Yankeemetrics: Post-Chicago hangover (May 8-9)

Gardy goes yardy. (AP)
Gardy goes yardy. (AP)

No sleep, no problem
The Yankees arrived bleary-eyed in Cincinnati just as the sun was rising on Monday morning, but there was no hangover from Sunday’s epic marathon game when they took the field against the Reds later that night.

They put up a three-spot on the Reds in the top of the first inning and cruised to a 10-4 win, giving them a remarkable 21-9 record. There is obviously a ton of baseball to be played, but it’s still worth putting their win total in perspective at this point in the season.

This is the 17th time in franchise history the Yankees have won at least 21 of their first 30 games. Here’s the breakdown of how the previous 16 seasons ended up:

  • Won division/league – 15 (all except 2010)
  • Made World Series – 15
  • Won World Series – 12

A look at their run differential (currently +58) through 30 games tells a similar story. This is 15th time in franchise history the Yankees have outscored their opponents by at least 58 runs through 30 games. Here’s the breakdown of how the previous 14 seasons ended up:

  • Won division/league – 12 (all except 2010 and 1931)
  • Made World Series – 12
  • Won World Series – 11

Back to Monday’s game … the Bronx Bombers continued to do Bronx Bomber things, belting two more homers to give them 50 on the season. This is the second-fastest the Yankees have reached the 50-homer milestone, behind only the 2003 team that that hit their 50th longball in their 28th game.

Masahiro Tanaka was good but not great, though the most important number he tallied was seven – his innings pitched – ensuring that Joe Girardi wouldn’t have to dig deep into his very tired bullpen. Since Tanaka’s debut in 2014, he has 39 outings of seven innings or more. That nearly three times as many as any other Yankee has produced in that span (CC Sabathia is second with 15).

Gary Sanchez was the most consistent offensive threat for the team in this game, getting on base all five times he came to plate, as went 3-for-3 with a walk and hit-by-pitch while driving in two runs. It had been more than five years since a Yankee catcher reached base five times in a game: the last guy to do it was Jesus Montero on September 22, 2011 against the Rays.

The first inning was fun. (AP)
The first inning was fun. (AP)

Zero heroes
The Yankees six-game win streak came to an end on Tuesday night in a 5-3 loss to the Reds, as they capped off their five-game road trip on a disappointing note.

You can’t win ’em all, especially when you’re starting pitcher gives up five runs in the second inning to cough up a 2-0 lead. Aside from that horrible inning, CC Sabathia held the Reds scoreless, but the damage was done. He’s now allowed at least five earned runs in three consecutive starts, matching the second-longest streak of his career, and his ERA has ballooned to a rotation-worst 5.77.

Gary Sanchez put the Yankees on the board first, launching a 448-foot homer in the first inning, the longest home run of his career. He bookended that blast with a game-ending double-play in the ninth inning, drilling a 110.2 mph line drive into the glove of Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez.

He’s now just 2-for-6 (.333) when hitting a ball with an exit velocity of at least 110 mph (league batting average is .743). His four outs on batted balls with an exit velocity of 110-plus mph match the total number that the rest of the Yankees have produced this season.

Brett Gardner extended his hit streak to a career-best 12 games with a fifth-inning single. That’s the second-longest hit streak by a Yankee left fielder over the past decade, behind only a 13-gamer by Ichiro in 2012.

Dellin Betances walked the first two guys he faced in the seventh inning but then — unsurprisingly — recovered to strike out the side and end the threat. His third strikeout lowered his career batting average allowed with runners in scoring position (RISP) and two outs to .137 (21-for-153), breaking a tie with Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen for the lowest mark among active pitchers (min. 100 at-bats).

It’s not yet time for the Yankees to remove CC Sabathia from the rotation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, for the fourth time in his last four starts, CC Sabathia put the Yankees in a early hole, this time by allowing five runs in the second inning. The Reds strung together six singles and a walk that inning. Sabathia did settle down and retire 13 of the final 15 men he faced, but by then it was too late. The Yankees couldn’t come back, which they’d done the last two times Sabathia gave up early runs.

“For whatever reason, (the cutter) was leaking over the plate,” said Sabathia to Andrew Marchand after the game, which matches what my eyes told me. Sabathia couldn’t get the cutter all the way in on righties in that second inning, and they kept making him pay. “It seemed like he didn’t find his cutter until later on. Once he did, it got a lot easier,” added Joe Girardi following the game.

After three excellent starts to begin the season, Sabathia has become the biggest liability in the rotation these last few weeks. We’re talking 22 runs and 42 baserunners in 20.2 innings these last four starts. Yikes. This is reminiscent of the Sabathia we saw from 2013-15, before last season’s resurgence. And with the Yankees playing extremely well overall, it’s only natural to wonder whether Sabathia still belongs in the rotation. Heck, it would be fair to ask that even if they weren’t playing well.

First things first: the Yankees are not pulling Sabathia from the rotation anytime soon, so don’t get your hopes up. They’ve stuck with him through much worse than this and there’s no reason to think that will change. I get the argument that he’s an impending free agent and not part of the long-term future, so give a young player a chance, but I don’t think that means much right now. The Yankees have shown in the past Sabathia has a very long leash and I’m sure the same is true now.

Secondly, I don’t think pulling Sabathia from the rotation would be a smart idea anyway. At least not right now. Sabathia had a miserable eleven-start stretch in the middle of last season — he threw 65 innings with a 6.78 ERA (5.33 FIP) from June 22nd through August 27th last summer — before snapping out of it and finishing strong. Based on what I saw in his first three starts, I think he should be given a chance to work through this.

To put it another way, I’m not convinced this is an irreversible decline and not simply a slump. It happens! Masahiro Tanaka is going through it right now himself. Sabathia’s stuff has been fine outside that one start in Pittsburgh. Last night the cutter averaged 91.0 mph and he generated swings and misses with both his changeup (three on eleven swings) and slider (two on seven swings). The problem is location. Look at lat night’s pitch locations, via Baseball Savant (Trackman calls the cutter a four-seamer for whatever reason):

cc-sabathia-pitch-locations

Way too many pitches out over the plate. Sabathia used to be able to get away with that location earlier in his career. Now he can’t. He has to be on the edges and/or down. Middle-middle is a bad combination and that’s where Sabathia has left too many pitches the last four times out. I’d be more worried if Sabathia lost stuff. If his fastball was more 87-88 mph or something like that. The stuff is pretty much what it was last year. The location is not.

The Yankees do, of course, have options to replace Sabathia should they decide to go that way at some point. Adam Warren is not moving into the rotation, so forget about that. The Yankees still have Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Cessa available to start, and you know what? Odds are they’ll all get the ball at some point. The Yankees have been very fortunate so far. They’re one of seven teams to use only five starters so far. That won’t last forever. The other guys will be needed to start at some point.

Sabathia has been pretty terrible the last four times out, there’s no denying that, though his leash will be long and I think the Yankees are smart to stick with him right now. We can reevaluate things in a few weeks. I think it’s just a matter of correcting some location issues — and Sabathia seemed to do that after the second inning last night, I should add — to get him back to being the league average-ish starter he was last season. It’s still early in the season. Now’s the time for patience, not a drastic reaction to four starts.

Six-game win streak snapped as Yankees lose to Reds, 5-3

The streak was fun while it lasted! The Yankees got on the board early but CC Sabathia gave up five runs in a disastrous second inning. The Reds made that lead hold up as the Yankees’ comeback efforts came up just short at Great American Ballpark.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Very hittable CC for just one inning
Sabathia started the year with three strong starts in a row, but he followed that up with three straight clunkers. Make that four?

The 36-year-old southpaw worked around a one-out error — Starlin Castro let a ball go straight through his legs — and walk to escape any damage in the first inning. The second inning … not so much.

The Yankees handed CC a 2-0 lead through two innings — more on that later — and the Reds’ offense was intent on getting going. Two straight line drive singles brought No. 8 hitter Devin Mesoraco to the plate and he drew a walk. CC’s command was off and the balls over the plate early were getting hit. He struck out the pitcher, hooray for NL baseball, before the real damage was done.

The next four hitters singled, starting with a Billy Hamilton grounder that hit off a stretched out Ronald Torreyes, starting in the place of Chase Headley, and trickled into left field for two runs. After the bases were re-loaded, Joey Votto struck the go-ahead blow with a two run single up the middle before Adam Duvall’s hard-hit grounder found a hole on the left side, scoring the fifth run.

From there, Sabathia actually settled down quite a bit. He retired the next 10 batters, hit one batter, and then retired his next three before Billy Hamilton made an out on the bases to end the sixth. Indeed, CC (and the Yankees) were done in by one bad inning.

His final line looks ugly — six innings, seven hits, two walks, five runs, two strikeouts — yet there is some encouragement with the way he finished out his night. His ERA is well above five right now, but his next start presumably comes against a weak-hitting Royals team, the perfect chance to get back in a rhythm.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Two blasts and a bloop
After the second batter of the game, it looked like the winning streak was heading to seven. With one out, Gary Sanchez launched a home run. I mean launched it! He drilled it 448 feet into the left field upper deck at Great American Ballpark. He now has seven hits in his last four games.

An inning later, Didi Gregorius got in on the action with a solo shot of his own, depositing it into the right field seats for his first of the year. He hit 20 a year ago, so we knew he had power.

After the five-run second, the Yankees got a few small rallies going that were snuffed out by double plays. CC drew a walk in the third but was quickly erased on a GIDP by Brett Gardner. After Castro doubled and Jacoby Ellsbury walked to start the fourth, Aaron Judge grounded into a double play. The inning was not for nothing as Gregorius knocked in the run with a bloop single to right.

The only other major rally before the ninth inning came with two outs in the sixth inning. Judge walked on four pitches, Gregorius lined a single and Chris Carter was hit by a pitch, bringing Torreyes to the plate, where he soon grounded out. Oh well. A Gardner walk in the seventh and a Judge broken bat single in the eighth brought the tying run to the plate, but the Yankees were unable to capitalize.

Back-to-back walks from Aaron Hicks and Matt Holliday, who both came off the bench, in the ninth brought Sanchez to the plate as the winning run, but he lined into a double play. Very hard hit but right at the third baseman, who quickly doubled off Hicks, who was far off the bag. Bad baserunning, but he may have been doubled off anyway with how hard hit the ball was.

Leftovers
Picking up his second win of the season was Tim Adleman, a Reds starter from Staten Island. He struggled through five innings, but he got big doube plays when he needed them.

For the final four innings, the Reds used just two relievers — Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias. Both former starters, they’ve developed into go-to guys in relief for manager Bryan Price.

Dellin Betances and Chad Green each threw a shutout inning of relief. Betances threw eight straight balls to begin the seventh and dive right into trouble. In classic Betances fashion, he then struck out the next three guys. Green gave up a hit and struck out two in his season debut.

Gregorius had three hits while Gardner, Sanchez, Castro and Judge each had one. Ellsbury and Sabathia(!) drew walks among the starters while Hicks and Holliday each walked as well. Carter and Torreyes were a combined 0 for 6 with three strikeouts. Headley lined out to left in the ninth. He’s 0 for his last 15 and his batting average is down to .268.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has tonight’s box score and updated standings while you can check out the highlights from MLB.com. Also take a look at our Bullpen Workload page as the bullpen has finally gotten a fair amount of rest. Here’s the win probability graph.

Up Next
The Yankees head back home after a 4-1 road trip and have an off-day Wednesday. From there, they’ll play the Astros for four games. The starting pitchers for Thursday’s 7:05 start haven’t been announced but they’re projected to be Michael Pineda vs. Dallas Keuchel.

* * *

Farm System Update by Mike: I’m still out of town, so I don’t have time for a full fledged DotF. Here are the box scores and here is the short version: the trio of SS Tyler Wade, LF Dustin Fowler, and RF Clint Frazier each had a single, 2B Thairo Estrada went deep, SS Gleyber Torres had two hits and two steals, 3B Miguel Andujar doubled, and RHP Yefrey Ramirez fanned ten in five scoreless innings.

Game 31: Continue Winnin’

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

This road trip, in risk of sounding like a broken record, has gone pretty well for the Yankees. They could make it perfect with a win tonight before they head back to the Bronx for a four-game series against the Astros this weekend. With this streak, Yankees have already gone on the best 30-game start since 2010, when they also went 21-9. A victory tonight would make it their best since 2003. There have been a lot of good Yankees team from that time period so having that hot of a start this year is pretty neat.

Here is the Reds squadron and here’s the Yankees lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 1B Chris Carter
  8. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  9. P C.C. Sabathia

Seeing some scattered thunderstorms in the Cincy forecasts tonight. I don’t know how severe the rain might get but hope not big enough to affect the game status. This game is not on YES Network – it will a FOX national broadcast game so make sure to tune in there to watch it. It’s a 7:05 pm EST start so I hope you’re ready to watch it as soon as you read this.

Blowouts in bulk a sign young Yankees are for real

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

There’s nothing like a comeback win.

Whether you’re down to your final out vs. the defending champs or down eight to a division rival, those are the games you remember. These are the ones that stick with you a few seasons later. Those, and the games that go on so long that they feel like 2-3 games.

But there’s value, perhaps even more value, in a good old fashioned blowout. However, beyond the 20-run games or the 10-RBI evenings, these will barely be distinguishable by September. You’ll think to yourself, ‘How did the Yankees take two of three from the White Sox? Didn’t Aaron Judge hit a long home run?’ or ‘How’d the Yankees get runs for Michael Pineda on opening day?’ Maybe the details from one of these easy victories comes to mind but others slip into the 162-game oblivion.

Still, when viewing the season as a whole from further out, the blowouts stand out a lot. We knew going into the season the Yankees could win close games with their bullpen. Andrew Miller was gone but Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren stack up well with any team’s finishers. That was evident going into the season.

But last season, with a killer bullpen, the Yankees won almost exclusively close games until Gary Sanchez came on the scene. The reasons were two-fold: The starting rotation was unable to shut down opposing lineups — even weak ones — and the aging lineup didn’t have the oomph of 2015, instead decomposing before our eyes. Thinking back to April and May of last season doesn’t bring bad memories as much as it brings muddied memories: That’s how boring the Yankees were then, even in wins.

So that’s where the most year-over-year improvement comes. The Yankees’ starters are taking advantage of bad lineups and going deep into games. There’s no three-game sweep at the hands of the Athletics or losing two of three to the lowly Mariners. Comparing to this season, the Cardinals and White Sox series were the type in which the Yankees absolutely would have lost two of three. There would have been general moans and groans about Matt Carpenter or Melky Cabrera owning the Yankees and the team would have slipped towards .500.

But the other way this team is different is the lineup. It’s the main reason the team is 9-1 in games decided by five or more runs after going 17-22 in those same games a year ago. Either the team is never out of it (see the Orioles game) or they never let the opposing team into the contest. Aaron Judge gets most of the credit nationally but it has truly been everyone. Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, yes, even Jacoby Ellsbury, large contract and all.

There are assorted sayings about how great teams not only beat bad teams, but blow them out. You can make the playoffs winning one-run games galore like the 2016 Texas Rangers, but the teams that tend to win it all are the ones that knock teams out early like last season’s Cubs. The Yankees have been doing that aplenty this year, showing off a circular lineup and non-stop rotation, just as they did last night. They’re landing that first punch and are 13-3 (.821 winning percentage) when scoring first as opposed to 46-27 (.644) in 2016.

Even good teams need to be able to put together blowouts to hand rest to their key relievers. The Cubs played 13 innings with the Phillies on Thursday and then had to sweat a close game against the Yankees Friday, a large part of the reason they ultimately lost. After 18 innings against the Cubs Sunday, scoring three runs before Masahiro Tanaka even threw a pitch on Monday allowed an exhausted team to relax and not rely on an even more exhausted bullpen. It follows a trend as the Bombers are scoring first in 53 percent of their games vs. 45 percent last season.

This ultimately may not last. It could be that the team has everyone hot at the same time and those same players will take a step back at the same time. Or maybe this rotation can’t sustain its success.

But then again, Sanchez is just getting going.  We haven’t seen the best of Didi Gregorius and Greg Bird. Or even Tanaka. If they play like fans expected this spring, there really could be a second gear to this young team. Or at least a maintaining of this early cruise control. If the team was winning exclusively close games, it’d be much easier to chalk this start up as a fluke that would come crashing to earth.

After this season, we’ll forget the Yankees scoring 10 runs on Rookie Davis and the Reds. Yet that’s precisely the type of game the Yankees lost last season or at least make hard on themselves, perhaps further compromising the bullpen for the next night. Again, the close ones, the comebacks, that’s what sticks with you. But the blowouts may be the signal that this young team means business.

Ranking the Yankees’ nine come-from-behind wins this season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2017 season is off to a marvelous start for the Yankees, a team many pegged as a .500-ish club that might contend for a wildcard spot if enough things went their way. Well, 30 games into the season, the Yankees have baseball’s best record (21-9) and run differential (+58). They just went into Wrigley Field and swept three games from the defending World Series champs. Who saw that coming?

One of the single biggest reasons the Yankees are off to a such great start is their Fighting Spirit. They have that never-say-die mentality. The Yankees have nine come from behind wins this season, and while that is not the most in baseball — the Astros have 14 such wins — it’s not about quantity. It’s about quality. The Yankees have made some incredibly dramatic comebacks already this season. It’s been so fun to watch.

So, with that in mind, why don’t we do back and rank these nine come-from-behind wins? Who doesn’t want to relive this stuff? I’m the man in charge here, so I’m going to rank the comebacks based on two criteria:

  1. Improbability: Coming back from down three in the ninth is much more impressive than coming back from down one in the sixth. Personnel matters too. Beating the other team’s ace closer is so much more satisfying than taking advantage of a weak middle relief crew.
  2. Emotional Pull: Some wins just feel bigger than others, you know? At the end of the day, one game in the standings is one game in the standings, but some feel like they have more impact than the others.

I could take the super easy and super boring way out and rank these based on win probability or something like that, but nah. A subjective ranking is better because, like I said, some wins just feel bigger than others. Time to rank those nine come-from-behind wins. Come with me, won’t you?

9. April 14th: Wacha Wacha Wacha

Final Score: Yankees 4, Cardinals 3 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 33.0% in the first inning

Not the most memorable come-from-behind win you’ll see, but hey, a comeback is a comeback. The Cardinals jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in this game thanks to Matt Carpenter’s first inning two-run home run. He hit that homer and the Yankees pitched him like he was David Ortiz the rest of the series. The Yankees answered right back with Starlin Castro‘s two-run homer off Michael Wacha in the bottom of the first. Austin Romine gave them the lead with a solo homer the other way in the third, then Chase Headley doubled in a run fifth. Nice and easy.

8. April 16th: Bird’s big game

Final Score: Yankees 9, Cardinals 3 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 40.2% in the second inning

This is best remembered as Greg Bird‘s first — and thus far only — huge game of the season. He went 3-for-3 with a double, a home run, and a walk. Aaron Judge was robbed of a home run and given a triple right before Bird’s homer, as I’m sure you remember. (Can’t wait for Judge to retire with 799 career homers, you guys.)

Anyway, this game qualifies as a comeback because Greg Garcia slapped a two-out single against Michael Pineda in the second inning, driving in the game’s first run and giving the Cardinals the 1-0 lead. The Yankees answered with three in the second, one in the fifth, and five in the eight. Pretty much the only noteworthy thing about this game was Bird’s performance. And the Judge non-homer triple, which I’m still bitter about.

7. April 12th: Judge goes headhunting

Final Score: Yankees 8, Rays 4 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 19.0% in the fifth inning

This game was maybe the first real indication the 2017 Yankees are not a pushover. The Rays took a 3-0 lead into the fifth inning thanks largely to Rickie Weeks’ first inning two-run home run off Jordan Montgomery, and that’s when the Yankees started to chip away against Blake Snell. They loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth on a single, a walk, and an error, and they were poised to blow that huge opportunity before Aaron Hicks drew a two-out walk to force in a run. Pete Kozma and Jacoby Ellsbury had both popped up with the bases loaded earlier in the inning.

The Hicks walk got the Yankees on the board and cut Tampa’s lead to 3-1. A wild pitch with Matt Holliday at the plate got the second run in. One inning later, with the Rays still up 3-2, the Yankees went single single single against Jumbo Diaz to tie the game. Judge almost took Diaz’s head off with the game-tying single:

The Yankees scored three more runs in that sixth inning courtesy of a Weeks error — that was when Weeks and Brett Gardner collided at first — and an Ellsbury single, plus a Hicks ground out. Judge smacked a two-run home run in the seventh for good measure. The offense hadn’t done much of anything against Snell for the first four innings, then bam, they came alive for two runs in the fifth, four in the sixth, and two more in the seventh.

6. April 13th: Hicks, then Hicks again

Final Score: Yankees 3, Rays 2 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 30.7% in the seventh inning

Unlike the previous three games on this list, the Yankees actually scored first in this one. Hicks hit a first inning solo home run against Matt Andriese for a quick 1-0 lead. The Rays were able to put two runs on the board against Luis Severino, however. Jesus Sucre, the light-hitting backup catcher, stroked a two-out single in the second to drive in the first Tampa run. Peter Bourjos hit a solo homer in the fifth to give the Rays a 2-1 lead. Peter Bourjos!

The score remained 2-1 Tampa into the seventh inning, and because we’d yet to be fully introduced to this team’s Fighting Spirit, it was easy to think the offense would go to sleep and not put up much of a fight the rest of the way. We saw that happen an awful lot from 2013-16. Instead, Hicks turned that 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead with a go-ahead two-run home run to left field.

One homer from the left side of the plate, one homer from the right side of the plate. This was just about the time we all started to think that maybe Aaron Hicks is good now. He drove in all three runs against the Rays that night, and the bullpen, led by Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, made that 3-2 lead stand up.

5. May 3rd: Luck Biagini tonight

Final Score: Yankees 8, Blue Jays 6 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 18.3% in the third inning

This game did not start well for the Yankees. Not at all. CC Sabathia allowed four runs in the top of the first inning, and after the Yankees answered with three runs of their own in the bottom half, Sabathia allowed two more runs in the second. Womp womp. The Yankees were down 6-3 three half-innings into the game.

The comeback started in earnest in the third inning courtesy of Judge’s line drive two-run home run into Monument Park. Marcus Stroman is an extreme ground ball pitcher with a hellacious sinker, but you wouldn’t have known it based on that swing. Judge lifted it out to center like it wasn’t no thing. That got the Yankees to within 6-5, and the score remained 6-5 until the seventh inning.

New York’s three-run go-ahead rally in the seventh had to be the most annoying thing ever for Blue Jays fans. The rally started with one-out hits by Judge (single) and Headley (double) against Joe Biagini, who’d struck out the first five Yankees he’d faced that night. Chris Carter plated the tying run with a broke back bloop to left field, then pinch-hitter Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees the lead with an infield single. The call was reviewed and Didi was confirmed safe.

Once the ball got by Biagini, he had no chance for the out at home. He stopped and looked in that direction anyway, giving Gregorius enough time to beat it out. The Yankees took a 7-6 lead and still had runners at first and second with one out. They eventually scored an insurance run thanks to Joe Smith’s control issues. He walked Gardner to load the bases and then walked Hicks to force in a run.

The Judge single and Headley double were legit. After that though, the Yankees scored on a broken bat bloop, an infield single, and a bases loaded walk. Like I said, that had to be the most annoying game-losing rally ever for Blue Jays fans. Betances and Chapman protected that 8-6 lead after the Yankees scored three in the seventh to take the lead.

4. April 22nd: Carter has his signature moment

Final Score: Yankees 11, Pirates 5 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 10.5% in the fifth inning

This was a wild game. A solo home run and a sac fly by Andrew McCutchen, plus a solo home run by David Freese had the Yankees down 3-0 after five innings. To make matters worse, Jameson Taillon opened the game with four hitless innings. The Yankees had pretty much no chance against the young right-hander.

The wheels finally came off the Taillon bus in the sixth. Ellsbury beat out an infield single and Hicks drew a walk — a lot of these rallies involve Hicks drawing walks, huh? — setting up Castro for the game-tying three-run home run.

Boom. Taillon went from flirting with a no-hitter and being in complete control to blowing the three-run lead in the span of eleven pitches. The Yankees did not stop there either. Judge doubled to center after Starlin’s homer, ending Taillon’s afternoon. Bird followed with a hit-by-pitch, Romine singled to load the bases, then the ultra-pesky Ronald Torreyes gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead with a two-run double. The Yankees put up a five spot in the span of 24 pitches.

One small problem though: the Yankees still had 12 puts to get. That 5-3 lead didn’t even last a half-inning. Jonathan Holder and Tyler Clippard conspired to allow two runs in the bottom of the seventh to knot things back up at 5-5. Jordy Mercer and Adam Frazier had the run-scoring singles. Blah. All the good vibes from that five-run top of the sixth were quickly erased in the bottom half.

The score remained 5-5 until the eighth inning, an eighth inning Felipe Rivera started with two quick outs. The inning didn’t look like it was going anywhere. Frazier then booted a ground ball, allowing Romine to reach first base. That got it all started. Torreyes punched a single to left to put a runner in scoring position, and with the lefty Rivero on the mound, Joe Girardi elected to pinch-hit Carter for the pitcher’s spot. Carter then deposited a first pitch changeup into the back bullpen at PNC Park.

Man, Carter has effortless power. He put nothing into that swing and the ball flew out of the park. As of right now, that is his Signature Yankee Moment™. It would be neat if he gave that home run some competition, you know? A few more big hits would be cool.

Anyway, the Yankees continued to pile on after Carter’s home run gave them an 8-5 lead. McCutchen misplayed a ball in center, turning Ellsbury’s fly ball into a three-base error. He scored on Antonio Bastardo’s wild pitch. Headley (double) drove in Hicks (ground rule double) for a 10-5 lead. Judge’s insane solo homer in the ninth made it 11-5.

That five-run eighth inning rally all happened with two outs. Six straight Yankees reached base after the first two hitters of the inning made outs, and Frazier booting Romine’s routine ground ball opened the door. That’s all it takes for this team. These Yankees have shown they will make you pay for a mistake, even one as seemingly harmless as a two-out bases empty error with the bottom of the order due up. This was a crazy back-and-forth game.

3. April 9th: Torreyes starts the winning streak

Final Score: Yankees 7, Orioles 3 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 10.2% in the sixth inning

Later this season, when the Yankees are celebrating their 28th championship and we’re all still amazed they went 153-9 during the regular season, we’ll look back at this game as the turning point. They’d lost four of their first five games, and franchise catcher Gary Sanchez had to be placed on the disabled list earlier that day. The diagnosis: a strained brachialis muscle that would sideline him four weeks. Yuck.

The Yankees appeared to be headed for their fifth loss in six games because the Orioles built a 3-0 lead against Sabathia — a ground out and two singles accounted for the runs, not homers — and the offense had little interest in cashing in on the opportunities gifted to them by Wade Miley. Seven walks in five innings! And Miley didn’t allow a damn run. The Yankees let him completely off the hook. So annoying. So, so annoying.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning, when Miley was out of the game, that the comeback started. Judge and Romine strung together back-to-back two-out singles against reliever Tyler Wilson, then both scored on Torreyes’ triple into the right-center field gap.

That was the big hit the Yankees had been waiting for all game. All season up to that point, really. The two-run triple cut Baltimore’s lead to 3-2. Judge tied the game up with his first home run of the season leading off the eight inning — who knew how many would follow? — and the two clubs went into the ninth inning knotted 3-3. The Yankees were going to have to find a way to score to avoid the heartbreak of a walk-off loss.

Holliday got the ninth inning rally started with his fifth (!) walk of the day. Ellsbury pinch ran and stole second base, but ultimately that did not matter because Darren O’Day walked Carter anyway. The two walks gave the Yankees runners at first and second with no outs. Good time for a bunt, no? Sure. One run is huge in that situation. Castro had another idea. He never squared around to bunt, and instead found the hole with a ground ball single back up the middle, scoring Ellsbury.

That hit felt huge. Huge. We were all begging for a big hit. Had been all week. Castro finally provided it. The Yankees had a 4-3 lead, and with Chapman looming, it felt like plenty. Thankfully though, they did not stop there. Headley drew a walk after the single to load the bases — O’Day walked three of the first four men he faced that inning — then Judge got an insurance run home with a grounder. Romine drove in two more insurance runs by hitting into a sac fly/error combination. Pro move.

The Torreyes triple got it all started. The offense was showing little life up to that point, and Lil’ Toe was able to break the ice. Once he got the Yankees on the board, everyone was able to relax a bit. It helps that O’Day is no longer the pitcher he was a few years ago, of course. The Yankees were down 3-0 and staring a 1-5 start to the season in the face. Two runs in the sixth, one in the eighth, and four in the ninth gave them a 7-3 win in what proved to be the first game of the eight-game winning streak. The Torreyes triple that turned the season around.

2. May 5th: Gardner plants one over the ivy

Final Score: Yankees 3, Cubs 2 (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 3.5% in the ninth inning

This was a statement game. The Yankees had been playing very well in the weeks leading up to this game, but something about going on the road to play the defending World Series champs — and a legitimate World Series contender again this year — feels like a measuring stick. Want to prove you’re for real? Go in there and beat the best.

And for the first eight innings, the Yankees didn’t look like they could beat the best. Solo home runs by Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead, and a whole bunch of baserunning mistakes allowed Kyle Hendricks to skate through 5.1 scoreless innings. The Yankees had plenty of chances to get to Hendricks early on and could not do it. It was one of those games.

Fortunately for the Yankees, Wade Davis was not available for the Cubs. He’d worked each of the three previous days and manager Joe Maddon decided to rest him. Understandable. That pushed Hector Rondon, the guy Chapman replaced as closer following the trade last year, into the closer’s role for the day. Rondon hasn’t been quite right since dealing with an elbow injury last summer.

The ninth inning rally was textbook. It was everything you could want in a comeback. Tough at-bats, hits against the shift, the whole nine. Headley started the rally with a one-out single the other way through the shift. Ellsbury came off the bench to work a two-out walk, which put the tying run on base. Rondon threw 25 pitches to the first four batters of the inning, including eight to Carter, who struck out. Yeah, Carter struck out, but he saw a ton of pitches.

Rondon was clearly starting to fatigue when Gardner stepped to the plate with two on and two outs. He took the first three pitches of the at-bat for a 1-2 count, then went into protect mode. He fouled off two two-strike fastballs and took another for a ball before Rondon changed the game plan. He tried to get Gardner to swing over top of a slider, which is a wonderful idea, but he hung the pitch juuust enough.

The golf shot three-run home run quickly turned that 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. It was a stunning moment. It really was. Down two and down to your final strike? Comebacks like that aren’t supposed to happen, even with the tying run already on base. Gardner hoot and hollered his way around the bases and teamed up for the mother of all airborne forearm smashes with Ellsbury after crossing the plate. It was incredible. Just incredible.

Chapman made the 3-2 lead stand up in the ninth inning — he had to pitch around Headley’s error, remember, which turned Addison Russell’s routine grounder into a leadoff double — and the Yankees walked away with a series opening win at the Friendly Confines. They’d been shut down for eight innings before exploding in the ninth to capture victory from the jaws of defeat. Some wins feels bigger than others. This was one of them.

1. April 28th: Had the O’s right where they wanted ’em

Final Score: Yankees 14, Orioles 11 in ten innings (RAB recap)
Lowest Win Probability: 0.5% in the seventh inning

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Most years, a dramatic comeback like the Gardner homer against the Cubs would go down as the best win of the season, no questions asked. Drop the jaws of the defending World Series champs like that? Forget it. Hard to come up with a better win. For most teams, that is. Not the 2017 Yankees.

On a cold night at Yankee Stadium, fresh off the heels of a two-game sweep at Fenway Park, the Yankees put together one of the most improbable wins in franchise history. I don’t think that’s hyperbole, do you? Down eight runs in the sixth inning and you come back to win? That’s the kind of win you remember for years.

Every huge comeback is made possible by bad pitching, and Sabathia obliged in this game. He gave up a two-run double to Manny Machado in the third inning and a two-run home run to Welington Castillo in the fourth inning. Machado then tacked on a fifth inning homer to make it 5-0. Judge was able to get one back with a solo homer, though the O’s answered right back. Mark Trumbo crushed a grand slam off Bryan Mitchell in the sixth to stretch his team’s lead to 9-1.

Down 9-1 with four offensive innings to go? Turns out the Yankees had the O’s right where they wanted him. The chipping away started in the bottom of the sixth, as Gregorius brought Holliday home with a ground out. Holliday had doubled earlier in the inning and advanced to third on Castro’s single. Judge came through with a two-strike, two-out, two-run home run against Kevin Gausman, his second dinger of the game, to get the Yankees to within 9-4. They were in business.

Mitchell wasn’t having any of that though. A walk, a single, and a two-run single by Jonathan Schoop gave the Orioles some of those runs back in the seventh. That 9-4 deficit became an 11-4 deficit. At that point it felt like one of those “it’s just not meant to be” nights. You know what I mean. They happen to every team each season. Multiple times. Jonathan Holder escaped Mitchell’s bases loaded, one-out jam to give the Yankees a chance.

You can’t come back from down 9-1 and later 11-4 by stringing together singles and walks and sac bunts. I mean, you could, but it’s unlikely. You need some huge blows along the way, and Ellsbury provided one in the seventh inning with his first career grand slam. A single (Romine), a double (Headley), and a walk (Holliday) set that one up. Ellsbury parked a ball in the right field bleachers and got the Yankees to within 11-8. Down three with two innings to go? Doable!

Much like the comeback against the Cubs, the Yankees did not have to face the regular closer in this game. Zach Britton was on the disabled list at the time, forcing O’s skipper Buck Showalter to use Brad Brach in the ninth inning. Brach’s good! He was an All-Star last season. (Really!) But he’s not Britton. Headley and Holliday made that known by starting the inning with a walk and a single to get the tying run to the plate. Ellsbury grounded out to get a run in, then Castro clubbed the most aesthetically pleasing home run of the season to date.

Look at that. It’s beautiful. Brach hit his spot perfectly. He was trying to tie Castro up inside with a first pitch fastball. Starlin wasted no time. He got his hands in, dropped to one knee, whipped his bat around, and yanked the ball out to left field for the game-tying two-run home run. I could watch that homer over and over and over. It’s so pretty. It’s exactly how I’d want a ninth inning game-tying home run to look.

Anyway, the Castro home run only tied the game. The Yankees still needed another run to win. They wound up with that one run plus two others in the tenth inning. Jayson Aquino helped the Yankees out by walking Hicks — another Hicks walk! — and Kyle Higashioka to start the inning, meaning they got the tying run into scoring position without even taking their bats off their shoulders. No matter. Holliday was in scoring position standing in the batter’s box. He launched a walk-off three-run home run into the home bullpen to officially complete the comeback.

Down 9-1 with 12 outs to go and 11-4 with nine outs to go, yet they won. The Yankees scored ten unanswered runs after the top of the seventh inning. The offense did its part, but don’t forget the bullpen either. Holder, Clippard, and Chapman combined to retire all but one of the dozen batters they faced to hold the Orioles down.

This is the win that made it feel real. This is when it became clear that no, the 2017 Yankees are not the 2013-16 Yankees. There’s something different about this team, and whatever it is, I love it.

Winning streak hits six as Yankees beat Reds 10-4

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

Did the Yankees play 18 innings Sunday? Because it was hard to tell Monday. They took a 3-0 lead in the blink of an eye in the series opener against the Reds, and each time Cincinnati put runs on the board, the Yankees answered back with more runs of their own. This was very much a “this is a team we’re supposed to beat and we’re going to beat them” game. The Yankees won by the score of 10-4. It was their sixth straight win.

I’m out of town for a few days, so I was only able to watch this game in bits and pieces. In lieu of a regular recap, here are some observations.

1. Another grind for Tanaka. Only once in seven starts this season has 2017 Masahiro Tanaka looked like 2016 Masahiro Tanaka. That isn’t to say he’s been bad. He’s been fine outside the Opening Day disaster. He just hasn’t truly dominated at any point aside from the shutout in Fenway Park. It seems like he’s perpetually fighting … something. Mechanics, location, whatever.

This was another one of those grind-it-out starts for Tanaka. The first three batters he faced reached base, all on singles, and only twice in his seven innings did he retire the side in order. Tanaka almost got through seven innings with two runs (one earned) allowed. Almost. A two-out walk to Zack Cozart and a two-run home run by the dreamy Joey Votto doubled Cincinnati’s run total on the night. Blah.

The final line: 7 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. Not great, not awful, just okay. The Yankees needed Tanaka to soak up some innings after that 18-inning marathon Sunday and he was able to do that. I’d just like to see him start dominating a little more often. We see flashes of it. Some great innings here and there. But we’re used to seeing him shut teams down every fifth day. The sooner Tanaka snaps out of this little funk, the better.

2. Sanchez is almost all the way back. Gary Sanchez got off to a slow start to the season before the biceps injury, but since he’s come back, he’s looked much more like the Gary Sanchez we saw last season. He went 3-for-3 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch in this game and is 6-for-12 with four walks and one strikeout since coming back from the disabled list. His swings have been great and Sanchez looks confident at the plate, like he’s ready to do serious damage every time up. It’s only a matter of time until he explodes and starts hitting the ball out of the park again.

3. Gardner is locked in. Another home run for Brett Gardner! That’s six homers in his last nine games. He hit seven homers all of last season. As recently as ten days ago Gardner was hitting .188/.316/.234 (64 wRC+). After going 1-for-5 with a walk and the home run Monday, his batting line is up to .260/.358/.481 (135 wRC+). He started the season well, remember, hitting safely in seven of the team’s first eight games. Then he crashed into Rickie Weeks and things went downhill. Maybe Gardner just needed a two weeks or whatever it was to get back on track. A lingering neck issue — he sat out with a sore neck after the collision — can be a tough thing to play through.


4. Headley’s defensive issues continue. More problems in the field for Chase Headley. He started the season really well defensively! The last week or so though, it’s been rough. Headley made an error for the fifth time in his last eight games Monday, this one a booted ground ball while standing at second base as part of the shift in the fifth inning. The shift is not an excuse though. Neither is the fact it was hard hit. It’s a play a Major League infielder should make and Headley’s didn’t. That extended the inning and led to a run for the Reds.

Also, in the fourth inning, Headley made a low throw to first base that Matt Holliday could not reel in. Holliday was charged with an error as he should have been — the ball didn’t bounce and it he got his glove on it, but he couldn’t complete the catch — but the fact of the matter is Headley made a poor throw. It was a routine play and he had plenty of time, yet the throw was nearly in the dirt. Headley went through some major defensive issues two years ago and they seem to have returned the last week or so. Annoying!

5. The Yankees are still running into outs. Not the best baserunning the last few days. Sanchez was thrown out trying to go first-to-second on a fly ball in the third inning, and I have no idea what he was thinking. The ball was not hit all that deep and the entire play was right in front of him. Gary should have known better. The Yankees made some dopey baserunning mistakes in Chicago and that was another bad one there.

I should note, however, I had no issue with third base coach Joe Espada sending Sanchez home from second on Ronald Torreyes‘ single in the seventh. He was thrown out by a mile, but that’s fine. There were two outs in the inning and Tanaka was due up next, and you can’t count on the pitcher getting a run home with two outs. Billy Hamilton doesn’t have the greatest arm in the world either. Take a chance with the pitcher on deck and force Hamilton to make the play. He did. So it goes. That was fine. Some of the other baserunning mistakes we’ve seen lately are careless and avoidable.

* * *

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. The Yankees and Reds wrap up this quick little two-game series Tuesday evening. CC Sabathia and Staten Island’s own Tim Adleman are the scheduled starting pitchers. A perfect 5-0 road trip sounds swell, doesn’t it?


Source: FanGraphs

Minor League Update: Like I said, I’m out of town for a few days, so I don’t have time for a full-fledged DotF. Here are the box scores and here’s the short version: OF Clint Frazier went hitless, OF Dustin Fowler and SS Gleyber Torres both had singles, OF Billy McKinney was a home run shy of the cycle, RHP Chance Adams allowed two runs in five innings, RHP Domingo Acevedo fanned eight in six innings, and OF Blake Rutherford doubled.