Late-blooming Kyle Higashioka gives Yankees extra layer of catching depth

(Times Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

By and large, this has been a really excellent season for the Yankees in the minors. They imported several high-end prospects at the trade deadline, and the top prospects they already had have performed well. The only major negatives are Jorge Mateo‘s suspension/slump and James Kaprielian‘s injury. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not too bad.

Among the best feel good stories in the system this year is catcher Kyle Higashioka, who, at age 26, is finally healthy enough to put together a breakout season. He missed most of the 2013-14 seasons with Tommy John surgery — Higashioka blew out his elbow making a snap throw to first — and a broken thumb, and he’s been stuck playing second fiddle to the Yankees’ top catching prospects over the years, most notably Gary Sanchez.

“I had a lot of time to think, and with all that downtime (while injured), your mind just goes everywhere and you think, ‘What if I don’t come back?,'” said Higashioka to Shane Hennigan back in June. “Obviously, it wasn’t encouraging to take a step back (due to the broken thumb). But on the other hand, I was really grateful that they gave me the opportunity to play every day rather than just stick me as a backup at one of the higher levels — that’s what I’m really grateful for.”

So far this season Higashioka is hitting .308/.368/.563 (157 wRC+) with a career high 17 homers and a career high 22 doubles in an almost career high 326 plate appearances. This is only the fourth time since being a seventh round pick back in 2008 that Higashioka has cleared 300 plate appearances in a season. His career high is 359 plate appearances back in 2010. It’s been a long time since he played this regularly, and he’s handling it well.

In most cases like this, it would be easy to write off Higashioka as an older guy having success in a relatively small number of at-bats. That happens all the time. The fact Higashioka is a catcher and finally healthy after years of injuries forces us to take notice, however. This is a guy at a premium position displaying power after all those physical issues. This might not be a fluke. Higashioka might be a late-bloomer, and there are reasons to think he’s legit.

1. His background provides important context. The Yankees gave Higashioka a $500,000 bonus out of an Orange County high school when they selected him in the seventh round of that 2008 draft, so they really believed in his two-way potential. Also, the Yankees brought him to Spring Training as a non-roster player every year from 2010-16 except 2014, when he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Higashioka was the youngest player in camp in 2010.

There’s also this: Higashioka became a minor league free agent last offseason. The Yankees liked him enough to bring him back, and he was happy enough with the Yankees to come back. That’s kind of a big deal. It must be pretty daunting to be a young catcher suck behind Brian McCann, Austin Romine, and Sanchez on the depth chart. Higashioka could have easily left and looked for a greater opportunity elsewhere, and no one would have blamed him. There’s definitely some loyalty going both ways here, and that’s not nothing.

2. He’s always had some power. Although he’s never shown quite this much power before, Higashioka has always had some pop in his bat. I mean, look:

Higashioka’s offensive performance has been so good this season because he’s hitting for a higher average and drawing more walks than ever before. The power has always been there though.

2009: .079 ISO in 247 PA with Short Season Staten Island
2010: .113 ISO in 359 PA with Low-A Charleston
2011: .136 ISO in 324 PA between Charleston and High-A Tampa
2012: .157 ISO in 164 PA between Tampa and Double-A Trenton
2013-14: .198 ISO in 109 PA around Tommy John surgery
2015: .117 ISO in 348 PA between Tampa and Triple-A Scranton
2016: .255 ISO in 326 PA between Trenton and Scranton

That’s a really nice, steady progression from 2009-12 before the elbow injury and broken thumb threw a wrench into things. I know that .136 ISO in 2011 doesn’t look impressive, but we’re talking about a kid who was almost two years young for his level and playing the most demanding defensive position. Ten catchers have 200+ plate appearances in the High-A Florida State League this year and three have a .100+ ISO. Two have a .130+ ISO and both are older than Higashioka was in 2011. It’s hard!

Furthermore, check out Higashioka’s spray chart this season, via MLB Farm. This is Double-A and Triple-A combined, so it’s everything. All his balls in play:

Kyle Higashioka spray chart

No one will confuse Higashioka for Alex Rodriguez when it comes to opposite field power, but a right-handed hitting catcher who can occasionally poke one out to right field is a nice little piece in Yankee Stadium. Higashioka’s power was developing steadily before the Tommy John surgery complicated things. Now that he’s healthy again, Higashioka is showing more power than ever before, and it’s probably not a coincidence that it’s happening right as he enters what figure to be his prime years.

3. He’s a good defensive catcher. The scouting report on Higashioka has long said that he is an excellent defensive catcher, dating back to his draft year. Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “receives the ball smoothly and is quiet behind the dish … he’s consistently posting pop times in the 1.95-2.0-second range” during his draft year, which was a baseball lifetime ago. If nothing else, that tells us the defensive tools were there once upon a time.

The Tommy John surgery is significant. I know it’s easy to overlook for a position player, but catchers are different because so much of their defensive value is tied up in their arms. From 2010-12, Higashioka threw out 36.3% of basestealers. Last year it was 25% and this year it’s 30%. That’s a pretty big drop that can be attributed to not just the elbow reconstruction, but moving to higher levels, where the baserunners are ostensibly better.

Catcher defense is difficult to measure as it is. It’s damn near impossible in the minors. The folks at Baseball Prospectus whipped up some new catcher defense stats over the winter — I used them to look at Sanchez’s defensive development — and they are, by far, the best information we have on minor league catcher defense. Data for 2016 rates Higashioka as 14.7 runs above-average defensively, seventh best among all catchers in baseball, majors and minors.

It goes without saying this data comes with a ton of caveats. It’s one tool in the shed. That’s all. Without seeing Higashioka catch every single day, it’s pretty much impossible to evaluate him defensively. All we know is that he has a reputation for being a standout gloveman, and the latest numbers back that up. There’s evidence this guy is an asset behind the dish, and that’s huge. An outfielder or first baseman doing what Higashioka is doing this year probably isn’t worth a second thought. But a catcher? That’s different.

4. It’s not uncommon for catchers to be late-bloomers. I have not seen any research on this, but anecdotally, it seems like catchers are late-bloomers moreso than any other position. By late-bloomer I don’t necessarily mean someone who comes up for the first time at 25 or 26 or 27, but someone who doesn’t stick in MLB for good until that age. Jorge Posada wasn’t in MLB for good until he was 26, for example. Giovanny Soto won Rookie of the Year at 25. Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Hanigan, and Caleb Joseph didn’t break in until they were 28. David Ross was 26 in his first full MLB season. The list goes on and on.

There’s a few reasons for this. First and foremost, there is so much defensive responsibility at the catcher position that sometimes is takes players time to get it down. (It’s also not uncommon for their bats to lag because they’re so tied up in improving defensively.) There also seems to be some bias against young starting catchers. Unless you’re talking about an elite catcher prospect like Buster Posey or Matt Wieters, teams usually don’t throw these guys to wolves. They like to ease them into big league duties. Injuries can be a factor too, as they are in Higashioka’s case.

Higashioka would not be the first nor the last catcher who broke into the big leagues closer to his 30th birthday than his 20th. Guys like Ruiz, Hanigan, Ross, and Soto show it’s possible to break in late and still carve out a pretty long and successful career. Catcher is a highly valuable position, and if you can play it capably, teams won’t care if you’re a 27-year-old rookie. Sometimes it takes these guys time to develop and they don’t hit their stride until, well, until they’re Higashioka’s age.

* * *

The Yankees have some very nice depth behind the plate right now thanks to Sanchez’s development and Romine showing he’s a passable backup. Higashioka’s breakout season further adds to that depth and gives the Yankees another safety net in case they decide to do something like trade McCann or Romine this month or in the offseason. (Or even Sanchez in a blockbuster.) That assumes his breakout is for real, of course.

Higashioka will again be a minor league free agent this offseason, and given his monster offensive numbers and supposedly good defense, the odds are strongly in favor of him landing on someone’s 40-man roster this winter. Young-ish catchers with those numbers and this kind of defensive reputation usually don’t stay unemployed very long.

I think the Yankees should absolutely add Higashioka to the 40-man after the season. They can’t let him go for nothing and quality catchers are so damn valuable that it’s worth keeping him around to see if this breakout is for real. A year ago at this time Higashioka was pretty much off the radar, mostly due to injuries. Now he’s suddenly someone who could factor into the team’s short and long-term plans.

The Yankees and Joe Girardi don’t come off looking too good in the final days of A-Rod’s career

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Last night, for the 15th time in the last 16 games, Alex Rodriguez was not in the Yankees’ starting lineup. A-Rod has started only nine of the team’s last 33 games now, so seeing him on the bench was not unusual. He hasn’t hit since last August and the Yankees have benched him, understandably so. The circumstances were slightly different last night, however.

Over the weekend the Yankees and A-Rod announced he will play his final game this Friday before joining the front office as a special advisor and instructor. Listening to the press conference Sunday, it was pretty clear Alex feels he still has some quality baseball left in him. You can tell this isn’t what he truly wants, but it is his best option, so he’s taking it.

During Sunday’s press conference Joe Girardi said he will talk to A-Rod to see what he wants to do this week as far as playing time. The team only promised him a start on Friday, in front of the home fans at Yankee Stadium, but they have to play three games in Boston before that, and Girardi did say he’ll play Alex in those games if he wants to play.

“I’m going to talk to him as we move forward here,” said Girardi on Sunday (video link). “Probably sit down and talk to him Tuesday when we get to Boston — maybe today after the game — and see where he’s at mentally … He’s earned the right to have the conversation with me and (say what) he wants to do here … If he wants to play in every game, I’ll find a way.”

And yet, A-Rod was not in the lineup last night, and not because he didn’t want to play. He told reporters before the game he wanted to play these three games in Boston. During the game YES showed a clip of Alex’s pregame chat with reporters and he looked totally bummed he wasn’t in the lineup. It was kinda sad. The guy just want to play some games before his career ends, you know?

“I came to the stadium really excited, hoping I would play all three games or maybe two out of three,” said A-Rod to reporters yesterday, including George King. “He just said, ‘We’re trying to win games.’ It was surprising and shocking … He has his opinions and I have mine. But like I’ve said from the time I came back from my suspension, it’s up to Joe and I’ll do whatever he wants.”

Girardi justified his decision to sit A-Rod despite his “if he wants to play in every game, I’ll find a way” declaration by saying he got caught up in the emotion of Sunday. He said something at the time and regretted it, basically. “I’m an emotional guy and my heart can get tugged at. I think I got caught up in the emotions. I’m human,” said Girardi yesterday. “I’m not saying he won’t play these next two days, but I’m managing to win the games. This is a very important series for us.”

Going back on that promise is pretty damn weak, isn’t it? One day Girardi says if Alex wants to play, he’ll play. The next day he says they can’t play him because they’re trying to win, which is a load of crap because the Yankees traded most of their good players at the deadline. Mark Teixeira still bats third. The wholly unproductive Aaron Hicks plays every day. Anthony Swarzak is a trusted reliever. They aren’t trying to win anything, and if they are, holy cow are they doing a bad job.

Girardi has been extremely supportive of A-Rod over the years, whether he was under fire because he didn’t get The Big Hit in the postseason or was returning from his 2014 suspension or something else entirely. Remember when Girardi almost punched Brian O’Nora as part of his tirade when Ryan Dempster threw at Alex back in 2013? (GIF via SB Nation)

Joe Girardi

All that unwavering support over the years is part of what makes the sudden change of heart this week so odd. I can’t help but wonder if Girardi is getting orders from above to not play A-Rod this week, or maybe something happened behind the scenes that caused him to change the way he feels about Alex. Or maybe he never truly cared about him and only had his back out of obligation. Who knows?

All I know is that on Sunday I heard A-Rod will play this week if he wants, and now that’s not happening. That’s not cool. The Yankees will be the first to tell you they’re a classy organization and all that, but we’re not seeing it here. The “we’re trying to win games” reasoning is dubious at best and a straight up lie at worst. A-Rod’s no saint. We all know that. But that’s not a reason to pull the rug out from under him this week.

It’s important to note the Yankees don’t own Alex anything. Well, other than the $20-something million left on his contract, but you know what I mean. They didn’t have to offer him an advisor/instructor job. They didn’t have to agree to let him play one final home game Friday. They didn’t have to do any of this. The Yankees could have released A-Rod on Sunday and it would have been 100% justifiable.

But they did do all of this. They offered him the advisor/instructor job, they agreed to let him play Friday, and Girardi stood at the podium Sunday and told everyone “if he wants to play in every game, I’ll find a way.” Now that’s not happening, and it reflects poorly on Girardi and the Yankees because they’re backtracking. This is the team making one of the veteran leaders a promise and then reneging. How does everyone else in the clubhouse feel about that?

I want to see A-Rod play these final three games because he’s one of my all-time favorite players and his career will be over in less than 64 hours. I want to see him try to sock a dinger one last time. I want to see him play the field and show off the rocket arm one last time too, but maybe now I’m asking too much. Either way, if A-Rod strikes out five times and makes an error instead, well, who cares? The Yankees aren’t going anywhere and that’s not how I’ll remember Alex anyway.

I didn’t think this was possible, but the Yankees have managed to turn A-Rod into a sympathetic figure these last few weeks between the benching and the forced retirement and not playing him these final few games against his wishes. I doubt that was their intention, but it happened. Alex is the one who has come out of this looking good. Now it’s the Yankees who are saying one thing and doing another, and as A-Rod showed all these years, that no way to win over fans.

Yankees fall short in the ninth, lose 5-3 to the Red Sox

This picture summarizes it, I think (Getty)

This game started off pretty nicely with a two-run explosion by the bats. With this Yankees team, that’s kind of too good to be true, right?  The Red Sox then scored five runs and held on during a pretty dicey ninth to win the game 5-3.

Taking the lead

For a little while in the game, I was a bit excited about the possibility of Luis Severino out-dueling Rick Porcello. If you haven’t been paying attention, Porcello’s numbers have been pretty neat this year. Prior to tonight’s game, he had a 14-3 record with a 3.46 ERA, becoming the pitcher that Boston envisioned to be when they gave up Yoenis Cespedes. Severino, on the other hand, has had a very up-and-down season in which he’s experienced major growing pains in the majors.

Happier times (Getty)

The Yankees, however, struck first. In the second, Starlin Castro doubled to lead off the inning and Chase Headley drove him in with a two-bagger of his to give New York a 1-0 lead. Castro seemed to move a bit gimpy after his double but thankfully, he stayed in game and played rest of the way.

You don’t call it an offensive explosion without consecutive innings of scoring. Brett Gardner doubled (yeah, again) to lead off the inning. Two batters later, Brian McCann squared up one to right for an RBI single, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead. Well, that’s as close to the climax for Yanks’ part of the game.

Giving’em back (and then more)

Severino started the bottom third with a Sandy Leon K. However, Andrew Benintendi singled (his first Fenway hit, by the way) and Mookie Betts followed it with a double to put him in a hot water all of sudden with runners on second and third. On the 9th pitch of the at-bat, Severino left a fastball middle up and Dustin Pedroia drove it down the right field line for a two-run double. Argh. Pedroia will do that to ya, especially if you’re a young pitcher going through things.

After tossing a scoreless fourth, Severino got into more trouble in the fifth by allowing a leadoff triple to Sandy Leon. Benintendi followed it with a looooong double that was initially called a double… then called a home run… then reviewed and called a double again. A batter later, Pedroia struck again, hitting a sharp liner down the right field (again) to drive in a run. 4-2. I’m honestly willing to give it time for Severino to develop as a possible ML starter but tonight was just not great – not being able to finish hitters off, giving up big hits, etc. Fortunately, he’s at a stage of the career that there’s always a next time.

Oh, Severino had his earned run tacked on to his ledger when Tommy Layne, making his Yankee debut, let the inherited runner score on an Ortiz RBI single. Sevvy’s final line: 4.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 0 BB and 3K.

The unlucky seventh

Behind 5-2, the Yankees could’ve padded about two runs (or even more) had it not been for some unfortunate baserunning hijinks. Headley hit a big fly bouncing off the center field wall to lead off the inning. The ball trickled away and it appeared that Headley could reach third. However, Jackie Bradley Jr.’s strong, accurate throw caught him out there. As third base coach Joe Espada wanted to check with dugout to see if they could challenge the call, apparently Porcello and Headley had a heated exchange that led to both benches clearing. The Yankee – Sox rivalry ain’t what it used to be, but hey, nothing like a drama like that to make things exciting.

With two outs, Aaron Hicks hit a weak grounder to third that Travis Shaw misplayed, allowing him to reach first base. Gardner followed it up with a sharp grounder down the left field line that seemed like Hicks should’ve scored on. However, Hicks missed Espada furiously waving him home and hesitated as he rounded the base. By the time Hicks saw it, it was too late – he had to stay there or he was dead meat at home. I have no idea how to explain that besides not really paying attention or losing Espada in the vision while running – or both. Yanks’ scoring chance died with Ellsbury’s line out to right.

Close call

Porcello threw eight innings of two-run ball and Farrell brought in his closer Craig Kimbrel to close out the game. Kimbrel is, well, known to be pretty good at this. Tonight, however, he seemed like he had difficulty putting balls into the zone.

After striking out Didi Gregorius, Kimbrel walked Headley. Once Gary Sanchez followed it up with a line out though, it seemed like the end of game was imminent. Well, that’s when Kimbrel walked three hitters in a row – the last one coming in a bases-loaded situation versus Jacoby Ellsbury. Pitching is pretty hard and that’s not really news to anyone. Kimbrel seemed like he was out of sync and not finishing the pitches well, resulting in a lot of pitches way off the mark and, well, walking a bunch of hitters.

The Yankees decreased the deficit to two runs and Farrell took Kimbrel out for Matt Barnes. Barnes had only one job and he got it done – getting the last out of the game. He did so by striking out Mark Teixeira looking with a fastball outside. I don’t know how to say it but this seemed like a fitting end to tonight’s game – the Yankees tried, but for one reason or another, they didn’t execute.

Box score, highlights, WPA and standings

Here’s tonight’s box score, video highlights, WPA and updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up next

The Yankees and Red Sox will play game two of this series tomorrow. Nathan Eovaldi and Drew Pomeranz will be the starters.

DotF: Frazier, Judge, Austin lead Scranton to another win

Got some links to pass along:

  • Jon Schwartz has a great Yankees Magazine article on Drew Henson, the first prospect who truly broke by heart. Henson is currently a pro scout with the Yankees, and Schwartz shadowed him during a recent scouting trip through St. Louis and Kansas City.
  • Shane Hennigan has a really good story on LHP Jordan Montgomery, whose first two Triple-A starters have been easy to overlook given OF Clint Frazier‘s arrival and the OF Aaron Judge/1B Tyler Austin potential call-up stuff.

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 win over Lehigh Valley, walk-off style)

  • LF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 K — walk-off sac fly
  • CF Clint Frazier: 2-4, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 K — 5-for-16 (.313) with a double, a triple, and a homer in his last four games
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — 8-for-25 (.320) since coming off the DL
  • 1B Chris Parmelee: 1-3, 1 K — played seven innings at first in his second rehab game in the field
  • 3B-1B Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 2B, 2 K — 7-for-17 (.412) with three doubles in his last five games
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RHP Chad Green: 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 10 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 62 of 92 pitches were strikes (68%) … ho hum, Green continues to be a Triple-A ace … I wish the Yankees would give him an extended stint in MLB rather than one start here and there
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 15 of 29 pitches were strikes (52%)
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 12 of 19 pitches were strikes (63%)
  • RHP Jonathan Holder: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — ten pitches, eight strikes … 78/7 K/BB in 53.1 innings

[Read more…]

Game 112: Sevy the Starter

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I have to admit, I’m a little surprised the Yankees are giving Luis Severino the start tonight. I know he dominated in long relief last time out, but pitching in relief against the crappy Mets is a very different animal than starting against the Red Sox in Fenway Park. The BoSox are hitting .302/.369/.493 as a team at Fenway this year. Severino is facing a lineup of Victor Martinezes tonight (.302/.357/.490).

Yesterday’s off-day allowed the Yankees to delay Severino’s start until Friday, when he would have had a more friendly matchup (Rays at home), but nope. He’s going tonight. This is going to be Severino’s biggest test (by far) since returning from Triple-A a few weeks back. Hope it goes well. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez-less lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. C Gary Sanchez
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Luis Severino

The internet tells me it’s clear and cool in Boston this evening, so it should be a nice night for a ballgame. Tonight’s series opener is scheduled to begin at 7:10pm ET, and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. I’m guessing every game will be on national television this week because of A-Rod. Enjoy the game.

A-Rod Update: Alex will start Thursday’s game and may pinch-hit tonight and tomorrow as well, Joe Girardi said. A-Rod told reporters he was “disappointed” to see he wouldn’t start today or tomorrow. Lame as hell. I wanted to see him play all four of these games this week. Those seven or eight at-bats someone else won’t get aren’t a huge deal.

Roster Move: In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees have signed lefty specialist Tommy Layne to a big league contract. He’s in the bullpen and available tonight. Richard Bleier was optioned to Triple-A Scranton to clear a roster spot … also, the Yankees claimed Blake Parker off waivers from the Mariners. He’ll be added to the roster once he officially reports.

Yankees claim Blake Parker off waivers from Mariners

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The Yankees have claimed right-handed reliever Blake Parker off waivers from the Mariners, the team announced. They say he’ll join the MLB roster once he reports to the team. That’ll probably happen tomorrow or the next day. I believe he has three days to report, officially.

Parker, 31, appeared in one game with the Mariners before being designated for assignment a few days ago. He had a 2.72 ERA (3.26 FIP) with a 37.3% strikeout rate and a 7.3% walk rate in 39.2 Triple-A innings before being called up by Seattle. Parker has a 3.63 ERA (3.63 FIP!) with 26.3% strikeouts and 7.3% walks in 74.1 career big league innings, almost all with the Cubs from 2012-14.

It’s worth noting Parker had elbow problems in 2012 and his velocity dipped big time from 2013-14, but it has rebounded this year and he’s again sitting in the mid-90s. He also throws a nasty curveball …

Blake Parker curveball

… and an occasional splitter. As far as scrap heap arms go, Parker is more interesting than most, but only if the velocity rebound is legit. He’s worth a look down the stretch. It’s not like the Yankees have anything interesting going on in middle relief anyway.

Even after adding Tommy Layne, the Yankees still have two open 40-man roster spots — they’ll get another one following Alex Rodriguez‘s final game Friday — so they won’t have to designate anyone for assignment to clear space for Parker. My guess is either Nick Goody or Chasen Shreve will get sent to Triple-A Scranton to clear a 25-man spot once Parker reports.

8/9 to 8/11 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The final road series of Alex Rodriguez‘s career will take him where he played his first ever MLB game: Fenway Park. (No, the Red Sox are not planning to honor him.) The Yankees are in Boston for a three-game series with the Red Sox this week. If you’re still hoping to see the Yankees make a run at the postseason spot (I am!), this pretty much is a must-win series. New York is 3-6 against the BoSox this season. They were swept in three games in Fenway back in late-April/early-May.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Red Sox just wrapped up a long ten-game West Coast trip, during which they went 5-5. They lost four of the final six games. Overall, Boston is 60-50 with a +86 run differential on the season. That’s the best run differential but only the fifth best record in the AL. They’re 2.5 games back in the AL East and tied with the Tigers for the second wildcard spot. The Yankees are 4.5 games back of Boston.

Offense & Defense

Manager John Farrell oversees the highest scoring offense in baseball, and it’s not all that close either. The Red Sox are averaging 5.44 runs per game in 2016. The Coors Field aided Rockies are second at 5.20. The Indians are the next closest AL team at 4.99. So, yeah, the Red Sox can score. They have a team 114 wRC+, again the best in baseball, and the only regulars they’re missing are OF Chris Young (hamstring), C Ryan Hanigan (ankle), and C/OF Blake Swihart (ankle). And I guess 3B Pablo Sandoval (shoulder) too, but they don’t miss him.

Ortiz. (Elsa/Getty)
Ortiz. (Elsa/Getty)

For the most part Farrell has had a set top of the lineup. RF Mookie Betts (134 wRC+) leads off, 2B Dustin Pedroia (116 wRC+) hits second, SS Xander Bogaerts (123 wRC+) bats third, DH David Ortiz (160 wRC+) cleans up, and 1B Hanley Ramirez (109 wRC+) hits fifth. CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (133 wRC+) tends to hit sixth. Ortiz has had a phenomenal final season but has cooled off quite a bit in the second half (62 wRC+). Will that make me feel any more comfortable when he’s up at the plate this week? No. No it will not.

The Red Sox are platooning IF Travis Shaw (105 wRC+) and IF Aaron Hill (99 wRC+) at third base, and quasi-platooning UTIL Brock Holt (91 wRC+) and OF Andrew Benintendi (107 wRC+ in very limited time) in left. Holt and Benintendi are both lefty hitters, so they’ve been sharing time more than straight platooning. C Sandy Leon (161 wRC+) has taken over as the everyday catcher with C Bryan Holaday (74 wRC+) backing him up. OF Bryce Brentz (81 wRC+) is the other bench player.

Defensively, the Red Sox are a very good club, especially in the outfield. Bradley is great in center and Betts and Benintendi are good in the corners. (Holt isn’t all that good in left.) Pedroia is their best defensive infielder. Hanley and Shaw have their fish out of water moments on the corners, and while Bogaerts is solid, he’s in the lineup for his bat, first and foremost. Leon’s very good behind the plate.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7:10pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs. BOS) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (vs. NYY)
Following a pretty disastrous first season in Boston, the still only 27-year-old Porcello has bounced back nicely this year. He has a 3.46 ERA (3.77 FIP) in 22 starts and 143 innings, with a career high strikeout rate (20.5%) and a career low walk rate (4.3%). Both his homer (1.07 HR/9) and grounder (45.2%) rates are closer to average these days after being much better than that earlier in his career. Righties have actually given Porcello a harder time than lefties this season, which the opposite of the rest of his career. He lives off a sinker right around 90 mph, and uses both low-80s changeups and low-70s curveballs regularly. Porcello has seen the Yankees twice this season: seven scoreless innings in April and three runs in seven innings in May.

Wednesday (7:10pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. BOS) vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz (vs. NYY)
Pomeranz, 27, came over from the Padres prior to the trade deadline, and while he’s having a strong season overall (3.09 ERA and 3.61 FIP in 122.1 innings), his four starts with the Red Sox have not gone well (6.20 ERA and 6.03 FIP in 20.1 innings). His overall strikeout (27.0%) rate is excellent, and his grounder (47.5%) and homer (0.96 HR/9) numbers are good, but he walks way too many (10.5%). He averages 4.13 pitches per plate appearance, sixth highest in MLB. The southpaw will run his pitch count up quick. Thanks to his big-breaking upper-70s curveball and upper-80s cutter, Pomeranz has a very small platoon split. His straight four-seamer sits in the low-90s and his changeup in the mid-80s. The Yankees faced Pomeranz when he was still with the Padres a few weeks ago. He held them to one run in seven innings.

Pomeranz. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Pomeranz. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Thursday (7:10pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. BOS) vs. RHP Steven Wright (vs. NYY)
Blah. Just can’t escape the knuckleball. The 31-year-old Wright has a 3.01 ERA (3.37 FIP) in 22 starts and 146.2 innings, though his home run rate (0.46 HR/9) has been on the rise of late. That was to be expected. Knuckleballers aren’t exactly known for keeping the ball in the park. Wright has average-ish strikeout (20.2%), walk (8.4%), and grounder (44.2%) rates, which is fairly common for knuckleball guys. Righties have had much more success against him that lefties so far this season. Wright’s knuckler floats in around 73 mph, and his get-me-over fastball sits in the low-80s. He throws his heater around 16% of the time, which is a lot by knuckleballer standards. Wright likes to surprise hitters with it in two-strike counts when they’re sitting knuckleball. The Yankees have seen Wright twice this year. He held them to one run in nine innings in May, and three runs in six innings in July.

Bullpen Status

You could make a case the Red Sox are without their second (RHP Carson Smith) and third (RHP Koji Uehara) best relievers right now. Smith is out for the season due to Tommy John surgery while Uehara is out for several weeks with a pectoral issue. Here’s the bullpen Farrell is working with now:

Closer: RHP Craig Kimbrel (3.31 ERA/2.59 FIP)
Setup: RHP Brad Ziegler (2.45/3.36), RHP Junichi Tazawa (3.52/4.15)
Middle: LHP Fernando Abad (2.72/3.79), RHP Matt Barnes (3.00/3.70), LHP Robbie Ross Jr. (3.76/2.91)
Long: RHP Clay Buchholz (5.68/5.62)

Kimbrel just returned a week or two ago from a torn meniscus. Ziegler and Abad came over at the trade deadline, and Buchholz … well he was so bad earlier this season that they had to take him out of the rotation. He’s been more effective in limited time as a reliever (3.32/2.97) than as a starter (6.31/6.33) this season.

The Red Sox had an off-day yesterday as they traveled home from the West Coast, so their bullpen is fresh. The Yankees had an off-day too, though they didn’t have to travel nearly as far. Both relief crews are in good shape going into the series. Makes sure you check out our Bullpen Workload page anyway.