Yankeemetrics: Nightmare north of the border (Aug. 8-10)

(AP)
(AP)

Where’s home plate?
The road trip continued with a trek north of the border, to a place that has been a house of horrors for the Yankees this decade. They entered the series in Toronto with a 27-41 record at the Rogers Centre since 2010, their worst winning percentage at an AL ballpark over the past eight years.

So, predictably, they dropped the first game on Tuesday, though the result had much more to do with their continued failure to cash in on scoring chances. They flooded the basepaths with 14 baserunners, but only two of them crossed the plate, the first time that’s happened in nearly a year, since last August 15 against … the Blue Jays.

Or maybe they lost because they failed to send a ball over the fences. The Yankees have just three wins when they don’t homer, the fewest in the majors this season, and after going homerless on Tuesday, their 3-20 record without a home run is the second-worst in baseball.

All of the damage by the Blue Jays came from Josh Donaldson, who belted two two-run homers off CC Sabathia in the first three innings. Sabathia later revealed that he was pitching with pain in his right knee, which was the likely cause of a troublesome drop in his fastball velocity.

(Brooksbaseball.net)
(Brooksbaseball.net)

He averaged 89 mph on his sinker and 88.4 mph on his cutter, both of which were his second-lowest marks on those pitches this season, ahead of only his start in Pittsburgh in April. The injury was likely the main reason for his struggles, though you have to wonder if the inevitable regression monster was lurking given these numbers entering the game:

Sabathia had a 2.29 ERA on the road, the best in the AL (min. 50 IP), and hadn’t allowed more than one earned run in each of his last six road outings before Tuesday. He also had held Donaldson without a homer in their previous 37 matchups, the most plate appearances Donaldson had in his career against a pitcher he had yet to take deep.

(AP)
(AP)

Dinger party
The Yankee bats returned with vengeance on Wednesday night, exploding for 11 runs and 17 hits, including eight for extra bases. It was the first time they reached each of those totals on the road in more than two years, since a 13-6 shellacking of the White Sox at Cellular Field on July 31, 2015.

Todd Frazier, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius each went deep as the Yankees improved to 17-0 when hitting at least three homers, the best record in the majors. The only other team that’s unbeaten in three-homer games this season is the Red Sox (10-0).

Frazier had by far his finest game as a Yankee, with three hits — a homer, double and single — three RBIs and four runs scored. Those two extra-base hits on Wednesday were the same number that he had in his previous 18 games (70 plate appearances) in pinstripes.

The Toddfather is just the fourth Yankee third baseman to drive in three or more runs and score four or more times in a game, joining A-Rod (six times), Scott Brosius (1999), Graig Nettles (1976) and Bobby Brown (1949).

The inclusion of Brown here gives us a chance for our Yankeemetric History Lesson of the Week. Brown, who later became a practicing cardiologist and spent a decade as the president of the American League (1984-94), has one incredible stat from his eight seasons with the Yankees:

A career .279/.367/.376 hitter, Brown was a monster in the postseason, hitting .439 in 41 at-bats in 17 World Series games. That’s the second-highest World Series batting average in baseball history by any player with at least 40 plate appearances, behind David Ortiz (.455).

Garrett Cooper was the other standout player on Wednesday, going 4-for-5 with two RBIs, and producing a bevy of #FunFacts for the 26-year-old rookie. He is the …

  • Seventh Yankee ever with a four-hit, multi-RBI game within his first 10 career games. This might be one of the most eclectic lists of players we’ve ever produced: D’Angelo Jimenez (1999), Shane Spencer (1998), Rusty Torres (1971), Elston Howard (1955), Jerry Coleman (1949) and Chicken Hawks (1921) — yes, a real person and one incredible statistical claim to fame.
  • Third Yankee first baseman with at least four hits against the Blue Jays, joining Mark Teixeira (2010) and Don Mattingly (six times).
  • Fourth rookie first baseman in the last 100-plus years to have a four-hit game, along with Joe Collins (1950), Bud Souchock (1946) and Lou Gehrig (twice).

And, of course, this would not be a Yankeemetrics post without Aaron Judge re-writing the record books. He took his 82nd walk of the season in the fifth inning, breaking the Yankee rookie record set by Charlie Keller in 1939. The major-league rookie record in the modern era (since 1900) is 107 walks by Ted Williams in 1939, a number that is certainly within reach over the next seven weeks.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Stranded in Canada
One night after an offensive explosion — which now seems like a blip during this miserable and extended slump — the Yankees flipped the script on Thursday and were blanked by the Blue Jays, 4-0. It was deja vu all over again, as they had plenty of chances to score (11 baserunners) but left a small navy of men on base because of their horrid clutch hitting (0-for-9 with runners in scoring position).

But maybe we should have predicted this frustrating loss, given their recent struggles to light up the scoreboard at the Rogers Centre. It was the Yankees 10th shutout loss in Toronto since 2011, easily their most at any road stadium over the last seven seasons. Second on the list? Camden Yards and Tropicana Field, with five at each place.

Sonny Gray was okay on a night he needed to be perfect, but he did hold the Blue Jays to three runs (two earned) in six innings, his eighth start in a row with at least six innings pitched and no more than two earned runs allowed. That’s the longest such streak by an AL pitcher this season and tied with Max Scherzer for the second-longest in the majors, behind Aaron Nola (9).

Two of those starts have been with the Yankees, and he’s lost both of them, as the Yankees have scored a total of zero runs in the 12 innings he’s been on the mound. His consolation prize is being the proud winner of our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Gray is the second pitcher ever to begin his Yankee career with two losses despite pitching at least six innings and allowing two or fewer earned runs in each game, joining Harry Byrd in 1954.

Aaron Judge inched closer to yet another record, although this is one he’d like to avoid. When he took a called strike three in the fifth inning against Marco Estrada, it was his 27th straight game with a strikeout. That’s the second-longest single-season streak by a position player in MLB history, trailing only Adam Dunn’s 32-game streak to start the 2012 season.

8/8 to 8/10 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Osuna and Martin. (David Maxwell/Getty Images)
Osuna and Martin. (David Maxwell/Getty Images)

The Yankees have won back-to-back games after a frustratingly impotent four-game skid, and have shown intermittent signs of becoming a dominant all-around team again after their July lull. They’ll test their mettle against the Blue Jays in Toronto for the next three days, before returning to the Bronx.

The Last Time They Met

Toronto took two of three from the Yankees in New York last month, tying the season series up at five wins apiece. This will be their fourth meeting of 2017, with two more series to go. Some notes from last time around:

  • Masahiro Tanaka had a great start in the first game, going 7 innings and allowing five hits, one run, and one walk, while striking out 8. It was his fifth best start of the year by Game Score.
  • The offense was all but completely shut down in the second game, a 4-1 loss, save for a home run by Aaron Judge. The Blue Jays pitchers combined to allow just 4 hits and 3 walks, racking up 11 strikeouts in the process (including 3 apiece for Judge and Didi Gregorius).
  • Dellin Betances had one of the worst (or at least most frustrating) appearances of his career, pitching to the following line: 0.1 IP, 1 R, 4 BB, 1 K. He walked three straight to load the bases, struck out Jose Bautista, and then walked in the game-winning (or losing, as it were) run.

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

Injury Report

Aaron Sanchez is back on the disabled list with blister issues, which have limited him to just eight starts this season. His return is up in the air, and it would not be shocking if the Blue Jays ended up shutting him down sooner rather than later. He’s joined by Chris Coghlan, Miguel Montero, Devon Travis, and Troy Tulowitzki, none of whom are expected to return for this series.

Their Story So Far

The Blue Jays have been plagued by injuries throughout the season, and they’ve been unable to gain any traction as a result. They’re currently 52-59 with a -87 run differential, which ranks 14th in the American League, and 25th in the majors. And, aside from injuries, there really isn’t one aspect of the team to lay the blame on, as their offense, pitching, and defense have all been subpar, as they’re in the bottom-third of the majors in runs scored, runs allowed, and defensive efficiency.

As a result of this, the Blue Jays were sellers at the deadline, sending Joe Smith and Francisco Liriano to contenders on July 31. Neither trade moved the needle all that much, but it did indicate that they had no misconceptions about their ability to climb back into the race.

The Lineup We Might See

As a result of all of the injuries and poor performance, the Blue Jays have been incredibly flexible with their lineups. The only player that is locked into one particular slot is Jose Bautista, who has been batting leading since late-June. Every other spot in the lineup resembles a revolving door, many of which may well be drawn out of a hat. Nevertheless, I expect that they’ll trot out something like this:

  1. Jose Bautista, RF
  2. Russell Martin, C
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B
  4. Justin Smoak, 1B
  5. Kendrys Morales, DH
  6. Steve Pearce, LF
  7. Ryan Goins, SS
  8. Kevin Pillar, CF
  9. Darwin Barney, 2B

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:07 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP J.A. Happ

The Yankees faced Happ on the Fourth of July, and it didn’t work out too well. He went 6 innings, allowing 4 hits, 1 run, and 2 walks, while striking out 6. They did work the count well, causing him to throw 115 pitches in those 6 innings, but they simply couldn’t square him up. Happ has a 3.92 ERA (116 ERA+) in 15 starts (85.0 IP) on the season.

Last Outing (vs. CHW on 8/2) – 7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 10 K

Wednesday (7:07 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Cesar Valdez

Valdez is, as far as I can tell, a 32-year-old rookie. I say “as far as I can tell” because he did amass 20 IP with the Diamondbacks way back in 2010, and there is some conflicting information out there regarding his service time. Regardless, he spent four years in the Mexican League after bouncing around a few organizations, before latching on the the Astros organization last year. He went to the A’s this past off-season, and was placed on waivers in May, after posting a 9.64 ERA in four big league appearances. The Blue Jays scooped him up, and he’s been an up-and-down swingman ever since.

Valdez is a junkballer, throwing a mid-to-upper 80s four-seamer, a mid-to-upper 80s sinker, a low-80s slider, and a low-80s change-up. His change-up is regarded as a solid offering, and is far and away his best pitch – but nothing else approaches average.

Last Outing (vs. HOU on 8/4) – 3.1 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 1 K

Thursday (7:07 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Marco Estrada

This is the fourth time that the Yankees will have to deal with Estrada’s soft-tossing ways, but they might be excited about that nowadays. They knocked Estrada around last time, plating 6 runs and putting 9 runners on base in 4.2 innings, and that’s kind of been the norm for him since the calendar flipped to June. Estrada has a 5.12 ERA (89 ERA+) on the season, including a 7.39 ERA since June 1.

Last Outing (vs. HOU on 8/5) – 7.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 7 K

The Bullpen

There was a time when the Blue Jays bullpen was a bright spot for the team, but that is no longer the case. They have 62 meltdowns on the season (5th worst in baseball), and they’re bottom-ten in park-adjusted ERA. Trading Joe Smith was a blow to the bullpen, as well.

Closer Roberto Osuna has struggled since these teams last met, pitching to a 7.11 ERA in 13 appearances, and blowing four saves. That includes a blown save in his last outing – a 0.2 IP effort against the Astros, in which he allowed 5 hits and 4 runs, striking out 1. Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, and Dominic Leone serve as a rotating cast of late inning arms, and they’ve been solid in that role. Beyond those relievers, however, it’s been shaky at best.

Who (Or What) To Watch

I always dread when the Yankees face a pitcher like Valdez, as they almost always seem to struggle against rookies and unknowns. I know that that isn’t backed-up by statistics – but I also know that I’m not alone in that respect. Racking up runs against Happ and Estrada while being shut down by Valdez feels like a very Yankees thing to do, doesn’t it?

We will also get to see old friend Rob Refsnyder, who has appeared in five games for the Blue Jays so far. He has started three games at second base, pinch hit in one game, and pinch ran in another; he also scored the game-winning run the other night with a nifty slide.

Yankees trade Rob Refsnyder to Blue Jays for Ryan McBroom

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Rob Refsnyder era is over. The Yankees have traded Refsnyder to the Blue Jays for minor league first baseman Ryan McBroom, the team announced today. Refsnyder had been designated for assignment last week, when the Yankees needed 40-man roster space following the big trade with the White Sox.

McBroom, 25, is hitting .243/.321/.402 (98 wRC+) with 12 home runs in 96 Double-A games this year. He is a rare right-handed hitter and left-handed thrower. MLB.com ranked McBroom as the 30th best prospect in Toronto’s farm system before the trade. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

(He) does have some encouraging tools, such as above-average raw power that he generates with a strong, lofty right-handed swing. He’s an aggressive hitter with a knack for making hard contact, though there is some concern that upper-level pitchers will exploit his swing-and-miss tendencies. McBroom’s bottom-of-the-scale speed limits him to first base, but he has a chance to become an average defender there.

As a first-base-only prospect whose value comes solely from his bat, McBroom will be forced to hit his way to the Major Leagues. While he’s unlikely to ever serve as an everyday player, McBroom hits southpaws well enough to profile in a platoon role.

Not much to see here. Refsnyder didn’t have a whole lot of trade value given his MLB performance to date, lack of defensive value, lack of power, and the fact he’d already been designated for assignment. I thought the Yankees would go for a lower level lottery ticket arm like they did in the Nick Goody trade and Johnny Barbato trade. Instead, they brought in another right-handed hitting first baseman.

Prepare yourselves, Refsnyder will get a big hit against the Yankees at some point, and someone will make a “why can’t the Yankees get players like that?” joke. It will be no more clever than the first nine million times we’ve heard it.

Yankeemetrics: Epic freefall reaches new low (July 3-5)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Return of The Ace
Is he back? That was the burning question in the Bronx after the Yankees returned home and notched a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays in the series opener, a game featured a third straight strong outing by Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka was brilliant, going seven innings while allowing one run with eight strikeouts – and no home runs. He has a 1.29 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 21 innings and a .495 OPS allowed over his last three starts; a massive improvement from his first 14 starts (6.34 ERA and .910 OPS allowed).

One of the biggest keys for Tanaka during this excellent stretch of back-to-back-to-back outings has been his ability to keep the ball on the ground and limit hard-hit balls. His groundball rate has jumped from 47 percent in the first two and a half months to 61 percent in his last three games, while his rate of hard contact has been cut from 35 percent to 19.6 percent.

When he was at his worst – during those first 14 starts – he allowed an average airball exit velocity of 93.8 mph, the worst mark through June 22 in the majors (min. 100 batted balls). He’s lowered that number by nearly 10 mph since June 23, to a stellar 84.2 mph that ranks fifth-best in MLB over the last two weeks (min. 15 batted balls).

Digging deeper, we can see that Tanaka has been much more precise with his off-speed stuff, locating his slider and splitter consistently at the knees and below the zone:

tanaka-first-14

The depth on those pitches is also significantly better, with his slider showing nearly an inch more downward movement and his splitter dropping a half-inch more over his last three starts. All of that has resulted in opponents slugging .146 in 40 at-bats ending in his splitter or slider over his last three starts, compared to .469 in his first 14 starts.

While Tanaka’s gem and return to ace form were the biggest stories of the game, let’s put the spotlight on another player that’s quietly produced one of the best all-around first-halves by any Yankee.

Brett Gardner hit his 15th double of the season, giving him these numbers as we near the mid-summer classic: 15 doubles, 15 homers, 10 steals, 56 runs and 35 walks – power, pop, speed, patience and scoring. The only other Yankee to reach each of those totals before the All-Star break (since 1933) is Rickey Henderson in 1986.

(AP)
(AP)

Yankee Doodle Dud
July 4th is a storied day in Yankees history – Lou Gehrig’s ‘Luckiest Man’ speech, George Steinbrenner‘s birthday, Dave Righetti’s no-hitter, John Sterling’s birthday – but this year there would be no indelible moments, no joyous celebration, no fireworks at Yankee Stadium. Instead, they followed up Monday’s encouraging win with another dull loss, 4-1, on Tuesday afternoon.

The last time the Yankees won back-to-back games was June 11-12, a string of 21 games during which they’ve gone 5-16. This is just the third time in the last two decades the Yankees have gone 20-or-more games without a win streak; the other droughts came in July/August 2013 (24 games) and August/September 2012 (25 games).

CC Sabathia, making his first start since a three-week stint on the disabled list, retired the first eight batters he faced but then didn’t get another out, getting pulled after giving up four runs in the inning. Those four earned runs allowed in the third frame matched the same number he had surrendered over a combined 36 1/3 innings in his previous six starts.

Aaron Judge saved the day from being a disaster when he homered in the fourth inning. Judge’s 28th longball of the season was a sizzling shot that went 456 feet and left his bat with an exit velocity of 118.4 mph. It was the fourth time he’s hit a homer that hard … and in related news, the rest of MLB has combined for ZERO home runs with an exit velocity of 118-plus mph this season.

Following the game, Chris Carter was designated for assignment for the second time in two weeks. If this is finally the end of the Chris Carter Experiment, he’ll have earned himself an inglorious place in the franchise record books: Carter would be the first Yankee ever to get at least 200 plate appearances in a season and finish with twice as many strikeouts (76) as hits (37).

(AP)
(AP)

Another collapse, send help
And the mind-numbing tailspin continues in the Bronx. The Yankees dropped the rubber game of the series, 7-6, suffering another crushing defeat in which they battled back from five runs down to take the lead only to have the bullpen self-destruct yet again.

Let’s update those ugly bullpen-implosion numbers from the last Yankeemetrics:

Stat Notes
16 Blown Saves – Through 83 games last year, they had only six (in three fewer save opportunities);
– The same total they had the entire 2016 season
17 One-Run Losses – Five more than all of last year;
– 11 of them since June 1, the most of any team in that span
11 losses when scoring at least five runs – The same number they had all of last year;
– Through 83 games in 2016, they had six such losses;
– 8 of them have come since June 1, the most in MLB

Chad Green ignited the meltdown when he coughed up the game-tying homer in the seventh, and then Dellin Betances put grease on the fire when he walked in the go-ahead run in the eighth.

Betances simply can’t find the strike zone now. His total lack of command has been really acute in his last four games, during which he has walked 10 of the 20 batters he’s faced and thrown only 41 of his 97 pitches for strikes.

Wednesday marked just the second time he’s ever walked four guys in an outing – the other instance was his first career big-league appearance on Sept. 22, 2011. Betances also joined Edwar Ramirez (July 20, 2007) as the only Yankees in the last quarter-century to give out at least four free passes and get one or fewer outs in a game.

For the season, he’s now at 8.56 walks per nine innings and a 21.1 percent walk rate, both of which would be the worst marks by any Yankee with at least 25 innings pitched since Ryne Duren in 1960 (9.0, 21.4%).

The beginning of the game was just as horrible to watch as the ending, with Michael Pineda getting shelled by the Toronto lineup. They crushed three homers off him, the second time in his last two home games he’s given up at least three dingers. The only other Yankee pitchers to allow at least three longballs in back-to-back games at Yankee Stadium were Kei Igawa (2007) and Red Ruffing (1941) – but neither of those two guys only pitched four innings or fewer in both games, like Pineda did.

The bullpen blowtorch erased what had been a rousing comeback, one that was sparked by Aaron Judge. The pinstriped cyborg drove in the first two runs of the game with his 29th home run of the season, matching Joe DiMaggio for the Yankee rookie record … with 79 games remaining on the schedule.

Perhaps more incredible is this stat, which illustrates his rare and legendary combination of power and patience: Three Yankees have compiled at least 200 total bases and 50-plus walks before the All-Star break – Judge, Mickey Mantle (1956) and Lou Gehrig (1936).

7/3 to 7/5 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Toronto to kick-off the month of June, splitting a four-game series. They outscored Toronto 26-12, with two blow-out victories (12-2 and 7-0) being balanced against narrow losses (7-5 and 3-2). Some notes:

  • You could not have drawn up a much better game for the Yankees than their 12-2 victory in the first game. All nine starters reached base at least once, with Gary Sanchez (2-for-5 with two home runs) and Aaron Hicks (4-for-5 with 3 doubles and 6 RBI) leading the way. And CC Sabathia looked great, going 6.1 IP and allowing 5 hits and 1 run, while striking out 7.
  • Bad Michael Pineda started the second game, allowing 10 hits, 5 runs, and 3 walks in 5 IP. The Yankees did mount a few comeback efforts, but going 0-for-9 with RISP kept the game just out of reach.
  • The Yankees teed-off on Jason Grilli in the third game, with Brett Gardner, Matt Holliday, Starlin Castro, and Didi Gregorius taking him deep in the top of the 8th.
  • In a sign of things to come, Tyler Clippard cost the Yankees the final game of the series, allowing a home run to Josh Donaldson in the bottom of the 8th.

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

Injury Report

RHP Aaron Sanchez has been on the disabled list with recurring blister problems for most of this season, having made just five starts thus far. He might be back this coming weekend, but the Yankees will not see him during this series. Sanchez is probably the Blue Jays’ biggest loss thus far, as he was their undisputed ace in 2016.

He isn’t alone on the DL, either. Would-be starting second baseman Devon Travis is out until September following knee surgery, and RHP Leonel Campos, OF Darrell Ceciliani, IF Chris Coghlan, LHP J.P. Howell, and RHP Joe Smith are all out with a TBD return date. None are likely to face the Yankees this week.

Their Story So Far

As was the case last time around, injuries have played a huge role in the Blue Jays lack of success this year. They’ve sent four of their starting position players to the DL at some point, as well as two starting pitchers, and a veritable slew of bench players and relievers. The offense has felt it the worst, currently sitting 26th in the majors in runs scored.

The Blue Jays are 37-44 with a -45 run differential, having lost four in a row (including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox this past weekend). They’re currently in last place in the AL East.

Check out Bluebird Banter for more news and notes about the Blue Jays.

The Lineup We Might See

Toronto has been searching for an ideal lineup throughout the season, having been through 71 different combinations thus far. Manager John Gibbons has somewhat settled on this configuration of late:

  1. Jose Bautista, RF
  2. Russell Martin, C
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B
  4. Justin Smoak, 1B
  5. Kendrys Morales, DH
  6. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
  7. Steve Pearce, LF
  8. Kevin Pillar, CF
  9. Ryan Goins, 2B

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Marcus Stroman

This will be the Yankees third time facing Stroman in 2017, and it is a rubber match of sorts. They knocked him around for 3 innings on May 3, chasing him early after scoring 5 runs on 6 hits, 3 walks, and a couple of home runs. Stroman was much better the second time around, pitching to the following line on June 4: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K. He has held the Yankees to a 2.91 ERA in 58.2 IP for his career.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 6/28) – 7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K

Tuesday (1:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP J.A. Happ

Happ was on the DL the first time these teams met, and just missed the Yankees the second time around. He has been a mild revelation in his second stint with the Blue Jays, pitching to a 3.29 ERA (131 ERA+) in 245 IP and giving credence to the notion that the Pittsburgh Pirates coaching staff’s black magic can continue to work even once the pitcher leaves its control.

The 34-year-old southpaw is essentially a fastball/sinker guy, with around 75% of his offerings being either his low-90s four-seamer or low-90s sinker. He also throws the a mid-80s change-up, and an occasional curveball or slider.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 6/29) – 6.1 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 2 K

Wednesday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Marco Estrada

As was the case with Stroman, the Yankees have already seen Estrada twice this year, and with mixed results. He shut them down on May 1 (7.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K), and served up batting practice on June 1 (3.2 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 2 BB, 4 K). Estrada has largely struggled since that last outing, pitching to a 7.88 ERA (5.39 FIP) in his five subsequent starts.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 6/30) – 4.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 7 BB, 3 K

The Bullpen

The Blue Jays bullpen ERA jumped from 3.79 to 3.99 in one afternoon, thanks to its 3.2 IP, 8 ER effort against the Red Sox yesterday. They were already trailing 7-1 when the bullpen took over, so it was largely garbage-time innings handled by the mop-up relievers, but the group is shorthanded due to the injuries to Howell, Smith, and Campos, and Joe Biagini’s transition to the bullpen.

Closer Roberto Osuna is healthy and pitching well, though, with a 2.25 ERA (202 ERA+) and 19 saves in 22 chances, as well as stellar strikeout (12.4 K/9) and walk (0.8 BB/9) rates. RHP Ryan Tepera and RHP Danny Barnes are their de facto set-up men for the time being, and both have been solid in 35-plus IP apiece so far. The bullpen thins out dramatically after that, though, and it has been leaned on heavily of late.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Way back in 2010, Justin Smoak was regarded as one of the best prospects in all of baseball, as a switch-hitter with plus power and a plus hit tool. He was the prize of the deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Rangers back in 2010, and many thought that the Mariners did well by waiting for him instead of taking on Jesus Montero. For the first seven years of his career, though, Smoak was a platoon player at best, with a .223/.308/.392 slash line (95 OPS+) through 2887 PA. And now, in his age-30 season, he seems to be breaking out.

Smoak is currently slashing .300/.368/.592 (150 wRC+), with a career-high 22 HR in 299 PA. He’s also improving every month, with his wRC+ increasing from 109 in April to 148 in May to 180 in June. The key seems to be cutting his strikeout rate to 18.4%, as opposed to 26.2% in 2015 and 32.8% in 2016. It’s either a fluke or a late-career success story, but it’s intriguing to watch regardless.

Yankeemetrics: Power up, Pineda down (June 1-4)

(Getty)
(Getty)

El Gary dropping bombs
Fresh off a depressing series loss in Baltimore, the Yankees headed to Toronto on Thursday and bounced back in style as they routed the Blue Jays, 12-2. It was their first double-digit win at the Rogers Center in 13 years – since Aug. 28, 2004, a game that featured Tony Clark’s three-homer outburst and a nine-run ninth inning en route to a 18-6 victory.

The offensive fireworks were fueled by Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks, who combined to drive in nine of the team’s 12 runs. Sanchez crushed two mammoth homers into the second deck in left field: the first one traveled 440 feet and had an exit velocity of 113 mph; the second one measured at 434 feet and left the bat at 112 mph.

Only two other players in the last three seasons have hit two homers in the same game that went at least 430 feet with an exit velo of 110-mph or more: Giancarlo Stanton (May 7 this year and July 6, 2016) and Mark Trumbo (June 2, 2016).

Remarkably, each of Sanchez’s six longballs this season have gone at least 425 feet. That gave him an early first-place ranking on the average home run distance leaderboard (434 feet) among players with at least five dingers this season.

And here’s an even more impressive feat: this was Sanchez’s fourth big-league game with two homers, making him the first player in major-league history to have four multi-homer games as a catcher this early into a career (82nd game).

Sanchez, though, had to share the spotlight with the scorching-hot Aaron Hicks, who went 4-for-5 and drove in a career-best six runs. He became the third Yankee centerfielder with at least four hits and six RBIs in any game, joining two legends – Bernie Williams (June 17, 2000) and Joe DiMaggio (five times!).

(AP)
(AP)

Small Mike
The Comeback Kings were denied another improbable win as the Yankees late inning rally fell short in their 7-5 loss on Friday night at the Rogers Centre.

Michael Pineda went from #BigMike to #BigMess with a season-high five runs allowed that snapped his nine-start streak of giving up three earned runs or fewer. That streak was one start shy of the longest by any pitcher in the majors this season.

Pineda’s early-game troubles re-surfaced as the Blue Jays belted two homers in first inning, the fifth and sixth he’s given up in the opening frame. His six first-inning homers allowed were tied for the most in MLB entering the weekend and opponents are slugging .674 against him in the first inning. So he basically turns every batter into Aaron Judge (.691 slugging through Friday) in the first inning. Not good, Mike.

Aaron Judge did Aaron Judge things in the sixth inning with a towering two-run blast into the rightfield seats, showing off his incredible all-fields power. That was his fifth opposite-field home run – tied for the most in the majors – and upped his opposite-field slugging percentage to an MLB-best 1.259(!).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Chicks dig the longball
The Yankees once again flexed their muscles in a 7-0 rout of the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon for their largest shutout win at the Rogers Centre/SkyDome in nearly 20 years (8-0 win on July 5, 1997).

Their first four hits were doubles and their final four hits were homers, making this first game in Yankees history that they had at least eight hits and none of them were singles. In fact, only three other teams in major-league history have done that: Cardinals with eight in 2002, Tigers with eight in 2010, and Braves with nine in 1998. #FunFact

Those four longballs all came in the eighth inning, courtesy of Brett Gardner, Matt Holliday, Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius.

It was the fourth time in franchise history that the Bronx Bombers hit four homers in a single inning. The first time it happened was June 30, 1977 … also in the eighth inning … against the Blue Jays … in Toronto (at Exhibition Stadium). The other two times were on June 21, 2005 against the Devil Rays and October 1, 2012 against the Red Sox, both of them at Yankee Stadium.

Perhaps the most shocking part of the eighth frame was that Aaron Judge was left out of the homer party. He did contribute a booming RBI double to center in the third inning, a bullet line drive that left his bat at 116 mph. It was his fifth hit with exit velocity of at least 116 mph; the other 1,000-plus MLB players this season had combined for seven such hits (through Saturday).

Overshadowed by the offensive fireworks was Jordan Montgomery‘s brilliant performance. He fired six scoreless innings and surrendered just three hits, the fourth time in 10 career starts that he’s given up no more than three hits.

That impressive outing earned the rookie southpaw a place in the franchise record books: Montgomery is the first pitcher in Yankees history to compile four starts of three-or-fewer hits allowed within his first 10 career games.

(AP)
(AP)

Two is not enough
Sunday’s disappointing loss dropped the Yankees to 3-4 halfway through their current 13-game stretch against AL East teams as they headed back to the Bronx to face the second-place Red Sox.

Taking a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning, the Yankees seemed primed to finish off their road trip on a high note. Entering Sunday they were 17-1 when leading by multiple runs at the end of the fifth inning, including a perfect 9-0 mark on the road.

Luis Severino was dominating the Blue Jays through five innings until Justin Smoak smoked (sorry!) an 85-mph slider 429 feet into the centerfield seats that tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth. The location of the pitch was obviously bad …

smoak-hr

… but that was a rare mistake with his signature breaking pitch this season. Severino had allowed an isolated power — that’s extra bases per at-bat — of just .061 on his slider entering Sunday, the fifth-lowest mark among starters (min. 200 pitches).

Aside from that blip, Severino was excellent, throwing seven innings of two-run ball while striking out seven. It was his seventh start this season with no more than two runs allowed and at least six strikeouts, putting him in some very impressive company: the only other pitchers this season with seven such starts are Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

6/1 to 6/4 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)

This is the second stop (of four) on the Yankees two week tour of the AL East. The returns from Baltimore were, speaking generously, underwhelming. And the red hot Blue Jays are next up on the docket.

The Last Time They Met

This is the second time this year that the Yankees ended a month against the Orioles, and opened the following month against the Blue Jays. The Yankees hosted the Blue Jays for a three-game series in the beginning of May, winning two out of three. Some notes:

  • Aaron Judge tormented Toronto’s pitching staff, going 6-for-12 with 5 R, 3 HR, and 7 RBI. His OPS reached a season-high 1.251 by the end of the third game.
  • Luis Severino had his worst start of the season in the first game, pitching to the following line: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 3 K. He was hurt by shaky defense, though, as a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning yielded two runs.
  • Brett Gardner was slashing .205/.318/.329 with 2 HR (81 wRC+) heading into the series; by the time it was over he was batting .247/.354/.435 with 4 HR (117 wRC+).
  • The Yankees starting pitching was dreadful all-around. Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia combined to allow 15 ER in 16 IP, while striking out just 12 batters.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more interesting information.

Injury Report

Starter Aaron Sanchez is back on the disabled list with blister issues, and his timetable is up in the air. He was throwing a bit last week, but was shut down again on May 30. Outfielder Steve Pearce was put on the DL a couple of weeks ago with a strained calf, and he’s not expected back until late June or early July. Both were expected to play large roles for the team in 2017, but neither has been able to stay on the field.

Their Story So Far

The Blue Jays have dealt with a staggering amount of injuries in 2017. Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Pearce, Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Francisco Liriano have all hit the disabled list at some point, as have bench players Anthony Alford and Darrell Ceciliani. The combination of extraordinarily bad luck with health and some under-performance has conspired to leave them below .500 and in last place in the AL East.

They showed signs of life in May, though, with an 18-10 record and a +29 run differential. Martin and Donaldson are now healthy and productive, and the 36-year-old Jose Bautista has made a complete about-face, and is now batting .251/.364/.460 (123 wRC+) with 10 HR. And, for what it’s worth, many Blue Jays fans will happily point out that Kendrys Morales is currently outhitting Edwin Encarnacion.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager John Gibbons has had to shuffle his lineup several times over due to injuries, with the bottom four spots in the lineup serving as a veritable carousel. Now that almost everyone is healthy, however, the Blue Jays have nearly returned to their ideal lineup. To wit:

  1. Kevin Pillar, CF
  2. Josh Donaldson, 3B
  3. Jose Bautista, RF
  4. Kendrys Morales, DH
  5. Justin Smoak, 1B
  6. Russell Martin, C
  7. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
  8. Devon Travis, 2B
  9. Ezequiel Carrera/Chris Coghlan, LF

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:07 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Marco Estrada

Estrada all but shut the Yankees down last month, allowing just seven base-runners and one run in 7 IP, while striking out 7. He’s currently tied for 9th in the majors in K-BB% with Luis Severino, and 10th in K% (just ahead of Severino, Lance McCullers, and Michael Pineda) … and he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher. And one of those pitches is an 89 MPH fastball. Estrada may be getting by on smoke and mirrors, but he’s been doing it for long enough that he has silenced most doubts.

Last Outing (vs. TEX on 5/27) – 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K

Friday (7:07 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Francisco Liriano

There was a time when Liriano was one of the most desirable assets in the majors, and his name dominated Yankees trade rumors (or trade desires, at least). That feels like an eternity ago, though, as the 33-year-old has struggled mightily over the last year and change, posting 4.94 ERA/4.90 FIP since the beginning of 2016. He’s still racking up strikeouts, and his velocity is similar to his best days with the Pirates – but he’s walking more and more batters, and he’s simply more hittable now.

Liriano is still a three-pitch guy, utilizing a low-90s fastball, mid-80s slider, and mid-80s change-up. The slider is ostensibly his best pitch, but it’s been hit hard in 2017. This will be his first start since coming off of the DL.

Last Outing (vs. CLE on 5/10) – 2.0 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 3 BB, 0 K

Saturday (1:07 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Joe Biagini

Biagini was a Rule 5 pick last year, and he spent the entirety of the season in the bullpen. He found success there, but he had been a starter throughout his minor league career so there were rumblings that he’d get a chance in the rotation. Injuries to Sanchez and Liriano made that move a necessity, and he has been in the rotation since May 3. He has posted the following line through five starts: 23.1 IP, 21 H, 6 BB, 20 K, 3.86 ERA, 3.21 FIP. That’s not bad for someone forced into a larger role on a moment’s notice.

The 27-year-old is a true four-pitch pitcher. He throws a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-90s cutter, a mid-80s change-up, and a curveball in the upper 80s. Biagini’s cutter is his best pitch; he uses it to get whiffs and generate grounders (he has a 60.8 GB% on the year).

Last Outing (vs. TEX on 5/28) – 6.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K

Sunday (1:07 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Marcus Stroman

The Yankees knocked Stroman around earlier this year, chasing him from the game after scoring 5 runs in just 3 innings. He’s been a big part of the Blue Jays turnaround since then, pitching into the sixth inning in all five starts and posting a 2.45 ERA in 29.1 IP. His underlying numbers aren’t all that different from last season, but he has been much better in terms of run prevention. Chalk it up to run sequencing, cluster luck, and contrasting fortunes with runners on-base.

Last Outing (vs. CIN on 5/29) – 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

Toronto had one of the worst bullpens in the majors the last time these teams met, with a 5.08 ERA and 8 blown saves in April. May was a completely different story, as their bullpen posted a 3.06 ERA and blew just two saves. With the exception of Jason Grilli (and his 6.35 ERA), everyone in the Blue Jays bullpen is pitching well right now, with closer Roberto Osuna and his 1.42 May ERA leading the way.

That being said, the bullpen has been leaned on fairly heavily the last few games. They were needed for 9 innings between Tuesday and Wednesday’s games, with Osuna and set-up man Joe Smith being called for on both days.

Yankees Connection

Russell Martin is currently batting .243/.387/.405 (123 wRC+) with 5 HR in 33 games. He missed two weeks with an injury earlier this month, but he’s been on a tear since returning. He’s also played third base five times already, as the team scraped by with Donaldson on the DL

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Yankees are facing a different Blue Jays team this time around; one that’s much closer to its 2016 incarnation. With an offense at almost full-strength and two of the team’s top starting pitchers taking a turn, this is sure to be a tough series. And that’s part of what has slowly made the Yankees-Blue Jays rivalry so good of late. I never really thought of the Blue Jays as a hateable team, but here we are.

It will be interesting to watch Biagini, as well. The ceilings of most Rule 5 picks are fairly low, so he’s more than delivered so far. If he can be a competent starter, then the Blue Jays will have come away with the biggest steal since Johan Santana.