Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How big is tonight’s start for Yankees’ Tanaka?

Suggesting that Game 158 for the New York Yankees is big when the postseason is within grasp, is certainly not an overstep in narrative. But, Masahiro Tanaka’s performance lamented as the be-all and end-all game of the season is pushing the dialogue a bit.

Masahiro Tanaka
Photo credit: Keith Allison via Flickr
Surely, Tanaka’s Wednesday night start against the Boston Red Sox is important for several reasons.

First, the Yankees desperately need a win to get the taste of the playoffs on their lips instead of sniffing it in front of their noses.

Secondly, the Yankees must have Tanaka tuned up for his potential start in the American League Wild Card game.

Third, and in my mind most importantly, Tanaka has to prove he is healthy enough to pitch without abandon. He cannot come into today’s game giving less than 100 percent. If Tanaka cannot go full throttle, he’ll be of no use to the Yankees for the wild card affair.

Notice I did not say that Tanaka has be lights out Wednesday. I believe it would be inappropriate to expect him to dominant the Red Sox, or any other team for that matter, with 11 days passed since his last start. Would it help the Yankees if Tanaka looked as good as or even better than he had before suffering the mild hamstring strain? Yes, of course. But, expect it? I don’t believe that’s fair under the circumstances.

In my estimation Tanaka will prove ready for the wild card tilt if he can toss close to 100 pitches, throw his four-seam fastball in the 93-95 mph range, have a good feel for his splitter (even if only on occasion) an command the strike zone (at least for extended periods). I fully expect Tanaka to have a bit of a time getting into a rhythm this evening, and I will not feel the season is over if he just doesn’t have it.

But, it will be entirely disconcerting to me if he shows any ill-effects from the injury, or worse looks as though he is babying himself on the mound. Much as I wrote earlier for SNY about the Yankees offense, Tanaka, the remaining starters and the bullpen have to put the pedal to the metal. There is plenty of time to get past the aches and pains of the season over the winter. If Tanaka is not 100 percent healthy, he cannot be counted on in the postseason.

Right now, the biggest piece to Tanaka’s start is demonstrating he’ll be able to handle the immense pressure of a one-game playoff from a health standpoint. We’ve seen Tanaka come up big in important games, so that is not a question in my mind. If he can walk off the mound in complete health Wednesday night, the results, while important, are secondary to the bigger picture for the Yankees.

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, September 24, 2015

Yankees redirect attention to wild card berth

The American League East title might finally be out of reach for the New York Yankees after losing two of three games to the Toronto Blue Jays. This is not to say the Yanks should give up on their quest for the division title, but they might begin to gear up for a winner-take-all play-in game Oct. 6.

The Yankees must still play to win the AL East title, on the slim chance that the Blue Jays continue to play .500 ball the rest of the way (Toronto is 5-5 in their last 10 games). It would take an impressive 9-2 run by the Yankees over their final 11 games, but it is certainly not impossible. The effort to win each game should remain, if only to be playing top-notch baseball when the wild card game arrives.


Line up Tanaka


The Yankees will likely place Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation with the vision of having him ready for the wild card game. He’s their best pitcher right now, and one who would match up best against what would be the best pitcher from their competition. If went into detail on this subject over at SNY on Tuesday.

Take a break


I know I said the Yankees have to win a bulk of their games going forward, which would require them to play their best players. Well, some of their regulars are in deep funks and could use a break.

Brett Gardner is in the throes of a 4-for-39 slump, and Chase Headley has three hits in his last 34 at-bats.

Gardner will surely get a day off against one of the three left-handers they’ll face beginning Thursday when the Chicago White Sox come to town. The day of could come as quickly as today with Chris Sale on the mound for the ChiSox. Chris Young would garner the start for the Yankees, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Young started two of the games against Chicago.

Headley could be spelled by Stephen Drew or Brendan Ryan, neither of whom provides much more offense, but will be solid enough for one day in the field. It’s a good guess that a day off is what Headley needs; he’s played in every game since July 11, starting all but three of those games, his last day beginning on the bench being Sept. 8. Surely a day off cannot hurt at this point.

On a lesser scale, Alex Rodriguez is falling once again (2-for-17 slide), so expect him to get a day, most likely in the middle of the 11 games against a right-hander.

Where’s the middle relief?


We can suggest that Yankees manager Joe Girardi has pulled his starters too early (he has at times) and that he’s relied too heavily on Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller (he has at times), but the actual issue is that there is virtually NO ONE picking up the slack in middle relief right now.

Over the last 30 days, Yankees middle relievers have been pitiful. Below is the performance of the middle relief crew during the time span.

Reliever   IP  ERA
Chasen Shreve   8.0  6.75
Branden Pinder   7.1  3.68
Adam Warren   6.2  5.40
Chris Capuano   6.2 14.85
Nick Rumbelow   6.0  6.00
Andrew Bailey   6.0  7.50
Bryan Mitchell   5.1 13.50
Caleb Cotham   4.2  1.93
James Pazos   4.0   0.00
Nick Goody   2.1  0.00

It’s no wonder Girardi is begging for more than three outs apiece from Wilson, Betances and Miller. Something has to change here. Someone needs to step up and take control of the middle innings going forward in an effort to minimize the strain being placed on the backend of the bullpen.

The Yankees have three series left to ready themselves for a potential postseason run. These are the areas that seem to need the most attention at the moment. Is there enough time to remedy them?

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, September 19, 2015

Where does Yankees' Greg Bird begin the 2016 season?

The only reason New York Yankees’ first baseman Greg Bird isn’t riding the pine this September is because Mark Teixeira has a busted left leg, and there wasn’t anyone already on the roster that could fill the void. Now Bird is outperforming expectations bringing to light the question of where he begins play in 2016.

How good has Bird been? Let’s extrapolate Bird's numbers through Friday night's game to the same number of plate appearances Teixeira had before going down with his injury.



I understand extrapolation is not an exact science for future performance, but it does give you an idea of the kind of offensive production Bird has provided comparatively speaking to Teixeira’s.

The drop-off is not great, and we’re talking about a player in Teixeira who was arguably the Yankees best offensive force this season before the injury. While there are issues to address (strikeouts in particular) it is easy to see the dilemma of whether Bird starts back in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or grabs a spot on the 25-man roster as the backup first baseman.

The argument to start Bird at Scranton is simple; Teixeira should be fine by spring training and the Yankees will not want to have a one-dimensional player like Bird on the bench. The counter to that point might be to see if Bird can log some time at third base or right field in the spring in an effort to make him more versatile. Bird might even be able to land a few plate appearances when the Yanks want to rest Alex Rodriguez as the designated hitter. Having Bird become more versatile is not an outlandish thought, but rather an intriguing one in my view.

Greg Bird
Photo credit: Arturo Pardavilla III via Flickr
There are issues with trying Bird out in other positions on the field. One, Bird was originally a catcher, indicating he has limited mobility and we’ve seen that with some of his work at first base thus far. Two, he’s suffered from back injuries in the past prompting the move to first base. And finally replacing regular third baseman Chase Headley or right fielder Carlos Beltran on an occasion basis makes little sense with a left-handed hitter, the better hitting side for the switch-hitting veterans.

Most likely Bird will find himself on the Yankees’ 25-man roster, if and only if, Teixeira gets hurt for a lengthy period. Surely, Bird would not suffer from getting consistent at-bats at Triple-A and he would stand to gain valuable experience at Scranton (his fielding would likely benefit from more seasoning). Having Bird, who will be 23 next season, play daily makes more sense to me, so he should be where that can happen.

Also, knowing they have Bird in the wings, the Yankees could fill their bench roles for 2016 without having to sign a “legitimate” first base backup, as they tried this past offseason with Garrett Jones. The Yanks will have Headley, Dustin Ackley and Brian McCann for emergency situations, or the occasional day off (more likely it would be Ackley in that circumstance) and Bird would be a phone call away for any long term ailments that befall Teixeira.

It certainly would be nice to have Bird’s bat in New York, but he’s the future at first base for the Yankees. Bird has shown he is ready and should he be needed to fill Teixeira’s shoes for an extended period, the club will not hesitate to make the call. Even better, they’ll feel entirely confident in his ability to be productive right away. Bird will be a mainstay in the Yankees lineup in due time, but don't count on that starting in 2016.

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, September 9, 2015

Postseason hunt becomes more difficult for Yankees

The New York Yankees already had their backs against the wall trying to keep pace with a juggernaut in Toronto, and now the newest wave of injuries will truly test their mettle.

Masahiro Tanaka
Photo credit: Keith Allison via Flickr
After Tuesday night’s disappointing loss to the Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees fell 1 ½ games behind the Blue Jays in the American League East. The Yanks received a stellar pitching performance from Masahiro Tanaka, who hurled eight innings of one-run ball with 10 strikeouts, but to no avail as the offense sputtered in a 2-1 loss. Wednesday, the Yankees will try for the series victory with CC Sabathia on the mound as he returns from the disabled list due to his bum knee.

Then the Yankees have a four-game set with the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks will have to make a statement, minimally winning three out of four games in my view, in order show Toronto that winning the division will not be easy despite the stacked odds facing the Bombers.

The Yankees lost their most consistent starting pitcher of late in Nathan Eovaldi, who is suffering from elbow inflammation and is likely to miss the remainder of the regular season. That leaves Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, Sabathia, Ivan Nova and now Adam Warren (he’s being shifted back to the rotation) to pick up the pieces.

The Yankees need at least three of those pitchers to flat out dominate over the next four weeks and the rest of them to keep the Yankees in games. Tanaka’s outing was a step in the right direction. Severino has been great since coming up, but the rest of the crew has been erratic at best in recent outings.

The bullpen has fallen on difficult times of late allowing more base-runners and consequently runs than they had in previous months when the back-end was deemed one of the best in the game. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are still getting the job done, but it's been in less dominant fashion. The question of overall usage has come up and to an extent this has been brewing since early this season because of the rotation’s inability to pitch deep into games.

On the other side of the ball, the Yankees’ offense has been – excuse the pun – hit or miss. They too have had their share of injuries/illnesses over the last few weeks. The biggest blow has been the loss of first baseman Mark Teixeira. This is no knock on his replacement, rookie Greg Bird, who’s been good, but having Teixeira’s power and switch-hitting ability plus his defensive prowess is an advantage for the Yankees.

Brett Gardner has missed the last couple of games with a sore shoulder and Jacoby Ellsbury recently missed two games with flu-like symptoms. The Yanks need both of these players in the lineup together in order to jump-start the remainder of the group.

The offense has shown some good efforts lately, but it is wholly inconsistent. Alex Rodriguez, who was running out of energy recently, has begun to heat up. Brian McCann continues to provide big hits but Carlos Beltran has leveled off this month after carrying some of the offensive load from May through August. The bottom of the Yankees order has produced in recent weeks, but at no time this season has the offense gelled as one for lengthy periods.

Beyond the offense gelling, the club as a whole has yet to go on an extended run where each facet has clicked at the same time. The Yankees are usually carried by one group or another; it’s either starting pitching, offense or the bullpen. With 25 games left on the regular season calendar that will have to change. The Yankees need a long, dominating run and it has to start Wednesday and continue with the Toronto series.

It won’t be easy, and will necessitate the club getting contributions up and down the roster if they have any chance of catching the Blue Jays and staying hot into the playoffs. Otherwise, they could be a one-and-done wild card team or worse come up completely short of the postseason.

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, September 3, 2015

Would Yankees consider Stephen Drew for 2016?

The New York Yankees showed the upmost in faith in Stephen Drew, mostly because of his glove, but also for that occasional pop he might provide. His batting average languished below the Mendoza-line from the end of the season’s first game until Aug. 30 after two months of dismal offensive production to start the season.

A three-month steady climb, culminated by a huge road trip in which he went 9-for-20 with two doubles and two home runs, has the Yankees reaping consistent benefits from Drew offensively, which brings a big question to light. Will they try to bring Drew back in 2016 for a third go-around with the club?

Let me begin by saying that I’m not lobbying for the Yankees to re-sign Drew next season. I’m thrilled to see him hit because it helps the team, but I firmly believe the Yankees should be happy with what they received for this season and be willing to move on. I’m not convinced Drew has found his 2013 form, nor am I going to assume this streak will go on for the remainder of the season. While he’s had a nice three-month stretch (see tweet below), he also looked pathetic at the plate in the first two months of this season and all of 2014.


Likewise, a three-month stretch should not convince the Yankees to do anything with Drew beyond this season. But, if he was able to continue a solid display offensively and maintain his fielding prowess through the remainder of the regular season, it might be difficult for the Yankees to overlook him this offseason as a role player.

The Yanks took a chance with outfielder Chris Young as their fourth outfielder after one solid month last season, why wouldn’t they consider Drew after sticking with him for most of this season and feel even more at ease if he was to stay productive through September and potentially October? It worked with Young, and maybe it would with Drew.

If Drew is willing to take another one-year deal (Scott Boras is his agent so it wouldn’t be shocking if he lands something better provided this run continues), he could fill a valuable role for the Yankees in 2016. Even if the Yankees decide to hand over the keys to the keystone to Rob Refsnyder next season, Drew could be a helpful component for the club as a potential platoon partner (Refsnyder would still get a bulk of the playing time), a fallback option if Refsnyder proves he’s not ready and as a utility infielder if the rookie flourishes.

There are of course other in-house options for this type of player. The Yankees already have the ability to pick up a $2 million team option for utility infielder Brendan Ryan (he also has a player option he can exercise if he chooses for $1 million) for next season. The Yanks also have Jose Pirela looking for another shot at least as a bench player in 2016.

Both Ryan and Pirela would cost significantly less than Drew who is making $5 million this season despite coming off a complete disaster in 2014. Drew has displayed strong fielding abilities at second, after years of doing the same at shortstop. Boras could probably fetch a few more million for him in this inflated market by simply showing teams his improvement from June 1 on.

We know a few things. First, the Yankees were willing to stick with Drew for the entire season, hoping this type of boom would come as he trudged through one of the longest offensive slumps experienced in the sport. Second, they had a player in Refsnyder waiting in the wings and passed, seemingly looking to allow him to grow in the minors without pressure. And finally, the Yankees love veterans in bench/utility roles.

Drew could excel as that type of player allowing the Yankees to finally give Refsnyder extended time as they continue to formulate a roster of youth and experience knowing there is a backup plan. Don’t bet against Drew in pinstripes in 2016.

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.