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!

Spring Game 14: NYY vs. ATL — Strong start, just not enough hitting

It was a beautiful, clear evening under the lights at the Disney World sports complex, the Spring home of the Braves (for the last season), a crisp 72° at first pitch just before the sun sank in the horizon. In other words, a great night for some baseball. The result, however, held mixed results.

Sonny Gray got a great start tonight, throwing into the 4th inning, holding the Braves scoreless, only allowing 1 hit, and striking out 3 Atlanta batters. Tommy Kahnle got the final out of the 4th but had some trouble in the 5th. He gave up a lead-off walk that scored on a long double before getting the inning’s first out. Chasen Shreve came on for the final 2 outs of the 5th and the first one in the 6th.

Minor league reliever David Hale came on to finish off the 6th before he got into a situation in the 7th. A lead-off single moved to 2nd on a 2-out single. They both then scored on a big double to right field. The Braves were aided by 2 pretty messy errors out there — a missed catch error and then a throwing error by the young fielder. Jonathan Holder breezed through the 8th inning to keep the Braves from adding to their partially unearned score and give the Yankees a chance.

However, the Yankees’ lone offensive breakthrough came only in the top of the 6th with Gary Sanchez’s lead-off solo home run. The Yankees’ batters racked up a grand total of 3 hits and 5 walks. In other words, they just weren’t hitting well tonight.

Can we blame “The Mouse” or that it’s a late Friday game? Nah. It’s just Spring. It’s when things like this get worked out, and they figure out what needs to be strengthened and who’s not quite ready for “The Show”. It happens.

Final score: 3-1 Braves

The first round of cuts from big league camp happened in the last 24 hours. Yesterday, the Yankees reassigned 5 pitchers and one catcher to minor league camp — Cale Coshow, Raynel Espinal, Trevor Lane, Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate, and (catcher) Chace Numata. Then earlier today, the Yankees announced they were optioning pitchers Albert Abreu and Jonathan Loaisiga to Single-A Tampa and infielder Thairo Estrada to AA Trenton. (Estrada, as you may remember, is still recovering from a gunshot wound incurred during a robbery attempt in his Venezuelan hometown this off-season.)

This is my standard disclaimer for this time of year: this is a good thing for these players. They won’t be making the starting MLB roster, so they are best served fine-tuning their skills with their teammates this season and focusing on their continued work to hopefully lead up to their futures in the Bronx some day soon.

Next up: the Yankees host their regular season crosstown rivals tomorrow afternoon. The Mets return the visit (from Wednesday’s game) as the crowd of New York fans cheer on their New York team. It’s always a special game, and yes, New York always wins. Previously scratched due to a sore neck, Luis Cessa gets his shot Saturday and will start against one of the Mets’ star starters (formerly affectionately dubbed “The Dark Knight”, for long-term fans), looking to have a way better year than a pretty awful personal one last year.

Also, a happy birthday to the Yankees’ new manager, Aaron Boone, who turned 45 today. Hope this year is full of moments like that special game almost 15 year ago…

Go Yankees!

 

Spring Game 13: PHI vs. NYY — Severino’s strong start, but a messy bullpen

It was actually another beautiful day in Tampa, and as we are inundated with friends and family’s pictures from the snow-covered Northeast (including NYC), it’s yet another reminder as to why baseball chose Florida and Arizona to host Spring Training. Compared to Bangor, Maine and Fort Collins, Colorado. So even when it dips into the 50’s (as it was by sunset), it’s still a much better option than shoveling feet of snow and dealing with cars sliding on the ice.

Luis Severino got his Spring start this afternoon against the visiting Phillies and actually had a really strong outing over all. He threw into the 4th inning, only giving up 3 hits, a walk, and an unearned run in addition to his 3 strong strikeouts. In fact, Severino’s only trouble came in the 4th inning. With 1 out, the second batter hit a bouncing ground-rule double. That would be it for Severino, and the Yankees wanted to work out Aroldis Chapman for the rest of the inning. After a nice strikeout, the next batter made it to 1st on a fielding error, and a single scored the Phillies’ first run.

Justus Sheffield got through the 5th fairly unscathed but struggled in the 6th. With 1 out, Sheffield gave up consecutive doubles to add another run, a single put runners on the corners, and a long sacrifice fly score yet another run. Struggling to get that final out, the Yankees turned to middle reliever Wade LeBlanc who also fought to find that final out in the 6th. He gave up a double to put 2 runners in scoring position and then another double scored both runners before a fly out mercifully ended the inning.

In the mean time, the Yankees actually grabbed the lead on the backs of the veterans early in the game. In the 4th, with 2 outs, Sanchez worked a walk and then scored as part of Didi Gregorius’ strong 2-run home run. Drury followed that up with a double and then scored on Eric Kratz’s long single to put the Yankees in the lead. Hicks led-off the 5th with a walk, made it to 2nd on a passed ball, and ended up at 3rd on a throwing error on a poorly hit ball by Aaron Judge. After a pitching change, Bird worked his own walk to load up the bases. And with no outs, Giancarlo Stanton stepped into the batter’s box and hit a long single into right field to score both Hicks and Judge. And Sanchez added to the fun with a nice single to score Bird. This gave the Yankees a rather big lead.

Now, reliever LeBlanc had a much better 7th inning, keeping the Phillies from adding to that score. But his 8th was less than ideal, starting with hitting the lead-off batter. Two outs later, LeBlanc once again had trouble finding that 3rd out, instead giving up a ground-rule double that scored an advancing runner to tie up the game. The Yankees turned to Giovanny Gallegos to find that elusive 3rd out. Again, it was rather elusive. Gallegos gave up a walk and a single that scored the go-ahead run for the Phillies.

Gallegos had a better 9th inning, keeping the score close, but the Yankees’ offense was non-existent by the bottom of the 9th. So the game was decided in that 8th inning.

Final score: 7-6 Phillies

One to Watch: today, there wasn’t a specific standout young player with some big flashy play. Instead, I wanted to recognize infielder Tyler Wade. Wade has been starting games this Spring. Now only 23 with a handful of MLB at-bats, he is in the short running for the job at 2nd base, a position he played today and plays with some level of consistency. Currently batting .318 this Spring overall, Wade got a solid single in the 3rd and played 8 full innings today, only substituted defensively in the 9th. He’s somebody to watch because that 2nd base job may be his to earn this season, and honestly, I think he could really shine there this year.

Next up: the Yankees head over to Wide World of Sports at Disney World (about an hour east of Tampa) to face the Braves tomorrow night. First pitch at 6:05 pm EST. Sonny Gray is set to start that game.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 9: NYY vs. BOS — Setting a good start for the rivalry this year

The Yankees traveled down the coast to “Fenway South” for the first rivalry game of the season. The Yankees won’t host the Red Sox until the end of the Spring, so this was a nice taste of the long-term AL East rivals for the season.

Prospect pitcher Chance Adams started the big game this afternoon and had a pretty great start for his 2 innings. Another prospect pitcher, Justus Sheffield, came on in relief for his 2 innings and got into a spot of trouble in the 4th inning. After 2 outs, Sheffield gave up a double that scored on a long single to get the Red Sox on the board.

Reliever Brady Lail came on for a scoreless 5th inning, but then struggled in the 6th giving up 2 singles to put runners on the corners. After an out, 2 more singles scored both runners. So Lail handed the ball to Trevor Lane to wrap up the inning. In the 7th, Cody Carroll kept Lane’s scoreless momentum going before handing things over to Jonathan Holder‘s final 2 scoreless innings.

Meanwhile, the Yankees took their time and found their offensive openings when they could. In the 3rd, Aaron Hicks smacked a solid 1-out solo home run to get the Yankees on their board. They found footing again in the 6th as Torres doubled and moved to 2nd on a balk before scoring on Austin Romine’s 2-out single.

Down by a run in the 8th, the Yankees found one more opportunity to advance. Espinosa led-off with a walk, and Holder double to move both into scoring position. Minor leaguer Jeff Hendrix smacked a 1-out double to score both runners. After a pitching change and another out, Miguel Andujar hit one more run (Hendrix) in with his single to cap off the scoring.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees

Next up: the Yankees host the Rays before a dual hometown crowd tomorrow afternoon. Chad Green is set to face off with former Yankee Eovaldi.

It is worth noting that the Yankees are currently 8-1 on the standings, top of the league just like they finished last Spring Training. However, I took a brief look back at the 2017 Spring standings, finding where the teams that faced off in the 2017 World Series ended up. The Astros finished 15-15, the Dodgers 18-17 — both clearly middle of the pack in both leagues. But both by October the Astros won 101 games, the Dodgers 104, easily the top of their divisions (the Dodgers at the top of all of MLB). In other words, Spring tells you a grand total of nothing.

But as I’ve said before, while your team is leading in the standings (even the ones that don’t really matter), you take what you can get. And as of today, the Yankees are the best team in all of MLB. So I’ll take it.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 3: NYY vs. PHI — Powering to a 3rd straight win

Well, how’s that for a nice winning streak for the start of the 2018 season? We’re at three straight wins for Opening Weekend in Spring Training. I mean, I’m a firm believer that Spring Training standings tell you absolutely nothing about how October baseball will turn out. But a nice jump-start to the season, heavy already in the win column has to be good for morale — both for the team and its fans.

The Yankees traveled the short distance across Tampa Bay to visit the spring home of the Phillies in Clearwater. Another warm (believe me, too warm for February), sunny day in the area, and the Yankees started strong and stayed strong, despite some hiccups. Jordan Montgomery, the young rookie starter from last season, got his Spring start today and showed why he is meant to be a starter once again for the Yankees — a strong 2 innings to kick off the game and set himself up for the win.

Prospect pitcher Justus Sheffield had a good 3rd inning, but really got roughed up in the 4th. A lead-off walk, hit-by-a-pitch, and a ground out to 2nd left runners lingering in the corners. A sacrifice fly scored one run before a big 2-run home run cleared the bases and ended Sheffield’s day just shy of 2 full innings. Reliever Wade LeBlanc came in and kept the Phillies from doing more damage over his 7 outs. Coshow, Espinal, and Gallegos closed out the final third of the game with a scoreless inning each. Overall, the Yankee pitchers were outstanding with 12 strikeouts and just 4 hits by Phillies’ batters.

Comparatively, the Phillies’ pitchers were certainly having less of a stellar day, giving up 12 total hits to Yankee batters today, starting with Ellsbury’s lead-off single in the 1st. Torres followed that up with a nice double to put them in scoring position. After an out, Hicks popped up a fly ball, but the 3rd baseman lost it in the sun, dropping it and loading up the bases. With 2 outs, Danny Espinosa (an infielder, newly traded from most recently the Rays) smacked a long double into the right field corner. After all three runners scored, Espinosa tried to stretch it to a triple and was easily tagged out at 3rd to end the inning.

In the 4th, Hicks led-off with a double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Ronald Torreyes’ sacrifice fly. The Yankees ended up needing that extra run to stay in the lead in the bottom of that inning. But they came back in the 6th with Higashioaka’s lead-off single. Torreyes then hits a double to move both into scoring position and is pinch-run by Avelino. Then young minor leaguer Jeff Hendrix hits what should be an easy out, but it mishandled by the 1st baseman enough for both Higashioka and Avelino to add 2 more runs to the score.

In the 8th, Higashioka again leads off, this time with a double. After Peterson’s walk and Avelino’s single, the bases are loaded. Hendrix’s single scored one run, and Rashad Crawford’s long sacrifice fly scored one more to cap off the big afternoon.

Final score: 8-3 Yankees

Next up: The Yankees will face the Phillies again tomorrow. But this time, they host in Tampa for that rare evening game during Spring Training.

And in alumni news: The Yankees announced today that Alex Rodriguez will be back with the Yankees, this year to serve as a Special Advisor to GM Brian Cashman. Rodriguez joins other Yankee alums like Reggie Jackson, Hideki Matsui, and Nick Swisher as they help the staff develop the next generation of Yankee greats.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: Like every Spring, there is always a minimal amount of available clips to include, even when they are televised on a major cable network. My apologies!}