Yankees can’t finish sweep, drop finale 4-1 to Astros

Well that was a letdown. The Yankees had a chance to complete a sweep of the red hot Astros on Wednesday, but the offense fell flat (surprise!) and the pitching wasn’t good enough to compensate. The result was a 4-1 loss and a missed opportunity to gain ground on the Red Sox and Blue Jays, the two wildcard teams.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The McCullers Curve
The Yankees have a pretty miserable offense. We’ve had to sit through all season. They’ve made more than a few crummy pitchers look great along the way and it’s mighty annoying. This was not one of those games. Lance McCullers Jr. was totally dominant in his six innings, during which he allowed a run on five hits and two walks. He joined Rich Hill as the only pitchers to strike out 10+ Yankees in a start this season.

As he tends to do, McCullers threw more curveballs than fastballs in this one. PitchFX says he threw that hellacious mid-80s bender 44 times compared to only 30 fastballs. I can’t imagine throwing more curveballs than fastballs is a good thing for the ol’ elbow long-term, but that’s not my problem. McCullers got 14 swings and misses out of 82 total pitches, including 12 whiffs on 22 swings against the curveball. It’s a nasty, nasty pitch. The Yankees had no chance against him. Tip of the cap to Mr. McCullers for this one.

Tanaka Struggles
Time to dust off those “Tanaka can’t pitch on normal rest!” columns that didn’t get printed last time out. Masahiro Tanaka struggled with pretty much everything Wednesday night. Location, getting his splitter to bite, driving his fastball to the corners, everything. The end result was four runs in five innings, though the first came on two walks and a ground ball single. Blah. Whatever.

The second, third, and fourth runs were much different. Marwin Gonzalez led off the third with a single to center, moved to second on a ground ball, then moved to third on a wild pitch. Carlos Correa drove him in with a single through the left side of the infield. Tanaka fell behind in the count 2-1 to Colby Rasmus, then hung the everloving crap out of a splitter …

Masahiro Tanaka Colby Rasmus

… that Rasmus promptly deposited in the left field seats for a two-run homer. Golly was that a bad pitch. Rasmus gave the Astros a 4-0 lead, and with the way McCullers was pitching, that was pretty much the ballgame. Tanaka allowed the four runs on seven hits and two walks in those five innings. He fanned four. This was his second shortest start of the season, behind that 4.2-inning disaster in Cleveland before the All-Star break.

The Two Returns
Welcome back, Adam Warren and Luis Severino. Those two made their first appearances back with the Yankees. Warren came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade and Severino returned following a stint in the minors. Warren allowed a double on a ground ball just inside the third base bag in an otherwise uneventful sixth inning. Severino struck out three in scoreless and hitless seventh and eighth innings.

Warren looked like Warren. Same as he ever was. Severino did a much better job keeping his slider down than he did earlier this season, though this was a limited look. His fastball was still crackling, and yeah, he missed his spots by a large margin a few times. The command is still not all the way where it needs to be, I’d say. This was a little tune-up appearance — Severino hadn’t pitched since last Wednesday — and my guess is his next appearance is a start after Ivan Nova gets traded wherever at the deadline.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
The Yankees scored their one token run on Brian McCann‘s fourth inning solo homer, which hit the tippy top the wall in center field and hopped over. The offense put two runners in scoring position all night. Brett Gardner reached on an infield single in the third and moved to second on a passed ball. Didi Gregorius singled in the fourth inning and moved up on a wild pitch. That’s all.

Gregorius had two hits while Gardner, McCann, and Mark Teixeira had one hit each. Jacoby Ellsbury and Starlin Castro drew the two walks, of all people. The Yankees struck out 15 times, a new season high. It was only their 12th game with double-digit strikeouts overall, second fewest in baseball. The Angels have nine.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has the box score, MLB.com has the video highlights, and ESPN has the updated standings. RAB has Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages too. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This three-game series in Houston is over and the Yankees are heading to Tampa next. But first: an off-day. I could use one of those. Nova and Jake Odorizzi are the scheduled starters for Friday night’s series opener at Tropicana Field. Will that be Ivan’s final game in pinstripes? My guess is yes.

DotF: Austin and Fowler go deep in wins

Got some notes to pass along:

  • The Yankees posted a photo of a bunch of rehabbing players visiting a children’s hospital in Tampa, and the good news is RHP James Kaprielian‘s arm was not in a sling or anything. He went for a second opinion on his elbow a week or two ago and it was easy to assume the worst. The fact he’s not wearing anything on his elbow tells us he didn’t have Tommy John surgery. (That doesn’t mean he won’t at some point, unfortunately.)
  • The Yankees reportedly picked SS Gleyber Torres over OF Eloy Jimenez as part of the Aroldis Chapman trade, and J.J. Cooper wrote about that decision. “They were faced with a fascinating choice,” he wrote. “(What) gives Torres the edge is his increased defensive value, and a slightly better hit tool, but it was surely a¬†difficult decision for the Yankees.”
  • Cooper also put together an updated list of the youngest players in each pro league. I’ll let you skim through yourself, but I do want to point out Torres is the second youngest player in the High-A Florida State League. Also, four of the ten youngest players in the rookie Appalachian League are Yankees.
  • Randy Miller spoke to a scout with an NL team about several of the Yankees’ top prospects, so check that out. The scout sure does love him some RHP Chance Adams. “He’s the best-kept secret in baseball,” the scout said. “I see a guy who can be a No. 2 starter in the big leagues.”
  • RHP Conor Mullee (hand) is with Triple-A Scranton and he threw a bullpen session today, according to Shane Hennigan. He’s expected to make a rehab appearance in the coming days. Mullee is on the big league DL with some sort of nerve issue at the moment.
  • Thanks to their notable Tuesdays, both Gleyber (debut with Yankees) and RHP Luis Cessa (shutout in Triple-A) landed in today’s Prospect Report, so make sure you give that a click.

Triple-A Scranton (6-0 win over Buffalo)

  • CF Mason Williams: 1-4, 1 R, 1 K
  • RF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K — 5-for-20 (.250) during his five-game exactly one hit streak
  • C Gary Sanchez: 0-4 — he took a foul tip to the thumb but remained in the game, according to Shane Hennigan … apparently it was his left thumb, his glove thumb, not the thumb he fractured on a foul tip earlier this year
  • 1B Ike Davis: 1-4, 1 R, 1 K
  • DH Tyler Austin: 3-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI — that’s his 16th homer of the season … he hit six last year, nine the year before, and six the year before that
  • LF Jake Cave: 1-3, 1 HBP
  • RHP Brady Lail: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 6/2 GB/FB — 53 of 72 pitches were strikes (74%) … that is pretty easily the best of Lady Brail’s 17 career Triple-A starts
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1 IP, zeroes, 2/1 GB/FB — five pitches, four strikes
  • RHP Kirby Yates: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2/0 GB/FB — nine of 16 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 101: Suddenly Important

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

The Yankees have gone 11-5 in their last 16 games and suddenly, these games are becoming increasingly important. Both the Red Sox and Blue Jays — the two wildcard teams at the moment — lost earlier today, so a win tonight would bring New York to within three games of the second wildcard spot. They have a ton of games left with Boston and Toronto too, you know. This team, man.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. The Yankees have won the first two games of this series with the Astros and they’ll have their ace on the mound going for the sweep tonight. After tonight, they’re going to Tampa for a three-game series with the last place Rays, and … oh geez. I’m doing it again. I’m starting to think they have a chance to get back into the race. Let me get to the lineups before I take this any further. Here is the Astros’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy, hot, and humid in Houston today. The air conditioning will be on and the Minute Maid park roof will be closed this evening, I assume. Tonight’s series finale is scheduled to begin at 8:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

2016 Trade Deadline Rumors Open Thread: Wednesday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees sure do know how to make things complicated, don’t they? Rather than continue to fade out of the postseason race and into obscurity, the Yankees have gone 11-5 in their last 16 games to climb to within four games of the second wildcard spot. There are still three teams ahead of them, but hey, that’s better than six. FanGraphs put their postseason odds at 10.1% as of this writing.

Two days ago the Yankees made what can no doubt be described as a “sellers” trade when they shipped Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for Adam Warren and three minors leaguers. Will they continue to sell pieces before Monday’s trade deadline? Or will the recent hot streak prompt them to go out and add help? I guess we’ll find out over the next five days. Here are Tuesday’s rumors. We’ll again keep track of the day’s Yankees’ rumors right here, so check back often for updates. All time stamps are ET.

  • 9:30am: The Yankees seek big league ready players in any Andrew Miller trade. They were willing to take true minor league prospects for Chapman, but not Miller. They want players who can help right now. That’s smart. There’s no urgency to trade Miller given his contract situation. Someone’s going to have to blow them away. [Joel Sherman]
  • 9:30am: In addition to the Marlins, the Rangers are also in the mix for Ivan Nova. The Yankees are said to be looking to move Nova next now that Chapman’s gone. He’s a rental and he hasn’t pitched all that well, but there are so few quality starters on the market that I bet they get something halfway decent for him. [George King]

Reminder before you comment: Your trade proposal sucks.

The Yankees will soon have to make some decisions about their outfield prospect logjam

Cave. (AP)
Cave. (AP)

When the season started, the Yankees were obviously very deep in left-handed hitting outfield prospects at Triple-A and Double-A. That is still the case even after Slade Heathcott was released a few weeks ago. The Yankees not only still have Ben Gamel, Mason Williams, Jake Cave, and Dustin Fowler, they just added another lefty hitting outfield prospect in Billy McKinney. He’s in Double-A too.

Depth is never a bad thing, but the Yankees are starting to reach a bit of a breaking point with these players. There are only so many roster spots to go around after all, and soon it’ll be difficult if not impossible to put all of these players in places that are appropriate for their development. Rushing players is bad. So is holding them back and having them go stale. There’s depth and there’s excess. The Yankees have an excess.

The trade deadline is Monday and the Yankees could always move one or two of these lefty outfielders for help at other positions, but it’s not like these guys have a ton of trade value. McKinney was the second piece (arguably the third piece) in a package for a rental reliever. (Okay fine, a great rental reliever.) Are Cave and Fowler and Gamel worth more than, say, Ramon Flores? I don’t think so. It’s easy to say “trade them!,” but to which team and for what?

Let’s sort through these five guys and try to figure out where they fit long-term and what the Yankees should do with each of them. The players are listed alphabetically.

Cave: The Rule 5 Guy

The Pluses: Cave, 23, is one of those guys who does a little of everything but nothing exceptionally well. He’s a solid defender in all three outfield spots and he can hit a little. So far this season he owns a .286/.349/.472 (131 wRC+) line with a 21.6% strikeout rate and an 8.0% walk rate in 352 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. It’s worth noting Cave has already hit seven homers this year after hitting two all of last season and eleven total from 2013-15, so he may be growing into some power.

The Minuses: The biggest knock on Cave is his roster situation. He didn’t stick with the Reds as a Rule 5 Draft pick this spring, and he will be Rule 5 Draft eligible again this winter. If he’s selected and doesn’t stick, he’ll be able to elect free agency as a two-time Rule 5 guy. So either the Yankees add Cave to the 40-man roster after the season or they’ll lose him. There’s no middle ground, realistically. Also, he has a major knee injury in his history (broken knee cap in 2012) and there’s some concern he won’t hit lefties at the next level.

Fowler: The Fast Rising Prospect

The Pluses: Fowler is the youngest player in this post at 21 and he’s really come a long way since being an 18th round pick in 2013. He was a three-sport guy in high school (baseball, football, wrestling) whose athleticism has translated into baseball tools and ability. Fowler has some raw pop and a good idea of what he’s doing at the plate, plus he’s a ballhawk in center. He won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible until after next season, and given his age — he’s more than three years younger than the average Eastern League player — sending him back to Double-A Trenton to start 2017 wouldn’t be crazy.

The Minuses: Fowler is not having a great statistical season, hitting .278/.307/.408 (96 wRC+) with four homers in 19 steals in 95 games with the Thunder. He’s also not a fan of drawing walks (4.2 BB% in 2015 and 4.6 BB% career), so he’ll probably never be a high on-base guy. It’s more of a Jacoby Ellsbury-esque low-walk/low-strikeout profile than a true hacker low-walk/high-strikeout profile. A good defensive outfielder with an okay-ish OBP is a decent player, but what if the power doesn’t come?

Gamel: The “Safe” Bet

Gamel. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Gamel. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Pluses: Gamel, like Cave, does a little of everything but nothing at an above-average clip. He can play all three outfield spots and run a little, and he’s flat out destroyed Triple-A pitching for two years now. Gamel, 24, has a .303/.362/.448 (133 wRC+) line with an 8.5% walk rate and an 18.7% strikeout rate in nearly 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances since the start of last season. He’s already on the 40-man roster and has two options left for 2017 and 2018, which gives the team flexibility.

The Minuses: There aren’t a ton, really. I think Gamel’s the safest bet to be a useful big leaguer of anyone in this post. Yeah, he might be a ‘tweener who doesn’t have enough power for a corner or enough defense for center, but even ‘tweeners can carve out long careers as fourth outfielders. Gamel can hit a little bit, he’s adequate in the field, and he plays with a ton of energy. He’s one step down from Heathcottian in that regard.

McKinney: The New Guy

The Pluses: McKinney is the second youngest guy in this post — he’s four months older than Fowler — and, depending who you ask, he was a top 100 prospect as recently as this spring. The talent is there, particularly his pure left-handed swing and innate bat-to-ball skills. McKinney is the best pure hitter in this group and one of the best in the entire farm system. He also doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster until after next season, and because he is so young, sending him back to Double-A next April wouldn’t be unreasonable.

The Minuses: For starters, McKinney hasn’t hit much this year, so his stock is down. He owns a .252/.355/.322 (101 wRC+) batting line with only one homer and two steals in 88 Double-A games. His strikeout (19.5%) and walk (13.5%) rates are fine, but still. McKinney is coming off a fairly significant knee injury (hairline fracture from a foul ball) and he’s going to be limited to left field by his arm and range. Also, his swing is so level he might never be more than a 15-homer guy. McKinney’s swing is beautiful and he can spray line drives from line to line. Besides that, there’s not much else going on here.

Williams: The High Upside Guy

The Pluses: I think Williams has the most natural ability out of anyone in this post. He’s an outstanding athlete and a great runner, and he has a strong arm, all of which makes him a top notch center field defender. Offensively, Williams makes contact (career 12.9 K%) and knows the strike zone (career 7.6 BB%), and he’s got some sneaky power too. The proverbial light bulb went on last year and Williams hit .318/.397/.398 (133 wRC+) with more walks (11.5%) than strikeouts (9.8%) in Double-A and Triple-A before his impressive (albeit short) big league debut. He’s on the 40-man roster but does have an option left for 2017.

Williams. (Getty)
Williams. (Getty)

The Minuses: There are more than you’d like to see, for sure. For starters, Williams is coming off major shoulder surgery. He’s been back about a month. That’s all. Secondly, Williams did not hit a lick from 2013-2014, putting up a .223/.290/.304 (66 wRC+) batting line at Double-A. There were also some issues with his maturity and effort, which led to a few benchings. It appeared Williams grew up a bit last season, but who knows? Between the less than impressive track record and recent shoulder injury, there are some significant red flags here to go along long with his natural talent.

* * *

The Yankees are pretty much out of time with Gamel and Cave. If they keep Gamel at Triple-A any longer, he might stagnate. Cave has to go on the 40-man roster after the season to avoid being lost to the Rule 5 Draft or free agency, and really, how many of these guys can the Yankees carry on the 40-man at once? Game, Cave, and Williams? That’s a lot of spots tied up in similar players. It hinders flexibility.

Things aren’t quite as pressing with McKinney and Fowler. The Yankees have another year before they’re Rule 5 Draft eligible, and based on their performances this year, an assignment back to Double-A next year wouldn’t be unreasonable. There’s only about six weeks left in the minor league season, you know. There’s not enough time to really turn things around. Williams? I don’t know what to think. Love the ability, but there are a few too many red flags.

Don’t forget the Yankees have other minor league outfielders too. It’s not like these are their only options at Double-A and Triple-A. There’s Aaron Judge, first and foremost, and also Cesar Puello and Mark Payton (he’s a lefty too) and Michael O’Neill. Carlos Beltran likely won’t be back next year, so even if Judge or Gamel or Williams gets that big league right field job, there’s still going to be an outfield crunch next year. That’s a problem. (Also, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are lefties too.)

My guess is the Yankees will end up jettisoning Cave at some point, either at the trade deadline or the offseason. McKinney and Fowler wind up back in Double-A to start next season, leaving Gamel and Williams as Triple-A up-and-down options. This is definitely one of those things that will take care of itself. Hopefully it works itself out in a positive way and these players all prove useful to the Yankees, either as MLB players or trade chips.

As great as he’s been, Yankees shouldn’t consider Beltran a qualifying offer candidate

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

With eleven wins in their last 16 games, the Yankees are a season-high four games over .500 and firmly on the winning side of the ledger. They’ve had a winning record for a grand total of eleven days this season, believe it or not. It would be even fewer than that without Carlos Beltran‘s brilliance. He’s been, by far, the Yankees’ best and most consistent hitter this season.

Even with those eleven wins in 16 games, the Yankees have gained only one game in the wildcard race. That’s all. One silly little game. They were five games back before this 11-5 stretch and they’re four games back today. The Yankees already traded away Aroldis Chapman and they should continue to sell at the trade deadline. And if they do, Beltran figures to be one of their more valuable chips. He’s a productive veteran bat who can help any contender.

The alternative is keeping Beltran, attempting to make a run in the second half, then making him the qualifying offer after the season when he becomes a free agent. That would net the Yankees a supplemental first round pick in the 2017 draft should Carlos sign elsewhere. This assumes the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t change or eliminate the qualifying offer system first. I don’t think that’ll happen though.

The qualifying offer sounds like a fine backup plan, but I don’t see Beltran as a candidate to receive one. Or at least I don’t think the Yankees should tender him the offer. It’s easy to understand why the Yankees would do so, but I see such a move as almost all downside for one big reason: Beltran will probably take it. The qualifying offer will be worth $17M or so, and who is offering that to Carlos as a free agent, even across two years? Teams are shying away from older, one-dimensional sluggers nowadays.

The Yankees have money even though like to pretend they don’t. Bringing Beltran back next season on an expensive one-year deal doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, especially with the way he’s hitting this year, but I see three problems with it.

1. He’s probably not going to hit like this again. Beltran is defying the odds this season. He’s hitting .309/.350/.554 (138 OPS+) with 21 homers in 95 games overall, and amazingly, I don’t think he’s had one slump all year. He just keeps hitting. It’s impressive. Now let’s look at a list of players comparable to Beltran since the 1961 expansion, meaning 39-year-old everyday outfielders who were above-average at the plate:

2004 Barry Bonds: 263 OPS+ (lol)
1970 Willie Mays: 140 OPS+
1985 Reggie Jackson: 135 OPS+
1991 Dave Winfield: 120 OPS+
2004 Steve Finley: 109 OPS+
2007 Luis Gonzalez: 104 OPS+

That’s the complete list. Six players since 1961 and Beltran’s about to make it seven. And remember, every single one of those guys except Gonzalez was allowed to use amphetamines, or greenies as they’re called in baseball circles. Greenies were banned in 2005, so 39-year-old outfielders can’t turn to them for that extra boost of energy.

Those are the players like Beltran right now, 39-year-old everyday outfielders. What about 40-year-olds? Beltran turns 40 in April, so if the Yankees bring him back next year, that’s what they’re getting, a 40-year-old outfielder. Here’s the list of everyday outfielders who were above-average at the plate during their age 40 season during the expansion era:

1971 Willie Mays: 158 OPS+
1999 Rickey Henderson: 128 OPS+
2007 Kenny Lofton: 105 OPS+

Three players and two of them were among the greatest players to ever live. Know what else is crazy? Only one other outfielder even had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title during their age 40 season since 1961. Jeff Conine did it in 2006, when he had an 86 OPS+. Heck, let’s drop the outfield part. Only eleven 40-year-old players have produced at a league average clip since 1961, and most of them had the benefit of greenies. Here’s the list.

Maybe Beltran will be one of those outliers. Should the Yankees bank on that? I don’t think so. You needn’t look beyond New York’s roster for examples of an older player being productive one year and a liability the next. Mark Teixeira‘s and Alex Rodriguez‘s declines are a big reason why the Yankees have spent only those eleven days in first place.

2. The roster construction will be a mess again. The Yankees are stuck either playing Beltran in right field or sitting A-Rod on the bench at the moment. It’s not a great situation at all. It’s almost like a 24-man roster. The roster construction is so bad right now. The Yankees lack flexibility with the bench and DH spot, and if they bring Beltran back, that will continue.

I suppose they could release A-Rod to clear up the logjam, but I’m sorry, I’m going to have to see that to believe it. As long as there are home run records to be chased — Alex is four away from 700 and 18 away from tying Babe Ruth — there’s money to be made and tickets to be sold. Let’s face it, the Yankees might need all the attendance and ratings help they can get next year. A-Rod puts butts in the seats.

(Free Adams/Times Leader)
Judge. (Free Adams/Times Leader)

3. The Yankees need to start getting younger. The Yankees currently have four legitimate outfield prospects in Triple-A: Aaron Judge, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave. All four are among the 25 best prospects in the organization. That doesn’t include Cesar Puello, a former top prospect who is playing extremely well in Triple-A after being picked up as a minor league free agent. It also doesn’t include Aaron Hicks in MLB or Dustin Fowler and Billy McKinney in Double-A.

The Yankees have a lot of impressive young outfielders at the upper levels of the minors and that’s awesome. They should be thrilled to have so many young options, and in the cases of Judge and Williams, high upside options. The Yankees need to start making room for these guys and bringing Beltran back doesn’t accomplish that at all. In fact, it’s gotten to the point now where the Yankees need to think about clearing two outfield spots next year to make room for these guys. Let Beltran go and trade Brett Gardner. That sort of thing. (I’m guessing they’re stuck with Jacoby Ellsbury.)

* * *

This would all be rendered moot if Beltran declined the qualifying offer, but I think the chances of that are so small. Beltran said at the All-Star Game that he wants to play two more years, so he’s not thinking about retirement, and who’s going to give up a draft pick to sign a 40-year-old outfielder or DH, let alone offer close to $17M? If the Yankees make the qualifying offer, accepting it would be Beltran’s best shot at gainful employment next year.

There’s too much downside to bringing Beltran back next season — he’s likely to decline, the roster will be inflexible, the young outfielders will be blocked, etc. — for the qualifying offer to be a serious consideration. Hopefully the Yankees realize this and decide to cash in on Beltran’s big season by trading him for a prospect or two at the deadline, rather than keep him and lose him for nothing after the season. Or worse, bring him back in 2017. This is a classic example of letting a player go a year early rather than a year late.

Sabathia’s strong start leads Yanks to 6-3 win over Astros

Well, if nothing else, at least the Yankees are not going down without a fight this year. They won their third straight game Tuesday night, beat the Astros 6-3 in Houston. I dunno if the Yankees have the talent to climb back into the postseason race, but I’m hoping they at least make things interesting these next few weeks.

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Return of the Ace
That was CC Sabathia‘s best start in more than a month. He’d allowed at least four runs in each of his last six starts, but Tuesday night he rebounded to hold the Astros to two runs on four hits and two walks in 6.2 innings. The first run came on Marwin Gonzalez’s first inning homer, and the second came on Evan Gattis’ seventh inning homer. Sabathia retired 17 of 20 batters faced between dingers.

I’m not sure there’s a way to confirm this, but it looked to me like Sabathia was doing a better job busting righties inside with his cutter than he had been the last few times out. He struck out five, and of his 15 ball-in-play outs, ten were recorded on the infield. There was a lot of weak contact. It’s not like Sabathia needed his defense to be great behind him. He kept the ball off the barrel like we saw earlier this season. I don’t know if it’ll last, but for at least this one night, Sabathia looked like the Sabathia we saw early in the season. It was pretty awesome. Way to go, CC.

Build a Lead
The first inning did not go well. Doug Fister needed nine pitches to retire the side in the top of the first, then Sabathia allowed the solo homer to Gonzalez to put the Yankees in a quick 1-0 hole. The offense went to work against Fister after that, forcing him to throw 31 pitches in the second and another 25 pitches in the third. They were on everything too. He had to work hard for those six outs.

The Yankees scored their two second inning runs because four of the first five batters reached base, and the one who didn’t reach drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. That was Didi Gregorius. Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira started the inning with a single and a double, respectively, then Starlin Castro and Chase Headley strung together singles to keep it going. Headley singled in the second run after Didi sac flied in the first.

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

The third inning run scored on Castro’s infield single, and man, those are the worse when you’re on the other side of it. I guess that means they’re the best when they go in your favor? Carlos Beltran scored that run after a single, a wild pitch, and a ground ball moved him to third. The Yankees were up 3-1 after three innings. Two innings later, they were up 6-1 thanks to the bottom of the order.

That fifth inning rally started with a hit-by-pitch (McCann) and a single (Teixeira). Gregorius moved the runners up with a ground ball, then the ‘Stros opted to issue the ol’ unintentional intentional walk to Castro. They were pitching around him, but once the count went 3-0, they just walked him. Gregorius got a run with sac fly, then Aaron Hicks made Houston pay for the intentional walk with a two-run triple to right. That was big. The Yankees were up 6-1.

To The Bullpen
A 6-1 lead is pretty comfortable, right? It was, but as soon as Sabathia allowed the solo homer to Gattis to make it 6-2 in the seventh, you could see the bullpen wheels beginning to turn. First in was Anthony Swarzak, who stranded a runner in the seventh before allowing a solo homer to Gonzalez in the eighth. Following a two-out walk to Carlos Correa, Joe Girardi went to Dellin Betances, who walked two to load the bases. He bounced back to strike out Jason Castro to end the thread.

Betances has now pitched in six of the last nine days, and one the days he didn’t pitch, he warmed up. He’s appeared in eleven of the team’s 21 games this month, plus he threw an inning in the All-Star Game, so yeah. Dellin’s worked a ton lately. He could use a nice and easy two-week stretch, you know? Like three appearances in 14 days. That sorta thing. Anyway, Andrew Miller came on for the ninth and recorded his ninth save. He’s pitched five of the last nine days. Hey, offense, win a blowout once in a while!

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Leftovers
Every starter had a hit except Brett Gardner, who drew a walk. Ellsbury had three hits while Beltran, Teixeira, and Castro each had two. Teixeira went 2-for-4 with a double and both hits went to the opposite field as a left-handed hitter. He had four opposite field hits total as a lefty coming into the game. Also, McCann scored on two not deep sac flies. When’s the last time that happened? Crazy game, this baseball.

Ellsbury led off the sixth with a double to left, then was promptly thrown out trying to steal third. That was a curious decision, I’d say. Jacoby might have been trying to do a little too much there with Beltran at the plate. Ellsbury is 17-for-25 (65%) in steal attempts this season, which is about a league average success rate. I’d still like to see him pick it up a little.

And finally, the Yankees are four games over .500 for the first time this season. They’ve gone 11-5 in their last 16 games, all against pretty good teams. This team, I tell ya. Once you think they’re done and out of it, they pull you right back in.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
You can go to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, and MLB.com for the video highlights. We have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages available too. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees will look to finish the sweep of this three-game series Wednesday night. Masahiro Tanaka will be on the mound against young right-hander McCullers. After that? An off-day.