Game 159: Yanks Slug Their Way Into Near Playoff Certainty

Two out of three isn’t as nice as a sweep, but I’ll sure as hell take it. That was a very good series from the Yankees, who have now won 5 of the first 6 games in a grueling and critical 9 game stretch. Hard to expect much more than that. It’s all but assured the Yankees of a playoff spot, too. The Yankees are now 91-68 on the season, which puts them 2 games ahead of Seattle and Boston, who are tied for the second spot. The Jays sit a game outside the dance.

What a great, great few days it’s been. One more win for New York and a loss from either Seattle/Boston and they’re in the dance – and, honestly, I didn’t expect this to happen as recently as a few weeks ago. I gotta give the Yanks credit here. They stood up when they needed to.

Anyway, we’ll have much more on that tomorrow. Until then, let’s get to some takeaways, shall we?

Corey Kluber Was Lucky He Didn’t Get Hit Harder. I don’t think that was a very good start from Corey Kluber. Our man was up in the zone quite a bit, and he got away with a few hangers. Check out his pitch plot:

That’s an awful lot of pitches either right down the middle or up in the zone, including sinkers, curveballs, and changeups. That’s a sign he wasn’t all that sharp despite walking just 1 batter. In fact, he gave up 7 hits and it felt like he was walking on a tightrope the entire game. He scattered them throughout the innings, though, and managed to get a key double play in the first.

The only real damage came in the second on a Corey Dickerson double that plated (who else) Bo Bichette – that is, until the wheels came off in the 5th inning. In his 5th and final frame, Kluber gave up a scorching liner off the glove of Gio Urshela at short. (Gio absolutely should have caught this ball, but didn’t. It should have been an error.) A near double play almost got them out of the inning, but a challenge overturned the call.

That brought up Vlad Guerrero Jr., and was what I thought the clear end of the line for Kluber. Again, he hadn’t looked sharp at all, and Vlad absolutely crushes pitchers he sees for the third time to the tune of a .742 slugging. Given the fact that this was a de facto playoff game on the road against one of the best hitters in baseball, I just assumed that Boone would go to the pen in this spot. I assumed wrong – and the Yanks paid the price.

Vlad hit an absolute rocket off the dead center field wall to give the Jays a 2-1 lead. It was a microcosm of the Yankees struggles in 2021. Bad infield defense and questionable at best (and bad, honestly) managing trying to steal outs from a gassed pitcher. It was very frustrating.

The Bullpen is Electric. It’s not the guys we expected, of course, but the Yankee bullpen has been getting the job done lately. (Holmes HR yesterday aside.) I’ll start by giving Michael King some credit, because I do think Boone put him in a tough spot. King came on in relief of Kluber and immediately walked the first guy he faced. That put runners on 1st and 2nd with two outs. It felt very much like the game was in the balance, but King bore down and got out of it.

After that? It was pretty much straight up dominance from the pen. King, Luis Severino, Chad Green, and Aroldis Chapman collectively allowed just 3 hits in 4.1 innings of work. They had 7 strikeouts, walked just 1 (the first batter King faced), and didn’t allow a run. That’s what you need in a game like this.

I had my quibbles – I would have stuck with Severino over Green – but it’s hard to complain. The pen has been good lately, including Green, and not a moment too soon. If the Yanks are going to stick around for a few more weeks, they’ll need a shutdown pen to do it.

A Canadian Cy Young? Fuhgeddaboudit. Boy did the Yankees take it to Robbie Ray tonight. Ray, the presumptive Cy Young prior to this start, was really dominant at first, too. He was mowing through the Yanks, allowing just a gargantuan HR to Aaron Judge in the 1st inning as the only blemish through 5. With the score 2-1 in the 6th, I don’t want to say it felt precarious – it’s too early for that – but the Blue Jays were certainly in control at that point. Things changed fast, though.

First up was Anthony Rizzo, who slammed a game-tying HR to right field that was followed by another gargantuan blast from Judge to dead center. As John Sterling delightfully said into the mic – it was a back-to-back…and a belly-to-belly! A Giancarlo Stanton walk (on quite a good at bat, might I add) followed another HR from Gleyber Torres and all of the sudden it was 5-2 New York. In a span of 4 batters, the Yanks slugged 3 homers and scored 4 runs. The Bronx Bombers, indeed.

A few things to note here. First, that was so damn satisfying. It’s just so fun to watch when the team clicks like this. Second, it was kind of frustrating. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade – better late than never – but it did make me think about how this is what I expected of the team all year. Third, nice to see the Yankees pick up Gerrit Cole. Ray is still the frontrunner for Cy Young, in my opinion, but this little outburst put him back into contention. You love to see it.

Leftovers

  • Brett Gardner joined the fun with a 9th inning home run to pad the lead to 6-2. It’s been really great to watch Gardner on this role, during which he’s been one of the Yanks’ best hitters. Love to see that.
  • That was a true too many homers game. The Yanks had 6 hits, 5 of which left the yard. Let’s keep that up for another month.
  • DJ LeMahieu left the game in the 7th inning with his hip “thing”acting up. Annoying injury at an annoying time, but hopefully the Yanks can get him right soon. He’s an important piece, obviously, even if they’re winning without him.
  • A very annoying bottom of the 8th for Chad Green, despite striking out the side. He was hanging curve after curve despite blowing guys away with the fastball. It was annoying to watch but the end result was fine.
  • Aaron Judge is legitimately incredible and almost certainly underrated. He’s been a borderline MVP candidate for the Yanks this year.
  • Giancarlo Stanton had another nice game, this time including a nice running grab in left field. What a tandem he and Judge make.

The Yankees head back to the Bronx for the final series of the 2021 regular season. They’ll take on the Rays tomorrow night. Nestor Cortes Jr. (2-2, 2.85 ERA) will take on Shane McClanahan (10-6, 3.44 ERA) in that one. Enjoy your night, everyone.

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17 Comments

  1. Wire Fan

    I also thought the Yankees should have left Sevy in for the 8th. I really hate the 7-8-9 one inning at a time “formula”. If a guy cruises thru the 7th with a low pitch count, send them back out and give them the following day off.

    Loasiga, Sevy, Green should be used as late inning, two inning guys interchangeably. It is also less wear and tare on the arms. 1 inning 2 out of 3 days has got to be more taxing than one 2 inning appearance every 3 days.

  2. H. Avis

    One thing is certain, the starting pitching in the AL this year has been pretty sucky.

  3. Tim

    You cannot analyze an outing by a pitcher like Kluber with just dots in a strike zone. His ball moves an enormous amount, he changes speeds expertly, and his movement is not consistent – he runs it, sinks it, and cuts it. All with varying speeds. This is why he gets so much weak contact against (look at all the pop ups tonight from really good Blue Jay hitters). When he faced Guerrero the third time tonight, he was throwing the ball as well as he had all game, commanding his pitches and getting lots of weak contact. He made a terrible pitch to Vlad and it got pounded, but I had no issue leaving him in there. His count was good, and he was throwing it very well.

    Look at this whole series, with the pitching of King, Kluber, Severino, Loaisiga, and Holmes. That group of five gets a RIDICULOUS amount of movement on their pitches. I don’t know how anyone can square anything up against these guys. Add in the fact that Kluber, Sevy, and Lo all have filthy change-ups as well, sheesh…

    • Bobby

      I watched the game, and understand that a pitch plot is not the end-all, be-all. What I was saying is that he left quite a few hangers, which is something I noticed in real time and is reflected in the chart that I posted.

  4. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    I thought it was the best win of the season, Bobby. I thought we’d take 2/3 from Robbie Ray and the Jays and we did. I couldn’t stand Ray’s grunts after every pitch. He was supposedly a Cy Young but looked anything but last night in the biggest game of the year. My vote will be going to Gerrit Cole who has been much more consistent all year.

    Kluber looked great. He had a good game plan to keep the Jays off balance. I wouldn’t mind seeing him pitch the WC game and he should be our #2 starter if we make the ALDS. This is the best bullpen in baseball and the best pen we’ve had since the late 90s. What a luxury to be able to alternate great relievers every other day.

    My MVP vote is going to Aaron Judge after 2 more big home runs last night. One of them was hit so far it landed on top of the CN Tower. Ohtani is eliminated because his team didn’t make the postseason. Vlad Jr could be eliminated this weekend. Stanton also deserves some votes too.

    Anyone else notice that as soon as Gleyber was moved to 2nd that he started hitting again? That’s not a coincidence. The weight of playing SS was just too much for him. And with Jeter going into the HOF you have to think the ghost of Jeter was haunting him. He looks much more relaxed and is hitting with power again. Gio dropped a ball but has played a good SS. DJ’s best position is 3rd. He’s made a lot of great plays and hopefully he’s healthy. Stanton played a good LF and didn’t drop any pop flys. Everybody is right where they should be.

  5. DZB

    What a fantastic win. I thought they would lose to Ray and potentially spiral towards missing the playoffs with TB on the schedule while Boston and Toronto get to play two of the worst teams in baseball. Boston losing to Baltimore made all the difference, and with the games against TB being in the Bronx, you have to figure they will now make the playoffs. Wow.

  6. Jim Beam

    I mean, yeah, this was a bad outing by Ray, but if anyone but AL East people think it changes anything, they’re just a bit nutz.

    I’ve been a Yankees fan through the 80/90’s doldrums, so I understand why people might feel like they need awards, but I also lived through the recent dynasty years.

    Point being, give credit where credit is due. Ray acted like Cole should have all season long and Cole didn’t.

    Ray deserves the Cy. He really does.

    JB

  7. The last guy you want to talk to, it seems

    I’m sorry to criticize, but the “4-seam high, breakers low” doesn’t apply to multiple cy young winners as a trouble-free solution.

    Guys like Scherzer, Kluber, Verlander, Sabathia, etc… etc, don’t really fit into any kind of scouting report.

    I see the best results from FIERCE competitors. Mad max just being himself, Sabathia turning from a power pitcher to a contact pitcher w/ a siiick cutter, to beating alcoholism. Kluber is GOING to come back after TJS, ’cause he’s the Klubot. The Yankees made no mistakes with Strawberry and Gooden, did they?

    • Bobby

      I agree with the top part of this, but it doesn’t really apply last night. Kluber is an east-west pitcher who relies on movement and guile to dominate — it’s part of why I like rooting for him. Last night, he hung a lot of balls and left them right in the middle of the plate and up. That’s not a good recipe for success.

  8. This was a really good win for the Yankees and a well-deserved series victory. I can’t say enough good things about the way Judge has played down the stretch, he’s my MVP regardless of any voting.

    I feel really bad for DJM, the guy is (and has probably been) hurt most of the year yet goes out there and plays hard day after day after day.

    It’s also good to see others recognize that Chad Green needs to lose the breaking ball somewhere in the swamps of Jersey, he’s doing batters a favor every time he throws it.

    • Jim Beam

      Hmmmmm….

      The “best shape of my life” quote in Spring Training has been so cliched that I’ve never even considered looking into those that don’t say that, or say the opposite, etc…

  9. Jorgieporgie

    In the spirit of Michael Kay thanking his booth/remote booth partners Paulie and Coney, I just want to give y’all at this blog a big “thank you!” I read here all the time and it’s clearly a labor of love, thank you so much for offering it to us.

  10. CoB

    “and, honestly, I didn’t expect this to happen as recently as a few weeks ago.”
    Well, the team wasn’t Turtle Powered a few weeks ago.
    BY THE POWER OF BRONXIE!!!

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