Game 99: Phew

The Yankees beat Tampa Bay 4-3 tonight, but it was a lot closer than it needed to be. Like so many other games this year, the offense failed to capitalize on opportunity after opportunity. There were so many chances to bury the Rays tonight, but to no avail. Fortunately, a strong start by Jordan Montgomery and a good enough performance from the bullpen allowed the Yankees to hang on.

As ugly as this win was, it was also a relief. It’ll keep them at least within 3.5 games of out of a Wild Card spot, pending tonight’s Oakland game. That’s well within striking distance, as you know. Hey, maybe a trade addition or three would help, but what do I know. Might have helped make tonight’s game easier, at the very least. With that, let’s break down tonight’s game.

The bullpen hung on, but the offense needs to give it a bigger margin of error. Pick any Yankees reliever and you can point to a recent, or at least fairly recent, back-breaking meltdown that contributed to a loss. And in any one of those blown games, you can probably find a pitiful offensive performance, especially with runners on base.

Tonight, the Yankees’ offense did all it could to keep the Rays in the game. You never, ever, want to see the LOB column of the box score look like this:

And yet, it did. Of course, the actual team LOB was 11 (counts only those who were left aboard to end an inning), but that 25 mark is absolutely jarring. Not to mention the three double plays they hit in to. There were ample opportunities for the Bombers to blow this one wide open, but didn’t. And as such, they needed the bullpen to walk the tight rope.

Fortunately, Jordan Montgomery’s good start (more on that in a second) and just enough offense allowed the Yankees to survive a couple of relievers struggling: Chad Green and Zack Britton. Green gave up a two-run homer to Brandon Lowe and Britton had a shaky one-run eighth before he escaped with an inning ending double play.

This one could have — should have — been a laugher, though. The first and ninth innings stand out the most.

In the first, DJ LeMahieu doubled and Aaron Judge (in his first game back) singled to start the game, but the Yankees didn’t score. Gleyber Torres hit into an inning ending double play.

In the ninth, Judge and Gary Sánchez reached base to lead off, but Giancarlo Stanton and Torres struck out, and Rougned Odor flew out.

I’m really at a loss with this offense. Hitters 1 through 7 tonight look really good on paper, but time and time again, the at-bats were awful in big spots. Torres, who did have a couple of solid hits later at least, was way out in front of a 1-0 changeup for the GIDP in the first. Stanton’s ninth inning strikeout was ugly. So it goes this year.

The Yankees need to start winning some blow outs. Easier said than done, of course. Some outside help via trade might help, you know. But a blowout could do wonders for the lineup’s psyche. Not only that, but it would also give the bullpen a much needed breather.

Jordan Montgomery continues to be impressively consistent. With tonight’s five scoreless innings, Montgomery has now allowed three or fewer runs in six straight starts (3.44 ERA in 34 innings). The last time he gave up more than three runs was June 15th against Toronto, and that’s the only time he’s done so in his last 12 starts.

Tampa Bay made things tough on Montgomery tonight and it didn’t look like the Yankees’ starter would pitch as long as he did. He had 51 pitches through two innings. The Rays fouled off 27 of Monty’s 102 pitches, which remarkably high. 15 of those foul balls came in two strike counts. And yet, Montgomery didn’t back down and found a way to get through five frames.

I will say that I thought Aaron Boone pushed Montgomery a tad too far even though it worked out. I didn’t feel good about Montgomery facing Nelson Cruz — the go-ahead run at that moment — with two out and Wander Franco on first base in the fifth. Of course, Montgomery struck him out to end his night. No harm, no foul. And kudos to Monty (and Sánchez, who I’ll touch on in a moment) for throwing some great curveballs to finish off his night.

Montgomery may not be someone you want starting Game 2 of a postseason series, but he’s developed into an excellent middle-to-back of the rotation starter. The tall lefty is someone the Yankees can count on to give a solid start every fifth day, and over the course of a 162 game season, that’s incredibly valuable.

Let’s give some credit Gary Sánchez’s defense. It’s important to give Gary some props in addition to Montgomery. Randy pointed this out in our Slack, and then tweeted:

Let’s talk about it! Check out the locations of Montgomery’s curveballs tonight

A bunch in the dirt there, but Sánchez handled them with aplomb. It’s a lot easier for a pitcher to bury breaking balls like that when they’re confident in their battery mate. And if it wasn’t clear already, Montgomery fully trusts Sánchez to keep those pitches in front of him.

Yes, Gary has had his issues with passed balls over the years, but not this season. While he may not be a Gold Glover or even an average defensive catcher in some regards, he’s worked very hard and has improved. He has 6 passed balls in 572 innings this year, or one every 95 innings. That’s far better than the one every 64 innings last season, and a little shy of his best in 2019 (one every 106 innings). He had been far worse in the past, by the way, averaging one every 46 innings from 2016-2018.

Pitch blocking sometimes gets labeled as overrated analytically-speaking, with framing getting far more attention. There’s something to be said about pitchers having confidence to aim low and bounce pitches in big spots, though. I haven’t felt concerned about that with Gary this season.

Leftovers

  • The Yankees made a bunch of roster moves ahead of today’s game. Joining the major league roster: Aaron Judge and Kyle Higashioka returned from the COVID-19 injured list and newly acquired Clay Holmes was activated. To make room, Rob Brantly was returned to Triple-A. Estevan Florial and Albert Abreu were optioned.
  • Among the moves included the transfer of Michael King to the 60-day injured list. That came out of nowhere. I guess his finger injury is worse than initially thought.
  • Aaron Judge went 1-for-4 in his return with a strikeout. His first inning single traveled 115 MPH off the bat, so I guess there wasn’t too much rust to shake off.
  • Ryan LaMarre’s eighth inning solo shot was the difference-maker. He took Jeffrey Springs deep to the opposite field. DJ LeMahieu (RBI single) and Gio Urshela (two-run double) drove in the other three runs.

Both sides are back at it again tomorrow night at 7:10pm. See you then.

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3 Comments

  1. Terry from LA

    Big deal. It’s the same team we’ve seen all year, they just lucked out tonight. Green needs to be sent down again. Britton looks finished or maybe still hurt and trying to tough it out. Offense is terrible like you said. Big deal.

    • madrugador

      So true. It is the same team we’ve seen all year. Ryan Lamarre?! If that’s their only home run power they will be lucky to finish third in the division. The Stanton trade is going to smell worse and worse for years to come. Whats going on with Torres? Did he come off the juice? He’s not a great defender and he adds little to the offense. Greg Allen is a nice supplemental piece. Like to see him as the fourth outfielder next season instead of Gardy. There’s not a lot to like on the offensive side of the game for this team and I can’t see any easy fixes.

  2. Mungo

    Good game in the House of Horrors. Was kind of surprised to see Ryan LaMarre survived after all the activations, but glad that he did.

    Chapman has looked stronger each of his last four outings. Even though he walked Franco, he seemed in control all the way.

    As for Gary, yes, he’s been solid. His wRC+ is up at about 120, and his blocking and overall game behind the plate has been good. They might even have a chance to win more consistently if they can just figure out the offensive blackholes in LF, CF and 1B. Having three or four positions producing zero offense also means starting pitchers can plan to pitch around Judge and Stanton.

    Now, if they could commit to trading for Scherzer (and convince him to come to NY), I’d feel very comfortable with a starting rotation of Cole, Scherzer, Severino (August), Kluber (September), and a revitalized Taillon going into a long series. Put Monty and German in the pen, and that’s a pitching staff no team would want to face. Not going to happen though. At least the Scherzer part.

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