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

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

Happy Memorial Day, folks!

The Last Time They Met

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

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

Injury Report

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

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

Their Story So Far

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

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

The Lineup We Might See

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

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

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bullpen

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

Yankees Connection

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

Who (Or What) To Watch

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

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

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

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

The Last Time They Met

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

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

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

Injury Report

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

Their Story So Far

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

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

The Lineup We Might See

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

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

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bullpen

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

Yankees Connection

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

Who (Or What) To Watch

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

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

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

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

The Last Time They Met

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

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

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

Injury Report

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

Their Story So Far

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

The Lineup We Might See

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

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

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bullpen

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

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

Yankees Connection

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

Who (Or What) To Watch

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

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

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

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

The Last Time They Met

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

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

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

Injury Report

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

Their Story So Far

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

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

The Lineup We Might See

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

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

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bullpen

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

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

Yankees Connection

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

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

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

Who (Or What) To Watch

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

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

5/16 to 5/18 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

Vargas. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images North America)
Vargas. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images North America)

The result of the Yankees having so many days off through the first six weeks of the season starts now, as they will not be off again until June 5. That’s twenty games in a row without a day off; luckily, they will not have to travel all that far in that stretch with this week’s trips to Kansas City and Tampa Bay representing the furthest journeys. Given the heavy workload handled by the bullpen this weekend, though, it seems all but certain that the team’s depth and Joe Girardi‘s hand will be tested as soon as this evening.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Kansas City for a three-game series to close out last August, winning two along the way. They were outscored by one run in the series as a whole, with both of their victories coming by one run, and taking extra innings to sort out. Some other interesting bits:

  • The Royals tested Gary Sanchez‘s arm throughout the series, and largely got the better of him. They stole eight bases, and were caught just twice. Sanchez threw out 10 of 21 would-be base-stealers against teams that weren’t the Royals last year.
  • Chasen Shreve was one of the heroes of the series, which feels strange to see on the screen. He came into the second game with the bases loaded and one out, and struck out Kendrys Morales swinging (on three pitches) before retiring Salvador Perez on a flyball. Shreve chipped in two scoreless innings in the third game, with three more swinging strikeouts (Cheslor Cuthbert, Eric Hosmer, and Perez were the victims this time around).
  • The Yankees game-winning runs were scored on a weak infield single by Jacoby Ellsbury and a sacrifice fly by Brian McCann, respectively.
  • Seven pitchers were used by the Yankees in game two and, in what seems almost impossible, all seven are still in the organization. And of those seven, only Ben Heller is not on the active roster.

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

Injury Report

Former Yankee Ian Kennedy is on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session this week. There is no set return date as of yet, but he isn’t expected to be out too long (he could be in-line to face the Yankees when these teams meet again, in fact). Middle reliever Scott Alexander is out, as well.

Their Story So Far

The Royals are last in the majors in runs scored by a comfortable margin, and are scoring just 3.2 runs per game. They are currently 8-18 when they allow two runs or more, and that’s with them having won six of their last seven games overall. It doesn’t help that Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar both sport an OPS under .500, and it seems less than ideal that one of those two has batted first in 24 of the Royals 37 games (including their last seven). Their lead-off hitters are batting .176/.216/.248 as a group, which is about 72% below league-average.

All that being said, they have shown signs of life of late. They won six of their seven games last week, scoring 37 runs in the process. Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez have been heating up, and Lorenzo Cain has been playing well all season. The aforementioned duo of Escobar and Gordon went a combined 8-for-48 with one extra-base hit, but every other Royals regular seems to be righting the ship.

The other half of their story mostly revolves around Jason Vargas and his ludicrous 1.01 ERA – I’ll talk about him more a bit later.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Ned Yost has been semi-responsive to the team’s offensive struggles, with five of the nine spots in the team’s lineup in constant flux. The Royals have used at least seven different players in the 6-through-9 spots (not including pitchers), and four lead-off hitters. That makes predicting their lineup a bit of a crapshoot, so here goes nothing:

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

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (8:15 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jason Hammel

There was a stretch in the off-season where everyone was talking about the Cubs unceremoniously declining Hammel’s club option, and then Hammel waiting months upon months to be signed. There were several teams (and fans of teams) that were interested in his services, Yankees included, but he had to wait until February to sign on a dotted line. It was strange to see a pitcher coming off of a three-year stretch of slightly-above-average production on the market for so long, but his 5.97 ERA to-date and approaching 35th birthday make it a bit more understandable with the blessings of hindsight.

Hammel is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, working with a low-90s fastball (though he does use a four- and two-seam varieties) and a mid-80s slider. He’ll use a mid-70s curveball and mid-80s change-up to keep hitters honest, but 85% of his offerings will be a fastball or slider.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 5/10) – 7 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Wednesday (8:15 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Jason Vargas

Vargas underwent Tommy John Surgery in the Summer of 2015, and missed the Royals miraculous run to the World Series. He returned for three starts last September, and looked great (12 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 11 K, 2.25 ERA). Nobody thought much of it, given the sample size and the fact that he was a known commodity, and he was penciled right back into the back of the rotation. He has followed that up by being one of the five-best pitchers in baseball by both incarnations of WAR, and he currently sports a 1.01 ERA (410 ERA+!) through 7 starts (44.2 IP). There are plenty of signs that this is a fluke (2.0% HR/FB, 3.70 xFIP, 88.7 LOB%, etc.), but his 22.9 K% and 4.7 BB% suggest that he could at least be better than most of us would have expected.

The 34-year-old southpaw has never been known for his velocity, but he has slid down into Jamie Moyer territory following the surgery. His fastball is sitting around around 86 MPH, and he throws it about 50% of the time. He also uses a change-up in the upper-70s and a low-70s curveball, the former of which has been his bread and butter throughout his career. His curve is a relatively new addition, and it’s working out quite well for him so far.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 5/11) – 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Thursday (8:15 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Danny Duffy

The 28-year-old Duffy emerged as the Royals ace last season, after finally being moved to the rotation for good on May 15. He made 26 starts through the end of the season, putting together the following line: 161.2 IP, 3.56 ERA, 25.4 K%, 5.6 BB%, 1.13 WHIP. Duffy’s velocity did dip into the 93 MPH range after sitting around 96 in the bullpen, but that’s to be expected. And now, finally (seemingly) freed from bouncing between starting and relieving, he is sitting on a 3.38 ERA (3.32 FIP) through 8 starts.

Duffy uses four pitches on most nights – a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-90s two-seamer, a low-80s breaking ball that might be best classified as a slurve, and a mid-80s change-up. It’s top-of-the-rotation stuff when he’s getting it over the plate, which he has done fairly regularly over the last calendar year.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 5/12) – 7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

The Royals bullpen has been kind of bad this season. They were the standard-bearer for great relief corps for several seasons, peaking with a 2.72 ERA in 2015, but closer Kelvin Herrera is the last man standing from those dominant units. And Herrera hasn’t been his dominant self just yet, with a 3.38 ERA (5.20 FIP) and career-low 7.31 K/9. Mike Minor, Joakim Soria, and the injured Scott Alexander all have strong run prevention numbers, but the bullpen as a whole sports a 4.72 ERA and six blown saves. Travis Wood, Matt Strahm, and Peter Moylan have combined to throw 37.1 IP of 8.44 ERA ball, with nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (34).

It is worth noting that the Royals bullpen was worked hard this past weekend, especially on Sunday when they were called upon for 5.1 IP. Herrera also pitched in three-straight games, so he may need a bit more than Monday’s day off to recover.

Yankees Connection

Ian Kennedy is the lone Royals players with a connection to the Yankees organization, unless you want to count Jason Hammel and Travis Wood for popping up in rumors this off-season. Also, pitching coach Dave Eiland held the same role with the Yankees from 2008-10.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Royals swing at more pitches than any other team in the game, with a 49.4% swing rate as per PITCHf/x. They’re second in swinging at pitches outside of the zone, and first on pitches in the zone by nearly two percentage points. Yankees pitchers might be salivating at those numbers, though, as the Royals are in the bottom-ten in contact percentage, and in the middle-of-the-pack in strikeouts and hard-hit balls. They’re an aggressive bunch, which leads to a great deal of feast-or-famine outings.

A ‘buy or sell’ storyline will follow the Royals throughout this season, as well, with Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas, Escobar, and Vargas all being in the final year of their contracts. If the Yankees ends up in a position to buy, this may be one of the first teams they try to match-up with.

5/11 to 5/14 Series Preview: Houston Astros

Correa and Altuve. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images North America)
Correa and Altuve. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images North America)

A strong argument can be made that this is the series to watch this weekend, regardless of your fandom. As of this morning, the Yankees and Astros rank in the top-five in winning percentage, runs scored, runs allowed, run differential, wRC+, and park-adjusted ERA; and, beyond that, both teams are headlined by young sluggers. In short, this is a match-up between teams that have the foundation laid to be good over the next several years – what more could you ask for?

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited the Astros for a three-game set just before last year’s deadline, taking two out of three. It was their first series following the Aroldis Chapman trade (he was actually dealt the morning of the first game), and the last time Andrew Miller would take the mound as a Yankee. Some other points of interest:

  • The Yankees were four games above .500 after winning the second game, which was the high-water mark of the season to that point.
  • Astros third baseman Alex Bregman made his big league debut in this series, starting all three games. He went 0-for-9 with 2 walks and 3 strikeouts.
  • Michael Pineda gave up a home run on his first pitch of the game. He promptly settled down, finishing with 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, and 8 K.
  • Luis Severino made the first relief appearance of his career in the third game of the series. He went two innings, and allowed no hits and one walk while striking out three.
  • Adam Warren made his first appearance since coming back from the Cubs in that same game. He gave the Yankees a scoreless sixth inning.

You can check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more interesting tidbits.

Injury Report

RHP Collin McHugh has been on the disabled list since Opening Day with a posterior impingement in his right elbow, and isn’t expected to return until sometime in June. He has been a stalwart in the back of the Astros rotation since 2014, but the team has managed to get by in the interim.

Would-be fourth outfielder Teoscar Hernandez is on the DL, as well, as the result of a scary collision with Jose Altuve. He’s expected to activated soon, but he may end up in Triple-A.

Their Story So Far

The Astros are 23-11, and lead the AL West by a full six games. That impressive record is a product of their dominance of the division thus far, as they’re 17-6 against the Mariners, Angels, A’s, and Rangers (and 6-5 against everyone else). Even so, the team has performed quite well in most every facet of the game; they have seven regulars/semi-regulars with a wRC+ above 120, and Carlos Beltran‘s 92 wRC+ represents the bottom of the barrel. They have a 3.42 ERA (109 ERA+) as a team, a resurgent Dallas Keuchel pitching like an ace, and a deep bullpen that is striking out 11.54 batters per nine innings (the best mark in the majors). The greatest flaw of the team — at least in terms of how it’s performing right now — lay in baserunning, as they’re 29th in the game in FanGraphs’ BsR (an all-encompassing metric).

In short, the Astros are firing on (almost) all cylinders right now.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager A.J. Hinch like to mix-and-match his lineups, as evidenced by the fact that he has used 32 unique lineups this year (as per Baseball-Reference). He does this not only to gain the platoon advantage, but also as a means to keep players rested – Brian McCann has already had nine days off, and no player has played every game. Having versatile players like Marwin Gonzalez, Alex Bregman, and Evan Gattis helps with that, too. That being said, we’ll probably see something along these lines:

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

Evan Gattis will almost certainly start at least one game at catcher, and probably when Jordan Montgomery takes the mound. Jake Marisnick may play LF over Aoki on that day, as well. And Gonzalez will get a couple of starts; where he plays is up in the air, as he has started at 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, and RF this year.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel

Keuchel followed-up his 2015 Cy Young-winning season with a subpar 2016, pitching to an 87 ERA+ in 168 IP. His velocity dropped across the board, he struggled to throw strikes at times, and he missed starts with shoulder soreness, leading many to wonder if there was a more serious injury lurking beneath the surface. Fortunately for the Astros, he came to Spring Training healthy, and he has rebounded in a big way in 2017 (albeit at least in part due to a ridiculously low .195 BABIP). He’s currently sitting on a 199 ERA+, and has averaged more than 7 IP per outing in his seven starts.

The 29-year-old southpaw throws three fastballs in the mid-to-upper 80s – a four-seamer, a two-seamer, and a cutter. He also mixes in a slider and a change-up in the upper-70s, which account for around 40% of his pitch selection. Keuchel pounds the bottom of the strike zone with gusto, as evidenced by his 63% ground ball rate in 2017.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on 5/5) – 8.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Friday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Lance McCullers Jr.

The story of McCullers’ career-to-date is highlighted by brilliant stuff, strong performances, and concerns over the health and future of his elbow. The 23-year-old boasts a 120 ERA+, 27.3 K%, and 51.7 GB% in his young career, along with an average of nearly +4 bWAR per 200 IP. Unfortunately, he missed right around half of 2016 due to elbow issues, and missed time in Spring Training due to the same malady. He’s been healthy and effective since the regular season began, though, and is tossing just over 6 IP per start.

McCullers is a borderline two-pitch pitcher, living and dying by his explosive mid-90s fastball and ridiculously hard, bendy knuckle-curveball (which is just as filthy in-game as it reads on your screen). That curveball represents nearly half of his offerings in any given game, and he gets whiffs on it about 20% of the time. He’ll also mix in a split-fingered change-up, which is another swing-and-miss pitch when it’s working.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on 5/6) – 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Mike Fiers

It seems like Aaron Judge is hitting the ball out of the park whenever he puts it in the air, and that’s because 44.8% of his fly balls have left the yard. Fiers has turned every hitter into Judge this year, as 41.2% of his fly balls allowed have turned into home runs. He’s allowed 14 home runs in just 30.1 IP, which ties him with Jered Weaver and his 84 MPH fastball (and Weaver has pitched in Colorado and Arizona this year). Fiers was ineffective last season, and he has to be close to losing his job at this point. It’ll be interesting to see him in Yankee Stadium

Fiers’ arsenal includes a four-seamer in the upper-80s, a mid-80s cutter, a low-80s change-up, a low-80s slider, and a low-70s curveball. He uses all five pitches fairly regularly, and they used to play-up because of his over-the-top delivery, which added a great deal of deception. It doesn’t seem like it’s fooling anyone nowadays.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on 5/7) – 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 1 K

Sunday (7:35 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Charlie Morton

Morton leapt into baseball consciousness nearly six years ago, due largely to his professed copying/mimicry/absorption of Roy Halladay’s mechanics and pitch selection. The overall results have been mixed, as he has a 94 ERA+ in 681.1 IP since the self-overhaul, and he has spent nearly as much time on the disabled list as he has on the field — his 2016 season ended in April, when he tore his hamstring running out a bunt (thanks, National League). Morton has great strikeout (25.1%) and ground ball (50.5%) rates right now, in addition to a 103 ERA+. The Astros would be more than happy with that over 180 IP or so, given their 2-year, $14 MM investment.

The 33-year-old throws four different fastballs — a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-to-mid 90s two-seamer, a cutter in the upper-80s, and a mid-80s splitter. His only true offspeed pitch is a curveball, which he throws a bit more than a quarter of the time (and has a strong 20.8% whiff rate this year).

Last Outing (vs. ATL on 5/9) – 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Astros bullpen has been excellent this year, ranking sixth in the majors with a 2.93 ERA. Fireman Chris Devenski has thrown 21 IP across 11 appearances, with incredible strikeout (49.4%) and walk (3.9%) rates – and his 2.14 ERA is fourth on the team among relievers with 10-plus IP. Ken Giles has reclaimed the closer’s role after losing it to Luke Gregerson last year, and he might be the team’s fifth best reliever right now as he’s still rounding into form.

Gregerson pitched on Tuesday and Wednesday, so he isn’t likely to be available in the first game of the series. Giles went yesterday afternoon, but he only needed 11 pitches to pick up the save. Between Monday’s off-day and both starters pitching into the 6th in their two-game series against the Braves, the Astros bullpen is fairly well-rested.

Yankees Connection

The Astros have two everyday players that were Yankees regulars as recently as last year, in McCann and Beltran. The latter is showing an age a bit, as he is currently slashing .256/.295/.397 (92 wRC+) with a 25.6% strikeout rate, but he has shown signs of life since the calendar flipped to May with three multi-hit games and six extra-base hits.

McCann, on the other hand, is playing better than he has in years. He’s batting .281/.381/.461 (135 wRC+) with terrific walk (14.3%) and strikeout rates (10.5%) in 105 PA. He’s on-pace to play less than 120 games, and the regular rest has clearly paid off six weeks into the season. And, while there’s may be some small sample size noise here, his .270 BABIP and exit velocity suggest that this isn’t necessarily a fluke.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Astros are a high-contact team, so they will test the Yankees defense early and often. They’re striking out in just 18.1% of their plate appearances, which is the second-lowest mark in baseball, and they’re aggressive in and out of the zone. It goes without saying that this will be a challenge for the Yankees pitchers, too.

Any McCullers start is a must-watch, as well. Or, at the very least, his curveball is a sight to behold.

5/8 to 5/9 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

A month ago, few would have expected this to be a meeting between two first place teams – but here we are. On the strength of a five-game winning streak (and the Yankees sweep of the Cubs), the Reds are in first place in the NL Central. And the Yankees, on the heels of an 18-inning, 6-plus hour affair, have the best record in baseball.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees swept the Reds in a three-game set in the Bronx in July of 2014. They managed to avoid Joey Votto back then, as he was on the disabled list with a strained left quadriceps (an injury that limited him to 62 games that year). As for what happened on the field:

  • Brian McCann hit a walk-off single against Aroldis Chapman in the final game of the series. Jacoby Ellsbury played an integral role, as well. He lead off the ninth with a single, stole second, and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
  • Ellsbury had a heck of a series on the whole. He went 6-for-12 with two runs, a double, a home run, three RBI, and three steals.
  • Billy Hamilton went 1-for-12 with five strikeouts and no steals. He hit .285/.319/.423 before visiting the Bronx, and .206/.263/.261 afterward. That may mean a whole lot of nothing, but it was viewed as a turning point in his season by Reds writers at the time.
  • David Phelps, Brandon McCarthy, and Hiroki Kuroda were the starters for the Yankees in the series. They combined to pitch to the following brilliant line: 19 IP, 15 H, 5 R (3 ER), 3 BB, 22 K. Kuroda is the only one that didn’t pick up the win.

Injury Report

The Reds have a great deal of pitching on the disabled list right now, which makes their recent success all the more impressive. Anthony DeSclafani (their de facto ace since they dealt Johnny Cueto to the Royals) is out until July thanks to a sprained UCL, and he was recently joined on the DL by reliever Tony Cingrani and the 24-year-old Brandon Finnegan (the prize of that Cueto deal). Finnegan was a solid-average starter last season, and looked great through three starts this year – he’s not expected back until June. And, despite the fact that he has made made all of eight starts since the beginning of 2015, it bears mentioning that Homer Bailey is on the 60-day DL. Bailey was near the top of the same prospect lists as Phil Hughes back in the day, and is owed a minimum of $68 MM through the end of 2019.

Their Story So Far

Cincinnati is in the midst of a rebuilding effort that began in earnest on July 26, 2015, when they shipped Cueto to Kansas City. They won 68 games last year, and most projection systems saw them within spitting distance of that in 2017, with the mean falling right around 72 wins. Such is life for a team whose offense was expected to be Votto and little else, and with a pitching staff that was best described as young and questionable. Several injuries and six Bronson Arroyo starts later, and the rotation sounds even worse than that. And this on the heels of having one of the worst pitching staffs ever.

A month and change into the season, however, the Reds have been a more than competent team. They’re third in the majors in runs scored and fifth in run differential (+22), and they have a league-average park-adjusted ERA. There are a few reasons to expect them to fall off (updated projection systems still have them finishing below .500), but they’ve looked good so far.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Bryan Price has been fairly consistent with his lineup configuration this season. The seventh spot in the lineup is the only one that isn’t locked-down by one particular player (or position, in the case of the nine hole), and that’s mostly due to Zack Cozart moving up the lineup as his bat heated up. Based on that, the Yankees pitchers will probably see a lineup like this:

  1. Billy Hamilton, CF
  2. Zack Cozart, SS
  3. Joey Votto, 1B
  4. Adam Duvall, LF
  5. Eugenio Suarez, 3B
  6. Scott Schebler, RF
  7. Jose Peraza, 2B
  8. Devin Mesoraco, C or Tucker Barnhart, C
  9. [Pitcher]

The Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Rookie Davis

It was a year and a half ago that Rookie Davis was considered one of the best prospects in the Yankees organization, garnering a bit of hype before being sent to Cincinnati in the Aroldis Chapman deal. He reached the majors for the first time this year, and made one of the worst starts of the young season just three weeks later. Davis has just 24 IP at Triple-A, but the injuries to DeSclafani and Finnegan make his presence on the big league roster a necessity; given the team’s rebuilding efforts, though, this is almost certainly a legitimate chance for him to prove his mettle.

Davis is a three-pitch pitcher, mixing a 93-ish MPH fastball with a slurvy breaking ball in the 78 to 83 MPH range and a mid-80s change-up. PITCHf/x picks up two different breaking balls (a slider and a curveball), but most scouts call it a curveball.

Last Outing (vs. PIT on 5/3) – 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 2 K

Tuesday (7:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Tim Adleman

Staten Island’s own Tim Adleman has had a long, winding road to the majors. He was drafted in the 24th round of the 2010 draft by the Orioles, and found himself bouncing around independent leagues by 2012. In fact, he was passed over by the first independent ballclub that he tried out for, and would spend time working in a market in between stints with three different teams. The Reds picked him up in 2014, and he made his big league debut on May 1, 2016, at the age of 28. He’s been and up-and-down guy since, posting a 106 ERA+ in 91 IP at the highest level.

Adleman is something of a junkballer, throwing a fastball that scrapes 90 MPH (albeit with excellent rising action), a big-breaking curveball in the low-70s, and a low-80s change-up. He’s been homer prone in his brier career, surrendering 1.78 HR/9; that doesn’t come as a shock, though, considering his home park, low velocity, and 35.9% groundball rate.

Last Outing (vs. PIT on 5/4) – 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Reds have the sixth-best bullpen in baseball by park-adjusted ERA; they were 29th in baseball by that metric last year, just ahead of the Phillies. Closer Raisel Iglesias has been excellent since moving to the bullpen last year, and Drew Storen and rookie Wandy Peralta have been nearly as good this year in setup roles. They don’t really have a big name in the group, but they’ve been effective – and the worst offenders from 2016 are no longer with the team.

It’s also worth noting that the bullpen is well-rested. Scott Feldman tossed a complete game last night, and only one reliever (Robert Stephenson) was used on Saturday. In fact, none of the team’s ‘big three’ have pitched since last Thursday. After the Yankees-Cubs game last night, that seems unfair.

Yankees Connection

The aforementioned Davis was one of four players sent to the Reds for Chapman. Utility player Tony Renda and corner infielder Eric Jagielo are still in the organization, as well, at Triple-A and Double-A, respectively. The fourth player, Caleb Cotham, tossed 24.1 IP for the Reds last year, but retired this off-season. He dealt with injuries throughout his professional career, including a season-ending knee injury in 2016.

There are three former Reds on the Yankees – Chapman, Didi Gregorius, and Ronald Torreyes.

Who (Or What) To Watch

If you’re a fan of dingers, the heart of the Reds order is must-see TV. Votto, Duvall, Suarez, and Schebler have combined for 34 home runs to-date, and Cozart hit 16 last year. The team is seventh in the majors in home runs overall, with five fewer bombs than the Yankees

Should you want to focus on just one player, Votto  is always interesting to watch. Everyone knows about his ability to work the count and draw walks (he has a career 15.9 BB%, and had a .434 OBP last year), but he has changed his approach a bit this year. In addition to walking at an elite rate this year, he’s swinging at more pitches in the zone than ever before. The result of this is a ridiculously low 12.7 K%, and a .324 ISO (which would be the best of his career by a sizable margin).