The Yankees have successfully backed into the postseason. They closed out their 2015 season with a 9-4 loss to the Orioles on Sunday, though thanks to the Diamondbacks, they were still able to secure home field advantage in the wildcard game anyway. The Yankees went 1-6 in their final seven regular season games and finished the year 87-75 with a +66 run differential.
In his biggest start as a Yankee, Michael Pineda didn’t make it out of the fourth inning. Pineda put the Yankees in an early 2-0 hole in the first inning, allowing Matt Wieters to drive in Gerardo Parra (single) and Chris Davis (double) with a single down the right field line. Two-out runs are just the worst. Love scoring ’em, hate allowing ’em.
Pineda tossed scoreless second and third innings before the wheels came off in the fourth. Wieters doubled — it was a single into the right-center field gap that Carlos Beltran helped turn into a double with his veteran gait — to start the frame, then Pineda got two quick outs, putting himself in position to escape the jam. Instead, J.J. Hardy poked a two-out, two-strike single back up the middle to score the run and give the O’s a 3-1 lead.
Joe Girardi went to Chris Capuano for the left-on-left matchup against Ryan Flaherty, and of course it didn’t work. It seems like every move Girardi has made over the last month has backfired, even the ones that made sense. Flaherty ripped a hard hit grounder back up the middle, it deflected off Capuano’s foot, and impromptu second baseman Dustin Ackley flat out whiffed on the ball. He was in perfect position to corral the chopper and throw to first for the final out. Instead the ball got by him and scooted into right field for a double.
Following an intentional walk to Nolan Reimold, Capuano allowed a two-run, two-strike, two-out single to Parra to break the game open. The Orioles were up 5-1. Pineda was charged with four of the five runs even though he was only actually on the mound for three of them. He allowed those four runs on six hits and no walks in 3.2 innings. He struck out five. Pineda had a 5.48 ERA after coming off the DL and a 5.04 ERA since the 16-strikeout game. Bad.
Four Runs Ain’t Enough
For only the fifth time in their last 12 games, the Yankees scored 4+ runs Sunday afternoon. They had chances, oh they had plenty of chances, but these days those chances only mean the other team has the Yankees right where they want them. The Yankees collectively seem to be squeezing sap out of the bat and are simply unable to capitalize on their opportunities. They get plenty of opportunities! But not enough runs.
The Yankees scored their first run in the second inning on Ackley’s ground out. Greg Bird started the inning with an opposite field double into the left field corner and Chase Headley moved him up to third with a ground out. They scored their second run in the sixth inning, that on a Didi Gregorius triple. Reimold made an awkward diving attempt but flat out whiffed. Ackley singled as the previous batter and scored the run.
Later in the game, after the Orioles had blown it open (more on that in a bit), the Yankees managed to tack on two more runs. By then it was too little, too late. Beltran, Brian McCann, and Bird strung together back-to-back-to-back one-out singles in the seventh to score a run, then Headley drew a walk to load the bases. Ackley plated another run with a fielder’s choice, which in this case means a tailor made 6-4-3 double play ball Hardy bobbled. There’s the four runs.
Let’s talk about those blown chances now. In the very first inning, Alex Rodriguez walked and Beltran singled to right with two outs, putting two men on base. McCann then popped on the first pitch to end the inning. Gregorius followed Ackley’s run-scoring ground out with a two-out double but was stranded when Jacoby Ellsbury struck out. That’s three runners left on base through two innings.
Beltran drew a two-out walk in the third and was left hanging when McCann again popped up on the first pitch. Ackley tripled — Reimold made another awkward diving attempt in center — and Gregorius walked with two outs in the fourth, but then Ellsbury grounded out to first to end the inning. Didi’s run-scoring triple in the sixth was followed by an Ellsbury pop-up (first pitch, of course) and a Brett Gardner ground out. Another stranded runner.
After Ackley’s run-scoring fielder’s choice in the seventh, Gregorius popped up with runners at the corners to end the inning. He actually represented the tying run at the time. The O’s pulled away but the Yankees did put up a bit of a fight in that seventh inning. Either way, the Yankees left a runner on base in each of their first seven innings. They went quietly after that.
Obviously the decision to go to Capuano in the fourth inning was weird, but, to me, that’s on the front office, not Girardi. The Yankees didn’t add any pitching depth at the trade deadline — it was an obvious need at the time — so Girardi’s options were either Capuano or a bunch of kids. A bunch of kids who have done little to stand out in their limited time as big leaguers.
So Girardi went to Capuano and it didn’t work out. In the next inning he gave the ball to Bryan Mitchell, who walked Manny Machado and served up a mammoth two-run homer to Davis. He hit it the other way into the bullpens. Mitchell was pretty awesome for a while earlier this summer, then he got hit in the face by the line drive, and he hasn’t been effective since. The Davis homer made it 7-1 Fightin’ Showalters.
James Pazos, Andrew Bailey, Branden Pinder, Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller, and Caleb Cotham combined for the final eleven outs. Wilson and Miller threw five and eight pitches, respectively. That was just a tune-up so they didn’t go five days between appearances heading into the wildcard game. Cotham served up a two-run homer to Davis in what was likely his final at-bat as an Oriole. That was kinda cool.
The Yankees had ten hits and McCann was the only player with exactly one hit. Beltran had three and Bird, Ackley, and Gregorius had two apiece. The top three spots in the lineup went a combined 0-for-13 with two walks, both by A-Rod. The bottom four spots went 6-for-15 (.400) with two walks. McCann broke an 0-for-23 (!) slump with his seventh inning single.
Girardi emptied his bench in the ninth and got Rico Noel (ground out), Gary Sanchez (strikeout), and Jose Pirela (strikeout) one last at-bat. Pirela grounded out to second to end the season. Remember how it started? Masahiro Tanaka struck out Jose Reyes on three pitches. His first pitch of the year was a slider. That feels like a lifetime ago.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights for the game and here are the final standings for the season. Hard to believe it’s been 162 games already. Here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the loss probability graph:
Bonus Out-of-Town WPA Graph
As I mentioned in the intro, the D’Backs beat the Astros in Arizona, clinching home field advantage in the wildcard game for the Yankees. Paul Goldschmidt’s seventh inning two-run home run off former Yankee Chad Qualls was the big blow. Here’s the box score and win probability graph for that game:
The regular season is over and thank goodness after that limp to the finish. The Yankees and the rest of the baseball world have an off-day Monday, then the AL wildcard game will be played Tuesday night at 8pm ET. It’ll be the Yankees and Astros. Tanaka will indeed be opposed by Dallas Keuchel, who will be working on three days’ rest for the first time of his career.