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4/11-4/14 Series Recap vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The Yankees wrapped up a four game set with the division rival Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night. Let’s recap the series before the team starts their six game road trip in Baltimore.

Game One – 3-0 loss

W: Alek Manoah (1-0), L: Jameson Taillon (0-1), S: Jordan Romano (3) – Box Score

Offensive No-show

It was clear from the beginning in this one that the Yankees were going to struggle to score against Alek Manoah. It took all of seven pitches for Manoah to strike out DJ LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo to start off the game. Then just another four to get Aaron Judge to ground out to end the 1st. The Jays young hurler worked around a Joey Gallo single in the 2nd to retire the side. Manoah was feeling it early and you could tell.

In the 3rd the Yankees posed what turned out to be their only real chance against Manoah. Down 2-0 after a George Springer home run in the top of the inning, Marwin Gonzalez worked a walk between a Kyle Higashioka fly out and a DJ LeMahieu strike out. Anthony Rizzo and Aaron Judge worked back-to-back walks with two out and it felt like the Yankees might have a chance with Giancarlo Stanton coming up with the bases loaded. However, on the second pitch of the at-bat Stanton rolled over on a 94 mph sinker to the shortstop for the third out. Manoah would go on to retire nine of the next ten Yankees hitters to end his outing.

The only other rally of sorts was in the 7th after Manoah had left. A Gleyber Torres single and Aaron Hicks walk to lead off the inning gave the Bombers a chance to get back in the game. Unfortunately for them, the Yankees employ the equivalent of two pitchers hitting at the bottom of the lineup. With Trevor Richards unraveling on the mound and forced to stay in the game due to the three batter rule, manager Aaron Boone made the head scratching decision to keep Kyle Higashioka in the game instead of pinch hit. Higgy promptly lined out to right field for the first out. Boone then decided to send Josh Donaldson to the plate to pinch hit for Marwin Gonzalez. Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo countered with right handed specialist Adam Cimber who got Donaldson to bounce into an inning ending double play.

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I realize it’s early in the season and mistakes are overanalyzed due to small sample size, but things like this have become a trend in the Boone era. He always seems one step behind the competition. Would Donaldson still have grounded into a double play if he hit against Richards instead of Cimber? Maybe! But Boone just does not seem like the type of manager who can best utilize a roster that requires pinch hitting at least once a night. Maybe this is the front office’s fault. They gave a kid a broken sports car and were mad that he can’t drive it. Regardless these types of head scratchers have become the norm for Boone, not the exception.

The Yanks didn’t make any noise in the 8th to cut into the deficit. Two singles in the 9th sandwiched a Gleyber Torres double play before Higashioka ended the night with the strikeout. The Jays had the first win of the series and the Yankees were shut out for the first time in 2022.

Taillon shows flashes

It wasn’t all bad. Despite the losing effort, Taillon showed some promise in his first start since offseason ankle surgery. Still working to get stretched out, Taillon exited after five innings and 72 pitches. He gave up five hits, walked none, and his only real blemish being a two-run home run to George Springer in the top of the 3rd.

I’m more interested in Taillon’s slider than the results of this start. It seems like Jameson has added some bite to his slide piece. Or at least he did in his first start. Check this out:

Credit: Baseball Savant

 

Obviously a ridiculously small sample size. All of 16 pitches worth. But still interesting nonetheless! In 2018, Taillon’s last full season before coming to New York, he averaged 4.7 inches of horizontal movement on his slider. In his abbreviated 2019 it was 5.4 inches. In 2021, Jameson averaged 5.8 inches of horizontal break on that offering. On Tuesday? 8.4 inches!!! About three additional inches of break is a big deal. That’s an improvement that could raise his ceiling from a #4 starter to a #3 or #2 starter. I will be interested in watching to see if this continues. Jameson taking a big leap this year would be a boon for the team.

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It wasn’t all candy and rainbows. Taillon allowed quite a bit of hard contact. He allowed 10 batted balls over 90 mph, including five outs that registered above 97 mph. That can’t continue. His line could have been much worse than it was. But overall, there was enough encouraging things here to be optimistic for Taillon’s 2022. I am excited to watch.

Springer, Espinal, & Hernandez steal the show

The Blue Jays line-up had nine players in it but the Yankees got beat in Game One by just three of them. George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, and Santiago Espinal went a combined 9-12 with a home run, two doubles, three RBI’s, three runs, and a stolen base. The rest of the line-up went a combined 1-25.

Springer, as expected, was hearing it early from the fans in response to his involvement in the Astros cheating scandal. He responded in the 3rd by lacing an 0-1 slider from Taillon into the left field bleachers for a two run home run. The ball came off the bat at 99.8 mph. As he rounded second he pointed out at the crowd as if to silence them. The former Astros players playing victim in the situation is forever corny. You’re not proving a point by hitting a home run. You’re still a cheater. Alas, it was 2-0 Jays.

Espinal was everywhere, it felt like. He singled immediately before the Springer home run. Santiago got a single again in the 5th and stole second base but did not come around to score. He and Springer were at it again in the 7th. Espinal singled for a third time with two outs, and he came around to score on Springer’s double to center field. Springer drove in all three runs on the night, Espinal score two of them. Espinal was also in perfect positioning and helped turn the double play on Donaldson that killed the Yankees rally in the 7th.

Teoscar Hernandez didn’t drive in any runs or come around to score, but he did register three hits of his own on the night. He had a double in the 4th, and then singles in the 6th and 8th respectively. He also made a nifty play in right field to rob Higashioka of a base hit that would’ve either scored a run or loaded the bases with no outs. The Yankees pitching did their job against 2/3 of the line-up. The other 1/3 single handedly won this game.

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Game Two – 4-0 Win

W: Clay Holmes (1-0), L: Yusei Kikuchi (0-1) – Box Score

Offensive Role Reversal

On Monday the Yankees couldn’t generate any offense and were shut out. On Tuesday, the roles were flipped. The Yankees were the only ones to score and held the Jays off the board. The scoreboard only shows four runs, but it could’ve been much more.

Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi was an All-Star for the Mariners in 2021. His first half earned him the bid to the mid-summer classic when he put up a 3.48 ERA (4.36 FIP) over 98.1 innings. The wheels came off in the second half, as Kikuchi put up a 5.98 ERA (5.03 FIP) in 58.2 innings. In his career Kikuchi is much better against left handers (.216/.272/.384) then right handers (.282/.350/.502), so the Yankees aren’t a great matchup for him.

The Yankees had him on the ropes immediately in the 1st. Josh Donaldson walked to lead off the game and brought up Aaron Judge. Judge drilled a 2-0 cutter from Kukuchi to the wall in left field but Lourdes Gurriel made an awesome play to rob Judge of at least an extra base hit. I don’t think it would have gone over the wall, but chances are it would’ve been 1-0 Yanks if Lourdes doesn’t make that play. The next batter was more of the same. Anthony Rizzo lined a 1-2 slider down the right field line that hit right off the top of the wall and bounced back into play. Donaldson hesitated going around third, which ended up costing him. He went home anyways, and was thrown out by a couple feet. Giancarlo Stanton was the next batter, and he hit a 104.6 mph fly out to end the inning. For a team struggling to score, it was a frustrating inning to say the least.

Luckily the 1st was a sign of things to come. The Yankees were able to get on the board in the 2nd against Kukuchi. DJ LeMahieu lead off the inning with a double to set the Bombers up. Gleyber Torres struck out for the first out which brought up Aaron Hicks. Aaron took a 2-0 slider from Yusei to the opposite field for his first home run of the year. Hicks struggled a bit in big moments during the Red Sox series, so i’m sure getting his first homer out of the way felt good.

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The Yanks tagged on two extra runs over the course of the game to give themselves some breathing room. Blue Jays catcher Tyler Heineman made an error on a pickoff throw in the 4th that allowed DJ LeMahieu to score for the third run. Giancarlo Stanton drove in Josh Donaldson on a sacrifice fly in the 8th to give the Yankees their fourth and final run.

Nasty Nestor Returns

Nestor Cortes came out of nowhere last year to become a valuable piece to the Yankees pitching staff. A lot of it can be contributed to his rise in fastball velocity and a jump in his horizontal movement on his slider. It was fair to question coming into 2022 if Cortes could repeat his success. In his first start he did.

A leadoff double by George Springer to start the game put Cortes in immediate danger against a dangerous Blue Jays line-up. He was able to get Bo Bichette to strike out for the first out of the game before Vlad Guerrero Jr. stepped to the plate. George Springer stole third base to put a runner 90 feet away with the MVP runner-up in the box. A nine-pitch battle ensued, but Cortes was able to get Vladdy on a called third strike for the second out. The next batter, Teoscar Hernandez, flew out to get out of the jam.

After that 1st inning Nestor wasn’t really tested again. He sat down the side in order in the 2nd and the 3rd. He worked around a two-out single in the 4th to chuck up another zero. In the 5th he got the first batter to ground out before allowing a double to third baseman Matt Chapman. Aaron Boone had decided that was enough and brought in Clay Holmes to finish out the inning. Holmes struck out the next two batters to finish the book on Cortes’ line.

All told Cortes pitched 4.1 innings, allowed three hits, struck out five, and walked none. He relied primarily on his fastball (41.7%) and cutter (31.9%) and likely would’ve busted out his slider more (15.3%) if he had been asked to go a little deeper. Those percentages are close in line with what he did last year. His average fastball velocity of 91.4 mph was actually higher than the 90.7 average from his breakout campaign last year. It will be fascinating to see if that sticks. Time will tell if the Nestor of last year was for real and if his first start of 2022 was any indication, Nasty Nestor is here to stay.

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Bullpen Domination Continues

As has been the case all year, the Yankees bullpen dominated in this one. After Cortes exited in the 4th inning, the pen finished the job but throwing a combined 4.2 shutout innings, allowing just two hits and striking out five in the process. As previously mentioned, Holmes was first out of the pen. He got out of the jam Cortes left behind, striking out two batters to end the 5th inning. He pitched a flawless 6th as well, getting two of his patented ground balls in the process.

Miguel Castro followed and put up a scoreless inning of his own, working around a Josh Donaldson error. Jonathan Loáisiga came in behind Castro and looked like he was going to breeze through the 8th. He got the first two batters out on a total of four pitches before George Springer stepped to the plate. Springer singled, and Bo Bichette followed him with a single of his own. It was now two on, two out with Vlad Guerrero Jr. at the plate as the tying run. Vlad swung at the first pitch and grounded out to IKF at shortstop. Crisis averted.

Aroldis Chapman came on in the 9th to close it out and man was he filthy. Chapman needed just 14 pitches to get through the final inning, averaging 94.4 mph and topping out at 101.8 mph. He followed that 101.8 mph fastball with a 90.7 mph splitter to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to strike him out. Not sure how thats legal, but glad he is on our side. For as frustrating as Chapman was last year we must remember how dominant he was to start the 2021 season. Going into June Chapman had a 0.45 ERA and 38 K’s in 20 innings. The wheels fell off from there, but if Chapman can keep that dominance together consistently in 2022 we’re in for a treat.

Game Three – 6-4 Loss

W: Adam Cimber (2-0), L: Chad Green (0-1), S: Romano (4) – (Box Score)

Stuntin’ like his daddy

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is insanely good at baseball. We already knew that. Wednesday he reminded us. Before this game the Yankees had held Vladdy to 0-8 in the series. It felt like there was a looming storm coming. Turns out there was.

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The onslaught started almost immediately. Gerrit Cole mowed down the first two hitters of the game to bring Guerrero to the plate. With the count 1-0, Cole hung a slider right over the heart of the plate and Vlad did not miss it. Off the bat it came at 109.1 mph and 416 feet it went over the center field fence. There was some doubt initially if it hit off the top of the wall or went out but replay confirmed it was a home run. 1-0 Jays.

Vladimir’s reign of terror continued in the 3rd. Cole again retired the first two hitters of the inning before a two out double by Bo Bichette brought the MVP runner-up to the plate. On the third pitch of the at-bat, Vladdy made Cole pay again, depositing a 98 mph fastball deep in the Bronx night. It wasn’t even a bad pitch. Look at this:

An MVP talent doing MVP talent things. This one was also hit 109.1 mph off the bat but this topped his first dinger in distance, traveling 427 feet. It was Vlad Jr. 3, Yankees 0.

Guerrero got bored of hitting home runs so he took a break in the 6th. Cole went after him a third time, surely hoping to get the best of him once before the night was over. Vlad had other ideas, taking an 0-2 fastball down the middle the opposite way for a double. Cole literally tipped his cap after it was hit:

“Did you see the night? If you had a cap you’d tip it too.” Cole said after the game. While he’s right, maybe he could’ve not thrown pitches right over the middle twice and he wouldn’t have had to tip his cap. Oh well. It doesn’t matter now.

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But Vlad wasn’t done! With the Jays clinging to a one run lead in the top of the 8th, Guerrero led off the inning against Jonathan Loáisiga. The first pitch was a 95 mph sinker that Vlad crushed into the left field bleachers for the hat-trick. This was his hardest hit home run of the night, registering at 114.4 mph. Vlad’s final line: 4-4, three HR’s, four RBI’s, 14 total bases. Again, MVP stuff. Hell of a game.

A quick rally that falls short

It felt like the Yankees offense was going to snooze their way through the night. José Berríos was mowing them down and the Yankees were struggling to get anything going. Through four innings the team had only one hit off Berríos. It all changed very quickly in the 5th.

If you went to the bathroom or to grab a beer you probably missed half of it. With one out in the inning, Anthony Rizzo got the Yankees on the board by crushing a 1-0 fastball into the right field bleachers to get the Yankees on the board. On the very next pitch Aaron Judge followed him with his first home run of the year. Back-to-back home runs, and the Yankees only trailed by one.

It took all of one pitch for the next batter Josh Donaldson to line a double down the left field line and the Yanks had the tying run on. Joey Gallo hit a ball that looked like it had a chance off the bat but it ultimately died on the track for the second out of the inning. Up stepped DJ LeMahieu to save the day. DJ mashed the first pitch to right field for a double and the game was tied. In a span of eight pitches it went from 3-0 to 3-3. New ballgame.

The offense went stale from there and it cost them. The only other run scored on the night was a Gleyber Torres opposite field home run in the bottom of the 8th inning to make it 6-4. It was his first home run of the year. Gleyber hitting 105.9 mph opposite field home runs is a great sign. Let’s hope that continues.

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There was a glimmer of hope in the 9th. Anthony Rizzo got on with a bunt single to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Aaron Judge. Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano struck out Judge on five pitches, leaving the game in the hands of Josh Donaldson. Donaldson got a hold of one, lining a 108.3 mph rope down the right field line. Unfortunately, as was the case all series, the Jays had it played perfectly and Vlad Guerrero caught it for the final out of the game.

Meh Pitching

You’d see that Gerrit Cole served up three extra base hits to Vlad and it’d be rational to think he had a bad game. That wasn’t really the case. Cole was more in control than he was in his Opening Day start and had good stuff outside of the few mistakes to Guerrero. The Blue Jays line-up sans Vladdy went a combined 1-18 with a walk against Cole. His final line: 5.2 innings, four hits, three ER, one walk, six strikeouts on 85 pitches. He averaged 97.8 mph on his fastball. Have to think Cole will be ready to stretch it out to 100 pitches his next time out.

Cole left it to the bullpen and for the first time all season the bullpen didn’t really deliver. Chad Green was dealt a tough luck loss for allowing an unearned run in the 7th inning. Green walked the lead-off batter in the inning and then seemed to get Raimel Tapia swinging for the first out. Unfortunately Kyle Higashioka’s glove got in the way of the hack and Tapia was awarded first on catcher’s interference. Santiago Espinal was the next batter and grounded what looked like a tailor made double play ball, but Gleyber Torres struggled on the transfer and the runner was safe at first. Jonathan Loáisiga replaced Green and allowed a two out single to George Springer to give the Blue Jays the lead back.

As was already mentioned Loáisiga came on for the 8th as well. But after Vlad’s third home run of the night Boone decided he didn’t have it and called on Wandy Peralta. Peralta gave up a run of his own allowing a hit, a sacrifice bunt, and then a run scoring single to Matt Chapman to put the Jays up 6-3. JP Sears came on for the 9th for his major league debut and pitched a perfect inning. Naturally, he was the only Yanks pitcher of the night to not surrender a run.

The Yankees bullpen has been nails all year. It was bound to happen that they would have an off night. They just picked a bad night to have it. After a gritty start from Cole and a rally from the offense, a bullpen that lead the league in ERA coming into the game blowing it was a tough pill to swallow. It happens.

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Game Four – 3-0 Win

W: Luis Severino (1-0), L: Kevin Gausman (0-1), S: Michael King (1) – (Box Score)

Welcome Back Sevy

Should I start anywhere else? There was some concern in Spring Training that it might take a while for Luis Severino to find his form. He struggled for most of the spring circuit before finishing strong in his last start. For a guy who more or less hasn’t been a major league pitcher since 2018, it’s reasonable to expect him to take some time to ramp back up. Sevy was having none of that.

Severino showed hints of his former self in his season debut last week. Thursday he took it to another level. It felt like 2017/2018 Severino had never left. He started off a bit rocky in the first two innings. In the 1st he allowed a double to the second batter of the game and plunked Lourdes Gurriel as the fifth batter. He managed to escape by getting Raimel Tapia to line out to end the inning. In the 2nd inning the first two batters reached on a single and a walk. A rare one out error by Anthony Rizzo loaded the bases. Severino buckled down and got George Springer to fly out and Bo Bichette to ground out to end the inning.

From that point on Sevy was in complete control. Of the final ten batters he faced, Severino retired nine of them with the only blemish being a 4th inning walk. His final pitch of the night was a 90 mph change-up to get Vladimir Guerrero swinging. Sevy was fired up:

God I missed that. Severino’s final line: 5 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts. He had the five fastest thrown pitches of the night, topping out at 99.5 mph. He was also the first pitcher ever to strike out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. three times in one game. Who knows how long it will last. Maybe the wheels fall off or Severino gets injured again. I hope that is not the case. But for the time being it was great to see vintage Luis Severino on the mound. Welcome back, Luis.

Bottom of the order breaks through

If you scrolled through Yankee twitter this morning there was no shortage of tweets and articles referencing the Yankees bottom of the order struggles. Hell, I even wrote about it myself. So naturally this evening was going to be the game of the eight and nine hitters.

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It started in the 3rd inning. Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who was 1-for-the season thus far, hit a weak liner just past the glove of the leaping third basemen. Replay showed the IKF hit the ball twice, which seemed to create a knuckleball effect and juked out Santiago Espinal at third and allowed the ball the dunk in. Sometimes you just need weird luck to get going.

IKF then advanced to second on a balk that didn’t really look like a balk, and the Yankees had a runner in scoring position. Yankees legend and the best hitting catcher in franchise history Jose Trevino hit a 1-2 pitch into left field to score Kiner-Falefa. 1-0 Yanks.

The fans wanted an encore and they got it. In the 5th inning with two down, Kiner-Falefa lined a ground ball past shortstop Bo Bichette into left field. Left fielder Lourdes Gurriel bobbled the ball a bit coming up with it and IKF had a double. Jose made them pay again, this time lining a 0-2 pitch into center field for his second RBI of the game. Trevino was pumped.

Coming into this game the bottom two spots in the order were batting .071/.111/.095 collectively. Tonight? A combined 5-6 with two RBI’s, two runs scored, and a stolen base. It was always going to be this way. Complain on Twitter and you will pay.

Dominant bullpen saves Chapman

It felt like this was going to be a quick and easy night on the pitching side. Severino dominated and every pitcher that came out of the bullpen looked like they were on their game. First was Lucas Luetge, who came on for the 6th after Sevy departed. Luetge worked around some long at-bats to strike out the side. One of those strikeouts was him embarrassing Raimel Tapia:

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Miguel Castro, Clay Holmes, and Chad Green followed Luetge in order and provided a combined two shutout innings between them. They allowed two baserunners but avoided any damage. Then came Aroldis Chapman to close it out. As I wrote about, Chapman was filthy in Game Two of the series. I was optimistic when I wrote that part. Tonight Chapman was the opposite. He had absolutely no idea where the ball was going. Look at this nonsense:

Credit: Baseball Savant

Gross. Aroldis threw 16 pitches, only four of them for strikes. He loaded the bases on three walks and Aaron Boone could not run to the mound fast enough. In came Michael King in an attempt to bail him out against the top of the order. It worked. King needed just three pitches to retire George Springer on strikes for the first out. With the bases still loaded, Bo Bichette came to the plate and lined an 0-1 curveball to second base. DJ LeMahieu snagged it and fired on to first base to double off Matt Chapman, who was dancing far off the bag. Game over.

Hopefully for the Yankees this was just one of those nights for Chapman. He is prone to meltdowns. Big props to King for slamming the door and earning the series split. Big props to the entire non-Chapman pitching staff really. Dominant outing from every pitcher that wasn’t named Aroldis.

What’s Next?

The Yankees head on their first round trip of the season. The six game swing starts on Friday again against the Baltimore Orioles. We will have a series preview of the series up tomorrow on Pinstripe Perspective, so be sure to check that out.

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