We’re talking about:
- The late trend of treading water. It’s better than completely collapsing, of course, but the inability to get in a groove has been frustrating.
- The return of Andy Pettitte and how he might get in shape for the postseason. But at this point, is he even the Game 3 starter?
- The schedule the rest of the way. It’s easy, sure, but the Yanks can’t take anything for granted.
- The crazy playoff picture. This would be nuts even if there were just one Wild Card.
Podcast run time 37:24
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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.
Just three more games and the Yankees are done, done with their primary competition for the AL East crown. They played their final games against the Orioles last weekend, and this weekend they’ll wrap up the season series against the Rays. Every game is important these days, but Tampa is likely to come out with a major sense of urgency this series.
What Have They Done Lately?
Get swept by the Orioles, that’s what they’ve done. The Rays needed to win two of three this week to really get back in the AL East race, but they instead come to the Bronx four games back of a) first place in the division, and b) the second wildcard spot. They’re 77-66 with a +76 run differential on the season.
Tampa continues to be a slightly below average offense at 4.1 runs per game overall and 3.5 runs per game in their last 15 contests. Evan Longoria (131 wRC+) has been off the DL for a while but still gets regular reps at DH as he recovers from a bad hamstring injury. Jeff Keppinger (128 wRC+), Ben Zobrist (128 wRC+), and Matt Joyce (121 wRC+) provide plenty of support, though Joyce can be neutralized by left-handers. B.J. Upton (111 wRC+) has been scorching hot of late (six homers in his last nine games) and rounds out the offensive core.
The big name among the rest of the offense is Carlos Pena (91 wRC+), who is having a down year but will almost certainly hit a homer at some point this weekend. The Yankees always struggle to get him out. Desmond Jennings (106 wRC+), Sam Fuld (103 wRC+ in limited time), and Luke Scott (88 wRC+) all take regular at-bats, as does Ryan Roberts (77 wRC+). Roberts fouled a ball off his ankle yesterday and is day-to-day. If he can’t go, expect to see Elliot Johnson (88 wRC+) take his spot on the infield. Ben Francisco (81 wRC+) provides some pop against lefties, the Joses — Lobaton (86 wRC+) and Molina (63 wRC+) — do the catching, and the crop of September call-ups includes speedy outfielder Rich Thompson, slick-fielding infielder Reid Brignac, corner guy Stephen Vogt, and catcher Chris Gimenez.
Friday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP David Price
Price, 27, will be pitching for the first time in 12 days tonight after missing his last start with a sore shoulder. He was performing like a legitimate Cy Young candidate prior to the injury, with a 2.54 ERA (3.20 FIP) and gaudy peripherals — 8.72 K/9 (24.3 K%), 2.69 BB/9 (7.5 BB%), and 51.7% grounders — in 27 starts and 180.2 innings. Price is all about the fastball, sitting in the mid-90s with the two- and four-seamer and right around 90 with the cutter. He just added that last pitch not too long ago and will backdoor it to righties all day long. An upper-80s slider, a mid-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball are his three scantily used offspeed pitches. The Yankees have seen plenty of Price both this year and in the past, the good and bad versions.
Saturday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jamie Shields
The Yankees got their latest look at the 30-year-old Shields in St. Pete a week ago, when he held them to three runs in eight innings. He’s pitched very well of late, allowing no more than three runs in any of his last eight starts and dragging his season ERA down to 3.71 (3.56 FIP). His strikeout (8.55 K/9 and 22.7 K%) and ground ball (52.3%) rates are career highs, the walk rate (2.35 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%) a career worst (but still really good). Shields is a six-pitch, backwards-pitching machine. He’s in the low-90s with three fastballs (two-seamer, four-seamer, cutter) and backs them up with one of the best changeups in baseball. An upper-80s slider and an upper-70s curve round out his arsenal. Like Price, the Yankees have seen plenty of both the good and bad versions of Shields throughout the years. There’s no mystery here.
Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Matt Moore
It’s been a good but not overwhelmingly great season for the 23-year-old Moore, who owns a 3.68 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 28 starts and 166.1 innings. His strikeout rate is excellent (8.93 K/9 and 23.2 K%), but the walks (3.95 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%) and ground balls (37.8%) leave a lot to be desired. Moore throws easy mid-90s gas, both two- and four-seamers, and complements it with mid-80s sliders and changeups. I still don’t understand how left-handed hitters have a .324 wOBA against him; he should be eating same-side hitters alive with his stuff. The Yankees hung six runs on Moore in 6.1 innings last week after he held them to three runs in seven innings earlier this summer.
The Rays played 14 innings yesterday, running through their entire regular bullpen as well as September call-up Chris Archer (2.83 FIP). He threw 3.2 innings and 79 pitches in relief, so don’t expect to see him at all this weekend. Super-closer Fernando Rodney (2.22 FIP) threw just one inning yesterday after having four days off, so I have to think he’ll be available all three games this weekend given the circumstances. This is probably also four- and five-out save territory as well. The Rays really need these games.
Setup right-hander Joel Peralta (3.08 FIP) and setup left-hander Jake McGee (1.95 FIP) have both appeared in two straight games, ditto Kyle Farnsworth and Wade Davis (2.97 FIP for both). Second lefty J.P. Howell (4.58 FIP) and ground ball man Burke Badenhop (3.72 FIP) have only appeared in one straight game. Aside from Archer, the other call-ups are right-handers Brandon Gomes and Dane De La Rosa, plus left-hander Cesar Ramos. Joe Girardi’s bullpen has been worked hard of late, so make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact details. DRays Bay is the place to go for the latest and greatest on the Rays.
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Got five questions for you this week. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if the best way to send us anything, including links, mailbag questions, and whatever else.
Anonymous asks: Time for a post on tie breakers? My main question would be this: what happens if the Yanks and Orioles (or Rays) tie for the division lead, but have records good enough to be one of the Wild Cards? Will they do an on-paper tie-breaker or will they make them play a game? Since it’s so much better to be the division winner, I would think they would have them play. In the past it was a paper tie-breaker, but there was no negative to being the Wild Card. Now there is.
Under the old system, teams would only play a tie-breaker game if it was a situation in which one team would make the playoffs and the other would not. If two teams tied atop the division but were both going to the playoffs anyway, they didn’t bother to play a game and used (I think) head-to-head record to decide who was the division champ and who was the wildcard.
With the new system, teams will play a tie-breaker to decide the division winner even if both clubs are guaranteed to make the postseason, as they should. Home field for that tie-breaker game is determined by head-to-head record, but since the Yankees and Orioles split the season series, the game would be played in Baltimore because they have the better overall intra-division record (at the moment, still time to change that). The Yankees have to sweep the Rays this weekend just to tie the season series.
There would be a tie-breaker game if two teams tie for the second wildcard spot obviously, but I have no idea what happens if more than two teams tie for that spot. Given the craziness of the current races, there’s a very real chance we see a three-way tie this year. I’m not sure even MLB knows what they’ll do in that situation, but I’m rooting for the chaos as long as the Yankees aren’t involved. I wasn’t a fan of the new playoff system when it was announced and I still don’t like the one-game, winner-take-all aspect of the wildcard play-in game, but these last few weeks of baseball are going to be a lot of fun. Lots of tight races and big games coming up.
Nate asks: Is it me, or has Robinson Cano hit more opposite-field home runs this year than ever before?
He has, actually. The two-run dinger over the Green Monster on Wednesday was Cano’s fifth homer to the opposite field this season, a career-high. His previous career high was three, which he’d done multiple times (2006, 2007, 2009, and 2011). Robbie’s always hit the ball to all fields but almost all of his power has been to the pull side, which is not unusual at all. This year he’s starting to spray the dingers out a little more, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s set a career-high in homers during the year in which he’s showing the most opposite field power.
Nar asks: When does Eduardo Nunez become arbitration-eligible and did he spend enough time in the minors this year to delay it another year? Thanks.
If he spends all of next year in the big leagues, Nunez is going to be right on the Super Two bubble at two years and 30 or so days of service time. The cut-off for this coming offseason is approximately two years and 34 days, but it fluctuates year-to-year. Either way, Nunez won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season if he’s back in the show for good. Whether he’s a Super Two (and arbitration-eligible four times instead of three) depends more on the cutoff next year than anything else.
Reggie asks: Is it possible that David Adams could latch on with the ML team next season as a utility guy from the go? Is it too late to get Adams to play a corner OF spot when Brett Gardner and a re-signed Nick Swisher need an off-day? If Adams can play 3B, that’d be a boon for the team, especially if Eric Chavez retires/signs elsewhere.
It’s possible but I also think it’s unlikely. Adams hasn’t played a single inning at shortstop as a professional and has fewer than 40 games worth of third base experience, so the Yankees would still need another middle infielder on the bench. It’s not too late to try him out in the corner outfield, though a) I’m not sure how well he runs these days after the ankle injury, and b) that’s not exactly something you want him to learn at the big league level. I think it’s far more likely that Corban Joseph breaks camp in this Chavez role next year than Adams.
Len asks: In the never-ending parade of one-run loss horrors lately, how many did the Yankees actually lead in (and how many of those were blown by the bullpen?) and how may were failed comebacks?
Since the start of the four-game series in Oakland that seems to mark the beginning of this downward spiral, the Yankees have lost 28 of 50 games. Thirteen of those 28 losses came by one-run while another three were decided by two runs. Here’s the breakdown of the one-run losses…
- The Yankees had the lead at some point in eight of the 13 games. That’s an awful lot.
- The bullpen blew the game ten times (!) in the 13 games. That’s not just surrendering the lead, it’s also giving up the go-ahead run in a tie game. That’s also an awful lot.
- The Yankees had the tying run on-base in the seventh inning or later (my arbitrary definition of “failed comeback”) in seven of the 13 games for a total of nine failed comebacks. They had the tying run on-base in multiple late innings in a few of those losses.
One of those failed comebacks was the Mark Teixeira/Jerry Meals game, a comeback that was completely successful had the first base umpire made the correct call. What can you do though, can’t go back in time to change it. Anyway, a lot of these recent losses were really close and imminently winnable games, but the Yankees have just been unable to get over the hump lately. It’s frustrating as hell.
I was unable to watch Thursday night’s game against the Red Sox, so I won’t be able to go into too much detail about what happened. The important thing is that the Yankees won — their first set of consecutive wins since beating the Rangers in three straight back in mid-August — and remain tied atop the AL East with the Orioles. The Rays are four back heading into this weekend three-game set in the Bronx.
Phil Hughes stepped up for the second straight start, though unlike last weekend in Baltimore, he did not surrender the #obligatoryhomer. Seven strikeouts in 7.1 shutout innings, including just five hits (four singles) and a walk. The Red Sox swung and missed 16 times at his 95 pitches, including eleven times at his 51 fastballs. Getting that many whiffs on the heat is damn impressive. By Game Score (74), this was Phil’s second best start of the season behind the complete game in Detroit. The team shutout was New York’s first in Fenway Park since July 2008.
As for the offense, well they put on another RISPFAIL clinic. One-for-nine on the night, with the one being a Derek Jeter bloop single to shallow center in the seventh. Andruw Jones plated the other run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth, an inning in which the Yankees had the bases loaded with no outs and only mustered the one run. Apparently Curtis Granderson lined into an inning-ending double play that was just bad luck. Alex Rodriguez and Eduardo Nunez had two hits apiece. The Yankees really should find a way to work Nunez into the lineup a little more often, especially against lefties. Steve Pearce ain’t gettin’ the job done.
I was a little surprised to see that David Robertson pitched again, even if it was only one batter and three pitches. He worked what amounted to two innings on Tuesday and threw again on Wednesday, yet there he was for the third straight day. Joe Girardi has had a real quick hook of late — only once in the last eight games has the starter been allowed to throw 100 pitches, and that was (who else?) CC Sabathia — and his core relievers are being worked hard down the stretch. Just look at the Bullpen Workload page, that’s an awful lot of work for those guys.
Anyway, MLB.com has the box score and video highlights while ESPN has the updated standings. The Yankees are coming home after going 5-5 on the ten-game road trip, and they have a chance to absolutely bury Tampa this weekend while the Orioles are out on the West Coast. This is as good a time as any to start stringing some wins together, especially with Sabathia on the bump Friday night. He’ll be opposed by David Price. Check out RAB Tickets for some last minute deals if you want to catch the primo pitching matchup.
The Yankees have won four of nine games on this ten-game road trip through the AL East, so they have a chance to pull even tonight before heading home for a big weekend series with the Rays. Derek Jeter (ankle) is hobbled and the bullpen is worn out, so it would be nice if the offense scored a ton of runs early and Phil Hughes pitched deep into the night. Here’s the lineup…
DH Derek Jeter
RF Nick Swisher
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
C Russell Martin
LF Andruw Jones
CF Curtis Granderson
1B Steve Pearce
SS Eduardo Nunez
RHP Phil Hughes
The Orioles beat the Rays in a marathon this afternoon, so the Yankees have to win tonight to avoid falling out of first place for the first time in half-a-season. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 7:10pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.
Minor League Update
Sorry folks, but no Down on the Farm post tonight simply because no one is playing. Double-A Trenton is off for travel and will resume their best-of-five Championship Series with Akron tomorrow night. The Aeros lead that series two games to none. All of the other affiliates have either been eliminated from the postseason or did not quality.
Andy Pettitte will be activated off the DL and start next Tuesday against the Blue Jays, manager Joe Girardi announced this afternoon. He’ll be taking David Phelps’ spot in the rotation. Pettitte declared himself “ready” following his latest simulated game yesterday, though he’s going to be held to a 75-pitch count in his first start back. The Yankees will have to make a 40-man roster move to activate Andy off the 60-day DL, and I suppose it could be Derek Lowe on the chopping block. Don’t quote me on that though.