Game Six: Tanaka Tuesday

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Last year, when the Blue Jays went 9-4 against the Yankees in the second half, Masahiro Tanaka was the only starter to put up much of a fight against the Toronto offense. He made three starts against the Blue Jays after the All-Star break. The result: 22 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 20 K. The Jays wrecked all sorts of pitching late last year, but they couldn’t touch Tanaka.

Tanaka and the Blue Jays will meet tonight for the first this season, and unfortunately nothing that happened last year matters now. Tanaka’s second half success against Toronto doesn’t mean anything today. It’s a new season. The Yankees and Blue Jays are going to beat up on each other all summer — hopefully the fight isn’t so one-sided this year — and these head-to-head games are going to play a huge role in deciding the AL East. Here is the Jays’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Starlin Castro
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy and cold in Toronto, so I assume the Rogers Centre roof is closed. I’m sure the Yankees don’t mind. They’ve played in nothing but temperatures near freezing so far this year. Tonight’s game will begin a bit after 7pm ET and you can watch live on YES. Enjoy the game, y’all.

Injury Update: Nick Rumbelow will have his Tommy John surgery this Friday. We heard yesterday Rumbelow needs his elbow rebuilt. He hurt himself over the weekend. Sucks.

Yanks agree to stay in Tampa for Spring Training through 2046; GMS Field to get $40M in renovations

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and the Tampa Sports Authority have agreed to a new deal that will keep the team in Tampa for Spring Training through 2046, the two sides announced Monday. As part of the deal, Gorge M. Steinbrenner Field will get $40M in renovations. Upgrades will also be made to the Himes minor league complex across the street.

“The Steinbrenner family is extremely proud to have called Tampa Bay home for decades and extending the New York Yankees’ agreement with the community through 2046 is very important to us,” said Hal Steinbrenner in a statement. “We are excited to see these improvements to Steinbrenner Field, all of which will significantly improve the fan experience.”

“The New York Yankees have been great partners in our community for decades and having these improvements and commitment thru 2046 will be a major economic benefit for our area,” added Eric Hart, president and CEO of the Tampa Sports Authority. “I would like to thank the Hillsborough County administration and the New York Yankees for their efforts to ensure the continuation of this great partnership.”

According to the press release, the renovations to GMS Field will include new outfield concourses and more “social gathering areas” with shade. The plan still needs approval from several governing parties, and once they dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, the renovations will begin. Construction is expected to be completed in time for Spring Training next season.

I assume GMS Field will still be playable this summer and High-A Tampa won’t have to play their home games somewhere else. There was nothing about that mentioned in the release. A few years ago PNC Field underwent extensive renovations, forcing Triple-A Scranton to play an entire season on the road. That was not fun for the players.

The renovations will be paid for by Hillsborough County, the state Spring Training Retention Program, and the Yankees. Public money for stadium renovations. Blah. Unfortunately that is happening all over the country.

4/12 to 4/14 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

They have an all-dirt infield in Toronto now. (Photo via @sbrooksbaseball)
They have an all-dirt infield in Toronto now. (Photo via @sbrooksbaseball)

Each of the five AL East teams has won a division title within the last six years. Last year it was the Blue Jays’ turn, as they stormed up the standings in the second half and blew by the Yankees. New York was six games up at the trade deadline and six games back at the end of the season. That happened quick. The Yankees and Blue Jays figure to compete for the AL East title again in 2016. They meet for the first time this week with three games at Rogers Centre.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Blue Jays are 3-4 in the early going this season. They split a four-game series with the Rays in Tampa Bay last week, then dropped two of three to the Red Sox at home over the weekend. Toronto has scored 29 runs and allowed 30 so far. Like the Yankees, the Blue Jays had an off-day yesterday. (They didn’t get rained out Sunday though.)

Offense & Defense

A year ago the Blue Jays scored 892 runs, by far the most in baseball — the Yankees were second with 764 runs — and the most by any team since the 2009 Yankees scored 915 runs. Most of the lineup returns this year. The only difference is OF Michael Saunders in left field instead of OF Ben Revere. The season is still very young, so I’m going to give you each player’s performance to date and their 2016 ZiPS projections. Sound good? Too bad if it doesn’t. This ain’t no democracy.

2016 Stats to Date 2016 ZiPS
C Russell Martin
2-for-20 (.100), 0 HR, 0 SB, 0 BB, 10 K .231/.329/.403 (101 wRC+), 15 HR, 5 SB
1B Chris Colabello
1-for-12 (.083), 0 HR, 0 SB, 0 BB, 5 K .251/.304/.433 (99 wRC+), 18 HR, 1 SB
2B Ryan Goins
6-for-21 (.286), 0 HR, 0 SB, 1 BB, 6 K .237/.282/.326 (64 wRC+), 5 HR, 3 SB
SS Troy Tulowitzki
3-for-25 (.120), 1 HR, 0 SB, 3 BB, 10 K .255/.330/.434 (107 wRC+), 16 HR, 1 SB
3B Josh Donaldson
9-for-29 (.310), 4 HR, 0 SB, 2 BB, 11 K .279/.354/.525 (139 wRC+), 32 HR, 6 SB
LF Michael Saunders
5-for-19 (.263), 1 HR, 0 SB, 1 BB, 5 K .247/.323/.421 (102 wRC+), 8 HR, 5 RBI
CF Kevin Pillar
6-for-29 (.207), 0 HR, 1 SB, 0 BB, 4 K .269/.304/.403 (90 wRC+), 11 HR, 21 SB
RF Jose Bautista
6-for-21 (.286), 2 HR, 0 SB, 9 BB, 8 K .263/.385/.527 (149 wRC+), 29 HR, 5 SB
DH Edwin Encarnacion
8-for-27 (.296), 0 HR, 0 SB, 2 BB, 4 K .271/.363/.505 (135 wRC+), 27 HR, 4 SB
BENCH
C Josh Thole
1-for-7 (.143), 1 HR, 0 SB, 0 BB, 2 K .238/.298/.313 (67 wRC+), 3 HR, 0 SB
1B Justin Smoak
1-for-5 (.200), 0 HR, 1 SB, 2 BB, 4 K .236/.314/.424 (101 wRC+), 16 HR, 1 SB
IF Darwin Barney 3-for-11 (.273), 0 HR, 2 SB, 1 BB, 0 K .241/.290/.336 (69 wRC+), 6 HR, 5 SB
OF Ezequiel Carrera
1-for-7 (.143), 0 HR, 0 SB, 0 BB, 2 K .253/.301/.351 (78 wRC+), 6 HR, 19 SB

ZiPS is expecting Tulowitzki to really start to decline, but the Blue Jays still have those three huge bats in Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion. Those dudes are terrifying. For some reason manager John Gibbons insists on batting Pillar leadoff, meaning Donaldson, the No. 2 hitter, will bat with the bases empty and one out in roughly 70% of first innings in 2016.

Colabello is a prime candidate to see his numbers slip back — he hit .321/.367/.520 (142 wRC+) in 2015 — because he had a .411 BABIP last season, and he ain’t no true talent .411 BABIP hitter. No one is. Especially not a big, lumbering first baseman. I think it’s only a matter of time until Smoak is playing first base everyday, or at least everyday against righties. (He’s a switch-hitter, Colabello is a right-handed hitter.)

One aspect of the Blue Jays that got overlooked last year was their defense. This is a very good defensive club. Aside from first base and right field — Bautista doesn’t have a ton of range, but he has a rocket arm — they have average or better defenders all over the field. Check out Sean Dolinar’s defensive projections visualization:

Blue Jays defense

Pretty good defensive club right there. The Blue Jays don’t just mash. They catch the ball too. I thought that was a very overlooked part of their team a year ago.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Aaron Sanchez (vs. NYY)
The Blue Jays are giving Sanchez another try in the rotation. The 23-year-old had a 3.55 ERA (5.21 FIP) in eleven starts and 66 innings as a starter last season, and he came out of the gate by firing seven innings of one-run ball against the Rays in his first start of 2016. He struck out eight and walked one in that start, which is way different than the 15.0 K% and 13.2 BB% he had as a starter in 2015. Sanchez sits in the mid-90s with his sinker, and his go-to offspeed pitch is low-80s slider. He’s working on a changeup, and the pitch has shown some ridiculous movement in the past:

Aaron Sanchez change

Sanchez threw 15 changeups in his first start last week, the second most he’s ever thrown in an outing in his career. I’m guessing he’ll go back to that well given all the lefties the Yankees have in the lineup.

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TOR) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (vs. NYY)
Happ is essentially replacing David Price in the rotation. Price is gone and Happ is the guy they signed to fill the rotation spot. He had a 3.61 ERA (3.41 FIP) in 172 innings a year ago, though he was way better with the Pirates in the second half (1.85 ERA and 2.19 FIP) than he was with the Mariners in the first half (4.64 ERA and 4.12 FIP). Pittsburgh got Happ to throw his low-90s four-seam heater more often, and he located it better than ever before, but in his first start of this season he threw it only 34.8% of the time. He again shelved it in favor of his low-90s sinker for at least that one start. Happ also throws a lot of upper-80s cutters. A mid-80s changeup is his primary offspeed pitch, and he’ll flip a few upper-70s curves per start as well. Last week Happ, 33, held the Rays to two runs in six innings. He walked one and fanned four.

Thursday (7pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (vs. NYY)
Stroman, 24, is now the staff ace with Price gone. A torn ACL limited him to four starts last season (1.67 ERA and 3.54 FIP), and at this point it’s pretty clear he’s a ground ball guy (career 56.0 GB%) and not so much a strikeout guy (19.9%). Stroman will throw six different pitches but he leans on four the most: low-90s sinker, upper-80s cutter, mid-80s changeup, and mid-80s curve. He’ll throw a handful of straight low-90s four-seamers and loopy upper-70s curveballs per start. That deep repertoire has allowed him to avoid a significant platoon split early in his young career. Stroman gets himself into trouble when he tries to get cute and put guys away with his fourth or fifth (or sixth) best pitch. He was excellent in his first start (three runs in eight innings, but two runs came super late) and pretty bad in his second start (five runs in 5.1 innings) last week.

Bullpen Status

The Blue Jays are without three of their best relievers from last season. Sanchez was moved into the rotation, RHP Mark Lowe left as a free agent, and RHP Liam Hendriks was traded to the Athletics for RHP Jesse Chavez. Those three combined to allow 36 earned runs in 110 innings. That’s a 2.95 ERA. Here is the current bullpen:

2016 Stats to Date 2016 ZiPS
RHP Roberto Osuna
4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 0 HR 3.13 ERA (3.22 FIP), 27.5 K%, 7.6 BB%
RHP Drew Storen
2.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0 HR 3.10 ERA (3.21 FIP), 9.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
LHP Brett Cecil
2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HR 2.96 ERA (2.72 FIP), 31.0 K%, 8.4 BB%
RHP Jesse Chavez
2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR 4.33 ERA (3.93 FIP), 20.6 K%, 6.8 BB%
RHP Gavin Floyd
2.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0 HR 5.62 ERA (5.33 FIP), 16.9 K%, 7.3 BB%
RHP Arnold Leon
2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR 5.52 ERA (5.09 FIP), 6.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
RHP Joe Biagini
 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0 HR N/A

Osuna, who was the youngest player on an Opening Day roster this year at 21 years and 65 days, was dynamite last season. So was Cecil, who flew under the radar. Storen has had some great years in the past, but his meltdowns are becoming more and more frequent. Gibbons has already shown a quick hook with him this year.

The rest of the bullpen is pretty sketchy. Biagini is a Rule 5 Draft pick who was in Double-A with the Giants last year. ZiPS didn’t even bother spitting out a projection for him. Chavez is an Adam Warren-esque swingman — he’s not as good as Warren, but that’s his role — and Floyd’s trying to come back from a series of elbow injuries. Leon is an out of options scrap heap arm the Blue Jays are not ready to cut ties with just yet. Cecil and Osuna are pretty formidable. The rest of the ‘pen can get got.

Sunday’s postponement does not delay Chapman’s return

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I’ve seen some confusion about this and figured it was worth clearing up: Sunday’s postponed game does not mean Aroldis Chapman will have to wait one extra day to return from his suspension. He is eligible to return on May 9th regardless of how many Yankees games are postponed between now and then. Both Jayson Stark and Bryan Hoch have confirmed it.

Chapman was suspended 30 games following an October domestic dispute incident at his home, but apparently the suspension covers 30 regularly scheduled games, not 30 games played. Don’t ask me why. That’s the way the league’s domestic violence policy is written. Chapman will still lose the same salary ($1.85M or so) and service time as a result of the suspension, however.

There has been no official announcement yet, but Sunday’s game is tentatively scheduled to be made up on July 28th, well after Chapman’s suspension is due to end. He will now effectively serve a 29-game ban and be eligible to play in the other 133 regular season games. Having Chapman available that one extra game could very well end up having a huge impact on the final standings.

So remember: May 9th. That’s the date Chapman will be eligible to return — the Yankees have said they plan to make sure Chapman is MLB ready that day, because duh — no matter what the weather does to the team’s schedule.

Thoughts following the back-to-back off-days

Starsky and Dutch. (Presswire)
Starsky and Dutch. (Presswire)

Thanks to Sunday’s rainout, the Yankees are coming off back-to-back off-days as they head into tonight’s series opener against the Blue Jays. It’s not too early to call this a big series, is it? Yeah kinda. Then again, every win the Yankees pick up now is one fewer win they’ll need later. Anyway, I have some thoughts. Read ’em and weep.

1. Through five games the Prestige Worldwide™ middle infield has gone a combined 15-for-38 (.395) with two doubles, three home runs, two walks, and three strikeouts. This is working out pretty well so far, eh? Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius are not going to keep up that pace, we all know that, but it’s exciting to see the Yankees have two bonafide building block players at second and short. I’m a huge believer in building a team from the middle of the field outward, and rebuilding the middle infield in the post-Derek Jeter/Robinson Cano era was not going to be easy. No one is going to confuse Didi and Castro for Jeter and Cano, but these two guys sure look like they have the potential to stick around for a few years. Gregorius has been getting better and better since last May, and Castro has hit the ground running in New York. They’ve been awesome in the super early going.

2. As he’s struggled these last few years, we’ve heard CC Sabathia has been tinkering with all sorts of different pitches. Cutters, two-seam fastballs, two-seam changeups, the works. Most of the time nothing came from it. Late this spring there were reports Sabathia was working on a new cutter that is somehow different than his old cutter, and he actually threw it in his start Saturday. A lot. From Brooks Baseball:

CC Sabathia pitch selectionI’ve been doing this long enough to know getting excited about a new pitch after one outing is foolish, but you can’t ignore the new pitch completely either. Sabathia made a tangible change to his arsenal and it very well may lead to a change in his effectiveness. Not necessarily for the better either. The cutter could stink going forward for all we know. I’m rooting for Sabathia more than any other player on the roster this season given everything he went through last year, and if this cutter in any way helps his performance, great. Sabathia is a dude worth pulling for.

3. The list of available shuttle relievers has very quietly thinned out one week into the season. Bryan Mitchell is out with his broken toe and now Nick Rumbelow needs Tommy John surgery. Jacob Lindgren and Vicente Campos are down in High Class-A getting themselves back on track. That leaves Branden Pinder, Nick Goody, James Pazos, and Tyler Olson as the 40-man roster call-up options. I see Olson as a pure left-on-left matchup guy, so his usefulness is limited. The Yankees do have an open 40-man spot thanks to Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension — Mitchell, Greg Bird, and now Rumbelow are 60-day DL candidates too — so they could always call up someone like Tyler Webb or Chad Green or Diego Moreno or whoever. Still though, if they need a fresh arm and either Pinder or Goody is unavailable because they just pitched, things could get interesting. The Yankees showed last year they’ll call just about anyone up, so don’t be surprised if we see Anthony Swarzak, Kyle Haynes, or Tyler Cloyd at some point.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. I can’t say I expect the imminent Nick Swisher signing to amount to much, if anything, but there’s nothing wrong with bringing him aboard for a look-see. He’s going to take at-bats away from Chris Parmelee and Deibinson Romero (and probably Cesar Puello too) at Triple-A, and that’s no big deal. Swisher is 35 now, his knees are shot, and he’s been awful the last two years. Those guys usually don’t bounce back and produce, even in limited roles. Given Mark Teixeira‘s injury history though, adding first base depth is not a bad move, and if nothing else Swisher is a guy who knows the strike zone and already knows how to take advantage of the short porch. It would be awesome to see him come up and have some kind of impact. I’m just not expecting anything.

5. How about my boy Ronald Torreyes? I said I was irrationally excited about him soon after the trade — that was before the Yankees designated him for assignment, lost him on waivers, then re-claimed him on waivers — so seeing that 3-for-4 game in his first MLB start last week was pretty cool. I don’t think Torreyes is a future regular or anything, but I think he can be a pretty good bench player going forward. He’s only 23 — good thing the Yankees went young instead of putting Rob Refsnyder on the bench, eh? — and he’s a high contact/high energy guy who can handle the three non-first base infield positions. It’s almost like he’s Eduardo Nunez with better defense. Torreyes is that same kind of live-bodied athlete without the defensive headaches. Nice little find for the Yankees.

6. James Kaprielian, last year’s first round pick, made his season debut last night with High-A Tampa and was pretty awesome. His stats are in the James Kaprielian Watch in the sidebar. Kaprielian threw only 60 pitches in his five innings, and that leads me to believe the Yankees are controlling his workload early in the season so he can help come August and September. This is exactly what they did with Luis Severino last year. The limited his work in the minors in April, May, and June, then turned him loose in the second half in the big leagues. They didn’t want to run into a situation where Severino had to be shut down in early or mid-September because his workload was getting out of control. It appears Kaprielian is on a similar plan. That doesn’t guarantee he will be up later in the season. It just means the Yankees want to be prepared in case Kaprielian does force the issue and come up.

DotF: Kaprielian strikes out nine in season debut

Some news and notes:

  • In case you missed it earlier, RHP Nick Rumbelow needs Tommy John surgery. Donnie Collins says RHP Tyler Cloyd is moving into the rotation and RHP Conor Mullee is up from Double-A Trenton to fill Rumbelow’s roster spot. RHP Jonathan Holder goes from High-A Tampa to Trenton, per Matt Kardos. I figured that would happen soon. He threw over 100 innings in Tampa last year.
  • The Yankees released several players, per Matt Eddy: C K.J. Alexander, OF Chris Breen, OF Taylor Dugas, OF Frank Frias, C Jake Hernandez, and RHP Jaron Long. Dugas spent a few days in the big leagues last year, but did not actually play in a game. He still gets affordable health care for life though. Long is gonna sign with the Mets in a matter of days, I bet.
  • LHP Ian Clarkin was included in today’s Monday Morning Ten Pack. It is not behind the paywall, so check it out. “Clarkin checks a lot of boxes in what you are looking for out of a future starting pitcher: Athletic, clean arm action, above-average arm speed, pitches for strikes, athletic delivery. While the elbow injury does bring some cause for concern down the line, it hasn’t been an issue for him thus far and might’ve been a bump in the road instead of a detour,” said the write-up.
  • And finally, make sure you check out Chad Jennings’ comprehensive overview of the four full season minor league affiliates.

Triple-A Scranton (6-3 win over Pawtucket)

  • LF Ben Gamel:  3-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 BB, 1 SB — had one hit total in his first three games of the year
  • DH Aaron Judge: 2-5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K — first time this season he didn’t go exactly 1-for-4
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 1-4, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • C Gary Sanchez: 0-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 2B Donovan Solano: 3-4, 1 R, 1 RBI
  • RF Cesar Puello: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 K — he’s getting the short end of the playing time stick right now, but he made the most of his start tonight
  • LHP Tyler Olson: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 6-1 GB/FB — 43 of 69 pitches were strikes (62%) … I’m not very optimistic the LOOGY will make a decent starter, but what the heck, might as well try
  • RHP Vinnie Pestano: 1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K — 18 of 30 pitches were strikes (60%)
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 24 of 30 pitches were strikes (80%) … chances we see him in the bullpen at some point this summer? I say 80%
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 12 of 16 pitches were strikes (75%) … he gave up *another* homer … he’s up to two homers in two regular season innings after allowing five dingers in 10.2 innings during the spring

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Monday Night Open Thread

Thanks to yesterday’s rainout, the Yankees had their second straight off-day today. Yesterday wasn’t a total off-day though. The Yankees worked out at Comerica Park after the game was postponed. “We got some guys throwing (bullpens) and we hit in the cage. We can’t really work out (Monday). From what I understand, they have a charity event going on at (Rogers Centre). You never want two days off,” said Joe Girardi to George King. The team opens a three-game set in Toronto tomorrow.

Here is tonight’s open thread. Unfortunately the MLB Extra Innings free preview is over, but the Mets are playing the Marlins (Matz vs. Cosart), and that game will be on ESPN in addition to SNY. The Nets are playing too. (The NHL regular season is over. The postseason begins later this week.) You folks know how these open threads work by now, so have at it.