The Weekend Takeaway
The streaky Angels came to the Bronx to face the also-streaky Yankees for the weekend. The Angels found themselves two wins above .500 entering Friday's game but had vacillated between four games under .500 to four games over throughout the season as they struggle to catch the Astros—and now the Rangers—in the American League West. Their playoff odds have vacillated as well, as they've dipped below 50 percent and ticked over 60 percent, such as last Monday, when their 66 percent mark bested the Astros' 63. By Friday, however, those odds had settled at 59 percent.
The Yankees have been streaky as well, suffering 10 losses in 11 games from May 12th to 24th before sweeping the Royals, losing three out of four to the Athletics, and sweeping the Mariners. Despite their hot-and-cold-ness, the Yankees have mostly maintained their grip on the lead of the weak American League East, save for the tail end of their mid-May swoon. Their playoff odds stood at 54 percent.
Friday's game looked to be all Yankees from the start, as they provided a steady stream of offense throughout the game. Mark Teixeira—the Yankees' best player by bWARP—saw his bizarre season continue as he hit his seventeenth home run, driving in two runs to pad his league-leading RBI total, yet saw his BABIP dip from its already minuscule .197 to .191. Stephen Drew collected his fourth and fifth hits of the month in 16 plate appearances; both were homers. Yet his BABIP for the month is .231, which is still higher than his .173 total for the season.
As he had done 1,996 times before, Alex Rodriguez added an RBI, passing Barry Bonds for sole possession of second place on the all-time list. The slugger finished May hot, batting .405/.452/.514 in 42 PAs from May 22nd until the end of the month. A-Rod tallied four hits total on Friday, his first such game since May 22, 2011.
Nathan Eovaldi battled through 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits and four walks. Chasen Shreve and Jacob Lindgren covered the next 2 2/3 innings without giving up a run, but the 8–1 lead would not be enough for Esmil Rogers. The righty, who entered the game with a 4.94 ERA and 6.20 DRA in 31 innings, promptly gave up: single, double, single, wild pitch, walk, single. Rogers has been put in lower and lower leverage situations as the season has gone on, but he has only gotten worse, and was removed without recording an out.
Once the game crossed the 1.0 leverage index threshold after the final single against Rogers, hit by Kole Calhoun, and the Yankees brought in Dellin Betances, all seemed set. Yet Betances would ratchet the index from 1.67 as high as 6.36 and, in the process, allow his first earned run of the season, bringing the Angels to within one with tying run Matt Joyce on third. Overall, Betances allowed a hit and walked two—including Chris Iannetta and his .211 TAv with the bases loaded—before striking out Carlos Perez to narrowly avoid having to play the bottom of the ninth. Betances struggled with the strike zone, throwing 18 of his 33 pitches for balls.
The Yankees came out swinging on Sunday, knocking Garrett Richards out of the game in the first inning with a six-run explosion, three of which came on a Brian McCann home run. Last week, it looked like McCann could hit the disabled list with a foot injury, but the problem was, apparently, fixed with new orthotics. McCann's OPS hit .662 after the Yankees' 8–6 loss to the Nationals on May 19th, but he's been hot ever since, batting .333/.431/.738 with five home runs in 51 PA. This doesn't seem to be a BABIP fluke, as over that span it was .310. While his line-drive rate hasn't improved that much during his hot streak—it's actually sunk by 1.5 percent—he's begun to pull the ball much more. McCann's pull rate hit a career low of 44 percent last season, but since May 22nd it's been 59 percent, substantially higher than even his best seasons in Atlanta. McCann's hard contact rate has also improved significantly.
For whatever reason, the Yankees are serial first-inning scorers, as they have scored 22 percent of their total runs in the first frame. Indeed, that is when they scored six of their runs in Saturday's 8-1 victory. They were helped along by Richards, who walked three in addition to giving up four hits in his 2/3 innings of work. Richards' fastball hung around its usual 96 mph, but his slider had about an inch less vertical and horizontal movement than it usually does and he struggled with command, throwing only 21 of his 37 pitches for strikes. He found himself all over the place with this messy zone profile:
Richards' rates are all moving in the wrong direction, but his saving grace has been his groundball rate, which has risen to 55 percent from 51 percent last season.
The Yankees attempted to finish off the sweep on Sunday against C.J. Wilson. To do so, they sent out C.C. Sabathia, who'd changed things up recently:
First Eight Starts
Last Three Starts
He hadn't had much success yet with the new approach, allowing 28 baserunners and 13 runs in 14 innings in those three games. It looked like the former Cy Young Award winner would continue to struggle after giving up back-to-back home runs to two MVPs:
Yet those would be all the runs Sabathia would allow. The big man came close to giving up a few in the third inning after a high throw by Didi Gregorius allowed Erick Aybar to reach and Chase Headley launched a ball into right field trying to turn two on a Mike Trout groundball. Headley ranks just below average in attempting to turn double plays by DPR and ranks dead last among major league third basemen with -3.0 ErrR on his league-leading—and personal career high—13 errors.
Just when it seemed Sabathia would be let down by his fielders, they picked him right back up. After inducing a fly ball to shallow center field that kept Aybar at third base, Carlos Beltran caught a fly in deep right field that looked sure to score the Angels' shortstop. Yet, Beltran's arm suddenly came alive, as he and Gregorius teamed up to nail Trout trying to reach second just before Aybar touched home, ending the inning with no runs.
The Yankees' offense boomed in the fifth on a solo home run by Chris Young and a three-run dinger by Brett Gardner. Young had been badly struggling at the plate coming into the game, reaching base only four times in his previous 43 plate appearances after a hot start.
After finishing the sixth inning, Sabathia was ejected by Dan Bellino for arguing that the home plate umpire's low strike zone had been inconsistent and favorable to the Angels. This was Sabathia's first ejection in nine years, so he got his money's worth:
Bellino did call some unusually low pitches on Sunday:
Regardless, the Yankees' bullpen easily finished off the Angels for their sixth straight win as they reached seven games over .500 for the first time since May 14th. Meanwhile, the Halos lost their fifth straight and dropped under .500, 5 1/2 games behind the Astros and two games behind the Rangers.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
The Twins may be a fluke, but the Royals sure aren't grabbing the division from them. Kansas City entered Friday having lost seven of their previous nine games, a game out of first place with their playoff odds down nearly 15 percentage points since May 24th. The Rangers, meanwhile, had been surging, lifting their own playoff odds by nearly 18 points since they began a seven-game winning streak on May 20th.
The Rangers continued to dominate on the effort of Chi Chi Gonzalez, who, in his second start, did what took Max Scherzer 179 starts to achieve: He pitched a shutout. Gonzalez, featuring a fastball nearly two mph harder than his debut against the Red Sox, struck out only two, but gave up just five baserunners. He was efficient with his pitches, needing just 116—or 13 per inning—to finish the Royals off. Obviously, he won't be able to keep holding batters to a .116 BABIP, so he'll have to begin striking out more batters to maintain his success. Still, it's pretty fun that he still hasn't given up a run.
Edinson Volquez, meanwhile, allowed six hits and three free passes in 100 pitches through only 5 1/3 innings, suggesting that low opponents' BABIP over the past two years may finally be catching up with him. The Rangers started the game off with this Delino DeShields Jr. triple that Lorenzo Cain just missed:
For this season, Cain is already at 5.6 FRAA, so if he can't make that play, few people can. DeShields later scored on a groundout by Shin-Soo Choo. Mitch Moreland hit a home run and Robinson Chirinos collected two RBIs as the Rangers took the 4–0 victory.
The Royals continued to reel on Saturday, as Yordano Ventura, widely thought of as Kansas City's best pitcher, failed to make it to the fourth inning. In the three innings he did pitch, Ventura threw a whopping 78 pitches, getting just 45 in for strikes. He allowed six hits, two walks, four runs, and struck out three. When Ventura allows a stolen base, you know it's bad: It happened Saturday for only the second time in 262 2/3 career innings. Ventura was lacking some sharpness on his changeup and sinker, as both pitches had less movement than usual.
Meanwhile, Wandy Rodriguez delivered an excellent start for the Rangers, allowing just one run in seven frames. Wily old Wandy got 11 of his 21 outs on the ground, indicative of his performance this season as he's putting up a career-high 49 percent groundball rate. He's actually thrown fewer sinkers this year, but has seen the groundball rate on the pitch nearly double, fueling his 3.25 ERA.
The Rangers scored all of their runs in the first two innings, two of which came on a Shin-Soo Choo double. The Royals scored two runs later in the game, including a solo home run by Salvador Perez, his seventh.
After six shutout innings for Jeremy Guthrie, the veteran saw some of his runs and the Royals' lead given up by Kelvin Herrera to tie Sunday's game at three in the seventh inning. After that, Wade Davis and Greg Holland shut the Rangers' offense down. The Royals' bullpen is still tops in baseball—by a lot—in ERA, but its BABIP is worryingly low, nearly 60 points lower than last season's bullpen.
Perez homered for the second day in a row in the eighth inning to give the Royals the eventual 4–3 victory. Some controversy emerged this weekend regarding Perez's bargain-basement contract.
Other Notable Moments
Baseball fans everywhere rejoiced as switch-pitcher Pat Venditte finally made his long-awaited major league debut on Friday evening:
For those of you who forget the exact language of the famous Pat Venditte rule, here it is:
"The pitcher must visually indicate to the umpire, batter and runner(s) which way he will begin pitching to the batter. Engaging the rubber with the glove on a particular hand is considered a definitive commitment to which arm he will throw with. The batter will then choose which side of the plate he will bat from."
Still, there was some confusion when Blake Swihart came to the plate:
Yasiel Puig returned from the disabled list on Saturday:
And the Red Sox scored seven runs in the eighth inning to best the A's on Sunday:
What to Watch For on Monday
Just when you want to give up on AJ Burnett’s career, he always goes to Pittsburgh and revives his career. A year after putting up a 4.59 ERA in Philadelphia, Burnett has logged the National League’s sixth-best ERA at 2.20. Burnett’s BABIP is .314, his line drive rate has virtually remained the same from last year, and FIP and DRA both like him. His success is partially due to an improved groundball rate stemming from increased use of his sinker. Tune in to see if he can keep it going against the Brewers. (7:05 PM ET)
Carlos Correa will make his major league debut. One would hope that he will be, at least, an improvement over the Marwin Gonzalez/Jonathan Villar combination the Astros have been sporting at shortstop. (8:05 PM ET)
And, of course, the draft. (7:00 PM ET)