Yankeemetrics: Home Sweep Home (April 10-13)

(AP)
(AP)

#HugeMike
The Yankees 115th home opener nearly ended up as one of the most memorable in franchise history, as Michael Pineda flirted with a perfect game and gave fans much to cheer about on a gorgeous Monday afternoon at the ballpark.

Pineda is equal parts fantastic and frustrating, enigmatic and electric, dazzling and depressing. And just two starts into the 2017 season, he’s displayed both sides of his Jekyll-and-Hyde talent:

Less than a week after a miserable season-opening outing (3⅔ innings, 4 runs, 8 hits), Pineda was brilliant and dominated the same Rays lineup, retiring the first 20 batters he faced until Evan Longoria drilled a double into the left field corner with two outs in the seventh inning.

Armed with his wipeout slider, pinpoint command of his fastball and an effective changeup, Pineda whiffed 11 and allowed just two hits in 7⅔ innings. Pineda is the first Yankees pitcher to throw six perfect innings to start the team’s home opener, and also the first Yankees pitcher with double-digit strikeouts and no walks in the first home game of the season.

Before Pineda, the last Yankee in any game to pitch at least seven innings, get 11-plus strikeouts and allow no more than two baserunners was Mike Mussina in his epic near-perfecto against the Red Sox on Sept. 2, 2001.

Pineda was in complete control of nearly every at-bat, starting off 17 of the 25 batters with an 0-1 count, getting to 0-2 or 1-2 against 16 of those guys, and he got himself into a three-ball count just twice. A career-best nine of the 11 strikeouts came on his slider, which generated 11 whiffs on 20 swings.

pineda-k-vs-rays

Last year Pineda’s slider had a 46.2 percent swing-and-miss rate, fifth-best among starting pitchers (min. 500 pitches), and his 146 strikeouts with the slider ranked second behind Chris Archer (151).

Pineda’s gem wasn’t the only good news to come out of Monday’s win. The offense exploded for eight runs, thanks to the power bats of Aaron Judge, Chase Headley and Starlin Castro. While Judge’s homer was a majestic bomb that went 397 feet, Headley’s and Castro’s dingers barely cleared the fences. In fact, under normal conditions, their hits wouldn’t have been homers in any of the other 29 ballparks.

(Gettty)
(Gettty)

#AllRise for The Judge
As bad as the Yankees have fared against the Orioles at Camden Yards in recent years, they’ve been just as good at Yankee Stadium against another AL East foe, the Tampa Bay Rays. Following Wednesday’s 8-4 win, they’ve now won eight straight home series over the Rays, their longest such streak against any opponent at the current Yankee Stadium.

The pregame chatter focused on the debut 24-year-old Jordan Montgomery, who became the first Yankee southpaw to start in his major-league debut since Chase Wright and Kei Igawa in April 2007.

Montgomery was impressive out of the gate, striking out the the first two Rays that came to the plate. The last Yankee to make his big-league debut as a starter and strike out the first and second guys he faced was Mariano Rivera on May 23, 1995 vs the Angels.

Montgomery finished with seven strikeouts in 4⅔ innings, the most punchouts by a Yankee lefty in his first career MLB appearance since Al Leiter struck out eight in 1987.

No Gary Sanchez, no Greg Bird, no problem. The Yankees offense continued to roll thanks to the third slugger in the Baby Bomber trio, Aaron Judge, who had two hits and drove in three runs on Wednesday. Judge showed off his ridiculous power on both the hits:

  • The first one was a bullet line-drive RBI single that tied the game in the sixth inning and rocketed off his bat at 116.5 mph. It was the fastest base hit of 2017 by any player, and gave him four exit velocities of at least 115 mph this season – while the rest of MLB had combined for seven such balls in play through Wednesday’s games.
  • The second hit was a 437-foot homer that gave the Yankees an 8-3 cushion in the seventh inning. It was his third homer of the season, making him just the fourth Yankee under age 25 with at least three home runs in the team’s first eight games. The others are the list are not bad: Derek Jeter (1999), Bobby Murcer (1969) and Mickey Mantle (1956).
(Getty)
(Getty)

Three Times a Charm
The Yankees won their fourth straight game on Thursday night, wiping away the bad taste of that awful 1-4 start as they climbed above .500 (5-4) for the first time this season. The victory also gave them their first sweep of three-or-more games against the Rays at Yankee Stadium since September 2009.

And how can we forget that the Yankees first sweep last season didn’t come until May 22 (four-gamer in Oakland), and that their first three-game series sweep happened on September 7 against the Blue Jays.

Aaron Hicks was the night’s biggest hero at the plate, belting two home runs, including the game-winner that flipped a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was his third career go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later, and all three have come in pinstripes and against a division rival (Thursday vs. Rays; Sept. 26, 2016 at Toronto; May 6, 2016 vs. Red Sox).

The switch-hitter Hicks made sure that Luis Severino‘s stellar performance on the mound wouldn’t be wasted and helped the young Dominican earn his first win as a starter since Sept. 27, 2015 vs the White Sox. Severino flashed the electric stuff he showed during his rookie year, limiting the Rays to two runs while fanning a career-high 11 batters in seven strong innings, and etching his name in the franchise record books.

At 23 years and 52 days old, he’s the youngest Yankee right-hander in the last 100 years with more than 10 strikeouts in a game. The only others younger than Severino with 11-plus Ks in a game were all lefties: Al Leiter (1988), Dave Righetti (1981) and Al Downing (1963, 1964).

4/10 to 4/13 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Welcome back, baseball. The Bronx has missed you. The Yankees open the Yankee Stadium portion of their schedule this afternoon with the first of three games against the Rays. The same Rays they played in Tampa last week. The Yankees may be out of Florida, but the Florida has followed them back to New York. Figures. They dropped two of three at Tropicana Field last week, as you know.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rays come into this series, their first road series of the season, riding a three-game winning streak. They took three of four from the Blue Jays over the weekend. Tampa Bay is 5-2 on the young season, which, believe it or not, is the best start in franchise history. This is the first time the Rays (or Devil Rays) have ever won five of their first seven games. They also have a +7 run differential.

Offense & Defense

Kiermaier. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Kiermaier. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Tampa currently ranks fifth in baseball with 33 runs scored, and they’re hitting .271/.356/.411 (126 wRC+) as a team so far. OF Colby Rasmus (hip), C Wilson Ramos (knee), and SS Matt Duffy (Achilles) are all on the disabled list, just like they were last week, when these clubs played in St. Pete. Here are the early season numbers and projections:

2017 Stats 2017 ZiPS Projection
C Derek Norris 4-for-18 (.222) .229/.302/.382 (80 wRC+)
1B Logan Morrison 8-for-24 (.333), 1 HR .242/.318/.399 (96 wRC+)
2B Brad Miller 5-for-26 (.192), 1 2B .248/.313/.440 (104 wRC+)
SS Tim Beckham 3-for-21 (.143), 1 2B .236/.286/.388 (82 wRC+)
3B Evan Longoria 6-for-26 (.231), 2 HR .266/.318/.485 (113 wRC+)
LF Mallex Smith
4-for-26 (.250), 1 2B, 3 SB .231/.296/.322 (71 wRC+)
CF Kevin Kiermaier 8-for-27 (.296), 1 2B, 1 3B .258/.316/.426 (101 wRC+)
RF Steven Souza 10-for-24 (.417), 3 2B, 1 HR .242/.314/.419 (101 wRC+)
DH Corey Dickerson
9-for-25 (.360), 2 2B, 2 HR .251/.300/.461 (103 wRC+)
BENCH
C Jesus Sucre 2-for-7 (.286), 1 HR .236/.263/.292 (51 wRC+)
IF Daniel Robertson 3-for-10 (.300) .241/.316/.340 (83 wRC+)
OF Peter Bourjos 0-for-4 .230/.286/.361 (71 wRC+)
UTIL Rickie Weeks 2-for-8 (.250), 1 2B .213/.299/.374 (85 wRC+)

Manager Kevin Cash has been platooning Morrison with Weeks, Bourjos with Smith, and Robertson with Dickerson. The Yankees are throwing all righties this series though, so if we see those guys, it figures to be off the bench. Longoria, Miller, and Souza always seem to crush the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Hopefully they can keep them in park this week. I’ll set the over under on their combined homers for the series at 3.5.

Since we just previewed the Rays last week, I’m going to copy and paste what I wrote about the defense before the series in Tampa:

The Rays started sacrificing defense for power a few years ago, leading to Souza in right and Miller at second. Both are liabilities in the field. Kiermaier is excellent, probably the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and Longoria is very good at the hot corner. The Smith/Bourjos platoon will save runs in center field. Beckham and Morrison are solid defenders, and while Norris doesn’t have much of an arm, he rates as a very good pitch-framer. So, overall, the Rays are good defensively, but not otherworldly like they were three or four years ago.

Tampa Bay looked better than that last week, so maybe I sold them short. Or maybe it was just a random three-game sample. Eh, whatever. We just saw the Rays a few days ago. You remember what they’re all about, right?

Pitching Matchups

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

Monday (1pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs RHP Alex Cobb (vs. NYY)
It only took seven games for the Yankees to face a pitcher for the second time this season. They saw Cobb last week in Tampa and he held them to one run on four hits and a walk in 5.2 innings. He struck out four. Cobb returned from Tommy John surgery at midseason last year and was pretty terrible, throwing 22 innings with an 8.59 ERA (5.60 FIP). He’s better than that though. We saw it last week. Cobb sets up his knockout mid-80s splitter with a low-90s four-seam fastball. He’ll also throw an upper-70s curveball. Hopefully the Yankees will have more success against him the second time around.

Wednesday (1pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs TB) vs. LHP Blake Snell (vs. NYY)
Yes, this is a 1pm ET start for some reason. Weird. There’s also an off-day Tuesday, the token off-day after the home opener in case it rains. (It won’t rain today.) Anyway, my lasting memory of Snell last season was his eight-out, 88-pitch grind against the Yankees on September 9th. The Yankees were not a good offensive team last year but they worked Snell hard that night. Aside from that though, he handled New York pretty well in 2016. Three runs in 15.1 total innings in three other starts. Snell had a tough time with the Blue Jays in his first start of the season last week, allowing five runs (four earned) in 6.2 innings. Last year he had a 3.54 ERA (3.39 FIP) with 24.4% strikeouts and 12.7% walks in 89 innings. His ground ball (36.5%) and home run (0.51 HR/9) rates don’t match up. One of those numbers figures to climb going forward. Snell has a mid-90s fastball and a good mid-80s changeup, and his breaking ball is more of a slurve than a true curveball or slider. It sits in the 78-82 mph range.

Thursday (7pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TB) vs. RHP Matt Andriese (vs. NYY)
The Rays opted to go with Andriese as their fifth starter, though from what I understand he’s basically keeping the rotation spot warm for top pitching prospect Jose DeLeon, who came over from the Dodgers in the Logan Forsythe trade. DeLeon was just placed on the Triple-A disabled list with a flexor mass issue though, so he might not be coming up anytime soon. Anyway, if Andriese’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he’s the guy who gave up the back-to-back home runs to Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge last season. Here’s the video. I’ll post this video any chance I get from now through the end of time:

Andriese had a tough go of it in his first start of the season last week, allowing five runs (four earned) in four innings against the Blue Jays. Last season he posted a 4.37 ERA (3.78 FIP) in 127.2 innings overall, including a 4.80 ERA (3.95 FIP) with 20.2% strikeouts and 4.9% walks in 19 starts and 105 innings. Andriese is a cutter pitcher. The low-90s cutter is his main fastball, and he also throws a mid-80s changeup and a curveball right around 80 mph. I could go for some more back-to-back dingers Thursday, couldn’t you?

Bullpen Status

Cash has gotten nice work from his relievers so far. They’ve combined to allow only five runs (four earned) in 22 total innings, and the Yankees are responsible for two of those five runs. (Including the unearned run.) The personnel has not changed since last week. Here is Tampa’s current bullpen:

Role 2017 Stats 2017 ZiPS
RHP Alex Colome Closer 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K 2.93 ERA (3.18 FIP)
RHP Danny Farquhar Setup 3.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K 3.79 ERA (3.92 FIP)
LHP Xavier Cedeno Setup 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 0 K 3.40 ERA (3.45 FIP)
RHP Tommy Hunter Middle 3.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K 3.81 ERA (3.70 FIP)
RHP Jumbo Diaz Middle 4.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K 3.82 ERA (4.20 FIP)
RHP Erasmo Ramirez Middle 3.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K 4.08 ERA (4.61 FIP)
RHP Austin Pruitt Long 1.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 3 R, 2 BB, 1 K 4.69 ERA (4.51 FIP)

Pruitt, a 27-year-old rookie, is the only reliever who has had a tough time for the Rays early this season. This group collectively doesn’t miss a ton of bats — Colome typically does and I’m sure he will as the season progresses — which is preferable to a bullpen that comes in and blows everyone away. They’ll give you a chance to put the ball in play.

The Rays bullpen is in good shape going into the series. Diaz threw two innings and 32 pitches yesterday while Hunter threw one inning and eleven pitches. Everyone else got the day off. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s relievers.

Yankeemetrics: Play Ball! (April 2-5)

It's not what you want (Source: Getty)
It’s not what you want (Source: Getty)

Baseball is a Marathon, not a Sprint
The ‘good’ news after the Yankees Opening Day debacle is that there was only one way to go after such a depressing game – up – since you probably could not have scripted a much more disastrous start to the 2017 season.

The bad news after the Yankees Opening Day debacle was that I had to write the first sentence of this post … and the next sentence: for the first time in team history, they’ve dropped six straight Opening Day contests.

Despite the unsightly outcome, there were some notable positive nuggets to report as the team took the field on Sunday afternoon:

  • For the first time in more than eight decades – since 1932, to be exact – the Yankees had four players under the age of 25 in the Opening Day lineup (Ronald Torreyes, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge). The quartet back in the ’30s included a couple Hall-of-Famers: Lefty Gomez, Bill Dickey, Frankie Crosetti and Ben Chapman.
  • The 24-year-old Bird was the franchise’s youngest Opening Day first baseman since Don Mattingly in 1986.
  • Sanchez joined Derek Jeter (1998-99) as the only under-25 Yankees to hit second on Opening Day over the last 40 seasons.
  • Judge (who turns 25 at the end of the month) was the youngest Opening Day corner outfielder for the Yankees since a 23-year-old Hensley Meulens in 1991.

Things quickly spiraled out of control after the first pitch, however, as Masahiro Tanaka delivered one of the worst Opening Day performances by any pitcher in franchise history.

Tanaka became the only Yankee ever to allow at least seven earned runs and get fewer than 10 outs on Opening Day. And his 2? innings tied Ron Guidry (1983) and Mel Stottlemyre (1973) for the fewest by a Yankee Opening Day starter in the last 100 years.

Along with poor fastball command, Tanaka’s splitter wasn’t fooling the Rays. Though he did get a respectable five whiffs and had good location on the 15 splits he threw, burying the pitch at the bottom of the zone …
masahiro-tanaka-2

… the Rays did damage on the five splitters they put in play, crushing two singles, a deep sac fly and a homer off the pitch.

While Tanaka got clobbered on the mound, there were a couple encouraging results from the bats on Sunday.

Sanchez might have gone 0-for-5 but his first-inning groundout was a rocket, with an exit velocity of 115.7 mph. It was the second-hardest hit ball recorded by Statcast (since 2015) for any Yankee, behind only an A-Rod homer on May 1, 2015 measured at 116.5 mph off the bat.

Starlin Castro did something that Robinson Cano never achieved in pinstripes – a three-hit Opening Day performance (the most recent Yankee second baseman to do it was Tony Womack in 2005) – while Chase Headley joined A-Rod (2006) and Wade Boggs (1994) as the only Yankee third baseman in the last 90 seasons to have three hits on Opening Day.

Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)
Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)

Second time’s a charm
The Yankees bounced back from their Game 1 disaster with an impressive blanking of the Rays on Tuesday. The 5-0 win was just the second time in the last quarter-century that the Yanks pitched a shutout in either their first or second game (also 2002), and was the team’s largest shutout win this early into the season since they beat the Twins 8-0 in the 1988 opener. Last year’s first shutout didn’t come until May 4.

The offense was ignited by a most unlikely source, when the (listed) 5-foot-8 Ronald Torreyes – who had one homer in 161 at-bats in his first two seasons in the majors – drilled a two-run shot to left center field to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. He’s got a long ways to go to catch the franchise leader in homers by a player that short – of course, it’s Yogi Berra (5-foot-7) with 358 career bombs.

CC Sabathia put together one of his best season-opening performances, scattering three hits and two walks across five shutout innings. The only other time he didn’t allow a run in his first start was back in 2004 against the Twins.

It had been 15 years since a Yankee starter threw five-or-more scoreless innings in either the team’s first or second game: In 2003, both Roger Clemens (6 innings) and Andy Pettitte (7 innings) held the Blue Jays without a run in the first two games of the season.

Sabathia also notched a significant milestone with his 224th career win, tying Hall-of-Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter for 66th on MLB’s all-time wins list.

Little Mike, No Offense
Thanks to another frustrating outing by Michael Pineda and a lackluster effort by the offense, the Yankees lost 4-1 in the rubber game of this three-game set. This is the fifth time in the last six years the team has dropped its opening series of the season.

(Source: Getty)
(Source: Getty)

Michael Pineda didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, producing an all-too-familiar statline. The good: six strikeouts, no walks; The bad: eight hits, four runs. Sometimes you can predict baseball.

Three of the four runs he surrendered came with two outs, continuing yet another perplexing trend from 2016 — his inability to finish off innings. Last year Pineda allowed the most two-out hits (80) and second-most two-out runs (52) in the majors … and seems to be on track to repeat that performance in 2017.

Not only did Pineda extend his personal winless streak to a career-worst 11 starts dating back to early August of last year, he’s gone eight starts in a row without a win against Tampa Bay, the longest such streak by any Yankee. Among all pitchers, only Jeff Suppan (10 straight from 1999-03) and Sidney Ponson (9 straight from 2000-02) have recorded longer winless streaks versus the Rays.

The lone offensive highlight came from the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury, who took Alex Cobb deep in the second inning to knot the score at 1-1. It was his 33rd homer since coming to the Bronx in 2014, but just the second one that’s tied up a game.

4/2 to 4/5 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Meaningful baseball! Indoors? (Presswire)
Meaningful baseball! Indoors? (Presswire)

At long last, meaningful baseball is back. The Yankees open the 2017 regular season this afternoon with the first of three games against the Rays at Tropicana Field. For some reason the Yankees and Rays have an off-day Monday even though this series will be played in a dome. I guess the Opening Day game was originally scheduled for Monday before ESPN flexed it to Sunday. The Yankees’ schedule the next ten days goes game, off-day, game, game, off-day, game, game, game, game, off-day. Fun.

What Have They Done Lately?

Last season was pretty much a disaster for the Rays, who went 68-94 with a -41 run differential overall, including 37-62 in their final 99 games. They hold the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft as a result. Tampa hasn’t picked that high since taking Tim Beckham first overall in 2008. Buster Posey was picked fifth overall that year. Not the greatest moment in Rays history. Anyway, the Rays went 12-16-5 with a +14 run differential this spring. That means nothing me.

Offense & Defense

Longoria. (Presswire)
Longoria. (Presswire)

Over the last few seasons the common theme has been the Rays can pitch, but they can’t hit. Last year they started to hit, but their pitching let them down. Go figure. Tampa Bay averaged 4.15 runs per game with a team 98 wRC+ a year ago, and their biggest position player loss over the winter was noted Yankees killer Logan Forsythe. Won’t miss that dude at all. He crushed the Yankees.

No one has any stats because the season hasn’t started yet, and there’s no chance I’m going to regurgitate Spring Training numbers here, so instead here is each player’s 2016 performance and their 2017 ZiPS projection.

2016 MLB Stats 2017 ZiPS Projection
C Derek Norris .186/.255/.328 (55 wRC+), 14 HR, 458 PA .229/.302/.382 (80 wRC+)
1B Logan Morrison .238/.319/.414 (101 wRC+), 14 HR, 398 PA .242/.318/.399 (96 wRC+)
2B Brad Miller .243/.304/.482 (111 wRC+), 30 HR, 601 PA .248/.313/.440 (104 wRC+)
SS Tim Beckham .247/.300/.434 (98 wRC+), 5 HR, 215 PA .236/.286/.388 (82 wRC+)
3B Evan Longoria .273/.318/.521 (123 wRC+), 36 HR, 685 PA .266/.318/.485 (113 wRC+)
LF Mallex Smith
.238/.316/.365 (84 wRC+), 16 SB, 215 PA .231/.296/.322 (71 wRC+)
CF Kevin Kiermaier .246/.331/.410 (104 wRC+), 12 HR, 414 PA .258/.316/.426 (101 wRC+)
RF Steven Souza .247/.303/.409 (94 wRC+), 17 HR, 468 PA .242/.314/.419 (101 wRC+)
DH Corey Dickerson
.245/.293/.469 (101 wRC+), 24 HR, 548 PA .251/.300/.461 (103 wRC+)
BENCH
C Jesus Sucre .480/.522/.680 (244 wRC+), 1 HR, 29 PA .236/.263/.292 (51 wRC+)
IF Daniel Robertson N/A (110 wRC+ in Triple-A) .241/.316/.340 (83 wRC+)
OF Peter Bourjos .251/.292/.389 (79 wRC+), 5 HR, 383 PA .230/.286/.361 (71 wRC+)
UTIL Rickie Weeks .239/.327/.450 (102 wRC+), 9 HR, 205 PA .213/.299/.374 (85 wRC+)

Reminder: The Rays traded Trea Turner (+3.8 WAR from 2015-16) and Joe Ross (+3.5) to the Nationals for Souza (+1.9) two years ago on purpose. That’s going to go down as an all-time bad trade. If you’re a big market team like the Yankees, you can survive that because you can paper over the mistake with money. A small payroll team like the Rays? Forget it. Total disaster.

Aside from a Smith/Bourjos platoon in left field, the Rays look to be fairly set with their lineup. We’re used to seeing them employ multiple platoons and all sorts of different lineup arrangements. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year. Longoria is the center piece, obviously. Even if the Rays do opt for multiple platoons, Longoria will be in the lineup day after day, not posting a .900 OPS.

I should note the Rays will not have three key-ish players to start the season due to injury: SS Matt Duffy (Achilles), OF Colby Rasmus (hip), and C Wilson Ramos (knee). Ramos won’t be back until midseason after tearing his ACL for the second time in four years. Tampa Bay signed him to a two-year deal over the winter knowing that. Duffy and Rasmus are expected back sometime point in April, possibly in time for the series between these two clubs at Yankee Stadium next week.

The Rays started sacrificing defense for power a few years ago, leading to Souza in right and Miller at second. Both are liabilities in the field. Kiermaier is excellent, probably the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and Longoria is very good at the hot corner. The Smith/Bourjos platoon will save runs in center field. Beckham and Morrison are solid defenders, and while Norris doesn’t have much of an arm, he rates as a very good pitch-framer. So, overall, the Rays are good defensively, but not otherworldly like they were three or four years ago.

Pitching Matchups

Archer and Cobb. (Presswire)
Archer and Cobb. (Presswire)

Sunday (1pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TB) vs. RHP Chris Archer (vs. NYY)
Nice pitching matchup to start the season. Archer is better than last year’s numbers (4.02 ERA and 3.81 FIP) would lead you to believe, and I think we all know that. His strikeout (28.2% from 2015-16) and ground ball (46.9% from 2015-16) tendencies suggest good things will happen. I have no evidence to back this up and I’m too lazy to look through the game logs, but it seems Archer usually dominates the Yankees for a few innings before giving it up late. Am I the only one that feels that way? Whatever. As always, Archer is primarily a mid-90s fastball/upper-80s slider pitcher, though his mid-80s changeup has come a long way the last few seasons. His slider is one of the best in the business, hence the strikeouts. It gives both lefties and righties fits.

Tuesday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TB) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (vs. NYY)
It’s too bad the Yankees don’t have Brian McCann anymore. He’s wrecked Odorizzi throughout his career: 13-for-28 (.464) with three doubles, three homers, and a triple (!). Last season Odorizzi pitched to a solid 3.69 ERA (4.31 FIP) in a career high 187.2 innings, and, like everyone else, he became very home run prone (1.39 HR/9). The ball was flying out of the park last summer. I hope it does again this year too. Homers are fun. Odorizzi’s strikeout (21.5%), walk (7.0%), and grounder (36.6%) rates were right where they always are in 2016. He’s more of a pop-up guy that a long fly ball guy, so don’t get too excited by the lack of grounders. Odorizzi has a deep repertoire that includes three fastballs (low-90s two and four-seamers, upper-80s cutter), one offspeed pitch (mid-80s splitter), and two breaking balls (low-80s slider and low-80s curve). The split has become his go-to put-away pitch. Odorizzi has been pretty tough on Yankees not named McCann the last few seasons.

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (vs. NYY)
Future Yankee Alex Cobb? He’ll be a free agent after the season and seems like a potential alternative to pricier free agents like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta (and Tanaka?). He’s good, he’s reasonably young (29), and he’s had success in the AL East. Seems like someone the Yankees would gravitate toward. Anyway, Cobb missed all of 2015 and most of 2016 with Tommy John surgery, and when he returned last year, he had an 8.59 ERA (5.60 FIP) in five starts and 22 innings. His walk (6.7%) and grounder (52.5%) rates were in line with his career norms, though his strikeouts (15.4%) were way down and his homers (2.05 HR/9) were way up. Typical post-Tommy John surgery rust and small sample size weirdness, I’d imagine. A mid-80s splitter is Cobb’s moneymaker, and he also throws a low-90s four-seamer and an upper-70s curveball.

Bullpen Status

Farquhar. (Presswire)
Farquhar. (Presswire)

Manager Kevin Cash will be short a few relievers to start the season because of injuries. RHP Brad Boxberger (lat), RHP Shawn Tolleson (flexor), and Rule 5 Draft pick RHP Kevin Gadea (elbow) are all on the disabled list. Tolleson and Gadea are on the 60-day DL already, so they’re out long-term. Boxberger could return later this month.

Unlike the Yankees, the Rays can not use early season off-days to skip their fifth starter, so they’ll open the new season with a normal seven-man bullpen. Remember when six-man bullpens were normal? Good times. Here is Tampa’s relief crew:

Role 2016 MLB Stats 2017 ZiPS
RHP Alex Colome Closer 1.91 ERA (2.92 FIP), 31.4 K%, 56.2 IP 2.93 ERA (3.18 FIP)
RHP Danny Farquhar Setup 3.06 ERA (5.10 FIP), 29.1 K%, 35.1 IP 3.79 ERA (3.92 FIP)
LHP Xavier Cedeno Setup 3.70 ERA (2.64 FIP), 34.7 K%, 41.1 IP 3.40 ERA (3.45 FIP)
RHP Tommy Hunter Middle 3.18 ERA (3.06 FIP), 16.6 K%, 34 IP 3.81 ERA (3.70 FIP)
RHP Jumbo Diaz Middle 3.14 ERA (5.24 FIP), 20.3 K%, 43 IP 3.82 ERA (4.20 FIP)
RHP Erasmo Ramirez Middle 3.77 ERA (4.76 FIP), 16.7 K%, 90.2 IP 4.08 ERA (4.61 FIP)
RHP Austin Pruitt Long N/A (3.76 ERA and 3.53 FIP in AAA) 4.69 ERA (4.51 FIP)

As the only lefty in the bullpen, I assume Cedeno will be Cash’s designated Greg Bird specialist these next three games. That’s not the most intimidating bullpen in the world — the middle relievers don’t figure to miss many bats at all — but Colome is an All-Star caliber closer, so if the Rays have a lead after eight innings, the Yankees will be in trouble. Farquhar, by the way, is one of the players the Yankees traded to the Mariners for Ichiro Suzuki back in 2012.

Reports: Rays sign Nathan Eovaldi to one-year deal plus option

(Tasos Katopodis/Getty)
(Tasos Katopodis/Getty)

According to multiple reports, the Rays and Nathan Eovaldi have agreed to a one-year contract worth $2M. It’s a big league deal, so he’s going on their 40-man roster. The contract includes a club option for 2018, and since Eovaldi won’t pitch at all in 2017, the option is key. Tampa Bay will rehab him and hope it pays off one year from now.

Eovaldi, who turns 27 tomorrow, underwent his second Tommy John surgery last August. He also had surgery to repair his flexor muscle, which he said was torn completely off the bone. Yikes. Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees discussed a reunion with Eovaldi earlier this winter. Apparently he had other ideas.

The Yankees released Eovaldi back in November to clear a 40-man roster spot. He was projected to earn roughly $7M through arbitration in 2017 before becoming a free agent next winter, so keeping him made no sense. Why pay the guy $7M to not pitch next year when he could leave as a free agent after the season? Exactly.

Eovaldi spent two seasons with the Yankees, throwing 279 innings with a 4.45 ERA (4.11 FIP). He had his moments, specifically in the second half of the 2015 season, otherwise Eovaldi remained an enigma. So long, Nasty Nate. Good luck when you’re not facing the Yankees.

Yankeemetrics: The final countdown begins [Sept. 20-22]

(AP)
(AP)

Gary For President
Fueled by the heroics of Gary Sanchez and a dominant outing by the enigmatic Michael Pineda in the series opener on Tuesday night, the desperate Yankees kept their faint postseason hopes alive for at least one more day.

Sanchez delivered the biggest blow in the seventh inning, when he pounced on a first-pitch slider and hammered it 437 feet over the left-center field wall for a tie-breaking, three-run homer that put the Yankees ahead 5-2. It was the 17th time he’s gone deep in his big-league career, and the first time (of many, hopefully) he’s homered to give the Yankees a lead in the seventh inning or later.

Sanchez wasn’t the only star of the game, of course, as Pineda pitched a gem and made sure the Yankees had a chance to record their 42nd comeback win of the season. He had absolutely filthy stuff, striking out 11 of the 22 batters he faced, including 10 of them swinging.

Pineda increased his strikeout total to 195, and a whopping 175 of them (89.7 percent) are of the swinging variety. Among all pitchers with at least 125 Ks this season, Pineda has the highest percentage of swinging strikeouts in the majors.

Pineda was yanked by Joe Girardi after Brad Miller singled with one out in the sixth inning, producing this Yankeemetric that perhaps best defines his tantalizing — and frustrating — talent: Pineda’s 11 strikeouts against the Rays are the most ever by a Yankee pitcher in an outing of of 5 1/3 innings or fewer.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

LOL, Gary Sanchez
This is Gary Sanchez’s world, and we’re just living in it. Yup, the Sanch-ino (Thanks John Sterling!) did it again.

Sanchez continued to re-write baseball history at an incredible and frenetic pace, going deep twice while driving in a career-high five runs in the 11-5 win. He truly is must-see television as fans have a chance to witness something every time he comes to the plate.

On Wednesday, Sanchez clobbered his 18th and 19th home runs, becoming the fastest player ever to reach those marks. No other major-leaguer had even hit 19 homers in their first 50 career games (Wally Berger had the previous record with 19 in 51 games), and Sanchez compiled that number in a mere 45 games.

He made his mark on the franchise record books, too, becoming the first rookie in Yankees history to homer in four straight games. This was also the third time he’d hit two homers in a game, making the 23-year-old Sanchez the youngest Yankee with three multi-homer games in a season since Bobby Murcer in 1969.

There are so many ways to quantify his ridiculous home run pace and put his Superman-like slugging into perspective. Here’s another one (all data per Statcast):

Through Wednesday, one of every 6.5 balls that he put into play turned into a home run, and roughly one of every 18 pitches he swung at went over the fences! Both of those rates were by far the best among all players with at least 10 homers this season. #YoSoyGary

It’s a good thing that Sanchez is a human highlight reel, or else this game would have been decided by Masahiro Tanaka’s inexplicable four-homer meltdown in the third inning. Although he settled down after that blip, Tanaka still joined this illustrious list of Yankees to give up a quartet of longballs in a single inning: Chase Wright (2007), Randy Johnson (2005), Scott Sanderson (1992) and Catfish Hunter (1977).

(AP)
(AP)

“We need to win 11 out of 10
That quote above is from Brett Gardner following the Yankees 2-0 loss to the Rays on Thursday night, and pretty much sums up the daunting task ahead of the Yankees in the final week of the season. Do you believe in miracles? Because that’s what it might take for this team to avoid making tee times for October.

For the 417th time this season (approximately) the Yankees failed to close out a series sweep, getting blanked by the Rays as their near-impossible trek towards a postseason berth became even more improbable.

The Yankees and Rays played six series this season; in four of them the Yankees had a chance to win every game in the series, and four times they lost the final game to come up empty in the sweep opportunity. #Sigh

The Yankees season-long problem of coming up empty in scoring situations reared its ugly head once again, with the Yankees going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position while stranding 11 baserunners. This is the 17th time this year they’ve left at least 11 men on base in a game; last year, it happened only 12 times.

This was also their 73rd loss of the season, meaning the Yankees will fail to win 90 games for fourth year in a row. That’s their longest stretch of sub-90-win campaigns (excluding strike-shortened seasons) since the dark days of the late 1980s and 90s, when they didn’t reach the magical 90-win mark from 1987-1993.

9/20 to 9/22 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Dome sweet dome. (Presswire)
Dome sweet dome. (Presswire)

Ugh, the Yankees are playing again? The last week hasn’t been all that pretty. I’m not sure I want to sit through any more heartbreaking losses. On the bright side, the Yankees are in Tampa to play the last place Rays this week, not in Boston to play the first place Red Sox. The Bombers are 9-7 against the Don’t Call Me Devil Rays this season, though they’re only 2-4 at Tropicana Field. That includes the three-game sweep in late-July that pushed ownership to sell at the trade deadline.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rays have been playing spoiler lately. They took two of three from the Blue Jays last week and split four games with the Orioles in Camden Yards over the weekend. Overall, Tampa Bay is 64-85 with a -22 run differential this season. Believe it or not, they were 31-32 at one point. They’ve gone 33-53 since. Needless to say, this is a must sweep for the Yankees to have any shot at the postseason.

Offense & Defense

Last week the Rays set a new franchise single-season home run record. They’ve gone deep 205 times this year, breaking the old record of 199 set back in 2009. Despite that, they’re still averaging a below-average 4.24 runs per game with a team 100 wRC+. (The Yankees are at 4.21 and 92, respectively.) Since we last saw them, the Rays lost 1B Logan Morrison (wrist) and OF Steven Souza (hip) to season-ending surgery. Morrison hurt his wrist on a swing against the Yankees, as you may remember. SS Matt Duffy (Achilles) is done for the year too.

Longoria. (Cliff McBride/Getty)
Longoria. (Cliff McBride/Getty)

Manager Kevin Cash has a set top of the lineup nowadays: 2B Logan Forsythe (122 wRC+) leads off and is followed by CF Kevin Kiermaier (107 wRC+), 3B Evan Longoria (127 wRC+), and 1B Brad Miller (110 wRC+) in that order. Those four drive Tampa’s offense. When they get shut down, they don’t score. UTIL Nick Franklin (119 wRC+) and DH Corey Dickerson (98 wRC+) have been hitting fifth and sixth, respectively, in the wake of the Morrison and Souza injuries.

SS Alexei Ramirez (64 wRC+) is a stopgap and 1B Richie Shaffer (94 wRC+) has taken over at first base with Morrison hurt. C Bobby Wilson (88 wRC+), C Luke Maile (60 wRC+), and C Curt Casali (49 wRC+) have been rotating behind the plate in September. OF Jaff Decker (2 wRC+) and OF Mikie Mahtook (25 wRC+) are the Rays’ only extra players right now. They’re only carrying one extra bench player (a third catcher) even though rosters have expanded. I wonder if they’ll call someone else up following the recent injuries.

The Rays are more or less punting defense these days, though Kiermaier is excellent in center and Forsythe, Ramirez, and Longoria are all good to great on the infield. The corner outfield spots and first base are a problem. The three catchers are all cut from the all-glove/no-bat cloth. Kinda weird to see a Tampa team that isn’t fantastic defensively, isn’t it?

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7:10pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs. LHP Drew Smyly (vs. NYY)
Smyly, 27, was the centerpiece of the David Price trade a few years ago, and he has a 4.98 ERA (4.53 FIP) in 28 starts and 164.1 innings this season, so that’s not working out as hoped. His strikeout (23.0%) and walk (6.7%) rates are very good, though his home run (1.70 HR/9) and ground ball (30.9%) numbers are really scary. That’s bad. His platoon split is tiny thanks to his mid-80s cutter and mid-70s curveball. Smyly does a good job keeping righties off balance with the cutter. His four-seam fastball sits right around 90 mph and he doesn’t have a changeup. The Yankees have faced Smyly twice this season. They scored one run in seven innings in April and two runs in six innings in July. I remember neither of those games.

Wednesday (7:10pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (vs. NYY)
Three starts into his return from Tommy John surgery, the 28-year-old Cobb has a 3.06 ERA (3.93 FIP) in 17.2 total innings. His has start was his best; he held the Blue Jays to one run and two hits in 6.2 innings. Cobb has 12 strikeouts and four walks in those 17.2 innings, plus a very good ground ball rate (55.6%). Lefties have had much more success against him than righties so far. Cobb’s sinker has sat right around 90 mph in his three starts while his splitter has sat in the mid-80s. He also has a hard low-80s curveball. Everything is down 2-3 mph across the board. That can be scary coming off elbow reconstruction, though Cobb could still be building arm strength. The Yankees scored four runs (three earned) in six innings against the veteran righty last week.

Snell. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Snell. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Thursday (7:10pm ET): RHP Luis Cessa (vs. TB) vs. LHP Blake Snell (vs. NYY)
Poor Blake Snell. I watched his last two starts, which included one against the Yankees, and the kid looks completely out of gas. I guess that’s not a surprise. He’s thrown a career high 144.1 innings. Snell has a 3.87 ERA (3.51 FIP) in 17 starts and 81.1 innings with the big league team. Good strikeout rate (23.9%), good homer rate (0.55 HR/9), bad walk rate (12.7%), bad ground ball rate (36.8%). His platoon split is pretty significant, so Joe Girardi should fill the lineup with righties. Snell sits in the mid-90s with his heater, and his array of offspeed pitches includes a mid-80s changeup, a low-80s slider, and an upper-70s curveball. The Yankees have seen the 23-year-old southpaw three times this year and they’ve had progressively more success each time: one run in five innings in April, two runs in 5.1 innings in July, and three runs in 2.2 innings last week. They forced Snell to throw 88 pitches in those 2.2 innings.

Bullpen Status

The Rays may not be carrying many bench players, but they sure have loaded up the bullpen. Cash has 13 relievers at his disposal at the moment. Here is his bullpen:

Closer: RHP Alex Colome (1.93 ERA/3.80 FIP)
Setup: RHP Brad Boxberger (3.72/5.21), LHP Xavier Cedeno (3.70/2.63)
Middle: RHP Danny Farquhar (3.16/4.86), RHP Kevin Jepsen (), LHP Enny Romero (5.74/4.42)
Long: RHP Erasmo Ramirez (3.71/4.77)
Extra: LHP Dana Eveland, RHP Eddie Gamboa, RHP Ryan Garton, RHP Steve Geltz, LHP Justin Marks, RHP Chase Whitley

Not the most intimidating bullpen, I’d say. Colome is very good in the ninth and Boxberger and Cedeno have their moments, but that’s a relief corps you can’t wait to get into. The Rays had an off-day yesterday like the Yankees, so those 13 guys are as fresh as they’re going to get. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Girardi’s relief crew.