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TWiYB: This week in Yankees Baseball – Week 10

13-14 is the Yankees record since winning 6 in a row from May 2-8, which was highlighted by a 3-game sweep of the Cubs. For a month now the Yankees are a game under .500, yet still find themselves in first place in the AL East. There are two ways to look at this:

On the one hand, the Yankees are fortunate to still lead their division after playing mediocre-to-bad baseball for 27 games. They’ve righted the ship, all while their supposed no. 1 pitcher has been the worst starter in baseball (just look at this recent Red Sox series: Yankees pitching gave up 5 earned runs in three games, all by Tanaka). Their actual first baseman has been injured and his replacements have been awful, and the Yankees’ offense — which was tops in every category a month ago — has come back to reality. Things should improve.

On the other hand, the Yankees are trending down. Their bullpen, outside of Dellin Betances and without a healthy Aroldis Chapman, has been exposed. Their starting rotation is put together with chicken wire and their offense seems to only score via the long ball.

No matter how you look at it, the Yankees are still in position to contend this season. After all, that’s more than we ever hoped for going into the year.

Before we get into it: Since I’m tired of writing and talking about Masahiro Tanaka, check out last week in Yankees baseball where I broke down what I think is wrong with him.

Streaking CC

CC Sabathia is on some kind of run. Since May 9 CC has a microscopic 1.11 ERA over 32.1 IP. That includes the 8 scoreless innings he threw against the Red Sox on Wednesday, which was his best start of the season. Although the “stuff” looks different, the results are vintage 2012 CC.

The stretch we saw in which CC gave up 22 runs in 20.1 innings in late-April/early-May seems to be a blip on the radar. It’s been a weird season for CC, who was just as good in his first three starts as he’s been in his recent five. What’s stood out to me is his control; CC has just 6 walks during his hot streak, and none in his last two games. CC is still going to give up his fair share of hits, but as long as he doesn’t beat himself he should continue to succeed.

The balls that are being put in play are being caught more often. CC’s batting average on balls in play thus far is .280 (.262 since May 9, which is insanely good). A .280 BAbip isn’t too shabby either, and it’s actually his lowest since 2009 (yes, you read that right). Two seasons ago — 2015, when it looked like CC’s career was done — his BAbip was .317, which may explain the alcohol. What this all means is batters aren’t hitting the ball as hard off CC, he’s locating better, and more comfortable/confident with his diminished stuff.

Yesterday CC told WFAN he’d like to pitch next season. Your guess is as good as mine where that will be, but I’m enjoying what might be Sabathia’s last year in pinstripes.

No more Mr. Carter

Chris Carter may have taken the fall, at least on Twitter, for the Yankees 5-4 loss to Boston on Tuesday night. The actual reason they lost was because Masahiro Tanaka (shit, I said I wasn’t going to write about him) once again served up home runs on a silver platter. Tanaka has now surrendered 17 homers on the season, 5 fewer than he did all of last year. The point of this is not to bash Tanaka, however, it is to highlight the ineptitude of Carter.

Yeah I know Carter drove in 4 runs on Wednesday night, but that does not erase the memory of his swing in the 8th inning against Craig Kimbrel. It was without a doubt the worst attempt to hit a baseball I’ve ever seen.

Here is Carter striking out in gif form:

Here is Carter striking out in picture form:

Here is Carter striking out in advanced statistics form:

It is one thing to strike out, which Carter does at a prodigious rate. It’s another thing to strike out with your eyes shut in a key situation late in a ballgame on a pitch that almost hits you. Carter is the definition of a close-your-eyes-and-pray hitter, commonly found on Little League diamonds around the country. But this is the majors, and how Carter managed to make it past the low-level minors, hit 41 home runs in the National League, and actually convince another GM to sign him, is beyond me.

The Yankees have survived long enough with the worst first base production in baseball. Their collective first baseman have produced a .172/.278/.320 slash line, good for a .598 OPS. I get it, nobody expected Greg Bird to foul a ball off his ankle in the last week of spring training and for Tyler Austin to be playing rehab games in June, but that is no reason to run Carter out there night after night, only to watch him fail miserably. The Yankees should have done something — anything — differently at first base until Bird and/or Austin got healthy.

Help is on the way

Thankfully, the Chris Carter era seems to be winding down (how many times did we say that with Stephen Drew?). The obvious difference between the Drew and Carter situations is Greg Bird. Back in 2015 the Yankees did not have a Bird-type to replace Drew, although anybody with eyeballs could have told you Rob Refsnyder was an upgrade at second base — it just took Joe Girardi until September to realize it.

The last time we saw Bird on the field was May 1. Then, the Yankees sold Bird’s trip to the DL as 10-days of R&R, but as it turns out his ankle was a much bigger issue than we realized. I have to assume the injury was the reason for Bird’s ineffectiveness at the plate and struggles in the field, because Bird looked like an MVP candidate when the Yankees broke camp in March. Back then the torn labrum that caused him to miss the entire 2016 looked healed — hell, stronger — and Bird was poised to lead the young Yankees into the next era. Surprise, surprise — spring training statistics were not an indicator of what would follow during the regular season.

Bird joined the RailRiders on Thursday to continue his rehab, which has included 17 at-bats in High-A Tampa. Assuming Bird’s ankle is fully healed, what can we expect from him?

A recovering ankle will not be the only obstacle Bird will have to overcome when he returns. Other than a 3-hit night against St. Louis, Bird looked utterly overmatched at the plate. Putting that behind him will be a mental hurdle when he returns, and finding that groove he had during spring training will not be easy. The good news for Bird is that no Yankees fan in their right mind will be calling for Close Your Eyes Carter to return to the lineup if Bird does scuffle.

Tyler Austin is also not too far away. The Yankees activated him off the 60-day DL this week and assigned him to Scranton, where I’m guessing he will play until the Yankees are confident Bird is back to his old self. The only thing worse than having Chris Carter as your first baseman might be having two first baseman recovering from foot/ankle injuries on your roster at the same time.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Rotondi

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