Game 151: Tanaka’s Cy Young Push

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

The Yankees are involved in three races right now. The wildcard race is the main one, though their odds are long. Another is the Rookie of the Year race. Gary Sanchez keeps swatting dingers, so he’s forced his way into the Rookie of the Year conversation despite not being called up until after the trade deadline. I don’t know if Sanchez will win, but he’s in the mix. Unignorable.

The third race is the Cy Young race. Masahiro Tanaka is firmly in the discussion at this point. He’s not the favorite — is anyone the favorite right now? I don’t think so — but when you lead the league in ERA and are top two in FIP and both versions of WAR, yeah, you’re a Cy Young contender. Including tonight, Tanaka has three starts left this season, and those three starts could very well decide whether he gets the Cy Young. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  8. RF Mason Williams
  9. 2B Donovan Solano
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s hot and humid outside in St. Petersburg but cool and comfortable inside Tropicana Field. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Chase Headley (back) is feeling better and took batting practice today. He could be available to pinch-hit. Headley had an MRI during the off-day Monday that showing nothing worrisome … Ellsbury (knee) is back in the lineup, obviously.

2016 Minor League Awards


What a wild year for the farm system. Thanks to their trade deadline dealings, the Yankees both added (through trades) and subtracted (through call-ups) some serious talent from the minor league system this year. The Yankees are calling it a transition, not a rebuild, but either way the message is clear: the team is going young now. The kids are getting a chance to play.

New York’s eight (eight!) domestic minor league affiliates went a combined 447-363 (.553) this season, the third best record in the minors — only the Phillies (.595) and Mariners (.581) were better — and their third consecutive winning season. The 2013 season is the only time the system had a combined losing record in the last 35 years. Each of the top five affiliates went to the postseason and Triple-A Scranton won the Triple-A Championship Game. Pretty cool.

Now that the postseason is over, it’s time to hand out some awards for the minor league season. As always, these awards are totally subjective and completely meaningless. I have no authority whatsoever. This is just my look back at the season and a recognition for those who played well. This isn’t any sort of top prospects list. It’s a best performers list regardless of prospect status. That make sense? Good.

Here are my 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 awards posts. It blows my mind I’ve been doing this ten years already. Where does all the time go? Anyway, let’s dig into this season’s minor league awards.

Adams. (YouTube screen grab)
Adams. (YouTube screen grab)

Minor League Player of the Year: RHP Chance Adams
The transition from the bullpen to the rotation could not have worked any better for the 22-year-old Adams, who was the Yankees’ fifth round pick in the 2015 draft. He pitched to a 2.33 ERA (2.96 FIP) with a 29.1% strikeout rate and a 7.9% walk rate in 127.1 innings at High-A and Double-A this year. Only 15 of the 549 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings in the minors this season had a lower ERA — Adams allowed zero or one run in 17 of his 24 starts — and he never slowed down either; he struck out ten in 4.1 innings in his final start. Adams also led the farm system in strikeouts (144) despite being only seventh in innings. No player in the system was as consistently excellent as Adams this summer, and that’s why he’s my Minor League Player of the Year.

Minor League Pitcher of the Year: LHP Jordan Montgomery
It’s remarkable how many great pitching performances there were in the system this year. Remember how I mentioned only 15 pitchers had a better ERA than Adams this year? Well, three of the 15 were Yankees, including LHP Nestor Cortes, who led all the minors with a 1.73 ERA. Montgomery, who finished 11th in the minors with a 2.13 ERA, gets Pitcher of the Year honors over Cortes and LHP Dietrich Enns (fourth in ERA) because he threw more innings and missed more bats. Montgomery split the season between Double-A and Triple-A and he finished second in the system in both innings (139.1) and strikeouts (134), and his 2.86 FIP was 25th best in the minors among those 549 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. This was a very close race. Ultimately, I went with Montgomery because he spent the entire season in the rotation; Cortes and Enns both spent time in the bullpen. (Adams isn’t eligible for this award as the Minor League Player of the Year.)

Minor League Hitter of the Year: 1B/OF Tyler Austin
Every year when writing this post, without fail, I come across a player who had a far better season than I realized. I knew Austin had a tremendous bounceback year. He didn’t get called up to the big leagues because the Yankees had nothing better to do. But a .294/.392/.524 (161 wRC+) batting line with 34 doubles and 17 homers in 107 games? Hot damn. A total of 771 players had at least 400 plate appearances in the minors this year. Austin ranked seventh in 161 wRC+. That’s incredible. What a monster season for our 2012 Minor League Player of the Year.

Breakout Player of the Year: RHP Chance Adams
Adams began the season as a guy with two reliable pitches, maybe three, and he finished it as a four-pitch starter who could pound the zone with everything. Usually when a prospect has a huge season like that, you’ll read a few scouting reports throughout the summer that downplay the statistical success and keep expectations in check. That didn’t happen with Adams. Every single scouting report was glowing. In fact, it seemed like scouts were more and more impressed with him as the season progressed. He was an interesting relief prospect a year ago this time. Now Adams is a bonafide starting pitching prospect not far from the big leagues who should receive top 100 consideration next spring.

Best Pro Debut: 2B Nick Solak
First rounder OF Blake Rutherford had an incredible pro debut, hitting .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) down in rookie ball, but he was limited to only 130 plate appearances because he signed late and suffered a hamstring injury in August. Solak, on the other hand, put up a .321/.412/.421 (155 wRC+) batting line with three homers and eight steals while batting 279 times in short season ball. The difference in playing time is too great to ignore. Solak had nearly as many walks (30) as strikeouts (39), and he had 25 multi-hit games against only nine multi-strikeout games. After spending three years at a major college program (Louisville), this year’s second round pick hardly missed a beat after transitioning to pro ball. Solak was outstanding.

Comeback Player of the Year: 1B/OF Tyler Austin
How could it be anyone else? A year ago Austin hit .240/.315/.343 (92 wRC+) during the regular season and was demoted from Triple-A to Double-A. The Yankees then designated for him assignment in September to clear 40-man roster space for another player, and he went unclaimed on waivers. No one grabbed him. Austin recently called that the “best thing that ever happened” because it put his career into perspective and showed him he needs to work harder to earn his way up the ladder. He did that and then some this season.

Bounceback Player of the Year (started slow, finished strong): SS Kyle Holder
The Yankees took Holder with their supplemental first round pick last year, the compensation pick for losing David Robertson, and because he’s a defense-first shortstop, he was quickly branded as the next Brendan Ryan. Why? Because people like to be miserable, I guess. Holder didn’t exactly prove doubters wrong during the first half of the season at Low-A either. He played 88 games this season around an injury, and in the first 44 games he hit an empty .274/.303/.327 (81 wRC+). In his last 44 games, Holder hit .304/.340/.364 (104 wRC+). That includes a .357/.396/.449 (145 wRC+) batting line in 23 games after coming off the DL. All told, Holder hit .290/.323/.347 (93 wRC+) in 374 plate appearances this year, which doesn’t jump out at you, but it’s promising given his defense and bat-to-ball skills (14.2% strikeouts). Holder started poorly and really finished strong. Nice rebound at midseason.

Most Disappointing Player of the Year: SS Jorge Mateo
Gosh, it was all so promising in Spring Training, wasn’t it? Mateo, who was coming off a big 2015 season in which he hit .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) with 82 steals as a 20-year-old Low-A and High-A, hit rockets all over the field during Grapefruit League play and dazzled with his speed. Remember this?

Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. Mateo was poised for a huge breakout season, and for a while he was having it. He hit .299/.364/.485 (146 wRC+) with five home runs and 17 steals in 48 games through May, but it fell apart after that and he never really recorded. Mateo hit .240/.255/.283 (56 wRC+) in his final 323 plate appearances of the season, and in early-July he was suspended two weeks for an undisclosed violation of team policy. Rough. Rather than break out as one of the game’s elite prospects, Mateo hit .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) with only 36 steals this season. Unfortunately, it’s an easy call for this year’s Most Disappointing Player.

All-Minor League Teams

First Team Second Team Third Team
Catcher Kyle Higashioka Gary Sanchez Luis Torrens
First Base Tyler Austin Chris Gittens Kevin Cornelius
Second Base Nick Solak Thairo Estrada Abi Avelino
Shortstop Tyler Wade Jorge Mateo Hoy Jun Park
Third Base Donovan Solano Miguel Andujar Dermis Garcia
Outfield Dustin Fowler Cesar Puello Jeff Hendrix
Outfield Ben Gamel Mason Williams Timmy Robinson
Outfield Aaron Judge Blake Rutherford Mark Payton
Starting Pitcher Chance Adams Chad Green Yefrey Ramirez
Starting Pitcher Jordan Montgomery Josh Rogers Domingo Acevedo
Starting Pitcher Dietrich Enns Nestor Cortes Daniel Camarena
Relief Pitcher Gio Gallegos Jordan Foley Taylor Widener
Relief Pitcher Jonathan Holder Travis Hissong Andrew Schwaab

Lifetime Achievement Award: RHP Conor Mullee
It has been a very long and very difficult journey for Mullee, who finally reached the big leagues this season at age 28. He’s had three major elbow surgeries during his minor league career: Tommy John surgery in 2011, avulsion fracture surgery in 2012, and another avulsion fracture surgery in 2013. Basically, after Tommy John surgery, the new ligament did not graft to the bone properly, so it had to be attached elsewhere. And then the same thing happened again. Now there’s a screw in his elbow.

The Yankees drafted Mullee out of St. Peter’s in Jersey City in the 24th round of the 2010 draft. He had a 1.64 ERA (2.59 FIP) with a 22.7% strikeout rate and a 6.8% walk rate in 22 relief innings in rookie ball after turning pro, before the injuries set in. Mullee threw only five (five!) innings from 2011-13 due to the elbow issues, but he returned in 2014 and pitched well: 1.38 ERA (3.09 FIP) in 38.2 innings. Another solid season followed in 2015: 2.73 ERA (2.88 FIP) in a career high 58.2 innings.

Mullee opened this season in Double-A and was quickly promoted to Triple-A. A very strong start to the season (1.42 ERA and 2.02 FIP) earned him his first call-up in mid-May, and on May 16th in Arizona, Mullee made his MLB debut. It didn’t go well (1 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K), but that’s okay. He’d made it. Mullee went up and down a few more times and finished the season with a 1.19 ERA (2.25 FIP) in 37.2 minor league innings, plus that one run allowed in three big league innings.

Mullee. (Presswire)

“It’s amazing,” said Mullee to Chad Jennings following his first call-up in May. “Coming back, I just wanted to play again and hopefully stay healthy and see what happens. I couldn’t have ever really dreamed to be here today, but I’m definitely happy to be here.”

Unfortunately, Mullee’s elbow betrayed him again in August, and he needed ulnar nerve decompression surgery, whatever that is. On the bright side, he was with the Yankees when he got hurt, so he earned big league pay and accrued service time while on the DL. Forty-three days of service time entitles the player to a $34,000 a year pension, and Mullee reached that. Good for him.

Over the last seven years Mullee has faced some serious adversity, including three major elbow surgeries before he even got out of rookie ball, but he stuck with it and was rewarded with a call-up this season. That’s pretty awesome. Mullee’s story is one of perseverance in a game that chews up and spits out arms year after year.

The Mystery that is Michael Pineda

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty

Last night the Yankees snapped their five-game losing streak thanks largely to yet another Gary Sanchez homer. His three-run blast in the seventh inning gave the Yankees a 5-2 lead. It was his 17th (17th!) home run in 42 games since being called up. Pretty incredible. Without him the Yankees would not be even remotely close to a wildcard spot right now.

Before Sanchez played hero, Michael Pineda gave the team 5.1 strong innings, during which he struck out eleven and generated 19 swings and misses. Pineda also allowed two runs on five hits, and of course the big blow came with two strikes and two outs. Brad Miller’s two-run triple came on a slider too far up in the zone …

Michael Pineda Brad Miller

… which is the kind of mistake pitch Pineda has thrown all season. Going into last night’s start opponents were hitting .193/.248/.287 against Pineda with two strikes this year. That sounds really good! Except the MLB average is .176/.246/.279. That’s the average pitcher. Someone with a ferocious slider like Pineda should beat those numbers pretty easily.

Following last night’s game, Pineda is sitting on a 4.89 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 30 starts and 165.2 innings. He’s on pace to have one of the worst 200-strikeout seasons in baseball history. Seriously. Pineda has 195 strikeouts right now, and with two starts to go, he should get over 200 easily. Here’s the list of pitchers to strike out 200 batters with a 4.80+ ERA and a 3.60+ FIP:

1999 Pedro Astacio: 5.04 ERA and 4.57 FIP with 210 strikeouts
1996 Mike Mussina: 4.81 ERA and 4.04 FIP with 204 strikeouts
1986 Mark Langston: 4.85 ERA and 3.95 FIP with 245 strikeouts
1938 Bobo Newsom: 5.08 ERA and 4.53 FIP with 226 strikeouts (in 329.2 innings!)

Moose! How about that? I never would have guessed Mussina had a season like that. Anyway, those are four pretty good pitchers. Mussina was excellent and so was Langston for a long time. Newsom went to a bunch of All-Star Games back in the day. Astacio is the worst pitcher of the bunch, but hey, he played 15 years in the big leagues.

The thing is, this doesn’t feel like a blip for Pineda. That 1996 season was out of the ordinary for Mussina. Ditto 1986 for Langston. Pineda has been pitching like this since his 16-strikeout game last year. I don’t know if the 16 strikeouts have anything to do with it — did he push too hard and hurt himself or change his mechanics? — or if it’s just a coincidence, but that’s how far this goes back. This isn’t new.

Why does Pineda struggle so much despite a quality fastball/slider combination, good extension thanks to his 6-foot-7 frame, and good control? There’s no shortage of theories. The three most common:

  1. He loses focus. When a guy gets beat with two strikes and/or two outs all the time, it’s easy to think he loses focus and doesn’t execute. On the other hand, it could be he’s trying too hard and makes mistakes because he’s trying to be perfect. Point, it’s possible this is a mental thing.
  2. His command stinks. Command and control are different. Control is basic strike-throwing ability. Getting the ball over the plate. Pineda can do that. Command is dotting the corners and living out of the middle of the zone. Pineda can’t do that. He’s a classic good control/bad command pitcher.
  3. He lacks a third pitch. Pineda has a changeup. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. He just rarely throws it. Pineda threw four changeups out of 98 pitches last night. He’s thrown 7.8% changeups this year. Hitters know that when push comes to shove, they’re getting a fastball or a slider. The changeup is not even on their mind.

When it comes to stuff like this, I always assume the problem is not one specific thing. Throwing twice as many changeups going forward probably won’t fix everything, you know? It’s not that easy. Chances are Pineda’s results don’t match his stuff because he doesn’t throw enough changeups and his command stinks and he loses focus and a bunch of other stuff too.

Anyway, I have no idea where I’m going with this. I was just watching Pineda last night and again wondering how a guy with those underlying skills — two pitchers in baseball have a 25+ K%, 45+ GB%, and a sub-7 BB%: Pineda and Noah Syndergaard (thanks Katie!) — can manage to be below-average at preventing runs for over 300 innings now. It’s hard to believe.

Pineda’s upcoming free agency really complicates things. The Yankees have, at most, another 32-34 starts to determine whether he should be considered part of the future. Ideally the decision would be made this offseason so the Yankees could trade Pineda if he’s not part of the future. That’s better than losing him for a draft pick, or maybe nothing. In reality, the club may want more time to evaluate him.

Two years ago when Pineda returned from shoulder surgery, he looked like someone who had a chance to pitch near the front of the rotation for a few years. He was that good in limited time in 2014. Pineda took a step back last year, and an even bigger step back this year, and that ain’t good. Not at his age and not with his stuff. Pineda is a classic enigma, and the Yankees don’t have much time left to solve this mystery. They’ll have to make a decision about his future relatively soon.

The Yankees and 2016’s major awards

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

We’re now less than two weeks away from the end of the regular season, meaning candidates for baseball’s major annual awards only have a handful of games remaining to state their cases. Outside of NL Rookie of the Year, which should go to Corey Seager easily, the other major awards in both leagues feature very tight races. Pretty fun.

The last Yankee to win a major award was Mariano Rivera, who was named 2013 AL Comeback Player of the Year after tearing his ACL in 2012. Prior to that you have to go back to Alex Rodriguez‘s 2007 MVP season. There is something of a Yankee bias in the awards voting; a Yankee usually needs to have a season far superior to everyone else to receive votes, a la A-Rod in 2007. If it’s close, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee.

Anyway, as a reminder, the awards are all voted on following the end of the regular season but before the postseason. The playoffs have zero bearing on the major awards. They cover the regular season only. So, with that in mind, let’s preview the awards races and see where some Yankees may fit into the picture, if any.

Most Valuable Player

Is there an AL MVP favorite right now? I mean, of course it should be Mike Trout, but his teammates suck so he won’t win. For shame. I guess Mookie Betts is the favorite now almost by default. The other serious candidates (Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve) are on teams either fading in the standings or out of the postseason picture entirely. That matters in the voting for whatever reason.

The Yankees don’t have a legitimate MVP candidate this season. Their best all-around player has been Didi Gregorius, and sorry, he’s not MVP material. Gary Sanchez hasn’t been up long enough. Masahiro Tanaka? He’s the best and therefore most valuable player on the roster, though it takes an insane season for a pitcher to win MVP. You need to go 24-5 like Justin Verlander did in 2011. A no-doubt Cy Young season and more, basically.

Now, that doesn’t mean the Yankees will not have a player receive MVP votes. Hardly. Lots of weird stuff happens at the bottom of the ballot and I would not at all be surprised if Tanaka and/or Dellin Betances and/or someone else got a ninth or tenth place vote. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and A-Rod received MVP votes last season, for example. Chances are at least one Yankee will get an MVP vote. No one on the roster will win though. Sorry.

Cy Young

Okay, now we’re talking. Tanaka is a legitimate Cy Young candidate along with Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Cole Hamels. Unlike the MVP ballot, which is ten spots deep, the Cy Young ballot is only five players deep, so it’s going to be tight. Here’s where Tanaka ranks in various stats among AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title:

Innings: 193.2 (seventh)
ERA: 2.97 (first! … Sale is second at 3.03)
FIP: 3.26 (second behind Kluber, 3.25)
WHIP: 1.06 (fifth)
Walk Rate: 4.4% (third)
Strikeout Rate: 20.5% (20th)
K/BB Ratio: 4.71 (seventh)
Ground Ball Rate: 48.6% (11th)
bWAR: 5.6 (second behind Kluber, 6.4)
fWAR: 5.1 (second behind Sale, 5.2)

Tanaka lags in strikeout rate, otherwise he’s top ten in pretty much every meaningful pitching statistic, including top three in more than a few. Of course, his 13-4 record isn’t very Cy Young worthy, and that’s going to hurt his case. I know Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young with a 13-12 record a few years ago, but that was because he was so much better than everyone else. His dominance was too great to ignore. As great as he’s been, Tanaka is not having that kind of season.

My guess right now is either Porcello or Kluber will win the Cy Young, likely Porcello because he’s up over 20 wins. Tanaka’s performance is on par with those two on a rate basis, and in many ways he’s been better. He’s by far the best Cy Young candidate the Yankees have had since CC Sabathia was in his heyday — Sabathia finished fourth, third, and fourth in the voting from 2009-11 — and I think Tanaka will finish in the top five of the voting, possibly even the top three.

Rookie of the Year

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

This is going to be interesting. Sanchez has had an unreal start to his career. He’s hitting .327/.399/.710 (190 wRC+) with 17 homers in 42 games as a full-time catcher, which is bonkers. It’s also only 42 games. If Sanchez plays every single game the rest of the season, he’ll finished with 54 games played. The fewest games ever played by a Rookie of the Year position player is 52, by Willie McCovey in 1959. Next fewest? Eighty-eighty by Ryan Howard.

At the moment Sanchez is first among all AL rookies in fWAR (+2.9) and is third in bWAR (+2.5). His primary competition: Michael Fulmer of the Tigers, the guy the Mets traded to Detroit along with Luis Cessa to get Yoenis Cespedes last year. Fulmer has a 3.03 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 148.2 innings. That works out to +2.5 fWAR and +4.7 bWAR. Fulmer’s been in the big leagues since April. Voters will have to figure out how to weigh 50-something games of Sanchez against a nearly a full season of Fulmer.

I’d love to see Sanchez win, but if I had a vote, it would go to Fulmer. The difference in playing time is too great. Sanchez is only going to play one-third of a season. One-third! He’s basically a rookie who had a hot start and time ran out before the league had a chance to adjust. At this point I expect Sanchez to receive some first place votes and I think he and Fulmer will finish one-two on the ballot in some order, with Tyler Naquin third. My money is on Fulmer winning right now.

Manager of the Year

Does Joe Girardi deserve Manager of the Year votes? If you believe the Yankees have no business being this close to the postseason race, then yes. If you watch every game and hang on every questionable move — questionable moves every manager makes, by the way — then no chance. Girardi’s had a pretty terrible year, strategically.

These days the Manager of the Year seems to go to the manager whose team most outperformed expectations, or improved the most from last season. This year that’s … Terry Francona? I guess John Farrell since the Red Sox were in last place a year ago. I really have no idea how the Manager of the Year voting will turn out. Girardi’s case is built on the Yankees selling and then getting hot for a few weeks in August and September. That will get him votes — Girardi has received Manager of the Year votes every season since 2009 — but probably ain’t enough to win.

Comeback Player of the Year

Gosh, who even are the Comeback Player of the Year candidates? Michael Saunders, I guess? Marcus Stroman probably would have won it with even an average season, but he hasn’t been able to do that. In recent years the Comeback Player of the Year has gone to players coming off major injury, like Matt Harvey and Prince Fielder last year. Chris Young (the pitcher) and Rivera are recent winners too. That could put Saunders in the lead.

With no obvious candidate, this is going to come down to the preference of the voters. Does Porcello deserve Comeback Player of the Year after his miserable 2015 season and average-ish career? Or is he just prime age player breaking out? Maybe Doug Fister should win. Or Robinson Cano. Or Chris Tillman. The Yankees’ best Comeback Player of the Year candidate is Sabathia, and as much as I love the big guy, he hasn’t been good enough to win the award. I’d bet on Saunders winning right now, though I have little confidence in that.

DotF: Parmelee’s homer gives RailRiders the 2016 Triple-A Championship

This is the last DotF of the 2016 regular season, folks. The Arizona Fall League and various winter leagues begin play in a few weeks, and those get weekly updates. Here are some notes before we get to tonight’s game:

  • RHP James Kaprielian (elbow) faced hitters again today, reports Brendan Kuty. They’re still hoping he can play in the AzFL. “I’m pretty happy and excited with the progression we’ve made,” said Kaprielian. “We’ve obviously taken our time with this and tried to deal with it smart. The Yankees have done a really good job with handling me and the process and I feel good with where I’m at.”
  • OF Blake Rutherford (hamstring) is healthy and participating in Instruction League, reports Kuty. “I’m 100%. Just going through some things, getting ready, getting my timing back. My leg feels real good,” he said. Rutherford also talked about some other stuff following his first few months as a pro ballplayer, so check it out.
  • Jim Callis ranked this year’s top 30 rookies based on future value. C Gary Sanchez placed tenth. “His power is for real, as is his arm strength, and he could become an All-Star after showing more maturity and receiving prowess the past two years,” said the write-up.
  • Both 1B Greg Bird and IF Tyler Wade were included in yesterday’s Monday Morning Ten Pack (no subs. req’d), which highlighted interesting players going to the AzFL. Bird is on his way back from shoulder surgery and Wade is going to spend some time in the outfield to increase his versatility.
  • The Dominican Winter League draft was held last week and Vince Lara-Cinisomo has the results. Several Yankees farmhands were picked, including RHP Domingo Acevedo and RHP Yefrey Ramirez. They’re still Yankees. Nothing’s changed there. It just means they have new winter ball teams. Like the time Gary Sanchez was traded for Pedro Ciriaco.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 win over El Paso) the Triple-A Championship is a one-game winner-take-all series, so Scranton has won their first Triple-A championship in franchise history … pretty cool … here’s some video from the game … they faced an El Paso (Padres) team that hit .295/.348/.466 during the regular season … the Pacific Coast League is wild, man

  • LF Mark Payton: 1-4, 1 R
  • CF Clint Frazier: 2-4, 1 R, 2 K — the game was on NBC Sports Net and I thought Frazier had the best at-bats of the night by anyone on either team … calm, confident, knows the zone … he looked like a big leaguer … he also gets three title rings this year: Eastern League (Double-A Akron won, the team he started the season with), International League (Scranton), and Triple-A (Scranton)
  • 1B Chris Parmelee: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI — got picked off second … his three-run homer gave the RailRiders a 3-0 lead three batters into the game … he was named the Championship Game MVP
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 0-3, 1 BB
  • CF Jake Cave: 2-4
  • DH Mike Ford: 0-3, 1 BB — got to make his Triple-A debut in the Triple-A Championship Game after being bumped up to replace Donovan Solano … he nearly hit a home run in his first at-bat, but the outfielder caught it up against the wall
  • SS Pete Kozma: 1-3
  • 3B Cito Culver: 0-3, 2 K
  • 2B Jonathan Diaz: 1-3
  • LHP Jordan Montgomery: 5 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1/9 GB/FB — 52 of 70 pitches were strikes (74%) … very nice rebound from his rough outing in the International League Championship Series, when he didn’t make it out of the first
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — eight of eleven pitches were strikes (73%) … he came into a two on, no outs situation in the sixth and stranded the two runs, so that was big
  • LHP Phil Coke: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 17 of 21 pitches were strikes (81%) … Coke dominating in an important postseason game reminds me of his random Billy Wagner impression during the 2011 ALCS … blah
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 1 IP, zeroes, 1/1 GB/FB — all eight pitches were strikes

Double-A Trenton and High-A Tampa lost in the Championship Series. Low-A Charleston and Short Season Staten Island lost in the first round postseason. Rookie Pulaski, Rookie GCL Yanks East, and Rookie GCL Yanks West all failed to qualify for the postseason.

Yankees 5, Rays 3: Sanchez’s homer helps Yankees snap losing streak

A win! It’s been a while. Good to remember what one of those felt like. The Yankees snapped their five-game losing streak Tuesday night with a 5-3 win in the series opener against the Rays. A nice and tidy come from behind win, that was.


The Best (And Worst) Of Pineda
This was a classic “I want to believe!” start by Michael Pineda. He had a nasty slider, one of his best of the season, which is why he struck out eleven batters in only 5.1 innings. Pineda also generated 19 swings and misses on 98 total pitches. His stuff looked filthy. And yet, he again could not limit the damage with two outs and two strikes. All season with this.

The third inning rally by the Rays came together quickly. Logan Forsythe sliced a single to right and Evan Longoria reached on a two-out infield single to put two men on base. Donovan Solano made a nice diving play on Longoria’s hard-hit grounder, but his throw pulled Mark Teixeira off the bag at first base. So it goes. Brad Miller made the Yankees pay with a two-run triple to the wall in center field. Two outs, two strikes. Of course.

Mason Williams very nearly corralled Miller’s triple as he crashed into the wall, but the ball hit his glove and rolled away. The Yankees couldn’t complete two tough defensive plays — Solano on Longoria, Williams on Miller — and it cost them two runs. Blah. Aside from that, Pineda kept the Rays off the board the rest of the game. He allowed two runs on five hits and a walk in those 5.1 innings.


We Are All Gary
The Yankees didn’t do a whole lot against Drew Smyly. They did threaten in the first inning thanks to an Aaron Hicks single and a Billy Butler double, but after that, Smyly retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced. The one baserunner was a long Teixeira solo home run in the fourth. Cleared the stands, cleared the walkway, and landed in the little TV studio they have set up in left field. That cut the deficit to 2-1.

The sixth inning looked like a wasted opportunity. The Yankees loaded the bases with two outs on a walk (Gary Sanchez), a double (Butler), and an intentional walk (Teixeira), but Didi Gregorius flew out harmlessly to end the threat. Can’t say I expected Teixeira to ever get intentionally walked again, yet here we are. The seventh inning was when they finally broke through. Brett Gardner bounced a single through the infield to tie the game 2-2 after Ronald Torreyes and Williams singled to put men on the corners with one out.

Hicks struck out as the next batter, and during his at-bat Gardner stole second, meaning first base was open. For whatever reason the Rays decided to pitch to Sanchez — maybe because Butler, who was hitting behind him, had a pair of doubles earlier in the game? — and Brad Boxberger threw a cement mixer over the plate for what would have been strike one. Instead it was a three-run home run and a 5-2 Yankees lead. To the action footage:

Seventeen homers. Seventeen homers in 42 games. It’s September 20th. Sanchez hit his first homer on August 10th. That’s ridiculous. This 23-year-old kid has come up and performed at an MVP level against a bunch of pitchers he’s never faced before while handling all the responsibilities of catching. It makes no sense. This isn’t so supposed to happen. It’s happening though. It’s happening and it’s glorious.

Pretty easy night for the bullpen. Tyler Clippard allowed a run on a triple off the top of the wall in left field and a passed ball, but that’s it. Tommy Layne (one out), Luis Severino (four outs), Clippard (three outs), and Dellin Betances (three outs) all did their thing. Betances looked razor sharp. Not coincidentally, he was well-rested. This was his first outing since Hanley Ramirez broke all our hearts Thursday night.

Every player in the starting lineup had a hit except Solano. Butler and Torreyes each had two hits. Hicks, Sanchez (two), and Teixeira drew the walks. The 1-for-3 with a homer and two walks raised Sanchez’s batting line to .327/.399/.710 (190 wRC+). Pretty awesome. The Yankees went 2-for-9 (.222) with runners in scoring position. Did they really have that many at-bats in those spots? Huh.

And finally, the Orioles and Blue Jays came into Tuesday tied for the wild card spots, so with the Orioles on the verge of losing to the Red Sox, the Yankees will be three games back of a postseason spot with 12 to play. They’re going to sweep the Rays and I’m going to start believing again, aren’t I? Dammit.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN is the place to go for the box score and updated standings. has the video highlights. Don’t miss our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph. Nice to see the other team blow a multi-run lead for once.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Rays will continue this three-game series with the middle game Wednesday night. Splitter specialists Masahiro Tanaka and Alex Cobb will be on the mound.

Game 150: The Final Stretch

(Brian Blanco/European Press)
(Brian Blanco/European Press)

Thirteen games in 13 days. That’s all the Yankees have left this season barring a damn near historic run to the postseason. For them to have any shot at the playoffs, this series against the last place Rays is a must-sweep. One game a time though. Get a win tonight and snap the five-game losing streak. Let’s start there. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Billy Butler
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 3B Donovan Solano
  9. CF Mason Williams
    RHP Michael Pineda

The internet tells me it’s cloudy and grossly humid in St. Petersburg, but it’ll be a cool 70-something degrees inside Tropicana Field. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Move: As you can see from the lineup, Hicks (hamstring) was activated off the disabled list. He’d been out close to three weeks. No other move was required because rosters are expanded.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) is still sore but he said he’s hopeful he will play tomorrow. He’s available to pinch-hit tonight … Chase Headley (back) is not available at all. His back locked up on him in Boston. The Yankees play their next seven games on turf, so if Headley does return to the lineup this week, it might only be as the DH. We’ll see.

News: The Yankees announced they will honor Teixeira with a pregame ceremony prior to the final game of the season, on Sunday, October 2nd.