Game 116: Rubber Game

Bat Gary 1-9 and maybe no one will notice. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Bat Gary in all nine spots and maybe no one will notice. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox have split the first two games of this game three-game series, which means tonight’s series finale is the difference between being 3.5 games back in the AL East or 5.5 games back in the AL East come Monday morning. There are still 46 games to play after tonight, but at some point the Yankees have to stop treading water, you know? The division title is within reach. It’s not going to win itself though.

Now, the bad news: tonight the Yankees are facing Chris Sale, who has been the best pitcher in the AL all season. His numbers are insane: 2.57 ERA (1.98 FIP) with 36.5% strikeouts and 4.6% walks. HOWEVA, the Yankees have won both times they faced Sale this season. Don’t get me wrong, he pitched great (two earned runs in 15.2 innings), but eking out a win is possible against him. Here is the Red Sox lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. 3B Todd Frazier
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

The weather was pretty much perfect for baseball all afternoon. Too bad this game had to be played tonight. It’s a little cloudy in New York right now, though there’s no rain in the forecast, and that’s the most important thing. Tonight’s game will begin at 8pm ET and ESPN will have the broadcast. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (ankle) will begin a minor league rehab assignment Wednesday while Starlin Castro (hamstring) will begin one Friday … Matt Holliday (back) took batting practice today. I guess that means he’s inching closer to a return.

Roster Move: The Yankees sent down Gio Gallegos and called up Caleb Smith, the team announced. Smith was scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton today, so he’s available for very long relief, which I hope is not necessarily. Joe Girardi said Luis Cessa is tentatively scheduled to start in Masahiro Tanaka‘s place tomorrow.

Game 103: Last Game Before The Trade Deadline

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Take a good look at the Yankees roster. Chances are it’ll look a bit different next time they play a game. This afternoon’s series finale with the Rays is the Yankees’ final game before Monday afternoon’s trade deadline, and already they’ve have made one deal today. They picked up Jaime Garcia from the Twins for pitching prospects Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns. A new starter was very necessary and the Yankees landed one.

More important than the looming trade deadline right now is this afternoon’s game. The Yankees have won the first three games of this four-game series to increase their lead over the Rays from 1.5 games to 4.5 games. That’s huge. Creating some distance in the standings is always appreciated. The Yankees have won six straight games overall, so let’s take a seven-game winning streak into the deadline, shall we? Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Clint Frazier
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 1B Chase Headley
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

Pretty much a perfect afternoon for baseball in the Bronx. There’s not a cloud in the sky and the high temperature is 82 degrees. Couldn’t ask for a better day to spend at the ballpark. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the day and the game.

Roster Update: Earlier today the Yankees sent down Caleb Smith and called up Chasen Shreve, so they have a fresh arm in the bullpen and a lefty. I imagine Shreve will be sent down when Garcia reports, which will probably be tomorrow. Garcia, by the way, is tentatively scheduled to make his first start Thursday. The Yankees say they are not considering a six-man rotation at this time. Duh.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (oblique) will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton on Wednesday. He’s been taking full batting practice from both sides of the plate … Buster Olney says the Yankees believe Greg Bird (ankle) could be back by late-August. No offense to Bird, but I’m going to take the over on his rehab timetable. This seems like the Yankees posturing during trade talks for a first baseman more than anything.

Game 98: Back Home, Finally

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time in 16 days, the Yankees are back home at Yankee Stadium. The All-Star break and a long eleven-game, ten-day road trip through three time zones kept them away from home for a while. Good to have baseball back in the Bronx. I’ve missed it. The Yankees will be here for the next nine days.

The Reds are in town for a quick little two-game interleague series, and while I know any team can beat any other team on any given night in this league, this feels like the kind of series the Yankees really should dominate. The Reds have lost 28 of their 40 last games and like 75% of the roster could be traded at any moment. Drop the hammer. Here is the Reds’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Clint Frazier
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 1B Chase Headley
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. 2B Tyler Wade
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It is cool and cloudy in New York this evening, though there’s no rain in the forecast, and that’s all that matters. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on WPIX. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (oblique) will hit in the cage for the first time tomorrow. There is no firm date for him to begin a minor league rehab assignment … Tyler Austin (hamstring) has started running and will start swinging a bat soon.

Rotation Update: Caleb Smith will remain in the rotation, Joe Girardi said. His next start is scheduled for Saturday against the Rays. The Yankees are said to be looking for another starter in advance of the trade deadline, though even if they swing a deal, Smith may still need to make that start because whoever they get might not be lined up.

Yankeemetrics: Different city, same ending (July 17-19)

(AP)
(AP)

Stranded on second
The road trip continued westward to Minnesota, and the result was a familiar one. An inconsistent offense on Monday night led to another gut-wrenching close loss, 4-2, droppping the Yankees’ record in games decided by two or fewer runs to 14-23 this season. The only team worse in MLB? The Phillies.

The most frustrating part of the game was that they had six doubles – setting themselves up to drive in a bunch of runs – yet scored only twice. Only once before in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) had the Yankees finished a game with at least six extra-base hits and no more than two runs scored – an 8-2 loss on August 12, 1965 to the …. Minnesota Twins.

The game still had its highlights, however, with a few notable performances by our Baby Bombers. Clint Frazier legged out two ‘hustle’ doubles, giving him eight extra-base hits in his short 11-game career, the second Yankee ever to with that many hits for extra bases in his first 11 career games. The other? Someone named Joe DiMaggio.

One night after getting his first big-league hit, Garrett Cooper went 3-for-4 and drove in a run, earning our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Over the last 100 seasons, he’s the only Yankee first baseman to have a three-hit game this early into his career (fourth game).

Caleb Smith pitched in his first major-league game, giving the Yankees the honor of being the first team this season to have 12 players make their MLB debut. Although he ended up allowing the game-winning runs, his performance was noteworthy: he’s the first Yankee since Jose Rijo in 1984 to make his debut as a reliever and strike out at least five guys in the game.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

One game, two wins
Tuesday was a win-win for Yankee fans on and off the field: the team beat the Twins 6-3 thanks to some rare clutching hitting, while the front office delivered some much-need bullpen and corner infield help via a blockbuster trade with the White Sox.

On the field, facing their ol’ buddy Bartolo Colon, the Yankees chased the 44-year-old in the fifth inning as they exploded for five runs to erase a 3-1 deficit. Here’s a #FunFact about Colon (with a shout-out to loyal Twitter follower and guest RAB writer @LFNJSinner): Colon has faced 500 different players in his career, and two of them were the two managers in the dugouts for this series – Joe Girardi (1-for-2 vs. Colon) and Paul Molitor (2-for-8 vs. Colon).

Let’s not forget amid this current collapse that this Yankees team doesn’t ever quit. It was their 14th comeback victory when trailing by at least two runs in the game; only the Diamondbacks and Astros (both with 15) had more such wins through Tuesday.

As for the big news off the field, the Yankees and White Sox completed their first major-league trade since they acquired Nick Swisher in exchange for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez in November 2008.

By adding David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle (welcome back, guys!) on Tuesday, the Yankees once again appear to be building a dynamic super-pen filled with power flamethrowers to dominate the middle and late innings.

Entering Wednesday, there were 18 relievers in the American League that had pitched at least 20 innings and boasted a strikeout rate of at least 32 percent. Five (!) of them will be wearing pinstripes for the rest of the season – Tommy Kahnle (42.6%), Dellin Betances (42.5%), Chad Green (37.4%), David Robertson (35.6%), Aroldis Chapman (32.7%).

At first glance, Todd Frazier‘s 2017 slashline doesn’t seem to be very encouraging: .207/.328/.432 in 280 at-bats. But their might be some bad luck baked into those numbers. His BABIP of .214 was the second-lowest among qualified hitters at the time of the trade. That includes an unfathomable .144 BABIP in 40 home games.

Statcast metrics tell a similar story: Using the launch angle and exit velocity of his batted balls, you can get a better picture of a hitter’s quality of contact and his true skill, independent of ballpark, defense, etc. That can be expressed in a metric called expected weighted on-base average (wOBA), which is just like OBP but gives a player more credit for extra-base hits.

Based on that method, Frazier had a spread of 29 points between his expected wOBA and actual wOBA, the 10th-largest differential among the 175 players with at least 250 at-bats this season. To put that into perspective, his actual wOBA of .333 ranked 109th in that 175-player sample — the same as Yunel Escobar — while his expected wOBA of .362 ranked 35th — on par with guys like Cody Bellinger (.365) and Robinson Cano (.367).

After a slow start, Frazier also has been heating up recently. Since June 17, he has a wRC+ of 140 in 96 plate appearances – a mark that ranks in the 80th percentile among all players and is better than any other Yankee in that span (min. 75 PA).

Deja vu all over again
If the Yankees were truly going to pull out of their never-ending tailspin and actually win a series, a trip to Minnesota to face the Twins would seem to be the perfect way to jumpstart an extended run. Consider these stats entering this series:

  • 19-6 (.760) at Target Field, the highest winning percentage for any team at any stadium since at least 1913 (min. 15 games).
  • Had never lost a series at Target Field, which opened in 2010.
  • Won five straight series overall against the Twins, tied for their longest active series-win streak versus any AL team (also won five in a row against the Royals).
  • Oh, and the Twins have the worst home record in the AL.

Welp.

Historical success couldn’t help the Yankees, as they lost Wednesday afternoon and fell to 0-8-2 in their last 10 series since sweeping the Orioles at Yankee Stadium June 9-11. It was their first series loss against the Twins since 2014 and their first in Minnesota since 2008.

If not for the second inning, the Yankees might have had a chance to actually break out of their slump. All six of the Twins’ runs came in the second frame and all six also came with two outs, a rare two-out implosion by Jordan Montgomery. Over his previous eight starts combined, the lefty had allowed just five two-out runs and had held hitters to a .180/.255/.340 line with two outs.

The Yankee offense couldn’t bail out Montgomery, either, as their struggles with runners scoring positioned deepened (1-for-7), resulting in another disappointing loss. Even more depressing than their lack of clutch hitting is the recurring nightmare of failing to close out series:

The Yankees have now lost their last nine games in which they had a chance to clinch a series win, and have also dropped 10 consecutive series finales, including eight straight on the road. Overall, this was their 10th loss in a “rubber game” (third game of a three-game series in which the teams split the first two games), which leads all MLB teams this season.

Game 89: Let’s Play Two

(Rich Gagnon/Getty)
(Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Between yesterday’s 16-inning affair and today’s doubleheader, the Yankees and Red Sox are going to play (at least) 34 innings of baseball in about 34 hours this weekend. Pretty crazy that the All-Star break ended three days ago and the pitching staff is already overworked. Baseball can be a real jerk like that sometimes.

Anyway, the Yankees are an Aroldis Chapman blown save away from winning the first two games of this series, but that cuts both ways. The Red Sox are a Craig Kimbrel blown save away from winning the first two. As poorly as the Yankees have played these last few weeks, these two teams always seem to be evenly matched when they meet. It’s weird but also kinda fun and puke inducing. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup for Game One:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. LF Clint Frazier
  7. C Austin Romine
  8. 1B Ji-Man Choi
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    LHP CC Sabathia

It is a lovely day for two games in Boston. Nice and sunny with temperatures right around 80. Not a bad day to spend 18 innings at the park. This afternoon’s game will begin shortly after 1pm ET. You’ll be able to watch on YES locally and TBS nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: As expected, the Yankees have reinforced the bullpen for today’s doubleheader. Bryan Mitchell is up as the 26th man, and both Domingo German and Caleb Smith have been called up as well. Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller have been sent down. Joe Girardi said they might make more moves between games depending how things go. Neither Holder nor Heller deserve to be sent down after last night’s performances, but that’s the way it goes with young relievers. Michael Pineda (elbow) was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Smith, who will be the 12th player to make his MLB debut with the Yankees this season whenever he gets into a game.

Cubs return Rule 5 Draft pick Caleb Smith to Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have welcomed back another one of their lost Rule 5 Draft players. Left-hander Caleb Smith has been returned by the Cubs, both teams announced. Smith was reassigned to minor league camp as a non-40-man roster player. He had to remain on Chicago’s big league roster all season, or be passed through waivers and offered back to the Yankees, which is exactly what happened.

Smith, 24, was New York’s 14th round pick in the 2013 draft. He had a 3.96 ERA (3.15 FIP) with 25.1% strikeouts in 63.2 innings with Double-A Trenton last season, his second straight year at the level. Smith is a lefty and he has good velocity on his fastball, so it’s no surprise a team took a chance on him in the Rule 5 Draft. He figures to be part of the Triple-A Scranton bullpen mix.

The Cubs acquired Smith from the Brewers following the Rule 5 Draft. Milwaukee selected him then traded him to Chicago for cash. The Rule 5 Draft rules still apply following the trade though. There seemed to be very little chance Smith, who struck out seven and allowed three runs (including three homers) in 6.1 innings this spring, would stick with the Cubs given their bullpen depth.

Last week the Yankees received Tyler Jones, another Rule 5 Draft pick, back from the Diamondbacks. Lefty Tyler Webb (Pirates) and catcher Luis Torrens (Padres) are still out there. Webb has a pretty good chance to stick. I still expect Torrens to be offered back sooner rather than later. A 20-year-old catcher jumping from Low-A to MLB is so very unlikely to stick, even with a bad rebuilding team.

Yankees lose Torrens, six others in 2016 Rule 5 Draft

Torrens. (MLBpipeline.com)
Torrens. (MLBpipeline.com)

Thursday morning, the 2016 Winter Meetings unofficially wrapped up with the Rule 5 Draft. Traditionally everyone heads home after that. The Yankees were not able to make a Rule 5 Draft pick this year because their 40-man roster is full, though their incredibly deep farm system was raided pretty good, as expected. So it goes. Here’s a recap of the damage:

Major League Phase

2. Reds: C Luis Torrens (traded to Padres, according to Jonathan Mayo)
7. Diamondbacks: RHP Tyler Jones
9. Brewers: LHP Caleb Smith (traded to Cubs, the team announced)
13. Pirates: LHP Tyler Webb

Triple-A Phase

4. Rays: RHP Ty Hensley
15. Royals: RHP Kelvin Magallanes
30. Cubs: IF Kevin Cornelius

As a reminder, players selected in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft have to stick on their new team’s 25-man active big league roster all next season, or be put on waivers and offered back to the Yankees. The Triple-A phase works differently. That’s just a straight draft. The players are gone. They don’t have to be offered back.

Torrens is the big name here. He was New York’s top catching prospect now that Gary Sanchez has graduated to the big leagues, though he’s been beset by shoulder injuries the last two years. He missed the entire 2015 season with labrum surgery and was slowed by a setback earlier this year. When healthy this past season, Torrens hit .236/.336/.318 (97 wRC+) with two homers and nearly as many walks (11.9%) as strikeouts (15.0%) in 55 total games for Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston.

The chances of a 20-year-old catcher who has played 49 career games in a full season league, all at Low-A, sticking in the Major Leagues next season are so incredibly small. It’s hard to hide a catcher all season, especially in the National League, plus sitting on the bench most of the year and getting maybe 200 at-bats isn’t good for Torrens’ development at this point either. (The Padres are also going to be developing Austin Hedges, their own top catching prospect.) The $1.2M bonus baby from 2012 will almost certainly be offered back in Spring Training. If not, then, well, good luck to him. Torrens will have missed a lot of development time from 2015-17.

Webb, 26, was a lock to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft as a southpaw with some velocity and a history of missing bats at Triple-A. This season he had a 3.59 ERA (2.76 FIP) with 27.1% strikeouts and 7.6% walks in 72.2 innings at Triple-A Scranton, his third year at the level. The Yankees didn’t have the 40-man space to protect him. Webb, a tenth round pick in 2013, has a pretty good chance to stick with the Pirates all season, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll probably be claimed on waivers before being returning to the Yankees. Lefties get plenty of chances.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

Smith, like Webb, is a lefty with a good fastball. He had a 3.96 ERA (3.15 FIP) with 25.1% strikeouts and 7.2% walks in 63.2 Double-A innings this year, his second season at the level. It’s going to be really tough for the 25-year-old to stick all season with a championship team, but apparently the Cubs are going to try. Smith was New York’s 14th rounder in 2013. Jones, 27, had 2.17 ERA (1.50 FIP) with 34.2% strikeouts and 5.6% walks in 45.2 Double-A innings in 2016. The Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent last offseason.

In the Triple-A phase, the most notable name by far is Hensley, the Yankees’ first round pick in 2012. He’s thrown only 42.1 professional innings total due to all sorts of injuries, including hip and hernia surgery, and a pair of Tommy John surgeries. Hensley is currently rehabbing from his second elbow reconstruction. He was still rehabbing from the first procedure when his new ligament gave out. Rough. The Rays have nothing to lose but a low level roster spot, so they’re going to roll the dice and see what happens.

Magallanes and Cornelius are a pair of organizational depth players. The Royals and Cubs are just plugging some minor league roster openings. Magallanes, 22, has yet to make it out of rookie ball. He has a 6.89 ERA (4.78 FIP) in 160.2 career innings. The 24-year-old Cornelius smacked 15 dingers in only 63 games with Rookie Pulaski and High-A Tampa this year. He hit .292/.383/.584 (172 wRC+) overall and was way old for both levels. New York selected him in the 31st round of the 2013 draft.

The Yankees did made two picks of their own in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft: C Jorge Saez from the Blue Jays and RHP Colten Brewer from the Pirates. Does Webb-for-Brewer qualify as the annual Yankees-Pirates trade? Eh, whatever. Anyway, the 26-year-old Saez hit .260/.314/.495 (126 wRC+) with 12 home runs in only 58 games between High-A and Double-A this past season. He’s a defense first catcher who is probably going to be the backup at Double-A Trenton this year. Saez fills a roster need, that’s all. He was Toronto’s 32nd round pick in 2012.

Brewer, 24, pitched to a 4.09 ERA (3.67 FIP) in 70.1 innings across 13 starts and five relief appearances at High-A in 2016. The Pirates selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, so he was kind of a big deal at one point. Brewer is a low-90s sinker guy who is still trying to figure out secondary stuff. The Yankees found gold in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft last year with Yefrey Ramirez. I wouldn’t get my hopes up with Brewer. Minor league Rule 5 Draft success stories are extremely rare.

So, after all of that, the Yankees lost seven players and gained two in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. Torrens is, by far, the most important one to follow in Spring Training. The history of catchers sticking as Rule 5 Draft picks is pretty terrible, but Torrens is really talented, and the Padres might be determined to keep him around long-term. The Yankees simply didn’t have enough 40-man roster space to protect him (or Webb). We’ll see how it shakes out.