Game 156: The Final Road Game

(Vaughn Ridley/Getty)
(Vaughn Ridley/Getty)

After six months of red-eye flights and swanky hotels, the Yankees are playing their final road game of the 2016 season tonight. They’re an awful 35-45 on the road, which is their worst record away from Yankee Stadium since going 35-46 in 1992. Things aren’t so bad at home. The Yankees are 44-31 with a +21 run differential in the Bronx.

Anyway, Luis Severino returns to the rotation tonight because someone had to replace the injured Masahiro Tanaka, and the Yankees consider him the best man for the job. Severino hasn’t thrown more than 52 pitches in a game in a month now, and his changeup remains non-existent, so we’ll see how this goes. Good thing there are 13 pitchers in the bullpen tonight. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Billy Butler
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 1B Mark Teixeira
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. RF Aaron Hicks
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

I have been informed by the internet that it is a cold and rainy day in Toronto, so chances are the Rogers’ Centre roof will be closed. Tonight’s road schedule finale will begin at 7:07pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy the game.

Roster Move: The Yankees have outrighted J.R. Graham off the 40-man roster, the team announced. He is still with the organization, and I’m pretty sure Graham isn’t eligible for minor league free agency this offseason, so he’ll be back next year too.

Heyman: Yankees wanted Panik in trade talks with Giants

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees asked the Giants for second baseman Joe Panik during trade talks prior to the August 1st deadline. San Francisco was said to have interest in both Andrew Miller and Michael Pineda, and I assume Aroldis Chapman as well. The Yankees reportedly did not view them as a good trade partner given their thin farm system though. Heyman indicates the Bombers wanted Panik for Miller.

Panik, 25, is a semi-local kid from Hopewell Junction in Upstate New York. He went to St. John’s. He’s hitting a weak .240/.317/.380 (89 wRC+) with a career high ten home runs in 505 plate appearances around a concussion this season. Last year he hit .312/.378/.455 (136 wRC) around a back injury. Panik was called up midway through the 2014 season and was the Giants’ starting second baseman during their most recent World Series run. There’s a lot to digest here, so let’s break it down.

1. I really like the idea of targeting Panik. It goes without saying a quality young middle infielder is a very valuable asset. Beyond that, I like going after Panik because he’s exactly the kid of offensive player the Yankees don’t have. He’s an extreme contact hitter — his 9.1% strikeout rate is the lowest in baseball — who also draws a healthy amount of walks (9.7%), so his plate discipline is a big plus. Panik is also an all-fields hitter (2016 spray chart via Baseball Savant) …

Joe Panik spray chart

… with a very small platoon split. It’s almost negligible, really. He’s a career .279/.345/.414 (112 wRC+) hitter against righties and a career .289/.343/.376 (104 wRC+) hitter against lefties. Less power, but the average and on-base ability there. Add in above average defense and strong baserunning, and you’ve got a very nice all-around player. Not a star, but a solid player who fits the classic two-hole hitter profile perfectly.

The Yankees have spent the last few years targeting dead pull lefty hitters who can take advantage of the short porch and I totally understand why, but it hasn’t really worked. It’s led to a very one-dimensional and easy-to-defend offense. Targeting some (note: not only) players like Panik should be a goal going forward. Batting average over power, plus a willingness to take a walk. Let any power boost from the short porch come naturally.

(The Yankees kinda tried this when the signed Jacoby Ellsbury, though Ellsbury was already over 30 and didn’t walk nearly as much as Panik. Prime-aged players, please and thank you.)

2. Whither Castro? Panik was drafted as a shortstop but he’s a pure second baseman now, and the Yankees already have a second baseman in Starlin Castro. How would the two have co-existed? There are a lot of ways to solve this problem (trade, platoon, etc.) and I think the long-term plan would have been Panik at second and Castro at third. I don’t think this means the Yankees are ready to move on from Starlin. Not at all.

Remember, the Yankees originally planned to have Castro play some third base this season. That plan got put on hold because he needed more work at second than I think they realized — he only moved there late last season, after all — so they had him focus on that position in Spring Training. With a full season at second under his belt, Castro would ostensibly be better able to work out at third next year. He wouldn’t need the reps at second.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Starlin’s developing power — his 21 homers are five more than his previous career high, though a lot of that is Yankee Stadium (15 at home, six on the road) — allows him to profile better at third, and I think he’d be a better defender there than at second. He seems to get himself in trouble when he has time to make a play. I think the idea behind getting Panik was moving Castro to third long-term.

What happens with Chase Headley in that scenario? An offseason trade seems obvious — they made him available at the deadline, remember — though keeping him as a backup plan at third (and first?) wouldn’t have been a terrible idea. This is one of those “get a good player and figure it out later” situations. Same goes with playing time in the second half. The Yankees figured to be out of the race. Just get the talent and sort it all out once necessary.

3. Was it a one-for-one trade, or something bigger? Long before the trade deadline I was hoping the Yankees would get one truly top prospect for Chapman, and one top prospect plus a few decent secondary pieces for Miller. The Yankees got much more than that. The bullpen market has been insane over the last ten months or so, starting with the Ken Giles trade over the winter. Teams are paying top dollar for elite relievers.

So, with that in mind, was the offer Miller-for-Panik straight up? Or Miller for Panik plus stuff? Or Miller plus stuff for Panik? Or maybe something even bigger than that. It’s two and a half years of an elite reliever and four and a half years of a good middle infielder. My guess is talks never advanced all that far, so the exact framework was never discussed. Something like this:

“Hi, we’d like Andrew Miller.”

“Okay, but your system kinda stinks, so we want Joe Panik in return.”

“Not surprising. Lots of team have asked about him. We can’t do that though. We’ll get Will Smith from the Brewers instead.”

“So wanna get jiggy wit it?”

“Stop it, Brian.”

“In West Philadelphia born and raised…

/click

Getting Panik straight up for Miller would have been pretty darn good, I think. Then again, I never thought the Yankees would get two top 100 prospects and more for Miller, so what do I know. Somehow nothing would have surprised me, not a straight one-for-one deal and not one side kicking in more. This would have been a complicated one.

4. The Giants did trade a starting infielder. The idea of a team trading their starting second baseman for a reliever in the middle of a postseason race seems crazy, but remember, the Giants did trade their starting third baseman. Matt Duffy went to the Rays in the Matt Moore trade. San Francisco picked up Eduardo Nunez a few days earlier and was able to plug him in at third. They could have traded Panik, kept Duffy, and used Nunez at second.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. Duffy was on the DL at the time, so the Giants weren’t actually subtracting him from their lineup when they made the trade. Also, trading Panik and keeping Duffy would have meant finding another way to solve the rotation problem. Trading Panik for Miller and Duffy for Moore seems like a non-option. How could a contender trade half their starting infield, especially when both guys are young?

The Giants were obviously not completely opposed to trading a building block infielder to address their roster needs. The Duffy trade shows that. The fact talks with the Yankees about Panik didn’t go very far suggests they’re much higher on him going forward, which makes sense. Duffy’s power outburst last season was really unexpected, plus top prospect Christian Arroyo is likely headed for third base long-term. They have Duffy’s replacement already.

With San Francisco’s farm system short on high-end talent, the Yankees were smart to ask for a big league player in Miller talks, and Panik was the guy to target. The Brandons (Belt and Crawford) are going nowhere and there’s reason to believe Duffy isn’t quite as good as he was last year. Panik’s concussion explains his down year, but the fact he’s shown more power this year with maintaining his elite strike zone control is a promising sign. This would have been a fascinating deal.

Finding Success

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

One way or another, the 2016 season is going to end in a week’s time. Chances are, the Yankees will be packing up their lockers and heading to their respective corners of vacation, golf, and other recreational activities as their counterparts on other teams bask in the stressful glow of October baseball. There was a time when we’d consider such a happening an unwavering failure for the Bombers. But from this endpoint, it’s hard to look back and consider 2016 anything other than an unmitigated success for our boys in pinstripes.

Coming into this season, the Yankees were a flawed and fairly incomplete team, relying on continued high-level performances from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira to anchor the offense; they were also expecting Luis Severino to build off of a positive end to 2015 and emerge as a force in the rotation to back up Masahiro Tanaka. If all of that happened, they were looking at the playoffs, even if in the form of the Wild Card game once again.

Literally none of those things happened. A-Rod didn’t even last the full season; Tex announced his retirement and has looked like a shell of himself most of the time; and Severino looked more like 2008 Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy than 2015 Luis Severino. But, a funny thing happened on the way to a playoff-less season: the Yankees found success in other avenues.

Masahiro Tanaka
(Getty)

Masahiro Tanaka has had a fantastic season and is a contender for the AL Cy Young Award. He came into the year as the Yankees’ rotation rock and lasted the entire way as such. As his pitching went, generally, so did the Yankees; he was the one reliable starter they had and he was as good as gold.

While he wasn’t up to his career standard — and likely never will be again — CC Sabathia had a bounceback year, posting (to date) a 104 ERA+, a far better showing than 2013-15’s marks of 84, 73, and 86. Watching him find success again was a pleasure, given all he’s meant to the Yankees since 2009.

When it was clear that 2016 wasn’t likely to end in much more than a lack of playoffs, the Yankees found success on the trade market. However much it hurt to watch a guy as good — in more ways than pitching — as Andrew Miller leave the club — with Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran departing as well — the restocking and rearming the Yankee farm system went through in the summer was more than worth it. By shedding those players, the Yankees help set themselves up for success in 2017 and beyond.

This year's rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)
(@Yankees)

Of course, nothing did that quite as much as the successes of the Baby Bombers, led by Gary Sanchez‘s remarkable display of power. While his performance┬áin 2016 was more sustained, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green all had flashes of brilliance that give promise to 2017. Sanchez’s spark gave the Yankees a surprise run towards the second wild card that will probably fall just short, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun to watch. How often does a team sell at the deadline, then compete for the playoffs anyway?

This all begs the question of what a successful 2017 will look like for the Yankees. From a team and competition standpoint, it’s hard to see things looking much different than this year. The team going into 2017 is likely to be flawed enough — especially in the rotation — that a shot at the playoffs is all that could be expected.

Individually speaking, there is plenty to look forward to. Continued excellence from Gary Sanchez is obviously one of those things. We should, however, temper our expectations. While he’ll likely finish this partial season with 20 or more homers, we must remember that if he hits “only” that many in a full season next year, it’s still a great thing for a young catcher.

For Aaron Judge, success will be ironing out the hole in his swing and winning the right field job out of Spring Training.

For the young pitchers — Severino and Cessa, in particular — success will be finding a role. Both can do that by improving their secondary pitches to the point where turning over a lineup is a probability, not just a possibility. The more success they have in this endeavor, the more success the Yankees will have as a team.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 26th, 2016

Record Last Week: 2-4 (19 RS, 26 RA)
Season Record: 79-76 (647 RS, 673 RA, 75-80 pythag. record), 5.5 GB of postseason spot
Opponents This Week: @ Blue Jays (one game, Mon.), vs. Red Sox (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Orioles (three games, Fri. 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?

Yanks opt for deflating 4-3 walk-off loss to Blue Jays over fourth straight shutout

Remember the seven-game win streak that brought the Yankees to within one game of a wildcard spot? It was only two weeks ago. Well, the Yankees are now 3-11 in the 14 games since, including 1-9 against teams other than the Rays. The latest loss, New York’s fourth straight, was a 4-3 walk-off loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday. Fast forward to 2017, please. Maybe 2018.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Streak Ends
At long last, the Yankees have scored a run. Multiple runs, actually. Didi Gregorius ended the team’s 33-inning scoreless streak with a leadoff home run in the seventh inning, which tied the game 1-1. It was the Yankees’ third hit of the game and ninth of the series. The first six innings were more of the same. Lots of weak contact and empty at-bats. That 33-inning scoreless streak was well-earned.

Before the Gregorius homer, New York’s best chance to break the scoreless streak came in the second inning, when they loaded the bases with one out on a double (Mark Teixeira), a walk (Brian McCann), and a single (Chase Headley). Headley’s single likely would have scored a run had pretty much anyone other than Teixeira been running. Still, bases loaded and one out is pretty good. Then Mason Williams struck out and Ronald Torreyes grounded out. Opportunity wasted.

Five-Plus & Fly
Once upon a time Michael Pineda was a ruthlessly efficient pitcher who pounded the zone with power stuff. That was two years ago now. These days Pineda can barely complete five innings, nevermind six. He lasted 5.2 innings on Sunday, which was his longest start in a month. Pineda has completed six full innings just once in his last eight starts. He’s failed to complete five innings three times in those eight games.

Overall though, Pineda was pretty good Sunday, holding the Blue Jays to just one run on a Jose Bautista solo homer in his 5.2 innings. He allowed three hits and three walks while striking out seven. His moment of truth came right in the first inning, when Josh Donaldson doubled and Bautista walked. Pineda escaped the jam on Russell Martin‘s line drive right to Williams. Adam Warren came in to record the final out of the sixth with two men on base, closing the book on Pineda’s start, which was his best (and longest) in a while now.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

(Some) Speed Kills
Props to Joe Girardi. The game was still tied 1-1 in the eighth inning, and he went to his best to face Toronto’s best. That meant Dellin Betances against Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Bautista. He didn’t save his closer for the ninth inning or a save situation. Girardi went to Betances because he was the best man for the job. It’s a shame this is so notable because it’s so rare.

Anyway, bringing in Betances was the right move. It just didn’t work out. Dellin walked Donaldson, who immediately stole second — opponents are now 20-for-20 in steal attempts against Betances — and advanced to third on Encarnacion’s ground ball. Bautista drove in the go-ahead run with a two-strike single on a breaking ball up in the zone. Sucks. Pinch-runner Dalton Pompey stole second (21-for-21) — Dellin had him picked off, but he incorrectly threw to first rather than run right at him — before Betances escaped the inning.

A Short-Lived Lead
To their credit, the Yankees did not pack it in and go quietly in the ninth. They rallied for two runs to take a 3-2 lead. Teixeira and pinch-hitter Billy ButlerEric Young Jr. pinch-ran for McCann earlier in the game, and Butler replaced EYJ — started the inning with back-to-back singles. Headley moved them up with a hard-hit grounder back to closer Roberto Osuna. The Yankees had the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second with one out.

Osuna tried to overpower Williams and nearly succeeded; Williams was late on two fastballs and fouled them off to fall behind in the count 1-2. He caught up to the next fastball and sliced it to left field for game-tying run. Pretty huge moment for the rookie. Torreyes gave the Yankees the 3-2 lead with a sacrifice fly to deep center field. He saw five pitches in that at-bat and swung at them all. The last one was finally put in play instead of fouled off.

The Seemingly Inevitable Loss
After the Yankees took the lead, Girardi sent Betances back out for the bottom of the ninth even though he’d already thrown 26 pitches, and I thought it was absolutely the right move. He’s their best reliever (by a lot), so much so that a fatigued Betances is still their best option. (He hadn’t pitched in four days anyway.) Girardi didn’t have a long leah though. After a leadoff walk, Dellin was pulled in favor of Tyler Clippard.

Clippard, who’s been throwing batting practice for about a week now, allowed a single to Kevin Pillar to put runners on the corners, then inexplicably threw away Ezequiel Carrera’s squeeze bunt. It was a great bunt, nothing the Yankees could do about it, but Clippard tried to flick it to the plate with his glove and it sailed way wide, allowing the runners to advance an extra 90 feet.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With the tying run on third and no outs, the Yankees elected to pitch to Devon Travis, who struck out on four pitches. The Yankees then opted to walk Donaldson to load the bases and create the force at any base. That’s a no-brainer. Bautista was out of the game — he was lifted for a pinch-runner — so Toronto only had two of their three big bats in the lineup. The walk took one out of play, and set up the double play situation for a double play prone hitter.

Alas, it did not work. Encarnacion poked a ground ball to the hole in the right side of the infield, and while Torreyes was able to run it down and keep it from rolling into right field, he had no chance to make a play. Game over. Walk-off infield-ish single.

Girardi sent Betances out for the ninth, which indicates he was willing to let him throw 40+ pitches if necessary. Instead, he pulled him after the leadoff walk, which tells me he was more worried about holding the runner at first than not having the best available pitcher on the mound. Clippard has now allowed eight of the last ten batters he’s faced to reach base — to be fair, one of the eight baserunners was an intentional walk — and runs in four of his last five outings. The leadoff walk stunk and is on Betances, no doubt. But again Clippard was unable to stop the bleeding.

Leftovers
The Yankees had eight hits as a team, which feels like a minor miracle. They had six hits total in the first two games of this series. Gary Sanchez went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and, for the first time, he looked like an over-anxious rookie in the eighth inning. Brett Gardner was on second with one out, and Sanchez swung at a slider way out of the zone for strike three:

Gary Sanchez Joaquin Benoit

That’s the 2016 season in one GIF. To be fair, it was a really good at-bat overall. Joaquin Benoit jumped ahead in the count 0-2, but Sanchez worked it back full and fouled off several tough two-strike pitches. The ninth pitch of that at-bat was that ugly hack off the plate. Sanchez stood hunched over at the plate for a moment, clearly miffed he expanded the zone so much in a big spot. Growing pains.

The Yankees went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and, of course, one of the two hits didn’t even score a run. That was Headley’s second inning single, which advanced Teixeira to third. The other hit was Williams’ game-tying single in the ninth, which ultimate went for naught.

The top three hitters in the lineup: 1-for-13 (.077) with two strikeouts, both by Sanchez. Jacoby Ellsbury is now 6-for-48 (.125) in his last 12 games, including 2-for-22 (.090) since returning from the bone bruise in his knee. Teixeira was the only starter with multiple hits.

Pineda’s fifth strikeout was his 200th of the season. He’s the first Yankee with a 200+ strikeouts since CC Sabathia fanned 230 batters in 2011. He’s the first right-hander with 200+ strikeouts in pinstripes since Mike Mussina (214) and Rogers Clemens (213) both did it in 2001.

And finally, the Orioles won and the Tigers lost, so Baltimore has opened a 1.5-game lead for the second wildcard spot. The Yankees are 5.5 games back and their tragic number is two. On the bright side, the O’s have an off-day Monday, so the Yankees can’t eliminated until Tuesday at the earliest.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
You can find the box score and updated standings at ESPN, and the video highlights at MLB.com. Here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, and here’s the stupid win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This series still isn’t over. The Yankees and Blue Jays will wrap up this four-game set Monday night, in New York’s final road game of the season. Girardi announced Luis Severino will get the start in place of the injured Masahiro Tanaka. Lefty J.A. Happ will be on the bump for Toronto.

Sunday Open Thread

It’s awful that we need days like today to remind us baseball is just a dumb game. Complaining about bullpen management and runners left in scoring position seems so silly. Jose Fernandez, one of the game’s brightest stars, was killed in a boating accident earlier today. He was only 24 and due to become a father soon. Authorities said no alcohol or drugs were involved. It was just an accident. I’m glad we got a chance to experience Jose Fernandez and his passion for the game, though he was taken from this world far too soon. This sucks.

Here is an open thread the rest of the day. The Cardinals and Cubs are the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game for like the fourth time this season, plus there’s all the day’s NFL action. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.

Game 155: Okay, fine, how about just one run?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Twenty-seven innings without a run. Even worse, the Yankees have only had 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position in those 27 innings, so they aren’t even getting chances to score. We’ve sat through some putrid offensive slumps the last four seasons, but nothing like this. The Yankees haven’t scored a run since Wednesday. Wednesday!

In case you’re wondering — I know I was — yes, the Yankees have been shut out in four consecutive games before, back in 1932. They did that despite having six Hall of Famers in the lineup: Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Sewell, Earle Combs, and Babe Ruth. Also, the 1932 Yankees won the World Series. So yeah. The last team to be shut out in four straight games? The 2012 Giants. They won the World Series too. Freaky. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

It’s cool and cloudy in Toronto today. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:07pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and TBS nationally. Enjoy the game.