When two members of the Mets organization tested positive for COVID-19 on August 27th while in Miami, they postponed their final game against the Marlins, and that weekend’s upcoming Subway Series. Though the two New York clubs made-up two of their three cancelled meetings by playing five games in three days at Citi Field, between August 28th and 30th, they’ve still got one more game to play.
Thursday: J.A. Happ vs. Robert Gsellman
Just a week ago, J.A. Happ’s growing frustration with the organization spilled over into the public eye. A distraught Happ implied that the Yankees were limiting his appearances to avoid a $17.5 million vesting option for next season, that would only automatically kick in if Happ reached 10 starts. The club denied any bad faith, claiming they simply preferred Jordan Montgomery as the third starter in their depleted rotation. Through three starts, such a claim wasn’t unreasonable; Happ had posted a 6.39 ERA over just 12.2 innings of work. Taking matters into his own hands, Happ’s last start was his strongest of the season, and perhaps the best of any Yankee pitcher so far. Happ threw 7.1 shutout innings, along with five strikeouts on just 90 pitches.
As is often true with pitchers without the velocity and/or movement to strike batters out consistently, Happ’s success is dependent upon a combination of craft and luck. Though even at his best, a perfect swing will always beat Happ’s less-than-dominant stuff, he can be successful keeping hitters off-balance by hitting his spots and changing speeds. In what may have been the most important at-bat of his last outing, Happ got the Mets’ hottest hitter, the Yankee-turned-Yankee-killer, Robinson Canó, to ground into double play on a front-door slider.
Happ owned the lefty-lefty matchup throughout the day, inducing the scalding hot Canó into three groundouts. Of the 12 pitches Robbie saw, 11 of them were sliders, and 9 of them were strikes. Happ’s ability to throw his breaking pitches for strikes in all counts is essential to his success. Canó hasn’t punished lefties (.925 OPS) the way he has righties (1.168 OPS), but his .613 slugging against lefties is nothing to sneeze at, especially with a runner on, in a one-run game. It’s anybody’s guess as to which version of Happ shows up on the bump, but if he can paint as precisely as he did in his last start, it’s hard to imagine he gets hit hard enough to earn an early hook.
Like on the 29th, Happ is again matched up against the Mets’s Robert Gsellman. Gsellman too, had his best start of the season. He exceeded two innings for the first time all year, getting through four while allowing just a single run. However, the hobbled Yankees were at least as responsible for their ineptitude at the plate as was Gsellman. Despite his bloated 5.19 ERA and 1.62 WHIP, Gsellman’s advanced stats paint the picture of a better, but still struggling pitcher. His primary pitch, the sinker, has less movement on both horizontal and vertical planes, and is being hit harder than ever before. Still, all of Gsellman’s counting stats dwarf his expected statistics. Moving forward, Gsellman’s probably not quite as bad as he’s pitched, but he’s not a whole lot better either.
With Gio Urshela now at the hot corner, and Zach Britton back in the pen, the Yankees can present a slightly stronger lineup than the last time Happ squared up against Gsellman. However, they lost their winning pitcher from that game, Aroldis Chapman, to a headhunting suspension, and they’re still without three of their five best hitters. Coming off of a series loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, they need to take care of business against a lesser Mets team—just like they did the last time around.