When it comes to the Dog Days of August, the Yankees are in the throes of them.
Don't let Friday's did-you-see-that comeback against the Red Sox fool you. What has been a fascinating transition season engineered by GM Brian Cashman is clearly in danger of slipping away thanks to a quiet offense and injuries on the mound.
Slugger Aaron Judge entered the weekend having struck out in 28 straight games, four off the all-time record set by Adam Dunn. He's batting .169 with 41 strikeouts in 89 at-bats since winning the Home Run Derby. Hmmmm. You want slashlines? Prior to going to Miami, Judge was at .329/.691/1.139. Since then, it's .169/.348/.690. Yikes.
Former Yankee and current FOX analyst Alex Rodriguez had some interesting thoughts on Judge last week while at Citi Field.
"The league has adjusted to him a little bit. He has to gather himself and he'll come back and have a very solid August and September," A-Rod said. "It will take time. It's more what the league is doing to him. I think he's recognizing what's happened. He's a very smart guy, great work ethic, and then he'll adjust to the league. If he went off and continued that trajectory, I would have said there's something wrong with that."
Judge is dealing with more off-speed pitchers, especially sliders away. And teams are attacking him with more high fastballs as well. Why didn't this happen sooner?
"It's simply guys go to the break, there's four days, you have every American League coach getting into a cave and studying every at-bat of Aaron Judge," said Rodriguez. "They didn't have that before. You'd have to go back to Triple-A and Double-A at-bats of Aaron Judge. You give a lot of smart pitching coaches that much data, they're gonna adjust. Now it's up to Aaron Judge to make an adjustment."
Clint Frazier was in a brutal slump and was likely headed back to Scranton to make way for the return of Aaron Hicks when he pulled an oblique in batting practice on Wednesday in Toronto. Now Frazier is on the DL and not expected to even swing a bat for a couple of weeks.
Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia were both medicore during the Yankees' trip to Toronto and it's clear neither are healthy. Sabathia's balky knee landed him on the disabled list and Tanaka's shoulder is barking after he walked a career-high five on Wednesday, so he went on the DL Saturday.
The Yankees entered Saturday with a three-game lead in the wild-card race. They might still sneak in because none of the teams chasing them are world-beaters either. But getting past the wild-card game and potentially beating the Astros in a division series? Not likely.
More August thoughts
The Astros don't have enough pitching to last through the postseason. There's a reason ace Dallas Keuchel was upset that GM Jeff Luhnow didn't add to the rotation at the trade deadline. Yu Darvish, Sonny Gray and Jose Quintana all moved but the Astros stood pat. And Keuchel has a 10.50 ERA in three starts since coming off the disabled list. Justin Verlander has cleared waivers but will the Tigers really move him? And will the Astros part with prospects for him?
The Astros entered the weekend on a four-game losing streak an 4-11 in their last 15. Since the All-Star break, they're just 11-14 and their team ERA of 5.35 is 28th in baseball.
The Indians are the AL favorite. The acquisition of Jay Bruce from the Mets instantly gave the Tribe a new team leader in home runs (29) and RBIs (75). And it was a huge boost for a sagging lineup that took another blow when Michael Brantley went back on the DL. Good on ownership for taking on Bruce's remaining $5 million. If the Tribe doesn't do that kind of deal now, when would they ever do it? The rotation, led by ace Corey Kluber, is better than Houston's and so is their bullpen when Andrew Miller comes off the DL. And the Red Sox can't pitch Chris Sale every night.
Hawk blasts Wrigley. Longtime White Sox television announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson is retiring after doing a 20-game schedule of games next season and turning the gig over to former Syracuse announcer Jason Bennetti on a full-time basis. One place Harrelson won't work in 2018 is across town. The Hawk was no dove when talking about the recent series at Wrigley Field, which is in the midst of full-scale renovations that have yet to hit the press facilities.
"I'll tell you this much, I'll never go back to Wrigley Field again," Harrelson said. "Worst press box, worst booths for television. It's a joke. It really is. So Jason is getting ready for those at Wrigley. I will never step foot in that ballpark again. Ever."
Maddon has words for the North Side too. Cubs manager Joe Maddon raised eyebrows recently by pointing out he feels his team needs more night games. The Cubs are allowed 43 night games, just two on Saturdays, and want to get to the league average of 54. But parking and congestion in the neighborhood is always an issue.
"This constantly having to get up and rush to the ballpark and not having a normal method during the course of the day, it does matter, because when you're on the road it's entirely different," Maddon said.
As for visiting teams the Cubs skipper said, "They're only here for a couple of days. They get through it and after a few days they move back to a normal schedule. I think 107 years indicates it wasn't such a good idea."
Maddon said Friday day games are particularly troublesome to him.
"We just play way too many day games during the week. We just do," he said. "I'm just being honest. Guys need their rest. When you are constantly going night, day, or day, day, day, and it's hot during the summertime, it matters. It definitely matters.
"It would be wonderful if we could get to a more conventional method regarding the number of night games vs. day games. If not, we'll just have to deal with it. We did OK last year. You're able to just come to the ballpark a little bit later, get your proper rest, and then just be a human being, get your laundry done, go shopping, get a haircut, all those things."
The Bisons have their own food specialty event going with the WCC race that will feature Celery's last run on Aug. 30. But something tells me next they're going to rebrand themselves as the "Buffalo Wings" for at least a night next season. That's because food rebranding in Rochester and Syracuse was such a smash hit the last couple weeks that it's hard to imagine the Herd standing on the sidelines.
At Rochester's Frontier Field, the Red Wings rebranded themselves the "Rochester Plates" for Thursday's 6-4, 12-inning loss to Norfolk -- and drew a crowd of 13,281, third-largest in the park's 20-year history. The response to the city's tradition of the "Garbage Plate", in sales of tickets, food and merchandise, was so huge that the team announced Friday it will be the Plates for all Thursday home games in 2018.
— Rochester Red Wings (@RocRedWings) August 10, 2017
Meanwhile, the Syracuse Chiefs became the "Syracuse Salt Potatoes" for a game last week in NBT Bank Stadium and nearly tripled their per-game attendance average when 8,345 fans showed up. The team said it sold 900 pounds of salt potatoes-related food and did as much merchandise sales as it did for all 15 home games in May.
Yes, this is real.
— NBCSN (@NBCSN) June 27, 2017
Guthrie recalls Herd struggles
Longtime former big-league pitcher Jeremy Guthrie announced his retirement last week with a first-person story on the Players' Tribune and noted how it was the second time he had pondered leaving the game.
The first time? When he was a brutally struggling 26-year-old for the Bisons in 2005.
Guthrie, remember, was Cleveland's No. 1 pick out of Stanford in 2002. He labored in 18 starts for the Bisons in 2003 (4-9, 6.52) and made just four for the Herd in 2004, as he spent most of his time at Double-A Akron. In '05, Guthrie led another Buffalo division champion with 12 wins but had a 5.08 ERA and got in just one game for the Indians. He started that season 1-4, 9.31 in his first five starts and apparently reached a crossroads in his career in the spring of '05 in the Bisons' clubhouse.
"One night, after another miserable start, a teammate of mine — a close friend who shall remain nameless — sat me down and just put it out there," Guthrie wrote. " 'Hey, man,' he said, looking me in the eye, 'I hate to say it, but maybe it’s time for you to take it to the house. This just isn’t for you anymore.'
"I didn’t really know what to say, so I just kind of looked at him. He continued. 'Maybe you should just retire and pursue something else instead of putting yourself through this any longer.' "
Guthrie got better as that season went on and went 9-5, 3.14 for the Bisons in 2006. He became a full-time starter for Baltimore in 2007, in part from a recommendation from then-Orioles scout and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Hollins.
Guthrie went on to make 273 starts in the big leagues, with his best years coming when he was 41-34 for Kansas City from 2012-2015. Guthrie was the starter and loser in Game Seven of the 2014 World Series against San Francisco and earned a ring with the Royals in 2015.
His career ended this season pitching for Washington April 8 in Philadelphia. He gave up 10 runs in two-thirds of an inning on six hits and four walks and was designated for assignment the next day. Guthrie declined the trip to Syracuse and didn't sign with any other organization.
Blackouts continue to annoy
Baseball remains the No Fun League when it comes to its absurd blackout rules. We reached another low this weekend. The Blue Jays are not blacked out on Extra Innings or MLB.TV because they're in Canada, even though they're the closest team to Buffalo and ostensibly you could simply get in your car on a whim and quickly go to a game (provided the QEW and Gardiner Expressway doesn't drive you batty, but that's another whole story).
But the series this week in Rogers Centre against the Pirates is blacked out because Buffalo is comically in Pittsburgh's blackout zones because an upper tier of DirecTV carries the Pirates games. (Saturday's game was shown here on MLB Network but blacked out online).
Baseball continues to cater to its regional sports networks with antiquated blackout policies. At a time when iPhones and iPads are the way millenials consume content, there should be no blackouts of any games.