Beltran, Bird, and Severino have gone from non-factors in April to indispensable in September


Last night the Yankees beat the Blue Jays thanks in large part to Carlos Beltran, Greg Bird, and Luis Severino. Others certainly helped, but Beltran and Bird stood out for their clutch late-inning home runs, and Severino chucked six innings of two-run ball against a great offense. They were the heavy-lifters in the team’s most important win of the season (to date!).

Back in April, last night’s win would have felt impossible. Beltran had a miserable opening month and looked very much like an older player on his last legs. Bird and Severino? They were in Double-A. Not Triple-A, Double-A. Calling up Severino in the second half seemed possible, sure, but Bird? I don’t think anyone thought he would come up in the second half and play everyday.

Beltran, Bird, and Severino were total non-factors for the Yankees back in April. Beltran was a negative both at the plate and in the field, and the other two guys were two minor league levels away from the Bronx. The season is very long though, things change constantly over the course of 162 games, and now those three guys are all indispensable pieces as the Yankees look to clinch a postseason spot.

Let’s be clear here: these are three players the Yankees can not live without right now. That’s not hyperbole. Beltran and Bird have been the club’s two best hitters this month and Severino has been no worse than their third best starting pitcher since he was called up. You could easily argue he’s been their second best starts since being summoned. The Yankees are not hanging on to the top wildcard spot without these guys doing what they’ve done.

Beltran’s first month was awful. You don’t need me to remind you. He hit .162/.216/.265 (21 wRC+) with no homers in April. It was ugly. We all wanted him out of the lineup. Since then though, Beltran has hit .300/.361/.514 (136 wRC+) with 17 home runs in just over 400 plate appearances since May 1st (406 to be exact), including the go-ahead solo homer in the eighth inning last night. The crazy thing? It wasn’t even Beltran’s biggest homer against the Blue Jays this year:

Beltran’s home run last night didn’t stand up — Andrew Miller blew the save in the ninth, only his second blown save of the year — but the Yankees again rallied to take the lead, this time on Bird’s three-run homer in the tenth. Chris Young (walk) and Slade Heathcott (catcher’s interference) deserve credit for reaching base to start the rally, but it was Bird who not only hit the homer, but battled back from an 0-2 count to work it to 2-2.

In his short time as Mark Teixeira‘s injury replacement, Bird has hit .256/.336/.562 (142 wRC+) with ten homers in 34 games. Ten homers! He hit a dozen homers in 83 minor league games this year. Furthermore, six of Bird’s ten homers have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead. He’s had some huge ones. The two-homer game against the Twins, the go-ahead blast against the Orioles, last night … Bird’s been huge. Huge. Just don’t ask him to talk about it.

“I’m just comfortable playing baseball. I don’t really know how else to put it. But I enjoy it. I enjoy it here,” he said to reporters following last night’s win. That’s the boring answer we’re used to hearing from seasoned veterans, not a 22-year-old with barely more than month in the show. Bird is the big new thing but let’s not forget how great Teixeira was before getting hurt. He was a monster and the Yankees aren’t where they are without him. It could have been very bad when he went down. It hasn’t been thanks to Bird.


Then there’s Severino, who zoomed through the system and has become a big time contributor who is only 24 months removed from rookie ball. He came up after the trade deadline — after the Yankees declined to trade for rotation help at the deadline, more precisely — and has given the team as huge boost, pitching to a 3.10 ERA (4.38 FIP) in nine starts and 49.1 innings. That’s as good as it gets for a 21-year-old kid thrust into a postseason race. The Yankees have needed him too. The rotation is stretched thin due to injury.

Last night’s start was Severino’s third against the Blue Jays this year and easily his best. They hit him around a bit in their first meeting (three runs in six innings) then really did a number on him in their second meeting (six runs in 2.1 innings), but Severino rebounded, made the necessarily adjustments, and held them to two runs in six innings on the road last night. It would have been easy to understand if a rookie pitcher had been overwhelmed by that environment last night. Severino wasn’t.

Back in April, I’m not sure anyone figured Beltran and Bird and Severino would be playing major roles down the stretch and into September. Beltran looked washed up and both Bird and Severino were sitting in Double-A, far away from the Bronx. (Well, not literally. They were only in Trenton.) The Yankees stuck with Beltran and have been rewarded in a huge way. They didn’t trade for any significant help at the deadline and instead placed their trust in Bird and Severino. Again, they’ve been rewarded in a huge way.

Chances are the Yankees won’t win the division. There’s not much time left in the season and the Blue Jays are really good. They are in great position to claim a wildcard spot and return to the postseason, however. They wouldn’t be where they are without Beltran, Bird, and Severino. They’ve all been major contributors down the stretch after it appeared none would have any impact earlier this season.

Yogi’s legacy extends far beyond the baseball field


The Yankees and the baseball world lost one of their all-time greats Tuesday evening. Yogi Berra, inner circle Hall of Famer and ten-time World Series champion, passed away at the age of 90. Like all of us, Berra got a little bit older each year, yet it always felt like he would live forever. And he will in all of us. It’s hard to imagine living a more full and more loved life than he did.

“To those who didn’t know Yogi personally, he was one of the greatest baseball players and Yankees of all time,” wrote Derek Jeter at the Players Tribune. “To those lucky ones who did, he was an even better person. To me he was a dear friend and mentor. He will always be remembered for his success on the field, but I believe his finest quality was how he treated everyone with sincerity and kindness. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”

On the field, Yogi was arguably the best catcher in baseball history and is at the very least on the super short list of candidates. Eighteen All-Star Games, ten World Series titles, three MVPs, behind the plate for Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series … Berra did it all during his career. They don’t make players like him anymore. Durable catchers who produced year after year after year.

And yet, if you asked Yogi, I’m guessing he’d say he was most proud of his accomplishments off the field. For starters, he was a war hero, enlisting in the Navy and fighting in World War II from 1944-45. Berra was on the ground during the Normandy Invasion on D-Day and fought in several other battles as well. At the time, Yogi was simply known as Seaman 1st class Berra.

After his playing career was over, Berra set up a fund at Columbia that has given away scholarships for over a half-century now. The Museum and Learning Center that bears his name in New Jersey provides education programs to thousands each year. Berra was also an ambassador for Athlete Ally, which promotes LGBT rights in sports. All tremendous causes.

Then there are the Yogisms. Everyone has their favorite. I’m partial to “love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too,” but there are countless others. “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” “90% of the game is half mental.” “It’s deja vu all over again.” “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” On and on they go.

The Yogisms are much more than mangled bits of the English language. They bring a smile to our face whenever we hear them. That was Yogi. He made everyone smile in his own special way. Everyone loved him and he loved everyone. Berra was a tremendous player and that will never be forgotten. He was an even better man as well. Rest in peace, Yogi. You were truly one of a kind.

Yogi Berra Passes Away at 90


Yogi Berra passed away last night. He was 90. Chances are you’ve seen the news already. Consider this our memorial to Yogi, whose body may have perished but who will remain immortal through his words and acts as a baseball player and human being.

“Yogi Berra’s legacy transcends baseball,” said Hal Steinbrenner in a statement. “Though slight in stature, he was a giant in the most significant of ways through his service to his country, compassion for others and genuine enthusiasm for the game he loved. He has always been a role model and hero that America could look up to.

“While his baseball wit and wisdom brought out the best in generations of Yankees, his imprint in society stretches far beyond the walls of Yankee Stadium. He simply had a way of reaching and relating to people that was unmatched. That’s what made him such a national treasure.

“On behalf of my family and the entire Yankees organization, we extend our deepest condolences to Yogi’s family, friends and loved ones.”

RIP Yogi.

Bird’s extra innings blast gives Yankees 6-4 win over Blue Jays

Admit it, you thought they were going to lose once Tuesday’s game went to extra innings. The Blue Jays have a great offense and the Yankees had used up all their reliable relievers, so it’s understandable. Things didn’t look too good. Instead, the Yankees eked out a 6-4 win over the Blue Jays in ten innings in the middle game of the three-game set. What a huge and fun and hugely fun win.


Go-Ahead Blast, Part I
Let’s start in the eighth inning. The Yankees and Blue Jays were tied 2-2 after the first seven innings, so this was a battle of the bullpens. In the late innings, that’s almost always advantage Yankees. New York had just blown a golden opportunity in the seventh inning — they had two singles and two walks in the inning, but Jose Bautista threw Dustin Ackley out trying to go first-to-third — when Alex Rodriguez struck out with the bases loaded. Bah.

Liam Hendriks, who fanned A-Rod on three pitches to end the seventh, stayed in the game to start the eighth. Brian McCann popped up to third, then Carlos Beltran laid into a center cut fastball for a big go-ahead solo home run. Beltran hit a three-run go-ahead homer against the Blue Jays in Toronto about a month ago and this homer was almost a carbon copy, at least in terms of the look off the bat. That sweet swing and a drive to right-center. Just perfect. The Yankees had themselves a 3-2 lead.


Dellin & Miller
One run lead in the eighth inning? Release the Dellin. Joe Girardi went to Dellin Betances against the bottom of the order in the eighth inning, and boy, did it get messy. Kevin Pillar started the inning with a single, then moved up on Munenori Kawsaki’s sac bunt. Betances struck out Ben Revere for the second out, but, as has been the case quite often of late, Dellin lost the plate.

Back-to-back walks to Josh Donaldson and Bautista followed. Donaldson walked on four pitches, Bautista on five. It’s not like Betances was getting squeezed either. In fact, McCann deserves a ton of credit for scooping some breaking balls in the dirt to prevent a run-scoring wild pitch. The bases were loaded, and of course Dellin went to a 2-0 count on Edwin Encarnacion. A called strike fastball followed, then Encarnacion swung through a fastball to even the count. The 2-2 pitch? A breaking ball Encarnacion missed by two damn feet for strike three:

Dellin Betances Edwin EncarnacionBetances has been making things mighty interesting of late, but, to his credit, he’s been getting out of his self-created jams more often than not. He did it again Tuesday against a great hitter in Encarnacion.

Unfortunately, that one-run lead didn’t stand up. Andrew Miller blew his second save of the season in the ninth inning courtesy of Dioner Navarro’s solo home run to left field. Very rude by the former Yankees farmhand. The game was tied at three apiece.

The Blue Jays didn’t stop there either. Pillar doubled with two outs, Girardi had Miller intentionally walk Matt Hague (!) to get the left-on-left matchup with Miller against Revere, but Toronto skipper John Gibbons sent Russell Martin to the plate instead. Not Girardi’s finest moment. For starters, having your elite closer intentional walk a career Quad-A guy like Hague was weird. Secondly, did he not see Martin coming? It was obvious Revere wasn’t going to hit there.

Anyway, Miller eventually walked Martin to load the bases, which was bad, because it brought Donaldson to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. As the Rogers Centre faithful chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!,” Miller overpowered Donaldson with fastballs for the swinging strikeout. In the eighth and ninth innings, Betances and Miller faced 13 batters. Seven reached base. Yikes.


Go-Ahead Blast, Part II
To extra innings they went. Mark Lowe started the tenth inning and McCann started the go-ahead rally with a bunt to beat the shift. The infielders were pulled over to the right side, McCann laid down a bad bunt, but Donaldson had to throw on the run, and it got by Justin Smoak at first base. The throw beat McCann. It just wasn’t handled. That dinky little bunt started the rally.

Pinch-runner Rico Noel replaced McCann and didn’t get a chance to steal second because pinch-hitter Slade Heathcott — he hit for Brendan Ryan, who came in as a defensive replacement for Ackley — reached base on catcher’s interference. His swing hit Navarro’s glove. The Yankees suddenly had runners at first and second with no outs. Lowe got ahead of Bird quickly with an 0-2 count, but Bird laid off some pitches out of the zone to even things up 2-2, then managed to … well, look:

That pitch is down and away and Bird somehow still hooked it out to right field for a go-ahead three-run homer. That’s impressive. The entire at-bat, not just the homer. Bird fell behind, laid off some good two-strike pitches, then did some serious damage on a pitch many hitters would have rolled over to the right side. Bird now has eight homers this month (!) and ten as a big leaguer. Six of the ten have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead. He’s been incredible.

Even with the three-run lead, Girardi didn’t mess around. He sent Miller back out for a second inning. Miller allowed a solo homer to Encarnacion to cut the lead to 6-4 — it was the first time he allowed two homers in one appearance as a reliever in his career — but otherwise nailed down the win. He did have to throw 42 pitches, so I doubt Miller will be available Wednesday, but who cares? They had to do whatever they had to do to win this game.


Severino’s Third Chance
The Blue Jays have been very hard on Luis Severino in his brief big league career. They’re responsible for his two worst starts — three runs in six innings (not too bad) and then six runs in 2.1 innings (disaster) — though the third time was, as they say, a charm. Severino held Toronto to two runs on three walks, two singles, and one solo homer in six innings Tuesday night, striking out three.

Severino’s outing started great — he threw six pitches in the first inning and nine in the second. Pretty awesome. The Blue Jays scored their first run on Pillar’s third inning solo homer, then a walk (Donaldson), a wild pitch, and a single (Smoak) created the second run in the fourth. Smoak’s game-tying single was a two-out back-breaker, though he was thrown out at second on the play to end the inning. Small victories.

Two-out walks in the fifth and sixth innings didn’t come back to hurt Severino, who stranded both runners. He threw 89 pitches in his six innings but had to battle a bit — the Blue Jays had a man on base in every inning but the fourth — so Girardi went to the bullpen after allowing his neophyte right-hander to face the middle of the lineup a third time. Very nice outing for Severino against a tough lineup that has given him problems.


The Yankees were burned not once, but twice when Girardi opted to not pinch-run in the late innings. Ackley ran for himself after his one out walk in the seventh, then got thrown out at third by Bautista. Remember, Ackley’s a guy who gets lifted for a defensive replacement. Why not pinch-run? Then, after Chris Young walked leading off the ninth, he stayed in the game and was thrown out at the plate by Bautista on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s would-be sac fly. It was a tremendous throw. One Noel maybe beats. Alas.

The Yankees had 12 hits and they came from only six different players: Ellsbury (two doubles), Gardner (infield single), McCann (two singles), Bird (double, homer), and Didi Gregorius (double, two singles). Ellsbury, Gardner, A-Rod, Ackley, and Young drew walks. Chase Headley was the only starter who failed to reach base. He’s been in some kinda slump this month. Seventeen base-runners in ten innings is pretty great. So is 3-for-9 (.333) with runners in scoring position.

Before Betances and Miller, Justin Wilson retired the side in the seventh inning on seven pitches. The bottom of the order was due up in the eighth, and I was thinking maybe Wilson should have gone back out so Betances could be saved for the righties in the middle of the lineup. That didn’t matter — Dellin walked a bunch of dudes and ended up facing the middle of the lineup in the eighth anyway.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, updated standings, and postseason odds. As you can see in the sidebar, the magic number to clinch a postseason spot is down to seven. Make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announced Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Blue Jays wrap up their season series Wednesday night. It’ll be Ivan Nova, not the injured Masahiro Tanaka, against Marcus Stroman. The Yankees are 2.5 games back in the AL East (two in the loss column), so while that game is not a literal must-win, it’s a “really need to win this one if they want to have a shot at the division title” game.

Game 150: Third Time’s a Charm?

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Since being called up after the trade deadline, Luis Severino has pitched about as well as the Yankees could have hoped. The 21-year-old never threw even 90 innings at one minor league level and has a 3.12 ERA (4.18 FIP) in eight starts and 43.1 innings. He’s been pretty good and the Yankees have needed him to be good. Michael Pineda (forearm), Masahiro Tanaka (hamstring), CC Sabathia (knee), and Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) have all gotten hurt in recent weeks. Severino has helped picked up the slack.

That said, Severino’s worst two starts as a big leaguer have come against tonight’s opponent, the Blue Jays. He allowed three runs in six innings in Toronto on August 16th — yes, Carlos Beltran made a crucial error, but Severino also put some pitches on a tee to great hitters — and then got creamed for six runs in 2.1 innings on September 11th. So that’s nine runs in 8.1 innings against the Blue Jays and seven runs (six earned) in 35 innings against everyone else. Severino faces Toronto for the third time tonight. Hopefully this time he comes out on top. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Dustin Ackley
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Luis Severino

Another nice day in Toronto. Sunny and cool with no rain in forecast or clouds in the sky. Good night for a game. Tonight’s game will begin a bit after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.

Sherman: Yankees called about Donaldson last offseason

(Victor Decolongon/Getty)
(Victor Decolongon/Getty)

This is not surprising at all. According to Joel Sherman, Brian Cashman called Athletics GM Billy Beane about third baseman Josh Donaldson early in the offseason, but was told he would not be traded. It’s been reported over the last few months that other teams were told the same thing. Donaldson wasn’t available … and then suddenly he was.

Sherman says Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos called about Donaldson and basically wouldn’t take no for answer. He kept upping his offer until the A’s said yes. “Alex is and was certainly relentless. That is his personality. But we didn’t trade Josh to make Alex go away,” said A’s assistant GM David Forst.

Furthermore, Sherman says the Athletics did not shop Donaldson around after getting an offer they liked from Toronto. That seems … unwise. Don’t you have to try to get max value for a player of that caliber? The four-player package sent to Oakland in the trade — Brett Lawrie, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, and prospect Franklin Barreto — looked light at the time and ridiculous now.

The Yankees needed a third baseman this past offseason and opted to re-sign Chase Headley, who’s had a poor year mostly because he suddenly forgot how to throw to first base. Alex Rodriguez can’t play the field anymore and the only other free agent third baseman on the market was Pablo Sandoval, who has been a total disaster with the Red Sox.

Of course, the Yankees could have kept Martin Prado at third base, but a) that means no Nathan Eovaldi, and b) Prado hasn’t been anything special this year either. Donaldson would have been an incredible pickup this winter. You don’t need me to tell you that. It’s hard to believe the A’s traded him for what they did. My guess is if they opened it up to the highest bidder, the Yankees would have priced out. So it goes.

Sabathia is the right man at the right time for the Yankees


There were times earlier this season when you couldn’t help but wonder how CC Sabathia would ever get another out. He struggled not only in the first half of this season, but dating back to the start of the 2013 season. All those innings and an arthritic landing knee were starting to catch up to Sabathia in his mid-30s. Father Time, as they say, is undefeated.

Sabathia’s knee gave out last month, and you knew it was bad when he removed himself from the game without even lobbying to stay in or attempting a test pitch. This is a guy who pitched the Yankees to a division title with a bone spur in his elbow in 2012. He suffered a Grade II hamstring strain in September 2013 and finished the start. I can’t imagine how much knee pain he’s dealt with over the years. Sabathia’s performance has declined. His toughness? Never. He’s a warrior.

The knee injury was potentially season-ending — both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman admitted as much after the big lefty went for tests — but Sabathia never though about it that way. “No matter what, I was coming back. For sure,” he said to reporters following Sunday’s win over the Mets. As poorly as he’d pitched earlier this season, the Yankees needed Sabathia back too. Nathan Eovaldi landed on the DL and Ivan Nova pitched his way out of the rotation. They needed someone to help. Anyone.

That someone, as it turns out, is Sabathia. Since returning from the DL, Sabathia has allowed two earned runs in 17.1 innings across three starts, holding opponents to a .190/.292/.254 batting line. Three starts is three starts, we know better than to make too much out of that, but those three starts count. They’re in the bank. They helped the Yankees win games and improve their spot in the standings. Those three starts have had a real, tangible benefit.

The arthritic knee is severe enough that Sabathia admitted he will one day need knee replacement surgery — “Eventually, but that’s the price you pay,” he said to Barry Bloom — and right now he’s managing the condition with a new, clunkier knee brace. Before he was wearing more of a sleeve during his starts. Now it’s an actual brace that prevents (or limits, at least) bone-on-bone contact each time he throws a pitch.

“I think I needed the rest,” said Sabathia to Chad Jennings following Sunday’s game when asked about the knee injury and the new brace. “Obviously the brace has been helping. Just a few adjustments we made in the rehab, and I’ve been feeling pretty good, so hopefully I can keep that up … I don’t have to worry about every pitch. Or this pitch, if I’m trying to go in, if that’s going to hurt. I can just go out and throw my game and not have to worry about it.”

Sabathia pitched well in the handful of starts prior to his knee injury — he actually has a 2.56 ERA (3.69 FIP) in his last seven starts and 38.2 innings — though he admitted he stopped trying to protect the knee and decided to air it out before getting hurt. It worked for a while, his fastball velocity jumped a tick …

CC Sabathia velocity

… but eventually the knee acted up. I don’t know if Sabathia is airing it out with the new knee brace now — if he is, it isn’t showing up in his velocity, just look at the graph — but I’ve always felt location was his biggest issue the last few years, not raw velocity. Oh sure, there’s a big difference between 93-95 and 88-91, but whenever Sabathia got burned, it was because he missed his spot and left a pitch out over the plate.

With a 93-95 mph fastball, you can get away with some of those mistakes over the plate. That’s the advantage of velocity. More margin for error. That isn’t the case with 88-91 mph though, and Sabathia was paying for it dearly whenever he made a mistake. Since coming off the DL, those mistakes have been more infrequent. Here are Sabathia’s pitch locations in his last three starts (via Baseball Savant):

CC Sabathia pitch locations

The fastballs are bunched on the edges of the strike zone with much fewer in the middle of the zone. (Interestingly, it appears Sabathia uses his four-seamer to the gloveside and sinker to the armside.) At this stage of his career, that’s where Sabathia needs to live. On the edges of the zone. New knee brace or not, he really doesn’t have the raw velocity to pitch over the plate anymore.

If the new knee brace is allowing Sabathia to pitch pain-free (or even with reduced pain) and better maintain his mechanics, his recent performance might actually be sustainable and not a blip. (Alec Dopp wrote more about this yesterday.) He’s probably not a true talent sub-3.00 ERA guy — he wasn’t that in his prime, after all — but he could be better than what he was earlier this season. Even league average Sabathia would be huge at this point. That would be a major upgrade over what he’d been doing since the start of 2013.

Regardless of whether the new knee brace has led to tangible improvement or this is all just a dumb luck hot streak, Sabathia has stepped up of late and is now helping the Yankees get to the postseason. He’s the right man to help the rotation too. Sabathia’s a Grade-A competitor who cares so deeply about his teammates — “I think if anybody knows me, it hurts me more to let the team down than for myself,” he said to Wally Matthews — and has been through the late-season wars before. He knows what it takes to be ace, to bear the responsibility of being The Man. CC is the right man to give the staff a lift.

“I’ve always said that he’s important to us,” said Girardi to Jennings. “Because he’s been through this, and he’s a competitor. I’ve said, I didn’t think we were going to get him back, when he left that game. I really didn’t. But he did, and he’s important to us.”