Do you ever just stop and think to yourself “how the hell were the Seattle Mariners 13-2??”, because I do. Seriously: how the hell did that happen? How did they have a 13-2 stretch at all in 2019, let alone to start the season? Baseball is so weird. It really is.
I bring this up because the Mariners are terrible and the Yankees handily brushed them aside tonight, winning 7-0. It was never close. Tanaka passed the ball to Cessa and neither allowed a run. A great performance. Here is the box score as the Yankees extend their AL East lead (Tampa was demolished by Houston tonight). They are once again 40 games over .500.
Let’s get right to the takeaways.
1. Masterful Masahiro Returns Again: The Mariners are absolutely terrible (seriously, how the hell were they 13-2?) but gosh, isn’t it just great watching Tanaka when he’s on like this? Tanaka was in complete command all night and didn’t surrender his first hit until the 5th inning. Here was the strike zone plot:
Good stuff. He kept the ball down and away to righties, and down in the zone overall. That makes sense, too, given his pitch usage. Check it out, as classified by Pitch F/X:
- Fastball: 30
- Changeup: 1
- Slider: 42
- Cutter: 2
- Splitter: 31
That’s some good stuff right there. We all know about Tanaka’s struggles to find his grip on the splitter this year, so it’s nice to see him really working it in again on a night when he had success. Here was his final line: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K with 67 of his 106 pitches (63%) going for strikes.
That’s the 3rd great start in the last 4 tries for Masahiro Tanaka, whose Manichean “unhittable or awful” 2019 season continues unabated. Let’s hope we get the unhittable version down the stretch and into the fall. That sure would be nice.
2. Yusei Kikuchi, The Mariners’ J.A. Happ: The Mariners’ starting pitcher tonight was Yusei Kikuchi, who signed with Seattle this past offseason. Kikuchi was linked to the Yankees but the rumors never really went anywhere. Good thing, too, because Kikuchi has basically been J.A. Happ in 2019. Check it out:
- Happ: 5.57 ERA (5.65 FIP), 134.0 IP, 7.52 K/0 (19.6%), 2.69 BB/9 (7.0%), 2.15 HR/9
- Kikuchi: 5.19 ERA (5.71 FIP), 135.1 IP, 6.85 K/9 (17.4%), 2.86 BB/9 (7.3%), 2.06 HR/9 (19.6 HR/FB%)
Eerily similar, right? Those are two rough seasons by the numbers. But the Yankees didn’t miss the opportunity to punish Kikuchi when he made his mistakes, which he did quite a bit. Here’s his strike zone plot:
Lots of balls right over the heart of the plate, and the Yankees capitalized. They put 16 balls in play and those balls left the bat at an average of 90.5 mph, but that figure doesn’t really tell the whole story. Remove an exceptionally slow Urshela groundout (37 mph, a clear outlier) and the average exit velocity jumps all the way up to 94.4 mph. That is some serious damage.
Aaron Judge (more on him in a moment) got it all started in the top of the first. Look at this majestic blast:
That made it 2-o Yankees. That remained the score until the 3rd inning. After Gleyber Torres hit a single, Gary Sánchez came to bat and reminded everyone what a special offensive talent he is. Here is the strike zone plot from the at-bat:
See pitch number 9 there? He basically golfed it down there from one knee, similar to his 100th home run the other night, ripping it 374 feet to the wall at 102.1 miles per hour. It’s worth noting that the ball reached the wall and Sánchez only recorded a single–it did seem like he could have stretched it into a double, and David Cone mentioned so on the broadcast–but I’m not too worked up about it. Gary is always banged up and if he’s not going to go 100% on that ball there, whatever. The at-bat was a clear demonstration of his skillset, and that’s more important.
Besides, Brett Gardner (more on him in a moment too) made it an irrelevant point in the very next at-bat. Here is the video of his wall-scraping 3-run homer, which was his 18th of the year:
Just like that and it’s 5-0 Yanks in the 3rd inning. Just like the doctor ordered.
Kikuchi would start and complete the 4th inning without surrendering a run, meaning his final line was 4.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 1 K, 2 HR. A Happ-ian line if I’ve ever seen one.
3. Aaron Judge is Just Special: I want to just take a moment to appreciate just how damn good Aaron Judge is. Derek has you covered about Judge breaking out of his slump, but that 460+ foot homer highlighted above was the 100th of his career. That calls for a little celebration, doesn’t it? Especially considering that Judge reached that milestone 3rd quickest in MLB history, behind Ryan Howard and our very own Sánchez.
So let’s play a little game, shall we? It’s called “Appreciate Aaron Judge”. It starts by noting that 218 players are qualified hitters since the start of 2017 (Judge’s rookie season). Here are some key stats of Judge’s over that time period, with his rank in parentheses as usual:
- On-Base Percentage: .402 (4th)
- Slugging Percentage: .562 (5th)
- wOBA: .403 (3rd)
- Home Runs: 95 (15th)
- wRC+: 155 (3rd)
- fWAR: 16.2 (8th, despite having played at least 30 games fewer than everyone ahead of him and most by 90+)
What a ridiculously talented player he is. He’s at the top of nearly every relevant offensive category, and he plays great defense and is super patient at the plate, too. He’s a stud.
I know that he struggled for a while over the past few weeks, but Aaron Judge has legitimately one of the best players in baseball since the start of 2017. Sometimes it’s worth pressing pause, taking a step back, and just appreciating how incredible he is.
4. Brett Gardner Today, Tomorrow, and Forever: I’m in a positive mood tonight, so let’s just keep talking about how cool and great the Yankees are, okay? Okay. Next up is Brett Gardner. I’ve said this 500 times already but remember when fans whined that the Yankees signed Brett to a 1-year, $7.5 million contract before this year? It was absurd then but it looks even more absurd now.
With his 1-4 night (with 2 R, 1 BB, and 3 RBI) tonight, Gardner improves his season line to .254/.332/.485 (112 wRC+) with 18 home runs. 18 home runs! In August! For Brett Gardner! That right there is how you know the balls are juiced, folks. In any case, Gardner has been such a stud for the Yankees this year.
He’s still the same old Brett Gardner, too. He’s playing great defense, he’s taking pitches, he’s slapping the ball across the yard, and he’s maintained his trademark speed. And he’s done it all while playing every night thanks to the onslaught of injuries. I hope Brett is around for more than the next month (plus the postseason) because the guy is just so reliable. It’s fun to see him have another season like this. It really is.
- DJLM, Of Course: You think I can go two consecutive takeaways without mentioning DJ LeMahieu? Think again, friend. Our man went 2-4 tonight with a walk and a run scored. That raises his season line to .333/.380/.531 (139 wRC+) on the season overall. Just another day at the office.
- Mike Tauchman’s Arm: Omar Narvaez led off the 7th inning with a double off Tanaka on a laser shot down the line in left. Mike Tauchman fielded the ball quickly and fired a missile back into the infield and almost got Narvaez at 2nd. There’s no video that I can find but that was a heck of a play from Tauchman even making it close. It’s yet another example of the skills that suggest he can be a reliable complementary piece beyond 2019 at the very least.
- The Summer of Romine™ Continues: Austin Romine’s red-hot summer continues, as the backup went 1-4 with a bases-loaded walk (!) in the 9th inning on top of an earlier RBI groundout. Here’s the video of that:
The Yankees and Mariners will play the final game of this 3-game set tomorrow afternoon, with the Yankees looking to complete the sweep. They’ll also be looking to finish the West Coast road trip with a 5-4 record after dropping the first 3 games in Oakland. That would be cool, in my opinion.
James Paxton (10-6, 4.43 ERA) will take on former Yankee farmhand Justus Sheffield (0-0, 6.43 ERA) in a battle of pitchers traded for one another. That game will take place at 4:10 PM. You can catch it on YES and WFAN, as always. Enjoy what’s left of your night, everyone.