Tagged: AL East

The Land of the Lost…

Angels 8, Yankees 3…

It is difficult to remember when the Yankees last walked off a field with a victory.  It seems so very long ago.  The losing streak continues as the Yankees dropped their seventh consecutive game to the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night.

A little more than a week ago, we were very excited about the team and its surprising performance so far this season.  But over the last week, the wheels have come off and the team is looking more and more like the .500 team it was projected to be at the beginning of the year.  They’ll turn this around and start playing better but it doesn’t make the current losing funk feel any better.  

I thought the return of Aroldis Chapman to push Tyler Clippard back to the 7th inning would help the latter to restore some of his effectiveness.  I was wrong.  After the Yankees had clawed their way back to a 3-3 tie, Clippard came into the game in the 7th and proceeded to hand the Angels the win.  Retiring only one batter, he allowed a solo home run by Cameron Maybin (who is not exactly known for his ability to hit balls out of the park), a double and a run-scoring triple.  He was just a single shy of a cycle, but Manager Joe Girardi ended the agony by pulling Clippard and replacing him with Jonathan Holder.  Holder gave up the missing single to score the runner on third, charging a total of 3 runs to Clippard (1-4) for one out of work.

Credit:  Frank Franklin II-Associated Press

Michael Pineda, who had normally pitched much better at home than on the road, was missing his primary pitch.  The Angels grabbed the early lead with a run-scoring single by Albert Pujols in the first inning and they scored two runs in the second when Danny Espinosa drove in a run with a double and Kole Calhoun singled to score Espinosa.

Angels pitcher Parker Bridwell (who?) and their bullpen kept the Yankee bats silent for the most part.  The Yankees were finally able to push across their first run in the fourth when Chase Headley hit a sacrifice fly to score Starlin Castro.  

The Yankees then used solo home runs to tie the game.  Aaron Judge blasted his 24th home run of the year in the fifth and Gary Sanchez went yard in the sixth with his 12th.

Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

There was excitement in the Bronx once again.  Enter Tyler Clippard.  The optimistic feelings were quickly extinguished as the Angels had taken the 6-3 lead by the time the seventh inning was over.  The Angels tacked on a couple of insurance runs in the eighth and ninth innings as the Yankees just couldn’t get untracked offensively despite the earlier homers by Judge and Sanchez.  

I knew we were in trouble when first baseman Chris Carter blew a routine fielding play that allowed Eric Young Jr to reach second base at the top of the second inning.  It felt like it was going to be one of those games.  It also reinforced that we are stuck with Carter for better or worse (my money is on the latter).  Carter finished 0-for-3 with a strikeout.  Just a typical day at the office for him.

Credit:  Getty Images

It’s tough to win when you can only scratch out four hits against hittable pitchers.  

The Yankees (38-30) were overtaken by the Boston Red Sox in the AL East Standings.  The Red Sox beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 and now lead the division by a half game.  I guess this was inevitable. It’s kind of hard to maintain a lead when you can’t put W’s on the board.

Odds & Ends…

The Tommy John surgery for Gleyber Torres is scheduled for today.  Dr David W Altchek will be performing the procedure.  Dr Altchek is an Attending Orthopedic Surgeon and Co-Chief Emeritus in the Sports Medicine & Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.  He is also medical director for the New York Mets and a medical consultant for the NBA.  All the best to Gleyber for his surgery and post-op recovery.
The Sauer Project has begun.  The Yankees have signed second round draft pick RHP Matt Sauer, pending a physical, to an undisclosed deal.  The allocation for the 54th pick is $1,236,000 but it’s speculated the Yankees went over allocation to convince Sauer to forego  his commitment to the University of Arizona.  The 18-year-old has signs of significant upside for his fastball and slider.  The Yankees’ minor league pitching instructors will be tasked with helping Sauer develop a third pitch to help his eventual ascension to the top of a Major League rotation.  Welcome to the Yankees, Matt!  Here’s wishing you much better health and success than current top pitching prospect James Kaprielian!
Credit:  Santa Maria Times
With the July 7th signing deadline for MLB draft picks just a couple of weeks away, the Yankees are making progress with their signings.  Of the players chosen through the 22nd round, only RHP Clarke Schmidt (1st) and RHP Garrett Whitlock (18th) are unsigned.  But with the deal in place for Sauer (and potentially for double the allocation), you have to believe the framework of a deal is in place for Schmidt which will free the dollars needed for Sauer.  I was the happiest when I saw that 22nd pick RHP Janson Junk had signed.  Damn, I love that name.  The Yankees have also signed their 27th pick, RHP Alex Mauricio and they inked undrafted free agent 2B Cody Brown.  I keep hoping the Yankees find a way to sign 29th pick Tristan Beck but I knew going in that was an incredible longshot.  Beck won’t sign for allocation and the other signings diminish the available dollars so it’s a virtual certainty that Beck goes back to Stanford.  Bummer…
Have a great Wednesday!  Yankees, feel free to mix in a win!  Go Yankees!

The Power of a Good Third Baseman…

Credit:  Associated Press

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 2…

Two great offensive games and two not-so-great, so the Yankees go home with a split in Toronto.  Not the best case scenario with the Boston Red Sox on tap in the Bronx starting Tuesday night.  The Blue Jays used two late home runs to over take the Yankees in the series finale.

It was another good start by Luis Severino.  He was pitching a shutout until Justin Smoak connected for a two-run homer with two outs in the sixth inning to tie the game at 2.  Severino bent but he did not break.  Sadly, that was Tyler Clippard who served up the eventual game-winning home run by Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson in eighth.  For his effort in the no-decision, Sevvy went 7 innings, giving up 6 hits and the aforementioned 2 runs.  He only allowed one walk and struck out 7 while lowering his season ERA to a team-best 2.90 for starters.

Credit:  Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

As for Clippard (0-3), it is hard to blame anyone who gives up homers to Donaldson.  He has a knack for doing that against the best.  Still, the game might have looked different had Aroldis Chapman been healthy and active as it would have ensured the placement of Dellin Betances in the critical 8th inning.  

The Yankees only offense on this day was provided courtesy of Matt Holliday.  He had a run-scoring double in the fourth, and picked up another RBI in the sixth inning when he hit into a force play at second base that allowed Brett Gardner to score from third.

Credit:  Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Sevvy pitched well enough to win.  Through the last run through the rotation, the only weak links were Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda.  Unfortunately, the former is on the mound for the opening game of the Boston series.  It’s sad when the rotation’s ace is the one you trust the least (at the moment).  Severino is starting to pitch like a guy who intends to supplant Tanaka atop the rotation one day.

The Jays have a very good third baseman.  I wish we had one of those…

Credit:  Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

With Boston’s 7-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, the Red Sox are just two games behind the Yankees (32-22) in the AL East.  The Orioles remain 3 1/2 games back.  

Odds & Ends…

The series finale on Sunday between the AAA-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders and the Toledo Mud Hens was rained out.  The RailRiders resume play tonight in Rochester, New York against the Red Wings, the top farm affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.  The game will feature the next start for Yankees pitching prospect Chance Adams (3-1).  He will be opposed by Yohan Pino (0-1).  

The RailRiders officially released reliever Ernesto Frieri yesterday after he had exercised a June 1st opt-out of his AAA contract.

The Yankees traded infielder Ruben Tejada, who was on the RailRiders roster, to the Baltimore Orioles for cash considerations.  Tejada was batting .269/.345/.462 with 6 homers and 21 RBI’s in 37 games.  Tejada had lost playing time with the arrival of Gleyber Torres and the recent activation of Donovan Solano off the DL.  Granted, Tejada is not the second coming of Cal Ripken, Jr, but I am not sure why the Yankees would want to help the Orioles in any way.  Tejada was assigned to Triple-A Norfolk.

Greg Bird had a run-scoring single (driving in Jorge Mateo) in the High-A Tampa Yankees 9-1 win over the Jupiter Hammerheads.  Prior to the 7th inning hit, Bird’s other three at-bats ended with fly outs.  

Have a great Monday!  Hopefully it’s a restful one for the Yankees as they prepare for the Red Sox tomorrow night.

Tanaka and His Extended BP for Rays Hitters…

Credit:  Brian Blanco/Getty Images

No hole is too deep to climb out of…except when Masahiro Tanaka is on the mound.  I am seriously concerned about Tanaka after his latest disaster.  In Fantasy Baseball, I’ve seen many owners dumping Tanaka from their rosters for no return.  I am not suggesting that the Yankees cut him and I am hopeful that he rediscovers his touch. But as the New York papers are screaming, Tanaka is in full-blown crisis mode.  You have to admit that this is very disconcerting.  For a rotation that had many questions coming into the season, none of the questions were directed at the team’s ace who is, right now, the rotation’s weakest link.

I am not sure what has to be done.  They’ve tried different arm angles and placement on the the pitching rubber, but Tanaka’s pitches are still getting hammered.  Kevin Kernan of The New York Post had the best line, “that just meant he had a different view of baseballs zooming out of the ballpark”.  

 

In Saturday’s 9-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Tanaka lasted only three innings.  Rays hitters got nine hits and six runs off Tanaka, including three home runs.  Tanaka (5-3) also walked three batters in the loss, which elevated his season ERA to 6.56.  In his last two games combined, Tanaka has given up seven home runs in 4 2/3 innings…and fourteen friggin’ runs.

At the beginning of the year, the fear was that Tanaka would opt out of his contract at the end of year.  Now, the fear is that he won’t.  My first thought at the latest stinker was the partially torn UCL in his elbow, but the Yankees insist he is healthy. Of course, their recent “surprise” about Aroldis Chapman either tells you that the players are not always being honest with the team or the team is withholding information.  If Tanaka is healthy, then this scares the h**l out of me.

At this point, I am probably in favor of skipping Tanaka in the next run through the rotation to give him extra time to right the ship.  There’s no doubt he lost his splitter and slider on one of these  recent road trips and can’t remember where he left them.   

As for the game, the Yankees did get home runs from Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.  Nevertheless, this was a game we’d just as soon forget.  Both pitching coach Larry Rothschild and manager Joe Girardi were tossed in the fifth inning for arguing balls and strikes.  Girardi even covered home plate with sand and the ump (Scott Barry) refused to clean it.  Gary Sanchez  finally took it upon himself to wipe home plate.  Speaking of Sanchez, he didn’t play on Friday night due to a stiff neck so I’ll take Rob Thomson off the hook for not using Sanchez as a pinch hitter in the loss.  I just hope the foul tip Sanchez took off the mask yesterday doesn’t worsen his health concerns. 

Credit:  Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times

Rays starter Matt Andriese was tossed in the sixth inning for plunking Aaron Judge with a pitch.  Tommy Layne had hit the Rays’ Corey Dickerson in the back with a pitch the prior inning.  Dickerson had hit two home runs in the game.  The tired lines of ‘the ball got away’ were used but I still don’t appreciate the potential harm to our young slugger.  

Credit:  Getty Images

The Yankees (24-16) fell a half-game behind the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East standings with the loss.  The Orioles beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-5.  As losers of three in a row and seven of their last ten, the Yankees are on a faster track to be the 80-win team they were forecasted to be at the start of the season rather than a division contender.  Good hitting beats poor pitching every time.  Hopefully, the Yankees re-discover the Cinderella slipper sooner rather than later.

Tyler Austin made his 2017 debut with the AA-Trenton Thunder (rather than High-A Tampa) on Saturday.  He went 1-for-3 with a double and a run scored.  He was also hit by pitch in the Thunder’s 5-2 loss to the Portland Sea Dogs.  

The Yankees conclude their three-game set in Florida with the Rays today.  CC Sabathia will be on the mound versus the Rays’ Chris Archer.  I am really hopeful that we get the most recent version of Sabathia (6 2/3 innings of scoreless pitching) and not the Masahiro Tanaka-version that we saw in the preceding weeks.

Have a wonderful Sunday!  Let’s have some fun today…finally!

Forget Yesterday, Fight for Today…

It’s tough to follow a game that you should have won with a dull, listless performance.  So it was for the Yankees as they fell 7-1 to the AL cellar rats, the Toronto Blue Jays.  To the Blue Jays credit, they are now on a three-game winning streak and have held their opponents to a single run in each of those victories.  It was just a matter of time before the Blue Jays started playing like the team many predicted to contend for the AL East and unfortunately the Yankees may have run into them at the wrong time. 

Luis Severino, after his brilliant performance in Boston, let the bottom of Toronto’s batting order do the damage.  In the second inning, he allowed a two-run homer to the number seven hitter, shortstop Ryan Goins, who is subbing for the injured Troy Tulowitzki.  It would be the only runs Toronto would need on a quiet night for Yankee bats.  Severino allowed another home run in the sixth inning to the number nine hitter, third baseman Chris Coghlan, a fill-in for the injured Josh Donaldson.  Severino (2-2) lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up 8 hits and 5 runs.  He walked two and struck out 3.  

Credit:  Kathy Willens/AP

Reliever Luis Cessa took one for the team and finished the remaining 3 1/3 innings to provide rest for the weary Yankees bullpen.  He did give up a two-run shot to Jose Bautista in the seventh inning but was otherwise effective.  

Jacoby Ellsbury made a great play in the sixth inning with a leaping catch of a potential double.  His momentum carried him into the centerfield wall.  A runner on third scored on the sac fly, but then Ellsbury overthrew Aaron Judge on an attempt to get the ball back into the infield which allowed a runner on second to also score.  

Greg Bird is lost at the plate.  His latest 0-for-4 performance dropped his batting average to an even .100.  He left 5 men on base.  The Yankees continue to give him chances to turn it around, but when is enough?  I’ve been in Bird’s corner but at some point, he needs to figure this out at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, not New York, in order to restore his confidence.  I had thought he was getting better swings in recent days but the results are not there.  I am not ready to say ‘send him down today’ but it is probably not going to take too many more games of hitless results.  

It was just one of those games.  The Yankees have struggled against the Blue Jays in recent years as they are just 13-26 against Toronto since the start of the 2015 season.  The loss dropped the Yankees (15-9) one game behind the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East.  The O’s beat the Boston Red Sox 5-2 on Monday night to recapture sole possession of first place.  But today, yesterday means nothing.  The Yankees can still take this series and it starts today with timely hitting and precision pitching.   

Prior to the game, the Yankees recalled Cessa to provide long relief insurance and optioned reliever Bryan Mitchell to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  Brendan Kuty of NJ.com had the best Twitter line:  “Mitchell will likely share 1B duties with Refsnyder and Choi” in reference to Mitchell’s one inning of work at first base on Sunday.  Too funny!

With no offense to Jorge Mateo, my personal favorite for the future of center field at Yankee Stadium had quite a game on Sunday.  Dustin Fowler, a strong candidate to eventually unseat Jacoby Ellsbury, hit for the cycle as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders defeated the Indianapolis Indians (the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top farm club), 7-6. 

In the bottom of the 11th inning, Fowler capped his memorable day with a walk-off home run, completing the cycle.   For the game, the 22-year-old went 5-for-6 with 2 runs scored and 2 RBI’s.  For the season, Fowler is batting .293 (24-for-82), 4 home runs, and 12 RBI’s.  He is second on the team with a .914 OPS.  He has also stolen two bases.

Fowler’s day:

1st Inning:  Tripled to right.

3rd Inning:  Grounded out to third.

5th Inning:  Doubled to right, scoring Tyler Wade.

7th Inning:  Singled to center.

9th Inning:  Doubled to right.

11th Inning:  Homered to right, no one on…RailRiders win!

It may have taken two extra innings, but what a way to cap hitting for the cycle!  Congrats to Fowler for the terrific game.  I look forward to the day when he is doing this in the Bronx.

Credit:  Times Leader

I am a Yankees Homer but I can’t predict an AL championship for the Yankees yet.  Granted, the team finished the month of April in a first-place tie with the Baltimore Orioles, but it’s still a very long season.  The Yankees had a chance to bury the Orioles on Sunday and couldn’t do it.  The ebbs and flows the season will ultimately predict the final standings.  Let’s see how the team handles its first real stretch of difficulty.  With the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros looming on the horizon, adversity is on its way.  The last time catcher Gary Sanchez started a game, the Yankees were 1-4.  So let’s not start printing World Series tickets just yet.  Through May 1st last year, the Yankees were 8-15.  This season, they are 15-9 through the same date.  If they finish the season, from this point forward, with the same number of wins and losses as last year, they are a 90-win team.  I think this team can contend for a Wild Card spot but I am not ready to anoint them as potential division champions. I still expect Boston to play much better as the season progresses, particularly if they get David Price back.  And I’ve learned to never underestimate Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles.  The charging Blue Jays also have the Yankees’ number.  If the Yankees are still slugging it out for first place at the All-Star Break, then I’ll reconsider my forecast.  But for now, I still feel the best case scenario is a Wild Card slot with the division championship a season or two away.

Have a great Tuesday!  Today is a new day…time to beat these pesky Jays!

The Trials and Tribulations of a Young Club…

In life we do not always get what we want.  I wanted to take the three game series in Pittsburgh but it was not meant to be.  Former Yankees starter Ivan Nova set the tone from the start of Sunday’s game when he struck out the side in the first inning en route to Pittsburgh’s 2-1 victory over the Yankees.  The loss gave the series to the Pirates, 2 games to 1.  

Give Nova credit, he pitched very well against his former club.  He went seven strong innings, surrendering only four hits and one run.  The one run came courtesy of a Jacoby Ellsbury home run in the seventh inning.  For the season coming into the game, Nova had walked just three batters.  He only walked one on Sunday but the batter was a guy who hadn’t picked up a bat since his high school days (Yankees pitcher Jordan Montgomery). For the game, Nova struck out seven, picking up his second win of the year.

The Yankees had their chances to win the game.  They had a runner at third in the eighth with two outs, but Starlin Castro struck out.  In the ninth, they loaded the bases but the game came down to light-hitting shortstop Pete Kozma, who had pinch run for Chris Carter the prior inning.  After Aaron Hicks had struck out, Kozma came to bat with two outs, but grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game.  It’s unfortunate that Hicks was not able to come through as it placed the game in the hands of a career .221 hitter.  

Kudos to Jordan Montgomery.  After the game, he admitted that he didn’t have his best stuff.  Loading the bases in the first inning with no outs, he escaped with only one run across home plate.  He would go on to pitch six innings, allowing only two runs.   Pirates were able to get seven hits off him.  He walked two batters while striking out five.  The two walks proved costly as both batters eventually scored (the only runs the Pirates would score in the game).  Montgomery’s ability to throw a “quality game” despite not having his pitches speaks volumes about the heart of this pitcher.  I am anxious and excited for his next start. 

 Credit:  AP

Even though the Yankees lost the series to the Pirates, they were in all three games and could have won either of the losses.  As the younger guys gain more Major League experience and assuming the veterans continue to hit, the Yankees will begin to win these types of games with greater frequency.  The bench is going to look much stronger soon when Didi Gregorius returns and Ronald Torreyes retakes his utility role from Kozma.  

Sadly, Greg Bird was not able to get untracked in Pittsburgh.  His 0-for-3 day dropped his batting average to .104.  I still think he is very close so hopefully Fenway Park will ignite his bat.  If not, we’ll probably start to see a few more Chris Carter starts at sprinkled in at first in the coming days.  

I am glad that we’re headed back to American League parks so that Matt Holliday can knock the rust off and resume his role as the team’s designated hitter.  His offensive capability is too great to be limited to pinch-hitting in National League cities.  

The Yankees have today off and will begin a three game series in Boston tomorrow against the Red Sox.  The Red Sox are coming off a 6-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles  on Sunday that kept the Yankees 1 1/2 games behind the O’s in the AL East.   The Red Sox (11-8) are just a 1/2 game behind the Yankees (11-7).  The Orioles play this evening (at home against the Tampa Bay Rays) so they could extend their AL East lead to two games.  Or going the ‘glass is half full’ route, drop back to only a one game lead.  

The Yankees have a chance to make a statement in Boston.  While they may or may not win the series, they need to prove that they can hang with the Red Sox.  Boston won the head-to-head battle in 2016, 11 games to 8.  The Red Sox swept the first season series last year (April 29th to May 1st).  It would be great if the Yankees could return the favor.  My primary goal for the series is three competitive games with the Yankee hitters attacking the strong Boston rotation.  If they can get to the Boston bullpen early, I really like their chances.    The last run through the Yankees starting rotation was mostly a collection of off-nights so hopefully this run through the rotation will yield superior results. So begins the Battle of the AL East…

Have a great Monday!  Rest up and be ready to take charge on Tuesday!

The Calm Before The Storm…

“Start where you are.  Use what you have.  Do what you can.”

—Arthur Ashe

The Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox both won Thursday, so the Yankees find themselves a 1/2 game behind the O’s this morning.  All three teams have ten wins, although the Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox have four, five and six losses, respectively.  Surprisingly, the Tampa Bay Rays have nine wins albeit with eight losses.  The biggest surprise is the cellar dwelling Toronto Blue Jays at 3-12.  It’s still very early with 147 games yet to be played for the Yankees but crucial games are on the horizon.

The AL East is the only division in baseball with at least four teams over .500 although just one game separates every team in the AL Central with just a single win needed to put the bottom of the division at .500.  Again it’s early, but the AL East is one of the most competitive divisions in baseball at this point.

The next week will be a challenge for the new and improved Yankees.  When they complete the current three game set in Pittsburgh, they’ll head to Boston for three games beginning on Tuesday.  They are certain to face Red Sox ace Chris Sale who pitched yesterday and gave a performance that justified Boston’s decision to give up their best hitting and pitching prospects over the winter.  Although he didn’t figure in the extra inning decision, he went eight innings, allowing no runs and four hits.  Walking only one batter, he struck out thirteen.  Unfortunately, he’s in prime shape for his next start.  

After the Boston series, the Yankees return home to face the Baltimore Orioles.  Not to look too far ahead, but these series are followed by the Toronto Blue Jays, the World Champion Chicago Cubs, and arguably baseball’s hottest team, the Houston Astros.

Next week’s schedule represents the most difficult stretch the young Yankees have faced this year so it will be interesting to see how they respond.  The Red Sox and Orioles begin a three game series tonight so on the bright side, they can beat each other up before the Yankees face them.  

I am hopeful that Greg Bird’s bat starts coming around before the team gets to Boston.  Aaron Judge has the “wow” factor with his behemoth home runs in games (and batting practice) but Bird remains the team’s best hitter (potentially) even if the stats don’t show it yet.  I remain convinced he’ll soon be raising eyebrows with his hitting prowess but it would be nice if his offensive show could begin sooner rather than later.  Maybe it’s waiting for him at Fenway Park.

Based on stats, Chase Headley is arguably the current best hitter with a .396 batting average.  He’s off to a great start and admittedly, I didn’t see this coming.  We’ll see if it is sustainable, but for now, he’s a vital part of the lineup.  I wish I felt as good about Jacoby Ellsbury.  Even though he is hitting .302, has stolen four bases and has been Joe Girardi’s clean up hitter of choice in recent games, he just doesn’t do it for me.  Too often, and this is a very generalized statement without digging into the actual stats, it seems like he is underperforming in critical situations.  I really have to wonder if an outfield of Aaron Hicks-Brett Gardner-Aaron Judge is better than Gardner-Ellsbury-Judge.  The way Hicks is hitting right now, it is.  Gardner is hitting worse than Ellsbury but this probably gets into a debate about who do you trust more.  

Being in Pittsburgh tonight means that Matt Holliday’s bat takes a seat on the bench with no DH.  This probably puts even more pressure to get Hicks into the lineup, especially with the pitchers taking at-bat’s.  Both Gardy and Bird need to start mixing in a few hits.  

Have a wonderful Friday!  Let’s make this two in a row tonight!

Trying To Temper The Enthusiasm…

Credit:  Andy Martin/USA TODAY Sports

With the better-than-expected start to the season, it’s easy to get caught up with the thinking that the Yankees could actually win the American League East.  Sadly, I still do not believe that will be the case.  I think the Boston Red Sox remain the heavy favorite to win the division.  While the Yankees may be playing great without Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius, the Red Sox are starting to gather some steam even though Jackie Bradley, Jr. and arguably their best player, Mookie Betts, are currently on the DL.  Add Betts to the stellar starting rotation, and the Red Sox will be a very formidable force throughout the summer.  We’ll have some bumps and bruises with the younger starters as time goes by, and there’s no certainty that Michael Pineda has finally turned the corner.  My only reservation with the Red Sox is that they do not seem to have the same heart they did with David Ortiz in the lineup.  Hanley Ramirez is a great baseball player but he’s no Big Papi.  

Nevertheless, I do feel the strong start has positioned the Yankees to make a run at a Wild Card spot, especially with the horrific start of the perennial playoff contending Toronto Blue Jays. 

While the Yankees are currently chasing Baltimore, the Orioles lost their lock-down closer Zach Britton for at least ten days with a left sore forearm (his throwing arm).  Britton is obviously an elite closer so this severely weakens the O’s pen.  Although it’s possible that Britton will be back before the O’s get to New York late next week, they do go into a head-to-head showdown with the Red Sox starting Friday night for a three-game set in their weakened state.

It is amazing to think that the Yankees have played this well without Gregorius and Sanchez.  If they can continue to get solid pitching from the starting rotation, the return of Gregorius and Sanchez in a few weeks should be a great lift.  It’ll almost be like getting All-Star caliber players at the trading deadline with the only difference being the Yankees do not have to give up any premier prospects (or any prospects, for that matter, other than the probable DFA of Pete Kozma). 

The Yankees announced they’ve traded reliever Johnny Barbato to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a player to be named later or cash.  Those types of deals usually turn out to be cash.  Barbato was optioned to AAA by the Pirates.  It’s unfortunate that the Yankees didn’t get more out of Barbato considering they gave up dependable reliever Shawn Kelley to get him.  The Pirates always seem to get high mileage out of Yankee rejects.  Barbato will probably be their ace closer within a couple of years.  

I apologize in advance for going off topic (non-Yankees talk) but I have been very interested in watching Cody Bellinger, a first baseman in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.  Bellinger, son of former Yankee Clay Bellinger, is the Dodgers top prospect and the heir apparent to Adrian Gonzalez.  On Sunday, Bellinger was responsible for all three runs in Oklahoma City’s 3-2 win over the Memphis Redbirds.  Bellinger scored a run after walking in the fourth; tied the game with a solo homer in the fifth; and singled in the go-ahead run in the seventh.  For the season, the 21-year-old Bellinger is batting .372 (16-for-43) with 4 doubles, 3 homers, and 12 RBI’s.  Meanwhile, for the Big League Dodgers, the 34-year-old Gonzalez is hitting .250 with no homers and 4 RBI’s.  If Bellinger keeps it up, there could soon be a changing of the guard at first base in Dodger Stadium.  Looks like the Dodgers could be back to the days of bringing up an All-Star to the Majors every year.  If Bellinger does not get the call, top pitching prospect Julio Urias most certainly will.  

Credit:  Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Speaking of the Oklahoma City Dodgers (in an attempt to keep this Yankees-oriented), it’s kind of cool that their stadium, Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, is located at 2 S. Mickey Mantle Drive.  Too bad there was no room to build the stadium across the street and down a little for 7 S. Mickey Mantle Drive.

In other non-Yankees news (or is it?), Bryan Harper stepped to the plate on Sunday in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, with the Washington Nationals trailing the Philadelphia Phillies 4-3 and Philly closer Joaquin Benoit on the mound.  With two runners on base, Harper homered to center to win the game, 6-4.  It was his second home run of the game and it gave him 5 RBI’s for the day.  Preview of coming attractions at Yankee Stadium?  Time will tell, as it often does.  Hal, what’s a half-billion in the grand scheme of things?  It’s just money…

Welcome back, Matt Holliday!  After sitting out two games against his former team, the St Louis Cardinals, this past weekend, Matt Holliday returned on Monday to absolutely crush a baseball which allowed the Yankees to jump ahead of the Chicago White Sox with an early 3-0 lead.  The ball traveled 459 feet, with exit velocity of 113.9 MPH, and according to Statcast was the second longest homer of the year (two feet behind a Carlos Gomez blast). 

Aaron Judge also homered in the fourth inning with one on and two outs.

Jordan Montgomery impressed once again.  You gotta love his calm demeanor on the mound (unflappable).  His deceptive arm angle is a thing of beauty with the over the top motion.  Montgomery gave up three runs and seven hits in six innings of work, with two walks and two strikeouts.  The runs didn’t come until the seventh inning when Montgomery was tiring (a three run bomb by Yolmer Sanchez that ended Montgomery’s night).  Regardless of the end, Montgomery was better the second time around (as I thought he would be).  He’s an exciting part of the rotation and is quickly earning his pinstripes for the long haul.  

Credit:  Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Adam Warren did what he does best.  After Montgomery’s exit, he bridged the gap to the ninth inning.  Although he finally allowed a run, he did his job and turned the game over to Aroldis Chapman with one out and a runner on base.  Although Chapman did allow a single to the first hitter, pushing the lead runner to third, he needed just two pitches to earn his fourth save.  The next batter, Tyler Saladino, hit into a game-ending double play.

The Yankees won 7-4, and have now won eight consecutive games.  

Have a great Tuesday!  Nine would be just fine!