Amidst a youth movement, the Yankees were working toward climbing into playoff contention. It will be a tough climb as there are no less than four teams between them and the second wildcard spot. AL East opponents hold both of the wildcard spots currently as Boston and Baltimore still have their eyes on a bigger prize. The good news is that the remaining schedule is full of games against those opponents just ahead of the Yankees in the schedule. The opportunity is there for the taking.
A bump in the road
The Yankees rolled into Kansas City on Monday night and found themselves in a hole quickly. The Royals would come up with three runs on five hits in the first inning against Michael Pineda. After the first inning, Pineda would retire the next 15 Kansas City batters he would face until the seventh inning. He would look just good enough for Joe Girardi to trot him out for the seventh. After Pineda allowed the first two batters to reach on singles, Tommy Layne would get the first out on a force play. Blake Parker, who had pitched reasonably well of late, came on in relief and promptly gave up a three-run home run to Alcides Escobar. The middle relief implosion continued with Kirby Yates on the mound and the Royals had tacked on five runs to blow things wide open.
The offense was non-existent against Dillon Gee and his 5.62 ERA as all they could manage through the first six innings were back-to-back doubles from Didi and Starlin Castro. An eighth inning rally against Chris Young would get the Yankees back into the game and actually at two points in the last two innings they had the tying run at the plate. But, the early deficit was too large to overcome as the Royals would win 8-5.
Didi had three hits and Tyler Austin looked like he might be coming out of a slump with two of his own. Pineda was Pineda. Can’t pitch out of a jam or put away hitters when he has the chance, but then looks dominant for a stretch and reels you back in. The offense once again struggled to put runners in scoring position against a starting pitcher with an ERA north of 5.00, which seemingly has happened all season. The wildcard run has stalled a bit with back-to-back losses. The schedule has games that will allow them to make up ground, but a few more games like the last two and it could be lights out pretty quickly.
Outlasting a rain delay
Another game with a respectable lead that turned into bullpen carnage almost got away on Tuesday, but the Yankees managed to scrap together a run in the tenth inning to pull out a victory and stop a two game skid. The Bombers got off to a quick start against a struggling Edinson Volquez by scoring three in the second inning and one in the third. The big blow in the second coming courtesy of an Aaron Judge two-run home run.
Masahiro Tanaka was on the mound and had his night cut short by the rain after the fifth inning. He had pretty good stuff, but was touched up by two mistake pitches. A couple of hanging sliders led to a Jarrod Dyson RBI triple and a Kendrys Morales solo home run to keep Kansas City in the game. With Tanaka out of the game, the bullpen once again struggled to get the ball in Dellin Betances‘ hand.
The offense would put runners on base all night with little to show for it. 2-for-16 with 13 runners left on base. 14 hits and 4 walks shouldn’t lead to a struggle to win a ballgame in extra innings. But, that has been the storyline of 2016.
Jacoby Ellsbury would give the Yankees the game winner with a bases loaded single that deflected off of Joakim Soria in the tenth. Chasen Shreve would somehow manage to get the last two outs of the game to preserve the 5-4 victory. The top of the order led the offense as Gardner had 2 hits and Ellsbury 4. Brian McCann also chipped in three hits. It was ugly and didn’t really have to be, but a win is a win.
More free baseball
The Yankees would pull off another surprise win on Wednesday night as they would rally from an early deficit and get a great performance from the bullpen with 7.0 innings of no-hit baseball. Luis Cessa got the start and even though he gave up four runs in the first three innings, he settled down and retired 12 of the last 14 batters he faced. Kudos to him because if he doesn’t give the club some kind of length, there is no way the bullpen had the arms available if he gets knocked out after three innings.
The offense couldn’t manage much early against Ian Kennedy and it seemed like one of those games again. However, they would rally for three runs in the sixth with the big blow being a two-run home run from Castro. An Ellsbury sacrifice fly one inning later would knot things at four. Both pens would put up zeros until the thirteenth. An inning after having the bases loaded and one out, they started out with runners on second and third with nobody out. They would only manage the one run on a McCann sac fly, but it would prove to be enough for a 5-4 win.
Thank goodness there is an off day on Thursday to get a little rest for the bullpen arms before three more huge games with Baltimore. With the Orioles tied with Detroit for the second wildcard and the Yankees 2.5 games back, the series will be pivotal for both.