Tagged: Brian Cashman

The Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman to a five-year and $86 million contract, which is the highest ever for a reliever

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Aroldis Chapman – USA Today

Late on Wednesday, it was reported by Ken Rosenthal that the Yankees had signed the free agent elite closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. He has an opt out after the third year, a full not trade clause in the first three years and for some reason has a partial no trade clause in the last two years to all of the California teams.

Every since the Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs before the trade deadline for top shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres and three other prospects the Brian Cashman had been interested in signing him again. When Chapman played for the Yankees in the first half of the season after his 30-game suspension for domestic abuse the previous October, he proved that he could excel playing in New York as he had a 2.01 ERA in 31 games (31.1 innings) with 20 saves, 44 strikeouts, 20 hits allowed, only eight walks and an excellent 0.894 WHIP.

Including his time pitching with the Yankees and Cubs last season, Chapman had a great 1.55 ERA (1.42 WHIP), with 40.5 percent strikeouts and 8.1 percent walks in 58 innings pitched. According to River Ave Blues, he walked 11.7 percent of batters faced from the 2013 through the 2015 seasons, which means that based on his 8.1 percent walk rate last season his control is getting better and this trend could be here to stay.

The Cuban Missile has been an All-Star in four out of his six full seasons and his stats in his seven seasons overall are a 2.08 ERA in 383 games (377 innings) with 182 saves, 1.88 FIP, 19 homers allowed, 636 strikeouts, 201 hits allowed and a very good 0.92 WHIP. In 2012, when he was an All-Star and finished eighth in Cy Young voting, he had an outstanding 1.51 ERA in 68 games (71.2 innings) with 122 strikeouts, 23 walks allowed, a 1.55 FIP and a 0.809 WHIP, which is the lowest of his career.

Chapman’s five-year contract is the first five-year contract for a reliever since the Blue Jays gave B.J. Ryan a five-year deal that they regretted in 2005. Chapman, who has a fastball that can go up to 105 mph and a very good slider, is a much better pitcher than Ryan but the signing could be a little risky because Chapman would break down three or four years from now since he throws faster than everyone else. He is the only pitcher who can throw 105 mph in all of Major League Baseball.

He does have character issues as the Yankees were able to acquire him for much lower rated prospects based on his domestic abuse where he choked his girlfriend in a domestic incident. Also, in 2012, Chapman was arrested after being clocked going 93 mph on a suspended license. Hopefully he will not have another incident similar to his previous ones. The domestic violence incident is not defensible, but he has served his punishment and if the Yankees didn’t sign him another team would have.

Chapman was the best reliever available this offseason and Brian Cashman was intent on upgrading the bullpen. The bullpen that the Yankees have now, if their current pitchers perform like they did last year, is likely better overall than it was in the first half of last season when they had Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances and Chapman pitching the last three innings Now, in addition to Chapman and Betances, they also have Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren as proven commodities.

They also have a situational lefty, Tommy Layne, who is 32 and had a solid 3.38 ERA in 29 games (16 innings) after coming over from the Red Sox. Young relief pitchers who have come up through the system and spent some time in the majors last season who could be in the bullpen on Opening Day include Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, Ben Heller, Chasen Shreve and Jonathan Holder.

Signing Chapman and not Kenley Jansen, who could have made sense because his stats are not that much different and Jansen will likely break down later than Chapman, meant that the Yankees will not lose a first round draft pick like they would have if they signed Jansen. The team is now trying to develop as many high draft picks as possible.

The signing of the 6’4″ Cuban lefty who will be 29 in February means that Dellin Betances will go back to pitching in the eighth inning. It is possible that Betances could be an effective closer but he has been one of the best set up men in the American League the last three seasons as he was an All-Star in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Having Chapman in the 9th inning means that Joe Girardi will be able to put Betances, who throws a high 90s fastball and a knuckle curve, into the game in the 7th or 8th inning depending on matchups and who else is available. In the 2014 season, when Betances was a set up man the whole season and a rookie, he had a 1.40 ERA in 70 games (90 innings) with a career-high 135 strikeouts, a career-low 24 walks, a 1.64 FIP and an outstanding 0.778 WHIP.

This past season, after Andrew Miller & Chapman had been traded, the 28-year-old struggled as the closer. He had an excellent 2.05 ERA on September 5 but at the end of the season his ERA climbed all the way up to 3.08. He allowed 10 runs in his final nine games, which means he might be better suited for the 7th and 8th innings right now. He also would make a lot of sense to replace Chapman if he opts out of his contract in three years.

 

The Yankees received two promising prospects from the Astros for Brian McCann

 

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Albert Abreu via MiLB

On Thursday, the Yankees traded veteran catcher Brian McCann to the Houston Astros for right-handed pitching prospects Albert Abreu, 21, and Jorge Guzman, 20. The opening day roster will look much different and younger than it did last July as the Yankees now not have veterans Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and McCann. (The Yankees have interest in reacquiring Beltran to be their designated hitter.)

The Yankees traded McCann because Gary Sanchez will now be the starting catcher next season as a result of  his historic beginning of his career when he hit 20 homers in the last two months of the season and play very good defense. That would have left McCann as the DH, which could have worked, but the Yankees will now likely be able to have a DH with a higher average with possibly as many homers as McCann would have had. The defensive shifts have really lowered his average because he basically always pulls the ball to the left side.

Abreu is the more well known prospect who could be in the Bronx sooner than Guzman. Before the trade, Abreu was the Astros’ No. 7 ranked prospect after spending 2015 at Single-A Quad Cities and High-A Lancaster. The 6-2, 175 pound right hander pitched in 24 games last season and made 16 starts, but 21 of those games and 14 of the starts were with Quad Cities.

He had a 3.72 ERA overall with 115 strikeouts and 58 walks with a 1.298 WHIP but his two starts and one relief appearance at the end of the season with High-A brought up his ERA and WHIP. In 90 innings with Quad Cities, he pitched out of the bullpen and as a starter. He had two wins, four saves, a 3.50 ERA, a solid 1.233 WHIP, 104 strikeouts and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

Abreu’s ERA was a little high for a top prospect like him, but he has shown signs of developing into a reliable starter. His fastball topped out at 99 mph last season, which is a real improvement from the 87 – 91 that he threw when he first signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013.

He has three pitches besides his fastball and once he can consistently improve those secondary pitches he will improve even more. Abreu is still young and might be able to have more success developing his off speed pitches with the pitching coaches that the Yankees have in their minor league system than the ones that the Astros had.

Guzman is a year younger than Abreu and is a 6-2, 182-pound righty who was born in Las Matas de Santa Cruz, Dominican Republic. In his second pro season, he threw in seven games in the Gulf Coast League and six games with Greenville of the Appalachian League, which is one level below Single-A.

He is a flame-thrower just like Abreu as his fastball tops out at 101-103 mph, but he has better control when his fastball is between 97 and 99, according to JJ Cooper. With the Astros Gulf Coast League affiliate he had a 3.12 ERA in seven games (four starts) with 25 strikeouts, 10 walks and an excellent 0.808 WHIP.

His ERA was higher in the Appalachian League, but ERA doesn’t tell that much in rookie level. With Greenville, he had a 4.76 ERA in six games (four starts) after striking out 29, walking seven and allowing 25 hits. The 25 hits that he surrendered in 22.2 innings are far too many, but on the other hand he did really improve his control from 2015.

In 2015, Guzman walked 30 batters in 55.1 innings pitched in his first season as a pro and had a very high 1.681 WHIP. However, this past season, he walked 17 batters in 40 innings pitched and had a much improved 1.150 WHIP.

He might be a better relief pitcher than starter since his two best pitches are his fastball and slider and his change is only developing. He has time to improve his change, but since he has two plus pitches and wasn’t able to throw more than five innings in a game last season he will likely be more effective in the bullpen.

In the 2017 season, he will probably either begin in the Appalachian League with the Pulaski Yankees or step up a level with the Low-A short season Staten Island Yankees. In 2017, Abreu will likely be sent to the High-A Tampa Yankees after proving that he can pitch well against Single-A competition last season.

It already makes that the Yankees made this trade based on the emergence of Sanchez, but the one downside is that McCann has hit 20 homers or more in nine consecutive seasons, and it is possible that being the DH would have helped him improve on his power numbers. However, his caught stealing percentage last season was very low and his decline in average and RBIs from earlier in his career is likely due to how baseball has changed with shifts in recent years.

If the two prospects that the Yankees received can blossom into one member of the rotation in Abreu and one seventh or eighth inning reliever in Guzman then this trade will be a win for the Yankees in many ways.

The Yankees will also now not have to pay the $23 million that is left of McCann’s contract over the next two years. McCann would have been an expensive back up catcher and part-time designated hitter.

“Getting the additional money to play with on our end gives us a lot of choices in the trade and free agent market,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said. Cashman will now concentrate on improving the rotation, adding a designated hitter who can also play another position and getting an impact relief pitcher.

 

Brian McCann should return to the Yankees in the 2017 season

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Brian McCann – ESPN

Gary Sanchez had an outstanding two months in the majors this season and should finish first or second in the Rookie of the Year voting. In 53 games this season (201 at-bats), Sanchez hit .299 with 20 homers, 42 RBI, 12 doubles, an outstanding 1.032 on-base plus slugging percentage and had a solid 41 percent caught stealing percentage.

He will rightfully go into spring training as the everyday catcher and the league will get to see what kind of power numbers Sanchez will be able to produce after playing the whole season. Even though Sanchez, who has greatly improved defensively this season than in the last few in the minors, is now the starting catcher and not Brian McCann, the Yankees still should not trade away McCann in the offseason.

“Listen,” McCann said. “Gary is the starting catcher here. He’s going to be that for a long, long time. Just have to kind of see where my role fits in; see where everything fits.”

McCann can have value for the Yankees next season as a mentor for Sanchez, as the designated hitter since he still has power and as the backup catcher. He could be CC Sabathia‘s primary catcher.

Sabathia credits McCann for helping him adjust as a pitcher. He really improved this season with his improved cutter (with some help from Andy Pettitte) as he had a solid 3.91 ERA, made an impressive 30 starts for the 12th time in his career and had 152 strikeouts. The last time before this season that the six-time All-Star and 2007 Cy Young winner had an ERA below 4.00 was in 2012 when it was 3.38. In 2015, Sabathia made 29 starts, but had a much higher 4.73 ERA and a 1.422 WHIP.

Defensive shifts have caused McCann’s average to be lower than it was earlier in his career when he hit .270 or above ever season from 2005-2011, but McCann still hits for power as this season was his ninth consecutive season that he has slugged at least 20 homers. In 2016, he had a .242 average with 13 doubles, 20 homers, 58 RBI, a .413 slugging percentage and a .335 on-base percentage. He also had a .995 fielding percentage and had a 23 percent caught stealing percentage.

In 2015, the seven-time All-Star, won his sixth Silver Slugger award as he hits 26 homers and tied his career-high with 94 Runs Batted In. If he is primarily the designated hitter that could help him have similar power numbers as he did in 2015.

McCann, who will be 33 in February, is capable of throwing out a greater percentage of base stealers since in 2015 he threw out 36 percent and in 2014 he threw out an even better 37 percent of base stealers. He still has value behind the plate because he knows the pitchers and what they like to throw, which means that he should catch occasionally.

He has two more years left on his contract at $17 million per year, which means that Brian Cashman might not get that much in return for him. He might be due for even better power numbers next year based on how well he hit at the end of the season. McCann had a .266 average in September, which was better than any average he had in any previous month of the season. In September combined with two games in October, he hit four of his 20 homers, drove in seven of his 58 runs and finished the season with five hits in 12 at-bats with a homer.

The 32-year-old from Georgia is one of only four players to ever hit 20 homers in 10 different seasons in which his primary position was catcher. The others were Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza. Pizza is regarded as the best hitting catcher of all time. His left-handed swing is made for Yankee Stadium, and since he wants to return it would make sense for him to spend 2017 playing his home games in the Bronx again. There were rumors about McCann being traded back to the Braves in July but the Yankees would really have to be blown away with major league ready talent to trade him in the offseason.

“I hope I’m back,” McCann said. “I’m not sure how it’s all going to play out, but the future is extremely bright here. … I love it here. I love everything about it. Bright future. And I hope I’m a part of it.”

The Yankees could even trade him before the trade deadline if they are in they are in the race for the division or wild card, which they should be, and he could help them improve at another position of need.

 

The trades combined with the Baby Bombers performance have given the Yankees more hope for the future

Yankees Spring Baseball

Aaron Judge during a spring training workout Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The moves and roster decisions that the Yankees made before the trade deadline and shortly after have been a benefit to the team for the rest of the season in addition to helping the team for years to come.

Their farm system, which was middle of the pack before the end of July is now regarded second best in baseball by MLBPipeline.Com. Brian Cashman was able to get the approval from Hal Steinbrenner to trade away Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran and the Yankees are still about as far back in the wild card race as they were before. In return for those impact players, the Yankees received a total of 11 players (and Adam Warren) including a few elite prospects.

Gleyber Torres and Billy McKinney were the most highly rated prospects received in the Chapman trade. Torres is a shortstop who was recently ranked the 27th best prospect by Baseball America. Torres, who is only 19, is younger than most High-A players. He was hitting an impressive .275 with nine homers in 356 at-bats with the Cubs affiliate before the trade.

McKinney is an outfielder who was drafted in the first round by the Athletics in 2013 before being included in the trade to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija in July of 2014. He was the Cubs #7 ranked prospect after the 2015 season and at Double-A he was hitting .252 with 31 RBIs before the trade. McKinney might be able to contribute next season or be included in a trade.

An impact player that the Yankees got back in the Andrew Miller trade is Clint Frazier. He is also the player who will likely be called up to the Yankees faster than any of the others they received. The outfielder was the 5th overall pick by the Indians in 2014 and was the 44th ranked prospect in all of baseball after 2015.

Ben Heller is a lower ranked prospect that the Yankees received before the deadline who was called up earlier this month for two games because they needed more pitchers on the roster. He did not make an appearance and could get called up again in September but is not nearly at the level of Frazier.

Frazier has top of the line bat speed and has improved his pitch recognition. He is only 21 and is hitting .250 in his 15 games at Triple-A Scranton. He will likely be called up when the rosters expand in September and is another player who will give the team options going forward because if they trade him he could help get a top starting pitcher.

Another highly rated prospect that the Yankees got back in the Miller trade is Justus Sheffield. He has an above average fastball, but his best pitch is his curveball, and he also had a solid change. He is a 20-year-old pitcher who was drafted with the 31st pick of the first round in 2014 and was the Indians #4 prospect after 2015. He had a 3.59 ERA in 19 starts before the trade and for the Yankees High-A Tampa affiliate he has an excellent 1.04 ERA with 17 strikeouts and four walks in three starts.

Dillon Tate was the major piece that came back to the Yankees in the Beltran trade. The Yankees also got back Nick Green, who is now with Single-A Charleston, and Erik Swanson. Tate was the 4th overall pick in the 2015 draft, who was the best pitching prospect in college baseball last year.

Before he was drafted he had a plus fastball and a reliable slider. He didn’t have much success with Low-A Hickory, the Rangers affiliate, as he had a 5.12 ERA in 17 games (16 starts). It appears that the Yankees will be using him as a reliever, which is what he primarily was in college at UC Santa Barbara. In his two games for Charleston so far he has pitched six innings and allowed one earned run (1.50 ERA) to go with four strikeouts and three walks. He hasn’t showed the success he had in college, but he could turn into a lockdown 8th or 9th inning type of reliever.

In addition to all of the prospects that the Yankees got back, trading away Beltran, releasing Alex Rodriguez and deciding to essentially make Brian McCann the back-up catcher has opened up space for three of the best producing minor leaguers in the Yankees system.

Gary Sanchez was called up on August 3 and was the fist of the Baby Bombers to get called up for good. He signed with the Yankees as an international free agent when he was 16 and had always been more known for his hitting. He is now 23 and has really improved his defense behind the plate.

He was ranked the #2 Yankees prospect after the 2015 season. He deserved to be called up because he had a .339 average, .468 on-base percentage with 10 homers and 50 RBIs for Triple-A Scranton. He has not had a difficult adjustment at all to major league pitching since he has a .360 average in 13 games (50 at-bats) with five homers and 11 RBIs since being called up. He has also impressively thrown out three of the five runners who have attempted to steal on him.

The two Yankees prospects who were drafted by the team that have been called up recently were Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin. Judge and Austin, who are both 24, made their debuts on August 13 and they made history during the second inning. Austin hit a homer just over the wall in right on a 2-2 pitch and then Judge blasted a homer that went off the railing above the sports bar in center and landed on the netting above Monument Park.

On Judge’s first major league at-bat, he became only the third player to homer over the batter’s eye at new Yankee Stadium. (Judge is a mammoth of a human and can be compared to Giancarlo Stanton since Judge is 6-7 and 275 pounds.) The two 24 year olds did something that had not been done in the 120+ year history of major league baseball since teammates had never before homered in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

In Judge’s five games, 18 at-bats, he has seven hits (.389 average), one double, two homers and four RBIs. He has done very well at the plate so far after displaying his power with Triple-A Scranton as he had 19 homers and 65 RBIs and a .489 slugging percentage in 93 games (352 at-bats). Judge, who went to Fresno State, has also made a few impressive defensive plays since being called up. It seems like he is poised to be a middle of the order outfielder for years to come for the Yankees.

Austin is a great story of overcoming adversity because he was a top prospect a few years ago and then had to battle through injuries and underperformance to get back on the map this year.  Austin even went unclaimed after being designated for assignment after the 2015 season. The Yankees then claimed him and sent him back down to Double-A Trenton.

The Georgia native was chosen to represent the Yankees in the All-Star Futures Game in 2012 but had to miss it due to an ankle injury. However, he was referred to by Brian Cashman as a mega-prospect in August of 2012, and in three levels, the top being Double-A Trenton, he hit .322 and had a .400 on-base percentage with 17 homers and 80 RBI.

In the 2013 season, Austin had to miss 60 games due to a wrist injury in July. He didn’t really regain his top prospect status until this season as he hit a combined .240 with six homers and 35 RBIs across two levels in 2015. However, everything clicked for him this season at Triple-A, as slowing the game down helped him have a .323 average with 13 homers and 49 RBI and regain his top prospect status.

The first baseman and outfielder has not been impressive as he other two but has still held his own so far. He has a .250 average in his 12 at-bats so far with his one homer. Greg Bird, who had to miss this season due to a shoulder injury, hit so well in the final two months of last season that he will likely be the starting first baseman next season. In 46 games (157 at-bats) he had a .261 average with an impressive .529 slugging percentage after hitting 11 homers and driving in 31 runs. Austin could be a solid back-up first baseman and outfielder.

Bird was a big part in the Yankees making it to the wild card game last season and at 23 next season he will be another key young piece of the lineup. Austin and especially Judge and Sanchez have showed promising signs and look very comfortable in the big leagues. The Yankees made the right decisions in trading the players they did and calling up the Triple-A prospects and many of these players could be part of the next Yankees team that goes deep into the playoffs.

Michael Pineda’s best start of the season allowed him to keep his spot in the rotation

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Michael Pineda – ESPN

The Yankees were able to end their three-game losing streak with their 5-4 win over the Detroit Tigers in Detroit on Thursday night. They previously lost three consecutive games in Toronto where they scored a total of only three runs.

Michael Pineda got the start during this makeup game from the beginning of the season and he definitely pitched well enough to stay in the rotation. General Manager Brian Cashman talked before the game about demoting him from the rotation if had another subpar start. Going into last night’s game, Pineda’s 6.92 ERA was the worst ERA of any pitcher who had thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.

However, in this game, he pitched like he is capable of as he allowed one earned run in 5.2 innings pitched. He recorded an impressive eight strikeouts, allowed seven hits and didn’t walk a single Tiger. He has been limiting the walks and piling up the strikeouts most of the season, but he has struggled mightily in the first inning and with the long ball and with allowing minor issues to turn into multiple runs.

This game was different for Pineda compared to what had happened to him in many previous starts. He struck out Cameron Maybin to begin the game, but then allowed back-to-back hits to J.D. Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. However, this time he didn’t allow those runners to score since he was able to get Victor Martinez to hit into a double play to end the frame. Proving how much the opening frame has been a problem for Pineda is that 36 percent of the runs that he has allowed this season have come in the first inning (15 of the 42 earned runs).

He allowed more hits (7) than innings pitched but he managed to limit the damage to only one earned run. His slider was a strength tonight – generating 13 whiffs with the slider tonight, good for a 40.6% rate. When his slider is on it is a sign that Pineda is pitching well. What is so frustrating about Pineda is that last season on Mother’s Day he had 16 strikeouts and allowed only one run to the Orioles and this season he has now allowed two runs or less in a start five times, which proves his potential.

However, what has led to his ERA being 6.41 in the beginning of June is that he has given up five runs or more five times (with one start where he allowed three runs). Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild hope and need him to be more consistent than he has shown because he has been by far the worst pitcher in the rotation.

Last season he ended the campaign with a 4.37 ERA but he was able to truly show what he is capable of in the 2014 season. He missed about a month and a half due to injury but was able to have an outstanding 1.89 ERA in 13 starts. He had 59 strikeouts and seven walks, which is a very good strikeout to walk ratio, and he allowed two runs or less in 12 of his 13 starts.

He has the ability to be a No. 2 type starter. Thursday’s start could be the one that leads to him having sustained effectiveness similar to what he showed in 2013, which was his first healthy season as a Yankee after being traded to the team before the 2012 season. They will need Pineda to pitch well to have a chance of getting back in the race in the AL East.

It appeared that the Yankees would win easily as they had a 5-1 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning. The Yankees exploded for four runs in the seventh on a Rob Refsnyder RBI single that scored Chase Headley, an RBI single by Aaron Hicks that scored Austin Romine and a triple to deep right by leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury that scored Refsnyder and Hicks.

However, in this game, the trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, which has been extremely reliable when all pitching in the same game, was not during the seventh through ninth innings. But they were able to luckily limit the damage to three total runs, which led to the Yankees escaping Detroit with a win.

Betances struck out three in his 1.1 innings but he allowed an RBI double to make the score 5-2. Miller, who still has a very low 1.25 ERA, walked two batter in the eighth and gave up an RBI double. Chapman was really able to get out of trouble in the ninth since he loaded the bases with no outs and then got J.D. Martinez to hit into a double play, which scored the Tigers fourth and final run.

Refsnyder, who has gone back and forth from Triple-A Scranton this season, should stay with the Yankees. They would not have won the game without him since he scored the team’s first run in addition to scoring and driving in a run in the seventh. He is now hitting .400 in 10 at-bats this season and is valuable off of the bench because he produces offensively and can play second, third and outfield.

The Yankees, who are now 25-28 and 6.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox (32-22) for first place in the AL East, will begin a three-game series in Baltimore against the second place Orioles (30-22) on Friday night. It will be important that the team continues to get the offensive production that they did on Thursday during the series in Baltimore.

 

Mark Teixeira, who leads the Yankees in homers and OPS, will miss the rest of the regular season and playoffs

Mark Teixeira.

Mark Teixeira.

The news on Mark Teixeira is much worse than originally thought. It was announced today that what was initially a deep bone bruise is now a broken right leg. He will not return during the regular season or the postseason. The recovery time will be three months.

“With the way he’s been throughout this process, it’s clearly no surprise,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “It just makes sense why he ran down the first-base line the way he did; why he couldn’t do anything beyond walking.” Since Teixeira fouled a ball off his leg on August 17, the Yankees have gone 12-9.

The Yankees have missed his Gold Glove caliber defense at first base and the impressive power numbers that he has displayed this season. He has 31 homers, 79 RBIs, a 3.4 Offensive WAR, a .548 slugging percentage and a .906 OPS. His 31 homers, 3.5 Offensive WAR, .548 slugging percentage and .906 OPS are all best on the team.

Greg Bird, who was thought to be the temporary first baseman until today, will now know that he will be the everyday first baseman for the rest of the season and in the playoffs. He has performed well at the plate and if you prorate his power numbers for a full season they would be similar to Teixeira’s, but he is still a rookie. However, his defense is not nearly on the level that Teixeira’s is because he does not know when to get a grounder and when to leave it for the second baseman.

Bird, who is a 22-year-old rookie that was called up from Triple-A on August 13, has played in 25 games and has five homers, three doubles, 15 runs scored and 17 RBIs. He will have to continue to handle the pressure of playing games that matter the rest of the season, including in this weekend’s series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The series that the Yankees play this weekend is their biggest one since the 2012 season, which is when they last made the playoffs. As of before Friday night’s game, the Yankees are 1.5 games behind the first place Blue Jays in the American League East. These four games will go a long way towards determining who wins the division. The Yankees need to win two or more games to ensure that it will be a race the rest of the season.

The Yankees and Blue Jays have both gone 6-4 in their last 10 games, but the Yankees missed an opportunity to gain ground since they lost the last two games of their series to the Orioles and Blue Jays lost their last game of their series to the Red Sox.

The Yankees will play a doubleheader on Saturday since Thursday night’s game was rained out. Here are the pitching matchups for this pivotal series:

Tonight

Luis Severino (3-2, 2.04 ERA in seven starts)

vs.

David Price (14-5, 2.43 ERA)

Saturday Game One

Michael Pineda (10-8, 4.15 ERA)

vs.

Marco Estrada (12-8, 3.18 ERA)

Saturday Game Two

Ivan Nova (6-7, 4.50 ERA)

vs.

Marcus Stroman (it will be his season debut after having ACL surgery in March)

Sunday at 1:05 p.m.

Masahiro Tanaka (11-6, 3.57 ERA)

vs.

R.A. Dickey (10-10, 4.01 ERA)

The Yankees need more production from Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez going forward

Alex Rodriguez.

Alex Rodriguez.

After Thursday’s off day and losing two out of three games at home to the Houston Astros and previously losing three out of four games to the Cleveland Indians, who are six games below .500 and were in last place in the AL Central when they faced off, the Yankees will now play an important three-game inter-league series in Atlanta against the Braves.

The Yankees, who went 5-5 on their home-stand against the Minnesota Twins, Indians and Astros, are now 1.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. Toronto has gone 7-3 in their last 10 games and their +170 run differential is 40 runs better than the St. Louis Cardinals, who have the second best run differential in Major League Baseball. The Yankees play seven more games left with the Blue Jays before the end of the season, which could go a long way in deciding who wins the AL East, but their upcoming six-game road trip against the Braves and Boston Red Sox will be very important.

Atlanta and the Red Sox are a combined 30 games under .500, which means that the Yankees need to take advantage of them since they are obviously not going to the playoffs this season. Atlanta has a 54-73 record, has only one win in their last 10 games, is 17 games out of first place in the National League East and has scored the fewest runs out of any team in either the American or National League. Boston has a 58-69 record, is 13 games back in the AL East and their -41 run differential is fourth worst in the AL

Atlanta’s season long ineptitude in the run scoring department could help the Yankees during this series because they have been struggling to score recently. The Yankees have only scored 38 runs in their last 10 games, which equals an average of only 3.8 runs per game. In comparison, in the 10 games from July 25-August 4, the Yankees scored 90 runs, which is an average of a very impressive nine runs per game.

The Yankees offense has had many of their regulars not produce like normal during the month of August. Alex Rodriguez, who has 26 homers and a .255 average, has a very low .138 average in 80 August at-bats with only eight RBIs. Mark Teixeira, who has not played in seven of the previous nine games because of a bone bruise, has a .175 average in 57 at-bats with three homers and only six RBIs.

A-Rod and Teixeira are the two main players that the Yankees need to improve their average and drive in more runs if they are going to get back in first place and win the AL East. Teixeira and A-Rod are first and third on the team in RBIs, with 79 and 69, respectively, and are first and second in homers with 31 and 26, but they have combined to only drive in 14 runs in August and their averages are both below .200.

Also, Brett Gardner has a .193 average with only one double in August, Stephen Drew has a .217 average in 60 August at-bats and Brian McCann has a .219 average in 73 at-bats in August, but McCann has been productive power wise as he has hit six homers and has 15 RBIs during the month. Part of the struggles could be due to age and not being able to continue the same level of production the whole season. The offense needs to bounce back after the off day and with the inferior teams on the schedule.

One player who could help offensively is Rob Refsnyder. It was announced by Brian Cashman that Refsnyder will be one of the September call-ups. In 504 plate appearances with Triple-A Scranton, Refsnyder has hit .269/.360/.396 with nine homers, 11 steals, 24 doubles and 53 RBIs. That is better production than Drew, who only has a .196 average and a .266 on-base percentage and 36 runs scored to the 64 that Refsnyder has. However, Drew does have 15 homers to Refsnyder’s nine and Drew does play better defense at second.

It will be a positive to have Refsnyder’s bat on the bench and to start some games instead of Drew. The Yankees will also be able to call-up a few pitchers who already have experience out of the bullpen this season, which will make it easier to go to a six-man rotation to give the pitching staff more rest.

The Yankees are 6-8 so far this season in inter-league play, so they will look to at least be 8-9 in games against the National League at the end of this series against the Braves in Atlanta. The Braves have rookies pitching in the first two games and then Julio Tehran, who has 15 wins, will get the start in the series finale on Thursday.