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TWiYB: This week in Yankees baseball – week 23

As we inch closer to the end of the season, the Yankees finally seem to be playing better baseball. For the first time since September 2013 — yes, you read that correctly — the Yankees won a series in Baltimore. That’s almost 4 seasons worth of losing at Camden Yards, a place we used to call Yankee Stadium South.

The series win in Baltimore was big because it not only extended the Yankees’ Wild Card lead, but kicked off a difficult 9-game road trip. Once the Yankees return home, 14 of their final 17 games are at Yankee Stadium, so it’s imperative they don’t shit the bed on this trip.

ICYMI — I didn’t write a TWiYB last week, but did discuss Gary Sanchez’ blocking issues.

Playoffs?!

Playoffs? We’re talking about playoffs?! Yes, it’s that time of year. September baseball is finally here and the AL race is shaping up to be riveting.

Cleveland wrapped-up the Central because they haven’t lost for two weeks. Houston has had the West wrapped up since June, but are now in danger of losing the number-1 overall seed to Cleveland. The East and Wild Card is where the real action is, however.

Even though the Yankees don’t play Boston again for the rest of the season, they gave themselves a shot at the division by beating the Red Sox 3 of 4 last weekend. It was the most complete baseball the Yankees have played in a while. They outscored the Red Sox 21 to 9 and improved their season record against them to 11-8. That is important because now the Yankees don’t have to actually overtake the Sox, they can simply match them and win the division thanks to the tiebreaker.

With 23 games left in the season, the Yankees are 3.5 games behind Boston (3 in the loss column). That means they have to make up one game per week to tie the Red Sox. It’s doable, but going to be an uphill battle barring another Red Sox September collapse.

Buckle up for three weeks of scoreboard watching, MLB.tv flipping, and lots of heartburn. God have I missed this feeling!

Applegate

As I said, the Yanks and Sox don’t play again this season (barring an October matchup) and that’s a real shame because it would be a fun series considering all the headlines that came out this week. I’m not going to get into what actually happened because I’m sure you know by now, but here’s my take on it.

Stealing signs is not a big deal. There is no rule against it, just like counting cards in a casino isn’t illegal. But you better not get caught because there will be hell to pay. Most of the time baseball polices itself. One GM will phone another and tell them to cut the crap, and it will end there. Occasionally we’ll see it unfold in front of us like when John Farrell pointed out the mountain of pine tar on Michael Pineda’s neck a couple years ago. But that usually only happens when the offense is blatant.

The Red Sox took things to a new level by using Apple Watches and Cashman felt their use of technology warranted bringing it to Rob Manfred’s attention. Or he was just pissed about past Yankees-Red Sox instances and felt like creating a shit storm for Boston. But Manfred almost seemed annoyed with the whole situation. He doesn’t want this as an MLB headline any more than the NFL wants their abundance of cheating headlines. I’m sure he wishes Cashman and Dombrowski dealt with it behind closed doors, but instead we got a back-and-forth kindergarten tattle-tail match. After the Yankees launched their investigation into the Watches, Boston accusing the Yankees of using YES Network cameras to steal signs. Then it came out that the Yankees pointed to footage of Doug Fister having an earpiece, which turned out to be his mouthguard.

It’s all hilarious when you take a step back. Yankees fans are taking this opportunity to bash Boston for cheating, as they should, but the edge they gained was probably minimal. You have your hot take artists out there like Jon Heyman who think the Sox should forfeit all wins vs the Yankees this season, but the reality is the Sox will pay a fine and possibly lose a draft pick. But it does add fuel to the growing rivalry fire which I for one am happy about.

The ‘Good’ and the ‘Bad’ Betances

Tuesday night’s loss to Baltimore was brutal. Not only did the game take three and a half hours, but rain pushed the start to 9:15pm, so if you stayed up until almost 1:00am Wednesday like I did then you suffered through one of the worst losses of the season.

A few things when wrong. For one, the Yankees allowed Baltimore to chip away at their early 5-run lead while the offense only managed 4 baserunners after the third inning. Sabathia struggled once again, pushing his season ERA against the O’s to 7.41. The Yankees still held a 1-run lead into the ninth before Betances allowed the 2-run walkoff dinger to Manny Machado.

The dagger came on Betances’ 20th pitch of the night. It was a curveball — a big fat hanging curveball — and it was the 16th one he threw. He showed only 4 fastballs; 3 were balls and one was a swinging strike to Pedro Alvarez, but the ball was well out of the strike zone. It was clear Dellin had no fastball command, which is not new for him this year, so Orioles hitters sat on his curve. That’s precisely what allowed Machado beat him.

Curveball has always been Betances’ best pitch, but I’ve never seen him abandon his fastball quite like Tuesday night. 16 of 20 curveballs is too much no matter how good the pitch may be. We’re not talking about Mariano’s cutter; a curveball is only a dominant pitch if hitters are respecting — or at least thinking about — something else.

It’s a shame because Dellin had been on a fantastic run. Over his last 20 appearances before the loss on Tuesday, he had a 1.83 ERA in 19.2 innings with 30 strikeouts. Girardi had been using him as the closer, even if he had not exactly out-pitched David Robertson.

A big factor to why Girardi was using Betances in the ninth instead of Robertson is because DRob is much more comfortable pitching with runners on base, while Dellin is better with a clean inning.

On Wednesday Girardi said that he’s thinking about putting Arolids Chapman back into the closer role. He pitched a 1-2-3 eight inning on Tuesday, and has allowed only 4 baserunners in 5 appearances since being demoted on August 20.

It’s crazy that the Yankees are even having this issue, but the closer role seems to be a fluid situation at the moment — even with 4 or 5 closer-caliber relievers in the pen. One of them, Betances, seems to go from “good” Dellin to “bad” Dellin at random. On this week’s podcast, we talked to Jared Diamond about why Betances is so frustrating and what the Yankees will do at closer in September (55:30).

Stick


Stick engineered the Yankees 1990’s dynasty when I was very young, so most of what I know about him is what has been written of him. He was instrumental in building the Yankees’ Core Four. He single handedly convinced George Steinbrenner to not trade Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. He traded for Paul O’Neill and David Cone, two players the Yankees could not have won 4 championships in 5 years without. He realized the Yankees deficiency in on-base percentage and signed players like Wade Boggs to change the team mentality. He seemed ahead of his time, and is a major reason why the Yankees dominated the 90s. Not a bad resume.

RIP Gene ‘Stick’ Michael.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Rotondi

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