Thoughts Before the Yanks Hit the Cornfield

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.

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11 Comments

  1. Jim Beam

    Field of Dreams was a terrible movie that made zero sense.
    The acting was terrible too, Ray Liota was a disaster.

    There, I said it.

    The Natural was a great film, it deserved its accolades, but since then?

    There hasn’t been a great baseball movie in decades, (I guess the last was A League of their Own,?) AND I INCLUDE Moneyball. That was boring as hell and is one of the most overrated films of my lifetime, and I’ve been around a while.

  2. You can put up all of the pitching charts you like about usage and other things but the bottom line with Green is that he makes bad pitches with the breaking ball at the worst possible time.

    One of the oldest pitching rules is ‘never get beat with your worst pitch’ and he consistently has that happen.

    He doesn’t know how to bury the breaking ball into the ground when ahead, it usually winds up in a very hittable spot just waiting for the batter to not make a mistake and hurt him.

    If he would just elevate his ++ fastball in those situations he would be far more effective, I just don’t get it.

  3. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    1. It was a good little stretch, Bobby, but not good enough. They’re still not in postseason position. The Sox may be sinking but that just means they’re about to get hot again and get their ace Sale back. Rays have stayed hot and we haven’t gained any ground on them. Meanwhile, the Jays are coming and coming fast. They ain’t going away. A’s have stayed the course and gained ground on Houston. We haven’t gained a damn thing. And this was the easy part of the schedule. It only gets tougher. We shoulda swept the O’s, the Royals and Rohan’s lowly Mariners. Even without the covid and injured players we have a better roster than those clubs. And the covid cases are self inflicted. No other club has them. Gleyber’s injury was self inflicted. Wear oven mitts on both hands or get back in the kitchen.

    2. Help is on the way, dear. We need Cole and Monty for the Sox. I just hope we get the 2 ERA Cole and not the 5 ERA one. He’s had plenty of time to devise a new way to get a grip on the ball. I don’t think Kluber or Sevy will give us much. I’d put Domingo in the pen. Gil should remain a starter at the MLB level and not be tampered with in any way, shape or fashion.

    3. Gallo has been a massive disappointment. He was supposed to be a big bopper in the heart of the order and he’s been weaker than a nursing home resident. I don’t care that he draws walks. Hit the damn ball. Tyler Wade can only carry us so far. Voit has shown some pop the past couple games too. Sure would be nice to have Greg Allen to give us another big bat in the lineup but we can’t have nice things.

    4. He needs to stop throwing it completely. He threw one yesterday to Dozier that shoulda been hit to the moon. He keeps throwing it to lefties down and in just where they like it and then acts surprised when it gets hit out of the ballpark. He’s no Dellin and just needs to stop throwing it. Have Chappy show him the split or Riddings show him the slider.

    5. He’s a True Yankee, Bobby. I said a couple days ago he should be getting more playing time even with Gleyber and Gio return and was mocked, ridiculed and laughed at. Wade is a 5 tool player with the bat, speed, glove and showed some pop in the bat yesterday. As you said, he’s even with Gleyber in hitting stats and far superior with the glove. I shudder to think where we’d be this season without Tyler Wade.

  4. The Original Drew

    Something I truly wonder how MLB is not as popular with younger fans as much as the NBA or NFL. It has everything those sports have that make them popular and then some.

    Then I look at how hard MLB is marketing a baseball game that revolves around a 1989 Kevin Costner film & I completely get it.

    • Baseball, more than any other sport, seems to rely almost entirely on nostalgia to grow the game and fandom being passed down from generation to generation. Hell, I’m a Yankees fan because my dad was a Yankees fan. I’m a baseball fan because of the hours I spent with my dad playing catch or playing little league with him coaching. I’m sure others have the same experience. BUT I also know there are many many people who have not had the same experience and it’s THAT population that MLB is doing a piss poor job of reaching and growing fandom. While they’ve gotten SLIGHTLY better at it, their plan still seems to be to grow the game by looking backward and not forward.

      • Anthony Rizzeddardo

        Same with me, billy. Dad taught me everything I know about the Yankees and baseball and now I’m able to pass that knowledge on to you folks. Dad and I would play catch for hours when I was a kid and in honor of the Field of Dreams Game we played catch again the other day and there wasn’t a dry eye in the trailer park.

        • Jorgieporgie

          That’s sweet about your dad, but we’re not your son lol

      • Bobby

        Fully agree with this comment, which I think is really insightful. I’m also a Yankee fan because of this lineage – it was a way to connect with my dad, and his dad, and it was just a part of being in our family. That said, I fully agree that they don’t do a great job at cultivating a new audience. I’m not an expert on how to do that, but to the extent they have a marketing problem, it’s that.

      • stevecwang13

        That’s a great comment, billymartinvanburenboys. Basketball and football market their sports as being exciting to watch. Baseball markets itself as a way to connect with dead people.

    • Anthony Rizzeddardo

      MLB is just too slow for young folks. And their great idea of the 3 batter minimum for relievers hasn’t made it any faster. The extra innings rule helps get games over quicker but by then it’s already 4 hours long. They desperately need a pitch clock and have it strictly enforced and if the batter steps out of the box t’s a strike. Put limits on shifts to get more hits and action. Put in a computerized strike zone so we don’t have these prima donna umps calling strikes 6 inches off the plate. They’ll never be the NFL but there are ways to improve the game and not have to rely on a 30 year old movie to sell tickets. And this game should have been free for Iowans not selling tickets for $1,000 bucks a pop.

    • MikeD

      Drew, I agree that MLB continues to have marketing issues, but this is not one of them. A fun distraction in the lull of August, built around a movie every baseball fan knows, and the Field of Dreams field (the “real” one) is a popular tourist spot for families and kids. They need to do more things like this.

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