#86 Trade Deadlines, Tampa Bay, and First Place

Okay, so I am going to mix things up now. I am going to start publishing a post each Wednesday and Saturday regularly with the odd extra post thrown in on occasion to deal with any major piece of breaking news that occurs. In this episode, I will tackle the trade deadline and what moves were made by Cashman to improve the Yankees. I will look at the Tampa Bay series, and finally, I will celebrate the fact the Yankees have taken the lead in the division.

TRADE MOVES:

So first things first. The trade deadline has come and gone and Brian Cashman was certainly busy this year. He looked at the needs of this team and went out and addressed those needs. First of all, there was the problem at first base. He traded Tyler Webb to the Brewers for Garret Cooper which was a fantastic move because Cooper has turned out to be a great addition at first base, and has also hit well. Then Cashman traded with the White Sox and landed Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle which was a smart move because it tackled the need with the bullpen, especially since it got rid of Tyler Clippard who was just rubbish while adding two great arms to the bullpen. Todd Frazier at third base meant that Chase Headley was also moved to first base, and that was a great move for Headley who has turned out to be brilliant. The first base problem was sorted.

The bullpen was dealt with, the first base problem was solved, but the starting rotation was still a big problem. Pineda had imploded before he found himself on the DL. Tanaka has struggled at one moment and then been brilliant at others. His lack of consistency has been maddening. The Yankees have tried at times to fill the need for in the rotation using a variety of Double-A pitchers who have been equally inconsistent due to their inexperience at this level but they have all done a decent enough job keeping the Yankees in the game. But the Yankees had to do something with the rotation because the starting rotation needs more than just stop gap pitchers or pitching by committee, which was how things had started to turn out.

Brian Cashman was very clever, he went out and got Jaime Garcia from the Twins, and then made what we would call an old fashioned Yankee blockbuster trade that brought the highly coveted pitcher Sonny Gray from Oakland for three prospects. What was great about this move is that we got a great pitcher who is on a contract for two years which means he is not just a loan deal which Yu Darvish would be, and yes we had to give up three prospects, the main thing was we got to keep Frazier who Oakland wanted. We got to keep Gleber Torres, who was also in the A’s sights. We got to keep the best of our prospects and on top of that, we now have a rotation that is hopefully fixed. The move was certainly a clear message from the Yankee owners and front office that they have their sights firmly fixed on a pennant, if not a World Series win.

TAMPA BAY COMES TO TOWN:

The Yankees welcomed Tampa to the Bronx during the weekend for a four game series on the back of a rampant resurgence. It was fair to say that this series was certainly the most important of the post ASG break series that they have played yet because Tampa was breathing down their necks. But we didn’t have to worry a whole bunch. The Yankee pitching was out of sight at times and at times beyond a little shaky.  CC had a disaster in the opening game of the set, pitching just 4.1 innings, giving up 5 hits and 4 runs including a home run. He was pulled out of the game and backed up with some pretty amazing work by the bullpen to keep Tampa off the boards while the Yankee bats got into gear and forced the game into extra innings where Brett Gardner hit a line drive homer to right field to take the game. The celebrations led to Aaron Judge getting a chipped tooth and a hilarious game of whodunnit in the Yankee dressing room in which Todd Frazier blamed Clint Frazier who blamed Austin Romine. Todd Frazier then told Clint not to point the finger, at which point Clint reminded Todd that he had just done the same thing, only for Todd to remind the younger Frazier that he wasn’t a rookie and therefore could point the fingers.

The 2nd game started just as the last one had ended with Gardner taking the ball to the house becoming only the third Yankee to go score a homer at the end of one game and the start of the next game. But as good as that was, and the way the Yankees managed to get runs (they were 2-2 with runners in scoring positions) the real talking point was Tanaka. He was just lights out brilliant in this game striking out 14 while giving up 2 hits, and just one measly run. It was a glimpse of Tanaka as he could be, the brilliant ace.  His form is maddening because as I have commented on, he is hot and cold. But enough banging on about his poor form because he was outstanding in this game and it was a thrill to witness it. My hope is that we will get more of this from him. It was a gem, and the Yankees took game 2 easy. They also took the lead in the division.

Game 3 got off to a worrying start as Caleb Smith fell apart and lasted just one out in the 3rd before the bullpen came in and pitched by committee. The pen was not as sharp as they had been probably due to being used early too many times. Warren and Robertson both coughed up a run each but it was not enough for the Rays as the Yankees were able to steal this one 5-4, taking a third series win in a row.

Game 4 was just a mess, the pitching was the letdown and Montgomery, who has been a good pitcher for the Yankees hit a blip and gave up 4 runs on 6 hits while only pitching just 2.2 innings. Torreyes was the main man as far as scoring was going as he had a hand directly in all 3 runs scored by the Yanks. They came close to winning so many times in this game but just couldn’t get the runners home. Just think about this stat for a second, the Yankees were 1-11 with runners in scoring positions. Yes, 1-11. They had eleven chances to score in this game and just got one RBI!!! It is no small wonder then that they had lost this game, but it didn’t really seem to matter because they were still on top of the division when the dust settled on this series.

DIVISION LEADERS

The Yankees have done really well, just as well as the Sox have done poorly, and they are now leading the division. Of course, they mustn’t rest on their laurels. They have one more series at home, against Detroit, before they set off for a two series road trip that will be a big test for them. They face the AL champions and then the ever dangerous albeit struggling Blue Jays. Cleveland will be no push overs, going 8-2 in their last 10 games, while Toronto is 5-5 in their last 10. Boston who have not been as good lately and seem to be in a bit of disarray thanks to David Price’s weak antics. But they are just 0.5 games behind the Yankees in second at the moment. So it is “knuckle down” and consolidate time for the Bronx Bombers. They have started well taking the first game against Detroit, of which I shall write more about later. But it is certainly exciting for Yankee fans to see their team, which many had written off at the start of the season, taking the division lead, hitting well, playing exciting ball, and making the big moves off field to bring one of the hottest pitchers in the league to the Bronx, as well as the feel good trade of Frazier-Robertson-Kahnle, which brought three guys all with links to the Yankees into the team, and all of whom have contributed big since joining us. This certainly is a much better season than we thought.

In Defence Of Jacoby Ellsbury

 

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Ellsbury straight stealing home in April 2016

 

Okay, so today I would like to write in defence of Jacoby Ellsbury because he is getting too much slack from the media and particularly in the Bronx Pinstripe Podcast. Now, this isn’t an attempt to slag off the guys on that podcast because I really enjoy their show and for the most part I agree with a lot of what they say about things pertaining to the Yankees.

But it comes to a point when a person has to speak up for someone else because the discourse has become unbalanced. So I shall try to offer a counterpoint to some of the Ellsbury bashings that have become the hobby of the moment.

For one thing, I agree completely when people say that the contract that he was given was one of the most ill-thought out and idiotic contracts that were ever given to the player. They handed him $153m for seven years, which breaks down at about $21,142,857 per annum. I mean that is a crazy-stupid contract to give a player whose performance is built on speed and on the health of his legs. It is obvious that such a contract was ill conceived because anyone with even half a brain would know that here is a player who is not going to keep the performance levels up. He was never a power bat apart from one season, his performances have dropped off and to be honest there was no sense offering him a contract like the one the Yankees gave him when the team that developed him refused to pay him that kind of money.

The Yankees signed him as a knee jerk reaction. First to try and appease the fans for the loss of Cano, something the Yankees should never let happen, but they did and were forced to try and bring in a guy that they thought could be the linchpin of the team they were building for no reason other than to have a good news story. The fact that Jacoby happened to be an ex-Red Sox player was just the cherry on top for the Yankee front office who seemed to let cheap point scoring at the expense of the BoSox get in the way of sound judgment. So if you are going to be annoyed about Ellsbury’s contract be annoyed at Hank, Hal, and whoever else made this move and offered this money because to be honest, being mad at a player who took this contract is just plain dumb. Of course, he was going to take the money that was offered. Who wouldn’t? He had no idea that he was going to pick up injuries that sped up the decaying of his playing performances and abilities. The Yankees should have known that he was already at peak performance and that he would not be the sound investment they claimed he was going to be.

The next thing to deal with is that he is a bum and that he has no incentive for playing well and is out there just going through the motions. They claim that he is not putting in the effort, citing his poor batting returns, or his lack of steals. But let’s look at this. As I already stated, he was never a power hitter, and his batting has been affected by the health issues that he has picked up. You can’t just say that it is Jacoby who is injured all the time. The Yankees have a really serious problem with players being injured and taking forever to recover, I mean recently we had a coward in the front office gripe about Bird and his injury and recovery time. This is a kid who has been prone to serious injuries, so should we be surprised that a guy who is ageing is starting to struggle with injuries and that this has cut down on his playing time and affected his hitting?

Also as far as the base running goes, it is common sense that he is not going to run as well as when he was younger, but actually there is another problem that is out of his control that means his steals will be down, and that lies with Joe Girardi who is one of the most conservative managers out there. He does not seem to have a whole lot of faith in the small ball game and is not keen on ordering bunt plays, steals and the like. Quite simply, the style of play that best suits Jacoby Ellsbury is the exact opposite of the style of play that Joe Girardi.

The claim that he is not playing with heart is just plain insulting to a professional athlete, and not at all in line with the truth when you look at the plays that he has made when he has taken the field. I mean the guy damn near killed himself this year chasing a fly ball down when he crashed hard into the wall. The resulting concussion affected him badly. Did we see someone there who was just going through the motions of appearing to play, pulling a Hal Chase out there? No, we saw someone make a flat out play, catching the ball and holding it, despite smashing into the wall and the ground. Plus let us not forget the game against Tampa in April of last year when the guy just flat out stole home… YES, HE STOLE HOME. The first Yankee to do that for 15 years. It was an incredible play. He has had 121 chances this year  118 of which were put outs, with just 2 errors made. That’s not lying down on the job. He is taking care of business where he still can. Last year he had 280 chances and only 3

His fielding has certainly not been poor either when you look at the figures. So far this year he has had 121 chances 118 of which were put outs, with just 2 errors made. That’s not lying down on the job. He is taking care of business where he still can. Last year he had 280 chances and only 3 errors, in 2015 he had 237 defensive chances and 0 yes zero errors, and in his first year with the Yankees he 384 chances and just 1 measly error in the field. So yeah while his batting has not been quite what they expected and he has not given much with base stealing as was hoped, he has been a fine fielder for the Yankees and has put his body on the line more than once.

So when I hear people claiming that he is a bum, worthless, not committing to the team because he has no incentive, and perhaps the worst signing in Yankees history I have to laugh. Because while his contract is ludicrous, it cannot be said that he has not given the Yankees much in return. That steal of home, a straight steal too, was definitely worth it. As has his reckless lack of self-regard when it comes to making plays in the field. There have been many signings that were miles worse for the Yankees that have not produced anything at all near as the value.

When you look at what Jake has given this team it is fair to say that he was not worth the contract that he was given, but again it must be made clear that the contract was the fault of the owners and the front office. It is not his fault that age and injury has slowed him down, or that he makes mistakes in base running when he is brought into a game that he is pinch running in, that can happen because the player might not be up to game speed as he would if he was in the game from the start. But to me, he was not the worst contract ever in the history of the Yankees despite the size of his pay cheque. For me, the worst signing will always be Kei Igawa who was paid basically $46m for 5 years, in which he played a sum total of 16 games over 2 years, and where he posted just two wins and ERA of 6.66 before spending the rest of his contract in A-Ball. $46m for just two wins. THAT is the worst signing by the Yanks. Jacoby, while not exactly living up to what he was paid, still has not let us down the as bad as some make out. Those who say he has are just speaking out of pay cheque envy and the resentment of a player who used to play for the Sox. They need to let it go and move on.

Series Review: Cincinnati Fall To Yanks In Two

The Yankees started a vital home stint with a win over The Reds in a two game series that was full of the weird and wonderful moments. They needed to win this series because it set the scene for the upcoming series against Tampa Bay who have made their own case for the playoffs, breathing down the Yankees necks the last while.

Game 1: Montgomery v Castillo

This game had some weird moments. There was a balk. There was a triple play RBI by Todd Frazier on his debut as a Yankee in the Bronx against the team that he was twice an all star player for. Montgomery threw a no-hitter into the 7th inning but that was broken up. The bullpen was outstanding for the most part but for Betances who was not as sharp as he had been of late leaving many to question the sense of sticking with him as the setup guy for the closer. The run he gave up could have been doubled but for Cozart not being able to run due to a problem with a calf muscle that held him up at third rather than going for home. But Didi knocked in a homer in 8th that gave two runs for Chapman to protect and he did with a scoreless inning that saw him chalk up his 12th save of the season. Watch the condensed game HERE.

Game 2: Severino v Bailey

Severino was outstanding and has established himself as the ace of the Yankees pitching staff in all but name with his performance this season. Yes, he has had some bad games but his play has been beyond a shadow of a doubt miles ahead of some of the other starters, particularly Tanaka and Pineda. He kept the Reds off the boards until the 7th inning, but the run support from the Yankees was something to behold. Clint Frazier was aggressive at the plate and running the bases and played his part manfully. As did Didi, Headley, Torreyes, Sanchez, and Todd Frazier all scored RBIs in this game. Didi and Todd scoring theirs with 7th inning home runs.

Cessa looked really dodgy in his outing giving up three earned runs one of which was a home run. He is normally a really good pitcher but he is prone to some struggles and today was one of those days. However, whereas a week ago this was a problem for the Yankees because the pen was struggling, now we have a bullpen that got it done and when Cessa struggled Robertson came out and closed the game down. Watch the condensed game HERE.

The Yankees really set a mark down with this series win. They will face the Rays next who are currently 1.5 games behind them. This is the big series. The Yankees have a great shot at really making a big charge at taking the division while at the same time they have a chance at pushing Tampa’s charge back a bit.  The projected starters are Sabathia, Tanaka, Cessa and Montgomery, and Fangraphs has the Yankees ahead as winning this series. A lot lies on how the Yankees starters will fare, Tanaka is the main worry for the team. But I am excited for this series to get started because it this is when things will come to the crunch.

 

New York Welcome The Reds With A Win

Condensed Game Cincinnati at Yankees

The Yankees welcomed Cincinnati to the Bronx last night. It was a tight game that got a whole lot closer when Betances pitched himself into a whole lot of problems. But Warren and Chapman managed to close things out for the win.

This was a great game. It had everything in it. There was a balk, a triple play, a great play at third by Chase Headley, and a massive lucky break when Zack Cozart had to settle for third base in the fifth when had he not had a calf problem he would have made home easy and levelled the score. That lucky break kept the Yankees with a single run lead until Didi blasted one out of the park for the final run of the game giving Chapman a two run lead to defend. That was the key moment of the game and it went the right way for the Yankees. Montgomery got the win, Chapman gets the win and I give Didi Gregorius the MVP of the game.

It was a great win. Click on the link above to see the best of the action.

Series Review: Series Win In Seattle

The Yankees went to Seattle in search of a number of things. 1: A series win, 2: Aaron Judge scoring, and 3: the bullpen getting the job done and not blowing a game. They got all those things though not quite to the extent that they would have liked.

First at the plate, there was the matter of winning a series. The Yankees had not won a series since they beat Baltimore early in June. Since then they have lost 23 games and won 14. That is not conducive to a team winning anything. The annoying thing is that the Yankees could easily have won a series between now and then but they just couldn’t get it done when it was needed. In each of the last series, the Yankees had the chance to win but a dodgy pitch, a fielding error, a bullpen implosion all conspired to help them lose.

But the Yankees seemed to get everything right for the most part this series against the Mariners. The hitters found the right form and scored well, even in game three which they lost, the Yankees were able to overcome a really bad inning by Tanaka and force the game to extra innings only losing when Adam Warren gave up a hit to Nelson Cruz that scored Gamel. Sometimes you have to take your losses and this was one of those games where it was better to lose in extra innings than going through a whole bunch of innings and depleting the bullpen. They had one game left to play, so why kill yourself?

Everything looked great for the Yankees in this series, at least it did for the most part, and Aaron Judge scoring two homers in back to back games must be one of those things that will have Yankees fans feeling a lot better. The Yankees have a better chance of winning when he is hitting the balls out of the park. Also the fact that it was not just down to him but other guys got into the act is a good sign for the Yankees down the stretch.

Didi hit two homers in game four, Sanchez hit a long ball, as did Gardner, and Clint Frazier looks so good at the plate. I really love that kid’s aggressive playing style. He attacks the ball at the plate with an impressively quick swing that has a lot of power in it, he attacks the bases when he is running and has a lot of speed that turns a single into a double, and his defence is improving so much that he is making the outfield look like a hunting ground. Sure there are those who don’t like him, the whole take No.7 out of retirement story seems to have rubbed everyone up the wrong way whether true or not, but I don’t care about that. I like him and think that he is a great addition to the team. I admit I was not convinced when the trade happened. Miller was my favourite Yankee. But Clint has really shown that he deserves to be in the Majors and was not an insult to Andrew Miller.

The bullpen was great. They all combined to put in some solid innings work. Betances is back on track, and Chad Green, Kahnle, Robertson, and Warren have all been great. Sure Warren and Robertson played their part in losing game three of the series. But Canó’s score of Roberston was not down to a bad pitch or a mistake but a great swing from a great hitter and Warren’s game losing pitch to Cruz was still a good pitch, down and away but just inside the zone enough for Cruz to get enough on it for a hit with a line drive to left field that scored the run.

However, besides that the pen was brilliant. Tanaka continued to be frustrating though and his four run inning was the epitome of what he has become for the Yankees when you see him getting guys out as easy as you like with swinging strikeouts, and yet at the same time giving up home runs as if he was pitching for someone in the home run derby. He has given up 26 home runs so far this season meaning that already he has beaten his worst season in 2015 for home runs given away when he gave away 25 HRs in the whole season. There is something not right with him and I cannot but help wonder if there is some lingering problem which stems from the injury he picked up in his rookie season and which was in my opinion grossly mismanaged by the Yankees. That being said he did come back into his own in that game and stayed in the game for six innings. Getting into no more trouble for the remainder of his time on the mound.

Caleb Smith pitched well in his start too. But the wheels fell off in the fourth inning and with one out and the bases loaded he gave up four runs. You can only put this down to the inexperience of a kid who was pitching his first start, and who has all the makings of someone who will be a pretty good pitcher down the road. I think it is a great thing that we are seeing these guys pitching from the farm. Let’s face it they cannot do as bad a job as Pineda or Tanaka has done so I say give them their chances and don’t pull them just because of one bad inning in an otherwise good start.

The Yankees scout Brandon Duckworth was at the Texans game on Friday to have a look at their pitching ace Yu Darvish. He certainly would be a great addition to the Yankees though his contract is such that he would be basically a loan player and perhaps that is why the Yankees might be more inclined to trading for him knowing that he would not cost them so many of their prospects as someone with a long contract like Sonny Gray the Oakland pitcher the Yankees have also kicked the tyres on. The Yankees have already ruled out any demands for Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, and Justus Sheffield, and have said that they probably wouldn’t trade James Kaprielian although that probably does not actually mean they will not trade him away. The Yanks have done some good work, Todd Frazier in third has put Headley at first which has really been a good move for him even with the odd teething problem. They have filled the bullpen with quality pitchers and now the only piece is a starting pitcher that will help out with Severino Sabathia and Montgomery who have all been great, and who knows this might take the pressure off Tanaka too.

 This series was a great shot in the arm for the Yankees and to see the pieces falling into place for the team with the hitting and pitching can only fill us with a bit more confidence ahead of the next series.

The Yankees have a day off as they travel back to New York and will then take on the Reds in a two game set. Montgomery and Severino are listed as the probable pitchers for those games and Fangraphs has listed the Yankees as the favourites to win those games with a 59.4% and 67.3% win probability. If they carry on hitting and pitching as they did for the most part in this series, then Cincinnati will have a tough job. However, you can never take things for granted in this game and the Yankees will need to keep their focus if they are to keep the pressure on their rivals in the chase for post-season ball.

Series Preview: Up Next, The Yankees Face The Seattle Mariners

The Yanks go west to play the Mariners. Here is the list of probable pitchers and the win probability for the Yankees as listed by Fangraphs.

Jul 20, 2017, at SEA with a 52.9%  win probability for Luis Severino against Felix Hernandez
Jul 21, 2017, at SEA with a  57.8% win probability for Masahiro Tanaka against Andrew Moore
Jul 22, 2017, at SEA with a 53.3%  win probability for CC Sabathia against Ariel Miranda
Jul 23, 2017, at SEA with a 50.9% win probability for Luis Cessa against Sam Gaviglio

As you can see there are some good matchups for the Yankees and the problems that have dogged the Mariners might play into the Yankees hands in this series. However, the Yankees have struggled on the West Coast this year and therefore cannot be complacent when it comes to anything. This will be first full series with the new trio obtained in the massive trade during the last series so we will all be interested to see if they will help steady the ship and get the Yankees back on track when it comes to winning games and series.

I feel this is a good chance for the Yankees and to be honest I expect them to win at least three of the four games. My guess, this is the best chance the Yankees have to rack up the wins and put pressure on their rivals in the AL East. I hope they seize it with both hands.

Series Review: Yanks in Minesotta

Yankees @ Twins July 17-19 2017

I am struggling to find new ways to say the same thing about the Yankees. This series really was a microcosm of the problems they have had all season long. Starting pitching has been shaky at times, yet brilliant at others. The maddening thing about it is that often the pitchers have had made quick work of getting the first two hitters of the innings out, but on a two out situation they lose focus or have some kind of breakdown or something, and they just end up with the other team getting runs on the board that should not be there.

The Yankees put three rather inexperienced pitchers on the mound during this series. Mitchell, Cessa, and Montgomery are all still rather young and have at most two years experience in the Majors. So they were expected to struggle and to be honest most people did not give the Yanks that much chance of winning these games. But the pitchers helped. Even Montgomery who gave up six runs in the second innings of game three managed to hold the score down after that and apart from that melt down in the second he actually did a good job. Mitchell and Cessa did struggle too, but they kept the runs down to three.

The Yankees could have won game one, but the pen lost that. They could have won game three too if they had hit more runs, they had a whole bunch of time to score the runs. I have to be honest the lack of power is the most frustrating thing and the capitulation of game three was the worst thing. The one run they got on the board came in the seventh inning and was so tame in my books that it was a squib.

There was some great fielding from Judge, Torreyes and Cooper in particular. There was some good batting too, but the series was lost and it was all down to the same problems that have seen all through the season. Dodgy pitching, or no scores. That was the tale of this series, and yet even with this, the Yankees are still in touch when it comes to the race, which to be honest none of us really thought was going to happen this year, it was meant to be a down year.

The biggest news this series was the move by Cashman to bring in Frazier, Robertson, and Kahnle for prospects and Clippard. He has done all he can to add to the team and perhaps if he gets one decent starter to fill in that fifth spot in the rotation then if the Yanks fail it will be on the players and the coaches, not it will not on the front office for a change.

But this was a frustrating series, and the Yankees will rue the missed chances they had. They could have won two games easily but blew it. I know Fangraphs had them down as losing each game but I think this is a series they will kick themselves over.