Results tagged ‘ Travis Snider ’

Tex’s Double, A-Rod’s 661st Spur Yankees Past O’s

GAME 29

YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 3

The Pythagorean Theorem. Newton’s Law. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. You can now add to those “The Joe Girardi Formula,” which is (1) get a lead by the sixth inning (2) go to your terrific bullpen and (3) win the game.

As an equation it would read: L(6th) + B(GAS) = V

That is exactly the formula the Yankees have used all season and it worked again against the Orioles on Thursday at Yankee Stadium.

Alex Rodriguez blasted the 661st home run of his career to pass Willie Mays, Mark Teixeira drove in two runs  –  including a game-winning double in the fifth  –  and New York’s awesome bullpen held Baltimore scoreless over the final 3 1/3 innings for their 18th victory of the season.

The Yankees and Orioles were locked in a bit of a seesaw affair for five innings in a pitching matchup between right-handers Chris Tillman and Nathan Eovaldi.

The Orioles drew first blood when Jimmy Parades tagged an Eovaldi fastball into the bullpen right-center for his fourth home run of the season and an early 1-0 lead with one out in the first inning.

But the Yankees responded the bottom of the frame when Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to nine games with a leadoff single and he advanced to third on a single by Brett Gardner.

Rodriguez then launched a high-arcing ball to right that right-fielder Delmon Young grabbed off the top of the wall to rob him of what would have been No. 661. But he settled for a sacrifice fly that scored Ellsbury. Teixeira then followed with a shot off the wall in right that scored Gardner. Teixeira was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double on a throw from Young.

The Orioles tied it in the third inning on a one-out solo home run off the bat of Caleb Joseph, his third of the season.

The Yankees then took back the lead with two out in the third inning when Rodriguez launched a Tillman fastball just to the left of straightaway center for his seventh home run of the season and the one that now places him alone in fourth place on the all-time home run list behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth.

Most of the paid crowd of 39,816 were on their feet demanding a curtain call for the 40-year-old designated hitter and Rodriguez obliged with both arms raised in front of the home dugout.

Eovaldi, however, was unable to hold that lead either. Travis Snider led off the fifth with a ringing double down the right-field line and Joseph scored him with an RBI double.

But Eovaldi was able to wriggle out of a jam when Manny Machado sacrificed Joseph to third and he walked Paredes. First, he picked off Paredes and then he retired hot-hitting Adam Jones, who ended up 0-for-4 on the night, on a groundout.

The Yankees then reclaimed the lead for good in the fifth after Gardner doubled to start the inning and, one out later, Teixeira laced an RBI double into right to score Gardner.

Tillman (2-4) was charged four runs on 10 hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. The Orioles’ ace entered play with a career ERA of 7.47 at Yankee Stadium, his highest ERA in any ballpark.

Eovaldi (4-0) also left in the sixth with Young on third and J.J. Hardy on first with two out. Left-hander Justin Wilson came on to retire Snider on a groundout.

Eovaldi was charged with three runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings to earn his first career victory at Yankee Stadium.

Wilson pitched a perfect seventh and Dellin Betances hurled a perfect eighth. Andrew Miller pitched around a leadoff four-pitch walk to Steve Pearce by retiring the next three hitters, two of them via the strikeout, to earn his Major-League-leading 12th save of the season in 12 chances.

With the victory, the Yankees are 18-11 and they have opened up a three-game lead over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Orioles fell to 12-14 and they are tied with the Boston Red Sox for last place in the division, 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • A-Rod had himself a good night by going 2-for-3 including his historic home run and he drove in two runs. Though he is batting only .245, he is second on the team with seven homers and 18 RBIs. Gardner and Ellsbury combined to go 4-for-7 with a walk, a double and three runs scored and they are making it very easy for Rodriguez and Teixeira to drive in runs.
  • Tex is also holding up his end in the cleanup spot. He was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs and he now leads the team with 10 homers and 25 RBIs despite batting only .223. Teixeira is on a pace to drive in more than 130 runs this season.
  • Wilson, Betances and Miller combined to retire 10 of the final 11 batters they faced, striking out three and only allowing one ball to reach the outfield. Though Eovaldi was shaky at times, he at least pitched far enough into the contest to allow this very special bullpen to do its work.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Although Carlos Beltran was 0-for-4 in the game, which lowered his season average to .187, I did see some encouraging signs. Beltran hit two balls hard into the deepest part of center-field in the fourth and the fifth innings. Beltran remains without a home run and he has driven in just nine runs. The Yankees keep hoping he gets into a groove but for now we are still waiting.
  • Though A-Rod and Tex got into the swing of things, Brian McCann did not in the fifth spot in the order. He also was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. McCann keeps hitting right into the teeth of the shift and that has dragged his season average down to .227.
  • Eovaldi might remind Yankee fans of Phil Hughes, who also dealt with problems getting outs with two strikes and keeping the ball in the ballpark. There is no denying that Eovaldi’s velocity is impressive. But the command of his pitches is still an issue that he needs improve. With Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list, the Yankees need Eovaldi to step up.

BOMBER BANTER

Tanaka took a first step in his recovery from tendinitis in right wrist and mild strain in his right forearm by making 50 throws from 60 feet prior to Thursday’s game. The 26-year-old right-hander did not feel any pain and general manager Brian Cashman told reporters that Tanaka remains on a timetable that will allow him to return in a month.  . . .  Despite the fact Jose Pirela had two hits in his season debut at second base on Wednesday, Stephen Drew will remain the starter at second for now. Drew was 1-for-3 with a double and a walk on Thursday but he is still batting .169 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 26 games.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game home weekend series with the Orioles on Friday.

Right-hander Adam Warren (2-1, 4.78 ERA) will start for the Yankees. He got credit for a victory over the Red Sox on Sunday despite yielding four runs on four hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. It will be Warren’s first appearance against the O’s as a starter.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (3-1, 2.59 ERA). Gonzalez, 30, shut out the Rays on four hits and a walk with six strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings for a victory on Saturday. He defeated the Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 14.

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

 

O’s Score 5 in Sixth As Yankees’ Bullpen Implodes

GAME 9

ORIOLES 7, YANKEES 5

Nathan Eovaldi struck out nine batters in five innings and provided the bullpen a 3-2 lead on Wednesday but the Orioles scored five runs in the sixth inning as Baltimore handed New York a difficult defeat at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Jonathan Schoop, who batted .209 last season, greeted right-hander David Carpenter (0-1) with a first-pitch home run into the bleachers in left-center to erase a 3-2 lead and end Eovaldi’s bid for his first victory with the Yankees.

Alejandro De Aza followed with a single and was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Everth Cabrera. Adam Jones was walked intentionally and Carpenter was replaced by left-hander Justin Wilson with left-handed hitters Travis Snider and Chris Davis due up.

However, Delmon Young pinch-hit for Snider and he delivered an RBI single to score De Aza and Davis followed with a two-run double. One out later, Caleb Joseph, who batted .207 last season, completed the five-run onslaught with an RBI single off right-hander Chris Martin.

Right-hander Brad Brach (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings to get credit for the victory. Zach Britton pitched the ninth to earn his second consecutive save against the Yankees and his third of the season.

The Yankees fell to 3-6 on the season while the Orioles improved to 5-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankees finally are beginning to get some offense from Carlos Beltran. The 38-year-old outfielder gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the third inning when he followed a two-out double by Jacoby Ellsbury and a walk to Chase Headley with a two-run double to center off Orioles starter Bud Norris. Beltran is 4-for-15 (.286) in his past four games with two doubles and two RBIs.
  • The Yankees continue to consistent at-bats from Alex Rodriguez, who homered with one out in the fourth inning to give Eovaldi and the Yankees a 3-1 lead. It was Rodriguez’s second home run of the season and he finished the game 2-for-3 with a walk and he now hitting .286 on the season.
  • Eovaldi was far from perfect against the O’s but he battled hard to yield just two runs on eight hits and three walks. He pitched only one clean inning but his nine strikeouts prevented the Orioles from scoring any more runs. Though the 25-year-old right-hander needs to work on his command, he showed a lot of grit and deserved a better fate.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The bullpen entered the evening with a 1.73 ERA, which ranked second in the American League. But it blew up in a hurry. Carpenter, 29, was the main culprit. Remember that Carpenter was 4-1 with a sparkling 1.78 ERA in 56 games with the Atlanta Braves in 2013. But he slipped to a 6-4 mark with a 3.54 ERA in 65 games last season. His line on Wednesday was three runs on two hits and a walk in one-third of an inning. Ouch!
  • Wilson, 27, is a similar story. He was 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 58 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013 but he fell back to 3-4 with a 4.20 ERA in 70 games last season. Wilson yielded two runs on two hits while not retiring a batter. Double ouch!
  • Stephen Drew was only starter who did not get a hit or drive in a run in the game. He was 0-4 with two strikeouts and he grounded into a double play. After showing signs last week he may be coming back with the bat after his disastrous 2014 season, he is now batting .148.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees made yet another roster move to bolster the bullpen. The team recalled right-hander Branden Pinder from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and they optioned right-hander Joel De La Cruz to Double-A Trenton. De La Cruz, 25, did not appear in a game. Pinder, 26, was 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA in three games with the RailRiders. He pitched in the eighth inning on Wednesday and yielded no runs on one hit. The Yankees also announced that right-hander Kyle Davies, 31, cleared waivers and he was optioned to Scranton. Davies had been designated for assignment on Monday when the Yankees recalled De La Cruz.  . . .  Minor-league right-hander Wilking Rodriguez received an 80-game suspension without pay on Wednesday for a violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Rodriguez, according to the commissioner’s office, tested positive for Furosemide, a performance-enhancing substance. Rodriguez, 25, was 1-0 with 0.00 ERA and two saves with the Yankees this spring and he was assigned to Scranton.

ON DECK

The Yankees have Thursday off and will begin a weekend series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Right-hander Adam Warren, 27, will open the series for the Yankees. Warren surrendered two runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the Boston Red Sox on Saturday.

The Rays will start 28-year-old right-hander Nathan Karns, who is 1-1 with a 4.97 ERA in two starts. Karns held the Miami Marlins to two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks in seven innings in a victory on Sunday.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Drew’s Pinch-Hit Grand Slam Clips Orioles’ Wings

GAME 7

YANKEES 6, ORIOLES 5

Yankees manager Joe Girardi was forced to replace Brett Gardner in the lineup with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh inning on Monday so he called upon Stephen Drew. The 31-year-old infielder made Girardi look like a genius when he won the game with a pinch-hit grand slam.

Drew’s home run came on a 3-1 count off right-hander Tommy Hunter and it turned a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 Yankee lead as New York held on to edge Baltimore at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Orioles had just taken a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth when Adam Jones victimized right-hander Michael Pineda with a two-out, two-run home run.

But the Yankees managed to load the bases against Hunter (0-2) on a single by Chris Young, a walk to John Ryan Murphy and an infield single by Jacoby Ellsbury.

Gardner was due up but his right wrist was swollen after being hit by a pitch in the first inning by Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen. So Girardi sent Drew up to pinch-hit and the result was the 11th pinch-hit grand slam in team history.

Pineda (1-0) yielded five runs on nine hits with no walks and nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory despite not looking as sharp as he did in his first start. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller held the Orioles scoreless the rest of the way with Miller earning his second save of the season.

The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead on the O’s with two out in the second inning when Young cracked his second home run of the season off Chen.

The Orioles quickly answered with two runs in the bottom of the frame on consecutive one-out RBI doubles by Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop.

But the Yankees were able to tie the game up with two out in the fourth when Mark Teixeira took Chen deep for his third home run of the season.

With the game 6-4 in the seventh, the Orioles loaded the bases with a pair of hits off Pineda and another off Betances. Alejandro De Aza then hit a potential double-play ball to Drew but Didi Gregorius’ throw to first was wide of the bag and it allowed Machado to score to draw the Orioles to within a run.

However, Betances was able to end the threat with a bases-loaded strikeout of Chris Davis, who struck out in all of his four at-bats.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 3-4. The Orioles are also 3-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Drew entered the game 3-for-20 (.150) but he had homered and driven in two runs in Sunday’s 14-4 thrashing of the Boston Red Sox. Drew is coming off his worst season as a professional and the Yankees are hoping he can bounce back this season. His grand slam goes a long way towards proving he could be on the road back.
  • Teixeira might be on the same road back also after hitting three home runs in his first six games of the season. In 2011, Teixeira hit 39 home runs and drove in 111 runs. But since then the 35-year-old first baseman has been plagued by injuries. After going on a gluten-free, non-dairy diet this offseason, Teixeira looks fit and his early results look real good.
  • Miller entered the game with one out in the eighth and ended up striking out three batters to earn a five-out save. Miller helped carry the Orioles into the playoffs last season but on Monday he used his patented slider to make them look bad. Given Betances’ shaky outings, Miller looks like he has a solid grip on closing duties for now.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Carlos Beltran was 0-for-4, including hitting into a double play and a strikeout. He is batting .143 early this season. The 38-year-old outfielder is coming off a injury-marred 2014 campaign and the Yankees need him to return to the form that saw him hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.
  • Gregorius was also 0-for-4 and is batting .130 on the season. The Yankees are hoping that the 25-year-old shortstop can develop as offensive threat this season. His defensive skills are excellent but he has looked a bit shaky in the field early. But his biggest problem has been base-running gaffes. The Yankees can afford to be patient with him though.
  • Betances walked two batters and gave up two hits in his one inning of work. He was lucky he was able to get Davis to strike out with bases loaded in the seventh but he needed help in the eighth when Jones singled to open the inning. Murphy threw out Jones attempting to steal, one of two base-runners he cut down attempting to steal. Betances promptly walked Travis Snider and Girardi was forced to pull him early in favor of Miller.

BOMBER BANTER

Gardner is listed as day-to-day but he likely will miss at least one game with a bruised right wrist. X-rays on Gardner’s wrist were negative. Gardner, 31, was hit almost in the same spot in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays.  . . .  In yet another bullpen move in the wake of Friday’s marathon 19-inning 6-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees on Monday recalled right-hander Joel De La Cruz from Double-A Trenton and designated for assignment right-hander Kyle Davies. Cruz, 25, was 7-9 with a 4.44 ERA in 28 games (22 starts) with Trenton and Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre last season. Davies, 31, pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday against the Red Sox. It was his first appearance in a major-league game since 2011.

ON DECK

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

Veteran left-hander CC Sabathia gets the start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up five runs (four earned) on eight hits but did strike out eight batters in a loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, who surrendered a run on three hits and five walks in 5 2/3 innings in a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.

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

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

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

NEW YORK YANKEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOSTON RED SOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAMPA BAY RAYS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

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

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

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

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

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

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

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

So there is a lot to like.

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

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

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

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

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

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

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

CC, Ichiro Lead Way As Yankees Plunder Pirates

GAME 30

YANKEES 4, PIRATES 2

CC Sabathia and Ichiro Suzuki have one thing in common. These two former stars have had a lot of baseball pundits digging their graves and ready to start shoveling dirt on them.

After watching them both play on a damp and cloudy Thursday afternoon at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL, it might be time to put away those shovels. Both have a lot left in the tank.

Suzuki was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI and Sabathia extended his spring training scoreless inning streak to 17 as New York defeated Pittsburgh in front of a paid crowd of 8.134.

In his final tuneup before Opening Day on April 1, Sabathia (3-1) held the Pirates to three hits, he did not walk a batter and he threw 33 of his 44 pitches for strikes. The 33-year-old left-hander leaves spring training with a sparkling 1.29 ERA.

Meanwhile, Suzuki helped spark the an offense that tagged right-hander Stolmy Pimentel (1-1) for four runs on nine hits and a walk over four innings.

Suzuki led off the game with an opposite-field single and he advanced to third on a hit-and-run single by Eduardo Nunez. Mark Teixeira scored Suzuki on a groundout. Two batters later, Zoilo Almonte, who also had three hits in the game, laced a single to left to score Nunez.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the fourth after Pimentel had retired the first two batters.

Adonis Garcia doubled to the wall in right-center and Suzuki scored him on another opposite-field single. Suzuki moved to second on a wild pitch and he then scored on a single by Nunez.

The Pirates did not score until the eighth, when Jarek Cunningham greeted reliever David Phelps with a single and Andy Vazquez followed with a double. Travis Snider drew a walk to load the bases and Cunningham scored on a double play off the bat of Drew Maggi.

South African infielder Gift Ngoepe then laced a double to score Vazquez.

With the victory the Yankees assured themselves of a Grapefruit League record over .500. They are 16-12-2. The Pirates completed their Florida schedule with a 14-10 mark.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After Sabathia finished the 2013 season with a 14-13 record with a 4.78 ERA, he vowed he would be better in 2014. Judging by his work this spring he has a good chance to make good on the promise. A great gauge on Sabathia’s progress is that in 21 innings this spring, he has walked only three while striking out 16. Despite reduced velocity on his fastball Sabathia is able to get outs with command of his pitches, mixing of speeds and the addition of a cutter.
  • Suzuki, 40, even hit the ball hard in the one out he made in sixth. He lined out to left. On March 15, Suzuki was batting .125 and looking his age at the plate. Since then he is 9-for-23 (.391) with five RBIs in his past seven games. Though he likely will be the team’s fifth outfielder unless he is traded, Suzuki appears to be ready to play whenever manager Joe Girardi calls on him.
  • Nunez, 26, was having a disappointing spring until he went 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI on Thursday. Nunez is among three players being considered for two backing infield jobs that are open with infielder Brendan Ryan nursing a sore back and headed for the disabled list to start the season. Nunez raised his average to .265 and he has a homer and four RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • In his second appearance after learning he was not chosen as the No. 5 starter, Phelps struggled with his command in his two-thirds of an inning of work. He gave up two runs on three hits and a walk. Only a bases-loaded double play turned by Carmen Angelini and Jose Pirela saved him from disaster. Phelps will have to get used to throwing out of the bullpen again.
  • Though he drove in the game’s first run on a groundout, Teixeira was 0-for-3 and saw his spring average dip to .091. Because Teixeira underwent wrist surgery in the offseason, he was unable to prepare as he would have liked for spring training. Being a switch-hitter also means he has to work on his stroke from both sides of the plate. Teixeira is likely going to need more time to get going. But, then again, Teixeira has never been known to hit much in April anyway.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees made seven roster moves after Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL. They optioned right-hander Preston Claiborne and Almonte to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In addition, they reassigned infielders Russ Canzler and Scott Sizemore, and right-handers David Herndon, Jim Miller and Yoshinori Tateyama to minor-league camp. On Thursday, the team also reassigned right-handers Danny Burawa and Chris Leroux and left-hander Fred Lewis to minor-league camp. The team is expected to finalize its 25-man roster on Friday.  . . .  Jacoby Ellsbury worked out at the team’s spring training complexion Tampa, FL, and he is expected to play in minor-league contests on Friday and Saturday. Ellsbury is recovering from a strained right calf and he is progressing well, Girardi told reporters.  . . .  Outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano is continuing to receive treatment for a sore right shoulder. Though the Yankees are monitoring the injury it is not considered serious.

ON DECK

The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday to face the Miami Marlins.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-0, 6.48 ERA) will make his fourth appearance of the spring and his third start. Kuroda likely will be limited to about 50 pitches.

The Marlins will counter with right-hander Jacob Turner (2-1, 2.79 ERA).

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MLB Radio via WIOD-610 AM in Miami.

 

Kuroda Gets No Run Support As Bucs Edge Yanks

GAME 32

PIRATES 2, YANKEES 1

TAMPA  –  It is only fitting that on the final day of spring training in Florida that the Yankees would lose to the Pirates because of a lack of run support for a great outing by a starting pitcher.

Despite the fact that Hiroki Kuroda pitched six scoreless innings, striking out five batters, walking none and surrendering only an infield single, the Pirates scored two runs in the seventh inning as Pittsburgh went on to edge New York on Thursday in front of a paid crowd of 11,028 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The Yankees made Pirates rookie left-hander Jeff Locke look like Cliff Lee in his prime. Locke (3-1) shut out the Yankees for six innings, giving up four hits and no walks while striking out three.

Despite allowing an RBI double to Lyle Overbay in the ninth inning, Ethan Hollingsworth was credited with a save.

Boone Logan (0-1) was charged with the loss.

Logan walked pinch-hitter Travis Snider to open the seventh inning and Jose Tabata then lined a hard come-backer that struck Logan in the left hip and he reached base on the single.

Logan left the game as a precautionary measure and right-hander David Aardsma entered the game and uncorked a wild pitch and Francisco Cervelli threw the ball past Robinson Cano attempting to nab Tabata advancing to second. That allowed Snider to score.

One out later, pinch-hitter Jeff Larish singled in Tabata.

The Yankees completed Grapefruit League play with a 13-18 record. The Pirates ended up with the same record.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Kuroda ended spring training with his sharpest effort of the spring. He kept the Pirates off-balance all day mixing his 92-mile-per-hour fastball with his slider and split-finger fastball. The only hitter to reach base on him was Garrett Jones, who reached on a two-out infield single that Kuroda knocked down but could not pick up in time to throw out Jones. Kuroda threw an amazing 52 of his 69 pitches for strikes  –  a 75 percent strike rate.
  • Overbay cemented his position on the 25-man roster with his RBI double in the ninth inning. Overbay, 36, was given three days to make the team and he did it by going 5-for-11 (.455) in the three games he played. Overbay will open the season at first base and he will remain there until Mark Teixeira returns, which could be as soon as mid-May.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Thursday. The Yankees’ biggest failure came when Cervelli blasted a one-out triple off the left-field wall. Ichiro Suzuki followed with a weak infield popup and Vernon Wells ended the threat with a routine flyout. Yankee fans complained last season when the team did not deliver hits with runners in scoring position and relied so much on the home run to win games. Well, now the team still does not hit with runners in scoring position and now doesn’t hit home runs either.
  • Aardsma appears to have blown his shot to win a bullpen spot with a weak showing on Thursday. He threw a wild pitch to set up one run and another scored on a RBI single. After he issued a two-walk to pinch-hitter Josh Harrison he was removed from the game by manager Joe Girardi. Aarsdma has a spring ERA of 3.52.
  • Wells finished the day 0-for-3 but he still hit .310 for the spring and he will begin the season as the Yankees’ starting left-fielder until Curtis Granderson returns to the team in mid-May. Granderson will play center and Brett Gardner will shift to left-field. Granderson’s broken right forearm prevented the Yankees from their experiment of flip-flopping Gardner and Granderson.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees reportedly have released Juan Rivera from his minor-league contract and the team has decided to keep Overbay and outfielders Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch. Overbay likely will be in a platoon with reserve infielder Jayson Nix. Overbay will start at first against right-handers and against left-handers Kevin Youkilis could shift to first base and Nix can play third. With Wells starting in left and Travis Hafner as the designated hitter, Francisco and Boesch will mostly be bench players, although the Yankees could use Francisco as a right-handed DH against some left-handers.  . . .  Logan said after the game that his left hip was fine and he expects to be able to pitch again on Friday. That is one bullet the Yankees dodged.  . . .  It was no surprise that left-hander Vidal Nuno, 25, was named before the game on Thursday the recipient of the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees’ top rookie of the spring. Nuno was 1-1 with 0.61 ERA in seven appearances. Nuno still has an outside chance to make the team as a second bullpen lefty behind Logan while Clay Rapada recovers from bursitis in his left shoulder. Nuno pitched at both Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton and was 10-6 with an organization-leading 2.54 ERA.

ON DECK

The Yankees are already in Washington D.C., and they will play an exhibition game against the Nationals on Friday.

Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (1-0, 4.82 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. The Nationals will counter with right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (0-1, 5.40 ERA).

Game-time will be 2:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be televised locally by the YES Network and nationally by the MLB Network.

 

 

Blue Jays Romp Over Team Dressed Like Yankees

GAME 6

BLUE JAYS 6, YANKEES 1

OK, guys, a joke is a joke, but where have you stashed the “real” New York Yankees?

A team “masquerading” in the Yankees’ navy-blue batting practice jerseys managed to lose their fourth consecutive Grapefruit League game on Thursday to Blue Jays and they now have lost those four games by a combined score of 26-8. We know it is early but the question is when will early become too late?

J.P. Arencibia and Travis Snider homered and Brett Cecil and six other Toronto pitchers held these “Faux Yankees” to one run and eight hits at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.

Cecil (1-0) gave up a hit, a walk and struck out one batter in his two innings of work to get credit for the victory. On the other hand, Ivan Nova (0-1) struggled with his command in the second inning and ended up get tagged for five runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings.

The Yankees’ lone run came on a solo home run from Colin Curtis in the ninth inning off Chad Beck. In their last two games, the Yankees have scored a run on only 10 hits.

The Yankees’ spring record slipped to 2-4 and the Blue Jays are 4-2.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Got to give Curtis credit for the home run to prevent the Yankees from being shut out in two consecutive games. It was the first Yankee home run since Alex Rodriguez hit one out in the first inning against the Roy Halladay and the Phillies on Saturday.
  • Backup infielder Ramiro Pena is thought to be a longshot to make the team over Eduardo Nunez, but he did come to play on Thursday. Pena doubled and singled in his three at-bats and raised his early spring batting average to .500.
  • Dellin Betances did give up a pair of hits in the seventh inning but he did not allow a run to score and he has a spotless 0.00 ERA early in the spring. Betances figures to begin his 2012 season at Triple-A Empire State and he needs to work on the command of his pitches and keeping his mechanics consistent.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova’s second spring appearance did not go well at all. Adam Lind led of the inning with a double and Brett Lawrie singled to drive him in. Nova then fell behind Arencibia 2-0 and paid for it by surrendering a two-run homer. He was charged with two more runs in the third inning. Nova’s early spring ERA is a shockingly high 11.57.
  • Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Raul Ibanez, the numbers three, four and five hitters in the lineup, were a combined 1-for-8 in the game. Teixiera singled for the only hit between them.
  • Cesar Cabral, the Rule 5 draftee attempting to make the club as a second left-hander, gave up a solo home run to Snider in the sixth inning. If Cabral does not make the 25-man roster after spring training he will have to offered back to the Kansas City Royals.

BOMBER BANTER

If the four consecutive losses were not bad enough, the Yankees actually suffered what could be a more damaging blow. All-Star reliever David Robertson fell down a flight of stairs moving boxes at his residence on Wednesday and he will require more extensive tests on his sprained right midfoot. Robertson went to a Tampa hospital on Thursday to have a CT scan and a weight-bearing X-ray taken on his right foot and the team hopes to have more information on the injury on Friday. In the meantime Robertson has been fitted for a walking boot but the extent of the injury is still unknown.  . . .  Closer Mariano Rivera completed his second bullpen session on Thursday in Tampa, FL., and proclaimed himself ready for game action. Rivera is scheduled to make his spring debut on Sunday at home against the Philadelphia Phillies.

ON DECK

After faltering on the road in three of their last four losses, perhaps it is good thing the Yankees return home to George M. Steinbrenner Field to host an Atlanta Braves split squad on Friday.

Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Rafeal Soriano is also scheduled to pitch. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Russell Martin, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are expected to be in the starting lineup for the Yankees.

The Braves are countering with right-hander Julio Teheran, who gave up six home runs in his spring debut against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. Will Teheran awaken the Yankees’ slumbering bats?

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

 

Blue Jays Pack Punch But Rotation Still Looks Thin

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

PART 2 – TORONTO BLUE JAYS

When you think of the Blue Jays these days, just one name comes to mind: Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays basically rode Bautista to an 81-81 record last season, the first season for manager John Farrell.

Though Bautista was able to slug his way to 43 home runs and 103 RBIs and a .302 average despite being pitched around and walked 132 times, the Blue Jays offense could not cover up problems in the Jays’ starting rotation and bullpen.

This season Bautista figures to have a lot more help with the offense but the Jays were unable to bid successfully for Japanese League star right-hander Yu Darvish. As a result, their pitching remains a big question mark heading into 2012. If they get some good pitching from their starters they could actually be much better than they were in 2011.

STARTERS

Left-hander Ricky Romero begins the 2012 season as the unquestioned ace of this team after compiling a 15-11 record and a 2.92 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 225 innings. Romero’s deadly change-up is his best pitch and he keeps hitters off-balance working off his low 90s fastball. At age 27, he has made great strides in just two major-league seasons.

Once again, right-hander Brandon Morrow will be the No. 2 starter, though he actually would be more valuable as a closer. Morrow, 27, throws high-octane gas but has a habit of missing the strike zone and getting bogged down in deep counts. That raises his pitch count and Morrow tends to tire quickly. Hence, he was 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA despite striking out 203 batters in 179 1/3 innings.

The big disappointment was left-hander Brett Cecil, who was 15-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 2010 but was 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA in 20 starts last season. Cecil, 25, regressed so badly he was sent back to the minors for a part of the season. Because the Jays have few options for their rotation, Cecil likely will be given another shot to stick in 2012. If he succeeds, as he did in 2010, the Jays will have a solid top three pitchers.

Right-hander Henderson Alvarez came up in the middle of the season and finished with a 1-3 record and a 3.53 ERA in only 10 starts. Alvarez, only 21, is an excellent control pitcher and he could end up making a huge leap forward if he can secure the No. 4 spot this season.

The Blue Jays are also counting on old friend to be their No. 5 starter in Dustin McGowan, who pitched briefly last season for the first time since the 2008 season. Shoulder problems derailed what looked to be a promising pitcher in 2007 when he was 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA for the Jays. The Jays are counting on him bouncing back this season.

The pressure is on McGowan, too. There is little depth behind him.

In short, this Blue Jays rotation looks to be a bit suspect but it has the potential to exceed expectations.

BULLPEN

The most signifcant moves the Jays made was the signing 36-year-old right-hander Francisco Cordero as a free agent and acquiring 28-year-old right-hander Sergio Santos from the White Sox.

Leaky middle relief and the lack of a consistent closer cost the Jays dearly last season.

Cordero likely was signed to be a setup man for Santos despite the fact Cordero nailed down 36 saves in 43 chances with the Reds last season. Cordero was 5-3 with  2.45 ERA with the Reds but he still will to defer to Santos.

Santos came out of nowhere last season to become the White Sox closer with 30 saves in 36 tries and a 4-5 record with a 3.55 ERA. Should Santos falter for any reason, Cordero could easily slide into that role by virtue of his 327 career saves.

The Blue Jays also bolstered their bullpen by adding seemingly ageless left-hander Darren Oliver (who is 41) to a bullpen that already includes steady right-handers Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen. Former starter Jesse Litsch and long man Carlos Villanueva add depth to what now looks to be a strong group in 2012.

STARTING LINEUP

Bautista will not be shuttling from right-field to third base as he has in the past. The reason is the Jays think they have their third baseman for the forseeable future in Brett Lawrie.

Lawrie came up late in 2011 and showed he was ready for prime time by hitting nine home runs and driving in 25 runs with a .293 batting average in only 150 at bats. Projected over a full season, Lawrie’s numbers would approach Bautista’s. So Lawrie bears watching as a star of the future if he isn’t already.

Adam Lind also helped the Jays by slugging 26 home runs and driving in 87 runs hitting behind Bautiista. Though Lind could stand to hit better than the .251 mark he posted, the Jays have to be encouraged that he hit .243 against left-handers last season.

The Jays gave up on second baseman Aaron Hill and acquired Kelly Johnson from the Diamondbacks in a trade of Hill. However, Johnson and Hill are virtually alike in they are both mid-average power hitters. Johnson hit 21 home runs in 2011 after hitting 26 in 2010. Johnson also can steal bases. He swiped 16 last season.

The Jays also traded for troubled Cardinals outfielder Colby Ramus, who rejected hitting advice from coaches in St. Louis while posting a .225 batting average with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. Because the Jays have failed in developing prospect Travis Snider into a major-league hitter the team has moved on hoping Ramus fulfills his early promise.

Rounding out the outfield is left-fielder Eric Thames, who hit .282 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in just over half a season.

The Jays did seem to strike gold by prying shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Braves. Escobar, 29, hit .290 with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs as a leadoff hitter for most of the 2011 season.

The DH spot likely will go mostly to Edwin Encarnacion, who hit .272 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs in 134 games last season.

This Blue Jay offense is laden with power but Farrell introduced the concept of the stolen base to the formerly station-to-station Jays. However, the team leader, Rajai Davis, stole 34 bases but is now cast in a bench role so I am not sure how much stealing this team will do in 2012.

The Jays also developed a young catcher in J.P. Arencibia, who had 23 home runs and 78 RBIs in a his rookie season. But even with all that production, Arencibia hit  just .219. He needs some work on defense too but the Jays are hopeful because he is only 26.

BENCH

Davis, a speedster who had hit .284 with 50 steals for the A’s in 2010 fell off to hit .238 for the Jays in 2011. So he is locked in a battle with former Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco for a backup spot.

Though Snider has been a disappointment for the third straight season, the left-handed slugger just turned 24 and the Jays remain hopeful he someday will put it together. He may land back in Triple-A for the 2012 season, however.

Mike McCoy will be the primary infield reserve. He lacks range but is solid at second, short and third.

Jays backup catcher and defensive wizard Jose Molina left as a free agent for the rival Rays so the Jays acquired former Angels catcher Jeff Mathis to back up Arencibia.

ANALYSIS

The Jays figure to hit more home runs and still fewer bases in 2012. It is team that you can shut down if you have good stuff. But it also is a team that can destroy a pitcher who continually falls behind in the count and does not have good stuff.

The biggest weakness on the team looks to be in the thin starting rotation. Romero is the only real quality pitcher because Morrow has yet to take the next step in his development into a starter, Cecil is a biq question mark, Alvarez needs to prove he belongs and McGowan is pitching after three mostly inactive seasons rehabbing after major shoulder surgery.

The bullpen should be improved and both Santos and Cordero have experience closing. The Blue Jays have some good relievers besides them in Oliver, Frasor and Janssen.

With some real improvement the Jays could contend for the division this season. But in this division, their starting pitching could prevent them from staying competitive as the season unfolds.

I see the Jays perhaps creeping over the .500 mark but still finishing fourth.

ON WEDNESDAY – PART 3  TAMPA BAY RAYS

 

Hughes Gives Yanks Boost By Grounding Jays

GAME 92

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 2

When the Yankees activated Phil Hughes from the disabled list on July 6 they hoped he could re-establish the same sensational form that made him 10-1 and an All-Star pitcher through July 2010.

After six innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday, Hughes may not be there yet but he is pretty darn close.

Hughes (1-2) gave up only two runs on four hits and two walks and fanned five batters in a powerful 80-pitch performance while Brett Gardner continued his hot streak with another three hits and Curtis Granderson drove in three runs as New York routed Toronto at Rogers Centre to earn a split in their four-game series.

Gardner, subbing for a resting Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot, was on base in four of five plate appearances, including three singles and a walk, he stole two bases and scored three runs. Granderson gave the Yankees a 5-1 lead in the fourth inning with a two-out, two run double off Jays starter Carlos Villanueva (5-2). Granderson later added a one-out RBi single in the ninth off reliever Jason Frasor to close out the Yankee scoring for the afternoon.

Villanueva, a converted reliever, gave up five runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out six over five innings.

However, Hughes was the big story.

Hughes faltered in the second half of last season, going 8-7 after the All-Star break. Then he showed up at spring training unable to reach 90 mph on his fastball throughout the 2011 exhibition season. After Hughes began the season 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA in his first three starts, the Yankees placed Hughes on the disabled list with what was referred to as a dead arm. It later was termed right shoulder inflammation.

In his second start after being activated Hughes threw 51 of 80 pitches for strikes (64 perecnt) and he reached 93 mph on the radar gun on his fastball. It was not a dominant start, but it was definitely a step in the right direction for Hughes and a Yankee starting rotation that desperately needs a healthy and productive Hughes to compete in the American League East.

With the victory, the Yankees are now 55-37 and they are one game behind the Boston Red Sox in the division race. The Blue Jays fell to 47-49 and they are in fourth place in the East, 11 games out of first.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes looked much better than his his first start off the DL on July 6 against the Indians. In that game he gave up two runs on six hits and two walks over five innings and he took the loss. Today, Hughes made use of a new tighter grip on his curveball and a quicker delivery to the plate. Hughes gave up a leadoff double to Edwin Encarnacion in the second and Travis Snider followed with an RBI single for the Jays first run. In the fourth, with one out Hughes walked Encarnacion and Snider followed with a ground-rule double that advanced Encarnacion to third. Aaron Hill followed with a sac fly and that was all the Jays offense on the day. Hughes lowered his season ERA to 8.64.
  • The Blue Jays probably offered to pay for Gardner’s airfare out of town after he ripped them for 10 hits in 16 at-bats (.625) over the four games with three doubles, a walk, five runs scored and three stolen bases. Gardner also collected three hits in three of the four games and he raised his season average from .265 to .286. and he is hitting a robust .348 in July with an incredible .457 on-base percentage. Gardner also stole two bases on Sunday and he has succeeded in stealing his last 12 bases without being caught to raise his overall stolen-base percentage to 72 percent.
  • Granderson struck out his first two times up against Villanueva on change-ups but his RBI double off Villanueva in the fourth and his RBI single in the ninth off Frasor both came off change-ups that Granderson waited on and then pulled both to right-field. Though Granderson leads the team by a margin of 26 in strikeouts with 95, Granderson is now tied for third in the league and the team leader in RBIs with 68.
  • The bullpen — Cory Wade, David Robertson and Boone Logan — combined to no-hit the Blue Jays over the final three innings, combining for no walks and five strikeouts. The Yankees bullpen has held up despite the injuries to Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Nothing to really complain about here. The issue now that Hughes is improving can’t be good for the Red Flops (Sox). They currently have three starters on the disabled list and one of those is out for the season.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Sunday optioned outfielder Greg Golson to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and recalled outfielder Chris Dickerson to take his place on the roster. The Yankees brought up Golson as a reserve outfielder because he hits right-handed and the Yankees faced left-handers in two of the first three games of the series. Dickerson was up with the Yankees previously this season and he is hitting .300 over 31 games. Golson was used a defensive replacement on Saturday but he did not get an at-bat. Dickerson was used as defensive replacement in right-field in the eighth inning on Sunday and did not bat.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi shuffled his lineup on Sunday because the Yankees are playing eight straight games on artificial surface fields this week. Jeter was rested in favor of Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena played third base. The Yankees also made Mark Teixeira the designated hitter and moved Jorge Posada to first base.  . . .  Soriano will make a rehab start with Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League on Tuesday.  . . .  A couple of notes for any Blue Jays fans who may be reading this blog: No. 1, If you are attending a Blue Jays’ home game it is much better to save the “Let’s Go Blue Jays” cheer when your team is batting and not when they are in the field. It is hard to score runs when you are on defense. No. 2, Loudly cheering “Yankees Suck” is OK when you are winning the game by a nice margin but is stupid when the team is trailing. What does it say about the Jays when it is is getting toasted by a team that supposedly sucks?

ON DECK

The Yankees are on their way to St. Petersburg, FL, to open a four game road series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.

A.J. Burnett (8-7, 4.15 ERA) will open the series on the mound for the Yankees. He has alternated wins and losses over his last five decisions and he gave up three runs on three hits in a no-decision victory over the Rays on July 9. He is 12-8 with a 3.41 ERA against the Rays in his career.

The Rays will be starting rookie right-hander Alex Cobb (2-0, 3.41 ERA), who will be making his sixth start of the season in place of the injured Wade Davis. Cobb has not faced the Yankees before.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.

Sabathia Pitches Gem To Clinch Yankees’ Playoff Invite

GAME 158
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 1

At last, my love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song
                                     — Etta James

As Alex Rodriguez’s throw hit Mark Teixeira’s glove to retire Toronto’s Lyle Overbay with the 27th out on Tuesday night, you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief coming from the Yankee coaching staff as they hugged in the Rogers Centre visitors’ dugout.
“Whew!” pretty much sums up what the Yankees had to go through to clinch a playoff spot. Now that the team had it, there was no wild celebrations (unlike the screaming banshees of the Tampa Bay Rays did in St. Petersburg, FL, earlier in the evening). It was a very subdued celebration.
The reason is that bigger prizes are still left undecided: the American League East title, the best record in the American League and home-field advantage in the playoffs are still within reach. The Yankees will celebrate then.
But CC Sabathia pitched masterfully into the ninth inning, Mariano Rivera recorded the final two outs and the Yankees played “playoff-style little ball” all evening to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays and eliminate the Boston Red Sox from any chance to make the playoffs.
With all that accomplished, the Yankees could shake off the fact they had lost 14 of their last 21 games coming into the game and focus on the goal of the 28th world championship.
Sabathia (21-7) pitched much like he did last season when he led the Yankees to their first championship in nine years. He also pitched much like he has done this season in leading the Yankees to their 15th playoff berth in the last 16 seasons.
Sabathia gave up a solo two-out home run to Travis Snider in the third inning, which halved the Yankees’ lead to 2-1 at the time. He also gave up a one-out, opposite field single to Vernon Wells in the seventh inning. And that was pretty much all of the Blue Jays’ offense through eight innings.
Sabathia also walked Jose Bautista with two outs in the first inning.
But he struck eight and only allowed six balls to reach the outfield through the first eight innings.
He started the ninth, but Snider touched him for lined single to right and Yunel Escobar coaxed Sabathia’s second walk. After Sabathia retired Bautista on a deep fly to center-field, manager Joe Girardi, playing it safe, replaced the tiring left-hander with Rivera.
Rivera retired Vernon Wells on a sharp liner to left and Overbay’s grounder to A-Rod closed it out for the Bronx “Little Ballers,” such was they way they played on this night.
The Yankees scored their six runs without the benefit of a hit. They used three sacrifice flies, scored a pair of runs on infield grounders and one scored on a bases-loaded walk.
Derek Jeter led the “assault,” if you can call it that, with two hits, a walk, three runs scored and an RBI on a fielder’s choice.
Jeter scored in the first on an Alex Rodriguez sacrifice fly off rookie Jays starter Kyle Drabek (0-3), the son of former Yankee pitcher Doug Drabek who was making only his third major-league start. 
Jeter scored another run in the third inning without the benefit of a hit. He walked, moved to second on a wild pitch and Nick Swisher bunted him over to third. Teixeira followed with a sacrifice fly to score Jeter.
The Yankees scored another in the fifth when Brett Gardner stroked a one-out triple and he slid home on Jeter’s grounder to Edwin Encarnacion at third. Encarnacion’s throw to the plate and the tag by catcher John Buck was just late and Gardner was ruled safe by home-plate umpire Mark Carlson.
The Yankees added two runs in the eighth inning and a single run in the ninth inning as they loaded the bases and threatened to blow the game wide open in both frames.
Instead, they settled for a bases-loaded walk to Alex Rodriguez in the eighth that scored Jeter again. Robinson Cano followed a sacrifice fly to score pinch-runner Greg Golson.
In the ninth, the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs on a pinch-hit single by Marcus Thames, a walk to Curtis Granderson and a sac bunt attempt by Gardner that Encarnacion  allowed to roll down the line and hit the third base bag for a single.
After Jeter was fanned by reliever Casey Janssen, Golson scored pinch-runner Eduardo Nunez with a groundout to Encarnacion at third. It was Golson’s first major-league RBI and it closed out the scoring for the night.
Now most the pressure is off. The Yankees have achieved their first goal. They have a few very important goals left in the four games that remain: Win their 14th divisional crown in the past 15 seasons and clinch the best record in baseball.
With the Rays’ victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday, the Yankees trail the Rays by a slim half-game in the American League East. They also trail the Rays by a half-game for the best record. The Central Division Minnesota Twins, who lost to Kansas City on Tuesday, trail the Yankees by 1 1/2 games.
If the Yankees overtake the Rays and clinch home-field for the AL playoffs they will celebrate. But not until then.
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