Tanaka cruises, Yankees take second game from Twins 8-2

Death, taxes, and the Yankees pounding the Twins. No matter how crummy the Yankees may be, you can always count on the Twins to be worse. The Bronx Bombers won their second straight game Friday night, beating the Twinkies by the score of 8-2. They’re back to within a game of .500.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Four In The First
Remember last season, when the Yankees seemed to put a run or two on the board in the first inning each night? They scored 125 runs in the first inning last year, the most in baseball and the most by any team since the 2010 Twins. Minnesota had 132 first inning runs that year.

This season has been much different. The Yankees came into Friday’s game with only 27 first inning runs, fourth fewest in baseball. Only the Phillies (11), Giants (26), and White Sox (26) had scored fewer runs in the first. Geez. So, naturally, the Yankees tagged Twins rookie southpaw Pat Dean for four runs in the first inning Friday. To the annotated play-by-play:

Yankees vs. Twins play by play

(1) Four pitches into the game, the Yankees had a lead. Rob Refsnyder‘s run-scoring double was well-struck and it split the left and center fielders perfectly. It was a very aesthetically pleasing double. A straight gap shot. I said this the other day, but I feel like it’s a total waste to play Ike Davis over Refsnyder at this point, even against righties. It’s time to find out what the kid can do.

(2) Carlos Beltran‘s homer was a result of a bold strategy in which Beltran fouled off a bunch of pitches outside the strike zone. He fouled off what should have been balls three and four (pitches six and seven below) …

Carlos Beltran at-bat

… which extended the at-bat, allowing him to hit a two-run home run on pitch eight. It was a no-doubter into the second deck in left field. It was also Beltran’s 17th home run of the season already. He hit 19 all of last year — his 17th homer last season came on September 22nd — and only 15 two years ago, his first in pinstripes. Contract year Carlos is pretty damn excellent.

(4) There is no point No. 3. I somehow skipped over it when labeling the play-by-play and I don’t feel like going back and making a new image. Cut me some slack. It’s Friday night. Anyway, Pat Dean was having such a tough time in the first inning that he managed to walk Starlin Castro. Castro came into the game with a 4.2% walk rate and a 36.7% chase rate on pitches out of the zone, 19th highest in baseball. You really need to miss well off the plate to get Starlin to take four pitches, and Dean did indeed miss well off the plate. When Castro draws a walk, you need to take advantage, and the Yankees did.

(5) You know who’s been pretty good of late? Chase Headley. He was awful in April. Worst hitter in baseball awful. But, since May 1st, he’s hitting .296/.347/.430 (110 wRC+) in 147 plate appearances, and it’s hard to complain about that. Headley ripped an opposite field double off the wall to put runners at second and third with one out, and I’m pretty sure it would have been a homer in Yankee Stadium. A wall-banger double works too.

(6) The infield single was all hustle by Didi Gregorius. First baseman Joe Mauer had to dive — it was more like a flop, really — to stop the ball, and Gregorius beat Dean to the bag by like half a step. It was really close, but Didi was indeed safe, and Castro was able to score from third to make it 4-0 Yankees. Gregorius has been pretty great since May 1st too. He’s hitting .306/.346/.442 (112 wRC+) in 156 plate appearances during that time.

(7) You see that “Strike (foul)” on the first pitch of Romine’s at-bat? That was very nearly a bloop double to right field. It was foul by like four inches and it would have scored Headley from third base (duh). We’ve seen Romine poke a few doubles to the opposite field like that already this season. This one sliced just foul. No BABIP luck this time. Two pitches later Romine banged into an inning-ending double play. That’s okay. Four runs in the first is cool with me any day of the week.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Master Tanaka
You know, early on it did not seem like Masahiro Tanaka had his good stuff. Headley bailed him out with a great stop at the hot corner to end the first, then, in the second, Eduardo Escobar missed a two-run home run by about five feet. The ball hit off the very top of the high wall in right-center. It was crushed. A ground out scored a run that inning following a leadoff single and Escobar’s double.

Following Escobar’s double, Tanaka settled down and retired 20 of the final 25 batters he faced. Four of the five baserunners were clean singles by Escobar, Mauer, Brian Dozier, and Eduardo Nunez. The other was an error by Castro. Following that Escobar double, Tanaka did not allow runner to make it as far as second base until Nunez and Mauer strung together back-to-back singles in the eighth. He finished with just the one run allowed on seven hits and no walks in eight innings. Tanaka fanned five and threw a season-high 110 pitches. That’s the good stuff right there.

Tack-On Runs
The game felt like it was over after that four-run first inning, though the Yankees made sure to put the game out of reach in the middle innings. Two singles (Alex Rodriguez and Castro) and a walk (Headley) loaded the bases with no outs in the third, and Gregorius was able to get a run in with a fielder’s choice to second. Romine ripped a two-run double into the gap later in the inning. That made it 7-1. Castro made it 8-1 with a sac fly in the fourth inning. Nice comfy lead, that was.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Every Yankee in the starting lineup had a hit by the third inning. Is that good? That seems good. Beltran led the way by going 3-for-4 with the homer. Joe Girardi pulled him with the Yankees up 8-1 in the sixth. Smart move. Beltran’s knee was barking in Colorado earlier this week, remember. No need to push it with the score out of hand. Davis took over at first and Refsnyder shifted to right.

Speaking of Refsnyder, he went 2-for-4 with a double and a walk, plus he played a nice first base. He turned a 3-6 double play in the third, made a nice stretch on Headley’s play to end the first, and also ran down a pop-up near the stands in foul territory. Nice night for Refsnyder on both sides of the ball. Headley, meanwhile, went 2-for-2 with a double and two walks. He’s now hitting .259/.333/.355 (89 wRC+) on the season. Remember, Chase hit .150/.268/.150 (22 wRC+) in April. He’s come a long way since then.

Most of the bullpen got a night off thanks to Tanaka. Nick Goody allowed a solo homer in an otherwise uneventful ninth inning. Believe it or not, this is only the fifth time in 33 wins the Yankees didn’t use one of the big three relievers. It’s only the second time they’ve been able to avoid using the big three in their last 14 wins. The Yankees play a lot of close games. It’s nice to get an easy blowout win once in a while.

And finally, the Yankees are now 83-28 against the Twins since the 2002, the first year of the Ron Gardenhire era. That includes the postseason. Four of those 28 losses were to peak Johan Santana too. The Yankees are also 20-5 all-time in Target Field, postseason included. This rivalry has been very, very one-sided the last decade and a half.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has the box score, MLB.com has the video highlights, and ESPN has the updates standings. RAB has Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Game three of this four-game set. That’s an afternoon game with a 2pm ET start time. Silly central time one. Michael Pineda and Ricky Nolasco are the scheduled starters.

Game 67: Two wins in a row, maybe?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees snapped their four-game losing streak last night, and given their dominance of the Twins over the last decade or so, it looks like they could be able to rattle off a few wins in a row this weekend. Maybe even enough to get back to .500. (Again.) One day at a time though. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 1B Rob Refsnyder
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. DH Alex Rodriguez
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. LF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It was another nice day in Minneapolis, with only a few clouds in the sky and temperatures in the mid-80s. Looks like they’ll have similar weather all throughout the weekend. Tonight’s game will begin shortly after 8pm ET. You can watch on WPIX. Enjoy the game.

Guest Post: Why the Opt Out Clause May Save the Yankees

The following is a guest post from longtime reader Don Sullivan. He recently wrote a guest post about the future of the Yankees’ top three relievers.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
A-Rod had an opt-out once upon a time. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

At this point in time it is obvious to all that Free Agency in Major League Baseball isn’t what it used to be. Thanks to revenue sharing, gone are the days where small market teams no longer have the ability to lock up elite talent. With the constant injury risk professional athletes are exposed to, signing a contract for $20M+ and setting up you and your family for life is almost impossible to resist. (Bryce Harper notwithstanding, but his Under Armour deal certainly eases any financial burdens.) The Yankees no doubt have realized this, yet because of the constant pressure to win, they have been trotting out a patchwork roster.

However, gone are also they days, I believe, where you can lock up someone like Chris Sale (5 years $32M) without a player option (he actually has team options!). Opt-out clauses are becoming extremely popular. Once reserved for regrettable Yankee contract extensions (A-Rod and CC Sabathia), they have started to become almost mandatory for elite talent. Most recently and notably you saw it in the Stephen Strasburg and Yoenis Cespedes contracts, but also David Price, Giancarlo Stanton, Clayton Kershaw, Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto. Even Ian Kennedy and Wei-Yin Chen secured opt outs.

Why is this relevant? Because it can bring elite players back to Free Agency for bigger contracts, thus putting the big market teams at an advantage again. Using the Sale contract as an example, imagine if his agent had negotiated an opt out after 2015? The player option trend has really just started to take hold and it will be a few years before teams like the Yankees can become the beneficiary of them, which brings me to my next point.

Although a different sport, the Yankees only need to look across town at the Knicks, for a horror tale in big spending and constantly mortgaging the future. For the sanity of all of us Yankee fans, they cannot and I believe will not turn into the Knicks. I do personally believe that this year, and next year, 2017, will be lost years for the ball club. This should be something most of the fan base, and ownership, comes to grips with.

Even with the Yankees losing the contracts of both Tex and Beltran after the season to clear up some payroll, there is no one hitting free agency worth big money. A 36-year-old Jose Bautista? No thank you. The oft injured 30-year-old Carlos Gomez? Nope. Ian Desmond, Mark Trumbo, Neil Walker, Colby Rasmus, Andrew Cashner? Yeah, this coming free agency crop isn’t going to turn the Yankees into World Series contenders.

Looking to 2018 is the reason (as noted in my last post about trading the relievers) you trade Dellin Betances if someone takes Jacoby Ellsbury. Is Ellsbury one of the Yankees 3 best position players on today’s team? Absolutely, however, today’s team is going nowhere. In 2018 and beyond, you hope that the ever improving farm system/international spending spree starts to bear some serious fruit and that the free agency market starts to return players of prominence due to the aforementioned player options. Players with Ellsbury’s tools (i.e. speed and no power) do not historically age well. Odds are the contract at $20M+ per year will be an absolute albatross on a, fingers crossed, young talented team that is a few free agent additions away from competing.

Right now, it actually will benefit the Yankees the most to act like a small market team. Pawn off their current major league aging assets, stay away from large free agency contracts (only because there is no one worth a large contract), and start to play some of the kids to see who is a part of the future and who is not. I am looking at you Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Rob Refsnyder, Ben Gamel, etc. Yes, the Yankees financial might sets them apart from the rest of the league, but right now baseball has learned how to circumvent that. As noted, I believe that will change and it will greatly behoove the Yankees to have a young talented team that takes it bruises in 2017 and begins to reload the payroll in 2018 and beyond; then it will to sign stopgaps to long term deals and try and compete in 2017.

We have been spoiled as a fan base for the better part of the last two decades. I personally can see the light and will gladly take these next two years as “developmental” than go through the last 15 years of atrocities the Knicks have gone through in chasing the quick fix. I will be a Yankee fan no matter what for the next 40+ years, I will deal with a few bad years if it means a return to prominence and World Series appearances.

King: Yankees have interest in Cuba infielder Yulieski Gurriel

(Eyder Peralta/NPR)
(Eyder Peralta/NPR)

According to George King, the Yankees have interest in Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel, who was recently declared a free agent by MLB. Gurriel will reportedly work out for teams privately rather than hold open showcases. No word on whether the Yankees will bring him in for a workout. They probably will. They always do.

I covered everything you need to know about Gurriel and the Yankees the other day. He’s said to be a Yankee fan because his favorite player in Alex Rodriguez, plus he’s close friends with Aroldis Chapman, though who knows if that will influence his decision. I imagine money will be Gurriel’s top priority. It is for most, after all.

“This is a veteran player with a lot of experience. This is not a rookie. He has all the qualities needed to be a good player at this level,” said Chapman to King. “He is a really good player and a really good person. He is a great contact hitter with power, a quality swing.”

The Yankees need to rebuild their offense because the guys they’ve been counting on for so long, like A-Rod and Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, aren’t going be around a much longer. We saw the other day what the lineup looks like without them. Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, and Didi Gregorius batting 3-4-5 is just … no. It’s just no.

In recent years the Yankees have brought pretty much every big name Cuban free agent in for a workout. They just haven’t signed any of them. Gurriel is not a kid, he just turned 32, and he’s been a star in Cuba for a long time. Everyone expects him to be an impact bat right away, and boy, the Yankees sure could use one of those going forward.

Guest Post: The Curious Case of Pineda’s Increasing Strikeout Totals and Declining Results

The following is a guest post from a longtime reader who goes by A Rare Ellsbury Fan in the comments. He’s a high school freshman and wishes to stay anonymous. AREF wrote about the perpetually enigmatic Michael Pineda.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

For the first three (somewhat) healthy seasons of Michael Pineda’s Yankee career, the Yankees and fans have been left wanting more. Before the 2014 season, the only expectation on the shoulders of Michael Pineda was for him to finally put on the pinstripes and take the mound. After a dazzling 2011 rookie campaign in which he earned an All-Star selection with the Seattle Mariners, Pineda missed the entire 2012 and 2013 seasons with various arm and shoulder injuries. Since he finally got back on the mound in 2014, we have witnessed some very different shades of the man we affectionately (sometimes) refer to as “Big Mike.”

Unusual Dominance

The 2014 season was by far Pineda’s best in pinstripes and also statistically the best of his career, in an injury and suspension riddled sample size, admittedly. The big right-hander pitched to a 1.89 ERA (2.71 FIP) and allowed only 56 hits in 76.1 third innings. He kept balls in the park at an astounding rate (0.59 HR/9) while peculiarly inducing the most fly balls of his Yankees career (42.3%) and the lowest strikeout rate of his career (20.3%).

The first thing that jumps into my mind when I see these numbers is the luck factor. While there are many pitchers who make a living on weak fly balls, that has never really been Pineda’s MO besides that season. Also, in a homer prone ballpark in Yankee Stadium, the increase in fly balls should mean an increase in home runs, a far cry from the minuscule homer rate that he actually gave up in 2014.

Is it possible that Pineda was just generating weaker contact in 2014? Sure, and that likely contributed to some to it. Is it also possible that Pineda was a little fortunate that more fly balls weren’t leaving the park? That’s a likely possibility too. One thing that we do know, however, is that something doesn’t quite add up here.

First Signs of Trouble

After a strangely successful first half of the 2015 season, in which Pineda allowed 115 hits in 106.1 innings pitched to go along with a solid 3.64 ERA, the first real signs of trouble for Big Mike came in the second half of 2015. In that half, it seems as if Pineda’s string of good luck finally came to a screeching halt. Pineda maintained a similar hit to IP ratio (61 in 54.1 IP), but his ERA ballooned to a dreadful 5.80.

Overall, Pineda finished with a 4.37 ERA (3.34 FIP) with 156 strikeouts and 176 hits allowed across 160.2 IP, the most since his aforementioned 2011 All-Star season. You may have noticed the increased strikeout rate (8.74 K/9) which jumped nearly 2 more batters a game from his highly successful 2014 season. He also was elite at limiting walks (1.18 BB/9).

The obvious conclusion here in the much discussed issue of Pineda not throwing enough “quality” strikes, meaning hitting the corners, bottom, and top of the zone, while not leaving pitches over the middle of the plate. This most likely played a part in the amount of hits given up, as well as the fact that he pitched nearly 100 more innings in 2015 than he did in 2014. Assuredly, with all that behind him, Pineda was primed for a bounce back 2016 season.

An Unexpected Step Back

The 2016 season to date has been a very, very bad one for Big Mike. Again, his strikeout rate is higher than It was last season (24.4% vs. 23.4%), but with it has come another inflated pitching line. So far, Pineda has a 5.88 ERA (4.04 FIP) with 90 hits against him in only 72 innings, all while opponents have hit .299 against him.

It’s not just the stats either. Pineda has looked lost on the bump, with body language indicating frustration.Any consistency that he once had with his slider, which is a devastating wipeout pitch at its best, is gone. Every time he throws one, you cringe and hope that it isn’t hit 450 feet for another homer. This is the worst we’ve seen from Pineda during his tenure with the Yankees, and it has not been pretty.

Overall, Michael Pineda is the biggest wild card on the Yankees staff. On some days he looks like a true front of the rotation pitcher, and on other days he looks like he belongs in AAA. With his free agency fast approaching, and his rotation mate Nathan Eovaldi having shown major strides the second half of last season and into this year, this is a critical time for Michael Pineda to get his act together.

There could be a time where the Yankees will need to choose between one of the two to extend long term, and at this point, it certainly seems to be leaning in Eovaldi’s direction. If Pineda can find his put-away slider again, it will not only pay major dividends for him, but it will make an already solid Yankees rotation even better. With this offense, we all know they need it.

Mailbag: Beltran, Damon, Rutherford, Sabathia, Meadows

We’ve got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything at anytime.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Marc asks: Assuming Beltran stays healthy, is willing to waive his NTC, and stays at a comparable pace, do you think the Cespedes trade is a good comparable? Or should the Yankees expect more or less?

Nah, that’s too optimistic, I think. At the time of the trade Yoenis Cespedes had similar offensive numbers to Carlos Beltran (123 wRC+ vs. 128 wRC+) and was younger, healthier, and better defensively. I know age doesn’t seem to matter much when talking about rentals, but it does mean Cespedes was less likely to wear down late in the season. Beltran brings a clutch reputation with him and I do think that matters some, just not enough to overcome the difference in age, health, and defense.

Beltran is a unique player because he’s still quite productive at an age when most players are trying to hang on. Teams usually stay away from players his age. At the same time, Beltran has some flaws that limit his value. My trade proposal sucks, but I think the Yankees could ask for two prospects for Carlos. Maybe not top 100 caliber guys, but two players from the top ten of a team’s system. Using the Yankees’ system of reference, would something on par with Tyler Wade and Dustin Fowler for Beltran be enough? That’s a notch below what Cespedes fetched (Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa). Keep in mind his market will be limited to contenders only, and NL teams may decide to avoid him all together.

Rob asks: I know this isn’t really a current question, but with so many similarities between them, what are the differences between Jacoby Ellsbury and Johnny Damon? They’re both speedy outfielders with weak arms and some pop that the Yanks got from the Red Sox. Would you rather have Ellsbury or Damon at their prime?

There are three big differences between the two: power, stolen bases, and durability. Damon averaged 16 homers per season from 1998-2009. Ellsbury has hit double-digit homers just twice in his eight full seasons. On the other side of the coin, Ellsbury has averaged 49 steals per 162 games. Damon averaged 27 per year during his peak from 1998-2009. His career high was 46 steals in 2000. Ellsbury has three seasons with more, including one 70 steal season.

The biggest difference is durability. Damon was a workhorse. He became a full-time player in 1996 and was last a full-time player in 2011. Damon managed to play in 2,379 of 2,592 possible games from 1996-2011, or 91.8%. That’s an average of 148.7 games per year. Since becoming a full-timer in 2008, Ellsbury has played in 1,000 of 1,361 games, or 73.4%. Huge, huge difference in their ability to stay on the field. Ellsbury’s 2011 season was better than any one of Damon’s seasons, but if I had my pick, give me prime Damon over prime Ellsbury. He does more things and was a far better bet to stay healthy. Damon’s going to get Hall of Fame votes for a reason.

Michael asks: Do you think there’s a chance they keep Chapman past the deadline? I’m afraid that if they make a run before then that they will end up keeping him, which would be a big mistake in my opinion, even if they find a way to contend this year.

A small chance, yes. And yes, it would be a big mistake. I think the Yankees could easily get something for Aroldis Chapman in a trade that is worth more than the draft pick they’d get after the season. Worth more and closer to MLB ready too. The only possible way the Yankees could justify keeping Chapman is by going on an absurd run and getting back into the postseason race. Like really back into it. Not three games back with five teams ahead of them back in it. And even if they do get back into it, they should trade Chapman anyway. This is too valuable a trade chip to not cash in.

Mike asks: Can you explain what this means please?

Blake Rutherford question

Longenhagen is the prospect guy for FanGraphs — he also did a ton of draft work with ESPN this spring — and that question comes from his chat earlier this week.

Teams with extra picks have enormous bonus pools and they tend to spread the wealth around by cutting a below-slot deal with their top pick, then gobbling up some hard to sign players with their later picks. The Braves did it this year. They cut a deal with New York HS RHP Ian Anderson for the third pick, then used their next picks on Kansas HS LHP Joey Wentz and Texas HS LHP Kyle Muller. Atlanta manipulated their bonus pool in such a way that it landed them three of the 15 best pitching prospects in the draft.

Blake Rutherford was one of the prospects teams like the Braves were hoping would still be around with one of their extra picks. (The Padres and Cardinals had extra picks too.) If he was still on the board, they’d take him and pay him top ten money. The Yankees stepped in and took Rutherford before he could slip any further. Based on their bonus pool situation, it seems they’re preparing to give him a $3.5M+ bonus, maybe even $4M, which is top ten money. The Braves and Padres and whoever else didn’t get a chance to use their extra pool money on Rutherford.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Dan asks: Ok, with Sabathia pitching so well, does he actually have trade value now?

Eh, maybe. If he does, it’s not much. At the end of the day, teams are still going to be worried about the condition of CC Sabathia‘s knee. Also, these eleven generally awesome starts don’t wipe away three years of awfulness even though there are tangible reasons for the improvement (cutter, knee brace, sobriety, etc.). Would the Yankees be able to get more than the Padres got for James Shields? Two okay-ish young players and some salary relief? I feel like that’s the absolute best case scenario. Sabathia seems more valuable to the Yankees in their rotation than as a trade chip, especially if he’s going to continue pitching like he has.

Bob asks: Does Aaron Hicks still have options remaining? He offensive production has been substandard almost all year and he might benefit from playing every day at Scranton. Your thoughts?

Nope, Hicks is out of options. Sending him down to Triple-A for regular at-bats would have happened already if it were possible, I think. I wrote yesterday the Yankees need to figure out what they have in Rob Refsnyder this year, and they need to do the same with Hicks. No one with half a brain would write him off after 150 plate appearances in pinstripes. Trading Beltran (possible) or releasing Alex Rodriguez (unlikely) would clear playing time for Hicks. Otherwise he has to wait for another injury.

Greg asks: Does Severino starts another game in 2016?

Oh sure. At worst, Luis Severino will come up in September and make some spot starts to give the other starters extra rest here and there. I wouldn’t bet against him coming up before then. All it takes is one injury, after all. Severino has things to work on in Triple-A, specifically the command of his secondary pitches, and getting those things straightened out should be the priority. They can’t bring him back to MLB just because. Severino is too important to the team long-term. We’ll see him again this season though, for sure.

Frank asks: Is it somewhat surprising that the Yanks have been aggressive with Ronald Herrera, now in AA, and not so much with Nestor Cortes who is literally dominating low A? Both pitchers are approximately the same age, with similar frames but one is a righty and the other a southpaw.

I don’t think so. Herrera’s a better prospect with better stuff and more command. Cortes has had a ton of success in the low minors and puts up great numbers, but he’s working with an 88 mph heater and decent secondary stuff. He’s a classic “stats before scouting report” prospect. Herrera has more velocity and more reliable offspeed pitches. I don’t think handedness has anything to do with the way the Yankees have handled these two. Herrera has better stuff and is more advanced, which is why he’s further up the ladder than Cortes at a similar age.

Bill asks: Nobody wants to see a top prospect slump (especially as bad as Judge just did) but do you think in a way a top prospect struggling and learning how to adjust while in the minors is better for their development than say a guy like Severino who only first struggled at the majors and never had to make these kind of adjustments before?

I would prefer to see a prospect struggle in the minors at some point so they can learn how to make the adjustment there before reaching the show, but sometimes it’s just not possible. Severino dominated the minors. It wasn’t until he reached the big leagues that really experienced failure. The same was true of Phil Hughes back in the day. Failure can be a pretty good learning tool. It’s inevitable in baseball, and many times the difference between prospects and productive big leaguers is the ability to handle that failure and learn from it. No one wants to see their favorite prospect struggle, but if they can learn something from it, then it is absolutely a positive.

Meadows. (Presswire)
Meadows. (Presswire)

Andrew asks: With the Pirates OF pretty set for awhile, why not go after Austin Meadows? Good target to trade Chapman or Miller for?

Interesting. I hadn’t considered that. The Pirates have an unbelievable outfield — Andrew McCutchen is a star, yet both Starlin Marte and Gregory Polanco have outperformed him this year — and they’ve signed all these guys long-term. McCutchen will hit free agency first among those three, and the Pirates control him through 2018.

Meadows, who came up in my little Rutherford study the other day, is an elite outfield prospect currently tearing up Double-A. He’s about a year away from MLB. Given their big league outfield, it would be silly for the Pirates to not consider trading Meadows for help elsewhere on the roster. Would they trade him for a reliever? Eh, I don’t see it. They need rotation help more than anything and Meadows could fetch them a very nice young arm. It’s a good idea though. I hadn’t considered the possibility of a Meadows trade given their big league outfield situation.

Dan asks: It still maybe too early but can’t we say that the trade for Didi has been a success? Being that the position he plays is such a premium, he’s an above average defender with a sneaky bat. Even if his batting average slips a bit can’t we still say that it was a success? With a possible TBA because of Greene outcome?

Anyone who thinks the Didi Gregorius trade hasn’t been a success is trying too hard to find ways to criticize the Yankees. Shane Greene has allowed 78 runs in 104.1 innings since the trade and has battled injuries. The Yankees netted at worse a league average shortstop. The league average shortstop is hitting .258/.314/.397 (90 wRC+) so far this season. Didi went into last night’s game with a .275/.309/.393 (89 wRC+) batting line, and then there’s his glove, which is quite stellar.

I was genuinely surprised the Yankees traded Greene. He had a nice cameo in 2014 and the Yankees love their power arms. He seemed like a cheap and effective rotation option, which was something the team really lacked at the time. They also had a gaping hole at shortstop, and Gregorius was only 24 at the time with five years of team control and some pretty obvious tools. That’s a trade you make over and over again. It’s worked out pretty well for the Yankees, even if Greene did throw two scoreless innings against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium last week.

Bill asks: Will CC be on the All Star team this year? I can’t decide if he’s really been this good or if it’s because everyone else has been meh, or if it’s because my expectations of him this year were about knee high on an ant … Thanks!

If Sabathia carries a sub-2.50 ERA into early July, how could they keep him off the All-Star team? The Yankees have four serious All-Star Game candidates in my opinion: Sabathia, Beltran, Andrew Miller, and Masahiro Tanaka. Dellin Betances has had a few too many hiccups and Chapman missed a month, so they’re not in. Would the Yankees, who are near the bottom of the standings, get four All-Stars? It seems unlikely. I’d say Miller is the safest bet to make it. Sabathia going to the All-Star Game sure would be fun as hell though.

Didi’s blast helps Yankees snap four-game losing streak, beat Twins 4-1 in series opener

You can always count on the Twins to give the Yankees a lift. The Yankees improved their all-time record at Target Field to 19-5 with a nice come-from-behind 4-1 win Thursday night. Good pitching, timely hitting, lockdown bullpen work. That’s the way these Yankees are designed to win games.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Shut Down Early
The box score says Kyle Gibson allowed three runs in 6.1 innings, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. He faced the minimum 15 batters through five innings — Alex Rodriguez was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double and Chase Headley was erased on a double play after a single — and only five of those 15 batters hit the ball out of the infield. Yuck.

The Yankees were finally able to get to Gibson in the sixth inning, when they loaded the bases with no outs. A single (Didi Gregorius), a double (Headley), and a walk (Ike Davis) did the trick. Jacoby Ellsbury was able to get a run in with a single, but only one run. Third base coach Joe Espada held Headley up that third even though Byron Buxton’s throw was to third base, not home plate. Naturally, Carlos Beltran followed with an inning-ending double play. Sigh.

Prior to the seventh inning, which we’ll get to in a bit, Gibson was on pace to be the third starter with a 5.00+ ERA to shut the Yankees down in the span of three days. Jorge De La Rosa (8.81 ERA) threw five scoreless innings Tuesday and Chad Bettis (5.85 ERA) allowed two earned runs in six innings Wednesday. Then Gibson (6.49 ERA) cruised through five innings in this game. The Yankees sure have been helping a lot of ERAs this year, huh?

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Si! Si! Sabathia
For the third straight start, CC Sabathia came out of the gate with shaky location and ran up a high pitch count early. It looked like it would be a short night, and yet, there he was at the end of the sixth inning, having allowed just one run. Sabathia was able to strand five runners in the first two innings before settling in. Six innings of one-run ball give the big man a 2.20 ERA on the season. 2.20!

Minnesota scored their run in the fourth inning, when ex-Yankee Eduardo Nunez slapped a two-out single through the right side. Max Kepler doubled earlier in the inning and Kurt Suzuki moved him to third with an infield single that literally hit Sabathia. The Twins had their best chance to do damage in the second, when they loaded the bases on a hit-by-pitch (Kepler), a double (Suzuki), and a walk (Buxton). Luckily Robbie Grossman hit a line drive right at Ike Davis at first base.

Sabathia retired seven of the final nine batters he faced following Nunez’s run-scoring single. You can tell Joe Girardi trusts him again because he’s letting him run his pitch well over 100. Sabathia threw 116 pitches in this game — he started the sixth inning with 103 pitches — after throwing 108 pitches in his last start and 111 pitches in the start before that. He averaged only 89 pitches in his first eight starts. Sabathia kicking butt is so fun. So, so fun.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Didi Comes Through
The three-run seventh inning rally started with an A-Rod infield single of all things. He really busted it down the line too. It might have been the hardest he’s run out a ball since coming back last year. Brian McCann followed with a five-pitch walk, then Starlin Castro bunted the runners over. I think he did that on his own. Bunting with two anti-speed demons like A-Rod and McCann on base doesn’t seem like the wisest idea.

Either way, it worked. The bunt ended Gibson’s night as Twins skipper Paul Molitor went to lefty Fernando Abad against Gregorius. Abad has been death on lefties this year. He came into this game holding them to a .097/.125/.133 batting line with a 21.9% strikeout rate. Didi has been really good against lefties this year (.357/.400/.411!), but it still looked like a bad matchup for him. Then Abad threw a first pitch fastball here …

Didi Gregorius

… and Gregorius clobbered it out to right field for a go-ahead three-run home run. It was gone off the bat. Didi doesn’t hit many no-doubters but this one qualified. It looked good off the bat and it had the good sound too. That blast gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead with nine defensive outs to go. Just how they drew it up.

Three-run lead with three innings to go means Girardi could go to his top relievers. Dellin Betances struck out one and allowed a two-out single in the seventh inning. Andrew Miller struck out two in a perfect eighth inning. Aroldis Chapman then closed out the win with a perfect ninth. It’s been a while since Girardi could go to those guys to protect a lead.

Why? (Presswire)
Why? (Presswire)

Leftovers
The Yankees only had seven hits total. Ellsbury had the single to drive in the team’s first run, plus A-Rod, Gregorius, and Headley had two hits each. That’s it. McCann and Davis drew the only walks. So that’s nine baserunners total. Four came in the sixth inning, when the Yankees scored their first run. Three more came in the seventh inning, when they scored their other three runs. That leaves two baserunners for the other seven innings. Ewww.

Brett Gardner seemed to forget how many strikes there were during his first inning at-bat. The count was full and he tried to bunt for a hit, but it rolled foul. It nearly stayed fair! But still, why bunt there? He had to forget the count. Then, an inning later, A-Rod was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double even though the play was right in front of him and he could see Kepler getting to the ball quickly. Silly mistakes. Been too many of them this year.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
You can find both the box score and updated standings at ESPN. MLB.com is the place to go for the video highlights. Here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, and here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This four-game series is just getting started. The Yankees and Twins will play the second game Friday night. That’s another 8pm ET start. Masahiro Tanaka and rookie lefty Pat Dean will be on the mound.