Game 159: Alive, But Barely

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

Thanks to last night’s dramatic walk-off grand slam (!), the Yankees remain mathematically alive in the postseason race. They have to win out and the Orioles have to lose out, among other things, but having a chance is better than not having a chance. The Yankees have pulled off some miraculous wins these last few days. Why not a miraculous run to the playoffs?

Also, tonight is David Ortiz’s last ever game against the Yankees — barring a postseason matchup, of course — and thank goodness for that. I’m sick of seeing that guy torment the Yankees. The Yankees are going to have a pregame ceremony for Ortiz tonight, and my guess is it’ll be mostly boos with a smattering of cheers. We’ll see. Here is the Red Sox’s hangover lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Gary Sanchez
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. C Brian McCann
  8. RF Aaron Hicks
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    LHP CC Sabathia

It is cold and rainy in New York today. It is pretty much everywhere east of the Rockies, it seems. The heaviest rain isn’t coming until the early morning hours though. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Masahiro Tanaka (forearm) threw a bullpen session and everything went fine. He wants to make his scheduled start Saturday, though the Yankees may not let him if they’ve already been eliminated from the postseason race.

The Yankees are getting power from premium positions to make up for their outfield

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Three years ago the Yankees made a decision to prioritize defense over offense in the outfield. They spent big to sign Jacoby Ellsbury, then a few months later they committed a market value extension to Brett Gardner. Yeah, they also brought in Carlos Beltran to play right field, but the other two outfield spots were occupied to players known more for their gloves and legs than their bats.

Fast forward to today, and things have played out pretty much exactly as expected. Ellsbury and Gardner have declined offensively as they get further into their 30s, meaning their defense is that much more important. Neither is the defender they were three or four years ago either, though I do think both are still comfortably above-average. As planned, it’s defense over offense.

The Ellsbury and Gardner contracts made it clear the Yankees were going to have to get power from their infield, because two of the three starting outfielders weren’t going to hit many balls over the fence. (Ironically enough, Gardner’s power spiked and his 33 homers from 2014-15 were 29th among all outfielders.) That is even more true today, as Ellsbury and Gardner have declined.

Infielders with power — especially middle infielders — can be hard to find, but the Yankees have managed to do it. Didi Gregorius joined the 20-home run club Tuesday night, about three weeks after Starlin Castro did the same thing. The Astros (Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa), Mets (Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker), Nationals (Danny Espinosa, Daniel Murphy), and Rays (Logan Forsythe, Brad Miller) are the only other teams to get 20+ homers from both middle infielders in 2016.

A year ago Didi and Castro combined for 20 homers total — Gregorius hit nine and Castro hit eleven with the Cubs — and now they are able to put up those numbers individually. Sure, Yankee Stadium definitely helps, but these guys are both 26 as well, and entering what should be the best years of their careers. A power spike at this age isn’t uncommon. Also, I’m pretty sure the ball is juiced, so let’s check this out quick:

Castro: 57 ISO+ in 2015, 81 ISO+ in 2016
Gregorius: 50 ISO+ in 2015, 76 ISO+ in 2016

ISO+ is the same basic idea as OPS+. It’s the player’s ISO relative to the league ISO with a park factor applied — I used the handedness park factors at StatCorner — where 100 is league average. Anything lower is below-average and anything higher is below-average.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Adjusting for ballpark and the the increase in power around the league, Castro and Gregorius are still below-average power hitters this season. But! Compared to last season, they’ve both made improvements. Castro essentially went from 57% of the league average power output to 81%. Gregorius jumped from 50% to 76%. There’s real development behind their power. It’s not all Yankee Stadium and juiced baseballs.

In addition to the middle infield, the Yankees are also getting a ton of power from their catchers. In fact, they have two catchers with 19+ homers. Again: two catchers with 19+ homers! That’s pretty awesome. The team’s biggest power sources — catcher and middle infield — are positions not normally associated with power, which is a big positive. Going forward, having Gregorius and Castro up the middle with Gary Sanchez behind the plate will be very nice in terms of dinger expectancy.

The problem this season has been the lack of power from other positions. We knew Gardner and Ellsbury weren’t going to hit many home runs, but the Yankees have gotten very little from first base and DH, the two most premium power positions. When it’s all said and done, the Yankees will (probably) miss the postseason this year not because Dellin Betances blew some saves or Chase Headley had a bad April. It’s because Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were complete non-factors.

Hopefully young players like Greg Bird and Aaron Judge can help provide some more pop going forward. Right now the Yankees are getting their power from the middle infield and behind the plate, which is a good building block. It’s also necessary because Gardner and Ellsbury aren’t the hitters they once were, and when you have two defense-first players in the outfield, the offense has to come from somewhere else. The Yankees are starting to get that production from elsewhere.

CC Sabathia hopes to remain with Yankees beyond 2017

(Rich Gagnon/Getty)
(Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Later tonight, in the series finale against the Red Sox, CC Sabathia will make his final start in what has been a rock solid bounceback season. He owns a 4.02 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 172.1 innings overall, which is far better than the 4.73 ERA (4.68 FIP) he had a year ago, or the 4.81 ERA (4.40 FIP) line he had from 2013-15. Couldn’t have asked for more from the big man.

At this point Sabathia’s $25M option for next is going to vest — the only way it won’t vest is if he finishes the season on the DL with a shoulder problem, which is very unlikely — and he’ll be back in the rotation next year. And according to Mark Feinsand, Sabathia wants to continue pitching beyond next season, and he would like to remain with the Yankees. From Feinsand:

“It’s definitely gone by quick,” Sabathia said of his eight years in pinstripes. “I know I want to pitch after next year, but I haven’t thought about where or what. Hopefully it will be here. We’ll see.”

“I feel like this is just the beginning of what I’m trying to do. I feel like there’s a lot more still to learn and a lot better to get. It’s exciting … As long as I’m healthy, I feel like I’ll be able to get big-league hitters out. I’ve proven that.”

There are tangible explanations for Sabathia’s success this season. First and foremost, he’s replaced his four-seam fastball with a cutter, which better allows him to get inside on righties and make them uncomfortable. Righties hit .304/.363/.502 (.370 wOBA) against him last year, and this season that’s down to a much more manageable .258/.326/.398 (.316 wOBA). Huge difference.

Also, Sabathia is healthier this season. He missed some time with groin strain back in May, but that was nothing serious. His arm is healthy and his troublesome right knee has held up, thanks in part to the new brace he’s been using. Sabathia is sober too. We shouldn’t discount that. Addiction consumes your entire life. Sabathia is in a better place mentally and physically than he has been for some time.

This reminds me of the Mike Mussina situation back in 2006. Mussina was 37 at the time and he was clearly no longer the pitcher he was in his prime, but he was still capable and familiar, so the Yankees brought him back on a two-year deal for 2007-08. Sabathia will be 37 next year, and like Mussina, he’s not longer what he once was, but he’s shown this year he can still be an effective pitcher.

Not long ago re-signing Sabathia after next season was complete crazy talk. Now? Well, let’s not completely dismiss the idea just yet. I’m not saying the Yankees should re-sign Sabathia. They’ll have all of next season to evaluate him, after all. If he’s able to repeat his 2016 season in 2017, then yeah, maybe a short-term deal to beef up the back of the rotation makes sense. There’s always a need for pitching and the decision doesn’t need to be made right now.

Either way, Sabathia has been the Yankees’ second best starter this season, and there are reasons to believe his success is not a fluke. The cutter and his health are chief among them. Since his option is going to vest, the Yankees will have Sabathia for next season, and they’ll get to see whether his new approach is something built for long-term success. If it is, bringing him back in 2018 might not sound as crazy as it once did.

David Ortiz is retiring and the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry will never quite be the same

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

Later tonight David Ortiz will play his final game in Yankee Stadium and his final game against the Yankees in general. I speak for scores of Yankees fans when I say: finally! Ortiz has tormented New York for more than a decade now, and he’s responsible for some of the worst moments in Yankees’ history. As Ortiz said in his recent Players’ Tribune article, “Some players are born to be Yankees … I was born to play against the Yankees.”

Like Alex Rodriguez, there seems to be no middle ground with Ortiz. People either love him or hate him. Unlike A-Rod, most folks love Ortiz. Believe me. It’s true. Maybe not in this neck of the woods, but all around the league and the world. People love the guy. Ortiz is affable, charismatic, and he backs it all up on the field. There are superstars like the vanilla Mike Trout, and then there are superstars. Ortiz is a superstar. The total package.

Say what you want about his legacy. Just know Ortiz is going to go down as arguably the greatest DH the game has ever seen and inarguably as one of the most popular players in recent baseball history. Like it or not, the performance-enhancing drug double standard applies to him. Do we like the player? If yes, then ignore the PED issue, which in this case is a failed test as part of MLB’s screening in 2003, the results of which were supposed to remain confidential. If no, then discredit him entirely.

Ortiz has gotten a pass the same way Andy Pettitte has gotten a pass. People like him so they’re willing to overlook things. And frankly, I couldn’t care less. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed watching A-Rod the last 12 years, who am I to judge? Ortiz is having an off-the-charts monster season at age 40, and I think it has more to do with him not having the same wear and tear on his body as a typical 40-year-old ballplayer because he didn’t play the field all those years than anything else. You’re welcome to disagree.

Growing up, I first came into baseball “consciousness” around 1990 and 1991. Somewhere in there. That’s when I started to really understand what was going on and things like that. For the next 13 years or so, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was very one-sided. The 1999 ALCS, the 2003 ALCS, whatever. The Red Sox might win a few battles along the way, but the Yankees always won the war. There was comfort in that.

Ortiz, along with Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez and others, had a huge role in changing that. Back in the late-1990s and early-2000s there was legitimate hatred in the rivalry — hatred among the players, I mean — and that doesn’t seem to exist now. Blame baseball’s parity. It’s not Yankees vs. Red Sox in the AL East anymore. Now each year it’s Yankees vs. Red Sox and the Blue Jays and maybe the Orioles too.

The rivalry was at its best when Ortiz first landed in Boston, and it only added to the rivalry that the Yankees missed out on him. The old story is that George Steinbrenner pushed Brian Cashman to sign Ortiz, though Cashman shot that down earlier this year. Here’s what he told Scott Lauber in May:

“It’s an urban myth,” Cashman said in a phone interview. “Essentially what occurred here was, any time the Red Sox signed anybody, anything that was on ESPN — ‘The Boston Red Sox today announced the acquisition of whoever,’ a free agent, a trade, whatever — George would turn to me and say, ‘Why didn’t you sign him? I’ve always liked him. He better not be any good.’ And I would tell The Boss, ‘You only can have 25 guys on a roster, Boss.’ At that time, we had [designated hitter Jason] Giambi and [first baseman] Nick Johnson. Did George know who David Ortiz was? No, he had no idea.”

Regardless of what happened with Cashman and Steinbrenner, Ortiz is a Red Sox, and he’s made the Yankees miserable ever since. To the rest of the baseball world, he’s beloved Big Papi with an outsized personality and a knack for clutch hits that seems to good to be true. To the Yankees and their fans, he’s a villain, a symbol of when this rivalry stopped being so one-sided.

Is Ortiz going to the Hall of Fame? Of course he is. You can’t tell the story of baseball history and skip over Ortiz. Sorry, but it’s true. And no, Edgar Martinez doesn’t have to get in first. It doesn’t work like that. Their Hall of Fame cases are independent of each other. Ortiz is on the very short list of the best players at his position and he was a central figure in the most successful period of Red Sox history in nearly a century. Hall of Famer. No doubt.

The David Ortiz era of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is coming to an end tonight and thank goodness for that. He’s been a thorn in the Yankees’ side for far too long. Ortiz had a big role in changing the dynamic of the rivalry which, for a while, wasn’t much of a rivalry. The Yankees always came out on top. He changed that. Love him or hate him, Ortiz is an all-time great player and he was a worthy foe these last 14 years. Because of him, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry won’t ever be quite the same.

Yankees 5, Red Sox 3: Mark Teixeira’s walk-off grand slam staves off elimination

Not dead yet! The Yankees were one out away from elimination Wednesday night, but Mark Teixeira kept the season alive with a colossal walk-off grand slam against the Red Sox. How about that? The final score was 5-3 good guys. Amazing. Love this team, you guys.

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

That’s Mr. Mitchell To You
What a way for Bryan Mitchell to close out his season. This was a tough year for him because of the freak toe injury, but in his final start Wednesday night, he held the high-powered Red Sox to two stupid little hits in seven shutout innings. He did walked five and strike out only two, so that’s no good, but hey, seven scoreless innings is seven scoreless innings. This is a start Mitchell can take into the offseason and feel really, really great about.

Mitchell’s biggest jam of the night was self-inflicted. He walked Hanley Ramirez on four pitches to open the fifth, then Gary Sanchez bailed his pitcher out by throwing Hanley out trying to steal. Replays showed Chase Headley, who was over there playing the shift, missed the initial tag, but got Ramirez with a follow-up tag when his foot game off the bag for an instant. Hooray replay! Mitchell then walked Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brock Holt, so he walked each of the first three batters in the inning. The next two guys made outs on the first pitch to end the threat.

The seventh inning got a little dicey as well thanks to a leadoff single and a two-out walk, but Joe Girardi stuck with Mitchell and let him work through the mess, which he did. Sandy Leon grounded out weakly to end the inning and Mitchell’s night. All told, the young right-hander pitched to a 3.24 ERA (4.22 FIP) in five starts and 25 innings. He also walked more batters (12) than he struck out (11), and that’s never good. Still, Mitchell can feel pretty good about what he did in these five starts, especially after the dumb toe injury.

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

BLOWN SAVE
We can skip over the Red Sox scoring their three runs, right? Mookie Betts hit a two-run chopper over Headley’s head, then a Sanchez passed ball allowed the third run to cross the plate. All three runs came in the eighth inning to break the scoreless tie. I’m not sure we need to relive that half-inning any more than that.

So anyway, the Yankees did a whole bunch of nothing offensively for the first eight innings. They had four baserunners in those eight innings: a single and two walks by Brett Gardner, and a walk by Teixeira. That’s it. The offense couldn’t get anything going on against Clay Buchholz, annoyingly. We’ve seen a few too many games like this, where the bats are completely silent.

The ninth inning rally started with a Gardner single and continued with three straight walks by Craig Kimbrel. The third of those three walks was maybe the at-bat of the season. Brian McCann fell behind in the count 0-2 before working an eleven-pitch walk to force in a run. Sanchez walked immediately prior to that and Kimbrel threw him nothing but curveballs. Didn’t even bother to throw a fastball. The rookie’s getting some respect already.

After the McCann walk, both Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius made quick and unproductive outs. Castro struck out on three pitches and Didi popped up in foul territory. Those two aren’t the most disciplined hitters in the world. The Yankees were down 3-1 with two outs after that, though the bases were loaded. Then Teixeira did this:

“I hope this was my last home run. I really do. That was incredible. These fans. I love you guys,” said Teixeira during the on-field interview with YES after the walk-off grand slam. What an awesome moment. I can’t stop thinking about Teixeira yelling “blow save!” at Jason Grilli from the dugout Monday night after that ninth inning homer. He’s been doing a lot of save-blowing of late. (Phrasing!)

I wonder if Teixeira will sit out the last four games of the season so he can go out with the walk-off grand slam as his final act on a baseball field. Probably not, but who knows. That was a pretty awesome moment. Did you know this is his first ever regular season walk-off homer? Crazy. He had one in Game Two of the 2009 ALDS, but never before in the regular season. Go Tex.

Leftovers
Adam Warren was charged with all three runs, but only one was earned because Castro made a bad error to allow the leadoff runner to reach base. It was a soft ground ball right to him, and he just bobbled it. Pretty bad. Tommy Layne, Jonathan Holder, and James Pazos all pitched in this one too. Pazos picked up his first career win, so congrats to him.

The Yankees had three hits total (two Gardner singles, Teixeira grand slam) and also six walks, including three in that ninth inning. They didn’t have a runner reach third base until the final inning. Gardner (two), Jacoby Ellsbury, Sanchez, McCann, and Teixeira drew the walks. Not much offense, but timing is everything is in this game, so it was enough to win.

The Orioles beat the Blue Jays, which means the Yankees’ tragic number is down to one. One more loss or one more Orioles win knocks New York from playoff contention. Here’s what needs to happen these next four days:

Yankees go 4-0 (one vs. Red Sox, three vs. Orioles)
Orioles go 0-4 (one vs. Blue Jays, three vs. Yankees)
Tigers go 1-3 or worse (one vs. Indians, three vs. Braves)
Mariners go 2-2 or worse (four vs. Athletics)
Astros go 2-1 or worse (three vs. Angels)

If all of that happens, the Yankees and Orioles will tie for the second wildcard spot. That’s the best the Yankees can do at this point. They can’t win the second wildcard spot outright. It’s a Game 163 tiebreaker or bust.

The win was the 82nd of the season for the Yankees, clinching a winning season for the 24th (!) straight year. The 1926-64 Yankees had a winning record in 39 straight season, which is bonkers. If the Yankees keep this current streak going and match that 39-season streak, Gary Sanchez will be 38 when they get there. Geez.

And finally, the Red Sox clinched the AL East title because the Blue Jays lost, but you know what? They clinched in literally the worst way possible and they didn’t get to celebrate on the field at Yankee Stadium. I’ll take it.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go on over to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, then MLB.com for the video highlights. We have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the amazingly awesome win probability graph:

Up Next
The Yankees will look to finish the sweep Thursday night against a presumably hungover Red Sox team. CC Sabathia and fellow lefty Henry Owens will be on the mound. RAB Tickets can get you in the door for that game or any of the other three games left this season.

Game 158: Looking for No. 82

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

There are five games left this season and the Yankees are currently 81-76, so we know they won’t have a losing record this season. With one more win, No. 82 of the season, the Yankees will clinch a winning record for the 24th (!) straight season. That would be the second longest streak in history, behind the 1926-64 Yankees, who did it in 39 straight seasons. Crazy.

Of course, the Yankees also need a win to keep their faint postseason hopes alive. Things broke their way last night — they won and the Orioles lost — and they need that to happen again tonight. Any combination of Yankees wins and Orioles losses totaling three these next two nights will make this weekend’s series against the O’s meaningful. Could be cool. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 1B Mark Teixeira
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Mason Williams
    RHP Bryan Mitchell

It’s very cool and cloudy in New York today. Windy too. Fall weather, but not the good kind. There’s a little bit of rain in the forecast later tonight, but it doesn’t look like anything that will impact the game. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on WPIX. Enjoy the game.

Roster Update: Nick Goody has left the team and returned home to attend to a family issue, according to Chad Jennings. His locker is cleaned out, so it seems like he’s done for the year. Hope everything’s okay at home.

Update: Yankees remove James Kaprielian from Arizona Fall League roster

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

Wednesday: Well, so much for that. Kaprielian has been removed from the Scottsdale roster, according to MLB Pipeline. Jack Curry says Kaprielian hasn’t suffered a setback. He was added to the AzFL roster prematurely. If Kaprielian completes his rehab work in Instructional League, he’ll pitch in the AzFL.

Monday: Right-hander James Kaprielian has been added to the Scottsdale Scorpions roster, according to the Arizona Fall League transactions page. The Yankees had one open pitching spot and were reportedly hoping to use it on Kaprielian, who has missed almost the entire season with an flexor tendon strain.

“I’m pretty happy and excited with the progression we’ve made,” he said to Brendan Kuty last week. “We’ve obviously taken our time with this and tried to deal with it smart. The Yankees have done a really good job with handling me and the process and I feel good with where I’m at.”

Kaprielian, 22, threw a two-inning simulated game last Tuesday and was scheduled throw again yesterday, according to Erik Boland. The plan was to have him make an Instructional League start this week if yesterday’s throwing session went as planned. The fact Kaprielian has been added to the AzFL roster indicates everything is going well. The Yankees wouldn’t add him to the roster if there any doubt about his health.

The Yankees selected Kaprielian with their first round pick (16th overall) in last year’s draft. He experienced a pretty significant velocity spike last year, going from 88-91 mph as a sophomore at UCLA to 92-93 mph by the end of his junior year, then 94-96 mph by the end of his first pro season. Kaprielian was reportedly up to 97-99 mph this spring. Unfortunately, big velocity spikes are followed by elbow woes more often than not, it seems.

In three starts with High-A Tampa this season Kaprielian had a 1.50 ERA (2.03 FIP) in 18 innings. He was dominant, as expected. Coming into the season the hope was Kaprielian would tear through High-A and Double-A, reach Triple-A in the second half, and possibly make his MLB debut in September. Obviously those plans had to be put on hold by the injury. The good news is he’s healthy now and going to the AzFL.

Kaprielian will join Greg Bird (shoulder surgery) as rehabbing Yankees in the AzFL. Tyler Wade, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Josh Roeder, J.P. Feyereisen, and Dillon Tate are going as well. Yankees’ prospects will be on a team with Angels, Giants, Phillies, and Mets prospects. The AzFL season begins October 11th.