The starting rotation has been a strength during the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Five games into the 2017 season, everything that could go wrong with the Yankees was going wrong. Their young hitters were struggling, the rotation was providing neither bulk innings nor quality innings, and their greatest strength (Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman) was rendered moot because the rest of the team wasn’t doing its job. The Yankees lost four of their first five games and looked every bit as bad as their 1-4 record suggested.

Fast forward a week, and the Yankees are now riding a seven-game winning streak heading into tonight’s series opener against the rebuilding White Sox. This winning streak started with a late-inning comeback win over the Orioles last Sunday, the kind of game you can easily build a “turning point!” narrative around, and has continued with back-to-back three-game sweeps of the Rays and Cardinals.

Winning seven straight games requires a team effort. The Yankees have not been carried offensively by one player. There seems to be a new hero every night. Aaron Judge hit home runs in three straight games at one point. Aaron Hicks had a two-homer game last week. Last night Greg Bird snapped out of his slump and got in on the fun too. The bullpen has been great as well, even on days Betances and Chapman were unavailable.

One constant during this seven-game winning streak has been strong starting pitching, and given how things played out in those first five games of the season, I didn’t think we’d be able to consider the rotation a strength so soon. The starters have pitched well and they’ve also pitched deep into games, lightening the workload on the bullpen. Here’s the rotation game log for the winning streak:

Date & Opponent Starter IP H R ER BB K HR
April 9th @ Orioles CC Sabathia 6 6 3 2 4 3 0
April 10th vs. Rays Michael Pineda 7.2 2 1 1 0 11 1
April 12th vs. Rays Jordan Montgomery 4.2 5 3 2 2 7 1
April 13th vs. Rays Luis Severino 7 5 2 2 1 11 1
April 14th vs. Cardinals Masahiro Tanaka 6.1 5 3 3 2 5 1
April 15th vs. Cardinals CC Sabathia 7.1 3 1 1 1 6 1
April 16th vs. Cardinals Michael Pineda 7 6 2 2 1 6 1
Totals 46 32 15 13 11 49 6

That’s a seven-game stretch with a 2.54 ERA and a 4.45 K/BB ratio for the starters. They also have a 0.93 WHIP, if WHIP is your thing. Furthermore, the Yankees have gotten at least six innings from their starter in all but one of those seven games, with the only exception being Montgomery’s big league debut. Joe Girardi said he was on a pitch count — Montgomery threw 89 pitches that day after throwing no more than 77 pitches in Spring Training or the minors — plus a kid making his MLB debut tends to have a short leash.

Pineda has been the pitching star during his seven-game winning streak. He retired the first 20 batters he faced in the home opener last Monday, and last night he gave the Yankees another seven strong innings. In a way, last night’s game was more impressive. Pineda had everything working in the home opener, and when that happens, he’s untouchable. Last night he ran into some trouble early, including allowing a two-out run in the second inning, but he settled down and pitched deep into the game. And when Yadier Molina took him deep to start the seventh inning, Pineda shook it off and retired the next three batters without incident. There was no unraveling this time.

“I didn’t think his slider was as sharp as the other day, but he found a way to get through seven innings,” said Girardi after the game. “His stuff got better after the second inning. Fastball and changeup was good. He gave up the one run with two outs, but then he settled down after that and threw a good game. It’s important because you want him to keep building and get some momentum, because he had a hard time doing that last year.”

Amazingly enough, Tanaka has been the Yankees worst starting pitcher in the super early going this year. I didn’t expect to write that at any point this season. His three starts have gotten progressively better — at one point in his last start he retired 17 of 19 batters — but he still looks a little off. Tanaka’s location has not been nearly as good as it usually is so far this year, particularly with his fastball. Check it out, via Brooks Baseball:

masahiro-tanaka-fastball-location

You can click the image for a larger view, which is probably a good idea. Anyway, that is 2016 on the left and 2017 on the right, and we’re looking at Tanaka’s fastball location from the catcher’s point of view. Last year Tanaka lived down in the zone and to his arm side with his heater. This year he’s over the plate and up in the zone more often, and he’s paid dearly for some missed locations already.

Tanaka said all throughout Spring Training he wasn’t right mechanically and I don’t know about you, but I kinda brushed it off because he was dominating. Obviously that was a mistake. I know we’re conditioned to think “Tanaka isn’t pitching well oh no is his elbow hurt?” nowadays — isn’t it awful? man it’s awful — but there’s no reason to think he’s hurt. He’s throwing as hard as he usually does and he’s still going out there every fifth day. Sometimes pitchers fall out of whack mechanically and their location suffers. Tanaka is so darn good that I think it’s only a matter of time until he gets back on track. We saw signs of it in his last start.

Point is, when Tanaka is your worst starting pitcher, even for a 12-game stretch early in the season, that means you must be getting some pretty good work from your other starters. And the Yankees have. Sabathia has been awesome so far, Pineda’s last two outings were impressive, Montgomery showed some positive signs in his start, and Luis Severino has looked far better this year than he did any time as a starter last year. Severino’s improvement and development is incredibly important to the Yankees long-term. He’s part of the new young core.

For now, the starting pitchers are on a roll and have more or less carried the Yankees through this seven-game winning streak. We know it won’t last forever. At some point someone will have a dud start, or the Yankees will need a sixth starter, something like that. That’s baseball. The rotation was an easily identifiable weak spot coming into the season, though right now, there are indications this unit can be a strength, or at least not a glaring weakness.

Yankeemetrics: We’re Going Streaking (April 14-16)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Comeback kids
Behind the improved pitching of Masahiro Tanaka, and the power of Starlin Castro and Austin Romine, the Yankees opened their 2017 Interleague slate on Friday night with a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Cardinals. This was the Redbirds first visit to the new Yankee Stadium, making the Padres the only team that hasn’t visited the Bronx since 2009.

Masahiro Tanaka entered this matchup having allowed just one run in 21 innings (0.43 ERA) over three Interleague starts at Yankee Stadium. That was the lowest ERA in the majors by any pitcher with two career home Interleague starts … until the third batter of the game, Matt Carpenter, crushed a two-run homer to give the Cardinals an early 2-0 lead.

He settled down after that rocky first frame, retiring 10 straight at one point, before faltering again in the seventh. Tanaka has now given up 13 runs in three outings this season – a number he didn’t reach until May 10 last year in his seventh start of the 2016 campaign.

Castro quickly evened the scored with a two-run blast in the bottom of the first. It was Castro’s 11th game-tying or go-ahead homer in pinstripes, two more than every other Yankee since the start of last season.

Romine then delivered the eventual game-winner, a solo homer in the bottom of the second to put them ahead 3-2. It was the first time in his career he went deep to give the Yankees a lead.

(AP)
(AP)

Sabathia > Father Time
CC Sabathia produced a vintage performance in Saturday’s 3-2 Yankee victory, throwing 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball, while picking up his his 225th career win on Jackie Robinson Day. That moved him past Hall-of-Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter for sole possession of 66th place on MLB’s all-time wins list.

Sabathia also lowered his ERA to 1.47, the third-lowest of his career through his first three starts of a season; the only better marks were in 2011 (1.45) and 2005 (0.92).

The Yankees needed Sabathia’s masterpiece because their offense remained stuck in neutral for much of the game. They went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position, left 12 men on base and tied a franchise record with 17 strikeouts (done three times previously). Somehow, the Yankees are now 2-1-1 all-time when striking out 17 times in a game.

Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez was both utterly dominant and laughably wild at times on Saturday afternoon, finishing with one of the most bizarre pitching lines you’ll ever see: 11 strikeouts, eight walks, four hits, three runs allowed.

He’s the first pitcher to walk at least eight guys and fan at least 11 batters since Randy Johnson in 1993, and the first to do that against the Yankees since Bob Feller in 1937.

Even more ridiculous is that he did this all in just 5 1/3 innings. Martinez is the only pitcher in major-league history to have 11-or-more strikeouts and eight-or-more walks in a game and not make it out of the sixth inning.

Seventh Heaven
The Yankees completed the sweep of the Cardinals on Sunday with a convincing 9-3 win, extending their win streak to an MLB-best seven games. They now have two sweeps in two home series this season, after notching just three sweeps in 26 home series in 2016.

The victory also pushes their Yankee Stadium record to 6-0, the second time in the Wild Card era (since 1995) they’ve won their first six games at home. It also happened in 1998, a season that ended … yeah, pretty sweet.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Greg Bird broke out of his brutal season-opening slump in style, as he reached base in all four plate appearances with a home run, double, single and a walk (hey, a triple short of the cycle!).

Prior to his second-inning homer, Bird was hitless in his previous 20 at-bats, and had just one hit and a whopping 13 strikeouts in 30 trips to the plate this season. Entering Sunday, his batting average (.038), slugging percentage (.077) and OPS (.244) were each the worst among the 237 MLB players with at least 30 plate appearances this season.

Bird’s homer was his first since Oct. 1, 2015, making him the 10th different Yankee in 2017 to go yard. That’s tied with the Tigers, Rays and Brewers for the most players with at least one homer this season.

Chase Headley continued to swing a hot bat, pushing his batting average above .400 and notching his seventh multi-hit performance of the year. He’s the first Yankee third baseman since Bobby Murcer in 1969 to have seven multi-hit games this early into the season (first 12 team games), and joins Derek Jeter (2010, 2012) as the only Yankees at any position to do it in the last decade.

Michael Pineda followed up his near-perfecto with another excellent outing, showing a hint of the consistency that has so far eluded him during his Jekyll-and-Hyde career in pinstripes. It was just the second time as a Yankee that he pitched at least seven innings and surrendered no more than two runs in back-to-back games (also May 5-10, 2015).

Fan Confidence Poll: April 17th, 2017

Record Last Week: 6-0 (35 RS, 15 RA)
Season Record: 8-4 (60 RS, 40 RA, 8-4 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: vs. White Sox (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Pirates (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab on the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Yankees beat the Cardinals 9-3 for second straight sweep

Beautiful (Elsa/Getty)
Beautiful (Elsa/Getty)

Seven in a row and a sweep! It was a good night to don Yankees gear as the Bronx Bombers beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-3 behind Michael Pineda‘s arm and excellent hitting performances all around, especially from Greg Bird (!). It’s Sunday night so let’s do it bullet point style for this gamer:

  • The big bombs: If you ask me, or most of the other Yankee fans, that Aaron Judge fly ball should’ve been a homer. From what I saw, the ball sure seemed to eek over the fence before an idiot fan Jeffrey Maier’d his own team. Interestingly enough, the umpires, upon reviewing the fly, ruled that the ball would not have cleared the fences and ordered Judge to stay at third (since he had already reached there by hustling). So many questions about that one, but Bird distracted the fans very quickly by hitting a two-seamer inside from Adam Wainwright deep into the bleachers for a two-run homer, giving Yankees a 3-1 lead. Also look who joined into the party: Aaron Hicks! Sluggin’ Hicks hit a tall fly that landed into the short porch in the bottom of fifth to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead. After tonight’s game, he has a .318/.484/.773 line in 31 PAs, which is Bonds-esque. Have no idea how long this hot Hicks streak will last so I’m just going to enjoy it now.
  • The Greg Bird: Have you not heard? Bird is the word (okay, I won’t reference it ever again in the gamers). After starting the season with a 1-for-26 slump (.038 avg), Bird seemed like a totally different hitter tonight. He hit three balls on the screws for a 3-for-3 night with a walk, raising his season line to .138/.265/.310. Like many hitters have experienced, Bird was a triple away from the cycle. More importantly, after seeming helpless at the plate for the past few weeks, he hit the ball with absolute authority tonight. Here is a guy who needed a turning point this season and he may have gotten one tonight.
  • Big Mike: After that mind-blowing start vs. the Rays last week, a lot of fans seem to wonder if the good Pineda would be back tonight. Well, he had two failing moments but that was it. In the second inning, he allowed a two-out RBI single to Greg Garcia that gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead. In the seventh, against Yadier Molina, he hung a slider in the zone and the Cardinals catcher sent it into the left field seats for a solo HR. So besides the familiar dinger and two-out RBI problems, Pineda looked great. Per Brooks Baseball, he got 12 whiffs, which is good. What is noteworthy, however, is that four of those came from his changeup. Pineda has two sure pitches and the changeup has been a work in progress for a long time. If he can establish consistency as a three-pitch pitcher all the way, he could have a very nice year heading into the free agency. Tonight’s outing brought Pineda’s ERA down to 3.44 and his FIP/xFIP are at 2.72 and 1.99 respectively. Pretty good.
  • A barrage of runs: With a 4-2 lead into the bottom of eighth, and Dellin Betances having pitched a scoreless frame, it seemed like the Yankees were going to go with the Aroldis Chapman = closer equation for the ninth. However, that was interrupted by the five-run outburst by the offense. The Yankees got the bases loaded against Michael Socolovich (two walks and a single) and Austin Romine brought two of them in with a double, extending the lead to 6-2. Ronald Torreyes followed it up with a 2-RBI ground rule double to make it 8-2. Bottom of the lineup getting it done! Two batters later, Hicks hit a sac fly to drive in Torreyes. Bryan Mitchell allowed a run in one inning of work before closing out the game to make it 9-3, the final score.
  • Box score, WP graph and standings: Head over to ESPN for box score and standings and Fangraphs for WPA graph.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees will next host the Chicago White Sox for a three-game series before they head to a six-game road trip. Jordan Montgomery and Derek Holland will be on the mound Monday. Enjoy the feeling of this seven-game winning streak until then.

Game 12: A St. Louis Sweep?

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees are the hottest team in baseball right now. They’ve won their last six games — that’s the longest winning streak by any team so far this year — and tonight they have a chance to finish off a sweep of the Cardinals. The Cardinals have been one of the most successful franchises in baseball over the last decade or so, but boy have they looked sloppy this weekend.

Michael Pineda will be on the mound tonight making his first start since his flirtation with perfection during Monday’s home opener. Is another dominant performance on tap? Or will he get knocked out in the fourth inning like he did in his first start of the season? Pineda is nothing if not unpredictable. The rotation has been on a roll of late and I hope it continues tonight. Here is the Cardinals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. DH Jacoby Ellsbury
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Michael Pineda

It was hot in New York today. Like middle of the summer hot. There’s some cloud cover now and there is a little rain in the forecast tonight, though it doesn’t seem to be anything that will result in a long delay. Hopefully not, anyway. Tonight’s game will begin at 8pm ET and you can watch on ESPN. Enjoy.

DotF: Green dominates, Fowler snaps out of slump in AAA win

RHP Ben Heller is working on his slider with Triple-A Scranton, specifically making sure he uses the same arm slot as his fastball, writes Shane Hennigan. When he does that, the pitch dives down rather than sweep to the side. Either way, I’m sure we’ll see Heller back in the Bronx at some point this year.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 win over Buffalo)

  • 2B Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 K
  • RF Clint Frazier: 1-4, 1 RBI, 2 K — one two-hit game, five one-hit games, and three no-hit games so far
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 2-4, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 K — came into the game 4-for-32 (.125) on the season
  • 1B Rob Refsnyder: 2-4, 1 3B, 1 RBI
  • LF Mason Williams: 0-4, 3 K — off to a 4-for-23 (.174) start
  • SS Ruben Tejada: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K — 9-for-23 (.391) with seven walks and two strikeouts in the early going
  • RHP Chad Green: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 7/4 GB/FB — 62 of 92 pitches were strikes (67%) … Chad Green dominates Triple-A hitters, news at eleven
  • LHP Chasen Shreve: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — seven of 12 pitches were strikes (58%)
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — ten pitches, seven strikes

[Read more…]

Sunday Open Thread

The Yankees and Cardinals don’t wrap up their three-game series until later tonight, in the ESPN Sunday Night Game. Weekend night games are the bane of my fandom. The worst. So anyway, before the game comes along, check out Tyler Kepner’s piece of Brian Cashman. It’s a week old — I’ve been busy the last few days and haven’t had much time to read all the stuff I have bookmarked — but is very much worth the read.

Here is an open thread until the game thread comes along. The Mets are playing this afternoon and MLB Network is showing a regional game. There are also NBA playoff games on ABC and TNT, and NHL playoff games on the NBC family of networks, including Game Three for the (hockey) Rangers. Talk about those games, the Cashman article, or anything else other than religion or politics here. Thanks.