This was an abominable series for the Yankees. Yes, they dropped to second place, but that really isn’t the main issue. The larger concerns are the injuries, the poor performance of the bullpen, and the declining production of the wounded lineup. The Yankees dropped the final game of this series by the score of 10-5 and they are now 16-9 on the year. They’re a half-game behind the Rays. Here are the takeaways.
1. A Matter Of Control, Not Velocity: There is a ton of attention paid to James Paxton’s velocity drop. Almost everyone is on velocity watch for every one of his starts this year. Yes, Paxton isn’t throwing as hard as in the past. The most important thing is the pitcher’s health. He’s been able to make every start and finish all of them with good health. As the season goes on, Paxton has been able to adjust to temporary life without elite velocity. He is relying more on location and pitch mix to be successful. He was largely successful with that approach today.
Paxton enjoyed four innings of no-hit ball. Early on, the fastball was sitting in the 91-92 MPH range, but he was able to command it well. I mentioned yesterday that Tampa isn’t a great hitting team against the fastball. That was in the context of Gerrit Cole’s elite velocity. The location of the fastball can also stymy a team that doesn’t hit well against the pitch. Paxton was able to move the four-seamer around in all four quadrants of the zone. Here is his pitch location chart in the first inning:
Paxton threw the fastball just off the plate enough to entice hitters to swing at his pitch. He clearly felt good about his feel for the pitch because he threw it 54% of the time. While the velocity isn’t there, it is a good sign that Paxton isn’t shying away from using it. He didn’t have a ton of swinging strikes on it, but he did get quite a few called strikes on it. This is a further indication of a good command of the pitch.
James also did a great job of mixing up his arsenal. One of the reasons for his turnaround last year was mixing in more of his breaking stuff with the fastball. He did that today and it worked really well. James split up his changeup, knuckle curveball, and cutter pretty equally during his start. He used his changeup the most out of his secondary pitches. Almost a third of those pitches earned a swinging strike. It was very good throughout most of the start as was the rest of his secondary stuff.
Paxton’s command was really good until the fifth inning. This is when he ran into trouble. Holding onto a two-run lead, Paxton struck out Hunter Renfroe. James walked Willy Adames and Manuel Margot. This clearly wasn’t a great result especially considering the caliber of those two players. Joey Wendle came up to bat and laced a two-run double down the left-field line. Paxton’s control went from sublime to suboptimal in an instant. Here is his pitch location chart from the fifth inning:
This is vastly different from the command of the first inning. There had to be a reason why he lost his feel in the middle of a great start.
Well, there is indeed a reason for the sudden change in performance. The curse of 2020 rears its ugly head again. Here is the discouraging news from mlb.com’s Bryan Hoch:
Yikes. This is not good. Of course, I mentioned earlier you could live with the drop in velocity if Paxton remains healthy, but that is no longer the case. This is extremely concerning. The difference in performance was stark. The last thing the Yankees need is a significant injury to one of their starters. It appears we’ve hit that point in the year. Maybe Paxton wasn’t totally forthcoming when it came to his health. I am a firm believer in trusting players when it comes to health. If Paxton says he was healthy, then I believe it. In any case, the Yankees have a major issue on their hands. This wasn’t the only injury concern on the day.
2. The Injuries Continue To Pile Up: Derek wrote a great piece today breaking down Gleyber’s missing power stroke. We all hoped today would be the day when he was able to breakthrough. Instead, the Yankees starting shortstop left the game early with left hamstring tightness. Here is a video of the play:
Gleyber hit a ball down to third base, and as you can see, he stumbled running down the line. The Yankees immediately removed him from the game. Thairo Estrada replaced him. Here is an update from Bryan Hoch:
For his part, Gleyber just believes the hamstring is tight and nothing more. We will have to hold our breath with the MRI results.
If Gleyber is out for an extended period of time, the Yankees have a pretty tall task in front of them. Middle infield depth was a clear weakness of this roster. The Yankees chose not to pursue veteran middle infield depth in the winter. They took a real risk not shoring up that spot on the roster and it is biting them now. There are Yankees fans who believe in both Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada. It is hard to feel confident when that duo is now your starting double-play tandem. The defense should be solid, but the offense is a huge question mark. We’ve seen Wade’s limitations and the jury is still out on Thairo. This is a great chance for these two players. There is a potential opportunity to help the team in a big way. It is officially next man up season.
3. A Matter Of Perspective: It is important to address the larger context of this series. Yes, it sucked. The Rays outplayed the Yankees. They earned the victories. The injuries are piling up. There is a need for context to some of this stuff though. The majority of these matchups with the Rays have been very close. There is a bad defensive play here. There is an annoying bloop base hit there. The Yankees had multiple chances to break the Rays’ bullpen and didn’t come through. The team is missing some of their heavy hitters. That is how the games go.
The point is this series isn’t a referendum on the Yankees or their overall season. Keep in mind, the Yankees went 1 for 20 with RISP this series. That isn’t going to happen often. Some credit goes to the Rays, but not all of it. The bigger concern is weathering the obscene amount of injuries the team is experiencing. The Yankees have a great team. The Rays games have just broken Tampa’s way. If the Yankees can regain their health, they are one of the best, if not the best, teams in the league. So while the last few days were incredibly frustrating, the team will be ok. They are most likely making the playoffs. That is what matters.
Leftovers: Here is the big news:
First, we hope the player and staff member from the Mets has a full recovery. The well-being of everyone takes full priority. We also hope the Mets are able to contain the spread amongst their team.
MLB has already postponed the first game of the Subway Series tomorrow night. As of now, the rest of the series is still on. That obviously may change with more information. This is the reality of baseball in 2020. The Mets are playing a series in a hotbed. The virus is now a part of their immediate future. The Yankees will have to be ready to resume their schedule when it’s safe.
We will have more information when available. In the meantime, I think it is ok to take a deep breath. The Yankees will be fine. Have a great evening everyone.