Yankees Road Through September (and maybe the playoffs)?

Robinson Cano and the Yankees have a tough task in September--get into the wild card race anyway they can

Robinson Cano and the Yankees have a tough task in September–get into the wild card race anyway they can

The Yankees have 29 games left this season, and they gained a half game yesterday without playing a game (thanks Angels and Tigers). As the Baltimore Orioles come into town this weekend, the schedule for the Yankees in September will tell them just how much of a playoff contending team they are. Here’s a preview of the September calendar, and where the Yankees could stand at the end of the month.

August 30 – September 1

Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees

The Baltimore Orioles pitching is a bit sketchy, but they can survive sketchy pitching with their lineup. With the power bat of Chris Davis and the ability for the rest of team to scratch out runs, the Yankees are in for the fight of their life this weekend. This series won’t be easy but the Yankees have added Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano should he be well enough to play at some point this weekend. The Yankees need to at least take two out of three in this series, which means that CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova need to step up and pitch well (Nova has done that this season, the sentence was more for Hughes and Sabathia). Also a word of advice, if the Yankees want a chance to take the series, I’d suggest taking Hughes out of the rotation and put David Huff to start instead. Just because David Huff combined with his last two outings had pitched a full game giving up no runs and one hit. I’d sign up for that instead of home runs and runs from Hughes.

September 2 – September 4

Chicago White Sox vs. New York Yankees

The last time these two teams faced one another, the White Sox swept the Yankees in three games. This time it should be a bit different since we didn’t have any power bats in our lineup at the time (minus Robinson Cano). This White Sox team is a bit different since they gave up a lot of their key players during the season to contending teams, so it should be an easier battle this time around. If all goes according to plan, the best case scenario would be to take two out of three. I’d be greedy saying I want the sweep, but hey…don’t we all?

September 5 – September 8

Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

The Red Sox and Yankees were the highlight of ESPN baseball two weeks ago when the Red Sox woke up the Yankees after an intentionally pitch to Alex Rodriguez hit him in his ribs. This time it’s a four game set at Yankee Stadium and the Red Sox will have to face off against the Yankees once again. The Yankees took two out of three last time due to great pitching and timely hitting. The Yankees need to have the same formula coming into the series. The keys to this series: keep Jacoby Ellsbury off base since he’s the Red Sox version of Brett Gardner and find a way to get David Ortiz out anyway they can. (As of the morning of August 30, Ortiz has been in a slump going 0 for his last 23). This series is crucial. The Yankees need to at least take two out of the four games.

September 9 – September 12

New York Yankees vs. Baltimore Orioles

The Yankees go from one four game series to another four game series, this time traveling to Camden Yards for this four game set vs. the Orioles. Keys to the rest of the Orioles series is simple: Don’t give them anything to hit, especially Chris Davis. One mistake and it could go out to Eutaw street faster than you can say “Mariano Rivera“. Which means I strongly advise Joe Girardi to again not play Phil Hughes. Don’t know how many times I’m going to have to say this.

September 13 – September 15

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

After the Orioles series, the Yankees go to Boston and play another series at Fenway. Yep, same old same old Yankees vs. Red Sox. But this has more on the line for the Yankees than it does for the Red Sox. Let’s just say find a way to stop the Red Sox bats, score some runs, take two out of three and get the heck out of there? Sound good? Good.

September 17 – September 19

New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The Yankees go to Canada to play the Toronto Blue Jays in their final showdown this season. The Yankees have owned the Blue Jays this season, minus the most recent series where the Blue Jays took two out of three from the Yankees. Well, the Yankees will be looking for a vengeance. Key to this series: Keep the power hitters at bay, don’t walk Jose Reyes and Rajai Davis–and try to get to the Blue Jays pitching. The Yankees have the discipline to do so and have proved it in the past.

September 20 – September 22

San Francisco Giants vs. New York Yankees

All right, who made this schedule? An interleague game at the end of the year? Anyway, back to the topic at hand: The Giants this year–aren’t very good (and that’s an understatement). The Yankees could have themselves a two out of three series (or maybe a sweep) if the Yankees run into bad pitching, which the Giants have had this season. Well, we don’t know when the Giants will come back to Yankee Stadium so we might as well enjoy this series (that and we could see how starstruck the players get when they run into Mariano Rivera).

September 24 – September 26

Tampa Bay Rays vs. New York Yankees

The final series at Yankee Stadium for the 2013 season is against the Tampa Bay Rays who have the pitching to get them where they need to be if they make the first wild card spot. The keys to this series is simple: Don’t give any of the power hitters (and there are some power hitters) anything good to hit. That includes Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce…you get the picture. It’s also important to stay patient with the pitchers.  You never know when you can get into their bullpen which has had an up and down year.

September 27 – September 29

New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The final series of the season takes the Yankees to Texas, but not to face the Rangers. Instead, they will face the Houston Astros. Honestly, if the Yankees can’t sweep the Astros, then we don’t deserve to be contending. The Houston Astros are a minor league team in the Major Leagues, and that’s me putting it as nicely as I can. Depending where the Yankees are in the wild card standings at this point in the season, this series is important. This series could make or break the chances of getting into the playoffs if the race is that close in the end.

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Starting Pitching Needs to Step Up

The New York Yankees have completely turned their offense around during the month of August behind Alfonso Soriano, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano.

The Yankees are third in the AL in homers in August (29), fifth in wOBA (.330) and sixth in OPS (.751)  The Yankees have averaged nearly 4.5 runs per game in Soriano’s 30 games as a Yankees and he trails only Miguel Cabrera in home runs after the all-star break.

Rodriguez (.284/.369/.473/.842 with a 133 wRC+) and Granderson (.291/.412/.456/.868 with a 140 wRC+) have both been terrific since they returned from the DL. Assuming that this continues, the Yankees should have plenty of offense for them to make a run at the second wild car in September. The question will be whether the starting pitching can be good enough.

There have been some good signs and some bad signs out of the starting pitchers lately. Andy Pettitte turning it around and Ivan Nova maintaining his performance have been good ones.

Over his last three starts, Pettitte has allowed just two runs on 15 hits over 19.2 innings. The first of those three starts was the biggest, as Pettitte delivered a huge performance in the opening game of the series in Boston. He allowed three unearned runs over 6.2 innings and gave up six hits, one walk and struck out five. He was given a huge first inning lead to work with, but big leads can evaporate quickly at Fenway Park.

Pettitte’s last two outing came against the Blue Jays and he allowed only one run over 13 innings. Toronto is not a great team but the starts were still very encouraging. When the stakes get raised Pettitte raises his game, which is why I have a lot of confidence in him pitching big games down the stretch in September. You know he is going to battle and not be afraid of any moment. Pettitte’s ERA is now down to a respectable 4.05 for the season.

Nova has not been as dominant in his last three starts, but he has still battled and managed to have good results. That is big for a pitcher who has had the physical tools, but lacked knowledge in just how to pitch. Nova has allowed 27 hits to only 11 strikeouts over those last three starts, but the most amount of runs that he allowed was four over 6.1 innings on August 20th against Toronto. In his previous start, he allowed three runs over 7.1 innings against the Angels and came up with a big performance in a game the Yankees had to have Sunday in Tampa.

The problems in the Yankees rotation are CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes. Hiroki Kuroda has struggled as well over his last two outings, but I will chalk that up to just a blip on the radar for him.

Sabathia has shown signs of improvement but has still been unable to put it all back together. His fastball velocity has improved lately, as he has averaged 93.24 MPH on his fastball in August, including averaging 93.88 MPH and 94.07 MPH over his last two starts. However, as Sabathia has added velocity his control has vanished. He has allowed an abysmal 4.70 walks per nine innings in August.

Sabathia has thrown quality starts in three out of his last four outings, but he still has not been the dominant Sabathia we have come to know over the last few years. He had an egregious performance in the rubber match of the Boston series but got bailed out by his offense.

Then, on Saturday, Sabathia blew a 2-0 lead when he imploded in the sixth inning. He was absolutely dominant over the first five innings with his fastball humming at over 94 MPH and his slider breaking as sharply as it had all season. It all fell apart when Sam Fuld hit a bloop single to lead off the sixth inning and Sabathia could not find the plate out of the stretch. That game is the type of game that the Yankees will need Sabathia to finish down the stretch of the season if they want to make the playoffs.

There seems to be little hope for Hughes to be an effective pitcher at all this season. Hughes has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season with an ERA of 4.91, which ranks 80th out of 85 qualified starting pitchers.

With only 30 games remaining in the season the Yankees cannot afford to give any games away, which is essentially what they have been doing by running Hughes out there every five days.

Unfortunately, the options that the Yankees have to replace Hughes are not very appealing. David Huff and Adam Warren are the only in-house options with David Phelps, Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno all injured.

Huff has thrown 8.1 innings of shutout baseball over his last two relief appearances against Toronto and has only allowed one hit. However, Huff’s 5.25 ERA and 4.74 FIP in almost 300 career innings inspires little confidence. Warren has been o.k. this season, but I still do not believe that he has the stuff to be a good MLB starting pitcher. At the very least the Yankees need to skip Hughes’ start this weekend in Baltimore.

The Yankees are currently five games behind Oakland in the chase for the second wild card. They will have to play close to flawless baseball in September to catch them and they cannot do it without great starting pitching. They have not gotten that consistently since the beginning of the season and it needs to reappear right now for the Yankees to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs.

Game 132 Lineup: Yankees @ Blue Jays

Here is your starting lineup for Game 2 of the 3 game set with the Blue Jays!

Brett Gardner CF
Derek Jeter SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Alfonso Soriano LF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Curtis Granderson RF
Vernon Wells DH
Mark Reynolds 1B
Chris Stewart C

Andy Pettitte LHP

Game 131 Lineup: Yankees @ Blue Jays

Tonight at 7 p.m. catch the third installment of “The Captain Returns.” Hopefully this is the LAST time he has to return from an injury. Here’s your starting lineup!

Brett Gardner CF
Derek Jeter SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Alfonso Soriano LF
Curtis Granderson DH
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Lyle Overbay 1B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Austin Romine C

Phil Hughes RHP

Some Notes and Transactions:

– Well if you looked at the lineup, Derek Jeter is back. Also R.A. Dickey is on the mound so a word of advice to the Yankees: Keep your hands in because that knuckleball will find a way to hit you.

– This isn’t Yankees news but it’s important to address it: Matt Harvey of the New York Mets had an MRI done at the Hospital of Special Surgery this morning and his MRI results revealed a partial tear in his UCL. He’s going on the DL and will miss some time. I’m wishing Matt Harvey a speedy recovery and hope he returns soon.

Game 130 Lineup: Yankees @ Rays

Yankees need this game. If not, they’ll get swept by the Rays and the Yankees playoff chances will diminsh. Here’s your lineup:

Brett Gardner CF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alfonso Soriano DH
Curtis Granderson LF
Eduardo Nunez SS
Lyle Overbay 1B
Mark Reynolds 3B
Chris Stewart C

Ivan Nova RHP

Some Notes and Transactions:

Derek Jeter has the day-off today. If all goes well, he’ll meet the Yankees in Toronto tomorrow for the series vs. the Blue Jays.

– Lyle Overbay feels well enough to play today. He sat out the last two games with a stomach virus. Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells were joking about him.

Cano to Overbay: “You’re getting your color back,”

Wells to Cano: “Whatever color he had,”

– Yesterday I was having a conversation with someone on Twitter about Mark Reynolds possibly being a fit at 3B next year if A-Rod is suspended. Well, it looks like today the Yankees are going to try it out and see for themselves.

– Interesting fact: Mariano Rivera has 36 saves at the Trop in his career. The next player to have the most saves? Jonathan Papelbon (was with the Red Sox at the time) with 10.

Game 129 Lineup: Yankees @ Rays

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Eduardo Nunez SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Alfonso Soriano LF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Vernon Wells DH
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Reynolds 1B
Austin Romine C

LHP CC Sabathia

Some Notes and Transactions:

Brett Gardner‘s X-Ray results came back earlier today and they were clean. Gardner is just having the day off vs. the left hander Price.

Lyle Overbay was still dizzy and nauseous when he entered the clubhouse today. Joe Girardi isn’t sure that he’s going to get in the game tonight.

Derek Jeter will have one more rehab start tonight and then will join the Yankees in Toronto. I’ll be covering Derek Jeter’s rehab start so follow me on Twitter @dfiregirl4 for Jeter updates.

Game 127 Lineup: Blue Jays vs. Yankees

After 3 hours and 30 minutes of a rain delay, we are finally ready for baseball! Here is your starting lineup!

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Vernon Wells DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Alfonso Soriano LF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Reynolds 1B
Eduardo Nunez SS
Chris Stewart C

LHP Andy Pettitte

Game 126 Lineup: Blue Jays vs. Yankees

Here’s Game 3 of this four game set! Here is your starting lineup!

Brett Gardner DH
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alfonso Soriano LF
Curtis Granderson CF
Eduardo Nunez SS
Lyle Overbay 1B
Jayson Nix 3B
Austin Romine C

Adam Warren RHP

 

A-Rod Helping the Yankees Turn it Around

You can say what you want about Alex Rodriguez, but there is no denying the impact his return has had on the Yankees.

The Yankees are 9-5 since Rodriguez has returned and that includes winning nine of their last 11 games. The Yankees have averaged 5.6 runs per game in those 13 games compared to just the 3.96 runs per game they are averaging over the full season.

Obviously, Rodrirguez is not doing everything for the Yankees alone. Alfonso Soriano went on one of the greatest streaks you will ever see an MLB player go on and Curtis Granderson has hit .288/.422/.462/.883 since his return from the DL. Also, Robinson Cano has caught fire, as he is finally seeing pitches to hit with Soriano and Rodriguez hitting behind him.

What Rodriguez has really done is make this season relevant again for the Yankees. Forget about all the off the field nonsense, Rodriguez has finally made the Yankees worth watching on it. He has hit .308/.400/.462/.862 with two home runs since returning to the Yankees. The aura around the team seems different and a ton of that has to do with A-Rod’s presence. Even when he is not hitting well Rodriguez’s presence alone usually has a positive affect on the lineup.

The narrative was that Rodriguez’s return was supposed to divide the team and his distraction was supposed to be too much to handle. As is the case with most media narratives, that turned out to be just a total fabrication.

If anything, the Yankees have rallied around Rodriguez, as was evident Sunday night in Boston. After Ryan Dempster purposely threw at Rodriguez three times before finally hitting him, Joe Girardi came out and cursed out home plate umpire Brian O’Nora and Dempster in a big rage.

Fortunately, Dempster was not thrown out of the game and the Yankees crushed the gutless, cowardly and mediocre pitcher to the tune of 7 runs in 5.1 innings. This included an absolute bomb from Rodriguez that went almost 450 feet out to dead center and started the Yankees rally from down 6-3. He hilariously imitated David Ortiz’ home run celebration for good measure. His teammates played with much more energy after the incident, and Dempster might have woken up a sleeping giant.

With all the attention being placed upon Rodriguez, other players seem more free to just go about their business without being bothered. Rodriguez, who is no stranger to all the attention and criticism, has absolutely thrived off of it. His focus to go out there and perform the way he has with everything that is going on off the field is incredible.

With the recent additions of Rodriguez, Soriano, Granderson and Mark Reynolds the Yankees now have a playoff caliber offense. Reynolds was a solid pickup so that Lyle Overbay no longer has to embarrass himself against lefties. The question will be can CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes pitch better?

Hughes pitched very well last night, as he went six innings, allowed two runs on seven hits and struck out six. However, it came against a very mediocre Toronto lineup with Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista. I do trust that in big games down the stretch that Pettitte can come up big like he always does. However, Sabathia has not shown many signs that he will be able to turn it around this season. He has just allowed far too much hard contact on his fastball and changeup and has completely lost the strike zone in his last two outings. It may take a whole offseason of changes to fix his problems.

Before Rodriguez came back the Yankees were dead in the water and just a boring team to watch. Now they’re back in the race for a playoff spot, albeit still a long shot at six games behind a playoff spot. Even if they fall short of a playoff spot, at least they will be entertaining to watch the rest of the season. Love him or hate him, but in your heart of hearts you know you have enjoyed the Yankees so much more with the return of Rodriguez.

Game 125 Lineup: Blue Jays vs. Yankees

Game 1 went our way! Let’s hope Game 2 does the same. Here’s the lineup!! 

Brett Gardner CF
Vernon Wells RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alfonso Soriano LF
Alex Rodriguez DH
Mark Reynolds 1B
Eduardo Nunez SS
Jayson Nix 3B
Austin Romine C

Phil Hughes RHP

Game 124 Lineup: Blue Jays vs. Yankees

Like I’ve been saying all morning, let’s play two! Here is your Game 1 Lineup!

Brett Gardner CF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alfonso Soriano DH
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Curtis Granderson LF
Lyle Overbay 1B
Jayson Nix SS
Chris Stewart C

Ivan Nova RHP

Notes and Transactions:

Preston Claiborne is the one day call up for the doubleheader since there is a rule you can bring a 26th player for the two games. He’d have to go back to Triple-AAA once the games are over.

Let’s Play Two!: Yanks hope to carry momentum into twin-bill

The Yankees have been gaining momentum over the past week or so.

The Yankees have been gaining momentum over the past week or so.

There was no doubt that this last week has been a magical time for the Yankees. For the last week the Yankees looked to be the Yankees of old, bringing power into their lineup, scoring more than six runs multiple times, when they’ve barely scored more than six runs most of the year. They had the home run power of Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Reynolds. Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano no longer had to feel like they were carrying the team on their backs. There was more than just those two. Yes, the Yankees are missing their captain, but they are also in a position where they can finally gain ground in the AL East. They play against their AL East opponents for the remainder of the season (minus the 3 game sets between the San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros) and if the Yankees play their deck of cards right, they can be in a position to take the second wildcard spot. They have their own future in their hands with a little more than a month to go, and a team that looked like sleeping dogs suddenly came barking back, and the offense isn’t much of an issue as it was before.

Sunday night was a prime example of the Yankees magic returning. Being down 2-0 in the second, Ryan Dempster intentionally hit Alex

Brett Gardner and the Yankees will try to extend their momentum into today's twin-bill vs. the Blue Jays

Brett Gardner and the Yankees will try to extend their momentum into today’s twin-bill vs. the Blue Jays

Rodriguez. Something snapped in that Yankees dugout. Brett Gardner and Joe Girardi showing their evident anger, the latter getting tossed from the game although it should have been Dempster. A-Rod was assured by Gardner and his other teammates that they could still get the Red Sox back by using HR power, and that was exactly what A-Rod did. He got the Red Sox back by hitting a HR off Ryan Dempster later in the game.

There was something that changed in that night in the Yankees. The pack of sleeping dogs suddenly awoke and came back with a vengeance vs. the Red Sox.

The Yankees have been playing well for the past week, taking 2-out of -3 from the Tigers, taking 3-out of-4 from the Angels and taking 2-out of-3 from the Red Sox. This is the way the Yankees have to play if they want to further their chances at a wild card spot. They are in the drivers seat of their destiny. They are the ones that can change the game and hope the game plan for the other teams fall apart. The Yankees cannot afford to lose anymore games, so hopefully the momentum from the past week builds on vs. the Toronto Blue Jays as they attempt to become one step closer to their dreams of contending in the play-offs. So let’s play two today and hope in the end, it all works out.

Game 123 Lineup: Yankees @ Red Sox

Brett Gardner CF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alfonso Soriano LF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Curtis Granderson DH
Eduardo Nunez SS
Lyle Overbay 1B
Chris Stewart C

Game 122 Lineup: Yankees @ Red Sox

Brett Gardner CF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alfonso Soriano LF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Curtis Granderson DH
Eduardo Nunez SS
Lyle Overbay 1B
Chris Stewart C

Hiroki Kuroda LHP

Yankees Sign Mark Reynolds

According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Yankees have reached an agreement with corner infielder Mark Reynolds on a contract.

Reynolds hit .205/.307/.373 with 15 home runs before being released by Cleveland. Reynolds was hot early in the season, as he hit .291/.367/.645 through May 9th, but has only hit .177/.277/.240 since.

Reynolds was probably signed to play first base against lefties, as the Yankees have been forced to use Lyle Overbay against most lefties because they have not had a platoon partner for him. Reynolds has a 111 wRC+ and a .330 wOBA againt lefties this year, which are solid numbers and a big upgrade over Overbay’s 50 wRC+ and .250 wOBA against lefties this season.

Game 120 Lineup: Angels vs. Yankees

Yankees are going for the series sweep! Angels are trying to salvage at least one game! Here is the starting lineup!

Brett Gardner CF
Alfonso Soriano LF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Vernon Wells RF
Curtis Granderson DH
Eduardo Nunez SS
Lyle Overbay 1B
Austin Romine C

Phil Hughes RHP

News and Transactions:

– The Yankees have called up LHP David Huff to join the team. In a corresponding move, Dellin Betances has been optioned to Triple-AAA Scranton. Betances gave up four runs on five hits during  Tuesday’s 14-7 victory over the Angels.

Joe Girardi said that it’s unlikely that Derek Jeter will return with the Yankees on Saturday. Girardi does think that Tuesday will be more likely.

David Phelps has been transferred from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL, most likely ending his season if the Yankees don’t make the playoffs.

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