Well, at least they didn’t blow another late-inning lead. The Yankees dropped Wednesday’s series finale 8-6 to the Astros and were swept in the three-game series. If you’re an optimist, you can say the Yankees did a nice job hanging in against a great team even though so many key players are hurt. If you’re a pessimist, you can say the Yankees were outplayed in every phase of the game the entire series, and out-managed too. Me? I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I’m just a guy still mad the Yankees didn’t sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.
Big Lame James
On a night the Yankees needed James Paxton to put together a strong start, he fell pretty flat. Five runs and eleven baserunners in four innings plus two batters flat. The first eight Astros who put the ball in play against him made very loud contact. The exit velocities: 108.9, 76.9, 104.2, 75.0, 102.9, 103.3, 100.7, 108.1. Six of the eight in triple digits. Paxton was not fooling anyone.
In fact, Paxton threw 95 pitches Wednesday and the Astros swung and missed eight times, including only twice against his fastball. He had eight and 14 swings and misses on his fastball in his first two starts, respectively. The Astros are most certainly not the Orioles though. The ‘Stros were so on Paxton’s fastball that I thought the Yankees would change it up and have him lean on his curveball and cutter, but nope.
Paxton stuck with his fastball throughout the start. Jose Altuve hit a solo homer and Yuli Gurriel tripled in a run in the first inning — the triple included the daily outfield miscue, as Brett Gardner missed a dive and let the ball get by him — Carlos Correa doubled in a run in the third, and Altuve hit another homer in the fifth. Four homers in the three-game series Altuve. Way to not let the other team’s best player beat you, guys.
Of course, Paxton should not even have been on the mound in that fifth inning, but anytime you can send a struggling starter with a 90+ pitch count back out so he can face the middle of the lineup a third time, you have to do it. A homer and a single later, Paxton’s night was over. The line: 4 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 2 HR on 95 pitches. Anytime someone not named Masahiro Tanaka wants to pitch well, that’d be great.
Too Little, Too Late
Wednesday’s game started so well. Gardner hit Collin McHugh’s third pitch over the right field wall for a leadoff homer and a quick 1-0 lead. A Greg Bird walk and a DJ LeMahieu single to start the second inning went for naught, and a Gleyber Torres double and a Bird single to start the fourth inning led to only one run. That came on a LeMahieu sacrifice fly. McHugh retired nine straight after that.
It wasn’t until the eighth inning, after Houston built a 7-2 lead, that the Yankees made it interesting. Let’s annotated the play-by-play:
(1) Luke Voit is not not strong. Josh James left a mistake slider up in the zone and it left Voit’s bat like a bolt of lightning. Zipped out to left field in an instant for a two-run home run. Statcast says this homer had a 105.0 mph exit velocity but I don’t believe it. That feels light. After a little weeklong skid, Voit has three home runs in his last six games. That’s more like it.
(2) This was probably Bird’s best at-bat of the season. He fell behind the count 0-2 against James, an extreme hard-thrower, and he worked the count back full before taking the eight-pitch walk. Bird fouled away two two-strike pitches to stay alive at one point. Four straight Yankees reached to start the inning and they had two runs on the board and the tying run at the plate. They were in business.
(3) Good gravy what an at-bat by LeMahieu. Fell behind in the count 1-2, worked it back full, spoiled two tough two-strike pitches, then punched a double down the right field line. Hector Rondon showed LeMahieu everything he had and couldn’t put him away. Fastballs, sliders, nothing worked. LeMahieu went 3-for-3 with a double and a sac fly in the game. He’s hitting .410/.455/.538 (178 wRC+) in the early going. Imagine where these beat up Yankees would be without him.
(4) On one hand, a sacrifice fly to bring a run in and put the tying run at third base with one out is a good outcome. On the other hand, gosh, it felt like Clint Frazier’s sac fly really took the wind out the team’s sails that inning, didn’t it? Five straight Yankees reached base … and then suddenly it was up to the eighth and ninth hitters to get the job done. Frazier hit the ball hard. It just happened to be caught. That was a bummer. The beginning of the end of the rally.
(5) With a runner at third and less than one out in the second, Austin Romine struck out on three pitches and the Yankees did not score. With a runner at third and less than out in the eighth, Romine hit a soft little line drive right to Altuve at second base. Didn’t get the run in either time. I look forward to the YES Network splashing his numbers with runners in scoring position on the screen all summer after he has the annual two-week hot streak that props up his numbers the rest of the year.
Anyway, after the Yankees scored four in the eighth to make it a one-run game, the Astros put an insurance run on the board against Zack Britton. Torres came in on Jake Marisnick’s weak grounder and rushed the throw, leading to yet another Yankees error. Britton’s inning went single (error), single, strikeout, walk, single, double play. He’s up to 12 baserunners and ten swings and misses on the season. I think I’m more excited to follow this than the Aaron Judge vs. J.A. Happ home run race.
Tommy Kahnle replaced Paxton in the fifth inning and not only allowed the inherited runner to score, he allowed two runs of his own to score as well. Joe Harvey was the only standout on the pitching side. He struck out three in two scoreless innings in his MLB debut. Adam Ottavino warmed up for the eighth, yet Britton went out to face all the righties at the top of the lineup. The blog is too close to closing for this crap.
Every starter reached base at least once except Frazier, who had a sacrifice fly, and Romine. Single and a walk for Judge, single and a double for Torres, single and two walks for Bird, two singles and a double for LeMahieu. Gary Sanchez pinch-struck-out for Tyler Wade to end the eighth. He didn’t pinch-hit for Romine because he’s nursing a tight calf and the Yankees didn’t want him to catch.
The road trip is over and the Yankees are heading back to the Bronx for a nine-game homestand. Thursday is an off-day, then the Yankees open a three-game series with the White Sox on Friday night. J.A Happ and Lucas Giolito are the scheduled starting pitchers. That is a 7:05pm ET start and it’s Bernie Williams bobblehead night, so that’s cool.