5/4 to 5/6 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are in Toronto for a three-game set starting tonight as they look to win their sixth consecutive series. They haven’t won six straight series since late-June/early-July 2011, when they won seven straight. Yeah, it’s been a while. It’s worth noting new turf was installed at Rogers Centre this offseason and everyone seems to hate it. Players have said it’s too soft and spongy, and it slows down batted balls significantly, enough that MLB is monitoring the new surface.

What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?

The Blue Jays dropped a slugfest to the Indians yesterday afternoon (final score: 10-7) and split the four-game series in Cleveland. They’ve lost seven of their last ten games overall and are in the AL East cellar with a 12-14 record and a +6 run differential. The Yankees and Blue Jays played in Yankee Stadium in the very first series of the season, as you probably remember. Toronto won two of three.

Offense & Defense

The Blue Jays look quite a bit different than when he was saw them. SS Jose Reyes (rib) and C Dioner Navarro (hamstring) are both on the DL, UTIL Steve Tolleson has been designated for assignment, and OF Dalton Pompey was sent to Triple-A because he wasn’t hitting. They Jays are the highest scoring team in baseball, averaging 5.54 runs per game with a team 109 wRC+.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The middle of Toronto’s lineup is straight up terrifying even though OF Jose Bautista (128 wRC+) is having some BABIP issues (.213) and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (75 wRC+) has yet to really get going. Those two plus 3B Josh Donaldson (155 wRC+) are as good as any three hitters in any other lineup in the baseball, at least on paper. Add in surprising rookie 2B Devon Travis (180 wRC+) and you’ve got four really scary right-handed hitters atop the lineup.

Bautista is nursing a throwing shoulder issue and has been limited to DH duty for about a week now. OF Ezequiel Carrera (244 wRC+ in very limited time) and 3B/OF Danny Valencia (155 wRC+) have been platooning in his place. OF Kevin Pillar (97 wRC+) and OF Michael Saunders (70 wRC+) are the other two regular outfielders. C Russell Martin (138 wRC+) is the everyday catcher and OF Ryan Goins (75 wRC+) and UTIL Jonathan Diaz (-38 RC+ in very limited time) have been platooning at short with Reyes out. C Josh Thole and 1B Justin Smoak are also on the bench.

The Blue Jays are a sound defensive team with elite defenders at third base (Donaldson) and behind the plate (Martin). Pillar has been excellent this year as well, first in left and now in center with Pompey demoted. Saunders and Carrera are above-average glovemen while Valencia looks very much like a third baseman playing the outfield. Travis is adequate at second and the Goins/Diaz tandem is good at short. Encarnacion’s not much of a defender at first. He’s in the lineup for his bat.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Chase Whitley (Career vs. TOR) vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (Career vs. NYY)
Dickey, 40, is off to a rough start this season, with a 5.23 ERA (5.50 FIP) in five starts and 31 innings. His strikeout (14.9%), ground ball (43.8%), and home run (1.45 HR/9) rates are all below average, and Dickey’s walk rate has climbed from 5.8% in 2012 to 7.5% in 2013 to 8.1% in 2014% to 9.7% in 2015. Lefties (.384 wOBA) have hit him a lot harder than righties (.304 wOBA) in the early going. Dickey’s a knuckleballer, you know that, and these days it butterflies in around 75 mph. He throws the knuckler roughly 85% of the time, and the other 15% are show-me low-80s fastballs. The Yankees faced Dickey earlier this year and he held them to one run in 6.1 innings.

Tuesday: RHP Michael Pineda (Career vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (Career vs. NYY)
Late last week rookie left-hander Daniel Norris was sent back to Triple-A after struggling to throw strikes (11.7 BB%), keep the ball on the ground (30.0 GB%), and pitch deep into games (4.2 innings per start). The 31-year-old Estrada is taking his spot in the rotation after pitching to a 0.84 ERA (3.99 FIP) in 10.2 long relief innings. Estrada’s been a starter before — he made 62 starts for the Brewers from 2012-14 — so this won’t be knew to him. Last season he managed to lead MLB with 29 home runs allowed in only 150.2 innings. Estrada’s always been homer and fly ball prone with average strikeout and walk rates. He’s a three-pitch pitcher, using upper-80s fastballs to set up upper-70s changeups and curveballs. The changeup is his go-to secondary pitch. Estrada did not pitch during the series at Yankee Stadium earlier this year.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Wednesday: LHP CC Sabathia (Career vs. TOR) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (Career vs. NYY)
Man, Buehrle is off to a terrible start this year. He’s got a 6.75 ERA (5.89 FIP) and has allowed 47 hits (!) in 28 innings. Egads. No other pitcher who has yet to throw 30 innings has allowed even 40 hits this year. Buehrle’s strikeout rate (8.3%) is at an all-time low, his homer rate (1.93 HR/9) an all-time high, and both his walk (5.3%) and grounder (42.7%) numbers are in line with his career norms. Lefties (.498 wOBA) have crushed him, but it’s a small sample. Righties (.412 wOBA) have hit him really hard too. Buehrle sits in the low-80s with his fastball, has for a few years now, and throws both two and four-seamers in addition to an upper-70s cutter. An upper-70s changeup is his top secondary pitch and either he is throwing the pitch more than ever (~33%), or PitchFX is misclassifying some fastballs as changeups. That’s never good. The Yankees didn’t face Buehrle in the first series of the year.

Bullpen Status
Despite that slugfest with the Indians yesterday, manager John Gibbons didn’t really tax his bullpen too much. RHP Scott Copeland (5.14 FIP) threw two innings and RHP Miguel Castro (4.76 FIP) needed 33 pitches to get four outs, and that’s about it. Ex-Yankees LHP Jeff Francis (3.14 FIP) got one out as well. No one on the staff has pitched in both of the last two games.

LHP Brett Cecil (6.14 FIP) has resumed closing and his primary setup men are RHP Roberto Osuna (1.76 FIP) and LHP Aaron Loup (4.69 FIP). Castro and Osuna are the two youngest players in MLB right now — they’re both only 20. RHP Liam Hendriks (1.54 FIP) is the last man in the bullpen. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for an update on New York’s bullpen and then head over to Andrew Stoeten’s site for everything you need to know about the Blue Jays.

Yankeemetrics: May 1-3 (Red Sox)

Number 660 for Al from Miami (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Number 660 for Al from Miami. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The Not Milestone Home Run
Alex Rodriguez just doesn’t do normal. So it was hardly surprising when his 660th career home run on Friday night played out like a movie script: a pinch-hit, tie-breaking solo shot in the eighth inning that not only silenced the unremitting boos of the Fenway crowd but also lifted the Yankees to a critical win over the Red Sox.

Although he’s had his share of dramatic longballs in his career, this home run was far from predictable for A-Rod:

• Before Friday, he was 1-for-19 as a pinch-hitter (including the postseason) and that lone hit was a single in 2013. Of those 19 at-bats, only three times did he even hit the ball to the outfield.
• He swung away on a 3-0 pitch and hit just the third homer of his career on a 3-0 count. The others were in 2001 off Barry Zito and 2009 off Ervin Santana.
• The pitch that went over the Green Monster was a 94 mph fastball from Junichi Tazawa; prior to the homer, A-Rod was 1-for-13 in at-bats ending in pitches at least 94 mph this season.

Matching Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time home run list wasn’t the only history that A-Rod made with that swing of the bat.

He also became the first Yankee to hit a go-ahead pinch-hit home run at Fenway since Johnny Blanchard in 1961. And the homer was his fourth against the Red Sox in the eighth inning or later that gave the Yankees the lead – twice as many as any other Yankee has hit in the last 50 years.

Evolution of Eovaldi
The Yankees clinched their fifth straight series win this season with a 4-2 victory against the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon. It’s also the fourth series in a row at Fenway Park that they’ve taken from the Red Sox.

Nathan Eovaldi turned in another strong outing by holding the Red Sox to just two runs while pitching into the seventh inning. For the first time all season, his four-seam fastball was a legit weapon, netting him 14 outs and allowing just two hits off the pitch. Entering the game, batters were hitting .481 in at-bats ending in his heater, the worst mark among all pitchers this season (min. 100 fastballs).

With Joe Girardi deciding to rest the official non-closer, Dellin Betances got his first save opportunity of the season and left no doubt that he could handle the pressure of closing out a game. He entered in the eighth inning and needed just 14 pitches to strike out all four batters he faced to secure the 4-2 win.

How impressive was that performance? Betances joined Goose Gossage (May 14, 1982) and Mariano Rivera (June 24, 2009) as the only Yankee relievers to record a save of at least four outs and strike out every batter he faced.

Brooms out in Beantown
The Yankees improved to 16-9 with a win on Sunday night, giving them their first series sweep of three-or-more games at Fenway Park since the epic five-game sweep in August 2006.

Jacoby Ellsbury is scorching hot right now and added four more hits on Sunday night, bringing his season batting average up to .351. He is the first Yankee outfielder to go 4-for-4 or better against the Red Sox since Dave Winfield in 1985. Ellsbury also walked and was hit by a pitch, becoming the first Yankee to reach base six times in a nine-inning game against Red Sox since Snuffy Stirnweiss in 1945.

Brett Gardner put the game out of reach with a three-run homer in the sixth inning to make it 8-0, the second straight day he plated three runs against Boston. He’s the first Yankee left fielder with back-to-back games of at least three RBI and two hits against the Red Sox since Mickey Mantle in 1966.

Despite a shaky ninth inning during which he loaded the bases, Andrew Miller pitched a scoreless frame for his 10th save in 10 tries this season. Miller is the second Yankee to convert his first 10 save opportunities with the team (since saves became an official stat in 1969), joining Tippy Martinez in 1975-1976.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 4th, 2015

Record Last Week: 5-1 (25 RS, 11 RA)
Season Record: 16-9 (124 RS, 93 RA, 16-9 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: @ Blue Jays (three games, Mon. to Weds.), vs. Orioles (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 menu 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?

Sweep! Yankees manage to not blow eight-run lead in 8-5 win over Red Sox

For the first time since that five-game massacre in August 2006, the Yankees have swept a series of at least three games in Fenway Park. They held on — and I really mean held on, this one got a little hairy — for an 8-5 win over the Red Sox on Sunday night. The Yankees have won 13 of their last 16 games.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Singles Are For The Weak
It was very rude of the Yankees to interrupt Joe Kelly night on ESPN. It all started right in the first inning, when Mark Teixeira almost hit a ball literally out of Fenway Park, opposite field over the Green Monster. I’m not joking. His two-run homer landed in the very top row of the Monster Seats. He hit that ball about as hard as he possibly could hit a ball the other way. So strong.

The onslaught continued in the third inning, and like the first inning, it started with a Jacoby Ellsbury leadoff single. He is molten hot right now. Alex Rodriguez followed that with a one-out single to center before Teixeira popped up for the second out. The Yankees had runners at first and second with two outs when Brian McCann put together a monster eight-pitch at-bat, ripping a double into the right-center field gap. Look at this battle:

Brian McCann at-bat

There was one hittable pitch in that at-bat, and that’s one the one McCann hit for a two-run double. He fouled off several tough inside mid-90s fastballs — home plate ump Jeff Nelson was giving that inside corner to lefty batters all night — until Kelly made a mistake. Carlos Beltran followed with a double into the right field corner to score McCann and cap off the three-run rally, giving the Yankees a 5-0 lead in the third.

The middle innings came and went without much of anything offensively. The Yankees went back on the attack against Craig Breslow in the sixth inning. Didi Gregorius lined a single to center, Ellsbury lined a single to left, and Brett Gardner drove a three-run homer into the home bullpen in right-center. Breslow had nothing to put him away. Gardner didn’t flinch at some pitches just off the plate, fouled off another, then unloaded on a middle-middle offering. Just like that, it was 8-0. All eight runs scored on extra-base hits. Singles are for the weak.

Just getting a soda Adam. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Just getting a soda Adam. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

All With Two Outs
Adam Warren retired the first nine batters he faced and none of them hit the ball out of the infield. Things were a bit uneven after that — seven of 14 batters reached base against Warren once the lineup turned over, including each of the last four. That helped the Red Sox get back into the game and really uglified Warren’s pitching line. He was better than four runs in 5.2 innings.

Boston’s five-run sixth inning all started with two quick outs. They then went single (Dustin Pedroia), run-scoring double off the wall (David Ortiz), hit-by-pitch (Hanley Ramirez), run-scoring single (Pablo Sandoval) to end Warren’s night. Hanley apparently thought the hit-by-pitch was intentional and started chirping. That was silly. Warren was pretty clearly out of gas and one got away from him.

Joe Girardi went to Esmil Rogers, who is firmly in the Circle of Trust™, to face Mike Napoli with two on and two out. Rogers left a pitch up just enough and Napoli hit it just high enough and into the front row of the Green Monster for a three-run homer, turning an 8-2 game into an 8-5 game. Rogers walked the next guy then bobbled a weak grounder for an infield hit before finally escaping the inning. That was unnerving. The five-run inning made this one uncomfortably close.

Officer McCann is on the case. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Officer McCann is on the case. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Last Nine Outs
Well knew Dellin Betances wasn’t going to be available Sunday night because of his recent workload, and although the Yankees have a strong bullpen, getting those last nine outs without Dellin was going to be a bit of a challenge. Rogers started the seventh, retired the first two batters, then Justin Wilson got Ortiz to line out to left field for the final out. Three outs down, six to go.

Like Saturday, Wilson was left in to face Hanley in the eighth, and this time Hanley lined a leadoff single back up the middle. Also like Saturday, Wilson then struck out the switch-hitting Sandoval. Pablo’s pretty bad against lefties. The strikeout dropped him to 2-for-24 (.083) against southpaws this year. David Carpenter replaced Wilson and got a first pitch inning-ending double play from Napoli. Not bad for Carpenter’s bi-weekly appearance! Six outs down, three to go.

The Yankees loaded the bases with two outs and had a chance to plate an insurance run(s) in the eighth, but they were unable to capitalize, so still-not-officially-the-closer Andrew Miller was tasked with protecting an 8-5 lead in the ninth. No problem, right? Well he walked the leadoff man, the generally punchless Allen Craig, struck out the next two, then walked Mookie Betts to bring the tying run to the plate. Not ideal!

Miller clearly didn’t have much command and fell behind the count 3-1 to Pedroia. Pedroia slapped a little ground ball to third, Chase Headley bobbled it, threw wildly to first, and Teixeira had to come off the bag to make the play. Everyone was safe. Bases were loaded with two outs and Ortiz was up as the go-ahead run. Uncomfortable! The at-bat went slider (swinging strike), fastball (called strike), slider (ball), slider (ball), slider (line drive) … at Ellsbury for the final out. Nine outs down, none to go. Nice and easy. (/barfs)

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Leftovers
Like I said, Hanley was pretty annoyed when Warren hit him in the sixth. The Red Sox’s dugout was pretty fired up too. They retaliated in the top of the eighth — Edward Mujica plunked Ellsbury right in the behind in a 3-0 count. He tried to hit him with the first pitch, missed, went outside with the second pitch to make it look less obvious, missed again with the third pitch, then got the job done with the fourth. Both teams were warned and that was that.

Ellsbury went 4-for-4 and is 19-for-40 (.475) in his last ten games. Stephen Drew went 0-for-5 and is 5-for-33 (.152) in his last ten games. Good thing they’re hitting in appropriate lineup spots. Gardner, Beltran, and Headley all had two hits apiece as well. Teixeira, Ellsbury, and Gregorius drew walks and Headley was (unintentionally) hit by a pitch. Everyone in the starting lineup had at least one hit aside from Drew. Offense up and down the lineup.

Warren and the Yankees caught a nice break in the fourth inning, when instant replay overturned a would-be inning ending double play, only to have Sandoval ground out with runners on the corners in a 3-0 count. Bit of a gift there, but that’s baseball. I’m not sure why the call at first was overturned either. It was hardly conclusive. Whatever.

And finally, ESPN brought James Taylor into the booth for an utterly pointless interview in the middle of the game. MLB is trying to find ways to appeal to younger fans and that didn’t help at all. Good grief. Thank goodness Gardner hit that homer to end the segment.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. We also have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, if you’re interested. The former is kind of a big deal. The latter … not so much. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are done with the Red Sox and will head to Toronto in the morning. Apparently they’re staying in Boston tonight. They open a three-game set with the Blue Jays on Monday night. Chase Whitley and R.A. Dickey will be the pitching matchup.

Game 25: Finish the Sweep

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Yankees have won 12 of their last 15 games, and everything they’ve done well during those 15 games has been on display in the first two games of this series with the Red Sox. They’ve hit for power, they’ve gotten good starting pitching, the defense has been sound, and the bullpen has been impenetrable. Nice recipe, that is.

Does that mean this squad is without flaws? Of course not. But do they look better than the 2013-14 teams? Hell yes. At least I think so. Tonight’s game is a chance to sweep the Red Sox in Fenway Park, and while winning two of three in any series is a good outcome, I’m greedy. I want to sweep. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ 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 Stephen Drew
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Adam Warren

It was a lovely day in Boston, clear skies with temperatures in the upper-60s, and the weather tonight will be just as good. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05pm ET and can be seen on ESPN. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Brendan Ryan (calf) suffered a hamstring injury during his rehab work, Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon. He’ll be shut down for at least a week.

DotF: Pirela doubles three times and Judge goes deep

Triple-A Scranton (6-5 win over Charlotte)

  • DH Jose Pirela: 4-5, 3 R, 3 2B, 1 RBI — 12-for-33 (.364) with five doubles and a homer in eight rehab games
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 1-5, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-5, 1 RBI, 1 SB — 14-for-34 (.412) during his eight-game hitting streak
  • 1B Kyle Roller: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — second homer in three games
  • RF Tyler Austin: 0-4, 1 BB, 2 K
  • RHP Branden Pinder: 2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 6/2 GB/FB — 47 of 80 pitches were strikes (59%)
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 2 IP, zeroes, 5/0 GB/FB — eight of 14 pitches were strikes (57%) … only eight strikeouts in 15.1 innings this year, which is a little weird

[Read more…]

Cashman confirms Yankees aren’t planning to pay A-Rod’s home run milestone bonus

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

On Friday night, Alex Rodriguez helped the Yankees to a series opening win over the Red Sox with a pinch-hit homer, the 660th of his career. That tied Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time list and triggered the first of five $6M milestone bonuses in A-Rod‘s contract. It’s actually not his player contract — it’s a separate marketing agreement.

We’ve heard the Yankees are “confident” they can get out paying the $6M bonus because A-Rod’s performance-enhancing drug issues have rendered the milestones unmarketable. Prior to Saturday’s game, GM Brian Cashman became the first team executive to go on the record and say the Yankees do not intend to pay the bonus. From Dan Martin:

“We’re going to follow the contract, as we follow all contracts, so there is no dispute, from our perspective,” Cashman said before the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 4-2, at Fenway Park, a day after Rodriguez’s landmark home run. “We’re going to honor our responsibility of the contract. We have the right, but not the obligation, to do something.”

“It’s not, ‘You do this, you get that,’ ” said Cashman, referring to specific numbers automatically triggering bonuses. “It’s completely different. It’s not all of a sudden we’re choosing not to do something.”

A portion of the marketing agreement was broadcasted on YES on Saturday. Here’s what it says:

“It is the sole discretion of the New York Yankees to determine whether each of these milestones is commercially marketable as the home run chase. … The Yankees have the right, but not the obligation, to determine whether it’s a commercially marketable milestone.”

I’m no lawyer, I have no idea how likely it is the Yankees will be able to get out of paying the bonus. A-Rod will inevitably file a grievance and the union will back him — “The union would challenge any breach of contract with the union. A player can’t be punished again for something he’s already been punished for,” said an MLBPA source to Martin — because they don’t want to set a precedent by letting a team void an agreement with a player.

The marketing agreement between A-Rod and the Yankees calls for $6M bonuses when Rodriguez ties Mays (660), ties Babe Ruth (714), ties Hank Aaron (755), then ties (762) and passes Barry Bonds (763) on the all-time homer list. As good as he’s looked so far this year, I don’t think we can safely assume Alex will reach the second milestone bonus before the end of his contract.

I can understand why the Yankees want to save the $6M — it’s actually $9M since the bonus would be subject to the luxury tax — but as an outsider it looks sorta petty. (Obviously $9M is a ton of money though, even to the Yankees.) Last I looked, the Yankees are still selling A-Rod shirts and merchandise in the team stores at Yankee Stadium, which indicates they think he is at least somewhat marketable.

I dunno, things seem to be going well between the Yankees and A-Rod right now. This feels like an unnecessary battle, like the Yankees are holding a grudge.