Batting average isn’t everything, but the lack of it is really hurting the Yankees

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

Last night, in the series opening loss to the Blue Jays, the Yankees were held to two runs or fewer for the 21st time in 50 games this season. No AL team has more games with no more than two runs in 2016. The Yankees were also held to five hits or fewer for the 11th time in 50 games. That’s the third most in the league.

It’s no surprise then that the Yankees came into Tuesday with the second fewest runs scored (192) and the second lowest runs per game average (3.84) in the AL. Only the lowly Twins (187 and 3.74) are worse. The offense has been a big problem overall this season, and, not coincidentally, their team batting average (.233) is the lowest it’s been through 50 games since 1969, as noted by our Katie Sharp. Check out last night’s lineup:

Yankees batting averages

Three players in the starting lineup were hitting over .250 and five of the nine were hitting below .230. That’s almost the regular lineup too. Aaron Hicks was starting in place of Alex Rodriguez, and, sadly, Hicks’ .198 average is an upgrade over A-Rod‘s .170 average. Otherwise that’s the starting lineup. That’s pretty close to what Joe Girardi would send out there in a winner take all wildcard game tomorrow.

Obviously batting average is not the only — or best — way to evaluate offense. Walks and hitting for power matter too. Batting average is not nothing though. We’ve reached the point where batting average has become underrated. The best thing a hitter can do at the plate is not make an out, and hits are always better than walks. Always always always. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Walks should supplement hits, not replace them.

The Yankees as a team really stink at hitting for average. Look at that lineup and tell me how many players have a lower batting average than what you’d reasonably expect coming into the season. Brett Gardner? Sure. He’s not a true talent .217 hitter. He hit .259 last year and .265 in over 3,000 plate appearances since becoming a regular in 2010. Mark Teixeira doesn’t really hit for average anymore but .195 is low even for him.

That’s probably it, right? You could argue Starlin Castro is better than a .250 hitter, though he did hit .265 in over over 1,800 plate appearances from 2013-15, and a 15-point swing in either direction is still within the range of “that’s baseball.” I guess you could argue Chase Headley is better than a .229 hitter too, but eh. That might be pushing it even as good as he’s been in May (.284/.348/.425) and after hitting .259 last year.

Point is, that is close to the normal for the offense in terms of batting average. Gardner and Teixeira (and A-Rod) are underperforming expectations that’s really it. Everyone else is pretty much where you’d expect them to be. Combine the lack of batting average with the lack of power — nine homers combined for Teixeira and Rodriguez through 50 games, woof — and you get, well, one of the worst offenses in the league.

It is harder right now to get a base hit than it has been at any point since the mound was lowered in 1969. I’m talking around the league, not just the Yankees. The MLB batting average is .252 right now. It was .262 when the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. A ten-point drop league-wide in seven years is huge! Go back ten years to 2006 and the league batting average was .269. There’s roughly 165,000 at-bats in MLB each season. The difference between a .269 average and a .252 average is over 2,800 hits. That’s crazy.

All sorts of things are contributing to the decline in offense and batting average. The infield shift is an obvious reason, but it’s not the only reason. More specialized relievers, the expanding strike zone, super detailed scouting reports, the increase in velocity — the MLB average fastball velocity is 92.3 mph this year, up from 90.9 mph in 2008, the first full year of PitchFX — all of that stuff has led to the decline in batting average.

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

Since the start of last season the Yankees have been, by far, the most shifted team in baseball. They’ve had 1,792 at-bats with the shift on since the start of last year. The Mariners are a distant second at 1,402 such at-bats. The shift has definitely played a role in the team’s inability to hit for average. Teixeira and Brian McCann are the most obvious victims, but shift-able switch-hitters like Headley and Carlos Beltran have been hurt too.

I’ve come to realize shifts are like strikeouts. You can have one guy in your lineup who will strike out 180+ times a year, maybe two if you really want to push it, but any more than that is a major problem. Same with the shift. One or maybe two shift-able hitters is fine. But five or six like the Yankees have at times? Nope. It doesn’t work. It’s too difficult to sustain rallies that way. We’ve seen too many rallies die on grounders hit to shallow right field the last few seasons.

The Yankees are — and have been for a few years now — one of the better contact teams in baseball, believe it or not. Their team 19.4% strikeout rate is sixth lowest in baseball. It was 19.1% from 2014-15, fifth lowest in baseball. There’s good contact and bad contact though, and the fact that they have the eight highest ground ball rate (47.7%) and 11th highest soft contact rate (19.8%) this year is bad news. Their MLB low .265 BABIP isn’t an accident. Weak grounders tend to go for outs, especially when you lack team speed like the Yankees.

There’s also this: the Yankees are old. Old hitters lose bat speed, which is why Beltran and Teixeira and A-Rod are no longer the hitters they once were. Even players in their early 30s like Gardner and Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury begin to slip. The team’s two under-30 regulars are Castro and Didi Gregorius, and let’s face it, they’re flawed hitters. They both tend to swing at everything. Aside from Gardner and Teixeira (and A-Rod) getting out of their slumps, there’s not much reason to expect the Yankees to post a higher batting average going forward.

The Yankees have focused on acquiring left-handed hitters who can take advantage of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium and that intuitively makes sense. It doesn’t seem to have worked all that well, however. Going forward, in terms of overall team building, the best approach may be to focus on hitters with the skills to hit for average, then let any power boost from the ballpark come naturally.

Forget about hitting .300 for the second. Among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, the Yankees haven’t had a .285 hitter since Robinson Cano in 2013. The last regular other than Cano and Derek Jeter to hit .285+ for the Yankees was Nick Swisher in 2010 (.288). Batting average isn’t the only thing that matters. We know that. It also can’t be ignored either. The 2016 Yankees couldn’t make it any more obvious.

Yankeemetrics: A Ray of Hope [May 27-29]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Super Hiro
A couple veteran sluggers made sure that the Yankees wouldn’t waste another pitching gem in Friday night’s series opener at Tampa Bay. Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran both homered in support of another brilliant performance by Masahiro Tanaka, leading the Bronx Bombers to a 4-1 win over the Rays.

Tanaka took a perfect game into the fifth inning, allowing just two hits and no walks over seven scoreless innings. He is now 3-0 in 10 starts this season, the first Yankee pitcher with a double-digit streak of unbeaten starts to begin a season since Orlando Hernandez in 2004.

Tanaka continued his dominance away from Yankee Stadium, delivering his third straight road outing of at least seven innings, one run or fewer and no more than five hits allowed. The last Yankee with a streak like that was Mike Mussina in August 2003. He lowered his road ERA to 1.34, the best in the American League through Friday’s games (min. 15 IP).

The 27-year-old right-hander was brilliant in finishing off hitters, as the Rays went 0-for-11 in two-strike counts with four strikeouts. Tampa Bay’s left-handed bats were also held in check by Tanaka, going 0-for-10 and hit just one ball out of the infield (a fly out by Corey Dickerson in the fifth inning).

A-Rod and Beltran supplied the offensive fireworks needed for the win, becoming the first set of Yankee teammates age 39 or older to homer in the same game, and the 21st pair overall to achieve that feat. The most recent guys to do it were Frank Thomas and Matt Stairs for the Blue Jays on June 23, 2007, and the first guys were Ty Cobb and Zack Wheat for the Philadelphia A’s on July 15, 1927.

The 6-foot-7 elephant in the room
Saturday’s game went pretty much as predicted given that Michael Pineda was listed as the starting pitcher for the Yankees. The big righty gave up a bunch of first-inning runs and was hit hard all afternoon, adding another ugly pitching line to his ledger, and the Yankees lost to the Rays.

(Getty  Images)
(Getty Images)

Pineda added three more runs and four hits to his league-leading totals in the first inning, which now stand at 16 runs and 26 hits. His 14.40 first-inning ERA would easily be the highest single-season mark by any Yankee that started more than five games.

It was also his fourth game with at least six earned runs allowed this season, the most by any pitcher in the majors through Saturday’s slate. The only other Yankee in the last 60 seasons to have four such games this early into the schedule (through 48 team games) was Terry Mulholland in 1994.

On a more positive note … Beltran reached another significant statistical milestone in this game, hitting his 12th homer of the season in the fourth inning for his 2,500th career hit. He’s the 99th player all-time and the 10th switch-hitter with that many hits, but also joined an even more exclusive club when looking at his rare combo of speed, power and on-base skills.

Just three other players in major-league history, along with Beltran, have compiled at least 2,500 hits, 400 homers, 300 stolen bases and 1,000 walks: Barry Bonds, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez.

One is enough
One swing changed everything for the Yankees on Sunday afternoon. With Starlin Castro‘s two-run homer in the seventh inning, they avoided becoming a historical footnote in baseball history and instead added another rare win to their franchise record books. The go-ahead blast ended Jake Odorizzi’s no-hit bid in emphatic fashion and delivered one of the most unusual victories ever recorded by a Yankee team.

It was the first time since at least 1913 that the Yankees won a game of nine or more innings while recording just one hit or fewer. The only other instance of this happening in a contest of any length was July 10, 1914 against the Indians, the second game of a doubleheader that lasted only six innings. The next day, on July 11, a 19-year-old named Babe Ruth made his major-league debut for the Boston Red Sox.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

This was also the first time since at least 1913 that the Yankees were held to one hit or fewer and scored more than one run in a game, regardless of the length or outcome.

Just three other times in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) have the Yankees played a game where their only hit was a home run: Sept. 10, 1999 vs. the Red Sox (Pedro’s 17-strikeout one-hitter); June 1, 1960 vs. the Orioles; Aug. 11, 1943 vs. the Browns.

Lost in the statistical madness was another fantastic outing by Nathan Eovaldi. He threw six innings of one-run ball, winning his fifth straight start and improving to 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA in his last seven starts. Nasty Nate now has a streak of back-to-back-to-back starts of at least six innings and no more than one run allowed for the first time in his career.

Game 49: Rubber Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By my quick count, the Yankees have played 12 three-game series this season, and even with that recent 13-7 stretch, they’ve won only four of those 12 series. Yikes. Today’s rubber game with the Rays is a chance for series win No. 5, and also a chance to get back within a game of .500. Baby steps, I guess. Getting a little tired of writing that. Anyway, here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. RF Aaron Hicks
  8. 1B Dustin Ackley
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Another hot and humid day in St. Pete, and there’s some rain in the forecast too. The dome will come in handy this afternoon. Today’s series finale will begin at 1:10pm ET and you can watch on WPIX locally and MLB Network nationally. Yep, another WPIX game. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Carlos Beltran left yesterday’s game with a stiff back and is available today. Joe Girardi said before the series he wasn’t going to play Beltran on the turf all three games anyway … Mark Teixeira (neck) feels much better and will take batting practice today with an eye on playing tomorrow.

Yankeemetrics: Fun while it lasted [May 24-26]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Famous Nathan
A cross-country trip and an off-day did little to slow down the Yankees’ momentum as they extended their win streak to six games on Tuesday with a 6-0 blanking of the Blue Jays.

The victory also lifted them to the magical .500 mark for the first time since April 14; that 35-game blip with a sub-.500 record was their longest such stretch since the middle of the 1995 season.

Nathan Eovaldi continued his personal run of excellence with one of his strongest outings of the season. He gave up just two hits in six shutout innings, his second straight start going that deep into the game surrendering no more than two hits, and the third time overall in 2016 he’s done that.

Through Tuesday’s games, the only other pitcher in the majors this season with three games of at least six innings pitched and two or fewer hits allowed was Jake Arrieta. The last Yankee pitcher to compile three such outings within the team’s first 45 games was Bob Shawkey in 1919.

Eovaldi dominated the Toronto lineup with a nasty combo of 98-mph heaters and diving splitters. Of the 87 four-seam fastballs and split-finger fastballs that he threw, the Blue Jays swung at 42 of them and missed 11 times, his second-most combined whiffs on those two pitches in a start this season. Toronto went 0-for-18 in at-bats ending in either a four-seamer or splitter, including five strikeouts, all with the splitter.

Chasen nothing
The Yankees win streak came to a screeching halt on Wednesday after getting pounded by the Blue Jays, 8-4, and once again falling below .500 on the season.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Looking at the final score, you hardly could have predicted that this would be a loss for the Yankees. Entering the game, the Yankees were 17-1 when scoring at least four runs (best record in MLB) and the Blue Jays were 0-21 when allowing at least four runs (worst record in MLB).

The game was tight through the middle innings until Chasen Shreve entered in the seventh … and then things quickly got out of hand as the struggling lefty surrendered two homers and a double to the first three batters he faced. That gave him seven longballs allowed in 19 innings pitched this season, a rate of 3.32 per nine innings that would easily be the highest single-season mark by a Yankee pitcher with at least 15 innings pitched.

The last Yankee to give up at least three extra-base hits, including two homers, in an outing of one inning or fewer was … Shreve on August 2, 2015 against the White Sox. The only other player in franchise history to have two such games in their Yankee career was Catfish Hunter (in 1977 and 1978).

The one-man show
The Yankees wasted a stellar outing from CC Sabathia and dropped the rubber game on Thursday afternoon, 3-1. They’ve now lost four straight series at Yankee Stadium to the Blue Jays, their longest home series losing streak in the history of the rivalry.

Sabathia turned in another dazzling performance on the mound, holding Toronto to just two hits and two runs (both unearned) in seven innings. He’s now allowed three-or-fewer runs in each of his first seven starts, matching the longest such streak to begin a season in his career. He also did it in 2006 as a 25-year-old with the Indians.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Sabathia has quietly been one of the best pitchers in the entire American League dating back to the final month of last season. His 2.56 ERA since Sept. 1, 2015 is the fourth-lowest among AL pitchers with at least 10 starts in that span.

Carlos Beltran returned to the outfield but couldn’t keep up his scorching-hot production with the bat, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. The only other Yankee right fielders in the last 25 seasons to come to the plate at least four times in a game and strike out every time were Paul O’Neill (1997) and Raul Mondesi (2002).

A-Rod’s return will help the Yankees even though he limits their flexibility

The Return of Rod. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
The Return of Rod. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Let me preface this by saying this is not a “the Yankees are better off without Alex Rodriguez” post. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rodriguez started slow this season (like many Yankees) but had started to turn things around right before injuring his hamstring. The Yankees can use his right-handed bat. No doubt about it.

That being said, there is no denying A-Rod‘s return robs the Yankees of some roster flexibility. He can’t play the field and he provides negative value on the bases. As long as Rodriguez hits, you’ll live with that other stuff, and I do think he’ll hit. “Alex is a professional hitter, we know he is going to be able to hit,” said fill-in DH Carlos Beltran to Kevin Kernan earlier this week.

Rodriguez’s return means a few different things for the roster and the Yankees in general. Some of it is no big deal, and some of it is pretty damn important. His return changes the entire complexion of the team. Consider this a preview of A-Rod’s return from the DL.

The Roster Move

Might as well start here. I fully expect the Yankees to send Rob Refsnyder back to Triple-A Scranton to clear a roster spot for A-Rod, and yeah, I’m sure there will be outrage. In our poll last week nearly 60% of the over 2,000 votes were in favor of keeping Refsnyder and sending Ronald Torreyes down. I just can’t see it happening.

Torreyes started two games over the weekend, including one at third base, a position the Yankees have been trying to teach Refsnyder. Also, I don’t think the Yankees want to use Starlin Castro as the backup shortstop. I think they consider him a second baseman and a second baseman only for the time being. All signs point to Refsnyder going down for A-Rod.

The DH Spot

It’s really hard to ignore how well Beltran took to the DH spot during Alex’s absence. Beltran has hit .322/.344/.780 (196 wRC+) with six homers as a DH this year compared to only .245/.278/.392 (80 wRC+) with four homers as a right fielder. It’s not a huge amount of data — Beltran has batted 64 times as a DH and 108 times as a right fielder — but it’s what we have.

A-Rod’s return is going to push Beltran back into right field, which, at the very least, is going to hurt the team defense considerably. If you buy into the numbers, Beltran’s offense will take a hit as well. (I don’t think it’s quite that simple, especially not with those sample sizes.) What else can the Yankees do though? They’re at their best when Beltran and A-Rod are in the lineup, and there’s only one way to get both into the lineup at the same time.

(Stephen Lam/Getty)
(Stephen Lam/Getty)

What About Hicks?

Beltran going back to right field means Girardi and the Yankees will again have to find ways to get Aaron Hicks into the lineup. Hicks hit .276/.338/.431 (107 wRC+) in 69 plate appearances during A-Rod’s absence and, just as importantly, I feel he’s looked way more comfortable at the plate. Back in April he seemed to be jumping at everything. It looked like he was trying to hit a five-run home run each time up.

The plan coming into the season was to give the regulars a little more rest and that hasn’t happened yet, partly because A-Rod was hurt and partly because the Yankees really struggled for a while, so Joe Girardi kept running everyone out there in hopes of getting a win. Hopefully now that Hicks has shown he can productive with regular at-bats Girardi will be more willing to use him.

These things have a way of working themselves out. Someone will get hurt or banged up and need a few days, which will clear playing time for Hicks. Until that happens, the only way to get Hicks into the lineup is by sitting Beltran, A-Rod, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner more frequently. That’s easier said than done, especially considering the way Beltran and Ellsbury have been hitting of late.

Can He Really Not Play The Field? Like At All?

This section is probably a waste of words and brainpower because the Yankees have been completely unwilling to play Rodriguez in the field since last May. He didn’t even bring a glove to Spring Training. They continue to say he’s a DH and a DH only. I’m not asking whether he can play third base twice a week or anything like that though. Can A-Rod really not play five or six innings at first base once every ten days or so? With a fly ball pitcher on the mound? And give him the next day off to recover?

It’s not much, but something like that can be a help because it’ll get Beltran (and Mark Teixeira) off his feet and Hicks into the lineup. Teixeira’s neck is acting up again and he hasn’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball either. Sitting him for a few innings here and there wouldn’t kill the Yankees at the moment. There’s no reason to think this will happen though. A-Rod’s medicals must be really scary for the Yankees to not even consider playing him in the field once in a blue moon.

* * *

The Yankees are a better team today than they were yesterday because A-Rod is back. When he’s healthy, I think he can still be a very productive player. The lack of flexibility totally stinks though. It really does. Beltran has to go back to right field and Hicks has to go back to playing sporadically. That’s not ideal. Girardi and the Yankees have to figure out a way to make this work, because A-Rod can give the team a big lift as they look to continue climbing the standings.

Carlos Beltran’s no-trade clause and his future with the Yankees

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Following last night’s win over the Blue Jays, the Yankees are 22-22 on the season and three games back of a playoff spot. Their current postseason odds are 25.2% according to FanGraphs, down from 31.7% on Opening Day but up from 10.7% on May 13th. It’s still a little too early to worry about that stuff, but we shouldn’t forget about it completely either. The season is almost one-third complete.

Carlos Beltran has played a huge role in getting the Yankees back on track, specifically by hitting .299/.333/.649 (162 wRC+) in the month of May. He’s wanted to wear pinstripes for a very long time. Remember when Beltran was willing to take a discount to sign with the Yankees back in 2005? He wanted to sign with the Yankees in 2011 too. It wasn’t until 2014 that he got his wish, and now he’s in year three of his three-year contract.

If the Yankees are going to continue to climb back into contention this summer, Beltran will have to be a big part of it, regardless of whether he’s playing right field or DH. And if the Yankees don’t get back into the race, Beltran has to be one of the players the Yankees put on the trade market. I’ve said this a million times already. The Yankees have to be honest with themselves and move some of their veterans if they’re out of it. That includes Beltran.

As it turns out, Beltran has a limited no-trade clause rather than a full no-trade clause like most of the team’s veteran players. Buster Olney (subs. req’d) reports the Yankees can trade Beltran to 14 teams without his permission. Among those 14 teams are the Indians, Nationals, Royals, Cardinals, Rays, Tigers, and Dodgers. I’m not sure who the other seven clubs are. What does this mean for Beltran’s future in pinstripes? Let’s talk it out.

1. Would any of those teams actually want Beltran? A lot of things are going to have to fall into place for a Beltran trade, even beyond the Yankees falling out of the race and ownership giving the thumbs up to sell. (I think both of those things are unlikely.) The Yankees will have to navigate Beltran’s no-trade clause, which won’t be easy even though it is limited, and find a trade partner willing to meet their asking price, whatever that may be.

Obviously the only teams that will show interest in Beltran are contenders. Contenders will want him as that veteran bat to solidify the lineup. The Tigers, Cardinals, and Dodgers do not have openings in the outfield (or in Detroit’s case, at DH) — a spot could always open through injury, but right now there aren’t any openings — and the Yankees aren’t trading with the Rays, so right off the bat that 14-team list is a ten-team list.

The Indians have a need in the outfield and so do the Royals, especially now that Alex Gordon is injured. Kansas City prioritizes defense but they did pursue Beltran as a free agent three years ago. Their window to win is right now and Beltran would be an upgrade over Jarrod Dyson in right field. The Nationals could always play Bryce Harper in center and put Beltran in right if Ben Revere doesn’t start hitting. That definitely seems like a thing they’d do.

Point is, there are complications even beyond Beltran’s limited no-trade clause. He’s a limited player positionally and that’s going to shrink his market. The Royals seem like the best fit and no doubt it’s because of his history there. (Would we even be talking about Beltran and the Royals if he hadn’t played there?) When the Mets traded Beltran to the Giants years ago, he had plenty of suitors because he could still play right field. Now Beltran is an unignorable defensive liability.

2. What about keeping him and making the qualifying offer? Well, first of all the qualifying offer might not even exist this coming offseason. It could be changed or wiped out completely as part of the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement. At the very least, I think the free agent compensation system will be changed in some way. Too many good players are getting hung out to try in January and February. This year that group included Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, Yovani Gallardo, and Howie Kendrick. The MLBPA doesn’t like that.

For the sake of argument, let’s just assume CBA talks drag on and the offseason begins with the current qualifying offer system in place. The qualifying offer is set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and based on my quick math, that will be $17.1M this winter. Could you see Beltran passing up a one-year deal at $17.1M this offseason? I can’t. He’s going to turn 40 years old in April and 40-year-olds ain’t getting that kind of money on the free agent market. If the Yankees make Beltran the qualifying offer he’ll be back next season at a very inflated salary.

3. What about re-signing him? I can’t see this happening at all. Beltran could rake the rest of the season and the Yankees will probably still give him a nice thank you, then move on after the season. The team is trying to get younger and trying to get under the luxury tax threshold. Beltran helps them accomplish neither. The Yankees have several young outfielders in Triple-A (Ben Gamel, Aaron Judge, etc.) plus Aaron Hicks at the big league level, and at some point they need to give those guys a chance. If Alex Rodriguez was not around clogging the DH spot, then maybe re-signing Beltran could happen. That is not the case though.

* * *

One way or another, Beltran’s time with the Yankees figures to come to an end at some point this year. Either the team will trade him at the deadline or, much more likely, they’ll let him walk as a free agent. For now the focus is on Beltran helping the Yankees win and turn their season around. The more he does that, the longer the questions about his future in New York will be put off.

Yankeemetrics: How sweep it is [May 19-22]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Supernova sinks the A’s
Given the massive hole the Yankees had dug themselves into during the first month of the season, and coupled with their recent struggles in the Bay Area, this weekend’s trip to Oakland was foreboding.

Entering the series, the Yankees were 2-8 at the Oakland Coliseum since 2013, their worst road record against any AL team in that span. They’d lost four straight series in Oakland, their longest such streak since dropping 12 series in a row at the ballpark from 1985-91.

Not ideal. The Yankees buried that trend from the get-go with a much-needed win in the series opener on Thursday night.

Ivan Nova was a model of efficiency on the mound, firing 62 pitches in six innings while giving up just one run on four hits. His sinker was in peak form, averaging its most horizontal movement and second-best downward movement of the season. The A’s went 2-for-14 when putting a two-seamer in play, as he pounded the bottom of the strike zone with the pitch.

Nova is now 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in three starts this season and hasn’t allowed more than one run in any of those outings. The last Yankee to be unbeaten through his first three starts while giving up one run or fewer in each game was Kevin Brown in 2004.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Welcome back, Large Lefty
Breaking news: The Yankees finally put together a win streak of more than two games after beating the A’s, 8-3, on Friday night. The Astros are now the only team in baseball that hasn’t won at least three games in a row this season.

There were plenty of heroes for the Yankees, starting with their new (old) ace, Carsten Charles Sabathia. Pitching for the first time since going on the DL two weeks ago, Sabathia spun another gem with one run allowed and eight strikeouts in six strong innings. He’s now won back-to-back games, surrendering no more than one run in each outing, for the first time since 2011.

Sabathia wasn’t the only veteran that turned back the clock on Friday night. Thirty-nine-year-old Carlos Beltran went 3-for-5 with three doubles and three RBI to lead the Yankees’ latest offensive outburst.

Beltran is the oldest player in franchise history with three doubles in a game, and just the fifth guy in major-league history age 39 or older to hit three doubles and drive in three runs in a game. The four others are David Ortiz (2015), Tony Perez (1985), Pete Rose (1980), and Joe Judge (1933).

#TANAK
The Yankees continued their winning ways with a 5-1 victory on Saturday that gave them their first road series win of 2016, ending a streak of six straight winless series away from the Bronx. That was their longest such drought to begin a season since 1991.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Thanks to a Blue Jays loss in Minnesota, the Yankees also climbed out of the basement in the AL East for the first time since April 23. That was their longest stretch in last place since spending the final four months of the 1990 season at the bottom of the division.

Masahiro Tanaka continued the Yankees’ recent stretch of terrific starting pitching as he went seven innings and allowed one run for his second win of the season. He’s now 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in three career games against the A’s, and has allowed one earned run or fewer in each of those outings.

The only other Yankee since 1980 to win three straight starts versus the A’s without giving up more than an earned run in each game was Andy Pettitte (1997-2000).

Broom Broom
The Yankees capped off this successful West Coast swing with a 5-4 win, completing their first four-game sweep in Oakland since July 1979. They also avoided losing their fourth straight season series against the A’s, something that hadn’t happened in this rivalry since they dropped seven season series in a row to the Philadelphia A’s from 1908-14.

Consider the amazing turnaround that the Bombers have engineered in the past week. When the Yankees started this road trip, they were:

  • Without a win streak of more than two games … Done.
  • Without a road series win … Done.
  • Without a series sweep … Done.

And stuck in last place in the AL East … not anymore. With the win on Sunday, they’re now in third place, their highest rank in the standings since April 17.

Two players that had struggled mightily this season were surprise key contributors to the win. Michael Pineda, riding the longest losing streak of his career (0-5 in prior seven starts), tossed a quality start for his first victory since April 6. His 6.60 ERA entering Sunday was the highest among qualifiers in the AL and second-highest in the majors.

Mark Teixeira brought a .133 batting average against righties into this game, the worst among 286 players with at least 50 plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers this season. Also, he’d yet to record an RBI in his 48 at-bats with two outs this season, the most two-out at-bats without an RBI by any player.

So, of course, he delivered the game-tying hit in the sixth inning via a two-out RBI single off righty Jesse Hahn.

“Well, Suzyn, you know, you just can’t predict baseball!”