8/15 to 8/17 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays


One AL East rival leaves town and another comes in. The first place Blue Jays are in the Bronx for a three-game series this week. The Yankees are still kinda sorta in the postseason race, and if they’re going to make things interesting, they have to keep winning series. They’ve won their last three series and need to keep it going. Unfortunately, the Yankees are 2-7 against the Blue Jays this season. They’ve been outscored 39-21. It hasn’t been pretty.

What Have They Done Lately?

Like last season, Toronto started off slowly this season before catching fire at midseason. They bottomed out at 19-23 on May 18th and have gone 48-28 since. That’s the best record not just in the AL, but all of baseball since that admittedly arbitrary date. Toronto is 67-51 overall with a +88 run differential. They’re a half-game up in the AL East and 6.5 games better than the Yankees.

Offense & Defense

Last season the Blue Jays had baseball’s highest scoring offense since the 2009 Yankees. This year’s they’re averaging a healthy 4.81 runs per game with a team 103 wRC+, so they’re merely one of the best lineups and not the best lineup. Manager John Gibbons is without two important regulars: RF Jose Bautista (114 wRC+) and CF Kevin Pillar (79 wRC+). Bautista has a knee injury and Pillar has a thumb injury. Neither is coming back this week. OF Ezequiel Carrera (Achilles) is out too.

Encarnacion. (Presswire)
Encarnacion. (Presswire)

Even without Bautista, the Blue Jays still have an insane middle of the order led by 3B Josh Donaldson (157 wRC+) and DH Edwin Encarnacion (143 wRC+). SS Troy Tulowitzki (107 wRC+) has been much better of late too. 2B Devon Travis (120 wRC+) has come back very well from shoulder surgery, and LF Michael Saunders (129 wRC+) has been great this year. Those five guys are Toronto’s top offensive threats with Bautista sidelined. They do the majority of the damage.

C Russell Martin (92 wRC+) and 1B Justin Smoak (94 wRC+) are the other regular regulars. With Bautista and Pillar out, the Blue Jays have had to play OF Melvin Upton Jr. (87 wRC+) in center with an OF Junior Lake (74 wRC+)/OF Darrell Ceciliani (-31 wRC+) platoon in the other outfield spot. Not great. IF Darwin Barney (75 wRC+) and C Josh Thole (27 wRC+) are the other bench players. Only a three-man bench for the Blue Jays right now. More and more teams seem to be doing that.

The Blue Jays are very good defensively when at full strength. Losing Pillar and Bautista definitely hurts though. Upton and the Lake/Ceciliani platoon are a big downgrade. The infield is very good though — Donaldson is Gold Glove caliber at third, the other three guys are very good — as is Martin behind the plate. He’s still one of the top defensive catchers in the game.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (7:05pm ET): RHP Chad Green (vs. NYY) vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (vs. NYY)
Four years ago the Blue Jays acquired Dickey to be their ace, and now he’s their sixth best starter. The 41-year-old has a 4.61 ERA (5.28 FIP) in 24 starts and 142.2 innings, with the kind of peripherals you’d expect to see from a 41-year-old knuckleballer: 17.0% strikeouts, 8.6% walks, 43.4% grounders, and 1.64 HR/9. He also has a very small platoon split. Dickey’s knuckleball sits in the mid-70s and his show-me fastball averages 82 mph. He used to throw two knuckleballs with the Mets, a slow one in the low-70s and a harder one in the upper-70s, but not anymore. The Yankees scored four runs in 6.2 innings against Dickey back in May.

Tuesday (7:05pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (vs. NYY)
Estrada, 33, has shown last year’s success was no fluke. He’s followed up his breakout season (3.13 ERA and 4.40 FIP) with a 2.95 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 20 starts and 128.1 innings this season. Estrada’s underlying stats don’t jump out at you (23.4 K%, 8.9 BB%, 34.3 GB%, 1.05 HR/9, small platoon split), but he’s a proven FIP beater because he’s adept at getting pop-ups and weak fly balls. The guy has a .217 BABIP this year after having a .216 BABIP last year. It’s not a fluke after 309.1 innings. Those pop-ups and weak fly balls are easy outs. Estrada does it with a dynamite upper-70s changeup that he throws with the same arm action as his upper-80s fastball. He screws up the hitter’s timing as well as any pitcher in the game. Estrada also throws some upper-80s cutters and mid-70s curves, but the fastball/changeup combo is his bread and butter. The Yankees have seen the veteran righty twice this season and it didn’t go well either time: three runs in seven innings and eight shutout innings, both in May.

Estrada. (Presswire)
Estrada. (Presswire)

Wednesday (1:05pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TOR) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (vs. NYY)
Spoiler alert: Happ is going to get a healthy number of Cy Young votes this season. That’s what going 16-3 with a 2.96 ERA does for you. The 33-year-old has a 3.75 FIP in 23 starts and 143 innings, and like Estrada, his peripherals don’t stand out (21.6 K%, 7.5 BB%, 42.4 GB%, 0.94 HR/9, small platoon split), but the guy gets so much weak contact in the air that it works. Happ throws low-90s four-seamers, low-90s sinkers, mid-80s changeups, and upper-70s curves. Nothing sexy there. Happ has faced the Yankees twice this season, and he limited them to one run in six innings both times.

Bullpen Status

The Blue Jays have a three-man bench but only a seven-man bullpen. That’s because they’re currently using a six-man rotation as a way to control Aaron Sanchez’s and Marcus Stroman’s innings. Here’s the relief crew Gibbons has to work with:

Closer: RHP Roberto Osuna (1.89 ERA/2.49 FIP)
Setup: RHP Joaquin Benoit (3.94/4.67), RHP Jason Grilli (3.16/3.46)
Middle: RHP Joe Biagini (2.09/2.25), LHP Brett Cecil (4.74/3.91), RHP Ryan Tepera (3.68/3.82)
Long: RHP Scott Feldman (3.74/4.04)

The bullpen, specifically the middle innings, has been a problem for the Blue Jays for much of the season. The Grilli and Benoit pickups have helped, as has the emergence of Biagini, a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Giants. Cecil is the only lefty and he’s the kind of guy who can go a full inning if necessary.

Benoit, Grilli, and Cecil all pitched yesterday, though none of them threw more than nine pitches. Grilli pitched Saturday as well. Other than that, Toronto’s bullpen is in pretty good shape. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s relief crew.

It’s time for the Yankees to put Severino’s development before big league roster needs


Right now, Luis Severino is not a Major League starting pitcher. I’m not just saying that because he was optioned to Triple-A yesterday. He’s not a Major League caliber starting pitcher. Following yesterday’s seven-run, 3.2-inning disaster, Severino is sitting on a 7.19 ERA (4.71 FIP) in 51.1 innings in 2016. Opponents are hitting .304/.349/.528 against him. He’s basically turned everyone into Carlos Beltran (.300/.341/.540). You don’t get to stay in the show with those numbers.

The Yankees were counting on Severino to be a big part of their rotation this season and man, he’s been a huge letdown. The team is 0-9 in his nine starts this season. 0-9! Had Severino been slightly less awful and the team gone 4-5 in his nine starts instead of 0-9, the Yankees would be a half-game back of the second wildcard spot. It’s not fair to pin the club’s current spot in the standings on one player, but let’s not kid ourselves here. Severino’s hurt their postseason odds.

“I think all players hit bumps, whether you’re young or old,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings yesterday. “But one thing I think part of our focus has to be is helping those kids get through those bumps, because you don’t get here unless you’re talented enough. You don’t just come from nowhere and all of a sudden stay here. But you got to help them get through the ups and downs.”

Severino was deservedly demoted to Triple-A after yesterday’s game, just like he was demoted to Triple-A prior to his previous start as well. Nathan Eovaldi‘s elbow injury opened a rotation spot and prompted the Yankees to bring Severino back. What changed for Luis? Nothing. He wasn’t suddenly more Major League ready just because Eovaldi got hurt. The Yankees said they were sending him down so he could focus on his changeup, and he didn’t get a chance to do that. That’s why this happened:

Tuesday vs. Red Sox: Two changeups
Sunday vs. Rays: Four changeups

Severino still didn’t use his changeup yesterday even though the Rays had four lefty hitters in the lineup. Why would we expect anything different? Last week Severino admitted he’s lost confidence in the changeup — “I’m not throwing it a lot because I don’t have the same confidence I had two years ago. I have to figure it out and come back. It’s difficult to be a starter with two pitches, so I have to work,” he said to Mark Feinsand — and he didn’t get a chance to work on it since that last start.

The Yankees didn’t give Severino yesterday’s start because he deserved it. They gave it to him almost out of necessity. Eovaldi got hurt and they were in a bit of a bind, so Severino got the ball. The Yankees had other options, namely Chad Green and Luis Cessa, but they went with Severino and he again gave them no chance to win. Even if you think the team has zero chance at the postseason, his performance doesn’t meet the minimum acceptable standard of production to stay in MLB.

Had yesterday’s start been a one-time blip, it would be a different story. But is a problem that has been repeated. And no, right now I’m not talking about Severino’s performance. I’m talking about the team’s decision to use him to fill a big league need when he wasn’t ready for it. Remember, they called Severino up to fill Aroldis Chapman‘s roster spot after the trade a few weeks ago. Why? Because that was his day to start in Triple-A and he was available for long relief.

That’s not a good reason to call a highly touted young pitcher up. Not in this case. The Yankees optioned Severino to Triple-A a few weeks back because he very clearly had some things to work on, and even with his improved slider, there are some problems here. Severino should have stayed in Triple-A to continue refining his secondary pitches, but no, he was called up to replace Chapman and then to replace Eovaldi. Not the best moves, those were.

Don’t forget the Yankees were extremely aggressive with Severino. He spent one full season in the minors. One. Severino pitched a half-season of rookie ball in 2013, threw a full season in the minors in 2014, then threw a half-season in the minors in 2015 before being called up. Severino threw 256.1 minor league innings before being called up, so I guess it’s not much of a surprise he’s not close to a finished product right now.

Last season Severino had success during his eleven big league starts, but the red flags were there. There was a big disconnect between his ERA (2.89) and FIP (4.37 FIP) because he was exceptionally good at stranding runners (87.0%). Severino allowed 21 runs in 62.1 innings last year and 12 of them came on homers. He stranded almost everyone else and that just wasn’t going to continue. No one is that good at stranding runners. (The highest strand rate of the last 30 years is 86.6% by 2000 Pedro Martinez, who had arguably the greatest pitching season in history.)

Even pitching coach Larry Rothschild admitted Severino’s success last year was something of a mirage. “Last year, he came up when he was on a pretty good roll, which makes a difference. But he got away with some pitches because hitters hadn’t seen him and he executed pitches to a degree — not a lot different, but I think a little bit better,” said Rothschild to Brendan Kuty last month. Those warning signs from last year are showing up in Severino’s performance this year.

The Yankees sent Severino back to Triple-A last night and I hope they keep him there through the end of the season and even the playoffs. At this point he’s only going to make three Triple-A starts before rosters expand on September 1st, but forget about that. Let him pitch in the Triple-A postseason — the RailRiders have the best record in all of Triple-A (76-45) and should clinch a playoff spot soon — and keep working on things in games that don’t mean anything.

“My confidence is good,” said Severino to Jennings after being sent down yesterday. “I have to work more. Work on my changeup, work on my fastball command, and it will be good … It’s been tough, but a lot of players have been through this and you just have to keep working.”

Some of the club’s top hitting prospects are starting to reach the big leagues and that’s awfully exciting. There are a few more on the way too. The Yankees don’t have the upper level pitching to match the bats though and that’s something they’ll have to work on going forward. Severino is, by frickin’ far, their best young starting pitcher, and they have to make his development a priority. Using him like an up-and-down arm to plug roster holes doesn’t help that cause.

Yankeemetrics: Birth of the Baby Bombers [Aug. 12-14]


Saying Bye-Rod
The Yankees made sure that Mr. Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez’s farewell game in pinstripes would be a memorable and winning one, as they sent the controversial slugger off into the sunset with an exhilarating comeback victory on Friday night against the Rays.

A-Rod’s final game with the Yankees (and perhaps his career) marks the final act of one of the most confounding and polarizing, yet also brilliantly talented, players in the history of this sport. Earlier this week we detailed a few of his many baseball superlatives; now here are two more numbers that put his complicated and fascinating tenure with the Yankee franchise into perspective.


Rodriguez enters the pinstripe record books with a batting line of .283/.378/.523 across 12 seasons in the Bronx. Among the hundreds of players that have compiled at least 200 plate appearances with the Yankees, only four others have reached each of those thresholds in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage: Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Although A-Rod has frequently been chastised for his purported lack of clutch hitting in the playoffs, there is this stat to consider: A-Rod had four career game-tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning or later in the postseason, the most among all players in major-league history.

With the adrenaline pumping, A-Rod kicked off his last game in style, sending a 96 mph fastball from Chris Archer into right-center field for a first-inning RBI double. It was his first hit on pitch of more than 95 mph since June 7, a single off Angels reliever Cam Bedrosian.

Dellin Betances struck out the side in the ninth inning, recording his 100th, 101st and 102nd strikeouts of the season. This is the third year in a row he’s racked up at least 100 strikeouts, becoming the third reliever in American League history with back-to-back-to-back 100-K campaigns. The others are Dick Radatz (1962-65) and Duane Ward (1989-92), who both put together four-season streaks of at least 100 Ks.


New Kids in the Bronx
These are certainly not your father’s Yankees anymore. On Day One of the post-Alex Rodriguez Era, it was clear that the franchise’s much-hyped youth movement is in full swing.

The team called up highly-touted prospects Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge before Saturday’s afternoon contest and Joe Girardi immediately wrote their names on the lineup card, Judge in right field and Austin at first base. They were the first Yankee teammates to make their big-league debuts as starters in the same game since John Ellis and Jim Lyttle on May 17, 1969 against the Angels.

The two Baby Bombers wasted little time in earning their True Yankee pinstripes. Batting seventh and eighth, the duo electrified the Yankee Stadium crowd early with back-to-back solo homers in the second inning, fueling an offensive explosion that resulted in a fun-to-watch and rousing 8-4 win.

With those two blasts, Austin and Judge completed a stunning and unprecedented feat, becoming the first teammates in baseball history to each homer in their MLB debut in the same game. Before they went deep, only three other Yankees had ever homered in their first career at-bats in the bigs: Andy Phillips in 2004, Marcus Thames in 2002 (on the first pitch from Randy Johnson!) and John Miller in 1966.

Austin added a stolen base to his historic debut, becoming the first AL player to homer and steal in his first major-league game since Bert Campaneris (Kansas City A’s) in 1964; he is the only Yankee to accomplish the feat since at least 1913.

Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius soon joined the home run party on this hot and humid day, sending the ball over the fence in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings, respectively.

That gave the Yankees five players age 26 or younger with a longball, the first time in franchise history they’ve had that many under-27 guys go deep in the same game. Only three other teams have ever done this in the regular season over the past century: the 2016 Cubs, 2013 Astros and 1996 Brewers (the Cubs also did in Game 3 of the NLDS last year).

Even more impressively, each of the five youngsters also added another hit, making the Yankees the only MLB team in last 100 years to have five different players under the age of 27 with at least two hits and a homer in the same game.

Judge, jury and … homers!
The Yankees emotional ceremony-filled weekend ended with a thud on Sunday afternoon. They were creamed by the Rays, 12-3, snapping their four-game win streak and pushing them further back in the wild card race.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Luis Severino got hammered for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings, falling to 0-8 with a 8.58 ERA as a starter this season. That is the longest losing streak as a starter to begin a season by a Yankee since Fred Talbot lost his first eight starting decisions in 1968.

Even more depressing, the Yankees have still yet to win a game with Severino on the mound as the starting pitcher. Over last 100 years, this is the only time that the Yankees have lost the first nine games of a season started by a pitcher.

His fastball command was inconsistent and his changeup again was non-existent, though his slider was nasty at times, as he racked up seven strikeouts.

That bizarro performance produced a crazy pitching line that no major-league pitcher had recorded in nearly a decade. The last guy to allow at least seven earned runs and strike out at least seven batters in an outing of fewer than four innings pitched was Kenny Rogers in 2008 for the Tigers.

The lone highlights of the game were provided by the bats of the newly-christened Baby Bombers as Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez both homered in the loss. Judge became just the second player in franchise history to go deep in each of his first two major-league games, joining the immortal Joe Lefebvre (1980).

Sanchez’s two-run shot left his bat at 102 mph; he now has an average exit velocity of 91.6 mph this season, the highest among all Yankees with at least 10 batted balls in play.

Fan Confidence Poll: August 15th, 2016

Record Last Week: 4-2 (33 RS, 30 RA)
Season Record: 60-57 (487 RS, 517 RA, 55-62 pythag. record), 4.5 GB of postseason spot
Opponents This Week: vs. Blue Jays (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Angels (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

DotF: Gilliam homers twice in Pulaski’s win

Got some links to pass along:

  • Yankees crosschecker D.J. Svihlik is leaving the team to join Vanderbilt as an assistant coach, reports John Manuel. Svihlik called it a “very difficult time” to leave the Yankees because the farm system is so loaded. He’s signed a ton of players over the years, including David Robertson.
  • Kyle Franko spoke to Double-A Trenton manager Bobby Mitchell and others about 1B Tyler Austin in the wake of his first MLB game yesterday. The Thunder clubhouse erupted in cheers when he went deep. Austin started the season in Trenton, remember.
  • Grace Raynor wrote about minor league salaries and how the guys who didn’t get huge bonuses make ends meet. Low-A Charleston reliever RHP Sean Carley would go to Spring Training workouts in the morning and drive for Uber in the afternoon.
  • Shane Hennigan talked to RHP Johnny Barbato about his various problems this year. He started well in the big leagues before struggling, and he hasn’t been all that great in Triple-A either. “It’s a mind game and you have to be able to conquer that,” he said.

Triple-A Scranton Game One (4-0 win over Rochester in seven innings) makeup of yesterday’s rainout

  • CF Ben Gamel: 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — got picked off first
  • LF Clint Frazier: 2-4, 1 RBI — 7-for-20 (.350) in his last five games
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB — back in Triple-A for the first time since late-May
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 1-4
  • RF Cesar Puello: 0-3, 1 K
  • LHP Jordan Montgomery: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 K, 4/3 GB/FB — 68 of 98 pitches were strikes (69%) … two earned runs in 18.1 Triple-A innings so far (0.98 ERA)
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1.1 IP, zeroes, 2 K — ten of 16 pitches were strikes (63%)

[Read more…]

Yankees get shellacked 12-3 by Rays, but hey, Judge and Sanchez homered

Source: FanGraphs

Come for Yankee baseball, stay just for young hitter dingers. Luis Severino got torched by the Rays today and Luis Cessa didn’t do too well either. However, those who paid their money to see the Yanks got to see Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez hit home runs to drive in their only runs of the day. It’s the weekend so let’s do it bullet point style.

  • The Runs (Allowed): Evan Longoria continued to kill the Yankees this series (or, as he’s always done in his career). He drove in the first run of the game for Rays in the first with an RBI double with Logan Forsythe on second. Longoria went 3-for-4 today with 4 RBI’s, doing his part in the 12-run barrage. Guys like Forsythe, Corey Dickerson and Nick Franklin also added in home runs. It was basically a field day. Each one of the Rays starters recorded at least a hit, which should just about tell you how bad the Yankee pitching was.
  • Baby (HR) Bombers: With team trailing 2-0 in the bottom of third, Judge hit a laser just above the short porch for a solo HR. Judge is here to kill baseballs. That ball didn’t seem like it wasn’t particularly hit that hard off the bat but it somehow sailed over the fence. Maybe it’s the easiness of how Judge swings the bat but man, that was something. Save a spot in your bank account for another Yankee jersey – you might want to get a #99 in an imminent future. An inning later, Sanchez got a fastball to drive into the left field seats. This one was a no-doubter.
  • Bad Command Sevvy: We all know the story with Severino. His electric fastball and slider allowed him to strike out seven in 3.2 IP, but he was touched for 7 hits and 2 HR’s in that span, giving up 7 earned runs. The Yankees sent him down to Triple-A right after the game and I hope he gets to maintain rhythm and work on stuff down there. I think he’ll figure something out but it doesn’t mean he’ll be a long-term SP in the majors.
  • Leftovers: After Sevvy departed, Cessa came in to relief. His line doesn’t look as bad as Severino’s but that’s not saying much. He allowed five earned runs in three innings pitched and a dinger to Nick Franklin. Blake Parker made his second Yankee appearance and tossed 1.1 scoreless IP with two strikeouts.

Here’s today’s box score, highlights, WPA and updated standings. The Yankees welcome the Blue Jays to Bronx tomorrow for a three-game series. Chad Green and R.A Dickey are starting Monday. This could be fun or disastrous.

Sunday Open Thread

That was a really fun weekend, wasn’t it? Yeah, today’s loss sucked, but those games happen to every team a few times a season. This weekend we said goodbye to Alex Rodriguez and hello to both Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge. We also celebrated the 1996 World Series team and Mariano Rivera. Pretty great. Mo’s ceremony today was awesome. Hard to think there will be a better weekend in Yankeeland this season.

Anyway, here’s an open thread for the rest of the day. The ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game is the Cardinals at the Cubs (Leake vs. Lackey), plus the Olympics are on and there’s a preseason football game as well. Talk about that stuff or anything else right here.