Game 32: Take the Series

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

The Yankees have been playing much better over the last week or so, and they come into tonight’s game winners of five of their last seven. Tonight they have a chance to clinch a win of a four-game series over the Royals, the defending World Series champs. Winning a four-game set is never easy, not even against a bad team, and Kansas City is no pushover. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. 1B Dustin Ackley
  6. CF Aaron Hicks
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Ben Gamel
    RHP Michael Pineda

It has been a lovely day in New York. There is no rain in the forecast tonight. Nice little evening for baseball, I’d say. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) has been running on the treadmill and it appears he’ll be ready to return once his 15 days are up … CC Sabathia (groin) played catch again and feels fine. It’s possible he’ll be able to rejoin the rotation once his 15 days are up without needing a rehab start … Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) did some light running and took batting practice. Joe Girardi said he hopes to get him back in the lineup this weekend … Mark Teixeira (neck) is out again and the plan was to give him two days off anyway. He’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow.

Game 31: Tanaka Tuesday

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Yankees may be starting to right the ship. They’ve won four of their last six games and they have the right guy on the mound to keep things going tonight: Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball so far this season, and he’s coming off that eight inning masterpiece against the Orioles. Hopefully his teammates provide a little more run support tonight. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. 1B Dustin Ackley
  6. CF Aaron Hicks
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Ben Gamel
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It has been cloudy and overcast all day in New York, though there is no rain in the forecast. There have been better nights for baseball. Tonight’s game is going to begin 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Mark Teixeira has neck spasms and is day-to-day. It’s been bothering him for a while, apparently … Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) has only done some light jogging and is not yet ready to run full sprints … Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) is “progressing,” per Joe Girardi.

Game 27: Win it for CC

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees lost CC Sabathia to a left groin strain, two days after he tossed seven shutout innings against the Orioles. It was his best start in about three years. At this point the best thing for the Yankees is probably to keep losing, but how about winning this one for CC? He’s been pretty awesome for a long time around here. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. DH Carlos Beltran
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. RF Aaron Hicks
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Michael Pineda

There is no rain in the forecast tonight even though it has been raining on and off pretty much all day in New York. It is cold and cloudy though, so it’s not exactly a great night to sit up in the stands. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) has something that is slightly more severe than a Grade I strain. The hope is he will only miss the minimum 15 days, but it will probably be longer.

Chapman Update: Aroldis Chapman struck out all three batters he faced in an Extended Spring Training today, says Erik Boland. It was his final tune-up appearance before joining the Yankees Monday. A scout told Boland Chapman looks big league ready.

Yankees place A-Rod on 15-day DL with hamstring strain, call up James Pazos

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

The Yankees placed Alex Rodriguez on the 15-day DL with a right hamstring strain this afternoon, the team announced. Left-hander James Pazos has been called up to fill the roster spot on what I assume is a temporary basis. No 40-man roster moves are required or anything like that.

A-Rod left last night’s game after coming up lame running out a ground ball in the fifth inning. Here’s video of the injury. Rodriguez was replaced by pinch-hitter Dustin Ackley in the eighth inning, and the Yankees sent him for an MRI this morning. There’s no word on the severity of the strain just yet. Is this a two weeks thing or a two months thing?

The fact the Yankees called up a reliever — they’re two days into a 20 games in 20 days stretch — indicates they will play Ackley and Aaron Hicks more going forward, with the veteran regulars rotating in and out of the DH spot. Despite his slow start, I’m ready to see what Hicks can do on an everyday basis. I say run him out there full-time with A-Rod out.

The Yankees could and likely will call up another position player like Rob Refsnyder or Ben Gamel (or Aaron Judge or Nick Swisher) and get back to a normal four-man bench at some point during this 20-day stretch. For now, having the extra left-hander in the bullpen will be nice against the lefty heavy Orioles and Red Sox this week.

Rodriguez is only hitting .194/.275/.444 (100 wRC+) on the season overall, but he’s gone 7-for-20 (.350) with three home runs in his last six games, so he was heating up. The Yankees need all the offense they can get right now. A-Rod missed a few games but was able to avoid the DL after tweaking his oblique taking swinging in the batting cage between at-bats last week.

A-Rod going for MRI on injured right hamstring tomorrow

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Following tonight’s loss, Joe Girardi confirmed Alex Rodriguez has a right hamstring injury and will go for an MRI tomorrow. A-Rod pulled up lame running out a ground ball in the fifth inning, then was replaced by pinch-hitter Dustin Ackley in the eighth. Here’s the video.

A-Rod went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in the game before being lifted. He went into Tuesday’s game on a 7-for-16 (.438) hot streak, and three of those seven hits were homers. Rodriguez missed a few games with a sore oblique last week after tweaking something in the batting cage.

If the injury is a day-to-day thing — and I hope it is — my guess is Aaron Hicks will take over in right field with Carlos Beltran sliding over to DH. If it’s a long-term injury, well, that’s a much bigger problem. I wonder if we’ll see Nick Swisher in that case. Hopefully this is nothing.

The Yankees could use a 2005-esque shake-up, but they don’t have a lot of options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Eleven years ago the Yankees had a truly miserable start to their season. They opened the 2005 season by losing 19 of their first 30 games and falling nine games back in the AL East. Nine back after 30 games! Needless to say, fans were pretty uneasy because that slow start followed the 2004 ALCS collapse. It was not a good time around these parts. No siree.

The 2005 Yankees rebounded of course, winning 84 of 132 games following the 11-19 start. Two reasons they turned it around were a pair of early-May call-ups: Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. The Yankees shook things up and were rewarded when Cano and Wang had an immediate impact. Robbie hit .297/.320/.458 (105 wRC+) in 132 games and Wang had a 4.02 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 116.1 innings. They gave the team a real shot in the arm.

Getting Wang into the rotation was pretty easy because Jaret Wright got hurt. (Remember when Wright failed his physical and George Steinbrenner signed him anyway because he thought it would lure Leo Mazzone to New York? Good times.) Getting Cano into the lineup took more creativity. The Yankees moved Tony Womack to left field, Hideki Matsui to center field, and basically benched Bernie Williams, who was nearing the end of the line.

The 2016 Yankees, like the 2005 team, have gotten off to a terrible start. They’re 8-15 overall and have lost 13 of their last 17 games. The AL East is much more competitive these days too. Back in 2005 it was the Yankees, the Red Sox, and a bunch of pushovers. Erasing that nine-game deficit was much easier. The current Yankees are six games back in the division with four good teams ahead of them. It’ll be an uphill climb, that’s for sure.

Given their sluggish start and the fact the Yankees have underachieved on both sides of the ball in the early going — the offense has been far worse than the pitching, but the rotation hasn’t been all that good either — the team could use an early-May shake-up like the one the 2005 team received. The problem? The Yankees don’t have a Cano and/or Wang waiting in Triple-A. There’s not much depth at the positions of obvious need. Here are some shake-up ideas.

Give A Young Outfielder Regular Playing Time

If there’s one thing the Yankees have in Triple-A, it’s outfield depth. Both Ben Gamel (136 wRC+) and Aaron Judge (125 wRC+) are off to nice starts, though Slade Heathcott (41 wRC+) has mostly struggled. The Yankees also have Aaron Hicks at the big league level, though he hasn’t played much for a variety of reasons. (Hicks may not seem young, but he’s only a year older than Heathcott.)

Brett Gardner (110 wRC+) has been one of New York’s most productive hitters in the early going. Jacoby Ellsbury (85 wRC+) and Carlos Beltran (91 wRC+) have not. Beltran has really struggled of late. He has a 16 wRC+ over the last two weeks. Yikes. Sitting Ellsbury and/or Beltran more often in favor of Hicks or Gamel or Judge or whoever is one way to change the lineup and get some young legs on the field.

I think the best way to go about this is to use a regular rotation that also includes Alex Rodriguez and the DH spot. Something like this, perhaps:

LF CF RF DH
Game One Gardner Ellsbury Beltran A-Rod
Game Two Gardner Ellsbury Young OF A-Rod
Game Three Gardner Young OF Beltran A-Rod
Game Four Gardner Ellsbury Young OF Beltran
Game Five Gardner Ellsbury Young OF A-Rod

Ellsbury, A-Rod, and the young outfielder would be playing four out of every five games while Beltran is reduced to playing three times out of every five games, with only two of three starts coming in the outfield. Gardner stays in there full-time because, you know, he’s actually been good this year. The Yankees reduced Bernie’s playing time in 2005 and it’s time to start thinking about doing the same with Beltran.

Calling up Gamel or Judge or Heathcott requires a roster move and cutting someone else loose, and it’s a little too early for that, I think. I’d start by playing Hicks more often. No, he hasn’t hit in the early going (-47 wRC+!), but it’s 28 plate appearances in 23 games. This is a guy who hit .256/.323/.398 (97 wRC+) with eleven homers and 13 steals last year, and we’ve already seen the kind of impact he can have at defense.

Hicks is not going to get his bat going while sitting on the bench. He’s been an everyday player his entire career. This bench thing is new to him. With two of three starting outfielders not really hitting and the team reeling, it’s time to see what Hicks can do with regular at-bats. The Yankees need to figure out what they have in him.

Stick Headley On The Bench

I’ve defended Headley as much as anyone but I can’t do it any longer. He’s been atrocious this year, hitting .156/.267/.156 (24 wRC+) with nary an extra-base hit in 75 plate appearances. As Jared Diamond pointed out yesterday, Headley is only the 13th player in history to start May with a sub-.150 slugging percentage in at least 70 plate appearances. That’s brutal.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

I don’t care how good a player is on defense — Headley has rebounded quite well in the field after last year’s error-fest — there is a minimum acceptable standard on offense and Headley is not meeting it. The Yankees can talk all they want about the quality of his at-bats or how close they think he is to snapping out of it. The bottom line is this is a results oriented business and Headley’s results have been dreadful one month into the season.

The problem at third base is the Yankees don’t have an obvious replacement. Womack stunk back in 2005 and Cano was the obvious candidate to take over. Who can replace Headley at third? Ronald Torreyes? Moving players with bench player skill sets into a full-time role usually turns out poorly. Rob Refsnyder? Pete Kozma? Donovan Solano? Solano is hitting .312/.341/.351 (100 wRC+) in Triple-A, you know.

Since no obvious replacement exists, I’d go with the highest upside candidate: Refsnyder. He’s new to third base — he’s played 153.1 career innings at the hot corner between Spring Training and Triple-A — and his defense is rough, but he might actually hit. Stick him at third, get three at-bats out of him, then pull for defense in the sixth-ish inning. When you hit as poorly as Headley has, you losing playing time. That’s the way it should work.

(Yes, I know Refsnyder hasn’t hit much in Triple-A this year. I’m not too concerned about that though. It’s been cold in Scranton and he’s spent a lot of time learning a new position. As long as he’s healthy, I think he’ll be fine.)

Play Ackley or Swisher?

One the biggest reasons the Yankees scored the second most runs in baseball last year were bounceback seasons from A-Rod and Mark Teixeira. A-Rod was suspended for the entire 2014 season and no one knew what to expect from him in 2015. Teixeira was terrible in the second half of 2014. He hit .179/.271/.302 (63 wRC+) with only five homers after the All-Star break that year.

Dustin Ackley hasn’t played a whole lot this year (18 plate appearances!) because it’s tough to get him into the lineup. He’s stuck in the same role as Garrett Jones last year. Teixeira and A-Rod are not doing much damage right now — Rodriguez has looked much better of late, to be fair — and giving Ackley some of their at-bats could spark the offense. This would complicate the outfield plan outlined above. That’s not worth worrying about right now.

The alternative here would be Nick Swisher, who owns a .340/.370/.540 (167 wRC+) batting line with three homers down in Triple-A. I can’t say I put much stock in a 12-year veteran mashing minor league pitching though. Swisher has two bad knees and he’s hit .204/.291/.326 (75 wRC+) in the big leagues the last two years. Call him up and I suspect you’ll get closer to 2014-15 MLB Swisher than 2016 Triple-A Swisher.

This is where Greg Bird‘s injury really hurts. Calling up Bird to take at-bats away from Teixeira and A-Rod would be far more realistic and, likely, far more successful than the Ackley/Swisher plan. With those two you’re just hoping small sample size success translates to long-term success. Ackley was terrible all those years with the Mariners before raking in pinstripes in September. Swisher was bad from 2014-15 and has had a few good weeks in Triple-A. That’s all it is.

The Yankees have had some success turning veterans who looked washed up into useful players (see Chavez, Eric), so we shouldn’t completely write off Swisher as a possibility. Either way, Ackley or Swisher, taking at-bats away from A-Rod or Teixeira is one potential way to inject some life into the offense. For what it’s worth, I think this is the least likely suggestion in this post.

* * *

I’m not sure what the Yankees could do to shake-up the pitching staff other than maybe swap out some relievers. I guess they could replace Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, or Luis Severino with Ivan Nova. My guess is Nova’s going to end up making a bunch of starts at some point anyway. Point is, the Yankees have reached the point where some kind of change needs to be made. The problem is they don’t have a lot of internal options. What you see is what you’re going to get with this team.

Yankeemetrics: Stump Merrill’s Revenge [April 29-May 1]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Two is not enough
The series opener in Boston played out like a recurring nightmare for the Yankees this season: get an early (albeit small) lead, miss out on countless scoring chances to build that lead, and lose. The 4-2 loss was the ninth time this season that the Yankees lost despite holding a lead at some point in the game. Through Friday, that was the most “blown losses” of any team in the majors. (And of course they added to that total later in the series.)

David Ortiz continued to torment the Yankees, crushing a mammoth, two-run homer over the Green Monster in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie. It was his 14th career go-ahead homer against the Yankees; over the last 50 seasons, the only players with more home runs that gave their team the lead against the Yankees are Manny Ramirez and Jim Rice, both with 15.

Ortiz’s game-winning blast came off an 83-mph hanging curveball from Dellin Betances, the second straight outing he’s given up a homer with the breaking pitch. In his first nine games this season, batters had one single in 24 at-bats (.042) ending in Betances’ curve, and 20 of the 23 outs he recorded with the pitch were strikeouts.

With A-Rod also going deep earlier in the game — he became the oldest Yankee to homer against the Red Sox since Enos Slaughter (age 42) in 1959 — it marked the first major-league contest since at least 1913 in which a 40-year-old homered for each team.

How low can you go?
“April is the cruelest month” – T.S. Eliot
It is getting harder and harder to describe the depths of the Yankees anemic offensive production this season — lifeless, horrific, dreadful, ghastly, grisly — there aren’t enough words in the thesaurus to properly put it into perspective. It is a lineup that struggling so badly it practically defies explanation.

The Yankees are reaching new lows each night, the latest coming on Saturday after they were blown out by the Red Sox, 8-0. It was their worst shutout loss at Fenway Park since losing 10-0 on August 2, 1973, a.k.a. the immortal days of Horace Clarke, Gene Michael and Felipe Alou anchoring the Yankees lineup.

With the loss, the Yankees dropped to 8-14 on the season, finishing up their worst April since going 6-11 in 1991. Their gross offensive numbers are even more mind-numbing:

  • 3.36 runs per game is their fewest in April since 1984
  • .360 slugging percentage is their worst in April since 1989
  • .304 on-base percentage is their worst in April since 1972

Chase Headley has to wear the hat as the team’s worst performer in April, ending up with an unfathomable line of .150 /.268/.150. He tallied just nine singles the entire month and somehow drove in two runs in 19 games played, and one of them was on a sacrifice fly.

Most notably, his 71 plate appearances without an extra-base hit during the month are the second-most by any Yankee in April, behind only Roy White (84 in 1973). And Headley just barely edged out Mike Ferraro – who slugged .148 in April 1968 – for the worst slugging percentage this month over the last 100 seasons by a Yankee (min. 50 PA).

When it rains, it pours
On a night when the Yankee bats finally woke up from their deep slumber, their pitching failed miserably as the Red Sox completed the three-game sweep with a 8-7 win. This is the seventh time in franchise history they’ve lost at least 15 of their first 23 games; only once in those six previous seasons did they finish with a winning record, going 87-75 in 1984 after a 8-15 start.

A-Rod gave the Yankees a brief 3-1 lead in the third inning with his second homer in this series and his 39th homer in pinstripes against the Red Sox. He passed Yogi Berra for the fifth-most by a Yankee in this storied rivalry, trailing only Babe Ruth (90), Lou Gehrig (70), Mickey Mantle (69) and Joe DiMaggio (46). The homer also gave him 5,764 total bases in his career, moving ahead of Ruth for second place in American League history.

Two innings later A-Rod hit a booming double off the wall to put the Yankees ahead again, 5-4. That was his 544th career two-bagger, tying Derek Jeter for 31st on the MLB all-time list. He finished with four RBIs, becoming the oldest visiting player ever with at least two extra-base hits and four RBIs in a game at Fenway Park.

Dellin Betances came in to get the final out of the seventh inning with the score tied 6-6, and promptly served up a monster homer to the first batter, Christian Vazquez, on a 97 mph first-pitch fastball. It was the third straight outing he had allowed a home run, the first time in his career he’s done that. Vazquez had one homer in 214 career at-bats before he hit the go-ahead shot, and entered the game with a slugging percentage of .190 on pitches 95-plus mph.