|Photo Credit: New York Daily News (Corey Sipkin)|
Aaron Boone is present and accounted for in Tampa…
As we bear down on the reporting date for pitchers and catchers (with many players already at camp) in a few days, it has continued to be very quiet for the Yankees and their primary division rival, the Boston Red Sox.
It really does not feel like there is any team willing to match or exceed the alleged offer made to free agent outfielder J.D. Martinez by the Red Sox. There has been some talk that the Arizona Diamondbacks could come up with a $100 million contract offer but they’d need to move salary to make it happen (sounds like the Yankees and their interest in free agent starting pitcher Yu Darvish except their ‘Jacoby Ellsbury-like’ albatross is the heavy contract of starting pitcher Zack Greinke who at least remains a vital part of the team’s plans). Martinez would prefer to play right field which probably makes Phoenix more desirable (to him) than Boston but I remain convinced that dollars will win in the end and that Martinez will be on display at Fenway Park as the team’s primary DH. There’s always the chance they could trade Jackie Bradley, Jr and move Andrew Benintendi to center but that would weaken the outfield defense.
|Photo Credit: Getty Images (Jennifer Stewart)|
If the Red Sox fail to sign Martinez, names like Mike Moustakas and Logan Morrison have been mentioned. None are easy fits. Signing Moose Tacos would require an adjustment with plans for young starting third baseman Rafael Devers. Morrison probably makes more sense as he could share 1B and DH with Mitch Moreland. Nevertheless, I really feel the Red Sox will persevere and eventually sign Martinez. The Red Sox know that they need a big bopper to compete with the Yankees this year. I am not quick to say the Yankees are the superior favorites in the AL East. I feel the Red Sox are the champions until proven otherwise. I also expect the Red Sox starting rotation to be stronger this year, with bounce backs by David Price and Rick Porcello. It was great that Chris Sale couldn’t get a victory against the Yankees last year, but the odds of that happening again are similar to the odds of the Yankees successfully trading Ellsbury. Boston is not going away and the Yankees won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year like they did in 2017. Baseball Prospectus released its annual PECOTA projections last week and they have the Yankees winning the division by 9 games over the Red Sox with 96 wins. I think the division will be much closer than that, especially if the Sox are successful in snagging Martinez. I have been a Yankees fan too long to underestimate the Sox.
PECOTA, for what it’s worth, projects Aaron Judge with a batting average of only .247 (really?), with 37 home runs and 94 RBI’s. Giancarlo Stanton is projected at .259, 41 home runs and 106 RBI’s. Gary Sanchez is not far behind with .269 BA, 34 homers and 97 RBI’s.
The one that really stands out to me is first baseman Greg Bird. The projection has him getting over 500 plate appearances, while batting .246 with 28 homers and 86 RBI’s. I am really hopeful that this is the year that Bird finally stays healthy. I love his swing and his bat in the stacked Yankees lineup. But until he proves that he can stay on the field for the duration of the season, I am going to be a bit skeptical.
|Photo Credit: New York Daily News (Andrew Savulich)|
My fear is that the Yankees have to lean on Tyler Austin at first base more heavily than expected. I guess all things considered that’s better than rolling out Chris Carter, but I’d prefer no question marks at first base as the Yankees attempt to break in rookies at second and third bases.
The Tampa Bay Rays might actually play in Tampa…
On Friday, the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they’d like to build a new stadium in Ybor City, a historic Latin community northeast of downtown Tampa. There are many hurdles before it can come to fruition, but I hope the Rays are successful. I don’t know much about Tampa politics but it makes more sense to have the Rays in Tampa than St Petersburg. Watching a baseball game at Tropicana Field always feels like watching a game in an oversized warehouse. I really hope that Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg is successful in getting his stadium initiative approved and funded. This seems like such a win-win situation for the Rays and the greater Tampa metropolitan area.
|Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Times (Marc Topkin)|
Ybor City is about five miles east of Steinbrenner Field and Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I don’t like the smell of that rumor…
Speaking of the Rays, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported this week that the Yankees had checked in on Rays starter Jake Odorizzi. Odorizzi is only 27 (28 in late March) but the right-hander had a down year in 2017. He was 10-8 with 4.14 ERA in 28 starts. He only struck out 127 batters while walking 61, the worst K/BB ratio of his career. A fly-ball pitcher, he gave up 30 home runs, which obviously would not play well in Yankee Stadium. One Rays blog proposed sending Odorizzi and reliever Alex Colome to the Yankees for outfielder Clint Frazier and a low-level lottery ticket. I wouldn’t do it. I would consider sending Frazier to Tampa for a trade circled around Chris Archer, but not Odorizzi.
|Photo Credit: Getty Images (Mark Cunningham)|
“Odo” would not be a significant upgrade over any of the starters in the current Yankees rotation so I dismiss the thought that the Yankees might be interested. I’ll gladly take a promising young arm like Chance Adams or Justus Sheffield over Odorizzi. The only reason you’d make a trade for Odorizzi would be on his potential as a breakout candidate but I’d prefer the in-house options…and keeping Red Thunder in pinstripes.
But wait, weren’t we part of the exciting young Yankees?…
Yesterday, Tyler Kepner of The New York Times wrote an article about which teams stand a chance in 2018. It was kind of sad looking for the photo that he posted with the caption, “The Yankees reached the American League Championship Series last season, but fell short against the Astros.” Of the recognizable faces, only one player and one coach remain from this pic taken just last October.
|Photo Credit: The New York Times (Chang W Lee)|
Joe Girardi can now be found on the MLB Network sporting a suit and defending his managerial choices during last season’s post-season. Rob Thomson is helping set up training camp in Clearwater, Florida for the Philadelphia Phillies as new manager Gabe Kapler’s bench coach and most likely the lead training camp organizer. No word about the future plans for former hitting coach Alan Cockrell, seen in the photo standing next to current hitting coach Marcus Thames. Yankees centerfielder Aaron Hicks looks at a trio of ex-Yankees. Todd Frazier will soon be headed to Port St Lucie, FL for the New York Mets; Starlin Castro, assuming he is not traded, will go to Jupiter, FL for the Miami Marlins; while Chase Headley returns to the Valley of the Sun in Peoria, AZ to play for his original team, the San Diego Padres. Hicks, as we know, will help ensure that Jacoby Ellsbury is the most expensive bench player in baseball. Thames, I am sure, is salivating at the opportunity to work with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, and others. Good times…
|Photo Credit: Getty Images|
|Photo Credit: Kevin C Cox, Getty Images|
Red Thunder Gets No Rest…
Now that we don’t have Gerrit Cole rumors to fuel our days, it looks like we’ll be hearing more and more about Yu Darvish until he finally signs somewhere.
John Harper of The New York Daily News floated a trade possibility this morning. In his scenario, the Yankees would send Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier to the San Francisco Giants for second baseman Joe Panik. By including Frazier, Harper figures the Yankees could get the Giants to pay $12-$13 million annually of what’s left on Ellsbury’s contract. In his line of thinking, the trade would open the pathway for the Yankees to sign Darvish so he basically views it as an Ellsbury/Frazier swap for Darvish/Panik.
|Photo Credit: Lance Iversen, USA TODAY Sports|
I am not sure that I’m crazy about the trade idea but if the Yankees were willing to send Frazier to Pittsburgh for Cole, they’d be willing to move him to bring in Yu Darvish.
If the Yankees carried a fifth outfielder on the roster to start the year (assuming Ellsbury and Frazier are dealt), it would most likely be Tyler Austin, who could back up first and the corner outfield spots, or Billy McKinney, an outfielder who did work at first base during the Arizona Fall League.
Panik’s presence would allow the Yankees to take their time with Gleyber Torres or move him to third base as once planned. A native New Yorker, Panik, 27, hit .288 with 10 home runs and 53 RBIs for the Giants in 2017. He was eligible for arbitration for the first time this year and settled with the Giants last week for $3.45 million. He can be a free agent in 2021. His lefty bat would play well in Yankee Stadium.
No one is going to take Ellsbury in a straight one-for-one swap, even with boatloads of cash included. So as much as I’d hate to lose Frazier, this is probably a trade that I’d make so long as I knew that I could sign either Darvish or Alex Cobb for the starting rotation.
In an unrelated rumor, Jim Bowden is saying that the Milwaukee Brewers are interested in signing third baseman Mike Moustakas if they could trade Travis Shaw to the Braves, Mets or Yankees. I’m never too excited about adding an ex-Red Sock, but Shaw had a breakout year for the Brewers in 2017 with 31 home runs and 101 RBIs. He batted .273/.349/.513. He is a left-handed bat and will turn 28 in mid-April. Not sure what level of interest the Yankees might have, but it bears watching. It would certainly cause much angst in the Red Sox Nation.
|Photo Credit: Jim Davis, Globe Staff|
Congrats Hideki Matsui…
According to The Japan Times, former Yankee (and Yomiuri Giant) Hideki Matsui has been elected to the Japanese Hall of Fame. At 43 years and 7 months, Matsui is the youngest entrant to the Japanese HOF, eclipsing former Dodgers/Mets pitcher Hideo Nomo, who was 45 years and 4 months at the time of his election.
Before heading to the United States to join the Yankees, Matsui won three Central League home run titles (1998, 2000, and 2002) and he was MVP of the CL in 1996, 2000, and 2002.
This was Matsui’s first year on the Japanese ballot and he garnered 91.3% of the vote. He was joined by former Hanshin Tigers star Tomoaki Kanemoto and former Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara.
In his prepared statement, Matsui thanked his mentor, former Yomiuri Giants skipper Shigeo Nagashima. “Day in and day out, (Nagashima) checked my swing, and those days formed the cornerstone for me as a baseball player.”
|Photo Credit: Kyodo|
Hideki’s father, Masao, attended the announcement ceremony on his behalf. Hideki is in New York and was unable to attend.
Congratulations to the great #55 for the well-deserved honor!
Stanton and Judge who?…
Aaron Hicks caused quite a stir on Instagram this weekend when he posted a workout pic that shows he is more than capable of holding his own in the Yankees outfield. I was a little shocked when I first saw the pic and there were plenty of people who questioned whether or not it really was A-A-Ron (it is). Justin Diamond (@justindiamond) had the best tweet: “Sweet baby Jesus. @AaronHicks31 you on the juice this off-season?”…
Wow, what a football game!…
As a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan, I’ve endured my share of disappointment over the years. The Vikings have found more unique ways to lose big games than any NFL team that I can think of. Well, outside of the Buffalo Bills. Yesterday’s NFC Playoff game against the New Orleans Saints was a game of atonement for me.
The Vikings jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half and I was getting congratulations from a number of friends. As a Vikings fan, I knew it was way too early to start getting excited. Plus, Drew Brees is still one of the game’s great quarterbacks. Sure enough, a couple of plays in the second half shifted the momentum to the Saints. The Vikings lost the lead and then re-captured it with less than 2 minutes to go. I was fearful that the Vikings had left too much time on the clock for Brees and Company and unfortunately I was right. Brees led the Saints to a field goal to re-capture the lead at 24-23 with 25 seconds left. Starting on their own 25 after a touchback on the kickoff, the Vikings moved to their 39 and faced a third down with 10 seconds left and no time outs. I was resigned to the agony of defeat when Vikings QB Case Keenum hit WR Stefon Diggs for a 61-yard touchdown to win the game. The Vikings won the game, 29-24. It was such an incredible feeling…something like Aaron Judge hitting a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 9th.
|Photo Credit: Pioneer Press|
I am not sure what will happen next week in Philadelphia as the Vikings take on the Eagles for the NFC Championship but I am enjoying the ride. The Eagles are the only thing that stands between the Vikings and playing this year’s Super Bowl at US Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. So regardless of whether they win or lose, the Vikings are going home. I just hope it is with a game still be played.
Lastly, We Remember…
Today, we remember the late great Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Actually, he is thought of every day, but today is officially his day. He had so many great words over the course of his life, but I’ll leave this post with one: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Thank you, Dr King, for making a difference. We are a better country because of you and would have been even greater if you hadn’t been taken from us prematurely. We are forever grateful for you and your efforts to make this a better World for all of us.
Never forget MLK Jr…
We may want it all but…
We’re the mighty Yankees. We should have every available superstar, right? To listen to some fans, that seems to be the case. But in reality, this is a business and the magical figure of $197 million to reset luxury tax penalties may as well be a hard and fast salary cap. Team Hal will do whatever it takes to stay under that mark.
It’s nice that free agent pitcher Yu Darvish has narrowed his choices to six teams, including the Yankees. But in the grand scheme of things, it means nothing. The Yankees are not going to pursue Darvish at this point given the pitcher’s desire for a contract in excess of $20 million per year annually.
Yesterday, Michael Kay reported on his show that the Yankees had previously offered Darvish 7 years at $160 million but had given him a short window (48 hours) to accept. When Darvish didn’t bite, the Yankees allegedly pulled the offer. No offense to Michael (he’s one of my favorites), I struggle with the thought the Yankees really made that type of offer with the current roster construction and cost. If the Yankees really did make that level of offer and Darvish did not accept, he was foolish in this stagnant market.
I really liked Yu Darvish when he first came to the United States and had been hopeful the Yankees would sign him before he was snagged by the Texas Rangers. But now, while I agree he is an upper echelon pitcher, I don’t feel that he’d be the right fit. The primary reason is money. The reality is that the Yankees will keep 2018 payroll below the $197 million threshold. Even if the Yankees moved contract(s) to make room, I don’t think it would be the wisest path to add a multi-year, greater than $20 mil per year, contract for a pitcher on the wrong side of 30. If Darvish was the missing piece to guarantee a World Series, it would be one thing but he’s not. The only thing that I like about a Darvish signing is that he wouldn’t cost multiple top prospects like a trade for Gerrit Cole would. The reality is that arms like Justus Sheffield and Albert Abreu could be out-performing Darvish in the big leagues within the next few years.
While Manny Machado would look great in Pinstripes, the reality is that he will not be part of the 2018 Yankees. At the moment, the Arizona Diamondbacks appear to be the frontrunner…if the Baltimore Orioles decide to trade their very talented third baseman. The D-Backs, if they acquire Machado, would move him to his position of preference (shortstop). While I think Machado should stay at third (for the sake of his surgically-repaired knees), you wonder if shortstop becomes Machado’s top priority when he hits the free agent market after the upcoming season. If so, the Yankees will not be in play given the team already has a strong shortstop. Didi Gregorius, the unsung hero of the 2017 Yankees, is not going anywhere.
|Photo Credit: Getty Images|
I am not opposed to the Yankees filling second and third bases with Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, respectively. I just don’t feel the Yankees would entrust two critical positions to rookies at the same time.
GM Brian Cashman is talking like Torres could break camp as the starting second baseman but it makes the most sense to keep him at Triple A for the first few weeks to delay his MLB service time and push his free agent eligibility back a year. Hal Steinbrenner, the accountant, is never going to go hog wild with payroll, even if he is successful in resetting luxury tax penalties this year. Unlike his father, he will always be concerned about the bottom line. I am comfortable with Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes covering second until Torres is ready. I buy into the opinion that we didn’t see the real Wade last year and he could be more like the player he was for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders this year. Training camp will be very critical for him. But, really, there’s no question second base belongs to Torres regardless of what Wade is able to accomplish.
As for third, Andujar, if he isn’t traded, will be watched very closely at training camp as he attempts to disprove the perspective that his defensive game hasn’t caught up with his bat. Another name that has been suggested, Kyle Holder, seems to be a stretch. Holder is 23 but the highest he has played was at High A Tampa last year. It would be very difficult to make that type of leap for the defensive wizard. He’s not a power bat but in the Yankees lineup, he would not need to be. Realistically, I think Holder is still a season or two away. My opinion remains that the 2018 Yankees third baseman is not presently on the roster. But if I am wrong and Andujar heads north to the Bronx with the big league club in late March, so be it. I’ll be a fan and supporter.
I was glad to see the Yankees settle two of their potential arbitration cases yesterday when they signed Tommy Kahnle and Aaron Hicks to one-year contracts for $1.325 million and $2.825 million, respectively. With today’s deadline to exchange arbitration figures, it’s possible that we could see other signings. The other arbitration eligible players are Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Sonny Gray, Adam Warren, Chasen Shreve and Austin Romine. The Yankees want to avoid contentious battles like the one with Dellin Betances last year, even though they won. Of the players, I’d really hate to see Gregorius or Gray go to arbitration. They are such huge keys for the upcoming season. The worst way to start the year would be for them to go into a room to hear about their faults from the team’s perspective.
My general sense is that the Yankees will make at least one other significant move before training camp but it’s equally possible that ‘what you see is what you get’ with the current roster. I expect other non-roster invitees beyond infielder Jace Peterson but it’s hard to classify any of those as “significant”.
Let’s see what today brings…
|Credit: Tony Gutierrez-AP|
American League Championship Series
Astros 2, Yankees 1…
Astros lead Series, 1-0
The Yankees had the answer this season for Chris Sale and they finally figured out likely AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in the post-season but Dallas Keuchel remains a mystery. Unable to generate any runs against Keuchel, the Yankees fell to the Astros in the first game of the ALCS despite a solid outing from Masahiro Tanaka.
|Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports|
The Yankees didn’t pick up their first hit against Keuchel until Brett Gardner lined a single to left with two outs in the 3rd inning. Unfortunately, he didn’t go anywhere when Aaron Judge followed with his only strikeout of the game.
Starlin Castro picked up a single to left, just past the outstretched glove of running shortstop Carlos Correa, in the top of 4th inning, also with two outs, but like Gardy, he did not do anything except have a brief conversation with first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Aaron Hicks flied out to center, on huge fly that nearly took center fielder George Springer to the wall, to send Castro looking for his hat and glove to take the field. A couple more feet and the Yankees might have taken the early lead.
The Astros, meanwhile, didn’t miss the only opportunity that Masahiro Tanaka gave them. With one out in the bottom of the 4th, Jose Altuve singled on a grounder to second, beating the throw to first. He subsequently stole second to put himself in scoring position. Carlos Correa’s single to left brought the probable AL MVP around to score the game’s first run. Marwin Gonzalez hit a slow grounder to second and was thrown out at first for the second out, but Correa advanced to second base. Yuli Gurriel’s single to center, a grounder up the middle between Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius, scored Correa and the Astros had a 2-0 lead.
Credit: Elsa-Getty Images
The Yankees had their chance in the top of the 5th but were unable to convert. Greg Bird led off with a single to right, a sharply hit ball just past first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Matt Holliday reached on a fielding error by Jose Altuve (bobbled the ball after stopping the grounder) so the Yankees had runners at first and second with no outs. Todd Frazier lined out to center and Brett Gardner struck out but Aaron Judge followed them with a single to left. Bird hesitated a moment and then raced around third and headed home. Unfortunately, left fielder Marwin Gonzalez threw a perfect strike in to catcher Brian McCann to nail Bird at the plate for the final out of the inning. The Yankees challenged the play but replay showed Bird was less than a second too late. Sadly, Bird’s run around third seemed like slow motion compared Jose Altuve’s run in the prior inning. Credit Gonzalez and McCann for the stellar play.
|Credit: Elsa-Getty Images|
Dallas Keuchel finally left the game after seven scoreless innings (and ten strikeouts). Houston fans may love Dallas (the pitcher, not the city) but I was very glad to see him leave. But the Astros bullpen is strong and set up artist Chris Devenski has been a better version of Dellin Betances this year. Still, the Yankees had their chance in the 8th against Devenski. Brett Gardner worked a one-out walk, which brought Astros manager A.J. Hinch out of the dugout to replace Devenski with closer Ken Giles. Giles promptly threw a wild pitch with Aaron Judge at the plate, allowing Gardy to move to second. Judge grounded out to third for the second out, but Gary Sanchez walked to put two runners on for Didi Gregorius. The Yankees replaced Sanchez at first with pinch-runner Ronald Torreyes. Didi has come up so big for the Yankees in key spots this year but on this night, Giles won the battle when Didi swung and missed on an 0-2 count after three successive foul balls.
In the top of the 9th, Giles struck out both Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks to start the inning. Greg Bird finally put the Yankees on the board when he homered to right, a high fly inside of the foul pole, to make it a one-run game.
|Credit: Anthony J Causi-NY Post|
DH Matt Holliday was due up next, but Manager Joe Girardi opted to send Jacoby Ellsbury to the plate. Ellsbury went down swinging to end the game and hand the series advantage to the Astros.
In retrospect, the huge missed opportunity was Greg Bird’s out at the plate in the 5th inning. If he had gotten a good jump when Aaron Judge hit that drive to left, he might have beaten the throw. But hats off to the Astros for making their plays. The Yankees pitched a good game but the Astros pitched a little better. Fortunately, the bullpen will be rested for Game 2 as the Yankees only had to burn Chad Green in relief of Tanaka. Green pitched two frames of scoreless relief with 31 pitches thrown.
|Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports|
On the bright side, Dallas Keuchel won’t take the mound again until a potential Game 5. The Yankees offense should fare much better against crafty veteran Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.38 ERA) and the rest of the Astros starters. For Game 2, Verlander will be tough, no doubt, but the Yankees can win this game and send the series to New York with a split. We’ll have staff ace Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98 ERA) to lead the way. I like those odds.
Have a great Saturday! A perfect day would feature a Yankees win! Let’s make it happen. Go Yankees!
|Credit: Phil Long-AP|
American League Division Series, Game 5
Yankees Win Series, 3-2
Yankees 5, Indians 2…
CC Sabathia pitched tremendously before handing it over to the bullpen and the bats of Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner provided the offense as the Yankees surprised the Cleveland Indians and the Baseball World to advance to the American League Championship Series.
Going into the final game of the ALDS, none of the experts were giving the Yankees a chance going against likely AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in his home ballpark. But thanks in very large part to Gregorius, Kluber didn’t stay around too long. His two home runs ensured that Kluber was watching the game from the dugout by the end of the 4th inning. I am sure that’s not the game plan that Tribe manager Terry Francona had envisioned. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird were a combined 0-for-13 with ten strikeouts, but with Didi Gregorius playing one of the greatest games in Yankee shortstop history, it did not matter.
The game started with Corey Kluber in control. Brett Gardner opened with a failed bunt attempt on the first pitch to record an out. Aaron Judge struck out for the first of four strikeouts on the night for the second out. But then Didi Gregorius, who entered the game with just one hit in the series, blasted a drive into the right field seats for the game’s first run. Kluber came right back and struck out Gary Sanchez and was seemingly in control despite the misplaced pitch to Didi.
The Yankees had a runner in scoring position in the 2nd inning when Aaron Hicks took a two-out walk and Jacoby Ellsbury reached first on, surprise, catcher’s interference (bat hit the top of the catcher’s glove). Todd Frazier flied out to end the inning and leave the runners stranded, but the Yankees were showing activity against Kluber. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia was facing the minimum number of batters with four strikeouts through the first two innings.
Brett Gardner led off the top of the 3rd inning with a sharp single to right. After Judge whiffed again, Didi Gregorius jumped on another Kluber pitch and ensured it was a fan souvenir in the right field seats again. The Yankees were up, 3-0.
|Credit: Jason Miller-Getty Images|
The bottom of the inning was another three-up, three-down performance for Sabathia, with two more strikeouts.
In the top of the 4th inning, Kluber retired the first two hitters but had reached three balls with both before getting a strikeout and a line out. When he walked Jacoby Ellsbury on five pitches, it was Miller Time in Cleveland. Terry Francona pulled Kluber, who left with a 12.79 ERA in this series, in favor of Andrew Miller. Miller struck out Todd Frazier to get the Tribe out of the inning but it was very surprising to see Kluber’s exit before the conclusion of four full innings. I certainly was not complaining.
CC Sabathia finally gave up his first hit in the bottom of the 4th when Francisco Lindor led off with a single through the hole into left field. Sabathia came back strong, retiring the next three batters, two by strikeout, and remained in control. He looked good starting the bottom of the 5th when he struck out Carlos Santana, but then four successive singles brought home two runs to make it a one-run game. Manager Joe Girardi wasn’t taking any chances at that point and went to the pen to bring in David Robertson to face Francisco Lindor with runners at first and second.
|Credit: Getty Images|
On his second pitch, Lindor hit a grounder to Didi who stepped on second and threw to first to complete the inning-ending double play. A huge defensive play by Didi to ensure that his glove was as loud as his bat. CC Sabathia may not have survived the 5th inning, but still, giving up only two runs and striking out nine batters was a tremendous effort despite the slim lead.
|Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports|
It became a dueling battle of the bullpens as both teams put up scoreless frames through the eighth inning. The Tribe brought in their closer, Cody Allen, with two outs in the 8th (who proceeded to strike out Greg Bird), but I was very surprised…and a little uneasy…when the Yankees brought in Aroldis Chapman to start the bottom of the 8th. With so many other options available in the bullpen, I was fearful that Girardi had gone to Chapman too prematurely. Fortunately, Girardi proved why he is the Yankees manager and I am just a blogger on this site, when Chapman recorded three quick outs on thirteen pitches.
|Credit: Getty Images|
In the top of the 9th, with Cody Allen still on the mound, Starlin Castro struck out for the first out. Next up, Aaron Hicks singled to left. A fielding error by Austin Jackson, the ball rolled under his glove, allowed Hicks to move to second. Allen got Chase Headley to pop out, but then he walked Todd Frazier. Brett Gardner’s single to right, just past the glove of second baseman Jose Ramirez, cleared the bases to give the Yankees two very huge insurance runs. Frazier was able to score the second run when the throw from right fielder Jay Bruce into second got past Francisco Lindor and the Toddfather was able to slide into home ahead of the throw to the plate. Gardy advanced to second on a throwing error. It was a legendary at-bat for Gardy, who battled Allen through 12 pitches before getting the key hit (the longest at-bat of the post-season). Francona made another pitching move and pulled his closer in favor of Joe Smith. Smith got Aaron Judge to ground out to third, but no matter, the Yankees had increased their lead to 5-2. A little breathing room.
Going into the bottom of the 9th with a three-run lead made me feel so much better about the return of Aroldis Chapman for a second inning of work. But I did feel some tension when Chapman walked the first batter (Jose Ramirez). Chapman allowed me to exhale slightly when he struck out Edwin Encarnacion. Carlos Santana hit a ball to second for the force out of Ramirez. Two outs. The only man standing between the Yankees and a date in the ALCS with the Houston Astros was one-time Yankees prospect Austin Jackson. Carlos Santana took second on defensive indifference, but Gardy’s insurance runs ensured that Santana was inconsequential. Chapman’s job was simple…leave the potential tying run standing on deck without a chance to come to the plate. You could feel the excitement emerging when Chapman blew a fastball past Jackson for the called third strike to end the game. The Yankees win!
|Credit: Gregory Shamus-Getty Images|
I blamed Joe Girardi for the second game loss, but this game completed his redemption. It’s amazing how many people wrote off the Yankees when they lost the first two games of the ALDS in Cleveland. Even after they tied the series in New York, I didn’t hear many voices giving the Yankees any chance for Game 5 in Cleveland except for maybe Alex Rodriguez. The Indians were arguably the best team in the American League, with 104 wins on the season including the two wins in the ALDS. Their season included the historic 22-game winning streak and they were nearly everyone’s favorite, excluding Yankees fans, to win the World Series after their loss last year to the Chicago Cubs. But in the end, they will not have the opportunity to make a repeat appearance in the Fall Classic.
If Corey Kluber could have figured out an answer for Didi Gregorius, the results may have been very different and the Yankees might have been left wondering what could have been. Instead, the magic and the ‘never-say-die’ resiliency of the 2017 Yankees continues. The Yankees will get a rematch of their 2015 Wild Card Game loss to Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the ALCS. This time, we get seven games to show the World that heart, determination and desire, combined with a little talent, can make a difference.
Congratulations to the New York Yankees! Goodbye, Cleveland…hello, Houston!
|Credit: David Dermer-AP|
Have a great Thursday! Friday the 13th, here we come! Go Yankees!
|Credit: Jason Miller-Getty Images|
American League Division Series, Game 1
Indians 4, Yankees 0…
While Bauer was making mincemeat out of the Yankee bats, the Indians got to Sonny Gray early. In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Jay Bruce got the party started for the Indians with a double off the left field wall against Yankees starter Sonny Gray. Carlos Santana followed with a single to center to put runners at the corners. Lonnie Chisenhall was hit by a pitch on his upper arm to load the bases. Gray was able to limit the damage when Roberto Perez hit into a double play at short, but Bruce came home on the play for Cleveland’s first run. Giovanny Urshela flied out to right so Gray escaped a huge jam with minimal damage. Unfortunately, the way Bauer was pitching, the one run deficit felt like the Grand Canyon.
The Indians struck again in the bottom of the 4th. Edwin Encarnacion started the inning with a walk. Jay Bruce, a rumored trade target for the Yankees prior to the trading deadline, came back to haunt his near-employer when he blasted a shot into the right field stands. The Indians had increased their lead to 3-0.
|Credit: Phil Masturzo-Akron Beacon Journal/TNS|
Gray walked two of the next three batters to end his night. Adam Warren entered the game and gave up a single to center to load the bases with only one out, but he then struck out the dangerous Francisco Lindor and got Jason Kipnis to fly out to center to escape without any further damage.
|Credit: Jason Miller-Getty Images|
Meanwhile, with Trevor Bauer still pitching a no-hitter against the Yankees, the Indians got another run in the next inning. Jose Ramirez started it for the Tribe with a single up the middle on a ball that just got by a diving Didi Gregorius. While Edwin Encarnacion was at bat, a wild pitch, a ball in the dirt that Gary Sanchez dropped in front of him, advanced Ramirez to second. Encarnacion flied out to left in foul territory for the first out, and Manager Joe Girardi made the call to the bullpen, bringing in Jaime Garcia to replace Warren. With Jay Bruce batting, another wild pitch, another ball in the dirt that hit Sanchez in the chest and bounced away, allowed Ramirez to take third. Bruce took advantage of the wild pitches to loft a fly to center, scoring Ramirez on the sacrifice. 4-0, Indians.
In the top of the 6th inning, Chase Headley struck out and the Yankees were still searching for their first hit. Aaron Hicks ended the potential no-no when he doubled to left off the wall. Bauer received a very nice ovation from the crowd. The Yankees couldn’t do anything with Hicks at second but at least they had finally gotten their first hit on the board.
The Yankees added another hit in the 7th. After Bauer had retired the first two batters, Starlin Castro singled on a grounder to right field. The Indians dipped into their bullpen, bringing former Yankees reliever Andrew Miller into the game to face Greg Bird. The fear when you trade great players is that they’ll one day come back to bite you. Miller was no different with his strikeout of Bird to end the inning.
Despite two strikeouts by Miller in the top of the 8th, the Yankees had two baserunners, courtesy of walks. With Aaron Judge coming to the plate representing an ability to make it a one-run game, Cleveland called on its closer, Cody Allen. Allen proceeded to strike out Judge in the huge spot to end the inning.
In perhaps the lone bright spot for the Yankees, Dellin Betances pitched the bottom of the 8th inning and struck out the side on eleven pitches. It’s a good sign to see Dellin pitching so well even if the odds are against the Yankees in this series.
|Credit: Charles Wenzelberg-NY Post|
The Yankees had no answer for Allen in the top of the 9th despite Starlin Castro’s second hit of the night (and only the third Yankee hit of the game), a single to right with two outs. Allen struck out Greg Bird on three pitches to end the game and hand the overwhelming advantage in the series to the Tribe.
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The Houston Astros defeated the Boston Red Sox, 8-2, to take the first game of their series. As noted above, it was a night to forget for Chris Sale. When the Astros acquired Justin Verlander in August, it was clearly a move designed for October. He didn’t disappoint, holding the Red Sox to two runs over six innings. No disrespect for Sonny Gray (or Yu Darvish of the Dodgers), but I thought Verlander was the most significant pitching acquisition of the summer.
|Credit: Karen Warren-Houston Chronicle|
All of the playoff teams will be in action today with the first game (Red Sox-Astros) starting at 2:05 pm ET. I hate to go against the Yankees but I think today’s winners will be the home teams (Indians, Astros, Dodgers and Nationals). I would love for the Yankees to prove me wrong.
Have a great Friday! Let’s steal a win from Kluber. Go Yankees!
Rays 9, Yankees 6…
Despite four home runs, the Yankees fell to the Tampa Bay Rays in the series finale and their AL East title hopes are clinging on life support. I thought Manager Joe Girardi mismanaged the fateful 5th inning after Sonny Gray had relinquished the lead, bringing in the woefully inconsistent arm of Jonathan Holder when there were many superior options available.
The first sign that Sonny Gray might not have it on Thursday night was Corey Dickerson’s first inning home run to the second deck in right which gave the Rays an early 1-0 lead.
The Yankees wasted no time in coming back when Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge led off the bottom of the 1st inning with back-to-back home runs. Both players took Rays starter Jacob Faria deep to right into the second deck. It was Judge’s 51st home run of the year. The Yankees had taken the lead, 2-1.
|Credit: Noah K Murray-USA TODAY Sports|
The Rays had a potential scoring opportunity in the top of the 2nd when Gray walked two batters, Daniel Robertson and Cesar Puello with only one out. There was a brief delay when a Gray pitch hit the dirt and bounced up to hit Gary Sanchez on the collarbone during Robertson’s at-bat. Sanchez was able to shake it off and stay in the game. After Peter Bourjos lined out to right for the second out, Mallex Smith singled to left. The Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo unwisely sent Daniel Robertson home rather than holding him up at third. Brett Gardner’s arm was smarter than the coach as Robertson was easily thrown out at home for the final out.
The Yankees picked up another run in the bottom of the inning. Jacoby Ellsbury singled to right past a diving Lucas Duda with one out. While Todd Frazier was batting, a passed ball off the glove of Rays catcher Wilson Ramos allowed Ellsbury to take second. Frazier then singled to left, scoring Ellsbury. A pitch got away from Ramos with Brett Gardner batting and Todd Frazier tried to advance to second but was thrown out. Gardy subsequently walked but Aaron Judge flied out to end the inning. As Michael Kay put it, “A sky high fly”. Nevertheless, the Yankees were up 3-1.
Chih-Wei Hu took over for Jacob Faria on the mound in the bottom of the 4th (Who is on the mound? I don’t know, Hu?). He was quickly introduced to the game when Greg Bird led off with a home run to the first row of the right field seats. Hu retired the next three batters, but the Yankees had increased their lead to 4-1.
|Credit: Paul J Bereswill-NY Post|
The dreadful 5th inning arrived with Sonny Gray still on the mound for the Yankees. The previous inning had gone so well for Gray. Three outs on six pitches. It was hard to foresee the disaster that awaited him in the 5th. Gray was able to get the first batter, Peter Bourjos, out on a grounder to short. Then the Rays rally began. Mallex Smith singled to right on a fly that dropped in. Corey Dickerson hit a line drive to center for a single with Smith moving to third. A wild pitch from Gray allowed Smith to come home to score. Gary Sanchez tried to throw to Gray covering home but his throw was too far right for Gray to catch as Smith slid safely into home plate. Sanchez was charged a throwing error on the play as it allowed Dickerson to advance two bases to third.
|Credit: Abbie Parr-Getty Images|
Evan Longoria struck out for the second out, but Dickerson subsequently scored when a passed ball went through El Gary’s legs. Lucas Duda walked, and it brought Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild out to the mound. It always seems like Larry’s talks fail and this was no exception. The next batter, Wilson Ramos, homered to center just over the wall into Monument Park and the Rays had taken a 5-4 lead.
|Credit: Frank Franklin II-AP|
Adeiny Hechavarria followed with a single to center and it was the end for Sonny Gray. Gray made a couple of throws to first during Daniel Robertson’s at bat to buy time for the bullpen, but I have to admit that I was bewildered by Joe Girardi’s decision to bring in Jonathan Holder even though I’d seen Holder warming up. Holder is a fine prospect and did a decent job for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders but he hasn’t really pitched in many big spots for the Yankees this year. He may eventually become a leading arm in the pen but I would have gone with one of the tried and true in an effort to keep the game close. Holder hit the first batter he faced, Daniel Robertson, with a pitch. Runners at first and second. Cesar Puello singled to center on a ball that dropped in front of Jacoby Ellsbury with Hechavarria coming around to score. Robertson moved to second. Peter Bourjos tripled to left on fly that hit the warning track and bounced off the wall, clearing the bases, and it was 8-4 Rays. Girardi finally pulled Holder and brought in Chasen Shreve who struck out Mallex Smith to end the inning. But the Rays had scored seven runs.
In the bottom of the 5th, with Tommy Hunter taking over for Chih-Wei Hu, Brett Gardner led off with a walk. After Aaron Judge struck out, Gary Sanchez was hit by a pitch on the back of his left shoulder. Runners at first and second.
|Credit: Abbie Parr-Getty Images|
Didi Gregorius hit a grounder to second and the Rays were able to force Sanchez for the second out, with Gardy moving to third. Starlin Castro hit an infield single to short, beating the throw to first which brought Gardner home to score. Greg Bird, representing the potential tying run, struck out to end the inning but the Yankees had gotten a run back, 8-5.
With Chasen Shreve still on the mound, the Yankees retired the first two Rays in the top of the 6th. But Trevor Plouffe, pinch-hitting for Lucas Duda, homered to left into the second deck, to restore the Rays’ four run lead. Shreve walked Wilson Ramos next and was pulled in favor of Ben Heller. Heller struck out Adeiny Hechavarria to end the inning without any further damage.
The Rays bullpen kept the Yankees offense quiet from there. Aaron Hicks, pinch-hitting for Todd Frazier, did manage to hit a solo home run to right into the bullpen in the bottom of the 9th against Chaz Roe but it was too little, too late. The other Yankees went down quietly, with Aaron Judge flying out to right to end the game.
This was a disappointing loss and I am bewildered why Girardi trusted Holder with the game on the line when the pitcher has done nothing this year at the MLB level to warrant consideration at that point. The Boston Red Sox lost 12-2 to the Houston Astros so the Yankees (89-70) could have picked up a game. Instead, they remain three games out with three to play. The best they can do is tie the Red Sox if they sweep the Blue Jays and the Astros sweep the Red Sox. More than likely, the Red Sox sew up the AL East title either tonight or tomorrow.
I hate losing winnable games. If the 5th inning hadn’t gotten away from the Yankees, they would have/could have won this game. If the Yankees play like this next Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins, it’s going to be a very short post-season experience.
Next Up: Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY…
And so, we’ve reached the final series of the regular season. It seems like we were just playing exhibition games at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. The Blue Jays completed a successful three-game road trip in Boston on Wednesday, winning two of three games. They are also the only team to win a series against the Yankees this month. Hopefully, the wins come our way in the latest and final series before the post-season begins.
Here are the scheduled pitching match-ups:
Blue Jays: Joe Biagini (3-12, 5.34 ERA)
Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka (12-12, 4.94 ERA)
Blue Jays: Marcus Stroman (13-8, 3.06 ERA)
Yankees: Jaime Garcia (1-3, 4.70 ERA)
Blue Jays: Brett Anderson (2-2, 6.04 ERA)
Yankees: Jordan Montgomery (9-7, 3.96 ERA)
This is most likely Jaime Garcia’s final start for the Yankees. I hope that it’s not the final regular season start for Masahiro Tanaka’s Yankees career. We all know that this is just the conclusion of the great start of Jordan Montgomery’s career in Pinstripes. Looking forward to many successful wins going forward, including the 2017 post-season.
Odds & Ends…
The Yankees are planning to activate RHP Adam Warren off the disabled list today. Hopefully, he’ll be able to get in some work this weekend in preparation for the post-season (which, we hope and pray, is much longer than a one-game stay).
Have a great weekend! Let’s get the momentum rolling for October! Go Yankees!