Offense can’t out-score Sabathia, Yankees fall 5-1 to Blue Jays in series finale

All good things must come to an end. The Yankees’ consecutive series win streak was snapped at five on Wednesday night, as the Blue Jays beat New York by the score of 5-1 in the series finale. CC Sabathia has started six games this year, and in those games the Yankees have scored three, three, one, two three, and one run. That won’t be enough for the big man these days.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Beat By The Bottom Of The Order
Imagine if, before Wednesday night’s game, I told you Sabathia would pitch into the seventh inning while holding the ultra-dangerous top of the Blue Jays’ lineup to this:

CC Sabathia Blue Jays Top

I think we’d all feel really great about that. Two singles and a walk in 14 plate appearances against that foursome? That’s basically the best realistic case scenario. You know those four are going to do damage somehow, so you just had to hope Sabathia would limit it, and limit those four he did.

Unfortunately, all that success against the dangerous top of Toronto’s lineup was paired with this:

CC Sabathia Blue Jays Bottom

Yikes! That’s eight hits — six singles, a double, and a homer — in 15 at-bats against the bottom five spots in the lineup. I want to feel good about Sabathia’s success against the top of the lineup, yet I can’t ignore that he gave up three hits to Chris freakin’ Colabello, who was literally in Triple-A when the series started.

The first two runs Sabathia allowed were kinda dopey. Kevin Pillar bunted for a hit to leadoff the second — I have to think more teams will try that against CC as the season goes on given his lack of mobility — Colabello pulled a ground ball double that hugged the third base foul line, and Ezequiel Carrera snuck a two-run single through the infield. None of those balls were hit all that hard. That’s baseball.

Sabathia allowed the third run on an infield single, a balk, and a solid single to left-center by Colabello in the fourth. The fourth run came on a sixth inning solo homer by Russell Martin, who wore his former team out all series. Martin went 7-for-9 with two doubles and two homers in the three games. Four runs on nine hits and two walks in 6.1 innings and no reason to think any improvement is coming from Sabathia. He has a 5.45 ERA on the year and a 4.94 ERA in his last 295 innings dating back to Opening Day 2013.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Blown Chances
The Yankees had a few chances against Mark Buehrle, who hadn’t beaten New York in more than a decade. They scored their only run in the very first inning on a Mark Teixeira ground out. Chris Young singled and Alex Rodriguez doubled earlier in the inning to set it up. The Yankees have scored 26 first inning runs this year, the third most in baseball behind the Braves and Tigers (both 27).

The third inning brought a Jose Pirela leadoff hustle double, but a pop-up and two ground outs stranded him. Teixeira’s leadoff single in the fourth was followed by two fly outs and a ground out. The Yankees put two on with one out in the fifth and eventually loaded the bases with two outs, but Teixeira banged into an inning-ending ground out on the first pitch. One base-runner was stranded in the sixth (Carlos Beltran single), seventh (Stephen Drew walk), eighth (Teixeira walked), and ninth (Drew walk). Not a great night for the offense.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Leftovers
The full Pirela experience was on display in his first game of the year. He doubled and singled against a lefty, grounded into a double play against a righty, got caught wandering too far off second on a ground ball back to the pitcher, and looked like he was running in quicksand when he was unable to get to Carrera’s two-run single to keep it on the infield and maybe stop the second run from scoring. The Yankees next face a lefty on Saturday (Wei-Yin Chen).

The Blue Jays tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth when Chasen Shreve served up a triple to light hitting lefty Ryan Goins. Esmil Rogers soaked up four outs between Sabathia and Shreve. I guess the good news is the key members of the bullpen all got the night off. Didn’t even have to think about warming up. They needed a night like that.

Drew (two walks) and Pirela (single, double) reached base four times from the bottom two spots of the lineup. The other seven lineup spots reached six times. A-Rod (double, walk) and Teixeira (single, walk) both reached two times each. The Brian McCann (0-for-4) and Beltran (1-for-3) tandem is killing them. Beltran hasn’t hit all season and McCann is down to .238/.298/.393 (90 wRC+) on the year.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. We also have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages for you to check out. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are headed home for their only series at Yankee Stadium from April 30th through May 22nd. Lots and lots of road games this month. Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Tillman will open the four-game Yankees-Orioles series on Thursday night. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch that game or any of the other three games live.

DotF: Lindgren, Rumbelow both pitch for second straight day in Scranton’s win

Triple-A Scranton (5-3 win over Gwinnett) faced old buddy RHP Chien-Ming Wang

  • LF Slade Heathcott: 2-4, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 CS — up to .337/.393/.436 on the season
  • DH Ramon Flores: 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-3, 1 BB — 16-for-41 (.390) during his ten-game hitting streak
  • RF Tyler Austin: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 7/4 GB/FB — 68 of 96 pitches were strikes (71%) … the Yankees are in the middle of playing 17 games in 17 days, so I wonder if get called up to make a spot start at some point just to give everyone else a rest
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren: 1 IP, zeroes, 2/1 GB/FB — nine pitches, eight strikes … 27/4 GB/FB in 12.1 innings this year … he pitched yesterday as well and this is the first time Lindgren pitched on back-to-back days as a pro … doesn’t mean he is close to being called up, but it’s not nothing either
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/1 GB/FB — ten of 17 pitches were strikes (59%) … back-to-back days for him too, but he did it last year, so it’s not new
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 18 of 25 pitches were strikes (72%)

[Read more…]

TiqIQ: Yankees Staying Hot On Road, Will Return To Yankee Stadium Tomorrow Against Baltimore


Not everyone expected the New York Yankees to storm into the 2015 MLB season with active bats and a stranglehold on first place in the AL East, but here they are. Alex Rodriguez has continued to be a nice surprise, as the polarizing superstar has knocked in an impressive six homers and 16 RBI. It hasn’t been all A-Rod, though, as the Yanks have ridden the bats of Jacob Ellsbury (batting .358), Mark Teixeira (10 HRs and 22 RBI) and Brett Gardner (batting .309) en route to 17 wins to start the year.

While New York’s hot start is encouraging for a long and winding season, they’ll need more of that offense if they want it to continue. That’s especially the case this week, when the Yanks go up against an equally potent offense in the division rival Baltimore Orioles. Something will have to break, as both ball clubs have shown a tendency to bring power to their offenses, but also haven’t done a great job keeping their opponents locked down on the defensive end.

That’s all the better for the sake of value when it comes to New York Yankees tickets, as fans can probably bank on at least a couple high-scoring clashes when this four-game series gets going on Thursday, May 7. While this series could provide a major swing in the division standings for the Orioles, it could also allow the Yankees to further distance themselves from their main competition in the AL East. New York would also prefer to start building a bigger lead over Baltimore, the reigning division champs.

Yankees fans can probably see the value already, but if they look in the right place, the price of Yankees tickets can be even sweeter. Secondary market prices currently start at $110 for the 100-level seats on Thursday, with a get-in price of $22, but if fans acquire their tickets via Yankees.com, they can save some cash this week, with 100-level seats starting from $58. Saturday might award fans the best value for Yankees-Orioles tickets, as tickets via Yankees.com are just $79 for 100-level seats, as opposed to $106 elsewhere.

Regardless, it should be an entertaining meeting between two very good ball clubs, and if the Yankees can continue their hitting surge, they have a nice chance of winning this series. Seeing any signs of life from their pitching rotation probably wouldn’t hurt, either, although it’s tough to buy New York shutting down an Orioles offense that boasts the seemingly  unstoppable Adam Jones (batting .396 with 5 HRs and 21 RBI), as well as stellar power from Chris Davis (6 HRs and 18 RBI). The rotation hasn’t been bad, though, so it is possible, and if they can minimize the Baltimore bats, taking three out of four is definitely more than possible.

Game 28: Chance To Win Another Series

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Yankees and Blue Jays have split the first two games of this series at Rogers Centre — the Yankees aren’t fans of the new turf, by the way — so tonight’s rubber game will determine the series winner. New York has won each of their last five series and they haven’t won six straight since the middle of the 2011 season, when they won seven straight. Would be nice to get over that hump, no?

Tonight’s pitching matchup would have been great about five years ago: CC Sabathia vs. Mark Buehrle. Now they’re both in the latter phases of their careers trying to figure out how to pitch with reduced stuff. (Yes, even Buehrle’s trying to learn how to pitch with lost velocity even though he had little to begin win.) The Yankees have historically owned Buehrle but I don’t really think that means much. This Yankees team is different than last year’s and the all the other ones before it. Here is Toronto’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Stephen Drew
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s been a real nice day in Toronto, with a clear sky and temperatures in the 70s. I’m guessing the roof will be open tonight. First pitch for tonight’s game is scheduled for 7:07pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Brett Gardner is out with a stiff neck, Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon. He hurt himself on a head-first slide last night. Seems like it’s only a day-to-day thing, thankfully.

Roster Move: As you can tell from the lineup, Pirela (concussion) has been activated off the DL. Gregorio Petit was placed on the 15-day DL with a right hand contusion in a corresponding move, the Yankees announced. Petit took a pitch to the hand last night and the various reporters say it was pretty swollen today. Timing worked out well.

2015 Draft: Tyler Jay

Tyler Jay | LHP

Background
Jay, 21, went undrafted out of an Illinois high school in 2012 and landed at the University of Illinois, where he’s been working in relief since the first day he stepped on campus. He has a 0.73 ERA with 54 strikeouts and four walks in 49.1 innings this spring after pitching to a 2.32 ERA with a 67/23 K/BB in 62 innings his freshman and sophomore years. Jay dominated with Team USA last summer, striking out 21 batters in 16.2 innings with a 0.00 ERA.

Scouting Report
Jay is miscast as a reliever because he has the deep repertoire and command not only to be a starter, but a potential impact starter. He sits in the mid-90s with a ton of life on his fastball as a reliever, so even if he drops into the low-90s working as a starter, Jay still has above-average velocity for a lefty with plenty of action on the pitch. He throws both a curveball and a slider — the curve is the better pitch right now because he can consistently throw it for strikes or bury it in the dirt for swings and misses, but the slider has flashed put-away potential through the years as well — and also has a changeup, though its development has lagged because he doesn’t need it in relief. Jay, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 lbs., locates everything well thanks to an easy delivery he repeats pitch after pitch.

Miscellany
Keith Law (subs. req’d), MLB.com, and Baseball America rank Jay as the 16th, 19th, and 29th best prospect in this year’s draft class in their latest rankings, respectively. Jay’s college coach likely cost him several thousand dollars (maybe millions) by choosing to use him as a reliever — Jay actually started the Illini’s third game this year, pitched well (5 IP, 0 R, 6 K), then was immediately moved back to the bullpen — because Jay is believed to have top five pick ability as a starter. Scouts haven’t been able to see him pitch regularly in that role though. I assume whichever team drafts Jay will give him the opportunity to start because the potential for command of four average or better pitches exists, and if the rotation doesn’t work out, he can always go back to the bullpen and resume being a shutdown reliever. The Yankees pick 16th and 30th this year and Jay’s combination of polish and upside seems right up their alley.

Hot starts by A-Rod and Chris Young have left little playing time for Garrett Jones

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

The Yankees had been after Garrett Jones for quite a while before landing him this offseason in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade. They first tried to get him in the A.J. Burnett trade a few years ago, at least as far as we know. Given his left-handed pull power and the ability to play first base as well as right field, Jones sure seemed like a good fit for the roster this year. The Yankees needed protection at those two positions as well as DH.

Instead of being that part-time first baseman, part-time right fielder, part-time DH against righties this year, the 33-year-old Jones has been limited to 34 unproductive plate appearances in the team’s first 27 games. He’s started just seven of the 27 games — two in right, two at first, and three at DH. Jones is currently in an 0-for-15 slump and has hit .152/.176/.242 (9 wRC+) with no homers so far this year. His defense hasn’t been anything special but that was always the case.

The lack of playing time is only partly due to the ugly batting line. Both Alex Rodriguez and Chris Young are off to very good starts and are stealing at-bats from Jones, so to speak. No one expected A-Rod to be this productive this soon. We all figured Jones would get a fair amount of DH at-bats coming into the season. And whenever someone in the outfield has needed a day off, Young has stepped in because he’s tearing the cover off the ball, even against righties.

The leaves Jones almost as a man without a role. He’s not seeing much time in the outfield, isn’t seeing much time at DH, and Mark Teixeira‘s combination of good health and lots of dingers has kept Jones from playing first base as well. There’s just no way to squeeze him into the lineup right now, and his lack of production is only going to make it easier for Joe Girardi to avoid using him going forward. Jones is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Jones averaged 527 plate appearances per season from 2010-14 and never came to the plate fewer than 440 times. He’s on pace for 204 plate appearances this year, so his playing time has been more than cut in half, and it’s hard to be a bench player after playing everyday your entire career. This is a chicken or the egg thing — is Jones not producing because he isn’t playing, or is he not playing because he isn’t producing? It’s probably some of both. He’s the position player version of David Carpenter, basically.

I’m not saying Jones should play more. I just don’t think he’s turned into a true talent 9 wRC+ (!) hitter in an offseason and my guess is the lack of regular playing time is at least partially to blame. It’s hard to stay sharp when you play this infrequently. Extra batting practice and time in the cage only does so much. Live pitching is a different animal. A-Rod and Young (and Teixeira) have been too good to take out of the lineup and the Yankees should milk those hot starts for all they’re worth.

Jones is stuck in an unfortunate spot right now, and, aside from an injury, I’m not sure there is any way to get him the playing time he maybe needs to be a productive part-time player. I don’t think the Yankees should replace him, at least not yet, and even if they were going to replace him, who’s a better option? It’s not like the next guy is going to play much. Calling up Slade Heathcott or Ramon Flores to play once a week is a waste. For the time being the Yankees should ride it out with Jones and hope he figures out a way to be a productive yet seldom-used bench player.

Yankees’ improved offense starts at the top with Ellsbury and Gardner

And they have a special handshake. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
I bet they have a secret handshake only other fast guys know about. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

When the Yankees missed the postseason in both 2013 and 2014, the offense was the main culprit. Sure, there were other factors like injuries, bad team defense, and just an okay pitching staff, but the Yankees really struggled to score runs and it was the reason they lost more often than not. They hit .244/.307/.378 (88 wRC+) in over 12,000 plate appearances as a team from 2013-14. I mean, come on.

Thankfully the story has been much different so far this year. The Yankees are averaging 4.85 runs per game, up considerably from 3.91 runs per game last year and well-above the 4.19 league average. They’re hitting .244/.321/.418 (104 wRC+) as a team overall, which is oh so much better than what we sat through the last two seasons. Much of the improved offense is thanks to power — the Yankees have a team .174 ISO this after .134 from 2013-14.

The Yankees are also benefiting from the best one-two lineup punch in baseball. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are both off to tremendous starts, especially hitting for average, getting on-base, and running the bases. The power isn’t really there, but that’s not their game. Look at these numbers:

AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ SB/CS K% BB%
Ellsbury .358/.433/.415 143 11/4 12.5% 9.2%
Average Leadoff Hitter .262/.320/.389 99 4.4/1.8 17.7% 7.1%
Gardner .309/.404/.444 141 8/1 12.4% 11.3%
Average No. 2 Hitter .261/.321/.405 105 1.1/0.6 18.3% 7.7%

The only other team in baseball getting something even remotely close to Ellsbury/Gardner production from the one-two spots this year are the Angels thanks to my boy Kole Calhoun (139 wRC+) and the amazing Mike Trout (167 wRC+). Calhoun recently spent a few days hitting lower in the order as Mike Scioscia tried to generate more offense too, so he hasn’t even been a full-time leadoff guy.

Of course, traditional lineup construction plays a big role in only one other team having two hitters his productive atop the lineup. Just about every team has two above-average hitters these days, yet managers continue to adhere to the whole “the best hitter bats third” theory. Teams are slowly starting to come around on batting their best hitters second — Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista have taken turns batting second for the Blue Jays, Joey Votto has batted second for the Reds, etc. — though it’s hardly common practice.

Joe Girardi deserves credit for batting his two best hitters in the top two lineup spots. It certainly helps that they are leadoff types who should hit near the top of the order, but Girardi could easily split them up saying he doesn’t like back-to-back lefties atop the lineup and no one would really question it. It’s sorta silly, yeah. It’s one of those things managers do though. Aside from occasionally sitting Gardner for Chris Young, Girardi has stuck with Ellsbury and Gardner atop the lineup.

“We definitely push each other,” said Brett Gardner to Chad Jennings earlier this week. “It’s a lot of fun hitting next to (Ellsbury) in the lineup. Feels like every time I come up, he’s on base. I feel like he makes me better, and hopefully he feels the same about me. Like I said, we push each other. We take a lot of pride in getting on base, and that’s our job at the top of the lineup. We feel like we’re two leadoff hitters, and we can get on base for those guys in the middle of the lineup and give them RBI opportunities.”

As a result of these two atop the lineup, the Yankees’ number three lineup spot has batted with at least one man on-base in 66 of 124 plate appearances this year, or 53.2%. Last year it was 44.8% and the league average is 45.0%. (The rate for the cleanup spot is nearly identical to last year and the league average, in case you’re wondering.) We’re talking about an improvement of nearly ten percentage points from one year to the next. Ellsbury and Gardner are table-setters and man, they couldn’t possibly be doing a better job right now.

Lineup protection is not a myth. It just exists in a different way than everyone’s been saying for the last century. The best protection is not having a great hitter behind you — that helps! but lots and lots of research has shown it doesn’t help that much — it’s having runners on base when you’re at the plate. MLB hitters have put up a .239/.299/.377 (90 wRC+) batting line with the bases empty this season and .262/.332/.407 (104 wRC+) with men on base this year. It’s not a sample size issue either. The league wide split was 93/101 last year and has been similar for years and years and years.

Batting with Ellsbury and/or Gardner on base is the best protection a Yankee can have this year and it’s not just because of those bases empty/men on base batting splits either. Those two guys are not typical base-runners. They draw attention when they’re on base because they’re threats to steal. Remember when Clay Buchholz threw over to first base even though Ellsbury was literally standing on the bag (twice!) a few weeks ago? That’s what they do to pitchers. They’re unnerving. I’m not sure it’s possible to quantify that but we see it game after game.

Last season the Yankees were hamstrung atop the lineup by Derek Jeter, a legacy Yankee the team was unwilling to drop in the order. Jeter’s an all-time great, we all know that, but the 2014 version of Derek hit .256/.304/.313 (73 wRC+) and snuffed out rallies on a nightly basis. That’s not happening this year. Girardi is able to use his two best hitters atop the lineup and the offense has benefited in a big way. The Ellsbury/Gardner duo is a legitimate game-changer and they’re a huge reason the offense has improved so much 27 games into 2015.

“They get our offense going,” Girardi said to Jennings. “That’s their job, and they’ve been really good at it. You look at the stretch we’ve been in, they’ve played extremely well. They had a tremendous weekend; a big part of our success in Boston, and we need it to continue. You can’t expect Jake to get on six times every night. It would be nice, but both of these guys have an ability to change the game in a lot of ways, and that’s what they’ve been doing.”