Today was a gravy game. The Yankees had won the first three in the series, outdueled Shane Bieber last night, and the lineup reflected that the club felt it was important to give some of the regulars the day off. DJ LeMahieu especially needed a rest after a lackluster series, and Aaron Hicks was experiencing back soreness. In all, the combination of a weakened lineup and pitching that just couldn’t finish ended the Yankees winning streak, as they dropped Sunday’s game against Cleveland 7-3.
The matinee started pleasantly enough, with Giancarlo Stanton notching the hardest-hit ball of the year, a 120.1 mph single that kicked off a bases-loaded first inning. Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie was on the ropes but didn’t fall apart, striking out Gio Urshela to escape any damage. Although no runs came across, it looked like the Yankees might have a big day.
Jameson Taillon, meanwhile, also started off well enough with a quick, nine-pitch first inning. He then struck out the side on 14 pitches in the third.
I thought those two innings were among the very best baseball we’ve seen from Taillon — his fastball worked well in the top of the zone above hitter’s swing planes, so even if they made contact, he could engineer weak popups at sixty or eighty degrees. He had to work harder in the second, but still pitched cleanly (until all of a sudden, he didn’t).
The offense began to throw its weight around for real in the fourth inning, with Urshela and Mike Ford taking McKenzie deep in back-to-back at-bats to give New York a 3-0 lead:
The club also notched a single and walk in the frame, though a strikeout from Brett Gardner and a popup from Stanton ended what could’ve been a bigger inning. That made it all the worse once Cleveland came to bat.
In the bottom of the fourth, Taillon struggled to put bTatters away, allowing four two-strike hits. Remember how I said that he was working the fastball well above the swing plane, where you can’t really get hurt? That ended in the fourth, including an all-time bad two-strike fastball that Franmil Reyes clubbed for a three-run home run:
The fourth would be the final inning Taillon threw, with a final line of 4 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, and a 6:0 K:BB on 82 pitches. The home run was the only hard-hit ball he allowed — more on that Tuesday — but failing to finish hitters with two strikes has been a recurring issue with Taillon. The control is there, the contact is there, he just can’t yet complete a plate appearance frequently enough.
Even if you felt grumpy with the net result of Taillon’s day, the Yankees were down by one when he left. One run is doable! This team has Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge! One run is not worth waving the white flag over. And yet....Nick Nelson.
Every team has a mop-up guy, that’s fine, not every reliever can be Chad Green. The thing about the mop-up guy is, he should only be pitching after you’re down by four runs, not be the cause of you being down four runs. Nelson has not proven the ability to retire hitters in the majors, and using him to open games or in close, relatively high-leverage spots, is not helping this team win. With Deivi García in line to be called up tomorrow, Nelson seems like the favorite to be demoted.*
There wasn’t really much else to talk about after the Yankees fell behind by four. It was frustrating to see Nelson on the mound in a one-run game, but even shutout dominance from the ‘pen wouldn’t have been enough to give the Yankees the win today. Much like Cleveland on Thursday and Friday, the Yankees never scored again after jumping in front, 3-0.
On the bright side, Clint Frazier and Gary Sánchez both reached base in the later innings — Gary for the second time on the day — and Frazier made one of the best catches you’ll ever see:
Outside of that highlight, Cal Quantrill, James Karinchak, and Emmanuel Clase held the Yankees hitless across the final 3.1 innings, salvaging Cleveland’s lone win this weekend.
Today’s game kinda sucked, but the Yankees have won three of their last four, and if they keep that pace up, it won’t be long before their record is more reflective of their talent level. They can start a whole new win streak tomorrow from Baltimore, as García takes on Matt Harvey and the Orioles starting at 7:05pm Eastern.