5/3 to 5/5 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

The Yankees begin a stretch of 20 games in 20 days tonight, with the first of three against the Orioles in Baltimore. For my money, Camden Yards is the best ballpark in the AL East. It’s spectacular. Anyway, this is the first meeting of the season between the Yanks and O’s, weirdly. The Yankees had an AL West heavy schedule in April for whatever reason.

What Have They Done Lately?

The O’s won their first seven games of the season, and they won six of those seven games by no more than two runs. They’ve come back to Earth since the 7-0 start though. Baltimore is 7-10 since then, so they’re 14-10 overall with a +16 run differential overall. The O’s split a four-game series with the White Sox over the weekend. They won the first two games then lost the last two.

Offense & Defense

Manager Buck Showalter’s team is living up to preseason projections. They’re averaging 4.54 runs per game with a team 119 wRC+, and they lead the AL in home runs (34). Baltimore is only seventh in the league in strikeout rate (21.9%), however. I expected that number to be higher. The O’s are currently without UTIL Jimmy Paredes (wrist) and SS J.J. Hardy (foot). Paredes is on a minor league rehab assignment and is not expected back this series. Hardy fouled a pitch off his foot over the weekend and suffered a hairline fracture. He’ll miss 6-8 weeks. Ouch.

Machado. (Matt Hazlett/Getty)
Machado. (Matt Hazlett/Getty)

Showalter’s lineup is headlined by 3B Manny Machado (199 wRC+), who has emerged as one of the game’s truly elite players. In fact, I consider him the third best all-around player in baseball right now, behind only Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. (Nolan Arenado is in that mix too.) 1B Chris Davis (137 wRC+) is still a dinger mashing machine and OF Mark Trumbo (163 wRC+) has had a wonderful BABIP-fueled start to 2016 (.410 BABIP). OF Adam Jones (77 wRC+), who I don’t think gets nearly enough respect for being a very good hitter because of his low OBPs, is off to a slugging start.

2B Jonathan Schoop (81 wRC+) has been below league average overall but has a history of crushing the Yankees. The C Matt Wieters (66 wRC+) and C Caleb Joseph (54 wRC+) tandem hasn’t done much at the plate. Wieters had Tommy John surgery two years ago and the O’s have allowed him to catch back-to-back games just once this year after he experienced some soreness in Spring Training. Tommy John surgery: it’s not really that routine!

DH Pedro Alvarez (87 wRC+) hasn’t gotten going yet, and Rule 5 Draft pick OF Joey Rickard (92 wRC+) is in the middle of crashing back to Earth. OF Nolan Reimold (199 wRC+) and OF Hyun-Soo Kim (288 wRC+) have been great in limited time. (They’ve combined for 54 plate appearances.) Kim has started only four of the team’s 24 games and he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in two of those four starts. He came over from Korea and went straight into Showalter’s dog house, it seems. Also, the Orioles will have to call someone up to replace Hardy. UTIL Ryan Flaherty seems likely.

Defensively, the O’s have an outstanding infield when Hardy is healthy and everyone is at their normal positions. There’s some talk they will play Machado at shortstop — his natural position — and Alvarez at third base (!) while Hardy is out. Alvarez is a total disaster in the field. Jones, Rickard, and Reimold are sound outfield defenders. Trumbo’s really bad and I haven’t seen enough of Kim to have an opinion about his defense. General rule of thumb: hit it to Trumbo and Alvarez.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Chris Tillman (vs. NYY)
It’s hard to believe Tillman has now pitched in parts of eight (!) different big league seasons. The 28-year-old right-hander has a 3.24 ERA (2.75 FIP) in five starts and 25 innings in the early going, and right now he’s running a career-high strikeout rate (24.2%). His walk (8.1%) and grounder (36.4%) rates are right in line with his career norms, though his homer rate (0.36 HR/9) is far below anything he’s ever done before. Tillman’s always been long ball prone (career 1.19 HR/9). Lefties have hit him hard this year, though for most of his career, his platoon split has been tiny. Tillman’s velocity is up noticeably so far this season (via Brooks Baseball) …

Chris Britton velocity… and he’s been sitting more 92-95 mph than 90-92 mph. That’s a big difference. He throws both a four-seamer and sinker, plus a little upper-80s cutter. His go-to secondary pitch is a big breaking upper-70s curveball. Tillman will also throw a mid-80s changeup. The sinker is a fairly new pitch for him — he didn’t start throwing it regularly until last June — but it hasn’t helped his ground rate a whole lot.

Wednesday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. BAL) vs. TBA
It seems like the O’s entire rotation is one big TBA behind Tillman. Ubaldo Jimenez started Sunday, we so definitely won’t see him this series. Right-hander Tyler Wilson lines up to start this game, though the O’s could also go with fellow righty Mike Wright. Wilson, 26, has a 3.06 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 17.2 innings across two starts and three relief appearances this year. He hasn’t struck anyone out (12.3%), but his walk rate is good (4.1%) and he’s getting a league average-ish number of grounders (46.7%). Wilson works in the low-90s with his four-seamer and sits in the low-80s with both his slider and changeup. Pretty generic arsenal.

Wright, 26, has a 5.40 ERA (4.35 FIP) in four starts and 23.1 innings in the early going. His peripheral stats are kind of blah: 18.6 K%, 6.2 BB%, 42.6 GB%, and 1.16 HR/9. Wright will sit right around 95 mph with his fastball, and he backs it up with a mid-80s slider and a low-80s changeup. He’ll also flip a few upper-70s curves per start. Wright has the better stuff, Wilson the better 2016 results. If the O’s keep their rotation on turn, Wilson lines up to start tomorrow night’s game. Yesterday’s off-day gives them the option of starting Wright instead.

Thursday (7pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. BAL) vs. TBA
The Orioles have two options for Thursday’s start: either Wilson or Wright, whichever one doesn’t start Wednesday, or righty Kevin Gausman. Gausman’s regular turn is Friday, but yesterday’s off-day means the team can bump him up a day if they choose. The 25-year-old Gausman started the season on the DL with a shoulder problem and he’s made two starts since being activated: 11 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 10 K. He’s gotten exactly 50% grounders too. That works out to a 2.45 ERA (3.52 FIP). For what it’s worth, Gausman had a 4.50 ERA (4.06 FIP) with good strikeout (21.5%) and walk (5.7%) numbers in 100.1 innings as a starter last season. Gausman throws very hard — he’s averaged 97.1 mph with his four-seamer through two starts — and he also throws a low-80s curveball and mid-80s splitter/changeup hybrid. He used to have a hard mid-80s slider, but over the last year he’s scrapped it entirely in favor of the curveball.

Update: Wilson will start Wednesday and Gausman will start Thursday, per Roch Kubatko.

Ouch. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Ouch. (Rob Carr/Getty)

Bullpen Status

The O’s lost closer LHP Zach Britton to an ankle injury over the weekend when he slipped fielding a bunt. He was in a walking boot and on crutches Sunday, but apparently he is considered day-to-day and will not be placed on the DL. Okie dokie. Either way, sounds like he’s a no go for this series. Setup man extraordinaire RHP Darren O’Day will close in the meantime. Here is Showalter’s relief crew:

RHP Brad Brach: 14.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 15 K, 1 HR
LHP Zach Britton: 10 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 13 K, 1 HR
RHP Dylan Bundy: 9 IP, 11 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 0 HR
RHP Mychal Givens: 12 IP, 14 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 7 BB, 21 K, 1 HR
LHP Brian Matusz: 2.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 0 K, 0 HR
LHP T.J. McFarland: 12.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 0 HR
RHP Darren O’Day: 9.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 15 K, 1 HR
RHP Vance Worley: 17.2 IP, 17 H, 8 R, 6 ER, 6 BB, 19 K, 2 HR

Poor Dylan Bundy. I thought that kid was going to be a megastar back in the day. Then he got sucked in the Orioles pitching prospect vortex of doom. The Orioles have needed 84.2 innings from their bullpen this season, third most in the AL, mostly because their rotation has been so hit or miss.

Like the Yankees, the O’s had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is fresh as it is going to get. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen. It’s in not bad shape, all things considered.

Cashman on possible shake-up: “There are no changes in store”

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Yankees are in a bad place right now. They’ve lost five straight and 13 of their last 17 games to fall to 8-15 on the young season. Only the Twins, Astros, and Braves have worse records. Their -31 run differential is fifth worst in baseball as well. Now that Dellin Betances is giving up dingers, basically nothing is going right.

Needless to say, whenever the Yankees struggle this much, changes are discussed. Joe Girardi‘s job security has been a popular topic lately, and yesterday we discussed some potential roster changes. Apparently no changes are coming, however. Yesterday Brian Cashman told Mark Feinsand nothing is the works. From Feinsand:

“There are no changes in store; ultimately, I’ll be forced to make changes if it continues,” Cashman said. “What needs to change is the players that are capable of so much more on this roster that I’ve put together starting to perform to those levels.

“Over time, if it continues, we will be forced to do things that weren’t part of the game plan. That’s just what has to happen at some point.”

Even if the Yankees wanted to make some moves, there’s not really much they can do. They don’t have a ready made third baseman to replace Chase Headley (or a shortstop to replace Didi Gregorius), swapping out Austin Romine for Gary Sanchez doesn’t accomplish a whole lot, and benching an outfielder really complicates things. Here’s a little more from the GM on the roster situation:

“Everybody at Triple-A is trying to be an option for us at the major-league level,” Cashman said. “Right now, we’re going to keep giving some opportunities to everybody to fix themselves. In the event that we change that mindset, I’ll explore all other options. But we’re not at that point yet despite how bad this stretch has been.”

The best possible fix for the Yankees is getting the players on the roster to perform better. It’s both pretty simple and very difficult. Starlin Castro has been pretty awesome, Brett Gardner‘s been solid, and Alex Rodriguez is starting to come around, but otherwise the rest of the lineup is falling well short of expectations. Every non-Masahiro Tanaka starting pitcher has a 5+ ERA too. Yeesh.

I would like to see the Yankees try some smaller changes in the meantime. There’s no a whole lot they can do about the rotation — I’m not all that eager to see more Ivan Nova — but they can give Aaron Hicks and Ronald Torreyes one or two extra starts a week. That couldn’t hurt. I mentioned flipping Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in the lineup earlier this morning. It’s possible to shake things up without overhauling the team.

The season is young but the Yankees have already dug themselves quite a hole. They’re games back in the AL East with four quality teams ahead of them, so yeah. The Yankees start a stretch of 20 games in 20 days tonight — 18 of their next 32 games are against AL East rivals as well — so it’s already gut check time. They can’t fall any further behind, otherwise it won’t matter what moves Cashman makes to shake-up the roster.

Thoughts following yet another off-day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once again, the Yankees had an off-day yesterday. It was their sixth in the first four weeks of the season. I’m not complaining though. I can’t say I’m looking forward to watching this team these days. The Yankees begin a 20 games in 20 days stretch tonight, so prepare for a lot of baseball these next few weeks. Here are some stray thoughts.

1. A small little change I’d like to see: flip Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner in the lineup. Gardner is the better hitter and he’s been getting on base way more often so far this season, so that right there is worth giving him more at-bats. It also frees Joe Girardi up to try some things with Ellsbury like a hit-and-run — or even the underrated run-and-hit — because he is the better contact hitter. And I suppose he would maybe see more fastballs as well. That couldn’t hurt. I subscribe to the “your best hitter should bat second” theory but pretty much nothing the Yankees have been doing is working offensively, Sunday night notwithstanding. Giving Gardner more at-bats and trying to play a little small ball with Ellsbury could help them get out of their funk. It’s not like it’s going to hurt. The offense has been dreadful.

2. I’m not worried about Dellin Betances at all even with the three home runs allowed in his last three games. The homer Christian Vazquez hit was a terrible pitch. It was a fastball right down the middle, and based on how quickly he jumped on it, it seems clear Vazquez was sitting dead red. He got on it so quick I wonder if Dellin was tipping his pitches. As for the David Ortiz homer, I’m not even sure it came on a strike:

Dellin Betances David Ortiz

That’s just straight up good hitting. Ortiz told reporters he was expecting a first pitch curveball, got the first pitch curveball, then reached out and drove it the other way. What can you do? Ortiz is going to the Hall of Fame — it’s going to happen, don’t act surprised — because of pieces of hitting like that. Mere mortals either take that pitch or swing through it. I have no reason to think Betances is hurt. (His velocity is fine.) I would run him right back out there in high-leverage spots like these last three outings didn’t happen. This is just baseball being random as hell.

3. Aroldis Chapman will join the team in six days and I hope the Yankees are on the phone shopping him right now. His trade value can only go down as the season progresses. For starters, the sooner they trade him, the longer his new team will have him, and that’s not insignificant. The Yankees could ask for more in return. Secondly, Chapman is already the best reliever in the world, so it’s not like he can realistically improve his performance. And third, pitchers get hurt, yo. Making the qualifying offer and getting the draft pick after the season is a last resort in my opinion. Chapman is a Grade-A trade chip the Yankees have to cash in — the market for an elite reliever is huge, pretty much every team can use him — and the sooner they do it, the better. Even if they go out and win their next 20 games, trade him. Trade him trade him trade him. Trade. Him. Trade him.

4. We’re still a long way away from serious talk about the Yankees being sellers, but if they do decide to take the plunge, one team to watch is the White Sox. They’re playing well right now (18-8), they have an extra $13M burning a hole in their pocket thanks to Adam LaRoche, and they also have a clear need at DH. (They’re playing Avisail Garcia and Jerry Sands at DH right now, so yeah.) The ChiSox also figure to have a sense of urgency too. They haven’t been to the postseason since 2008 — only the Padres, Marlins, and Mariners have longer postseason droughts — and their best chance to win is right now, during Todd Frazier’s last two years of team control and while Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, and Jose Quintana are cheap and in their primes. Chicago sure looks like a potential landing spot for Carlos Beltran or Mark Teixeira at midseason. Who knows, maybe the Yankees could pry righty Erik Johnson loose. That’d be nifty.

5. Yes, the Yankees do still have 139 games to play, but they are absolutely digging themselves a hole right now. Given their current 8-15 record, they will need to play .568 ball the rest of the way just to match last season’s 87-75 record. That’s a 92-win pace. They’ll have to play at a 96-win pace to reach 90 wins. Here is how their postseason odds have changed over these first 23 games, via FanGraphs:

Playoff Odds 050316Only the Astros, whose postseason odds have nosedived from 68.0% on Opening Day to 26.5% today, have seen their playoff chances take a bigger hit than the Yankees so far this season. These losses are in the bank. The Yankees were going to need some things to break their way just to contend this season. Now they have a big uphill battle ahead of them. Not ideal!

6. The Yankees are struggling big time and when that happens, people talk about firing the manager. That’s just the way it is around here. I get it. Firing Girardi solves zero problems in my opinion though. It would be a total scapegoat move. This isn’t a Matt Williams with the Nationals situation, where the team is disappointing because the manager is borderline incompetent with his on-field decision making and the players are damn near mutiny in the clubhouse. If there’s an issue with the players in the clubhouse, that’s one thing. But firing Girardi because Betances gave up some ill-timed home runs and a bunch of aging sluggers aren’t hitting only compounds the problem. The Yankees have been largely distraction free since Girardi was hired — it’s still amazing to me all the A-Rod stuff blew over like it has — and canning him opens the door for chaos.

7. I have not stopped laughing at this since Sunday night (make sure you have the sound on):

That is damn good internet right there. Baseball is going to be so boring once A-Rod retires.

DotF: Coleman homers twice in Charleston’s win

Some quick notes:

  • LHP Dietrich Enns was including this week’s Monday Morning Ten Pack. It’s behind the paywall, so I can’t give away too much, but the scouting report is glowing: “Enns profiles as a major-league lefty specialist already, with upside beyond that. With further refinement of his secondary pitches and gains in stamina and command, I won’t be surprised at all if he’s holding down a spot in the middle of the Yankees rotation in a year or two.”
  • Thanks to last week’s combined no-hitter, RHP Ronald Herrera has been named the Double-A Eastern League Pitcher of the Week. Herrera is only 20 years old, you know. He’s nearly four years younger than the average EL player.
  • According to Matt Kardos, LHP Evan Rutckyj will have surgery tomorrow. He was placed on the Double-A DL ten days ago with a sore elbow. I don’t know if he’s having Tommy John surgery or something else entirely. Rutckyj was in camp with the Braves as a Rule 5 Draft this year.
  • The Yankees have released LHP Preston Jamison, reports Matt Eddy. The Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent back in March and he never did throw a pitch this season.

Triple-A Scranton (5-3 loss to Buffalo)

  • 3B Donovan Solano: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K, 1 E (throwing) — not saying he’s a call-up candidate, but hitting .306/.333/.353 won’t hurt his case
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 0-5, 1 K
  • 1B Nick Swisher: 1-4, 2 K — stupid Yankees didn’t call him up and now he’s in a 5-for-24 (.208) slump! … someone, somewhere is saying that right now
  • DH Rob Refsnyder: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B
  • C Eddy Rodriguez: 2-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB — E-Rod with a game that would make A-Rod proud
  • 2B Pete Kozma: 0-4, 1 E (fielding) — he’s hitting .138/.240/.200 … remember when it seemed like he would make the team over Ronald Torreyes? yikes
  • RHP Luis Cessa: 5 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 9/2 GB/FB — 49 of 81 pitches were strikes (60%) … fourth outing with the RailRiders is his worst
  • LHP Daniel Camarena: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 26 of 44 pitches were strikes (59%) … so I guess he’s back up here now

[Read more…]

Monday Night Open Thread

Once again, the Yankees had an off-day today. Between rainouts and scheduled off-days, the Yankees have played only 23 times in the first 29 days of the season. That’s going to change soon. The Yankees begin a stretch of 20 games in 20 days tomorrow and it includes a West Coast trip. It’s a little too early to call it a make or break stretch, but I feel like 13 wins in those 20 games is the bare minimum necessary to get back in the hunt. We’ll see.

Here is the open thread for the evening. The Mets are playing and ESPN is showing the Cubs at the Pirates. That should be a good one. You’ve also got NBA and NHL playoff action as well. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to avoid baseball for a night. You folks know what to do here, so have it.

(Yes, I know the “This Date In History” video is not actually this date, but I’ve been looking for video of that game for years. Enjoy.)

2016 Draft: Matt Manning

Matt Manning | RHP

Background
Manning, 18, is the son of former NBA player Rich Manning. He attends Sheldon High School in Sacramento and has a 2.51 ERA with 42 strikeouts and 14 walks in 22.1 innings this spring. His baseball season started a little late because he was focused on basketball full-time. Manning is committed to Loyola Marymount, where he could play both sports.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-6 and 185 lbs., Manning is the classic “dream big” high school pitcher. He’s an excellent athlete with a loose arm who did not start pitching full-time until his junior year. During that time he’s upped his fastball from 87-89 mph into the 92-94 mph range, and the heater plays faster because he gets so much extension. He’s run his fastball as high as 96-97 mph in short outings during showcase events. Manning can spin a hard curveball in the upper-70s but the pitch lacks consistency. He doesn’t have a changeup or a third pitch in general, so that will be a project going forward.

Miscellany
Manning was ranked as the 12th, 21st, and 25th best prospect in the 2016 draft class by Keith Law (subs. req’d). MLB.com, and Baseball America in their latest rankings, respectively. The Yankees pick 18th. The athleticism, fastball, and promising curveball are enough to get Manning picked in the first round. He is raw and not someone who figures to shoot up the minor league ladder in a hurry. The Yankees have not had much success developing lottery ticket prep arms like Manning in recent years — Dellin Betances is by far their biggest success story — and as a result they’ve leaned towards college players. For what it’s worth, Manning is physically huge with a big fastball, and those are two Yankees trademarks.

Berardino: Twins made an “aggressive” offer for Justin Wilson in the offseason

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Mike Berardino, the Twins made what they consider an “aggressive” trade offer for left-hander Justin Wilson over the winter. The Yankees shipped Wilson to the Tigers for Triple-A righties Luis Cessa and Chad Green during the Winter Meetings. Brian Cashman cited the team’s need for rotation depth as the reason for making the trade.

Details about Minnesota’s offer are pretty scarce. Here’s more from Berardino:

“We were aware of (Wilson’s availability),” (GM Terry) Ryan said flatly, choosing not to elaborate.

Not only were the Twins aware, a person with direct knowledge subsequently confirmed they were deeply disappointed their own offer for Wilson was not accepted.

Dealing from a much deeper pool of prospects than the division-rival Tigers could, Twins officials never could quite figure out how their offer, which they deemed to be fairly aggressive, was rejected in favor of 24-year-old right-handers Chad Green and Luis Cessa.

Making an aggressive offer and making the best offer are necessarily the same thing. Prospects are like children, everyone loves their own more than they love everyone else’s, so it’s no surprised the Twins felt they made a better offer than the Tigers. Of course they’re disappointed. They have a very good strong farm system and I’m sure they like they player(s) they offered a whole bunch.

It’s impossible to know what Minnesota offered the Yankees for Wilson. Here is their MLB.com top 30 prospects list, if you wish to peruse. Triple-A rotation depth was an area of need and the Yankees clearly prioritized that in the Wilson trade. Maybe the Twins offered righty Tyler Duffey? Because beyond Jose Berrios and Alex Meyer, neither of whom was coming over for Wilson, there are no upper level rotation prospects in the Twins’ system.

I’m certain the Yankees shopped Wilson around and took what they felt was the best offer. They’re not idiots. They know they had a valuable commodity in Wilson — left-handed relievers are always in demand — and used him to acquire some much-needed rotation depth. In a world where Ian Kennedy and Mike Leake are getting $70M+ contracts, turning a reliever into two Triple-A starters makes an awful lot of sense to me.

Cessa pitched well in Spring Training and actually made the Opening Day roster before the Yankees decided to send him down to Triple-A so he could get stretched out and work as a starter. At this point I think he and Green are seventh and eighth on the rotation depth chart behind the five starters and Ivan Nova. Green’s not on the 40-man roster yet, however.

Wilson, by the way, is having a very nice season for the Tigers, pitching to a 0.00 ERA (0.87 FIP) with 15 strikeouts and two walks in eleven innings. The Yankees aren’t a seventh inning reliever away from contention, but there’s no doubt they could use someone like Wilson right now. Every team could.