Mailbag: Chapman, Gray, Tanaka, Gardner, Holliday, Keller

Got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us all your mailbag questions throughout the week.

Chapman. (Presswire)
Chapman. (Presswire)

Dan asks: If the season ended today, would you include Chapman on the postseason roster? Especially considering the idea that his last postseason is causing him to be so bad this season.

Yes, definitely. Aroldis Chapman would be on my postseason roster. Assuming the Yankees make it to the ALDS — a pretty big assumption, of course — and go with an eleven-man pitching staff, here would be my eleven pitchers:

The Yankees would essentially be taking two of Chapman, Montgomery, Jaime Garcia, and Chasen Shreve in that scenario. Give me Chapman and Montgomery. No, Chapman has not been all that good this year, but at least he offers you a chance at dominance. The other guys don’t, really. I’m not saying I’d bring Aroldis into a tight one-run playoff game or anything like that, but as the fourth or fifth guy on my bullpen depth chart? Give me him over the other guys, no question.

Dan asks: Is it possible that as Chapman has gotten older, he is just losing some of his arm strength, and he is sacrificing command of his pitches to keep his fastball up in the triple digits? At this point in his career, should he think about trying to locate and command his pitches better even if it means settling for a 98 mph fastball instead of a 102 mph?

Yes, absolutely, and I think that is happening to some degree. One of the reasons Chapman has been so amazing throughout his career is not just the raw velocity, but how easily he generated it. He’d throw 100-102 mph and it looked like he was playing catch. This year Chapman seems to be putting everything he has into each pitch to get to that 100-102 mph, and I think that’s why his location has been so poor. He’s missing his spots consistently, and by a lot. He’s probably overthrowing. Chapman’s control isn’t great to start with, so I’m not sure scaling back to 97-98 mph ensures he’d his spot more often. At this point, I’m not sure what more we can do other than hope an offseason of rest gets Chapman back to normal next year.

Brian asks: What do you think of Gerrit Cole as a target in the off – season ? He was a Yankee draft pick at one time so there’s familiarity, he’s still young, had some injuries, still has controllable years, struggled some this season, etc. Can the Yankees get him on the “low”? What would it take?

I am always interested in talented 20-something-year-olds. The Gray trade somewhat lessens the need for a pitcher like Cole, though there are five rotation spots, and the more good pitchers, the better. The Pirates aren’t looking so great going forward and Cole will be a free agent after the 2019 season, so I think it’s only a matter of time until they trade him to kick start another rebuild.

As talented as Cole is and as good as he’s been in his career overall, I can’t help but wonder why he’s continually going backwards. I feel like this would be a much bigger story if fans and analysts hadn’t decided to never question Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. Cole’s last few years:

  • 2015: 2.60 ERA (2.66 FIP) in 208 innings
  • 2016: 3.88 ERA (3.33 FIP) in 116 innings
  • 2017: 3.99 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 167 innings

If a Yankees pitcher did that, we’d all be calling for a new pitching coach and new management and saying they can’t develop players. A player on another team does it, and we’re talking about him as a trade candidate. Shrugs.

Anyway, the Gray trade seems like the perfect trade benchmark to me. Same amount of team control, same age, similar career arcs (great early before some injuries). I can’t see the Yankees giving up three more really good prospects, even if two of them are damaged goods like Dustin Fowler and James Kaprielian. Never say never. I just don’t see the Yankees unloading more prospects after picking up Gray.

Anonymous asks: At the trade deadline we kept hearing about Sonny Gray as a groundball pitcher. How do his numbers compare to Chien-Ming Wang at his prime? Who would you rather have?

Wang’s pitching style was so straightforward — throwing bowling ball sinker after bowling ball sinker — and yet he’s one of the most fascinating pitchers of the last 10-15 years or so. It wasn’t just the sheer number of ground balls. It was the complete lack of hard contact he allowed.

We have some numbers for this now, so let’s look at it quick. From 2005-16 there were 1,019 individual seasons in which a pitcher threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Here are the ground ball and hard contact rates:

grounders-vs-hard-contact

Those handful of dots at the extreme lower right corner, the “lots of ground balls, little hard contact” section, are seasons belonging to four pitchers: Wang, Brandon Webb, Derek Lowe, and Dallas Keuchel. It’s actually like five Webb seasons, and one or two from the other guys.

Gray is a very good ground ball pitcher, though he is not in Wang’s class. Few are. This season Gray has a 54.6% ground ball rate and a 22.4% hard contact rate, which is really good. Wang used to run ground ball rates north of 60% with hard contact rates around 20%, however. Gray is an above-average ground-baller and there ain’t no shame in that. Wang was one of the very best ground ball pitchers of his generation, at least before his body started to break.

Michael asks: The Yankees are the only team in the league to have the highest run differential in their division but not lead the division. Any theories what makes them different?

Going into last night’s game the Yankees had a +125 run differential, which was fifth best in baseball. The Red Sox were seventh at +93. The Yankees have a deceptively high run differential though, because a lot of that was built up early in the season. Their run differential by month:

  • April: +43
  • May: +13
  • June: +56
  • July: +7
  • August: +6

The Yankees have been hovering around the +120 run differential mark for about two months now. Generally speaking, the Yankees have won a lot of blowouts and lost a lot of close games. Their record in games decided by 5+ runs: 27-11. Their record in one-run games: 15-23. That’ll skew the run differential a bit.

Run differential is informative — scoring more runs than you allow is good (duh) — though its usefulness is limited. It’s descriptive more than predictive, and even then, it doesn’t paint a complete picture. The Yankees are having a bit of a weird season with the blowout wins/one-run losses, and I think it’s just one of those years. An anomaly. Nothing really to it.

Andrew asks: If Tanaka opts out after this season, should the Yankees (1) let him go; (2) leave the door open to him returning for the same dollars and years; or (3) offer him a richer deal? I would say (2)

For what it’s worth, Jon Heyman says the Yankees will not “chase” Tanaka if he opts out, and they won’t bid above the three years and $67M left on his contract. I completely buy that. Should Tanaka opt out, he’s not going to come back on the same contract terms, so that “we’ll take him back at three years and $67M” is only for show. We tried, basically.

If Tanaka opts out, I think the Yankees are going to let him leave because I don’t think they want to get into a bidding war. I also think they want to unload his $20M+ per year salary to help get under the luxury tax threshold next year. If he doesn’t opt out, what can you do? You keep him and hope getting his age 29-31 seasons at $67M turns into a bargain. If he does opt out, I think they’re letting him walk. I’m sure they’d be open to bringing Tanaka back if his market collapses and they can get him at a reduced price, but that’s not happening.

Hakim asks: I absolutely hate the Red Sox but, believe it or not, I would prefer to come in second in the division and play Houston in the Wild Card. The Wild Card Game should be a win with Severino pitching, especially against a weak Minnesota team. We then should beat Houston in the ALDS with their weak and injured pitching staff. It would also be very difficult to beat Cleveland in the ALDS especially with Kluber pitching two games, none against our Ace Severino. I am sure that our manager should not publicly agree to this and publicly want to win the division but I do feel that that would be a mistake. I am wondering if you agree with me and if others agree with me.

Strong disagree. Avoid that Wild Card Game at all costs. The Astros, Red Sox, and Indians are all too good to start picking and choosing who you might match up best against. I know the Astros have kinda stunk in the second half (19-24!), but if they get healthy in the season’s final month, they’re going to be an awfully tough matchup in a short series. Severino is awesome, but no pitcher is a lock to win anything. Joe Saunders once beat Yu Darvish in a Wild Card Game. I’d rather avoid that winner-take-all Wild Card Game and skip right to the ALDS than get cute and try to pick the best matchup. That seems destined to backfire.

Julian asks: If Gardner finished his career in Pinstripes, would he get a plaque in Monument Park?

Nah, I don’t think so. I mean, if Tino Martinez got a plaque, Brett Gardner should too, but that’s not going to happen. Gardner has only been part of one championship team (so far!) and he was the fourth outfielder on that team, not a centerpiece. And I don’t think Gardner should get a Monument Park plaque either. That should be reserved for the all-time greats. Gardner’s merely been a really good player for a long time for the Yankees. No shame in that. I look forward to seeing him sock dingers into the short porch at Old Timers’ Day in the future.

Holliday. (@swbrailriders)
Holliday. (@swbrailriders)

Paul asks: Isn’t it a little surprising that the union hasn’t raised a concern over Holliday bring stashed in rehab until rosters expand?

No because Matt Holliday doesn’t seem to mind. When he moved up from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton earlier this week, he told reporters he hopes to be ready to go Friday when rosters expand, and that was it. If he’s upset about the long rehab — he’s played ten rehab games now — he hasn’t said so publicly. I guess Holliday either thinks he needs all the at-bats to get up to speed, or is doing the team first thing by waiting until September 1st. Or a little of both. The union won’t make a big deal of it if Holliday isn’t. Besides, I think it would be hard to argue a guy is ready to come up when he’s still within the collectively bargained 20-day rehab window.

Damian asks: If you could choose one Yankee to play at an MVP level the rest of the way, who would it be and why?… Bring Judge back to his 1st half form? Tanaka or Gray for a 1-2 punch? Or maybe someone out of the box like Ells, Headly, or T. Frazier?

Aaron Judge, for sure. If his shoulder is hurt, and it sure looks like he’s favoring it these days given all the lack of hard contact and the way he constantly flexes his arm, I’m not all that confident in him turning things around. If it was a simple mechanical/approach adjustment, I’d expect him to right the ship. But if the shoulder is barking, that’s a problem. So give me Judge because I’m not sure he’ll get straightened out on his own. If not Judge, then what about Todd Frazier to add another big power bat? I think you’d gain more with Frazier going from his current level to MVP caliber than you would with Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, Chase Headley … pretty much everyone else in the lineup.

Alessandro asks: Not really a mailbag question, but is Jose Devers related at all to Rafael Devers?

Yes, Jose is Rafael’s younger cousin. The Yankees signed Jose last July to an unknown bonus. It couldn’t have been larger than $300,000 due to the spending restrictions. Jose, 17, is not nearly as good of a prospect as Rafael, so don’t get your hopes up. He’s one of those toolsy international guys the Yankees load up on each year. Some click, most don’t. Jose is hitting .240/.337/.337 (100 wRC+) with one homer and 16 steals in 51 rookie balls games this year. (Yes, a .674 OPS is a 100 wRC+ in the Gulf Coast League. Kids down there don’t hit for much power.)

David asks (short version): So is Brian Keller a legitimate prospect?

Keller, 23, was last year’s 39th round pick. This season he threw 144 innings between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, and finished with 3.13 ERA (2.55 FIP) and excellent strikeout (26.8%) and walk (4.8%) numbers. As I mentioned in DotF the other night, Keller has 157 strikeouts this season, the most in the farm system since Alan Horne (165) and Ian Kennedy (163) back in 2007. Keller has already made his final regular season start. His next outing will be in the High-A postseason next week.

The Yankees drafted Keller out of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he spent four years and got better each season. Check out the numbers:

IP ERA WHIP BB/9 K/9 K/BB
2013 (freshman) 33.2 4.81 1.57 4.28 4.54 1.06
2014 (sophomore) 82.1 4.26 1.32 2.62 5.90 2.25
2015 (junior) 97.2 3.50 1.28 1.84 5.99 3.25
2016 (senior) 107.1 3.10 1.20 1.68 8.64 5.15

Like I said, Keller got better each season. Textbook progression. Is he a prospect? Yeah, though not a big one. He’s more of a Dietrich Enns type than a Chance Adams type. Keller operates with a low-90s fastball and three secondary pitches (curveball, slider, changeup), and he locates everything well and really knows how to pitch, so it’s no surprise he’s carving up Single-A hitters. Some video:

The Yankees have a knack for getting pitchers to add velocity, so if they can help Keller go from 91-93 mph to 93-95 mph consistently, they could really have something here. He’s an interesting arm to watch going forward more than a true prospect, I’d say. Does that make him a sleeper? The expected return on a 39th round pick is nothing. If the Yankees get anything out of Keller, even if he’s the third piece in the trade, it’s a big win.

Sabathia and the Baby Bombers led Yankees to 6-2 win over Red Sox

That was a much-needed win. Much-needed and really important. This is the final series of the season with the Red Sox and the last chance for the Yankees to control things in the AL East race. The Yankees won Thursday’s series opener 6-2. They’ll do it all over again Friday.

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

The Big Man Does Big Things
Was it an easy start for CC Sabathia? No way. He had to grind. The big man still turned in yet another quality outing Thursday night, holding the Red Sox to one run on four hits and five walks in six innings. He struck out six. The run was kinda dopey too. Mookie Betts was narrowly safe at second base on what would’ve been an inning-ending double play. Alas. (He was originally called out, but the play was reviewed and overturned.)

The difference between this game and the three games against the Indians? The first inning. The Indians scored in the first inning in all three games. The Yankees were playing from behind all series. On Thursday, the Red Sox loaded the bases with one out in the first inning on an error — Sabathia’s throw on Eduardo Nunez‘s bunt pulled Greg Bird off the bag — and two walks, so it looked like another first inning lead for the other team.

Fortunately Sabathia escaped with two strikeouts. He caught Xander Bogaerts looking at a perfect backdoor slider, then got Rafael Devers to swing through a slider to end the inning. Sabathia had words with Nunez after the inning because he didn’t like the bunt. Not the first that’s happened this year. The Red Sox are testing Sabathia and his balky knee with bunts and he keeps yelling at them. Me? I think if you’re healthy enough to pitch, you’re healthy enough to be bunted against.

Anyway, Sabathia made four starts against the Red Sox this season, and in those four starts he held them to three earned runs in 26 innings. That’s a 1.04 ERA. Also, Sabathia has a 2.73 ERA in his last 15 starts and 83.1 innings. And when he starts after a Yankees loss this season, Sabathia has a 1.45 ERA and the Yankees are 9-1 in those ten games. My man. Give this dude one-year contracts until he hangs up the spikes.

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

The Kids Shall Lead Them
After the Red Sox took their 1-0 lead in the third inning, it was the young building block players who helped the Yankees fight back. Gary Sanchez answered Boston’s run in the top of the third with a solo homer the other way to right field in the bottom of the third. Even with the short porch, it’s not often you see a right-handed hitter hit a ball to right field and know right away it’s gone. Sanchez’s power is unreal.

Two innings later Sanchez gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead with one of those “it’s a line drive in the box score” base hits. Singles by Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks put runners on the corners with one out, and Sanchez’s pop-up should’ve been caught for the second out. It barely left the infield. Instead, Nunez overran it a bit, and had to reach back to catch the ball. Catch the ball he did not. It fell in for a charitably scored base hit and Gardner scored the go-ahead run.

Sanchez did some big things on the other side of the ball too. For all the bitching and moaning about the passed balls, Sanchez has an elite arm behind the plate, and he used it to throw out Andrew Benintendi trying to steal second base to end the top of fifth. It was a strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play. Love those. And as much as I love Sanchez singers, I could watch that man throw lasers to second base all damn day.

gary-sanchez-throw

In no universe was a 2-1 lead going to stand up in a Yankees-Red Sox game, so the Yankees added a bunch of an insurance runs, which is always appreciated. Bird swatted his second home run in as many days in the sixth inning, this one a two-run shot to right field. Eduardo Rodriguez’s first pitch of the inning: Chase Headley double. Eduardo Rodriguez’s second pitch of the inning: Bird homer. Efficient!

The Yankees added another insurance run on a Didi Gregorius single in the sixth, and yet another insurance run on a Bird single in the seventh. That gave them a 6-1 lead. The Yankees did blow a bases loaded, no outs opportunity in the seventh inning, and that stunk. Gardner lined into a double play and Hicks flew out. That was annoying. At least the Yankees added four insurance runs after taking a 2-1 lead.

Lock It Down
I am completely and totally cool with the way Joe Girardi used his bullpen Thursday night. This is a very important game and although 6-1 is a nice lead, it’s not insurmountable. Girardi used David Robertson for the seventh and eighth innings — he pitched around a leadoff walk and his own error when he fumbled a potential 1-6-3 double play ball in the eighth — and he tossed two scoreless innings on 24 pitches. Robertson used to throw 24 pitches in one innings. He’s gotten more efficient.

In the ninth, Girardi went to Dellin Betances with the 6-1 lead for two reasons. One, he wanted to nail down the win. And two, Betances had not pitched since last Saturday, and when Dellin goes too long between appearances, his control vanishes. Sure enough, he loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth inning on a walk and two hit batsmen. Never easy. Betances also walked in a run with one out, allowing the Red Sox to bring the tying run to the plate.

Thankfully Betances popped up Betts and got pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland to hit a harmless fly ball to left field to end the game, stranding the bases loaded. Never easy. But! It had been a long time since Betances last pitched, and if you’re going to use him after a long layoff, you’d prefer it to be in a game like this, with a big lead. You know those walks and free baserunners are coming. Anyway, I have zero problem with Girardi using Robertson and Betances the way he did in this game. Exactly what I would’ve done.

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

Leftovers
Great night for the offense. The Yankees had 14 hits and four walks, and every starter reached base twice. Two hits for Gardner, two hits for Hicks, two hits for Sanchez, two hits for Starlin Castro, two hits for Headley, two hits for Bird. Aaron Judge had two walks and Gregorius and Frazier each had a hit and a walk.

The Yankees went 5-for-15 with runners in scoring position, which means a) they hit .333 in those situations, and b) they also didn’t get The Big Hit ten times. Stupid RISP stats. The two biggest RISPFAILs were leaving the bases loaded in the fifth (Judge flew out) and in the seventh (Gardner line drive double play and Hicks fly out). Put 18 men on base and you’re bound to strand some.

Bird went 2-for-4 with the home run and is now 6-for-18 (.333) with two home runs in six games since coming back from the disabled list. He was 6-for-60 (.100) with one homer in 19 games before the injury. Bird swung through some hittable fastballs in the first two games of the Indians series, but he looks awfully dangerous at the plate right now. Calm, confident, disciplined. A productive Greg Bird would be so, so huge the rest of the way.

Good night for the defense. Sanchez threw out Benintendi trying to steal, and both Hicks and Judge had outfield assists. Hicks threw out Benintendi trying to stretch a single into a double, and Judge deked Devers on Hanley Ramirez’s single in the sixth. The deke got Devers to hold thinking Judge would catch the soft line drive, then Judge threw to second for the force. Very nice.

Brutal night for second base umpire Greg Gibson. He had two calls reviewed and overturned in the same inning, and it appeared he would have another call overturned later in the game, but the replay crew said it was inconclusive. I think it was a mercy call to avoid embarrassing Gibson. New rule: if an umpire has two calls overturned in one game, he has to go back to umpire school for a crash course and an eye exam.

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


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This four-game set is just getting started. The Yankees and Red Sox will be back at it Friday night in the second game of the series. Sonny Gray and Doug Fister are the scheduled starting pitchers.

DotF: Garcia homers, Charleston clinches a postseason spot

In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees acquired C Erik Kratz from the Indians for cash. He’s been assigned to Triple-A Scranton. Two other catcher notes from Conor Foley: C Wilkin Castillo (knee) was placed on the Triple-A disabled list and C Kyle Higashioka (shoulder) was healthy enough to take batting practice today. That’s good.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 loss to Rochester)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 K — so I guess whatever led to him being pulled from last night’s game was no big deal
  • DH Matt Holliday: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB — 7-for-35 (.200) in ten rehab games … no surprise here, but manager Al Pedrique told Conor Foley that Holliday will rejoin the Yankees tomorrow
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-4, 1 2B — here’s video of the double, which might’ve been into the short porch in the Bronx
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 1-2, 1 BB, 1 K
  • LF Billy McKinney, RF Jake Cave & CF Mason Williams: all 0-3 — McKinney struck out twice, Cave once, Williams zero times
  • RHP Chance Adams: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 5/3 GB/FB — 65 of 102 pitches were strikes (64%) … this was his final start of the regular season … he finishes the year with a 2.45 ERA and a 135/58 K/BB in 150.1 innings … he had a 144/39 K/BB in 127.1 innings last year

[Read more…]

Game 133: The Biggest Series of the Season (For Real)

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

So this is it. The most important series of the season. Truly. These four games with the Red Sox will determine whether the Yankees have any chance at winning the AL East, or will have to shift gears and begin focusing on the wildcard. And, truth be told, the Yankees probably need to sweep this series to have a shot at the division title. They’re 5.5 games back. A split accomplishes nothing. Winning three of four gets the Yankees to within 3.5 games with 26 to play, but no head-to-head games against the Red Sox. One game at a time though.

The Yankees just got swept by the Indians and it was abundantly clearly which team went to the World Series last year and which team is hoping to get to the postseason for only the second time in five years. The Yankees have to treat these four games like postseason games. They really do. Because this is their postseason. The wildcard race is tight and the division title is becoming more and more unrealistic. Win tonight, move on to the next one. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. DH Chase Headley
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. 3B Todd Frazier
    LHP CC Sabathia

Cool and cloudy in New York today. Damn near autumnal. Tonight’s series opener will begin a little after 7pm ET And you’ll be able to watch on WPIX locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Clint Frazier (oblique) continues to progress and started throwing today. Now that he’s throwing and swinging a bat, I imagine it won’t be too long before he begins a minor league rehab assignment.

Roster Moves: The Yankees have sent Caleb Smith and Jordan Montgomery to Triple-A Scranton, and called up Gio Gallegos, the team announced. Gallegos replaces Smith. Montgomery was the 26th man for yesterday’s doubleheader and had to go back down after the game.

Appeals Update: MLB has scheduled Sanchez’s and Austin Romine‘s appeal hearings for tomorrow, reports Mike Mazzeo. The ruling will not necessarily come tomorrow, however. Hunter Strickland had to wait six days between the hearing and the ruling after throwing at Bryce Harper earlier this year, though that was unusually long. Sanchez and Romine probably won’t have to wait that long. Either way, the Yankees picked up Erik Kratz earlier today for extra catcher depth.

8/31 to 9/3 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

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

The Yankees opened this week a mere 2.5 games back of the Red Sox; with a bit of luck, they could have entered these next four days with a chance to regain control of the AL East. They dropped all three games to the Indians instead, while the Red Sox swept the Blue Jays. So it goes.

The Last Time They Met

Boston took two of three from the Yankees two weekends ago, opening up a five-game lead in the process. Some notes:

  • This was the series that led to Aroldis Chapman losing the closer’s role, as he allowed the Red Sox to add a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth inning of first game. It was his fourth-straight appearance in which he allowed at least one earned run.
  • The Yankees bullpen had an awful series on the whole, allowing 10 runs (all earned) in 9 IP. Tommy Kahnle was the worst offender, pitching to the following line – 0.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 0 K.
  • Chris Sale was utterly mortal in the Yankees lone win of the series, allowing 7 hits and 4 runs in 7 IP. Tyler Austin and Todd Frazier both took him deep as the Yankees won 4-3.
  • CC Sabathia came out ahead of Sale that night, allowing 2 runs and just 5 base-runners in 6 IP in his first start back from the disabled list.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun facts.

Injury Report

The Red Sox are still banged-up, with Jackie Bradley Jr., Dustin Pedroia, David Price, and Carson Smith on the disabled list with a vague “September” return date, and Josh Rutledge, Tyler Thornburg, and Steven Wright done for the season. Both Bradley and Pedroia are hoping to return for this series, but neither Price nor Smith is expected back in time.

Their Story So Far

Boston is in first in the AL East at 76-57, and their +93 run differential places them seventh in all of baseball. They’ve won three in a row, and have an 18-8 record in the month of August. They’re within striking distance of the best record in the American League, with just 3.5 games separating them from the semi-struggling Astros.

Given that these teams have met multiple times within the last four weeks, it doesn’t seem like much else needs to be said.

The Lineup We Might See

The injury status of Bradley and Pedroia throws a wrench into the Red Sox lineup machinations. That being said, they have been trotting out this lineup with those two on the mend:

  1. Eduardo Nunez, 2B (.312/.341/.460)
  2. Andrew Benintendi, CF (.275/.354/.436)
  3. Mookie Betts, RF (.263/.341/.437)
  4. Mitch Moreland, 1B/DH (.257/.341/.452)
  5. Xander Bogaerts, SS (.273/.335/.405)
  6. Rafael Devers, 3B (.294/.354/.546)
  7. Hanley Ramirez, DH/1B (.249/.335/.443)
  8. Chris Young, LF (.236/.324/.396)
  9. Christian Vazquez, C /or/ Sandy Leon, C (.294/.335/.413 and .235/.299/.367)

When healthy, Pedroia generally bats and plays second; Bradley is the center-fielder, and bats fifth.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez

Rodriguez started against the Yankees on August 11, and had his best start of the season; he went 6 shutout innings, and allowed just 2 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 7. He has been underwhelming in his three starts since then, and largely average on the season (108 ERA+ in 105.1 IP), but he’s still just 24-years-old. Rodriguez did spend about a month and a half on the disabled list, but he’s been healthy since the All-Star break.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 8/26) – 6.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 7 K

Friday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Doug Fister

It has been a strange season for Fister, who didn’t even sign with an MLB team until May 20 … when he signed with the Angels. The Angels waived him about a month later, and he latched on with the Red Sox shortly thereafter. The 33-year-old journeyman has a 4.53 ERA (100 ERA+) in twelve games (nine starts) with the Sox, and has been more than competent in helping patch-up their rotation.

Fister has always been something of a junkballer, and not much has changed. He throws four different fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, sinker) in the upper-80s, and a curveball in the low-70s. He’ll mix in a slider and a change-up, as well, but those are few and far between.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 8/27) – 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz

This will be the Yankees fifth time seeing Pomeranz this year, who has mostly kept them at bay. He has thrown 21.0 IP in those four starts, allowing 23 hits, 8 earned runs (3.43 ERA), and 7 walks, while striking out 23. That isn’t all that far off from his season totals on the whole, as he has a 3.23 ERA (139 ERA+) in 142 IP.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 8/28) – 6.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 4 K

Sunday (7:35 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. LHP Chris Sale

As was the case with Pomeranz, Sale will be making his fifth start of the season against the Yankees this weekend. On the off-chance that you’ve forgotten, Sale has dominated the Yankees on the whole, tossing 29.2 IP of 2.12 ERA ball, and allowing just 27 base-runners while striking out 44 batters. They did score four runs the last time they met, though, which, if we’re optimistic, could bode well for this match-up.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 8/29) – 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K

The Bullpen

Craig Kimbrel – he of the 1.58 ERA (290 ERA+) and 16.6 K/9 – showed signs of mortality this week, laboring through an inning against the Blue Jays. He walked two and allowed a home run before slamming the door, and he looked just as shaky as that line suggests. He redeemed himself the next night, though, and is still the best reliever in the American League.

The rest of the bullpen has been up and down this month. They have a 107 ERA+ in August, as compared to a 128 ERA+ on the season, and they’ve been prone to the longball. Joe Kelly has been the worst offender, pitching to a 6.75 ERA this month, and newcomer Addison Reed (4.38 ERA/107 ERA+) has been a bit of a disappointment. It’s still a solid group, but it seems as though its tenure as best bullpen in the game has ended.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Severino versus Sale has the potential to be must-see TV; I’ve jinxed the Yankees before by praising a pitching match-up, though, so perhaps this should be disregarded.

This series as a whole feels incredibly important – and not just for the obvious reasons. In a broader sense, the Yankees need to show that they can beat good teams again. With the exception of the Mariners, who they’ve taken two series from in the second-half, they have not taken a series from a playoff-caliber team since sweeping the Orioles from June 9 through June 11. They did split a couple of series with the Red Sox and the Indians, so maybe I’m being a ‘glass half empty’ type here – but a strong showing to open up September would set a completely different tone.

Yankees acquire Erik Kratz from Indians for cash

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have brought in some extra catcher depth. The team announced this afternoon they’ve acquired veteran journeyman backstop Erik Kratz from the Indians for cash considerations. He is not on the 40-man roster and I assume he’s heading to Triple-A Scranton for the time being.

Kratz, 37, hit .270/.359/.472 (132 wRC+) with 13 homers in 326 Triple-A plate appearances with the Indians before the trade. He has MLB time with the Phillies, Blue Jays, Royals, Astros, and Pirates, and is a career .200/.248/.362 (62 wRC+) big league hitter. Twenty-four homers in 647 plate appearances is nothing to sneeze at though.

At some point Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine will have their appeals heard and serve their suspensions stemming from last week’s brawl with the Tigers. Kyle Higashioka, the third catcher, is currently on the Triple-A disabled list with a shoulder injury. Also, Triple-A backup Wilkin Castillo left last night’s game with a knee injury, so yeah. The Yankees needed another backstop.

Midnight tonight is the deadline for teams to acquire players and have them be eligible for the postseason roster, and that’s a hard deadline. The player doesn’t have to be in the big leagues or even on the 40-man roster, but he has to be in the organization by midnight, otherwise no postseason. No exceptions or loopholes. Kratz is postseason eligible for the Yankees.

Yankeemetrics: Rocked and rolled by Cleveland (Aug. 28-30)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Kluber’d
Monday’s lackluster 6-2 loss to the Indians was not the way the Yankees wanted to kick off perhaps the toughest week of their schedule so far – a grueling seven-games-in-seven-days stretch against two first-place teams.

Cleveland’s ace, Corey Kluber, put on a masterful performance in silencing the Yankee bats, which is hardly surprising given his history of shutting down the Bombers (and the way he’s dominated the rest of the league this year).

He’s made two starts against the Yankees this year, and in each of those games has pitched eight-or-more innings while allowing no more than three hits. Before Kluber, the last pitcher on any team to have two such outings in a season against the Yankees was Roger Clemens in 1991. Kluber’s success goes back further than this year, too. He’s riding a streak of five straight starts against the Yankees with at least seven strikeouts and two earned runs or fewer. The only other pitchers in baseball history to do that are Roy Halladay (2001-02) and Nolan Ryan (1973-75).

Kluber has also won each of those five starts, earning an Obscure Yankeemetric award for this stat: he is the only guy ever to win five consecutive starts against the Yankees, while striking out at least seven and allowing no more than two earned runs in each game.

The Yankees had their ace on the mound, too, but Luis Severino was ultimately outdueled in the matchup of Cy Young contenders. It was a confusing performance by Sevvy, who mixed some good (9 strikeouts), a little bad (3 walks) and too much ugly (3 homers).

The only other time in his big-league career he allowed three longballs in a game was May 8 last year vs the Red Sox, and it’s just the ninth time in 59 career appearances that he’s allowed more than one home run. The Yankees are now 0-9 when Severino surrenders multiple homers in a game.

via GIPHY

The good news is that there’s some statistical evidence that this was just a rare blip in what has been a fantastic season for Severino. He did a reasonably solid job of limiting hard contact and dangerous flyballs, aside from the three that went over the fence, indicating some random bad luck.

  • Per statcast, only five of the 108 pitches he threw (4.6%) were hit with solid contact. This season, he allowed a higher rate of hard contact in 18 of his 25 other starts.
  • His average exit velocity on batted balls was 85 mph, his sixth-lowest mark in a game this year.
  • He gave up only three flyballs that were hit beyond the infield; and somehow all three of them went over the fence!
  • According to ESPN’s Hit Tracker, Jose Ramirez‘s first-inning homer to right-center would have been a home run in only three other ballparks besides Yankee Stadium.

Bad luck aside, the three home runs were real, and the freezing-cold Yankee bats couldn’t overcome those three mistakes.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

One is the loneliest number
Did I mention freezing-cold bats? Trevor Bauer and the Indians bullpen kept the Bronx Bombers’ bats on ice in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader and the Yankees added to their growing list of frustrating games lost by one run.

The tally is now at 23 one-run losses, the most in the American League and the third-most in baseball. They fell to 15-23 (.395) in 1-run games, putting them in danger of posting just the fifth sub-.400 record in such games in a season in franchise history (also 1981, 1966, 1935, 1925).

Jaime Garcia (with some help from Gary Sanchez) put the Yankees in an early hole when he gave up two runs on three singles and a passed ball in the first inning. While Sanchez has been above-average in framing pitches and throwing out baserunners this season, he continues to struggle with his blocking. This was his 13th passed ball (in 699 innings caught), the most by a Yankee since Jorge Posada also had 13 in 2007 (1,111 innings caught).

While Garcia threw his best game so far in pinstripes, Chad Green was the true pitching superstar on Wednesday afternoon. He replaced Garcia in the sixth and then tossed 2⅔ scoreless innings, allowing one hit with seven strikeouts.

Green has been a strikeout machine all season, and in this game he etched his name in the franchise and MLB record books:

  • His seven strikeouts are the most for any Yankee who pitched fewer than three innings in a game.
  • He is the only major-league pitcher ever to strike out at least seven guys in an outing where he faced eight or fewer batters.
(AP)
(AP)

A new low
The Yankees capped off a miserable day in the Bronx with another uninspiring loss, 9-4, as the Indians completed a rare series sweep of the pinstripers.

This was just the third time in the last 50 years that the Yankees were swept by the Indians in a series of at least three games – it also happened April 7-9, 1989 and September 11-13, 1970. And entering this week, the Yankees had only been swept once the entire season, which was the second-fewest in the majors; the Dodgers are the lone team that hasn’t yet been swept in a series this year.

It was deja vu all over again for the hometown team to start the nightcap of the twinbill. Before they even swung a bat, the Yankees faced another insurmountable deficit, as Jordan Montgomery coughed up four runs on five hits in the opening frame. That snapped a streak of 16 straight games in which Yankee starters had allowed no more than three earned runs, their longest such streak since June/July of 1988.

Greg Bird and Aaron Hicks were a two-man offensive show, with Bird driving in all four of the Yankees runs and Hicks getting half of the team’s eight hits. There was little to celebrate from this game (and the series), so let’s end with a couple #FunFacts:

  • Hicks is the first Yankee since Bernie Williams on October 5, 1991 with at least four hits and a run scored in a loss to the Indians.
  • Bird’s three-run homer in the bottom of the inning kept them from getting “blown out” and preserved this obscure stat: the Yankees are still the only team in the majors that hasn’t lost a game by a margin of eight or more runs this season.