Better Pitching Equals Better Results…

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP

Happ, turning back the clock, turns back the Sox…

I’ll admit that J.A. Happ has surprised me the last couple of starts. I had written the guy off a few weeks ago and I didn’t want him anywhere near a post-season start but I think I am starting to soften on that position. His terrific performance yesterday, holding the Boston Red Sox to two hits and no runs over 6 1/3 innings, was an illustration why the Yankees re-signed Happ in the off-season and not Lance Lynn. Behind his latest great start, the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 5-1, to even the  four-game series with two to play.  

Photo Credit: AP

Happ has historically been a good pitcher against the Red Sox which, as we know, is why the Yankees acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays last summer. He may not be facing Boston this post-season but this is exactly the Happ we need to show up for the big games in a few weeks.  

It’s great that both Happ and James Paxton are rounding into form at the right time. The Tampa Bay Rays, currently 8 1/2 games back, are on fire right now. The Rays have won 9 of their last 10 games, and one of their top injured pitchers, Tyler Glasnow, was activated today to start later this afternoon. With last year’s Cy Young Award winner, Blake Snell, nearing his return from the Injured List, the Rays are getting reinforcements at exactly the right time for them. I don’t expect the Yankees to blow a 8 1/2 game lead but conversely, the Rays do not appear to be going away.  

Fortunately, for the Yankees, they’ll be getting some reinforcements with Luis Severino and Dellin Betances in the not-so-distant future. I am not sure how Sevy will used, but just having him on the pitching staff will be significant. Early on, it appeared he’d probably be used as either an opener or out of the bullpen, but lately, there appears to be some optimism he can start. Regardless of how Manager Aaron Boone decides to deploy him, the Yankees are a better team with Sevy on the active roster.  

Severino could make his 2019 season debut soon. After Sevy’s second rehab start for the Trenton Thunder (AA) on Friday, Boone told The New York Post, “Overall, it was pretty successful. We’ll talk about whether one more (rehab start) is beneficial or [if he will] come with us.” 

Photo Credit: Staton Rabin, AP

Betances needs more time in the minors before he’s ready but, if all goes well, we should see him within the next few weeks. A pending free agent, Betances has much to prove to ensure a big pay day after the season. Not that I think Betances needs added incentive to pitch well for the Yankees but it can’t hurt.

A setback by Aaron Hicks has seemed to stall any hopes he’ll be able to help the team anytime soon. Aaron Boone said yesterday that “He’s not feeling quite right.” It’s unfortunate but at least the Yankees have a reinvigorated Brett Gardner and the surprisingly successful Mike Tauchman to provide the necessary coverage in center field.  

Now if we could just get Giancarlo Stanton back, all would be good on this roster. Yes, I want Stanton in big moments next month. Regardless of how other guys are playing, Stanton remains a huge threat and I think he’ll have his defining Yankee moment next month. And no, it won’t be swinging and missing at a low outside pitch.  This guy remains a game-changer with one swing of his bat.  

Photo Credit: Mike Stobe, Getty Images

Was there really a report this week that the long-forgotten Jacoby Ellsbury has begun indoor activities? Now there’s a guy I never expect to wear the Pinstripes again. If he reaches full health after several years of inactivity, I think the Yankees should just cut bait and eat the remainder of his contract. There’s no scenario I want to see Ellsbury take a roster spot over more deserving guys. Troy Tulowitzski proved how effective an aging veteran can be after missing a few seasons. I wouldn’t expect any better from Ellsbury. At least Tulo showed some heart and still failed. There’s no apparent evidence Ellsbury has any heart.  

The season is over for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The Tampa Bay Rays were able to grab scoreboard with their Triple A affiliate, the Durham Bulls. The Bulls swept the RailRiders in the opening round of the International League’s Governor’s Cup playoffs, pounding the RailRiders, 17-2, in Game 3 last night. I’m sure this how the Rays envision their future against the Yankees, as early as this October. Hopefully the big league team fares better against the Rays.

RailRiders reliever Ben Heller is expected to join the Yankees later today. Since he is not currently on the active Major League roster (60-day IL), he’ll need to be added to the 40-man roster before he can join the team. Personally, I’d cut Ryan Dull who has no future with this team beyond 2019.  Heller has been my dark-horse favorite for a role in the bullpen as he further distances himself from last year’s Tommy John surgery. I like the guy and I think he can be an effective arm among the quality relievers currently in the Yankees’ bullpen (unlike the much-travelled Dull). Heller was the only effective pitcher in yesterday’s blow-out loss to the Bulls with two innings of hitless/scoreless relief, a walk, and five strikeouts.  

Everyone expects Deivi Garcia to get the call but I don’t think he’s ready. His line yesterday against the Bulls was very forgettable. One inning, two hits (including a homer), four walks, and five runs. Bring the 20-year-old to Spring Training, but I wouldn’t call him up now. I am not basing that on yesterday’s performance but rather his overall time at Triple A. He finished 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA and 5.77 FIP.  He did have 45 strikeouts in 40.0 innings, but issued 20 free passes and hit four batters. I know the Yankees have a seemingly comfortable lead in the AL East but the team is still battling for best record in the AL (currently tied with the Houston Astros at 93-50). Every game matters. I think Garcia will have a long Major League career but let’s pump the brakes until he is truly ready.

Getting back to the Boston Red Sox, their season hangs on the balance. After last night’s loss, they are 7 games out in the AL Wild Card hunt. The Rays and the Oakland A’s hold the top two spots, with the Cleveland Indians hanging in, 1 1/2 games back. With just 20 games to play, the Red Sox literally need two of the three teams ahead of them to collapse. Maybe the Indians fade, but I don’t see the Rays or the A’s relinquishing their current positions. It will be a fun day when I hear the Red Sox have been eliminated from playoff contention. Until then, regardless of the odds, they have a chance. Hopefully the Yanks can take the next two games from Boston to help drive a few nails into their coffin.  

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP

Don’t look now but the Atlanta Braves could be making a move for the best record in Major League Baseball. All season, everyone has talked about how the Los Angeles Dodgers have run away with the NL but suddenly they have the Braves nipping at their heels. Entering play today, the Dodgers are 92-52 after losing two in a row to the San Francisco Giants. Meanwhile, the Braves, who have won 9 consecutive games, are 89-54. They are within striking distance of Yankees, Astros and Dodgers for MLB’s best record. They say the playoffs are not about the best team but the team that gets hot at the right moment. At this point, you’d have to say that the Rays and Braves are Baseball’s hottest teams. Much can change between now and October, but these two teams are intent on making noise in the coming weeks. Time for Team Pinstripes to put ‘the pedal to the metal’. 

The Yankees have announced a few moves today but none featured Ben Heller. I remain optimistic he’ll get the call, but here’s the day’s transaction per the Yankees:

    • Reinstated Gio Urshela from the 10-day IL
    • Returned Thairo Estrada from rehab and reinstated him from the 10-day IL
    • Recalled Kyle Higashioka and Breyvic Valera from the RailRiders

I am glad to see Urshela back on the field. DJ LeMahieu does a great job at third, but having flexibility with him, helps the team. These moves were simple paper transactions, whereas, Heller will require some maneuvering so perhaps there will be more transactions announced later today. For Heller’s sake, I hope so. 

Photo Credit: Rich Gagnon, AP

I was surprised to see former Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda receive a 60-game ban yesterday for taking a diuretic. Pineda, who has been the Twins’ best pitcher the last few weeks, said in a statement that he took an over-the-counter medication to help control his weight, but it contained hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic that can mask other substances. The ban was initially 80 games, but Pineda was able to get it reduced to 60 games on appeal after making a compelling case he was not attempting to mask performance-enhancing drugs. I don’t think Pineda had an intent to deceive but it’s an unfortunate situation for the one-time Yank and it certainly hurts Minnesota’s chances for October success.

As always, Go Yankees!

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