Yankees acquire Sonny Gray from A’s for three prospects

(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)
(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)

The Yankees have landed their young controllable starting pitcher. Prior to Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline, the Yankees acquired Sonny Gray and $1.5M in international bonus money from the Athletics for prospects James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo, and Dustin Fowler. Both teams have announced the trade, so it’s a done deal. Officially official.

The trade comes after days of rumors, which is uncharacteristic for the Yankees. They tend to keep these things quiet. The big David Robertson/Tommy Kahnle/Todd Frazier trade with the White Sox came out of nowhere two weeks ago. The Yankees and A’s haggled over the prospects, and according to Jon Heyman, Kaprielian was the deciding piece. Once the Yankees agreed to include him, the deal was done.

Gray, 27, has pitched to a 3.43 ERA (3.24 FIP) in 16 starts and 97 innings so far this season. Here’s my Scouting The Market post. He is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2019, and as a ground ball heavy right-hander with big time competitiveness, Gray fits what the Yankees need pretty well. Keep the ball on the ground and you’ll do well in Yankee Stadium and the other hitter friendly AL East parks.

Coming into the season I ranked Kaprielian, Mateo, and Fowler as the Nos. 5, 7, and 12 prospects in the farm system, respectively. All have seen their stock slip since then, however. Kaprielian blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. Mateo continued to struggle with High-A Tampa before being promoted to Double-A Trenton and going on a hot streak. Fowler blew out his knee earlier this month.

This trade boils down to this: three risky prospects for one risky starting pitcher (and international bonus money). Gray is healthy right now, though he has had some injury problems over the last 18 months or so. Fowler and Kaprielian are currently rehabbing from major surgeries and Mateo’s performance hasn’t always matched up with his loud tools. The A’s are banking on upside here. This is very much a boom or bust trade.

The Gray trade combined with the previous Robertson, Kahnle, Frazier, and Jaime Garcia trades make this the busiest deadline in quite some time for the Yankees. They were busy in 2014 (Martin Prado, Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew), though those moves did not come close to this magnitude. The Yankees are going for it, both now in 2017 and going forward. It’s awfully exciting.

2017 Trade Deadline Open Thread: Friday

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

The 2017 non-waiver trade deadline is 4pm ET next Monday, and already the Yankees have made one significant trade. They acquired Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox for three prospects (and Tyler Clippard) a week and a half ago. That one has paid dividends already. The Yankees have made two smaller trades (Tyler Webb for Garrett Cooper, Rob Refsnyder for Ryan McBroom) as well.

At the moment the Yankees are a half-game back in the AL East and 2.5 games up on a wildcard spot, so they’re very much in the race. Adding is the way to go. The White Sox trade answered any “buyer or seller?” questions. A starting pitcher is the obvious priority following Michael Pineda‘s injury, though another bat and a lefty reliever shouldn’t be ruled out either. We’re going to keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so keep coming back for updates. All timestamps are ET.

  • 3:44pm: The Yankees had a scout (Brandon Duckworth!) on hand to watch Yu Darvish’s most recent outing, so if nothing else, they’re doing their due diligence. Darvish got hammered by the Marlins on Wednesday night (3.2 IP, 9 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 2 BB, 5 ). [George King]
  • 3:42pm: The Yankees have interest in Lance Lynn and the Cardinals have been scouting New York’s farm system. Lynn is a pure rental. Here’s my Scouting The Market post. [Derrick Goold]
  • 1:41pm: During talks with the Mets about Lucas Duda, the Yankees offered a similar relief prospect to Drew Smith, who the Mets acquired from the Rays in the trade yesterday. I wonder if that means Ben Heller or Jonathan Holder? Either way, since the Yankees were only offering a similar prospect, the Mets opted not to send Duda across town. [Sherman]
  • 12:00pm: Talks with the Athletics about Sonny Gray at an impasse because they’re asking for either Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres, and the Yankees won’t include them in any deal. Oakland also likes Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian, and Estevan Florial. Despite the impasse, the Yankees are still believed to be in the lead for Gray because they’re offering the strongest package. [Jon Heyman, Bob Klapisch]
  • 12:00pm: The Yankees are among the teams in the mix for Tigers lefty Justin Wilson. Tons of teams are after the former Yankee. I’d be surprised if the Yankees go all out to win a bidding war for Wilson after adding Robertson and Kahnle. [Anthony Fenech]
  • 12:00pm: The Yankees remain engaged with the Braves about first baseman Matt Adams, though a starting pitcher remains their priority. Atlanta is playing Freddie Freeman at third base in deference to Adams, which is crazy, but it’s not my problem. [Joel Sherman]
  • 12:00pm: There have been no recent talks with the Cubs about Bryan Mitchell. Chicago has liked him in the past and the Yankees are trying to clear up the back of their 40-man roster, though the two clubs haven’t touched base. [Sherman]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Trade Deadline Rumors: Starter, Verlander, Alonso, Duda, Reed

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

The 2017 non-waiver trade deadline is now only eleven days away and the Yankees have already made one big move, acquiring Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox. I get the feeling they’re not done. That doesn’t necessarily mean a blockbuster is coming, but I don’t think the Yankees are going to stop here. Anyway, here’s the latest from the trade rumor circuit.

Yankees still looking for a starter

Not surprisingly, the Yankees are still looking for rotation help, reports Ken Rosenthal. They’re casting a wide net. Controllable guys and rentals. They’re all in play. Michael Pineda is out for the season and I don’t think the Yankees want to continue running Bryan Mitchell or Luis Cessa out there every fifth day. You don’t go out and make that trade with the White Sox only to skimp on the rotation, you know?

“I’m going to stay engaged. We are going to remain careful buyers. We want to maximize our present while protecting (our) future,” said Cashman to Meredith Marakovits following the White Sox trade. Unless the Yankees budge on their unwillingness to trade close to MLB prospects, it’s hard to think they’ll land a high-end controllable starter. And that’s okay. They could really use one of those guys, but I am totally cool with keeping the top position player prospects. Build around bats. Even after trades and graduations, the Yankees still have plenty of depth in the farm system to land a useful starter.

“No indication” Yankees are after Verlander

There is “no indication” the Yankees are after (former?) Tigers ace Justin Verlander, reports Jon Morosi. Detroit is very bad this season (43-50) and there’s been plenty of talk they will sell at the trade deadline. Verlander, 34, has a 4.54 ERA (4.25 FIP) in 20 starts and 117 innings this season, though just last year he was the runner-up in the AL Cy Young voting thanks to a 3.04 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 227.2 innings.

Including the remainder of his $28M salary this year, Verlander is still owed roughly $70M through 2019, and his contract includes a $22M vesting option for 2020 based on Cy Young voting. Morosi says the Tigers are willing to eat some money to facilitate a trade, but how much? I doubt it’ll be a ton. I feel like there’s way too much downside here. Verlander was great just last season, sure, but he’s entering his mid-30s and has a ton of innings on his arm. Trading for mid-30s past prime Verlander feels like an old Yankees move.

Yankees talked Alonso, Duda, Reed, Neshek

Before the trade with the ChiSox, the Yankees were talking to the Athletics about Yonder Alonso, and to the Mets about Lucas Duda and Addison Reed, report Morosi and Mark Feinsand. They were also in the mix for Pat Neshek, per Rosenthal. I suppose the Yankees could still go after Reed or Neshek because there is no such thing as too many good relievers, but it seems very unlikely with Robertson and Kahnle on board. Alonso and Duda? There’s no need for those guys now. Not unless someone gets hurt.

With Greg Bird out for most of the rest of the season, it only made sense for the Yankees to explore the first base trade market. Ji-Man Choi and Garrett Cooper had some success this month, though Cashman wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t looking for upgrades. One thing to keep in mind: the Yankees were pretty much the only team with a need at first base (or DH). There was plenty of supply (Alonso, Duda, Matt Adams, Justin Bour, etc.) but very limited demand, so they were able to let the market come to them, then take the most favorable terms.

Reed. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty)
Reed. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty)

A’s scouting Low-A Charleston

In a crazy coincidence (nope), the A’s have had a top scout watching Low-A Charleston recently, according to Rosenthal. There’s no need for Alonso now. Sonny Gray is still out there though. With Blake Rutherford traded, the best prospect on Charleston’s roster is outfielder Estevan Florial by a mile. Others of note include catcher Donny Sands, infielders Diego Castillo and Hoy Jun Park, and righties Nick Nelson, Freicer Perez, and Nick Green.

Unlike the White Sox trade, I have a hard time believing the Yankees could swing a deal for Gray using a Single-A kid as the center piece. Gray is too in demand for the A’s to take someone that far away from the big leagues as the headliner in a trade. Oakland can and will insist for a closer to MLB prospect and the Yankees will probably decline. That said, the A’s have made some weird trades lately, and if the Yankees can get a deal done for Gray with a Low-A kid fronting the package, they should jump all over it. Prospects that far down in the system aren’t close to helping at the MLB level and they’re so risky because they still have so much development left ahead of them.

Yankees were “in strong” for Quintana

Before he was traded to the Cubs, the Yankees were “in strong” for lefty Jose Quintana, according to Feinsand. “They were quietly deep in it,” said one executive. Rosenthal hears the Yankees did make an offer for Quintana, and Cashman told Brendan Kuty the White Sox asked the Yankees for players similar to the ones they received from the Cubs. So I guess that means an elite prospect (Gleyber Torres?), a very good pitching prospect (Chance Adams? Justus Sheffield?), plus two lesser pieces.

It was reported following the White Sox trade that the Yankees offered Rutherford to Chicago for Quintana, though the rest of the package is unknown. If Rutherford was the headliner, then it’s easy to understand why the ChiSox passed and went with the Cubs’ package. I think the Yankees were willing to give up a really nice package to get Quintana, but even then they would set a limit and not increase their offer. I guess that’s why Quintana is a Cub now. For shame. He really would have been a nice get from a pure “he’s a good pitcher” perspective.

Yankeemetrics: West Coast Nightmare Part II (June 15-18)

(AP)
(AP)

Well, that was awful … but Yankeemetrics still has Fighting Spirit and all the stats you need to know.

One Strike Away
The nightmare road trip, which started in Anaheim, continued as the Yankees headed north to Oakland and suffered a brutal 8-7 loss on Thursday night. It was a game of extreme highs and lows, a back-and-forth rollercoaster ride that ended in one of the most crushing defeats of the season so far.

The Yankees kept falling behind … but somehow staged four separate game-tying rallies and finally surged ahead in the top of the 10th … only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In the bottom of the 10th, Gio Gallegos surrendered a two-strike, two-out, bases-loaded RBI single that flipped the Yankees one-run advantage into another walk-off loss.

The details of this game were so chaotic and unprecedented, let’s run through it with bullet points:

  • It was the Yankees third walk-off loss to the A’s in the last six seasons (since 2012); no other non-AL East team has more than one walk-off win against the Yankees in that span.
  • It was their first walk-off loss to any team when they were one strike away from a win since April 15, 2007 against the A’s. Yikes, the Marco Scutaro game.
  • And finally … Before Thursday, the last (documented) time the Yankees had an extra-inning, walk-off loss, when leading with two outs and one strike away from a win, was June 4, 1988 against the Orioles. This game remains one of the most excruciating regular-season losses the Yankees have ever had, as they blew a two-run lead and lost on a rare three-base error in the 14th inning. Welp.

Back to Thursday night … Before the heart-breaking ending, the Yankees had taken the lead in the top of the 10th on a bases-loaded sac fly by Starlin Castro. Thankfully, Castro gives us our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Week:

This was the second time Castro had delivered a go-ahead sac fly in extras since joining the Yankees, also doing it against the Mets last August. Since sac flies were officially recorded in 1954, only three other players have hit multiple go-ahead, extra-inning sac flies in a Yankee uniform – Bernie Williams, Ruben Sierra and Horace Clarke.

(Getty)
(Getty)

No relief
It was deja vu all over again for the Yankees on Friday night as they lost another winnable game thanks to a late-inning meltdown by the depleted bullpen.

Four straight soul-crushing defeats, and in each of those four games a reliever has taken the loss. I scoured the Yankees’ boxscores and, in the last two decades, couldn’t find a four-game stretch where a relief pitcher took the loss in each contest. I was too depressed to research any further back.

Amidst the doom-and-gloom of this latest gut-punch loss was the shining star of Aaron Judge, who finished with two hits, two runs scored and three RBIs. He blasted his 23rd home run of the season, a three-RBI opposite field shot in the third inning.

The most amazing part of Judge’s power is that he is not just a pull-happy slugger. Check out this beautiful spray chart (LOL, the 495-foot home run that is literally off the chart):

aaron-judge-2

According to the hit location data at baseball-reference.com, after Friday night’s game, his homer distribution was nice and symmetrical: six to left, 11 to center and six to right. He was a ridiculous 17-for-27 (.630) and slugging 1.407 when putting the ball in play to right – both those marks were easily the best in baseball among players with at least 25 batted balls to the opposite field.

Judge also checked off another milestone on Friday, scoring his 60th run of the season. The list of other Yankees in the last eight decades to reach 60 runs in the team’s first 65 games is a short, but holy-cow good one: A-Rod (2007), Rickey Henderson (1986), Mickey Mantle (1956, ’57) and Joe DiMaggio (1941).

(AP)
(AP)

Terrible Tanaka, again
The road trip from hell continued on Saturday afternoon with the Yankees extending their season-high losing streak to five games after another disaster, dinger-filled performance by Masahiro Tanaka.

The home run derby started on Tanaka’s first pitch of the game, which Matt Joyce deposited into the right-centerfield seats. It was the third leadoff homer allowed by Tanaka this season, one shy of the Yankees single-season record set by Stan Bahnsen in 1970. The only other Yankees to give up three leadoff homers in a season are Hiroki Kuroda (2014) and Catfish Hunter (1976).

Unsurprisingly, this is the current batting line for hitters leading off a game against Tanaka: .571/.571/1.286 — eight hits in 14 at-bats, including three homers and a double. Oh, and this is what happens when opponents put the first pitch of a plate appearance in play against Tanaka: .478 batting average and 1.130 slugging percentage — 22 hits in 46 at-bats, including nine doubles and seven homers.

The A’s pummeled Tanaka for two more home runs, bringing his season total to 21, the most homers ever allowed by a Yankee pitcher at this point in the season (team’s 66th game).

The silver lining in Tanaka’s atrocious outing is that 10 of the 12 outs he got were via strikeouts, showing that he still has the nasty, elite stuff to dominate hitters at times. His 10 strikeouts were the most by any Yankee that pitched no more than four innings in a game.

But, of course, there were the dreaded mistake pitches that the A’s crushed for three homers. In the end, Tanaka produced one of the most bizarre pitching line in baseball history. Going back to 1913 (our limit for complete gamelogs), Tanaka is the only major-league pitcher to strike out 10 batters and surrender at least three homers in an outing of four innings or fewer. History!

(AP)
(AP)

Goodbye and good riddance to the west coast
The Yankees miserable seven-game road trip mercifully came to an end on Sunday, fittingly with another hideous loss. They finished up 1-6 in California, the first time they won one game or fewer on a road swing of at least seven games in more than two decades. They went 1-8 on a nine-game trip from May 23-31, 1995 through Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle.

That brutal stretch, however, was filled with a few highlights — notably the big-league debuts of a couple Yankee legends: Mariano Rivera on May 23, and Derek Jeter on May 29.

As poorly as the Yankees played in Oakland, it was certainly an unexpected sweep by the home team: Entering this weekend, the Yankees were the only AL team that had not been swept in a series, and the Athletics were the only AL team that had yet to sweep a series this season. ‘Ya know, Suzyn …’

The most excruciating part of this current free-fall is that the Yankees had a chance to win probably every game, and have only been outscored by a mere nine runs during their six-game losing streak. The last time they endured a six-game stretch of games with six losses and run differential of no worse than negative-9 was June 29-July 4, 1975.

Three of the four losses in this series, and four of the six on this trip, were by exactly one run, as the Yankees record in those games fell to 7-12. Those 12 losses match the same number the Yankees had last year, when they went 24-12 in one-run games. Hey, at least Aroldis Chapman threw a perfect eighth inning and averaged 101.3 mph on the seven four-seam fastballs he threw, according to brooksbaseball.net.

6/15 to 6/18 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

Sonny Gray. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Sonny Gray. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

On Monday afternoon, one of the prevailing concerns about the series with the Angels was that it was a ‘trap series.’ The Yankees were red hot, but they’ve also struggled in Angel Stadium over the last few years – and the Angels have been surprisingly good since Mike Trout went down. A few days later the Yankees had dropped two of three and lost CC Sabathia to an injury. It was a disappointing series, to say the least, as seems to be the norm on these West Coast trips. Next up: the Oakland Athletics.

The Last Time They Met

The A’s visited the Bronx just three weeks ago (May 26-28), and the Yankees took two of three. All three games were relatively close, as the Yankees outscored the A’s by just two runs in total. Other points of interest:

  • Masahiro Tanaka tantalized us once more in the first game, pitching to the following line – 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 13 K. The key was his splitter, which was on-point for what may have been the only time this season. Thanks to some quirky rules, he took the loss despite not being responsible for the go-ahead run.
  • The Yankees won game two 3-2, in what was a frustrating game for the offense. They had just seven base-runners (only two of which reached base via hit), and had trouble squaring up the A’s pitchers all day. Luckily, one of those hits was a go-ahead two-run home run by Matt Holliday, and that was all they needed.
  • Game three was much more Yankees-like, as the bats came alive and they plated nine runs. Aaron Judge was 2-for-4 with the first grand slam of his career, Ronald Torreyes was 2-for-3 with a couple of runs scored, and Brett Gardner picked-up a couple of 2-our RBI in a 9-5 victory.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more detailed notes and statistics.

Injury Report

As was the case last time around, the A’s have some key players on the disabled list. RP Ryan Dull, SP Kendall Graveman, SS Marcus Semien, SP Andrew Triggs, and RP Ryan Dull are on the DL, and none will return in time for this series (Triggs started against the Yankees in the previous series). OF Matt Joyce had to leave yesterday’s game early following a collision, and he received three stitches to close a laceration on his chin. He’s listed as day-to-day.

Their Story So Far

The A’s have lost three in a row by a combined 13 runs, and are currently 27-38 with an AL-worst -77 run differential. They’re also 4-9 in June, having been outscored 92-64 since the calendar flipped. Their offense has gradually improved (and is about league-average once adjusted for the park), but their pitching has backslid tremendously.

Yonder Alonso is a big part of that offense, and he has yet to show signs of slowing down. He’s batting .303/.398/.635 with 16 home runs (174 wRC+) on the year, including a .370/.452/.630 slash line since these teams last met. Their offense as a whole has a 101 wRC+ this month, with 6 regulars sitting at 111 or better. Pitching was supposed to be their strength, but I’m sure that they’re more than happy with fielding a competitive lineup every night.

The Lineup We Might See

Bob Melvin has used more distinct batting orders than any other manager in the game this year, as he has a proclivity for platooning and riding the hot bat. The fact that the team has dealt with a slew of injuries doesn’t help, either. This is essentially the core lineup that he’s been building off of lately (keeping in mind that Jordan Montgomery is pitching tonight):

  1. Rajai Davis, CF
  2. Jed Lowrie, 2B
  3. Ryon Healy, DH
  4. Khris Davis, LF
  5. Yonder Alonso, 1B
  6. Chad Pinder, SS
  7. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
  8. Matt Joyce, RF
  9. Josh Phegley, C

With a RHP on the mound, Matt Joyce will bat higher in the lineup, and Stephen Vogt will start at catcher.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (10:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Sonny Gray

Two years ago, Gray looked like a legitimate top of the rotation starter. He was coming off of back-to-back 200-plus IP seasons with a combined 131 ERA+ and 8.9 bWAR, and he was turning 26 just before the start of the 2016 season. And then 2016 came, and he was hurt (just 22 starts) or ineffective (70 ERA+, -0.1 bWAR) throughout the season, and those injuries carried over to 2017. Gray has shown signs of his old self, though, as his strong strikeout (23.7%), walk (7.1%), and groundball (56.7%) belie his 4.37 ERA (94 ERA+).

Gray has found some velocity this season, and he now works in the mid-90s with his fastballs (four- and two-seamers). He also throws a low-80s slider, a low-80s curveball, and a change-up in the upper-80s. He throws all five pitches regularly, as well.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 6/10) – 6.0 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 10 K

Friday (9:35 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. LHP Sean Manaea

Manaea shut-down the Yankees three weeks ago (7 IP, 4 H,  R, 1 BB, 8 K), and has been going strong ever since. He now has a 3.67 ERA (112 ERA+) on the season, and his stuff has been improving as the weather warms up.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 6/10) – 7.o IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Saturday (4:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Jesse Hahn

This is Hahn’s first healthy season in years, as the 27-year-old has dealt with a litany of arm-related injuries. He has been mostly effective throughout his major league career, with a 102 ERA+ and 3.0 bWAR in 277.0 IP, but that doesn’t look quite as good when it’s spread out over three-plus seasons. Interestingly enough, Hahn is the oldest member of the A’s rotation with Triggs on the DL.

Hahn is a three or four-pitch guy, depending upon the day. He throws a mid-90s two-seamer, a mid-70s curveball, and a mid-80s change-up regularly. He’ll also mix in a mid-80s slider, but that isn’t a given on most days.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 6/11) – 5.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Sunday (4:05 PM EST): TBD (Chad Green?) vs. RHP Jharel Cotton

Cotton was viewed as a dark horse candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year heading into 2017, on the strength of a strong performance during a September call-up and a seemingly terrific fastball/change-up combination. He’ll need quite a bit of work to get to that level, though, as he has a 5.52 ERA (74 ERA+) through eleven starts, to go along with below-average peripherals. The 25-year-old has just three quality starts on the season, to boot.

Cotton’s bread and butter is ostensibly the coupling of his low-to-mid-90s fastball and mid-70s change-up. The discrepancy between those two offerings should keep hitters off-balance, but that simply hasn’t been the case so far. Cotton also throws a slider in the upper-80s and a curveball in the upper-70s.

Last Outing (vs. MIA on 6/13) – 5.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The A’s bullpen has the second-worst park-adjusted ERA in baseball, and it is only getting worse – the unit has a 7.16 ERA in 44.0 IP in June (which includes a 4.2 IP, 4 ER effort yesterday). Sean Doolittle just returned from an injury and Santiago Casilla seems to have righted the ship, but only four relievers have an ERA under 4.00 (and that includes Doolittle in just 8.2 IP). The rotation doesn’t help matters, either, as they routinely turn the ball over to the bullpen in the 6th inning or earlier.

It’s difficult to imagine the A’s bullpen as a whole being in good shape for this series, as it was needed for 7.2 IP between Tuesday and Wednesday. Fortunately for them, neither Doolittle nor Casilla has pitched since Saturday, so their best arms are ready to go.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Sonny Gray was the object of the Yankees desire at one point, and the A’s are almost always willing to shop their stars – so this could be an audition, of sorts, should Cashman and Co. seek to improve the team’s rotation sooner rather than later. With Jose Quintana struggling in Chicago, however, Gray may be both the best and the cheapest option on the market come the trade deadline.

Yankeemetrics: Smallball, longball down A’s (May 26-28)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Welcome back, Masa-Hero
Friday’s game may have been a 4-1 loss in the standings, but it was a victory in the minds and eyes of the Yankees and their fans thanks to the spectacular performance by Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka looked like an ace again as he mowed down Oakland’s lineup, dominating them with his devastating signature splitter/slider combo. He set career-highs in strikeouts (13) and swinging strikes (26), displaying the top-of-rotation stuff that had been missing in the first month and a half of the season.

The 26 swings-and-misses were the second-most by any Yankee pitcher in the past decade, one shy of the 27 that CC Sabathia got on June 7, 2012 against the Rays. Each of the 13 punchouts were via a strike-three whiff, matching Sabathia (June 30, 2012 vs. Brewers) for the most swinging strikeouts in a game by any Yankee pitcher over the last 10 years.

Eight of the 13 strikeouts came on his sharp, late-breaking slider, and the other five were on filthy splitters that dropped out of the zone:

masahiro-tanaka-13-k

The improved depth of his splitter was one of the biggest keys to Tanaka’s domination on Friday night. He threw 25 splitters and located those pitches an average of 1.82 feet below the middle of the strike zone. That was his lowest vertical location for the splitter in any game this season, netting him 10 whiffs and silly swings like this one from Ryon Healy in the seventh inning:

halfelectricfoal

So that was the good news from Friday night.

Unfortunately, there was some bad news too. The Yankee bats went cold once again and the bullpen suffered another inexplicable meltdown, allowing three runs plus an inherited runner to score. Tanaka’s final line of 7 1/3 innings, 13 strikeouts, no walks and one run made him not only a hard-luck loser, but also etched his name in the record books.

It was just the third time a Yankee pitcher struck out at least 13 batters in a game and got the loss. The other two were done by Roger Clemens: June 17, 1999 against the Rangers and May 28, 2000 against the Red Sox in an epic duel with Pedro Martinez.

Even more incredible is this #FunFact: Tanaka is the first pitcher in Yankee history to get the loss in a game where he had at least 13 strikeouts, no more than one run allowed and zero walks.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Two close for comfort
Thanks a third straight solid outing by CC Sabathia and justenough offense, the Yankees bounced back to win the middle game of this three-game series, 3-2.

This was only the second time in the last 60 seasons that the Yankees won a game in the Bronx with no more than two hits. It also happened on Sept. 9, 1988, when Claudell Washington hit a walk-off homer to beat the Tigers (the other hit was a Rickey Henderson triple in sixth inning).

The decisive blow on Saturday was delivered by Matt Holliday, who ended Jharel Cotton’s no-hit bid and broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning with one swing of the bat, crushing a two-run homer to left. It was his ninth homer of the season and team-best sixth dinger that either gave the Yankees a lead or tied the game.

Sabathia pitched into the seventh inning, allowing two runs while striking out a season-high nine batters. Four of the nine strikeouts — including three that were looking — came with his slider, which has routinely frozen hitters this season. He’s gotten called strikes on 23.2 percent of his sliders thrown, the fourth-best rate among starters (min. 100 pitches).

Dellin Betances was the end-of-game hero as he escaped a second-and-third, one-out jam in the eighth inning by striking out the next two batters, and then easily retired all three guys he faced in the ninth. The last Yankee to inherit at least two baserunners and get a perfect save of at least five outs? Mariano Rivera on April 23, 2008 vs. the White Sox.

(@Yankees)
(@Yankees)

Your Honor, the Grand Jury is in session
The Bronx Bombers returned to form on Sunday afternoon in 9-5, series-clinching win that pushed their AL East lead to a season-high three games. This is just the fourth time in the Wild Card era that the Yankees have entered play on Memorial Day in sole possession of first place in the division. The other three times it happened – 1996, 1998, 2001 – they made the World Series and won it twice.

On the mound, Michael Pineda struggled with his command (season-high three walks) but showed his toughness in limiting the A’s to three runs in six innings. It was his ninth straight start allowing three earned runs or fewer, one shy of the longest streak by an AL pitcher this season (both Michael Fulmer and Derek Holland have 10-start streaks).

Aaron Judge provided the power with his first career grand slam in the third inning to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead. He was the first Yankee right-fielder to go yard with the bases loaded against the A’s since Paul O’Neill on April 5, 1997. And the 25-year-old slugger is the youngest Yankee to hit a grand slam at Yankee Stadium since Nick Johnson (24 years old) on Aug. 8, 2003 vs. Mariners.

While it’s hard to believe that a rookie can keep up this pace – with 16 homers in the team’s first 47 games – let’s have some fun with numbers …

  • 1921 Babe Ruth through 47 team games: 16 homers (finished with 59)
  • 1927 Babe Ruth through 47 team games: 17 homers (finished with 60)
  • 1961 Roger Maris through 47 team games: 15 homers (finished with 61)

5/26 to 5/28 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)

Mother nature gave the Yankees a much-needed respite yesterday, splitting their twenty games in twenty days down the middle. Their series against the A’s now represents the first game in a ten-in-ten stretch, which is far less daunting.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Oakland for a four-game series this time last year (May 19 through May 22), and they walked (or flew) away with a sweep, outscoring the A’s 22 to 9 along the way. Some other points of interest:

  • The Yankees starters – Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda – pitched to the following combined line: 25 IP, 18 H, 4 BB, 21 K, 2.16 ERA.
  • It was the Yankees first road series win of the season, as they climbed out of the AL East basement for the first time since late April.
  • Carlos Beltran went 9-for-18 with 3 R, 5 2B, 1 HR, and 8 RBI in the series.
  • The beta version of Yonder Alonso went 1-for-10 in the series, with 3 strikeouts and no walks.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more in-depth information.

Injury Report

The A’s are a bit banged-up right now. Yonder Alonso is listed as day-to-day with a wrist contusion, and it remains up in the air as to whether he’ll play on Friday (though he is expected back this weekend) – he has been one of the best hitters in baseball this year, showing signs of the promise he showed as a top-fifty prospect half a decade ago. Shortstop Marcus Semien was placed on the 60-day DL at the end of April, due to a broken wrist that required surgery, and there have been rumblings that he could be out longer than that entails. And relievers Sean Doolittle, Bobby Wahl, and Ryan Dull are on the DL, and none are expected back for this series.

Their Story So Far

Oakland is currently 21-25 with a -42 run differential, which puts them right around where they were in 2015 and 2016. They are 23rd in baseball in runs allowed, 27th in runs scored, and 30th in defensive runs saved; in short, they are a subpar team in all facets of the game, and that may be putting it lightly. This is a team in transition, and it shows.

Their two biggest stories this season are the aforementioned Alonso, and perpetual trade rumor magnet Sonny Gray. The 30-year-old Alonso is batting .275/.379/.642 (174 wRC+) with a career-high 13 home runs, and he’s actually playing better as the young season wears on. And there are reasons to believe that this is real, at least to some extent. Gray has been effective, as well, albeit on the heels of missing the first month, and he appears to be recapturing his pre-2016 form. The Yankees will not see Gray this weekend, which is something of a shame – but you can be sure that Brian Cashman is following his progress closely.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Bob Melvin has used 43 lineups in 46 games, due to injuries and his utilization of platoon players. Khris Davis is the team’s regular clean-up hitter, but most every other spot seems to be shrouded in mystery until the lineup card is posted. As a result of this, I offer the equivalent of a shrug as to my guess at what Yankees pitchers will see over the next three days:

  1. Rajai Davis, CF
  2. Matt Joyce, RF
  3. Jed Lowrie, 2B
  4. Khris Davis, LF
  5. Yonder Alonso, 1B
  6. Ryon Healy, DH
  7. Stephen Vogt, C
  8. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
  9. Adam Rosales, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Kendall Graveman

Graveman has proven himself to be a solid back of the rotation starter over the last two-plus seasons, pitching to a 98 ERA+ in just under 350 IP – and that makes him the prize of the Josh Donaldson deal to-date (that might be unfair to prospect Franklin Barreto, who is currently raking in Triple-A). He is held back by his well below-average strikeout rate (16.5% this year), but he keeps the ball on the ground (career 51.4% GB) and limits walks (6.6% BB). Pitching in Oakland helps, too, as his career ERA is over a run lower at home.

The 26-year-old is a true sinkerballer, as the pitch accounts for 76.1% of his offerings this year. He throws the sinker in the mid-90s, and it has a great deal of drop and spin. He mixes in the occasional four-seamer, change-up, and slider – but those are few and far between.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/19) – 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 5 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Sean Manaea

The 25-year-old Manaea entered 2016 as a consensus top-fifty prospect, and he backed that up with a solid rookie season. The southpaw tossed 144.2 IP of 3.86 ERA (104 ERA+) ball, good for 2.7 bWAR – and this despite having an ERA north of 7.00 on June 1. He has struggled a bit so far, posting a 5.24 ERA (75 ERA+) and 11.5 BB%, and he missed a couple of starts with a left shoulder strain. All that being said, he might have the highest ceiling of any A’s pitcher this side of Sonny Gray.

Manaea is a three-pitch pitcher, utilizing a low-90s four-seamer, mid-80s sinking change-up, and a low-80s slider. That slider is his strikeout pitch, and it currently has a 25.4% swinging strike rate.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/20) – 5.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 3 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Andrew Triggs

Triggs made his major league debut last year, as a 27-year-old pitching for his third organization in three years. He did reasonably well as an up-and-down long reliever and spot starter, posting a 4.31 ERA (93 ERA+) in twenty-four games (six starts). He earned a shot in the A’s rotation in spring training this year, and he has acquitted himself quite well thus far. To wit: 52.0 IP, 19.5 K%, 7.0 BB%, 51.0 GB%, 2.77 ERA (142 ERA+), 3.26 FIP. Much of his success is attributed to his borderline sidearm delivery, as Triggs hides the ball well and pounds the bottom of the strike zone.

There is a discrepancy in reports as to what Triggs actually throws. Scouts speak of his upper-80s sinker (or two-seamer), mid-80s cutter, and low-80s slider; PITCHf/x, on the other hand, appears to see that cutter as a slider, and that slider as a curveball. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, as Triggs throws several different pitches from the sort of arm angle that can screw with the eye test and PITCHf/x.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/21) – 5.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 3 BB, 7 K

The Bullpen

The A’s bullpen is 26th in baseball in ERA+, with closer Santiago Casilla leading the way with a 4.67 ERA (86 ERA+). Set-up man Ryan Madson and lefty specialist Daniel Coulombe have been highly effective in their roles, but most everyone else is struggling or hurt (or both). They should be fairly well-rested, though, thanks to an off-day Thursday and a light workload on Wednesday.

Yankees Connection

Reliever John Axford pitched in the Yankees organization in 2007, tossing 63 IP with a 3.29 ERA over stops at Staten Island, Tampa, Charleston, and Scranton/Wilkes Barre. The Yankees released him after that season (his 6.4 BB/9 may’ve played a role in that), and he latched on with the Brewers. He’s carved out a decent career are a sometimes-closer, accumulating 144 saves over parts of nine seasons. Axford has also dabbled in some sweet facial hair.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Triggs’ delivery is unique among starting pitchers, coming as close to sidearm as one can get without being labeled as such, and that bears watching just so you can wonder how he can possibly succeed with such an awkward throwing motion. Alonso is worth checking out, too, so that you can decide for yourself how this guy had never reached double-digit home runs before.