Archives for posts with tag: Greg Bird

We are still a little over ten games away from the Sparky Mark (40 games), but this year’s New York Yankees show no signs of slowing down or going away quietly – best exemplified by Sunday night’s 18 inning marathon victory over last year’s World Series champion Cubs. Even the most optimistic fan, which I am often accused of being, didn’t see foresee this squad playing .690 ball and making a legitimate claim at being the best team in baseball. This team is far from perfect and yet is finding ways to excel and make a case for World Series talk this year, not next.

Biggest Surprise: Aaron Judge/The Bench (tie) – Following a brief 2016 campaign that saw this Baby Bomber K in 42 of 84 at-bats, Aaron Judge is attempting to lay claim to both the A.L. Rookie of the Year and MVP – and he may just succeed in both. After a slow start, Judge has left little doubt as to who should be the Yankees starting RF for the near future with 13 HRs (tied for MLB league) and surprisingly good defense. I doubt he will keep this pace up with pitchers either making adjustments or dolling out free passes, but Aaron Judge has shown an early knack for overcoming 1-2 counts and deflecting any praise with Derek Jeter-like humility.

While Judge looks like he can carry the team, both figuratively and literally, he has plenty of help from surprising contributors. Injuries to Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez, allowed both Ronald Torreyes and Austin Romine a chance to step up and produce. Torreyes has hit .311 with a once team-leading 13 RBIs and Romine has a .281 BA to go with stellar game calling to ease along a young staff highlighted by Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery. And with Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury needing the occasional spell in the field, Aaron Hicks has finally justified his #1 draft selection by the Minnesota Twins in 2012. Hicks is showing 5-tool ability with a slash-line of .338/.459/.662 to go with 5 SBs. No telling how long this Yankee 4th OF will need a chance to be a #1 somewhere else, for the right compensation.

Biggest Disappointment: Greg Bird – After a monster spring where he looked like the heir apparent to Mark Teixeira, Greg Bird is looking more like the next Nick Johnson. Hitting only .100 through 19 games, Bird is currently on the DL dealing with a bone bruise in his leg. Apparently the injury happened at the end of spring training and its severity is still unknown. What is known is the faith and commitment that Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have in the young Yankee 1B. In the meantime, Chris Carter and Matt Holliday will split time in his absence.

No Surprise: The Bullpen – Sunday night’s 3-run hiccup aside, the Yankees lay claim to the best bullpen in the game, and the sky is still the limit. The new three-headed monster of Tyler Clippard/Dellin Betances/Aroldis Chapman is beastly to say the least. Throw in impressive early work from Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve, and the ever-reliable Adam Warren and the Yanks have little to worry about protecting a lead or giving their team a chance at a comeback as demonstrated in the 8-run rally against the Baltimore Orioles on April 28th.

Honorable Mention: Starlin Castro – In his 2nd year in pinstripes, the Yankees 2nd baseman is providing the type of offensive production that is making Yankee fans ponder, “Robinson who?” Surprisingly, Castro is flying under radar with his league leading .355 average along with 6 HRs and is 2nd to Judge in RBIs with 21. Despite a crowded field at 2nd with the aforementioned Cano, as well as Brian Dozier and Jose Altuve, Starlin Castro should garner serious All-Star consideration and I plan to do my part.

 

Depending on your point of view this year’s Yankees are either ahead of schedule or right on time. No longer being billed as a “re-building year” this team is ready to win now and is. Will they continue at this torrid pace? Most likely not. But they have shown they are adaptable to adversity and still have plenty of gems to deal in the farm system for any in-season adjustments (“Paging, Gerritt Cole”). In March, I had this team competing for a Wild Card slot but I see no reason they shouldn’t be jockeying for 1st in the AL East – especially once the Sawx inevitably get going.

Another great season of Yankee baseball lay ahead, along with the promise of a future filled with October baseball.

When this past off-season saw the usually big spending Yanks only make waves by re-acquiring Aroldis Chapman and giving Matt Holliday a 1-year flyer, most fans and analysts didn’t know what to think. This was not the Yanks of old. This was not the M.O. of a big-spending team that missed the playoffs for three of the last four seasons. This was definitely keeping with the new plan implemented by Brian Cashman at last year’s trade deadline. The Yankees are getting younger as we watch and the future is now…maybe a year off.

This year’s spring training was an introduction of new names and high double-digit numbers to a fan base desperate for a return to October baseball. And it was a very encouraging introduction with the Yankees playing .700 ball in the Grapefruit League. True, spring training is not a highly accurate predictor of the future, like Nate Silver’s election algorithms, but there was definitely something new and exciting on display.

The biggest surprise was the return of Greg Bird. After a 2015 mini-campaign that had him prepared to displace Mark Teixeira immediately, Bird was sidelined for all of 2016 with shoulder surgery. This spring saw him return with a vengeance, hitting .451 with a team leading 8 HRs. Displaying an ability to hit to all fields against righties and lefties, coupled with solid defense at 1B, Greg Bird may be the answer at 1B, this season and beyond.

Gary Sanchez picked up from where his 2nd place Rookie of the Year campaign left off, hitting .373 with 5 HRs and showing plenty of arm strength from behind the plate. I was a big fan of Brian McCann and sad to see him depart to Houston but Gary Sanchez’s talent at and behind the plate will not be denied and will be on display post haste.

Tyler Wade, Billy McKinney, Ruben Tejada, Clint Frazier, and Gleyber Torres all showed glimpses of future days in the Bronx. Torres in particular may see an early call-up, especially if Chase Headley continues to underwhelm in the 3rd year of his four-year deal. The jettisoning of Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman bore many fruits that the Yankee organization is eager to pluck when fully ripe.

And the addition of 7-time All Star Matt Holliday should easily fill the void left when Carlos Beltran was sent to Texas. Holliday had a banged up 2016 campaign, but as a F/T DH should be plenty healthy to provide much-needed power and veteran leadership.

Starting pitching continues to be the biggest Achilles heel. But considering that an almost identical staff in 2016, minus the recently released Nathan Eovaldi, was good enough for 84 wins anything is possible. The right elbow of Masahiro Tanaka continues to be under more scrutiny than Price Waterhouse’s Oscar night decorum. If Tanaka finally gets to 200 innings this season, there will only be four remaining pitching questions marks. CC Sabathia will most likely end up in the bullpen by June and Michael Pineda has yet to find anything mirroring consistency – both will not be around for 2018. Thankfully, this means plenty of opportunities for Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Bryan Mitchell who have all had success in limited MLB exposure. And Luis Severino continues to be the wild card of them all. Will he return to ROY-esque form from 2015 or only be effective from the bullpen as in 2016? I do hope it’s the former but the latter works just as well.

More than likely, the Yankees will not make the playoffs this season. At best they will be in the run for a Wild Card slot, and anything can happen in that play-in game. I would give this year’s squad about a 15% chance of making it to the divisional round. I expect this year to be a repeat of last year, in the mix but not a true contender. I expect the young talent of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge (who also had an impressive spring) and Luis Severino to gain another year of big league experience in preparation for 2018. 2017 is the new 1995. The future is bright, shining with young talent and hungry veterans prepared to deliver new World Series rings to the Bronx and forcing Joe Girardi to change his uniform number into the 30’s.

The future is bright, Yankee fans, and we may be lucky enough to see Yankee championship history repeat over and over in the next decade….as long as $400 million are not wasted on Bryce Harper. #HeadCase

The youth movement in the Bronx is continuing to pay winning dividends. The New York Yankees have won seven games in a row and show no signs of slowing down as they play themselves back into serious playoff contention. Not only are they jockeying for position in the Wild Card standings, where they are currently one game out of the 2nd spot, but are now only three games back of the rival Sawx in the race for the AL East. Yep, this is the same team that held an early “Back to School” sale at the trade deadline. And the result? A record of 24-13 and a month long display of what the future may hold in the Bronx.

After a ten game homerless streak where more than a few commentators starting squawking about Kevin Maas, Gary Sanchez returned to early August form with HRs in each of the last two games. The big hitting catcher also pulled a Kelly Leak when he whacked an intentional ball to deep left center, which was good enough to merit a sacrifice fly. Seriously, good luck pitching around this guy. Brian McCann seems to have adjusted to his new role as DH and back-up catcher with a .313 week highlighted by 3 HRs. McCann should easily eclipse the 20 HR mark for the ninth straight season with one more blast. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are back to early season form hitting .391 and .318, respectively, over the last week. Gardner in particular saved Tuesday night’s 7-6 win against the Blue Jays when he tracked down Justin Smoak’s line drive to end the game. And Tyler Austin is making a serious case to be the Yankees new full-time first baseman. Next spring, he will have to complete with Greg Bird, who is still recovering from shoulder surgery that has sidelined him this year, but Austin is garnering plenty of favor after Thursday night’s game winning HR over the Rays. At the very least, Austin should be the new 4th OF with Aaron Hicks now thankfully dispensable.

Despite my reservations, Masahiro Tanaka continues to impress as the much needed Yankee ace. Tanaka has won two games during the current win streak and has lowered his ERA to just above 3.00. Most importantly, he has proved to very effective against the explosive line up of the Toronto Blue Jays. Over three starts this season, he has a 2.60 ERA which will be counted on again as the Yanks have one more trip planned north of the border. Bryan Mitchell’s first start of the year was fruitful as he held the aforementioned Jays scoreless over five innings. And while Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia are having their recurring struggles, Joe Girardi is having no issues using his newly expanded September bullpen to get outs. Luis Severino has blossomed in his new middle relief role. Tommy Layne and Chasen Shreve have found success in their recent outings. And even Blake Parker came up big when he found himself in the unfamiliar role of having to get Dellin Betances out of a jam in Tuesday night’s heart-attack inducing 9th inning. Despite the hiccup, Betances should be fine especially with fellow relief ace Tyler Clippard along for back-up.

Another September and the Yankees are playing meaningful baseball. More importantly, they are hot at the right time and not stumbling to the finish line. Not sure they will challenge the 2007 Colorado Rockies 21-1 run but the Yankees are finding many ways to win with a new hero almost every night. There’s plenty of baseball and plenty of hope left in the season.

It only took two months but the Yankees have finally made it back to .500 and some assemblage of relevance. A four game sweep of the visiting Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (buoyed by 29 runs scored) followed by splitting the first two games with the Detroit Tigers has the Yanks primed to make a move to get back in the AL East race. This is especially true since the next two weeks see the Bronx Bombers fortunate enough to play four against the Colorado Rockies (Winning Pct. 468) and seven against the Minnesota Twins (.295). Talk about getting hot at the right time.

The biggest statement being made during this current run is from the bat of Brett Gardner. After starting the first two months hitting a boo-worthy .215, the Yankee LF has heated up with the weather, to the tune of a .459 June. Throw in Jacoby Ellsbury’s .316 over the same time frame and the Yanks have plenty of table setting from the top of the lineup. June has also been kind to Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius hitting .317 and .308 respectively. Even A-Roid’s contributing with a .289 June of his own. But the true Yankee fireworks have been consistently lit by the resurgent Carlos Beltran. Leading the team in hits (62), HRs (16), RBIs (44), and slugging pct. (.561), the Puerto Rican switch-hitter is making a case for both another All-Star selection as well as serious HOF consideration.

The only major concern is who can survive playing 1B. Recent call-up Chris Parmelee seemed to be the answer after getting off to a .500 start with a pair of HRs before injuring his hamstring while stretching for a throw. Teixeira, Ackley, Parmelee, throw in Greg Bird from spring training and playing 1B for the Yanks is like being the drummer for Spinal Tap. Hopefully, Rob Refsnyder can provide some relief. He may still be finding his footing in the field but his bat looks to be an upgrade over a struggling Teixeira.

Yankee starting pitching continues to be a pleasant surprise. Despite yesterday’s 4R outing against the Tigers, Masahiro Tanaka is becoming more and more dependable. He held the Angels in check for 2R over 7 innings on Tuesday and has 3.08 ERA overall. Michael Pineda seems to have turned a corner with back-to-back effective starts. Ivan Nova continues to earn his spot in the rotation with another quality effort in Thursday’s win. Nathan Eovaldi is still fighting high pitch counts and holding leads but if last year is an indicator, he should be heating up with the summer months. And after three injury-addled seasons, CC Sabathia is earning his big salary again with a 0.71 ERA over his last six starts, and 2.28 ERA overall. The 2009 Yankee ace is back and in fine rediscovered form.

The Yankee bullpen is still dominating as ever, even with Dellin Betances working his way back from a shaky early June. This week saw him strikeout four over three scoreless appearances. The recent acquisition of Anthony Swarzak looks promising after his first two scoreless appearances in pinstripes. And Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman are still holding down the late innings while attracting trade interest from teams trying to stay in the hunt. Hopefully the Yankees continue to have use for both of these relief aces into September and beyond.

It’s been a long road back to .500 and there are still plenty of miles ahead to reach the top of the division. The Yankees are proving to be equal parts resourceful and resilient. This squad shouldn’t be counted out anytime soon.

  1. Stay the course. The Yankees are looking to get younger and there are plenty of stars in the making from Luis Severino to Greg Bird to Slade Heathcott to Rico Noel and slugger-to-be Aaron Judge. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are witnessing a return to the Core Four (plus Bernie Williams). By no means am I crowning any of these players as future HOFers but as a Yankee fan it is exciting to see young, homegrown talent that is hungry and anxious to prove itself. And I haven’t even mentioned the youthful double play combo of Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro.

 

  1. The improving health of CC Sabathia, physically and emotionally. The biggest surprise of last year was Sabathia’s request to leave the team before the Wild Card game to treat his little known alcohol addiction. It was especially surprising considering he was pitching his best baseball since 2012, with a sub 2.25 ERA in his last five starts. The Yankees have two more years of Sabathia and while he may zero trade value he can still be valuable at the back end of the rotation, as long as he is healthy.

 

  1. A hot April for Jacoby Ellsbury, so he can be traded immediately. I know the Yankees overpaid when they signed the former MVP candidate for 7 years/$153 million and he would never equal his 2011 campaign but the last two seasons have been injury-filled and promise-killing. Ellsbury has shown flashes of brilliance, especially in the field but his inability to remain in the lineup has worn out his welcome in the Bronx. Hopefully he can get out to another hot start this season, like in 2015, and Brian Cashman can find takers with the Yankees willing to eat significant salary. Also, moving him makes it easier for the youth movement of Slade Heathcott, Rico Noel, and Aaron Judge to get much needed playing time.

 

  1. The continued maturation of A-Roid. Despite an apocryphal August and September, the Yankee DH was a key component in the team’s offense, which ranked 2nd in the AL. A-Roid handled just about every game and situation with a newfound grace and humility. Not sure if he has a repeat performance in him but with two years left on his deal, Yankee fans are cautiously optimistic.

 

  1. Leave Joe Girardi alone. I have no idea how the fan base’s vitriol toward the Yankee skipper has gone from simmer to London broil but he has been the only constant holding this squad together for the last three seasons, in addition to being a perennial AL Manager of the Year candidate. Has he overused the bullpen? Yes, but did he have a choice with no ace to rely on. Despite having a fiery reputation, he has proved to be a calming influence on the at-times tumultuous Yankee locker room and has regularly deflected media attention to himself with Joe Torre-esque panache. There really are few mangers I would rather have managing my Yankees…until Don Mattingly becomes available.

So much the playoffs. While it looks like the Houston Astros ended the Yankees season with a 3-0 shutout in last Tuesday night’s AL Wild Card game, the Yankees season really ended in September with a 15-17 record. The Yankees essentially hit the wall in the marathon known as the major league baseball season. As for the Wild Card game itself, it served as a microcosm for the 2015 New York Yankees: adequate starting pitching supported by hot/cold offense.

There’s plenty to gloss over from 2015 and plenty to look forward to in the Bronx in 2016. We can gloss over the second half scuffling of star players like Brett Gardner, Brian McCann, and A-Roid. And don’t even get me started on Jacoby Ellsbury, whose contract is turning into the latest albatross. As for optimism, that comes in the form of a youth movement led by pitching ace in the works, Luis Severino, and homerun hitting first baseman, Greg Bird.

Despite the disappointing end to the 2015 season, it can be seen as the groundwork for a future sustained playoff run. GM Brian Cashman refused to mortgage the future at the trade deadline. Because of this risky/reasoned decision Yankee fans were treated to a glimpse of the future from the aforementioned Severino and Bird, as well as Rob Refsnyder, Slade Heathcott, Rico Noel and Bryan Mitchell. And at some point future super slugging Aaron Judge will find his way to the Bronx. Next season will be the start of a time of transition with Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran in the final years of their deals and A-Roid’s contract set to expire in 2017. The only other stroke of luck needed would be if teams developed interest in C.C. Sabathia and Jacoby Ellsbury, with the Yankees willing to eat a significant amount of money.

As for pitching, Joe Girardi became dependent on the bullpen because he had no other options. Not a single starting pitcher reached 180 innings, with Sabathia topping out at 167.1. There were plenty of flashes of brilliance from Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Masahiro Tanaka but nothing overly reliable. Toward the end the only consistent arm belonged to 21 year old Luis Severino, who shined with a 2.89 ERA in 62.1 innings. No idea if the Yankees are in the market for a free agent arm this offseason but they may want to give this batch another season, especially with Chase Whitley due to return from Tommy John surgery this upcoming season and Adam Warren available to return to the rotation when needed.

The bullpen did get a chance to succeed but like most bullpens eventually showed its’ cracks. Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve became that rare pair of lefties able to retire hitters from both sides of the plate. Andrew Miller joined the ranks of dominant Yankee closers with his solid year. And Dellin Betances escaped many a jam, many of his own creating with 40BBs in 80+ innings, but like the rest of team faltered down the stretch.

And while the majority of the team slumped in the season’s 2nd half, Didi Gregorius played the kind of SS desperately needed in the post-Derek Jeter world. Gregorius had a 2nd half slash line of .294/.345/.417 and played flawless defense that helped him finish the season with the best defensive WAR among AL shortstops. The Yankees would be smart to lock him long-term this off season. They should also give Dustin Ackley another year based on his .288 stint with the team since he also provides versatility by being able to play 1B and LF along with his natural position of 2B.

Overall, I see the Yankees early exit from this year’s October Merry-Go-Round as being very similar to their 1995 divisional round loss to the Seattle Mariners. Not saying that Yankee fans can look forward to another run of dominance like the late 1990’s but anything is possible and there is plenty to be positive about.

It seems like a lifetime ago when the Yankees were 57-42 and had a seven game lead in the AL East. It was July. Since then, the Yankees have gone 30-33, including finishing the season by dropping six of seven, and had to rely on the generosity of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who beat the Houston Astros in yesterday’s season finale, just to secure the ability to host the AL Wild Card game. There’s never a good time to be playing your worst baseball and the Yankees still found a way to pick the wrong time to fall flat. And yet, as the season as proven, you can still never count them out.

This Tuesday the New York Yankees will host the Houston Astros for the right to move on to the divisional round against AL Central champion Kansas City Royals. I do not like their chances. The Astros come in having won six of their last eight, edged out the Yanks this year by winning and four of seven, and will have AL Cy Young contender Dallas Keuchel on the mound. The Yanks might as well be competing in the Hunger Games.

The Yankees have watched their offense dissolve and their pitching, both starting and relieving, provide batting practice all week long. It’s difficult to focus on anything reliable or positive. And the fate of the Yankees playoff hopes will ride on the right arm of Masahiro Tanaka. Despite a respectable 3.51 ERA for the season, there is no way to predict if Tanaka will be on and be the ace the Yankees need now and for the remainder of his seven year deal.

The one thing the Yankees may have in their favor is the presence of Carlos Beltran in their lineup. First, he already has an impressive October resume represented by a slash line of .333/.445./.683 in 51 post-season games. Second, since the All-Star break he has been the Yankees MVP with a slash line of .292/.364/.513. The Yankees ability to move on to KC may rest in his bat.

So, the Yankees have a 50-50 (maybe 35-65 considering their opponent) shot to move on in this year’s playoffs. Considering the last two years of sheer mediocrity I guess we as fans will take what we can get. And yet, there is much to feel good about. The Yankees finished 2nd in the MLB in runs scored and a crop of young talent (Severino, Bird, Refsnyder, Heathcott, and so on) has been integrated into the day-to-day lineup, giving fans a preview of seasons to come. The new Yankee motto should be “Progress, not perfection.” Tuesday night may prove to be a disappointing end to the 2015 season. Or it can be just be seen as a learning experience on the road to 2016 and beyond.