Yankeemetrics: Heroes and zeroes [April 22-24]

Walk-off wins are awesome. (Getty Images)
Walk-off wins are awesome. (Getty Images)

Stealing a win
The Yankees woke up from their nightmare and temporarily broke out of their massive slump on Friday night, beating the Rays 6-3 in the series opener. Yes, six runs is considered an offensive explosion these days.

Jacoby Ellsbury may not have started the game, but he still delivered the most electrifying moment of the season so far, swiping home in the bottom of the fifth inning to even the score at 3-3. It was the first straight steal of home by a Yankee at Yankee Stadium since Gerald Williams on May 29, 1993 vs. the White Sox.

Ellsbury also sparked the offense with two hits and two RBI in three at-bats after taking over for the injured Aaron Hicks. He is the first Yankee in more than four decades — since Jerry Kenney in 1969 — to come off the bench and produce at least two hits, two RBI, a stolen base and a run scored in a game.

Let’s go streaking
Break out the champagne, folks … the Yankees finally put together a win streak with a dramatic walk-off victory on Saturday against Tampa Bay.

Brett Gardner was the hero, tying the game in the seventh inning with an RBI infield single and then earning himself a Gatorade shower with a two-out towering blast into the right field seats in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was his sixth career walk-off hit, the most by any Yankee since his debut in 2008.

Gardner also became just the third Yankee left-fielder in the last 85 seasons to hit a two-out, walk-off homer, joining Gary Thomasson (1978) and Charlie Keller (1941).

The Rays called up their top pitching prospect, Blake Snell, to start the game and the 23-year-old lefty put on quite a show in the Bronx. He worked five innings, allowing one run on two hits with six strikeouts and a walk. Mixing his mid-90s fastball with a knee-buckling curve plus a handful of changeups and sliders, Snell had a truly impressive and historic performance.

He is the only pitcher in the last 100 years to make his major-league debut against the Yankees and pitch at least five innings, allow no more than two hits while striking out at least six batters. The last guy to make his major-league debut against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and give up one run or fewer with six-or-more strikeouts was Luis Tiant in 1964.

No sweep for you
All good things must come to an end. The Yankees dropped the series finale on Sunday, failed to complete the three-game sweep and fell back into last place in the AL East.

Their offensive struggles continued with just one run scored on six hits, the eighth time in 17 games this season they’ve been held to two runs or fewer. That’s tied for the most such games in the American League this season.

As much as you can blame the cold bats for the loss, the Yankees were never in this game thanks to a horrible outing by Michael Pineda. The Rays pummeled him in the first inning, belting out six consecutive two-out hits — two of which left the ballpark — to take a 5-0 lead.

Pineda gutted out another four frames and finished with one of the most bizarre pitching lines you’ll ever see: five innings, 10 hits, seven runs, nine strikeouts, four home runs, one walk. Yes, there’s some dominance in there (nine strikeouts), but also a bunch of poorly located fastballs/meatballs (four homers).

With that Hekyll-and-Jyde performance, Pineda became the first Yankee pitcher in the last 100 seasons to allow four-or-more home runs and strike out at least nine batters in a game. In the past 20 years, the only other Yankees to give up 10-plus hits and have nine-plus Ks in an outing of fewer than six innings pitched were Roger Clemens (2003) and David Cone (1998).

Overall, the Rays got 12 hits and struck out 16 times. Never before in franchise history had Yankees pitchers given up that many hits and recorded that many strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr. etched his name in the Yankee record books with a rare and nearly unprecedented display of power on his 27th birthday. He is just third player ever with a multi-homer game at Yankee Stadium (old or new) on his birthday, along with Justin Morneau (2009) and Bernie Williams (2003).

4/22 to 4/24 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees wrap up this disaster of a homestand with three games against the Rays this weekend. Will runs be scored? Maybe! This is the first meeting of the season between the two AL East rivals.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rays rallied from a 5-1 deficit to beat the Red Sox 12-8 yesterday. They’ve won four of their last five games overall, and they are 7-8 with a -5 run differential on the young season. Wee bit early to start worrying about records and run differentials though.

Offense & Defense

Dickerson. (Presswire)
Dickerson. (Presswire)

Does Tampa Bay ever have a good offense? They made a bunch of moves this offseason designed to generate runs, and the result is a team 92 wRC+ and an average of 3.47 runs per game. Last year they had a 100 wRC+ and scored 3.98 runs per game. Mission not accomplished. Still early though. Manager Kevin Cash’s team is healthy on the position player side. No one on the DL or even day-to-day.

As always, the Rays’ offense is built around 3B Evan Longoria (113 wRC+), who remains a force even though he is no longer the hitter he was early in his career. 2B Logan Forsythe (154 wRC+) has taken over as the leadoff hitter, and OF Corey Dickerson (149 wRC+), who came over from the Rockies in the Jake McGee trade, is the cleanup hitter. For some reason Cash has continued to bat 1B Logan Morrison (-57 wRC+) second ahead of Longoria. I do not understand.

OF Desmond Jennings (100 wRC+), OF Kevin Kiermaier (109 wRC+), and OF Steven Souza (134 wRC+) form the regular outfield from left to right. OF Brandon Guyer (223 wRC+) and 1B Steve Pearce (69 wRC+) will see platoon duty against lefties. SS Brad Miller (20 wRC+) is the regular shortstop and C Curt Casali (46 wRC+) and C Hank Conger (25 wRC+) have shared catching duties almost 50/50. IF Tim Beckham (-10 wRC+) joins Pearce, Guyer, and the other catcher on the bench.

The Rays sacrificed some defense in an effort to improve their offseason over the winter. Specifically, they replaced James Loney with Morrison/Pearce, Asdrubal Cabrera with Miller, and Rene Rivera with Conger. All three moves were defensive downgrades. Here is the team’s projected runs saved visualization, via Sean Dolinar:

Rays defenseKiermaier is the best defensive center fielder in baseball right now. Jennings is a center fielder playing left, and Longoria has always been good at the hot corner. Everyone else? Yuck. Miller is very error prone at short — he’s Eduardo Nunez level there — and everyone else is range challenged.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note Conger is the worst throwing catcher in baseball. He threw out one of 43 attempted base-stealers last year. One! That’s a 97.7% success rate for the runners. Conger is 0-for-9 throwing out runners this year already. If he starts behind the plate this weekend, the Yankees have to run wild. Force the issue and make him throw you out.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TB) vs. LHP Matt Moore (vs. NYY)
Last year the 26-year-old Moore went through the same thing as Ivan Nova: he came back from Tommy John surgery at midseason and struggled the rest of the way. He had a 5.43 ERA (4.82 FIP) with the worst strikeout (16.6%) and home run (1.29 HR/9) numbers of his career in 63 innings. So far this year Moore has looked outstanding, pitching to a 2.95 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 18.1 innings across three starts. He has great strikeout (28.4%) and walk (4.1%) numbers with career average grounder (43.8%) and homer (0.98 HR/9) rates. Moore, who has historically been better against lefties than righties, works with a four-seam fastball that averages 93 mph and tops out around 97 mph. A hard low-80s curve and a power mid-80s changeup are his two secondary pitches. Three starts is three starts, but I’ve watched all of ’em and Moore has looked crazy sharp this year.

Saturday (1pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TB) vs. TBA
I have no idea who the Rays are going to start tomorrow. At this time yesterday it was likely to be right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, but then the 25-year-old came out of the bullpen against the Red Sox and threw 21 pitches in 1.1 innings. He threw an inning in relief Tuesday night too. I mean, I suppose he could still start tomorrow, but I doubt it would be a full 100-pitch effort. Ramirez has a 1.29 ERA (2.67 FIP) in 14 innings so far, with 12 strikeouts, one walk, one homer, and a 50.0% ground ball rate. At his best he’s a low walk/high ground ball guy who gets close to a league average number of strike threes. Thanks to a nasty low-80s changeup, Erasmo has had a reverse split throughout his career. He’s better against lefties than righties. A low-90s sinker and mid-80s slider are his other two pitches. Ramirez can really frustrate hitters by changing speeds, and he has pretty good career numbers against the Yankees. If Ramirez doesn’t start, my guess is righty Matt Andriese would come up from Triple-A.

Update: The Rays are calling up top pitching prospect Blake Snell to start Saturday, according to Marc Topkin. It will be the 23-year-old left-hander’s big league debut. MLB.com ranked Snell as the No. 12 prospect in baseball prior to Spring Training. Here’s a snippet of their free scouting report:

Snell sits at 92-94 mph with his fastball but can run it up to 96, and the pitch consistently plays up because of its exceptional late life. His slider is a second plus offering, thrown with sharp tilt that helps him miss plenty of bats, and his command of the pitch improved markedly in 2015. Snell’s changeup is still a work in progress, but it shows plus potential because he throws it with fastball-like arm speed and can dip it out of the zone … Snell trimmed his walk rate considerably last season but still possesses below-average control.

Snell had a 1.41 ERA (2.71 FIP) with a 31.3% strikeout rate and a 10.2% walk rate in 134 innings at three minor league levels last year. So far this year he’s allowed four runs on 15 hits and seven walks in 14.2 Triple-A innings. He’s struck out 21. With Snell starting in place of Ramirez, the Yankees are now scheduled to see four straight left-handed starters, and five southpaws in their next six games.

Ace Whitley sighting. (Presswire)
Ace Whitley sighting! (Presswire)

Sunday (1pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs. LHP Drew Smyly (vs. NYY)
Do you think Rays fans say Smyly should’ve had the surgery the same way Yankees fans say Tanaka should’ve had the surgery? Smyly, 26, opted for rehab over surgery after being diagnosed with a tear in his labrum last year, and here is he with a 2.91 ERA (2.91 FIP) through three starts and 21.2 innings. His strikeout (34.2%) and walk (5.1%) rates are fantastic in the early going. The grounder (35.4%) and homer (1.25 HR/9) numbers … not so much. Like most lefties, he’s better against left-handed batters than righties. His average velocity early this year (92.2 mph) is actually better than what it was last year (91.2 mph) before the labrum injury. Smyly also throws mid-80s cutters, low-80s changeups, and upper-70s curveballs.

Bullpen Status

The Rays and Red Sox played one of those wild back and forth games at Fenway Park yesterday, so the BoSox did the Yankees a solid and forced Cash to dip deep into this bullpen. He used six relievers to get five innings worth of outs. Here is the club’s bullpen:

  • LHP Xavier Cedeno: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 HR (23 pitches Thurs., 0 Weds.)
  • RHP Alex Colome: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 0 HR (5 pitches Thurs., 0 Weds.)
  • LHP Dana Eveland: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 0 HR (10 pitches Thurs., 13 Weds.)
  • RHP Danny Farquhar: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2 HR (12 pitches Thurs., 12 Weds.)
  • RHP Steve Geltz: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 HR (0 pitches Thurs., 20 Weds.)
  • LHP Enny Romero: 6 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 0 HR (20 pitches Thurs., 0 Weds.)
  • RHP Ryan Webb: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR (0 pitches Thurs., 16 Weds.)

The Rays traded McGee over the winter and RHP Brad Boxberger is on the DL after having core muscle surgery in Spring Training, so Colome is filling in at closer right now. Cedeno is Cash’s go-to left-on-left matchup guy, and Farquhar is the primary setup man. Geltz has yucky numbers but will get high-leverage innings.

Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have had the last two nights off, and I’m guessing if the Yankees are even remotely close to a win tonight, Joe Girardi will lean on them heavily. We might see Dellin for five outs. The rest of the bullpen is kinda taxed, though Nova is available to go long if necessary. Our Bullpen Workload page has the details.

Yankees trade Carlos Corporan to Rays for cash

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees traded catcher Carlos Corporan to the Rays for cash, the team announced. It’s only the second trade ever between the two AL East rivals. The other trade was the Nick Green for cash blockbuster back in 2006. Remember the Nick Green game? Good times.

Corporan, 32, had a unique opt-out clause in his contract. Once the Yankees determined they were not going to add him to the 40-man roster, they had to email the other 29 teams and give them the chance to add Corporan to their 40-man. Apparently no one bit; Corporan was traded as a non-40-man player.

The Yankees signed Corporan over the winter and it appeared that, at the very least, he would be a veteran safety net behind Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez in the backup catcher competition. Joe Girardi largely dismissed Corporan as a backup catcher candidate this spring and the job eventually went to Romine.

With Corporan gone, either Sebastian Valle or Eddy Rodriguez will back up Sanchez at Triple-A Scranton. Valle spent all of last season at Double-A with the Pirates. E-Rod bounced between Double-A and Triple-A with the Yankees. Either way, Sanchez is the starter for the RailRiders. No doubt about it.

The Rest of the AL East [2016 Season Preview]

Over the last six seasons, each of the five AL East teams has won at least one division title. The Yankees (2011, 2012) are the only club with multiple division titles in the last six years. The days of the AL East being dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox are long gone. The other three teams are no longer pushovers.

For what it’s worth, the projections at FanGraphs have the five AL East teams all winning between 79-88 games in 2016, a gap of only nine wins. Baseball Prospectus has them all in the 75-87 win range. If nothing else, the objective computers think the five clubs are pretty close in terms of talent level. You’re welcome to disagree, of course.

Because knowing your enemy is just as important as knowing yourself, let’s take some time to preview the upcoming season for the four non-Yankees teams in the AL East. This is nothing too in-depth. It’s just enough to give you an idea what the Yankees are up against in 2016.

Is the Showalter honeymoon over? (Presswire)
(Presswire)

Baltimore Orioles

Notable Additions: Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez, Yovani Gallardo
Notable Losses: Wei-Yin Chen, Steve Pearce, Gerardo Parra

The Orioles went 81-81 last season, and they had to commit $207.8M to Chris Davis, Darren O’Day, and Matt Wieters this offseason just to keep their core intact. Also, Kevin Gausman is dealing with a shoulder issue and Miguel Gonzalez was released yesterday, so their rotation right now is:

  1. Chris Tillman
  2. Yovani Gallardo
  3. Ubaldo Jimenez
  4. ???
  5. ???

That seems less than ideal. O’Day and Zach Britton are a dynamite end-game tandem, but I’m not sure how manager Buck Showalter expects to get the ball to them. They’re counting on a big time bounceback from Tillman and consistency from Jimenez (lol), and for Gallardo to chew up innings better than he did last year. He completed six innings just twice in his final 16 starts of 2015.

The O’s are going to have to win a lot of 7-6 games to contend and they have the firepower to do so. Davis, Trumbo, Alvarez, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado are all legitimate 30 homer threats. Watch out for Jonathan Schoop too. He hit 15 homers in only 321 plate appearances last year. The Trumbo and Alvarez pickups don’t do anything to help the club’s OBP problem — the O’s were 26th in baseball with a .307 OBP in 2015 — so while they might hit 250 home runs this season, most of them will be solo shots.

Baltimore is the only AL East team that would really surprise me by winning the division. They’re going to hit a ton of homers, there’s no doubt about that, but they don’t get on base and the pitching staff is thin. I mean really, really thin. The O’s will be a headache to play this season. Over the course of 162 games though, I feel it’s only a matter of time until they fall behind the rest of the AL East.

A worthy foe. (Presswire)
A worthy foe. (Presswire)

Boston Red Sox

Notable Additions: David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Chris Young
Notable Losses: Wade Miley

For the third or fourth year in a row, the Red Sox changed philosophies this offseason, deciding to spend big after former GM Ben Cherington spent a few years preaching restraint and flexibility. New baseball operations chief Dave Dombrowski is all about big names, has been for years, hence the Price signing and Kimbrel trade. Those moves were right in his wheelhouse.

Price gives the BoSox the ace they so clearly lacked, but I think the bullpen additions are going to help them more than Price. Kimbrel and Smith are replacing Alexei Ogando and Craig Breslow, who combined to allow 62 runs in 130.1 innings in 2015. Those two will join Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa in the late innings. (Smith’s dealing with a flexor injury and will miss the start of the regular season.)

Offensively, the Red Sox have sneaky big questions in five spots: catcher (Blake Swihart), first base (Hanley Ramirez), third base (Pablo Sandoval), left field (Rusney Castillo), and center field (Jackie Bradley Jr.). They’re already talking about sending Castillo to Triple-A and playing a Young/Brock Holt platoon in left, and apparently now Travis Shaw is the starting third baseman. Everyone seems to be assuming Hanley and Bradley will have above-average seasons because … I don’t know why. At least Hanley has his track record to fall back on.

The Red Sox get the benefit of the doubt more than any chronically underachieving team deserves. They have talent, that much is clear, but they’ve had talent the last two years too, and they still finished in last place. The Red Sox are going to be tough to play against because they’re always tough to play against. Bet on them at your own risk though. No club has done less with more the last two seasons.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tampa Bay Rays

Notable Additions: Logan Morrison, Brad Miller, Hank Conger, Steve Pearce, Corey Dickerson
Notable Losses: Asdrubal Cabrera, John Jaso, Nate Karns, Jake McGee, James Loney

Only the White Sox scored fewer runs than the Rays among AL teams a year ago, so Tampa Bay set out to improve their offense by acquiring a bunch of guys who can be good if used in very specific ways. Dickerson is good as long as he never faces lefties and is your DH. Miller is good as long as he never faces lefties and the ball is never hit to him. That kinda thing. That’s what the Rays do. They find imperfect players and try to use them perfectly.

The Rays did sacrifice some defense for offense this winter. Morrison is unquestionably worse at first base than Loney. (Loney was told he won’t make the team yesterday.) Remember how shaky and goof prone Didi Gregorius was early last year? That’s Miller all the time. Asdrubal is no great shakes in the field, but he is sure-handed. Conger, meanwhile, is the worst throwing catcher in baseball. He went 1-for-43 throwing out base-stealers last year. That is not a typo. 1-for-43. o n e f o r f o r t y t h r e e

To their credit, the Rays ostensibly improved their weaknesses without sacrificing too much from their strengths. They still have a solid rotation even without Karns and their defense is not atrocious. The bullpen is a little up in the air because McGee is gone and Brad Boxberger will miss a few weeks following core muscle surgery, so that’s their big question right now. Manager Kevin Cash usually doesn’t let his non-Chris Archer starters go through the lineup a third time, and those middle innings are rather treacherous.

For Tampa Bay to contend this year, they’ll need Evan Longoria to get back to where he was earlier in his career, and I’m not sure how possible that is. He’s now 30 and his power is starting to vanish; he went from being a consistent .230+ ISO guy to a .150 ISO guy the last two seasons. That’s bad news for the Rays, especially since his six-year, $100M extension kicks in next year. The Rays will be in the hunt this year, but, as always, they’ll need a lot to go right to beat out division rivals with more resources.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Toronto Blue Jays

Notable Additions: Jesse Chavez, J.A. Happ, Drew Storen, Gavin Floyd
Notable Losses: David Price, Mark Buehrle, Mark Lowe, Liam Hendriks, Ben Revere

You’d think going to the postseason for the first time in two decades would be enough to keep the GM around, but apparently not. The Blue Jays named former Indians president Mark Shapiro their new president last year, replacing the retired Paul Beeston, and GM Alex Anthopoulos felt his authority would be undermined, so he rejected an extension offer and walked away over the winter. Crazy, huh?

The Blue Jays have never been huge spenders and Shapiro himself has a history of steering clear of big free agents, so the team never made much of an effort to keep Price. They instead opted to replace him (and Buehrle) with Happ, Chavez, and a full year of Marcus Stroman. It … might work? They only had Price for eleven starts in 2015, after all. Buehrle was close to toast by the end of the season too.

Toronto still has their powerhouse lineup — they scored 891 runs last season, 127 more than the second highest scoring team (Yankees!) and the most by any team since the 2009 Yankees (915) — and now they’ll have a full year of Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop. Even if he spends time on the DL, 100 games of Tulo and 62 games of a replacement level player is still one of the best shortstops in the game.

As I said this morning, I am of the belief the Blue Jays will outscore any pitching problems. The Yankees did that for years in the mid-2000s. I’m an offense first guy. I’ll always bet on the team with a juggernaut offense coming out ahead over the course of a 162-game season. The Blue Jays may not be quite as imposing as they were in the second half last season, but they’re still very good. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will be free agents next offseason, so this might be the club’s last chance to win with this core.

Rosenthal: Rays claim Chase Whitley off waivers

So long, Ace Whitley. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
So long, Ace Whitley. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Rays have claimed right-hander Chase Whitley off waivers from the Yankees, according to Ken Rosenthal. Today is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft, so it seems the Yankees dropped Whitley to create roster space for someone else.

Whitley, 26, made four spot starts this summer before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. He actually suffered the injury at Tropicana Field. Whitley, the team’s 15th round pick in the 2010 draft, has a 5.02 ERA (4.23 FIP) in 95 big league innings spread across 16 starts and 12 relief appearances the last two years.

The Yankees had two open roster spots on the 40-man, so dropping Whitley indicates they are adding at least three Rule 5 Draft eligible players prior to the deadline today. Earlier this week, Rookie Davis and Ben Gamel were the only players 50% of RAB readers said they’d protect from the Rule 5 Draft.

Yankeemetrics: Stayin’ Alive in Tampa (Sept. 14-16)

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Summer of Slade
No-hit through seven innings by a pitcher with a 6.20 ERA in his previous four starts and down to their last out in the ninth inning, the Yankees somehow rallied for a stunning win over the Rays on Monday night.

This most improbable comeback happened only because a guy with more than 3,000 hits did something he’d never before done in his 21 major-league seasons (more on that later), and a rookie who hadn’t gotten a major-league at-bat since May 27 sent the first pitch he saw into the seats for the game-winning homer.

Erasmo Ramirez completely shut down the Yankees bats, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning before a leadoff single by Carlos Beltran ruined his chance at history. He left after giving up that one hit in 7 2/3 innings, the longest outing with one or fewer hits allowed in a game against the Yankees by a Rays pitcher.

A-Rod then saved the Yankees from a potential season-crushing loss with his two-out game-tying double in the top of the ninth inning. It was his 3,060th career hit — but the very first one that tied a game with two outs in the ninth inning. #ClutchRod

Two batters later, No. 72 delivered a first-pitch fastball into the left field seats to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead and the Most Important Win of The Season. How rare (and clutch) was that blast?

Slade Heathcott is the first Yankee with an two-out, tie-breaking home run in the ninth inning of a September game during a pennant race since … Graig Nettles on Sept. 23, 1977 against the Blue Jays. The Yankees had a slim 1.5-game division lead heading into that contest with less than two weeks left on the schedule. Let’s hope this 2015 season has a happy ending just like the 1977 version.

No relief
The Yankees came crashing back down to earth in Tuesday’s 6-3 loss, as their rally fell just short in the ninth inning despite bringing the tying run to the plate.

They held a one-run advantage heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, and things were looking good, but the bullpen imploded and the Rays held on for the win. Before this game, the Yankees were 52-7 (.881) when taking a lead into the sixth inning. That’s actually pretty darn good, considering the league average win percentage in those situations is .829.

Greg Bird would have been the hero if not for the bullpen deciding to give up runs. His two-run homer in the fourth inning turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. That was his sixth homer of the season — and five of those six gave the Yankees the lead.

Sevvy’s back
The Yankees won the rubber game on Wednesday night thanks to another solid performance from Luis Severino and just enough offense to produce a 3-1 victory. They ended up going 12-6 against the Rays in 2015, their best season record vs. Tampa Bay since 2006.

Severino bounced back from the worst outing of his short major-league career by holding the Rays to just one run in 5 2/3 innings. He now has five starts allowing one earned run or fewer within his first eight major-league games. The last Yankee to begin a career like that was Tiny Bonham, who debuted in August 1940 and went 9-3 with a 1.90 ERA in 12 starts down the stretch. (He threw 10 complete games, including three shutouts, and somehow even got a down-ballot MVP vote.)

Jacoby Ellsbury snapped his massive hitting slump with a first-inning single off Chris Archer. Before that hit, he was in an 0-for-25 rut that included five straight games without a hit. Ellsbury is the only Yankee center fielder in the last 100 seasons with five consecutive games going 0-for-4 or worse at the plate.

Only a handful of Yankees had ever put together a streak like that, regardless of position, and the last two were Ichiro in 2013 and Derek Jeter in 2004 — two guys that combined for more than 6,000 major-league hits.

The fact that Ellsbury was able to end that streak against Archer wasn’t surprising. He is now 16-for-24 (.667) in his career against the Rays’ ace, easily his best batting average vs. any pitcher he’s faced at least 20 times, and the highest average against Archer by any batter that has faced him more than 10 times.

9/14 to 9/16 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Technically, the Yankees are starting a nine-game road trip today. The middle three games are against the Mets though, so the Yankees will be right back in New York following this three-game series in Tampa Bay. The Yankees are 10-6 against the Rays this season, including 4-2 at Tropicana Field.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

The Rays dropped two of three to the Red Sox at home over the weekend — they had three hits and no runs in yesterday’s 13-inning loss — and they are currently 69-73 with a -13 run differential overall this season. Tampa is 13.5 games out of first place — they’re in third place and nine games behind the Yankees — and six games out of a wildcard spot. They haven’t been mathematically eliminated yet, but they’re out of it. FanGraphs has their postseason odds at under 1%.

Offense & Defense

Manager Kevin Cash’s offense is complicated. They’ve scored the fewest runs in the AL (546) yet have a team 99 wRC+. Runners in scoring position (91 wRC+) is an issue, especially when the bases are loaded. The Rays have a .275 OBP with the bases full in 2015. That’s crazy. Tampa’s only injured position players are OF Desmond Jennings (88 wRC+) and C Curt Casali (145 wRC+ in limited time). Both could return this series. Jennings has a knee problem, Casali’s out with a hamstring issue.

Kiermaier. (Presswire)
Kiermaier. (Presswire)

Cash still builds his lineup around 3B Evan Longoria (114 wRC+) and his declining power. UTIL Logan Forsythe (128 wRC+) has had a breakout season and others like SS Asdrubal Cabrera (104 wRC+), OF Steven Souza (100 wRC+), OF Kevin Kiermaier (98 wRC+), OF Brandon Guyer (118 wRC+ in limited time), and DH John Jaso (128 wRC+) have been strong complementary players. 1B James Loney (85 wRC+) usually kills the Yankees, though he’s have a poor year overall.

C Rene Rivera (33 wRC+) is catching regularly with Casali out, but he’s in there for his glove, not his bat. OF Joey Butler (103 wRC+), OF Daniel Nava (63 wRC+), OF Grady Sizemore (88 wRC+), and OF Mikie Mahtook (132 wRC+ in very limited time) are among the platoon outfielders at Cash’s disposal. C J.P. Arencibia, C Luke Maile, IF Nick Franklin, IF Tim Beckham, and IF Richie Shaffer are among the September call-ups. Since these two teams played a little over a week ago, I’m going to copy and paste the defense section from the last preview:

Overall, the Rays have a strong team defense with excellent defenders in center (Kiermaier), on the infield corners (Longoria and Loney), and behind the plate (Rivera). Asdrubal and Forsythe are serviceable on the middle infield and everyone in that outfield rotation other than Guyer is a weak spot. Back in the day the Rays would catch everything. It was annoying. Now? Not so much.

The only difference now is Souza, who recently returned from a wrist injury. He’s a good but not great defender who seems to have a knack for jumping and sliding catches. It’s weird. Souza will rob extra base hits at the wall and slide to rob bloopers. His routes are weird though.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TB) vs. RHP Erasmo Ramirez (vs. NYY)
The Rays, who always seem to be loaded with young pitching, acquired the 25-year-old Ramirez at the end of Spring Training because they were short on starters. Injuries robbed them of depth. Ramirez has a 3.96 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 136.1 innings across 23 starts and seven relief appearances, though his last nine starts have been rough (4.64 ERA and 4.35 FIP). His strikeout (19.0%), walk (6.6%), grounder (47.9%), and homer (0.99 HR/9) rates are all in the neighborhood of average. Give or take a few percentage points in either direction. Righties (.343 wOBA) have hit Erasmo much harder than lefties (.256 wOBA) because he’s an upper-80s/low-90s fastball guy whose best pitch is a low-80s changeup that isn’t quite as effective against same-side hitters. Ramirez also throws a mid-80s slider and low-80s curveball that are show-me pitches more than anything. The changeup is his moneymaker. The Yankees have faced Ramirez four times this year, twice as a reliever (two runs in three total innings) and twice as a starter (one run in eleven total innings).

Tuesday (7pm ET): TBA vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (vs. NYY)
Once again, it’s Odorizzi. He’s turning into the new version of David Price in that the Yankees see him every damn time they face the Rays. Anyway, Odorizzi has a 3.21 ERA (3.31 FIP) in 24 starts and 145.2 innings this year, and he pairs a very good strikeout rate (22.0%) with a very good walk rate (6.0%). His grounder (38.9%) and homer (0.60 HR/9) rates don’t seem to match up, but Odorizzi is a pop-up pitcher. That said, the Yankees took him deep three times last week. Righties (.311 wOBA) have had more success against him than lefties (.267 wOBA). Odorizzi, 25, lives and dies with his mid-80s splitter, which he learned from teammate Alex Cobb. It gave him the swing-and-miss pitch he needed to be something more than a back-end starter. He also throws low-90s four-seamers, mid-80s cutters, and a few slow upper-60s curveballs. The Yankees have seen Odorizzi three times this year: three runs in six innings in April, four runs in 6.1 innings later in April, and five runs in 6.2 innings last week. So maybe it’s just me that feels like the Yankees face Odorizzi every time they play Tampa.

Archer. (Presswire)
Archer. (Presswire)

Wednesday (7pm ET): TBA vs. RHP Chris Archer (vs. NYY)
Archer, 26, has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the game this year, putting up a 2.95 ERA (2.68 FIP) in 30 starts and 192.1 innings. Great strikeout rate (30.5%), great walk rate (6.6%), very good grounder rate (46.3%), very good homer rate (0.80 HR/9), no platoon split (.266 vs. 256 wOBA in favor of righties). Domination. Archer uses mid-90s two and four-seamers to set up his upper-80s slider, which is arguably the best slider in baseball. He also throws a handful of mid-80s changeups per start. The slider is what makes him an ace though. Archer has started three times against the Yankees this year. One went well (five runs in 6.1 innings last week), one went poorly (6.2 shutout innings in July), and one went okay (two runs in seven innings in May).

The Yankees have not officially announced their starters for Tuesday and Wednesday, though Joe Girardi said yesterday the plan was to start Adam Warren on Tuesday as long as they didn’t need him out of the bullpen in the series finale against the Blue Jays. So I guess it’ll be Warren tomorrow. Wednesday is Luis Severino‘s day. They were probably waiting to see what happened with Warren before announcing anything beyond tonight’s game.

Bullpen Status
Thanks to yesterday’s 13-inning game, Cash needed to get seven innings from his bullpen, and he used all his key late-inning guys. RHP Brad Boxberger (3.21 ERA/3.91 FIP) is the closer and lately RHP Alex Colome (3.54/3.71) has been setting him up. RHP Steve Geltz (3.78/3.94) will also see some high-leverage work. The hard-throwing LHP Jake McGee is done for the season with a knee problem.

LHP Xavier Cedeno (2.16/3.34) is Cash’s primary left-on-left matchup guy. RHP Matt Andriese (4.45/4.29) and RHP Brandon Gomes (3.31/4.10) are the other regular bullpeners. RHP Andrew Bellatti, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, LHP Enny Romero, and RHP Kirby Yates are the extra September arms. Geltz, Colome, Boxberger, Gomes, Romero, and Bellatti all pitched yesterday.

Head over to our Bullpen Workload page to check up on the status of Joe Girardi’s bullpen, which, despite running 13 pitchers deep, is somewhat taxed right now. Doubleheaders are dumb. Anyway. DRays Bay and The Process Report are the places to go for the latest on Tampa Bay.