7/7 to 7/9 Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

With injuries and poor performances aplenty, the All-Star break cannot come soon enough for the Yankees. All that stands in their way between four much-needed days off are the (surprisingly good) first-place Milwaukee Brewers.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Milwaukee for a three-game set in May of 2014, losing two of three. Both losses came by one run, with the series finale coming in walk-off fashion. Some points of interest:

  • Yangervis Solarte went 4-for-10 with 1 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI, and 1 BB in the series. By the time it was over he was leading the Yankees regulars in batting average (.315), OBP (.394), and RBI (20).
  • The Yankees bullpen was responsible for both losses, with Alfredo Aceves losing game two, and Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren combining to blow game three.
  • Of the players that suited up for the Brewers, only Matt Garza is still in the organization. Ryan Braun was on the team at that time, as well, but he was on the disabled list.

Injury Report

Chase Anderson – the team’s best or second-best starter depending upon your metric of choice – went down with a strained oblique on June 29, and is unlikely to return until sometime in August. He was just joined there by utility man and ‘Face of Baseball‘ Eric Sogard, who suffered a left ankle strain on Wednesday. Wily Peralta is out, as well, but, given his production thus far, the Brewers may be better for it.

Their Story So Far

The Brewers are currently in first place in the NL Central by 4.5 games, with a 48-40 record and a +40 run differential. They’ve won four in a row, and are 15-8 since falling back to a game above .500 on June 13. Their success seems to be a product of average-ish performance across the board, as their offense (13th in wRC+), pitching (8th in park-adjusted ERA, 12th in park-adjusted FIP), and defense (14th in DRS, 16th in UZR/150) are all right around the middle of the pack.

Eric Thames has been the team’s biggest story, as the 30-year-old “busted” prospect turned South Korean superstar returned to MLB, and tore the cover off the ball for the first month of the season (11 HR and a 218 wRC+ in April). He’s cooled off considerably since then, with a 107 wRC+ in May and a 68 wRC+ in June, but the threat of his power still looms.

Their pitching shouldn’t be overlooked, though, as the aforementioned Anderson and Jimmy Nelson have been a formidable one-two punch in the rotation, and Garza has been surprisingly competent. The remainder of their staff has been mostly average – and that alone is a surprise.

Check out Brew Crew Ball for more news and notes about the Brewers.

The Lineup We Might See

Third-year manager Craig Counsell has tinkered with his lineup throughout the year, riding the hot hand as often as possible. Sogard was raking prior to his injury, for example, so he was hitting leadoff for a couple of weeks, while the struggling Jonathan Villar was dropped in the order. Nevertheless, I suspect we’ll see something like this:

  1. Jonathan Villar, 2B
  2. Eric Thames, 1B
  3. Ryan Braun, LF/DH
  4. Travis Shaw, 3B
  5. Domingo Santana, RF
  6. Stephen Vogt, DH/C
  7. Manny Pina, C
  8. Keon Broxton, CF
  9. Orlando Arcia, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Junior Guerra

Guerra bounced around the minors and independent leagues for over a decade before getting a cup of coffee with the White Sox in 2015. He then spent most of the 2016 season in the Brewers rotation, putting up a 2.81 ERA (152 ERA+) in 121.2 IP as a 31-year-old rookie. His peripherals suggested he was something closer to a league-average pitcher, but he didn’t appear to be a complete and utter fluke. This season has been a different story, though, as he sports a 4.93 ERA/7.10 FIP (!) in 45.2 IP. Guerra also missed nearly two months with a calf injury.

In 2016, Guerra was a three-pitch guy, throwing a mid-90s four-seamer, a mid-80s splitter (with a 20% whiff rate), and a low-80s slider. He introduced a low-90s sinker this year, to mixed results. Guerra’s overall velocity has dropped in 2017, with 2 MPH disappearing from the fastball, and 1-plus MPH coming off of his splitter and slider.

Last Outing (vs. MIA on 7/2) – 4.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 7 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. LHP Brent Suter

The 27-year-old Suter has served as an up-and-down guy/long-reliever/spot starter for the Brewers over the last two years, with mostly strong results (albeit in just 42.2 IP). He has a 3.16 ERA (139 ERA+) as a big-leaguer, with league-average strikeout (19.6%) and walk (6.7%) rates. He took what would have been Anderson’s last turn in the rotation, and he stands to get an extended look.

Suter is a finesse lefty, with a mid-80s fastball, low-80s change-up, and mid-70s slider making up the bulk of his offerings.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 7/3) – 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Jimmy Nelson

If Anderson isn’t the Brewers ace, it’s because of the 28-year-old Nelson, who has been borderline dominant at times this season. He has a 3.20 ERA (139 ERA) in 104.0 IP, with comfortably above-average strikeout (26.1%), walk (5.8%), and groundball (49.3%) rates. He was a top-100 prospect heading into his rookie season, so this may well be a legitimate breakout.

Nelson is a four-pitch pitcher, with a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-to-mid 90s sinker, a slider in the upper-80s, and a mid-80s curveball. He draws praise for sequencing his pitches well, and keeping hitters off-balance with power stuff and movement.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 7/4) – 7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 K

The Bullpen

Closer Corey Knebel is the only truly dominant pitcher in the Brewers bullpen, with a 1.11 ERA (403 ERA+) and 43.3% strikeout rate in 40.2 IP. He took over as closer when Neftali Feliz earned his release, and he hasn’t disappointed. Jared Hughes and Jacob Barnes handle the 7th and 8th inning on most nights, and both are solid-average by most metrics. Beyond those three, however, it’s something of a crapshoot.

The bullpen has been taxed of late, as the Brewers have played 22 games in the last 22 days, with a double-header on June 13 somewhat negating their June 26 off-day.

Yankees Connection

This is a bit of a stretch, but Thames was drafted by the Yankees way back in 2007. He was the 1191st overall pick that year, and he elected to return to Pepperdine for his senior year instead of signing.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Keon Broxton was one of my favorite non-Yankees prospects for a while, and he has finally begun to make good on his hyper-athletic promise over the last season and change. He’s hitting .239/.306/.473 (97 wRC+) with 14 HR and 15 SB on the season, and he plays strong defense in center field. He’s something of a hacker, but he’s a fun player to watch nonetheless.

Seeing Nelson pitch could be a treat, as well – particularly the day after we see the soft-tossing Suter.

Scouting the Trade Market: First Basemen

Lucas Duda. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Lucas Duda. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

On the off-chance that Ji-Man Choi is not a true-talent 216 wRC+ hitter, the Yankees are going to need a first baseman to solidify and stabilize both the lineup and the infield defense. Chris Carter played himself into a second DFA, Greg Bird may require surgery on his balky right ankle, and none of the team’s internal options seem befitting of a team with playoff aspirations.

All of that put together, assuming the Yankees do not continue to struggle into the waning days of July, should make them something of a buyer as the trade deadline approaches. The question then becomes a simple matter of who is available, and at what cost?

The simplest way to hazard a guess at the marketplace is to see what rentals are available (meaning who will be a free agent at season’s end). As per MLB Trade Rumors, that group is mildly enticing:

  • Yonder Alonso, Oakland A’s
  • Pedro Alvarez, Baltimore Orioles
  • Lucas Duda, New York Mets
  • Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox
  • Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
  • John Jaso, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Adam Lind, Washington Nationals
  • Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox
  • Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
  • Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers
  • Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies
  • Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
  • Danny Valencia, Seattle Mariners

There are several names that can be ruled out immediately – Alvarez (trading within the division for a player reminiscent of Chris Carter), Lind (the Nationals aren’t selling), Moreland (the Red Sox aren’t selling), Morrison (trading within the division for someone that needlessly bashed Gary Sanchez), Reynolds (the Rockies aren’t selling), and Santana (the Indians aren’t sellers) are unlikely to pop-up on the Yankees radar for various reasons. Napoli is an unlikely target, as well, given that he may be the worst first baseman in the game this year, with a 77 wRC+ and -0.6 fWAR. That leaves us with:

Yonder Alonso

Alonso has been one of the best stories of this half-season, serving as a standard bearer for the flyball revolution (or the juiced ball, whichever point of view you prefer). He is currently slashing .280/.375/.568 with 19 HR in 280 PA, good for a 150 wRC+. There have been some signs of regression, though, as Alonso hit .267/.353/.433 with just 3 HR (114 wRC+) and an elevated strikeout rate in June. He’s also struggled with some nagging injuries, which has been the case on an almost year-to-year basis.

I’d be a bit weary of Alonso, due to how inflated his numbers are by his incredible May. A team might be willing to pay for his line on the season, rolling the dice that he’s broken out after years of mediocrity, and the A’s are sure to shop him aggressively.

Lucas Duda

The Yankees have not made many deals with the Mets, but it does happen on occasion – and there could be a definite match here, as the teams trend in different directions. Duda finally seems to be healthy, and he’s batting .249/.359/.548 with 14 home runs and a 137 wRC+ in 231 PA. He has a 123 wRC+ for his career, and he posted a 134 wRC+ between 2014 and 2015, so this isn’t a complete outlier. Duda may not hit for average, but he takes plenty of walks (11.5% for his career) and hits for power (.211 ISO).

As a result of this, Duda is likely the best hitter of this group, when healthy. That caveat bears repeating, but he feels like the safest bet to be a middle of the order thumper.

Todd Frazier

Frazier is a solid defensive third-baseman, so this is cheating a bit – but he has played a few games at first this year, and 94 in his career. He’s batting .215/.332/.450 with 16 HR (107 wRC+), but that is weighed-down by his early struggles. Frazier raked in June, with 8 HR and a 144 wRC+ in 109 PA, and he has hit for power throughout his career. His month-to-month inconsistencies, however, have followed him for several years now.

That being said, Frazier is an interesting target, if only because of his positional versatility. If Bird manages to get healthy or another internal option rears his head, Frazier could shift across the diamond and relieve Headley of everyday duty. He’s a feast or famine type, but the famine isn’t as bad some other options.

Eric Hosmer

I struggled with including Hosmer here, as the Royals aren’t all that far from contention. He’s in the midst of a bounceback season (he’s always better in odd-numbered years), with a .313/.371/.484 slash line (126 wRC+) in 348 PA, and he’s been a key to the team’s turnaround. The Royals have several key players coming up on free agency this off-season, though, so they may be inclined to cash-in now, instead of chasing a wild card berth and little else.

Hosmer is the youngest option here, at 27-years-old, and might be the least obtainable player in this group. There’s probably a team out there that would swing a deal for him with an eye towards re-signing him, and that’s unlikely to be the Yankees.

John Jaso

Jaso is strictly a platoon player at this point, with only 69 PA against LHP since the beginning of 2015. He has done fairly well in that role, though, with a 119 wRC+ against righties in that stretch (108 in 2017). Jaso is hitting .250/.326/.459 with 7 HR (107 wRC+) in 193 PA on the season, spending time at first and in both outfield corners.

If I had to handicap this group, I would bet that Jaso is the most available and most easily attainable player. He’s also the most uninspiring, though, as someone that only partially fills the need at first.

Danny Valencia

I nearly left Valencia out due to his character issues, but that hasn’t necessarily dissuaded the Yankees lately. The 32-year-old journeyman (he has played for seven teams since the beginning of 2012) is batting .272/.335/.412 with 8 HR (104 wRC+) in 310 PA, as he adjusts to being a full-time first baseman for the first time in his career. Those numbers are a bit skewed, though – he had a 53 wRC+ in April, but a 122 wRC+ since. And that 122 wRC+ is essentially the happy medium between his 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Valencia offers some positional flexibility, having spent time at first, third, and both corner outfield spots. His defense isn’t particularly strong at any position, though. I do like Valencia’s bat, but I do worry that his bouncing around the majors and last year’s fight with Billy Butler may be indicative of a somewhat toxic presence.

Each and every one of these guys likely represents an upgrade over Choi, though I wouldn’t be terribly enthusiastic about bringing Jaso or Valencia on-board. Jaso would need to be leveraged as a platoon bat in order to extract the most value, and Choi’s production at Triple-A, age, and five years of team control may just merit being afforded that same opportunity. And, as much as I try to avoid harping on unquantifiable concerns, Valencia’s history is disconcerting for such a young team.

That leaves us with Alonso, Duda, Frazier, and Hosmer. I won’t hazard any trade proposals, as mine would almost certainly suck, but I would be most interested in Duda, Hosmer, Alonso, and Frazier, in that order. And, depending upon the cost, I think that all four are worth kicking the tires on.

7/3 to 7/5 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Toronto to kick-off the month of June, splitting a four-game series. They outscored Toronto 26-12, with two blow-out victories (12-2 and 7-0) being balanced against narrow losses (7-5 and 3-2). Some notes:

  • You could not have drawn up a much better game for the Yankees than their 12-2 victory in the first game. All nine starters reached base at least once, with Gary Sanchez (2-for-5 with two home runs) and Aaron Hicks (4-for-5 with 3 doubles and 6 RBI) leading the way. And CC Sabathia looked great, going 6.1 IP and allowing 5 hits and 1 run, while striking out 7.
  • Bad Michael Pineda started the second game, allowing 10 hits, 5 runs, and 3 walks in 5 IP. The Yankees did mount a few comeback efforts, but going 0-for-9 with RISP kept the game just out of reach.
  • The Yankees teed-off on Jason Grilli in the third game, with Brett Gardner, Matt Holliday, Starlin Castro, and Didi Gregorius taking him deep in the top of the 8th.
  • In a sign of things to come, Tyler Clippard cost the Yankees the final game of the series, allowing a home run to Josh Donaldson in the bottom of the 8th.

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

Injury Report

RHP Aaron Sanchez has been on the disabled list with recurring blister problems for most of this season, having made just five starts thus far. He might be back this coming weekend, but the Yankees will not see him during this series. Sanchez is probably the Blue Jays’ biggest loss thus far, as he was their undisputed ace in 2016.

He isn’t alone on the DL, either. Would-be starting second baseman Devon Travis is out until September following knee surgery, and RHP Leonel Campos, OF Darrell Ceciliani, IF Chris Coghlan, LHP J.P. Howell, and RHP Joe Smith are all out with a TBD return date. None are likely to face the Yankees this week.

Their Story So Far

As was the case last time around, injuries have played a huge role in the Blue Jays lack of success this year. They’ve sent four of their starting position players to the DL at some point, as well as two starting pitchers, and a veritable slew of bench players and relievers. The offense has felt it the worst, currently sitting 26th in the majors in runs scored.

The Blue Jays are 37-44 with a -45 run differential, having lost four in a row (including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox this past weekend). They’re currently in last place in the AL East.

Check out Bluebird Banter for more news and notes about the Blue Jays.

The Lineup We Might See

Toronto has been searching for an ideal lineup throughout the season, having been through 71 different combinations thus far. Manager John Gibbons has somewhat settled on this configuration of late:

  1. Jose Bautista, RF
  2. Russell Martin, C
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B
  4. Justin Smoak, 1B
  5. Kendrys Morales, DH
  6. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
  7. Steve Pearce, LF
  8. Kevin Pillar, CF
  9. Ryan Goins, 2B

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Marcus Stroman

This will be the Yankees third time facing Stroman in 2017, and it is a rubber match of sorts. They knocked him around for 3 innings on May 3, chasing him early after scoring 5 runs on 6 hits, 3 walks, and a couple of home runs. Stroman was much better the second time around, pitching to the following line on June 4: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K. He has held the Yankees to a 2.91 ERA in 58.2 IP for his career.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 6/28) – 7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K

Tuesday (1:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP J.A. Happ

Happ was on the DL the first time these teams met, and just missed the Yankees the second time around. He has been a mild revelation in his second stint with the Blue Jays, pitching to a 3.29 ERA (131 ERA+) in 245 IP and giving credence to the notion that the Pittsburgh Pirates coaching staff’s black magic can continue to work even once the pitcher leaves its control.

The 34-year-old southpaw is essentially a fastball/sinker guy, with around 75% of his offerings being either his low-90s four-seamer or low-90s sinker. He also throws the a mid-80s change-up, and an occasional curveball or slider.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 6/29) – 6.1 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 2 K

Wednesday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Marco Estrada

As was the case with Stroman, the Yankees have already seen Estrada twice this year, and with mixed results. He shut them down on May 1 (7.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K), and served up batting practice on June 1 (3.2 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 2 BB, 4 K). Estrada has largely struggled since that last outing, pitching to a 7.88 ERA (5.39 FIP) in his five subsequent starts.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 6/30) – 4.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 7 BB, 3 K

The Bullpen

The Blue Jays bullpen ERA jumped from 3.79 to 3.99 in one afternoon, thanks to its 3.2 IP, 8 ER effort against the Red Sox yesterday. They were already trailing 7-1 when the bullpen took over, so it was largely garbage-time innings handled by the mop-up relievers, but the group is shorthanded due to the injuries to Howell, Smith, and Campos, and Joe Biagini’s transition to the bullpen.

Closer Roberto Osuna is healthy and pitching well, though, with a 2.25 ERA (202 ERA+) and 19 saves in 22 chances, as well as stellar strikeout (12.4 K/9) and walk (0.8 BB/9) rates. RHP Ryan Tepera and RHP Danny Barnes are their de facto set-up men for the time being, and both have been solid in 35-plus IP apiece so far. The bullpen thins out dramatically after that, though, and it has been leaned on heavily of late.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Way back in 2010, Justin Smoak was regarded as one of the best prospects in all of baseball, as a switch-hitter with plus power and a plus hit tool. He was the prize of the deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Rangers back in 2010, and many thought that the Mariners did well by waiting for him instead of taking on Jesus Montero. For the first seven years of his career, though, Smoak was a platoon player at best, with a .223/.308/.392 slash line (95 OPS+) through 2887 PA. And now, in his age-30 season, he seems to be breaking out.

Smoak is currently slashing .300/.368/.592 (150 wRC+), with a career-high 22 HR in 299 PA. He’s also improving every month, with his wRC+ increasing from 109 in April to 148 in May to 180 in June. The key seems to be cutting his strikeout rate to 18.4%, as opposed to 26.2% in 2015 and 32.8% in 2016. It’s either a fluke or a late-career success story, but it’s intriguing to watch regardless.

6/30 to 7/2 Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

We are just ten days away from the beginning of the All-Star break, and it feels as though that time off cannot come quickly enough. Injuries, illnesses, and losses have pervaded the last several weeks for the Yankees, and that is only being exacerbated by this current sixteen games in sixteen days stretch. This weekend’s visit to Houston is their last road series of the first-half.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees dropped three of four to the Astros back in May (11th through 14th), which represented their first series loss since the first full weekend of the season. Both teams were playing brilliantly at the time, ranking in the top-five in all of baseball in most every relevant metric, but the Astros were the better team that weekend. Some points of interest:

  • Masahiro Tanaka had his worst start of the season (and possibly his career) in the final game of the series, pitching to the following line – 1.2 IP, 7 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 4 home runs allowed.
  • Giovanny Gallegos made his big league debut in the series, pitching twice. He allowed a hit, a walk, and an unearned run in 3.1 IP, striking out 3.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury “drove in” a run by garnering a catcher’s interference call with the bases loaded in the first game. That’s fascinating, and kind of hilarious. He also got thrown out at home to end that game, which is less so.

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

Injury Report

Houston currently has three starting pitchers on the disabled list – ace Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, and Charlie Morton. There is a chance that Morton will return and start the last game of this series for the Astros, but the other two aren’t likely to be back until after the break.

Their Story So Far

The Astros are arguably the best team in baseball, as the holders of the best record (54-26) and the second-best run differential (+125, with the Dodgers leading the way at +141). They lead the majors with a 123 wRC+ (the Yankees are second at 114), and they’re top-five in both runs scored and runs allowed. They’re also 8-2 in their last 10.

While their pitching has been quite good, it’s difficult to look at this team and think about anything other than their offense. They’ve given 200-plus PA to nine players, and five of those players of a wRC+ of 130 or better; and just one – Carlos Beltran – has a wRC+ below 101. If you drop that down to 100-plus PA, you add two more hitters with an above-average wRC+, meaning that the Astros can roll out an above-average hitter at every position on any given night.

Check out The Crawfish Boxes for more news and notes on the Astros.

The Lineup We Might See

At least some of the success of the offense has to be credited to manager A.J. Hinch, who does a good job of utilizing platoons and keeping his players rested. Brian McCann is essentially a case study in this, as he has sat out nearly 30 games, avoiding back-to-backs and tough southpaws – and his 115 wRC+ would be his best since 2013. All that being said, this is the Astros’ most common lineup of late:

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

You can also expect to see healthy doses of Evan Gattis and Yuli Gurriel.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (8:10 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Lance McCullers Jr.

The Yankees faced McCullers on May 12, and he shut them down (6.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K) by mixing his mid-90s fastball, mid-80s curveball, and upper-80s change-up with gusto. He actually relied on his curve a bit less than usual, throwing it just 41.1% of the time, as opposed to his season norm of 46.1%. Whether or not that was a matter of that pitching being off for a night or a strategy remains to be seen.

McCullers has a 2.53 ERA (156 ERA+) on the season, with 10.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 81.2 IP.

Last Outing (vs. SEA on 6/24) – 5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 K

Saturday (7:15 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Francis Martes

Martes entered the season as one of the best prospects in the game, peaking at number 15 on Baseball America’s top-100 list. His call-up, however, was based on need more so than performance, as he had struggled mightily in his first taste of Triple-A (5.29 ERA, 7.8 BB/9). He currently has a 5.51 ERA (73 ERA+) in four major league games, but he’s still only 21, and he’s a top prospect for a reason.

That reason largely being his stuff, which includes a mid-to-high 90s fastball, a low-90s change-up, and a mid-80s power curve. The fastball and curve are usually graded as plus-plus, but there have been some concerns about the movement on his fastball.

Last Outing (vs. SEA on 6/25) – 2.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 3 K

Sunday (2:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. TBA

As of Friday morning, the aforementioned Morton is expected to take the ball on Sunday. He has completed two rehab starts and he’s already with the team, though a final determination does not seem to have been made. The Yankees faced Morton back on May 14, plating four runs in 5.2 IP (albeit while striking out ten times). He hasn’t pitched since May 24 due to a lat strain, so, even with the rehab starts, rust could be a factor.

Last Outing (vs. DET on 5/24) – 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

The Astros bullpen leads the majors in both K/9 and K%, and ranks in the top-ten in both park-adjusted ERA and WPA. Their greatest strength lay in the 7th and 8th innings, as set-up men Chris Devenski (2.23 ERA, 12.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9) and Will Harris (2.16 ERA, 10.5 K/9, 1.1 BB/9) have been dominant throughout the season. Closer Ken Giles has been more good than great at times, but he’s still a safe bet in the ninth. As is the case with the lineup, Hinch mixes and matches with his bullpen, with Michael Feliz, James Hoyt, and Luke Gregerson serving as solid options with defined roles.

It’s worth noting that the Astros bullpen has been leaned upon heavily this year, particularly with Keuchel, McHugh, and Morton out. Their starters oftentimes struggle to pitch through the sixth. Last night’s game was a good example of this, as they won 6-1, but still needed their bullpen for four innings as SP Brad Peacock needed 106 pitches to get through five.

Who (Or What) To Watch

If the Yankees can work the count early in the game, they may be able to get into the thinner portion of the Astros bullpen without necessarily teeing off on the starters. That might be the key to the team’s success this weekend, given that they’re going to have to go blow-for-blow with the only offense that outclasses the Bombers.

As was the case last time around, I’m always interested in watching a McCullers start. And this time we get to see Martes, as well, who has a similar overall profile.

6/26 to 6/29 Series Preview: Chicago White Sox

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

The Yankees are knee-deep in a sixteen games in sixteen days stretch, and the early returns have been less than ideal. They are 2-4 thus far, which actually makes them look a bit better than they have been over the last two weeks, and they’re intermittently struggling in all aspects of the game. Next up are the White Sox, who have dropped six of their last seven.

The Last Time They Met

The White Sox visited the Bronx from April 17 through April 19 of this year, dropping two of three. A few notes:

  • Jordan Montgomery picked-up the first win of his MLB career in the first game. He went 6.0 IP, allowing 7 hits, 3 runs, and 2 walks, striking out 4.
  • The Yankees scored seven runs in that game, all of which came with two outs. They were 3-for-7 with RISP.
  • Aaron Judge went 0-for-4 in the second game, dropping his OPS on the season to .917. It hasn’t been below .960 since then.
  • Masahiro Tanaka had his first strong start of the season in the final game of the series, pitching to the following line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 13 GB:7 FB.

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

Injury Report

Chicago’s disabled list is quite crowded, with the most notable name being Carlos Rodon. He’s been out with left biceps bursitis since Spring Training, and has had his timetable delayed a couple of times. As of now, however, he is expected to start against the Yankees on Wednesday, June 28. Otherwise, the following players are currently on the DL, and all are doubtful to return for this series: SP Dylan Covey, UT Leury Garcia, SP Miguel Gonzalez, RP Nate Jones, RP Zach Putnam, IF Tyler Saldino, C Geovany Soto, OF Charlie Tilson.

Their Story So Far

The White Sox have the worst record in the American League, as they currently sit at 32-42. Losing six of their last seven hasn’t helped, but it belies the overall competence of the team. Their run differential is -4, which suggests that they’re much closer to a .500 team, and their injury-depleted pitching staff has league-average run prevention numbers. Their offense hasn’t been good (93 wRC+, 12th in the AL in runs) – but it has been improving (102 wRC+ in June). At the very least, they aren’t the doormat that their record might suggest.

Much of their story has been the team’s desire to sell, which was announced when they dealt Chris Sale during the off-season. They haven’t made any significant moves since, however, largely due to their high asking price for Jose Quintana (and his poor performance hasn’t helped matters). Nevertheless, this team will look quite different once the trade deadline rolls around.

You can read more about the White Sox at South Side Sox.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Rick Renteria has utilized sixty-nine different lineups this year, as he tries to find something that works amidst the offense’s poor performance. He has used seven different leadoff hitters, for example, and ten different hitters in the sixth and seventh holes. He has seemingly settled on the following as of late:

  1. Alen Hanson, CF
  2. Melky Cabrera, LF
  3. Jose Abreu, 1B
  4. Avisail Garcia, RF
  5. Todd Frazier, 3B
  6. Matt Davidson, DH
  7. Tim Anderson, SS
  8. Omar Narvaez, C
  9. Yolmer Sanchez, 2B

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (8:10 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP David Holmberg

Holmberg was once a prospect of moderate note, as a second-rounder that was dealt by the White Sox for Edwin Jackson back when that meant something. His young career – he’s still just 25 – has come full circle seven years later, as he is back in the White Sox organization. Holmberg has already set a career-high this year with 31.2 IP at the highest level, with solid results (2.84 ERA/4.24 FIP) through fourteen games (five starts).

The soft-tossing lefty falls somewhere between “crafty” and “junkballer,” with a four-pitch mix that includes an 88 MPH fastball, low-80s slider- low-80s change-up, and mid-70s curveball.

Last Outing (vs. OAK on 6/23) – 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K (in relief)

Tuesday (8:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. LHP Jose Quintana

Quintana was the model of consistency from 2013 through 2016, which led to some folk labeling him as a more ideal trade candidate than Chris Sale. Through fifteen starts, however, he has turned in the worst season of his career, to the tune of a 4.69 ERA and 0.7 bWAR. His strikeout rate has increased substantially, but so have his walk and home run rates. He’s shown signs of life of late, though.

The 28-year-old relies heavily on his low-90s four-seamer and mid-to-high 70s curveball, which account for around 80% of his offerings. He’ll mix in a low-90s two-seamer and a mid-80s change-up, as well.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on 6/22) – 6.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K

Wednesday (8:10 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Carlos Rodon

The White Sox future is largely dependent upon Rodon staying healthy, and making good on his promise as a prospect (and third overall pick). He has been more solid than spectacular through two seasons, with a 3.90 ERA (102 ERA+) and 3.1 bWAR in 304.1 IP, but he’s still only 24-years-old.

Rodon is a three-pitch guy, with a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a big-breaking slider in the mid-80s, and a mid-80s change-up. The slider is his best pitch, with a career 18.8% whiff rate.

Last Outing – has not pitched in 2017

Thursday (8:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Cessa vs. RHP James Shields

Shields was on the disabled list when these teams met in April, but he is still a known commodity to all Yankees fans. And, while his ERA is right around league-average right now, his underlying numbers suggest that he is pitching even worse than he did last year – a season that ended with a 5.85 ERA and -1.9 bWAR.

Shields was never really a hard-thrower, but his fastball velocity has dipped noticeably over the last two years, and now sits in the 90 MPH range. He throws a four-seamer, a two-seamer, and a cutter, all of which have been hit hard these last few years. His off-speed arsenal includes a mid-80s knuckle-curve and a low-80s change-up.

Last Outing (vs. OAK on 6/24) – 3.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

The White Sox bullpen has been a strength this year, with the group currently sitting seventh in the majors with a 3.56 ERA (119 ERA+). Their 28 meltdowns are the third-fewest in baseball, too, meaning that they generally do a fine job of keeping the team in the game. That effort is led by a trio of former Yankees, in closer David Robertson (130 ERA+), Tommy Kahnle (291 ERA+), and Anthony Swarzak (145 ERA+), who may just be the best back-end of a bullpen in baseball right now. Injuries to Zach Putnam and Nate Jones have put more stress on their bullpen arms of late, though, which bears watching as the season rolls on.

 Who (Or What) To Watch

Rodon’s 2017 debut is already generating a great deal of buzz in Chicago, and he was pegged as a potential breakout candidate prior to his injury setbacks. His slider is a legitimately wicked offering, and he has shown the ability to dial his fastball up into the upper-90s at times. Kahnle bears watching, as well, if only to try to figure out how the heck he has a 1.47 ERA and 44.8% strikeout rate.

6/23 to 6/25 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

The Rangers visited the Yankees this time last year, splitting a four-game series from June 27-30. Both of the Yankees wins came in walk-off fashion, with one coming by way of long ball, and the other as the result of a passed ball. Ain’t baseball grand? A few more notes:

  • Mark Teixeira went 3-for-5 with a home run in the first game, which ended up being the last three hit effort of his career. It would’ve been the game-winning home run had Kirby Yates not blown the lead two innings later.
  • Luis Cessa picked-up the first win of his MLB career in game three. He came in to relieve Masahiro Tanaka in the 7th, and pitched the last three innings of the game.
  • Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-4 in the final game of the series; it was the last multi-hit game of his career.
  • The sequence of events that led to the game four walk-off was: walk – sacrifice bunt – walk – fielder’s choice (runner’s advance to 2nd and 3rd) – passed ball. Jacoby Ellsbury was at the plate for the passed ball, so perhaps we should chalk it up to his catcher’s interference magic.

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

Injury Report

While the quality is up for debate, there’s no arguing that the Rangers essentially have a pitching staff on the disabled list. Starters Cole Hamels, Andrew Cashner, A.J. Griffin, and Chi Chi Gonzalez, and relievers Tony Barnette, Jake Diekman, and Jeremy Jeffress are all out, and none are expected to return for this series.

Their Story So Far

The Rangers are currently 36-36 with a +22 run differential, and they’ve won 10 of their last 15. They’ve dealt with a litany of injuries this year, with their current disabled list only representing a portion of that – Adrian Beltre missed 50-plus games with injuries, Carlos Gomez missed 20-plus games, Tyson Ross didn’t pitch until June 16, and Jonathan Lucroy has been dealing with nagging injuries all season. Their ability to hover around .500 so far is impressive, all things considered, and they should improve when (if?) they get healthy.

Surprisingly, the Rangers offense (25th in baseball in wRC+) has been a larger issue than their pitching (13th in park-adjusted ERA). The worst offenders have been Lucroy (78 wRC+), Mike Napoli (77 wRC+), and Rougned Odor (63 wRC+), all of whom were expected to be solid contributors in the lineup.

You can read more about the Rangers over at Lone Star Ball.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Jeff Banister has been tinkering with the lineup quite a bit over the last month or so, with injuries and underperformance all but forcing his hand. The first, second, and fourth spots in the lineup have been veritable revolving doors, and that’s less than ideal when your team is expected to have a potent offense. Nevertheless, the Yankees will probably see something like this over the weekend:

  1. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
  2. Elvis Andrus, SS
  3. Nomar Mazara, LF
  4. Adrian Beltre, DH/3B
  5. Rougned Odor, 2B
  6. Carlos Gomez, CF
  7. Joey Gallo, 3B/DH
  8. Mike Napoli, 1B
  9. Jonathan Lucroy, C

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

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

Even with injuries that cost him all of 2015 and much of 2014 and 2016, we should be discussing Darvish as one of the greatest Japanese imports in MLB history. He has 18.1 bWAR through his fifth season (4.4 bWAR per 180 IP), which puts him just three bWAR behind Hideo Nomo and Hiroki Kuroda in significantly fewer innings, and he’s still just 30-years-old. He’s also a free agent after this season.

Darvish is something of a two-pitch pitcher, with most everything being either a fastball (be it a mid-90s four-seamer, mid-90s two-seamer, or high-80s cutter) or a slider. He’ll throw the occasional curveball or change-up, but that’s not an every-game occurrence.

Last Outing (vs. SEA on 6/18) – 5.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Cessa vs. RHP Austin Bibens-Dirkx

Yes, that’s his real name. Bibens-Dirkx spent the first eleven seasons of his professional career in the minors, pitching in five organizations along the way (as well as in the Mexican League and independent ball). The Rangers signed him to a minor league deal last off-season, and he made his big league debut on May 17, three weeks shy of his 32nd birthday.

Bibens-Dirkx is a borderline junk-baller, with a pair of 90ish MPH fastballs, a mid-80s slider, a mid-80s change-up, and an upper-70s curve. His offspeed pitches have graded extremely well as per PITCHf/x, albeit in just 29.2 IP.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 6/19) – 5.0 IP, 5 R, 1 BB, 5 K

Sunday (2:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Nick Martinez

Martinez’s path to pitching has been interesting, as well. He was drafted out of Fordham in 2011, having spent most of his time there as an infielder (and occasional reliever). The Rangers converted him to starting in his first professional season, and he’s done well-enough since (96 ERA+ and 2.1 bWAR in 364.1 MLB IP). He lack a strikeout pitch, which limits his ceiling, but he has improved his control and groundball rates over time.

Martinez throws three low-90s fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter), a curve in the upper-80s, and a mid-80s change-up. It’s not premium stuff, but he throws all of his pitches for strikes.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 6/20) – 6.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 2 K

The Bullpen

The Rangers have already used fifteen different relievers this season. It’s not surprising, then, that the group has a 4.45 ERA and more blown saves (13) than saves (11); those save and blown save numbers are both second-worst in the majors. Those numbers are at least a bit misleading, though, as Sam Dyson (now on the Giants) was 0-for-4 in save opportunities, and had a 10.80 ERA in 16.2 IP. The remaining relievers – notably closer Matt Bush, set-up man Keone Kela, Jose Leclerc, and Alex Claudio – have been solid or better.

Texas’ bullpen has been stretched somewhat over the last week, including being called upon for six innings on Tuesday. Bush and Kela rested yesterday, though.

Yankees Connection

Get excited, folks, as Yankees legends Ernesto Frieri and Pete Kozma will be making their way to the Bronx for the next three games.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Adrian Beltre is healthy, hitting, and just forty hits shy of 3,000. I’ve always enjoyed watching him play, and I’m excited to (hopefully) see him reach that milestone later this year. And I still feel like few people realize just how close he is to that level of immortality.

Joey Gallo is no Aaron Judge, but he’s currently fifth on the exit velocity leaderboard. He’s a three-true outcomes hitter, with nearly 56% of his PA resulting in a home run (19 jacks), walk (11.0%), or strikeout (37.3%), and when he manages to make contact the ball really flies off of his bat. He’s still only 23-years-old and this is his first extended look in the majors, so there’s definitely room for improvement.

Game 70: Win the Series

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

The Yankees snapped a seven-game losing streak last night, and regained control of first place in the AL East. A win tonight would give them a full one-game lead over the idle Red Sox heading into the weekend, which would be surprisingly comforting given how close the divisional standings have become. And it will largely be up to Luis Severino – the team’s de facto ace – to get them there.

Severino will face what may well be the Angels best lineup without Mike Trout. That may sound like a joke, but the offense has been surprisingly potent in his absence. Joe Girardi will counter with this:

  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. Chris Carter, 1B
  9. Ronald Torreyes, 3B

The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM EST, and you can catch the game on WPIX.