The off-season scramble begins

It’s been 10 days since the Royals won the World Series and officially threw all of baseball into the off-season. Congratulations again to Kansas City and the Royals organization on their amazing season and championship. Nearly 800,000 blue-clad Royals fans (in an area of over 2,000,000 residents) crowded part of downtown Kansas City a little over a week ago to cheer on their new hometown heroes for the Royals’ victory parade. When teams win big, it often creates new fans, but whether they retain those recently acquired will all depend on if they can continue their recent winning streak of the last two seasons. But with the free agent market just now starting to break out, next year’s Royals may be shades of 2005 (56 wins-106 losses, last place in AL) or it could be like 2015 (95 wins-85 losses, 1st place in AL).

That’s what makes the off-season trades and acquisitions so interesting — it shakes up every team, and a shake-up can be just as very good as it can be very bad. It’s always a gamble because while the numbers may work in your favor, the team chemistry may not work. Or unpredictable unknowns like injuries and personal issues can alter a potential superstar.

While the team’s GMs are in their annual meetings in South Florida (enjoying the perpetual heat that is Florida in November, I’m guessing), they are already busy making all sorts of deals. A GM’s job is never done. Today, the Yankees announced two such trades. Infielder Jose Pirela is headed to San Diego this Spring (via their Arizona Spring Training) in exchange for pitching prospect Ronald Herrera. And (this one will break a few hearts I know) catcher John Ryan Murphy is headed to Minnesota in exchange for switch-hitting outfielder Aaron Hicks. Both of these deals do make some business sense — the Yankees need an influx of new pitchers in their farm system, and they really have a plethora of really good catchers ready for the big leagues (behind starting catcher McCann, there’s still Romine and Sanchez). What this means for some of the free agents in the Yankees’ system (like OF Young and IF Drew) is still up for conversation and the rumors of dealing current Yankee favorites are of course always circulating.

Last week, Stephen Drew, Chris Young, and pitchers Chris Capuano, Andrew Bailey, and Sergio Santos elected free agency. The Yankees could of course sign them back to the team, but a free agent means they are officially on the market for a good deal and their Spring is still undetermined. The Yankees also released pitcher Chris Martin and activated outfielder Mason Williams and pitchers Domingo German, Jacob Lindgren, and Chase Whitley from the DL. And now with today’s moves, the Yankees are proving to the MLB market that they are back in business and ready to deal.

Also last week, for their participation and activism, former Yankees Jorge Posada and Paul O’Neill along with current Yankee Alex Rodriguez were honored at the Lou Gehrig Awards Benefit which raised money for research and care programs for those suffering from ALS. Another Yankee alumni David Cone was on hand to emcee the live auction of baseball memorabilia.

And just yesterday, the Yankees hosted their annual USO care package drive at Yankee Stadium. Girardi and Cone, along with hundreds of volunteers stuffed care packages for veterans serving abroad — small tokens of “home”, as it were. This is one of several events the Yankees do each year to give back to their community and one of several big ways to honor veterans. It’s two of my favorite things about the Yankees — their generosity (like HOPE Week) and their patriotism (like “God Bless America” at every home game without fail).

In that respect, may I just say that we not only honor and remember those who served and currently serve our country, but those across the globe dedicated to preserving and fighting for peace in this world. “Thank you” never quite feels like enough, but know that we cherish you (and your families) for your commitment and sacrifice this Veterans Day and remember the great dreams of Armistice Day today and every day.

Go Yankees!

Game 162: NYY vs. BAL — Ending the season on mixed notes

Well, good news and bad news — good news, the Yankees have home team advantage for the Wild Card game this Tuesday; bad news, the Yankees end their regular season on a loss and a sweep.

All 30 teams played their final game of the regular season at the 3:00 pm EST hour (except a doubleheader in Atlanta due to the mess that is the hurricane in neighboring South Carolina), but it would be the Yankees-Orioles game that lingered on longer than all the rest. And the AL had lots of things riding on these games to determine final postseason standings, while the NL had 2 simple stipulations. (I’ll talk more about the results after the game recap.)

To be perfectly fair, neither team really had a great pitching day. Between the Yankees and the Orioles, their pitching staffs gave up a total of 22 hits, 13 runs, and 11 walks between their 14 total pitchers. Plus neither starter made it very far into the game for starters and both accumulated high pitch counts.

For the Yankees, Michael Pineda threw 83 pitches in just 3.2 innings, gave up 6 hits, no walks (one of the few to not walk a batter), and 4 runs, striking out 5 Baltimore batters. In the 1st, with 2 outs and 2 runners in scoring position, a long single scored the first 2 runs for the Orioles. Then in the 4th inning, a lead-off double scored on a 2-out single as Pineda’s day came to a close and the rotation of the Yankees’ bullpen began for the last time this regular season.

Chris Capuano came on to finish off the 4th inning but instead loaded the bases with a double and an intentional walk. A single then scored 2 more runners, but the inning was quickly over when the batter tried to make it to 2nd on the throw and was tagged out. The Orioles challenged the call, but the call on the field was upheld, and the inning was over.

In the 5th inning, Bryan Mitchell came on in relief. With a lead-off walk on base, a 2-run home run added to the Orioles’ easy lead. After just getting 1 out and walking another batter, James Pazos came on to get out of the inning with 2 strikeouts. Pazos threw to 2 more batters in the 6th inning before handing the ball over to Andrew Bailey to close out that inning and keep the Orioles from adding to their lead.

Branden Pinder continued such a trend through the 7th inning, as did Justin Wilson for the first batter in the 8th inning. Andrew Miller then walked one batter and got an out for his turn in the 8th. And Caleb Cotham was called on to finish the game off for the Yankees, though not before giving up a 2-run home run (to the same guy who did so earlier in the game). To give him credit, that particular batter is quite the power hitter, ending the season with a whopping 47 home runs after today’s game.

The Yankees weren’t exactly quiet on their side of things. Like I said, this wasn’t exactly the greatest pitching game. In the 2nd, Bird led-off with a ground-rule double, moved to 3rd on one ground out, and then scored on Dustin Ackley’s ground out. Then in the 6th, Ackley hit a 1-out single and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ triple. This forced the Orioles’ starter out of the game after 103 pitches in less than 6 inning. And in the 7th, with 1 out and Beltran and McCann on base with singles, Greg Bird’s single scored Beltran. After a pitching change then loaded the bases on Headley’s walk, Ackley ground into a force out, which scored McCann. But that would be it for the Yankees’ offense today.

Final score in Baltimore: 9-4 Orioles, Orioles sweep Yankees this weekend 3-0.

And we have postseason final news.

  • Wild Card Games: On Tuesday, the Astros will play the Yankees in the Bronx for the AL Wild Card. On Wednesday, the Cubs (yes, Back to the Future fans, your 30 year old dreams have a chance to come true!) will play the Pirates in Pittsburgh for the NL Wild Card.
  • Division Series: Beginning Thursday, the best of 5 ALDS will start with the Rangers (the AL West champs) at the Blue Jays (the AL East champs) and the winner of the Yankees-Astros WC game at the Royals (the AL Central champs and highest seed in the AL); and starting Friday, the NLDS will be the Mets (the NL East champs) at the Dodgers (the NL West champs) and the winner of the Cubs-Pirates WC game at the Cardinals (the NL Central and highest seed in the NL). (This best-of-5 series runs 2 home, 2 away, and 1 home, if necessary.)
  • Championship Series: the best of 7 ALCS will then be the winners of the Rangers-Blue Jays against the ALWC-Royals (if the Royals win their LDS, they maintain home-field advantage in the LCS), starting Friday, October 16; the NLCS will be the winners of the Mets-Dodgers against the NLWC-Cardinals (if the Cardinals win their LDS, they maintain home-field advantage in the LCS), beginning Saturday, October 17. (This best-of-7 series runs 2 home, 3 away, and 2 home, if necessary.)
  • World Series: as usual, the NL Champion will play the AL Champion (at the AL home field, as a result of the All-Star Game) in a best of 7 series beginning Tuesday, October 27. (This series also runs 2 home, 3 away, and 2 home, if necessary, which also means we could have November baseball unless there is a sweep this year.)

I will be making my predictions as usual before each series. So here’s my Wild Card predictions:

  • NLWC: Pirates over Cubs
  • ALWC: Yankees over Astros

I have many reasons other than the obvious bias of one selection, but I think the teams I selected have been postseason contenders for longer and more consistent this season. And while both the Cubs and the Astros have truly fantastic starting pitchers, they don’t have that overall aspect (all parts of the team — offense, defense, starting pitching, bullpen, and base-running) that could make them last through the competitiveness of the postseason. And really, that’s what you want, a long, strongly competitive postseason.

And to those haters who doubt the longevity and validity of the Wild Cards, I want to remind you that last year’s World Series was played by two Wild Card teams — the Royals and the Giants. Like I’ve said before, it’s still anyone’s game to win, anyone’s championship to claim.

Go Yankees!

Game 156: BOS vs. NYY — I blame Boston.

Okay, going into tonight’s game, the Yankees had several numbers looming over their head. First, whenever the Yankees win their next game, the franchise will have 10,000 wins in their legacy. (Seriously cool statistic there.) Second, the magic number was filled with special math. If the Yankees beat the Red Sox tonight and either Oakland beat the Angels or Seattle beat Houston, the Yankees would be guaranteed a play-off spot. However, things didn’t turn out so well in the Bronx, and the other two games are still in the 1st inning on the West Coast as I type this sentence, so it’s still up in the air on that end. And third, Toronto widened its lead over the Yankees with a win in Baltimore tonight.

So basically, nothing went in the Yankees’ favor tonight… I blame Boston. Because as a long-term Yankee fan, when something in the universe goes wrong, it’s always Boston’s fault. I blame Boston.

I don’t know what team showed up in Red Sox uniforms tonight, but they certainly didn’t play like the Boston team from this season. Not that I can say much for how the Yankees played tonight. Can I get away with partially blaming a big case of the Mondays too?

Anyway, the Red Sox are in town for the Yankees’ last home series, 4 games against their long-time rivals. And it was Ivan Nova to start tonight’s opener. Nova put up some impressive numbers for most of his outing before getting himself into some trouble towards the end of his game. Overall, Nova’s 92 pitches took him 7 innings, giving up 7 hits, 2 walks, and 4 runs, and striking out 7 Red Sox batters. In the 6th with 2 outs and a runner at 2nd with a double, a 2-run home run gave the Red Sox the lead. And the scene seemed to repeat itself in the 7th inning, with 2 outs and a runner on base (this time with a single), so a 2-run home run pushed the Red Sox further in the lead over the Yankees.

Then the revolving door of the Yankees bullpen began for the final 2 innings of the game. Andrew Bailey and Chris Capuano split the 8th inning, keeping the Red Sox from adding to their lead in just 15 combined pitches. Caleb Cotham started the 9th inning with 2 outs, but then a solo home run added on another run for Boston. James Pazos’ lone batter earned a walk, before Nick Rumbelow was called on to shut it down. A ground-rule double threatened, but a ground out ended that possibility. But the damage was done.

And the Yankees weren’t able to do much about it. The only time the Yankees crossed the plate was in the 1st inning. Ellsbury led off with a ground-rule double, moved to 3rd on Gardner’s sacrifice bunt, and then scored on Alex Rodriguez’s sacrifice fly. Despite some offense, even loading the bases a few times, and nearly paralleling the Red Sox in their game stats, the Yankees just weren’t crossing the plate. And that’s what wins games — runs scored.

Final score: 5-1 Red Sox.

Okay, two things happened in baseball universe in the last 24 hours that I want to talk about.

In another division showdown tonight, the Cardinals were visiting the Pirates in Pittsburgh, and there was a nasty on-field collision in the 7th inning by two Cardinals’ outfielders. The rookie left fielder Stephen Piscotty fell head first into his teammate Peter Bourjos’ knees. Immediately, Bourjos called for the medical team to come out, and they call on the Pirates’ team doctors and a stretcher to get the dazed Piscotty off the field. After 8 minutes of near silence in PNC Park, the crowd gave a bit of an ovation to the fallen rival as he waved slightly to the crowd from the stretcher loaded to the back of a landscaping type vehicle and then into the waiting ambulance for transportation to a local hospital. Preliminary results from the hospital look good (no broken bones or , though the only news released (at this point in writing) is that Piscotty has a “head contusion”. Our prayers are with the young outfielder.

And in a story that made non-sports national headlines, I feel the need to comment. I wasn’t going to. I was really fighting the urge to comment. I really didn’t want to say anything publicly, though I do admit to have very strong feelings privately. Part of the reason I didn’t want to publicly get involved is because it has no direct effect on the Yankees or the play-offs or anything that matters. But then thinking about it some more, and I realized we need to be talking about it.

Let me back up a few days to explain. So, the Washington Nationals are not going to the postseason, much to the chagrin of, well, everyone involved with the Nationals organization (who often try to market and sell postseason tickets as early as Spring Training due to their, um, “confidence” in their team). They have spent money building their team and piecing together various players to try to up their postseason chances, though clearly this didn’t work out in their favor this season. Their closer is known for being “aggressively competitive”. A few days ago, in a game against the Orioles, the closer threw at a batter’s head, and the League determined that it was clearly intentional and thus the closer was given a 3 game suspension and an undisclosed fine.

Now, at yesterday’s game against the Phillies, the same closer didn’t like that a fellow teammate (who is also known for being a bit “aggressively competitive”) didn’t “hustle enough” in his opinion. The two exchanged some heated words in the dugout before the pitcher grabbed the outfielder by the throat and shoved him against the wall. Teammates and staff had to separate the two and keep the two from each other for the rest of the game, the closer playing in the 9th inning (though you could call it karma, the “heated” closer totally lost the game for them in the 9th, giving up 5 runs in his shortened outing). The Nationals themselves then suspended the pitcher for 4 games, which officially ends his season between the two suspensions that began tonight.

Okay, here’s what I want to say about this… I understand about competition, and the passion and drive to win every game and to do your best at every turn. I would expect nothing less from any professional athlete. But when that turns into intentional harm on another person, especially on your own teammate, it’s no longer “aggressively competitive”; it’s anger and rage and violence and a clear indication of someone with a severe problem. These athletes are role models for young people, whether they want to be or not, and they have a responsibility to maintain dignity and order even in the heat of the moment. These players are also adults with at least a modicum of self-control, who are granted the privilege of playing a great sport for their job, and there are thousands of kids waiting to replace them if and when they can’t anymore.

Bottom line: Grow up, be a man, and play the game right. And I’m really glad this kind of nonsense wouldn’t hold up in the Yankees’ dugout or anywhere in their organization. Kudos to the League and the Nationals for at least dealing with this issue publicly. We need to remember that character matters; all the money, the accolades, the fame, the fans will fade, but who you are at your core is what matters long before you put your cleats on and long after you hang up your cleats for good.

Go Yankees!

Game 148: NYY vs. NYM — When the Bat’s away, the Bronx Bombers will play…

I’m positive someone who covers the Mets is obsessed with comic books, applying some creative license to their starting pitchers. First, “Thor” last night, and then the “Dark Knight” tonight. Don’t get me wrong here, the Mets’ “Dark Knight” is on my personal list of non-Yankee pitchers that I think are really good. And tonight was absolutely no exception.

Yes, in tonight’s finale against the Mets, the Yankees were up against a very good pitcher that kept the Yankees from doing much in his short time on the mound. Honestly, removing him from the game was probably the worst choice the Mets made tonight, and this was in regards to a team that earned 4 fielding errors tonight. But since it fell in the Yankees’ favor, I’m certainly not going to complain all that much.

CC Sabathia got the start for tonight’s weekend series finale at Citi Field, and with his usual exception of a single inning, Sabathia was definitely something to watch today. He threw 111 pitches threw 6 full innings, giving up 5 hits, 3 walks, and just 1 run, and struck out 7 batters. His lead-off batter doubled and then scored on the next batter’s double. Then after 2 nice strikeouts, he loaded the bases with 2 consecutive walks but got out of the inning with a quick pop out. And then he settled into a rather CC-esque pattern of just shutting them down and getting batters to chase silly pitches.

Nick Rumbelow came on to keep the Mets down in the 7th and got 2 more strikeouts. Chris Capuano threw 13 pitches in the 8th inning.  A lead-off double scored on an RBI single before a strikeout and a fabulous double play ended the inning. Nick Goody came on to close out the Mets in the 9th inning (even getting a ground out to go the Yankees way on a challenge and replay).

But like I said, the Yankees couldn’t do much against Batman tonight, but Batman returned to the Batcave a little early allowing the Yankees to run Gotham City their way tonight. In the 6th, Ellsbury led off with a single ending up at 2nd on an error. He ended up at 3rd when Gardner reached on a fielder’s choice and another error was made. Carlos Beltran’s double then scored both runners to push the Yankees up and over the Mets. After 1 out, Beltran got to 3rd on a wild pitch, and Bird walked. Dustin Ackley smacked a solid 3-run home run into the Mets’ bullpen to clear the bases. (Fun fact: Ackley’s dad was at the game tonight, up from North Carolina with his college baseball coach from UNC, so they saw him hit that great shot into the bullpen.)

The Yankees then tacked on another run in the 7th and then a few more in the 8th. With the bases loaded in the 7th, a new Mets’ reliever just walked in a run with Chase Headley’s walk. Then in the 8th, pinch-hitter Alex Rodriguez walked, and then Rico Noel came in to pinch-run for him. Noel promptly stole 2nd base and then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. Now, with 2 outs and Ellsbury and Beltran on base with a single and a walk, Brian McCann’s single scored Ellsbury easily and moved Beltran to 3rd on (yet another) error. And that set up Greg Bird for his big 3-run home run to push the Yankees into double-digit runs.

Final score from Queens: 11-2 Yankees, Yankees take the series 2-1. (The Empire State Building was lit up in pinstripes, blue and white, in honor of the Yankees’ series victory. I love when they do this!)

With Toronto’s loss to Boston today, this puts the Yankees just 2.5 games behind Toronto. This makes this upcoming series in Toronto so crucial. Whoever wins this series will most likely go on to win the division and the other will be the first wild card.

And bad news in the pitching front: Masahiro Tanaka pulled his hamstring running to 1st base on Friday. Now, diagnosed with a grade 1 strain, he’ll be sitting out his scheduled start this Wednesday in Toronto. Ivan Nova will take his place.

Go Yankees!

Games 140 & 141: TOR vs. NYY — Swept over in the rain twice

Today was a very long day in the Bronx, and the result was an even further dip in the standings. Seriously, the first game was 4 hours and 32 minutes and then with a brief break (about 40 minutes) between the game times to ensure the rain that threatened all day wouldn’t encroach on the second game. But it did anyway, causing a 33 minute delay as the deluge swept through the City. So add that to a 3 hour and 31 minute second game. You’re talking about 10 hours in the ball park, plus batting practice and other pre- and post-game meetings (like talking with the press).

Both games burned through the bullpen trying to fend off the advances of any offense. Both teams had this problem, but it really fell against the Yankees in the long run, with neither starter throwing their A-game.

In the first game of today’s doubleheader, Michael Pineda threw 98 pitches in his 5.1 innings, gave up 6 hits, 2 walks, and 4 runs, and struck out 5 Toronto batters. The Yankees, however, gave him a bit of a lead at first, with a 1-out solo home run by Brett Gardner in the 1st and a 1-out solo home run by Chase Headley in the 2nd. In the 4th, a 1-out solo home run got things started for the Blue Jays before Pineda got into and out of a jam.

But the Yankees came back in the bottom of the 4th to push on ahead further. McCann led-off with a single, and then Alex Rodriguez hit a 2-run home run. But the Blue Jays came back hard in the top of the 5th — a 1-out solo home run, a 2-out walk, and a 2-run home run tied up the game. Justin Wilson kept things quieter (read: tied) to finish the 6th and into the 7th inning. And Dellin Betances finished off the 7th and then got into a spot of trouble in the 8th with a lead-off solo home run.

Now, with the Blue Jays in the lead, the Yankees had to earn back their chances, which they did in the bottom of the 8th. Consecutive walks forced a pitching change, and 1 out later, a Brian McCann single scored Ellsbury to tie the game back up. Unfortunately, the Yankees couldn’t capitalize on a bases loaded situation, and despite Andrew Miller’s stellar pitching in the 9th, they were forced into extra innings. Miller’s pitching excellence continued through the 10th inning.

It would be the 11th inning that would change everything. Bryan Mitchell started the inning. After his concussion, Mitchell is still struggling to get back into his pre-injury sharpness. He loaded the bases with 1 strike out, which really set up some struggles for his replacement Chasen Shreve. Shreve’s outing was the “groan heard ’round the Bronx” — walked in a run, strikeout (okay, that was a cheer), an RBI single, another walked-in run, and then yet another walked-in run. Nick Goody stopped the bleeding with a 4-pitch ground out. The Yankees couldn’t bounce back and thus came up on the losing end.

Final score (Game 1): 9-5 in 11 innings, Blue Jays.

And then after a break, Ivan Nova took the mound. Nova struggled some in the 1st but was able to keep the Blue Jays from starting the game in the win column. But his 2nd inning spiraled out of control quickly after the lead-off strikeout — a double, an RBI single, a passed ball and wild pitch to move the runner to 3rd, a 2-run home run, a single, a fly out, a stolen base and wild pitch moved the runner to 3rd, an RBI double, two hit-by-pitch batters loaded the bases, and a double scored 2 more runs. And that would be it for Nova.

Nick Rumbelow came on and kept the Blue Jays from widening their early lead through the 2nd and 3rd innings. Chris Capuano came on for some long-term relief, pitching from the 4th inning into the 7th inning. He only got into his own sticky situation at the end of his outing. In the 7th, he loaded the bases with 2 singles and a walk and 2 outs before a single scored 2 runs and brought on Branden Pinder. Pinder then allowed consecutive singles to score 2 more runs for Toronto. After getting that final out of the 7th inning, Pinder’s 8th was much cleaner as he handed the reins over to James Pazos. Pazos easily threw the best inning, just 14 pitches to get through the 9th inning flawlessly.

The Yankees weren’t exactly stymied in their offense, finally breaking into the Blue Jays big early lead in the 5th inning. With 2 outs and Gregorius and Ryan in scoring position, Brett Gardner hit a big 3-run home run to put the Yankees on the board. And in the 6th, Ackley hit a 1-out single, moved to 3rd on Murphy’s single, and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ double. But then the Yankees did it again — 2 outs, Gregorius and Drew on base with singles, and Gardner hit another 3-run home run to put them within reach. But that was it.

Final score (Game 2): 10-7, Blue Jays.

Some grand totals from today’s doubleheader — 47 hits, 31 runs, 16 walks, and 31 strike outs. That’s really a big sign of bad pitching more than anything else. And even in the post-game press conference, Girardi was commenting that the biggest thing the Yankees need to work on is their pitching. It’s like the one thing they had really going for them earlier this season suddenly imploded on itself. But to be fair, at least they’re hitting. They’re just not hitting enough to make up for their bad pitching, like, well, their opponents this weekend seem to be doing.

Tomorrow, the Yankees will be honoring Alex Rodriguez’s 3000th hit with a pre-game ceremony and a special cover to their in-house magazine/program. A day I’m sure most people never imagined, say like a year ago. But 3000 hits is something to honor and celebrate.

Go Yankees!

Game 136: BAL vs. NYY — A labor of winning

Not a bad way to spend a Labor Day… in the Bronx, a sunny Monday afternoon, battling it out, a really satisfying win. The Orioles are in town for a mid-week 3-game series to continue this big division rivals home stand this week. And after taking 2 of the 3 games from the Rays, the Yankees were raring to go and fend off those pesky black birds from Baltimore.

Michael Pineda got the start today and really got roughed up a bit, and in spite of that, he still walked off the mound in the win column. Until he was given a no-decision. Like I said, it was a battle. Pineda threw 99 pitches over 6 innings, gave up 6 hits, 4 runs, and 2 walks, and struck out 5 Baltimore batters. And most of that damage was in the 2nd inning. A lead-off walk ended up at 3rd on a single and then scored on a 3-run home run to put the Orioles in the lead. Then a hit-by-pitch moved to 2nd on a bunt single, then to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt, and scored on a single. Fortunately, the Yankees defense got the following runner out at home in a great throw, and then even after a threatening double, a line out quickly ended the threat.

But the Yankees weren’t exactly down for the count. They made the Orioles’ starter work today, pushing him to 104 pitches in just 5 innings and collecting 9 hits from him. In the 1st, Chase Headley hit a 1-out single and then scored on Chris Young’s 2-out single to get the runs started and the Yankees on the board. Down 4-1 in the 3rd, the Yankees came back with Headley leading-off by reaching 1st on a throwing error, standing at 2nd after 2 outs, and then scoring on Young’s double (these two were a great tag-team duo today).

Alex Rodriguez led-off with 5th inning with a solo home run into the left field seats. And then with 2 outs and Greg Bird on 1st with a walk, John Ryan Murphy smacked a solid 2-run home run to push the Yankees into the lead once again.

Now, with both starters out of the game, the Yankees with a slim 1-run lead, the battle really kicked it up a notch. With Justin Wilson in for relief of Pineda, he gave up a 1-out solo home run in the 7th to tie up the game and officially both blow the save and gift Pineda with a no-decision. However, Wilson would be the pitcher on record when the Yankees would find the offense again in the bottom of the inning. When Beltran led-off with a walk and Young singled, the Orioles hoped a pitching change would fight off the offensive rally; but the Yankees recent secret weapon — Greg Bird — just hit a huge 3-run home run into the Yankee bullpen to ensure the Yankee lead.

Now a save opportunity, the Yankees turned to their Dynamic Duo as the 8-9 inning punches. Dellin Betances’ 8th inning saw him struggle some, with 2 consecutive walks and 2 consecutive strikeouts, then another walk to load the bases before another strikeout shut down on the Orioles’ hopes of a viable rally. Andrew Miller’s 9th inning saw his flair for the dramatic (that Betances seemed to pick-up today) with 2 quick outs and a walked batter to start the drama. Defensive indifference allowed that runner to go to 2nd and then score on a single, but a strikeout quickly shut the door and earned him his 23rd save of the season.

Final score: 8-6 Yankees.

The Revolving Door: Chris Capuano was back on the active roster today as part of the September expanded roster. Girardi has expressed his desire to make sure that his pitchers are not overtaxed going into the push for October. This includes both the starting rotation and the bullpen. If all goes as planned (and predicted), the Yankees will be playing October baseball, at least as a Wild Card, so the necessity of being able to go the distance and not be exhausted before they hit the finish line is very important.

Pitching, bullpen, defense, base-running, and hitting are the five aspects that each team compose a team, and excellence in each category is a symptom of a championship team. Now, the Yankees have definitely had moments where one of these aspects has carried them more than the others, but overall, the Yankees this year are really seeing above average in each category.

Now, I refuse to make predictions (during the regular season, at least) on here as far too many things can happen, but I don’t hesitate to voice my opinions. And it will be interesting to see how my verbal predictions that I formed way back in Spring Training pan out next month. I’ve been right on most of them so far. And you all know how I like to be right. (Well, if you really think about it, who really likes being wrong?)

Go Yankees!

Game 127: NYY vs. ATL — Spark the slumping offense with bad pitching

I always liked Atlanta. I have a cousin and his family that live in Atlanta. I love driving through the city seeing the bridges and the lights. I even thought about going to school in the city. But in the summers, it earns the title “Hot-lanta” quite easily. But still, it’s a nice city. And after tonight’s game, I like the city even more.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start tonight in the weekend against the Braves at Turner Field just south of downtown Atlanta. And while it wasn’t his best outing of the season, Tanaka actually threw a pretty good game and certainly earned his 10th win of the season — 100 pitches in 7 innings, 5 hits, 1 walk, 3 runs, and 7 strikeouts. In the 1st, Tanaka had trouble instantly — a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a walk and then scored on another single. As the first out of the inning, a sacrifice fly scored another run. A 1-out solo home run in the 3rd added the 3rd run to the Braves’ score tonight. But really, Tanaka kept things under control.

Justin Wilson came on in the 8th to keep the Braves in place and threw 19 pitches through 1 walk and 2 outs. Bryan Mitchell, back just today from the DL, finished off the inning and kept the Braves from scoring. Mitchell came back in the 9th, a 1-out walk moved to 2nd on a passed ball and then scored on a single. And that would be it for the Braves.

The ironic part of tonight’s game, for me at least, was that the Braves were a threat and a Yankees’ rival in the 1990s because of their absolute nasty pitching staff. Well, this is definitely not the Braves from the 1990s. I hope their pitching was having an off-night or their being 3rd in the NL East makes no sense. But I suppose it could explain why they’re 17 games behind the Mets and 11.5 behind the Nationals, and 10 games under .500 (at .422). By all respects, they should be a better team.

But they aren’t. And for one night (and hopefully for the series), it works out in the Yankees’ favor during a time when the Yankees really need a boost. After a quick 2-outs to lead-off the game, the Yankees started hitting (or walking) and didn’t look back. Beltran singles and then the bases were loaded with McCann and Bird’s walk. Chase Headley’s ground-rule double scored Beltran and McCann. And then Didi Gregorius’ 3-run home run scored Bird and Headley as well.

Then in the 2nd, again with 2 outs, the bases were loaded as Gardner and Beltran singled and McCann walked (again). The Braves decided that was it for their starter, after 55 pitches in just 1.2 unproductive innings (for them). The new reliever walked Bird to walk in Gardner and then walked Headley to walk in Beltran. Yes, consecutive walked-in walks. Gregorius’ single scored McCann and Bird. And the Yankees had quite the healthy lead over the Braves right in the 2nd inning.

The Braves’ pitchers struggled through the 4th inning but kept the Yankees from adding to their score. In the 5th, the Yankees faced the best pitcher of the evening from the Braves’ staff. The next reliever also did a good job against the 6th and 7th innings. It would be the only time in the game when the Braves felt they were actually in control of the game. Though to be fair, the Yankees weren’t really making much headway on their end, and the Braves weren’t hitting much at that point against Tanaka.

But it was the pitcher in the 8th inning that sparked the Yankees’ offense once again. Ellsbury led-off with a single but then got out at 2nd on Gardner’s force out. Gardner moved to 3rd on Beltran’s double. And Brian McCann hit his 92nd home run at Turner Field (McCann spent his career with the Braves prior to his time with the Yankees), his 23rd of the season, a 3-run shot to push the lead above and beyond for the Yankees. Headley hit a 2-out ground-rule double and then scored on Gregorius’ single. Yes, Gregorius is responsible for 6 of the Yankees’ runs tonight, the first shortstop in Yankee history to play a game with 4 hits and 6 RBIs in a single game.

Then in the 9th, Chris Young led-off with a solo home run to left field. Then Murphy doubled, moved to 3rd on Gardner’s double, and scored on McCann’s sacrifice fly. I should clarify that the Braves sent in their first position player to pitch in 30 years for the 9th inning to save the rest of their bullpen for the weekend. To remind you, the Yankees have sent in two position players to pitch this year so far (Garrett Jones and Brendan Ryan).

The Yankees’ pitchers gave up 7 hits and 3 walks and struck out 9 Atlanta batters, while the Braves’ pitchers gave up 16 hits and 8 walks and struck out just 6 batters. This is definitely not the Braves of the 1990s.

Not that I’m complaining.

Final score: 15-4

The Revolving Door with a Limp (roster news with an injury report): Mark Teixeira is still unable to play today. That nasty bone bruise still shows swelling and inflammation around it, making it difficult to run. Doctors with the Brave saw it today, confirming that the bruise isn’t ideal but it isn’t any more than just a bone bruise and the painfulness is from the muscles surround it and not the actual injury. The Yankees activated Bryan Mitchell from the 7-day DL after taking a line drive to the face and watching for a concussion. Mitchell pitched tonight’s game, and it was good seeing him back on the mound again. After clearing waivers, Chris Capuano is a Yankee again, though taking the outright option to AAA Scranton. He is joined by his “Boy Wonder” as the Yankees optioned Nick Goody back to AAA Scranton. Dustin Ackley (remember him?) is working his way back into pinstripes with a rehab assignment with AAA Scranton for the time being.

It should be noted that come September 1st, the roster swells to include players from the 40-man roster. Expect to see names Refsnyder, Rumbelow, Goody, Capuano, Lindgren, Pirela, and Heathcott, among others. Though the Yankees do not expect to call-up the big name in their farm system, Aaron Judge, for reasons they’re not disclosing. Maybe he’s not ready? Maybe he’s nursing an injury? Maybe he’s got a big family obligation? Who knows? The focus should be on getting the Yankees through the push and into the postseason. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway.

Go Yankees!