Game 107: Gray Day

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees will (finally) get a look at their newest starting pitcher tonight. Sonny Gray is making his Yankees debut in tonight’s series opener against the Indians, and unless he can drive in a runner from third base with no outs, he’s going to have pitch pretty darn well to have a shot to win given the way the offense is going right now. I’m sure Gray is feeling some jitters. I’m excited.

Also, we can’t forget this series is something of a homecoming for Clint Frazier. The Indians made him the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft and he never did get a chance to play in Cleveland thanks to last year’s trade. This will be his first game against the club that drafted him. I’m sure he’s looking forward to it. That natural “I’ll show you what you’re missing out on” feeling comes into play. Here is the Indians’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Clint Frazier
  3. SS Didi Gregorius
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  6. 1B Chase Headley
  7. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. 2B Tyler Wade
    RHP Sonny Gray

Not the best baseball weather in Cleveland tonight. It rained pretty much all afternoon, though it’s supposed to stop basically right now, so once they get the field in order, they’ll be good to go. It won’t rain again until the early morning hours tomorrow. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 7:10pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

8-3 to 8-6 Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Yankees’ RISP-fail-filled series with Detroit is over and so ends a 6-3 homestand. Now they’ll face the defending American League champion Indians, who lead the AL Central and seem poised to repeat with the division crown. They’re coming off two losses to the Red Sox and a Wednesday rainout, which will be made up later this month.

The Last Time They Met

This is their first meeting this season, so their last meeting came around this time last year, when the Yankees took 2 of 3 at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 5-7. With the series win, the Bombers moved above .500 and stayed there for the rest of the season. It’s when we first saw them reach that second gear post-trade deadline.

  • A few hours prior to the series opener Mark Teixeira announced he would retire following the season. Then, a few hours prior to the series finale, the Yankees announced Alex Rodriguez would be released the following week.
  • In the opener, the Yankees broke out for 13 runs against Josh Tomlin and co. Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks hit home runs while Gary Sanchez got the first two RBI of his career, one on his first double and one on a walk. He also gunned down two baserunners.
  •  Corey Kluber held the Yanks to two runs (one earned) in eight innings and Andrew Miller picked up the save a week after the Yankees traded him.
  • In the finale, Masahiro Tanaka threw six innings of one-run ball while Dellin Betances picked up a four-out save in a 3-2 win. Didi Gregorius had a solo homer and Teixeira doubled in a run to give the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.

For more information, check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

Second baseman Jason Kipnis (hamstring) is currently rehabbing in Double A and is expected to return during this series. Former Yankees Andrew Miller (patella tendinitis, 10-day DL) and Boone Logan (strained left lat, 60-day DL) are both out for this series. Tomlin (hamstring) is also out.

OF Lonnie Chisenhall is on the disabled list and has yet to make a rehab appearance.

Their Story So Far

The Indians are 57-48 with a +95 run differential and they are 1.5 games up on the Royals. They were tepid buyers at the trade deadline, acquiring Blue Jays reliever Joe Smith while passing on bigger names like Yu Darvish and Zach Britton.

This is an all-around good team with very few holes. They’re fifth in wRC+, fourth in BB%, second in K%, and fifth in OPS. They control the strike zone very well. Their pitching staff has the second highest WAR in baseball behind the Dodgers and are best in K-BB%. The Indians’ bullpen is still one of the best in baseball despite Miller’s absence for the time being and should be a menace again come October.

Lineup We Might See

As with his unconventional bullpen maneuverings, manager Terry Francona tends to mix up the lineup depending on matchup. SS Francisco Lindor (109 wRC+), 2B/3B Jose Ramirez (146 wRC+), DH Edwin Encarnacion (126 wRC+), 1B Carlos Santana (109 wRC+) and CF Bradley Zimmer (114 wRC+) are the top players you’ll likely see regardless of matchup. LF Michael Brantley (111 wRC+) is a top AL Comeback Player of the Year candidate.

Here’s what their lineup tends to look like vs. RHPs without Kipnis (and here’s an example vs. LHPs)

  1. CF Bradley Zimmer
  2. SS Francisco Lindor
  3. LF Michael Brantley
  4. DH Edwin Encarnacion
  5. 3B Jose Ramirez
  6. 1B Carlos Santana
  7. RF Austin Jackson
  8. C Yan Gomes
  9. 2B Erik Gonzalez

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray(!) vs. RHP Corey Kluber
While fans will be tuned in to see Gray don the road greys for the first time, they’ll also see the 2014 AL Cy Young winner. Kluber has been his dominant self, flashing his phenomenal two-seam sinker, slider and cutter with devastating results. The movement on his fastballs and slidee=rs are unreal. He’s struck out at least 10 in nine of his last 11 starts and has K’d 38 in his last three games alone.

He pitches deep into games (6.74 innings per start) and has few, if any, weaknesses. He’s given up four homers over his last three starts, but he typically keeps the ball on the ground when he isn’t striking batters out.

Last Outing (at CHW on Jul. 29) – 6.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 12 K

Friday (7:10 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Trevor Bauer
Bauer was supposed to start on Wednesday against Boston before the rainout, so he’ll take on the other new Yankee Friday evening. The 26-year-old righty is a fastball-curveball guy, mixing in a few other pitches but sticking to that combo when things get rough. His fastball sits in the mid-90s while his curveball averages 79 mph. He tends to be hurt by his lack of control and a few too many homers, which plays into his 5.25 ERA.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on Jul. 27) – 8.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Saturday (7:10 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. TBD
Friday’s starter was initially supposed to be Danny Salazar while Saturday was scheduled to be Mike Clevinger. Salazar, a RHP, was dominant in two starts since returning from the DL two weeks ago, allowing just four hits and two runs over 13 innings while striking out 16.

Following his career path, he’s given up a tad too many homers and can struggle with walks, but he makes up for it with a lot of strikeouts. Throws mid-90s heat with his four-seamer and sinker while playing off of it with his changeup.

Sunday (1:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. TBD
Assuming Salazar goes Saturday, Sunday will either be Clevinger or RHP Carlos Carrasco. If you want to oversimplify things, both are four-pitch starters with mid-to-high 3.00 ERAs that strikeout more than a batter an inning. Carrasco has much more of a track record, pitching to an ERA of 3.89 or below for at least 125 innings every season since 2014.

The Bullpen

The Indians will miss Miller this series, but they still have an efficient group waiting in the wings. They are tied with the fewest meltdowns in baseball this year (38), are fifth in Win Probability Added, third in K-BB% and are second only to the Dodgers in ERA.

Francona will mix up roles, but Cody Allen is the closer while Shaw will likely be his primary set-up man with Miller out. Nick Goody, Dan Otero and Joe Smith are all solid middle relievers, as is Zach McAllister, who often pitches more than one inning. Tyler Olson is the lone lefty and can pitch multiple innings while Adam Plutko has two MLB games to his name, both in 2016.

Yankees Connection

This may be the team with the most Yankees connections.

Olson threw all of one game last year in pinstripes. Goody made 34 appearances in pinstripes before he was dealt for a PTBNL this winter. McAllister and Jackson are both former Yankees prospects that they dealt to the AL Central.

And that’s just the active roster. Miller is the obvious one (Be honest: We all wanted to see Miller vs. Clint Frazier for #WhoWonTheTrade purposes). Logan is on the 60-day DL and in order to place him on the 60-day, the team claimed … Diego Moreno, the Yankee reliever they received from Pittsburgh for A.J. Burnett.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

The initial pitching matchup is dang near perfect. Gray vs. Kluber is the best way to test out Sonny in his Yankee debut. Garcia gets going a day later. At some point this weekend, Salazar and maybe Carrasco will take the hill, so it will be quite the challenge for the Bombers.

And this could be a preview of October. With the Astros way ahead of everyone, it’s likely the AL Central and AL East champs will face in the ALDS, so there’s a non-zero chance of Yankees-Indians this fall. Games like this could be key to determining home field for that series, or if either team even makes it there.

As a side note, I’m personally excited to see Zimmer play. While he tends to strikeout a fair amount, he does basically everything else well. In another year without Aaron Judge, he’d be a Rookie of the Year candidate.

Yankeemetrics: Rain halts streaking Bombers (July 31-Aug. 2)

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Baby Bombers shine bright
Buoyed by a wave of optimism following the deadline-day trade for Sonny Gray, the Yankees extended their recent hot streak with a series-opening win over the Tigers on Monday night.

Luis Severino didn’t have his best stuff but still gutted through five tough innings and threw a career-high 116 pitches. He struck out eight while allowing only one run, despite putting multiple runners on base in three of his five frames.

He found himself in so many deep counts thanks to a career-high-tying 29 foul balls and the fact that he fell behind early and often, starting only 8-of-24 (33.3 percent) Rays he faced with a strike. That’s the lowest first-pitch strike rate for any Yankee pitcher that saw at least 20 batters since Ivan Nova (31.3 percent) on July 22, 2013 against the Rangers.

Despite his inefficient outing, Severino was able to limit the damage and notched his 10th game this season with at least six strikeouts and one run or fewer allowed.

Through Monday, that led all American League pitchers and was tied with Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw for the most such starts in the majors this year. Digging through the Yankee record books, the only pitcher to have more than 10 of those starts in a season is Ron Guidry, who had 13 in his Cy Young-winning 1978 campaign.

Aaron Judge provided the power in this win, smacking a 400-foot home run in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead. It was his 34th homer and 75th RBI of the season — and when combined with his league-leading 76 walks — he joined Al Rosen (1950) as the only players in major-league history to reach each of those totals in his rookie year … and there’s still two months left in the season.

Clint Frazier was the other Baby Bomber that had a starring role, as he continued his extra-base binge with an RBI triple in the seventh inning. That gave him three triples, six doubles and four home runs for the season – a nearly unprecedented combination of hustle, power and hitting ability for a guy that is one month into his big-league career.

Ding, ding … we have our Obscure (yet cool) Yankeemetric of the Series: The only other Yankee to compile at least three homers, three triples and three doubles before playing in his 25th game was Joe DiMaggio in 1936.

(AP)
(AP)

So close, yet so far away
What if I told you … the Yankees would dig themselves into an early hole after their starting pitcher suffered a bout of gopheritis, then stage a furious late-game rally fueled by their own dinger-happy players, but fall just short and lose by a run. Sounds familiar, eh?

Well, that was the game story again on Tuesday night as the Yankees fell to 11-20 in one-run games, the worst mark in the American League. The only team with a worse record in the majors is the Phillies, who are also the only team with more one-run losses than the Yankees through Tuesday.

It is the first time since 1990 (ugh) that they’ve had at least 20 one-run losses in their first 105 games of the season. While they aren’t on pace to break the franchise record of 38 one-run losses – which was set by the 1966 team – their current winning percentage of .355 in one-run games would be the second-worst in franchise history, ahead of only that 1966 club (.283).

CC Sabathia was hammered in the first three innings for four runs on four hits, including two homers, but then settled down and held the Tigers scoreless in his final three frames. His early-inning struggles are nothing new, he has a 4.70 ERA in the first three innings, nearly two runs higher than his ERA for the rest of the game (2.76).

Clint Frazier had a chance to earn his second True Yankee Moment when he came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two runners on base but popped up for the final out in the 4-3 loss. He had his first 0-for-5 game, and shockingly, failed to come through in the clutch.

He went hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position, including that ninth inning letdown, which was a stunning reversal from his performance in those situations prior to this game. Frazier was 8-for-20 (.400) with RISP, and 5-for-9 (.556) with the go-ahead runner on base in his brief big-league career before Tuesday.

(AP)
(AP)

Nothing sunny about this loss
A rain storm in the Bronx wiped away the Yankees latest burst of momentum, as they were shut out 2-0 in the series finale, snapping their three-series win streak. With four-plus hours of delays and countless failed at-bats in key scoring situations, this was one of the most infuriating games of the season.

Adding to the frustration meter was the fact that Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann began the day with a 5.69 ERA, the second-highest in the majors among qualified pitchers. Of course, Zimmermann dominating the Yankees shouldn’t have been surprising. After throwing seven scoreless innings on Wednesday, he lowered his ERA in four career starts against them to 1.33, the third-best mark by any pitcher that has started more than three games versus the Yankees. The only guys ahead of him on that list are Jorge De La Rosa (0.77!) and Chris Sale (1.17).

Making this loss even worse is this sobering note: it was the first time the Yankees were shut out in a regular-season game at home by the Tigers since the second game of a doubleheader on August 10, 1991. In that span of more than 25 years between regular-season shutouts, the two teams matched up in the Bronx 113 times.

Or how about the fact that they had more hits than the Tigers and still lost the game? Alas, this is a recurring nightmare with your 2017 New York Yankees. It was their 14th loss this season when out-hitting their opponent, the fourth-most such losses in MLB.

Actually, this might be the ultimate gut-punch stat: It’s not surprising that the Yankees would struggle against a mediocre team such as the Tigers. They are now 30-31 against teams with a losing record (23rd-best in MLB), and 27-18 versus teams with a .500 record or better (3rd-best in MLB).

The lone statistical highlight for the Yankees was Dellin Betances tossing an “Immaculate Inning” (nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts) in the eighth. Behold, the beauty of strikeout perfection:

chart-12

He is the sixth pitcher in franchise history to strike out the side on nine pitches, joining Brandon McCarthy (2014), Ivan Nova (2013), A.J. Burnett (2009), Ron Guidry (1984) and Al Downing (1967). Betances’ feat might actually be the craziest stat from this game: remember, he owns the highest walk rate among all major-league pitchers that have thrown at least 30 innings this season.

Sonny Gray and the move from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium

(@Yankees)
(@Yankees)

Later tonight right-hander Sonny Gray will make his first start with the Yankees after coming over from the Athletics prior to Monday’s trade deadline. He’ll face the same Indians team he held scoreless over six innings just three weeks ago. I’m sure Gray will feel some “first start with his new team” butterflies and all that, but one start is just one start. As long there are (many) more good starts than bad starts, the Yankees will be happy.

Gray is making the move from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium, which is going from one extreme on the ballpark spectrum to the other. Oakland Coliseum is pitcher friendly thanks to the spacious outfield, the tall outfield walls, and all that foul territory. Yankee Stadium is pretty much the exact opposite. Short porch, not much foul territory, so on and so forth. Gray’s moving from a big time pitcher’s park to a big time hitter’s park.

So far Gray has made just one career start at Yankee Stadium, back in 2015 when the held the Yankees to three runs in seven innings. If you’re using that to forecast how Gray will perform going forward, stop. It’s meaningless. It’s one start. One start against a lineup …

sonny-gray-lineup

… Gray will never face again. That one start tells us nothing useful. There’s not a pitcher alive who wouldn’t see their numbers get worse moving from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium. They are very different ballparks and very different run-scoring environments. You have to adjust your expectations accordingly knowing how hitter friendly Yankee Stadium can be.

Now, that all said, there are reasons to believe Gray is built to succeed in Yankee Stadium. First and foremost, Gray is a ground ball pitcher, and the next ground ball I see hit over the short porch will be the first. Among the 99 pitchers who have thrown at least 90 innings this year, Grays ranks seventh with a 56.7% ground ball rate. Since the start of the 2014 season, he’s fifth with a 54.6% ground ball rate. Ground balls are good.

Get that many ground balls over that long a period of time and it’s not a fluke. What makes Gray’s consistently above-average ground ball rate impressive is that he doesn’t do it with one pitch. Many great ground ball pitchers have that heavy sinker they use to pound the bottom of the zone. Gray gets ground balls with multiple pitches. Here are his 2017 numbers:

  • Four-Seam Fastball: 63.3% grounders (37.8% league average)
  • Two-Seam Fastball: 62.1% grounders (51.5% league average)
  • Slider: 51.4% grounders (44.8% league average)
  • Changeup: 45.5% grounders (49.5% league average)
  • Curveball: 32.1% grounders (47.7% league average)

The two fastballs and the slider have been comfortably above-average ground ball pitches. The changeup, his least used offering (6.5% in 2017), is a tick below-average. The curveball has been well-below-average at getting ground balls this season, though that’s an outlier. Gray’s curveball had a 46.5% ground ball rate last year. It was 52.3% the year before that and 53.5% the year before that.

Even if Gray’s curveball is permanently broken as a ground ball pitch — batters have put his curveball in play only 25 times this season, so I’m betting it’s sample size noise — he still takes three above-average ground ball pitches to the mound on any given day, plus a fourth that is average-ish. He’s not someone who, when he needs a ground ball, has to throw his two-seamer. Or has to throw his slider. He has more than one option.

Secondly, Gray is really good against left-handed batters. A righty who can’t keep lefties in check is going to have a really hard time in the Bronx. His numbers against lefties:

BF AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9 Hard%
2014 489 .219/.300/.339 .289 20.7% 9.6% 58.0% 0.76 25.2%
2015 425 .208/.275/.303 .260 21.9% 8.0% 56.3% 0.68 26.7%
2016 256 .280/.329/.427 .325 19.1% 6.3% 51.6% 0.91 28.6%
2017 191 .220/.277/.335 .269 23.0% 7.3% 57.4% 0.58 26.3%

Gray was injured and bad all around last season, against both righties and lefties. When healthy from 2014-15 and in 2017, he’s been very good against left-handed batters, especially at keeping the ball on the ground and limiting hard contact. (The MLB average is a 32.1% hard contact rate.) Preventing lefties from getting the ball airborne is imperative in Yankee Stadium.

As you’d expect, Gray uses his slider more against righties and his changeup more against lefties, otherwise his fastball and curveball usage is the same against all hitters. That curveball is the difference-maker. It’s a high-quality pitch Gray can throw for strikes or bury in the dirt for swings and misses, and he throws it at any time. Many starters are fastball-breaking ball against same-side hitters and fastball-changeup against guys on the other side of the plate. Gray is fastball-cuveball-slider against righties and fastball-curveball-changeup against lefties.

Another reason Gray won’t suffer too much from the move from the Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium? He doesn’t rely on pop-ups. There’s sooo much foul territory in Oakland. Balls that land behind the dugouts in many ballparks are caught for outs at the Coliseum. Those cheap outs have allowed dudes like Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez to function as viable starters for the A’s, but nowhere else. Here is Gray’s pop-up spray chart overlaid on Yankee Stadium, via Baseball Savant:

sonny-gray-pop-ups

That covers 2014-17, so that’s 641 innings worth of pop-ups there. You can count on one hand the number that were outs at Oakland Coliseum but would have been in the seats elsewhere. Will Gray lose some easy foul pop-up outs given the smaller foul territory at Yankee Stadium? Of course. But he wasn’t relying on them for success anyway. He’s a ground ball/strikeout guy. Not a pop-up guy.

One last thing to keep in mind — and this is not ballpark specific — is the Yankees are a substantially better defensive team than the Athletics. Remember how much the A’s kicked the ball around during the two series with the Yankees? The A’s might be the worst defensive team in baseball this season.

A’s DRS: -50 (30th among all MLB teams)
A’s UZR: -42.0 (30th)
A’s Defensive Efficiency: 0.706 (14th)

Yankees DRS: -5 (16th)
Yankees UZR: +4.9 (11th)
Yankees Defensive Efficiency: 0.711 (6th)

Gray’s ability to get ground balls with multiple pitches and use those pitches to neutralize left-handed batters are why it appears he is well-suited for Yankee Stadium despite being a short (5-foot-10) right-handed pitcher. He’s very unique in that regard. Not many pitchers that size can get ground balls. That the Yankees are a far superior defensive team to the A’s is icing on the cake. More of those grounders will be turned into outs.

As far as pitching well in New York and the AL East, I’m not concerned about Gray at all. He has a lot of weapons and he’s extremely competitive. The only concern I have with Gray is his health. As long as his arm stays in one piece, I think he’s going to be very effective for the Yankees, and I don’t think it’ll take long for him to become a fan favorite. Moving from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium will hurt his performance because it would hurt anyone’s performance. Gray has the tools to minimize the ballpark related damage, however.

DotF: Hicks begins rehab assignment in Scranton’s loss

Two quick injury notes:

  • C Kyle Higashioka (back) is doing better, Triple-A Scranton Al Pedrique told Conor Foley. He’s taking swings and all that. The sooner he comes back, the better. Catching depth is important.
  • 1B Tyler Austin (hamstring) did not play his first minor league rehab game with the RailRiders tonight for whatever reason. D.J. Eberle says Austin will play five innings at first base tomorrow. Maybe there was some miscommunication or something.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 loss to Buffalo)

  • RF Jake Cave: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K — hitting streak is up to 17 games
  • CF Aaron Hicks: 1-3 — played five innings as scheduled … here’s video of the single … he’s going to play the full game at DH tomorrow
  • CF Mason Williams: 0-1, 1 K
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-4 — his hitting streak is up to 16 games
  • 1B Garrett Cooper: 0-4, 1 K
  • LF Billy McKinney: 1-4, 2 K
  • DH Ji-Man Choi: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 11 K, 2 WP, 9/2 GB/FB — 64 of 105 pitches were strikes (61%) … 2.73 ERA with 36/6 K/BB in his last five starts and 33 innings down here … I wish the Yankees had given those two starts to Mitchell rather than LHP Caleb Smith, but what can you do?

[Read more…]

Lots of rain, lack of offense send Yankees to 2-0 loss to Tigers

As everyone expected, the Yankees knocked around the very good at baseball Michael Fulmer and got shut down by the no longer good at baseball Anibal Sanchez and Jordan Zimmermann this series. The offense no-showed — this was Zimmermann’s first scoreless start since April 20th of last season — and the Yankees lost Wednesday’s soggy series finale 2-0. They still managed to go 6-3 on the nine-game homestand. I’ll take it.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Amazing Disappearing Offense
Like I said, I really wish the Yankees had added another bat at the trade deadline. Yes, the guys in the middle of the lineup (Aaron Judge, specifically) need to be better, but Matt Holliday hasn’t squared up anything other than Anibal Sanchez cement mixer in weeks, and Todd Frazier doesn’t move the needle at all. There should be first base and designated hitter at-bats available. I figured it would take two weeks after the deadline for this to become obvious. It took two days.

Anyway, Zimmermann came into this start with a 5.69 ERA (5.49 FIP) on the season, so of course he tossed seven scoreless innings. It probably would have been eight scoreless had the skies not opened up and forced a three hour and eleven minute rain delay after the seventh inning. The Yankees had chances against Zimmermann. Really great chances. Let’s check in on their ability to get the runner in from third with less than two outs:

jurassic-park

Second and third with two outs in the second? Frazier popped up. Runners on the corners with one out in the third? Judge struck out and Gary Sanchez grounded out. Runner at first with no outs in the fourth? The next three batters (Holliday, Chase Headley, Frazier) struck out looking. Second and third with no outs in the sixth? Gregorius popped up, Holliday popped up, Headley struck out. Runner at second with no outs in the eighth? Judge struck out, Sanchez grounded out, Gregorius struck out. You’d think someone would get a sac fly by accident at some point, but no.

Sadly, this is not isolated to this game. It’s been happening for a few days now. The Yankees failed to get a runner home from third with no outs in Tuesday night’s game. Same thing on Sunday. (Or was it Saturday? I forget.) Remember the first game of the Rays series? The Yankees were about to strand Brett Gardner at third following his leadoff triple in the ninth. It took the Adeiny Hechavarria-Tim Beckham miscommunication for them to score that inning. Brutal.

One of the final 13 batters the Yankees sent to the plate reached base, and that was a Jacoby Ellsbury infield single. They went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position overall. This’ll pass. It always does. The Yankees and every other team go though a brutal RISPFAIL stretch like this every season, but that doesn’t make this any less annoying. I really hope they go get a bat though. Can’t bank on a Judge rebound and the guys on the disabled list getting healthy to fix everything. Wait for Holliday to turn it around and you might be waiting the rest of the season.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Six Solid From Tanaka
You’re not going to believe this, but that six-start sample of Masahiro Tanaka pitching poorly in day games (14.81 ERA in 20.2 innings) was not predictive. Crazy, I know. Tanaka pitched well again Wednesday afternoon, holding the Tigers to two runs (one earned) on six hits and one walk in six innings. He now has a 3.25 ERA (3.12 FIP) in his last ten starts and 63.2 innings. That’ll work.

Funny enough, Tanaka’s afternoon started with three straight hits. On the first five pitches too. Ian Kinsler jumped on the first pitch for a line drive single to right, Jim Adduci got a ground ball through the left side on the third pitch, and Justin Upton yanked a ball inside the third base bag on the fifth pitch. Upton’s double drove in Kinsler and set the Tigers up with runners on second and third with no outs.

Given the way the Yankees have been swinging the bats, that felt like the game right there. In the first inning. A hit might have been too much to overcome. Tanaka buckled down and managed to strand both runners. He struck out Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos, then got Victor Martinez to fly out to center. See? The Yankees aren’t the only team that can’t get a runner in from third with no outs. /sobs

The second run flat out should not have happened. Mikie Mahtook drew a two-out walk, then James McCann dunked a little single into center field. What should have happened: Mahtook goes first-to-third and McCann stops at first with two outs. Instead this happened:

Sure, why not. Mahtook scored all the way from first on a soft little single to center field thanks to that bobble. Who knows, maybe Tanaka gives up a three-run bomb to the next batter had Ellsbury fielded the ball cleanly and prevented Mahtook from scoring. That’s possible. But man, such sloppy play. Especially from Ellsbury who at this point is a defense-first player. At least Tanaka continued his recent steadiness. More of that, please.

Leftovers
Immaculate Inning for Dellin Betances! He pitched following that long rain delay and struck out the side on nine pitches in the eighth. He’s the sixth Yankee to throw an Immaculate Inning. The last to do it? Brandon McCarthy. Never would’ve guessed. Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett, Ron Guidry, and Al Downing are the other Yankees to do it. Pretty neat. He added another strikeout in a scoreless ninth.

Two hits for Ellsbury and one each for Gardner, Judge, Sanchez, Gregorius, and Headley. The definition of seven scattered hits. The 6-7-8-9 hitters went a combined 1-for-15 with eight strikeouts. The Yankees need another bat. You might have heard me say that once or twice before.

And finally, Gardner went 1-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 14 games. That’s the longest of his career and the longest active hitting streak in baseball.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to ESPN. MLB.com has the video highlights and we have a Bullpen Workload page. Here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The homestand is over and the Yankees are now heading out on an eight-day, seven-game road trip through Cleveland and Toronto. Sonny Gray is making his Yankees debut in Thursday night’s series opener against the Indians. That’ll be fun. He’ll be opposed by Corey Kluber. That won’t be fun.

Rehab progress means Greg Bird has a chance to be a factor in September

(Presswire)

For all intents and purposes, this is a second straight lost season for Greg Bird. He missed the entire 2016 season following shoulder surgery — he was able to squeeze in an Arizona Fall League stint — and this year he’s been sidelined since early May with ongoing ankle issues. Since the end of the 2015 season, Bird has only 263 plate appearances to his credit, and that includes Spring Training.

At this point the hope is Bird can return from ankle surgery at some point this year and maybe give the Yankees a nice shot in the arm down the stretch. The Yankees won’t push him too hard after the way things have gone this season, though it’s starting to look more and more likely Bird will return this year. He’s already started hitting just two weeks out from surgery. From Dan Martin:

“I played catch for the first time (Monday) and hit for the first time (Tuesday),” said Bird. “It felt great. I already feel the difference in a lot of things that I’ve done since the surgery and that makes me believe I could be back soon — especially with the stitches out and the (incision) is good … The discomfort is gone. Now it’s about getting ready to play again, getting in the weight room and on the field. I have to get used to it — and get used to not having the ankle in the back of my mind.”

Brian Cashman of course downplayed Bird’s chances of returning by the end of this month — “It’s hard to predict with this kind of injury because it’s unusual. But he’s progressing,” said the general manager to Martin — because that’s what Brian Cashman does. This isn’t the first time Bird has started working his way back this year, remember. He was on a rehab assignment for a few weeks in June before being shut down again.

The Yankees went out and acquired Todd Frazier essentially for first base depth even though he’s playing third, and I’m glad they did because I didn’t want the Yankees to be in a position where they were counting on Bird coming back. Anything he gives them this year is gravy as far as I’m concerned. In fact, as I said the other day, I’d like to see the Yankees bring in another bat. I don’t expect it to happen, but I’d like to see it.

So perhaps Bird can be that bat, even if he doesn’t return until sometime after rosters expand on September 1st. He’s had a very long layoff and needs to get his timing down, so his minor league rehab stint could run the full 20 days, but the fact Bird is already hitting and doing baseball stuff suggests his season is not over. The top priority here is next season and getting Bird ready for 2018. But, if he can make it back in September, the Yankees will be that much better.