5/16 to 5/18 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

Vargas. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images North America)
Vargas. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images North America)

The result of the Yankees having so many days off through the first six weeks of the season starts now, as they will not be off again until June 5. That’s twenty games in a row without a day off; luckily, they will not have to travel all that far in that stretch with this week’s trips to Kansas City and Tampa Bay representing the furthest journeys. Given the heavy workload handled by the bullpen this weekend, though, it seems all but certain that the team’s depth and Joe Girardi‘s hand will be tested as soon as this evening.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Kansas City for a three-game series to close out last August, winning two along the way. They were outscored by one run in the series as a whole, with both of their victories coming by one run, and taking extra innings to sort out. Some other interesting bits:

  • The Royals tested Gary Sanchez‘s arm throughout the series, and largely got the better of him. They stole eight bases, and were caught just twice. Sanchez threw out 10 of 21 would-be base-stealers against teams that weren’t the Royals last year.
  • Chasen Shreve was one of the heroes of the series, which feels strange to see on the screen. He came into the second game with the bases loaded and one out, and struck out Kendrys Morales swinging (on three pitches) before retiring Salvador Perez on a flyball. Shreve chipped in two scoreless innings in the third game, with three more swinging strikeouts (Cheslor Cuthbert, Eric Hosmer, and Perez were the victims this time around).
  • The Yankees game-winning runs were scored on a weak infield single by Jacoby Ellsbury and a sacrifice fly by Brian McCann, respectively.
  • Seven pitchers were used by the Yankees in game two and, in what seems almost impossible, all seven are still in the organization. And of those seven, only Ben Heller is not on the active roster.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more details about this series.

Injury Report

Former Yankee Ian Kennedy is on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session this week. There is no set return date as of yet, but he isn’t expected to be out too long (he could be in-line to face the Yankees when these teams meet again, in fact). Middle reliever Scott Alexander is out, as well.

Their Story So Far

The Royals are last in the majors in runs scored by a comfortable margin, and are scoring just 3.2 runs per game. They are currently 8-18 when they allow two runs or more, and that’s with them having won six of their last seven games overall. It doesn’t help that Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar both sport an OPS under .500, and it seems less than ideal that one of those two has batted first in 24 of the Royals 37 games (including their last seven). Their lead-off hitters are batting .176/.216/.248 as a group, which is about 72% below league-average.

All that being said, they have shown signs of life of late. They won six of their seven games last week, scoring 37 runs in the process. Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez have been heating up, and Lorenzo Cain has been playing well all season. The aforementioned duo of Escobar and Gordon went a combined 8-for-48 with one extra-base hit, but every other Royals regular seems to be righting the ship.

The other half of their story mostly revolves around Jason Vargas and his ludicrous 1.01 ERA – I’ll talk about him more a bit later.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Ned Yost has been semi-responsive to the team’s offensive struggles, with five of the nine spots in the team’s lineup in constant flux. The Royals have used at least seven different players in the 6-through-9 spots (not including pitchers), and four lead-off hitters. That makes predicting their lineup a bit of a crapshoot, so here goes nothing:

  1. Alcides Escobar, SS
  2. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  3. Lorenzo Cain, CF
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  5. Salvador Perez, C
  6. Brandon Moss, DH
  7. Whit Merrifield, 2B
  8. Alex Gordon, LF
  9. Jorge Bonifacio or Jorge Soler, RF

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (8:15 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jason Hammel

There was a stretch in the off-season where everyone was talking about the Cubs unceremoniously declining Hammel’s club option, and then Hammel waiting months upon months to be signed. There were several teams (and fans of teams) that were interested in his services, Yankees included, but he had to wait until February to sign on a dotted line. It was strange to see a pitcher coming off of a three-year stretch of slightly-above-average production on the market for so long, but his 5.97 ERA to-date and approaching 35th birthday make it a bit more understandable with the blessings of hindsight.

Hammel is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, working with a low-90s fastball (though he does use a four- and two-seam varieties) and a mid-80s slider. He’ll use a mid-70s curveball and mid-80s change-up to keep hitters honest, but 85% of his offerings will be a fastball or slider.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 5/10) – 7 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Wednesday (8:15 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Jason Vargas

Vargas underwent Tommy John Surgery in the Summer of 2015, and missed the Royals miraculous run to the World Series. He returned for three starts last September, and looked great (12 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 11 K, 2.25 ERA). Nobody thought much of it, given the sample size and the fact that he was a known commodity, and he was penciled right back into the back of the rotation. He has followed that up by being one of the five-best pitchers in baseball by both incarnations of WAR, and he currently sports a 1.01 ERA (410 ERA+!) through 7 starts (44.2 IP). There are plenty of signs that this is a fluke (2.0% HR/FB, 3.70 xFIP, 88.7 LOB%, etc.), but his 22.9 K% and 4.7 BB% suggest that he could at least be better than most of us would have expected.

The 34-year-old southpaw has never been known for his velocity, but he has slid down into Jamie Moyer territory following the surgery. His fastball is sitting around around 86 MPH, and he throws it about 50% of the time. He also uses a change-up in the upper-70s and a low-70s curveball, the former of which has been his bread and butter throughout his career. His curve is a relatively new addition, and it’s working out quite well for him so far.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 5/11) – 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Thursday (8:15 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Danny Duffy

The 28-year-old Duffy emerged as the Royals ace last season, after finally being moved to the rotation for good on May 15. He made 26 starts through the end of the season, putting together the following line: 161.2 IP, 3.56 ERA, 25.4 K%, 5.6 BB%, 1.13 WHIP. Duffy’s velocity did dip into the 93 MPH range after sitting around 96 in the bullpen, but that’s to be expected. And now, finally (seemingly) freed from bouncing between starting and relieving, he is sitting on a 3.38 ERA (3.32 FIP) through 8 starts.

Duffy uses four pitches on most nights – a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-90s two-seamer, a low-80s breaking ball that might be best classified as a slurve, and a mid-80s change-up. It’s top-of-the-rotation stuff when he’s getting it over the plate, which he has done fairly regularly over the last calendar year.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 5/12) – 7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

The Royals bullpen has been kind of bad this season. They were the standard-bearer for great relief corps for several seasons, peaking with a 2.72 ERA in 2015, but closer Kelvin Herrera is the last man standing from those dominant units. And Herrera hasn’t been his dominant self just yet, with a 3.38 ERA (5.20 FIP) and career-low 7.31 K/9. Mike Minor, Joakim Soria, and the injured Scott Alexander all have strong run prevention numbers, but the bullpen as a whole sports a 4.72 ERA and six blown saves. Travis Wood, Matt Strahm, and Peter Moylan have combined to throw 37.1 IP of 8.44 ERA ball, with nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (34).

It is worth noting that the Royals bullpen was worked hard this past weekend, especially on Sunday when they were called upon for 5.1 IP. Herrera also pitched in three-straight games, so he may need a bit more than Monday’s day off to recover.

Yankees Connection

Ian Kennedy is the lone Royals players with a connection to the Yankees organization, unless you want to count Jason Hammel and Travis Wood for popping up in rumors this off-season. Also, pitching coach Dave Eiland held the same role with the Yankees from 2008-10.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Royals swing at more pitches than any other team in the game, with a 49.4% swing rate as per PITCHf/x. They’re second in swinging at pitches outside of the zone, and first on pitches in the zone by nearly two percentage points. Yankees pitchers might be salivating at those numbers, though, as the Royals are in the bottom-ten in contact percentage, and in the middle-of-the-pack in strikeouts and hard-hit balls. They’re an aggressive bunch, which leads to a great deal of feast-or-famine outings.

A ‘buy or sell’ storyline will follow the Royals throughout this season, as well, with Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas, Escobar, and Vargas all being in the final year of their contracts. If the Yankees ends up in a position to buy, this may be one of the first teams they try to match-up with.

5/11 to 5/14 Series Preview: Houston Astros

Correa and Altuve. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images North America)
Correa and Altuve. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images North America)

A strong argument can be made that this is the series to watch this weekend, regardless of your fandom. As of this morning, the Yankees and Astros rank in the top-five in winning percentage, runs scored, runs allowed, run differential, wRC+, and park-adjusted ERA; and, beyond that, both teams are headlined by young sluggers. In short, this is a match-up between teams that have the foundation laid to be good over the next several years – what more could you ask for?

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited the Astros for a three-game set just before last year’s deadline, taking two out of three. It was their first series following the Aroldis Chapman trade (he was actually dealt the morning of the first game), and the last time Andrew Miller would take the mound as a Yankee. Some other points of interest:

  • The Yankees were four games above .500 after winning the second game, which was the high-water mark of the season to that point.
  • Astros third baseman Alex Bregman made his big league debut in this series, starting all three games. He went 0-for-9 with 2 walks and 3 strikeouts.
  • Michael Pineda gave up a home run on his first pitch of the game. He promptly settled down, finishing with 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, and 8 K.
  • Luis Severino made the first relief appearance of his career in the third game of the series. He went two innings, and allowed no hits and one walk while striking out three.
  • Adam Warren made his first appearance since coming back from the Cubs in that same game. He gave the Yankees a scoreless sixth inning.

You can check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more interesting tidbits.

Injury Report

RHP Collin McHugh has been on the disabled list since Opening Day with a posterior impingement in his right elbow, and isn’t expected to return until sometime in June. He has been a stalwart in the back of the Astros rotation since 2014, but the team has managed to get by in the interim.

Would-be fourth outfielder Teoscar Hernandez is on the DL, as well, as the result of a scary collision with Jose Altuve. He’s expected to activated soon, but he may end up in Triple-A.

Their Story So Far

The Astros are 23-11, and lead the AL West by a full six games. That impressive record is a product of their dominance of the division thus far, as they’re 17-6 against the Mariners, Angels, A’s, and Rangers (and 6-5 against everyone else). Even so, the team has performed quite well in most every facet of the game; they have seven regulars/semi-regulars with a wRC+ above 120, and Carlos Beltran‘s 92 wRC+ represents the bottom of the barrel. They have a 3.42 ERA (109 ERA+) as a team, a resurgent Dallas Keuchel pitching like an ace, and a deep bullpen that is striking out 11.54 batters per nine innings (the best mark in the majors). The greatest flaw of the team — at least in terms of how it’s performing right now — lay in baserunning, as they’re 29th in the game in FanGraphs’ BsR (an all-encompassing metric).

In short, the Astros are firing on (almost) all cylinders right now.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager A.J. Hinch like to mix-and-match his lineups, as evidenced by the fact that he has used 32 unique lineups this year (as per Baseball-Reference). He does this not only to gain the platoon advantage, but also as a means to keep players rested – Brian McCann has already had nine days off, and no player has played every game. Having versatile players like Marwin Gonzalez, Alex Bregman, and Evan Gattis helps with that, too. That being said, we’ll probably see something along these lines:

  1. George Springer, CF
  2. Josh Reddick, RF
  3. Jose Altuve, 2B
  4. Carlos Correa, SS
  5. Carlos Beltran, DH
  6. Yulieski Gurriel, 1B
  7. Brian McCann, C
  8. Alex Bregman, 3B
  9. Nori Aoki, LF

Evan Gattis will almost certainly start at least one game at catcher, and probably when Jordan Montgomery takes the mound. Jake Marisnick may play LF over Aoki on that day, as well. And Gonzalez will get a couple of starts; where he plays is up in the air, as he has started at 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, and RF this year.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel

Keuchel followed-up his 2015 Cy Young-winning season with a subpar 2016, pitching to an 87 ERA+ in 168 IP. His velocity dropped across the board, he struggled to throw strikes at times, and he missed starts with shoulder soreness, leading many to wonder if there was a more serious injury lurking beneath the surface. Fortunately for the Astros, he came to Spring Training healthy, and he has rebounded in a big way in 2017 (albeit at least in part due to a ridiculously low .195 BABIP). He’s currently sitting on a 199 ERA+, and has averaged more than 7 IP per outing in his seven starts.

The 29-year-old southpaw throws three fastballs in the mid-to-upper 80s – a four-seamer, a two-seamer, and a cutter. He also mixes in a slider and a change-up in the upper-70s, which account for around 40% of his pitch selection. Keuchel pounds the bottom of the strike zone with gusto, as evidenced by his 63% ground ball rate in 2017.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on 5/5) – 8.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Friday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Lance McCullers Jr.

The story of McCullers’ career-to-date is highlighted by brilliant stuff, strong performances, and concerns over the health and future of his elbow. The 23-year-old boasts a 120 ERA+, 27.3 K%, and 51.7 GB% in his young career, along with an average of nearly +4 bWAR per 200 IP. Unfortunately, he missed right around half of 2016 due to elbow issues, and missed time in Spring Training due to the same malady. He’s been healthy and effective since the regular season began, though, and is tossing just over 6 IP per start.

McCullers is a borderline two-pitch pitcher, living and dying by his explosive mid-90s fastball and ridiculously hard, bendy knuckle-curveball (which is just as filthy in-game as it reads on your screen). That curveball represents nearly half of his offerings in any given game, and he gets whiffs on it about 20% of the time. He’ll also mix in a split-fingered change-up, which is another swing-and-miss pitch when it’s working.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on 5/6) – 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Mike Fiers

It seems like Aaron Judge is hitting the ball out of the park whenever he puts it in the air, and that’s because 44.8% of his fly balls have left the yard. Fiers has turned every hitter into Judge this year, as 41.2% of his fly balls allowed have turned into home runs. He’s allowed 14 home runs in just 30.1 IP, which ties him with Jered Weaver and his 84 MPH fastball (and Weaver has pitched in Colorado and Arizona this year). Fiers was ineffective last season, and he has to be close to losing his job at this point. It’ll be interesting to see him in Yankee Stadium

Fiers’ arsenal includes a four-seamer in the upper-80s, a mid-80s cutter, a low-80s change-up, a low-80s slider, and a low-70s curveball. He uses all five pitches fairly regularly, and they used to play-up because of his over-the-top delivery, which added a great deal of deception. It doesn’t seem like it’s fooling anyone nowadays.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on 5/7) – 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 1 K

Sunday (7:35 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Charlie Morton

Morton leapt into baseball consciousness nearly six years ago, due largely to his professed copying/mimicry/absorption of Roy Halladay’s mechanics and pitch selection. The overall results have been mixed, as he has a 94 ERA+ in 681.1 IP since the self-overhaul, and he has spent nearly as much time on the disabled list as he has on the field — his 2016 season ended in April, when he tore his hamstring running out a bunt (thanks, National League). Morton has great strikeout (25.1%) and ground ball (50.5%) rates right now, in addition to a 103 ERA+. The Astros would be more than happy with that over 180 IP or so, given their 2-year, $14 MM investment.

The 33-year-old throws four different fastballs — a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-to-mid 90s two-seamer, a cutter in the upper-80s, and a mid-80s splitter. His only true offspeed pitch is a curveball, which he throws a bit more than a quarter of the time (and has a strong 20.8% whiff rate this year).

Last Outing (vs. ATL on 5/9) – 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Astros bullpen has been excellent this year, ranking sixth in the majors with a 2.93 ERA. Fireman Chris Devenski has thrown 21 IP across 11 appearances, with incredible strikeout (49.4%) and walk (3.9%) rates – and his 2.14 ERA is fourth on the team among relievers with 10-plus IP. Ken Giles has reclaimed the closer’s role after losing it to Luke Gregerson last year, and he might be the team’s fifth best reliever right now as he’s still rounding into form.

Gregerson pitched on Tuesday and Wednesday, so he isn’t likely to be available in the first game of the series. Giles went yesterday afternoon, but he only needed 11 pitches to pick up the save. Between Monday’s off-day and both starters pitching into the 6th in their two-game series against the Braves, the Astros bullpen is fairly well-rested.

Yankees Connection

The Astros have two everyday players that were Yankees regulars as recently as last year, in McCann and Beltran. The latter is showing an age a bit, as he is currently slashing .256/.295/.397 (92 wRC+) with a 25.6% strikeout rate, but he has shown signs of life since the calendar flipped to May with three multi-hit games and six extra-base hits.

McCann, on the other hand, is playing better than he has in years. He’s batting .281/.381/.461 (135 wRC+) with terrific walk (14.3%) and strikeout rates (10.5%) in 105 PA. He’s on-pace to play less than 120 games, and the regular rest has clearly paid off six weeks into the season. And, while there’s may be some small sample size noise here, his .270 BABIP and exit velocity suggest that this isn’t necessarily a fluke.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Astros are a high-contact team, so they will test the Yankees defense early and often. They’re striking out in just 18.1% of their plate appearances, which is the second-lowest mark in baseball, and they’re aggressive in and out of the zone. It goes without saying that this will be a challenge for the Yankees pitchers, too.

Any McCullers start is a must-watch, as well. Or, at the very least, his curveball is a sight to behold.

5/8 to 5/9 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

A month ago, few would have expected this to be a meeting between two first place teams – but here we are. On the strength of a five-game winning streak (and the Yankees sweep of the Cubs), the Reds are in first place in the NL Central. And the Yankees, on the heels of an 18-inning, 6-plus hour affair, have the best record in baseball.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees swept the Reds in a three-game set in the Bronx in July of 2014. They managed to avoid Joey Votto back then, as he was on the disabled list with a strained left quadriceps (an injury that limited him to 62 games that year). As for what happened on the field:

  • Brian McCann hit a walk-off single against Aroldis Chapman in the final game of the series. Jacoby Ellsbury played an integral role, as well. He lead off the ninth with a single, stole second, and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
  • Ellsbury had a heck of a series on the whole. He went 6-for-12 with two runs, a double, a home run, three RBI, and three steals.
  • Billy Hamilton went 1-for-12 with five strikeouts and no steals. He hit .285/.319/.423 before visiting the Bronx, and .206/.263/.261 afterward. That may mean a whole lot of nothing, but it was viewed as a turning point in his season by Reds writers at the time.
  • David Phelps, Brandon McCarthy, and Hiroki Kuroda were the starters for the Yankees in the series. They combined to pitch to the following brilliant line: 19 IP, 15 H, 5 R (3 ER), 3 BB, 22 K. Kuroda is the only one that didn’t pick up the win.

Injury Report

The Reds have a great deal of pitching on the disabled list right now, which makes their recent success all the more impressive. Anthony DeSclafani (their de facto ace since they dealt Johnny Cueto to the Royals) is out until July thanks to a sprained UCL, and he was recently joined on the DL by reliever Tony Cingrani and the 24-year-old Brandon Finnegan (the prize of that Cueto deal). Finnegan was a solid-average starter last season, and looked great through three starts this year – he’s not expected back until June. And, despite the fact that he has made made all of eight starts since the beginning of 2015, it bears mentioning that Homer Bailey is on the 60-day DL. Bailey was near the top of the same prospect lists as Phil Hughes back in the day, and is owed a minimum of $68 MM through the end of 2019.

Their Story So Far

Cincinnati is in the midst of a rebuilding effort that began in earnest on July 26, 2015, when they shipped Cueto to Kansas City. They won 68 games last year, and most projection systems saw them within spitting distance of that in 2017, with the mean falling right around 72 wins. Such is life for a team whose offense was expected to be Votto and little else, and with a pitching staff that was best described as young and questionable. Several injuries and six Bronson Arroyo starts later, and the rotation sounds even worse than that. And this on the heels of having one of the worst pitching staffs ever.

A month and change into the season, however, the Reds have been a more than competent team. They’re third in the majors in runs scored and fifth in run differential (+22), and they have a league-average park-adjusted ERA. There are a few reasons to expect them to fall off (updated projection systems still have them finishing below .500), but they’ve looked good so far.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Bryan Price has been fairly consistent with his lineup configuration this season. The seventh spot in the lineup is the only one that isn’t locked-down by one particular player (or position, in the case of the nine hole), and that’s mostly due to Zack Cozart moving up the lineup as his bat heated up. Based on that, the Yankees pitchers will probably see a lineup like this:

  1. Billy Hamilton, CF
  2. Zack Cozart, SS
  3. Joey Votto, 1B
  4. Adam Duvall, LF
  5. Eugenio Suarez, 3B
  6. Scott Schebler, RF
  7. Jose Peraza, 2B
  8. Devin Mesoraco, C or Tucker Barnhart, C
  9. [Pitcher]

The Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Rookie Davis

It was a year and a half ago that Rookie Davis was considered one of the best prospects in the Yankees organization, garnering a bit of hype before being sent to Cincinnati in the Aroldis Chapman deal. He reached the majors for the first time this year, and made one of the worst starts of the young season just three weeks later. Davis has just 24 IP at Triple-A, but the injuries to DeSclafani and Finnegan make his presence on the big league roster a necessity; given the team’s rebuilding efforts, though, this is almost certainly a legitimate chance for him to prove his mettle.

Davis is a three-pitch pitcher, mixing a 93-ish MPH fastball with a slurvy breaking ball in the 78 to 83 MPH range and a mid-80s change-up. PITCHf/x picks up two different breaking balls (a slider and a curveball), but most scouts call it a curveball.

Last Outing (vs. PIT on 5/3) – 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 2 K

Tuesday (7:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Tim Adleman

Staten Island’s own Tim Adleman has had a long, winding road to the majors. He was drafted in the 24th round of the 2010 draft by the Orioles, and found himself bouncing around independent leagues by 2012. In fact, he was passed over by the first independent ballclub that he tried out for, and would spend time working in a market in between stints with three different teams. The Reds picked him up in 2014, and he made his big league debut on May 1, 2016, at the age of 28. He’s been and up-and-down guy since, posting a 106 ERA+ in 91 IP at the highest level.

Adleman is something of a junkballer, throwing a fastball that scrapes 90 MPH (albeit with excellent rising action), a big-breaking curveball in the low-70s, and a low-80s change-up. He’s been homer prone in his brier career, surrendering 1.78 HR/9; that doesn’t come as a shock, though, considering his home park, low velocity, and 35.9% groundball rate.

Last Outing (vs. PIT on 5/4) – 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Reds have the sixth-best bullpen in baseball by park-adjusted ERA; they were 29th in baseball by that metric last year, just ahead of the Phillies. Closer Raisel Iglesias has been excellent since moving to the bullpen last year, and Drew Storen and rookie Wandy Peralta have been nearly as good this year in setup roles. They don’t really have a big name in the group, but they’ve been effective – and the worst offenders from 2016 are no longer with the team.

It’s also worth noting that the bullpen is well-rested. Scott Feldman tossed a complete game last night, and only one reliever (Robert Stephenson) was used on Saturday. In fact, none of the team’s ‘big three’ have pitched since last Thursday. After the Yankees-Cubs game last night, that seems unfair.

Yankees Connection

The aforementioned Davis was one of four players sent to the Reds for Chapman. Utility player Tony Renda and corner infielder Eric Jagielo are still in the organization, as well, at Triple-A and Double-A, respectively. The fourth player, Caleb Cotham, tossed 24.1 IP for the Reds last year, but retired this off-season. He dealt with injuries throughout his professional career, including a season-ending knee injury in 2016.

There are three former Reds on the Yankees – Chapman, Didi Gregorius, and Ronald Torreyes.

Who (Or What) To Watch

If you’re a fan of dingers, the heart of the Reds order is must-see TV. Votto, Duvall, Suarez, and Schebler have combined for 34 home runs to-date, and Cozart hit 16 last year. The team is seventh in the majors in home runs overall, with five fewer bombs than the Yankees

Should you want to focus on just one player, Votto  is always interesting to watch. Everyone knows about his ability to work the count and draw walks (he has a career 15.9 BB%, and had a .434 OBP last year), but he has changed his approach a bit this year. In addition to walking at an elite rate this year, he’s swinging at more pitches in the zone than ever before. The result of this is a ridiculously low 12.7 K%, and a .324 ISO (which would be the best of his career by a sizable margin).

5/5 to 5/7 Preview: Chicago Cubs

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

Despite being a Yankees fan, there is something special about writing “the Yankees are visiting the defending World Series Champions this weekend” as a means to describe the Cubs. They are teetering dangerously close to being a team that everyone outside of Chicago hates (perhaps replacing the Cardinals and St. Louis at some point in the near future), but for now they remain a genuinely likable team. And, yes, it pains me to write that, considering the people that pull the strings in their organization.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visit the Cubs from May 20 through May 21, 2014 for a two-game set, and ended up with the split. They had beat the Cubs in back-to-back games in Yankee Stadium back in April, though, so they won the season series 3-1. Here are some notes about the in-game action:

  • Masahiro Tanaka pitched an absolute gem in the first game – 8 IP, 2 H,  R, 1 BB, 10 K – as the Yankees won 3-0.
  • The lineup in that first game is an interesting time capsule. Alfonso Soriano started at DH and hit cleanup, and the infield was manned by Kelly Johnson (1B), Yangervis Solarte (2B), Scott Sizemore (3B), and Dean Anna (SS).
  • Starlin Castro went 3-for-17 (all singles) with an RBI against his team-to-be.
  • The Yankees used eight pitchers in the final game of the series, a 4-2 victory. Chase Whitley started the game and held the Cubs to one run, but only went 4.1 IP (it was the second start of his big league career, and he was on a pitch count). Preston Claiborne picked up the win, and former Yankee Jose Veras took the loss.

Injury Report

Kris Bryant, the reigning NL MVP, left Tuesday’s game early with tightness in his calf, but he’s already back in the lineup. The team is healthy otherwise.

Their Story So Far

The Cubs have been far from the dominant force that many expected this season, owing to underperformance throughout the team. The starting five has combined for a 4.68 ERA through 28 games, a far cry from last season’s incredible 2.96 ERA, and has routinely made it through only five innings. This has led to the bullpen being taxed at times (more on that later), as well. Some of this may be blamed on the defense, as well, as last year’s record-setting .254 BABIP allowed has been followed-up with a league-average-ish .307 mark. The offense outside of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo has largely disappointed, as well, particularly Kyle Schwarber (77 wRC+), Addison Russell (83 wRC+), and Willson Contreras (85 wRC+).

They are nevertheless 16-12, and sit atop the NL Central by two games. If this is what a slump looks like for a great team, sign me up.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Joe Maddon has been fairly consistent with his lineups this year, with the first six spots in the lineup being all but set in stone. However, he does maximize the positional versatility of Ben Zobrist, and he utilizes a three-person show in center, with Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, and Jon Jay all starting seven-plus games out there. The lineup will probably look something like this, though:

  1. Kyle Schwarber, LF
  2. Bryant, 3B
  3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  4. Zobrist, 2B/RF
  5. Addison Russell, SS
  6. Jason Heyward, RF/CF
  7. Wilson Contreras, C
  8. [starting pitcher]
  9. Jon Jay, CF or Albert Almora, CF or Javier Baez, 2B

Confused? I am too.

The Pitchers We Will See

Friday (2:20 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Kyle Hendricks

A great deal was written about Hendricks last year, most of which revolved around whether a pitcher that throws 89 MPH fastballs could possibly sustain his level of success. He did last year, finishing 3rd in Cy Young balloting after posting a league-leading 188 ERA+ in 190 IP. It has been a different story this year, though, as he currently sits on a 4.18 ERA (100 ERA+). His strikeout (22.8% to 19.3%) and walk (5.9% to 10.5%) rates have trended in the wrong direction, and he has lost around 3 MPH off of his fastball. It’s only five starts, but this is the sort of performance that many thought was more in-line with Hendricks’ stuff even as he was dominating last year.

In addition to his mid-to-high 80s fastballs (he utilizes a four-seamer and sinker), Hendricks throws a change-up right around 80 MPH, and a low-to-mid 70s curveball.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 4/30) – 6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 6 K

Saturday (7:15 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Brett Anderson

Anderson is one of the most snake-bitten pitchers in the league, dealing with a litany of injuries that have limited him to just 707.1 IP in eight-plus seasons in the majors. He has eclipsed 100 IP just three times, and has made more than 20 starts just twice. He has remained a perennial “if he stays healthy” sleeper nonetheless, and he’s still just 29-years-old. And even with all of the injuries, Anderson’s tremendous ability to sink his pitches and pound the bottom of the zone have helped him maintain elite groundball rates throughout his career.

The southpaw is either a four or five-pitch pitcher, depending on your definitions. He throws a four-seamer and a two-seamer in the high-80s to low-90s, a slider, a change-up, and a curve with some knuckling action. The fastballs represent between 50 and 60% of his offerings on most days, and he mixes the other three pitches in fairly evenly.

Last Outing (vs. PHI on 5/1) – 1.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 1 B, 1 K

Sunday (8:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. LHP Jon Lester

As Yankees fans we have had plenty of exposure to Lester (some would say too much). The 33-year-old has made and MLB-season’s worth of starts against the Yankees, pitching to the following line – 13-6, 174.0 IP, 178 H, 69 BB, 172 K, 3.78 ERA. His last outing against them came on June 28, 2014, when he held them to 1 unearned run in 8 IP, picking up the win along the way. And, despite a semi-bumpy start to 2017, he remains a top of the rotation starter.

Lester mixes three fastballs (four-seamer, cutter, sinker) with a curveball and a change-up. Those three fastballs – thrown predominantly in the upper-80s to low-90s range – account for around 80% of his pitches in most outings.

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

The Bullpen

The Cubs needed 13 innings to beat the Phillies yesterday, eight of which were picked up by the bullpen. Closer Wade Davis, Koji Uehara, and Carl Edwards Jr. tossed an inning apiece, and longman Mike Montgomery gave them three full innings. It seems unlikely that any of those four will be available today, particularly when you consider that Davis has pitched in three straight games, and Uehara went on Wednesday and Thursday. Those four have been great for the Cubs this year, so Maddon will be a bit hamstrung by that.

However, Maddon does have Hector Rondon ready to go, and he did a fine job as the team’s closer for two-plus years, prior to the arrival of Aroldis Chapman (and then Davis). He’s the only Cubs reliever that wasn’t needed yesterday – though, Pedro Strop and Brian Duensing (both of which have been mediocre this season) were only needed for nine pitches combined.

Yankees Connection

There are no former Yankees on the Cubs roster. Even so, they still have a somewhat staggering total of nine AL East alumni on the active roster in Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis, Brian Duensing, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo, Pedro Strop, Koji Uehara, and Ben Zobrist. And there are also three former Cubs on the Yankees roster in Starlin Castro, Aroldis Chapman, and Adam Warren – the latter two of which will receive a World Series ring this weekend.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Bryant has continued his ascent into superstardom; or, more likely, continues to solidify his position as one of the best players in all of baseball. He’s currently hitting .321/.417/.563 (157 wRC+) with 5 HR and 4 SB, and there are a few signs that he’s continuing to evolve. Namely, his walk rate is up significantly, he’s swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone, making more contact with those pitches that he does swing at, and striking out less. He’ll be 25 for the entirety of the season, and there’s a real chance that the best is yet to come.

Early Returns on Some Former Yankees

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

One of the most frequently asked questions early in the season revolves around former Yankees. There is some measure of comfort to be had from seeing an ex-Yankee struggle in another team’s uniform, while there is an equally bothersome annoyance when those players perform well. We want to know that the Yankees made the right decision in either trading the player or letting him walk; or, at the very least, that they received back more than they sent away. The pratfalls of small sample sizes are well-known, but it is never too early to check-in on these players.

For today’s post, I’m going with any players that have been moved since the Yankees waved the white flag last season. If you would like to see any players added to this list going forward, let us know in the comments.

Johnny Barbato, Pirates – 3.2 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 1 K, 2.45 ERA, 4.11 FIP

The Yankees dealt Barbato to the Pirates two weeks ago, and received … basically nothing in return. This came on the heels of him being designated for assignment to make room for Jordan Montgomery, and there are still plenty of shuttle arms sitting at Triple-A, so it wasn’t surprising to see him moved.

Carlos Beltran, Astros – .250/.287/.354, 10 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB, 81 wRC+ (101 PA)

Beltran has spent most of his time at designated hitter this season, which is unquestionably his best position nowadays. He has made five starts in left, though, as a means to get Evan Gattis’ bat into the lineup at DH. The Astros will live with his defense in left, though, as that means that they have one of the the best hitting lineups in baseball for that particular game.

Ben Gamel, Mariners – .227/.346/.409, 4 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB, 120 wRC+ (27 PA)

An injury to Mitch Haniger opened the door for Gamel to play everyday, and he has made the most of it thus far. Haniger isn’t slated to return until the end of the month, so this is probably the best opportunity that Gamel has had to demonstrate his worth at the big league level to date.

Nick Goody, Indians – 9.0 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 9 K, 0.00 ERA, 2.34 FIP

Terry Francona has utilized Goody as a right-handed specialist this year, and it has worked wonders thus far. He was particularly good on Sunday, when he entered the game with the bases loaded and nobody out, and escaped the inning without allowing a run by picking up a swinging strikeout and inducing a double play.

Brian McCann, Astros – .278/.369/.417, 10 R, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB, 122 wRC+ (84 PA)

The Astros are making a serious effort to keep McCann healthy and rested, as the 33-year-old catcher has already sat for six games (though, having Gattis’ bat on the bench helps that decision along), and started at DH once. He has rewarded them with a strong start to the season, which includes a dramatically sliced strikeout rate (from 20.1% last year to 12.5% this year) and an improved walk rate (up 2.8 percentage points).

Andrew Miller, Indians – 11.2 IP, 7 H, 4 BB, 16 K, 0.00 ERA, 1.55 FIP

Miller was dominant throughout his second-half with the Indians last season, including a magnificent 2016 postseason (1.40 ERA and 41.1 K% in 19.1 IP). He has continued his brilliance in 2017, as Francona continues to utilize him as a ‘bullpen ace’ instead of a traditional closer. It’s difficult to quibble with the return (Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and more), but I miss Miller more than anyone else on this list – and it isn’t particularly close.

Ivan Nova, Pirates – 36.0 IP, 26 H, 1 BB, 22 K, 1.50 ERA, 2.69 FIP

Nova has walked 4 batters in 100.2 IP with the Pirates. Over that time, 247 pitchers have thrown at least 30 IP, and only Roberto Osuna and Dan Otero have walked fewer batters at three apiece. Those two have combined to throw 67.2 IP in that stretch. Among pitchers with 80 IP or more, only Carlos Carrasco is within 10 walks of Nova (he has walked 13 batters in 86.1 IP).

Blake Parker, Angels – 12.1 IP, 9 H, 4 BB, 21 K, 2.19 ERA, 0.58 FIP

Parker is currently second among relievers in WAR, tied with Kenley Jansen and Chris Devenski. It’s only May 3, and it’s obviously unsustainable – but it’s intriguing nonetheless. Angels fans are already discussing how good Parker was before injuries set-in in 2014 (he had a 143 ERA+ and 10.7 K/9 in 46.1 IP in 2013), and he was better with the Yankees than his final numbers indicate, thanks to a 0.1 IP, 4 ER affair on September 23.

James Pazos, Mariners – 12.0 IP, 10 H, 6 BB, 14 K, 3.00 ERA, 2.42 FIP

The Yankees viewed Pazos as a lefty specialist, and understandably so as he’s strictly a fastball/slider guy. The Mariners have used him as a traditional middle reliever, though, and the results of been quite good so far. It is worth noting that righties are hitting .290 against Pazos, so a correction may be forthcoming.

Anthony Swarzak, White Sox – 13.1 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 15 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.98 FIP

Would it be wrong to give the Yankees some semblance of credit for Goody, Parker, Pazos, and Swarzak all pitching so well in 2017? After all, they were members of the team’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle last year; that may be a bit unfair, considering that they have been far better away from the pinstripes. Swarzak is also one of three former Yankees (Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson are the others) pitching quite well out of the White Sox bullpen this year.

Luis Torrens, Padres – .083/.154/.083, 0 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB, -28 wRC+ (13 PA)

The 21-year-old Torrens was selected by the Padres in the Rule 5 Draft, and the expectation was that he’d be returned to the Yankees by the end of Spring Training. After all, he had played exactly zero games above Single-A, and there was no indication that he would be ready to play at the highest-level. That didn’t happen, though, and Torrens is riding the Padres bench as the team’s third-string catcher. Whether this helps or hurts his development is an interesting question, as Torrens was (or is) a solid catching prospect.

Kirby Yates, Padres – 2.1 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 7.71 ERA, 14.59 FIP

The Padres are Yates’ second organization of the young season, as he was waived by the Angels after just one appearance. In defense of the Angels, it was an awful appearance – he allowed a two-run home run to Kevin Pillar (which plated an inherited runner) and a solo shot to Justin Smoak, with two additional Blue Jays taking him to the warning track.

5/1 to 5/3 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

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

The calendar has flipped to May, and I’m not sure which is more surprising – the Yankees being tied for first place in the American League, or the Blue Jays having the second-worst record in all of baseball. It is essentially a meeting of one team firing on all cylinders, while another experiences several worst-case scenarios, and it is quite refreshing to be the former after being the latter for a couple of years (even if it’s only May 1).

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Toronto from September 23rd through the 26th in their final road series of the 2016 season. They lost three of four to the Blue Jays, securing a sub-.500 record against AL East opponents, and were effectively eliminated from postseason contention. Some other points of interest:

  • The Yankees were shut out in the first two games, which contributed to a 33-inning scoreless streak. They snapped that streak in the third game (though, they still lost 4-3).
  • Tyler Clippard pitched on back-to-back nights, and the results were not pretty – 1.1 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, two losses, and a blown save.
  • Luis Severino started game four, and retired just three batters before being ejected following the second brawl of the game. The Yankees ended up using eight pitchers in total … and still managed to win 7-5 thanks to a five-run outburst in the top of the ninth.
  • The game wasn’t over following that outburst, though. Dellin Betances loaded the bases in the bottom of the 9th and turned the ball over to Tommy Layne with no outs. Layne allowed two inherited runners to score, but managed to ease the door shut nevertheless.

You can read more about the series in Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

Third baseman Josh Donaldson (right calf injury) and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (right hamstring injury) are both on the disabled list, and neither is eligible to return during this series. J.A. Happ is on the disabled list, as well; he might be activated this week, but he isn’t scheduled to start against the Yankees. And Aaron Sanchez may end up joining them after he is re-evaluated sometime today, as a result of a bloody split fingernail during Sunday’s game (his first game back from the DL, following an issue with a blister on the same finger).

Their Story So Far

The aforementioned injuries have been a major story for the underachieving Blue Jays, who currently sit at 8-17. They took two out of three from the Rays this past weekend, winning back-to-back games for the first time this year along the way. It has been a less than ideal start for a team with designs on returning to the playoffs this year.

Jose Bautista’s struggles have been well-documented, too. The 36-year-old is batting .178/.309/.244 (61 wRC+) with 1 HR in 110 PA. Last year was by far his worst post-breakout effort, and he has dealt with a laundry list of injuries over the last few seasons. Is it simply a matter of age catching up with him? Or is it merely a slump? That may well be the biggest question Blue Jays fans are asking themselves right now.

The Lineup We Might See

The Blue Jays offense has struggled this season, scoring just 3.56 runs per game. That’s not surprising, considering the lack of production from Bautista, and the fact that Donaldson and Tulowitzki have played only 9 and 16 games, respectively. With the team remaining at less than full-strength until the second week of May, here’s what the Yankees are likely to see this week:

  1. Kevin Pillar, CF
  2. Ezequiel Carrera, LF
  3. Jose Bautista, RF
  4. Kendrys Morales, DH
  5. Justin Smoak, 1B
  6. Russell Martin, C
  7. Chris Coghlan, 3B
  8. Darwin Barney, 2B
  9. Ryan Goins, SS

Manager John Gibbons doesn’t have any one locked-in lineup, though, so we will probably see some Steve Pearce in LF and Devon Travis at 2B. And, given how many lineups they’ve used over the last ten days or so, we may well see three completely different groups.

The Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Marco Estrada

Estrada had a career year as a 32-year-old back in 2015, his first with the Blue Jays, and few thought that he would repeat it in 2016. A year and five starts later, though, and the front office must be quite pleased with itself as Estrada boasts a 3.26 ERA (129 ERA+) in Toronto. How has he done it? Despite a small-ish stature and a sub-90 MPH fastball, Estrada is incredibly difficult to hit – only Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, and Max Scherzer have allowed a lower batting average against since the beginning of 2015.

Nearly 90% of Estrada’s pitch selection revolves around his upper-80s four-seam fastball and upper-70s change-up. He’ll mix in a cutter and a curveball every now and then, as well. The stuff is underwhelming in terms of velocity, but he has deception in his delivery, and everything that he throws moves all over the place.

Last Outing (4/25 vs. STL) – 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 9 K

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Mat Latos

Three short years ago, Latos ranked among the best young pitchers in the game. He posted a 113 ERA+ in 952 IP through his age-26 season, and featured a low-to-mid 90s fastball and wipeout slider. Injuries struck in 2014, though, and have continued to do so. He has bounced between six organizations over the last two-plus seasons, owing to said injuries and an ugly 79 ERA+ between 2015 and 2016. There are also rumblings that Latos is a less-than-ideal teammate, which may well contribute to teams giving up a bit quickly on a pitcher still several months shy of his 30th birthday.

Latos’ fastball velocity now sits in the low-90s, rarely reaching its heights from a few years back. He throws a four-seamer and a two-seamer, as well as a mid-to-upper 80s slider that is still picking up whiffs.

Last Outing (4/27 vs. STL) – 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 4 K

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Marcus Stroman

Stroman was expected by many to be the Blue Jays ace last season, which is a bit unfair to a 25-year-old pitcher with 24 MLB starts under his belt. He fell short of those expectations, posting a 4.37 ERA (98 ERA+) and just 1.4 bWAR; he did stay healthy, tossing 204 IP after missing nearly all of 2015 with an injury. He also maintained excellent groundball (an MLB-best 60.1%) and walk (6.3%) rates. Stroman turns 26 today.

Nearly 60% of Stroman’s offerings this year have been his low-to-mid 90s two-seamer, which has led to his typically high groundball rates. He also throws a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a mid-80s slider, and a low-80s curveball.

Last Outing (4/28 vs. TOR) – 7.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 10 K

The Bullpen

The Blue Jays bullpen was excellent on Sunday, tossing 8 innings following Sanchez’s injury, allowing just eight base-runners and one run, while striking out 9. Prior to that game, however, the group sported a 5.05 ERA, and had blown an MLB-worst 8 saves. Closer Roberto Osuna accounts for three of those blown saves, and is sitting on a 5.63 ERA in eight appearances. Jason Grilli (7.27 ERA in 8.2 IP) and Ryan Tepera (5.93 ERA in 13.2 IP) are the other primary offenders.

It will be interesting to see how Sunday’s happenings influence Gibbons’ bullpen management during this series. At the very least, it’s unlikely that they can piece together a bunch of innings on Monday evening.

Yankees Connection

Russell Martin is the only real connection to the Yankees franchise that we will see this week. And I still miss him.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The slumping Bautista loves hitting at Yankee Stadium – he’s a career .273/.420/.582 hitter in the Bronx, with 17 HR in 194 at-bats. This is the pessimistic fan inside me talking, but I am preemptively angry at him busting out of his slump against the Yankees. Perhaps this will be an instance of the reverse jinx, though.

And it bares repeating that there were two bench-clearing brawls the last time these teams met. Many of the players are different nowadays, but this rivalry has become more intense in recent years. Here’s hoping the Yankees come out on top this time, letting their bats and gloves do the talking.

4/28 to 4/30 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Future Yankee Manny Machado. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America)
Future Yankee Manny Machado. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America)

The Yankees are heading back to the Bronx to continue their three-series stretch against divisional opponents. It’s too early for this to feel terribly significant, but it’s interesting nevertheless that this series could determine who is in first place in the AL East on May 1.

The Last Time They Met

It was just three weeks ago that the Orioles hosted the Yankees, taking two out of three in a rather frustrating series. The Yankees dropped the first two despite holding leads of four and three runs, respectively, with the bullpen taking the loss in both games (one-run losses, at that). In fact, the Yankees outscored the Orioles 16-14 that weekend, while also accumulating seventeen more base-runners. And, as if that wasn’t bothersome enough, it was also the series in which Gary Sanchez went down with a shoulder injury.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more interesting tidbits.

Injury Report

Closer Zach Britton is on the disabled list with a left forearm strain, and was initially expected to be back sometime in May. He’s slated for a rehab assignment on Friday, though, and could be activated for Sunday’s game. Starter Chris Tillman is also on the disabled list, and has been since Spring Training due to right shoulder bursitis that required a platelet-rich plasma injection. He made a rehab start at High-A Frederick on Thursday, so he won’t be back in time for this series.

Their Story So Far

The Orioles sit atop the AL East (and the American League as a whole) with a 14-6 record. Their offense has struggled at times (95 wRC+, 3.95 runs per game), but their pitching has been excellent, placing fifth in the majors with a 3.42 ERA. As per usual, and despite Britton’s injury, the bullpen has been particularly strong, maintaining a 2.73 ERA thus far; surprisingly, the rotation has been more than adequate, as well, with a 3.82 ERA.

Starter Dylan Bundy is their feel good story of the moment, as the former top prospect has been excellent through four starts (26.1 IP, 20.4 K%, 4.1 BB%, 1.37 ERA, 1.88 FIP). He missed the vast majority of 2013 through 2015 due to various injuries, and was all but written off as a result. It’s still very early in the season, of course, but it’s a promising start on the heels of a decent (and mostly healthy) 2016 season.

The Lineup We Might See

Buck Showalter employs a few platoons, so the lineup will likely be dependent upon who is starting for the Yankees. CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery will probably see something like this:

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

Whereas Michael Pineda will probably face a lineup along these lines:

  1. Seth Smith, RF
  2. Jones, CF
  3. Machado, 3B
  4. Davis, 1B
  5. Trumbo, DH
  6. Castillo, C
  7. Hyun Soo Kim, LF
  8. Schoop, 2B
  9. Hardy, SS

The Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Kevin Gausman

The Yankees roughed Gausman up on April 8, to the tune of 4 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks in just 4.2 IP. It was a welcome sight, considering that the 26-year-old held the Yankees to a 1.10 ERA in 41.0 IP last year (and a 4.35 ERA against every other team). Last year did appear to be something of a breakout for Gausman, as he pitched a full, healthy season, but the early returns have not been too encouraging (particularly his 5.63 BB/9 and 7.50 ERA).

Gausman is a three-pitch guy, featuring a mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s splitter (against which hitters whiffed 20.7% of the time last year), and a low-80s slider.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 4/23) – 5.1 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 4 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

The Yankees knocked Jimenez around, as well, scoring 5 runs on 7 hits (including two home runs) in his 4.1 IP. Jimenez somehow avoided the Yankees in 2016, which seems all but impossible for a pitcher that spent the entire season in the AL East, making 25 starts along the way; that may have been by design, though, given his career 5.50 ERA in Yankee Stadium. Am I alone in remembering when fans of most every team wanted a shot at Jimenez back in 2011? That seems even more impossible, with the benefit of hindsight.

Jimenez used to pump his two- and four-seam fastballs into the mid-to-upper 90s, but they currently sit right around 90 MPH. He also throws a splitter and a slider, both of which sit in the low-80s. He’ll also sprinkle in a mid-70s curveball every now and then.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 4/24) – 3.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 3 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Wade Miley

Miley held the Yankees scoreless on April 9, despite walking seven in 5 IP. The Yankees won that game anyway, scoring 7 against the bullpen, but it was an irritating first five innings. The 30-year-old Miley has quietly been an innings eater for some time now, having made at least 29 starts and thrown at least 166 IP in each of the last five seasons. He’s a rock solid back of the rotation starter, although he is coming off of his worst full season by ERA (5.37) and FIP (4.45).

It may be a bit of a cop-out to call Miley a crafty lefty, but that’s exactly what he is. He throws a couple of low-90s fastballs, a low-80s change-up, a low-80s slider, and a mid-80s curveball, and he threw all of his offerings regularly last season. As per PITCHf/x, Miley has thrown his change-up significantly less this season, so that may be something to watch.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 4/25) – 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 6 BB, 8 K

Yankees Connection

Buck Showalter’s four-year tenure as the Yankees manager (1992 to 1995) is always brought up when these teams meet, so much so that you’d think that the Orioles stole him from the Yankees. He was a fine manager in the Bronx, winning AL Manager of the Year for the strike-shortened 1994 season (they had the best record in the league when the season was cut short), and guiding the Yankees to the playoffs in 1995. His departure from the organization wasn’t on good terms, though, as he resigned after George Steinbrenner demanded that he fire his pitching coach.

LHP Vidal Nuno is the only other real connection, having pitched for the Yankees for parts of two seasons. He was dealt to the Diamondbacks for Brandon McCarthy back in 2014. I suppose you could also count Chris Davis, who was drafted by the Yankees out of high school in the 50th round of the 2004 draft, but opted to go to college instead.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Machado’s defense at the hot corner is must-see TV, and that may well be the only reason to watch the Orioles this weekend. The offense does hit plenty of home runs, too, if dingers are your thing, which reminds me – you should also follow Sung Min Kim on Twitter, on the off-chance that Hyun Soo Kim goes deep (or just because he’s a great follow).