6/12 to 6/14 Series Preview: Los Angeles Angels

Matt Shoemaker. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Matt Shoemaker. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Ten days ago, it seemed as if the Yankees were in the midst of a swoon. They dropped two of three to the Orioles, split a four-game set with the Blue Jays, and lost the first game in a series against the Red Sox. That seems like so long ago, now that they’ve won five in a row by a combined score of 55 to 9 and taken a 4.0 game lead in the American League East. If you’re a believer in momentum, now is as good a time as any to begin a dreadful seven-game trip to the West Coast. Their first stop is Anaheim (or “Los Angeles,” if you want to be snarky).

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Angel Stadium for a three-game series last August, winning two out of three. They outscored the Angels 12 to 3, as their pitchers came up big in all three games. Some interesting numbers include:

  • The starting pitchers – Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green – pitched to the following combined line: 19.2 IP, 13 H, 2 BB, 19 K, 0.46 ERA.
  • Game two of the series represented a sign of things to come for the Yankees. Luis Cessa made the first start of his career (six scoreless innings), Gary Sanchez hit a solo home run, and Aaron Judge drove in two runs.
  • Ronald Torreyes went 4-for-4 with three runs, a double, a home run, and two RBI in the first game. He saw a total of eight pitches in those at-bats.

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

Injury Report

It may not be a stretch to say that the Angels three best players are currently on the disabled list. Mike Trout is out until July as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, Garrett Richards has no timetable for return (he hit the 60-day DL on April 22 due to nerve irritation in his right arm), and Cam Bedrosian is out with a strained groin (and listed with a TBD return date). That’s their best player (and the best player in baseball), their ace, and their closer. And that’s not all, either – Andrew Bailey, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, and Huston Street are also out, and none will return in time for this series. That’s rough.

Their Story So Far

Even with the aforementioned injuries, the Angels are soldiering on. They currently sit at 33-33, and they just took two out of three from the red hot Houston Astros. And, for those in search of a hot take, they’re 7-6 with a +14 run differential since Trout hit the disabled list. I’ve yet to encounter anyone suggesting that the Angels may be better without Trout, but I’m sure that those takes will come if they continue to keep their collective head above water. How have they done it? In short, by being average across the board over the last couple of weeks. Kole Calhoun, Yunel Escobar, and Andrelton Simmons have been tearing the cover off of the ball in that stretch, but no other players have really stood out. Well, other than Albert Pujols, albeit for the wrong reasons –  he’s 6-for-36 since the calendar flipped to June, and his wRC+ on the season is an unsightly 84.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Mike Scioscia has been forced to use a wide array of lineups this season, due to both injuries and poor performance. The only certainly right now seems to be that Calhoun and Pujols will bat second and third, respectively, with most everything else up in the air. Nevertheless, I expect that we’ll see something along these lines:

  1. Andrelton Simmons, SS
  2. Kole Calhoun, RF
  3. Albert Pujols, DH
  4. Yunel Escobar, 3B
  5. Luis Valbuena, 1B / C.J. Cron, 1B
  6. Martin Maldonado, C
  7. Ben Revere, LF
  8. Eric Young, CF / Cameron Maybin, CF
  9. Danny Espinosa, 2B

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (10:07 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Alex Meyer

Meyer appeared on Baseball America’s top-hundred list in back-to-back-to-back seasons, peaking at 45 on 2014’s list. That’s not terribly surprising, given that he’s 6’9″ and 230-plus pounds, a 95-plus MPH fastball, and an absolutely wicked breaking ball. As is the case with most pitchers of his size, however, he has struggled with his mechanics and control throughout his professional career, while bouncing between the bullpen and the rotation. The Angels acquired him from the Twins in August, and now, at the age of 27, he’s getting his first extended look in the majors.

That mid-90s fastball and hard breaking ball (a mid-80s offering that scouts call a slider, but PITCHf/x calls a curve) represent nearly 99% of Meyer’s offerings. He throws a change-up in the upper-80s every so often, but he’s basically a two-pitch guy.

Last Outing (vs. DET on 6/7) – 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 9 K

Tuesday (10:07 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP J.C. Ramirez

The Angels are the seventh organization of Ramirez’s twelve-year professional career, as the 28-year-old journeyman has struggled to get an extended look over the last five years or so. This season represents his first time starting since 2011, when he made 26 starts at Double-A, but it doesn’t really show – he has been a league-average starter through 11 starts, with elite control (4.9 BB%) and solid groundball rates.

Ramirez works with a mid-90s fastball (mostly a two-seamer, but he’ll mix in a straight fastball), a mid-80s slider, and an upper-70s curveball.

Last Outing (vs. DET on 6/8) – 5.0 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Wednesday (10:07 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Matt Shoemaker

Shoemaker has quietly been a solid-average pitcher for the Angels over the last four seasons, posting a 102 ERA+ and averaging about 2.5 WAR per 180 IP. He was in the midst of a breakout last season, on the heels of reintroducing his splitter in mid-May, but a line drive to the head unfortunately ended his season on September 4. It was a scary incident, and Shoemaker suffered some severe injuries, including a skull fracture and hematoma, but he has thankfully made a complete recovery.

Shoemaker throws three fastballs – a low-90s four-seamer, a low-90s two-seamer, and a mid-80s splitter. The splitter is is best pitch, with a 21.8% whiff rate for his career. He also throws a low-80s slider, and, on occasion, a curve and change-up.

Last Outing (vs. HOU on 6/10) – 7.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 4K

The Bullpen

The Angels bullpen exemplifies how their season has gone thus far, as last year’s closers (Street and Bailey) and this year’s closer (Bedrosian) are all on the disabled list. In the interim, Bud Norris – yes, that Bud Norris – has stepped-up to the ninth inning role, where he has nailed down 11 of 13 save opportunities. He currently has a 2.43 ERA (174 ERA+) and 31.4 K% … you really can’t predict baseball.

Despite the injuries, the Angels have a top-ten bullpen in baseball by most metrics – and it’s not just because of Norris. Blake Parker – yes, that Blake Parker – Yusmeiro Petit, David Hernandez, and Keynan Middleton all have an ERA+ of 149 or above, and a K% of 27.7% or better. All five of those guys pitched yesterday, though, so their availability is up in the air for at least the first game of the series.

Yankees Connection

Blake Parker was claimed off of waivers by the Yankees last August, and tossed 16.1 uneventful innings down the stretch. He actually bounced around a bit this off-season, as well, going from the Yankees to the Angels to the Brewers … and then back to the Angels. He’s the 6th best RP in baseball by fWAR, thanks to his 0.94 FIP in 28.2 IP.

Andrew Bailey (2014-2015) and Eric Young Jr. (2016) also spent time in the Yankees organization.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Alex Meyer has earned some comparisons to Dellin Betances in his career, due to his size, velocity, and breaking ball, and he has posted some impressive strikeout numbers in his young career. Few expect him to remain in the rotation long-term, but he has excellent stuff and age on his side.

And Andrelton Simmons’ defense is almost always must-see TV.

Game 56: Stop the Skid

(Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Calling back-to-back losses a skid may seem premature, but this certainly feels like the beginning of a rough patch. The Yankees are 3-5 since Memorial Day, with all of those games (and the next five) coming against AL East opponents, and first place hangs in the balance tonight. The ship can be righted in a hurry, of course, but a victory tonight would provide a bit of much needed breathing room.

CC Sabathia will be at the helm (this will be the last of my boat metaphors), and he has improved rapidly over his last few weeks. He had a 5.77 ERA/5.21 ERA as of May 9, with below-average strikeout (15.3%) and walk (9.7%) rates. In his last four starts, however, he has pitched to a 1.48 ERA/3.26 FIP, which much improved strikeout (27.1%) and walk (6.3%) rates. Sabathia isn’t this good, but he’s not as bad as his first seven starts suggested, either – I’ll settle for the middle ground. Here’s the Red Sox lineup that he’ll face tonight.

And Red Sox starter Rick Porcello will have to deal with this lineup:

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

The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM EST, on the YES Network.

6/6 to 6/8 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

Bogaerts & Benintendi. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)
Bogaerts & Benintendi. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)

After a much-need day off, the Yankees are back to the AL East grindstone this evening. This is their third of four straight series against divisional opponents, and it will also determine who is in first place by the time the weekend rolls around. The Yankees are currently two games ahead of the Red Sox, with two games in hand.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees swept a two-game series in Boston on April 26-27; it was meant to be a three-game set, but the first game was rained-out (the first of three rainouts the Yankees have had thus far). Some notes:

  • Luis Severino was dominant in the first game, going 7 scoreless innings and striking out 6, while allowing just 3 hits and 2 walks. It was the longest scoreless outing of his career through that date (it was since surpassed, though, because he’s been awesome this year).
  • Aaron Judge celebrated his 25th birthday in that same game, and did so with a two-run home run and diving catch into the stands.
  • Pitching was the story in the second game, as well – Masahiro Tanaka tossed a complete game shutout, allowing 3 hits and no walks, striking out 3. It was a Maddux, as well, as he only needed 97 pitches. A two-to-one groundball to flyball ratio and 72% first-pitch strikes helped that effort quite a bit.
  • The Yankees and Red Sox combined for just twelve base-runners in that game, and all reached base via single.

Injury Report

The Red Sox are still injury-riddled, as has been the case since Opening Day. Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia, Eduardo Rodriguez, Robbie Ross, Carson Smith, Tyler Thornburg, and Steven Wright are all on the disabled list, and none are expected to return during this series. Those last two are the worst cases by far, with Thornburg’s persistent shoulder injury leaving him with no clear timetable for return, and Wright being out for the year, having underwent season-ending knee surgery in May.

Their Story So Far

Boston was a .500 team as recently as May 21, on the heels of dropping three out of four to the lowly A’s. They’ve won 10 of 14 since then, outscoring their opponents 87 to 48 in that stretch. They’re currently 31-25 on the season, with a +38 run differential.

Injuries have been the story of their season, as one may suspect. The current disabled list only tells half the story – Jackie Bradley Jr., David Price (who didn’t pitch until May 29), and Pablo Sandoval spent time on the DL, too, and Xander Bogaerts, Sandy Leon, and Hanley Ramirez have dealt with nagging injuries for most of the year. We’ve yet to see this team at full-strength as a result.

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

The Lineup We Might See

The Red Sox have settled into a mostly consistently lineup of late, though that’s largely due to Pedroia’s injury. Manager John Farrell has used the same one-through-six for three games in a row, and the bottom three is dependent upon who’s filling in for Pedroia and who’s catching for the day. We’ll probably see something like this:

  1. Mookie Betts, RF
  2. Andrew Benintendi, LF
  3. Xander Bogaerts, SS
  4. Mitch Moreland, 1B
  5. Hanley Ramirez, DH
  6. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
  7. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
  8. Christian Vazquez, C or Sandy Leon, C
  9. Deven Marrero, 2B

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz

It’s been something of a rough 2017 for Pomeranz, as the 28-year-old southpaw had a late start to the season due to a flexor strain, and left a start early in mid-May with triceps tightness. He only missed a start or two overall, but it has taken him awhile to right the ship. That being said, he currently sports an elite strikeout rate (11.3 K/9, 29.0 K%) and a solid walk rate (7.7%), and his 3.58 FIP/3.25 xFIP suggest that his 4.24 ERA (106 ERA+) should come back down.

Pomeranz is basically a two-pitch guy, as his low-90s four-seamer and big breaking curveball account for over 90% of his pitches. He throws a mid-80s cutter and a low-80s change-up every so often, but those are little more than show-me pitches.

Last Outing (vs. CHW on 5/31) – 7.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 K

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Rick Porcello

Porcello struggled in April, closing out the month with a 4.75 ERA/4.40 FIP. He has pitched better since the calendar flipped to May, but he still doesn’t look like the guy that won the Cy Young last year. As of this writing he has the lowest groundball rate of his career (37.9% against a previous low of 43.1%), and he’s allowing a 42.7% hard contact rate (a career-worst by 9.9 percentage points). That hard-hit percentage is the second-worst in the majors right now.

His pitch selection hasn’t changed all that much this year, as Porcello is still throwing his four-seamer, two-seamer, slider, curve, and change-up; his velocity is similar across the board, as well. That being said, his fastball and change-up have been hit hardest as per PITCHf/x, so there could be something going on with his mechanics.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 6/2) – 6.0 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP David Price

An elbow injury in Spring Training kept Price out of action until last week, which was far and away his longest stint on the disabled list. He showed little rust in his first two starts, though, with his velocity being higher than it was last season on all of his offerings. There’s not much else I can tell you about Price that you aren’t already overwhelmingly familiar with, given that he’s thrown 1460 IP for AL East teams.

Price throws three fastballs (mid-90s four-seamer, low-90s two-seamer, high-80s cutter) and a mid-80s change-up, mixing all four pitches extremely well. He’ll throw a knuckle-curve once or twice a game to change a batter’s eye level, but he’s mostly a fastball/change-up guy.

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

The Bullpen

Relief pitching has been a strength for the Red Sox, even with Smith and Thornburg sitting on the DL since Opening Day. Closer Craig Kimbrel is having what may be the best season of his career, with staggering strikeout (53.3%) and walk (4.4%) rates, and a sparkling 1.07 ERA (423 ERA+) in 25.1 IP. Set-up man Joe Kelly (1.48 ERA in 24.1 IP) and LOOGY Robby Scott (1.42 ERA in 12.2 IP) have been brilliant in their roles, and middle relievers Fernando Abad, Matt Barnes, and Heath Hembree have been effective, as well.

Thanks to Monday’s off day, the Red Sox bullpen is fairly well-rested.

Yankees Connection

As was the case last time these two met, Chris Young is the only former Yankee on this Red Sox team. Let’s remember the good times, shall we?

Who (Or What) To Watch?

The Yankees have owned David Price for the better part of his career – he has a 4.55 ERA in 221.1 IP against the Yankees, and a 3.01 ERA in 1462.1 IP against everyone else. That doesn’t make me excited to see him, given that he’s a legitimate ace – but it almost always adds an interesting narrative to the match-up at hand.

6/1 to 6/4 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)

This is the second stop (of four) on the Yankees two week tour of the AL East. The returns from Baltimore were, speaking generously, underwhelming. And the red hot Blue Jays are next up on the docket.

The Last Time They Met

This is the second time this year that the Yankees ended a month against the Orioles, and opened the following month against the Blue Jays. The Yankees hosted the Blue Jays for a three-game series in the beginning of May, winning two out of three. Some notes:

  • Aaron Judge tormented Toronto’s pitching staff, going 6-for-12 with 5 R, 3 HR, and 7 RBI. His OPS reached a season-high 1.251 by the end of the third game.
  • Luis Severino had his worst start of the season in the first game, pitching to the following line: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 3 K. He was hurt by shaky defense, though, as a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning yielded two runs.
  • Brett Gardner was slashing .205/.318/.329 with 2 HR (81 wRC+) heading into the series; by the time it was over he was batting .247/.354/.435 with 4 HR (117 wRC+).
  • The Yankees starting pitching was dreadful all-around. Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia combined to allow 15 ER in 16 IP, while striking out just 12 batters.

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

Injury Report

Starter Aaron Sanchez is back on the disabled list with blister issues, and his timetable is up in the air. He was throwing a bit last week, but was shut down again on May 30. Outfielder Steve Pearce was put on the DL a couple of weeks ago with a strained calf, and he’s not expected back until late June or early July. Both were expected to play large roles for the team in 2017, but neither has been able to stay on the field.

Their Story So Far

The Blue Jays have dealt with a staggering amount of injuries in 2017. Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Pearce, Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Francisco Liriano have all hit the disabled list at some point, as have bench players Anthony Alford and Darrell Ceciliani. The combination of extraordinarily bad luck with health and some under-performance has conspired to leave them below .500 and in last place in the AL East.

They showed signs of life in May, though, with an 18-10 record and a +29 run differential. Martin and Donaldson are now healthy and productive, and the 36-year-old Jose Bautista has made a complete about-face, and is now batting .251/.364/.460 (123 wRC+) with 10 HR. And, for what it’s worth, many Blue Jays fans will happily point out that Kendrys Morales is currently outhitting Edwin Encarnacion.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager John Gibbons has had to shuffle his lineup several times over due to injuries, with the bottom four spots in the lineup serving as a veritable carousel. Now that almost everyone is healthy, however, the Blue Jays have nearly returned to their ideal lineup. To wit:

  1. Kevin Pillar, CF
  2. Josh Donaldson, 3B
  3. Jose Bautista, RF
  4. Kendrys Morales, DH
  5. Justin Smoak, 1B
  6. Russell Martin, C
  7. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
  8. Devon Travis, 2B
  9. Ezequiel Carrera/Chris Coghlan, LF

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:07 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Marco Estrada

Estrada all but shut the Yankees down last month, allowing just seven base-runners and one run in 7 IP, while striking out 7. He’s currently tied for 9th in the majors in K-BB% with Luis Severino, and 10th in K% (just ahead of Severino, Lance McCullers, and Michael Pineda) … and he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher. And one of those pitches is an 89 MPH fastball. Estrada may be getting by on smoke and mirrors, but he’s been doing it for long enough that he has silenced most doubts.

Last Outing (vs. TEX on 5/27) – 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K

Friday (7:07 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Francisco Liriano

There was a time when Liriano was one of the most desirable assets in the majors, and his name dominated Yankees trade rumors (or trade desires, at least). That feels like an eternity ago, though, as the 33-year-old has struggled mightily over the last year and change, posting 4.94 ERA/4.90 FIP since the beginning of 2016. He’s still racking up strikeouts, and his velocity is similar to his best days with the Pirates – but he’s walking more and more batters, and he’s simply more hittable now.

Liriano is still a three-pitch guy, utilizing a low-90s fastball, mid-80s slider, and mid-80s change-up. The slider is ostensibly his best pitch, but it’s been hit hard in 2017. This will be his first start since coming off of the DL.

Last Outing (vs. CLE on 5/10) – 2.0 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 3 BB, 0 K

Saturday (1:07 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Joe Biagini

Biagini was a Rule 5 pick last year, and he spent the entirety of the season in the bullpen. He found success there, but he had been a starter throughout his minor league career so there were rumblings that he’d get a chance in the rotation. Injuries to Sanchez and Liriano made that move a necessity, and he has been in the rotation since May 3. He has posted the following line through five starts: 23.1 IP, 21 H, 6 BB, 20 K, 3.86 ERA, 3.21 FIP. That’s not bad for someone forced into a larger role on a moment’s notice.

The 27-year-old is a true four-pitch pitcher. He throws a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-90s cutter, a mid-80s change-up, and a curveball in the upper 80s. Biagini’s cutter is his best pitch; he uses it to get whiffs and generate grounders (he has a 60.8 GB% on the year).

Last Outing (vs. TEX on 5/28) – 6.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K

Sunday (1:07 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Marcus Stroman

The Yankees knocked Stroman around earlier this year, chasing him from the game after scoring 5 runs in just 3 innings. He’s been a big part of the Blue Jays turnaround since then, pitching into the sixth inning in all five starts and posting a 2.45 ERA in 29.1 IP. His underlying numbers aren’t all that different from last season, but he has been much better in terms of run prevention. Chalk it up to run sequencing, cluster luck, and contrasting fortunes with runners on-base.

Last Outing (vs. CIN on 5/29) – 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

Toronto had one of the worst bullpens in the majors the last time these teams met, with a 5.08 ERA and 8 blown saves in April. May was a completely different story, as their bullpen posted a 3.06 ERA and blew just two saves. With the exception of Jason Grilli (and his 6.35 ERA), everyone in the Blue Jays bullpen is pitching well right now, with closer Roberto Osuna and his 1.42 May ERA leading the way.

That being said, the bullpen has been leaned on fairly heavily the last few games. They were needed for 9 innings between Tuesday and Wednesday’s games, with Osuna and set-up man Joe Smith being called for on both days.

Yankees Connection

Russell Martin is currently batting .243/.387/.405 (123 wRC+) with 5 HR in 33 games. He missed two weeks with an injury earlier this month, but he’s been on a tear since returning. He’s also played third base five times already, as the team scraped by with Donaldson on the DL

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Yankees are facing a different Blue Jays team this time around; one that’s much closer to its 2016 incarnation. With an offense at almost full-strength and two of the team’s top starting pitchers taking a turn, this is sure to be a tough series. And that’s part of what has slowly made the Yankees-Blue Jays rivalry so good of late. I never really thought of the Blue Jays as a hateable team, but here we are.

It will be interesting to watch Biagini, as well. The ceilings of most Rule 5 picks are fairly low, so he’s more than delivered so far. If he can be a competent starter, then the Blue Jays will have come away with the biggest steal since Johan Santana.

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

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

Happy Memorial Day, folks!

The Last Time They Met

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

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

Injury Report

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

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

Their Story So Far

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

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

The Lineup We Might See

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

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

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bullpen

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

Yankees Connection

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

Who (Or What) To Watch

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

Game 45: Will the Real Tanaka Please Stand Up?

(Brian Blanco/Getty Images North America)
(Brian Blanco/Getty Images North America)

Masahiro Tanaka has been one of the worst starting pitchers in Major League Baseball this year. That isn’t hyperbole, either – Mike went into great detail about his struggles earlier this week. And he seems to be getting worse, with a 10.50 ERA/9.36 FIP since he shut out the Red Sox on April 27. Tanaka is ostensibly healthy, and he was one of the best pitchers in baseball these last three seasons, so it stands to reason that he will turn it around at some point. It would be nice if it happened sooner rather than later, though.

Tanaka will face a subpar A’s lineup tonight, one that is without its best hitter as Yonder Alonso will sit-out with a wrist contusion. The Yankees lineup this evening will be:

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Aaron Hicks, CF
  3. Matt Holliday, DH
  4. Starlin Castro, 2B
  5. Aaron Judge, RF
  6. Didi Gregorius, SS
  7. Chase Headley, 3B
  8. Chris Carter, 1B
  9. Austin Romine, C

The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM EST, with WPIX handling the television broadcast.

5/26 to 5/28 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)

Mother nature gave the Yankees a much-needed respite yesterday, splitting their twenty games in twenty days down the middle. Their series against the A’s now represents the first game in a ten-in-ten stretch, which is far less daunting.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Oakland for a four-game series this time last year (May 19 through May 22), and they walked (or flew) away with a sweep, outscoring the A’s 22 to 9 along the way. Some other points of interest:

  • The Yankees starters – Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda – pitched to the following combined line: 25 IP, 18 H, 4 BB, 21 K, 2.16 ERA.
  • It was the Yankees first road series win of the season, as they climbed out of the AL East basement for the first time since late April.
  • Carlos Beltran went 9-for-18 with 3 R, 5 2B, 1 HR, and 8 RBI in the series.
  • The beta version of Yonder Alonso went 1-for-10 in the series, with 3 strikeouts and no walks.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more in-depth information.

Injury Report

The A’s are a bit banged-up right now. Yonder Alonso is listed as day-to-day with a wrist contusion, and it remains up in the air as to whether he’ll play on Friday (though he is expected back this weekend) – he has been one of the best hitters in baseball this year, showing signs of the promise he showed as a top-fifty prospect half a decade ago. Shortstop Marcus Semien was placed on the 60-day DL at the end of April, due to a broken wrist that required surgery, and there have been rumblings that he could be out longer than that entails. And relievers Sean Doolittle, Bobby Wahl, and Ryan Dull are on the DL, and none are expected back for this series.

Their Story So Far

Oakland is currently 21-25 with a -42 run differential, which puts them right around where they were in 2015 and 2016. They are 23rd in baseball in runs allowed, 27th in runs scored, and 30th in defensive runs saved; in short, they are a subpar team in all facets of the game, and that may be putting it lightly. This is a team in transition, and it shows.

Their two biggest stories this season are the aforementioned Alonso, and perpetual trade rumor magnet Sonny Gray. The 30-year-old Alonso is batting .275/.379/.642 (174 wRC+) with a career-high 13 home runs, and he’s actually playing better as the young season wears on. And there are reasons to believe that this is real, at least to some extent. Gray has been effective, as well, albeit on the heels of missing the first month, and he appears to be recapturing his pre-2016 form. The Yankees will not see Gray this weekend, which is something of a shame – but you can be sure that Brian Cashman is following his progress closely.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Bob Melvin has used 43 lineups in 46 games, due to injuries and his utilization of platoon players. Khris Davis is the team’s regular clean-up hitter, but most every other spot seems to be shrouded in mystery until the lineup card is posted. As a result of this, I offer the equivalent of a shrug as to my guess at what Yankees pitchers will see over the next three days:

  1. Rajai Davis, CF
  2. Matt Joyce, RF
  3. Jed Lowrie, 2B
  4. Khris Davis, LF
  5. Yonder Alonso, 1B
  6. Ryon Healy, DH
  7. Stephen Vogt, C
  8. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
  9. Adam Rosales, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

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

Graveman has proven himself to be a solid back of the rotation starter over the last two-plus seasons, pitching to a 98 ERA+ in just under 350 IP – and that makes him the prize of the Josh Donaldson deal to-date (that might be unfair to prospect Franklin Barreto, who is currently raking in Triple-A). He is held back by his well below-average strikeout rate (16.5% this year), but he keeps the ball on the ground (career 51.4% GB) and limits walks (6.6% BB). Pitching in Oakland helps, too, as his career ERA is over a run lower at home.

The 26-year-old is a true sinkerballer, as the pitch accounts for 76.1% of his offerings this year. He throws the sinker in the mid-90s, and it has a great deal of drop and spin. He mixes in the occasional four-seamer, change-up, and slider – but those are few and far between.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/19) – 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 5 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Sean Manaea

The 25-year-old Manaea entered 2016 as a consensus top-fifty prospect, and he backed that up with a solid rookie season. The southpaw tossed 144.2 IP of 3.86 ERA (104 ERA+) ball, good for 2.7 bWAR – and this despite having an ERA north of 7.00 on June 1. He has struggled a bit so far, posting a 5.24 ERA (75 ERA+) and 11.5 BB%, and he missed a couple of starts with a left shoulder strain. All that being said, he might have the highest ceiling of any A’s pitcher this side of Sonny Gray.

Manaea is a three-pitch pitcher, utilizing a low-90s four-seamer, mid-80s sinking change-up, and a low-80s slider. That slider is his strikeout pitch, and it currently has a 25.4% swinging strike rate.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/20) – 5.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 3 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Andrew Triggs

Triggs made his major league debut last year, as a 27-year-old pitching for his third organization in three years. He did reasonably well as an up-and-down long reliever and spot starter, posting a 4.31 ERA (93 ERA+) in twenty-four games (six starts). He earned a shot in the A’s rotation in spring training this year, and he has acquitted himself quite well thus far. To wit: 52.0 IP, 19.5 K%, 7.0 BB%, 51.0 GB%, 2.77 ERA (142 ERA+), 3.26 FIP. Much of his success is attributed to his borderline sidearm delivery, as Triggs hides the ball well and pounds the bottom of the strike zone.

There is a discrepancy in reports as to what Triggs actually throws. Scouts speak of his upper-80s sinker (or two-seamer), mid-80s cutter, and low-80s slider; PITCHf/x, on the other hand, appears to see that cutter as a slider, and that slider as a curveball. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, as Triggs throws several different pitches from the sort of arm angle that can screw with the eye test and PITCHf/x.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/21) – 5.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 3 BB, 7 K

The Bullpen

The A’s bullpen is 26th in baseball in ERA+, with closer Santiago Casilla leading the way with a 4.67 ERA (86 ERA+). Set-up man Ryan Madson and lefty specialist Daniel Coulombe have been highly effective in their roles, but most everyone else is struggling or hurt (or both). They should be fairly well-rested, though, thanks to an off-day Thursday and a light workload on Wednesday.

Yankees Connection

Reliever John Axford pitched in the Yankees organization in 2007, tossing 63 IP with a 3.29 ERA over stops at Staten Island, Tampa, Charleston, and Scranton/Wilkes Barre. The Yankees released him after that season (his 6.4 BB/9 may’ve played a role in that), and he latched on with the Brewers. He’s carved out a decent career are a sometimes-closer, accumulating 144 saves over parts of nine seasons. Axford has also dabbled in some sweet facial hair.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Triggs’ delivery is unique among starting pitchers, coming as close to sidearm as one can get without being labeled as such, and that bears watching just so you can wonder how he can possibly succeed with such an awkward throwing motion. Alonso is worth checking out, too, so that you can decide for yourself how this guy had never reached double-digit home runs before.