4/20 to 4/23 Series Preview: Detroit Tigers

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

The Yankees have won four of the first six games of this ten-game road trip, but the last four games figure to be the toughest. They’re in Detroit tonight to start a four-game series against a Tigers team that has been the best in baseball in the early going this year. And in case you’re wondering, no, the Yankees will not face Shane Greene this series. He started yesterday.

What Have The Tigers Done Lately?

Like I said, the Tigers have been the best team in baseball so far this year. They just took two of three from the White Sox — losing only to Chris Sale — and are 10-2 on the young season. Manager Brad Ausmus’ club has the best record and the best run differential (+33) in baseball right now. It’s super early of course, but no team in all of MLB has been better than the four-time defending AL Central champs.

Offense & Defense

Yesterday afternoon’s game was the sixth time in 12 games this year the Tigers scored at least seven runs. Six times in 12 games! They’re averaging 5.67 runs per game with a team 138 wRC+. That’s pretty damn good. It helps to be healthy on offense — Detroit doesn’t have a single position player on the DL or even listed as day-to-day.

Miggy. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Miggy. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

As always, Ausmus’ lineup revolves around the incredible 1B Miguel Cabrera (220 wRC+), who is simply the best hitter of his generation. OF J.D. Martinez (129 wRC+) and OF Yoenis Cespedes (152 wRC+) provide some complementary right-handed pop and the switch-hitting DH Victor Martinez (108 wRC+) is off to a nice start as well. SS Jose Iglesias (188 wRC+) is living the good BABIP life right now (.459).

OF Rajai Davis (118 wRC+) and OF Anthony Gose (190 wRC+) platoon in center field and 3B Nick Castellanos (125 wRC+) is the former top prospect trying to build on an okay rookie year. C Alex Avila (119 wRC+) is still the starting catcher and 2B Ian Kinsler (112 wRC+) is seemingly the “weak spot” on offense right now. IF Andrew Romine, IF Hernan Perez, and C James McCann round out the rarely used bench.

Defensively, the Tigers are strongest up the middle thanks mostly to Gose, Kinsler, and Iglesias. Davis isn’t as rangy as you’d expect someone with his speed to be and Avila is just an okay pitch-framer. Castellanos and Cabrera are comfortably below-average on the infield corners and Martinez is in right field because of his bat, not his glove. Cespedes is an above-average defender thanks mostly to his arm, not his range. That said, the Tigers are much better defensively than they have been these last few years.

Pitching Matchups

The Yankees have been talking about possibly using a spot sixth starter this week (Chase Whitley? Kyle Davies?) to give everyone in the rotation an extra day of rest, but the forecast for Detroit the next few days isn’t pretty. The rotation might get that extra day of rest thanks to a rainout rather than a sixth starter. We’ll see.

Monday: LHP CC Sabathia (Career vs. DET) vs. RHP Alfredo Simon (Career vs. NYY)
The Simon trade was one of the weirder trades of the offseason because he seemed like such an obvious fluke last season — Simon had a 2.70 ERA (4.33 FIP) with a .232 BABIP in 116.2 innings in the first half last year, went to the All-Star Game, then had a 4.52 ERA (4.34 FIP) with a .309 BABIP in 79.2 innings in the second half. Still, the Tigers traded for him, and it’s worked out so far. The 33-year-old Simon has allowed three runs in 13.1 innings across two starts, though he’s only struck out three. His strikeout rate has fallen from 19.3% in 2012 to 17.6% in 2013 to 15.5% in 2014 to 10.2% in the super early going this year. (To be fair, he moved from the bullpen to the rotation in 2014.) Simon is basically a four-pitch pitcher but it’s not the usual fastball/slider/changeup/curveball mix. He throws a low-90s two-seamer, a mid-80s cutter, a low-80s splitter, and a mid-70s curve. Lefties have traditionally given him a much harder time than righties despite the splitter.

Lobstein. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Lobstein. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Tuesday: RHP Nathan Eovaldi (Career vs. DET) vs. LHP Kyle Lobstein (Career vs. NYY)
The 25-year-old Lobstein is in Detroit’s rotation thanks to the first DL trip of Justin Verlander’s career — he suffered a triceps injury late in Spring Training and is slowly working his way back. Verlander’s still several weeks away from returning. Lobstein, a former Rule 5 Draft pick, got a cup of coffee last season (4.35 ERA and 3.82 FIP in 39.1 innings) and has made one start this year, allowing three runs on eight hits and two walks in five innings against the Indians. Last season in Triple-A he had a 4.07 ERA (3.45 FIP) with 19.9 K% and 6.6 BB% in 146 innings. Lobstein is the quintessential finesse lefty — he sits 86-89 mph with his fastball and uses low-80s cutters and changeups to keep hitters off balance. Every once in a while he’ll flip a low-80s curveball just to keep everyone honest. Lobstein is the opposite of overpowering and the Yankees will have to make sure they lay off his soft stuff just off the plate.

Wednesday: RHP Adam Warren (Career vs. DET) vs. LHP David Price (Career vs. NYY)
The Yankees get stuck facing Price this series, but you know what? It’s better than facing him six times a year like they did when he was in Tampa. Price, 29, is off to an incredible start, allowing just one earned run in 22.1 innings across three starts. He’s struck out 20, walked five, and allowed only 13 hits. Last season was arguably the best of his career — which is really saying something considering he won the Cy Young Award a few years ago — thanks to a 3.26 ERA (2.78 FIP) in an MLB leading 248.1 innings. His strikeout (26.9 K%) and walk (3.8 BB%) rates were off the charts. Price is the ultimate combination of power and precision. He still sits mid-90s with both his two and four-seamers and can paint the corners of both sides of the plate with both pitches. His mid-80s slider gradually morphed into an upper-80s cutter these last few years and Price will also throw a handful of mid-80s changeups and upper-70s curveballs per start. He throws the two-seamer, four-seamer, and cutter a combined ~80% of the time. There’s no messing around here. Price dares hitters to hit his fastball and it no one has been able to do it consistently for years now.

Thursday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (Career vs. DET) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (Career vs. NYY)
Sanchez has been a personal favorite for a few years now but he’s off to a rough start this season, allowing 14 runs on 20 hits in 16.1 innings. Seventeen strikeouts and four walks are nice, five homers allowed is not. (He allowed four homers in 126 innings in 2014.) Sanchez, 31, had a 3.43 ERA (2.71 FIP) with 19.8 K% and 5.8 BB% last season and put up similar numbers for several years now. He’s a deep arsenal guy, using low-90s four-seamers, low-90s sinkers low-90s cutters, mid-80s splitters, mid-80s sliders, and upper-70s curveballs fairly regularly. He’ll throw just about anything in any count too. Sanchez is off to a slow start this year but he’s real tough most days.

Avila and Soria. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)
Avila and Soria. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

Bullpen Status
The bullpen is always an issue for Detroit, isn’t it? This year their relief crew has a 3.00 ERA (2.33 FIP) overall, which actually has them among the best in MLB, but it’s still early. They are without closer RHP Joe Nathan, who is on the DL with an elbow issue. RHP Joakim Soria (1.58 FIP) has stepped in as closer and given Nathan’s big time struggles since the start of last season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Soria keep the job the rest of the season.

Among those setting up Soria are RHP Al Alburquerque (2.99 FIP), LHP Tom Gorzelanny (1.36 FIP), and RHP Joba Chamberlain (0.59 FIP). LHP Ian Krol (2.09 FIP) will see matchup duty against lefties and the last two bullpen spots belong to LHP Blaine Hardy (4.61 FIP) and RHP Angel Nesbitt (2.56 FIP). Despite their early season success, this non-Soria group of relievers isn’t the steadiest in the world. Get the starter out early enough and you can take advantage. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of New York’s bullpen and then check out Bless You Boys for everything you need to know about the Tigers heading into the series.

Yankeemetrics: April 17-19 (Rays)

Welcome back, Alex. (Photo credit: Chris O'Meara/Associated Press)
Welcome back, Alex. (Photo credit: Chris O’Meara/Associated Press)

Back to the future, Part I
Alex Rodriguez delivered a vintage performance in the series opener against the Rays, leading the Yankees to a 5-4 win at Tropicana Field. A-Rod was almost literally the entire Yankees offense on Friday night. Seriously.

Rodriguez went 3-for-4 with four RBI and scored two runs; the rest of the lineup produced one run and went 2-for-26 in the game. Each of his three hits either gave the Yankees the lead or tied the game: his second-inning solo homer put the Yankees up 1-0, his sixth inning two-run blast tied the game at 4-4, and his eighth inning single drove in the game-winning run.

Let’s give A-Rod’s performance the proper Yankeemetric treatment, in bullet-point form:

• His first homer traveled 477 feet, according to hittrackeronline.com, the longest home run in the majors this season and the second-longest by any Yankee over the last 10 seasons. The only longer one was a 488-foot shot by Rodriguez on June 15, 2006 off Cliff Lee at the old Yankee Stadium.

• He is the second-oldest Yankee ever to have multi-homer game with four-or-more RBI, behind only a 43-year-old Enos Slaughter July 19, 1959 vs. the White Sox.

• He ended the night with four homers and 11 RBI after the first 10 games of the season. A-Rod is the first Yankee in franchise history to hit that many homers and have that many RBI in the team’s first 10 games at the age of 39 or older. The last 39-year-old (or older) on any team to reach those totals this early into the season was Eddie Murray for the Indians in 1995.

A-Rod’s eighth-inning heroics were set up by a lead-off single from Carlos Beltran. It was his 1,000th hit in the American League, making him the eighth player in major-league history with at least 1,000 hits in both leagues. The others are Frank Robinson, Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, Fred McGriff, Orlando Cabrera, Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano.

Back to the future, Part II
Masahiro Tanaka tossed his first (and hopefully not last) gem of the season on Saturday night as the Yankees clinched their first series win of the season with a 9-0 victory. It was the second-biggest shutout win for the Yankees at Tropicana Field, behind only a 10-0 blowout on April 10, 2010.

Tanaka dominated the Rays lineup, throwing seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts, no walks and two hits allowed. The last Yankee right-hander with a performance like that – at least eight strikeouts, zero walks and no more than two hits given up – was Mike Mussina in his near-perfect game against the Red Sox on Sept. 2, 2001.

The game was a pitchers duel until the sixth inning when Brian McCann ripped a two-run triple to break a scoreless tie. It had been more than 15 years since a Yankee catcher hit a go-ahead triple that late in a game. Jorge Posada‘s sixth-inning bases-loaded triple on April 13, 2000 was the game-winning hit against the Rangers.

Chris Young turned the game into a rout with a grand slam in the seventh inning. He is the first Yankee right-fielder with a grand slam against the Rays since Paul O’Neil on August 16, 2001. Before Young, no Yankee right-fielder had ever hit a grand slam at Tropicana Field.

How sweep it is
The Yankees finished off their first sweep of the season with a 5-3 win on Sunday. Last year the team didn’t record its first series sweep of three games or more until June 10-12 at Seattle.

Yes, the Yankees have certainly lived up to their Bronx Bombers nickname this season (17 homers in 12 games) but don’t underestimate their ability to play smallball, too. They scored two of their five runs via sacrifice flies on Sunday, bring their total to an MLB-best 10 sac flies on the season. It is just the second time since they became an official stat in 1954 that the Yankees have hit double-digits sac flies in the team’s first 12 games (had 12 in 1997).

Andrew Miller struck out three batters after giving up a leadoff double for his fourth save of the season. It was his third consecutive outing with a save and at least three strikeouts, the first Yankee reliever ever to have a streak of games like that (Mariano Rivera never did it more than two appearances in a row, believe it or not).

Fan Confidence Poll: April 20th, 2015

Record Last Week: 4-2 (33 RS, 23 RA)
Season Record: 6-6 (64 RS, 56 RA, 7-5 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: @ Tigers (four games, Mon. to Thurs.), vs. Mets (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 Features tab in 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: Mitchell and Lindgren lead RailRiders to a win

Bad news: LHP Ian Clarkin has elbow inflammation, assistant GM Billy Eppler told Josh Norris. Clarkin will be shut down for a few weeks. At least it’s not something more serious, I guess. This has already been a pretty tough year for injuries in the farm system.

Triple-A Scranton (4-1 win over Syracuse)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-5, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • LF Ramon Flores: 1-4 — he has eleven hits and only five are singles (two doubles, one triple, four homers)
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding) — got picked off first … that’s five errors in nine games now … he had 12 errors in 122 games all of last season
  • RF Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 R, 1 K
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 11/3 GB/FB — 59 of 94 pitches were strikes (63%) … very nice outing on his 24th birthday
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 4/0 GB/FB — 21 of 30 pitches were strikes (70%) … 27 of the 32 batters he’s faced this year have either struck out (nine) or hit a ground ball (18) … just wasting bullets down here

[Read more…]

Sunday Night Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the last few hours of the weekend. The Cardinals and Reds are the ESPN Sunday Night Game (Wainwright vs. Leake) plus there’s a whole bunch of playoff hockey and basketball on as well. Talk about those games, this afternoon’s win, or anything else right here.

Sweep! Yankees take third straight from Rays with 5-3 win

So, who would have guessed the Yankees would sweep a team before they got swept this season? Not many after those first three series, I’m guessing. New York finished off their first three-game sweep of the Rays at Tropicana Field since September 2005 on Sunday afternoon with a 5-3 win.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Early Attack
The Yankees were all over Rays starter Matt Andriese. All over him. Seven of the first 12 batters he faced reached base and ten of the 18 batters he faced overall reached base. Runs scored on three of his outs (two sac flies and a ground out), another out was a sac bunt, and two other outs were line drives right at defenders. The Yankees swung and missed at one of his final 32 pitches once the lineup turned over for the third time.

The Yankees built their four runs off Andriese without the benefit of any home runs. The first was a good old manufacturin’ — Jacoby Ellsbury singled, moved to second on a balk, was bunted to third, then scored on Mark Teixeira‘s sac fly in the first inning. The second and third runs scored on a single (Brett Gardner), a double (A-Rod!), a ground ball (Teixeira), and an infield single (Chase Headley) in the third inning. It maybe could have been a bigger inning had Ellsbury not been thrown out throwing to steal second following a leadoff single.

The fourth run of the afternoon scored on John Ryan Murphy‘s sac fly following a Garrett Jones triple in the fourth inning — Desmond Jennings gets an assist for a poor attempt at a sliding catch. Brian McCann and Jones hit the Yankees’ first two triples of the season, just as we all expected. All of that adds up to four runs on eight hits and two walks with just one strikeout in 3.1 innings against Andriese. Like I said, they were all over him.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Please Return If Found: Pineda’s Slider
Although the results weren’t great (5.11 ERA), I thought Michael Pineda‘s stuff looked pretty good in his first two starts. Fifteen strikeouts and one walk in 12.1 innings kinda support that. Sunday’s game was the opposite — his stuff wasn’t as crisp, particularly his slider, but the results were good enough. He battled through 5.2 innings of three-run ball, allowing seven hits and one walk. He struck out five and threw 58 of 92 pitches for strikes (63%).

Pineda’s slider in particular didn’t seem to be cooperating against the Rays and that was evident on his 11th pitch of the game, which was a hanging slider Steven Souza Jr. skied to left for a two-run homer. Pineda missed his spot by the full width of the plate and the pitch just spun but didn’t do anything. Classic cement mixer. Tampa scored their third run on two ground balls — a single through the left side by David DeJesus and a double down the left field line by Souza. Pineda didn’t have a single 1-2-3 inning but was able to limit the damage. Sometimes you don’t have your best stuff and need to battle, which is what Big Mike did Sunday. Consider this a learning experience.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Hang On!
The Yankees scored their fifth run when Headley doubled into the right field corner. Alex Rodriguez singled to start the inning and moved to second on Teixeira’s fielder’s choice. I’m guessing Alex wouldn’t have scored from first on the double, so hooray for moving the runner over. After Headley’s double, just five of the final 19 batters they sent to the plate reached base. Didi Gregorius struck out with the bases loaded to end the seventh, which was their best chance to score some more insurance runs.

The bullpen was tasked with protecting an annoyingly close two-run lead for the final ten outs and it took four relievers to do it. Chris Martin faced three batters and retired one, which ended the sixth inning. Justin Wilson retired pinch-hitter Logan Forsythe for the first out of the seventh inning before Dellin Betances got the next five outs. He walked Jennings in the eighth inning but got out of it. Andrew Miller, who at this point is clearly the closer even though Joe Girardi won’t call him that, struck out three straight batters after allowing a leadoff double in the ninth. The non-closer is 4-for-4 in save chances.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Leftovers
Betances stranded one of Martin’s runners in the seventh and got five outs total. Only six of his 23 pitches were fastballs, and over his last three appearances, only 18 of his last 61 pitches have been fastballs. I’ve heard pitchers who are struggling with their mechanics will throw a lot of breaking balls because it forces them to slow their deliveries down a bit, so maybe that’s what Dellin is doing. At some point he’s going to have to throw more fastballs though.

The Yankees had the leadoff man reach base in each of the first seven innings. Through a dozen games this year, the Yankees have a .362 OBP when leading off an inning. Last year they had a .299 OBP leading off innings. Ellsbury (two), Headley (two), Jones (three), and Gregorius (two) all had multiple hits. Jones had the triple and two singles to the left side to beat the shift. A-Rod went 1-for-3 with two walks. He’s hitting .316/.447/.711. Yup.

And finally, the Rays challenged a nice play by Stephen Drew and Teixeira in the sixth inning — Drew was in the shift, ranged to his left, threw from his knees in shallow right field, and Teixeira kept his toe on the bag while stretching to catch the throw — and lost. They’re 0-for-7 on challenges this year. How does that happen? You get to watch the video before challenging!

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. For science, or something. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are off to Detroit for a four-game series with the Tigers, who have been the best team in baseball in the early going. Former All-Stars CC Sabathia and Alfredo Simon will be on the mound Monday night. Yep, Simon was once an All-Star. Just last year too.

Game 12: Big Mike for the series sweep

BIG MIKE IS HERE

Thanks to yesterday’s blowout win, the Yankees have a positive run differential (+6) for the first time since April 24th of last season (+2). Almost exactly one year to the day. They have a chance to build on that run differential today and earn a sweep of the Rays, which would be their first three-game series sweep in Tropicana Field since 2005. I can’t believe it’s been that long. They were still the Devil Rays from 2005-07, remember. Here is the starting lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 2B Stephen Drew
  7. RF Garrett Jones
  8. C John Ryan Murphy
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Michael Pineda

Tampa Bay will look to salvage the series behind rookie righty Matt Andriese. He’s making his second career start after allowing two runs in 3.2 innings against the Blue Jays last week. Here is their lineup.

This afternoon’s game will begin a bit after 1pm ET and you can watch on WPIX. Weekend day game on WPIX really brings me back. Enjoy the game.