Yankeemetrics: Many questions, no answers [July 18-21]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

The winning formula
Inconsistency has been the theme of this year’s Yankees team, but they have been remarkably consistent in one thing: their winning formula. Combine solid starting pitching with justenough offense to get a slim lead thru six innings, and then unleash their high-powered, flame-throwing bullpen trio to seal the victory.

The plan worked to perfection on Monday night as the Yankees opened their series against the AL East-leading Orioles with a 2-1 win.

Alex Rodriguez sparked the lineup with a towering home run to left field in the second inning. It was just his second homer at Yankee Stadium this season. A-Rod entered the game with a .226 slugging percentage in home games, the second-worst in the majors among players with at least 100 plate appearances.

The blast was his 69th against the Orioles, breaking a tie with Harmon Killebrew for the fifth-most hit against the franchise. The four guys ahead of him are Babe Ruth (96), Lou Gehrig (92), Jimmie Foxx (87) and Ted Williams (80).

And one more milestone for A-Rod: that homer was also his 1,578th hit in a Yankee uniform, passing Wally Pipp for 17th place on the franchise all-time hits list.

Aroldis Chapman’s blazing fastball was in peak form as he closed out the game for his 19th save. Per Statcast, his 1-2 pitch to J.J. Hardy reached 105.1 mph, matching the fastest pitch ever recorded by Statcast dating back to 2008. Chapman also threw a pitch that went that fast on Sept. 24, 2010 to Tony Gwynn, Jr.

Chapman hit 104 mph on three other pitches in the inning, and Ryan Flaherty actually put one of those heaters in play … barely. Chapman’s 0-2 fastball to him was clocked at 104.9 mph and broke his bat, resulting in an easy grounder for the final out of the game. That was the fastest pitch put in play by a batter in the Statcast era (since 2008).

(Getty)
(Getty)

#TeamBuy
A funny thing happened on the way to the Trade Deadline … the Yankees decided to build some momentum and hold off the cries to SELL!!! for another day as they routed the Orioles, 7-1.

Starlin Castro has hardly been a consistent run producer during his debut campaign in pinstripes, but he’s definitely come up huge at times this season. His two-run blast in the second inning gave the Yankees an early 2-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish in this must-win game.

It was his 11th homer of the season (matching his total from last year) and his sixth that gave the Yankees a lead. That’s the most go-ahead homers of any Yankee this season.

Jacoby Ellsbury made sure the fans in the Bronx would witness history on Tuesday night when he reached base via catcher’s interference for the ninth time this season, breaking the major-league record set by Roberto Kelly in 1992. The number becomes even more ridiculous when you consider that every other player in the American League has combined for six catcher’s interferences this season.

Huge Mike
The Yankees continued their desperate push toward contender status with another victory and another dominant performance from their pitching staff on Wednesday night. It was their fourth straight win overall and the fourth game in a row they allowed no more than one run and no more than five hits.

This is the first time since 1932 that the Yankees have put together a four-game win streak at home, giving up one run or fewer and five hits or fewer in each game.

pineda
(Getty)

The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead thanks a leadoff triple by Brett Gardner and a Carlos Beltran sac fly in the bottom of the first. That snapped a franchise-record 23-game scoreless streak in the first inning dating back nearly a month. Remember, this is a team that last year led the majors with 125 runs scored in the first frame.

Carlos Beltran capped off the scoring, too, with a solo homer in the eighth inning to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead. It was his 20th homer, making him just the second switch hitter to hit 20 home runs in his age-39 season or older. Eddie Murray reached that milestone in both 1995 and 1996, at age 39 and 40.

Michael Pineda spun a gem as he pitched six scoreless innings for his first win since June 7. He featured a nasty, sharp slider that baffled the Orioles lineup, netting him a whopping 18 whiffs and six of his eight punch outs. The 18 swings-and-misses are the most that any pitcher has gotten with a slider in any game this season, one more than Clayton Kershaw had against the Blue Jays on May 7.

Back to losing
The Yankees had their confidence-boosting four-game win streak snapped on Thursday afternoon, failing to complete the sweep thanks to a listless 4-1 loss. Their all-too-familiar anemic offense mustered just one run on five hits, the 20th time in 95 games that they’ve been held to no more than a single run. The only other AL team with 20 games of zero or one run scored this season is the last-place Tampa Bay Rays.

CC Sabathia had little to celebrate on his 36th birthday as his downward spiral deepened with another discouraging outing (four runs, seven hits, 6 2/3 innings). He’s now given up at least seven hits and four runs in each of his last six starts, the first time in his career he put together a six-game streak with that many hits and runs allowed in each game.

Coincidental or not, the large lefty has historically struggled on his birthday as a major-leaguer. He’s now 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA in five starts on July 21 and his team has lost all five games.

7/18 to 7/21 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This ten-game homestand against three (most likely) postseason bound teams continues this week with four games against the Orioles. Believe it or not, this is the O’s first trip to Yankee Stadium this season. The two teams played two series in Camden Yards in the first half. The Yankees lost two of three both times.

What Have They Done Lately?

The O’s lost to the lowly Rays yesterday — Tampa is 4-24 in their last 28 games! — but won four straight dating back to the first half prior to that. They’ve won six of their last eight games overall. Baltimore is 53-37 with + 40 run differential. They’re atop the AL East, two games ahead of the Red Sox and three games ahead of the Blue Jays. The Yankees are 8.5 back.

Offense & Defense

Offensively, the O’s are pretty much exactly who we expected them to be. They’re averaging a healthy 5.00 runs per game with a team 109 wRC+ and an MLB leading 141 homers. OF Hyun-Soo Kim (136 wRC+) is their only injured position player. He’s nursing a hamstring issue and is day-to-day.

Trumbo. (Presswire)
Trumbo. (Presswire)

Manager Buck Showalter has a fairly set lineup, with CF Adam Jones (98 wRC+) batting leadoff despite a .309 OBP. It’s been working, so whatever. 2B Jonathan Schoop (123 wRC+) has been hitting second with Kim hurt, and 3B Manny Machado (140 wRC+) bats third. 1B Chris Davis (120 wRC+) and RF Mark Trumbo (138 wRC+) have been alternating the fourth and fifth spots the last few days. C Matt Wieters (87 wRC+) slots in sixth and SS J.J. Hardy (84 wRC+) hits seventh. So there you have it.

DH Pedro Alvarez (113 wRC+) will start against righties, and both OF Nolan Reimold (104 wRC+) and Rule 5 Draft pick OF Joey Rickard (84 wRC+) split time in the various outfield spots. C Caleb Joseph (10 wRC+) and UTIL Ryan Flaherty (77 wRC+) are the other bench players. The O’s carry a normal four-man bench — unlike most teams these days, it seems — though it’s a three-man bench until Kim gets the green light.

The O’s are a good team defensively, especially on the infield. Machado is excellent at third, Hardy and Schoop are above-average on the middle infield, and Davis is underrated at first. He doesn’t get enough credit for his athleticism and glove work. Jones is solid in center, but the corner outfield spots are a mess, especially when Trumbo is in right. Hit it that way if you can, Yankees.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (7:05pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (vs. NYY)
Gausman, 25, is probably the most successful homegrown O’s starter — by homegrown I mean drafted and developed by the team — since Sidney Ponson. They’ve not had much luck developing starters at all. Gausman goes into tonight’s start with a 4.15 ERA (4.29 FIP) despite excellent strikeout (22.1%) and walk (5.1%) rates in 15 starts and 86.2 innings. He gives up a few too many fly balls (43.9% grounders) and lots of homers (1.56 HR/9), and righties have hit him a lot harder than lefties. The reverse split is not unusual for Gausman because he has a nasty mid-80s splitter. His fastball sits mid-to-high-90s and he’ll also throw some low-80s curveballs. The Yankees have seen Gausman twice this year: eight scoreless innings in April and one run in six innings in June.

Tuesday (7:05pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Vance Worley (vs. NYY)
The O’s are desperate for help at the back of the rotation, and right now they’re basically cycling through a bunch of in-house options until they can make a trade. Worley will get the start Tuesday after throwing 16 pitches in relief yesterday, and it should be noted he hasn’t thrown more than 63 pitches in an outing since April. He might not be able to go long tomorrow. The 28-year-old righty has a 2.98 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 45.1 innings spread across two starts and 17 relief appearances this season. His strikeout rate (17.4%) is low, but otherwise his walk (7.7%), grounder (47.2%), and homer (0.79 HR/9) rates are solid. Lefties have hit Worley hard this year and last, though his career split is pretty small. He works mostly in the upper-80s with his four-seamer and sinker as a starter, and will also feature a mid-80s slider and mid-70s curveball. Worley will also mix in a few low-80s changeups. The Yankees managed a run in two-thirds of an inning of relief against the bespectacled righty earlier this year.

Gallardo. (Presswire)
Gallardo. (Presswire)

Wednesday (7:05pm): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo (vs. NYY)
Over the winter Gallardo fell victim to the infamous Orioles Physical™. He originally agreed to a three-year deal worth $35M, then the O’s found something in his physical, destroyed his market, and got him to accept a smaller contract (two years, $22M). The 30-year-old Gallardo is not the first player to fail an O’s physical and he won’t be the last. So far this season he has a 5.77 ERA (5.14 FIP) in ten starts and 48.1 innings around a shoulder issue — see, the Orioles were right! — and his underlying stats are awful: 14.5% strikeouts, 12.2% walks, 40.4% grounders, and 1.12 HR/9. Left-handed batters have had much more success against him than righties, both this year and throughout his career. Gallardo’s four-seamer and sinker sit right around 90 mph, and his trademark slider is still humming in around 87 mph. He’ll also throw mid-80s changeups and upper-70s curveballs. The Yankees didn’t see Gallardo in either of the two series in Baltimore earlier this year.

Thursday (1:05pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Chris Tillman (vs. NYY)
Tillman, 28, is the staff ace almost by default. He’s had a solid year overall (3.29 ERA and 4.23 FIP in 120.1 innings) but has been so very up and down throughout his career. His strikeout (20.6%) and homer (1.05 HR/9) rates are about average, but his walk (9.4%) and ground ball (39.5%) numbers aren’t as good as you’d like. So far this year he has a pretty big platoon split, though historically it’s been small. Tillman has actually added some velocity this season and he now sits closer to 92-94 mph than 91-93 mph with his four-seam fastball. A big upper-70s curveball is his trademark pitch. Tillman also uses mid-80s changeups and upper-80s cutters as well. He’s made one good (one run in seven innings) and one bad (five runs in five innings) start against the Yankees in 2016.

Bullpen Status

Once again, the O’s have a rock solid bullpen, and they’ve done it without ace setup man RHP Darren O’Day (3.15 ERA/5.42 FIP) for the last month and a half. He’s been out since early-June with a hamstring injury. Here is Showalter’s current bullpen:

Closer: LHP Zach Britton (0.68 ERA/1.96 FIP)
Setup: RHP Brad Brach (0.88/2.47)
Middle: RHP Mychal Givens (3.27/3.68), RHP Chaz Roe (3.60/5.97), LHP Donnie Hart
Long: RHP Ordisamer Despaigne (2.87/4.96)

Like the Yankees, the Orioles had two All-Star relievers this season in Britton and Brach. They’ve been really awesome. Hart was just called up and he made his MLB debut yesterday, getting lefties Corey Dickerson to fly out and Kevin Kiermaier to strike out. He’s a classic left-on-left matchup guy with a funky sidearm slot (video).

Hart (six pitches) and Despaigne (25 pitches) both pitched yesterday. Everyone else should be good to go coming into the series. Head on over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s ‘pen.

Yankeemetrics: Buried in Baltimore [June 2-5]

#TrueYankee (AP Photo)
#TrueYankee (AP Photo)

Refsnyder to the Rescue
The Yankees halted their mini-three-game skid with a 5-4 win against the Tigers on Thursday night. If not for Rob Refsnyder, the mood on the Yankees flight from Detroit to Baltimore would have been remarkably different.

Refsnyder played a starring role in the biggest moments of the game, starting with his leadoff double in the sixth inning which broke up Matt Boyd’s unlikely no-hit bid. The 25-year-old went on to score the tying run two batters later on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s sacrifice fly, and then two frames later, he delivered a tie-breaking RBI single to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

It was Refsnyder’s first career go-ahead RBI, and the first go-ahead RBI in the seventh inning or later by a Yankee second baseman against the Tigers since Alfonso Soriano on June 1, 2003.

Refsnyder’s heroics might have stolen the headlines, but it was Michael Pineda‘s strong bounceback performance on the mound that made sure the Yankees had a chance to win this game. Pineda entered Thursday with the league’s highest ERA among qualified pitchers (6.92), and in his previous four starts had surrendered a whopping 20 earned runs and 30 hits in 20 1/3 innings.

So, of course, Pineda pitched his best game of the season, allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts and no walks. He dominated the Tigers lineup with his wipeout slider, which generated 14 whiffs on 22 swings, a season-best 64 percent whiff rate for the pitch. Per Statcast data, Pineda now has 97 total swings-and-misses on his slider this season, second only to Clayton Kershaw among all major-league pitchers.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

A trip to the (Not) Charm City
Baltimore has mostly been a miserable place for the Yankees in recent years — they entered this series with a 9-22 record at Camden Yards since 2013, their worst mark at any AL ballpark — and did little to reverse that trend in the series opener.

On a day when the Yankee bats surprisingly came alive, it was their recently-excellent starting pitching and normally-lockdown bullpen that struggled in Friday night’s frustrating 6-5 loss.

Nathan Eovaldi, 5-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his previous five starts, was charged with five runs in 5 1/3 innings; the mortal version of Dellin Betances coughed up the game-winning run in the seventh.

A-Rod and Carlos Beltran did their part in sparking the offense with homers in consecutive at-bats in the fourth inning. They are just the third pair of teammates aged 39 or older to hit back-to-back home runs in major-league history. The others were Ted Williams and Mickey Vernon for the Red Sox on Sept. 21, 1957 and Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzalez for the Dodgers on April 29, 2007.

A-Rod breaks out
The Yankees used another unlikely offensive outburst — yes, it was unlikely for a team that began the weekend with the lowest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in the AL — to beat the Orioles, 8-6, on Saturday night. They piled up 16 hits, their most hits in a game at Camden Yards since Sept. 2, 2009.

A-Rod had his second three-hit game of the season and it was his RBI single in the ninth inning that might have been his most notable swing of the night. Vance Worley threw a two-strike slider that A-Rod sliced up the middle to score Aaron Hicks from second base. That was his first hit off a breaking pitch this season; he was 0-for-17 with nine strikeouts in at-bats ending in a curve or slider before that hit.

Jacoby Ellsbury scored the seventh run of the game on a well-executed double steal with Brett Gardner. It was the second time in 2016 that Ellsbury has stolen home, joining Chris Chambliss in 1977 as the only Yankees in the last 60 years with two steals of home in a single season.

The worst rain delay ever
For the second time in three games, the Yankees snatched defeat from the arms of victory. They had a 1-0 advantage in the eighth inning, and after sitting through a one-hour-and-37-minute rain delay, they blew the lead and suffered yet another brutal loss.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)
This one was different from the others, though equally gut-wrenching. For the first time this season, the Yankees lost a game when taking a lead into the eighth inning; they’re now 25-1 in that situation.

It also clinched their eighth straight series loss in Baltimore, a wholly depressing and unprecedented streak. This is the first time that the Yankees have dropped eight series on the road in the history of this rivalry, which dates back to 1903, including when the Orioles were the St. Louis Browns.

Moving on to more positive notes … CC Sabathia turned in another stellar, though inefficient, effort with just two hits allowed in five scoreless innings. He needed 111 pitches to get those 15 outs, because of several long at-bats and a career-high-tying six walks.

The last Yankee pitcher to walk at least six guys and not give up a run was A.J. Burnett on Aug. 7, 2009 against the Red Sox. (That was the 15th inning A-Rod walk-off homer game.) Ya know, sometimes you can predict baseball.

Sabathia has now pitched at least five innings and given up no more than three runs in each of his last nine road starts, the longest such streak by a Yankee pitcher since Ron Guidry had nine starts in a row like that spanning the 1977 and 1978 seasons.

6/3 to 6/5 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Third city in three days for the Yankees. This is also the fourth city and sixth day in a trip that will take the Yankees through five cities in nine days. Tampa to Toronto to Detroit to Baltimore to New York. At least most of the flights are short, I guess. Anyway, the Yankees will play three games against the Orioles at Camden Yards this weekend. The O’s took two of three from New York in Baltimore a few weeks ago. These two teams have yet to play in Yankee Stadium this year.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Orioles and Red Sox just played one of those old school AL East slugfest series. They split the four games and each team scored 29 runs. Twenty-nine runs in four games. Reminds me of the mid-2000s. Anyway, Baltimore is 30-22 with a +17 run differential overall. They’re one game back of Boston for the AL East lead and 5.5 games up on the fourth place Yankees.

Offense & Defense

As expected, the O’s are one of the better offensive teams in baseball this year. They’ve averaging 4.37 runs per game with a team 107 wRC+, and they’re second in baseball with 75 home runs. SS J.J. Hardy (85 wRC+) and C Caleb Joseph (21 wRC+) are both on the DL and not coming back this series. Hardy fouled a pitch off his foot and broke a bone. Joseph? He took a foul tip to the biscuits and was placed on the DL with what the team called a “testicular injury.” Yikes. Calling it a groin injury would have sufficed. Here’s the video.

Kim. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Kim. (Rob Carr/Getty)

Manager Buck Showalter shook up his lineup recently and now bats CF Adam Jones (86 wRC+) leadoff despite his chronically low OBPs (.296 this year). Jones and Jose Bautista are now leadoff hitters. What a world. Korean import LF Hyun-Soo Kim (161 wRC+) has forced his way into the lineup even though Showalter wanted nothing to do with him earlier this season. He bats second. Megastar SS Manny Machado (165 wRC+) bats third and 1B Chris Davis (109 wRC+) cleans up. RF Mark Trumbo (149 wRC+) bats fifth. That’s a dangerous fivesome right there.

The rest of the lineup includes C Matt Wieters (102 wRC+), DH Pedro Alvarez (86 wRC+), and 2B Jonathan Schoop (99 wRC+). The O’s are playing Machado at short during Hardy’s absence while UTIL Ryan Flaherty (44 wRC+) and IF Paul Janish (5 wRC+) handle third base. Alvarez has even seen some time at the hot corner too. C Francisco Pena (4 PA), Tony Pena‘s son, is the backup catcher, and OF Joey Rickard (80 wRC+) and OF Nolan Reimold (133 wRC+) are the other outfielders.

Baltimore is a strong defensive team at certain positions. Machado is an elite defender even at short while Schoop, Davis, and Jones are average or better at their positions. Wieters is rock solid behind the dish too. Trumbo is a disaster in right field and honestly, I haven’t seen much of Kim to know what he is capable of defensively. The numbers say he is basically average in limited time. Flaherty and Janish are fine at third. Alvarez? lol no.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7:05pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Chris Tillman (vs. NYY)
Tillman’s up and down career continues. He’s had some great seasons and some truly awful seasons too. This year the 28-year-old has a 2.92 ERA (3.78 FIP) with a 23.7% strikeout rate in eleven starts and 64.2 innings. His walk (10.5%) and grounder (40.1%) rates leave something to be desired, and he’s keeping the ball in the park (0.84 HR/9) way more often than he has for most of his career. Lefties have hit him harder than righties so far this season, though his career platoon split is pretty small. Tillman has actually added some velocity this season and he now sits closer to 92-94 mph than 91-93 mph with his four-seam fastball and occasional sinker. A big upper-70s curveball is his trademark pitch. Tillman also uses mid-80s changeups and upper-80s cutters as well. Tillman limited the Yankees to one run in seven innings when they met in early-May.

Saturday (7:15pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Tyler Wilson (vs. NYY)
The O’s had some big question marks at the back of their rotation in Spring Training, and the 26-year-old Wilson took advantage of the opportunity and won a job. He has a 3.83 ERA (4.70 FIP) in 49.1 innings spread across seven starts and three relief appearances so far this season. Wilson gets grounders (49.4%) and limits walks (5.8%), but his strikeout (12.6%) and homer (1.28 HR/9) problems are scary bad. His platoon split is fairly small because his low-80s changeup is a solid pitch. Low-90s four-seamers and sinkers set up the change as well as an 80 mph slider. Wilson won’t miss many bats and that’s a plus for the Yankees. Of course, he held them to three runs (two earned) in six innings last month, so who knows.

Gausman. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
Gausman. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Sunday (1:35pm ET: LHP CC Sabathia (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (vs. NYY)
The Orioles player development system strikes again. It looked like the 25-year-old Gausman was ready to take the next step this season, but instead he has a 3.78 ERA (4.50 FIP) with an alarming 1.70 HR/9. The O’s haven’t drafted and developed a quality MLB starter since Mike Mussina. (The Yankees haven’t done a whole lot better during that time, sadly.) Gausman’s other underlying stats are solid (22.8% strikeout, 5.6% walks, 44.9% grounders) and he’s dominated lefties this season, though that’s a bit out of line with the rest of his career. A mid-to-high-90s heater is his No. 1 pitch, and he also throws a nasty mid-80s splitter. Gausman also has a low-80s curveball. The stuff is definitely there. He just hasn’t put it together yet. Gausman chucked eight scoreless innings against the Yankees a few weeks ago. He was dominant that night. Would have crushed any lineup with the split he had that game.

Bullpen Status

As always, the bullpen is a strength for the Orioles. Their end-game arms are very good. Not as good as the guys the Yankees trot out there, but still very good. Here is Showalter’s eight-man relief crew:

Closer: LHP Zach Britton (1.21 ERA/1.95 FIP)
Setup: RHP Darren O’Day (3.15/5.37) and RHP Brad Brach (0.91/2.28)
Middle: RHP Mychal Givens (2.16/2.84), LHP T.J. MacFarland (4.73/3.42), RHP Dylan Bundy (4.71/5.31)
Long: RHP Vance Worley (2.41/3.48) and LHP Brian Duensing (1 IP)

The O’s had to dip so deep into their bullpen during the series with the Red Sox that they optioned out fifth starter Mike Wright in favor of an extra bullpen arm (Duensing) yesterday. It was one of those kind of series. Givens (21 pitches), Brach (12), and Duensing (25) all pitched yesterday. Worley threw 60 pitches Wednesday night and probably won’t be available until at least tomorrow, if not Sunday. Our Bullpen Workload is the place to go for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen.

Yankeemetrics: Finding new ways to lose [May 3-5]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Leads are overrated
The Yankee bats went back into a deep freeze in the series opener, losing 4-1, as they dropped to 8-16 on the season with a whopping negative-34 run differential. That’s their third-worst run differential through 24 games in franchise history; the only worse marks came in 1984 (-40) and 1911 (-36).

The Yankees used to own Camden Yards, compiling the best win percentage (.646) among American League teams at the ballpark during its first 21 years of existence, from 1992-2012. Since then, the script was flipped and the Yankees had the worst record there among AL squads, falling to 8-21 (.276) following the series-opening loss.

The frustration level with this team grows even deeper when you consider that the Yankees – who took a 1-0 lead in the second inning – had actually scored first in more games (14) than their opponents (10). Once again on Tuesday they failed to pad that early lead and left little margin for error in the middle-to-late innings. After the game, the Yankees ranked a respectable fifth in the league in scoring in the first three innings, but were dead last – by a good margin – in runs scored from innings four through nine.

Another telling stat that pretty much sums up the team’s feeble offense in this first month? At the conclusion of Tuesday’s slate, the three players with the fewest runs scored among batting title qualifiers were all Yankees: Chase Headley (two), Didi Gregorius (four) and Starlin Castro (five). The trio had come to the plate a combined 251 times, and scored a mere 11 runs.

Luis Severino looked nothing like a future ace, giving up four runs in six innings as he fell to 0-4 with an unsightly 6.31 ERA. The only other Yankee pitcher in the last 35 years to be 0-4 or worse in their first five starts of the season and have an ERA above 6.00 was Chien-Ming Wang in 2009.

What is this thing you call home plate? (AP Photo)
What is this thing you call home plate? (AP Photo)

#ClutchCC
It was finally time to celebrate on Wednesday night after the Yankees put an end to a bevy of miserable streaks in beating the Orioles, 7-0. Entering the game, they had:

  • lost six straight and 14 of their last 18 games overall, their worst 18-game stretch since the end of the 2000 campaign
  • lost six straight road games, their longest road losing streak within a single season since 2007
  • lost six straight games against the Orioles, their longest losing streak versus the team since an eight-gamer spanning the 1996-97 seasons

CC Sabathia, who pitched his best game in more than three years, also joined the streak-busting party by throwing seven scoreless innings to get his first win in Baltimore since May 19, 2011. He was 0-5 with a 5.65 ERA in his past eight starts at Camden Yards before Wednesday’s gem. His streak of eight straight winless starts there was the second-longest by any visiting pitcher, and his five consecutive losses was the longest losing streak by a visiting pitcher in the history of the ballpark.

Sabathia delivered a vintage, turn-back-the-clock performance, reminding folks of the days when he was the team’s bona fide ace and the guy you wanted on the mound to stop a lengthy losing streak. This was the fourth time in his nine seasons in pinstripes that Sabathia had pitched in a game with the Yankees on a losing streak of four games or more; he’s snapped that streak in each of those four starts, going 4-0 with a 0.86 ERA – that’s three earned runs allowed in 31 1/3 innings.

His relied heavily on his changeup to combat the Orioles’ right-heavy lineup and it was a true difference-maker for him. He threw 21 changeups, nearly double the amount he’d thrown in any of his previous four starts this season. The Orioles were 0-for-8 in at-bats ending in a changeup, including four strikeouts, and whiffed on eight of their 13 swings.

Those numbers are even more staggering considering how ineffective his changeup was this season prior to Wednesday. In his first four starts, he had just five total whiffs on the 36 changeups he threw, and opposing batters hit a whopping .556 and slugged .667 against the pitch.

When you come to a fork in the road …
A win streak was too much to ask for from the baseball gods as the Yankees dropped the final game of their nine-game road trip in heart-breaking — and historic — fashion, losing 1-0 on a sac fly in the 10th inning. This was about as rare (and depressing) a loss you can find:

  • It was the first time in franchise history the Yankees lost a 1-0 walk-off game against the Orioles in Baltimore.
  • The Yankees hadn’t been shut out in an extra-inning loss to this franchise since July 21, 1943, when they were the St. Louis Browns.
  • With just four hits and a walk, it was the Yankees fewest baserunners in an extra-inning shutout loss since August 20, 1941 vs. the Tigers.
  • The last time the Yankees lost on a walk-off sac fly in extra innings versus any team was May 24, 2002 in Boston.

And before Thursday night, the Yankees had never lost 1-0 via a walk-off sac fly (since the stat became official in 1954).

On a more positive note … Masahiro Tanaka dominated the Orioles lineup, scattering five singles over eight scoreless innings while striking out seven. He now has at least four strikeouts and allowed no more than two earned runs in each of his six starts this season. That matches the longest such streak to start a season in Yankees history, a mark set by Whitey Ford in 1956.

Tanaka also reached a nice and round milestone in this game, making his 50th career start as a major-leaguer. Three other pitchers who made their debuts in the last 100 years compiled as many strikeouts (315) and wins (26) in their first 50 career games as Tanaka: Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden and Yu Darvish.

5/3 to 5/5 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

The Yankees begin a stretch of 20 games in 20 days tonight, with the first of three against the Orioles in Baltimore. For my money, Camden Yards is the best ballpark in the AL East. It’s spectacular. Anyway, this is the first meeting of the season between the Yanks and O’s, weirdly. The Yankees had an AL West heavy schedule in April for whatever reason.

What Have They Done Lately?

The O’s won their first seven games of the season, and they won six of those seven games by no more than two runs. They’ve come back to Earth since the 7-0 start though. Baltimore is 7-10 since then, so they’re 14-10 overall with a +16 run differential overall. The O’s split a four-game series with the White Sox over the weekend. They won the first two games then lost the last two.

Offense & Defense

Manager Buck Showalter’s team is living up to preseason projections. They’re averaging 4.54 runs per game with a team 119 wRC+, and they lead the AL in home runs (34). Baltimore is only seventh in the league in strikeout rate (21.9%), however. I expected that number to be higher. The O’s are currently without UTIL Jimmy Paredes (wrist) and SS J.J. Hardy (foot). Paredes is on a minor league rehab assignment and is not expected back this series. Hardy fouled a pitch off his foot over the weekend and suffered a hairline fracture. He’ll miss 6-8 weeks. Ouch.

Machado. (Matt Hazlett/Getty)
Machado. (Matt Hazlett/Getty)

Showalter’s lineup is headlined by 3B Manny Machado (199 wRC+), who has emerged as one of the game’s truly elite players. In fact, I consider him the third best all-around player in baseball right now, behind only Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. (Nolan Arenado is in that mix too.) 1B Chris Davis (137 wRC+) is still a dinger mashing machine and OF Mark Trumbo (163 wRC+) has had a wonderful BABIP-fueled start to 2016 (.410 BABIP). OF Adam Jones (77 wRC+), who I don’t think gets nearly enough respect for being a very good hitter because of his low OBPs, is off to a slugging start.

2B Jonathan Schoop (81 wRC+) has been below league average overall but has a history of crushing the Yankees. The C Matt Wieters (66 wRC+) and C Caleb Joseph (54 wRC+) tandem hasn’t done much at the plate. Wieters had Tommy John surgery two years ago and the O’s have allowed him to catch back-to-back games just once this year after he experienced some soreness in Spring Training. Tommy John surgery: it’s not really that routine!

DH Pedro Alvarez (87 wRC+) hasn’t gotten going yet, and Rule 5 Draft pick OF Joey Rickard (92 wRC+) is in the middle of crashing back to Earth. OF Nolan Reimold (199 wRC+) and OF Hyun-Soo Kim (288 wRC+) have been great in limited time. (They’ve combined for 54 plate appearances.) Kim has started only four of the team’s 24 games and he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in two of those four starts. He came over from Korea and went straight into Showalter’s dog house, it seems. Also, the Orioles will have to call someone up to replace Hardy. UTIL Ryan Flaherty seems likely.

Defensively, the O’s have an outstanding infield when Hardy is healthy and everyone is at their normal positions. There’s some talk they will play Machado at shortstop — his natural position — and Alvarez at third base (!) while Hardy is out. Alvarez is a total disaster in the field. Jones, Rickard, and Reimold are sound outfield defenders. Trumbo’s really bad and I haven’t seen enough of Kim to have an opinion about his defense. General rule of thumb: hit it to Trumbo and Alvarez.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Chris Tillman (vs. NYY)
It’s hard to believe Tillman has now pitched in parts of eight (!) different big league seasons. The 28-year-old right-hander has a 3.24 ERA (2.75 FIP) in five starts and 25 innings in the early going, and right now he’s running a career-high strikeout rate (24.2%). His walk (8.1%) and grounder (36.4%) rates are right in line with his career norms, though his homer rate (0.36 HR/9) is far below anything he’s ever done before. Tillman’s always been long ball prone (career 1.19 HR/9). Lefties have hit him hard this year, though for most of his career, his platoon split has been tiny. Tillman’s velocity is up noticeably so far this season (via Brooks Baseball) …

Chris Britton velocity… and he’s been sitting more 92-95 mph than 90-92 mph. That’s a big difference. He throws both a four-seamer and sinker, plus a little upper-80s cutter. His go-to secondary pitch is a big breaking upper-70s curveball. Tillman will also throw a mid-80s changeup. The sinker is a fairly new pitch for him — he didn’t start throwing it regularly until last June — but it hasn’t helped his ground rate a whole lot.

Wednesday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. BAL) vs. TBA
It seems like the O’s entire rotation is one big TBA behind Tillman. Ubaldo Jimenez started Sunday, we so definitely won’t see him this series. Right-hander Tyler Wilson lines up to start this game, though the O’s could also go with fellow righty Mike Wright. Wilson, 26, has a 3.06 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 17.2 innings across two starts and three relief appearances this year. He hasn’t struck anyone out (12.3%), but his walk rate is good (4.1%) and he’s getting a league average-ish number of grounders (46.7%). Wilson works in the low-90s with his four-seamer and sits in the low-80s with both his slider and changeup. Pretty generic arsenal.

Wright, 26, has a 5.40 ERA (4.35 FIP) in four starts and 23.1 innings in the early going. His peripheral stats are kind of blah: 18.6 K%, 6.2 BB%, 42.6 GB%, and 1.16 HR/9. Wright will sit right around 95 mph with his fastball, and he backs it up with a mid-80s slider and a low-80s changeup. He’ll also flip a few upper-70s curves per start. Wright has the better stuff, Wilson the better 2016 results. If the O’s keep their rotation on turn, Wilson lines up to start tomorrow night’s game. Yesterday’s off-day gives them the option of starting Wright instead.

Thursday (7pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. BAL) vs. TBA
The Orioles have two options for Thursday’s start: either Wilson or Wright, whichever one doesn’t start Wednesday, or righty Kevin Gausman. Gausman’s regular turn is Friday, but yesterday’s off-day means the team can bump him up a day if they choose. The 25-year-old Gausman started the season on the DL with a shoulder problem and he’s made two starts since being activated: 11 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 10 K. He’s gotten exactly 50% grounders too. That works out to a 2.45 ERA (3.52 FIP). For what it’s worth, Gausman had a 4.50 ERA (4.06 FIP) with good strikeout (21.5%) and walk (5.7%) numbers in 100.1 innings as a starter last season. Gausman throws very hard — he’s averaged 97.1 mph with his four-seamer through two starts — and he also throws a low-80s curveball and mid-80s splitter/changeup hybrid. He used to have a hard mid-80s slider, but over the last year he’s scrapped it entirely in favor of the curveball.

Update: Wilson will start Wednesday and Gausman will start Thursday, per Roch Kubatko.

Ouch. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Ouch. (Rob Carr/Getty)

Bullpen Status

The O’s lost closer LHP Zach Britton to an ankle injury over the weekend when he slipped fielding a bunt. He was in a walking boot and on crutches Sunday, but apparently he is considered day-to-day and will not be placed on the DL. Okie dokie. Either way, sounds like he’s a no go for this series. Setup man extraordinaire RHP Darren O’Day will close in the meantime. Here is Showalter’s relief crew:

RHP Brad Brach: 14.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 15 K, 1 HR
LHP Zach Britton: 10 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 13 K, 1 HR
RHP Dylan Bundy: 9 IP, 11 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 0 HR
RHP Mychal Givens: 12 IP, 14 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 7 BB, 21 K, 1 HR
LHP Brian Matusz: 2.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 0 K, 0 HR
LHP T.J. McFarland: 12.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 0 HR
RHP Darren O’Day: 9.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 15 K, 1 HR
RHP Vance Worley: 17.2 IP, 17 H, 8 R, 6 ER, 6 BB, 19 K, 2 HR

Poor Dylan Bundy. I thought that kid was going to be a megastar back in the day. Then he got sucked in the Orioles pitching prospect vortex of doom. The Orioles have needed 84.2 innings from their bullpen this season, third most in the AL, mostly because their rotation has been so hit or miss.

Like the Yankees, the O’s had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is fresh as it is going to get. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen. It’s in not bad shape, all things considered.

The Rest of the AL East [2016 Season Preview]

Over the last six seasons, each of the five AL East teams has won at least one division title. The Yankees (2011, 2012) are the only club with multiple division titles in the last six years. The days of the AL East being dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox are long gone. The other three teams are no longer pushovers.

For what it’s worth, the projections at FanGraphs have the five AL East teams all winning between 79-88 games in 2016, a gap of only nine wins. Baseball Prospectus has them all in the 75-87 win range. If nothing else, the objective computers think the five clubs are pretty close in terms of talent level. You’re welcome to disagree, of course.

Because knowing your enemy is just as important as knowing yourself, let’s take some time to preview the upcoming season for the four non-Yankees teams in the AL East. This is nothing too in-depth. It’s just enough to give you an idea what the Yankees are up against in 2016.

Is the Showalter honeymoon over? (Presswire)
(Presswire)

Baltimore Orioles

Notable Additions: Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez, Yovani Gallardo
Notable Losses: Wei-Yin Chen, Steve Pearce, Gerardo Parra

The Orioles went 81-81 last season, and they had to commit $207.8M to Chris Davis, Darren O’Day, and Matt Wieters this offseason just to keep their core intact. Also, Kevin Gausman is dealing with a shoulder issue and Miguel Gonzalez was released yesterday, so their rotation right now is:

  1. Chris Tillman
  2. Yovani Gallardo
  3. Ubaldo Jimenez
  4. ???
  5. ???

That seems less than ideal. O’Day and Zach Britton are a dynamite end-game tandem, but I’m not sure how manager Buck Showalter expects to get the ball to them. They’re counting on a big time bounceback from Tillman and consistency from Jimenez (lol), and for Gallardo to chew up innings better than he did last year. He completed six innings just twice in his final 16 starts of 2015.

The O’s are going to have to win a lot of 7-6 games to contend and they have the firepower to do so. Davis, Trumbo, Alvarez, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado are all legitimate 30 homer threats. Watch out for Jonathan Schoop too. He hit 15 homers in only 321 plate appearances last year. The Trumbo and Alvarez pickups don’t do anything to help the club’s OBP problem — the O’s were 26th in baseball with a .307 OBP in 2015 — so while they might hit 250 home runs this season, most of them will be solo shots.

Baltimore is the only AL East team that would really surprise me by winning the division. They’re going to hit a ton of homers, there’s no doubt about that, but they don’t get on base and the pitching staff is thin. I mean really, really thin. The O’s will be a headache to play this season. Over the course of 162 games though, I feel it’s only a matter of time until they fall behind the rest of the AL East.

A worthy foe. (Presswire)
A worthy foe. (Presswire)

Boston Red Sox

Notable Additions: David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Chris Young
Notable Losses: Wade Miley

For the third or fourth year in a row, the Red Sox changed philosophies this offseason, deciding to spend big after former GM Ben Cherington spent a few years preaching restraint and flexibility. New baseball operations chief Dave Dombrowski is all about big names, has been for years, hence the Price signing and Kimbrel trade. Those moves were right in his wheelhouse.

Price gives the BoSox the ace they so clearly lacked, but I think the bullpen additions are going to help them more than Price. Kimbrel and Smith are replacing Alexei Ogando and Craig Breslow, who combined to allow 62 runs in 130.1 innings in 2015. Those two will join Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa in the late innings. (Smith’s dealing with a flexor injury and will miss the start of the regular season.)

Offensively, the Red Sox have sneaky big questions in five spots: catcher (Blake Swihart), first base (Hanley Ramirez), third base (Pablo Sandoval), left field (Rusney Castillo), and center field (Jackie Bradley Jr.). They’re already talking about sending Castillo to Triple-A and playing a Young/Brock Holt platoon in left, and apparently now Travis Shaw is the starting third baseman. Everyone seems to be assuming Hanley and Bradley will have above-average seasons because … I don’t know why. At least Hanley has his track record to fall back on.

The Red Sox get the benefit of the doubt more than any chronically underachieving team deserves. They have talent, that much is clear, but they’ve had talent the last two years too, and they still finished in last place. The Red Sox are going to be tough to play against because they’re always tough to play against. Bet on them at your own risk though. No club has done less with more the last two seasons.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tampa Bay Rays

Notable Additions: Logan Morrison, Brad Miller, Hank Conger, Steve Pearce, Corey Dickerson
Notable Losses: Asdrubal Cabrera, John Jaso, Nate Karns, Jake McGee, James Loney

Only the White Sox scored fewer runs than the Rays among AL teams a year ago, so Tampa Bay set out to improve their offense by acquiring a bunch of guys who can be good if used in very specific ways. Dickerson is good as long as he never faces lefties and is your DH. Miller is good as long as he never faces lefties and the ball is never hit to him. That kinda thing. That’s what the Rays do. They find imperfect players and try to use them perfectly.

The Rays did sacrifice some defense for offense this winter. Morrison is unquestionably worse at first base than Loney. (Loney was told he won’t make the team yesterday.) Remember how shaky and goof prone Didi Gregorius was early last year? That’s Miller all the time. Asdrubal is no great shakes in the field, but he is sure-handed. Conger, meanwhile, is the worst throwing catcher in baseball. He went 1-for-43 throwing out base-stealers last year. That is not a typo. 1-for-43. o n e f o r f o r t y t h r e e

To their credit, the Rays ostensibly improved their weaknesses without sacrificing too much from their strengths. They still have a solid rotation even without Karns and their defense is not atrocious. The bullpen is a little up in the air because McGee is gone and Brad Boxberger will miss a few weeks following core muscle surgery, so that’s their big question right now. Manager Kevin Cash usually doesn’t let his non-Chris Archer starters go through the lineup a third time, and those middle innings are rather treacherous.

For Tampa Bay to contend this year, they’ll need Evan Longoria to get back to where he was earlier in his career, and I’m not sure how possible that is. He’s now 30 and his power is starting to vanish; he went from being a consistent .230+ ISO guy to a .150 ISO guy the last two seasons. That’s bad news for the Rays, especially since his six-year, $100M extension kicks in next year. The Rays will be in the hunt this year, but, as always, they’ll need a lot to go right to beat out division rivals with more resources.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Toronto Blue Jays

Notable Additions: Jesse Chavez, J.A. Happ, Drew Storen, Gavin Floyd
Notable Losses: David Price, Mark Buehrle, Mark Lowe, Liam Hendriks, Ben Revere

You’d think going to the postseason for the first time in two decades would be enough to keep the GM around, but apparently not. The Blue Jays named former Indians president Mark Shapiro their new president last year, replacing the retired Paul Beeston, and GM Alex Anthopoulos felt his authority would be undermined, so he rejected an extension offer and walked away over the winter. Crazy, huh?

The Blue Jays have never been huge spenders and Shapiro himself has a history of steering clear of big free agents, so the team never made much of an effort to keep Price. They instead opted to replace him (and Buehrle) with Happ, Chavez, and a full year of Marcus Stroman. It … might work? They only had Price for eleven starts in 2015, after all. Buehrle was close to toast by the end of the season too.

Toronto still has their powerhouse lineup — they scored 891 runs last season, 127 more than the second highest scoring team (Yankees!) and the most by any team since the 2009 Yankees (915) — and now they’ll have a full year of Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop. Even if he spends time on the DL, 100 games of Tulo and 62 games of a replacement level player is still one of the best shortstops in the game.

As I said this morning, I am of the belief the Blue Jays will outscore any pitching problems. The Yankees did that for years in the mid-2000s. I’m an offense first guy. I’ll always bet on the team with a juggernaut offense coming out ahead over the course of a 162-game season. The Blue Jays may not be quite as imposing as they were in the second half last season, but they’re still very good. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will be free agents next offseason, so this might be the club’s last chance to win with this core.