Game 160: Spoilers


Well folks, the Yankees have nothing left but three meaningless games this season. Meaningless to them, that is. The Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention last night, but their opponent this weekend, the Orioles, is still very much alive in the wildcard race. These three games mean everything to them.

Buck Showalter has been taking shots at the Yankees since they parted ways following the 1995 ALDS. He goes out of the way to needle the Yankees every chance he gets. Now the Bombers have a chance to keep Showalter’s team out of the postseason, and gosh, that would be sweet as hell. The Yankees already created some headaches for the Blue Jays and Red Sox this week. Time to do the same for the O’s. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. RF Aaron Hicks
  8. LF Mason Williams
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Michael Pineda

It is cold and windy and rainy in New York. Not exactly baseball weather. There’s rain in the forecast pretty much all night too. Seems like it’s going to be more mist than outright downpour. We’ll see. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. is free this weekend, by the way. Blackouts still apply, however. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: It’s still undecided whether Masahiro Tanaka (forearm) will make his scheduled start tomorrow. He feels fine, but the Yankees may decide not to risk anything since they’re out of the race … Brett Gardner is a bit banged up but is expected to play again before the end of the season … Starlin Castro is out of the lineup essentially as a precaution. The don’t want him on the wet field so soon after his hamstring injury.

News: Luis Severino has been fined for his role in Monday’s benches clearing brawl(s) with the Blue Jays, but he wasn’t suspended. Weird. A.J. Cole just got five games for throwing behind Jung-Ho Kang. Didn’t even hit him. Severino threw behind Justin Smoak then hit him with the next pitch, after benches were warned, yet no suspension. I do not understand. Whatever.

Yankeemetrics: A bittersweet sweep [Sept. 27-29]


Still breathing
The Yankees staved off elimination on Tuesday night with a gutsy 6-4 win in the series opener, keeping their flickering postseason dreams alive, while snapping Boston’s 11-game win streak. This was the third time in the history of this rivalry that the Yankees beat a Red Sox team riding a win streak of more than 10 games; it also happened in 1909 and 1995.

The Baby Bombers carried the team from start to finish, delivering game-changing performances on the mound and at the plate. Luis Cessa pitched six strong innings of two-run ball, while Gary Sanchez opened the scoring with a first-inning two-run bomb and Tyler Austin capped it off with a tie-breaking two-run homer in the seventh.

Sanchez’s 407-foot shot was a historic one, the 20th time he went deep in just 51 MLB games. That matched the fewest career games needed to reach the 20-homer milestone by any major-league player, a mark he shares with outfielder Wally Berger of the 1930 Boston Braves.

He is the 10th rookie catcher in major-league history to hit 20 homers, and is the only Yankee in that group. Each of the other nine players — Wilin Rosario (2012), J.P. Arencibia (2011), Geovany Soto (2008), Mike Piazza (1993), Matt Nokes (1987), Joe Ferguson (1973), Carlton Fisk (1972), Earl Williams (1971), Rudy York (1937) — played at least 100 games during their rookie campaign.

Austin’s power-hitting feats haven’t been as prolific as Sanchez’s, but it’s hard to argue that anyone else’s homers on this team have been as impactful as Austin’s.

Each of his first four homers in the big leagues have given the Yankees a lead, with three of them coming in the seventh inning or later. Through Tuesday, he had more go-ahead, late-inning homers than any other Yankee this season, despite logging time in just 27 games since his call-up in early August.

Didi Gregorius also joined the homer party, ripping his 20th homer of the season into the right field seats to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead in the sixth. He and Starlin Castro are the first middle infielder duo (i.e., primary position is either shortstop or second base) in franchise history to reach the 20-homer milestone in the same season.

David Ortiz, playing his final series at Yankee Stadium, was hitless in five at-bats and whiffed on a 3-2 splitter from Tyler Clippard to end the game, stranding two guys in the ninth inning. This was his 255th career game against the Yankees (including playoffs), but it was the first time that he ever struck out to end the game with the tying run on base.


Refuse to lose
Down to their final out and on the brink of being officially eliminated from the postseason race on Wednesday, the Yankees rose from the dead with a stunning rally in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Red Sox, keeping their microscopic October dreams alive for another 24 hours.

In a season filled with so many heart-pounding victories, the Yankees 82nd win of the season might top them all in terms of the do-or-die circumstances of the game and the sheer miraculous nature of their comeback.

Trailing 3-1 with two outs in the ninth and the bases full, the soon-to-be-retired Mark Teixeira came to the plate and drilled a 99-mph fastball over the fences in center field for a game-ending homer that was historic in so many ways:

  • It was the first regular-season walk-off home run by Teixeira; his 408 career regular season homers entering the game were the most of any player in baseball history who’d never hit a walk-off shot.
  • The pitch was clocked at 98.95 mph, the fastest pitch he’s hit for a home run since July 17, 2009 when he went deep off a 99.0 mph fastball from Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya.
  • It was the ninth walk-off grand slam in franchise history, and the first since A-Rod’s memorable blast against the Orioles on April 7, 2007.
  • Only two other Yankees have ever hit a walk-off homer with the bases loaded against the Red Sox: Charlie Keller on August 12, 1942 and pitcher Red Ruffing on April 14, 1933.
  • Teixeira is the fourth Yankee to hit a walk-off slam with his team trailing at the time. The others are A-Rod, Jason Giambi (May 17, 2002 vs. the Twins) and Babe Ruth (Sept. 24, 1925 vs. the White Sox).
  • Teixeira and A-Rod are the only players in franchise history to hit a two-out, come-from-behind walk-off grand slam.
tex champ belt

Forgotten amid the wild and crazy ending is the fact that this was a classic pitchers duel for much of the night. Bryan Mitchell and Clay Buchholz matched zeroes on the scoreboard, as Mitchell threw seven scoreless innings and allowed two hits while Buchholz gave up one hit over six shutout innings.

It was just the third time since at least 1913 where both starters in a Yankee game went six or more innings, didn’t allow a run and surrendered two or fewer hits. The other two instances were on June 18, 2003 against the Rays (Roger Clemens and Victor Zambrano), and Sept. 20, 1958 against the Orioles (Don Larsen and Hoyt Wilhelm).

Good news, bad news
It was a bittersweet win for the Yankees on Thursday, as they completed the sweep over the Red Sox, but saw their playoff dreams extinguished too thanks to the Orioles beating the Blue Jays earlier in the night. Baltimore’s victory also guaranteed that the Yankees will end the season in fourth place in the AL East, their lowest divisional finish since 1992.

David Ortiz said goodbye to the Yankees after going 0-for-1 with a walk in his two plate appearances in the series finale. His 53 home runs against the Yankees are tied with Hank Greenberg for the fourth-most all-time, and his 31 homers at Yankee Stadium are tied with Mickey Vernon for the second-most ever by a visiting player at the ballpark.

Although he’s tormented them over the past decade-plus, Ortiz went hitless in his final 14 at-bats against the Yankees, matching his longest stretch without a hit in this rivalry (also from Sept. 25, 2009 to April 7, 2010).

Making his 30th and final start of the season, CC Sabathia turned in a stellar performance, holding the Red Sox lineup to one run on four hits in seven-plus dominant innings. He earned his 223rd career win, passing former Mets southpaw Jerry Koosman for sole possession of 17th place among left-handed pitchers on MLB’s all-time wins leaderboard. Looking ahead to 2017, next up on the list of lefties is Whitey Ford, who won 236 games in his 16-season career.

The Yankees are getting power from premium positions to make up for their outfield

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Three years ago the Yankees made a decision to prioritize defense over offense in the outfield. They spent big to sign Jacoby Ellsbury, then a few months later they committed a market value extension to Brett Gardner. Yeah, they also brought in Carlos Beltran to play right field, but the other two outfield spots were occupied to players known more for their gloves and legs than their bats.

Fast forward to today, and things have played out pretty much exactly as expected. Ellsbury and Gardner have declined offensively as they get further into their 30s, meaning their defense is that much more important. Neither is the defender they were three or four years ago either, though I do think both are still comfortably above-average. As planned, it’s defense over offense.

The Ellsbury and Gardner contracts made it clear the Yankees were going to have to get power from their infield, because two of the three starting outfielders weren’t going to hit many balls over the fence. (Ironically enough, Gardner’s power spiked and his 33 homers from 2014-15 were 29th among all outfielders.) That is even more true today, as Ellsbury and Gardner have declined.

Infielders with power — especially middle infielders — can be hard to find, but the Yankees have managed to do it. Didi Gregorius joined the 20-home run club Tuesday night, about three weeks after Starlin Castro did the same thing. The Astros (Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa), Mets (Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker), Nationals (Danny Espinosa, Daniel Murphy), and Rays (Logan Forsythe, Brad Miller) are the only other teams to get 20+ homers from both middle infielders in 2016.

A year ago Didi and Castro combined for 20 homers total — Gregorius hit nine and Castro hit eleven with the Cubs — and now they are able to put up those numbers individually. Sure, Yankee Stadium definitely helps, but these guys are both 26 as well, and entering what should be the best years of their careers. A power spike at this age isn’t uncommon. Also, I’m pretty sure the ball is juiced, so let’s check this out quick:

Castro: 57 ISO+ in 2015, 81 ISO+ in 2016
Gregorius: 50 ISO+ in 2015, 76 ISO+ in 2016

ISO+ is the same basic idea as OPS+. It’s the player’s ISO relative to the league ISO with a park factor applied — I used the handedness park factors at StatCorner — where 100 is league average. Anything lower is below-average and anything higher is below-average.

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

Adjusting for ballpark and the the increase in power around the league, Castro and Gregorius are still below-average power hitters this season. But! Compared to last season, they’ve both made improvements. Castro essentially went from 57% of the league average power output to 81%. Gregorius jumped from 50% to 76%. There’s real development behind their power. It’s not all Yankee Stadium and juiced baseballs.

In addition to the middle infield, the Yankees are also getting a ton of power from their catchers. In fact, they have two catchers with 19+ homers. Again: two catchers with 19+ homers! That’s pretty awesome. The team’s biggest power sources — catcher and middle infield — are positions not normally associated with power, which is a big positive. Going forward, having Gregorius and Castro up the middle with Gary Sanchez behind the plate will be very nice in terms of dinger expectancy.

The problem this season has been the lack of power from other positions. We knew Gardner and Ellsbury weren’t going to hit many home runs, but the Yankees have gotten very little from first base and DH, the two most premium power positions. When it’s all said and done, the Yankees will (probably) miss the postseason this year not because Dellin Betances blew some saves or Chase Headley had a bad April. It’s because Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were complete non-factors.

Hopefully young players like Greg Bird and Aaron Judge can help provide some more pop going forward. Right now the Yankees are getting their power from the middle infield and behind the plate, which is a good building block. It’s also necessary because Gardner and Ellsbury aren’t the hitters they once were, and when you have two defense-first players in the outfield, the offense has to come from somewhere else. The Yankees are starting to get that production from elsewhere.

Game 153: The Final Road Series


The final road series of the season is upon us. Well, I guess the Yankees could make the postseason and play a wildcard game on the road, but they’re basically going to have to run the table for that to happen. I’d be pretty cool with a season-ending ten-game win streak, wouldn’t you? One thing at a time though. Get the win tonight and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Gary Sanchez
  4. 1B Billy Butler
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. RF Aaron Hicks
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Bryan Mitchell

It’s cool and cloudy in Toronto tonight. No idea if the Rogers Centre roof will be open or closed. We’ll find out soon enough. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:07pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and ESPN2 nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury News: Starlin Castro (hamstring) won’t return this series but could be play during the homestand. I imagine the team’s place in the postseason race will be a factor in Castro’s return.

Game 149: Don’t get swept, please

(Darren McCollester/Getty)
(Darren McCollester/Getty)

The last week has been a disaster for the Yankees. I don’t think that’s an overstatement. They won seven straight to climb to within one (one!) game of a wildcard spot last week, but since then the Yankees have lost six of seven, including each of their last four games. More than a few of those games were winnable too. Brutal.

The math says the Yankees are still alive in the postseason race and that’s cool. We still have reason to watch. The fact of the matter is their rotation isn’t good enough, the lineup isn’t deep enough, and the middle relief isn’t reliable enough. We’ve known that since April. Last week sure was fun though, right? Here’s the Red Sox’s lineup and here’s the Triple-A Scranton I mean Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  3. DH Gary Sanchez
  4. 1B Billy Butler
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 2B Donovan Solano
  8. CF Mason Williams
  9. RF Rob Refsnyder
    LHP CC Sabathia

Now, the bad news: the forecast stinks tonight. The internet tells me it’s supposed to start raining around 9pm ET in Boston and keep raining until tomorrow afternoon. Hopefully that’s wrong and they can get the game in tonight. Having to squeeze in a makeup game at some point would stink. Anyway, tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 8pm ET and you can watch on ESPN. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Starlin Castro (hamstring) as a Grade I strain and Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) has a bone bruise, the Yankees announced. They’ll remain in New York for treatment and join the Yankees in Tampa on Tuesday. The team says Ellsbury is day-to-day. They didn’t give a timetable for Castro. There’s only two weeks left in the season, so there’s a decent chance he’s done for the year. Sucks … Chase Headley has some back tightness, which is why he’s on the bench.

Roster Moves: Solano has been called from Triple-A Scranton, obviously. He’s in the lineup. He had a fantastic season for the International League champion RailRiders. Chad Green was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Solano … Anthony Swarzak (shoulder) was activated off the 15-day DL. Try to contain your excitement.

Starlin’s Power-Fueled, Moderate Bounceback

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

If any one player on the Yankees encapsulates the frustration that is baseball, it’s Starlin Castro at the plate. Like the game itself, Castro’s time at the plate can be endlessly joyful or maddeningly frustrating. But also like baseball itself, the truth with Castro falls somewhere in the middle. Is he as bad as his Alfonso Soriano-reminiscent at-bats of chasing anything breaking? Probably not. Is he as good as he was his first week in pinstripes? Probably not. As a whole picture, though, it’s hard to argue that Castro is a prettier one to look at than the last two years of the likes of Jayson Nix and Stephen Drew.

2016 has been a modest recovery type year for Castro, after being abysmal in 2015 (and 2013, with a good year sandwiched in between). While a 96 wRC+ isn’t anything to throw a parade over, it’s a big upgrade for him over the mark of 80 that he had last year. He’s also set career highs with 20 homers and a .166 ISO. Starlin’s .273 batting average represents a jump of only eight points from 2015’s mark and his jump in OBP–from .296 to .304–is equally small. The real bump for this slight bounceback (which may be ending soon thanks to yesterday) comes from his power. His ISO has jumped .056, leading to a .064 jump in slugging to .439, a career high by one point over 2014’s number of .438.

As we might expect with a power surge, the increase is coming on Castro’s results from fly balls and line drives, the types of batted balls that tend to go for extra bases. On fly balls and line drives, Castro is hitting .441 with an .842 SLG, a .525 wOBA, and a 239 wRC+. Again, this is self-evident; he should be hitting for power on these batted ball types. What intrigued me about these numbers, though, is that they represent increases over 2014, his last good season. His ISO on FB + LD in 2014 was .309, which is much lower than the .401 mark he’s put up this year.

2014 and 2016 look pretty similar in terms of batted ball percentages for Castro, with one slight difference that helps explain the uptick in ISO. This year, Castro’s FB% has dipped slightly from the 2014 mark, but his HR/FB% has seen an uptick; he’s hitting fewer fly balls, but more of them are leaving the field than in a previous productive season.

(USA TODAY Sports)
(USA TODAY Sports)

Back in 2014, Castro generated power only from the inner part of the zone. That seems to have changed in 2016. We can see a lot more power coming from out over the middle and even on the outer half (up and away and middle out, both in the zone).

Maybe it’s something in the way he’s swinging or making contact, maybe it’s just the randomness that is baseball at times, but Castro is hitting with power he hasn’t quite seen before. He’s an up-and-down player, it would seem, and now he’s on an upswing. Can he carry that into 2017? Hopefully.

Update: Starlin Castro leaves game with hamstring strain

(Photo: AP)
(Photo: AP)

4:54pm: After the game, Joe Girardi told reporters Castro felt a “pop” in his hamstring, which is never good. He’s going to return to New York for tests.

3:51pm: Castro does indeed have a right hamstring strain, the Yankees announced. He’s heading for further tests. Here’s the play:

3:01pm: Starlin Castro left this afternoon’s game with an apparent right hamstring injury. He ripped a double into the gap in the fifth inning, then pulled up lame between first and second. Castro grabbed at his hamstring, so there’s no doubt that’s what’s aching. He was removed from the game immediately. Didn’t even lobby to stay in.

Ronald Torreyes came in to replace Starlin on the bases, and he and Rob Refsnyder would be the obvious candidates to take over at second. It’s worth noting veteran utility infielder Donovan Solano had a tremendous season in Triple-A, and with Scranton’s season over, he could be a short-term option. Creating 40-man roster space wouldn’t be tough.

The Yankees have not yet released an update by Castro, so stay tuned. This one seems like standard “hamstring strain and heading for an MRI” stuff. We’ll see. At this point, even a minor strain could end Castro’s season. That sucks.