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

9/26 to 9/28 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

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

The Last Time They Met

Citi Field was the venue the last time these teams met, as a result of Hurricane Irma. The Yankees took two of three from the Rays in Flushing, and helped to create and then take ownership of a late-season meme. Some notes from the series:

  • David Robertson had a phenomenal outing in the first game, coming in in the fifth to bail CC Sabathia out of a two-on, one-out jam with no damage. All told Robertson went 2.2 IP, allowing one hit, no runs, and no walks, while striking out 4.
  • Sonny Gray pitched like an ace in game two – 8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 9 K. And the Yankees lost 2-1. The less said about this game the better.
  • The third game of the series was one of the more stressful wins in recent memory, with the Yankees struggling to take advantage of a slew of base-runners, and the Rays threatening in nearly every inning. It was a 3-2 victory in the record books, but it was not fun to watch.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun facts.

Injury Report

The Rays are mostly healthy – better late than never, I suppose. Their only noteworthy players on the disabled list are Matt Duffy, Nathan Eovaldi, and Shawn Tolleson, and none of them have appeared in a single game this season.

Their Story So Far

Tampa Bay is 76-80, and are a loss or a Twins win away from being eliminated from Wild Card contention. They’ve been a largely middle-of-the-pack team board this season, checking in at 11th in the majors in park-adjusted ERA and 15th in wRC+, with their outstanding defense (4th in the majors in defensive efficiency) oftentimes serving as a difference maker. They’re also 20-24 in one-run games, which ranks 21st in the league. You can look at the Rays season from any number of angles, but it all boils down to them being a remarkably average team.

The Yankees are 10-6 against the Rays this year, so they’ve already clinched the season series.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Kevin Cash seems to play roulette with certain slots in the lineup, but by and large you can expect to see something like this:

  1. Kevin Kiermaier, CF – 276/.338/.455, 15 HR, 14 SB (409 PA)
  2. Lucas Duda, DH -.221/.321/.507, 30 HR, 0 SB (476 PA)
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B – .265/.317/.427, 19 HR, 6 SB (656 PA)
  4. Logan Morrison, 1B – .243/.352/.515, 37 HR, 2 SB (580 PA)
  5. Steven Souza, RF – .236/.344/.459, 30 HR, 16 SB (600 PA)
  6. Corey Dickerson, LF – .278/.322/.487, 26 HR, 4 SB (612 PA)
  7. Wilson Ramos, C – .263/.293/.444, 10 HR, 0 SB (211 PA)
  8. Brad Miller, 2B – .198/.326/.328, 8 HR, 4 SB (396 PA)
  9. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS – .249/.284/.398, 6 HR, 3 SB (265 PA)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Blake Snell

Snell has had a disappointing and disjointed sophomore season, having spent much of it in the minors as he attempts to learn the finer points of controlling where the baseball is going. His walk rate has dropped by two full percentage points from last year (from 12.7% to 10.7%), but it remains two-plus percentage points worse than league-average (8.5%). He has great stuff and has flashed brilliance for parts of two seasons now, so he shouldn’t be underestimated; but Snell is still very much a work in progress.

Last Outing (vs. CHC on 9/20) – 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Matt Andriese

The Yankees have faced Andriese twice this year. He got the better of them the first time around (6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 5 K), but they solved him the next time out (5 runs in 5 IP). Andriese has been a serviceable fifth starter/up-and-down guy for the Rays this year, pitching to a 4.33 ERA (94 ERA+) in 16 starts.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 9/21) – 6.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 8 K

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Alex Cobb

Mike wrote everything you need to know about Cobb – a free agent to be – just last week. Give it a read, won’t you?

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 9/22) – 6.0 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 K

The Bullpen

Tampa’s bullpen was something of a horror show in the first half, blowing lead after lead, and allowing small deficits to grow into large ones. The group has done an about-face in the last two months, though, with closer Alex Colome, set-up man Tommy Hunter, and new additions Steve Cishek and Sergio Romo combining for a 1.84 ERA in 107.2 IP since the All-Star break. They’re a bit shallow beyond that big four, but this is a group that ranks 3rd in the majors in bWAR in the second half, and 5th in WPA.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Alex Cobb may well be auditioning for the Yankees on Thursday, and a strong final start could help his cause a bit.

Taking a more Yankee-centric approach this time around, it’s also worth mentioning that some scoreboard watching is in order. A win for the Yankees or a loss for the Twins will wrap-up homefield advantage for the Yankees in the Wild Card game, and that’s significant. The Yankees are 47-28 at home and 40-41 on the road, which isn’t too far off from their split last year. This is a team that utilizes Yankee Stadium to the fullest, so we should have one more cause for celebration during this series.

Yankeemetrics: Feeling right at home in Queens (Sept. 11-13)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Let the good times roll …
Riding the momentum of a three-game win streak, the Yankees headed back to the Northeast to play a “road series” against the Rays at Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma. Despite spotting the Rays an early 1-0 lead, the Yankees were unfazed by the early deficit, and thanks to an explosive five-run fourth inning, cruised to a relatively easy 5-1 win on Monday. This game-script has actually become a familiar one for the 2017 Yankees (ranks through Monday):

  • 31st win when the opponent scores first, the most among AL teams and tied for the second-most in the majors.
  • Of course, it also helps that it was the 80th game this season in which they allowed the first runs of the game; only the Phillies and Athletics have more games.
  • 23rd time they scored at least five runs in an inning, tied with the Nationals and Astros for the most 5-or-more-run innings in MLB this season.

Todd Frazier turned a pitchers duel into a rout with a three-run homer in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a 5-1 advantage. The likelihood of him simply getting a hit in that situation – runners on first and second – was low: Frazier entered the game hitting .176 with men on base, the second-worst average in the majors (min. 150 at-bats).

The guy on first when Frazier went deep was Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base via catcher’s interference for the 30th time in his career, breaking the major-league record for that obscure stat. The mark was previously set by Pete Rose, who got his 29 catcher’s interferences in a major-league-record 15,890 plate appearances; Ellsbury’s 30th came in his 5,308th plate appearance.

The unsung hero of the game was David Robertson, who took over for CC Sabathia with one out in the fifth and two men on base. He got out of the jam by striking out the next two batters and then held the Rays scoreless over next two frames. It was the first time in his career he pitched more than two innings and the earliest he entered a game since April 9, 2011.

How was D-Rob able to dominate the Rays? He peppered the edges of the strike zone with his signature cutter/curveball combo:

robertson

And got a few key outs with his devastating breaking ball (two strikeouts and two groundouts). Robertson’s curve is so nasty because of its ability to get whiffs and grounders at ridiculously high rates. More than 200 pitchers this year have thrown at least 100 curveballs, and only one other – Craig Kimbrel – can match Robertson’s 50 percent whiffs-per-swing rate and his 60 percent groundball rate with the pitch.

… and then see the good times come to a screeching halt
Buckle up, folks, this is going to be a bumpy and exasperating rollercoaster ride down the stretch in September. After enjoying a few days of offensive bliss, the Yankee bats crashed back down to earth on Tuesday. They were held to three hits – and didn’t get a runner past first base after the first inning – in a listless and boring 2-1 loss.

Yes, another one-run loss. It was their 25th of the season, which leads the American League and is also more than twice as many as they suffered last year (12). With a record of 15-25 (.375) in games decided by one run, they are still on pace for the fourth-worst winning percentage in those games in franchise history.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

They wasted another gem by Sonny Gray, who literally threw two bad pitches: his first one of the night, a 94 mph fastball up-and-away that Kevin Kiermaier deposited into the right-centerfield seats, and his 90th of the night, another elevated four-seamer that Adeiny Hechavarria clobbered for a tie-breaking solo homer in the eighth inning.

Kiermaier’s shot was the ninth leadoff homer allowed by the Yankees this season, which is one more than their pitchers gave up in 2015 and 2016 combined. For Gray, it was the first time in his career he surrendered a longball on the first pitch he threw in a game.

This lack of run support has become a recurring nightmare for Gray, who is 3-5 with a 2.66 ERA in eight starts with the team. In those five losses, they have scored a total of four runs. Tuesday’s heart-breaker was the fourth time as a Yankee that he got charged with a loss despite giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such losses suffered by any starting pitcher in the majors since Gray made his first start in pinstripes on August 3. #KillTheWin

Gray certainly doesn’t deserve this fate, so let’s celebrate how terrific he’s been this season. It was his eighth consecutive road start allowing no more than two earned runs, the longest streak in the AL this season. The streak dates back more than three months, and during that stretch he’s posted a 1.99 ERA in those eight road starts, the best mark in the AL among guys with at least 35 innings pitched since June 1.

(AP)
(AP)

Survive and advance
Not even another massive RISPFAIL performance can stop the Fighting Spirit freight train that the Yankees have been riding this season. Despite leaving a small navy of runners on base and wasting a ton of scoring chances, the Yankees escaped with a 3-2 win on Wednesday to win their fourth straight series.

Joe Girardi went to The Binder early, yanking Jaime Garcia with two outs in the fifth inning after he’d only thrown 78 pitches and had allowed just one run at the time. This has become a signature call for Girardi this season — it was the 13th time a Yankee starter was removed before completing five innings, despite not giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such starts by any AL team and tied with the Brewers for the MLB-high.

Yet you could hardly fault Girardi for an early hook with Garcia, given his massive splits when facing batters multiple times in a game (stats and ranks entering Wednesday):

  • 1st time through order: .542 OPS, ranked 15th out of 172 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 2nd time through order: .783 OPS, ranked 88th out of 171 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 3rd time through order: .989 OPS, ranked 114th out of 119 starters with at least 100 batters faced

[And it also helps when you have a Pitching Cyborg — aka Chad Green — with 99 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings and a 1.96 ERA ready to go in the bullpen]

Brett Gardner — living up to his G.G.B.G. nickname — was the rare Yankee who came through in the clutch, driving in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the second inning that would end up as the game-winning hit. He is now 11-for-21 (.524) with the bases loaded since the start of last season, the best mark among any AL player with at least 20 at-bats and the second-best in MLB behind Daniel Murphy.

9/11 to 9/13 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

After taking four of six from wild-card contenders during their six game road trip, the Yankees return to New York for what is technically a road series against the Tampa Bay Rays. With Hurricane Irma touching down in western Florida, Tropicana Field was unavailable. That forced the Rays to play the three-game home series at Citi Field.

The Last Time They Met

From July 27 through July 30, the Yankees took three of four from the Rays at Yankee Stadium, taking a six-game winning streak in the series finale. It was part of a stretch where the Bombers won 9 of 11 to briefly regain the AL East lead going into August.

  • It was a walk-off weekend for Brett Gardner. After a Gary Sanchez single (and poor Rays fielding) scored him to tie up the opener in the ninth inning, Gardner lined a home run to lead off the 11th for the win. He’d single with the bases loaded and no outs two days later for another walk-off.
  • Masahiro Tanaka had one of his best outings of the year in Game 2. He had a perfect game until Adeiny Hechevarria singled with two outs in the sixth. He went 8 IP, allowing just two hits while striking out 14.
  • Aroldis Chapman looked like his old self, striking out five in three dominant innings while picking up the win during both of Gardner’s walk-offs.
  • Sanchez and Gardner each homered twice in the series, but so did new Rays first baseman Lucas Duda, who made an immediate impact by reaching in 7 of 12 PAs during his first series with Tampa.

For more information, check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

The Rays are relatively healthy, but rookie starter Jacob Faria (abdominal strain) made a rehab start against Staten Island on Sunday. He could be back vs. Boston this week.

INF Matt Duffy (heel) won’t play this season and had just 80 PAs as a Ray. LHP Xavier Cedeno (forearm) and former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) both began rehab appearances but are on the 60-day DL and their returns this season are in doubt.

Their Story So Far

The Rays are 71-73, leaving them 3.5 games out of the second wild card. Not only are they four games back in the loss column, they would have to surpass six teams to get the spot. Their lineup has been very middle of the road (.245/.318/.426, 97 wRC+) but they’ve also had the second worst strikeout rate in all of baseball. As Tanaka did in July, pitchers can rack up Ks against them. Their pitching staff has been solid with the 9th best team ERA (4.07) in baseball.

They have had similarly bad one-run luck to Yankees with an 18-22 record in those games. One thing that has held them back is the AL East as they are 27-33 in the division.

They’ve had a productive outfield with Dickerson/Kiermaier/Souza while Lucas Duda has been a major help since coming over at the deadline. The infield has been another story with Duffy out, Brad Miller struggling and Evan Longoria being merely an average (98 wRC+) hitter despite hitting .319/.411/.553 with three of his 18 HR against the Yankees.

Lineup We Might See

Kevin Cash mixes up his lineups depending on matchups, so you’re unlikely to see the same lineup twice. Trevor Plouffe, Peter Bourjos and Cesar Puello could all move into the lineup vs. LHPs while Mallex Smith’s glove often gets him into the starting nine. Here’s a possible lineup you’ll see this week.

1. CF Kevin Kiermaier (.278/.341/.447)
2. 1B Lucas Duda (.232/.337/.536)
3. 3B Evan Longoria (.265/.320/.433)
4. DH Logan Morrison (.248/.355/.529)
5. RF Steven Souza Jr. (.246/.351/.477)
6. LF Corey Dickerson (.280/.325/.499)
7. SS Adeiny Hechavarria (.245/.273/.366)
8. 2B Brad Miller (.195/.333/.322)
9. C Wilson Ramos (.238/.271/.387)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi

Odorizzi has been plagued by a case of way too many home runs this year. He’s allowed at least one homer in all but three outings this year and he’s allowed 28, one fewer than he allowed last season in 64 fewer innings. His career low groundball rate has been paired with fewer strikeouts and more walks, part of which may be explained by a loss of .75 mph off his pitches.

He has only 3 quality starts in last 11 outings, though his last start was one of his best all season. He held the Twins to just two baserunners in 6 2/3 innings.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on Sept. 5) – 6.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Tuesday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. LHP Blake Snell

Snell has essentially had two seasons. Up until August, he continued to have the same issue as in his rookie 2016 season: Walks. He dished out 5.1 walks per nine innings and had a 4.98 ERA, all while barely getting through five innings a start.

Since getting recalled on Aug. 8 from his second demotion of the year, he’s been a whole new pitcher. He’s cut the walks to 2.2 per nine and held opponents to a .222/.271/.385 line. While he has a 3.16 ERA in that span, he did have a poor outing his last time out, getting battered around by the Twins, who launched two home runs off the southpaw.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on Sept. 6) – 4.0 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 0 BB, 7 K

Wednesday (1:10 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Chris Archer

You surely know Archer by now. Hard fastball, top-notch slider. The Rays’ No. 1 has still struggled this season, posting a 4.00 ERA. Like Odorizzi, he’s surrendered a few too many homers (25) but he’s still posted career-best strikeout and walk rates. Two outings ago, he left with forearm tightness after just two batters. He came back on turn and was beat up by the Red Sox over three innings. The good news is that his velocity was back after his disastrous two-batter start in Chicago.

Last Outing (at BOS on Sept. 8) – 3.0 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 1 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Rays have the fourth best bullpen ERA (3.28) since the All-Star break, only behind the Indians, Orioles and Yankees. Their closer, Alex Colome, leads baseball with 43 saves this year, but he’s been fallible, accumulating eight meltdowns.

Setting up Colome has been Tommy Hunter with Steve Cishek, Sergio Romo and Dan Jennings all spotting up in middle relief. While Jennings is one of just two lefties in the pen, he’s more than just a lefty specialist. Austin Pruitt is their main long man and former closer Brad Boxberger typically pitches low leverage innings. Since it’s September, you’ll see plenty of other pitchers with 12 relievers on the active roster.

Yankees Connection

Both Chaz Roe and Chase Whitley are former Yankee pitchers currently in middle/long relief for the Rays. Eovaldi won 23 games in pinstripes over the last two seasons before having Tommy John surgery. Of course, Cash had a brief 10-game stint with the 2009 Yankees, earning himself a World Series ring in the process.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

For this one, the crowd is weirdly a must-watch. This will be a unique environment. It’ll surely be mostly, if not exclusively, Yankees fans, but will it be nearly empty? Will the apple in center rise when the Rays hit a home run? And how will the Rays handle being on the road for perhaps the rest of the season? Hopefully, they’ll be back at Tropicana Field soon.

As for the games themselves, the Yankees come in having won three straight series. If this was in Tampa, they’d feel destined to lose two of three. Take two of three and you don’t have to worry too much about what everyone else does.

Next week’s Yankees vs. Rays series moved to Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4:28pm ET: The Rays have officially announced the site change. Monday’s and Tuesday’s games will begin at 7pm ET. Wednesday’s game is a getaway day 1pm ET start. Ticket information will be announced at a later time.

2:20pm ET: Next week’s three-game series against the Rays has been moved from Tropicana Field to Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma, reports Joel Sherman. Ken Rosenthal and Marc Topkin have the news too, so while MLB hasn’t announced it yet, it’s only a matter of time.

NYC Football Club, the MLS franchise that plays its home games at Yankee Stadium, has a game this weekend, and I assume that’s why the Rays series won’t be played in the Bronx. They won’t be able to get the field prepped in time for baseball after a soccer game Saturday.

Following this weekend’s series in Texas, the Yankees only have to make one more road trip this year, and that’s a quick three-game jaunt in Toronto. The Yankees will play 17 of their final 20 games in New York. That’s 14 games in Yankee Stadium and three in Citi Field.

Last week Hurricane Harvey forced the Astros and Rangers to play a series at Tropicana Field. Hurricane Irma, which remains very powerful despite being downgraded to a Category 4 earlier today, is expected to hit Miami this weekend, and impact all of Florida.

All of the ticket and concession sales proceeds from last week’s Astros-Rangers series in Tampa were donated to the hurricane relief effort. Hopefully the same happens with the series in Citi Field as well.

Yankeemetrics: Gardy party rages on (July 27-30)

(AP)
(AP)

Brett Gardner, walk-off hero
You can add another chapter to the never-say-die tale of this rollercoaster season thanks to a thrilling and dramatic comeback win on Thursday night. After blowing a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning, the Comeback Kids rallied to tie the game in the ninth, setting the stage for the Gritty, Gutty Elder to win it on a blistering walk-off shot two frames later.

It was the Yankees fifth win this season when trailing at the start of the ninth frame, tied for the second-most such wins in the majors through Thursday, behind only the Dodgers (6). It’s a stunning reversal from last year’s team, which had only three wins of this kind during the entire season. And over the last 15 seasons, its the only time they’ve had five such wins before August 1. Hooray!

Brett Gardner sparked the stunning ninth inning rally with a lead-off triple and then scored the game-tying run on Gary Sanchez‘s two-out RBI single. El Gary’s grounder, which just barely sneaked through the infield, had a hit probability of only 19 percent, based on the combo of exit velocity (98.3 mph) and launch angle (-18 degrees) recorded by Statcast.

Aroldis Chapman held the Rays scoreless in the 10th and 11th innings as he needed just 19 pitches (16 strikes!) to mow down the six batters he faced. It was only the fourth time in his career he’s pitched at least two perfect innings, and the first time since September 2011 with the Reds.

Gardner then led off the bottom of the 11th with a solo shot to right field that quickly cleared the fences and gave the Yankees another wild-and-crazy 5-4 win. It was Gardner’s third career walk-off homer, making him one of just seven Yankees since 1930 to smash at least three walk-off home runs as an outfielder. He joins Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Tom Tresh, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller and Yogi Berra in this legendary group.

As the hero of the night, he also earns our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Gardner, who had moved to center in the ninth, became just the third Yankee centerfielder in the last 75 years to lead off an inning in extras with a walk-off homer. The others were two guys named Mickey — Rivers (1977) and Mantle (1959 and 1963).

And finally our favorite stat of the night:

Master Masahiro
No Comeback Mojo, No Fighting Spirit was needed on Friday as the Yankees jumped out to an early lead and continued to pummel the Rays with an unrelenting combo of power pitching and power hitting en route to a tidy 6-1 win.

Less than 24 hours after his shocking game-ending home run to beat the Rays, Brett Gardner wasted no time in delivering another huge offensive spark by drilling the third pitch he saw deep into the bullpen in centerfield. With that blast, G.G.B.G. became the third Yankee to follow-up a walk-off home run with a lead-off home run in the next game. Roberto Kelly in 1990 and Joe Gordon in 1940 also achieved the feat.

(AP)
(AP)

The two other flycatchers — Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier — provided the rest of the power punch, with Judge homering in the fourth and Frazier going deep in the fifth. It was the second time this year all three starting outfielders hit home runs (also on May 2). Over the last 25 years, the only other season the Yankees had two such games was 2000, and the guys that contributed in those two games were Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, David Justice and Ryan Thompson.

Chicks dig the longball, but the real star of Friday’s game was Masahiro Tanaka. The up-and-down right-hander was back in ace form, as he carved up the Rays lineup with his devastating slider/splitter combo — which generated 20 of his 21 whiffs! — in producing the most dominant performance of his career. He retired the first 17 batters he faced and finished with 14 strikeouts, no walks, two hits and one run allowed in eight brilliant innings.

That masterpiece earned Tanaka an exclusive niche in franchise history: he’s the first Yankee pitcher ever to strike out at least 14 guys and allow no more than two baserunners in a game.

Tanaka flashed this type of dominance earlier in the season, too, when he had 13 strikeouts against the A’s in May. With his second game of 13-plus strikeouts, he joined an impressive list of MLB pitchers this season to achieve that feat: Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Clayton Kershaw.

Tanaka also is one of four Yankees in the last 50 years to have multiple 13-strikeout games in a season, along with CC Sabathia (2011), Roger Clemens (2002) and Mike Mussina (2001).

(AP)
(AP)

Deja vu all over again
Thanks to another heavy dose of Comeback Kids potion plus a shot of Brett Gardner Magic elixir, the Yankees kept their winning streak alive in dramatic fashion on Saturday afternoon.

They erased three separate Rays leads before finally pulling out the thrilling victory in the bottom of the ninth inning for their fifth walk-off win of the season. Four of them have come since June 23, and in that five-week span through Saturday, only the Royals (5) had more walk-off wins than the Yankees.

G.G.B.G again showed off his flair for the dramatic with a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth. It was his eighth career walk-off hit in pinstripes, a number that is surpassed by only four other Yankees since 1930: Mickey Mantle (16), Graig Nettles (12), Yogi Berra (10), and Joe DiMaggio (9).

It was also the second time in three days that he wore the walk-off hero’s cape, making him the first Yankee with two walk-off hits in a three-day span since … Gardner did it August 9-11, 2013 against the Tigers. The last Yankee before Gardner to do this was Claudell Washington in September 1988.

Gardner, doing his best to prove that the clutch gene is a real thing, is the only Yankee since 1930 to do this — two walk-off hits in three days — twice in a career.

#RISPfail
There would be no sweep for the Yankees, who dropped the series finale on Sunday and saw their confidence-boosting six-game win streak snapped. They suffered another frustrating defeat, going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranding 10 batters in the 5-3 loss.

Jordan Montgomery was maddeningly ineffective as he fell behind early and often, allowing the Rays to tee off on him in favorable counts. He gave up up four runs and needed 71 pitches to navigate a career-low 2⅔ innings, the third time in six July starts he failed to get through five innings.

The problem was crystal clear: Monty threw first-pitch strikes to only six of 16 batters (37.5%), the lowest rate in any of his 20 career outings and the worst by a Yankee starter this season. Here’s what that type of inefficiency looks like … yuck:

chart-11

The lone statistical highlight was his five strikeouts, which gave him 104 for his career, a noteworthy achievement for the lefty. He is the sixth Yankee to strike out at least 100 batters in his first 20 big-league games, joining Masahiro Tanaka, Al Leiter, Orlando Hernandez, Dave Righetti and Al Downing.

7/27 to 7/30 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

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

The Yankees have won three in a row, and five of their last six since an ugly series loss to the Twins. Things finally seem to be clicking (again), but the Rays will provide a serious test – heading into this series, they are just 1.5 games back of the Yankees for the Wild Card, and just 2.5 games out of first in the division.

The Last Time They Met

This will be the fourth series between these teams this year, with the Yankees leading the season series 5-4. The Rays won the last series, though, taking two of three in Tampa back in May. Here are some tidbits from that series:

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more on the series.

Injury Report

Tampa has dealt with several serious injuries this season, with four would-be everyday players, a few bench/platoon players, a couple of starting pitchers, and several relievers spending time on the DL. They’re just about as healthy as they’ve been right now. That’s a loaded phrase, though, as SP Matt Andriese, RP Xavier Cedeno, IF Matt Duffy, CF Kevin Kiermaier, SP Jake Odorizzi, and IF Daniel Robertson are all on the disabled list, and none will be back in time for this series.

And, while it’s not an injury, OF Colby Rasmus decided to “step away from baseball” in June, and is no longer with the team.

Their Story So Far

With yesterday’s victory over the Orioles, the Rays improved to 53-49 on the season, with a +13 run differential. They’re within striking distance of both the AL East and the Wild Card, and they have made it clear that they will be buyers at the deadline. Their moves for Adeiny Hechavarria and Sergio Romo may not move the needle all that much, but they’re said to be in on Lucas Duda, Addison Reed, and others.

The Rays offense is the key to their success. It’s among the best in the game, ranking fifth in the majors in wRC+, sixth in BB%, and tenth in ISO. Logan Morrison (140 wRC+), Steven Souza Jr. (140 wRC+), and Corey Dickerson (133 wRC+) form the heart of the order, alongside the declining but still good Evan Longoria (106 wRC+). It’s a group that’s capable of hitting the ball out of any park at most any time.

Pitching, however, is an issue – particularly in the bullpen. More on that in a bit.

The Lineup We Might See

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Rays love to mix-and-match lineups on a game-to-game basis. Manager Kevin Cash seems to take after Joe Maddon in that respect, and it has worked out well for his club this year. That being said, their ideal lineup will look something like this:

  1. Mallex Smith, CF
  2. Corey Dickerson, LF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Logan Morrison, 1B
  5. Steven Souza, RF
  6. Brad Miller, DH
  7. Wilson Ramos, C
  8. Tim Beckham, 2B
  9. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Chris Archer

This will be Archer’s third time facing the Yankees this year. He had a very good outing against them on Opening Day (7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K), and a quality start in a losing effort back in May (6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 12 K). That’s the norm for Archer, as the 28-year-old has a 2.73 ERA in 15 starts (102.1 IP) against the Yankees.

Last Outing (vs. TEX on 7/22) – 7.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 11 K

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

Odorizzi would have made this start, but he was put on the disabled list yesterday. Austin Pruitt is rumored to be getting his turn in the rotation, having been scratched from his own Triple-A start on Tuesday for no real reason. He’s been an up-and-down guy for the Rays this year, serving as a swing man and long reliever in his first big league season. He has a 6.25 ERA (67 ERA+) in 31.2 IP.

Despite his struggles, Pruitt is a legitimate four-pitch pitcher. He throws a fastball in the low-90s, a cutter in the upper-80s, a mid-80s change-up, and a low-80s curveball. His cutter is often confused with a slider, though some would say it’s a slider that gets mislabeled as a cutter.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 6/23) – 3.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): LHP Caleb Smith vs. LHP Blake Snell

Snell made his major league debut against the Yankees last year, and fared quite well – he went 5 innings, allowing 2 hits, 1 run, and 1 walk, while striking out 6. He last faced the Yankees on April 12 of this year, getting chased in the fifth inning due to an elevated pitch count. And that’s been the story of his year, as his inefficiency sees him leave way too many games after just five innings. He’s still just 24, though, and the Rays are being cautious with his development (he spent a bit over a month in the minors working on his pitch sequencing and control).

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 7/24) – 7.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Jacob Faria

The 23-year-old Faria was called-up on June 7, and has been a member of the Rays rotation since then. He was the team’s tenth-round pick back in 2011, and was a lightly-regarded prospect – the sort that was slapped with a “fifth starter” label from the outset. He’s been quite good for the Rays so far, though, pitching to a 2.67 ERA (156 ERA+) in 57.1 IP.

Faria is basically a three-pitch guy, with a low-90s four-seamer, a low-80s change-up, and a mid-80s slider. He’ll throw a curveball every now and then, but it’s more of a show-me pitch than anything else.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 7/25) – 7.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Rays bullpen has been its weak point this year, ranking in the bottom-ten in the majors in park-adjusted ERA and K%, and in the bottom-five in WPA, meltdowns, and blown saves. There have been some improvements as the season has progressed, but they nevertheless took two losses against the Rangers last weekend (including a blown save on Sunday). They still have kinks to work out.

Alex Colome is the closer, with Tommy Hunter serving as his primary set-up man. Chase Whitley and Danny Farquhar have settled into 6th and 7th inning roles, and former closer Brad Boxberger is still in search of a role. With the possible exception of Hunter (who somehow has a 1.93 ERA and 10.5 K/9), the Rays don’t have a dominant reliever in the bunch.

Who (Or What) To Watch

These teams have had their fair share of dust-ups over the last several years, and that always bears watching. The fact that they’re also jockeying for position in the playoff race with the trade deadline rapidly approaching should only exacerbate that, so I wouldn’t be shocked if we see a few kerfuffles this weekend. I’d actually be kind of shocked if we didn’t.

Other than that, Jacob Faria is an interesting pitcher, with a legitimately plus change-up and a bit of potential. He’s also tiny for a pitcher, checking in at 5’11” and around 175 pounds, which always makes for some interesting chatter from the play-by-play guys.