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ALDS Game 4: Yankees Live to See Another [Gleyber] Day

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The Yankees aren’t done yet. They beat the Rays 5-1 to force a deciding Game 5 tomorrow night in San Diego. The Bombers finally got a well pitched game from someone other than Gerrit Cole and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Let’s get to the takeaways:

Gleyber Day arrives just when the Yankees needed it. The shortstop’s 2-run homer in the sixth inning gave the Yankees some breathing room, putting the Bombers up 4-1. Up until that point, I had a lingering concern that an earlier wasted opportunity — scoring just one run after loading the bases with no one out in the second inning — would later haunt the Yankees. Thankfully it didn’t, and Gleyber’s bomb eased those concerns:

What a shot. How many dingers would the Yankees send over the Western Metal Supply Co. building if this was actually the team’s home ballpark?

Keep in mind that Gleyber fouled a ball off his shin in his previous at bat against Yarbrough. It took a while for him to get back in the box after it, too. I guess it’s safe to say he’s OK now!

By the way, Torres reached base two other times this one. Once via single, once via walk. He stole a base in the ninth and scored a run too. He had a really nice series against Cleveland last week, but had been relatively quiet until tonight against the Rays. Nice to see a big game from him tonight. Would be even better to see him carry it into tomorrow.

Game 36: Murphy’s law

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Are you having fun this season? Well, I’m not. The Yankees fell to 20-16 with an excruciating extra innings loss to the Mets, 9-7. The offense finally woke up, but of course, a late inning bullpen meltdown and horrid baserunning wasted that performance. Let’s break it down.

What can go wrong will go wrong. That’s the 2020 Yankees in a nutshell, folks. Injuries, horrendous slumps, you name it. Tonight’s poison? A bullpen meltdown and an inexcusable baserunning gaffe.

It all started in the eighth inning with the Yankees up 7-4. Zack Britton entered to hold things down. The Mets hadn’t score since the fourth inning and things seemed to be under control. The baseball gods had other plans, though. Britton gave up two runs before finishing the inning, though he wasn’t atrocious, per se. All three hits he surrendered were well placed grounders. A walk didn’t help either, but yeah. Even when Britton is getting grounders like we want him to, things occasionally go bad.

Then came the ninth. Aroldis Chapman came in for his second save attempt of the season (he blew his first to none other than the Mets). The inning got off to an inauspicious start: Jeff McNeil walked and speedster Billy Hamilton pinch ran. Hamilton wound up on second quickly because Chapman balked. Then, the Yankees got an absolute gift:

It proved to be a teaase, though. J.D. Davis did this:

Sigh. Chapman’s now 0-for-2 in save chances this season. This was simply an awful pitch to Davis. Doesn’t matter how hard he throws if it’s down the middle and thigh high. Especially with an 0-2 count!

Chapman preserved the tie to send this one to extras. That meant the extra inning rule was in effect with the previous inning’s last out starting on second base. In this case? It was Tyler Wade for the top of the tenth, whose speed we’ve been told is incredibly valuable. Not unless bad baserunning gets in the way.

Wade decided to one-up Hamilton’s mistake earlier. Just completely inexcusable. The Yankees would not score. This one came to an end in the bottom half of the frame. Albert Abreu, meet Pete Alonso:

At least the offense came alive. The Yankees plated four runs in the second inning of this one. They’ve scored that many runs in an entire game just six times in their last 13 games. By the time this one was over, the Bombers pushed 7 runs across. They went 6-for-12 with runners in scoring position. That feels unheard of!

It all began with a Gio Urshela, who dunked a single into right field with one out. Brett Gardner followed with a walk and Kyle Higashioka ripped a single between third and short. That brought up Tyler Wade, who came into today’s game feeling “unbelievable” at the plate. Yes, “unbelievable” in spite of a .163/.260/.279 batting line. So naturally, Wade hit a soft line drive into center field for an RBI single.

That made it 1-0 Yankees. It was a little surprising that Gardy didn’t score from second, but it proved to be no big deal as DJ LeMahieu hit a sacrifice fly thereafter to make it 2-0. Up next? Luke Voit, who did as he has often does this season:

What a season for Voit. Entering today, his 172 wRC+ was second in the American League only to Nelson Cruz.

The Yankees’ offense cooled down and didn’t score in innings three through six. Old pal Chasen Shreve and Jeurys Familia blanked the Yanks’ offense for 4 1/3 innings and allowed just one baserunner in doing so. It felt like the bad times were coming back all over again, and that maybe it wasn’t the Yankees offense, but rather Robert Gsellman, who deserved blame for the run scoring earlier. Plus, Happ couldn’t hold the lead which was further demoralizing (more on that shortly).

Fortunately, those doubts were premature. The bats perked up to score two in the seventh against Miguel Castro and another in the eighth vs. Justin Wilson. But as you know, it wasn’t enough.

Meet the new Happ. Same as the old Happ. We should have known this was coming. Make no bones about it, Happ was terrific in his previous start (7 1/3 shutout innings against the Mets) and good in the one prior vs. Boston (1 run over 5 2/3). But there was just no way he could maintain that run. It’s a story we’ve heard since last year: his fastball is no longer effective as it used to be and he doesn’t have good secondaries. He’s been trying to reinvent himself since last year, namely with a sinker that worked very well last time out, but it’s just not consistent.

The southpaw allowed a lot of loud contact in the early going, but ironically, the one run he allowed in the first three innings of this one was a wall scraping homer by Todd Frazier in the second frame. It had a .120 expected batting average and came 94.4 MPH off the bat. Of the more than 1,400 homers hit across the league this season, only 31 dingers this year had a lower xBA. Here it is:

After a clean third, Happ unraveled in the fourth. Perhaps most frustrating? It all came apart with two outs. To get that second out, he had to strike out Alonso while Frazier stood at third base. Up came Jake Marisnick, who, to put it kindly, isn’t a very good hitter. So of course, Happ leaves a hanging slider in any hitter’s wheelhouse:

Kyle Higashioka wanted it down out of the zone, but Happ couldn’t get it there. That’s a huge let down. You’ve just struck out the Mets’ best hitter (even if he’s struggling this year) and have a chance to strand a runner in scoring position with a comfortably below average hitter at the plate.

After Marisnick, Happ gave up three consecutive singles which brought in two more runs and tie the game at four. He escaped further trouble, but it seemed like Happ’s day was done with the heart of the order due up in the fifth. Naturally, Happ retired Michael Conforto, Dom Smith, and Frazier in order. I guess Aaron Boone really wanted to steal an inning with a doubleheader coming tomorrow. Lucky gamble, I guess.

Happ’s final line: 5 innings, 8 hits, 4 runs, 1 walk, and 4 strikeouts. Simply put, the Mets tattooed him:

I don’t know how the Yankees can keep sending him out there, but I’m not confident a change will be made either. I’d like to see Clarke Schmidt a shot, but the Yankees might just fall back on Happ’s previous two good starts and run him out there again Tuesday against Toronto. I mean, they went back to Happ after they skipped him due to ineffectiveness earlier this year. What makes this time different?

Leftovers

  • Looking for a positive? Urshela is starting to heat up. He’s now got a hit in four straight games and has tallied two hits in each of the last three. He was in a rut for a while there.
  • The number change did Mike Ford no good: he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, a walk, and five men left on base. As Bobby mentioned last night, I’d rather watch Miguel Andújar struggle than Ford at this point.
  • The Yankees will now embark for Baltimore for four games in three days. It all starts with a doubleheader tomorrow a little after 5 p.m. See you all then.

MLB suspends Aroldis Chapman, Aaron Boone, and Kevin Cash

MLB handed down suspensions to Aroldis Chapman (3 games), Aaron Boone (1 game), and Kevin Cash (1 game) following last night’s postgame benches clearing shouting match. Boone and Cash will serve tonight. Chapman is appealing.

The league’s announcement states that Chapman intentionally threw at Mike Brosseau in the 9th inning last night. Boone was suspended for Chapman’s actions. Cash received his penalty for postgame comments in which he bashed the Yankees’ coaching and noted that he had “a stable of pitchers who throw 98”.

We can argue about whether or not Chapman’s pitch was purposeful or not, but I don’t understand how Boone gets the same suspension as Cash. Boone was rational in his postgame press conference, whereas Cash was a loose cannon who effectively threatened the Yankees.

Now, as for tonight, will there be any further action?

Boone also thinks it can and should be behind us. We’ll see. Still have to play nine innings tonight.

Yankees Activate Aroldis Chapman, DFA David Hale

The Yankees’ bullpen just got a whole lot deeper. Aroldis Chapman is back with the team after recovering from COVID-19. Aaron Boone told reporters that Chapman will pitch the 9th inning tonight if there is a save situation, but they will not use him on back-to-back nights this week. He’s been throwing some sim games at the Alternate Site and supposedly sitting 99 with his fastball. He should be game-ready, but they won’t push him. That all makes sense to me.

Chapman is a welcome addition to the pen. The Yankees middle relief has been shaky at beset so far in 2020, and Chapman has been the best reliever in baseball by fWAR since joining the Yanks in 2016. Chapman threw to a 2.21 ERA (2.28 FIP) with 85 strikeouts in 57 innings pitched for the Yankees last year. His return moves Zack Britton (1 R in 8.1 IP so far this year) to the 7th and 8th inning. It’s good.

It’s bad news for David Hale, though, who was DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster. Hale has been pretty good in his two years with the Yankees, but will be sent to the Alternate Site if he clears waivers.

The fallout from Chapman’s COVID-19 results

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Aroldis Chapman tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. He’s experiencing “mild” symptoms, though “mild” often is a misnomer when it comes to this illness. In any case, it’s incredibly unlikely that the Yankees’ closer will be ready for Opening Day next Thursday. He’ll need two negative tests within a 24-hour period to return, not to mention getting his arm back to full strength. The Yankees wisely aren’t speculating when Chapman will return, but rather, Aaron Boone has noted that the lefty will be out for the foreseeable future. That means changes are coming to the team’s bullpen.

Earlier this month, I cobbled together a 30-man roster. Obviously, things are going to look different without Chapman (and potentially Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Cessa, and DJ LeMahieu). Whichever way the team decides to go in terms of filling out the roster, it’ll also have to reassign bullpen roles. Boone didn’t waste much time indicating that Zack Britton will take the reign as the team’s closer, which makes sense. The lefty sinkerballer has plenty of closer experience (145 career saves) and is an excellent reliever in his own right. There’s really not much more to it, though I’ll add some rationale to why he makes more sense over other options.

Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, and Adam Ottavino are all arguably better relievers than Britton, but that doesn’t necessarily make them better fits as the team’s interim closer. And it’s not just about Britton’s closer experience, either.

PitcherK%BB%
Britton21.613.1
Green31.35.2
Kahnle35.58.1
Ottavino31.114.1
2019 Season

Britton has the lowest strikeout rate of the group by far, though he did fan 28.7 percent of opponents in the second half of 2019. Still, he hasn’t had a full season punchout rate north of 21.6 percent since 2016 when he was with Baltimore. So, what’s my point? I’d rather have Britton start with a clean ninth inning rather than needing to be a potential escape artist in the mid-to-late innings. He walks too many and strikes out too few for that sort of role to work for him.

Obviously, clean innings will be available in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings at times. It’s just that I’d rather not have one of the team’s elite strikeout relievers pigeon-holed into the closer role. It wouldn’t be ideal to, say, not use Kahnle in a strikeout situation in the seventh because he’s needed for the save in ninth.

What about closer by committee? That’s one of those things that works well in theory, but isn’t necessarily easy to implement. Baseball players, particularly relievers, tend to be creatures of habit. Certain pitchers can handle not knowing exactly when they’ll be needed, but many others like to have a better idea of when to be ready. Plus, with such a deep bullpen, are we really that concerned about deploying the best reliever possible in the highest leverage situations? I don’t think so. Boone really can do no wrong with all the options he has at his disposal, so assigning innings to certain pitchers is fine to do.

Ultimately, it’s no surprise that the Yankees will go with Britton for saves while Chapman is down. Not only does he have the most experience in the closer role, but he’s also better off entering without baserunners. It’s not that he can’t work out of trouble — ground balls for double plays are Britton’s best friend, of course — it’s just that the others seem to be better bets to do so in earlier innings. In any case, this is only temporary. Britton may only get three or four save opportunities before Chapman is healthy again.

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