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.

6/20 to 6/22 Series Preview: Los Angeles Angels

Simmons. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Simmons. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The Yankees trip to the West Coast went about as poorly as it could. They dropped six of seven to the Angels and A’s, and suffered injuries and heartbreaking losses along the way. They’ve fallen to 16-20 on the road as a result of this road trip, so a return to the Bronx (where they’re 22-9) is quite welcome.

The Last Time They Met

It was last week, so this may well be a fine example of deja vu all over again. The Angels took two of three at Angel Stadium, and CC Sabathia left the second game with a strained left hamstring. Let’s take a look at some of the positives from the series:

  • Aaron Judge went 2-for-4 with a three runs, a home run, and two RBI in the first game. That home run was a two-run shot in the 8th inning, which broke a 3-3 tie and helped secure the win for the Yankees.
  • Masahiro Tanaka was solid in that game, as well. He went 6.2 IP, allowing 4 hits, 3 runs (1 ER), and 2 BB, striking out 8.
  • Chase Headley showed signs of life in the series, going 6-for-13 with a double and a home run. He raised his season OPS from .659 to .696 in those three games.
  • All nine Yankees starters reached base safely in both the first and third games of the series.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more in-depth analysis of the series.

Injury Report

Closer Cam Bedrosian returned from the disabled list over the weekend, and there’s a chance that reliever Huston Street will return this week, as well. Matt Shoemaker essentially replaced Bedrosian on the DL, due to a forearm strain. Otherwise, it’s the same story as last week – which means no Mike Trout and no Garrett Richards.

Their Story So Far

The Angels hosted the Royals for a four-game series after the Yankees left, and they dropped three. They’re now 36-37 on the season, including 10-10 with a +13 run differential since Trout hit the disabled list.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Mike Scioscia seems to have found a lineup that works for him over the last week and change – at least as it pertains to the first six spots in the order. If their last two series’ are any indication, the Yankees pitchers will see something along these lines:

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

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Parker Bridwell

It has been a rather inauspicious beginning to Bridwell’s 2017 season, as the 25-year-old was DFA’d by the pitching-starved Orioles to make room for Paul Fry, and was subsequently dealt to the Angels for a PTBNL or cash. This will be the second start of his MLB career (he started against the Braves on 5/30), and his second time facing the Yankees (his most recent outing).

Bridwell throws a trio of fastballs, including a low-90s four-seamer, a low-90s two-seamer, and an upper-80s cutter. He also throws a slurvy breaking ball and a change-up in the low-to-mid 80s.

Last Outing (vs. NYY on 6/14) – 3.2 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 1 K

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco

There was a time when we were all waiting for Nolasco to break-out, owing largely to his strong strikeout and walk rates, which resulted in low FIPs that belied his high ERAs. He’s now 34-years-old, though, with a 5.02 ERA (81 ERA+) since the beginning of the 2014 season, so those days are long gone. Nevertheless, the 0.61 run gulf between his career ERA (4.55) and FIP (3.93) is the highest of any long-term starter since the end of the 19th century.

Nolasco throws mostly fastballs and sliders nowadays, with his four- and two-seamers sitting in the low-90s, and his slider checking-in in the low-80s. He’ll also throw a low-80s split change-up every so often.

Last Outing (vs. KCR on 6/15) – 6.0 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 4 K

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Jesse Chavez

To say that Chavez can do a bit of everything is a bit of an understatement, as the 33-year-old has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen several times over the last five years. He spent all of 2013 in the bullpen, split the 2014 season between starting and relieving, spent the vast majority of 2015 as a starter, and was used as a reliever for the entirety of 2016. He’s back in the rotation in 2017, and he leads the Angels in both starts and innings pitched. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate.

Chavez is a four-pitch guy, with a low-90s fastball, a low-90s cutter, a low-80s slider, and a mid-80s change-up. He’ll flash a curve, as well, but it’s not used more than a couple of times per game.

Last Outing (vs. KCR on 6/16) – 7.0 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 4 K

The Bullpen

The return of Bedrosian and potential return of Street means that the Angels bullpen is approaching full-strength. It was difficult to tell that they were short-handed, though, given that the bullpen has a 2.70 ERA (133 ERA+) in June. They held the Royals offense to 4 runs in 15 innings this past weekend, striking out 14 while walking just 2. It was all hands on-deck in the series against the Royals, with most relievers going at least twice. However, the day off and the return of Bedrosian should leave the group fairly rested and ready for tonight’s game.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Would it be a cop-out to lean on Simmons’ defense once again? If not, there you go.

If so, Bedrosian’s slider is among the best in the game, with batters hitting just .170 with a .019 ISO against the offering last year. It’s a filthy pitch, to say the least. You could also probably make a game out of how often the broadcasters reference his father – the Cy Young-winning Steve Bedrosian.

6/15 to 6/18 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

Sonny Gray. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Sonny Gray. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

On Monday afternoon, one of the prevailing concerns about the series with the Angels was that it was a ‘trap series.’ The Yankees were red hot, but they’ve also struggled in Angel Stadium over the last few years – and the Angels have been surprisingly good since Mike Trout went down. A few days later the Yankees had dropped two of three and lost CC Sabathia to an injury. It was a disappointing series, to say the least, as seems to be the norm on these West Coast trips. Next up: the Oakland Athletics.

The Last Time They Met

The A’s visited the Bronx just three weeks ago (May 26-28), and the Yankees took two of three. All three games were relatively close, as the Yankees outscored the A’s by just two runs in total. Other points of interest:

  • Masahiro Tanaka tantalized us once more in the first game, pitching to the following line – 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 13 K. The key was his splitter, which was on-point for what may have been the only time this season. Thanks to some quirky rules, he took the loss despite not being responsible for the go-ahead run.
  • The Yankees won game two 3-2, in what was a frustrating game for the offense. They had just seven base-runners (only two of which reached base via hit), and had trouble squaring up the A’s pitchers all day. Luckily, one of those hits was a go-ahead two-run home run by Matt Holliday, and that was all they needed.
  • Game three was much more Yankees-like, as the bats came alive and they plated nine runs. Aaron Judge was 2-for-4 with the first grand slam of his career, Ronald Torreyes was 2-for-3 with a couple of runs scored, and Brett Gardner picked-up a couple of 2-our RBI in a 9-5 victory.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more detailed notes and statistics.

Injury Report

As was the case last time around, the A’s have some key players on the disabled list. RP Ryan Dull, SP Kendall Graveman, SS Marcus Semien, SP Andrew Triggs, and RP Ryan Dull are on the DL, and none will return in time for this series (Triggs started against the Yankees in the previous series). OF Matt Joyce had to leave yesterday’s game early following a collision, and he received three stitches to close a laceration on his chin. He’s listed as day-to-day.

Their Story So Far

The A’s have lost three in a row by a combined 13 runs, and are currently 27-38 with an AL-worst -77 run differential. They’re also 4-9 in June, having been outscored 92-64 since the calendar flipped. Their offense has gradually improved (and is about league-average once adjusted for the park), but their pitching has backslid tremendously.

Yonder Alonso is a big part of that offense, and he has yet to show signs of slowing down. He’s batting .303/.398/.635 with 16 home runs (174 wRC+) on the year, including a .370/.452/.630 slash line since these teams last met. Their offense as a whole has a 101 wRC+ this month, with 6 regulars sitting at 111 or better. Pitching was supposed to be their strength, but I’m sure that they’re more than happy with fielding a competitive lineup every night.

The Lineup We Might See

Bob Melvin has used more distinct batting orders than any other manager in the game this year, as he has a proclivity for platooning and riding the hot bat. The fact that the team has dealt with a slew of injuries doesn’t help, either. This is essentially the core lineup that he’s been building off of lately (keeping in mind that Jordan Montgomery is pitching tonight):

  1. Rajai Davis, CF
  2. Jed Lowrie, 2B
  3. Ryon Healy, DH
  4. Khris Davis, LF
  5. Yonder Alonso, 1B
  6. Chad Pinder, SS
  7. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
  8. Matt Joyce, RF
  9. Josh Phegley, C

With a RHP on the mound, Matt Joyce will bat higher in the lineup, and Stephen Vogt will start at catcher.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (10:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Sonny Gray

Two years ago, Gray looked like a legitimate top of the rotation starter. He was coming off of back-to-back 200-plus IP seasons with a combined 131 ERA+ and 8.9 bWAR, and he was turning 26 just before the start of the 2016 season. And then 2016 came, and he was hurt (just 22 starts) or ineffective (70 ERA+, -0.1 bWAR) throughout the season, and those injuries carried over to 2017. Gray has shown signs of his old self, though, as his strong strikeout (23.7%), walk (7.1%), and groundball (56.7%) belie his 4.37 ERA (94 ERA+).

Gray has found some velocity this season, and he now works in the mid-90s with his fastballs (four- and two-seamers). He also throws a low-80s slider, a low-80s curveball, and a change-up in the upper-80s. He throws all five pitches regularly, as well.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 6/10) – 6.0 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 10 K

Friday (9:35 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. LHP Sean Manaea

Manaea shut-down the Yankees three weeks ago (7 IP, 4 H,  R, 1 BB, 8 K), and has been going strong ever since. He now has a 3.67 ERA (112 ERA+) on the season, and his stuff has been improving as the weather warms up.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 6/10) – 7.o IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Saturday (4:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Jesse Hahn

This is Hahn’s first healthy season in years, as the 27-year-old has dealt with a litany of arm-related injuries. He has been mostly effective throughout his major league career, with a 102 ERA+ and 3.0 bWAR in 277.0 IP, but that doesn’t look quite as good when it’s spread out over three-plus seasons. Interestingly enough, Hahn is the oldest member of the A’s rotation with Triggs on the DL.

Hahn is a three or four-pitch guy, depending upon the day. He throws a mid-90s two-seamer, a mid-70s curveball, and a mid-80s change-up regularly. He’ll also mix in a mid-80s slider, but that isn’t a given on most days.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 6/11) – 5.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Sunday (4:05 PM EST): TBD (Chad Green?) vs. RHP Jharel Cotton

Cotton was viewed as a dark horse candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year heading into 2017, on the strength of a strong performance during a September call-up and a seemingly terrific fastball/change-up combination. He’ll need quite a bit of work to get to that level, though, as he has a 5.52 ERA (74 ERA+) through eleven starts, to go along with below-average peripherals. The 25-year-old has just three quality starts on the season, to boot.

Cotton’s bread and butter is ostensibly the coupling of his low-to-mid-90s fastball and mid-70s change-up. The discrepancy between those two offerings should keep hitters off-balance, but that simply hasn’t been the case so far. Cotton also throws a slider in the upper-80s and a curveball in the upper-70s.

Last Outing (vs. MIA on 6/13) – 5.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The A’s bullpen has the second-worst park-adjusted ERA in baseball, and it is only getting worse – the unit has a 7.16 ERA in 44.0 IP in June (which includes a 4.2 IP, 4 ER effort yesterday). Sean Doolittle just returned from an injury and Santiago Casilla seems to have righted the ship, but only four relievers have an ERA under 4.00 (and that includes Doolittle in just 8.2 IP). The rotation doesn’t help matters, either, as they routinely turn the ball over to the bullpen in the 6th inning or earlier.

It’s difficult to imagine the A’s bullpen as a whole being in good shape for this series, as it was needed for 7.2 IP between Tuesday and Wednesday. Fortunately for them, neither Doolittle nor Casilla has pitched since Saturday, so their best arms are ready to go.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Sonny Gray was the object of the Yankees desire at one point, and the A’s are almost always willing to shop their stars – so this could be an audition, of sorts, should Cashman and Co. seek to improve the team’s rotation sooner rather than later. With Jose Quintana struggling in Chicago, however, Gray may be both the best and the cheapest option on the market come the trade deadline.

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

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

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

The Last Time They Met

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

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

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

Injury Report

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

Their Story So Far

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

The Lineup We Might See

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

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

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bullpen

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

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

Yankees Connection

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

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

Who (Or What) To Watch

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

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

6/9 to 6/11 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Trey Mancini after a walk-off (Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)
Trey Mancini after a walk-off (Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)

After taking two of three from the Red Sox, the Yankees close out their two weeks in the AL East with a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles. The O’s sit 3.5 back (four in the loss column) and are in third place.

The Last Time They Met

Long time, no see, eh? Yankees faced the Orioles just a week and a half ago, losing two of three starting on Memorial Day.

  • Jordan Montgomery struggled through the first game, needing 34 pitches to finish the first inning. He gave up three runs in five innings and the Yankees fell, 3-2, despite another home run from Aaron Judge.
  • Brett Gardner and Matt Holliday each hit two home runs and the Bombers rode 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball from Luis Severino to an 8-3 victory. Severino lowered his ERA to 2.93 and struck out eight.
  • Masahiro Tanaka was tagged for seven runs and the Orioles took the series finale, 10-4, with eight RBI between Adam Jones and Chris Davis.

Be sure to check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post from the set at OPACY.

Since They Last Met

  • The O’s split a four-game set at Camden Yards with the Red Sox, winning the first two before losing the final pair.
  • They then swept a pair at home with the Pirates in dramatic fashion. They came back from 4-1 down, 5-3 in the 9th inning, on Tuesday thanks to a game-tying two-run shot from Jonathan Schoop and a 10th-inning walk-off single from Mark Trumbo.
  • The next night, Tony Watson blew another save (with the help of old friend Johnny Barbato) and the Orioles won despite being down to their last out. Trey Mancini did the honors with a game-tying two-run homer in the 9th and a three-run shot in the 11th to win it.
  • The O’s lost a makeup game with the Nationals, 6-1, in Washington on Thursday. They struck out 15 times.
  • They’ve called up veteran RHP Edwin Jackson and former Scranton RailRider Ruben Tejada, replacing LHP Donnie Hart and SS Paul Janish on the roster.

Injury Report

Big injury news with Baltimore: Third baseman Manny Machado suffered a strained left wrist, which caused him to sit out Thursday’s loss to the Nationals. He took a spike from Andrew McCutchen to the wrist on Wednesday and had to leave the game early. For more on the injury, check out the Baltimore Sun.

In his place, the Orioles put Davis at third on Thursday. He avoided making any errors, but his replacement at first, Trumbo, wasn’t so lucky.

Zach Britton is still on the DL and won’t be back during this series. Utility man Ryan Flaherty (right shoulder strain) is still on shelf and could return soon. Starting catcher Welington Castillo is still on the DL after a ball deflected off Didi Gregorius‘s foot on a HBP into Castillo’s groin area. Yikes. Get well soon, Wellington.

Lineup We Might See

With Machado out on Thursday, the O’s put together a weird lineup while in a National League park. Jones also got a day off. Buck Showalter always mixes up his lineups depending on opposing pitchers, platoons, etc. He’ll face an extra question mark with Machado’s health.

Here’s something resembling what Showalter will throw at Montgomery on Friday.

1. Joey Rickard, LF
2. Adam Jones, CF
3. Mark Trumbo, RF
4. Trey Mancini, DH
5. Chris Davis, 1B
6. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
7. Caleb Joseph, C
8. J.J. Hardy, SS
9. Ruben Tejada, 3B

Against RHPs, he tends to take out Rickard and move Seth Smith into the leadoff spot, playing RF. If Machado’s healthy, the lineup Domenic wrote up in last week’s Series Preview is a pretty good idea of what it’ll look like. Heck, you should read his piece regardless.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:35 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Dylan Bundy

These are literally the same three pitching matchups as we saw in Baltimore last week, so I won’t bore you with the details on each pitcher, referring you again to Domenic’s terrific work on that series preview. Instead, let’s look at each of the three O’s last time out.

After holding the Yankees to two runs on Memorial Day, Bundy was a little shaky in a 5-2 loss to the Red Sox on Saturday. He allowed just two runs in five innings but wasn’t very economical, needing 100 pitches to get through the frames. A 31-pitch fourth inning did him in. He gave up a two-run homer to Hanley Ramirez in that inning. Still, he allowed just five baserunners, but long at-bats were his downfall.

Saturday (7:15 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Chris Tillman

Tillman was battered by the Yankees for five runs last Tuesday, including three home runs. He didn’t get much better results come Sunday against the Red Sox.

He lasted six innings this game but earned a loss with five runs (three earned). He put 10 Boston hitters on base, four with walks, and allowed a home run to Andrew Benintendi. Believe it or not, his 43 game score was actually his best performance since his May 19 start vs. the Twins. He’s allowed at least three earned runs in every start since his season debut on May 7.

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Kevin Gausman

Thirteen Yankees got on base vs. Gausman last Wednesday, yet he held them to three runs (two earned) while beating Tanaka. He had a better outing with superior control on Monday.

Facing the Pirates, he gave up four runs in 6 2/3 innings, although he was better than that line makes him seem. The Pirates strung together three runs in the second while Gausman scattered eight hits over his outing. He walked just one and struck out five. He was in line for the loss until the Orioles’ late-game heroics.

The Bullpen

They needed three innings from Ubaldo Jimenez and one inning from Richard Bleier on Thursday night. It was Bleier’s second straight night of work (just two pitches on Wednesday). They needed work from their two other long relievers, Jackson and Mike Wright, on Wednesday while Brad Brach and Mychal Givens each pitched both games vs. the Pirates.

Yankees Connection

Vidal Nuno is down in the minors, but there’s still Buck Showalter, Bleier and Davis, the latter who was a former Yankees draft pick who didn’t sign.

But there’s a new one with Tejada, who spent spring training with the Yankees and was in Triple A Scranton until he was traded to the Orioles last week.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

The big thing to watch will be Machado. If he comes back, will he be at full health? If not, how will the Orioles manage their defense without the two-time Gold Glove winner? Machado played 319 out of a possible 324 in 2015-16, so he’s typically durable.

Beyond that, this is the last time the Yankees face the O’s until Sept. 4. Closing out this stretch of division play strong before heading on a trip out west would be a nice feather in the Bombers’ collective caps.