The Yankees fell 3-2 to the Rangers on Wednesday, but it felt avoidable. The offense was yet again stagnant, but the pitching seemed good enough to overcome the lackluster bats. It didn’t quite turn out that way, though, and the reason could be less-than-obvious. On paper, the Yankees’ defense was supposed to be a plus. Just like last season. On the field, the Yankees’ defense has been anything but that. Just like last season. Yes, Chase Headley is fixed, Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius are (for the most part) doing their thing up the middle, and Mark Teixeira is still a sound defender. Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Hicks, and Brett Gardner all have top-end speed, and their arms—especially Hicks’s—aren’t too bad either. Carlos Beltran is a black hole in right field, but dealing with the glove is a necessary evil considering the value his bat brings.
Despite all these reassurances, the defense has seemed like a let down. It’s not back breaking errors, nor consistent mental lapses on routine plays, but something just hasn’t been right. Take two of the three runs the Rangers scored on Monday, for example. The first run came on two singles that somehow led to second and third (thanks to a poor decision by Ellsbury) and a strange double play in which CC Sabathia failed to hold the runner on third, allowing him to score. The third run came from a walk and what should have been a single or a double, but instead turned into an RBI triple when Beltran failed to cut the line drive off. Neither of these plays are blatant acts of defensive breakdown, yet they could have, and should have, been avoided.
A victim of the defensive disappointments was CC Sabathia, who threw fairly well but ceded three runs over the course of his outing. Sabathia hit his stride with two perfect innings in the fourth and fifth, and he didn’t exactly labor in his other innings. Quite a few of the hits that fell weren’t hit hard, and CC was efficient on his 90 pitches over six innings. Sabathia made it through five innings for the first time in three starts, and brought his ERA down to 5.06 in the process. He’s been far from a good pitcher, but Sabathia has given the Yankees a chance to win in all his starts—something the Yankees have to be thrilled with.
THE PLAY: Elvis Andrus hits an RBI triple (.190 WPA)
This is the play I referred to earlier, when Beltran failed to cut off an Andrus line drive that gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead they would not surrender. It wasn’t exactly a misplay by Beltran…the veteran just didn’t have enough speed to reach the ball in time. It was a frustrating play to watch unfold, as off the bat this didn’t seem like a hit that would allow the runner to score from first base.
Yankees: Alex Rodriguez (3-3, HR, R, RBI, BB)
Rangers: Elvis Andrus (1-3, 3B, RBI)
Alex Rodriguez started Spring Training with a bang on a home run, but failed to hit an extra base hit the rest of March. He started the regular season in a similar fashion, but could finally be warming up. It’s too soon to say Rodriguez is “back,” but his solo home run (his third of 2016 and 690th career shot) was great to see, even if it didn’t end up changing the outcome of the game.
The Yankees will have Thursday off before heading to Boston for their first bout of 2016 with the Red Sox. Masahiro Tanaka, who has a 2.92 ERA this season, will start against Henry Owens. Owens’ lone start was on April 24th, and he went just 3.1 innings while allowing three runs. Owens is a left handed pitcher, and the Yankees have an 84 wRC+ against southpaws (compared to a 99 wRC+ against righties) in 2016.
Lead photo: Kevin Jairaj / USATSI