The end of Didi’s slump and four others things that must happen for the Yankees to make the postseason

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Against all odds, the Yankees remain in the postseason race with less than three weeks to go in the regular season. They lost yesterday, but prior to that they won seven straight and 13 of their previous 17 games. The Yankees are two games back of the second wildcard spot and FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at 13.5%. They were 2.3% eight days ago.

As well as the Yankees have played recently, with seemingly a different player stepping up each night, they’re going to need to be even better over the final 20 games to sneak into the postseason. The schedule only gets more difficult from here on out. New York’s best chance to make the playoffs involves continuing their current play and getting some more from a few players on the roster. Here are five things I think need to happen to maximize the team’s postseason chances.

Gregorius snaps out of his slump

Didi Gregorius has been, rather easily, the Yankees’ best all-around position player this season. His 17 home runs are nearly double his previous career high (nine last year), and he’s still making a lot of contact and playing strong defense. I was skeptical when the Yankees acquired Didi because I didn’t believe in his bat. Boy was I wrong.

As good as Gregorius has been this season, he’s been slumping hard this month, going 3-for-34 (.088) with eight strikeouts and zero unintentional walks in September. Slumps happen, but with Didi it seems like fatigue might be a factor as well. His bat looks a little slow, and even in the field there’s been some moments when his first step wasn’t as quick as usual.

A day off could do Gregorius some good — the Yankees are ten games into a 17 games in 17 days stretch — though it is tough to get him out of the lineup given what he does defensively. We all love Ronald Torreyes, but he’s no Didi. No one is expecting Gregorius to hit five homers in a ten-game span like he did in late-June/early-July. The Yankees do need more offense from him than they’ve been getting this month, however.

Gardner and Ellsbury stay hot

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Overall, both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have had disappointing seasons atop the lineup for the Yankees. Gardner’s power has disappeared, and up until recently, Ellsbury wasn’t getting on base all that much. Disappointing middle of the order veterans like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are the main reason the Yankees have had a below-average offense this year. The two guys at the top of the lineup aren’t without fault though.

Not coincidentally, the team’s recent strong play coincides with both Ellsbury and Gardner getting hot. Ellsbury has gone 9-for-27 (.333) with two homers, four walks, and only one strikeout during this recent 7-1 stretch while Gardner is 10-for-26 (.385). Their combined on-base percentage is .417. During the 13-5 stretch, Ellsbury has hit .311/.394/.541 and Gardner has hit .317/.386/.350.

Gardner’s power still hasn’t resurfaced, but he has been hitting for average and getting on base the last three weeks. Ditto Ellsbury. The Yankees look like an entirely different team when these two are hot at the same time. We’ve seen it at various points the last three seasons. Gardner and Ellsbury continuing to set the table like they have been the last few weeks is essential to getting the Yankees into the postseason.

Betances and Clippard be automatic

At this point Joe Girardi‘s bullpen pecking order is clear: Dellin Betances is the closer (duh) and Tyler Clippard is the eighth inning guy. For a little while after the trade deadline Clippard was the seventh inning guy, but he and Adam Warren have flipped spots, which is for the best. Warren is better able to go multiple innings, which means Girardi won’t hesitate to use him to put out fires in the sixth inning, if necessary.

The Yankees seem to play nothing but close games these days — eight of their last 13 wins have come by no more than three runs and seven have come by no more than two runs — and that doesn’t figure to change, which means Betances and Clippard are going to have to be perfect in the last two innings, meaning protect every lead. The Yankees can’t afford to led late leads slip away and the two righties are the last line of defense out of the bullpen. When they’re handed a lead, it has to hold up.

Pineda becomes a reliable second starter

Right now the Yankees have a bonafide ace in Masahiro Tanaka and four other guys in the rotation who don’t make you feel all that comfortable. Maybe comfortable isn’t the right word. They’re just unpredictable from start to start. CC Sabathia is in the twilight of his career, Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa are just kids, and Michael Pineda is one of the most enigmatic pitchers in all of baseball.

Pineda is also one of the most talented pitchers in baseball — it’s good to be 6-foot-7 with a mid-90s cutter and a wipeout slider — and I think he has the best chance to emerge as a second reliable starter these last three weeks. The problem is Pineda has given Girardi no real reason to trust him. We all saw Girardi pull Pineda one out short of qualifying for the win with a five-run lead the other night.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

As bad as the offense has been for long stretches of time this season, it seems more likely the rotation will be the Yankees’ downfall these final few weeks. Ivan Nova‘s been traded and both Nathan Eovaldi and Chad Green got hurt, meaning the Yankees have no choice but to rely on two rookies and a fading Sabathia. Pineda is young and he’s in what should be the prime of his career. He’s the club’s best hope for second solid starter.

One of the kids contributes from the bottom of the lineup

The Yankees committed to their youth movement last month and the kids have really improved the team, not only on the field, but in the dugout. The Yankees seem more energetic than they have been in years. It’s fun to watch. Gary Sanchez has been a monster who is rightfully hitting in the middle of the lineup. Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, two other rookies, have had a tougher go of it. Here are their MLB numbers:

Austin: .224/.274/.414 (81 wRC+), 3 HR, 6.5 BB%, 35.5 K% in 62 plate appearances
Judge: .177/.258/.316 (53 wRC+), 3 HR, 9.0 BB%, 43.8 K% in 89 plate appearances

Both have shown signs of coming around of late, especially Austin, but the fact remains both have been negatives at the plate since being called up. (Judge has at least improved the right field defense.) If the Yankees were well out of the race like many expected them to be this month, running both kids out there everyday would be no big deal. The experience is the most important thing.

The Yankees need impact to get the postseason though, and it would be a huge help if either Austin or Judge started to figure things out and contribute from the bottom of the lineup. It would be cool if both did it, but let’s not get greedy. One of the two getting locked in would lengthen the lineup and make the offense that much dangerous. The kids are a big reason the Yankees are remotely close to a playoff spot right now, and if they’re going to sneak into the postseason, rookies like Austin and Judge will have to be a driving force.

Yankeemetrics: Stayin’ alive, against all odds [Sept. 8-11]

(AP)
(AP)

Another Baby Bomber earns his pinstripes
The surging, red-hot Yankees took another step towards making their once-laughable postseason dreams a reality as they celebrated yet another wild and crazy win on Thursday night against the Rays.

Their magical and improbable rise up the standings continued thanks to a dramatic two-out, walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning by Tyler Austin, the latest Baby Bomber to deliver in the clutch for these never-say-die Yankees.

With the Yankees down to their last strike before extras, Austin crushed a 3-2 fastball into the right-field seats, etching his name on several pages in the franchise record books with that game-winning blast. He is the:

  • only Yankee first baseman to ever hit a walk-off homer against the Rays
  • second Yankee since 1988 (when pitch data is available) to hit a walk-off shot on a full count with two outs; the other was Brian McCann on Aug. 24, 2014 vs White Sox
  • first Yankee rookie with a walk-off homer since Melky Cabrera on July 18, 2006 vs Mariners
  • first Yankee rookie with two-out walk-off home run since Bobby Murcer on Aug. 5, 1969 vs Angels

Austin wasn’t the only player to clear the fences in this game as a late-season Home Run Derby broke out at Yankee Stadium. Brian McCann hit two ultra-important homers, giving the Yankees a lead in the second and fourth innings of this back-and-forth contest.

Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza both went deep twice for the Rays, becoming the first set of outfielders homer twice in a game against the Yankees since the Braves’ Andruw Jones and Ryan Klesko on July 16, 1999. The last AL outfield pair to pull off the feat was Carl Yastrzemski and Bernie Carbo for the Red Sox on June 18, 1977.

Overall, this was the 17th time since 1913 that teammates have each hit two homers in a nine-inning game versus the Yankees, but it was just the third time that the Yankees actually won the game. The only other times it happened in that span were July 21, 2002 against the Red Sox and June 21, 1990 against the Blue Jays.

Tex message slams Rays
And then there was one …

The Yankees youth brigade has fueled this incredible and improbable late-summer run, but it was an aging veteran who stole the spotlight on Friday night and provided the decisive blow in the 7-5 victory that brought the Yankees to within a single game of the final playoff spot.

Thirty-six-year-old Mark Teixeira broke open the game with a grand slam in the fourth inning, giving the Yankees a 7-2 cushion. It was Teixeira’s 11th career bases-loaded home run; among switch-hitters, only Eddie Murray (19) has more in baseball history.

The crucial hit was also a significant milestone blast for Teixeira, his 203rd homer as a Yankee, tying him with Roger Maris for 15th place on the franchise list. And it was his 406th career homer overall, one shy of matching Duke Snider for 54th place on the major-league all-time list.

tanaka cap tip
This is real, folks
The implausible has suddenly turned into the believable. Backed by a masterful and brilliant performance from their ace, Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees continued their out-of-nowhere push to the playoffs with another win on Saturday afternoon.

They’ve now won seven straight and 14 of the last 16 games started by Tanaka, and are 22-7 in his starts overall; no team in baseball this season has won more games behind a single starting pitcher than the Yankees when Tanaka is on the mound (22).

Tanaka delivered another gem, taking a shutout into the eighth inning and finishing with the first double-digit strikeout, no-walk game of his MLB career. He got a season-high 20 swings-and-misses among the 102 pitches thrown, including 18 (!) with his splitter and slider, the most he’s ever generated on those two pitches combined in a single start.

The game was a pitchers’ duel until Jacoby Ellsbury snapped a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the sixth inning off Chris Archer, which was perhaps the least shocking hit in the game. Ellsbury is now 19-for-34 (.559) versus Archer, his highest batting average against any pitcher he faced at least 15 times.

gary didi
(Getty)

The legend of Gary Sanchez kept growing on Saturday, too, when he crushed a 420-foot homer into the left-field bullpen, the 13th time he’s gone deep in the big leagues.

He tied the major-league record for the most homers in a player’s first 35 games (the others to do it are Wally Joyner, Mike Jacobs, Kevin Maas and Wally Berger), but Sanchez is the only one in that group that also had compiled at least nine other extra-base hits in those 35 games.

Yet that towering homer wasn’t even his most impressive feat. The Rays tried to intentionally walk him in the eighth, but Sanchez reached out and connected on a 52-mph pitch that he sent 407 feet to the warning track for a sac fly. It was easily the slowest pitch that anyone has hit at least 400 feet over the last two seasons (since Statcast began tracking distance/velocity).

The Sunday Letdown
The Rays finally cooled off the red-hot Yankees, who dropped the final game of the series, 4-2, snapping their seven-game win streak. Still, even with the loss, #TeamSell is 24-14 since August 1; in that span, only the Cubs and Royals have better records than the Yankees.

The Sunday Letdown was in full effect as the Bronx Bombers’ offense stalled and the homer-prone Luis Cessa couldn’t contain the Rays’ bats. This was the Yankees’ 51st game this season scoring two or fewer runs; that’s the most among all American League teams this season, and the Yankees’ most at the 142-game mark since 1990.

The Rays had just five hits off Cessa in 5⅔ innings, but three of them went over the fence, increasing his total to 13 home runs served up in 47⅔ innings this season. Of the 25 runs he’s surrendered this season, 20 have come via the longball. His rate of 2.45 homers allowed per nine innings would be the second-highest in a single season in franchise history among guys that pitched at least 40 innings, behind only Hideki Irabu’s 2.53 in 1997.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 12th, 2016

Record Last Week: 6-1 (33 RS, 23 RA)
Season Record: 76-66 (605 RS, 612 RA, 70-72 pythag. record), 2.0 GB of postseason spot
Opponents This Week: vs. Dodgers (three games, Mon. to Weds.), @ Red Sox (four games, Thurs. 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 on the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Yanks can’t finish sweep, fall 4-2 to Rays to snap winning streak at seven

Well, the winning streak was bound to end eventually, and it ended Sunday afternoon with a 4-2 loss to the Rays. Seven wins in the last eight games is still pretty awesome. Shake it off and start a new winning streak tomorrow.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Cessa’s Home Runs
Despite his general effectiveness, Luis Cessa‘s home run problem is very real right now. That doesn’t mean dingers will be a problem forever, but right now, keeping the ball in the yard is a challenge. Cessa served up three home runs in 5.2 innings Sunday, giving him 13 home runs allowed in 48 big league innings overall (2.44 HR/9). It’s eight home runs in 29 innings as a starter (2.48 HR/9). Can’t blame the short porch for all that.

The three home runs accounted for all four runs the Rays scored Sunday. To be fair, the first one was not the result of anything Cessa did wrong. It wasn’t a mistake pitch or anything like that. Corey Dickerson somehow tomahawked a high fastball into right field for a two-run shot in the second. Look at the pitch location:

Luis Cessa Corey Dickerson

That’s ridiculous. Fastballs up in the zone are very effective swing-and-miss pitches, and Dickerson’s not exactly a contact machine, so Cessa did what he wanted to do. He executed the pitch. Dickerson just went up and hooked it out. Crazy. Can’t be mad about that. Give Dickerson credit.

Tampa’s other two homers came in the the sixth. Logan Forsythe hammered a mistake fastball out to left field, and two batters later Brad Miller golfed a breaking ball into the short porch. Those were two solo shots and gave the Rays a 4-1 lead. Cessa retired ten of eleven batters between the Dickerson and Forsythe homers, and he retired 15 of the first 18 batters of the game overall. That’ll work.

The end result was four runs on five hits and no walks in 5.2 innings. Cessa struck out five. Despite the extreme home run problem, Cessa has a 3.72 ERA (5.97 FIP) in five starts and 29 innings. Everything about him has been good except the homers, and unfortunately that’s kind of a big problem. Such is life with young pitchers.

One Run Ain’t Enough
The offense was unable to get much going against Rays righty Matt Andriese. Back-to-back two-out singles in the first inning were wasted, as was Brett Gardner‘s one-out double in the third. Only three of the 15 Yankees to face Andriese in the first four innings reached base. Keep in mind Andriese came into the game having allowed 31 runs on 47 hits (ten homers!) and six walks in his last six starts and 30 innings. Blah.

The Yankees scored their first run on Chase Headley‘s fifth inning solo homer, and man, that inning could have been much bigger. Headley’s homer led off the inning, then Aaron Judge followed with a single to left. Ronald Torreyes beat out a potential double play ball, giving the Yankees a runner on first with out one. He was then thrown out trying to steal second and I dunno about that decision. Headley and Judge hit the ball hard, it was only the fifth inning, and the top of the order was due up. Maybe let the guys swing away and not worry about the extra 90 feet?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Anyway, Torreyes was thrown out and Gardner followed with a single to right, so three of the first four batters of the inning reached base, but there were still two outs. Jacoby Ellsbury flew out for the third out. Sigh. That inning had some potential. It wasn’t until the seventh inning that the Yankees put together another serious rally, and by then Andriese was out of the game and ex-Yankee Chase Whitley was on the mound. This was Whitley’s first big league appearance since having Tommy John surgery last year. Good for him.

A one-out walk by Headley and a two-out error by Evan Longoria on pinch-hitter Starlin Castro‘s hard-hit ground ball gave the Yankees runners on the corners with two outs. The tying run was on base and one pitch later, it was in scoring position. Gardner stole second with ease on the first pitch. It was his first steal — and first attempt! — since July 17th. Alas, Ellsbury flew out to end the inning, stranding the tying run at second. That was their last best chance to make it a ballgame.

Leftovers
Solid work by the bullpen overall. Luis Severino threw 2.1 scoreless innings — he pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the seventh — before Tommy Layne and Blake Parker combined for a scoreless ninth. Those three did their job. They kept the Rays at bay and gave the offense at chance to get back into the game. The bats never obliged. So it goes.

Gardner had three of the team’s seven hits. Headley, Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Brian McCann had the others. Headley drew the only walk. The Yankees have 38 games with no more than one walk this season, eighth most in baseball. They had 28 such games last year. Their most this century is 43 in 2001. This team has a chance to beat that, sadly.

And finally, the Orioles beat the Tigers to take over sole possession of the second wildcard spot again. That’s good. Detroit has a bunch of games left against weak AL Central teams and the Yankees need them to lose as much as possible. The O’s have a far tougher schedule, and, most importantly, three games remaining with the Yankees. The Yankees have some control over what the Orioles do. They have zero control over the Tigers.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head on over to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, and MLB.com for the video highlights. Check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages too. The Yankees are two games back of the second wildcard spot with 20 games to play. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This four-game series is finally over but the homestand is not. The Dodgers are now coming to town for three games. Rookie Jose De Leon and technically no longer a rookie Bryan Mitchell are the scheduled starters. There are only nine home games left this year. RAB Tickets can get you in the door for all nine.

DotF: Tampa gets blown out in Game Three loss

Triple-A Scranton swept their first round postseason series. They’ll play Gwinnett (Braves) in the best-of-five International League Championship Series. That series begins Tuesday.

Double-A Trenton won their first round postseason series. They’ll play either Akron or Altoona in the best-of-five Eastern League Championship Series, which also begins Tuesday. Akron leads their series two games to one.

High-A Tampa (9-0 loss to Bradenton) they trail the best-of-five Championship series two games to one

  • 2B Jorge Mateo: 0-3, 1 BB — 3-for-26 (.115) in six postseason games
  • 3B Thairo Estrada: 1-4
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 0-4, 1 K — 1-for-13 (.077) in the Championship Series
  • CF Rashad Crawford & 1B Kevin Cornelius: both 0-3
  • LF Trey Amburgey: 1-3
  • RF Tito Polo: 0-3 — first hitless game since the trade
  • RHP Yefrey Ramirez: 2.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1/4 GB/FB — 50 of 69 pitches were strikes (72%) … rough outing to close out an otherwise excellent season for the minor league Rule 5 draft pick … Ramirez finishes with a 3.09 ERA and a 138/35 K/BB in 134 innings, including playoffs
  • RHP Cody Hamlin: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HB, 1/3 GB/FB — 26 of 45 pitches were strikes (58%)

Both Low-A Charleston and Short Season Staten Island lost their first round postseason matchup. Their seasons are over.

The season is over for Rookie Pulaski, Rookie GCL Yanks East, and Rookie GCL Yanks West. None of the three teams qualified for the postseason.

Sunday Open Thread

If you’re interested in such things, Randy Miller spoke to a bunch of Yankees about where they were the day of the September 11th attacks. Like a few of them, I was still in college at the time. I had a long exam that morning and didn’t hear about everything until later in the morning, around 10:30 or so. I didn’t watch it all unfold live on television like so many others. None of it seemed real.

Here’s the open thread for the rest of the day. The Cubs and Astros are the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game (Arrieta vs. Fiers) plus there’s all the week one NFL action. Talk about all that or anything else on your mind right here.

Game 142: Make it Eight

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees are red hot right now, having won seven straight games and 13 of their last 17. There is still much work to be done before a postseason spot is secure, of course. After today, the Yankees play 17 of their final 20 games against good to great teams, so the schedule is about to get really difficult. Get the win today and worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Cessa

It’s a little cloudy in New York today, but otherwise it’s just a splendid day for baseball. Good day for a sweep. Today’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.