From 2014 to 2016, the Yankees were merely a decent team. Masahiro Tanaka, on the other hand, was much more than decent. Tanaka was the team’s best pitcher during those years, culminating with last season, when he received down-ballot Cy Young votes. If you told the Yankees at any point during the past few years that Tanaka would not be the player they wanted on the mound in 2017 to stop the bleeding on a losing streak, they’d have been incredulous.
Yet here we are. The Yankees dropped their fifth game in a row and are in danger of losing their lead in the AL East. Tanaka was knocked around again, and the Yankees couldn’t get the big hit they needed to chase Athletics’ starter Jesse Hahn.
Tanaka’s struggles this year have boiled down to the long ball, and just like his last start, he yielded one quickly. Matt Joyce took Tanaka’s first pitch of the game over the right field fence, giving the A’s a 1-0 lead. Tanaka did bounce back to strike out the side.
The Yankees failed to capitalize in the first, when Hahn walked a pair with one out. With one out in the second, Ronald Torreyes and Mason Williams produced back-to-back singles to put two on again. This time, Austin Romine delivered an RBI-single, and a sac fly by Brett Gardner gave New York a 2-1 lead.
The lead would not last long. Ryon Healy blasted a solo shot to left to level the score in the second. Tanaka seemed to settle down a bit until the fourth, when he gave up yet another solo bomb to Healy. After allowing 22 homers throughout the entire 2016 season, this was Tanaka’s 21st home run allowed in 2017:
The A’s didn’t stop there, using singles from Matt Chapman, Joyce, Adam Rosales, and Jed Lowrie to cobble together two more runs and extend the lead to 5-2.
Tanaka’s day ended after just four innings. He did total 10 strikeouts, the second time this season he’s struck out double-digit Athletics, and he posted an impressive 22% swinging strike rate on the day. The home runs, as always, were just killer. Not all of the contact Tanaka allows is hard, but when he does allow hard contact, it goes a long way. A pitcher simply can’t give up multiple homers every night and remain effective.
The Yankees had Hahn on the ropes a couple times early, working deep counts and making Hahn use a lot of pitches, but could never really break through. They managed only three hits against him, as he struck out six and walked three in five innings.
Domingo German came on in relief and had an eventful outing. He loaded the bases with two out in the sixth, and loaded the bases with one out in the seventh, but got the requisite strikeout and double play he needed to escape each respective jam. German struck out six across four much-needed scoreless innings, providing at least some relief to a taxed bullpen that could use a breather.
The A’s used Liam Hendriks, Josh Smith, Ryan Madson, and Sean Doolittle an inning each to piece together the final outs. The Yankees never really threatened, logging just two hits against the bullpen, bringing their total on the day to five.
The 5-2 loss drops the Yankees to 38-28 and leaves them vulnerable to the Red Sox, who are now just a half-game back. With key players like Aaron Hicks and Gary Sanchez not starting the game, it wasn’t entirely surprising to see the lineup struggle to produce, but it would have been heartening to see Tanaka step up and play stopper. He did not, and the Yankees will be left to attempt to end their losing streak tomorrow. It looks as though the Yankees will try a tandem/bullpen game, while Oakland will send out Jharrel Cotton in the series finale.