Cooled off in Houston
The Yankees nine-game win streak came to a screeching halt on Monday as the offense flatlined, recording just three hits in a 2-1 loss.
Charlie Morton carved up the Yankees lineup with his nasty fastball-curve combo, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Austin Romine crashed the no-no party with a single into right field. It was the third time this season the Yankee had failed to get a hit in the first five innings, the most such games of any team through Monday’s slate.
The silver lining in Monday’s debacle was the much-improved performance of Sonny Gray, who gave up two runs on four hits across six innings in his best start of the season. As we’ve noted before, first-pitch strikes and pitching aggressively when ahead are so critical for Gray in the batter-pitcher matchup.
Check out these splits from Monday, based on whether he started a batter with a first-pitch strike or a first-pitch ball and the result of the at-bat:
And now let’s update our season-long numbers from that previous article: he’s held batters to a .407 OPS when getting ahead 0-1 (MLB average is .609), and a 1.242 OPS when falling behind 1-0 (MLB average is .826).
One thing that was different for Gray on Monday compared to his previous starts was an increased reliance on his four-seam fastball and the ability to generate swings-and-misses with the pitch, especially up in the zone.
42 of his 97 pitches were four-seamers against the Astros, a rate of 42 percent that was well above his 30 percent usage in his first five starts. He got five whiffs on those 42 four-seamers (12 percent), after netting just eight whiffs on the 125 four-seam fastballs (6 percent) he threw in his first five starts combined. As you can see below, all five of those whiffs (the pink dots) on Monday came in the upper third of the zone or higher:
Deja vu for El Gary
For eight innings, the Yankees were caught in a recurring nightmare — getting totally dominated by Justin Verlander, again. The former Cy Young and MVP winner tossed eight scoreless innings, striking out 14 batters without a walk. Yet that ridiculous gem wasn’t enough to get him a win because …
… after the Astros ace was pulled following the eighth inning, the Kraken was released again, and when the final out was recorded, the Yankees had notched yet another stunning win.
Verlander overpowering a Yankees lineup is nothing new; Tuesday was the second time he’s struck out 14 Yankees in a game. He is the only pitcher in major-league history with multiple 14-K games against the Yankees. Yet at the same time, the way he absolutely mowed down the Yankees lineup was unprecedented. He is the first pitcher ever with 14 strikeouts, no walks and no earned runs in a game against the Yankees.
And the Yankees still won. So, how improbable was this victory?
Only two other teams in baseball history has a team won a game in which the opposing starter struck out at least 14 guys while allowing zero earned runs and zero walks. On June 19, 2015, the Rangers beat the Chris Sale and the White Sox; on July 25, 2004, the Rockies beat Randy Johnson and the Diamondbacks.
Gary Sanchez ensured that Yankee fans would be celebrating on Tuesday night with one swing of the bat in the top of the ninth inning. With the score tied 0-0 and two men on base, he destroyed a first-pitch hanging slider from Astros closer Ken Giles, drilling the poor baseball 423 feet and over the centerfield wall.
#FunFact Alert! Sanchez is the seventh Yankee since 1925 to break a scoreless tie with a ninth inning home run, and just the fourth to do it on the road.
|May 1, 2018||Gary Sanchez||at Astros|
|July 22, 2004||Ruben Sierra||Blue Jays|
|Sept. 14, 1977||Reggie Jackson||Red Sox|
|June 30, 1971||Roy White||at Senators|
|May 18, 1969||Joe Pepitone||Angels|
|May 31, 1959||Bill Skowron||at Senators|
|July 24, 1955||Yogi Berra||at Athletics|
Even more amazing is the fact that El Gary pulled off nearly the same feat last week when he crushed his first career walk-off homer in the ninth inning against the Twins on April 26. Going back to at least 1925, Sanchez is the only player in franchise history to hit two go-ahead ninth-inning homers in a span of six days or fewer.
Sevy and Stanton Show
The Yankees extended their domination of the Astros into Wednesday, notching a second straight shutout, 4-0. It was the first time in franchise history they blanked the defending World Series champs in back-to-back games.
Giancarlo Stanton was a one-man show on offense, going 3-for-4 and driving in all four runs with two homers and an RBI double; the rest of the lineup was 6-for-32 (.188). He put the Yankees up early with a two-run shot in the first inning, lifting a sinker from Dallas Keuchel just over the fence in right field. With a projected distance of 339 feet, it was the shortest homer Stanton has hit since Statcast tracking began in 2015.
In his next at-bat in the fourth inning, he got hold of a down-and-in slider from Keuchel and drilled it into the left-field seats. Entering the game, Keuchel had pitched in nine games against the Yankees and faced 236 batters over 62 1/3 innings — and none of them had hit a homer. So, of course, the newest Bronx Bomber, Stanton, hit two homers in his first two plate appearances as a Yankee against Keuchel.
This was Stanton’s 30th career multi-homer game, and coming in his 1,016th career game, he became the third-fastest in MLB history to reach 30 multi-homer games. The only guys who did it in fewer games were Juan Gonzalez (1,004) and Ralph Kiner (743).
Luis Severino was a one-man show on the mound, going the distance for his first career complete game and shutout, striking out 10 over nine brilliant innings. At 24 years old and 71 days, he was the youngest Yankee to pitch a shutout since Sterling Hitchcock on May 21, 1995 vs Orioles, and the youngest to throw one with double-digit strikeouts since Stan Bahnsen on August 1, 1968 against the Red Sox.
Is there any doubt that Sevy has cemented himself as the staff ace and one of the very elite pitchers in baseball right now?
The Yankees capped off one of their most impressive road trips in recent memory with a thrilling comeback win in Houston on Thursday. Nothing seems to faze these pinstriped Comeback Kids, who staged yet another stunning rally in the ninth inning and won for the 12th time in their last 13 games.
The Yankees are the only team in the majors this season with three wins in games they trailed at the start of the ninth inning.
The late-game heroics were needed after the Yankees pitchers imploded in the seventh inning, snapping their most dominant stretch of run prevention in nearly a decade. When the Astros scored four runs in that frame off Masahiro Tanaka and Chad Green, it ended a 28-inning scoreless streak, the longest by a Yankee pitching staff since August 7-9, 2009 against the Red Sox (31 innings).
The wild ninth-inning comeback was highlighted by the newest Comeback Kid, Gleyber Torres, who produced his first True Yankee moment with a bases-loaded two-RBI single that knotted the game at 5-5. Combined with his second-inning sac fly, Torres became the youngest Yankee with a three-RBI game since Derek Jeter on June 4, 1995 against the Angels at Yankee Stadium, and the youngest to do it on the road since Bobby Richardson on September 25, 1955 in Boston.
Aaron Judge clinched the inspiring comeback with an RBI groundout that scored Aaron Hicks from third base. It was his 143rd career RBI in the regular season, but the first one in the ninth inning or later that gave the Yankees a lead.
There are ten questions in this week’s mailbag. One question for every Yankees win in the last eleven games. Things are pretty great right now. Anyway, send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll get to as many as I can each week.
Steve asks: With the caveat that the Dodgers are 1000 percent never trading Kershaw and will likely extend him, if their season continues to go downhill and they ever actually did make him available … what would a reasonable trade look like for Kershaw in July? And with that high a price (assuming a LOT), would you pull the trigger to potentially empty the farm for just ONE playoff run for the best pitcher in baseball?
This is definitely a hypothetical. Even if the Dodgers collapse, I can’t see them trading Clayton Kershaw. He is the face of the franchise and, frankly, he should be a Dodger for life. It’s not like they won’t be able to re-sign him when he opts out after the season, and it’s not like they can’t paper over the bad contract with more money down the line, once Kershaw really declines. The baseball fan in me wants to see Kershaw in Dodger blue for life.
Hypothetically though, we’re talking about a balance of power pitcher. Kershaw can change a division outlook all by himself. Even only a half season of him. Yeah, he might be declining — Ben Lindbergh wrote about Kershaw’s decline the other day — but Kershaw in decline is still a top ten pitcher. His postseason troubles mean nothing to me. Justin Verlander once had the “can’t handle the postseason!” label. Look how that turned out. Kershaw for one postseason run is awfully appealing to me.
Plenty of rental aces have been traded in recent years. David Price from the Tigers to the Blue Jays (three prospects, including two MLB ready pitchers). Johnny Cueto to the Royals (three prospects, including an MLB ready pitcher). Yu Darvish (three prospects, including an MLB ready hitter). None of those dudes are Kershaw, but it does give us a template: Three good prospects, at least one of whom is MLB ready. Justus Sheffield, Estevan Florial, Chance Adams? I’d do that in a heartbeat, which of course means it’s way off.
The Dodgers would (and should) push for Gleyber Torres. The Yankees would (and should) say no, and try to find another way. I could see a bidding war pushing the price higher — would the desperate as hell Nationals put Victor Robles on the table? — but like I said, this is all hypothetical. Andrew Friedman isn’t running the Rays anymore. He doesn’t have to trade his ace to keep his team viable in Los Angeles, no matter how much they lose.
Anonymous asks: The Yanks just left town to travel to Anaheim. I have often wondered just how this is accomplished. What are the details of this trip? How does the body of players, coaches, equipment, writers and broadcasters move from point A in the Bronx to point B in Southern California? What buses, planes and hotels are utilized? Do players rent their own vehicles, do they all use buses. Are rooms shared? How do they get their meals, etc.
Reporters travel on their own. I’m not sure about broadcasters. I think they still travel with the team. As for the players, they bus from the ballpark to the airport after the game, fly the team charter to whatever city, then bus over to the team hotel. The team runs buses from the hotel to the ballpark and back — there’s an early bus and a late bus before games — otherwise the players are on their own for transportation if they want to go out to dinner or whatever. Players get per diem on the road ($75 per day) and the home team has to provide a postgame spread. Hotel rooms are most definitely not shared. Been a while since that was the case. The Collective Bargaining Agreement includes standards for hotel quality and whatnot. MLB travel is a well-oiled machine. Two years ago Ryan Hatch interviewed Yankees’ traveling secretary Ben Tuliebitz about all this.
Mike asks (short version): What is the difference between their Short Season affiliate (Staten Island) and their Rookie League affiliates (GCL Yankees, Pulaski)? Are they considered the same development level and just in different leagues? Is one considered more advanced than another?
Staten Island is in the NY-Penn League and is a higher level. The caliber of competition is better than you’ll find in rookie ball, which is lowest level of affiliated baseball. Rookie ball is for kids fresh out of high school or the international market, basically. The NY-Penn League is, technically, an advanced short season league. They only play 60-something games each year, but the players are a little older (often college age) and more mature. Rookie ball is kinda like a high school All-Star Game. Advanced short season is more like a college All-Star Game. It’s one step up.
Brad asks (short version): What should the Yankees do with No. 21?
Just retire it at this point. Paul O’Neill has a plaque in Monument Park and, aside from LaTroy Hawkins, the Yankees have not issued No. 21 since O’Neill retired in 2001. Just retire it. Keeping it in limbo this long is just weird. I suppose the Yankees could give it to a talented young player — would anyone complain if they gave No. 21 to Gleyber Torres like they did when they gave No. 21 to Hawkins? — but it’s not worth the headache. It’s just a number. O’Neill’s been retired almost 20 years now. Make a decision. Either retire it or reissue it. I say retire it. I can’t believe this is still a thing.
Paul asks: Not that I want to move him, I think he can be a solid regular, but any chance the Dodgers would be interested in Tyler Wade at SS and what would we target in a trade?
The Dodgers have started Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez at shortstop since Corey Seager went down with Tommy John surgery. Taylor is a natural shortstop who had been playing center field in deference to Seager, and honestly, I think going with Taylor at shortstop and prospect Alex Verdugo in the outfield is a better option than pretty much any non-Manny Machado shortstop they could acquire in a trade. Taylor + Verdugo > Wade + Taylor.
Would the Dodgers be interested in Wade? Yeah, maybe. They need shortstop depth and Wade is versatile with a history of minor league performance — the Dodgers value minor league performance, that’s how they dug up Taylor in the first place — so he seems up their alley. Trading Wade for the pitcher version of Wade (Brock Stewart?) would be worthwhile for the Yankees. I don’t think the Dodgers are in a rush to trade for a shortstop yet though. I don’t see a trade fit between the two teams otherwise. Neither Neil Walker nor Brandon Drury would help cover for Seager.
John asks: With April and November weather a concern, and reluctance to adopt a 154 game schedule, why not add 4-5 doubleheaders to the schedule and shorten the length of the season by days? Day/night DHs would ensure no loss of gate revenue.
The Rays and Athletics had a scheduled single admission doubleheader at Tropicana Field last year because the Rays wanted to try it out. The players hated it — “It’s the dumbest thing I ever heard of in my life,” said then-Rays first baseman Logan Morrison to Pat Borzi — but ownership wanted to try it. The Rays had a throwback 1970s day, they relaxed their reentry policy so fans could leave the park and return, things like that.
I like the idea. Play one doubleheader a month and you can start the season a week later and avoid some of that nasty April weather. Schedule it so that every doubleheader is followed by an off-day the next day. Teams are worried about losing revenue though — two games in one day might not sell as well as two games in two days — and the players hate doubleheaders. It’s a good idea and a seemingly viable solution. Unfortunately no one really seems to be on board.
Tamir asks: Hypothetically, would any of these players make a major league roster: 1) A player who never gets on base but will always take 20 pitches to get out. 2) a player who hits 1 home run in every game but otherwise does not get on base. 3) a player who walks in half of their plate appearances but doesn’t get on base otherwise. How would you rank these three hypothetical players in value?
The player who is guaranteed to hit one homer per game and do nothing else would be a $50M a year player. Maybe more. With that player, you’re effectively starting every game with at least a 1-0 lead. If you’re the Yankees, you bat that dude directly behind Aaron Judge and 40-something percent of his homers are multi-run shots. That player would be insanely valuable.
The player who walks half the time and does nothing else would also be very valuable. Even with no power or baserunning or defense, a dude with a .500 OBP can really help an offense. The guy who never reaches base but has 20-pitch at-bats? Meh. Long at-bats are nice, but with bullpens such a huge part of the game nowadays, working the starter isn’t as valuable as he once was. Player 2, the homer run dude, would absolutely be on a roster. There’d be a massive bidding war for him. Player 3 would be on a roster as well. Player 1? I don’t think so. I’d rank them 2-3-1 in that order.
Brian asks: Anecdotally, it seems to me that the Yankees are swinging more frequently at 3-0 counts this year. Am I correct? Do you think this is being driven by the analytics department? Personally, I like it! What are your thoughts on this, Mike?
I wrote about this over the winter. The Yankees swung 3-0 much more often last season than they had from 2014-16, and they’re swinging 3-0 even more this year. The 3-0 swing rates:
- 2018: 16.0% (MLB average: 9.1%)
- 2017: 9.3% (MLB average: 9.4%)
- 2016: 5.6% (MLB average: 8.7%)
- 2015: 6.2% (MLB average: 6.9%)
- 2014: 6.9% (MLB average: 8.3%)
That is all swings, not just balls in play. That includes swings and misses, foul balls, the works. The intent is the important thing, not the outcome. Yes, the Yankees are swinging more frequently in 3-0 counts so far this season. But! This is a super small sample size. That 16.0% swing rate in 3-0 counts represents 12 swings in 75 plate appearances with a 3-0 count. I imagine that 16.0% number will come down as the season progresses.
I am all for turning it loose in 3-0 counts. Not every single time, obviously. It depends on the game situation. You don’t want the leadoff man in the ninth inning swinging 3-0 when you’re down a run. But taking a pitch every single time just because it’s 3-0? That’s not for me. If the pitcher is going to give you a get-me-over fastball, be ready for it and hammer it.
Michael asks: Aroldis Chapman. Where did all this movement come from??
This is the movement Michael — and a few others, I should note — is asking about:
As the mix/max bars show, the horizontal movement on Chapman’s fastball can vary greatly within an appearance. As much as ten inches in some instances. We’re just used to watching him on the offset Yankee Stadium center field camera. YES had more of a true dead center camera during the Astros series and we got a much better look at the movement on everyone’s pitches. It’s dead center camera is great, isn’t it?
Chapman’s stuff was especially nasty in his first appearance of the Astros series. It was a good day. That wasn’t completely out of the ordinary for him though. We just don’t get to see him with a dead center camera often, so all that movement looked a) insane (and it is), and b) new . It’s not new though. It was regular old Chapman.
J.J. asks: I asked you this a few years ago, but curious for a 2018 version: Which team has the best pitcher/batter combo? Yankees (Severino/Judge)? Dodgers (Kershaw/Seager, pre-Tommy John)? Red Sox (Sale/Betts)?
There are some signs Kershaw is declining and Chris Sale hasn’t been as outrageously dominant this year as he was early last year. It works both ways though. Aaron Judge isn’t hitting home runs at the same pace as last year either. I’d rank the top five hitter/pitch combinations like so:
- Nationals: Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer
- Astros: Carlos Correa and Justin Verlander
- Yankees: Aaron Judge and Luis Severino
- Red Sox: Chris Sale and Mookie Betts
- Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw and healthy Corey Seager
Jose Ramirez and Corey Kluber are in the conversation, ditto Kris Bryant and Jon Lester. I feel like I’m missing an obvious pairing, but those are the guys that jumped to mind. Homer-ish? Maybe! I will admit to being a little worried about Kershaw given his age and career workload, and at this point, I think Severino is just better than Sale. I’d certainly take Severino over Sale the next five years.
Baseball America updated their top 100 prospects list today. Most players moved a spot or two, largely because someone graduated or got hurt. SS Gleyber Torres is still ranks as the No. 6 prospect, but 3B Miguel Andujar made a big jump from No. 57 to No. 29. OF Estevan Florial (No. 36), LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 39), RHP Albert Abreu (No. 73), and Chance Adams (No. 78) all make the top 100 as well. Now here are some promotion notes from vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring (via YES):
- LHP Justus Sheffield is moving up to Triple-A Scranton. “He’s going to continue to develop, work on the fastball command,” said Naehring. Sheffield just started Tuesday, so his next start is a still a few days away. He spent last season with Double-A Trenton, hence the quick promotion.
- RHP Luis Medina is “probably going to move on to Charleston soon,” said Naehring. Medina, who is only 19, is currently in Extended Spring Training. Soon he’ll be in full season ball.
- RHP Nick Nelson is being promoted to High-A Tampa, according to Naehring. Nelson spent all of last season with Low-A Charleston, so it’s no surprise he’s getting a quick promotion.
Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (4-3 win over Pawtucket, walk-off style)
- RF Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 3B — played center field earlier this week, and now he’s in right field
- SS Thairo Estrada: 0-3, 2 K, 1 HBP
- 3B Brandon Drury: 2-3, 1 BB — here’s video of his first single and second single … Matt Kardos says the Yankees are moving Drury’s rehab to Trenton tomorrow because the RailRiders are about to go on the road trip, and the Yankees want him close to New York so he can continue getting treatment and whatnot
- 1B Mike Ford: 1-4
- C Kyle Higashioka: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K — four homers in 20 games
- CF Clint Frazier: 1-4, 1 R, 1 3B, 2 K — threw a runner out at third … this was his first start in center field since 2016, when he was still with the Indians … here’s video of the triple … after the triple, he scored the game-winning run on DH Ryan McBroom’s walk-off sac fly
- LHP Nestor Cortes: 3.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 37 of 57 pitches were strikes (65%)
- RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 2.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 25 of 36 pitches were strikes (695) … 10/7 K/BB in 13 innings
Well that was a satisfying series. After pitching back-to-back shutouts the last two days, the Yankees won a wild back and forth game Thursday afternoon — back and forth in the late innings, anyway — to clinch the four-game series victory. The final score was 6-5. We play today, we win today, das it.
And The Yankees Take The Lead
Gotta start in the ninth inning, don’t we? A very eventful seventh inning and a slightly less eventful eighth inning gave the Astros a 5-3 lead heading into the ninth inning. Chris Devenski struck out Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez authoritatively in the eighth, and I thought Astros manager A.J. Hinch was going to send him back out for the ninth. Why not? He’s been flexible with his closer’s role, and Devenski threw only 12 pitches. Hadn’t pitch since Monday either.
For whatever reason Hinch went to Will Harris in the ninth inning instead. I guess he didn’t trust Ken Giles after the other night, when Sanchez’s homer had him punching himself on the way to the dugout. Who knows what would’ve happened had Devenski stayed in the game. I know what happened with Harris though. Let’s annotate the play-by-play for that inning.
(1) Shout out to Neil Walker for having what feels like his first productive game of the season. He was hit by a pitch in the second inning, which led to a run. He singled in the third inning, which drove in a run. And, in the ninth, Walker drew a leadoff walk to get the rally started. I know Walker has stunk so far this season — even after this game, he’s still hitting .171/.233/.195 (15 wRC+) on the season — but he’s better than what he’s shown, and he still knows how to put together a good at-bat. Props to Neil. He was a factor in this game.
(2) As good as he’s been this season, Miguel Andujar has struggled of late. He went into Thursday’s game 1-for-14 (.071) in his last four games. It was bound to happen. The kid wasn’t going to keep ripping two extra-base hits a night all year. Andujar singled in that ninth inning on a pitch that was one of those pitches only a dude like Andujar could hit. It was a very elevated fastball and he poked it to right field. It takes a certain level of bat control and plate indiscipline to make that happen. Andujar singled, and the Yankees were in business. Two on, no outs.
(3) Aaron Hicks, like Walker and Andujar, is another dude who’s struggled of late. He went into Thursday’s game 4-for-26 (.154) in his last eight games. Hicks came off the bench cold to pinch-hit for Ronald Torreyes, worked a six-pitch at-bat after falling behind 0-2, then served a single the other way to load the bases with no outs. Hicks is the anti-Andujar. He is super disciplined. He fell behind 0-2, took three close pitches for balls, then did what he was supposed to do with a hittable fastball.
(4) Gleyber Torres, man. What an impressive player this kid is. The kid doesn’t just look like a big leaguer, he looks like an All-Star who is comfortable on the field and knows how to go about his business. Brad Peacock was in the game at this point, and he started Torres off with a first pitch fastball for strike one. Pitch two was a slider up in the zone and Torres dunked it into left field for a game-tying two-run single. To the action footage:
GLEYBER TORRES TIES THE GAME.
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) May 3, 2018
Love this kid. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are truly awesome. You can never go wrong with dudes who hit massive dingers. There’s just something different about Torres though. He has that slow heartbeat. The kid — and he is a kid, he’s still only 21 — is just so impressive. Simple approach in a big situation and he came through. Love it.
(5) I’m not sure why Alex Bregman didn’t throw home on Judge’s weak grounder. Looked like he had plenty of time to get the lead runner and keep the game tied. Instead, Bregman went for the difficult inning-ending double play, and Jose Altuve muffed the transfer at second. Judge was safe without a throw and Hicks cross the plate to give the Yankees a 6-5 lead. Shout out to Gleyber for going in hard (and clean) at second base to make life complicated for Altuve.
The bottom of the ninth was, of course, interesting. A game like this deserved a stressful ninth inning. Aroldis Chapman came in, got two quick outs, then Sanchez let strike three to Evan Gattis get through his legs. The third out was recorded! But Gary didn’t handle the pitch and Gattis was safe at first to keep the game alive. They scored it a wild pitch, and hey, a 101 mph fastball in the dirt ain’t easy to catch, but yeah, Gary’s gotta stop that one.
That brought George Springer to the plate and he singled to left to push the tying run in scoring position. Of course. The batter? Jose Altuve, the reigning AL MVP. Fun! Stressful, but fun! Chapman completely and totally overpowered him for the three-pitch game-ending strikeout. Truly awesome. Two brilliant talents going head-to-head with the game on the line. Look at this. Just look at it:
First pitch: Swing and miss. Second pitch: Called strike. Third pitch: Swing and miss. Incredible. Chapman made Altuve look like a rookie making his big league debut. Three fastballs at 101 mph right by him. What a finish to an amazing game and an amazing series. If I wasn’t sure it would kill me, I’d be rooting hard for these two teams to play another seven games in October.
A Dumb Rally To Blow The Lead
The Yankees nursed a 3-0 lead for most of the game. Torreyes drove in a run with an infield single in the second and Torres got a second run home with a sac fly. The inning could’ve been bigger, but Andujar was thrown out at the plate on a Lance McCullers Jr. wild pitch. He absolutely should’ve gone home. No doubt about it in my mind. The ball took an unfortunate bounce off the backstop, McCann flipped it to McCullers, and he applied the tag at the plate. Sucks.
Walker added the third run with a third inning single. The Yankees took that lead into the seventh inning, and with Masahiro Tanaka cruising right along, it wasn’t hard to feel good about where things were heading. Then things went haywire in the seventh inning. This was another eventful inning, so let’s annotate the play-by-play again.
(1) What stupid hits these two were. Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick both reached out of the zone and dumped weak singles into the outfield to start the seventh. Look at the pitch locations:
That’s Gurriel (a right-handed batter) on the right and Reddick (a left-handed batter) below the zone. Two dinky hits put the wheels in motion for the Astros. Baseball can be so stupid sometimes.
(2) I dunno man, it sure didn’t seem like that pitch hit Bregman. It looked like it did live, I don’t blame home plate umpire Jim Reynolds for initially calling it a hit-by-pitch, but the replays sure made it look like Bregman narrowly got out of the way. The Yankees challenged, the replay crew in New York took a good long look at it — a long review is a pretty good indication they know the call is wrong but can’t find definitive evidence — and determined Bregman had been hit. I do not understand. The Minute Maid Park crowd even groaned when they showed it on the scoreboard. The phantom hit-by-pitch loaded the bases with no outs.
(3) More stupid baseball. With Chad Green on the bump, Marwin Gonzalez hit a weak tapper — weak as in 49.5 mph exit velocity — to no man’s land behind the pitcher’s mound for a run-scoring infield single. That’s how the Astros snapped the Yankees’ 29-inning shutout streak. Two bloop singles, a phantom hit-by-pitch, and an infield single. Had the outcome of the game been different, this would’ve gone down as one of the most annoying innings of the season, for sure.
(4) Finally, a legitimate hit. I mean, if you’re going to blow a three-run lead, at least make them earn it with some hard contact. Green spun a slider right in the middle of the plate and McCann hooked it to right field for a clean single and another run, getting the Astros to within 3-2. It was not the first time Green would pay the price for a crappy slider.
(5) For whatever reason this play was scored a passed ball. Sanchez wanted a fastball outside to Derek Fisher, but Green yanked the pitch way inside and it went to the backstop. Look where Sanchez set up and where Green threw the pitch:
That was called a passed ball and the strike three to Gattis that went through Sanchez’s legs was called a wild pitch. What even is official scoring anymore? Anyway, the
wild pitch passed ball scored a run and knotted the game up at three apiece. The Astros had runners on second with no outs too, at least before Green struck out Fisher.
(6) Oh hey look, another run on a ball that doesn’t leave the infield. Three of the four runs that inning scored on balls that stayed on the infield (or went to the backstop). Like I said, this would’ve gone down as one of the most annoying innings of the season. Springer’s grounder was hard hit right back to Green, and by time he got his bearings, there was no chance for a play at the plate. The second out of the inning was made at first and the go-ahead run scored. Sigh.
I know it’s easy to second guess things given the way the inning played out, but I have no problem whatsoever with Aaron Boone’s bullpen decisions. Tanaka was cruising pretty much all afternoon and he went into the seventh inning at 73 pitches. There were no indications he was about to lose it, and, frankly, he didn’t lose it. Two soft singles and a phantom hit-by-pitch.
As for Green, absolutely bring him in with the bases loaded and no outs. You need strikeouts in that spot and Green has been one of the top strikeout relievers in the game since being called up last year. (He had a 36.4% strikeout rate going into this game.) The big problem? Green kept getting beat with his second best pitch. Look at his slider locations:
That top slider? Carlos Correa’s monster insurance run solo homer in the eighth. The second slider from the top? McCann’s single. The third slider from the top? Gonzalez’s infield single. You could argue David Robertson should’ve been in with the bases loaded and no outs, but Green is pretty awesome as well, and he just didn’t do the job. There were a lot of dumb hits and events that inning. They all count the same though.
As for Tanaka, gosh, he was awesome. Three runs in six innings doesn’t do him justice at all. He held the Astros to three hits, all singles, in the first six innings before those back-to-back soft singles to open the seventh. Five strikeouts, eight ground outs to five fly ball outs, and a dozen swings and misses out of 83 pitches. The final line: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 5 K. At one point Tanaka threw 18 consecutive strikes spanning the fourth and fifth innings. Deserved better than a no decision.
Two hits for Gregorius, two hits for Andujar, and one each for Walker, Torreyes, Hicks, and Torres. Feels like every hit was a big one. The Yankees went 5-for-11 (.455) with runners in scoring position, and, coming into this game, they were hitting .279/.347/.454 (109 wRC+) in those situations. Fifth highest batting average with runners in scoring position in baseball, and that doesn’t include this game.
Chasen Shreve got two quick outs after replacing Green in the bottom of the eighth, after he gave up that big homer to Correa. I was surprised Green went back out for the eighth. He didn’t look super sharp in the seventh and Robertson was warming up. With a two-run deficit, Shreve came in to put an end to that inning. He threw nine pitches and got a win. Go figure.
And finally, the Yankees took three of four in Houston and won six of seven games on the road trip overall. They’ve won 12 of their last 13 games and outscored their opponents 79-25 in the 13 games. The Yankees are going to cool down at some point because that’s baseball. Right now, they’re winning games in every possible way. Pitchers duels, blowouts, back-and-forth games, whatever. The Fighting Spirit is strong with this group. A lesser team folds like a lawn chair after that seventh inning.
The road trip is over and the Yankees are heading home for a nine-game, ten-day homestand. First up: The Indians for an ALDS rematch. CC Sabathia and Josh Tomlin are the scheduled starting pitchers for Friday night’s opener. Tomlin has allowed ten homers in 18.2 innings this season. For real.
Law’s mock draft v1.0
Earlier today Keith Law (subs. req’d) posted his first mock draft of the year, and he has the Tigers selecting Auburn RHP Casey Mize with the No. 1 pick. There is no clear cut No. 1 talent in this year’s draft class, though Mize has separated himself from the pack in recent weeks. Law has the Yankees selecting California HS RHP Cole Winn with their first round pick.
23. New York Yankees: Cole Winn, RHP, Orange Lutheran HS, Orange, California.
I’ve heard the Yankees mostly associated with college guys and a few premium high school athletes, but Winn is the only high school arm I’ve heard here, perhaps because he’d fit with longtime scouting director Damon Oppenheimer’s affinity for polished prep arms from Southern California.
Here’s my profile of Winn. The Yankees being connected to a SoCal kid is in no way surprising — there’s a reason Winn was the first draft profile I wrote this spring — and the more interesting news here is that Law has heard the Yankees “mostly associated will college guys and a few premium high school athletes.” That fits. When the Yankees go after high schoolers, they tend to go for the ultra-athletic toolsy guys. No reason to expect that to change now.
MLB.com’s mock draft v2.0
Jonathan Mayo released MLB.com’s second mock draft earlier this week — their first only covered the top ten picks — and, like Law, he has the Tigers taking Mize with the top pick. Mayo has the Yankees taking Georgia HS RHP Kumar Rocker with the 23rd selection.
23. Yankees: Kumar Rocker, RHP, North Oconee HS (Bogart, Ga.)
Another high school arm who could go higher than this, Rocker has tremendous arm strength and physicality on the mound. The son of a former NFL lineman, his power repertoire and athleticism should interest many teams from the middle of the first round down.
Rocker definitely fits the “premium high school athlete” profile the Yankees are said to be targeting. MLB.com ranks him as the 14th best prospect in the draft class and says he has “all the makings of a quality three-pitch repertoire.” I haven’t written a profile of Rocker yet, but he’s on my list, so I’ll have one soon.
Perfect Game’s mock draft v1.0
The crew at Perfect Game put together their first mock draft of the year recently, and, once again, the Tigers are projected to take Mize with the No. 1 pick. That is the consensus with the draft still one month away. The Perfect Game crew has the Yankees taking Stetson RHP Logan Gilbert with their first round pick.
23. New York Yankees | Logan Gilbert, RHP, Stetson
While Gilbert has gone a solid 6-1, 2.89 with 87 strikeouts in 62 innings this spring, his raw stuff was even better last summer in the Cape Cod League. Few organizations scout the Cape as heavily as the Yankees do and they will remember that Gilbert was a projected top 10 pick after his performance there.
Here’s my profile of Gilbert. The Yankees have had a thing for Cape Cod League standouts for a long time now — the Cape is the nation’s premier summer league, featuring top college players with wood bats — and Gilbert was electric out there last summer. His stock is down slightly spring, but the raw tools are still there, and nabbing someone who came into the spring a potential top ten selection with the 23rd pick would be a coup for the Yankees.
Even with Monday’s loss, the first six games of this seven-game road trip have gone pretty darn well for the Yankees. They’ve won five of the six games so far, including the last two by shutting out the Astros in Houston. They’ve allowed seven runs total in the six games. Also, the Yankees have not allowed a home run in their last four games, their longest such streak since August 2016.
This afternoon’s pitching matchup is a good one: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Lance McCullers Jr. They are the poster children for this new anti-fastball movement that is slowly taking over baseball. Here are the bottom three pitchers in fastball usage since the start of last season:
- R.A. Dickey: 16.6% (knuckleballer)
- Masahiro Tanaka: 36.0%
- Lance McCullers Jr.: 40.5%
Yeah. We might be in for 70% non-fastballs this afternoon, which is fun in its own way. Win the game, win the series. Here are the starting lineups:
New York Yankees
1. CF Brett Gardner
2. RF Aaron Judge
3. SS Didi Gregorius
4. LF Giancarlo Stanton
5. C Gary Sanchez
6. 1B Neil Walker
7. DH Miguel Andujar
8. 3B Ronald Torreyes
9. 2B Gleyber Torres
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
1. RF George Springer
2. 2B Jose Altuve
3. SS Carlos Correa
4. DH Yuli Gurriel
5. LF Josh Reddick
6. 3B Alex Bregman
7. 1B Marwin Gonzalez
8. C Brian McCann
9. CF Jake Marisnick
RHP Lance McCullers Jr.
It is hot in Houston this afternoon, also cloudy and windy, so the Minute Maid Park roof will be closed. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 2:10pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network out of market. Enjoy the game.
Injury Updates: Greg Bird (ankle) will begin playing in Extended Spring Training games Monday. I imagine he’ll do that a bunch of times before joining one of the minor league affiliates for an official rehab stint. Bird’s timetable is unchanged. He’s still looking at a mid-to-late May return … Tommy Kahnle (shoulder, biceps) has started throwing and everything is going well. Adam Warren (lat) is inching closer to playing catch … Tyler Austin is okay after jamming his hip making a diving play last night. He’s available today. Aaron Boone said Austin was scheduled to sit against McCullers anyway.