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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.
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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.
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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!
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“But I like it, I love it, I want some more of it…”
He didn’t get the win, gave up a home run to a journeyman infielder, and didn’t last the length of an official game, but Jordan Montgomery has earned my respect and I am looking forward to his next start.
Montgomery was rudely introduced to the Major Leagues by Tampa’s Rickie Weeks Jr, who hit a homer with two outs and one on in the top of the first inning. It was a moment that could have sent any young pitcher (or Micheal Pineda) into a tailspin. Instead, he induced Corey Dickerson into a ground out and it was inning over. He did get into a little trouble in the third when he allowed a single to Peter Bourjos and hit Kevin Kiermaier with a pitch with just one out, however, he proceeded to strike out the next two batters to end the threat.
In the fourth inning, Steven Souza Jr doubled to start the inning. What’s with all these Jr’s in the Rays lineup? Maybe I should just call myself Fid Jr. Sorry, I digress. Back to the topic at hand, Montgomery struck out the next two batters (Kevin Kiermaier and Evan Longoria). At that point, he was pulled in favor of Bryan Mitchell. Souza Jr subsequently scored on a fielding error by Starlin Castro so the run wasn’t charged against Montgomery.
The line reads 4 2/3 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 2 earned runs, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts, but it doesn’t tell the story how Montgomery got tougher when the stakes were raised. He was resilient and did not allow bad plays to influence his game. Like Mariano Rivera, he had a short memory and was not intimidated by any of the Rays hitters, including slugger Evan Longoria. Some guys may not profile as top of the line aces but they are just winners. That’s what Montgomery is to me. He seems like he can be a guy you want to hand the ball to in a pressure situation. We need a few more of those.
I thought it was great that the Yankees started Montgomery’s minor league catcher, Kyle Higashioka. I am sure that helped with the transition to Yankee Stadium. Higashioka didn’t do much with the bat, but that wasn’t why he was so important to the game. Bravo to Montgomery for his first start and congrats to Higashioka for calling it. I think Jordan will be even stronger the next time out. The Yankees decision to promote Montgomery has been validated.
For the game, the Yankees did win. With the 8-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, they’ve won two of two out of a three game set. The series concludes today. At the beginning of the week, I was hopeful for two out of three. Sorry, but now I want a sweep. A 5-4 record would be so much better than 1-4 or in this case, 4-5. Aaron Judge was 2-for-3 with yet another home run (his third in consecutive games). But his single was the talk of the game. The exit velocity of the ball was 116.5 MPH, the fastest base hit of 2017. Is there any doubt Manager Joe Girardi made the right decision when he picked Judge over Aaron Hicks to start in right field? All of us have known that Judge has the potential to be a monster. He’s showing us the evidence.
On the downside, Brett Gardner was injured in a collision at first base with Rickie Weeks Jr. Not sure if the collision is a product of Weeks’ inexperience at first, but Gardner will be out for a few days with a bruised jaw and strained neck. Aaron Weeks, who had completed a three game streak of starting in right, center, left figures to get a few more starts until Gardner returns. In the interim, it pushes Jacoby Ellsbury to the top of the lineup as the leadoff hitter. Ugh. Here’s hoping for a quick recovery to good health for Gardy.
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Pitcher James Kaprielian has met with Dr Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles but no word has been released regarding Kaprielian’s decision. I am sure this is a very difficult decision for the young hurler. While I hope for the best result to get him back on the field again, what’s best for Kaprielian takes precedence over what’s best for the Yankees. So, whatever decision Kaprielian makes, I will support and accept.
Regarding the 40-man roster, the loser of the seat at the table is pitcher Johnny Barbato. While I was worried that Robert Refsnyder might be the player DFA’d, I did feel that it was most likely one of the lesser known pitchers. I think in my mind, Barbato is the pitcher I thought of first. Since being acquired from the San Diego Padres for reliever Shawn Kelley (now a vital part of the Washington Nationals’ bullpen), Barbato has not done anything at the Major League level. His brief appearances have not been memorable and I was surprised over the winter when the Yankees left some quality guys off the 40-man roster to protect Barbato. I assumed the Yankees saw something in the pitcher that I haven’t seen. With the number of quality arms in the organization, I have no problem with losing Barbato. Hopefully, GM Brian Cashman will be able to flip him for something of value as he’d probably be claimed off waivers by another team.
With Montgomery’s strong start, I am hopeful that Luis Severino answers the bell today against the Rays. After last year’s 0-8 record in starting assignments, I didn’t want to go into this year with Severino chasing wins again. He failed his first attempt last week but today represents redemption. I hopeful that he drops a “W” in his win-loss record so that we can get that bad boy out of the way and move into friendly debates about which young pitcher is better.
We’ll have a Bird in the lineup today so there’s no reason we can’t fly! Go Yankees, and have a great Thursday!