Still plenty left for the Yankees to do in 2014

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

Although they mathematically still have a chance, the Yankees are not going to the postseason this year. They’re six games back of the second wildcard spot with three teams ahead of them and only eleven games to play, so it would take a historic comeback to make the playoffs. I don’t see this team doing anything historic other than maybe getting no-hit. There will be no October baseball for a second straight year.

The Yankees do still have those eleven games to play though, and playing meaningless baseball for nearly two weeks is not something the Yankees or their fans are familiar with. There haven’t been a lot of truly meaningless games around these parts the last two decades. The focus has shifted to 2015 now and there are a few things the Yankees can do to take advantage of these final eleven games.

Shut Down Whoever Else Is Hurt
Brett Gardner just missed a few days with an abdomen strain — he’s has been awful since returning, in case you haven’t noticed — and Mark Teixeira‘s surgically repaired wrist has flared up again. There is no reason for the Yankees to push these two and have them try to play through injury. No one gets bonus points for being macho. Martin Prado and his hamstring would have fit here as well, but his recent appendectomy took care of that. I’m sure there are other players on the roster dealing with nagging injuries (Jacoby Ellsbury‘s ankle?), so any regulars with an injury that could somehow turn into something more severe shouldn’t be playing. The only exception to this should be Masahiro Tanaka, whose partially torn elbow ligament and progressing rehab is a very unique situation.

Shut Down Dellin Betances
It goes without saying that Betances has been the biggest bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season. He went from failed starting pitcher prospect to arguably the best reliever in baseball and an important part of the Yankees going forward, regardless of what happens with David Robertson‘s free agency after the season. The team is counting on Betances to be a core piece of their relief crew going forward and for good reason. He has two out pitches in his fastball and breaking ball and I’m pretty sure standing in the box against him is terrifying.

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

That said, Betances has thrown the most innings (87.2) and the most pitches (1,328) among full-time relievers this year, and most of those innings and pitches have been high-stress. The Yankees have clearly scaled back on his workload these last few weeks — “No, no. Absolutely not. Dellin has been used a lot too, so, no,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings following Sunday’s game when asked if he considered using Betances for multiple innings — and understandably so. I know he threw 120+ innings several times in the minors, but throwing 120+ innings every fifth day as a starter is much different from throwing 80+ innings as a high-leverage reliever.

Watching Betances has been literally the most enjoyable thing about the 2014 Yankees. His near-bust prospect to elite reliever story makes him easy to root for. But he’s also worked a lot this year. Betances also has a history of arm problems, both shoulder and elbow, so shutting him down now will allow him to get nice physical and mental break heading into the offseason. The Yankees have every reason to do whatever it takes to keep Betances healthy and effective both now and in the future. With the team out of the postseason, shutting him down before his workload grows even more makes sense.

Give Bryan Mitchell Another Start(s)
Mitchell’s first career start went pretty well on Friday as he limited the Orioles to two runs on six hits and two walks in five innings while being held to an 85-ish pitch count. Considering he had not pitched in a real game in two weeks — the Yankees did have him throw a 50-pitch simulated game at some point early last week to keep him stretched out and sharp — and surely had some first career start jitters to deal with, Mitchell did a fine job.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

There is not a whole lot of evaluating that can be done by giving Mitchell another start or two; teams and scouts won’t change their opinion of him based on those short looks (barring injury), but it is an opportunity to let him get more comfortable and gain some experience. Not much, but some, and every little bit helps. The Yankees need pitching help this winter and Mitchell is likely to in the sixth/seventh starter spot heading into the next season. Giving him a few more innings to get comfortable and build confidence is a no-brainer.

Let John Ryan Murphy Start Some Games
Murphy is a good young catching prospect and, like Mitchell, the Yankees should do whatever they can to help him get comfortable and gain experience these last two weeks. Start him seven or eight times in the final eleven games, something like that. Again, 25 at-bats or so won’t (or shouldn’t) change what we think about him, but they could help send him into the offseason feeling pretty good about where he stands in the organization. That’s not nothing.

This isn’t just about Murphy, either. Brian McCann is in the first year of his five-year contract and he’s been a starting big league catcher since he was 22 years old. That’s a lot of squatting behind the plate — most of it during hot Atlanta summers — and a lot of wear and tear. The Yankees would still be able to use McCann at DH, but the goal is to get him out from behind the plate to save him physically, even just a little bit. It would also reduce the risk of a foul tip to the face mask and other incidental injuries like that. Like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with McCann, so they should do whatever they can to protect their investment now that they’re out of the postseason mix.

Start Contract Talks With Robertson & Brandon McCarthy
The five days immediately following the World Series constitute the exclusive negotiating period for free agents, though the Yankees will get an extra month to talk with their impending free agents by virtue of not playing baseball in October. Their exclusive negotiating period is really one month plus the five days, and they should take advantage by starting talks with McCarthy and Robertson (and Chase Headley?), two players they should try to retain for obvious reasons. The sooner they start serious negotiations, the better their chances of keeping them off the open market and away from a potential bidding war. There are still eleven games to be played, but the 2014-15 offseason begins now for New York.

Yankees break out for three runs, beat Rays 3-2

The Yankees scored three runs! And they won too! Games like Wednesday night’s have become way too rare for this team. Those three runs stood up thanks to the pitching staff and the Yankees were able to salvage the series finale against the Rays with a 3-2 victory.


Three Runs!
In the span of two innings on Wednesday, the Yankees matched their runs total from the previous three games combined. A leadoff hit-by-pitch got the offense started in the fifth inning — it was unintentional and not a continuation of Tuesday’s silliness, Alex Cobb hit Chris Young with a breaking ball in the butt cheek — then Chase Headley and Brendan Ryan had the big blows with doubles to left-center and right field, respectively. Headley drove in Young and scored when Ryan’s double hopped over the fence for a ground-rule job.

The two runs gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead, and an inning later they managed to tack on an ultimately necessary insurance run. A single (Derek Jeter) and two walks (Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira) loaded the bases with no outs, though Young popped up in foul territory for the first out, putting the team a ground ball away from no runs. Thankfully, Brett Gardner unloaded on a 3-0 fastball and hit it to the very top of the wall in right field, only to watch Wil Myers make a tremendous leaping catch to rob him of an easy double and a possible triple. It was a truly great catch. Jeter was able to score from third on the sac fly.

Headley drew a walk to reload the bases but Ichiro Suzuki hit a tapper back to Cobb to end the threat. Considering how things have been going for this offense of late, getting one run out of a bases loaded, no outs situation kinda felt like a win. It would have been several runs if not for Myers. In all likelihood Gardner’s fly ball is a grand slam in the Bronx. It was close to leaving the yard anyway. The Yankees scored seven runs total in their last six games, so consider cobbling together three runs against Cobb a minor miracle.

De facto staff ace Brandon McCarthy made two bad pitches all night, basically. He left a pitch up in the zone to Evan Longoria in the fourth inning, resulting in a solo homer to dead center and the game’s first run. Then, in the sixth, McCarthy left another pitch up to David DeJesus, who hit it over Ichiro‘s head in right field for a triple. I thought Ichiro had a chance to make a play, but his leap was either ill-timed or just short. DeJesus was rounding second by time the ball bounced off the turf and high off the top of the wall.


Longoria grounded out to short to score DeJesus and bring the Rays to within 3-2. McCarthy held the Rays to those two runs on four hits and a walk in seven innings of work — his final inning was an Immaculate Inning, three strikeouts on nine pitches — while striking out four and getting 15 of his other 17 outs on the infield. I was surprised Joe Girardi lifted him after only 91 pitches (63 strikes) because it looked like he had plenty of gas left in the tank for the eighth inning, especially with the bottom of the order due up. Either way, McCarthy was pretty great on Wednesday, which has been the norm during his time in pinstripes.

Record Breaker
Girardi went to Dellin Betances for the eighth inning and, long story short, he struck out DeJesus looking to strand pinch-runner Brandon Guyer at third base. Ryan Hanigan drew a leadoff walk before Guyer stole second and moved to third on Ben Zobrist’s grounder. Betances struck out Kevin Kiermaier earlier in the inning, so he now has 132 strikeouts on the season. That breaks Mariano Rivera‘s single-season franchise record for a reliever. Mo had 130 strikeouts in 107.2 innings in 1996. Dellin has 132 strikeouts in 87.2 innings. Congrats to him.

David Robertson, who was pitching for the first time since blowing the save in his third straight day of work on Sunday, pitched around a two-out single for his 37th save of the season. He struck out Longoria, got James Loney to ground out, then struck out Nick Franklin after Myers singled through the shift. Hopefully Robertson gets to 40 saves this year. No reason in particular, it’s just a cool round number. Rivera, Rafael Soriano, John Wetteland, and Dave Righetti are the only pitchers in team history with a 40+ save season. Mo had nine, the other three guys had one each.


Jeter’s leadoff single in the sixth inning snapped his ugly 0-for-28 skid. It was a legit line drive back up the middle. He went 1-for-4 with a run scored on the night overall. Jacoby Ellsbury (single), Headley (double), and Ryan (double) had the team’s other three hits. McCann, Teixeira, and Headley had the three walks. Headley’s walk to reload the bases in the sixth was New York’s final base-runner.

According to Lee Sinins, McCarthy had the fifth Immaculate Inning in Yankees’ history. Al Downing, Ron Guidry, A.J. Burnett, and Ivan Nova have also done it. I remember Burnett doing it but not Nova. SABR says there have been fewer than 100 recorded Immaculate Innings in baseball history.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
You can find the box score and video highlights at FanGraphs has some additional stats and the updated standings are at ESPN. The Yankees will be either five games (Royals lose) or six games (Royals win) back of the second wildcard spot will eleven games remaining. FanGraphs has their current postseason odds at 0.2% and their elimination number is seven. It’ll be six of Kansas City wins. The Yankees did move into a tie with the Blue Jays for second place in the AL East though. Second is better than third.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are heading back to the Bronx for their final homestand of the season. The Blue Jays are coming to town for four games and will send knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to the mound in Thursday night’s opener. Shane Greene will be on the bump for the Bombers. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch any of the final eight home games of the season/Jeter’s career.

Update: Carlos Beltran leaves Yankees to attend to family matter

10:10pm: Awful news. Beltran announced on Facebook that he and his wife lost their son. A newspaper report out of Puerto Rico says his wife had a miscarriage. “Everything happens according to God’s perfect timing, and my wife and I accept it that way. Thank you for all the messages of love,” said Beltran. Our condolences go out to the Beltran family.

12:30pm: Carlos Beltran has left the Yankees to attend to a family matter, Joe Girardi announced following last night’s game. There is no timetable for his return but it will be at least a few days. The Yankees are out of the race and Beltran has started just one of the last eight games because the bone spur in his elbow has been acting up, so his absence isn’t going to hurt the team or be especially noticeable. Hopefully everything’s okay with his family.

Game 151: Retaliation?

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Things got a little heated between the Yankees and Rays last night after Derek Jeter was hit by a pitch up high. Tampa has plunked several Yankees hitters in their last few meetings. Following the game, Joe Girardi and some players said they weren’t necessarily upset with getting hit, but where they were getting hit, specifically up high around the hands and head. If you’re going to pitch inside, do it down in the zone. That was their basic message.

The Yankees are clearly upset with the Rays and frustrated by the way their season has played out in general, so if there is going to be any sort of retaliation, it’ll happen tonight, in their final head-to-head game of the season. It’s worth noting that Joe West, tonight’s scheduled home plate umpire, was just suspended one game by MLB for an incident over the weekend, meaning there will be a replacement umpire on the staff. Hopefully nothing happens and these two teams just play baseball. Throwing at people is weak. Just beat them. Here is the Rays lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:

  1. DH Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. LF Chris Young
  6. CF Brett Gardner
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Ichiro Suzuki
  9. 2B Brendan Ryan
    RHP Brandon McCarthy

More heat, more humidity, and more rain in the St. Petersburg area today. The Tropicana Field dome came in handy this series. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Yankees’ current 2015 rotation options full of uncertainty


On Sunday, Masahiro Tanaka will get back on the mound and pitch in the big league game for the first time since the week before the All-Star break. It will be the biggest step in his rehab from a partially torn elbow ligament, and, really, the best case scenario is seeing that the ligament won’t blow out the instant is it subjected to a game action stress level. It’s either going to blow out or not blow out, but even if it doesn’t, there is no guarantee it will stay intact going forward.

No matter what, Tanaka will head into next season as a big health question mark. The Yankees have to go into the offseason assuming the worst — that the elbow will give out at some point relatively soon — and act accordingly, meaning bringing in plenty of pitching depth. In fact, just about every big league caliber starter in the organization will carry uncertain health into next season if Hiroki Kuroda does not return. To wit:

  • CC Sabathia is coming off knee surgery after there were concerns he may need a career-threatening microfracture procedure.
  • Ivan Nova had Tommy John surgery on April 29th and the best case rehab scenario has him back on a big league mound in late-April 2015.
  • Michael Pineda is healthy right now but missed more than three months this year with a muscle problem in his back/shoulder. That’s on top of the shoulder surgery that cost him 2011-12.
  • David Phelps just missed a month with elbow inflammation after missing more than two months with a pair of forearm strains in the second half last year. He’s yet to show he can handle a full season’s workload.

And then there’s Tanaka’s elbow on top of all of that. We already know Nova will not be ready come Opening Day and the recent rash of pitchers who have had complications coming back from Tommy John surgery — with the last 14 months Daniel Hudson, Cory Luebke, and Jonny Venters all needed a second Tommy John procedure before completing the rehab from their first surgery — is a reminder that Tommy John is not fullproof. Several doctors, most notably Dr. James Andrews, have said the 12-month rehab may be too aggressive, so the Yankees might take is slow with Nova.

No one really knows what to expect out of Sabathia going forward, so at this point the safest bets to be healthy at the start of next season are Pineda and Phelps, and that is kinda scary because neither of them is all that durable. As I’ve said before, I think the Yankees need to focus on adding depth and multiple pieces to strengthen the roster for top to bottom this offseason. Adding one star caliber pitcher like Max Scherzer or Jon Lester will certainly help, but in the end those guys only fill one of five rotation spots while the other four remain questionable.

Priority number one this winter will clearly be improving the offense. It has to be. The patchwork rotation has done a fine job filling in this year but many of the rotation injuries are going to carry over to next year. In a perfect world I’d like to see Pineda and Phelps penciled in as the fifth and sixth starter again, respectively, but at the moment they are the team’s two healthiest starters under contract (or team control, really) for next year. Bringing in a starter to replace Kuroda this winter is the bare minimum. The Yankees have a lot of injury risks in the rotation and the offseason is the time to add some protection.

One way or another, Yanks will learn something about Tanaka’s elbow on Sunday

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees announced Masahiro Tanaka will make his (hopefully) triumphant return to the rotation on Sunday after more than two months on the shelf with a partially torn elbow ligament. Unfortunately the team is out of the postseason race, so there won’t be a fun “Tanaka comes back from his injury and leads the Yankees to October” storyline to follow. Bummer. That really would have been something.

Tanaka has spent the last two months rehabbing the ligament tear and the last six weeks actively working his way back with bullpen sessions and simulated games. He threw 65 pitches during his most intense simulated game on Monday and apparently that was enough to convince the Yankees he is ready for game action. Tanaka will be limited to 70-75 pitches on Sunday, plus there’s even enough time left in the season for him to make another start after that.

Now, this entire situation is sorta weird. Four doctors (four!) advised Tanaka to rehab his injury rather than undergo Tommy John surgery, but there’s still a chance he will need to go under the knife. In fact, it’s almost an inevitability. Once the ligament starts to tear, even a tiny little bit like Tanaka’s, it’s usually only a matter of time before it goes. It could blow on Sunday, it could blow in April, it could blow in 2023. Adam Wainwright pitched five years with a partial tear before his elbow gave out. Ervin Santana’s been pitching with one since 2009.

No one has any idea when the elbow will give out and that’s why Tanaka is pitching this weekend. To find out if it will happen immediately. The alternative is what, spend the winter resting and rehabbing and hoping it will improve his chances of delaying surgery some small percentage without guaranteeing anything? If four doctors tell you to rehab your $175M pitcher, then you rehab your $175M pitcher. And if he competes his rehab and is healthy enough to pitch, you let him pitch. Going against doctors’ orders in any way would be the most irresponsible thing ever. Fireable offense, no doubt.

“More than anything, I want to see if my body is able to go fully on a Major League mound. Pitch on the mound,” said Tanaka to Chad Jennings yesterday. “That’s by far, (more than) anything, most important to me. Also, the fact that, to be able to contribute in the team’s win would be something important to me too … Even if it’s short, if I’m able to go out there and have a strong outing, it’ll give me some good confidence (that the elbow has healed).”

Tanaka made it clear he wants to test his elbow and see how it holds up before the season lets out. And you know what? I don’t blame him one bit. Put yourself in his shoes. You know you have this ticking time bomb in your elbow, so would you rather see what happens in a meaningless game or two late in the season or having it linger in the back of your mind all winter? Making it through two starts with the elbow intact doesn’t mean the Yankees will be able to pencil him in for 230 innings next year, but it will allow Tanaka to go home for the winter with some peace of mind and that’s important.

So, one of two things will happen when Tanaka starts this weekend. Either he’ll blow out the elbow and need Tommy John surgery, or he’ll come through it healthy and go into the winter feeling good about things. In either case, the Yankees have to approach the offseason assuming Tanaka will miss a lot of time in 2015. They have to prepare for the worst case scenario in this situation no matter what. But there is value in finding out whether he needs surgery right now. There’s also value in letting your ace have a clear mind all winter. The Yankees aren’t sending Tanaka out there recklessly, the doctors are behind them. This is simply the next step in the process.

Because New York is out of the postseason race, they can afford to let Tanaka pitch on Sunday even though he himself admitted he is still rusty following the long layoff. Losing that game won’t matter. Maybe things would be different if they were closer to the second wildcard spot, but I’m guessing not. Either way, Sunday is an important day for Tanaka as well as the 2015 Yankees. The health of his elbow is paramount to the team’s success going forward and this weekend he’ll test it out in game action for the first time, which is the biggest step in his rehab.

Yankees lose 6-1 to Rays after benches clear

It looks like we’re in for an ugly end to the season, doesn’t it? The Yankees are out of the postseason race and another weak game by the offense led to some frustration boiling over in the late innings on Tuesday. The Rays won the game 6-1. The Yankees have lost five of their last six games and seven of their last ten.


A Run!
For the seventh time in the last six games, the Yankees scored a run. Chris Young and Ichiro Suzuki teamed up for this historic event with two outs in the second inning. Young doubled down the left field line and Ichiro drove him in with a single through the right side of the infield. Young’s at-bat was very impressive. He fell behind in the count 0-2, took three straight balls to work it full, fouled off two more pitches, then ripped the double. Somehow Chris Young is the team’s best hitter.

The Yankees had some chances to score additional runs but quickly made sure not to capitalize. Brendan Ryan (walk) and Jacoby Ellsbury (single) reached base to start the third inning before Derek Jeter (bunt), Brett Gardner (pop-up), and Brian McCann (strikeout) made outs. Francisco Cervelli and Ryan (both singles) reached base to open the fifth, then Ellsbury (line out), Jeter (fly out), and Gardner (strikeout) ended the inning. The Yankees have had two runners on base with no outs three times in the first two games of the series and have scored zero runs.


Big Mike For Four Innings
Things sorta spiraled out of control for Michael Pineda in the fifth inning on Tuesday. He cruised through the first four innings, allowing just two singles (both by James Loney, of course) and another runner to reach on the ol’ strikeout/wild pitch combination. His pitch count sat at 52 starting the fifth inning, but Pineda would only record four more outs.

The Rays scored their first run thanks to some of the Yankees’ trademark bad infield defense, specifically errors by Ryan and Pineda. Ryan short-hopped a throw to first, allowing Kevin Kiermaier to reach with one out, starting the rally. Ryan Hanigan followed that with a walk, then Ben Zobrist slapped a ground ball to first base. McCann scooped it up and made a less than perfect flip to Pineda, who bobbled the ball and eventually dropped it. Zobrist was safe and Kiermaier chugged around to score from second.

An inning later, three consecutive Tampa hitters reached base without only one ball being hit out of the infield. Nick Franklin sliced a one-out double to left field and Matt Joyce worked a walk to put two men on base. A wild pitch during Joyce’s at-bat moved Franklin to third. Joe Girardi came out to chat with Pineda, left him in the game, then Yunel Escobar laid down a beautiful safety squeeze to score Franklin. Cervelli didn’t even bother to throw to first after looking home. The Rays took the 2-1 lead on the bunt.

Josh Outman came in to clean up the mess — Kiermaier bunted into an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play because he slipped coming out of the box and was slow to get off the ground — so Pineda’s final line was two runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks in 5.1 innings. He struck out five. After allowing three (really two) base-runners in the first four innings, five of nine Rays reached base at one point spanning the fifth and sixth innings.

Benches Clear
Things got dumb in the eighth inning. In the top half, home plate ump Rob Drake warmed both benches after Steve Geltz accidentally plunked Jeter. I didn’t get that, it was clearly unintentional (0-2 count!). Girardi was ejected after coming out of the dugout to yell at Geltz. Then, in the bottom half, David Phelps immediately threw at Kiermaier and was tossed. Both benches cleared though nothing really happened. Lots of standing around and yelling. Usual baseball scruff stuff. Phelps didn’t even hit Kiermaier, the pitch buzzed him. The Yankees can’t even do beanball wars right these days. There’s a lot of frustration in the dugout and it’s starting to show.

The law firm of Rogers, Hill & Phelps combined to allow four runs in the seventh inning to put this one out of reach. Esmil Rogers was charged with three runs after allowing two hits and a walk. He got one out. Rich Hill failed to retire either batter he faced and was charged with one run. Ellsbury made an unbelievable diving catch in center to take extra bases away from Wil Myers, though two runners scored on the sac fly anyway. Double sac fly! The trail runner was Loney too. Good grief. Apparently tagging up on a sac fly isn’t reviewable either. Who made up these rules?

Jeter’s slump reached 0-for-26 and lowered his batting line to .249/.298/.297 (67 wRC+). He did have the sac bunt and was hit by a pitch though. The Yankees had three base-runners after Ryan singled to put two on with no outs in the fifth — Cervelli’s one-out single in the seventh, Jeter getting hit by Geltz, and Chase Headley‘s leadoff single in the ninth. They scattered seven hits, two walks, and a hit batsman.

Hanigan’s one-out walk in the fifth inning snapped a string of 119 consecutive batters without a walk for Pineda. That dates back to August 20th, his second start off the disabled list. That’s not any sort of record — Phil Hughes went 178 (!) batters between walks earlier this year — but it is a really impressive streak.

Girardi was ejected in the top of the eighth after both benches were warned, then bench coach/acting manager Tony Pena was ejected after Phelps threw at Kiermaier. Third base coach Robbie Thomson took over as acting manager. Is it bad when you have three times as many managers as runs in a game? That seems bad.

Box Score, WPA Graphs & Standings
For the box score and video highlights, go to For some other game stats, go to FanGraphs. For the updated standings, go to ESPN. The Yankees will be either six games (Royals lose) or seven games (Royals win) back of the second wildcard spot with a dozen games remaining. FanGraphs puts New York’s postseason odds at 0.4%. Their elimination number is down to seven and will drop to six if the Royals win. The Orioles clinched the AL East title on Tuesday, by the way.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Rays will wrap up their season series on Wednesday night. (Tampa has already clinched it at 11-7.) Brandon McCarthy and Alex Cobb will square off in a battle of aces (?).