Game 143: A Road Series in New York

(Bruce Bennett/Getty)
(Bruce Bennett/Getty)

The Yankees are back home in New York but are still technically on a road trip. They’ll play the next three games against the Rays as the visiting team at Citi Field. Hurricane Irma forced MLB to move the series to a neutral site, and Citi Field was the best option. The crowd figures to be small and decidedly pro-Yankees. On one hand, it’s good the Yankees are back in New York. On the other, no one wanted this to be the reason. Hope everyone down in Florida is safe.

Thanks to a strong trip through Baltimore and Texas, the Yankees have created some breathing room in the wildcard race. They’re 3.5 games up on the Twins for the second wildcard spot and 4.5 games up on the Angels for a wildcard spot in general. They’re also only 3.5 games back of the Red Sox, though I’ve sorta given up on the division. If it happens, great. I’m focused on the wildcard for the time being. The Yankees have won three straight series. How about making it four? Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Matt Holliday
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    LHP CC Sabathia

It is cool and cloudy in New York this evening, and the tiny little bit of rain in the forecast isn’t supposed to arrive for another few hours. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 7:10pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Aaron Hicks (oblique) has not yet started swinging a bat, but he hopes to return before the end of the regular season. His ten days on the disabled list end Wednesday, though that doesn’t really matter if he hasn’t even started swinging a bat … Greg Bird was a late scratch from the lineup with lower back tightness.

Roster Move: The Yankees activated Clint Frazier off the 10-day DL, the team announced. They now have 33 players on the active roster. Frazier went 2-for-17 (.118) with ten strikeouts in four rehab games with Double-A Trenton following the oblique injury. I’m a bit surprised the Yankees activated him, but they were also carrying only three true outfielders on the roster, so I guess I shouldn’t be.

Minor League Update: There will be no DotF tonight, folks. There are no games. Tomorrow Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton begin their league’s championship series, and Short Season Staten Island will resume their first round postseason series. They have off-days today and the season is over for the other affiliates.

Yankeemetrics: Rocked and rolled by Cleveland (Aug. 28-30)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Kluber’d
Monday’s lackluster 6-2 loss to the Indians was not the way the Yankees wanted to kick off perhaps the toughest week of their schedule so far – a grueling seven-games-in-seven-days stretch against two first-place teams.

Cleveland’s ace, Corey Kluber, put on a masterful performance in silencing the Yankee bats, which is hardly surprising given his history of shutting down the Bombers (and the way he’s dominated the rest of the league this year).

He’s made two starts against the Yankees this year, and in each of those games has pitched eight-or-more innings while allowing no more than three hits. Before Kluber, the last pitcher on any team to have two such outings in a season against the Yankees was Roger Clemens in 1991. Kluber’s success goes back further than this year, too. He’s riding a streak of five straight starts against the Yankees with at least seven strikeouts and two earned runs or fewer. The only other pitchers in baseball history to do that are Roy Halladay (2001-02) and Nolan Ryan (1973-75).

Kluber has also won each of those five starts, earning an Obscure Yankeemetric award for this stat: he is the only guy ever to win five consecutive starts against the Yankees, while striking out at least seven and allowing no more than two earned runs in each game.

The Yankees had their ace on the mound, too, but Luis Severino was ultimately outdueled in the matchup of Cy Young contenders. It was a confusing performance by Sevvy, who mixed some good (9 strikeouts), a little bad (3 walks) and too much ugly (3 homers).

The only other time in his big-league career he allowed three longballs in a game was May 8 last year vs the Red Sox, and it’s just the ninth time in 59 career appearances that he’s allowed more than one home run. The Yankees are now 0-9 when Severino surrenders multiple homers in a game.

via GIPHY

The good news is that there’s some statistical evidence that this was just a rare blip in what has been a fantastic season for Severino. He did a reasonably solid job of limiting hard contact and dangerous flyballs, aside from the three that went over the fence, indicating some random bad luck.

  • Per statcast, only five of the 108 pitches he threw (4.6%) were hit with solid contact. This season, he allowed a higher rate of hard contact in 18 of his 25 other starts.
  • His average exit velocity on batted balls was 85 mph, his sixth-lowest mark in a game this year.
  • He gave up only three flyballs that were hit beyond the infield; and somehow all three of them went over the fence!
  • According to ESPN’s Hit Tracker, Jose Ramirez‘s first-inning homer to right-center would have been a home run in only three other ballparks besides Yankee Stadium.

Bad luck aside, the three home runs were real, and the freezing-cold Yankee bats couldn’t overcome those three mistakes.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

One is the loneliest number
Did I mention freezing-cold bats? Trevor Bauer and the Indians bullpen kept the Bronx Bombers’ bats on ice in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader and the Yankees added to their growing list of frustrating games lost by one run.

The tally is now at 23 one-run losses, the most in the American League and the third-most in baseball. They fell to 15-23 (.395) in 1-run games, putting them in danger of posting just the fifth sub-.400 record in such games in a season in franchise history (also 1981, 1966, 1935, 1925).

Jaime Garcia (with some help from Gary Sanchez) put the Yankees in an early hole when he gave up two runs on three singles and a passed ball in the first inning. While Sanchez has been above-average in framing pitches and throwing out baserunners this season, he continues to struggle with his blocking. This was his 13th passed ball (in 699 innings caught), the most by a Yankee since Jorge Posada also had 13 in 2007 (1,111 innings caught).

While Garcia threw his best game so far in pinstripes, Chad Green was the true pitching superstar on Wednesday afternoon. He replaced Garcia in the sixth and then tossed 2⅔ scoreless innings, allowing one hit with seven strikeouts.

Green has been a strikeout machine all season, and in this game he etched his name in the franchise and MLB record books:

  • His seven strikeouts are the most for any Yankee who pitched fewer than three innings in a game.
  • He is the only major-league pitcher ever to strike out at least seven guys in an outing where he faced eight or fewer batters.
(AP)
(AP)

A new low
The Yankees capped off a miserable day in the Bronx with another uninspiring loss, 9-4, as the Indians completed a rare series sweep of the pinstripers.

This was just the third time in the last 50 years that the Yankees were swept by the Indians in a series of at least three games – it also happened April 7-9, 1989 and September 11-13, 1970. And entering this week, the Yankees had only been swept once the entire season, which was the second-fewest in the majors; the Dodgers are the lone team that hasn’t yet been swept in a series this year.

It was deja vu all over again for the hometown team to start the nightcap of the twinbill. Before they even swung a bat, the Yankees faced another insurmountable deficit, as Jordan Montgomery coughed up four runs on five hits in the opening frame. That snapped a streak of 16 straight games in which Yankee starters had allowed no more than three earned runs, their longest such streak since June/July of 1988.

Greg Bird and Aaron Hicks were a two-man offensive show, with Bird driving in all four of the Yankees runs and Hicks getting half of the team’s eight hits. There was little to celebrate from this game (and the series), so let’s end with a couple #FunFacts:

  • Hicks is the first Yankee since Bernie Williams on October 5, 1991 with at least four hits and a run scored in a loss to the Indians.
  • Bird’s three-run homer in the bottom of the inning kept them from getting “blown out” and preserved this obscure stat: the Yankees are still the only team in the majors that hasn’t lost a game by a margin of eight or more runs this season.

Game 125: Do It Again

(Duane Burleson/Getty)
(Duane Burleson/Getty)

The Yankees started this three-game series with the lowly Tigers with a bang last night, and now they’ve got to keep it going. Gotta beat up on these bad teams late in the season. Score early and often like last night. Don’t even give the Tigers a reason to play hard, you know? That’s what the Yankees did against Matt Boyd last night and they’ll look to do against Jordan Zimmermann tonight.

As an added bonus, the Yankees have Luis Severino on the mound tonight, and he’s been their best starter all year. He rebounded from that brutal start against the Red Sox last week to dominate the Mets last time out. A repeat performance would be appreciated. The Yankees have won six of their last eight games and added just one game to their wildcard lead. Gotta keep winning, I guess. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Aaron Judge
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 1B Chase Headley
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

It is cool and cloudy in Detroit, and there are some sprinkles in the forecast too. Nothing that should interrupt the game. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and WPIX will have the broadcast. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Greg Bird (ankle) will play in minor league rehab games tonight and tomorrow, then be reevaluated. He could rejoin the Yankees after that.

Full Strength–Or Something Like It

Apr 4, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird (33) works out during batting practice prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
(Presswire)

Like any full baseball season worth its salt, the second half for the Yankees has been an unpredictable series of ups and downs. At times, they’ve looked as dominant as they did in the early season; at other times, they’ve looked as hapless as they did in June. Overall, though, they’re holding the line and keeping their first wildcard position with some room to spare. The division is also in reach, but they’re gonna need a boost to catch the Red Sox. Enter Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, and Greg Bird. All three are on rehab assignments right now and are the cavalry to the Yankees’ main fighting force.

All three players are returning from varying circumstances. Castro is in the midst of an All-Star season, just injury riddled. Holliday is hoping to recover from a mid-season crash after a solid start. And Bird is hoping to take off, finally, after a disastrous and frustrating stretch of bad health. Despite those different paths to this spot, the ‘destination’ is clear: give the Yankee lineup a much wanted and much needed spark to help push them over the edge. The challenge for the Yankees, then, is to incorporate these guys into a lineup that has been molded and established without them.

Let’s not worry about arrival times for the moment and just take a look at what the lineup may look like when all three are back in action.

Though Holliday was hitting there during his hot times early on and Bird was slotted for there at the beginning of 2017, neither should bat at the top of the lineup right now. The top five, really, should look about the same as it has recently:

  1. Brett Gardner OF
  2. Aaron Hicks OF
  3. Aaron Judge RF
  4. Gary Sanchez C
  5. Didi Gregorius SS

Now comes the part where we might expect Bird to hit, but I’d imagine Joe Girardi would want to break up the lefties. He can do so in two ways, by either inserting Holliday in the six spot, or keep Chase Headley there, who’s had a solid, if powerless, season. Also, given Bird’s presence in the lineup, this shifts Headley back to third and Todd Frazier to a bench role (I imagine he’ll play against LHP to ease Bird’s transition). The other wrinkle here is Castro. Given the year he’s had, I think he’d get preference to bat sixth, bumping Headley down to seventh. The ripple effect here, of course, is it pushes the veteran Holliday to eighth and Bird to ninth.

6. Castro 2B

7. Headley 3B

8. Holliday DH

9. Bird 1B

That lineup is…really friggin’ good. It has the potential to absolutely mash. Best laid plans and all, but that lineup, with Frazier, Ronald Torreyes, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Austin Romine on the bench is just fierce. Even if Girardi gives deference to Castro and Holliday as veterans and moves them around towards the top, the bottom loses nothing with Gregorius and/or Hicks moving down.

Is this a bit of rosterbating? Sure, but why not? This year has been better than any of us could’ve imagined and I’m feeling positive right now. That lineup, combined with a rotation of Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia in the playoffs, backed up by a dominant bullpen, is a recipe for playoff success. Get there, Yanks, and you’ll do some damage.

Greg Bird is inching closer to a return, and the Yankees hope he gives them a lift in 2017 like he did in 2015

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Later tonight Greg Bird will play his first minor league rehab game since last month’s surgery to remove a superfluous bone from his right ankle. The ankle injury had sidelined him since early-May and, in all likelihood, it contributed his ugly start to the season. It’s hard to hit when your ankle is hurting. You need a strong base underneath you to drive the ball.

Given how much time he’s missed, chances are Bird’s rehab assignment will be a little longer than usual. This won’t be two or three games then bam, he’s back with the Yankees. The Yankees start an eight-game road trip tonight — the first two games are at Citi Field, so it’s essentially a six-game road trip — and my guess is they’re targeting the start of the next homestand (next Friday) as Bird’s return date. We’ll see.

“Three weeks ago, I was in a boot and on crutches. I’m just really excited to get back to playing,” said Bird to Bryan Hoch yesterday. “Everything’s been going great. It’ll be nice to play. It’s great just working out and taking BP, but even in the spring, it gets repetitive. You want to play … I’m ready. I’m right where I need to be and I’m ready to go. It’ll be nice to get some at-bats and see live pitching. As simple as it sounds, I’m just excited to play and that’s a good thing — and ready to play.”

Whenever he does return — after weeks of questions, it sure seems Bird will indeed return at some point this year — the Yankees are going to stick Bird right back into the starting lineup. There’s no doubt about it. The DH spot is open thanks to Matt Holliday‘s injury, but even if Holliday is back by then, the Yankees have shown they’ll sit veterans for young players. Jacoby Ellsbury is (mostly) riding the bench right now for that reason.

It’s unclear what, exactly, Bird will give the Yankees when he returns simply because he’s missed so much time. Not just this year but last year as well. Including Spring Training, Bird has 263 plate appearances since the start of last season. That’s not much at all. A week long minor league rehab stint might be enough to shake off all the rust. Bird was unreal in Spring Training, so that impact bat is still in there. Hopefully it shows up sooner rather than later.

Now, that all said, the Yankees have an obvious need for another left-handed power bat. Their lineup is right-handed heavy and at times the other team has been able to exploit that with power right-handed arms. Here’s where New York’s left-handed hitters rank among the 30 teams this season:

  • PA: 1,849 (17th)
  • AVG: .259 (14th)
  • OBP: .340 (6th)
  • SLG: .427 (14th)
  • wRC+: 105 (11th)
  • HR: 60 (14th)

That’s not awful in the grand scheme of things. But middle of the pack in slugging and home runs? In Yankee Stadium? Oy vey. Like I said, the Yankees could really use another left-handed power bat for the middle of the lineup and Bird has the potential to provide it, assuming last year’s shoulder surgery and this year’s ankle surgery don’t hamper him too much right out of the gate.

Essentially, what the Yankees need from Bird in 2017 is what he gave them in 2015. Come up, join the lineup, and contribute right away. That’s asking a lot! Maybe too much given the injuries. Then again, the Yankees asked Bird to do it as a rookie with no MLB experience two years ago, and he responded with a .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) batting line and eleven homers in 46 games. Bird and Carlos Beltran were the team’s best hitters down the stretch.

The 2015 Yankees and 2017 Yankees have one thing in common. They were both in first place at the trade deadline before quickly slipping in the standings, mostly due to a sputtering offense. The similarities pretty much end there. The 2015 Yankees were old. Didi Gregorius was their only regular under 30 and he had yet to find himself as a hitter. The 2017 Yankees are build around 20-somethings Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Hicks, healthy Starlin Castro, and the hey I can hit version of Didi.

That right there is the biggest difference between 2015 and 2017. That 2015 season felt like the last chance to win with that aging core before things collapsed. This season the Yankees are a team on the rise and it feels like they’re about to get started on a run of perennial contention. Of course the Yankees want to make the postseason this year, though it feels like there is less urgency to do so. They won’t risk the future for the present.

Remember, when the Yankees called Bird up in 2015, it was to give Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira rest a few days a week. Those two were fading and the Yankees wanted to get them off their feet down the stretch, so Bird was given a chance. Then Teixeira got hurt and suddenly Bird was thrust into a starting role. This year Bird came into the season as the starting first baseman. He hit third on Opening Day! He wasn’t some out of nowhere success story.

Given his ongoing injury problems, I wouldn’t blame you for being skeptical about Bird’s ability to contribute down the stretch. I am myself. It feels like any time he’s poised to step in and become a big factor for the Yankees, he gets hurt. It sucks, but it is what it is. The Yankees have stayed in the race without Bird all season, and they’ve done that while getting some of the worst first base production in baseball. When Chase Headley has been, by frickin’ far, your best first baseman, it’s a problem.

Bird is going to begin his rehab assignment tonight and it seems he will have a chance to repeat what he did in 2015, meaning arrive late in the season to provide the Yankees a nice offensive lift. The circumstances are different given Bird’s injuries and the state of the Yankees in general, but that part remains the same. It would’ve been pretty great to have a healthy Bird from Opening Day. Getting a healthy Bird down the stretch in August and September is the next best thing.

Game 118: Score runs for Sonny

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time as a Yankee, Sonny Gray will start a game at Yankee Stadium this evening. Perhaps the Yankees will even score runs for him. Gray has made two starts and thrown 12 innings since the trade, and during those 12 innings the offense has scored zero runs. Not one. They’ve scored one run total in the two games he’s started. That’s gotta change.

Of course, scoring runs might not be so easy tonight with Jacob deGrom on the bump for the Mets. He’s having a fantastic season: 3.21 ERA (3.52 FIP) with 29.2% strikeouts and 7.5% walks in 151.1 innings. The Yankees have been getting shut down by guys like Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez and Rafael Montero lately. What happens whey face a bonafide ace? It’s ugly. Hoping for the best tonight. Here is the Mets’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. DH Brett Gardner
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. C Gary Sanchez
  6. 1B Chase Headley
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 1B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Sonny Gray

Pretty crummy weather in New York today. Overcast and on-and-off rain all day. There’s no more rain in the forecast tonight, though it’s cloudy and cool and humid. Yuck. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on either WPIX or SNY. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Luis Cessa has been placed on the 10-day DL with a rib cage injury, the Yankees announced. He left last night’s start with the injury. Caleb Smith was called back up from Triple-A Scranton to replace him on the roster.

Injury Update: Joe Girardi indicated the plan right now is to have CC Sabathia (knee) return on Saturday, the first day he’s eligible to be activated. That lines him up perfectly to replace Cessa. Sabathia threw a bullpen session yesterday and will reportedly throw another one at some point this week … Greg Bird (ankle) remains on target to begin his minor league rehab assignment tomorrow. He hopes to be activated sometime next week.

Game 117: The Subway Series

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Cessa. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The roles have reversed from last year’s Subway Series, when the Yankees had just waved the white flag and the Mets were still chasing the playoffs. Both teams are reeling right now, though, and tonight’s pitching match-up represents something close to the bottom of the barrel for both teams. Nevertheless, this series represents an opportunity for the Yankees to get back on-track against a subpar team, with the added (and somewhat artificial) drama of an inter-borough rivalry.

Here’s the lineup that Luis Cessa will face tonight; and here’s the group that will square-off against Rafael Montero:

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Aaron Hicks, CF
  3. Aaron Judge, RF
  4. Didi Gregorius, DH
  5. Gary Sanchez, C
  6. Chase Headley, 1B
  7. Todd Frazier, 3B
  8. Ronald Torreyes, 2B
  9. Tyler Wade, SS

The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM EST, and will be broadcast on both YES and ESPN (for those out of market fans).

Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (knee) threw a bullpen session today and was “very encouraged.” He’s expected to throw one more bullpen session, then come off the 10-day DL as soon as he’s eligible (Saturday) … Starlin Castro (hamstring) ran the bases today and is on track to begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday … Greg Bird (ankle) and Matt Holliday (back) both took batting practice again. Bird will begin a rehab assignment Wednesday.

Roster Move: To get Cessa on the roster, the Yankees sent down Caleb Smith.