Game 146: Back in the Bronx

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Yankees have been home in New York for three days now, and tonight they return home to Yankee Stadium for the start of a seven-game homestand against two wildcard hopefuls. Three neutral site games at Citi Field was kinda neat — the circumstances were terrible, obviously — but it’s good to be back home. Home home. The Yankees have 17 games remaining this season and 14 will be in the Bronx. Hooray for that.

The Orioles are in town for four games this weekend and it is basically do or die time for them. They are seven games behind the Yankees and, more importantly, 4.5 games behind the Twins for the second wildcard spot. With five teams ahead of them. Sucks for them. The Yankees are still within striking distance of the Red Sox for the AL East crown. This weekend is a good chance to beat up on some bad pitching and gain ground. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 1B Chase Headley
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. LF Clint Frazier
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy and kinda sticky in New York right now. It rained on-and-off this afternoon and it is expected to do the same tonight. Doesn’t look like it’ll be anything heavy enough to delay the game, however. Hope not. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (back) is ready to play, though he is not in tonight’s lineup against left-hander Wade Miley. He is expected to play tomorrow … Aaron Hicks (oblique) has started working out but has yet to swing a bat. He’s been sick the last day or two and the Yankees have had him stay home … Adam Warren (back) remains shut down. The Yankees are hopeful he’ll be back before the end of the season.

Game 143: A Road Series in New York

(Bruce Bennett/Getty)
(Bruce Bennett/Getty)

The Yankees are back home in New York but are still technically on a road trip. They’ll play the next three games against the Rays as the visiting team at Citi Field. Hurricane Irma forced MLB to move the series to a neutral site, and Citi Field was the best option. The crowd figures to be small and decidedly pro-Yankees. On one hand, it’s good the Yankees are back in New York. On the other, no one wanted this to be the reason. Hope everyone down in Florida is safe.

Thanks to a strong trip through Baltimore and Texas, the Yankees have created some breathing room in the wildcard race. They’re 3.5 games up on the Twins for the second wildcard spot and 4.5 games up on the Angels for a wildcard spot in general. They’re also only 3.5 games back of the Red Sox, though I’ve sorta given up on the division. If it happens, great. I’m focused on the wildcard for the time being. The Yankees have won three straight series. How about making it four? Here is the Rays’ 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 Tyler Austin
    LHP CC Sabathia

It is cool and cloudy in New York this evening, and the tiny little bit of rain in the forecast isn’t supposed to arrive for another few hours. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 7:10pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Aaron Hicks (oblique) has not yet started swinging a bat, but he hopes to return before the end of the regular season. His ten days on the disabled list end Wednesday, though that doesn’t really matter if he hasn’t even started swinging a bat … Greg Bird was a late scratch from the lineup with lower back tightness.

Roster Move: The Yankees activated Clint Frazier off the 10-day DL, the team announced. They now have 33 players on the active roster. Frazier went 2-for-17 (.118) with ten strikeouts in four rehab games with Double-A Trenton following the oblique injury. I’m a bit surprised the Yankees activated him, but they were also carrying only three true outfielders on the roster, so I guess I shouldn’t be.

Minor League Update: There will be no DotF tonight, folks. There are no games. Tomorrow Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton begin their league’s championship series, and Short Season Staten Island will resume their first round postseason series. They have off-days today and the season is over for the other affiliates.

Game 136: Severino vs. Sale

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Even though it is only September 3rd, the Yankees and Red Sox will meet for the final time tonight. Final time in the regular season, that is. They could always meet in the postseason. The Yankees have won two of the first three games of this four-game series, and that’s good, but they can’t really afford a split if they want to win the AL East. A loss tonight puts them right back where they were at the start of the series, 5.5 games back.

Tonight’s pitching matchup is a dandy: Luis Severino vs. Chris Sale. If the season ended today, I’m pretty sure Sale would win the Cy Young and Severino would finish in the top three of the voting. Definitely in the top five. As good as Sale is, the Yankees have won three of the four games he’s started against them this year, and in the one loss, they had a lead in the ninth inning. Sale’s been great against the Yankees (2.12 ERA in 29.2 innings), but he can be beat. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

Not the best baseball weather in New York today. It’s cloudy and chilly, and it was raining on-and-off for a bit. There’s no rain in the forecast tonight. At least nothing heavy. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:35pm ET and ESPN will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (left oblique strain) was placed on the 10-day DL, the Yankees announced. The injury is not as severe as his previous oblique strain and the hope is he can start swinging a bat within ten days. The Yankees used the DL stint to bring Caleb Smith back before his ten days in the minors were up, so there are eleven guys in the bullpen right now. I’m guessing another outfielder will be up soon too … Clint Frazier (oblique) will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Double-A Trenton on Wednesday.

Rotation Update: Jordan Montgomery, CC Sabathia, and Sonny Gray will start the next three games in that order. Joe Girardi said they’re essentially slipping Jaime Garcia this time around, though he will rejoin the rotation at some point.

Aaron Hicks exits with left oblique tightness

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

4:13pm ET: Joe Girardi said Hicks suffered the injury making that sixth inning catch, and apparently the oblique isn’t as tight as it was the last time Hicks got hurt. He’s going for an MRI, because duh.

4:07pm ET: Aaron Hicks left this afternoon’s game with left oblique tightness, the Yankees announced. That is not the same oblique that landed him on the disabled list earlier this year. He was out with a right oblique strain. Hicks exited the game after making a running catch to end the sixth inning.

As we’ve seen with Hicks and Clint Frazier, oblique injuries are not often quick healing. Hopefully Hicks was removed as a precaution and he’ll be good to go soon. I know he hasn’t been great the last week or two, but healthy players > injured players, especially when it’s someone as talented as Hicks.

If Hicks were to miss time, the Yankees don’t really have a true fourth outfielder. Not with Frazier out too. I guess it would be Tyler Wade? The Yankees could make a 40-man roster move to add either Jake Cave or Billy McKinney — Cave can play center, McKinney can’t — but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.

Yankeemetrics: Rocked and rolled by Cleveland (Aug. 28-30)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Kluber’d
Monday’s lackluster 6-2 loss to the Indians was not the way the Yankees wanted to kick off perhaps the toughest week of their schedule so far – a grueling seven-games-in-seven-days stretch against two first-place teams.

Cleveland’s ace, Corey Kluber, put on a masterful performance in silencing the Yankee bats, which is hardly surprising given his history of shutting down the Bombers (and the way he’s dominated the rest of the league this year).

He’s made two starts against the Yankees this year, and in each of those games has pitched eight-or-more innings while allowing no more than three hits. Before Kluber, the last pitcher on any team to have two such outings in a season against the Yankees was Roger Clemens in 1991. Kluber’s success goes back further than this year, too. He’s riding a streak of five straight starts against the Yankees with at least seven strikeouts and two earned runs or fewer. The only other pitchers in baseball history to do that are Roy Halladay (2001-02) and Nolan Ryan (1973-75).

Kluber has also won each of those five starts, earning an Obscure Yankeemetric award for this stat: he is the only guy ever to win five consecutive starts against the Yankees, while striking out at least seven and allowing no more than two earned runs in each game.

The Yankees had their ace on the mound, too, but Luis Severino was ultimately outdueled in the matchup of Cy Young contenders. It was a confusing performance by Sevvy, who mixed some good (9 strikeouts), a little bad (3 walks) and too much ugly (3 homers).

The only other time in his big-league career he allowed three longballs in a game was May 8 last year vs the Red Sox, and it’s just the ninth time in 59 career appearances that he’s allowed more than one home run. The Yankees are now 0-9 when Severino surrenders multiple homers in a game.

via GIPHY

The good news is that there’s some statistical evidence that this was just a rare blip in what has been a fantastic season for Severino. He did a reasonably solid job of limiting hard contact and dangerous flyballs, aside from the three that went over the fence, indicating some random bad luck.

  • Per statcast, only five of the 108 pitches he threw (4.6%) were hit with solid contact. This season, he allowed a higher rate of hard contact in 18 of his 25 other starts.
  • His average exit velocity on batted balls was 85 mph, his sixth-lowest mark in a game this year.
  • He gave up only three flyballs that were hit beyond the infield; and somehow all three of them went over the fence!
  • According to ESPN’s Hit Tracker, Jose Ramirez‘s first-inning homer to right-center would have been a home run in only three other ballparks besides Yankee Stadium.

Bad luck aside, the three home runs were real, and the freezing-cold Yankee bats couldn’t overcome those three mistakes.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

One is the loneliest number
Did I mention freezing-cold bats? Trevor Bauer and the Indians bullpen kept the Bronx Bombers’ bats on ice in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader and the Yankees added to their growing list of frustrating games lost by one run.

The tally is now at 23 one-run losses, the most in the American League and the third-most in baseball. They fell to 15-23 (.395) in 1-run games, putting them in danger of posting just the fifth sub-.400 record in such games in a season in franchise history (also 1981, 1966, 1935, 1925).

Jaime Garcia (with some help from Gary Sanchez) put the Yankees in an early hole when he gave up two runs on three singles and a passed ball in the first inning. While Sanchez has been above-average in framing pitches and throwing out baserunners this season, he continues to struggle with his blocking. This was his 13th passed ball (in 699 innings caught), the most by a Yankee since Jorge Posada also had 13 in 2007 (1,111 innings caught).

While Garcia threw his best game so far in pinstripes, Chad Green was the true pitching superstar on Wednesday afternoon. He replaced Garcia in the sixth and then tossed 2⅔ scoreless innings, allowing one hit with seven strikeouts.

Green has been a strikeout machine all season, and in this game he etched his name in the franchise and MLB record books:

  • His seven strikeouts are the most for any Yankee who pitched fewer than three innings in a game.
  • He is the only major-league pitcher ever to strike out at least seven guys in an outing where he faced eight or fewer batters.
(AP)
(AP)

A new low
The Yankees capped off a miserable day in the Bronx with another uninspiring loss, 9-4, as the Indians completed a rare series sweep of the pinstripers.

This was just the third time in the last 50 years that the Yankees were swept by the Indians in a series of at least three games – it also happened April 7-9, 1989 and September 11-13, 1970. And entering this week, the Yankees had only been swept once the entire season, which was the second-fewest in the majors; the Dodgers are the lone team that hasn’t yet been swept in a series this year.

It was deja vu all over again for the hometown team to start the nightcap of the twinbill. Before they even swung a bat, the Yankees faced another insurmountable deficit, as Jordan Montgomery coughed up four runs on five hits in the opening frame. That snapped a streak of 16 straight games in which Yankee starters had allowed no more than three earned runs, their longest such streak since June/July of 1988.

Greg Bird and Aaron Hicks were a two-man offensive show, with Bird driving in all four of the Yankees runs and Hicks getting half of the team’s eight hits. There was little to celebrate from this game (and the series), so let’s end with a couple #FunFacts:

  • Hicks is the first Yankee since Bernie Williams on October 5, 1991 with at least four hits and a run scored in a loss to the Indians.
  • Bird’s three-run homer in the bottom of the inning kept them from getting “blown out” and preserved this obscure stat: the Yankees are still the only team in the majors that hasn’t lost a game by a margin of eight or more runs this season.

Hicks’ and Frazier’s injuries show the Yankees can’t have too many outfielders

Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)
Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)

For a few weeks this summer, it seemed like the Yankees had a great problem on their hands: Too many outfielders.

Clint Frazier was lining extra-base hit after extra-base hit, Aaron Judge was, well, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner was hitting home runs and Aaron Hicks was on his way back to the majors. That’s four guys for three spots, not to mention the presence of Jacoby Ellsbury, but with Ellsbury and Matt Holliday‘s respective struggles, playing time wouldn’t have been an issue.

With Frazier’s oblique injury, the Yankees’ outfield was cemented for the time being with Hicks, Gardner and Judge and a few too many Ellsbury starts. Oblique injuries take a while to heal, as evidenced by Hicks’ time away from the team, so the outfield overload is an issue the team can deal with when it actually comes to pass.

But the oblique injuries to Hicks and Frazier should be a warning to the front office not to deplete its outfield depth going into 2018.

It seems logical for the Yankees to pursue a trade for Ellsbury, who will have three years and about $68.5 million left on his deal after this season. The team would have to absorb some of that money and/or take back a bad contract, but it’d leave the Yankees with four outfielders for three spots. In theory, that can be an issue. But that’s only at the surface.

Yes, the team would have four men for three spots, but that’s assuming perfect health. Hicks has missed time with injuries each of the last two years. Frazier’s out now. Judge lost time in 2016 with a knee and oblique injury, respectively. While Gardner has placed at least 145 games each year since 2013, he’s been banged up plenty and the ability to give him days off in his age-34 season is important.

Performance-wise, there are concerns with each. Hicks and Judge each look like entirely different hitters from last season and how they can sustain their improvements will help define the 2018 OF. Gardner is getting older and has been off and on all season. Frazier is only 22 and didn’t exactly light the world on fire with a 92 wRC+ in 117 PAs.

That right there is enough of a reason to keep all four guys with concerns across the board, but the team will also have the ability to start all four plenty with the open DH role. Holliday is a free agent after this season and hasn’t hit his weight while dealing with injuries. He’ll be 38 come spring training next year and it looks unlikely he’ll be back in pinstripes.

The Yankees will surely seek out another veteran either via free agency or trade (Carlos Santana please!) that can take DH bats or act as Greg Bird/Gleyber Torres insurance. However, the team is also trying to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold next season so they can be even more competitive in the 2018-19 offseason. Adding a high priced veteran shouldn’t be in the cards, even if it means taking a chance on a cheaper option like Chris Carter was this year.

The counterargument to giving DH ABs to the four-man outfield (and Gary Sanchez, among others) would be the ability to flip one of the OFs at their peak value for another piece to the roster puzzle, whether a starter or infielder or otherwise. Only Gardner is close to free agency, but his one year of value is likely more valuable to the 2018 Yankees than the players he could get in return.

With Judge staying in place, that leaves Hicks and Frazier as potential trade chips. Maybe if the Yankees still had Dustin Fowler set to return for 2018 it would make sense to deal from this position of strength this winter. But the Yankees OF depth close to the majors is down to Jake Cave and Billy McKinney, neither of whom you can count on for significant contributions as rookies next year.

And if you want to win a championship, you need both depth and talent. Keeping the outfield together minus Ellsbury for 2018 is the best way to go about building a contender. If they need to acquire controllable starters via trade, they have plenty of prospects still in the minors to deal. But the current outfield is worth keeping together for another season.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bummer (Aug. 11-13)

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

It’s not over ’til …
Facing a late three-run deficit and their offense stuck in neutral, the Yankees seemed headed for another depressing loss in the Most Important Game of the Year. Then the Fighting Spirit kicked in and the Comeback Kids delivered another stunning rally to beat the Red Sox, 5-4, in the series opener.

How improbable was the victory? The Red Sox were 34-0 this season when leading by at least three runs at the start of the eighth inning before Friday. And the Yankees hadn’t beaten the Red Sox in a game when trailing by three-plus runs entering the eighth in nearly a decade, since a 8-7 win on September 14, 2007 at Fenway.

The comeback was ignited by Gritty Gutty Brett Gardner, who was hit by an Addison Reed slider to lead off the eighth. Reed hadn’t hit a batter since the second game of the 2014 season, and had faced more than 1,000 batters in that span before plunking Gardy.

Aaron Hicks then got the crowd into frenzy with a majestic two-run bomb that landed just over the short right field porch. Based on the combo of launch angle (41 degrees) and exit velocity (96.5 mph), that type of batted ball resulted in a hit just seven percent of the time this season.

Didi Gregorius followed with a game-tying opposite field single, a clutch hit that deserves a sweet #FunFact: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop with a game-tying hit in the seventh inning or later at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox in more than 50 years! The last guy to do that was Tony Kubek on June 17, 1964, in a game that the Yankees would eventually lose in the 12th inning.

Todd Frazier capped the rally with another RBI single to left field, earning his first True Yankee Moment. It was his 17th hit as Bronx Bomber, but the first one that gave the Yankees a lead … at any point in the game, regardless of inning.

Of course, because this was a Yankees-Red Sox game, there had to be more drama. Aroldis Chapman provided it when he walked the bases loaded with no outs in the ninth, but got of the jam thanks to a spectacular throw by Aaron Hicks, who gunned down Eduardo Nunez at third base for a game-saving double play. It was the Red Sox 16th baserunning out at third base and 64th overall, both of which lead the majors this season.

Chapman’s white-knuckle outing to seal the win also gives us our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He’s the first Yankee ever to get a save despite walking at least three batters and allowing a run, while pitching no more than one inning.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Baseball is cruel
In less than 24 hours, the Yankees went from experiencing one of their most exhilarating wins of the season, to one of their ugliest losses in 2017. The 10-5 rout was a lesson in regression to the mean, as several statistical trends for both teams came to a screeching halt in this game.

  • The Yankees suffered their first loss this season when hitting at least three homers, falling to 17-1 in those games. They were one of two teams that hadn’t lost when going deep three-plus times, leaving the Red Sox (10-0) as the lone team in that group.
  • Yankee pitchers had held the Red Sox to a .047 (.3-for-64) batting average with runners in scoring position over their first 10 matchups this season; the Red Sox surpassed that hit total in one game on Saturday, going 4-for-11.
  • Luis Severino, who started the day with the best ERA in the majors since the All-Star break (0.83) and had allowed a total of five runs in those five second-half starts, got pummeled for twice as many runs (10) in 4 2/3 innings of work. He also had given up just one run combined his two previous starts versus the Red Sox this season.

Those career-high 10 runs allowed made Severino the first pinstriper since Andy Hawkins on June 5, 1989 to cough up double-digit runs in fewer than five innings pitched at Yankee Stadium. That 1989 game might be the franchise’s most embarrassing loss, one that included six errors, a whopping 13(!) unearned runs allowed by the home team, and very very unhappy crowd in the Bronx.

Even more bad news:

(On a slightly more positive note, the last Yankee to allow 10 or more runs versus the Red Sox, regardless of innings pitched, was Hall of Famer Red Ruffing in 1939.)

Most of the damage was done by Boston’s 23-year-old rookie outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who crushed two three-run homers off Severino. He became the first Red Sox player since Jimmie Foxx in 1938 to hit multiple three-run bombs against the Yankees. Benintendi also is the youngest Red Sox ever with six RBI against the Yankees, and the youngest on any team to hit multiple homers and drive in at least six runs against the Yankees since Cleveland’s Pat Seerey in 1945.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Nightmare on River Avenue
In what has become an all-too-familiar and frustrating story for this Yankees team, they suffered yet another soul-crushing loss on Sunday night, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Once again, the bullpen imploded, flushing a 2-1 lead in the ninth and then losing the game in the 10th. Here’s the gory details of the meltdown:

  • 20th blown save, the second-most in MLB, and four more than they had all of last season.
  • Third loss when taking a lead into the ninth inning, their most in a season since 2013 — and two of those three have come against the Red Sox (hard to forget July 14, eh?).
  • 21st loss by one run, the most in the AL and third-most in MLB. Oh, and they had only 12 one-run losses last year.

The biggest goat horns were worn by Aroldis Chapman, who gave up the game-tying homer in the ninth to Rafael Devers. Devers’ blast is a perfect example of #YouCantPredictBaseball. The lefty swinger clobbered a 102.8 mph fastball into the seats, the fastest pitch ever hit for a homer in the PitchFX era (since 2008). Prior to Sunday, Chapman had faced 418 left-handed batters in his regular-season career and given up exactly one home run — to Luke Scott on June 26, 2011, the first homer surrendered by Chapman in his major-league career. Those 418 lefty hitters were by far the most faced by any pitcher in the last 50 years that had given up one or zero homers to lefties.

Before the late-inning sadness, this game was a classic pitchers duel. Jordan Montgomery matched Red Sox ace Chris Sale with another impressive outing, holding the Red Sox to one run on two hits while pitching into the sixth inning. It was his second straight game allowing one or fewer runs and no more than three hits, the youngest Yankee southpaw to have back-to-back starts like that since a 22-year-old Al Leiter in 1988.

Sale continued his dominance over the Bronx Bombers with another gem, striking out 12 and giving up just one run in seven innings. It was the third time in a row he’s struck out at least 10 Yankees, the first pitcher to do that since Pedro Martinez in 2001. And it was his second straight game with 12-plus strikeouts and no more than one earned run allowed, joining Indians lefty Sam McDowell as the only pitchers in MLB history to do that in back-to-back games against the Yankees.