Here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing and ESPN will show the Cardinals and Nationals a little later. The Nats, man. What a monumental disappointment they’ve been this year. Talk about those games or anything else right here.
The Yankees have won four of the first five games on this six-game road trip — doesn’t seem like it, does it? — so it’s already a good trip. This afternoon is a chance to make it a great trip. A win this afternoon not only clinches a 5-1 road trip, it also clinches a sixth consecutive series win at Fenway Park. The Yankees say they haven’t done that since the 1950s. Wowza.
Believe it or not, the Yankees will not spent more than three consecutive days on the road the rest of the season. They do have a nine-game road trip in two weeks, but the middle three games are against the Mets in Citi Field. The players will get to sleep in their own beds and everything. The travel gets a lot easier from here on out. Gotta take advantage. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:
- CF Brett Gardner
- LF Chris Young
- DH Alex Rodriguez
- RF Carlos Beltran
- 3B Chase Headley
- 1B Greg Bird
- C John Ryan Murphy
- SS Didi Gregorius
- 2B Stephen Drew
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
Another lovely weather day in a series full of them. It is nice and sunny in Boston with temperatures in the upper-80s. I’m guessing we’re going to hear a bunch of #shadows talk during the game thanks to the weird start time. First pitch is scheduled for 4:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally, depending where you live. Enjoy the game.
Thanks to the Braves, the Yankees averaged a healthy 4.71 runs per game in August, right in line with the 4.88 runs per game they averaged from April through July. We all know the offense wasn’t quite that good last month though. The Yankees scored 38 runs in three games against Atlanta over the weekend and only 94 runs in the other 25 games, or 3.76 per game.
The team-wide offensive malaise last month was not the result of any one thing. It was a combination of things. Lots of players slumped, perhaps none moreso than Brett Gardner. The first time All-Star hit a weak .208/.304/.257 (61 wRC+) in August, easily his worst month of the season. Easily. His second worst month was the .252/.322/.421 (105 wRC+) batting line he put up in May.
Gardner has always been a better first half player, but not to this extreme. He’s a career .283/.360/.421 (116 wRC+) hitter in the first half and .240/.330/.356 (90 wRC+) in the second half. That 26 wRC+ point difference is pretty huge. Brett’s a first half player, no doubt. This year though? This year he hit .302/.377/.484 (139 wRC+) in the first half and is at .212/.318/.291 (74 wRC+) in the second half. That’s a 65 wRC+ point gap.
Anecdotally, it seems as though Gardner has been striking out more in the second half, but that’s not really the case. He had a 19.8% strikeout rate in the first half and has a 22.5% strikeout rate in the second half. Basically three extra strikeouts per 100 plate appearances. No big deal. His 23.3% strikeout rate in August wasn’t much worse either. So yes, he is striking out more, but not that much more.
Gardner’s plate discipline was fine in August, at least in the sense that it didn’t deviate from his season averages a whole lot. He swung at 20.7% of pitches out of the zone last month. His season rate is 21.4%. Gardner didn’t start hitting more grounders (39.8%) or pop-ups (6.9%) in August either. His season averages are 45.4% and 6.0%, respectively. Too pull happy? Not enough hard contact?
Eh. Not too much of a difference there. The 6.7 percentage point drop in hard contact from the first half to the second half is disconcerting, but most of it shifted over to medium contact, not weak contact. Is that enough to explain Gardner’s .274 BABIP in August, by far his lowest month of the season? Maybe! The admittedly imperfect data suggests he was not hitting the ball as hard in August as he had earlier this season.
The more important question is why. Why isn’t Gardner hitting the ball as hard as he did earlier this season? It’s impossible to answer. It could be as simple as scorer bias — Baseball Info Solutions uses human stringers for their contact data, so one scorer’s hard hit ball could be another’s medium hit ball — or sample size issues. Maybe he’s playing hurt again. Remember, Gardner played through an abdominal strain in the second half last year, which was severe enough that he needed offseason surgery. Maybe his swing is a mess. There could be a million reasons.
Regardless of what exactly is causing Gardner’s slump, Gardner’s slump has hurt the offense overall these last few weeks. The good news is he is starting to come out it. Brett went deep last night and is 6-for-22 (.273) on the road trip, which is a heck of a lot better than what he did the rest of August. You have to squint your eyes, but the signs are there. Gardner’s hit the ball with some more authority of late, even his outs, which suggests he’s getting better swings.
Unless Gardner is playing hurt and we don’t know about it, I expect him to climb out of his slump soon enough. I have a hard time believing Brett is simply a bad hitter now. Great in the first half to zero in the second half? Not impossible, just unlikely. The Yankees will be without Mark Teixeira for the foreseeable future, so getting Gardner back on track as the No. 2 hitter is imperative. Runs are harder to come by these days, even moreso with Brett struggling.
Prior to last night’s win, the Yankees got some bad news about their 2015 MVP, or maybe I should say bad news that could have been a lot worse. Mark Teixeira, who left the team Monday and returned to New York to have tests on his shin, does not have any kind of fracture. His bone bruise, however, has not gotten better and he will be on crutches for at least a few days. Brian Cashman said it’ll be at least two weeks until Teixeira returns.
“It just hasn’t been healing in any way, shape or form, and they’ve ruled out any other complications. It’s a timing mechanism and it’s taking a hell of a lot longer than we would have expected,” said Cashman to Wally Matthews. “The biggest concern was a stress fracture, but that’s been ruled out. You would have expected to see some sort of improvement on the bone contusion healing process, and that has not happened. Now he’ll probably be two weeks [before] we’ll get him going.”
Teixeira suffered the injury on a fluke play. All he did was foul a pitch into his shin, which is the kind of thing that happens countless times each season. This one just happened to catch Teixeira in the right spot — or wrong spot, I guess — and he’s been out more than two weeks. The Yankees never did place him on the DL because they thought it would be a day-to-day issue. Obviously that has not been the case. (Rosters are expanded now, so there’s no sense in placing him on the DL at this point.)
If nothing else, at least Tuesday’s news gives us a bit of a reprieve from the daily updates and wondering whether today will be the day Teixeira returns to the lineup. He’s at least two weeks away now. There is never a good time for an injury like this, but right now is an especially bad time given the AL East and wildcard races, and the fact the season ends in the month. There’s a non-zero chance this bone bruise ends Teixeira’s season.
Teixeira is the Yankees’ most irreplaceable player because he’s elite on both sides of the ball. Even with his early-August slump, he is still hitting .255/.357/.548 (145 wRC+) with 31 home runs overall, including a 155 wRC+ against righties and a 118 wRC+ against lefties. Teixeira’s a switch-hitter who has an impact from both sides of the plate. He also plays a mean first base, and you never truly appreciate great first base defense until you don’t get it. The only thing Teixeira doesn’t do well is run. He’s been great at everything else this year.
The Yankees don’t have that guy anymore. Teixeira’s two-way impact is gone. Greg Bird has gotten a chance to sink or swim at first base since Teixeira went gone down, and while playing the kids is exciting, Bird has been a substantial downgrade. He hasn’t hit a whole lot (90 wRC+) and the drop off on defense is painfully obvious. I like Bird and have been especially impressed by his approach. He has a good chance to be the first baseman of the future. It’s also okay to acknowledge he has been a detriment since being pressed into everyday duty.
So now, with Teixeira out, it’s up the other veterans to pick up the slack. To me that means basically everyone in the lineup other than Bird and Didi Gregorius, though Didi has picked up the pace of late. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner need to be gangbusters atop the lineup. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann need to continue to produce and Chase Headley has to sustain his second half surgery. Alex Rodriguez? The longer his slump goes on the less likely it is the Yankees win the division. Pretty simple.
No one player makes a team, not even someone as good as Mike Trout, but Teixeira’s injury is a significant blow to the Yankees. They rely on him heavily both defensively and offensively, in the middle of the lineup against both righties and lefties. Katie explained yesterday just how huge Teixeira has been in high-leverage spots this year. That clutch bat is gone now. Not having Teixeira is a major obstacle the Yankees will have to overcome these next few weeks to return to the postseason.
It feels like that could gone much worse. Despite the lineup being dominated by Rick Porcello for eight innings, New York came up victorious at 3-1 on Tuesday. Michael Pineda pitched his best game in almost two months, Stephen Drew came up clutch to drive in the go-ahead run, and Brett Gardner extended the lead. And, of course, a little luck didn’t hurt either (talking about the instant replay situation in the bottom eighth). This was a type of the game that probably infuriated Red Sox fans more than it pleased Yankee fans.
For first awhile, the Yankee lineup made Rick Porcello look like a Cy Young candidate. Porcello struck out five out of the six first Yankee batters to begin the game and ended up punching out 13 overall in eight frames. That was … not good. Porcello came into tonight’s game with a whopping 5.47 ERA in 121.2 IP, which is terrible. He also came in with inflated home run rate (1.48 HR/9 this season), which can happen to a pitcher moving from Comerica Park to Fenway Park, but the bottom line is I would not have expected such dominance from Porcello tonight.
If there was any sign that he was going to pitch brilliantly tonight, it’s that he changed his approach after being shelved for almost a month, then had a solid outing in his first start back against the White Sox. But, well, okay, it’s really hard to say a pitcher improved totally based on one start. Porcello did, however, looked really good and was able to locate some spillover fastballs and sinkers on both sides of the plate tonight. Maybe he figured things out or maybe it was his lucky game. We’ll see.
Pineda brings the pain
Pineda had been in a bit of a funk. His last quality start prior to tonight was the July 10 game against the Red Sox (6.2 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 6 K). He had only made three starts (and a DL stint) since, allowing 14 earned runs in 16 innings pitched. No bueno.
With the calendar turned to September and the Yankees finding themselves 1.5 games behind Toronto for the AL East title, it was been crucial for Big Mike to show that he could pitch like his ace self from earlier in the season. And, boy he did.
The Red Sox drew the first blood in the third though. With one out, Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a double off the Green Monster and Pablo Sandoval drove him in with a two-out RBI single. Timing-wise, it seemed like Gardner might have had a chance for a play at home but he misplayed the ball and JBJ scored easily. 1-0 Red Sox. That was just about all the damage Pineda allowed.
Besides that? Big Mike was just simply dominant. Pineda pitched six full innings, allowed four hits, one earned run and struck out seven while not walking anyone. His fastball seemed to ooze nasty cut for swing-and-misses while his command of the slider was present on both sides of plates. New York could use several more starts like that for the rest of the season and beyond.
Just like how they Drew it up
Yankees had their first real threat going on in the fifth inning. A-Rod hit a (massive) single to lead off. Both McCann and Greg Bird struck out to leave him there but Didi Gregorius hit a tricky grounder that hopped past Travis Shaw’s glove to put two runners in the scoring position. With two outs, runners second and third, former Red Sox Stephen Drew came up and delivered a two-RBI double. 2-1 Yankees.
In the eighth, holding onto a 2-1 lead, Yankees got another run with a Brett Gardner solo home run off Porcello. Gardner had been in a .180/.275/.246 rut in 16 games since August 15 so any sign of life with bat is pretty encouraging. Having Jacoby Ellsbury and Gardner both clicking at the same time would be a massive plus for the offense, especially with Mark Teixeira being down for at least two weeks (sigh).
The Instant Replay
If you’ve been a Yankee fan for years, you are quite familiar with Yankee-Red Sox late inning dramas. As I stated earlier, things could have gone much worse for New York tonight.
With Dellin Betances pitching, Mookie Betts lined a single to start off the bottom of eighth. Sandoval flew out but Xander Bogaerts hit another single to put two runners on base with one out for Boston. Coming up? David Ortiz – that’s a pretty high-stress situation for any pitcher.
On the 1-2 count, both Betts and Bogaerts attempted to move up a base. McCann didn’t miss a beat and threw to third to get Betts out. It seemed like Betts slid in ahead of the throw but to the third base ump’s eyes, he slid off the bag and was ruled out. Betts started to protest, stating that Chase Headley pushed his feet off the bag during the tag. According to instant replay shown on TV, it was really hard to tell what really happened – it did certainly seem like Betts had his foot on the bag at least for most of it and, if it came off, Headley certainly may well have pushed it off. With many expecting the call to be overturned, the umpires stood by the call and Betts was declared out, again.
That changed the situation from potentially being one out with two runners in scoring position to two outs with a runner on second. That’s a steep gap, if you ask me. Betances ended up punching out Ortiz easily and Andrew Miller closed out the ninth to preserve a 3-1 Yankee victory.
Box score, standings, highlights and WPA
The Yankees will play in Fenway again tomorrow at 4:05 PM EST. Masahiro Tanaka will face the rookie lefty Henry Owens to go for the series win.
Some notes to pass along:
- OF Slade Heathcott was not among the first wave of September call-ups nor did he lose his 40-man roster spot. As it turns out, he’s banged up. Donnie Collins says it’s his quad, which landed Slade on the DL for a few months earlier this season. Sucks.
- To help cover following all the call-ups, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Cesar Vargas, RHP Conor Mullee, IF Ali Castillo, IF Cito Culver, IF Rob Segedin, OF Jake Cave, C Kyle Higashioka were all promoted to Triple-A Scranton, reports Chad Jennings.
- OF Ben Gamel was named the Triple-A International League Rookie of the Year. He was also the only Yankees farmhand to make the league’s end-of-season All-Star Team, so congrats to him.
- And finally, no Yankees farmhands were selected for the Low-A South Atlantic League end-of-season All-Star Team.
Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Rochester)
- CF Ben Gamel: 0-4, 1 BB, 1 K
- 2B Ali Castillo: 3-5, 1 2B, 1 SB — at least September call-ups allowed them to upgrade at second for the postseason (kidding/trolling)
- RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 3 K
- LF Slade Heathcott: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 3 K — quad can’t be too bad if he’s running around the outfield
- SS Gregorio Petit: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K
- RHP Kyle Davies: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 3/6 GB/FB, 1 E (fielding) — 58 of 90 pitches were strikes (64%)
- RHP Mark Montgomery: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — ten pitches, eight strikes
- RHP Nick Goody: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — eight pitches, five strikes
Welcome to September. The air is crisp, the leaves are looking a little less green each day, and the dog days of summer are over. This is the stretch run. The final 32 games of the season will determine whether the Yankees win the AL East, settle for a wildcard spot, or miss the postseason entirely. Crunch time, baby. There are no more meaningless games.
The Yankees dropped last night’s series opener to the Red Sox because no one could get a damn hit with the bases loaded, but that was August, this is September. A new month and something of a fresh start, which the Yankees desperately need because August did not go well. They went 14-14 and lost 7.5 games (!) in the standings. Not good. Win tonight, start the final month off on the right foot. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- LF Brett Gardner
- RF Carlos Beltran
- C Brian McCann
- DH Alex Rodriguez
- 3B Chase Headley
- 1B Greg Bird
- SS Didi Gregorius
- 2B Stephen Drew
RHP Michael Pineda
Another great weather day in Boston. Sunny and on the cool side with temperatures in the upper-70s. Autumnal. This evening’s game will begin just after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.
Injury Update: Mark Teixeira (leg) had an MRI that showed the bone bruise was more significant than the Yankees initially realized. There is no fracture, but Teixeira will be on crutches for a few days. There is no timetable for his return.
Roster Moves: In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees called up eight players on the first day of expanded rosters. Two others lost their 40-man roster spot. Here are all the moves. I’m not repeating ’em all here. Wally Matthews has all the new uniform numbers, if you’re interested.