Sleep is overrated
The Yankees arrived in Houston early Friday morning, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, but that didn’t stop them from putting together one of their most satisfying wins of the season against the best team in baseball.
The 13-4 rout also capped off one of the most bizarre months for any Yankees team in recent memory. They went 13-15 in June, the 20th best record in the majors last month. Not good. Yet they compiled a run differential of plus-56 that ranked second only to the Dodgers. Very good!
Two stats tell this perplexing story: The Yankees led MLB with nine wins by at least five runs, and tied for the MLB lead with nine losses by exactly one run. It was the first time the Yankees had nine wins by five-or-more runs in a single month since July 2010; and the first time in at least the 15 seasons they had nine one-run losses in a single month.
At the center of the offensive explosion was Brett Gardner, who went 3-for-5 — including his third career grand slam — and a career-high-tying six RBIs. He’s just the second Yankee leadoff batter to drive in six runs in a game, along with Hank Bauer on May 10, 1952 against the Red Sox. Gardner is also just the fifth Yankee to have multiple 6-RBI games as a leftfielder; this is a fun list: Alfonso Soriano, Bob Meusel, Charlie Keller and Babe Ruth.
Although Aaron Judge was hitless in four at-bats, he still notched his 29th and 30th walks of the month, etching his name in both the MLB and franchise record books. The ridiculous power and patience he showed in June was nearly unprecedented, especially for such a young player:
- Judge is the fourth Yankee with at least 30 walks, 10 homers and five doubles in a calendar month. The rest of the names should be familiar by now: Mickey Mantle (June 1957), Lou Gehrig (twice) and Babe Ruth (seven times).
- Among all major-leaguers age 25 or younger, only six others besides Judge walked at least 30 times and had at least 70 total bases in a month: Mantle (June 1957), Eddie Mathews (July 1954), Ted Williams (twice), Mel Ott (June 1929), Keller (August 1939) and The Babe (twice).
Deja vu all over again
Another series, another candidate for W.L.O.T.S. (Worst Loss Of The Season).
In what has become an all-too-familiar theme for this Yankees team, they followed up one of their most impressive wins of the season with one of their most brutal losses, and the bullpen flames were raging again on Saturday night. Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman self-destructed in the eighth inning, blowing a three-run lead as the Yankees suffered another horrible come-from-ahead loss, 7-6.
Here are some of the gory details behind the Yankees recent string of late-inning meltdowns:
|15 Blown Saves||– 10(!) more than they had at this point in the season last year (in just four more save opportunities);
– Yeah, they had 16 all of last year
|16 One-Run Losses||– Four more than they had through 79 games last year;
– 10 of them have come since June 1, tied with the Phillies for the most in that span
|5 losses when leading by at least three runs||– Matches the same number they had in all of 2016;
– At this point last year, they had one such loss
|10 losses with at least five runs scored||– One fewer than they had all of last year;
– Through 79 games in 2016, had six such losses;
– 7 of the 10 losses have come since June 1, the most in MLB
Dellin Betances was the biggest culprit in the eighth inning, getting only two outs while allowing three stolen bases, four earned runs, three walks and a homer. Yikes.
He is just the third Yankee pitcher to allow at least three stolen bases in an outing of fewer than one inning pitched, and he’s the only one of those three to also allow an earned run.
But its the rest of his ugly pitching line that earns Betances of our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:
He’s just the second Yankee ever to give up at least four earned runs, walk at least three guys, allow a homer while facing no more than six batters. The other was Hank Johnson on June 17, 1925 against the Tigers, a 19-1 loss that included a 13-run sixth-inning implosion by Yankee pitchers.
The story of the game should have been about the historic and dazzling major-league debut of Clint Frazier, who went 2-for-3 with a double and homer. His six total bases were the most by a Yankee his first career game over the last 100 years, and he also became the first player in franchise history to hit a home run and a double in his big-league debt.
Perhaps even more impressive … at 22 years and 298 days old, he was the youngest Yankee rightfielder with a homer and a double in any game since Mickey Mantle on May 30, 1952.
Didi Gregorius also took his turn in the spotlight, crushing his first career grand slam. The only other Yankee shortstops in the last three decades with a grand slam were Starlin Castro (August 5 last year) and Derek Jeter (June 18, 2005).
At least they scored a run
The Yankees early-summer slide deepened with another listless defeat on Sunday afternoon, as the bats went cold and the arms were lit up by the Astros powerful lineup in an 8-1 loss. They’ve now gone winless in six straight series, their longest such streak since an eight-series winless streak spanning July and August of 2013.
Luis Severino had one of his worst performances of the season, getting tattooed for nine hits — six doubles, a homer and two singles — and six runs in 5⅓ innings pitched. Yet he still flashed dominance with his fastball-slider combo, striking out a quarter of the batters he faced (7 of 28).
That pitching line gives us an unfortunate statistical connection for Severino …. The only other Yankee in the last 100 seasons to pitch fewer than six innings while surrendering at least seven extra-base hits and getting at least seven strikeouts in a game was Michael Pineda on April 24, 2016 against the Rays. #SmallSevy
The only other notable number to come out of this game was One — the number of runs they scored in the ninth inning to avoid being shutout for the first time this season. This is the sixth time in franchise history they’ve gone at least 80 games into the season without being blanked and the first time since 1988.
The franchise record? That would be held by the 1932 team, which scored at least one run in every game that season. In related news, the 1932 Yankees went 107-47 and swept the Cubs in the World Series. Oh, and a man named Babe Ruth hit a sorta famous home run in Game 3 of that series:
Despite recent events, the Yankees have the second best record (39-30) and the second best run differential (+107) in the American League. Many expected this to be something of a rebuilding year, one of those “step back and regroup for next season” years. Instead, the Yankees got off to a great start and remain in the thick of the division race as we approach the season’s midway point.
The All-Star Game is less than three weeks away now — it snuck up this year, didn’t it? — and given their play to date, the Yankees will undoubtedly have multiple representatives in Miami next month. They won’t be one of those “one token All-Star” teams. The internet tells me the Yankees have sent multiple players to the All-Star Game every year since 1992, when Roberto Kelly was their lone representative.
The 2017 All-Star Game rosters will be announced either later next week or next weekend. That makes this as good a time as any to look at which Yankees could be selected to the Midsummer Classic. In fact, let’s rank the 25 players on the active roster in terms of their All-Star eligibility. Shall we? We shall. Let’s get to it.
1. Aaron Judge
Judge is a lock for the All-Star Game. He’s received more fan votes than any other AL player this far — his lead over second place Jose Altuve is roughly 500,000 votes — and is on track to start the game in right field. The Yankees have not had an All-Star Game starter since Derek Jeter got the farewell vote in 2014. Even if Judge were to fall out of the top three outfielders in fan voting, he would still be selected to the game. His AL ranks:
- AVG: .331 (second)
- OBP: .438 (first)
- SLG: .694 (first)
- wRC+: 195 (first)
- HR: 24 (first)
- RBI: 54 (second)
- fWAR: +4.4 (first)
- bWAR: +4.1 WAR (first)
Flawless victory. Fatality. See you in Miami, Aaron.
Remember Dellin? He’s this really great reliever who used to pitch for the Yankees once upon a time. Betances did actually pitch last night. It was his fifth appearance in the last 24 days. True story! Can you believe that? It’s friggin’ insane. Anyway, Dellin has allowed one earned run — on April 8th — in 22.2 innings this season. He’s struck out 43 and opponents are hitting .117/.261/.117 against him. I think Betances is going to his fourth straight All-Star Game. I do wonder whether the relatively light workload — Dellin ranks 162nd among all relievers in innings (!) — will work against him. I don’t think so though. Betances should be an All-Star again.
This is awesome. Severino was so bad as a starter last season. So, so bad. And now he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate. He has a 2.99 ERA (3.23 FIP) through 13 starts and 81.1 innings, and he is among the AL top ten in WHIP (fifth), strikeouts (fifth), ERA+ (fifth), K/BB ratio (fifth), fWAR (fifth), ERA (sixth), FIP (seventh), and bWAR (eighth). Last season eight starters made the AL All-Star team and so far this season Severino has been one of the seven or eight best starting pitchers in the league. He’s not a lock, I don’t think. But he should receive strong consideration.
4. Aaron Hicks
Hicks should be an All-Star this year. The guy is hitting .301/.414/.543 (155 wRC+) overall and he’s fourth in the league in fWAR. I mean:
- Aaron Judge, Yankees: +4.5
- Mike Trout, Angels: +3.3
- Jose Altuve, Astros: +3.1
- Aaron Hicks, Yankees: +2.9
He’s also seventh among all AL players in bWAR. Hicks wasn’t even an everyday player to start the season! He’s been awesome and he should be an All-Star. My guess is Hicks gets snubbed and instead lands on the Final Vote ballot. Maybe he’ll make the roster outright with Trout injured. There are only six outfield spots on the roster though, and squeezing two Yankees into those six spots seems like a thing that won’t happen. Fingers crossed.
Man, how awesome has Holliday been this season? He’s hitting .275/.379/.536 (142 wRC+) with 15 home runs and it’s thanks to him that the Yankees lead all AL teams with a 138 wRC+ from their DHs. Nelson Cruz is currently leading the fan voting at DH with Holliday roughly 300,000 votes back in second place. Making up that gap seems unlkely with one week to go in the voting.
In recent years there have been two designated hitter spots on the All-Star Game roster, so it stands to reason that even if Cruz wins the fan voting, Holliday could still make it. It’ll be either him or Edwin Encarnacion, who has been insane the last six weeks or so. Now, that said, the All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 this year. With two fewer spots, will they not take a second DH? Hmmm.
6. Gary Sanchez
If Sanchez didn’t miss that month with that biceps injury, he’d be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game. The guy is hitting .296/.376/.554 (147 wRC+) with 12 home runs. Only Salvador Perez has gone deep more times among all catchers. He has 15 homers in 257 plate appearances. Gary has 12 in 178 plate appearances. Brian McCann and Alex Avila (?!?) are also having All-Star caliber seasons and neither missed a month with an injury. I think it’s down to Sanchez and Avila for the third spot. Perez is going to win the fan voting and McCann belongs too. He’s been great. A few more Sanchez dingers over the next week could decide this thing.
Altuve is going to start the All-Star Game at second base, as he should. Dustin Pedroia’s injury issues mean the backup spot could come down to Castro (128 wRC+), Jed Lowrie (126 wRC), or Robinson Cano (111 wRC+). I suppose Brian Dozier (106 wRC+) is in that mix too. Name value matters in the All-Star Game. Here’s an important factor: will Yonder Alonso make the All-Star team? If not, Lowrie figures to end up the A’s token All-Star, which will hurt Starlin’s chances of making the roster.
Can you quietly hit .321/.342/.500 (120 wRC+)? Because Gregorius is doing it. He’s been so good since coming back from the disabled list. And that’s the problem. The disabled list. Gregorius missed a month with a shoulder issue. He was already facing an uphill battle with Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Francisco Lindor in the AL. Those three dudes are going to the All-Star Game and they might be the three AL All-Star shortstops for the next ten years. Didi has been great. He’s almost certainly going to get squeezed off the All-Star roster though.
Gardner has had a slow June, but he’s still hitting .259/.341/.471 (115 wRC+) overall, and his 13 home runs are eighth among AL outfielders. The problem is Gardner is only the third best Yankees outfielder this season, and there are only six outfield spots on the All-Star roster. Judge is getting one of them. And if they pick a second Yankees outfielder, it’ll be Hicks. No chance for Gardner, unless he’s an injury replacement or something, and even then it’s a long shot.
10-11. Michael Pineda, Jordan Montgomery
A good but not great season for Michael Pineda, this is. He has a 3.56 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 14 starts and 83.1 innings — hey wait a minute isn’t Pineda supposed to be a ERA > FIP guy? — which is solid, but not All-Star worthy. Montgomery is right there with him with a 3.74 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 13 starts and 74.2 innings. Imagine where the Yankees would be without these two. Nice seasons, not All-Stars.
12. Aroldis Chapman
Last season Chapman did not make the All-Star team because he missed a month serving his suspension. This season he will not make the All-Star team because he missed more than a month with a shoulder injury. Also, Chapman wasn’t exactly lights out before going on the disabled list. He allowed five runs and 18 baserunners in 12.2 innings before getting hurt. Aroldis has thrown 14.2 innings this season. 14.2! No All-Star Game for him.
13. Chase Headley
Great start! Okay-ish June. Terrible May. Headley is hitting .245/.335/.362 (87 wRC+) overall, and by wRC+, he ranks 21st among the 24 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Better luck next year, Chase.
14-17. Tyler Clippard, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve
Non-Betances middle relievers have a really hard time making the All-Star Game. Green and Shreve have been the best of this foursome and they’ve thrown 23.1 and 19.2 innings, respectively.
18. Masahiro Tanaka
Woof. Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season. There are 81 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, and Tanaka ranks 69th in fWAR (+0.1), 74th in FIP (5.64), 79th in ERA (3.34), and 79th in bWAR (-0.8). Please be better, Masahiro.
19. Chris Carter
At least he kinda plays everyday? That counts for … something. Carter is hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) overall and probably wouldn’t make a Triple-A All-Star Game at this point.
20-21. Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes
Remember April? These guys were so great filling in for Sanchez and Torreyes. Romine is hitting .237/.258/.325 (50 wRC+) even after last night’s big game while Torreyes is at .296/.319/.374 (84 wRC+). The next backup catcher and utility infielder I see make the All-Star Game will be the first.
22-25. Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams
If you had to bet a paycheck on one of these four guys making an All-Star Game at some point in their careers, who would you pick? I feel like German is the obvious choice here, though I remain a Cessa fan. Maybe Refsnyder will have a late career Jose Bautista breakout?
Others of Note
The Yankees have four regulars on the disabled list right now: Greg Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury, CC Sabathia, and Adam Warren. There is no firm timetable for any of them to return to the Yankees, as far as we know. Warren seems closest since he’s scheduled to resume throwing Friday.
Ellsbury was playing well before his concussion. Not All-Star well — he was still the team’s fourth most productive outfielder behind Judge, Hicks, and Gardner — but well. Sabathia was pretty awesome after his four-start disaster stretch in May. Good enough to be an All-Star? Maybe! He allowed six runs (four earned) in his six starts and 36.1 innings before the injury. Imagine he keept that up until the All-Star break. Alas.
* * *
I think the Yankees will have at least two All-Stars this year (Judge and Betances) and possibly as many as seven (Judge, Betances, Severino, Hicks, Holliday, Sanchez, Castro). Seven’s not going to happen though. Seven All-Stars is reserved for super teams. The Cubs had seven All-Stars last season and that’s only because the fans stuffed the ballot and voted in five starters. So yeah, seven isn’t happening.
My official guess is four Yankees make the All-Star team: Judge, Betances, Severino, and Sanchez. Hicks gets hosed, Holliday loses out because they won’t carry two DHs with the smaller roster, and Castro gets squeezed out by other second basemen. The Yankees haven’t had four All-Stars since 2012, when Jeter, Sabathia, Cano, and Curtis Granderson made it. (Jeter, Cano, and Granderson were all voted in as starters.) Four All-Stars would be cool. Two seems like the absolute minimum for the 2017 Yankees.
El Gary dropping bombs
Fresh off a depressing series loss in Baltimore, the Yankees headed to Toronto on Thursday and bounced back in style as they routed the Blue Jays, 12-2. It was their first double-digit win at the Rogers Center in 13 years – since Aug. 28, 2004, a game that featured Tony Clark’s three-homer outburst and a nine-run ninth inning en route to a 18-6 victory.
The offensive fireworks were fueled by Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks, who combined to drive in nine of the team’s 12 runs. Sanchez crushed two mammoth homers into the second deck in left field: the first one traveled 440 feet and had an exit velocity of 113 mph; the second one measured at 434 feet and left the bat at 112 mph.
Only two other players in the last three seasons have hit two homers in the same game that went at least 430 feet with an exit velo of 110-mph or more: Giancarlo Stanton (May 7 this year and July 6, 2016) and Mark Trumbo (June 2, 2016).
Remarkably, each of Sanchez’s six longballs this season have gone at least 425 feet. That gave him an early first-place ranking on the average home run distance leaderboard (434 feet) among players with at least five dingers this season.
And here’s an even more impressive feat: this was Sanchez’s fourth big-league game with two homers, making him the first player in major-league history to have four multi-homer games as a catcher this early into a career (82nd game).
Sanchez, though, had to share the spotlight with the scorching-hot Aaron Hicks, who went 4-for-5 and drove in a career-best six runs. He became the third Yankee centerfielder with at least four hits and six RBIs in any game, joining two legends – Bernie Williams (June 17, 2000) and Joe DiMaggio (five times!).
The Comeback Kings were denied another improbable win as the Yankees late inning rally fell short in their 7-5 loss on Friday night at the Rogers Centre.
Michael Pineda went from #BigMike to #BigMess with a season-high five runs allowed that snapped his nine-start streak of giving up three earned runs or fewer. That streak was one start shy of the longest by any pitcher in the majors this season.
Pineda’s early-game troubles re-surfaced as the Blue Jays belted two homers in first inning, the fifth and sixth he’s given up in the opening frame. His six first-inning homers allowed were tied for the most in MLB entering the weekend and opponents are slugging .674 against him in the first inning. So he basically turns every batter into Aaron Judge (.691 slugging through Friday) in the first inning. Not good, Mike.
Aaron Judge did Aaron Judge things in the sixth inning with a towering two-run blast into the rightfield seats, showing off his incredible all-fields power. That was his fifth opposite-field home run – tied for the most in the majors – and upped his opposite-field slugging percentage to an MLB-best 1.259(!).
Chicks dig the longball
The Yankees once again flexed their muscles in a 7-0 rout of the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon for their largest shutout win at the Rogers Centre/SkyDome in nearly 20 years (8-0 win on July 5, 1997).
Their first four hits were doubles and their final four hits were homers, making this first game in Yankees history that they had at least eight hits and none of them were singles. In fact, only three other teams in major-league history have done that: Cardinals with eight in 2002, Tigers with eight in 2010, and Braves with nine in 1998. #FunFact
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) June 3, 2017
It was the fourth time in franchise history that the Bronx Bombers hit four homers in a single inning. The first time it happened was June 30, 1977 … also in the eighth inning … against the Blue Jays … in Toronto (at Exhibition Stadium). The other two times were on June 21, 2005 against the Devil Rays and October 1, 2012 against the Red Sox, both of them at Yankee Stadium.
Perhaps the most shocking part of the eighth frame was that Aaron Judge was left out of the homer party. He did contribute a booming RBI double to center in the third inning, a bullet line drive that left his bat at 116 mph. It was his fifth hit with exit velocity of at least 116 mph; the other 1,000-plus MLB players this season had combined for seven such hits (through Saturday).
Overshadowed by the offensive fireworks was Jordan Montgomery‘s brilliant performance. He fired six scoreless innings and surrendered just three hits, the fourth time in 10 career starts that he’s given up no more than three hits.
That impressive outing earned the rookie southpaw a place in the franchise record books: Montgomery is the first pitcher in Yankees history to compile four starts of three-or-fewer hits allowed within his first 10 career games.
Two is not enough
Sunday’s disappointing loss dropped the Yankees to 3-4 halfway through their current 13-game stretch against AL East teams as they headed back to the Bronx to face the second-place Red Sox.
Taking a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning, the Yankees seemed primed to finish off their road trip on a high note. Entering Sunday they were 17-1 when leading by multiple runs at the end of the fifth inning, including a perfect 9-0 mark on the road.
Luis Severino was dominating the Blue Jays through five innings until Justin Smoak smoked (sorry!) an 85-mph slider 429 feet into the centerfield seats that tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth. The location of the pitch was obviously bad …
… but that was a rare mistake with his signature breaking pitch this season. Severino had allowed an isolated power — that’s extra bases per at-bat — of just .061 on his slider entering Sunday, the fifth-lowest mark among starters (min. 200 pitches).
Aside from that blip, Severino was excellent, throwing seven innings of two-run ball while striking out seven. It was his seventh start this season with no more than two runs allowed and at least six strikeouts, putting him in some very impressive company: the only other pitchers this season with seven such starts are Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
The Full Monty
The Orioles entered this week on a seven-game losing streak and playing their worst baseball of the season. Yet they were probably happy to see the Yankees coming to town given their recent run of success in Baltimore against their division rival.
After the 3-2 loss on Memorial Day, the Yankees dropped to a miserable 8-23 at Camden Yards since 2014, the second-worst mark at the ballpark among all American League teams over the past four seasons; only the Indians (2-8) have been worse.
Jordan Montgomery struggled early, needing 34 pitches to navigate the first inning, and that inefficiency foreshadowed the rest of his labored performance. He consistently fell behind hitters and got into deep counts, reaching a full count on seven (!) of 23 batters. That’s the most full counts faced by any Yankee pitcher this season – and he did it while pitching only 4 1/3 innings.
The lone offensive highlight came from the bat of – no surprise – Aaron Judge, who sent a screaming line drive into the center field seats in the seventh inning. It was Judge’s 17th blast of the season as he moved into first place on the MLB home run leaderboard.
If he can maintain that top ranking, he’d join a select group of Yankee outfielders to win the major-league home run title: Roger Maris (1961), Mickey Mantle (1956), Joe DiMaggio (1937) and Babe Ruth (nine times … LOL).
The Yankees got their offensive mojo back on Tuesday as they pounded out 14 hits and hammered the Orioles, 8-3. It was their 15th game scoring eight-or-more runs, the most in the AL and tied with the Rockies for the MLB lead entering Wednesday. The last season that the Yankees scored eight-plus runs this many times before their 50th game was 1998, a pretty good year if we remember correctly.
Four of the 14 hits left the ballpark, with Brett Gardner and Matt Holliday each going deep twice. Those were the 10th and 11th homers of the season for both guys, making the Yankees the first AL team this season to have three players reach double-digit homers.
For Gardner, it was his third game with at least two homers this season – which somehow gave him the most multi-homer games among all AL players through Tuesday. He also became just the third player in franchise history to have three or more multi-homer games while hitting out of the leadoff spot, joining Alfonso Soriano (2002) and Bobby Bonds (1975).
Holliday’s two-homer night was less surprising but still put his name on a fun list of Yankee designated hitters to hit two-plus homers in at Camden Yards: Gary Sheffield (2005), Jason Giambi (2002) and Darryl Strawberry (1996) are the others.
Gardner and Holliday were the first Yankee teammates to homer twice in the same game since … May 2 when Gardner and Judge each went deep twice against the Blue Jays. Over the last 60 years, there’s been just one other season in which the Yankees had two games where two players hit multiple homers: 2005.
Luis Severino continued to make his case as the early-season ace of the staff, lowering his ERA to 2.93. He scattered seven singles over 6 1/3 innings, and most of those hits were weak grounders that never left the dirt or somehow found holes through the infield. The average exit velocity on batted balls against Severino was 82.4 mph, the lowest mark for any start in his career. As you can see in this batted ball spray chart from Tuesday’s start, there’s a ton of blue (low exit velocity) and barely any red (high exit velocity):
Following his gem against the Orioles, Severino has five starts with no more than one earned run allowed while striking out at least six batters. The only other pitchers in the majors to have five such starts (through Tuesday) were Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Ervin Santana and Dallas Keuchel.
Deja Vu, Terrible Tanaka
Camden Yards, once known as Yankee Stadium South, has officially become a House of Horrors for the team up north. The Yankees have lost 11 straight series at the ballpark after getting blown out by the O’s on Wednesday night. That’s the second-longest road series losing skid against any opponent in franchise history, behind only a 12-series streak at Oakland from 1985-91.
How long has it been since the Yankees celebrated a series win in the Charm City? The last time Yankees won a series at Camden Yards, Mariano Rivera was the winning pitcher in the series-clinching game on September 12, 2013.
The Orioles broke the game open with a four-run third inning, though Masahiro Tanaka did reach a milestone in that ugly frame. He whiffed Manny Machado on a slider for the second out, the 500th career strikeout of his career. Tanaka is the fifth Yankee to reach 500 Ks within his first four major-league seasons, a group that includes Andy Pettitte, Lefty Gomez, Orlando Hernandez and Mel Stottlemyre.
That was the lone highlight for Tanaka, who got shelled for seven runs on nine hits before exiting in the sixth inning. It was the third time in 11 starts this season he allowed at least seven earned runs; in his first three major-league campaigns, spanning 75 starts, he never gave up more than six earned runs in any outing.
This awful performance capped a miserable month of May for Tanaka: six starts, 8.42 ERA, 11 HR, 48 hits, 31 innings pitched. The most glaring number from that mess is the 11 homers, which ties the most ever by a Yankee pitcher in a calendar month. The good news is that the guy he matched is named Ron Guidry (September 1985). The bad news is that he allowed 11 freaking home runs in 31 innings. Welp.
Once upon a time, I was a lineup complainer. The lineup would be posted each day at 4pm-ish and I’d complain about it. So and so is hitting too low, this guy is hitting too high, why is bench player flavor of the week not playing, that sort of stuff. A few times a year the Yankees would play the “ideal” lineup. Otherwise it was the same story, day after day. The lineup stinks and I was Mad Online.
I’ve outgrown that, thankfully. Daily lineup complaints are no way to go through life. As long as Joe Girardi doesn’t do something crazy like bat his best hitter ninth (which he never does and would never do), whatever lineup he runs out there is fine with me. So this post shouldn’t construed as me complaining about the lineup. This is more of a rational discussion about the batting order nearly one-third of the way through the season.
For the most part, I think we can all agree on one thing regarding the lineup: Brett Gardner should lead off, and Chase Headley and Chris Carter should bat eighth and ninth, really in either order. I guess that’s three things. Anyway, that stuff is straight forward. Gardner is, yet again, one of the team’s best on-base players and count-workers. Headley and Carter have been terrible and should get the fewest at-bats. Simple, right? Right.
The few spots beyond Gardner are what I really want to discuss. This is my ideal top of the lineup right now, given the available personnel:
The three outfielders, left to right. Gary Sanchez has been hitting second most of the season and I am totally cool with that. It works for me. Sanchez has looked a little jumpy at the plate the last few days, but I’m not worried. Hitters go through their ups and downs. Sanchez is one of the team’s best hitters, so by all means, hit him second. Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant won MVPs hitting second in recent years. Power hitters can hit there too.
That said, I like Hicks hitting second over Sanchez right now because, well, Hicks has been the better hitter this season. The better overall hitter and, more importantly, the better on-base threat. Hicks has a .426 OBP this year. Sanchez has a .356 OBP. That’s still good! But it’s not .426. Batting Hicks second means more runners on base for Judge, who has inarguably been the Yankees’ best hitter this season.
Judge started the season hitting lower in the lineup and understandably so, but he’s forced his way up, and now he is in entrenched as the No. 5 hitter. Moving Judge up even further to the No. 3 spot means more at-bats. More at-bats over the course of the season, and a better chance to get Judge that one extra at-bat in an individual game. Through 48 team games the No. 3 spot has 14 more plate appearances than the No. 5 spot for the Yankees. That’s 14 more times Judge would have come to the plate in the late innings. It’s not nothing!
We’re not splitting atoms here. Hicks (.426), Judge (.419), and Gardner (.363) have the three highest OBPs on the Yankees. They make fewer outs than anyone else. Judge is also one of the game’s top power threats. Batting Gardner and Hicks first and second is, by far, the best way to get men on base for Judge. Batting these three atop the lineup also means they get the most at-bats, therefore giving the Yankees more chances to score.
Going with Gardner-Hicks-Judge atop the lineup and Headley-Carter at the bottom leaves you Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, and Didi Gregorius for the 4-5-6-7 spots. What’s the best way to order them? I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer. I’d prefer hitting Sanchez fourth because I think he’s most likely to be an impact bat the rest of the season, but if you said the same thing about Castro or Holliday, I wouldn’t argue (much).
The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is getting Judge more at-bats because because the guy is a monster, and the more he plays, the better the Yankees’ chances to win. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s concussion — Girardi said yesterday Ellsbury is still experiencing headaches, so he remains shut down indefinitely — ensures Hicks will be in the lineup everyday, and as long as he’s hitting like this, Hicks is the perfect No. 2 hitter. On-base ability, power, speed, switch-hitter, the whole nine. Perfect.
The lineup almost seems to write itself from there. Gardner leads off, Hicks hits second, Judge hits third. Your two best on-base players and your most devastating hitter. Sanchez, Holliday, Castro, and Gregorius add quality lineup depth through the No. 7 spot too. I get why Girardi hits Sanchez second, Holliday third, and Castro fourth. I do. But nearly 50 games into the season, it’s the clear the more Aaron Judge hits with men on base, the better. The lineup should be built in such a way that maximizes those opportunities.
Bronx Bombers Born Again
The Yankees returned to the Bronx on Monday and kicked off their seven-game homestand with a sweet comeback win over the Royals, 4-2.
Michael Pineda continued to shed the enigma label that had defined his time in pinstripes leading up to this season with his eighth straight start of at least five innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed, easily the longest streak of his career. He didn’t have his dominant stuff, but executed well in tough spots as the Royals went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against him.
That’s been one of the biggest keys to his resurgent campaign this year – remaining focused and poised while getting big outs when he needs them. Pineda has held batters to a .143/.162/.229 line with RISP in 2017, and most impressive is that .162 opponent on-base percentage, the lowest in the majors (min. 35 batters faced) through Monday.
Down 2-0 early, Brett Gardner ignited the Yankees rally with a third-inning solo homer, his ninth dinger of the season. All nine of those homers came in a span of 80 at-bats from April 29 through Monday, an at-bat per homer rate of 8.9 that should be familiar to Yankee fans: during Babe Ruth’s 60-homer campaign in 1927, he homered once every 9.0 at bats.
Another key moment in the game was the Yankees’ successful replay challenge prevented tying run from scoring in the seventh inning. That was their 14th challenge in 2017, and the 12th time they’ve had the call overturned. Thanks to our unsung hero of the season – coaching assistant Brett Weber – that “replay win percentage” of 85.7 was the best in the majors through Monday.
The Royals handed the Yankees a rare loss on Tuesday night in the Bronx, one where the home team saw its normally lock-down bullpen implode in the late innings after an unprecedented outing by one of its young pitchers.
The Yankees wasted a historic gem by Jordan Montgomery, who was nearly perfect as he took a one-hit shutout and a 2-0 advantage into the seventh frame before giving up a solo homer to Lorenzo Cain. The bullpen then coughed up the lead and more, allowing five runs on four hits, including three home runs.
Let’s put all that craziness into context:
- Before Tuesday’s meltdown, the Yankees were 15-0 when taking a multi-run lead into the seventh inning.
- The bullpen entered the game with the fewest homers allowed (5) and the lowest homer rate (0.32 per nine innings) in the majors.
- The final longball was surrendered by Chasen Shreve, who had not given up a single run, let alone a homer, in 2017. His 44 batters faced prior to Tuesday were the most of any pitcher in MLB that had yet to be scored on this season.
- At the age of 24 years, 147 days, Montgomery became the youngest Yankee in franchise history to produce this impressive pitching line: at least six strikeouts, zero walks, no more than two hits allowed and six-or-more innings pitched.
Luis Severino made sure there would be no chance for another bullpen disaster on Wednesday as he delivered a dazzling performance with a 114-pitch, three-hit, eight-inning, scoreless gem in the Yankees 3-0 win.
It’s crazy but true: this was the first time the Yankees shut out the Royals since September 15, 2004 in Kansas City. They were the only AL team the Yankees hadn’t blanked in that span of nearly 13 years. Also crazy but true: it had been more than 16 (!) years since the Yankees shut out the Royals in the Bronx – the last time it happened was April 5, 2001. They were the only AL team the Yankees hadn’t yet held scoreless at the new Yankee Stadium.
Back to the highlight of the night … Severino’s ace-like domination of the Royals lineup. The 114 pitches were a career-high, and most impressively, he averaged 98 mph on his four-seamer in the seventh and eighth innings (!). He faced just one batter with a runner in scoring position all game, and nobody even reached third base against him.
One of the key at-bats came in the fourth with a man on first and two outs and the Yankees clinging to a 1-0 lead, when Severino struck out Eric Hosmer looking on a 3-2 changeup to end the inning. It was a perfectly placed pitch in the zone that completely fooled the Royals lefty:
Severino’s changeup has been a surprising weapon for him this season, as he’s allowed just two hits in 19 at-bats (.105) with four strikeouts ending in the pitch this season. While the pitch doesn’t generate a ton of whiffs, it’s super-effective at keeping hitters off-balance thanks to a 46 percent foul rate that is the second-highest among all major-league starters (min. 50 pitches). This command and confidence in his changeup has helped him hold lefties to a .600 OPS this season, a nice improvement from the .727 OPS he allowed to opposite-handed batters in his first two seasons.
How impressive was Severino’s masterpiece? Consider this fun nugget: Severino became first Yankee age 23 or younger to pitch at least eight scoreless innings and strike out seven-or-more batters in a game since a 23-year-old Dave Righetti on May 22, 1982 vs. the Twins.
There are always certain phases of the major league season. The highs and lows, the streaks and skids, fluctuating from month to month and week to week.
Unlike last season, the Yankees began 2017 on fire. The start seemed reminiscent of 2010, when the team got off to a roaring start coming off a championship. The funny thing about that 2010 team is they didn’t soar to a division title. They struggled. They blew their early division lead, gained it back and then lost it in the final weeks of the season, settling for a wild card.
I don’t mean to make a straight side-by-side comparison between the 2010 Yankees and the current squad, but the lesson is important: There are going to be lulls in the season and the team can’t let up, allowing a division rival to sneak ahead. This year, the Yankees likely won’t be overcome by a pesky Rays squad, but the Orioles and Red Sox are enough to handle.
And in April, the Yankees handled them well enough. They split their six games with the O’s and took both contests with the Sox. Considering they had to face AL Cy Young favorite Chris Sale and started 0-2 against the O’s, that’s a strong result.
It was all part of a magical month where everything seemed to go right. Aaron Judge, Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, among others, put up surprising numbers en route to a 15-8 record. The only thing perhaps more eye-catching was the rotation, which consistently worked deep into games despite most assuming it would be a liability going into the season.
That’s the catch: It wasn’t supposed to go that way. One would have assumed coming out of the spring that if the team caught fire early, it’d be on the backs of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and a knockout bullpen alongside Masahiro Tanaka as the ace. Well, Sanchez and Bird got hurt. Tanaka was off on Opening Day and despite a 5-3 record, hasn’t looked quite right since. The bullpen was quite good, perhaps even better than expected, but it was overshadowed and not asked to perform many herculean tasks.
And now that we’re late in May, phase two is well underway. The team is 6-8 in their last 14 dating back to May 8 and have seen some stinkers out of the rotation. Castro and Judge have looked more Earth-bound recently and Headley has crash landed. Early expectations have proved more prescient with the bullpen carrying a bigger load, Tuesday’s blown lead notwithstanding. Sanchez has taken off and so has Brett Gardner, who seems to have found the hitting stroke that earned him an All-Star appearance just a few seasons to go.
Despite this sub-par stretch, the Yankees still hold a 2.5 game lead in the division over the Orioles, 3.5 on the Red Sox. That lead is actually their largest this season.
But the team has an upcoming stretch that could help define them. After this homestand with the Royals and Athletics wraps up, they play 13 straight games in division, including six with the O’s and three with the Red Sox, all condensed into two weeks. You’re not going to win the division with a good two weeks, nor are you going to lose it with a lousy fortnight.
Yet this is the time when the Yankees need to begin figuring out who they are long-term, finding that second gear that can help carry them throughout the summer. The 11 wins by five or more runs have been nice and so have the standout starts from guys like Luis Severino and Michael Pineda, who would have castoffs this offseason if certain sections of the fan base had their way. But is this young crew really going to dominate all season? Is this team actually arrived ahead of schedule and not just showing glimpses of 2018 and beyond?
The team’s diverse set of skills in the lineup serves them well if sustained success is indeed in the cards. If, let’s say, Matt Holliday and Judge going into month-long slumps, the team can rely on hitters like Gardner or Didi Gregorius to carry them in a different way, not needing to pound home runs game-by-game.
It doesn’t hurt to have that sturdy backbone of a bullpen, which may end up as the defining positive for this team. Even with Aroldis Chapman out, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and co. are a force that can hold down most leads. With a few quality long relievers, the team can withstand a few 4-5 inning outings and keep the team within striking distance.
Or maybe the rotation with a rejuvenated Tanaka can lead the way. With Jordan Montgomery and CC Sabathia as strong back-end starters, perhaps Tanaka, Severino and Pineda can carry the team every five days and enable more winning streaks.
So that second gear doesn’t necessarily have to look all that different from the first one. It can be a continuation. But in order for the Yankees to sustain their early success, they’ll need to figure out just what makes this team special and utilize those defining characteristics in the crucial weeks ahead.