Monday, August 31, 2015

Yankees weekend news wrap: Domination expected and delivered

Heading into the weekend series at the Atlanta Braves, the New York Yankees had to feel they had three very winnable games coming against a team in complete rebuild mode. That feeling and getting the job done are two different things, but the Yankees’ bats came alive and carried them to a three-game sweep.

The series finale will be highlighted because of the 21-hit, 20-run rampage, but there were other aspects to the series which indicate the Yankees might be poised for a successful finish to the season.

No Teixeira, No A-Rod, no problem?


Mark Teixeira
Photo credit: Keith Allison via Flickr
Of course this is an exaggeration, because they Yankees do need Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez to be healthy and productive over the final month-plus of the season. But, to score 36 runs in three games without them (A-Rod contributed  a two-run pinch-hit single to Sunday's run-fest), albeit against a poor pitching staff, proves to the rest of the club that they can get the job done without them on occasion.

Further, A-Rod coming off the bench and getting on base both times shows he can be productive as a pinch-hitter. While the Yankees are once again giving A-Rod some reps at first base, unless Teixeira is unable to play, I cannot see Rodriguez playing much there even in the lone series against a National League team (the Mets) in September. Worrying about how A-Rod can contribute in a potential World Series game at a National League park is terribly premature in my opinion.

Tanaka, Severino show mettle


Masahiro Tanaka looked uncomfortable from the start of Friday’s game, allowing two runs, but then settled down the rest of the way besides a solo homer to Freddie Freeman in the third inning. After that, Tanaka retired 14 of the final 15 batters he faced. Tanaka sat in the 92-94 mph range with his four-seam fastball and his final pitch reached 95 mph. Tanaka showed some mettle getting past the first inning, especially after the Yankees put up a four-spot in a long top of the second inning.

Severino tossed six scoreless innings, once again working around a few too many walks (four). Severino will have to begin to limit the free passes because eventually they will come back to haunt him, but it has been a pleasure to see him unfazed with runners on base. Besides the walks Severino looks fully acclimated to the big leagues.

Those starts came at a time that the Yankees rotation had hit a bit of a rut, so while the team was starting to generate some offense, getting positive contributions from two of their starters was important.

Bottom of the order sizzles


While I feel the need to once again preface the quality of the opposing pitchers, the bottom of the Yankees' order was exceptional in the weekend series. Chase Headley went 6-for-11 with a home run and seven RBIs, Didi Gregorius had seven hits in 12 at-bats with a homer and eight RBIs and even Stephen Drew got into the action, going 4-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs in the finale. Drew finished Sunday's game with his average above .200 (.201) for the first time ALL SEASON.

The Yankees will need to get Teixeira healthy, A-Rod hitting well again and the rest of the lineup to continue to find ways to contribute with stout starting pitching and lockdown efforts from the bullpen if they want to make a run at the Toronto Blue Jays for the AL East title. It is time to click on all cylinders.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for SNY.tv. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Yankees lacking energy during playoff race?

New York Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner told reporters Wednesday that he feels the club is lacking energy of late, more specifically saying the team was “kind of flat” in Tuesday and Wednesday’s defeats at the hands of AL West leading Houston. If there is one thing that makes me want to pull my hair out, it’s professional athletes saying they do not possess drive. I get it for teams with nowhere to go in August and September, but for a team currently holding the top wild card spot in the American League it’s pathetic.

I don’t rant often, but here it goes.

I understand the current hitting slump could affect a team’s psyche, but to come out against a potential playoff foe and be flat is inexcusable. I’m also tired of the whole notion that age alone is weighing these guys down. We are talking about professional athletes. Many of them have been treated with kid gloves all season, getting days off for rest, not to mention the days they received for minor injuries or longer periods off the field for stints on the disabled list.

Prolonged slumps don’t fix themselves. These guys need to buckle up and work at correcting the issues. One month further along in the season should not be enough to drag down the entire offense. Gardner gets it right with this comment via Bryan Hoch at MLB.com.

"It's that time of the year where we've played a lot of games and nobody's going to slow down and wait on you," Gardner said. "You've got to come here and strap it on and get ready to play, and that's it."

Further, I’m a bit tired of hearing how 40-year-old Alex Rodriguez’s deep funk – he has nine hits in his last 74 at-bats – is due to his age. The guy is an everyday DH, who has been given periodic rests throughout the season. The mechanics of hitting a baseball are difficult to maintain day in and day out, but how tiring can hitting a baseball really be?

This isn’t an Over-40's men’s softball league, where former athletes working 10-hour days come together to tie a few on and play a game. This is professional baseball, where millions of dollars are being paid to players whose sole desire should be to reach the playoffs. It is within the Yankees’ grasp, but they’re too old to get the job done? Come on.

I’ll use Carlos Beltran as an example. He’s 38, playing virtually every day in the field and he’s been red-hot since May 1; arguably the club's best hitters during the span. I’ve had enough with the age card, it's a factor among many, not the lone reason for a slump.

Here's my advice to Yankees hitters not named Beltran. Sit down since you're tired, watch some video and then get in the cage and spank baseballs until there’s a hole in your batting gloves.

Slumps are part of the baseball season, but once a team in the thick of a playoff race admits to lacking energy with 36 games left on the schedule, it’s time to check themselves in the mirror and ask some questions. How bad to we want it? What are we going to do to improve? And are we going to fight for our place in the postseason?

Let’s hope they find some energy and some passion as they look up at the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East standings this morning.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for SNY.tv. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Yankees’ stagnant offense puts pressure on fragile rotation

Through most of the first four months of the season, the New York Yankees offense was one of the high-points of the club. They were second in the league in scoring and fairly consistent. The production was typically spread throughout a majority of the lineup; just about everyone helped produce runs at some point. But, once August came around, the offense has been sputtering more than effective and it is putting pressure on a fragile rotation.

Through Tuesday’s 15-1 blowout at the hands of the Houston Astros, the Yankees rank among the worst offensive teams in the league.

That’s not going to win many games and it hasn’t as the Yankees are 11-12 for the month. The reason the Yankees have been able to stay close to .500 for the month is the rotation.

Even with last night’s drubbing of Ivan Nova (seven earned runs in four innings), the Yankees rotation has a 3.85 ERA in August. This is nothing spectacular, but it would still rank as the best measure by month for the season.

The Yankees rotation is a fragile one. Each member of the rotation that started the season has seen time on the disabled list except for Nathan Eovaldi, who has been sensational. Michael Pineda returns Wednesday, after the club seemingly lost CC Sabathia for at least 15 games (it could be a lot longer). The rotation is also relying on a 21-year-old rookie in Luis Severino to provide quality outings (which he has).

A division race is a pressure situation in and of itself, but when coupled with an anemic offense, it’s like a tea kettle ready to blow its lid. If the Yankees expect to contend for a playoff position (they are one game back in the AL East and four-and-a-half games ahead in the wild card race) they will need to get the offense back in gear and hope they have not overstressed their rotation.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for SNY.tv. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Monday, August 10, 2015

Yankees weekend news wrap: Panic in the Bronx?

The New York Yankees had a chance to put some more space between them and the Toronto Blue Jays this past weekend, but unfortunately, all that happened was the Yanks getting completely humbled by their AL East foes in sweeping fashion.

The Bombers came in with a great home record (32-18) while the Blue Jays were a putrid 22-31 outside of Rogers Centre. Both clubs were expected to put up a lot of runs, and other than Saturday’s affair, each game was a pitcher’s duel. The Yanks lost those too, scoring just one run the entire series.

Believe it or not, there are some reasons precluding me (and should prohibit you) from panic.

The pitching held up


Nathan Eovaldi allowed just one run in six-plus innings after a rocky first inning, and Masahiro Tanaka allowed two solo home runs in six innings of work. Even Saturday’s starter, Ivan Nova, pitched well, shutting out the Blue Jays over the first five innings. He allowed a back-breaking grand slam in the sixth inning allowing David Price and company to coast the rest of the way.

Eovaldi and Tanaka (despite the bombs) held an offense in check that leads the majors in runs scored and came into the series on fire. There is something to be said about their performance under the pressure they pitched with.

Lots of time left; 10 more against Jays


I wrote Friday for SNY that while this series was important for both teams, there is a lot of season left to go. I don’t believe it is wise to entertain the thought that whatever happened in the series should dictate how the rest of the regular season will pan out.

The Yankees are certainly on notice that the Blue Jays have an improved rotation (and maybe the Yanks will want someone to throw some knuckleballs at them from time to time during BP) and bullpen. On the other hand, I suspect the Blue Jays do not expect the Yankees to score one run in each of the next series either. These things tend to balance out. The Yankees did not forget how to hit.

And as I’ve said multiple times already here and elsewhere, the Yankees and Blue Jays meet 10 more times this season. The race is far from over.

Peaks and valleys


Finally, while the last five games at Yankee Stadium have been the club’s worst offensively, EVER, according to Katie Sharp of River Ave. Blues, they’ll bounce out of it soon. Players have ups and downs; hopefully it doesn’t all happen at once. It did this weekend for the Yankees and it was costly. The Yanks can only hope that the upswing happens soon and they can carry it into Toronto next weekend. The way baseball rolls, it's a good guess things will balance out for the Yankees before long.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for SNY.tv. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Thursday, August 6, 2015

Yankees’ Luis Severino has arrived

The New York Yankees put an “untouchable” sign around the neck of 21-year-old Luis Severino, and Wednesday night fans were treated with glimpses as to why.

Luis Severino
Photo credit: Slgckgc via Flickr
Severino was not perfect in his MLB debut against the Boston Red Sox; he worked around some 3-2 counts and surrendered a mammoth home run to David Ortiz. But, he also buckled down when the count was in the hitter’s favor never allowing a walk, and retired the final six batters he faced after Ortiz’s bomb.

In five innings of work, Severino allowed two runs, one earned, on two hits. He struck out seven Red Sox and walked none. He was handed the tough luck loss, but after the game it seemed anyone who was asked praised the Yankees’ top pitching prospect.

"He was awesome," Wednesday night’s catcher John Ryan Murphy said via MLB.com. "He definitely belongs; that's one of the first things that stands out. He's a competitor. He wants to be the guy in control. ... I think overall, he should be really proud of himself."



We all know Severino has a very solid repertoire – a mid-90’s fastball that he ramped up to 97, a very good changeup and a slider thrown at two different speeds. He was overthrowing the slider at times and bounced those to Murphy. However, he began to get the feel for all of his pitches as the game wore on and worked at a very good pace.

Besides the actual stuff, I was impressed with Severino's complete composure from start to finish, and next his passion which he displayed by pumping his fist and pounding his glove when he completed the fourth and fifth innings with strikeouts. Severino has been brought up to the major leagues in middle of a playoff race, and he didn’t look the least bit concerned.

Severino has been kept mostly underneath the 100-pitch mark for much of the season in an effort to minimize his innings and give him a chance to pitch during the stretch run. With Michael Pineda out until at least the beginning of September, and injury potential among the other starters, Severino could stick in the rotation for the remainder of the regular season.

Whether Severino is an impact player for the Yankees down the stretch depends wholly on whether he can make adjustments when his pitches are not all working. He seemed to be able to do that last night when his slider was giving him trouble. Next, can Severino maneuver through a tougher hitting lineup like the Toronto Blue Jays? Finally, will Severino be able to minimize his pitches per inning in an effort to make it through at least the sixth inning and not add extra labor to an already hard-worked bullpen?

Those are mostly mechanical issues. And sometimes that’s the easy part for players as talented as Severino. What often gives 21-year-old baseball players’ problems is their mental makeup. I see no such issues with Severino.

Severino has high expectations because of his scouting reports, his success in the minors and the “untouchable” tag place on him by the front office. While five innings of work does not write an entire story, Severino’s first start made for a pleasant beginning to a potentially brilliant career.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for SNY.tv. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Monday, August 3, 2015

Yankees weekend news wrap: Road trip, standing pat, two months to go

The New York Yankees remained in control of the American League East after going 6-4 on their road trip. The Yankees virtually stood pat at the deadline (minus one minor move) and the club has two months to, to the day, to maintain their position in the standings and reach the postseason for the first time since 2012.

Great trip


I wrote at the beginning of the 10-game road trip that if the Yankees could figure out a way to hit on the road as well as they have at home, while all else being equal, they would be tough to beat after the trade deadline. The Yankees did just that, pounding out 21 runs in one game at Texas and 13 and 12 runs in two of their games against the White Sox. The Yanks averaged 4.6 runs in the other seven games which should be plenty of offense if the pitching is doing their job.

What was even better is this stat:

That’s impressive considering the top five or six guys in the lineup have carried the club's offense through much of the season. If the trend remains (obviously not at the level of the road trip, but basically average to above-average offensive production) the Yankees will be hard to catch.

Was standing pat right or wrong?


I have no problem that the team decided to mostly stand pat, but that comes with the caveat that they must continue to infuse youth into areas when and where necessary. They've had no problem doing this with a massive rotational movement in the bullpen. They are continuing to trust their minor leaguers by bringing up Luis Severino to replace Michael Pineda in the rotation.

The question is if CC Sabathia continues to waste outings and Stephen Drew’s recent resurgence is a temporary thing, will they make changes with how the two veterans are used? An injury, like Pineda's presses the issue, but abandoning veterans for youth because of performance takes extreme confidence.

Two months to go


The Yankees are well positioned at the moment, but they have 13 games left against the Toronto Blue Jays, who got a whole lot better last week. The Bombers also have six games remaining against the Baltimore Orioles. Each club is six games back of the Yankees before play Monday.

In my opinion, if the Yankees continue to win series from this point on, they’ll coast to the division title. I just don’t see either of the other two teams going on extreme winning streaks AND the Yankees consequently going on extended losing streaks. It seems like the Yankees inconsistent play has finally subsided and at the perfect time. They’ll have to continue to play in this same fashion without letting down if they want to win the AL East.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for SNY.tv. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Saturday, August 1, 2015

Yankees: Why Dustin Ackley?

The New York Yankees seemed poised to make a deal Friday, the final day of the non-waiver trading period. The Yanks were linked to relievers Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman for parts of the day, hoping to make a splash by building a superpower bullpen. It wasn’t meant to be and the Yankees stayed pat on deadline day.

The Yankees were not entirely quiet, making one deal this week; trading outfielder Ramon Flores and right-handed reliever Jose Ramirez to the Seattle Mariners for utility player Dustin Ackley. The Yankees designated 1B/OF Garrett Jones for assignment to make space for Ackley on the active roster. Ackley, 27, can be used throughout the outfield as well as first and second base.

Ackley, a former first round pick (No. 2, 2009), has never truly lived up to expectations as a top-rated prospect in the Mariners’ system. Once Robinson Cano was signed for the 2014 season, Ackley was permanently shifted to the outfield from his natural position at second base.

Ackley’s major league career started off well in 2011 when he hit .273/.348/.417 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs in 376 plate appearances. He registered a 117 wRC+ and 3.0 fWAR in that rookie campaign. Unfortunately, he did not show improvement after coming on the scene. His wRC+ was just 75 in his first full season in 2012, which he followed up with an 87 wRC+ in 2013, and 97 in 2014. Ackley owns a .243/.306/.366 career line and a 90 wRC+. He’s accumulated 6.8 fWAR in his career.

That fWAR has actually decreased due to a -0.7 mark this season coming into Friday’s game. Ackley was batting just .215/.270/.366 with six home runs and 19 RBIs before the trade (77 wRC+), and went 0-for-2 in his Yankees’ debut as a late-game replacement Friday night.

So, you must be thinking why the need to trade two minor leaguers with some upside still lingering who had each spent time with the Yankees this season for Ackley? First, while promising they were expendable. Second, the Yankees have been high on Ackley for some time. And finally, the club felt Ackley’s ability to play multiple positions was a benefit over Jones who was not exactly lighting up the scoreboard either.

Flores was one of three left-handed hitting outfielders in the Yankees’ system who made an appearance for the club this season (Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams were the others) when Jacoby Ellsbury was on the disabled list. The team decided Flores was the odd man out. Ramirez, who owns a high-powered fastball, has battled control problems and the Yankees are incredibly deep where it concerns relief pitchers so he became an unnecessary commodity.

Jones seems to me to be the type of player who needs more plate appearances to get into some sort of rhythm. Jones had averaged 527 PA over the last five seasons which produced some decent power. Before being designated Friday, Jones was slashing .215/.267/.361 (67 wRC+) with five homers and 17 RBIs. Jones' abilities in the field are minute, playing right field and first base only.

Understand Ackley is not going to be seeing the field much more than Jones did, unless there is an injury to one of the regular outfielders or to first baseman Mark Teixeira. But, the Yankees hope when he does get some playing time the change of scenery will do him some good.

Ackley has battled some luck issues this season hitting .234 on batted balls in play, while his career mark is almost 50 points higher (.283). He’s drawing fewer walks per plate appearance (6.8 percent) than his career mark (8.2 percent), while striking out at virtually the same rate this season as his career (18.2 percent vs. 18.4 percent). Ackley’s line dive rate is down considerably this season (13.3 percent compared with 19.5 for his career).

The good news is Ackley owns a more enticing .296/.397/.481 slash line in 63 plate appearances at Yankee Stadium. Yes, that’s a small sample size, but anywhere near that production from Ackley combined with his versatility and some change in luck would provide the club with an upgrade over Jones.

Ackley is certainly not a high profile trade acquisition, but when a team is winning its division by six games and there are internal options to fit their main necessities, a bit player with the potential to outplay his predecessor can go a long way.