David Aardsma confirmed on Twitter that he will begin a minor league rehab stint with the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees tomorrow. Over the weekend we heard that the right-hander was likely to return to game action this weekend. Aardsma has not pitched in a game since September 2010 after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip last January and Tommy John surgery last July. He’ll officially start his 30-day rehab clock tomorrow and be on pace for a mid-July return.
With a victory over Washington yesterday afternoon the Yankees swept their third straight series, extending their winning streak to nine games. After an uninspiring start to the season, this is just the jolt that they needed. They now come home with the best winning percentage in the AL, and the second best win percentage in the majors. The best part: the streak is still going.
The current win streak harkens back just three years to 2009, when the Yankees also got off to a relatively poor start. After losing a pair of two-game series to Boston and Tampa Bay, the Yanks sat at 13-15. They got the ball rolling the next game, when Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run homer on his first swing of the season and CC Sabathia shut out the Orioles. They won that series, but then lost the first game against Toronto. After that, however, they started to turn around the season.
Against Toronto, Minnesota, and Baltimore they rattled off nine straight wins, improving to 24-17. After the losses to Boston and Tampa Bay they were 5.5 games back in the East. Two weeks later, after the nine-game streak, they were just 1.5 games back in the East and had moved a whopping four games ahead of Tampa Bay. There were fits and starts after that, but that win streak got them moving in the right direction. A seven-game streak in late June turned them around for good.
Yet that might not have been the most season-altering streak in recent memory. In 2005 the Yankees got off to their now infamous 11-19 start. They were nine games back in the East at that point, but things would turn around quickly. Tino Martinez fueled the ensuing 10-game winning streak, going 12 for 38 with a double and eight home runs on his way to 19 RBI. The Yankees went from nine back in the East to five back. Though it took two months for them to finally reach first place, it’s the win streak that got them moving.
The Yankees started this current streak in quite a different position. They were already 31-25 before it started, and were just a half game back in the AL East. That’s because they rattled off a five-game win streak in late May, after dropping to .500 against Kansas City. So while the streak is only at nine, it’s really 19 of 23. The best part about this stretch is that during it they’ve played just three teams below .500: Kansas City, Oakland, and Detroit. The entire nine-game streak has been against teams above .500.
In 2005 and 2009, the Yankees absolutely needed those streaks. In 2005 they were at a low point and needed an immediate turnaround. In 2009 the expectations were so high that the constant losses to Boston stung that much more. During those streaks they made up lost ground and got themselves back in the picture. This year is a bit different. They had started playing well before the streak, and this surge sent them to to the top. If the aftereffect is anything like those years, though, we can expect dominance from here on out.
Via Peter Gammons, the Yankees bid $25-30M for 20-year-old Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler. The Braves and White Sox also made similar offers, though Soler wound up signing a nine-year, $30M contract with the Cubs early last week.
I always underestimate free agent contracts but even $25M for what amounts to a Single-A prospect seems rather … excessive. It is just money, but we’re not talking about a player capable of stepping right in to help the big league club. The Yankees clearly liked Soler and made an aggressive bid, but as we heard the day he signed, Chicago was prepared to one-up any offer to make sure they got him.
The Yankees and Braves have a one-sided history, and that continued last week when the Bombers marched into Turner Field and left three days later having swept the series. Now the scene shifts to the Bronx and the Yankees get the DH back. After six games in NL parks, it’ll be nice not having to watch pitchers
hit make outs.
What Have They Done Lately?
After getting swept by the Yankees last week, the Braves lost two of three to the Orioles at home. They went 3-6 on a nine-game homestand against AL East teams, which is pretty rough. Atlanta owns a 35-30 record and a +20 run differential, both the fifth best marks in the NL.
The Yankees held the Braves to just seven runs in three games last week, but don’t be fooled, Atlanta can hit. Their 298 runs are the third most in the NL and their 4.52 runs per game average is a top-ten mark in baseball. Atlanta’s offensive charge continues to be fueled by dynamite center fielder Michael Bourn (124 wRC+) and left fielder Martin Prado (131 wRC+), their combination atop the batting order. You’re not going to find a better twosome.
Catcher Brian McCann (101 wRC+) hit everything hard against the Yankees last week, but they got a little lucky and more than a few of those balls landed in gloves. I’d rather not see them risk it again. Second baseman Dan Uggla (128 wRC+) will show off his guns in the cleanup spot and third baseman Chipper Jones (120 wRC+) has been backing him up as the number five hitter. This will be his final series at Yankee Stadium barring an entirely possible World Series matchup. First baseman Freddie Freeman (95 wRC+) and right fielder Jason Heyward (115 wRC+) add some length to the lineup while shortstop Andrelton Simmons (153 wRC+ in limited action) adds speed at the bottom of the order.
As I mentioned last week, Atlanta has a really strong bench. Outfielder Matt Diaz mashes lefties (149 wRC+ vs. LHP), third baseman Juan Francisco has big power against righties (.237 ISO vs. RHP), and although corner guy Eric Hinske is having a poor season (46 wRC+), I still consider him a threat. David Ross (106 wRC+) is the best backup catcher in baseball and infielder Jack Wilson (3 wRC+) might be the worst player in the league. It’s definitely an impressive group of reserves, which is especially important in the NL.
I’m not entirely sure what the Braves will do with the DH spot this series. They platooned Diaz and Hinske there a few weeks ago, but that was when Chipper was on the DL. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jones at DH, Prado (or Francisco) at third, and then Diaz or Hinske in left. They could always let McCann have a DH day and start Ross as well. Lots of options thanks to that strong bench.
Monday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Mike Minor
Six days ago, the Yankees couldn’t touch Minor even though he came into the game as one of the worst two starting pitchers in the game. He still sports a 6.01 ERA and a 5.20 FIP despite those 7.1 innings of one-run ball, with mediocre strikeout (7.55 K/9 and 19.4 K%), walk (3.45 BB/9 and 8.9 BB%), and ground ball (34.0%) rates to boot. His 14 homers allowed are among the most in the NL. Minor is a four-pitch guy — low-90s fastball, mid-80s slider, low-80s changeup, upper-70s curve — and last week he killed the Yankees’ right-handed bats with soft stuff away. That same plan better not work a second time, the Bombers should make the necessary adjustments.
Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Tim Hudson
Hudson came back from an ankle problem to strike out a season-high eight against the Yankees last week while doing the bare minimum to qualify for a quality start: three earned runs in six innings. That game pushed his season ERA up to 3.90 (3.09 FIP) and his strikeout rate up to 5.85 K/9 (15.8 K%). Hudson has always been about ground balls (57.1%) and limiting the walks (2.25 BB/9 and 6.1 BB%), as you know. He’s very fastball heavy, particularly with his upper-80s sinker. He’ll also mix in some mid-80s cutters and on rare occasions, a mid-70s curveball. Hudson will live and die by his sinker.
Wednesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Tommy Hanson
The Yankees didn’t see Hanson last week and it’s fitting that he’s starting against Hughes considering they’ve both battled missing velocity in recent years. The 25-year-old right-hander has pitched to a 3.32 ERA this season despite the worst peripherals of his career: 7.64 K/9 (19.9 K%), 3.65 BB/9 (9.5 BB%), 1.11 HR/9, and 41.6% grounders. His four-seam fastball sits right at 90 and he backs it up with a low-80s slider and a low-70s curveball. His low-80s changeup has been all but shelved this year (1.0% of all pitches thrown). It’s worth noting that left-handed batters have absolutely annihilated Hanson this year (.385 wOBA) — likely due to the shelving of the changeup — while righties have struggled (.254 wOBA). Wouldn’t be a bad game to rest Derek Jeter and/or Alex Rodriguez.
Rookie right-hander Randall Delgado gave the Braves eight innings on Sunday, so their bullpen is pretty fresh. Closer Craig Kimbrel (0.97 FIP) has had two straight days off while setup man Jonny Venters (4.40 FIP) has had one day off as well as three of the last four. Lefty specialist Eric O’Flaherty (2.75 FIP vs. LHB) threw two pitches on Sunday and hadn’t worked in about a week prior to that. Manager Fredi Gonzalez’s top end-game arms are nice and rested for tonight and probably tomorrow as well.
Atlanta recently recalled righty Kris Medlen (3.15 FIP) after sending him down in an effort to stretch him out and get him into the rotation, but that plan has been scrapped for the time being and he is back in the bullpen. Right-handers Chad Durbin (5.07 FIP) and Cristhian Martinez (3.20 FIP) handle the middle innings while personal fave Anthony Varvaro (3.91 FIP in very limited action) replaced the recently released Livan Hernandez. Generic right-hander Todd Redmond is up as an extra arm until the Braves call up Jair Jurrjens to start this Friday. Too bad they couldn’t start one of these next three days, eh? Redmond has yet to appear in a big league game and I mean ever; his next appearance will be his MLB debut.
The Yankees used their bullpen quite heavily over the weekend, but Ivan Nova’s 7.2-inning performance yesterday helped a bit. Rafael Soriano and Boone Logan are the only two guys out there to have appeared in each of the last two games. Everyone else had Sunday off, though David Robertson did warm up. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact reliever usage. For the latest and greatest on the Atlanta nine, check out Capitol Avenue Club.
Record Last Week: 6-0 (28 RS, 12 RA)
Season Record: 40-25 (309 RS, 253 RA, 39-26 pythag. record), 1.5 games up in AL East
Opponents This Week: vs. Braves (Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Mets (three games, Fri. to Sun.)
Top stories from last week:
- The Yankees opened the NL park portion of their interleague schedule with three games in Atlanta. Ivan Nova shut the Braves down in the first game, then big homers by Alex Rodriguez (grand slam) and Nick Swisher (two-run) gave the Yankees the come-from-behind win on Tuesday. Curtis Granderson hit a late homer on Wednesday to clinch the sweep.
- Following Thursday’s off day, the Yanks headed to Washington for a three-game weekend set with the Nationals. Phil Hughes and Curtis Granderson led the team to a win in the opener, then Mark Teixeira’s two-run double gave New York a win in the 14th inning on Saturday. Nova finished off the sweep with another strong performance yesterday.
- Injury News: Mariano Rivera (knee) had successful surgery to repair his torn ACL. Brett Gardner (elbow) received platelet-rich plasma therapy on his elbow and will miss another 3-4 weeks. Nick Swisher (quad contusion) is day-to-day. Rafael Soriano (blister) was unavailable Monday but has since returned to action. Both Joba Chamberlain (elbow, ankle) and David Aardsma (elbow) are getting closer to minor league rehab stints. Both Jose Campos (elbow) and Manny Banuelos (elbow) are still in “rest mode.”
- David Robertson (oblique) was activated off the DL on Thursday. David Phelps was optioned to High-A Tampa to make room on the roster, and he will get stretched out in Florida before joining the Triple-A Empire State rotation.
- The Yankees are said to have trade interest in right-hander Ryan Dempster, but do not consider outfielder Carlos Quentin a fit. They were one of several clubs to scout Ben Sheets recently. The Yankees lost out on 20-year-old Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler, who signed with the Cubs for nine years and $30M.
- Among the draft picks that signed this week: second rounder Austin Aune ($1M), fourth rounder Corey Black ($215k), sixth rounder Nick Goody ($140k), and 14th rounder Andrew Benak ($100k). They signed nine other picks as well.
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For the first time since 2009, the Yankees have won nine straight games. For the first time since 1998, the Yankees have swept three straight three-game series. The hottest team in the game beat the Nationals by the score of 4-1 on Sunday, a fantastic Father’s Day gift if you ask me … even though I’m not a father.
Not A Homerun Hitter
If you ask Curtis Granderson if he’s a homerun hitter, he’ll tell you no. They just come he says, and yet Curtis leads all of baseball with 62 homers since Opening Day of last season. That 62nd homer broke a one-all tie in the fifth inning on Sunday, a sweet little hanging changeup in a 1-1 count that landed in the home bullpen down the right field line. Granderson is on the exact same long ball pace — 21 homers in the team’s first 65 games — as last year, which I find to be downright amazing. He’s not a homerun hitter though, just ask him.
The Yankees went 0-for-12 (!) with runners in scoring position but they managed to score two non-homer runs anyway. Mark Teixeira plated Derek Jeter with a sacrifice fly in the first, though getting just one run out of a bases loaded, one-out situation always feels like a disappointment. Teixeira came across to score the team’s fourth run on a wild pitch in the seventh after doubling and moving to third on a ground out. I had no idea he was even on third. There were a bunch of pitching changes and whatnot and I had lost track of the baserunner. As you can imagine, I was quite surprised when I initially thought Tex was about to score from second on a wild pitch.
Second Half Nova
After racking up just 14 quality starts in their first 50 games, the Yankees have gotten 14 quality starts in their last 15 games. Quality starts aren’t the best way to evaluate pitching, but I definitely consider them winnable games for a team with an offense and bullpen like the Bombers have. Ivan Nova was the latest starter to toss a gem, holding the Nationals to just one run — a second inning solo homer by Adam LaRoche — in 7.2 innings on Sunday. He struck out four, got ten ground balls against just five fly balls, and recorded 18 of his 23 outs on the infield overall. With men on the corners with one out and the score tied in the fourth, Nova coaxed a big inning-ending double play out of Danny Espinosa. He also had a four-pitch inning against Washington’s 3-4-5 hitters.
The beginning of the season was a little rough, but Ivan has really started to settle in these last few weeks and looks a lot like the pitcher we saw in the second half of last summer. His strikeout rate has started to come down a bit while the ground ball rate has climbed upward, a result of him getting his fastball down in the zone. He was leaving it up earlier in the year and hitters were just tattooing him for extra-base hits. Nova seems to have corrected that problem to a certain extent and has really stepped up to solidify what has been a powerhouse rotation in recent weeks.
Rafael Soriano fired a perfect ninth inning — his second true 1-2-3 inning of the season — to record his 13th save of the campaign. He’s the first non-Mariano Rivera pitcher to save that many games in a single season for New York since John Wetteland in 1996. Steve Karsay had been the previous leader with a dozen in 2002.
Between the end of Saturday’s game and the start of Sunday’s, Robinson Cano drew walks in four consecutive plate appearances. Three of them were intentional, but I can’t imagine the four straight walks thing has happened many times in his career, if at all. Robbie came into the series with a 7.5% walk rate and left with a 9.3% walk rate because Washington wanted nothing to do with him at the plate. Judging by his opposite field solo homer in the seventh, they had the right idea.
Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez combined for an ugly 0-for-10, but every other non-pitcher in the starting lineup combined to go 10-for-23 with five walks. Granderson, Cano, Teixeira, and Chris Stewart (!) all had multiple hits, including at least one for extra bases. Andruw Jones went hitless in three at-bats but did draw two walks, one to start a rally by leading off an inning — RISPFAIL snuffed it out — and another while Teixeira’s scored on the wild pitch.
I don’t want to make a big stink about it, but I didn’t like the call to sacrifice bunt with Nova in the sixth. The Yankees had men on the corners and none out, let him swing the bat. It was a one-run game at the time and you’ve got three chances to get that run in, don’t forfeit one. The Yankees didn’t score after Nova got the bunt down — Jeter flew out to medium center field and Granderson grounded out — but it really didn’t matter given the final score. Just irked me at the time.
As I said earlier, the Yankees have now won their last nine games. They’ve also won 12 of their last 13, 14 of their last 16, and 19 of their last 23. New York has had the best record in the AL for a few days now but had the Dodgers not managed their ninth inning comeback against the White Sox, the Yankees also would have had the best record in baseball (by winning percentage).
One final note: big ups to the Nats and the Mets. Washington swept the Red Sox (in Fenway!) then got swept by the Yankees. The Mets got swept by the Yankees and then swept the Rays (in Tampa!). That’s some mighty fine work by those two clubs and I just want to let them know it was appreciated.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
The Yankees return home after a massively successful six-game road trip and will welcome the Braves to the Bronx for three games starting Monday evening. It’ll be a rematch of last Tuesday’s starters, southpaws CC Sabathia and Mike Minor. If you want to head up to the Stadium to catch the game, check out RAB Tickets.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads out there. I know we have some long-time readers who became fathers for the first time within the last few months, so I hope you folks are enjoying the day. Hopefully all of you are spending the night with your dad and the family or have at least talked to him today; there’s a lot of us who can’t but wish we could.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The ESPN Sunday Night Game is the Red Sox at the Cubs (Morales vs. Maholm), a historic matchup between two last place teams. Game Three of the NBA Finals is also on (8pm ET on ABC), but talk about whatever your heart desires. Go nuts.