How the Yankees can beat Chris Archer

gardner rays

The offensive numbers for the Yankees over the past week are just plain ugly: seven games, 18 runs and a .214/.286/.328 slashline. And half of those runs came in one game! The only team in the majors that can probably be jealous of the Yankees’ bats right now is the Mets.

With a matchup against the Rays’ ace Chris Archer looming tonight, conventional wisdom would suggest the Yankees have little-to-no chance of ending their offensive slump.

Archer is having a fantastic breakout campaign, ranking among the league leaders in nearly every pitching statistic, from ERA (third) to FIP (second) to strikeouts (second) to WHIP (first). He’s also dominated the Yankees during his four major-league seasons, going 5-0 with a 2.01 ERA in seven starts, and hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of those games. The list of players to start their career with a streak of at least seven unbeaten starts and three-or-fewer runs allowed against the Yankees is a very short one: Chris Archer. Yup, that’s it.

Fortunately, this Yankees team has defied logic and common sense all season. This bizarro version of the Bronx Bombers has already crushed such aces as David Price, Jacob deGrom, Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer — while, of course, getting dominated by the likes of Tom Koehler and Joe Kelly. (Yes, Dallas Keuchel recently made the Yankees look silly, but you can’t win ’em all, right?)

Although Archer is arguably among the top-3 pitchers in the AL right now, he has struggled at times this season. He’s allowed at least four runs in four games, including his most recent outing when the Red Sox scored five times and hit three home runs against him on June 28.

So you're telling me there's a chance. - Imgur

Unfortunately, the Yankees biggest advantage against Archer might have been getting Jacoby Ellsbury back in the lineup, who has crushed Archer in their previous matchups. But he’s still working to get his legs back into baseball shape, so instead the Yankees will turn to the scorching-hot Brett Gardner — who has also had a ton of success against Archer in the past — to lead the hit parade against the Rays’ ace on Friday night.

ellsbury gardner

No player in baseball has dominated Archer like Ellsbury. He owns the highest batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage against Archer by anyone that has faced him at least 10 times. Gardner’s 1.172 OPS is fourth among that group of batters, and he is the only player that has four extra-base hits against Archer.

The rest of the Yankees, however, have not fared as well, going a combined 9-for-63 (.143) against the Rays’ right-hander.

rest of team

The Yankees have already seen Archer once this season: on May 12 he held them to two runs on seven hits over seven innings. Nearly all that damage came in a 32-pitch first inning during which the Yankees scored two runs on four hits and a walk. Archer threw just 73 pitches over the next six frames and retired 16 of the final 19 batters.

Getting to Archer early appears to be the best game plan in trying to beat him. Nearly half of the runs he has allowed this season (14 of 33) have come in the first two innings, during which his ERA “jumps” to 3.18; after the second inning, he has a 1.92 ERA.

The Yankees also need to lay off his nasty slider, which he often throws with two strikes and buries below the knees. Opponents have hit just .163 against the pitch this season, and 93 of his 133 strikeouts have been with the breaking ball.

The Yankees were far too aggressive against the pitch in their matchup earlier this season, swinging at 24 of the 36 sliders he threw, most of which were in the dirt or unhittable (see the red dots in the image below). It was a boom-or-bust strategy for the Yankees in that game. They they whiffed on 13 (!) of those 24 swings, but got five hits on the seven sliders they were able to put into play.

archer vs yankees 5-12

It would be smart to try and jump on his heater, which he starts an at-bat with nearly 70 percent of the time. Opponents have hit .304 when putting a first-pitch fastball in play this season against Archer. If he does decide to go with a breaking ball or something off the plate initially, the Yankees need to be disciplined and lay off the pitch. Getting ahead early might be the second-best strategy against him. Archer has allowed a .754 OPS after a 1-0 count, which is only slightly better than the MLB average in those situations.

While there’s no guarantee you’ll have success, it’s better than the alternative — if you fall behind 0-1 against Archer, you’re gonna be in trouble. His OPS allowed after an 0-1 count this season is a ridiculous .362, the second-best mark among starters.

Archer has clearly established himself as one of the elite pitchers in the game and is a leading Cy Young contender, but that shouldn’t worry the Yankees tonight. They’ve already shown that they can beat the best arms in baseball, and have been a much better offensive team at home than on the road this season.

If they can execute a game plan similar to the one outlined above and take advantage of the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, there’s a good chance we’ll see the return of the real Bronx Bombers and be able to celebrate a much-needed win over a division rival.

Sunday Links: A-Rod Promo, Eddy Julio Martinez, Drew

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Yankees and Rangers wrap-up their three-game series later tonight with the ESPN Sunday Night Game. Sigh. Getting sick of all these late Sunday games. Anyway, here are a handful of links to hold you over until first pitch.

Minor league team apologizes for A-Rod “juice” box promotion

On Friday, the High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs (Rays) scheduled an Alex Rodriguez “juice” box promotion for their game against the Tampa Yankees. The team was going to hand out juice boxes labeled “The Sports Drink: 100% Juiced. Side Affects include: tainted records, inflated ego, omission from the Hall of Fame, and more!”

First of all, an A-Rod steroids joke? I award you no points for creativity. Secondly, Marc Topkin reports both the Yankees and Rays objected to the promotion, so it was cancelled. The Stone Crabs then issued an apology, according to Topkin. Here’s part of the text:

“On behalf of our entire organization I apologize to the New York Yankees, our affiliate club the Tampa Bay Rays, and all fans who may have taken offense,” said Stone Crabs General Manager, Jared Forma.  “While our intent was to raise awareness for the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition and the Salvation Army, we realize this promotion may have been offensive to many and for that we are sorry and have decided to cancel the promotion.  The Stone Crabs organization has the utmost respect for the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays organizations and wishes both organizations only the best in the future.”

Yeah, that probably wasn’t a good idea. It’s fine to hate A-Rod, most do, but an affiliated minor league club scheduling a promotion mocking an active player? That’s not going to sit well with the team, the league, and the MLBPA. Better luck next time.

Yankees among teams interested in Cuban OF Eddy Julio Martinez

According to Jesse Sanchez, the Yankees are one of several teams interested in free agent Cuban center fielder Eddy Julio Martinez, who has already been cleared to sign by MLB and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Sanchez says Martinez is in showcase mode right now — he’s held several workouts for scouts and has a few more scheduled.

Martinez, 20, has been described as an “impact talent” according to Kiley McDaniel, who says he has 70 speed and 50 power on the 20-80 scouting scale. Jeff Passan hears Martinez’s signing bonus could approach $10M. There’s no indication whether Martinez is ready to sign, but he is subject to the international spending pools, so the Yankees can offer him any amount until June 25th, the final day of the 2014-15 signing period. If Martinez doesn’t sign by then, New York can only offer him $300,000 due to the penalties from last year’s international spending spree.

I don’t know much about Martinez at all, just what’s in this post basically, but, as always, I am pro adding young up-the-middle talent at all times. The Yankees have dipped their toe in the Cuban market the last few years but have yet to dive in — they attend showcases and invite players in for private workouts, but have yet to pull the trigger and sign one. Their last notable Cuban signing was Jose Contreras more than a decade ago.

(In other Cuban player news, Ben Badler reports highly touted 21-year RHP Norge Ruiz has left the island, but the Yankees won’t have a shot to sign him because he won’t be cleared until well after June 25th.)

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

For first time, Cashman noncommittal about Drew’s job security

A few weeks ago, when Stephen Drew was scuffling offensively but playing solid defense, Brian Cashman told Andrew Marchand the team was not considering a change at second base. “No. I think Drew’s been fine,” said the GM. “Right now, I’m not looking at anyone being an alternative at second base to Drew. I’m surprised you asked the question.”

Now, in late-May, Drew is still scuffling at the plate and playing solid defense, and, for the first time, Cashman indicated Drew’s job may not be set in stone. “(Drew has) got rope, but if someone pushes his way into the mix, so be it,” said Cashman to Joel Sherman yesterday. “I am open to having Drew all year or someone else taking this if they can. I can’t predict what is going to happen.”

That someone would be Rob Refsnyder, who continues to tear the cover off the ball for Triple-A Scranton after shaking off his slow start. His defense is pretty bad, so he’d fit right in with the Yankees (hardy har har), but at least there’s a shot at an offensive upgrade. Drew’s been terrible at the plate, has been going back to last season, and his leash shouldn’t be all that long. Slade Heathcott is doing well in his very (very) limited big league cameo. Maybe that will make the Yankees more willing to roll with another young player.

Yankeemetrics: May 11-14 (Rays)

(Steve Nesius/AP)
(Steve Nesius/AP)

From zero to hero
Finally. CC Sabathia got his first win of the season on Monday night as the Yankees beat the Rays in the series opener. His 0-5 record to start the season was the fourth-worst opening stretch by any Yankee lefty in the last 100 years.

The odds of getting a win were really stacked against CC entering the game. His 4-8 record at Tropicana Field was his worst at any ballpark he’d started more than five games, and the Yankees offense had scored just 13 runs during his first six starts this season. It makes perfect sense then that the Yankees broke out for 11 runs and gave the large lefty a rare win at Tropicana Field. Of course, what else were you expecting?

The Yankees backed Sabathia with barrage of home runs – five of them – and gave him plenty of run support to work with. It was their first five-homer game with Sabathia on the mound since May 8, 2011 against the Rangers. Since that night four years ago, the Yankees had eight other games with at least five homers — and somehow either Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes was the starting pitcher in five of them!

Singles night at the Trop
The Yankees scored two runs in the top of the first inning on Tuesday night but were then held scoreless the rest of the night despite generating a good number of scoring chances, and lost as the Rays rallied to win.

One day after it seemed like every ball went over the fence, the Yankees were held to just eight singles – that’s it. It was the first time since Opening Day that they didn’t have at least two extra-base hits in a game. That 32-game streak with multiple extra-base hits was tied for the fourth-longest by the franchise over the last 100 years.

Chris Archer held the Yankees to just two runs in seven innings, and though he didn’t get the win, he still hasn’t lost or given up more than three runs in seven starts vs. the team. He is the only pitcher to start his career with a streak of least seven unbeaten starts and three-or-fewer runs allowed against the Yankees in the last 100 years.

Deja vu?
The Yankees scored two runs in the top of the first inning on Wednesday night but were then held scoreless the rest of the night despite generating a good number of scoring chances, and lost as the Rays rallied to win.

Wait, what?! Did I just plagiarize myself? Sadly, yes.

They were also held without an extra-base hit for the second game in a row, scattering 10 singles off four Rays pitchers. It marked the first time the Yankees had at least eight hits, without any of them going for extra bases, in consecutive losses since Sept. 6-7, 1965 against the Orioles.

Adam Warren was the tough-luck loser on the mound for the Yankees, allowing three runs in a career-best seven innings. It was the first time in his 10 career starts that he completed at least six frames. Warren enters the record books as the only Yankee to debut in the last 100 years and pitch fewer than six innings in each of his first nine major-league starts.

A-Rod to the rescue
The offensive drought continued for the Yankees on Thursday, losing 6-1 to the Rays in the series finale. Alex Rodriguez saved the team from being shut out for the first time this season with a ninth inning solo homer, which also was their first extra base hit since Mark Teixeira homered in the ninth inning of Monday’s game. In between those longballs, the Yankees played 26 innings and hit 22 singles.

That was A-Rod’s fourth homer in seven games this year at Tropicana Field. No player on any team — even the Rays — has hit more homers at the ballpark this season. It also was his 1,000th RBI with the Yankees, making him the 13th player in team history to reach that milestone. Since RBI became official in 1920, that is easily the most 1,000-RBI players on any franchise (Cubs and Tigers are second with seven).

Erasmo Ramirez is the third starting pitcher in 2015 to hold the Yankees to one hit with five-or-more innings pitched (Anibal Sanchez on April 23, Joe Kelly on April 11). Only three pitchers did that against the team in all of 2014. There’s still four-and-a-half months left of baseball to play this season.

5/11 to 5/14 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Kevin Cash was not happy with the umps this weekend. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Kevin Cash was not happy with the umps this weekend. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Again with the Rays. Again. The Yankees and Rays have already played two series on the young season, with New York winning both of them. They swept three games at Tropicana Field in the middle of April and then won two of three in the Bronx at the end of April. These two clubs will play another four games in the Trop this week.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

The Rays split four games with the lowly Rangers at home this weekend. They won two of three at Fenway Park before that and lost two of three at Camden Yards before that. Tampa Bay is 17-15 with a +10 run differential this year. They’re in second place in the AL East and three games back of the Yankees, so I guess first place is on the line.

Offense & Defense

In the first year post-Joe Maddon, the Rays are averaging just 3.78 runs per game with a team 100 wRC+, so while they’ve been league average on a rate basis, their run output is below the 4.24 runs per game league average. Timing is important! New skipper Kevin Cash is without 2B Ryan Brett (shoulder), OF Desmond Jennings (knee), DH John Jaso (wrist), and IF Nick Franklin (oblique), all of whom are on the DL and won’t return this series.

Souza and Guyer. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Souza and Guyer. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

As usual, the Rays are led offensively by 3B Evan Longoria (155 wRC+), who is drawing more walks than ever (15.0%) because teams are pitching around him. Just 46.6% of the pitches thrown to him this season have been in the zone, the lowest rate of his career and below the 48.2% league average. UTIL Logan Forsythe (131 wRC+) and OF Kevin Kiermaier (117 wRC+) are off to nice starts and OF Steven Souza Jr. (114 wRC+) is a three true outcomes machine — 54.8% of his plate appearances have ended with a walk, a strikeout, or a homer.

1B James Loney (90 wRC+), a certified Yankee killer, is off to a slow start after missing time with an oblique problem, and SS Asdrubal Cabrera (62 wRC+) has been awful all year. OF Brandon Guyer (149 wRC+) and OF David DeJesus (128 wRC+) are doing fine work in platoon roles while IF Tim Beckham (80 wRC+) isn’t. OF Joey Butler (86 wRC+ in very limited time) was just called up to replace Jennings and the catching tandem of C Rene Rivera (17 wRC+) and C Bobby Wilson (25 wRC+) has been dreadful.

Defensively, the Rays are strongest in the outfield thanks mostly to Kiermaier. Souza is a quality defender as well and the Guyer/DeJesus/Butler trio is alright overall. Longoria and Loney are excellent on the infield corners but Asdrubal and the Forsythe/Beckham tandem on the middle infield is really shaky. Rivera is a top of the line pitch-framer and about average at everything else behind the dish. Tampa’s defense took a hit with Jennings’ injury but it’s still solid everywhere aside from the middle infield.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: LHP CC Sabathia (Career vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Colome (Career vs. NYY)
Colome, 26, was supposed to be part of the fifth starter’s competition in camp, but his arrival was delayed by visa issues, then he came down with pneumonia once he got to Florida. He opened the season on the DL and has made two starts since being activated, allowing two runs in ten innings. Colome has struck out ten and walked zero so far. The rookie righty has thrown 49.2 career innings in MLB and doesn’t have a significant platoon split (.277 vs .269 wOBA in favor of righties). Colome is a mid-90s four-seam fastball guy with a mid-80s cutter/slider thing — he can vary the break on it, so it can be short like a cutter or sweepy like a slider — and a low-80s changeup. He’ll also flip a few upper-70s curveballs per start as well.

Tuesday: RHP Nathan Eovaldi (Career vs. TB) vs. RHP Chris Archer (Career vs. NYY)
The Yankees lucked out and did not face the 26-year-old Archer in their first two series with the Rays this year. Archer’s been outstanding, with a 2.59 ERA (2.84 FIP) and excellent peripherals (29.9 K%, 8.4 BB%, 54.5 GB%, 0.65 HR/9) in seven starts and 41.2 innings. His last two starts have been his worst of the season though — nine of the 14 runs he’s allowed in 2015 have come in those two outings. Archer has been better against lefties (.227 wOBA) than righties (.265 wOBA) this season, which is out of line with the rest of his career. He’s basically a two-pitch pitcher, using mid-90s fastballs and upper-80s sliders to dominate. Archer rarely throws a changeup and his fastball/slider combo is so good he really doesn’t need it. He’s easily the best non-Michael Pineda starter in the AL East at this very moment.

Karns. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Karns. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Wednesday: RHP Adam Warren (Career vs. TB) vs. RHP Nathan Karns (Career vs. NYY)
Karns, 27, will be the first pitcher the Yankees face for a third time this year. The Yankees scored two runs in five innings against him in the middle of April, then one run in 4.1 innings in late-April, running up his pitch count both times. Karns has a 3.79 ERA (4.77 FIP) in seven starts in 40.1 innings this season, with good strikeout (23.0%) and ground ball (49.5%) rates but not so good walk (11.5%) and homer (1.34 HR/9) numbers. Righties (.295 wOBA) have had more success against him than lefties (.265 wOBA) this year in his limited sample of work. Karns uses low-to-mid-90s four-seamers to set up his big breaking low-80s curveball, the pitch that is the reason he is in the big leagues. He also throws a mid-80s changeup.

Thursday: RHP Chase Whitley (Career vs. TB) vs. TBA
Two weeks ago southpaw Drew Smyly dominated the Yankees, striking out ten in six innings. He made one more start after that, then landed on the DL with a tear in his labrum that will likely require season-ending surgery. Rough. It’s unclear who will take his spot in the rotation. The two main candidates are righties Matt Andriese (5.40 ERA and 4.72 FIP) and Erasmo Ramirez (8.31 ERA and 3.67 FIP), though I suppose a call-up is always possible too. Ramirez has more experience as a big league starter but Andriese has made more starts this season (three to two), including one this past weekend. I guess Thursday’s starter will depend on whether either of these guys is needed in long relief this week. We’ll find out soon enough.

Bullpen Status
The Rays currently have an eight-man bullpen and they really need it. Their rotation is really shaky aside from Archer and RHP Jake Odorizzi at the moment. Andriese and Erasmo are candidates to start Thursday, and whoever doesn’t start will serve as a long man with RHP Andrew Bellatti (3.76 FIP), who was just called up to make his MLB debut over the weekend.

Cash’s late-inning duo is RHP Brad Boxberger (1.66 FIP) and RHP Kevin Jepsen (4.26 FIP), though RHP Steve Geltz (2.86 FIP) will also see some high-leverage work from time to time. LHP Xavier Cedeno (4.87 FIP) is Tampa’s only lefty reliever. RHP Ernesto Frieri (6.69 FIP) and RHP Brandon Gomes (3.57 FIP) are the other two relievers. Cedeno, Frieri, and Jepsen all pitched yesterday. Check out the status of the Yankees’ bullpen without Bullpen Workload page. Then check out DRays Bay and The Process Report for the latest on the Rays.

Yankeemetrics: April 27-29 (Rays)

Two out of three ain't bad. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Two out of three ain’t bad. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Miller time
After beating the Rays in their series opener, the Yankees claimed sole possession of first place in the AL East for the first time in nearly a year. Good job, guys!

Brian McCann notched the game-winning hit with a tie-breaking solo homer in the sixth inning. It was his 25th homer as a Yankee, with 21 of those coming at Yankee Stadium. He is the first player in franchise history to hit more than 20 of his first 25 homers as a Yankee at home, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The bullpen continued to do awesome things, holding the Rays without a run after Adam Warren left in the sixth inning. Dellin Betances pitched a perfect eighth inning, extending his streak of games with no hits allowed and at least two strikeouts to five. That’s something no Yankee pitcher has ever done in the last 100 years.

Andrew Miller — the non-closer — notched his eighth save in eight chances, becoming the first Yankee with at least eight saves in the team’s first 20 games. The last left-handed reliever on any team to get at least eight saves this early into the season was Eddie Guardado for the Twins in 2002.

Hi Jake, I’m Brian
The Yankees notched their fourth series win a row with a 4-2 victory over the Rays on Tuesday night. It also gave them a 10-2 record in their last 12 games, something they didn’t even come close to doing last season. Their best 12-game stretch in 2014 included a mere eight wins.

It was not surprising that McCann again delivered the big hits for the Yankees in this game, with two run-scoring doubles that drove in three of the team’s four runs. He continued his absolute ownership of Jake Odorizzi, going 2-for-3 against the Rays starter. That made him 10-for-16 with three doubles, a triple and two homers in his career against Odorizzi, by far his best batting average (.625) and slugging percentage (1.960) against any pitcher he’s faced at least 10 times.

Chris Martin subbed in for the non-closer Andrew Miller and closed out the win with a scoreless ninth inning for his first career save. Martin is the 15th player in major-league history at 6-foot-8 or taller to record a save. The Yankees have seemingly cornered the market on these tall relievers — five of those 15 have at least one career save with the franchise. The others are Dellin Betances, Jeff Nelson, Graeme Lloyd and Lee Guetterman.

On Wednesday afternoon the Rays managed to do something they hadn’t done all season – beat the Yankees. All good things have to come to an end, right?

Ultimately, the difference in this game was that the Rays had a couple more timely hits than the Yankees, as James Loney singled in the winning run with two men on base in the top of the 13th inning. Prior to that hit, the Rays were 3-for-42 (.071!) with runners in scoring position against the Yankees this season.

Alex Rodriguez might have had his worst day at the plate in his entire career. Not only did he ground into a game-ending double play, but he also struck out four times and was hitless in six at-bats. It was the first time he’s ever gone 0-for-6 or worse in a game in his 21 major-league seasons. It also marked the only time he’s grounded into a double play and had four strikeouts in the same game.

Michael Pineda wasn’t as dominant as he was in his last outing against the Mets, but still ended up with a respectable pitching line (5 2/3 IP, 2 R, 5 K, 0 BB) and kept the Yankees in the game. While his season ERA isn’t spectacular (3.73), his peripherals (32 strikeouts, two walks) are simply ridiculous.

He is just the third major-league pitcher in the last 100 years with that many strikeouts (32) and two or fewer walks in the month of April, joining Juan Marichal (1968) and Cliff Lee (2008). The only other Yankee to post those numbers in any calendar month was Hiroki Kuroda in September of last season.

4/27 to 4/29 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

For the first time this season, the Yankees will play another club for the second time. They swept three games from the Rays at Tropicana Field last week and now Tampa Bay is coming to the Bronx for a three-game set starting tonight. The Yankees lucked out again and will miss Chris Archer. He started yesterday and has a 0.84 ERA (2.29 FIP) in five starts this year. Archer hasn’t allowed an earned run since Opening Day.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

The Rays are coming into this series riding a five-game winning streak — they took the last two games of their series with the Red Sox last week and swept the Blue Jays this weekend, all at home. They outscored Toronto and Boston 30-12 in the five games. Tampa Bay is 11-8 overall with a +5 run differential. They’re tied with the Yankees atop the AL East, though New York has the better run differential (+21).

Offense & Defense

So far this season rookie manager Kevin Cash’s offense is averaging 4.26 runs per game with a team 113 wRC+. The MLB averages this year are 4.16 runs per game and, well, a 100 wRC+. The Rays are slightly healthier than the last time these two teams played, but they’re still without IF Nick Franklin (oblique), C/DH John Jaso (wrist), and 2B Ryan Brett (shoulder).

Loney. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Loney. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Obviously 3B Evan Longoria (152 wRC+) is the star of the show in the middle of Tampa Bay’s lineup. He’s been getting a lot of help from 2B Logan Forsythe (135 wRC+), OF Kevin Kiermaier (146 wRC+), and OF Steven Souza (141 wRC+) in the early going. 1B James Loney (217 wRC+ in very limited time), who was injured the last time these two teams played, is a Grade-A Yankees killer. He’s hit .351/.397/.511 in 45 career games against the Bombers and .282/.337/.412 against everyone else.

Among those doing solid work in platoon roles are IF Tim Beckham (162 wRC+), OF Brandon Guyer (135 wRC+), and OF David DeJesus (172 wRC+). Beckham has 37.5 K% and a .435 BABIP. Something has to give. SS Asdrubal Cabrera (52 wRC+) has been a drain on the offense so far, as have OF Desmond Jennings (65 wRC+) and C Rene Rivera (23 wRC+). C Bobby Wilson and IF Jake Elmore round out the bench.

Defensively, the Rays are at their best in the outfield thanks mostly to Jennings and Kiermaier. Souza is a quality defender as well but he’s not at the same level as the other two. Longoria and Loney are excellent on the infield corners but Asdrubal and the Forsythe/Beckham tandem on the middle infield are really shaky. Not Mets caliber shaky, but shaky. Rivera is a top of the line pitch-framer and about average at everything else behind the dish. Tampa is a very good defensive club despite the eyesore on the middle infield.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Adam Warren (Career vs. TB) vs. RHP Nate Karns (Career vs. NYY)
The Yankees got a look at the 27-year-old Karns last week, when he held them to two runs on two hits in five innings. He struck out seven and walked four. Karns has a 5.32 ERA (6.14 FIP) in four starts and 23.2 innings this year with mediocre strikeout (19.8%) and walk (13.9%) rates and an awful homer rate (1.90 HR/9). He does get grounders though (48.4%), so when teams square him up, they hit it a long way. Righties (.350 wOBA) have hit him harder than lefties (.314 wOBA) in the early going. Karns uses low-to-mid-90s four-seamers to set up his big breaking low-80s curveball, the pitch that is the reason he is in the big leagues. He also throws a mid-80s changeup.

Tuesday: RHP Chase Whitley (Career vs. TB) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (Career vs. NYY)
Odorizzi, 25, may have improved his long-term outlook more than any other pitcher over the last 18 months or so. He has a 1.65 ERA (2.43 FIP) in 27.1 innings across four starts in 2015 with good peripherals — 21.6 K%, 7.8 BB%, 42.3 GB%, no homers allowed — and no platoon split. Odorizzi improved his stock by learning a filthy mid-80s splitter from teammate Alex Cobb. It gave him the swing-and-miss pitch he needed to be anything more than a back-end starter. He also throws low-90s four-seamers, mid-80s cutters, and a few slow upper-60s curveballs. It’s almost like an eephus pitch. The Yankees saw Odorizzi last weekend and scored three runs in six innings. He did strike out nine though, including six with the splitter. Whitley is coming up to make the spot start for the Yankees tomorrow, in case you missed it yesterday.

Smyly. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Smyly. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Wednesday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (Career vs. TB) vs. LHP Drew Smyly (Career vs. NYY)
Smyly was one of the pieces of the David Price trade last summer and he was excellent after arriving in Tampa Bay, pitching to a 1.70 ERA (3.07 FIP) in seven starts and 47.2 innings down the stretch. The 25-year-old southpaw came down with shoulder tendinitis in Spring Training and returned to the rotation last week, holding the Blue Jays to two runs in 4.2 innings with five strikeouts and no walks. Smyly throws both two and four-seamer fastballs in the upper-80s/low-90s as well as a mid-80s cutter. An upper-70s curveball is his top offspeed pitch and he uses a low-80s changeup against righties. The Rays held Smyly to an 80-pitch limit in his first start last week and I’m sure he’ll have some sort of cap Wednesday since he’s just returning from a shoulder scare.

Bullpen Status
Archer gave the Rays seven innings yesterday and all their key relievers got the afternoon off, so Cash’s bullpen is in good shape. RHP Matt Andriese (4.13 FIP) threw two innings as the only reliever used. RHP Brad Boxberger (1.01 FIP) is the relief ace — Cash has used him mostly as the closer but did bring him into a game in the seventh inning last week to face the heart of the Red Sox order in a big spot and put out a potentially big fire. RHP Kevin Jepsen (1.68 FIP) is the team’s other high-leverage reliever.

RHP Ernesto Frieri (7.78 FIP), RHP Brandon Gomes (1.47 FIP), and RHP Steve Geltz (4.35 FIP) are Tampa Bay’s middle innings righties. Frieri has allowed three homers in 8.2 innings this year and 25 homers in 119 innings since the start of 2013 (1.9 HR/9). He throws hard but man, when he makes a mistake, it gets hit a mile. LHP Everett Teaford was just called up and is the only southpaw in the bullpen. He has yet to appear in a game. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of the Yankees’ bullpen them head over to DRays Bay and The Process Report for some great analysis of the Rays.

Yankeemetrics: April 17-19 (Rays)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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