Yankeemetrics: West Coast nightmare (June 12-14)

(Getty)
(Getty)

No pizza but still a win
The Yankees headed out west for the first time this season, but the story remained mostly the same on Monday night: another win and another legend-boosting performance by Mr. Judge.

This victory, however, was different from others in the past couple weeks because of the fact that John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman didn’t get to mention the beloved Papa John’s promotion. In case you’re not familiar with the popular deal: the day after the Yankees score six or more runs, customers get 50 percent off the regular menu price of all pizzas at Papa John’s online.

The Yankees scored ‘only’ five runs on Monday night, but that was still enough for the win because of another anomaly: Masahiro Tanaka did not get pummeled! Though he did cough up a solo homer to the second batter of the game, he settled down after that, retiring 13 straight at one point while pitching into the seventh inning.

One of the biggest keys for Tanaka was getting ahead in the count, throwing a first-pitch strike to a season-high 77.8 percent of the batters he faced. Because he was consistently in control of at-bats, he was then able to efficiently finish off batters when getting to two strikes, as the Angels went 0-for-11 in two-strike counts with eight strikeouts.

Okay, so back to the part of this game that was normal – Aaron Judge destroying baseballs. With the game tied in the eighth inning and a man on second, Judge drilled a 2-0 cutter from Bud Norris over the fences for a 5-3 lead. Sorry Buddy, this is not the best location for a pitch when facing a 6’7, 280-pound baseball cyborg:

aaron-judge

I wouldn’t be surprised if Judge was literally smiling as he extended his arms and pummeled this pitch into the right-centerfield seats. It was right in his power-happy zone, as he was slugging 1.182 in that part of the strikezone after Monday’s game.

judge

It was his first career go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later … and hopefully the first of many more to come.

Judge wouldn’t have been the hero, though, without another standout performance from Didi Gregorius. He went 4-for-4 and kept the Yankees in the game with game-tying and go-ahead RBI singles in the third and fifth innings. Didi was the second Yankee shortstop ever with a four-hit, multi-RBI game against the Angels. The other guy to do it was … of course, Derek Jeter on Sept. 5, 1999 at Angel Stadium.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Clipp’d
The Yankees six-game win streak was snapped on Tuesday in one of the more frustrating losses of this season, as they lost in the 11th inning after failing to cash in on key scoring chances throughout the night. It was also a rare type of loss for a couple reasons:

  • Before Tuesday, the Yankees were one of just two teams that hadn’t yet suffered a walk-off loss – the Marlins are now on the clock as the only team left on that list.
  • The Yankees were 33-0 when leading at the start of the eighth inning, one of four major-league teams without a loss in that scenario entering Tuesday’s slate. The others: Rockies (33-0), Red Sox (26-0) and White Sox (23-0).

Tyler Clippard was the game’s biggest goat – according to Twitter, at least – as he surrendered that game-tying homer and was tagged for his fourth blown save of the season in his 29th appearance. Through Tuesday, the only pitchers in the majors with more blown saves were Tony Watson and Francisco Rodriguez (both with 5).

Fangraphs tracks a stat called Meltdowns, which answers the simple question of whether a reliever hurt his team’s chance of winning, based on changes in win probability during the pitcher’s outing. (To be more specific, he gets a Meltdown if the game’s win probability declines by at least six percent from when he enters and then exits the game.) Clippard has eight Meltdowns this season, tied for the most among American League pitchers and fourth-most in MLB.

Clippard has a shiny 2.00 ERA and .158 batting average allowed, but he’s been horrible in critical at-bats this season. He’s allowed a .304/.375/.682 line in high-leverage plate appearances – that equals a .436 wOBA, which ranked seventh-highest among pitchers that have faced at least 25 batters in those situations. For reference, Aaron Judge had a .476 wOBA through Tuesday.

As if the game wasn’t depressing enough from a standard win-loss perspective, there’s also the fact that CC Sabathia suffered a hamstring injury in the fourth inning. He had won his last five starts, with a 0.99 ERA dating back to May 16 at Kansas City. During that month-long span (May 16 to June 13), a total of 161 pitchers threw at least 15 innings; Robbie Ray (0.24) and Sabathia (0.99) were the only ones to post a sub-1.00 ERA.

(AP)
(AP)

Welcome back, Tiny Mike
This annual road trip to Southern California has been a devastating one for this franchise, even in the best of times. After dropping the rubber game on Wednesday, the Yankees continued their run of futility in Los Angeles (or Anaheim, whatever). The Yankees fell to 45-58 at Angel Stadium in the Wild Card Era, their worst record at any AL ballpark in that span.

It looked like they might reverse that trend after taking a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, capped by Gary Sanchez‘s booming 441-foot three-run homer. It was the Yankees 11th home run of at least 440 feet this season, the most in the majors.

And here’s a stat that pretty much sums up the 2017 Yankees: Sanchez’s longball was also the 35th hit by a Yankee in his age-25 season or younger; in the five-year period from 2010-2014, there were 21 homers hit by Yankees in their age-25 season or younger … COMBINED.

Unfortunately that early offensive explosion was quickly rendered meaningless as #BadMike returned with vengeance. He soon turned that 4-0 advantage into a 5-4 deficit by the end of the third inning. Pineda ended up pitching six innings and gave up five runs on 10 hits, further widening his Jeykyll-and-Hyde home/road splits this season:

He is now 1-5 with a 6.25 ERA in six road starts, compared to 6-1 with a 1.96 ERA in seven home starts. That difference of 4.3 runs is the ninth-largest among the 100-plus pitchers that have made at least five starts at home and five starts on the road.

Yankees want Sanchez to shed added bulk to improve blocking behind the plate

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Because Aaron Judge is out there crushing everything in sight, it can be easy to overlook Gary Sanchez‘s impressive .276/.358/.530 (138 wRC+) batting line this season. Among the 21 catchers with at least 150 plate appearances, Sanchez is third in wRC+ and third with ten homers. He’s been awesome! Judge has been otherworldly.

One area in which Sanchez has seemed to struggle this season is blocking balls behind the plate. For what it’s worth, the blocking numbers at Baseball Prospectus say he’s been better this year (+0.2 runs) than last year (-1.4 runs). That doesn’t really match the eye test, I don’t think. Sanchez has appeared to have trouble keeping the ball in front of him at times this year. At least moreso than last year.

Either way, the Yankees acknowledge Sanchez has had some blocking issues, and Ken Rosenthal says they want him to shed some of the bulk he added over the winter to improve his mobility behind the plate. From Rosenthal:

Gary Sanchez, like Severino, had only good intentions when he packed on 12 pounds of muscle last winter. But rival scouts all season have noted that he is again struggling to block pitches.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman believes that the added weight affected Sanchez’s mobility behind the plate, but adds that Sanchez is working to address the problem and become more like the catcher he was last year.

Sanchez holds a slightly different view — he said through an interpreter that he is indeed working on losing some weight, but didn’t think the added bulk created an issue with his catching.

Luis Severino, you may remember, added quite a bit of muscle last offseason, then all of a sudden last year his fastball command disappeared and his delivery was too stiff. Severino trimmed down a bit this past winter and he regained the fluidity in his delivery. His tempo is so much better.

Something similar could be happening with Sanchez behind the plate, and given Cashman’s comments to Rosenthal, the Yankees seem to think it is at least a possibility. Sanchez is not a great defender. He’s a bat first, second, and third guy. But he is adequate back there and he has improved quite a bit over the years. Sanchez doesn’t need to be peak Yadier Molina defensively to have value. Just be okay.

Because he is such a big dude — Sanchez is listed at 6-foot-2 and 230 lbs., and he is rock solid — Sanchez is always going to have to work hard to keep his weight in check, and that doesn’t necessarily mean bad weight either. Severino bulked up last year and it hurt him on the field. Sanchez bulked over the winter and now he’s not moving well behind the plate. There’s a happy medium somewhere and Sanchez is still searching for it.

Yankeemetrics: Old Ace rising, Tanaka tanking (June 6-8)

(AP)
(AP)

Numbers Never Lie
A home run derby broke out at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, but in a very depressing way for the hometown fans. Masahiro Tanaka‘s batting-practice fastballs and cement-mixer sliders were flying out of the park, while the Yankees’ repeated clutch-hitting woes sealed their fate – a disappointing 5-4 loss to their AL East rival.

The Red Sox entered the game with the fewest homers in the league, but that statistic mattered little on a chilly night in the Bronx as they went deep three times against Tanaka, who gave up five runs in five innings. Tanaka’s longball issues have reached crisis mode, with 14 surrendered in his last 32 innings pitched dating back to the fifth inning of his May 2 start vs Toronto.

That’s a remarkable number considering that:

  • It’s more home runs than any Yankee pitcher had given up the entire season through Tuesday
  • 77 of the 86 other qualified pitchers in MLB had allowed fewer than 14 home runs for the entire season through Tuesday

If those stats aren’t sobering enough, how about this: he gave up more homers to the Red Sox (3) than guys he struck out (2) … and it’s not even the first time he’s done that in a game this season! Unsurprisingly, he never did that in any game during his first three seasons in pinstripes.

The bottom line: Tanaka is the only pitcher in the majors this year who has multiple starts where he struck out at least two batters and still managed to allow more home runs than strikeouts in the game. Send help, please.

Not only did Tanaka serve up meatballs left and right against the Red Sox, his overall “stuff” was severely diminished and his pitches showed little deception. He got just three swings-and-misses (yup, the same number of homers he allowed), tied for the fewest in any of his 87 career starts.

(AP)
(AP)

CC’s lead the way
While the team’s improbable comeback wins have been getting a lot of buzz this season, an underrated theme for this Yankees squad has been their resiliency and avoiding long losing streaks. They haven’t lost more than three games in a row and haven’t been swept in any series so far. They assured both those milestones would remain intact on Wednesday, snapping their two-game slide and taking the second game of the series, 8-0.

This was a historic rout of their longtime division rival, marking their largest shutout win vs Red Sox since June 27, 1991 at Fenway. The last time they blanked the Red Sox by this large of a margin at Yankee Stadium was more than 50 years ago – on September 3, 1965!

The Yankees definitely had the right guy on the mound – Carsten Charles Sabathia – to stop their losing streak. After twirling eight scoreless innings, the 36-year-old lefty improved to 6-0 with a 1.25 ERA in seven starts following a Yankee loss. That’s the lowest ERA in games after a team loss for any pitcher in the majors this season (min. five starts).

This brilliant outing continued a string of ace-like performances by Sabathia, who is 5-0 with a 1.11 ERA in his last five starts. He’s just the third lefty in franchise history to win five starts in a row, allowing no more than two earned runs and six hits in each game: Ron Guidry had two such streaks (in 1978 and 1981) and Lefty Gomez also had a similar stretch in 1937.

On Wednesday, Sabathia’s slider was in peak form as the Red Sox went 0-for-8 in at-bats ending in the pitch – including four punchouts. Here’s a beautiful pitch chart of the 30 sliders he threw:

cc-sabathia-1

As you can see in the graphic above, he got only one whiff with his slider, but instead relied on its nasty movement to paint the edges of the zone and generate a whopping 13 called strikes. That matches the most he’s gotten with the pitch in any game since joining the Yankees.

His backdoor slider has been among the toughest in baseball for hitters to pick up this season. Sabathia’s 14 looking strikeouts with the slider are tied with Jhoulys Chacin for the most in MLB, and his slider called-strike rate is the second-highest among pitchers that have thrown at least 200 sliders this season.

While Sabathia was dealing on the mound, the other CC was a monster at the plate. Chris Carter went 3-for-4 with a towering home run and a season-high four RBIs, providing us with our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Week: he joins Scott Brosius (2000) as the only Yankee No. 9 hitters to drive in at least four runs and have at least three hits in a game against the Red Sox.

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Who’s Your Daddy?
The Yankees finished off the series with another dominant win over their AL East rival, 9-1. This is just the third time in the last 30 years that they’ve notched back-to-back wins by at least eight runs against the Red Sox; the other two instances were Sept. 18-19, 2004 and May 23-24, 1998.

The Yankees pummeled David Price, scoring six runs in five innings against the former Cy Young winner. It was the sixth time over the last two seasons that Price has given up at least six earned runs in a game — and four (!) of those six disaster outings have come against the Yankees.

Gary Sanchez broke the game open with a towering three-run homer in the third inning to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead. But he was just getting warmed up… Sanchez took Price deep again two innings later, making him a ridiculous 4-for-7 with four homers in his career vs the Boston lefty.

He is one of six players with at least four homers vs Price — Manny Machado, Curtis Granderson, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista are the others — and those five guys have faced him at least 40 times.

It was also Sanchez’s fifth multi-homer game in the big leagues, a staggering figure for someone playing in his 87th career game. He became the second-fastest player in major-league history to reach five multi-homer-games, behind only Mark McGwire (who did it in his 84th career game).

And, oh yeah, he also was the first Yankee catcher ever to have at least five RBIs and two homers in a game against the Red Sox. #FunFacts

While Sanchez was re-writing the Major-League record books, Aaron Judge continued his assault on the Statcast leaderboards. Judge’s sixth inning single left his bat at 119.8 mph, the third time this season he’s hit a ball 119 mph or faster. The rest of the players in major-league baseball have combined to do that zero times in 2017.

Yankeemetrics: Power up, Pineda down (June 1-4)

(Getty)
(Getty)

El Gary dropping bombs
Fresh off a depressing series loss in Baltimore, the Yankees headed to Toronto on Thursday and bounced back in style as they routed the Blue Jays, 12-2. It was their first double-digit win at the Rogers Center in 13 years – since Aug. 28, 2004, a game that featured Tony Clark’s three-homer outburst and a nine-run ninth inning en route to a 18-6 victory.

The offensive fireworks were fueled by Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks, who combined to drive in nine of the team’s 12 runs. Sanchez crushed two mammoth homers into the second deck in left field: the first one traveled 440 feet and had an exit velocity of 113 mph; the second one measured at 434 feet and left the bat at 112 mph.

Only two other players in the last three seasons have hit two homers in the same game that went at least 430 feet with an exit velo of 110-mph or more: Giancarlo Stanton (May 7 this year and July 6, 2016) and Mark Trumbo (June 2, 2016).

Remarkably, each of Sanchez’s six longballs this season have gone at least 425 feet. That gave him an early first-place ranking on the average home run distance leaderboard (434 feet) among players with at least five dingers this season.

And here’s an even more impressive feat: this was Sanchez’s fourth big-league game with two homers, making him the first player in major-league history to have four multi-homer games as a catcher this early into a career (82nd game).

Sanchez, though, had to share the spotlight with the scorching-hot Aaron Hicks, who went 4-for-5 and drove in a career-best six runs. He became the third Yankee centerfielder with at least four hits and six RBIs in any game, joining two legends – Bernie Williams (June 17, 2000) and Joe DiMaggio (five times!).

(AP)
(AP)

Small Mike
The Comeback Kings were denied another improbable win as the Yankees late inning rally fell short in their 7-5 loss on Friday night at the Rogers Centre.

Michael Pineda went from #BigMike to #BigMess with a season-high five runs allowed that snapped his nine-start streak of giving up three earned runs or fewer. That streak was one start shy of the longest by any pitcher in the majors this season.

Pineda’s early-game troubles re-surfaced as the Blue Jays belted two homers in first inning, the fifth and sixth he’s given up in the opening frame. His six first-inning homers allowed were tied for the most in MLB entering the weekend and opponents are slugging .674 against him in the first inning. So he basically turns every batter into Aaron Judge (.691 slugging through Friday) in the first inning. Not good, Mike.

Aaron Judge did Aaron Judge things in the sixth inning with a towering two-run blast into the rightfield seats, showing off his incredible all-fields power. That was his fifth opposite-field home run – tied for the most in the majors – and upped his opposite-field slugging percentage to an MLB-best 1.259(!).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Chicks dig the longball
The Yankees once again flexed their muscles in a 7-0 rout of the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon for their largest shutout win at the Rogers Centre/SkyDome in nearly 20 years (8-0 win on July 5, 1997).

Their first four hits were doubles and their final four hits were homers, making this first game in Yankees history that they had at least eight hits and none of them were singles. In fact, only three other teams in major-league history have done that: Cardinals with eight in 2002, Tigers with eight in 2010, and Braves with nine in 1998. #FunFact

Those four longballs all came in the eighth inning, courtesy of Brett Gardner, Matt Holliday, Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius.

It was the fourth time in franchise history that the Bronx Bombers hit four homers in a single inning. The first time it happened was June 30, 1977 … also in the eighth inning … against the Blue Jays … in Toronto (at Exhibition Stadium). The other two times were on June 21, 2005 against the Devil Rays and October 1, 2012 against the Red Sox, both of them at Yankee Stadium.

Perhaps the most shocking part of the eighth frame was that Aaron Judge was left out of the homer party. He did contribute a booming RBI double to center in the third inning, a bullet line drive that left his bat at 116 mph. It was his fifth hit with exit velocity of at least 116 mph; the other 1,000-plus MLB players this season had combined for seven such hits (through Saturday).

Overshadowed by the offensive fireworks was Jordan Montgomery‘s brilliant performance. He fired six scoreless innings and surrendered just three hits, the fourth time in 10 career starts that he’s given up no more than three hits.

That impressive outing earned the rookie southpaw a place in the franchise record books: Montgomery is the first pitcher in Yankees history to compile four starts of three-or-fewer hits allowed within his first 10 career games.

(AP)
(AP)

Two is not enough
Sunday’s disappointing loss dropped the Yankees to 3-4 halfway through their current 13-game stretch against AL East teams as they headed back to the Bronx to face the second-place Red Sox.

Taking a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning, the Yankees seemed primed to finish off their road trip on a high note. Entering Sunday they were 17-1 when leading by multiple runs at the end of the fifth inning, including a perfect 9-0 mark on the road.

Luis Severino was dominating the Blue Jays through five innings until Justin Smoak smoked (sorry!) an 85-mph slider 429 feet into the centerfield seats that tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth. The location of the pitch was obviously bad …

smoak-hr

… but that was a rare mistake with his signature breaking pitch this season. Severino had allowed an isolated power — that’s extra bases per at-bat — of just .061 on his slider entering Sunday, the fifth-lowest mark among starters (min. 200 pitches).

Aside from that blip, Severino was excellent, throwing seven innings of two-run ball while striking out seven. It was his seventh start this season with no more than two runs allowed and at least six strikeouts, putting him in some very impressive company: the only other pitchers this season with seven such starts are Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

Under the Radar

Get well soon, El Gary. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

After what he did last summer, it’s hard to imagine Gary Sanchez running a low profile. He burst onto the scene with an impressive display that almost won him AL Rookie of the Year honors over a pitcher who was successful in the league all year. Immediately, he endeared himself to the game with his powerful displays and came into 2017 with great expectations and the combination of talent and potential to back it up. And then he got hurt swinging a bat in Baltimore and missed a lot of time. While that was unexpected in and of itself, here’s another thing that I didn’t expect: Gary Sanchez is having the best season of any catcher in the American League.

Thanks to Aaron Judge being, well, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino doing his ace thing, Aaron Hicks emerging as a legit player, Brett Gardner and Matt Holliday hitting bald bombs all over the place, and Starlin Castro reestablishing his All-Star status, Sanchez has taken a bit of a backseat with regards to attention this year. Missing time with an injury will do that, sure, but the overall success of the team has sort of buried the lede on how good Sanchez has been this year.

In home runs, Sanchez’s six trail only Salvador Perez (11) and Alex Avila and James McCann with 7. Perez laps all catchers with 201 plate appearances; Avila (120) and McCann (125) have a handful more than Sanchez (119). In terms of wOBA, Sanchez is at .352, two points behind Russell Martin (.354) and a bunch behind Avila (.433!). wRC+ puts him behind Avila (176) and Martin (122), and tied with Evan Gattis at 121. He’s third in ISO (.190) behind Avila (.283) and Perez (.214). He’s tied for sixth in fWAR with Gattis (0.7), but has fewer games played than every player ahead of him AND every player behind him. What we should also note is that Alex Avila has played 20 games at catcher, but also 11 at first. He’s having a damn good season–seriously, I’d forgotten about his existence as a baseball player–but splitting time makes me give preference to the other guys on the list, especially Sanchez.

El Gary may not top the AL catching leaderboards in everything, but his combination of stats paints a fine, well rounded picture of a fantastic season. That this has slipped a bit under the radar speaks to a few things. Obviously, Sanchez’s teammates listed above have played a bit more and have shined, some of them unexpectedly. The team overall has been much more successful than anticipated and all of that has–somewhat rightly–overshadowed Sanchez’s solid, if not outwardly flashy, 2017 performance. Hopefully, the next few weeks net Sanchez some more attention and votes to get him to the All Star game. He deserves his first of what should be many.

The two Aarons and thinking about a new top of the lineup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once upon a time, I was a lineup complainer. The lineup would be posted each day at 4pm-ish and I’d complain about it. So and so is hitting too low, this guy is hitting too high, why is bench player flavor of the week not playing, that sort of stuff. A few times a year the Yankees would play the “ideal” lineup. Otherwise it was the same story, day after day. The lineup stinks and I was Mad Online.

I’ve outgrown that, thankfully. Daily lineup complaints are no way to go through life. As long as Joe Girardi doesn’t do something crazy like bat his best hitter ninth (which he never does and would never do), whatever lineup he runs out there is fine with me. So this post shouldn’t construed as me complaining about the lineup. This is more of a rational discussion about the batting order nearly one-third of the way through the season.

For the most part, I think we can all agree on one thing regarding the lineup: Brett Gardner should lead off, and Chase Headley and Chris Carter should bat eighth and ninth, really in either order. I guess that’s three things. Anyway, that stuff is straight forward. Gardner is, yet again, one of the team’s best on-base players and count-workers. Headley and Carter have been terrible and should get the fewest at-bats. Simple, right? Right.

The few spots beyond Gardner are what I really want to discuss. This is my ideal top of the lineup right now, given the available personnel:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge

The three outfielders, left to right. Gary Sanchez has been hitting second most of the season and I am totally cool with that. It works for me. Sanchez has looked a little jumpy at the plate the last few days, but I’m not worried. Hitters go through their ups and downs. Sanchez is one of the team’s best hitters, so by all means, hit him second. Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant won MVPs hitting second in recent years. Power hitters can hit there too.

That said, I like Hicks hitting second over Sanchez right now because, well, Hicks has been the better hitter this season. The better overall hitter and, more importantly, the better on-base threat. Hicks has a .426 OBP this year. Sanchez has a .356 OBP. That’s still good! But it’s not .426. Batting Hicks second means more runners on base for Judge, who has inarguably been the Yankees’ best hitter this season.

Judge started the season hitting lower in the lineup and understandably so, but he’s forced his way up, and now he is in entrenched as the No. 5 hitter. Moving Judge up even further to the No. 3 spot means more at-bats. More at-bats over the course of the season, and a better chance to get Judge that one extra at-bat in an individual game. Through 48 team games the No. 3 spot has 14 more plate appearances than the No. 5 spot for the Yankees. That’s 14 more times Judge would have come to the plate in the late innings. It’s not nothing!

We’re not splitting atoms here. Hicks (.426), Judge (.419), and Gardner (.363) have the three highest OBPs on the Yankees. They make fewer outs than anyone else. Judge is also one of the game’s top power threats. Batting Gardner and Hicks first and second is, by far, the best way to get men on base for Judge. Batting these three atop the lineup also means they get the most at-bats, therefore giving the Yankees more chances to score.

Going with Gardner-Hicks-Judge atop the lineup and Headley-Carter at the bottom leaves you Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, and Didi Gregorius for the 4-5-6-7 spots. What’s the best way to order them? I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer. I’d prefer hitting Sanchez fourth because I think he’s most likely to be an impact bat the rest of the season, but if you said the same thing about Castro or Holliday, I wouldn’t argue (much).

The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is getting Judge more at-bats because because the guy is a monster, and the more he plays, the better the Yankees’ chances to win. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s concussion — Girardi said yesterday Ellsbury is still experiencing headaches, so he remains shut down indefinitely — ensures Hicks will be in the lineup everyday, and as long as he’s hitting like this, Hicks is the perfect No. 2 hitter. On-base ability, power, speed, switch-hitter, the whole nine. Perfect.

The lineup almost seems to write itself from there. Gardner leads off, Hicks hits second, Judge hits third. Your two best on-base players and your most devastating hitter. Sanchez, Holliday, Castro, and Gregorius add quality lineup depth through the No. 7 spot too. I get why Girardi hits Sanchez second, Holliday third, and Castro fourth. I do. But nearly 50 games into the season, it’s the clear the more Aaron Judge hits with men on base, the better. The lineup should be built in such a way that maximizes those opportunities.

Game 40: Getting Tanaka Back On Track

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

For the first time since getting crushed by the Astros last weekend, Masahiro Tanaka will be on the mound this afternoon, looking for a solution to his early season woes. There have been some flashes of 2016 Tanaka throughout the season so far, but flashes aren’t enough. The Yankees need him to pitch well pretty much every time out to stay in the AL East race.

Tanaka will have what is almost certainly the best possible lineup the Yankees could field behind him. We could quibble about the batting order and all that, but these nine names represent the best the Yankees have to offer right now. This is the A+ team, basically. Get a win today, then try to win the series tomorrow. Sounds like a plan. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 1B Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. DH Aaron Judge
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy, hot, and humid in St. Petersburg and a cool 72-ish degrees inside Tropicana Field. This afternoon’s game will begin at 4:10pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Turns out Sanchez has a stiff neck, which is why the Yankees didn’t want to use him last night. Obviously he’s feeling better, because he’s in the lineup today. Sanchez took some foul tips to the face mask in Kansas City. I assume those contributed to his neck woes.