The end of Didi’s slump and four others things that must happen for the Yankees to make the postseason

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Against all odds, the Yankees remain in the postseason race with less than three weeks to go in the regular season. They lost yesterday, but prior to that they won seven straight and 13 of their previous 17 games. The Yankees are two games back of the second wildcard spot and FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at 13.5%. They were 2.3% eight days ago.

As well as the Yankees have played recently, with seemingly a different player stepping up each night, they’re going to need to be even better over the final 20 games to sneak into the postseason. The schedule only gets more difficult from here on out. New York’s best chance to make the playoffs involves continuing their current play and getting some more from a few players on the roster. Here are five things I think need to happen to maximize the team’s postseason chances.

Gregorius snaps out of his slump

Didi Gregorius has been, rather easily, the Yankees’ best all-around position player this season. His 17 home runs are nearly double his previous career high (nine last year), and he’s still making a lot of contact and playing strong defense. I was skeptical when the Yankees acquired Didi because I didn’t believe in his bat. Boy was I wrong.

As good as Gregorius has been this season, he’s been slumping hard this month, going 3-for-34 (.088) with eight strikeouts and zero unintentional walks in September. Slumps happen, but with Didi it seems like fatigue might be a factor as well. His bat looks a little slow, and even in the field there’s been some moments when his first step wasn’t as quick as usual.

A day off could do Gregorius some good — the Yankees are ten games into a 17 games in 17 days stretch — though it is tough to get him out of the lineup given what he does defensively. We all love Ronald Torreyes, but he’s no Didi. No one is expecting Gregorius to hit five homers in a ten-game span like he did in late-June/early-July. The Yankees do need more offense from him than they’ve been getting this month, however.

Gardner and Ellsbury stay hot

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Overall, both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have had disappointing seasons atop the lineup for the Yankees. Gardner’s power has disappeared, and up until recently, Ellsbury wasn’t getting on base all that much. Disappointing middle of the order veterans like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are the main reason the Yankees have had a below-average offense this year. The two guys at the top of the lineup aren’t without fault though.

Not coincidentally, the team’s recent strong play coincides with both Ellsbury and Gardner getting hot. Ellsbury has gone 9-for-27 (.333) with two homers, four walks, and only one strikeout during this recent 7-1 stretch while Gardner is 10-for-26 (.385). Their combined on-base percentage is .417. During the 13-5 stretch, Ellsbury has hit .311/.394/.541 and Gardner has hit .317/.386/.350.

Gardner’s power still hasn’t resurfaced, but he has been hitting for average and getting on base the last three weeks. Ditto Ellsbury. The Yankees look like an entirely different team when these two are hot at the same time. We’ve seen it at various points the last three seasons. Gardner and Ellsbury continuing to set the table like they have been the last few weeks is essential to getting the Yankees into the postseason.

Betances and Clippard be automatic

At this point Joe Girardi‘s bullpen pecking order is clear: Dellin Betances is the closer (duh) and Tyler Clippard is the eighth inning guy. For a little while after the trade deadline Clippard was the seventh inning guy, but he and Adam Warren have flipped spots, which is for the best. Warren is better able to go multiple innings, which means Girardi won’t hesitate to use him to put out fires in the sixth inning, if necessary.

The Yankees seem to play nothing but close games these days — eight of their last 13 wins have come by no more than three runs and seven have come by no more than two runs — and that doesn’t figure to change, which means Betances and Clippard are going to have to be perfect in the last two innings, meaning protect every lead. The Yankees can’t afford to led late leads slip away and the two righties are the last line of defense out of the bullpen. When they’re handed a lead, it has to hold up.

Pineda becomes a reliable second starter

Right now the Yankees have a bonafide ace in Masahiro Tanaka and four other guys in the rotation who don’t make you feel all that comfortable. Maybe comfortable isn’t the right word. They’re just unpredictable from start to start. CC Sabathia is in the twilight of his career, Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa are just kids, and Michael Pineda is one of the most enigmatic pitchers in all of baseball.

Pineda is also one of the most talented pitchers in baseball — it’s good to be 6-foot-7 with a mid-90s cutter and a wipeout slider — and I think he has the best chance to emerge as a second reliable starter these last three weeks. The problem is Pineda has given Girardi no real reason to trust him. We all saw Girardi pull Pineda one out short of qualifying for the win with a five-run lead the other night.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

As bad as the offense has been for long stretches of time this season, it seems more likely the rotation will be the Yankees’ downfall these final few weeks. Ivan Nova‘s been traded and both Nathan Eovaldi and Chad Green got hurt, meaning the Yankees have no choice but to rely on two rookies and a fading Sabathia. Pineda is young and he’s in what should be the prime of his career. He’s the club’s best hope for second solid starter.

One of the kids contributes from the bottom of the lineup

The Yankees committed to their youth movement last month and the kids have really improved the team, not only on the field, but in the dugout. The Yankees seem more energetic than they have been in years. It’s fun to watch. Gary Sanchez has been a monster who is rightfully hitting in the middle of the lineup. Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, two other rookies, have had a tougher go of it. Here are their MLB numbers:

Austin: .224/.274/.414 (81 wRC+), 3 HR, 6.5 BB%, 35.5 K% in 62 plate appearances
Judge: .177/.258/.316 (53 wRC+), 3 HR, 9.0 BB%, 43.8 K% in 89 plate appearances

Both have shown signs of coming around of late, especially Austin, but the fact remains both have been negatives at the plate since being called up. (Judge has at least improved the right field defense.) If the Yankees were well out of the race like many expected them to be this month, running both kids out there everyday would be no big deal. The experience is the most important thing.

The Yankees need impact to get the postseason though, and it would be a huge help if either Austin or Judge started to figure things out and contribute from the bottom of the lineup. It would be cool if both did it, but let’s not get greedy. One of the two getting locked in would lengthen the lineup and make the offense that much dangerous. The kids are a big reason the Yankees are remotely close to a playoff spot right now, and if they’re going to sneak into the postseason, rookies like Austin and Judge will have to be a driving force.

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

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

Game 128: Postseason Push

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

The Yankees are in the middle of a very important stretch of games right now. Today is game five of a 12-game stretch against three teams ahead of them in the wildcard race (Mariners, Orioles, Royals). They’ve won three of the first four games of this 12-game stretch so far. They held a two-run lead in the one loss too. Blah. Missed opportunity.

Anyway, the Yankees hammered the Orioles last night, and with another win today, they’ll be only 2.5 games out of the second wildcard spot. They haven’t been that close since June 25th, so more than two months ago. These are playoff games right now, folks. The Yankees will need every win they can get the rest of the way to have a shot at October baseball. Here is the O’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. DH Brian McCann
  8. RF Aaron Hicks
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Chad Green

It’s a very nice day in New York. Nice and sunny with only a few clouds. Warm but not hot too. Pretty great afternoon for a ballgame. Today’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Rotation Update: The Yankees have flipflopped CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, so Sabathia will start tomorrow and Pineda will start Monday. I assume they made the switch because Sabathia has pitched very well against the O’s this season (1.93 ERA in 18.2 innings) and they want to make sure he faces them given the wildcard race.

Yankeemetrics: Mediocrity at its finest [July 29-31]

(AP)
(AP)

Loss for #Yankees, Win for #TeamSell
With this weekend’s series against the Rays representing one final opportunity to convince the front office to keep the band together for a late-summer playoff push, the Yankees inched closer to declaring themselves sellers with another frustrating loss on Friday night.

All 10 of their hits were singles and they scored just one run in a 5-1 loss, going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. The the only other major-league team this season (through Friday) that had a game with double-digit hits, none for extra bases, and scored one or fewer runs was the Brewers in a 8-1 loss to the Phillies on June 5.

Ivan Nova — who had posted a 2.66 ERA in his previous four turns during a stellar month of July — was predictably horrendous in Tampa against the last-place Rays lineup, allowing five runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings.

Tropicana Field has become a house of horrors for Nova. This was his first start at the dome since April 19, 2014, his final game before being diagnosed with a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery. And he now owns a 7.03 ERA in seven appearances (six starts) at the ballpark, the highest among all active pitchers with at least two starts and 25 innings pitched there.

The Rays clobbered Nova, with five of the six hits he allowed going for extra bases. This continues a yearlong trend of tons of loud contact against Nova, who has given up an average exit velocity of 94.9 mph on line drives and fly balls, the second-highest mark in the majors (min. 100 batted balls).

Chad Green kept the Yankees within spitting distance as he relieved Nova in the fifth inning and went the distance, throwing 3 2/3 scoreless innings. It was his third straight relief appearance with more than two innings pitched and no runs allowed. Green is just the second Yankee pitcher in the last two decades to put together a streak like that; Ramiro Mendoza had a three-gamer in 2001 and a four-gamer 2002.

You can’t spell ‘Sell’ without a couple ‘L’s’
Saturday’s deflating 6-3 defeat gave the Yankees two losses in two games to the last-place Rays, providing another layer of evidence that this team is not fit for October and needs a re-boot.

arod
(Getty)

The Yankees got off to another rocky start as Nathan Eovaldi surrendered a first-inning home run to Brad Miller, the 20th homer allowed by Yankee pitchers in the opening frame this season; through Saturday’s games, the only MLB teams that had allowed more first-inning dingers were the Twins and Royals, both with 22.

Eovaldi gave up a second homer to the Rays No. 9 hitter, catcher Curt Casali, giving him 21 homers allowed in 116 2/3 innings this year. That rate of 1.62 homers per nine innings is on pace to be the third-highest single-season mark by any Yankee qualifying pitcher, behind Phil Hughes (1.65 in 2012) and Terry Mulholland (1.79 in 1994).

Starting for the first time in a week, A-Rod did little to show management that he deserved more at-bats, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. It was the fourth game in his Yankee career that he came to the plate at least four times and struck out each time; only one other player in franchise history had four such games during their career: Mickey Mantle.

Drew Smyly, with a career strikeout rate of 24 percent (just a few ticks above the MLB average of 20 percent), is an unlikely candidate to be A-Rod’s personal kryptonite. But these are the facts: He has struck out in nine of 12 plate appearances (including playoffs) against Smyly, his highest whiff rate versus any of the 600-plus pitchers he’s faced more than five times in his 22-season career.

Just your average Yankees
On the same day the Yankees put the proverbial For Sale sign outside team headquarters in Tampa, they sunk deeper and deeper into the depths of mediocrity, losing to the Rays, 5-3.

They are now 52-52 this season, which includes a 44-44 record before the break, 8-8 after the break and a 13-13 mark in July. #TeamMediocre

It was their fifth time being swept this year, the same number they had in 2015 … with 58 games and two months remaining. And they’ve now scored no more than three runs in 55 of their 104 games, their highest total at this point in the season since 1972.

Michael Pineda once again delivered a maddeningly inconsistent performance, flashing dominance and looking strong at times (eight strikeouts), but ended up with disappointing results and a crooked final pitching line (five runs on six hits in six innings). It was his third game this season with at least eight punch outs and five earned runs allowed; no other American League pitcher has more than one such game.

Carlos Beltran put the Yankees on the board in the sixth inning with a two-run homer that sliced the Rays lead to 3-2. It was his his 22nd homer in 2016, matching Eddie Murray (1996) for the most by a switch-hitter in his age-39 season or older.

2016 Trade Deadline Rumors Open Thread: Monday

Bye, Carlos? (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Bye, Carlos? (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

The 2016 non-waiver trade deadline is 4pm ET this afternoon, and the Yankees have already been very active. One of the most active teams in baseball, really. Within the last week they traded Aroldis Chapman, traded Andrew Miller, and added Tyler Clippard. Chances are they aren’t done either.

“Stay tuned. A lot more things could happen,” said Brian Cashman to reporters during a conference call following the Miller and Clippard trades yesterday. “If you want to become a super team, there are ways you have to go about it. We’re trying to get back to a situation where we can build an uber-team, and a sustainable one.”

Here are Sunday’s rumors. Once again, we’re going to keep track of the day’s Yankee-related rumors right here in this post. I’m going to be running around a bit today — bad timing, I know, but family first — and will do my best to update things promptly. All time stamps are ET.

  • 9:00am: The Astros, Red Sox, Indians, and Rangers are all in on Carlos Beltran. He has not yet been asked to waive his limited no-trade clause and, unsurprisingly, a trade with Boston is considered unlikely. I’m sure the thought of Beltran helping the BoSox win the World Series makes ownership squeamish, even if it means making the best possible deal. Some clubs want the Yankees to eat money to facilitate a trade. [Buster Olney, Mark Feinsand, Jon Heyman]
  • 9:00am: The Yankees continue to listen to offers for Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Michael Pineda. They also want to unload impending free agent Ivan Nova prior to today’s deadline. [Joel Sherman]
  • 12:03pm: McCann remains a possibility for the Braves. They want the Yankees to eat a bunch of money and the Yankees want good prospects in return, so there are some things that need to be worked out. [Mark Bowman]

Reminder before you comment: Your trade proposal sucks.

2016 Trade Deadline Rumors Open Thread: Saturday

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

The trade deadline is creeping closer and closer. It’s less than 55 hours away right now, and so far the Yankees have made just one deal, the Aroldis Chapman swap. To be fair, it’s not like a ton of trades are happening around the league. There’s been one or two a day this last week, and none have been particularly exciting. Chapman’s been by far the best player traded this week.

Once again, we’re going to keep track of the day’s trade rumblings right here. Or try to, anyway. I’m going to be running around all day today, so I can’t promise prompt updates, but I’ll do my best. The Yankees tend to keep things close to the vest anyway. It’s not like the last few days have been full of rumors. Here are Friday’s rumblings and here’s what’s happening today. All time stamps are ET.

  • 10:00am: Brian Cashman has been given the thumbs up to trade Ivan Nova, but not yet Michael Pineda or Nathan Eovaldi. Ownership is still hanging on to that “this team can contend!” silliness. Hopefully it’s just posturing. [Joel Sherman]
  • 10:00am: The Yankees and Indians have discussed all sorts of trade scenarios, including some involving Carlos Beltran. Cleveland doesn’t have much payroll wiggle room though and that’s an obstacle. In my opinion the Yankees should be very willing to eat money if it means getting better players in return. Flex that financial muscle. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:00am: Brian Cashman told the Giants very early on that they didn’t have the prospects to get Chapman or Andrew Miller. Harsh? Maybe. But it’s good to get that out there early rather than string the Giants along and waste everyone’s time. [Sherman]
  • 1:53pm: The Yankees are gauging Brian McCann‘s market and the Braves have interest in a reunion. New York wants real prospects in return and doesn’t want to eat money. The Braves, naturally, want the Yankees to eat some of the $34M owed to McCann from 2017-18 and give up lower rated prospects. McCann has a no-trade clause but is from the Atlanta area, so he may be willing to waive it to go home and help the Braves open their new park next season. [Jon Heyman, Buster Olney, Joel Sherman]
  • 1:58pm: The Rangers have touched base with the Yankees about Beltran, but talks don’t appear to be serious. Texas lost Prince Fielder to season-ending neck surgery a few days ago, creating an opening at DH. [T.R. Sullivan]

Reminder before you comment: Your trade proposal sucks.

2016 Trade Deadline Rumors Open Thread: Friday

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

As you may have heard, a fake rumor was going around last night that Carlos Beltran had been traded to the Indians. Actually, it wasn’t a fake rumor, per se. It came from this MLB.com article with a bunch of trade suggestions, and Twins people put the deals up on the dang Target Field scoreboard. The internet was abuzz for a few minutes, but no, there was no Beltran trade. Not yet, anyway.

The trade deadline is less than 80 hours away now, and since the Aroldis Chapman trade earlier this week, things have been rather quite around the Yankees. That’s not all that uncommon. They tend to keep things close to the vest. You can read through Thursday’s rumors right here. There’s not too many of them though. Once again, we’re going to keep track of the day’s Yankees-related trade rumors right here, so check back often. All time stamps are ET.

  • 9:30am: The Rangers have remained in contact with the Yankees about Ivan Nova as well as Andrew Miller and Beltran. Possibly Michael Pineda too. Texas is short on pitching, and they just lost Prince Fielder to season-ending neck surgery, so they have a hole at DH too. [Joel Sherman]
  • 1:39pm: The Nationals are believed to be willing to trade Lucas Giolito for Andrew Miller, straight up. This seems like a leak designed to get someone else to blink. Who? I’m not sure. [Jon Morosi]
  • 1:56pm: Word is the Yankees would need “three times as much” as they received for Chapman to trade Miller. That doesn’t mean they want 12 players in return (duh), they want higher quality players. That makes sense. The Cubs got one postseason run from Chapman. Whoever gets Miller gets three postseason runs. [Jon Heyman]
  • 2:15pm: The Yankees would not trade Miller for Giolito straight up. I’m in the minority, but I agree with that. The Yankees are right to demand more. Giolito’s great, but he’s not some kind of generational talent, and his performance in the minors hasn’t matched the stuff. [Heyman]
  • 2:22pm: If the Nationals are willing to trade Giolito for Miller, they’ve yet to approach the Yankees about it. [Sherman]

Reminder before you comment: Your trade proposal sucks.