Sonny Gray must get his control back on track for the Yankees to have a chance in Game Four

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Last week, when the Yankees lined up their ALCS rotation, they opted to start trade deadline pickup Sonny Gray in Game Four even though he started Game One of the ALDS and could’ve started Game One of the ALCS. The Yankees had Gray throw an extended three-inning simulated game on Thursday to stay sharp, though he’s still going 12 days between postseason appearances.

There are a few reasons the Yankees lined up their ALCS rotation the way they did. One, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino are their two best pitchers — Severino because of the way he’s thrown all year, Tanaka because of the way he’s thrown lately — and they wanted them going up against Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander in Games One and Two. Two, the Yankees trust CC Sabathia in a Game Seven situation, so they lined him up for that start.

And three, Gray has simply not pitched all that well lately. His first eight starts in pinstripes went great, as he threw 50.2 innings with a 2.66 ERA (4.14 FIP). Gray’s final three regular season starts did not go well (7.36 ERA and 7.38 FIP), and in his ALDS start, he allowed three runs in 3.1 innings before getting the hook. The problem, again, was his control. Gray walked four and struck out two in that ALDS start. In his last four starts, and he has 14 walks and 12 strikeouts in 18 innings. Yikes.

For the 2017 season overall, Gray had an 8.4% walk rate, which was essentially league average (8.5%) and just a tick above his career rate (7.9%). As the season progressed though, his walk rate kept climbing.

sonny-gray-walk-rate

Hmmm. Why has Gray been walking more batters lately, particularly in his last four starts? That’s tough to answer from here, and it could be a combination of many things. His mechanics are out of whack. He’s hiding an injury. Giving up home runs at Yankee Stadium scared him out of the strike zone. He’s trying to be way too precise in an effort to impress his new teammates and coaching staff and fans. Who knows?

The walks themselves aren’t the only problem. Gray has been falling behind in the count a lot as well lately, which puts hitters on the advantage. During these last four starts Gray has faced 86 batters, and by my count, 21 saw a hitter friendly 2-0 or 3-1 count, and more than a few of those 21 saw a 2-0 count and a 3-1 count in the same at-bat. Gray went to a 2-0 or 3-1 count on 17.0% of batters faced during the regular season. The MLB average is 17.1%. Over these last four starts, Gray is at 24.4%.

From watching him pitch over the years — not just with the Yankees, but with the A’s as well — Gray is the type of pitcher who doesn’t need to hit his spots perfectly to get good results. He has good velocity and everything he throws moves, helping him avoid the barrel. Gray can aim for a quadrant of the strike zone, let it rip, and let his natural movement do the work. Being precise with all that movement can be difficult.

Whatever the cause of these walks and recent control problems, this much is clear: the Astros won’t let those free baserunners go unpunished. Well, that’s not necessarily true. The Yankees did walk eight batters in Game Three last night and only one scored. (For real.) I just wouldn’t count on that happening again, giving the Astros so many free passes and escaping unscathed. As good as New York’s pitching has been in the ALCS, Houston’s lineup feels like a sleeping giant.

Now, this isn’t to say Gray should just fire it in there middle-middle to avoid walks, because that’ll create a completely different set of problems. But continuing to fall behind in the count and either walking people or going 2-0 and 3-1 is a recipe for trouble. We’ve seen it in Gray’s last four starts and the stakes are a lot higher now. To keep the Astros in check, Sonny has to attack and stay in the strike zone, something he’s done throughout his career, just not lately.

Tanaka, Severino, Sabathia will start Games 1-3 of ALCS

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Earlier this evening, the Yankees announced Masahiro Tanaka will start Game One of the ALCS tomorrow night in Houston. He will be followed, in order, by Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, and Sonny Gray.

Here are the pitching matchups for ALCS:

  • Game One: Tanaka vs. Dallas Keuchel
  • Game Two: Severino vs. Justin Verlander
  • Game Three: Sabathia vs. TBA
  • Games Four: Gray vs. TBA

Both Tanaka and Severino will be on normal rest for their first ALCS starts. The Yankees trusted Sabathia with their ALDS Game Five start and, if the ALCS goes seven games, he’d get the ball in Game Seven as well. Gray has had some walk problems lately, so it’s not too much of a surprise the Yankees are pushing him back.

I thought maybe the Yankees would try to push Tanaka back to Game Three so he could pitch at home given his big home-road splits, but I’m glad they didn’t. Does Tanaka give you the best chance to win Game One given the available options (Tanaka, Gray, or Severino on short rest)? Yes, he does. Then start him.

As for Gray, his Game Four start will come 12 days after starting Game One of the ALDS. Joe Girardi said Gray will throw a three-inning simulated game today to stay sharp, and it’ll also allow him to work on anything. That means he won’t be available in relief in Games One or Two, however. Gray can’t go 12 days between throwing though. The simulated game is a must.

The Tanaka vs. Keuchel game is of course a rematch of the 2015 Wild Card Game. That one didn’t go so well for the Yankees. Not because of Tanaka specifically — he allowed two runs in five innings in that game, which isn’t terrible — just in general. The 2017 Yankees are better than the 2015 Yankees, thankfully.

Yankeemetrics: Kings of the Comeback (Wild Card & ALDS)

(AP)
(AP)

Wild, wild win
From a nightmare start to a very happy ending, the Yankees used their relentless power bats to overcome a debacle on the mound in a crazy Wild Card Game victory. With the win, the Yankees snapped a five-game postseason losing streak, which was tied for the second-longest in franchise history.

Luis Severino produced one of the worst playoff starts ever, becoming the third starter in franchise history to give up three or more runs while getting pulled before recording two outs in a postseason game. The others were Art Ditmar in the 1960 World Series and Bob Turley in the 1958 World Series.

Down 3-0 before even swinging a bat and your ace is in the showers? No big deal for this Yankees team: they had the second-most wins when their opponent scored first during the regular season (36). Yet still, this victory was nearly unprecedented in major-league history. Only once before had a team won a postseason game in which their starter lasted 1/3 of an inning and allowed at least three earned runs – the Pirates in Game 7 of the 1925 World Series against the Washington Senators.

The game quickly became a battle of the bullpens and the relief crew responded with a historic performance. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman allowed just one run while striking out 13, the most strikeouts ever by a bullpen in a winner-take-all playoff contest.

Robertson’s epic outing deserves a couple #FunFacts. He’s the first Yankee reliever to throw at least 3 1/3 scoreless innings and strike out five guys in the playoffs since Mariano Rivera in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS, and just the third reliever in major-league postseason history do that in a winner-take-all game. The other two? Pedro Martinez (1999 ALDS) and Walter Johnson (1924 World Series).

Aaron Judge put an exclamation point on the comeback with a two-run laser shot into the leftfield seats that gave the Yankees a 7-4 cushion in the fourth. Adding to his ever-growing legendary rookie campaign, he became the youngest player in franchise history to go deep in his first career postseason game. Judge also became the second-youngest Yankee to homer in a sudden-death playoff win; the other dude was a 20-year-old Mickey Mantle in Game 7 of the 1952 World Series. #NotClutch

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Overmatched in Cleveland
The Yankees offense was a complete no-show in Game 1 of the Division Series as they were dominated from start to finish by the AL’s best team. Not only were they blanked, 4-0, but they had only three hits, the seventh postseason game all-time that the Yankees were shut out on three hits or fewer.

Adding in the 14 strikeouts, and the Yankees entered the MLB record books – in the worst possible way. This was the fifth time in major-league playoff history that a team scored zero runs, had no more than three hits and struck out at least 14 times. The Yankees are the owners of two of the five games: Thursday night and 2010 ALCS Game 3 vs Rangers. Welp.

Trevor Bauer used his nasty fastball-curve combo to throw one of the most dominant playoff pitching performances ever against this franchise. Bauer, Pedro Martinez (1999 ALCS Game 3) and Cliff Lee (2010 ALCS Game 3) are the only starters to allow no runs and two hits or fewer while striking out at least eight Yankees in a postseason game.

While the Yankees bats went M.I.A., Sonny Gray was a mess on the mound. He really struggled with his command, issuing four walks, hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch. Only one other Yankee pitcher crammed all that into a single playoff appearance: Jack McDowell in the 1995 ALDS.

Even worse, Gray gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series with this #NotFunFact: only one other starter in major-league postseason history walked four guys, hit a guy and tossed a wild pitch while pitching fewer than four innings: Ramon Ortiz (Angels) in the 2002 ALDS … against the Yankees.

(Getty)
(Getty)

No challenge, no win
Speechless.

The Yankees have suffered plenty of heart-breaking and frustrating losses this season, yet somehow Game 2 managed to top them all, zooming to first place in the W.L.O.T.S. (Worst Loss of the Season) standings. How improbable was this loss?

  • The five-run blown lead was tied for their second-largest in the postseason; the last time they gagged a five-run lead in the playoffs was the 2002 ALDS (Game 3) against the Angels. And it was the first time ever the Indians erased a deficit of five-plus runs to win a playoff game.
  • Scoring eight runs, fueled by three homers, should have been enough offense to win this game. Before Friday’s loss, the Yankees were 14-0 all-time in the postseason when scoring at least eight runs and going deep three times in a game.
  • It was just the second time the Yankees lost a postseason game on the road in the 13th inning or later. It’s probably best to not mention the other one (Game 5 of 2004 ALCS vs. the Red Sox). Sorry.

And still, sometimes, baseball is predictable. This was the third extra-inning playoff contest between these two teams — and the Yankees have now lost all three.

Obviously the major pivot point of the game was the non-challenge by Joe Girardi in the sixth inning. Before we get to the numbers, Girardi’s non-challenge was clearly an inexcusable mistake given the circumstances. Anyways, here’s a couple stats related to the at-bat.

First, Chad Green had faced 190 left-handed batters in his career entering Game 2, and had hit exactly one of them (Chris Davis last year). And Francisco Lindor’s grand slam was the first extra-base hit that Green had allowed with the bases loaded in his career. Second, the Yankees challenged six hit-by-pitch calls in the regular season, which was the most of any team (they ranked 13th in total challenges with 42). And overall, the Yankees 75 percent success rate on all challenged plays this season was the best in the majors.

Now that The Ugly chapter of this game has been written, let’s finish off with The Good. Remember, the Yankees pummeled the likely AL Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, for six runs and seven hits. Gary Sanchez kick-started the offense with a two-run homer in the first inning. The 24-year-old is the youngest Yankee catcher to homer in a postseason (a 22-year-old Yogi Berra homered in the 1947 World Series as a pinch-hitter).

Aaron Hicks then sent Kluber to the showers with a three-run bomb in the third inning that put the Yankees ahead 6-3. That gave us a nice #FunFact: he joined Bernie Williams and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankee centerfielders to hit a tie-breaking, multi-run homer in the playoffs.

Finally, Greg Bird extended the lead to 8-3 with a towering shot to rightfield in the fifth. Bird and Sanchez became the second set of Yankee teammates under age 25 to homer in a postseason game. Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller also did it in Game 3 of the 1939 World Series.

(Getty)
(Getty)

It ain’t over ’til …
The Yankees staved off elimination with a dramatic 1-0 win in Game 3 on Sunday night, showing off their Fighting Spirit once again in this rollercoaster, never-say-die season.

It was the sixth 1-0 win in franchise postseason history and the third in a potential elimination game (also 2001 ALDS Game 3 and 1962 World Series Game 7). Their only other 1-0 playoff win in the Bronx was in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series against the Dodgers.

In contrast to the rest of this run-happy postseason, Game 3 was a classic – and unprecedented – pitchers duel. It was the first postseason game in major-league history where each starter allowed zero runs, no more than three hits and had at least five strikeouts.

Masahiro Tanaka delivered an ace-like performance for the Yankees, carving up the Indians lineup with his nasty, dive-bombing splitter and late-breaking slider. Considering the magnitude of the game, Tanaka’s gem becomes even more impressive and historic. A worthy #FunFact for our ‘Hiro: he is the first Yankee pitcher ever to toss at least seven scoreless innings, strike out seven-or-more guys and give up three hits or fewer in a potential postseason elimination contest.

Aroldis Chapman also came through in the clutch with a white-knuckle, five-out save to seal the win. Since saves became official in 1969, the only other pitcher in baseball history to record a save of at least five outs in a 1-0 win with his team facing postseason elimination was Mariano Rivera in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS.

As brilliant as Tanaka and Chapman were, the Yankees couldn’t have won the game without the heroics of Greg Bird and his solo homer in the seventh off Andrew Miller. Two other Yankees have gone deep in the seventh inning or later of a postseason contest to break a 0-0 tie — Tommy Henrich in the 1949 World Series (Game 1) and Charlie Keller in the 1939 World Series (Game 4).

Finally, another #FunFact for the Birdman: he is the first player in major-league history to snap a 0-0 tie with a homer in the seventh inning or later and his team on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Stayin’ Alive
The never-say-die Yankees forced a winner-take-all Game 5 with a convincing 7-3 win at the Stadium on Monday night. The Yankees broke out of their mini-offensive slump with seven runs and were helped out by a sloppy Indians defense that led to six of them being unearned. This was just the second postseason game where a Yankee opponent allowed six or more unearned runs; the other was in Game 2 of the 1960 World Series against the Pirates.

Gary Sanchez added an insurance run in the sixth inning with a solo drive to right-center for his second homer of the postseason. Power-hitting young catchers shining in October is special; only four other backstops under age 25 have hit multiple homers in a single playoffs: Johnny Bench (1970, ’72), Javy Lopez (1995), Brian McCann (2005) and Yadier Molina (2006).

While the offensive fireworks were cool, the star of this game was Luis Severino. He bounced back from his disastrous Wild Card game outing with seven superb and gutty innings. Sevy is the second-youngest Yankee with nine strikeouts in any postseason game (trailing 22-year-old Dave Righetti in the 1981 ALDS). And he is only the fourth pitcher – of any age – in franchise history to win a potential elimination game while striking out at least nine guys. CC Sabathia (2012 ALDS Game 5), Bob Turley (1958 World Series Game 5) and Vic Raschi (1952 World Series Game 6) are the others.

(Getty)
(Getty)

#LoveThisTeam
The Yankees are Kings of the Improbable Comeback, winning Game 5 to become the 10th team in baseball history to overcome a two-games-to-zero deficit in a best-of-five series. Combined with their similar rally in the 2001 ALDS against the A’s, they joined the Red Sox as the only franchises to achieve this incredible feat twice.

Making this amazing victory even more impressive is that it came against a 102-win Indians club that was the AL’s best in the regular season. The Yankees are now 9-2 in postseason series against 100-plus-win teams, and their only losses were to the Reds in the 1976 World Series and the Cardinals in the 1942 World Series.

They’ve been at their best with their backs against the wall this entire season and especially in the playoffs, improving to 4-0 in potential elimination games and 2-0 in winner-take-all games in this postseason. It is the first time in franchise history they’ve won four games when facing elimination in a single postseason, and the first time they’ve won multiple winner-take-all games in a single postseason.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Didi Gregorius had a performance for the ages, lighting up the scoreboard early and often, with a solo homer in the opening frame and then going deep again in the third inning. He joined Jason Giambi (2003 ALCS Game 7) and Yogi Berra (1956 World Series Game 7) as the only Yankees with multiple homers in a winner-take-all postseason game. And … he’s the first shortstop in franchise history to go yard twice in any playoff game.

While Didi provided the power, Brett Gardner brought the grit. He won a grueling 12-pitch battle with Cody Allen in the ninth inning, lacing an RBI single into right field to give the Yankees a three-run cushion with three outs to go. Remarkably, it was the longest at-bat of his career that G.G.B.G. ended with a hit.

CC Sabathia was lights-out through four innings before getting into trouble in the fifth, but still finished with nine strikeouts. That matched his career postseason high that he set in the deciding Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS. Sabathia is just the fourth pitcher in major-league history to whiff at least nine guys in a winner-take-all game twice in his career. The others? Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and Justin Verlander.

Aroldis Chapman sealed the win with two near-perfect innings and entered the record books with this remarkable #FunFact: He is the first pitcher in postseason history to save a winner-take-all game by throwing at least two hitless innings and striking out four or more guys.

************
We will see you Friday night!

Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia will start first two games of ALDS

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Following tonight’s optional workout at Progressive Field, Joe Girardi announced Sonny Gray and CC Sabathia will start Game One and Game Two of the ALDS, in that order. They did not announce the rotation beyond that.

Not much of a surprise Gray is starting Game One. He’d been lined up for that game for a little while now. Sabathia starting Game Two over Masahiro Tanaka seems to be based on home-road splits (and overall performance).

Sabathia at home: 4.20 ERA (4.54 FIP)
Sabathia on the road: 3.18 ERA (4.33 FIP)

Tanaka at home: 3.22 ERA (3.45 FIP)
Tanaka on the road: 6.48 ERA (5.35 FIP)

Luis Severino threw only 29 pitches in last night’s dud outing, and my guess is the Yankees did not announce their rotation beyond Game Two because they are considering using him in relief in Game One. If they need him in Game One — their bullpen will be short tomorrow — he won’t start until Game Four. If he isn’t need in Game One, then he’ll go in Game Three. We’ll see.

Gray will be opposed by Trevor Bauer, not Corey Kluber, in Game One. Sabathia will face Kluber in Game Two. That’ll be all sorts of fun. Current Indians ace vs. former Indians ace.

Update (8:47pm ET): Girardi announced Tanaka will start Game Three and Severino will start Game Four. Severino is not a bullpen option in Game One, apparently. Hmmm.

Yankeemetrics: Rounding third, heading home (Sept. 25-28)

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

The Dinger King
The Yankees returned to the Bronx on Monday and kicked off the final week of the season with a sweet 11-3 rout of the Royals. They improved to 17-0 in games decided by at least eight runs, a typical blowout for this year’s club. The Yankees have the most wins by that margin in the majors, and are the only team that hasn’t suffered a loss by eight or more runs.

Aaron Judge stole the statistical spotlight as he enjoyed a record-breaking day at the Stadium. He clubbed his 49th and 50th homers of the season, not only becoming MLB’s all-time rookie home run king, but also etching his name alongside a bunch of franchise legends and some of baseball’s most iconic players. Let’s recap a few of his other incredible feats:

  • Fifth player in franchise history to hit 50-plus homers, a group that includes A-Rod (2007), Roger Maris (1961), Mickey Mantle (twice) and Babe Ruth (four times)
  • Joined Mantle (1956) and Ruth (1920) as the only Yankees with seven multi-homer games in a season at age 25 or younger
  • With his 12th and 13th homers in September, he became the youngest Yankee to go deep 13 times in a calendar month since a 25-year-old Maris had 14 in June 1960.
  • Coming off his two-homer effort on Sunday, Judge became the first rookie in franchise history with back-to-back multi-homer games
  • He also got his 120th walk, making him just the second player in major-league history to hit 50 homers and walk 120 times in a season before the age of 26. The other? That Ruth dude in 1920.
(AP)
(AP)

While Judge hogged the headlines, a couple other Baby Bombers helped turn this game into a rout with both Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez adding to their 2017 homer totals. It was the first time in the majors that Judge, Sanchez and Bird each went yard in the same game.

And let’s not forget about the old guy on the mound, CC “The Stopper” Sabathia. After cruising through six scoreless innings, he coughed up a couple homers in the seventh but still finished with a win and a bare-minimum quality start. More impressively, he’s now 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 11 games following a Yankee loss, the best record and lowest ERA of any MLB pitcher with at least seven such starts this season.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Another win, another clinching
After beating the Rays on Tuesday, the Yankees locked down homefield advantage for the Wild Card game next week. Aaron Hicks was activated from the disabled list in the morning, inserted into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact with a spectacular grand-slam-saving catch in the first inning. Even Hicks was amazed by the jaw-dropping home run robbery:

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

Aaron Judge didn’t homer but still contributed with an RBI double and scored his 125th run of the season. He joined Ted Williams (1939) and Joe DiMaggio (1936) as the only players in MLB history with at least 100 RBIs and 125 runs in their rookie campaigns.

Gary Sanchez also reached a nice round number, notching his 90th RBI of the year on a bloop single in the eighth. He’s the youngest American League catcher (primary position) to drive in at least 90 runs in a season since a 24-year-old Yogi Berra in 1949.

On the mound, Jordan Montgomery delivered his second straight gem, holding the Rays to one run over six solid innings. After allowing seven homers in his first eight home starts, he’s kept the ball in the park in each of his last six home starts dating back to July. How impressive that? The only Yankee with a longer single-season streak of homerless starts at the current Yankee Stadium is CC Sabathia in 2011. And through Wednesday, he was the only pitcher in the majors that had pitched at least 30 innings at home since the All-Star break and hadn’t given up a longball in his own stadium.

(USA Today)
(USA Today)

#TooManyHomers
A late-September Home Run Derby broke out in the Bronx on Wednesday as the Yankees enjoyed a 6-1 win backed by three homers and another masterful performance by Luis Severino. It improved their record to 18-7 this month, their most September wins since they went 19-9 in 2009 en route to … World Series title No. 27.

Amidst the offensive fireworks, the star of the game was the team’s 23-year-old ace. Severino rebounded from a poor start against the Twins last week to produce another typical dominant outing – nine strikeouts and one run allowed in six sharp innings – in the final performance of his historic 2017 campaign.

It was the 16th time this year he surrendered no more than one run, the most such starts in the majors, and the most by any Yankee since Mike Mussina also had 16 in 2001. He’s also youngest AL pitcher with 16 starts of one run or fewer in a season since Vida Blue in 1971, and the youngest right-hander in either league to reach that mark since a 21-year-old Dwight Gooden in 1985.

The nine strikeouts gave him 230, matching CC Sabathia (2011) for the third-highest single-season total in franchise history; the two guys ahead of him are Ron Guidry (248 in 1978) and Hall-of-Famer Jack Chesbro (239 in 1904). Oh, and Chesbro’s 1904 season is mind-boggling in the context of today’s pitching environment: he threw 454 innings while setting modern-era records in games started (51), wins (41) and complete games (48)!

Severino also lowered his ERA to 2.98, becoming the first Yankee to qualify for the ERA title with a sub-3.00 ERA since David Cone and Andy Pettitte in 1997, and the youngest to do it since Dave Righetti in 1981. Combined with his 230 strikeouts, and Sevvy is in some pretty elite company:

The last American League pitcher with 230 or more strikeouts and an ERA below 3.00 in his age-23 season or younger was Roger Clemens in 1986, the year he captured his first Cy Young award and the league MVP.

(AP)
(AP)

#NotEnoughHomers
The Yankees road to October hit a speedbump with a deflating 9-6 loss in the series finale. Let’s recap this rollercoaster-like game with a Yankeemetrics-style of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Ugly
Handed a 4-1 lead, Sonny Gray imploded in the fifth inning, surrendering five runs in the frame (six overall) before getting pulled with two outs. It was definitely not the way he wanted to cap off his regular season in the Bronx. Following the disaster outing, his final three starts at Yankee Stadium look like this: 15 2/3 innings, 15 runs, 17 hits, six homers.

The Bad:
Normally a dinger party equals a Yankee win, but somehow the Bronx Bombers managed to snatch defeat from a near-certain victory. Prior to Thursday, they were 13-0 when hitting at least four homers in a game this season, the second-best record in MLB. The last game they lost despite going deep four times was August 22, 2016 at Seattle, and their last such defeat at Yankee Stadium was more than two years ago on June 23, 2015 versus the Phillies.

The Good:
The offense got off to a fast start when Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge opened the game with back-to-back homers, the first Yankee duo to do that since Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter on April 16, 2012 against the Twins. Greg Bird invited himself to the power party with a fourth-inning solo blast, his eighth homer and 23rd RBI in 26 games since coming off the DL. By the way, that’s a 162-game pace of 49 homers and 143 RBIs.

And with his first-inning blast, Judge continued his destruction of the record books:

  • 32nd longball at The Stadium this year, tying Babe Ruth — who hit 32 at the Polo Grounds in 1921 — for the most homers hit at home in a season in franchise history.
  • 14th homer this month, the first Yankee to go deep 14 times in September since Ruth set the major-league record for September home runs with 17 in 1927.
  • The only other right-handed batters to wear pinstripes and hit 14 homers in any calendar month were A-Rod (April 2007) and Joe DiMaggio (twice).
  • 8th straight game with extra-base hit, the longest streak by Yankee rookie in the last 100 years

Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Although the Yankees are still mathematically alive in the AL East race, odds are they will go to the postseason as a wildcard team, and odds are they will host the Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have already punched their postseason ticket. Once the Red Sox clinch the AL East and the Twins clinch the second wildcard spot, everything will be set.

The Wild Card Game is, technically, its own postseason round. Teams set their 25-man Wild Card Game roster, then can make adjustments prior to the LDS. That leads to some unique roster construction. Why carry four or five starting pitchers for one game, for example? I’m a bit surprised MLB didn’t try eliminate that Wild Card Game roster rule. Or maybe they did try and were unsuccessful. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees carried 16 position players and nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. For real. Like I said, there are better ways to use those last few roster spots than carrying extra starting pitchers. The Yankees are not guaranteed to follow the 16 position players and nine pitchers blueprint again, but it does give us an idea what to expect in advance of the Wild Card Game next Tuesday.

So, with that Wild Card Game now six days away, I figured this would be a good time to try to piece together the 25-man roster the Yankees could use for that winner-take-all affair. Really stinks the Yankees are going to win 90-ish games then have to play in that Wild Card Game, huh? Oh well. Can’t do anything about it. Let’s take a look at the potential Wild Card Game roster.

The Locks

This is the easiest group, so we might as well start here. These are the 18 players we all know will be on the Wild Card Game roster as long as they’re healthy.

Pretty straightforward, right? Right. I’m as annoyed by Dellin’s walks as much as anyone, but they’re not leaving him off the Wild Card Game roster in favor of … Chasen Shreve? Jonathan Holder? Ben Heller? Gio Gallegos? Another starter? Yeah, no. These 18 dudes will be on the Wild Card Game roster.

Locks, If Healthy

Aaron Hicks (oblique) returned last night and Adam Warren (back) is expected back soon. At one point earlier this season it seemed Hicks would start the Wild Card Game, maybe even hit first or second, but not anymore. The injury and Jacoby Ellsbury’s late season resurgence put an end to that. He’ll be on the Wild Card Game roster as the fourth outfielder though, as long as he’s healthy. Warren will of course be on the roster as well. Again, as long as he’s healthy. Health is the only reason these two wouldn’t be on the Wild Card Game roster. They’re on, so add them to the locks and that’s already 20 players.

The Extra Starters

Like I said, the Yankees carried only nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. That’s typical. It’s one game, not a series, so there’s no need to carry all five starters. The Yankees figure to carry the scheduled starter (duh), a backup starter in case the scheduled starter is unable to go for whatever reason (hurt during warmups, sick before the game, etc.), and an extra starter should things go crazy in extra innings. Three starters seems like the right amount to me.

Severino is on track to start the Wild Card Game with one extra day of rest. That’s the easy part. Who backs him up? That will depend as much on the pitching schedule as anything. Whoever starts the final regular season game Sunday won’t be on the Wild Card Game roster Tuesday, for example. Right now, Sonny Gray lines up to pitch the day of the Wild Card Game on normal rest and Jordan Montgomery is on track to pitch that day with two extra days of rest. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, meanwhile, would be on short rest that day.

Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because of the schedule, Gray and Montgomery seem like the obvious candidates to be the backup starters behind Severino. I suppose Jaime Garcia could be in the mix given how he dominated the Twins last week, though I think that’s unlikely. The Yankees could always call an audible and change the rotation this week, but that would surprise me. They’ll have their best ready to go in Severino. Assuming Warren is healthy, Severino plus Gray and Montgomery gets the Yankees to nine pitchers and 22 players on the roster overall.

The Final Bench Spots

The 12 locks plus a hopefully healthy Hicks gets the Yankees to 13 position players, leaving three open spots should the Yankees again go the 16 position players plus nine pitchers route. Realistically, there are five candidates for those three roster spots: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, Erik Kratz, and Tyler Wade. Garrett Cooper didn’t even get a September call-up, so I he’s not a postseason roster candidate. Ditto Kyle Higashioka.

I think Austin is on the postseason roster for sure. He’d give Joe Girardi a right-handed power bat on bench and, just as importantly, a backup first baseman should Bird (or Headley) get lifted for a pinch-runner. You don’t want to give up the DH or have to play Holliday at first base in the Wild Card Game. Austin’s righty power and ability to play first base (and right field in a pinch) seems pretty clearly worth a Wild Card Game roster spot in my opinion. Easy call.

Wade, even though he basically never plays, strikes me as someone who has a leg up on a Wild Card Game roster spot as well. He’d give the Yankees coverage all around the infield and can play left field in a pinch as well. Also, he can run. Crazy fast. Maybe the Yankees don’t consider him a designated pinch-runner option — they didn’t acquire that player this September — but still, the situation could present itself, and Wade is the closest thing the Yankees have to a true burner available. I think he’s on the roster as the 24th or 25th player.

Frazier’s roster fate could be tied to Hicks. If Hicks re-injures the oblique or simply can’t get going these next few days, Frazier would be the obvious candidate to serve as the fourth outfielder in the Wild Card Game. I love Frazier, but I’m really hoping Hicksie is on that Wild Card Game roster. He’s such a weapon when right. The Yankees could always carry Hicks and Frazier, in which case Frazier’s role would be extra righty bat, fifth outfielder, and potential pinch-runner. Frazier is low key fast as hell. That could come in handy at some point during a close game.

The Yankees don’t trust Andujar’s defense at third base right now — they’ve made that clear given how little he’s played there so far — and he can’t play any other positions, so he doesn’t have much to offer in the Wild Card Game. He’d be an extra righty bat and emergency third baseman. That’s it. Kratz? Don’t be surprised if he’s on the roster. The Yankees carried three catchers in the 2015 Wild Card Game — Sanchez, who had two September at-bats in 2015, was on the Wild Card Game roster that year — and they could do so again, just for an emergency. You know we’re in for at least one Wild Card Game roster surprise, right? Right.

If Hicks and Warren are healthy enough to make the Wild Card Game roster, and it sure looks like that’ll be the case, I think those final three position player spots wind up going to Austin, Kratz, and Wade. Austin hits, Wade fields and can run, and Kratz is there for peace of mind. Here’s a recap of the 25-man roster we’ve talked out in this post:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Starters Relievers
Sanchez Bird Austin Severino (SP) Betances
Romine Castro Ellsbury Gray Chapman
Kratz Frazier Gardner Montgomery Green
Gregorius Hicks Kahnle
DH Headley Judge Robertson
Holliday Torreyes  Wade Warren

Austin and Wade are more utility players than true outfielders, but I stuck them in the outfield section for easy table building purposes. The Twins are going to start a right-hander no matter what in the Wild Card Game — the only lefty in their rotation is up-and-down depth guy Adalberto Mejia, and he sure as heck isn’t starting that game — so I imagine Bird will be in the starting lineup and Holliday will not. Holliday has been pretty terrible against righties lately.

The Yankees, of course, don’t want to use their 25-man roster in the Wild Card Game. They’d like to stick with their nine starting position players and three, maybe four pitchers, tops. That would be the ideal Wild Card Game scenario. The rules say you have to carry a 25-man roster though, and you knows, maybe those 23rd and 24th and 25th players on the roster end up being a factor. No one plans for it to happen that way, but baseball can be weird sometimes.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome to October (Sept. 22-24)

(AP)
(AP)

Bad News Yankees
Instead of building on the positive momentum from their sweep of the Twins early in the week, the Yankees opened their weekend series in Toronto with a mistake-filled blowout loss, 8-1, to the Blue Jays.

This road trip north of the border has been a nightmare for the Bombers in recent years. Following Friday’s defeat, they guaranteed themselves yet another season-series loss in Canada. The last time the Yankees had a winning record at the Rogers Centre was 2009.

Much of the blame for this embarrassing loss falls on the brutal performance by Masahiro Tanaka. Terrible Tanaka was in peak form as he coughed up eight runs (seven earned) on six hits, three of which cleared the fences. Here’s a quickish recap of the ugly numbers after his latest disaster outing:

  • 35 homers allowed are tied with Phil Hughes (2012) for the second-most in Yankees history, behind Ralph Terry’s 40 in 1962. Oh, how times have changed: Terry was an All-Star, started 39 games, threw 298 2/3 innings and even got a few MVP votes that season, while Tanaka is at 29 starts and 177 1/3 innings.
  • Five games with three or more homers allowed leads MLB this season, and is tied with Catfish Hunter (1977) for the most in a season in Yankees history.
  • Five games with at least seven earned runs matches the most in a season by any Yankee pitcher, a mark he shares with A.J. Burnett (2010) and Red Ruffing (1934). Remember, folks, Tanaka had never given up more than six earned runs in any of his 75 career starts entering this year.

The final pitch he threw was a hanging 0-2 slider with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, that Ryan Goins drilled into the seats in right-center. It was the second grand slam he’s surrendered this year, and – you guessed it – he had never given one up prior to 2017. Even worse is the fact that Goins was 0-for-22 against Tanaka entering that at-bat, and had never even hit a flyball or line drive in his career against him!

Finally, there’s this stat that sums up Tanaka’s Jekyll-and-Hyde 2017 campaign: Through Friday, he was the only pitcher in MLB this season that had five games with at least three homers allowed. He was also the only pitcher in the majors that had thrown multiple games with at least 13 strikeouts and no walks.

Aaron Judge was a one-man offensive machine, producing the team’s only run and two of their three hits. His 469-foot booming shot into the second deck in the first inning was the longest homer at the Rogers Centre this season, and tied for his second-longest of the season. Through Friday, he was the only player in baseball to hit three homers of 469-plus feet this year.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

The clinching
It’s official. The Yankees punched their ticket to the postseason party with a comeback win, 5-1, on Saturday afternoon.

It was fitting that the clinching victory came in a game where the Yankees had to rally, after the Blue Jays took a 1-0 lead in the third inning. This was the Yankees 34th win when their opponent scored first, tied for the most in the majors through Saturday.

Sonny Gray tossed six strong innings and limited Toronto to one run on four hits, as he continued his six-week stretch of gutty performances on the road. It was his ninth road start in a row with two earned runs or fewer allowed, the longest streak among AL pitchers this season.

Greg Bird earned the hero’s cape when he golfed a 91-mph cutter into the right-field seats in the fifth inning, putting the Yankees ahead 3-1. Bird is no stranger to delivering big hits: eight of his 17 career homers have given the Yankees the lead. Among Yankees with at least 10 home runs since Bird’s debut in 2015, his “go-ahead homer percentage” of 47.1% is the second-best, trailing only … Jacoby Ellsbury (47.8%)!

We’ll also give Bird our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: This was the second time he’s hit a clutch homer on the road against the Blue Jays; the only other Yankee first basemen with multiple go-ahead homers in Toronto are Jason Giambi and Don Mattingly.

[Because this is a stats post, I’ll note that Aaron Judge reached the 200-strikeout mark in the first inning, breaking the rookie record set by Kris Bryant in 2015. I’ll also mention that Bryant won the Rookie of the Year Award that season.]

(Getty)
(Getty)

The post-clinching
Less than 24 hours after a rousing playoff-clinching victory, the Yankees played like they were still hung over from the late-night celebration. Not only did they lose the rubber game of the series, but the loss also gave them a disappointing 40-41 record on the road this season as they head home for the final week of games.

This is the second year in a row they’ve been below .500 away from the Bronx, the first time in more than two decades they’ve done that. The last time it happened came during the dark ages, a seven-season stretch of road mediocrity from 1987-93.

Jaime Garcia put the Yankees in an early hole, giving up a home run to Teoscar Hernandez on the second pitch he threw. It was the 10th lead-off bomb the Yankees have surrendered this season, the most they’ve ever allowed in a single season in franchise history.

Garcia remains winless in eight starts as a Yankee, tied for the second-longest such streak by any pitcher to begin his pinstriped career over the last 100 seasons. The only longer streak belongs to Steve Trout, who failed to get a win in his first nine starts after a mid-season trade in 1987.

To say that Garcia lacked command would be an understatement. Not only did he throw a wild pitch and walk three of the 14 batters he faced, but more than half (33 of 60) of his pitches were called balls. His strike percentage of 45 percent is the lowest by any Yankee starter that threw 60-plus pitches in an outing since at least 2000 (as far back as we have complete pitch-by-pitch data).

Once again Aaron Judge was the lone shining star in the lineup, belting his 47th and 48th homers this season. He’s now one shy of the major-league home run rookie record set by Mark McGwire in 1987, and also continued his climb up some impressive franchise leaderboards:

  • The only Yankee right-handed batter to hit more longballs in a season is A-Rod, who hit 54 during his 2007 MVP campaign.
  • The 48 homers are the third-most by a Yankee in his age-25 season or younger, trailing Babe Ruth (54 in 1920) and Mickey Mantle (52 in 1956).
  • At the age of 25 years and 151 days, he is the second-youngest Yankee to reach six multi-homer games in a season, behind a 24-year-old Mickey Mantle in 1956.
  • He now has 11 homers in September, the third time this season he’s hit double-digit longballs in a calendar month. The last Yankee to match that feat was Roger Maris in 1961, who had four months with at least 10 homers during his record-setting 61-homer campaign.