Happy Opening Day! After an miserable year in 2020, including an abbreviated sixty game schedule, fans are looking forward to a full 162 game season. Best of all, fans will be allowed in MLB ballparks. The stadiums will not be sellouts at first, but as COVID vaccinations continue, capacities will increase. Normalcy is slowly returning.
The AL East Division is always competitive, and will continue to be in 2021. Today, we’ll take brief looks at each team in the East and assess their chances of winning the division. Let’s get started!
Boston Red Sox – After last year’s disaster, there’s nowhere to go but up. Alex Cora is back to manage the team after a year away from baseball account the much publicized Astros sign stealing scandal. Over the winter, the Red Sox added Kike Hernandez, Franchy Cordero, and Marwin Gonzalez to their lineup. They brought in former Yankee Adam Ottavino to their bullpen and Garrett Richards for the rotation. This team will hit, but their success will ride on pitching. Nathan Eovaldi is back throwing 100 mph seeds and Eduardo Rodriguez is back after missing 2020 with post-COVID related heart issues. Chris Sale (recovery from Tommy John surgery) is slated to re-join the team after the All Star break. If their bullpen holds up and does the job, the Sox will be much better in 2021. However, they’re still behind upper-echelon teams like the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays.
New York Yankees – Last year’s Yankees finished 2nd behind the Tampa Bay Rays. Injuries are a big reason why, as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton each missed more than half the season. Remaining healthy is the biggest concern for manager Aaron Boone and the Bronx Bombers. If the bodies hold up, the Yankees are the most talented team in the division. The Yankees lineup is basically unchanged from last year. Good health also goes for pitching – if newcomers Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon make all their starts, good things will happen.
Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays are for real. Sure, things change every year because the team’s salary structure dictates they must. Kevin Cash is a top-notch manager (other than that Blake Snell World Series thingy) and gets the most from his players. Willy Adames, Mike Brosseau, Randy Arozarena and Tyler Glasnow make up a formidable core. They have the lineup to compete and score a lot of runs. As with most teams, pitching well – especially in relief – is key to success. Beyond Glasnow, the Rays rotation is a patchwork quilt of recycled and older starters. Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks and Chaz Roe are good at shutting teams down. They’ll be at or near the top the entire way.
Toronto Blue Jays – What a lineup. After the Yankees, these Baby Jays have the best lineup in the AL East, and maybe the entire league. Over the winter, GM Ross Atkins brought in CF George Springer, 2B Marcus Semien and starting pitcher Steven Matz. The Jays and manager Charlie Montoyo have young flamethrower Nate Pearson slotted in behind Hyun-Jin Ryu in the rotation. Again, pitching well will be important – especially in this loaded division.
Enjoy the games today and the entire season! There’s no day quite like Opening Day. For me, it’s better than Christmas.
After losing to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series, the season is over for the New York Yankees.
The writing was on the wall, even before the postseason started. The Yankees won only two of their ten regular season against the Rays, and generally looked lethargic against the 2020 AL East Division winners. Collectively, the Yankees hit .218 against the Rays. In the eight losses against them, the numbers were worse (.194). Those numbers are tough to swallow, considering the Yankees/Rays rivalry seems more intense in recent years than when they play against the Red Sox.
It’s very apparent the Rays raise their games to another level when they play the Yankees. That’s what good teams do when the stakes are high. Players like Randy Arozarena, Ji-Man Choi, Mike Zunino and Mike Brosseau are far from household name. But each of them has bludgeoned the Yankees in 2020, the most household name team in Major League Baseball. They had “that extra gear” needed to win.
Meanwhile, the Yankees core of Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combined for 13 hits in 70 at-bats (.186) against the Rays in the regular season. That’s just unacceptable. D.J. LeMahieu, soon to be a free agent, went 10-30 against Tampa, which illustrates how vital he is to this lineup and must be retained.
In the ALDS, the Yankees fared a little better, hitting to the tune of .242 in the five-game series. However, manager Aaron Boone‘s decision to use Deivi Garcia as an opener and starter J.A. Happ to follow him blew up in his face. To me, this was irresponsible. Boone tried to get cute, trying to beat Rays manager Kevin Cash at his own game. You can’t do that when you don’t have the personnel designed to excel pitching that way. Happ has been the most reliable starter for the Yankees behind Gerrit Cole. I already wrote about this farce in detail, so I won’t clog up a lot more space about that.
Unfortunately, there were other situations where it seemed like Aaron Boone was playing checkers, while Kevin Cash played chess. Like when Boone sent up Mike Ford to pinch-hit for Kyle Higashioka in the top of the 8th inning against Rays closer Diego Castillo.
Jimmy O’Brien (Jomboy) illustrates most everyone’s reaction when they saw Ford come to the plate in THAT situation.
I mean seriously, what the fuck is Aaron Boone thinking here?? Ford had two at bats in the postseason, including this ill-fated appearance where he went down looking. Higashioka was 0-2 on this night, but came into the game with an OPS of .853! And taking Higgy out of this game meant Gary Sánchez had to come in on defense. With Aroldis Chapman pitching. Who doesn’t always know where his pitches are going.
WHAT THE HELL IS BOONE THINKING?
In the end, Chapman gave up a home-run to Mike Brosseau on the tenth pitch of the at bat, and it cost them. Game over.
In the end, the Yankees didn’t have that extra gear needed to beat the Rays. They got outplayed, and certainly got out-managed.
A week and a half ago, as I was typing out my Yankees 40 game report, I was doing it with a sense of doom and resign. The Yankees seemed to be in a free-fall. They were in the middle of a five-game losing streak and lost six of seven. The team wasn’t hitting. When they did hit, they couldn’t pitch. Things looked bleak.
What a difference ten games make! After losing the first pair of games on the road to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees have reeled off eight consecutive victories. In four of them, the Bronx Bombers have lived up to their moniker, scoring ten runs or more. They are coming off a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays at home, making up for losing three of four in Buffalo earlier this month.
Yankees bats have never been hotter. The team scored 43 runs over the three games, including a mind-blowing 18 (!!!) home runs. No Yankees team has ever done that. Amazing.
A line from ex-MLB hitter Mark DeRosa in the game “MLB The Show 20” come to mind. “There’s a fight at the bat rack for who’s gonna hit next”. Let’s start at the top of the Yankees lineup and work our way down.
D.J. LeMahieu continues to rake like a man-possessed. He played all ten games and brought his lunch pail to work, going 16-40 (.400) with six bombs and 11 RBI. Why the Yankees haven’t extended his contract is beyond comprehension. They can’t afford to lose him.
Luke Voit has firmly seized the first base job. Initially splitting time with lefty batting Mike Ford (who has since been optioned to Yankees alternative site in Scranton) in a platoon situation, Voit has been scorching hot no matter who is pitching. Over the last ten games, Voit went 14-43 (.326) while mashing 7 taters and bringing him 18. None of his home-runs are cheapies, either.
Gleyber Torres hasn’t shown the power he displayed in 2019 when he belted 38 home runs, but still is very productive. Over the last ten, “Glasses Gleyber” went 9-26 (.346) with a pair of homers and eight RBI.
Injured superstars Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are back! Both players took an o-fer in their first games back, but last night Giancarlo went 4-5 against Toronto. He only came a triple shy of the cycle, bringing home a pair of runs. Having Judge and Stanton in the lineup makes an already potent lineup more dangerous.
Third baseman Gio Urshela missed a handful of games while on the injured list with bone spurs in his throwing elbow. He returned Tuesday and has since gone 5-14 over three games. No RBI’s, but it’s hard to drive in runs when everyone else is clearing the bases with home-runs.
OF Clint Frazier has been consistently productive in 2020 for the Yankees. Injuries to Stanton and Judge opened the door for Frazier and he’s earned his everyday playing time. He played all ten games, going 11-34 (.324) with a pair of homers and nine RBI. On Monday, Frazier revealed he was still dealing with concussion issues that carried over from 2018. He suffered from depth perception problems, which explains his defensive struggles last season. This year, Clint’s defense has been top-notch.
It’s been no secret Gary Sánchez has struggled in 2020, so we’ll take any silver linings. Always streaky, Gary went hitless in his first nine at bats over this ten game stretch, followed by six hits in the next 22. Sánchez socked a pair of homers in the Toronto series, driving home six. Backup catcher Kyle Higashioka has caught Gerrit Cole‘s last two starts, and all he’s done is hit four HR’s, including a three-homer game against the Blue Jays.
Veteran outfielders Brett Gardner (6 for 22) and Aaron Hicks (7 for 28) have been suffering through abysmal seasons, hitting .198 and .215, respectively. The defense is still there for both of them, but for some reason the offense hasn’t been there. Mike Tauchman had a three hit game against the Baltimore Orioles on September 11, but has otherwise been non-existent. Light hitting Tyler Wade has subbed in for Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres when needed. When he’s on base, Wade is always a threat to score. The problem here is, he’s rarely on base.
It all starts with Gerrit Cole. The ace starting pitcher, Brian Cashman’s so-called “White Whale”, made a pair of starts against the Orioles and Blue Jays. Both outing were seven-inning gems, a two-hit complete game shutout against Baltimore in the first game of a doubleheader, followed by a three-hitter against Toronto. Cole gave up one run in his collective 14 innings, striking out 17 hitters. Filthy.
Masahiro Tanaka follows Cole in the Yankees rotation, and is a nice contrast. Masa is going to give up his home runs, it’s just who he is. The good thing is Tanaka never walks anyone, so usually the bombs are solo jobs. He had the benefit of a lot of run-support over his last pair of starts, his teammates giving him ten runs. This allowed Tanaka to pound the strike-zone and get outs efficiently. Against the Blue Jays, the long-time mainstay of the Yankees rotation had his longest start of 2020, seven innings. The only damage was a pair of homers to Lourdes Gurriel.
Deivi García, all of 21 years of age, has continued his impressive rookie season. The young righty made a pair of starts against the Blue Jays, pitching seven innings each time. In Buffalo, he only allowed a pair of runs on five hits in Buffalo, a start that helped stop a five game skid. Six days later, he made another start against Toronto. This time, the Yankees won 20-6 and his seven innings helped rest a weary bullpen. His WHIP and SO/BB ratios are better than Gerrit Cole’s. Imagine that. Did I mention he’s only 21??
Rounding out the rotation are lefties Jordan Montgomery and J.A. Happ. Montgomery’s last outing was a very solid 5.2 innings of one-run ball against the Orioles at home. He struck out a career-high nine and lost a win opportunity on an unearned run that scored after he departed. Monty’s season high is six innings, as he seems to hit the proverbial wall after about 75 pitches. Aaron Boone doesn’t seem to give him a lot of rope, and Montgomery seemed unhappy when the manager relieved him in the Baltimore game.
After a rough pair of starts to begin the 2020 season, veteran J.A. Happ has reeled off five starts where he’s kept his team in the game, if not pitch outstanding. Over the five starts, Happ has pitched to a 2.45 ERA, with 27 strikeouts over 29.1 innings. Over that span he has allowed a scant five walks and 23 hits, translating to a WHIP of 0.95. Happ is earning his money, although he only has a record of 1-2 to show for it.
In the bullpen, Chad Green and Adam Ottavino combined for a horrific meltdown inning against the Blue Jays in Buffalo on September 7. The Jays scored four times on Green and six against Ottavino in a 10 run inning that lasted 43 minutes. Green rebounded with a pair of good outings against Baltimore, while Ottavino struggled again six days later. Boone used Adam again last night against Toronto, and he looked much better. He gave up a hit, but struck out a pair of Blue Jays in a 13 pitch inning.
It’s hard to predict what the Yankees will get from Jonathan Holder. The 27 year old Holder was lights out over the last month where he only allowed one run over 10 innings (eight appearances). He came in last night to close out last night’s game against Toronto with a 10-3 lead. He departed 28 pitches and four runs later when closer Aroldis Chapman had to come in to put out the fire and lock down the save. Holder’s ERA jumped two full runs after the game, now sitting at 4.08.
Zack Britton continues to bring his lunch pail to work and get the job done. Britton provided four efficient scoreless innings over games 41-50 and picked up a win along the way. I applaud his unselfishness, as he could probably close for every other MLB team not named the Yankees.
The aforementioned Chapman notched a pair of saves this past week and added another memorable moment he probably would prefer never happened. Chapman recorded the first out in the 9th inning of a tie-game against the Orioles. We’ll just let Jomboy break it down, as he always does so well.
Of note, Chapman’s appeal for the suspension he received for throwing a pitch over Tampa Bay Rays hitter Mike Brosseau was supposed to be heard this past Monday (September 14), but there has been nothing reported since. Stay tuned.
Luis Cessa, Mike King, Jonathan Loaisiga and Nick Nelson are the leftovers who usually come in to mop up or cover in the event of injury. Cessa and Loaisiga are generally the more trusted pitchers of this quartet to get the higher leverage innings.
Next time, we’ll cover the final ten games of the season. We’ll also take a peek at what will be ahead for the Yankees as we enter the expanded postseason in this crazy year that is 2020.
The last ten games for the Yankees and their fans have been anything but fun. The same can be said for the ten games before that. It’s been a very ugly stretch for this battered team. Let’s get on to assess the carnage, shall we?
Or lack thereof. Where do we even begin? I guess we will start with the guys actually producing. D.J. LeMahieu came back for the team’s 30th game after missing ten games with a hand injury. He picked right up where he left off. “LeMachine” logged 10 hits in 36 at-bats in this ten game stretch, including back to back two hit games against the Tampa Bay Rays. The second of which he slammed a pair of home runs in a rare Yankees win over the Rays.
There’s not much else positive to say about the rest of this Yankees lineup. 3rd baseman Gio Urshela has battled a troublesome bone spur in his throwing elbow, and was placed on the IL. Gary Sánchez still looks lost at the plate (13 hits in 100 AB’s), including strikeouts in each of his last seven plate appearances. He did manage a home-run, a grand slam that proved to be a game-winner against the Mets in the first game of a doubleheader. However, Aaron Boone is planning to sit him for a couple days to get himself right.
Aaron Boone on sitting Gary Sanchez: "Just kind of deliberated on it a lot last night, just feel like this is the way I need to go right now and hopefully a day off or two or however I decide to do it here can help get him going."
You know things aren’t going so hot when Jonathan Holder has the lowest ERA on the team (minimum 10 IP). Sigh.
It’s been a tough last few turns for Gerrit Cole, but he deserved so much better Saturday night against the Orioles. He has his best stuff of the season. Cole struck out five of the first six hitters and sat 97-99 with his four-seamer. He had nine K’s through five innings on only 63 pitches. The next inning, the roof caved in. D.J Stewart hit a home-run. Hanser Alberto reached on an error. Cole issued back-to-back walks, then followed those up with a two-run single and a ground-rule double. Next thing you know, five runs have scored (one earned) and that’s all she wrote.
Masahiro Tanaka tossed six innings of two run ball in a 5-3 Yankees win against the Rays on September 1, punching seven tickets. Sunday against the Orioles, Masa was charged with four runs (two earned) over 5.1 innings in Baltimore. Like Cole the night before, Tanaka deserved a better fate. Luis Cessa relieved him for some reason only Manager Aaron Boone knows (more on this later). Cessa inherited two of Tanaka’s runners and allowed a single to load the bases. He went on to walk in a run, followed by a single for another Baltimore run. The O’s went on to a 5-1 win Sunday. Again, Tanaka deserved better.
Jordan Montgomery imploded in a his start against Tampa on September 2, giving up five straight hits and two home-runs to a fired-up Rays team. The day before, closer Aroldis Chapman sailed a 101 mph fastball just inches over the head of Mike Brosseau. The Rays felt they had something to prove, and they made a statement, jumping on Montgomery, who only recorded two outs on 39 pitches.
J.A. Happ made a start in Thursday’s makeup game against the Mets, going five innings, giving up 4 runs on eight hits. His season continues to be up and down.
Deivi García pitched a beautiful six innings against the Mets in his debut on August 30, striking out six. He looked like a seasoned veteran, allowing a scant four hits. He drew praise across MLB, including Pedro Martínez, whom García is often compared to.
Congrats to 21-year old Dominican pitcher Deivi Garcia on an excellent debut today for the @Yankees he did a great job at mixing in his pitches, his body looked stable, and fully extended!! I was impressed with the way he commanded his pitches today. From Bonao city the DR
His second start wasn’t as great, but pitched into the 5th inning before he was relieved by fellow rookie Clarke Schmidt, who was just called up to make his Major League debut. It didn’t go well, with the Orioles ripping him for three straight hits, allowing four runs to score. We’ll also touch on this move by Boone later.
Michael King made a couple of uninspiring starts and abbreviated starts, against the Mets and Orioles, respectively. King didn’t pitch badly, only giving up a total of five runs between the two starts. But Boone doesn’t give him a lot of rope. His longest outing of the season was his start against the Mets, four innings. That puts a lot of work on the bullpen.
Speaking of the bullpen, it’s worn out. Any starter not named Gerrit Cole or Masahiro Tanaka simply doesn’t get to pitch very deeply into games. Sometimes it’s for a good reason (they are getting shelled), sometimes it’s because Aaron Boone gets an itchy trigger-finger or analytics call for a move.
Adam Ottavino (16 appearances), Chad Green (15) and Zack Britton (13) are getting worked a lot, and the team is averaging 4.5 innings per start from their starting pitchers. Things are getting thin, and cracks are beginning to show. Jonathan Loaisiga, who’s been valuable as an opener and multi-inning reliever, was put on the IL with an illness unrelated to COVID.
As mentioned earlier, Aroldis Chapman threw a pitch above Mike Brosseau’s head. This ended up getting him a three game suspension from Major League Baseball. He has appealed and is awaiting a hearing. Even if reduced, it adds more to an overworked bullpen. Another unwise and selfish move by Aroldis.
Britton returned from the injured list last week, and will help ease the burden. He looked a bit rusty in his first couple games back, but should be fine with more work.
Luis Cessa and Jonathan Holder have received higher-leverage innings out of necessity, reaffirming how much the Yankees miss Tommy Kahnle (Tommy John surgery).
The Yankees have now lost 13 of their last 18 games. Aaron Boone has made some questionable decisions. Bringing in Luis Cessa into a runners-on situation in relief of Tanaka trailing only by a run (it didn’t work). Having Clarke Schmidt, a starter, make his debut in the middle of an inning with runners on base (it failed miserably) when he had a couple other arms to chose from. Not having Erik Kratz catch J.A. Happ (who raved about working with Kratz after the game) when the pair was spectacular together in Happ’s previous start, having Kyle Higashioka catch him instead (it didn’t go that well).
I realize managing a team is difficult, managing a struggling team in New York magnifies it tenfold. But it seems like Boone is making things harder than it needs to be.
It’s easy for me, other writers and fans to be armchair managers. One thing is obvious. The Yankees need to turn this around, or they may be watching the playoffs along with us in our armchairs.