Time To Take The 7 Train

When the 2015 schedule came out you knew that this upcoming series against the Mets would be a big deal, they always are. But, only the most optimistic New York baseball fan could expect the matchup to be this big.

For one thing, both teams are closing in on a playoff spot. The Mets have come out of nowhere to pass supplant the Nationals at the kings of the NL East. They have the hottest hitter on the planet right now- Yoenis Cespedes who has 17 homers in his 43 games with the team. They have the most vilified pitcher in the league right now, Matt Harvey. And they have a fan base that is hoping that the Mets  deal a huge blow to the Yankees’ playoff hopes.

And we have some great pitching matchups. Tonight we have Tanaka versus the latest rookie sensation in Queens- Steven Matz. Tomorrow we get Pineda versus their previous rookie sensation, Noah Syndergaard. And Sunday night we get CC Sabathia versus the anti-Sabathia, and former fan favorite, Matt Harvey.

It’s going to be an incredibly challenging weekend for the Yankees, and you just have to hope that Tanaka gets them off on the right foot.

 

Look West

A funny thing is happening in the AL West right now. Houston is collapsing and Texas is rising. Thanks to a win last night, the Rangers are now in first place by half a game. They play Houston twice more this week and then three more next week, so things could quickly change, but this has shaken up the wild card picture.

For one thing, Houston would now be the team coming to Yankee Stadium in a wild card game. The Yankees were 3-4 versus them this year, and 2-5 versus Texas. It’s worth noting that Houston is the worst road team in the AL this year at 29-44. So, this could be a good thing for the Yankees.

And, this creates the possibility of a tiebreaker game. If the AL West is tied, Houston and Texas would play a tiebreaker game before playing the wild card. That’s definitely a good thing.

18 games to go.

Quite A Win

Last night’s win contained so many unexpected events it is hard to remember all of them, but let’s try.

Start with Sabathia pitching like he used to. That was certainly unexpected. Then Ackley leading off the 9th with a hit, that wasn’t something you expected. Or Ellsbury following that up with a GIDP. Or Gardner getting a hit and stealing only his fourth base of the second half. Ok, you probably expected Alex to get that hit, but I guarantee you were not expecting Slade Heathcott to hit a three-run homer on the first pitch.

Baseball-Reference has an win probability matrix for each game as it goes along. At the start of the 9th inning, the Yankees had a 16% chance of winning. That jumped to 27% when Ackley got on base, but plunged to 3% when Ellsbury his into the DP. Gardner’s hit put it back up to 8%, but even A-Rod’s game-tying hit left them below 50% (47%)

Bu as Joe Torre used to say, “momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher”, and the Yankees are turning to their bullpen and Adam Warren to keep things going. Three weeks from today is the AL Wild Card game, 19 games to go.

Stopping The Bleeding

There has been a lot of debate recently over who the Yankees should start in a potential wild card game. Before Eovaldi got hurt, there was the idea that he might be the choice. Pineda and Severino have their supporters, but to me the answer is, and has always been, Tanaka.

Here’s my reasoning, Tanaka may not be the truly dominant pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting, but he is a very good pitcher and a very smart pitcher. He understands how to minimize the damage, even when he doesn’t have his best stuff. None of the other Yankee pitchers have figured that out, so Tanaka is the guy who gets the ball.

I mention this because the Yankees have a decision to make with Tanaka in terms of his usage the rest of the season. If he stays on schedule, he would pitch Friday against the Mets, Wednesday against the Jays, Monday against Boston, and then Saturday against the Orioles. He would then not be able to pitch again until October 8th, the first game of the ALDS.

That’s fine if you think the Yankees have a chance to win the AL East. The problem is that they probably don’t. As of this morning, Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds gave the Yankees a 5% chance of winning the AL East. It will go up after today’s win, but clearly the Yankees have a very small chance of doing it.

So what should they do with Tanaka? My suggestion would be to use Tanaka on normal rest right for the next rotation turn. You need to pitch him Friday in order to have the chance for him to pitch against Toronto next week. The Yankees can make the decision if they really want to do that as things progress. If they are close to Toronto in the standings they could start Tanaka in the last game of the series as long as he pitched on Friday. If you give him more rest this week, that chance goes away. And if they decide the AL East is unattainable, they can configure Tanaka’s starts to put him in line to pitch a wild card game very easily after he pitches Friday.

It all starts with Friday, so let’s see what they do.

 

 

Wild Card Time

With yesterday’s disaster, the Yankees are now closer to being out of the playoffs than winning the AL East. They still have a four-game lead for a wild card spot, but things are getting tighter and the next week doesn’t do them any favors schedule-wise.

While I will admit that Toronto is a better team right now, I was confused by Girardi’s decisions yesterday, two in particular. First, with 20 pitchers on the roster, why go with Mitchell in the 11th inning of an extra inning game? I understand why you use him before rosters expand, you need length. But in September you have the luxury of using lots of arms. Why not try a short reliever there? Why not use matchups to your advantage? It may not have worked either, but it would have made more sense.

And in the second game, how does A-Rod not play? And if you can’t start him for some reason, why isn’t he your pinch-hitter in the sixth inning with the tying runs on base? Granted Young has been good against lefties, but I’ll take Alex over him.

Just two decisions in a frustrating day.

Not A Good Day

While it is only the fourth inning, the Yankees are on their way to ending their chances to win the AL East this year. After a heartbreaking loss in the first game, the second game is a blowout- right now. Throw in last night’s humiliation, and the Yankees are very likely trying to avoid a sweep tomorrow afternoon.

I’ll break it all down tomorrow, but for now, ugh.

1985

There are many Yankee teams that I hold dear, but of all the teams, my favorite was probably the 1985 Yankees. That’s right, a team that ultimately didn’t win anything may be my favorite team ever.

The reason for that starts with my favorite player, Don Mattingly, having his best year. .324/35/145. Those were crazy numbers back in 1985. You had Rickey Henderson hitting .314 and blasting 24 homers while stealing 80 bases. Ron Guidry had a huge rebound season with 22 wins. And Dave Righetti came in and closed games while Rizzuto crooned “Rags to Riches” from the booth. Nikero knuckled his way to 16 wins and Ed Whitson broke Billy Martin’s arm in late September. It was a wonderful team and the only thing that stopped them from winning the AL East was the Toronto Blue Jays.

And that’s why I was thinking about that team this morning because we have reached the biggest series of the year and it is against the Blue Jays. The four games this weekend and then three more the following week will most likely determine the AL East. In 1985 there wasn’t a wild card to fall back on. Ironically, the Blue Jays came into Yankee Stadium almost exactly thirty years ago for a four-game set with a 2-1/2 game lead in the division. They left with three wins and a 4-1/2 game lead with 20 to play. The 85 Yanks still almost pulled off the comeback, coming into Toronto on the final weekend down three with three to play. The 2015 Yankees won’t have that chance if they drop three-of-four here.

In fact, the way the schedule lines up, anything less than a series win will make it very hard for these Yankees to keep up with Toronto. The Blue Jays and Yankees have a fairly similar schedule the rest of the way, a mix of the Orioles, Red Sox and Rays, with one important exception. Toronto has three games in Atlanta, one of the worst teams in baseball right now. The Yankees have three games in Queens against the Mets, one of the best teams in baseball right now. While the Yankees will have that one last crack against Toronto this is their time to make some noise. Three-out-of-four has to be the goal. Let’s see if they can do it.

He’s Right

Joel Sherman has a good piece in today’s Post about how Yankee fans should cheer CC Sabathia for what he did on the mound never failing to take the ball, especially when you compare him to Matt Harvey.

I’ve been hard on Sabathia this year, and while I still don’t think the Yankees should start him anymore, it is unquestionable that he was a warrior for them. He deserves our thanks and appreciation for that.

You Can Never Have Too Much Pitching

The Yankees keep trying to force a six-man rotation down our throats and they keep being thwarted by injury. Today we learned that CC Sabathia would be back in a six-man rotation Wednesday, but that quickly turned back to a five-man rotation when it was reported that Nathan Eovaldi was being shut down for the next two weeks with elbow inflammation. That doesn’t sound promising, and the Yankees may have lost him for the rest of the season.

That’s a potentially big loss, but also one that will be over-hyped because of Eovaldi’s recent numbers. Yes, he has pitched very well since the All-Star Break, but look at these comparisons:

2014 10.1 H/9 0.6HR/9 1.9BB/9 6.4K/9

2015 10.2H/9 0.6HR/9 2.9BB/9 7.1K/9

Basically, he has done the exact same thing when it comes to giving up hits and home runs, while increasing both his walks and strikeouts. FIP puts his ERA this year at 3.43 versus 3.37 last year. In short, he isn’t necessarily doing anything better than he did last year, but people seem to think he is. (And as a sidetone, his ERA last year was 4.37 and he went 6-14. This year it is 4.20, yet he his 14-3. Perhaps wins are not a great way to evaluate a pitcher?)

Now, I will make two caveats about my somewhat clinical evaluation of Eovaldi above. 1- He is pitching in a tougher league and ballpark, so the consistency in his home run rate and increase in his strikeout rate are encouraging. 2- He has developed a new pitch this year, the splitter (maybe that’s why he has elbow problems?) He has only been really throwing it in the second half of this year, but it accounts for 16% of all of his pitches. It has given him a fourth pitch to go along with his fastball, curve, and slider and if he can continue to hone it, he may become a much better pitcher in the future.

That was going to be the very interesting bet the Yankees would have had to consider making this offseason. Eovaldi will be two years away from free agency after this season. If you believe his FIP numbers are indicative of his performance and think he might be on the upswing, the smart play would be to extend him now before he gets too close to the big payday of free agency. This elbow inflammation may put an end to that idea.

Worth a Read

SI.com has posted their article about Brian Cashman online. It got a lot of press last week because it includes an anecdote from 2010 when Cashman told Jeter that he would rather have Tulowitzki at short than Jeter. That’s an interesting story, and the article is loaded with them.

One interesting note is Billy Beane’s contention that Brian Cashman should be a future Hall of Famer. He says, “If anybody else had done what Brian’s been doing, you know what’d be in front of his name? Future Hall of Famer

That’s a complicated argument. Clearly, the Yankees have financial resources that other team, at least until recently, couldn’t match. But, it is worth remembering that the Yankees haven’t finished under .500 since 1992. That’s impressive.

I think managing and general managing the Yankees is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have almost unlimited  resources and your brand is the biggest in the game. On the other, you have insane expectations, and you will never get enough credit for what you do because of all of those resources. I don’t know if that’s a job many people would really want, and it amazes me that Brian Cashman has been doing it for 17 years.