Thoughts prior to the final road trip of the season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees wrapped up a successful ten-game homestand in which they went 7-3. It feels like it could have been better because they lost three of the last four games, but 7-3 is still pretty good. Now the Yankees are heading out on a long eleven-game road trip through Boston, Tampa, and Toronto. Come the end of that trip we’ll know whether the Yankees are really in this race. Going to be fun. Nerve-racking, but fun. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. The Aaron Judge injury stinks for multiple reasons. First and foremost, he’s losing at-bats and experience against big league pitching, which brings his adjustment period to a screeching halt. Those reps have a lot of value. Secondly, we won’t be able to watch him hit the occasional massive dinger. It’s been far too long since the Yankees had a guy who can hit baseballs as far as Judge. And thirdly, the team defense takes a hit. Rob Refsnyder might be an offensive upgrade in right field, at least in terms of on-base ability, but the defensive drop-off will be noticeable. It would have been nice to see Judge get hot and finish the season strong so he could head into the offseason feeling good about things. Alas, it was not meant to be. I think Judge will be perfectly fine though. He seems really even-keeled.

2. One more quick note on Judge: because his season is over, he will retain his rookie (and prospect) eligibility next season. He doesn’t come close to exceeding the service time limit for rookies (45 days outside September) and he’ll finish the season with 84 at-bats, well short of the 130 at-bat cutoff for rookie status. Judge will still be Rookie of the Year eligible next season and you’ll see him on all the prospect lists too. That should be interesting. Several publications, most notably Baseball America and MLB.com, dropped Judge in their rankings last year because he struggled when he got to Triple-A. He figured out Triple-A this year and struggled after getting to MLB. Will Judge fall in the rankings again, or will prospect rankers look at his history of making adjustments and give him the benefit of the doubt? My guess is the former. It’s so much easier to drop a guy in the rankings in favor of the new hotness in A-ball than it is to stick to a ranking when a talented upper level guy struggles.

3. I’m glad Mason Williams has been called up but I understand he’s not going to play all that much. Refsnyder and, once healthy, Aaron Hicks figure to be the Joe Girardi‘s go-to right fielders down the stretch. And once Hicks returns, he’ll likely get any spot start duty in center field too. Williams might only get to play defense in the late innings for Refsnyder — he took over in right field yesterday after Refsnyder was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning — and soak up some at-bats late in blowouts. That’s better than nothing. Williams is not a top prospect anymore but he still has really nice skills, namely his bat-to-ball ability and top notch defense, so he could still be useful down the road. He has an option left for next season and I expect the Yankees to take advantage of it and stash Williams in Triple-A. I’d be very surprised if he’s an offseason 40-man roster causality. The Ben Gamel trade puts Mason at the front of the line for a call-up next season whenever an outfielder is needed.

(Jason O. Watson/Getty
(Jason O. Watson/Getty

4. I do find it kinda funny that after releasing Alex Rodriguez last month, the Yankees went out and signed Billy Butler to be their right-handed platoon DH last night. The circumstances are totally different, of course. Rosters are expanded now, so carrying a limited player like that is no big deal. Also, Butler is ten years younger than A-Rod, so the chances of him finding it for a few weeks are much higher. But still, it’s kinda funny. The Yankees are tentatively scheduled to face seven left-handed starters during this eleven-game road trip, including three in Boston this weekend, so something had to be done. Austin Romine couldn’t be their primary righty DH these last 17 games. Hopefully Butler hits a random big home run like Chris Young after he was picked up off the scrap heap in 2014. Unlike Young though, Butler is not worth bringing back next season. Way too limited. Plus he’s kind of a jerk.

5. Conspiracy theory incoming: placing Hicks and Chad Green on the 15-day DL this month had more to do with CC Sabathia than Hicks and Green. At this point finishing the season on the disabled list with a shoulder injury is the only way Sabathia’s $25M option for next season won’t vest. The 15-day DL is useless in September. Rosters are expanded and putting a player on the 15-day DL accomplishes nothing. It doesn’t buy the team a roster spot or anything. Now, should Sabathia hurt his shoulder at some point, the Yankees could place him on the 15-day DL this month and it wouldn’t be out of character. Had they kept Hicks and Green active then suddenly DL’ed Sabathia, it’d look weird, you know? The MLBPA would surely fight the move given all the money on the line, and they’d argue the DL stint is not common practice for September and was made solely to prevent the option from vesting. Now the Yankees can better defend themselves against a potential grievance by pointing to Hicks and Green and saying “hey, we put them on the DL too!” What do you think? Am I on to something or completely crazy? Probably the latter.

6. Forgive me for being optimistic and looking ahead, but if the Yankees stay on rotation the rest of the season, they can’t line Masahiro Tanaka up for the wildcard game. Even if they use Monday’s off-day to skip another starter and move Tanaka up a day, it won’t work. He’d still have to start the wildcard game on three days’ rest. The only way to line Tanaka up for the wildcard game is by skipping a regular season start somewhere along the line, and there’s pretty much no chance that will happen. Not with the Yankees far from a lock for the postseason and needing as many starts from their ace as possible. As it stands right now, both Sabathia and Michael Pineda would be lined up for the wildcard game, which I assume means Sabathia gets the ball. I’d happily take my chances with Sabathia or Pineda in the wildcard game at this point because that means, you know, the Yankees are in the postseason. Playoff baseball this season would be a gift from the baseball gods.

7. I can’t help but look at the schedule and think that final series against the Orioles is going to be huge. The Yankees host the O’s in Yankee Stadium for Games 160-162 in two weeks, and a postseason spot could very well be on the line. Hopefully the Yankees close the gap in the standings between now and then, but you know what? Going into that series needing a sweep to go to the postseason would be a-okay in my book. I’ve had zero expectations of this team going to the playoffs since, like, May. This late season run is fun as hell and the fact there are a bunch of kids chipping in along the way makes it that much better. Going into that final series with a shot at the postseason would be awesome. It would be far more than I ever could have hoped for at the trade deadline. Even if the Yankees fall short, this 2016 team is much more entertaining than the 2013 and 2014 teams, the other two recent clubs to miss the playoffs.

Yankees let winnable game slip away, drop series finale 2-0 to Dodgers

That was a tough one. Thanks in part to the rain, the Yankees were able to wait out Clayton Kershaw in Wednesday afternoon’s series finale against the Dodgers, but the offense never bothered to show up, and eventually some defensive miscues led to a 2-0 loss. Brutal. The Yankees have lost three of four since their seven-game winning streak.

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

Defensive Meltdown
Might as well start with the ninth inning since that’s when all the important stuff happened. The game was still scoreless in the top of the ninth, and the inning started with a bad Starlin Castro error. Dellin Betances was on the mound and Corey Seager lifted a little line drive right to Castro, but he misplayed it and the ball scooted by. Easily catchable ball and a play a Major League second baseman must make.

Because Betances was on the mound, Seager stole second almost immediately, and the play wasn’t all that close even with Gary Sanchez behind the plate. Justin Turner followed with a ground ball double just beyond the reach of a diving Chase Headley, which scored Seager and gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead. Blah. Turner moved up to third on Adrian Gonzalez’s deep fly ball, so Los Angeles had the lead and a runner at third with one out.

A runner at third with one out stinks because an out can score a run there, so you’re hoping Betances can get a strikeout to keep the runner at third. Rather than the strikeout, Yasmani Grandal hit a weak tapper back to the mound, which is almost as good. Turner broke for home and would have been out by a mile had Betances, you know, made a good throw home. He shot-putted the ball to the backstop, allowing the run to score.

Dellin Betances

Sigh. Dellin’s two biggest flaws were on full display that inning. He can’t hold runners — opponents are now 19-for-19 in steal attempts against him after Seager’s stolen base — and he struggles throwing to the bases. Usually it doesn’t matter much because Betances is so good at everything else, but those flaws cost the Yankees on Thursday. Castro’s error was obviously huge too. That started the game-winning rally. Sloppy baseball at a very bad time.

Not Enough Offense
In the three biggest at-bats of the game, Rob Refsnyder and Austin Romine faced Kershaw, and Brian McCann hit against a lefty. Not great, Bob. Kershaw retired the first dozen batters he faced before a 56-minute rain delay, and because he stayed loose in the batting cage underneath the stands during the delay, he came back out for the fifth inning too. That surprised me. Whatever.

That fifth inning was the Yankees’ best chance to score all game. Castro started the inning with a hot shot grounder off Turner’s glove at third base, then Headley followed with a legit single through the left side of the infield. The Yankees had runners on first and second with no outs, and with Didi Gregorius set to face a lefty annihilator like Kershaw, he laid down a bunt. Fine with me. It was textbook and advanced the runners.

The Yankees were in position to score a run with an out, but it never came. Kershaw overpowered both Refsnyder and Romine, striking them out to end the inning. Why did Refsnyder and Romine bat there? Beats me. At the very least, Mark Teixeira should have pinch-hit for Romine. I’d argue he should have pinch-hit for Refsnyder because you need a fly ball, and Refsnyder is a very ground ball heavy hitter.

Their other best chance to score came in the seventh inning. Castro singled and Headley walked, both with one out, though Pedro Baez got Gregorius to fly out to center for the second out. Joe Girardi lifted Refsnyder for pinch-hitter Brian McCann, which was great! Except the Dodgers countered with lefty Luis Avilan, and McCann hit anyway. He came into the game with a .205/.314/.356 (82 wRC+) line against lefties. Naturally, McCann struck out to end the threat.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees scored five runs in the three games against the Dodgers and all five came on solo homers. They had bad matchups in their three most important at-bats of the game Wednesday even though there were better options on the bench. The offense stunk in general, doing get me wrong. The loss falls on the entire offense, not one or two guys. But did Refsnyder and Romine give the Yankees the best chance to succeed in the fifth? Did McCann in the seventh? You’ll have a hard time convincing me they were the best available options at the time.

Leftovers
Michael Pineda didn’t allow a run! He also threw 83 pitches in four innings. Pineda closed out his outing with a nice 3-6-1 inning-ending double play with the bases loaded, during which he took an awkward step at first base and appeared to hurt himself. I’m not sure if he left the game hurt or because he was laboring so much. The Yankees can’t really afford to lose another starter.

The Yankees had five baserunners total: two singles by Castro, a single and a walk by Headley, and a walk by Brett Gardner. Gardner’s walk came with two outs in the eighth inning of a scoreless game and he never tried to steal second. Dude. The Yankees struck out 14 times as a team in this game, their second highest strikeout total in a nine-inning game this season. The Astros struck out 15 Yankees back in July.

Aside from Betances, nice work by the bullpen. Tommy Layne and Tyler Clippard each threw a scoreless inning and Luis Severino threw two. Those three combined to allow one hit. Also, both of the runs were unearned against Betances because of the errors.

The Orioles and Tigers both won while the Blue Jays lost Thursday. The wildcard standings look like this at the moment:

Orioles: +1.0 GB (first wildcard)
Blue Jays: — (second wildcard)
Tigers: 1.0 GB
Yankees: 2.0 GB

Also, if the Mariners beat the lowly Angels later Wednesday night, they’ll be 1.5 games back of the second wildcard spot and jump over the Yankees in the standings. That’s annoying, but they’re the Mariners. I’m sure they’ll screw up somehow before it’s all said and done.

And finally, there were two rain delays in this game. The second one was the big one, the 56-minute delay we all hoped would knock Kershaw from the game. The first delay lasted 12 whole minutes in the third inning. It was somehow sillier than two rain delays against the Blue Jays last week. Not a great week for the tarp-callers.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has both the box score and updated standings while MLB.com has the video highlights. We have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages too, so check those out. Here’s the unfortunate win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The homestand is over and the Yankees will now head out on a eleven-game, three-city road trip. First up: four games in Boston. Fun fun fun. Masahiro Tanaka and Eduardo Rodriguez are the scheduled starters for Thursday night’s opener.

Heyman: Yankees agree to sign Billy Butler

(Don Feria/Getty)
(Don Feria/Getty)

Looks like the Yankees have a new DH option. The team has agreed to sign the recently released Billy Butler, reports Jon Heyman. The Athletics cut Butler loose earlier this week and are responsible for his $10M salary. New York will only owe him the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. I’m guessing Butler will be with the team tomorrow.

The Yankees signed Butler for one reason: to DH against left-handed pitchers. The Aaron Judge injury took away a righty bat, and Austin Romine had to DH against Clayton Kershaw this afternoon, so yeah. There’s room on the roster for Butler. Being able to slide Judge or Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL means no one has to lose their roster spot either. It’s an easy add.

Not coincidentally, the Yankees are scheduled to face three left-handed pitchers against the Red Sox this weekend (Eduardo Rodriguez, David Price, Drew Pomeranz), so Butler’s going to be in the lineup an awful lot right away. The Yankees are tentatively scheduled to face seven southpaws on this upcoming seven-game road trip as well: Rodriguez, Price, Pomeranz, Drew Smyly, Blake Snell, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ.

Butler, 30, hit .276/.331/.403 (100 wRC+) with four homers in 242 plate appearances with the A’s before being released, including .262/.316/.369 (84 wRC+) against lefties. He’s a career .299/.381/.491 (133 wRC+) hitter against southpaws and surely that’s the Butler the Yankees are hoping they get these next few weeks. Hopefully Butler can be a chunkier version of 2014 Chris Young and unexpectedly rake.

Because he’s signing after August 31st, Butler is not eligible for the postseason roster should the Yankees actually qualify for the postseason. There are no loopholes, no 60-day DL tricks, nothing. He’s not eligible, period. That’s fine though. The Yankees are just trying to get to the playoffs right now. They’ll be happy if they have to figure out the postseason roster without Butler.

DotF: RailRiders walk-off with Game Two win

OF Mark Payton has been moved up to Triple-A Scranton and OF Trey Amburgey has been moved up to Double-A Trenton, reports Matt Kardos. Those moves are essentially a chain reaction to OF Mason Williams being called up to the big league team.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Gwinnett, walk-off style) the best-of-five International League Championship Series is tied at one game apiece

  • LF Mark Payton: 0-4, 2 K
  • RF Clint Frazier: 0-4, 1 K, 1 E (throwing)
  • 3B Donovan Solano: 0-1, 1 R, 3 BB
  • 1B Chris Parmelee: 0-3, 1 BB — he was robbed of a two-run home run, according to Shane Hennigan
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 0-2, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP
  • CF Jake Cave: 0-2, 1 RBI, 2 BB — drew the bases loaded walk to tie the game in the ninth inning
  • SS Pete Kozma: 0-2, 1 RBI, 2 BB — drew the walk-off walk … their ninth inning rally went walk, walk, hit-by-pitch, walk, walk … what a spectacular meltdown by Gwinnett’s bullpen
  • PH-2B Cito Culver: 1-1, 1 2B — he pinch-hit for Jonathan Diaz in the eighth inning, and his double was their only hit of the ballgame
  • LHP Phil Coke: 7.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 8/4 GB/FB — 68 of 93 pitches were strikes (73%) … heck of a job … he did his part in Game Two
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 1.2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/1 GB/FB — ten of 14 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Here’s an open thread for the rest of the evening. The Red Sox and Orioles are on ESPN and that game is very relevant to the Yankees’ postseason chances. Also, if hockey is your thing, there will some 2016 World Cup of Hockey exhibition games on ESPN2 and ESPN3 tonight. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Game 145: Beat the Best

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Today the Yankees will play their final game of the season against a non-AL East team. They’re also going to face the best pitcher in the world. I suppose the good news is Clayton Kershaw is not at full strength right now. This is his second start back from a two-and-a-half month DL stint due to a back injury.

Kershaw threw only three innings and 66 pitches last time out, and he looked pretty rusty as well. The expectation for today is something like five innings and 80 pitches, apparently. That’s better than facing Kershaw at full strength, but Kershaw at like 75% is still better than about 90% of pitchers out there. Gonna be tough. Here is the Dodgers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. RF Rob Refsnyder
  8. DH Austin Romine
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Michael Pineda

It’s a little cloudy in New York today and there’s actually a tiny little bit of rain in the forecast later this evening too. It doesn’t look like it’ll be anything too heavy though. Maybe just a quick shower. This afternoon’s series finale is scheduled to begin at 4:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Brian Cashman said Aaron Judge (oblique) will very likely miss the rest of the season. They don’t have the results of today’s MRI yet, but it sure sounds like they’re not counting on him coming back. Sucks … in case you missed it earlier, Mason Williams was called up to effectively replace Judge on the roster.

2017 Schedule Announced: Yankees open in Tampa Bay

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today MLB officially announced the 2017 regular season schedule. The Yankees will open the season on the road for the first time since 2014 next year. Opening Day is Sunday, April 2nd, in Tampa Bay in one of the ESPN games. The Rays and Diamondbacks get the two Sunday games next year because they’ll be celebrating their 20th anniversaries. Can you believe they’ve been around 20 years already? Geez.

Anyway, the Yankees opened the 2012 season in Tropicana Field as well. That was the “intentionally walk Sean Rodriguez so Carlos Pena can hit a grand slam” game, not that it still irks me or anything. Not sure why there’s an off-day Monday — no chance of a rainout in a dome! — but there is one. Lame. The season starts with three games in Tampa, then after another off-day Thursday, the Yankees go to Baltimore for a three-game series before coming home for the first time. Next year’s home opener is Monday, April 10th, also against the Rays. Here’s the full 2017 schedule. Here are some highlights.

Interleague Play

As expected, the Yankees will play NL Central clubs during interleague play next year. It rotates divisions each year and the NL Central is due up. The Cardinals (April 14th to 16th), Brewers (July 7th to 9th), and Reds (July 25th and 26th) and are coming to visit Yankee Stadium while the Yankees will go out on the road for series against the Pirates (April 21st to 23rd), Cubs (May 5th to 7th), and Reds (May 8th and 9th).

Going to Wrigley Field will be fun. The Yankees were last there in 2014. I remember that because Dellin Betances struck out Anthony Rizzo with two breaking balls that hit him.

I’m guessing the 2017 Cubs will be a tad more formidable than the 89-loss Cubs team the Yankees faced in 2014. Too bad the Cubbies aren’t making a trip to Yankee Stadium next year. That would be really fun.

Subway Series

Yet again, the 2017 Subway Series will be a four-game home-and-home series. I hate that. I and I think most folks would prefer two three-game series. That way there will be a legitimate series winner — the Yankees and Mets split the four games this season, remember — and bragging rights will actually be on the line. Who doesn’t love that? Anyway, the Yankees will host the Mets at Yankee Stadium on August 14th and 15th before going to Citi Field on the 16th and 17th. That’s a Monday to Thursday.

West Coast Trips

All things considered, the Yankees have a really easy West Coast travel schedule next season. They’re only make two West Coast trips in 2017: a seven-gamer through Anaheim and Oakland from June 12th through the 18th, then a four-gamer in Seattle from July 20th to 23rd. The Yankees will go from Minnesota to Seattle for that series, so they won’t even have to sit through a long cross country flight. Nice work, schedule makers.

Final Homestand

For the second straight year and only the third time since 2006, the Yankees will close out the 2017 regular season at home in the Bronx. The final series of the season is a three-gamer against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. Who knows what will be on the line that series. AL East title? Wildcard spot? Nothing? That’s a quick three-game homestand. The Yankees play their second-to-last series of the season in Tampa. All but six of their 28 September games are against AL East opponents. Three-game sets with the Rangers and Twins are the only exceptions. Lots and lots of intradivision games in September. Makes the races fun.