Yankees Thoughts: Pitching Single-Handedly Saving Season

Yankees' offense continues to be non-existent despite deadline deals

Another series and another series win for the Yankees. The offense barely showed up in the four games against the Mariners (13 runs in the series), but the Yankees’ pitching was outstanding again, the way it’s been all season.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. On Thursday night, Nestor Cortes used his new-found trickery to pitch five solid innings (5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR), but Chad Green gave up another potential late-inning, go-ahead home run that would have been the icing on the cake for what was the latest lackluster performance from the Yankees when not playing the Orioles.

Thankfully, Joey Gallo hit the exact home run I envisioned the 6-foot-5 on-base machine hitting when the Yankees acquired him: a high flyball, which barely found the short porch for the most Yankee Stadium home run you might ever see (until Rougned Odor’s Saturday home run). The go-ahead, three-run, seventh-inning home run gave the Yankees a win in a game. The Yankees play half of their games in a stadium that’s 314 feet to the right-field foul pole, and yet, it took them 101 games into a 162-game season to add a major-league-caliber left-handed bat.

Even if Michael Kay ruined the moment with his cringe-worthy yelling about how the home run being Gallo’s “signature Yankees moment,” it was still a great moment, and a much-needed moment to provide a much-needed win.

2. On Friday night, the Yankees needed another late-inning comeback to tie the game against the Mariners  before gong on to win in 11 innings. The Yankees were held scoreless through the first seven innings on Friday by Marco Gonzales, who entered the game with a 5.15 ERA over 73 1/3 innings. In a season in which Jorge Lopez, Matt Harvey, Michael Wacha, Jordan Lyles, Martin Perez and countless other barely-in-the-league starters have shut down the Yankees, Gonzales became the latest, throwing  6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing only thee hits and two walks.

Recently-acquired Diego Castillo entered for the Mariners in the eighth, and while Castillo has been very good in his career, I felt good knowing the Mariners hadn’t gone back to old Joe Smith, who got the last out of seventh, because his sweeping slider has been giving the Yankees trouble for 15 years. After four-plus seasons with the Rays, the Yankees had seen Castillo a lot and even for this anemic Yankees offense, they perform better with someone they’re comfortable with. (I would rather the Yankees face Chris Sale than some call-up making their major league debut, as crazy as that sounds). Gardner pinch hit for Jonathan Davis, who has about as much business being on the 2021 Yankees as Gardner, let alone starting every game against a left-handed starter. Gardner worked an all-important seven-pitch walk to begin the inning. Then DJ LeMahieu walked on six pitches and Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch. Down one with the bases loaded, no outs, the Yankee had Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton due up: an ideal situation (at least on paper). Judge hit a line drive which went right at the left fielder, but was deep enough to score Gardner and tie the game. After two walks, a hit by pitch and a rocket line drive against a more-than-shaky Castillo, Stanton  swung at the first pitch and banged into a 6-4-3, inning-ending double play.

In the ninth, both Kyle Higashioka and Gardner failed to get in the winning run from second base. In the 10th, the Mariners scored the go-ahead run, but thankfully, Stanton came through with two outs in the bottom of the inning, this time successfully swinging on the first pitch of his at-bat for the game-tying RBI single.

In the 11th, after Albert Abreu pitched a seemingly improbable scoreless inning, Higashioka failed to get in Torres from second again, but this time Gardner didn’t fail to win the game, driving in Torres to win the game.

3. I have said a lot of critical things about Gardner this season and they are all true. He shouldn’t be on this team. Certainly not over Greg Allen or Estevan Florial based strictly on performance.

Allen has played the way the Yankees still think Gardner does, and likely why he has a lifetime vesting one-year contract. The fact Gardner has been able to maintain his roster spot throughout this dismal season, while Allen and Florial have both gotten sent down to accommodate Gardner’s presence is an embarrassment. The Yankees forced Alex Rodriguez into retirement in early August 2016 following a Hall of Fame career and being the sole reason the organization is currently looking at only a 12-year championship drought and not a 21-year drought. Gardner doesn’t belong on this team. He never did. And ever since he became the elder statesman among position players on the team and the longest-tenured Yankee, the team hasn’t done or won anything. His clubhouse leadership hasn’t brought the Yankees anything other than an outfield logjam, and detrimental roster moves to keep him around. If the Yankees are to reach the playoffs, it’s easy to see Gardner being in the lineup, starting in center field and batting ninth.

His walk-off hit doesn’t change this. It was a nice moment and a big hit in a big spot resulting in a big win. But given enough chances, Gardner will come through every once in a while, like any borderline major leaguer. The problem is his every once in a while is now every once in too long of a while.

4. Saturday was Aug. 7. Aaron Judge hit a first-inning solo home run, and it was the first time the Yankees had scored in the first inning since July 7. A team whose Top 5 hitters have mostly been a combination of LeMahieu, Judge, Stanton, Rizzo, Gallo, Gary Sanchez and Torres for a month failed to score a single run in the first inning of a month’s worth of games.

Judge’s home run didn’t give the Yankees a lead because Andrew Heaney started for the Yankees and was doing Andrew Heaney things: giving up runs and home runs. Heaney allowed two runs in the first (on a two-out, two-run home run) and then another two runs in the second. Heaney was the only Yankees starting pitcher to have a bad weekend, allowing four earned runs over six innings. Yes, he settled down after the second (after he had already allowed four runs), but the way he was praised by the YES broadcast and on social media, you would have thought he had pitched a complete-game shutout. If not for Mitch Haniger falling down late on Saturday and the Mariners inexplicably not throwing home to get LeMahieu, the Yankees lose on Saturday. Heaney wasn’t good, and I don’t expect him to be good.

5. You know who is good? Luis Gil. The Luis Gil who is supposedly “not ready” for the majors has now pitched 11 scoreless innings over two starts to begin his career. Gil was only given a chance because Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery went down with COVID, Scumbag Domingo German hurt his shoulder and Luis Severino and Corey Kluber aren’t ready to return yet. If the Yankees needed only one rotation spot, it would go to Cortes then Heaney then Gil. If not for needing Gil to jump to the majors out of desperation, he would still be wasting pitches in the minors.

In a weekend in which the Yankees started Cortes, Wandy Peralta as an opener, Heaney, and Gil, they went 3-1. And they went 3-1 because of those names, not because of the offense.

The Yankees’ Sunday performance was all too familiar. The team was held to six hits, failed to score any of their 10 baserunner and even against a left-handed starter, the nearly all-right-handed lineup (minus Gallo and Odor) was shut down. On paper, the Yankees’ lineup is awesome. In actuality, it’s far from it. 

Going back to July 22, the Yankees have played 17 games. In two of those games, they scored 23 runs against the Orioles. In the other 15 games, they have scored 45 runs, an average of three runs per game. In nine of those games, they have had both Rizzo and Gallo on the team.

The Yankees have been winning since the second game of their doubleheader against the Mets on July 4 (20-9) and since the All-Star break (15-7) and since the trade deadline (8-2), but it hasn’t had anything to do with their offense. Even in the two games when the offense went off against the Orioles, the pitching staff held the Orioles to four runs in 18 innings. Pitching has carried the Yankees this season and outside of Heaney’s first two innings on Saturday, that was the case this weekend against the Mariners.

Here is the Yankees’ pitching line for the weekend:

38 IP, 39 H, 11 R, 8 ER, 13 BB, 43 K, 3 HR, 1.89 ERA, 1.368 WHIP.

6. The power drought is still a drought. The Yankees don’t make nearly enough contact to be able to string together hits to score runs and their lack of home runs is the reason for their lack of scoring. Here’s the recent power problems for the everyday Yankees:

Kyle Higashioka (he’s now an everyday player with Sanchez out): No home runs since June 22.

DJ LeMahieu: No home runs since June 26
Gio Urshela: One home run since June 28
Brett Gardner: one home run since June 30
Aaron Judge: Two home runs since July 10
Giancarlo Stanton: One home run since July 20
Gary Sanchez: No home runs since July 20
Gleyber Torres: No home runs since July 21
Rougned Odor: One home run since July 25

Even Joey Gallo only has one home run since July 27, nearly two weeks.

7. Welcome back, Luke Voit. Voit was back because Rizzo is now out for about two weeks (at minimum), and so the lineup balance the Yankees created at the trade deadline is down to just Gallo, who has hit .162/.295/.351 in 10 games with the Yankees.

Voit was in the starting lineup on Sunday and hit fifth. In theory it made sense since Voit is a right-handed hitter and the Yankees were facing a left-handed starter (Yusei Kikuchi), and Voit has been great against left-handed pitching as a Yankee. The problem is Voit was awful in the 29 games he played in this season in May, June and July, and on Sunday, he looked like a guy who hasn’t seen major league pitching in a month and has barely seen it in 2021. Voit went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, and left five runners on. His inability to make contact (in his first two at-bats, and swung at seven pitches, swinging through six of them and fouling off one) cost the Yankees multiple chances to score a run. The Yankees ended up not scoring a run in the game.

8. Stephen Ridings was given a chance because of his dominant minor-league season, but really he was given a chance because of injuries and COVID and Nick Nelson and Brooks Kriske being arguably the two least effective relievers in the history of the Yankees. On Tuesday against the Orioles, in his debut, Ridings struck out the side in a scoreless inning. Three days later, in the bullpen game, he pitched 1 1/3 perfect innings across the second and third in the bullpen games against the Mariners. On Sunday, he struck out the side again in the seventh. His line in three games: 3.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K. At 6-foot-8 and with a triple-digit fastball and that breaking balls, he reminds me of Dellin Betances. So far, his results have been peak Betances.

When Aroldis Chapman is healthy, the “elite” relievers are Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga. Those four are the four Boone wants to use in the highest-of-leverage situations. Then it’s Clay Holmes, Lucas Luetge and Joely Rodriguez (who reminds me of 2009 World Series hero Damaso Marte) with that sweeping left-handed delivery. Then it’s Wandy Peralta and Albert Abreu and finally Brody Koerner. I think Ridings is already in the second tier (with Holmes, Luetge and Rodriguez) and I think he’s at the top end of that tier. I love everything about Ridings (so far). His results, his velocity, his demeanor on the mound and the way he carries himself with the media.

9. I need the Yankees to get to 96 wins for my preseason over 95.5 wins wager and because I think 96 wins would win them the AL East and avoid them playing in the one-game playoff. The Yankees are 61-50. They would have to go 35-16 to finish with 96 wins. It’s improbable, but not impossible.

There is a path to 96 wins and the division title, but it includes winning pretty much every series the rest of the season with essentially no margin for error.

The Yankees needed to win three out of four agains the Mariners to keep pace, and they did. Here is how the Yankees can get to 96 wins and possibly a division title:

Royals: 2-1
White Sox: 2-1
Angels: 3-1
Red Sox: 4-2
Twins: 3-1
Braves/Indians/Rangers: 6-2
A’s: 2-2
Orioles: 5-1
Blue Jays: 4-3
Mets: 2-1
Rays: 2-1

Again, not crazy. Also, not likely. That’s a lot of wins and not a lot of losses. That’s what happens when you piss away nearly 100 games, and the first four months of a six-month season.

10. The Yankees’ winning ways can’t stop. Not now, not for the rest of the season. Next up are the Royals a team that’s 17 games back in the AL Central and 15 games out of the second wild card and on pace for 71 wins. The Royals suck. Not Orioles level of suck, but they are a very bad team with very bad pitching and the second-worst offense in the AL. This is a series the Yankees should win and have to win. In the 13-game stretch against the Marlins, Orioles, Mariners and Royals, I thought the Yankees had to go at least 10-3. Well, they’re 8-2. A series win this week in Kansas City gets them to the needed record. With the Rays and Red Sox playing this week, every Yankees win will make up ground on one of them, and every Yankees loss will cause them to lose ground on one of them. Get ready for nearly two more months of playoff games and scoreboard watching.

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