9/18 to 9/20 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

Buxton. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Buxton. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Minnesota for a three-game series in mid-July, and dropped two of three. That was the last of the interminably lengthy stretch of series losses, thankfully, and the Yankees have gone 34-22 since. Some series notes:

  • The trade for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier was made in the midst of this series, and the latter two made their Yankees debuts in the third game. Kahnle threw a scoreless eighth inning, notching two strikeouts, and Frazier went 0-for-1 with a strikeout as a pinch hitter.
  • Caleb Smith made his big league debut in the first game, relieving Bryan Mitchell in the 6th. He took the loss after allowing two runs in the bottom of the 8th.
  • This was the first series that the Yankees lost in Target Field … it was their 8th season visiting the stadium.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more information.

Injury Report

Miguel Sano’s injured left leg has been one of the biggest storylines in Minnesota this summer, as the slugger has been sidelined since August 19. He was hitting .267/.356/.514 (126 wRC+) with 28 home runs when he went down with a stress reaction in his shin, and he was the foundation of the team’s lineup. As of this writing, his return is still up in the air.

Joining Sano on the DL are pitchers Phil Hughes (possibly done for the season), Hector Santiago (probably done for the season), and Trevor May (definitely out for the season).

Their Story So Far

The Twins are 78-71 with a +9 run differential on the season, and they currently control the second Wild Card spot. They’re four games behind the Yankees for home field advantage in that game, so that adds an interesting layer of intrigue to this series. A white-hot August propelled the Twins into the race, as they went 20-10; six of those wins did come against the tanking White Sox, though.

Byron Buxton has been the poster boy for the team’s turnaround, as the former number one prospect has begun to make good on his promise. He has a .323/.365/.622 slash line (145 wRC+), to go along with 11 HR and 10 SB (0 CS) since the All-Star break. And, despite all of the hand-wringing about his struggles prior to this stretch, he’s still three months shy of his 24th birthday.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Paul Molitor has a fairly steady hand with his lineup, though he does juggle the order a bit to get the platoon advantage. With LHP taking the mound for the Yankees today and tomorrow, we’ll probably see something like this:

  1. Brian Dozier, 2B – .260/.346/.480, 31 HR, 15 SB
  2. Joe Mauer, 1B/DH – .306/.385/.424, 7 HR, 2 SB
  3. Jorge Polanco, SS – .251/.307/.403, 11 HR, 10 SB
  4. Eduardo Escobar, 3B – .254/.312/.448, 19 HR, 5 SB
  5. Byron Buxton, CF – .258/.320/.430, 16 HR, 26 SB
  6. Eddie Rosario, RF – .295/.333/.521, 26 HR, 9 SB
  7. Kennys Vargas, DH/1B – .251/.311/.453, 11 HR, 0 SB
  8. Jason Castro, C – .234/.327/.380, 9 HR, 0 SB
  9. Ehire Adrianza, LF – .270/.335/.383, 2 HR, 8 SB

And Tanaka will probably face something like this on Wednesday:

  1. Dozier, 2B
  2. Mauer, 1B
  3. Polanco, SS
  4. Rosario, LF
  5. Buxton, CF
  6. Max Kepler, RF – .243/.314/.420, 17 HR, 6 SB
  7. Escobar, 3B
  8. Castro, C
  9. Robbie Grossman, DH – .249/.369/.393, 9 HR, 2 SB

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Ervin Santana

This is the 13th season of what has been a fairly productive career for Santana, who is still just 34-years-old. His 133 ERA+ is the best mark of his career, as are his five complete games and three shutouts. There are signs that this is more than a bit fluky – notably his 4.53 FIP and .241 BABIP – but he has been good more often than not for quite some time now, and this is his second big year in a row.

Santana’s mid-90s four-seamer and mid-80s slider account for nearly 80% of his offerings, so it would be fair to label him as a (mostly) two-pitch guy. He’ll mix in a low-90s sinker and a mid-80s change-up, but usually no more than a handful of each per game.

Last Outing (vs. SDP on 9/13) – 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jose Berrios

The Yankees matched-up against Berrios on July 19, and the 23-year-old more than held his own, pitching to the following line: 6.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K. It’s worth noting that that was in Minnesota, though, and that he has massive home/road splits. To wit, he has a 2.45 ERA (2.78 FIP) at Target Field, and a 5.14 ERA (5.00 FIP) everywhere else.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 9/14) – 5.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 5 K

Wednesday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Bartolo Colon

Father Time has seemingly caught up with Colon, whose 6.39 ERA ranks 124th among 126 pitches with 100-plus IP. The Yankees tuned him up pretty well in July, scoring 4 runs in 4 innings, en route to a 6-3 victory.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 9/15) – 6.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 1 K

The Bullpen

The Twins traded All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler at the trade deadline, in the midst of their soft-sell (which also included Garcia being sent to the Yankees). It was a group that ranked among the worst in baseball at that time, and it seemed destined for failure following the Kintzler deal. Instead, it has been rock-solid for the last six or seven weeks.

Matt Belisle (2.01 second-half ERA) has taken over as the closer, and rookie Trevor Hildenberger (3.11 ERA on the season) has taken over as the set-up man. Most of the pieces are the same as the last time these teams met – those pieces have just been better.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Buxton has done his best Mike Trout impression for two-plus months now, and he is one of the most fun players to watch right now. He’s a brilliant defender in center, a fearless and efficient base-runner, and far more powerful than his frame portends. The longer this goes on, the more folk buy-in – and that’s not too shocking, given his pedigree and prospect history.

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.

Yankees acquire Jaime Garcia from Twins for Littell, Enns

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

9:34am ET: The Yankees have announced the trade, so it’s a done deal. Officially official. The press release says the deal happened last night. Anyway, the trade is as reported. Garcia and cash for Littell and Enns.

8:56am ET: The Yankees have landed their new fifth starter. Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman report the Yankees have an agreement in place to acquire lefty Jaime Garcia from the Twins for pitching prospects Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns. Littell was scratched from his scheduled Double-A start last night, which was a pretty good indication something was up. Mark Feinsand says the Twins will eat a big chunk of the remainder of Garcia’s $12M salary. The Yankees are only responsible for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

Interestingly enough, both Ken Rosenthal and Jeff Passan say the Garcia trade does not end the pursuit of Sonny Gray. The Yankees still want him, though now they don’t need to pursue him with as much urgency. Garcia has some bullpen experience and even though they’ve yet to admit it, the Yankees are going to have to watch Luis Severino‘s and Jordan Montgomery‘s workloads down the stretch. Getting two starters would make that much easier.

Garcia, 31, was just traded from the Braves to the Twins last week. Minnesota has lost four of their five games since the trade to continue to slip out of the postseason race, so they decided to flip the rental Garcia. That doesn’t happen too often. Garcia allowed three runs in 6.2 innings in his one start with the Twins on Friday. He has a 4.29 ERA (4.04 FIP) in 19 starts and 119.2 total innings this year. Here’s my Scouting The Market post on Garcia.

The 21-year-old Littell came over from the Mariners in the James Pazos trade last year. He has a 1.87 ERA (2.87 FIP) overall this season, including a 2.05 ERA (2.31 FIP) in seven starts and 44 innings with Double-A Trenton. The numbers are undeniably great. Littell is a command pitcher without blow-you-away stuff and the consensus is he’s a future back-end starter, and hey, that’s not nothing. You’d rather develop your own fifth starter than pay $10M for one in free agency.

Enns, 26, has a 2.29 ERA (2.73 FIP) in 39.1 Triple-A innings this season. He missed more than two months with a shoulder strain. Enns has been unreal since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2015, throwing 239 total innings with a 1.51 ERA (2.92 FIP). Enns is another command pitcher, though he’s several years older than Littell and has an injury history. Littell ranked 29th in my lasted prospect rankings. Enns was unranked.

Last week the Twins traded righty 19-year-old rookie ball right-hander Huascar Ynoa to get Garcia from the Braves. He’s having a poor year statistically (5.26 ERA and 4.40 FIP in 25.2 innings) though he offers power stuff and is a similarly ranked prospect as Littell. A back-end of a team’s top 30 list prospect. Ynoa offers more ceiling and Littell more probability. That’s a very Twins thing to do. Trade ceiling for probability. Enns is pretty much a throw in.

It’s also worth nothing there are 40-man roster considerations here. Littell will be Rule 5 Draft eligible this coming offseason and he would have been very much on the 40-man roster bubble for the Yankees. I think they would have found a way to squeeze him onto the roster, though it wasn’t a lock. Also, the Yankees were going to have to clear a 40-man spot for Garcia, and Enns figured to be near the front of the DFA line.

The Yankees desperately needed a new fifth starter in the wake of Michael Pineda‘s elbow injury — heck, you could argue they needed another starter even before Pineda got hurt — and now they have one in Garcia. Ground ball heavy lefties are always good to have in Yankee Stadium. If the Yankees can manage to reel in Gray in addition to Garcia, suddenly the rotation looks mighty strong the rest of the way. Getting one starter was crucial though, and the Yankees have done that.

Yankeemetrics: Different city, same ending (July 17-19)

(AP)
(AP)

Stranded on second
The road trip continued westward to Minnesota, and the result was a familiar one. An inconsistent offense on Monday night led to another gut-wrenching close loss, 4-2, droppping the Yankees’ record in games decided by two or fewer runs to 14-23 this season. The only team worse in MLB? The Phillies.

The most frustrating part of the game was that they had six doubles – setting themselves up to drive in a bunch of runs – yet scored only twice. Only once before in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) had the Yankees finished a game with at least six extra-base hits and no more than two runs scored – an 8-2 loss on August 12, 1965 to the …. Minnesota Twins.

The game still had its highlights, however, with a few notable performances by our Baby Bombers. Clint Frazier legged out two ‘hustle’ doubles, giving him eight extra-base hits in his short 11-game career, the second Yankee ever to with that many hits for extra bases in his first 11 career games. The other? Someone named Joe DiMaggio.

One night after getting his first big-league hit, Garrett Cooper went 3-for-4 and drove in a run, earning our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Over the last 100 seasons, he’s the only Yankee first baseman to have a three-hit game this early into his career (fourth game).

Caleb Smith pitched in his first major-league game, giving the Yankees the honor of being the first team this season to have 12 players make their MLB debut. Although he ended up allowing the game-winning runs, his performance was noteworthy: he’s the first Yankee since Jose Rijo in 1984 to make his debut as a reliever and strike out at least five guys in the game.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

One game, two wins
Tuesday was a win-win for Yankee fans on and off the field: the team beat the Twins 6-3 thanks to some rare clutching hitting, while the front office delivered some much-need bullpen and corner infield help via a blockbuster trade with the White Sox.

On the field, facing their ol’ buddy Bartolo Colon, the Yankees chased the 44-year-old in the fifth inning as they exploded for five runs to erase a 3-1 deficit. Here’s a #FunFact about Colon (with a shout-out to loyal Twitter follower and guest RAB writer @LFNJSinner): Colon has faced 500 different players in his career, and two of them were the two managers in the dugouts for this series – Joe Girardi (1-for-2 vs. Colon) and Paul Molitor (2-for-8 vs. Colon).

Let’s not forget amid this current collapse that this Yankees team doesn’t ever quit. It was their 14th comeback victory when trailing by at least two runs in the game; only the Diamondbacks and Astros (both with 15) had more such wins through Tuesday.

As for the big news off the field, the Yankees and White Sox completed their first major-league trade since they acquired Nick Swisher in exchange for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez in November 2008.

By adding David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle (welcome back, guys!) on Tuesday, the Yankees once again appear to be building a dynamic super-pen filled with power flamethrowers to dominate the middle and late innings.

Entering Wednesday, there were 18 relievers in the American League that had pitched at least 20 innings and boasted a strikeout rate of at least 32 percent. Five (!) of them will be wearing pinstripes for the rest of the season – Tommy Kahnle (42.6%), Dellin Betances (42.5%), Chad Green (37.4%), David Robertson (35.6%), Aroldis Chapman (32.7%).

At first glance, Todd Frazier‘s 2017 slashline doesn’t seem to be very encouraging: .207/.328/.432 in 280 at-bats. But their might be some bad luck baked into those numbers. His BABIP of .214 was the second-lowest among qualified hitters at the time of the trade. That includes an unfathomable .144 BABIP in 40 home games.

Statcast metrics tell a similar story: Using the launch angle and exit velocity of his batted balls, you can get a better picture of a hitter’s quality of contact and his true skill, independent of ballpark, defense, etc. That can be expressed in a metric called expected weighted on-base average (wOBA), which is just like OBP but gives a player more credit for extra-base hits.

Based on that method, Frazier had a spread of 29 points between his expected wOBA and actual wOBA, the 10th-largest differential among the 175 players with at least 250 at-bats this season. To put that into perspective, his actual wOBA of .333 ranked 109th in that 175-player sample — the same as Yunel Escobar — while his expected wOBA of .362 ranked 35th — on par with guys like Cody Bellinger (.365) and Robinson Cano (.367).

After a slow start, Frazier also has been heating up recently. Since June 17, he has a wRC+ of 140 in 96 plate appearances – a mark that ranks in the 80th percentile among all players and is better than any other Yankee in that span (min. 75 PA).

Deja vu all over again
If the Yankees were truly going to pull out of their never-ending tailspin and actually win a series, a trip to Minnesota to face the Twins would seem to be the perfect way to jumpstart an extended run. Consider these stats entering this series:

  • 19-6 (.760) at Target Field, the highest winning percentage for any team at any stadium since at least 1913 (min. 15 games).
  • Had never lost a series at Target Field, which opened in 2010.
  • Won five straight series overall against the Twins, tied for their longest active series-win streak versus any AL team (also won five in a row against the Royals).
  • Oh, and the Twins have the worst home record in the AL.

Welp.

Historical success couldn’t help the Yankees, as they lost Wednesday afternoon and fell to 0-8-2 in their last 10 series since sweeping the Orioles at Yankee Stadium June 9-11. It was their first series loss against the Twins since 2014 and their first in Minnesota since 2008.

If not for the second inning, the Yankees might have had a chance to actually break out of their slump. All six of the Twins’ runs came in the second frame and all six also came with two outs, a rare two-out implosion by Jordan Montgomery. Over his previous eight starts combined, the lefty had allowed just five two-out runs and had held hitters to a .180/.255/.340 line with two outs.

The Yankee offense couldn’t bail out Montgomery, either, as their struggles with runners scoring positioned deepened (1-for-7), resulting in another disappointing loss. Even more depressing than their lack of clutch hitting is the recurring nightmare of failing to close out series:

The Yankees have now lost their last nine games in which they had a chance to clinch a series win, and have also dropped 10 consecutive series finales, including eight straight on the road. Overall, this was their 10th loss in a “rubber game” (third game of a three-game series in which the teams split the first two games), which leads all MLB teams this season.

7/17 to 7/19 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Even though we’re now in the second half, the Yankees have somehow only played ten of the other 14 American League teams so far this season. They’ll knock out two others on this road trip. They’ll start the week in Minnesota and end the week in Seattle. The Yankees and Twins are playing three games in Target Field, starting tonight.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Twins started their second half by losing two of the three to the Astros, who have outscored them 57-28 in six head-to-head meetings this season. A one-sided season series that has been. Overall, the Twins are 46-45 despite a -65 run differential. They’re the anti-Yankees. The Yankees are massively underperforming relatively to their run differential. The Twins are massively overperforming. Also, these two teams are separated by only 1.5 games in the wildcard race — two games in the loss column if you’re smart and keep track of such things — so this isn’t a nothing series.

Offense & Defense

The Twins have a roughly league average offense so far this season. They’re averaging 4.56 runs per game with a team 95 wRC+, so yeah, about average. Minnesota is without CF Byron Buxton (62 wRC+), who was recently placed on the disabled list with a groin injury. He won’t be back this series. Manager Paul Molitor does tend to shuffle things around, though this is generally his go-to lineup:

  1. 2B Brian Dozier (101 wRC+)
  2. CF Zack Granite (-10 wRC+ in 16 plate appearances)
  3. 1B Joe Mauer (104 wRC+)
  4. 3B Miguel Sano (133 wRC+)
  5. RF Max Kepler (105 wRC+)
  6. DH Robbie Grossman (113 wRC+)
  7. LF Eddie Rosario (105 wRC+)
  8. SS Jorge Polanco (53 wRC+)
  9. C Jason Castro (82 wRC+)

Remember when Dozier hit 42 home runs last season? That’s the most ever by an American League second baseman. Well this year he has 15 home runs. He’s have a good power year, though nothing like last year. I’m really surprised the Twins didn’t trade him this past offseason. Dozier’s stock was never going to be higher.

Anyway, Sano is the big scary guy in that lineup. He’s a monster. Kepler, Dozier, and Mauer are no pushovers, however. Dozier’s not what he was last year and Mauer’s not what he was back in the day, though they can still beat you. One thing about the Twins: they draw a lot of walks. Their team walk rate is a healthy 9.6%. Only the Dodgers (10.8%), Yankees (10.1%), and Cubs (9.9%) draw more.

Sano. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Sano. (Rob Carr/Getty)

On the bench the Twins are carrying C Chris Gimenez (93 wRC+), 1B Kennys Vargas (89 wRC+), IF Eduardo Escobar (95 wRC+), and UTIL Ehire Adrianza (91 wRC+). Fun fact: Gimenez has already made six pitching appearances this year. Six! He’s allowed four runs in five innings. That’s already the most pitching appearances by a full-time position player in a single season since Hal Jeffcoat pitched in seven games in 1957. Hopefully the Yankees force Gimenez to get back on the mound this series.

As for defense, the Twins are one of the most improved teams in baseball in the field this season. Last year they ranked 29th among the 30 clubs with a .681 Defensive Efficiency, which means they turned 68.1% of batted balls into outs. This year they’re 14th with a .706 Defensive Efficiency. Going from 29th to 14th is a pretty big jump. Getting Sano out of right field helped there. That said, Buxton is unreal in center, and he’s currently on the disabled list.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (8:10pm ET): RHP Bryan Mitchell (vs. MIN) vs. LHP Adalberto Mejia (No vs. NYY)
In a very roundabout way, Mejia has some ties to the Yankees. He’s the guy the Twins got from the Giants in the Eduardo Nunez trade last year. Eh? No? Nevermind. The 24-year-old southpaw has a 4.43 ERA (5.30 FIP) in 13 starts and 65 innings this season, during which he’s struck out 18.8% of batters faced and walked 11.1%. That’s not too good. His ground ball rate (45.2%) is fine and his home run rate (1.52 HR/9) is high even considering the homer environment around the league. Mejia has a big reverse split this year — lefties have a .385 wOBA against him while righties have a .327 wOBA — though that’s a sample size issue. He’s only faced 50 lefties compared to 238 righties. Mejia works primarily with a low-90s sinker and backs it up with low-80s sliders and changeups, both of which he throws a ton.

Tuesday (8:10pm ET): RHP Luis Cessa (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (vs. NYY)
Bartolo! The Yankees helped resurrect Colon’s career back in the day — he was 38 when they signed him out of winter ball back in 2011 and he’s still pitching — and now they’ll be the first team he faces in his return to the AL. Colon was miserable for the Braves earlier this season (8.14 ERA and 5.08 FIP), so they released him, and he hooked on with Minnesota. His strikeout (14.1%) and homer (1.57 HR/9) rates with Atlanta were bad. His walk (6.7%) and grounder (45.6%) rates were fine. Both lefties (.371 wOBA) and righties (.423 wOBA) crushed him. Colon is still throwing about 85% fastballs these days, though his velocity is mostly upper-80s/low-90s now. Remember when he showed up to Spring Training chucking 95-97 mph with the Yankees? That was fun. When he doesn’t throw a fastball, Colon mixes in low-80s sliders and changeups.

Berrios. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Berrios. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Wednesday (1:10pm ET): LHP Jordan Montgomery (No vs. MIN) vs. RHP Jose Berrios (No vs. NYY)
Last year Berrios, 23, was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Then he got blasted in his MLB debut. He threw 58.1 innings with an 8.02 ERA (6.20 FIP) in 13 starts. Yikes. No other rookie starter in baseball history has posted an ERA that high in at least 50 innings. This season Berrios has gotten back on track, throwing 79 innings across 12 starts with a 3.70 ERA (4.02 FIP). Good strikeout rate (23.0%), okay-ish everything else (7.2 BB%, 42.9 GB%, 1.11 HR/9). Lefties have had a little more success against him than righties (.311 wOBA vs. .277 wOBA). Berrios throws both a straight four-seamer and a sinking fastball in the mid-90s, and his go-to secondary pitch is a cartoonish low-80s curveball. He also throws a mid-80s changeup on occasion. It’s worth noting Berrios started out great, with a 2.67 ERA in his first eight starts, but his last four outings have been rough. He’s given up at least four runs in each of his last four starts, including allowing seven runs in 1.2 innings last time out.

Bullpen Status

Finally, the Yankees will know what it’s been like to face the Yankees’ bullpen these last few weeks. Minnesota’s relief crew has a collective 4.77 ERA (4.83 FIP) on the season, and that’s with All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler posting a 2.23 ERA (3.66 FIP) in 40.1 innings. The rest of the bullpen has been awful. Here is Molitor’s relief crew:

Closer: RHP Brandon Kintzler
Setup: RHP Matt Belisle (5.66 ERA/4.71 FIP) and LHP Taylor Rogers (2.06/3.59)
Middle: RHP Tyler Duffey (4.74/3.60), RHP Ryan Pressly (6.83/4.76), LHP Buddy Boshers (3.47/4.86), RHP Trevor Hildenberger (2.70/2.24)
Long: RHP Phil Hughes (5.87/5.41)

Hughes had surgery to treat Thoracic Outlet Syndrome last year and he wasn’t very good when he first came back, so the Twins moved him into the bullpen. This is the first year of the three-year, $42M extension he signed back in December 2014. He has a 5.04 ERA (4.93 FIP) in innings since signing that deal. That one ain’t working out as hoped.

I should note Hughes is also the only Twins player with real connection to the Yankees. No one else on their roster has previously worn pinstripes, though hitting coach James Rowson was a hitting instructor in New York’s farm system for several years. He worked closely with Gary Sanchez to Aaron Judge, among many others. Rowson left the Yankees and joined the Twins this past offseason. (Update: Colon is an ex-Yankee too. Duh.)

As for recent usage, Hildenberger, Pressly, and Boshers all pitched yesterday. Kintzler, Rogers, Duffey pitched Saturday. No one is coming off back-to-back appearances, so pretty much everyone is fresh, and Kintzler is ready to go for the ninth inning. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of the Yankees’ bullpen.

2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Monday

2016-winter-meetingsThe four busiest days of the offseason begin today. Well, three busiest days. Usually everyone heads home following the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. Anyway, the 2016 Winter Meetings begin today at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. The Yankees are expected to get down to business today after taking some time to review the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“I said, ‘Listen, give me at least 24, 48 more hours to see what sort of information we can get from baseball,'” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff last week. “So hopefully we’ll be able to hit the ground running Monday at the latest, but it’s in our best interest to know what we’re dealing with, first and foremost … Speeding up the process and going with the youth movement is going to play an even more important part now, more than ever with what appears to be some of the restrictions in the marketplace that are occurring here.”

The Yankees picked up Matt Holliday to be their DH last night, but they’re still in the market for “pitching, pitching, pitching.” All types. Starters and relievers, so much so that they’re said to be in on the all the top free agent closers. We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often for updates. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 10:30am: Cashman confirmed teams have asked about Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Gleyber Torres, and Justus Sheffield this offseason, among others. The GM added he is “open-minded to listen on anything.”. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees have not yet made a formal offer to Rich Hill, who is said to be closing in a deal with the Dodgers. New York has been connected to Hill all offseason because he is, by far, the best available free agent starter. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:30am: Chase Headley and Brett Gardner both remain available, though “interest is relatively mild” at the moment. [Heyman]
  • 11:47am: The Yankees are among the teams looking for a lefty reliever. I assume this means a matchup guy for the middle innings, not simply Aroldis Chapman. [Heyman]
  • 12:41pm: One of the three top closers is off the board: Mark Melancon has agreed to sign with the Giants. No word on the contract terms yet. I’ll guess … four years and $60M. (Update: It’s four years and $62M.) [Buster Olney]
  • 1:16pm: Rich Hill is off the board. The Dodgers have re-signed him to a three-year deal worth $48M, the team announced. The Yankees had been in contact with him.
  • 1:36pm: The Yankees are one of several teams in “ongoing” talks with Luis Valbuena. He’s looking for multiple years and right now the team thinks his asking price is too high. [Joel Sherman]
  • 1:50pm: Chapman wants a six-year deal and says he deserves $100M+. “The only thing I have expressed is that I would like a six-year contract … There are rumors out there that I requested $100M and that’s not true at all. I believe he who deserves something, does not need to demand it,” he said. [Marly Rivera]
  • 2:45pm: The Yankees have checked in with the Twins about second baseman Brian Dozier. Interesting. He’s better and cheaper than Starlin Castro. Whether the Yankees are willing to give up pretty good prospects to get it done is another matter. [Heyman]
  • 4:07pm: Cashman shot down the Dozier rumor. “I haven’t had any dialogue with the Twins about Dozier. That’s a false report,” he said. So much for that. [MLB Network Radio]
  • 4:21pm: Cashman acknowledged the Yankees are after Chapman, but won’t go all out to sign him. “It’s going to be costly. We’re prepared to a degree to compete for that,” he said. [Casey Stern]
  • 5:15pm: The Yankees are still talking to Kenley Jansen in addition to Chapman. There are also some bullpen trade opportunities, according to Cashman. [Hoch]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Yankeemetrics: When two out of three isn’t enough [June 24-26]

(AP)
(AP)

Chapman heating up
The Yankees continued their homestand with another win against their favorite punching bag (and the worst team in the AL), the Minnesota Twins. By taking five of their first seven matchups against the Twins this season, they’ve clinched their 15th straight non-losing season series versus them.

That’s the second-longest streak of its kind in the history of this rivalry, which dates back to 1903 when the Twins were known as the Washington Senators. Amazingly, from 1934-64, the Yankees went 31 straight years without losing a season series to the Senators; the only year they didn’t end up with an outright advantage was in 1943, when the teams split their 22 matchups.

Masahiro Tanaka wasn’t sharp, but he was still good enough to give the Yankees a chance to win, allowing three runs in six innings. Despite struggles with his overall command, his splitter was in peak form. “Haven’t had that good of a split for a while,” Tanaka told Chad Jennings of Lohud.com after the game.

The Twins whiffed on nine of their 17 (53 percent) swings against the pitch, his second-highest whiff rate on the splitter this season. The pitch also netted him seven outs, including four strikeouts, and the lone hit allowed off the pitch was a single in the sixth inning. The key was his ability to keep the splitter down in the zone – he located the pitch an average of 1.74 feet below the center of the strike zone, his lowest mark of the season.

Masahiro Tanaka (1)
Aroldis Chapman had perhaps his most electric performance of the season so far, striking out the side in the ninth inning on 11 pitches. The first 10 were fastballs at 100-plus mph, increasing in speed on each successive pitch, with the final four going over 103 mph. And then he dropped a 90 mph changeup for a called strike three on Kurt Suzuki to end the game. Ridiculous.

Through Friday’s games, there had been 77 pitches of at least 103 mph thrown in the regular season since 2008 (the start of the Pitch F/X era). Seventy-five of them came from the arm of Chapman; the other two were thrown by Neftali Feliz and Henry Rodriguez, both in 2010.

Bronx bunters
The Twins are the gift that keeps on giving for the Yankees, who beat Minnesota for the fifth time in six matchups this season.

It was an unusual win from a statistical perspective: the Yankees had 10 hits in the game, but all were singles. The only other time over the last nine seasons that they won a game at home with double-digit hits and no extra-bases hits was on July 6, 2013 vs. the Orioles.

arod dork
(Getty)

Tied 1-1 heading into the eighth inning, the Yankees staged a most improbable rally, one that began with an infield single by Alex Rodriguez and was capped off by Aaron Hicks scoring the go-ahead run when Starlin Castro reached on an error by Twins shortstop Eduardo Escobar. For Castro, it was his team-leading third go-ahead RBI in the seventh inning or later.

Castro might have been the hero, but it was Michael Pineda who stole the spotlight with his finest effort of the season. The right-hander surrendered one run on two hits while striking out eight batters with one walk in six innings.

It was his fifth start this season of at least eight strikeouts and one or fewer walks, the second-most in the AL behind Chris Sale (six). The rest of the Yankee pitchers this season combined for two such starts through Saturday.

Pineda struggled mightily during the first two months, and entered June with an MLB-worst 6.92 ERA, but has seemingly turned his season around since the beginning of the month. He now has 3.00 ERA with 37 strikeouts and five walks in his last five starts, and just 25 hits allowed in 30 innings.

His darting slider was a key weapon for him against the Twins, who went 0-for-10 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending with the pitch. It was the first time all season he didn’t allow a hit on his slider. He was able to bury the pitch in the dirt, inducing whiffs on half the swings against the pitch. It was the third time in five June starts he’s had a swing-and-miss rate of at least 50 percent with his slider, after doing so just three times in his first 10 starts.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Boooooooo-birds in the Bronx
With a chance to get to two games above .500 for the first time since April 12 and extend their win streak to four games, the Yankees instead flopped miserably, losing in near-historic fashion to the worst team in baseball.

The final tally for the Yankee pitching staff was eight hits, seven runs and six homers allowed. It was the most homers the Yankees have ever allowed in a game against the Twins/Senators franchise. The last time the Yankees surrendered a half-dozen longballs in a game against any team was Sept. 6, 2012 vs. the Orioles at Camden Yards and the last time it happened in the Bronx was May 7, 2009 against the Rays.

Each of the six homers was hit by a different player, making this just the second time that six guys have gone deep in a game against the Yankees. The only other team to do it was the Indians on April 18, 2009 (R.I.P. Chien-Ming Wang and Anthony Claggett).

Nathan Eovaldi had allowed just one run through five innings before he imploded in the sixth frame, giving up three consecutive two-out homers. He’s the first Yankee pitcher to allow back-to-back-to-back homers since Chase Wright coughed up four in a row against the Red Sox on April 22, 2007.

Sunday’s outing ended a nightmare June for the enigmatic righty. In five starts this month, Eovaldi posted a 8.65 ERA as opponents hit .338/.388/.696 with 10 homers against him. The 10 homers were the most allowed by a Yankee pitcher in any calendar month since Jack McDowell also gave up 10 in June of 1995.

As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Tyler Duffey took a perfect game into the sixth inning and finished with a shiny pitching line of eight innings, two hits, no walks and eight strikeouts. He’s the first pitcher to go at least eight innings and allow two or fewer baserunners against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium since Pedro Martinez’s epic 17-strikeout, 1-hitter on Sept. 10, 1999.