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Yankees 1, White Sox 3: Cueto confounds, Chapman collapses

The Yankees closer cannot stop giving up runs in high-leverage spots

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Well, at least it was over in just over three hours. On an afternoon when Jameson Taillon pitched brilliantly, he was outdueled by the craft and guile of Johnny Cueto. A listless offensive performance by the Bombers’ bats, a pair of baserunning blunders, and yet another ninth-inning meltdown by Aroldis Chapman conspired to hand the Yankees a 3-1 loss.

Cueto has built much of his career success on disrupting hitters’ timing by varying his deliveries with quick pitches and hesitation. The best way to nullify that aspect of his game is to put runners on base and force him to pitch out of the stretch, which is exactly what the Yankees did from the word go. Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo reached in the first with one out but were ultimately stranded. However, they showed good patience at the plate and made plenty of solid contact — a trend which unfortunately would not continue throughout the game.

After facing the minimum through the first two innings, Taillon encountered his first spot of bother in the third. He issued a rare leadoff walk to Gavin Sheets, but did manage to retire the next two batters. This brought Yoán Moncada to the plate, causing the Yankees to shift to the right side of the infield and push Isiah Kiner-Falefa out to left as the fourth outfielder. Seeing this, Moncada bunted down the left foul line — no man’s land for the shifted defense.

By the time that Josh Donaldson had a chance to sprint over from his second base positioning to field the ball, Moncada was standing at second with the softest-hit double you are likely to see this season. Taillon was unfazed, however, striking out Leury García to strand runners on second and third.

Things wouldn’t get any easier for Taillon in the fourth. The White Sox nickel-and-dimed him with three straight one-out singles to take a 1-0 lead. The right-hander was able to push counts to two strikes without much difficulty, but couldn’t quite produce that killer putaway pitch to end ABs. With runners on the corners and still only one out, he seemed to kick it into another gear. Taillon reached back for a 97-mph heater — his fastest pitch of the year — to fan Sheets on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. He followed this up by snapping off four perfectly executed sliders to strikeout Adam Engel swinging and silence the threat with just the lone run surrendered.

Courtesy of Statcast

Outside of a brief interruption in the sixth inning when the trainers came out to check on Cueto as he dealt with some apparent cramping, the 36-year-old righty cruised through his start. The Yankees hitters just couldn’t seem to get their timing facing the gamut of Cueto’s varied windups. Of course, when you’re facing such stingy pitching, you cannot gift the opposition free outs, but that’s exactly what the Yankees did, with Kiner-Falefa getting picked off at first in the second and Hicks getting picked off at second in the seventh. The latter came after the Yankees strung together a pair of no-out hits, knocking Cueto from the game. The pickoff killed all the momentum of the mini-rally and they would fail to score in the inning, preserving Cueto’s streak of 12 consecutive scoreless innings to start his season.

As for the home team, the Yankees couldn’t have asked for much more from Taillon. This was easily his best outing of the year, totaling season-highs in strikeouts and innings. He threw 23 of 27 first pitch strikes, and displayed supreme command of the cutter and slider, consistently locating them low-gloveside. The slider in particular was the best I’ve seen it this year, displaying tremendous depth en route to racking up five whiffs on 12 swings. His final line: seven innings, five hits, one run, one walk, and seven strikeouts on 94 pitches.

On an otherwise bleak afternoon offensively, at least Judge came to the ballpark ready to play today. He singled in his first two at bats, but the real fireworks came in the eighth. He crushed an up-and-in 97 mph Kendall Graveman fastball into the second deck in left to level the game at 1-1. The 111.1-mph bomb traveled 431 feet and extended his lead atop the MLB home run leaderboard with his 15th of the year.

The Yankees threatened to grab their first lead in the game after the Judge blast, with Rizzo doubling to center and Stanton being issued an intentional walk. However, Donaldson just missed a home run to center and Hicks popped out to kill off any hopes of a comeback.

The tie would be short-lived, with manager Aaron Boone going to Chapman in the ninth. He wasted no time undoing Judge’s hard work, giving up a leadoff home run to AJ Pollock. He then issued a one-out walk to Andrew Vaughan and was visited on the mound by Boone and the trainer for an Achilles issue* before surrendering an RBI double to Engel, putting the Yankees in a 3-1 hole from which they would never recover.

*Should Chapman have even pitched after struggling already and dealing with that Achilles problem? Probably not, but oh well.

Look, I get it, with Chad Green out for the season needing Tommy John surgery, the Yankees need their remaining relievers to be firing on all cylinders. But it begs the question of whether it’s worth it to lose games trying to get Chapman right, especially with Clay Holmes’ proven success in pivotal moments this year (including save situations, and in this case, tie games in the ninth). This is now the fifth-straight outing that Chapman has given up a run in the ninth, and his sixth run surrendered in his last 3.2 innings pitched. His fastball velocity is noticeably down this year, and one has to wonder how effective he can be now that he’s no longer able to blow guys away.

Anyway, the Yankees lose this one 3-1, but there’s no time to sit around feeling sorry for themselves with first pitch of the nightcap of the doubleheader at 7:07pm ET. The Yankees can still secure their 10th consecutive series win with a victory tonight. They’ll have Luis Severino on the mound to face Michael Kopech, so we hope you’ll stick around and watch along with us in the game thread.

Box Score