Sanchez: Blue Jays sign Lourdes Gurriel to seven-year deal

Lourdes Jr. (Getty)
Lourdes Jr. (Getty)

Not surprisingly, a team other than the Yankees has signed free agent Cuban infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. That team is the Blue Jays, according to Jesse Sanchez. Joel Sherman hears it’s a seven-year contract worth $22M. Because of his age, the deal does not count against Toronto’s international spending pool.

Lourdes and his older brother Yulieski defected last year. They were two of the very best players left in Cuba. Yulieski, 32, signed a five-year deal worth $47.5M with the Astros in July. Following a brief stint in the minors, he was called up to Houston and hit .262/.292/.385 (82 wRC+) with three homers in 36 games.

The 23-year-old Lourdes is considered a lesser player than his brother and a very good but not great prospect. He’s not another Yoan Moncada. The consensus is Lourdes will need some time in the minors before helping out at the big league level, like his brother. Both Gurriels are infielders.

The Yankees reportedly worked out both Gurriel brothers over the last few months, though, as has been the case with big name Cuban players for a while now, they didn’t sign either one. The last high-profile Cuban player signed by the Yankees was Jose Contreras.

Thursday Notes: Beltran, Blue Jays, IFAs, Qualifying Offer

(Vaughn Ridley/Getty)
(Vaughn Ridley/Getty)

There are, at most, ten more baseball games left this season. It could be as few as six. That stinks. The offseason is fun in it’s own way, but nothing is better than actual games. That’s why we all watch. Anyway, make sure you check out MLBTR’s Offseason Outlook: New York Yankees post. Nice little rundown of what could happen this winter. Here are some other news and notes.

Blue Jays had interest in Beltran

The Blue Jays had interest in Carlos Beltran prior to the trade deadline, reports Gerry Fraley. Toronto skipper John Gibbons confirmed the club considered a run at Beltran this summer. “Beltran was a guy we even talked about. We saw him over the years with the Yankees and what a great hitter he was, a clutch type performer,” said Gibbons prior to the start of the ALDS.

The Red Sox also reportedly tried to acquire Beltran prior to the deadline, and just like with Boston, it’s unclear whether the Yankees would have actually gone through with an intra-division trade with the Blue Jays. Toronto’s farm system is not nearly as good as the Red Sox’s, though I’m sure the two sides could have found a match if they really set their mind to it. The Blue Jays scored eight runs in the five-game ALCS — five of the eight came in Game Four — and they clearly needed another bat. Beltran would have been able to help. No doubt.

MLB pushing for international draft

To no surprise whatsoever, MLB is pushing for an international draft as part of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations with MLBPA, reports Buster Olney. MLB has wanted an international draft for years now — it’s a way to keep costs down for owners, that’s the only goal here — but the union has yet to give in. I wonder if this will be the year though. Here are some more details from Olney:

Under the terms of MLB’s initial concept, the new international draft system would start in March of 2018, with a 10-round draft held over two days. As the new structure evolved, with terms grandfathered into the process, the minimum age for draft-eligible players would be 18 years old by 2021 … As part of baseball’s proposal, MLB would operate facilities in the Dominican Republic, where international draft prospects would be invited to live to develop their skills and education before becoming eligible.

Two things. One, those kids are going to have to wait two more years to get their payday, no matter how large or small it may be. That sucks. Right now they can sign at 16. Under this proposal they have to wait until they’re 18. And two, this is yet another incentive for teams to be bad. Bad clubs already get the largest draft bonus pools and protected picks. Now they’ll get access to the top international talent without worrying about other clubs offering more money.

This proposal — thankfully that’s all this is right now, a proposal — is great for the teams and owners. They’ll save money and also get two extra years to evaluate these kids before deciding whether to sign to them. It stinks for the players, who have to wait to get paid and risk having their skills erode before they can cash in. You have no idea how many kids sign at 16 only to then fill out physically and lose the electric athleticism that got them paid. An international draft is inevitable. Hopefully MLBPA doesn’t relent this CBA and we get a few more years of true free agency.

Qualifying offer system could change with CBA

The qualifying offer system may also be revamped with the new CBA, reports Joel Sherman. The QO isn’t going away, but the MLB and the MLBPA may make it so players can not receive the QO in consecutive years. That means the Orioles wouldn’t be able to get a draft pick for Matt Wieters this offseason since they gave him the QO last offseason, which he accepted. Something like that.

I can’t imagine MLB and MLBPA will ever completely severe ties between the draft and free agency — they don’t want rich teams to have access to the best free agents and first round talent — so this might be the next best thing. If this proposal goes through, you might see some more players sign one-year contracts so they can go back out on the market with no draft pick attached. I think most guys will look to grab the largest payday as soon as possible though. Being set for life financial is pretty cool, I hear.

One thing the Yankees can learn from each of the four remaining postseason teams

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

At the moment, four teams still have a chance to win the World Series. Someone will end a long title drought this year too. Among the four clubs still alive, the Blue Jays have the shortest title drought, and they last won in 1993. The Dodgers last won in 1988 and the Indians last won in 1948. The Cubs? There were only 46 states in the union the last time they won a championship. Seriously. Look it up.

Obviously the four teams still alive are all very good, and any time a team has success, there’s something that can be learned from them. Front offices around the league wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t look at these four clubs and try to figure out what they’re doing better than everyone. The Yankees, who have been thoroughly mediocre the last four years, are no different. Here’s one thing they can take from each of the four teams still playing.

Cubs: You can have a great defense without shifting

The Cubs had a historically great defense this season. Truly historic. In terms of simple defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of batted balls they turned into outs, the 2016 Cubs were the 75th best defensive team in history (out of over 2,000 team seasons). Baseball Prospectus rates them as the best defensive team ever in park adjusted defensive efficiency. Whether they’re first best or 75th best doesn’t really matter. The Cubs were a phenomenal fielding team in 2016. No doubt about it.

Now here’s the kicker: no team in baseball used fewer infield shifts than the Cubs this season. The shifts didn’t follow Joe Maddon from Tampa, apparently. Huh. Chicago used the shift for only 10.1% of the batters their pitchers faced in 2016. The next lowest rate belongs to the Royals at 10.6%. The Astros used by far the most shifts this summer (33.2%) and the Yankees used the seventh most (26.5%). They’re weren’t all that far away from being second (Rays, 29.3%).

How did the Cubs field such a great team without shifting? Well, it starts with having tremendously athletic players gifted with defensive tools. That’s kind of a prerequisite for a great team defense. The Yankees have a few of those players themselves. The Cubs also seem to emphasize their pitchers’ strengths rather than the hitter’s tendencies. They get the hitter to hit the ball where they want him to hit the ball, not where he wants to hit the ball. Make sense? It’s hard to explain, but they do it.

The Yankees allowed a .284 BABIP with normal defensive alignments this year and a .304 BABIP when using some kind of shift, which is, uh, backwards. You should be allowing a lower BABIP with the shift. This isn’t to say the Yankees should abandon the shift all together. That’s an overreaction. Perhaps scaling back on the shift would make sense though. I’m not really sure. Point is, the Cubs showed this year you don’t need to shift heavily to be a great defensive club.

Indians: Keep all your pitching depth. All of it.

It’s amazing the Indians are so close to the World Series considering they are without their No. 2 (Carlos Carrasco) and No. 3 (Danny Salazar) starters. Also, No. 4 starter Trevor Bauer cut his finger fixing his drone over the weekend and had to have his ALCS start pushed back from Game Two to Game Three. Injuries like that can cripple a team in the postseason. Could you imagine if the 2009 Yankees had lost A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte in September, and then Chad Gaudin cut his finger fixing his stupid drone in October? They’d be done.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

And yet, the Indians have won every single game they’ve played this postseason despite those injuries because of their pitching depth. Josh Tomlin, Cleveland’s nominal fifth starter who at one point in September was demoted to the bullpen, has given the team two strong outings in the playoffs. Lefty Ryan Merritt, who has eleven big league innings to his credit, will get the ball in Game Five tomorrow, if necessary. Rookie Mike Clevinger is the backup plan.

The Yankees do have some rotation depth at the moment. I’m looking forward to seeing more Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell next year. Chad Green too. Then there are Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery. Chances are the Yankees will need most of these guys at some point next year, if not all of them. That’s baseball. That isn’t to say the team should make their pitching depth off-limits, because there’s always a point when it makes sense to trade someone, but hanging on to all of these guys sure seems like a smart move.

Dodgers: Postseason narratives are meaningless

The Dodgers have won four games this postseason. Noted playoff choker Clayton Kershaw has pitched in all four of them. Sunday night, when everyone expected him to melt down in the seventh inning because he had a 20-something ERA in the seventh inning of postseason games, he tossed a scoreless frame. It’s almost like there is no such thing as a bad seventh inning pitcher.

Anyway, I have no doubt the Yankees (and pretty much every other team) have bought into some of this stuff over the years. You can’t convince me Carlos Beltran‘s postseason reputation didn’t factor into New York’s decision to sign him three years ago. (Beltran, by the way, has hit a less than stellar .250/.351/.393 in his last 25 postseason games.) These narratives are just that. Narratives. They’re fun stories to tell. They have no predictive value. Don’t get caught up in the hoopla. Just focus on getting the best talent possible and having it on the field more than everyone else.

Blue Jays: Don’t be whiny children

Does anyone actually like the Blue Jays? Outside Toronto, I mean. They’re the Rasheed Wallace of baseball. They complain about every call then bitch about it after the game. The other day Jose Bautista said “circumstances” were working against the Blue Jays in the first two games of the ALCS, and by “circumstances” he meant the home plate umpires. Late in the season the Blue Jays refused interviews with certain reporters — they literally hung media head shots in the clubhouses with giant red X’s across them — because they didn’t like some of the criticism.

Imagine scoring three runs total in three ALCS games and blaming it on the umpires. Imagine being so upset by something a reporter said or wrote that you boycott them entirely. Could they be any more thin-skinned? The Yankees are pretty good at avoiding this stuff, thankfully. Joe Girardi will occasionally say something about the umpires when there’s an egregious mistake, but I can’t remember the last player to openly complained like Bautista. So, the lesson to be taken from the Blue Jays is this: don’t be jerks. Give people a reason to like you. People around the country have enough reasons to dislike the Yankees as it is.

Yankeemetrics: Fighting ’til the end [Sept. 23-26]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Zeroes
The Yankees late September collapse reached full throttle on Friday night with an ugly defeat, 9-0, to the Blue Jays in the series opener. It was their second-worst shutout loss ever in Toronto, behind only a 14-0 whitewashing on Sept. 4, 2001.

The loss also officially eliminated the Yankees from contention for the division crown, their fourth straight season without a title. Before this streak, they had never gone more than two seasons without winning the division since the leagues were split into three divisions in 1994.

Even more depressing is that they never spent a single day in first place in the AL East. The last season the Yankees failed to get to the top of the division standings was 1997, when the Orioles dominated from start-to-finish, spending a whopping 181 days as the front-runner (including off-days).

(AP)
(AP)

Zeroes again
The Yankees offensive slump reached near-historic proportions with another demoralizing loss on Saturday — their third scoreless game in a row dating back to the series finale in Tampa. Let’s recap the gory details of this awfulness with bullet points:

  • It’s the first time the Yankees have been shut out three games in a row since 1975 and just the sixth time in franchise history (also in 1968, 1960, 1929 and 1908).
  • They’ve been shut out 13 times overall this season, their most since 1990 (15).
  • 11 of those shutouts have come away from the Bronx, the second-most road shutout losses the Yankees have suffered in a season in the Live Ball Era (since 1920), behind only the 12 in 1973.
  • This was their sixth time being shut out in September, their most shutout losses in a single month since they were blanked seven times in July 1975. Last year the Yankees were shut out six times the entire season! And the clincher …

Five of those seven shutouts in September have come on the road. The last time the Yankees were shut out on the road five times in a single month was August 1905. Welp.

(AP)
(AP)

Runs? Yes. Win? No.
At least they finally made the scoreboard operator do some work, right? That’s pretty much the only positive to come out of another heart-breaking loss on Sunday. The Yankees snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, rallying in the top of the ninth to take the lead before coughing it up in the bottom of the inning, and ultimately walking off the turf as losers yet again.

Thanks to Didi Gregorius’ seventh inning homer, the Yankees avoided the ignominy of being shut out in four consecutive games for the first time in franchise history, and becoming the first AL team to do it since the 1964 Washington Senators. The home run ended our long national nightmare, a 33-inning scoreless streak that was the longest by any Yankee team since August 27-30, 1968.

Sure, the Yankees might have avoided one historical footnote by finally scoring some runs, but the loss still made headlines, statistically speaking. It was their eighth straight defeat in Toronto, their longest road losing streak ever against the Blue Jays.

They fell to 1-8 at the Rogers Centre in 2016, which is horrible, but it’s not even their most losses at one ballpark this season — they went 2-8 at Fenway Park. This is the third time in the last 75 years the Yankees have lost at least eight games at two different road stadiums: it also happened in 1959 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and Boston’s Fenway Park, and in 1944 at Fenway and Detroit’s Briggs Stadium.

Michael Pineda turned in another solid performance, holding the Blue Jays to one run in 5 2/3 innings while lowering his September ERA to 2.66 in five starts. And with seven strikeouts, the 27-year-old right-hander surpassed the 200-strikeout mark this season, becoming the youngest Yankee to strike out at least 200 batters since a 26-year-old Melido Perez in 1992.

fight
(Getty)

End of the road
The Yankees escaped Toronto — and punctuated their final road trip of the season — with an emotional win in the series finale, surviving a roller coaster ninth inning to temporarily halt their free fall and postpone their inevitable march towards playoff elimination.

The math says the Yankees are still alive in the Hunt for October, and their hearts are telling them to keep fighting … literally.

Luis Severino started the game but barely had a chance to make an impact, facing just eight batters before getting ejected after the second benches-clearing brawl of the game in the second inning. He allowed an earned run in the first inning, bringing his total to 42 earned runs in 43 innings as a starter this season, an unsightly 8.79 ERA.

That is on pace to be the highest ERA as a starter for any Yankee pitcher that made at least 10 starts in a season. The current franchise-worst mark is 7.89, set by Staten Island native Karl Drews in 1947.

Mark Teixeira kicked off the ninth inning comeback with a 416-foot solo homer — plus an epic bat flip — that tied the game at 3-3. It was his 205th longball as a Yankee, matching Dave Winfield for 13th place on the franchise list, and the 408th of his career, moving past Duke Snider for sole possession of 54th place on the MLB all-time list.

Aaron Hicks then delivered the game-winning shot, a two-run blast to put the Yankees ahead 5-3, which earned him our obscure Yankeemetric of the Week: Hicks is the second Yankee right-fielder to hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later against the Blue Jays in Toronto; the other was some guy named Paul O’Neill, who had a similar clutch homer on Sept. 14, 1999.

A fearless and gutsy performance by Tommy Layne, who came into a bases-loaded, no-out situation and somehow got the final three outs, sealed the win for the never-say-die Yankees. It was his first save in pinstripes, making him the ninth different Yankee to record a save this season — a new single-season franchise record (since saves became official in 1969). The previous high was eight pitchers with at least one save, done by the 1979 and 1980 teams.

This Yankee team certainly has a flair for the dramatic, eh? It was the second game this season they hit game-tying and go-ahead homers in the ninth inning (also on June 29 versus the Rangers). You have to go back more than six decades — to August 24 and September 16, 1955 — to find the last time the Yankees had two such games like this in a single season.

9/23 to 9/26 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Photo Credit: Flickr user James D. Schwartz via Creative Commons license)
(Photo Credit: Flickr user James D. Schwartz via Creative Commons license)

We’ve reached the final road series of the season. Crazy, huh? This season flew by. The Yankees are in Toronto for a four-game series against the Blue Jays, a team they are kinda sorta chasing in the wildcard race. At this point it doesn’t matter who the Yankees play. They need wins. The Yankees are 6-9 against the Blue Jays this season, including 1-5 at Rogers Centre. They did sweep three games from them at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago though.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Blue Jays just wrapped up a late-season West Coast trip through Anaheim and Seattle. They split four games with the Angels and took two of three from the Mariners, though they lost the series finale on a Robinson Cano walk-off sacrifice fly Wednesday. Overall, the Blue Jays are 83-69 with a +83 run differential. They’re sitting in the top wildcard spot at the moment.

Offense & Defense

It’s not the devastating offense we saw last season, but the Blue Jays are still averaging 4.75 runs per game with a team 102 wRC+, so they’re going to score and score a lot. They’re much better at home (5.04 R/G and 109 wRC+) than on the road too (4.47 R/G and 96 wRC+). Manager John Gibbons’ team is completely healthy on the position player side too. No one hurt or even day-to-day.

Donaldson. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Donaldson. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Gibbons changed his lineup a tad after getting swept in Yankee Stadium two weeks ago. 2B Devon Travis (111 wRC+) moved to the leadoff spot, so the three-headed monster of 3B Josh Donaldson (154 wRC+), DH Edwin Encarnacion (137 wRC+), and RF Jose Bautista (115 wRC+) hits 2-3-4. C Russell Martin (101 wRC+) and SS Troy Tulowitzki (101 wRC+) follow as the No. 5 and 6 hitters. Scary lineup is scary. It feels like a miracle whenever a pitcher gets through that top six without allowing a run.

1B Justin Smoak (92 wRC+) and CF Kevin Pillar (81 wRC+) are the other regulars, and lately LF Michael Saunders (120 wRC+) has been platooning with OF Melvin Upton Jr. (85 wRC+). C Dioner Navarro (57 wRC+), IF Darwin Barney (85 wRC+), and OF Ezequiel Career (82 wRC+) are the other regular bench players. They don’t play a whole lot. C Josh Thole, IF Ryan Goins, OF Darrell Ceciliani, and OF Dalton Pompey are the extra September players. Pompey is the designated pinch-runner.

The Blue Jays are a very good defensive team — they’re second in baseball with a 0.716 Defensive Efficiency, which means they turn 71.6% of batted balls into outs — with Bautista their only below-average defender. He’s got a great arm but doesn’t cover as much ground as he once did. Playing on turf all those years isn’t good for the knees. Pillar, Donaldson, and Martin are among the elite defenders at their positions.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7:07pm ET): RHP Bryan Mitchell (vs. TOR) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (vs. NYY)
The Pirates, who I’m told can fix any pitcher, were so desperate to unload Liriano at the trade deadline that they had to give the Blue Jays two legitimate prospects to take him. All they got back was Drew Hutchison too. Anyway, Liriano has a 5.08 ERA (5.17 FIP) in 150.2 total innings this season, including a 3.89 ERA (4.86 FIP) in 37 innings with Toronto. His strikeout (22.3%) and ground ball (52.0%) rates are very good as always, though he walks too many (12.0%) and can’t keep the ball in the park (1.55 HR/9). Righties have had a little more success against him than lefties. Liriano has nasty stuff. He still sits in the mid-90s with his sinker and both his mid-80s slider and mid-80s changeup can miss bats, at least when he’s locating. When he’s on, Liriano can dominate. The Yankees saw him in relief two weeks ago and mustered nothing in two innings.

Saturday (4:07pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (vs. NYY)
It seemed like a lot of people viewed Stroman as an ace coming into the season, didn’t it? I never understood that. The 25-year-old has a 4.50 ERA (3.74 FIP) in 30 starts and 190 innings, and his success is built on limiting walks (6.1%) and keeping the ball on the ground (60.4%). His strikeout (19.7%) and homer (0.99 HR/9) numbers are average. Stroman’s platoon split is small because he throws six pitches: mid-90s four-seamers and sinkers, low-90s cutters, upper-80s sliders and changeups, and a low-80s curveball. The sinker, cutter, and slider are his three main offerings. He tends to get cute and try to beat hitters with his fifth and sixth best pitch, which has hurt him a bunch of times this year. The Yankees have seen Stroman only twice this year: two runs in eight innings in April, and two runs in five innings in September. I thought they hit him harder than that two weeks ago. Huh.

(Jason O. Watson/Getty)
(Jason O. Watson/Getty)

Sunday (1:07pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (vs. NYY)
I have no idea if this has any effect on the field, but I like that the Blue Jays have all different looks in their rotation. Their starters are all different. The Yankees have a bunch of hard-throwing fastball/slider guys. Toronto’s rotation mixes it up. Estrada, a finesse guy, has a 3.62 ERA (4.19 FIP) in 27 starts and 164 innings this year. His peripherals don’t jump out at you (22.9 K%, 9.1 BB%, 33.3 GB%, 1.21 HR/9) but his ability to generate weak pop-ups means very few balls fall in for hits. Estrada has a .236 BABIP this year, up from .216 last year. It’s not a fluke. It’s the result of all the pop-ups. The 33-year-old righty uses an upper-80s fastball and an upper-70s changeup to keep hitters off balance. The changeup is why he has a reverse split this year. He’ll also throw a few upper-80s cutters and mid-70s curves per start, but the fastball/changeup combo is his bread and butter. Estrada has made three starts against New York in 2016: three runs and seven innings in May, eight scoreless innings later in May, and five runs in four innings in August.

Monday (7:07pm ET): TBA vs. LHP J.A. Happ (vs. NYY)
Happ, 33, is going to get a bunch of Cy Young votes this year thanks to his 20-4 record. His 3.28 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 30 starts and 181.1 innings is really good, don’t get me wrong, but those 20 wins are going to get the most attention. Happ is another contact manager like Estrada — the underlying numbers: 21.7 K%, 7.3 BB%, 42.1 GB%, 1.09 HR/9, .273 BABIP — though not to the same extreme. Righties hit him harder than lefties. Happ throws low-90s four-seamers, low-90s sinkers, mid-80s changeups, and upper-70s curves. Nothing sexy there. The Yankees have seen him four times this season: one run in six innings in April, one run in seven innings in May, one run in six innings later in May, and four runs in 7.1 innings in August.

Bullpen Status

The bullpen outside the ninth inning was a real weakness for the Blue Jays earlier this season. They were able to overhaul the bullpen on the fly through minor trades, and it’s worked well. Their middle relief is much more reliable now. Here is the relief unit Gibbons has at his disposal:

Closer: RHP Roberto Osuna (2.42 ERA/2.98 FIP)
Setup: RHP Joaquin Benoit (2.93/3.94), RHP Jason Grilli (3.36/3.74)
Middle: RHP Joe Biagini (2.84/3.09), LHP Brett Cecil (4.05/3.64)
Long: RHP R.A. Dickey (4.46/5.01), RHP Scott Feldman (3.97/4.22)
Extra: RHP Danny Barnes, LHP Matt Dermody, LHP Aaron Loup, RHP Bo Schultz, RHP Ryan Tepera

It’s crunch time now, so Gibbons has used Osuna for some four-out saves recently, and he’s even brought him into tie games on the road. No one does that. Benoit and Grilli have turned back the clock in the seventh and eighth innings. Biagini has been a nice Rule 5 Draft find too. Seems like teams are doing a better job finding gems in the Rule 5 Draft the last few years.

The Blue Jays had an off-day yesterday as they returned from their West Coast trip, so the bullpen is as fresh as it’s going to get. It’s worth noting Osuna has worked a lot in the last week though. He’s thrown multiple innings three times in the last seven days. Fatigue could be a factor this weekend. Head on over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen.

Yankeemetrics: Broom, broom! [Sept. 5-7]

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

Tanaka’s milestone, Ellsbury’s surprising power
Backed by another solid outing from Ace Tanaka plus a couple key hits from Jacoby Ellsbury and Tyler Austin, the Yankees kept pace in the playoff chase with a critical 5-3 series-opening victory over the Blue Jays on Labor Day afternoon.

Jacoby Ellsbury, in an unlikely performance from the struggling center fielder, sparked the offense with a two-run homer in the first inning and an RBI single in the third. It was just the second time he went deep at home this year. Entering the week, his 190 at-bats at Yankee Stadium were nearly three times as many as any other player who had one or fewer homers at the ballpark (Austin Romine was next with 66 at-bats).

Tyler Austin also had a huge day at the plate, breaking out of a deep slump with a pair of doubles and two RBI. Only three other Yankee first baseman under the age of 25 have hit at least two doubles and drove in at least two runs in a game: Don Mattingly, Ron Blomberg and Lou Gehrig.

Masahiro Tanaka was hit hard early, but settled down and finished with a solid pitching line of two runs allowed on seven hits across six-plus innings. It was his 19th start this season giving up no more than two earned runs, which was tops among all American League pitchers through Monday’s games.

The Japanese star also earned his 12th win of the season, matching last year’s mark and one shy of his career-best in 2014. Yes, pitcher wins is a flawed stat, but its still a significant milestone for Tanaka. He is the fifth Yankee to win at least 12 games in each of his first three major-league seasons, along with Orlando Hernandez, Andy Pettitte, Hank Borowy and Johnny Brocoa.

Adding in Tanaka’s impressive strikeout numbers puts him in even more exclusive company. Among all major-league players to debut since the end of World War II, only six others have reached at least 12 wins and 135 strikeouts in each of their first three seasons: Ricky Romero, CC Sabathia, Hideo Nomo, Dwight Gooden, Dennis Eckersley and Tom Seaver.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Birthday bombs and snow cone catches
Tuesday’s crazy win was a harrowing roller-coaster ride of emotions, filled with a ton of wild swings in win probability and a bevy of tense moments, resulting in yet another season-saving victory for the Yankees. Let’s recap the emotional victory in the only way that we know how, Yankeemetrics-style:

Tyler Austin delivered the first game-changing highlight, celebrating his 25th birthday with a monster two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh for a 3-2 lead. The list of Yankee first baseman to hit a homer on their birthday is a fun one: Austin, Shelley Duncan, Don Mattingly and Lou Gehrig. Austin also became the first Yankee to homer on his 25th birthday since Tom Tresh in 1963.

(AP)
(AP)

The Yankees are now 38-10 when a player homers on their birthday (since 1913) and have won their last 15 (!) such games. The last time they lost was May 29, 1992 when Charlie Hayes went deep in a 8-3 loss to the Brewers on his 27th birthday.

After the Blue Jays snatched the lead back in the top of the eighth, the Yankees quickly erased the deficit when Didi Gregorius smoked a triple to deep center, tying the game at 4-4. Before Didi, the last Yankee with a game-tying triple in the eighth inning or later at Yankee Stadium was Mariano Duncan in 1996.

Castro capped the rally with a sac fly to make it 5-4. It was the third go-ahead sac fly by a Yankee in the eighth inning or later this year, matching their total from the past three seasons (2013-15) combined. Castro is responsible for two of those three sac flies, and is the only player in the majors this season with multiple go-ahead sac flies in the eighth or later.

Finally, with the bases full and two outs in the ninth, Brett Gardner made an incredible leaping catch at the wall to seal the victory. With that ridiculous grab, Gardner increased his defensive Plus-Minus rating — a fielding stat devised by Bill James that estimates the number of plays the player made above/below the number that an average fielder would make, according to the video scouts — to +16, which ranked second among all left fielders this season (Adam Duvall, +22).

Aaron Judge kept the seventh inning comeback bid alive with a key single ahead of Austin; however, his monumental struggles to make contact continued as he struck out twice, extending his run of multiple-strikeout games to nine. That’s the longest such streak by any major-league player over the last 100 seasons.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Three times a charm
The long pinstripe nightmare is finally over as the Yankees completed their first three-game sweep of the season with a 2-0 shutout in the series finale. Before Wednesday’s momentum-building victory, they were 0-7 in the third game of a three-game set after taking games one and two. It was also their first sweep of a team with a winning record; their only other sweeps were four-gamers against the A’s and Angels.

Starlin Castro staked the Yankees to an early lead with a bullet line drive that just barely cleared the fences in left field. It was his 20th home run of the season, joining Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano and Joe Gordon as the only Yankee second basemen to hit 20-plus homers in a season.

Tyler Clippard sealed the win with a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his first save with the team this year. He is the eighth Yankee to record a save in 2016, matching the 1979 and 1980 clubs for the most players with a save on any Yankee pitching staff since the save rule became official in 1969.

Luis Severino continued his dominance out of the bullpen with three more brilliant shutout innings after replacing Bryan Mitchell in the sixth. Here are his video-game-like numbers as a reliever: 14 ? innings pitched, 51 batters faced, zero earned runs and two hits allowed. Yup, opponents are “hitting” .044 (2-of-45) against Severino The Reliever. That’s easily the lowest batting average allowed by any relief pitcher that’s faced a minimum of 15 batters this season.

9/5 to 9/7 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

"Hmmm, he must work out." (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
“He must work out.” (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Is this is a big homestand? Yes, this is a big homestand. The Yankees open this ten-game homestand with the first of three against the Blue Jays this afternoon, a team that has completely dominated them since last year’s trade deadline. The Bombers are 7-18 against the Blue Jays since last July 31st, including 3-10 at Yankee Stadium. Woof. If the Yankees want to get to the postseason, they have to start beating the Blue Jays and soon. No way around it.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Blue Jays dropped two of three to last place Rays over the weekend, but that doesn’t mean anything. They’ve been playing pretty well for a few months now. Toronto is 77-59 with a +101 run differential on the season. They’re one game up on the Red Sox in the AL East and five games up on a postseason spot in general. The Yankees, meanwhile, are 3.5 games back of both the Orioles and Tigers for the second wildcard spot.

Offense & Defense

Toronto’s offense isn’t quite as dominant as it was last year, but they’re still averaging 5.01 runs per game with a team 103 wRC+. They’re also second in MLB with 197 home runs. (The O’s have 214 homers, far and away the most in baseball.) The Blue Jays are completely healthy on the position player side right now. No one on the DL and no one even day-to-day. Must be nice.

Bautista. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Bautista. (Bob Levey/Getty)

Manager John Gibbons stacks his heavy hitters right at the top of the lineup. RF Jose Bautista (112 wRC+) hits first, 3B Josh Donaldson (161 wRC+) hits second, and DH Edwin Encarnacion (136 wRC+) hits third. Donaldson very well might win MVP again. Lately the molten hot C Russell Martin (106 wRC+) has been hitting cleanup — he’s hit nine homers in his last 18 games — with LF Michael Saunders (127 wRC+) and SS Troy Tulowitzki (104 wRC+) behind him in some order. That is a pretty great top six.

1B Justin Smoak (95 wRC+), CF Kevin Pillar (80 wRC+), and 2B Devon Travis (108 wRC+) are the other regulars. For the most part the Blue Jays have a set lineup. They don’t platoon much or anything like that. OF Melvin Upton (86 wRC+) is the regular fourth outfielder and IF Darwin Barney (87 wRC+) the regular backup infielder. Ex-Yankees farmhand C Dioner Navarro (59 wRC+) is now the backup catcher. C Josh Thole, IF Ryan Goins, OF Ezequiel Carrera, OF Darrell Ceciliani, and OF Dalton Pompey are the September additions.

The Blue Jays are a very good team defensively. Bautista is the weak link because he’s lost a lot of range in right, though he still has a strong arm. Pillar, Donaldson, and Martin are all excellent while Saunders, Tulowitzki, Smoak, and Travis are merely a bit above average. I thought Toronto didn’t receive nearly enough attention for being as good as they are defensively last season. All the focus was on the bats and understandably so, but this team catches the ball too.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (1:05pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TOR) vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (vs. NYY)
A few years ago the Blue Jays acquired Dickey to be their ace, and now he’s their sixth best starter. The 41-year-old has a 4.43 ERA (5.14 FIP) in 27 starts and 160.1 innings, and while his ground ball rate (43.6%) is right where it normally is, his strikeout (17.0%), walk (8.9%), and homer (1.52 HR/9) numbers are much worse than they have been the last few seasons. Dickey has a small platoon split, and right now his knuckleball sits in the mid-70s while his show-me fastball averages 82 mph. He used to throw two knuckleballs with the Mets — a slow one in the low-70s and a harder one in the upper-70s — but not anymore. Not sure what happened there. The Yankees have only seen Dickey twice this season. They scored four runs in 6.2 innings in May, and one run in five innings in August.

Tuesday (7:05pm ET): RHP Luis Cessa (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Aaron Sanchez (vs. NYY)
The Blue Jays are using a six-man rotation right now because they need to keep Sanchez’s innings in check. He’s thrown 162.1 innings this year, already well beyond his previous career high of 133.1 innings set back in 2014. The 24-year-old Sanchez has a 2.88 ERA (3.36 FIP) in those 162.1 innings, so he’s been outstanding. He might finish in the top three of the Cy Young voting. At least top five, I would think. Sanchez is a strikeout (20.1%) and ground ball (56.8%) machine who keeps the ball in the park (0.61 HR/9) and won’t kill himself with walks (7.4 BB%). Lefties have more success against him than righties because his changeup, while improved, still lags considerably behind his trademark mid-90s sinker and upper-70s curveball. Sanchez’s fastball is ridiculous. He pounds the bottom of the zone with the sinker all day and it’s damn near impossible to hit in the air. The Yankees scored two runs (one earned) in six innings against Sanchez way back in April, then he held them scoreless across 6.2 innings in June. Been a while since they’ve faced each other.

The lesser Sanchez. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
The lesser Sanchez. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Wednesday (7:05pm ET): TBA vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (vs. NYY)
Stroman, 25, was expected to emerge as the staff ace this season, and instead he has a 4.58 ERA (3.72 FIP) in 27 starts and 173 innings. He’s also beyond his previous career high in innings (166.1 in 2014). Stroman has good peripherals (19.7 K%, 5.8 BB%, 61.1 GB%, 0.99 HR/9) and his platoon split isn’t huge, yet he has had a hard time keeping runs off the board because he’s easier to square up than his stuff would lead you to believe. He legitimately throws six pitches: mid-90s four-seamers and sinkers, low-90s cutters, upper-80s sliders and changeups, and a low-80s curveball. The sinker, cutter, and slider are his three main offerings. Having watched him this year, it Stroman seems to either overthink things or just get too cute by trying to beat hitters with his fifth or sixth best pitch (curve and change) rather than simply going for the kill when ahead in the count. Somehow the Yankees have only seen Stroman once this year and that was way back in April, in the third series of the season. He held them to two runs in eight innings.

As for the Yankees, their starter for Wednesday is still up in the air following Chad Green’s injury. It won’t be Luis Severino, who threw two innings and 38 pitches yesterday. Bryan Mitchell lines up perfectly to start Wednesday, though Joe Girardi seemed to indicate they don’t think he’s ready for big league duty yet. They want him to continue working in Triple-A to shake off the rust following the toe injury. That doesn’t mean Mitchell can’t start Wednesday. It just means the Yankees seem a little hesitant to go to him. I think there’s a chance they’ll go with a bullpen game now that rosters have expanded. Two innings from one guy, two innings from the next guy, two innings from someone else after that … so on and so forth. We’ll see.

Bullpen Status

Earlier this year the bullpen was a major weakness for the Blue Jays, and while I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a strength right now, it is improved. Here is the relief crew Gibbons has to work with:

Closer: RHP Roberto Osuna (2.44 ERA/2.93 FIP)
Setup: RHP Jason Grilli (3.02/3.45), RHP Joe Biagini (2.51/2.59)
Middle: RHP Joaquin Benoit (3.18/4.06), LHP Brett Cecil (4.71/4.06), RHP Ryan Tepera (3.38/4.74)
Long: RHP Scott Feldman (3.60/4.80)
Extra: RHP Danny Barnes, LHP Matt Dermody

It’s worth noting the Blue Jays used veteran LHP Francisco Liriano (5.35/5.24) out of the bullpen over the weekend, and while they say they intend to give him more starts down the stretch, I suppose we can’t rule out seeing him in relief at some point.

Anyway, the 21-year-old Osuna recently became the youngest pitcher in baseball history to record a 30-save season. That’s because most pitchers his age are still starters, but still. Impressive. Biagini is a Rule 5 Draft pick who has worked out well, and Grilli just keeps on keepin’ on. Benoit and Cecil have had some very nice years in the past, but not this year. They’ve been shaky.

J.A. Happ didn’t make it out of the third inning yesterday, forcing Gibbons to use Barnes (29 pitches), Feldman (17 pitches), Benoit (20 pitches), Grilli (ten pitches), and Osuna (15 pitches). None of those guys have pitched back-to-back days though, so the bullpen’s not in terrible shape. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for Joe Girardi’s recent reliever usage.