Game 95: NYY vs. CLE — Splitting the series with loss in half finale

The Yankees were hoping to close out this first half of the season on an upswing, so to speak. But they had to settle for a split series and a loss this afternoon in Cleveland going into the All-Star break.

The Yankee bats did what usually ensures them a win — get on the board first and give enough lead to allow the starter and bullpen to keep things together. Gardner led-off the 3rd with a single, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, advanced to 3rd on Gregorius’ 1-out single, and then scored on Aaron Hicks’ 2-out single. And Neil Walker hit a big 2-out solo home run in the 4th to double their score.

This was good news to today’s starter Masahiro Tanaka, who was fairly efficient with just 77 pitches into the 7th inning, giving up 6 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and striking out 5 Cleveland batters. The game ended up tied in the bottom of the 4th, when that lone walk scored as part of a solid 2-run home run.

With a runner at 2nd and just 1 out in the 7th, the Yankees turned to the reliable Chad Green to keep things close and get out of the threat. He did. In that inning, at least. But in the 8th, things got messy. The Indians broke the tie when their lead-off batter hit a solo homer. The next batter singled, stole 2nd, and ended up at 3rd on the steal due to a bad throwing error. The next batter was hit by a pitch, a wicked shot to the back hand on an errant inside pitch. And after an out (finally), he intentionally loaded the bases.

A long sacrifice fly to right field tested the speed of the runner against Stanton’s arm and Higashioka’s reactions. It seems the runner slid just under the tag to give the Indians their insurance run. During the throw, the other runner moved to 3rd and would later score on a bad wild pitch. A quick 12-pitch 9th by the Indians’ closer ended the Yankees chances for a rally.

Final score 5-2 Indians, series split 2-2

Next up: after today, all of MLB enters the official “half-time”, the All-Star break. A select few will travel (or are traveling) to Washington, D.C. for all the festivities of the All-Star Game. As I write this the All-Star Futures Game is underway, with Yankees’ prospect pitcher Justus Sheffield set to pitch for Team USA. The Home Run Derby will be tomorrow (Monday) night as the cap to Work-Out Day. And then after the Red Carpet Parade, the big exhibition game will be Tuesday night, featuring Judge and Severino with Torres and Chapman (both resting due to injuries) cheering on from the AL dugout.

Following a couple of days off, baseball returns on Friday, with the Yankees hosting the Mets for a 3-game weekend series. They’ll take a quick trip down to Tampa Bay for a 3-game series before returning to the Bronx for 4-games against the Royals, a day-off, and 2-games against the Orioles to close out this month.

And if you’re a trivia nerd, here’s some numbers to sound smart in conversations about baseball. The Yankees finish this first half with 62 wins, 33 losses, 4.5 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East but tied for 2nd (with Houston) in all of MLB.

As a team, the Yankees are 1st in home runs (160), 2nd in walks (1st in the AL, with 363), 3rd in runs scored (491) and RBIs (474), 2nd in On-base percentage plus slugging (.796), 2nd in pitching ERA (3.46), and their pitchers rank 2nd in strikeouts given (945).

Individually, the team leaders include Luis Severino in ERA (2.31, also 5th in the AL) and wins (14, also 1st in MLB), Aroldis Chapman in saves (26, 4th in MLB), Miguel Andujar in batting average (.283), Giancarlo Stanton in hits (103), and Aaron Judge in home runs (25, also 3rd in MLB), runs scored (66), RBIs (60), and OPS (.937, also 6th in AL).

Basically, things are in a good place. Plus, they hope to have both Sanchez and Torres back right after the break, though their AAA back-ups (Higashioka and Wade) are doing quite a good job in their stead. And with that looming trade deadline at the end of the month, the Yankees aren’t just battling for a winning season, they’re contending for their 28th championship. And with teams like the Astros and Red Sox (really their biggest threats this season so far) who are battling with them in nearly every category, the Yankees have some work to do.

The second half is going to be something to watch. So stay tuned. There’s so much more baseball left to play.

Go Yankees!

Game 92: NYY vs. CLE — Not a pitchers’ duel despite 2 Aces, just a Gardy Party

I’m still guilty of pre-judging how a game will turnout when they release the daily line-ups. And far too often, I’m very wrong. Tonight was one of those nights. I saw the pitching match-up for the opening game of this weekend series in Cleveland, and immediately thought this was going to be quite the pitching duel. The Indians sent in their ace starter, and the Yankees matched him with theirs — Luis Severino.

Severino threw 94 pitches in his 5 innings, gave up 9 hits, a walk, and 4 runs, and struck out just 1 batter. (Comparatively, the Indians’ starter threw 114 pitches into the 8th inning, still gave up 9 hits, 2 walks, and 6 runs, and struck out 9 Yankee batters.) Severino’s allowed runs came in the odd innings — 1, 3, and 5.

In the 1st, a 2nd pitch lead-off double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a single. After Romine caught a runner stealing 2nd to clear the bases, a solo home run doubled the Indians’ early lead. A lead-off single in the 3rd stole 2nd and later scored on a single. And a 2-out solo home run in the 5th capped off the Indians’ runs for the night. Warren, Robertson, Betances, and Chapman each took an inning to close out the game for Severino, throwing beautiful, efficient innings and keeping the home team to their runs total.

Much like the Indians did to the Yankees’ ace, the Yankees offense pieced together their runs to take the Indians’ ace down a peg or two. Andujar led-off the 3rd with a double, and 2 outs later, scored on Brett Gardner’s 2-run home run to get the Yankees on the board. Didi Gregorius then led-off the 4th with a solo home run up the middle. Then Stanton singled, moved to 3rd on Hicks’ bunt and a throwing error, and then easily scored on Greg Bird’s double.

With the game tied, Gregorius worked a walk to lead-off the 8th inning and then scored on Aaron Hicks’ 1-out double. That would be the end of the Indians’ starter’s night, and they spent the final 5 outs of the game piecing together their bullpen. With a new pitcher, Hicks stole 3rd, a call upheld (rightly so) despite a challenge on the tag, and then scored on Bird’s long sacrifice fly. Two pitchers later, in the 9th, Brett Gardner hit his 2nd home run of the game, a 2-out solo homer off the foul pole in right field.

Final score: 7-4 Yankees

The Indians-Yankees annual series is always a special series for my family because of the close ties my mom’s side has to the Northeast Ohio area. Of course, this was heightened in the 1990s when the Indians were about as good as they have been in recent years, making it to the postseason with several strong seasons, much like the Yankees did in those years. Not quite a recognized rivalry anywhere except in my family for the last 20-odd years, but something I always look forward to.

And for my Ohio family, it’s worth noting that four teams in the AL right now are actually statistically higher than the Indians — Red Sox, Astros, Yankees, and Mariners. In other words, Cleveland is enjoying success this season because the AL Central is the weakest division. It’s easy to be on top when you’re the only team in that division with a winnings season (above a .500 season average).

Go Yankees!

Game 91: NYY vs. BAL — Strong shutout finale in Baltimore

It was a great night for Sonny Gray to close out this series in Baltimore tonight. Gray threw 90 pitches in 6 scoreless innings, gave up just 3 hits and a walk, and struck out an impressive 8 batters along the way to earning a great (and much-needed) win. AJ Cole followed his lead with 2 more scoreless innings, and Chasen Shreve closed out the game with a scoreless 9th to seal the Yankees’ shutout of the home team.

The Yankee batters gave Gray a hefty lead to feel rather secure tonight. In the 3rd, with 1 out, Gardner worked a walk, moved to 3rd on Judge’s single, and then was caught out on a fielder’s choice off Gregorius’ hit. Giancarlo Stanton singled home Judge to get the Yankees on the board, and Hicks then loaded the bases with a walk. It would be Greg Bird to really make an impact with his first career grand slam, a big home run to the right field seats.

Tyler Wade led-off the 6th inning with his first solo home run. (The Red Sox fan who caught the game on a whim during a business trip happily returned the ball for Wade’s keepsake collection.) And Austin Romine hit a 2-out solo home run in the 7th to jump in on the fun of the night.

The Yankees got creative in the 8th. With 1 out, Gregorius doubled and then moved to 3rd on Stanton’s single. A new reliever allowed Aaron Hicks to make it safely to 1st on a sloppy missed catch error, as Gregorius hustled home for an unearned run. In the 9th, Frazier hit a 1-out single, moved to 2nd on Judge’s walk, ended up at 3rd on Gregorius’ grounder, and then scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s single.

Final score: 9-0 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1 (Yes, there were 4 games this week, but technically, the first game of the doubleheader was part of a previous series and thus is wrapped into that result to be concluded next month.)

Next up: The Yankees begin a 4-game weekend series in Cleveland tomorrow night, the final series before the All-Star Break. After the Break, the Yankees will host their cross-town rivals next weekend for a short home stand before hitting the road again.

Big bummer on the All-Star Game front — Giancarlo Stanton ended up 3rd in the Final Vote. Fans selected Mariners’ shortstop Jean Segura and Brewers’ first baseman Jesus Aguilar. That leaves just Judge, Severino, Chapman, and Torres to represent the Yankees in D.C. next Tuesday at the All-Star Game.

And the participants in the Home Run Derby were announced tonight, and it’s an interesting mix of players, all but 1 are from the NL, despite the fact that most of the home run leaders are in the AL — Jesus Aguilar (Brewers), Bryce Harper (Nationals), Max Muncy (Dodgers), Alex Bregman (Astros), Kyle Schwarber (Cubs), Javier Baez (Cubs), Freddie Freeman (Braves), and Rhys Hoskins (Phillies).

What is most interesting is that the top seed of the Derby (Aguilar) is actually 6th on the home run leaders (not including potential changes from games today) behind Martinez (Red Sox), Ramirez (Indians), Judge, Trout (Angels), and Lindor (Indians), notably all AL power-hitters, by the way. The selected Derby participants have 14-23 home runs this season. Now, it’s worth noting that if 14 home runs was the base line for being in the Derby, Judge, Stanton, Hicks, Gregorius, Torres, and Sanchez all qualified. (And 14 homer put 14 players tied at 55th place on the stats.)

 

I mean, congratulations to all the selected participants, all but Harper are first-time participants. Harper was last in the Derby in 2013 and came in 2nd. I’m just a little confused as to the process of selecting the Home Run Derby participants this year. Unless of course, 47 other players turned down the opportunity, which is quite possibly like Judge’s adamant refusal to do so starting in March.

Go Yankees!

Game 86: NYY vs. TOR — Early power wins game, with ejections & injuries

In comparison to much of the country right now, the Queen City is having some nice (and fairly standard) summer weather for this Saturday afternoon and middle game of this weekend series. The roof of Rogers Centre open to the blue skies and the Yankees ready to bounce back after last night’s game set up a great game for their fans in the Toronto area.

Luis Severino got the start and actually had a lesser outing than previous ones, despite earning his 14th win and keeping the Blue Jays from doing too much damage. He threw 97 pitches in 5 innings, gave up 5 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs, and struck out just 5 batters. In the 2nd, with 1 out and a runner on 1st with a single, a 2-run home run got the Blue Jays on the board. And a 1-out solo homer in the 4th added on another.

Jonathan Holder came on for the 6th, gave up a lead-off double that moved to 3rd on a single and then scored on a sacrifice fly. But then Robertson and Betances held the Jays scoreless through the next 2 innings. Aroldis Chapman got one strikeout in the 9th and then came out of the game (more below), handing things over to Chasen Shreve, who despite giving up a solo home run, still got out of the inning rather quickly. Shreve appears to be bouncing back, at least somewhat, thanks to less-pressured situations.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense started strong and stayed strong beginning with a 1st pitch home run right up the middle by Brett Gardner. Aaron Judge followed that up with a solo home run of his own. Stanton and Hicks each worked walks before the Jays’ starter finally got a couple of outs. Then Brandon Drury hit a long double that scored both Stanton and Hicks to double the Yankees’ early score.

Then in the 3rd, Gregorius led-off with a walk. After 2 outs (and the ejection of CC Sabathia, for chirping at the umpire over the questionable strike zone), Gregorius stole 2nd, and Bird worked a walk. As the Jays’ starter exited the game, he was almost ejected, but his manager instead took his fate (for the same reason as Sabathia actually). But the new reliever gave up a quick triple to Brett Gardner (the fastest triple in 2018, by the way) that scored Gregorius and Bird. A passed ball easily allowed Gardner to later score.

But then the Blue Jays’ pitching staff was able to piece together their relievers to keep the Yankees from adding to their impressive lead. Until the 9th inning. Andujar led-off with a ground-rule double and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ single. That insurance run was eventually unnecessary, but it certainly put a cap on the Yankees’ offensive show today (9 total hits, 10 total walks).

Final score: 8-5 Yankees

Roster moves: before the game, the Yankees recalled Clint Frazier and designated reliever David Hale for assignment. After being sent to AAA in anticipation for Monday’s coming doubleheader, pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga developed inflammation in his right shoulder and is probably headed for the disabled list. That leaves Luis Cessa on tap for the second game of the doubleheader in Baltimore now.

Okay, so two potential injuries during the game: after 6 pitches in the 9th, Aroldis Chapman, who’s been battling tendinitis in his left knee, was feeling some intense pain there and Boone figured it wasn’t worth the risk as the Yankees were so far ahead. And Aaron Hicks left the game in the 5th due to some cramping in his left leg.

Stadiums with artificial turf are often the source of problems, even temporary ones, for many players. The only 2 remaining stadiums in MLB are Rogers Centre (Blue Jays) and Tropicana Field (Rays), unfortunately for all players in the AL East, as division rivals play each other more than any other team.

In general, real grass surfaces have a natural give, but artificial turf has either a stiffer base or one that is too spongy. Think of the difference of beaches like Daytona (where you can literally drive onto the sand) vs. Clearwater (more like quicksand, that sinks under every step). Neither of those really work well for anything more than sunbathing, even sand castles are difficult because it’s either too dense or too soft of a foundation. But a mix (like the Pacific Coast beaches) allows for running, volleyball, soccer games, and general beach athletics (and great sand castles!).

Go Yankees!

Game 85: NYY vs. TOR — Northern Exposure

Truthfully, I have mixed feelings about all the Yankees’ division rivals and their respective cities. In general, I really like the cities they represent and the people who live there, and I can respect their passion for the game and their home team, even if I’m not a fan of their chosen team. Attending Spring Training annually and actually going to those cities is often what mixes up those feelings.

For example, I love the city of Boston, and nearly every Boston fan I’ve met is really a good person that just roots for my chosen team’s greatest rivals. I also happen to think Fenway Park is legendary and historic and a symbol of the great legacy of the sport. (And the Green Monster is just as ugly in person as you’d think.)

But the Yankees play in Toronto this weekend. And let’s just say that it’s not Boston.

And Sonny Gray wasn’t exactly having a great night to start in the opener at Rogers Centre, throwing 62 pitches in just 2 innings, giving up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 5 runs, and still striking out 4 batters. Most of that damage was done in that 2nd inning and it wasn’t good.

A lead-off double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a single to get the Blue Jays on the board. A wild pitch moved the runner to 2nd and then he scored on another single. After a strikeout and another allowed single, the next batter smacked a big 3-run home run to really push the Blue Jays ahead. A hit-by-pitch, stolen base, and strikeout later, and Gray’s night was over.

David Hale came on in the 3rd and pitched into the 8th inning strong. It wasn’t until the 8th inning that the Blue Jays were able to eke through again. A lead-off double later scored on a 2-out double to cap off their runs. And Chasen Shreve needed just 3 pitches to induce a ground out for the final out of the 8th.

Meanwhile, while the Yankees certainly dented the Blue Jays’ starter’s pitch count (pushing him to 101 pitches after the 1st out of the 5th inning), they only managed 4 hits and 3 walks off him. Aaron Hicks hit a 2-out solo home run, his 16th of the season, in the 3rd inning.

Then in the 5th, the Yankees finally found their opportunity (and pretty much their only one all night). They loaded up the bases with singles to Romine and Gardner and a fielding error on Judge’s sloppy hit. Then Hicks worked a 1-out walk to score Romine and keep those bases loaded. 101 pitches with bases loaded, so it was time for a reliever. Who got a well-placed strikeout and then a line drive out to end the threat.

The Blue Jays pieced together 5 relievers to finish off their game and keep the Yankees from being any kind of threat again for the rest of the night.

Final score: 6-2 Blue Jays

Roster moves/injury updates: Well, the Yankees moved Gleyber Torres to the 10-day disabled list with right hip strain. Muscle strains are always complicated, so they anticipate Torres will be out through the All-Star break.

In his stead, a normal call-up would be Ronald Torreyes, but Torreyes has been out for about a week at this point, dealing with a personal family issue. So, they recalled Tyler Wade, who was sent down in the middle of April due to the excess of excellent bench players.

And if you’re wondering, the Yankees sent Masahiro Tanaka to join AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for his rehab assignment after dealing with hamstring issues last month.

Well, the All-Star Game fan voting has closed, and the results will be announced Sunday night. Also, based on a player ballot and selections from the Commissioner’s Office, each team will fill out most of its 32 spots with reserve players and pitchers. Each team will allow for one more spot, nominate 5 potential All-Stars, and call on fans to vote once more. (There is a rather extensive explanation about how players are chosen and eligibility.)

Speaking of the All-Star Game, the Sunday before the game, representatives from across the farm systems will play in the annual Futures Game. This year, the Yankees will be represented by prospective pitcher Justus Sheffield. Sheffield will play for Team USA in a USA vs. the World kind of structure.

Go Yankees!

Game 83: ATL vs. NYY — Loading up the runs early help Yankees win

Domingo German got the start for the Yankees’ middle game against the visiting Braves, threw 82 pitches into the 5th inning, gave up 6 hits, 3 walks, and 3 runs, and struck out 6 Atlanta batters. And actually, most of those offensive feats by the Braves didn’t happen until the 5th inning when German gave up a lead-off walk. Then 1 out later, a 2-run home run, a solo home run, and 2 singles.

Cole came in to load up the bases and get out of that jam with 2 solid strikeouts before breezing his way through the 6th inning. Adam Warren’s 7th inning was the exact opposite. With 1 out and a runner on 1st, he gave up a long 2-run home run. Giancarlo Stanton gave it his all and really tried hard to make that catch, but he dented the right field wall instead. No concussion, just a dent.

Warren got the first out of the 8th before Shreve finished off the rest of the inning with relative ease (and just 8 pitches). Chapman joined the fun with a quick 14-pitch 9th inning (8 of those were over 100 mph).

But the Yankees got on the board first. In the 1st, with 2 outs, Stanton singled and then scored with Aaron Hicks’ 2-run home run. Then with 2 outs in the 2nd, Kyle Higashioka got in on the fun with a solo home run into left field (his sweet spot, apparently).

In the 3rd, the Yankees loaded the bases with walks to Judge, Hicks, and Andujar. So with 2 outs, Brandon Drury worked another walk and forced in Judge. The Braves opted to end their starter’s night right there, but their reliever promptly gave up a walk to Higashioka to score Hicks.

Brett Gardner led-off the 4th with a double, moved to 3rd on Judge’s single, and 2 outs later, scored on a wild pitch. And later, in the 8th, with 2 outs and Judge on 2nd, Giancarlo Stanton’s big 2-run home run. Not a bad way to bounce back after denting the back wall in the 7th.

Final score: 8-5 Yankees

Last few days to vote for the All-Star Game starters… go vote!

Go Yankees!

Game 81: BOS vs. NYY — 6 homers for the Bronx Bombers

We’re officially at the physical half-way point in the season. And after tonight’s game, the Yankees are tied with tonight’s opponents. Though, after this crazy weekend series, it’s kind of hard to believe either team is atop anything. However, tonight, it seemed to swing in favor of the Yankees. By a lot. And it followed the same pattern — stronger starting pitcher, major offense, huge win.

The Yankees sent in their ace pitcher to close out this series against the Red Sox. Luis Severino threw another great game, 99 pitches into the 7th inning, giving up just 2 hits and 3 walks, striking out 6 batters, and keeping the Red Sox completely scoreless.

Despite the score, the Yankees needed to exercise their power-relievers and thus gave Robertson, Betances, and Chapman the chance to get the final 8 outs of the game. Robertson and Betances kept things tight and scoreless, without allowing a base runner.  Aroldis Chapman came into the game in the 9th with 1 out and had a bit of trouble, giving up a double, a single, and a ground out that scored the Red Sox’s lone run of the game. Another grounder ended the game and Chapman’s struggles.

Meanwhile, the Yankees faced an old foe as the Red Sox’s starter (the same pitcher who gave up Jeter and Rodriguez’s 3000th hits, while he was with different teams) who the Yankees seem to know how to hit regardless of the opposing team. His fate was set in the 1st inning. With 1 out, Aaron Judge kicked off tonight’s big night with a solo home run up the middle. Then Stanton singled and Gregorius’ double put runners in scoring position, and they both scored as part of Gleyber Torres’ big 3-run home run.

In the 2nd, with 1 out, Gardner singled and then scored with Aaron Hicks’ 2-run home run. Kyle Higashioka led-off the 4th with his 1st major league hit, a huge solo home run into the 2nd deck of the left field seats. And yes, there was a John Sterling home run call. And yes, the Yankees gave him a temporary silent treatment in the dugout, on Sabathia’s suggestion, before hounding him with their congratulations.

Anyway, then after an out, Aaron Hicks hit his 2nd home run of the night, a nice solo shot into Monument Park. That would be the end of the Red Sox starter’s night, but the first reliever had some issues. Judge singled, and Stanton double to move both runners to scoring position. Didi Gregorius hit a long sacrifice fly to score Judge.

After that, the reliever settled into some momentum for the next 2 innings, and his replacement had a solid 7th inning. But the 8th inning reliever had trouble, starting with Aaron Hicks hitting his 3rd (!) home run of the night to lead off the inning. Judge then walked, moved to 2nd on Drury’s single, and then scored on Neil Walker’s single to cap things off for the Yankees tonight.

Final score: 11-1 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1

Next up: the Yankees will host the Braves starting tomorrow night for 3 games for the final home stand before the All-Star Break. But before the break, they’ll hit the road to face the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Indians.

And a small bit of trivia regarding tonight’s game: Aaron Hicks’ 3-home run game puts him in some pretty good company. Before tonight, Lou Gehrig (in 1927) and Mark Teixeira (in 2010) are the only Yankees to have 3-home run games against the Red Sox. And further, only Hicks and Teixeira did so from both sides of the plate as switch hitters. So much for all that talk from online trolls about how the Yankees should trade Hicks earlier this year…

Go Yankees!