For the second straight year, the Yankees are overachieving

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Katie Sharp at the Yankees blog IATM notes that, for the second straight year, the Yankees are poised to do something historic. Not, like, gloriously historic, but historic nonetheless:

If the Yankees maintain their current season pace, they would become the first team in major-league history to post back-to-back winning seasons while being outscored by at least 20 runs in each year.

Last season the Yankees went 85-77 despite a run differential of -21, their worst mark since 1991 (-103). Based on the amount of runs scored and allowed, the team was expected to win just 79 games.

This year they could easily end up with an even lower run differential and still produce a winning record – they currently have been outscored by 27 runs and are five games over .500.

Katie analyzes why this may be and chalks it up to good hitting in close-and-late situations. Whether that’s a skill or not is often debated. I’ve not seen a lot of great evidence that convinces me that it’s a skill, so it may be luck.

But you can’t just say the Yankees have been lucky, either. They’ve had a good back end of their bullpen, and good bullpens help in close games (losing the blowouts + winning the close ones often = outperformance of run differential). Another constant: Joe Girardi. I don’t think anyone has the market cornered on managerial analysis any more than we have it cornered on close-and-late hitting being a skill, but managers doing harm often lead to a run being blown or forgone here or there. Girardi never seems to mess up like that. And maybe he’s doing some good things too in that dark area of managerial unknowns.

Not that any of this will make Yankees fans feel a lot better if their guys don’t make the playoffs for the second straight year. But it’s probably worth noting that it could’ve — and maybe should’ve — been way worse for them than it has been.

The Nationals sign Kevin Jepsen

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Chris Cotillo of SB Nation reports the Nationals have agreed to terms with free agent reliever Kevin Jepsen.

Think of this as the latest in what will likely be a series of no-risk bullpen additions. The Nats, basically, collecting as many almost free arms they can find in an effort to fix their bullpen woes without having to give up anything valuable at the trade deadline. Just like the K-Rod signing earlier this week or the Edwin Jackson signing two weeks ago.

Jepsen pitched for Tampa Bay and Minnesota last year, posting a 5.68 ERA with the Rays and a 6.16 ERA with the Twins, appearing in 58 games in all. He went unsigned this past offseason.

Eh, it might work. It probably won’t, but it might.

Rival Executives Expect Justin Verlander To Hit The Trading Block

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About a month ago, a report circulated that if the Detroit Tigers weren’t above .500 by the end of June, they were going to chuck the season, look to trade off veterans and rebuild. It’s now June 29 and the Tigers are 34-42 and sit six games out of first place.

As such, we should not be too terribly surprised to see a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo that multiple baseball executives expect Tigers ace Justin Verlander to hit the trade market sometime in the next two weeks. Passan notes that the Tigers haven’t formally offered him and that he’s just passing along speculation from rivals, but it’s pretty astute speculation.

The question is what the Tigers can get for Verlander. On the one hand, yes, Verlander is Verlander and has been one of the top starters in baseball for a decade. While he had struggled for a bit, last year featured a return to Cy Young form. He still has a blazing fastball and there is no reason to think he could not anchor the staff of a playoff caliber team.

On the other hand, as Passan notes, his 2017 has been . . . not so good. He looks amazing at times and very hittable at other times. Overall his walk rate is way up and his strikeout rate is down. There doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with him — various ailments contributed to his 2014-15 swoon — so it’s possible he’s just had a rough couple of months. Like I said, Verlander is Verlander, and it may not be a bad gamble to expect him to run off a string of dominant starts like he has so many times in the past.

The problem, though, is that anyone acquiring Verlander is not just gambling on a handful of starts down the stretch. They’re gambling on the $56 million he’s owed between 2018 and 2019 and the $22 million extra he’ll be guaranteed for 2020 if he finishes in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019. Those would be his age 35, 36 and 37 seasons. There are certainly worse gambles in baseball, but it’s a gamble all the same.

If the Tigers don’t find any gamblers out there on the market, they’re going to have to make a gamble of their own: let Verlander go and get relatively little in return if another club picks up that $56 million commitment or eat it themselves and get prospects back in return to help kickstart a rebuild. Personally I’d go with the latter option, but I don’t work for the Illitch family.