It took an annoyingly stressful game against the Orioles, but the Yankees have their first series win and their first back-to-back wins of 2019. Their record is back even at 4-4 following Saturday’s 6-4 win in Baltimore. The Yankees had to overcome way too many mistakes to nail this one down.
All Rise, Then All Rise Again
The Aaron Judge vs. J.A. Happ race for the American League home run crown is off and running. Happ took an early lead with two homers allowed in his first start last week, but Judge cut into that lead Saturday night. He clocked his first home run of the season in the first inning, sending a 92 mph 2-2 fastball out to dead center field for a quick 1-0 lead. Between the swing on the homer and the way he spit on two two-strike non-fastballs in the dirt earlier in the at-bat, I wonder if Judge had Dylan Bundy’s pitches. Maybe he was tipping? Dunno.
In the third inning Judge hit his second homer of the game and his second homer of the season. Brett Gardner blooped a double inside the left field foul line as the previous batter, then Bundy left a spinning full count slider up and out over the plate, and Judge did what Judge tends to do with pitches like that. Bundy didn’t have to be tipping his pitches for this ball to be hit a mile:
As usual, Bundy did not pitch deep into the game against the Yankees. He never does. Look at his last five starts against the Yankees:
- September 4th, 2017: 4 innings on 98 pitches (five runs)
- July 11th, 2018: 4 innings on 91 pitches (five runs)
- August 26th, 2018: 5 innings on 100 pitches (four runs)
- March 31st, 2019: 3.2 innings on 93 pitches (three runs)
- April 5th, 2019: 3.2 innings on 85 pitches (thee runs)
That is a lot of pitches for not a lot of innings. Bundy averaged five pitches per batter on the nose Saturday night. The Yankees really wear this kid down. I mean, everyone wears Bundy down (5.45 ERA and 5.17 FIP last year), but the Yankees put him through the grinder each time out. Last week his problem was control (five walks). This week it was hard contact (95.0 mph average exit velocity).
Only One Homer This Time
The good news: J.A. Happ was better Saturday night than he was against these same Orioles in his first start of the new season last week. The bad news: Happ still wasn’t all that good. Judge hit the home run in the top of the first to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead, and Happ gave it right back in the bottom half. Trey Mancini hit an opposite field solo homer. Happ currently leads Judge in the homer race 3-2.
Although he did not go full Sonny Gray and completely melt down after the early homer, it’s hard to say Happ settled down. He allowed at least one baserunner in every inning and needed 88 pitches against the Orioles — the 2019 Orioles! — to throw four innings plus one out. Eighty-eight pitches to put seven runners on base and get 13 outs against the worst and least talented team in baseball? Come on now.
Happ was not removed because he hit an early season pitch limit. He was removed because there were two runners on base and Aaron Boone didn’t want him facing Mancini a third time. In his first two at-bats, Mancini hit a 104.5 mph homer and a 100.5 mph double. Removing Happ was a matchup decision. Jonathan Holder allowed one of the inherited runners to score before closing out the fifth inning and preserving a 3-2 lead.
Happ’s line: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HR on 88 pitches. Not good, in other words. Not good considering the team he faced. Happ struggled to put hitters away — eleven of the 20 batters he faced saw at least five pitches — and he definitely got away with some mistakes out over the plate. I mean, look at this:
A better lineup probably doesn’t foul away or swing through that many pitches in the heart of the strike zone. Happ didn’t face a better lineup though. He faced the Orioles and he got away with those middle-middle pitches. Happ had a bad Spring Training and his first two regular season starts haven’t been good. At age 36, I can’t help but worry about age-related decline. Let’s see what happens though. Hopefully Happ will get locked in next time out.
The Big Blown Opportunity
Immediately after Happ and Holder combined to give the Orioles their second run of the game in the fifth inning, the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth inning. Gary Sanchez was hit by a pitch, Gleyber Torres shot a single to center, and DJ LeMahieu pulled a ground ball through the left side for another single. LeMahieu has a .579 BABIP this season and he’s hitting .727 (8-for-11) on ground balls. Hey, put the ball in play and good things can happen.
Anyway, the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs and did not score. Sanchez was inexcusably picked off third base for the first out. This can’t happen and I have no idea how it did happen. Sanchez got picked off second base Thursday, remember. Also, Pedro Severino, the Orioles catcher, is the same catcher who threw down to third base on the Miguel Andujar injury play last week. The bases were loaded with no outs on that play too.
Is no one paying attention here? Where is Sanchez going? Does no one on the Yankees think to say, “hey, no need to take a big lead here, you’ve already been picked off once this series and this catcher likes to throw to third?” No, no one? There was a pitching change following the LeMahieu single to load the bases. Plenty of time to talk and get a message to Gary there. Truly inexcusable all around. Some win probability numbers:
- Bases loaded and no outs: 83.3%
- Runners on first and second with one out (after pickoff): 69.1%
Woof. The Yankees are up to an MLB high six outs on the bases through eight games. After the Sanchez pickoff, pinch-hitter Clint Frazier struck out and pinch-hitter Gio Urshela hit a weak little ground ball back up to the middle to the perfectly positioned O’s defender. Inning over, rally killed.
A Blown Lead, A Lead Regained
It seems like Aaron Boone got dumber immediately following last year’s Wild Card Game and hasn’t recovered. He had a terrible ALDS and his first few weeks this season haven’t been good. I get that Zack Britton wasn’t available due to his recent workload (even after the off-day Friday), but geez, I’m not sure how you screw up managing this bullpen, but Boone tried his best. Let’s annotate the play-by-play of that seventh inning.
(1) Why in the world did Holder go back out to start the seventh inning after already getting five outs? Five outs and 28 pitches. Even with the inherited runner scoring in the fifth inning, that’s a good night’s work for Holder. Pat him on the butt and bring in the next reliever. But nope, Holder remained in, allowed back-to-back singles to start the inning, then was removed. I don’t understand. My tombstone will read, “Here lies Mike, dead from all those times managers went batter-to-batter instead of letting a fresh reliever start the inning clean.”
(2) Pinch-hitter Chris Davis, huh? It seemed like Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was doing the Yankees a great big favor there, but then Davis pulled a grounder to first base, Greg Bird muffed it, and his throw home was late. Didn’t step on first base for the force out either. Tying run scored and the O’s still had runners on first and second with no outs. Just terrible all around. For a guy who has a .346 OBP, Bird has impressively low-impact this year.
(3) Why did the Yankees not challenge the play at home? Replays showed Cedric Mullins may not have actually touched home plate. He slid in, his foot popped up, and appeared to pass over the base. It’s the seventh inning and it was the tying run. What are they saving the challenge for? The Yankees have been among the most conservative instant replay teams since the system was put in place — they’ve regularly ranked near the bottom of the league in total challenges, under both Joe Girardi and Boone — and geez, I hate it. Shoot your shot on a play like that. (The Yankees never used their challenge this game. Saved it for nothing.)
(4) Runners are 6-for-6 stealing bases against Sanchez this year. Not counting one disaster inning where the Blue Jays stole four bases against the extremely stolen base prone Dellin Betances, runners did not even attempt their sixth stolen base against Sanchez until his 22nd game at catcher this year. They’re 6-for-6 through seven games this year. Hmmm. Between the throwing errors last week and runners attempting six steals in seven games with Sanchez behind the plate, Gary’s throwing is something to watch. Anyway, the steal of third set up the go-ahead sac fly, which I thought looked gone off the bat. Fortunately it stayed in the park.
Unnecessarily sticking with Holder and the derpy defense cost the Yankees the lead in the bottom of the seventh. The offense picked everyone up in the next half inning. Torres worked a two-out walk, LeMahieu served a two-out single to right, and Frazier banged a two-out, two-strike, three-run go-ahead home run to left field. It was glorious. Clint, do the damn thing:
Anyway, yay Clint! That homer surpassed Gleyber’s three-run go-ahead homer from the previous game as the biggest hit of the young season. Win probability added certainly agrees (+.583 vs. +.410). The Yankees blew the lead in stupid fashion in the previous inning, then bam, two-out rally and a 6-4 lead. Everyone was redeemed.
For whatever reason Adam Ottavino was sent back out to start the eighth inning, and a walk and two outs later, Chad Green was on to pitch. I get the sense the Yankees really did not want to use Green tonight. He would up hitting Mullins with an 0-2 pitch — it grazed his jersey more than hit him — and LeMahieu bobbled Jonathan Villar’s would-be inning-ending ground out to load the bases. Argh. Fortunately Davis ground out to first to end the threat. I legitimately feel bad for Davis at this point. The guy is in an 0-for-40 skid dating back to last year.
The Yankees made so many dumb mistakes this game. Sanchez got picked off third with the bases loaded and no outs. Bird didn’t step on first base after fumbling a grounder. Torres didn’t retouch second base as he returned to first on a LeMahieu deep fly ball. LeMahieu fumbled the grounder in the eighth. Happ slid to field a weak chopper and flipped it to no one at first base because Bird went after the ball too. I feel like I’m missing other mistakes too. Either way, the Yankees played some sloppy baseball in this game. They have been all year, really.
Tyler Wade turned in the Yankees’ best defensive play of the young season in the first inning. He ranged behind second base to make a diving grab, and was still able to throw out the speedy Joey Rickard at first base. Here’s video from Twitter since MLB.com never bothered to make one. I have no idea whether Wade will ever hit, but damn can he run and play defense.
Two homers for Judge, three singles for LeMahieu, a single and a walk for Luke Voit, and a single and two walks for Torres. The Yankees put 14 men on base in nine innings and went 3-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Two of the three hits were home runs. Hooray dingers. Long live dingers.
And finally, Aroldis Chapman pitched around a one-out single in the ninth inning for his second save. His fastball averaged 96.9 mph and topped out at 98.6 mph. It’s only April 6th, but Chapman’s max velocity has plateaued. He’s topped out at 98-point-something in his last four appearances.
Despite their best efforts, the Yankees have a chance to sweep this dang series Sunday afternoon. That is a 1:05pm ET start. Domingo German and David Hess are the scheduled starters. Not-so-bold prediction: Runs will be scored.