In a game in which pretty much everything went according to plan, the bullpen sent the Yankees home with a loss Monday night. Masahiro Tanaka outpitched Justin Verlander, the offense scratched out enough runs, and the high-priced bullpen additions couldn’t make a two-run lead stand up. Blah. The Yankees dropped to 5-5 on the season with a 4-3 loss in the series opener in Houston.
Three Against Verlander
For the first time since June 19th, 2015, the Yankees scored more than one run against Justin Verlander. He’d allowed three runs in his previous five starts and 37.1 innings against New York, postseason included. Three runs in 37.1 innings and then three runs in six innings Monday night. The Yankees made Verlander throw 111 pitches in those six innings too. I didn’t expect him to throw that many this early in the season.
The Yankees scored three runs in three different ways against Verlander. They built an extended rally to get on the board in the third inning. No. 9 hitter Gio Urshela started it with a one-out walk. The Yankees put him in motion in a 3-2 count and it worked like a charm. Urshela in motion pulled the infielder to second base and allowed Gardner’s ground ball to sneak through, setting up the first-and-third situation. Some early season numbers on Gardner:
- Strikeout rate: 10.3% (19th lowest among 187 qualified hitters)
- Overall contact rate: 90.8% (8th highest)
- Zone contact rate: 97.9% (4th highest)
Gardner has great contact rates, both this year and historically, so the Yankees trusted him to put the ball in play in the 3-2 count, even against Verlander. Couldn’t have drawn it up any better. Gardner then stole second base, Aaron Judge walked to load the bases, and Luke Voit reached out and punched an elevated fastball to right field to score a run. Gary Sanchez popped up and Gleyber Torres grounded out, so the Yankees didn’t get any more runs that inning, but they got one and pushed Verlander’s pitch count up, and I consider that a win.
In the fifth inning, Judge gave their Yankees their second run with a laser solo home run to right field. Judge was late on the two-strike 95 mph fastball — the YES Network had a great side angle that showed how late Judge was on the pitch — but he muscled it out to right field. Most hitters dump a little single over the first baseman’s head on contact like this, or maybe get it down the line for a double. Judge put it in the seats. Bonkers.
I am certain Masahiro Tanaka is not happy with his outing Monday. He was very good (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HR), but he also made some mistakes, most notably leaving a splitter up to Jose Altuve in the fourth inning. Altuve hit it off the train tracks in left field for a game-tying solo homer. Tanaka is very hard on himself and he’s a bit of a perfectionist. In an otherwise excellent start, that mistake pitch surely bothered him.
Whereas Verlander started the sixth inning having thrown 94 pitches, Tanaka had thrown only 61 pitches in the first five innings. His pitch count by inning: 16, 11, 10, 16, 8, 18. Tanaka was efficient — he faced 22 hitters and only 12 saw as many as four pitches, and only three saw a three-ball count — despite not having his Grade-A splitter. Look at his splitter locations. These pitches are supposed to be below the zone, not in it:
It wasn’t until the sixth inning that the Astros threatened against Tanaka. Robinson Chirinos doubled to left and George Springer worked a walk, putting runners on first and second with no outs for the 2-3-4 hitters. Scary! A force out at second (Altuve), a fly ball to shallow right (Alex Bregman), and a ground ball to second (Michael Brantley) later, the inning was over. What an escape job to preserve the lead and finish the outing.
Three starts into the season Tanaka is sitting on a 1.47 ERA (2.39 FIP) with good to great strikeout (21.2%), walk (2.8%), and ground ball (57.4%) rates. Remember how poorly he started the last two seasons? That is most certainly not the case this year. Tanaka has been great all three starts, even though he wasn’t razor sharp the last two times out. With Luis Severino likely out a while, Tanaka has stepped into the ace role nicely. It suits him well.
Death By Bullpen
So, anytime Zack Britton wants to go back to being dominant, that’d be cool. He’s looked much more like the guy who first joined the Yankees last season — it seems he can only throw pitches way out of the zone or right down the middle right now — than the excellent end-game arm we saw late last year and most of the last few years in Baltimore. Britton faced five batters Monday and retired two, blowing a 3-1 lead in the seventh.
Aaron Boone went to Britton against the bottom half of the lineup because he was saving Adam Ottavino for all those righties at the top of the lineup, a perfectly sensible move, and it didn’t work because Britton walked the No. 8 hitter (Tyler White) on four pitches with two outs, and allowed a loud double to the No. 9 hitter (Chirinos) to score two runs. Britton has nearly as many baserunners allowed (eight) as swings and misses (nine) this year. Seems bad.
On one hand, bringing in Ottavino to face the righty Chirinos with two outs and two runners on base would’ve made sense. On the other hand, maybe don’t walk the No. 8 hitter on four pitches and get taken to the wall by the No. 9 hitter? It’s okay to blame the players once in a while. Not everything is on the manager. Britton signed the largest free agent reliever contract this winter and he couldn’t protect a two-run lead against the bottom of the lineup. That is no one’s fault but Britton’s.
The Astros took the lead against Ottavino in the dopiest way imaginable. The go-ahead hit itself was dopey, I mean. Walking Bregman was bad (at least he’s good) and Brantley pulling a ground ball through the right side to put runners at first and third with one out was worse. That set Carlos Correa up for the broken bat run-scoring infield single. Look at this:
Frazier looks so confident and dangerous at the plate right now. He’s in total control of his at-bats. He went 2-for-4 and even his outs were encouraging. Clint fouled away two two-strike pitches before striking out on eight pitches in the third, and he lined out to center in a full count in the eighth. Frazier saw 23 pitches in his four at-bats, laid off everything out of the zone, and attacked everything over the plate. He looks great. Awesome to see.
Greg Bird, on the other hand, went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and is down to .192/.300/.308 (76 wRC+) with a 43.3% strikeout rate and zero baserunning or defensive value. He’s struck out 13 times in 30 plate appearances. Voit has struck out ten times in 46 plate appearances. Whenever Giancarlo Stanton comes back (he seems to be the closed injured guy to returning), Clint stays and Bird goes to Triple-A.
Judge reached base four times (homer, single, two walks) and is hitting .289/.426/.533 (177 wRC+) overall even though it doesn’t feel like he’s really gotten going yet. Singles for Gardner, Voit, and Frazier (two) and a double for LeMahieu. That’s not much offense, but if you come out of a Verlander-Tanaka duel leading 3-1 after six innings, the bullpen has to nail that down. Get well soon, Dellin.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go to MLB.com for the box score and video highlights and ESPN for the updated standings. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here’s the loss probability graph:
The second game of the three-game series. Jonathan Loaisiga and Gerrit Cole are Tuesday night’s scheduled starters. That is an 8:10pm ET start.