Six days ago, I wrote the Yankees Are Falling Apart. Well, they’re still falling. After getting swept in a doubleheader in Atlanta, the Yankees have now lost five straight and after Thursday’s off day, they will play five games in three days against the Mets with a roster representing a mid-March spring training game.
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. Wednesday’s doubleheader sweep increased the Yankees’ losing streak to five straight games. They have gone from 16-6 to 16-11 and they have gone from having a 2 1/2-game lead in the AL East to having a 2 1/2-game deficit. They are about to play five games in three days against the Mets and won’t have Gerrit Cole or Masahiro Tanaka for any of the five games, and will be without DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton and likely Aaron Judge for the series as well. At the same time, the Rays will be playing the Marlins. The Yankees had a chance to end the division race last week, and instead they were swept by the Rays to begin this losing streak. The Rays have a chance to end the division race this weekend, and they just might. The Yankees should feel extremely grateful that 53 percent of the AL is going to the playoffs because right now the Yankees would be clinging to a spot in the wild-card game in a five-team postseason format. For a team that was 10 games over .500 nine days ago, the Yankees only have a four-game lead on a postseason spot.
2. Masahiro Tanaka has made five starts this season. In his first start, he threw 51 pitches. Since it was his first start of the season and he was coming back from being hit in the head on a Stanton line drive, the Yankees were being overly cautious, the way they always unnecessarily are. A pitch count is normally elevated by 15 pitches from one start to the next for a pitcher coming back from injury. So if Tanaka had thrown 51 in his first start then he should have been able to throw roughy 66 in his second start and 81 in his third start and then been able to throw as many as needed for his fourth start. Here are Tanaka’s pitch counts this season for his first four starts: 51, 59, 66, 71. There is no rhyme or reason to these numbers. They increased by eight then seven then five and not the standard 15. The only conclusion I could come to is that the Yankees decided in the offseason Tanaka is now roughly a 70-pitch pitcher or a five-inning pitcher, whichever comes first. You might think conclusion is absolutely ridiculous, but it’s something the Yankees would definitely do, thinking they have unlocked some revolutionary strategy. On Wednesday night, in the second game of the doubleheader, Tanaka was removed after five innings. His line at the time: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K. He had dominated the Braves the same way Ian (Jethro Tull) Anderson had dominated the Yankees in the first game of the doubleheader. But Tanaka was pulled and he was pulled after 66 pitches. After the game, Boone said Tanaka could have thrown up to 85 pitches in the start, but that Tanaka told him, “The tank was starting to empty a little bit.” Tanaka also said, “Basically, I told him, ‘I’m good with whatever you decide.’” Tanaka, Tanaka, Tanaka. You never tell Boone “you’re good with whatever he decides” no matter what the situation is, let alone in a one-run game. The Yankees’ goal is to limit the amount of decisions Boone has to make. When he’s needed to make a decision in a close game, he will ultimately make the wrong decision, and he did.
3. There was no reason to remove Tanaka from the game unless Tanaka said, “I’m done.” But the second Tanaka gave Boone the option to remove him, Boone was going to remove him. And if you’re going to remove Tanaka with two inning and six outs to go, the right move is to go to Chad Green, which Boone did. Green got two quick outs and then allowed an infield single to Dansby Swanson and a two-run home run to Freddie Freeman, and the Yankees had gone from being four outs away from ending their losing streak to trailing 2-1 in what eventually be their fifth straight loss. Boone had made the right decision and it backfired. I like to think it backfired for all the wrong decisions he has made that have worked out for him and there is an endless list of those. Green had essentially done his job and was unlucky that Swanson’s weak ground ball led to a baserunner. The inning should have been over if not for the unfortunate placement of Swanson’s weak contact. The pitch to Freeman that led to the opposite-field, two-run home run was supposed to be more away than it was. It caught too much of the plate, and being the great hitter that Freeman is, he was able to muscle it out to left field. Green has been so good that I was stunned he had blown the game. Even after Swanson had reached, the thought of Freeman giving the Braves lead didn’t worry me because of how good Green has been. When Green entered the game, I was worried that he hadn’t pitched in a game in 10 days (and that number was high because of Boone and not postponements), but after striking out the first two hitters, I didn’t think Green looked rusty or off. He just can’t miss his spot against a hitter like Freeman and he did.
4. As disappointing as getting swept on the day was, the latest Judge injury news was even more disappointing. Judge apparently re-injured his calf running from first base to second base. I joked about Judge needing perfect weather and wind and grass and temperature conditions for the Yankees to allow him to play, but maybe it wasn’t a joke after all. Judge is becoming the joke. fter having his 2016 season cut short due to an oblique strain he played through the second half of 2017 with a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. He needed more than double the expected recovery time from a hit by pitch on his wrist in 2018 and missed two months of 2019 with another oblique injury. He would have missed half of this season had it started on time with a broken rib and collapsed lung from diving a ball last September, and now he might miss half of this 60-game season. He’s only played in 18 of the Yankees’ 26 games, and if he were to be put on the injured list as of Wednesday and somehow miraculously come off the IL after 10 days, he would miss 12 games. Judge can claim he’s healthy and able to play through it and he can say whatever he wants, but if he were able healthy and able to play through whatever is ailing him, he would stop telling the training staff or Boone of his status.
5. Judge’s health continues to hinder the Yankees’ present and his own future. I don’t know how anyone could think giving Judge a long-term contract is a sound business decision.Yes, when he plays he’s one of the top players in the game and the Yankees’ best player, but “when he plays” is the most important thing. Since 2018, he has played in only 66 percent (232 of 350) of the Yankees’ regular-season games. His age 26 and 27 seasons were decimated injuries and an ability to heal in a normal timeframe from injury and his age 28 season was going to be cut in half if it hard started on time and is likely to be cut in half after all anyway.That’s a problem. It’s a problem if he can’t play on artificial turf at the Trop without destroying his lower body at age 28 considering the Yankees play nine to 10 games per year there, and it’s a problem if he can’t run 90 feet from first base to second base without hurting his calf. Judge has become Stanton, and maybe there’s a reason those two are in their own class in the sport in terms of height and body type for a position player. Maybe it’s because that body type can’t handle playing baseball for six straight months. If the Yankees could get out of Stanton’s contract, I’m sure they would in a heartbeat given that they didn’t win with him in his age 28 season, his age 29 season consisted of him playing in 18 of 162 regular-season games and five of nine playoff games and his age 30 season is shaping up to be like his age 29 season. Judge is 28 now and will turn 29 a month into the 2021 season. Do the Yankees really want nearly $50 million a season tied up into two players who can’t stay healthy?
6. It would be nice if Gerrit Cole pitched like the Gerrit Cole I thought the Yankees were getting. Here are Cole’s seven starts:
@ WSH: 5 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR
@ BAL: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7K, 1 HR
PHI: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR
@ TB: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 10 K, 1 HR
BOS: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 1 HR
TB: 6.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 10 K, 2 HR
@ ATL: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9K, 3 HR
He’s had some good starts, but he has yet to be the dominant pitcher he became in Houston who has challenged Jacob deGrom for best pitcher in the world status. The strikeouts are there, but so are the home runs. Somehow, he’s given up a league-leading 10 home runs in 41 innings, or one every 4.1 innings which seems impossible. Last season, he allowed a home run every 7.3 innings, and the year before, one every 10.5 innings. Supposedly, the actual baseball in 2020 is playing like it did in 2018, yet Cole is giving up home runs as if the super ball from 2019 is even more super. I’m not worried about Cole. He’s been good, just not great, and I want him to be the guaranteed win every five days I thought he would be, and not the guy who throws 100 pitches in five innings and give up multiple home runs per game.
7. When Aaron Hicks bats right-handed, it looks like he’s doing it for the first time. Hicks went 0-for-Wednesday in the doubleheader and when Hicks is allowed to play both games of a doubleheader, you know the Yankees are banged up. Hicks continues to bat third, even as his on-base percentage has declined to .344, which is the one stat that has kept him in that spot. But for how bad as Hicks’ extra-base hitting has been (.384 slugging), he’s going to keep hitting near the top of the lineup because the options are limited right now. He was hitting there when the team was completely healthy, so he’s not going to stop now. Torres was removed from the 3-hole for a bad start to the season despite coming off the best young offensive middle-infield season since Alex Rodriguez. Hicks is now 1-for-18, boasts a .192 average and has one home run since July 29, but he maintains his place in the order.
8. This should be the Yankees’ lineup while their Top 4 hitters are out and I don’t care what hand the pitcher throws with:
Aaron Hicks (unfortunately, there’s no other option)
Sanchez could strike out in 19 of 20 at-bats, as long as the other at-bat is a home run it doesn’t matter. The team right now has enough trouble getting guys on base, let alone scoring a run (12 runs in the last five games), and they need to give at-bats to those who might get the team on the board with one swing. “Singles” Tauchman certainly isn’t going to and neither is anyone else behind him in the order.
9. J.A. Happ needs to shut up. The Yankees have used off days and postponements to skip his starts and he isn’t happy. “You guys [in the media] are pretty smart,” Happ said. “It doesn’t take too much to figure out, sort of, what could be going on.” Happ is talking about his vesting option for 2020, which was tied to innings pitched prior to the shortened season, and though unknown, is likely still tied to innings pitched or possibly starts. The Yankees aren’t avoiding starting Happ to save money. If Happ were pitching like it was 2018, they would gladly send him to the mound and would want him on the team for 2021. Instead, Happ has been as bad and possibly worse in 2020 than he was in 2019. He’s only been allowed to make three starts (I would have never allowed him to start for the team again after two), and has given up nine earned and put 20 runners on base in 12 2/3 innings. He has walked 10 against only six strikeouts and has allowed four home runs. Happ being on the 2020 Yankees has been detrimental to the team and him being on the 2021 Yankees would be detrimental to next season. CC Sabathia with whatever is left of his shoulder would be a better option than Happ in the rotation. Happ needs to shut up and be thankful he’s still on the Yankees given his performance since Game 1 of the 2018 ALDS. He should feel lucky he still gets to call himself a major leaguer in 2020 because he doesn’t deserve to be one and shouldn’t be one in 2021.
10. In February, on paper, the 2020 Yankees were going to be so good. So, so good. Seven months later and their rotation after Cole includes a five-inning pitcher at most, a pitcher in his first “full” season after Tommy John surgery, a pitcher who has more walks than strikeout and a 6.39 ERA and no fifth starter. Their bullpen lost one elite option for the season and another is on the IL. Their lineup is currently missing four of it’s nine everyday players, including the 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-hitters. It feels like a minor miracle when the Yankees are able to score a run that isn’t the result of a Luke Voit home run and it will feel like an actual miracle the next time they win a game.
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