Game 119: Finish the Sweep

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Twins always seem to cure whatever ails the Yankees, don’t they? The offense was sputtering, then the Yankees scored eight runs in back-to-back games. The bullpen was short, then CC Sabathia recorded an out in the seventh inning for the first time in a month and a half and only the second time in three months. A-Rod slumping? Grand slam. The Twinkies are always good for a pick-me-up.

The three-game series with Minnesota ends this afternoon and the Yankees are going for the three-game sweep, allowing them to stay atop the AL East. It seems like the only team capable of putting up a fight against the Blue Jays is the Yankees, isn’t it? New York has won five of its last six games. Time to make is six of seven. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. 1B Greg Bird
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. C John Ryan Murphy
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s a little cloudy in New York and there’s a slight chance of rain for most of the afternoon. Not a major storm or anything, but possibly some showers on and off. Hopefully nothing that interrupts the game. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Michael Pineda (forearm) threw his bullpen today with no issues and will make another minor league rehab start Friday … Mark Teixeira (leg) is still really sore and is not even available to pinch-hit. The good news is the Yankees still don’t consider this a DL issue and he remains day-to-day … Dustin Ackley (back) hit off a tee yesterday and will take more swings today.

Game 118: Shorthanded

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

Boy, the Yankees are really shorthanded today. Mark Teixeira‘s injury leaves them with a three-man bench and the recent reliever workloads has them going into tonight’s game with maybe half a bullpen. If there was ever a night to score 20 runs, this would be it.

Anyway, the Yankees have quietly won four of their last five games, and two of those wins involved dramatic comebacks. Those are always fun. If you believe in momentum being a factor in sports, the Yankees certainly have it on their side. They have momentum but not a fully available roster. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. 3B Brendan Ryan
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s a nice night for a day in New York. Clear sky, no threat of rain, and not as hot as yesterday either. This’ll do. Tonight’s game is set to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Teixeira (leg) went for more tests today and has a bad bone bruise. The good news is there is no break. It’s unclear how long he will be sidelined. Teixeira is arguably the team’s most indispensable player. Can’t replace his two-way impact … Chase Headley is out of the lineup because he “could use a day,” said Joe Girardi. Headley’s played more innings in the field than anyone else on the team this year … Dustin Ackley (back) has started baseball activities. Nothing major (he played catch) but it’s a start.

Schedule Update: The start time of the Yankees-Blue Jays game at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, September 12th has been moved up from 4pm ET to 1pm ET, MLB announced. I guess FOX flexed them into their timeslot.

Update: Teixeira leaves game with bruised leg, x-rays negative

10:03pm ET: Mark Teixeira left tonight’s game after fouling a pitch off his right leg, right below the knee. He limped around for a bit, walked it off, stayed in to finish the at-bat, then was removed for a pinch-runner after drawing a walk. Teixeira limped down to first base and was pretty clearly in discomfort.

Hopefully Teixeira walks away with nothing more than a welt, because the Yankees can’t really afford to lost their starting first baseman and cleanup hitter. I love Greg Bird as much as the next guy, but this is not the way I want to see him get at-bats. The Yankees haven’t made any sort of update on Teixeira, so stay tuned.

Update 10:44pm ET: Teixeira is day-to-day with a bruised right leg, the Yankees announced. X-rays came back negative. He was removed for precautionary reasons. Exhale.

Saturday Links: A-Rod, Best Tools, 810 River Ave., CLEAR

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

The Yankees and Blue Jays resume their three-game series early this afternoon. Until then, check out these stray links and news items to help you pass the time.

Pre-game ceremony for A-Rod‘s 3,000th hit

This is rich. The Yankees will hold a special on-field pre-game ceremony for Alex Rodriguez‘s 3,000th career hit later this season, the team announced. It’ll be held Sunday, September 13th, before the team’s 1pm ET game against the Blue Jays. They ask you to be in your seats by 12:30pm ET. So just a few weeks after refusing to pay A-Rod his $6M home run milestone bonus because they claimed it was unmarketable, the Yankees are honoring Alex for his 3,000th hit. Guess they’re hoping for a late-season attendance bump.

MLB.com’s farm system rankings

Jim Callis posted his updated ranking of the top ten farm systems this week, and the Yankees placed tenth. I’m not sure where Callis had the Yankees coming into the season, but most other publications had them in the 18-25 range. “New York has position prospects at every spot on the diamond, including speedy shortstop Jorge Mateo (No. 99), sweet-swinging second baseman Robert Refsnyder and slugging catcher Gary Sanchez,” wrote Callis. I don’t know if the Yankees truly have a top ten system yet — this is just one person’s rankings, of course — but the system is clearly on the rise, even if Severino graduates to the big leagues before the end of the season.

Baseball America’s Best Tools

Baseball America published their annual Best Tools survey this week, in which they poll managers, coaches, scouts … basically everyone about the best players and best tools in their individual leagues. Several Yankees players and prospects appeared throughout the survey, so here’s a quick rundown:

All of the surveys are free, you don’t need a subscription, so click the links and you can read through each category and each league. Obviously this is all very subjective — I can’t imagine there are many Yankee fans who consider Gardner the best bunter in the AL — but I’ve always found it interesting and fun to see who coaches and scouts feel have the best skills.

(6sqft)
(6sqft)

New apartment tower being built next old Yankee Stadium site

According to Ondel Hylton, a new 17-story apartment building is being built on River Ave. between 157th and 158th Streets, on the old Ball Park Lanes site. (The bowling alley closed years ago.) The 134-unit building at 810 River Ave. is right across the street from the old Yankee Stadium site and is a few blocks away from the new Stadium. The neighborhood was re-zoned for buildings up to 30 stories back in 2009, and this is the first new high-rise going up in the area. Construction started in May.

CLEAR comes to Yankee Stadium

As you know, MLB mandated all 30 ballparks must have metal detectors at the entrances this season, which is a total pain. Couldn’t be any less convenient and, frankly, it doesn’t make me feel any safer. (Not that I’ve ever felt unsafe at a game, but that’s besides the point.) The Yankees recently partnered up with CLEAR to expedite the process, the team announced. It’s the same biometrics technology they use at airports for TSA pre-check. You can sign up at Gate 4, and, if approved, you’ll be able to simply scan your finger at a designated fast access lane and skip the whole metal detector process. Yankee Stadium is the third stadium with CLEAR technology, joining AT&T Park and Coors Field. So if you’ve ever wanted that airport experience at a ball park, this is your lucky day!

Pulling for Power

Remember May 17th? Yeah, me neither. That day, however, I published this piece on Mark Teixeira and his performance on pitches in and out of the zone. A Twitter conversation I had with ESPN’s Mark Simon last week brought this post to my mind (more on that later). My breakdown was mostly general and didn’t get specific as to what Tex was doing on pitches in certain parts of the zone or where those balls were ending up. In researching for this piece, I took a look at Tex’s splits, specifically his numbers based on location.

When pulling the ball as a right handed batter, Tex hits to a fantastic line: a .288 batting average; a .615 slugging percentage; a .327 ISO; a .386 wOBA; and a 148 wRC+. As a lefty, his pull numbers are even gaudier: .387 BA; .978 SLG; .591 ISO; .567 wOBA; 275 wRC+. Given his reputation, my assumption was that Tex was doing what seemed logical: dropping his (very powerful) bat head onto pitches on the inner part of the plate and mashing them to his pull field. However, the opposite seemed to be true. Recall, all the way from the first paragraph, my conversation with Mark Simon:

He tweeted that Tex was second in all of baseball (to Albert Pujols) on outer-half home runs this season, and posted the following heat map:

texhomers

I asked Mark if he could give me the locations of all those homers and he obliged:

TexHRLocation

All but two of those homers–the shortest dots to the left field side, numbers nine and 11 on the year for Tex–were pulled. So it seems that, instead of ripping inside pitches, Tex is extending his arms and getting the sweet spot of the bat to the ball in front of outside pitches and muscling them over the fence. Rather than just going with the pitch, Tex is sticking to what he said way back in February. “We’ve talked about it ad nauseam,” he said. “Every time I try to slap the ball the other way, it doesn’t go well for anybody. That’s what the other team wants. They want to take a middle-of-the-order power hitter and turn him into a slap hitter….So if I can hit more home runs, more doubles, walk more, that takes care of the shift.” Thus far, going back to his pull happy roots has turned out pretty well for Teixeira. He already has more homers this year (24) than he did all of last year (22); he’s also hit more doubles in 2015 (21 to 14) and is walking more (13.1% to 11.4%) than in 2014.

When we talk about adjustments in baseball, we usually mean that a player is trying something new. Well, Tex adjusted back to something old and the results have greatly benefited both the Yankees and him. His offensive resurgence and reclaimed production are big reasons why the Yankees sit in first place in the AL East. Keep on pulling, Tex; keep on pulling.

Betances throws scoreless inning, AL wins 2015 All-Star Game 6-3

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The American League continues to dominate the All-Star Game. The AL beat the NL 6-3 on Tuesday night at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park for their third straight All-Star Game win and 15th in the last 19 years (!). Mike Trout was named MVP after going 1-for-3 with a leadoff homer and a walk. He’s the first player to be named All-Star Game MVP in back-to-back years. Here are the box score, video highlights, and WPA graph.

All three Yankees elected to the Midsummer Classic did play in the game. Brett Gardner pinch-hit for Adam Jones in the fifth inning and struck out looking against Clayton Kershaw. He struck out looking against former teammate Mark Melancon later in the game. Gardner played two innings in left field before sliding over to center, and I don’t even remember him having to make a catch. It was his first trip to the All-Star Game.

Mark Teixeira replaced Albert Pujols at first base in the sixth inning, grounding out (against Francisco Rodriguez) and striking out (swinging against Aroldis Chapman) in his two at-bats. Teixeira also made several nice plays in the field — he stretched and kept his foot on the bag to catch an errant throw from Manny Machado, then came off the bag to catch a throw from Zach Britton that was heading for right field. Teixeira was playing in his third All-Star Game.

And finally, Dellin Betances came out of the bullpen and threw a scoreless seventh inning with the AL leading 5-2. Dellin got Brandon Crawford to ground out to second, walked Kris Bryant, struck out Joe Panik, then got A.J. Pollock to ground out to third. He threw eleven of his 20 pitches for strikes and was effectively wild in his first All-Star Game appearance (second selection).

The AL will now have home field advantage in the World Series, which is not insignificant for the Yankees. They currently have the best World Series odds in the AL and third best World Series odds overall according to FanGraphs, and they’re a substantially better team at home this season: 25-16 with a +38 run differential at Yankee Stadium compared 23-24 and -12 run differential on the road. So hooray home field advantage.

Minor League Update: There won’t be a minor league update tonight because there were no games. Every affiliate either had an off-day, was rained out, or had their game suspended due to rain. Here are the box scores. Third rounder Jeff Degano allowed a run in one inning of work in his pro debut with the Rookie GCL Yanks before the game was suspended.

2015 Midseason Review: The Summer of Al (and Mark)

The Yankees came into the season with a ton — and I mean a ton — of questions on the roster. Every team has questions each year, but the Yankees had more than usual. The rotation was littered with injury concerns, the new-look middle infield was somewhat dubious, the bullpen had been overhauled, and the middle of the order was suspect for many reasons. Among those reasons: the uncertainty surrounding Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Al From Miami

Last season Rodriguez served the longest performance-enhancing drug suspension in baseball history, a 162-game ban that was reduced from 211 games after an arduous appeals process that included all sorts of lawsuits. He was 39 years old, he had two surgically repaired hips — Alex only played 44 games in 2013 following hip surgery — and the Yankees wanted pretty much nothing to do with him. The only reason A-Rod remained with the team is the three years and $60M+ left on his contract.

So, when Spring Training opened, there was Alex, in pinstripes and with the Yankees. He offered a handwritten apology to fans, held a press conference to smooth things over with the media, then went about his business to prepare for the season, a season in which no one had any idea what to expect from him. Again, 39 years old! Two bad hips! Almost two full years away from the game! Attempting to predict Rodriguez’s season was futile.

Spring Training was almost too good to be true. A-Rod hit three long home runs in camp, showed a discerning eye at the plate, and even worked out at first base when the team asked. “It doesn’t matter, I am here to play baseball. Whatever (Joe Girardi) wants to do I will do,” said Alex to George King in camp, which wasn’t the first indication he was going to take a team first approach and say all the right things in his return from the suspension.

As good as A-Rod looked in camp, the regular season was going to be a different story. Pitchers weren’t going to be working on things anymore. There weren’t going to be a bunch of minor leaguers pitching in each game. It was time to face big league arms consistently for the first time in close to 20 months. Girardi wasn’t expecting much, so Alex batted seventh on Opening Day. He went 1-for-2 with a single and a walk. Rodriguez batted seventh the next game as well and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Some good, some bad.

The Yankees faced the left-handed Daniel Norris in the third game of the season, so Girardi decided to bump A-Rod up to second in the order, and he responded with a solo homer, his first of the season. Rodriguez batted third against a lefty the next day, went 2-for-5 with a double, and before you knew it, he was the regular No. 3 hitter. Ten games. That’s how long it took Alex to show Girardi he was one of the best hitters on the team and deserved to bat in the middle of the order. Of course, it helps when you do this in the tenth game:

That monster game against the Rays was the “okay, A-Rod’s back” moment. That was the game that, in hindsight, confirmed to everyone Rodriguez still had plenty to offer at the plate and wasn’t going to be a liability, someone the Yankees would have to grit their teeth and live with because the contract left them no choice. A-Rod showed he is an asset.

The A-Bombs have kept coming, 18 of them so far this year, and Rodriguez also climbed into sole possession of fourth place on the all-time home run list. He tied Willie Mays with a game-winning pinch-hit solo home run at Fenway Park on May 1st and passed Mays with a go-ahead solo home run at home against the Orioles six days later. The Yankees declined to pay Rodriguez the $6M milestone bonus they owed him for tying Mays, claiming his PED ties rendered it unmarketable, but eventually the two sides worked out an agreement with a bunch of money going to charity. It was a messy situation that was settled peacefully, thankfully.

At the plate, Rodriguez put up a .278/.382/.515 (148 wRC+) batting line in the first half and has probably been the team’s most consistent hitter. He’s been hovering around the .280/.380/.510 mark since mid-May, and every time it looked like he was about to fall into a slump, Alex climbed out of it relatively quickly. Regular off-days have helped. Opponents have tried throwing fastballs by Rodriguez, which is understandable, but that didn’t work. They tried to get him with breaking balls next, and that didn’t work either.

AVG ISO K%
vs. All Fastballs .307 (.271 MLB avg) .273 (.152 MLB avg) 17.8% (15.9% MLB avg)
vs. 94+ mph Fastballs .267 (.249) .289 (.129) 20.7% (22.1%)
vs. Breaking Balls .217 (.218) .145 (.127) 23.1% (30.5%)

A-Rod is still an all-around hitter who hits for average, draws walks, hits for power, and can handle both the hard and soft stuff. What he is not, however, is a fielder. Those days are over. Rodriguez started two games at third base and one at first base back in April — the start at first base was really awkward, which is understandable for someone who never played the right side of the infield before — and that was it. The Yankees pulled the plug and decided it was best to use Alex as the full-time DH going forward. He’s played 1.2 innings in the field in the last 66 games. That’s all.

Limiting A-Rod to DH has hurt the team’s flexibility, no doubt about it — it would be nice to start him at third base once in a while so Carlos Beltran could serve as the DH — though it has helped keep him fresh and in the lineup, and that’s most important. Is it fair to question his production given his past PED ties? Oh yeah. Alex forfeited the benefit of the doubt a while ago. Either way, he’s gone from question mark to indispensable in the first half. Rodriguez’s surprisingly great first half is a huge reason why the Yankees are in first place.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Gluten-Free For Punishment

It’s easy to forget Teixeira was pretty excellent in the first half last season, hitting .241/.341/.464 (125 wRC+) with 17 home runs before the All-Star break before collapsing to .179/.271/.302 (62 wRC+) with five home runs in the second half. Teixeira was a year removed from wrist surgery and considering how long it took other sluggers like David Ortiz and Jose Bautista to get back to normal following similar injuries in recent years, it sure seemed like Teixeira was still dealing with the lingering effects of surgery.

Of course, no one wanted to hear that excuse, especially since Teixeira’s production and durability had been trending downward since his monster inaugural season in pinstripes back in 2009. Teixeira vowed to get stronger in the offseason — he often said he simply didn’t feel strong at times last year — and adopted a gluten-free diet to make it happen. It sounded like lip service. Players say they’re going to try new things, adopt a new training regime, all that stuff at the end of every season and it rarely amounts to something.

The early returns in Spring Training were unimpressive — Teixeira hit one homer during Grapefruit League play — but it was only Spring Training, so who knows. As soon as the season started though, Teixeira turned into a power-hitting machine, going deep in the team’s third game of the season, then again in their fourth, seventh, 13th, 15th, twice in the 17th, and again in the 18th game. The homers kept coming, and so did the walks — Teixeira hit 14 home runs with 28 walks and 22 strikeouts in his first 44 games of 2015.

The home run pace has slowed — that was inevitable, Teixeira was on pace for 59 homers at the end of April — but Teixeira’s general awesomeness has not. He came into the All-Star break hitting .240/.350/.526 (137 wRC+) with 22 homers, 46 walks, and 56 strikeouts in 82 games, equaling his dinger output for the entire 2014 season. That 137 wRC+ is his best at the break since putting up a 145 wRC+ in the first half of 2007. This is only the second time he’s hit 22+ homers in the first half too, joining 2005 and 2011 (he hit 25 first half homers those years).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

On top of the offense, Teixeira is also back to playing all-world defense at first base. His defense was good last year but I didn’t think it was as good as it had been in the past, maybe because he was rusty after missing most of 2013. Teixeira appeared tentative at times making throws and it seemed like he bobbled more ground balls than ever before. The numbers kinda back it up too: Teixeira made only 15 out-of-zone plays last year, a career-low in a full season by a mile. (His previous career low was 32 in 2007 and 2012.) This year? He’s at 18 out-of-zone plays already. It’s not just the bat, Teixeira’s glove has rebounded too.

Teixeira was named to the AL All-Star team for his efforts, something that seemed damn near unthinkable the last few years. His production was slipping each year and the injuries continued to mount, so the thought of getting All-Star production from Teixeira was fading by the season. Maybe the gluten-free diet did the trick. I happen to think getting further away from wrist surgery is the biggest factor for Teixeira. He’s just healthier now than he has been in years.

“I’ve had knee surgery, I’ve had ankle surgery, you have little things here and there, shoulders and low back. You can play through all that. The wrist is the hardest thing, by far, I’ve ever had to go through,” said Teixeira to Tyler Kepner recently. Ortiz and Bautista showed how long it can take to return to normal after a tendon sheath injury — it took more than a full year for both of those guys as well. Teixeira is on a similar timetable. The wrist is healthy, his power is back, and Teixeira is once again a middle of the order force for New York.

* * *

A-Rod and Teixeira both far exceeded expectations in the first half, so much so that it’s fair to say both are performing at or close to the best case scenario. Good health, lots of homers, 135+ wRC+s for both guys? Even the most optimistic of fans couldn’t have predicted this. The Summer of Al (and Mark) has given the Yankees the dominant middle of the order they’ve lacked in recent years. Their performances are a major reason why New York has scored the second more runs in baseball in 2015.