10/2 to 10/4 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Hurricane Joaquin

Welcome to the final regular season series of 2015. The season seems to move a little quicker with each passing year, doesn’t it? The Yankees are in Baltimore for a three-game set with the Orioles. They are 10-8 against the O’s this year, including 2-4 at Camden Yards. Those games were played a long time ago and under much different circumstances. The Orioles are just looking to get out of town now.

The weather has the potential to create some havoc this weekend. Not just for the Yankees, but all around baseball. Hurricane Joaquin is making its way up the East Coast, and, as you can see from the map above, no one has any idea which way it’s heading. The weather in Baltimore this weekend could be legitimately dangerous hurricane conditions or only a few showers. Hopefully it’s the latter, mostly for non-baseball reasons. These games do have postseason implications though — the Yankees have clinched a postseason spot but still need to clinch home field advantage — so MLB will figure out a way to get them in.

What Have The O’s Done Lately?

The Orioles were eliminated from postseason contention earlier this week, though it was clear they were out of the race a few weeks ago. They checked out for the season last month. The O’s have won two of their last seven games and they come into the final series at 78-81 with a +7 run differential.

Offense & Defense

The Orioles have been just about average at the plate this year. They’ve scored 4.35 runs per game with a team 94 wRC+, mostly because they don’t get on base (.304 OBP, third worst). They do hit homers though (210, third most). OF Adam Jones (109 wRC+) hasn’t played in a few days due to back stiffness and might sit out the weekend as well. Or maybe he’ll start a game and get pulled after one at-bat so the home fans can give him an ovation, something like that. Otherwise the O’s are healthy.

Davis & Machado. (Steven Ryan/Getty)
Davis & Machado. (Steven Ryan/Getty)

Even with Jones banged up, manager Buck Showalter has two star caliber hitters in his lineup in 3B Manny Machado (134 wRC+) and 1B Chris Davis (143 wRC+). Machado just turned 23 and he’s hitting .287/.360/.498 with 33 homers this year. Quietest “hey guys I’m a superstar” season ever? Maybe. Davis has 45 homers, by the way. C Matt Wieters (94 wRC+), SS J.J. Hardy (45 wRC+!), 2B Jonathan Schoop (112 wRC+), and OF Gerardo Parra (103 wRC+) are the other regulars you’ll recognize.

1B/OF Steve Pearce (96 wRC+), OF Nolan Reimold (91 wRC+), and UTIL Ryan Flaherty (76 wRC+) have been playing regularly this month while C Caleb Joseph (88 wRC+) has split time behind the plate with Wieters. The crop of September call-ups includes C Steve Clevenger, IF Paul Janish, 1B Christian Walker, OF Dariel Alvarez, OF Junior Lake, and OF David Lough.

The O’s have a pretty good team defense when at full strength. Machado, Hardy, Jones, Parra, and Wieters are all above-average to great defenders, and Davis is pretty good at first too. Others like Schoop and Reimold are okay in the field.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (No vs. BAL) vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen (vs. NYY)
The 30-year-old Chen made his first big league start against the Yankees four years ago — the first batter he faced, Derek Jeter, took him deep (video) — and it looks like he’s going to make his final start with the Orioles against the Yankees as well. Chen is a free agent after the season and a Scott Boras client, which might price him out of Baltimore. He has a 3.35 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 30 starts and 185.1 innings this season, posting a good walk rate (5.0%), an average strikeout rate (19.6%), and below-average grounder (40.8%) and homer (1.36 HR/9) rates. Righties (.351 wOBA) have hit him a ton harder than lefties (.250 wOBA) this summer. Chen operates with low-90s two and four-seamers, low-80s changeups and sliders, and a low-70s curveball. The slider is his go-to offspeed pitch. The Yankees have seen Chen four times this season: two runs in six innings in April, one run in seven innings in May, three runs in 6.1 innings in July, and five runs in five innings in September.

Saturday (7pm ET): TBA vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (vs. NYY)
Jimenez, 31, is wrapping up the second year of his four-year contract with the Orioles. Year two (4.10 ERA and 4.04 FIP in 178 innings) has gone a lot better than year one (4.81 ERA and 4.67 FIP in 125.1 innings). Ubaldo has an above-average grounder rate (49.3%) while his strikeout (21.1%), walk (8.5%), and homer (1.01 HR/9) numbers are average-ish across the board. He has a slight reverse split this year (.329 vs. .309 wOBA in favor of righties) that is out of line with the rest of his career. Jimenez’s out pitch is a mid-80s splitter. He sets it up with low-90s two and four-seamers, and will also throw low-80s sliders and mid-70s curves. The curve is his distant fifth pitch. Ubaldo has seen the Yankees three times in 2015. One start was good (three runs in seven innings), one start was okay (three runs in five innings), and one start was ugly (seven runs in 2.1 innings).

Tillman. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Tillman. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Sunday (3pm ET): TBA vs. RHP Chris Tillman (vs. NYY)
The Opening Day starter is also getting the ball in Game 162. Tillman, 27, has had his worst season as a big leaguer in 2015, throwing 167.2 innings across 30 starts with a 5.05 ERA (4.48 ERA). His strikeout rate (16.1%) is way down and everything else is average: 8.4 BB%, 44.0 GB%, and 1.07 HR/9. Tillman has a reverse split (.352 vs. .302 wOBA in favor of righties) that is in line with the rest of his career, though not to this extreme. His fastball sits in the low-90s, his cutter a notch below that, and his trademark curveball sits in the mid-70s. He’ll also throw a mid-80s sliders and changeups. Believe it or not, the Yankees have faced Tillman just once this season. They scored four runs in 5.2 innings against him back in May.

Since this is the final series of the season, the pitching situation is subject to change. The Yankees are listing TBAs for Saturday and Sunday so they can set things up for the postseason. (Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova are lined up to pitch those day.) The Orioles could decide to simply shut their guys down and get a look at some kids. There’s also the rain too. They might not want to run their regulars out there on a wet final in the final series of the year.

Bullpen Status
Way back in April, Baltimore’s bullpen was a major weakness that contributed to their sluggish start. They turned it around and have had one of the best bullpens in the game over the last few months, with closer LHP Zach Britton (1.98 ERA/2.01 FIP) and setup man RHP Darren O’Day (1.54/2.42) the stars of the show. LHP Brian Matusz (2.94/3.59) is the primary lefty and RHP Mychal Givens (1.88/1.81) has pitched his way into high-leverage work of late.

RHP Brad Brach (2.77/3.44), LHP T.J. MacFarland (4.82/4.64), RHP Chaz Roe (4.14/3.87), and Rule 5 Draft pick RHP Jason Garcia (4.25/4.89) have been regulars in the bullpen most of the year. The list of September call-ups includes RHP Oliver Drake, RHP Jorge Rondon, RHP Tyler Wilson, and RHP Mike Wright. Wilson, McFarland, Givens, Brach, Matusz, O’Day, and Britton all pitched yesterday. Our Bullpen Workload page can keep you updated on Joe Girardi‘s bullpen. Head over to Camden Chat for the latest on the O’s.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome to October (Sept. 28-Oct. 1)

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

We’re going to start this Yankeemetrics off with the good news first …

They’re baaaaack!
The Yankees pretty much couldn’t have written a better script for their playoff-clinching victory:

Milestone win, No. 10,000? Check.
Against your long-standing rival? Check.
With your veteran (former?) ace on the mound? Check.
And in your final home game of the season? Check.

Oh, and this (h/t to Brendan Kuty):
The Yankees are headed back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, snapping a two-season drought that felt like an eternity for most Yankee fans. It’s the 52nd time they’ve made the postseason — a pretty impressive number considering that no other franchise even has made 30 postseason appearances. This is also the fifth time they’ve made it as a wild card — in the previous four trips, they’ve advanced to the ALCS just once and have never won the World Series.

The win also, of course, was the 10,000th in franchise history (which dates back to 1903), as the Yankees became the first American League team to reach that milestone. This is the second time that the Red Sox were the victim of a nice round number franchise win — on June 30, 1949 they beat Boston for their 4,000th win in franchise history.

CC Sabathia capped off his remarkable late-season resurgence with another strong outing, allowing just one run on six hits in five innings. Although he struggled at times this season (to put it mildly), he was at his best pitching against the Red Sox. He finished with a 2.12 ERA in three starts vs. Boston, his lowest ERA in a single season against them since joining the Yankees.

And now onto the not-so-good news …

Score early and … not often
The champagne wasn’t the only thing put on ice at Yankee Stadium on Monday night. The Yankees’ bats were chilled in their 5-1 loss to the Red Sox — and were frozen solid in the clutch, as they went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez threw six innings of one-run ball, earning his third win in four starts against the Yankees this year. Rodriguez is first Red Sox pitcher to beat Yankees three times in a season before turning 23 years old since Mike Nagy in 1969, and the first left-hander to do it since Babe Ruth in 1917.

For the Yankees, Ivan Nova held the Red Sox scoreless through five innings. But things unraveled in the sixth and seventh innings when he allowed two-run homers to Travis Shaw and Jackie Bradley Jr., resulting in his 10th loss of the season, matching CC Sabathia for the team “lead.”

Nova and Sabathia are just the second set of Yankee teammates with at least 10 losses, a losing record and an ERA of 4.70 or worse in the same season. The only other season this happened was 1991, when the Yankees had three (!) guys — Jeff Johnson, Tim Leary, Wade Taylor — reach each of those thresholds.

Deja vu all over again
For the second straight night, the Yankees failed to move closer to clinching a playoff spot, losing to the Red Sox 10-4 on Tuesday. And, for the second straight night, the Yankees scored early and then not again, putting up four runs in the first inning and zero runs in the next eight frames.

The game couldn’t have started any worse for the Yankees and Michael Pineda. Small Mike allowed six of the first seven batters to score and the Yankees were down 6-0 even before they stepped to the plate.

The final three runs in that first inning came off the bat of Blake Swihart, who clubbed a three-run homer into the right field seats. The catcher later added a two-run homer in the eighth inning, cementing his place in the record books of this historic rivalry. The 23-year-old Swihart is the youngest Red Sox player ever with at least two homers and five RBIs in a game versus the Yankees.

Round number alert! Brett Gardner stole his 20th base of the season, the sixth time he’s reached that mark in his career. Only three other players have compiled at least six 20-steal seasons with the Yankees: Wid Conroy (six), Hal Chase (eight) and Derek Jeter (eight).

Deja vu all over again, Part II
Another night, another game of wasted opportunities for this Yankees team that is doing its best to keep the beer and champagne on ice for as long as possible.

They certainly had their chances against the Red Sox in Wednesday’s extra-inning loss, putting 23 guys on base — their most baserunners in a loss to the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium since June 17, 1986. The end result was a crushing 9-5 defeat, their largest (in terms of runs) extra-inning loss ever at Yankee Stadium in a game against the Red Sox.

It was also their third straight loss to Boston by at least four runs, the first time in the history of the rivalry that the Yankees have dropped three games in a row to the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, each by four or more runs.

The Yankees were eliminated from AL East contention on Wednesday, sealing their inevitable fate in a race the Yankees once led by seven games in late July. This is first time ever that the Yankees have not won division/league title after having a lead of more than six games at any point in the season.

Mailbag: Harper, Iwakuma, Davis, Draft, Holland, Fister

Pretty big mailbag this week. Twelve questions and some of the answers are longer than usual too. You can email us questions, comments, links, guest post pitches, or anything else at RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

Harper. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Harper. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Many asked: What would it take to acquire Bryce Harper?

I had a feeling this was coming after the Harper-Jonathan Papelbon spat. The Nationals are a total mess right now and I can’t imagine Harper’s recent comments are sitting well with the brain trust — “I’ve got three more years to play at Nationals Park,” he said to Chase Hughes before saving himself with “and hopefully many more” — but they’d be stupid to trade him. Harper can’t request a trade either. He has no recourse.

Anyway, let’s answer this as a hypothetical. Harper will turn 23 later this month and he’s wrapping up one of the best offensive seasons in history. The kid went into last night’s game hitting .331/.463/.649 (197 wRC+) with 41 home runs. I mean, good grief. Harper also grades out as a strong defender, and although the Nationals have done their best to sully his reputation, Harper plays extremely hard. (Jeff Passan recently dug into Statcast data to show Harper has one of the fastest average times to first base, so yes, he does hustle.) He plays too hard, if anything. He’s hurt himself with aggressive slides and crashing into walls.

Even though he’s only 23, Harper is wrapping up his fourth MLB season and will be a free agent after 2018. You’re acquiring three years of him. Agent Scott Boras surely wants to get Harper out onto the open market at age 26 so he can smash contract records. What are three years of a soon-to-be 23-year-old megastar worth? There actually is a trade we can reference: Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera was about to turn 25 and also three years from free agency when he was traded from the Marlins to the Tigers. Not an exact comparison but close enough.

To get Cabrera, the Tigers gave up two top ten prospects in Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin — that’s top ten in all of baseball, not just the organization — and four other prospects, plus they took on the expensive years of declining Dontrelle Willis. There is some precedent for a young player this good being traded, but the key difference between Harper and Miggy is their team. The Nationals are not looking to shed money like the Marlins were. There’s no urgency to move him.

I’m not sure the Yankees can out together a package good enough to get Harper. Luis Severino plus Aaron Judge plus Dellin Betances ain’t gonna get it done. Who else can they add to sweeten that pot? Didi Gregorius? Michael Pineda? If the Nationals put Harper out there, they’d get better offers, I’m sure. Would the Dodgers say no to Corey Seager and Julio Urias plus other stuff? I doubt it. Harper is truly a once in a generation talent.

Jonathan asks: Assuming the Yankees at the very least have a second wildcard spot, do you think we should consider this an extremely successful year? Considering the age of the team, the injury risks, I did not think this was a potential playoff team. Do you think the Yankees fan base, at the end of the year, can finally be happy about a team that didn’t win the World Series?

Nah, Yankees fans are never happy unless they win the World Series. Fans of every team are like that, really. I didn’t expect the Yankees to contend coming into the season — I thought they were more likely to devolve into major ugliness on the field than contend — yet here they are. So yes, they have exceeded expectations. At the same time, blowing a seven-game lead in the AL East is very disappointing. Success is relative. I’d consider this season a success based on preseason expectations but I can also see the other side of the argument too.

Iwakuma. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Iwakuma. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Dean asks: Aside from Davis Price, how about other free agent options, like Jordan Zimmerman (likely gets qualifying offer) or Hisashi Iwakuma? Less cash outlay, but less pitcher.

Zimmermann’s definitely getting a qualifying offer but that’s no big deal. He’s very good — a 3.66 ERA (3.76 FIP) in 201.2 innings this season is considered a down year for Zimmermann — and giving up a first round pick for a pitcher of his caliber is no problem. Zimmermann seems headed for five years and $100M+. For some reason I think he winds up somewhere unexpected, with the Brewers or Mariners or something. No idea why, just a hunch. Either way, I don’t expect the Yankees to shell out $20M+ annually for a pitcher on a long-term deal this winter.

Iwakuma is a different story and I think the Yankees could make a serious run at him. He turns 35 in April, so he won’t require a long-term deal, and he has a 3.22 ERA (3.54 FIP) in 106.1 innings since coming back from his lat strain. That’s right in line with last year (3.52 ERA and 3.25 FIP). Iwakuma has three things the Yankees love: a swing-and-miss pitch (splitter), a super low walk rate (career 4.9%), and Grade-A competitiveness. The scouting reports on Iwakuma coming out of Japan said he was a total bulldog, and we’ve seen that in his time here.

Convincing Iwakuma to come to the East Coast might not be easy — those trips home to Japan are much quicker from Seattle than they would be from New York — especially since new Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has said keeping Iwakuma is a top priority. I could see the Yankees going after Iwakuma and looking to overpay on a one or two-year deal. Say $18M annually or so. That’s basically what they did with Hiroki Kuroda. That’s the kind of pitching deal I think they’re pursue this winter.

Mark asks: Do you think the Yankees will erect a monument to Yogi Berra next season? Seems like a fitting tribute to an American icon who transcended baseball with his heroic service in WWII and countless charitable acts. I know he already has a plaque in Monument Park, but it seems to me he deserves special recognition as a legend among legends.

Yes, I believe it’s very possible. There are six monuments in Monument Park: Miller Huggins, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and George Steinbrenner. All of them were decided posthumously within a year of their death except for Huggins, the first monument. His came three years later. Yogi is one of the best players in franchise history, one of the best catchers in baseball history, and someone who used his fame for the betterment of others. That’s monument worthy for me. Berra is an all-time great both on and off the field. Those guys gets monuments.

Joe asks: Would you pitch CC Sabathia who has been pitching great since coming off the DL in the one game wild card game so that you have Masahiro Tanaka for two games in the ALDS?

Sabathia is forever cool with me but no way. I know Tanaka had a rough first inning the other night, but I chalk that up to rust. He’s the guy I want on the mound in the winner-take-all game. It has nothing to do with his contract at all. I trust Tanaka more than anyone on the staff. Severino’s been great! But he’s also 21 years old with ten starts under his belt. I know Sabathia pitched well last night and since coming off the DL, but I don’t want him on the mound in a must win game if Tanaka is available.

Brandon asks: Do you ever see the MLB changing their trading of all draft picks policy, and if so do you think the Yankees would be one of the teams more willing to move draft picks or less willing? For example would they have considered trading their first round pick this year instead of a Severino or Bird?

I do see it changing eventually. I’m not sure if they’ll allow pick trading in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (expires after 2016), but I think it’ll happen at some point. Right now only the Competitive Balance Lottery picks can be traded. I think eventually MLB will realize pick trading will create more interest in the draft and come up with a system. Make only the top two or three rounds tradeable. Something like that.

The Competitive Balance picks seem to have little trade value. They’ve been dealt for middle relievers or kicked in as the third piece in a multi-player package. I absolutely think the Yankees would have been more willing to trade their first rounder than a prospect like Severino or Greg Bird, who were close to MLB at the time of the trade deadline. The pick is effectively a low level prospect still several years away from the show, and a lot can go wrong between now and then. Severino and Bird have way more trade value given their proximity to MLB. My guess is a bunch of first round picks would be traded each year. Actual players already in your system are more valuable.

Davis. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Davis. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Nathan asks: Would you try and sign Chris Davis this offseason? I know there is no position for him and he may not age well, but isn’t the possibility of 40-50 HRs worth a possible 3-4 deal?

The no position thing is kind of a big deal, right? Davis couldn’t play first (Mark Teixeira and Bird), couldn’t DH (Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Teixeira, Bird), and couldn’t even play right field (Beltran). I guess the Yankees could stick him at third base — Davis has started 85 career games at the hot corner — but that seems … unwise. Davis can hit 40+ homers anywhere with his power. Yankee Stadium might not help him much because most of his homers are bombs. Davis is going to get paid. He’s another $20M+ a year guy. I think people are going to end up shocked at Davis’ contract come this winter. Power pays. I just can’t see the Yankees spending big for another first base/DH type.

Owen asks: Given Aaron Judge’s struggles at AAA, would it be more realistic to see him called up around July rather than April next year?

Yes, definitely. Had Judge mashed at Triple-A this year, we’d be wondering how they get him in the lineup next year. That didn’t happen though, so another couple hundred at-bats in Triple-A are in the cards. No big deal. Development isn’t linear. Let him go back to Triple-A, make some adjustments, and if he earns a midseason call-up, great. That plan works for me.

Jacob asks: Should the Yanks go after Greg Holland if the Royals non tender him? What kind of contract would he get?

In a weird way the Royals are probably slightly relieved Holland got hurt. They can’t afford two $8M+ relievers given their modest payroll, so chances are they were going to have move either Holland or Wade Davis this winter. Holland’s injury makes it an easy call. Don’t get me wrong, they’d rather have Holland healthy for the postseason, but that’s not possible.

Anyway, the Royals will non-tender Holland this winter and I think he’ll re-sign with the team on a small-ish two-year deal. He’s having his Tommy John surgery today, so even if Holland comes back ahead of schedule next year, you’re still only getting a handful of innings. You have to lock him up for 2017 as well to get some kind of return. (Holland will qualify for free agency after 2016, so a one-year deal means he’s gone next winter.)

I could see something like two years and $8M working for Holland. Give him $2M next season while he rehabs, then $6M in 2017. Throw in a bunch of incentives too. If the Yankees can get Holland on a deal like that this offseason, great, go for it. Relatively low-risk move. Holland probably ends up staying with the Royals if he agrees to a deal like that though. That’s the only organization he’s ever known.

Holland. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Holland. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Dana asks: What do you think about the Yankees signing Doug Fister in the offseason? His price will be reasonable after a down year, and he has a history of success. I trust him more than I do Ivan Nova.

Coming into the season, I thought the Yankees were going to be all over Fister this offseason. He’s been really good over the years, he’s super tall (6-foot-8), and the Yankees drafted him once upon a time (sixth round in 2005), so he might still has some fans in the organization. Fister was so bad this year he had to be moved to the bullpen (4.60 ERA and 4.64 FIP in 15 starts), and there’s also this:

Doug Fister VelocityFister was never a big stuff guy, he succeeded with location and a deep arsenal, but he’s now living in the 86-88 mph range with his heater. That’s not good. Velocity isn’t everything but it’s not nothing either. It’s not a coincidence Fister’s gotten smacked around this year. He has less margin for error.

Whether it’s age-related decline (he’ll be 32 in February) or something else (injury?), that’s a worrisome trend, and I don’t think it’s a guarantee Fister returns to being even league average without finding some more velocity. He seems to be headed for the Justin Masterson contract. A one-year, $9M-ish he can’t possibly be that bad again deal. Fister is worth a longer post in the offseason. My abbreviated mailbag answer is stay away.

Bill asks: Say in the wildcard game the yanks face a tough lefty like Keuchel, you think Joe Girardi goes with Young over Ellsbury or Gardner? Young hasn’t hit lefties much lately and can’t imagine sitting either one of Brett or Jacoby in a winner take all.

No. I think Girardi will go with his best lineup in the wildcard game regardless of who is on the mound. That means both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, Brian McCann instead of John Ryan Murphy, and Dustin Ackley over Rob Refsnyder. All things considered, Chris Young did a great job as the fourth outfielder this year. Murphy and Refsnyder have fared well while getting the platoon advantage all the damn time. I just think in a winner-take-all game, you have to go with your best players, and I think Girardi feels the same way as well.

Travis asks: Could a case be made to protect Dietrich Enns (a LHP with good MiLB numbers who could possibly stick as a LOOGY in MLB), Chaz Hebert (a LHP who had success in a SSS of 3 starts at AAA, but otherwise hasnt pitched above A+) and Rookie Davis (a hard throwing RHP who ended in AA).

All three players are Rule 5 Draft eligible and Davis will definitely be added to the 40-man roster. He’s one of the organization’s top pitching prospects, and his fastball/curveball/improved command combo gives him a chance to stick in MLB as a reliever in 2016 should the Yankees leave him unprotected. Enns and Hebert are probably going to get lost in the numbers crunch. (Hebert is going to the Arizona Fall League, so maybe the Yankees are considering adding him to the 40-man and want a longer look. Or maybe they’re auditioning him for a trade.) Spots on the 40-man will be at a premium this year and I think those two are on the outside looking in. The Yankees figure to lose a decent player or two in the Rule 5 Draft this winter. So it goes. You can’t keep everyone.

Scenes from a Celebration: Yankees clinch wildcard spot

I love this photo so much. (@Yankees)
I love this photo so much. (@Yankees)

The Yankees are going back to the postseason. The team clinched a wildcard spot Thursday night and they celebrated. Boy did they celebrate. The season is a long, difficult grind, and whenever you clinch a spot in the playoffs, a celebration is in order. Here are some photos and videos from the celebration, starting with the final out.

Bae-Rod. (Al Bello/Getty)
Bae-Rod. (Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)
The Big Man. (Al Bello/Getty)
The Big Man. (Al Bello/Getty)

But that's none of Tanaka's business. (Al Bello/Getty)
But that’s none of Tanaka’s business. (Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Meredith does not approve. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Meredith does not approve. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Yep. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Yep. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

John Ryan Murphy will definitely be stopping at a Taco Bell at 4am this morning. He stole the show postgame. Anyway, here is the annual rookie hazing photo. This year’s theme: old school rappers:


Rob Refsnyder definitely lifts. Also, Luis Severino as Flava Flav? Incredible. Masahiro Tanaka and his translator Shingo Horie as Run DMC? Yes. Yes yes yes. Love this team.

Postseason Bound! Yankees clinch wildcard spot with 4-1 win over Red Sox

Postseason baseball, I’ve missed you so much. The Yankees clinched a wildcard spot with Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Red Sox. The job ain’t done though. This was step one. The hard part starts now.


Two Runs Equal One Good Start
Former Yankee Rich Hill came into this game with some unbelievable numbers in his brief return to a big league rotation. He’d made three starts with the Red Sox coming into Thursday, allowing three runs on ten hits and two walks in 23 innings. He struck out 30. That’s pretty nuts. The Yankees have struggled mightily against left-handers of late, and with Hill throwing like that, it was easy to think runs would be at a premium.

Runs were at a premium, but the Yankees were able to strike first, scoring two in the second inning. The first came on a Carlos Beltran solo home run — his fifth homer against a lefty this season — to the opposite field. Beltran really reached out and drove this pitch to right:

Carlos Beltran-001

That’s nothing but raw strength right there. You can’t reach a pitch that far up and away and drive it out of the ballpark without some brute strength. Was it a cheap Yankee Stadium homer? Oh sure. But it was still an impressive blast. You don’t see too many pitches like that get driven out of the ballpark.

Beltran’s homer was the first run of the inning. Following the leadoff homer, John Ryan Murphy worked a one-out walk and Didi Gregorius worked a two-out walk to put runners at first and second. Brendan Ryan, who missed a meatball of a 2-0 fastball, managed to slap a single through the left side of the infield later in the at-bat to score Murphy, who slid in ahead of the throw.

I didn’t think Murphy had a chance to score when the ball left the bat, especially since Jackie Bradley Jr. was going to make the throw, but it appeared the wet grass slowed the ground ball down. It took Bradley that much longer to get the ball and gave Murphy a little more time to score. He slid in safely and boom, a 2-0 lead in the second. They needed that. I needed that.


Big Game For The Big Man
After everything that happened the last two years and his poor first four months this season, I couldn’t be any happier CC Sabathia got the win in the postseason clinching game. He’s pitched and won a lot of big games for the Yankees over the years — he tossed a complete game for their last postseason win remember, Game Five of the 2012 ALDS — and this game was Sabathia turning back a clock, putting the team on his back and carrying them to a win.

The pitching line isn’t anything special — 5 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K — but throw that out the window. Sabathia made some big pitches, his defense turned some huge double plays, and he handed the bullpen a lead. This was straight up gutty effort by the big man. No other way to describe it. Sabathia had to grind, he made pitches when he had to — getting Travis Shaw to fly out to strand the bases loaded in the fifth stands out — and helped the Yankees to a win. Bravo, CC. You’re still a BAMF.


Close Your Eyes, The Bullpen’s Coming
After using the big relievers for extended outings Wednesday night, seeing Sabathia’s pitch count sitting near 80 after four innings was, uh, worrisome. How in the world were they going to navigate the next few innings? Adam friggin’ Warren, that’s how. Warren, Friday’s scheduled starter, warmed up in the fifth in case he needed to bail out Sabathia. He wasn’t needed, so he had to wait for the sixth to enter the game.

Warren walked No. 7 Deven Marrero with two outs — it looked like he got squeezed pretty good by home plate ump Todd Tichenor — but otherwise escaped the sixth inning unscathed thanks in part to a behind-the-back grab …

… to end the inning. I’m pretty sure Gregorius would have had that grounder anyway — it looked like he was ready to made the play behind second base — but the behind-the-back grab is so much cooler.

In the seventh, No. 9 hitter Josh Rutledge poked an annoying two-strike single to right to start the inning. That was ominous. Mookie Betts followed with what looked like a go-ahead two-run homer. I don’t know if the rain knocked it down or if he just missed it, but boy, that was scary. Chris Young camped under it at the warning track. Phew. Warren handled the sixth and seventh innings with a one-run lead, and took care of the top of the order too.

The RailRiders Shall Lead Them
A one-run lead in the late innings is hardly comfortable. Not with the bullpen being so shaky of late, Yankee Stadium being so hitter friendly, and the Red Sox offense roughing the Yankees up the last two days. Thankfully, the Yankees tacked on some insurance runs.

Greg Bird plated the team’s third run of the night with a solo home run into the bullpen in the seventh inning. He made a really impressive mid-at-bat adjustment to time Jean Machi’s splitter. Bird took some ugly hacks at splitters earlier in the at-bat, but then waited back, dropped the bat head, and smashed the ball out of the park. Impressive.

One inning later, Rob Refsnyder absolutely crushed a solo home run off something called Heath Hembree. Absolutely demolished. I didn’t think Refsnyder had that kind of power. The ball cut through the rain drops and hit the back wall of the visitor’s bullpen to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead. Pretty good game for the kids, eh? Go RailRiders.


The Late Innings
Turns out Warren’s night was not over after completing the seventh inning. I figured Joe Girardi would go to Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller — even after pitching last night — because a postseason spot was on the line. No, he instead sent Warren back out for the eighth with a 3-1 lead. Warren needed a dozen pitches to get a strikeout, a ground out, and a line out to Gregorius. That’s three scoreless innings on 51 pitches for Warren. Can’t say enough about the job he did both in this game and this season.

After Refsnyder drove in that fourth run, Girardi went to Betances for the final three outs in the ninth inning. Two strikeouts and a pop-up later, the Yankees were postseason bound. The were led by the young (Bird and Refsnyder) and the old (Sabathia and Beltran) on Thursday. Postseason baseball returns to the Boogie Down.

The Yankees had eight hits and everyone in the starting lineup had exactly one hit except Murphy, who drew two walks. Young, Gregorius, and Alex Rodriguez drew walks as well. Rico Noel pinch-ran for A-Rod after his walk and was actually thrown out stealing for the first time. Looked like the wet infield slowed him down.

Dellin’s game-ending strikeout was the team’s 589th bullpen strikeout of the season, tying the 2012 Rockies for the MLB record. The Yankees have three games to break that one. Something tells me it’ll happen.

Just to be clear: the Yankees clinched a wildcard spot with this win. They still need either another win or an Astros loss to clinch the top wildcard spot.

And finally, this was the 10,000th win in franchise history. Clinch a postseason berth with your 10,000th win? Pretty cool.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights for the game, and updated standings and postseason odds for the season. I guess we don’t need the standings and postseason odds anymore, huh? Anyway, here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, and here’s the win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The final series of the regular season. The Yankees are off to Baltimore for a three-game series with the already eliminated Orioles. Wei-Yin Chen will start for the O’s. I guess Luis Severino will start for the Yankees will Warren coming out of the bullpen in this game. Love this team, you guys.

Game 159: The Home Finale


So here we are. The final home game of the regular season. What better way to celebrate the occasion than by clinching a postseason berth? The Yankees can clinch a wildcard spot tonight with a win. That’s all it takes. One stupid little win to secure a spot in the postseason. Glorious, October baseball with a chance to win the World Series. It’s wonderful. I miss it so much.

The clincher scenarios are getting a little less complicated, thankfully. The Yankees will clinch a playoff spot with a win at any point (preferably tonight). They can not clinch tonight with a loss, however. No other combination of losses around the league can clinch a spot for New York tonight. To clinch the first wildcard spot, the Yankees need either two wins or one win plus one Astros loss at some point before the end of the season. Nice and easy, right? Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ home finale lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. LF Chris Young
  6. C John Ryan Murphy
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Brendan Ryan
    LHP CC Sabathia

It is cloudy and there has been a raining on and off for a few hours now, but the forecast says it’ll clear up later tonight. The internet makes it appear a delay is a possibility. Hope we avoid it. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN2 nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley are out of the lineup with back soreness. Ellsbury hurt himself crashing into the wall last night. Joe Girardi made it sound like both are available in an emergency … Masahiro Tanaka (hamstring) came through last night’s start just fine. No problems at all … Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is still playing catch but there is no firm timetable for his return.

Award Update: A-Rod was named one of three finalists for the MLBPA’s Comeback Player of the Year Award, the union announced. Prince Fielder and Kendrys Morales are the other finalists. This is not MLB’s official Comeback Player of the Year award. The union has their own set of awards. Still cool though. The players nominated A-Rod.