Tuesday Notes: Tanaka, WBC, London, Stottlemyre, ESPN

(Koji Watanabe/Getty)
Tanaka at the 2013 WBC. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

We are right smack in the middle of the slowest time of the offseason. The baseball world is essentially on hold during the holidays, before the bargain shopping begins in January. Here are some bits of news to check out in the meantime.

Tanaka not on partial WBC roster

Team Japan has announced the first 19 players of their 28-man roster for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, reports Jason Coskrey, and Masahiro Tanaka is not among those 19 players. Outfielder Nori Aoki is the only MLB player on the roster. Two-way star Shohei Otani is the headliner, obviously. Final rosters are due sometime in January, which ain’t so far away anymore.

“Regarding MLB players, we are not going to announce where we are (in talks) and it’s all going to be announced when we actually announce (the final roster),” said Japan baseball secretary general Atsushi Ihara to Coskrey. “We don’t really have the timetable, but manager (Hiroki) Kokubo is saying that he wants to set it early.”

Tanaka, who pitched in both the 2009 and 2013 WBCs, has said he wants to pitch in the 2017 edition. The Yankees can’t stop their ace from participating. Brian Cashman confirmed it. Team Japan did not take MLB players in the last WBC, not even Ichiro, but Ihara’s comments and the fact Aoki is the on the roster suggests they’ll look to take a few this time around. We’ll see what happens with Tanaka.

Yankees, Red Sox could be headed to London

According to Michael Silverman, the Yankees and Red Sox could be headed to London to play a series next season. Hal Steinbrenner and Red Sox owner John Henry have been discussing the possibility for several years now. MLB has been looking to grow the game globally and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes provisions to play games outside the country.

“The Yankees have been at the forefront of suggesting that we bring the great game of baseball to London,” said Yankees president Randy Levine to Silverman. “There have been some meaningful attempts to do so, and we are hopeful and confident that we can play there soon. Playing the Red Sox in London would be a special and unique event.”

It’s no surprise the Yankees and Red Sox may end up playing overseas. They’re still baseball’s premier rivalry and will generate the most buzz. There are a ton of logistical issues to work out though. There’s the travel, first and foremost, and also the issue of gate receipts. One of the two teams is going to lose a handful of home games and associated revenue. Still, the Yankees playing in London would be pretty damn cool.

Stottlemyre doing better after health scare

Mel Stottlemyre, former Yankees pitcher and pitching coach, is doing better following a health scare last week, his wife Jean told John Harper. Mel’s son Todd wrote on Facebook his father was “in the hospital fighting for his life” last Friday. Stottlemyre has been fighting multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer, since 2000.

“He’s doing much better. We saw a big turnaround with Mel over the last 24 hours. He’s not in a life-threatening situation right now,” said Jean Stottlemyre to Harper. “It’s not the cancer. It was that he got sick from the chemo medicine. He was given antibiotics to fight infection and he’s responded well.”

Stottlemyre, who turned 75 last month, spent his entire playing career with the Yankees from 1964-74. Those were the “dark years” of the franchise, so Mel never did win a World Series as a player. He won his first ring as Mets pitching coach in 1986, and he added four titles as Yankees pitching coach from 1996-2005. Last year the Yankees surprised Stottlemyre with a plaque in Monument Park. It was one of the best moments of the season.

It was unclear whether Stottlemyre’s health would even allow him to make the trip from his home in Washington to Yankee Stadium for Old Timers’ Day last year. I’m glad to hear he’s doing well after that health scare last week. He’s been fighting cancer for close to two decades now, and he’s kicking its butt even at age 75. Go Mel.

Yankees to play four times on ESPN

A few days ago ESPN released their Sunday Night Baseball schedule for most of the first half, and, not surprisingly, the Yankees are featured more than a few times. They’re still a great draw. Here’s the schedule and here are the Sunday night broadcasts that will feature the Yankees:

  • April 16th: Cardinals at Yankees
  • May 7th: Yankees at Cubs
  • May 14th: Astros at Yankees
  • July 16th: Yankees at Red Sox

That May 14th game is the night the Yankees are retiring Derek Jeter’s number, though I’m not sure whether ESPN will show the ceremony. Probably not. YES will air the entire thing, I’m sure. As a reminder, the Yankees are going to play the very first game of 2017 on ESPN. They begin the season at 1pm ET on Sunday, April 2nd, on the road against the Rays. The next game that day begins at 4pm ET.

Few potential landing spots remain for Chase Headley

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

So far this offseason has been about addition and subtraction for the Yankees. They added Matt Holliday and Aroldis Chapman to improve the roster, but also subtracted Brian McCann to continue their rebuilding transitioning effort. The McCann trade with the Astros cleared up some payroll space and also netted the team two high upside Single-A pitching prospects.

The Yankees are still in addition and subtraction mode, based on everything we’ve heard the last few weeks. They still want to add pitching, starters and relievers, but they’re also looking to trade veterans. Specifically Brett Gardner and Chase Headley, who are basically their last two tradeable veteran position players. The Dexter Fowler and Adam Eaton deals mean not many suitors exist for Gardner.

For Headley, the market is appears to be even more limited, which is kinda weird because it’s much harder to find decent third base help than it is decent corner outfield help. In theory, anyway. Justin Turner has re-signed with the Dodgers, taking by far the best free agent third baseman off the market. Luis Valbuena is all that remains at this point, and he’s coming back from hamstring surgery.

Brian Cashman said at the Winter Meetings last week that he has rejected trade offers for Headley, though we don’t know the nature of those offers. They could have been “we’ll give you this fringe prospect if you eat a bunch of money” non-offers for all we know. Or maybe there were no offers and Cashman was trying to drum up interest. Who knows? Here are the few potential landing spots I’ve identified for Headley.

Atlanta Braves

Adonis. (Michael Thomas/Getty)
Adonis. (Michael Thomas/Getty)

Current Third Basemen: Adonis Garcia and Sean Rodriguez

Why Would They Want Headley? The Braves are doing all they can to be somewhat competitive next season, when they open SunTrust Park. They’ve signed R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon as free agents, and traded for Jaime Garcia to beef up the rotation. Third base is another problem area. Rodriguez was signed to be a utility player, and Garcia, the ex-Yankees farmhand, was worth +0.9 fWAR and +0.2 bWAR in close to a full season of playing time in 2016, so yeah.

Headley is not all that expensive by today’s standards, plus I’m sure the Yankees are at least open to the idea of eating some of the $26M he’s owed the next two years, so he’d be another low risk short-term upgrade for the Braves a la Colon and Dickey and Garcia. Rio Ruiz, who I covered in a Scouting The Market post earlier this winter, is their top third base prospect and there’s a chance he won’t be a third baseman at all. Headley’s an easy upgrade for Atlanta.

So Are They A Fit? Yes. The doesn’t mean the Braves want to trade for Headley, necessarily, but he would fit their roster and current plan.

Boston Red Sox

Current Third Basemen: Pablo Sandoval and Brock Holt

Why Would They Want Headley? The BoSox traded their starting third baseman (Travis Shaw) and third baseman of the future (Yoan Moncada) this offseason, leaving them with short and long-term openings at the hot corner. Sandoval is coming back from major shoulder surgery and was terrible last time he played. Holt fits best as a part-time utility guy, not a full-time corner infielder.

So Are They A Fit? Nah. Not realistically. Even beyond the unlikelihood of a Yankees-Red Sox trade, the Red Sox are probably best off seeing what they have in Sandoval at this point. They owe him a ton of money and it’s not going away.

St. Louis Cardinals

Current Third Baseman: Jhonny Peralta

Why Would They Want Headley? The Cardinals were in on Turner before he re-signed with the Dodgers because they’re looking for ways to improve their infield, especially defensively. Peralta really struggled at the hot corner this past season after losing his shortstop job to Aledmys Diaz. Matt Carpenter is moving to first base full-time for defensive reasons, and Headley would be an upgrade over Peralta at the hot corner. Pretty easily at this point of Peralta’s career too.

Peralta. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Peralta. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

So Are They A Fit? Yes, though I don’t think St. Louis is as gung-ho about adding a third baseman now that Turner is off the board. It seems like their thinking was “we can add Turner for just cash, and we’ve already given up out first rounder for Fowler, so let’s do it.” Trading pieces for Headley and then having to find a new home for Peralta might not be worth the trouble for the Cardinals.

San Francisco Giants

Current Third Baseman: Eduardo Nunez

Why Would They Want Headley? Like the Cardinals, the Giants dabbled in the market for Turner a few weeks ago, they were never as all-in as St. Louis. San Francisco has also reportedly considered a reunion with Sandoval, assuming they could get him from the Red Sox at an extremely discounted price. Third base help isn’t necessarily a top priority, though based on the rumors, the Giants do seem to be keeping an eye out for an upgrade over Nunez.

So Are They A Fit? Eh, maybe. The Giants are over the luxury tax threshold following the Mark Melancon signing, and they reportedly do not want to add significant payroll. That would stand in the way of a Headley trade, even if the Yankees ate some money. Also, left field is their biggest roster hole. If they’re going to take on dollars and go further over the luxury tax threshold, it’ll be for outfield help, not a marginal upgrade over Nunez at third.

* * *

Keep in mind trading Headley means the Yankees would have to come up with a replacement third baseman. They have plenty of outfielders to plug into left field should Gardner be traded, but they don’t have a ready made replacement third baseman. Ronald Torreyes and the recently signed Ruben Tejada would be the front-runners for the job. Maybe Rob Refsnyder too. Not great.

The Yankees are still trying to contend next season while continuing to get younger — you don’t sign a closer to an $86M contract and not plan on contending right away — and they’ll need competence at the hot corner themselves. Headley provides that. More than that, really, even if many fans don’t seem to want to admit it. If the Yankees can trade Headley for some prospects and salary relief, great. But they’ll likely be a worse team on the field afterwards, and based on their other offseason activity, that might not fly.

Yankeemetrics: A bittersweet sweep [Sept. 27-29]

(AP)
(AP)

Still breathing
The Yankees staved off elimination on Tuesday night with a gutsy 6-4 win in the series opener, keeping their flickering postseason dreams alive, while snapping Boston’s 11-game win streak. This was the third time in the history of this rivalry that the Yankees beat a Red Sox team riding a win streak of more than 10 games; it also happened in 1909 and 1995.

The Baby Bombers carried the team from start to finish, delivering game-changing performances on the mound and at the plate. Luis Cessa pitched six strong innings of two-run ball, while Gary Sanchez opened the scoring with a first-inning two-run bomb and Tyler Austin capped it off with a tie-breaking two-run homer in the seventh.

Sanchez’s 407-foot shot was a historic one, the 20th time he went deep in just 51 MLB games. That matched the fewest career games needed to reach the 20-homer milestone by any major-league player, a mark he shares with outfielder Wally Berger of the 1930 Boston Braves.

He is the 10th rookie catcher in major-league history to hit 20 homers, and is the only Yankee in that group. Each of the other nine players — Wilin Rosario (2012), J.P. Arencibia (2011), Geovany Soto (2008), Mike Piazza (1993), Matt Nokes (1987), Joe Ferguson (1973), Carlton Fisk (1972), Earl Williams (1971), Rudy York (1937) — played at least 100 games during their rookie campaign.

Austin’s power-hitting feats haven’t been as prolific as Sanchez’s, but it’s hard to argue that anyone else’s homers on this team have been as impactful as Austin’s.

Each of his first four homers in the big leagues have given the Yankees a lead, with three of them coming in the seventh inning or later. Through Tuesday, he had more go-ahead, late-inning homers than any other Yankee this season, despite logging time in just 27 games since his call-up in early August.

Didi Gregorius also joined the homer party, ripping his 20th homer of the season into the right field seats to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead in the sixth. He and Starlin Castro are the first middle infielder duo (i.e., primary position is either shortstop or second base) in franchise history to reach the 20-homer milestone in the same season.

David Ortiz, playing his final series at Yankee Stadium, was hitless in five at-bats and whiffed on a 3-2 splitter from Tyler Clippard to end the game, stranding two guys in the ninth inning. This was his 255th career game against the Yankees (including playoffs), but it was the first time that he ever struck out to end the game with the tying run on base.

(AP)
(AP)

Refuse to lose
Down to their final out and on the brink of being officially eliminated from the postseason race on Wednesday, the Yankees rose from the dead with a stunning rally in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Red Sox, keeping their microscopic October dreams alive for another 24 hours.

In a season filled with so many heart-pounding victories, the Yankees 82nd win of the season might top them all in terms of the do-or-die circumstances of the game and the sheer miraculous nature of their comeback.

Trailing 3-1 with two outs in the ninth and the bases full, the soon-to-be-retired Mark Teixeira came to the plate and drilled a 99-mph fastball over the fences in center field for a game-ending homer that was historic in so many ways:

  • It was the first regular-season walk-off home run by Teixeira; his 408 career regular season homers entering the game were the most of any player in baseball history who’d never hit a walk-off shot.
  • The pitch was clocked at 98.95 mph, the fastest pitch he’s hit for a home run since July 17, 2009 when he went deep off a 99.0 mph fastball from Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya.
  • It was the ninth walk-off grand slam in franchise history, and the first since A-Rod’s memorable blast against the Orioles on April 7, 2007.
  • Only two other Yankees have ever hit a walk-off homer with the bases loaded against the Red Sox: Charlie Keller on August 12, 1942 and pitcher Red Ruffing on April 14, 1933.
  • Teixeira is the fourth Yankee to hit a walk-off slam with his team trailing at the time. The others are A-Rod, Jason Giambi (May 17, 2002 vs. the Twins) and Babe Ruth (Sept. 24, 1925 vs. the White Sox).
  • Teixeira and A-Rod are the only players in franchise history to hit a two-out, come-from-behind walk-off grand slam.
tex champ belt
(Getty)

Forgotten amid the wild and crazy ending is the fact that this was a classic pitchers duel for much of the night. Bryan Mitchell and Clay Buchholz matched zeroes on the scoreboard, as Mitchell threw seven scoreless innings and allowed two hits while Buchholz gave up one hit over six shutout innings.

It was just the third time since at least 1913 where both starters in a Yankee game went six or more innings, didn’t allow a run and surrendered two or fewer hits. The other two instances were on June 18, 2003 against the Rays (Roger Clemens and Victor Zambrano), and Sept. 20, 1958 against the Orioles (Don Larsen and Hoyt Wilhelm).

Good news, bad news
It was a bittersweet win for the Yankees on Thursday, as they completed the sweep over the Red Sox, but saw their playoff dreams extinguished too thanks to the Orioles beating the Blue Jays earlier in the night. Baltimore’s victory also guaranteed that the Yankees will end the season in fourth place in the AL East, their lowest divisional finish since 1992.

David Ortiz said goodbye to the Yankees after going 0-for-1 with a walk in his two plate appearances in the series finale. His 53 home runs against the Yankees are tied with Hank Greenberg for the fourth-most all-time, and his 31 homers at Yankee Stadium are tied with Mickey Vernon for the second-most ever by a visiting player at the ballpark.

Although he’s tormented them over the past decade-plus, Ortiz went hitless in his final 14 at-bats against the Yankees, matching his longest stretch without a hit in this rivalry (also from Sept. 25, 2009 to April 7, 2010).

Making his 30th and final start of the season, CC Sabathia turned in a stellar performance, holding the Red Sox lineup to one run on four hits in seven-plus dominant innings. He earned his 223rd career win, passing former Mets southpaw Jerry Koosman for sole possession of 17th place among left-handed pitchers on MLB’s all-time wins leaderboard. Looking ahead to 2017, next up on the list of lefties is Whitey Ford, who won 236 games in his 16-season career.

9/27 to 9/29 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(Matt Hazlett/Getty)
(Matt Hazlett/Getty)

I think we’ve all been waiting about 14 seasons for this: David Ortiz’s final series against the Yankees. The Yankees are planning a ceremony to honor Ortiz prior to Thursday’s game, and I can’t imagine anyone is seriously upset by that. If you are, maybe take a step back and take a deep breath or something. Anyway, the Red Sox are in the Bronx for a three-game set. The Yankees are 5-11 against the BoSox this season, though most of the damage has come in Fenway Park. The two clubs have split the six previous games in Yankee Stadium this year.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Red Sox are molten hot right now. They come into this series riding an eleven-game win streak, the first four of which were those four awful games in Fenway last week. The Yankees did hold the lead in three of those four games though, so … yay? Anyway, Boston swept the Orioles and Rays last week to open up a comfortable six-game lead in the AL East. They’re 92-64 with a +192 run differential overall, and their magic number to clinch the division is one. New York’s tragic number is two. Pretty good chance the Red Sox will clinch the division and the Yankees will be eliminated this series.

Offense & Defense

No team has had a more dominant offense the last few years than the 2016 Red Sox. They’re averaging 5.51 runs per game, the most by any team since the 2009 Yankees scored 5.65 runs per game. Boston needs to score 39 runs in their final six games to become the first team to score 900+ runs since those 2009 Yankees scored 915, so it’s within reach, but not a lock to happen. They have a team 114 wRC+ and are without 3B Pablo Sandoval (shoulder), C/OF Blake Swihart (ankle), and IF Josh Rutledge (knee), all of whom had season-ending surgery.

Betts. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Betts. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

The top of manager John Farrell’s lineup is set: 2B Dustin Pedroia (121 wRC+), SS Xander Bogaerts (111 wRC+), DH David Ortiz (167 wRC+), RF Mookie Betts (137 wRC+), and 1B Hanley Ramirez (127 wRC+) bat 1-5 every game. That’s one of the best lineup top fives we’ve seen in quite some time. Lately 3B Travis Shaw (89 wRC+) has been hitting sixth and it seems like the Red Sox want him to take hold of the third base job heading into the postseason, but he hasn’t obliged. He owns a 61 wRC+ in September.

OF Andrew Benintendi (134 wRC+) and OF Chris Young (125 wRC+) are platooning in left field while CF Jackie Bradley (121 wRC+) and C Sandy Leon (128 wRC+) play everyday. Leon has cooled down big time these last few weeks, which was entirely expected. IF Aaron Hill (88 wRC+) and UTIL Brock Holt (90 wRC+) are the frequently used bench players. C Ryan Hanigan, C Christian Vazquez, C Bryan Holaday, IF Deven Marrero, IF Marco Hernandez, and IF Yoan Moncada are the extra players.

The Red Sox are a good defensive team, especially up the middle with Leon, Pedroia, Bogaerts, and Bradley. Betts is very good in right as well, and both Benintendi and Young get the job done in left. The corner infield spots can be a problem. Shaw is a first baseman playing third and Hanley is a DH playing first. Generally speaking though, the Red Sox are a sound club in the field.

Pitching Probables

Tuesday (7:05pm ET): RHP Luis Cessa (vs. BOS) vs. LHP David Price (vs. NYY)
Oh wow, look at that, the Yankees are going to face David Price. Weird. You never see that. Price, 31, as a 3.91 ERA (3.38 FIP) in 218.2 and 32 starts in his first season with the Red Sox. Great strikeout (24.6%) and walk (5.1%) numbers, as usual, and middling home run (1.07 HR/9) and grounder (44.1%) rates, also as usual He makes up for that with a lot of weak pop-ups and fly balls. Price’s platoon split is small and his fastball still lives in the mid-90s. His cutter checks in at a tick below that and it’s an extremely effective pitch he likes to backdoor to righties. A mid-80s changeup in his primary offspeed pitch, and he’ll also throw a few low-80s curves per start as well. Four times the Yankees have faced Price this season. Four. He has a 7.71 ERA in those four starts and the Yankees are hitting .350/.387/.540 against him, so they have that going for them.

Wednesday (7:05pm ET): RHP Bryan Mitchell (vs. BOS) vs. RHP Clay Buchholz (vs. NYY)
The overall numbers are ugly — Buchholz has a 5.00 ERA (5.18 FIP) in 133.1 innings in 2016 — but they don’t tell the whole story because he’s been bouncing back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. The 32-year-old has a 5.29 ERA (5.48 FIP) in 110.2 innings as a starter this year, though that includes a 3.97 ERA (4.72 FIP) in September. So, long story short, Buchholz has been a bit more effective recently than he has been for much of the season. His peripherals are mediocre at best (15.3 K%, 9.3 BB%, 40.7 GB%, 1.42 HR/9) and lefties have had much more success against him than righties. These days Buchholz sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his four-seamer and a tick below that with his cutter. A low-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball are his two non-fastballs. He’s faced the Yankees twice this year, once out of the bullpen (two-thirds of an inning) and once as a starter (two runs in six innings).

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Thursday (7:05pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. BOS) vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz (vs. NYY)
For a guy who started the season in the NL West, the Yankees sure have seen a lot of Pomeranz this year. The 27-year-old southpaw has a 3.35 ERA (3.82 FIP) in 30 starts and 169.2 innings overall, though he had much more success with the Padres (2.47 ERA and 3.14 FIP) than he has with the Red Sox (4.68 ERA and 4.86 FIP). His overall strikeout (26.4%) and ground ball (46.4%) rates are good, though his walk (9.3%) and homer (1.17 HR/9) numbers are not good. He has a 1.87 HR/9 with Boston. Yikes. Pomeranz has a negligible platoon split thanks mostly to his big upper-70s curveball and mid-80s cutter. He throws the curve about as often as he throws his low-90s four-seam fastball, so he uses it a lot. For whatever reason he’s more or less abandoned his changeup since the trade to Boston. The Yankees have faced Pomeranz three times and have had more more success each time: one run in seven inning in July (with the Padres), one run in 5.2 innings in August (with the Red Sox), and four runs in 3.2 innings (with the Red Sox).

Bullpen Status

The bullpen was a big weakness for the Red Sox for much of the season, but things are starting to fall into place now, right before the postseason. They still lack a shutdown lefty. That’s about the only glaring need. Anyway, here is the bullpen Farrell is working with these days.

Closer: RHP Craig Kimbrel (2.65 ERA/2.59 FIP)
Setup: RHP Koji Uehara (3.60/3.43), RHP Brad Ziegler (2.24/3.00)
Middle: LHP Fernando Abad (3.66/3.97), RHP Matt Barnes (4.13/3.67), LHP Robbie Ross Jr. (3.21/3.14), RHP Junichi Tazawa (4.25/4.29)
Extra: RHP Joe Kelly, RHP Heath Hembree, LHP Henry Owens, RHP Noe Ramirez, LHP Robby Scott

With the Red Sox set to clinch the AL East title very soon, don’t be surprised if the take it easy on Kimbrel and Uehara this week and give high-leverage work to some of the kids. Their focus will shift from trying to win games to preparing for the postseason very soon.

The Red Sox had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is as fresh as it’s going to get this late in the season. Head on over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen, of which only about five guys are used regularly.

Yankeemetrics: Nightmare at Fenway Park [Sept. 15-18]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Speechless
Just when you started to believe in this plucky, underdog team with a nothing-to-lose mentality and pinstripes on its uniforms … Thursday night happened.

The Yankees suffered their most devastating loss of the season, blowing a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning — they were two strikes away from a win — and losing in truly heartbreaking fashion when Dellin Betances served up a walk-off home run to Hanley Ramirez.

In the long history of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, this was just the third time that a Yankee pitcher coughed up a game-ending home run with the lead and one out to go.

The most recent game came on June 30, 1953 when Sammie White hit a two-run shot off Allie Reynolds in the bottom of the ninth to give Boston a 5-4 win; the first instance was August 7, 1935 when Joe Cronin took Johnny Broaca deep to turn a 5-3 Yankee advantage into a 6-5 loss.

The deflating defeat becomes even more depressing and soul-wrenching given that the Yankees also wasted an absolute gem by Masahiro Tanaka.

The right-hander added another chapter to his Cy Young resume with a stellar one-run, seven-inning performance against the league’s most potent lineup. It was his ninth start of at least seven innings and no more than one earned run allowed, a number that led all American League pitchers through Thursday’s slate.

The brilliant outing lowered his ERA to 2.97, pushing Tanaka past Chris Sale to the top of the AL leaderboard. If he can keep up this pace, he’d be the first Yankee to lead the league in ERA since Rudy May in 1980. And no Yankee has qualified for the ERA title with a sub-3.00 ERA since David Cone (2.82) and Andy Pettitte (2.88) in 1997.

He dominated the Red Sox batters not with his typical nasty, swing-and-miss stuff, but rather with an aggressive, pitch-to-contact approach. He located his off-speed pitches at the knees and pounded the edges of the strike zone with his fastball, generating a personal-best 15 ground ball outs while failing to record a strikeout for the first time in his MLB career.

Tanaka’s streak of 73 straight games with at least one punchout to begin his major-league career was the second-longest by any Yankee, behind only Dave Righetti (88 games). He’s also the first Yankee to go at least seven innings without striking out a batter in a game since Andy Pettitte on April 21, 2009 vs. the A’s and the first to do it against the Red Sox since Tommy John on June 25, 1980.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Different story, same result
The Yankees took another beating from the Red Sox on Friday night, losing again but this time with much less drama and in more conventional fashion: The Yankees fell behind early, their inexperienced middle relief arms put them in a deeper hole, and the bats wasted numerous scoring opportunities in an attempt to come back from a too-big deficit.

Following their pathetic 1-for-11 performance with runners in scoring position on Friday night, their season batting average in that situation fell to .231, which is by far the lowest among all AL teams this season and would be the worst by any Yankee team since 1969 (.224).

The offense was shut down by Boston’s Clay Buchholz, a pitcher that the Yankees had routinely pounded in the past. He entered Friday’s start with a 6.19 ERA in 18 career games (17 starts) versus the Yankees, the third-highest among all active pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched against them.

Snatching defeat from the arms of victory, again
The Yankees sudden and swift free fall in the playoff race continued on Saturday afternoon, enduring yet another excruciating loss while sinking further and further in the standings.

(AP Sports)
(AP Sports)

Gary Sanchez gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead when he clobbered a 95-mph fastball over the Green Monster. It went an estimated 407 feet, the 12th time he’s hit a ball at least 400 feet. From his call-up on August 3 and through Saturday, only one player (Brian Dozier) hit more 400-foot batted balls than Sanchez.

Milestone alert: Brett Gardner’s RBI triple in the third inning was his 50th career three-bagger. He is the only Yankee to pile up at least 50 triples, 50 homers and 200 stolen bases within his first nine major-league seasons.

Just seven other AL outfielders in baseball history have achieved the feat: Carl Crawford, Ichiro, Johnny Damon, Kenny Lofton, Brady Anderson, Lloyd Moseby and Ben Chapman.

That was fun while it lasted …
Hello coffin, meet nail.

Yes, the Yankees are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot, but their improbable quest for a postseason berth is now on life support and it will take a near-miracle to earn a ticket to the October party. Nearly all the momentum and ground they’d gained during their magical seven-game win streak has been nullified in the blink of an eye, as they’ve gone from postseason contenders to pretenders in less than a week.

The latest horrible loss capped off an absolutely crushing sweep in Boston, the first time the Yankees have been swept in a four-game series by the Red Sox since June 4-7, 1990. [The Stump Merrill era began during that series when he replaced Bucky Dent as manager after the second of the four losses.]

It wouldn’t be a hyperbole to suggest that Fenway Park has become the latest “house of horrors” for the Yankees, who finished with a record of 2-8 at the ballpark, the most losses by a Yankee team there since they went 1-8 in 1973.

And finally … Let’s end on a positive note: Gary Sanchez’s assault on American League pitching continued with his 16th homer of the year (in 159 at-bats), a blast to left field that put the Yankees up 2-0 in the third inning. Sanchez’s incredible rate of 9.94 at-bats per homer would be the best by any Yankee in a single season since Roger Maris (9.67) and Mickey Mantle (9.52) waged their epic home run battle in 1961.

While Sanchez is best known for his tape-measure bombs, he’s also the rare young slugger who hits for average. After going 3-for-5 on Sunday night, he’s now hitting .327 this year, and is on pace to join Joe DiMaggio (1936) as the only Yankees to have a rookie season with at least 15 homers and a .300-plus batting average.

9/15 to 9/18 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

And now, the final road trip of the season. It’s a big one too. Eleven games spanning 12 days and three cities. The trip starts tonight with the first of four in Boston. If you’re still hoping the Yankees will go on a run and win the AL East, this series is pretty much a must sweep. Thing aren’t quite that desperate in the wildcard race, but it’s close. The Yankees are 5-7 against the BoSox this season, including 2-4 at Fenway Park.

What Have They Done Lately?

Last night the Red Sox lost only the fourth 1-0 game in Fenway Park since the start of the 2013 season. Mark Trumbo’s homer and Kevin Gausman’s brilliance did them in. Nice to see Gausman pitch well against a team other than the Yankees for once. Anyway, the BoSox have dropped their last two games but did win five of six prior to that. They’re 81-64 with a +169 run differential overall. That’s the third best record and first best run differential in the AL. Boston is in first place in the AL East; they’re one game up on the O’s, two up on the Blue Jays, and four up on the Yankees. And 19 up on the Rays, but no one cares about them anymore.

Offense & Defense

The Red Sox have the best offense in baseball and the best offense by any team since the 2009 Yankees. These Red Sox are averaging 5.55 runs per game. The 2009 Yankees averaged 5.65 runs per game. Boston has a team 114 wRC+ and their only injured position players are 3B Pablo Sandoval (shoulder), IF Josh Rutledge (knee), and C/OF Blake Swihart (ankle). They all had season-ending surgeries.

Pedroia. (Maddie Meyer/Getty)
Pedroia. (Maddie Meyer/Getty)

Manager John Farrell has changed up his lineup fairly recently. Nowadays 2B Dustin Pedroia (127 wRC+) leads off with SS Xander Bogaerts (111 wRC+) second, DH David Ortiz (161 wRC+) third, RF Mookie Betts (132 wRC+) fourth, and 1B Hanley Ramirez (121 wRC+) fifth. Farrell moved Betts down to better take advantage of his power. Pedroia is hitting .435/.461/.519 (164 wRC+) since moving to the leadoff spot last month, which is ridiculous. The top of that lineup is not fun at all.

Right now IF Aaron Hill (88 wRC+) and 1B/3B Travis Shaw (98 wRC+) are platooning at third while ex-Yankee OF Chris Young (139 wRC+) and C Sandy Leon (150 wRC+) are the everyday left fielder and catcher, respectively. Leon’s having an insane out-of-nowhere season, though he has cooled off of late, especially in the power department. CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (120 wRC+) is back hitting eighth and ninth. Farrell likes Bradley hitting lower in the order because he acts as a second leadoff man.

UTIL Brock Holt (91 wRC+) and C Ryan Hanigan (18 wRC+) are the regular bench players, and it’s worth noting OF Andrew Benintendi (123 wRC+) recently came off the DL following a knee injury. He’s available but it sounds like the Red Sox don’t want to use him unless it’s an emergency, so he must not be 100% physically. C Bryan Holaday, C Christian Vazquez, IF Marco Hernandez, IF Deven Marrero, and IF Yoan Moncada are the September additions. Moncada has a 60.0% strikeout rate so far. See? The Yankees knew what they were doing all along.

The Red Sox are a good defensive team, particularly up the middle. Pedroia, Bradley, and Betts are all excellent in the field while Young and Bogaerts are good as well. Shaw and Hanley are liabilities on the corners though. We’ve seen it a few times firsthand this season. Leon and Hanigan are both strong defensive catchers. Leon’s thrown out 43% of attempted basestealers in his career, so don’t run on him.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (7:10pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. BOS) vs. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (vs. NYY)
Rodriguez, 23, has given the Yankees a lot of fits the last two years. He has an unsightly 4.70 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 16 starts and 88 innings this year, though it’s worth noting he’s been much better of late, pitching to a 2.63 ERA (3.48 FIP) in seven starts since the beginning of August. The peripherals across the board are not that great (19.0 K%, 8.6 BB%, 33.3 GB%, 1.53 HR/9), and his platoon split is small. Rodriguez sits in the mid-90s with his four-seamer and sinker, and his go-to secondary pitch is a quality upper-80s changeup. He’s thrown his mid-80s slider a little more often of late, though it’s still his worst pitch. The Yankees have faced the young southpaw twice this season, and he held them to one run in seven innings both times. Annoying!

Friday (7:10pm ET): RHP Luis Cessa (vs. BOS) vs. RHP Clay Buchholz (vs. NYY)
Man, what an awful season for Buchholz. He started the year in the rotation, got demoted to the bullpen, moved back to the rotation, got demoted again, and now he’s back in the rotation thanks to Steven Wright’s shoulder injury. The 32-year-old Buchholz has a 5.31 ERA (5.38 FIP) in 120.1 innings covering 18 starts and 16 relief appearances, and his numbers as a starter are ghastly: 5.71 ERA (5.76 FIP) with 16.0% strikeouts, 9.4% walks, 42.5% grounders, and 1.84 HR/9. Yikes. Lefties have hit him a lot harder than righties too. These days Buchholz sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his four-seamer and a tick below that with his cutter. A low-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball are his two non-fastballs. Amazingly, the Yankees have only seen Buchholz once this season. He came out of the bullpen last month, faced one batter, and got two outs. (Starlin Castro grounded into a double play.)

Price. (Maddie Meyer/Getty)
Price. (Maddie Meyer/Getty)

Saturday (1:05pm ET): RHP Bryan Mitchell (vs. BOS) vs. LHP David Price (vs. NYY)
The Yankees didn’t see Price when these two teams played last month, and I’m pretty sure that’s the first time Price did not start during a series against the Yankees in about six years. I haven’t bothered to look it up, but that sounds like it could be true. He never seems to miss them. Price, 31, has had an overall disappointing first season with the Red Sox (3.81 ERA and 3.36 FIP in 205.2 innings), though he has a 2.99 ERA (3.32 FIP) in the second half, and that’s the David Price we’re used to seeing. As usual, his strikeout (24.8%) and walk (5.2%) rates are excellent while his grounder (44.7%) and homer (1.05 HR/9) rates are worse than the league average. He’s always been a soft contact/pop-up guy. Price’s platoon split is small and his fastballs are still humming in the mid-90s. His cutter is a notch below that and it’s a nasty pitch he likes to backdoor to righties. A mid-80s changeup in his primary offspeed pitch, and he’ll also throw a few low-80s curves per start as well. The Yankees have seen Price three times this year: six runs in seven innings in May, six runs in 4.2 innings later in May, and three runs in 5.2 innings in July.

Sunday (8:00pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. BOS) vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz (vs. NYY)
In the grand scheme of things, the 27-year-old Pomeranz has had a breakout season in 2016, posting a 3.25 ERA (3.75 FIP) in 28 starts and 160.2 innings. He was a deserving All-Star too. Now, that said, his season can be broken down in 17 ace-caliber starts with the Padres (2.47 ERA and 3.14 FIP in 102 innings) and eleven meh starts with the Red Sox (4.60 ERA and 4.81 FIP in 58.2 innings). Not exactly what the BoSox were hoping for so far. Pomeranz has a great strikeout rate (26.8%) and a good ground ball rate (46.3%), though he walks too many (9.6%) and doesn’t limit dingers (1.12 HR/9). His homer rate with the Red Sox is 1.84 HR/9. Egads. Pomeranz has a negligible platoon split thanks mostly to his big upper-70s curveball and new-ish mid-80s cutter. He throws the curve about as often as he throws his low-90s four-seam fastball, so he uses it a lot. For whatever reason he’s more or less abandoned his changeup after the trade to Boston. The Yankees have seen Pomeranz twice this year. He held them to one run in seven innings while with the Padres back in July, then he held them to one run in 5.1 innings with the Red Sox last month.

Bullpen Status

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Kimbrel. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Boston’s rotation has turned things around a bit in the second half, though their bullpen remains a real weakness, especially in the middle innings. It’s no surprise then that they’re carrying 12 relievers thanks to expanded rosters. Might as well load up that bullpen, right? Here is Farrell’s bullpen:

Closer: RHP Craig Kimbrel (2.78 ERA/2.65 FIP)
Setup: RHP Koji Uehara (4.05/3.69), RHP Brad Ziegler (2.37/3.11), LHP Robbie Ross Jr. (3.33/3.16)
Middle: RHP Matt Barnes (4.19/3.68), LHP Fernando Abad (3.30/3.57), RHP Junichi Tazawa (4.44/4.51)
Extra: RHP Heath Hembree, RHP Joe Kelly, LHP Henry Owens, RHP Noe Ramirez, LHP Robbie Scott

Uehara missed close to two months with a pectoral injury and returned just last week. The Red Sox eased him back into things with low-leverage innings at first, but he’s back to being the primary eighth inning guy now. Ziegler isn’t necessarily the seventh inning guy. He’s more like the backup setup man. He pitches the eighth the days Uehara isn’t available.

Uehara was the only reliever used yesterday and he threw just 14 pitches. Farrell doesn’t like to use the 41-year-old on back-to-back days though, so Ziegler figures to be the eighth inning guy tonight. Hopefully the Red Sox don’t need him. Head on over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s relief crew.

Saturday Links: Gurriel, Beltran, A-Rod, Forbes, Watson

Lourdes Jr. (Getty)
Lourdes Jr. (Getty)

The Yankees and Angels continue their weekend series later today, but not until 9:35pm ET. Blah. I hate Saturday night games, especially when they’re on the West Coast. Oh well. What can you do? Here are some links to help you pass the time.

MLB declares Gurriel a free agent

MLB has declared Lourdes Gurriel Jr. a free agent, reports Eric Longenhagen. He is the younger brother of Yulieski Gurriel, who signed a five-year contract worth $47.5M with the Astros a few weeks ago. Lourdes is a free agent but he’s not going to sign right away. Once he turns 23 in October, he will no longer be eligible for the international spending restrictions. He’s going to wait until then to sign to max out his earning potential.

Longenhagen and Ben Badler (subs. req’d) say reports on Lourdes are mixed. He’s a good athlete capable of playing an up-the-middle position, and while he has speed and power, his swing can get long. Gurriel has a lot of upside, but is also a bit of a project for a kid who will soon turn 23. He’s probably not someone who will zoom through the minors and be in the big leagues within a year. That’s fine. Talent is talent, and Lourdes has a lot of it.

Red Sox tried hard to land Beltran

According to Nick Cafardo, the Red Sox “tried very hard” to acquire Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline, though the Rangers swooped in with a better offer. I assume Boston would have played Beltran in left field, where they’ve had a revolving door pretty much all season. Or maybe Beltran plays right and Mookie Betts moves to left. I dunno. Who cares. Whatever.

The real question is whether the Yankees (and Red Sox, for that matter) would have actually gone through with the trade if the Red Sox had indeed made the best offer. Potentially losing a trade to your biggest rival is enough to make anyone squeamish. My guess is Brian Cashman and David Dombrowski would have been willing to go through with a trade, but the two ownership groups would not have signed off. This is much different than a Stephen Drew-for-Kelly Johnson swap.

Hal not ruling out a spot for A-Rod in Monument Park

During a radio interview last week, Hal Steinbrenner did not rule out the possibility of Alex Rodriguez one day winding up in Monument Park. He didn’t exactly endorse it, but he didn’t shoot it down entirely either. Here’s what Hal said, via Brendan Kuty:

“It’s a bridge to cross when we come to it, but he has done a lot for this organization, on and off the field,” Steinbrenner said. “And I’m talking about players way back, even (Mariners second baseman Robinson) Cano, who he was a mentor to. He’s done a lot for this organization on the field though the years, but also off the field that people don’t know about. He’s been a great mentor.”

A-Rod is, unquestionably, one of the greatest players in Yankees history, especially recent history. He’s among the all-time franchise leaders in a ton of categories, including homers (6th), OPS (7th), WAR (8th), OPS+ (10th), runs (10th), and total bases (10th). Alex also won two MVPs in pinstripes and was a major factor in the team’s most recent World Series title. If that’s not Monument Park plaque worthy, I don’t know what is.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Yankees among most valuable sports franchises

A few weeks back Forbes posted their annual look at the most valuable sports franchises in the world. The Yankees placed fourth, with an estimated value of $3.4 billion. That’s up 6% from last year. The Yankees are behind only the Dallas Cowboys ($4 billion), Real Madrid ($3.65 billion), and Barcelona ($3.55 billion). The Dodgers are the second most valuable MLB franchise at $2.5 billion, so the gap between the Yankees and everyone else is significant.

Attendance dropped from 41,995 fans per game in 2014 to 39,430 last year, and again to 38,967 so far this year. That’s roughly 3,000 fewer fans per game since two seasons ago. The attendance decline was at least somewhat expected after Derek Jeter retired, though obviously the team’s less than inspiring play for much of this season has played a role too. That said, the Yankees are still raking in money through other avenues (YES, Legends Hospitality, etc.), and there’s no real end in sight. The team prints money.

Watson battling kidney failure

Going to close with some sad news: Bob Watson, former GM of the Yankees, is currently battling kidney failure, he told Chuck Modiano. He is on nocturnal dialysis and doctors told him he only has a few years to live. “I really wanted to be (at the 1996 World Series reunion last weekend), but my health won’t allow it. I am battling Stage 4 kidney failure. Not too many people know about it,” said Watson, who beat prostate cancer in the mid-1990s.

Watson, 70, had an incredibly productive playing career — he hit .295/.364/.447 from 1966-84, mostly with the Astros, but also with the Braves, Yankees, and Red Sox — and he became the first African American GM in baseball history to win a World Series in 1996. Watson served as Yankees GM from October 1995 to February 1998, when he stepped down and took a position in the commissioner’s office. He bridged the Gene Michael and Brian Cashman eras. I’m sad to hear he isn’t doing well. Keep fighting, Bob.