ALCS Series Preview: Houston Astros

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

I was one of many that didn’t expect the Yankees to do much this season. I would’ve been happy with an above-.500 season, and competent performances from the litany of young players that the team carried for most of the season.

Instead, the Yankees were one of the best teams in baseball for a significant portion of the season, and ended up making the playoffs. And, even then, I would’ve been ecstatic just to make it to the ALDS, and put up a good fight against arguably the best team in the American League (if not all of baseball). As the series progressed, though, I wanted more. My hopes and optimism grew in bounds, and once they reached a decisive game five, I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied with anything other than an ALCS appearance.

And now that they’ve reached the ALCS, I want more. This team is so much fun to root for, and they play with the sort of energy that breeds confidence and pure joy in fans. I’m happy that they’ve gone as far as they have, and I don’t think anything could disappoint me given all that they’ve accomplished – but I’m more optimistic than I’ve been at any time since 2009. They can do this.

All that stands in their way is a damn good Houston Astros team.

The Season Series

The Yankees and Astros met seven times this season, with Houston taking five of those match-ups. Two of the Yankees losses were by just one run, though, and the largest margin of victory in a game came when they beat the Astros 13-4 on June 30. Some notes:

  • Masahiro Tanaka had what may’ve been the worst start of his career against the Astros back on May 14. He went just 1.2 IP, and allowed 8 earned runs on 7 hits (4 home runs), a walk, and a hit batter. It wasn’t pretty, to say the least.
  • Carlos Correa feasted on Yankees pitching, going 14-for-28 with 7 R, 2 2B, 2 HR, and 10 RBI in those seven games.
  • The Astros as a team hit .283/.336/.486 as a whole against the Yankees, with 28 extra base hits (including 11 home runs).
  • The Yankees hit .263/.339/.417, with 23 extra base hits (7 home runs).

How They Got Here

The Astros went 101-61 with a +196 run differential in the regular season, both of which ranked third in the majors. Their 896 runs scored led the majors (as did their 121 wRC+, by a whopping 13 points), and their 700 runs allowed ranked 9th. They were actually a bit better away from Minute Maid Park, going 48-33 at home and 53-28 on the road (tied with Cleveland for the best in baseball). And then they beat the Red Sox in the ALDS, taking the series 3-1.

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call this team an offensive juggernaut, given the sheer depth of the lineup. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, and George Springer all ranked in the top-25 in the game in wRC+, and Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman, and Yulieski Gurriel all fell within the top-60 (among the 181 players with 450-plus PA this year). They will have nine players on their roster that posted a wRC+ above 100 this year, and that doesn’t include Carlos Beltran, who hit .400/.500/.600 against in the ALDS. The Astros hit .333/.402/.571 as a team in that series.

Their pitching staff was solidly above-average in the regular season, and it only improved with the addition of Justin Verlander. He went 5-0 in five regular season starts with the Astros, with the following insane line: 34.0 IP, 17 H, 5 BB, 43 K, 1.06 ERA. The one-two punch of Verlander and Dallas Keuchel is among the best in the game right now, and the built-in off days ensure that both would be able to start two games if the need arises. Their starting pitching isn’t flashy beyond those two, but likely starters Charlie Morton (109 ERA+) and Brad Peacock (132 ERA+ between the rotation and bullpen) are both more than adequate this season.

As a whole, Astros starters pitched to a 4.03 ERA (105 ERA+) this year, with a 24.6 K% (6th in baseball) and a 8.2 BB% (17th).

The bullpen is a bit of a different story. It was an average-ish unit on the season (4.27 ERA, 99 ERA+), but it is a bit top heavy. Closer Ken Giles (2.30 ERA, 11.9 K/9), fireman Chris Devenski (2.68 ERA, 11.2 K/9), and Will Harris (2.98 ERA, 10.3 K/9) are as dependable as they come, but the herd thins considerably after that.

The Lineup We Might See

The ridiculous depth of the Astros bench allows manager A.J. Hinch a great deal of flexibility. He doesn’t use the strictest platoons, but he will shuffle the lineup against the toughest lefties – whether or not that would include CC Sabathia is up for debate, I suppose. Regardless, these are the nine men that we’ll likely see in the starting lineup:

  1. George Springer, CF – .283/.367/.522, 34 HR, 5 SB
  2. Josh Reddick, RF – .314/.363/.484, 13 HR, 7 SB
  3. Jose Altuve, 2B – .346.410/.547, 24 HR, 32 SB
  4. Carlos Correa, SS – .315/.391/.550, 24 HR, 2 SB
  5. Marwin Gonzalez, LF – .303/.377/.530, 23 HR, 8 SB
  6. Alex Bregman, 3B – .284/.352/.475, 19 HR, 17 SB
  7. Yulieski Gurriel, 1B – .299/.332/.486, 18 HR, 3 SB
  8. Evan Gattis, DH – .263/.311/.457, 12 HR, 0 SB
  9. Brian McCann, C – .241/.323/.436, 18 HR, 1 SB

Carlos Beltran struggled mightily this season, and only started one game in the ALDS. I’d be shocked, however, if he didn’t start at least one of the games in Yankee Stadium.

The Starting Pitching

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Dallas Keuchel has been confirmed as the starter for game one. He missed nearly two months with a neck injury, but was excellent when he was on the mound. He pitched to a 2.90 ERA (136 ERA+) in 145.2 IP, with slightly league-average strikeout (21.4%) and walk (8.1%) rates. Keuchel is a worm-burner extraordinaire, posting a 66.8% ground ball rate this year, which is 22.6 percentage points above league-average. He’s death on LHH, who posted a .192 wOBA against him this year, but somewhere closer to mortal against righties (.293 wOBA).

Justin Verlander will start game two. He has been excellent over the last two years, leaving his awful 2014 in the rearview mirror as he re-established himself as one of the best starters in the American League. I posted his ridiculous numbers with the Astros above, but he was quite good all year, pitching to the following line: 206.0 IP, 170 H, 72 BB, 219 K, 3.36 ERA (133 ERA+). It is worth noting that he has become more flyball prone than ever the last two seasons, bottoming out with a 33.5% groundball rate this year.

If the Astros stick to their ALDS rotation, Brad Peacock would be up in game three. He spent part of the season in the bullpen, which makes his overall numbers look better, but he was very good as a starter, to wit – 111.2 IP, 90 H, 46 BB, 135 K, 3.22 ERA. He’s essentially a three-pitch guy, throwing a low-90s four-seamer, a low-90s sinker, and a low-80s slider; that slider is his bread-and-butter, and he throws it just under 45% of the time, per Brooks Baseball.

And that would leave Charlie Morton for game four. Morton has been an “if he can stay healthy” guy for a half-dozen years now, and it has never quite shaken out that way. He has mostly healthy this year, though, making 25 starts and throwing 146.2 innings of 3.62 ERA (109 ERA+) ball. Morton is mostly thought of as a groundball specialist, and that’s mostly true; he kept 51.8% of batted balls on the ground this season, which is 3.2 percentage points below his career norm. However, he has become something of a strikeout artist, with an even 10.0 K/9 this year, as well as an above-average 10.9% swinging strike rate.

There are some rumblings that Lance McCullers could work into the Astros plans for the series, as he’s said to be back at full-strength. He hasn’t looked all that good since coming off the DL, though, so I’m not sure that now is the time for Hinch to shake things up.

The Bullpen

Ken Giles is the closer, and he’s probably one of the 20 or so best relievers in baseball. He pitched to a 2.30 ERA (172 ERA+) in 62.2 IP, and converted 34 of 38 save opportunities. And those impressive numbers are skewed a bit by a rough patch in June; he had a 1.11 ERA from July 1 forward, to go along with 12.3 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. He might not be a truly elite closer, but he’s not all that far off, either.

Chris Devenski fills the fireman role, and he has been a revelation in that role. He tossed 80.2 IP across 62 appearances this year, posting a 2.68 ERA (148 ERA+) and striking out 11-plus batters per nine innings. The Astros will go to him in any high-leverage situation, regardless of inning, and he has delivered more often than not. He did get rocked by the Red Sox in game three of the ALDS, though, allowing 3 runs on 3 hits without recording an out.

Will Harris is a more traditional set-up man, and he had another strong year despite missing some time with an injury. He had a 2.98 ERA (133 ERA+) to go along career bests in strikeout rate (29.4%) and walk rate (4.0%). His downfall at times has been the long ball, though, as he allowed 1.4 HR/9 and 17.1% HR/FB this year.

The bullpen deployment beyond that is anyone’s guess at this juncture. Luke Gregerson, Joe Musgrove, and Francisco Liriano are all slated for regular use, but whether Hinch trusts them is another issue entirely.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Yankees being the underdog is an interesting feeling, to say the least – but it’s also exhilarating. FiveThirtyEight has the Astros with a 56% chance of winning the ALCS, and FanGraphs has them at 58.1%. Anything can happen in baseball, as evidenced by the Yankees amazing comeback against the heavily favored Indians, and this is the time to embrace that sort of chaos.

9/29 to 10/1 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

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

The Last Time They Met

It’s been just five days since the Yankees last played the Jays. On Sept. 22-24, the Jays took two of three from the Bombers, inching the Yankees closer to the Wild Card Game and further away from the division.

  • Masahiro Tanaka had a rough outing, giving up eight runs over 5.2 innings. The big blows were a trio of home runs, including a grand slam to nine-hole hitter Ryan Goins.
  • The Yankees clinched a playoff spot in the middle game, riding Sonny Gray and a three-run homer from Greg Bird.
  • Jaime Garcia met a similar fate to Tanaka as the Jays took the series finale. Teoscar Hernandez hit homers in all three games, but Aaron Judge had three of his own with two on Sunday.

Since They Last Met

  • After handing the Yankees two costly defeats, the Jays did them a favor with two wins against the Red Sox. They led early in the third game, too, but Marco Estrada came apart and the Sox won 10-7.
  • Josh Donaldson had one of his best series of the year. He went 8 for 13 with two doubles and three home runs. He has eight multi-hits this month and has brought his average from .253 to .272.
  • Hernandez had three more homers. He now has six in his last six games after just two in his first 17 with the Jays. That’s some impressive raking against playoff squads.

Their Story Right Now

The Jays have had a disappointing year that really got off the rails in April. At 75-84, they’re likely to finish in fourth or fifth place. If they had been able to play closer to .500 to start the year, they’d have been in contention for that second wild card. Donaldson’s late-season surge combined with efforts of Hernandez and others gives them hope for next year, especially if Aaron Sanchez is healthy. But with Donaldson’s free agency looming after 2018, the team is facing some tough decisions this offseason.

Lineup We Might See

With a ton of RHHs, this team doesn’t change its lineup up too often. Richard Urena could enter for Goins vs. lefties, plus this being the last series of the year could mean a lot of call-ups getting time.

1. Teoscar Hernandez, LF – (.282/.313/.667)
2. Josh Donaldson, 3B – (.272/.389/564)
3. Justin Smoak, 1B – (.272/.358/.534)
4. Jose Bautista, RF – (.204/.311/.370)
5. Kendrys Morales, DH – (.251/.309/.448)
6. Kevin Pillar, CF – (.256/.300/.404)
7. Russell Martin, C – (.221/.344/.389)
8. Ryan Goins, SS – (.237/.288/.357)
9. Darwin Barney, 2B – (.233/.276/.330)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Joe Biagini
It’s an early start for Yom Kippur and Biagini will be taking the hill for the last time this season. The Yankees got to him on Saturday with Bird dealing the decisive blow. Despite that, Biagini pitched efficiently and had a low pitch count when taken out after five. The swingman is 3-12 this year with a 5.34 ERA but he has an FIP a run lower.

Last Outing (vs. NYY on Sept. 23) – 5.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 3 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Marcus Stroman
Stroman got the better of the Yankees on Sunday, although part of that was facing Garcia. He still allowed three runs in 5.2 innings. He has a 5.49 ERA with 11 strikeouts to 10 walks over 19.2 innings vs. the Yankees over four starts this year. Overall, he’s had an impressive seaaon with a 3.06 ERA over 197 innings, outperforming his peripherals in his age-26 season.

Last Outing (vs. NYY on Sept. 24) – 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 2 K

Sunday (3:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Brett Anderson
Don’t let the new uniform fool you: This is the same Brett Anderson that lasted just two outs against the Yankees in May when he was with the Cubs. He gave up six hits over seven batters in his final start with Chicago. Since joining the Jays, he has a 6.04 ERA over six starts, but that mostly stems from an eight-run start over 1.1 innings against the Royals.

Be on the lookout for blisters: He left after just 80 pitches over five innings on Monday vs. Boston after his blister issues flared up.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on Sept. 25) – 5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 3 K

The Bullpen

Same bullpen, different week. Domenic summed up the Jays’ group pretty well last week, so check that out.  They had a day off on Thursday, so everyone should be fresh for Friday afternoon.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

These could easily be the last three games of Bautista’s career. Turning 37 in October, he’s past his prime and is becoming a liability in the outfield. He’ll have to hope for a team to give him a shot, likely as a platoon bat or designated hitter, but it could be a second straight rough offseason for Joey Bats.

As for the returning players, Hernandez is must-watch. He was acquired from the Astros in the Francisco Liriano trade and has raked over the last week. Can he bring his hot streak through the end of the year?

9/26 to 9/28 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
(Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

Citi Field was the venue the last time these teams met, as a result of Hurricane Irma. The Yankees took two of three from the Rays in Flushing, and helped to create and then take ownership of a late-season meme. Some notes from the series:

  • David Robertson had a phenomenal outing in the first game, coming in in the fifth to bail CC Sabathia out of a two-on, one-out jam with no damage. All told Robertson went 2.2 IP, allowing one hit, no runs, and no walks, while striking out 4.
  • Sonny Gray pitched like an ace in game two – 8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 9 K. And the Yankees lost 2-1. The less said about this game the better.
  • The third game of the series was one of the more stressful wins in recent memory, with the Yankees struggling to take advantage of a slew of base-runners, and the Rays threatening in nearly every inning. It was a 3-2 victory in the record books, but it was not fun to watch.

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

Injury Report

The Rays are mostly healthy – better late than never, I suppose. Their only noteworthy players on the disabled list are Matt Duffy, Nathan Eovaldi, and Shawn Tolleson, and none of them have appeared in a single game this season.

Their Story So Far

Tampa Bay is 76-80, and are a loss or a Twins win away from being eliminated from Wild Card contention. They’ve been a largely middle-of-the-pack team board this season, checking in at 11th in the majors in park-adjusted ERA and 15th in wRC+, with their outstanding defense (4th in the majors in defensive efficiency) oftentimes serving as a difference maker. They’re also 20-24 in one-run games, which ranks 21st in the league. You can look at the Rays season from any number of angles, but it all boils down to them being a remarkably average team.

The Yankees are 10-6 against the Rays this year, so they’ve already clinched the season series.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Kevin Cash seems to play roulette with certain slots in the lineup, but by and large you can expect to see something like this:

  1. Kevin Kiermaier, CF – 276/.338/.455, 15 HR, 14 SB (409 PA)
  2. Lucas Duda, DH -.221/.321/.507, 30 HR, 0 SB (476 PA)
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B – .265/.317/.427, 19 HR, 6 SB (656 PA)
  4. Logan Morrison, 1B – .243/.352/.515, 37 HR, 2 SB (580 PA)
  5. Steven Souza, RF – .236/.344/.459, 30 HR, 16 SB (600 PA)
  6. Corey Dickerson, LF – .278/.322/.487, 26 HR, 4 SB (612 PA)
  7. Wilson Ramos, C – .263/.293/.444, 10 HR, 0 SB (211 PA)
  8. Brad Miller, 2B – .198/.326/.328, 8 HR, 4 SB (396 PA)
  9. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS – .249/.284/.398, 6 HR, 3 SB (265 PA)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Blake Snell

Snell has had a disappointing and disjointed sophomore season, having spent much of it in the minors as he attempts to learn the finer points of controlling where the baseball is going. His walk rate has dropped by two full percentage points from last year (from 12.7% to 10.7%), but it remains two-plus percentage points worse than league-average (8.5%). He has great stuff and has flashed brilliance for parts of two seasons now, so he shouldn’t be underestimated; but Snell is still very much a work in progress.

Last Outing (vs. CHC on 9/20) – 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Matt Andriese

The Yankees have faced Andriese twice this year. He got the better of them the first time around (6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 5 K), but they solved him the next time out (5 runs in 5 IP). Andriese has been a serviceable fifth starter/up-and-down guy for the Rays this year, pitching to a 4.33 ERA (94 ERA+) in 16 starts.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 9/21) – 6.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 8 K

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Alex Cobb

Mike wrote everything you need to know about Cobb – a free agent to be – just last week. Give it a read, won’t you?

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 9/22) – 6.0 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 K

The Bullpen

Tampa’s bullpen was something of a horror show in the first half, blowing lead after lead, and allowing small deficits to grow into large ones. The group has done an about-face in the last two months, though, with closer Alex Colome, set-up man Tommy Hunter, and new additions Steve Cishek and Sergio Romo combining for a 1.84 ERA in 107.2 IP since the All-Star break. They’re a bit shallow beyond that big four, but this is a group that ranks 3rd in the majors in bWAR in the second half, and 5th in WPA.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Alex Cobb may well be auditioning for the Yankees on Thursday, and a strong final start could help his cause a bit.

Taking a more Yankee-centric approach this time around, it’s also worth mentioning that some scoreboard watching is in order. A win for the Yankees or a loss for the Twins will wrap-up homefield advantage for the Yankees in the Wild Card game, and that’s significant. The Yankees are 47-28 at home and 40-41 on the road, which isn’t too far off from their split last year. This is a team that utilizes Yankee Stadium to the fullest, so we should have one more cause for celebration during this series.

9/22 to 9/24 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

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

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees dropped two of three in Toronto back in August, falling to 60-53 in the process. It was a frustrating series that resulted in the team falling 4.5 games out of first (a season high to that point), and also led to both CC Sabathia and Clint Frazier hitting the disabled list. Some additional notes:

  • Sabathia tried to pitch through an achy right knee, but it didn’t work out. His fastball averaged just under 88 MPH, and he allowed 4 runs in 3 IP on a couple of two-run home runs to Josh Donaldson.
  • Garrett Cooper – remember him? – had a heck of a series. He went 8-for-12 with with 2 doubles and 4 RBI, and scorched the ball in all three games.
  • The Yankees offense broke out in a big way in the second game, an 11-5 win. They combined for 17 hits, including 3 home runs, and had at least one base-runner in seven innings. Every starter reached base at least once, too.
  • Game three was a frustrating #RISPfail affair, as the team went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, leaving 11 runners on-base in total. Ugh.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun (or not so fun) facts.

Injury Report

Aaron Sanchez, Devon Travis, and Troy Tulowitzki have all been ruled out for the season. All three have been injured more than once this season, with setbacks aplenty. Steve Pearce hasn’t played since September 8, but he’s still listed as day-to-day, and could conceivably be back for this series.

Their Story So Far

The Blue Jays secured a sub-.500 record with last night’s loss, and currently sit at 71-82. Their -98 run differential ranks 13th in the American League (23rd in the majors), and their 650 runs scored places them in the bottom-five of all of baseball. Their pitching staff has clung to average-ish for most of the season, but it hasn’t been nearly enough to make up for the horrific offense.

Jose Bautista’s season is Exhibit A in the case of explaining the Blue Jays year as a whole. He’s having the worst full-season of his career, despite staying healthy throughout, slashing .203/.309/.369 (80 wRC+) with the worst BB%, K%, and ISO of his Blue Jays career. The combination of his poor hitting and awful defense has him pegged at -1.8 bWAR in 148 games.

It’s also worth noting that Bautista’s numbers are mildly inflated due to his performance against the Yankees this year. He’s hitting .260/.362/.480 with 3 HR against the Yankees, and .198/.304/.358 against everyone else.

The Lineup We Might See

  1. Ezequiel Carrera, LF – .283/.355/.412, 8 HR, 9 SB
  2. Josh Donaldson, 3B – .264/.386/.546, 30 HR, 2 SB
  3. Justin Smoak, 1B – .275/.358/.544, 38 HR, 0 SB
  4. Jose Bautista, RF – .203/.309/.369, 22 HR, 6 SB
  5. Kendrys Morales, DH – .249/.306/.448, 27 HR, 0 SB
  6. Kevin Pillar, CF – .258/.303/.410, 16 HR, 14 SB
  7. Russell Martin, C – .222/.349/.382, 12 HR, 1 SB
  8. Darwin Barney, 2B – .237/.276/.329, 5 HR, 7 SB
  9. Richard Urena, SS – .224/.286/.345, 1 HR, 1 SB (16 games)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:07 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Marco Estrada

Estrada might be the pitching version of Bautista this season, with his 95 ERA+ representing a tremendous drop-off from the 127 ERA+ he posted over his first two seasons in Toronto. He also has full-season worsts in H/9, BB%, and GB%.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on 9/16) – 8.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Saturday (4:07 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Joe Biagini

Biagini spent all of 2016 as a reliever, but was pressed into starting duty in May due to mounting injuries in Toronto. It was a role that he was accustomed to in the minors, but going from a one-inning reliever back to a full-time starter in the span of a couple of weeks can’t be too easy. He has unsurprisingly struggled as a starter, pitching to a 5.77 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 16 starts.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on 9/17) – 1.1 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 0 K

Sunday (1:07 EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Marcus Stroman

Stroman has been excellent this season, pitching to a 3.01 ERA (153 ERA+) in 191.1 IP. His 61.8 GB% leads the majors by nearly three percentage points, as batters beat sinker after sinker into the ground. The Yankees have done well against him this year, though, scoring 9 runs in 14 IP.

Last Outing (vs. KCR on 9/19) – 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

It’s been a rough season for Toronto’s bullpen. They’ve blown 25 saves, tied for worst in the majors, and their 87 meltdowns finds them in the bottom-five. Closer Roberto Osuna has been a borderline disaster in the second-half, pitching to a 5.54 ERA and blowing seven saves, but his job is nevertheless secure (and it probably should be, given his resume and age).

Beyond Osuna, however, the bullpen has been more than passable these last two months. Dominic Leone, Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera, and Matt Dermody may not be a noteworthy group of names, but they’ve held down the fort in the middle and late innings quite well. Three of those four pitched last night, though, and all four have pitched multiple times this week.

Who (Or What) To Watch

This is quite likely to be Bautista’s last season with the Blue Jays, as they’re all but a lock to decline his mutual option for 2018. The Yankees will see him in Yankee Stadium next week, so this may not be a big deal for us; however, this is the Blue Jays last home series of the year, so we could see something special.

9/18 to 9/20 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

Buxton. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Buxton. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Minnesota for a three-game series in mid-July, and dropped two of three. That was the last of the interminably lengthy stretch of series losses, thankfully, and the Yankees have gone 34-22 since. Some series notes:

  • The trade for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier was made in the midst of this series, and the latter two made their Yankees debuts in the third game. Kahnle threw a scoreless eighth inning, notching two strikeouts, and Frazier went 0-for-1 with a strikeout as a pinch hitter.
  • Caleb Smith made his big league debut in the first game, relieving Bryan Mitchell in the 6th. He took the loss after allowing two runs in the bottom of the 8th.
  • This was the first series that the Yankees lost in Target Field … it was their 8th season visiting the stadium.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more information.

Injury Report

Miguel Sano’s injured left leg has been one of the biggest storylines in Minnesota this summer, as the slugger has been sidelined since August 19. He was hitting .267/.356/.514 (126 wRC+) with 28 home runs when he went down with a stress reaction in his shin, and he was the foundation of the team’s lineup. As of this writing, his return is still up in the air.

Joining Sano on the DL are pitchers Phil Hughes (possibly done for the season), Hector Santiago (probably done for the season), and Trevor May (definitely out for the season).

Their Story So Far

The Twins are 78-71 with a +9 run differential on the season, and they currently control the second Wild Card spot. They’re four games behind the Yankees for home field advantage in that game, so that adds an interesting layer of intrigue to this series. A white-hot August propelled the Twins into the race, as they went 20-10; six of those wins did come against the tanking White Sox, though.

Byron Buxton has been the poster boy for the team’s turnaround, as the former number one prospect has begun to make good on his promise. He has a .323/.365/.622 slash line (145 wRC+), to go along with 11 HR and 10 SB (0 CS) since the All-Star break. And, despite all of the hand-wringing about his struggles prior to this stretch, he’s still three months shy of his 24th birthday.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Paul Molitor has a fairly steady hand with his lineup, though he does juggle the order a bit to get the platoon advantage. With LHP taking the mound for the Yankees today and tomorrow, we’ll probably see something like this:

  1. Brian Dozier, 2B – .260/.346/.480, 31 HR, 15 SB
  2. Joe Mauer, 1B/DH – .306/.385/.424, 7 HR, 2 SB
  3. Jorge Polanco, SS – .251/.307/.403, 11 HR, 10 SB
  4. Eduardo Escobar, 3B – .254/.312/.448, 19 HR, 5 SB
  5. Byron Buxton, CF – .258/.320/.430, 16 HR, 26 SB
  6. Eddie Rosario, RF – .295/.333/.521, 26 HR, 9 SB
  7. Kennys Vargas, DH/1B – .251/.311/.453, 11 HR, 0 SB
  8. Jason Castro, C – .234/.327/.380, 9 HR, 0 SB
  9. Ehire Adrianza, LF – .270/.335/.383, 2 HR, 8 SB

And Tanaka will probably face something like this on Wednesday:

  1. Dozier, 2B
  2. Mauer, 1B
  3. Polanco, SS
  4. Rosario, LF
  5. Buxton, CF
  6. Max Kepler, RF – .243/.314/.420, 17 HR, 6 SB
  7. Escobar, 3B
  8. Castro, C
  9. Robbie Grossman, DH – .249/.369/.393, 9 HR, 2 SB

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Ervin Santana

This is the 13th season of what has been a fairly productive career for Santana, who is still just 34-years-old. His 133 ERA+ is the best mark of his career, as are his five complete games and three shutouts. There are signs that this is more than a bit fluky – notably his 4.53 FIP and .241 BABIP – but he has been good more often than not for quite some time now, and this is his second big year in a row.

Santana’s mid-90s four-seamer and mid-80s slider account for nearly 80% of his offerings, so it would be fair to label him as a (mostly) two-pitch guy. He’ll mix in a low-90s sinker and a mid-80s change-up, but usually no more than a handful of each per game.

Last Outing (vs. SDP on 9/13) – 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jose Berrios

The Yankees matched-up against Berrios on July 19, and the 23-year-old more than held his own, pitching to the following line: 6.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K. It’s worth noting that that was in Minnesota, though, and that he has massive home/road splits. To wit, he has a 2.45 ERA (2.78 FIP) at Target Field, and a 5.14 ERA (5.00 FIP) everywhere else.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 9/14) – 5.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 5 K

Wednesday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Bartolo Colon

Father Time has seemingly caught up with Colon, whose 6.39 ERA ranks 124th among 126 pitches with 100-plus IP. The Yankees tuned him up pretty well in July, scoring 4 runs in 4 innings, en route to a 6-3 victory.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 9/15) – 6.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 1 K

The Bullpen

The Twins traded All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler at the trade deadline, in the midst of their soft-sell (which also included Garcia being sent to the Yankees). It was a group that ranked among the worst in baseball at that time, and it seemed destined for failure following the Kintzler deal. Instead, it has been rock-solid for the last six or seven weeks.

Matt Belisle (2.01 second-half ERA) has taken over as the closer, and rookie Trevor Hildenberger (3.11 ERA on the season) has taken over as the set-up man. Most of the pieces are the same as the last time these teams met – those pieces have just been better.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Buxton has done his best Mike Trout impression for two-plus months now, and he is one of the most fun players to watch right now. He’s a brilliant defender in center, a fearless and efficient base-runner, and far more powerful than his frame portends. The longer this goes on, the more folk buy-in – and that’s not too shocking, given his pedigree and prospect history.

9/14 to 9/17 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

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

After taking two of three at Citi Field, the Yankees return across town to face the Baltimore Orioles for the last time this season. The Yankees have won 9 of 15 from the O’s this season and need just one win in this four-game set to clinch the season series.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees and O’s haven’t played since … last week. On Sept. 4-7, the Bombers won their first series at Camden Yards in four years as they broke out the bats.

  • Chad Green got seven outs (4 Ks) in relief in the opener as the Yankees overcame a 3-0 deficit with seven straight runs. Aaron Judge walked four times while Starlin Castro had three hits, including a home run.
  • After a long rain delay, the Yankees slowly surrendered a 6-1 lead on a series of home runs. They came within one out of victory but Manny Machado slugged a two-run walk-off shot off a Dellin Betances curveball to seal the crushing defeat.
  • Sonny Gray held Baltimore to one unearned run in the finale while Judge, Castro, Chase Headley and Todd Frazier each homered in a 9-1 blowout victory over Kevin Gausman and co.

Since They Last Met

  • Once they were done with the Yankees, the Orioles traveled to Cleveland. Not great timing. They were promptly swept by the Indians, who picked up wins No. 16-18 during their current 21-game streak.
  • North of the border, the O’s took two more L’s in the first two games of the series with the Blue Jays, both by one run. They held a 2-1 lead into the ninth on Tuesday, but usually reliable Zach Britton blew the save and took the loss.
  • They finally picked up a much-needed win in the sixth game of their 10 game set. Gausman threw seven one-run innings before the bullpen hung on. Trey Mancini did some damage with an RBI triple.

Their Story Right Now

After ending their six-game losing streak, the Orioles are now 72-74, a good 4.5 back of the second wild card. They were just one game back eight days ago and now they’d have to pass five teams in 2.5 weeks to reach the postseason. Anything short of a sweep this weekend is likely not enough for them and even said sweep would only pull them to within 3.5 of the Yankees.

They still have plenty of power in the middle of their order (Machado, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Trey Mancini) but their starting rotation most closely resembles Swiss cheese. Furthermore, Tim Beckham boarded the regression train this month, hitting just .184 since the calendar flipped from August.

Lineup We Might See

On Monday, Wellington Castillo had his second groin injury of the year, taking a foul ball to his nether regions. He was taken to the hospital and Caleb Joseph has started the last two games behind the plate. It’s unclear whether Castillo will be back this weekend.

1. Tim Beckham, SS – (.285/.332/.466)
2. Manny Machado, 3B – (.269/.323/.496)
3. Jonathan Schoop, 2B – (.302/.346/.527)
4. Adam Jones, CF – (.283/.319/.471)
5. Trey Mancini, LF – (.291/.338/.500)
6. Chris Davis, 1B – (.217/.311/.429)
7. Mark Trumbo, DH – (.241/.295/.412)
8. Seth Smith, RF – (.259/.340/.439)
9. Caleb Joseph, C – (.263/.295/.425)

The lineup has remained relatively steady in recent games with Davis and Trumbo flipping spots while Seth Smith and Joey Rickard have each played the outfield. We could see Pedro Alvarez, who made his season debut vs. the Yankees last week.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Wade Miley

Miley is on pace to add some unwanted black ink to his Baseball Reference page this year as he leads all of baseball with 84 walks issued. Derek Holland is the closest pitcher to him with 75, but he was cut by the White Sox.

Seven of those walks came in his first start of the year against the Yankees. While he lasted just 10 innings over two starts vs. NYY, he held them to two runs with some timely outs. He comes into play Thursday with a 4.96 ERA over 29 starts.

Last Outing (at CLE on Sept. 8) – 5.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 4 K

Friday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Gabriel Ynoa

Just 24 years old, Ynoa made his first start for the Orioles on Saturday in Cleveland. The Orioles acquired him from the Mets in February and he’s been up and down this season. He threw two shutout innings in relief against the Yankees on Labor Day. He utilizes a mid-90s fastball/sinker and a mid-80s slider as his primary offerings.

Last Outing (at CLE on Sept. 9) – 4.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 2 K

Saturday (4:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson

Hellickson was a puzzling deadline acquisition for the Orioles and he’s done little to add value since joining the O’s. Likely he was just a fresh arm to throw into the mix for a dreadful rotation. The right-hander has a career-low strikeout rate and is allowing nearly two home runs per nine innings. He’s allowed 10 in the 42 2/3 innings he’s thrown for the O’s.

While he didn’t give up a homer to the Yankees on Sept. 5, he did walk four and give up five runs en route to an early hook after seven outs.

Last Outing (at CLE on Sept. 5) – 6.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 1 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. TBA

Both Dylan Bundy and Ubaldo Jimenez will be able to make this start, so it’s unclear to which right-hander Buck Showalter will turn. Jimenez pitched one inning of relief last week against the Yankees, but he’s been exclusively a starter otherwise since mid-June. Emblematic of his 6.75 ERA, he’s allowed five or more runs 12 times this season.

Bundy has been much better (4.03 ERA in his first full season as a starter in the majors) but the Yankees got to him early for the first time on Labor Day. They tagged him for five runs and put nine men on base in his four innings of work.

The Bullpen

Britton recovered from his blown save Tuesday to shut down the Blue Jays Wednesday. That means he’s likely unavailable Thursday. The All-Star closer sports a 3.09 ERA in his injury-shortened season after his 0.54 mark in 2016.

Darren O’Day, Brad Brach and Mychal Givens are the primary setup men right now with O’Day fulfilling that duty yesterday. Righty Miguel Castro has seen plenty of work, but he’s allowed runs in each of his last three outings. Rookie RHP Jimmy Yacabonis and former Yankee Richard Bleier have each had four appearances this month and are middle relief options From there, it’s a free-for-all. Expect plenty of pitching changes with Showalter and his lower tier rotation.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

The Orioles season has spiraled out of control since the Yankees went to Camden Yards on Labor Day, so it’d only be fitting if the Bombers put the finishing touches on the O’s. If the Yanks are going to make up ground on Boston, they need to take advantage of a team they’ve consistently beaten at Yankee Stadium this season.

In terms of the play itself, Aaron Judge hits Baltimore especially well. He’s hit an absurd .449/.603/1.082 in 68 PAs against the O’s, launching nine home runs and walking 19 times to just 14 strikeouts. Baltimore had zero interest in giving him pitches to hit last week, so we’ll see if they avoid him once again over the four-game set.

9/11 to 9/13 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

After taking four of six from wild-card contenders during their six game road trip, the Yankees return to New York for what is technically a road series against the Tampa Bay Rays. With Hurricane Irma touching down in western Florida, Tropicana Field was unavailable. That forced the Rays to play the three-game home series at Citi Field.

The Last Time They Met

From July 27 through July 30, the Yankees took three of four from the Rays at Yankee Stadium, taking a six-game winning streak in the series finale. It was part of a stretch where the Bombers won 9 of 11 to briefly regain the AL East lead going into August.

  • It was a walk-off weekend for Brett Gardner. After a Gary Sanchez single (and poor Rays fielding) scored him to tie up the opener in the ninth inning, Gardner lined a home run to lead off the 11th for the win. He’d single with the bases loaded and no outs two days later for another walk-off.
  • Masahiro Tanaka had one of his best outings of the year in Game 2. He had a perfect game until Adeiny Hechevarria singled with two outs in the sixth. He went 8 IP, allowing just two hits while striking out 14.
  • Aroldis Chapman looked like his old self, striking out five in three dominant innings while picking up the win during both of Gardner’s walk-offs.
  • Sanchez and Gardner each homered twice in the series, but so did new Rays first baseman Lucas Duda, who made an immediate impact by reaching in 7 of 12 PAs during his first series with Tampa.

For more information, check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

The Rays are relatively healthy, but rookie starter Jacob Faria (abdominal strain) made a rehab start against Staten Island on Sunday. He could be back vs. Boston this week.

INF Matt Duffy (heel) won’t play this season and had just 80 PAs as a Ray. LHP Xavier Cedeno (forearm) and former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) both began rehab appearances but are on the 60-day DL and their returns this season are in doubt.

Their Story So Far

The Rays are 71-73, leaving them 3.5 games out of the second wild card. Not only are they four games back in the loss column, they would have to surpass six teams to get the spot. Their lineup has been very middle of the road (.245/.318/.426, 97 wRC+) but they’ve also had the second worst strikeout rate in all of baseball. As Tanaka did in July, pitchers can rack up Ks against them. Their pitching staff has been solid with the 9th best team ERA (4.07) in baseball.

They have had similarly bad one-run luck to Yankees with an 18-22 record in those games. One thing that has held them back is the AL East as they are 27-33 in the division.

They’ve had a productive outfield with Dickerson/Kiermaier/Souza while Lucas Duda has been a major help since coming over at the deadline. The infield has been another story with Duffy out, Brad Miller struggling and Evan Longoria being merely an average (98 wRC+) hitter despite hitting .319/.411/.553 with three of his 18 HR against the Yankees.

Lineup We Might See

Kevin Cash mixes up his lineups depending on matchups, so you’re unlikely to see the same lineup twice. Trevor Plouffe, Peter Bourjos and Cesar Puello could all move into the lineup vs. LHPs while Mallex Smith’s glove often gets him into the starting nine. Here’s a possible lineup you’ll see this week.

1. CF Kevin Kiermaier (.278/.341/.447)
2. 1B Lucas Duda (.232/.337/.536)
3. 3B Evan Longoria (.265/.320/.433)
4. DH Logan Morrison (.248/.355/.529)
5. RF Steven Souza Jr. (.246/.351/.477)
6. LF Corey Dickerson (.280/.325/.499)
7. SS Adeiny Hechavarria (.245/.273/.366)
8. 2B Brad Miller (.195/.333/.322)
9. C Wilson Ramos (.238/.271/.387)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi

Odorizzi has been plagued by a case of way too many home runs this year. He’s allowed at least one homer in all but three outings this year and he’s allowed 28, one fewer than he allowed last season in 64 fewer innings. His career low groundball rate has been paired with fewer strikeouts and more walks, part of which may be explained by a loss of .75 mph off his pitches.

He has only 3 quality starts in last 11 outings, though his last start was one of his best all season. He held the Twins to just two baserunners in 6 2/3 innings.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on Sept. 5) – 6.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Tuesday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. LHP Blake Snell

Snell has essentially had two seasons. Up until August, he continued to have the same issue as in his rookie 2016 season: Walks. He dished out 5.1 walks per nine innings and had a 4.98 ERA, all while barely getting through five innings a start.

Since getting recalled on Aug. 8 from his second demotion of the year, he’s been a whole new pitcher. He’s cut the walks to 2.2 per nine and held opponents to a .222/.271/.385 line. While he has a 3.16 ERA in that span, he did have a poor outing his last time out, getting battered around by the Twins, who launched two home runs off the southpaw.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on Sept. 6) – 4.0 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 0 BB, 7 K

Wednesday (1:10 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Chris Archer

You surely know Archer by now. Hard fastball, top-notch slider. The Rays’ No. 1 has still struggled this season, posting a 4.00 ERA. Like Odorizzi, he’s surrendered a few too many homers (25) but he’s still posted career-best strikeout and walk rates. Two outings ago, he left with forearm tightness after just two batters. He came back on turn and was beat up by the Red Sox over three innings. The good news is that his velocity was back after his disastrous two-batter start in Chicago.

Last Outing (at BOS on Sept. 8) – 3.0 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 1 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Rays have the fourth best bullpen ERA (3.28) since the All-Star break, only behind the Indians, Orioles and Yankees. Their closer, Alex Colome, leads baseball with 43 saves this year, but he’s been fallible, accumulating eight meltdowns.

Setting up Colome has been Tommy Hunter with Steve Cishek, Sergio Romo and Dan Jennings all spotting up in middle relief. While Jennings is one of just two lefties in the pen, he’s more than just a lefty specialist. Austin Pruitt is their main long man and former closer Brad Boxberger typically pitches low leverage innings. Since it’s September, you’ll see plenty of other pitchers with 12 relievers on the active roster.

Yankees Connection

Both Chaz Roe and Chase Whitley are former Yankee pitchers currently in middle/long relief for the Rays. Eovaldi won 23 games in pinstripes over the last two seasons before having Tommy John surgery. Of course, Cash had a brief 10-game stint with the 2009 Yankees, earning himself a World Series ring in the process.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

For this one, the crowd is weirdly a must-watch. This will be a unique environment. It’ll surely be mostly, if not exclusively, Yankees fans, but will it be nearly empty? Will the apple in center rise when the Rays hit a home run? And how will the Rays handle being on the road for perhaps the rest of the season? Hopefully, they’ll be back at Tropicana Field soon.

As for the games themselves, the Yankees come in having won three straight series. If this was in Tampa, they’d feel destined to lose two of three. Take two of three and you don’t have to worry too much about what everyone else does.