All posts by William Tasker

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at since 2003.

The House Is Not A Home

The New York Yankees are now only one game over .500 since the last day of July and it has been tough watching the team crawl to the finish line. This really isn’t the way you want to watch a team eek into a playoff spot (if you still consider the wild card game a playoff spot). And just two things are on my mind this morning:

  1. I remember Buster Olney doing a column on favorable schedules after the All Star Break and the Yankees having one of the most favorable because of the number of home games..
  2. I have to watch Yankee games against the Red Sox on NESN because of blackouts and one of the text questions on their broadcast last night was: “Does the new Yankee Stadium give the Yankees the same home field advantage.”

Olney’s conclusion did not work out, obviously, because of the nearly .500 clip the Yankees have played the last two months. And if I would have texted my answer to NESN’s question, I probably would have said no.

I haven’t been to the new stadium. All my memories of going to games were in the old place. That place always seemed to rock. Since I cannot really tell now as I have not actually been there. Watching the games on television, the crowds a the new stadium just seem different…quieter…pensive….reserved.

Jerry Remy answered NESN’s question with an unequivocal NO. That doesn’t mean he is necessarily right, but he has seen games in both places, so I feel stronger about his response than mine. But what do the numbers say?

I tracked the winning percentage of the team’s overall performance versus the home record for all the years in the new stadium and the last few years of the old stadium. At the bottom of the post you can see my results.

One thing easily seen is that the Yankees still had a big advantage at home the first few years of the new stadium. There was a healthy difference between the overall record and the home record. But the last two years have been a different story.

I don’t have time to dig into the differences right now, nor do I probably have the skills to discuss this intelligently. But something is different the last couple of years and home has not been as wonderful a place to be as it was in the past. Whether it has to do with the make ups of the teams or the way they are fielded, I have no idea without digging further.

I simply wanted to show what I found and open the discussion. And while these numbers are not as comforting as you would want knowing the one-game-wild card-play-in-Russian Roulette is at home (we hope), it is still more comforting than having to have that game be played away.

yankees home record

The Yankee Offense Drives Me Insane

I know. You are tired of me writing about the Yankees’ offense. I have railed all year about it and I don’t blame you for being sick of it. It’s just that misery loves company. If I have to watch this team hit every night and drive myself to distraction, then I might as well take someone with me. Frankly, I hate this offense.

As thrilling a win as Monday night was with Slade Heathcott‘s three-run dinger to win it, the Yankees had just four hits. Last night they had five. Just a random couple of games? Hardly. The Yankees have had five or less hits in a game 29 times. That is tied for sixth most in the Majors. That is also 20% of their games or a fifth of them. Is that a lot? Well…the 2009 Yankees did that only fourteen times all season. Which is also how many times the Blue Jays have done it this season.

So what, exactly, drive me crazy? The approach to hitting drives me crazy. If you face a guy with a good change-up (which describes everyone on the Rays), then the best approach is to think away and then you are still back enough to hit the change up hard. It is my observation that the Yankees give away more outs that most teams and certainly less than their closest opponents. But is that an accurate observation?

I think the numbers back it up. Which team has the lowest BABIP in baseball? You guessed it. The New York Yankees at .284. BABIP is the batting average of balls in play. An average BABIP is considered around .300 and fluctuates a percentage point from year to year.

We have eye evidence that nearly every Yankee batter has a shift employed against him. And, gosh, that makes so much sense. Why? Because the Yankees easily have the highest pull percentage in baseball at 44.8%. At the same time, the team has the lowest opposite field percentage in baseball. Of course the teams are going to shift! Of course, the Yankees are going to keep doing what they are doing and the result is an offense that (outside of homers) drives me crazy.

The Yankees of 2015 also rank tied for seventh for the highest percentage of soft contact. The Yankees have only two batters in the top fifty players (with 300+ at bats) in hard contact percentage. Alex Rodriguez comes in at 37th and Mark Teixeira is 41st. The Yankees’ oldest offensive player leads them.

The Yankees have three players in the top fifty with the lowest percentage of hard contact. Jacoby Ellsbury is 16th lowest and leads the team in that dubious statistic. He was supposed to be good, right? See Brad’s post yesterday for more on that wayward notion.

Three of the Yankees’ homers in the last two games have not been pulled. Heathcott’s dramatic homer was to the opposite field. A-Rod’s from last night was opposite field and Greg Bird’s blast was to center. It’s a beautiful thing. Take what the pitcher gives you. Hit it the other way. Make it harder to defense you. Why is this such a difficult concept?

I can see how it would be hard to have much leverage talking to a Mark Teixeira about his 55+% of pulled baseballs and Brian McCann about his 51.5%. But seriously? It’s okay with you that Chris Young pulls the ball 60.5% when he makes contact!? A guy that close to the edge of having a job cannot be convinced to try something different?

Yes, this team can bop the homers. They do it more often than all except two teams. That’s great. You cannot beat a homer for effectiveness. But what about the rest of the at bats? Wouldn’t it be nice to have Ellsbury on base in front of A-Rod’s homer? Wouldn’t it be great if your two top guys in the lineup could get on base once in a while?

I can’t help it, folks, and I apologize. This offense drives me batty. Except for the occasional homers, the team cannot string together hits, it has no desire to fight what the defenses are doing and they just keep thinking they can hit that slow stuff thrown on the outside corner by rolling over on it. It is infuriating. But, gosh, a playoff spot is still well within reach. So I should just shut up.

Tanaka Is Still An Ace

Tanaka vs BAL III
Courtesy of Getty Images

Before watching the sadness of what was a lousy offensive performance by the Yankees last night, I watched a little bit of Baseball Tonight on The MLB Network. Pedro Martinez and Dan Plesac were discussing the Matt Harvey situation. Plesac talked about every team having a “pecking order” with its starters and relief pitchers. The point made was that Harvey was #1 on the Mets’ pecking order and they needed him. Masahiro Tanaka is still at the top of the Yankees’ pecking order.

During this season, two other pitchers have been handed that spot by the fans and the media. Earlier in the season, Michael Pineda was dominant and he was the ace of the staff. In the second half of the season, that title went to Nathan Eovaldi (sigh). But all along–except for the seven starts he missed–Tanaka has been right there giving the Yankees a chance to win.

I will admit up front that I am going to “cherry pick” some numbers. I feel it is necessary because the current ways we have to rank pitchers are WAR and FIP. Both are skewed heavily by the three supposed outcomes a pitcher can control: homers, walks allowed and strikeouts. Tanaka’s walks allowed, strikeouts and strikeout per walk ratios are all still in the elite category. But homers are another story. He has given up a ton of them. His 1.5 homers per nine rate (over 16% homer to fly ball ratio) is very high.

That one fact alone–and I am not dismissing its impact–drags Tanaka down, puts his FIP over four and knocks his WAR down a few pegs. Tanaka has a bit of a Phil Hughesian problem at Yankee Stadium III. On the road, Masahiro Tanaka has a 0.80 homer per nine rate. But at home, that rate jumps to 2.0 per nine. White giving up only six homers on the road, he has allowed fifteen at home.

All of his other stats both home and the road are nearly the same. But the homer rate pushes his ERA to over four at home and 3.26 on the road. And yet, here’s the thing: He has won six of his twelve starts at home. Mike Mussina was once asked what defined a great pitcher and his answer was winning half of games started. That certainly works for Tanaka at home despite the homers.

But there are more numbers to (cherry) pick. The Yankees have won 66.6% of the games Tanaka has started this season (14 of 21). That is the exact same rate as Eovaldi and we all know about Eovaldi’s run support. And that percentage makes sense since a full 71% of Masahiro Tanaka’s starts have been quality starts. That is easily the best on the team*. Pineda is second at 50%.

*Luis Severino has a higher rate, but I cannot jump on that ship until he has 20+ starts instead of six.

Quality starts is not the most popular statistic around because you can have a 4.50 ERA and have a quality start. But it does give the team a chance to win by keeping things from getting out of hand. But perhaps I can give you a stat you’ll like more.

Actually, I can give you several. Let’s start with Game Score. Bill James and others came up with a way to rate a start with a 50 being average, below 50 as below average and above 50 as above average. The higher the number the better. Masahiro Tanaka’s average Game Score is 57.4. Only Severino is higher among the starters. Pineda is at 52.3 and Eovaldi at 49.6.

Then there is WHIP, which is walks plus hits per innings pitched. Tanaka’s WHIP is 1.015. Would you guess that rate is better than Chris Sale‘s? It’s also better than Corey Kluber, Matt Harvey, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Archer and David Price. The next Yankee starter closest to Tanaka is Pineda at 1.230. A lot of Tanaka’s success there is due to a hits per nine rate of only 7.4 per nine. Add that to his low walk rate and it’s easy to see why.

Lastly, there needs to be a discussion of bullpen saving. One of the stories that goes a little under the radar is that the Yankees’ bullpen gets pretty dicey before the eighth and ninth inning. The more those sixth and seven inning pitchers are exposed, the harder it is on the team. The deeper a starter can go, then, the better. Tanaka leads Yankee starters with 6.48 innings pitched per start. Pineda is at 6..09 and Eovaldi at 5.71.

With the instant stats and news during the season, it is easy to get wrapped up in what is happening lately. I have always felt that you cannot take a part of the season to sweeten the entire season. Stephen Drew might have been better this past month, but his SEASON has not been pretty at the plate. Eovaldi and Pineda have carried the team in flashes of brilliance that lasted a month or more. But if you look at the season as a whole, Masahiro Tanaka has been the consistent presence the Yankees have needed. All things considered health-wise, he is still the guy I give the ball to in Game One of a playoff series or wild card winner take all.

**UPDATE** has a new pitching statistic they say is the best at evaluating pitchers. The stat is called DRA and according to that site’s list of 718 pitchers, Tanaka ranks 26th, well ahead of Eovaldi and Pineda. See the list here if you have a paid account there.They adjust his WARP (their version of WAR) a full win higher than Fangraphs or

A Sweet Golden Sombrero


This post is not going to be an analytical gem. It is not going to be some biting analysis about what happened in a game. It is certainly not a journalistic endeavor. Okay, you might be saying, “So what else is new?” Yes, I know. I’ve been writing about baseball on the Internet for twelve years. Let’s be real. Nobody has ever called me a journalist or an analyst. After all, my Twitter handle has always been, “@FlagrantFan.” No, this post is none of those things you can hang a shingle on. This is a post of a one-man celebration of an event that has never happened before. The Yankees struck out David Ortiz swinging four times in four at bats. That, friends, was a sweet Golden Sombrero.

Oh, the Yankees have struck out David Ortiz four times in a game before. It happened twice before it happened last night. The first time was on May 24, 2006. Randy Johnson started the game for the Yankees and got Ortiz swinging in the first. Johnson then got Ortiz to ground out before striking Ortiz out looking. Later in the game (which the Yankees won), Mike Myers struck Ortiz out swinging and Kyle Farnsworth struck Ortiz out looking.

The other game took place on April 24, 2009. Joba Chamberlain started for the Yankees and in three plate appearances against Chamberlain, Ortiz struck out swinging once, struck out looking the second time and singled his third try. Ortiz then flew out when facing Phil Coke. This was a game where Mariano Rivera blew a save on a ninth inning, two-run homer to Jason Bay. Damaso Marte then gave up a walk off homer to Kevin Youkilis in the eleventh. Rivera had struck out Oriz swinging in the ninth and Marte had struck Ortiz out swinging in the eleventh…just before the walk off homer.

Both of those games occurred in Fenway Park in Boston and in each game, Ortiz had put at least one ball in play and at least one of the strikeouts were looking. Last night also occurred at Fenway, but the difference was that Ortiz never put a ball in play and struck out swinging all four times.

Why is this such a moment of celebration for me? Well, there are myriad reasons. Here are just a few:

I don’t like him.

While I respect David Ortiz greatly, I really can’t stand the guy. Why? Because of his arrogant body language, his “there are two I’s in Team” attitude, his big moment in lifting up Boston after the bombing with a king-sized swear word…that’s just a few. And because he is the visible face of the Yankees – Red Sox rivalry.

He has killed the Yankees for years.

Last night was the 221st game David Ortiz has played against the Yankees. Before last night, the Yankees have seen him come to the plate 964 times, good for 818 at bats. In those 221 games, Ortiz has compiled 250 hits, 117 of them were for extra bases including 47 homers. Ortiz’s triple-slash line against the Yankees is .306/395/.565. Ouch. The Yankees have walked him 13.3% of the time. The Yankees have struck him out in 19% of his at bats.

It broke the Yankees’ usual approach to facing Ortiz.

I have seen probably 75% of Ortiz’s plate appearances against the Yankees. Too many of them are similar. The Yankees get ahead in the count and then start nibbling. The next thing you know, the count is 3-2 and the end results are either a walk, a big hit or a strikeout. Very few Yankee pitchers have had the temerity to get ahead of him and keep going after him. Michael Pineda did it three times and Dellin Betances did it the fourth time.

It is fun to watch him skulk back to the dugout.

Well…call it petty and small-minded. But it is! And he did it four times!

When it is all said and done, I will probably support David Ortiz for the Hall of Fame. I don’t care about steroids or PEDs. Was he a force in his generation? For sure. Was he amazing in his three World Series appearances, Yes, he was. Has he had a ton of big moments in big games, many of them against the Yankees? Yup. But for one sweet night, the Yankees, for the first time ever, did not let David Ortiz put a ball in play for four out of four appearances and gave him a swinging Golden Sombrero. I’ll take that moment with me for a long time.

Game 128 – Wisler While They Work

Severino vs BOS

The New York Yankees continue their interleague match-up against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta. The Yankees have young stud, Luis Severino, on the mound squaring up with the Braves’ Matt Wisler. Severino is coming off his first win of the season and sports a very promising 2.74 ERA along with 9.39 strikeouts per nine innings.

Matt Wisler will be making his thirteenth start for the Braves and though he has a winning record of 5-4, his statistical line does not look pretty. His ERA and FIP are over five and his home run per nine rate is very high. Wisler does not strike out a lot of batters so his stuff is not the kind that misses bats.

But as always, the game is played on the field and you never know what is going to happen until it does. The Blue Jays have already won (what a surprise…) by tomahawking the Tigers, 15-1. Thanks for showing up, Tigers!

The Lineups:

New York Yankees:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  2. Brett Gardner – LF
  3. Carlos Beltran – RF
  4. Brian McCann – C
  5. Greg Bird – 1B
  6. Chase Headley – 3B
  7. Didi Gregorius – SS
  8. Stephen Drew – 2B
  9. Luis Severino – P

Atlanta Braves:

  1. Nick Markakis – RF
  2. Cameron Maybin – CF
  3. Freddie Freeman – 1B
  4. Nick Swisher – LF
  5. Adonis Garcia – 3B
  6. Jace Peterson – 2B
  7. Christian Bethancourt – C
  8. Andrelton Simmons – SS
  9. Matthew Wisler – P

Some game notes: The game is being broadcast on FoxSports1 but if the Mets / Red Sox run long, the game will start on the YES Network. Mark Teixeira has a lot of inflammation from his bone bruise, but further tests as this point have been ruled out after seeing the Braves’ doctor. Stephen Drew is one for his last thirteen (.076) and his batting .176 over his last fourteen days.

Enjoy the game everyone!

The Yankees’ One-Dimensional Offense

The game last night between the now-second place New York Yankees and the Houston Astros was a glaring look at the flaws of this 2015 team. I am not really talking about the pitching because every team’s pitching staff will get blown out like that occasionally (although the Yankees’ love affair with Chris Capuano is stunning). The real weakness of the 2015 Yankees is the one-dimentional offense. If they do not homer, they do not score.

The Yankees have now played 34 games in which the team did not hit a home run. The team is 10-24 in those games. In those games, the Yankees have averaged 2.184 runs scored a game. In one of those games, they managed to score ten runs. If you throw that game out, the average goes down to 1.94 runs per game. Just imagine the standings if the Yankees could have managed to be five or six wins better in those games.

To be fair, the Blue Jays, who never seem to lose these days, are even worse with a record of 6-25 when that team does not hit a homer. But the Blue Jays’ run scoring average is better in those games than the Yankees and for the Blue Jays, the pitching (before this streak) wasn’t that good.

The difference between the two teams this month is that the Blue Jays have hardly gone a game or two without hitting a homer. The last two times were the two games the Yankees beat them in Toronto. Those were the only two games the Blue Jays have gone without a homer this month. The Yankees have gone without a homer six times this month and are 1-5 in those games.

I have several observations concerning the inability to score unless there is a homer in the game. The first is that before Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt, he and Brett Gardner were creating havoc at the top of the order. Since Ellsbury’s return, that is no longer the case.

Secondly, after Ellsbury and Gardner, the Yankees have four of the slowest quartet of base runners in baseball with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. You have to string together a lot of hits to get those turtles around the bases.

Thirdly, the bottom of the order is a wasteland. If you do manage to get some of the turtles on base, the odds of them getting batted in by Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan, et al, are slim. The non-pitcher batters in the 7-9 positions in the Yankee batting order have combined for this glowing triple slash line: .236/.284/.368 with only 132 runs driven in. When a full third of your lineup is nonexistent, it is tough to manufacture runs.

Lastly, the Yankees continue to be pull happy no matter the situation and what the fielders are giving them.

I have seen very few instances of people putting numbers behind the pull tendency other than listing the number of shifts employed against their batters. Here is a right-handed and left-handed breakdown of batted ball trajectories for the Yankees this year. We will start with the left-hand batters which we know are a pull happy bunch:

Yankees (league average) Left-handed batters:

  • Pull percentage – 36% (34%)
  • Up the middle – 49.4% (50.12%)
  • Opposite Field – 14.9% (15.9%)

Yankees (league average) Right-handed batters

  • Pull percentage – 31.2% (24.5%)
  • Up the middle – 53.1% (54.6%)
  • Opposite Field – 15.7% (20.8%)

I can somewhat understand the mindset of the left-handed batters where Yankee Stadium has a short porch in right field and that will make you want to pull the ball. But what is the deal with right-handed batters when left field in Yankee Stadium is death valley?

I admit that I am old-fashioned. I believe in the old “hit-em-where-they-ain’t” philosophy. I can understand trying to jack the ball when it is middle in. But if the pitch is outside and the situation can benefit from it, hit it where it’s pitched and pick up the run. I admit to getting very jealous of teams that do this regularly. I miss Hideki Matsui who would do it regularly. Of today’s Yankees, only Beltran and A-Rod make an effort to use what the pitcher and the fielders are giving them.

The predictability of the batted ball trajectory has its consequences with today’s shifts. When Yankee RHB hit the ball up the middle, their BABIP is .267, ten points lower than the league average (and the Blue Jays’ average). When LHB hit the ball up the middle for the Yankees, the BABIP is .277 compared to the league average of .296.

It also explains why the Yankees are terrible against ground ball pitchers. Against such pitchers, the Yankees have a .280 total BABIP and a .665 OPS. The league average is a .300 BABIP and a .718 OPS.

My last observation is harder to measure (at least for me). My observation is that the Yankees–particularly Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew and ,Chris Young–like to get themselves 0-1 and many times 0-2 and thus put themselves at the mercy of the pitcher because they refuse to swing at two middle-of-the-plate strikes earlier in the count.

Brett Gardner has put the first pitch in play only 21 times this season with over 500 plate appearances. But when he does (SSS), he has an OPS of 1.145. Stephen Drew has done it only 35 times and has a .286 average when he does. Chris Young has a .178 BABIP after getting into an 0-1 count this season.

The New York Yankees are too predictable, too intractable and that is fine as long as the homers are flying. But when they are not, the offense gets very ugly. I will leave you with one more observation. When the Yankees hit only one homer in the game, they are 23-22, a mediocre team. Combine them and when the team hits one homer or less, the team is 33.46. When the team hits more than one homer in a game, the team is 36-10. Can you tell which one happens more often?

The Yankee offense seriously needs to diversify when old habits are hard to break. That’s not to say it cannot happen with stressing and concentrating on making the offense more dynamic. I doubt that happens and if/when the Yankees make the playoffs, they will have an offense that can be handled by big-time pitchers that can keep the ball in the park..

Game 123: Andy Pettitte Day

Andy Pettitte

The New York Yankees won on Jorge Posada Day so let’s see if the team can square up the series on Andy Pettitte Day at the Stadium. It will be a warm afternoon with CC Sabathia on the mound for the Yankees facing Trevor Bauer of the Cleveland Indians. Alex Rodriguez will sit this one out as once again, Brian McCann will be the DH with John Ryan Murphy behind the plate.

The Lineups

Cleveland Indians:

  1. Francisco Lindor – SS
  2. Mike Aviles – 2B
  3. Michael Brantley – LF
  4. Carlos Santana – 1B
  5. Ryan Raburn – DH
  6. Yan Gomes – C
  7. Abraham Almonte – CF
  8. Jerry Sands – RF
  9. Giovanny Urshela – 3B

Trevor Bauer – SP

New York Yankees:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  2. Brett Gardner – LF
  3. Carlos Beltran – RF
  4. Brian McCann – DH
  5. Gregory Bird – 1B
  6. Chase Headley – 3B
  7. Didi Gregorius – SS
  8. Stephen Drew – 2B
  9. John Ryan Murphy – C

CC Sabathia – SP

In other news: Brian Cashman announced that Michael Pineda will not pitch for the Yankees until September.

The game starts at 1:05 if not delayed by today’s festivities. Enjoy the game!

Nathan Eovolving – Part 2

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees

Looking at most leader boards on statistic sites, you cannot find a Yankee starting pitcher anywhere. They are not present in any of the big categories like FIP, ERA+, WAR or pretty much anything else. Yankee starters are deemed serviceable but not able to go long into games and at least most of the time, give the very good offense a chance to win the game. So imagine the glee of sorts to find a Yankee starter on top of one of a big-time writer’s lists–Keith Law’s list..

In a post last week, Keith Law ranked pitchers with the best pitches in various categories. For example, Law ranked Clayton Kershaw‘s curve as the best in baseball. Well, duh. Then we get to the split-fingered fastball and sitting on top of Law’s list is Nathan Eovaldi!

This is remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, Nathan Eovaldi did not have a split-fingered fastball before 2015. It’s a brand new baby of a pitch. Secondly…it’s Nathan Eovaldi. But is Keith Law correct?

I decided to look up the numbers on PitchF/X which keeps track of such things. The first thing I noticed is that only 26 MLB starters use the pitch. Compare that to the 85 starters that throw a curve as an example. This is a little like me having the best fried chicken in town when there are only two chicken dives.

But still, of all qualified starters, Nathan Eovaldi’s splitter has been worth 8.9 runs above average this season good for first place. Law doesn’t mention whether he used these stats to compile his lists or scouting. Either way, in this case, he is correct in that Eovaldi’s splitter is highest among qualifying starters in total value. The key word here is, “Qaulifying.”

Eovaldi has a teammate who hasn’t pitched enough innings to be considered a qualifying starter. He is, of course, Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka’s split-fingered fastball has been worth 10.2 runs above average. That would put Tanaka on top, qualified or not.

There is another way of looking at this statistic and that is the value of the pitch per a hundred thrown. In other words you take the total thrown and divide that into the total value and multiply that figure by 100. This changes our view a bit because all pitchers who throw a splitter do not throw them as often.

When viewed this way, the winner is Chris Sale, but Sale doesn’t throw the pitch nearly as often (maybe he should). Eovaldi comes in fifth when looked at this way. He throws the splitter 14+% of the time. Tanaka comes in sixth and throws it 24+% of the time. Tanaka throws it more, but Eovaldi comes out ahead of him on the value per pitch.

I would say that Keith Law’s rating, if based on statistics, would only be correct from one point of view. The bottom line is that Nathan Eovaldi has added a weapon and it has been a good one for him. The pitch has been a bit transforming and could really aid in his Eovolution.

Just to give you an idea of how far he has Eovolved this season, in April, May and June, Eovaldi pitched 82.1 innings and gave up 105 hits. Yeesh. In July and August, Eovaldi has pitched 46.2 innings and has given up 49 hits. That is much better. His batting average against has gone down every month this season.

And the pitch is very important because his other pitches all rate below average except for the two-seam fastball which is slightly above average.

All I know is that earlier in the season, I cringed at the prospect of an Eovaldi start. Now, I sort of look forward to them. I am looking forward to watching him today as the Yankees attempt to sweep the Twins!

That Happened Fast

Welcome to second place, Yankee fans. That happened quickly didn’t it? Thirteen days ago, the Yankees had a seven game lead in the division. Now they are a half a game behind the Blue Jays. I suppose if there is any good news, they are still two and a half games up in the wild card standings. The other good news is that this collapse did not happen at the end of the season. Gene Mauch is safe in that legacy.

What happened here? The bottom line is pretty easy to see. The Blue Jays have won ten in a row and seem incapable of losing (at the moment) while the Yankees have gone 3-7 in that stretch and have lost their last five in a row. Yes, that will do it right there.

If you dig deeper, then two trends emerge: The offense has tanked and the bullpen is built to protect leads, not ties. Let’s start with the offense.

The top of the order has been brutal. When Jacoby Ellsbury came off the disabled list, he was batting over .300 with an on-base percentage over .400. Brent Gardner had a batting average over .300 and an on-base percentage over .390. Ellsbury is now batting .260 with an on-base percentage of .330. He has an OPS of .507 over his last 28 days.

Gardner has a .548 OPS in that same time span and has dropped to .282 / .365. Neither has stolen a base in those last 28 days. The dynamic duo has been inert.

But the lack of offense over the last seven games in particular cannot be handed to Gardner and Ellsbury alone. The second base duo has been pathetic. Over the last seven days, the sour duo of Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan have gone a combined 2-21 with no walks. Each has one hit in the past week. Drew’s one hit was a homer so his BABIP is .000 over that time frame, which has to make you laugh (if not cry).

Ryan came back from his most recent DL stint with a hot few games but again is the Brendan Ryan we all love to hate. As Brad lamented last week, how this has been allowed to continue halfway through August is truly amazing. It has been so bad that some are clamoring for a broken down,, aged Chase Utley to come and rescue the team. Seriously!?

Oh yes, the Yankees traded for a guy who can play second. His ghost is flying around somewhere.

The fans have come to expect so much from Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann. They are all having great seasons. When teams handle them or at least keep somewhat of a lid on them, the rest of the offense has to be capable of putting some runs on the board. This current Yankees team cannot. And that is why, after scoring 90 runs in nine games, the Yankees have scored nine in their last seven.

Watching the game last night, my stomach started sinking when CC Sabathia gave up his first run to allow the Indians to tie the game. When the Indians scored their second run with a gut-wrenching, two-out base hit, the spirit of gloom settled in. The great Yankees’ bullpen is very good with a lead and built for a lead. When there isn’t one and the offense cannot muster anything late and close, the bullpen becomes great at protecting ties or one-run deficits.

That is a good reason why the Yankees are 2-7 in extra-inning games this season and 1-4 in the team’s last five one-run games.

In a stretch like this, you always have to wonder if the team has just gone incredibly cold or if the team has just run into a bunch of hot pitchers. Or is it a combination of the two?  It does seem like all the team has faced the last nine games are knuckleball pitchers and flame throwers. It has the feel of that last playoff series against the Tigers doesn’t it?

There is still time this season and, like I said, at least this collapse didn’t happen the last week of September. The Blue Jays will not stay this hot. The Yankees will hit again (except at second base), Girardi will someday figure out not to bat Chris Young against right-handed pitchers and the bullpen can go back to protecting leads instead of holding the fort while the cavalry never comes. And who knows, Ellsbury and Gardner may steal a base again someday.