Off Season Update: Holiday Wrap-up

Well, the Astros are the reigning World Champions, much to the city of Houston’s glee. The parade through the streets of Houston, which had been nearly devastated just a few months earlier was a big encouragement to those who are still trying to rebuild their homes and lives after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast in late August.

Winter Meetings begin on Monday, and between the Astros winning Game 7 over the Dodgers and the Winter Meetings on Monday, it’s not exactly been a quiet off-season. Especially for the Yankees.

Awards Season: Almost immediately following the World Series, MLB Universe wraps up its season by handing out all sorts of awards. Mostly, it was Aaron Judge that was up for many of the awards like MVP and Rookie of the Year, but it was a tough year for nearly every category as there was some really outstanding players and plays made this season. You can catch up on all the awards (with extensive coverage and video clips) here. But I’m just going to do a brief Yankee Universe summary.

As expected, the MVPs and Hank Aaron Awards of both the AL and NL went to the Astros’ Jose Altuve and Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, though Judge’s name was tossed about quite a bit for the AL versions of both awards. Judge did snag Rookie of the Year, voted so unanimously, the first Yankee to do so since Jeter in 1996. (Side note: also in the mix for ROTY — breakout starter Jordan Montgomery.) Judge was also awarded the Silver Slugger for right field, something he shared this year with teammate Gary Sanchez, who won it for his catching position. And Judge was also voted on by his fellow players for the Players’ Choice Award of Outstanding AL Rookie.

Now, Esurance sponsors its own array of awards for the season and quite a few Yankees graced the finalists lists. Best Major Leaguer was awarded to Altuve over 9 other finalists including MLB legends like Stanton and Trout as well as (of course) Judge. Severino was nominated for Best Pitcher, but lost to the Indians’ Corey Kluber (who had an outstanding postseason in his own right). Of the 6 finalists for Best Rookie, who else but Aaron Judge became the natural choice. The Astros’ manager AJ Hinch edged out 9 other finalists for Best Manager, including Joe Girardi, and Brian Cashman got the same treatment in the Best Executive category as the Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow snagged that one. Other awards include Best Postseason Moment, Best TV/Radio Call, Best Play, Personality of the Year, and Best Fan Catch, none of which unfortunately include any Yankees

Hello, old friend: At the end of October, before the World Series was even complete, the Yankees announced they were parting ways with their long-term manager Joe Girardi, and began the search for their new skipper. With former bench coach Rob Thomson singing on to be the Phillies’ new bench coach and 3rd base coach Joe Espada the Astros’ bench coach, the Yankees ended up narrowing the manager candidates down and included two former Yankee players — Carlos Beltran and Aaron Boone. Just a few days ago, the Yankees announced that they were going with Aaron Boone, known to most Yankee fans as the hero of the 2003 World Series and more recently as a ESPN broadcaster. Boone, who will wear #17, will be thrust back into Yankee Universe in a crucial role, one that could either expose his inexperience as a manager or one that could see him flourish thanks to his extensive baseball knowledge, legacy, and intelligence. Only time will tell.

Big splash denied, big splash made: All 30 MLB clubs were hoping to sign an international sensation, 23-year-old Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, who is known both as a stellar pitcher and as a big power-hitter. The international market has some complex rules about signings, and many assumed that Ohtani would sign with a big name NL team so that he could use both of his famed tools. Almost immediately, most East Coast teams were eliminated, including big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. With most of the chatter leaning towards the Mariners (despite being an AL team), the big surprise was when the Angels (also an AL team) announced their newest acquisition just a few days ago.

But without that possibility, the Yankees started searching for their big splash. Within about 24 hours of word leaking that the Marlins were shopping their superstar Giancarlo Stanton, it was confirmed just today. Former HR Derby champion Stanton would join current HR Derby champion Judge in the Yankees outfield and in Yankee pinstripes for the 2018 season. Details are forthcoming, but it looks like the Yankees will send prospect pitcher Jorge Guzman (the #9 Yankee prospect), prospect shortstop Jose Devers, and Starlin Castro to the Marlins in exchange for Stanton and about $30 million. Castro has 2 years and about $23.7 million left on his current contract.

Okay, what that means and leaves wide open for the Yankees to answer questions this off-season. First, removing Castro from 2nd leaves a wide open space for perhaps Ronald Torreyes to play more frequently, especially as he was clearly one of the more reliable and consistent defenders and hitters (basically the ideal bench/utility player) for the last 2 seasons. However, there are several prospects that could earn the everyday position in Spring Training including the much talked about Gleyber Torres.

The Yankees now have 6 potential outfielders — Gardner, Ellsbury, Judge, Stanton, Hicks, and C. Frazier. Frazier will likely spend time in AAA once again, which leaves either Gardner or Ellsbury (mostly due to age, unfortunately) as the prime potential for a trade. However, Ellsbury has a no-trade clause in his contract, one that he could easily waive if asked or volunteer to be traded on his own if he so desires. A lot of that usually depends on who’s asking. That prevents players from being traded into a clubhouse or organization they don’t like. If I was a player, there are definitely certain clubs I would avoid like the plague, or take a pay cut to play with a better team.

Also, the Yankees are dealing with 8 arbitration-eligible players and 10 with less than 3 years on their contracts, most notably Headley, Robertson, and Gardner, who are all on their final year of their deals. Arbitration-eligible means that the Yankees will extend an offer (a proposed salary) to keep them on their roster, and the player either accepts it or counter offers and it goes to arbitration for the mediator to pick the correct number. Basically, it’s a negotiation tool, and this off-season, the Yankees will have to negotiate with Betances, Gray, Gregorius, Hicks, Kahnle, Romine, Shreve, and Warren. Unless they trade them, of course.

Again, the Winter Meetings start on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (a.k.a. Disney World’s Swan & Dolphin Resorts, for anyone not familiar with Central Florida geography). Winter Meetings are when representatives from all the MLB clubs and their minor league teams, as well as MLB executives, meet up for about four days and do business face-to-face. So, there’s going to be trades, discussions, executive meetings to discuss baseball operations and potential alterations to rule of play. Often scouts, owners, general managers, international visitors, job-seekers, and trade show exhibitors will also be milling around the meetings. In other words, we can expect more news to come out of this next week’s meetings. And I was going to wait until after that to post, just in case the Yankees make another big splash, which they could as they still need to shore up the starting rotation. But today’s news was too big to pass up.

But barring a big splash, I hope everyone has a good holiday season as we close out this 2017 and hope for a really wonderful 2018. I mean, it really looks like 2018 could be the year we finally celebrate #28.

Go Yankees!

ALDS 2: BOS vs. HOU & NYY vs. CLE, NLDS 1: CHC vs. WAS & ARI vs. LAD — Home field advantage… and the Cubs

Big day in the world of baseball with four consecutive games. Well, there was quite a bit of overlap for a couple of games thanks to a bad call and far too many extra innings. And because there’s some games out West, one game lasted well into the next morning, making today far longer than this East Coast girl is used to.

Game 1: ALDS 2 — Red Sox at Astros
It took exactly 4 hours for the Astros to dominate the Red Sox and send the series to Fenway in their favor. The Astros called on their ace starter to pitch into the 6th inning, and he really stepped up to the plate (so to speak), fending off the Red Sox batters for most of the game, only giving up 3 hits, 3 walks, and a run and striking out 7 batters. His allowed run was in the 2nd when a lead-off double stole 3rd and later scored on a 1-out single. The Astros’ bullpen kept that momentum going until the 9th inning, when a 1-out single moved to 2nd on a wild pitch and then scored on a 2-out single.

The Red Sox’s pitching was pretty much on line with their offense. For example, their starter only went 2 full innings (and 3 batters in the 3rd) and their bullpen followed that example. In the 1st, with 2 outs and a man on base with a single, a 2-run homer got the Astros on base early. A lead-off homer in the 3rd added to the score. A double followed that only to score on the next player’s single. Despite loading the bases, the Red Sox finally got some outs in the inning to get out of the jam.

To finalize the game, the Astros roughed up the Red Sox again in the 6th. With runners on the corners and 1 out, a fly ball and throwing error allowed the runners to advance and thus score an extra run. After intentionally walking the next batter, the Red Sox gave up a double to score 2 more and a single to score the last one. The reality is that the Red Sox are rather out-matched by the Astros, and this series shows it very well. However, anything can happen in Fenway… just ask the Yankees.

Final score: 8-2 Astros, Astros lead ALDS 2-0

Game 2: ALDS 2 — Yankees at Indians
The problem with tonight’s game is that it was actually a really good game for the Yankees, but then things happened that shouldn’t have happened, decisions will be permanently and suitably questioned, and the game spiraled out of control. As evidenced by the 5 hour and 8 minute game time and 13 innings played. CC Sabathia threw a great game, just 77 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 3 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs (only 2 earned), and struck out 5 Cleveland batters.

In the 1st, Sabathia loaded up the bases with a fielding error, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch. A single scored 2 runners before the next batter lined into a double play as the runner at 2nd double off base. That runner also badly sprained his ankle. And a lead-off batter in the 2nd moved to 2nd on a questionable throwing error, ended up at 3rd on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored on an RBI single.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were actually hitting off the Indians’ ace starter, knocking him out after 76 pitches in the 3rd inning after racking up 7 hits, a walk, and 6 runs. In the 1st, Judge worked a 1-out walk and then scored as part of Gary Sanchez’s 2-run home run straight up the middle. In the 3rd, Sanchez hit a 1-out single, moved to 2nd on a ground out, and then scored on Starlin Castro’s single. Bird then singled, so that would make Aaron Hicks’ big hit a 3-run home run. That ended the Indians’ starter’s night and really set the Yankees with a big lead. Gregorius later worked a lead-off walk in the 5th and then scored as part of Greg Bird’s big 2-run home run.

Okay, so the 6th inning… known forever now as the inning that changed everything. Sabathia was still pitching and gave up a lead-off walk and got an out. That was it for Sabathia, so the Yankees called in Chad Green. This is decision to question #1. Why remove Sabathia when he’s having a great outing and has such a low pitch count? Okay, so Green gets out #2, but then gives up a double to put runners in scoring position.

Then things get weirder. The next batter is “hit-by-a-pitch”, or rather his bat was. He was awarded 1st base (to load up the bases), which was a surprise even to the batter. Gary Sanchez stood up to alert Girardi that it wasn’t a HBP and should be challenged on a replay. By he was practically ignored (questionable decision #2), so the bases were loaded. The next batter promptly hit a home run, a grand slam to put the Indians within a run of the Yankees’ lead. Well, the entire sold-out crowd at Progressive Field certainly loved it. Most of Yankee Universe took to social media (including myself) to express their displeasure.

It was on to David Robertson for the next 5 outs, closing out the 6th and through the 7th and into the 8th. In the 8th, he gave up a lead-off solo home run to tie up the game right there. After another out, the Yankees flipped the game to Tommy Kahnle for the final 2 outs of the inning before turning to Aroldis Chapman in the 9th.

It is worth noting that the Cleveland fans treated every out after that run tying home run as if it was the last one of the game. Chapman actually pitched through the 9th and then the 10th as the game went into extra innings. The Yankees’ batters were able to get runners on base, but they weren’t able to finish the job and score a run. Dellin Betances came on in the 11th and pitched 2 scoreless innings, and for some reason (questionable decision #3), came out for the 13th inning. A lead-off walk stole 2nd and then promptly scored on a single to score the walk-off run for the home team.

Final score: 9-8 Indians, Indians lead ALDS 2-0

Game 3: NLDS 1 — Cubs at Nationals
About the time the Yankees began their spiral into the “questionable decisions” territory, the Cubs-Nationals game began in the nation’s capital. It was a quick 3 hour and 2 minute game that began with a ceremonial first pitch by Representative Steve Scalise, who was seriously injured earlier this year when a gun man opened fire on a Congressional baseball practice. Scalise threw a great first pitch and set the tone for the game to come.

Both teams sent in some stellar pitchers, who were pretty much locked in a pitching duel for a the first half of the game. Honestly, I didn’t realize how evenly matched the Cubs and Nationals were until this game. Both starters went a full 7 innings, gave up minimal hits, and kept the score low. Their 2 respective relievers followed suit in their single innings.

But it would the Cubs to buck today’s trend of home field advantage and come out on top thanks to their gift of small ball tonight. In the 6th, the lead-off batter reached on a fielding error, moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored on an RBI single and throwing error that moved that batter to 2nd. Then he scored on another RBI single to give the Cubs a solid lead. With new pitching in the 8th, the lead-off batter for the Cubs doubled, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on a 2-out double for that insurance run they’d never need tonight.

They finished their game just a few minutes after the previous one did in extra innings. It wasn’t as talked about post-game, but the pitcher’s duel was something in the postseason, a season so far dominated by home runs and sloppy pitching. It was nice to see starting pitchers duke it out old-school.

Final score: 3-0 Cubs, Cubs lead NLDS 1-0

Game 4: NLDS 1 — Diamondbacks at Dodgers
This game started about 10:30 pm Eastern Time, roughly 11 minutes after Cleveland scored its walk-off run three time zones away. And in regular postseason fashion, it would last 3 hours and 37 minutes because the Dodgers came to play ball, thanks mostly to their ace starter who threw into the 7th inning (100 pitches) and struck out 7 Arizona batters along the way. Over on the other hand, the Diamondbacks’ starter only threw 1 inning, but racked up a whopping 48 pitches.

Here’s how: the Dodgers hit a lead-off single and worked a walk which both scored as part of a big 3-run home run to kick things off in Los Angeles. The next batter singled and then scored on a double before the pitcher finally got an out. He would get all 3 outs as strikeouts, but the damage was done awfully early. The Diamondbacks answered back in the 3rd with a 2-out solo shot, a mere blip on the scoreboard at that point. And their pitchers weren’t doing the greatest job of fending off the power-hitting Dodgers. In the 4th, with 1 out and 2 runners on base, consecutive singles scored 2 more runs for the home team.

The Diamondbacks chipped away at the Dodgers’ lead the only way they could — with home runs. With 2 outs in the 6th, they launched one into the left field seats to double their score. And in the 7th, with 1 out, they hit back-to-back left field solo home runs. That was it for the Dodgers’ ace, but not for the rest of the game. As the Dodgers got those 2 runs back in the 8th. A lead-off single later scored on a 1-out triple, and then that runner scored on an easy single.

Finally, playing a little small ball, the D-backs made the 9th inning a little interesting. A 1-out single moved to 2nd on defensive indifference and later scored on a fielder’s choice and throwing error of sorts.

Final score: 9-5 Dodgers, Dodgers lead NLDS 1-0

The ALDS teams head to the East Coast to continue their series on Sunday, with the Astros and Indians hoping for an easy 3rd game. The NLDS plays their second game tomorrow. But clearly, there’s nothing easy about the postseason. What’s that old phrase? Or it might be called “football”? Yeah, something like that…

Go Yankees!

Game 161: TOR vs. NYY — A bittersweet #CCStrong victory

We knew it would be close this season, and this one was pretty close to the wire. With the Yankees’ win today, they were one step closer to possibly taking the division from their Boston rivals. But they too won their game, and as the magic number was 1, the division win goes to the other guys this year. (More after the recap.)

CC Sabathia got the start today for this middle game of the final weekend series of the season, replacing Garcia in the rotation so that the incredible season of Sabathia could get yet another shot. Sabathia has had a truly stellar year, and he ends his 2017 regular season on another win, his 14th actually. He threw 75 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up just 4 hits and no runs, striking out 6 Toronto batters along the way.

Chad Green got the final out of the 6th inning for Sabathia and pitches through the 7th inning, keeping the Blue Jays scoreless, as Green tends to do all season long. Tommy Kahnle, however, had a less-than-stellar outing of his own, entering the game in the 8th inning. He gave up single and a walk, and with no outs, all the pitchers are on short leashes lately.

So, the Yankees turned to David Robertson, but even he had a few issues today. With 1 out, Robertson loaded up the bases with a walk. But then a sacrifice fly scored the Blue Jays’ lone run before Robertson got his 2nd strikeout to get out of the inning. Aroldis Chapman, of course, came on for the 9th inning and sailed through the Blue Jays’ lineup for his 22nd save.

The Blue Jays had a better outing today over the Yankees compared to recent games, as far as pitching goes at least. Even still, the Jays’ starter only pitched through 4 innings, still holding off most of the Yankees’ offense until his final inning. Aaron Judge led-off the 4th inning with his 52nd home run of the season, a monster homer that cleared the bleachers in left field, landing on the concourse in front of the retired numbers wall out there. Then with 1 out, Gregorius singled, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and then scored on Starlin Castro’s single. Another out later, Frazier’s single put runners on the corners, but a line drive ended Yankee hopes to add to their lead.

The Blue Jays then called on their bullpen to patch together their remaining 4 innings, and they did a pretty good job of fending off the Yankee offense, despite giving up another hit and 3 walks. The Yankees just couldn’t piece anything else together for themselves. But it was enough.

Final score: 2-1 Yankees

Postseason prep: So, the Yankees finished their game and immediately turned the attention to Boston where the Red Sox are hosting the Astros for their final series. But the Red Sox got an early lead, thanks to the Astros’ starter having a pretty bad day. So upon their final out, the Red Sox officially solidified their division title and sealed the Yankees as the first Wild Card contender.

With only one game left to play (bring on the tears), here’s how the postseason picture looks. The AL Division Champions are the Red Sox, the Indians, and the Astros. The AL Wild Cards are the Yankees and the Twins. Over in the NL, the Division Champions are the Nationals, the Cubs, and the Dodgers. Their Wild Card race is coming down to the wire. The Diamondbacks are definitely the first Wild Card, but the other one is still up for grabs between the Rockies and the Brewers. Currently, the Brewers are a game behind the Rockies in the standings, and are right now winning their game. The Rockies play later tonight, and a win will seal their fate as the second Wild Card.

Okay, here’s how the postseason works: the one-off Wild Card games will be played on Tuesday, October 3 (Twins at Yankees) and Wednesday, October 4 (TBD at Diamondbacks). And the Division Series (a best of 5 games series) begins on Thursday (October 5) for the AL and Friday (October 6) for the NL. The winners of the Wild Card games will play the best teams of each league (the Indians and Dodgers, respectively), and the remaining two teams per league will play each other. It’s a best of 5 games series, so the first one to 3 games goes on to the next round — the Championship Series (best of 7 games series), which begins October 13-14. The World Series begins Tuesday, October 24, with a potential Game 7 on Wednesday, November 1.

It’s going to be an interesting October once again.

Go Yankees!

Game 160: TOR vs. NYY — #TanakaTime x15

There’s no other way to say it — Tanaka was just spectacular to watch this afternoon. In this first game of the final series of the season, the Yankees need every player to be at their absolute best. And today, Tanaka, who’s had mixed results all season, was just back to the Tanaka that Yankee Universe fell for a few years ago.

Masahiro Tanaka threw 103 pitches in his 7 scoreless innings, only giving up 3 hits while striking out a career-high 15 batters in a single game. This set him up for what would become his 13th win of the season. Tanaka’s pitches were just on point, and that was the baseline that the Yankees needed to spur them on to push for the win.

Robertson took over in the 8th to keep the Blue Jays from scoring. And then they handed the game over to Betances. But he didn’t have control today, promptly giving up a single, a passed ball, and a walk to allow 2 base runners. That put things into a save situation, so the Yankees called out their closer. Aroldis Chapman needed just 9 pitches to breeze through 3 outs (including 2 strikeouts) and earn his 21st save of the season.

Meanwhile, the Yankees just needed a single run to win. They did slightly better than that, though not much. They had “bookend” opportunities against the Blue Jays’ starter, only scoring in his beginning and ending innings. In the 1st, Ellsbury hit a 1-out single and stole 2nd. Judge worked and walk, and Gregorius singled to load up the bases. Starlin Castro hit a single to scored Ellsbury, keeping the bases loaded, and Greg Bird’s sacrifice fly scored Judge. But a strikeout ended any further chance to add to their score then. Then, in the 5th, with 2 outs and Hicks on 2nd base, Aaron Judge singled. That scored Hicks, but Judge was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.

{Media note: sorry, but there’s some missing available highlights for this game as the focus was clearly on Tanaka’s strikeout frenzy rather than the runs scored.}

With a new reliever, the Yankees found one more opportunity to add an insurance run in the 6th. Gregorius led-off with a single, stole 2nd (the 4th stolen base of the game) on Castro’s strikeout, and then scored on Greg Bird’s single. Once the Blue Jays went to a new reliever, the Yankees saw their chances to add to their lead evaporate, starting with a double play to end that inning.

But it was more than enough. Especially as the Yankee pitching staff racked up 18 total strikeouts, 15 of those from Tanaka alone this afternoon.

Final score: 4-0 Yankees

Postseason prep: because the Yankees played a day game, in part due to Yom Kippur beginning at sundown (Gmar tov or Yom tov to all who are observing the holiday tonight), there isn’t a lot of postseason updates to talk about so early in the day. Fingers crossed for the Astros to just continue to dominate the Red Sox this weekend (go Astros!).

However, it should be noted that with today’s win, the Yankees officially hit 90 wins this season. And as there were a number of “talking heads” that thought the Yankees would be lucky to hit 80-something, this number feels pretty good.

Okay, everyone, hold tight, there’s just 2 more games to win (and 3 games for the Sox to lose). It’s sad when I have to write that we’ve hit 100 games, but it’s worse when I hit 150 because we’re almost done. So at 160, and still a minute chance at the division title, it’s like holding my breath, crossing fingers and toes, and praying for every measure of favor possible. This just makes it all the more interesting.

Go Yankees!

Game 159: TB vs. NYY — Division hopes get pear-shaped

You know how you have one of those days where everything is working out in your favor, and then suddenly, everything goes pear-shaped and you just can’t do anything about it. Yeah, that was the Yankees’ Thursday night in the Bronx tonight. Much to the chagrin of basically everyone in Yankees’ universe.

Sonny Gray actually had a pretty good night for a good portion of his outing. Through his first 4 innings tonight, Gray threw just 58 pitches, gave up 2 hits, a walk, and a run. In the 1st, he gave up a 1-out solo home run to get the Rays on the board early. But he really reined it in and pushed the Yankees through a solid next few innings.

But then, Gray just kind of collapsed in the 5th inning. With 1 out, he gave up 2 singles to put runners on the corners. A wild pitch scored one run and a throwing error moved the other runner to 3rd. After a nice strikeout allowed the Yankees to hope the inning was almost over, it was not to be. Gray promptly walked the next batter and then gave up a big 2-run home run. After yet another allowed single, that would be it for Gray tonight.

Jonathan Holder came on in relief of Gray, but just couldn’t find that final out either. He hit his first batter with a pitch, gave up a single that scored one runner, and a big triple that scored the remaining 2 runners. That would be it for him too.

It would Chasen Shreve to get the final out of the 5th inning, a sigh of relief in the form of a strikeout. Shreve was breezing through the 6th until he gave up a pinch-hit solo home run, followed by a walk. Girardi wasn’t about to see a repeat of the previous inning, so he went back to the bullpen for Heller. Heller was very strong through the 7th and 8th innings as well, before handing the game to Gallegos who breezed through the 9th in just 12 pitches.

Remember, when I said things were great for the Yankees at first? They really were. Brett Gardner liked the 2nd pitch of the 1st inning and sent it into the 2nd deck of the right field seats for a lead-off home run. Aaron Judge followed that up with his own solo home run (that landed really close to where Gardner’s landed) to get the Yankees on the board early.

In the 2nd, with 1 out, Ellsbury singled, moved to 2nd on a passed ball, and then scored on Todd Frazier’s single. Greg Bird added to the score with a lead-off solo home run in the 4th inning after the Rays pulled their starter.

With another pitcher in the 5th (after the disastrous top of the inning), the Yankees were looking for a big comeback. Gardner led-off with a walk, moved to 2nd when Sanchez was hit by a pitch, ended up a 3rd on a fielder’s choice, and then scored on Starlin Castro’s single.

The Rays were able to piece together a better bullpen again, which didn’t help the Yankees in their efforts to reduce the deficit of runs. In the 9th inning, with yet another reliever on for the Rays, pinch-hitter Aaron Hicks jumped in and smacked a 1-out solo home run that bounced off the bench in the Yankees’ bullpen to get the Yankees back in the game. But 2 outs later, the game was done.

Pear-shaped hit rock-bottom.

Final score: 9-6 Rays, Yankees win series 2-1

Postseason Prep: What makes tonight’s loss even harder to swallow is that the Red Sox were so dominated tonight by the Astros (12-2), keeping the Red Sox at 3 games ahead of the Yankees in the standings. The Yankees host the Blue Jays starting tomorrow for the final series of the season. Basically, in order to win the AL East at this point, the Astros need to sweep the Red Sox (go Astros!) and the Yankees need to sweep the Blue Jays.

On this day in Yankees History: on Sept. 28, 1968, Yankees icon and legend Mickey Mantle played his final career game actually at Fenway. He started the game and hit 3rd in the order. In the 1st inning, he popped out and was promptly replaced (at his request). He just wanted one final game, one final at-bat. He was almost 37, at the height of his alcoholism, and still dealing with a lingering terrible hip injury. He was done with baseball that day nearly 50 years ago, but he spent the next 27 years of his life becoming a better man personally and cherishing the memories he made on the field. So a tip of the cap in memory of old #7.

Go Yankees!

Game 158: TB vs. NYY — #SevySharp, offense upswing continues, community matters

For much of tonight’s game, the Rays and Yankees were pretty much locked into a pitching duel, with both starters giving up minimal base runners for the first 4 innings. In fact, both teams didn’t score until the 5th inning. From there, it was back to being a Yankees-dominated game once again.

Luis Severino got the start for this middle game of the Rays’ series. He threw 91 pitches through his 6 innings, gave up 4 hits, a walk, and a run, and struck out 9 Rays batters (because he’s Severino). That lone run was a lead-off solo shot in the 5th inning. It would be the lone allowed run by the Yankee pitching staff all night.

Shreve came on for the 7th, but with just 2 outs and 2 baserunners, the Yankees turned to one of their best middle relievers in recent history (let alone this season) — Chad Green, who only needed 3 pitches to get the final out of the 7th inning. Betances and Chapman closed out the game, with an inning and a strikeout a piece. Basically, being the Betances-Chapman duo we’ve come to expect for the backend of the bullpen.

Now, going into the 5th inning, the Yankees only had minimal offense in the game, just 2 hits and a walk for the first 4 innings. So, the Yankees found their opportunity in the 5th to advance. Ellsbury led-off with a walk and moved to 3rd on Hicks’ single. With 1 out, Aaron Judge’s double scored both runners to get the Yankees on the board and in the lead with one swing.

Then in the 6th, Starlin Castro led-off with a solo home run. That would be the end of the Rays’ starter’s night, despite a pretty good outing overall. Of course, their bullpen hasn’t exactly been in the best shape, so the Yankees continued pouncing. Greg Bird followed up that with his own solo home run into the right field seats. Headley then singled, and after 1 out, Aaron Hicks got in on the fun and hit a 2-run home run to solidify the Yankees’ win.

With another new reliever, the Yankees gave up a double and walk before getting shut down with the 2 outs needed to close out the inning. The final 2 relievers were infinitely better against the Yankees tonight (including a former Yankee, by the way), and shut down any further attempts by the home team to advance their lead.

Final score: 6-1 Yankees

Postseason Prep: More of an FYI… the Red Sox won tonight, so they remain 3 games ahead of the Yankees in the standings. And there’s only 4 games left of the series. They begin their 4-game closing series against the practically unbeatable Astros tomorrow, and the Yankees wrap up their series against the Rays tomorrow afternoon before welcoming the Blue Jays to close out the season. (Go Astros!)

Okay, I know you’re probably already doing your part to help those affected by the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. The most recent one, Hurricane Maria certainly devastated many of the Caribbean Islands, including the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which really took the brunt of the storm. In response, many fundraisers are currently underway to help the devastated people, especially those basically trapped in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican MLB players, alumni, and associates have provided several options for you to get involved, including former Yankees Carlos Beltran and Jorge Posada and EPSN broadcaster Marly Rivera.

Our prayers continue to be with those still recovering from this summer’s storms. However, the outpouring from people all over has been amazing to see such kindness, generosity, and love in action. Keep it up, as community still matters even when we’ve recovered from the storms!

Go Yankees!

Game 157: TB vs. NYY — Hicks’ theft & Yankee offense keep division hopes alive

Well, that certainly helps matters this postseason. The Yankees are looking to collect as many wins as possible this final week, these final 6 games. So tonight was a very good start.

Jordan Montgomery got the start in tonight’s opener against the visiting Rays. He threw 79 pitches in his 6 innings, gave up 6 hits, a walk, and a lone run, and struck out 5 Rays batters. And except for a pretty sloppy 1st inning, Montgomery actually reined it in and set up the Yankees for the eventual win.

In the 1st inning, Montgomery gave up 2 singles and a walk to quickly load up the bases with no outs. He finally got a well-placed strikeout to start the momentum for the Yankees. But it would be another Yankee that would really flip the switch. Again, the bases are loaded, so the next batter hit a big, long fly ball right over the wall by the Yankees’ bullpen. And that would be detrimental except for Aaron Hicks, who leapt, reached over, and brought that ball back over the wall to remove the potential grand slam and flip it into a sacrifice fly. So the Rays scored 1 run (rather than 4), and the Yankees were just getting started.

The final third of the game was split between the strong Yankee bullpen that’s just been dynamic this season. Kahnle and Robertson shut the Rays down through the 7th and 8th innings, and Dellin Betances breezed his way through a 7-pitch 9th inning to effectively end the Rays’ hopes completely.

The Rays’ starter has been having a pretty good season. But whatever he did this season certainly didn’t transfer up to the Bronx tonight. He only pitched into the 2nd inning. And the Yankees just got to him in that 2nd inning and didn’t let up tonight. Starlin Castro kicked off the inning with a solo home run to instantly tie up the game. But then 3 consecutive singles to both Fraziers and Torreyes loaded up the bases. With hopes for the dramatic alive, the Aarons were up next, but they both rather anti-climatically worked walks [Note: only Hicks’ walk is available, though Judge’s one looked rather similar as it’s a walk] to walk in both Fraziers.

And with still no outs, the Rays couldn’t bear it and pulled their starter right there in the 2nd inning. Their first reliever got Sanchez to line into a double play and get Hicks to double off 2nd to finally get a couple of outs on the board. A wild pitch scored Torreyes, but a fly out ended the Yankees monster inning.

The Rays’ bullpen did a better job keeping the Yankees from adding to their score for most of the game after that. But in the 8th, they found another opportunity. In the 8th with 1 out, Torreyes worked a walk, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and ended up at 3rd on a ground out. Judge worked a walk, and then Gary Sanchez’s single scored Torreyes and moved Judge to 3rd. Matt Holliday’s single then scored Judge to cap off the Yankees’ offense tonight. [Note: Holliday’s RBI video is also missing, but it’s a standard play. You’ve seen him hit plenty before.]

Final score: 6-1 Yankees

Roster moves: Obviously, the Yankees activated Aaron Hicks off the disabled list before tonight’s game. Coming off an oblique injury, Hicks proved absolutely vital to tonight’s game right from the start with that insane catch and then got on base 3 times by working 3 walks, one of those walking in an RBI. So, clearly, everyone is glad to see Hicks again. (Except maybe the Rays.)

Postseason prep: So many things happened as a result of tonight’s games. First, the Red Sox lost their game tonight to the Blue Jays, leaving that particular magic number at 3 games. But this also makes the Yankees just 3 games behind them in the standings. Hope is still alive for that division title.

Now, should the Yankees not beat the Red Sox in the division, with tonight’s win, they have secured home field advantage for the Wild Card game. As to the 2nd Wild Card spot, that is still technically open. Tonight, the Royals, Rangers, and Rays have all been eliminated for that spot. That leaves the Angels, who face elimination in one more loss or one more Twins’ win. In other words, chances are with the Twins being that 2nd Wild Card spot. But which East Coast stadium they’ll be vying for the Wild Card spot is still very much up for grabs.

In other words, who knows? So, we’re still rooting on the Blue Jays tomorrow!

Go Yankees!