Yankees Thoughts: Short Series Flaws Exposed

Yankees lose home series to White Sox and suffer injuries as well

The Yankees lost two of three to the White Sox to drop their first series since the second week of the season. Both losses came in a doubleheader in which the Yankees scored one run in 18 innings.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The Yankees are 29-12. They have the best record in the majors. Up until this week, everything had gone right them. They had taken advantage of an easy schedule to date, they had stayed healthy, when the hitting disappeared the pitching remained constant, when the pitching was short of outstanding the offense came together, and most importantly, the manager was removed from the in-game equation for most of the first six-plus weeks of the season.

After getting swept in a home doubleheader on Sunday, while scoring one run on an Aaron Judge solo home run in the 18 innings, the Yankees have now lost three of their last four games. Certainly, the sky isn’t falling because of a bad few days (thanks to their 28-9 record before the four games), but things aren’t what they were on Thursday morning.

2. Chad Green has most likely thrown his last pitch as a Yankee. After leaving Thursday’s loss to the Orioles with forearm discomfort, Green needs Tommy John surgery and will miss the rest of 2022, and he will be a free agent after this season. He turns 31 tomorrow (nothing like major elbow surgery to celebrate your birthday) and I find it hard to believe the Yankees will be willing to pay him as a free agent when they have been so good at creating relievers just like Green in recent years. Combine that with his dip in velocity and performance, and it’s easy to see why Green won’t be a Yankee in 2023 and beyond.

Green’s 2017 season was magnificent. He pitched to a 1.83 ERA (1.75 FIP) in 69 innings with 103 strikeouts and 17 walks. On a team that had Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, Green was the Yankees’ best and most trustworthy reliever.

His signature Yankees moment (hat tip, Michael Kay) was when he relieved Luis Severino in the first inning in the 2017 wild-card game with the Yankees trailing 3-0 and runners on second and third with one out. Green got the Yankees out of that jam, Didi Gregorius hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the inning and the Yankees went on to get within one win of the World Series in a season in which they weren’t supposed to sniff the playoffs.

Green was outstanding again in 2018 (stats), but in 2019, after allowing 14 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings in April, he was sent down to Triple-A until mid-May. After his return to the majors that season, he struck out 91 with 15 walks in 61 1/3 innings.

In 2020 and 2021, Green’s effectiveness began to decline. He was no longer a sure-thing for a shutdown inning and after being overworked and overused in the first month of 2021, by midseason he was blowing every lead he was asked to protect. Up until his injury last week, he was doing the same thing this season.

The Yankees got Green (along with Luis Cessa) for Justin Wilson after the 2015 season. They got 272 combined starts, opens and relief appearances from him over 383 2/3 innings with a 3.17 ERA and 1.022 WHIP. When he was at his best he was arguably the best reliever in the majors.

There was a time when Aroldis Chapman was the best reliever in the majors. Unfortunately, he’s still be treated as if he is.

3. Chapman has continued to be the Yankees’ “closer” because of his name, his career history when he was at his peak and the money still owed to him. Not because he’s deserving of the role. Not because he should still be protecting close games in the ninth inning.

The idea that in 2022 baseball teams still manage their bullpen based on the made-up statistic of the “save” is truly hard to fathom. Chapman is asked to pitch the ninth inning of games in which the Yankees lead by three runs or less. At this point, managing like that is archaic.

It’s been a long time since Chapman could be trusted. Even last season when he began the year with 18 straight scoreless outings, any smart Yankees fan knew not to let their guard down because the Chapman we have seen of late still existed and it was only a matter of time until he came out.

Here is Chapman’s line from Opening Day through May 21, 2021:

18 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 7 BB, 36 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.667 WHIP

And here is Chapman’s line for the rest of 2021:

38.1 IP, 31 H, 22 R, 21 ER, 33 BB, 61 K, 9 HR, 4.93 ERA, 1.670 WHIP

Yes, 33 walks in 38 1/3 innings.

Here is Chapman’s line this season:

14 IP, 13 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 10 BB, 15 K, 2 HR, 3.86 ERA, WHIP

Chapman has allowed 11 home runs and 43 walks in his last 52 1/3 innings. He has allowed at least one earned run in five straight appearances. With Green injured and Chapman possibly injured and not pitching well, along with Jonathan Loaisiga not pitching well, the bullpen is suddenly not nearly as strong as it was four days ago.

4. After giving up a go-ahead home run to the first batter he faced in the ninth inning of the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, Boone went with a trainer to talk to Chapman who talked Boone out of pulling him. After Chapman allowed another run to score, Boone finally pulled him and then after the game it was reported that Chapman is dealing with an Achilles injury.

Maybe Chapman is hurt and that explains his ineffectiveness. But that would only explain his 2022 ineffectiveness. What’s the reason for 2021?

To me, the explanation is easy: Chapman isn’t the same pitcher he was once was. His command and control is the worst it has ever been, he relies too heavily on offspeed pitches and because he no longer throws the ball as hard as he once did with consistency, hitters have an easier time sitting fastball and adjusting to his breaking pitches or vice versa.

Chapman is a real problem because when he’s available, he’s going to pitch and he’s going to pitch as if he’s still the guy the Yankees made the highest-paid reliever. If Chapman is healthy this postseason and is used like it’s October 2019 and not October 2022, he could end the Yankees’ season for third time in four years.

5. I wrote about Aaron Hicks at length on Friday. I finished my thoughts on him by writing:

I want to like Hicks. I want him to be able to make contact with a changeup when hitting from the left side. I want him to get good jumps on balls hit to him. I want him to throw the ball to the right base with runners on. I want Hicks to stay healthy and succeed because I want the Yankees to succeed.

Since then, Hicks misplayed a fly ball in left field, got picked off second base while representing the tying run in the first game on Sunday, failed to drive in a run in eight plate appearances and failed to record an extra-base hit as he still has just one double and one home run on the season, which is now 25 percent complete.

The Yankees love Hicks. Brian Cashman loves him. Boone loves him. Everyone who makes decision that actually impact the Yankees’ on-the-field product loves him, and all Hicks has done in his baseball career is put together a resume that should make no one love him.

Aside from the seasons when the ball was juiced to the point that Gleyber Torres hit 38 home runs and Brett Gardner hit 28 in a single year, Hicks’ career has been a disappointment. He was a first-round pick bust for the Twins that the Yankees thought they could save and solve, and have treated him like Bernie Williams for now seven seasons in trying to unearth some untapped potential that doesn’t exist. Hicks has missed more games due to injury than he has played in his career, and when he has played, he’s underachieved.

Hicks is now 32 and still has three more years left on his contract after this one. For a guy that went out of his way to proclaim his 2022 goal was to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases this season (he had never accomplished either in his career), he has one home run and five steals through nearly two months. (He’s been caught stealing at the base twice and picked off once.)

The Yankees have two bad third outfielder options in Hicks and Joey Gallo, and they seem unwilling to give Estevan Florial a serious or extended look in the majors. The Yankees chose to not upgrade their outfield in the offseason and went into yet another year believing Hicks would stay healthy and produce. He’s been healthy, but he hasn’t produced anything other than outs at the plate and on the basepaths, defensive miscues and a whole lot of runners left on base.

6. Leaving runners on base is a common problem for the Yankees. Getting runners on base is also a problem.

The Yankees are lucky they were playing at the Stadium on Saturday afternoon for DJ LeMahieu’s grand slam to be a grand slam, since it wouldn’t have been a home run at any other park in the majors. If not for that home run, the Yankees’ offense would have had a more miserable weekend that it had, and even with that home run it was a miserable weekend for the offense.

My biggest fear about this Yankees team is what my biggest fear has been about every Yankees team since their last championship: the offense. The frequent disappearing act for days at a time isn’t an anomaly when it occurs, it’s a trend. And come October, I fear the disappearing act will lead to another championship-less year.

When the Yankees’ offense has a bad game or games, it’s not like they’re hitting into bad luck. They just don’t hit. There’s no baserunners. There’s no traffic. There’s nothing. On Sunday night, the Yankees were shut out for the fourth time this season. Michael Kopech started for the White Sox and he’s capable of shutting down any lineup in the game, so it was understandable, especially without him having a control issues for a few batters last Sunday, he would have shut them out then too. But to be thoroughly dominated by 2022 Johnny Cueto like they were in the first game of the doubleheader is unacceptable.

7. But that performance from Cueto is one we have seen from many mediocre and bad starters against the Yankees. (That’s not to say Cueto is bad, but he hasn’t been the Cy Young-worthy version of himself in six years.)

Jordan Lyles: 5.1 IP, 1 ER
Bruce Zimmerman: 5 IP, 0 ER
Michael Pineda: 5 IP, 0 ER
Tyler Wells: 5 IP, 2 ER
Yusei Kikuchi: 6 IP, 1 ER
Dane Dunning: 6 IP, 1 ER
Glenn Otto: 5 IP, 2 ER
Jon Gray: 4.1 IP, 0 ER
Kikuchi: 5.2 IP, 2 ER
Dallas Keuchel: 5 IP, 0 ER
Lyles: 7 IP, 2 ER
Johnny Cueto: 6 IP, 0 ER

That’s not including games in which the Yankees were shut down by front-end starters like Kopech or Alek Manoah. Those are just games in which the Yankees were held to minimal to no runs by average to borderline major leaguers starters. In most of those game, the Yankees were held to just a few hits and baserunners, and in a startling amount of those games, they were no-hit through four or five innings.

8. Bad offensive performances are going to happen over 162 games. But for the Yankees, they happen all the time. The Yankees have the record they have because of their pitching. Even in the 13 games in which the offense scored six or more runs, the pitching only allowed 3.8 runs per game. The Yankees are 28-3 when they score three runs. That’s how good their pitching is.

And the pitching was great against this weekend, even if they lost two of three and lost their first series the second week of the season. Nestor Cortes was good and Jameson Taillon (7 IP, 1 ER) and Luis Severino (7 IP, 0 ER) were awesome.

9. The Yankees have the pitching to win in October, which is something they haven’t had in a really long time. If last October lasted more than one game, they were going to have an injured Gerrit Cole, an unreliable Corey Kluber, Nestor Cortes and Jordan Montgomery to navigate through the postseason. (Taillon was hurt and Severino was in the bullpen after his return from Tommy John.) If the Yankees survived the wild-card game, they weren’t going to survive the Rays or Astros.

The Yankees’ championship chances in 2022 come down to health. When healthy, they have the best team in the American League. If the roster was managed and optimized correctly for the entire season, they would undoubtedly be the best team in the AL. A bad weekend against the White Sox doesn’t change that. But it did further prove the Yankees are from perfect and they have flaws that can be exposed in a short series, which is what the postseason is.

10. When in need of a bounceback performance and to prevent a two-game losing streak from evolving into something worse, you either want to play a bad team or have you ace on the mound. Fortunately, the Yankees have both of those as they will open a three-game series at home against the Orioles with Cole pitching.

One loss in the seven games between last week and this week against the Orioles is all the Yankees can afford, and they used that up in last Thursday’s blown game. After Wednesday, the Yankees will play the Rays (their closest competition in the division) in a four-game series, and they will only have six games remaining for the rest of the season against the Orioles. It’s a big week for the Yankees, and adding to the win total before going to the Trop.

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