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.

Game 30: Day After The Doubleheader

(Kirk Irwin/Getty)
(Kirk Irwin/Getty)

For all intents and purposes, the Yankees played four games in three days this weekend. They beat the Cubs on Friday, beat them again Saturday, then tied the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader before winning the second. That 18-inning game was a grind, huh? It took a lot out of me just watching it. Imagine playing in it? The Yankees must be gassed.

Anyway, the Yankees are back at it today in a new city. They’re in Cincinnati for a quick two-game series with the first place (!) Reds. Are they tired? Yeah, probably. But that’s baseball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you play 18 innings. Hopefully there’s no hangover and the Yankees keep playing well. Here is the Reds’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Hicks
  3. 1B Matt Holliday
  4. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  5. C Gary Sanchez
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy and cool in the Queen City, and there are some sprinkles in the forecast. Nothing that should delay the game or anything. They might have to play through some drizzle. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game, which I hope will last only nine innings.

Roster Move: As expected, the Yankees called up a fresh arm for the bullpen. Chad Green was called up and Rob Refsnyder was sent down, the team announced. Jonathan Holder and Chasen Shreve get to stick around after their kick ass performances last night. This is more evidence the bullpen shuttle is dead. In the post, those two would be halfway to Scranton already.  Green was scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton yesterday before their rainout. He’s good for super long relief tonight, which I pray will not be necessary.

5/8 to 5/9 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

A month ago, few would have expected this to be a meeting between two first place teams – but here we are. On the strength of a five-game winning streak (and the Yankees sweep of the Cubs), the Reds are in first place in the NL Central. And the Yankees, on the heels of an 18-inning, 6-plus hour affair, have the best record in baseball.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees swept the Reds in a three-game set in the Bronx in July of 2014. They managed to avoid Joey Votto back then, as he was on the disabled list with a strained left quadriceps (an injury that limited him to 62 games that year). As for what happened on the field:

  • Brian McCann hit a walk-off single against Aroldis Chapman in the final game of the series. Jacoby Ellsbury played an integral role, as well. He lead off the ninth with a single, stole second, and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
  • Ellsbury had a heck of a series on the whole. He went 6-for-12 with two runs, a double, a home run, three RBI, and three steals.
  • Billy Hamilton went 1-for-12 with five strikeouts and no steals. He hit .285/.319/.423 before visiting the Bronx, and .206/.263/.261 afterward. That may mean a whole lot of nothing, but it was viewed as a turning point in his season by Reds writers at the time.
  • David Phelps, Brandon McCarthy, and Hiroki Kuroda were the starters for the Yankees in the series. They combined to pitch to the following brilliant line: 19 IP, 15 H, 5 R (3 ER), 3 BB, 22 K. Kuroda is the only one that didn’t pick up the win.

Injury Report

The Reds have a great deal of pitching on the disabled list right now, which makes their recent success all the more impressive. Anthony DeSclafani (their de facto ace since they dealt Johnny Cueto to the Royals) is out until July thanks to a sprained UCL, and he was recently joined on the DL by reliever Tony Cingrani and the 24-year-old Brandon Finnegan (the prize of that Cueto deal). Finnegan was a solid-average starter last season, and looked great through three starts this year – he’s not expected back until June. And, despite the fact that he has made made all of eight starts since the beginning of 2015, it bears mentioning that Homer Bailey is on the 60-day DL. Bailey was near the top of the same prospect lists as Phil Hughes back in the day, and is owed a minimum of $68 MM through the end of 2019.

Their Story So Far

Cincinnati is in the midst of a rebuilding effort that began in earnest on July 26, 2015, when they shipped Cueto to Kansas City. They won 68 games last year, and most projection systems saw them within spitting distance of that in 2017, with the mean falling right around 72 wins. Such is life for a team whose offense was expected to be Votto and little else, and with a pitching staff that was best described as young and questionable. Several injuries and six Bronson Arroyo starts later, and the rotation sounds even worse than that. And this on the heels of having one of the worst pitching staffs ever.

A month and change into the season, however, the Reds have been a more than competent team. They’re third in the majors in runs scored and fifth in run differential (+22), and they have a league-average park-adjusted ERA. There are a few reasons to expect them to fall off (updated projection systems still have them finishing below .500), but they’ve looked good so far.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Bryan Price has been fairly consistent with his lineup configuration this season. The seventh spot in the lineup is the only one that isn’t locked-down by one particular player (or position, in the case of the nine hole), and that’s mostly due to Zack Cozart moving up the lineup as his bat heated up. Based on that, the Yankees pitchers will probably see a lineup like this:

  1. Billy Hamilton, CF
  2. Zack Cozart, SS
  3. Joey Votto, 1B
  4. Adam Duvall, LF
  5. Eugenio Suarez, 3B
  6. Scott Schebler, RF
  7. Jose Peraza, 2B
  8. Devin Mesoraco, C or Tucker Barnhart, C
  9. [Pitcher]

The Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Rookie Davis

It was a year and a half ago that Rookie Davis was considered one of the best prospects in the Yankees organization, garnering a bit of hype before being sent to Cincinnati in the Aroldis Chapman deal. He reached the majors for the first time this year, and made one of the worst starts of the young season just three weeks later. Davis has just 24 IP at Triple-A, but the injuries to DeSclafani and Finnegan make his presence on the big league roster a necessity; given the team’s rebuilding efforts, though, this is almost certainly a legitimate chance for him to prove his mettle.

Davis is a three-pitch pitcher, mixing a 93-ish MPH fastball with a slurvy breaking ball in the 78 to 83 MPH range and a mid-80s change-up. PITCHf/x picks up two different breaking balls (a slider and a curveball), but most scouts call it a curveball.

Last Outing (vs. PIT on 5/3) – 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 2 K

Tuesday (7:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Tim Adleman

Staten Island’s own Tim Adleman has had a long, winding road to the majors. He was drafted in the 24th round of the 2010 draft by the Orioles, and found himself bouncing around independent leagues by 2012. In fact, he was passed over by the first independent ballclub that he tried out for, and would spend time working in a market in between stints with three different teams. The Reds picked him up in 2014, and he made his big league debut on May 1, 2016, at the age of 28. He’s been and up-and-down guy since, posting a 106 ERA+ in 91 IP at the highest level.

Adleman is something of a junkballer, throwing a fastball that scrapes 90 MPH (albeit with excellent rising action), a big-breaking curveball in the low-70s, and a low-80s change-up. He’s been homer prone in his brier career, surrendering 1.78 HR/9; that doesn’t come as a shock, though, considering his home park, low velocity, and 35.9% groundball rate.

Last Outing (vs. PIT on 5/4) – 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Reds have the sixth-best bullpen in baseball by park-adjusted ERA; they were 29th in baseball by that metric last year, just ahead of the Phillies. Closer Raisel Iglesias has been excellent since moving to the bullpen last year, and Drew Storen and rookie Wandy Peralta have been nearly as good this year in setup roles. They don’t really have a big name in the group, but they’ve been effective – and the worst offenders from 2016 are no longer with the team.

It’s also worth noting that the bullpen is well-rested. Scott Feldman tossed a complete game last night, and only one reliever (Robert Stephenson) was used on Saturday. In fact, none of the team’s ‘big three’ have pitched since last Thursday. After the Yankees-Cubs game last night, that seems unfair.

Yankees Connection

The aforementioned Davis was one of four players sent to the Reds for Chapman. Utility player Tony Renda and corner infielder Eric Jagielo are still in the organization, as well, at Triple-A and Double-A, respectively. The fourth player, Caleb Cotham, tossed 24.1 IP for the Reds last year, but retired this off-season. He dealt with injuries throughout his professional career, including a season-ending knee injury in 2016.

There are three former Reds on the Yankees – Chapman, Didi Gregorius, and Ronald Torreyes.

Who (Or What) To Watch

If you’re a fan of dingers, the heart of the Reds order is must-see TV. Votto, Duvall, Suarez, and Schebler have combined for 34 home runs to-date, and Cozart hit 16 last year. The team is seventh in the majors in home runs overall, with five fewer bombs than the Yankees

Should you want to focus on just one player, Votto  is always interesting to watch. Everyone knows about his ability to work the count and draw walks (he has a career 15.9 BB%, and had a .434 OBP last year), but he has changed his approach a bit this year. In addition to walking at an elite rate this year, he’s swinging at more pitches in the zone than ever before. The result of this is a ridiculously low 12.7 K%, and a .324 ISO (which would be the best of his career by a sizable margin).

It looks like Luis Torrens just may stick with the Padres

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A 21-year-old catcher with just 198 plate appearances in above short-season ball, should logically not make it through an entire season on a major league roster. It just doesn’t happen.

But with Luis Torrens and the 2017 San Diego Padres, it’s time to throw logic to the wind: The Yankees really might lose a solid catching prospect for nothing but $100K and a practically useless roster spot.

Surprisingly taken with the second pick of the Rule 5 draft by the Reds, Torrens was quickly dealt to the Padres. The Padres still have the top three picks from December’s Rule 5 draft on their 25-man roster and seem committed to keeping all three of Torrens, pitcher Miguel Diaz and utility man Allen Cordoba. Diaz is the oldest of the three at a whopping 22 years old, so keeping all three players is a lot of why the Padres have the youngest roster in baseball.

Just a few days past his 21st birthday, Torrens was the most puzzling pick of the three. Diaz is a hard throwing reliever with quality stuff. Cordoba, despite a lack of experience in the minors, brings potential at the plate and versatility in the field. You can work with that on a squad not built to compete this year, let alone the next few years.

Torrens? He’s a catcher. He missed all of 2015 with injury. He’s a quality player behind the plate but his bat is nowhere near big league ready. You have to be more than willing to accept a well below replacement level player on your roster to keep a 21-year-old inexperienced backstop on your roster all season in order to keep him.

But the Padres have the right situation in order to pull this off. Torrens is one of three catchers, playing behind starter Austin Hedges and backup Hector Sanchez. It was four before two-way player Christian Bethancourt was sent to Triple-A. The Friars are a team committed to losing, or at least not committed to winning in 2017, so they can accept having what is essentially a dead roster spot.

The question then becomes: Is it worth losing this roster spot and a full year of development just to get Torrens into your system? He already lost his entire age-19 season to injury and now he loses his age-21 season to, well, inactivity. He’s played just nine games thus far, gone into the field in just eight and started just three. He’s played all nine innings just once and is just 1 for 13 with a walk at the plate. Torrens will, for all intents and purposes, lose two years of at-bats and experience before he’s even gotten a full season of at-bats above Low-A. In reality, he hasn’t even had a full season AT Low-A because he’s only played 49 games there.

The ideal scenario for the Yankees would have been to have a 21-year-old Torrens in Single-A Tampa this season with the possibility of a promotion to Double-A Trenton if he took a major step forward. Will Torrens have to go all the way back to Single-A next year to restart his development? Can it truly be worth it to stash him on the roster for the year with the possibility that he won’t be really ready for the big leagues until 2020?

These questions would stop a lot of teams from stashing Torrens for a year. However, there is one benefit for Torrens: Big league coaching. Torrens gets a full year of top level coaching on his swing and a chance to work with MLB pitchers (if you can classify the Padres staff as such). That could be a big plus. Imagine if the Yankees were in the Padres’ position and could offer a young catcher a full year of coaching from Tony Pena, a catching guru.

And surely Torrens is relishing the opportunity to be in the big leagues. He was staring up at a Yankees system with Gary Sanchez as the presumed catcher of the future. Now he has an opportunity to be the guy in a new organization with the sacrifice of much-needed playing time. Plus MLB travel, nice hotels and the bright lights of the big leagues. It’s good work if you can get it.

Still, it’s tough to watch him lose this year of development. They don’t check IDs behind the plate, but it could be a serious setback to Torrens’ eventual hopes of becoming a viable everyday player. Furthermore, the Padres have a 24-year-old catcher starting for them right now in hopes of him being the future solution. Maybe this works out with Torrens pushing Hedges aside in a few years, but now it looks like the Yankees are losing a solid, young catching prospect while the Padres stash him on the bench for a season. And it all may be for nothing.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bombers invade Wrigley (May 5-7)

Air Gardy. (Presswire)
Air Gardy. (Presswire)

It Ain’t Over ‘Til Its Over
The Comeback Kings struck again as the Yankees pulled off yet another stunning late-game come-from-behind victory on Friday afternoon against the Cubs.

Trailing 2-0 in the top of the ninth with two men on base and two outs, Brett Gardner drilled a 2-2 slider into the right field bleachers to give the Yankees the lead; Aroldis Chapman got the final three outs to secure the most improbable win.

How unlikely was this rally? The last time the Cubs lost a game in this scenario – protecting a two-or-more-run lead in the ninth – was nearly three years ago, on May 21, 2014 at Wrigley Field … against the Yankees.

Or maybe it wasn’t so unlikely, given the refuse-to-lose mojo of the 2017 Yankees. Entering Saturday’s slate, they were one of just three teams this season with multiple wins when trailing by at least two runs entering the ninth inning (Padres and Angels were the others).

Before Gardner went deep, he was a pathetic 3-for-20 (.150) with zero extra-base hits after the sixth inning, and hitless in five at-bats in the ninth inning this season.

Gardner’s home run was not just shocking, it was one for the record books. Only six other times since 1930 has a Yankee hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning with two outs and trailing by at least two runs. That list includes: Mark Teixeira (2016), Alex Rodriguez (2010), Don Mattingly (1985), Chris Chambliss (1976), Bobby Murcer (1969) and Bobby Richardson (1962).

A-Rod‘s three-run homer in the top of the ninth on Sept. 17, 2010 in Baltimore is the only other instance in the last quarter-century that a Yankee pulled off that feat when down to their final strike, like Gardner.

And, finally, this was the third time in the last 75 years that the Yankees were one out away from being shut out, and then hit a go-ahead home run. Incredibly, the hero in the two previous games was the same guy – Bobby Murcer – who erased a 1-0 deficit on June 14, 1980 in Oakland and a 2-0 deficit on August 5, 1969 against the Angels with ninth-inning, game-changing homers.

Hot hot Hicksy. (EPA)
Hot hot Hicksy. (EPA)

No comeback needed
One night after perhaps the most dramatic win of the season, the Yankees authored one of their least dramatic wins of the season, taking a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning en route to an 11-6 victory on Saturday. The win gave them their fourth straight series victory, something they never did last year.

Sure, the Yankees and Cubs don’t match up often, but it’s still fun to note that the last time the Yankees scored 11-or-more runs against the Cubs was in Game 4 of the 1932 World Series, a 13-6 series-clinching win at Wrigley Field. The 3-4 hitters in that lineup were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig; for Ruth, it was the last World Series game of his Hall-of-Fame career (h/t Mark Simon, friend of Yankeemetrics).

The offensive explosion on Saturday was led by the top of the order as Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro combined to go 7-for-9 with five runs and six RBIs. Castro was 3-of-4, notching his AL-best 15th multi-hit game of the season. In the last 40 years, only two other Yankees produced that many multi-hit games within the team’s first 28 contests: Derek Jeter (2012) and Alfonso Soriano (2002, 2003).

Hicks’ performance was the statistical highlight of the night, as he went 4-of-5, including a homer, while driving in three runs and scoring three runs. The last Yankee center fielder to put up those numbers in any game – at least four hits, a home run, three RBIs, three runs – was Mickey Mantle on Aug. 6, 1961 against the Twins.

Yes, miracles do happen. (Getty)
Yes, miracles do happen. (Getty)

It’s over, finally
After way too many innings, way too many hours, way too many pitches, way too many strikeouts … the Yankees finished off the sweep of the Cubs on Sunday night (actually Monday morning).

It marked their first sweep of the defending World Series champs since July 14-16, 2006 against the White Sox, and the first time they’ve done that on the road since July 29-31, 2003 in Anaheim against the Angels.

The 18-inning affair was the longest game in Interleague history, longest game ever on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball (which began in 1990), and the longest in the majors this season.

It is the sixth time in franchise history the Yankees won a game of at least 18 innings and the first time since September 11, 1988 vs. the Tigers. The only other time they won a game this long on the road was a 22-inning marathon on June 24, 1962 in Detroit.

With the game going 18 innings, you’d think there would be a few more records set … and you would be correct.

  • The Yankee batters struck out 22 times, breaking the previous single-game franchise record of 17. And the Yankee pitchers struck out 26 Cubs, also obliterating the previous single-game franchise record of 19. Hooray!
  • The 26 strikeouts by Yankee pitchers matched a major-league record, set by the 1971 A’s vs. the Angels and the 2004 Angels vs. the Brewers.
  • This is the first game in MLB history where both teams each whiffed at least 21 times.
  • The 48 combined strikeouts by both teams is also a new single-game major-league record.
  • Yankees are the first team in major-league history to have four players (Castro, Didi Gregorius, Austin Romine, Chase Headley) go 0-for-7 or worse at the plate. Yes, they still won the game.

So how did we get there?

Luis Severino delivered an absolute gem, allowing one run in seven stellar innings. Twenty of his 21 outs came either groundballs (11) or strikeouts (9), and the one out he got in the air was a liner by Cubs starter Jon Lester. His final pitching line (4 hits, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts, 1 run, 7 innings) gives us our #FunFact Yankeemetric of the Week:

Only one other visiting pitcher as young Severino (23 years, 76 days) struck out at least nine batters, gave up no more than one run and allowed five or fewer baserunners in a game at Wrigley Field: Reds right-hander Jim Maloney, who delivered two such outings on August 21, 1962 and July 23, 1963.

Aaron Judge broke out of his mini-slump and gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the seventh with a tie-breaking RBI triple. It was the first go-ahead triple by any Yankee in nearly four years, when Travis Hafner hit one on April 27, 2013 to break a 4-4 tie in the seventh against the Blue Jays. Of course it was Pronk, just as we all predicted.

Aroldis Chapman came on in the ninth to protect a three-run lead, but eventually blew the save when he hit Anthony Rizzo with the bases loaded to even the score at 4-4. Chapman is the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1930 to give up the game-tying run in the ninth inning via a bases-loaded hit by pitch.

Finally, Castro reached on a fielder’s choice groundout, scoring Aaron Hicks from third. So the guy who went 0-for-8 was the hero of the night with the game-winning RBI.