5/29 to 5/31 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(Rick Yeatts/Getty Images North America)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty Images North America)

Happy Memorial Day, folks!

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees hosted the Orioles for a three-game series to close out April, winning two. It was a high-scoring affair – the Yankees outscored the Orioles 30-22 – with two of the games going into extra innings, and it left the two tied atop the AL East. It was an excitingly frustrating (or frustratingly exciting) series. Some notes:

  • The Yankees were trailing 11-8 heading into the bottom of the ninth in game one. Jacoby Ellsbury brought them within 2 runs with an RBI groundout, and then Starlin Castro tied it with a two-run home run. And then Matt Holliday walked it off in the bottom of the tenth.
  • Didi Gregorius made his season debut in that first game, and he returned in style by going 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI. He went 7-for-15 in the series, putting the ball in play in 14 of his 15 plate appearances.
  • Aaron Judge had himself a series, going 5-for-9 with 7 runs, 3 HR, 5 RBI, a steal, and more walks (6) than strikeouts (4).

Injury Report

Closer Zach Britton has been sidelined with a left (pitching) forearm strain since early May, and is not expected back until late June. The Orioles had a top-five bullpen by most measures last year, due in no small part to Britton’s staggering 0.54 ERA in 67.0 IP (as well as his 47 saves in 47 chances). They’re a middle-of-the-pack group this season, and they’ve already blown eight saves, as compared to fourteen in 2016 as a whole.

Utility player Ryan Flaherty is also on the DL (right shoulder strain). There’s a slim chance that he could be back during this series, but a June return seems much more likely. And Adam Jones was out of the team’s lineup on Saturday and Sunday due to hip and ankle soreness; he isn’t expected to head to the DL, but he may be limited this week.

Their Story So Far

The Yankees are meeting the Orioles at a fairly opportune time, as they have lost seven in a row by a combined score of 38-17. The Orioles have had a rough May in general, posting a 10-15 record over the last four weeks. They currently sit third in the AL East at 25-23, and their -7 run differential suggests that they are a true talent .500 team (as has been the case for much of Buck Showalter’s tenure).

Underperformance may well be the defining characteristic of their first two months. Manny Machado (98 wRC+), Adam Jones (91 wRC+), Mark Trumbo (93 wRC+), and J.J. Hardy (52 wRC+) have disappointed with the bat, and Chris Tillman (95 ERA+), Kevin Gausman (67 ERA+), and Ubaldo Jimenez (58 wRC+) have struggled in the rotation. Most of these players were expected to perform much, much better, and there’s reason to expect them to rebound – but the Orioles must be getting antsy.

The Lineup We Might See

Showalter has mixed-and-matched his lineup more often than in years past, due to injuries, underperformance, and attempting to find a fit for new additions. He also utilizes a couple of platoons, notably in the corner outfield. Assuming that Adam Jones will be playing, however, it’s a fairly safe bet that we’ll see something like this:

  1. Seth Smith, RF
  2. Adam Jones, CF
  3. Manny Machado, 3B
  4. Chris Davis, 1B
  5. Mark Trumbo, DH
  6. Welington Castillo, C
  7. Trey Mancini, LF
  8. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
  9. J.J. Hardy, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (1:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Dylan Bundy

Bundy was a consensus top-five prospect heading into 2013, due to his overpowering stuff and advanced pitchability (especially for someone who would spend the entirety of the 2013 as a 20-year-old). A series of injuries limited him to 63.1 IP over the next three seasons, and many wondered if he’d ever be able to contribute at the highest level as a result. He had a solid (and mostly healthy) 2016 as a swing man, tossing 109.2 IP of 4.02 ERA (107 ERA+) ball as a rookie. And he’s been even better this year, with a 142 ERA+ in 64.2 IP through ten starts.

All of those injuries took their toll on Bundy, as he’s now limited to a low-90s fastball. He also throws a low-80s slider, low-80s change-up, and a mid-70s curveball. The slider and change-up are his best pitches, and both are used to pick up whiffs.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on 5/23) – 7.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 7 K

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Chris Tillman

Shoulder bursitis kept Tillman out until May 7, so he has only made four starts in 2017. He was the nominal ace of the Orioles from 2013 through 2015, and, despite a poor 2016, hopes were fairly high that he would be healthy and effective this year. The early returns have been less-than-stellar, but he did come back a bit earlier than expected.

Tillman’s fastball usually sits in the low-90s, but it has been limited to the upper-80s since his return from the DL. He throws a four-seamer, two-seamer, and cutter, and all are right around the same velocity. He also throws a slider, a change-up, and a knuckle-curve.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on 5/24) – 5.0 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 3 K

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Kevin Gausman

Gausman may well be the most disappointing player on the Orioles, given his prospect pedigree and the promise he showed in 2016. His strikeout (from 23.0% to 14.9%), walk (6.2% to 8.6%), and home run (1.40 per nine to 1.67) have trended in the wrong direction, and an increase in velocity implies that there isn’t an injury limiting him. The Yankees have hit him heard both times they faced him this year, so here’s hoping that trend continues.

Last Outing (vs. HOU on 5/26) – 6.2 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 2 K

The Bullpen

The repercussions of the loss of Britton cannot be overstated, as the Orioles bullpen was very dependent upon pre-assigned roles (sound familiar?). The rest of the bullpen is just 11 for 19 in save opportunities, and Brad Brach has struggled since inheriting the closer’s mantle. Him, Mychal Givens, and Darren O’Day are Showalter’s high-leverage arms, and the aforementioned Jimenez has become the long-man out of the bullpen (he went 6 IP yesterday, allowing 2 runs). Brach didn’t pitch this weekend, and Givens and O’Day only went once apiece, so the core group is fairly well-rested.

Yankees Connection

I mentioned Buck Showalter, Vidal Nuno, and Chris Davis last time around. You can now add the immortal Richard Bleier to the list, as he has thrown 11.2 IP out of the bullpen since his call-up on May 3. He spent all of 2016 in the Yankees organization, posting a 1.96 ERA in 23 IP in the majors. And, as much as I’d like to make a joke about the Yankees giving up on him, he’s a 30-year-old journeyman with an extremely limited track record.

Who (Or What) To Watch

I’m interested in watching Dylan Bundy, given his tumultuous journey to the majors and his still-impressive stuff. The Yankees saw him four times last season (two starts), but his stuff has improved dramatically this season.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 29th, 2017

Record Last Week: 4-2 (22 RS, 19 RA)
Season Record: 29-18 (254 RS, 196 RA, 29-18 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: @ Orioles (three games, Mon. to Weds.), @ Blue Jays (four games, Thurs. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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DotF: Andujar stays hot, Sheffield tossed gem in Trenton’s win

Two quick notes:

  • OF Jake Cave was placed on the Double-A Trenton disabled list with a concussion, reports Matt Kardos. OF Mark Payton was sent down from Triple-A Scranton to fill the roster spot. I guess that means SS Tyler Wade could see more outfield time with the RailRiders.
  • LHP Ian Clarkin‘s recent disabled list stint was due to shoulder soreness, according to Mark Sanchez. Clarkin was out from March 3rd to March 24th. He missed the entire 2015 season with an elbow issue. This is his first shoulder problem as far as we know.

Triple-A Scranton (3-0 win over Toledo)

  • 2B Tyler Wade: 0-4, 1 K
  • RF Dustin Fowler: 2-4, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 SB — leads the farm system with 28 extra-base hits
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 2-4, 2 RBI, 2 K, 1 CS — 6-for-20 (.300) in five Triple-A games
  • DH Tyler Austin: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — this is day nine of his 20-day rehab window, by the way
  • LF Clint Frazier: 0-4, 2 K — he’s second in the system with 25 extra-base hits
  • CF Mason Williams: 2-4
  • RHP Brady Lail: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1/6 GB/FB — 56 of 88 pitches were strikes (64%) … this was his 31st career Triple-A start, and only the second time he hasn’t allowed a run
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/4 GB/FB — 17 of 23 pitches were strikes (74%)

[Read more…]

Yankees 9, Athletics 5: Offense comes alive thanks to Judge’s grand slam

Now that’s more like it. After scoring nine runs in their last four games, the Yankees scored nine runs in eight offensive innings Sunday afternoon, giving them a 9-5 win over the Athletics in the homestand finale. Good win. Solid win. More of these, please. Let’s recap with bullet points since it’s Sunday and a holiday weekend:

  • Grand Jury: The Yankees got on the board in the second inning thanks to two singles (Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius) and a sac fly (Aaron Hicks). They broke the game open in the third courtesy of some shaky A’s defense. Shortstop Adam Rosales couldn’t make a play on Ronald Torreyes‘ weak grounder, and Matt Joyce dropped Matt Holliday‘s fly ball in the right field corner. That loaded the bases for Castro, who had a very 2016 Castro at-bat and struck out on three pitches. Aaron Judge picked him up with a loud grand slam into the right field seats. Hooray for that. The Yankees had been waiting for that big blow pretty much the entire homestand.
  • Pineda Grinds It Out: Weird outing for Michael Pineda. Three runs (two earned because of his own throwing error) in six innings is fine, though he walked a season-high three and was uncharacteristically behind a lot of hitters. In the past, this would have turned into a disaster outing. One of those seven runs in 4.1 innings starts, know what I mean? Pineda has avoided those this year. Timely strikeouts and a line drive double play got him out of some jams Sunday. On a day he didn’t have his best stuff or location, Pineda still gave the Yankees a quality outing.
  • Tack-On Runs: The Yankees were up 6-3 through six and a half innings, and they added one insurance run in the seventh and two more in the eighth. Gary Sanchez was credited with a double on a fly ball that left fielder Khris Davis couldn’t quite reel in with a diving catch. That allowed Torreyes to score from first with two outs. In the eighth, the Yankees loaded the bases on a single (Judge) and two walks (Chris Carter, Torreyes), then Brett Gardner got two runs home with a well-placed bloop inside the left field line. Balls like that (and the Sanchez double) hadn’t been falling in the last few days. Nice to get a few bounces again.
  • Three Relievers: Hey, Chad Green finally got into a game. He pitched for the first time in a week. Green escaped a seventh inning jam with a strikeout before serving up a two-run home run to Davis in the eighth. That cut the lead to 7-5. Tommy Layne popped up Yonder Alonso on the first pitch, then Adam Warren got the final four outs without incident. Dellin Betances was warming for the ninth before the Yankees added those last two runs, so he was available. Green looked rusty more than anything. Layne and Warren needed 12 pitches to get the last four outs.
  • Leftovers: Ten hits! The Yankees had double-digit hits for the first time since May 17th, the second game of the series in Kansas City … Sanchez (single, double), Judge (grand slam, single), and Torreyes (two hits) all had multiple hits. Hicks (single, walk) reached base twice as well. He’s still rocking a .429 OBP … the Yankees have won 29 of their first 47 games since 2013. Who knew?

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Don’t miss our Bullpen Workload page either. The Yankees are heading out on the road for a seven-game road trip through Baltimore and Toronto now. Monday’s series opener against the Orioles is a Memorial Day matinee (1pm ET start). Jordan Montgomery and Dylan Bundy are the scheduled starting pitchers.


Source: FanGraphs

Sunday Open Thread

Here is an open thread for the rest of the weekend. MLB Network is showing a regional game this afternoon, and the ESPN Sunday Night Game is the Mets and Pirates, for some reason. They’re a combined 43-54. I guess it’s better than the Yankees having to play Sunday night. There are no NBA or NHL playoff games tonight, so it’s baseball or bust as far as the four major sports go. You know how these things work by now, so have at it.

Game 47: End of the Homestand

Holliday cracks a smile during Saturday's win. (Al Bello/Getty)
Holliday cracks a smile during Saturday’s win. (Al Bello/Getty)

Rain has turned this seven-game homestand into a six-game homestand, and this afternoon’s series finale with the Athletics will determine whether this is a good 4-2 homestand or a disappointing 3-3 homestand. Disappointing given the competition (the A’s and Royals are a combined 43-53) and the starting pitching (1.56 ERA on the homestand). The offense is ruining all the fun.

On the mound this afternoon is Michael Pineda, who, oddly enough, has been the Yankees’ most consistent starting pitcher this season. Who saw that coming? Given the way they’ve been swinging the bats over the last week or so, the Yankees will need Pineda to be sharp once again. Runs figure to be at a premium this afternoon. (Now watch the two teams combine for 27 runs and 39 hits.) Here is the A’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. CF Aaron Hicks
  8. 1B Chris Carter
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Michael Pineda

It is cloudy and cool in New York this afternoon, and there’s no rain in the forecast. Not the prettiest baseball weather, but it’ll do. Today’s game is scheduled to begin shortly after 1pm ET. YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Grounded for the Month of May

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

On Friday night, with the game tied at 0, Chase Headley came to the plate with one out and two runners on–first and second. To say that my faith in Headley was low would be a bit of an understatement. Tragically for Masahiro Tanaka and the rest of the Yankees, Headley proved my lack of faith right by grounding into a double play, ending the inning. He didn’t even have the common freakin’ courtesy to just strike out or hit into the infield fly rule. Until now, I didn’t quite realize just how indicative of his descent into dumpster fire at the plate that play was.

We all know Headley started out the year on fire, tearing up the league, topping leaderboards for a few weeks in April. Since then, though, it’s been a steady decline to where he sits right now: a career low 82 wRC+ thanks to a .292 wOBA and a .228/.299/.367 batting line. Consider, folks, that he ended April with a .388 wOBA and a 148 wRC+; that’s one hell of a drop. And as his performance has dropped, so have the balls he’s been hitting, quite literally.

Per FanGraphs, Headley was quite adept at hitting the ball in the air for the first month of the season. In April, he sported a robust line drive percentage of 30.2% and hit fly balls 33.3% of the time. He generally avoided weak contact, evidenced by his low 4.8% infield fly ball rate. That script has flipped for the month of May.

Gone is the high line drive rate, down to 21.7%. Gone is the low ground ball rate, up to 54.3%. Gone is the high fly ball rate, down to 23.9%. Gone is the low IFFB rate, up to 18.4%. Thanks to TexasLeaguers, we can see the results of these drastic changes.

Here’s Headley’s April spray chart. Nine outs in the field, ten if we count that one behind the plate.

headleyapril

Now May:

headleymay

17 in the infield, including the foul balls. Also, there’s a huge cluster in right field that wasn’t really there during April, indicating that Headley’s hitting his grounders–at least as a lefty batter–right into the shift.

A trip–well, two trips to Brooks will show us just what’s going on here. In April, Chase was getting pretty decent lift on pretty much everything. Now in May, something is making him play right into the pitcher’s hands. Like they’d want him to, he’s hitting almost 56% grounders on sinkers, almost 77% (!) on change ups, 75% on curves and 100% on cutters.

The other alarming note on Brooks is the big uptick in whiffs/swing on fastballs, going from 13% and change to almost 23%; from April to May, Headley’s strikeout rate has climbed from about 20% to about 35%. Not so coincidentally, Headley’s walk rate has plummeted; he’s walked just once in May–and has been hit by one pitch. Also not so coincidentally, Headley’s been chasing the ball more in May than he did in April. The league average o-swing rate is a touch over 29%. While he’s been under that for the year, May has seen a spike. In April, there are four locations on the chart showing Headley swung at balls at a higher-than-league-average pace. Fast forward to May and the number goes up to eight.

Beating the ball into the ground–especially in this day and age of the fly ball–and chasing balls out of the zone are not a good combination for success. So, Chase, if you’re reading this, get on that, huh? I like you, I really do, but it’s getting hard to watch at this point.