9/18-9/21 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The final homestand of the 2014 season and Derek Jeter‘s career is about to begin. The Yankees open the eight-game homestand with four games against the Blue Jays, starting tonight. I swear, it feels like I’ve had to write a Blue Jays series preview every other week this season. Anyway, the Yankees are 8-7 against Toronto this year, including 4-2 at Yankee Stadium.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Jays were just swept by the Orioles in Baltimore, allowing the O’s to clinch the team’s first AL East title since 1997. Toronto lost two of three to the Rays before that. Overall, the Yankees have Blue Jays are tied for second place in the division with identical 77-74 records. The Jays have the run differential edge +20 to -34, however. This weekend is a battle for second place. Feel the excitement.

Offense
With an average of 4.45 runs per game and a team 105 wRC+, manager John Gibbons watches over a solidly above-average offense. They are without ex-Yankees OF Melky Cabrera (125 wRC+), who broke a finger sliding into a base a week or two ago and is done for the season. 3B Brett Lawrie (101 wRC+) and IF Maicer Izturis (79 wRC+) are also done for the year with oblique and knee injuries, respectively. C Dioner Navarro (103 wRC+) is day-to-day after taking a foul tip to the face mask.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Even without Melky, the Blue Jays have a scary middle of the order thanks to OF Jose Bautista (155 wRC+) and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (149 wRC+). They both have 32 homers. DH Adam Lind (147 wRC+) is also having a strong year and is a nice left-handed complement to Bautista and Encarnacion. SS Jose Reyes (102 wRC+) sets the table from the leadoff spot and OF Anthony Gose (72 wRC+) has taken over as the everyday center fielder. OF Colby Rasmus (103 wRC+) is now just a bench player.

3B Danny Valencia (77 wRC+) is playing the hot corner regularly with Lawrie out. IF Juan Francisco (108 wRC+) had been platooning with him but he’s been slumping hard since about June. IF Ryan Goins (26 wRC+ in limited time) is the everyday second baseman. C Josh Thole (73 wRC+) is the starting catcher while Navarro is out. OF Kevin Pillar (71 wRC+), IF Munenori Kawasaki (81 wRC+), IF Steve Tolleson (82 wRC+) ,and OF John Mayberry Jr. (117 wRC+) are the regular bench players. C George Kottaras, 1B Dan Johnson, and OF Dalton Pompey are the September additions.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday: RHP Shane Greene (vs. TOR) vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (vs. NYY)
The 39-year-old Dickey is about to wrap up his fourth straight 200+ inning season, and he was better this year than he was during his first season with the Jays. He has a 3.84 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 31 starts and 196.2 innings with good but not great peripherals: 7.41 K/9 (19.2 K%), 3.11 BB/9 (8.1 BB%), 1.10 HR/9 (11.1 HR/FB%), and 42.7% grounders. As a knuckleballer, Dickey relies on weak contact more than anything. Righties (.325 wOBA) have been better against him than lefties (.307 wOBA) and he’s been better on the road (.308 wOBA) than at home (.327 wOBA). Dickey threw two knuckleballs with the Mets a few years ago, but he has since dropped the harder low-80s version and now sticks with the softer mid-70s version. He throws the knuckler roughly 80% of the time while filling in the gaps with low-80s show-me fastballs. The Yankees have only faced Dickey once this year, way back in early-April, in the second series of the season. He held them scoreless for 6.2 innings.

Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. TOR) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (vs. NYY)
Buehrle, 35, is 12 innings away from his 14th (!) straight 200+ inning season with two starts to go. Unless they start him on three days’ rest in the season finale or something. He’s thrown at least six innings in each of his last five starts, but one short start could cause him to fall short of 200 innings. Buehrle has a 3.40 ERA (3.71 FIP) in 30 starts and 188 innings this year, plus he’s sporting his usually low strikeout (5.07 K/9 and 13.2 K%) and walk (2.06 BB/9 and 5.4 BB%) rates. His ground ball rate (43.9%) is right in line with his career norm but his homerun rate (0.67 HR/9 and 6.6 HR/FB%) is the lowest of his career. Buehrle’s platoon split is small and he has been much better on the road (.300 wOBA) than at home (.360 wOBA). As always, he works in the mid-80s with his four-seamer, two-seamer, and cutter while mixing in some upper-70s changeups and low-70s curves to keep hitters off balance. The Yankees have seen Buehrle four times this year: three runs (two earned) in six innings in mid-June, four runs in 6.2 innings in late-June, six runs in three innings in late-July, and four runs in six innings in late-August.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
Stroman. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Saturday: LHP Chris Capuano (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (vs. NYY)
Last time out, the 23-year-old Stroman created a ruckus when he threw a retaliation pitch behind the head of Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph. He was ejected and has since been suspended six games, but he is appealing and is expected to make this start. Stroman has made 19 starts and five relief appearances this year, pitching to a 3.80 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 120.2 innings. His strikeout rate is alright (7.46 K/9 and 20.2 K%) but his walk (2.09 BB/9 and 5.7 BB%), homer (0.52 HR/9 and 7.1 HR/FB%), and ground ball (54.7%) numbers are spectacular. He has been way better at home (.251 wOBA) than on the road (.355 wOBA) but has a negligible platoon split. The Long Island raised Stroman uses mid-90s two and four-seamers as well a low-90s cutter to set up his mid-80s slider, mid-80s changeup, and low-80s curve. The four-seamer, cutter, and curve are his main pitches. The Yankees have faced him twice this year, first scoring two runs in 3.2 innings and then scoring one run in eight innings, both times in June.

Sunday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Drew Hutchison (vs. NYY)
Again with Hutchison. The 24-year-old will be the first non-James Shields pitcher to make six starts in one season against the Yankees since both Edwin Jackson and Roy Halladay did it in 2008. (Shields did it in 2010 and 2012.) They’ve faced him in every series this year. Geez. Hutchison has a 4.51 ERA (3.82 FIP) in 30 starts and 175.2 innings after missing just about all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. Both his walk (2.87 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) and strikeout (8.71 K/9 and 22.9 K%) rates are very good, the homer (1.08 HR/9 and 9.3 HR/FB%) and grounder (36.7%) rates less so. He gets hit hard by lefties (.348 wOBA) and at home (.333 wOBA), though not so much by righties (.274 wOBA) and on the road (.305 wOBA). A low-90s fastball is Hutchison’s main pitch and he throws it roughly two-thirds of the time. Sliders and changeups in the mid-80s round out his repertoire. Amazingly, each of Hutchison’s five starts against New York have gotten progressively better this year: six runs in 3.1 innings in April, four runs in 4.1 innings in early-June, four runs in 6.1 innings in late-June, two runs in 6.2 innings in July, and no runs in seven innings in August. I guess a no-hitter’s coming this weekend.

Oh, and yeah, Tanaka is returning to the rotation this weekend. It will either be totally awesome or the worst thing ever. Lots riding on his right elbow.

Sanchez. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Sanchez. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Because they have been losing so much recently, Gibbons had to use closer RHP Casey Janssen (4.24 FIP) and setup man RHP Aaron Sanchez (2.57 FIP) yesterday just to get them work. Janssen’s had an up and down season and he’ll be a free agent this winter. I wonder what kind of contract he’ll get. Anyway, LHP Brett Cecil (2.48 FIP) and LHP Aaron Loup (3.70 FIP) are the team’s other regular late-inning relievers.

RHP Dustin McGowan (4.92 FIP) and RHP Todd Redmond (3.44 FIP) are Toronto’s other bullpen regulars. RHP Brandon Morrow (3.83 FIP) is now working in relief after missing most of the season with a finger injury. LHP Daniel Norris, LHP Sean Nolin, and RHP Kendall Graveman are the club’s September pitching call-ups. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of the Yankees’ bullpen, then head over to Drunk Jays Fans for everything you need to know about the Blue Jays.

King: Yankees will attend Yasmany Tomas showcase this weekend

Via George King: The Yankees will be among the teams in attendance when soon-to-be free agent Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas works out for scouts in the Dominican Republic. The early front-runners to sign him are the Giants, Padres, Rangers, and Tigers, according to Peter GammonsJim Salisbury says the Phillies also have “legitimate interest.”

Tomas, 23, is billed as a right-handed power hitter with some swing-and-miss-ability and a strong right field-caliber throwing arm. Here’s some video. He has established residency in Haiti and has been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, but he’s still waiting for MLB to declare him a free agent. That should happen soon. Given his age and their need for a big right-handed bat, I hope the Yankees make a real strong push to sign him. The fit is obvious.

Still plenty left for the Yankees to do in 2014

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Although they mathematically still have a chance, the Yankees are not going to the postseason this year. They’re six games back of the second wildcard spot with three teams ahead of them and only eleven games to play, so it would take a historic comeback to make the playoffs. I don’t see this team doing anything historic other than maybe getting no-hit. There will be no October baseball for a second straight year.

The Yankees do still have those eleven games to play though, and playing meaningless baseball for nearly two weeks is not something the Yankees or their fans are familiar with. There haven’t been a lot of truly meaningless games around these parts the last two decades. The focus has shifted to 2015 now and there are a few things the Yankees can do to take advantage of these final eleven games.

Shut Down Whoever Else Is Hurt
Brett Gardner just missed a few days with an abdomen strain — he’s has been awful since returning, in case you haven’t noticed — and Mark Teixeira‘s surgically repaired wrist has flared up again. There is no reason for the Yankees to push these two and have them try to play through injury. No one gets bonus points for being macho. Martin Prado and his hamstring would have fit here as well, but his recent appendectomy took care of that. I’m sure there are other players on the roster dealing with nagging injuries (Jacoby Ellsbury‘s ankle?), so any regulars with an injury that could somehow turn into something more severe shouldn’t be playing. The only exception to this should be Masahiro Tanaka, whose partially torn elbow ligament and progressing rehab is a very unique situation.

Shut Down Dellin Betances
It goes without saying that Betances has been the biggest bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season. He went from failed starting pitcher prospect to arguably the best reliever in baseball and an important part of the Yankees going forward, regardless of what happens with David Robertson‘s free agency after the season. The team is counting on Betances to be a core piece of their relief crew going forward and for good reason. He has two out pitches in his fastball and breaking ball and I’m pretty sure standing in the box against him is terrifying.

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

That said, Betances has thrown the most innings (87.2) and the most pitches (1,328) among full-time relievers this year, and most of those innings and pitches have been high-stress. The Yankees have clearly scaled back on his workload these last few weeks — “No, no. Absolutely not. Dellin has been used a lot too, so, no,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings following Sunday’s game when asked if he considered using Betances for multiple innings — and understandably so. I know he threw 120+ innings several times in the minors, but throwing 120+ innings every fifth day as a starter is much different from throwing 80+ innings as a high-leverage reliever.

Watching Betances has been literally the most enjoyable thing about the 2014 Yankees. His near-bust prospect to elite reliever story makes him easy to root for. But he’s also worked a lot this year. Betances also has a history of arm problems, both shoulder and elbow, so shutting him down now will allow him to get nice physical and mental break heading into the offseason. The Yankees have every reason to do whatever it takes to keep Betances healthy and effective both now and in the future. With the team out of the postseason, shutting him down before his workload grows even more makes sense.

Give Bryan Mitchell Another Start(s)
Mitchell’s first career start went pretty well on Friday as he limited the Orioles to two runs on six hits and two walks in five innings while being held to an 85-ish pitch count. Considering he had not pitched in a real game in two weeks — the Yankees did have him throw a 50-pitch simulated game at some point early last week to keep him stretched out and sharp — and surely had some first career start jitters to deal with, Mitchell did a fine job.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

There is not a whole lot of evaluating that can be done by giving Mitchell another start or two; teams and scouts won’t change their opinion of him based on those short looks (barring injury), but it is an opportunity to let him get more comfortable and gain some experience. Not much, but some, and every little bit helps. The Yankees need pitching help this winter and Mitchell is likely to in the sixth/seventh starter spot heading into the next season. Giving him a few more innings to get comfortable and build confidence is a no-brainer.

Let John Ryan Murphy Start Some Games
Murphy is a good young catching prospect and, like Mitchell, the Yankees should do whatever they can to help him get comfortable and gain experience these last two weeks. Start him seven or eight times in the final eleven games, something like that. Again, 25 at-bats or so won’t (or shouldn’t) change what we think about him, but they could help send him into the offseason feeling pretty good about where he stands in the organization. That’s not nothing.

This isn’t just about Murphy, either. Brian McCann is in the first year of his five-year contract and he’s been a starting big league catcher since he was 22 years old. That’s a lot of squatting behind the plate — most of it during hot Atlanta summers — and a lot of wear and tear. The Yankees would still be able to use McCann at DH, but the goal is to get him out from behind the plate to save him physically, even just a little bit. It would also reduce the risk of a foul tip to the face mask and other incidental injuries like that. Like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with McCann, so they should do whatever they can to protect their investment now that they’re out of the postseason mix.

Start Contract Talks With Robertson & Brandon McCarthy
The five days immediately following the World Series constitute the exclusive negotiating period for free agents, though the Yankees will get an extra month to talk with their impending free agents by virtue of not playing baseball in October. Their exclusive negotiating period is really one month plus the five days, and they should take advantage by starting talks with McCarthy and Robertson (and Chase Headley?), two players they should try to retain for obvious reasons. The sooner they start serious negotiations, the better their chances of keeping them off the open market and away from a potential bidding war. There are still eleven games to be played, but the 2014-15 offseason begins now for New York.

Yankees break out for three runs, beat Rays 3-2

The Yankees scored three runs! And they won too! Games like Wednesday night’s have become way too rare for this team. Those three runs stood up thanks to the pitching staff and the Yankees were able to salvage the series finale against the Rays with a 3-2 victory.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three Runs!
In the span of two innings on Wednesday, the Yankees matched their runs total from the previous three games combined. A leadoff hit-by-pitch got the offense started in the fifth inning — it was unintentional and not a continuation of Tuesday’s silliness, Alex Cobb hit Chris Young with a breaking ball in the butt cheek — then Chase Headley and Brendan Ryan had the big blows with doubles to left-center and right field, respectively. Headley drove in Young and scored when Ryan’s double hopped over the fence for a ground-rule job.

The two runs gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead, and an inning later they managed to tack on an ultimately necessary insurance run. A single (Derek Jeter) and two walks (Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira) loaded the bases with no outs, though Young popped up in foul territory for the first out, putting the team a ground ball away from no runs. Thankfully, Brett Gardner unloaded on a 3-0 fastball and hit it to the very top of the wall in right field, only to watch Wil Myers make a tremendous leaping catch to rob him of an easy double and a possible triple. It was a truly great catch. Jeter was able to score from third on the sac fly.

Headley drew a walk to reload the bases but Ichiro Suzuki hit a tapper back to Cobb to end the threat. Considering how things have been going for this offense of late, getting one run out of a bases loaded, no outs situation kinda felt like a win. It would have been several runs if not for Myers. In all likelihood Gardner’s fly ball is a grand slam in the Bronx. It was close to leaving the yard anyway. The Yankees scored seven runs total in their last six games, so consider cobbling together three runs against Cobb a minor miracle.

Immaculate
De facto staff ace Brandon McCarthy made two bad pitches all night, basically. He left a pitch up in the zone to Evan Longoria in the fourth inning, resulting in a solo homer to dead center and the game’s first run. Then, in the sixth, McCarthy left another pitch up to David DeJesus, who hit it over Ichiro‘s head in right field for a triple. I thought Ichiro had a chance to make a play, but his leap was either ill-timed or just short. DeJesus was rounding second by time the ball bounced off the turf and high off the top of the wall.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Longoria grounded out to short to score DeJesus and bring the Rays to within 3-2. McCarthy held the Rays to those two runs on four hits and a walk in seven innings of work — his final inning was an Immaculate Inning, three strikeouts on nine pitches — while striking out four and getting 15 of his other 17 outs on the infield. I was surprised Joe Girardi lifted him after only 91 pitches (63 strikes) because it looked like he had plenty of gas left in the tank for the eighth inning, especially with the bottom of the order due up. Either way, McCarthy was pretty great on Wednesday, which has been the norm during his time in pinstripes.

Record Breaker
Girardi went to Dellin Betances for the eighth inning and, long story short, he struck out DeJesus looking to strand pinch-runner Brandon Guyer at third base. Ryan Hanigan drew a leadoff walk before Guyer stole second and moved to third on Ben Zobrist’s grounder. Betances struck out Kevin Kiermaier earlier in the inning, so he now has 132 strikeouts on the season. That breaks Mariano Rivera‘s single-season franchise record for a reliever. Mo had 130 strikeouts in 107.2 innings in 1996. Dellin has 132 strikeouts in 87.2 innings. Congrats to him.

David Robertson, who was pitching for the first time since blowing the save in his third straight day of work on Sunday, pitched around a two-out single for his 37th save of the season. He struck out Longoria, got James Loney to ground out, then struck out Nick Franklin after Myers singled through the shift. Hopefully Robertson gets to 40 saves this year. No reason in particular, it’s just a cool round number. Rivera, Rafael Soriano, John Wetteland, and Dave Righetti are the only pitchers in team history with a 40+ save season. Mo had nine, the other three guys had one each.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Jeter’s leadoff single in the sixth inning snapped his ugly 0-for-28 skid. It was a legit line drive back up the middle. He went 1-for-4 with a run scored on the night overall. Jacoby Ellsbury (single), Headley (double), and Ryan (double) had the team’s other three hits. McCann, Teixeira, and Headley had the three walks. Headley’s walk to reload the bases in the sixth was New York’s final base-runner.

According to Lee Sinins, McCarthy had the fifth Immaculate Inning in Yankees’ history. Al Downing, Ron Guidry, A.J. Burnett, and Ivan Nova have also done it. I remember Burnett doing it but not Nova. SABR says there have been fewer than 100 recorded Immaculate Innings in baseball history.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
You can find the box score and video highlights at MLB.com. FanGraphs has some additional stats and the updated standings are at ESPN. The Yankees will be either five games (Royals lose) or six games (Royals win) back of the second wildcard spot will eleven games remaining. FanGraphs has their current postseason odds at 0.2% and their elimination number is seven. It’ll be six of Kansas City wins. The Yankees did move into a tie with the Blue Jays for second place in the AL East though. Second is better than third.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are heading back to the Bronx for their final homestand of the season. The Blue Jays are coming to town for four games and will send knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to the mound in Thursday night’s opener. Shane Greene will be on the bump for the Bombers. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch any of the final eight home games of the season/Jeter’s career.