Series Preview: Chicago White Sox

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

The White Sox are a team that’s easy to hate. Their manager has gone from great quote to tiresome, their catcher is universally hated around the game, their play-by-play guy is insufferable, and for the next four days they are the enemy. The Yankees return home from a rocky but ultimately successful road trip through Toronto and Baltimore, kicking off the next leg of their 17 games in 17 days stretch* against a team mired in the slumpiest of slumps.

* Friday’s rain out turned it into 16 games in 16 days.

What Have The White Sox Done Lately?

The Yankees seem to have run into a lot of slumping teams of late, and the ChiSox certainly fit the bill. Ozzie Guillen’s club has lost three straight and ten of their last eleven, getting outscored 56-25 in the process. They haven’t scored a run since the seventh inning of Friday’s game, and haven’t scored a non-solo homerun run since the eighth inning of Thursday’s game. “Nothing works,” said Guillen after yesterday’s loss. “It seems like every day is a rewind movie. Seeing the same at-bats and seems like everybody we face is pretty nasty.”

White Sox On Offense

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Like I said, Chicago’s been struggling with the bats. They’ve scored just 21 runs in their last ten games, and nine of those runs came on Thursday. Their hottest hitter (by far) is Carlos Quentin, who has eleven hits (four doubles, four homers), two walks, and three hit-by-pitches in his last 45 plate appearances (.275/.356/.675). Paul Konerko seemed to break out of a prolonged slump by collecting five hits (including a double and homer) total on Thursday and Friday, but he took an 0-for-4 on Saturday (with three strikeouts) and had Sunday off. A.J. Pierzynski’s seven game hitting streak consists of nine singles, so he’s not exactly tearing the cover off the ball. Aside from those three, Guillen’s offense has been a wreck.

Adam Dunn is buried in a nasty 2-for-30 (.067) slump with 15 strikeouts, and he’s only drawn three walks during that time as well. Alex Rios hasn’t gotten a hit since last Sunday (just two walks and a HBP in his last 23 PA), and Alexei Ramirez has two singles and two walks in his last 24 PA. Gordon Beckham has reached base once in his last 25 PA (a single) and four times in his last 39 PA (two singles, a double, and he reached on an error). Mark Teahen highlights the rest of the offense (we’re talking Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel, Brent Morel, etc.) with a .334 wOBA. As a team, the ChiSox own a .303 wOBA and a .308 OBP. Yeah, they’ve had trouble hitting.

White Sox On The Mound

Monday: Phil Humber: Claimed off waivers twice this offseason, you might remember Humber for being part of the Johan Santana trade. Safe to say that he never delivered on his promise as the third overall pick of the 2004 draft, but Chicago was encouraged by the cutter he learning from pitching coach and cutter guru Don Cooper in Spring Training. After two relief appearances, Humber has pitched to a 3.86 ERA in three starts that have gotten progressively worse: one earned run in his first start, two in his second, four in his fourth. He doesn’t strike out many batters (just 11 K in 18.2 IP this year) but he won’t walk many either (5 BB), and his ground ball rate is just okay in the low-40% range. Humber relies heavily on a low-90’s fastball, a low-80’s curve, and a mid-80’s changeup, and for whatever reason, PitchFX says he hasn’t thrown that cutter in the regular season. That’s probably a classification issue though.

Tuesday: Gavin Floyd: Floyd’s name popped up in a few trade rumors this past offseason, but he’s still in a White Sox uniform. He’s gone at least six inning in each of his four starts, and he’s actually alternated poor outings with good ones: four runs in seven innings in his first start, one unearned run in eight innings in his second, six runs in six innings in his third, and two runs in seven innings in his fourth. He’s due for a stinker. As always, Floyd misses bats (7.67 K/9, 8.5% swing-and-miss rate), limit walks (2.33 BB/9), and gets ground balls (48.7% ground ball rate) with a fastball (low-90’s), cutter (mid-80’s), curveball (upper 70’s), and changeup (mid-80’s). The curve has been his calling card since the day he was drafted, and if he gets ahead with two strikes, that pitch is coming more than 60% of the time.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Wednesday: Mark Buehrle: Aside from a dominant showing against the Athletics in his third start (eight innings, two hits, no runs), it’s been a brutal season for Buerhle. The usually reliable left-hander has allowed at least four runs in each of his other four starts, pitching into the seventh inning just once. He’s also walked seven and allowed 34 hits in just 22.2 IP in those starts. The Yankees have traditionally had their way with the changeup artist, tagging him for 14 runs in three starts (15 IP) over the last three seasons. Buerhle will bore you to death with that changeup and three mid-80’s fastballs (four-seam, two-seam, cutter). He’ll also break out the occasional curveball, but there are no surprises here.

Thursday: Edwin Jackson: The former Dodger, Ray, Tiger, and Diamondback has enjoyed the best success of his career under Cooper’s watch in Chicago. Four of his five highest single game strikeout totals have come in a White Sox uniform, including a 13 whiff game against the Rays earlier this season. He’s missing more bats than ever (just about a strikeout per inning with the Sox) thanks to a new (wait for it) cutter and increased reliance on his slider. Jackson has allowed 12 runs in his last two starts though (12.2 IP, 23 H, 4 BB) and the Yankees have seen plenty of him in the past (11 career starts vs. New York, plus four relief appearances), so again, no surprises here.

Bullpen: Guillen’s bullpen, at least his core relievers, come into the series well rested. Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton, Chris Sale, and Sergio Santos have thrown a combined 6.1 IP over the last seven days, though Thornton and Crain each pitched an inning yesterday. The mop-up crew – Jeff Gray, Will Ohman, and Tony Pena – have done much of the heavy lifting of late, throwing eight innings total over the last five days.

Thornton was supposed to be Guillen’s rock at the end of the game, but he blew his first four save opportunities of the year and has been brought into mop-up spots his last two times out. Sale’s been slightly better, and really the team’s two most reliable relievers have been Crain (5 H, 11 K in 10.1 IP) and the former infielder Santos (13 K, 5 H in 9.2 IP, but 5 BB). That’s not exactly how they drew it up in Spring Training. The White Sox probably won’t be out of any game because their starting pitching is very good, but the Yankees have a way of waiting those guys out and going to town on the middle relief.

Recommended White Sox Reading: South Side Sox

Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

The last week hasn't gone so well for the O's. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

For the first time in 2011, the Yankees will be playing a team for the second time when they visit Camden Yards this weekend. CC Sabathia gets the ball in the Friday night opener, then will be followed by Freddy Garcia in a rare Saturday night game and Ivan Nova in the third and final game on Sunday afternoon. We know there’s always a nice turnout by Yankees fans when they visit Baltimore, so it’s like home away from home.

What Have The Orioles Done Lately?

Oh boy, what a tailspin for the O’s. Since their 6-1 start they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games (including two to the Yankees last week) and have been outscored 61-37 in a perfect storm of poor pitching and poor hitting. The Yankees roll into town for the weekend series without having to worry about Jeremy Guthrie or Zach Britton; neither of Baltimore’s two best pitchers is scheduled to start any of the three games.

Orioles on Offense

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

When we last checked in on the Orioles, they were a bottom five team in all of baseball in terms of wOBA and OBP. They’ve managed to up their team wOBA from .281 to .298 since last facing the Yankees, which is no longer bottom five but is still bottom nine. The team OBP climbed a bit from .282 and now sits at .291, but that’s the second worst mark in the game, ahead of only the uber-slumping Twins.

Matt Wieters is coming into the series like a man possessed, picking up seven hits in his last five games, including two doubles and two homers. Brian Roberts is in the middle of a nine-game hitting streak, a stretch that started in the first game against the Yankees last week. He’s hitting .368/.415/.500 during that time. Robert Andino is filling in for the injured J.J. Hardy, and he has eight hits (all singles) in his last five games. Mark Reynolds (two for his last 26), Nick Markakis (three for his last 30), Luke Scott (four for his last 24), and Derrek Lee (six for his last 30) are all slumping. Adam Jones and Vlad Guerrero are neither slumping nor on fire, they’re just kinda going through the motions right now.

Orioles on the Mound

Friday: Brad Bergesen: A high school teammate of Phil Hughes, Bergesen has made two starts and one relief appearance this season, throwing two garbage time innings against the Yankees last week. He’s allowed three homers in just 10.2 IP this year, and he’s never been one to miss bats: just a 4.53 K/9 and 5.8% swing-and-miss rate in his career. Bergesen will make the Yankees put the ball in play with 88-91 mph two- and four-seamers, and every so often he’ll bust out a changeup or slider. The Bombers have put a hurtin’ on him in the past, scoring 11 runs in 17 innings against him. Pitch-to-contact pitchers usually don’t fare well against the Yankees lineup, so expect good things.

The Yankees had their way with Tillman a week ago. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Saturday: Chris Tillman: The Yankees faced Tillman in the series last week, tagging him for six runs and nine hits in just an inning-and-a-third. He held the utterly punchless Twins to three runs in 6.2 IP on Monday, but he was still missing some velocity and the results had more to do with Minnesota’s faults than his strengths. The game plan hasn’t changed one bit, just work the count and let it fly whenever Tillman makes a mistake.

Sunday: Jake Arrieta: After beating the Yankees twice in 2010, Arrieta pitched well against them last week but it was clear the Yankees made adjustments the second and third time through the order. They tagged him for five hits and three runs in the fifth and sixth innings after the young right-hander held New York to just one baserunner (a walk) over the first four innings. The Yankees should be better prepared for his two-seamer and slider heavy approach, hopefully jumping on the board a little earlier than they did last week.

Bullpen: Buck Showalter’s bullpen comes into the series pretty well rested, with only closer Kevin Gregg making as many as two appearances over the last four days. The only new face added to the ‘pen since last week is lefty specialist Clay Rapada, who replaced injured long-man Chris Jakubauskas. The middle relief/setup crew is rock solid with Jason Berken, Jim Johnson, and Koji Uehara from the right side while Mike Gonzalez takes care of business from the left. If the Yankees do what they’re supposed to do against the starters, the relievers should be nothing more than footnotes in the series.

Recommended Orioles Reading: Camden Crazies

Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Away from home for only their second series this season, the Yankees will play a pair of games in Toronto this week. It’s kind of an oddly timed series, just two games sandwiched between two off-days. But it’s Yankee baseball, so who are we to complain?

Last year the Yanks had trouble with the Jays, and actually finished 8-10 against them. Thankfully for the Yanks, these aren’t the 2010 Blue Jays. They lost a few key players during the winter, and while they’re stronger in the long run, they’re definitely weaker for the 2011 season. The Yanks definitely have an opportunity to jump out ahead here and steal a pair of games before heading down to Baltimore.

What Have They Done Lately?

(Charles Krupa/AP)

After looking like the Blue Jays of 2010 during the first week of play, the Jays have slipped considerably in the last week and a half. That includes three straight losses to the Red Sox, in which they managed just one run per game. Before that they managed to let Seattle put up an eight spot on them. Things just aren’t looking that bright for the Jays currently.

Blue Jays On Offense

Yep. Bautista can still pop one. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Last year the home run was the Jays’ calling card, as they led the league by a decent margin. This year they’ve hit only 13, which ranks them 19th among the 30 teams. In fact, hitting for power has been a general problem for the team this year. They’ve hit just 24 doubles, which ranks 24th in the league, after finishing second last year. That’s an enormous problem for a team built like the Jays. They’re not an on-base type of squad — last year they ranked 26th with a .312 OBP — so when they’re not hitting for power they struggle to bring around runs.

Three players, really, have carried the Jays on offense to this point. Jose Bautista has kept up his power hitting ways, smacking three homers so far. While he likely won’t hit 54 again, he remains a legitimate power threat. He’s backed up by J.P. Arencibia, who has two doubles, two triples, and two homers already. Yunel Escobar has taken to his new home north of the border, hitting .333/.414/.563 with a double, two triples, and two homers this season. Jayson Nix, too, has stepped up, hitting .256/.356/.462 through 45 PA.

The biggest disappointments this season have been Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. They were in the same position last year, meaning their performances in 2011 became all the more important. Hill is just 14 for 60 (.233) so far, with three doubles and three walks. That production, a .262 wOBA, isn’t worst among his peers, but it’s not far from it. Lind, whom the Jays are trying at first base this season, has a nearly identical wOBA, .268, and also ranks near the worst of his peers. Travis Snider, a full-time player for the first time in his career, has also disappointed, hitting .151/.250/.245 in his first 60 PA.

At some point, at least one of Lind, Hill, and Snider will turn it around. There’s just too much talent there for all three of them to tank. Yet that’s not guaranteed to happen in this series. The Jays have really struggled at the plate lately. We know that momentum can shift in any given moment, but it’s tough to count on these struggling players at the moment.

Blue Jays On The Mound

(Elaine Thompson/AP)

Game One: Kyle Drabek. Tonight marks Drabke’s seventh major league start, though his first against a team he has previously faced. Last year he ended his season against the Yankees, tossing six innings and allowing three runs in a losing effort. This year the 23-year-old made the team out of spring training and put on a show in his first start, striking out seven Twins in seven innings on his way to a Blue Jays victory. But things haven’t been so easy for him since then.

The Twins, remember, currently sport the league’s worst offense, which could have played into Drabek’s success. In his next start he pitched only six innings, while facing two more batters and throwing two more pitches than his previous start. He also allowed a ton more balls in the air, walked more batters, and struck out fewer. And then in his last start, against the hapless Mariners, he recorded one fewer out while throwing 11 more pitches than his previous start. He all the sudden didn’t look as dominant.

This year his weakness has been the free pass. He has issued 11 to the 77 batters he has faced. This plays into the Yankees hands, as they are one of the more patient teams in the league. They’ve already seen him, so that stigma of getting beat by guys they see for the first time is erased.

Game Two: Brett Cecil. Just hearing the name Brett Cecil makes many Yankees fans cringe. He faced the Yankees five times, and generally gave them fits. What sticks in our heads are the two eight-inning performances in which the Yankees seemingly hit everything on the ground. What gets lost is that his final two outings weren’t all that great.

On September fifth he lasted 6.1 innings, but allowed three runs in the process. He walked four and struck out only three in that time, so things could have gone far worse. The Blue Jays did win the game, though, which makes the positive aspects of the game more forgettable. Then, in his final start of the season, he gave up three runs in just 5.1 innings. This time the Yanks hit plenty in the air. Again, Cecil won. He won’t get that lucky all the time.

As with Phil Hughes, Cecil threw far more innings last year than he had in the past. Also as with Hughes, he experienced reduced velocity in spring training and into the year. He hasn’t been quite the ground balling machine he was last year, and even allowed 10 fly balls in his previous start against the Red Sox. Overall he has been generally unimpressive this season, which is good news for Yankees fans. Maybe we’ll finally see them beat Cecil this year.

Bullpen: The Jays underwent a bullpen overhaul this winter, as they lost both Kevin Gregg and Scott Downs to free agency. But they did make a few pick-ups, including Frank Francisco, who returns to action this evening. Shawn Camp, Jason Frasor, and Carlos Villanueva have performed well so far. That is, their late-inning force appears to be in full effect. The Yankees can weaken that strength, though, by forcing Drabek and Cecil from the games early.

Blue Jays Featured Blog: Drunk Jays Fans.

Series Preview: Texas Rangers

For years, the Angels were the one team in baseball that gave the Yankees fits. For whatever reason, Mike Scioscia’s team just had their number. Now that the Halos are getting older and are heading down baseball’s power rankings, they’ve apparently handed the torch of “AL West team the Yankees can’t beat” to the Rangers. After sweeping Texas in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium in April, Joe Girardi‘s team lost four of their five remaining regular season meetings, all of which took place in Arlington. The ALCS was a completely one-sided affair; that the Yanks forced six games is a minor miracle.

But this is a new season. There’s no Cliff Lee looming nor is there an Andy Pettitte to fall back on. Vlad Guerrero has been replaced by Adrian Beltre, Lance Berkman has been replaced by Russell Martin, things have changed. The weather looks to be gorgeous but a little chilly this weekend, when the Yankees take on their toughest opponent to date in 2011.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rangers started the season looking like baseball’s best team, and reality they probably are at the moment. They won their first six games and outscored their opponents 42-20 in the process, but they’re just 3-3 since. Prior to Thursday’s off-day, Texas dropped back-to-back games against the Tigers, losing the first on a Miguel Cabrera walk-off single and the second on a Brandon Inge walk-off homer. For whatever reason, Neftali Feliz was nowhere to be found in either game. Their +32 run differential is the best in baseball and nearly two times greater than the second best mark in the AL (Toronto’s +17). If there’s such a thing as momentum, the Yankees would appear to have it. They’ve won their last two while the Rangers lost their last two in demoralizing fashion.

Rangers On Offense

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Yankees caught a very big break this series, both literally and figuratively. By now you’ve heard that Josh Hamilton, last year’s AL MVP, broke his arm sliding head first into home during Tuesday’s game and is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. It was a weird play, Hamilton was on third when a pop-fly went into foul territory, but no one covered the plate and he broke for home after the catch. After the game he threw third base coach Dave Anderson under the bus, though he later apologized. Bottom line: The Yankees won’t have to face arguably the best player in the league this weekend.

Of course, Texas’ offense is still extremely good. Designated Yankee killer David Murphy (.418 wOBA in limited action) steps in for Hamilton, and Nelson Cruz’s boomstick is still fully operational (.451 wOBA). Ian Kinsler torched the Red Sox in the first series of the year, but he leadoff guy is hitting just .152/.243/.273 in the nine games since. Adrian Beltre has hit .350/.381/.750 with two doubles and two homers in his last five games after a very slow start to the season, while Michael Young owns a .474/.476/.579 line over the same time. Mitch Moreland is a perpetual pain in the ass near the bottom of the lineup (.389 wOBA), though Elvis Andrus (.291), Julio Borbon (.297) and Yorvit Torrealba (.275) haven’t done much yet this season. I’m willing to bet Andrus gets his fair share if crap infield hits this weekend like he did in the ALCS. Mike Napoli looms on the bench as a lefty-masher, though that should only come into play when CC Sabathia starts on Sunday.

Rangers On The Mound

Game One: Matt Harrison, LHP: Part of the Mark Teixeira trade back in the day, Harrison has been in straight up Beast Mode in the early going this year. He held the Red Sox and Orioles to one run over seven innings in each of his first two starts, allowing just seven hits and three walks total with seven strikeouts and 50% ground balls. He’s not some soft tossing lefty either. Harrison’s four-seamer has averaged 93.7 mph this year and has topped out at 97 while the two-seamer sits about a mile-per-hour or two below that. He uses each about 30% of the time. A low-80’s changeup is his next best offering and he doesn’t have a real knockout breaking ball, but will throw both a slider and curveball and the occasional cutter. If Joe Girardi was ever going to employ Danks Theory, this would be a good game to do it, taking that changeup away. Harrison has gotten smacked around pretty good in five career appearances (two starts) against the Yankees (7.53 ERA, 4.40 FIP in just 14.1 IP), but that was before he showed up to camp this year bumping 97.

It's Derek Holland's year. Eno Sarris told him so. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Game Two: Derek Holland, LHP: You probably remember Holland from his stellar relief work in the ALCS (5.2 scoreless innings), but now he’s back where he belongs in the rotation. He allowed three runs in six innings to the Mariners in the first start before shutting the O’s down for six frames last time out. He’s very much like Harrison in that he’s fastball-changeup heavy, sitting 93.2 with the former and the mid-80’s with the latter. Holland’s slider is a quality third offering though, a pitch he can use to get swings and misses. He’s another guy the Yankees have crushed in the past (9.49 ERA, 8.07 FIP in 12.1 IP) but again, that’s no guarantee of future success. Holland’s a dynamite young pitcher.

Game Three: Alexi Ogando, RHP: In the rotation only because Tommy Hunter strained some fat at the end of Spring Training, Ogando was never a full-time starter until the Rangers stuck him in that role in Spring Training. Sure enough, he fired six shutout innings against the Mariners two weeks ago and followed that up with seven shutout innings against the Tigers earlier this week. Ogando has allowed just four hits and three walks in those 13 IP, striking out eight. It doesn’t make sense, but for whatever reason it just worked. The right-hander sits 93-94 with the fastball and mixes in a few 95’s and 96’s, but he’s a two-pitch pitcher. If you don’t get the heat, your getting the slider, that’s it. His changeup is an afterthought. Ogando made just six relief appearances against the Yankees last year (four regular season and two playoffs), throwing a total of 4.2 IP. For all intents and purposes, they’ve never really seen him before.

Bullpen: Well, at least Feliz is well rested. He hasn’t pitched in four games, but at we also know that Washington won’t use him in a tie game on the road. Score one for the good guys. Yankee favorite Arthur Rhodes joins Darren Oliver to give the Rangers not one, but two lefties that are a handful of outings away from a forced retirement. Darren O’Day is a sidearm/submarining righty specialist, and Mark Lowe (a throw-in in the Lee trade) throws hard and that’s about it. Rule 5 guy Mason Tobin is unspectacular, and Pedro Strop is essentially another Lowe. It’s not exactly a bullpen that strikes fear into opponents, but you’ve got to get to them before the ninth inning. Otherwise you’re probably out of luck.

Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Look alive, grounds crew. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Take a look at the AL East standings, and you’ll see an unfamiliar name at the top. The Baltimore Orioles, at 6-3, lead the division (one game better than the Yankees) and have the sixth best record in all of baseball. Buck Showalter’s magic from late last season has apparently trickled over for the time being, though real improvement was definitely expected this year. I feel pretty confident saying the Orioles’ true talent level is not a .667 winning percentage, but they aren’t the total pushovers they’ve been for the last decade or so.

Unfortunately, it looks like the weather may be a factor in this series. There’s a 70% chance of rain from right now through basically tomorrow morning. There’s also a 50% chance of rain tomorrow night, though Thursday looks to be nice and sunny in the boogie down. Who really knows with the weather, the rain could wreck the series or not have any impact whatsoever. Finding a makeup date won’t be an issue, these two clubs play enough games throughout the season. Here’s a look at the coming series, in which first place be on the line*.

What Have They Done Lately?

Like the Yankees, the O’s are coming off a scheduled off-day on Monday as well as a weekend series that saw them lose two of three. Baltimore ran into the juggernaut known as the Texas Rangers, though Mother Nature spared them defeat on Friday with some thunderstorms. Rookie southpaw Zach Britton stuck it to Texas for 7.2 shutout innings Saturday afternoon, resulting in the Rangers’ first (and only) loss of the season. It all went south from there for the Orioles, who lost 13-1 on Saturday night before getting shutout three-zip on Sunday.

Despite their hot start, the Orioles have lost their last two games and three of their last five. That happens when you play the Rangers and run into Justin Verlander. They’ve also had three days off in the last week, so they’re well-rested, if nothing else.

Orioles On Offense

Angry Vlad. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Much was made of the Orioles’ offseason improvements, which saw Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, and J.J. Hardy join the likes of Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, and Luke Scott. Well, a little over a week into the season, all Baltimore has to show for those upgrades is 35 runs scored, the sixth fewest in baseball. Their team .282 OBP and .281 wOBA are both bottom five marks in baseball and would be the worst in the division if it wasn’t for the Rays.

On a micro level, the O’s have just two regulars with a better than league average wOBA (lg avg is .319 right now): Markakis at .320 and Reynolds at .344. The former is mired in a 2-for-18 slump while the latter has been all-or-nothing: Reynolds has three multiple-hit games, one one-hit game, and five 0-fers. Brian Roberts and Adam Jones are the only O’s with more than one homer (both have two), and they have identical .280 wOBA’s. Roberts has been on base three times in his last 21 plate appearances, though Jones is coming in hot: 5-for-14 with two homers in his last four games. Vlad has warmed up after a slow start, going 8-for-21 in his last five games.

Scott, last year’s offensive dynamo, has been battling a groin strain and has just a .252 wOBA in five games played. He’s been limited to pinch-hitting duties and might not be able to return to the outfield until Wednesday or Thursday. The rain could keep him out further as I imagine they wouldn’t want to risk re-aggravating the injury on wet grass. Felix Pie and Robert Andino have been filling in for the time being, and … well … they’re Felix Pie and Robert Andino. Hardy will not be available this series due to (yep) an oblique strain, meaning Cesar Izturis is playing short. That’s good for the Yankees. Lee and Matt Wieters are both off to slow starts (312 and .239 wOBA’s respectively).

Don't worry, the Yankees have faced Tillman three times already. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Orioles On The Mound

Game One: Chris Tillman: Part of the infamous Erik Bedard trade, Tillman has struggled to establish himself in the big leagues in each of the last two years (5.90+ FIP in 110+ IP between 2009 and 2009). He fired six no-hit innings against the Rays in his first start then got taken to the cleaners by the Tigers (4 R in 4.2 IP) next time out. Tillman is usually a low-90’s fastball guy, though it’d been down in the upper-80’s early on this year. Lack of velocity is the new black, apparently. He also throws an over-the-top curveball and an okay change, but so far he hasn’t missed as many bats as his stuff says he should, and he’s always been a guy that hands out a healthy amount of walks. Add in fly-ball tendencies, and Tillman plays right into the Yankees strengths. You might remember that he gave up Derek Jeter‘s 2,722nd career hit, the one that gave sole possession of the franchise’s all-time record.

Game Two: Chris Jakubauskas: A former independent leaguer, Jakubauskas went from Lincoln Salt Dogs in 2007 to the Mariners farm system in 2008 to the actual Mariners in 2009 to the Pirates in 2010 to the Orioles now. He’s the definition of a replacement level player, a guy with an 89-91 mph fastball and the occasional curveball, changeup, and cutter with med command. At 32-years-old, Jakubauskas is unlikely to get any better than what he is, and that’s a guy the Yankees should absolutely hammer. They crushed him in a relief appearance back in his Seattle days, the only time he’s faced New York. This is one of those “no excuse” games, Jakubauskas shouldn’t haven’t a prayer against a Yankees’ lineup even if half the guys are struggling like they are right now.

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Game Three: Jake Arrieta: The O’s didn’t want to start Britton in Yankee Stadium so early in his career so they pushed him back a day and will have him pitch Friday instead of Thursday. Yesterday’s off-day allows Arrieta to make that Thursday start on normal rest. You might remember him from last season, when he made his big league debut against the Yanks and predictably earned his first career win against them with a quality start. He also beat them in early September with 6.1 innings of two run ball, but I suppose the good news is that against everyone else, he’s pitched to a 5.18 ERA with 48 walks and 51 strikeouts in 91.2 IP. The 25-year-old right-hander has some giddy-up on his fastball (92-94, will touch 96 on the rarest of occasions), though he usually lives off a low-90’s two-seamer and mid-80’s slider. Every once in a while he’s bust out a curveball and/or changeup. Arrieta’s minor league strikeout and walk numbers never stood out, but he’s a legitimate back-end starter right now.

Bullpen: Showalter’s bullpen has been pretty sketchy overall, backing up its 3.94 ERA with a 5.05 FIP. Kevin Gregg is a de facto closer and been okay in three appearances so far, though the setup crew has been remarkably strong. Jason Berken, Koji Uehara, and Jim Johnson have combined for 14 strikeouts and one walk in 11.2 combined innings. Mike Gonzalez hasn’t been good so far, but he’s still death on lefties. Jeremy Accardo will show his face from time to time, and Josh Rupe handles the mop-up work with Jakubauskas in the rotation. The key to the series for New York is simple: get to the Orioles’ starters early and keep that stellar middle relief corps from being a factor.

* No, I didn’t write that with a straight face.

Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(Charles Krupa/AP)

There’s the story, and there’s the reality. The story, of course, is the Red Sox 0-6 start. What’s even more surprising is that they have scored only 16 runs in those six games. No, things haven’t started clicking for the 2011 Boston Red Sox. But, as Dave Cameron wrote yesterday, that doesn’t change their perceived talent level, nor does it change their projected performance going forward. It merely adjusts the season-long expectations. In other words, they’re no worse than we thought before the season, but their perceived advantage may be gone at this point.

The Yanks head to Fenway for three games this weekend before heading back home. The law of averages suggests that the Sox pick up at least one. Of course, we’ve seen some crazier things happen. But hey, even the Astros have finally won a game. Boston’s first victory can’t be too far off.

What Have They Done Lately?

(Tony Dejak/AP)

Well, I just spent most of the first two paragraphs talking about that, right? The Sox opened up with a tough series against the Texas Rangers, and while they didn’t necessarily play their worst baseball, their pitching was probably as bad as could reasonably be imagined. That included Jon Lester getting lit up on Opening Day, following by a 3.2-inning, nine-run performance from John Lackey. The Sox scored five runs in each of those games, which is usually enough to win. Alas, not in this case.

Then on Sunday they got a quality showing from Clay Buchholz — that is, he limited the Rangers to four runs, albeit they were four solo homers. That’s when the offense stopped showing up. Of those 16 runs they’ve scored, only six came in the last four games. That’s not going to get it done, even against the Indians. They’re going to score runs, and that might start this weekend. But to this point they’ve given little indications of a turnaround.

Red Sox On Offense

AP Photo

In theory, of course, the Red Sox have one of the best offenses in the league. Their best four hitters — Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Gonzalez — stack up against anybody’s, and they have a nice collection of quality players around them. No, they’re not going to score 1,000 runs this season; really, they weren’t even at the start of the season, before this slump. But they figure, or at least figured, to give the Yanks a run for their money as the top offense in the league.

One aspect of the lineup that could give the Yankees fits, at least in the first two games, is the Red Sox left-handedness. Five of their starting nine bats from the left side, and another switch hits. Things will change when CC Sabathia takes the mound Sunday evening, but for the first two games there will be plenty of righty vs. lefty plate appearances.

The Sox have also tweaked things heading into this series. Carl Crawford, who in the past has voiced his displeasure with hitting leadoff, will slide into that very spot this afternoon. That puts the team’s best four hitters atop the lineup, which will give any team an advantage.

Red Sox On The Mound

(LM Otero/AP)

Game 1: John Lackey. After a disappointing first season in Boston, Lackey got off to a terrible start in his sophomore effort. As with the offense, he’s really not this bad. Maybe he’s not the guy who kept his ERAs in the mid 3s in Anaheim, but he’s also not a guy who’s going to get bombed for nine runs in 3.2 innings that often.

One of the biggest things for Lackey in his first game was his inability to induce a ground ball. He’s always been a decent ground ball guy, sitting in the mid-40s for the past few years. But he got just one of the 23 batters he faced last Saturday to hit one on the ground.

Game 2: Clay Buchholz. The good news is that he pitched better than any of his fellow starters the first time through. The bad news is that he got taken deep four times. No men were on base for those incidents. One of his strengths last year was his ability to avoid the long ball altogether, so his first start isn’t very encouraging in that regard. Still, it’s one game and chances are he returns to his normal ground balling self before long.

One thing to watch from Buchholz is his strikeout rate. In the minors always had excellent strikeout numbers, but once he started spending significant time in the bigs that dipped to below average. We’ve seen this before, from one Jon Lester. In his breakout 2008 season his strikeout rate was below average, but for the past two seasons he’s struck out more than a batter per inning. I suspect Buchholz will display a similar trend this year.

Game 3: Josh Beckett. The last time Beckett faced the Yankees he allowed five runs in 6.2 innings. The time before that he allowed seven in 4.2. The time before that he allowed 5, 3 earned, in 5.1 before leaving with a back injury that kept him out for two months. And the time before that they hit him for 5 in 4.2 on Opening Day 2010. No, it has not been a fun time lately for Josh Beckett against the Yankees.

His first game of 2011 looked somewhat like his starts against the Yankees last year. He lasted just five innings and allowed three runs, but 1) it took him 106 pitches to finish 5, and 2) he got lucky on a number of long fly balls that stayed in the park. I doubt the Yankees hitters will be as forgiving as the Indians. This is a pretty big season for Beckett, the first of his four-year extension and the follow-up to his ineffective and injury riddled 2010. A solid start against the Yankees would go a long way.

Bullpen. The Sox helped strengthen the back end of the pen by adding Bobby Jenks, but their other relievers are still questionable at best. They did get better today, though, as they replaced Matt Albers with Al Aceves and Dennys Reyes with Felix Doubront. If their starters look anything like they did the first time through, they might need those guys.

Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

Until it stops, we’re going to continue talking about it. During the Ron Gardenhire era, which began in 2002, the Yankees have downright dominated the Minnesota Twins. Of their 75 games in that span, including playoffs, the Yankees have won 57. As FanGraphs’s Jack Moore explains, the probability of that happening is 0.021% — and that’s not a misplaced decimal point. That dominance really shines in the Bronx, as CBS’s Danny Knobler notes. The Yankees are 30-6 there against the Twins since 2002, and four of those losses came during Johan Santana starts.

Tonight marks the first of four games the two teams will play at the Stadium this week. For the Yankees to continue their string of dominance would only extend a vast statistical anomaly. But, since we’ve already seen some crazy trends this weekend, maybe the Yanks will keep things going.

What Have They Done Lately?

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)

We have only one series in the books, so this section is even less meaningful than it normal. (I.e., we know that momentum can change at any time, without notice.) But if the opening series means anything, the Twins are in a heap of trouble. Their Nos. 1 and 2 pitchers got bombed during their starts, and their closer nearly blew Sunday’s game. In total they were outscored 21-8 by the Blue Jays. Now they come into New York and face another hot offense, but this time they’re putting their Nos. 4 and 5 starters on the mound to start the series.

The team’s lack of offense to this point has been a bit startling. They’ve gotten some quality production from the top of the lineup in Denard Span and from Jason Kubel, but after them the rest of the team hasn’t done a lick. It’s early, of course, and that will change. But will it change as the Twins face the team that has cursed them for the past nine seasons?

Twins On Offense

(Charles Krupa/AP)

In the past it wasn’t difficult to note the Twins’ strengths as a team. They’ve always had contending clubs — even in 2008, after they traded Johan Santana, they came within a few games of a playoff spot — but this year they appear to have more weaknesses. For the moment, though, we’ll look at where the Twins are strong.

Clearly, at catcher they have an advantage over most of the league. From 2008 through 2010 Joe Mauer led all catchers in fWAR by no insignificant margin. His wOBA was 30 points higher than his closest peer, Brian McCann. In the same period another of the Twins up-the-middle player, Denard Span in center, ranked among the best at his position.

Then there’s Justin Morneau at first base. He’s off to a slow start, but the concussion he suffered last July kept him out for the entire second half. He still has some rust to scrape off, but once he has that worked out he’ll rank among the league’s best hitters. (In fact, he was an MVP candidate last year before he got bonked on the head.) In the outfield corners the Twins have a trio of solid hitters in Delmon Young, who stepped up last year, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer. And at DH they have Jim Thome, who, even at his advanced age, continued to mash taters last season.

Twins On The Mound

(Tom Olmscheid/AP)

Game 1: Scott Baker. The past two years have not been kind to Scott Baker. In 2008 it appeared that he was reaching his peak, with a 3.45 ERA and 3.79 FIP. But then this fly ball propensity caught up to him. His home run rate jumped. It appeared that he had been granted a reprieve when the Twins moved to spacious Target Field, but his home run rate stayed around the same level. (

Since 2008, only Ted Lilly and Jered Weaver have a higher fly ball rate than Baker — though his teammate, Slowey, would also rank higher if he qualified. That is not a good mix with Yankee Stadium, especially given the way the Yankees opened the season. Baker does mitigate that rate with a low walk rate and average strikeout rate. There’s a good chance he bounces back this year, as his peripherals last season were good overall. But against the Yankees, at Yankee Stadium, he doesn’t appear a good match.

2010 numbers: 29 starts, 170.1 IP, 4.49 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 3.82 xFIP

Game 2: Brian Duensing. The Twins pretty clearly prefer their pitchers to induce contact and avoid walks. In that way, Duensing is the consummate Twin. Even in the minor leagues he didn’t manage an average strikeout rate. During his season and a half in the bigs he has a 5.49 K/9, which is among the lowest in the league. (His teammate, Nick Blackburn, owns the lowest strikeout rate in the last two years.) Yet he produced some excellent results last year, thanks to a low home run rate, low walk rate, and high strand rate.

Despite the low strikeout rate, Duensing does have excellent peripherals. He avoids handing out free passes, which should match-up well against the patient Yankees. He also keeps the ball in the park, in part due to a ground ball rates that eclipses 50 percent. Duensing might not be a top of the rotation pitcher, but he’s the type of guy I can see giving the Yankees fits.

2010 numbers: 53 games, 13 starts, 130.2 IP, 2.62 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.96 xFIP

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

Game 3: Carl Pavano. The story you’ll hear throughout this game is how the Yankees nearly signed Pavano this off-season. It didn’t happen, which pleased many fans who can’t stand to look at him. Those fans would have been doubly pissed if Pavano pitched for the Yankees like he pitched on Friday for the Twins. It was an ugly, ugly drubbing in which he allowed eight runs, seven earned, in four-plus innings.

Last year Pavano re-established himself as a solid MLB pitcher. His strikeouts dropped, but he made up for it with an uptick in ground balls. And, of course, he always seems to do well against the Yankees.

2010 numbers: 32 starts, 221 IP, 3.75 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 3.86 xFIP

Game 4: Francisco Liriano. The Liriano-to-the-Yankees rumors ran rampant this spring, but nothing came of it. The two sides could come together for a deal later this year, but if the Twins are contending they have little reason to trade their most dominant pitcher. That is, he’s the only arm in their rotation with an above-average strikeout rate. He combines that with a high groundball rate to give them one of their most complete pitchers.

As with Pavano, Yankees fans would have been steaming mad if the team had traded for Liriano and he turned in a performance like Saturday’s, in which he allowed four runs, on five walks and two homers, in 4.1 IP. Chances are, he’ll turn in a better performance this time around.

2010 numbers: 31 starts, 191.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 2.95 xFIP

Bullpen. For years the bullpen had been a strength for the Twins, but this past off-season they lost a number of key contributors. Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, and Matt Guerrier all departed. That might not hurt too too much, though, as the Twins got back Joe Nathan and will have a full season of Matt Capps. They also now have Slowey in the bullpen, who should prove a solid option — until they need him in the rotation, at least — and Jose Mijares, who picked up the pace after a terrible start in 2010. The real loss for the Yanks here is Guerrier, off of whom Alex Rodriguez has hit four home runs.