Better matchup for the Wild Card Game: Angels or Twins?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With a week and a half left in the season, the Yankees appear set to host the American League Wild Card Game.

The team is still in hot pursuit of the division crown, but the Red Sox’s extra-inning escapes against the Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays in recent weeks have kept the Yankees from catching up.

Therefore, it’s time to look at the two likely potential opponents for the Wild Card Game: the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins. The Yankees are 4-2 this season against the Twins and 2-4 against the Angels. While these are very different teams from past iterations of the Angels and Twins that the Yankees faced in the postseason, those records certainly mirror recent history between each franchise.

So which team is a better matchup for the Yankees in a one-game scenario? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for each matchup.

Pros for facing the Twins

We’ve seen the case for why the Yankees would want to face the Twins this week. With Minnesota visiting Yankee Stadium, the Bombers were able to beat both of their top starters — Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios — while holding the Twins’ hot lineup at bay. Budding star Byron Buxton went 0 for 10 with a walk and was a non-factor in the series.

Perhaps the best reason to face the Twins is their bullpen. The Yankees got into the bullpen quickly against Berrios, who has significant home-road splits and therefore may not be the choice for a WCG. Rookie Trevor Hildenberger has been a revelation in recent weeks, but the rest of the bullpen is highly beatable. Matt Belisle is their closer and has converted just 7 of 12 save opportunities.

Their best reliever was Brandon Kintzler. He was traded at the deadline to the Nationals. That deal shows what the front office expected this team to do in the second half. Instead, they’re 28-20 since Aug. 1 and appear to be playing over their heads, although they’re 11-24 this season against the current AL playoff teams. The Angels are a more respectable 14-19.

They’ve had a lot of their success without slugger Miguel Sano. Sano struggled with injuries and is now on the 10-day DL with a stress fracture in his left shin, which likely has him out for the year. That should be a relief for Yankees fans: He’s the type of player that can turn a single game with his bat and is objectively Minnesota’s best hitter.

Cons for facing the Twins

There’s a lot to make the Twins a good matchup, but there’s also plenty of reasons to not to face them. A big reason to avoid them? Power. Even without Sano, the team has power up and down the lineup. They have five players with at least 15 home runs. They’ve hit the fourth most home runs in baseball since the All-Star break. And in the second half, they’re fourth with a 109 wRC+. They’re third in WAR thanks to a strong defensive unit.

Buxton epitomizes their resurgence. He returned from the disabled list on Aug. 1 and has batted .302/.348/.581 with 11 home runs and 21 total extra-base hits in 190 PAs. He’s still struck out 51 times, but he’s been a better hitter. What makes Buxton special is how he affects the game on both ends. He may be the best defensive center fielder in the game and he ranks at the top of the Statcast leaderboards for sprint speed.

In a WCG, the Twins could eschew their normal bullpen and simply use Santana followed by Berrios or vice versa, limiting the need for their parade of sub-par middle relievers. The Yankees can get to both, but they’ve each been special at times this year. Of any pitcher on the Angels and Twins, I would least want to face Berrios, who has a fastball-curveball combo that is unhittable when he’s rolling.

Pros for facing the Angels

Why would you want to face the Angels? Pitching, pitching, pitching. This team doesn’t have a clear starter for a one-game playoff, let alone a staff that you could see an easy path through nine innings. Three of their best starters — J.C. Ramirez, Matt Shoemaker and Alex Meyer — are out for the year. Their closer, Huston Street, threw four innings this year and is out for the season.

So who do the Angels turn to for a winner-take-all game? Parker Bridwell?? Bridwell is 8-2 with a 3.71 ERA through 102 innings, but his peripherals indicate he isn’t that good. He also has a 4.69 ERA over his last nine starts. Bridwell did hold the Yankees to three runs in 8 2/3 innings in two June outings, but he allowed nine hits and walked five to just four strikeouts.

Yusmeiro Petit has been the key cog in their bullpen and could throw multiple innings in a one-game playoff. Former Yankee Blake Parker has been solid this season with elevated strikeout numbers. But if the Yankees face anyone else in that bullpen, they should feast.

In the lineup, Albert Pujols still bats in the middle of the lineup despite batting just .242/.287/.392 (79 wRC+) and is an enormous negative on the basepaths. Teams have begun using extreme shifts to limit him further. The more he bats in the middle of the order, the worse things go for the Angels.

Cons for facing the Angels

Mike Trout? Mike Trout!!!! Why would you want to face Mike Trout in a one-game playoff?!?!

Having a stud starting pitcher is the best weapon for a one-game playoff (Luis Severino!). Outside of that, having a once-in-a-generation type talent that can dominate with his bat and glove is paramount. Trout is that. It’s like having a right-handed hitting Mickey Mantle for a one-game playoff. I’m not going to reel off his stats because Trout’s name should be synonymous with otherworldly success at this point in his career.

Unlike recent seasons, there is actually offensive talent around Trout. The Angels acquired Justin Upton at the August waiver deadline and he’s been mashing for three weeks in Anaheim. You’ll still want to avoid Trout beating you, but Upton makes you think twice before pitching around him.

Andrelton Simmons, the best fielding shortstop in baseball, has also turned back into an above-average hitter with power and helped turn one of the Yankees-Angels games earlier this season with a home run. The presence of Simmons extends their lineup, as does Brandon Phillips and the power of C.J. Cron and Luis Valbuena. It’s not exactly murderer’s row, but it’s more than the nothingburger the Angels had flanking Trout since their 2014 playoff appearance.

Ultimately, the Yankees should win a one-game playoff if they get there. They have the best lineup, the best starting pitcher — perhaps the top four starting pitchers — and the best bullpen of any wild-card contender. However, anything can happen in a one-game playoff.

My take? While Twins look to be a more complete roster, I’d rather not face Mike Trout and co. in a one-game playoff. It’s kind of irrational because one player can’t beat you unless you let him. And in a five- or seven-game series, I feel like the better overall roster is a bigger advantage. Yet in a one-game series, having the best player on either side could be magnified, particularly if that player can do what Trout does.

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The Yankees are playing well, but the wild card race is closer than it appears

Trout, Buxton and Machado (Getty Images)
Trout, Buxton and Machado (Getty Images)

For the past month, the focus for the Yankees has been on the AL East race. And rightly so, as they started July up a half game and are now just two back in the loss column. The division is still very much up for grabs.

But lost in the shuffle has been how the Bombers haven’t separated themselves rest of the pack in the AL Wild Card race. After play on Monday, the Yankees are up just three games on the Minnesota Twins, current holders of the second wild card spot. Just 1.5 games behind the Twins stand the Los Angeles Angels, four back in the loss column of the Yankees.

And despite the loss on Monday, the Baltimore Orioles are just 1.5 back of a playoff spot. The Texas Rangers are tied with them despite selling at the deadline. Further back are the Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals, both within three games of the Twins and six in the loss column of the Yankees.

By taking 3 of 4 from Boston, the Yankees kept themselves in the division race and added some much-needed distance between them and the Twinkies. Yet we’re just a few days removed from the Twins being just a game back of the Yankees and the Angels and Orioles each had impressive second halves to stay in the race.

Sure, four games up in the loss column on a playoff spot is comfortable for the time being, but there are enough teams in striking distance to cause some uneasiness.

The Twins have an easy schedule for the last four weeks of the season, playing just six games against teams above .500. Three of those are at Yankee Stadium in two weeks. They also have seven against the last-place Detroit Tigers and two with the San Diego Padres. The Twins made up ground in part from playing an easy schedule, but it’s not as if their remaining competition is about to deter them.

The O’s, meanwhile, have 12 games left against current AL playoff teams while the Angels play a bunch with the Astros, Indians, Rangers and Mariners. The Rangers have three with the Yankees and then play in the AL West of the rest of the way. Each of these teams will be tested, but they’ll also have opportunities to move up, especially if the Yankees continue to play .500 ball.

While there are clear opportunities for the teams chasing the Yankees, there’s obviously no need to panic yet. Baltimore, Minnesota and Texas can use upcoming series against the Yankees to catch up, but the Yankees can create further distance with wins. Even splitting those contests is a win with time running out.

Despite lackluster pitching staffs, the Orioles and Angels have shown the ability to win games with their bats in the last month and each has added firepower (Tim Beckham and Justin Upton, respectively) since the All-Star break. The Rangers have shown resilience even with Adrian Beltre out and Yu Darvish dealt at the deadline.

What should keep Yankees fans sane is the talent gap in the Bombers’ favor. The Yankees have the best rotation and bullpen of any remaining WC contenders and likely have the best offense, too. None of these teams have a backend that can rival David Robertson and Dellin Betances, or a top four of Severino-Gray-Tanaka-Sabathia.

The Twins’ defense is impressive, particularly with Byron Buxton in centerfield every day and they boast strong young talent with Buxton, Miguel Sano and Jose Berrios. Berrios may be the one pitcher the Yankees least want to see in the Wild Card Game if it comes to that. However, their bullpen is highly beatable, as is the backend of their rotation. They even dealt their closer to the Nationals on July 31.

The Orioles and Angels have high-end talent in their everyday lineup (read: Manny Machado and Mike Trout, among others) to get hot, but, again, their pitching holds them back. The Yankees’ Labor Day comeback against Dylan Bundy and co. was a supreme example of this. Beyond the top contenders, the Mariners have the best lineup of any remaining WC hopeful, but they’ve used 39 pitchers and counting during a season full of injuries and disappointment from their pitching staff.

Beyond simply the high-end talent, the Yankees also have the most depth, even after Aaron Hicks‘ injury. It’s the same depth that can win them the division and make them a legitimate World Series contender if they make the postseason.

But they have to make the postseason first and after going 17-16 in their last 33, that’s no sure thing. So when you’re scoreboard watching over the next couple weeks, make sure to not just look at the Red Sox, but also the wild card contenders. They may be closer than they appear.

6/20 to 6/22 Series Preview: Los Angeles Angels

Simmons. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Simmons. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The Yankees trip to the West Coast went about as poorly as it could. They dropped six of seven to the Angels and A’s, and suffered injuries and heartbreaking losses along the way. They’ve fallen to 16-20 on the road as a result of this road trip, so a return to the Bronx (where they’re 22-9) is quite welcome.

The Last Time They Met

It was last week, so this may well be a fine example of deja vu all over again. The Angels took two of three at Angel Stadium, and CC Sabathia left the second game with a strained left hamstring. Let’s take a look at some of the positives from the series:

  • Aaron Judge went 2-for-4 with a three runs, a home run, and two RBI in the first game. That home run was a two-run shot in the 8th inning, which broke a 3-3 tie and helped secure the win for the Yankees.
  • Masahiro Tanaka was solid in that game, as well. He went 6.2 IP, allowing 4 hits, 3 runs (1 ER), and 2 BB, striking out 8.
  • Chase Headley showed signs of life in the series, going 6-for-13 with a double and a home run. He raised his season OPS from .659 to .696 in those three games.
  • All nine Yankees starters reached base safely in both the first and third games of the series.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more in-depth analysis of the series.

Injury Report

Closer Cam Bedrosian returned from the disabled list over the weekend, and there’s a chance that reliever Huston Street will return this week, as well. Matt Shoemaker essentially replaced Bedrosian on the DL, due to a forearm strain. Otherwise, it’s the same story as last week – which means no Mike Trout and no Garrett Richards.

Their Story So Far

The Angels hosted the Royals for a four-game series after the Yankees left, and they dropped three. They’re now 36-37 on the season, including 10-10 with a +13 run differential since Trout hit the disabled list.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Mike Scioscia seems to have found a lineup that works for him over the last week and change – at least as it pertains to the first six spots in the order. If their last two series’ are any indication, the Yankees pitchers will see something along these lines:

  1. Cameron Maybin, CF
  2. Kole Calhoun, RF
  3. Albert Pujols, DH
  4. Yunel Escobar, 3B
  5. Luis Valbuena, 1B (vs. RHP) or Andrelton Simmons, SS (vs. LHP)
  6. Andrelton Simmons, SS (vs. RHP) or C.J. Cron, 1B (vs. LHP)
  7. Ben Revere, LF or Eric Young, LF
  8. Martin Maldonado, C
  9. Danny Espinosa, 2B

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Parker Bridwell

It has been a rather inauspicious beginning to Bridwell’s 2017 season, as the 25-year-old was DFA’d by the pitching-starved Orioles to make room for Paul Fry, and was subsequently dealt to the Angels for a PTBNL or cash. This will be the second start of his MLB career (he started against the Braves on 5/30), and his second time facing the Yankees (his most recent outing).

Bridwell throws a trio of fastballs, including a low-90s four-seamer, a low-90s two-seamer, and an upper-80s cutter. He also throws a slurvy breaking ball and a change-up in the low-to-mid 80s.

Last Outing (vs. NYY on 6/14) – 3.2 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 1 K

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco

There was a time when we were all waiting for Nolasco to break-out, owing largely to his strong strikeout and walk rates, which resulted in low FIPs that belied his high ERAs. He’s now 34-years-old, though, with a 5.02 ERA (81 ERA+) since the beginning of the 2014 season, so those days are long gone. Nevertheless, the 0.61 run gulf between his career ERA (4.55) and FIP (3.93) is the highest of any long-term starter since the end of the 19th century.

Nolasco throws mostly fastballs and sliders nowadays, with his four- and two-seamers sitting in the low-90s, and his slider checking-in in the low-80s. He’ll also throw a low-80s split change-up every so often.

Last Outing (vs. KCR on 6/15) – 6.0 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 4 K

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Jesse Chavez

To say that Chavez can do a bit of everything is a bit of an understatement, as the 33-year-old has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen several times over the last five years. He spent all of 2013 in the bullpen, split the 2014 season between starting and relieving, spent the vast majority of 2015 as a starter, and was used as a reliever for the entirety of 2016. He’s back in the rotation in 2017, and he leads the Angels in both starts and innings pitched. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate.

Chavez is a four-pitch guy, with a low-90s fastball, a low-90s cutter, a low-80s slider, and a mid-80s change-up. He’ll flash a curve, as well, but it’s not used more than a couple of times per game.

Last Outing (vs. KCR on 6/16) – 7.0 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 4 K

The Bullpen

The return of Bedrosian and potential return of Street means that the Angels bullpen is approaching full-strength. It was difficult to tell that they were short-handed, though, given that the bullpen has a 2.70 ERA (133 ERA+) in June. They held the Royals offense to 4 runs in 15 innings this past weekend, striking out 14 while walking just 2. It was all hands on-deck in the series against the Royals, with most relievers going at least twice. However, the day off and the return of Bedrosian should leave the group fairly rested and ready for tonight’s game.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Would it be a cop-out to lean on Simmons’ defense once again? If not, there you go.

If so, Bedrosian’s slider is among the best in the game, with batters hitting just .170 with a .019 ISO against the offering last year. It’s a filthy pitch, to say the least. You could also probably make a game out of how often the broadcasters reference his father – the Cy Young-winning Steve Bedrosian.

6/12 to 6/14 Series Preview: Los Angeles Angels

Matt Shoemaker. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Matt Shoemaker. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Ten days ago, it seemed as if the Yankees were in the midst of a swoon. They dropped two of three to the Orioles, split a four-game set with the Blue Jays, and lost the first game in a series against the Red Sox. That seems like so long ago, now that they’ve won five in a row by a combined score of 55 to 9 and taken a 4.0 game lead in the American League East. If you’re a believer in momentum, now is as good a time as any to begin a dreadful seven-game trip to the West Coast. Their first stop is Anaheim (or “Los Angeles,” if you want to be snarky).

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Angel Stadium for a three-game series last August, winning two out of three. They outscored the Angels 12 to 3, as their pitchers came up big in all three games. Some interesting numbers include:

  • The starting pitchers – Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green – pitched to the following combined line: 19.2 IP, 13 H, 2 BB, 19 K, 0.46 ERA.
  • Game two of the series represented a sign of things to come for the Yankees. Luis Cessa made the first start of his career (six scoreless innings), Gary Sanchez hit a solo home run, and Aaron Judge drove in two runs.
  • Ronald Torreyes went 4-for-4 with three runs, a double, a home run, and two RBI in the first game. He saw a total of eight pitches in those at-bats.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun facts.

Injury Report

It may not be a stretch to say that the Angels three best players are currently on the disabled list. Mike Trout is out until July as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, Garrett Richards has no timetable for return (he hit the 60-day DL on April 22 due to nerve irritation in his right arm), and Cam Bedrosian is out with a strained groin (and listed with a TBD return date). That’s their best player (and the best player in baseball), their ace, and their closer. And that’s not all, either – Andrew Bailey, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, and Huston Street are also out, and none will return in time for this series. That’s rough.

Their Story So Far

Even with the aforementioned injuries, the Angels are soldiering on. They currently sit at 33-33, and they just took two out of three from the red hot Houston Astros. And, for those in search of a hot take, they’re 7-6 with a +14 run differential since Trout hit the disabled list. I’ve yet to encounter anyone suggesting that the Angels may be better without Trout, but I’m sure that those takes will come if they continue to keep their collective head above water. How have they done it? In short, by being average across the board over the last couple of weeks. Kole Calhoun, Yunel Escobar, and Andrelton Simmons have been tearing the cover off of the ball in that stretch, but no other players have really stood out. Well, other than Albert Pujols, albeit for the wrong reasons –  he’s 6-for-36 since the calendar flipped to June, and his wRC+ on the season is an unsightly 84.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Mike Scioscia has been forced to use a wide array of lineups this season, due to both injuries and poor performance. The only certainly right now seems to be that Calhoun and Pujols will bat second and third, respectively, with most everything else up in the air. Nevertheless, I expect that we’ll see something along these lines:

  1. Andrelton Simmons, SS
  2. Kole Calhoun, RF
  3. Albert Pujols, DH
  4. Yunel Escobar, 3B
  5. Luis Valbuena, 1B / C.J. Cron, 1B
  6. Martin Maldonado, C
  7. Ben Revere, LF
  8. Eric Young, CF / Cameron Maybin, CF
  9. Danny Espinosa, 2B

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (10:07 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Alex Meyer

Meyer appeared on Baseball America’s top-hundred list in back-to-back-to-back seasons, peaking at 45 on 2014’s list. That’s not terribly surprising, given that he’s 6’9″ and 230-plus pounds, a 95-plus MPH fastball, and an absolutely wicked breaking ball. As is the case with most pitchers of his size, however, he has struggled with his mechanics and control throughout his professional career, while bouncing between the bullpen and the rotation. The Angels acquired him from the Twins in August, and now, at the age of 27, he’s getting his first extended look in the majors.

That mid-90s fastball and hard breaking ball (a mid-80s offering that scouts call a slider, but PITCHf/x calls a curve) represent nearly 99% of Meyer’s offerings. He throws a change-up in the upper-80s every so often, but he’s basically a two-pitch guy.

Last Outing (vs. DET on 6/7) – 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 9 K

Tuesday (10:07 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP J.C. Ramirez

The Angels are the seventh organization of Ramirez’s twelve-year professional career, as the 28-year-old journeyman has struggled to get an extended look over the last five years or so. This season represents his first time starting since 2011, when he made 26 starts at Double-A, but it doesn’t really show – he has been a league-average starter through 11 starts, with elite control (4.9 BB%) and solid groundball rates.

Ramirez works with a mid-90s fastball (mostly a two-seamer, but he’ll mix in a straight fastball), a mid-80s slider, and an upper-70s curveball.

Last Outing (vs. DET on 6/8) – 5.0 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Wednesday (10:07 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Matt Shoemaker

Shoemaker has quietly been a solid-average pitcher for the Angels over the last four seasons, posting a 102 ERA+ and averaging about 2.5 WAR per 180 IP. He was in the midst of a breakout last season, on the heels of reintroducing his splitter in mid-May, but a line drive to the head unfortunately ended his season on September 4. It was a scary incident, and Shoemaker suffered some severe injuries, including a skull fracture and hematoma, but he has thankfully made a complete recovery.

Shoemaker throws three fastballs – a low-90s four-seamer, a low-90s two-seamer, and a mid-80s splitter. The splitter is is best pitch, with a 21.8% whiff rate for his career. He also throws a low-80s slider, and, on occasion, a curve and change-up.

Last Outing (vs. HOU on 6/10) – 7.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 4K

The Bullpen

The Angels bullpen exemplifies how their season has gone thus far, as last year’s closers (Street and Bailey) and this year’s closer (Bedrosian) are all on the disabled list. In the interim, Bud Norris – yes, that Bud Norris – has stepped-up to the ninth inning role, where he has nailed down 11 of 13 save opportunities. He currently has a 2.43 ERA (174 ERA+) and 31.4 K% … you really can’t predict baseball.

Despite the injuries, the Angels have a top-ten bullpen in baseball by most metrics – and it’s not just because of Norris. Blake Parker – yes, that Blake Parker – Yusmeiro Petit, David Hernandez, and Keynan Middleton all have an ERA+ of 149 or above, and a K% of 27.7% or better. All five of those guys pitched yesterday, though, so their availability is up in the air for at least the first game of the series.

Yankees Connection

Blake Parker was claimed off of waivers by the Yankees last August, and tossed 16.1 uneventful innings down the stretch. He actually bounced around a bit this off-season, as well, going from the Yankees to the Angels to the Brewers … and then back to the Angels. He’s the 6th best RP in baseball by fWAR, thanks to his 0.94 FIP in 28.2 IP.

Andrew Bailey (2014-2015) and Eric Young Jr. (2016) also spent time in the Yankees organization.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Alex Meyer has earned some comparisons to Dellin Betances in his career, due to his size, velocity, and breaking ball, and he has posted some impressive strikeout numbers in his young career. Few expect him to remain in the rotation long-term, but he has excellent stuff and age on his side.

And Andrelton Simmons’ defense is almost always must-see TV.

8/19 to 8/21 Series Preview: Los Angeles Angels

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

The Yankees are out on the West Coast and they start a six-game swing through Anaheim and Seattle tonight. The Yankees haven’t had much success at Angel Stadium over the last decade or so. They’re 13-23 at the ballpark since 2007, and only once during that time did they have a winning record in Anaheim. They went 2-1 there in 2014. Hopefully this trip goes better. The Yankees swept four games from the Angels at Yankee Stadium back in June.

What Have They Done Lately?

Good gravy are the Angels bad. They’re so bad they give me anxiety. How are they going to turn this around? The big league team stinks and they have the worst farm system in baseball. New GM Billy Eppler, who spent years as Brian Cashman‘s right-hand man, sure has his hands full. The Halos recently snapped an eleven-game losing streak and they’re 51-70 with a -34 run differential overall this season. Only the Braves (44-77), Twins (49-72), Diamondbacks (50-71), and Rays (50-69) have worse records.

Offense & Defense

Believe it or not, the Angels have a pretty good offense this season. They’ve averaging 4.52 runs per game with a team 102 wRC+, so they’re above-average. Way better than the Yankees too (4.15 and 88). The Halos are currently without 1B C.J. Cron (120 wRC+), though he could be activated at some point this weekend. He’s been sidelined with a hand injury. Both C Geovany Soto (knee) and OF Shane Robinson (hip) were just placed on the DL.

Duckface Trout. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)
Duckface Trout. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)

As always, manager Mike Scioscia builds his lineup around CF Mike Trout (166 wRC+), who remains the best player in the world. I got caught up in the Bryce Harper hypefest earlier this season too. Shame on me. Trout is simply incredible. He’s so, so good. Trout hits third with 3B Yunel Escobar (116 wRC+) and RF Kole Calhoun (114 wRC+) in front of him, and DH Albert Pujols (102 wRC+) and SS Andrelton Simmons (81 wRC+) behind him. Simmons is day-to-day with a little rib problem, it should be noted.

1B/OF Ji-Man Choi (68 wRC+) is playing left field regularly and 2B Johnny Giavotella (80 wRC+) is the second baseman. C Jett Bandy (116 wRC+) and C Carlos Perez (62 wRC+) share catching duties. I called him Jeff Bandy in the previous series preview. Oops. UTIL Jefry Marte (101 wRC+) has been playing first base with Cron out. OF Nick Buss (143 wRC+), IF Cliff Pennington (97 wRC+), and ex-Yankee IF Gregorio Petit (91 wRC+) are the other bench players. Petit had an annoyingly huge series in New York last time these two clubs met.

The Angels are a pretty good team, defensively. Trout is awesome in center and so is Calhoun in right. Simmons is still the best defensive shortstop in baseball, and both Giavotella and Escobar are solid as well. Choi is playing out of position in left field, so he’s their one real weakness. Both Bandy and Perez are very good defenders. Like Scioscia would have an offense-first catcher. Hah.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (10:05pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. LAA) vs. RHP Jered Weaver (vs. NYY)
Once upon a time the Weaver was one of the best pitchers in baseball thanks to his unique ability to generate weak pop-ups. Now he’s 33 years old and has a 5.32 ERA (5.59 FIP) in 23 starts and 133.2 innings this season. He doesn’t miss bats (11.6%), doesn’t get grounders (28.5%), and doesn’t keep the ball in the park (1.75 HR/9). Weaver does limit walks (6.4%) though, plus his platoon split is tiny. (Because everyone crushes him.) These days Weaver averages 83.7 mph with his fastball, better than only knuckleballers R.A. Dickey and Steven Wright among qualified pitchers. Doug Fister has the next slowest heater among non-knucklers at 86.9 mph, so we’re talking about a gap of more than three miles an hour between Weaver and the next slowest fastball. Yeesh. His kitchen sink approach includes low-80s sinkers, mid-70s changeups and sliders, and an upper-60s curveball. Everything is slow. The Yankees scored six runs in 5.1 innings against Weaver in June.

Saturday (9:35pm ET): RHP Luis Cessa (No vs. LAA) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (vs. NYY)
Nolasco, 33, came over from the Twins in a trade deadline move I still don’t quite understand for either team. Nolasco and broken Alex Meyer for Hector Santiago? Okie dokie. Nolasco has a 5.13 ERA (4.43 FIP) in 142 total innings this season — he’s still doing the “lower FIP than ERA” thing, one year he’ll live up to his potential! — with middling ancillary stats (17.6 K%, 5.5 BB%, 42.1 GB%, 1.39 HR/9). Righties have hit him much harder than lefties this season, which is unusual. Typically his platoon split is small because he’s a kitchen sink guy. Nolasco sits in the low-90s with his four-seamer and sinker, in the low-80s with his splitter and slider, and in the mid-70s with his curveball. He throws all five pitches regularly too. The Yankees saw Nolasco back in June, when he was still with the Twins, and he held them to two runs in seven innings.

Nolasco. (Jon Durr/Getty)
Nolasco. (Jon Durr/Getty)

Sunday (3:35pm ET): RHP Chad Green (No vs. LAA) vs. RHP Jhoulys Chacin (vs. NYY)
A few months ago the Angels acquired Chacin in a minor trade with the Braves simply because they needed someone to soak up innings. He’s thrown 103.1 innings across 17 starts and eight relief appearances this year, and he’s allowed a lot of runs (5.92 ERA) and a lot of walks (9.2%). The ground ball rate (49.4%) is good while the strikeout (17.2%) and homer (1.05 HR/9) numbers are mediocre. That all works out to a 4.50 FIP. Chacin has a small platoon split, and his trademark pitch is a low-90s sinker. He backs it up with upper-80s cutters, mid-80s changeups, low-80s sliders, and upper-80s curveballs. Chacin throws everything too. He’s a true five-pitch pitcher. The Yankees faced Chacin during the series in New York a few weeks back. They scored five runs in 5.1 innings.

Bullpen Status

The Angels are currently without closer Huston Street (knee), primary setup man Joe Smith (traded), and secondary setup man Cam Bedrosian (finger). They’ve been losing so much lately that I have no idea who Scioscia would turn to in a save situation. Hopefully we don’t find out this weekend. Here’s the bullpen:

Closer: ?
Setup: RHP Fernando Salas (4.64 ERA/4.93 FIP), RHP J.C. Ramirez (3.67/4.19)
Middle: LHP Jose Alvarez (3.80/3.17), RHP Mike Morin (4.46/3.46), RHP Jose Valdez (5.68/6.62)
Long: RHP Deolis Guerra (2.72/3.38), LHP Brett Oberholtzer (5.60/5.94)

That is not the Jose Valdez who spent parts of seven seasons in the Yankees’ farm system. That Jose Valdez played in Mexico last year and doesn’t seem to be active in 2016. The Angels have a different Jose Valdez. Salas is by far the most experienced reliever in the bullpen — he saved 24 games for the 2011 Cardinals, you know — and I assume he’s their ninth inning guy for the time being.

Alvarez (three pitches), Valdez (nine pitches), and Salas (26 pitches) all pitched last night. The Yankees had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is as fresh as it’s going to get. Check out our Bullpen Workload for Joe Girardi‘s recent reliever usage anyway.

6/6 to 6/9 Series Preview: Los Angeles Angels

Mike Scioscia

That long ten-game, four-city road trip is finally over. The Yankees are now back home for a seven-game homestand that wraps up this long 41 games in 40 days stretch. It’s been a grind. Even for fans, I think. The Angels are in the Bronx for four games this week. This is the first meeting of the season between these two teams.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Halos erased a 4-1 deficit in the late innings yesterday to earn a 5-4 win over the Pirates in Pittsburgh. They took two of three over the weekend and have the same 26-30 record as the Yankees. The Angels have the better run differential though: -11 to -31. You win this round, Billy Eppler.

Offense & Defense

When I looked over the roster before the season, I wondering how in the world the Angels would score runs. They’ve actually been pretty respectable offensively, averaging 4.36 runs per game with a team 100 wRC+. As a team the Halos have the lowest strikeout rate (15.8%) and third highest contact rate (81.6%) in baseball, so they’re going to put the ball in play. Then again, the Yankees have the fifth lowest strikeout rate (19.2%) and second highest contact rate (81.7%), so maybe they’re not the most predictive thing in the world.

You know who this is, right? Right. (Justin Berl/Getty)
You know who this is, right? Right. (Getty)

The Angels have a laundry list of players on the DL at the moment, most notably SS Andrelton Simmons (45 wRC+). He tore a thumb ligament a few weeks back and is expected to begin a minor league rehab assignment today. Needless to say, Simmons won’t be back this series. The left field platoon of OF Daniel Nava (70 wRC+) and OF Craig Gentry (22 wRC+) are out with lumbar and groin problems, respectively. Backup C Geovany Soto (128 wRC+) and backup IF Cliff Pennington (109 wRC+) are on the shelf too. Crazy.

Anyway, manager Mike Scioscia still has CF Mike Trout (164 wRC+) to anchor his lineup, and once again Trout is having an out-of-this world season. He’s so, so good. So good. 3B Yunel Escobar (120 wRC+) and RF Kole Calhoun (138 wRC+) bat first and second ahead of Trout while 1B/DH Albert Pujols (107 wRC+) cleans up. 1B/DH C.J. Cron (93 wRC+) and 2B Johnny Giavotella (82 wRC+) typically hit fifth and sixth in some order.

With Simmons hurt, ex-Yankees IF Brendan Ryan (-100 wRC+) and IF Gregorio Petit (74 wRC+) are sharing time at shortstop. OF Shane Robinson (104 wRC+) and OF Rafael Ortega (65 wRC+) handle left field. C Carlos Perez (55 wRC+) is the starting backstop with C Jeff Bandy (97 wRC+) backing him up. IF Jefry Marte (218 wRC+) is the other bench player. The Halos have good to great defenders all over the field. Their worst defender is probably Pujols or Cron, whoever happens to be at first base that day.

Pitching Probables

Monday (7:05pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. LAA) vs. RHP Matt Shoemaker (vs. NYY)
Two years ago Shoemaker finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Jose Abreu. Last year he had a 4.46 ERA (4.59 FIP) and missed time with a forearm injury. This year Shoemaker has 5.50 ERA (3.58 FIP) in ten starts and 52.1 innings, which earned him a brief demotion to Triple-A. Look at the numbers and you’ll think he’s stunk, but they don’t tell the whole story. The 29-year-old allowed 26 runs with 17 strikeouts in his first six starts and 24.2 innings. In his last four starts he’s allowed seven runs with 36 strikeouts in 27.2 innings. What changed? His pitch selection (via Brooks Baseball):

Matt Shoemaker pitch selection

Almost half of Shoemaker’s pitches have been splitters over those last four starts. Hey, when you spend parts of five seasons in Triple-A before finally getting a chance at the Major League level, you’re going to do whatever it takes to stay there, and in this case it means throwing your best pitch a frickin’ ton. Shoemaker sets the splitter up with low-90s four-seamers and sinkers — I guess the splitter sets up the fastballs at this point, right? — and he also throws a low-80s slider. These days he doesn’t bother with his upper-70s curveball. We’ll see how the Yankees approach Shoemaker now that he’s throwing all those splitters. It’s a tough pitch to combat.

Tuesday (7:05pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. LAA) vs. TBA
The Angels have nearly a full rotation on the DL at the moment. Garrett Richards (elbow), Andrew Heaney (elbow), C.J. Wilson (shoulder), and Nick Tropeano (shoulder) are all out. Richards and Heaney are currently trying to rehab partially torn elbow ligaments and avoid Tommy John surgery a la Tanaka. Tropeano hit the DL over the weekend and this was supposed to be his start, and the Angels still haven’t announced his replacement. They’ve given zero indication who will get the ball instead. It won’t be Tim Lincecum, who signed a free agent a deal a few weeks back. Scioscia confirmed he’ll make at least one more Triple-A tune-up start before joining the team. Scioscia seemed to indicate the Angels might go with a bullpen game tomorrow. It’s a big mystery for now.

Wednesday (7:05pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. LAA) vs. RHP Jered Weaver (vs. NYY)
Weaver, who is somehow only 33, has a 5.18 ERA (5.59 FIP) in eleven starts and 64.1 innings so far this season, and about the only thing he does well is limit walks (5.7%). He doesn’t strike anyone out (14.3%), doesn’t get grounders (29.4%), and doesn’t keep the ball in the park (1.96 HR/9). His platoon split is small but only because both righties and lefties hit him hard. Weaver’s fastball is averaging 83.1 mph this year, which is bonkers. Only knuckleballers R.A. Dickey and Steven Wright have slower average fastballs this year. Doug Fister has the next slowest heater among non-knucklers at 86.6 mph, so we’re talking about a gap of 3.5 mph between Weaver and the next slowest fastball. Yeesh. His kitchen sink approach includes low-80s sinkers, mid-70s changeups and sliders, and an upper-60s curveball. Everything is slow. It’s a different look for sure. Doesn’t seem to be working much for Weaver this year though.

Not Jeff. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
Not Jeff. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Thursday (7:05pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. LAA) vs. RHP Jhoulys Chacin (vs. NYY)
The Angels picked up the veteran Chacin from the Braves in a minor trade a few weeks ago simply because they needed another warm body for the rotation. The 28-year-old has made ten starts and thrown 58 innings this year overall, and he has a 4.50 ERA (4.02 FIP) in those 58 innings. He’s always been a heavy ground ball pitcher (52.9%) thanks to his trademark low-90s sinker. His strikeout (19.4%), walk (7.3%), and homer (1.09 HR/9) numbers are middling at best, and weirdly enough, he’s been more effective against righties than lefties. That not typical. Chacin backs up his sinker with upper-80s cutters, mid-80s changeups, low-80s sliders, and upper-80s curveballs. He throws everything too. Chacin is a true five-pitch pitcher.

Bullpen Status

Injuries have struck the bullpen too. The Angels only recently welcomed closer RHP Huston Street back from an oblique injury that cost him six weeks. Setup man RHP Joe Smith is now nursing a hamstring problem that may land him on the DL. Here is Scioscia’s relief crew at the moment:

Closer: RHP Huston Street (0.90 ERA/4.82 FIP)
Setup: RHP Joe Smith (3.91/5.21)
Middle: LHP Jose Alvarez (4.23/3.01), RHP Cam Bedrosian (1.96/2.58), RHP Javy Guerra (5.68/7.70), LHP Greg Mahle (4.24/4.95), RHP Fernando Salas (3.76/4.11)
Long: RHP Deolis Guerra (5.14/1.12)

If Smith is not placed on the DL, someone will have to go down to make room for tomorrow’s spot starter. (Assuming it’s not a bullpen game.) One of the Guerras seems most likely given a) the fact they both threw 28 pitches yesterday, and b) the team’s transactions over the first two months of the season. Alvarez (17 pitches) and Street (14 pitches) both pitched yesterday too.

You can check up on the status of the Yankees bullpen with out Bullpen Workload page and boy, it’s not pretty. Joe Girardi has really worked the guys hard the last few days. Tonight would be a good night for Tanaka to pitch very deep into the game. That and the offense scoring a lot of runs.

Let’s try to find a bad contract-for-bad contract trade for Jacoby Ellsbury


Jacoby Ellsbury is a problem. Following last night’s 1-for-3 game, he is hitting .263/.321/.383 (95 wRC+) with 4.8 WAR in two years and 13 games as a Yankee. He’s now 32 years old, his defense is kinda sorta slipping, and he is still under contract for another four years and 149 games. Ellsbury is talented and he could certainly turn things around, but yeah. Outlook not so good.

Trading Ellsbury is far-fetched. He’s owed roughly $110M through 2020, and very few teams can and will be open to taking on that much money. Did you see how long it took good outfielders like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes to sign this past offseason? Ellsbury’s value is down well below those two. And oh by the way he has a full no-trade clause, so he can shoot down any deal. Not great, Bob.

Unless the Yankees eat a ton of money, which just isn’t happening, any Ellsbury trade would have to be a bad contract-for-bad contract trade. Those trades are surprisingly rare — straight salary dumps are much more common — but they do happen from time to time. At Ellsbury’s pay grade though? Forget it. It’s never happened at that salary. Moving Ellsbury in a bad contract-for-bad contract deal would be unprecedented. Not impossible, just unprecedented.

The number of teams with a similar bad contracts to trade are limited — there are lots of bad contracts out there, but few have over $100M remaining — and even fewer need a player like Ellsbury. Finding a match is tough. Here are four possible fits — I guess it’s five, but there’s no sense in listing the Red Sox and some ridiculous Pablo Sandoval scenario — for a bad contract-for-bad contract trade that sends Ellsbury elsewhere. The teams are listed alphabetically.

The Team: Los Angeles Angels
The Player: Albert Pujols
The Remaining Money: $165M through 2021

Does It Make Sense For The Angels? Oh yes. The Halos would shed more than $50M in future salary obligation and get a more dynamic two-way player. They could stick C.J. Cron at first base full-time, put Ellsbury in the leadoff spot and in either center or left field (Mike Trout has played a ton of left field), and then find a cheap DH. Angels GM Billy Eppler may have some lingering affinity for Ellsbury dating back to his time as Brian Cashman‘s right hand man.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? Nope. Even if the two teams finagle the money so the Yankees don’t take on any additional cash, New York would be acquiring the older and much more one-dimensional player. The last thing they need is another lumbering DH type on the wrong side of 35. Sure, they could stick Pujols at first base and let Mark Teixeira leave next offseason, then put Pujols at DH and Greg Bird at first when Alex Rodriguez retires the offseason after that, but yuck. This one doesn’t work for the Yankees at all. That Pujols contract is the worst contract in baseball.

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

The Team: San Diego Padres
The Players: Matt Kemp and James Shields
The Remaining Money: $117.75M through 2018 plus another $20.25M in 2019

Does It Make Sense For The Padres? It might! They’re currently rebuilding and looking to both shed money and add prospects. Ellsbury for the Kemp/Shields duo wouldn’t net them any prospects, but it would wipe almost $30M off the books, reduce their annual payroll through 2018, and also land them an upgrade in the outfield. Kemp has a degenerative condition in his hips and is a year or two away from being a first baseman or DH, and DHs do not exist in the NL. Ellsbury gives them the kind of speedy contact hitter who would ostensibly thrive in spacious Petco Park.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? Again: it might! Shields’ contract complicates things because he can opt-out after the season. If Shields opts out, the the Padres would actually end up taking on money in this trade because he would be walking away from $44M. I suppose the two sides could work out a conditional trade — if Shields opts out, the Yankees send a prospect or two over, or kick in more money — but when things start getting that complicated, bet against it happening.

If nothing else, Shields would give the Yankees an innings guy even though he’s dangerously close to a Sabathia-esque decline. Kemp would fit in decently. They could put him in left this year to replace Ellsbury, then put him and Aaron Judge in the corners next season since Carlos Beltran will be gone, and then put him at DH once A-Rod retires. Kemp would also add another righty bat. Would the Yankees take on money to move Ellsbury and take two declining players in return though? Seems unlikely.

Kemp alone would not work — the Padres owe him only $73M through 2019, so significantly less than the Yankees owe Ellsbury — so Kemp plus Shields it is. The Yankees would be taking on more money in the short-term, screwing up their plan to get under the luxury tax threshold, but the contracts would be off the books a year sooner. That’s not something that should be glossed over. They’d get out of the bad deal(s) sooner.

The Team: Seattle Mariners
The Player: Robinson Cano
The Remaining Money: $192M through 2023

Does It Make Sense For The Mariners? Yes if the only goal is shedding approximately $80M and three years worth of contract. No if the goal is improving the roster. Cano is a better player than Ellsbury, there’s no doubt about that, and the difference in the contract commitments is massive. Seattle doesn’t have a ready made second base replacement and they don’t really need another outfielder, so Ellsbury doesn’t fit their roster, at least not in the super short-term. Their motivation for a Cano-for-Ellsbury deal would be dumping all that money.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? No for a few reasons. One, that’s way too much money to take on. The Yankees had a chance to re-sign Cano and balked at that price. I personally would rather have Cano for ten years and $240M than Ellsbury for seven years and $153M, but that’s just me. Obviously the Yankees feel differently, otherwise Robbie would still be wearing pinstripes.

Two, the Yankees now have Starlin Castro at second base, so they don’t really need Cano. An Ellsbury plus Castro for Cano deal would be fun in an lolwtf way — it would also even out the money slightly — but c’mon. The Yankees aren’t going to add Castro to the trade and still take on $40M or so just to get rid of Ellsbury. Not happening.

In a vacuum where positions and things like that don’t matter, I’d trade Ellsbury for Cano in an instant. This ain’t no vacuum though. That stuff matters and neither player fits the roster of their would-be new team. Ellsbury for Cano seems like the kind of trade none of us would even consider had Cano not been a Yankee once upon a time.

The Team: Texas Rangers
The Player: Shin-Soo Choo
The Remaining Money: $102M through 2020

Does It Make Sense For The Rangers? Finally, a trade that seems remotely plausible. Ellsbury and Choo both signed seven-year contracts two offseasons go, and while Ellsbury received an additional $23M in guaranteed money, Choo’s deal was back-loaded, so the two are owed similar dollars from 2016-20. Bridging the gap between the $102M left on Choo’s deal and the $110M left on Ellsbury’s doesn’t seem like it would be a huge issue, right?

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Rangers GM Jon Daniels has reportedly coveted Ellsbury for years, so I’m sure there’s still some level of interest there. The problem? The Rangers have a good young center fielder and leadoff hitter in Delino DeShields Jr., who is making close to the league minimum. Texas also has a top flight center field prospect in Lewis Brinson at Triple-A. They have options at that position, so it’s not a pressing need.

Either way, the Rangers will have a declining veteran outfielder making $20M+ a year through 2020 on their roster. The question is whether they prefer Choo or Ellsbury, who are very different players. Ellsbury is the two-way threat and Choo is the bat first guy. They both have their pluses and minuses. This would almost be like a change of scenery trade.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? I think so, even if the money is evened out. The Yankees need Choo’s offense — he’s hit .259/.360/.419 (114 wRC+) with the Rangers, including .276/.375/.463 (127 wRC+) in 2015 — more than they need Ellsbury’s two-way skill set. Choo slots in perfectly in left field in the short-term, then at DH in the long-term once A-Rod is gone. As with the Rangers, the Yankees are going to have a declining veteran outfielder making $20M+ a year on their roster no matter what. Would they prefer that player to be Choo or Ellsbury?

* * *

It goes without saying those four bad contract-for-bad contract trades above are all pretty unrealistic and very unlikely to happen. This just goes to show how tough it would be to move Ellsbury without eating a significant chunk of money. It’s not impossible, crazier things have happened, but his trade value is very low for the time being. And of course there’s the whole no trade clause thing.

My sense is the Yankees really like Ellsbury as a player and wouldn’t look to move him in a bad contract-for-bad contract deal. Their best course of action is to remain patient and hope he shakes off his slow start, and gets back to being the dynamic leadoff hitter he was prior to his knee injury last year. Ellsbury’s contract is really bad, and while trading him seems like a good idea, it’s very possible the best bang for all that buck will come from Ellsbury, not a declining player on another team’s roster.