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.

Jordan Montgomery’s Adjustment

(Elsa/Getty Images North America)
(Elsa/Getty Images North America)

The Yankees season has largely been a story of adjustments. Or, perhaps, the greatest questions regarding the roster have revolved around adjustments: how would the league adjust to Gary Sanchez? Could Aaron Judge adjust to the majors? Could Luis Severino re-adjust to being a starting pitcher? How would Dellin Betances adjust to his career as an astronaut? And so on. For the most part, these questions have yielded positive answers, small sample sizes be damned (and dissipating at a rapid pace, to boot).

Heading into Tuesday night, we wondered how Jordan Montgomery would adjust to facing the Royals for the second time in six days. It was the first time that a major league lineup would see Montgomery twice, and it had an added layer of seeing how he would fare follow the worst start of his young career (5 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 4 K). The Royals are a bad offensive team – the worst in baseball on the season – but they have been heating up, and Montgomery is still a rookie. It may well have been the biggest test this side of his debut this season.

By now you know that Montgomery responded with a gem of a performance, pitching to the following line: 6.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K. The lone blemish on that line was a solo shot by Lorenzo Cain in the 7th inning, the result of a 93 MPH that caught too much of the plate. It was nevertheless his best start to-date, and he outpitched Royals ace Danny Duffy. All of this raises a question, though – what changed in the last week?

The short answer is pitch selection and pitch location. Let’s look into Montgomery’s offerings on May 18:

(Brooks Baseball)
(Brooks Baseball)

Montgomery threw 83 pitches the first time he faced the Royals, and just over half of those (42) were some variety of fastball. He picked up just seven whiffs on the day, largely due to the fact that he threw just 11 sliders. As per PITCHf/x, his slider is worth 2.55 runs per 100 thrown and has a 22.1% swinging strike rate, which makes it his best pitch by a fairly comfortable margin. With that in mind, take a look at Tuesday night’s start:

(Brooks Baseball)
(Brooks Baseball)

This time around, 41 of his 98 pitches were fastballs, and he threw more than twice as many sliders (which led to twice as many swings and misses). Montgomery threw fifteen more pitches this time around, and essentially all of them were sliders. It was a completely different mix of pitches, and it helped to keep the Royals off-balance; and the results were excellent.

It wasn’t just a matter of throwing more sliders, though. Montgomery was also far more successful in keeping the ball around the edges, as well as in the bottom-third of the strike-zone.

 

(FanGraphs)
(FanGraphs)

In the first outing, Montgomery was, to oversimplify, throwing the ball down the middle or outside of the zone. And, given that most the pitches he threw were fastballs or change-ups, it’s no surprise that he was hit, and hit hard.

(FanGraphs)
(FanGraphs)

Montgomery threw a few too many pitches near the heart of the plate both times around, but he was clearly living on the edges far more often on Tuesday night. He was also pounding right-handed hitters down-and-in (and lefties down-and-away), and it worked quite well. The majority of his pitches move, and he has shown the ability to locate most of them well-enough, so the latter plot is exactly what you’d expect to see when Montgomery is on his game.

The usual “it’s only one game” caveat applies here, yet it is encouraging to see Montgomery make such a significant adjustment from one game to the next. He went with what has worked best for him this season, and held the Royals to 1 run in 6.2 IP. On most nights, that would be a winning effort – but I digress. One of the most often cited pluses on Montgomery’s scouting report was his pitchability, and that was on full display for at least one night.

5/22 to 5/25 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

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

This feels all too familiar, doesn’t it? The schedule-makers have a strange sense of humor. Nevertheless, the Yankees will spend the next seven games at home, hosting the teams with the worst and second-worst run differentials in the American League in back-to-back series. Playing twenty games in twenty days is never ideal, but playing subpar teams makes it a bit more palatable.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees took two out of three from the Royals last week, reaching a season-high eleven games above .500 along the way. Some other points of interest include:

  • CC Sabathia showed signs of life in the first game, going 6.2 scoreless innings, and allowing just seven base-runners, while striking out four. He didn’t allow a runner to reach second until the 7th inning.
  • Jason Vargas allowed 6 ER in 4 IP in Wednesday’s start, increasing his ERA on the season from a video game-like 1.01 to a merely terrific 2.03.
  • The Yankees teased a comeback in the third game. They entered the ninth trailing 5-0, and the first two batters (Starlin Castro and Aaron Judge) reached base. Didi Gregorius drove in a run with one-out, but Kelvin Herrera settled down after that, retiring Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner with two on-base. The team went 2-for-14 with RISP overall.

You can check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fine details.

Injury Report

Ian Kennedy returned from the disabled list yesterday, and was promptly roughed-up by the Twins (2 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 1 K). Unfortunately for the Royals, he may be replaced on the DL by Nate Karns, who exited his start on Friday with forearm stiffness. An examination revealed a fluid build-up near his elbow, but no strain or other damage; he’s listed as day-to-day, but that doesn’t sound good.

Their Story So Far

Not much has changed for the Royals since last week’s series preview – they’re still last in the majors in runs scored, though the offense does appear to be trending in the right direction.

The Lineup We Might See

Ned Yost continues to mix and match with his lineups, with Alcides Escobar seemingly the only player locked into a particular spot. Much of that stems from poor performances from players like Alex Gordon, Brandon Moss, and Jorge Soler, as well as the newfound attempts to keep Mike Moustakas away from southpaws. They used three different lineups against the Yankees last week, and three different lineups against the Twins this past weekend, so it’s all conjecture at this point. I’ll hazard that this is the mean for what Yost will trot out this week:

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

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

The Yankees are facing the same three starters in the first three games of this series; you can check out my mini-profiles on Vargas, Duffy, and Hammel in last week’s series preview.

Monday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Jason Vargas

The Yankees played the role of regression to the mean the last time Vargas pitched, putting nine runners on-base and scoring six runs in the first four innings of the game. It will be interesting to see how Vargas bounces back, though I’m sure he’d rather not have to attempt to do so in Yankee Stadium against this lineup.

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Danny Duffy

Duffy completely shut down the Yankees last week, pitching to the following line: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 10 K. You could tell that he was on-point from the get-go, as he struck out the side in the top of the first – and all three struck out swinging. He only allowed three runners to reach second base, and two of those did so thanks to errors. Duffy has allowed no more than two runs in seven of his nine starts this year.

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Jason Hammel

Thanks in part to the Yankees, Hammel has allowed 5 or more runs in three of his eight starts, including three of his last four. He has just two quality starts this year, and has generally looked like the sort of pitcher that would wait until February to sign.

Thursday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. TBA

This start will likely go to Nate Karns if he is not put on the disabled list. In the event that he cannot go, they will likely have to call someone up from the minors. Chris Young has made two spot starts out of the bullpen this year, but he went 5 innings out of the bullpen yesterday (79 pitches), and I’m not sure that he’d be able to go on short rest.

Karns has been the Royals fifth starter since Opening Day, and has been a roughly league-average pitcher so far (102 ERA+ in 45.1 IP). He has well above-average strikeout (27.1%) and walk (6.9%) rates and a propensity for groundballs (49.6%), but he has been homer prone, allowing 1.79 HR/9. Karns throws a low-90s four-seamer, a big-breaking curveball in the low-80s (his best pitch, and a true swing-and-miss offering), and a mid-80s change-up.

The Bullpen

The Royals played a double-header yesterday to make up for a rain-out on Saturday, and needed their bullpen for 10.1 IP. Chris Young absorbed five of those innings, and the remaining 5.1 IP went to six other pitchers. Saturday’s de facto off day helps a bit, but the bullpen was also utilized for 4.1 IP on Friday, so this isn’t a well-rested group on the whole – and they allowed 8 runs this weekend, to boot.

Closer Kelvin Herrera has struggled this year, and he currently sits on a 4.26 ERA (101 ERA+). The Yankees touched him up for a run on Thursday, and he blew the save on Friday, allowing two runs in the bottom of the ninth. He made yesterday’s save an adventure, as well, allowing two base-runners and some hard contact before gently closing the door. Mike Minor and Joakim Soria are the team’s only reliable relievers right now.

Yankees Connection

It’s still just Ian Kennedy, who the Yankees missed by a single day. Given the way he pitched yesterday, that seems unfortunate.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Eric Hosmer was struggling mightily a couple of weeks into the season, but he has been raking for quite some time now – he’s batting .408/.471/.592 with 3 HR and as many walks (10) as strikeouts in 87 plate appearances this month, including a 7-for-13 effort against the Twins over the weekend. He’s also a career .312/.372/.532 hitter in Yankee Stadium, with 3 HR in 77 AB. The Royals would love a big series for him, both for their record and for his potential trade value a couple of months from now.

5/19 to 5/21 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)
(Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)

Tampa Bay is stop number two in the Yankees’ twenty games in twenty days tour, and the second series of said stretch against sub-.500 teams. The Rays, interestingly enough, are coming off of an unforgiving twenty-in-twenty run of their own – yesterday was their first day off since April 27.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees hosted the Rays for a three-game series from April 10 through April 13, earning the sweep. It was their first series victory of the season, and it put them above .500 for the first time this year, as well. There are too many firsts to recount here, given that it was the third series of the year, but some interesting tidbits include:

  • Michael Pineda took a perfect game into the seventh in the home opener, retiring the first twenty batters he faced. He finished the day with 7.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, and 11 K.
  • The Yankees hit six home runs in the series – two apiece by Aarons Judge and Hicks, and one each from Chase Headley and Starlin Castro.
  • Jordan Montgomery made his big league debut in the second game, and pitched to the following line: 4.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 7 K.
  • Hicks hit both of his home runs in game three, and was responsible for all of the team’s runs in a 3-2 victory.
  • The Yankees starting pitchers (Pineda, Montgomery, and Luis Severino) combined to strikeout 29 batters in 19.1 IP.

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

Injury Report

The Rays currently have quite a bit of talent on the disabled list. Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno, Matt Duffy, Tommy Hunter, Brad Miller (placed on the DL just yesterday, after being listed as day-to-day for most of the week), Wilson Ramos, and Shawn Tolleson are all on the DL, and none are expected to return this weekend. That accounts for their would-be (or should-be) starters at catcher, second, and short, as well as four relievers. That’s less than ideal.

Their Story So Far

Tampa Bay is currently 21-22 with a +17 run differential, and they wrapped-up that twenty-in-twenty stretch by taking two of three from the Indians. Despite their record, the Rays have the statistical profile of an above-average team; they’re fifth in the majors in wRC+, eleventh in adjusted ERA, fourteenth in adjusted FIP, and third in defensive runs saved. So what gives?

The Rays bullpen has already blown nine saves, and the team lost 7 of those 9 games. They’ve also been outscored 71 to 52 from the seventh inning forward. That ability to come back in the later innings can make a big difference on a team’s record, and the Rays have largely been unable to do so this year. Some of it is undoubtedly luck, but the injuries to four would-be bullpen pieces haven’t helped, either.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Kevin Cash has used thirty-one lineups this season, and has a propensity to ride the hot hand. Several players (notably Kevin Kiermaier, Brad Miller, and Logan Morrison) have moved up and down the lineup as their production dictates, and Cash also attempts to give players fairly regular rest. My best guess as to what the lineup will look like would be this:

  1. Corey Dickerson, DH
  2. Kevin Kiermaier, CF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Logan Morrison, 1B
  5. Steven Souza Jr., RF
  6. Colby Rasmus, LF
  7. Tim Beckham, SS
  8. Daniel Robertson, 2B
  9. Jesus Sucre or Derek Norris, C

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Erasmo Ramirez

Ramirez has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen throughout his major league career, accumulating 64 starts and 93 relief appearances in parts of six seasons. He’s been a roughly league-average pitcher in doing so, posting a 95 ERA+ in 485.1 IP. Surprisingly, Ramirez has been better as a starter, with superior marks in ERA, FIP, K%, K-BB%, and HR/9. He spent nearly all of 2016 in the bullpen, making just one start, and he opened this year as the long man. He made a spot start on April 20, though, and he has now (at least temporarily) replaced the demoted Blake Snell in the rotation.

The 27-year-old righty throws a trio of low-90s fastballs (mostly a two-seamer and a cutter, but he’ll sprinkle in a four-seamer), a mid-80s slider, and low-80s change-up. He pounds the bottom of the zone with all of his offerings, and he keeps the ball on the ground at a well above-average rate as a result (55.2% this year, 52.5% in 2016).

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/14) – 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K

Saturday (4:10 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Matt Andriese

Yankees fans may know Andriese best as the pitcher that gave up back-to-back home runs to Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin last summer, in what may have been the most memorable moment of their 2016 season. He has been a solid pitcher in parts of three seasons, though, pitching to a 98 ERA+ in 238.2 IP, including a 125 ERA+ through eight starts this season. He entered 2017 as a perceived placeholder for top prospect Jose De Leon, but he’s earning his keep thus far.

Andriese is basically a three-pitch guy, featuring a low-90s cutter, low-80s curve, and mid-80s change-up. He’ll mix in a four-seamer and a slider every so often, but those are relatively rare.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/14) – 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 5 K

Sunday (1:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Chris Archer

Archer has been viewed as an ace-in-waiting for half a decade now, and it isn’t difficult to see why. The 28-year-old boasts great stuff, strikes out hitters in bunches (career 25.1 K%), keeps the ball on the ground (career 46.3 GB%), and walks batters at a league-average rate (8.1 BB% for his career). He backslid a bit last year, though, posting a league-average ERA as his home run rate (1.34 per 9) soared and his velocity dipped. Archer did improve in the second half, and his velocity has recovered this season – but his walk, strikeout, and home run rates have trended in the wrong direction, and he has been more good than great on the whole.

His stuff isn’t really in question, though. Archer throws a mid-90s fastball with good movement, a wicked slider in the upper-80s, and a mid-80s change-up. About 90% of his offerings are fastballs and sliders, and the league may simply be adjusting to that approach. That may well be the difference between good starter and top of the rotation arm.

Last Outing (vs. CLE on 5/15) – 5 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 6 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

The Rays bullpen has been hit hard by injuries and poor performances. Scrap heap pick-up Jumbo Diaz and 27-year-old rookie Austin Pruitt have been pressed into duty for 35.2 IP as the team scrambles for depth, producing a 7.13 ERA, and the need for Ramirez in the rotation leaves the cupboards a bit more bare. Closer Alex Colome (2.37 ERA in 19.0 IP), set-up man Danny Farquhar (3.00 ERA in 18.0 IP), and old friend and middle reliever Chase Whitley (1.53 ERA in 17.2 IP) have done their job in keeping the bullpen afloat, but they’ve been leaned on heavily already.

As a group, the bullpen has a 4.02 ERA (99 ERA+), and the worst – by far – strikeout rate in baseball. The Rays’ 17.1% strikeout rate is 1.2 percentage points behind the next worst team, and significantly below the MLB-average of 23.1%. Allowing that many balls in play can be a real problem, particularly against more potent offenses.

Yankees Connection

The Yankees let Chase Whitley walk when he was recovering from Tommy John Surgery, and the Rays picked him up on the cheap. He made his way back to the majors last September, producing a 2.51 ERA in 14.1 IP. The Rays called him up in mid-April this year, and he has been a steadying presence in a mediocre bullpen since then.

Diego Moreno left the Yankees as a free agent after the 2016 season, and he’s also in the Rays bullpen right now. He was called up last week, and was hit hard in his first two outings (2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 2 K). He had a one-two-three inning his last time out, though.

And Nathan Eovaldi followed the Chase Whitley path over the winter; he’s on the Rays 60-day DL, and isn’t expected to be back in action until 2018.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Kevin Kiermaier has misplayed a few balls in the early goings of 2017, but he is nevertheless the best or second-best defensive outfielder in the game today. Watching him run down balls in center is worth the price of admission, if you’re into that sort of thing, as he has seemingly limitless range and a strong, accurate arm. He’s also been heating up with the bat in May, posting a 110 wRC+ in the first seventeen days of the month.

The patience of the Yankees lineup against the lack of strikeout ability in the Rays bullpen should be interesting, too.