Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds

(From Flickr user Sideonecincy via a Creative Commons license.)

While the Cubs are more renown for their long and rich history, the Cincinnati Reds have been around for just about as long. During that long span they have one fewer World Series appearance and three more World Series victories. But they have neither the ages-old ballpark nor the infamous curse, and so they’re not paid as much attention as their fellow National League founders. But they’ve had a good deal more success than the Cubs lately, which leaves the Yankees a tougher challenge in their second (third, if we count rivalry weekend) interleague series.

What Have the Reds Done Lately?

Just a week ago the Reds were busy trouncing the Dodgers in a three-game series, outscoring them 16-8. But once interleague started back up the run scoring halted. They scored only four runs this weekend against the Blue Jays, salvaging just one win in the series. They’re now 1-5 during interleague play, losing by a collective score of 27-13.

Reds on Offense

Like a Bruce. (From Flickr user Trev Stair via a Creative Commons license.)

Despite the poor scoring in interleague affairs, the Reds lead the NL in scoring, at 4.78 runs per game. That could make for a high-scoring series, since the Yankees have scored 5.31 runs per game. Despite their NL-leading run scoring, they have produced to the level of an average offense — 100 wRC+ and 100 OPS+. That might be one reason why they’ve struggled during interleague play: of the 10 teams with a wRC+ of 100 or greater, seven are in the AL.

Leading the way on offense is one of the best 3-4 combinations in the game, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Votto is having a spectacular season that seems a bit underreported. That’s probably because he won the MVP award, but it’s not as though his numbers this season are that far off. In fact, his OBP is even higher, though his power is a bit down. But, since power is down across the league it’s not that big a difference (173 wRC+ last year, 162 this year). He already has seven intentional walks this year, after receiving just eight last year. Yet this year they hurt a lot more, because Jay Bruce has broken out in a big way. After a slow April he has put a hurting on baseballs, producing a .379 wOBA (137 wRC+) on the season. The big difference for him has been power. After 21, 22, and 25 homers in his first three seasons, he’s at 17 already in 2011.

The Reds are even more dangerous on offense because of the producers they have elsewhere in the order. Drew Stubbs’s .335 OBP might not look pristine for a leadoff hitter, but he brings some pop (10 HR) and speed (20 SB, 2 CS). If he gets on, chances are he’s headed for second base. That could become a problem when Cervelli is behind the plate. Ramon Hernandez has also put up some quality numbers, a .372 wOBA in part-time duty.

Keeping the Reds afloat is a cadre of players who hit right around league average. Scott Rolen, Miguel Cairo, Jonny Gomes, Chris Heisey, Fred Lewis, Brandon Phillips, and Ryan Hanigan all have more than 120 PA and a wRC+ with 10 of the league average. That covers all but one starting position and some bench spots. Their only weakness comes at shortstop, though it is a glaring hole. Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria have spent time there, and have wRC+ numbers of 41 and 56. That does leave them with two black holes at the bottom of the order, but it also does give them averagish or better production everywhere else.

Reds on the Mound

(From Flickr user crymzn via a Creative Commons license.)

Monday: RHP Johnny Cueto. The Reds came into the season with more starters than rotation spots, but that strength quickly turned into a weakness after many of them pitched poorly. Cueto actually didn’t start the season in the rotation; he spent the first month on the DL. But since his return he’s been a bright spot for the Reds. In eight starts he’s produced a 1.68 ERA, though he’s not going to keep that up all year. In fact, his numbers closely resemble his career marks, with the exception of his home run rate. He’s getting more grounders, which might play into that. But as we know, when ground ball guys miss they often give up the long ball. His 6.7% home run to fly ball rate is due for a correction, and the Yankees are just the team to do that. Then again, it’s hard to bet against someone who is going so well. He’s gone at least seven innings in each of his last four starts, allowing two runs at most.

Tuesday: LHP Travis Wood. While Cueto has outperformed his peripherals this season, Wood has underperformed his. That’s not to say he’s pitched particularly well: he has a 4.30 FIP against a 3.84 league average, and has a 5.11 ERA overall. Above average walk and home run rates have hurt him, which seemingly plays into the Yankees hands. That goes even more so, because the start is at home. Of the 10 homers Wood has surrendered this year, eight have come at home. But it seems as though every time the Yankees come up against someone like that, he holds them homerless.

Wednesday: RHP Mike Leake. The year did not start off well for Leake, but after being sent down to the minors in May — which is odd, considering his two AAA starts this year are the only minor league innings he’s ever pitched — he’s been on something of a tear. In his five starts back he’s gone 35 IP, 33 H, 9 R, 5 BB, 19 K, including three straight starts in which he has pitched seven or more innings. He’s also allowed just two homers in that span, meaning he’s essentially the anti-Travis Wood.

Bullpen: The Reds bullpen has been pretty middle of the road, with a 3.46 ERA and 4.05 FIP. They do have a number of quality contributors, including lefty, and former first round pick Bill Bray, Logan Ondrusek, and closer Francisco Cordero. Nick Masset can also be a weapon, though his propensity to walk batters has haunted him at times this season. But with those four they can handle most leads, so it would benefit the Yankees greatly to work up Cueto’s pitch count tonight and get into that bullpen early. A wild card here is Aroldis Chapman, whose rehab clock has expired. The Reds could bring him up, but will more likely let him work on his control issues in AAA for a bit.

Recommended Reds Reading: Redleg Nation and Red Reporter.

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs

(Photo Credit: Flickr user zoonabar via Creative Commons license)

Only interleague play could bring these two storied franchises together, though they’re historic for very different reasons. The Yankees have won more World Championships than anyone else while the Cubs have gone more than a century since their last title. Wrigley Field is a homer friendly place, so we could be in for some very high scoring games as the NL park portion of the Yankees’ interleague scheduled begins.

What Have The Cubs Done Lately?

The Cubs are gonna Cub. Yesterday’s 12-7 win over Zack Greinke and the Brewers was their third win in four games, but just their fifth win in their last 17 games and their 19th win in their last 50 games. At 28-40, Chicago’s north siders are ten games back in the NL Central and their -66 run differential is second worst in all of baseball. Talk of a fire sale has been met with “who would take those contracts?” responses. The looks like that World Series drought will extend to 104 years this season.

Cubs On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Express Monorail)

The Cubbies’ lineup changes by the day but it’s anchored by a handful of stalwarts. Kosuke Fukudome is not the player they thought they were getting with that four year, $48M deal, but you know what? A .301/.409/.419 batting line is fine work from a leadoff guy. Superstar in training Starlin Castro sports a .312/.342/.426 batting line, which is damn impressive for a kid that turned 21 in Spring Training. Yankee killer Carlos Pena is hitting just .211/.355/.402 on the year, but you know he’ll have two or three homers by time the series ends. It’s just the way it is, he kills them. Aramis Ramirez is the other middle of the order mainstay, though he’s at .275/.327/.408 on the season. That’s not the Aramis we’re used to seeing. Former Yankee Alfonso Soriano is at .275/.300/.538, though he’s hit just one homer since hitting eleven in the first month of the season.

Those guys are the core, everyone else just fills in around them. Geovany Soto missed a big chunk of the season due to injury, and he’s at just .220/.307/.384 on the year. My fantasy team weeps. You’ll hear many references about Darwin Barney being a winner and playing the game the right way and all of that this weekend, but his .294/.321/.359 batting line lacks substance and he was just placed on the disabled list anyway.. Jeff Baker is fresh off the disabled list with a .347/.366/.480 line, then you’ve got bit pieces Blake DeWitt (.273/.286/.400), Reed Johnson (.362/.423/.652 in limited time), Lou Montanez (.281/.303/.344 in very limited time), Tony Campana (.239/.255/.283 in very limited time), and D.J. LeMahieu (.294/.294/.294 in extremely limited time). Manager Mike Quade fashions a lineup of those guys around Fukudome, Castro, Soriano, Aramis, and Pena.

Overall, the Cubs are limping along with a .264/.319/.390 batting line as a team, pretty much middle of the pack among the 30 clubs. They don’t steal many bases (Campana has seven, Castro six) and they’re near the bottom of the NL in sacrifice bunts, so they don’t do the small ball thing very well. Essentially, Chicago is a power and patience team without much power or patience. Castro’s a bonafide stud, but the rest of the offense is a bunch of square pegs jammed into round holes.

Cubs On The Mound

Friday, LHP Doug Davis: Signed to a minor league deal after the season started, Davis has made just six starts so far this year. He’s always struck out a fair amount of guys thanks to his big breaking curveball, and he continues to do so this year (8.38 K/9) despite a sky high walk rate (5.59 BB/9). Davis is a typical finesse lefty that throws both a cutter and four seamer in the low-80’s with that curveball as well as a changeup. He’s one of those guys that can be frustrating because he throws junk and keeps hitters off balance, though the Yankees have to patient and let him work himself into trouble, because he will do it if given the opportunity.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user wisley via Creative Commons license)

Saturday, RHP Ryan Dempster: Chicago’s Opening Day starter, Dempster was absolutely brutal early in the year, like eight homers allowed with a 7.63 ERA in his first five starts brutal. He’s settled down since then and looks much more like himself, striking out 8.47 and walking just 2.87 batters per nine innings pitching with a 4.31 ERA in his last ten starts. Dempster will throw strikes and get ground balls with a true five pitch mix. His two and four seam fastballs sit in the low-90’s, his put away slider hums in around the mid-80’s, and he’ll also show a low-80’s changeup and a high-80’s splitter. He’s surrendered two earned runs or fewer in seven of his last nine starts and will be the toughest assignment of the weekend (on paper).

Sunday, RHP Randy Wells: Wells has made four starts since coming off the disabled list (forearm), though he’s allowed 15 runs and put 28 men on base in 18 IP during that time. He’s usually a ground ball guy (46+% grounder rate last three years) but it’s just not happening this season (35.1% grounders), maybe because his fastball velocity fell off a cliff. Wells will usually work with low-90’s four and two-seamers, plus low-80’s sliders and changeup, but for whatever reason it just hasn’t worked for him. Keep an eye on his location, if he’s spotting his stuff down in the zone, he’ll do alright. Anything at the thigh or above will get crushed.

Bullpen: Remember our old pal Kerry Wood? He did a bang up job for the Yankees down the stretch last year before taking that well below market deal to return to the team that drafted him, and guess what? He’s on the disabled list, which is his home away from home. Thankfully it’s just a blister this time and nothing serious. Wood’s injury puts the setup onus on Jeff Samardzija (41 K but 26 BB in 37.2 IP) and the tremendously underrated Sean Marshall (32 K and nine walks in 32.1 IP). He’s a lefty capable of getting anyone out, but the good news is that he threw two innings and 33 pitches last night, so he might not be available today.

The rest of the bullpen seems to be one big revolving door. The only mainstay is lefty specialist John Grabow, who does the job against same side batters but is prone to meltdowns. Rodrigo Lopez (6.57 ERA in 12.1 IP) is the recently acquired long man, former (unsigned) Yankees draft pick Chris Carpenter (seven batters faced, two hits and a walk) the recently called up flamethrower without a defined role. James Russell (5.30 ERA in 37.1) is the swingman with some spots starts under his belt. Oh, I guess I should mention Carlos Marmol. The closer has actually cut his walk rate from 6.0 BB/9 last year to 4.4 BB/9 this year, but his strikeout rate has plummeted from 16.0 K/9 last year to 11.6 this year. More than half of the 400-something batters he’s faced over the last two years failed to put the ball in play, but that’s who he is. Marmol’s just a freak, and I mean that in a good way. His slider might be the best in the game, but damn does he make it interesting. Fun to watch though.

Recommended Cubs Reading: The Cub Reporter

Ticket Info: If you’re in Chicago this weekend and want to catch a game or three, make sure you check out RAB Tickets. After the jump is a graphic from the wonderful people at TiqIQ with some pricing info.

[Read more…]

Series Preview: Texas Rangers

(Photo Credit: Flickr user katieslusarski via Creative Commons license)

For the third and final time this season, the Yankees will get a chance to exact some revenge against the team that ended their season last October. Sure, a bunch of regular season wins won’t ever make up for an ALCS loss, but it’s all we have right now. The Yankees have already won four of six games against the Rangers this year, taking two of three at home in April before doing the same in Texas in May. What does the June series have in store?

What Have The Rangers Done Lately?

The first time these two teams met, the Rangers were arguably the hottest team in baseball. The second time they met, the Rangers were stuck in a crazy tailspin. This time around, Texas is sort of in between a hot streak and a slump, winning just two of their last seven games but also winning ten of their last 16. Their lead in the division is just 1.5 games over the Mariners, but their run differential is third best in the league and 38 runs better than anyone else in the AL West.

Rangers On Offense

That's a weird place to rest. (Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

The Yankees got lucky the first two times they played Texas this year because Josh Hamilton was on the disabled list for both series, but now he’s not. His .363 wOBA is nothing special and he’s hitting a 2011 Robinson Cano-esque .268/.307/.512 since coming off the DL last month, but you know what? I don’t care. Hamilton is still one of the best players in the world and can absolutely mash anything no matter how poorly he’s performed over the last month. He’s a game changer on the same level as Miggy Cabrera or Adrian Gonzalez or Jose Bautista; he impacts the game just by standing in the on-deck circle.

Nelson Cruz was also on the shelf the last time these two clubs met, and he’s hit just .241/.259/.590 since coming back. He’s also struck out a dozen times in his last 30 at-bats, a rate that would make Mark Reynolds blush. Michael Young is actually batting cleanup these days, and he destroyed the Yankees in their six games this season (.435/.480/.696). He’s cooled off considerably of late (.241/.288/.315 in his last 118 PA), but I can’t imagine he’ll be an easy out. Hamilton, Young, and Cruz occupy the three, four, and six lineup spots, respectively, while Adrian Beltre slots in at the five-hole. He’s hit a gaudy .293/.353/.496 since the last time these two teams met, so that’s one lefty and three dangerous right-handed batters right in the middle of the lineup. I guess that’s better than four lefties given Yankee Stadium‘s dimensions.

Atop the order is Ian Kinsler, who has one hit in eight at-bats since coming back from paternity leave on Saturday. His .349 OBP and .166 ISO are fine numbers, but he doesn’t hit for average at all (just .231). Elvis Andrus is coming into the series pretty hot (.327/.364/.442 in his last 13 games), but manager Ron Washington pulled him off the field on Sunday for a lack of effort. Mitch Moreland (.396/.433/.566 in his last 15 games) and Yorvit Torrealba (.367/.375/.467 this month) are coming into the series hot while David Murphy (.211/.269/.284 in his last 30 games) most certainly isn’t. The new center field platoon of Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry has been hot (.286/.435/.596 in 64 PA) and cold (.235/.361/.294) in limited playing time, respectively. The Rangers’ .334 team wOBA is a distant third to the Red Sox (.352) and Yankees (.349) in the AL.

Rangers On The Mound

Tuesday, RHP Alexi Ogando: We’re all waiting for this two pitch (fastball, slider) reliever turned starter to regress, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Ogando’s 3.57 FIP (2.10 ERA) is propped up by a stellar walk rate (1.99 BB/9) and decent strikeout (6.64 K/9) and homer rates (0.89 HR/9). Of course a .210 BABIP and a 8.1% HR/FB ratio (just 36.5% grounders too) help matters, as does an 88.2% strand rate. Don’t get me wrong, Ogando’s been very good for Texas this year, just not as good as his ERA suggests. The Yankees hung five runs off him in 6.1 IP back in April, though a blister kept him out of the May series.

Wednesday, LHP Derek Holland: A personal fave, Holland is the opposite of Ogando in that he’s been better (4.05 FIP) than his ERA (4.41) would lead you to believe. He gave up five runs in 7.1 IP against New York back in April, then four runs in three innings (five walks) in May, so I’m sure he’s hoping the third time is a charm. Holland is a fastball-changeup guy with two usable breaking balls (both curve and slider), and he gets a good amount of strikeouts (7.71 K/9) and ground balls (46.9%) while limiting walks (3.20 BB/9). He’s just inconsistent like most young starters.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user mjl816 via Creative Commons license)

Thursday, LHP C.J. Wilson: As good as Wilson was last season, he’s been even better this year. His upped his strikeout rate a bit (7.78 K/9) while shaving a full walk off his walk rate (3.09 BB/9), though he’s paying for a decreased ground ball rate (46.4%) with more homers (0.75 HR/9). Still, a 3.47 FIP (3.04 ERA) is excellent. Wilson is a (rare) legitimate six pitch pitcher, using three low-90’s fastballs (two-seamer, four-seamer, cutter), a changeup, a curveball, and a slider at least 10.0% of the time each. The Yankees haven’t seen Wilson yet this year, though they did put 18 men on base and score nine runs off him in a dozen ALCS innings last autumn.

Bullpen: With some help from yesterday’s off day, the Rangers’ bullpen is pretty well rested. Neftali Feliz has seemingly gotten over his control problems to post six straight walk-free outings, though he’s still been touched for five hits and two runs in 6.1 IP during that time while striking out four. Feliz is righting the ship, but a guy with his stuff really should miss more bats (8.3% whiff rate). Darren Oliver (3.12 FIP), Mark Lowe (3.60), and Arthur Rhodes (5.96) handle the majority of the setup duties.

Derek Jeter punching bag Dave Bush (4.81 FIP) handles the majority of the long relief work, and southpaw Michael Kirkman (5.10) fills in the gaps. The new addition since the last time the Yankees saw Texas is Japanese import Yoshinori Tateyama, a 35-year-old righty with the traditional Japanese hesitation in his delivery even though he’s more of a sidearmer. He’s struck out eight and walked none in 10.2 IP since being called up, using his fastball-curveball combination in low-leverage situations. The Rangers’ bullpen has an MLB worst 4.90 FIP, more than a quarter of a run higher than anyone else. With any luck, the Yankees will see lots of these guys these next three days.

Recommend Rangers Reading: Baseball Time In Arlington and Lone Star Ball

Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

(Photo Credit: Flickr user BenSeese via Creative Commons license)

The Yankees and Indians have some ties, namely CC Sabathia and the 2007 ALDS, but otherwise these are two very different teams. It’s the whole David vs. Goliath deal, the small market club vs. the big bad Yankees, the speedy club vs. the Bronx Bombers, all that jazz. The Yankees and Indians do have one thing in common right now though: they’re both playing terrible baseball at the moment.

What Have The Indians Done Lately?

The Tribe was the surprise, fell-good story of the year early on, jumping out to a ridiculously hot 20-8 start through the first month of the season. The good times didn’t last though. The Indians are just 14-18 since then and they’ve been outscored 153-125 in the process. Imagine if they hadn’t scored 14 runs in two innings off Vin Mazzaro that one game. Cleveland has won just four of its last 15 games, and they’ve scored a total of nine runs in their last six games. Yep, the Indians are who we thought they were. Regression is a bitch.

Indians On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Like I said, they’re struggling to score runs of late, in part because the resurgent Travis Hafner (.409 wOBA) is on the disabled list. That said, the top five spots of their lineup are very, very dangerous. Lead-off man Michael Brantley (acquired in the Sabathia trade) owns a .349 wOBA for the year and a .354/.426/.521 batting line over the last two weeks. Number two hitter Asdrubal Cabrera has been the best shortstop in the AL this year, combining a .395 wOBA over the full season with a .343/.361/.629 batting line this month. Grady Sizemore is now hitting third following his long knee-injury related layoff, and a .366 season wOBA with a .290/.353/.506 line over the last two weeks is reminiscent of the old Grady.

Carlos Santana holds down the cleanup spot and hasn’t been great overall (.336wOBA), but he’s come alive over the last three weeks or so (.317/.434/.463). Shin-Soo Choo has not been himself (.300 wOBA) in part because of his DUI (according to him), though he’s still dangerous and left-handed power in Yankee Stadium plays well. The rest of Cleveland’s lineup is a little hit or miss. Matt LaPorta (.332 wOBA) is the best of the rest (he was another piece in the Sabathia trade), but old pal Shelley Duncan (.270 wOBA), Jack Hannahan (.309), Lou Marson (.248), Austin Kearns (.252), and Travis Buck (.308) aren’t scaring anyone. Prospect Cord Phelps was just called up to take over second base from the punchless Orlando Cabrera (.263 wOBA), and he went hitless in his first and only game on Wednesday.

The big thing to watch with the Indians is that they will run, which will be a problem if Russell Martin‘s still not healthy enough catch and Frankie Cervelli plans on throwing some more balls into center field. Choo, Brantley, and Cabrera all have seven steals or more, and they’re aggressive going first to third and what not. As a whole, the Tribe’s offense is right about league average at a .324 wOBA, but the lineup is very top heavy.

Indians On The Mound

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Eric Kilby via Creative Commons license)

Friday, RHP Fausto Carmona: Fausto is like the sinkerballing version of A.J. Burnett, dude’s just crazy inconsistent. Here’s his runs allowed in his last five starts: 4, 8, 4, 9, 4. He’s also allowed ten runs in a game this year (Opening Day, actually), and also has six starts of two earned runs or less. Good luck figuring him out. Carmona will throw that hellacious low-90’s sinker most of the time, but he can also mix in quality sliders and changeups. They aren’t strikeout pitches, but enough to keep both righties and lefties off balance. A 58.1% ground ball rate with a very good infield defense are the recipes for his success.

Saturday, RHP Mitch Talbot: An elbow injury has cut Talbot’s season in half, but his last two starts have been pretty good (12.2 IP, 3 R) following a disastrous return (3 IP, 8 R). His main weapons are a two-seamer and cutter, both of which sit in the high-80’s. He’ll also throw the occasional changeup and slider, though Talbot doesn’t miss bats (6.11 K/9) and he does walk guys (4.18 BB/9). His saving grace is a fine ground ball rate (50.5%).

Sunday, RHP Josh Tomlin: Oh the nightmare of Josh Tomlin. You probably remember that he made his Major League debut against the Yankees last year, when he held them to one run and three hits in seven innings. He was rocking a sub-2.50 ERA as recently as three starts ago, but it’s now closer to 4.00 after allowing six runs in six innings in both of his previous two outings. Tomlin is a pretty generic right-hander, throwing three high-80’s fastballs (cutters, two-seamers, four-seamers), a changeup, and a curveball. He doesn’t walk anyone at all (1.27 BB/9), but he also doesn’t miss any bats (5.10 K/9) and is a big time fly ball guy (37.4%). Unsurprisingly, he’s homer prone (1.27 HR/9).

Monday, RHP Carlos Carrasco: The prize of the first Cliff Lee trade, Carrasco fits the mold of Talbot and Tomlin (low walks and low strikeouts), just with better stuff. He’ll sit in the low-90’s with his heat and back it up with a changeup and curveball, getting a solid amount of ground balls (49%). It’s worth noting that the scouting report on Carrasco has long been that he struggles with men on base for whatever reason (diminished stuff from the stretch? overly worried about holding runners? who knows), so the Yankees need to make him sweat when guys get on. He followed up a six run, six inning outing against the Rangers with 8.2 shutout innings against the Twins in his last two starts.

Bullpen: The Indians have a really good bullpen, owning a 3.60 FIP and 3.25 ERA as a unit. Closer Chris Perez is flirting with the dreaded 1.00 K/BB ratio (5.01 K/9, 4.63 BB/9), and with a 31.4% ground ball rate, you wonder how long until he blows up. Setup man and great name Vinny Pestano has been fantastic, striking out 11.57 batters per nine while walking just 3.43 per nine. Lefties Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp are holding same-sided batters to .209/.222/.256 and .063/.147/.156 batting lines, respectively. Both hold their own against righties too.

The rest of the relief corps consists of middle man Chad Durbin (3.97 FIP but a 5.47 ERA), mop-up man Frank Herrmann (5.51 FIP and a 7.71 ERA), and righty specialist Joe freakin’ Smith, who naturally has a reverse platoon split (.311/.392/.356 vs. RHB, .100/.174/.150 vs. LHB). The Tribe can certainly protect a lead in the late innings with a lot of guys that have a lot of different looks, but there are some soft spots in the middle innings that can be exploited.

Recommended Indians Reading: The DiaTribe and Let’s Go Tribe

Series Preview: Boston Red Sox, Take 3

(From Flickr user chipgriffin under a Creative Commons license)

Part of baseball’s early-season draw is how quickly things shift around. When the Yanks and the Sox first met, the Sox hadn’t yet won a game on the season. By their second meeting in mid-May the Sox had powered back and were 17-20 for the opener. A sweep put them at .500 for the first time on the season. At the same time, the Rays sat atop the division. Since then Boston has continued playing excellent baseball, going 16-6. The Yankees haven’t been too shabby, either, going 13-9. Of course, three of those losses came at the hands of those very Red Sox in what was part of the team’s low point in the season. This time around the Yankees have a two-game advantage in the loss column and could use a few wins to help balance out their 1-5 record against the Sox this season.

What Have the Sox Done Lately?

Since completing the sweep against the Yanks the Sox have gone 13-6. Their last two series have been sweeps at home. They dropped the first series to the White Sox, and then played an exciting, high-scoring series against the A’s in which they won all three. Of course, their pitching staff did surrender 17 runs to the anemic A’s offense, so things might not be rolling along quite smoothly right now. They will, however, send out two of their three best against the Yanks, including Josh Beckett, who is seemingly unhittable when facing the Yanks.

Red Sox on Offense

(From Flickr user MissChatter under a Creative Commons license.)

The Yanks and Sox enter this series with identical team wOBAs; they’re tied atop the league at .344. The Sox have a somewhat different attack, though. They’ve done it more with singles, while the Yanks have walked and homered their way to the league lead in runs per game. It actually makes sense that the Yankees have scored more runs than the Sox despite having the same wOBA, and despite the Sox having played two more games. At a time when power is down across the league, run scoring is heavily coordinated with power numbers. The Red Sox do have plenty of power, with a .165 ISO. But the Yankees lead the league in that category by a large margin.

The Sox have three players with a .380 or higher wOBA, and they’re three guys you might immediately suspect: Adrian Gonzalez (.409), David Ortiz (.427), and Kevin Youkilis (.383). They’re also providing the bulk of the team’s power numbers, as they’re the only ones with ISOs over .200. Jarrod Saltalamacchia does come close at .192, but that’s been the only way he’s provided value; despite the high power numbers, which do skew wOBA higher, he’s at just .316 this year, or exactly league average. The Sox have also received an unexpected contribution from Jacoby Ellsbury, who has shaken off his injury riddled 2010 to produce a .369 wOBA this year. He has stepped in big time for some of the underachievers.

Carl Crawford still leads that pack of underachievers with his .299 wOBA, but it is certainly trending upward. In May he had a .349 wOBA, though he still wasn’t all the way back. He walked in just 2.6 percent of his plate appearances last month, but rode a .352 BABIP to a quality month. So far in June he’s 7 for 17 with two doubles, a homer, and a walk. Dustin Pedroia is angling to take Crawford’s place as the disappointment du jour, with a .321 wOBA on the season. That trended downward in May, as he produced a .309 wOBA. Power has been Pedroia’s bugaboo all year; he had just five extra base hits in May, and has just 12 on the year (.089 ISO).

While Jed Lowrie’s numbers are still good, especially for a shortstop, he dropped precipitously in May. After a .410 wOBA in April he produced a mere .303 mark last month, which included a power outage: just seven of his 24 hits went for extra bases, and none were home runs. He’s gotten off to a poor start in June, too, going 3 for 18 with a double and a walk (though it was intentional). Rounding out the list of disappointments, J.D. Drew has been pretty bad all season, producing a .295 wOBA. He started off OK in April, but hit just .188 with three extra base hits in May. One guy who could take playing time from him, Mike Cameron, has also performed poorly in 2011.

Red Sox on the Mound

(From Flickr user kdirk under a Creative Commons License)

Tuesday: LHP Jon Lester. It has been something of a rough start for Lester, who is currently sporting four-year highs in ERA and FIP. When you glance at his peripherals, though, it’s not that surprising. His strikeout rate is down and his home run rate is up, while he’s walking batters at roughly the same clip as last year. He hasn’t recorded an out in the seventh inning since May 3, and has gotten pretty roughed up in that span. In 29 innings during those five starts he has allowed 21 runs, striking out 29 to 16 walks and five homers. Opponents have a .406 OBP against him in those games as well. One of them came against the Yankees, when he gave up four runs, including two homers, though the Yanks pitching staff gave that one back. In his most recent outing against the White Sox he allowed seven runs in 5.2 innings. That’s not to say the Yankees will have an easy time with Lester. It’s just the’s slightly less intimidating than usual.

Wednesday: RHP Tim Wakefield. This was supposed to be Clay Buchholz’s start, but he’s taking more time so that his injured back can heal. In his place is a familiar face for the Yankees. In a way this might be a break. Wakefield has been knocked around the last two seasons, pitching to a 5.11 ERA in 183 innings. He has been a bit better thisyear, but that has come more from hit suppression than from his peripherals. Yet we know that Wakefield can get the Yankees at any time. He’s faced them for just two innings this year, though they were two perfect. In his last three starts he has thrown 19.2 innings and allowed seven runs, which isn’t all that bad. Of course, one of them was against the Cubs, and that skews the numbers just a little bit.

Thursday: RHP Josh Beckett. There was no way the Yankees were getting through a three-game set with the Red Sox without facing Beckett. He has been stellar in general this year, with a league-leading 2.01 ERA and 205 ERA+. He also has a shiny 2.91 FIP to go along with it, mainly because he’s gotten back to what made him successful earlier in his career: suppressing the home run. He’s not striking out as many, and he’s walking a decent number of hitters. But that HR rate is bound to spike at some point, and what better place for that to happen than Yankee Stadium? It seems that Beckett has gone to ludicrous speed when facing the Yanks the last two times, so we’ll see if he can again rise to the occasion. On the other hand, the Yankees have knocking him around plenty since he came to Boston, and it feels as though we’re due for another one.

Bullpen: The Sox bullpen hasn’t been that solid this year, producing a 4.26 ERA, which ranks in the bottom half of the league. Yet their 3.46 FIP ranks towards the top of the league. The back end of the pen has been great, with Dan Bard recovering after a rough stretch and they recently got Bobby Jenks back from injury. Jon Papelbon started the year by lighting the world on fire, but he has given up six runs in his last three outings, which makes him seem more vulnerable. I still don’t buy it. He’s looked mostly lights out, and I’m not as confident now as I was last year that the Yanks can walk off against him if necessary.

Recommended Red Sox Reading: Last time we recommended the excellent Red Sox Beacon blog, run by friends of RAB Patrick Sullivan and Marc Normandin. They have since moved, though, to Over The Monster. Make sure to check them out there.

Series Preview: Anaheim Angels

Can't read my, can't read my, no you can't read Mike Scioscia face.

There once was a time when the Yankees simply could not beat the Angels. They were just 28-36 against the Halos from 2002 through 2008, but then things changed in 2009. After getting swept in Anaheim right before the 2009 All-Star break, the Yankees went on a big second half run that includes three wins in four regular season games against the Angels, and of course the four games to two series win in the ALDS. It’s been smooth sailing against Mike Scioscia’s fading club ever since.

What Have The Angels Done Lately?

Coming off two straight losses to the Royals, the Angels have won just lost eight of their last 13 games to push their record to 29-29. They do have a positive run different at +3, but for all intents and purposes it indicates that they are exactly what their record suggests they are: a .500 club.

Angels On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user djalpone vs Creative Commons license)

There’s one thing the Angels really lack on offense, and it’s power. As a team, they have just a .133 ISO and 49 homers, both good for tenth place in the American League. The lack of pop is even more noticeable with both Kendrys Morales and Vernon Wells on the disabled list. When Scioscia fills out his lineup card tonight, he’s going to have just two players with more than three long balls at his disposal: Torii Hunter (eight) and Mark Trumbo (ten). The Yankees, on the the other hand, have just one regular (Derek Jeter) with fewer than three homers.

In addition to Morales and Wells, the Halos are also without second baseman Howie Kendrick, who a) kills the Yankees (.371/.441/.481), and b) has been one of the best hitters in baseball this season (.322/.388/.520). It sounds like they might be able to activate him off the disabled list in time for Saturday’s game, however. Their best hitter aside from Kendrick has been Erik Aybar, who sports a .315/.356/.444 line with 14 steals out of the leadoff spot. Maicer Izturis (.285/.354/.414) is the only other regular with both a .310+ OBP and a .400+ SLG. Yep.

Old buddy Bobby Abreu is still doing the on base thing (.388 OBP) and stealing bases (eight), but his power is completely gone (.097 ISO). Hunter’s season line sits at .242/.325/.397, and Alberto Callaspo’s line is a lot like Abreu’s (.299/.371/.388). Trumbo, the rookie first baseman filling Morales’ shoes, is at .255/.305/.467 on the year but .320/.346/.680 over the last two weeks or so. He’ll get himself out on stuff off the plate, but don’t miss in the zone. Another rookie, Hank Conger, has done a decent job of taking playing time away from the certifiably awful Jeff Mathis, but he’s still at .234/.287/.364. The Angels recently picked up Russell Branyan to add some pop, but he wasn’t hitting with the Diamondbacks (.284 wOBA) and has done next to nothing (.095 wOBA) in seven games with Anaheim.

Like Justin Turner a few weeks ago, my pick to annoy the everliving hell out of the Yankees with weekend is Peter Bourjos. The rookie center fielder might be the best defensive outfielder in the game right now, and if you don’t believe me just check out his video highlights on MLB.com. Bourjos is only hitting .236/.292/.382 on the year, but don’t let that fool you. He has some pop and can run, and will do all the little things to annoy the crap out of you in this series. I guarantee he’ll hit at least one triple in these three games. It’s inevitable.

Angels On The Mound

(Photo Credit: Flick user guidotti via Creative Common license)

Friday, RHP Jered Weaver: The Yankees have been facing great pitchers all road trip, so there’s no point in stopping now. Jeff’s younger brother is sporting a 2.48 FIP through a dozen starts this year, striking out more than eight men while walking just over two for every nine innings pitched. He is a fly ball pitcher (37.3% grounders) but he has pretty considerable reverse split over the last two years because his changeup is really good. All those lefty bats – Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and switch hitters Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher – are going to have to watch out for it. Weaver also throws four and two-seam fastballs right around 90 mph, and his out pitch is a slider in the upper-70’s. He’ll also bust out a curveball from time to time. I suppose the good news is that he’s cooled off after a scorching start, but he still sports at 3.18 ERA in his last five outings. Don’t hate on him for being a Weaver, Jered’s as good as it gets. But this is the third series in a row we’re writing this.

Saturday, RHP Dan Haren: As of this writing, it’s unclear if Haren will even make this start. He had to cut Thursday’s regular bullpen short because of back pain, and the Angels have yet to provide an update. I assume he’s still starting in that case. Anyway, Haren is in the middle of the best year in his career, rocking a 2.54 FIP on the strength of his always stingy walk rate (1.46 BB/9) and a strong homerun rate (0.52 HR/9) that comes from his best ground ball rate (44.6%) in years. He pounds the zone with two and four-seamers around 90 mph, a cutter in the mid-80’s, and then finishes batters off with a splitter around 90 and the occasional changeup or curveball. Only twice this year has he allowed more than three earned runs in a start, and only four times has he allowed more than two earned runs.

Sunday, RHP Ervin Santana: I have this weird disconnect between what I think Santana is and what he really is. He has a 5.55 ERA and a 5.94 FIP in ten career starts against the Yankees, but for whatever reason it’s stuck in my head that he always pitches well against them. It’s probably just me. Anyway, Santana has a respectable 3.81 ERA in 12 starts this season, and he’s actually sporting his best peripherals (7.75 K/9 and 2.47 BB/9) since 2008. The good news is that he’s allowed no fewer than four runs in six of his last nine starts, including four games of five or more runs. Looking at the PitchFX data, Santana’s just a two pitch pitcher these days. He throws his low-90’s fastball more than 60% of the time and his low-80’s slider more than 36% of the time. The other four percent or so is a changeup, but the usage of that pitch has continually decreased over the last few seasons. If Ervin’s going to come after the Yankees with just a fastball and a slider, well that’s just not a fight he’s going to win.

If Haren does not start on Saturday, the Angels will likely just move Santana up a day. He’d make that on regular rest because they had Thursday off. That would then put Joel Pineiro in line for Sunday’s start. The sinkerball extraordinaire missed the start of the season with a shoulder issue, but he’s posted a 3.55 ERA in seven starts since coming back, relying on his usual combination of no free baserunners (1.57 BB/9) and a healthy amount of grounders (52.3%).

Bullpen: Long gone are the days of Scot Shields crushing souls for two innings in front of Francisco Rodriguez, these Angels certainly feature a good ol’ fashioned lolpen. Their 4.28 FIP is fifth worst in all of baseball, and their 3.67 ERA would be a lot worse if not for a 77.4% strand rate. A 6.85 K/9 and 4.45 BB/9 are both bottom six marks in baseball.

Rookie closer Jordan Walden is legit, with an upper-90’s fastball and wipeout breaking ball, but he also walks 4.62 batters for every nine innings. Fernando Rodney walks two guys for every three innings pitched, and Scott Downs has suddenly forgotten how to strike people out (3.71 K/9). At least he has a 60% ground ball rate to get by with. Kevin Jepsen has walked seven and struck out four in ten innings, and Hisanori Takahashi is amazingly homer prone (1.62 HR/9). Long man Trevor Bell is another sub-4.00 K/9 guy (3.86, to be exact), but the secret weapon is Rich Thompson. The right-hander has struck out 9.99 batters per nine innings while keeping the walks down below three per nine. He’s legit, as is Walden, but everyone else is pretty sketchy.

Recommended Angels Reading: True Grich

Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

Robbed. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

After having multiple run leads in all three games against the Mariners and losing two of them, the Yankees are heading down to the Bay Area for a three game set against the Oakland Athletics. These two teams have quite a bit of recent-ish history, like Jason Giambi, Scott Brosius, and the 2000 and 2001 ALDSes. The Yankees won nine of the ten games against the Athletics last year, including five of six in Oakland.

What Have The Athletics Done Lately?

The A’s are coming off a three game sweep of the Orioles, outscoring the orange birds 16-8 over the weekend. They had lost seven of nine before that, including six straight at one point. Overall, the Athletics are right at .500 with a 27-27 record, dead last in the division even though their +12 run differential is second best.

Athletics On Offense

He's the Hit-deki, you know. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Eh, they don’t really have much of an one. Despite several notable offseason additions, the A’s have the third worst team OBP (.307) in the AL and they average just 3.65 runs per game. The problems start right at the top, where leadoff man Coco Crisp gets on base just 30.7% of the time and number two hitter Daric Barton gets on base just 32.6% of the time (.393 OBP for Barton last year).

The remade middle of the order features David DeJesus (.247/.323/.385), Josh Willingham (.244/.328/.446), and True Yankee™ Hideki Matsui (.266/.282/.346), and those three aren’t exactly Gonzalez-Youkilis-Ortiz. Kurt Suzuki (.250/.314/.372), Mark Ellis (.213/.249/.295), Cliff Pennington (.259/.312/.341) and Kevin Kouzmanoff (.220/.262/.347) round out the rest of the lineup, though we might see lefty Ryan Sweeney (.320/.414/.413) and righty Conor Jackson (.264/.349/.345) is various matchup situations. With a team batting line of .241/.307/.351 on the season, facing the A’s is almost like facing a lineup of nine Derek Jeters. Think about that.

Athletics On The Mound

Monday, RHP Trevor Cahill: Last year looked like a fluke, given a .236 BABIP and a 56% ground ball rate. The extremes of those two stats usually don’t go together. The 23-year-old righty has shown that he’s legit by repeating his dominance this year, using a 7.07 K/9 and 57.2% ground balls to carve through lineups. Cahill’s approach is pretty simple; he pounds the zone with low-90’s sinkers pretty much all day long, though he’ll occasionally bust out a low-80’s changeup and an upper-70’s curveball to get swings and misses. The Yankees have roughly him up in the past, but that was before Cahill took a step forward and turned into one of the best pitchers in the AL. He’s everything we wish Ivan Nova could be.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Tuesday, LHP Brett Anderson: A personal fave, Anderson employs the same strikeout (6.90 K/9) and ground ball (62.3%) heavy approach as Cahill, just with his other arm. He throws two fastballs in the low-90’s, using his sinking two-seamer a little more often than his four-seamer, but his money pitch is the slider. It’s absolute death on lefties and Anderson will throw the low-80’s offering more than 46% of the time, so he’ll go to it in any count. A curveball and changeup fill in the gaps, but he just uses them as show-me pitches more than anything. When healthy, which wasn’t often last year, Anderson’s the best pitcher on this staff, even better than Cahill.

Wednesday, LHP Gio Gonzalez: The Athletics have a pair of guys named Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso in their rotation, yet somehow the Yankees will run into their top three arms this series. Go figure. Gio’s the strikeout guy on the staff (9.10 K/9), though he also gets a decent amount of grounders as well (50.6%). The problem is that he’s shown a tendency to walk quite a few (4.04 BB/9), and we’ve seen the Yankees take advantage of that a few times over the last two seasons. Gonzalez goes to the mound with three true pitches that he uses almost equally: a low-to-mid 90’s four-seamer (30.0%), a low-90’s two-seamer (32.4%), and a big breaking curveball right around 80 mph (32.5%). About one in every 20 pitches will be a fosh changeup. Gio’s a bit of a wildcard, he’s the kind of guy that could walk six in five innings or whiff a dozen in nine. But again, the Yankees have had some success against him the last few times they’ve seen him.

Easy dude. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Bullpen: The A’s are a model pitching and defense team, so they unsurprisingly have a strong bullpen that got even stronger yesterday when they welcomed All-Star closer Andrew Bailey back from the disabled list. We’re all familiar with the hard throwing setup man Grant Balfour (10.22 K/9), who joins the slider happy Michael Wuertz (9.88 K/9) to give manager Bob Geren a pair of high strikeout options in the late innings. Craig Breslow has been even more anti-LOOGY than Boone Logan (LHB are hitting .400/.424/.533 off him), though Geren could always turn to fill-in closer Brian Fuentes (.250/.308/.333) in those spots. The rest of Oakland’s pen is occupied by Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler, a pair of low arm slot (in Ziegler’s case, submarine) righties that do their best work against batters of the same hand. It’s the kind of relief crew that can create matchup nightmares in the late innings, and just about all of them miss bats.

Recommended Athletics Reading: Athletics Nation and Beaneball