Yankees 10 Game (Plus 1) Report

With Major League Baseball having a shortened 60 game season in 2020, I thought we could cover the New York Yankees in ten game increments. I like the idea, to me it makes things more manageable as opposed to 81 game halves.

With that, let’s get to it. A disclaimer – the Yankees played a doubleheader yesterday against the Philadelphia Phillies, which were the tenth and eleventh games. They made a nice run in the late innings after laying an egg early in the first game, and played well in the second game, so I couldn’t omit that. Therefore, this entry will cover games one through eleven. The next report will canvas games twelve through twenty. 

Pitching

It all begins with Gerrit Cole, the “White Whale” of General Manager Brian Cashman’s last off-season. He’s been everything the Yankees expected so far. Cole is 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA, striking out 16 over his 17.2 innings of work. If not for a pair of rain-shortened outings, the “Cole Train” would likely have a couple more innings under his belt.

Jordan Montgomery and Masahiro Tanaka looked good in their first starts of 2020, and both appear healthy. Montgomery, beginning his first full season after recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2018, has regained his velocity and command. Tanaka, who took a 112 mph line-drive off the side of his head in Summer Camp, showed no ill-effects in his start against the Boston Red Sox on August 1. He will still be on a pitch count, likely 65-70 pitches.

James Paxton and JA Happ are points of concern for Aaron Boone and Pitching Coach Matt Blake. Paxton, coming off back surgery at the beginning of 2020, hasn’t regained his velocity. Over his two starts, the “Big Maple” has been sitting at 91-92 mph, about 5 mph short of his normal velocity. Paxton’s numbers are ugly – 12 hits and 8 runs allowed over four innings. Meanwhile, Happ is healthy but he’s not hitting his locations. He doesn’t have the velocity to cover a lack of command, and his results have been predictable. Happ owns a 10.29 ERA, walked eight over seven innings and allowed three long balls. Yikes.

The bullpen has done nice work, with Zack Britton converting all five save opportunities. Britton, Chad Green, Adam Ottavino and Jonathan Holder have all held opponents scoreless. David Hale and Michael King have pitched well when needed to give innings, and Jonathan Loaisiga has performed well at times. Nick Nelson earned his first major league win in relief of Tanaka, before getting hung out to dry in Game 1 of yesterday’s doubleheader (and being subsequently sent down afterward). Closer Aroldis Chapman is probably at least a week away, and the reliable Tommy Kahnle is lost for the rest of the season (and likely much of 2021) after undergoing Tommy John surgery on Tuesday.

Hitting

Welcome to the Aaron Judge Show! Seriously, Judge is white-hot right now. After starting the season 2-12, he went on a tear, hitting home-runs in five consecutive games. When Judge lowers the gavel, he doesn’t hit wall-scrapers, they get stuck in orbit.

 

Luke Voit has launched four homers over nine games and looks back to his second half of 2018 level. Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela are also raking, with OPS’s of 1.028 and 1.088, respectively. Urshela came up early in 2019 when Miguel Andújar injured his shoulder and has firmly seized the 3rd base job. Andújar, now healthy, has struggled to the tune of 1-14 (.071) and was optioned to the Yankees “Alternative Site” (2020 version of being sent to Triple-A Scranton) last night. He could also be trade-bait if Brian Cashman decides to look for more help in the rotation.

Gleyber Torres, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner and Gary Sánchez have struggled, to the consternation of many on Twitter. It’s a matter of time before they get going, particularly Torres ( I think Gary will also be fine as well). Gardner, now 36, may be best off in a platoon situation if the Yankees decide to bring Clint Frazier back up from Scranton. Mike Tauchman has earned a lion’s share of playing time, but only so many at bats are available with this log-jam.

Next time, we will cover games 12-20 and see if the Yankees can continue to stay hot.

Waiting for the Kraken to Release 🦑

The New York Yankees are off to a torrid start to their 2020 season, winning eight of their first nine games. Catcher Gary Sánchez has been off to a dreadful start with his bat.

This isn’t unusual. Gary has a lifetime batting average of .207 with a slash-line of .207/.531/.806 in March and April. It’s no surprise he is struggling at the onset of the season, because he has always been a streaky hitter. Hits and home runs come in bunches for Sánchez when he gets hot. When the Kraken is on fire, Yankees games are fun to watch because he puts on a show.

Sánchez’s hitting is secondary to me, though. Make no mistake, his towering blasts are jaw-dropping. What matters most to me about Gary’s game is the work he does behind the plate. Watching the way he and new ace Gerrit Cole interact in the dugout after each inning tells me how much his defense and calling games means to him. Although Cole grew up a huge Yankees fan, I don’t think he would make a nine year commitment if he didn’t feel good about his main battery-mate.

Sánchez worked diligently on his techniques behind the plate this past winter with Tanner Swanson, the new catching coordinator. YES Network filmed Gary doing drills in Florida back in February.


In seven games behind the dish, Sánchez has thrown out one out of two would-be base stealers and recorded one passed ball. It wasn’t long ago when his defense was a liability, drawing the ire of then-Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a key reason why the manager wasn’t retained.

The hits and home runs will come, albeit in bunches. The good news is the calendar now reads “August”, a month that historically has been scalding-hot for Sánchez (1.075 OPS).

Joe Kelly Fight Club V2.0

Last night, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros began a two-game series in their first meeting since the Astros sign-stealing scandal news broke in a story by The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich.

The game was relatively uneventful until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Joe Kelly entered the game for the Dodgers. Let’s reacquaint ourselves with Mr. Kelly.

 

In April 2018, Kelly threw at then-Yankees hitter Tyler Austin in retaliation for a hard slide into Brock Holt (now of the Brewers). All hell broke loose and Red Sox Nation created “Joe Kelly Fight Club”, complete with t-shirts and all.

Back to last night, there were signs in that sixth inning that something was going to go down. Kelly walked a couple hitters, and was missing inside a lot. He walked Alex Bregman, with several pitches inside before he buzzed ball four behind his head. He missed inside to Yuli Gurriel in the next at bat before walking him on four pitches. Kelly went to 2-0 on Carlos Correa, missing with a head-high off-speed pitch before striking him out on the next three pitches to escape the inning. Video in this tweet by Rob Friedman, the Pitching Ninja (recommended follow on Twitter) captures the moments.

 

Needless to say, the Astros were not happy with Kelly’s pitching last night. The usual “you’re risking ending a guy’s career throwing at someone’s head” kind of stuff. This is true and I don’t condone throwing at a person’s head, but the Astros HAD to know some kind of retaliation was coming. To a man, Kelly handled the postgame questions perfectly.

 

It will be interesting to see if anything goes down tonight when these two teams square off again. They have three more games remaining against Houston, including a pair at Dodger Stadium September 12 and 13. Tonight’s game-time is 9 PM eastern-time.

UPDATE: Joe Kelly has been suspended for eight games by Major League Baseball. Very harsh punishment.

Judge is Ready to Hold Court

It appears Aaron Judge is all-systems-go for the New York Yankees.

In early March (which feels like an eternity ago), Judge was diagnosed with a broken right rib making a catch in a game on September 18, 2019. We won’t re-hash the hows and whys about his treatments over the winter. That is beyond the scope of this particular article.

Now entering his fourth full season in Yankee pinstripes, Judge has been working in the team’s “summer camp” with his teammates. All seemed well with his progression until he was held out of a team intrasquad game on July 11, as seen in a tweet from Yankees beat-writer Bryan Hoch.

After reading some replies to Bryan’s tweet, I could hear the sound of Yankees Twitter’s eyes rolling into the back of their collective heads. It’s no secret Judge has struggled staying healthy over the course of his brief career, however it’s not because he is soft.

That said, he has to put together a full season to avoid being labeled as injury-prone and subsequently mocked the way Jacoby Ellsbury is. Judge said he was going “keep playing this game hard, and that’s all I know”.

Freak injuries happen. When big men fall, they fall hard which can result in injury. Aaron is 6’7″ and weighs 280 pounds, so when he goes down there’s much more risk than a person a half foot and 75 pounds lighter.

The Yankees are a different (better) team with Aaron Judge in the lineup. His presence is an emotional life, while his pure skill can overpower opponents. The team is going to put up some numbers with a full and healthy lineup. I look forward to seeing mammoth blasts from Judge, like his ridiculous 495 foot blast from 2017. ALL RISE! 👨🏽‍⚖️

George Steinbrenner

Today marks ten years since New York Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner III passed away at the age of 80.

“The Boss” bought the team in 1973 from CBS for 10 million dollars. From Day 1 until the day he passed, he invested in his team, his city and the fans. The Yankees were an also-ran organization, it’s glory days of the 1950’s/early 1960’s were long gone. He made it a mission to make the Yankees winners within three years. He spent freely to add Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson as free agents.

It took exactly three years to make the Yankees winners. In 1976, the Bronx Bombers made it to the World Series, only to be swept by Pete Rose’s Cincinnati Reds and their “Big Red Machine”. Undeterred, the Yankees went back to the World Series in 1977 and ’78, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers both times. They faced them yet again in 1981, losing in six games.

Lean years followed, as the Yankees showed signs of aging. Steinbrenner worked to keep his team winning, however some free agent signings and trades weren’t panning out. He re-hired Billy Martin for 1983, brought him back early in 1985 and again in ’88. Martin was only a band-aid over a bigger problem. A rebuild of the organization was badly needed to replenish the farm system.

In 1990, Steinbrenner was suspended by then-Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent from day-to-day management for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on star outfielder Dave Winfield. This brought opportunity for GM Gene “Stick” Michaels to begin the rebuild. He responded, drafting the core of players who would eventually make the Yankees winners for more than a decade.

Although Steinbrenner’s suspension was to be permanent, “The Boss” was reinstated in 1993. Seeing the work Micheals put in to re-stock the farm system, he was less inclined to rule with the iron-fist he was accustomed to. The Yankees became winners again, winning titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009. The ’09 series win was especially meaningful, as it was the final World Series of Mr. Steinbrenner’s life. His son Hal, by then George’s successor, dedicated the title to his father, saying “This one’s for you!”

Hal Steinbrenner is less willing to spend freely the way his father did, but I’m guessing George was smiling down from the heavens last December when the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a 324 million dollar deal.

George Steinbrenner’s 37 years of Yankees ownership put the team back on the map and took it into the stratosphere. His family’s ownership is the gold-standard of the way sports owners should run their teams.

I hope you are resting comfortably, Boss. I can’t believe you’ve been gone ten years.

I Can’t Quit Baseball

Two days ago, when Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement saying there would likely be no baseball in 2020 unless the Players Union dropped grievances against the league, I was ready to walk away from baseball.

My anger had reached it’s boiling point. For months, the players union and Rob Manfred have negotiated through the media, trading barbs along the way, ultimately wearing on the nerves of fans, the media and literally everyone who cares about the game.

After lunch, I left my apartment and took a drive. Driving is my way of getting and clearing my mind. It’s where I do some of my best thinking and reflecting. Now that places are starting to open back up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore.

By default, I go to the magazine racks first and then the sports section of books. Baseball, of course. I ended up leaving the store with two books, The Inside Game, by Keith Law and Yankee Miracles: Life with The Boss and the Bronx Bombers by Ray Negron and Sally Cook.

I got back in my truck, drove away from the store, and I felt a familiar tug. The tug of baseball pulling me back in. I realized how much I love this game. I was very angry at baseball, like so many are right now. Upset at both sides because we all could use a distraction from all the craziness of 2020. But I know I still love this game, and I know I can’t turn my back on it. I love writing about it and sharing it with you.

Before I went home later in the afternoon, I drove up by Lake Ontario’s shoreline to catch a cooler breeze coming off the water. As I sat there, I checked my phone and opened Twitter. This tweet from New York Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch was one of the first things I saw as I scrolled.

Maybe these experiences today are a sign that everything is going to be okay, that things are coming back together. I know one thing – I can’t imagine myself living without baseball. ⚾

MLB: Just Find a Way to Make it Work

It’s been a hot minute since I have written anything on The Titanium Spine. My last post was on March 6, but with everything the country has gone through with COVID-19, it feels longer. I hope everyone reading this has stayed healthy along with your families and friends.

Major League Baseball owners and the Player’s Union are currently battling over finances and salaries for this season, and if it’s not resolved there may not be baseball in 2020. Yesterday, the owners submitted a proposal to the players union that would pay players on a sliding-scale. Players who are under team control, and thus generally paid less than one who has a larger contract stand to benefit the most.

 

Needless to say, the players aren’t happy with this proposal. Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer tweeted this out late Wednesday night.

 

Keep in mind this was a baseline offer and the players union will counter. Minor league players are already suffering, although for now all teams are paying them a monthly stipend. But the Oakland A’s intend to stop paying after this month ends.

 

Not all teams are taking this hard stance. The San Diego Padres plan to pay their kids through August, so this is by no means a universal thing in Major League Baseball.

 

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and baseball can return this summer. A lot of players, workers and fans could really use some normalcy in their lives.

Despite Injuries, Yankees Have Depth to Overcome

After an injury-riddled 2019 season where they used 54 different players, one would think the New York Yankees 2020 season would be better in terms of health simply by default.

Concerned about the alarming number of injuries and treatment of them, the team overhauled the strength and conditioning department, hiring Eric Cressey as Director of Player Health and Performance.

Longtime Yankees trainer Steve Donahue, with the team since 1979, has been reassigned as Director of Medical Services in the restructuring.

So far in 2020, the “Medical Gods” still aren’t being too kind to the Yankees. As of this writing (March 6), the team has lost starting pitcher Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery) for the season. James Paxton (lower back surgery) will be out until May at the earliest, OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton strained his right calf doing defensive drills last week and may miss the first week of the season. It has been reported Stanton has resumed running, so he may be able to ramp things up again soon.  Aaron Judge has been dealing with pain in his shoulder/chest area, and today it was revealed he has a fracture in one of his ribs.

It was also revealed Judge originally suffered this injury in a game last September 18 on a diving catch attempt, and felt a “crack and a pop”. Preliminary tests were performed and Judge received a cortisone injection.

More on Judge’s injury can be read via Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch’s Twitter feed.

Despite these injuries, the Yankees have depth to overcome. Even with the early losses of Stanton and Judge (and loss of CF Aaron Hicks for first half of 2020), the team has Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier and Estevan Florial on the 40 man roster to go along with Brett Gardner. Miguel Andújar has looked promising in left-field, to the point where manager Aaron Boone says he is comfortable continuing to give him reps.  Also in the mix is 27 year old Zack Granite, a 2013 draftee from the Twins organization. The lefty hitter spent last season in Nashville, the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.

For the starting rotation, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and newly-signed Gerrit Cole have looked very good in the early going. Jordan Montgomery looks like he’s back to his 2017 pre-surgery form and youngsters Jonathan Loaisiga, Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia are in competition with holdover Luis Cessa to nail down the 5th starter spot.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman makes it a point to stock up on depth, and it served them well in 2019, still winning 103 games. They look poised to make another run at a World Series title in 2020.

Mike Fiers was the First to Speak-up but not the Last

Unless you have been living under a rock since mid-November, you have heard about the 2017 Houston Astros using technology to steal signs to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents.

When former Astro and current Oakland A’s staring pitcher Mike Fiers went on record with The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal, speaking out on how his former team stole catchers’s signs, it turned the baseball world on it’s ear (the Drellich/Rosenthal piece can be read here).

Needless to say, Fiers’s former teammates are upset that he broke an unwritten code of clubhouse culture. Major league clubhouses are sacred. What goes on in a clubhouse is supposed to stay in a clubhouse. Fiers may never be fully trusted again by some current and future teammates because he went against the grain, letting team doings become public.

On social media, the reaction has been mixed. Many folks are calling Fiers a hero (including this writer), and many are destroying him, calling him a rat, a bad teammate and many words unsuitable to repeat here. Reactions from many ex-players, including Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez had this to say:

 

Mike Fiers was the first former Astros player to speak out, but I don’t think he will be the last. Players are human beings, and many human beings have consciences. Fiers proved he has one by going public. But he can’t be the only one who feels the same way about his team’s cheating. Immediately after Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, former Astro Gerrit Cole distanced himself from the team.

This is certainly not to say Cole will say anything at all regarding the Astros’s indiscretions, but it makes me question whether he agreed with what his former teammates were doing.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the current Houston squad was cleared of any wrongdoing, but let’s remember how Jose Altuve jumped all over a slider thrown by New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman to end the ALCS, and had a look of terror on his face as he told his team not to rip off his jersey. He did that for a reason.

Two days ago, Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, a member of the Astros from 2012-18, gave something of an apology, saying he is “sorry for the situation”, but also pointed out they didn’t cheat every game.

But make no mistake, Keuchel wasn’t happy the aforementioned “clubhouse code of silence” was broken.

 

This isn’t over by any stretch, and I think as time goes by, more people will shed light on what really happened. It’s just a matter of how long and how many people have a conscious. Stay tuned.

Red Sox entertaining trade offers for Betts

The Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres are discussing a trade that could send center-fielder Mookie Betts to the west coast, according to The Athletic’s Dennis Lin.

The trade would potentially send Betts, a free agent after 2020, to San Diego in exchange for 1B/OF Wil Myers and a number of prospects (reportedly MacKenzie Gore and CJ Abrams are not a part of the deal).

With the Red Sox expected to decrease payroll, enticing Betts to stay in Boston could be an uphill battle. It is not known at this time if the Padres are willing to offset some of the remaining 67.5 million owed Wil Myers through 2022. Myers’s contract also has a 20M option for 2023 with a buyout of a dollar. Although it is reported a deal isn’t likely as it is, Lin’s story says there is “legitimate interest” on both sides. My guess is San Diego might eat a little of his contract if Boston will accept “less than blue-chip prospects”.

Updates: It’s reported by Dennis Lin and Jon Heyman the Red Sox are interested in Padres prospects Luis Campusano and Luis Patiño in a potential trade for Mookie Betts.

This is a developing story and will be updated as things progress.