Saturday, September 14, 2019

Playing "Prevent Defense" in the MLB...

Photo Credit: John E Sokolowski, USA TODAY Sports
What’s more important? Rest or Home Field Advantage…

I really dislike losing winnable games in September. Actually, I hate it anytime but it seems to be magnified in the season’s final month of the regular season. I get the need to balance health while competing with the Houston Astros for best record in the American League, but the Yankees seem to be failing the former and jeopardizing the latter. Last night’s walk-off home run in the 12th inning by Bo Bichette allowed the lowly Toronto Blue Jays to overcome the Yankees for the second walk-off loss by the Pinstripers since last Tuesday night. The balk given up by Adam Ottavino which allowed the Jays to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh was a microcosm of the sloppy play lately.  


Photo Credit: AP
The loss, coupled with a win by the Astros, pulls Houston to within a game of the Yankees for best record and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Yankees are 97-52, while the Astros are 96-53, with an unlucky 13 games to play. If the Yankees fail in either the ALDS or ALCS, I know that I’ll look back on September with much frustration. It kind of feels like a NFL team playing prevent defense to protect a lead which inevitably fails (or so it seems). 


Injuries happen but there’s no doubt the Yankees need to revisit their practices and procedures given the plethora of injuries this year, setting an all-time high for guys on the injured list. I think the one recent injury that really bugs me is the latest groin injury suffered by Gary Sanchez which has potentially cost him the rest of the regular season. If the injury was suffered while catching or running out a hit, it’s one thing but to lose El Gary on a stolen base attempt is ridiculous. Kevin Kernan of The New York Post put it best this morning in his column when he says “Advice to Yankees: Never give Sanchez a green light again in his career.” Agreed! A stolen base attempt is such a high risk play. If the Yankees need Sanchez stealing bases to win games, we’re in trouble. There’s no way I would have had Sanchez running in that situation. I know I have the benefit of hindsight but I truly would have said that before the injury happened.  

I am excited Luis Severino will finally make his season debut next Tuesday when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim visit the Bronx. Not quite sure what to expect as there will be rust despite the rehab appearances in the Minor Leagues but a healthy Sevy is very important for October. There’s no doubt he has the potential of having a ‘Mike Mussina in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS’ moment. I am equally excited about the impending return of Giancarlo Stanton. He is one guy that I hope the team can keep healthy for the duration of the season. With the losses of Edwin Encarnacion, Mike Tauchman, and Gary Sanchez, Stanton’s bat looms large. It would have even if those guys had stayed healthy. Stanton has had more than his share of critics but I know I am not one of them. I am glad Giancarlo Stanton is a Yankee and I look forward to his return. Jordan Montgomery is expected to make an appearance during Sunday’s game but I am not expecting much from him. I’ve seen some on Social Media act as though the return of Monty equals the return of an ace. Sorry, but he’s not in the same league as Severino. Sevy is the far more valuable pitcher.  Sevy is also not making a return from Tommy John surgery like Gumby is. I don’t expect #47 to be a factor until 2020 at the earliest despite whatever he is able to do this month. It would be a huge surprise for him to even be on the post-season roster.

Speaking of injuries, I really feel badly for the Milwaukee Brewers. One game out of the NL Wild Card chase after their loss last night, the Brewers suffered a larger loss earlier in the week when superstar Christian Yelich fractured his kneecap and won’t be back on a baseball field until next Spring. 


Photo Credit: Mark Brown, Getty Images
I know, Yankee fans are not going to feel sorry for injuries on other teams, but you can argue that losing a single player hurts the Brewers more than losing what? 30 players has hurt the Yankees. I know, that’s an absurd statement but still, there’s an element of truth to it. Yelich and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers have battled for the potential NL Most Valuable Player Award all season. While Bellinger has been my favorite, I do hate to see Yelich lose out like this. He deserved better and so did the Brewers. I guess Tyler Austin will have to carry the Brew Crew now. Seriously, this does put an incredible amount of pressure on Mike Moustakas to be “the guy”.   

On the subject of injuries, I should also add how horrific it was to see the Blue Jays lose reliever Tim Mayza last night. After a misfired pitch behind the back of Didi Gregorius, who led off the top of the 10th inning, Mayza went to his knees in obvious pain and was escorted off the field. He’ll undergo a MRI to determine the extent of the injury but first (uneducated) guess is a ligament tear. I sincerely hope the injury is not as severe as it appears to be and that Mayza is able to return in 2020. Worst case scenario would mean Tommy John surgery and a lost season ahead. I really hope for Mayza’s sake it is not the case. He had been making the most of his opportunity in the Jays bullpen this season.


Photo Credit: Cole Burston, Getty Images
After the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders bowed out of the International League playoffs against the Tampa Bay Rays’ affiliate, it was great to see the Double A Trenton Thunder grab the Eastern League championship. The Thunder beat the Bowie Baysox, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles and a team managed by Zack Britton’s brother Buck, in four games to take the five-game championship series. Dellin Betances made an appearance in the deciding game, giving up a sixth inning homer in an inning of work. Luis Severino started and lost Game 2 of the series but it was more of a failure of team defense than Sevy’s pitches that cost them the game. First baseman Chris Gittens and pitchers Clarke Schmidt and Michael King, names we’ll be hearing at Yankee Stadium one day, delivered championship performances for Manager Pat Osborn’s team. Congrats to the Thunder for their highly successful season! 


Photo Credit: Kyle Franko, The Trentonian
Adonis Rosa, who was DFA’d this week when Ben Heller was moved from the 60-day IL to the active roster, cleared waivers and was sent outright to Triple A effectively ending his season but at least he remains in the organization. I guess the move didn’t really make a difference to me. There was no way Rosa was going to hold onto his valuable 40-man roster spot after the season and others like Ryan Dull, Cory Gearrin, and Tyler Lyons (who gave up Bichette’s walk-off HR last night) should be ex-Yankees when the big league club concludes its season and moves to protect certain high level prospects in advance of December’s Rule 5 Draft. I prefer a healthy Ben Heller to any of the aforementioned names and look forward to his 2020 contributions. Once the Yankees eliminate Clint Frazier in the off-season, Heller will be the last remaining piece from the Andrew Miller trade.

This has been a disappointing year for the Boston Red Sox but I was still somewhat surprised they fired President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski before season’s end. This action appears to have been inevitable since the Sox and owner John Henry have rebuffed attempts by Dombrowski to extend his contract since Spring Training. The Red Sox are presently ten games out of the AL Wild Card hunt and, barring a miracle, will not see October play. I’ve seen some say it would not be a surprise to see Dombrowski join the Yankees as a consultant given his close friendship with GM Brian Cashman. Nothing against Dombrowski but I don’t really want to see him join the Yankees. I am fearful the Yankees could lose Cashman’s chief lieutenant, Tim Naehring, a former Red Sock player, in Boston’s search for a replacement. But even if the Yankees lose Naehring, I wouldn’t want Dombrowski on my team. Naehring’s status as a candidate for Boston was significantly increased yesterday when the Arizona Diamondbacks extended their GM, Mike Hazen, a long-time Boston employee and the top speculated candidate for the vacancy.  

It’s starting to feel like Joe Girardi will be the next manager of the cross-town Mets or at least it seems that way to me. I always thought Girardi would end up in Chicago but that is not necessarily the case. If Cubs manager Joe Maddon steps down, it seems as though David Ross stands a better chance of getting the job than Girardi. It kind of sucks that we could be watching Girardi in a Mets uniform next season, managing former Yankee great Robinson Cano. I guess if Girardi does join the Mets, he’ll get a firsthand look at how differently the Wilpons run their organization in comparison to the Steinbrenner family. Good luck with that.

As always, Go Yankees!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Better Pitching Equals Better Results...

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP
Happ, turning back the clock, turns back the Sox…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yankees have announced a few moves today but none featured Ben Heller. I remain optimistic he’ll get the call, but here’s the day’s transaction per the Yankees:
    • Reinstated Gio Urshela from the 10-day IL
    • Returned Thairo Estrada from rehab and reinstated him from the 10-day IL
    • Recalled Kyle Higashioka and Breyvic Valera from the RailRiders
I am glad to see Urshela back on the field. DJ LeMahieu does a great job at third, but having flexibility with him, helps the team. These moves were simple paper transactions, whereas, Heller will require some maneuvering so perhaps there will be more transactions announced later today. For Heller’s sake, I hope so. 

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

As always, Go Yankees!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Sweet Sound of Victory...

Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer, AP
As John Sterling said, “David John makes long gone!”…

Finally, the Yankees solved the A’s even if it took eleven innings and a few innings of bases juiced with stranded Oakland runners (the A’s left a total 15 men on base, which seems like a 2018 Yankees stat). 

Sure, the Yankees should have called for replay of Matt Chapman’s “double” to left that temporarily gave the A’s a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning. TV replay clearly showed the ball landed outside the left field foul line even if by a fraction of an inch. The entirety of the ball’s imprint in the dirt was on the other side of the chalk line. After the game, Manager Aaron Boone acknowledged he should have asked for replay but the speed of the moment and some uncertainty caused the missed opportunity. Nevertheless, as the saying goes, all’s well that ends well. 

DJ LeMahieu’s lead-off first pitch home run to right in the bottom of the 11th inning gave the Yankees the win, 4-3, and snapped the Yankees’ losing streak to the A’s.  The 11th inning happened with such lightning speed. No sooner than I had let out a groan when the A’s Matt Olson led off the top of the frame with a single to center, a quick double play and a pop out ended the inning for Oakland before I could even exhale and set the stage for The Machine’s rapid fire ending.  

Living in Denver, I can remember DJ’s bottom of the ninth, two-out two-run come-from-behind home run as the Colorado Rockies defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 5-4, on September 12, 2018. Clearly, big moments do not phase this man. I am sure that more than a few Rockies fans were wishing the Big Fundy was wearing purple yesterday.

Photo Credit: Andy Cross, The Denver Post
The Yankees scored all of their runs on solo homers. Two, his 31st and 32nd, by the  so-called ‘fat and lazy’ Gary Sanchez (leaving him one short of his own team record) and a game-tying dinger by Aaron Judge in the bottom of the eighth which set the stage for LeMahieu’s late game heroics. The four home runs in the game gave the Yankees 74 homers for the month, setting a new MLB record for most team homers in a single month. For the record, I do not think El Gary is fat and lazy and he’s had my support from the start of his career.  

I was worried the Yankees had lost another player to a critical injury when Zack Britton left the game in the eighth inning with a slight limp. With a ‘glass is half empty’ view, I immediately thought there might be issues with the achilles he tore a couple of years ago. Fortunately, it was reported after the game to be nothing more than cramps and no further tests are scheduled. Whew! We need a healthy Britton in the March to October. Losing Britton would have placed greater urgency on getting Dellin Betances ready to pitch for the first time this year.

Photo Credit: AP
The win gives the Yankees (89-48) the best record in MLB. The Houston Astros lost, 6-4 to the Toronto Blue Jays, to fall a game behind the Yanks. Their record is 88-49.  The Los Angeles Dodgers, 6-5 losers to the Arizona Diamondbacks, dropped to 88-50.  

I was optimistic after the game that the Yankees could win this series against the A’s today, but then realized the starting pitcher will be J.A. Happ.  Oh well. I really wish I had more confidence in Happ but unfortunately any confidence has left the building. My only hope is that Happ proves me wrong. Oakland’s Sean Manea will make his 2019 season debut after recovering from left shoulder arthroscopic surgery last September.  

He’s back! Clint Frazier has returned to Yankee Stadium and will be in the Yankees lineup today at DH. I am glad to see Frazier back in Pinstripes. A couple of months ago, I thought he had worn them for the final time. I am hopeful he takes advantage of the latest opportunity to show that he belongs here. With rosters expanding today, the Yankees also recalled RHPs Ryan Dull and Chance Adams. They also moved RHP David Hale to the 60-day IL and signed LHP Tyler Lyons to a MLB contract and selected him from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. I am glad to see the former Cardinals reliever get a shot. Poor Adams has to take a chance on a new number since the last two he has worn are taken. Jonathan Loaisiga has 43 and Mike Mussina “lookalike” Cory Gearrin has Moose’s number 35. I’d call Gearrin ‘Mussina’s Clone’ but that would imply he has the same set of skills which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s too bad that today, a day Mike Mussina will be honored for his induction into MLB’s Hall of Fame, his number will be active and worn by a journeyman reliever. I love Don Mattingly but I’ve long believed the Yankees should have the same policy as the Los Angeles Dodgers to only retire numbers for Hall of Fame players. Moose now fits that criteria. Well, I guess that I should preface that by saying I am glad nobody will ever wear 15 again. 

Last year, the Yankees set the Major League record for most team home runs with 267 long balls. Sadly, the record was erased yesterday when the Minnesota Twins hit six home runs. Mitch Garver’s second bomb of the game, in the ninth inning of Minnesota’s 10-7 loss to the Detroit Tigers, gave them 268. The Yankees are within striking distance, with 254 home runs, but time is running out to make up ground on the 14 dinger shortage. It really makes you wonder where the Yankees would be if health had been their friend in 2019. No doubt a healthy Giancarlo Stanton could have been the difference maker.  

The Yankees made a minor trade yesterday when they sent Triple A first baseman Ryan McBroom to the Kansas City Royals for international signing bonus pool money and a player to be named later or cash considerations. I realize that McBroom was buried behind more talented players and at 27, he’s not really a prospect anymore. But I liked the guy and he was tearing up Triple A pitching this season with a batting line of .315/.402/.574 and 146 wRC+ (26 home runs and 87 RBIs). The Yankees acquired McBroom from the Toronto Blue Jays on July 23, 2017 for Robert Refsnyder. I’m happy for McBroom. I was hopeful he’d get a shot with the Yankees but it was not meant to be. With rosters expanding today, he should get a shot to make his Major League debut this month with the Royals. Or at least I hope he does. He’s earned the opportunity.

Photo Credit: Tim Dougherty, The Free Lance-Star
I didn’t see how much international signing bonus pool money the Yankees acquired but it’s too bad it came too late to save the signing of talented international outfield prospect Jhon Diaz, who grew tired of waiting for the Yankees to make room for his   $1.4 million signing bonus and signed with AL East rival Tampa Bay. Of the international prospects linked to the Yankees, Diaz was second behind only outfielder Jasson Dominguez who was the head of the class and recipient of most of the year’s allocated bonus pool money. 

Okay, let’s hope our favorite team will HAPPen to find victory today.

As always, Go Yankees!