Home Run Derby 2018 — Hometown Heroics at Workout Day

At the end of the first half of the season, the leading players in home runs were dominantly in the American League, but many opted out of the special event tonight either in favor of the rest that comes with the All-Star Break or to focus on the big exhibition game tomorrow night.

Instead, 43,698 fans crowded into Nationals Park in anticipation of seeing the star slugger they see at every home game hit his way into victory. Nationals’ outfielder Harper was the only veteran of the Home Run Derby, having lost in the final round in 2013 to Cespedes. The seven other batters in tonight’s event were news and all but one from National League teams.

The All-Star players had their Workout Day earlier in the day, running drills, seeing where they land on the roster, connecting with former teammates and friends, meeting the media and fans, and then congregating for the Home Run Derby. The Derby is set-up like in a bracket system, where the player with the highest number of home runs (Seed #1) faces off against the player with the fewest homers (Seed #8) and other similar pairings for the first round for four pairings, a sort of “homer-off”, in just 4 minutes.

The player with the most homers of the pair advance to the next round. So, the winners of that first round meet up with another winner for two more pairings for another round of “homer-off”. And the 2 winners of those pairings meet in the final round to see who hits the most homers in just 4 minutes. An extra 30 seconds is awarded if the batter hits 2+ homers at least 440 feet.

The first round kept close for the most part, with a strong start by the first pairing. The Phillies’ Hoskins kicked off the evening with 17 home runs that beat his opponent, Aguilar (Brewers), who hit just 12 despite being the furthest apart in regular season homers. Then it was close — Schwarber (Cubs) beat Bregman (Astros) 16-15, Muncy (Dodgers) over Baez (Cubs) 17-16, and Harper (Nationals) over Freeman (Braves) 13-12.

The next round continued the trend, with Schwarber powering 21 runs, edging out Hoskins (20). Muncy had a good start but faltered in the end to be surpassed by Harper (13-12). For the final round, Schwarber again kicked things off with a big show at 18 runs, and despite some momentum loss, Harper came back and tied it up at 18 in the final second. But he had those 30 extra seconds due to some pretty monster homers. He just needed 1, and he got it. And the hometown crowd went crazy, waving giant Harper faces and making the stadium nearly shake.

{Media note: Still waiting on a recap video of the Derby, will add shortly.}

And if you’re wondering, at the All-Star Futures Game, Team USA out-powered Team World 10-6 yesterday, though each team got 4 solid home runs in the process. Yankees prospect pitcher Justus Sheffield got time on the mound and really had a less-than-ideal outing. Pitching for Team USA, Sheffield came out in the 2nd and promptly gave up a solo home run to allow Team World on the board. After allowing a 1-out single in the 3rd, they went to another pitcher, but that runner scored on a 2-run home run that gave Sheffield a second earned run. But in the end, it was Team USA to power through and come out victorious.

Tomorrow, the All-Stars(often with their families) will walk down the eed carpet to meet their fans, chat with media, and take pictures just outside Nationals Park for the annual Red Carpet Parade before they take batting practice inside the park before the big game. Torres and Chapman will not be playing due to injuries. Severino is slotted as a reserves pitcher, which means he’ll pitch an inning somewhere in the middle of the game. And upon revealing the starting rosters, the AL coaching team has Judge batting 6th and playing left field. Because clearly they’ve never seen the right fielder and the Yankees’ #2 hitter play baseball.

Can’t wait to see Judge and Severino in the game tomorrow night!

Go Yankees!

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 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 86: MIL vs. NYY — Fouled over finale before Break

That was not exactly how the Yankees wanted to enter the All-Star Break. Though truthfully, it wasn’t like they handed over the game all that easily. Add into the fact that the Yankees haven’t won a series since they swept the Orioles in early June, and it was a hard Sunday afternoon in the Bronx.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start today for the final game in this homestand against the Brewers, and once again, he got a bit roughed up. He threw 83 pitches into the 5th inning, gave up 6 hits, a walk, and 5 runs, striking out 5 batters. In the 1st, with runners on the corners with singles and 1 out, a big 3-run home run got the Brewers on the board in a hurry. They added another run with a lead-off solo shot in the 2nd. And the first out of that inning was thanks to a nifty grounder catch by Ji-Man Choi at 1st — he literally did a split to catch the ball and make the out.

After that, Tanaka was able to hold them off for a bit until things got dicey in the 5th. With 1 out, he gave up 2 singles before he was pulled from the game. Chasen Shreve came on in relief and promptly gave up an RBI single. So it was Adam Warren’s turn on the mound.

Warren had a much better outing closing out the 5th and into the 6th, with 3 strikeouts out of his 4 total outs. Tyler Webb got the final out of the 6th in just 4 pitches before handing things over to Chad Green. Green breezed his way through 2 full innings, with just 33 pitches, striking out 4 batters in the process. Aroldis Chapman had a few miscues in the 9th, but still kept the Brewers from adding to their score.

So, with a decent outing from the bullpen (including 8 of 13 total strikeouts), it would be left to the Yankees’ offense to pick up the pace. But despite ample opportunities, the Yankees had minimal moments of true power today. In the 4th, with 2 outs, Ellsbury singled, stole 2nd, and scored on Chase Headley’s single. Then Clint Frazier hit his third home run of the year, a nice solid 2-run home run into the Yankees’ bullpen to give the Yankees a fighting chance.

So, the crowd waited. And for a moment in the 6th, there was hope. Sanchez singled and Ellsbury walked to lead-off the inning, and the Brewers brought in a new pitcher. And Chase Headley smacked a long ball deep into the right field corner. As all three Yankees rounded the bases, a small nattering began in the visitor’s dugout and among the umpires. The umpires took it upon themselves to review the call, and it was overturned as foul (apparently, the review said it “hooked foul” at the last minute). He ended up striking out on the at-bat.

And that would be it in the end.

Final score: 5-3 Brewers, Brewers win series 2-1

Five Yankees are now on their way to Miami for the All-Star Game (they got their bright blue American League warm-up jerseys before the game today), and two Yankees will play in tomorrow night’s Home Run Derby. And right now, two young Yankee prospects are playing in the All-Star Futures Game — Domingo Acevedo (a pitcher from AA Trenton) and Estevan Florial (an outfielder from Full-A Charleston). It’s All-Star Week, people, and we’re just getting started!

Go Yankees!

Game 84: NYY vs. CWS – Shutout by the South Siders

A humid midwestern evening with a heat index in the mid-90s greeted fans tonight at U.S. Cellular Field on Chicago’s south side for the rubber match between the Yankees and the White Sox. Both teams were confident they would win this series, but, as always, there can only be one winner.

Michael Pineda started for the Yankees and had a decent first inning, but quickly gave up 4 runs in the second inning. Over 6 innings, Pineda allowed a final total of 5 runs, 5 hits, and a walk. So other than his brief dip in productivity (early on), Pineda actually did a pretty decent job.  At the bottom of the second, Pineda was able to get the first two batters out, but then Chicago began a hitting streak and gained 4 runs. With a single, passed ball, and a walk, 2 runners were suddenly on base. A single scored the first one, and a ground-rule double scored the other. A double then scored the final 2 runners to give the White Sox a rather hefty early lead.

With runners on the corners in the sixth, a fielder’s choice allowed Chicago’s final run to cross the plate; though the Yankees tried for the standard double play but just weren’t quick enough on that particular play. In the middle of all this, Pineda recorded his 500th career strikeout in the fifth inning; a rather big number for a rather young pitcher.

In his first outing from the bullpen this season, Nathan Eovaldi took over the mound for the Yankees in the eighth and ninth for one strikeout, and despite 2 walks and wild pitch, he gave up no runs during his tenure tonight.

Inning by inning, the White Sox starter shut down any and all Yankee scoring opportunities. The relievers (including a former Yankee reliever) in the final part of the game continued that momentum by the White Sox starter; the Yankee offense could not get past any of the Chicago pitchers tonight.

The Yankees’ offense wasn’t nearly as dramatic or productive, but it was rather heavy on Didi Gregorius (as was the defense tonight, actually). In the top of the second inning, with two outs on the board,  Gregorius stole second base and was called out, but a replay review rather quickly overturned that decision, putting Gregorius in scoring position right up until the next batter grounded out to end the inning. In the bottom of the fourth, Gregorius’ awesome diving stop to end the inning was another valiant attempts by the Yankee defense to stop the advancing South Siders.

With two outs at the top of the seventh, Gregorius (again!) hit a hard line drive down the right field line for a ground-rule double that put him in scoring position but was left stranded at the end of the inning. And in the bottom of that inning, McCann’s quick reaction and strong arm stopped a runner on a stolen base attempt. Bottom of the eighth, a solid double play by Castro and Gregorius ended the inning, in what is becoming a rather instinctive, beautiful, and standard teamwork play for the middle infielders.

And in a last-ditch effort in the ninth, facing a former teammate to many Yankees, and two men on base, a replay challenge overturned what would have been the third out. With Yankee fans hoping this game would not be a shut-out, Headley came to the plate and attempted to get a piece of the ball, hoping to continue the offensive contributions from earlier in this series, but he struck out swinging for the final out of the evening. The Yankees just couldn’t get their bats in order to dent the Sox’s early lead.

Final score: 5-0 White Sox, White Sox take the series 2-1.

News from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: The Yankees continue to be pleased with the progress of their top three prospects Jorge Mateo, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez. Kudos to Sanchez for being chosen to appear in the All-Star Futures Game in Petco Park, San Diego, on July 10. (Mateo was also supposed to participate, but a recent suspension for insubordination forces him to now miss this opportunity.)

Tampa Yankee prospect Ian Clarkin is also garnering positive attention. This young pitcher missed all 2015 due to an arm issue. Now healthy and  working strong, he has a great command of his fast ball, has added new pitches, and is working on his pitching mechanics with successful results. Clarkin is one to watch!

Be sure to vote! The ballot for the final vote for 2016 MLB All-Star Game is available online here. No Yankees in this one, but someone may strike you as deserving of a trip to San Diego.

Go Yankees!