Yankees Thoughts: Tropicana Field Troubles Continue

The Yankees lost three of four to their only division competition

On Friday morning, the Yankees were 9-3 and had a four-game lead in the division. Now they’re 10-6 and have a two-game lead after losing three of four in Tampa. It was a bad weekend against the Yankees’ only competition in the AL East, and it proved the Yankees need to avoid playing as many as games as possible at Tropicana Field in October.

Last season, I wrote the Off Day Dreaming blogs on every off day, but this season there aren’t many off days. There aren’t many games. So instead, I have decided to use the Off Day Dreaming format following each series. Yankees Thoughts will be posted after each series this season.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Last week when I was criticizing Aaron Boone for his lineup and bullpen decisions in blogs and on podcasts and social media, many Yankees fans were quick to say, “They’re 8-1!” or “They need to rest guys because they have four games in three days against the Rays!” in defense of Boone. Well, now the Yankees are 10-6, having lost five of seven and just dropped three of four in Tampa. It turns out giving away winnable games against the Phillies for no reason isn’t a good strategy. The idiotic decisions of the Yankees manager caught up with the team and the offense was overmatched by the Rays’ bullpen all weekend. Thankfully, the Yankees were able to hold off the Rays’ comeback in the first game on Saturday or the Yankees’ four-game division lead would have been erased in three days.

2. The Yankees’ division lead has been cut in half to two games. Yes, the Yankees are going to the postseason, but in order to win the pennant for the first time in 11 years and get back to the World Series, there is a very good chance the Yankees will see the Rays at some point in October. Now having lost 14 of 23 games at the Trop since 2018, it would be wise for the Yankees to make sure that in a series against the Rays, there are more games at Yankee Stadium than Tropicana Field. Unfortunately, the Yankees have proven over the last decade they could care less about home-field advantage in the playoffs, as long as they get in. After a decade of being eliminated early in the postseason, including four ALCS losses in the decade (in three of them they didn’t have home-field advantage), you would think the Yankees would change their approach to the regular season. They haven’t.

3. Back on May 5, 2009, Joba Chamberlain racked up 12 strikeouts in a start against the Red Sox. YES and many Yankees fans acted as if Chamberlain had joined Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone in the Yankees’ Perfect Game club. You would have never known from the reaction of the Yankees’ network and fans that Chamberlain allowed eight baserunners and four earned runs in 5 2/3 innings in that game. Yesterday’s James Paxton start reminded me of that Chamberlain start. As soon as Paxton blew the 3-0 lead in the seventh, I was quick to call him out on social media, and either there a lot of Paxton fans on social media or a lot of his immediate family members use social media to defend him. Yes, Paxton looked unbelievable for the first six innings of the game, allowing one hit and striking out 11, and had he only pitched six innings, I would be writing about how Paxton might have figured out whatever was wrong for him in his first two starts. But the seventh inning counts. It’s part of his pitching line. It’s part of the story. It’s the main story. He was unable to finish the job, and not only did he not finish the job, he essentially left early for a two-week vacation without completing what he was working on, leaving his co-workers to handle his tasks while he was out. After Paxton allowed the two-run home run, he should have been removed from the game. His pitch count was at 85 and he had only thrown 41 and 62 pitches in his first two starts returning from back surgery. But if you thought Boone would make the right move or press the right button when it comes to the bullpen, you probably also still think a tiny fairy was the one putting money under your pillow when you lost a tooth growing up. Yes, Paxton looked much, much, much better than he did against the Nationals (1 IP, 3 ER) or the Red Sox (3 IP, 3 ER), but his start against the Rays has absolutely no bearing on how he will fare in his next start. He’s not someone who can be relied on to deliver six innings each time, and he’s not someone who can be relied on to keep the team in the game each start. When Paxton walked off the mound after giving up the game-tying home run, YES showed him staring into the Rays’ dugout after being chirped by opposing players. If you don’t want to get chirped, maybe don’t give up moonshots to Mike Brosseau and Brandon Lowe. On the same day Paxton was unable to get through seven innings, Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson (two pitchers traded by the Yankees in exchange for Paxton), no-hit the Rockies for seven innings.4

4. Because I’m a nice person, back at the beginning of February, I said I would give Giancarlo Stanton a clean slate for the 2020 season. No sarcasm to start the season, no snarky comments, no “Ladies and gentlemen” tweets on Opening Day. I said I would be positive when it came to Stanton for as long as he let me be positive. Well, he didn’t let me be positive for very long. Stanton is the Yankees’ new Jacoby Ellsbury. After suffering a calf injury in February that would have kept him out of the first half of the season had it been played in full this year, it took Stanton playing in 14 games and zero in the outfield for him to now have an injured hamstring. This coming after he played in only 18 regular-season games in 2019 when he suffered a biceps strain which mysteriously turned into a shoulder strain which unfathomably turned into a calf strain. After hitting home runs in the first two games of the season and having everyone praise him for his new approach at the plate, slimmed-down body and physique, Stanton had turned back into the Yankees’ version of Stanton over the last two weeks. And now he’s hurt, so he’s really back to being the Stanton Yankees fans have come to know.

5. Boone said after Saturday’s doubleheader he expected Stanton to land on the injured list. In the past when Boone has said a player is healthy or fine or dealing with something minor, they have landed on the injured list and at times missed months. For Boone to outright say Stanton is likely to go on the injured list, it most likely means he’s done for the season. Stanton is 30 years old. He missed all of his 29 season, he was going to miss half of this season if it had been 162 games and now he’s going to miss a large portion of it as a 60-game season. The Yankees did all they could to protect him this season by continuing to refer to him an outfielder despite not allowing him to play the outfield for a single batter this season, and he still got hurt. If Stanton is incapable of running the bases as the designated hitter without getting hurt at the age of 30, what’s he going to be like when he’s 31 or 32 or 33 or 34 or 35 or 36 or 37, because the Yankees have him through his age 37 season. (Thankfully, the $10 million buyout for his age 38 season is covered by the Marlins.) Stanton took himself out of the lineup in the ALCS last October, playing in only two of the six games against the Astros. Given his history of being a slow healer, I doubt he will even be available for this postseason.

6. The siutational hitting of the Yankees is abysmal. In Friday’s 1-0 loss, the Yankees had the leadoff hitter on in four of the nine innings, and in the seventh and eighth innings, they had a runner on second with no outs. Clearly, none of those runners scored as the team was shutout, but neither time with the runner on second and no outs were the Yankees even able to get the runner to third with one out. When a fly ball or ground ball to the right side would be enough, the Yankees step in the box with one goal: hit a 500-foot home run. Each swing in an at-bat is bigger than the last, and outside of DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela, I’m not sure if anyone on the team changes their approach the worse the count gets for them. On Sunday, it was more bad situational hitting, as the Yankees were stifled by the Rays’ bullpen after Charlie Morton left the game early in the third inning. Unable to expand their 3-0 lead, the Yankees were eventually walked off on in the ninth inning. The only good thing to come from the walk-off single against Zack Britton was that we didn’t have to painfully sit through a 10th inning where the Yankees would have undoubtedly stranded the automatic runner on second with no outs.

7. It didn’t surprise me that Britton blew the game on Sunday. Entering the game, Britton had appeared in six of the team’s 15 games over 18 days. He had thrown only 59 pitches in games since July 23, or an average of 3.3 pitches per day this season. It’s a fine line with elite relievers and closers. They need work, but not too much work. They need rest, but not too much rest. They need just enough to stay sharp. Joe Girardi was very good at toeing the line. Boone isn’t sure where the line is and when it comes to Aroldis Chapman, he has no idea where the line is. We’ll see that soon enough when Chapman returns and Boone gives him a week off between appearances and then wonders why he’s wild in his outings.

8. The Yankees’ bullpen is no longer the best in baseball. Sure, it’s good, but without Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman it’s just good. And on days when Chad Green is unavailable (like Sunday) or on days when Boone doesn’t want to use Adam Ottavino (also like Sunday) and on days when Boone wants to stay away from Zack Britton (nearly every game this season), there aren’t many options remaining I’m confident in. There can’t be anyone who feels good about the Yankees’ chances in a close game when they see Luis Cessa or Jonathan Holder or Ben Heller or Luis Avilan enter a game. The Rays spent the weekend bringing in their top relievers into high-leverage situations and pitching their closer outside of the ninth inning when needed. Boone spent his weekend letting Holder face the top of teh Rays’ order in the eighth inning while Britton watched from the bullpen becaues Britton’s usage is based on the save stat and not on in-game situation. The bullpen is still better than many others in the game, but it’s nowhere near the Rays’ bullpen. The Rays’ bullpen pitched six scoreless innings on Friday night and another seven scoreless on Sunday. I’m more scared of the Rays than any other team in the AL when it comes to the postseason. They have three great starters in Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton and a shutdown bullpen. Their lineup isn’t any good from a power standpoint, but they seem to get timely hits and hit the big home run when it’s needed. Every Yankees fan should be scared of the Rays come October, especially if they were to have home-field advantage.

9. In a big spot, in order, these are the Yankees I want up:

1. DJ LeMahieu
2. Aaron Judge
3. Gio Urshela
4. Mike Ford
5. Gleyber Torres

The first four, you know you’re getting a good at-bat from. The only way they are putting the first pitch they see in play is if it’s middle-middle and they can hit it hard somewhere. Torres, also normally will give you a good at-bat, except for lately.

10. When it comes to Torres, he needs to bat third. He was the No. 3 hitter on Opening Day, and now two weeks later, he’s batting sixth. A small slump to begin the season shouldn’t be enough to get a player demoted in the lineup, let alone a player like Torres. The Yankees need to stop treating the 3-hole like a merry-go-round and putting anyone on any day there. This weekend Aaron Hicks hit third, as did Mike Ford. The Yankees don’t think Ford is good enough to play every day, but somehow they think he’s good enough to bat third when he does play. As for Hicks, the Yankees need to stop forcing him into a premium lineup spot any chance they get. Please. It’s Torres vs. Hicks. It’s not a competition. When Hicks slumps, he never loses his top two-thirds spot in the lineup. When someone else slumps, Hicks takes their spot. Again, I don’t care that Hicks is a switch hitter. I don’t. Put him and his two good half-seasons in his major league career sixth or lower in the lineup.


My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!