Yankees can’t finish sweep, drop finale 2-0 to Rays

Well that was a wasted opportunity. The Yankees failed to complete the sweep Thursday night — they’ve been quite good at this season — and dropped the series finale 2-0 to the Rays. They’re still alive in the postseason race with ten games to go, but it’s going to take a miracle at this point.

Just a little out in front. (Mike Carlson/Getty)
Just a little out in front. (Mike Carlson/Getty)

You Can’t Win If You Don’t Score
Two weeks ago the Yankees forced Blake Snell to throw 88 pitches in 3.2 innings. Thursday night he used 88 pitches to cruise through five scoreless innings. Well, maybe cruise isn’t the right word. It’s not like the Yankees had zero baserunners. They had men on base in all five innings against Snell, including multiple runners in the first and third innings. And yet, zero runs.

Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury started the game with back-to-back singles and were stranded. Sigh. Two strikeouts and a pop-up doomed that inning. Then, in the third, the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs on a walk (Gary Sanchez), a single (Billy Butler), and a walk (Mark Teixeira) before Chase Headley flew out to end the inning. They also wasted leadoff singles in the fourth and ninth.

All told, the Yankees went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Snell and various relievers. The biggest culprit? Teixeira. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts with men on base. He’s hitting .197/.289/.343 (71 wRC+) and here he is, still batting in the middle of the order in Game 152. It’s not your fault, Mark. You don’t make the lineup. The Yankees were held to eight singles and three walks, and they scored no more than one run for the AL-leading 32nd time.

Six Strong From Cessa
Aside from the #obligatoryhomer problem, Luis Cessa has been rock solid since joining the rotation last month. He held the Rays to two runs in six innings Thursday night, one on a solo homer and the other after Aaron Hicks appeared to lose a fly ball in the roof and let it drop in for a leadoff single. Either way, lost in the roof or not, it was a ball that had to be caught. Two ground ball singles got that run home in the first inning.

(Mike Carlson/Getty)
(Mike Carlson/Getty)

Between Brad Miller’s run-scoring single in the first inning and Corey Dickerson’s solo dinger in the sixth, Cessa retired 15 of 19 batters faced and allowed only five balls to be hit out of the infield. Sanchez helped him out by throwing out one runner trying to steal and picking another off second with a snap throw. Cessa struck out six and allowed the two runs on six hits and two walks in his six innings. He has a 3.83 ERA in seven starts now. That’ll work.

Leftovers
Butler, Gregorius, and Hicks each had two hits. Sanchez drew two walks and it looked pretty obvious the Rays finally decided to stop pitching to him. He saw nothing close to the strike zone. For some reason Ronald Torreyes was allowed to face Alex Colome while representing the tying run in the ninth. Not sure I get that one. Maybe pinch-hit someone who can tie the game with one swing? Just a thought.

Luis Severino struck out three and allowed one hit in two scoreless innings. He was the only reliever used. But! Dickerson took Cessa deep with Tommy Layne warming. Second night in a row a right-handed pitcher gave up a home run to a left-handed batter with Layne ready in the bullpen. That’s the good stuff.

Assuming the Red Sox beat the Orioles again, the Yankees will remain two games back in the loss column for the second wildcard spot. The Tigers could jump the O’s and take over the second wildcard spot if they beat the Twins tonight.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN is the place to go for the box score and updated standings. MLB.com has the video highlights. RAB has Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are headed up to Toronto for their final road series of the 2016 season. Bryan Mitchell and Francisco Liriano are the scheduled starters for Friday’s series opener. That’s a four-game series.

Game 152: Finish the Sweep

(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)
(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)

Amazingly, the Yankees have just one three-game sweep this season. It was two weeks ago against the Blue Jays. Tonight they have a chance to finish a three-game sweep of the Rays, a team they did beat three straight times earlier this month. That was part of a four-game series though. With a 2.5-game deficit and four teams ahead of them in the wildcard race, and only eleven games to play, every game is a must-win from here on out. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

Another cloudy and humid day in St. Petersburg. The weather is always great in Tropicana Field though. Tonight’s series finale will begin at 7:10pm ET. You’ll be able to watch on WPIX locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Trade!: The Yankees traded Phil Coke to the Pirates for cash earlier today, the team announced. Coke was not on the 40-man roster. The Triple-A season ended Tuesday and the Yankees weren’t going to call him up, so they turned him into some extra cash.

Masahiro Tanaka to skip next start with flexor mass strain

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Masahiro Tanaka will not make his scheduled start Monday due to what Joe Girardi called a “slight slight slight” strain in his flexor mass, according to Erik Boland and Mark Feinsand. This is the same thing Andrew Miller had last year. The strain is not near the elbow ligament.

“I’m not worried at all, because I think the team was taking precautions. I don’t feel any pain or anything like that so I’m very confident that I should be able to comeback soon,” said Tanaka to Andrew Marchand. He’ll rest five days before throwing again.

The injury could explain Tanaka’s sudden bout of homeritis in the third inning last night, though he did settle down after that and pitch well the rest of the way. There was no indication he was hurt prior to this. Tanaka’s been pretty awesome all year, and especially of late. Stupid injuries.

The bad news is Tanaka, by far the Yankees’ best starter, had two starts left this season and now he’ll miss one. That won’t help their postseason chances. At the same time, Tanaka is way too important to the Yankees, so they have to play it safe with him. Their playoff odds are long as it is.

The Yankees are very short on rotation depth at the moment with Tanaka, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chad Green all injured. Girardi indicated they’ll go with a bullpen game Monday. They really don’t have much of a choice.

After losing a year to shoulder surgery, Mason Williams is making the most of his brief opportunity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last month, after selling at the trade deadline, the Yankees committed to a youth movement and have been rewarded with a historically great stretch by Gary Sanchez. Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin have had their moments as well, ditto Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell. Sanchez is a rarity. Very few come up and have that much instant success. The other guys have had their ups and downs.

This youth movement really started last season, when Luis Severino and Greg Bird were called up in the second half. That happened after the Yankees cycled through several young outfielders in the wake of Jacoby Ellsbury‘s knee injury in May. Ellsbury got hurt, Slade Heathcott came up and played well, but then he got hurt. Ramon Flores came up, didn’t play all that well, then got sent down.

Mason Williams was the third young outfielder the Yankees used the replace Ellsbury, and like Heathcott, he had some success right away before getting hurt. Williams jammed his shoulder diving back into first base on a pickoff throw, and when rest and rehab didn’t work, he needed season-ending surgery. It sidelined him for a full calendar year. That’s rough. Williams had just come up and was playing well, then bam, down for a year.

The 25-year-old Williams spent most of this season in Triple-A after returning, and it was another outfielder injury that brought him back to the big leagues this month. Two injuries, really. First Aaron Hicks pulled his hamstring, then Judge strained his oblique. At that point the Yankees needed another outfielder, so while they wanted to leave Williams in Triple-A to get more at-bats, they had no choice but to call him up.

In seven games since coming back Williams has gone 7-for-18 (.389) at the plate — he should have had another hit, but Joe Kelly threw out his glove and snagged a would-be single with the bases loaded — while playing his typically strong defense. He’s 13-for-39 (.333) in 15 big league games so far, which is pretty great. Williams came back from shoulder surgery and didn’t miss a beat in Triple-A. Now he’s in the show and again producing.

Williams has always been supremely talented. There were some production and work ethic issues in Double-A a few years ago, but the proverbial light bulb went on last year, and he seemed to begin realizing his potential. Then the injury happened. Williams went from top prospect to suspect to reclamation project, all before his 25th birthday. Right now he’s in the process of reestablishing himself after the shoulder surgery.

It’s nice to see Williams having success again, and not just in his brief September cameo with the Yankees. In the minors too. He put up a .309/.327/.399 (106 wRC+) batting line in 47 minor league games after coming back from surgery this year. This success, along with his track record and raw tools, have me wondering two things.

1. What would have happened if he didn’t get hurt? This is a fun hypothetical. Say Williams never hurts his shoulder diving into first base last year. What happens? Does he continue to play well and force his way into the team’s plans? Williams could have made the Hicks trade unnecessary. It could have been him getting all those at-bats in right field when Alex Rodriguez was benched and Carlos Beltran was at DH earlier this year. There was an opportunity for playing time last year, and Williams lost out on it because of his injury. Sucks.

2. Where does he fit going forward? The Yankees have a lot of outfielders right now. Brett Gardner and Ellsbury are the established veterans at the MLB level. Judge and Hicks are the young guys. Williams is next in line with others like Jake Cave and Clint Frazier right behind him on the depth chart. His only path to playing time right now is injury. Judge is out for the year and Joe Girardi has said he won’t push Hicks hard after his hamstring injury, so Williams will play these last eleven games.

But what about next year? Does Williams go to Triple-A again? I guess that wouldn’t be a bad thing. He’s only played 51 games at the level, plus he has an option for next year, so they might as well use it. Right now Williams is the fifth outfielder, the up-and-down guy. Maybe Gardner will get traded this offseason. Or maybe Hicks goes. Perhaps Judge won’t win the right field job next spring. Something like that is going to have to happen for Williams to continue getting a look at the MLB level. That or injury.

The problem for Williams isn’t that the Yankees have a lot of other outfielders, it’s that they have a lot of other outfielders just like him, specifically Gardner and Ellsbury. The speedy defense-first left-handed hitter. How many of the same player do you need? It would be cool to have an outfielder who can hit the ball out of the park, wouldn’t it? Maybe even two. Williams could be trade bait, Triple-A depth, the fourth outfielder … none of that would surprise me going forward.

For now, the most important thing is that Williams seems to have come back well from his shoulder surgery. His talent and athleticism are pretty obvious. The kid looks the part of an exciting young player. The question is whether the Yankees can make room for Williams in the near future, and if not, how does he get another opportunity? He’s playing well now and that’s great. Williams has shown the shoulder is sound, giving the Yankees yet another outfield candidate going forward.

Is Gary Sanchez’s bat too valuable to keep at catcher?

(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)
(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)

Two nights ago the Yankees snapped their five-game losing streak thanks to yet another clutch home run by Gary Sanchez. His three-run shot broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning. Then, last night, he added two more home runs to raise his season batting to .337/.410/.747 (203 wRC+). He’s hit 19 home runs in 43 games since being called up following the trade deadline. That is pretty, pretty good.

There is no question Sanchez has emerged as a cornerstone player for the Yankees. That was always the hope, but I don’t think anyone expected it to happen this quickly. Especially at catcher. Usually it takes those guys some time to find their bearings at the big league level just because there’s so much to take in defensively. They have to learn the pitching staff and the hitters around the league in addition to their offensive responsibilities.

By all accounts Sanchez has handled the defensive side of the game well. He seems to be a little passed ball/wild pitch prone, but that’s not all that unusual for a young catcher. There’s every reason to believe Sanchez can handle the defensive side of the position. My question is this: is Sanchez most valuable long-term at catcher? I mean, yes, of course he is. Catcher is the most difficult position to fill. But is his bat too valuable to tie to such a demanding position?

The idea behind taking Sanchez out from behind the plate — and just to be clear, I’m not endorsing this, I’m just asking the question for discussion purposes — is avoiding the wear-and-tear of catching and getting his bat in the lineup more often. Sanchez has been in the starting lineup for each of the last 35 games either as the catcher or DH, and that can’t last long-term. Like every other catcher, he’ll need regular days off to get through a 162-game season. A few things to consider:

1. This would not be unprecedented. The best example of moving a great hitter out from behind the plate is Bryce Harper. He was a catcher as an amateur, but as soon as he was drafted, the Nationals moved him to the outfield. Didn’t even give him a catch to catch in pro ball. They didn’t want to put Harper through the rigors of catching because his bat was going to be so valuable.

Harper’s the best example but he’s not the only example. Paul Konerko and Joey Votto were catchers. So were Josh Donaldson and Wil Myers. Neil Walker, Pablo Sandoval, Justin Morneau, Jayson Werth, Josh Willingham … they were all catchers at one point and not all of them were moved because they couldn’t handle it defensively. Walker, Myers, and Sandoval in particular were moved largely to get their bats in the lineup more often.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

2. It could help his offense. First and foremost, not getting beat up behind the plate can help Sanchez remain more productive deeper into the season, if not allow him to reach new offensive heights. Secondly, shedding the defensive responsibilities of catching and focusing on offense can help too. Donaldson is a pretty good example. His bat didn’t take off until he moved to third base.

Donaldson, who moved to third because the Athletics had no one to play the position after Scott Sizemore tore up his knee in Spring Training 2012, has said moving out from behind the plate helped his offensive game. Without having to worry about working with pitchers and studying hitter scouting reports and all that, he was able to work on his offense. Extra swings in the cage, more time studying pitchers on video, all that stuff. That could really help.

3. Where would he play? This is the big question. First base and DH seem like the only possibilities. I love the guy, but Sanchez is not the same kind of athlete as Harper and Donaldson. He’s more Morneau and Konerko, if you catch my drift. That’s fine though. The Yankees have a long-term opening at first base at the moment. We’re hoping Greg Bird can fill it, but who knows coming off shoulder surgery. Even then, DH is still a possibility for Sanchez.

Should the Yankees move him, Sanchez would have to learn first base on the fly. There’s no sending him down to work on things now. Not at this point. That may not be much of a problem though. Sanchez could serve as the DH four times a week and play first the other two or three days. Ease him into it, you know? Having a guy learn a new position on the fly like that can be tough, but the Yankees wouldn’t have another option.

4. They’d still be set behind the plate. The Yankees could move Sanchez to another position and still have a quality catcher thanks to Brian McCann. Even at this point of his career, McCann’s a good hitter for the position, and he’s a more than capable starter. Austin Romine would be able to stick around as the backup as well, or, if you prefer, the Yankees could give Kyle Higashioka a try. Point is, Sanchez isn’t the only starting catcher on the roster. The Bombers have another quality backstop in McCann.

* * *

The history of the Yankees is loaded with great hitting catchers. You can go back to Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra. Elston Howard. Thurman Munson. Jorge Posada. Sanchez looks very much like the next in a long line of great Yankees catchers, and man, having a great hitting catcher is such an advantage. The average catcher is hitting .241/.310/.389 (86 wRC+) this year. Compare that to what Sanchez can do.

I don’t think the Yankees will move Sanchez out from behind the plate and I don’t want them to either. He’s an asset defensively. Maybe if he were a better athlete and a move to the outfield or third base — golly, imagine his arm at third — was a legitimate possibility, it would be worth considering. But if the only alternative is first base or DH, then don’t bother. Enjoy the great hitting catcher and don’t worry about saving the wear-and-tear.

Two more Sanchez homers help the Yankees to an 11-5 win over the Rays

Two wins in a row! Hooray for that. It’s been a while since the Yankees have done that. Last week was not so good, as I’m sure you remember. The Yankees hammered the Rays on Wednesday night for an 11-5 win. They’re now 79-72 and they continue to hang around in the postseason race.

Seven hits between these two. (Presswire)
Seven hits between these two. (Presswire)

Seven Early Runs
This one looked like a laugher after only one inning. It was obvious early Alex Cobb didn’t have it, even though the Yankees didn’t exactly knock him around the park. Their three-run first inning was the result of four soft-ish ground ball singles and a walk. Gary Sanchez, Brian McCann, and Ronald Torreyes singled in the runs. All on seeing eye grounders. Usually the Yankees are on the wrong end of a rally like that.

The second inning was more of the same, at least at first. Donovan Solano and Brett Gardner picked up two more ground ball singles, then Sanchez did what Sanchez does, and that’s hit the ball out of the ballpark. His 18th homer of the season was a three-run shot down the left field line. Cobb made a mistake and left a changeup up in the zone, and a changeup up in the zone is basically a batting practice fastball. The Yankees were up 6-0 before Cobb recorded his fifth out.

McCann and Mark Teixeira singled and doubled after the Sanchez walk, respectively, ending Cobb’s night. Didi Gregorius got the team’s seventh run in with a sacrifice fly against reliever Steve Geltz. The final line on Cobb: seven runs on nine hits and a walk in 1.1 innings. Egads. Not all of those hits were rockets, but still. He was fooling no one. The Yankees had no trouble getting the bat on the ball and the hits kept falling in.

One Bad Inning, To The Extreme
For the first time in his MLB career, Masahiro Tanaka allowed four home runs in a game Wednesday night. All four came in one inning too. The third inning. That’s no good. At least they were all solo shots. Bobby Wilson, Evan Longoria, Brad Miller, and Corey Dickerson did the honors. Longoria, Miller, and Dickerson hit them back-to-back-to-back. That was … unexpected. Look at the pitch locations, via Brooks Baseball:

Masahiro Tanaka home runs

Two of the four were on pitches up in the zone, one was a golf shot on a pitch below the zone, and the other was down. All four homers came on offspeed pitches. That all happened after Tanaka walked Alexei Ramirez and Jaff Decker back-to-back with two outs in the second. His location was not good. That meant walks in the second inning and dingers in the third. I guess I should note all four homers barely cleared the wall, I’m talking first row, but still, a homer is a homer.

Anyway, because he’s such a damn stud, Tanaka settled down and retired ten of the final 12 batters he faced to complete six full innings. Joe Girardi had relievers warming in the fifth and sixth, so he was ready to pull Tanaka at the first sign of danger, but it never came. The four homers didn’t phase him. The one bad inning was just that. One bad inning. It didn’t snowball into a disaster start.

The end result: 6 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K. Tanaka had allowed four runs total in his previous three starts and six runs total in his previous six starts. August 13th against the Rays at Yankee Stadium was the last time Tanaka allowed four runs in a start. It was only the ninth time in 31 starts that he allowed four runs in an outing. That is: good. Even with the four dingers, Tanaka still leads the AL With a 3.07 ERA. His Cy Young chances took a hit, no doubt, but he’s still in the race.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Late Innings
The four homers turned a comfortable 7-0 lead into an annoyingly small 7-4 lead. Blah. Sanchez took matters into his own hands in the sixth inning and clubbed yet another home run, this one a solo blast to left-center field. I don’t even know what to say. That’s 19 homers (!) in 45 career games, a new big league record. The previous fastest to 19 homers was 51 games by Wally Berger with the 1930 Boston Braves.

Sanchez’s second homer stretched the lead to 8-4, and after Miller took Adam Warren deep for a solo homer in the eighth, the Yankees tacked on three more runs in the ninth. Mason Williams had a run-scoring single and Solano smacked a two-run dinger. How about that? The two teams combined for eight homers on the night. The wind must have been blowing out at the Trop. Warren (four outs), Tommy Layne (one out), Tyler Clippard (one out), and Jonathan Holder (three outs) did the damn thing out of the bullpen.

Leftovers
McCann went 4-for-5 and was only the second most productive catcher in the lineup. Sanchez went 3-for-5 with two homers and a walk to raise his batting line to .337/.410/.747 (203 wRC+). The walk was his 19th of the season, which means a) he has more walks than Gregorius (18), and b) he has a healthy 10.1% walk rate. I’ve been really impressed by Sanchez’s plate discipline. Pitchers have tried to get him to chase off the plate, but no dice.

Everyone in the starting lineup had a hit except Jacoby Ellsbury, who drew a walk following his two-game absence with a knee injury. Gardner and Williams each had two hits and Solano had three. The wrap-around 8-9-1 portion of the lineup went a combined 7-for-16 (.438) and scored five runs. The Yankees had 17 hits overall, their fourth highest total of the season. Their season high is 20 against the White Sox back in July.

And finally, the Astros and Mariners won while the Blue Jays and Orioles lost. The Tigers are stuck in a lengthy rain delay as of this writing. The Yankees are 2.5 games back of the O’s for the second wildcard spot and two back in the loss column. There are four teams ahead of the in the standings with eleven to play. Still a chance.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to ESPN. MLB.com has the video highlights. Don’t miss our Bullpen workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the stress-free win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees will look to finish the sweep when these two clubs play their season series finale Thursday night. Luis Cessa and Blake Snell are the scheduled starters.

Game 151: Tanaka’s Cy Young Push

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

The Yankees are involved in three races right now. The wildcard race is the main one, though their odds are long. Another is the Rookie of the Year race. Gary Sanchez keeps swatting dingers, so he’s forced his way into the Rookie of the Year conversation despite not being called up until after the trade deadline. I don’t know if Sanchez will win, but he’s in the mix. Unignorable.

The third race is the Cy Young race. Masahiro Tanaka is firmly in the discussion at this point. He’s not the favorite — is anyone the favorite right now? I don’t think so — but when you lead the league in ERA and are top two in FIP and both versions of WAR, yeah, you’re a Cy Young contender. Including tonight, Tanaka has three starts left this season, and those three starts could very well decide whether he gets the Cy Young. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

It’s hot and humid outside in St. Petersburg but cool and comfortable inside Tropicana Field. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Chase Headley (back) is feeling better and took batting practice today. He could be available to pinch-hit. Headley had an MRI during the off-day Monday that showing nothing worrisome … Ellsbury (knee) is back in the lineup, obviously.