Monday, May 23, 2016

Yankees Sweep Into Off Day With Division Rivals On The Horizon

On May 5th, the Yankees had a 9-17 record, were 8 games under .500 and were struggling in every facet of the game. Offensively, they looked terrible, unable to hit with RISP with most of their lineup not even averaging .250. Their starters were at best average (Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia), oftentimes inconsistent (Nathan Eovaldi), and at worst, downright terrible (Michael Pineda and Luis Severino).

There didn’t seem to be a clear way out for a team that was not suffering from injuries so much as they were from ineptitude.

Fast forward to Monday, May 23rd. The Yankees are 21-22, still under .500, but they have closed out the third week in May by following up a 7-3 home stand with a 5-2 West Coast road trip. In their post-game interviews on YES, the Yankees players seemed more relaxed than they have in weeks and will likely enjoy the off day today. There’s work to be done, for sure, but the Yankees have gone 12-5 since hitting their low point, and that’s something to hang their hats on for now.

They have gotten quality starts from every member of their rotation, key hits from virtually everyone in the lineup and appearances from a bullpen that is as good as was advertised in Spring Training. Yes, the Yankees need to figure out Luis Severino and figure out how to get Mark Teixeira on track, but it says something that this team, which is now healthy after getting Jacoby Ellsbury and CC Sabathia back, has put together the best record in the AL since May 6 and is now riding a 5 game winning streak.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, as much as they might want to rest on their laurels, now is not the time. After the off-day, their next 12 of 13 games are against division rivals (the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays) with one make up game against the Detroit Tigers thrown in for good measure.

So, as satisfying as the past two weeks have been, all that progress will all have been for naught if they struggle over the next two. The goal here has to be to win each series. Sweeps are nice, as we found out during the Thursday - Sunday series against the Oakland A’s, but for now every 2 out of 3 will do nicely.

Rest up Yankees. The gauntlet continues!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Yankees Win Despite Reloading Hal's Arsenal

Perhaps Hal Steinbrenner spoke too soon when he called his players out for the Yankees slow start to the season.

He certainly put the onus on Mark Teixeira and Michael Pineda. One could easily translate Steinbrenner's comments to mean that at this point in time, Teixeira does not deserve a contract extension, despite the fact that the Yankees have only the injured Greg Bird (who is lost for the entire season due to shoulder surgery) plus utility man Dustin Ackley as realistic options to replace him in 2017. As for Pineda, one might surmise Steinbrenner is wondering why should he bother tendering him a contract for 2017. Despite showing flashes of dominance, Pineda has either been injured or ineffective most of the time since being acquired for Jesus Montero in 2012.

Based on Thursday night's win at Oakland, Steinbrenner could have called out a few more players if he had waited a couple more nights to speak his mind. Base running blunders cost the Yankees some runs in this game. Carlos Beltran forgot how many outs there were and couldn't score when the ball was lost in the lights.  But not to be outdone, the next inning became like an episode of the "Keystone Cops."  The Yankees were bad running the bases when it could have been the difference in the outcome. The culprits this time were Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius.

Steinbrenner might be right. Good players are making bad mistakes and that makes for bad play and bad results. Thursday night was different, as the Yankees won and base running blunderer Carlos Beltran was a big reason, with three runs batted in, including a big 9th inning home run. Ivan Nova was sharp and efficient through six innings of solid work and the three headed bullpen monster of Betances, Miller and Chapman did their stuff over the final three innings.

But back to Steinbrenner, who does not meddle in day to day activities but speaks his mind only on occasion.  As he said, it is up to the players ultimately. Of course, enjoy the win, but fundamental baseball, which includes running the bases, must be observed at all times. Hopefully, that was a topic discussed among the players following the game.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Yankees Salvage vs D-Backs, Still Need To Salvage Season

First Brian Cashman puts on a public display of disappointment in his Yankees team, even going so far as to name names, including Mark Teixeira's. Then, the Yankees avoid a sweep at the hands of the Diamondbacks, beating Arizona 4-2.

Coincidence? I think so.

After all, Teixeira went 0-5 with three strikeouts. He did own up to Cashman's comments before the game, however, admitting he's been "terrible the last month." Nevertheless, the Yankees won anyway, thanks to contributions from Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, a solid pitching performance by starter Nathan Eovaldi, and No-Run-DMC's fourth appearance of the year.

With the win the Yankees improve to 17-22, which is still worse than the record they had at the end of the home stand when they were just four games under .500. The only way for the road trip to be successful at this point would be to take three out of four in the Oakland series, which begins tonight. Considering how the Yankees were swept by the A's at the Stadium, this seems to be a tall order.  But it's one they have to fulfill if they plan on doing anything close to contending for a playoff spot this season.

Nice win in the desert last night. Time to make it a nice series in the Bay Area this weekend.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Digging For Positives On A Struggling Yankees Team

West Coast games can be brutal on an East Coast fan, particularly when watching the maddeningly inconsistent Michael Pineda pitch. When he gave up a 2-out triple, then a game tying single to the Arizona Diamondbacks lineup, it was all I could do to not put my head down.

To be clear, I did not give up on the game, or on the Yankees, in the 2nd inning. I steadfastly believe that the Yankees can come back and win a game at any point until there are three outs in the 9th inning. (I’ve seen them do it, so it what’s to prevent them from doing it again?)

No, I wanted to put my head down because it was the 2nd inning and it was Pineda, he of the 15.43 1st inning ERA and 10.29 2nd inning ERA (going into Tuesday’s game.)  If he stayed true to form, he would continue to unravel by giving up a go-ahead HR to Zack Greinke.

He didn’t though. Instead he went to work on increasing his 3rd inning ERA, which was a sparkling 1.29, by giving up 2 runs and 4 hits. He even threw in 2 stolen bases for good measure.

Desperate to stay awake through this game, if just to witness the epic Yankees comeback that I was so sure was on the horizon, I did a little stat searching. Despite how poorly the Yankees have played this season, I just knew there had to be some positive stat in which the Yankees lead the American League. I knew it, I just had to find it.

I figured it wouldn’t be pitching and, despite the improvement over the past few weeks, I knew it wouldn’t be offense. Fielding then! With Aaron Hicks (whose reputation kept Pineda’s 3rd inning from being worse by stopping Goldschmidt from tagging up on a fly ball to right), Didi Gregorious, Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira in the same lineup, this is a decent fielding team.

Scanning the MLB stats page frantically, I finally found it. Passed Balls. The Yankees have zero passed balls on the season. Sure, they were tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the honor but, nonetheless, there it was.

Given the Yankees erratic pitching and how often the pitchers seem to have no idea where the ball is going, I was a little surprised that at least one of the Yankees 10 wild pitches wasn’t somehow called a passed ball. It was a credit to Brian McCann and backup Austin Romine, who are apparently doing very well with the unpredictability that confronts them each night.

There it was. The silver lining.

Fast forward to the sixth inning. With Pineda out of the game, Chasen Shreve on the mound and Diamondbacks SS Nick Ahmed on 1B, it happened. A pitch from Shreve, a passed ball by Brian McCann and Ahmed was standing on 3B.

So much for that.

I sighed, glanced over at my pillow, then opened the MLB stats page again. It was time, not to give up on the Yankees, but instead to find another silver lining.

Yes, they dropped this series and are at risk of a sweep after looking so good during the home stand. But they aren’t as bad as they’ve looked these past two games. They just aren’t. It’s just a matter of finding the good in this team. Even if you have to dig for it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

No-Run-DMC Gets Needed Night Off As Yankees Lose To Arizona

The big question going into last night's game against the Diamondbacks was whether or not No-Run-DMC (Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman) would be available after pitching in two straight games. It turned out to be a moot point, of course, as the Yankees were buried in the Arizona desert, by an embarrassing 12-2 margin.

Leave it to the Yankees to end another team's losing streak and to let a struggling pitcher in Robbie Ray go deep into a game for the first time all season. Arizona, who had struggled offensively going into last night, also found their bats against the Yankees, pounding out 15 hits during the game.

No-Run-DMC deserved a night off, but what if they had been rested and ready to go last night?  The loss would have been even tougher to swallow. Imagine if Chapman had been on the roster from Opening Day? How ridiculous that would have looked during the team's free-fall below .500!

With Zack Greinke going for Arizona tonight against Michael Pineda, it's easy to predict another free-fall in the making, even with Greinke off to a poor start. Would it be too much to ask of Pineda to pick tonight for his first decent start of the season? 

Hopefully the Yankees have definitely turned the corner, and last night was just a stumble on the new street they're on. If not, No-Run-DMC will have to dis-band, and Chapman (most likely) will end up being the lead "rapper" somewhere else.