Game 47: On The Road Again

Can't sleep, mascot will eat me. (Presswire)
Can’t sleep, mascot will eat me. (Presswire)

The Yankees just got done with a long road trip, didn’t they? They played seven games on the West Coast, played three games at home, and now they’re back out on the road for another ten-game trip. Lame. At least they’re in Tampa this weekend. That’s kinda like home.

Anyway, the Yankees have dropped their last two games and that’s annoying. They were playing well for a good three weeks there before falling short against the Blue Jays. The Rays have lost five of their last six games, so it seems the Yankees are catching them at the right time. Hopefully it translates to a win. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. 1B Dustin Ackley
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is hot and humid in St. Petersburg and a cool 72 degrees or so inside Tropicana Field. Isn’t air conditioning the best? Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on WPIX. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Mark Teixeira (neck) is aiming to return to the lineup Sunday. Joe Girardi said he’s looking at Monday. The manager usually wins these battles.

Game 46: A-Rod Returns

(Brian Bahr/Getty)
(Brian Bahr/Getty)

After three weeks on the shelf with a hamstring injury, Alex Rodriguez is back in the lineup this afternoon. I wouldn’t say the Yankees have missed him — they went 13-7 during his absence and both Carlos Beltran and Aaron Hicks hit well — but it’s good to have A-Rod back nonetheless. He hit three homers in the six games before the injury and he went deep in a rehab game last night. Hopefully Alex picks up where he left off.

As for the Yankees, their six-game winning streak came to an end last night, but that was bound to happen at some point. The important thing is that it doesn’t snowball into a losing streak. The Yankees start a ten-game, four-city road trip tomorrow, so a win today to close out the homestand and clinch the series would be pretty great. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 1B Austin Romine
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s a very nice day in New York. Warm and sunny with no clouds in the sky. Pretty great weather for a ballgame. This afternoon’s game will start at 4:05pm ET for some reason. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Chasen Shreve has been placed on the 15-day DL with a shoulder problem. That’s not good. He’s currently being evaluated He’s been diagnosed with an AC joint sprain. Shreve received a cortisone shot and will not pick up a baseball for seven days … Mark Teixeira (neck) received a cortisone shot and will miss three more games. Yesterday’s MRI did not show anything different from the MRI he took last month.

Roster Moves: The Yankees called up lefty Richard Bleier to replace Shreve in the bullpen. Shreve was placed on the DL and Rob Refsnyder was sent to Triple-A Scranton to clear 25-man roster spots for A-Rod and Bleier. The team has not yet announced a 40-man roster move to accommodate Bleier.

A-Rod’s return will help the Yankees even though he limits their flexibility

The Return of Rod. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
The Return of Rod. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Let me preface this by saying this is not a “the Yankees are better off without Alex Rodriguez” post. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rodriguez started slow this season (like many Yankees) but had started to turn things around right before injuring his hamstring. The Yankees can use his right-handed bat. No doubt about it.

That being said, there is no denying A-Rod‘s return robs the Yankees of some roster flexibility. He can’t play the field and he provides negative value on the bases. As long as Rodriguez hits, you’ll live with that other stuff, and I do think he’ll hit. “Alex is a professional hitter, we know he is going to be able to hit,” said fill-in DH Carlos Beltran to Kevin Kernan earlier this week.

Rodriguez’s return means a few different things for the roster and the Yankees in general. Some of it is no big deal, and some of it is pretty damn important. His return changes the entire complexion of the team. Consider this a preview of A-Rod’s return from the DL.

The Roster Move

Might as well start here. I fully expect the Yankees to send Rob Refsnyder back to Triple-A Scranton to clear a roster spot for A-Rod, and yeah, I’m sure there will be outrage. In our poll last week nearly 60% of the over 2,000 votes were in favor of keeping Refsnyder and sending Ronald Torreyes down. I just can’t see it happening.

Torreyes started two games over the weekend, including one at third base, a position the Yankees have been trying to teach Refsnyder. Also, I don’t think the Yankees want to use Starlin Castro as the backup shortstop. I think they consider him a second baseman and a second baseman only for the time being. All signs point to Refsnyder going down for A-Rod.

The DH Spot

It’s really hard to ignore how well Beltran took to the DH spot during Alex’s absence. Beltran has hit .322/.344/.780 (196 wRC+) with six homers as a DH this year compared to only .245/.278/.392 (80 wRC+) with four homers as a right fielder. It’s not a huge amount of data — Beltran has batted 64 times as a DH and 108 times as a right fielder — but it’s what we have.

A-Rod’s return is going to push Beltran back into right field, which, at the very least, is going to hurt the team defense considerably. If you buy into the numbers, Beltran’s offense will take a hit as well. (I don’t think it’s quite that simple, especially not with those sample sizes.) What else can the Yankees do though? They’re at their best when Beltran and A-Rod are in the lineup, and there’s only one way to get both into the lineup at the same time.

(Stephen Lam/Getty)
(Stephen Lam/Getty)

What About Hicks?

Beltran going back to right field means Girardi and the Yankees will again have to find ways to get Aaron Hicks into the lineup. Hicks hit .276/.338/.431 (107 wRC+) in 69 plate appearances during A-Rod’s absence and, just as importantly, I feel he’s looked way more comfortable at the plate. Back in April he seemed to be jumping at everything. It looked like he was trying to hit a five-run home run each time up.

The plan coming into the season was to give the regulars a little more rest and that hasn’t happened yet, partly because A-Rod was hurt and partly because the Yankees really struggled for a while, so Joe Girardi kept running everyone out there in hopes of getting a win. Hopefully now that Hicks has shown he can productive with regular at-bats Girardi will be more willing to use him.

These things have a way of working themselves out. Someone will get hurt or banged up and need a few days, which will clear playing time for Hicks. Until that happens, the only way to get Hicks into the lineup is by sitting Beltran, A-Rod, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner more frequently. That’s easier said than done, especially considering the way Beltran and Ellsbury have been hitting of late.

Can He Really Not Play The Field? Like At All?

This section is probably a waste of words and brainpower because the Yankees have been completely unwilling to play Rodriguez in the field since last May. He didn’t even bring a glove to Spring Training. They continue to say he’s a DH and a DH only. I’m not asking whether he can play third base twice a week or anything like that though. Can A-Rod really not play five or six innings at first base once every ten days or so? With a fly ball pitcher on the mound? And give him the next day off to recover?

It’s not much, but something like that can be a help because it’ll get Beltran (and Mark Teixeira) off his feet and Hicks into the lineup. Teixeira’s neck is acting up again and he hasn’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball either. Sitting him for a few innings here and there wouldn’t kill the Yankees at the moment. There’s no reason to think this will happen though. A-Rod’s medicals must be really scary for the Yankees to not even consider playing him in the field once in a blue moon.

* * *

The Yankees are a better team today than they were yesterday because A-Rod is back. When he’s healthy, I think he can still be a very productive player. The lack of flexibility totally stinks though. It really does. Beltran has to go back to right field and Hicks has to go back to playing sporadically. That’s not ideal. Girardi and the Yankees have to figure out a way to make this work, because A-Rod can give the team a big lift as they look to continue climbing the standings.

Game 45: Going for No. 7

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are back at .500 thanks to their six-game winning streak. Getting to .500 was the easy part though. Building the record up and winning more games than you lose going forward is where it gets difficult. The Yankees can begin that process with a win tonight to stretch that winning streak to seven games. It would be their longest since last June. The good news is they’re 85.7% of the way there already. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 1B Dustin Ackley
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Ivan Nova

It is legitimately hot in New York. The temperature has been hanging around 90 degrees all day, though it’ll be a bit cooler tonight. No clouds in the sky and no rain in the forecast. Nice night for a game. Tonight’s contest will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) is playing another rehab game with Double-A Trenton tonight and is expected to rejoin the team tomorrow … Mark Teixeira is out after his neck “locked up.” He’s been having on and off neck issues all season and ia going for an MRI. Joe Girardi admitted to being concerned … Brian Cashman reiterated to Shane Hennigan that Luis Severino (triceps) could be sent to Triple-A once healthy. “First, finish him off his rehab. We expect it to be a (one and done) situation there and then we’ll make a decision whether he gets placed back on the 25(-man roster) in New York or if we send him here to Scranton,” said the GM.

Blue Jays Roster Update: The Blue Jays activated second baseman Devon Travis off the DL today. Manager John Gibbons said that wasn’t the plan coming into the series. I guess they’re looking for ways to boost their offense.

Yankeemetrics: How sweep it is [May 19-22]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Supernova sinks the A’s
Given the massive hole the Yankees had dug themselves into during the first month of the season, and coupled with their recent struggles in the Bay Area, this weekend’s trip to Oakland was foreboding.

Entering the series, the Yankees were 2-8 at the Oakland Coliseum since 2013, their worst road record against any AL team in that span. They’d lost four straight series in Oakland, their longest such streak since dropping 12 series in a row at the ballpark from 1985-91.

Not ideal. The Yankees buried that trend from the get-go with a much-needed win in the series opener on Thursday night.

Ivan Nova was a model of efficiency on the mound, firing 62 pitches in six innings while giving up just one run on four hits. His sinker was in peak form, averaging its most horizontal movement and second-best downward movement of the season. The A’s went 2-for-14 when putting a two-seamer in play, as he pounded the bottom of the strike zone with the pitch.

Nova is now 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in three starts this season and hasn’t allowed more than one run in any of those outings. The last Yankee to be unbeaten through his first three starts while giving up one run or fewer in each game was Kevin Brown in 2004.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Welcome back, Large Lefty
Breaking news: The Yankees finally put together a win streak of more than two games after beating the A’s, 8-3, on Friday night. The Astros are now the only team in baseball that hasn’t won at least three games in a row this season.

There were plenty of heroes for the Yankees, starting with their new (old) ace, Carsten Charles Sabathia. Pitching for the first time since going on the DL two weeks ago, Sabathia spun another gem with one run allowed and eight strikeouts in six strong innings. He’s now won back-to-back games, surrendering no more than one run in each outing, for the first time since 2011.

Sabathia wasn’t the only veteran that turned back the clock on Friday night. Thirty-nine-year-old Carlos Beltran went 3-for-5 with three doubles and three RBI to lead the Yankees’ latest offensive outburst.

Beltran is the oldest player in franchise history with three doubles in a game, and just the fifth guy in major-league history age 39 or older to hit three doubles and drive in three runs in a game. The four others are David Ortiz (2015), Tony Perez (1985), Pete Rose (1980), and Joe Judge (1933).

#TANAK
The Yankees continued their winning ways with a 5-1 victory on Saturday that gave them their first road series win of 2016, ending a streak of six straight winless series away from the Bronx. That was their longest such drought to begin a season since 1991.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Thanks to a Blue Jays loss in Minnesota, the Yankees also climbed out of the basement in the AL East for the first time since April 23. That was their longest stretch in last place since spending the final four months of the 1990 season at the bottom of the division.

Masahiro Tanaka continued the Yankees’ recent stretch of terrific starting pitching as he went seven innings and allowed one run for his second win of the season. He’s now 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in three career games against the A’s, and has allowed one earned run or fewer in each of those outings.

The only other Yankee since 1980 to win three straight starts versus the A’s without giving up more than an earned run in each game was Andy Pettitte (1997-2000).

Broom Broom
The Yankees capped off this successful West Coast swing with a 5-4 win, completing their first four-game sweep in Oakland since July 1979. They also avoided losing their fourth straight season series against the A’s, something that hadn’t happened in this rivalry since they dropped seven season series in a row to the Philadelphia A’s from 1908-14.

Consider the amazing turnaround that the Bombers have engineered in the past week. When the Yankees started this road trip, they were:

  • Without a win streak of more than two games … Done.
  • Without a road series win … Done.
  • Without a series sweep … Done.

And stuck in last place in the AL East … not anymore. With the win on Sunday, they’re now in third place, their highest rank in the standings since April 17.

Two players that had struggled mightily this season were surprise key contributors to the win. Michael Pineda, riding the longest losing streak of his career (0-5 in prior seven starts), tossed a quality start for his first victory since April 6. His 6.60 ERA entering Sunday was the highest among qualifiers in the AL and second-highest in the majors.

Mark Teixeira brought a .133 batting average against righties into this game, the worst among 286 players with at least 50 plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers this season. Also, he’d yet to record an RBI in his 48 at-bats with two outs this season, the most two-out at-bats without an RBI by any player.

So, of course, he delivered the game-tying hit in the sixth inning via a two-out RBI single off righty Jesse Hahn.

“Well, Suzyn, you know, you just can’t predict baseball!”

Game 32: Take the Series

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees have been playing much better over the last week or so, and they come into tonight’s game winners of five of their last seven. Tonight they have a chance to clinch a win of a four-game series over the Royals, the defending World Series champs. Winning a four-game set is never easy, not even against a bad team, and Kansas City is no pushover. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. 1B Dustin Ackley
  6. CF Aaron Hicks
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Ben Gamel
    RHP Michael Pineda

It has been a lovely day in New York. There is no rain in the forecast tonight. Nice little evening for baseball, I’d say. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) has been running on the treadmill and it appears he’ll be ready to return once his 15 days are up … CC Sabathia (groin) played catch again and feels fine. It’s possible he’ll be able to rejoin the rotation once his 15 days are up without needing a rehab start … Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) did some light running and took batting practice. Joe Girardi said he hopes to get him back in the lineup this weekend … Mark Teixeira (neck) is out again and the plan was to give him two days off anyway. He’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow.

It’s working now, but the Yankees should not make a habit of playing short-handed this season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Thanks in large part to bench players Dustin Ackley and Aaron Hicks, the Yankees beat the Royals last night and won for the fifth time in seven games. Ackley and Hicks went a combined 3-for-6 with two walks, three runs scored, and three runs driven in. Ackley drove in the game tying run in the seventh and Hicks followed by plating what was temporarily the go-ahead run.

Last night was Ackley’s fourth straight start and fifth in the last six games. Hicks started for the seventh straight game and eighth time in nine games. They’re in the lineup because of injuries, obviously. Alex Rodriguez pulled his hamstring last week, allowing the Yankees to slide Carlos Beltran into the DH spot and play Hicks everyday. Ackley is in there because Jacoby Ellsbury is day-to-day with a hip issue.

Mark Teixeira entered the infirmary yesterday with neck spasms, clearing the way for Ben Gamel to make his first career start. The Teixeira and Ellsbury injuries mean the Yankees had a two-man bench last night: Ronald Torreyes and Austin Romine. It almost came back to bite them when they couldn’t pinch run for Brian McCann in the seventh. Luckily it didn’t matter.

In all likelihood the Yankees will again have a two-man bench tonight. Ellsbury has not yet tested his hip with full sprints and Teixeira is one day into an injury that is expected to require two or three days. This is a messy situation. The veteran players are hurting, but not hurting enough to require a DL stint, so the Yankees are playing short-handed. They have a 23-man roster while their opponent has a full 25-man unit.

“I think Torreyes gives you a ton of options. I can put him almost anywhere. (The bench is) short, but I think we have options that should make it okay,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings yesterday. And he’s right. Torreyes gives them an option pretty much everywhere, so they’re not going to be forced into playing someone out of position. (You could argue Ackley in right field is out of position given his arm.)

That said, thanks to the makeup of that rained out game in Detroit, the Yankees are eight games into a stretch of 40 games in 41 days. Their next off-day is 12 days away and the short bench means they can’t rest people in addition to not pinch-hitting and pinch-running. Girardi’s options are really limited for the time being and it is absolutely a disadvantage.

The Yankees don’t really have a timetable for Ellsbury’s return — “If you’re in a week and you don’t feel he’s going to be ready anytime soon, you might as well backdate (the DL stint),” said Girardi — and let’s face it, he’s not exactly the quickest healer in the world. It’s already been four days and he’s not sprinting yet, so it’s not like Ellsbury will be back in the lineup tonight.

I get why the Yankees are hesitant to put him Ellsbury on the DL, but stuff like this can’t happen all season. They can’t slowly nurse players back to health and play short-handed, especially when multiple players are banged up like Ellsbury and Teixeira right now. The Yankees are playing much better of late but they still have to dig themselves out of this early season hole. That will be tough as it is. Imagine trying to do it short-handed?

Avoiding injuries just isn’t realistic. Players are going to get hurt. That’s baseball. The Yankees should be a little more liberal with their DL usage going forward, especially when it’s a situation like Ellsbury, where he might miss a week anyway before being ready to play again. The Yankees have some depth in the minors. It’s okay to use it. They’re already made things hard enough on themselves this year.