The Yankees showed up in Oakland a day after salvaging the final game of a series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The offense disappeared for the most part against Arizona, but Nathan Eovaldi and the bullpen took care of business in the finale. The Yankees have not played well in recent years in Oakland and the A’s offense has been bashing home runs left and right recently.
Three storylines would dominate things in the series opener against the A’s. First, Ivan Nova was everything the Yankees needed and then some. Secondly, Joe Girardi stirred up the ire of many fans with his quick hook and going to the bullpen. Third, the mental lapse on the basepaths were too numerous to keep track of at times and certainly cost the team at least one big inning.
Nova has been such a shot in the arm since returning to the rotation due to injuries. He would last 6 innings giving up 4 hits and a run with 3 strikeouts. The lone run would be courtesy of a Josh Reddick solo home run on a pitch that truthfully wasn’t that bad. In his 3 starts, Nova is 2-0 with an ERA of 1.65. More of that, please.
Nova departed after six innings having only thrown 62 pitches in favor of the big three in the bullpen. This was one night after Nathan Eovaldi was pulled after 6 innings in which he had given up one hit and retired 18 in a row. This set off quite a furor amongst fans. I get the fact that Eovaldi possibly should have been pulled before he faced the DBacks for the third time through the order. There are real numbers to back that up. But, I could see not leaving Nova in for another inning making some scratch their heads.
Maybe it was a gut feeling from Girardi. Maybe it was lack of trust. Regardless, Girardi seems to have a plan in place to use his bullpen in this situation. A 2-1 lead at the time made him trust the plan. And the flip side was that if he left Nova in and he coughed up the lead and ballgame, Girardi would have been roasted for not using his assets that he had been given. The W was there for the taking and it worked out.
Fundamental baserunning has been lacking with this team recently. Thursday night, Carlos Beltran forgot how many outs there were in the third inning and failed to score when Reddick booted a Brian McCann liner in right field. In the sixth, Chase Headley singled and was promptly picked off of first. Dustin Ackley and Didi Gregorius then had back to back hits with Ackley going from first to third on Gregorius’ single. Unfortunately, Didi was thrown out at second trying to stretch his hit. Aaron Hicks came through and saved the day with a double to drive Ackley in. Four hits, one run. When your offense is not clicking, you have to be smart about baserunning and not give up free outs.
Beltran redeemed himself in the ninth with a 2-run home run and the bullpen did its job. Game over and a 4-1 Yankees win. C.C. Sabathia will be on the hill on Friday as he looks to continue his string of solid performances after a stint on the disabled list with a groin strain.
The news on the injury front got better on Friday as Sabathia returned from a trip to the DL with a groin strain by putting on one of his best performances of the season. The big fella went six innings, striking out eight, and allowing three hits and one run. After nearly being run out of town over the past couple of seasons, Sabathia seems to have finally figured out how to pitch without an overpowering fastball. His season ERA now stands at 3.41 and you have to have a decent amount of confidence that every time he takes the mound there is going to be a reasonable shot at winning.
The Yankee offense worked up Sonny Gray’s pitch count over the first three innings and then put the nail in the coffin during a 5-run fourth. A bit of bad defense led to a 2-run triple from Ronald Torreyes. A couple of wild pitches and Beltran’s second double of the evening would finish Gray for this game. Beltran’s third double of the game would score another run and Ellsbury would add a two-run triple in the ninth for good measure.
The big three in the bullpen would get a well deserved night off and Kirby Yates and Chasen Shreve would allow a couple of meaningless runs to finish the last three innings off in relief of Sabathia. The Yankees would take this one 8-3 and win their third straight game for the first time in 2016.
The two table setters at the top of the lineup are doing their job these days. Beltran is staying hot and the bottom of the order seems to be contributing nearly every game. Mark Teixeira seems to be having the most struggles of any Yankee hitter these days. He was 0-for-5 in this one with a pair of strikeouts and has now fallen below the Mendoza line at .196.
Fours are wild
The fourth inning would prove to be pivotal once again on Saturday as the Yankees would score four runs in the fourth that would propel them to their fourth straight win. It would also clinch the series win against the A’s and they have now won four out of the last five series.
Masahiro Tanaka would get the start in this one and was on point throughout, giving the Yankees 7 solid innings allowing just 5 hits and 1 run, while walking 2 and striking out 4. He improved to 2-0 and when combined with Sabathia, Nova, and Nathan Eovaldi, the Yankee rotation is suddenly relatively solid these days. At least from those four. Tanaka wasn’t as sharp as his starts earlier in the season, but it was more than enough against a suddenly fragile A’s team that is seemingly losing players to injury almost daily.
As mentioned, the fourth inning would be key on this day. Carlos Beltran would remain hot as he would bring home one run with a single with the bases loaded. Aaron Hicks would bring in another with a sacrifice fly. And then Rob Refsnyder, getting a start in right field, would double in two runs, giving the Yankees a 4-0 advantage. Starlin Castro would break out of a mini 1-for-15 slump with three hits on Saturday. His RBI-single in the seventh inning would give the Yankees bullpen another day of rest. Nick Goody would pitch the final two innings in relief to finish this one off with a 5-1 victory.
Michael Pineda will try to work out his mighty struggles on Sunday. The good news is that the bullpen is rested, and with the off day on Monday, may be in for extra work in the finale as the Yankees go for the sweep and a fifth consecutive victory.
Picking the low hanging fruit
Completing a four game sweep against an opponent is not an easy task, even against one that is struggling a bit with injuries. So, taking advantage of this opportunity when it exists is key during the baseball season. The Yankees would win their fifth game in a row on Sunday, their longest streak of the season.
Michael Pineda got the start in this one and although he was far from perfect, he did pitch much better than in previous outings. He gave the Yankees six solid innings, giving up six hits and three runs, while striking out six. He dropped his ERA to 6.34, which stood at 6.60 and highest in the American League going into the contest.
Fueled early by a pair of solo home runs from McCann and Ellsbury, the Yankees clung to a 2-1 run lead before Stephen Vogt hit a 2-run double to put the A’s in front. Teixeira, who had been in an 0-for-what seems like forever slump, singled in a run in the sixth and Starlin Castro promptly put the Bombers ahead with another single. A 4-3 lead after six innings only means one thing.
The bullpen would take care of matters the rest of the way, giving up an unearned run in the eighth and the yankees would finish off the sweep by a score of 5-4. The Yankees have pulled out of last place and are just one game below .500. They have some nice momentum as they head back east to face division opponents once again. They play a three game set at the Stadium before heading out on a loooooong road trip.