Friday, April 30, 2010

The Captain and Mo Real

Lame, very lame. But the Captain and Mo were the story tonight. Sure there was some stuff in between, but they were the real difference. So was a gut it out performance by Andy Pettitte who struggled in the early going.

But El Capitan saved the day. I mentioned on Twitter tonight that even my wife says one day she'll be able to say she saw Derek Jeter play. She's a Yankees fan, but not a fanatic like yours truly.

If not for Robbie Cano's torrid start, which included another RBI single tonight, people would be talking about the hot April that Jeter is having. Tonight it was 3 hits, a double shy of the cycle, a game tying 2-run home run and a game winning 2-run triple.

He's now hitting .330. The hit total is up to 2,778. The OPS is .878. A 7-13 streak. 12 multi-hit games already.

Pettitte gave up a couple of cheap hits in the 1st and then the red hot Paul Konerko went deep for his major league leading 11th home run and a 3-0 lead. The veteran lefty settled down, allowing four runs in six innings of work. Al Aceves (2-0), Damaso Marte, and Joba Chamberlain than combined for two innings of Mo setup.

With all due respect, but no apologies to Goose Gossage, Mariano Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher of all time. I don't care Goose that you worked 2, 3, whatever innings per game. The guy in the '60s and prior would have told you that they didn't need you and would have gone 9 innings game in and game out.

Rivera is hands down the best there is. No one is better under pressure. Tonight was no problem. Three up, three down. Rivera blew away Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham for his 7th save and a three game winning streak.

Groovin' On a Thursday Night

photo courtesy of Washington Post

Yeah yeah, I know that's not the song. But the Yankees, specifically Robinson Cano and A.J. Burnett were groovin' last night in Baltimore.

Cano has been all month. Two more home runs last night, another shot that didn't miss by much that resulted in a double. He's leading the team in practically every offensive category.

Is it because of Melky's departure? Is it because he's matured? Is it that I don't care, I'm just glad that he's hitting? You bet your seated area that's it.

Lost in last night's well deserved Canofest was the job Burnett did. It may very well be the best game he's pitched as a Yankee. When he threw a 2-2 breaking pitch 5 ft outside the strike zone to the O's first batter (Adam Jones), I admit I quickly thought, "here we go".

But Burnett was magnificent. Effortless. Smooth. Very un-Burnett like. The game went by rather quickly - 2:51 - not bad by today's standards (don't choke on your burrito Joe West).

All told, Burnett (who, btw, is no 35-12 vs. AL East) went 8 innings, allowed just three hits, walked a single batter, and struck out four. We all love big strikeout totals, but is there any thing better than watch a pitcher get guys out by having defense make all the routine plays as well as some spectacular ones?

The latter brings me back to Cano. The guy has amazing foot work, arm strength, accuracy, and range (I don't need some UZR rating, or whatever the hell it is called, to tell me that.).

He snared Nolan Reimold's bouncer threw the box as it neared the 2nd base area and, in one motion, fired across his body to Mark Teixeira at first. It was a perfect throw. Cano was already well on to the shortstop side of the bag when he released the ball. You can see the replay here. Even if Derek Jeter was impressed.


Marcus Thames' at-bats are sporadic, but after a pair of bloops and a frozen rope for three hits last night, he's now a remarkable 10-19 (.588) on the season.

As expected, Jorge Posada sat out with a bruised knee, the result of a Jeremy Guthrie pitch on Wednesday night. Posada will miss Friday's series opener at home with the White Sox.

I was only 6 when this came out..that is all.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yankees Hammer Guthrie

photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports

CC Gives the Pen a Rest

It's hard to believe that some of the fans of the defending champions were panicking on April 28, but after losing 4 of 5 and the 1st of a 3 games set with the Baltimore Orioles, that's just what occurred.

Sanity and the Yankees prevailed last night as the Nick Swisher led a 15-hit attack with a trio of hits and 2 RBI. CC Sabathia let the pen rest until the 8th inning as he improved to 3-1.

The Yankees jumped on Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie right from the get-go. Derek Jeter led off the game with a double inside the first base line and Nick Johnson sliced a single to left. Luis Montanez was undecided on the play and got caught on an in-between hop. Jeter scored easily as Johnson barely beat the throw to 2nd base. Mark Teixeira moved the runner up with a ground out to the right side and Alex Rodriguez brought Johnson home with a deep fly to left-center.

Guthrie got no reprieve in the 2nd, when he hit Jorge Posada on the side of the right knee to start the inning. Though he remained in the game while the Yankees were at-bat, Posada left the game and is listed as day-to-day. Curtis Granderson singled to center and both runners came home on Swisher's triple off the the wall in center. Jeter's sac fly made it a 5-0 lead after two.

Sabathia allowed single runs in the 3rd, 6th, and 7th, but the Orioles were never really in the ball game. The big man was trying to become the first pitcher since David Wells in 1998 to throw three straight complete games for New York, but tired out in the 8th.

The beleaguered O's pen was actually the highlight of their night, allowing just one run in 4.1 innings.


Robinson Cano remained hot, picking up a pair of hits to raise his average to .390. He drove in the final run off of Guthrie with his 6th home run of the year.

Francisco Cervelli is off to a nice start. After replacing Posada, he was 2-4 with an RBI and is hitting .444.

O's outfielder Nick Markakis ended his homerless drought by smacking his first of the year.

A.J. Burnett goes tonight in the rubber game of the series. He'll be opposed by rookie Brian Matusz, the O's top pitching prospect.

If the Yankees need a catcher for tonight's game, a reliever is likely (Boone Logan?), to be sent down. It's either that or a position player would be in jeopardy. Randy Winn being the most likely candidate.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yankees Pen Does It's Best O's Imitation

photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The Orioles came into the start of last night's Yankees series with just three wins. Not that they hadn't had leads in many games. It's just that arguably the league's worst bullpen (Kansas City might argue that) had coughed up almost every lead they had. They nearly did it again last night...unfortunately, for the Yankees, Joe Girardi's bullpen was worse.

Phil Hughes making his first start since his wonderous Oakland performance battled his way through five-plus innings and left with a 2-1 lead. Then the Yankees played gift giver and were in a 5-2 hole before you could say..well, um, "there goes the lead".

Boone Logan replaced Hughes with two out s in the 6th and quickly walked fellow lefty Luke Scott. David Robertson came on and did his best Brian Bruney impression. What's that you say? Good one year, bad the next. Albeit without the weight loss.

Robertson hit Ty Wiggington and then surrendered back to back singles Rhyne Hughes and Nolan Reimold (who named these people?) to put the Yankees in a 4-2 hole. The O's added a big insurance run in the 8th when Cesar Izturis drove in his third run of the game after a Derek Jeter error.

The O's pen and defense did their part to get the Yankees back in the game, but a 9th inning rally fell short. Alfredo Simon, recalled earlier in the day, picked up his first major league save, but it wasn't without some nail biting.

After a one out walk to Nick Swisher, pinch-hitter Nick Johnson drew his 19th walk of the season. Jeter struck out, but Julio Lugo misplayed Brett Gardner's grounder for a run scoring error. Mark Teixeira quickly followed with an RBI single to right to give Alex Rodriguez a chance to tie the game with a base hit. He nearly did, but Lugo was positioned perfectly up the middle to field his grounder and force Teixeira at second base.


Nick Johnson switched from uni number 26 to 36. It's the number he wore his first time around in the Bronx.

Phil Hughes had walked in a run in the 2nd inning and the Yankees pen was already up in warming. But the right-hander got Adam Jones to bounce into an inning ending double play to stop the threat.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Grand Godzilla

Holy oversight Batman. How could I miss this? Didn't realize until watching the MLB Network a short time ago that Hideki Matsui picked up his 1,000th career MLB hit last night.

Congrats to the Great Godzilla.

Mackey Zaun?

photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports

You all remember Mackey Sasser, the poster child for psychological issues trying to throw a baseball. Steve Sax heard the name mentioned. Chuck Knoblauch. And so on.

The Milwaukee Brewers' Gregg Zaun may be the latest. Not one, not two, but three times last night did Zaun make a mis-throw trying to toss a baseball back to his pitcher Yovani Gallordo. Remarkably, no base runners advanced.

Zaun has always been known for good bat, bad glove, and that was true last night as he tried to erase the memories by driving in five runs. That tied a career high as did his four did his three bad throws. (As does the three g's in his first name)

Yankees Make Capitol Gains

The Yankees made the much ballyhooed trip to the White House yesterday for a meet and greet with the President. It doesn't get much cooler for a ball player than to be invited to the White House.

President Barack Obama lauded the Yankees for their actions both on and off the field, which yesterday included a visit to the Walter Reed Army Hospital.

The President singled out Mark Teixeira for the scholarship he started with his first signing bonus at age 21. It was in remembrance of a close friend who had died in a car accident.

Obama made references to the home of his fellow Illinois favorite son, Joe Girardi, and took a shot from Yankees Assistant GM Jean Afterman about his hometown White Sox.

“Let him hold it,” she said. “He may not get a chance again.”
The President is quick on his feet though...
“And you wonder why the other teams don’t root for you,” he said as the room erupted again.
A good time had by all.

Below is video from yesterday's event.

The Definition of Awesomeness

Saw a tweet from Sports Illustrated about this morning. On the "to buy" list for sure. And yes, I still hate the phrase "Core Four".

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Prime Pettitte

27 or 37? It's hard to tell how old Andy Pettitte is right now. The 16-yr veteran is pitching as well as he ever has. After dominating the Los Angeles Angeles over eight innings yesterday, the lefty now stands at 3-0, 1.29 this season.

Pettitte's 232nd career win (had he not left for three years, Pettitte would have been getting ready to pass Whitey Ford as the all-time winningest Yankees pitcher.) saw him strike out eight, scatter six hits and didn't walk a batter. For the season, Andrew Eugene Pettitte, as Michael Kay likes to refer to him, has 22 strikeouts and nine walks in 28 innings pitched. He's allowed just 21 hits and the American League is hitting just .216 off of him. Torii Hunter, for one, says he has never seen Pettitte look better.

Pettitte struggled with a bad elbow in his first year back in the Bronx in 2008, but his arm has been healthy since and it has paid dividends. Last season, Pettitte won 14 games and was on the mound for the clinching game in each round of the playoffs. He's been even better this year despite a spring training that was limited by poor weather.

“When I left spring training, I felt like all my pitches were right where I wanted them to be,” said Pettitte, who didn’t pitch in a preseason game until March 17. “The first couple of starts, my stamina wasn’t there. So I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to get off to the start I’ve gotten off to.

“Now the stamina is there. So hopefully, me missing all of spring training, as far as competition, will be a blessing in disguise and I’ll feel strong throughout the season,” Pettitte added. “My location’s been really good. I’m mixing my pitches up good, I’m moving the ball in and out, and my command’s been pretty good. Anytime you can do that, you’re going to be successful.”

Pettitte and the Yankees rotation has also benefited from the Yankees defense this season. Yesterday, Derek Jeter made his "Jeterian" leap in the hole between third and short. Ramiro Pena, playing third base so Alex Rodriguez could get some rest at DH, made a diving snare of a line drive. And Brett Gardner took advantage of some sloppy base running by throwing out Mike Napoli trying to go from first to third on a base hit to left field.

The Yankees went 12 games without an error before a miscue by Robinson Cano on Thursday ended the streak. Pettitte hopes to benefit from that defense when he makes his next start against the White Sox next weekend.


Robinson Cano had four hits on Saturday to boost his average back up to .369. He also continued his impressive start with runners in scoring position by delivering an RBI single in the fifth inning.
Brett Gardner's had three hits and is on an 11-24 (.458) streak. Francisco Cervelli is now 6-12 after delivering a 2-run single. Nick Johnson got the day off with a stiff back and may be out again today.

Click here for recap and box score of Saturday's game

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Things That Make You Go Ouch

In the midst of their first two game losing streak of the season, the Yankees Mark Teixeira left his mark on the Los Angeles catcher Bobby Wilson.

Teixeira was attempting to score from second base on a Robinson Cano base hit to right field. Bobby Abreu's throw home was to the first base side of home plate. Wilson attempted to catch the ball on a hop and, in one move, bring the tag over to Teixeira. But Wilson lost twice.

The ball ricocheted off Wilson's mask and Teixeira blasted through the catcher as he moved towards home plate. While the play was considered clean (that includes the opinion of Halos' skipper Mike Scioscia), my opinon remains that it should not be part of the game.

Nowhere else on the field can you steamroll a player like you do at home plate. Shin guards and a chest protector don't make you ready to play running back in the NFL. Catchers are often in a prone position as a collision occurs, setting them up for an assortment of injuries.

Wilson suffered an ankle injury and a concussion, and it could have been a lot worse. Fortunately for the Yankees, Teixeira came away unscathed, but the runner is at risk as well.

It may be a play that goes back to the beginning of time, but that doesn't mean it's a play that should remain in play.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yankees Turn Rare Feat But Lose

photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports

Tough day for CC Sabathia and the Yankees. The big man walked a career high six batters in tossing an eight inning complete game. Lost in the loss was the first triple play the Yankees have turned in 42 years. In case you missed here is the video and more about it.

The previous play came on my Mommy's birthday, June 3, 1968. That star of stars, Dooley Womack (heavy sarcasm), Bobby Cox (yes, one and the same) and Mickey Mantle, who was playing 1st base by then, combined on the triple killing.

Yankees only offense today against A's starter Dallas Braden were solo home runs by Mark Teixeira and Marcus Thames. It was the latter's first of the year. Braden made a bigger impression though when he decided to take on Alex Rodriguez.

Rodriguez ran across the pitcher's mound after fouling out to first base. Braden was not amused and starting yelling at the Yankees third baseman. That led to a further exchange of nonsense. Check out the details as reported by Marc Carig on

Despite the loss, the Yankees have won all five series they've played this year and stand at 11-4. The team now heads to Anaheim for a three game series with the Anaheim Angels, including a national broadcast game Saturday on Fox. The team winds up the road trip with three games in Baltimore beginning on Tuesday.

Yankees Could Get Hughes to This

Though we're just about 40 minutes away from today's Yankees-A's game, I'm still thinking about last night's contest.

Just 11 days after CC Sabathia took a no-hitter into the 8th inning, Phil Hughes did the same last night in his start against Oakland. Like the big man, it was Hughes' second start the season. The California native retired the first batter in the 8th, but couldn't handle Eric Chavez's hot smash back thru the box. Two batters later Gabe Gross walked and Hughes' night was done.

Hughes was even more efficient than Sabathia, entering the 8th will a relatively low pitch count. He relied heavily on his fastball, which helped him to a career high 10 strikeouts.

After walking Daric Barton with one in the first, Hughes set down the next 20 A's in a row before Chavez's comebacker played pinball on Hughes' glove and body. The ball bounded back towards home plate as Hughes, with his back to catcher Jorge Posada, looked skyward for the ball.


The Yankees had taken a 2-0 lead in the 4th, helped by a rarity. Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano stroked back to back triples to break up a scoreless game between Hughes and Ben Sheets.

Nich Swisher got a day off, with Randy Winn getting a rare start. Swish will be back in the lineup today, while Curtis Granderson gets a day off.

Hughes' brush with fame evoked many emotions on Twitter. There were plenty of people who defied superstition and talked about the no-no. (Michael Kay was probably screaming it at home.) Others worried about an injury like the one that occurred when Hughes had a no-no going against Texas in June, 2006. There was speculation if Hughes would be pulled by Joe Girardi if his pitch count got too high.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Edwar, Gaudin Get Rung Up

photo courtesy of Newsday

The Yankees trip to Oakland allowed the team to present World Series rings to Edwar Ramirez and Chad Gaudin.

The team held a little ceremony for the pair before new internet sensation Chan Ho Park broke up the celebration and his teammates by telling the duo (according to NY Daily News beat writer Mark Feinsand), "Okay, beat it. We got stretch".

Who knew the Yankees got both a relief pitcher and Henny Youngman when they signed Park this past off-season.

Ramirez thanked the Yankees by walking four batters in last night's game between the Yankees and A's.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vazquez Looking for his A's Game

Written for Baseball Digest

When Alex Rodriguez was acquired by the Yankees in February, 2004, Yankees fans and the team’s front office were ecstatic. The next five years would be an up and down, love/hate relationship between New York and Rodriguez. The giant gorilla was lifted off Rodriguez’s shoulders when the Yankees captured their 27th world championship last summer and Rodriguez was a big part of it. The title also removed the stain that the 2004 ALCS had left on the Yankees third baseman. It’s the same stain that is still haunting Javier Vazquez.

Though the deal wasn’t met with the same oohs and ahs that the Rodriguez deal brought, Vazquez’s acquisition from Montreal for three players (Juan Rivera, Nick Johnson, and Randy Choate) in December, 2003 was well received by Yankees fans.The then-27 year old right-hander was building his resume as a top-notch NL starter.

Vazquez had topped 215 innings pitched the prior four seasons and was one of the few bright spots left on an Expos team that was on its way to oblivion. His first half with the Yankees was everything the Yankees wanted and more. A first half 10-5, 3.56 mark led to an All-Star appearance and the Yankees were well on their way to another playoff appearance.

But a sore shoulder, which Vazquez hid from the Yankees, led to a miserable second half (4-5, 6.92) for the native of Puerto Rico. But no performance would be remembered more by the Yankees than game 7 of the ALCS. The Yankees had blown a 3-0 lead and were clinging to the last of their hopes for a return trip to the World Series.

Vazquez had won a game 3 blowout (19-8) despite giving up four runs in four-plus innings of relief. Just as he had in that game, Vazquez had to come in early for starter Kevin Brown when the series reached it’s finale. When Johnny Damon blasted 3-run and grand slam home runs, the fates of Vazquez and the Yankees were sealed.

Vazquez was shipped out during the off-season and spent the next five years in Arizona, Chicago (AL), and Atlanta. Then Brian Cashman jumped at the chance to bring Vazquez back this past winter after posting a 15-10, 2.87 record in Hotlanta.

But all is not forgiven by the Yankees faithful. After a decent spring training, Vazquez was roughed up in Tampa Bay and was hit even harder in his return to the Bronx a week later. Vazquez heard the derisive cheer the Bronx is famous for, chants of “hang ‘em Javy”, and some other things that would not be nice to put into print.

There’s still plenty of time to turn around his 9.82 ERA, but if he doesn’t and the team doesn’t succeed, Vazquez will still wear the stain of 2004.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

4 Series, 4 Series Wins

When was the last time the Yankees had a good April? You can't tell me, can you? That's because it seems like it has been forever.

But these 2010 Yankees are off to a much better start than the the squad that won the World Series last season. Of course, much of the cast is the same, but there are significant differences in left field, at DH, and the back end of the rotation.

So far the Yankees have played four series and have won all four. The first time any Yankees team has done so since 1926. First, there was 2 of 3 in hated Beantown. Then another 2 of 3 against fellow AL East beast Tampa Bay for a 4-2 road trip. The first series at home saw the Yankees take another 2 of 3 from their long time nemesis, the LA Angels. And finally, with a game still to be played today the Yankees have already clinched the series with the Texas Rangers by winning the first two games.

In compiling an 8-3 start the Yankees have gotten great starting pitching, timely hitting, and superb defense. All of which Texas has not gotten in the first two games in the Bronx. They haven't even gotten good defense. The Rangers could have set a major league record for errors the last two days if not for a generous official scorer or two.

Right now I'm wondering what I was thinking for picking them to win the AL West (Minny in the AL Central, Philly in the NL East, St. Loo in the NL Central and LA in the NL West are the others).

But let's talk more about the Yankees. This is a team that has won 8 of 11 despite the fact that Alex Rodriguez didn't hit a home run until yesterday. Which, by the way, moved him past Mark McGwire on the all-time list (let's not even go near the obvious subject). Mark Teixeira isn't hitting a 5-yr old's weight, and Javier Vazquez's ERA is higher than the IQ of anyone on "Jersey Shore".

So what is going on? Derek Jeter is being Derek Jeter. He's had a hit in all 11 games, is batting .380 and is secondon the team with 3 home runs.

Robinson Cano is on a tear. His 10-game hitting streak ended Saturday, but he's still batting ("a gaudy", thank you Michael Kay) .356 with team highs in HR (4) and RBI (9).

Jorge Posada has an 1.128 OPS. Nick Johnson has only 6 hits, but 13 walks. Brett Gardner had 3 infield hits on Saturday and his speed caused havoc on the basepaths.

And Curtis Granderson has had no trouble adjusting to NY, posting a .924 OPS in his first 11 games.

Then, of course, there is the pitching. A.J. Burnett was outstanding on Saturday, following up another stand out performance by CC Sabathia on Friday. Andy Pettitte is coming off back to back solid starts as he goes for the sweep today.

And the defense has made just four errors thus far. Granted there have been plays in left field that should have been made, but that's what happens when Marcus Thames is out there.

It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a team to build up an 8-3 record and the Yankees have gotten contributions from everywhere. Just wait until the calendar turns to May and Mark Teixeira starts hitting.

59 is divine?

Yesterday marked the 59th anniversary of two debuts. Both Mickey Mantle and Bob Sheppard made their debuts on April 17, 1951.

Just Another Day of Baseball

There's an old saying, and variations of it, that goes "anything can happen at the ballpark". So true. And yesterday was a perfect example.

But first flash back to May 1, 1991. Rickey Henderson breaks Lou Brock's all-time steals record (unfortunately, against the Yankees). That led to the (in)famous little speech that included "Lou Brock was the symbol of great base stealing. But today, I'm the greatest of all time". The only thing shocking was that he didn't say, "Rickey Henderson is the greatest of all time".

That night Henderson's big day was nearly forgotten thanks to a powerful Texas right-hander named Nolan Ryan. The Rangers' current head honcho was pitching for them back then and at age 44 threw his 7th and final no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Flash forward to yesterday, April 17, 2010. Ubaldo Jimenez had one of the games of his life for the Colorado Rockies. Jiminez threw the first no-hitter in the franchise's history as he blanked the Atlanta Braves. Albeit, it was a Joe Cowley type of no-hitter, but it was a no-no nonetheless.

But how many people outside of Colorado, and maybe Atlanta, are talking about the no-no today? Probably not too many because of the Mets-Cardinals game that went 20 innings last night.

I was shocked to see the game was still going on while checking out fantasy baseball stats at about 10 p.m. EDT. I was even more surprised to see that Fox still had the game on. Can I say I was even further stunned to see the game was scoreless? The Mets, who only had 9 hits in 20 innings, finally broke through in the 19th only to have K-Rod blow the lead. But thankfully for the weary Jerry Manuel, his counterpart Tony LaRussa opted to use an outfielder (Joe Mather - as far as I know, no relation to "The Beaver") to pitch.

LaRussa got away with using infielder Felipe Lopez in the 18th, but Mather gave up runs in the 19th and 20th and was saddled with the loss (as well as a 9.00 ERA). Mather is clearly no Nick Swisher. Mets starter Mike Pelfrey came on to earn the save. LaRussa was also fortunate that there were no injuries to any of his pitchers, such as Kyle Lohse, that he used in the outfield.

Cardinals and Mets fans also have to be thankful that Kenny Albert was doing the play-by-play and didn't have to listen to Joe Buck for 20 innings.

Some other notable Saturday performances - Nats' pitcher Livan Hernandez threw his first complete game shutout in six years. After blanking the Brewers, El Duque's kid brother has not allowed a run in 16 innings (2 starts).

The Astros finally won their 2nd game, beating the Cubs 4-3, but the O's dropped to 1-11 after blowing their game in the bottom of the 9th against Oakland.

Pat Burrell has stunk in his year plus with the Rays, but drove in his first five runs of the season yesterday as the Rays won the suspended and regularly scheduled games against the Red Sox. His 2-run HR in the 12th concluded the game stopped Friday due to rain.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


It was a very festive opening day in the Bronx yesterday. That's what you get when you hoist another championship banner and hand out World Series rings to the winning participants. Just another day in Yankee Stadium, albeit the first time in the House that George (and the city) built.

No part of the day may have been more poignant or worth celebrating more than the return of Yankees long time trainer Gene Monahan. We were told during Spring Training, which Monahan missed for the first time since 1972, that the man known as Geno was battling a serious illness. Mariano Rivera apparently let it slip during interviews yesterday that it is indeed some form of cancer. Monahan was very emotional, but in good spirits as he came out to accept his ring from manager Joe Girardi and special guests Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. The YS crowd gave a well deserved standing ovation.

The biggest ovation of the day though went to a member of the Los Angeles Angels. "He's the Hideki you know"...Hideki Matsui, of course, got a huge standing, thank you ovation from the fans and got a group hug from his former teammates. He also got pranked. Derek Jeter orchestrated it all - fake rings given (a Spring Training promotion) to Godzilla and Nick Swisher. Neither even realized what was going on until Jeter and Rivera gave them the real rings.

Bernie Williams threw out the first pitch, though the YES Network nearly missed it coming back from commercial breaks. There was a military fly over and broadway star Kristen Chenoweth (who looked like she was trying to be Carrie Underwood's doppelganger) sang the National Anthem. Then it was time for baseball.

Starter Andy Pettitte was the perfect pick to pitch opening day. After all, he had been on the mound for the clinching win in each round of the 2009 post-season. He also quickly gave Matsui a reminder that he's no longer a Yankee. A first inning strikeout was part of an oh-fer for Godzilla on the day.

Nick Johnson smacked his first Stadium home run in the bottom of the 1st off Ervin Santana and Derek Jeter went deep in the third. The Captain added an RBI single in the 4th (hit #2757) and Alex Rodriguez's brought home two more in the sixth.

The Yankees would need every run they could get, because leading 7-1 in the 9th, David Robertson surrendered a grand slam to former Yankee Bobby Abreu. At least that way Rivera got to be part of the opener by picking up his 3rd save.

photos courtesy of Yahoo Sports


Jorge Posada is off to a hot start. He was 3-4 yesterday to raise his average to .429 and had a pair of doubles to move past Mickey Mantle for 7th place on the team's all-time doubles list. In typical Jorgie fashion, he also got thrown out at the plate.

Pettitte tossed six scoreless innings for his 1st win of the year and the 230th of his career and 193rd as a Yankee. It was also the 4th home opening win for Pettitte.

The loss had to be a minor thing for some of the Angels who had a tough day. Several of them witnessed a suicide from their hotel that morning. A former hotel employee jumped from the roof as the Angels were on their way out.

Not sure how long these will be up on Youtube, but a TOH to Zell's Pinstripe Blog for finding video of the ring ceremony.

Monday, April 12, 2010

We're On Our Way Home

Just a little over a half a day until the raising of the glorious 27th World Championship banner and the handing out of championship rings to the players, coaches, and front office personnel.

The Yankees arrived home after Sunday's 7-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. The victory game the Bombers a 4-2 road trip that was comprised of series wins over both the Rays and the Boston Red Sox. Not a bad way to start the season.

Sunday's win was also big for A.J. Burnett, who had a rocky first outing in Boston and started out yesterday's game in shaky fashion. Burnett, the tattoed, pie smashing, right-hander allowed two first inning runs and admitted to not having confidence in his stuff. But Jorge Posada and pitching coach Dave Eiland helped settle him down and Burnett rewarded his teammates with six scoreless frames.

Alex Rodriguez hasn't homered yet, but he's getting darn close. A near miss in Boston, a near miss in Tampa. I expect him to break out any day now.

Posada and Nick Swisher both went deep on Sunday, with Posada's go-ahead shot coming against former teammate Randy Choate. Not the first time Yankees fans have witnessed a Choate failure.

In addition to the banner and ring presentations, one of tomorrow's highlight's will be Bernie Williams throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. Now, Bernie hasn't offically ever announced a retirement date, but isn't time the Yankees front office set up a Bernie Williams Day? Retire #51, etc?
Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra (who I thought for sure would be throwing out the first pitch) will be on hand to present the rings. Ceremonies to kick off at 12:15. (thanks to the Star Ledger's Marc Carig for providing ceremony info. Click here to see the complete schedule of events).

An added bonus of tomorrow's opener is the opponent. Because the Yankees start their home schedule against the Los Angeles Angels, Hideki Matsui will be on hand to receive his ring. Godzilla is off to a great start in his new home. He's already had 2 game winning hits and is hitting .370 with a couple of home runs and 5 RBI.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chan Ho Lets Loose

Thanks to the Twitter and Blogger worlds for this wonderful post-game after the opening night loss in Boston.

CC Flirts With No-No

It was September, 1996. I was watching the Yankees-A's game and was marvelling at how David Cone had managed to throw 7 no-hit innings. After all, Coney, who still doesn't have a dance, was making his first start since having surgery for an aneurysm in his shoulder in early May.

The Yankees had a real shot at winning their first title in 18 years that season, having ended a 14 year playoff drought the previous October. That's what Joe Torre had in mind when he pulled Coney from the game despite the no-no in progress. Cone was on a 100 pitch limit that day, but Torre yanked him after 85 tosses. He wasn't going to risk his ace's arm for one day of regular season glory. That Mariano kid came on and lost the no-hitter, but he would more than make up for it in October. And Coney was around to throw a magnificent six innings in the tide turning game 3 win in the World Series. Oh, and the catcher that day in September...that would be Joe Girardi.

Flash forward to yesterday. Just the second start of the season for CC Sabathia, who saw his pitch count grow as he entered the 8th inning. Had the one of the Rays already reached safely on a base hit, CC would have been out of the game for sure. But spectacular plays by Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez had preserved the gem and Sabathia was just four outs away from "baseball immortality", to quote a certain baseball announcer.

Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland could be seen conferring as each Rays batter stepped to the plate. Clearly, the duo did not want to over extend their big man. Rays' catcher Kelly Shoppach ended all speculation with a hard single to left field to break up the no-hitter. It was Sabathia's 111th pitch, a fairly high count for April in these days of clickers and pitch counts. After the game, Girardi revealed that no matter what Shoppach had done, CC was done for the day.

And though it would have been an unpopular one, it would have been the right decision. There's no point in risking your ace's health and your season for one regular season moment of glory. All you have to do is look back at your own history to realize that.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Fenway Faithful Way off Base Booing Papi

"What have you done for me lately?" has always been a part of sports. In some towns more than others. One of those towns would be Boston. David Ortiz, 2-time World Series hero, has fallen on hard times and a large group of Red Sox fans aren't letting him forget about it.

During the recently concluded Yankees-Red Sox series, which the Yankees took 2 of 3 thanks to a Curtis Granderson home run off of Jon Papelbon (had to get that in), Ortiz heard boos like he's never heard before.

Perhaps some of the reaction has to do with the revelation of a failed steroid test last year. It's results have been called bogus by Ortiz. The leaked info came on the heels of a horrendous start (1 home run through May 31) by Ortiz, which was somewhat overlooked by the fans because the team was doing well.

But Boston got swept in the playoffs and their hated rivals won the World Series. When Ortiz went hitless in the first two games of the season, fans booed and Ortiz went ballistic when the Boston media went asked him about it.
“(Expletive) happens. Then you guys talk (expletive)," Ortiz said after the Sox' 6-4 loss to the Yankees Tuesday night. "Two (expletive) games already. (Expletive) are going crazy. What’s up with that, man? (Expletive). There’s (expletive) 160 games left.”
Manager Terry Francona thought about putting right-handed hitting Mike Lowell in the lineup Wednesday night against Andy Pettitte, but opted to stick with Ortiz. It paid off when Ortiz drove in the Sox only run, but some fans still booed when he made out in his other at-bats.

It brought me back to a Yankees-Red Sox game in April of 2004. Javier Vazquez, who makes his re-debut tonight against the Rays tonight, was facing Pedro Martinez. The Yankees were coming off a World Series to loss the Marlins the prior October.

Both Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams were booed by Yankees fans during the Sox 2-0 victory. April. In New York. I was shocked. These were two vital cogs of four world championships and six pennants in the prior eight years. It still astounds me to this day. And I was just as suprised that the Sox fans were booing Ortiz this week.

Some guys should just not get booed. If a player has meant that much to your franchise why would you ever boo them? Beats me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mo to Entertain Retirement Thoughts?

He may have just been playing with the YES Network's Kim Jones, but in an interview on Monday, Mariano Rivera said he would think about retirement after this season. Then again, he's in the final year of a contract and this could all be for show.

Mariano Rivera talks with Kim Jones

Won and LOST

I'll admit it right off the bat. If this had been September or October I would have been glued to the Yankees-Red Sox game last night. But last night was Tuesday, which means LOST is on, and with just a handful of episodes remaining there was no way I was going to miss it. Even if Jack Shephard is a Red Sox fan.

The Yankees bullpen certainly made up for their poor night on Sunday, blanking the Sox over the final four innings. No outs were bigger than the two Joba Chamberlain recorded in the 8th inning. Midge-free, Joba was erratic on Sunday night, but last night he hit 97 mph on the gun, and blew away Adrian Beltre and J.D. Drew with a man aboard. And yes, fists were a pumpin'.

A.J. Burnett didn't look much better against the Sox than he did last year, but made his way through five innings with Jorge Posada behind the plate. His three earned runs allowed was better than the job turned in by Boston starter Jon Lester.

Lester struck out 2 of 3 in a dominant first inning. My personal pick for this year's Cy Young award faltered thereafter, allowing 3 runs in his 5th and final inning.

The Yankees took the lead for good in the 8th when Hideki Okajima walked Nick Johnson and Robinson Cano added an insurance tally in the 9th when he homered off Scott Atchison.

Yankees Notes

The finale of the three game series tonight is a rematch of the '09 ALCS - Andy Pettitte against then Angels pitcher John Lackey.

Alfredo Aceves picked up the win and is now 12-1 in his Yankees career.

Mariano Rivera picked up his first save of the season with a scoreless 9th.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Baseball is Back Baby

Despite the horror of losing the opener up in Boston, baseball is back. A fantastic opening day that saw new kids on the block, Godzilla striking in a new city, An MVP making his early MVP statement, and plenty of injured pitchers returning to the hill.

The new guy and the "old" guy everyone is talking about today though are Jason Heyward and Albert Pujols. Heyward, the Atlanta Braves phenom outfielder, hit his first major league home run in his first major league at bat - at the expense of Carlos Zambrano. And it was no wind blown shot either.

Pujols, meanwhile, was Pujols. 2 home runs, 3 RBI 4 runs scored. Just another day at the office for a guy whose contract next year could exceed Alex Rodriguez's (did I really just say that?).

Hideki Matsui will be sorely missed by Yankees fans and he reminded all of us of that fact last night. Batting against the Minnesota Twins, Godzilla went deep for his first Angels home run. And if you go back to the finale of the World Series, that is 3 home runs in the last 2 games he's played.

Former Yankees prospect Austin Jackson, dealt for Curtis Granderson, made his Tigers debut with a bunch of firsts. Double, hit, RBI, and run scored.

It was an up and down night for hurlers who missed the '09 season. Shaun Marcum breezed through the Rangers lineup before giving up a game tying 3-run home run to Nelson Cruz in the 7th. He ended up with no decision.

Ben Sheets had a rocky start in his Oakland A's debut, allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, 4 hits and 4 walks in 5 innings. Sheets, who finished with 3 Ks, settled down after a shaky first couple of innings.

Johan Santana dominated Josh Josh Johnson and the Florida Marlins, 7-1. Santana allowed just 4 hits over 6 innings. Jake Westbrook would have liked those numbers, but the Indians pitcher got rocked for 5 runs, 5 hits, and issued 5 walks in just 4 innings of work. The Tribe fell to Mark Buerhle and the White Sox, 6-0.

The matchup of the day - which would be more interesting in mid-season, was the Tigers' Justin Verlander against reigning Cy Young Winner Zach Greinke of the Royals. Verlander (5 IP 4 ER) got no-decision and the Royals bullpen deprived Greinke (6 IP 1 ER) and the team of a win.

Monday, April 5, 2010

2010 Individual Award Predictions

Let's see how good or bad I can be this year at picking the top awards in the American and National Leagues.


The pick for the AL is a crapshoot. I don't expect anyone to put up Albert Pujols type numbers. There are plenty to choose from. But the top 3 finishers will be - Kevin Youkilis, B.J. Upton, and Alex Rodriguez.

And the winner is.......B.J. Upton
Upton had an off year in 2009. Bad shoulder, bad attitude, bad karma. Whatever it was, it was down year for Upton, who had a .790 OPS. I expected a big rebound this year. Now if someone could only get him to play deeper in the outfield (not against the Yankees though).

AL CY Young

Zack Greinke's numbers were phenomenal last year. He should be good again this year, though it would be difficult to match a 2.16 ERA in the AL. Felix Hernandez is beginning to reach his potential. Justin Verlander is back on top of his game, and CC Sabathia is always a front-runner.

But this year's CY winner? Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox. It's been difficult to root against this particular Red Sox player since he battled back from cancer. He's got a no-hitter and soon he'll have a CY Young to add to his resume.

AL Manager of the Year

You got to win it to be in it. Or at least turn things around for a woeful team. Mike Scioscia is a perennial favorite. Ron Gardenhire will be up there too for the Twins. Terry Francona and Joe Madden will be among the top vote getters. But the recipient of the 2009 award will be...

Joe Girardi. You saw it here first (perhaps). Girardi will snag the award as the Yankees beat out very strong Red Sox and Rays teams to win the AL East.

AL Rookie of the Year

The Carlos Santana era should begin soon in Cleveland. Wade Davis has made the starting rotation in Tampa Bay. Desmond Jennings could get the call to the Rays if Carl Crawford is dealt or injuries beset the team. Brian Matusz will get a chance to prove himself in Baltimore.

But the top rookie in the AL this year will be someone who made their debut last August. That would be the Texas Rangers' Neftali Feliz. The hard throwing right-hander should stock up on strikeouts and could move to the closer role if Frank Francisco falters. Then again, he may end up in the Rangers rotation too.

Comeback Player of the Year

Grady Sizemore tried to play through the pain of an injured elbow and strained ab, but the results were poor. This year we expect a return to 30-30 form for Sizemore, though his team will fall short of the playoffs.


We're not going to waste your time here. Albert. Pujols. Again. Pujols had another tremendous year in 2009 and is now in a contract year. Look out NL pitchers.

NL CY Young

Johan Santana is back for the Mets. Josh Johnson will continue to shine in Florida. The Card's due of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Clayton Kershaw is emerging in LA. And of course the top gunslinger right now is the Giants Tim Lincecum.

But the NL award goes to a former AL winner and newly minted NLer - Roy Halladay. He's in a hitter's ball park, but he's in the NL and that will put this stud over the top.

NL Manager of the Year

Charlie Manuel will have his Phillies on top again, Jim Tracy will continue his good job in Colorado, and Tony LaRussa's Cards will make the playoffs again.

But, and it's a sentimental pick, Bobby Cox will win it for the Atlanta Braves.

NL Rookie of the Year

Buster Posey should bust a move for the Giants. Stephen Strasburg should be all he's cracked up to be. And Mike Stanton will cut an imposing figure in Florida.

But the winner, probably picked by a lot of people, will be the young star to be in Atlanta. Jason Heyward.

There you have it..Right? Wrong? Check back with me in November or December.

Recipe for Disaster

Someone forgot to tell the Yankees that Spring Training was over. Staked to 5-1 and 7-5 leads, CC Sabathia and the Yankees pen blew both and the Boston Red Sox pulled out a 9-7 victory in the season opener at Fenway Park last night.

Twitter was on fire as the Yankees knocked around Red Sox starter Josh Beckett, who exited before the end of the 5th inning. Jorge Posada had three hits on the night and combined with Curtis Granderson on back to back home runs in the 2nd inning.

The Sox cut the lead to 5-2 in the 5th and then Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, two of the Red Sox you love to hate, took over the game.

Youkilis' two run triple past Nick Swisher in right in the 6th, cut the margin to one before new Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre singled off of reliever David Robertson to tie the game.

The Yankees quickly took the lead back in the 7th on a run producing ground out by Robinson Cano and an RBI single by Posada. But Pedroia greeted Chan Ho Park with a two run blast atop the Green Monster to tie it again. Two batters later, Youkilis doubled, moved to third on Damaso Marte's wild pitch and scored when Posada mishandled a Marte delivery for a passed ball.

Posada gave the Yankees one more chance in the 9th when he singled off of Jonathan Papelbon, but Granderson grounded out to end the game.

Game Notes

CC Sabathia took the full blame after the game, saying "It was all on me," Sabathia said. "I was missing trying to make the perfect pitch." But he had plenty of help. The fans still love him though. A NY Post poll showed the fans felt Chan Ho Park (Notice Park spelled backwards is Krap?) and Joe Girardi over Sabathia.

Prior to the game, Girardi would not commit to his 8th inning man would be. Joba Chamberlain was shaky in his first appearance, allowing an insurance run.
Pedro Martinez threw out the ceremonial first pitch and received a rousing ovation. And they didn't leave him on the mound too long.

The teams are off Monday and will return to action Tuesday evening.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Yankees-Red Sox Opening Night Lineups

Courtesy of the NY Daily News' Mark Feinsand:


Derek Jeter, SS
Nick Johnson, DH
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, C
Curtis Granderson, CF
Nick Swisher, RF
Brett Gardner, LF

CC Sabathia, LHP


Jacoby Ellsbury, LF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Victor Martinez, C
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
David Ortiz, DH
J.D. Drew, RF
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Mike Cameron, CF
Marco Scutaro, SS

Josh Beckett, RHP

Saturday, April 3, 2010

It's Just a Fantasy

With opening day night less than 24 hours away, the added excitement of rotisserie/fantasy baseball has the baseball juices flowing.

This is the 15th year of the Field of Rotisserie Dreams (FORD) league, the last about 11 of which I have been the comish. We had our draft this past Monday night- the first night time draft in league history. We usually do a Sunday morning thing, but schedules didn't allow this time around. Unfortunately, one person had to phone it in because they couldn't make it from out of state.

The league started with 8 teams, expanded to 10, and is now back to 8. We're American League only, and rotisserie points rather than head to head. Last year we expanded from a 4 x 4 league to 5 x 5.

The top 3 spots get money. I've won the whole league 4 times, including a 3-peat. I've also finished in 3rd place 3 times.

When drafted each player has a 3 year contract. You can extend it after 2 years and of course you can cut the player at any time (there are more specific rules about all that).

What I really like about our league is that is an auction rather than a round by round selection that is used in leagues like those Yahoo and CBS Sportsline. Minimum bid is a quarter. It's not a true auction in the sense that people are yelling bids out, but we go around the table and you increment the bid by whatever you'd like or drop out on that player.

Position eligibility is 18 games at the position in the prior season or the player will be a regular at a new position (e.g. Chone Figgins at 2nd Base this year). Your roster contains 23 players - 14 hitters, 9 pitchers. There's a 1,000 total minimum innings pitched to ensure you don't use a bunch of relievers to win WHIP and ERA.

So here's my team going in:

Keepers from last year:
C Matt Wieters
1B Mark Teixeira
CO Justin Morneau
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
OF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Nick Swisher
OF Ryan Rayburn
OF Carlos Quentin
DH Hideki Matsui
P Justin Verlander
P David Aardsma
P Jason Frasor

And this year I drafted:
C Adam Moore
3B Kevin Kouzamanoff
MI Sean Rodriguez
OF Rick Ankiel
P Jeff Niemann
P Rafael Soriano
P Zack Greinke
P Scott Downs
P Tommy Hunter
P Nick Blackburn

Good luck in your leagues and happy fantasies.

Opening Night Eve

Written for Baseball Digest:

With the final out in today’s New York Yankees vs. Future Stars game, the Yankees packed up their belongings in preparation for the trip north to Boston for tomorrow night’s opener with the Red Sox.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees fans got a good look at the future in players like Jesus Montero and Slade Heathcott and ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte in the unique intrasquad game. The Yankees, whose lineup featured minor leaguers on both sides by the time the game concluded, topped their future (hey, at least they didn’t destroy their future) 9-6.

With the regular season starting Sunday night, that also means it was time for the Yankees to pare down the roster. The 25-man roster to start the season looks like this:


CC Sabathia
A.J. Burnett
Andy Pettitte
Javier Vazquez
Phil Hughes
Mariano Rivera
Joba Chamberlain
Sergio Mitre
Damaso Marte
Alfredo Aceves
David Robertson
Chan Ho Park


Jorge Posada
Francisco Cervelli


Derek Jeter
Alex Rodriguez
Robinson Cano
Mark Teixeira
Ramiro Pena
Nick Johnson


Curtis Granderson
Nick Swisher
Brett Gardner
Randy Winn
Marcus Thames

Manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman opted to go with Sergio Mitre as a long man in the pen rather than keep either Royce Ring or Boone Logan as a second left-hander in the bullpen. Either could still be called up quicky if Damaso Marte’s cranky shoulder proves detrimental to the team as it did last season.

There was a big change in the team’s catching depth as well. With Jorge Posada bothered by a stiff neck and Francisco Cervelli slowed by a sore hamstring, there was speculation that veteran catcher Mike Rivera might make the squad out of Tampa.

Not only didn’t Rivera make the team, he was on the verge of being released. Rivera became expendable after former Yankee Chad Moeller was released by the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees quickly scooped him up as well former Diamondbacks catcher Robbie Hammock, and signed the pair to minor league deals. Meanwhile Cervelli’s hamstring felt good enough for him to travel with the big squad.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Prediction and Preview Time - AL East

It's that time of year again. The pretenders (the non-Chrissie Hynde Pretenders) will fall by the way side and the cream of the baseball crop will rise to the top. Time for some AL and NL previews and some post-season award predictions.

AL East

Why not start off with the toughest division in baseball - no, not the NL Central. The AL East is the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. <--Period. Forget the Orioles. Forget the Blue Jays. They aren't going to sniff first place once the calendar turns to May. It likely it won't even take that long, but you can be tied for first with 1-0 mark. The Yankees have plenty on the line and some significant changes from last season. Gone are Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, two components of the team's 27th world championship. Added is Javier Vazquez to strengthen a solid rotation. Phil Hughes won a battle for the 5th starter spot, meaning Joba Chamberlain will be working out of the bullpen on a full-time basis.

Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson try to fill the void left by Damon and Matsui and the Yankees have a healthy Alex Rodriguez to start the season.

Question marks surround left field where Brett Gardner and Randy Winn will share most of the time, Johnson's health (that's unsavory sounding no matter how you spell it out), the lack of a veteran backstop for Jorge Posada, and the overall aging of a lot of the key players on the team.

The Red Sox had a 7-0 series advantage over the Yankees at one point last season. But April baseball doesn't make title winners. The Sox won 95 games, but still finished a distance eight games behind their NY rivals. Then came a three game sweep at the hands of the LA Angels, a team Boston normally manhandled in the post-season, in the wildcard series.

Injuries started to take their toll as the regular season wore on and still have some impact as the team enters the 2010 season. Starter Daisuke Matsuzaka will start the season on the DL and perennially injured Mike Lowell is hurting again.

To bolster the rotation, the Red Sox threw a load of money at veteran right-hander John Lackey, who will join Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Tim Wakefield as the team breaks camp and heads north.

Beckett is the key to the Red Sox season. After a blazing start to the '09 season, he faltered down the stretch and regularly served up gopher balls. If healthy and consistent, Beckett, Lackey, and Lester are the best 1-2-3 punch in all of baseball.

The offense has taken a hit with the departure of Jason Bay and needs a re-emergence fromDavid Ortiz if the Sox are going to win the AL East or wildcard. Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron could provide some spark, but the Sox will have the third best offense of the AL East "Big 3". Having Victor Martinez for a full season will certainly help.

Defensively, the Sox made a good move in bringing in Marco Scutaro to play shortstop and have a tremendous defensive infield. Cameron's acquisition allows the Red Sox to move the shaky glove of Jacoby Ellsbury to left field.

The Rays fell apart one year after winning the AL pennant. Just 84 wins left Tampa Bay in third place and in the dust. But this team should rebound this season. They had a positive start by winning 19 Spring Training games and B.J. Upton is healthy.

Upton's attitude came under fire at times last season, but his bad shoulder was more of a problem than his head. Evan Longoria is a stud and the Rays get regular contributions from Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and Jason Bartlett.

The Rays starting rotation may not have the pedigree of the Yankees and Red Sox pitchers, but Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, and James Shields are a solid front three. 2008 #1 pick David Price and outstanding prospect Wade Davis round out the rotation.

The Rays' bullpen, so magnificent in '08, was a model of inconsistency last season. Tampa Bay has brought in veteran Rafael Soriano to take over the closer role. Soriano's ability is not in question, but keeping him healthy and on the field is. The Rays have to hope that solid lefty J.P. Howell isn't out too long with a tired left shoulder.

Crawford's pending free agency could be another issue as the season wears on. It's unlikely the Rays will be able to retain him after this season, so do they trade him in-season? If so, uber prospect Desmond Jennings may get a 2010 call up.

AL East stories from Toronto and Baltimore worth watching:

1. The progress of Matt Wieters at and behind the plate for the Orioles. After a slow start, Wieters hit well down the stretch and showed the power he is capable of producing.

2. The Blue Jays don't have Roy Halladay in the rotation for the first time since 2001. The Yankees are surely glad he's over in the NL.

3. Shaun Marcum's return to the Jays' rotation. Marcum pitched under the radar in putting up back to back solid years in 2007-08. Then came Tommy John surgery and many months of recovery. Marcum has worked his way back and has been rewarded with the opening day start for Toronto.

4. Will Brian Roberts' back problems be resolved or will he miss a good chunk of the season? Anyone who has ever suffered back pain knows how debilitating it can be. Roberts is suffering from a herniated disk that has limited his playing time this spring. The Orioles have brought in veteran Julio Lugo as a backup.

And the division winner is.......

The Yankees. Some would call it bias, but I see the Yankees winning the AL East once again with....the Rays finishing just ahead of the Red Sox for second place and the wildcard. But hey, what do I know.