The Yankees are off today following their nine-game road trip, and starting tomorrow they play 17 games in 17 days in three different time zones. On the bright side, they don’t have to travel back to the West Coast after that, and only two more times this season do they even have to go to the Central Time Zone. The team’s travel after this upcoming stretch as is easy as it gets. Here are some random thoughts on the off-day.
1. This weekend’s series against the Twins marks the end of what is probably the softest stretch of schedule for the 2014 Yankees in terms of the quality of their opponents: 19 straight games against the Mets, Pirates, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals, and Twins. Only the Cardinals aren’t awful. The Yankees have won nine of the first 16 games during that stretch, with the last three against Minnesota still pending. That’s pretty damn good, but I can’t help but feel greedy and wish they could have stolen one or two more. That Adam Dunn walk-off homer game really stings. With the Rays and Red Sox falling behind the rest of the AL East a bit — Tampa is literally one game better than the Astros right now — the division race has opened up a little bit. The Yankees play the Blue Jays and Orioles a combined nine times next month and those games are the most important ones right now. Games against Boston and Tampa aren’t as crucial as they have been the last few years. (They’re obviously still important. You know what I mean.) This isn’t the AL East race we’re used to seeing.
2. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this at some point before, I but I can’t remember the last time the Yankees had a reliever like Dellin Betances. That overwhelmingly dominant flamethrower. Joba Chamberlain was excellent following his call-up in 2007, but even he did not have the kind of strikeout stuff as Betances — Joba had a 37.4 K% in 24 innings in 2007 while Betances is at 44.7 K% in 30.2 innings in this year. (Bet you didn’t realize David Robertson has a 41.5 K% strikeout rate this year, did you?) Mariano Rivera was outstanding in 1996 as John Wetteland’s setup man, but Mo’s dominance was always more surgical than overpowering. You know what I mean, right? Betances just comes out of the bullpen pumping 97+ with a knee-buckling breaking ball that hitters don’t even bother to swing at. They just bail on the pitch and it goes for a called strike. It’s amazing and so much fun to watch. Betances spent a very long time in the minors fighting control problems and battling injuries, and the decision to move him into the bullpen last year was basically a last resort. A desperate attempt by the team to get something out of him. The move into a relief role has worked out to the best case scenario and it saved his career.
3. Obviously the late-1990s Yankees were excellent for many reasons, one of them being their strength up the middle. Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams were among the best players at their positions, Jorge Posada was just starting to get the majority of the playing time behind the plate, and Chuck Knoblauch was very good until things started to fall apart in 2001. They were getting top notch production from the four most important non-pitcher positions on the field. That is not the case this year though. The Yankees have gotten a combined .266/.331/.379 batting line from their catchers, second basemen, shortstops, and center fielders this year, which is right in line with the .254/.323/.397 league average. Average isn’t bad! It is less than you would like to see though. The Yankees should be getting more production from those positions — neither Jacoby Ellsbury nor Brian McCann were hitting much prior to their big games last night (McCann was playing first, remember) — but it has not been there just about a third of the way through the season. Ellsbury and McCann are not going anywhere, but as the Yankees usher out of the Jeter era this winter, improving both middle infield spots should be a top priority. Along with having good pitching (duh), getting big production from those up the middle spots is one of the most surefire ways to contend. Just look at the World Series teams of the last, I don’t know, 25 years or so. All strong up the middle.
4. So, with that in mind, man how perfect would Chase Utley look in pinstripes? Someone asked about him in a mailbag a few weeks ago and I haven’t been able to shake the thought of trading for him since. It’s not going to happen for several reasons — his ten-and-five no-trade protection first of all, plus the Phillies would have to be willing to sell and trade their best and most popular player — but the fit is too perfect. Left-handed power and patience, no real platoon concerns, good defense at second base, big market and postseason experience, short-term contract … he’s perfect. The only negative is Utley’s injury history, particularly his knee problems, but 100 games of him and 62 games of a replacement level player is still one of the best second baseman in baseball. The Phillies are pretty bad and they’re only sinking further in the standings, especially with Cliff Lee hurt. Maybe that will push ownership to demand a rebuild. In the unlikely event it happens, the Yankees should be on the phone about Utley immediately. He’s exactly what they need on both sides of the ball.
The nine-game road trip through Chicago and St. Louis is over, and the Yankees are coming home with five wins. The jumped out to a big early lead against the Cardinals on Wednesday, then held on for dear life in the late innings for a 7-4 series clinching win. You didn’t think they would blow it, did you?
Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller came into Wednesday’s series finale with a low 3.18 ERA but an ugly 5.22 FIP due to ongoing control and homer problems. He’s taken a big step back from his stellar rookie campaign a year ago. The Yankees spurred on the ERA correction in this game, pounding Miller for seven runs in only five innings. At one point spanning the third and fourth innings, nine of 13 batters reached base. The Yankees were all over him.
The two-inning rally all started with a one-out walk by Brett Gardner in the third, a debatable one at that considering how close some of the pitches were. Yadier Molina didn’t frame them enough, I guess. Brian Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury followed with singles, Brian McCann drew a walk, then backup catcher/serial killer John Ryan Murphy poked a single into shallow center to plate two runs and give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. It’s really hard not to be impressed with Murphy. The single came on a nasty slider down and away. Ichiro Suzuki made it 4-0 when he beat out a would-be double play ball.
The fourth inning rally came almost entirely with two outs. Kelly Johnson led off the frame with a single, but Hiroki Kuroda popped up a bunt and Gardner flew out to center for two quick outs. Then Roberts doubled to left-center and Ellsbury singled back up the middle for two more runs. He stole second uncontested for the second time in the game (more on that in a bit), then McCann singled him in for the seventh run. Seven singles, two walks, one double, seven runs. That’s all why would get on the night and all they would need. (Miller exited the game with a 3.94 ERA and 5.11 FIP, in case you’re wondering. Getting closer.)
A Tale Of Two Starts
I thought Kuroda looked very sharp early in this game. He retired the side in order in the first, pitched around a ground rule double and an error in the second, then got two quick outs in the third. After that, ten of the final 18 batters he faced managed to reach base. That led to three runs, one each in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. It would have been worse had Dellin Betances not cleaned up a first-and-third, two outs situation in the sixth.
Kuroda’s night ended with those three runs allowed on nine hits and a hit batsman in 5.2 innings of work. He failed to complete six full innings for the fourth time in his last eight starts after doing it only eight times all of last season. (The Yankees as a team have 21 starts of fewer than six innings this season, the tenth most in baseball.) It was almost a quality start, which I guess is good for Kuroda these days, sadly. I keep waiting for everything to click like it did during his start in Anaheim a few weeks ago, but it’s becoming more and more obvious that just isn’t going happen.
Late Innings Machinations
The Yankees had a golden opportunity to blow the game open in the eighth inning, after two singles and an error loaded the bases with no outs. Gardner struck out and Roberts hit into an inning-ending double play though, squashing that opportunity. Roberts swung at a 3-0 pitch from soft-tossing lefty Randy Choate and I was totally cool with it. You know he’s going to throw something in the zone and you already have a four-run lead. Let it fly and try to do some real damage. Didn’t work. Whatever.
The bullpen usage was a little weird only because Joe Girardi used Betances for just one batter — he got Matt Holliday to fly out to end that first-and-third situation in the sixth (on the first pitch, no less). Usually Betances would stay in to pitch the seventh inning as well, but it seems like Girardi didn’t want to push him given his recent workload. Dellin’s worked hard of late, so one batter it was.
Adam Warren, who had each of the last two days off, got five outs in the seventh and eighth before David Robertson finished things off with a four-out non-save. It did get a little messy though. Warren allowed a double and Robertson a single to score a run in the eighth, then Robertson allowed a single and a four-pitch walk to bring the tying run to the plate with no outs in the ninth. Then he struck out the next three batters because that’s what David Robertson does. Game over. Nice and easy.
Ellsbury had a much-needed huge game, going 3-for-5 with two runs, two steals, and three runs batted in. He stole second base without a throw twice, and replays showed that he was basically getting a running lead against Miller. Ellsbury had his move down pat (maybe after doing his homework in advance of the World Series last fall?) and took advantage. Still, three steals in three attempts against Molina in one series is damn impressive.
Roberts, Brendan Ryan, and Johnson all had multiple hits in addition to Ellsbury, just as we all expected. Murphy singled, Gardner walked, and McCann singled twice and walked. The 12 hits were the Yankees’ most since the second game against the Cubs and only their third time with double-digit hits in the last 15 games. That dates back to the second game against the Mets. On the other hand, the Yankees struck out only three times in the game and ten times in the entire series (122 batters, so 8.2%).
Four bad defensive plays by the infield in this game: Ryan booted a routine ground ball in the second, both Kuroda and Matt Thornton mishandled comebackers in the sixth, and Roberts got eaten up by a ground ball in the seventh. All were hard hit except Ryan’s grounder, but geez. Make a somewhat difficult play once a while? Could be cool?
Remember the Yankees supposedly stopped shifting behind Kuroda? Yeah, forget it. They were shifting behind him five days ago against the White Sox and they did it again on Wednesday against the Cardinals. Maybe they’re just not shifting behind him as much as they shift behind the other pitchers?
The Yankees are off on Thursday, then they will return to the Bronx to open a three-game weekend series against the Twins. Vidal Nuno and Ricky Nolasco will be the pitching matchup. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want to catch that game or any game on the seven-game homestand.
OF Slade Heathcott took batting practice before tonight’s game but apparently left with some kind of injury, according to Josh Norris. He took batting practice, spoke to the coaches, then went into the clubhouse. Your guess is as good as mine.
Triple-A Scranton (6-5 win over Louisville)
- SS Dean Anna: 2-5, 1 K — five hits in ten at-bats the last two days
- LF Ramon Flores: 1-4, 1 BB, 1 K – not his biggest game, but he has rebounded very well following a disappointing 2013 season
- 1B Kyle Roller: 2-4, 2 R, 2 K
- 3B Scott Sizemore: 1-5, 1 R, 1 K
- RF Zelous Wheeler: 1-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — hit a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the ninth, plus he threw a runner out at first
- 2B Corban Joseph: 2-4, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
- C Austin Romine: 2-4, 2 K
- RHP Brian Gordon: 6 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 8/3 GB/FB — 58 of 87 pitches were strikes (67%)
- RHP Danny Burawa: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 14 of 24 pitches were strikes (58%)
The nine-game road trip through the Midwest is finally over. Or at least it will be in a few hours. The Yankees have split the first eight games of the trip and were a David Robertson blown save away from winning five of eight (two opponent’s blown saves away from 2-6!). Tonight’s series finale against the Cardinals will determine if was a good trip or a bad one, relatively speaking. Not a whole lot of difference between 5-4 and 4-5, really.
With the off-day coming tomorrow and the non-Alfredo Aceves portion of the bullpen getting a rest yesterday, Joe Girardi is free to go nuts with his top relievers to nail down this win. Multiple innings for Dellin Betances and Adam Warren plus a four-out save from David Robertson? Girardi has done it before on this trip and I suspect he’ll do it again. Hopefully Hiroki Kuroda and the offense makes it a moot point. Here is the Cardinals lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- 2B Brian Roberts
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- 1B Brian McCann — yes, first base
- C John Ryan Murphy
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- SS Brendan Ryan
- 3B Kelly Johnson
- RHP Hiroki Kuroda
It’s another hot and humid day in St. Louis, plus there is some rain in the forecast later tonight. Same weather for all three games. The Yankees don’t visit the Cardinals again this year, so expect them to wait out the rain as long as possible if there’s a delay. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.
Update (7:53pm): The game is scheduled to start at 8:20pm ET now. There was a slight rain delay.
Chase Vallot | C
After growing up rural Louisiana, Vallot currently attends St. Thomas More High School in Lafayette. He has performed well in various showcase events over the years and is committed to Mississippi State.
Vallot is a bat first prospect with some of the best raw power in the draft class. He has a very quick right-handed swing and he explodes through the ball, though his approach isn’t great and it prevents him from fully tapping into his offensive potential. Vallot’s best defensive tool is his very strong arm. His overall receiving and footwork behind the plate need work, and there’s a chance he’ll wind up at first base long-term. He’s built like a catcher at 6-foot-1 and 205 lbs. Vallot is a good athlete and he has some speed, so the outfield could be a possibility as well.
Keith Law (subs. req’d), MLB.com, and Baseball America ranked Vallot as the 33rd, 50th, and 53rd best prospect in the draft class, respectively. Just yesterday Law said the Yankees are targeting a prep catcher early in the draft, mentioning Vallot by name. It makes sense, the Yankees love to stockpile not only catching prospects, but righty hitters with power. Vallot needs to work on his approach and defense, so he is definitely a project, but the unteachable skills (power and arm strength) are there. The Yankees don’t pick until the second round (55th overall) because of their offseason spending spree.
LHP Manny Banuelos is scheduled to pitch for Double-A Trenton tomorrow afternoon, according to Matt Kardos. He has been out a week or so with arm fatigue. After missing close to two full seasons and having Tommy John surgery, a little dead arm phase isn’t the most surprising thing in the world. I’m not sure if Banuelos will start or come out of the bullpen, but he’s been working short three and four-inning outings this year either way. Chances are they will take is slow his next few times out. · (11) ·
Earlier today we looked at the Yankees’ long list of needs, and outside of getting some players back from injury, they’ll need to go outside the organization to find solutions. That makes them exactly like every other team in baseball. No club comes into the season with everything they need to contend, and even if they somehow did find that right mix in the offseason, chances are someone will get hurt or underperform during the summer. That’s baseball.
As always, the Yankees’ biggest asset is their wallet. They have more money than everyone else (at least more than every AL team) and that definitely comes in handy. They could go out and sign Kendrys Morales tomorrow to beef up the lineup if they wanted. The only payroll limit they are up against is their self-imposed limit. Not every team is in that position. Not even close. The Yankees have the ability to absorb considerable salary at the trade deadline and Hal Steinbrenner has already said he is willing to do that to improve the team.
Taking on salary is one thing. Having pieces other teams want in a trade is another. The Yankees have run into some trouble swinging deals the last few years because of a lack of quality prospects — they reportedly tried to acquire Justin Upton two offseasons ago, but the Diamondbacks did not love the prospects they had to offer — and while the farm system has improved this year, it certainly isn’t loaded with top notch talent. Most of their best prospects are in the lower minors, which makes them less valuable in trades. Let’s (try to) take stock of the team’s trade chips.
This basically boils down to John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez at this point. Austin Romine is not a complete non-factor, but he has little value at this point. If I was another team making a trade with the Yankees, Romine is someone I would target as the third or fourth piece in a package of players. He’s still young (25) and the talent is there, so I see him as a change of scenery guy. That said, Romine won’t net the Yankees much on his own. I don’t buy the “Frankie Cervelli could start for half the teams in the league!” line of thinking and think he has tiny, almost negligible trade value. Maybe they could get a Grade-C pitching prospect like the Rays got for Jose Lobaton over the winter.
Murphy and Sanchez are the team’s two best prospects and they offer very different things. Murphy is as close to big league ready as it gets. A team could plug him into their lineup tomorrow, though his ultimate ceiling is more along the lines of solid regular than future star. Sanchez has that star potential but he is still in Double-A and he isn’t exactly tearing it up either. Trade for him and you’ll have to wait a year or two before he starts paying dividends, maybe longer given how hard the transition from the minors to MLB can be for catchers. I am an unabashed Murphy fan and he’d be the guy I’d want in any trade with the Yankees, but it doesn’t matter what I think or what Baseball America thinks. It depends on the other team’s evaluation.
No, I don’t think the Yankees will trade Gardner. I don’t think they could afford to lose him at this point either, not without getting a bat in return. He’s been what, their second or third best player this season (again)? Anyway, I would be very surprised if the Yankees traded Gardner but I don’t think it’s completely off the table. If another club is willing to give up both a bat and a pitcher — who would do that, really? — then sure, I doubt he’d be a dealbreaker. That extension makes him mighty attractive, especially since the next few free agent classes have little to offer as far as outfield help. Gardner’s not untouchable, but he’s damn close.
Every team needs bullpen help (including the Yankees!) and with a bevy of hard-throwers in Triple-A, the Yankees could part with one or two to get help elsewhere. Would they trade Dellin Betances? Given his track record of sudden control issues, it’s not a crazy idea. How do you replace him through? That’s the problem. No team is giving up an impact bat or especially a starter for reliever, even a great one. It’s hard to see how the Yankees could trade him and make the team appreciably better.
The idea of trading Shawn Kelley and/or Adam Warren is the same as trading Betances. How do you trade them and improve the team? I’m not sure it can be done. Preston Claiborne though? He’s someone who should be very available if another team likes him. Same goes for the Triple-A guys like Mark Montgomery, Danny Burawa, and especially Jose Ramirez given his injury history. I can’t imagine a contending team would balk at including a minor league bullpen prospect in a trade that would improve their big league roster. Minor league relievers are on the bottom of the list of untouchables.
By mid-level I mean prospects at Double-A who are a year or two away from the show, not guys you’d find in the 10-20 range of the top 30 list, for example. I guess Sanchez would fit here based on that definition, but I was thinking more along the lines of Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Peter O’Brien, Rob Refsnyder, Manny Banuelos, Bryan Mitchell … guys like that. Ramon Flores is in Triple-A, but it might make sense to classify him as a mid-level guy too. Can these prospects headline a package? Seems unlikely at this point. Austin, Heathcott, and especially Banuelos and Williams might have been able to once upon a time. The Yankees would be selling low on all four of them right now, though I don’t think that automatically means they should hang onto all of them either. You don’t want them to flame out all together and be left with nothing.
Lower Level Prospects
In about six weeks, teams will be able to trade their 2013 draft picks without having do the whole “player to be named later” trick. The Yankees could shop Aaron Judge, Eric Jagielo, and Ian Clarkin if they want — it wouldn’t be unprecedented, they did quickly cut bait on C.J. Henry to get Bobby Abreu a year after drafting him — plus others like Luis Severino, Abi Avelino, Rafael DePaula, Greg Bird, Jake Cave, and Miguel Andujar have some trade value. How much? That depends entirely on how the Yankees view them (they love them, all of them) and more importantly how the other team views them. These guys could be centerpieces or throw-ins depending on the team interested in acquiring them.
* * *
I think the Yankees will be at a disadvantage come the trade deadline because they don’t have an elite number one prospect to peddle. The Blue Jays could shop Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman. The Orioles have Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy (and Hunter Harvey). The Red Sox have a bevy of youngsters to offer. The Yankees don’t have a 2011 Jesus Montero or a 2006 Phil Hughes in their system. Their ability to take on money and their best realistic trade chip, and given how sky high revenues are these days, that isn’t an powerful as it once was.
The Yankees are more or less one-third of the way through their season right now — it’ll be exactly one-third of the way through following Saturday’s game, if you must know — so it’s not that early anymore. I mean, yeah, it is still pretty early, no one is out of the race yet or anything like that, but we’ve reached the point where we have a pretty good idea of who the Yankees are. They have an injured riddled rotation, an inconsistent offense, and an overworked bullpen. It’s not all bad of course, but there are problems that need to be addressed.
And yet, the Yankees come into today with a 27-24 record, which has them sitting three games back in the AL East with a half-game lead on a wildcard spot. They’re a good weekend from first place with a long way to go. Things could be much worse, but the Yankee seem to have this knack for hanging around and outperforming their problems. They did it just last year. That club has no business even thinking about the postseason in mid-September, and yet there they were. Even in their current state, I think it’s very clear this year’s team is better positioned to make a run than last year’s. It’s not even close, really.
The Yankees will need help to make any kind of run though, either internal help or by acquiring players from elsewhere. The Red Sox (Stephen Drew) and Orioles (Nick Hundley) have already taken steps to improve their roster, and I’m sure the Blue Jays are eager to capitalize on their current position atop the division as well. How long until we start seeing “Toronto interested in Jeff Samardzija” rumors? I give it like two weeks. Before we get into how they can address their problems — trust me, there is plenty of time to talk about that — we have to figure out what those problems are. Some are obvious. Others not so much.
Huge Need: Another Starting Pitcher
Masahiro Tanaka has been everything the Yankees could have possibly imagined and more. He’s been elite since day one and while I’m not sure he will sustain a 2.29 ERA and 2.61 FIP all season (pitching is hard), Tanaka is the very least of the team’s rotation concerns. The non-Tanaka starters have a 4.49 ERA and a 4.02 FIP though, and that’s a problem. Michael Pineda is working his way back from his back/shoulder injury but is still several weeks away. Even when he does return, how effective will he be and will stay healthy the rest of the year? Guys who have major shoulder surgery tend to keep getting hurt.
Hiroki Kuroda has not been as bad as he was down the stretch last year but he’s been far from the Hiroki Kuroda we all know and love, the guy who was ace-like for months at a time. He has shown flashes of improving but nothing more. At this point it’s tough to expect meaningful improvement. David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, and Chase Whitley are the number three, four, and five starters when they should be like, numbers six, seven, and eight. CC Sabathia? I’m not even sure what to say about him. Between the terrible performances and degenerative knee injury, I’m not sure how the Yankees could count on him to be anything more than a innings eating fifth starter when he does return. Adding another quality pitcher alongside Tanaka and maybe Pineda is imperative.
Big Need: Get More From Guys On The Roster
This goes without saying, but the Yankees need to get more from the players already on the roster. Jacoby Ellsbury (94 wRC+) and Brian McCann (75 wRC+)? Yeah, they have to do better than that, especially McCann. They were signed to anchor the roster and especially the lineup, not be big name complementary pieces. Alfonso Soriano (81 wRC+) has also been terrible. Kuroda falls into this category and I guess all the injured players do as well. This goes without saying, right? Needing more from the players already on the team is pretty standard across the league. Every club has guys not playing up to snuff.
Medium Need: Another Power Bat
So far the news on Carlos Beltran and his bone-spurred elbow has been positive, but he isn’t out of the woods just yet. Not even close, really. Mark Teixeira wrist has been barking on and off these last few weeks, and apparently the doctors said this will continue to happen from time to time, so the flare-ups will be an on-going thing. Soriano has a recent history of slow starts and I suppose he’s going through the same thing, but right now the power isn’t there. that’s pretty much his only redeeming quality. McCann’s seven homers are great, but his .152 ISO is his lowest since his rookie year in 2005.
As a team, the Yankees have a .139 ISO and are on pace for 149 homers, a tiny bit better than last year (.133 ISO and 144 HR). Remember, they play in a tiny ballpark and in a division full of time ballparks. On any given day, the so-called Bronx Bombers have little-to-no power players at second, short, left, and center, and that’s only because I’m giving Yangervis Solarte the benefit of the doubt. That’s half the lineup. The power production isn’t there, and while there is certainly more than one way to score a run, that ability to create offense with one swing is a game-changer. It makes rallying from behind and tacking on insurance runs much easier. Even if Beltran comes through this bone spur incident perfectly fine, another bat would be a big help.
Medium Need: Another Infielder
I have to admit, the infield has been way better than I thought it would be. Solarte has definitely cooled off but he still remains productive and a net positive to the team. He’s been an enormous lift. Derek Jeter is getting on base just enough (.337 OBP and 85 wRC+) — especially compared to the league average shortstop (.308 OBP and 87 wRC+) — to remain helpful, though it’s a far cry from vintage Jeter. Besides, it’s clear the team is not going to reduce his playing time at this point. The Cap’n will play, like it or not.
Brian Roberts has had his moments but has been pretty bad overall, both at the plate (85 wRC+) and in the field. He hasn’t been an outright disaster but he hasn’t exactly given the team a reason not to seek an upgrade. Kelly Johnson … I don’t get it. He’s been reduced to a once a week player and has struggled with the lack of playing time. I feel like Johnson is someone who could have helped had he not been buried. Whatever. And, of course, the overall infield defense has been a nightmare. All of them — Jeter, Solarte, Roberts, Johnson, and even Teixeira. Every game there’s a play(s) that hurts the team. There’s only so much the Yankees can do on the infield, but adding someone who can catch the ball and provide some pop should be on the trade deadline shopping list.
Small Need: Bullpen Depth
Both Adam Warren and Dellin Betances have been worked pretty hard these last few weeks, but Shawn Kelley will hopefully be back reasonably soon, and the Yankees do have some viable bullpen options in Triple-A, specifically Danny Burawa, Mark Montgomery, and Jose Ramirez. Matt Thornton has been good enough against lefties (.228 wOBA and 2.66 FIP) that replacing him isn’t a high priority. Getting some more length out of the rotation will make life easier on the bullpen, and even then there isn’t a team in the league that couldn’t use another reliever. Everyone wants bullpen help and the Yankees are no different. If they can find an upgrade, great. If not, well I doubt it will sink the season. The other problems are much more pressing.
That might have been the most joyless game of the season. Yeah, the Yankees lost 6-0 to the Cardinals, losses happen, but they didn’t even put up much of a fight. There was nothing to get excited about. No sustained offense, no tense moments, nothing. Yuck.
The 2014 Yankees In A Nutshell
The Cardinals’ four-run rally in the third inning was so perfectly 2014 Yankees. Hit to beat the shift? Check. Replacement starter giving up rockets? Also check. Bad infield defense? Double check. It was a microcosm of the season. Matt Carpenter led off with the ground ball single to where the shortstop would normally stand, then Matt Holliday (single) and Matt Adams (run scoring ground rule double) laced line drives. That was the start of the inning.
Because second and third with one out was not enough of a jam, the Yankees intentionally walked Yadier Molina to load the bases. Sure, why not. Allen Craig hit a weak ground ball to short, too weak to turn the double play, but the Bombers didn’t even get one out because Derek Jeter‘s throw pulled Kelly Johnson off first base. The error went to Johnson because I guess they’re not allowed to give Jeter errors in his final season. Coming off the bag to make the catch and apply the tag was the routine part of that play, apparently.
Anyway, a run scored on Craig’s fielder’s choice and the bases remained loaded. Jhonny Peralta tapped an easy double play ball to Brian Roberts at second, but off course he completely whiffed and the ball went into the outfield. Two runs scored. It appeared Roberts was planning to scoop the ball, tag the runner as he went by, then throw to first, but he took his eye off the grounder and that was that. Four runs, two earned, two balls hit out of the infield on the fly. Yankees baseball.
This was one of those games that makes you wonder how the Yankees ever scoren. They hit three balls hard all night. Three. Brian McCann doubled in the second inning, Roberts doubled in the fifth inning, and Brett Gardner singled in the sixth inning. That’s it. Their two other hits (singles by Brendan Ryan and Jacoby Ellsbury) were well-placed ground balls. Noted non-ground ball pitcher Lance Lynn somehow got 16 ground ball outs during his stress free complete game shutout. He walked more batters (three) than he struck out (two). That’s always fun.
The top four spots in the Yankees lineup generated all of their offense, relatively speaking, of course. Gardner, Jeter, Ellsbury, and McCann went a combined 3-for-13 with three walks while the rest of the lineup went 2-for-18. With both Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran banged out, the lineup is very short. Yangervis Solarte has cooled off and Alfonso Soriano just looks done. Like done done. I know he’s typically a slow starter and notorious second half hitter, but man. The life in his bat isn’t there anymore. Anyway, the Yankees stunk offensively.
Obviously his defense betrayed him, but otherwise Phelps was okay in front of his family back home. He allowed five runs (three earned) in six innings while striking out five. The only run he allowed outside of that hilarious third inning was a solo homer by Craig, which deflected off a leaping Soriano’s glove. Was it a great start? No. It wasn’t a disaster though. With a competent defense he probably holds the Cardinals to three runs.
Alfredo Aceves was the only reliever to pitch, so the rest of the bullpen got a much-needed night off. Aceves allowed a solo homer to Holliday in his two innings of work, and he has now allowed nine runs and four homers in his last ten innings of work. He’s awful, yes, but I think there is some value in having a “who the hell cares?” veteran long man Joe Girardi can run into the ground in games like this.
It won’t make any highlight shows because there was no fancy dive, but Ellsbury made an outstanding running catch to rob Carpenter of extra bases in the first inning. It was a rocket over Ellsbury’s head, but he tracked it down and caught it on the warning track while running full speed. Outstanding catch.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and video highlights, head over to MLB.com. FanGraphs has some other stats and the updated standings are at ESPN. The Blue Jays are going to run away with the AL East if someone doesn’t stop them soon.
The Yankees and Cardinals will play the rubber game of this three-game set on Wednesday night as the nine-game road trip finally comes to an end. Hiroki Kuroda and Shelby Miller will be the pitching matchup.
Let’s start with the notes:
- According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed LHP Ramon Benjamin to a minor league contract. “A one-time Marlins prospect, [Benjamin] has matchup relief potential based on his fastball/slider mix, but he hasn’t pitched since 2011 because of injury,” wrote Eddy.
- RHP Ty Hensley pitched in an Extended Spring Training game earlier today, according to his Twitter feed. It was his first game action since the end of the 2012 regular season. Hensley’s been out with hip and hernia surgeries, and it sounds like we might actually see him in a minor league game relatively soon.
- RHP Bruce Billings has been activated off the Triple-A Scranton DL, according to Donnie Collins. He hasn’t pitched in a little more than a month due to a forearm problem. LHP Matt Tracy was sent to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot.
- 3B Dante Bichette Jr. was named the High-A Florida State League Offensive Player of the Week and LHP Jeremy Bleich was named the Double-A Eastern League Pitcher of the Week.
Triple-A Scranton (11-4 win over Louisville)
- CF Ramon Flores: 1-6, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
- 3B Scott Sizemore: 3-6, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 2 K – 9-for-21 (.429) in his last five games
- 1B Kyle Roller: 2-5, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K, 1 HBP – 12th dinger of the season
- SS Dean Anna: 3-5, 2 R, 1 3B, 2 RBI – snaps out of an 0-for-20 slump
- C Austin Romine: 2-3, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 BB
- DH Corban Joseph: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI
- RHP Bruce Billings: 2.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 2/5 GB/FB — 27 of 49 pitches were strikes (55%)
- SwP Pat Venditte: 3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 Balk, 3/1 GB/FB – 30 of 49 pitches were strikes (61%)
- RHP Jose Ramirez: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2/2 GB/FB – 28 of 45 pitches were strikes (62%)
- RHP Mark Montgomery: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 13 of 24 pitches were strikes (54%) … has to get that 6.26 BB/9 under control before he becomes a realistic call-up option