Archive for Game Stories
Well, that wasn’t pretty. The Orioles pounded the Yankees on Tuesday afternoon, taking advantage of some shoddy defense and ineffective pitchers to grab a 14-5 win. Yes, 14-5. That’ll put a dent in the ol’ run differential.
Bad Defense, Bad Pitching, Bad Day
You’re not going to believe this, but a team playing a catcher at first base, a career minor league journeyman at third base, a 36-year-old with a long injury history at second base, and a 39-year-old coming off a major ankle injury at shortstop struggled defensively on Tuesday. Ivan Nova was terrible, giving up rockets all over the field, but his infield defense betrayed him badly against the Orioles. Really bad.
In the first inning, a potential Delmon Young double play ball got by a diving Derek Jeter, who showed off his fall-down range all day. Quite literally too. Chris Davis followed that with a sac fly, then Adam Jones crushed a two-run homer into Monument Park. If Jeter makes the play, does Nova throw a scoreless first inning? Eh, maybe. That’s a pretty big assumption based on how he was pitching.
In the second inning, Jonathan Schoop pulled a double down the left field line, right by Yangervis Solarte. It was hard hit but Solarte looked really awkward on the play. I’m pretty sure a full-time third baseman reels that ball in, or at least knocks it down and holds Schoop to a single. Ryan Flaherty came in to score on the play. That also wouldn’t have happened had Solarte kept it on the infield.
Jeter let another potential double play ball scoot by in the fourth inning, this one off Schoop’s bat. That loaded the bases with one out, and two runs came around to score on Nick Markakis’ sac fly and Young’s single. Later in the inning, Brian Roberts couldn’t make the play on a Davis ground ball because it was hit slowly and he was in shallow right field on the shift. A run scored on the play, making it 7-1 Orioles.
The infield defense sucked (no surprise), but that doesn’t absolve Nova of all the blame. He was up in the zone all afternoon and gave up plenty of hard-hit balls. Ten hits in 3.2 innings is not all on the infielders. Nova was charged with seven runs on the day (all earned), and he’s now allowed 23 base-runners in 9.1 innings this season. That’s … a lot. Nova has really labored in his two starts. No easy innings at all.
Too Far To Comeback
The Yankees scored a quick two-out run in the first inning (Jacoby Ellsbury single, Carlos Beltran double) to answer Baltimore’s three-run top of the first, but they didn’t score again until the fourth inning, when it was already 7-1. A six-run deficit is too much to overcome when you need three hits to score one run, as this offense does these days.
The team’s three-run fourth inning came on a leadoff homer (!) from Alfonso Soriano, a double off the left field wall by Solarte, and a ground out by Brett Gardner. First baseman Frankie Cervelli and Roberts also singled in the inning. The Yankees left a runner on third base in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, and two runners on base in the sixth. Some days, five runs just aren’t enough.
Once again, the two offensive stars were Ellsbury and Solarte. Ellsbury went 3-for-4 with a double and a stolen base — he stole third base three times in one inning, but the first two attempts were spoiled by foul balls — while Solarte went 2-for-4 with two doubles. He currently leads the league with six two-baggers, though that could change following tonight’s games. It feels like the only time the Yankees score is when these two do something.
Vidal Nuno really took one on the chin in long relief, allowing seven runs on eight hits in 3.1 innings. He threw 67 pitches and I think he’s going to find himself in Triple-A tomorrow, swapped for a fresh arm. Preston Claiborne and Shane Greene are the obvious 40-man roster call-up candidates. The just called up Cesar Cabral got one out and Dellin Betances recorded the final five outs.
The Yankees tripled their season homerun output in this game. Soriano hit the team’s second dinger of the season, a solo shot leading off the fourth, and he pimped it pretty good. Kelly Johnson swatted a garbage time solo homer in the eighth for New York’s third longball of 2014.
Nova did not walk anyone in his disaster start, meaning the Yankees have now gone a full turn through the rotation without any of their starters issuing a free pass. The last starter to walk someone was Nova, back against the Astros in Houston. Pretty awesome.
These teams will play the final game of this three-game series on Wednesday night. Yes, the run of day games is over. Masahiro Tanaka will make his first start at Yankee Stadium in the rubber game, matching up against the righty Miguel Gonzalez. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch the game.
Baseball returned to the Bronx on Monday, and the Yankees celebrated their home opener with a 4-2 win over the division rival Orioles. After dropping the first two games of season to the Astros, the Yankees have won four of their last five games. How about that?
Welcome To The AL East
The Yankees knocked Ubaldo Jimenez out of Monday’s game after only 4.2 innings, and I think they only had one really hard hit ball during those 4.2 innings. That was Derek Jeter‘s double off the left field wall in the fifth. He actually thought it was a homer (so did everyone else) and started to jog to first, but he hustled it into a two-bagger once he saw it clank off the wall. The Yankees forced Jimenez to throw 107 pitches to get 14 outs, slapping seven singles in addition to the double. They also worked him for five walks.
The Bombers scored their four runs off Ubaldo in four different ways. In the third, Jeter banged into a 1-6-3 double play that scored Yangervis Solarte, who drew a walk to leadoff the inning and moved to third on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s single. In the fourth, Solarte came up with a two-out, two-strike single to right to plate Alfonso Soriano, who singled earlier in the inning and moved to second on Kelly Johnson‘s walk. Nick Markakis came up just short on his diving catch attempt. In the fourth, Ellsbury singled in Jeter after the double. Johnson drew a bases loaded walk to force in a run later in the inning. Three of the four runs were helped by walks. Walks walks walks.
I want to single out Roberts, who neither scored nor drove in a run, but played a big role in the game nevertheless. He saw 19 pitches (!) in his three at-bats against Jimenez, drawing a walk to load the bases immediately prior to Johnson’s bases loaded walk in the fifth. Nineteen pitches in three trips to the plate! Roberts took a full inning off Ubaldo’s day all by himself. He isn’t hitting much (.150 AVG through the first seven games), but he’s drawing walks (.346 OBP) and is a pain in the ass at-bat in general. I’ve said this more than a few times already, but these are the types of at-bats the Yankees were not getting last year, especially from the bottom third of the order. Roberts did not do any damage directly on Monday, but he sure made life tough for Ubaldo.
Ho Hum, Kuroda Was Very Good Again
Like I’m sure many of you, I was a bit concerned about Hiroki Kuroda coming into the season because of his age and late-season fade last year, but after two starts, those concerns are pretty much gone. Kuroda has looked like the 2013 first half version of himself, showing good velocity and being unpredictable with his breaking pitches. He did allow eight hits in 6.1 innings of work, including three doubles, but they were mostly scattered. The bullpen picked him up when the first three hitters of the seventh inning recorded base hits.
Here is Kuroda’s pitch breakdown from Brooks Baseball:
- 47 sinkers, 32 strikes, four swings and misses, averaged 92.8 mph and topped out at 93.7
- 24 splitters, 13 strikes, five swings and misses, averaged 86.2 mph
- 16 sliders, nine strikes, five swings and misses, averaged 84.4 mph
- three curveballs and two four-seam fastballs as well
Kuroda’s final line was two runs allowed on those eight hits in those 6.1 innings. He struck out four, and like just about every Yankees’ starter these days, he did not walk anybody. Fifty-six of his 92 pitches were strikes (61%), and until those three batters reached to start the seventh inning, he was cruising right along without much an issue. Outside of CC Sabathia‘s disaster on Opening Day, the Yankees have gotten pretty strong work from their rotation this year.
No Robertson? No Problem
Following the game, we learned David Robertson had to be placed on the 15-day DL with a Grade I groin strain. That means everyone in the bullpen will move up a notch for at least two weeks. Injuries stink but they are a part of life. Joe Girardi excels at bullpen management and he pushed all the right buttons on Monday.
As I mentioned before, the bullpen picked up Kuroda in that seventh inning. Matt Thornton was brought in to face Ryan Flaherty with runners on first and second with one out, and he retired the lefty with a weak ground ball to second base. It’s clear Girardi is using Thornton as nothing but a matchup left-hander and that’s great. He has no business facing righties at this point of his career. David Phelps, who has really struggled so far this year, came in after Thornton and got a weak ground ball back to himself from the rookie Jonathan Schoop to end the threat. I still don’t want to see Phelps in big spots just yet, but he did the job on Monday.
with Robertson out, Shawn Kelley was the closer du jour, pushing Adam Warren into the eighth inning. Warren walked the first batter of the eighth — his first base-runner of the season — before escaping the jam with a fly ball (Nick Markakis) and two strikeouts (Adam Jones, Chris Davis). The recovery was impressive after the walk. Warren’s been pretty good as a short reliever so far (ahem). Kelley recorded with first career save with two easy fly balls and a ground out on nine total pitches. Piece of cake.
The Orioles helped the Yankees by making two outs on the bases: Nelson Cruz forget how many outs there were in the second inning and was doubled off first base on Steve Lombardozzi’s fly ball. It wasn’t even close, Cruz was still near second base by time the ball got back into the infield. Brian McCann then picked Schoop off at second base with a snap throw to end the top of the fifth.
Ellsbury was thrown out trying to steal second base in the fifth inning thanks to a fantastic throw by Matt Wieters, but the replay showed he slid in just under Flaherty’s tag. It was very close but it did look like Ellsbury was in there. Girardi did not challenge though, and four of the next five batters reached base (two singles, two walks). Fallacy of the predetermined outcome, yadda yadda yadda, but Girardi should have challenged in hindsight. Could have really blown the game open there.
Ellsbury had two hits to continue his little hot streak. Soriano also went 2-for-3 with a walk and appears to be coming out of his funk. Gardner and Jeter each had one hit, Beltran and Solarte both singled and walked, Johnson drew two walks, Roberts drew one walk, and McCann went 0-for-4. He was the only starter who failed to reach base. Solarte creamed a pitch in the eighth that looked gone off the bat, but Markakis caught it on the right field warning track. Almost his first career dinger. Almost.
Funny moment: the Bleacher Creatures were chanting “So-Lar-Te! So-Lar-Te!” as part of the roll call for about a minute before Jeter told Solarte to wave. Rookie mistake.
Same two teams tomorrow afternoon in the second game of this three-game series. I guess that’s the alternative to not having the day after the home opener off, playing a day game so scheduling a doubleheader is easier. Who knows. Ivan Nova and Wei-Yin Chen will both be making their second starts of the season in the matinee. If you want some last minute tickets, check out RAB Tickets.
What started out as a laugher turned into a bit of a nail-biter. The Yankees had a five-run lead at one point on Sunday afternoon, but by the time the 27th out was recorded, the Blue Jays had the tying run on base. Let’s recap the 6-4 win, bullet points style (it’s Sunday, give me a break):
- Three Runs, One Hit: The first inning three-run rally was not an inning the 2013 team could have put together. The Yankees took advantage of Drew Hutchison’s wildness, turning two walks and a hit batsman into three runs with only one base hit. Jacoby Ellsbury drove in Brett Gardner with a ground ball, then Kelly Johnson clubbed a two-run double off the wall. Last year’s offense would have hacked at everything. This team will take the walks.
- All With Two Outs: For the first 5.2 innings of this game, CC Sabathia was excellent. Sure, he allowed the leadoff homer to Melky Cabrera, but he retired 16 of the next 17 batters after that. In the sixth, the Blue Jays pushed across three runs — all with two outs too, yuck — on a bloop single and three ground ball hits. That uglified Sabathia’s line, but I thought his start was very encouraging. He looked like he did from innings three through six against the Astros. That two-out rally was a killer. Brooks Baseball has his pitch breakdown.
- A Homer!: The Yankees finally hit their first home run of the season on Sunday, in their 49th offensive inning. Brett Gardner did the honors, naturally. It looked like some meaningless tack-on runs at the time, but it ended up being a huge homer after Toronto scored those three runs in the sixth.
- Bullpen: For the first time this year, David Robertson made things interesting in the ninth. He put two runners on base (single and a walk) with one out, but otherwise escaped the jam with a pop-up and a fly ball. Shawn Kelley allowed a hit in the eighth and Adam Warren retired all three men he faced in the seventh. He’s looked very good in his two outings.
- Leftovers: Derek Jeter went 2-for-5, moving him ahead of Paul Molitor and into eighth place on the all-time hits list (ninth if you count pre-1900s Cap Anson) … in his 19th plate appearance of the season, Alfonso Soriano blooped a single for his first hit of 2014 … every starter had a hit except for Brian Roberts, who drew a walk … Ichiro Suzuki went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts, only the 18th three-strikeout game of his career … Sabathia threw a first pitch strike to 22 of 25 batters faced, including 20 in a row to close out his day (!).
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has some other stats, and ESPN has the updated standings. The Yankees are done with their six-game road trip and will head home for the first time this season. Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada will all be involved in the ceremonial first pitch ceremony in the home opener matinee on Monday afternoon.
Following Friday night’s seven-run outburst, the Mark Teixeira-less lineup went right back to sleep. The Yankees were shut out by R.A. Dickey and the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon by the score of 4-0. It was 1-0 until the bottom of the eighth.
Big Mike Is Here To Stay
The Yankees have been waiting a long time for this. Michael Pineda finally made his first start for the club on Saturday, two years and one shoulder surgery after being originally acquired from the Mariners. He looked very good in Spring Training but that only means so much. The regular season is a different animal, as is the Blue Jays lineup and their hitter-friendly ballpark. The Yankees were probably hoping he would be their ace by now, but instead he is the fifth starter and an unknown.
In his first big league start since September 2011, Pineda held that Blue Jays lineup to one run in six innings of work. A well-struck double and a bloop single led to the run in the second inning, but not after he threw the first scoreless first inning (!) of the team’s season. The other four starters allowed at least one run in the first inning in their starts. Crazy. Pineda struck out five, walked zero, and got six ground ball outs and six air ball outs. He threw 58 of 83 pitches for strikes (70%), including eleven swings and misses. Here is the breakdown, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
- 31 fastballs, 17 strikes, two swings and misses, averaged 94.4 mph, topped out at 96.1 mph
- 33 sliders, 27 strikes (!), seven swings and misses, averaged 84.2 mph, topped out at 86.8 mph
- 18 cutters, 13 strikes, two swings and misses, averaged 94.3 mph, topped out at 96.1 mph
- one changeup, one strike, 88.4 mph
The first time through the order, left-handed batters went 4-for-5 with two doubles against Pineda while righties went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. He came to the Yankees in a need of a changeup to better combat batters of the opposite hand, and he still needs that two years later. Changeups don’t magically develop while on the DL, apparently. After that first time through the order though, Pineda retired 12 of the final 13 batters faced, including all six lefties. Like Masahiro Tanaka on Friday, he shook off a slow start to the game and finished very strong.
Pineda topped out at 75 pitches or so in Spring Training, so it was no surprise Joe Girardi lifted him when he did. They need to take it easy on him following the shoulder surgery, especially early in the season. This is no time to push things. Pineda always stood out from other live-armed youngsters because of his control, and that is evident in all those strikes he threw. Thirteen of 22 batters faced got a first pitch strike and seven saw an 0-2 count. Four batters saw a three-ball count and only two saw a two-ball count after the second inning. Pineda was very, very good. This was a fantastic and tremendously encouraging start.
Middle of the LOLineup
What an ugly game for the rebuilt middle of the order. Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Alfonso Soriano each went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and they combined to kill a pair of rallies. With two on and no outs in the sixth, Beltran bounced into a 6-4-3 double play and McCann lined out softly to short. In the same situation in the eighth, Beltran and Soriano sandwiched strikeouts around a McCann ground out. Soriano struck out on a pitch that bounced about five feet in front of the plate. Why Girardi didn’t pinch-hit Brett Gardner for Soriano against the fresh out of the bullpen righty in the eighth, I’ll never know.
McCann came into the game with four hits in 13 at-bats (.308), but neither Beltran (now 3-for-19) nor Soriano (0-for-16!) have yet to get going. Those guys have to start hitting and soon. The Yankees can’t rely on Yangervis Solarte and Ichiro Suzuki spot starts to drive the offense, especially with Teixeira injured and no bonafide superstar like Robinson Cano to anchor the lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury did his part again (3-for-4) and Derek Jeter was on base twice, but no one was able to bring them home. Ugly.
The Yankees blew two on, two out rallies in the fifth and seventh thanks to a Dean Anna strikeout and a Brian Roberts pinch-hit pop-up, respectively. The score was still close then. Ellsbury struck out to end in the game with two on in the ninth inning, but by then the score had gotten out of hand. So, if you’re keeping score at home, the Yankees had two runners on base in each of the last five innings, but scored zero runs. This lineup is partying like it’s 2013.
So yeah, David Phelps is not right. Either not right or just not very good. After getting roughed up in his first appearance the other day, Phelps allowed three runs on three hits in two innings on Saturday, putting a winnable game completely out of reach. The three hits all came in a row: Melky Cabrera homer, Colby Rasmus ground-rule double, Jose Bautista homer. That’s three homers allowed in 3.1 innings. At this rate the Yankees offense won’t be able to out-homer Phelps. Unless they’re going to send him to Triple-A Scranton in favor of someone like Cesar Cabral or Preston Claiborne, they have to keep him out of close games. Mop-up duty only.
Weird moment to end the third inning, when Frankie Cervelli was thrown out at the plate on Ellsbury’s single. It appeared as though catcher Josh Thole blocked the plate before he had the ball, which is not allowed under the new rules. He had to stand there to catch the throw, however. Girardi argued, the umpires reviewed the play — Girardi did not challenge, it was the umpire’s call to review — and they determined he did not block the plate. Of course, replays showed Cervelli probably slid under the tag anyway. Girardi didn’t challenge the safe/out call within the designated time because he was arguing the block. Surprisingly, not everyone has the new plate blocking rules down pat five games into the new season.
Solarte took a 92 mph Aaron Loup fastball to the side of his right knee in the seventh inning and was in quite a bit of pain. He stayed on the ground and was looked at by the trainer for a little while, but eventually limped down to first and remained in the game. Seems to be fine even though it looked quite painful. He went 2-for-3 at the plate. Cervelli went 2-for-3 with a double. Like Solarte, he was also hit by a pitch. Kelly Johnson went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and the Anna/Roberts mash-up went 0-for-3 with a walk.
Between Pineda and Phelps, Vidal Nuno walked Adam Lind on six pitches. If you’re the second lefty in the bullpen, walking the only left-handed batter you face probably isn’t a good way to climb up the depth chart. It didn’t come back to hurt them, but still. throw strikes, Vidal.
The Yankees still have not hit a homerun this season, hence the Phelps joke earlier. It’s their fifth streak of 5+ homerless games this century; they did it once in 2006 and three times last year. The Royals are the only other team without a homer this season. Where have you gone, Bronx Bombers?
The Yankees and Blue Jays will play the rubber game of the three-game series on Sunday afternoon. The rotation turns back over, so CC Sabathia will get the ball against Drew Hutchison. It’s the last game of their six-game, season-opening road trip. Baseball will be back in the Bronx on Monday.
I can’t remember the last time I looked forward to a regular season game as much I did Friday’s. Maybe Jesus Montero‘s debut a few years ago? I’m not sure. The Yankees got their first look at Masahiro Tanaka on Friday and he helped them to a 7-3 win in the series opener against the Blue Jays.
Masahiro My Hero
The start was not good. Tanaka began his Yankees career by serving up a homerun on his third Major League pitch, a hanging splitter to Melky Cabrera leading off the first inning. Not ideal. Tanaka rebounded to retire the next three batters, including strikeouts of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The Blue Jays pushed across two runs in the second inning with ground balls — one through the right side of the infield, one up the middle, and one through the left side. Mark Teixeira also made an error when he threw the ball away trying to get a force at second.
The first time through the lineup, the Blue Jays scored three runs and put four of nine men on base. After that, Tanaka allowed just two base-runners and retired 16 of the final 18 men he faced, including eight in a row at one point. We’ve been hearing about his makeup and all that for months, but we saw it in action in this game. Things were going poorly early on, but Tanaka didn’t get rattled at all. He settled down, got a groove, and cruised for his final five innings.
Tanaka’s final line was those three runs (two earned) on six hits and no walks in seven innings. He struck out eight (including Bautista twice) and got eight ground ball outs compared to five in the air. Sixty-five of his 97 pitches were strikes, including 13 swings and misses. Here is the pitch breakdown, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
- 45 fastballs, 29 strikes, two swings and misses
- 23 sliders, 15 strikes, three swings and misses
- 12 splitters, nine strikes, six swings and misses
- 11 curveballs, eight strikes, one swing and miss
- six cutters, four strikes, one swing and miss
Outside of sheer dominance, this was probably the next best thing. Tanaka showed the ability to shake off a bad start to the game and still give the team a quality outing, against a good lineup at that. It’s obvious he’s no Kei Igawa, right? If you were worried about that, you don’t need to be anymore. Hell of a first impression. Tanaka was pretty much as advertised and that’s very, very good. Can’t wait to see him in five days.
The Yankees jumped all over Blue Jays starter Dustin McGowan in the first inning, scoring two runs on five hits, all within the first six batters. Ichiro Suzuki struck out and Yangervis Solarte fouled out with the bases loaded, so they didn’t do as much damage as they could have in the inning. Such is life. Two runs is better than no runs.
Two innings later, the first official use of the new instant replay system in Yankees history contributed to a two-run rally. Ichiro appeared to beat out an infield single with two outs, but first base umpire Dana DeMuth called him out. Joe Girardi challenged — after the team’s video people gave him the thumbs up, of course — and the call was overturned. Solarte made the Jays pay by following the replay with a two-run double on a ball that I thought was a pop-up off the bat. It just kept going and going and going until it clanked off the wall. Hooray technology! It certainly helped the Yankees in this one.
The $153 Million Man
What a game for Jacoby Ellsbury. New York’s new leadoff hitter went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a walk, and two stolen bases, plus he robbed Dioner Navarro of a base hit with a nice sliding catch to end the sixth. The one out he made was a line drive back to the pitcher that Steve Delabar knocked down and threw over to first. Ellsbury took over the game and we’ve seen what that’s like from the other side. It’s much more fun when he does it wearing a Yankees uniform, no doubt about it. Great game by him.
Dellin Betances‘ control problems reared their ugly head as only three of his 13 pitches were strikes. He walked two of three batters faced. Matt Thornton retired both men he faced before that (struck out the only lefty) and David Robertson retired all three men he faced after that. Would have been nice for Betances to get those last three outs, but he was very wild and Girardi couldn’t take his chances. So it goes.
In case you missed it earlier, Teixeira left the game in the second inning with a right hamstring strain. Apparently he caught a spike in the turf while going after a foul ball. There is no word on the severity and if he has to miss more than a few days, the Yankees will be in some trouble. They don’t have a true backup first baseman on the roster and their Triple-A options (Russ Canzler, basically) aren’t great either.
The Yankees scored insurance runs in the eighth (Gardner single) and ninth (Solarte double). Gardner went 2-for-4 with a walk and stolen base while Solarte went 2-for-5 with two doubles off the wall. Something tells me he’s going to get another start on Saturday. Kelly Johnson went 2-for-5 with a triple, Ichiro went 3-for-5 with two infield singles, and Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Teixeira all singled in a run. Dean Anna went 1-for-4 with a walk in his first career game, so congrats to him. Sixteen hits and four walks overall. Total team effort.
Because the first challenge was successful, Girardi got another one and he used it in the eighth to challenge Delabar’s play on Ellsbury. The replay confirmed he was out, but I liked the challenge there because there was a man on base and a chance to put together a big inning. That late in the game, it was unlikely to be needed later. I’d rather see Girardi roll the dice on a play like that than not use it.
The Yankees still have not hit a homerun yet this season. It’s the first time they failed to hit a homer in the first four games since 1990, when they didn’t hit their first longball until their eighth (!) game. I sure hope this team doesn’t wait that long to hit a dinger. I’ve been waiting for ‘em all winter.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees went from last place to third place today, so that’s cool.
Same two teams on Saturday afternoon, in the middle game of this three-game set. Michael Pineda will finally make his first start for the Yankees, more than two years after the trade that originally brought him to New York. He’ll be opposed by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
Well, it took a little longer than we all would have liked, but the Yankees won their first game of 2014 on Thursday. They avoided what would have been a pretty embarrassing sweep with a 4-2 win over the Astros. It wasn’t the easiest win in the world, but a win is a win and they needed it.
The First Lead of 2014
The first two games of this series were so ugly that, not only did the Yankees never hold a lead, but they were trailing after every single inning. The Astros scored in the first inning in the first two games and they did it again on Thursday, pushing a run across on a rookie mistake. More on that later. It looked like we were all in for more of the same after that early run.
Thankfully, it all changed in the third inning, when the Yankees put together an extended rally to score two runs and take their first lead of the season. Brian Roberts flew out on the first pitch to start the inning, but after that they had a six-pitch at-bat (Ichiro Suzuki single), a five-pitch at-bat (Yangervis Solarte single), a two-pitch at-bat (Brett Gardner single to score Ichiro), an eight-pitch at-bat (Derek Jeter walk), and a four-pitch at-bat (Carlos Beltran sac fly to score Solarte). They fouled off five of eleven two-strike pitches to extend at-bats. Excellent little rally full of … dare I say … professional at-bats.
The Yankees scored their third run in the fifth inning, but that one was a little more straight forward. Solarte doubled on a ball just out of the reach of a diving Robbie Grossman, then Jeter singled him in on a Jeterian hit to right. The same base hit to right we’ve been watching since 1996. The throw home was cut off and Jeter was tagged out between first and second, so the inning was over right after the run scored. Hey, it counted. that’s all that matters.
Bend, Bend, Bend Some More, But Never Break
Thursday’s start was a real grind for Ivan Nova. He simply had no idea where anything was going. Not his fastball and certainly not his curveball. Only eleven of the 24 curves he threw were strikes (swinging or otherwise) and only 47 of his 88 pitches were strikes overall. Only 53%. Nova wasn’t missing just off the plate either. He was bouncing 55-footers, missing a mile outside, way up out of the zone, all over the place really. Tough battle for him.
And yet, Nova held the Astros to two runs on six hits and five walks in 5.2 innings. He only struck out one against the five walks, giving you an idea of how tough this outing was. One of those two runs scored in the first, when Solarte made a rookie mistake by going for the 5-4-3 double play with the bases loaded rather than throwing home for the force out and potential 5-2-3 double play. Nova limited the damage that inning by getting a double play with his sinker, something he did all game. He got four ground ball double plays in his five full innings, two of which ended innings with multiple runners on base.
This was the kind of start that, a year or two ago, would have snowballed out of control on Nova. That ability to get by when nothing is working is what separates the promising youngsters from the bonafide big leaguers. Sure, a better offense might have crushed Nova given his control problems, but he doesn’t get to pick his opponent or the days when everything is working. This was an Andy Pettitte-esque outing for Ivan. A total grind, but he kept it together and didn’t let things get out of hand. Well done.
The New Bullpen
Mariano Rivera is gone. So are Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Aside from David Robertson in the ninth inning, the Yankees came into the year with no clearly defined roles in the bullpen, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We saw Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno pitch when they were losing big on Tuesday, David Phelps when the game was a little closer on Wednesday, and a completely different crop of pitchers on Thursday.
Nova left a runner on first base when he exited the game with two outs in the sixth, giving way to Adam Warren. Warren struck out the next batter on three pitches, then tacked on a scoreless seventh inning as well. He faced four batters, got two strikeouts, one weak ground ball back to himself, and a weak infield pop-up. Only needed 14 pitches too. I’ve been curious to see what Warren could do in a short relief role for a while now, and he did not disappoint on Thursday. He could be a real middle innings weapon.
As expected, Shawn Kelley took over Robertson’s old role as the eighth inning setup man. He got lucky when Jose Altuve ripped a line drive right at Solarte, but otherwise he struck out the next two batters without much issue. I was a little surprised when Joe Girardi didn’t bring in Matt Thornton to get the left-handed Marc Krauss, not that I thought he should have. Just seemed like a move he’d make. Robertson, in his first official save chance as the team’s closer, retired the side in order in the ninth on a fly ball, a strikeout, and weak ground ball back to himself. He threw only 13 pitches. Piece of cake.
How about that for your first big league start? Solarte made a mistake by not throwing home in the first inning, but otherwise he had an outstanding game. His first career hit was a ground ball single up the middle, his second a bloop hustle double in front of Grossman, his third an infield pop-up that fell between the infielders. He also drew his first career walk in the ninth inning. If the Astros were a better defensive team, he could have easily gone 0-for-3. Instead, Solarte went 3-for-3 with a walk, a run driven in, and two runs scored in his first career start. Not a bad day at the office.
The four through seven hitters went a combined 0-for-15 with a walk (Roberts) and three strikeouts, all by Frankie Cervelli. Not a good night for those guys. Alfonso Soriano went 0-for-4 and is still hitless on the season, but he did hit two line drives right at infielders. He ran into a little bad luck on Thursday. Hopefully he’s starting to come out of it.
Gardner and Jeter both went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run driven in, seeing a combined 37 pitches from the top two spots in the lineup. Ichiro went 2-for-4 with a double and deserves some props for scoring a big insurance run from second on Solarte’s infield pop-up single. He put his head down and ran hard the whole way. I’m really hoping he pulls a 1996-98 Tim Raines this year, the former star who becomes a kick ass part-timer.
There was a three or four-minute delay with two outs in the top of the ninth because the umpires lost track of the count and went to the new replay system to review it. I guess that’s reviewable? Seems weird. Since it happened in the seventh inning or later, the umpires can go to the review on their own, without a challenge from the manager. They confirmed the count was 3-1 and one pitch later, Solarte walked.
Jacoby Ellsbury replaced Soriano for defense in the late innings, just in case you were worried he did not start because his calf was bothering him. He took over in center and Gardner slid over to left, so their outfield for the last six defensive outs was Gardner, Ellsbury, and Ichiro. That’s a pretty excellent defensive outfield right there.
The Yankees still have not hit a homerun this year, by the way. The last time they started the season with three straight homerless games with 1998, and the last time they went four or more games without a dinger to start a season was 1990. They hit a homer on Opening Day every year from 1999-2012. Am I the only one amazed by that?
The Yankees are off to Toronto for a three-game weekend series against the Blue Jays. Masahiro Tanaka will make his long-awaiting debut in the opener on Friday night, which has been pushed back from 7pm to 7:30pm ET for whatever reason. I guess it has to do with the pregame ceremonies. Righty Dustin McGowan will be on the bump for the Jays. Can’t wait for Tanaka, you guys.
The dream of 0-162 is still alive. The Yankees dropped their second game of the season on Wednesday night, losing 3-1 to the Astros. Houston is 2-0 for the first time in eleven years. Really glad the Yankees are taking advantage of his soft early-season schedule, you guys.
Who Needs Runs When We Have Each Other?
Believe it or not, the Yankees had a bunch of chances in this game. They just couldn’t capitalize on any of ‘em. Their only run scored on a double play (more on that in a bit) and they stranded a runner on second in the third, a runner on first in the fourth, runners on the corners in both the fifth and sixth, and runners on second in both the seventh and eighth. Jacoby Ellsbury flew out and grounded out to end the third and fifth inning rallies, respectively.
The Yankees went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and the biggest RISPFAIL came in the eighth, after Carlos Beltran led off the inning with an opposite field double. The next three batters, the 4-5-6 hitters, all struck out. Brian McCann went down on five pitches, Mark Teixeira on four pitches, and Alfonso Soriano on six pitches. Matt Albers got eight (!) swings and misses out of the 15 pitches he threw those guys. I don’t even.
The early-season offensive ineptitude reminds me of the 2002-ish through 2008 Yankees, who never seemed to hit in April. I remember there used to be columns written pretty much every year about trading for Ken Griffey Jr. to improve the offense. Eventually those teams hit and hit a ton, and I suspect this offense will do the same at some point. Right now though? These last two games have been a hot mess. When Brian Roberts (3-for-4 on Wednesday) has been your most productive hitter, you’ve got issues.
Death By Dexter
Poor Hiroki Kuroda. He must have feel 2013 never ended. The Yankees gave their ace only 3.19 runs of support per start last season, the third lowest among qualified starters. They couldn’t buy a run for him on Wednesday* even though he held up his end of the bargain. Kuroda held the Astros to two runs on three hits and one walk in six innings, striking out five. He got seven ground ball outs and six fly ball outs.
* Well, they did score the one run. Wouldn’t want to sell them short.
Unfortunately, all three of those hits were extra-base hits, including a solo homer by Dexter Fowler to lead off the game. Two innings later, he tripled to center and scored on Robbie Grossman’s ground out. Fowler’s killed the Yankees these last two games. Four total hits, all for extra bases. Kuroda pitched around a Grossman one-out triple in the sixth, his final inning. Two triples and homer with no other hits allowed. It’s the first time a pitcher has done that since … Felix Doubront against the Yankees last September. Lame.
Aside from some long at-bats, Kuroda looked like vintage Hiroki Kuroda, mixing sinkers with splitters and sliders and whatever else he has in that bag of tricks. I chalk the long at-bats up to early-season rust. Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings before the game that they plan to treat Kuroda like Andy Pettitte this year, meaning they won’t push him deep into the game or much beyond 100 pitches. That’s why his night ended at six innings and 91 pitches. Sounds like a plan to me.
So about that run-scoring double play? It was Yangervis Solarte‘s first career at-bat. He pinch-hit for Kelly Johnson against the left-handed Kevin Chapman with runners on the corners and no outs in the seventh. Yeah, it scored a run, but that double play took the wind right out of the Yankees’ sails. I know he had a great spring, but Solarte isn’t exactly a weapon off the bench. He shouldn’t pinch-hit for anyone in a big or semi-big spot.
David Phelps really doesn’t look right. He was sitting 87-88 mph all spring and he was throwing max effort to hit 90 in this game, giving up a solo homer and putting two other guys on base in his 1.1-inning outing. Phelps missed more than two months with a pair of forearm strains in the second half last season and I dunno, he doesn’t look so hot right now. Maybe keep him out of close games for a little while. Matt Thornton (one ground out, one intentional walk) and Shawn Kelley (ground out) cleaned up Phelps’ mess in the eighth.
Roberts and Brian McCann (2-for-4) combined for five of the team’s seven hits. Beltran (double) and Brett Gardner (single) had the others. Gardner, Ellsbury, and Derek Jeter each drew a walk. Teixeira built upon his strong Opening Day by going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Soriano looks like a mess right now and has gone 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in each of the first two games. He did miss a ton of time of camp with the flu, so maybe he’s just behind. Same with Ellsbury and his calf. Maybe.
The Astros had a pre-game ceremony for Jeter before the game, giving him a set of golf clubs and a pair of fancy cowboy boots. Former Yankees (and Astros) Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens were both on hand. The Astros then came out of the dugout to give Jeter a standing ovation before his first at-bat, which was kinda weird considering they still have another game tomorrow.
Adam Warren has warmed up in each of the first two games, and given how Girardi always makes sure his guys are rested, he might not be available tomorrow. He’s almost certainly a better late-inning option over the current version of Phelps. That reminds me: don’t forget about our Bullpen Workload page now that the season has started.
If you’re looking for a good omen, the Yankees have been held to two runs or less in their first two games of the season for the first time since … 1998. That turned out okay.
Hilariously, the Yankees will try to avoid being swept (!) by the Astros (!!!) on Thursday night. That’s another 8pm ET start. Those are the worst. Give me 7pm or 10pm, nothing in between. Ivan Nova and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer will be the pitching matchup.
See what happens when you designate Eduardo Nunez for assignment? You lose to the Astros on Opening Day. The Yankees dropped their first game of the season 6-2 on Tuesday, and it sure looked like the score would be much more lopsided early on. Losing on Opening Day really sucks, especially to an awful team like the Astros, but that doesn’t mean it’s a harbinger for the rest of the season.
Which Trend Continued?
Coming into Tuesday’s start, CC Sabathia had a history of terrible Opening Day starts and an awful 2013 season in the rear-view mirror. Which trend continued in the first game of the 2014 season? I hope it was just the former but eh, it was probably the latter. The Astros roughed Sabathia up for six runs on eight hits (four for extra-bases) and one walk in six innings, forcing him to throw 50 pitches in the first two innings. That’s … a lot. The details of his 99 pitches:
- 47 fastballs, averaging 89.7 mph.
- 22 changeups, averaging 84.3. Some more separation from the fastball wouldn’t hurt.
- 30 sliders, averaging 80.8 mph.
- Nine swings and misses and 15 foul balls, including six with two strikes.
Sabathia showed the same problems as last year, meaning he struggled to put guys away — the Jason Castro at-bat in the first inning was a perfect example, Sabathia used to eat up lefty hitters but instead Castro fouled off two two-strike sliders before driving in a run with a fielder’s choice — and his command was terrible, especially in the first two innings. The evidence:
Those are the homers hit by Jesus Guzman (left) and L.J. Hoes (right). Both pitches were pretty much belt high, right over the plate. You can get away with that when you’re throwing 93-95 mph. But at 88-91 mph? Not as often. Just for the record, Guzman hit his dinger off a fastball, Hoes hit his off a changeup.
Anyway, the Yankees were down six-zip after the second inning and while Sabathia settled down wonderfully after that — he retired 12 of the final 15 men he faced — it doesn’t matter how many lineup additions you make over the winter down that many runs. It’s tough to come back and win that game, even against Scott Feldman and the Astros. Sabathia did not give the Yankees much of a chance on Opening Day and, unfortunately, he really didn’t do much to suggest he will be more productive than last season. Hopefully things go better in five days.
New Lineup, Just Like The Old Lineup
Four new regulars, including seven new starters from Opening Day last year, but the result did not change. The 2014 Yankees offense paid homage to the 2013 Yankees offense by playing just like them, being held to two runs on five singles, one double, and three walks. They didn’t have a runner reach third base until there were two outs in the seventh, and 19 of the first 22 men they sent to the plate made outs.
The Yankees rallied for two runs in the eighth — Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira both went the other way for RBI singles — but their best chance to realistically get back in the game came on inning earlier, when Feldman started to run out of gas. Teixeira singled with one out then Brett Gardner (hit-by-pitch) and Brian Roberts (walk) reached to load the bases with two outs. Astros manager Bo Porter went to Kevin Chapman, his only lefty reliever, to face Kelly Johnson, who hit a weak ground ball back to the pitcher to end the rally.
I thought maybe that Johnson at-bat would have been a good opportunity to use Frankie Cervelli as a pinch-hitter against the lefty. It burns the backup catcher, but Cervelli has always hit lefties and the left field porch at Minute Maid Park is tiny. If there was ever a time to take a shot at making this a game, that was probably it. That said, it is the first game of the season and the score was so lopsided that sticking with Johnson was fine. Nothing wrong with showing some confidence in him there.
It wasn’t until Feldman was out of the game that the offense put up a fight, so perhaps the Houston right-hander was just sharp in the season-opener. Eight of the final 15 Yankees reached base — six of eight reached at one point — but by this point, the deficit was just too big. Alfonso Soriano really killed them, striking out to end the fourth with two men on base and grounding into a double play to end the eighth with two on. At -0.084 WPA, he’s the easy goat.
Dealin’ Dellin and the Vidal Nunos
It might not seem like a big deal with three long relievers on the roster, but Sabathia did save the bullpen some by following up those disastrous first two innings with four scoreless ones. The Yankees open the year with 13 games in 13 games and you know they want to take it easy on Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda if at all possible. Saving the bullpen a few innings was a silver lining to an otherwise forgettable game.
Dellin Betances was electric in the seventh, facing the top three hitters in Houston’s lineup and completely overwhelming them. He struck out Dexter Fowler on five pitches, struck out Robbie Grossman on three pitches, and got Jose Altuve to ground out weakly to second base on the second pitch. Betances topped out at 99.3 mph (!) according to PitchFX. Dynamite. Vidal Nuno faced four batters in the eighth, striking out three and getting a weak ground ball that slithered passed Derek Jeter and Johnson. Too bad we can’t erase those first two innings, the pitching was pretty excellent after that.
Jeter’s final Opening Day started with a hit-by-pitch. He took a Feldman fastball off what initially looked like the left wrist, but replays showed it got him off the left forearm. That woulda been some way to start the season, wouldn’t it? Jeter struck out looking in his second at-bat, grounded back to first in his third at-bat, then slashed a Jeterian single to right field in his fourth at-bat. The same hit we’ve seen about a couple thousand times these last 19 years.
The Yankees played some hilariously sloppy defense in the first inning, particularly on Castro’s fielder’s choice. Teixeira fielded it cleanly and tried the cut runner down at home, but he threw the ball in the dirt and it bounced to the backstop. After McCann picked it up, he tried to get the runner at third base, but instead airmailed the throw into left field. Gardner did a good job backing up the play and preventing the runner from scoring. Teixeira was clearly trying to do too much in his first game after such a long layoff. He’s gotta take the out at first there.
Carlos Beltran picked up the team’s first hit of the season, singling to left field on a soft line drive with one out in the fourth. He also slide head-first into first base down six runs in the eighth inning. Silly. I know he wants to win and help his new team and all that, but he’s asking to get hurt by doing that. Ellsbury went 0-for-4 with a walk, McCann went 1-for-4, and Teixeira went 2-for-3 with a walk. Johnson doubled with two outs in the ninth for the team’s first extra-base hit of 2014.
Same two teams Wednesday night, though that one is an 8pm ET start. Stupid time zones. Hiroki Kuroda and Jarred Cosart will be the pitching matchup for that one.
The Yankees aren’t going to the postseason, but this game almost dragged on long enough to have they playing in October. The 2013 season ended with a 5-1 win over the Astros (in 14 innings!) and a sweep in Houston. Let’s recap the last victory of the year:
- Shutdown Bullpen: Considering how terrible the bullpen was at times down the stretch, it’s kinda funny they turned in one of their best efforts of the season on Sunday. Six relievers combined to retire of 27 of 30 batters faced in nine scoreless innings. They struck out a dozen. Dellin Betances was particularly impressive (four strikeouts in 2.1 perfect innings), as what Matt Daley (two strikeouts in two perfect innings). David Robertson closed out the season with a perfect frame.
- Late Rally(ies): Let’s just say the Yankees didn’t show much urgency at the plate in this game. There were a lot of quick outs in the first seven innings and understandably so. Everyone wanted to go home. Eduardo Nunez (double) and Curtis Granderson (single) didn’t get the memo, apparently, and combined to create the trying run in the eighth. The two teams remained tied at one until the 14th, when Mark Reynolds hit a mammoth homer to left center to
put everyone out of their miserygive the Yankees a one-run lead. Nunez doubled in two runs later in the inning and J.R. Murphy singled in another to give the club some more breathing room. Five of eight batters reached base in the 14th after five of the previous 22 batters reached.
- Almost Historic: One more strikeout. That’s all the Yankees needed to set a new franchise single-game strikeout record. Instead, they tied the club record by whiffing 19 Astros in the 14 innings. They also struck out 19 Blue Jays in 2001 (17 innings) and 19 White Sox in 1987 (15 innings). The franchise record for a nine inning game is 18 strikeouts, done twice before — Ron Guidry’s game in 1978 and a combined effort just two years ago.
- Leftovers: For the 17th time this year, the Yankees did not draw a single walk. That ties the franchise record set in 1919 and 1971 … Nunez led the way with three hits but Granderson, Brendan Ryan, and Zoilo Almonte had two apiece … David Huff struck out a career-high-tying seven while allowing one run in five innings … the Yankees struck out 16 times themselves (David Adams five times all by himself), one shy of the franchise’s all-time record. They’ve struck out 17 times on three occasions, most recently in 2010.
For the box score and video highlights, check out MLB.com. For some other stats, check out FanGraphs. For the final standings, go to ESPN. With the season over, it’s time for hot stove talk and rumors and trades and whatever else the next four and a half brings. I do think the Yankees will be busy this winter and I do think there are some front office-level changes coming, particularly on the player development side. We’ll see. Thanks for sticking around this season. It was a blast.
The four-game losing streak that everyone forgot about is over. The Yankees won their third-to-last game of the season on Friday night, holding on for a 3-2 win over the last place Astros. Let’s recap the meaningless victory:
- Spotted Start: Before the game, Joe Girardi said he was hoping to get about 50 pitches and three innings out of spot starter Adam Warren. He gave him 64 pitches and five shutout innings. Warren allowed just two singles and a walk in those five innings, and he retired each of the last nine men he faced. Can’t do much better. Assuming he doesn’t pitch on Sunday, Warren finishes the season with a 3.39 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 77 mostly long relief innings. Gotta think he’ll get a look as a starter in Spring Training. Nice season, Adam.
- Three-Run Fourth: You can tell this was a late-season game between two teams eliminated from postseason contention because the two starters threw a combined 67 pitches to record the first 18 outs. That’s barely an average of 100 pitches per 27 outs. The Yankees didn’t make any offensive noise until the fourth, when four straight batters reached base to drive in three runs. Robinson Cano singled, Alfonso Soriano walked, Mark Reynolds singled (one run), and David Adams doubled into the right field corner (two runs). Just enough runs to show they tried. That’s all you need in a game like this.
- Last Look?: I really hope that was Joba Chamberlain‘s final appearance as a Yankee, but I fear he will get into Sunday’s game. Joba allowed three of the four men he faced to reach base, including a booming two-run double to center and a line drive single to right on his first two pitches of the game. He then walked the bases loaded before escaping on a fly ball. What a waste of talent.
- Leftovers: Following Adams’ double, 17 of the final 19 Yankees made outs. The two exceptions were Soriano’s sixth inning double and Reynolds’ ninth inning single … Preston Claiborne walked the leadoff man in the eighth but retired the next three guys in a row … David Robertson retired all three men he faced in the ninth for the save as angry fans chanted for Mariano Rivera. Hey, I’d be bummed too … Eduardo Nunez went 0-for-4 and saw seven total pitches.
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. It’ll be Pettitte vs. Clemens — Andy Pettitte vs. Paul Clemens, no relation to Roger — in game two of this season-ended three-game set on Saturday. Andy will be making the final start of his career (for the second time). That’s a night game. Just had to sneak one more Saturday night game in before the end of the year, huh? Thanks, baseball gods.