Breaking down the rest of the Yanks’ regular season schedule

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

This afternoon the Yankees are wrapping up their series with the Orioles, in their 139th game of the season. The final 23 games of the season — only 23 games remaining! — will determine whether the Yankees qualify for the postseason, or miss the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years.

Here, to keep the loyal reader informed, are the current wildcard standings:

al-wc-standings-090717

The Yankees are four games back of the Red Sox in the AL East, so they’re certainly not out of the division race yet, but I’ve shifted focus to the wildcard spot. Tough to make up ground in the AL East race with no head-to-head games with Boston remaining. Besides, the Yankees have to nail down a wildcard spot before really making a run at the division title.

Anyway, with 23 games to go this year, I figured this would be as good a time as any to breakdown the remaining schedule. New York’s remaining opponents have a combined .487 winning percentage this year, fourth lowest in the AL behind only the Indians (.459), Tigers (.479), and Astros (.483). That doesn’t mean much though. Any team can beat any other team on any given day in this game. Let’s break down the schedule, shall we?

The Unexpectedly Important Series

I gotta admit, I did not expect a mid-September series against Twins the mean much when I first looked at the schedule last year. Heck, I didn’t expect it to mean much when I looked at schedule at any point prior to, like, August 15th. Minnesota wasn’t expected to contend this year and I think most people have been waiting for them to fall out of race. It hasn’t happened. The Twinkies went 20-10 in August and shot up the standings.

Minnesota is coming to Yankee Stadium for three games from September 18th through the 20th, and while a wildcard spot won’t necessarily be on the line — both teams could still make the postseason, and that series could very well be a Wild Card Game preview — the series could go a long way toward determining homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game. The Yankees dropped two of three to the Twins at Target Field in July, but eh. That won’t have any impact on the series in September.

The Other Important Series

A September series against the Orioles being important isn’t nearly as surprising as a September series with the Twins being important. Even when the O’s sank in the standings at midseason — they went 39-55 from May 10th through August 22nd, so they played at a 95-loss pace for 94 games — I think we all knew they’d play the Yankees tough down the stretch. We’ve seen it this week.

The Yankees and Orioles are closing out their series at Camden Yards right now, and next weekend they’ll play four more games at Yankee Stadium (September 14th to 17th). That will represent the last best chance for the O’s to make up a lot of ground in the wildcard race in a short period of time. Depending what happens between now and then, the Yankees will have a chance to bury Baltimore next week, and the Orioles will have a chance to make up some ground in a hurry.

The Remaining Road Series

Fun fact: the Yankees are in the middle of their final road trip right now. Well, technically it’s their second to last road trip, but the last road trip is a quick three-game series in Toronto. Short flight, home before and after the series. It’s not a multi-city trip or anything like that. Here are the remaining road series, not including the current series with the Orioles:

  • at Rangers: Three games from September 8th to 10th
  • at Rays: Three games from September 11th to 13th
  • at Blue Jays: Three games from September 22nd to 24th

Losing today’s off-day and having to fly from Baltimore to the Metroplex this evening kinda stinks, but what can you do? That’s baseball. Also, that series against the Rays might be moved due to Hurricane Irma, possibly to Yankee Stadium. They could also end up playing at a neutral site — I’ve seen Baltimore and Chicago mentioned as possibilities — or possibly even play in Tampa. MLB is expected to make an announcement on the series by tomorrow.

Anyway, I don’t care where the Rays and Blue Jays are in the standings. Intra-division games are always tough. Those games are always a battle. As for the Rangers, they are still in the race despite trading Yu Darvish at the deadline. The Rangers acknowledged they’re not serious contenders and yet they’re still in the race. Go figure. They are without Adrian Beltre though, which will make this weekend’s series a little easier. He’s done for a while with a hamstring problem. Texas won’t be a pushover, but no Darvish and no Beltre makes life a little easier.

The Stray Makeup Game

The Yankees have one off-day remaining this year: Thursday, September 21st. Two weeks from today. They lost what would’ve been their final off-day, Monday September 25th, to a makeup game with the Royals. The two clubs were rained out on May 25th. Because of that, the Yankees will finish the season with ten games in ten days, which isn’t a huge deal, but you’d still rather have the off-day. The Royals are not going away and are an annoyingly scrappy team. A late season game against the non-contending Royals of old would’ve been a cakewalk. Not now.

The Final Week

Here’s the good thing about the remaining schedule: 14 of those remaining 23 games are at home. The Yankees at home this year: 40-27 with a +87 run differential. The Yankees on the road this year: 34-37 with a +52 run differential (wtf???). Even beyond that, travel stinks, man. Getting to sleep in your own bed rules. The Yankees will get to do a lot of that this month.

Anyway, the Yankees close out the 2017 regular season with seven straight home games. They have the makeup game against the Royals on September 25th, a three-game set with the Rays from September 26th to 28th — Hurricane Irma could change that — and a three-game series with the Blue Jays from September 29th to October 1st. With any luck, all three of those teams will be eliminated from postseason contention and playing rookies by then. Unfortunately, that’s wishful thinking more than anything. Like I said, the Royals are annoying and intra-division games are always tough.

* * *

On paper, the Yankees do not have an easy rest-of-season schedule. As bad as the Blue Jays have been overall this year, those head-to-head games are never easy. Now, that all said, I see two positives here. One, the Yankees have all those home games remaining. An undeniable plus. And two, they have an opportunity to control their own destiny, so to speak. Those series with the Twins and Orioles give the Yankees a chance to take care of business themselves in the wildcard race, and not rely on help from other teams, which is what they have to do in the AL East race.

Game 139: Rain Delayed

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Thankfully, the weather is not an issue this afternoon in Baltimore. The Yankees and Orioles waited out a long rain delay two days ago and were rained out last night, forcing them to give up today’s off-day to play this makeup game. There’s only one off-day left this season now. One off-day and 24 games. Pretty wild, eh?

Tuesday’s loss was one of the worst of the season, and while the Manny Machado walk-off homer was the big blow, that game was lost in the middle innings, when a 6-1 lead became a 6-5 lead and the Yankees never tacked on runs against a suspect pitching staff. Whatever. What’s done is done. Win the makeup game and actually win a series in Camden Yards for once. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 1B Chase Headley
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. DH Matt Holliday
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. C Austin Romine
    RHP Sonny Gray

It is nice and sunny in Baltimore and on the cool side too. Pretty much a perfect September afternoon for baseball. Today’s game is scheduled to begin at 1:35pm ET and both YES and MLB Network will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: The Yankees placed Adam Warren on the 10-day DL retroactive to Saturday with lower back spasms, the team announced. That explains why he hasn’t pitched in typical Adam Warren spots the last few days. He’s going to be shut down completely for two weeks, and if this thing lingers, there’s a chance he’ll miss the rest of the regular season. That’s not good … CC Sabathia received a lubrication injection in his right knee yesterday. He’s been getting those for a while now. They’re part of his regular maintenance.

Schedule Update: MLB is still evaluating options for next week’s series in Tampa, reports Marc Topkin. Joe Girardi said the two teams will not trade home series this month, essentially leaving two options: play the series at a neutral site, or postpone Monday’s game and play a doubleheader either Tuesday or Wednesday if the area doesn’t get hit hard by Hurricane Irma. Baltimore and Chicago’s south side have been mentioned as neutral site possibilities. MLB’s decision isn’t expected until Friday.

Gene Michael passes away at 79

(Getty)
(Getty)

Sad news to pass along. Former Yankees player, coach, manager, scout, and executive Gene “Stick” Michael has passed away following a heart attack, report Mike Mazzeo and Bill Madden. The Yankees have since confirmed the news. Michael was 79. He had a heart procedure earlier this year that was kept private.

“Stick was a pillar of this organization for decades,” said Hal Steinbrenner in a statement. “He knew the game of baseball like few others did, and was always willing and excited to talk about it with anyone in earshot. His contributions to the Yankees over the years have been immeasurable. He loved baseball and this organization, and he will be profoundly missed. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife, Joette, and his entire family.”

“Stick was a great man with enormous heart and integrity. One of the greatest baseball executives of our time,” said Yankees president Randy Levine to Mark Feinsand. By all accounts Michael was a wonderful man in addition to being a true baseball genius. He’s one of the greatest executives in the sport’s history.

Michael, a shortstop, started his playing career with the Pirates in 1966 before moving to the Dodgers and eventually joining the Yankees in 1968. He played for New York from 1968-74 and retired as a career .229/.288/.284 hitter. Those were the organizational lean years, so Stick never did win a World Series as a player or even get to play in the postseason.

After his playing career was over, Michael served as a coach with the Yankees and had two stints as their manager in 1981 and 1982. He also managed the Cubs from 1986-87 before rejoining New York as an executive. The Yankees named Stick their general manager in 1990 and he held the post until being fired in 1995.

“I am heartbroken by Stick’s passing,” said Brian Cashman in a statement. “He was both a friend and mentor to me, and I relied upon his advice and guidance throughout my career. He did it all in this industry – player, coach, manager, general manager and scout – and his knowledge base was second to none. My condolences go out to his family, friends and all those he touched throughout his lifetime in the game. I will miss him.”

Michael is most famous for being the architect of latest Yankees dynasty. He loaded up on high on-base players before Moneyball made it cool, and he built the dynasty core through the farm system. George Steinbrenner‘s suspension gave Michael the freedom to build the roster as he saw fit, and the result was four World Series titles in five years.

“Gene Michael was not only largely responsible for the success of the Yankees organization, but also for my development as a player,” said Derek Jeter in a statement. “He was always accessible and willing to share his personal knowledge as well as support. He will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family.”

Even after being fired as general manager, Michael remained with the Yankees in various front office capacities, most recently as a senior advisor. He was one of Cashman’s most trusted aids and reportedly pushed hard for the Didi Gregorius trade three years ago. Stick was a brilliant baseball person. The Yankees will wear a black armband on their uniform the rest of the season in his memory.

Thoughts on what was supposed to be an off-day

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

The Yankees and Orioles were rained out last night, so they will wrap up their three-game series this afternoon, on what was once a common off-day. The two teams have split the first two games of this series. The Yankees have not won a series in Camden Yards since September 2013, and it really would be nice to see them get that monkey off their backs. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. What is the best possible lineup the Yankees could put on the field right now? This is really a question about three positions: first base, third base, and designated hitter. The outfield is set while Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier are hurt, the middle infield is set, and of course Gary Sanchez belongs behind the plate. The Yankees right now are rotating Todd Frazier and Chase Headley at third, Headley and Greg Bird at first base, and Matt Holliday and everyone else at DH. What’s the best alignment? Because at this point of the season, with the AL East title within reach and half the league chasing the Yankees for a wildcard spot with 20-something games to play, the goal should be putting the best team on the field as much as possible. Does the best lineup include Bird? He’s gone 8-for-34 (.235) with three walks (.289 OBP) and two homers in eleven games back from the disabled list, and to me he looks very much like a guy who missed all of last year with a shoulder injury and most of this year with an ankle injury. How much should Frazier play? He has a good game every now and then but will strike out and pop-up an awful lot. He does add value on defense though. Should Holliday play against righties? Maybe the best lineup includes Miguel Andujar at DH. This is probably worth a full post at some point and I don’t know the right answer. Headley’s been way too good the last two months or so to take out of the lineup. That’s the only thing I feel strongly about. I’m not sure if it’s best to stick with the rotation or settle in on a set first base/third base/DH alignment the rest of the way.

2. The bullpen, man. The bullpen. The Yankees keep trying to build a SuperBullpen and it’s not working out. It didn’t last year with Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman because the parade of middle relievers were so unreliable. Chapman and Tyler Clippard imploded earlier this year and Betances couldn’t stop walking people, and Tommy Kahnle hasn’t been as good as hoped since the trade. The Yankees can never seem to get everyone going at the same time. There’s always one or two guys struggling that throw a wrench into things. That’s usually how it goes though, right? The reason you try to build a deep bullpen is so when one or two guys hit a rough patch, you have enough bodies to cover. That hasn’t really happened for the Yankees this year. And really, the bullpen is the reason the Yankees are not in first place. They’ve lost four games when leading in the ninth inning this year after losing four such games from 2014-16. They’ve lost five other games when leading in the eighth inning this season after losing six total from 2015-16. Twenty-nine blown leads is too many. Way, way too many considering the names in the bullpen. The Yankees should never stop trying to build a SuperBullpen or a SuperAnything. Right now though, the single biggest reason the Yankees are not in first place is all the leads their big name relievers have let slip away.

3. I’m pretty sure I’ve written this a few times, but over the last few years, I’ve felt the Yankees were a little too obsessed with size and velocity, and sacrificed pitchability for sheer stuff. I understand why they gravitated towards pitchers with big stuff — you can’t really teach high-end velocity and nasty breaking balls — though with guys like Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, and even A.J. Burnett back in the day, the lack of reliable command took away from their overall effectiveness. So, needless to say, I’m pretty happy with the current state of the rotation. The only “he’s a thrower not a pitcher” in the rotation is Luis Severino, and his command has improved considerably over the last year. Masahiro Tanaka has always been an artist on the mound, CC Sabathia made the transition from power pitcher to finesse pitcher, and Sonny Gray has like eight different pitches counting all the different variations of his fastball and breaking ball. Jordan Montgomery too. He’s a pitchability guy. The rotation has been excellent in the second half and I don’t think it’s a coincidence given the shift toward command and away from raw stuff and radar gun readings, even if it wasn’t necessarily by design. Stuff only goes so far. (And command only goes so far too.)

Torrens. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Torrens. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

4. The Yankees have officially lost catcher Luis Torrens to the Padres as a Rule 5 Draft player — well, not officially yet, but rosters have expanded, so San Diego is going to keep him all year — and I wonder whether that will change how the Yankees approach the Rule 5 Draft going forward. The Cardinals have lost two Single-A kids to the Padres in the Rule 5 Draft in recent years (Luis Perdomo and Allen Cordoba) and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak recently told Derrick Goold the team will rethink their protection strategies going forward. The Padres, clearly, have no concern about being competitive. They’re going to take talented young players from Single-A rosters, live with the growing pains in the big leagues for a year — Torrens is hitting .168/.248/.212 (23 wRC+) in 128 plate appearances this season — then plug them back into the minors and try to develop them. I think it’s only a matter of time until other rebuilding teams (lookin’ at you, White Sox) do the same. In the past, a kid like Albert Abreu never would’ve been protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Not after throwing only 49 Single-A innings around injuries this year. But now, the Yankees probably have to add him to the 40-man roster to protect him because a team like the Padres will stash him in the bullpen all year. That’s just the reality of baseball now. Your talented players in A-ball are no longer safe, even if they’re not close to MLB ready.

5. MLB is no doubt going to discipline the Red Sox for the whole stealing signs thing, though I don’t think it’ll be particularly harsh. They’re definitely not taking wins away or anything like that — that is not a precedent MLB wants to set — and ultimately, I think they’re going to slap them with a fine. I doubt they’re even going to take a draft pick away. The Cardinals had to pay a $2M fine and send their top two draft picks to the Astros for the hacking scandal, and that was a far more serious infraction. That was literally corporate espionage. The Red Sox broke baseball’s rules, not the law. The Red Sox have been playing the “he did it too!” game the last few days, but the fact of the matter is they used an illegal electronic device (the Apple Watch) in the dugout and admitted it when approached by MLB’s investigators. The sign stealing is not really the focus here. It’s the illegal electronic device. Technology is a huge part of baseball and everyday life, and it’s not going away. I think MLB will levy enough of a punishment a) because they have to do something, and b) to let teams know hey, don’t do this. Anyone hoping MLB hammers the Red Sox is probably going to be disappointed.

6. It’s been a while since the last thoughts post, so I’m going to close with two outdated tepid takes. One, Betances should’ve been suspended for his role in the brawlgame with the Tigers. No, I don’t think Betances hit James McCann in the head on purpose. It takes a monster to do that and Dellin is no monster. (Also, if it was intentional, it was the first time Betances hit his spot all season.) The optics of it were just awful though. Multiple benches clearing brawls and then you bean someone in the head? And to make matters worse, Joe Torre is the guy in the commissioner’s office handing out discipline, and it looks like he played favorites. There comes a point where intent shouldn’t matter, and in a situation like this, I thought Betances deserved a suspension, maybe three or four games to ensure he’d miss at least one appearance. And two, why didn’t the Yankees wear their road gray pants with the Players Weekend jerseys? It would’ve looked so much better than the home pinstripes. Live and learn, I guess. Hopefully they come up with a better Players Weekend uniform next year.

DotF: Frazier begins rehab assignment in Double-A postseason

Triple-A Scranton‘s game was rained out. Their best-of-five first round postseason series with Lehigh Valley (Phillies) will simply be pushed back a day, so Game One is tomorrow.

Double-A Trenton (4-1 loss to Binghamton) they trail the best-of-five first round postseason series one game to none

  • CF Jeff Hendrix: 0-4, 2 K
  • SS Thairo Estrada: 1-4, 1 R, 1 K
  • LF Clint Frazier: 0-3, 3 K — played six innings in the field as scheduled in his first rehab game
  • DH Garrett Cooper: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K — this is already his tenth day on the rehab assignment
  • 2B Nick Solak: 0-4, 2 K
  • 1B Ryan McBroom: 1-4, 1 K
  • RHP Dillon Tate: 3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 6 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 40 of 73 pitches were strikes (55%) … rough start in the postseason opener
  • RHP Jose Mesa Jr.: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 5/4 GB/FB — 41 of 59 pitches were strikes (59%) … Jose Table II has been ridiculously good for weeks now

[Read more…]

Wednesday Night Open Thread

The Yankees and Orioles were rained out — they’re going to play the makeup game tomorrow — which means this is a makeshift off-day. With no Yankees baseball, I recommend checking out two recent FanGraphs articles: David Laurila’s Q&A with Chad Green and Jeff Sullivan on Green’s dominance. Long story short, Green is awesome and great and amazing. That’s turned out to be a nifty little trade, especially with Justin Wilson struggling to get outs these days.

Here is an open thread for this sudden Yankees-less night. The Mets are supposed to play tonight, but they might get rained out too. MLB Network will air a regional game later tonight. Talk about those games or anything else right here. Just not religion or politics. Thanks in advance.

Yankees and O’s rained out, will play makeup game tomorrow

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

As expected, tonight’s series finale between the Yankees and Orioles has been rained outs, the team announced. They’ll play the makeup game tomorrow at 1:35pm ET. Tomorrow was the only common off-day the two clubs had remaining, so it was pretty much the only choice for the makeup game.

The forecast in Baltimore calls for rain pretty much all night, though there appeared to be a window around 11pm ET or so, and I thought maybe they’d wait it out. Teams hate giving up an off-day. Then again, I guess playing super late tonight and flying to Texas after the game is no fun either. So no game tonight.

On the bright side, the impromptu off-day gives the bullpen a bit of a rest after some heavy work the last few days. Dellin Betances and David Robertson have both pitched four times in the last six days, so chances are neither would’ve been available tonight. This also allows Sonny Gray to make tomorrow’s start on extra rest.

I believe this is the fifth rainout of the season for the Yankees, which seems like an awful lot. They’ve played doubleheaders against the Astros, Red Sox, and Indians, will play a makeup game against the Orioles tomorrow, and a makeup game against the Royals later this month. Plus they’ve had a few long delays, like last night.  Tough weather year.