There are bad losses, and there are bad losses. This one was the latter. The Yankees fell to the Royals 6-5 in the series opener.
Gerrit Cole did his thing with lower spin rates again, but his offense was of little help. He handed a one-run lead to the Jonathan Loaisiga, who coughed it up with significant help from Tyler Wade. DJ LeMahieu’s two-run blast in the eighth cut Kansas City’s lead to one, and the Yankees threatened in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. Not only was Cole’s start spoiled, but so was Luke Voit’s return to the lineup. To tonight’s takeaways:
If you’re gonna enter as a defensive replacement, you better make the plays hit to you. Technically, Wade entered this one as a pinch runner for Luke Voit. But he stayed in on defense at second base while DJ LeMahieu took over at first for Voit. Anyway, Wade made two mistakes in the field that compounded Jonathan Loaisiga’s rough night.
It’s one thing for a reliever to struggle — and clearly, Loaisiga didn’t have it tonight — but it’s another thing for the defense to make matters worse. The righty gave up four runs and retired just two of the seven batters he faced, but he very easily could have escaped the eighth inning with just one run allowed and a tie game. Instead, two Wade miscues led to the Yankees trailing 6-3.
The first came with runners on second and third and one out with Ryan O’Hearn at the plate:
That’s not an easy play, but it’s one you have to make in that situation especially if your calling is speed and defense. The Yankees were going to lose the lead given the location of the grounder regardless, but at least get the second out and have a better chance to escape the inning still tied. And sure, maybe LeMahieu could have scooped that, but at the same time: make a better throw.
Unfortunately, it got worse. Wade had another chance to preserve the tie with the next batter, Jarred Dyson.
Carlos Santana should have been out at home plate. Wade needs to make a quicker exchange there. Whether he got a poor grip or not, I don’t care. Get the ball out quicker and keep the score level.
From there, the floodgates opened. Two more hits against Loaisiga knocked him out and made it 6-3. No, Loaisiga didn’t look good, but it’s also a lot to ask of a pitcher to get five outs in an inning.
Welcome back Luke Voit. It feels good to have a competent first baseman back in the starting lineup, doesn’t it? Entering today, Yankees’ first basemen owned a putrid 55 wRC+, second-lowest in the majors. The return of Voit means the return of the guy with the third-highest wRC+ of major league first basemen since 2018 (min. 500 PA). Only Max Muncy (142) and Freddie Freeman (141) have him beat, and barely (139).
Naturally, Voit did what he does best right away. Literally. Here’s what happened against the first pitch he saw:
Voit also tripled (!) on what nearly was a homer, but upon replay it was clear a fan reached over a touched the ball. He also walked.
Obvious statement forthcoming: Voit’s return is a huge jolt to this lineup. The offense seems to be snapping out of it a bit, with guys like DJ LeMahieu and Gary Sánchez hitting, but adding Voit is an immediate boost. Not only does it take Rougned Odor out of the lineup, but it’s also a nice shot in the arm while guys like Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres slump.
Reviewing Gerrit Cole’s second start without the sticky stuff. The team’s ace delivered seven innings of two-run ball tonight, and while he wasn’t necessarily overpowering (just six strikeouts), he got the job done. Everyone’s keeping a close eye on how Cole fares without foreign substances, and so far, so good. Speaking of keeping a close eye: today was the first time Cole had to go through umpires checking him between innings. There were no issues.
Cole’s last start included two notable adjustments: his fastball location (arm side and down in the zone) and an emphasis on his changeup. Tonight, we saw a bit of a different version of Cole. He all but abandoned his changeup, throwing just nine total. He avoided it for a little bit after Ryan O’Hearn took him deep against the pitch in the fourth, though he didn’t eschew it completely. Perhaps more interestingly, Cole relied heavily on his fastball on slider, combining to throw them 74 percent of the time tonight.
Let’s talk about Cole’s fastball. It still looks great to the eye, hitting 100 MPH on occasion and late into the game. However, the significant spin decrease has made it tougher for him to blow it past opponents. He picked up 4 whiffs on 17 swings (17%) against it tonight after 2 on 23 (9%) in his last outing. This is way down from a roughly 27 percent whiff rate on his fastball since last season.
I suspect that part of Cole’s lack of whiffs against his heater are due to location. As noted previously, he threw a bunch of them down in the zone against Toronto. He wasn’t down as much today, but he was quite a bit more middle-middle. Cole’s at his best up in the zone with his fastball, though he may be hesitant to go upstairs with it now that he’s lost some spin.
On the flip side, Cole’s slider still seems pretty darn good in spite of reduced spin. Tonight, Cole picked up 8 swings-and-misses on 19 swings (42%) and of the five batted balls against the pitch, none had an exit velocity north of 75 MPH. This is on the heels of tabbed 8 whiffs on 13 hacks against his slider last week. So for whatever reason, that pitch seems A-OK.
In all, a very good start. It’d be nice to see him rack up double-digit strikeout games again, though. Still, it’s been just two starts and it’s not like this is the first time Cole hasn’t picked up massive strikeout totals in back-to-back starts this year. He fanned just 12 batters in 13 innings in consecutive starts vs. the White Sox and Tigers in May before the foreign substance ban, you know. So I wouldn’t raise any alarms just yet, even if his fastball in particular has looked less dominant.
- Too little, too late: the Yankees offense tried to rally back from Wade’s fielding gaffes, but came up short. DJ LeMahieu’s two-run homer in the eighth made it 6-5. In the ninth, the Yankees put the tying and winning runs on base but to no avail.
- The Yankees were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13 runners. Gross.
- Gio Urshela got hit by pitch and noticeably limped through the end of this one, before he was pinch ran for in the ninth. Hopefully it’s no more than a bruise, but we already know that he’s been banged up this season.
- I guess Kyle Higashioka wants to keep catching Cole, huh? He slugged a homer in his first at-bat tonight, his first since May 8th.
Hopefully the Yankees can rebound tomorrow. It’ll be Michael King against Danny Duffy, who returns from the injured list. Have a good night.