One week left of the off-season, tying up details

There is just one week until pitchers and catchers report to the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa. Though quite a few players (like Luis Severino coming off a great 2017 season) are already working out on the fields and in the cages, a great off-season perk for being part of the organization. With some recent departures, there are a handful of spots to be earned this Spring, including 2nd and 3rd base and a finalized starting rotation and bullpen.

The Yankees announced last week that they have finalized their coaching staff behind new manager Aaron Boone, filling out most of the staff with mostly familiar faces from the Yankees organization. Larry Rothschild, as we already knew, will return as the Yankees’ pitching coach, now joined by Mike Harkey as bullpen pitching coach, Marcus Thames as hitting coach, and Brett Weber as coaching assistant and MLB leading instant replay coordinator (currently sitting at 75% success rate). Yankees settled on Reggie Willits for their 1st base coach, Carlos Mendoza as quality control coach and infield instructor, P.J. Pilittere as assistant hitting coach, Jason Brown as catching coach, and Radley Haddad as coaching assistant and bullpen catcher. They also bring in two new faces in the form of new bench coach Josh Bard (former Dodgers’ bullpen coach) and new 3rd base coach Phil Nevin (former Giants’ minor league coach).

And Spring Training invitations have gone out to all 39 men currently on the 40-man roster, plus 20 non-roster invitees. And because there’s been quite a few departures and only a few big signings (Stanton sound familiar?), here’s a list for you to prep for the Spring. On the 40-man roster: pitchers Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Dellin Betances, Luis Cessa, Aroldis Chapman, Giovanny Gallegos, Domingo German, Sonny Gray, Chad Green, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Loaisiga, Jordan Montgomery, David Robertson, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino, Chasen Shreve, Masahiro Tanaka, and Adam Warren; catchers Kyle Higashioka, Austin Romine, and Gary Sanchez; infielders Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Greg Bird, Thairo Estrada, Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres, and Ronald Torreyes; and outfielders Jabari Blash, Jake Cave, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Billy McKinney, and Giancarlo Stanton. Non roster invitees: pitchers Chance Adams, Cody Carroll, Cale Coshow, Raynel Espinal, J.P. Feyereisen, David Hale, Brady Lail, Wade LeBlanc, Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate, and Taylor Widener; catchers Francisco Diaz, Erik Kratz, Chace Numata, and Jorge Saez; infielders Danny Espinosa, Kyle Holder, Jace Peterson, and Nick Solak; and outfielder Estevan Florial.

On a brief side note, free agent and last year’s part-time 3rd baseman Todd Frazier signed with the Mets this week. The Mets are fortunate to have a great veteran presence on the field and in the clubhouse. However, it is almost oddly fitting for the guy who triggered the “thumbs-down” movement last year come full circle. The fan who stood up and gave the thumbs-down sign at the make-up Yankees-Rays game last September (Gary) is a die-hard Mets fan, only attending the game because he was able to get cheap tickets to a ball game at CitiField. So now, Gary can “thumbs-up” Frazier at CitiField on a regular basis, but something tells me those two will keep the thumbs down as one of those trademark “you had to be there” things for a long time to come. Good luck, Frazier! See you at the Subway Series!

The Yankees lost a fan-favorite alumnus last week. Power-hitting outfielder Oscar Gamble played 7 seasons with the Yankees (1976, 1979-1984) towards the end of his 17 year career (1969-1985) as a professional ball player. Gamble helped the Yankees with their postseason attempts in 1976, 1980, and 1981 to bookend the brief “Bronx is Burning” dynasty era. He was nicknamed the “Big O” by Phil Rizzuto, another Yankee alumnus (and broadcaster, at that point) and was known for his large afro peeking out below his helmet and ball cap, though the infamous Steinbrenner grooming rules certainly tamed that hair for a bit in those late-70s. Despite no history of chewing tobacco, Gamble was diagnosed with a rare tumor of the jaw 9 years ago and underwent several removal surgeries over the years before it became aggressive just over a year ago and ultimately fatal last week. Our prayers and condolences go out to his many friends and his wife Lovell, and their sons Sean and Shane and daughter Sheena.

Again, we’re counting down the days until baseball starts again, and the Yankees have already shipped all their goods from the Bronx, making its way down I-95 towards Sunny Florida. Hopes are running high for this year, but they always do this early in the year. Because right now, anything really is possible. And isn’t that the greatest way to live life? On positivity, hope, and faith.

Go Yankees!

Hall of Fame near miss & other random off-season moments

After several months of speculation and journalists openly sharing their votes, the Baseball Writers Association of America released the much-anticipated results of the annual Hall of Fame election. In December, the Veterans Committee selected 4-time World Series pitcher Jack Norris (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, 1992-93 Blue Jays) and his 1984 Tigers’ teammate, 6-time All-Star shortstop and 1984 World Series MVP, Alan Trammel. Joining them, the BBWAA announced newest inductees Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero, all well-deserved honorees.

Elected with 97.2% of the vote, Jones spent his entire 19 year career with the Braves at 3rd base and became a fixture in the Atlanta area. He was part of the 1995, 1996, and 1999 World Series teams, winning a ring with the Hall of Fame worthy 1995 team against the Indians. (Jones joins other 1995 Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddox (HOF class of 2014) and John Smoltz (class of 2015) at Cooperstown.) Jones also earned the NL MVP Award in 1999 and was an 8-time All-Star.

{Worth reminding my primary audience here: the Braves team in 1996 and 1999 faced and lost to the last dynasty of the Yankees. It was 6 games in the 1996 series, before they were swept in the 1999 series by the unstoppable Yankees that year.}

On the other side of that World Series was a noted 1st baseman and fellow 2018 inductee Jim Thome (89.8% of the votes). Thome spent his 22 year career primarily with the Indians (1991-2002, 2011), helping them reach the 1995 and 1997 World Series but failed to get a ring (losing to the Braves and Marlins, respectively). Over the course of his career, he was a 5-time All-Star and led the National League with 47 home runs in his 2003 season with the Phillies. Thome also won the 2002 Roberto Clemente Award for his outstanding contributions both on the field and off.

Reliever Hoffman (79.9%) spent the bulk of his 18 year with the Padres (1993-2008), including the year they met the Yankees in the World Series in 1998. The Yankees swept them in 4 games (again, part of that unstoppable dynasty era). But Hoffman still made quite the impact in his career as a 7-time All-Star and leading the NL in saves both in 1998 (with 53) and in 2006 (with 46).

Guerrero (92.9%) spent his 16 year career in the outfield, the bulk of which first with the Expos (1996-2003) and then with the Angels (2004-2009). He also got a shot at the World Series with the 2010 Rangers, but they fell to the Giants that year. Guerrero was a 9-time All-Star and 2004 AL MVP. He also polishes his well-earned 8 Silver Slugger Awards in his trophy case as part of his career accomplishments.

Falling just short of the 75% of the votes needed included Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, getting 63.5% . Any player receiving less than 5% of the votes are automatically dropped from the ballot the following year (including former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui). However, those above 5% and less than 75% move on to hope for another year including Mussina, Roger Clemens (57.3%), Gary Sheffield (11.1%), and Andruw Jones (7.3%). Mussina keeps missing the mark, while Clemens battles the rumors of his past PED use, similar to Giants legend Barry Bonds (who fell short at 56.4%).

It is also worth noting that there were 422 submitted ballots, including 1 left intentionally blank (because where would the fun be in someone getting elected with 100% of the votes). Of those, only 12 ballots didn’t elect Jones, which is why he only got 97% of the vote. Notably, there was also one voter that only voted for Indians alumni (Thome and Omar Vizquel). And if you’re feeling a weird flashback to high school elections for prom court or student council, you’re 100% on track. Some people use their vote to make a point (the blank ballot or all Indians ballot), some to play favorites (a few intentionally anti-Yankee alumni), and some thought through the process of such an honor and chose players that rightfully deserve legacy status. I have mixed feelings every year — I agree every time with who will be feted in July, but I am always irked by who “falls short” due to those who vote in the first two categories.

No, I don’t have a vote. But I do have an opinion.

In lighter news, and back to focusing on Yankees, the off-season has been pretty good for the boys. They’ve been working out, having fun on the practice fields, and enjoying fan art. Meanwhile, the biggest end of season trend last year was Gary the “Thumbs Down” Guy, a Mets fan who flashed the “thumbs down” during a Todd Frazier home run at the special game at CitiField in September. It became a huge meme and thing for the Yankees to do during something amazing and gave New Yorker Gary Dunaier his 15 minutes of fame (or rather 4 months and counting). Frazier and Dunaier finally met earlier this week at an event on Staten Island.

Legend-in-the-making and video game cover guy Aaron Judge got to practice his swing (and bat flip) in a motion-capture suit. He will premier on the cover of MLB The Show 2018 and show off his home run swing for Play Station come March 27 (or March 23 for pre-orders). I’m sure video game players are eagerly awaiting the chance to be the 2017 Rookie of the Year, but I’m just looking forward to the real live player in Spring Training next month.

In Yankees’ Minor League news: The Yankees AA team, the Trenton Thunder, will honor its 25th anniversary this year by playing every Friday game as the “Trenton Pork Rolls“, starting May 18. I swear this is not a “fake” story. Apparently, it’s a local thing, the pork roll, and I’m sure it’s delicious (albeit not very Kosher). And sadly, that is not the weirdest name (and this doesn’t include the Jumbo Shrimp and the Baby Cakes) of a minor league team in the system. And fortunately, it’s only on Fridays. (But what a thing to have on your resume!)

Meanwhile, the Advanced-A Yankees affiliate (and current Steinbrenner Field residents), the Tampa Yankees, made the announcement last month that they would begin the 2018 season with their own name change — the Tampa Tarpons. The Tarpons were a team for about 3 decades in the middle of last century, though baseball has been played in Tampa for over 100 years, including extensively hosting Spring Training. Locally, the tarpon is a large fish, popular with sports fisherman and found off the Gulf Coast, and a neighboring local city is Tarpon Springs. So the Tampa Tarpons found something steeped in local tradition and lore.

The 2018 season is rapidly approaching. 20 days until pitchers and catchers report (Feb. 13). 30 days until the first Spring Training game (Feb. 23 against the Tigers). 65 days until the first game of the season (March 29 in Toronto). And 69 days until the home opener (April 2 against the Rays).

But who’s counting?

Go Yankees!

ALCS 3: HOU vs. NYY — #CCStrong, Judge-power, Home Sweet Home

If any of the games this postseason can be credited with a home field advantage, it would easily be tonight’s game. Yankee Universe knows there’s nothing like Yankee Stadium.

I took my diehard Indians’ fan uncle (and yes, he’s a little bitter after the ALDS) to see a Yankees game this year, his first in Yankee Stadium ever (it was also Old Timers’ Day, by the way). We entered the stadium from the main gate (Gate 6) and into the Grand Concourse, and I took him to view the field from the main level’s concourse. He got chills, literal goosebumps. I thought taking him to Old Timers Day would make up for not seeing the Indians play, which was true as he loved the legends and silliness of the pre-game game.

There is nothing like Yankee Stadium. We all have those stories about our first visits or a memorable visit or special moment in the stadium. The stadium basically is a collection of stories, both for the guys on the field and the fans in the stands.

Anyway, one of those veteran players got the start in this crucial game against the Astros. CC Sabathia came out strong and just powered his way through the game, boosted by a great defense (like Judge slamming into the right field wall or diving in the outfield to make a stellar catch) and some just powerful run-scoring. Sabathia threw 99 pitches through his 6 scoreless innings, gave up 3 hits and 4 walks, and struck out 5 Houston batters. Adam Warren followed him up with 2 more scoreless innings.

Okay, in the mean time, the Yankees racked up that run-support for their pitchers off the Astros’ starter. In the 2nd, with 2 outs, Castro and Hicks worked back-to-back singles. Next batter Todd Frazier had a kind of sloppy swing and promptly sent the ball into the right field seats for a 3-run home run to get the Yankees on the board.

The Yankees came back in the 4th to add to their lead, starting with Bird’s lead-off ground-rule double. After Frazier worked a walk, Bird then scored on Chase Headley’s single, and Sanchez was hit by a pitch to load up the bases. That was also it for the Houston starter’s night. The Astros had enough and dipped into their bullpen to stem the tide, though it certainly didn’t help at first. A wild pitch promptly scored Frazier from 3rd, moving all the runners up. The rest of them scored when Aaron Judge fired a long line drive into the left field seats for a 3-run home run to seal the Yankees’ victory.

So with that huge lead, the Yankees kept the Astros totally scoreless until the 9th inning. Dellin Betances had a bit of an off-night, walking his first 2 batters. So it was on to Tommy Kahnle to clean things up, but he promptly gave up a single to load up the bases before finally getting a much-needed strikeout. So a walk scored the Astros’ lone run before a double play ended the inning and the game.

Final score: 8-1 Yankees, Astros lead series 2-1

Now, that’s exactly what the Yankees needed to restart their momentum. The Yankees need 3 more wins this series and are hoping to continue the win streak with Sonny Gray’s start tomorrow afternoon. First pitch for the ALCS is 5:08 EST, with the NLCS first pitch in Chicago at 7:08 CST (8:08 EST).

And in other news (and I guess we’re starting news relating to “End of the Season”): MLB announced its nominees for the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award. (History of the award here including past 3-time winner Rivera.) Winner will be awarded at Game 4 of the World Series (October 28). Fans can add their voice via Twitter until October 26, but finalists are also voted on by a panel of former relievers including both Rivera and Hoffman, who will be on hand to present the winners of their namesake awards.

AL finalists are the Astros’ Ken Giles, the Red Sox’s Craig Kimbrel (who has won the NL award when he was with the Braves in 2014), and the Yankees own David Robertson. NL finalists are the Cubs’ Wade Davis, the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen, and the Brewers’ Corey Knebel. It is worth noting that all but Knebel are making postseason appearances this season as well. The Yankees’ former closer (now with the Indians) Andrew Miller won the award in 2015; Miller was also nominated last year.

Go Yankees!

ALCS 2: NYY vs. HOU, NLDS 1: CHC vs. LAD — Home field advantage?

Another day where home field advantage meant both nothing and everything. Once again, the Yankees are playing like the postseason we all knew they were, only to be edged out at the very end by the Astros… again. And on the West Coast, the Cubs found out why the Dodgers have the best record in the league.

Game 1: ALCS — Yankees at Astros
Honestly, it was quite the pitching duel between the Yankees and Astros for a good portion of the game. Both starters gave up just 1 run each to tie up the game for most of it. Let me be perfectly frank, the Astros’ starter is a recent acquisition and former foe of the Yankees in previous postseasons. And I haven’t seen a postseason starter this strong since the Giants’ ace in the 2014 postseason. The Astros’ starter threw 124 pitches in the full 9 innings, striking out 13 Yankee batters, and only giving up 5 hits and a walk.

The Yankees got on the board in the 5th. With 2 outs, Aaron Hicks hit a solid double and then scored when Todd Frazier hit a ground-rule double. The best part about Frazier’s double was that the ball flew out of the stadium and then lodged itself in the chain-link fence by the Yankees bullpen in center field. Now, it was about 10 feet up from the ground and about 10 feet below that tell-tale yellow line that circles the stadium to signify how high a ball must travel to be counted as a home run. The center fielder tried throwing his glove up to dislodge it, and most long-term Astros’ associates and beat reporters have never seen a ball lodged there before.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were a little hurt when their starter was a little hurt. Luis Severino got the start and was very sharp again. He threw 62 pitches through his 4 innings, giving up just 2 hits and 2 walks, but not striking out any Houston batters. His lone allowed run came in the 4th when a long ball landed in a kid’s glove right at the top of the right field wall for a home run. Judge seeing the kid, slowed down and braced himself for impact against the wall. I believe that had that been an adult (like the kid’s dad) instead, Judge would have jumped and grabbed that ball back. An umpire review proved that the ball was definitely out, the kid’s glove was right at the top of the wall not over into the field. But Judge’s caution due to it being a kid was clearly evident.

But after 4 innings, Severino was having shoulder issues on his throwing arm. He said he felt fine, but the shoulder just wasn’t loosening up. And with Severino’s potential for some great outings in the future, the Yankees weren’t taking any chances and pulled him. Of course, Severino wanted to stay in and finish his job like a professional, but the bullpen was ready to do their job and do it well in such cases. And there didn’t seem to be anything obviously wrong upon some initial tests, but they will keep an eye on him over the next few days.

Tommy Kahnle breezed his way through the next 2 innings, and David Robertson got the next 2 innings. Both relievers kept the Astros from adding to their score and the game stayed tied, both waiting for the Yankees’ breakthrough that just never came. As once again, they just ran out of outs.

In the bottom of the 9th, the sold out crowd of hometown fans got what was clearly their wish, as Aroldis Chapman clearly did not. Their star player hit a solid 1-out single and then when the next guy doubled, the Astros’ star raced all the way from 1st to slide in home. Judge fielded the ball in right field and fired it to Gregorius at 2nd (who sort of stumbled over the runner sliding into 2nd for his double). Gregorius, unable to make the play at 2nd, fired the ball to Gary Sanchez at home, but either due to Gregorius’ stumble or Sanchez’s over-excitement. But Sanchez dropped the ball as he was trying to make the tag at home.

Final score: 2-1 Astros, Astros lead series 2-0

Game 2: NLCS — Cubs at Dodgers
Both starters in the first game of the NLCS were pretty evenly matched, going 5 innings each, throwing 87-89 pitches, giving up minimal hits (2-4) and walks (1-2), striking out 4 batters, and each giving up 2 runs. And that makes sense as the Cubs’ starters and power-hitters are pretty comparable to the Dodgers.

In the 4th, the Cubs got on the board first with a lead-off single and then scored as part of a 2-run home run. But the Dodgers tied it up in the bottom of the 5th. With 1 out, they worked 2 walks who then both scored on a double and sacrifice fly to tie up the game. So it would be down to the bullpen for the difference of the game. And that’s where the Dodgers clearly outshone the visiting Cubs, keeping the Cubs to those 2 runs.

In the 6th, the Dodgers led-off with a solo home run to break the tie. And then did it again in the 7th. With runners in the corners thanks to a double and single (and another new reliever), a single score another run. But initially, the run was declared out. The Dodgers challenged the call on a possible violation of the home plate collision rule, and it was overturned. Of course, that made the Cubs manager hopping mad, and he hopped right out of the game when he was ejected. Much to the delight of the home crowd in LA.

Final score: 5-2 Dodgers, Dodgers lead series 1-0

The Dodgers-Cubs continue tomorrow (Sunday) for Game 2 in their series. And the Yankees head back to the Bronx to hopefully redeem the series (starting Monday). The Yankees are still 4 wins or 2 losses away from either going to the World Series or watching it from their couches.

Go Yankees!

ALDS 4: HOU vs. BOS & CLE vs. NYY, NLDS 3: WAS vs. CHC & LAD vs. ARI — Halfway to a Championship Series

Two Championship Series teams are ready to go, and two are still battling it out. And two teams are now officially in their off-season.

Game 1: Astros at Red Sox
It took over four hours, a managerial ejection, and 4 starters to determine this afternoon’s game. Both teams sent in 2 starters for long-term stints to try to push their respective causes — the Red Sox needing to win to stay alive for Game 5, and the Astros ready to win to close out this series and focus on the next. After the Astros got on the board in the first when a lead-off double scored on double play, the Red Sox answered back with a 1-out solo home run.

The Astros’ lead-off triple in the 2nd scored on a 2-out single, putting them ahead by a slim margin. The Red Sox found their opportunity to strike back in the 5th. A 1-out walk ended the Astros’ starter’s outing and the reliever promptly gave up a 2-run home run to put the Red Sox in the lead for the first time today. But then the Astros bounced back with a lead-off solo shot in the 8th to tie up the game. And then they continued their push forward. A batter ended up singling on fan interference, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch and then scored on an RBI single. They added another one in the 9th when a hit-by-pitch later scored on a 2-out double for the insurance run they would need.

In a last-ditch effort, the Red Sox had the final half-inning to make up the difference to say alive. It was suddenly electric at Fenway when the lead-off hitter hit an inside the park home run after the Astros’ outfielder had trouble fielding the long hit ball. But then the Astros’ closer ended the Fenway faithful’s hopes, as the rain dripped into the stadium and the stadium organist played what can only be described as funeral music.

Final score: 5-4 Astros, Astros win series 3-1, Astros advances to ALCS

Game 2: Nationals at Cubs
Another pitchers’ duel between these two teams keeps things interesting and tight in this series. And rather short, just over 3 hours. Both starters pitched well into the game with minimal offense allowed. It really is a rather well-matched series. It wasn’t until the 6th inning that the Nationals broke through the scoreless game. With 2 outs, a batter ended up all the way at 3rd by a single fielder making 2 errors in a single play. He then scored on a double when the first reliever came into the game.

But this kind of game keeps things far too close, and an unearned run wasn’t going to go unanswered for long. In the bottom of the 7th, a Cubs batter hit a 1-out double. And with the Nationals going to their bullpen, a similar thing happened — a single scored that runner to tie up the game. In the 8th, the Cubs came back again to break the tie. A lead-off walk moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt. After a strikeout and a new reliever, another Cubs’ batter singled to score that runner, but then ended up getting thrown out going for 2nd to end the inning.

Final score: 2-1 Cubs, Cubs lead series 2-1

Game 3: Indians at Yankees
The Yankees weren’t about to let the Indians take the series, at least not on their home turf. Which came at a slight advantage to them when the Indians couldn’t pitch or defend tonight for anything. Meanwhile, Luis Severino held the Indians off enough for the Yankees to do something amazing. Severino threw a solid 113 pitches in his 7 innings, gave up just 4 hits, a walk, and 3 runs, and struck out 9 batters. Actually, all of his allowed runs were off home runs — a 2-out walk and 2-run homer in the 4th, and a 1-out solo shot in the 5th. Dellin Betances had trouble in the 8th, walking his 2 batters, so the Yankees opted for a surprising choice — Tommy Kahnle — for the final 6 outs of the game. Of those 6 outs, 5 of those were strikeouts. Kahnle was just as strong as we’ve seen him all year.

On the flip side, the Indians couldn’t pitch or defend their way out of a paper bag tonight. Their starter (on short rest from Game 1) only pitched into the 2nd inning, but the Indians went through 7 relievers. In the 2nd inning, the Yankees started their offensive dominance thanks to some defensive incompetence. With 1 out, Castro made it safely to 1st on a fielding error. He moved to 2nd on a passed ball and then scored on Todd Frazier’s double. Frazier then scored on Aaron Hicks’ single, who then moved to 3rd on Gardner’s single. After Gardner moved to 2nd on a stolen base, both he and Hicks scored on Aaron Judge’s double.

And that was just the start of it. In the 3rd, Bird walked and moved to 3rd on Castro’s double, and with 1 out, Frazier worked a walk to load the bases. A ground out finally snapped the Indians’ defense into high gear and got the out at home, but kept the bases loaded. Brett Gardner hit into what should be an easy grounder, but once again, a throwing error worked into the Yankees’ advantage, scoring Castro for an extra run.

And into the 5th inning, Frazier hit a small grounder that was fielded by the pitcher and poorly thrown to the waiting 1st baseman, ending with Frazier at 2nd due to that throwing error. Frazier moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on Brett Gardner’s sacrifice fly. And Gary Sanchez hit a big 1-out solo home run to cap off the Yankees’ offense tonight.

Final score: 7-3 Yankees, series tied 2-2

Game 4: Dodgers at Diamondbacks
The NL is traditionally known for its pitchers, and both NLDS games featured some pretty good pitching. Both pitchers in this late game threw into the 6th inning, though the better outing was easily on the Dodgers’ side. That included the offense too. The Dodgers led-off the game with a double that later scored on a ground out. Later, they doubled that scored with a 2-out solo home run.

The Diamondbacks did their best to come back, but the Dodgers’ pitching staff was really good today, showing why the Dodgers were the best team in the league. The D-backs got a single shot with a 2-out solo home run in the 5th inning to get them on the scoreboard. The Dodgers, however, answered back in the 6th with a lead-off solo home run.

Final score: 3-1 Dodgers, Dodgers sweep series 3-0, advance to NLCS

So, there we have it: the Astros and Dodgers each await the results of the other 2 Division Series to see who they’ll face off in the next series. Yankees pushed a Game 5, and the Cubs-Nationals are going to duke it out to the end.

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 154: NYY vs. TOR — Postseason clinched on Bird’s big swing

The champagne (or beer or soda in some cases) has been sprayed, the visitor’s clubhouse in Rogers Centre is doused, social media is abuzz. The Yankees are definitely playing October baseball. (But more on that later.)

Sonny Gray got the start this afternoon in the middle game in this weekend series in Toronto. Gray threw 96 pitches in his 6 innings, gave up 4 hits, 3 walks, and a run, and struck out just 4 batters. His allowed run (and the only one the Blue Jays hit all day) was a 1-out solo shot straight up the middle in the 4th inning. Actually, Gray had a pretty good day overall. It felt slow at times, but sometimes slow means people aren’t scoring. And in that case, it was a good thing.

The Yankees closed out the final third of the game, their bullpen making it look easy — Green, Robertson, and Chapman just breezing through the Blue Jays’ roster and shutting them down.

The Yankees didn’t really do much against the starter, despite his bad ERA and win-loss ratio this season. But what they did do was enough. In the 5th, Headley led-off with a walk and then stole 2nd base. One out later, Castro worked a walk as well. And then it was Greg Bird who made all the difference with his big 3-run home run into the right field seats.

The Yankees found another opportunity in the 8th inning when Todd Frazier hit a 1-out solo home run. And in the 9th, Sanchez led-off with a double, watched Headley work another walk, moved to 3rd on a fielder’s choice, and then scored on Starlin Castro’s RBI “single” (though how it wasn’t a fielding error, I’m not sure).

As Chapman threw his 10th pitch, a dribbling grounder to Bird (suitably) to get the out at 1st, the Yankees were going to the postseason regardless of how the rest of this next week turns out.

Final score: 5-1 Yankees

Okay, so yes, the Yankees are headed to the postseason. But the big question, the battle still to fight is WHERE. They will at least be a Wild Card spot. With today’s win and Boston winning their game against the Reds, both teams clinched postseason spots. But the Yankees remain firmly 4 games behind the Red Sox for the AL East.

Let’s talk “magic numbers”. As of now, the Red Sox’s magic number to be the AL East division champions is 5. Which means the Yankees’ magic number to take the crown from them is 5 games. So, the Red Sox need to lose 5 games, and the Yankees need to win 5 games.

As far as the actual Wild Card race, here’s how that’s looking. {Full Disclaimer: as I write this, many games are still in the middle of play, which could very well affect final standings where everyone lands by the end of the night.} The Yankees currently sit atop that list, 6 games ahead of the Twins. So, as of now, that’s who’s heading to the one-off Wild Card game.

However, there are 6 teams still very much in the race just a few games back — the Rangers (3.5 games behind the Twins), the Angels (4 games), Royals (4.5 games), Seattle (5 games), Rays (5 games), and Orioles (6.5 games). Realistically, the Rangers and Angels probably have the best shot at making up the difference, especially as the division winners (and deservedly so) of some of the other divisions will be playing some of the other contenders. It’s always down to the schedule, isn’t it?

Anyway, we’re still hoping for the Red Sox’s collapse here. So it’s still “Go Reds!” for tomorrow as the Yankees hope to close that gap by taking the series tomorrow afternoon in Toronto before heading home for the final week.

Go Yankees!