Off-season bits: January edition

Happy 2019! It’s only 30 days until pitchers and catcher report to the Tampa minor league complex and officially kick off Spring Training and the 2019 baseball season. There hasn’t really be a lot of splashy signings by the Yankees this off-season, and it looks like the two biggest free agents will be signing elsewhere. But there’s still quite a bit of time before Spring Training, and even more time before the regular season to finalize that perfect 25-man roster.

Last month, CC Sabathia’s off-season took a bit of a detour. He was supposed to travel around England on a press tour for the upcoming Yankees-Red Sox series in the UK this summer, but instead found himself on the operating table getting a stent put in his heart. After experiencing some discomfort during his exercise routine, he was smart enough to listen to his body and see a doctor, who found a 90% blocked artery and scheduled an emergency angioplasty on December 11.

Just last week, he was cleared to resume baseball activities and is on track to report for camp next month with the other pitchers and catchers. Doctors have pronounced him in excellent condition, including for the long-term (much to the relief of his wife and family). Sabathia himself said he felt “like a brand new person“. This procedure is just further support for Sabathia’s recent lifestyle changes — abstaining from alcohol and altering his diet and nutrition intake, something he hopes can carry him through the rest of his life, deterring any future issues with his genetic predisposition for heart disease.

Meanwhile, the Yankees haven’t made any big name signings, but they have secured three decently recognizable names to their major league roster. To provide back-up for Didi Gregorius while he recovers from Tommy John surgery, the Yankees signed shortstop Troy Tulowitzki for a year.

Formerly with the Rockies and Blue Jays and winner of two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, the five-time All-Star is now 34 and has been inactive for the last 18 months due to a plague of injuries, but was released by the Blue Jays despite owing him a hefty salary for the next two seasons. Tulowitzki has worn #2 in honor of his childhood baseball hero Derek Jeter for his entire MLB career, so it will be interesting to find out what number he’ll don as Jeter’s famous number was retired nearly three year ago.

They also signed free agent infielder DJ LeMathieu to a 2-year contract. LeMathieu has spent all 8 of his MLB seasons with the Rockies at 2nd base and will join his former teammate on the Yankees roster. Both LeMathieu and Tulowitzki could serve as rather active bench players through the season as part of the now full infield.

And the Yankees made the biggest impact by re-signing reliever Zach Britton to a new 3-year contract (potentially 4 if options are exercised), solidifying his presence in the already stellar bullpen with fellow closing relievers like Betances and Chapman.

To make room for the two new faces, the Yankees designated reliever AJ Cole and minor league infielder Hanser Alberto for assignment. Both were picked up quickly by the Indians and Orioles, respectively.

At the end of last year, the Yankees offered all arbitration-eligible players a 1-year deal to close out their contract agreements before the players have the potential to become free agents. Eight players agreed to the Yankees’ terms — Betances, Bird, Gray, Gregorius, Hicks, Kahnle, Paxton and Romine. The remaining player, Luis Severino, is still in negotiations as of this weekend, which can continue until a hearing is held where an arbitrator makes a decision how much a team must pay a player.

And for those of you that pay attention to other sports, you might know that as of yesterday, there are only four teams left in the NFL playoffs. Next weekend will eliminate two more so that the winners of those two games will end up playing in the Superbowl next month. But none of those teams are the Seahawks. And despite playing in the Pro-Bowl (the NFL’s equivalent of the All-Star Game), the current most famous NFL-MLB player, Seattle’s star quarterback Russell Wilson, is preparing for his stint at Spring Training again. He made a big splash with the fans last year with his single at-bat (and strikeout) and is set for six days in camp with hopefully a better game performance.

Next month, Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius, and Aaron Boone will bring their star power to the annual Thurmon Munson Awards dinner. The three are being recognized for their philanthropy and active community involvement, in the spirit of the dinner’s namesake. Former Yankee Darryl Strawberry will also be on hand to present an award, and other sports stars and executives are being honored for their life of giving.

And finally, Yankees icon Mel Stottlemyre lost his battle with bone marrow cancer yesterday. The former pitching coach helped guide the 1986 Mets to their championship before being a critical part of the last Yankees dynasty, coaching legends like Pettitte and Rivera, spending a decade with each team.

Initially diagnosed in 2000, the cancer went into remission following intensive treatments before returning in 2011. The Yankees eventually honored him in a surprise presentation with a plaque in Monument Park in 2015 on Old Timers’ Day, surrounded by fellow legends. Our hearts go out to all of his loved ones, especially his wife Jean and their sons Todd and Mel.

Go Yankees!

Game 155: BAL vs. NYY — Flailing bullpen denies Yankee sweep

In this final home game of the 2018 season, the Yankees were looking to close it out on an upswing. And for a good chunk of the afternoon, it looked like it was going to go that way in this final game against the visiting Orioles.

JA Happ had a good start, throwing 107 pitches in his 5 innings, giving up 5 hits, 2 walks, and a run, and striking out an impressive 7 batters. His lone allowed run was a 1-out solo home run in the 2nd. Happ then held off the Orioles for the rest of his time on the mound.

And the Yankee batters gave him in enough to work with. In the 1st, the starter came off the mound after 4 pitches due to a blister issues. His replacement triggered an offensive show by the home team, loading up the bases with 3 consecutive walks. Gleyber Torres’ sacrifice fly (no media clip, sorry) scored McCutchen, Miguel Andujar’s single scored Stanton, and Gary Sanchez’s 2-out single scored Voit.

But then the Yankees didn’t do much more for the rest of the game. So the Yankee defense and pitchers needed to defend their slim lead. AJ Cole came on in relief of Happ in the 6th and just fumbled out of the gate. He gave up a double, a 2-run home run, and a solo home run to put the Orioles into the lead.

So the Yankees turned to Tommy Kahnle. He gave up a double that moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a sacrifice fly to add one more run for the O’s. Luis Cessa came on in the 7th and calmed things down a bit. But after some defensive switches in the 8th, he gave up a 1-out single that scored on a 2-out double to cap off the Orioles’ scoring today.

The Yankee bats never did awaken again this afternoon, an odd exception to the Orioles’ poor show by their bullpen this weekend. But baseball isn’t predictable.

Final score: 6-3 Orioles, Yankees win series 2-1

Next up: The Yankees are headed down to Florida to start their final week of this season with 4 games against the Rays before heading to Boston for 3 games at Fenway to conclude the season. The Yankees need to keep ahead of the Athletics in the standings if they want to keep home field advantage for the Wild Card game.

As I write this, the A’s are losing to the Twins. They have a fairly easy schedule against the Mariners and Angels to close out their season next week. So it really could go down to the wire for home field advantage in the AL Wild Card just like the NL is still a giant question mark for the postseason. And honestly, it kind of makes this last week of baseball all the more fun. Every game counts for something. Every moment matters.

Injury news: Getting lost in the fracas during yesterday’s win, it looks like Didi Gregorius tore cartilage in his right wrist in that slide home to score the winning run in the 11th inning. He had an MRI, where they found the tear, and a cortisone shot for treatment. Right now, they’re waiting to see how he responds to the shot. But if he doesn’t, he could be out for the rest of the season. Fingers crossed for speedy healing to the Emoji King.

Go Yankees

Game 153: BAL vs. NYY — The Magic Number is 2

The countdown has begun for the postseason, and while the Yankees only need 2 more wins to secure their postseason appearance, they’re pushing for securing home field advantage in the Wild Card game. That means winning more games than the other potential WC opponent, the Athletics, who currently sit at just 1.5 games behind the Yankees.

CC Sabathia got the start in tonight’s opener against the Orioles for the final series at Yankee Stadium this season. He actually had a great outing, throwing 97 pitches in his 6 innings, gave up 6 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs, and struck out 5 Baltimore batters to eventually earn his 8th win of the season.

He actually held off the O’s until the 5th inning. He gave up a lead-off single, a 1-out walk, and a single to load the bases. And a 2-out single scored both runners to get the Orioles on the board.

The Yankees gave Sabathia enough room to work by striking first in the 1st. Hicks led-off with a walk, moved to 2nd on Judge’s single, ended up at 3rd on a double play, and then scored as part of Didi Gregorius’ 2-run home run.

And in the 4th, Walker hit a 1-out double and scored on Gleyber Torres’ single. Torres then stole 2nd and made it to 3rd on a passed ball, before scoring on Austin Romine’s ground out. Gardner worked a walk, and then Aaron Hicks hit a 2-run home run to push the Yankees’ lead further ahead. That ended the Orioles’ starter’s night, and they spent the rest of the game piecing together their bullpen.

Hicks led-off the 7th with a single and moved to 2nd when a new reliever gave up a walk to Judge. He then scored on Andrew McCutchen’s single. The Orioles snapped into action when Gregorius hit into a fielder’s choice and got Judge out at home. That also moved both remaining runners into scoring position, which allowed the powerhouse Luke Voit to single and score both of them. Then, in the 8th, with 2 outs, Hicks worked a walk and then scored a solid insurance run on Aaron Judge’s double.

Jonathan Loaisiga came on in relief of Sabathia in the 7th to start the Yankees’ major issues with tonight’s game. He promptly gave up a lead-off solo home run to start the O’s rally tonight. He then gave up a single that stole 2nd on a strikeout and then ended up at 3rd on a throwing error. Zach Britton came on to try to stem the tied and gave up a single to score that runner from 3rd before getting out of the inning without further damage.

In the 8th, Tarpley came in for just a strikeout and handed the game to AJ Cole. Cole then gave up a walk and a 2-run home run to add more to the O’s score. After an out, he then allowed a single and passed the ball to David Robertson. On his first pitch, he gave up a 2-run home run before finding that 3rd out. Betances’ came on for an efficient 11-pitch 9th inning to earn his 4th save thanks to those insurance runs by the Yankees in the 7th and 8th innings.

Final score: 10-8 Yankees

Aaron Hicks became the 5th Yankee with 25+ home runs this season, joining Stanton (35), Gregorius (27), Judge (26), and Andujar (25). This ties a franchise record set back in 2009 with 5 players having 25+ homers (Teixeira, Rodriguez, Swisher, Matsui, and Cano). They came close in 2010 with 4 players (Teixeira, Rodriguez, Swisher, and Cano) and the previous record was 1938 (DiMaggio, Gehrig, Dickey, and Gordon).

Now, the MLB record was set in 2003 by the Red Sox. But the Yankees are within range of tying that as Gleyber Torres has 23 home run, and there’s still 9 games left in the season. It’s worth noting the kind of company this makes the Yankees in and the fact that 2 of the Yankees in the conversation are rookies.

And the “magic number” is 2. The Yankees need 2 more game wins to secure their postseason spot. I said in a post earlier this month that the AL is pretty set, but the NL is going to go down to the wire. And it’s never more true than sitting just 9 days out from the final game of the season.

The AL division leaders have mostly clinched their spots (Red Sox and Indians), with the Astros just 3.5 games ahead of the Athletics but have clinched a spot in the postseason. And unless the A’s jump ahead of the Astros in the next few games, it’s pretty much a lock that the Yankees and Athletics will be the Wild Card opponents, with the Rays 6.5 games back and the Mariners 8.5 games back.

But the NL is still up for grabs in nearly every division. The strongest division is the NL East, with the Braves 7.5 games ahead of the Phillies. But the Central and West are just 1.5 games apart — Cubs over Brewers, Dodgers over Rockies. Plus, the Cardinals and Diamondbacks are just a few games beyond them. This league is going to go down to the wire.

Go Yankees!

Game 138: NYY vs. OAK — A Laborious Day by the Bay

The Athletics are in a position to compete for the second Wild Card spot, and with the Red Sox firmly in the lead in the AL East, that makes the Yankees the first Wild Card spot. Though you might not think so based on Twitterverse’s disparaging comments about the state of the Yankees. Fortunately, unlike the All-Star Game, it’s not a popularity contest as to who makes the postseason.

CC Sabathia got the start for the Yankees in this opener in Oakland. And on this Labor Day, he labored his way through his outing. He threw 66 pitches into the 4th, gave up 7 hits, 2 walks, and 5 runs (4 earned), and struck out 4 A’s batters. The hometown kid couldn’t find his pace in this afternoon’s game.

In the 1st, with 1 out, he gave up 2 singles to get runners on base. The next single scored the lead runner, and another loaded up the bases. The next batter walked in the next run before Sabathia got a strike out. Then a throwing error allowed another run to score the unearned run. A lead-off walk in the 2nd scored on an RBI double to add another run to the home team.

After a clean 3rd inning, Sabathia came back for the 4th and got an out and gave up a double that ended his afternoon. He handed the ball over to reliever AJ Cole, responsible for that runner at 2nd. After a pop-up, Cole gave up a single that scored that runner before eventually getting out of that inning without further damage. But he ended up giving up a 2-out solo homer in the 5th for a cap on the A’s runs today.

Chad Green’s 6th inning was a clean 13 pitches, and rookie reliever Jonathan Loaisiga got a chance to show off his skills with 2 innings that included 4 strikeouts. But these two pitchers came too late to really make an impact in the game other than just keeping the Athletics at their lead.

The Yankee offense were the ones to actually get things started today. New Yankee Andrew McCutchen collected his first Yankee hit, leading off the game with a solid single. He then stole 2nd and then, thanks to a throwing error, ended up at 3rd. Aaron Hicks’ sacrifice fly scored McCutchen to get the Yankees on the board first.

Sanchez led-off the 2nd with a walk and then scored as part of Luke Voit’s big 1-out 2-run home run. But other than that, the Yankee batters only got 2 other hits (and 3 other walks). The A’s pitching staff kept them from doing anything further to chip away at the home team’s growing lead.

Final score: 6-3 Athletics

And in hopefully positive news for Yankee Universe, Aaron Judge finally stepped back into the batter’s box today. Well, the batter’s box in the batting cages. Still recovering for a chip fracture in his wrist after a hit by pitch at the end of July, Judge has been slower to get back into baseball activities than they originally thought. So, watching him meander to the cage with a bat in his hand set off a media firestorm.

Judge took 25 swings off a tee and 25 dry swings (like practice swings) in the cages and said he “felt good”. The next step is to try soft-toss, where the pitcher throws easy pitches for minimal contact. After that, it’s a progressively aggressive batting practice and a sort of simulated game to get back into the swing of things, so to speak.

That mean there is an update to his recovery process, making the current timeline returning him to the game in the next couple of weeks. Realistically, this means the last series at Yankee Stadium or the final road trip during the last week of this month is the most likely target.

However, like many athletes, Judge would be love to jump in and suit up for tomorrow’s game. Tempting as it is to rush things, the young outfielder still has years of play left to compete, so a full return to health is the priority and not so much the “when”.

Go Yankees!

Game 133: CHW vs. NYY — Victory denied

The Yankees set up Giancarlo Stanton for a memorable milestone, but for some reason, the White Sox’s defense decided to kick in and show that they can be pretty decent at random (really unfavorable) times. So that 300th career home run is still out there for Stanton.

CC Sabathia got the start in tonight’s closer against the visiting White Sox and actually had a decent game, despite the outcome. He threw 91 pitches in 6 innings, gave up 5 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs, and struck out 6 batters. In the 2nd, with 2 outs and runners on the corners, both runners scored on an RBI double. And a 1-out walk scored on a 2-out double to add on one more run.

Chad Green came on for the 7th and gave up a lead-off home run, but then got his way through the inning with some great defense. AJ Cole and Tommy Kahnle each had a beautiful, clean, scoreless inning to close out the game. That means, it was up to the Yankee batters to do something significant.

They had about as much opportunity to do that as the White Sox (each team with 6 hits and 2-3 walks), but the closest the Yankees got to doing something significant was in the 5th inning. Walker and Torres hit consecutive singles and then Romine worked a 1-out walk to load up the bases. Ronald Torreyes hit a short single that scored Walker to get the Yankees on the board.

Then after another out, Stanton stepped up to the plate. The first pitch was a high strike that had Stanton swinging. But the catcher missed the catch, and it sailed back to the backstop. On reaction, Gleyber Torres made a mad dash for home. But because the ball bounced back quicker than expected, the catcher was able to grab it and toss it to the waiting pitcher to make the tag out at home.

Now, would Stanton have actually hit that 300th career homer? Who knows? But that wasn’t the point. The bases were loaded, and that milestone 300th homer that could’ve been a grand slam, but the White Sox took advantage of an easy play to halt the possibility. The Yankees didn’t get another good opportunity to explore the possibilities again.

Final score: 4-1 White Sox, and the White Sox win the series 2-1

Next up: The Tigers are in town for a 4-game weekend series and help usher in the September push. Then the Yankees head out the West Coast for a few important series against the Athletics and the Mariners, and then head inland to face the Twins before heading back home for their final home stand of the regular season.

Before the game, a couple of power-hitters finally met each other. “Big Al” Delia from Middletown, New Jersey, played in the Little League World Series with his hometown team earlier this summer. They were knocked out in the regional round, but “Big Al” was a huge fan favorite, even quoted at one point as the kind of player that “hits big dingers”. And today, the young Yankees fan got to meet another hitter of “big dingers” — Giancarlo Stanton and watch batting practice. And it was awesome.

After they released the regular 2019 schedule last week, it was only a matter of time before they released the Spring Training schedule. So there’s some important dates to remember to kick off the 2019 season. Players and catchers report on February 13, and the rest of the squad on February 18. The first Spring game is against the Red Sox on February 23, and the first home game is on February 25 (vs. Blue Jays).

The last Spring home game (also vs. Blue Jays) is March 23, and the last Spring game is the next day (vs. Twins). They will also play the Nationals at Nationals Park in a final Spring game on March 25 before the Season (and home) Opener March 28 against the Orioles. That’s 32 Spring games (including the one at Nationals Park) before the regular season starts.

Go Yankees!

Game 131: CHW vs. NYY — 9th inning derailment

It ended up being one of those games that started off so good and just spiraled out of control at the end. It’s never a fun feeling when it starts feeling helpless. And this on a game where an interesting milestone was reached and one still lingers for the Yankees newcomers.

The Yankees got on the board first in the 4th inning. Andujar led-off with a walk and then Gleyber Torres hit a giant 1-out 2-run home run into Monument Park. But they didn’t do much more than that tonight. They only got 3 hits and 4 walks all night, despite only getting 3 strikeouts. That means they spent the night hitting grounders and fly balls.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start in this opening game against the visiting White Sox. It wasn’t really a great outing, but it wasn’t that bad for most of it. He threw 98 pitches in 7 innings, gave up 10 hits, a walk, and 4 runs, and struck out 7 batters, and got himself out of several really bad jams.

But Tanaka held them off through the first half of the game. It wasn’t until the 6th that he got into some trouble. With 1 out, he loaded up the bases (again), gave up a double that scored the Sox’s first 2 runs and a sacrifice fly that scored the 3rd. And in the 7th, a lead-off single ended up at 2nd on a fielding error and then scored on a double. But then he left the runner stranded as he got 3 good fly outs.

Tommy Kahnle threw a really great clean 8th inning before handing the ball over to AJ Cole for a really messy 9th inning. He gave up a lead-off single and tried to pick him off but a bad throw allowed that runner to move to 2nd. A ground out moved that runner to 3rd and then scored when the next batter hit into a fielding error, which allowed the new runner to make it to 2nd. He then stole 3rd. And the next batter technically struck out, but it was on a wild pitch that allowed him to safely make it to 1st as the runner at 3rd slid into home for yet another run scored.

The Yankees just didn’t show up to play tonight. And if they did, they didn’t bring their A-game. It wasn’t good and it didn’t get better. Which is tough to say because of like Torreyes’ triple and a solid double play.

Final score: 6-2 White Sox

Okay, the milestones: Giancarlo Stanton is currently sitting at 299 career home runs, so each at-bat could potentially be his 300th. So Stanton going 0-for-4 tonight didn’t get him near that milestone. But there’s always tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next…

And Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres are now part of an elite group of rookies. With Torres’ big 444 foot homer in the 4th (his longest home run in his career, so far), they became the 8th rookie duo in MLB history to have 2 rookies on the same team have at least 20 home runs. (Andujar currently has 21 home runs.) Add in that both players should easily be in the mix for Rookie of the Year, and this is going to be something to watch develop over time.

On a final note: in light of tonight’s loss, I wanted to include a Tweet I read last week that I’ve been saving to share on another day of disappointment. It still very much applies and it puts things into perspective. Remember that the Yankees are still the 2nd best team in all of baseball. So just take a moment, Yankee Universe.

 

(Note: as of today, they are actually 35 games over .500 and on track to 102 season wins, currently 83 wins and 48 losses.)

Go Yankees!

Game 126: NYY vs. MIA — Just disappointed

There’s a lot of adjectives people throw around at the end of a game like tonight’s. I mean, I get it. The Marlins are one of the worst teams in baseball this season (5th worst, as of this posting), and the Yankees are still the 2nd best team in baseball. So when the script is flipped and the winning Yankees get trounced by the losing Marlins, people get frustrated or angry or disenchanted or just disappointed.

But I’m just reminded of what was said over the weekend when the 1998 team got undesired results — that disappointment from the manager (Joe Torre) and the fans was enough to motivate the team to do better, to be better. You’re not going to be disappointed if there’s no comparison for potential, that you actually have the capabilities to be better than whatever just happened. Paul O’Neill compared the feeling to disappointing your dad, and mostly, parents are disappointed in their children because they know they can be and should be better than whatever just happened. It doesn’t mean they love them any less, but they certainly want better things for them.

And I think Yankee Universe wants better things for this team. Lance Lynn got the start in tonight’s finale of this quick 2-game series in Miami. He threw 110 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 9 hits, a walk, and 5 runs, and struck out 6 batters. But he didn’t allow a single run until that 6th run and gave up 5 of his 9 hits in that inning alone.

So, in the 6th, he allowed consecutive singles that moved up on a ground out. The lead runner scored on another single, before a 3-run home run cleared the bases and put the Marlins in the lead. After giving up another single, Lynn’s night was done and he handed things over to Tommy Kahnle. Kahnle gave up a double to score Lynn’s final runner, before he got 2 solid strikeouts.

Actually, the Yankees got on the board first in the 4th. Hicks worked a 1-out walk and then scored on Neil Walker’s 2-out double. Then in the 6th, Gardner led-off with a single, stole 2nd on a strikeout, and moved to 3rd on Hicks’ single. After the Marlins’ starter intentionally walked Andujar to load the bases, the Marlins went to their bullpen. That reliever gave up a sacrifice fly to Neil Walker to score Gardner.

After the Yankees gave up the lead in the bottom of the 6th, they came back in the 7th to try to chip away at the Marlins’ lead. After 2 quick outs, pinch-hitter Voit singled and moved to 2nd on Gardner’s walk. A new reliever’s wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position, and Voit then scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s single.

But then the Marlins’ bullpen stopped giving the Yankees opportunities to advance, something the Yankees’ bullpen clearly didn’t do. Chance Adams came into the game for the 7th inning and just struggled through his outing. He gave up consecutive walks, one of which was complicated by a throwing error that moved the lead runner to 3rd. A fielder’s choice scored that lead runner. Another batter reached safely on another error, but the next guy hit into a double play to get out of the inning.

However, Adams’ troubles continued on in the 8th. A lead-off single scored as part of a 1st pitch pinch-hitter’s 2-run homer. Then with 1 out, a walk moved to 2nd on a single and then scored on another single. Adams’ night was just done at that point, AJ Cole took 5 pitches to get a fly out to end the inning and the Yankees’ pitchers’ disappointing night.

Final score: 9-3 Marlins, split series 1-1

Next up: Tomorrow is an off-day/travel day for the Yankees as they prepare for this weekend’s 4-game series in Baltimore. Technically, it’s a 3-game series, but a make-up game made Saturday a doubleheader. Then, they’re back in the Bronx for a week to face the White Sox and Tigers before heading out to the West Coast.

Injury news/roster moves: The Yankees officially moved Aroldis Chapman to the 10-day disabled list with his recurring left knee tendinitis. To fill his roster spot, they recalled reliever Chance Adams from AAA Scranton, who pitched in tonight’s game. And Gary Sanchez’s return from his groin injury is nearing. He will play in a Gulf Coast League (Rookie) game this week before joining the RailRiders (AAA) next week for his rehab. He should then rejoin the Yankees if all goes well.

Go Yankees!