Finding a second gear after a sizzling first act

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

There are always certain phases of the major league season. The highs and lows, the streaks and skids, fluctuating from month to month and week to week.

Unlike last season, the Yankees began 2017 on fire. The start seemed reminiscent of 2010, when the team got off to a roaring start coming off a championship. The funny thing about that 2010 team is they didn’t soar to a division title. They struggled. They blew their early division lead, gained it back and then lost it in the final weeks of the season, settling for a wild card.

I don’t mean to make a straight side-by-side comparison between the 2010 Yankees and the current squad, but the lesson is important: There are going to be lulls in the season and the team can’t let up, allowing a division rival to sneak ahead. This year, the Yankees likely won’t be overcome by a pesky Rays squad, but the Orioles and Red Sox are enough to handle.

And in April, the Yankees handled them well enough. They split their six games with the O’s and took both contests with the Sox. Considering they had to face AL Cy Young favorite Chris Sale and started 0-2 against the O’s, that’s a strong result.

It was all part of a magical month where everything seemed to go right. Aaron Judge, Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, among others, put up surprising numbers en route to a 15-8 record. The only thing perhaps more eye-catching was the rotation, which consistently worked deep into games despite most assuming it would be a liability going into the season.

That’s the catch: It wasn’t supposed to go that way. One would have assumed coming out of the spring that if the team caught fire early, it’d be on the backs of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and a knockout bullpen alongside Masahiro Tanaka as the ace. Well, Sanchez and Bird got hurt. Tanaka was off on Opening Day and despite a 5-3 record, hasn’t looked quite right since. The bullpen was quite good, perhaps even better than expected, but it was overshadowed and not asked to perform many herculean tasks.

And now that we’re late in May, phase two is well underway. The team is 6-8 in their last 14 dating back to May 8 and have seen some stinkers out of the rotation. Castro and Judge have looked more Earth-bound recently and Headley has crash landed. Early expectations have proved more prescient with the bullpen carrying a bigger load, Tuesday’s blown lead notwithstanding. Sanchez has taken off and so has Brett Gardner, who seems to have found the hitting stroke that earned him an All-Star appearance just a few seasons to go.

Despite this sub-par stretch, the Yankees still hold a 2.5 game lead in the division over the Orioles, 3.5 on the Red Sox. That lead is actually their largest this season.

But the team has an upcoming stretch that could help define them. After this homestand with the Royals and Athletics wraps up, they play 13 straight games in division, including six with the O’s and three with the Red Sox, all condensed into two weeks. You’re not going to win the division with a good two weeks, nor are you going to lose it with a lousy fortnight.

(David Banks/Getty Images)
(David Banks/Getty Images)

Yet this is the time when the Yankees need to begin figuring out who they are long-term, finding that second gear that can help carry them throughout the summer. The 11 wins by five or more runs have been nice and so have the standout starts from guys like Luis Severino and Michael Pineda, who would have castoffs this offseason if certain sections of the fan base had their way. But is this young crew really going to dominate all season? Is this team actually arrived ahead of schedule and not just showing glimpses of 2018 and beyond?

The team’s diverse set of skills in the lineup serves them well if sustained success is indeed in the cards. If, let’s say, Matt Holliday and Judge going into month-long slumps, the team can rely on hitters like Gardner or Didi Gregorius to carry them in a different way, not needing to pound home runs game-by-game.

It doesn’t hurt to have that sturdy backbone of a bullpen, which may end up as the defining positive for this team. Even with Aroldis Chapman out, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and co. are a force that can hold down most leads. With a few quality long relievers, the team can withstand a few 4-5 inning outings and keep the team within striking distance.

Or maybe the rotation with a rejuvenated Tanaka can lead the way. With Jordan Montgomery and CC Sabathia as strong back-end starters, perhaps Tanaka, Severino and Pineda can carry the team every five days and enable more winning streaks.

So that second gear doesn’t necessarily have to look all that different from the first one. It can be a continuation. But in order for the Yankees to sustain their early success, they’ll need to figure out just what makes this team special and utilize those defining characteristics in the crucial weeks ahead.

“The Judge’s Chambers” is awesome, so of course people are complaining about it

Uh oh, fans are having fun. (Elsa/Getty)
Uh oh, fans are having fun. (Elsa/Getty)

When the Yankees returned home from their road trip Monday, a new feature at Yankee Stadium awaited them. The team unveiled a new 18-seat cheering section for Aaron Judge in right field named, for obvious reasons, The Judge’s Chambers. His name is just so damn punnable. People have been showing up to games in robes and wigs the last few weeks. Now they have a dedicated section.

Personally, I love it. I am for anything that injects some life and excitement into the ballpark. My only complaint is The Judge’s Chambers is kinda hidden. It’s tucked under the second deck in right field. Maybe move it over a section or two so everyone can see it? Otherwise it’s a great idea. The Yankees give out robes and styrofoam gavels, and everyone has a grand old time.

Naturally, some people don’t like the new ballpark feature. Many people, really. I’ve seen folks on Twitter and in the RAB comments say it’s too soon. It’s a distraction. So on and so forth. Billy Witz said it’ll become a punch line if Judge doesn’t keep hitting. Mike Mazzeo said the Yankees are “guilty of overhype.” Michael Kay said on his radio show he couldn’t imagine something like “Jete’s Seats” in 1996.

While I respect those guys and their opinions, man I couldn’t disagree more. The Judge’s Chambers is not about Aaron Judge or the Yankees. It’s about the fans and having fun. I know people like to think the Yankees hold themselves to a higher standard and wouldn’t stoop to such gimmicks, but come on. Have you seen the ballpark? It’s half-empty every night. Things have changed. It’s time for a new way of thinking.

These are the facts. One, The Judge’s Chambers is not a money grab because the Yankees are giving the 18 tickets to youth groups and other programs. Two, Judge is an extremely humble and down to Earth kid. (You should read this.) I couldn’t be any less concerned about this going to his head. And three, have you noticed how much fun the fans out there are having? YES showed a clip yesterday with a bunch of kids going nuts in The Judge’s Chambers. How is that bad?

What’s the worst case scenario here? Judge stops hitting and The Judge’s Chambers looks silly, so the Yankees remove it? I think the franchise will survive. It’s not like they wouldn’t hear constant reminders about Judge flaming out anyway. (See: Maas, Kevin.) Should they wait until Judge plays a full season? Okay. But why not wait two years? Or five? Or until he wins a World Series just to be safe? Why is any of that a better time than right now? We can always come up with a reason not to do something. Doing it is the hard part.

The Yankees are full speed ahead with their youth movement and Judge is at the center of that. He’s a great two-way player who represents the franchise well is an already very popular. The Yankees should foster that popularity and fan excitement. It helps improve the relationship between the team and the fans. The Yankees wouldn’t have had “Jete’s Seats” in 1996? Well, maybe they should have. This is baseball. It’s a game and it’s a fun. Don’t take it so seriously.

Let’s talk about Aaron Judge’s defense in right field

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

If the season ended today, Aaron Judge would finish in the top three of the AL MVP voting. Forget Rookie of the Year. I’m talking MVP. Judge is hitting .315/.419/.685 (195 wRC+) overall and he’s tied with Mike Trout for the MLB lead with 15 home runs. Do that for a first place team and you’re going to get plenty of MVP support. He’s been awesome thus far.

The home runs get all the attention and deservedly so, but Judge is not a one-dimensional player. It can be easy to stereotype him as a lumbering slugger given his size, though Judge is a good athlete and he helps the Yankees with his right field defense too. He’s a sneaky great athlete, and that athleticism was on full display Sunday:

That’s the catch of the season so far, right? For the Yankees, anyway. I’m having a tough time coming up with other memorable defensive plays. I’m sure they exist, but nothing is immediately coming to mind. If that ball falls in, the game is tied and Evan Longoria is on second base with no outs, giving the Yankees a 30.9% win probability. Instead, it was a double play, leaving the Yankees with a 68.4% win probability. Massive defensive play, that was.

The catch this weekend was not the first time we’ve seen Judge make a highlight reel catch. Remember when he flipped over the wall at Fenway Park? Or when he did this? Or this? Those aren’t easy plays! Judge made them look easy. His throwing arm is also a weapon. His throws look effortless and yet they carry and carry. Look:

Before the season Baseball America (subs. req’d) said Judge is a “slightly above-average runner underway and plays average defense in right field with a well above-average throwing arm.” UZR says he’s been about average in the field (+0.8 runs saved). Total Zone thinks he’s been a bit better (+5). DRS thinks Judge has been elite in the field. The outfield DRS leaderboard:

  1. Jarrod Dyson: +9
  2. Jason Heyward: +8
  3. Aaron Judge, Kevin Kiermaier, Guillermo Heredia: +7

Heyward has split time between center and right fields this season, so Judge is first among full-time right fielders. That’s pretty awesome. It’s difficult to say which defensive stat is right. UZR? DRS? Total Zone? The important thing is they all agree Judge has been a positive in the field. He’s saving the Yankees runs. Exactly how many is up for debate.

Statcast’s new catch probability drops batted balls into five buckets based on how often similar balls are turned into outs around the league. Here are Judge’s catch probability numbers:

  • One-Star Catches (caught 91-95% of the time): 100%
  • Two-Star Catches (76-90%): 100%
  • Three-Star Catches (51-75%): 100%
  • Four-Star Catches (26-50%): 50%
  • Five-Star Catches (0-25%): 0%

Batted balls that are turned into outs 51% to 95% of the time around the league have been turned into an out 100% of the time by Judge so far this season. The only thing he hasn’t done is make the super duper highlight reel plays, the ones very few outfielders can make. The Five-Star Catches. Eventually he’ll make one of those too. For now Judge is making all the defensive plays he’s supposed to make, and then some.

The last few seasons the Yankees have typically enjoyed strong outfield defense thanks mostly to Brett Gardner in left and Jacoby Ellsbury in center. Right field has been a problem. The Yankees lived with Carlos Beltran‘s glove out there because he brought offense. Now they’re getting the best of both worlds from right field. Judge is giving them offense and defense. He impacts games on both sides of the ball.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with all this other than to say Judge has been really good in the field this season. There’s much more to this guy than mammoth dingers. He’s a very good all-around player. Probably better than most non-Yankees fans given him credit for. Watching him every day though, we’ve been able to see exactly how good he is defensively, and that two-way play is a reason he’s a extremely super early MVP candidate.

Yankeemetrics: Roughed up in Tampa (May 19-21)

(AP)
(AP)

No relief
In a season defined by so many improbable wins and stunning comebacks, the Yankees fell just short of adding another one on Friday night, falling 5-4 to the Rays. It was just the Yankees’ fifth loss this season when holding a lead at any point in the game, the fewest in the AL and second-fewest in the majors behind the Rockies (3) after Friday’s slate.

Luis Severino struggled early but gave the Yankees five solid innings and a chance to win the game, exiting with a 2-1 lead. He threw 30 pitches in the first inning and 59 in the next four frames, allowing just one run on five hits while striking out seven.

Severino’s slider was in peak form, generating a career-high 11 whiffs on 24 swings (45.8%) among the 42 sliders he threw. The pitch netted him four of his seven strikeouts and four of his five groundball outs, as he mostly buried it at the knees while also mixing in a few swing-and-miss sliders up in the zone:

luis-severino

His slider has emerged as one of the nastiest in baseball this season. The pitch has been responsible for a total of 36 strikeouts and 25 groundball outs in 2017; both of those numbers were the second-most among all pitchers through Friday, trailing only Chris Archer (48 strikeouts, 36 groundball outs).

Severino’s gutsy performance was wasted, though, as the bullpen imploded and blew the lead late. The Rays’ rally was capped by a tie-breaking RBI single in the eighth inning off the bat of notable Yankee killer, Evan Longoria. Friend of Yankeemetrics, Mark Simon, tells us that it was Longoria’s 13th career game-winning RBI against the Yankees, which is the most among active players.

Before Longoria’s hit, it looked like Matt Holliday might wear the hero’s cape. His two-run homer in the top of the eighth knotted the game at 4-4, and was his first game-tying homer in the eighth inning or later in more than seven years (April 11, 2010 vs. Brewers).

Even more impressive is that the pitch he crushed was a 100-mph fastball from Ryan Stanek, the fastest pitch hit out of the ballpark by any player this season. Prior to the at-bat, Holliday was just 2-for-10 (.200) with three strikeouts in at-bats ending in a 100-plus-mph pitch dating back to 2008.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Tanaka The Terrible
There is no sugarcoating the fact that Saturday’s loss might have been the ugliest of the season. The numerous ejections, the beanball war that erupted in the late innings and the glacial pace of the game were mere footnotes in what has easily become the Yankees biggest worry of the season:

Tanaka was clobbered yet again, giving up three homers and six runs before getting pulled with no outs in the fourth inning. This disaster performance somehow was an improvement statistically on his last start a week ago against the Astros, when he gave up even more runs (8) and homers (4) and pitched fewer innings (1 2/3).

That string of back-to-back train wreck outings put him in ignominious company: he is the only pitcher in Yankee history to allow at least six earned runs and three homers in consecutive games while getting fewer than 10 outs in each game. In fact the only other player in major-league history to do that was Mike Lincoln for the Twins in 2000.

Any way you slice it, his recent numbers are awful:

  • Dating back to the fifth inning of his May 2 start vs the Blue Jays, Tanaka has coughed up 10 homers and 22 runs in his last 14 innings pitched.
  • Dating back to the seventh inning of his May 8 start at Cincinnati, he’s surrendered 16 (!) runs and eight (!) homers in his last 5 2/3 innings pitched.

One of the few highlights was yet another dinger by Aaron Judge, his league-leading 15th of the season. He is one of five Yankees to hit at least 15 homers in the team’s first 40 games, joining this exclusive group of sluggers: A-Rod (2007), Tino Martinez (1997), Mickey Mantle (1956) and Babe Ruth (four times).

Super-Judge (AP)
Super-Judge (AP)

Strikeouts are overrated
The Yankees avoided the sweep and snapped their three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win on Sunday. Despite the Yankee victory, the Rays remain the only AL team with a winning record against the Yankees since 2010 (71-68).

Brett Gardner delivered the game-clinching blast with his tie-breaking two-run homer in the second inning. It was his eighth longball of the season, surpassing the number he put over the fence all of last year (in 148 games and 634 plate appearances). All eight of his homers have come since April 29; the only player with homers in that span is Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger (9).

They overcame a whopping 17 strikeouts, tying the franchise record for a nine-inning game, done three times previously, including once already this season (3-2 win over St. Louis on April 15). They are the only team in major-league history to win two nine-inning games when striking out at least 17 times in a single season.

The heart of the order — 3-4-5 batters — were the biggest culprits, fanning 11 times in 12 at-bats. Matt Holliday and Aaron Judge were both 0-for-4 with four Ks, becoming the first set of Yankee teammates to whiff four-plus times in a non-extra-inning game. This was also the first time in any game (regardless of innings) that the Yankees had two players go hitless and strike out at least four times.

Judge redeemed himself in the field, with a spectacular game-saving catch and double play, robbing Evan Longoria of extra bases with a man on in the sixth inning.

Entering the day, Judge ranked second in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (6) among rightfielders behind the Cubs’ Jason Heyward (7).

Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bummer (May 11-14)

(AP)
(AP)

Game of Inches
Entering Thursday the Astros and Yankees were baseball’s two best teams, separated by just .001 in the win percentage column, so it was fitting that the first game of the series was decided on the final play, by mere inches.

Down two runs in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two men in scoring position, Gary Sanchez lined a single through the left side of the infield; Aaron Hicks scored easily from third base but Jacoby Ellsbury – racing home from second – was thrown out at the plate as the potential game-tying run.

Those types of rally-killing outs on the bases have been piling up for the Yankees this season. It was the sixth baserunning out at home plate by a Yankee this season, tying the Red Sox for the most in the AL through Thursday, and one shy of the major-league-leading Marlins.

Yet, the heart-wrenching nature of this play is actually quite rare: This was just the third time since 1930 that a game ended on a base hit with a Yankee being thrown out at home as the potential game-tying run.

The last time it happened was August 12, 1987 against the Royals when Wayne Tolleson was nailed at the plate trying to score from first on Roberto Kelly’s double to left field. Before that, you have to go back all the way to May 9, 1930 against the Tigers, when Tony Lazzeri was thrown out trying to score from second on Bill Dickey’s single.

Ellsbury was also involved in the Yankees only other run, when he got a catcher’s interference call with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. It was his 28th catcher’s interference, one shy of tying Pete Rose for the all-time MLB record. Of course, Rose is also the all-time record-holder in career plate appearances (15,890), while Ellsbury ranked 960th in that stat (5,084) through Thursday.

In yet another oddity, it was the first time in his career that Ellsbury got a catcher’s interference call with the bases loaded. And it had been more than two decades since any Yankee did that – the last one was by Pat Kelly in 1992 against the A’s.

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Dead Bats Society
The Yankees offense went into a deep freeze on a chilly Friday night in the Bronx, barely avoiding a shutout in a listless 5-1 loss to the Astros. Didi Gregorius‘ RBI single with two outs in the ninth kept the Yankees as one of three teams (Twins, Nationals) that haven’t been blanked this season.

Brian McCann delivered the big blow for the Astros when he clubbed a three-run homer in the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie. It was his 47th homer at Yankee Stadium since 2014, the most home runs hit by any player at the Stadium in that span – and 12 more than the next guy on the list (Carlos Beltran, who also was sitting in the visiting dugout this weekend).

Lance McCullers dominated the Yankee lineup with a devastating mix of 95-mph fastballs and knee-buckling curves, holding them to zero runs on four hits over six innings while striking out seven and walking none. That seems good, eh? McCullers (23 years, 222 days) is the youngest pitcher ever to throw at least six scoreless, walk-free innings with seven-plus strikeouts in his first road appearance against the Yankees.

(AP)
(AP)

Comeback kings strike again
The Yankees kicked off Mother’s Day/Derek Jeter Night with a slump-busting, 11-6 come-from-behind win in the first game of Sunday’s double-header. It was their eighth victory when trailing by at least two runs, the second-most in baseball this season.

The first rally came in the fourth inning and was sparked by a couple longballs off the bats of Starlin Castro and Aaron Judge. Castro’s two-run homer knotted the score at 3-3, his fourth game-tying homer of the season, which matched Freddie Freeman for the most in the majors. Judge’s go-ahead, 441-foot solo blast to dead-center was his MLB-leading sixth home run of at least 430 feet in 2017, two more than any other player.

The second and decisive rally came in the seventh inning, when the Yankees erupted for six runs to erase a 6-4 deficit. The biggest blow was a tie-breaking, bases-loaded triple by Chase Headley. In the last 20 years, the only other Yankee with a go-ahead, bases-clearing triple in the seventh inning or later was Bernie Williams on June 21, 2005 against Tampa Bay.

(Getty)
(Getty)

#RE2PECT2JETER
The excited buzz and loud cheers lingering from the Stadium crowd following Derek Jeter’s number retirement ceremony were quickly silenced when George Springer stepped into the batter’s box and led off the game with a home run. That sparked a six-run first inning for Houston and paved the way for a deflating 10-7 loss by the Yankees.

Masahiro Tanaka was clobbered amid a chorus of boooooos, producing the worst start of his major-league career. He matched career-worsts in innings pitched (1 2/3) and homers allowed (4), while surrendering a career-high eight runs, and etching his name in the record books — for the wrong reason.

Tanaka became the first pitcher in Yankees history to give up at least eight earned runs and four home runs in a game while pitching fewer than two innings.

Three of those home runs came in the first inning, putting the Yankees in a huge early hole that even the Comeback Kings couldn’t dig out of. Going back to 1950 (as far back as Baseball-Reference.com has mostly complete play-by-play data), the Astros are the only visiting team to hit three-or-more home runs in the first inning of a game at Yankee Stadium.

As horrible as this game ended up, we can still end this Yankeemetrics on high note by honoring The Captain with the ultimate #JeterFunFact.

Here’s the list of players in major-league history to compile at least 3,000 hits, 250 homers, 350 stolen bases and 1,300 RBIs in a career: Derek Sanderson Jeter.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bombers invade Wrigley (May 5-7)

Air Gardy. (Presswire)
Air Gardy. (Presswire)

It Ain’t Over ‘Til Its Over
The Comeback Kings struck again as the Yankees pulled off yet another stunning late-game come-from-behind victory on Friday afternoon against the Cubs.

Trailing 2-0 in the top of the ninth with two men on base and two outs, Brett Gardner drilled a 2-2 slider into the right field bleachers to give the Yankees the lead; Aroldis Chapman got the final three outs to secure the most improbable win.

How unlikely was this rally? The last time the Cubs lost a game in this scenario – protecting a two-or-more-run lead in the ninth – was nearly three years ago, on May 21, 2014 at Wrigley Field … against the Yankees.

Or maybe it wasn’t so unlikely, given the refuse-to-lose mojo of the 2017 Yankees. Entering Saturday’s slate, they were one of just three teams this season with multiple wins when trailing by at least two runs entering the ninth inning (Padres and Angels were the others).

Before Gardner went deep, he was a pathetic 3-for-20 (.150) with zero extra-base hits after the sixth inning, and hitless in five at-bats in the ninth inning this season.

Gardner’s home run was not just shocking, it was one for the record books. Only six other times since 1930 has a Yankee hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning with two outs and trailing by at least two runs. That list includes: Mark Teixeira (2016), Alex Rodriguez (2010), Don Mattingly (1985), Chris Chambliss (1976), Bobby Murcer (1969) and Bobby Richardson (1962).

A-Rod‘s three-run homer in the top of the ninth on Sept. 17, 2010 in Baltimore is the only other instance in the last quarter-century that a Yankee pulled off that feat when down to their final strike, like Gardner.

And, finally, this was the third time in the last 75 years that the Yankees were one out away from being shut out, and then hit a go-ahead home run. Incredibly, the hero in the two previous games was the same guy – Bobby Murcer – who erased a 1-0 deficit on June 14, 1980 in Oakland and a 2-0 deficit on August 5, 1969 against the Angels with ninth-inning, game-changing homers.

Hot hot Hicksy. (EPA)
Hot hot Hicksy. (EPA)

No comeback needed
One night after perhaps the most dramatic win of the season, the Yankees authored one of their least dramatic wins of the season, taking a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning en route to an 11-6 victory on Saturday. The win gave them their fourth straight series victory, something they never did last year.

Sure, the Yankees and Cubs don’t match up often, but it’s still fun to note that the last time the Yankees scored 11-or-more runs against the Cubs was in Game 4 of the 1932 World Series, a 13-6 series-clinching win at Wrigley Field. The 3-4 hitters in that lineup were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig; for Ruth, it was the last World Series game of his Hall-of-Fame career (h/t Mark Simon, friend of Yankeemetrics).

The offensive explosion on Saturday was led by the top of the order as Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro combined to go 7-for-9 with five runs and six RBIs. Castro was 3-of-4, notching his AL-best 15th multi-hit game of the season. In the last 40 years, only two other Yankees produced that many multi-hit games within the team’s first 28 contests: Derek Jeter (2012) and Alfonso Soriano (2002, 2003).

Hicks’ performance was the statistical highlight of the night, as he went 4-of-5, including a homer, while driving in three runs and scoring three runs. The last Yankee center fielder to put up those numbers in any game – at least four hits, a home run, three RBIs, three runs – was Mickey Mantle on Aug. 6, 1961 against the Twins.

Yes, miracles do happen. (Getty)
Yes, miracles do happen. (Getty)

It’s over, finally
After way too many innings, way too many hours, way too many pitches, way too many strikeouts … the Yankees finished off the sweep of the Cubs on Sunday night (actually Monday morning).

It marked their first sweep of the defending World Series champs since July 14-16, 2006 against the White Sox, and the first time they’ve done that on the road since July 29-31, 2003 in Anaheim against the Angels.

The 18-inning affair was the longest game in Interleague history, longest game ever on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball (which began in 1990), and the longest in the majors this season.

It is the sixth time in franchise history the Yankees won a game of at least 18 innings and the first time since September 11, 1988 vs. the Tigers. The only other time they won a game this long on the road was a 22-inning marathon on June 24, 1962 in Detroit.

With the game going 18 innings, you’d think there would be a few more records set … and you would be correct.

  • The Yankee batters struck out 22 times, breaking the previous single-game franchise record of 17. And the Yankee pitchers struck out 26 Cubs, also obliterating the previous single-game franchise record of 19. Hooray!
  • The 26 strikeouts by Yankee pitchers matched a major-league record, set by the 1971 A’s vs. the Angels and the 2004 Angels vs. the Brewers.
  • This is the first game in MLB history where both teams each whiffed at least 21 times.
  • The 48 combined strikeouts by both teams is also a new single-game major-league record.
  • Yankees are the first team in major-league history to have four players (Castro, Didi Gregorius, Austin Romine, Chase Headley) go 0-for-7 or worse at the plate. Yes, they still won the game.

So how did we get there?

Luis Severino delivered an absolute gem, allowing one run in seven stellar innings. Twenty of his 21 outs came either groundballs (11) or strikeouts (9), and the one out he got in the air was a liner by Cubs starter Jon Lester. His final pitching line (4 hits, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts, 1 run, 7 innings) gives us our #FunFact Yankeemetric of the Week:

Only one other visiting pitcher as young Severino (23 years, 76 days) struck out at least nine batters, gave up no more than one run and allowed five or fewer baserunners in a game at Wrigley Field: Reds right-hander Jim Maloney, who delivered two such outings on August 21, 1962 and July 23, 1963.

Aaron Judge broke out of his mini-slump and gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the seventh with a tie-breaking RBI triple. It was the first go-ahead triple by any Yankee in nearly four years, when Travis Hafner hit one on April 27, 2013 to break a 4-4 tie in the seventh against the Blue Jays. Of course it was Pronk, just as we all predicted.

Aroldis Chapman came on in the ninth to protect a three-run lead, but eventually blew the save when he hit Anthony Rizzo with the bases loaded to even the score at 4-4. Chapman is the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1930 to give up the game-tying run in the ninth inning via a bases-loaded hit by pitch.

Finally, Castro reached on a fielder’s choice groundout, scoring Aaron Hicks from third. So the guy who went 0-for-8 was the hero of the night with the game-winning RBI.

Saturday Links: Posting System, IFAs, Sanchez, All-Star Game

Otani. (Masterpress/Getty)
Otani. (Masterpress/Getty)

The Yankees and Cubs continue their three-game weekend series with the middle game today, though not until 7pm ET. Weekend night games are just the worst. Here are some notes to check out as you wait for first pitch.

MLB seeks to revise posting agreement with NPB

According to report out of Japan, Major League Baseball has applied to renegotiate a provision in their posting agreement with Nippon Pro Baseball. That’s the system used to bring players from Japan over to MLB. Apparently MLB wants to reduce the maximum release fee, which is currently $20M. The owners are trying to cut costs? I’m shocked. Shocked I tell you. The two sides will reportedly discuss the matter Monday.

MLB managed to get NPB to agree to an overhauled posting system four years ago, conveniently right before Masahiro Tanaka came over. The old system was a blind auction, and the team that made the high bid won the player’s negotiating rights. Under the new system, the player is allowed to negotiate with every team like a true free agent, and only the team that signs him has to pay the release fee. That’s how the Yankees landed Tanaka.

So, the last time a significant player was set to come over (Tanaka), MLB was able to change the system to lower costs. (The Rangers won the rights to Yu Darvish with a massive $51.7M bid under the old system years ago.) Now another significant player (Shohei Otani) is expected to come to MLB soon, and they want to lower costs again. A sense a pattern.

Yankees expected to sign three top international free agents

MLB.com released their top 30 prospects for the 2017-18 international signing period earlier this week, and according to the write-ups, the Yankees are expected to sign three of those top 30 players: Venezuelan OF Everson Pereira (No. 4 on the top 30), Dominican 2B Ronny Rojas (No. 11), and Venezuelan OF Roberto Chirinos (No. 16). You can read the scouting reports for free at the MLB.com link. We’ve heard the Yankees connected to Pereira before. The international signing period opens July 2nd, as always.

A few things about the 2017-18 IFA signing period. One, the Yankees can spend again! The penalties from the 2014-15 spending spree, which limited the Yankees to a maximum bonus of $300,000 in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, have expired. Two, this is the first signing period with the hard cap, and the Yankees only have $4.75M to spend. Not a penny more. That stinks. And three, this is potential the Otani signing period. He’ll be subject to the hard cap because he is not yet 25 years old. His earning potential is severely limited at the moment.

Based on the write-ups, several other potential Otani suitors (Red Sox, Cubs, Blue Jays, Mariners, etc.) are expected to sign some of MLB.com’s top 30 international prospects, indicating they are not saving their bonus money for Otani. Others like the Dodgers, Giants, Astros, Nationals, and Cardinals will be limited to $300,000 bonuses as part of the penalties for past international spending. Is anyone going to have hard cap space left for Otani? Assuming teams following through on their agreements with international amateurs, there might not be any money left over. Hmmm.

Sanchez has top selling AL jersey

Gary & 'Hiro. (Elsa/Getty)
Gary & ‘Hiro. (Elsa/Getty)

Two weeks ago MLB and the MLBPA announced their annual top selling player jerseys list based on online sales since the end of the 2016 World Series. Here is the press release. You will be surprised to learn the defending World Series champion Cubs dominate the top of the list:

  1. Kris Bryant, Cubs
  2. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  4. Javier Baez, Cubs
  5. Kyle Schwarber, Cubs

Gary Sanchez ranks ninth on the best selling jerseys list overall, but is first among AL players. He’s one spot ahead of Mike Trout and five spots ahead of Mookie Betts. Sanchez, Trout, Betts, Francisco Lindor, Jose Altuve, Dustin Pedroia, and Josh Donaldson are the only AL players in the top 20. The list is decidedly NL (and Cubs) heavy. Pretty cool that Sanchez is so popular already. I guess doing what he did last year has a way of creating attention.

Over the last week, however, Aaron Judge has the third best selling player jersey behind Bryant and Rizzo, according to Buster Olney. The Yankees should have give away Aaron Judge-sized Aaron Judge shirts at a game one day as a promotion. That would be pretty cool.

All-Star Game voting opens

Voting for the 2017 All-Star Game starters is now open. They get a really early start on this each season. The ballot is right here. You can vote pretty much an unlimited number of times, though you’ll need different email addresses. On merit, both Aaron Judge and Starlin Castro legitimately deserve All-Star votes right now. Will they in two months? I sure hope so. I doesn’t really matter though. Royals fans are going to stuff the ballot like they always do anyway. Looking forward to seeing Eric Hosmer at first base, you guys.