April 12: No lead is safe anymore
The Yankees returned to the Bronx on a rainy Friday night and picked up right where they left off when they departed Texas — blowing a lead and losing another game.
The loss dropped them to 5.5 games behind in the AL East, putting them in an unprecedented hole in the division race. It was the first time they trailed by more than five games in the standings this early into the season (13th game) since 1984, when the Tigers won 16 of their first 17 games and ran away with the AL East crown.
It was a collective dumpster-fire performance by the pitching staff. J.A. Happ was awful from the start (six runs allowed on nine hits) and continued his trend of inefficient, ineffective pitching this season (88 pitches, 12 outs). For the third time in three starts, he was unable to get more than one out in the fifth inning before getting pulled.
Before Happ, the last two Yankee pitchers to last no more than 4 1/3 innings in each of their first three starts of the season were Phil Hughes (2011) and Chien-Ming Wang (2009) … and both of those guys went on the DL after their third start.
After the Yankees pulled within a run in the bottom of the sixth, Chad Green came into the game in the next frame and sealed the loss by allowing back-to-back homers. It was the first time as a reliever he gave up multiple homers in a game. He has pitched 6 1/3 innings and allowed three homers. In 2017, he allowed four homers in 69 innings pitched.
April 13: CC The Great
The Yankees briefly snapped out of their slump on Saturday. They blanked the White Sox 4-0 thanks to a vintage performance from CC Sabathia and a dose of smallball offense.
Sabathia and three relievers combined to give up just one hit and no walks, the fourth game in Yankee Stadium history (old or new) that the Yankees pitchers didn’t walk a batter and allowed no more than one hit. The other three times? David Cone’s perfecto (July 19, 1999), David Wells’ perfecto (May 17, 1998) and Don Larsen’s perfecto (Oct. 8, 1956).
Sabathia was spectacular in his 19th and final season debut, delivering a performance — though abbreviated — that statistically might rank among the best of his big-league career. He retired 15 of the 16 batters faced, allowing only a third-inning single. It was the first game in Sabathia’s career that he gave up one or fewer baserunners (while pitching more than an inning). The big lefty also re-wrote the franchise record books:
CC Sabathia is the 1st pitcher in Yankees history (since 1908) to allow no more than 1 baserunner in his first start of the season.
— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) April 13, 2019
The Yankees broke a scoreless tie in the seventh with a couple manufactured runs:
- bases-loaded RBI single by Luke Voit (who is a cool 7-for-18 and 16 RBI with the bags full in his career)
- bases-loaded sac fly by Kyle Higashioka (the first sac fly of his MLB career!)
- perfect safety squeeze bunt by Tyler Wade (the first successful sac bunt of his MLB career!)
Aaron Judge then added another run in the eighth with a solo shot that just cleared the right-field porch. It had a Statcast-projected distance of 335 feet, the shortest home run of his career.
Tanaka slammed, bats crumble
Any sliver of optimism coming from Saturday’s win was quickly erased in Sunday’s 5-2 loss. They’ve now dropped each of their first three series at Yankee Stadium; the last time that happened was 1982 (a forgettable season that included three managers and 83 losses). Even worse the three series losses have come against the Tigers, White Sox and Orioles — teams that averaged 104 losses last year and are projected to have three of the five worst records in MLB this season.
The game followed a very familiar — and depressing — script, with the Yankees taking an early lead, blowing it and the offense unable to mount a comeback.
The facts: The Yankees have held a lead in 14 of 15 games and are 6-8 in those games; they’ve scored first in 12 of 15 games and are 5-7 in those games.
- 8 blown-lead losses are tied with the Royals for the most in MLB.
- Last year they didn’t suffer their 8th blown-lead loss until June 24.
- Last year they won 80% of their games in which they had a lead (second-best record in MLB), and the MLB-wide win percentage is 70%.
- 7 losses when scoring first are the most in MLB this season.
- Last year they didn’t get their 7th scoring-first loss until July 15
- Last year they won 81% of their games when scoring first (second-best record in MLB) and the MLB-wide win percentage is 67%
Masahiro Tanaka cruised through the first three frames, striking out five of the first seven batters he faced. But he unraveled in the fourth, loading the bases with one out, before Tim Anderson pummeled a hanging splitter for a game-changing grand slam. It was the fourth career grand slam allowed by Tanaka, and all four have come since 2017. The only other pitcher to give up four slams in that span is J.A. Happ.
As nasty as Tanaka’s splitter can be when he locates it down in the zone or in the dirt, it’s a meatball pitch when he can’t command it.
And so far this year, he’s struggled to keep the pitch out of the hitter’s attack zone more than in any previous season. Here’s his percentage of splitters thrown in the heart of the zone:
2019 – 30%
2018 – 21%
2017 – 21%
2016 – 16%
2015 – 14%
2014 – 15%
Tanaka was terrible but the offense was just as awful, scoring only two runs on four hits; from the fourth through ninth innings, just two Yankees reached base and neither of those guys made it to second base.