8/24 to 8/26 Series Preview: Houston Astros

Houston Astros

Despite losing three of four to the Indians this weekend, the Yankees are still 4-3 in the first seven games of this ten-game homestand. The Astros are in the Bronx for a three-game series starting tonight. They split a four-game series with the Yankees in Houston back in late-June. That feels like an eternity ago.

What Have The Astros Done Lately?

The ‘Stros are red hot right now. They just swept three games from the Dodgers — Mike Fiers threw a no-hitter in the first game, then they beat Zack Greinke in the second game and Clayton Kershaw in the third game — and have won six of their last eight games overall. Houston is 69-56 with a +81 run differential this season, giving them a four-game lead in the AL West.

Offense & Defense

The Astros have an average-ish offense overall, scoring 4.26 runs per game with a team 100 wRC+. They do it with power (MLB leading 169 homers) more than on-base ability (22nd in MLB with a .306 OBP). Houston is currently without OF George Springer (131 wRC+), who has been out for a few weeks with a broken wrist and is not due to return for another week or two. IF Jed Lowrie (115 wRC+) left yesterday’s game with a thumb injury and is day-to-day for the time being.

Correa. (Presswire)
Correa. (Presswire)

Manager A.J. Hinch, who I have to think is the favorite for AL Manager of the Year at this point, builds his lineup around rookie SS Carlos Correa (138 wRC+), who might already be the best shortstop in baseball. If he’s not the best, he’s certainly on the short list of candidates. 2B Jose Altuve (114 wRC+) is having a nice year and the trio of OF Colby Rasmus (106 wRC+), IF Marwin Gonzalez (100 wRC+), and IF Luis Valbuena (98 wRC+) have been average or thereabouts. Valbuena has 22 homers and a .206 AVG. He’s the rich man’s Stephen Drew.

OF Carlos Gomez (87 wRC+) hasn’t done a whole lot since coming over at the trade deadline (25 wRC+ for the Astros) but I don’t think that will last much longer. He’s too talented. OF Jake Marisnick (69 wRC+) is Houston’s only other healthy outfielder at the moment. 1B Chris Carter (88 wRC+) is having a down year and C Jason Castro (79 wRC+) and C Hank Conger (116 wRC+) have split catching duties. (Castro’s the starter.) DH Evan Gattis (90 wRC+) is, well, the DH. Correa and Altuve are the two guys you really need to worry about right now.

The Astros are a much better defensive club now than they were at the start of the year. Correa and Altuve are very good on the middle infield and Gomez is unreal in center. He’s the best center field defender in baseball in my opinion. Both Marisnick and Rasmus are very good in the outfield — they’re center fielders playing the corners — and both Castro and Conger are good behind the plate. Gattis, Carter and Valbuena … not gonna win any games with the glove.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (7pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Scott Feldman (vs. NYY)
A knee injury has limited the 32-year-old Feldman to 16 starts and 97.2 innings this year, during which he’s pitched to a 4.05 ERA (4.31 FIP). He doesn’t walk anyone (5.4%) and his ground ball rate is very good (49.5%), but Feldman is homer prone (1.11 HR/9) and gosh, he misses no bats (13.0%). Righties (.355 wOBA) have hit Feldman harder than lefties (.287 wOBA) this year, though he historically has a very small platoon split. Feldman is a three-pitch pitcher, using upper-80s cutters, low-90s sinkers, and mid-70s curveballs as his main weapons. He will occasionally spin a low-90s four-seamer when he needs to throw a strike, and every so often he’ll break out a mid-80s change. The cutter, sinker, and curve are his go-to pitches through. They throws them 90% of the time combined. The Yankees did not face Feldman during the series in Houston earlier this season. I’m pretty sure he was still on the DL at the time.

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (vs. NYY)
Keuchel, 27, started the All-Star Game this year and has established himself as one of the top starters in all of baseball. He’s an ace. Keuchel has a 2.37 ERA (2.73 FIP) in 25 starts and 178.2 innings this year, and he does it by being the most extreme ground ball starter in the game (63.1%). He had a 63.5% grounder rate last year, which was the highest by a qualified starter in four years. Keuchel has added more strikeouts this year (22.3%) and he doesn’t walk anyone (5.9%), and he predictably keeps the ball in the yard (0.45 HR/9) thanks to all those grounders. He crushes left-handed batters (.158 wOBA) and is merely excellent against righties (.271 wOBA). Keuchel has three dominant ground ball pitches in his upper-80s sinker, upper-70s slider, and upper-70s changeup. All three have grounder rates far above the league average for those individual pitches. Keuchel will also throw a few upper-80s four-seamers and mid-80s cutters to keep hitters honest. The Yankees saw Keuchel a few weeks ago and he manhandled them: 12 strikeouts in a complete game shutout.

Keuchel is a great pitcher with a terrible beard. (Presswire)
Keuchel is a great pitcher with a terrible beard. (Presswire)

Wednesday (1pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Collin McHugh (vs. NYY)
This has been a tale of two seasons for McHugh, who had a 5.04 ERA (4.44 FIP) in his first 14 starts and 85.2 innings, and has a 2.84 ERA (2.93 FIP) in his last 12 starts and 79.1 innings. That works out to a 3.96 ERA (3.66 FIP) in 25 starts and 159 innings overall. McHugh has average strikeout (19.0%) and grounder (45.8%) rates but better than average walk (6.1%) and homer (0.85 HR/9) numbers. He has a reverse split (.349 vs. .270 wOBA in favor of righties) that is the opposite of what he did last year. McHugh has a four-seam fastball right around 90 mph and he uses it only 35% of the time or so. He leans heavily on his mid-80s slider and low-70s curveball, throwing them almost 60% of the time combined. Crazy. He’ll also throw a handful of low-80s changeups per start. The Yankees scored one run in eight innings against McHugh a few weeks ago. That was the second start of this 12-start stretch of dominance.

Bullpen Status
One of the biggest reasons the Astros are atop the AL West this year is their much improved bullpen — the relief corps has a 2.63 ERA (3.20 FIP) this year, up from a 4.80 ERA (4.11 FIP) last year and a 4.92 ERA (5.09 FIP) the year before. Closer RHP Luke Gregerson (2.88 ERA/3.22 FIP) has pitched each of the last two days, but otherwise Hinch’s bullpen is in good shape.

RHP Pat Neshek (3.18/3.39) and LHP Tony Sipp (2.17/3.25) are Gregerson’s primary setup men, and RHP Will Harris (1.47/3.28) sees a lot of fireman work. Ex-Yankee RHP Chad Qualls (3.79/3.64), LHP Oliver Perez (2.78/2.78), and RHP Vincent Velasquez (3.61/3.03) round out the bullpen. The Yankees will likely add a reliever today following yesterday’s bullpen marathon. Check out the status of the team’s relievers at our Bullpen Workload page, then check out Crawfish Boxes and Astros County for the latest and greatest on the ‘Stros.

Yankeemetrics: The last-place curse (Aug. 20-23)

Rare celebration against the Indians (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Rare celebration against the Indians (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Cy Tomlin
This might have been the most boring game of the season, until Joe Girardi got himself ejected in the ninth inning and the Yankees’ rally fell just short, sending them to a 3-2 loss to the Indians in the series opener.

Josh Tomlin held the Yankees to just two hits and one run in seven innings, becoming the first Indians pitcher to give up no more than two hits in at least seven innings pitched at Yankee Stadium since Bartolo Colon on Sept. 18, 2000. Of course, Tomlin entered this game with a 11.57 ERA at the new Yankee Stadium, the fifth-highest by any pitcher with at least two starts at the ballpark.

Cy Carrasco
The Yankees lost their second in a row to the last-place Indians on Thursday, which gave them a 1-4 record vs the Tribe this season and guaranteed they’d lose the season series. Combined with their 3-4 record against them last year, this is the first time that they Yankees have lost the season series to the Indians in back-to-back seasons since 1968-69.

Carlos Carrasco became the latest Indians pitcher to silence the Yankee bats, striking out 11 guys in 6 2/3 innings. He’s the only Indians starter in the last 100 years with that many strikeouts in fewer than seven innings pitched against the Yankees. The last pitcher on any team to do that to the Yankees was the Rays’ Matt Moore on Sept. 22, 2011.

Carrasco has now allowed one run in 18 2/3 innings pitched over three starts in the Bronx against the Yankees in his career. That’s the fewest runs allowed by any visiting pitcher in his first three major-league starts at Yankee Stadium (old or new).

Welcome to the club
It’s amazing what a little run support will do … Luis Severino finally earned his first career win, throwing six innings of three-hit, one-run ball on Saturday afternoon as the Yankees beat the Indians, 6-2.

The Yankees had scored a total of two runs when he was on the mound in his first three starts combined. And then Brett Gardner matched that total with one swing of the bat, hitting a two-run homer in the first inning.

Brian McCann extended the lead with a solo shot, giving him 75 RBI this season, the seventh time in his career he’s reached that number. The only other catchers in MLB history with at least seven 75-RBI seasons within their first 11 major-league seasons are Bill Dickey, Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons, Yogi Berra and Mike Piazza.

This is the second time in four games Severino has pitched at least five innings and allowed no more than three hits. Here’s the list of Yankee pitchers besides Severino with two starts like that within their first four career games in the last 100 years: Dave Righetti and Johnny Broaca.

Babe Lindor
This habit of losing to cellar-dwellars might really come back to haunt the Yankees. They dropped another game to the Indians on Sunday and are now 14-15 vs last-place teams this season; the Blue Jays are 16-11 against last-place teams and the Orioles are 23-7.

Dellin Betances took the loss when he allowed a tie-breaking homer to Francisco Lindor — the first homer that Betances had ever given up to a player batting left-handed. He had faced 302 lefties in his career before Lindor’s eighth-inning blast.

Lindor finished the season with a .433 batting average (13 for 30) in seven games against the Yankees. Over the last 100 years, the only players in their age-21 season or younger to have a higher batting average (min. 25 at-bats) against the Yankees are Claudell Washington (.452 in 1976) and Alex Rodriguez (.434 in 1996).

Brett Gardner reached a milestone in this game, becoming the sixth Yankee with 200 career stolen bases. He’s also just the second player in franchise history to get 200 steals within his first eight seasons, joining Hal Chase, who racked up 243 steals in his first eight seasons from 1905-12.

Fan Confidence Poll: August 24th, 2015

Record Last Week: 4-3 (34 RS, 30 RA)
Season Record: 68-55 (585 RS, 518 RA, 69-54 pythag. record) 0.5 GB in ALE, 5.5 games up on WC spot
Opponents This Week: vs. Astros (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Braves (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

DotF: Gamel, Sanchez have big games in Scranton’s win

Triple-A Scranton (4-2 win over Rochester)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-4, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K — he’s hitting .332/.379/.545 with 13 doubles, six triples, and five homers in his last 46 games … jeepers
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder & LF Jose Pirela: both 0-4, 1 K
  • C Gary Sanchez: 4-4, 2 R, 2 2B — slump’s over
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 1B Austin Romine: 1-3, 3 RBI, 1 K
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 7/6 GB/FB — 66 of 99 pitches were strikes (67%) … easily his best outing a Triple-A and it came at a good time, their bullpen has been taxed due an extra innings game and the recent shuttling
  • RHP Andury Acevedo: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 25 of 39 pitches were strikes (64%)

[Read more…]

Yanks lose Sabathia, lose 4-3 to Indians on Andy Pettitte Day

Yuck. Sunday afternoon started with the Yankees retiring No. 46 and dedicating a plaque in Monument Park in honor of Andy Pettitte, but the fun stopped there. They dropped the thoroughly disappointing series finale to the Indians by the score of 4-3.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Bum Knee
The Yankees, who are already thin on rotation depth, lost their leader in innings pitched Sunday afternoon. CC Sabathia exited the game with right knee pain in the third inning, after allowing two runs on a Carlos Santana two-run home run. It was a no joke homer. CC missed out over the plate with an 88 mph nothingball and Santana hit it into the visitor’s bullpen in the first inning. Statcast says it traveled 430 feet.

Sabathia walked four batters in 2.2 innings and looked out of sorts all afternoon. It was clear from the get-go this was going to be an ugly start. His velocity was down even compared to his other starts on normal rest, and Sabathia struck out just one batter, the last one he faced. He threw the pitch, got Yan Gomes to swing and miss, then trainer Steve Donohue came out and Sabathia left the game. It was not good. The Yankees are running out of rotation caliber arms.

A Missed Opportunity
With no outs in the third inning, the Yankees had two runners on base and a 3-0 count on No. 3 hitter Carlos Beltran. They needed the Indians to make an error to score that inning. Beltran swung at the 3-0 pitch and hit it to the warning track for the first out. He hit it well, but Trevor Bauer leads the AL in walks and had thrown six of his last seven pitches out of the zone. Odds of him throwing three strikes before one ball were low. Not sure I like swinging 3-0 there.

Jacoby Ellsbury advanced to third on Beltran’s fly ball, then scored on Brett Gardner‘s stolen base attempt. Gomes made a high throw to second, the ball deflected off Fransisco Lindor’s glove at the apex of his jump, and hopped away from the infield. Ellsbury was able to trot in for the run. Brian McCann and Greg Bird both struck out looking to strand Gardner at second. That inning went from potentially great to a letdown in a hurry. Huge moment in the early innings.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Bullpen Marathon
Once Sabathia was out of the game, Joe Girardi did that thing where he uses his entire bullpen in reverse order of his trust in the relievers. Nick Rumbelow replaced Sabathia and was charged with a run in two innings. A Chase Headley throwing error set the rally up in the fifth — Headley made a poor throw but Bird won’t see an easier hop the rest of the year, it was right at his chest and he whiffed — before Gardner and John Ryan Murphy teamed up for a damage-limiting double play.

The Tribe had runners on the corners with no outs, Santana hit a lazy fly ball to left, and Gardner was able to throw Mike Aviles out at home. Murphy did a great job coming out in front of the plate to catch the throw, then leaning back to apply the tag in one motion. Pretty slick play. Rumbelow intentionally walked pinch-hitter Jason Kipnis, then Branden Pinder came in and walked the next two batters, the second with the bases loaded. That was the run charged to Rumbelow. Blargh.

Pinder allowed a single and walked another batter in the sixth, but did not allow a run. He got two quick outs in the seventh before allowing a triple to Abe Almonte. Next up on the trust depth chart: Chasen Shreve. He struck out Jerry Sands to end the inning. All things considered, one run in 4.1 innings from the soft part of the bullpen is pretty good. The Indians had a ton of base-runners — 16 in the first six innings! — but never broke it open.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Comeback
The Yankees didn’t get much of anything going against Bauer after that third inning. He retired eleven of 13 batters after that inning and it wasn’t until the seventh that New York had any kind of serious threat. The game-tying rally started with a Stephen Drew walk — he fell behind 0-2 and came back to draw the walk — and continued with an Ellsbury double to right with one out. They were in business.

Between the walk and the double, Alex Rodriguez pinch-struck out for Murphy, which was a weird decision. Girardi gave up the DH with that move, and it was only the seventh inning of a two-run game. Plus he had a short bench because Mark Teixeira‘s banged up. Oh well, I guess we wouldn’t complain if A-Rod homered. Anyway, Gardner struck out for the second out of the inning, then Beltran blooped a game-tying ground rule double to left.

Prior to Ellsbury’s double, the Yankees were hitless in ten at-bats with men in scoring position. Ellsbury’s double was smoked to right field but Beltran’s double was the definition of “hit it where they ain’t.” It was just beyond the reach of the outfielder and just inside the foul line. Perfectly placed. That was the big hit the Yankees were struggling to get earlier this series.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Letdown
Once the game was tied, Girardi went to Dellin Betances in the top of the eighth, and he promptly walked the No. 9 hitter on four pitches. That’s okay! Only because McCann threw the pinch-runner out trying to steal second. Phew. Unfortunately, Lindor tomahawked a 3-2 fastball into the short porch for a go-ahead solo home run. The pitch was up in the zone but Dellin usually gets away with it. Not against Lindor though. Man is that kid impressive. The Indians took the 4-3 lead.

The Yankees did get a runner on base with one out in the eighth, but Didi Gregorius flew out and Drew stuck out on three pitches in a non-competitive at-bat. It was pathetic. Took two breaking balls for called strikes then swung over a pitch that nearly hit him in the foot. The Yankees went down 1-2-3 in the ninth, though Ellsbury should have walked. Home plate ump Tom Woodring called what should have been ball four strike three. His zone was brutal all day:

Tom WoodringLeftovers
The Yankees had five hits total. Ellsbury singled and doubled, Beltran doubled, and both Headley and Bird singled. They did draw six walks though, including three by Gardner and two by Drew. Gregorius had the other walk. The offense went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and geez, I don’t even remember eight at-bats with men in scoring position. Seems like a lot.

Justin Wilson tossed a scoreless ninth after Betances gave up the go-ahead run. Andrew Miller was warming up as well, but apparently down a run is less important than tied, so Wilson pitched. Six Yankees pitchers combined to walk ten (!) batters in nine innings. It’s the first time they’ve walked ten in a nine-inning game since June 2010.

And finally, the Yankees went 2-5 against the last place Indians this year, and four of the losses were by one run. That doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. They’ve done a really bad job of beating up on bad teams. That is a big reason why the AL East lead disappeared.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
You can find the box score and video highlights here and here, respectively. Here are the updated standings and postseason odds, as well as our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Now here’s the loss probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The four-game series with the Indians is finally over. The Astros are coming to the Bronx next for the final series in this ten-game homestand. Nathan Eovaldi and Scott Feldman will be the pitching matchup Monday night. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want catch any of the three games against Houston at Yankee Stadium.

Update: CC Sabathia exits Sunday’s start with right knee pain

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

2:41pm: Sabathia left the game with right knee pain and will have an MRI, the Yankees announced. That’s the knee with the degenerative condition Sabathia has had surgically repaired three times — including a season-ending clean out procedure last summer — and drained twice already this season. Not good news.

2:12pm: CC Sabathia left Sunday afternoon’s start with an unknown injury in the third inning. He struck out Yan Gomes, walked around the mound slowly, then Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue came out to talk to him. Sabathia didn’t lobby to stay in the game or throw any test pitches. He went right to the clubhouse. Here’s the video.

One thing we’ve learned about Sabathia in recent years is that he will pitch hurt. He pitched with a bone spur in his elbow a few years ago, has pitched through on and off knee trouble throughout his career, and even pitched through a Grade II hamstring strain two years ago. For Sabathia to leave like that, he must really be hurt.

The Yankees have not yet announced any sort of update on Sabathia, so stay tuned. Michael Pineda (forearm) is due to come off the DL on Wednesday and Bryan Mitchell is making progress after being hit in the face by a line drive, so the team can fill the rotation spot. Hopefully it’s nothing serious. We’ll see.