Great Weekend, Rough Finish: Thoughts on Yankees-Red Sox
The Yankees had a chance to embarrass the Red Sox this weekend in the Bronx. The Bombers are one of the hottest teams in baseball, winning eight consecutive series and winning 20 games in May for the first time since 1998 (which is a pretty notable year in New York). Meanwhile, Boston just lost two out of three at home to the mediocre Indians. A Bombers sweep would be a major statement for the coming months.
While they failed to dominate like they could have, the Yankees still had a solid weekend in the Bronx against their rivals the Red Sox. They have now won nine series in a row and have gone 4-1 against Boston. Boston was able to take the final game of the series 8-5 behind a stellar David Price (yes, David Price) and timely hitting. Despite the high final score, this series was defined by strong performances on the mound that should set the table for an exciting finish to the season.
For the Yankees, it was fantastic work from the bullpen in the first two games of the series. Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Holder, Adam Ottavino, and Chad Green combined to throw 9.1 scoreless innings against Boston, racking up 10 strikeouts while only allowing eight baserunners (three walks and five hits).
Even after a lackluster performance in game three (5 runs in 3 innings), the bullpen was stellar in this series. The unit picked up the slack from two so-so starts from JA Happ and Domingo German and an offense that failed to pull away against Boston pitching. Brian Cashman and company built this bullpen to shut down opponents in the later innings. So far, the bullpen has fit the bill.
On the other side, the Red Sox were able to prevent a sweep thanks to an unlikely hero: David Price. Now, Price has been great this season for Boston, posting his best ERA (2.83), strikeouts per nine rate (10.0), and strikeouts per walk rate (4.83) since joining the Red Sox. However, no matter the occasion, Price has struggled mightily against the Yankees, with a 7.71 ERA against the Bombers overall and an alarming 9.79 mark at Yankees Stadium. This is what makes his recent start so startling, as he allowed only 2 runs in 6.1 innings with 6 strikeouts.
The difference in tonight’s performance was location. Price’s cutter and changeup were on point all night, nailing the outside and inside corners across the board. He stayed away from the middle of the plate and kept forcing the Bombers into weak contact and shallow flyballs. This strong location also allowed Price to work quickly throughout the game, retiring the Yankees in order four out of his six completed innings (and only allowing one baserunner in another). Even the home run he allowed to Luke Voit was a pitch inside, off the plate that the Bomber’s first baseman put a good swing on.
The key moments for Price came in the fourth inning. After loading the bases one out and seeing his lead shrink from three runs to one, Price looked like he was going to tap out again. However, he forced Gio Urshela to hit a sacrifice fly to center after a long at-bat. With Clint Frazier up and two outs, Price got some luck when Gleyber Torres tried to get caught in a rundown and allow Aaron Hicks to steal home. The Red Sox were not fooled by the play, and Hicks was tagged out to end the threat.
While he did get a major stroke of luck, Price still had a superb, and possible season changing, outing. He was able to put his horrific struggles against New York behind him and threw like he did against the Bombers like he did as a Ray and Blue Jay. A strong David Price is bad news for the Yankees down the stretch.
Here are a few other quick notes about this series:
FRAZIER NEEDS TO WORK ON HIS DEFENSE:
While Luis Cessa was charged with 5 runs in his one-plus inning of work, he received no help from Clint Frazier in right field. First, he allowed a routine single by Eduardo Nunez to get by him and roll to the wall. Not only did this allow Michael Chavis to score from first, it also allowed Nunez to go to third and bring the infield in for Brock Holt. Right on cue, Holt hit a soft liner that would have been an out had the infield been at normal depth, but it turned into an RBI single with the infield in.
With two outs, Frazier attempted to dive at a looping line drive off the bat of Andrew Benintendi. The ball fell on outfield grass and trickled away from Frazier, allowing the hustling Holt to score from first.
The struggles carried over into the eighth inning. With one out and a runner on second, Chavis hit a blooper down the right field line. Frazier had little chance to make the catch and save the run, but he misplayed the ball and allowed it to bounce over him and go down the line. This turned a single into a triple and complete the trifecta of difficult plays for Frazier.
Frazier has worked incredibly hard to come back from his brutal concussion last season. He has been working hard all year to get back to playing shape and that effort shows. His improvements have been noticeable and, at points, he has been the electric talent New York has needed. However, his defense is making him into a replacement level player. From his misplays against Kansas City to this, Frazier has had difficulties on in-between balls all season and such has cost the Yankees on countless occasions. Frazier is still a big talent, but he has to work on his decisiveness in the outfield.
STARTERS HELD UP WELL – AND THEY MAY BE GETTING SOME HELP?
Overall, the Yankees’ starters were decent. Happ, German, and CC Sabathia (in his return from the IL) were not overpowering but were mostly able to get the job done. Even at their worst, all three pitchers were able to keep their teams in the game.
Happ started the series with a solid 5 inning performance. He did labor at times but held Boston to only one run while striking out 5 Red Sox. This was not his sharpest start (he only threw 47 out of his 84 pitches for strikes), but made his pitches and gave a lead to his bullpen in the sixth inning.
German’s recent struggles from KC carried over into his next start, struggling to put away Boston hitters despite 8 strikeouts in 3.2 innings. While he did get a good deal of Ks, German also allowed six hits and walked two batters while throwing 87 pitches. Two weak starts are not enough of a sample size to call a sign of fatigue, but German has not had the crispness that he had over his first several starts.
Sabathia had a solid showing in his return from the IL, working efficiently and even getting 8 strikeouts in 6 innings of work. That being said, Sabathia’s homer problem returned with him from the IL. Coming into this start, Sabathia had allowed 2.4 home runs per nine innings, a ridiculously high rate even in this era of home runs. That rate is going up after allowing two home runs to sluggers JD Martinez and Xander Bogaerts. He’s mostly allowing solo home runs, but Sabathia needs to keep the ball in the park, especially with his relatively high walk rate (3.7 BB/9 coming into this start) and so-so strikeout rate (7.4 K/9 coming into this start).
However, the biggest news for the rotation could be coming sometime soon. Free agent starter Dallas Keuchel’s draft pick compensation (and slot money) have been lifted as of this morning. Seen as the favorites to sign the former Cy Young Award winner, the Yankees could be getting a much-needed boost to their rotation in the coming hours.
After a day off, the Yankees will travel to Toronto to face the struggling Blue Jays – and phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – for the first time this season. With Toronto clearly rebuilding this season, look for the Yankees and their bullpen to continue their recent dominance north of the border.