This weekend’s series finds the suddenly stumbling New York Yankees at Turner Field for a trio of games with the following pitching matchups:
• Friday night: Masahiro Tanaka (9-6, 3.61) vs. Williams Perez (4-4, 4.76)
• Saturday night: Luis Severino (1-2, 2.74) vs. Matt Wisler (5-4, 5.43)
• Sunday afternoon: Nathan Eovaldi (13-2, 4.00) vs. Julio Teheran (9-6, 4.29)
Make no mistake: Our team sucks out loud & it can lose to any club anywhere at any time — for several games in a row, for a week straight, or certainly often enough to make one wonder if we’ll ever win again. At this point, with the Braves plummeting to their worst finish in a quarter-century, it’s hard not to merely root for draft position and against injuries. That’s all we have, really.
But for me, a native Georgian/lifelong Braves fan who’s lived in New York City for 25 years—see the symmetry?—these are the games that’ll get some attention. (Confession: I’ve been a Yankee season-ticket holder for two decades.) The rest of the season will be kinda like one of those odd years when my Georgia Bulldogs stagger down the stretch without a chance to win an SEC football title—in those cases, you just want to beat your rivals, maybe ruin someone’s season, if you can. “Hey, let’s trip up Auburn before we stick it to the Humble Bumbles, and then let’s win the bowl game.” So, what I’m really saying: At this point, I just wanna beat the Yanks & the Mets.
But before we look again at those pitching matchups and mentally punt the entire series, it should be noted again that, right now, this Pinstriped bunch is reeling a little bit. Yes, the trade-enriched Blue Jays are rampaging thru the AL & have passed the Bombers in the division—the Yanks are not hitting much these days. But a little bit of perspective might be in order for this particular Yankee club.
Coming in to the season, a Wild Card berth might’ve been considered the club’s ceiling. Why? There were just so many what-ifs & maybes—essentially, a lotta best-case scenarios had to happen if this club was going to contend.
For starters, Teixeira & A-Rod, their two main power sources, were returning from various injuries & a notable year-long suspension. Brian McCann was coming off the worst season of his career. Although Jacoby Ellsbury had a good, though certainly not great, first season (and a full one), his history told us that it could be tough to keep this very expensive player on the field. In 2014, Carlos Beltran looked occasionally crippled & perhaps washed-up. Ditto for C.C. Sabathia. (It was a bit strange to consider that, of all the high-priced talent the club had acquired for its lineup, the one guy Yankee fans could probably count on for a good 2015 was Brett Gardner.)
But, back to the rest of the potentially rickety rotation: After a blazing start, Tanaka went down in mid-season ’14, then eschewed surgery, so he remained a huge question in ’15. Ivan Nova & Michael Pineda had also been injury-prone — who knew what they could give? Swingman Adam Warren looked promising, but had never pitched big innings. And Eovaldi, whom they plucked from South Beach for Martin Prado, remained a power pitcher with an upside, but a guy who’d never really put it together. The bullpen, however, looked pretty bad-ass by teaming Dellin Betances with free-agent Andrew Miller, who replaced closer David Robertson.
The first four months of the season were more than hunky-dory in YankeeLand. They hit a gazillion home runs, mostly fueled by Teixeira and A-Rod, whose comeback was considered a redemption by some fans, thoroughly fishy by others. (With him, the drama never ends.) The rotation mostly held up and the bullpen was lights-out. Until very recently, they stayed in first place.
At the moment, however, they’re 1.5 games behind Toronto & more than a few fans believe that this is an old club that’s breaking down before our very eyes, wilting in the depths of summer. Their two most valuable offensive players for the year have seemingly hit a wall and one has suffered “the inevitable injury.” Outside a game-winning GSHR last week vs. Cleveland, A-Rod (26 HRs) has been mired in a deep slump for nearly a month. FWIW, we won’t see him this weekend, unless he’s a PH. He no longer wears a glove.
Teixeira (31 HRs) suffered a “deep bone bruise” on a foul ball off his leg this past week. If he plays at all at The Ted, watch him try to run — he couldn’t beat Haystacks Calhoun in a 40-yard dash right now. I’m guessing we’ll see more of Greg Bird at 1B instead. On a team that’s relied heavily on the long ball all year, those 2 guys really carried the Yanks to August. But now they’re truly struggling and/or playing hurt.
The rest of the offense? McCann’s been better than last year—his counting numbers (23 HR, 75 RBI, etc.) are already the same as ’14 with 6 weeks to go in ’15—and his rate stats are up noticeably (.245/.314/.469 from .232/.286/.406). Didi Gregorius, who was a real disaster (mostly offensively) the first couple months seems to have shaken it all off & he’s begun to hit. His range remains good, even if he’s muffed some routine balls & had a few bad throwing errors.
It must be noted that Ellsbury is practically stealing money this year. Look up his salary, then look up his ’15 stats & you’ll see that $21M isn’t exactly a bargain for a .714 OPS/101 OPS+ in limited play. (Hey, only 6 years & $127M more to go on that contract, and guess what? He’s hurt again.) Gardner, a fan favorite who earned his first All-Star berth this summer, is hitting about .200 since that All-Star Game.
The only guy who’s really hitting right now is Beltran, who got off to a terrible start & had an injury- riddled 2014. (What’s new with this bunch?) He seems likes he’s in a groove — that easy stroke is really stinging the ball these days. A Bad Note: He might be the AL’s worst RF. He’s had some adventures out there, and a couple of them have really hurt the club — but you can’t DH him, unless you’re also going to sit A-Rod. Beltran just cannot move anymore out there.
At 3B, it’s hard to figure what’s happened to Chase Headley this year. At the plate, he’s been OK— league-average, exactly—if a bit of a disappointment following his $52M extension thru 2018. But he’s been less than great in the field — 20 errors & some really shaky moments along the way. At 2B, Stephen Drew has been feast-or-famine at the plate—sub.200 BA, but 15 HRs—still, he plays a solid 2B. If the other guys hit, he doesn’t kill you. And FWIW, he’s gotten some really big HRs for them this season.
Overall, their pitching is middle of the pack in the AL. Their starters are nothing terribly special outside Tanaka on a good day — though Severino appears to have really good stuff thru his 3 starts. Eovaldi has a gaudy record and has pitched well lately, but he’s benefitted from run support & he’s gotten touched up a bit throughout the year. Nova is OK, but doesn’t strike fear in anyone—I saw him get blasted by Houston the other night—and it always appears that the ever-fragile Pineda will have a good outing, then they’ll skip his next start or give him an extra day to recover. Before he reinjured his knee & went on the DL this past week, Sabathia was pitching a little better — but for most of the season was a bit of a disaster. It was charitable to call him the world’s most-expensive 5th starter.
If they do escape or get past the Wild Card round & into the ALDS, don’t be surprised to see a rotation of Tanaka, Eovaldi, Severino & Nova (or Adam Warren). Scary? Not really. The relievers have been a real strength and the back of their bullpen (Betances & Miller) has been as good as any combo in baseball this season. LHP Chasen Shreve has been terrific as well, boasting a crazy reverse split (a .580 OPS for right-handed hitters). They just haven’t had too many late leads to protect in recent times.
For the Yanks to be a post-season force, once again, a lot will have to go right for them—and that includes basic health. Doesn’t mean they won’t thump us this weekend in our own ballpark, but this is not your older brother’s Yankees. Right now, they’re kinda held together with duct tape, chewing gum and baling wire—though it’s certainly the best such materials money can buy, purchased from the highest-end boutique.