Tyler Austin did something pretty amazing last night

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

Last night, thanks largely to their second tier relievers, the Yankees won their fifth straight game to climb to within two games of the second wildcard spot. They haven’t been this close to a postseason spot since April 25th, when the season was only 18 games old.

The big blow last night was, of course, Tyler Austin‘s ninth inning walk-off home run. It was an opposite field shot against Erasmo Ramirez. Here’s the video, because I know you all want to watch it again:

All three of Austin’s big league home runs have been opposite field shots. The first was part of the first set of back-to-back home runs by rookies in their first game in history. The second was a birthday blast. The third? A walk-off. That’s some start to Austin’s dinger career, eh?

Although all three homers have been opposite field home runs, Austin’s home run last night was different than the first two. Opposite field hits — singles, doubles, homers, whatever — typically come on pitches on the outer half of the plate. Last night Austin hit his walk-off home run on an inside pitch. Here’s a screen grab of the pitch an instant before impact:

Tyler Austin home run

The camera angle doesn’t do us any favors here, plus I’m not exactly a master screen-grabber, but that’s a two-seam fastball running back inside. You can kinda see the movement on the ball in the screen grab. Austin pulled his hands in and got to the inside pitch. Here’s the pitch location of his three home runs, via Baseball Savant:

Tyler Austin home run pitch locations

The inside pitch is last night’s home run. His first two homers came on fastballs in nearly the same exact spot, almost right down the middle but a little on the outer third. Last night Austin basically inside-outted a home run. We watched Derek Jeter pull his hands in and inside-out singles to right field for two decades. Austin did the same thing last night, but he hit it out of the park.

As you’d expect, the vast majority of pitches on the inner third like that are pulled to left field by right-handed batters. That’s usually how it works. Inside pitches are pulled and outside pitches are shot the other way. Here, via Bill Petti’s Spray Chart Tool, is every home run hit by a right-handed hitter on an inside pitch this season:

Tyler Austin home run spray chart

Like I said, the vast majority have been pulled to left field. Nothing wrong with that. The spray chart tool shows that only eleven home runs have been hit to right field by a right-handed hitter on an inside pitch. It’s actually 12 — the spray chart tool hasn’t been updated with last night’s games, so it doesn’t include Austin’s dinger — but the point stands. It’s incredibly rare for a righty hitter to hit an opposite field homer on an inside pitch.

(Because I know you’re wondering, those other eleven opposite field/inside pitch dingers were hit by Javier Baez, Adrian Beltre, Ryan Braun, Chris Carter, Josh Donaldson, David Freese (twice), Matt Holliday, D.J. LeMahieu, Hanley Ramirez, and Ryan Zimmermann.)

The book on Austin coming up through the minors was that he had power, specifically to the opposite field, but his prospect stock took a hit thanks to injuries and poor performance the last few seasons. Last September he was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot for someone else, went unclaimed on waivers, and then went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft. Every other team had a chance to pick him up for free, and declined.

“Mentally, the best thing that ever happened,” said Austin to Chad Jennings last night, referring to going unclaimed on waivers. “Reminding me that I need to continue to work every day. Reminding me that I can’t get comfortable with where I’m at, because I could be back in Double-A, you know what I mean?”

Austin has bounced back in a huge way this season and he earned his call-up. This wasn’t a token call-up by a rebuilding team with nothing better to do. Austin is healthy and he’s regained the opposite field power that once made him so highly touted. That home run he hit last night, an opposite field shot on an inside pitch, is a home run only very few right-handed batters are capable of hitting.

Mailbag: Trade Targets, Clarkin, Options, Otani, Girardi

Big mailbag this week. Seventeen questions and some of the answers are not short. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us questions, links, comments, whatever.

Shelby. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty)
Shelby. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty)

Sam asks: The starting pitcher free agent market this winter is pretty bleak, and the Yankees probably aren’t going to trade for Sale or Fernandez. Who are some mid level starters you expect Cashman to target via trade this winter?

It’s funny, the Yankees’ starting pitching trade targets seem to be getting less and less high-profile with each passing trade. Here’s the recent list of trades for rotation help:

  • 2010: Javy Vazquez. Established big leaguer coming off a Cy Young caliber season.
  • 2012: Michael Pineda. High-profile young player coming off a strong rookie season.
  • 2014: Brandon McCarthy. Big league veteran, but a reclamation project.
  • 2015: Nathan Eovaldi. Young player but something of a reclamation project.
  • 2016: Luis Cessa and Chad Green. Young players with zero MLB experience.

Maybe this offseason they’ll continue the trend trading for a starter picked in the Rule 5 Draft. Anyway, I do expect the Yankees to be in the market for rotation help this offseason, specifically a starter they can control for a few years. They certainly have the prospect ammo to make any kind of trade. A blockbuster or something smaller. Here are some possible targets:

  • Chad Bettis, Rockies: Bettis has terrible numbers thanks mostly to Coors Field, but I’m a big believer in his deep arsenal and bulldog mentality. Put him at sea level and he might really thrive. The Rockies actually have a ton of young pitching right now too, so they can afford to move one.
  • Mike Clevinger, Indians: Clevinger is a quality prospect — I wrote about him before the trade deadline — who doesn’t have a spot in Cleveland’s rotation. He might only be their seventh starter right now behind Cody Anderson.
  • Anthony DeSclafani, Reds: A sneaky good young pitcher (3.64 ERA and 3.73 FIP from 2015-16) under control through 2020. DeSclafani is a potential building block for the Reds though, so he won’t come cheap.
  • Gio Gonzalez, Nationals: The recent Stephen Strasburg injury may throw a wrench into things, but the Nats have young pitching coming and need to clear space in their rotation. Gonzalez is an obvious trade candidate.
  • Shelby Miller, Diamondbacks: He’s broken, but the D’Backs are kinda clueless, and Miller represents a buy low candidate. Shelby spent enough time in the minors this year to delay free agency too. He’s under control through 2019.
  • Tyler Skaggs, Angels: He’s come back well from Tommy John surgery and the Angels need as many prospects as they can get. Skaggs is arguably their best non-Mike Trout trade chip.
  • Taijuan Walker, Mariners: Walker keeps going backwards and new GM Jerry Dipoto didn’t draft him, so there’s not much of a connection there. There’s still some top prospect shine here despite his thorough mediocrity.

The upcoming free agent classes are so bad that the pitching trade market is going to be kicked into overdrive. I expect asking prices to be through the roof and more than a few “they gave up all that for him?!” trades to go down. The Yankees seem to do really, really well in trades. Hopefully it continues this offseason.

John asks: Let’s get way ahead of ourselves and assume the yanks clinch a wildcard spot. I would think that Tanaka pitches that game. Who would you then want lined up to pitch the 5 potential ALDS games?

There’s a decent chance the Yankees won’t have the luxury of lining up their rotation for the postseason. Their season could easily come down to having to win Game 161 or 162, and they may need Masahiro Tanaka to start one of those games. My ideal postseason rotation given the current options would be Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Pineda, and Cessa, in that order. Hopefully that means Tanaka in Game One of the ALDS and Sabathia in Game Two. Chances are it means Tanaka in the wildcard game and Sabathia in Game One.

Keep in mind the postseason schedule allows the wildcard game starter to start Game Three of the ALDS on normal rest, so if Tanaka starts the wildcard game, the ALDS rotation would then be Sabathia, Pineda, Tanaka, Cessa. The Yankees’ best chance to do something meaningful in the postseason is to have Tanaka start as many games as possible. Starting the wildcard game then bringing him back for Game Three of the ALDS is a no-brainer, and I’m a Cessa fan.

Richard asks: What is your current opinion of Ian Clarkin? He’s thrown less than 200 total innings since he was drafted with more than half of those at Tampa this year, but his stats aren’t very impressive. Is he still in your top 10? Will he start next year in Trenton or Tampa?

I had Clarkin ninth on my post-draft top 30 prospects list and nothing’s really changed. He’s going to get pushed down a spot — Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez graduate while Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, and Justus Sheffield have been added — but his prospect stock is unchanged from midseason. It would be nice if he didn’t catch a spike and tear his meniscus, but that’s life. Last year’s elbow injury certainly took a bite out of his prospect stock. The important thing is the elbow stayed healthy this year and he showed the same stuff as before the injury. The bat-missing curveball, changeup, and cutter were all there. I’m still a fan. I expect Clarkin to start next year in Double-A.

Clarkin. (MLB.com screen grab)
Clarkin. (MLB.com screen grab)

Tom asks: Of the injured RPs (Lindgren, Mullee, Pinder, Rumbelow), would the yankees try to get them off the 40? I’d think chances are low that teams would claim fringy relief prospects rehabbing surgery.

Yes. They basically have no choice but to shed two or three of those guys. Chase Whitley was claimed off waivers last year while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, so I guess it’s not completely impossible one would get popped, but it seems unlikely. Conor Mullee (29 in February) and Branden Pinder (28 in January) are the oldest of those four players, so they’d be the first to go, I imagine.

Jacob Lindgren is the one I would be least willing to put on waivers (even though he will miss all of 2017) because he’s the best of the bunch. He’s the youngest and has, by far, the best individual pitch in his slider. Rather than put him on waivers, the Yankees could non-tender him on the December 2nd deadline, then re-sign him to a minor league deal a la Vicente Campos and Slade Heathcott two years ago. That would allow him to avoid waivers. The Yankees will need 40-man spots the day after the end of the World Series though, so they can’t wait to do the non-tender/re-sign trick with everyone.

Kelvin asks: With the recent call-ups of top prospects around the league, and before any off-season trades, will the Yankees farm system still be a top 5 farm after Sanchez and Judge graduates? Or will they fall around the 6-8 spot?

I think they’ll still be top five even after Sanchez and Judge graduate, which will happen fairly soon. The cutoff is 130 at-bats and Sanchez is at 119 right now. Judge has 73. Even without those two, the Yankees still have four no-doubt top 100 prospects (Frazier, Torres, Sheffield, Jorge Mateo) and very likely a fifth (Blake Rutherford). Also, their system is unmatched when it comes to players who project to be average-ish big leaguers. You’ve got to dig deep into their top 30-50 prospects before you start finding guys who project to be a utility player or matchup reliever. The Brewers have the best farm system in baseball right now. The Yankees are a notch below them but still top five, in my opinion.

Eric asks: Is this the offseason that we go under 189?

Yes with a catch. The luxury tax threshold may not be $189M next season. It figures to go up with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. It might be $200M. Maybe even $205M or $210M. Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran are coming off the books, and Andrew Miller‘s contract has been moved too. Yeah, the Yankees are stuck with Alex Rodriguez‘s salary, but that was always going to be the case. With cheap young players available to step in at first and in the outfield, the Yankees are in good shape to get under the luxury tax threshold, whatever it may be next year. They even figure to have room to add a big contract (coughAroldisChapmancough).

James asks: It seems like there have been a lot of players with 3 HRs in a game this year. Is it perception or reality?

It’s reality. There’s have been 19 (!) three-homer games this season. The list: Aaron Hill, Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, Brian Dozier, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Seager, Danny Valencia, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Donaldson, Khris Davis, Kris Bryant, Lorenzo Cain, Manny Machado, Max Kepler, Michael Saunders, Mookie Betts (twice), Victor Martinez, and Yasmani Grandal. Cain did it against the Yankees. Here are the number of three-homer games in recent years:

  • 2016: 19 and counting
  • 2015: 11 (A-Rod, Adrian Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Edwin Encarnacion, J.D. Martinez, Jarrett Parker, Joey Votto, Kendrys Morales, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda, Yoenis Cespedes)
  • 2014: 3 (Chris Davis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Ryan Braun)
  • 2013: 8 (Carlos Gonzalez, Dioner Navarro, Josh Reddick, Juan Uribe, Miguel Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval, Ryan Zimmerman, Will Middlebrooks)
  • 2012: 12 (Adrian Beltre, Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Davis, Curtis Granderson, Dan Johnson, Evan Longoria, Ike Davis, Jason Kubel, Joey Votto, Josh Hamilton, Melvin Upton, Ryan Braun)

There have been nearly as many three-home runs games this season as there were from 2013-15 combined. It could be a statistical anomaly. Home runs are way up this year though — there’s an average of 1.17 homers per game this season, up from 1.01 last year and 0.86 the year before — leading to speculation that the ball is juiced. I hope that’s the case. I like dingers.

Ford. (The Times of Trenton)
Ford. (The Times of Trenton)

Travis asks: Can you look at Mike Ford’s numbers and tell me whether or not he should be considered for a roster spot? He is Rule 5 eligible and seems to be able to hold his own at the plate.

My favorite Mike Ford fact is that he was the Ivy League Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year at Princeton in 2013. He hit .320/.443/.503 with six homers in 41 games, and had a 0.98 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 13 walks in nine starts and 64 innings. The Yankees signed him an undrafted free agent that summer and he’s been in their farm system ever since.

Ford, who is about two months younger than Judge, hit .280/.417/.455 (144 wRC+) with five homers, 34 walks, and 25 strikeouts in 42 games for Double-A Trenton this season around a thumb injury. He’s a much better hitter and prospect than Kyle Roller, another lefty hitter relegated to first base and DH only, though the offensive bar for first base prospects is really high. That’s why Greg Bird, as good as he is, only barely scratched top 100 lists at his prospect peak.

There will be a premium on 40-man roster space this offseason and I can’t imagine the Yankees will protect Ford from the Rule 5 Draft. There’s just no room. I’m not sure he’ll be much more than a Quad-A type anyway, which doesn’t mean he won’t spend a year or three in the big leagues. Sometimes though guys turn into Brandon Moss. The Yankees did a real nice job signing Ford. They landed a legitimate prospect — albeit a third tier prospect — as an undrafted free agent.

Preston asks: As of 9/6 Fangraphs is projecting the Yankees rosW% at .434, worst in the AL. That’s crazy right? What do you think their actual playoff odds are, if they didn’t have that crazy pessimistic ros projection?

rosW% = rest of season winning percentage. It’s so low for two reasons. One, the projections used by FanGraphs don’t love the Yankees’ roster and expects them to play worse than they have been the rest of the way. Two, the Yankees have an insanely tough schedule the rest of the season. They have six games left with the Rays, and the other 17 are against the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Dodgers. Really good teams. That rosW% is the result of the projections seeing a bad team facing a tough schedule. I think it’s low, but I’m a raging homer, so what do I know. Their playoffs odds are low. Certainly not 50/50. I’d say 25/75 sounds good, and even that’s on the optimistic side.

Jackson asks: If Austin plays well to the end of the season, could you see the Yankees sending him to one of the winter leagues to brush up on his third base skills and then try to move Headley? Or do you see him fighting it out with Bird at first base, regardless?

Nope. Tyler Austin isn’t even a good defensive first baseman. He’s just okay. Third base is asking for trouble. Austin has played 35 career games at the hot corner in the minors, including three this year, but that doesn’t mean much. Even Pete O’Brien played some third in the minors. Austin’s best position is the batter’s box. He’s a first baseman who can also play a little outfield for you. Third base is an “emergencies only” position for him. It’s not worth pursuing seriously. Give him a game or two there in Spring Training and that’s it.

Bill asks: I don’t think he will win with teams like Cleveland and Texas having the years they are having, but shouldn’t Girardi get some votes if not win the award if this team stays this close the rest of the way? Traded 3 of their best players and have played better since.

He’ll get votes, I’m sure. I don’t think Joe Girardi has had a particularly good year strategically, but it doesn’t matter what I think. He’s received Manager of the Year votes every year since 2009, and if the Yankees do indeed stay in the race right to end, he’ll again get plenty of support. Terry Francona is probably the favorite right now. I could see Girardi finishing in the top three if the Yankees make a spirited run these last few weeks.

Justin asks: Who has options left and who is out of options for the 2017 season?

Not counting retreads (Anthony Swarzak, etc.) and established big leaguers (Brett Gardner, etc.), the only players on the 40-man roster who will be out of options next season are Sanchez, Austin Romine, and Aaron Hicks. Austin, Bird, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, Mason Williams, Chasen Shreve, and various other relievers all have at last one option remaining. Some have more than one left. Romine seems like the only one of the out of options guy in danger of losing his roster spot, and his future with the Yankees could depend on a potential Brian McCann trade.

Bill asks: What’s your take on Shohei Otani? Do you think he’ll be posted? If so, should we go for him and what do you think it would take? Thanks!

My take on Otani: he’s very good, better as a pitcher than a hitter despite his numbers this season. (He’s hitting .325/.426/.599 with 20 homers in 326 plate appearances.) I think it would be a complete waste of time to let him pursue hitting and pitching here. His upside is far greater on the mound. At the plate his best case scenario is … Seth Smith? Meh. Not worth pursuing. It’s hard to do one thing well, pitching or hitting. I wouldn’t ask him to do both.

Otani. (Masterpress/Getty)
Otani. (Masterpress/Getty)

I have no idea if Otani will be posted this offseason. It’s up to his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters. Right now they know the largest posting fee they can get for him is $20M. That’s true no matter when they post him. Otani is only 22 and he’s five years away from international free agency, so it would be completely understandable if they want to keep him another few years and try to win with him, then take the $20M down the line.

If he is posted this offseason, yes, the Yankees should absolutely go after him. Otani has legitimate ace potential — he’s more Yu Darvish than Tanaka in terms of pitching style — and he’s still so young. He fits the youth movement perfectly. Tanaka was 24 when he landed a seven-year deal worth $155M. Pitching prices have only gone up, so I think Otani winds up with seven years and $175M or so. A $200M deal would really surprise me, but I suppose it’s not impossible.

Jimmy asks: Who has been the best team in each league since the trade deadline? Cause it seems to me that the Yankees have been really good (possibly the best?) and I’d be interested to know what you think.

The three best records in the AL since August 1st: Royals (22-12), Yankees (21-13), and Rangers (21-14). The three best in the NL: Cubs (25-9), Nationals (20-13), and Dodgers (20-14). So, by winning percentage, the Yankees have the third best record in baseball since throwing in the towel at the trade deadline and trading away three of their best players. Go figure. The Yankees certainly haven’t dominated since the deadline, they’ve won their fair share of nail-biters, and those nail-biters give them the second best record in the AL since ostensibly giving up on the season. The rebuild lasted like a week and a half.

Geoff asks: Headley’s great diving play down the line tonight undoubtedly saved 1 run, quite possibly 2. How does that factor into Defensive Runs Saved? Is it just +2 runs saved?

No, it’s not a literal “runs saved” number. That diving stop the other night might have saved two runs in the game, but it goes into the books as something else. In a nutshell, that play is recorded based on the batted ball direction, speed, and type (grounder, line drive, etc.) and compared to how often similar batted balls are turned into outs. Here’s the Headley play we’re talking about:

Let’s say similar batted balls are turned into outs 27% of the time, or +0.27. (I have no idea what that number actually is. I made +0.27 up for argument’s sake.) Headley is credited with 1.00 for making the play minus the expectation of the play being made, the +0.27. That gives him +0.73. The runners, the numbers of outs, the score, none of that is factored in. DRS just looks at the batted ball and whether the play was made.

Now, that +0.73 represents plays made, not runs saved. DRS adds up all the plays made (or not made, for bad defenders) throughout the season, then runs it through some big gory calculation that converts plays into runs. So far this season Headley is at +5 DRS, so all those dozens of plays made work out to five runs saved compared to the average this baseman. That’s seventh in MLB. Nolan Arenado leads all third baseman (by a mile) at +19 DRS.

I know that +5 DRS doesn’t seem right — after all, we watched Headley save at least one run with that play the other night — but remember Headley is only part of the play. The pitcher had a role in it, as did the first baseman for making the scoop. Headley didn’t save that run by himself. He had some help, which is why he only gets partial credit.

Marc asks: Lots of season left but a big obstacle is always trying to leapfrog too many teams to advance in the standings. Looking at the match ups the teams ahead of them have this weekend, a good weekend with the Rays could get the Yankees ahead of two teams. How likely do you think it is the Yankees are in 3rd in the East or WC come Monday?

The Yankees are in third place in the second wildcard race right now. They’re two back of the Orioles and one back of the Tigers. I didn’t realize the weekend schedule had so many head-to-head matchups between postseason contenders. Here’s the schedule (all three-game series):

  • Red Sox at Blue Jays: Fighting for first place in the AL East. Loser likely gets first wildcard spot.
  • Orioles at Tigers: Orioles are in the second wildcard spot and the Tigers are one game back.
  • Cubs at Astros: Astros are two games back of the second wildcard spot.

Hopefully the Cubbies do their thing and beat up on the Astros this weekend. That would really be a big help. If you’re holding out hope for the AL East title, you want the Blue Jays to take two of three from the Red Sox. Toronto is a game back now and winning two would keep both teams relatively close. If you’re giving up on the division, then you want the Red Sox to sweep. That will keep the Blue Jays much closer in the wildcard race.

As for that Orioles-Tigers series, the worst case scenario would be a sweep by either team. You don’t want someone to run away with it. Because the Yankees don’t play Detroit again this season, the best thing would be the O’s winning two of three. The Yankees wouldn’t have to rely on crummy AL Central teams beating the Tigers as much the rest of the way, and since they have games left with the Orioles — the final series of the season! — they can make up ground themselves. Got it? Good.

Michael asks: If the Yankees make it to a WC game would they carry three catchers? If not I assume they’d keep Sanchez and McCann (as the DH) but then not have a BUC and lose the DH if something happened. Your thoughts?

The Yankees carried three catchers in the wildcard game last year, remember. Sanchez was on the roster as a bench bat behind McCann and John Ryan Murphy. The wildcard game is considered its own postseason round, so it gets it own roster. It’s separate from the ALDS roster. Because of that, teams leave off their unavailable starters and carry extra relievers and bench players for the wildcard game. If the Yankees plan to use McCann at DH, then carrying a third catcher makes sense. You want to be able to pinch-run for Sanchez and not forfeit the DH, and/or pinch-run for McCann and not lose your backup catcher. Three catchers seems like a slam dunk given the current roster.

Another night, another hero: Tyler Austin’s walk-off homer gives Yankees 5-4 win over Rays

Earlier this season, the Yankees lose this game. The bullpen doesn’t keep the other team down, the offense doesn’t muster anything late … we saw lots of that earlier this year. Now? Now the Yankees seem to win games like this on the regular. They found a way to win their fifth straight game Thursday night, this one a 5-4 victory over the Rays.


Old Man Sabathia
Right from the start of the game, CC Sabathia looked absolutely awful. There was no power behind his pitches and his location wasn’t good at all. It seemed like he was out there with nothing. He was going to have to really work for each out. Giving up solo home runs in the first (Kevin Kiermaier), second (Steven Souza), and third (Kiermaier again) innings wasn’t exactly unpredictable. Sabathia did not look good by any stretch.

The big man finished the game with those three runs allowed in four innings plus two batters. I thought sending him out to face the top of the lineup a third time in that fifth inning was a really dicey decision by Joe Girardi. I know none of the top relievers were available, but even a fresh mediocre reliever was a better option than a fatigued Sabathia throwing nothingballs. The three runs scored on seven hits and no walks.

According to PitchFX, Sabathia averaged only 88.5 mph with his sinker, down from his 90.7 mph season average and 90.2 mph in his last start. I don’t know if this was just one of those games or what. Hopefully that’s all it was. Sabathia looked really bad, like he might be pitching hurt, and that’s the last thing the Yankees need right now. Hopefully he comes out full throttle in five days.

Reverse Jinx
A few days ago I wrote about Brian McCann‘s lack of power in the second half, so I’m going to take credit for his recent home run surge. McCann has now hit three homers in his last eleven plate appearances, including two in this game, after hitting two homers total in his first 37 second half games. Who should I reverse jinx next? I’m thinking Michael Pineda but am open to suggestions.


Before McCann’s two dingers, the Yankees scored two first inning runs against Alex Cobb on a series of singles and one mistake. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury started the game with back-to-back bloops, and Didi Gregorius drove in the first run with a single to right. The second run scored when first baseman Brad Miller couldn’t handle Cobb’s pickoff throw, allowing Ellsbury to trot home from third.

The Rays took a 1-0 lead on Kiermaier’s first homer, the Yankees took a 2-1 lead after that bottom of the first, then the Rays tied things up 2-2 on Souza’s homer. McCann broke the tie in the second with a bomb of a solo home run. It landed in the suite deck in right field. It’s been a while since we’ve seen one hit there. After Kiermaier tied the game in the third, McCann untied it with a second deck homer in the fourth. The Yankees led 4-3 after four.

A Battle of the Bullpens
We all knew the bullpen was going to be shorthanded coming into this game. Well, shorthanded is a relative term. Rosters are currently expanded and the Yankees have 12 relievers in the bullpen, but Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Tyler Clippard, and Luis Severino were not going to be available Thursday. The team’s four best relievers, basically. The other eight guys were going to have to hold down the fort.

With Sabathia bowing out of the game in the fourth, Girardi was going to have to dig deep into his bag of relievers. First out of the bullpen was Jonathan Holder, who stranded the two runners he inherited from Sabathia. Something amazing happened that fifth inning: Girardi got a balk call reversed. Holder was called for a balk when he moved his glove, allowing the tying run to score. Girardi convinced the umpires to talk it out, and they determined Holder was simply telling McCann to cycle through the signs again. The balk was overturned.


I can’t remember ever seeing a balk call reversed like that. The balk rule is so damn ambiguous. When stuff like that happens, you know the Yankees are living a charmed life. They’re getting every break, it seems. The balk reversal saved the Yankees a run, but Souza did tie the game was a monster home run in the sixth inning. It hit up the restaurant in Aaron Judge territory. After all of that, the game was tied 4-4 in the sixth.

Four relievers combined to get nine outs in the seventh, eighth, and nine innings. Chasen Shreve got one, Blake Parker got five, Kirby Yates got two, and Tommy Layne got one. Parker is slowing moving into the Circle of Trust™, isn’t he? He retired Evan Longoria and Souza as part of his outing. Tampa’s most dangerous hitter and a guy with two home runs on the night.

Five relievers, four of whom spent time in Triple-A earlier this season and another who was released by a division rival, combined to throw five innings of one-run ball after Sabathia exited the game. They allowed the run on five hits and walk while striking out five. Pretty? Nah. But give me this kind of performance from these dudes every day of the week. They held down the Rays long enough for Tyler Austin to do this:

Girardi could have easily pinch-hit Mark Teixeira in that spot to get the platoon matchup against Erasmo Ramirez. Teixeira could take aim at the short porch and win the game with one swing. Instead, Girardi stuck with Austin, who actually got ahead in the count 3-0. He took a strike, swung so hard through a 3-1 changeup that he nearly broke his bat on his back, then sat back and shot the 3-2 pitch into right field for the walk-off home run.

Austin had a single earlier in the game and is now 6-for-12 with two doubles and two home runs in his last four games. That’s after a lengthy 5-for-37 (.135) slump that saw him on the bench more often than not. All three of Austin’s big league home runs have been opposite field shots at Yankee Stadium. He has right field pop and that’s going to serve him very well in this ballpark.

For only the second time in his 20 starts as a big leaguer, Judge did not strike out. He went 1-for-3 with a hard-hit single and was thrown out stealing second, though replays showed he may have been safe. The Yankees didn’t challenge though. Judge’s at-bats have been much better the last few days. He seems to be coming around. Hopefully it’ll be dinger time soon.

Gardner (two singles) and Ellsbury (single, walk) both reached base twice. Ellsbury drew a walk leading off the eighth inning and never tried to steal second. Well, that’s not true. He ran on the final pitch of the inning, which Starlin Castro swung through for strike three. That was annoying. The game was tied 4-4 in the eighth and Ellsbury didn’t budge. Argh. Those are the bases he was brought in to steal.

Gary Sanchez went 0-for-4 and is in a 6-for-35 (.171) slump. That was bound to happen. The slump has lowered his season batting line all the way down to .336/.410/.689 (188 wRC+). He’ll be fine. McCann had three hits total, it should be noted. Between the dingers and selling the umps on Holder not balking, it was a productive night for McCann.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go to ESPN for the box score, MLB.com for the video highlights, and ESPN for the updated standings. The Yankees are now four games back in the AL East and two games back of the second wildcard spot. They haven’t been this close to a postseason spot since April 25th, 18 games into the season. Pretty awesome. Don’t miss our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This series is only getting started. The Yankees and Rays will reconvene at Yankee Stadium on Friday night for the second game of this four-game set. Pineda and rookie Blake Snell are the scheduled starters. RAB Tickets can get you in the door for any of the 12 home games left this season.

DotF: Crawford leads Tampa to FSL Championship Series

The Staten Island Yankees have announced the five finalists for their new team nickname, and they’re all pretty bad. The five: Bridge Trolls, Heroes, Killer Bees, Pizza Rats, and Rock Pigeons. Apparently over 2,000 names were submitted by fans. You can vote right here. The only correct answer is the Staten Island Killer Bees (NSFW language!).

Triple-A Scranton (7-0 win over Lehigh Valley) they lead the best-of-five series two games to none

  • CF Mason Williams: 2-5, 1 R, 1 RBI — Shane Hennigan says Williams made two great catches too, so he’s had a big impact on both sides of the ball this series … remember, he hit the game-winning home run in Game One yesterday
  • LF Clint Frazier: 1-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 3B Donovan Solano: 3-5, 1 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K — what a great season he’s having
  • 1B Chris Parmelee: 1-4, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • DH Cesar Puello: 0-4, 1 R, 2 K
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 1-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
  • RF Jake Cave: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
  • LHP Phil Coke: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 10/1 GB/FB — 65 of 94 pitches were strikes (58%) … veteran lefty with a gem in Game Two of a postseason series? he’s like the Triple-A version of Andy Pettitte
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3/0 GB/FB — eight pitches, four strikes

[Read more…]

Game 139: Don’t Stop


The Yankees have won four straight games and they just wrapped up a thrilling and important three-game sweep of the Blue Jays. The last place Rays now come to town for a four-game set and this can’t be a letdown series. It’s easy to think the hard part is over now that the Blue Jays have left town, but that can’t be the mentality. Tampa is no pushover and the Yankees still have a lot of ground to make up in the wildcard races. It only gets more difficult from here on out, not easier. Here’s the Rays’ lineup and here’s the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 1B Tyler Austin
  9. RF Aaron Judge
    LHP CC Sabathia

It has been cloudy and humid in New York today, and usually that means rain, but there’s none in the forecast tonight. Nothing substantial, anyway. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES.

9/8 to 9/11 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Admiring the 2011 and 2013 wildcard banners, I see. (Presswire)
Admiring the 2011 and 2013 wildcard banners, I see. (Presswire)

There are only four home series left this season, folks. The Blue Jays are leaving town and now the Rays are coming in. This is a four-game series too, so the Yankees have a chance to pile up wins against a last place team. They’re 6-6 against Tampa Bay so far this season, including 4-2 at Yankee Stadium.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rays hung on to beat the Orioles yesterday, snapping their three-game losing streak. They actually won six of ten games prior to that three-game skid. Tampa is 59-79 with a -29 run differential this season — they’re 28-47 in their last 75 games — which puts them firmly among the league’s cellar dwellers. They’re heading for their first top ten draft pick since taking Tim Beckham first overall in 2008. Good thing they didn’t take consensus No. 1 draft prospect Buster Posey that year, eh?

Offense & Defense

Including yesterday’s seven-run outburst, the Rays are averaging 4.24 runs per game with a team 99 wRC+. They’re so unhappy with their offense that they fired longtime hitting Derek Shelton earlier this week. Tampa’s only seriously injured position player is SS Matt Duffy (83 wRC+), who will have season-ending Achilles surgery in the near future. 3B Evan Longoria (127 wRC+) is day-to-day after taking a pitch to the hand earlier this week, though he was in the lineup at third base yesterday.

Kiermaier. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Kiermaier. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

The top four spots of manager Kevin Cash’s lineup stay pretty consistent from day-to-day. Longoria bats third with 2B Logan Forsythe (125 wRC+) leading off and CF Kevin Kiermaier (99 wRC+) hitting second. 1B Brad Miller (115 wRC+) is the cleanup man. He has 26 home runs, you know. UTIL Nick Franklin (132 wRC+) has taken over at short since Duffy got hurt, and the rotating corner outfielders are OF Corey Dickerson (89 wRC+), OF Steven Souza Jr. (79 wRC+), and OF Mikie Mahtook (29 wRC+). Franklin played some outfield too.

DH Logan Morrison (97 wRC+) is the other regular and C Bobby Wilson (87 wRC+) has taken over as the regular catcher. C Luke Maile (80 wRC+) is the backup. C Curt Casali and IF Richie Shaffer are the only September call-ups for now. The Rays didn’t exactly load up the bench. Longoria and Kiermaier are by far Tampa’s best defensive players. Forsythe is solid at second and so is Souza in right. Wilson’s a fine catcher. Left field, shortstop, and first base are weak spots.

Update: The Rays signed veteran SS Alexei Ramirez (61 wRC+) earlier today, according to Marc Topkin. He was released by the Padres a few days ago. I assume Ramirez will be their regular shortstop the rest of the way following the Duffy injury. He’s certainly their best option defensively.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (7:05pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (vs. NYY)
Unlike Masahiro Tanaka, Cobb was unable to successfully rehab an elbow injury, which forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery last May. The 28-year-old returned to the team’s rotation last week and held the Blue Jays to two runs in five innings while on a strict pitch count. He fanned seven, walked one, and got twice as many ground outs as fly outs. Cobb was really good from 2013-14 (2.82 ERA and 3.29 FIP), but that was two years and one elbow ligament ago. In his start last week Cobb averaged 91.4 mph with his sinker, 86.3 mph with his splitter, and 80.1 mph with his curveball. That’s down a mile or two an hour across the board from before the injury, though chances are he’s still building up arm strength.

Friday (7:05pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs. LHP Blake Snell (vs. NYY)
The Rays are using a six-man rotation right now to control Snell’s innings and make life easy on Cobb following elbow reconstruction. The 23-year-old Snell has had a fine rookie season, pitching to a 3.39 ERA (3.42 FIP) in 15 starts and 74.1 innings. His strikeout (23.8%) and walk (12.7%) numbers are high, and there’s a disconnect between his ground ball rate (37.5%) and home run rate (0.48 HR/9). Something will have to give at some point. Not surprisingly, righties have had more success against him than lefties. Snell sits in the mid-90s with his heater, and his array of offspeed pitches includes a mid-80s changeup, a low-80s slider, and an upper-70s curveball. The Yankees have seen the young southpaw twice this season: one run in five innings in April, his MLB debut, and two runs in 5.1 innings in July.

Archer. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Archer. (Bob Levey/Getty)

Saturday (4:05pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TB) vs. RHP Chris Archer (vs. NYY)
What a disappointing season for Archer. He finished fifth in the Cy Young voting last year and could have placed even higher, and rather than build on that success, Archer has a 4.06 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 29 starts and 175.1 innings. That’s not awful — heck, it’s better than every Yankees starter aside from Tanaka — but it’s certainly not what he or the Rays had in mind this season. Archer’s strikeout (28.4%), walk (8.2%), and grounder (47.3%) numbers are right where they were last year, but he’s been more homer prone (1.23 HR/9) and righties are having more success against him than ever before. The 27-year-old northpaw sits in the mid-90s with his heater and the upper-80s with his trademark slider. It’s nasty. One of the best sliders in baseball. It’s like a right-handed Andrew Miller slider. He also has an improved upper-80 changeup. The Yankees have faced Archer twice this season: four runs in eight innings in May, and five runs in six innings in August. The latter was Alex Rodriguez‘s final game.

Sunday (1:05pm ET): RHP Luis Cessa (vs. TB) vs. RHP Matt Andriese (vs. NYY)
Andriese, 27, has a 4.58 ERA (3.79 FIP) in 106 innings split across 15 starts and ten relief appearances this season. His peripherals are generally strong (21.1 K%, 5.2 BB%, 44.4 GB%, 1.19 HR/9) and his platoon split is relatively small. As a starter Andriese uses a low-90s four-seamer and a mid-80s changeup as his two main pitches. He added an upper-80s cutter recently that has apparently been a real nice pitch for him. He’ll also throw a few low-80s curveballs per start, but at the end of the day, Andriese is a fastball/changeup/cutter pitcher. The Yankees saw him as a starter last month and scored six runs in five innings.

Bullpen Status

Like the Yankees, the Rays loaded up their bullpen as soon as rosters expanded on September 1st. They’re carrying a dozen relievers in addition to their six starters. Here is Cash’s relief crew:

Closer: RHP Alex Colome (2.05 ERA/3.26 FIP)
Setup: RHP Brad Boxberger (3.00/4.75), LHP Xavier Cedeno (3.70/2.64)
Middle: RHP Danny Farquhar (3.64/5.13), RHP Kevin Jepsen (5.48/5.88), LHP Enny Romero (5.53/4.48)
Long: RHP Erasmo Ramirez (3.73/4.64)
Extra: RHP Eddie Gamboa, RHP Ryan Garton, RHP Steve Geltz, LHP Justin Marks, RHP Chase Whitley

Ace Whitley! He’s all done rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and was called up Monday. Good for him. Hopefully he pitches this series, but only in a blowout win for the Yankees. Gamboa, another September call-up, is a knuckleballer. He joins R.A. Dickey and Steven Wright as the only knuckleballers in MLB at the moment. All three in the AL East. Figures.

Colome is firmly established as the closer and Cash likes to rotate his setup men. Boxberger and Cedeno get the majority of the setup work, but Erasmo and Farquhar and Jepsen will see high-leverage work on occasion too. Garton (29 pitches), Jepsen (12 pitches), Boxberger (eight pitches), Farquhar (13 pitches), and Colome (13 pitches) all pitched yesterday. Farquhar is the only one coming off back-to-back days.

Head on over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s relievers. Those guys have worked an awful lot the last few days, so even though the Yankees are carrying 12 relievers, the bullpen is a little worn down.