The Yankees missed an opportunity to gain ground in the wildcard standings over the weekend by losing two out of three to the Orioles. The offense was non-existent in the first two games, but managed to salvage the finale on Sunday. With the season roaring to the finish, wins will become more of a must with each passing day. A 10-game homestand beginning with the first place Blue Jays is going to be critical.
Off on the right foot
Masahiro Tanaka headed to the mound in the series opener and after putting a little first inning control problem behind him, looked his usual solid self on Labor Day. The Yankees have not had a great deal of success against Toronto this season and getting a quality start from Tanaka would be pivotal. He would give up two runs on seven hits in 6.1 innings of work against a quality offense. Pretty much what fans have come to expect from him.
After the Jays took a quick 1-0 lead, Jacoby Ellsbury‘s two-run home run in the bottom half of the first would give the Yankees a lead that they would not relinquish. Ellsbury would tally three hits on the day and drive in three runs as well. This coming on the heels of a bit of controversy over not playing on Sunday. Tyler Austin would break out with a pair of doubles and two RBI’s and the Yankees would take a 5-1 lead into the seventh inning. That’s a lead that is certainly no guarantee against the Jays, especially given the state of the Yankee bullpen.
Things certainly got interesting as Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller gave up a pair of runs after relieving Tanaka with one out in the seventh. Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances would manage to shut down the Jays over the final two innings to finish the 5-3 victory. Overall, a solid win for the Yankees, but with the Orioles winning, the wildcard deficit remains at 3.5 games.
A wild win
Luis Cessa took the mound for the Yankees and after giving up a monster home run to Edwin Encarnacion right out of the gate, really settled down and did a nice job against the Jays lineup. He has shown good composure in handling adversity in his last two starts and has given the team a nice string of quality performances since the Nathan Eovaldi injury. He would give up 2 runs on 6 hits in 5.1 innings of work on Tuesday. He has pitched to a 3.09 ERA as a starter holding opponents to a .227 batting average. The home run ball has been his shortcoming as he has allowed 10 in 42 innings pitched.
Brian McCann would tie things up with a home run in the fourth, but after the Jays retook the lead on a bloop and an infield hit in the fifth, the game had the look of a hard luck loss until Tyler Austin took matters into his own hands with a two-run opposite field home run in the seventh. Suddenly, the Yankees had new life, but this one was far from over. Bullpen meltdowns on both sides showed anything was far from a safe lead, but after Chase Headley‘s two-run home run to cap off a four run eighth inning gave the Yankees a bit of breathing room with a 7-4 lead, fans had to feel good. Not so fast.
Dellin Betances was far from sharp in his third straight day of work and the ninth inning turned into a huge mess. Betances would need 40 pitches just to get one out and would give way to Blake Parker with the bases loaded and two runs already in. The game that wouldn’t end was seemingly spiraling out of control, but Parker would strike out Kevin Pillar for the second out. A first pitch curveball to Justin Smoak was nearly his undoing, but Brett Gardner made a great leaping catch against the left field wall to preserve the 7-6 victory and had the Yankees sniffing a much needed sweep of the Jays. Whew!!!! Seemed like more action in the final three innings that in the previous three games total.
The Yankees would head into the series finale looking for an unexpected sweep of the Jays and would count on the return of Bryan Mitchell to get the job done. I’m sure they were going to give Mitchell some big league innings before the end of September, but i’m not sure this was the spot they envisioned. Mitchell more than held his own against the Jays after only 21 minor league innings since his return from a broken toe in Spring Training. He held the Jays to four hits and no runs in five innings using mostly a fastball/cutter combo that generated ten ground ball outs.
The Yankee offense had chances to score early against Marcus Stroman, but could only cash in during the third inning. Starlin Castro would hit his 20th home run of the season and Brian McCann would add a RBI single later in the frame. Castro would become only the 4th second baseman in Yankees history to hit 20 home runs. Luckily, the pitching staff would get the job done and make the two runs stand up.
Luis Severino would take over for Mitchell in the sixth inning and would continue his ridiculous run in a relief role in 2016. He would allow one hit and one walk in three innings, striking out three. In 14.1 innings as a reliever, he has given up two hits and four walks. A much better result than his efforts as a starter. Tyler Clippard would pitch the ninth for his second save of the season.
A sweep is great, but this series could have turned on a dime. The final out of the second game came with Gardner leaping against the wall to catch a drive from Justin Smoak with the bases loaded and Severino got the final out of the eighth inning on a fly ball from Encarnacion with the tying run on base. The bottom line is they got the job done and with the other teams in front of them losing, the Yankees are now 2.5 games back in the wildcard and 4.5 back in the division. They are also a season high 8 games above .500.