On Dellin Betances and his recent struggles

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

Last night the Yankees suffered what was maybe their most heartbreaking regular season loss of the Joe Girardi era. I can’t remember another one that bad. The Yankees took a three-run lead into the ninth inning, and a little while later, the Red Sox walked off with a 7-5 win on Hanley Ramirez’s three-run home run. Brutal. It gets no worse than that.

On the mound for that ninth inning meltdown was, of course, Dellin Betances. He’s the closer and the guy Girardi wants pitching in a big spot. It was Dellin’s third straight day of work — Girardi tried to stay away from him by going to Tommy Layne and Blake Parker in the ninth, but nope — and he was clearly out of whack, which has been the case for much of September. I have some thoughts on all of this.

1. Yes, he has what it takes to be a closer. This is as predictable as it gets. Betances has struggled the last few times out which of course leads to folks saying he doesn’t have what it takes to be a closer. Doesn’t have the mental fortitude. Can’t handle the pressure. Blah blah blah. Nevermind that he’s been throwing high-stakes innings for nearly three full seasons now and has been one of the two or three best relievers on the planet.

Here’s a quick leaderboard showing WPA/LI. That’s win probability added over leverage index, which essentially tells us who is most helping their team win in the most crucial situations. Here’s the WPA/LI leaderboard for relievers over the last three seasons:

  1. Zach Britton: +6.00
  2. Dellin Betances: +5.89
  3. Wade Davis: +5.39
  4. Andrew Miller: +5.34
  5. Mark Melancon: +5.08

Basically the five best relievers in baseball, right? Or five of the seven best with Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. Point is, getting huge outs is nothing new to Betances. He’s gotten big outs in extremely high-leverage spots before. Struggling these last few times out doesn’t suddenly mean Betances is not fit to be closer. He dominated in the ninth inning last month, and when he filled in for the injured Andrew Miller last year.

2. Yes, his inability to hold runners is a real problem. Although they were scored defensive indifference, the Red Sox stole three bases against Betances last night. Instantly, too. He came in and Chris Young immediately stole second. Then after Betances walked Dustin Pedroia, Pedroia and Young immediately pulled off a double steal. Wednesday afternoon Corey Seager stole second immediately after reaching on an error.

Runners are now 19-for-19 in steal attempts against Dellin this season, and that doesn’t include those three defensive indifferences last night. This is a real problem. Every single and every walk can’t turn into an uncontested double, especially since Betances is always pitching in close games where one run is so meaningful. This is a very real weakness. A fatal one? No. Batters have a .273 OBP against Dellin this season, so there aren’t many guys on base to start with. But it is a problem.

This is clearly something the Yankees and Betances will have to work on in Spring Training next year. It can’t be open season on stolen bases when he’s on the mound, even with Gary Sanchez and his rocket arm behind the plate. Those extra 90-feet are too valuable in the late innings. I don’t know the best way to solve this (varied timing, slide step, etc.) but it can’t go unaddressed. Betances has to at least give the catcher a chance back there.

3. His problems throwing to bases are being overblown a bit. Wednesday afternoon Betances allowed the Dodgers to score an insurance run because he fielded a weak tapper back to the mound and shot-putted it to the backstop. It was ugly. Look at this:

Dellin Betances

Yikes. That has taken on a life of its own in the last 48 hours and become a big “Betances can’t throw to the bases” storyline. Last night YES showed a montage of his throwing failures this year and it was three plays. One play on Opening Day, one where he nearly threw away a 1-6-3 double play ball (but didn’t), and that play against the Dodgers. When you have to go all the way back to Opening Day to find the last time his throwing caused a problem, it’s probably not as big of an issue as its made out to be.

Now, that said, I understand the concern hitters may try to bunt and force him to field the ball, but Betances is not exactly the easiest guy to bunt against. I’ll take my chances with hitters squaring around. Trying to bunt against Dellin is going to lead to a lot of foul balls and easy strikes. Like the stolen base problem, this is something Betances and the Yankees should work on, but this story seems to have taken on a life of its own. The real problem isn’t as great as the perceived problem.

4. Once again, fatigue seems to be an issue. This is the second straight season in which Betances looks visibly fatigued in September. The high-end velocity might be there — Betances topped out at 100.6 mph last night — but he can’t locate anything and his breaking ball lacks its usual bite. Working back-to-back-to-back days three times in the last five weeks after doing it once from Opening Day 2014 through July 2016 probably has something to do it.

The greater issue is the cumulative effect of all the innings Betances has thrown the last few years. He’s thrown 70 innings this season and is on pace for 77.2 innings. That’s down from 84 last year and 90 the year before that. The single-season workload only matters so much though. There is wear-and-tear on his arm from those 90 innings in 2014 and 84 innings in 2015. Betances has thrown 244 innings the last three years, 20.1 more than any other reliever.

It’s not just the raw innings totals either. Girardi can be a bit panicky at times and get Betances up at the slightly hint of danger. Four-run lead in the eighth or ninth? Dellin gets up. We’ve seen it countless times the last few years. Those warm-up pitchers count. They’re pitches being thrown. Add in all the warm-ups and the fact those 244 innings from 2014-16 were almost all high-leverage innings, and it’s no wonder he’s getting worn down despite being 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds.

Betances’ days as a super-reliever who’d come in and get five or six high-leverage outs at a time may be over. Going forward, it may be best for the Yankees to consider him a true one-inning reliever, a guy who throws 65-ish innings a season rather than closer to 80. It sucks and it takes away from Dellin’s value a bit, but keeping him healthy and effective long-term has to be a priority.

* * *

Betances is literally the last player on the roster I’m worried about. His recent slump sucks and is very poorly timed — did you expect the Yankees to be playing meaningful games in mid-September after the way they started the season? of course not — but I don’t see it as being anything more than “he’s running on fumes and is in a slump.” I trust him implicitly as the closer and just wish he’d start holding runners better.

If the Yankees miss the postseason, it won’t be because Betances blew some games this week. It’ll be because Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez completely no-showed this season, and because the rotation has been mostly crap behind Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees are still in the race largely because Betances has been so awesome this season at protecting leads. The last week or so doesn’t change that.

Youth has helped the Yankees get back into the race, but they have veterans in important places too

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Even after two straight losses, the Yankees are still only two games back of the second wildcard spot with 19 games to play. FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at a slim 9.6% as of this writing, but hey, that’s better than the 2.3% they were at nine days ago. Those odds can change real quick from one day to the next.

At 24-15, the Yankees have the second best record in the AL since selling buying for the future at the trade deadline. (The Royals are 25-14.) Gary Sanchez has had a monumental impact, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin have had their moments, and young hurlers like Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell contributed too. The Yankees would not be where they are without these kids.

As productive as many of them have been, the young players are not the only reason the Yankees have climbed back into the wildcard race. That was never going to be the case. The Yankees weren’t going to call up a bunch of prospects and let them carry the team into October. Some of the holdover veterans have contributed too, and in fact, the Yankees have veteran players in very important spots.

Front of the Rotation

It’s easy to forget Masahiro Tanaka is still only 27 years old, isn’t it? He’s two months younger than Chris Archer and five months younger than Jacob deGrom. And yet, despite his relative youth, Tanaka is very much a veteran pitcher. He’s thrown 477 innings with the Yankees on top of over 1,300 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, with whom he won a championship and a pair of Sawamura Awards (Cy Young equivalent).

There’s something reassuring about having a veteran ace on the staff. During his heyday from 2009-12, you knew CC Sabathia was going to go out every fifth day and give the Yankees a quality outing. Even his bad starts weren’t that bad. We watched Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina do the same for years and years. That’s Tanaka now. He’s very good, rarely bad, and every fifth day he’s going to give the Yankees a good chance to win. (Remember when he couldn’t pitch on normal rest? He’s allowed six runs in 31.1 innings in his last five starts on normal rest.)

Back of the Bullpen

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

At this point Dellin Betances qualifies as a veteran, right? I think so. This is only his third full season, but he’s already been a three-time All-Star, and Dellin’s been throwing high-leverage innings for well over two years now. Relievers don’t have the longest career life span in this game. Betances is a grizzled veteran compared to most bullpen guys.

Add in Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren, and each of the Yankees’ three end-game relievers has been around the block. Veteran relievers melt down just as easily as rookies (see: Nathan, Joe), but there’s always going to be the element of the unknown with kids. How do they handle intense late-season games with postseason implications? There’s less wiggle room in the eighth and ninth innings because there’s not much time to score any necessary runs. The more unpredictability you can take out of the bullpen, the better.

Top of the Lineup

As we’ve seen over the last three weeks or so, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury really ignite the offense when they’re both hot at the same time. The Yankees look like an entirely different team when those two are causing chaos. It’s imperative they stay hot for the Yankees to reach the postseason, and when it comes to setting the table for the offense, the Yankees have two veteran leadoff men. They need them too; none of their young players fits the leadoff hitter mold. I guess maybe Mason Williams, though asking him to do that right away seems like too much, too soon.

In the Clubhouse

Even after their sell-off, the Yankees kept most of their leadership core intact. Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran are gone, ditto Alex Rodriguez, but team leaders like Sabathia, Gardner, Brian McCann, and Mark Teixeira remain. Both McCann and Teixeira have had their roles reduced and that’s surely tough for a veteran player. They haven’t complained though. They continue to go about their business and help the young players. Young players are great! You need them to win these days. There also needs to be a leadership core in place to help those young players develop into winners, if not immediately than down the road.

* * *

At the end of the day, talent reigns supreme. It doesn’t matter how many veterans you have or where they fit on the roster if the performance is there. Can having experience and good leadership help that talent translate into good performance more frequently? I firmly believe the answer is yes. The Yankees have turned their season around because their young players have (mostly) performed and brought a lot of energy to their team. The veterans still play a big role though, and they still occupy some very important spots on the roster.

The end of Didi’s slump and four others things that must happen for the Yankees to make the postseason

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Against all odds, the Yankees remain in the postseason race with less than three weeks to go in the regular season. They lost yesterday, but prior to that they won seven straight and 13 of their previous 17 games. The Yankees are two games back of the second wildcard spot and FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at 13.5%. They were 2.3% eight days ago.

As well as the Yankees have played recently, with seemingly a different player stepping up each night, they’re going to need to be even better over the final 20 games to sneak into the postseason. The schedule only gets more difficult from here on out. New York’s best chance to make the playoffs involves continuing their current play and getting some more from a few players on the roster. Here are five things I think need to happen to maximize the team’s postseason chances.

Gregorius snaps out of his slump

Didi Gregorius has been, rather easily, the Yankees’ best all-around position player this season. His 17 home runs are nearly double his previous career high (nine last year), and he’s still making a lot of contact and playing strong defense. I was skeptical when the Yankees acquired Didi because I didn’t believe in his bat. Boy was I wrong.

As good as Gregorius has been this season, he’s been slumping hard this month, going 3-for-34 (.088) with eight strikeouts and zero unintentional walks in September. Slumps happen, but with Didi it seems like fatigue might be a factor as well. His bat looks a little slow, and even in the field there’s been some moments when his first step wasn’t as quick as usual.

A day off could do Gregorius some good — the Yankees are ten games into a 17 games in 17 days stretch — though it is tough to get him out of the lineup given what he does defensively. We all love Ronald Torreyes, but he’s no Didi. No one is expecting Gregorius to hit five homers in a ten-game span like he did in late-June/early-July. The Yankees do need more offense from him than they’ve been getting this month, however.

Gardner and Ellsbury stay hot

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

Overall, both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have had disappointing seasons atop the lineup for the Yankees. Gardner’s power has disappeared, and up until recently, Ellsbury wasn’t getting on base all that much. Disappointing middle of the order veterans like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are the main reason the Yankees have had a below-average offense this year. The two guys at the top of the lineup aren’t without fault though.

Not coincidentally, the team’s recent strong play coincides with both Ellsbury and Gardner getting hot. Ellsbury has gone 9-for-27 (.333) with two homers, four walks, and only one strikeout during this recent 7-1 stretch while Gardner is 10-for-26 (.385). Their combined on-base percentage is .417. During the 13-5 stretch, Ellsbury has hit .311/.394/.541 and Gardner has hit .317/.386/.350.

Gardner’s power still hasn’t resurfaced, but he has been hitting for average and getting on base the last three weeks. Ditto Ellsbury. The Yankees look like an entirely different team when these two are hot at the same time. We’ve seen it at various points the last three seasons. Gardner and Ellsbury continuing to set the table like they have been the last few weeks is essential to getting the Yankees into the postseason.

Betances and Clippard be automatic

At this point Joe Girardi‘s bullpen pecking order is clear: Dellin Betances is the closer (duh) and Tyler Clippard is the eighth inning guy. For a little while after the trade deadline Clippard was the seventh inning guy, but he and Adam Warren have flipped spots, which is for the best. Warren is better able to go multiple innings, which means Girardi won’t hesitate to use him to put out fires in the sixth inning, if necessary.

The Yankees seem to play nothing but close games these days — eight of their last 13 wins have come by no more than three runs and seven have come by no more than two runs — and that doesn’t figure to change, which means Betances and Clippard are going to have to be perfect in the last two innings, meaning protect every lead. The Yankees can’t afford to led late leads slip away and the two righties are the last line of defense out of the bullpen. When they’re handed a lead, it has to hold up.

Pineda becomes a reliable second starter

Right now the Yankees have a bonafide ace in Masahiro Tanaka and four other guys in the rotation who don’t make you feel all that comfortable. Maybe comfortable isn’t the right word. They’re just unpredictable from start to start. CC Sabathia is in the twilight of his career, Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa are just kids, and Michael Pineda is one of the most enigmatic pitchers in all of baseball.

Pineda is also one of the most talented pitchers in baseball — it’s good to be 6-foot-7 with a mid-90s cutter and a wipeout slider — and I think he has the best chance to emerge as a second reliable starter these last three weeks. The problem is Pineda has given Girardi no real reason to trust him. We all saw Girardi pull Pineda one out short of qualifying for the win with a five-run lead the other night.

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

As bad as the offense has been for long stretches of time this season, it seems more likely the rotation will be the Yankees’ downfall these final few weeks. Ivan Nova‘s been traded and both Nathan Eovaldi and Chad Green got hurt, meaning the Yankees have no choice but to rely on two rookies and a fading Sabathia. Pineda is young and he’s in what should be the prime of his career. He’s the club’s best hope for second solid starter.

One of the kids contributes from the bottom of the lineup

The Yankees committed to their youth movement last month and the kids have really improved the team, not only on the field, but in the dugout. The Yankees seem more energetic than they have been in years. It’s fun to watch. Gary Sanchez has been a monster who is rightfully hitting in the middle of the lineup. Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, two other rookies, have had a tougher go of it. Here are their MLB numbers:

Austin: .224/.274/.414 (81 wRC+), 3 HR, 6.5 BB%, 35.5 K% in 62 plate appearances
Judge: .177/.258/.316 (53 wRC+), 3 HR, 9.0 BB%, 43.8 K% in 89 plate appearances

Both have shown signs of coming around of late, especially Austin, but the fact remains both have been negatives at the plate since being called up. (Judge has at least improved the right field defense.) If the Yankees were well out of the race like many expected them to be this month, running both kids out there everyday would be no big deal. The experience is the most important thing.

The Yankees need impact to get the postseason though, and it would be a huge help if either Austin or Judge started to figure things out and contribute from the bottom of the lineup. It would be cool if both did it, but let’s not get greedy. One of the two getting locked in would lengthen the lineup and make the offense that much dangerous. The kids are a big reason the Yankees are remotely close to a playoff spot right now, and if they’re going to sneak into the postseason, rookies like Austin and Judge will have to be a driving force.

Yankeemetrics: Birth of the Baby Bombers [Aug. 12-14]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Saying Bye-Rod
The Yankees made sure that Mr. Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez’s farewell game in pinstripes would be a memorable and winning one, as they sent the controversial slugger off into the sunset with an exhilarating comeback victory on Friday night against the Rays.

A-Rod’s final game with the Yankees (and perhaps his career) marks the final act of one of the most confounding and polarizing, yet also brilliantly talented, players in the history of this sport. Earlier this week we detailed a few of his many baseball superlatives; now here are two more numbers that put his complicated and fascinating tenure with the Yankee franchise into perspective.

(AP)
(AP)

Rodriguez enters the pinstripe record books with a batting line of .283/.378/.523 across 12 seasons in the Bronx. Among the hundreds of players that have compiled at least 200 plate appearances with the Yankees, only four others have reached each of those thresholds in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage: Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Although A-Rod has frequently been chastised for his purported lack of clutch hitting in the playoffs, there is this stat to consider: A-Rod had four career game-tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning or later in the postseason, the most among all players in major-league history.

With the adrenaline pumping, A-Rod kicked off his last game in style, sending a 96 mph fastball from Chris Archer into right-center field for a first-inning RBI double. It was his first hit on pitch of more than 95 mph since June 7, a single off Angels reliever Cam Bedrosian.

Dellin Betances struck out the side in the ninth inning, recording his 100th, 101st and 102nd strikeouts of the season. This is the third year in a row he’s racked up at least 100 strikeouts, becoming the third reliever in American League history with back-to-back-to-back 100-K campaigns. The others are Dick Radatz (1962-65) and Duane Ward (1989-92), who both put together four-season streaks of at least 100 Ks.

(Getty)
(Getty)

New Kids in the Bronx
These are certainly not your father’s Yankees anymore. On Day One of the post-Alex Rodriguez Era, it was clear that the franchise’s much-hyped youth movement is in full swing.

The team called up highly-touted prospects Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge before Saturday’s afternoon contest and Joe Girardi immediately wrote their names on the lineup card, Judge in right field and Austin at first base. They were the first Yankee teammates to make their big-league debuts as starters in the same game since John Ellis and Jim Lyttle on May 17, 1969 against the Angels.

The two Baby Bombers wasted little time in earning their True Yankee pinstripes. Batting seventh and eighth, the duo electrified the Yankee Stadium crowd early with back-to-back solo homers in the second inning, fueling an offensive explosion that resulted in a fun-to-watch and rousing 8-4 win.

With those two blasts, Austin and Judge completed a stunning and unprecedented feat, becoming the first teammates in baseball history to each homer in their MLB debut in the same game. Before they went deep, only three other Yankees had ever homered in their first career at-bats in the bigs: Andy Phillips in 2004, Marcus Thames in 2002 (on the first pitch from Randy Johnson!) and John Miller in 1966.

Austin added a stolen base to his historic debut, becoming the first AL player to homer and steal in his first major-league game since Bert Campaneris (Kansas City A’s) in 1964; he is the only Yankee to accomplish the feat since at least 1913.

Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius soon joined the home run party on this hot and humid day, sending the ball over the fence in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings, respectively.

That gave the Yankees five players age 26 or younger with a longball, the first time in franchise history they’ve had that many under-27 guys go deep in the same game. Only three other teams have ever done this in the regular season over the past century: the 2016 Cubs, 2013 Astros and 1996 Brewers (the Cubs also did in Game 3 of the NLDS last year).

Even more impressively, each of the five youngsters also added another hit, making the Yankees the only MLB team in last 100 years to have five different players under the age of 27 with at least two hits and a homer in the same game.

Judge, jury and … homers!
The Yankees emotional ceremony-filled weekend ended with a thud on Sunday afternoon. They were creamed by the Rays, 12-3, snapping their four-game win streak and pushing them further back in the wild card race.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Luis Severino got hammered for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings, falling to 0-8 with a 8.58 ERA as a starter this season. That is the longest losing streak as a starter to begin a season by a Yankee since Fred Talbot lost his first eight starting decisions in 1968.

Even more depressing, the Yankees have still yet to win a game with Severino on the mound as the starting pitcher. Over last 100 years, this is the only time that the Yankees have lost the first nine games of a season started by a pitcher.

His fastball command was inconsistent and his changeup again was non-existent, though his slider was nasty at times, as he racked up seven strikeouts.

That bizarro performance produced a crazy pitching line that no major-league pitcher had recorded in nearly a decade. The last guy to allow at least seven earned runs and strike out at least seven batters in an outing of fewer than four innings pitched was Kenny Rogers in 2008 for the Tigers.

The lone highlights of the game were provided by the bats of the newly-christened Baby Bombers as Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez both homered in the loss. Judge became just the second player in franchise history to go deep in each of his first two major-league games, joining the immortal Joe Lefebvre (1980).

Sanchez’s two-run shot left his bat at 102 mph; he now has an average exit velocity of 91.6 mph this season, the highest among all Yankees with at least 10 batted balls in play.

Saturday Links: Chapman, Beltran, Best Tools, A-Rod

(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

The Yankees and Indians will continue their three-game series later this afternoon, assuming the weather cooperates. Here are some stray links to help you pass the time until first pitch.

Chapman, Beltran open to re-signing with Yankees

After being traded last week, impending free agents Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran told reporters they would be open to re-signing with the Yankees after the season. “I would love to come back again,” said Chapman to Mark Feinsand while Beltran simply told Jared Diamond he would “gladly” return to the Yankees if the opportunity presents itself.

As good as he has been this year, I don’t love the idea of bringing Beltran back next season, even on a cheap-ish one-year deal to DH. There are lots of young position players in Triple-A Scranton waiting for an opportunity. Chapman’s a different story because he’s still right smack in the prime of his career, and there’s always room for another high-end reliever in the bullpen.

I feel like it’s inevitable the Yankees will sign a top reliever this offseason, and I’d prefer Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon to Chapman. I just have no interest in rooting for the guy following the domestic violence stuff. You’re welcome to feel differently. Anyway, it’s no surprise Chapman and Beltran are open to coming back. Why would any impending free agent rule out the Yankees?

Baseball America’s best tools survey

One of my favorite features each season is Baseball America’s best tools survey. They poll managers and coaches about the players in their leagues, then put all the results together. Here are the Yankees at each level. The links go to each article and they’re not behind the paywall.

Chapman (best fastball) and Andrew Miller (best slider, second best reliever) both made appearances in the survey as well. Sanchez being voted as the best defensive catcher in the International League is pretty darn interesting. I’m not sure if that’s because he’s made a lot of improvement, or because it’s just a weak year for IL catchers. I choose to believe the former. Go Gary!

No plans to release A-Rod

To the surprise of no one, Brian Cashman said the Yankees have no plans to release Alex Rodriguez during a recent radio interview (via George King). If the Yankees had any plans to release A-Rod, I think they would have done so already. Here’s what Cashman said:

“It’s not an easy circumstance, but there are no plans right now to do anything but give some reps to other people and see where it takes us, and if matchups or injuries hit, you might see him back out there,’’ Cashman told ESPN Radio. “First and foremost, you just have to admit it’s not easy to go ahead and eat — meaning release — that kind of money. It’s not something you come to a quick decision on … There’s a very large financial commitment through next year on a player of Alex’s caliber that was productive as [recently] as last year. Now, he’s being put in a position where sporadic play to try to get it going makes it more difficult. It’s fair to ask why and it’s fair to understand why it’s not a quick, rash decision, especially with September around the corner.”

Rosters expand in three weeks and five days, and I expect the Yankees to just ride this out with Rodriguez until then. They could release him in the offseason, but right now my guess is they hang on to him through the winter, then evaluate him in Spring Training. If he hits, they can give him a shot. If he stinks, they’ll cut him loose. And if he gets hurt, they’ll collect insurance on his contract.

Yankeemetrics: Raise or lower the white flag? [July 25-27]

Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)
Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)

No Chapman, no problem
Despite making their first significant “sell” trade-deadline move in more than two and a half decades, the Yankees continued to remain on the fringes of the playoff race with a 2-1 win over the Astros on Monday.

With the win, the Yankees moved to three games above .500 for the first time this season. This is the deepest into the season they’ve gone without reaching that mark since 1991, when they never got more than a game above .500 the entire season. They finished that forgettable campaign with a 71-91 record, their fifth-worth winning percentage in franchise history.

A victory did not look promising less than a minute after Michael Pineda took the mound in the bottom of the first inning; George Springer deposited the first pitch into the right-field seats for a quick 1-0 Astros lead.

It was the first time a Yankee allowed a first-pitch homer to the first batter of the game since the Jose Reyes took Hiroki Kuroda deep in Toronto on June 25, 2014, and just the 11th occurrence since pitch data became available in 1988. Of the 10 other instances, the only other Yankee pitcher who allowed no other runs besides that leadoff homer — like Pineda — was Jack McDowell on July 13, 1995 versus the Twins.

Austin Romine played the unlikely role of hero with a tie-breaking RBI double in the eighth inning. That was the first career go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later for the backup catcher, who is hitting a robust .375 (12-for-32) with runners in scoring position this season, the best mark on the team through Monday.

Milestone alerts! Carlos Beltran’s double leading off the seventh inning was the 524th of his career, passing one Hall-of-Famer (Willie Mays) and moving into a tie for 44th place with another Hall-of-Famer (Ken Griffey Jr.). Up next is Ted Williams with 525 doubles.

Chase Headley’s game-tying single in the fifth inning was his 1,147th career hit, breaking the major-league record for most hits by a Colorado-born player. He surpassed Roy Hartzell, a Golden, CO native who played 11 seasons with the St. Louis Browns (1906-10) and the Yankees (1911-16). According to a 1914 New York Times article, Hartzell was the “handiest utility man the Yankees ever had…he has played every position on the club except battery positions.”

That was easy. (Photo: AP)
That was easy. (Photo: AP)

All aboard the win train
The Yankees sure are making it tough for Prince Hal to push the SELL! button. For a team that’s defined inconsistency, they’ve somehow caught an incredible wave of positive momentum at the most critical juncture of the season, beating the Astros again on Tuesday night. It was another comeback win fueled by dominant starting pitching, some timely hitting and a shutdown back-of-the-bullpen performance.

CC Sabathia posted his best start in more than a month, giving up two runs on four hits while pitching into the seventh inning. He snapped a six-game winless streak during which he allowed at least four runs in each outing. That matched the longest such streak of his career, which he also did in 2002.

Although Sabathia had posted an ugly 7.46 ERA in his previous six turns, it wasn’t like he was getting crushed every night. He still entered Tuesday’s game with the lowest average exit velocity allowed (85.8 mph) among pitchers with at least 200 batted balls in play, and then nearly matched that number against the Astros (86.8).

Dellin Betances pulled off another crazy Houdini act, getting out of a two-out bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning to help seal the win. Hitters are just 2-for-27 (.074) with ducks on the pond against Betances in his career, the second-lowest batting average allowed in that situation among active pitchers (min. 25 at-bats), behind only Pirates lefty Tony Watson (.069).

Aces down
The Yankees desperate playoff push hit a speed bump on Wednesday night as the Yankees squandered a golden opportunity to move within three games of the second Wild Card spot after losing to the Astros, 4-1.

Still, even with the disappointing defeat, the Yankees are 11-5 (.688) all-time at Minute Maid Park, their third-highest winning percentage at any ballpark, behind only Atlanta’s Turner Field (.857, 12-2) and Minnesota’s Target Field (.760, 19-6).

Rotation ace Masahiro Tanaka — who entered the game with a league-leading 1.50 ERA in nine road starts — allowed four runs in five innings and lost for just the third time in 21 starts this season.

The loss also snapped a streak of seven straight Yankee wins in games started by Tanaka, the team’s longest such streak since winning 12 games in a row with Ivan Nova (!) on the mound in 2011. Tanaka has now been tagged for 10 runs and 14 hits in 10 career innings at Minute Maid Park.

Prior to Tanaka’s sub-par performance, Yankee pitchers had allowed just 17 runs in their previous 10 games, their best 10-game stretch of run prevention since July 1998.

Brian McCann drove in the lone Yankee run in the fourth inning with his 15th home run. This is the 11th time in his career he’s hit than many homers in a season, a feat matched by only seven other catchers in MLB history: Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Lance Parrish, Yogi Berra, Jorge Posada and Gary Carter.

Trade Deadline Notes: Lopez, Nats, Giants, Rangers, Gallo

Lopez. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Lopez. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

The Yankees have won six of their last nine games, and during that time they’ve gained exactly zero games in wildcard race. Not one. They’re still five games back, though now there’s only three teams ahead of them instead of six. Yay? Here’s the latest batch of trade deadline rumors.

Yankees scouted Lopez, others Tuesday

Vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring was at Nationals Park last night to scout rookie right-hander Reynaldo Lopez and other players, reports George King. Lopez got knocked around in his MLB debut, allowing six runs on ten hits and a walk in 4.2 innings, but he did strike out nine. Baseball America ranked him 48th in their midseason top 100 update, and Lopez has long been speculated as a possible center piece for an Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller trade.

The only other notable young players to play in last night’s Nationals-Dodgers game were Joc Pederson and Trea Turner. I’d be surprised if the Dodgers traded Pederson. Turner though? He could definitely be a trade chip with Washington so committed to Danny Espinosa at short (and prospect Wilmer Difo on the way). Turner went 1-for-4 with a two-run triple and a strikeout last night. Here’s video of the triple. For what it’s worth, Lopez strikes me as way more available than Turner.

Giants lingering in Chapman, Miller race

The Giants continue to linger in the Chapman/Miller market according to Jerry Crasnick, though they might be outbid by other clubs with more young talent to offer. San Francisco is focusing on other relievers for the time being, including Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith of the Brewers, and Jeanmar Gomez and David Hernandez of the Phillies.

As I said a few weeks ago, it’s hard to find a match between the Yankees and Giants because the Giants don’t have a great farm system. Most of their top prospects are either having down years or are far away from MLB. And even if San Francisco was willing to trade off their big league roster, who could they offer? Joe Panik or Matt Duffy? That ain’t happening. The Giants want to add to their MLB team, not subtract from it.

Yankees “intrigued” by Gallo, Rangers scouting Yanks

(Kyle Rivas/Getty)
(Kyle Rivas/Getty)

The Rangers have been scouting the Yankees for several weeks now, according to Evan Grant and George King. They’ve specifically been looking at Miller, Chapman, Dellin Betances, Ivan Nova, Nathan Eovaldi, and even CC Sabathia. Texas had trusted scout Russ Ardolina at Yankee Stadium on Monday to see Nova. The big three relievers pitched that game too. The Rangers need all sorts of pitching help and the Yankees have a bunch to offer.

King says the Yankees are “intrigued” by dinger mashing prospect Joey Gallo, and Grant says that while Gallo isn’t untouchable, it’s going to take a lot to get him. Texas turned down Gallo for Drew Pomeranz, for example. There are concerns about Gallo’s ability to make consistent contact against MLB caliber arms, but he has true 80 power on the 20-80 scouting scale, the kind that will produce 40 bombs in any park even if he hits .230. He’s also a good defender at third base, so while he’s a flawed player, Gallo has a chance to a middle of the order force long-term.