Matthews: Zach Britton, Gary Sanchez & Poncedeleon

posted by Bob Matthews - 

ON ZACH BRITTON, GARY SANCHEZ AND PONCEDELEON...

The addition of left-handed relief pitcher Zach Britton is a huge move by the New York Yankees in pursuit of their 28th world championship – for two reasons:

1—Baseball’s best bullpen – MLB-low 2.75 ERA and MLB-most 448 strikeouts -- got better. At a time when relief pitching is more important than ever before, the Yankees have easily the deepest and most-balanced bullpen: Right-handers Jonathan Holder, Adam Warren, Chad Green, David Robertson and Dellin Betances...left-handers Chesen Shreve, Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman.

2—The Yankees not only added Britton – they beat the other top contenders to the punch.

Britton arguably was baseball’s best reliever for the Orioles in 2016 and 2017 and appears to be rounding to close to top form after off-season surgery on a ruptured Achilles tendon.

More than any other team, the Yankees have the luxury of asking the rest of the rotation behind Luis Severino to give them a mere five useful innings before the awesome bullpen takes over.

The biggest question for the Yankees is how often do Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia and the suspect No. 5 starter have those five decent innings in them.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has done an impressive job building this pitching staff. One more reliable starter would be the capper.

--Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez is back on the 10-day disabled list after Monday night’s embarrassing and unprofessional lack of effort in a 7-6 road loss to Tampa Bay.

His lack of hustle on defense cost the Yankees a first-inning run and his jog down the line on a grounder to end the game capped what I’m sure he’ll recall as a low point of his baseball career.

I’m sure it wasn’t timed to rub it in, but backup Yankees catcher Austin Romine on Tuesday was announced as the team’s nominee for the Heat and Hustle Sward presented annually by the MLB Players Association.

The return to the DL after aggravating a groin injury somewhat took Sanchez off the hook for the lack of hustle Monday night, but a bigger Sanchez concern for the Yankees is his all-around disappointing performance this season.

Sanchez has a super throwing arm but his overall defense behind the plate has been weak. He’s had problems blocking pitches and sometimes simply catching the ball. On offense, his 2018 performance is quite a contrast from his 2016 contributions after being promoted from Triple-A:

2016 -- .299 batting average (60-for-201), 20 HRs, 42 RBI in 53 games.

2018 -- .188 batting average (46-for-245), 14 HRs, 42 RBI in 65 games.

Sanchez has lots of natural ability but he could stand to lose some weight and add some fire.

--Rookie Daniel Poncedeleon made his Major League Baseball debut Monday night for St. Louis. The Cardinals needed a fresh arm and the 26-year-old right-handed pitcher responded with seven no-hit innings. He left the game with a 1-0 lead after throwing 116 pitches. The Cardinals wound up losing the game 2-1.

Poncedeleon suffered a severe head injury 14 months ago when he was struck in the head by a line drive. He underwent emergency surgery for a fractured skull and bleeding in the brain.

This season, when he was called up by St. Louis for Monday’s emergency start, he was 9-3 with a fine 2.15 ERA in 17 starts for Memphis in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

Poncedeleon, with a career Major League Baseball pitching line of 7 innings, 0 hits allowed, 0 runs, 3 walks, and 3 strikeouts, 0.00 ERA, .000 batting average against, was returned to Memphis on Tuesday. St. Louis needed another fresh arm. He’ll be back.

AN INTERESTING TUESDAY NIGHT FOR BASEBALL

New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka tossed a rare complete game Tuesday night in a 4-0 victory at the Tampa Bay Rays. It was the second complete game for the 2018 Yankees – in their 99th game of the season.

In 1917, the Yankees had 87 complete games in 155 total games. There have been only 27 complete games in the major leagues this season in 3,030 total games.

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts ran out of pitchers and infielder Kike Hernandez surrendered a three-home run to ex-Red Wing Trevor Plouffe in the bottom of the 16th inning as the host Philadelphia Phillies won 7-4.

The game lasted 5 hours and 55 minutes and ended at 1:14 a.m. The two teams used 18 pitchers.

The Phillies enter Wednesday with a one-game lead over Atlanta in the NL East and the Dodgers lead Arizona by ½ game in the NL West.

The Oakland A’s continued their amazing play with a 13-10 win in 13 innings over the host Texas Rangers. The A’s rallied from a 10-2 deficit and are 25-7 in their last 32 games (59-43 overall). They lead the majors with 92 HRs on the road.

The Rangers had been 471-0 in franchise history when leading by at least eight runs in the seventh inning or later.

IMPROVING THE OFFENSE IS DABOLL’S TALL ORDER

Defense figures to be the strength of the 2018 Buffalo Bills. It doesn’t figure to be great but it could be OK.

The offense is the major concern. Games aren’t won on paper – and that’s a good thing.

Brian Daboll is the team’s fifth different offensive coordinator in as many seasons. On paper, he’s facing a formidable challenge.

Here’s how Buffalo’s defense ranked in the 32-year NFL in recent past seasons under coordinators Nathaniel Hackett (2014), Greg Roman (2015), Anthony Lynn (replaced Roman after 0-2 start in 2016) and Rick Dennison (2017):

Total offense – 312.2 yards allowed in 2014 (29th)...360.9 in 2015 (28th)...354.1 in 2016 (16th)...302.0 in 2017 (29th)

Pass offense – 205.8 in 2014 (30th)...208.9 in 2015 (28th)...189.8 in 2016 (30th)...176.6 in 2017 (31st)

Scoring – 18.1 points per game in 2014 (29th)...23.7 PPG in 2015 (12th)...24.9 PPG in 2016 (t10th)...18.9 PPG in 2017 (22nd).

ESPN RATES BUFFALO’S BACKFIELD NO. 11 IN THE NFL

Quarterbacks, receivers and the revamped offensive line are huge question marks for the Bills, but the running backs (featuring LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory and Patrick DiMarco) are a respectable 11th in the pre-season rankings by ESPN’s Mike Clay.

He projects 378 carries for 1,631 yards and 11 TDs rushing + 88 catches for 686 yards and 2 TDs for Buffalo’s running backs this season.

Clay noted that Buffalo led the NFL with 4.6 yards per carry over the past three seasons. He did not note the departure of QB Tyrod Taylor as a running threat, the veteran talent lost on the offensive line and McCoy’s iffy status.

SHORT SHOTS

At least 54 returning Baseball Hall of Famers are expected to be in Cooperstown for Sunday’s induction ceremonies for Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jack Morris, Jim Thome and Alan Trammell. It would be the all-time largest gathering of baseball Hall of Famers.

The Los Angeles Dodgers figure to make an honest effort to retain free agent Manny Machado with a long-term this offseason. How would this be for the team’s 2019 Opening Day infield: 1B Cody Bellinger, 2B Corey Seager, SS Machado, 3B Justin Turner, with Max Muncy and Chris Taylor as reserves. Not too shabby.

You can watch some fine amateur boxing Saturday, 2 p.m., at the Clinton-Baden Center outside on the basketball court (or inside if it rains). The USA Boxing-sanctioned show will feature boxers from Rochester, Buffalo, Utica and Watertown (including Fort Drum). Puerto Rican coaches Genero Ortiz, Armando Munoz, Orlando Santiago and the late David Perez will be honored. Admission is free.

Brighton product David Sarachan, who played for Cornell and the original Rochester Lancers and currently is the proud coach of the U.S. men’s national soccer team, will make a hometown visit Saturday to see his mother and be saluted at the Toronto II FC USL game against Nashville SC. (kickoff 6:05 p.m.) He wanted to check out the downtown soccer stadium.

Rochester Knighthawks faceoff wizard Jake Withers is doing his thing for Ontario’s Major Series Lacrosse-leading Peterborough Lakers (12-2-1 record after a 7-3 victory over Six Nations Tuesday). In six games, Withers’ faceoff percentage is .768 (73-for-95).

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Wednesday, July 25

Alvin Kamara (23)...Johan Larsson (26)...Jose Martinez (30)...Corey Grahmam (33)...Nelson Piquet Jr. (33)...Nenad Kristic (35)...Finn Balor (37)...Evgeni Navokov (43)...Pedro Martinez (47)...Billy Wagner (47)...Torey Lovullo (53)...Tony Granato (54)...Doug Drabek (56). Walter Payton was born on this date 64 years ago (1954) and died in 1999 at age 45.

Thursday, July 26

Xavier Woods (23)...Zach Redmond (30)...Taiwan Jones (30)...Delonte West (35)...Robert Gallery (38)...Joe Smith (43)...Wayne Grady (61)...Jeff Blatnick (61)...Dorothy Hamill (62)...Pete Ward (81)...Kate Beckinsale (45), Sandra Bullock (54), Kevin Spacey (59), Helen Mirren (73) and Mick Jagger (75) are invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

July 25

98 years ago (1920), Babe Ruth’s 35th home run of the season helped the Yankees beat Boston 8-2...77 years ago (1941), Lefty Grove won his 300th and final victory...69 years ago (1949), Stan Musial hit for the cycle: 1B, 2B, 3B, HR...57 years ago (1961), Yankees slugger Roger Maris hit home runs 37, 38, 39 and 40 of the season in a doubleheader...29 years ago (1990), Roseanne Barr sort of “sang” the National Anthem at a Cincinnati-San Diego NFL game...25 years ago, Spain’s Miguel Indurain won his third straight Tour de France...21 years ago (1997), Brett Favre resigned with the Green Bay Packers: 7 years for $50 million.

July 26

90 years ago (1928), Gene Tunney TKOd Tom Heeney in 11 for the heavyweight boxing title...85 years ago (1933), Joe DiMaggio’s 61-game hitting streak in the Pacific Coast League ended...70 yerars ago (1948), in Babe Ruth’s final public appearance, he attended the premiere of “The Babe Ruth Story”, starring William Bendix...66 years ago (1952), Mickey Mantle hit his first grand-slam home run...40 years ago (1978), Johnny Bench hit his 300th career HR...26 years ago (1992), Nolan Ryan recorded his 100th strikeout for the 23rd consecutive season.

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