Saturday Links: Coaching Staff, Qualifying Offer, Super Two

No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Rob Carr/Getty)
No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Rob Carr/Getty)

It has now been two days since the Yankees parted ways with Joe Girardi, and we’ve yet to hear anything concrete about potential replacements. Just speculation. I suspect we’ll hear some news next week, once Brian Cashman holds his annual end-of-season press conference following the World Series. Here are some bits of news and notes to check out in the meantime.

Espada a candidate for Astros, Red Sox

According to Sweeny Murti, the Astros and Red Sox are considering Yankees third base coach Joe Espada for their bench coach openings. The Tigers also considered Espada for their managerial opening before hiring Ron Gardenhire. The ‘Stros lost bench coach Alex Cora to the Red Sox, who was named their manager. Current Red Sox bench coach Gary DiSarcina is a John Farrell holdover, and he could be shown the door as Cora builds his staff.

Espada, 42, has been New York’s third base coach for three years now, and prior to that he spent some time in the front office as a special assistant to Cashman. As I said yesterday, Espada checks pretty much all the boxes associated with a modern manager. He’s young, he knows analytics, he’s upbeat, and he has a rapport with the front office (with the Yankees, at least). I’m not surprised two smart teams have interest in him for a coaching position.

Next manager will have say on coaching staff

Not surprisingly, the next Yankees manager will have a say on the coaching staff, according to Jack Curry. That’s usually how it goes. When Girardi was hired during the 2007-08 offseason, the only holdover coaches were hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Tony Pena. All the other coaching positions changed and it seems possible, if not likely, that will happen again.

Like Girardi, every member of the coaching staff has an expiring contract this year, so they’re all free to look for opportunities elsewhere while the Yankees sort things out. In fact, Ken Rosenthal says the Yankees have already given teams permission to interview any of the coaches before their contracts officially expire (after the World Series). My hunch is Pena and bench coach Rob Thomson will stick around in some capacity — Thomson is a Yankees lifer and particularly good with the young players — though it wouldn’t surprise me to see all the other coaches head elsewhere, even assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames, who it appeared was being groomed for the main hitting coach job the last few seasons.

Naehring not interested in manager’s job

Yankees vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring is not interested in the now vacant manager’s job, he told Andrew Marchand. Naehring took over as Cashman’s right-hand man after Billy Eppler left to join the Angels. He has no coaching experience at all — Naehring has been working in various front offices since his playing career ended — so shifting down into the dugout would’ve been an interesting move. Naehring was never named as a real candidate for the managerial opening. It was just speculation given his relationship with Cashman. Now we can scratch him off the list.

Qualifying offer set at $17.4M

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

According to Tim Dierkes, the qualify offer has been set at $17.4M for this coming offseason. That’s lower than I expected. I thought it would be up over $18M. Heck, last year the qualifying offer was $17.2M, so it didn’t go up much. The qualifying offer is set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and I guess salaries didn’t go up much this season. That makes sense. Last winter’s free agent class kinda stunk. Yoenis Cespedes signed the only $100M+ contract, and it was only $110M.

Anyway, as I detailed in July, the Yankees only have one qualifying offer candidate this offseason: Masahiro Tanaka. If he opts out of the final three years and $67M left on contract — which most RAB readers expect to happen — then of course make him the $17.4M qualifying offer and get a draft pick, even if it is only a dinky fourth rounder. Todd Frazier is not eligible for the qualifying offer because he was traded at midseason, and even if the Yankees want to bring CC Sabathia back, they won’t make the qualifying offer because he’d take it and throw a wrench into the luxury tax plan. They’ll likely be able to sign him for less.

Super Two cutoff set at 2.123

The Super Two service time cutoff has been set at two years and 123 days this offseason, reports Dierkes. Players who qualify as Super Two go through arbitration four times instead of the usual three, which is their consolation prize for essentially having to wait an extra year for free agency. The Yankees do not have any players who will qualify as Super Twos this winter. Greg Bird is 70 days short of qualifying and he’s the closest. Bryan Mitchell would’ve qualified as a Super Two by six days had he spent the entire season in MLB, but he didn’t, so that’s that.

Red Sox, Yankees fined for sign stealing saga; fines donated to Hurricane Irma relief

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

This afternoon MLB announced both the Yankees and Red Sox have been fined undisclosed amounts for the recent sign stealing saga. As you know, the Yankees recently filed a complaint with the commissioner’s office that the Red Sox were using Apple Watches to steal signs. The Red Sox filed a counter-complaint alleging the Yankees did something similar with YES Network cameras.

Commissioner Rob Manfred’s statement says the Red Sox were fined for using illegal electronic equipment — stealing signs isn’t against the rules! — while the investigation into the Yankees found “insufficient evidence” for sign stealing. However, the investigation uncovered evidence the Yankees used the bullpen phone improperly in previous seasons, so that’s why they were fined. Huh. The fines are being donated to the Hurricane Irma relief efforts. Here’s the full statement, if you’re interested:

“At the outset, it is important to understand that the attempt to decode signs being used by an opposing catcher is not a violation of any Major League Baseball Rule or Regulation.  Major League Baseball Regulations do, however, prohibit the use of electronic equipment during games and state that no such equipment ‘may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage.’  Despite this clear Regulation, the prevalence of technology, especially the technology used in the replay process, has made it increasingly difficult to monitor appropriate and inappropriate uses of electronic equipment.  Based on the investigation by my office, I have nonetheless concluded that during the 2017 season the Boston Red Sox violated the Regulation quoted above by sending electronic communications from their video replay room to an athletic trainer in the dugout. 

“In assessing the significance of this violation, the investigation established three relevant points.  First, the violation in question occurred without the knowledge of ownership or front office personnel.  Second, when the Red Sox learned of the Yankees’ complaint, they immediately halted the conduct in question and then cooperated completely in my investigation.  I have received absolute assurances from the Red Sox that there will be no future violations of this type.  Third, our investigation revealed that Clubs have employed various strategies to decode signs that do not violate our rules.  The Red Sox’ strategy violated our rules because of the use of an electronic device.

“Taking all of these factors as well as past precedent into account, I have decided to fine the Red Sox an undisclosed amount which in turn will be donated by my office to hurricane relief efforts in Florida.  Moreover, all 30 Clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.

“In the wake of the Yankees’ complaint to the Commissioner’s Office, the Red Sox brought forward allegations that the Yankees had made improper use of the YES Network in an effort to decipher the Red Sox signs.  The Commissioner’s Office also investigated this allegation and the Yankees fully cooperated with the investigation.  During that investigation, we found insufficient evidence to support the allegation that the Yankees had made inappropriate use of the YES Network to gain a competitive advantage.

“In the course of our investigation, however, we learned that during an earlier championship season (prior to 2017) the Yankees had violated a rule governing the use of the dugout phone.  No Club complained about the conduct in question at the time and, without prompting from another Club or my Office, the Yankees halted the conduct in question.  Moreover, the substance of the communications that took place on the dugout phone was not a violation of any Rule or Regulation in and of itself.  Rather, the violation occurred because the dugout phone technically cannot be used for such a communication.

“Based on the foregoing, I have decided to fine the Yankees a lesser undisclosed amount which in turn will be donated by my office to hurricane relief efforts in Florida.”

I figured the Red Sox were going to get a relative slap on the wrist. Moral of the story: don’t snitch.

Red Sox reportedly busted stealing signs from Yankees with video personnel

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to Michael Schmidt, the Red Sox were caught using video personnel and Apple Watches to steal signs from the Yankees (and other teams) over the last few weeks. Brian Cashman filed a detailed complaint with MLB and league investigators corroborated the Yankees’ claims. The sign stealing reportedly took place at Fenway Park a few weeks back.

Here are some more details on the story, from Schmidt:

The Yankees, who had long been suspicious of the Red Sox stealing catchers’ signs in Fenway Park, contended the video showed a member of the Red Sox training staff looking at his Apple Watch in the dugout and then relaying a message to players, who may have then been able to use the information to know the type of pitch that was going to be thrown when they were hitting, according to the people familiar with the case.

Baseball investigators corroborated the Yankees’ claims based on video the commissioner’s office uses for instant replay and broadcasts, the people said. The commissioner’s office then confronted the Red Sox, who admitted that their trainers had received signals from video replay personnel and then relayed that information to some players — an operation that had been in place for at least several weeks.

Schmidt said the Red Sox filed a counter-complaint with the league claiming the Yankees use YES Network cameras to steal signs. Boston has not been disciplined yet and it’s unclear how the league will proceed with the counter-complaint, though I’m sure it’ll be investigated.

Last season MLB allowed teams to begin using iPads loaded with scouting and Statcast data in the dugout, though only if the devices and the apps and everything are approved. Other technology, like the Apple Watch the Red Sox used to steal signs, are forbidden. I wouldn’t expect MLB to force the Red Sox to forfeit wins or anything like that, but they could be hit with a hefty fine and maybe lose a draft pick as a result of all this. We’ll see.

As far as I’m concerned, stealing signs is cool as long as it happens between the lines. If there’s a runner on second base and the catcher doesn’t hide his signs well enough, too bad. If the third base coach gets lazy and doesn’t change his signs, and someone in the dugout picks up on it, that’s his problem. When sign-stealing goes high tech and non-uniformed personnel get involved, that’s beyond gamesmanship, and the Red Sox were caught red-handed.

Yankeemetrics: Stayin’ Alive (Aug. 31-Sept. 3)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Old Man Ace + Baby Bombers = Win
The Yankees kicked off the Most Important Series of the Season® with a 6-2 romp over the Red Sox on Thursday night.

While other pitchers on the team have better pure stuff than CC Sabathia, there isn’t a guy the Yankees would rather have on the mound trying to halt a three-game slide while facing their hated division rival:

  • Sabathia is now 8-0 with a 1.44 ERA in 10 starts following a Yankee loss this season. That’s the best ERA among all MLB pitchers with at least six such starts through Thursday.
  • He went 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox this season. That’s tied for the fifth-lowest single-season ERA by a Yankee against the Red Sox, among the nearly 200 guys that have made at least four starts vs them.
  • Only four other starters in franchise history won at least four games in a season versus Boston with an ERA as low as Sabathia’s: Spud Chandler (1943), Lefty Gomez (1934), Bob Shawkey (1923).
  • Sabathia has won five straight starts against the Red Sox dating back to September last year. Over the past 50 years, Mike Mussina (2001-02) and Sabathia are the lone Yankee pitchers to beat the Red Sox five starts in a row.

Gary Sanchez capped off another stellar August by going 2-for-5, hammering a game-tying solo homer in the third and then delivering a game-winning RBI single in the fifth. He finished with 12 homers in the month, producing a slew of cool statistical nuggets:

  • Sanchez is the fifth player under age 25 in franchise history to hit a dozen homers in any calendar month, joining Don Mattingly (Sept. 1985), Mickey Mantle (three times), Joe DiMaggio (twice), and Lou Gehrig (June 1927).
  • The only Yankee right-handed batters in the last six decades with 12-or-more dingers in a month are Sanchez and Alex Rodriguez (August 2005, April 2007).
  • Sanchez and Yogi Berra (1952) are the only catchers in franchise history with a dozen homers in a calendar month.
  • He is one of six Yankees to reach 12 homers in August. You might have heard of the other guys: A-Rod (2005), Mantle (1955, ’56), DiMaggio (1939) and Babe Ruth (1929).

Combined with his awesome August last year, Sanchez now has a 1.133 OPS in 52 career games in the month. Here’s a list of MLB players with the highest career August OPS (min. 100 plate appearances) over the last 100 seasons:

Name OPS
Babe Ruth 1.134
Gary Sanchez 1.133
Lou Gehrig 1.111

Slipping away
One up, one down …. the Yankees rollercoaster season kept chugging along on Friday night as they followed up an encouraging win with another lackluster loss.

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Red Sox got only five hits off Sonny Gray, but three of the them went over the fence and resulted in all four of the runs Boston scored in the game. That snapped Gray’s streak of 11 straight starts with no more than two earned runs allowed, the longest in the majors this season.

That the streak ended because he got burned by the longball was stunning: Gray entered the game with the majors’ lowest home run rate allowed (0.71 per 9 IP) among pitchers with at least 120 innings. Also prior to Friday, the Red Sox had hit the fewest homers in the AL and ranked 29th in MLB in percentage of runs scored via home runs (34.7%).

Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi continued his assault on Yankee pitching with a solo homer. It was his fifth dinger at Yankee Stadium in 2017, joining Jim Rice (1983) as the only Red Sox players to hit five homers there in a single season. More impressive, the 23-year-old became the youngest visiting player ever to go deep five times in a season at either version of the storied ballpark.

(AP)
(AP)

Ace ‘Hiro
In full desperation mode and facing perhaps their most critical game of the season so far on Saturday, the Fighting Spirit kicked in and the Yankees pulled off their latest and greatest Biggest Win of the Season®.

Masahiro Tanaka‘s transformation from dud to stud over the last two-plus months has been remarkable. His seven-inning, five-hit, one-run gem against the Red Sox gave him a 2.77 ERA over his last 12 starts, a massive turnaround from the 6.34 ERA he posted through his first 14 starts of the season.

He dominated the Red Sox by pounding the bottom of the zone with a well-located mix of sharp sliders and splitters, generating a ton of weak contact and grounders. Per Fangraphs, half of the 22 balls in play against Tanaka were classified as “soft contact,” the highest rate in any of Tanaka’s 101 career starts. And Statcast tracked those batted balls with an average exit velocity of 78.8 mph, the lowest that Tanaka has allowed in the 81 starts he’s made in the Statcast era (since 2015). As you can see in the spray chart below, nearly everything the Red Sox hit was either in the infield or a weak fly ball:
masahiro-tanaka-9

Matt Holliday‘s overall numbers are well below his career standards, but he still has been a difference-maker in the lineup because of his ability to consistently deliver big, clutch hits. His tie-breaking, three-run homer in the sixth inning increased his slugging percentage with RISP to .671 this season, the fourth-best mark in the AL (min. 90 PA).

(AP)
(AP)

Victory with an exclamation point
The Yankees kept alive their dreams of an AL East title with an emphatic 9-2 win on Sunday night, cutting Boston’s division lead to 3 1/2 games with one month left in the season.

Chase Headley sparked the offensive explosion with a line-drive homer in the third inning. The wallscraper came on an 0-2 pitch from Chris Sale, making it one of the unlikeliest homers of the season. It was the 129th career homer allowed by Sale but just the fifth one that came on an 0-2 pitch. And it was just the third time in Headley’s career that he homered off an 0-2 pitch from a lefty, and the first since 2013.

The Yankees continued to pummel Sale in the next frame when Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier homered in consecutive at-bats to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. It was the first time ever that Sale has allowed back-to-back homers in a game. Each of the three longballs that Sale coughed up came in a two-strike count — a remarkable feat by the Yankees considering that entering Sunday, Sale had allowed a slugging percentage of .167, the second-lowest mark in the majors (min. 200 batters faced).

Aaron Judge joined the homer party when he crushed a 469-foot bomb to left-center in the sixth inning. It was his 38th home run of the season, matching Wally Berger (1930) and Frank Robinson (1956) for the second-most ever hit by a rookie in major-league history; the only player with more is Mark McGwire with 49 in 1987.

Luis Severino bolstered his own Cy Young case with another dominant gem, holding the Red Sox to one unearned run on two hits while striking out nine. It was his 14th start surrendering no more than one run, the most such games by any pitcher in MLB this year.

Sevy also reach a significant milestone when he whiffed Sandy Leon for the final out of the fifth inning. It was his 200th strikeout of 2017, as he joined Al Downing (1964) as the only pitchers in franchise history to strike out at least 200 batters in a season at age 23 or younger.

8/31 to 9/3 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The Yankees opened this week a mere 2.5 games back of the Red Sox; with a bit of luck, they could have entered these next four days with a chance to regain control of the AL East. They dropped all three games to the Indians instead, while the Red Sox swept the Blue Jays. So it goes.

The Last Time They Met

Boston took two of three from the Yankees two weekends ago, opening up a five-game lead in the process. Some notes:

  • This was the series that led to Aroldis Chapman losing the closer’s role, as he allowed the Red Sox to add a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth inning of first game. It was his fourth-straight appearance in which he allowed at least one earned run.
  • The Yankees bullpen had an awful series on the whole, allowing 10 runs (all earned) in 9 IP. Tommy Kahnle was the worst offender, pitching to the following line – 0.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 0 K.
  • Chris Sale was utterly mortal in the Yankees lone win of the series, allowing 7 hits and 4 runs in 7 IP. Tyler Austin and Todd Frazier both took him deep as the Yankees won 4-3.
  • CC Sabathia came out ahead of Sale that night, allowing 2 runs and just 5 base-runners in 6 IP in his first start back from the disabled list.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun facts.

Injury Report

The Red Sox are still banged-up, with Jackie Bradley Jr., Dustin Pedroia, David Price, and Carson Smith on the disabled list with a vague “September” return date, and Josh Rutledge, Tyler Thornburg, and Steven Wright done for the season. Both Bradley and Pedroia are hoping to return for this series, but neither Price nor Smith is expected back in time.

Their Story So Far

Boston is in first in the AL East at 76-57, and their +93 run differential places them seventh in all of baseball. They’ve won three in a row, and have an 18-8 record in the month of August. They’re within striking distance of the best record in the American League, with just 3.5 games separating them from the semi-struggling Astros.

Given that these teams have met multiple times within the last four weeks, it doesn’t seem like much else needs to be said.

The Lineup We Might See

The injury status of Bradley and Pedroia throws a wrench into the Red Sox lineup machinations. That being said, they have been trotting out this lineup with those two on the mend:

  1. Eduardo Nunez, 2B (.312/.341/.460)
  2. Andrew Benintendi, CF (.275/.354/.436)
  3. Mookie Betts, RF (.263/.341/.437)
  4. Mitch Moreland, 1B/DH (.257/.341/.452)
  5. Xander Bogaerts, SS (.273/.335/.405)
  6. Rafael Devers, 3B (.294/.354/.546)
  7. Hanley Ramirez, DH/1B (.249/.335/.443)
  8. Chris Young, LF (.236/.324/.396)
  9. Christian Vazquez, C /or/ Sandy Leon, C (.294/.335/.413 and .235/.299/.367)

When healthy, Pedroia generally bats and plays second; Bradley is the center-fielder, and bats fifth.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez

Rodriguez started against the Yankees on August 11, and had his best start of the season; he went 6 shutout innings, and allowed just 2 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 7. He has been underwhelming in his three starts since then, and largely average on the season (108 ERA+ in 105.1 IP), but he’s still just 24-years-old. Rodriguez did spend about a month and a half on the disabled list, but he’s been healthy since the All-Star break.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 8/26) – 6.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 7 K

Friday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Doug Fister

It has been a strange season for Fister, who didn’t even sign with an MLB team until May 20 … when he signed with the Angels. The Angels waived him about a month later, and he latched on with the Red Sox shortly thereafter. The 33-year-old journeyman has a 4.53 ERA (100 ERA+) in twelve games (nine starts) with the Sox, and has been more than competent in helping patch-up their rotation.

Fister has always been something of a junkballer, and not much has changed. He throws four different fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, sinker) in the upper-80s, and a curveball in the low-70s. He’ll mix in a slider and a change-up, as well, but those are few and far between.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 8/27) – 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz

This will be the Yankees fifth time seeing Pomeranz this year, who has mostly kept them at bay. He has thrown 21.0 IP in those four starts, allowing 23 hits, 8 earned runs (3.43 ERA), and 7 walks, while striking out 23. That isn’t all that far off from his season totals on the whole, as he has a 3.23 ERA (139 ERA+) in 142 IP.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 8/28) – 6.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 4 K

Sunday (7:35 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. LHP Chris Sale

As was the case with Pomeranz, Sale will be making his fifth start of the season against the Yankees this weekend. On the off-chance that you’ve forgotten, Sale has dominated the Yankees on the whole, tossing 29.2 IP of 2.12 ERA ball, and allowing just 27 base-runners while striking out 44 batters. They did score four runs the last time they met, though, which, if we’re optimistic, could bode well for this match-up.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 8/29) – 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K

The Bullpen

Craig Kimbrel – he of the 1.58 ERA (290 ERA+) and 16.6 K/9 – showed signs of mortality this week, laboring through an inning against the Blue Jays. He walked two and allowed a home run before slamming the door, and he looked just as shaky as that line suggests. He redeemed himself the next night, though, and is still the best reliever in the American League.

The rest of the bullpen has been up and down this month. They have a 107 ERA+ in August, as compared to a 128 ERA+ on the season, and they’ve been prone to the longball. Joe Kelly has been the worst offender, pitching to a 6.75 ERA this month, and newcomer Addison Reed (4.38 ERA/107 ERA+) has been a bit of a disappointment. It’s still a solid group, but it seems as though its tenure as best bullpen in the game has ended.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Severino versus Sale has the potential to be must-see TV; I’ve jinxed the Yankees before by praising a pitching match-up, though, so perhaps this should be disregarded.

This series as a whole feels incredibly important – and not just for the obvious reasons. In a broader sense, the Yankees need to show that they can beat good teams again. With the exception of the Mariners, who they’ve taken two series from in the second-half, they have not taken a series from a playoff-caliber team since sweeping the Orioles from June 9 through June 11. They did split a couple of series with the Red Sox and the Indians, so maybe I’m being a ‘glass half empty’ type here – but a strong showing to open up September would set a completely different tone.

Yankeemetrics: Riding the NYY rollercoaster (Aug. 18-20)

(AP)
(AP)

Deja vu all over again
Another night, another candidate for Worst Loss of The Season. The Yankees suffered their billionth gut-wrenching defeat on Friday night, obliterating any positive momentum they had built up coming off a four-game sweep of the Mets. After flipping an early three-run deficit into a three-run lead in the seventh, the bullpen imploded in epic fashion with nine outs to go, adding to the never-ending list of miserable Yankee late-inning collapses this season.

Let’s recap the gory details, bullet-point style:

  • 22nd blown save of the season, six more than they had in all of 2016. Through Friday’s games, no team in the majors had more blown saves than the Yankees (the Mariners also had 22). Going back to 1969 when saves became an official stat, only three other times in franchise history have they finished a season with more than 22 blown saves: 1997 (25), 1988 (24), 1986 (23).
  • 6th time they lost a game after leading by at least three runs, their most in any season since 2014 when they had eight.
  • 18th loss when out-hitting their opponent, the second-most in MLB behind the White Sox (25, LOL). Over the last 15 years, they’d never before suffered more than 15 such losses in a season.

Breaking news: the Yankees had plenty of chances to score, but couldn’t cash in, going 1-for-11 with RISP and stranding 14 guys. Chase Headley, Todd Frazier and Brett Gardner led the offensive charge by reaching base four times each. That’s good! So how rare is it for a team to lose when having at least three players be so productive? Glad you asked. Our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series …

It’s just the third time in the last 50 years that the Yankees lost a nine-inning game in which at least three guys were each on base four-or-more times. It also happened on September 22, 2000 against the Tigers and May 25, 1980 against the Blue Jays.

Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green were the obvious culprits in coughing up the three-run advantage in the seventh, but Aroldis Chapman‘s eighth-inning meltdown is more troubling (and eventually got him yanked from the closer role). He gave up two runs on two hits and a walk, extending his recent stretch of awful pitching. This is just the second time he’s allowed at least one run in four straight appearances; the other instance was early in his 2011 rookie campaign. And it’s the first time in his major-league career that he’s given up multiple runs in three straight outings.

(Getty)
(Getty)

One step forward …
One day after suffering the Worst Loss of the Year, it was hardly a surprise in this rollercoaster season that the Yankees notched their their Most Important Win of the Year on Saturday night at Fenway, holding on for a gutsy, much-needed 4-3 victory.

CC Sabathia has embodied the Fighting Spirit more than any other pinstriper this season, and this game proved it. Consider that he is:

  • 7-0 with a 1.46 ERA in eight starts following a Yankee loss this season, and the team won the only no-decision he got. That’s the best ERA in the majors (min. 7 starts), just ahead of a guy named Clayton Kershaw (1.54).
  • 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox this season. He is one of just three Yankees since 1950 to win their first three starts vs the Red Sox in a season while posting a sub-1.00 ERA in those outings; Scott Sanderson (1991) and Whitey Ford (1956) are the others.

Sabathia also reached a significant milestone, becoming the all-time American League leader in strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher. Congrats, CC.

Tyler Austin delivered one of the most stunning swings of the season when he crushed an 435-foot bomb over the Green Monster in his first career at-bat against Chris Sale to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Is Austin the team’s new good luck charm? Six of his seven career home runs have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead, and they are 7-0 in games when he homers.

Todd Frazier added a crucial insurance run with a sixth inning solo homer, following up on the two-run blast he hit in the series opener. That earned him a special place in the rivalry with this #FunFact: Frazier and fellow third baseman Graig Nettles (1973) are the only players to homer in each of their first two games as a Yankee at Fenway Park.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

… And one step backwards
What goes up, must come down, right? That pretty much sums up the 2017 Yankees. They dropped the series finale against the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon, falling to an abysmal 5-14 in “rubber games” (third game of a three-game series where the teams split the first two).

That is by far the worst record and most losses in such games by any team in the majors this season. And, even more depressing is this stat: their .263 winning percentage in rubber games is on pace to be the worst by any AL team since the 2013 Astros … who finished with 111 total losses that year. Oy vei.

Much of the blame for this loss falls on the dead-silent Yankee bats, which produced their fewest hits (3) and runs (1) at Fenway Park since a 5-1 loss there on September 22, 2013. Not even a Brett Gardner home run could spark this lackluster offense — this was the first time the Yankees lost this season when Gardy went Yardy, falling to 16-1 in those games.

Gardner did reach the nice round number of 20 homers, giving us a chance to recognize his rare combination of power, patience and speed. Gardner is the eighth left-handed batter in franchise history with at least 20 homers, 15 steals and 60 walks in a season. The others on the list are decent: Babe Ruth (twice), Lou Gehrig (1931), Bobby Murcer (1970), Reggie Jackson (1977), Johnny Damon (2006), Bobby Abreu (2008) and Curtis Granderson (2011).

Aaron Judge was hardly the only Bomber to go cold on Saturday, yet because this is a stats article, we feel obligated to note that he struck out for the 37th game in a row. That ties the MLB all-time (spanning multiple seasons or single-season) record set by Expos pitcher Bill Stoneman in 1971-72.

It’s a contrived and dubious mark, but what is more concerning are a couple of his post-break splits. He is 4-for-28 (.143) with runners in scoring position since the break; he hit .305 with RISP before the break. Judge is also 1-for-32 (.031) vs left-handed pitchers since the break; he hit .345 vs lefties before the break.

Beyond those specific situations, Judge’s ability to make hard contact — his signature stat of the season — has simply cratered. In 35 games since the break, he has a hard-hit rate (per Fangraphs) of just 34 percent (it was 49 percent before the break), easily the least-powerful 35-game stretch of his career:

judge-hard-hit-chart

8/18 to 8/20 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

The Bombers squandered an opportunity to inch closer to Boston in the division last weekend, losing two of three after a disastrous outing from Luis Severino and Rafael Devers spoiling Aroldis Chapman‘s attempt to close out Sunday’s humbling defeat. Here’s the game-by-game of the series.

  • Yankees went silent for seven innings vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, then erupted for five runs in the eighth. Aaron Hicks saved the day with a two-run shot off Addison Reed and a key outfield assist to help hold off the Red Sox in the ninth to take the opener.
  • Things looked good after a two-run shot by Gary Sanchez in the first, but Severino turned in his worst start since last season, giving up 10 runs (eight earned) including a pair of home runs to Andrew Benintendi, prompting this gleeful picture of Mookie Betts by our Sung Min Kim.
  • On Sunday Night Baseball, Chris Sale and Jordan Montgomery went toe-to-toe, each allowing a run. The Yankees got to Matt Barnes for a run in the 8th. However, Aroldis Chapman squandered the one-run lead by allowing a homer by Devers before giving up a run in the 10th in a 3-2 loss.

For more information, check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

Last weekend, Dustin Pedroia (knee) went back on the DL and the team is going to have him be more conservative in his return timeline this go-around. David Price (elbow) has thrown off flat ground but has yet to throw off a mound and we don’t know when he will. He won’t be starting this series. Meanwhile, RHP Blaine Boyer (neck strain) joined Carson Smith, Ben Taylor, Tyler Thornburg and Robbie Ross among a strong middle relief corps all on the shelf.

Since We Last Met

Since you surely know about the Red Sox, let’s go into their games since last weekend instead of a recap of their season.

  • Doug Fister gave up five runs, including a go-ahead two run homer to Edwin Encarnacion, and failed to make it out of the fifth inning in a 7-3 loss to the Indians, a make-up game of a rainout from two weeks ago. Devers hit two solo shots in the defeat.
  • An eight-run fifth inning buoyed the Sox to a blowout win over the Cardinals on Tuesday as Rick Porcello improved to 7-14 on the year. The highlight of the game: Devers starting a 5-4-3 triple play. Is there anything he can’t do?
  • The Red Sox grabbed a win from the jaws of defeat, storming back from a two-run ninth inning deficit against a trio of pitchers. It was capped off by Betts’ two-run double, the celebration of which you can see at the top of this post.

Lineup We Might See

John Farrell adjusts his lineup based on handedness. Therefore, with two lefties set to take the hill for the Yankees this weekend, the lineup below is the one he’s been going with against LHPs. That means a fair amount of Chris Young and maybe a day off for the 20-year-old wunderkind Devers.

1. 2B/3B Eduardo Nunez
2. RF Mookie Betts
3. LF Andrew Benintendi
4. 1B Hanley Ramirez
5. DH Chris Young
6. SS Xander Bogaerts
7. 2B Brock Holt/3B Rafael Devers
8. C Sandy Leon/Christian Vazquez
9. CF Jackie Bradley Jr.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:10 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz

With Porcello’s struggles and Price’s elbow, Pomeranz has probably been Boston’s second-best starter this season. He’s 2-0 against the Yankees after getting 10 runs of support on Saturday, though he’s allowed nine runs in 17 2/3 innings, striking out 19 while allowing three homers.

Last Outing (at NYY on Aug. 12) – 6.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Saturday (7:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Chris Sale

What is there to say about Chris Sale that hasn’t already been said about Pedro Martinez? The guy is a beast. After Sunday night’s performance, here’s his line vs. the Yankees in 2017: 3 GS, 22.2 IP, 15 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 HR, 4 BB, 1 HBP, 35 K. Good news? He has no wins and the Sox are just 1-2 in those games.

Last Outing (at NYY on Aug. 13) – 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 12 K

Sunday (1:30 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. TBD

The Red Sox haven’t announced a starter for Sunday, but this writer expects them to skip Fister and start Porcello, who’d be on normal rest. He was solid his last time out and his K-BB% has improved in the second half. However, he’s allowed 2.06 HR per nine since the break. For what it’s worth, he’s 0-3 with a 3.79 ERA against the Yankees this year, allowing four homers in 19 innings.

Last Outing (Porcello vs. STL on Aug. 15) – 7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

Kimbrel dominated the Yankees for four outs on Sunday and is still striking out more than 50 percent of the batters he faces. He has a 46 K-BB%. That’s … absurd. The less you see of him, the better.

The Yankees did get to his two setup men last weekend, first Reed and then Barnes. Barnes, however, is much better at home (1.47 ERA at Fenway vs. 5.20 on the road). Joe Kelly and his hard but flat fastball sit in wait in middle relief. Beyond him Robbie Scott and Fernando Abad handle lefties while Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman and potentially Fister sit in middle/long relief.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

Obviously, these games have tremendous division implications. The Yankees sit four games back of Boston. After this weekend, they have just a four-game set at Yankee Stadium in two weeks left with their rivals, so the chance to make up ground head-to-head is scarce.

The thing I’ve been waiting to see since July 31? Sonny Gray vs. the Red Sox, which we get to see Sunday (which isn’t Sunday Night Baseball!). This is part of why they brought Gray in: to win big games, particularly in division. Sonny days are ahead.