The small things added up in Yankees’ Game Four win

Slip 'N Slide (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Slip ‘N Slide (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Whenever you have a big win, some big things have to go your way. A homer here, a double there, a strikeout here, a double play there. This all kind of goes without saying.

But there are also the little things that change everything. The borderline strike call. The tiny bit of experience you have against the opposing pitcher. The fielder being shaded a foot this way or that.

In Game 4, the big ones are obvious. The Aaron Judge hits (MVP!), Gary Sanchez‘s double and really any hit from the seventh inning on. Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman keeping the Astros relatively silent. But I wanted to break down or simply note a few of the small details that changed the complexion of the contest and led to perhaps the Yankees’ biggest win since Nov. 4, 2009.

1. Sitting on McCullers’ curve: Going into Game Four, Judge had about as good a feel against Lance McCullers as any Yankee hitter. He was 2 for 4 with a double and a walk against the righty in five career plate appearances and walked in one of his first two PAs on Tuesday.

McCullers is obviously a curveball-first pitcher, especially in Game 4, as he should be with that good a curve. But Judge has seen it well and McCullers has actually avoided the curve against Judge this year, often using his fastball and change. He’d only led off with a curve for a strike once, his first AB against Judge back in May.

But Judge is a smart hitter and knew to keep looking for it. It doesn’t take an MVP to hit a hanging curve, but it takes a good hitter to be waiting for the right pitch. He got his first pitch curve over the plate and took advantage.

2. The ABs against Chris Devenski: The Yankees have figured out Devenski. Some credit definitely goes to the Yankees’ advance scouts, including former reliever Matt Daley, who Suzyn Waldman mentioned on the WFAN postgame as involved in watching the Astros the last month or so.

Maybe the league has figured out Devenski and he just needs to adjust. Or maybe it’s just a rough stretch. The changeup master seems to have lost some steam in recent months and his three at-bats against Yankee batters were a perfect example.

The Bombers know to wait for his fastball and spit on his offspeed stuff, which he hasn’t been throwing for strikes. Didi Gregorius lined an 0-1 fastball for a triple (more on this in a second), Gary Sanchez got a 2-1 fastball and drove it to right and Greg Bird spat on a nice 2-2 change before drawing a walk. Bird did swing through a 2-1 change, but he made the adjustment.

3. Defensive non-replacement: In case you forgot, the Yankees lost a game to the Astros on May 11 this year because A.J. Hinch went to Jake Marisnick as a defensive replacement in left field and he threw out Jacoby Ellsbury at the plate. Marisnick is a very solid corner outfielder and would have been welcome for the Astros in the later innings.

But he’s out for this series after fracturing his thumb in September. That’s part of why Cameron Maybin was in left field to miss Greg Bird’s double on Monday and Marwin Gonzalez was in left on Tuesday. Gonzalez is a fine hitter and solid fielder, but has below average foot speed. If Hinch has Marisnick, he likely puts him in left starting in the seventh, when he would have had a chance to flag down Didi’s triple for an out. Or hold him at second. Either way, an injury to a backup on another team in September could have made a difference tonight.

4. Cutting down Gurriel: Backing up a moment, I just wanted to quickly mention the cut-off on Yuli Gurriel’s three-run double. Todd Frazier does a good job of cutting the ball, surely aided by his teammates, and getting Gurriel in a rundown. Finely executed rundown with the putout by Judge coming in from right field. The big man helping in all sorts of ways! The play helped keep the game at 3-0 for the moment and was a nice team effort.

5. Chase Headley and Joe Musgrove’s cutter: Musgrove tried a backdoor cutter to Headley to start the eighth-inning at-bat and missed. Headley mentioned postgame that he kept it in his mind that Musgrove may go back to it. Sure enough, he did on 2-2 and Headley lined it into left-center. That’s just smart baseball from Headley.

6. Headley’s slide: This one, pictured above, was delightful at the start, scary in the middle and exhilarating at the end. How many times have the Yankees made outs on the bases this postseason? Feels like too many. This was less a bad baserunning play and more bad luck with Headley stumbling. He’s a smart baserunner and gets lucky that Carlos Correa doesn’t hold the ball a split-second longer to wait him out. Phew. This was a small one that was a big one if you know what I mean.

7. The non-called strike: Judge fouled off the first pitch from Ken Giles. Like every pitcher this postseason, Giles then went for an offspeed pitch away. However, he didn’t get the call.

(Screenshot)
(Screenshot)

Perhaps he should have. Perhaps this was karma from the baseball gods for all the bad calls Judge has seen at times this postseason. If the count goes 0-2, who knows if Judge can fight his way to tie the game? At 1-1, Judge maintained some control and it led to his big double. Also helps that he’s seen Giles a few times now dating back to the regular season and knew what the tough righty threw.

There were plenty other examples.  One pitch in his walk on Friday perhaps led to Gary Sanchez’s go-ahead double off Giles. Maybe Didi’s bunt on Monday changed the Astros’ defensive alignment to allow his seeing-eye single in the eighth. It’s hard to discern at times.

The Yankees need many more big hits, defensive plays and strikeouts to get through this series and another seven-game set. To accompany those, they’ll need some of these small ones to go their way as well.

Chase Headley should be the Yankees’ ALDS DH

(David Maxwell/Getty Images)
(David Maxwell/Getty Images)

After scoring eight runs in the Wild Card Game, the Yankees may not be inclined to switch up their lineup. Yet one small change could be their most prudent move.

Therefore, I’d advocate for Joe Girardi to move Chase Headley back to designated hitter and have Jacoby Ellsbury come off the bench.

Ellsbury provided a lot to the Yankees’ late-season surge. From Aug. 26 to Sept. 20, he went 29-for-73 with nine doubles, two triples and a homer, sporting a .397/.494/.616 (194 wRC+) line. That doesn’t include record-setting catcher’s interference(!). Filling in after Aaron Hicks‘ injury, he became a reliable presence and looked like the player the team thought it was getting when he signed in the 2013-14 offseason.

But he’s gone cold. In his last eight games of the regular season, he went just 5-for-30 with a double and a walk, striking out six times. He followed that up with an 0-for-4 performance on Tuesday. Just like the 73 AB sample above, there isn’t a whole lot to go off, but he hasn’t been quite as useful.

Meanwhile, Headley has been similarly cold, which likely led to his benching in the first place. In his last 40 PA, he batted 6-for-36 with three walks and a HBP, no extra-base hits. After three homers in his first five games of the September, his power went back to previous levels. Again, small sample size.

So this move is less about trends and more about what it opens up on the roster. As I detailed last month, Ellsbury is an ideal pinch runner if he’s not starting. He was 22-for-25 stealing bases and has an 82.9 percent success rate on steals in his career. He’s the Yankees’ best option to wreak havoc on the bases now that Tyler Wade was taken off the roster.

With Ellsbury on the bench (and Aaron Hicks still in centerfield), the only is that if he solely pinch runs for anyone, the Yankees won’t have a backup outfielder remaining on the bench. They’d have Headley and Todd Frazier for first base. Ronald Torreyes for the middle infield and third. Then no one left for the outfield. Sometimes that’s a risk you take though.

The team removed both C. Frazier and Wade from the roster to make room for Jaime Garcia and Jordan Montgomery. Now that they’ve decided they need 12 pitchers, which may be a mistake, they can simply use Ellsbury as a fourth outfielder and have Torreyes as the emergency man on the corners. Not ideal, but serviceable with Frazier or Wade able to be called up in case of injury.

That option is a no-go if Ellsbury is at DH unless the team is willing to insert the pitcher into the lineup. That is because the Yankees weren’t willing to remove Matt Holliday from the roster even though he only serves as a pinch hitter and doesn’t serve much, if any, defensive role on the roster. However, Holliday is still a solid option against the Indians’ left-handed relievers and should be their best offensive option off the bench.

There were many permutations for the Yankees’ ALDS roster. It could have involved 11 pitchers or 12. Two outfielders on the bench or one. The Yankees opted for 12 pitches which leaves them one fewer outfielder on the bench. But, either way, having Headley as the designated hitter would be the prudent move for the ALDS.

Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Although the Yankees are still mathematically alive in the AL East race, odds are they will go to the postseason as a wildcard team, and odds are they will host the Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have already punched their postseason ticket. Once the Red Sox clinch the AL East and the Twins clinch the second wildcard spot, everything will be set.

The Wild Card Game is, technically, its own postseason round. Teams set their 25-man Wild Card Game roster, then can make adjustments prior to the LDS. That leads to some unique roster construction. Why carry four or five starting pitchers for one game, for example? I’m a bit surprised MLB didn’t try eliminate that Wild Card Game roster rule. Or maybe they did try and were unsuccessful. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees carried 16 position players and nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. For real. Like I said, there are better ways to use those last few roster spots than carrying extra starting pitchers. The Yankees are not guaranteed to follow the 16 position players and nine pitchers blueprint again, but it does give us an idea what to expect in advance of the Wild Card Game next Tuesday.

So, with that Wild Card Game now six days away, I figured this would be a good time to try to piece together the 25-man roster the Yankees could use for that winner-take-all affair. Really stinks the Yankees are going to win 90-ish games then have to play in that Wild Card Game, huh? Oh well. Can’t do anything about it. Let’s take a look at the potential Wild Card Game roster.

The Locks

This is the easiest group, so we might as well start here. These are the 18 players we all know will be on the Wild Card Game roster as long as they’re healthy.

Pretty straightforward, right? Right. I’m as annoyed by Dellin’s walks as much as anyone, but they’re not leaving him off the Wild Card Game roster in favor of … Chasen Shreve? Jonathan Holder? Ben Heller? Gio Gallegos? Another starter? Yeah, no. These 18 dudes will be on the Wild Card Game roster.

Locks, If Healthy

Aaron Hicks (oblique) returned last night and Adam Warren (back) is expected back soon. At one point earlier this season it seemed Hicks would start the Wild Card Game, maybe even hit first or second, but not anymore. The injury and Jacoby Ellsbury’s late season resurgence put an end to that. He’ll be on the Wild Card Game roster as the fourth outfielder though, as long as he’s healthy. Warren will of course be on the roster as well. Again, as long as he’s healthy. Health is the only reason these two wouldn’t be on the Wild Card Game roster. They’re on, so add them to the locks and that’s already 20 players.

The Extra Starters

Like I said, the Yankees carried only nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. That’s typical. It’s one game, not a series, so there’s no need to carry all five starters. The Yankees figure to carry the scheduled starter (duh), a backup starter in case the scheduled starter is unable to go for whatever reason (hurt during warmups, sick before the game, etc.), and an extra starter should things go crazy in extra innings. Three starters seems like the right amount to me.

Severino is on track to start the Wild Card Game with one extra day of rest. That’s the easy part. Who backs him up? That will depend as much on the pitching schedule as anything. Whoever starts the final regular season game Sunday won’t be on the Wild Card Game roster Tuesday, for example. Right now, Sonny Gray lines up to pitch the day of the Wild Card Game on normal rest and Jordan Montgomery is on track to pitch that day with two extra days of rest. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, meanwhile, would be on short rest that day.

Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because of the schedule, Gray and Montgomery seem like the obvious candidates to be the backup starters behind Severino. I suppose Jaime Garcia could be in the mix given how he dominated the Twins last week, though I think that’s unlikely. The Yankees could always call an audible and change the rotation this week, but that would surprise me. They’ll have their best ready to go in Severino. Assuming Warren is healthy, Severino plus Gray and Montgomery gets the Yankees to nine pitchers and 22 players on the roster overall.

The Final Bench Spots

The 12 locks plus a hopefully healthy Hicks gets the Yankees to 13 position players, leaving three open spots should the Yankees again go the 16 position players plus nine pitchers route. Realistically, there are five candidates for those three roster spots: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, Erik Kratz, and Tyler Wade. Garrett Cooper didn’t even get a September call-up, so I he’s not a postseason roster candidate. Ditto Kyle Higashioka.

I think Austin is on the postseason roster for sure. He’d give Joe Girardi a right-handed power bat on bench and, just as importantly, a backup first baseman should Bird (or Headley) get lifted for a pinch-runner. You don’t want to give up the DH or have to play Holliday at first base in the Wild Card Game. Austin’s righty power and ability to play first base (and right field in a pinch) seems pretty clearly worth a Wild Card Game roster spot in my opinion. Easy call.

Wade, even though he basically never plays, strikes me as someone who has a leg up on a Wild Card Game roster spot as well. He’d give the Yankees coverage all around the infield and can play left field in a pinch as well. Also, he can run. Crazy fast. Maybe the Yankees don’t consider him a designated pinch-runner option — they didn’t acquire that player this September — but still, the situation could present itself, and Wade is the closest thing the Yankees have to a true burner available. I think he’s on the roster as the 24th or 25th player.

Frazier’s roster fate could be tied to Hicks. If Hicks re-injures the oblique or simply can’t get going these next few days, Frazier would be the obvious candidate to serve as the fourth outfielder in the Wild Card Game. I love Frazier, but I’m really hoping Hicksie is on that Wild Card Game roster. He’s such a weapon when right. The Yankees could always carry Hicks and Frazier, in which case Frazier’s role would be extra righty bat, fifth outfielder, and potential pinch-runner. Frazier is low key fast as hell. That could come in handy at some point during a close game.

The Yankees don’t trust Andujar’s defense at third base right now — they’ve made that clear given how little he’s played there so far — and he can’t play any other positions, so he doesn’t have much to offer in the Wild Card Game. He’d be an extra righty bat and emergency third baseman. That’s it. Kratz? Don’t be surprised if he’s on the roster. The Yankees carried three catchers in the 2015 Wild Card Game — Sanchez, who had two September at-bats in 2015, was on the Wild Card Game roster that year — and they could do so again, just for an emergency. You know we’re in for at least one Wild Card Game roster surprise, right? Right.

If Hicks and Warren are healthy enough to make the Wild Card Game roster, and it sure looks like that’ll be the case, I think those final three position player spots wind up going to Austin, Kratz, and Wade. Austin hits, Wade fields and can run, and Kratz is there for peace of mind. Here’s a recap of the 25-man roster we’ve talked out in this post:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Starters Relievers
Sanchez Bird Austin Severino (SP) Betances
Romine Castro Ellsbury Gray Chapman
Kratz Frazier Gardner Montgomery Green
Gregorius Hicks Kahnle
DH Headley Judge Robertson
Holliday Torreyes  Wade Warren

Austin and Wade are more utility players than true outfielders, but I stuck them in the outfield section for easy table building purposes. The Twins are going to start a right-hander no matter what in the Wild Card Game — the only lefty in their rotation is up-and-down depth guy Adalberto Mejia, and he sure as heck isn’t starting that game — so I imagine Bird will be in the starting lineup and Holliday will not. Holliday has been pretty terrible against righties lately.

The Yankees, of course, don’t want to use their 25-man roster in the Wild Card Game. They’d like to stick with their nine starting position players and three, maybe four pitchers, tops. That would be the ideal Wild Card Game scenario. The rules say you have to carry a 25-man roster though, and you knows, maybe those 23rd and 24th and 25th players on the roster end up being a factor. No one plans for it to happen that way, but baseball can be weird sometimes.

Looking Ahead to the 2018 Roster

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

First of all, let’s take a moment to congratulate the Yankees on securing a playoff spot in 2017. This team was expected to maybe compete for the second wild card spot if everything broke their way, and now they’re on track to win 90 games. That’s fantastic. Much to what I’m sure is the chagrin of fans of other teams and organizations, the Yankees’ rebuild lasted about as long as it takes to microwave a burrito. For exceeding expectations and cementing their spot as one of the last standing after the marathon that is the baseball season, this team deserved every drop of beer and champagne last night. To see a team that was this fun achieve something so unexpected is a delight and I’m beyond ecstatic for the players.

Now, let’s look ahead for a bit, hopefully into a future that includes raising a 28th World Series banner. On Friday, Mike looked at the payroll and budget situation for 2018. Using his template, let’s examine the potential 2018 roster as it ‘stands’ now. Like Mike, I’m going to assume Masahiro Tanaka will opt out of his current deal, bad start Friday night and all.

In his post, Mike listed the players needing to be replaced as Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Todd Frazier, and Matt Holliday. Of those, Tanaka is obviously the hardest to replace. If he does go, that task may be impossible because no free agent starters are of his caliber. The rotation would be in an okay spot considering they’d be leading with Luis Severino and Sonny Gray. A bit of improvement from Jordan Montgomery makes him into a third starter. Between the minor league system and some small time deals on the (not so hot) free agent market could round out the rotation decently. Considering how much of a question the rotation was this time a year ago, the Yankees could afford to go in with one that isn’t great and ride the lineup and bullpen like they did for a lot of this year.

Of the pitchers they’re (probably) losing, Sabathia is more likely to return on a small contract, maybe with some innings incentives. He’s said he wants to pitch for a winning team, and the Yankees are likely to be one. Tapping him to anchor the back of the rotation means the Yankees could take some innings risks with others in the fourth spot between CC and Monty.

To replace The Todd and Arms Holliday, the Yankees may be able to kill two birds with one stone…in the person of Todd Frazier. As good as Holliday looked at the beginning of the year, he’s looked much less so lately and given their experience with him and Chris Carter this year, I think the team’ll look to be more flexible at DH. That is, they won’t opt for a strictly DH type; they don’t have one in house and unless Carlos Santana somehow leaves Cleveland (doubtful), an elite option doesn’t exist on the free agent market.

The best option, I think, is to re-sign Todd Frazier. I wasn’t wild about that idea when he was brought on, but having him on the team gives the Yankees insurance for both Greg Bird‘s health and Chase Headley‘s performance. Those three guys can rotate between third, first, and DH until someone really grabs the job by the horns. While Bird may be limited to first, Headley and Frazier can both play the corner infield spots and the combination of all three could lead to upwards of 100 walks and 60 homers in some combination; that would be well worth it.

It’s likely that the 2018 Yankees will look incredibly similar to the 2017 Yankees. A lack of turnover can be a bad thing–see the 2017 Mets–but this team doesn’t have many major holes to fill–outside of Tanaka–and there’s a solid base of talent in each facet of the roster. Things are looking up for next year. Now, let’s see how they take care of this year.

Chase Headley has been a difference-maker for the Yankees in the second half

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

These last 18 months have been a pretty hectic ride for third baseman turned first baseman Chase Headley. Headley, as I’m sure you remember, got off to that dreadful start last season before kicking it into gear in May. This year he started great in April, slumped horribly in May, and has been very good since.

Here, to really drive home the point, is Headley’s production since the start of last season:

chase-headley-2016-17-wrc

The peaks are high and the valleys are very deep. I mean, Headley hit .150/.268/.150 (22 wRC+) last April and .165/.211/.235 (14 wRC+) this May. Brutal. Legitimately one of the worst hitters in baseball (if not the worst) both months. Fans seem to have a very love-hate relationship with Headley based on his production. Well, maybe it’s more like tolerate-hate than love-hate. Whatever.

Anyway, since breaking out of that ugly May slump a few weeks back, Headley has been one of the most productive and most consistent Yankees at the plate. He’s hitting .307/.383/.454 (123 wRC+) since June 1st, a span of 364 plate appearances. Does he hit for power? Goodness no. Headley has nine homers in those 364 plate appearances despite the ball being juiced and his home ballpark being Yankee Stadium.

The lack of power is an obvious flaw in Headley’s game. He has hit for average and done an excellent job getting on base since June 1st, and that is pretty darn important. You can live with a lack of power when a guy is hitting over .300 and getting on base a ton. Also, within that overall improvement has been a considerable uptick in production against left-handed pitchers. To wit:

  • First half vs. LHP: .195/.222/.287 (29 wRC+) with 3.3% walks and 28.9% strikeouts
  • Second half vs. LHP: .362/.406/.621 (169 wRC+) with 7.8% walks and 10.9% strikeouts

Two totally different players. Of course Headley is not really as good against lefties as he has been the last few weeks, nor is he really as bad against lefties as he was the first half of the season. The truth is in the middle somewhere. Consistency would be nice, but you know what? Headley’s been great against southpaws for weeks now and it’s helped the Yankees win a lot of games. Better late than never.

Here’s the thing that really stands out about Headley’s second half performance: he’s done all this while moving to first base almost seamlessly. And maybe the move to first base and offensive uptick are connected. Headley could feel more comfortable at first base and it’s helping at the plate? I suppose so, except the hot streak started in early June and Headley didn’t shift to first until the Todd Frazier trade in mid-July.

Either way, Headley shifted to first base and took to the position very well. He had some experience there (58 total innings prior to 2017), so it wasn’t completely new to him, but he’d never played the position full-time. Headley’s inexperience still rears its ugly head at times — he’ll often range too far to his right for a ground ball when he should let the second baseman field it — but, generally speaking, he’s fared well over there. He’s been, by far, the team’s best first baseman this year. (That is both a compliment to Headley and an indictment of the other first basemen.)

The Yankees have dealt with a number of injuries (Matt Holliday, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks) and underperformers (Aaron Judge, Castro and Holliday when healthy) in the second half, yet they’ve avoided a collapse in the standings — at 38-26, the Yankees have the AL’s second best record since the All-Star break, behind only the Indians (46-17) — thanks in part to Headley. He’s been an impact hitter for more than three months now, and he’s helped shore up a major weakness with the transition to first base. Getting this kind of performance from Headley is one of the reasons the Yankees are set to return to the postseason.

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

(Getty)
(Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Name OPS
Babe Ruth 1.134
Gary Sanchez 1.133
Lou Gehrig 1.111

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

(Getty)
(Getty)

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

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

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

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yankeemetrics: Two up, two down in Cleveland (Aug. 3-6)

(AP)
(AP)

Sorry, Sonny
Thursday’s series opener in Cleveland — a sloppy and frustrating 5-1 loss — was definitely not the ideal way to welcome Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees franchise.

Four batters into the game and the Yankees had already committed three errors behind Gray and the Yankees were quickly in a 2-0 hole. Whoops. It was the first time the Yankees committed three errors in any inning since October 2, 2010 against the Red Sox.

For Gray, this was a recurring nightmare that he thought had ended when he left Oakland, which leads the league in errors. Instead, he now has 13 unearned runs allowed on his ledger, tied with Derek Holland for the most in the majors through Thursday.

Gray pitched well as the Yankee gloves failed behind him, showing his toughness in pitching out of jams and limiting the damage on the scoreboard. He finished with two earned runs allowed on four hits in six innings, and for that solid effort, gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

Gray is the first pitcher in nearly 60 years to post those numbers or better (at least 6 innings, 2 earned runs or fewer, 4 hits or fewer) in his debut with the Yankees — and lose. The last guy to be this unlucky was Duke Maas in 1958. Maas (no relation to Kevin, I think) was traded by the A’s to the Yankees in mid-June, and then made his pinstriped debut as the starter in a 1-0 loss to the Tigers on June 21.

The Yankees bats also provided little offensive support as they were dominated by Corey Kluber, who tossed an 11-strikeout, three-hit complete game while giving up one run. That was his fourth straight start with at least eight strikeouts and one earned run or fewer allowed against the Yankees, the longest such streak ever by any pitcher against the Yankees.

(AP)
(AP)

Bad News Bombers
It was deja vu all over again on Friday night for the Yankees, as the mistakes in the field piled up and their offense remained in a miserable slump, resulting in another disappointing loss.

The “star” of the defensive lowlights was Gary Sanchez, who had his 12th passed ball of the season, the most in the majors despite the fact that he missed nearly a month of games in April and early May. He also has 10 errors, the second-most among catchers through Friday.

While the Yankees could barely touch Kluber’s stuff on Thursday, they put plenty of runners on base against Trevor Bauer and the Indians bullpen, but repeatedly failed to cash in on those chances. For the 15th time this season, they outhit their opponent (11-8) but still lost; only the Blue Jays (16) and White Sox (21) had suffered more losses in games when out-hitting their opponents through Friday.

Jaime Garcia contributed to the miserable night with a mediocre outing. He coughed up six runs in 4⅔ innings and couldn’t find the strike zone (four walks, one wild pitch), earning himself this #NotFunFact:

He’s one of just seven players in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to allow that many runs, not get out of the fifth inning and walk at least four batters in his Yankee debut. The most recent guy to do it was CC Sabathia on Opening Day 2009 … okay? And the others are Tim Redding (2005), Bob Wiesler (1951), Fred Sanford (1949) and Karl Drews (1946).

(AP)
(AP)

Chase “Hero” Headley
While the bats remained silent on Saturday, the defense was outstanding and the Yankees got a stellar effort from Jordan Montgomery to survive a 2-1 nail-biter in Cleveland.

It was perhaps one of the team’s most unlikely wins, given how dominant Danny Salazar and the rest of the Indians pitchers were against a feeble Yankee lineup. They struck out 15 times, were on base just nine times and scored only two runs. In the last 100 years, no Yankee team had ever won a game with that many strikeouts, fewer than 10 baserunners and no more than two runs scored … before Saturday.

Montgomery was terrific, allowing one run on three hits in five innings, and making a strong statement that he should be a key part of the rotation down the stretch (which is now a hot topic for us banter about after he was optioned to Triple-A following Sunday’s game). Although Monty rarely dazzles like a Severino or Pineda, he consistently puts up solid numbers and keeps the Yankees in the game while he’s on the mound.

Consider this stat: Saturday was the 16th time this season that he held the opponent to three runs or fewer. Only five other Yankee pitchers have done that within their first 21 career games: Dave Righetti, Doc Medich, Masahiro Tanaka, Mel Stottlemyre and Spec Shea.

Chase Headley rescued the Yankees from another depressing loss when he belted a tie-breaking home run in the top of the eighth inning. Headley, who has quietly been one of the best hitters in the league since the All-Star break deserves a #FunFact for his heroics on Saturday: He is just the third Yankee first baseman in the last four decades with a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later against the Indians – Jason Giambi (2005) and Don Mattingly (1984 and 1986) are the others.

(AP)
(AP)

#Sevy4MVP
Finally … the Bronx Bombers are back. The Yankees offense, which had been M.I.A. for the past week, exploded for eight runs on Sunday, more than they had scored in their previous five games combined. But it was the brilliant pitching of Luis Severino and a shutdown performance by the Yankee bullpen that truly shined in the 8-1 win.

It was the fourth game this year that the pitching staff allowed no more than three baserunners. The last time a Yankees team did that? 1929!

Sevy, the undisputed ace of the 2017 staff, cemented his status as a no-doubt Cy Young contender with another lights-out performance: two hits, one run, nine strikeouts over 6⅔ dominant innings. I think this is a good list to be on:

He also became the first Yankee pitcher in more than 20 years to beat the Indians in Cleveland while holding them to no more than two hits. The last guy to do it? David Cone in the 1996 opener … and we know how that season ended.

Severino’s effort would have been another wasted gem in a deflating loss if not for the team’s offensive explosion in the sixth and seventh innings. The five-run sixth was sparked by the most unlikely source, a bases-loaded triple off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury. The struggling lefty entered the day hitting .163 with runners in scoring position, the sixth-lowest batting average among AL players (min. 50 PA).

The three-run seventh, on the other hand, was powered by a much more familiar name — Mr. Aaron Judge — who smoked a 94 mph fastball into the rightfield seats for his 35th homer of the season. And, of course, with that blast, Judge etched his name in the baseball record books once again: He is the only rookie outfielder in major-league history with at least 35 homers and 75 walks in a season.