCann was the designated hitter and Cervelli was 2-for-3 with a double and he threw out a runner on the bases. Jacoby Ellsbury, who was 3-for-4 on Friday, was 3-for-5 on Saturday. Cervelli, Ellsbury and Solarte combined to collect all seven of the Yankees’ hits.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The middle of the order had a really rough time with Dickey and the Blue Jays’ relievers. Carlos Beltran, McCann, Alfonso Soriano and Kelly Johnson combined to go 0-for-16 with four strikeouts and they stranded nine base-runners. Beltran killed a big rally with no outs in the sixth after Ellsbury singled and Derek Jeter walked by hitting into a double play. After Ellsbury singled and and Jeter walked to start the eighth off left-hander Aaron Loup, Beltran struck out on a pitch that bounced in the dirt.
  • It goes without saying that the Yankees were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. That hit came in the third inning after Cervelli had doubled and Ellsbury delivered a two-out single to center. However, Rasmus’ throw to Thole at home plate beat Cervelli as he slid into home plate. That is pretty much the way the day went for the Yankees.
  • Phelps gave up eight home runs in 86 2/3 innings last season. This season he already has given up three in 3 1/3 innings. Phelps, 27, needs to start doing a better job of keeping the ball in the yard.

BOMBER BANTER

Before the game started the Yankees placed first baseman Mark Teixeira on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Teixeira, 33, sustained the injury in the second inning of Friday’s game against the Blue Jays as he tried to field a ground ball in foul territory. Teixeira will have an MRI on Monday in New York to determine the severity of the strain. To take his place on the roster the Yankees recalled catcher Austin Romine from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Johnson will take Teixeira’s place at first base and Solarte will take Johnson’s spot at third.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to win the three-game series against the Blue Jays on Sunday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1, 9.00 ERA) will start for the Yankees trying to atone for a horrible Opening Day start in which he gave up six runs in the first two innings to the Houston Astros before finishing with four scoreless innings.

Sabathia, 33, will be opposed by 23-year-old right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-0, 0.00 ERA), who shut out the Rays on three hits and three walks while striking out four in 5 1/3 innings in his 2014 debut.

Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Tanaka Bows To Pressure But Still Wins Debut

GAME 4

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 3

With the crush of American and Japanese media on hand and an unfriendly sellout crowd at Rogers Centre on Friday it was understandable if Masahiro Tanaka was a little nervous making his major-league regular season debut.

After Melky Cabrera deposited his third offering over the center-field wall reality set in. But Tanaka gradually overcame his nerves and settled in to win his first game in the United States as New York pounded out 16 hits to defeat Toronto in front of paid crowd of 48.187.

Tanaka (1-0) actually lost a 2-1 lead in the second inning when two hits and an error loaded the bases and Jonathan Diaz touched him for a two-run single. But after that hit, the 25-year-old right-hander retired 16 of the next 18 batters he faced, striking out six of them to allow the Yankees to come back and win the game.

Tanaka’s final line was excellent. He allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits and no walks and he struck out eight batters in seven innings.

“I was missing some spots earlier in the game, but as the game progressed, I think I was getting better out there,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter. “Obviously I’m happy. I think No. 1 is that I’m relieved.”

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense was once again sparked by rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte, who was 3-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI in his major-league debut against Houston Astros on Thursday.

With the Yankees trailing 3-2 in the third inning, Brian Roberts drew a one-out walk from Blue Jays right-hander Dustin McGowan (0-1) and stole second. One out later, Ichiro Suzuki bound a ground ball to Ryan Goins at second base and Suzuki was called out on a close play at first.

However, manager Joe Girardi successfully overturned first-base umpire Dana Demuth’s call through a instant-replay challenge, which put Roberts at third and Suzuki at first for Solarte.

The 26-year-old switch-hitter Solarte then laced a two-run double to right-center to give the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish.

That hit also ended McGowan’s evening. The 32-year-old right-hander, who was making his first major-league start since 2011, was charged with four runs on eight hits and a walk while he struck out three in 2 2/3 innings.

The Yankees took an early 2-0 lead against McGowan in the first inning as Jacoby Ellsbury, who was 3-for-4 with a walk, stole two bases and scored two runs in the game, cranked a double to deep center. Brett Gardner advanced him to third on a hard-hit single to left.

Carlos Beltran then scored Ellsbury with a bloop single to left-center and Mark Teixeira scored Gardner with a single to right.

The Yankees only bad news of the evening came in the third inning as the Blue Jays took the lead against Tanaka. Teixiera injured his right hamstring while moving to field a foul ball. He was forced to leave the game and his immediate status is unclear.

The Yankees padded their lead in the fourth when Brian McCann scored Ellsbury with a one-out RBI single off left-hander Aaron Loup after the Blue Jays elected to intentionally walk Beltran to face the lefty swinging McCann.

They added single runs in the eighth on Gardner’s RBI single off right-hander Steve Delabar and in the ninth on another RBI double by Solarte off right-hander Jarred Jeffress.

With the victory, the Yankees evened their season record to 2-2. The Blue Jays fell to 2-3.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka’s ability to recover from the mistakes he made pitching to Cabrera and Diaz are a testament to the fact he is not just a thrower. Tanaka knows how to pitch and make adjustments at a very young age. That attribute actually may be just as valuable as his split-finger fastball. The $155 million the Yankees invested in him may end up being a bargain. He is that good.
  • After two games, Solarte is 5-for-10 (.500) with three doubles and two runs scored. He also leads the team in RBIs with four. If Teixeira is sidelined for any length of time it is a pretty good bet that Kelly Johnson will move from third base to play first and Solarte will become the starting third baseman. The Yankees may have found a real gem in this youngster.
  • Ellsbury showed what he can do from the leadoff spot on Friday. His two doubles, two stolen bases and two runs scored really set the tone for the evening. To top it all off, Ellsbury also made a nice sliding catch of Dioner Navarro’s sinking line drive in the sixth inning.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Teixeira’s injury exposes the weakest area on the Yankees’ roster. Johnson is not an experienced first baseman and he will be asked to fill in while Teixiera is out. The Yankees do have corner infielder Russ Canzler at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he is not anywhere close to Teixeira in offense or defense. he also is not on the 40-man roster. The Yankees have to hope Teixiera is not sidelined for an extended period of time.
  • Dellin Betances was brought in to the game in the eighth to face Jose Bautista with two out and a four-run lead. He walked him. Although he got out of the inning by retiring Edwin Encarnacion, he opened the ninth by walking Adam Lind on four pitches that were nowhere near the strike zone. Girardi then summoned David Robertson to close out a game in which he should not have had to appear. Betances has had control issues in the past so he bears watching.

BOMBER BANTER

Teixeira will be re-evaluated on Saturday but it is highly unlikely he will play. The strain is is considered mild but Teixeira is scheduled to have an MRI on the right hamstring in New York on Monday. Teixeira played in only 15 games last season before having to undergo surgery to repair a torn sheath in his right wrist.  . . .  After Solarte got his first major-league hit in his debut on Thursday, Dean Anna singled in the ninth inning in his first major-league start on Saturday. Anna, 27, was in the lineup at shortstop to give Derek Jeter a rest. Anna was 1-for-4 with a walk and scored a run.

ON DECK

The Yankees wil continue their three-game series with the Blue Jays on Saturday.

After trading top prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners before the 2012 season the Yankees will finally see Michael Pineda on the mound for them in a major-league game. Pineda, 25, was 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 15 innings this spring after missing almost two seasons due to  shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.

He will be opposed by right-handed knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey (0-1, 10.80 ERA), who was out of sync in his 2014 debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday. Dickey walked six batters and ended up surrendering six runs on five hits in five innings.

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

 

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

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

NEW YORK YANKEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAMPA BAY RAYS

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

If you don’t you lose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOSTON RED SOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

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

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

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

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

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

Now that is some reclamation project.

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

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

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

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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

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

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

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

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

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

 

 

Blue Jays Batter Claiborne To Rally Past Yankees

GAME 29

BLUE JAYS 10, YANKEES 6

Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie combined for five hits and four RBIs to lead Toronto on Wednesday as they rallied from a 6-0 deficit to pound New York in front of a paid crowd of 5,541 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.

The Yankees jumped on the Blue Jays’ Opening Day starter R.A. Dickey for six runs on seven hits and four walks in four innings.

Carlos Beltran led the assault with a two-run double in the second inning and Kelly Johnson added a two-run single in the first as it appeared the Yankees would coast to an easy victory.

However, Preston Claiborne (0-1) had his spring nightmare continue as the Blue Jays scored eight runs in the fifth inning, six of them courtesy of Claiborne. The 26-year-old right-hander was shelled for six runs on four hits, a walk and a hitter batter as he did not retire any of the six batters he faced.

The big blows in the inning were a pair two-run singles by Adam Lind and Maicer Izturis. The hit by Izturis turned a 6-6 tie into a 8-6 lead for the Blue Jays.

Left-hander Brett Cecil (2-0) struck out a pair of batters en route to a perfect inning in the fifth to get credit for the victory.

With the loss, the Yankees dropped to a 15-12-2 Grapefruit League record. The Blue Jays improved to 13-13.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Beltran was 2-for-3 with a double, a run scored and two RBIs in the game. Beltran is now 14-for-48 (.292) with two homers and nine RBIs this spring. The 36-year-old outfielder has at least one hit in his past seven games and is 11-for-23 (.478) during that span.
  • Johnson has quietly had a productive spring. He was 1-for-2 with a walk, scored a run and drove in a pair. The 32-year-old infielder is 11-for-42 (.262) with a home run and seven RBIs this spring. He has been a bit shaky in the field at third but it looks as if he is going to contribute a lot offensively.
  • The only pitcher who contributed much was Dellin Betances, who pitched a perfect sixth inning and struck out a batter. It appears that Betances, 26, has earned a spot in the bullpen after posting a 0.79 ERA in 11 1/3 innings over nine appearances. He also has struck out 10 batters while walking four.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Claiborne of 2013 was a promising right-handed reliever who sported a great ERA up until he was sent up and down to the minors four times in August. His final 13 appearances were awful but there was plenty to build upon entering 2014. But this spring Claiborne’s struggles have continued. He is 0-1 with a 14.29 ERA having been shelled for nine runs on 14 hits and a walk in 5 2/3 innings. It appears that Claiborne is heading back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to regain his confidence.
  • After getting the final two outs in the fourth, Fred Lewis was tagged with a leadoff double by Ryan Goins and an RBI single by Cabrera. He ended up giving up two runs on two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. Lewis entered the game having not yielded an earned run in his first eight appearances this spring. Lewis, 27, is battling Cesar Cabral for the lefty specialist role in the bullpen.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury played five innings in center-field in a minor-league game on Wednesday and he reported no problems with his sore right calf that has shelved him since March 14. Ellbury was 1-for-4 with a walk in a Class-A game against the Pirates at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa, FL  . . .  The Yankees optioned catcher Austin Romine on Wednesday, which officially makes Francisco Cervelli the backup catcher to Brian McCann. Cervelli, 28, won the job by going 15-for-36 (.417) with a team-leading four homers and seven RBIs.  . . .  Outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano is receiving treatment for a sore right shoulder. Soriano was 1-for-2 with an RBI on Wednesday against the Blue Jays. Soriano will get a day off on Thursday and manager Joe Girardi told reporters he will re-evaluated.

ON DECK

The Yankees travel to Bradenton, FL, on Thursday to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (2-1, 1.59 ERA) will make his fifth and final start of the spring before pitching the team’s opener on April 1 in Houston against the Astros.

The Pirates will counter with right-hander Stolmy Pimentel (1-0, 3.86 ERA).

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live locally by the YES Network and on tape-delay nationally by the MLB Network at 6 p.m.

 

Howard, Byrd Go Deep As Phils Shut Out Yankees

GAME 28

PHILLIES 6, YANKEES 0

TAMPA – Jeff Manship wriggled out of trouble enough to toss four shutout innings and Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd hit back-to-back homers in the third inning as Philadelphia blanked New York on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 10,894 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Manship (2-0) needed 80 pitches to complete his four innings and he stranded five runners to get credit for the victory.  He gave up five hits, walked none and struck out a pair.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi elected to use nine pitchers to throw one inning apiece in the game. David Phelps (1-1), who gave up an unearned run in the second inning, was charged with the loss.

It was only the second time this spring the Yankees have been shut out in a game. On March 15, the Yankees were no-hit for nine innings by the Miami Marlins in a 5-0 loss in the first game of the “Legend Series” in Panama.

The game was scoreless in the second inning when Phelps was victimized by two consecutive errors by Kelly Johnson. After Johnson recovered the ball on the second error, he was able to tag Domonic Brown after he strayed too far off third base. However, former Yankee and nonroster invitee Bobby Abreu scored Carlos Ruiz with an RBI single.

An inning later, Howard and Byrd teed off on left-hander Vidal Nuno with a pair of two-out, tape-measure shots to make the score 3-0.

The Yankees are now 15-11-2 on the spring while the Phillies are 9-15.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Brett Gardner’s terrific spring continued as he was 3-for-3 with three singles in the leadoff spot for the Yankees. Gardner has now raised his spring average to .333 and his on-base percentage is .392. If Gardner is this pesky in the No. 9 spot he is going  to create a lot of havoc for opponents this season.
  • Derek Jeter stroked a one-out single in the fifth inning. The hit is significant because the 39-year-old shortstop has not had a hit since March 18 and he is 6-for-47 (.128) this spring with only one extra-base hit.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees best chance to score off Manship came in the third inning with one out and Jeter on second and Carlos Beltran on first following a single. However, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann each struck out to end the threat.
  • Teixeira, much like Jeter, has been struggling with the bat this spring. He was 0-for-4 in the game with three strikeouts and he stranded five runners in the game. Teixeira is 3-for-30 (.100) with one extra-base hit on the spring.
  • With his two fielding errors on Tuesday, Johnson leads the team with five errors this spring. To be fair, Johnson has made only 12 major-league starts at third base and he is being asked to play the position this season for the Yankees as a result of the suspension of Alex Rodriguez.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi made it official on Tuesday by naming Michael Pineda as the team’s No. 5 starter over Adam Warren, Phelps and Nuno. Pineda, 25, earned the job by going 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA and 16 strikeouts with only one walk in 15 innings this spring. Warren, Phelps and Nuno are now among the mix for a bullpen spots.  . . .  Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury played in a minor-league game on Tuesday to test his sore right calf and is sure that he will be able to avoid the disabled list. Ellsbury, who has not appeared in a Grapefruit League game since March 14, will play in another minor-league game on Wednesday.  . . .  Catcher John Ryan Murphy was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-barre on Tuesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees travel to Dunedin, FL, on Wednesday to play the Toronto Blue Jays.

Right-hander Chris Leroux (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will make his first start of the spring. Gardner, Beltran, Alfonso Soriano and Brian Roberts are scheduled to play in the game.

Knuckeball right-hander R.A. Dickey (0-0, 2.45 ERA) gets the start for the Jays.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on MLB Radio.

 

 

 

 

Yankees Know It’s Unwise To Bet Against Jeter

It is hard enough to win games with a full roster in the American League East. It is difficult when your team is riddled with crippling injuries. It becomes darn near impossible when the team loses its heart and soul.

That is pretty much what the New York Yankees lost last season without its future Hall of Fame shortstop and captain Derek Jeter.

The team has spiraled downward ever since Jeter broke his right ankle in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers in 2012.

The Yankees were swept in that series and they stumbled to a tie for third place in the division with the Baltimore Orioles and missed the playoffs for only the second time since 1994, the season before Jeter made his major-league debut.

Jeter, 39, tried to get back on the field for the 2013 season. But each step forward led to two steps back.

During spring training, the Yankees brought Jeter along slowly, not allowing him to play in the field until the third week of exhibition games. However, it was obvious in watching Jeter run out the batter’s box that he was just not right.

He favored the left ankle and had none of the usual spring in his step.

When X-rays indicated an additional break in the ankle, Jeter was placed on the 60-day disabled list and the usual critics and naysayers came out of the woodwork claiming Jeter was too old to play shortstop and that he would never be the same.

Jeter took that as a challenge and tried to come back on July 11. However, that comeback was short-circuited when he suffered a mild strain in his left quad running out a grounder in his first game back. He went on the 15-day disabled list with quite a bit of frustration after being so sure he was ready.

Activated on July 28, Jeter showed the Yankees just a hint of what they were missing when he went 2-for-4 with a home run against the Tampa Bay Rays.

That comeback was ended just three games later when an examination on Aug. 3 indicated Jeter sustained a Grade 1 strain of his right calf. He was placed on the disabled list for a third time.  This was pretty much par for the course when it came to many of the Yankees returning from injuries in 2014 only to wind up back on the disabled list.

Just ask Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter had a lot of company on the team’s sickbay.

Jeter returned to the lineup on Sept. 1 and that comeback lasted just a total of seven games. Jeter re-injured his surgically repaired left ankle and, after a few days to assess the injury, Jeter offiicially was shelved for the season on Sept. 11.

The 13-time All-Star ended up playing in just 17 games batting .190 with a home run and seven RBIs. One big wasted season filled with frustration for a player who has always prided himself on playing every day since he became the team’s starting shortstop in 1996.

He also had to abandon any hope of potentially being able to surpass baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, who amassed 4,256 hits. Jeter was ahead of Rose’s pace at the same age entering the 2013 season. If Jeter had any intention of playing long enough to break that mark it is went up in smoke last season.

Yankee fans received a bit of a jolt when the Yankees signed shortstop Brendan Ryan to a two-year, $5 million contract on Dec. 2. It raised some eyebrows because some Yankee watchers thought it signaled that the team might be making the move to replace Jeter with the 31-year-old veteran.

But the Yankees quickly squelched any talk about that because Jeter. who was scheduled to play under a player-option contract in 2014 worth $9.5 million, was handed a one-year, $12 million deal by the Yankees. You do not replace a shortstop by offering him more money than his contract specified.

Jeter revealed to reporters on Nov. 14 that his ankle has healed and that he was “100 percent sure” that he would return to his role as the every day shortstop for the Yankees in 2014. Jeter said he was only working on strengthening his body for the coming season and was not worried about his ankle at all.

Of course, he did admit that although he wants to play every day, he is sure that he will get some at-bats as a designated hitter, which is fine with him.

The naysayers still do not believe that Jeter can come back at his age and play at the same level he did before the injury. That is fine if they think that, Jeter says.

Jeter will just have to prove them wrong as he did in 2012 when he led the majors with 216 hits after he hit a career low .270 in 2010 and spent the first half of the 2011 season hitting around .250. Many baseball experts thought Jeter was done then. But after adjusting his swing rehabbing a calf injury during the All-Star break, Jeter raised his average to .297 by season’s end.

The lesson: You may not want to give up on a guy who has five championship rings and career total of 3,316 hits.

The only real question about Jeter will be his ability to field such a demanding position at an advanced age. Players such as Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel have done it, but for some reason the ankle and leg injuries Jeter sustained last season give some people pause.

However, whatever range Jeter once had, he lost a long time before the ankle injury. Though Jeter has been awarded five Gold Gloves, including one in 2012, number-crunching gurus have been criticizing him since he won his third award in 2008.

Jeter’s defensive strength has never been totally about range. It is his sure-handed playmaking on the balls he does reach. In 2012, he handled 506 chances and committed only 10 errors. He also formed what has to be the franchise’s best double-play combination in history with second baseman Robinson Cano.

Yankee fans know the difference when Jeter is not in the lineup too. Eduardo Nunez has struggled most of his career playing the position and fans even dubbed him “Eduardo Scissorhands.”

With Jeter’s injury troubles, you would think that Nunez, 26, would have been able to take advantage of the opportunity and make his own mark at the position in 2014.

Unfortunately for Nunez, he could stay healthy and he regressed with his bat. Nunez batted .260 with three homers and 28 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 90 games. In 75 starts at shortstop, he committed 12 errors, which pretty much played himself out of a job when the Yankees signed Ryan on Sept. 10.

Ryan started all 17 of the Yankees’ remaining games in 2014 and batted .220 with a home run and one RBI.  He committed only one error in those games and he is generally accorded to be one of the better fielding shortstops in baseball though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove.

According to FanGraphs Ryan recorded 22 defensive runs saved in 2010, 18 in 2011 and 20 in 2012.

The big knock on Ryan is that he is a career .237 hitter with 19 home runs and 187 RBIs in seven major-league seasons. He is no threat to take Jeter’s job at shortstop but he gives the club some excellent insurance at the position.

However, Nunez’s days with the Yankees appear to be numbered. The team seems to have given on him completely. So Nunez enters 2014 in a position where he should not be looking to buy a home in the tri-state area around New York City.

The Yankees already trimmed the roster of versatile infielder Jayson Nix on Dec. 2 when he was not tendered a contract offer for the 2014 season along with rookie infielder David Adams and right-handed pitcher Matt Daley.

Nix, 31, spent two seasons with the Yankees as backup infielder. Like many of the Yankees, Nix suffered a broken left hand in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 21 in which he was struck by a pitch by knuckleball right-hander R.A. Dickey and missed the remainder of the season.

Nix batted .236 with three home runs and 24 RBIs in 87 games before succumbing to the injury.

The Yankees signed free-agent infielder Kelly Johnson to a one-year, $3 million contract, which means the 32-year-old veteran could figure in the mix to play second base.

Johnson has also played first and third base and the outfield. He also, unlike Ryan, Nunez and Nix, bats left-handed.

The Yankees are not exactly rich at the shortstop position in the minors at this point.

Addison Maruszak, 26, batted .254 with four home runs and 32 RBIs in 94 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He is not considered as a prospect for the big leagues.

Former first-round pick Cito Culver, 21, is not making much progress in the minors. Though Culver can flash some leather with the glove the offensive part of the game has eluded him up to this point.

Culver hit a combined a combined .248 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs in 120 games in two stops at the Class-A level in 2013.

The Yankees, it is safe to say do not have another Jeter waiting in the wings to take his place.

So it is a good thing that Jeter is saying he is healed and will be ready to go when camp opens in February. He is the one player the Yankees can’t afford to be without in 2014. They need his bat, they need his glove and they need his leadership by example.

Expecting him to be the fresh-faced kid that 20-plus homers and drove in 90 runs in his heyday would be expecting way too much, But the Yankees will take the numbers he put up in 2012 when he hit .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.

Betting against Jeter has never been a safe bet before and may not be a wise one now.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.