Yankeemetrics: The Great Escape [Aug. 29-31]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Too little, too late
The Yankees fleeting playoff hopes hit a speed bump on Monday night as their late-inning comeback fell short in Kansas City, losing 8-5 to Royals.

Following another confounding outing by Michael Pineda and another middle-relief implosion, the Yankees found themselves down seven runs after the seventh inning, and despite battling back to twice getting the tying run at the plate, they couldn’t get the decisive hit.

After a four-run rally in the eighth pulled the Yankees within three runs, Mark Teixeira grounded out to end the inning with a man on first and second. That predictable #RISPFAIL dropped his batting average with runners in scoring position and two outs to .100 (4-for-40), the third-lowest among all players with at least 40 at-bats this season.

Starlin Castro also had a chance to be the hero in the ninth inning when came up with two outs and two men on. Kelvin Herrera threw him three straight curves; Castro took the first two for strikes then whiffed on the third one in the dirt for the final out. Castro’s line on curveballs this season fell to 6-for-52 (.115), the second-lowest batting average against the pitch in MLB (min. 50 at-bats).

In what has become an all-too-familiar tale for a Pineda start, the enigmatic right-hander showed flashes of dominance but ultimately the results in the box score were disappointing. He got rocked early, giving up three runs on five hits in the first inning, then retired 15 (!) straight batters in the second through sixth innings, before being removed in the seventh after giving up singles to the first two men he faced (who both eventually scored).

Pineda’s struggles in the opening frame are nothing new; after Monday’s disaster, he was tied for the most first-inning hits allowed and the second-most first-inning earned runs allowed, and his 7.62 first-inning ERA was the second-highest in the majors (min. 20 starts).

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Just call him Chasen Houdini
The Yankees pulled off one of their most stunning and nerve-wracking wins of the season on Tuesday, edging out the Royals, 5-4, for a ginormous victory against one of the teams they’re chasing in the wild card race.

They were celebrating at the end of the game thanks to a clutch hit in extra innings by the oft-maligned Jacoby Ellsbury, and a remarkable Houdini act to seal the win by improbable closer Chasen Shreve.

Ellsbury drove in the game-winning run in the 10th with a two-out, bases-loaded infield hit. He improved to 6-for-11 (.545) with 12 RBI with the bases loaded this season, tied with Mike Trout for the best batting average in MLB (min. 10 at-bats).

Shreve notched his first career save after escaping a bases-loaded, one out jam in the bottom of the 10th by fanning Kendrys Morales on three pitches and then getting Salvador Perez to fly out to center.

Over the last 25 seasons, the only other Yankee pitcher to strike out a guy with the bases loaded while protecting a lead in extras was — unsurprisingly — Mariano Rivera. The G.O.A.T got Mark Reynolds to swing through strike three for the final out of a 6-5, 10-inning win in Arizona on June 23, 2010.

Lost in the drama of the final frame was another solid outing by Masahiro Tanaka, who was removed following the rain delay after throwing five innings of two-run ball with four strikeouts and no walks. He finished the month of August with a nearly flawless strikeout-to-walk ratio of 38-to-1 (!), with the lone walk coming on Aug. 24 against the Mariners.

Tanaka is the first Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to complete a month with at least 35 strikeouts and no more than one walk. In fact, just three other major-league pitchers in that 104-season span have struck out 38 or more guys and walked one or fewer in a calendar month: Cliff Lee (54 K, 1 BB in Sept. 2013), Hisashi Iwakuma (39 K, 1 BB in July 2014) and Javier Vazquez (39 K, 0 BB in May 2005).

Trading an out for a win
It was deja vu for the Yankees on Wednesday as they enjoyed free baseball for a second straight night and again notched a huge win in extras. It marked the first time the Yankees have ever won back-to-back extra-inning games versus the Royals, and the first time they’ve done that versus any team since Sept. 21-22, 2012 against the A’s.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With the win, the Yankees are now 22-9 in games decided by one run, the second-best record in MLB behind the Rangers (30-8!) this year. Their .710 winning percentage in one-run games would be the highest single-season mark in franchise history; the current record is held by the 1963 team, which went 36-17 (.679).

This time they rallied from a four-run deficit and finally took the lead in the top of the 13th when Brian McCann delivered a sac fly to left field, scoring Didi Gregorius to make it 5-4. It was the latest go-ahead sac fly by a Yankee since Bernie Williams lofted a walk-off fly out in the 13th inning against the Red Sox on May 3, 1995.

McCann’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible without an incredible performance by the bullpen. It was truly a team effort as six relievers combined for seven scoreless and hitless innings. This was the first time ever that the Yankees won a game where they used six different relievers who each got at least one out and allowed no hits.

How did we get this far into Yankeemetrics without mentioning Mr. Gary Sanchez? Let’s fix that. Despite going 1-for-5 on Wednesday, Sanchez still finished August with a .389 batting average and .832 slugging percentage in 24 games.

Over the past 100 years, two players in their age-23 seasons or younger have hit at least .375 and slugged over .825 in any calendar month (min. 100 plate appearances): Gary Sanchez and Joe DiMaggio in July 1937.

Poll: Did the Yanks wait too long to call up Gary Sanchez?

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Over the last three weeks, rookie catcher Gary Sanchez has been on a tear like nothing we’ve seen before. He’s hitting .398/.465/.864 (249 wRC+) with eleven home runs in 23 games this season, including that random 0-for-4 against Chris Sale in May. Sanchez reached eleven home runs faster than any other player in history. He needed only 22 games to hit that many.

The Yankees are scoring more runs right now than they have at any other point this season, and they continue to linger in the wildcard race, thanks largely to Sanchez. It’s amazing to think the team traded away their best hitter at the deadline (Carlos Beltran) and actually improved their offense, but it’s happened and it’s glorious. The Yankees are a million times more entertaining right now than they were earlier this year.

Sanchez, as you surely remember, competed for the backup catcher’s job in Spring Training, but he lost out to Austin Romine. Romine had a strong camp while Sanchez went 2-for-22 (.091) and looked like he was trying to hit a five-home run every time he stepped to the plate. That Sanchez had options remaining while Romine couldn’t be sent to the minors only made it easier for the Yankees to keep the “veteran” around.

Given his immense production, it’s only natural to wonder whether the Yankees should have called Sanchez up sooner, either by giving him the backup job on Opening Day or calling him up a few weeks into the season. Remember, Sanchez needed to spend 35 days in the minors to delay free agency, and boy oh boy are the Yankees glad they did that right now. Let’s build a case for both sides of this argument, calling him up sooner and later.

The Case For Calling Him Up Sooner

Let’s start with the obvious: calling Sanchez up sooner means getting more plate appearances out of him, which improves the offense. The bat has never really been a question here. No one expected him to hit like this right away, but this is a full-time catcher who hit .286/.342/.478 in 106 career Triple-A games. Sanchez can mash and it’s been obvious for a while.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

The Yankees struggled to score runs for much of the season, mostly because their middle of the order veterans (Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez) didn’t produce. Once the team decided to pull the plug on A-Rod, they gave his at-bats to Aaron Hicks and Rob Refsnyder, which didn’t do much better. All of those at-bats could have instead gone to Sanchez. Imagine Sanchez and Carlos Beltran in the same lineup.

Right now the Yankees are 3.5 games out of a postseason spot and the difference between, say, 100 extra plate appearances of Sanchez and 100 plate appearances of the A-Rod/Hicks/Refsnyder trio could be as much as a win. Maybe two. Simply put, calling Sanchez up sooner would have likely given the Yankees a better chance to make the postseason. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that at all.

The Case For Calling Him Up When They Did

Player development is not linear. Sanchez played 71 Triple-A this season — he would have played more had he not missed a few weeks with a thumb fracture caused by a foul tip — and those games were a learning experience. He worked with the coaches and faced experienced pitchers every single day. All those games had developmental value.

Moreso than any other position, I think catchers can learn a lot just by sitting on the bench as a big league backup. They may not get many at-bats, but they can still sit in on scouting report meetings, catch bullpens, and do all of that stuff. Catching is hard, man. There’s so much prep work that goes on behind the scenes. It’s incredible how much these guys prepare for each game.

Sanchez could have learned a lot backing up Brian McCann earlier this season. That said, given his work in progress defense, being in Triple-A allowed him to play everyday while still putting in all that behind the scenes work. Defensive and offensive development are not mutual exclusive, especially not with catchers. There’s a reason so many catchers are late-bloomers offensively. They have to get comfortable behind the plate first, and those extra few weeks in Triple-A allowed Sanchez to do that.

* * *

I don’t think there’s any way we could reasonably say Sanchez would have performed exactly like he is right now had the Yankees called him up in, say, May. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have been able to help the offense, however. This question is ripe for a poll, so let’s get to it.

Did the Yankees wait too long to call up Sanchez?

Game 130: Another Important Series

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are halfway through this crucial 12-game stretch against fellow wildcard contenders. They took two of three from both the Mariners and Orioles, yet it feels like they could have done more. Either way, winning those series was pretty much the bare minimum, and that is again the case this week. The Yankees have to at least win this series against the Royals to stay in the race. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Michael Pineda

The internet tells me it is warm and sticky in Kansas City, and there is also some rain in the forecast later tonight. Shouldn’t be anything that interrupts the game unless they play extra innings. Tonight’s game will begin at 8:15pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Awards Note: Once again, Sanchez is your AL Player of the Week. He is the first rookie in history to win it back-to-back weeks. Wild. He’s also the first AL player to win it back-to-back weeks since Albert Belle in 1998. Sanchez having Belle’s career sure would be fun, minus all the crazy guy stuff.

The Yankee offense has come to life in August, and it’s not all Gary Sanchez

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees were shut out by the Orioles and Kevin Gausman, which, unfortunately, has been all too common this season. They have no answer for Gausman at all. The young right-hander has made four starts against the Yankees this season and he’s held them to three runs in 27.2 innings. That’s a 0.98 ERA. He has a 4.41 ERA against all other teams. Sigh.

Thankfully, games like that, in which the offense no-shows, have been rare this month. Very rare, in fact. Yesterday’s loss snapped the Yankees’ five-game streak of scoring at least five runs, the team’s longest such streak in three years. The Yankees scored 14 runs Friday night and another 13 runs Saturday. They scored 10+ runs six times in the first 126 games of the season, then did it back-to-back days this weekend.

Even with yesterday’s shutout loss, the Yankees have scored 133 runs in August, making it their highest scoring month of the season. There’s still three more games to play before September arrives too. Here is the Yankees’ month-by-month runs scored ranks among the 30 MLB clubs:

April: 74 (30th)
May: 119 (22nd)
June: 129 (13th)
July: 97 (23rd)
August: 133 (4th)

Not surprisingly, power has played a big role in the Yankees’ sudden run-scoring ability. They’ve hit 40 homers so far this month, ten more than any other month this season. (They hit 30 in both May and June.) Obviously the arrival of Gary Sanchez has played a huge role in the improved offense. He’s hitting .425/.489/.938 (274 wRC+) with eleven homers in 21 games this season since being recalled after the trade deadline.

Sanchez is not the only reason the offense has been much improved this month though. Remember, the Yankees traded away Carlos Beltran at the deadline, and he was their best hitter for much of the season. It’s not like they simply added Sanchez on top of what they already had. Several players have improved their performance this month as well. Three others in particular have mashed in August:

April to July August
Starlin Castro .256/.292/.395 (81 wRC+) .309/.337/.557 (135 wRC+)
Aaron Hicks .187/.251/.287 (41 wRC+)  .307/.342/.480 (121 wRC+)
Mark Teixeira .192/.269/.322 (58 wRC+)  .254/.359/.433 (116 wRC+)

That doesn’t include the red hot Ronald Torreyes, who has gone 14-for-26 (.538) with six doubles, a homer, a walk, and no strikeouts over the last week. He’s exactly the kind of high-contact hitter who can go on an insane BABIP-fueled run like this. Torreyes replaced Chase Headley at third for a few games while Headley nursed an Achilles injury, and he’s stayed in the lineup because he’s been so hot.

There are reasons to believe this is all legit too. Castro has always been a second half hitter; he has a career 86 wRC+ in the first half and 105 in the second half. Hicks is playing everyday again, something he wasn’t able to do for much of the first half. I know no one wants to hear it, but I truly believe the regular at-bats help get him on track. Teixeira? Well, he couldn’t possibly be that bad all season, right? I hope so. We have to hope and pray a little more with Teixeira than we do Castro and Hicks.

It hasn’t all been good news this month. That’s just the way it goes. Brett Gardner (78 wRC+) and Jacoby Ellsbury (85 wRC+) haven’t been great in August, which is kind of a problem because they hit first and second — directly in front of the molten hot Sanchez — most games. Brian McCann (77 wRC+) hasn’t done much either, and call-ups Aaron Judge (85 wRC+) and Tyler Austin (-11 wRC+) have cooled off following their big MLB debuts. You can’t really expect the kids to carry the offense though. Sanchez is the exception, not the rule.

Still, the point is the Yankees have multiple hitters locked in right now. Most of the season they were able to rely on Beltran and maybe one other hitter at any given time. Didi Gregorius was hot for a while. Then it was McCann. Then Headley. Then whoever. The offense never seemed to fire on all cylinders, and truth be told, it still doesn’t feel that way. At least now there’s more than one or two guys carrying to load. Sanchez has been getting the kind of help Beltran never received.

The Yankees beat up on some bad Orioles pitching Friday and Saturday night, which skews their August numbers a tad. They’re averaging 4.61 runs per game this month if you remove those two blowouts, which is still their second highest scoring month this year after June (4.78). Friday’s and Saturday’s games happened though. They count. Earlier this year the Yankees rarely beat up on bad pitching. They just did it on back-to-back days.

No one expects Sanchez to stay this hot the rest of the season. It’s pretty much impossible. Hopefully as he cools down others like Gardner and Ellsbury and McCann heat back up and create a deeper, more balanced lineup. Scoring runs can still be a struggle for the Yankees, we saw it yesterday, but they’ve done a much better job offensively of late. They’ll have to keep up this pace to continue climbing back into the postseason race.

Yankeemetrics: No sweep for you [Aug. 26-28]

(NY Post)
(NY Post)

Mr. Unstoppable
One of the most incredible starts to a career continued on Friday night with Gary Sanchez extending his unprecedented assault on big-league pitching in the series opener. He added three more hits, including a double and a homer, and drove in four runs to lead the Yankees to a 14-4 blowout win.

Sanchez is setting the record books ablaze every time he steps the plate as his feats are reaching epic proportions and every at-bat becomes must-see television for Yankee fans everywhere. At this point in his record-breaking spree, it’s just easier to recap with bullet points, so here we go:

  • By hitting his 10th homer on Friday, all of which have come in August, Sanchez broke the Yankee rookie record for homers in a calendar month. The previous mark of nine was set by Joe DiMaggio in August 1936 and later tied by Tom Tresh in August 1962.
  • He became the third-fastest player in MLB history to reach 10 homers, behind only Rockies shortstop Trevor Story (21 games earlier this year) and Red Sox infielder George Scott (21 games in 1966)
  • The three-hit, four-RBI performance also pushed his career totals in those stats to 31 and 20, respectively. The only Yankee to reach 30 career hits faster than Sanchez was Joe DiMaggio (16[!] games in 1936); the only Yankees to reach 20 career RBI faster than Sanchez were Hideki Matsui (20 games in 2003) and DiMaggio (21).
  • Where Sanchez truly stands alone in baseball history is his unique combination of elite hit and power tools: He is the first player in major-league history to compile at least 10 homers and 30 hits this early into his career (22nd game).

And we’ll finish this section with a #FunFact, because why not? Sanchez is the youngest Yankee catcher with at least three hits, three runs scored and four RBI in a game since a 23-year-old Yogi Berra on Aug. 3, 1948 against the Tigers.

Sanchez is not human
On Saturday, this Sanchez kid officially zoomed past the basic level of historic and entered the upper realm of absurdity. Since we’re beginning to run out of words to describe Sanchez’s mind-boggling pace, I’ll just put this GIF here instead:

on fire

Yup, he did it again. Sanchez homered for the 11th time this season, fueling another pinstriped offensive explosion as the Yankee routed the Orioles, 13-5. With his 370-foot blast to right-center in the fourth inning, he became the fastest player in the history of major-league baseball to reach the 11-homer mark, doing so in his 23rd career game.

All 11 of his homers came since his recall in early August, making this not just an unbelievable career-opening run, but also one of the best power-hitting months by any young player in recent memory. To the bullet points again:

  • Sanchez is the third Yankee ever to hit at least 11 homers in any month in his age-23 season or younger, joining Mickey Mantle (12 in August 1955) and Joe DiMaggio (15 in July 1937).
  • The rookie phenom is also the youngest big-league catcher since Johnny Bench in 1970 to go yard 11-plus times in a month.
  • And Sanchez is the first American League player in his age-23 season or younger to pile up at least 11 homers and 30 hits in a month since Alex Rodriguez (11 homers, 36 hits) for the Mariners in August 1999.

Sanchez wasn’t the only Yankee with a monster game. One of the guys he shared the spotlight with was Starlin Castro, who repeatedly destroyed the baseball on Saturday as he went 4-for-6, scored three runs, stole a base and drove in three runs.

Only one other second baseman in franchise history has enjoyed such a productive night at the plate — at least four hits, three runs, three RBI and a steal: Alfonso Soriano had a game with those numbers on April 8, 2002 against the Blue Jays.

Overall, for the second time in two games against the Orioles, the Yankee bats punished Orioles pitching — in record-breaking fashion. Coupled with Friday’s offensive fireworks, this is the first time since at least 1913 (and likely ever) that the Yankees have scored at least 13 runs, gotten 18 or more hits, and went deep at least three times in back-to-back games.

(AP)
(AP)

The Sunday Letdown
Nothing lasts forever, right? The Orioles somehow managed to cool off the torrid bat of Gary Sanchez and the streaking Yankees, blanking them, 5-0, on Sunday afternoon. For the seventh time this season the Yankees were going for a three-game sweep … and for the seventh time they failed to complete it.

The lack of three-game sweeps might be an odd stat, and sweeps are not “easy,” but it does speak to the inconsistency — and an inability to go on an extended season-changing run — that has plagued this Yankee team since day one. (Though, to be fair, they do have two four-game sweeps.)

The Orioles did manage to keep Sanchez from sending a ball over the fences, but the young slugger’s power binge was merely tempered. He still finished with two hits, a single and a double, in four at-bats, giving him a whopping 19 extra-base hits in the big leagues.

Only two major-league players in the last century had that many hits for extra bases this early into their careers (24th game): Mandy Brooks had 22 for the Cubs in 1925 and DiMaggio had 19 for the Yankees in 1936. Oh, and he now has more than twice as many multi-hit games (10) as hitless games (4) among the 22 contests he has started in pinstripes.

The fact that Orioles starter Kevin Gausman shut down the Bronx Bombers’ surging bats is hardly surprising given his dominance of them this year. After throwing seven scoreless innings on Sunday, he now owns a 0.98 ERA across four starts versus the Yankees. The last pitcher to finish a season with a sub-1.00 ERA in four-or-more starts against the Yankees was Angels lefty Chuck Finley in 1996 (0.57).

Enjoying the Ride

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

Following a poor April, the goal of this season seemed clear: trade away those pieces with value–or anything not tied down–and put the farm system in a position to flourish and be productive going forward. Of course, that would mean a rough go of things in the second half. This is what happened. The Yankees made the moves many (most?) of us wanted them to make.

After selling off Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran, the Yankees were supposed to fade back, take some lumps for the rest of the year, hopefully break in some new guys, and head into the offseason with the reset button pushed. With veterans exiting–Alex Rodriguez and the aforementioned traded players–or taking a reduced roles–Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Chase Headley–the months of August and September were meant to get the kids–Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green chief among them–a stress-free and extended taste of the Majors before (presumably) stepping up and taking bigger roles in 2017.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the offseason: the Yankees began to win. Is it possible that the Yankees could have their cake and eat it, too?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As I write this, the Yankees are somehow 2.5 games back of the second wildcard spot and 5.5 games back in the division. Given what they did at the deadline, both of those numbers seemed pretty incomprehensible at the beginning of the month. Here we are, though, as the calendar gets ready to turn to September, and the Yankees have a shot–however outside–at making the playoffs. Per BP, their odds are just 6.6%. Per FanGraphs, their odds are somewhere between 7.2% and 10.2%. Are those great odds? Of course not. But given how this team looked on August 1st, they’re better than anyone could’ve imagined.

Moving from the team to the individual for the moment…Gary Sanchez. What else needs to be said? He’s made his at-bats appointment viewing. I paused on a trip to the bathroom yesterday to watch one of his at bats. The only person unimpressed by Sanchez appears to be my 8-week old son, who seems to be mid-bottle every time Sanchez comes up and does something impressive. Maybe I should feed him constantly throughout Yankee games and see what happens.

Both Sanchez and the Yankees are playing with house money. No one realistically expected either of these things to happen, both Sanchez’s historic debut or the Yankees actually making things interesting in the playoff picture. It won’t always go this well for Sanchez, and we know that. And chances are, given the team’s starting rotation, the Yankees are going to come back down to earth and will probably miss the playoffs. But so what? This is fun. The Yankees are fun. Baseball has been made fun again.

The moment Al passed Face of the Franchise status over to Gary. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

For now, let’s just enjoy the ride. Both the team and Sanchez are playing with house money and are making us feel good about tuning into the Yankees again after three and a half seasons that, at times, felt like a slog (with varying degrees of success).  I’ll end with this thought: How much do you think it would annoy the rest of baseball if the Yankees, in a year in which they were supposed to turn tail and hideout till next year, made the playoffs? I think it would be pretty damn hilarious. You may’ve heard that baseball is hard to predict and the second half of this Yankee season has certainly subscribed to that theory. Can something wild happen in the last month? Probably not, but it’s going to be a fun ride to experience.

Yankeemetrics: Babe Sanchez does it again [Aug. 22-24]

(AP)
(AP)

Gary is Good
Despite the superhuman feats of a scorching-hot Gary Sanchez, not to mention a two-dinger night from the streaky Starlin Castro, the Yankees still managed to lose the opener in Seattle, 7-5. It snapped their eight-game winning streak at Safeco Field, which was tied with the White Sox (2011-12) for the longest by any opponent at the ballpark.

Sanchez added yet another chapter to his Baby Bomber tale, crushing two more home runs to bring his total to eight in 19 career games. He is the first Yankee to hit at least eight homers before playing in his 20th big-league game, and just the fourth American League player in the last 100 seasons to do it. The others? Carlos Delgado (Blue Jays), Alvin Davis (Mariners) and George Scott (Red Sox).

The right-handed hitting Dominican also added a single, giving him 54 total bases since his debut in the bigs. Only one other Yankee has compiled at least 50 total bases this early into his major-league career (first 19 games), and you might have heard of him before: Joe DiMaggio.

Starlin Castro was Sanchez’s co-star on Monday night, going deep twice for his first multi-homer game in pinstripes. Castro and Sanchez became the first Yankees age 26 or younger to each hit at least two homers in the same game since September 23, 1973, when Ron Blomberg and Otto Velez did it in a 9-1 rout against the Indians.

Castro and Sanchez’s numbers became a mere footnote in history and not part of a winning effort when Anthony Swarzak served up a hanging slider to Mike Zunino, who deposited the pitch into the right-field seats to give the Mariners a 6-5 lead.

In his postgame press conference, Girardi said that he went to Swarzak “because of his slider,” an interesting comment given these stats:

  • Eight of the 10 homers that Swarzak has allowed this season have come off his slider
  • Opponents are slugging .682 (!) off Swarzak’s slider, the highest mark among the 150-plus pitchers that have thrown at least 200 sliders this year
(USA Today)
(USA Today)

An old guy steals the spotlight
On a day when the lineup’s young superstar was mortal, the Yankees got masterful performance from the rotation’s elder statesman, CC Sabathia, and beat the Mariners, 5-1, to even the series at a game apiece.

Sabathia, mired in a miserable 11-game stretch during which he posted a 6.78 ERA, was brilliant as he delivered a vintage performance to help stop the Yankees two-game losing streak. He fired seven innings of one-run ball, allowing just three hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in what was his best outing since mid-June.

While Sabathia’s dominant effort might have been surprising given his recent struggles, it shouldn’t have been given his history of pitching extremely well in the Pacific Northwest. Overall, he’s 9-1 with a 2.09 ERA in 13 career starts at Safeco Field, the second-best ERA among the 51 pitchers than have made at least 10 starts at the ballpark.

He’s also a perfect 5-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 0.961 WHIP in six starts at Safeco as Yankee. Going back 100 years, that ERA is the second-lowest mark any Yankee pitcher has posted at any ballpark where he’s made at least five starts. The guy atop the list is Mel Stottlemyre, who had a 1.25 ERA in nine starts at Anaheim Stadium from 1966-73.

Sanchez didn’t go yard in this game but he still maintained a near-record-breaking pace to start his career by going 1-for-4 with a walk. His 26 hits as a major-leaguer are tied with Bob Meusel for the third-most by any Yankee (since at least 1913) in his first 20 MLB games. The only others with more are Joe DiMaggio (37!!) and Oscar Azocar (28).

(AP)
(AP)

The Gary and Tanaka Show
The Yankees shut out the Mariners, 5-0, in the rubber game of this series thanks to the amazing and unprecedented — yet somehow predictable — performances by Gary Sanchez and Masahiro Tanaka.

The Yankees’ underrated ace spun another gem, tossing seven scoreless innings with five strikeouts while lowering his ERA to 3.11. The only “blemish” was a third-inning walk to Seth Smith, the first free pass he’d issued since July 27.

That snapped a streak of four straight starts with at least 25 batters faced and zero walks, the longest by a Yankee since David Wells in 2003. Tanaka also saw his fantastic run of three straight games with at least eight punch outs and no walks come to an end, which was tied for a major-league record.

Tanaka is now up to five starts of at least seven scoreless innings pitched, the most among all American League pitchers. Entering Thursday, Tanaka was third among AL starters in strikeout-to-walk ratio, third in FIP, sixth in innings pitched, sixth in WHIP and seventh in ERA. He is the only AL pitcher ranked in the top-7 in each of those categories this season. And, oh yeah, he’s tied with Corey Kluber for the league lead in fWAR (Fangraphs version of Wins Above Replacement).

Sanchez wasted little time in continuing his homer barrage as he crushed a mammoth 420-foot shot into the left-center field seats on the first pitch he saw, his franchise-record ninth home run in 21 career games. His light-tower power is crazy: He’s now hit more 400-foot homers (seven) than every other Yankee this season except for Starlin Castro (11), and remember, Sanchez has only been a full-time player since August 3.

Gary added another double in the fifth inning, giving him 15 extra-base hits as a major-leaguer. The only Yankee to reach 15 career extra-base hits faster (in terms of games) than Sanchez was that DiMaggio dude again.

The Mariners soon learned their lesson — DO NOT PITCH TO THE KRAKEN — and intentionally walked him in each of his final two plate appearances.

The last Yankee to receive multiple intentional walks in a game within his first 21 career games was Joe Gordon in 1938. Sanchez is also youngest Yankee with at least two intentional walks and two hits in a game since a 23-year-old Yogi Berra on July 22, 1947.

And lastly, just for fun, Sanchez is the first Yankee catcher to be intentionally walked twice in a game since John Flaherty on June 15, 2004. Yes, Flash was batting eighth in an Interleague game in Arizona. The manager was not drunk.