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TWiYB: This Week in Yankees Baseball – Week 6

The Yankees passed a huge test last weekend in Chicago, sweeping the defending World Champion Cubs. Clearly the Cubs are not playing to their potential, and maybe they have a bit of a World Series hangover, but do not underestimate the statement winning three from the Cubbies in Wrigley is for an up-and-coming team like the Yankees.

After a quick stop in the barren wasteland that was Great American Ballpark, the Yankees headed home for yet another opportunity to benchmark themselves against the AL leading Astros. In case you missed it, check out last week in Yankees baseball.

How many innings is too many innings?

Eighteen innings is a lot of innings. 6 hours and 5 minutes is a long ballgame. There were 48 combined strikeouts in the game, 9 pinch hitters, 13 pitching changes, and 29 runners left on base. It was a MESS, but the Yankees won, and after Aroldis Chapman blew the 3-run lead to the defending World Champs, I didn’t think that was possible.

What last weekend taught me was that this Yankees team has something. I’m still not 100-percent sure what it is, but it’s there. We know they’re young and talented and we know they’re better than originally projected (FanGraphs gives the Yankees a 65.5% chance of making the playoffs, up from 14% on Opening Day). Maybe chemistry is overrated, but this team has it. On Friday, they stole a game with Brett Gardner’s 3-run shot. On Sunday, they watched their $86-million closer blow a save but it did not phase them. They were going to pick him up and win the damn game… even if it took another 9 innings.

Of course an extra inning game of that length caused people to bitch about baseball being too long and not having a set end point. Game length is the reason why baseball is experimenting with starting a runner on second base in extra innings. Pace of play is a bogus excuse for changing the intentional walk rule. Four hour games is why people say they don’t watch MLB. But you know what? I don’t care. Eighteen innings is weird and wild, something only baseball can produce. (It should be noted I went to bed in the 13th inning. I don’t know how anybody with a day job could have stayed up to watch a May baseball game go until 2 o’clock in the morning. October will be a different story, obviously.)

The Sabathia Situation

I think four starts in a row in which CC Sabathia has given up at least 4 earned runs warrants it being dubbed a situation. Over those four starts, CC’s ERA is 9.58. He’s allowed a .337 BA-against and a .966 OPS-against. He’s surrendered 30 hits in 20.2 innings, five of them leaving the yard. He’s been abysmal. Somehow the Yankees are 2-2 in those games, thanks to an epic comeback against Baltimore and another come-from-behind win against Toronto. The Yankees cannot count on their offense picking up CC every fifth day, however.

Last season was a nice, surprising resurgence from CC. He made 30 starts and had a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time since 2012. After his first three starts, it looked like the corner we all hoped CC turned last season was not a fluke. But as I mentioned, it’s been downhill for the big fella since. 

Over his seven starts, Sabathia has allowed 6 earned runs in the first inning of games and 11 in the second inning, punctuated by the 5 runs given up on Tuesday in Cincinnati. What does not make sense, however, is that CC seems to settle into the game after getting shellacked early on. Over innings 3-7+, he’s allowed a total of 8 earned runs. CC did pitch into the 8th inning once this season, and perhaps coincidentally it came in the start before his struggles began.

The Sabathia Situation and Astros Preview – The Bronx Pinstripes Show #137

The Yankees cannot afford a give-up game every fifth day. That may have flown on a sub-.500 rebuilding team, but after six weeks of baseball, we see this Yankees team is capable of contending. All of this begs the question: What do the Yankees do with Sabathia? The way I see it, they have three options.

Option 1: Put him on the disabled list and cross your heart and hope to die he comes back with something resembling his 2016 performance. 

Option 2: Stick him in the bullpen and give Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green, or Luis Cessa an opportunity to start for a few weeks. 

Option 3: Throw him a retirement party à la Alex Rodriguez. 

I don’t see option’s 2 or 3 happening, and here’s why. Sabathia has never pitched in relief during his 17 year career. At the tender age of 36, I do not imagine CC getting his 300+ pound body loose in the 6th inning of a ballgame. He’d have to start warming up in the 2nd, and that just isn’t feasible. Not to mention his stats this season show he struggles early in games, not late, which would make his relief appearances quite scary. 

Option 3 is also unrealistic because CC has publicly expressed interest in playing beyond this season. And what are you going to do? Schedule a “last start” for CC and then cheer him as he gives up a 5-spot? That doesn’t exactly strike me as “farewell” material.

The only realistic option, other than putting up with with his poor performances, is to place CC on the DL and hope he get’s his shit together. This will give the Yankees an opportunity to see Mitchell, Green, Cessa, or potentially Chance Adams (who still hasn’t pitched above Double-A) get a few turns in the rotation.

Keuchel’d

The Yankees’ 3-2, photo-finish loss on Thursday was not due to Joe Espada’s decision to send Jacoby Ellsbury in the 9th inning from second on Gary Sanchez’ single to left. It was not due to Michael Pineda, who only really made one bad pitch to Carlos Correa (who owns Pineda, by the way). An argument can be made that Correa never should have batted in the first inning if Ellsbury calls off Didi Gregorius on a short fly to center. The reason the Yankees fell to the Astros is because of their inability to hit Dallas Keuchel. 

I never want to see Keuchel and his hipster beard on the mound again. He’s like Cliff Lee reincarnated against the Yankees. 

Those numbers don’t include the 6 innings of one run ball (unearned) Keuchel tossed Thursday night. He didn’t have his best stuff either. The Yankees had their chances; in the 5th they plated only one run despite having the bases loaded with one out. In the 6th, Aaron Judge, Chase Headley, and Didi all went down swinging with runners on first and third.

Keuchel doesn’t have Chris Sale’s velocity or Clayton Kershaw’s curveball. He’s not the intimidating figure Randy Johnson was. But he’s every bit of all those pitchers against the Yankees by mixing pitches, working quickly, hitting corners, and keeping hitters off balance.

It’s not just the Yankees who struggle against Keuchel, as evident by his 2015 Cy Young award and 1.69 ERA so far this season. But if the Yankees are serious about competing this year, their production with men in scoring position must improve. All the home runs the Yankees have hit this season are nice. Some win games for them (see Gardner last Friday). But in games like Thursday when just a single in either the 5th or 6th inning could have made the difference between a win and a loss, the RISP failures are glaring.

Milestone alert

Jacoby Ellsbury is earning his $153-million contract one catchers interference at a time.

#JeterWeek

You may have heard that it’s Derek Jeter week here in Yankees land. The Captain will have his number 2 retired on Sunday night, making single-digit numbers extinct in pinstripes.

There’s certainly been buzz about Jeter all week. Ticket prices are 340-percent higher compared to previous number-retiring nights (duh). The Yankees will sport special Derek Jeter hats, with a Mother’s Day twist. Every MLB and Yankees-related account has been pumping Jeter content into my social feeds. Heck, even I’m guilty of it.

What all this made me realize is that we don’t need a Derek Jeter week right now because the 2017 Yankees are good. We needed every bit of Mariano Rivera’s farewell tour in 2013. Without Jeter’s in 2014, I don’t think I’d be able to tell you one thing that happened that season, but I certainly remember Jeter’s final home game in which he walked-off the Orioles in a meaningless September game. Alex Rodriguez provided a nice distraction in 2015 with his resurgence and 3,000-hit milestone. The 1996 reunion last year was cool because the team was like watching cement dry up until August. But now? Now we look forward to the on-field product every night.

Derek Jeter night will be special. I’ll probably tear up watching montages of Jeter diving into the stands and hitting walk-off World Series homers. Jeter represented my baseball childhood. He and the rest of the 1990’s Yankees are why I blog for this website and co-host a Yankees podcast. I’ll always remember Jeter for the countless holy shit! moments and five championships. But part of me is also excited that Sunday represents the end of a Yankees era, because a new one has already begun.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Rotondi

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