Mark Teixeira will be sidelined an additional 10-14 days after an MRI revealed “irritation” of his left calf strain, the team announced. That means he’ll miss this weekend’s series against the Rays, but will be back with about a week to spare in the regular season. Since this was essentially a setback, I would expect them to be even more conservative next time around. Obviously this is very bad news that feels worse because of Jerry Meals’ blown call on the play Teixeira re-injured himself.
The Yankees just wrapped up their biggest ten-game stretch of the season (to date anyway), and I suppose it was something of a success because they came out of it in first place. Then again, they did lose two games in the standings to both the Orioles and Rays in the process. Let’s not start popping champagne and planning the parade just yet.
The good news is that the toughest stretch of the schedule appears to be in the rear-view mirror. Of the 22 games left on the docket, the Yankees will play just six against teams with a winning record — three against the Rays next weekend and three against the Athletics the weekend after. That’s it, the other 16 games will be played against clubs far out of the postseason picture. Furthermore, those series with Tampa and Oakland will both be played in the Bronx, as will 12 of the final 22 games overall.
Outside of those two series against the Rays and A’s, the Yankees will play six games against the Red Sox, seven against the Blue Jays, and three against the Twins. Compared to the Orioles (nine of 22 against winning teams) and Rays (13 of 22 against winning teams), the Bombers seem to have the most favorable schedule the rest of the way. It’s also worth noting that Baltimore and Tampa still have to play each other six times as well, and both teams can’t win those games. That’s an added bonus for New York as they look to lock up the AL East crown.
Now let’s not get carried away here. You know as well as I that having a favorable schedule means very little. Teams don’t just roll over because you want them to, and in fact you can make the argument that clubs play even harder than usual against the Yankees. If there’s one thing the 29 non-Bronx-based franchises have in common, it’s wanting to beat the Yankees. The Jays and Sox always play New York tough and those games will surely feel like they’re being played against a contender. It’s just the way it is.
Yesterday’s blowout win was a fine way to cap off an otherwise underwhelming ten-game stretch. I don’t really believe that momentum is a thing in baseball, but it was certainly a win that makes everyone feel a little bit better about how things are going at the moment. The schedule is set up to allow the Yankees to pull away from the pack a bit, assuming they hold up their end of the bargain and actually play well. That isn’t a given these days. As far as the next 3+ weeks go, playing just six of the final 22 games against above-.500 teams is a luxury the other AL East contenders do not enjoy.
The Yankees split four games with the second-place Orioles this weekend, and other than homers and high-scoring affairs, all four games had one thing in common: Baltimore did an awful lot of damage in two-strike counts. Thirteen of their 31 hits during the series came in two-strike counts, including four doubles and three homers. You can add two hit batsman on top of that, which bother me just as much as hits in two-strike situations. Maybe even more since the batter didn’t really earn it, so to speak.
Anecdotally, it feels as though the Yankees have given up a lot of baserunners in two-strike counts all season, at least relatively speaking. As you’ll see, the league as a whole does a poor job of reaching base when the pitcher is one pitch away from a strikeout. Here is a quick breakdown of the pitching staff’s performance in various two-strike counts this season…
sOPS+ is the opposing hitter’s OPS+ relative to the league average in these counts, so while holding hitters to a .164/.171/.261 batting line in 0-2 counts looks fantastic, it’s actually 27% worse than the .150/.158/.220 AL average. That’s the glaring problem here, 0-2 counts. The Yankees do fairly well in 1-2 and 2-2 counts (and in two-strike counts overall), but they really give it up in what is supposed to be the worst possible count for a batter.
The biggest culprit, by far, has been Phil Hughes. Hitters have tagged the right-hander for a .239/.239/.406 batting line in 0-2 counts, an unfathomable 234 sOPS+. In two-strike counts overall, it’s a .188/.241/.309 batting line (111 sOPS+). Ten of the league-worst 33 homers he’s surrendered have come in two-strike counts, including two in 0-2 counts. Hughes does strike hitters out at an essentially league average rate (7.57 K/9 and 19.8 K%), but he’s gotten clobbered when unable to miss bats with two strikes.
The rest of the starting staff has done fairly well in two-strike counts. Ivan Nova is the worst of the rest of the bunch with a 143 sOPS+ in 0-2 counts and a 90 sOPS+ with two strikes overall. CC Sabathia has struggled a bit in 0-2 counts (104 sOPS+) but otherwise shuts hitters down in two-strike counts overall (64 sOPS+). Hiroki Kuroda is the opposite, burying hitters in 0-2 counts (39 sOPS+) but performing at about the league average rate with two strikes overall (99 sOPS+). Andy Pettitte was fantastic in two-strike counts before getting hurt, holding hitters to a 14 sOPS+ in 0-2 counts and a 47 sOPS+ in two-strike counts overall.
The Yankees’ pitching staff has the third best strikeout rate in the league this year (8.16 K/9 and 21.5 K%), and that holds true both for the starters (7.82 K/9 and 20.6 K%) and relievers (8.96 K/9 and 23.7 K%). The Rays are the only club with better strikeout rates as both starters and relievers this season. So yeah, the Yankees have done a very good job of missing bats and recording outs without the help of the defense, but otherwise haven’t done a great job of retiring hitters in these situations overall. Whether it’s poor pitch-calling/planning or poor execution (likely both), the Yankees aren’t haven’t stood out for their ability to put hitters away in two-strike counts this season and it was really noticeable this past weekend.
It’s easy to make too much of one game in baseball, especially when you’re talking about a game like yesterday’s. The Yankees clobbered the Orioles to wrap up an important ten-game stretch in which they went just 4-6, but winning that final game in blowout fashion heading into the off-day sure has a way of making everyone feel like things are going to be okay. The club isn’t out of the woods yet though, far from it.
With 22 games left to play, the Yankees still have a number of issues to sort through. The middle relief remains shaky, Mark Teixeira’s calf is going to keep him out for at least another few games, a number of other key lineup cogs are slumping, CC Sabathia still isn’t pitching as expected, and both the Orioles and Rays remain hot on the Bombers’ tail. Yesterday’s win was both stress-relieving and encouraging, with signs that maybe a few of those issues are starting to sort themselves out.
Granderson’s extended slump has been well-documented around this parts. He took a 4-for-34 skid into yesterday’s game and was hitting .207/.297/.410 with a 31.7% strikeout rate in his last 300 plate appearances. That’s basically half a season worth of below-average production from the club’s second-best hitter a year ago. Curtis simply wasn’t doing enough, which is why Joe Girardi did not start him either Saturday or Sunday against the Orioles.
“It’s just a matter of continuing to swing the bat,” he said to reporters yesterday. “I feel like I’m getting balls to hit and putting good swings on them, but I wasn’t able to do much with them for whatever reason. It’s just baseball being baseball.”
Granderson came off the bench yesterday and did something he was unable to do the day before: he produced. Three hits in three at-bats, including a solo homer to center and a two-run double to right. The two-run bloop to shallow left off a left-hander was his softest hit of the day but arguably his most impactful. It was just his third three-hit game of the season and they felt like his first three hits in about two months. If he’s able to build off this and strong contributing more to the offense, it’ll be a huge during the final weeks of the schedule. Curtis can do a lot of damage when right.
The Yankees have been looking for a reliable non-matchup middle reliever to couple with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano for about three months now, and there was a lot of hope that Joba would be that guy once he came off the DL. He was anything but reliable at first, allowing seven runs on 20 baserunners in 6.2 innings during his first seven appearances. The stuff was there, the mid-to-high-90s fastball and wipeout slider, but he was making way too many location mistakes. That’s not uncommon for guys coming off Tommy John surgery.
Very quietly though, Joba has been rounded back into form. Yesterday’s six-batter, five-out, four-strikeout appearance put an exclamation point on a road trip that featured 4.1 strong innings. He allowed one hit during the trip, a solo homer to Mark Reynolds on Thursday. Reynolds has been clobbering Yankees’ pitching all year, so it’s not like Chamberlain’s alone here. Other than that, he walked one, punched out eight, and generated 14 swings and misses out of 76 total pitches (18.4%). This doesn’t mean he’ll turn into another dominant late-inning arm or anything, but Joba has shown signs of shaking off the rust — he told reporters yesterday that he made a slight mechanical adjustment as well — and has started to assume more responsibility in a bullpen that needs as much help as it can get.
This one kinda goes hand-in-hand in with the last guy. Wade was dynamite in April and May before completely collapsing in June, to the point where you had to wonder if he was even salvageable. He was that bad. Wade spent a little more than two months in Triple-A and pitched reasonably well (2.27 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 31.2 innings) before returning as a September call-up. In two appearances this month, Wade has retired all eleven men he faced, include six in two innings yesterday. He looked an awful lot like the guy he was last year and earlier this year against the Orioles.
It’s easy to write someone like Wade off because he doesn’t fit the stereotype of an above-average reliever. He doesn’t come out of the bullpen throwing gas with a knockout breaking ball, he relies on changing speeds and locating with a variety of offspeed pitches. He’s the Freddy Garcia of relief pitchers. Expecting Wade to return to his previous level of effectiveness is probably unrealistic, but these two most recent looks are encouraging at the very least. If he can step back up and give the team another reliable right-handed reliever for those middle innings, it’ll be a huge addition down the stretch.
This isn’t exclusive to Sunday’s game but is worth mentioning. The Yankees put together late rallies in three of the four games against the Orioles, including the two losses. Five eighth inning runs on Thursday tied the game before the bullpen blew it, then Saturday’s two-run ninth inning rally was cut short at one when first base ump Jerry Meals blew the call on a not so bang-bang play. Two runs in the seventh and five runs in the eighth put yesterday’s game out of reach. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what inning the runs are scored in as long as the Yankees push enough across to win, but stringing together hits and scoring multiple runs in an inning had been an issue up until this weekend.
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As I said, one big win has a way of making you forget about all of the team’s problems for at least a day. Granderson has shown flashes of busting out of his slump before so maybe this is just another tease. Relievers and their performances are fickle, so who knows what Joba and Wade can contribute going forward, if anything. If nothing else, at least we saw some positive signs in the finale against Baltimore, which is a lot more than what we had in previous weeks.
Record Last Week: 3-4 (42 RS, 36 RA)
Season Record: 79-61 (679 RS, 586 RA, 80-60 pythag. record), 1.0 game up in AL East
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, @ Red Sox (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Rays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)
Top stories from last week:
- The week opened with three big games against the Rays, and the Yankees lost the opener when Tampa scored a late-inning run. Tuesday’s loss officially completed the collapse as the Yankees fell into a tie for first place with the Orioles, though they did rebound to take a one-game lead with Wednesday’s win.
- The Yankees moved up to Baltimore for four weekend games, and they dropped the opener despite a big late-inning comeback. They rebounded to win Friday’s game, but a blown call ended another potential late-inning rally in Saturday’s loss. Yesterday’s win was a blowout.
- Injury News: Mark Teixeira (calf) returned to the lineup for one game before re-aggravating his injury, and we’re awaiting results of his MRI. Andy Pettitte (leg) is doing “super” following his latest simulated game and will visit the doctors to see if he can ramp up his workouts. Robinson Cano (hip) was day-to-day but has since returned to the lineup. David Aardsma (elbow) continues to pitch in minor league rehab games. Pedro Feliciano (shoulder) hurt his ankle/foot in his latest minor league rehab game and has not pitched since.
- Alex Rodriguez (hand) was activated off the DL on Monday while Ivan Nova (shoulder) was activated on Saturday. September roster expansion rules may change as soon as next year.
- Eduardo Nunez will play winter ball in the Dominican Republic after the season. Ramiro Pena cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A. Kosuke Fukudome was released.
- Gary Sanchez was named the team’s top prospect by MLB.com.
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 nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
The all-important ten-game stretch against the Orioles, Rays, and Orioles again is finally over. The Yankees went into this thing three games up and came out one game up, so I suppose it wasn’t a complete disaster. Either way, they needed Sunday’s blowout win over Baltimore in the worst way, just to breath easy for a change.
Walks & Weak Contact
Left-hander Zach Britton came into this start on the heels of four consecutive brilliant outings, walking just seven in 28.2 total innings. The Yankees were far more patient than the Tigers, White Sox, and Blue Jays (twice) though, drawing five free passes off the southpaw in just 3.1 innings. Two of those five walks came with the bases loaded in the four-run fourth inning, an inning that featured one hard hit ball — Alex Rodriguez’s leadoff single off the top of the short wall in right. Britton threw nearly as many balls (40) as strikes (41) in the game.
It wouldn’t call it a small ball rally, it was more of a Murphy’s Law rally. The three batters after A-Rod all drew walks before Andruw Jones struck out, then Jayson Nix (bloop to shallow right-center) and Ichiro Suzuki (infield single on a so-called Baltimore chop) plated more runs with dinky hits. Derek Jeter worked a walk to force in the fourth and final run of the inning (and Britton’s day), the seventh baserunner among the first eight Yankees sent to the plate that inning. Four runs, four walks, three singles, three strikeouts, one well-struck ball. Works for me.
There’s a decent chance Freddy Garcia has made the final start of his Yankees’ career and at the very least, has thrown his last meaningful inning of the season now that Ivan Nova is healthy. For the third time in his last four starts, Garcia failed to complete five innings of work and this time he couldn’t even complete four. The Yankees spotted him five runs early, but four of the first five hitters in the fourth reached in two-strike counts — walk, hit-by-pitch, double, pop-up, single — and ended his afternoon.
The three runs in 3.1 innings means Freddy has now allowed 15 runs in just 17.2 innings during his last four starts, including four homers and 31 total baserunners. Garcia was rock solid for a few weeks following Andy Pettitte’s injury, but he’s fallen apart of late and the Yankees can’t afford to keep running him out there now that they’re stuck in a division race. If he starts next turn through the rotation, I’ll be stunned.
The bullpen has been a weakness in recent weeks and when you ask them to record 17 outs, it’s easy to be a little nervous. Rather than implode, the relief corps stepped up in a huge way to completely shut the Orioles down once Freddy left the game. Joba Chamberlain cleaned up the fourth with two big strikeouts before chipping in a scoreless fifth, then Boone Logan cut through the middle of the order in a scoreless sixth. Cory Wade followed with a perfect seventh and eighth, looking an awful lot like his April and May self rather than the guy he was in June before being sent down. Derek Lowe wrapped things up with a perfect ninth. The final ten Orioles made outs, and all told the bullpen allowed one hit and two walks in 5.2 scoreless innings while striking out ninth. Fantastic job, fellas.
It’s been a long time since the Yankees played a laugher, at least one in which they were doing the laughing. The Bombers blew the game open in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, starting with a Curtis Granderson solo homer to center. He plated two more runs with a bases-loaded, two-strike blooper in the seventh, an enormous hit that turned a three-run game into a five-run game. The five-run eighth featured a Jeter two-run homer to right-center, a Russell Martin single, and a Granderson double. The desperately-needed rout was on.
Jeter (single, homer), A-Rod (single, walk, bit-by-pitch), Robinson Cano (two singles, two walks), Martin (two singles, walk), and Ichiro (two singles) all reached base multiple times after starting the game. Nick Swisher walked but otherwise took an 0-for-4 to run hit hitless streak up to 28 at-bats. That’s rough. Nix was the only starter to play the entire game as Joe Girardi emptied his September-reinforced bench to rest the regulars in the late innings. It’s been a long, long time since the Yankees were able to pull someone for rest in a game.
Granderson became the first Yankee to pick up three hits off the bench since Jorge Posada last June. Posada replaced Mark Teixeira at first base in the very first inning of that game against the Red Sox after a hit-by-pitch, so he had eight offensive innings to do it. Curtis did it in four. The last player before Posada to have three hits off the bench was Brett Gardner, who did it twice in the span of a week back in May 2009.
The ten-run margin of victory was New York’s largest of the season, eclipsing the nine runs they beat these very same Orioles by on August 1st. After scoring just 19 runs in the first six games of this ten-game stretch, the Yankees pushed across 31 runs in the last four games. The win evened the season series at nine apiece, so the Bombers avoided their first season series loss to Baltimore since 1997.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights while ESPN has the updated standings. The Rays pounded the Rangers thanks to three homers from B.J. Upton, who of course I sat in fantasy. The Yankees are back atop the AL East by one game while Tampa remains two back. The magic number is down to 22, so I think I’m going to throw the counter up in the sidebar tomorrow.
The Yankees are off on Monday and will head up to the Boston for a three-game set with the last-place Red Sox. Hiroki Kuroda and Jon Lester will open that series on Tuesday night.
Double-A Trenton (5-4 win over Reading) Trenton won the first round best-of-five series 3-1 … Akron and Bowie play Game Five of their series tonight, so that game will determine who the Thunder will play in the Eastern League Championship Series, which starts Tuesday … Brett Marshall will be on the bump for that game
CF Adonis Garcia & LF Ramon Flores: both 0-4 — Garcia struck out
3B David Adams: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B
RF Zoilo Almonte, DH Rob Segedin & 2B Walt Ibarra: all 0-3 — Ibarra struck out twice
SS Addison Maruszak: 2-3, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — he had a big series
C J.R. Murphy: 1-2, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
1B Tyler Austin: 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI
LHP Nik Turley: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 7/4 GB/FB — 49 of 85 pitches were strikes (58%) … picked a runner of first … not bad for his second career Double-A start
RHP Graham Stoneburner: 0.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0/1 GB/FB — five of nine pitches were strikes
RHP Branden Pinder: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 0/2 GB/FB — six of eight pitches were strikes
RHP David Aardsma: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/1 GB/FB — had a tiny bit more on him earlier today
RHP Mark Montgomery: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — ten pitches, nine strikes
RHP Ryan Pope: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/0 GB/FB — five pitches all strikes … got the minor league homer king (Darin Ruf with 38) to ground into a double play to end the game and the series
The season is over for Triple-A Empire State, High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston, Short Season Staten Island, and the Rookie GCL Yanks. Empire State lost their first round playoff series to Pawtucket while the other four failed to make the postseason.