About Yesterday: Cubs 7, Yankees 4
By Mike Whiteman 7/10/2023 Happy Birthday to Sam Marsonek. Who, you ask is Sam Marsonek? The big righthander’s only MLB action was a scoreless inning and third for the Yankees in 2004.
His baseball career wasn’t remarkable, but his life story is, and is featured in Paul’s great book The Least Among Them. On this day in 1934, New York Giants lefthander Carl Hubbell struck out five Hall of Famers in a row, including Yankees Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Check out these lineups: https://www.baseball-reference.com/allstar/1934-allstar-game.shtml
Of those in the starting lineups for both teams, the only non-Hall of Famer was Boston Braves centerfielder Wally Berger, who was a pretty fair player himself, his 138 OPS+ in the top 100 of all time.
Quick Stats: The Yankees are 49-42 on the season. They are fourth in the American League East, eight games out of first place, one game out of the last Wild Card. Their .538 winning percentage would amount to 87 wins over the course of a whole season. Big Story: The Yankees hosted the Cubs on Sunday in the rubber game of their three game series. The Yanks' performance in the recent stretch against primarily lesser competition has been a bit disappointing, but yesterday gave the Yanks the opportunity to go into the All-Star break with a win, which is always nice. New York sent Domingo German to the hill, and as always, we wondered which version of Domingo German would we get. Thankfully, it was the really good one, allowing only a run and striking out nine through the first six innings.
The Yanks kept chipping away at Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, finally busting through when Anthony Volpe and Kyle Higashioka homered in the sixth and New York was up 4-1. After German walked leadoff hitter Ian Happ in the seventh inning, manager Aaron Boone went right to the pen, which has usually been a good move. After Ian Hamilton immediately retired Seiya Suzuki on a popout, Cody Bellinger singled. Christopher Morel reached when Gleyber Torres booted a potential inning-ending double play grounder and predictably, it was costly. Happ scored on an infield groundout and with two outs, Yan Gomes dropped in a two-run single, and we had a tie game. In the eighth, the Cubs kept coming, loading the bases with nobody out. Boone brought in Clay Holmes to stop the bleeding, and deployed an interesting defensive strategy of substituting Oswaldo Cabrera for left fielder Billy McKinney, and positioning him into the infield – a five man infield now with Harrison Bader and Giancarlo Stanton playing left and right center. The alignment really didn’t matter, as Suzuki lifted a sacrifice fly, Holmes uncorked a wild pitch, and in a crazy and unexpected turnabout, the Cubs led 6-4. They tacked on another in the ninth to go up 7-4. The Yankees unfortunately had no answers to this rally at the plate, and a bad loss ended a frustrating first half. Cubs win, 7-4.
Player of the Game: Domingo German was very, very good. Should he have been removed after only 74 pitches? He didn’t look to be tiring from this angle. Notable Performances: Volpe’s home run was his thirteenth of the season. Better to Forget: If Gleyber cleanly fields the grounder in the seventh and completes the double play, this is likely a much different game. They can bring in Kahnle for the eighth and Holmes for the ninth, and both have been very reliable of late. They Said It: “He makes that play all the time. He didn’t today. It can happen. He works hard on his craft” – Aaron Boone in response to questions about Torres’ fielding miscue. “These guys (pointing to what I assume was a roster sheet/lineup card). What I think we’re going to be capable of in the rotation. What I know we’re capable of in the bullpen. We’re going to continue to get real significant people back…A lot of teams aren’t in this position. We are.” – Boone on his optimism for the second half. In a very interesting development after the game: “It has been well documented that I have been reluctant in the past to make changes to our coaching staff in the middle of a season. I am a big believer that successes and failures are collective efforts. However, I ultimately felt that a change was needed and that a new voice overseeing our hitting operations would give us the best chance to perform closer to our capabilities as we move forward into the second half of our season.” – Brian Cashman on the firing of hitting coach Dillon Lawson after the game. Stay tuned to SSTN for analysis for this move many have been calling for. My take: This game felt like one that got away, and this team can’t be letting games get away. Very frustrating. A quick unrelated note before I start digging in - I really enjoy reading about Yankees’ Hope Week, which concluded Friday. As an adult I care a bit more than I used to that the players I root for good people in addition to being good players. Sure it’s the “company line” to participate, but guys like Boone, Cole, Trevino and Judge look to be pretty comfortable extending themselves to their local community.
I thought this would be a good time to take a first half look at the 2023 Yanks. We are now at the unofficial halfway point in the season. It’s not what we hoped and or expected. What started with the hope of an elite rotation leading the team to the promised land has crumbled to one starter holding things together, assisted a formidable bullpen, but not getting much in the way of support from the offense. Yet they are 49-42 and in the playoff hunt. There are 71 games in the season. That's a lot of season left. A lot can happen. Here are my Yankee “awards” for this point in the year :
MVP – Gerrit Cole. My word, where would the Yankees be without him? Not only has his record (the Yankees are 14-5 in his starts) kept the team afloat, but he seems a bit more settled in his role of staff ace and leader on a team that needs leaders. He understands what is needed of him right now, and embraces the challenge.
LVP – Giancarlo Stanton. Nobody projects MVP performance from him anymore, but expecting 30 HR and .500 slugging is not unrealistic of a player of his pedigree and relatively young age. Credit to Stanton for putting in the work and being accountable, but below average OPS+ at the break is unacceptable. We know how streaky Stanton can be, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he snapped off 10-12 home runs in a month after the break. For now, he wears the LVP crown. Biggest Surprise – We’ve seen the Yankees put together good bullpens year after year, but I have to admit not expecting one this good. Not only is the team getting fine efforts from the expected sources King, Holmes, Kahnle, and Peralta, but Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone are once again getting contributions from surprise sources like Ian Hamilton, Nick Ramirez, and Ryan Weber. A quick indication of the bullpen’s value to the team would be to look at baseball-reference’s “Top 12 Players” as ranked by WAR – five of them are relievers! Biggest Disappointment – DJ LeMahieu. He has seemingly been healthy, but batting a dreadful .220. I’ve long said that aside from Aaron Judge, DJL makes the offense go, or in this case not go. Looking at it another way - for his first four seasons in Pinstripes, he averaged over four WAR/162. This season, he has negative WAR. Luis Severino is a close second – the question about Sevvy has always been if he could stay healthy, not if he would pitch well. Well, he’s been healthy, and pretty bad of late.
Newcomer of the Half Year – Anthony Volpe. He has definitely had an eventful first half of his debut season, but is on pace for about three and a half WAR, which would be the best sustained Yankee shortstop play since Didi Gregorius in 2018. Volpe has showed a tantalizing speed and power combination, ranking among American League leaders in the baseball-reference Power-Speed Number. It’s been a bit of an adventure, with a solid start followed by a cratering and then recovery, but most knowledgeable folks weren’t expecting easy success for the rookie with limited experience in AAA . The Yankees have held firm in their confidence in Volpe even in his struggles, and it seems to be paying off thus far. I see no reason why he won’t continue to develop into an impact player for a long time. Moment of the First Half – Has to be the Domingo German perfect game. This is a perfect game, one of four in team history, one of 24 all-time. The first in ten years. Amazing. Most Frustrating – The realization that Aaron Judge’s freak injury is robbing him, his team, and the fans of another special season. What would the buzz have been like if both Judge and Shohei Ohtani came into the All-Star break with about 30 home runs apiece? Will we someday look back and note that Judge losing a season in his prime cost him Cooperstown enshrinement? Most Depressing – Isiah Kiner-Falefa has turned into mop-up extraordinaire, with a 2.25 ERA and 203 ERA+(!) over four outings. It was fun at first, but I’ve had enough. Best Second Half Tease – Carlos Rodon finally made his eagerly anticipated Yankee debut last week and looked pretty good. Rodon seems to have a bulldog mentality and clearly wants to be part of Yankee culture and expectations. I’m allowing myself to dream just a bit about the effect of him and Cole at the top of the rotation.
Looking ahead I, like many Yankee fans, have questions for the second half: Will Donaldson be cut? Sometimes a team just must let someone loose. The Yanks’ brain trust has been patient with veteran players – some out of choice, some because there is no other option. Cutting Aaron Hicks showed the team is willing to drop players not producing and eat salary. Josh Donaldson of course is who the fan base is begging to be released (as an aside, he has just a bizarre slash line since his return from the IL in June - .150/.231/.500 with nine HR in 91 plate appearances. Apply this to a full season – say his 546 plate appearances of 2022 - and we get 54 home runs!). Donaldson's power combined with his continued solid defense is why if the sun, moon, planets, and stars align just right, I still think someone could take him off the Yankees’ hands. What a bizarre Strat-O-Matic card he could have next year!
Make a deal? We know of last year’s trade deadline disaster, but the Yanks have had success in making incremental deadline deals. Anthony Rizzo, Clay Holmes, JA Happ, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Luke Voit and Todd Frazier all joined the team after the all-star break in recent years and provided value down the stretch. The Yankee farm system is a bit low at the moment in major-league ready players, but there’s enough talent at the lower levels that can be expended to add some help if desired. The big question is how will the team hold up through July? Will they buy or sell? I see this season looking a lot like 2016, when they waited until late in the month to make the buy/sell decision. On the day Aroldis Chapman was dealt to the Cubs, the Yanks were 4.5 games out of a playoff spot. Would Hal Steinbrenner authorize another sell off seven years after doing it before? Personally, I’m hard pressed to take the foot off the gas while the team is in close postseason contention. I live in a market dominated by passionate Phillies, Orioles and Pirates fans, all of whom have seen some lean times over the past decade. These teams’ experiences also show that a selloff and rebuild isn’t always the straight line many think it will be. We fans were a bit spoiled by the brief Yankee “reload” that consisted of the last two months of 2016, and the first half of 2017. I brace at the thought of fan reactions if the Yanks had a slow rebuild that resembled the Phils’ from 2015-2022. I don’t take playoff spots for granted. Even in this expanded playoff environment. I hope they go for it.
Go with the kids? I think it is realistic that there are some players in Scranton-Wilkes Barre who could be helpful. With Volpe seemingly entrenched at shortstop, Oswald Peraza would need to look elsewhere for playing time, and his fielding skill and strong arm would seem to indicate he could be successful at third base or second. Gleyber Torres was primarily a shortstop in the minors with comparable experience at other positions, and moved seamlessly to another position (in this case second base) at the MLB level. I think Peraza could do the same. Ben Rortvedt has had success in AAA, and doing it while batting from the left side. Could one of the Yanks’ catchers be dealt and Rortvedt be promoted? The nuclear option? Any Yankee fan born in the 1950s and 1960s knows what I’m talking about. In July 1978, the Yankees were trudging along, buried in the standings far behind the Red Sox when manager Billy Martin “resigned”. George Steinbrenner replaced the volatile Martin with the easygoing and subdued Bob Lemon, who presided over a turnaround of historic proportions, and guided them to the World Series championship. Seemingly inspired, Steinbrenner went to this move many times in the late 1970s and 1980s, but without the success of 1978.
The Steinbrenner in charge now does not seem wired this way, and I think things would have to deteriorate very badly before this move would be considered. The Yanks are bound to paying Boone through 2024, which I think is also a factor. Personally, while I get calling for the manager’s head, I have my doubts that another manager would be getting much more out of this team this year. If someone can suggest a new manger who can get this team to hit and stay healthy, I’m all ears! Next Up: All-Star break! I still get pretty fired up over the All-Star game, and root for the American League. The Yankees season resumes July 14th in Colorado against the Rockies. Starting pitchers have not been announced yet, but I would be very tempted to start the half with German, Schmidt and maybe call up someone like Brito or Vasquez rather than subject Cole and Rodon to the mess that’s Coors Field.