Beginning at the End

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yesterday, CC Sabathia walked off the mound after 5 2/3 innings. There is a chance that was the last time he walked off the mound as a starter in the regular season for the New York Yankees. Thinking back on it hours later, if it was his last time–I hope it wasn’t–it marks the end of something great, but hopefully the beginning of something that has the potential to be even greater.

CC hasn’t been a dominant pitcher in a long time and Masahiro Tanaka has been the Yankees’ best starter since he arrived; but he might be out the door as well. Two potential endings to two great Yankee careers. But right behind them, there’s a new beginning with equal potential: Luis Severino. It’s impossible to overstate just how good Severino was this year. The only pitchers better than him over the course of the season, really, were Corey Kluber and Chris Sale. That’s some damn good company. Is it likely that Severino has a year this good again? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be great going forward, and it looks like he will. As two ace-like pitchers (possibly? probably?) end their careers as Yankees, another one is taking over at just the right time. Are you ready for the Luis Severino Era?

Love these dudes. (Elsa/Getty)
Love these dudes. (Elsa/Getty)

Who else is ready to see that over and over and over for the next ten years? Hell. Friggin’. Yes. The end of this incredible season by Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge hopefully marks the beginning of a long run of offensive prowess and dominance by two young players that we haven’t seen in decades. Even back in the 90’s, Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams were established when Derek Jeter was establishing himself. And was like O’Neill and Williams when Jorge Posada began his prominence. The most apt comparison is the pair of Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, forging their ways as Yankee pitching mainstays. Sanchez and Judge are doing it on the other side of the ball, though, and with a chance for both of them to be more dominant at their positions than Pettitte ever was. To match Mo, well, that’s a hard ask, isn’t it?

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Like in September of 2015, Greg Bird has been on fire this month. He was slow out of the block this year before being injured, and was somewhat inconsistent upon his return from the DL. Is he completely clear now, to the point where the Yankees can fully trust him for 2018 and beyond in terms of health? Eh… But his offensive performance this month speaks to his potential: a patient, powerful first baseman who can man the middle of the order with his counterparts at catcher and right field for years to come.

These individual accomplishments–hopefully big beginnings at the end of this surprising season–by homegrown Yankee youngsters are just a microcosm of the team and the organization at large. This was a year that took us all by surprise, but it happened. Just as we cross our fingers for the players above to be great for a long time, we do the same for the team. And if this season–especially its end–is any indication, we’re in for a fun few years. Now let’s just get through Tuesday.

Yankees 2, Blue Jays 1: CC and Judge lead Yanks to 91st win

Ninety-one wins in a rebuild transition year. Not too shabby. The Yankees won their penultimate game of the regular season Saturday afternoon, this one a 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays. They’re now 20-8 in September, their best record in any month this season. Alas, the Red Sox beat the Astros up in Boston, so they clinched the AL East title. At least the Yankees did them no favors Saturday and made them clinch themselves. The Yankees will face the Twins in the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

CC’s Surprise Start
It wasn’t until this morning that we found out CC Sabathia, not Jaime Garcia, would start this game against the Blue Jays. The Yankees were still mathematically alive in the AL East race, so they wanted to put their best foot forward. I don’t blame them one bit. Gotta do what you can to win the division. The advantage of avoiding the Wild Card Game is too great.

Sabathia’s final start of the regular season — and possibly the final start of his Yankees career (sobs) — went marvelously, though I will say the Blue Jays seemed to be mailing it in. They’re ready for their season to end. One foot is in the batter’s box and the other is on the plane home, you know? I don’t mean to take anything away from Sabathia. He was awesome. The Blue Jays just didn’t seem very interested in competing.

In his 5.2 innings Saturday, Sabathia scattered four hits, and two of the four were followed by a double play. The Blue Jays did not have a runner reach second base until the sixth inning, when Ryan Goins doubled to right with one out. A fan reached over the short porch to catch the ball, so Goins was awarded second base following a review. That was Toronto’s fourth baserunner of the afternoon and first to advance beyond first base.

Sabathia’s final line: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K on 75 pitches. Joe Girardi had a pretty quick hook — he didn’t let CC face Josh Donaldson a third time when Donaldson represented the tying run — and whatever he said to Sabathia on the mound got a good laugh out of the big guy. With his regular season now complete, Sabathia finishes with a 3.69 ERA (4.48 FIP) in 148.2 innings. Give that man one-year contracts until he retires.

Two Runs Are Just Enough
Aaron Judge probably won’t win the AL MVP award — I think Jose Altuve has it locked up, fair or not — but I know he is the MVP of all our hearts. Judge opened the scoring Saturday afternoon with his latest moonshoot, this one a 484-foot blast deep into the left field bleachers. It wasn’t quite as far as that ball he hit against the Orioles a few weeks back, though he hit it to the same general area.

Judge went 6-for-12 with three home runs against Stroman this season. That makes me happy. Judge hit ten homers in 18 games against the Blue Jays this season, and that also makes me happy. I look forward to him hitting many more dingers against Stroman — he’s short and went to Duke, you know — and the Blue Jays in the coming years.

The Judge dinger gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the fourth. They added another run later in the inning. Didi Gregorius slapped a single over a leaping Goins at shortstop — I’m pretty sure the ball deflected off his glove — then advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Starlin Castro brought him home with a single back up the middle. I’m pretty sure that one deflected off Goins’ glove too. One run on a monster homer and another on two hits off the infielder’s glove. Baseball.

The Final Two Innings
I’m not quite sure why Tommy Kahnle came in for the eighth inning. He allowed a dinky infield single and a walk before being replaced by David Robertson. Was it an audition for high-leverage postseason work? If it was, you’d think the leash would be a little longer than that. If you’re going to pull the plug that quickly, what could Kahnle have realistically done to build trust? Whatever.

The infield single and walk turned into a run when Donaldson lifted a sacrifice fly to left field later in the inning. I thought he creamed the pitch off the bat. I thought it was way gone. The wind brought it back in though, and I mean really brought it back in. Brett Gardner retreated, then had to sprint a long way forward to make the catch. The play at the plate was really close. Had the throw been a little more on-line, Ezequiel Carrera would’ve been out.

Anyway, Robertson escaped that eighth inning — he struck out Justin Smoak with two runners on base to end the threat and preserve the 2-1 lead — then Aroldis Chapman did his thing in the ninth. Safe to say neither Robertson nor Chapman will pitch Sunday, regardless of score. The game is meaningless and the Yankees will want them rested for the Wild Card Game on Tuesday. Same with Chad Green, who got four outs Saturday as the bridge from Sabathia to Kahnle.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Todd Frazier was the only Yankee with two hits and I don’t remember either of his singles. It was one of those quick moving and otherwise nondescript games, the kind of game that’ll meld into the glob of baseball we all watch and forget each season. Judge homered while Gary Sanchez, Gregorius, Castro, and Greg Bird had singles. Bird’s single was a rocket off the wall. He was thrown out by a mile trying to stretch it into a double. Bird is many things. Fast is not one of them.

And finally, Judge’s home run was his 33rd at Yankee Stadium this season — 33rd! — which is a new single-season record. At any Yankee Stadium. The previous record was 32 homers at home by Babe Ruth in 1921. Pretty amazing he’s hit 33 home runs at home and still has 19 on the road. Judge had a 38-homer pace away from Yankee Stadium this season. Pretty wild.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head on over to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, and MLB.com for the video highlights. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The final game of the 2017 regular season. It really flew by, huh? I guess that happens when you’re having fun. Jordan Montgomery and Brett Anderson are the scheduled starting pitchers for Sunday’s regular season finale. That’s a 3pm ET start across the league. Every game starts at the same time.

It’s official: Yankees will host the Twins in the Wild Card Game

(Alex Trautwig/Getty)
(Alex Trautwig/Getty)

It took a little longer to lock things into place than I think we all expected, but it is now official: the Yankees will take on the Twins in the 2017 AL Wild Card Game. The Red Sox clinched the AL East title with their win over the Astros this afternoon. The Yankees clinched homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game a few days ago.

The five AL postseason teams are in place, and because the Indians won the season series against the Astros, the seeding is locked in as well. Here is the AL postseason bracket:

  • Wild Card Game: Twins at Yankees
  • ALDS 1: Indians vs. Wild Card Game winner
  • ALDS 2: Astros vs. Red Sox

The AL Wild Card Game will be played Tuesday night (8pm ET on ESPN), then the two ALDSes begin Thursday. The Yankees went to the postseason just once in the previous four seasons, and that was the yucky Wild Card Game shutout loss to the Astros in 2015. The Yankees last played a postseason series in 2012, when they beat the Orioles in ALDS and were swept by the Tigers in the ALCS.

Ervin Santana and Luis Severino are set to face off in the Wild Card Game. The Yankees swept the Twins at home last week, plus they’ve thoroughly dominated the head-to-head series since 2002, but that won’t mean anything in the Wild Card Game. It’s just a baseball game. One individual game. Anything can happen and it usually does. Just hope for the best and try not to puke.

Game 161: Still alive in the AL East

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

The Yankees, amazingly, remain in the race for the AL East title. The Red Sox could’ve clinched the division with a win the last two nights, but nope, they couldn’t do it. The Yankees need to win today and tomorrow while the Red Sox lose today and tomorrow to set up a Game 163 tiebreaker at Yankee Stadium on Monday. That is the Yankees’ only path to the AL East title now.

Because they are still alive in the division race, the Yankees made a pitching change today. CC Sabathia, not Jaime Garcia, will start today’s game against the Blue Jays. Hard to disagree with that move. Could be the big man’s final start as a Yankee! I don’t want to think about that right now though. Things are going pretty great for the Yankees right now. Baseball is fun. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. DH Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    LHP CC Sabathia

It is cool and cloudy in New York today, and there’s only a tiny little bit of rain in the forecast. We’ll probably end up getting nothing. Today’s game will begin shortly after 1pm ET and FOX and FOX alone will have the broadcast. If you’re out-of-market, MLB.tv is free all weekend. Just sign up for a free MLB.com account and you’ll be able to watch any game. Enjoy.

Friday Night Open Thread

Hooray for 90 wins! Been a while since the Yankees were this good. I know anything can happen in the Wild Card Game, but damn, this sure has been six fun months of baseball. I am grateful for that. Anyway, Jeff Passan compiled his annual All-MLB Team. Six Yankees made the three teams, including three First-Teamers. Pretty cool. The Yankees have themselves quite the foundation going forward.

Here is an open thread for the evening. The Mets are playing tonight and MLB Network will have a regional game later on. Also, the Islanders are playing a preseason game, if that’s your thing. Talk about those games, this afternoon’s win, or anything else here, as long as it is not politics or religion. Thanks.

Yankees 4, Blue Jays 0: Tanaka masterful as Yankees win 90th game of 2017

For the first time since 2012, the Yankees have won 90 games in a season. They shut the Blue Jays out 4-0 in Friday afternoon’s series opener, and they did it thanks to a masterful performance from their erstwhile ace. The Yankees are still alive in the AL East, though one more Red Sox win, and it’s over. At least the Yankees are making them earn it.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

TanaKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKa
If this was indeed Masahiro Tanaka‘s final start as a Yankee, he went out with a bang. A good bang. Not a “he gave up a lot of home runs” bang. Tanaka took a perfect game into the fifth inning and didn’t allow a hit to the outfield until the sixth inning, when Ryan Goins lined a single to center. Toronto’s only baserunner up to that point was Ezequiel Carrera, who beat out an infield single in the fifth to end the perfect game bid.

Tanaka struck out six of the first nine batters he faced and 12 of the first 18 batters he faced Friday afternoon, and only one of those 12 strikeouts was looking. Both the splitter and slider were working beautifully. Tanaka threw 103 total pitches and finished with 23 swinging strikes, most of which came on pitches that dove out of the strike zone. Here is the pitch location of those 23 swings and misses, via Baseball Savant:

masahiro-tanaka-whiffs

No pitcher in baseball is better than Tanaka at getting hitters to chase out of the strike zone. His 42.7% chase rate going into Friday’s game was far away the highest among the 58 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title this year. Corey Kluber was a distant second at 39.7%. Tanaka’s ability to get swings on pitches out of the zone is unmatched and it was on full display Friday. He had the Blue Jays fishing all afternoon.

Tanaka’s final line: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 15 K on 103 pitches. The 15 strikeouts are a new career high and tie Stephen Strasburg for the most in a game this season. Also, Tanaka struck out every Blue Jay at least once. A few other notes:

  • Tanaka has three 13+ strikeout games this year, tied with Kluber for the second most in baseball. Only Chris Sale has more. He has four.
  • The last Yankee to strike out every opposing batter with 13+ strikeouts in the game overall? Ron Guidry in his franchise record 18-strikeout game back in 1978.
  • A full list of Yankees with 15+ strikeouts and zero walks in a start: Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. That’s it. That’s the list.

Tanaka finishes the regular season with a 4.74 ERA (4.34 FIP) and 194 strikeouts in 178.1 innings. So close to 200 strikeouts! Only four times in franchise history have two pitchers recorded 190+ strikeouts: 1904 (Jack Chesbro, Jack Powell), 2001 (Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina), 2009 (CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett), and 2017 (Luis Severino, Tanaka). Between the one-and-done nature of the Wild Card Game and the looming opt-out, this might’ve been Tanaka’s final start with the Yankees. I hope not, but it might’ve been. Heck of a way to go out. Hope to see you in the ALDS, Masahiro.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Scratch Out Four Runs
This was one of those games that felt like a blowout even though it wasn’t really a blowout. Early runs and great pitching tends to do that. The Yankees struck for two runs right in the first inning. They loaded the bases with one out on a single (Jacoby Ellsbury), a walk (Aaron Judge), and a single (Didi Gregorius). Starlin Castro opened the scoring with an infield single that I could’ve sworn was foul ball off his foot, but apparently night.

The well-placed infield single — it was a little dribbler in front of third base, Josh Donaldson had no chance for a play at any base — gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead, and Greg Bird stretched it to 2-0 with a sacrifice fly. Judge drove in the third run with a rocket single to left in the fifth inning, after Ellsbury singled and stole second. In the third inning Judge grimaced a bit as he ran through first base on a ground out — cameras caught him trying to stretch something (back? legs?) out in the dugout — which was scary, but he stayed in the game and hit a 116 mph single, so yeah. He’s fine.

The Yankees scored their fourth run of the day in the sixth inning, which featured Gregorius stealing second base twice. He stole second, but was sent back to first when the umpire ruled Castro fouled off the pitch. Gregorius then stole second again anyway later in the at-bat. Four steals in four attempts in the game for the Yankees. Blue Jays catcher Raffy Lopez is now 1-for-17 (5.9%) throwing out runners this season. Yikes. A Bird double plated Didi for the 4-0 lead.

Leftovers
David Robertson pitched around a walk in the eighth and Dellin Betances was yanked after allowing a single and a walk in the ninth, which seems completely ridiculous to me. A priority right now should be getting Betances on track, not grabbing every last win. The Yankees were up 4-0 at the time! Somehow Jonathan Holder had a longer leash in a one-run game Thursday night. Good grief.

Eight hits for the Yankees but only one extra-base hit. That was Bird’s double in the sixth. Ellsbury, Judge, Gregorius (two), Castro, Bird, and Austin Romine had the singles. Judge and Todd Frazier drew the only walks. The Yankees went 4-for-8 with runners in scoring position, if that’s your thing.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head over to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, and MLB.com for the video highlights. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The penultimate game of the regular season. The Yankees and Blue Jays will play the middle game of this three-game season-ending series Saturday afternoon. That’s a regular old 1pm ET start. Jaime Garcia and Marcus Stroman are the scheduled starting pitchers for that one.

Yankeemetrics: Rounding third, heading home (Sept. 25-28)

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

The Dinger King
The Yankees returned to the Bronx on Monday and kicked off the final week of the season with a sweet 11-3 rout of the Royals. They improved to 17-0 in games decided by at least eight runs, a typical blowout for this year’s club. The Yankees have the most wins by that margin in the majors, and are the only team that hasn’t suffered a loss by eight or more runs.

Aaron Judge stole the statistical spotlight as he enjoyed a record-breaking day at the Stadium. He clubbed his 49th and 50th homers of the season, not only becoming MLB’s all-time rookie home run king, but also etching his name alongside a bunch of franchise legends and some of baseball’s most iconic players. Let’s recap a few of his other incredible feats:

  • Fifth player in franchise history to hit 50-plus homers, a group that includes A-Rod (2007), Roger Maris (1961), Mickey Mantle (twice) and Babe Ruth (four times)
  • Joined Mantle (1956) and Ruth (1920) as the only Yankees with seven multi-homer games in a season at age 25 or younger
  • With his 12th and 13th homers in September, he became the youngest Yankee to go deep 13 times in a calendar month since a 25-year-old Maris had 14 in June 1960.
  • Coming off his two-homer effort on Sunday, Judge became the first rookie in franchise history with back-to-back multi-homer games
  • He also got his 120th walk, making him just the second player in major-league history to hit 50 homers and walk 120 times in a season before the age of 26. The other? That Ruth dude in 1920.
(AP)
(AP)

While Judge hogged the headlines, a couple other Baby Bombers helped turn this game into a rout with both Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez adding to their 2017 homer totals. It was the first time in the majors that Judge, Sanchez and Bird each went yard in the same game.

And let’s not forget about the old guy on the mound, CC “The Stopper” Sabathia. After cruising through six scoreless innings, he coughed up a couple homers in the seventh but still finished with a win and a bare-minimum quality start. More impressively, he’s now 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 11 games following a Yankee loss, the best record and lowest ERA of any MLB pitcher with at least seven such starts this season.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Another win, another clinching
After beating the Rays on Tuesday, the Yankees locked down homefield advantage for the Wild Card game next week. Aaron Hicks was activated from the disabled list in the morning, inserted into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact with a spectacular grand-slam-saving catch in the first inning. Even Hicks was amazed by the jaw-dropping home run robbery:

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

Aaron Judge didn’t homer but still contributed with an RBI double and scored his 125th run of the season. He joined Ted Williams (1939) and Joe DiMaggio (1936) as the only players in MLB history with at least 100 RBIs and 125 runs in their rookie campaigns.

Gary Sanchez also reached a nice round number, notching his 90th RBI of the year on a bloop single in the eighth. He’s the youngest American League catcher (primary position) to drive in at least 90 runs in a season since a 24-year-old Yogi Berra in 1949.

On the mound, Jordan Montgomery delivered his second straight gem, holding the Rays to one run over six solid innings. After allowing seven homers in his first eight home starts, he’s kept the ball in the park in each of his last six home starts dating back to July. How impressive that? The only Yankee with a longer single-season streak of homerless starts at the current Yankee Stadium is CC Sabathia in 2011. And through Wednesday, he was the only pitcher in the majors that had pitched at least 30 innings at home since the All-Star break and hadn’t given up a longball in his own stadium.

(USA Today)
(USA Today)

#TooManyHomers
A late-September Home Run Derby broke out in the Bronx on Wednesday as the Yankees enjoyed a 6-1 win backed by three homers and another masterful performance by Luis Severino. It improved their record to 18-7 this month, their most September wins since they went 19-9 in 2009 en route to … World Series title No. 27.

Amidst the offensive fireworks, the star of the game was the team’s 23-year-old ace. Severino rebounded from a poor start against the Twins last week to produce another typical dominant outing – nine strikeouts and one run allowed in six sharp innings – in the final performance of his historic 2017 campaign.

It was the 16th time this year he surrendered no more than one run, the most such starts in the majors, and the most by any Yankee since Mike Mussina also had 16 in 2001. He’s also youngest AL pitcher with 16 starts of one run or fewer in a season since Vida Blue in 1971, and the youngest right-hander in either league to reach that mark since a 21-year-old Dwight Gooden in 1985.

The nine strikeouts gave him 230, matching CC Sabathia (2011) for the third-highest single-season total in franchise history; the two guys ahead of him are Ron Guidry (248 in 1978) and Hall-of-Famer Jack Chesbro (239 in 1904). Oh, and Chesbro’s 1904 season is mind-boggling in the context of today’s pitching environment: he threw 454 innings while setting modern-era records in games started (51), wins (41) and complete games (48)!

Severino also lowered his ERA to 2.98, becoming the first Yankee to qualify for the ERA title with a sub-3.00 ERA since David Cone and Andy Pettitte in 1997, and the youngest to do it since Dave Righetti in 1981. Combined with his 230 strikeouts, and Sevvy is in some pretty elite company:

The last American League pitcher with 230 or more strikeouts and an ERA below 3.00 in his age-23 season or younger was Roger Clemens in 1986, the year he captured his first Cy Young award and the league MVP.

(AP)
(AP)

#NotEnoughHomers
The Yankees road to October hit a speedbump with a deflating 9-6 loss in the series finale. Let’s recap this rollercoaster-like game with a Yankeemetrics-style of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Ugly
Handed a 4-1 lead, Sonny Gray imploded in the fifth inning, surrendering five runs in the frame (six overall) before getting pulled with two outs. It was definitely not the way he wanted to cap off his regular season in the Bronx. Following the disaster outing, his final three starts at Yankee Stadium look like this: 15 2/3 innings, 15 runs, 17 hits, six homers.

The Bad:
Normally a dinger party equals a Yankee win, but somehow the Bronx Bombers managed to snatch defeat from a near-certain victory. Prior to Thursday, they were 13-0 when hitting at least four homers in a game this season, the second-best record in MLB. The last game they lost despite going deep four times was August 22, 2016 at Seattle, and their last such defeat at Yankee Stadium was more than two years ago on June 23, 2015 versus the Phillies.

The Good:
The offense got off to a fast start when Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge opened the game with back-to-back homers, the first Yankee duo to do that since Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter on April 16, 2012 against the Twins. Greg Bird invited himself to the power party with a fourth-inning solo blast, his eighth homer and 23rd RBI in 26 games since coming off the DL. By the way, that’s a 162-game pace of 49 homers and 143 RBIs.

And with his first-inning blast, Judge continued his destruction of the record books:

  • 32nd longball at The Stadium this year, tying Babe Ruth — who hit 32 at the Polo Grounds in 1921 — for the most homers hit at home in a season in franchise history.
  • 14th homer this month, the first Yankee to go deep 14 times in September since Ruth set the major-league record for September home runs with 17 in 1927.
  • The only other right-handed batters to wear pinstripes and hit 14 homers in any calendar month were A-Rod (April 2007) and Joe DiMaggio (twice).
  • 8th straight game with extra-base hit, the longest streak by Yankee rookie in the last 100 years