The Yankees are good at playing baseball. They now improve to 8-1 after defeating the visiting Phillies 6-3 (box score). This counted as a one-game series, so it’s another series victory for the Yanks. They even scored a run not on a home run tonight! Imagine.
It was a long game thanks to an hour-plus rain delay, but the Yanks were in control the whole time. It was annoying that they had to go to Zack Britton, but it is what it is. He did the job, the Yanks won the game, and they’re off tomorrow. It’s whatever. Let’s get to the takeaways…but first, check out the Yanks video tribute to Didi Gregorius and Joe Girardi. Well deserved.
1. Gerrit Cole is So, So Good – Even When He’s Not: The Yankees new ace, making his home debut tonight, came into the game looking for his first dominant start with his new team. While he will still be searching for that performance next time out, but Gerrit Cole just continues to impress. On a night when he didn’t have his best stuff, Cole again made due, throwing 6 innings of 5-hit, 1 walk ball with 4 strikeouts. He allowed 1 run on a solo blast to Jay Bruce. He is so, so good. The ability to fight through these starts and put up a line like that is what separates the good from the great pitchers.
And let’s be clear: Cole had to fight. 58 of his 91 (64%) went for strikes, but a lot of those strikes were right over the heart of the plate:
Now, Cole is so good that normally this type of distribution really wouldn’t concern me. A power pitcher wants to get people to swing. That’s the whole point. But Cole’s been having some issues getting batters to whiff on his fastball so far in 2020.
Coming into tonight, Cole generated “just” a 22% swing-and-miss rate on his four-seamer this year and that continued this year. He threw 46 four-seamers tonight. Batters swung at 23 of them, but Cole got only 1 (!) whiff on those swings. That’s uncharacteristic for him. So is this:
That is a LOT of hard-hit contact against Gerrit Cole. It’s unusual. And yet Cole held Philly to just 5 hits and 1 run. In fact, the only time he was really in trouble came in the 5th inning, when the Phils had runners on first and second with one out. Cole got a double-play ball – with a nice play by Gio Urshela (more on him in a bit) – to end the trouble, though.
The point here is not to say that we should be worried about Cole. We shouldn’t be. His velocity is there. His spin rates are there. The results are there. I mean, he has thrown 17.2 innings with 16 strikeouts against just 1o hits, 4 walks, and 5 ER against 16 strikeouts in 2020. He has not lost a game. And he hasn’t even been good yet!. The point is, in a few more starts, we’ll start seeing a whole hell of a lot more of this:
God. This guy is so good.
2. Chad Green’s Curveball is For Real: Chad Green came in to clean up Brooks Kriske’s mess (more on that below) and, as expected, he did the damn job. His velocity was a bit down, tapping out at 95 mph. It didn’t matter, thanks to his new curveball that I absolutely love. He used it twice with two strikes and it worked both times. The first came against Andrew McCutchen, who was frozen by the orange pitch at the top here:
On the YES broadcast, Paul O’Neill was saying that he expected Green to throw a high fastball with two strikes. So did McCutchen, who was frozen. It’s another example of how this pitch can be so effective for Green. Guys just are not looking for it. The last one came in the next at bat against Rhys Hoskins, after three straight high fastballs:
It dove out of the zone and Hoskins looked silly. I can’t find any video of it, so you’ll have to just take my word for it. Anyway, the point is that Chad Green’s curveball makes him even more effective – even on a night when he doesn’t have his best fastball.
3. It’s French for “Incredibly Good”: DJ LeMahieu hit .281/.344/.491 with 6 lead-off home runs in 2019, not including a 7th that he hit against Justin Verlander in Game 5 of the ALCS. He is a true table-setter atop a very deep Yankee lineup and he’s displaying that same prowess again in 2020. His first blast of the year came last week against Baltimore to lead off the game, and he added another one tonight in the Yankees’ first at-bat:
There really isn’t much that you can say about DJ LeMahieu aside from the fact that he’s extremely good and the Yankees are lucky to have him. Coming into tonight, LeMahieu was hitting .331/.377/.519 (137 wRC+) as a Yankee, which is just completely ridiculous. That will go up after his 2 for 4 performance tonight, of course.
Lemahieu is now 14-34 (.411) with 2 HR, 7 runs scored, and 5 RBI in the 2020 season. He seemingly plays a huge role in every single game – including last night – and he just keeps getting hit after hit. Remember, The Machine is a free agent after the year. Even though it’s only been a season and a month, it’s already hard to imagine the Yankees without him. This is a marriage that works, and I’d expect (and hope) that it will last far beyond 2020.
4. He’s Still the Most Happy Fella: Before the season, it was fair to wonder if Gio Urshela would be able to do it again. In fact, I asked just that in my season preview a few months ago. The early returns, in fact, seem to suggest that yes, he can – and that he will. His night tonight was another example of his skillset. Let’s start with his obvious defensive talent which was on display in the first inning tonight:
Smooth! He also had a nice play on a key double play in the 4th inning and almost made a spectacular play in the 6th inning on a J.T. Realmuto grounder. He is a slick defender even if his range (looking at you, UZR) isn’t as good as you’d expect it to be. I just refuse to believe that this guy isn’t a plus defender.
Anyway, impressive though it may be, his defense was not the full story for Gio tonight. It was, again, his bat. With a (somewhat) laboring Gerrit Cole on the mound, the Yanks had a 3-1 lead in the 6th inning with two on when Gio came up to the plate and did this:
Incredible. Honestly, I thought for sure that was a F7 off the bat. Reader, it was not. Statcast says it left the bat at 104 mph and traveled 403 feet. Go figure. It was just another huge home run for Gio Urshela, as he does. He is now 9-30 (.300) on the season, with 5 of those 9 hits going for extra bases. He is hitting .314/.359/.539 (135 wRC+) since the start of the 2019 season. That is just ridiculous, but I’m not complaining. The Yankees turning a late-game defensive sub into Adrian Beltre is fine with me, actually.
- Brett Gardner Goes Opposite Field: Brett Gardner hit his first career (over the wall, anyway) HR last August. You can see video of that one here. It was a shade to left-center, though so he still needed a proper oppo blast to fill out his spray chart. He got that tonight in what was his second hit of the season and also his second HR. Check this out:
- Aaron Hicks’ Steadying Presence: You know, the Yankees really missed Aaron Hicks last year. It feels like he is in command of every single at-bat, even when the results aren’t there. For example, Hicks was 1-3 with a walk tonight. He saw 17 pitches in four plate appearances and he barely swings at anything out of the zone. He also added an RBI double. It feels like Hicks is one of the most underrated players wearing pinstripes right now.
- Brooks Kriske Doesn’t Do the Job: Brooks Kriske did not do a great job after the rain delay. He faced four batters, walked two of them, and allowed one hit. There was a close two-swing checked swing to the leadoff batter, but when a guy throws 11 balls to 13 strikes, it’s hard to make a solid case. Kriske’s inability to keep guys off the basepaths meant that the Yanks had to turn to Green.
- Luis Avilán Kinda Does the Job: Avilán was a bit better than Kriske, as he was able to complete his inning. Still, he allowed 2 hits and a run even as he struck out 2 Phils. It wasn’t the worst performance, but I’d have preferred to stay away from acting closer Zack Britton in a game the Yanks led 6-1 in the 7th inning. Oh well. It wasn’t to be.
The Yankees and Phillies were supposed to play tomorrow but that game has been postponed due to the tropical storm. This is just the series that is not meant to be.
Anyway, they’ll play a doubleheader on Wednesday in Philly (the Yankees will be home for the first game) beginning at 4:05 pm EDT. It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but J.A. Happ (0-0, 9.00 ERA) should be taking on Aaron Nola (0-1, 6.75 ERA) in game one. Enjoy your night, everyone.