Game 130: Aces Up

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Yankees come into tonight riding high after a pair of series wins, inching within 2.5 games of the Red Sox for the division lead. Before a four-game set with Boston, they’ll have to take on AL Central leaders for three games.

You couldn’t have asked for a better pitching matchup in the series opener. AL Cy Young favorite Corey Kluber toes the rubber for Cleveland while the Yankees send out their young ace, Luis Severino. While Severino has a 3.10 ERA with 10.5 K per nine, Kluber has been on another level with an AL-best 2.65 ERA to go with 12.3 K per nine.

Each starter picked up a win during the previous Yankees-Indians series, which was split 2-2 at Progressive Field. Quite the test for Severino, who has already faced off with the likes of Chris Sale, Jon Lester and Carlos Carrasco this season.

Here is Cleveland’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

    1. LF Brett Gardner
    2. CF Aaron Hicks
    3. Gary Sanchez
    4. SS Didi Gregorius
    5. 2B Starlin Castro
    6. 1B Greg Bird
    7. DH Chase Headley
    8. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
    9. 3B Todd Frazier
      RHP Luis Severino

A rare day off for Aaron Judge, who hasn’t had a game off since Aug. 3, the last time the Yankees faced Kluber.

The forecast is partly cloudy for the Bronx, but no sign of precipitation to ruin this pitchers’ duel. First pitch is set for 7:05 on YES locally and ESPN for those out of market. Enjoy a fine night for baseball!

8/28 to 8/30 Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

(Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Jason Miller/Getty Images)

A debt of gratitude is owed to the Orioles and Indians, who combined to win 5 of 7 against the Red Sox last week. As a result of this (and taking two of three from both the Tigers and the Mariners), the Yankees are now within 2.5 games of first place, with four games against the Sox this coming weekend. That doesn’t mean that the Yankees should be looking beyond this series, though, as the Indians are arguably among the five best teams in baseball.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees and Indians split a four-game series in Cleveland earlier this month. You may remember this as the series in which Joe Girardi called out Gary Sanchez for his defensive effort, and benched him for a game. That seems so long ago, doesn’t it? Some other notes from the series:

  • Sonny Gray made his Yankees debut in the first game, and was treated to some horrendous defense. He pitched to the following line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R (2 ER), 3 BB, 6 K.
  • Jaime Garcia made his debut the next day, and also dealt with some lackluster defense in the form of a Sanchez passed ball. Unlike Gray, though, he was kind of bad, going 4.2 IP and allowing 5 hits, 6 runs, and 4 walks, while striking out 4.
  • Game three was much more fun for Yankees fans, as Jordan Montgomery had a great start (5.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K), and Headley hit a clutch go-ahead home run in the bottom of the 8th, as the good guys won 2-1.
  • And, to make this a pitcher-friendly section, Luis Severino was dominant (if inefficient) in the last game. He went 6.2 IP and allowed just 2 hits, 1 run, and 1 walk, while striking out 9. It took him 107 pitches to do so, as his control was a bit off. His stuff was so good that it didn’t matter.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more in-depth information.

Injury Report

Cleveland is pretty banged-up right now, with a slew of talent on the disabled list. Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, former Yankee Boone Logan, former Yankee Andrew Miller, and Danny Salazar are all out with injuries, and their returns are up in the air. There’s an outside chance that Brantley and Chisenhall could be back for this series, but no announcement has been made as of this morning. The rest will not be back until September (aside from Logan, who’s likely done for the year).

Their Story So Far

The Indians are currently 73-56, with a 6.5 game lead in the AL Central and a +145 run differential (good for third in the majors). They’ve won four in a row, even as they deal with the aforementioned injuries, and rank among the most formidable teams in the game. They’re second in the majors in runs allowed and eighth in runs scored, and they stand to get better in the coming weeks.

Post-non-waiver deadline acquisition Jay Bruce has been incredible for the Indians, batting .311/.391/.590 (159 wRC+) with 4 HR and 13 RBI in 17 games. His presence has allowed the team to replace Brantley without missing a beat, even improving the heart of their order along the way.

The Lineup We Might See

Despite his willingness to buck common practice with his bullpen, manager Terry Francona has had a mostly steady hand with the lineup. The only reason for whatever shake-ups have occurred are rooted in injuries – and that works just fine for them. Here’s the group that we’ll probably see in Yankee Stadium this week:

  1. Francisco Lindor, SS
  2. Austin Jackson, LF
  3. Jose Ramirez, 2B
  4. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
  5. Jay Bruce, RF
  6. Carlos Santana, 1B
  7. Yandy Diaz, 3B
  8. Bradley Zimmer, CF
  9. Yan Gomes, C

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Corey Kluber

If you prefer traditional statistics, Kluber may well be the best pitcher in the American League. He leads the Junior Circuit in ERA, WHIP, and H/9; and, if you want to go by a bit more advanced measures, he also leads in ERA+ and bWAR. Kluber is averaging 12.3 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9, as well, both of which are second to Chris Sale. In short, he’s an ace – and the Yankees saw that first-hand on August 3 (9 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 11 K).

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 8/23) – 7.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 12 K

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Trevor Bauer

Bauer has had a middling 2017, which is par the course for his career. His 4.59 ERA is good for a 101 ERA+, and his 3.88 FIP is just about league-average. He’s a perfectly fine back-end starter, whose high-level stuff and draft pedigree (he went 3rd overall in a loaded 2011 draft class) make fans desperate for more.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 8/24) – 5.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 8 K

Wednesday (1:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Josh Tomlin

I have long referred to Tomlin as a crafty lefty that just so happens to throw with his right hand, and I will stick to that for as long as he’s in the majors. That’s just the sort of pitcher that he is, and I am constantly baffled when I see him pitch. He has been on the disabled list since the end of July, so Wednesday will be his first appearance in just over four weeks.

Tomlin is a four-pitch guy, with a couple of fastballs in the upper-80s (four-seamer and cutter), a low-80s change-up, and a mid-70s curveball.

Last Outing (vs. CHW on 7/30) – 4.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

Injuries to key relievers has not slowed down this group, as the Indians bullpen sports a 2.99 ERA in 390.2 IP, along with 2.93 BB/9 and 10.1 K/9. It’s a strong bullpen from top to bottom, and, amazingly, that’s true with Andrew Miller and his 1.65 ERA, 13.0 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9 on the disabled list.

Cody Allen handles the closer role, and he’s sitting on a 2.94 ERA and 12.1 K/9. Former Yankees Nick Goody (2.98 ERA and 12.5 K/9) and Zach McAllister (2.52 ERA and 9.6 K/9) join Bryan Shaw (3.25 ERA) in the middle innings, and deadline pick-up Joe Smith (3.25 ERA and 12.2 K/9) has slid into a set-up role.

Who (Or What) To Watch

I’m ridiculously excited to see Luis Severino versus Corey Kluber tonight, even though I fear what Kluber can do to this (or any) lineup on a given night. These are two of the best pitchers in baseball right now (top-four in the majors by fWAR, top-four in the AL by bWAR), so you couldn’t ask for much more.

And, as always, Francisco Lindor is a joy to watch.

Yankeemetrics: Ending with a win, finally (Aug. 25-27)

(AP)
(AP)

Extra awful loss
The uniforms might have looked different, but the result was a familiar one for Yankee fans in the Bronx on Friday night – a frustrating and gut-wrenching 11-inning, 2-1 loss. While another late meltdown by the bullpen was the trigger point, the lack of clutch hitting and numerous wasted scoring opportunities gave the Yankees virtually no chance to win the game.

Let’s recap the ugliness:

  • It was their 22nd one-run loss of the season, the most in the American League through Friday, and 10(!) more than they had all of last season.
  • It was also their sixth extra-inning loss, twice as many as they suffered in 2016.
  • And it was the 22nd time the bullpen was charged with a loss, the third-highest total in the AL through Friday, behind the Rays and Rangers.

Aroldis Chapman‘s miserable season continued as he coughed up the game-winning homer to Yonder Alonso in the top of the 11th inning. Chapman wore the goat horns, and also gets stung with our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

He is the second Yankee ever to give up an extra-inning go-ahead homer at Yankee Stadium against the Mariners. The other one happened on June 14, 1978 when Leon Roberts took Sparky Lyle deep in the top of the 10th, a shot that was rendered meaningless when the Yankees rallied in the bottom of the frame to win the game.

Alonso is also the second left-handed batter this month to homer off the Cuban Missile. That is a mind-blogging fact considering Chapman had surrendered only one home run to a lefty in his career before Rafael Devers took him deep two weeks ago (Luke Scott was the other on June 26, 2011).

To sum it up: he allowed one homer to the first 418 lefty batters he faced in the majors, and since has allowed two homers to the last 12 lefty batters he’s faced in the majors.

With Alonso hammering a 100.1 mph pitch from Chapman into Monument Park, it’s becoming more and more likely that his blazing fastball is no longer a weapon of intimidation in the pitcher-hitter duel. Batters are squaring up on his triple-digit heater more often than ever. Look at these numbers for the 100-plus mph pitches he has thrown in this career.

Year Pitches Slug pct Home runs Whiff rate
2017 253 .324 2 15%
2010-16 2,330 .150 3 22%

The Yankees wasted a gem from CC Sabathia, who was brilliant in his second start since coming off the DL, going seven innings and allowing just one run. Sabathia’s late-career resurgence is reminiscent of another Yankee legend who had a couple strong seasons after reaching the midpoint of his 30s, Mike Mussina. And so it was fitting that the two pitchers had a cool statistical convergence on Friday night:

When Sabathia took the mound at the start of the game, it was his 249th start as a Yankee, breaking a tie with Mussina for sole possession of 11th place on the franchise’s all-time games started list. And when Sabathia struck out Kyle Seager in the sixth inning, it was his 2,814th strikeout, passing Mussina for 19th place on the Major-League all-time strikeout list.

(AP)
(AP)

Sonny skies all day
The crushing losses have been piling up, but the resiliency of this team hasn’t waned. That toughness was on display again this weekend when the Yankees bounced back from Friday’s devastating loss to beat the Mariners 6-3 on Saturday. They’ve now won seven of their last 10 games following a one-run loss, dating back to the last week of June.

Sonny Gray delivered his finest performance as Yankee, striking out nine and allowing just one run in seven stellar innings. He’s pitched at least five innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in each of his first five starts with the Bombers, becoming the first pitcher to begin his Yankee tenure with a streak like that since Tommy John in 1979.

This excellent stretch extends even further back to his final month in Oakland too; Saturday was his 11th consecutive start giving up fewer than three earned runs, the longest streak by any pitcher in the majors this season. In that span – since June 25 – he’s compiled an ERA of 1.95, the lowest by any American League pitcher (min. 30 IP) over the last two months.

Gray dominated with his two breaking pitches, as the Mariners swung at 18 curves/sliders and whiffed on 11 of them, including five for strike three. But perhaps more impressive was how he repeatedly froze batters with his two-seamer. He got a career-best 15 called strikes among the 54 two-seam fastballs he threw, and most of those takes were in the heart of the zone (orange dots below):

sonny-gray2

While Gray shined on the mound, Jacoby Ellsbury had a rare starring role as the offensive spark plug, with an RBI single and a tie-breaking three-run dinger. Ellsbury’s blast was a Yankee Stadium special, just barely clearing the short porch in right field. According to ESPN’s Hit Tracker (and based on calculations if the ball had been hit in ideal weather conditions of 70 degrees and no wind), Yankee Stadium is the only ballpark it would have been a home run.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Sloppy Seattle, Magnificent Masa
The Yankees’ inability to close out series had become a recurring nightmare … until the Bad News Mariners showed up to Yankee Stadium. Entering this weekend, the Yankees had dropped their previous 11 rubber games — a streak that reached back to early June — and were 5-14 in rubber games overall this season, easily the worst record and most losses of any team. On Sunday afternoon the Yankees took advantage of a historically sloppy Seattle defense to snap that inexplicable streak, en route to a 10-1 victory.

They raced out to an early 6-1 lead thanks to five Mariners errors in the first inning, the most errors committed by one team in a single inning since the Cubs on July 2, 1977 against the Cardinals. If you’re curious, the modern record (since 1900) for the most errors committed in one inning is seven, by the Cleveland Naps against the Chicago White Sox on September 20, 1905.

Thanks to all those free outs, a cavalcade of hits, and some timely at-bats (6 hits with runners in scoring position), the Yankees were able to win without the benefit a homer — an extremely rare win for this power-happy team. It was just their fourth win this season in a game they didn’t go deep, which is now tied with the Tigers for the fewest such wins in the majors.

Masahiro Tanaka made sure the Yankees offensive outburst wouldn’t be wasted as he shut down the Mariners lineup after a shaky first inning. He struck out 10 in seven innings, allowed one run, and has now quietly posted a 2.92 ERA over his last 11 outings. This was also his 100th career start, and with those 10 strikeouts, Tanaka became the first pitcher in franchise history to reach 600 strikeouts in his first 100 major-league games.

Fan Confidence Poll: August 28th, 2017

Record Last Week: 4-2 (46 RS, 22 RA)
Season Record: 70-59 (676 RS, 541 RA, 77-52 pythag. record) 2.5 GB in ALE, 3.5 GU on WC
Opponents This Week: vs. Indians (three games, Mon. to Weds.), vs. Red Sox (four games, Thurs. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
View Results

Tanaka, comedy of errors boost Yankees past Mariners, 10-1

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

This one really got out of hand quick. A cavalcade of errors by the Mariners in the bottom of the first put the Yankees ahead for good and gave them breathing room en route to the series win. That breaks a skid of 10 straight losses in rubber games and they did it without needing the backend of their bullpen.

Fly like an E-6

The game was wild from the start. The Mariners took a 1-0 lead after a half inning after stringing three hits together,(more on that later), but the Yankees quickly fought back with plenty of help from the lackluster M’s defense.  Lackluster is putting it lightly. Let’s go to the play-by-play.

pbp

(1) After Starlin Castro doubled, Gary Sanchez lined a single into left field. It was easily going to score Castro, but former Yankee Ben Gamel let the ball get through him and roll towards the auxiliary scoreboard. That gave Sanchez second base and

(2) Jean Segura may have had the worst first inning of his career. He made an out to start the game and this was his first of three (!) errors as he misplayed Didi Gregorius‘ pop-up. It was an easy ball and should have easily been Andrew Albers’ second out. Instead, bases loaded with one away.

(3) Chase Headley bought off three 0-2 pitches before grounding one right to Kyle Seager. It was going to easily be an out at third base, if not a 5-5-3 double play, but Seager couldn’t corral the ball. He just needed to come up with the ball and take a few steps to his right for an easy force, but alas, it was one of those days for the Mariners’ defense.

(4) Todd Frazier struck out with the bases loaded, something he seems to have done a few too many times this series. But the Mr. Clutch Jacoby Ellsbury got his third hit with runners in scoring position of the last two days, lining a ball into left-center field.

And that’s when everything went haywire for Segura.

It easily scored two runs, but Segura dropped the throw in by Gamel, committing his first error of the play as Headley ran home. The Mariner shortstop tried to catch Headley at home but his throw got by Mike Zunino, allowing Ellsbury to reach third. Ronald Torreyes knocked him in with a bloop single.

That’s all five errors. Aaron Hicks made two outs in the inning and had an error in the top of the first, although it didn’t cause the one run to score. And it was nowhere near the worst first inning for anyone. That’s got to be a tie between Segura and Albers, who had to get five outs against a potent Yankees lineup.

It was the first time since July 1977 that a team made five errors in one inning. What a mess!

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

Back to Ace Tanaka

Four batters into the game, Tanaka seemed like he may be heading towards a tough one, allowing hits to Yonder Alonso, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, the last one an RBI double. However, he rebounded with a strikeout of Kyle Seager before inducing a fly out to escape further damage.

After that, he pitched with a lead and did so quite well. He had only two 1-2-3 innings (2nd and 7th inning) but had some of his best stuff. His breaking pitches were doing exactly what he wanted as he struck out 10 batters. He allowed just three fly outs compared to eight ground-ball outs. That’s precisely what he needs to do.

The Cruz strikeout was his only one looking while the rest were swinging. He ran into trouble in the fifth with back-to-back singles before falling behind 3-0 on Segura. He threw two straight four-seamers for strikes before getting him to whiff on a slider. Two groundouts to the right side later and he was out of trouble, still leading 7-1.

Tanaka’s ERA is down to 4.69 and he has a 2.92 ERA in his 11 starts. In that stretch, he’s struck out 79 batters in 71 innings. He’s making his early season hijinks look more and more like a fluke than a permanent step back.

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

Leftovers

Starlin Castro is back in full force. As the DH, he went 4 for 4 with a double in four plate appearances. He got things started in the first and knocked in a run in the third with a bloop single. He didn’t get a chance for a fifth hit as Greg Bird pinch hit for him in the seventh with the bases loaded. Bird came through with a two-run single.

The Yankees’ other run came on a Headley sac fly with the bases loaded that turned into a double play. Sanchez got caught off second base not expecting the cutoff and was gunned down in a 8-3-6 DP.

Nearly everyone got in on the party. Ronald Torreyes had three hits and is now batting .302 on the season. Sanchez and Ellsbury had two hits each while Aaron Judge (double), Hicks, Gregorius and Bird each had one. Judge had two walks while Sanchez and Frazier had one each. Headley had the sac fly and another line drive that nearly got over Gamel’s head.

Frazier made an error to start the sixth, but Tanaka got the Mariners in order with two strikeouts and an easy grounder afterward.

Caleb Smith pitched two easy innings out of the bullpen in relief of Tanaka and was the only reliever for the Yankees. Only needed 20 pitches to do so while striking out one. Perhaps the best he’s looked in his limited appearances this year.

Joe Girardi was ejected in the third inning after the umpires bungled a clear interference play. With a runner on first and one out, Robinson Cano hit an easy double play ball to Headley, who turned to throw Segura out at second. Segura clearly stepped out of the baseline to try and block the throw before continuing to slide towards Gregorius to break up the double play. Headley dropped the ball at first. Take a look at the play.

The umps reviewed it but kept the call on the field, leading to Girardi’s ejection. Segura interfered with the play twice and it was baffling how the play wasn’t ruled a double play. Tanaka struck out Cruz looking right afterwards, so it wasn’t a huge deal. Still, a bad call leads to Girardi’s second ejection in four games.

Lastly, this is the first time the Yankees have scored 10 runs this season without hitting a home run. How about that?

Box Score & Standings

Go to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, the MLB.com for the video highlights. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page.

Up Next
The Yankees will continue their 10-game homestand with a three-game set against the Cleveland Indians on Monday night. It’ll be a marquee pitching matchup with AL Cy Young favorite Corey Kluber faces Luis Severino in a 7:00 start. And they’ll begin play Monday just 2.5 games back of Boston, which was swept by Baltimore.

Game 129: Rubber Match

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

Since June 8, the Yankees have split the first two games of a three-game series 10 times. And each time they’ve played the third game, they’ve lost. That’s right: They’re 0-10 in their last 10 rubber games.

Luckily, the Bombers can turn to Masahiro Tanaka, who has been his normal self for the last two months. In his last 10 starts since June 23, he’s pitched to a 3.09 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 64 innings while allowing just 67 baserunners. After allowing 21 home runs in his first 14 starts, he’s limited opponents to eight in the aforementioned stretch.

Tanaka is 5-0 with a 2.51 ERA in six starts against the Mariners, although the one no-decision came in a loss earlier this season. He’ll duel with Andrew Albers, one of Seattle’s 16 starters and 37 overall pitchers this season.

Here is the Mariners’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

    1. LF Aaron Hicks
    2. DH Starlin Castro
    3. Gary Sanchez
    4. RF Aaron Judge
    5. SS Didi Gregorius
    6. 1B Chase Headley
    7. 3B Todd Frazier
    8. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
    9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
      RHP Masahiro Tanaka

The forecast is relatively clear in the Bronx, so it should be a nice day for baseball. The 1:05 PM start will be broadcast on the YES Network locally and TBS nationally. Happy Sunday!

Still Cause for Concern

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

A little over a month ago, I wrote that things were looking bleak for (then) closer Aroldis Chapman. Since then, things haven’t exactly gone well. He’s lost that closer’s spot and, like he has for most of the season, he just hasn’t looked quite right at all. The return to normalcy for Chapman just hasn’t happened (yet?) and it’s still somewhat baffling as to why.

His fluky high swing and contact numbers are still fluky high and haven’t really corrected themselves. What stands out here is that Chapman is generating fewer swings but batters are making more contact than they ever have against him. For the second year in a row, well over half of his pitches (around 54% both times) have been in the zone. Previously, he sat around just 48-49% in the zone. With a pitcher like Chapman, who has incredible stuff, you’d assume living in the zone wouldn’t be too bad, especially since he had success last year. This year, though, as it seems to have been at every turn, that’s not the case.

Let’s take a look first at Chapman’s slider, a pitch he’s used slightly more often this year, though it’s had–for the first time–slightly negative value.

chapzone17sl

 

My first impression is that the slider isn’t getting as much bite as it used to. Ideally, a lefty throwing a slider wants the pitch down and away against lefties and bearing down and in against righties, which isn’t really happening. Those big red spots in the middle portions of the zone could hit at why Chapman’s slider hasn’t been as effective this year. Pitches in those areas, even sliders, are going to get hit. Last year’s heatmap for the slider shows a lot more action in that low, glove side zone where you want a slider as a lefty.

The slider location, though, is sill just one piece of the puzzle. Is there a mechanical issue? Is there a physical issue? Is there a confidence issue? It’s hard to tell this year. As Mike has pointed out frequently, moments of complete, Chapman-level dominance have been few and far between this year, and I can’t remember the last one offhand. I’m running out of ways to say this is all worrying so, I’ll just keep saying it that plainly: this is all worrying. Unless Chapman is hurt and not speaking up or is just supremely hungover from the World Series run with the Cubs last year, this is going to make the next four-plus years very difficult to watch. You never want to root for an injury, but at this point, we almost have to hope Chapman is at least a little hurt so this can have some sort of easy explanation.

But there’s the other easy explanation: maybe he’s just…done. Baseball is cruel enough sometimes that players–even ones as relatively young as Chapman–can just lose it in the blink of an eye. If that’s the case, Chapman and the Yankees are going to be walking in some dark woods together while this contract unfolds.