7/27 to 7/30 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
(Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

The Yankees have won three in a row, and five of their last six since an ugly series loss to the Twins. Things finally seem to be clicking (again), but the Rays will provide a serious test – heading into this series, they are just 1.5 games back of the Yankees for the Wild Card, and just 2.5 games out of first in the division.

The Last Time They Met

This will be the fourth series between these teams this year, with the Yankees leading the season series 5-4. The Rays won the last series, though, taking two of three in Tampa back in May. Here are some tidbits from that series:

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more on the series.

Injury Report

Tampa has dealt with several serious injuries this season, with four would-be everyday players, a few bench/platoon players, a couple of starting pitchers, and several relievers spending time on the DL. They’re just about as healthy as they’ve been right now. That’s a loaded phrase, though, as SP Matt Andriese, RP Xavier Cedeno, IF Matt Duffy, CF Kevin Kiermaier, SP Jake Odorizzi, and IF Daniel Robertson are all on the disabled list, and none will be back in time for this series.

And, while it’s not an injury, OF Colby Rasmus decided to “step away from baseball” in June, and is no longer with the team.

Their Story So Far

With yesterday’s victory over the Orioles, the Rays improved to 53-49 on the season, with a +13 run differential. They’re within striking distance of both the AL East and the Wild Card, and they have made it clear that they will be buyers at the deadline. Their moves for Adeiny Hechavarria and Sergio Romo may not move the needle all that much, but they’re said to be in on Lucas Duda, Addison Reed, and others.

The Rays offense is the key to their success. It’s among the best in the game, ranking fifth in the majors in wRC+, sixth in BB%, and tenth in ISO. Logan Morrison (140 wRC+), Steven Souza Jr. (140 wRC+), and Corey Dickerson (133 wRC+) form the heart of the order, alongside the declining but still good Evan Longoria (106 wRC+). It’s a group that’s capable of hitting the ball out of any park at most any time.

Pitching, however, is an issue – particularly in the bullpen. More on that in a bit.

The Lineup We Might See

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Rays love to mix-and-match lineups on a game-to-game basis. Manager Kevin Cash seems to take after Joe Maddon in that respect, and it has worked out well for his club this year. That being said, their ideal lineup will look something like this:

  1. Mallex Smith, CF
  2. Corey Dickerson, LF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Logan Morrison, 1B
  5. Steven Souza, RF
  6. Brad Miller, DH
  7. Wilson Ramos, C
  8. Tim Beckham, 2B
  9. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Chris Archer

This will be Archer’s third time facing the Yankees this year. He had a very good outing against them on Opening Day (7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K), and a quality start in a losing effort back in May (6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 12 K). That’s the norm for Archer, as the 28-year-old has a 2.73 ERA in 15 starts (102.1 IP) against the Yankees.

Last Outing (vs. TEX on 7/22) – 7.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 11 K

Friday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. TBA

Odorizzi would have made this start, but he was put on the disabled list yesterday. Austin Pruitt is rumored to be getting his turn in the rotation, having been scratched from his own Triple-A start on Tuesday for no real reason. He’s been an up-and-down guy for the Rays this year, serving as a swing man and long reliever in his first big league season. He has a 6.25 ERA (67 ERA+) in 31.2 IP.

Despite his struggles, Pruitt is a legitimate four-pitch pitcher. He throws a fastball in the low-90s, a cutter in the upper-80s, a mid-80s change-up, and a low-80s curveball. His cutter is often confused with a slider, though some would say it’s a slider that gets mislabeled as a cutter.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 6/23) – 3.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): LHP Caleb Smith vs. LHP Blake Snell

Snell made his major league debut against the Yankees last year, and fared quite well – he went 5 innings, allowing 2 hits, 1 run, and 1 walk, while striking out 6. He last faced the Yankees on April 12 of this year, getting chased in the fifth inning due to an elevated pitch count. And that’s been the story of his year, as his inefficiency sees him leave way too many games after just five innings. He’s still just 24, though, and the Rays are being cautious with his development (he spent a bit over a month in the minors working on his pitch sequencing and control).

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 7/24) – 7.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Jacob Faria

The 23-year-old Faria was called-up on June 7, and has been a member of the Rays rotation since then. He was the team’s tenth-round pick back in 2011, and was a lightly-regarded prospect – the sort that was slapped with a “fifth starter” label from the outset. He’s been quite good for the Rays so far, though, pitching to a 2.67 ERA (156 ERA+) in 57.1 IP.

Faria is basically a three-pitch guy, with a low-90s four-seamer, a low-80s change-up, and a mid-80s slider. He’ll throw a curveball every now and then, but it’s more of a show-me pitch than anything else.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 7/25) – 7.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Rays bullpen has been its weak point this year, ranking in the bottom-ten in the majors in park-adjusted ERA and K%, and in the bottom-five in WPA, meltdowns, and blown saves. There have been some improvements as the season has progressed, but they nevertheless took two losses against the Rangers last weekend (including a blown save on Sunday). They still have kinks to work out.

Alex Colome is the closer, with Tommy Hunter serving as his primary set-up man. Chase Whitley and Danny Farquhar have settled into 6th and 7th inning roles, and former closer Brad Boxberger is still in search of a role. With the possible exception of Hunter (who somehow has a 1.93 ERA and 10.5 K/9), the Rays don’t have a dominant reliever in the bunch.

Who (Or What) To Watch

These teams have had their fair share of dust-ups over the last several years, and that always bears watching. The fact that they’re also jockeying for position in the playoff race with the trade deadline rapidly approaching should only exacerbate that, so I wouldn’t be shocked if we see a few kerfuffles this weekend. I’d actually be kind of shocked if we didn’t.

Other than that, Jacob Faria is an interesting pitcher, with a legitimately plus change-up and a bit of potential. He’s also tiny for a pitcher, checking in at 5’11” and around 175 pounds, which always makes for some interesting chatter from the play-by-play guys.

7/25 to 7/26 Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds

Votto and Cozart. (Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)
Votto and Cozart. (Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)

The Yankees have won a series for the first time in well over a month, finishing up an eleven games in ten days stretch with a 6-5 record. Monday’s off-day was well-earned, and almost undoubtedly a necessity as they head into another lengthy stretch without a day off – they’ll play for thirteen straight days beginning this evening. And the Reds are up first.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Cincinnati for two games back in May, splitting the series a game apiece. That was way back when the Yankees were the best team in baseball, owning the game’s best record and best run differential. Some notes on the series:

  • The Yankees offense was at the height of its powers in the first game, plating ten runs and going a combined 13-for-36 with a couple of home runs and more walks (7) than strikeouts (5). Masahiro Tanaka was the only starter that did not reach base, but he got in on the action with a sacrifice bunt.
  • Didi Gregorius hit his first home run of the season in the second game, which was his eleventh game of the season. He went 4-for-8 with 4 RBI in the series.
  • CC Sabathia was knocked around in his start, pitching to the following line: 6 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K. It was his fourth straight subpar start, which left him with a 5.77 ERA on the season. Since then, however, he has a 1.62 ERA in 50 IP (9 starts).

For more factoids about the series, check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

Four-fifths of the Reds rotation is currently on the disabled list, with Bronson Arroyo and Brandon Finnegan out for the rest of the year, and Anthony DeSclafani and Scott Feldman recovering from injuries. Neither DeSclafani nor Feldman will be back in time for this series; though, Feldman could be on the Yankees radar as a deadline acquisition, should he recover quickly from his knee injury.

Their Story So Far

The Reds were atop the NL Central when these teams faced in May, with a half game lead over the Chicago Cubs. They were 17-14 with a +22 run differential at that time, with a borderline-elite offense and a league-average pitching staff. That was then; they’re now sitting at the bottom of their division at 41-58, with a -84 run differential – the fifth-worst mark in the majors.

This is a rebuilding team, so such a stark backslide isn’t entirely surprising. And, with the trade deadline rapidly approaching, this team may well be even worse in a week’s time.

For more on the Reds, check out Red Reporter or Redleg Nation.

The Lineup We Might See

As was the case when these teams last met, the Reds lineup is fairly consistent on a game-to-game basis. Manager Bryan Price will play for the platoon advantage a bit, but he does so by swapping his fifth and sixth hitters in the lineup – and that’s about it. The only real wrinkle that we will see is his choice for designated hitter. We’ll probably see a lineup along these lines:

  1. Billy Hamilton, CF
  2. Zack Cozart, SS
  3. Joey Votto, 1B
  4. Adam Duvall, LF
  5. Eugenio Suarez, 3B
  6. Scooter Gennett, 2B
  7. Scott Schebler, RF
  8. Patrick Kivlehan, DH
  9. Tucker Barnhart, C

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Luis Castillo

Castillo has the odd distinction of being dealt twice by the same team in a six month span. The Marlins attempted to send him to the Padres for Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea at last year’s trade deadline, only to nix the deal due to Rea’s undisclosed injury (even though he appeared in a game for the Marlins). He was subsequently dealt to the Reds in January, as a part of the deal that sent Dan Straily to Miami. Castillo was called-up for his big league debut on June 23, and has been in the Reds rotation ever since – and he’s done quite well. He has a 3.86 ERA (116 ERA+) in 35.0 IP, with a ridiculous 29.5% strikeout rate and a well above-average 55.7% groundball rate.

The 23-year-old Castillo is a power pitcher, with a three-pitch arsenal. His four-seam fastball sits in the upper-90s, and he complements it with a mid-80s slider and an upper-80s change-up.

Last Outing (vs. ARI on 7/20) -6.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 7 K

Wednesday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Homer Bailey

Bailey is the longest-tenured member of the Reds, having made his MLB debut a bit less than three month before Joey Votto. He was the 7th overall draft pick back in 2004, a top-10 prospect in 2007 and 2008, and an exciting young pitcher in 2012 and 2013, but injuries have derailed his career these last three years. Bailey has appeared in just 14 games since the beginning of 2015, pitching to a 7.30 ERA (60 ERA+) in 61.2 IP. He returned from the disabled list on June 24, and has mixed three good starts with three atrocious ones. And he’s still just 31.

Bailey is a three-pitch guy, with a low-to-mid 90s fastball, an upper-8s slider, and a mid-80s splitter. When he’s on, both the slider and splitter can be devastating.

Last Outing (vs. MIA on 7/21) – 6.0 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 3 K

The Bullpen

Way back in May, I noted that the Reds bullpen was showing signs of competence after being absolutely horrific in 2016. That has held mostly true, as they remain in the middle-of-the pack in terms of run prevention, and currently sit in the top-ten in WPA and meltdowns. There isn’t a great deal of name value in this group, but they’re getting the job done.

Closer Raisel Iglesias leads the way, with a 1.46 ERA (306 ERA+) and 31.2 K%; he’s 17 for 18 in save opportunities. Wandy Peralta and Drew Storen are the set-up men, and both have been solid in their roles, as well. A lack of rest may be an issue for the bullpen as a whole, though, as they’ve yet to have a day off since the All-Star break.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Scooter Gennett made headlines when he cranked out four home runs and 10 RBI on June 6. That feat was made even more amazing by the fact that, heading into that, Gennett had hit just 38 HR in 1754 PA – so those 4 home runs represented 9.5% of his career total. As a result, he seemed like the sort of player that would pop-up for a historical moment, and then fade into the background as a neat bit of trivia. Instead, Gennett has slashed .323/.385/.623 (158 wRC+) since that game, with 11 HR in 143 PA.

Why bring this up here? Simple – he’s a LHH whose spray chart looks like this:

(FanGraphs)
(FanGraphs)

I will also add a token reference to Joey Votto, who remains one of the most interesting hitters in all of baseball, and one of my favorite non-Yankees.

Game 96: Make it Three in a Row

(Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
(Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The Yankees have won the last two games in convincing fashion, with strong performances from the starting pitching, the bullpen, and the lineup (for the most part, at least). A win tonight would give them their first three-game winning streak since they won six in a row from June 7 through 12, and their first series victory since that same stretch (they swept the Orioles). They’ll look to do so with a reasonable approximation of their ‘A’ lineup, and the maddeningly inconsistent Masahiro Tanaka on the mound.

I say “reasonable approximation,” because Starlin Castro is back on the disabled list, meaning we’ll be treated to more Ronald Torreyes. Tyler Wade has been recalled to take his spot on the roster for the time being.

If you care about such things, it might be worth noting that Tanaka has dominated the Mariners in five starts, pitching to the following line – 37 IP, 26 H, 4 BB, 38 H, 1.95 ERA. Here’s the lineup that he’ll face tonight; the Yankees will counter with this:

  1. Brett Gardner, CF
  2. Clint Frazier, LF
  3. Aaron Judge, RF
  4. Matt Holliday, DH
  5. Gary Sanchez, C
  6. Didi Gregorius, SS
  7. Todd Frazier, 3B
  8. Garrett Cooper, 1B
  9. Ronald Torreyes, 2B

Tonight’s game is slated to start at 9:10 PM EST, and it’ll be broadcast on YES.

7/20 to 7/23 Series Preview: Seattle Mariners

(Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
(Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The Yankees have played staggeringly mediocre baseball since the All-Star break, splitting a four-game set with the Red Sox and dropping two of three to the Twins. Their lead for the second Wild Card spot stands at just half a game as a result, so the reinforcements could not have come at a much better time. Unfortunately, our first extended look at Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson will come on West Coast time, as the Yankees visit Seattle for four games.

The Last Time They Met

It has been almost a year since the Yankees faced the Mariners, as the two teams last met in August of 2016. The Yankees took two of three by a combined score of 15-8, moving to 66-61 in the process. Some notes from the series:

  • Gary Sanchez and Starlin Castro hit two home runs apiece in the first game, but it wasn’t enough as they lost 7-5. Anthony Swarzak took the loss and a blown save that day, allowing two inherited runners to score on a three-run home run by Mike Zunino. And, no, going with Swarzak didn’t make much sense at the time, either.
  • Sanchez was at the height of his August powers in that series, going 6 for 11 with 3 HR, 3 BB, and 0 K.
  • CC Sabathia had one of the best starts of his season in the second game, going 7 strong and allowing 3 hits, 1 run, and 1 walk, while striking out 7.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun facts.

Injury Report

The Mariners have battled the injury bug all year, with key players like Jean Segura, James Paxton, Mitch Haniger, Felix Hernandez, Drew Smyly, and Hisashi Iwakuma all spending time on the disabled list. They’re approaching full strength, but Smyly is done for the year, and there’s no real timetable for Iwakuma’s return.

Their Story So Far

Seattle is essentially the perfect .500 team – they’re 48-48 with a +1 run differential. They’re 5-1 since the break, which includes a series victory over the Astros this week. The Mariners offense has been the driving force behind the team’s limited success, and it currently ranks 6th in the majors in wRC+ and 8th in runs scored. They currently have 8 regulars or semi-regulars with a wRC+ of 100 or better, and their back-up catcher (93 wRC+) and fourth OF (90 wRC+) aren’t all that bad, either. In short, their lineup is almost always strong from top to bottom.

Their starting pitching has been less than stellar, though. Paxton has performed like a top of the rotation starter when healthy, with a 3.05 ERA (132 ERA+), 10.3 K/9, and 3.0 BB/9 in 94.1 IP. The pickings are fairly slim after that, with a mishmosh of average to well below-average guys making up the rest of the rotation. The declining Hernandez is their second-best starter right now, and he’s sitting on a 4.20 ERA (101 ERA+) in 55.2 IP, for comparison’s sake, and the group as a whole has a 4.79 ERA – good for 22nd in baseball.

For more on the Mariners, I recommend checking out Lookout Landing.

The Lineup We Might See

Injuries have force manager Scott Servais to tinker with his lineup quite a bit, but he seems to prefer this configuration when everyone’s available:

  1. Jean Segura, SS
  2. Ben Gamel, LF
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH
  5. Kyle Seager, 3B
  6. Danny Valencia, 1B
  7. Mitch Haniger, RF
  8. Jarrod Dyson, CF
  9. Mike Zunino, C

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (10:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Felix Hernandez

Three years ago, Felix Hernandez was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Two years ago, he saw a dip in velocity, and an overall drop-off in production, but remained comfortably above-average. Last year, his velocity backed-up again, and his numbers slipped even further into average territory (and his 4.63 FIP suggested that he was actually lucky). And this year, he’s simply rather average. His strikeouts and walks went in the right direction, but he’s more hittable and more gopher-ball prone than ever before, and his fastball no longer has much bite to it. This is what a decline looks like.

Hernandez focuses on four pitches nowadays – a low-90s fastball, a low-90s sinker, a mid-80s change-up, and a low-80s curve. He’ll mix in a mid-80s slider, as well, but that is oftentimes shelved unless something else isn’t working.

Last Outing (vs. CHW on 7/15) – 5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 5 K

Friday (10:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Andrew Moore

The 23-year-old Moore was a second-round pick back in 2015, and he made his big league debut last month, going 7 IP and allowing 3 ER in a victory over the Tigers. His scouting report isn’t terribly exciting, as he’s a command/control type with a back-of-the-rotation ceiling, but he also qualifies as a “high floor” type due to his ability to limit walks and soak innings. It’s not a sexy profile by any stretch, but it feels an awful lot like the type of rookie that has plagued the Yankees in years past.

Moore is a four-pitch guy, with a low-90s fastball, low-80s slider, low-80s change-up, and mid-70s curveball. He’s earned praise for his change-up, which I’ve seen graded as high as a 60 on the 20-80 scale.

Last Outing (vs. CHW on 7/16) – 3.0 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 0 BB, 1 K

Saturday (9:10 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Ariel Miranda

The Mariners acquired Miranda at last year’s trade deadline in a straight-up swap for Wade Miley, and it has paid dividends thus far. The 28-year-old Cuban has thrown 165.2 IP in 30 games for the Mariners, posting a 4.07 ERA (100 ERA+) along the way. His underlying numbers aren’t awe-inspiring (6.9 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 5.30 FIP), but he’s managed to stay healthy and mostly effective this year (97 ERA+), which is a boon for a team that has needed 13 starting pitchers already.

Miranda mostly utilizes three pitches – a low-90s fastball, a mid-80s change-up, and a low-80s splitter. That splitter is his best pitch, with a whiff rate just shy of 20%, and a batting average against of just .190.

Last Outing (vs. HOU on 7/17) – 5.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Sunday (4:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Cessa vs. RHP Sam Gaviglio

The 27-year-old Gaviglio is the second rookie the Yankees will face this weekend, having made his debut on May 11. He was a fifth round pick way back in 2011, and his journey to the show may best be described as methodical – he spent three years bouncing between Double-A and Triple-A, and always seemed to be the “next guy up;” it just took a long time for that need to arise.

Gaviglio is a pure junkballer. His fastball tops out in the upper 80s, and he complements it with a low-80s slider, low-80s change-up, and a curve in the upper-80s. His margin for error is razor thin, as his strikeout rate is a well below average 15.4%.

Last Outing (vs. HOU on 7/18) – 6.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 3 K

The Bullpen

The Mariners bullpen has been right around average in most respects this year, with its ERA, K%, BB%, and WPA all falling between 13th and 20th in the majors. That might be a bit misleading, though, as the bullpen’s overall numbers are dragged down by folk that are primarily used in mop-up situations. Edwin Diaz has been solid as the closer (134 ERA+, 12.9 K/9, 3.9 BB/9), and the late-innings trio of Nick Vincent, Tony Zych, and Steve Cishek is formidable. They also have Marc Rzepcyznski in a traditional LOOGY role – LHH are batting .171/.227/.244 in 45 PA against him this year.

It is worth noting that the bullpen has been stretched thin since the break. They’ve been called upon for 22.1 IP in six games, and Diaz and Vincent were both needed yesterday.

Yankees Connection

It’s all but guaranteed that we will see three former Yankees during this series. Seeing Robinson Cano in another uniform still saddens me, and I’ll have to suffer him starting everyday against the Yankees. I don’t think we need to recap his fantastic career in pinstripes.

Ben Gamel was a 10th round pick by the Yankees in 2010, and he was in the organization up through last August, when he was sent to the Mariners for Juan De Paula and Jio Orozco. It was a roster crunch that made sense at the time (and still does), but Gamel has done his damnedest to make Cashman and Co. look bad. He’s batting .319/.373/.444 (125 wRC+) with 5 HR and 3 SB in 309 PA as a regular in LF/RF, and he has shown no signs of slowing down.

And old friend James Pazos is there, too. He was drafted by the Yankees in 2012, and he tossed 8.1 subpar IP (84 ERA+, 1.50 K/BB) for the team between 2015 and 2016. He was dealt to the Mariners for Zack Littell this off-season, and he’s been very effective in their bullpen this year, with a 124 ERA+ in 36.2 IP. Littell, for his part, has been awesome in the Yankees system – he has a 1.71 ERA in 105.1 IP between High-A and Double-A.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Ben Gamel’s flowing locks.

7/14 to 7/16 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Mark Brown/Getty Images)

With a horrendous end to their first half firmly in the rear-view mirror, the Yankees look to open the second half with a renewed sense of purpose. Matt Holliday will be back in the lineup tonight, there’s a chance that Starlin Castro could return this weekend, and four days off should have helped with the other assorted bumps, bruises, and nagging injuries that tend to pile up over a 162-game season. And who better to right the ship against than the first-place Red Sox?

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees took two of three from the Red Sox from June 6 through 8, moving out ahead of the AL East pack by three games with a 34-23 record. Unfortunately, they’re 11-18 since then, while the Red Sox have gone 18-12. That’ll turn a 3 game lead into a 3.5 game deficit in … well … about a month. Some notes from the series:

  • The Yankees dropped the first game 5-4, despite a dreadful performance from Masahiro Tanaka (5 IP, 5 ER, 3 HR allowed) and going 0-for-10 with RISP as a team. I list this as a reminder that it wasn’t too long ago that we refused to count this team out, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be back at that point soon.
  • Game two was an incredibly satisfying win, and not just because it was 8-0. CC Sabathia tossed 8 scoreless innings, the team was 5-for-12 with RISP, and Chris Carter somehow managed to go 3-for-4 with a home run and 4 RBI.
  • Gary Sanchez continued his torment of David Price in the third game, knocking out two home runs. He’s 4-for-7 with 4 HR, 9 RBI, and 2 BB against Price in his career.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun with numbers.

Injury Report

The Red Sox are still somewhat banged up, with Marco Hernandez, Tyler Thornburg, and Steven Wright done for the season, Roenis Elias trending in that direction, and Carson Smith still up in the air. That being said, they stand to get much more healthy in the coming week, with Brock Holt, Josh Rutledge, and Eduardo Rodriguez all slated to return in the next week or so.

Their Story So Far

Boston is 50-39 with a +65 run differential, and the best home record (25-14) in the American League. Their pitching staff has been the driving force behind their success, with the third-best park-adjusted ERA in the majors, and the fourth best WAR. The fact that they have the best pitcher in the league helps, but it is far from a one-man show.

The Red Sox offense has been starting to click, as well, though its 105 wRC+ in the last 30 days still isn’t quite where they wanted to be. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, and Hanley Ramirez all had slow starts (and Xander Bogaerts has slumped of late), and they haven’t come close to replacing David Ortiz. It’s difficult to see this offense as anything less than potent, but they’re still waiting to truly break out.

For more specifics about the Red Sox, check out Over the Monster.

The Lineup We Might See

This has been John Farrell’s lineup of choice of late:

  1. Mookie Betts, RF
  2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  3. Xander Bogaerts, SS
  4. Mitch Moreland, 1B
  5. Hanley Ramirez, DH
  6. Andrew Benintendi, LF
  7. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
  8. Christian Vazquez, C / or / Sandy Leon, C
  9. Tzu-Wei Lin, 3B

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:10 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz

Pomeranz had a somewhat rough outing against the Yankees on June 6; he only allowed 2 R (1 ER) in 5.0 IP, but it took him 123 pitches to finish those innings. He was clearly laboring, and only 58% of his offerings were strikes – but the Yankees could get that one big hit to blow the game open. Pomeranz has made 17 starts this season on the whole, throwing 90 innings of 3.60 ERA (128 ERA+) ball.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 7/7) – 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 5 BB, 6 K

Saturday (4:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. LHP Chris Sale

By several measures, Sale has been the best pitcher in baseball this year. He leads the majors in fWAR, K%, K-BB%, and park-adjusted FIP, and he’s averaging better than 7 IP per start. He has 10+ strikeouts and 0 walks in three of his 18 starts, and he’s walked more than 2 batters twice. In short, he has been dominant (and, yes, that includes his loss to the Yankees back in April, when he went 8 IP, allowing 8 H, 3 R, and 0 BB, while striking out 10).

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 7/6) – 7.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 0 BB, 12 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Bryan Mitchell vs. RHP Rick Porcello

Porcello has followed-up his Cy Young campaign by being the worst starter on the Red Sox. He’s currently sitting on a 4.75 ERA (97 ERA+) in 119.1 IP, and he has allowed 4+ ER in 7 of his 19 starts (and 3 ER in 6 more). He is coming off of his best start of the season, though.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 7/8) – 8.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K

Sunday (8:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP David Price

The Yankees roughed Price up a little over a month ago, plating 6 runs in 5 innings, with 12 runners reaching base. Price has settled down since then, with a 3.25 ERA in six starts, but he has yet to look dominant this season. He missed nearly two months, so that’s understandable – but he didn’t look like the Price of old last year, either.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 7/9) – 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Red Sox have the best bullpen in baseball by RA9-WAR (FanGraphs’ run-based WAR), with nearly a full run lead over the Dodgers. Closer Craig Kimbrel leads the way, with his microscopic 1.19 ERA and ridiculous 16.3 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9 leading the way to his season yet. Joe Kelly (1.49 ERA), Fernando Abad (2.93), Blaine Boyer (3.13 ERA, 4.0 K/BB), Heath Hembree (3.57 ERA, 6.3 K/BB), and Matt Barnes (3.57 ERA, 10.9 K/9) form a formidable middle relief core that stands to improve if a couple of guys get healthy.

Who (Or What) To Watch

I’m all-in for the Gary Sanchez vs. David Price match-up.

In a more general sense, I’m just plain happy that the Yankees (and baseball) are back. Two days off may not be all that much in the most basic sense, but it felt like an eternity.

2017 Midseason Review: The Infielders

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

In the weeks leading up to Opening Day, our expectations surrounding the infield were fairly high. Greg Bird was raking in Spring Training, and it seemed as though he hadn’t missed a beat; and, in the event that he did, Chris Carter was around as an overqualified back-up. Starlin Castro had shown flashes of brilliance in 2016, and had been hyped-up by some as a potential breakout player. Chase Headley … well, his defense had improved, and he was better after a calamitous first month. And Didi Gregorius was coming off of a great all-around season. What could possibly go wrong?

The First Basemen

Expectation: Bird and Carter would form a more than competent platoon, of sorts, with Carter playing first against tougher LHP, and allowing Bird to rest a bit more often than a normal team composition would dictate. ZiPS projected a .234/.307/.449 line for Bird, and .223/.316/.509 for Carter.

Reality: Bird is on the disabled list for the second time in his career, as the result of an ankle injury. He’s played just 19 games, and is hitting on a .100/.250/.200 slash line. And Carter has earned himself two DFA’s by hitting .201/.284/.370 and absolutely brutal defense at first. The starter is currently Ji-Man Choi.

I almost don’t want to write more about first base, as it’s rather depressing. Bird’s injury (and the resulting fallout from the front office) has cast a shadow over the team’s season, and it has only grown darker as the team struggled over the last few weeks. His return is still up in the air, and surgery is a distinct possibility. And it is that uncertainty that is most frustrating.

And Carter – the should-have-been safety net – failed catastrophically. We always knew that he was a feast or famine hitter, but that had still resulted in a .221/.318/.474 slash line (116 wRC+) in five seasons as a regular. There was some sentiment that he was struggling as he adjusted to playing part time, but that excuse went out the window once he became the full-time first baseman. His 73 wRC+ ranks dead last among first basemen.

Choi is the starter for the time being, and he has made a decent impression in a four games. He’s hitting .182/.308/.727 in 13 PA, with 2 HR and 2 BB, and there’s no real challenger for his position in the organization right now. And, for what it’s worth, he does have a career .853 OPS in 851 PA at Triple-A.

Second-Half Forecast: The Yankees will acquire a first baseman via trade, and shut Bird down sooner rather than later.

The Second Basemen

Expectation: Castro would continue to be a competent yet frustrating presence at the keystone. ZiPS projected a .272/.305/.419 slash line, which isn’t too far off from his career norms (in 4000-plus PA).

Reality: Castro is currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, which was a major blow to the team’s lineup. He’s currently slashing .313/.348/.486 (121 wRC+) with 12 HR in 313 PA.

The 27-year-old Castro absolutely raked in April, batting .352/.362/.549 (154 wRC+) with 5 home runs. He also had a 7.1% walk rate, which is impressive for the free-swinger. His performance dipped in May (97 wRC+, 3.4 BB%), but he showed improvements in June (117 wRC+, 4.2 BB%) prior to hitting the DL. Castro earned an All-Star nod for his first-half, but had to be replaced due to that injury.

Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes have filled-in since the injury. I’ll have more on them in a bit.

Second-Half Forecast: Castro will be back soon, and his numbers will continue to fluctuate. With so much strong production in the bank, however, we may end up seeing a career year.

The Third Basemen

Expectation: Headley would be a warm body at the hot corner, with competent defense. And maybe, just maybe, he’d be a bit better with the bat. ZiPS had him at .247/.324/.376.

Reality: Headley has been a warm body at the hot corner, but his defense has regressed. His offense (91 wRC+) is right in-line with 2015 (92 wRC+) and 2016 (92 wRC+), even with a blistering hot start.

This is who Headley is at this point. He’s batting .254/.329/.373 (92 wRC+) since Opening Day of 2015, and his highs (142 wRC+ in April) are always met with ridiculous lows (15 wRC+ in May). That’s fine when he’s playing strong defense, as he did in 2016, but he has been a borderline disaster out there in 2017. DRS has him at -5 runs already, and he has already surpassed last year’s error total.

Second-Half Forecast: More of the same, unfortunately. Though, I could see a Miguel Andujar cup of coffee happening down the stretch.

The Shortstops

Expectation: Gregorius would continue to win our hearts with his surprising power, slick defense, and top-notch Twitter game. ZiPS was bearish on the power spike, projecting a .262/.308/.404 line.

Reality: Pretty darn close, albeit with nearly a month lost to a shoulder injury suffered at the World Baseball Classic. He’s hitting .291/.321/.458 with 10 HR (104 wRC+) on the year, and nearly made the All-Star team.

Gregorius is one of the most likable players in baseball, as evidenced by the fun he had trying to garner that final vote. The fact that he has proven that last season wasn’t a fluke helps, too, and he is currently a top-10 shortstop by both WAR (7th in MLB) and wRC+ (9th). And keep in mind that WAR is a counting stat, so the fact that he’s 26th among shortstop in PA helps to bring that number down. He may not be a Hall of Fame talent, but that’s perfectly acceptable – he’s still really, really good.

Second-Half Forecast: Gregorius will keep it up. He’s the safest bet among the infielders to be an above-average player for the remainder of the season, and I’m confident that he will.

The Reserves

Expectation: Ronald Torreyes and Co. would be perfectly adequate bench players.

Reality: Torreyes and Co. have been perfectly adequate – but they’ve had too play more often than anyone would have wanted.

Torreyes spent most of April as the team’s starting shortstop, and he was surprisingly competent. He posted a .313/.313/.433 slash line (95 wRC+) while Gregorius was on the mend, and his defense was more than passable. He has been overextended and a bit exposed since then, though, as he has already surpassed last year’s PA mark, and stands to play more as the season wears on. He’s another fun player, but he shouldn’t be counted on for much more than what he’s done already.

Wade was called upon to shore up the bench when Castro landed on the DL, and he has picked up five starts at second in those two weeks. He has yet to get on-track (.107/.219/.179 in 32 PA), but his versatility and speed should earn him more opportunities in the coming months. Wade hit .313/.390/.444 (134 wRC+) with 5 HR and 24 SB at Triple-A this year, and he might just be the best reserve the team has right now.

Rob Refsnyder is still around, too, but the Yankees seem to have decided that he’s a 1B/LF/RF. He’s batting .135/.200/.216 in 40 PA, and he hasn’t played since July 2.

Second-Half Forecast: This may be optimistic, but I’m hoping that we’ll see more of Wade, and less of Torreyes (and Refsnyder, if such a thing is even possible). The Yankees have been grooming him for this exact role for some time now; it’s his time to shine.

2017 Home Run Derby Open Thread

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

This is the first time that I have ever been excited for the Home Run Derby. I’ve enjoyed watching it before, to be sure, and I will never cease to be amazed by the towering shots that most of the competitors are capable of hitting on a year-to-year basis – but it has never before felt like must-see TV. And, despite my own Yankees fandom, it isn’t just because of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.

Well, to be fair, it is mostly because of Judge and Sanchez. At the same time, though, I’m excited to see Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Sano, who were jockeying for the “most impressive batting practice” crown before Judge arrived on the scene. I’m similarly stoked to see Cody Bellinger come to the plate, as he has essentially played the role of Aaron Judge West this year. And seeing MLB use this event as an opportunity to market three young, blossoming stars in NYC and Los Angeles is basically a feather in its cap.

Here is tonight’s bracket:

bracket

This sets up the possibility of a Judge vs. Bellinger semi-finals, and a Judge vs. Stanton (or Sanchez) finals. It’s rare that something as simple as a bracket is intriguing, but here we are.

The Home Run Derby will begin at 8 PM EST, and will be broadcast on ESPN. Feel free to discuss the derby and anything else (that isn’t religion or politics) here.