The Yankees have won the first two games against the Blue Jays this week thanks to the tried and true formula of quality pitching and timely hitting. They also did something they don’t do very often these days: they hit the ball out of the park. Brett Gardner hit a two-run homer in the first game and Brian McCann hit a two-run homer in the second game. Both were cheap Yankee Stadium shots, but hey, you can only play in the ballpark they give you.
Through their first 70 games of 2014, the Yankees have hit 57 homers as a team, putting them on pace for 132 for the season. (The 2009 Yankees had 105 homers after 70 games, for comparison.) Last year’s team had the worst Yankees’ offense in two decades and they still managed to hit 144 dingers. This season’s homer pace figures to increase now that the weather is really starting to warm up, but the fact remains that the Bronx Bombers aren’t living up to their nickname at all. They lack the ability to change the game with one swing.
“We absolutely have to hit more homers,” said Mark Teixeira to Joel Sherman earlier this week. “At this park, you have to score and we just are not scoring enough. If we don’t believe we are going to do that, we might as well pick up and go home because winning will be very hard unless at some point we drive balls and score runs.”
There are plenty of reasons why the Yankees suddenly can’t hit homers. First and foremost, they flat out have a ton of non-power hitters in the lineup on a daily basis. Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, Yangervis Solarte, and Ichiro Suzuki are not going to hit the ball out of the park with any regularity. Kelly Johnson never plays, Alfonso Soriano has no more life in his bat, and both Carlos Beltan and McCann have disappointed at the plate.
Outside of swinging a big blockbuster for Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss (or getting A-Rod‘s suspension overturned!), the only way the Yankees can improve their power output in a meaningful way is by getting McCann and Beltran to turn their seasons around. McCann had an awesome game last night and maybe that’s a sign he’s coming around. It would be nice but we’ve said this before. Between the bone spur and general ineffectiveness, Beltran’s been invisible since the last week of April. These two simply aren’t playing as expected.
There was always a kernel of truth to the “too many homers” concept, it was just expressed in the silliest way possible. There is no such thing as hitting too many homers — a homer is literally the best possible thing a hitter can do — but the Yankees did lack offensive diversity for a few years. The speed of Gardner and Ellsbury has changed that, though now the Yankees are too far on the other side of the spectrum. They rely too much on extended rallies in an age when infield shifts and specialized relievers make picking up a simple base hit harder than ever.
The Yankees play in a small ballpark in a division full of hitter friendly ballparks, and 50 of their final 92 games will be played against AL East teams. That’s the reality of their situation. They don’t need to set homerun records or anything, but they need to be able to cut a deficit or increase a lead with one swing, especially in their home ballpark. This team lacks that and it limits what the offense can do. Getting Beltran and McCann on track will help, as would replacing Soriano and adding an infielder. The Yankees play with a tiny margin of error because of this power-less offense.
Via Jim Salisbury: The Yankees have some interest in John Mayberry Jr. and had a scout at the Phillies’ recent series in Atlanta. He went 2-for-8 with two singles, three walks, and two strikeouts during the three-game set. Philadelphia has played well of late but still has the seventh worst record in baseball. Rumblings that they may finally sell and start to rebuild are growing louder and louder.
Mayberry, 30, had a huge year in 2011 (132 wRC+) that made everyone think he was the next great bench player, but then he dropped off to an 87 wRC+ from 2012-13. Mayberry is hitting .256/.363/.526 (147 wRC+) with five homers in only 91 plate appearances this season. He’s a right-handed bat who has always hit lefties (183 wRC+ in 2014 and 125 from 2011-13) and can play both corner outfield spots as well as first base. Imagine that, a real backup first baseman. Mayberry, who is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2016, would be a clear upgrade over the current version of Alfonso Soriano in my opinion. · (47) ·
Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline is exactly six weeks from today. That really doesn’t seem so far away, does it? I still feel like the season just started. This year is flying by.
Anyway, the Yankees have more than a few needs to address in the weeks leading up to the deadline, at least if they want to remain in contention. These last two wins over the Blue Jays have moved them to within 2.5 games of the Blue Jays for the AL East lead and that’s nothing at this point of the season. You can make that up in the weekend. Contention is not some far-fetched idea.
Of course, about 25 other teams have their eyes set on the postseason as well, a product of baseball’s push for league-wide mediocrity. (I recommend this Tom Verducci article on the game’s so-called parity.) More teams want to buy and fewer teams are looking to sell. The market is all demand with little supply. Despite that, Brian Cashman expects to swing a deal these next six weeks.
“Usually when everybody’s bunched together, it constrains the ability [to complete trades],” said the GM to Ken Davidoff. “We usually make moves every year, so I expect to make moves … I feel that we do have the ability to make trades if that’s a route we so choose. How we line up with other clubs, I don’t know … but I definitely have people that are wanted within the industry. But we want those guys, too. We’ll see.”
The Yankees’ needs seem to change by the week but I think they are pretty obvious at this point. They definitely need another starting pitcher, a reliable workhorse type. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda are not coming back anytime soon and, as good as he’s been, Chase Whitley does not give the team many innings. Vidal Nuno simply hasn’t been very good. Another starter feels like a must.
Cashman’s club can also use another infielder, especially now that Yangervis Solarte has come back to Earth. Adding a power bat for right field should also be considered as well. Ichiro Suzuki has done a fine job as a platoon player but Alfonso Soriano has been atrocious with no signs of snapping out of it. Carlos Beltran is locked into the DH spot, making right field the obvious non-infield spot to add a bat.
That’s the big stuff. A starter, an infielder, a right fielder. Every team could always use another reliever or a better bat for the bench, and the Yankees are no different. It’s entirely possible those three main needs are too much to address at one trade deadline and it’s entirely possible swinging deals for each of those spots still won’t be enough to put the team over the top. It would definitely put them in a better position, however.
As currently constructed, the Yankees are good but not really good enough. That’s just my opinion. They don’t have enough power to hang with their AL East brethren and the starting rotation is asking too much of the team’s core relievers. At some point Joe Girardi‘s going to have to take his foot off the Dellin Betances/Adam Warren gas. Cashman expects to make some moves before the deadline and that’s great. The sooner they make them, the better.
Make it 15 straight wins for the Yankees over the Blue Jays in Yankee Stadium. Geez. The Jays don’t just lose in the Bronx either, they lose and get hurt. Brett Lawrie left Wednesday’s game after taking a pitch to the left hand, though x-rays came back negative. Still. Injury to insult. The Yankees clinched the series win with a 7-3 victory.
In Play: Run(s)
Brian McCann has had a few big games this season. He hit two homers off John Lackey in April, had three hits including a double against the Red Sox later that month, and picked up three hits including a homer against the Mets in May. Wednesday’s game was his best as a Yankee because of the circumstances — they were playing the Blue Jays team they are chasing in the standings. Yeah, it’s only mid-June, but these head-to-head games are crucial when you’re trying to make up ground.
McCann had the team’s two biggest hits of the night. In the fourth, he swatted a go-ahead two-run homer off Mark Buehrle to cap off an excellent ten-pitch, six-foul ball at-bat. It was a cheap Yankee Stadium homer, but hey, that’s why the signed him. The Yankees brought him on board because they believed his dead pull lefty swing would result in a lot of Yankee Stadium cheapies, and that’s what they got in this game.
Later on in the seventh inning, McCann tripled (!) into the right-center field gap to clear the bases and plate three huge insurance runs. Colby Rasmus’ dive came up juuust short. McCann came into Wednesday’s game with 4,595 career plate appearances. That was his third career triple and first since 2009. Add in a walk and he reached base three times and drove in five of their seven runs.
Against what is by far the best lineup he’s faced as a big leaguer, Chase Whitley gave the Yankees a quality outing and held the Blue Jays to two runs in five innings. They worked him hard (98 pitches) as they did Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday, but Whitley held his own and limited the damage in a two-run fourth inning that could have easily spiraled out of control. Toronto had only five singles, one walk, and one hit batsman against the rookie righty. This was not an easy assignment but Whitley got the job done. Remember, we’re talking about the Yankees’ eighth starter here.
In Play: Out(s)
Joe Girardi used five pitchers on the night (including Whitley) and all five were homegrown. Adam Warren came in and retired all six men he faced in the sixth and seventh innings — the sixth inning was three strikeouts while the seventh was three grounders to second — while the lead was still one run. Once McCann broke it open, Girardi went to Jose Ramirez, who faced two batters, allowed two hits, and was yanked. Dellin Betances cleaned up the mess and retired all three men he faced.
If you want to nitpick, you could argue Girardi should have used Betances to start the eighth inning if Ramirez’s leash was going to be so short. Betances had already warmed up and Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion were due to hit. Let Betances get through them with the five-run lead, then let Ramirez face the bottom of the order in the ninth. Instead, Ramirez allowed a run on those two hits and Girardi wound up having to use David Robertson in the ninth. Robertson retired the side in order in the non-save situation. These games are pretty important and I have no issue with using Robertson there once Ramirez and Betances pitched in the eighth. Four relievers, all homegrown, held the most powerful offense in the league to one run on two hits in four innings. Well done.
The Yankees scored their two non-McCann runs when Alfonso Soriano poked a two-out single through the shift in the first inning to score Brett Gardner and pinch-hitter Ichiro Suzuki drew a bases loaded walk ahead of McCann’s triple in the seventh. So all seven runs were driven in by the catcher and right field positions.
Gardner went 4-for-5 and could have easily been 5-for-5 — the one out was a line drive snagged by Encarnacion at first. Derek Jeter doubled off the right-center field wall and Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, and Carlos Beltran also chipped in base hits. Yangervis Solarte drew a walk and Brian Roberts was the only starter who did not reach base.
For Wednesday’s HOPE Week event, the Yankees signed Quinn Ostergren (age 4), Ryan Tucker (12), and Sean Callahan (11) to one-day contracts and had them spend the day with the team. They are all battling pediatric brain cancer and going through chemotherapy. They’re with an organization called Friends of Jaclyn, which helps improve the life of pediatric brain cancer patients. Here’s the Friends of Jaclyn website, here’s more on the day, and here’s the HOPE Week video archive.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com is the place to go for the box score and video highlights. FanGraphs has some other stats and ESPN has the updated standings. The Yankees are now only 2.5 games back of the Blue Jays for first place in the AL East. There are a ton of games left, but the sooner they catch up, the better.
According to his Twitter feed, C Luis Torrens played in an Extended Spring Training game today. He has been out with a shoulder injury since mid-April. The Yankees aggressively pushed the now-18-year-old Torrens to Low-A Charleston this year and he was pretty overmatched (.154/.353/.369), so I wonder if they will opt to keep him with one of the Rookie Gulf Coast League squads in Tampa once healthy.
Triple-A Scranton (4-3 loss to Toledo in eight innings) completed early due to rain
- 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-3, 2 BB
- RF Zoilo Almonte: 0-4, 1 K — first hitless game since being sent down
- 1B Kyle Roller: 1-3, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
- 3B Zelous Wheeler: 2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K
- RHP Bruce Billings: 7 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 6/7 GB/FB — 65 of 95 pitches were strikes (68%)
Last night’s series opening win over the Blue Jays was close to textbook. Great outing from the starting pitcher, timely hitting, excellent bullpen work. That’s how every game would go in a perfect world.
Tonight’s game figures to be a little different. Toronto is starting their de facto ace in Mark Buehrle while the Yankees are running out a rookie starter in Chase Whitley who will face (by far) his biggest test as a big leaguer. These Blue Jays can hit, man. Don’t let last night fool you. Here is the Blue Jays lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- RF Alfonso Soriano
- DH Carlos Beltran
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
- 2B Brian Roberts
RHP Chase Whitley
It is pretty hot and slightly cloudy in New York this evening. There is no rain in the forecast. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.
Injury Updates: As expected, CC Sabathia (knee) threw his second bullpen session this afternoon. He threw another 25 pitches. Sabathia will throw again on Sunday and will stretch it out a bit, likely to 30-35 pitches or so.
According to Ben Badler (subs. req’d), the Yankees are projected to sign three of the top five and four of the top ten international prospects once the signing period opens on July 2nd. Those prospects are Dominican SS Dermis Garcia (ranked 2nd), Dominican 3B Nelson Gomez (3rd), Dominican OF Juan De Leon (5th), and Venezuelan OF Jonathan Amundaray (10th).
We first heard the Yankees connected to those players (as well as several others) a few weeks ago. The team reportedly has agreements already in place with Garcia ($3.6M) and Gomez ($2.8M). In another piece (subs. req’d), Balder quotes several scouts who believe De Leon can become a true impact player down the line. “When it’s all said and done, he might be the best of all these guys,” said one scout. “He’s got five-tool potential with three of those tools (power, speed, defense) potentially plus.”
The Yankees were allotted only $2.2M for international free agency this summer, but they are going to blow right past that with their reported agreements. Reports of a international spending spree worth upwards of $30M (bonuses plus penalties) have been going around since the winter. The Yankees took higher probability pitchers in the draft two weeks ago, and it appears they’re going to balance things out with several high-upside international position players next month. · (81) ·
The Yankees welcomed Francisco Cervelli back a two-month stint on the disabled list yesterday, so all of their position players are now healthy. Three-fifths of the rotation remain out, and Ivan Nova isn’t coming back this year following Tommy John surgery. Here are updates on the other two injured starters courtesy of Meredith Marakovits and Brian Heyman:
- CC Sabathia (knee) threw a 25-pitch bullpen session on Monday, fastballs and changeups only. No sliders. He said he felt fine and will throw another bullpen session today. “We’ll just continue to increase the amount of pitches and the pitches that he throws. If he gets through (today), then he’ll probably throw another bullpen and we’ll increase the number there. And then if he gets through that, eventually you start to see hitters and BP and then you get the game,” said Joe Girardi, who said they have to build Sabathia back up like he just arrived to Spring Training. (It’s common for pitchers to hold off on throwing breaking balls early in camp so they can build up arm strength.)
- Michael Pineda (shoulder) is scheduled to play catch on Saturday. It’ll be his first time throwing since suffering a setback at the end of last month. Like Sabathia, Pineda is basically at the start of his Spring Training routine. Expect the Yankees to be very careful with him during the rehab process given the nature of the injury and the fact that he’s already had one setback.
The Yankees have signed fourth round pick LHP Jordan Montgomery, according to Jim Callis. The southpaw from South Carolina received the full $424,000 slot bonus for the 122nd overall pick. Montgomery is a classic pitchability lefty who complements his low-90s fastball with a curveball, a cutter, and a very good changeup. He is cut from the David Phelps/Adam Warren cloth and should carve up the low minors after three years in an SEC rotation.
In other news, the Yankees announced the signing of sixth round pick RHP Jonathan Holder. MLB.com says he received a $170,000 bonus, below the $237,600 slot value for the 182nd overall pick. Holder, who was second round pick LHP Jacob Lindgren’s teammate at Mississippi State, is a pure reliever with a low-90s fastball and big breaking curveball in the low-70s. Lots of separation between his two pitches. Like Montgomery, he’s an SEC tested guy who should climb to Double-A fairly quickly, likely in the middle of next season.
You can see all of the team’s draft picks at Baseball America and keep tabs on the draft pool situation with our 2014 Draft Pool Tracker. The Yankees’ only unsigned picks in the top ten rounds are Texas OF Mark Payton (7th round), UC Irvine 1B Connor Spencer (8th), and Vanderbilt SS Vince Conde (8th). All three are still playing in the College World Series and can’t sign just yet. They also figure to receive a below-slot bonuses and it appears the Yankees will some extra pool money left over for an above-slot payout for a player(s) taken after the tenth round. · (29) ·
“Overall, I think my stuff wasn’t really there tonight.”
That’s what Masahiro Tanaka told Brian Heyman following last night’s start. A start in which he held the most powerful offense in the league to one run in six innings while striking out ten in the Yankees’ biggest game of the season to date. His stuff “wasn’t really there.”
That’s not the first time Tanaka has been hard on himself following an excellent start — he called the beginning of his first MLB season “okay” a few weeks ago — and it won’t be the last. That’s just who he is. We heard all about Tanaka’s off the charts competitiveness when the Yankees signed him and we’ve seen it firsthand for 14 starts now.
And my gosh, what a collection of 14 starts they’ve been. Tanaka leads the league with a 1.99 ERA and his 2.70 FIP is the sixth best. His 7.06 K/BB ratio would be the fourth best in AL history among qualified starters. Two of the three spots ahead of him are 1999 and 2000 Pedro Martinez, arguably the two greatest pitching seasons in the history of the universe. His 24.5 K-BB% would be the 17th best in history.
By any measure, Tanaka has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this year. Not one of the best rookie pitchers. Not one of the best AL pitchers. Not one of the best Japanese-born pitchers. One of the best pitchers in all of baseball, period. No qualifiers. When friend of RAB Drew Fairservice ranked the best starters in the league recently, he ranked Tanaka first, ahead of the usual suspects. That’s coming from a Blue Jays fan.
The performance has unquestionably put Tanaka among the game’s elite. It’s everything else that puts him over the top. The fact that he’s doing it in a tiny home ballpark. That’s he’s doing it while pitching on a five-day schedule for the first time in his life. That he’s doing it while transitioning to a new league with a tougher travel schedule. And, most impressively, that he’s doing it in a new city with an entirely new culture. Oh, and he has all the pressure of pitching for the New York frickin’ Yankees on his shoulders.
The Yankees paid a handsome price for Tanaka and the contract was heavily criticized because he had never thrown a pitch in MLB. How many times did we hear that? “He’s never thrown a pitch in MLB!” More times than I care to count. Well, now Tanaka has thrown a pitch in MLB. Over 1,400 of them in fact. And at this point he is exceeding even the biggest expectations and hitting on best case scenario stuff. I don’t know how anyone could have possibly predicted he would be this good, this soon.
Tanaka has emerged as not only the team’s ace, but as a rock in the rotation, a stabilizing force that sets everything right every fifth. He has been one of the best pitchers in the game in terms of pure performance, and when you add in all the cultural adjustments he’s had to make, no pitcher has been more impressive. It would have been totally understandable if Tanaka had an inconsistent, up and down rookie year. Most Japanese imports do. He hasn’t though. Instead it looks like he’s been here for years.
The Yankees did years and years worth of homework and they landed themselves a gem in Tanaka. He’s already an elite pitcher and at only 25 years old (!!!), he is a true franchise player the team can build around going forward. Tanaka is their present day ace and will be the cornerstone of the post-Derek Jeter Yankees.