Happy Thursday, everyone. The Yankees will play the Field of Dreams game tonight against Chicago. Andrew Heaney will be their starter. Just like MLB drew it up, I’m sure. I am already sick of the production and it hasn’t even started yet. Oh well. It’s fun to do something else, though hopefully MLB heeds the advice of local Iowans to lift the blackout restrictions, which really punish fans in states like Iowa. They are blacked out from six teams despite having no team in the state. Want to grow the game? That seems like a good start.
Anyway, let’s get to a few thoughts today about all that’s going on in Yankeeland.
1. The State of Play: Well, I’d say that the last few weeks have been a success for the Yankees. That’s been true for a while now – they’re 17-8 (.680) since the All-Star break and have won 9 of their last 10 series – but was especially true during a stretch in which the Yankees played sub-par competition. Since taking 2 of 3 from Tampa in late July, this is how the Yanks took care of business in a soft stretch:
- Miami Marlins: 3-game sweep
- Baltimore Orioles: 2 out of 3
- Seattle Mariners: 3 out of 4
- Kansas City Royals: 2 out of 3
- Overall: 10-3
It’s hard to ask for much more than that. I know there’s been a lot of handwringing about the lack of sweeps, which I get because it’s very annoying. That said, this is a very, very good outcome for the Yankees, isn’t it? They won every series, swept one, and weathered a difficult storm with injuries, a COVID outbreak, and a rotating merry-go-round of replacements.
Their reward is that they now sit two games out of the Wild Card and six behind in the division. FanGraphs says that their playoff odds are about a coin flip (46%), but I feel much more confident than that. Boston, yesterday’s huge win aside, is in free fall mode, and I think the Yankees are a better team than Oakland. Call me crazy, but I’m starting to think that the Yanks will host the Wild Card game at the very minimum. (There is a chance, albeit small, they make a run at the AL East, but let’s focus on one goal at a time.)
The point of this is that they sit in a good position overall. They’re in a good position to make up serious ground before September, as they’ll play Boston for three and Oakland for four before the calendar turns. Sprinkled in, they’ll play the Angels and Twins. Let’s hope the good times keep rolling against Chicago tonight in Iowa. That’s step one, but I feel good about where the Yanks sit right now.
2. The Pitching Cavalry is Coming: Sure seems like the regulars will be coming back with full force over the next few weeks. Here are some updates on the pitching staff:
- Gerrit Cole: expected to come off the COVID IL, throw a bullpen this weekend (Aaron Boone)
- Jordan Montgomery: expected to come off the COVID IL, throw a bullpen this weekend (Aaron Boone)
- Corey Kluber: starting his rehab assignment tonight with the Somerset Patriots (Somerset Patriots)
- Clarke Schmidt: taken off the 60-day IL and optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees)
- Luis Severino: thrown two MiLB rehab starts already and will make his third and final tomorrow (likely with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) before potentially returning to the Yanks (Bryan Hoch)
- Domingo Germán: close to throwing again soon, is expected to come back quickly after that (Brendan Kuty)
You get all that? Phew. Quite a list, and this doesn’t even count the batters nor Aroldis Chapman, for whom there is no real update since he was put on the shelf a few days ago. Anyway, it’s hard to read this as anything but good news.
I wrote the other day that the Yanks staff, especially their bullpen, is strained from a barrage of close, high-leverage appearances. Getting Cole and Montgomery back, who have been their most effective and reliable starters in 2021, will obviously alleviate some of that pressure. Both are able to work deep into games and help limit the games in which the Yanks have to use 7 relievers to get through 9 innings. They will help immensely and right away. I could project how the rotation will line up when they get back, but I’ve gotta be honest: lol at forecasting anything with the Yankees these days. It’ll all change by the time I hit publish.
The rest is a bit cloudier. I don’t know what to expect from Corey Kluber. I was optimistic about him before the season, but he’s been on the shelf for months now. While he was effective, whatever he can give the Yanks should be considered a bonus. Ditto Severino, though I find myself dreaming of a 2017-18 Severino returning. (Question: was any one injury as damaging to the Yankees’ championship prospects than losing Severino over the last few years?) As for Schmidt, well, who knows with him, though he could be a bullpen option, and I’ll believe that Germán is back “quickly” when he is actually back. The Yanks just don’t deserve that benefit of the doubt.
Amazingly, though, these guys will be joining the hottest pitching staff in baseball. The Yanks have been the best staff in the game since the All-Star break, pitching to a 3.12 ERA (3.50 FIP) in 224.2 collective innings. Their 4.8 fWAR over the period leads the league. (It’s second-highest for the starters and relievers alike, combining for the best staff.) Still, I don’t think any of us expect the cavalry to make this worse. The pitching has been incredible. If they had this staff in 2017-19, the Yanks walk to 110 wins and a title.
3. Waiting for the Big Bats to Get Hot: Obviously, the same is not true for the offense. With Gleyber Torres out for 10-20 days, Gio Urshela suffering a setback, and Anthony Rizzo and Gary Sánchez on the shelf with COVID, the lineup has been pretty bleak of late. They have a middling offensive performance since the break (17th in WAR and 16th in runs scored). There’s a big reason for that: their stars and big hitters are, well, just not hitting. It’s frustrating! Check out their stats since the break:
- Aaron Judge: .266/.314/.391 (95 wRC+), 31.4% strikeout rate in 70 PA (remember, he missed time due to COVID)
- Giancarlo Stanton: .233/.353/.337 (100 wRC+), 28.4% strikeout rate in 120 PA
- Joey Gallo: .123/.245/.272 (47 wRC+), 41.5% strikeout rate in 94 PA (not all of this is with the Yankees)
Those three hitters collectively have six home runs since the league took to Denver for the Mid-Summer Classic. It’s been a complete evaporation of power overall, with a ton of strikeouts. Honestly, it’s something of a minor miracle that the Yanks have won as many games as they have over this stretch – it’s a real testament to their pitching staff’s prowess.
Anyway, it sure would be nice if one or all of these guys got hot. (There are signs that Stanton is coming around, to be fair. He obliterated Baltimore and Seattle before a rough series in Kansas City.) I am not especially worried, as these are streaky hitters prone to these sorts of stretches. And only Gallo has been truly bad, of course. But they’re all playing below expectations in a critical stretch. The Yanks could use one of them to step up over the next few weeks, especially with other key cogs in the offense still missing from the lineup. It would go a long way toward some crooked numbers and giving the staff a much-needed stress break.
4. Chad Green’s Curveball: There’s been a lot of talk about Chad Green’s curveball lately. It’s been the source of outright ire from many fans. I thought this was interesting. Green is, of course, a fastball heavy pitcher. He’s been tinkering with secondary stuff since he stormed onto the scene in 2017, and his curveball stuck last year. (I, for one, think it’s a good idea for him.)
Lately, though, it hasn’t seemed as sharp. That led some fans, including me, to think that he was throwing it more. He’s not, though. Check it out:
He’s actually throwing it less! This shocked me. Next, I thought that maybe it’s not the volume, but occasion making it stand out. Maybe he’s throwing it more with two-strikes?
Also no! That, too, was a bit surprising to me. I’ve sure seemed like I’ve noticed the pitch more lately. Turns out there is a simple reason why: it is getting absolutely obliterated lately. Look at this horrifying monstrosity:
Ah, well. That will do it! I caution you not to read too much into this, as the samples here are tiny, but it’s clear why we’re noticing it. Green is under a microscope of late, having blown a few big games, so it makes sense there’s hyper-scrutiny of his appearances. The curve is the cause of his woes, to the extent he has them. It’s not going anywhere, though. It’s here to stay – and it seems like he’s tinkering with it, too.
Maybe he should go back to the old way. Let’s keep our eyes on this moving forward, shall we?
5. Tyler Wade’s Ascendence: I said this on Twitter yesterday, but Tyler Wade sure is in the stretch of his life, huh? He’s making diving catches, having good at-bats, and stealing bases. I didn’t realize just how ridiculous his stretch has been, though. In 22 at-bats since July 30, Wade is hitting .563/.667/.750 (286 wRC+) with a 13.6% walk rate. He’s scored 5 runs, stolen 4 of 5 bases, and hit 3 doubles. What in the world is going on?
It’s way better even than his excellent stretch in September 2019, when it looked like he’d finally figured something out. Look, I don’t think Tyler Wade has figured anything out. I’m sure he’ll be back to normal soon, but I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy the hell out of this while it lasts. It’s genuinely hilarious! Plus, the hot stretch is giving us this:
Baseball. You just gotta love it.