The Yankees finished their six-game West Coast road trip with a three-game series win over the Dodgers to finish 4-2 in Seattle and Los Angeles. But even with the four wins, the Yankees may have suffered their biggest loss of the season.
1. I was sad to not be at Dodger Stadium this weekend and missing out on attending a Yankees-Dodgers series for the first time in a decade. Instead, I watched the three-game series from home with my wife, who likes the Dodgers as much as I like the Yankees. On Friday night, I had to sit through my wife laughing at me during the most Murphy’s Law inning of all time for the Yankees.
After Gleyber Torres singled on the first pitch of the series from Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Judge erased the leadoff single by grounding into a double play. The immediate threat was gone and Kershaw had two outs on two pitches. After retiring Anthony Rizzo on three pitches, Kershaw had needed only five pitches to get through the first inning.
Mookie Betts hit Luis Severino’s second pitch out for a leadoff home run. 1-0 Dodgers. After Freddie Freeman grounded out, Will Smith reached on an infield single that was originally called an out, but overturned after a Dodgers challenge, and Max Muncy followed with a two-run home run. 3-0 Dodgers. Then J.D. Martinez, Jason Heyward and Miguel Vargas hit three consecutive ground ball singles to load the bases with one out. James Outman followed with a single. 4-0 Dodgers. Miguel Rojas hit a sacrifice fly. 5-0 Dodgers. Betts (in his second at-bat of the inning) singled. 6-0 Dodgers. Mercifully, Jose Trevino picked off Outman at third with two on and Freeman at the plate to end the inning. It was the kind of inning you see at Coors Field from some bum with an 8.43 career ERA pitching in relief for the Rockies. It’s not the kind of inning you expect Severino to be responsible for.
Severino threw 34 pitches in the inning and allowed six runs on eight hits, including six consecutive hits. It was the most runs he had allowed in any of his 654 1/3 innings. After looking like the same old Severino in his first two starts against the Reds and Padres (11.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 10 K, 1 HR, 1.59 ERA, 0.794 WHIP), the start on Friday night was startling. It would have been startling if Nick Nelson was on the mound for it, the fact it was Severino was stunning. Severino’s velocity was noticeably down, and maybe that was just a result of him being part of the rotation for a third start after having not been so since the end of last season. Maybe it was fatigue. Maybe he was tipping pitches. Whatever it was, it needs to be fixed, and fast. The Yankees can’t afford to have Severino be anything less than a front-end starter.
2. Josh Donaldson homered off Kershaw in the second inning in his first at-bat since April 5. In typical Donaldson fashion, he performed a bat flip worthy of coming after hitting a walk-off home run, rather than a solo shot in a game the Yankees were still losing by five after he jogged around the bases. Donaldson hit a second home run in the ninth inning as well and for a night he looked like the version of himself the Yankees agreed to take on $51.5 million in salary for. But it only lasted a night.
The following night, the Dodgers attacked Donaldson with breaking balls and he looked as lost as he did early in the season before getting hurt (2-for-16 with six strikeouts) and all of last season (.222/.308/.374), especially in the ALCS when the Astros embarrassed him each time he stepped in the box 91-for-13 with 10 strikeouts). In the second game of the series, Donaldson went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, and I can’t imagine any team moving forward throwing him anything other than breaking pitches until he figures out how to hit them again, if he does.
3. Giancarlo Stanton also homered on Friday in his return to the lineup for the first time since April 15 (and hit a clutch and important double on Sunday night). Stanton then sat on Saturday and Donaldson sat on Sunday in what was a pre-planned injury prevention strategy by the injury expert Yankees. Donaldson just had nearly two months off and Stanton seven weeks. The last thing these two need is to play less baseball, but there was the Yankees conducting their usual load management nonsense for the duo because their load management methods have done such a good job preventing injuries over the last five years, especially for Stanton.
4. I was prepared to stop being a Yankees fan after Saturday night’s game. Not because of the Yankees’ unnecessary rest for their everyday players, but because of Gerrit Cole’s removal from a game in which he looked the best he has all season. Cole had stifled the Dodgers for six innings on 80 pitches and the only hits and lone run they had produced of him all came on weak, soft bloop contact.
When the seventh inning started and Wandy Peralta was on the mound with Cole shown drinking a water bottle in the dugout, I couldn’t believe what I was watching. The only acceptable reason for what was unfolding was that Cole had suffered an injury, and given the Yankees’ ongoing injury issues it made sense. But it also made sense that Boone was trying to prove he’s smarter than everyone by lifting Cole and getting the last three innings of outs from his three best relievers. The fact that myself and many Yankees fans thought it was possible that Cole wasn’t hurt and that Boone was trying to implement some genius strategy shows you the level of competence we expect from the Yankees manager.
Immediately after Cole came out, the first four Dodgers reached and a 5-1 Yankees lead was now 5-2 with the tying run at the plate and no outs. My heart rate was bordering on needing medical intervention as Peralta and Michael King were melting down and the thought that Boone had created this plan from his brain had me infuriated. Thankfully, the Yankees held on for a 6-3 win, and thankfully, the decision to put Peralta in the game to begin the seventh instead of leaving Cole in wasn’t concocted ahead of time by Boone and was the result of Cole having cramps.
5. The Yankees held on to win because Oswaldo Cabrera had one of his two biggest moments of the season by adding a much-needed insurance run in the ninth with a solo home run. (His other big moment this season was his double off Emmanuel Clase in Cleveland in April.) But the lead was truly preserved because of Judge’s ridiculous catch on a J.D. Martinez ball that left Judge stumbling for his balance inside the Yankees’ bullpen in right field.
When Judge ran through the bullpen door, my heart sank as I figured he would come out of the play with some sort of injury, possibly season-ending given the speed he chased the ball down and crashed into the wall with. At the time it seemed like he was able to come away from the play unscathed, but on Sunday, he was held out of the lineup for a toe injury suffered on the play that he had needed treatment on.
6. Jake Bauers earned himself a month of criticism immunity with his performance on Saturday, so you won’y be reading anything unless positive about Bauers in these thoughts in June. So I guess you won’t be reading anything about him all! OK, I’ll stop now. Bauers had himself a game in his return to his home in California, and it’s a good thing he did because he’s the only Yankee who could solve Michael Grove. Every opponent Grove has faced has been able to solve him, but not the Yankees other than Bauers.
John Smoltz spent the Saturday game telling viewers how great Grove was, even as he allowed two home runs to the same batter and four earned runs in five innings. Smoltz kept advising the Dodgers pitcher to forget about the two home runs and think “I pitched great.” With that kind of loser mentality I think we all now know why the Braves lost to the Yankees in the 1996 and 1999 World Series, and why Smoltz broadcasts with a 27-year-old grudge against the Yankees.
7. Knowing Bobby Miller’s prospect hype and what he had done in his first two major-league starts, my expectations weren’t high for the series finale on Sunday night. Once the lineup was posted without Judge’s name in it, I had no expectations other than the Yankees may get shut out.
There was Willie Calhoun batting cleanup. Calhoun wasn’t good enough to be on the roster before the injury bug ravaged the Yankees clubhouse, and he isn’t good enough to be in the lineup most days, but when he does play, he’s somehow good enough to bat fourth. And making up the rest of the outfield for the rubber game was Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jake Bauers.
“A lot of people looked forward to this series,” David Cone said on the ESPN broadcast. “Yankees-Dodgers, Dodger Stadium here in June. If you had Kiner-Falefa and Willie Calhoun and Jake Bauers to be the starting outfield today, I want to go to Vegas with you.”
Domingo German was able to match zeros with Miller through six. the Yankees broke through with a run created by an error in the seventh, and then German gave the run right back in the form of a Martinez home run while Eduardo Perez was opining that German looked like Pedro Martinez. I think it was the Baseball Gods way of reminding everyone that german and Martinez should never be mentioned in the same sentence or thought.
8. In the eighth, Rizzo walked and Stanton hit a booming double to the gap in left-center. Kyle Higashioka miraculously managed to make contact with two strikes to score Rizzo and give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Then in the ninth, Anthony Volpe picked up his second hit of he game, this one a two-run home run that was crushed to left-center to give the Yankees two important insurance runs for the bottom of the ninth.
Was Sunday night the turning point of Anthony Volpe’s season and career? The rookie shortstop went 2-for-4 in the game with a single and two-run home run to provide the Yankees with a pair of insurance runs in the ninth inning. We all thought Volpe’s big home run against the Blue Jays on April 22 was the turning point and it wasn’t. we thought his big series against the Rays in mid-may was going to be it and it wasn’t. Maybe this was it?
9. Not a series go by without the Yankees losing at least one player or pitcher to injury, and coming out of the road six game road trip, they not only lost Judge for who knows how long, but they also lost Nestor Cortes to a shoulder injury. Boone claims Cortes should only miss a start or two, but Cortes could need both Tommy John and labrum surgery and Boone would call it minor and say he could see Cortes missing only a start or two. I wish Boone would just say no comment to every injury-related question. His understanding of the severity of injuries is elementary and the timetables he has given for injury returns for now six years as a manger are laughable. It’s a good thing the Yankees have five more days off in June because they need every one of them to avoid having to use a fifth starter as much as possible since they don’t have a fifth starter.
10. The Yankees have a day off on Monday and then host the lowly White Sox for three games at the Stadium. The White sox aren’t just bad, they’re a joke. They are nine games under .500 with a negative-47 run differential. They don’t have a starter with a sub-4.00 ERA and their offense is … sad? Yes, I think sad would be the best way to describe it. This is a series the Yankees have to win. After this, it’s three against the Red Sox, two against the Mets, another three against the Red Sox, three against the Mariners and three against the Rangers. That’s 14 straight games against teams over. 500. So yeah, beating up on the White Sox isn’t just needed, it’s imperative.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available as an ebook!