If this past weekend series told us anything about the New York Yankees, it’s that they are truly capable of anything … both good and bad.
Coming into a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees looked to bounce back after having dropped seven of their previous eight games, five of them taking place at Yankee Stadium. Part of the Yankees’ problem this season has been a severe lack of offensive production with runners in scoring position. Following a sweep at the hands of the Oakland A’s, the Yankees had been marred in a 5-for-61 slump with runners in scoring position. To add fuel to the fire, the Yankees starters had given the team very little in length and are currently ranked 22nd in the majors with just seven quality starts.
So would the Yankees bump this trend against the Rays, or would they continue it? The answer is simply, both. I’ll start with the good.
How often do you see a runner attempt a steal of home plate? For the sake of time I’m not going to look that up, but I can safely say that you won’t see it happen very often. In fact, the last time a Yankee had successfully stolen home was Derek Jeter against the Baltimore Orioles back on May 5, 2001. That is, until Friday night when Jacoby Ellsbury dashed down the third base line with the lefty, Matt Moore, delivering from the windup. Ellsbury’s blazing assault of home plate resulted in a run, tying the game at three with two outs in the bottom of fifth inning. Consider that one way to get on the board with runners in scoring position.
Ducks on the Pond
But the Yankees weren’t done! In the bottom of the sixth inning, Brian McCann drove in Carlos Beltran from second base with a single to left field for the go-ahead run. Then in the bottom of the eighth, Ellsbury came up big once again, delivering a double to the gap in right-center which scored Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann to make it 6-3 Yankees.
Shutting the Door
One thing the Yankees have had no problem doing this season when leading after seven innings is slamming the door shut on their opponents. That’s all thanks to the most dominant setup man and closer duo in baseball. That’s not an opinion, it’s just fact. You can make these claims without hesitation when you have the numbers to back it up. How’s 37 strikeouts in 17 innings sound? That’s the combined strikeout totals of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Betances has 22 strikeouts in nine innings. How good has he been? His FIP is currently -1.13. Miller has only been slightly worse with his -0.66 FIP with a paltry 16.9 K/9. In addition, the pair has yet to allow a single earned run in their appearances. Basically, Betances and Miller have been as close to unhittable as humanly possible. The pair helped the Yankees shut down the Rays in both Friday and Saturday’s game. Just wait until the Yankees add Aroldis Chapman to the mix.
Thanks to Brett Gardner, the Yankees didn’t have to roll out the troops in extra innings Saturday afternoon. With two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the ninth, Brett Gardner broke a 2-2 tie by cranking a fastball six rows deep into the second deck of right field. It was the Yankees first walk-off of the season, and in celebration, the Yankee players mobbed Gardner at home plate. But perhaps the walk-off win was just a Band-Aid to disguise the fact that the Yankees offense could still barely manage more than two runs in a game. More on that later.
Tanaka has been Great
However, that walk-off might not have been possible if not for Masahiro Tanaka’s quality start. For all the heat that Tanaka has taken over his elbow and his propensity to give up the longball, the Japanese right-hander has remained true, when healthy, to the talent that awarded him $155 million in the 2013-2014 offseason. With the the exception of an RBI double given up to Corey Dickerson and a solo shot belted off the facing of the foul pole by Kevin Kiermaier, Tanaka was stellar in seven innings pitched. With his start on Saturday, Tanaka dropped his season ERA to 2.92 and lowered his WHIP to 0.97.
Rest of the Rotation … BAD!
I just had to put the word “bad” in all caps for emphasis, I hope you enjoyed it. What has not been so enjoyable is the Yankees abominable starting rotation. The combined staff ERA is 4.73 with a WHIP of 1.38. But let’s take a moment to remove Tanaka from that equation. Without Tanaka, the remaining Yankee starters have combined for a ghastly 5.38 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. I like numbers so let’s continue with one more. In 67.2 innings pitched, Yankee starters (excluding Tanaka) have given up a whopping 86 hits. Even with Tanaka in the equation, the starters have allowed opponents an OPS of .801.
Tanaka’s excellent start Saturday, was sandwiched between two awful starts, one by CC Sabathia on Friday, and the other by Michael Pineda on Sunday. Both starters were relieved of their duties before making it past the 5th inning. CC gave up three runs in 4.2 innings pitched, but was lucky enough to walk away without more damage after allowing nine hits and three walks. CC ultimately got bailed out by the bullpen and took a no-decision.
Pineda wasn’t so lucky however. With two outs and no one on in the top of the 1st, Pineda allowed six consecutive hits, including two home runs which resulted in a five run first. It was an early hole the Yankees could never climb out of, as the offense managed just one run off an RBI double from Alex Rodriguez. Sunday’s game resulted in a 7-1 loss. Pineda was charged with all seven runs and allowed ten hits. Surprisingly, the right-hander did strike out nine batters.
Maybe we should consider the Yankees six runs on Friday night as the exception to the rule. The next two games saw the lineup score a total of four runs, with three coming from Saturday afternoon’s win. If anything, the Yankees should be ecstatic they were able to win one of those two games, because with Sunday’s snore fest, I’m not quite sure the Yankees have solved any of their offensive woes just yet. I am tempted to give them some benefit of the doubt for Sunday’s loss because of the opposing pitcher, Drew Smyly, who has been brilliant so far this season, but not enough to be excused. The Yankees are 22nd in runs scored this season with 66, and own an AVG/OBP/SLG triple slash line of .238/.316/.373.
The weekend series against the Rays started off exciting, with Ellsbury collecting a rare stolen base of home plate Friday night and Brett Gardner capping off an excellent start by Tanaka by hitting a walk-off home run on Saturday. But after being blown out early by the Rays in the final game, Sunday’s loss almost made me forget the Yankees still won the series. While there were things to like in these three games such as the six runs the Yankees scored on Friday, which included key hits with runners in scoring position, these are things that the Yankees should be doing on a regular basis. One game out of nine just won’t cut it. The Yankees will need to improve their offense with runners in scoring position and get quality innings from their starting pitching if their excellent bullpen is going to have any shot at saving games this season.
The Yankees were less than excellent during their nine game home stand, but perhaps a nine game road trip will turn things around for the Bronx Bombers. The first stop for the Yankees will be in Texas to face off against the Rangers, 10-9. The Rangers have lost their last three games so maybe the Yankees will be catching them at the right time. After their three game set in Texas, the Yankees will head into an American League East battle against the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles. Considering the Yankees currently sit at the bottom of the division, these games will be huge. The Red Sox are in third place with a 9-9 record, and the Orioles are at the top with an 11-6 record.