Game 157: Welcome Back, Aaron Hicks

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

Aaron Hicks was activated from the disabled list this morning, and he’ll be batting lead-off tonight. It’s good to see that Joe Girardi isn’t hesitating to maximize Hicks’s opportunities to shake-off the rust of a nearly four-week layoff with the playoffs just around the corner; here’s hoping that Hicks can make the most of it, given his all-around value to the team.

It’s also worth noting that the Yankees magic number to clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card game is just one, meaning a Yankees win or a Twins loss will seal the deal. The sooner the better, in my mind, so Girardi can allow most everyone to get a bit more rest without the added stress of a Twins run or a Yankees slump.

Jordan Montgomery will take the mound for the Yankees tonight, and here’s the Rays lineup he’ll face. Blake Snell is starting for the Rays, and he’ll square-off against:

  1. Aaron Hicks, CF
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Gary Sanchez, C
  4. Matt Holliday, DH
  5. Chase Headley, 1B
  6. Starlin Castro, 2B
  7. Todd Frazier, 3B
  8. Clint Frazier, LF
  9. Ronald Torreyes, SS

Tonight’s game will start at 7:05 PM EST, and will be broadcast on YES.

Injury Updates:┬áThere’s nothing new to report here. Didi Gregorius was expected to sit today, so it’s nothing more than a day off.

Nine goals for the final week of the regular season now that the Yankees have clinched a postseason spot

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the weekend the Yankees clinched a postseason spot — heck of a rebuilding transitioning year, eh? — and pretty soon they’ll lock down homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game. The magic number to do that is one because the Yankees hold the tiebreaker over the Twins. The Yankees are mathematically alive in the AL East race, but forget that. Wild Card Game it is.

Because the Yankees clinched with a week to spare in the regular season, they have the luxury of using these last few regular season games to prepare for the postseason. Line up the rotation, rest the regulars, give those bumps and bruises a chance to heal … that kinda stuff. The obvious stuff every team hopes they get a chance to do before playing in October.

“I think the physical part of it is really important for our players so that they are strong going into the playoffs, and they’re not beat up and they feel rested. That’s really important,” said Joe Girardi yesterday. “There’s a balance there because you want everyone to feel confident and feel good about where they are going into the playoffs … Going into the playoffs, you want guys to feel confident and feel that they’re right where they want to be.”

Resting players and lining up the postseason rotation — right now Luis Severino is lined up to start the Wild Card Game and Sonny Gray is lined up to start Game One of the ALDS, so that part is done already — are the obvious big picture goals this week. What else do the Yankees need to accomplish before their season is on the line in the Wild Card Game one week from today? Here are nine other goals for the Yankees this week, in no particular order.

Clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game

A formality with the magic number sitting at one, yes, but the Yankees have to actually do it at some point. They can’t go into cruise control just yet. Clinch homefield advantage and do it soon. The sooner the better. Lock into the top Wild Card spot and be done with it. That’s not something you want to let linger, you know?

Try to get Betances straightened out

(Presswire)
Dellin. (Presswire)

I gotta say, I was pretty surprised to see Dellin Betances go five days between appearances last week. It’s not like Girardi didn’t have chances to use him. The Yankees won by eight runs Wednesday and lost by seven runs Friday. Want to get Dellin straightened out in low-leverage spots? Well, there were two low-leverage spots, and Betances was nowhere to be found. Hmmm.

The Yankees are a potentially dominant postseason team because their bullpen is so deep with power arms, so they figure to have the advantage in the late innings pretty much every night. Betances is a big part of that bullpen, and the Yankees need him to be at his best in October. Dellin’s not going to right the ship by sitting in the bullpen. Heck, the longer the sits, the worse he gets. He has to get enough work this week to try to figure things out.

“I think best case scenario is we’ll be able to get Dellin in three — maybe four — games this week if we can to get him going,” said Girardi. “If you feel like he’s going and you don’t need to push him as hard, you can do that too. He’s important to us. Much like (Aroldis Chapman) — Chappy had a little period where he was struggling, and we got him going. We need to do the same with Dellin.”

Let Green pitch back-to-back days

With Betances still having control problems, Chad Green has taken over as the third option in the bullpen behind Chapman and David Robertson. You could argue Green is the best option out of the bullpen, though that’s a waste of time. They’re all pretty great. Girardi clearly trusts Green and he’s going to see plenty of high-leverage work in the postseason. Lately Girardi has been using him as a one-inning setup man, which is kinda new.

Anyway, because he’s done the multi-inning reliever thing pretty much all season, Green hasn’t pitched back-to-back days much. Just once, in fact. He threw 14 pitches in a perfect inning on July 22nd, then threw 37 pitches in 2.1 perfect innings the next day. Green hasn’t pitched back-to-back days since. Should the Yankees advance to the ALDS, they’re probably going to need to use Green back-to-back at some point, and you don’t want that to be a new experience. Get his feet wet. Use him two straight days at some point this week so he knows what’s up.

Keep running Bird out there

(Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

For the first time all season, Greg Bird really looks comfortable at the plate. He’s gone 6-for-14 (.429) with three doubles and two home runs in his last four games — he was 5-for-40 (.125) in his first 14 games this month — and you want him to keep building on that. I know this is the time to rest players and all that, but it shouldn’t be for Bird. He was out too long earlier this season. Play him every game the rest of the way — against righties and lefties — and let him continue to find his stroke. Bird can be a impact hitter and provide a big time boost to the lineup.

Let Sanchez catch Montgomery

For whatever reason Austin Romine has become Jordan Montgomery‘s personal catcher. Romine has caught Montgomery’s last ten starts now, and I guess this is why:

  • Montgomery with Romine: 3.78 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 102.1 innings
  • Montgomery with Sanchez: 5.19 ERA (4.35 FIP) in 26 innings

That’s all well and good, but here’s the thing: Romine can’t play in the postseason. He just can’t. Girardi twice started Jose Molina in the World Series so he could catch A.J. Burnett, but Romine is no Molina. Molina was at least a great defensive catcher, plus he’d occasionally run into a fastball for a double. Romine does neither of those things. (Plus Burnett was much more important to the 2009 Yankees than Montgomery is to the 2017 Yankees.)

As things stand, Montgomery will not be in the postseason rotation. He might not even be in the postseason bullpen. But! If the Yankees need a replacement starter due to injury at some point, Montgomery figures to get the call over Jaime Garcia, and he and Gary Sanchez need to be on the same page. The postseason is no time for personal catchers, especially with your fifth starter. Montgomery is starting tonight and could start Game 162 as well. Let Sanchez catch him so they can get reacquainted. You don’t want them paired up for the first time in three months in a postseason game.

Play Hicks as much as humanly possible

Earlier today the Yankees activated Aaron Hicks off the disabled list, so he will be in uniform tonight. And now that Hicks is back, the Yankees should play him as much as possible. Basically every game from here on out. Even if Hicks is slated to be a bench player in the postseason, it wouldn’t take much to push him into regular duty and the Yankees should want him ready in case that happens. He’s missed a lot of time and needs the at-bats.

Girardi said yesterday the Yankees plan to give the regular outfielders a rest this week — they’ve played a ton the last month or so — and that creates the perfect opportunity for Hicks. Play him every game, move him around the outfield as needed, give the regulars rest. Heck, bat Hicks first or second too, so he could maybe get that one extra at-bat each game. Every little bit helps. We saw Hicks be an impact player earlier this year. After the long layoff, giving him as much playing time as possible to help get him back to being that impact player is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.

Make sure Warren gets all the way back

Warren. (Presswire)
Warren. (Presswire)

As with Hicks, the Yankees will get Adam Warren back from injury this week, and they need to make sure he’s on track prior to the postseason. Warren, who hasn’t missed nearly as much time as Hicks in the second half, will throw a simulated game today, and figures to be activated as soon as tomorrow if that goes well. The big name late-inning guys get all the attention, but Warren is a really important part of the bullpen as the Swiss Army knife reliever who can get one out in the tight spot or throw two innings in the middle of the game or fill-in as the setup man for a day. He’s an underappreciated weapon for Girardi and the Yankees want to make sure Warren is ready to go come October.

Test Wade as a pinch-runner

With Jacoby Ellsbury playing his way back into the starting lineup and the Yankees not bringing in an Eric Young Jr. or Rico Noel type to pinch-run this month, Tyler Wade is the obvious designated pinch-runner candidate for the postseason. And maybe the Yankees decide they don’t need that guy. Even if they don’t, it would be smart to give Wade a bunch of pinch-running opportunities this week. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but coming off the bench cold and stealing a base in a big spot is not easy. Wade’s been an everyday player pretty much his entire life. Getting him prepared for a potential pinch-runner role makes sense even if the Yankees aren’t planning to carry him on the postseason roster. One injury could land him on the postseason bench.

Win at least three more games

In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing important about this. Heck, once they clinch the top wildcard spot, you could argue the Yankees should lose as much possible to improve their draft position! I won’t do it, but I’m sure someone out there is thinking it. Anyway, I want the Yankees to win at least three more games because damn, a 90-win season sure would be sweet. Lots of people, myself included, pegged this team for 82-84 wins. Somewhere in that neighborhood. Plenty of pundits were picking them to finish under-.500 for the first time in an eternity. It’s not happening. Seeing the Yankees join the 90-win club for the first time since 2012 sure would be a nice cherry on top of an otherwise wildly successful rebuilding season.

Game 154: A Win And They’re In

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Even though the Yankees lost last night’s series opener to the Blue Jays, the magic number dropped to one because both the Angels and Rangers lost. Thanks for that, Astros and Athletics. The clinching scenario is very simple now. With their next win, the Yankees clinch a postseason spot. They’d also clinch with one loss each from the Angels and Rangers, but that’s lame. Winning to clinch your spot is so much cooler.

Last night’s loss combined with the Red Sox’s win essentially puts the AL East title out of reach — FanGraphs put New York’s division odds at a mere 3.0% — which means it’s wildcard or bust. Win Saturday, clinch a postseason spot, then party like hell. Then go out and win three more to clinch homefield advantage in that Wild Card Game. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. DH Chase Headley
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. 3B Todd Frazier
    RHP Sonny Gray

Another nice and sunny day in Toronto, so the Rogers Centre roof figures to be open. Today’s game will begin a little after 4pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Luis Severino was hit by a line drive in the back of his left shoulder during batting practice. He was down on the ground for a bit before he resumed playing catch. The Yankees say he’ll ice is down and is otherwise fine. Good gravy … Adam Warren (back) threw another bullpen session today and is slated to throw a simulated game Tuesday. He’ll be activated after that if all goes well … Aaron Hicks (oblique) played in an Instructional League game today, according to Antonio Mendes. The Yankees hope to get him back sometime next week so he can play in a few big league games before the postseason.

Game 152: Finish the Sweep

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

So the first two games of this important series against the Twins have gone well. The Yankees won both and are now a season high 17 games over .500. It’s the first time they’ve been 17 games over .500 since late in the 2015 season. Also, the Yankees are now six games up on the Twins for the first wildcard spot and 7.5 games up on the Angels for a wildcard spot in general. Pretty cool.

On the mound going for the sweep this afternoon is Luis Severino, who wasn’t going to make this start originally. The Yankees shifted gears a day or two ago. Why? Because hiding Severino from the Twins until the Wild Card Game is overrated — he’s faced lots of team multiple times this year and it hasn’t seemed to help anyone — and, more importantly, they want to be able to start him in Game 162 if the division is winnable. Focus on today though. Get the sweep and bury the Twins. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Matt Holliday
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 1B Greg Bird
    RHP Luis Severino

It is cloudy and windy yet again in New York today. Par for the course these days. Fortunately there is no rain in the forecast. At least nothing heavy. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 1:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Afternoon game on ESPN? Huh. Anyway, enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (oblique) is heading to Tampa to get at-bats in Instructional League. That is the only place to get at-bats now aside from the big leagues. The hope is he’ll return sometime next week … Adam Warren (back) threw a bullpen session today. He’ll throw another in the coming days and, if deemed necessary, he’ll pitch in a simulated game after that.

Game 149 150: Wild Card Game Preview?

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

Can’t say I expected a mid-September series to be important for both the Yankees and Twins, but here we are. The Yankees currently sit in the top wildcard spot, four games up on the Twins. The Twins have a two-game lead over the idle Angels for the second wildcard spot. The Yankees have some breathing room in the standings. The Twins are surely looking to close the gap with New York so they could possibly host the Wild Card Game.

Because of the importance of this series, I expect Joe Girardi to manage like the postseason. There’s an off-day Thursday, so don’t be surprised if he uses guys like David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman back-to-back-to-back days, even though he doesn’t like doing that. Chad Green, if he pitches tonight, might only get one day of rest and come back Wednesday rather than his usual two or three days off. We’ll see. Win one before worry about winning three. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. DH Chase Headley
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 1B Greg Bird
    LHP Jaime Garcia

It is overcast and on the cool side in New York, and there’s a little bit of rain in the forecast. Shouldn’t be anything that interrupts the game. We’ve had the same weather for about a week now. Kinda sucks. I miss the sun. Anyway, tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network out-of-market. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Aaron Hicks (oblique) expects to begin taking batting practice soon. The minor league season is over, so there’s nowhere to play rehab games. He’ll have the jump right from batting practice to big league games. Sucks, but that’s how it goes in September.

Saturday Links: Cave, McKinney, Gardner, Robertson, Top Tools

McKinney. (Times Leader)
McKinney. (Times Leader)

The Yankees and Orioles will continue their four-game series with the third game later this afternoon. That’s a 4pm ET start for whatever reason. Here’s some notes and links to check out in the meantime.

Yankees planning to add Cave, McKinney to 40-man

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees plan to add outfielders Jake Cave and Billy McKinney to the 40-man roster this offseason. Unless they trade them first, of course. McKinney, who came over in last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade, will be Rule 5 Draft eligible this December. Cave is due to become a minor league free agent, so he’ll have to be added to the 40-man pretty much right after the World Series. McKinney doesn’t have to be added until late-November.

Cave, 24, hit .305/.351/.542 (145 wRC+) with a career high 20 home runs this season. He reportedly made some swing changes in an effort to get the ball airborne more often, which explains the career high home run total, career low ground ball rate (43.1%), and career high strikeout rate (26.3%). The 23-year-old McKinney hit .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with 16 homers this year. Both he and Cave split the season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. I’m not sure either guy is a long-term piece for the Yankees, but you can’t lose them for nothing either, so on the 40-man they will reportedly go.

Several Yankees among Law’s best tools

Last month Keith Law published his rankings of the best tools in baseball (hitting, fielding, pitching). Best hit tool, best power, best fastball, so on and so forth. I always enjoy lists like this. Anyway, several Yankees pop up in the various categories, so let’s round ’em up:

  • Best Power: Aaron Judge (second to Joey Gallo)
  • Best Fastball: Aroldis Chapman (second to Chris Sale)
  • Best Splitter: Masahiro Tanaka (first)
  • Best Curveball: David Robertson (fourth behind Corey Kluber, Lance McCullers Jr., Aaron Nola)
  • Best Catcher Arm: Gary Sanchez (fourth behind Willson Contreras, Jorge Alfaro, Yadier Molina)
  • Best Outfield Arm: Aaron Hicks (second to Bryce Harper)

The only real surprise to me is no Luis Severino in the best fastball category. (The top five was Sale, Chapman, James Paxton, Joe Kelly, and Justin Verlander.) Nothing else seems out of place to me. Sorta bold prediction: Chad Green tops the best fastball list next year, unless the only criteria is velocity. Green’s fastball is ridiculous.

Gardner, Robertson nominated for awards

Within the last few weeks MLB and the MLBPA announced nominees for two prestigious awards. Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award while Robertson has been nominated for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. Both awards are decided by fan voting, which seems ridiculous, but whatever. Here is the Marvin Miller Man of the Year ballot. Voting for the Roberto Clemente Award doesn’t begin until October. Here are the nominees.

The Roberto Clemente Award is giving annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Curtis Granderson won the award last year and Derek Jeter won in 2009. As for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, that one goes to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” Granderson won that last year too. Mariano Rivera won it in 2013. Congrats to Gardner and Robertson. Just getting nominated for these awards is an honor.

MLB, NPB negotiating new posting agreement

Before Shohei Otani can come over to the big leagues, Major League Baseball and Nippon Pro Baseball must first agree to a new posting system. The release fee system, which brought Tanaka to MLB four years ago, had to be renewed each year, and earlier this year MLB requested a renegotiation. There’s technically no posting system in place right now, so there’s no official way for Otani to leave Japan for MLB.

Anyway, Jim Allen recently broke down the latest posting system proposals. In both proposals, the compensation paid to the player’s former NPB team would be a percentage of the money he receives from an MLB team. It’s basically 15% up to a maximum of $20M. So, for example, if the Yankee were to sign Otani for $2M, they’d pay the Nippon Ham Fighters a $300,000 release fee. Needless to say, NPB teams are not having it. Under the now expired system, the NPB team sets the release fee ($20M max) and the MLB tam pays it when they sign the player.

Game 147: More Offense Against The O’s

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

A fun fact: the Yankees are 6-1 against the Orioles in Yankee Stadium this year. Another fun fact: they’ve scored 80 runs (!) in those seven games. Yet another fun fact: they’ve scored 17 first inning runs in their last three home games against the O’s. The Yankees have had their problems at Camden Yards the last few years. They’ve crushed the O’s in the Bronx though.

Needless to say, another big offensive effort would be appreciated this evening. Blowout wins are always great. Plus, you know, pounding the Orioles and catching a glimpse of Buck Showalter being miserable is always fun. Blowout or not, the Yankees are closing in on a postseason berth — they’re still within striking distance of the AL East title too — so they need as many wins as possible now. The finish line is approaching. Don’t slow down. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. DH Matt Holliday
  9. 1B Greg Bird
    RHP Luis Severino

It is a bit cloudy in New York today, but otherwise it’s a very pleasant evening for a ballgame. Tonight’s game will start shortly after 7pm ET. WPIX will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (oblique) played catch and took dry swings, so he’s making progress. Joe Girardi said he expects Hicks to play again before the end of the regular season … Todd Frazier has a stiff back and is out of the lineup as a precaution. He’s available off the bench and will be in the lineup tomorrow.