One of the things I don’t think gets talked about enough in baseball is outfield defense, especially with respect to the rise in home runs. Ballplayers are stronger and faster than ever, and combining that with better defensive metrics means players are positioned more optimally and running down more fly balls than ever. The response of batters has been to try and hit more balls over the fence.
I bring this up because spectacular outfield defense has been on display for the last week, with countless Yankee hits - and Aaron Judge home runs - being taken away by web gems. At least three balls SHOULD have gotten down in the outfield tonight, including what might have been a Didi Gregorius triple, but the balls found leather instead.
Brett Gardner got the Yankees on the board in the fifth, hitting the ball into the tenth row in right-centre field, recognizing that no outfielder can catch a ball if you hit it over the wall. Other than that, Felix Hernandez was really effective tonight, going seven innings while striking out nine.
But man oh man, did Luis Severino match. Coming off a terrific start facing Chris Sale and the Red Sox, Severino pitched one of the most impressive starts from a Yankee this season. He wasn’t untouchable, in fact he gave up eight hits and a walk, but never seemed out of control or composure. His escape in the fourth, where he loaded the bases before retiring Jean Segura after an agonizingly long at-bat, showed how tough Sevy was all night.
Not only was he tough, his stuff was maybe the best it’s been all season:
Luis Severino hit 101.2 mph against Jean Segura in the last inning, the fastest pitch this year from a starting pitcher.— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) July 21, 2017
Offensively, it was Gardner, Aaron Judge and Mariners misplays all night. In the eighth, a Jean Segura misplay on what should have been a double play, and a walk to Gary Sanchez gave Judge an at-bat with the bases loaded and one out. The young star promptly smacked a single for a 2-0 Yankee lead.
The ninth looked like it might be a missed opportunity, as the Yankees put two men on with two out, including Todd Frazier’s first hit with the Yankees. A ground ball to Robinson Cano looked like the inning would be over, but Cano’s throw was slightly off and first baseman Danny Valencia gave no effort to make a catch, letting the ball get past him and both runs come in to score. 4-0 Empire.
Despite the new toys in the bullpen, it was old hands to finish the game for the Yankees, with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. Neither was great, Chapman was bad, but they managed to get the six outs needed, even if Chapman gave up an RBI double to Cano with two out in the ninth.
I said in the game thread that it’s the time of year for the good teams in baseball to separate themselves from the pack. It remains to be seen if the Yankees will be able to do that, but tonight was a good start with three more games to come in Safeco Field. CC Sabathia, like Severino, will try to follow up a great start against the Sox as he takes the ball tomorrow night, with first pitch at 10:10pm EDT again.