The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Halfway Report of the 2017 Yankees
There is no sugarcoating it, the last four weeks of Yankee baseball have been a disaster. Losing 18 out of their last 25 ballgames, they have watched a 4 game division lead over the Boston Red Sox disintegrate into a 3.5 game deficit in only a month of baseball.
Not too long ago, the Red Sox were just a good team on paper whose overall dysfunction equated to their second place standing. Questions loomed about the struggles of their hundred million man David Price, as well the job security of manager John Farrell. However, that all changed starting in early June. The Sox got hot, while the Yankees slumped and caught the injury bug.
Since those good old days in early June, the last time the Yankees actually won a series, they have seen the outlook on the entire season take an 180 degree turn. A team that went from 15 games over .500 to just 4 games over has left team execs and fans alike pondering just what moves, if any, can be made to right the ship.
Currently, the Yankees are 45-41 as they dropped yet another series to the first place Milwaukee Brewers this past weekend. This team is 0-7-1 in series since June 11th, redefining what it means to limp into an All-Star break. Despite recent struggles, they are still in a wild card spot (tied with the Rays) and are by no means out of the race in the division. So without further adieu, let's have a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly that have shaped this roller coaster season.
A staple of consistency all year long, this Yankee lineup has yet to be shutout in 86 ballgames. No matter how many runs they're down, this team is never out of a game. Obviously, of late, epic comebacks have been ruined by bullpen catastrophes (more on that later), but regardless, this team has a whole hell of a lot of fight in them. The loss of Matt Holliday and Starlin Castro, the 4 and 5 hitters in the Yankees lineup, has spoken volumes about this team's depth offensively. With a seemingly infinite farm system that's littered with talent, as well as everyday players stepping their game up, this lineup has still been able to produce effectively. Judge boasting a .329AVG, 30HR, 66RBI, 1.139OPS has definitely helped to keep this team afloat in the AL East, I'd say.
Jordan Montgomery, Masahiro Tanaka & Luis Severino (sort of)
Yankees rookie Jordan Montgomery has really come along in the midst of the team's struggles this past month. Going 4-0 with a 2.59ERA in the month of June, the lefty has drawn comparisons to Andy Pettitte for his devastating curveball. It's no secret that the South Carolina native has found his signature pitch, which has helped him mature as an overall pitcher of late. While his curveball has been his strikeout pitch (87Ks in 91.1IP), it has also been a setup pitch to change a hitters' eye level, which can be attributed to his phenomenal .176 batting average against him with RISP.
After an absolutely disastrous start to the season where Yankees supposed ace Masahiro Tanaka saw his ERA rise over 7.00, he has found a way to turn it around (kind of). A 1.29ERA in his past 3 outings prior to Sunday, the team thought they finally had their ace back in regular form. If there is any chance at all of the Yankees snagging a playoff spot, Tanaka has to pitch well consistently. Earlier this year, he struggled with the location of his splitter, which has lead to 23HR given up--already one more than he gave up all of last season. However, he has been able to locate that split and keep it down in the zone, setting up his change and fastball that have been sharp lately. The past start he just made Sunday against the Brewers really described not only the story of the team, but of Tanaka in 2017 as well. After a night where Clint Frazier hits a walk-off homer, Tanaka looks like the guy you want out there the next day to win a series--then he promptly gives up a 3 run homer in the 1st inning to Travis Shaw.
The only All-Star selection from this Yankee rotation, Severino has not been great of late. However, his excellent month of June (2.88ERA) has landed him on the good list. With an upper 90s fastball and a hard slider, Yankee fans have to hope Severino can be a bit more consistent down the stretch. I've noticed that he struggles when he does not get ahead in the count, which has lead to him throwing more pitches and in turn, allowing more runs. After 0-1 counts, batters are hitting .197 with just a .845 OPS. After 1-0 counts, batters are hitting .278 with a .812OPS.
What a nightmare 1st base has been. After a tremendous spring training by Greg Bird, his 2017 season, like his 2016 season, has been headlined by injuries. Your low risk-low reward signing of the 41HR Chris Carter backfired in your face, as he's now been DFA'd two times in the past two weeks. To put the icing on the cake, Tyler Austin came up, played a couple games, and is now on the DL. All of the above has resulted in the Yankees dead last ranking for offensive production at 1st base. Despite the dismal situation there, Ji-Man Choi burst onto the scene Wednesday afternoon, hitting a big two-run homer to make it a 5-4 game against the Jays. While nobody expected him to be getting regular playing time at the Major League level this year, it's what they have. In AAA, Choi had a .289/.371/.505 slash line with 8HR and 43RBIs in 56 games. For now, this is the answer unless Cashman makes a move for the likes of Eric Hosmer, Justin Bour, or Matt Adams at the trade deadline.
New year, same Big Mike Pineda. Long gone are the days of him being kind of good with pine tar on his neck, but really long gone are the days with the Mariners where he was flat out dominant. Despite his 8-4 record with 92Ks, his ERA of 4.32 tells more of the story of his 2017 campaign. After posting a 6-2 record with a 3.31ERA in the months of April in May, June was more than problematic for Big Mike. After giving up more than 5ER in 3 of his 6 starts in June, his 5.35ERA has lead to the team going 2-5 when he has taken the mound since June 2nd.
Here's what you really need to know about the bullpen this year: Their 15 blown saves (by 8 different pitchers) is already just one less than all of the 2016 season. It's funny because in my quarter season report back in May, I actually had the bullpen under the "good" category--and rightfully so. If there was one thing beginning this season that was certain, it was that the back end of the bullpen, especially Betances and Chapman--would be dominant. That has evidently not been the case whatsoever. Here's what I wrote:
"Despite losing the left-handed flamethrower, Dellin Betances has stepped into the closer role—boasting a 0.61ERA. Newly appointed setup man Tyler Clippard has also been stellar. The 32-year-old righty has a 1.37ERA to go with 27Ks in just 19.2 innings. Not only have the late innings guys been great, the middlemen have been lights out. Adam Warren (2.96ERA), Jonathan Holder (2.84ERA), Chasen Shreve (0.75ERA), and Chad Green (0.00ERA in 9.1IP).
Bullpen reliability is something the Yanks have counted on all year. When leading after 7 innings, the team is 22-0. By and large, the Yankees have relied on their prolific offense and shut down pen, which has bailed out the 18th ranked starting rotation."
Wow. With the lead after 7 innings they were 22-0. Can you imagine where they would be if that continued? If Betances continued to pitch well and Chapman returned to form after his DL stint? If Clippard could get somebody out? This team would most certainly not be staring at a 3.5 game deficit in the East, and undoubtedly be more than just 4 games over .500. Currently, Betances has the yips and a 3.18ERA--quite the increase from a 0.61 number in mid-May. On the other hand, Chapman has also been erratic and has an even worse 3.48ERA. The longer it takes this bullpen to figure it out, the better the odds the Yankees miss the playoffs by not just a little--but potentially a lot.
Yankees Halfway Grade: C+
Bright spots in the lineup and contributions from young players have solidified the Yankee lineup as one of the most potent in all of baseball. The starting rotation has largely failed to hold up their end of the bargain, and when they have--the bullpen has not. 15 blown saves in 86 games is downright unacceptable, and you could argue that the bullpen is the sole reason for their second place standing. By no means are they out of the playoff hunt, nor the quest for their first division title since 2012. However, upon returning from the All-Star break, the bullpen has to find a way to close down these games. If the Yankees continue as they have the past few weeks games, you can kiss the hopes of a playoff berth goodbye.