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


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.

Yankeemetrics: Return of the Bronx Bombers (Sept. 4-6)

The Future looks really good right now. (Getty Images)
The Future looks really good right now. (Getty Images)

Singles are for losers …
… at least when you’re the Bronx Bombers and can hit baseballs really high and far. The Yankees turned four hits into five runs thanks to three home runs from the middle of the order, which was just enough offense to beat the Rays on Friday night.

Overall they had six baserunners the entire night, making this the first time the Yankees scored at least five runs in a game with six or fewer baserunners since a 5-4 win over the Royals on April 26, 1988.

Sure, the home runs by A-Rod, Brian McCann and Greg Bird were nice and all, but the real star of the game was Luis Severino, who pitched another gem in his sixth major-league start. With 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball he lowered his ERA to 2.04, the third-lowest by any Yankee pitcher through his first six career games (all starts) since at least 1914. The only guys better than Severino in that span are Bob Porterfield (1.94 in 1948) and Bill Piercy (1.70 in 1917).

Severino has pitched at least six innings and surrendered no more than one run in each of his last three starts, putting up a 0.98 ERA in that span. He’s the first Yankee aged 21 or younger to have three straight games of six-plus innings and one or fewer run allowed since Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt in 1921.

Andrew Miller closed out the game with his 30th save of the season, becoming the fourth different Yankee in the last four seasons to reach 30 saves (David Robertson in 2014, Mariano in 2013, Rafael Soriano in 2012). In the previous 15 years (1997-2011), the Yankees had 14 30-save seasons — all by one guy, Mr. Rivera.

Unlucky No. 13
Not even the Yankees’ official good-luck charm — Nathan Eovaldi — could help the Yankees avoid loss to the Rays on Saturday afternoon in the Bronx. The bats failed in key scoring opportunities — they went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position — but it wasn’t because they didn’t smack the ball around hard enough.

According Statcast, the line drive Didi Gregorius hit for the final out of the eighth inning with the bases loaded left his bat at 107 mph. It was the third time this season Gregorius hit a ball that hard … the previous two went for a double and a homer.

Eovaldi got tagged with his first loss since June 16 and his streak of unbeaten starts ended at 13. It was the second-longest streak of starts without a loss by a Yankee in the last 10 seasons, behind only Ivan Nova’s 20-start unbeaten run spanning the 2011-12 seasons.

The Yankees were held to six hits or fewer for the sixth straight home game, matching their longest such streak ever at Yankee Stadium (old or new). The last time it happened was July 26-30, 1988.

Another ace goes down
In the span of two pitches, the Yankees went from facing a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 deficit against the Rays and their ace Chris Archer to enjoying a 4-3 advantage. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish en route to a crucial 6-4 win on Sunday afternoon.

Brian McCann tied the game in the sixth inning with his career-high 25th homer of the season, a towering two-out shot into the right field seats off Archer. He’s just the second left-handed catcher in the last two decades with at least 25 homers and 80 RBI in a season. The other was Joe Mauer during his 2009 MVP campaign.

A-Rod then immediately gave the Yankees the lead, sending the very next pitch over the fence in right-center. It was his team-leading fourth go-ahead homer in the sixth inning or later this year, and the most such homers he’s hit in any season since 2010.

The Yankees ended up tagging Archer for five runs, the most they’ve ever scored off him in his nine career starts facing them. Archer entered the game 5-0 with a 1.78 ERA versus the Yankees, the lowest ERA and best record by any active pitcher with more than five starts against the team.

9/4 to 9/6 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Kevin Kiermaier

Tonight the Yankees begin a ten-game homestand with the first of three against the Rays. This is a Very Important Homestand as far as the AL East race goes. The Yankees really need to take care of business these next ten days at home. Can’t have a repeat of the last homestand. Not if they want to win the division. Anyway, the Yankees are 8-5 against the Rays this season, including 4-2 at Yankee Stadium.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

Tampa Bay took two of three from the fading Orioles in Baltimore earlier this week but are still 4-6 in their last ten games overall. Remember when the AL East was a wide-open four-team race a few weeks back? That’s not the case anymore. The Rays are in third place at 66-67 (-11 run differential), a whopping 8.5 games behind the Yankees. The division is a two-horse race now.

Offense & Defense

Despite a team 99 wRC+, the Rays have scored the second fewest runs (506) among AL teams this year, barely better than the White Sox (505). The disconnect between the wRC+ and runs total stems from their inability to cash in run scoring opportunities — the Rays have an 89 wRC+ with runners in scoring position and unfathomable 55 OPS+ with the bases loaded. (FanGraphs doesn’t have a bases loaded split, so no wRC+, had to go with OPS+).

Forsythe. (David Banks/Getty)
Forsythe. (David Banks/Getty)

Rookie manager Kevin Cash is currently without OF Steven Souza (wrist), OF Desmond Jennings (knee), and C Curt Casali (hamstring), all of whom are on the DL and will not return this series. Cash can still build his lineup around 3B Evan Longoria (110 wRC+) even though his production is not what it once was. UTIL Logan Forsythe (134 wRC+) is having an excellent year and 1B James Loney (86 wRC+) always kills the Yankees. They can’t get him out.

SS Asdrubal Cabrera (101 wRC+) and OF Kevin Kiermaier (96 wRC+) both play everyday while OF Grady Sizemore (79 wRC+), 1B/OF Daniel Nava (57 wRC+), OF Brandon Guyer (127 wRC+), and OF Joey Butler (107 wRC+) all kinda rotate in the outfield corners. DH John Jaso (129 wRC+) not longer catches and is the DH only. C Rene Rivera (37 wRC+) is the starting catcher with Casali out. C J.P. Arencibia, C Luke Maile, IF Tim Beckham, and IF Richie Shaffer are the September call-ups.

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.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (No vs. TB) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (vs. NYY)
Odorizzi, 25, has been excellent when healthy this year, pitching to a 3.18 ERA (3.17 FIP) in 22 starts and 133 innings. He missed a few weeks with an oblique problem earlier this summer. Odorizzi has good strikeout (21.4%) and walk (6.0%) rates, but he doesn’t keep the ball on the ground (39.7%) and he doesn’t give up homers either (0.68 HR/9). He’s become adept at getting weak pop-ups. Righties (.317 wOBA) have hit Odorizzi harder than lefties (.262 wOBA) — he had a reverse split last year as well — and it’s worth noting he has been much more effective at home (2.61 ERA and 2.72 FIP) than on the road (3.68 FIP and 3.56 FIP) this year. Odorizzi’s money-maker is a filthy mid-80s splitter 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. It’s almost like an eephus pitch. The Yankees have seen Odorizzi twice this year, scoring three runs in six innings in April and four runs in 6.1 innings in May.

Saturday (1pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. TB) vs. LHP Matt Moore (vs. NYY)
Moore is a Tommy John surgery cautionary tale. He had his elbow rebuilt last year, came back this summer, and had an 8.78 ERA (5.61 FIP) in six starts and 26.2 innings before the team had to send him to the minors. Moore was better in Triple-A (3.57 ERA and 3.26 FIP in 40.1 innings) and this will be his first start with the big league team since early-August. Moore’s strikeout (12.9%) and walk (9.9%) rates were ghastly before being sent down (34.9% and 7.2% in Triple-A, respectively), as were his grounder (35.7%) and homer (1.35 HR/9) rates. Righties (.448 wOBA) and lefties (.362 wOBA) both smacked him around. He looked nothing like the pre-Tommy John surgery Matt Moore, basically. Before getting sent down, the 26-year-old sat in the low-90s with his two and four-seam fastballs and in the low-80s with his changeup, his go-to secondary pitch. He also throws an upper-80s slider. The Yankees have not faced Moore since before he had his elbow rebuilt.

Moore. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Moore. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Sunday (1pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. TB) vs. RHP Chris Archer (vs. NYY)
The Yankees managed to avoid Archer a few times earlier this season, but not this series. The 26-year-old has a 2.78 ERA (2.56 FIP) in 28 starts and 181 innings with dynamite strikeout (30.8%), walk (6.4%), grounder (46.3%), and homer (0.75 HR/9) numbers. He’s dominated both righties (.263 wOBA) and lefties (.250 wOBA). Archer uses mid-90s two and four-seamers to set up his upper-80s slider, which is the best slider in baseball. At least among right-handed pitchers. It’s devastating. He also throws a handful of mid-80s changeups per start. The slider is what makes him an ace though. Unhittable pitch. Archer has faced the Yankees twice this year, allowing two runs in seven innings in May and then throwing 6.2 scoreless innings in July.

Bullpen Status
Like the Yankees, the Rays had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is relatively fresh. RHP Brad Boxberger (3.40 ERA/4.10 FIP) is closing and right now RHP Alex Colome (3.71/3.77) is setting him up. Colome started the season in the rotation but later moved to the bullpen. LHP Jake McGee, Boxberger’s usual setup man, is done for the season following knee surgery.

RHP Steve Geltz (3.73/3.90), LHP Xavier Cedeno (2.25/3.46), RHP Brandon Gomes (3.56/3.95), and RHP Matt Andriese (4.45/4.21) are the team’s other regular relievers. LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, LHP Enny Romero, and RHP Kirby Yates are the extra September arms. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s expanded bullpen, then head over to The Process Report and DRays Bay for the latest on the Rays.

Yankeemetrics: Walk-off edition, finally (July 3-5)


Best. Win. Of. The. Season
It’s games like Friday night’s 7-5 win over the Rays that make you love this baseball team. Facing a Cy Young candidate? No problem. Down by three runs with five outs to go? Big deal. Down by two runs in extra innings? No sweat.

Brian McCann put the finishing touches on arguably the best and most dramatic win of the season, sending a deep fly ball into the right-field seats in the bottom of the 12th inning to turn a 5-4 deficit into an improbable win — their first walk-off in 2015. The last time the Yankees went this deep into the season before their first walk-off win was 1996, when it came in their 103rd game on July 28.

McCann is just the third Yankee in the last 25 years to hit a walk-off homer in extra innings with the team trailing: A-Rod’s two-run blast to beat the Braves on June 28, 2006, and Jason Giambi’s epic 14th-inning game-ending grand slam against the Twins on May 17, 2002 are the others.

McCann would not have been the hero without Mark Teixeira’s game-tying three-run shot in the eighth inning off Kevin Jepsen. It was his 10th game-tying or go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later as a Yankee, the most of anyone on the team since he first put on pinstripes in 2009.

The home run was also the 20th of the season for Teixeira, and the 12th time in 13 major-league campaigns that he’s reached that mark. Only eight other players in MLB history have hit at least 20 homers in 12 (or more) of their first 13 career seasons: Eddie Mathews, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Eddie Murray, Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

A win is a win, no matter how you get it
So, the Yankees had zero walk-off wins in the first 79 games — and then two in the next two games. Cue the cliches … Or not.

The Yankees can thank Brad Boxberger for Saturday’s win — he fielded Ramon Flores’ bunt and bounced a throw to first base that got away and allowed Jose Pirela to score the decisive run. It was the first time the Yankees won via a game-ending error by the pitcher since Sept. 28, 1975 against the Orioles, when Rick Dempsey scampered home after a botched pickoff attempt at third base from reliever Dyar Miller.

The last time the Yankees walked off in back-to-back games was Sept. 21-22, 2012 against the Athletics. In the first game, a catcher (Russell Martin) hit a game-ending extra-inning home run for the win; in the second game, a young utility guy (Eduardo Nunez) reached base on a error to score the winning run.

Sound familiar? Yeah, you can’t make this stuff up, folks.

The Yankees were in position to complete this bizarre string of coincidences only because Dellin Betances served up a game-tying homer to Steven Souza Jr. in the top of the ninth inning. It was the first longball Betances had surrendered since August 13 last season, snapping a 54-game streak without allowing a home run which was the fourth-longest by any Yankee pitcher in the last 100 seasons.

A loss is a loss, right?
The Yankees squandered a chance for their seventh sweep of the season when they were blown out by the Rays on Sunday, 8-1. The same Rays team that entered the afternoon riding a seven-game losing streak during which it was averaging 2.6 runs per game.

The Yankees offense was so bad that they had as many hits as double plays grounded into. Believe it or not, this is actually the second time this season they’ve had an equal number of hits as DPs or worse (had more double plays than hits against Angels last week). Before this season, no Yankee team had done it in a game since 2006.

James Loney finished the series 4-for-13 and now has a .402 batting average in 27 games at the new Yankee Stadium. That’s the highest batting average by any player with at least 100 at-bats at either version of Yankee Stadium.

Okay, that’s enough about this game.

7/2 to 7/5 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

This describes Tampa's play of late. (Presswire)
This describes Tampa’s play of late. (Presswire)

Just three series left until the All-Star break, and this weekend the Yankee play a pretty important three-game set against the Rays. The AL East race is super tight and these two clubs (as well as some others) figure to be neck and neck all season. The Yankees are 6-4 against the Rays this season, though they haven’t met since mid-May. Been a while.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

Tampa Bay was just swept in a four-game series at home by the Indians. They lost yesterday’s game in extra innings after Cleveland’s starters flirted with a no-hitter in each of the first three games. Yikes. The Rays have lost five straight and nine of their last eleven games. They’re 42-39 with a -2 run differential overall, yet remain in the four-team cluster that is the AL East race. The Yankees are tied for first with the Orioles while the Rays and Blue Jays are one game back.

Offense & Defense

As nearly getting no-hit three games in a row suggests, the Rays are not very good offensively. They’re averaging only 3.59 runs per game with a team 95 wRC+ this year, so they’re solidly below average with the sticks. They are getting Yankees killer 1B James Loney (96 wRC+) back from a finger injury just in time for him to kill the Yankees this weekend — he’ll be activated off the DL today — though they’re without OF Desmond Jennings (knee) and DH John Jaso (wrist) with long-term injuries. Neither is due back this weekend.

Forsythe. (Presswire)
Forsythe. (Presswire)

Manager Kevin Cash’s lineup revolves around 3B Evan Longoria (116 wRC+), who’s having a good year but is no longer the monster he was from 2008-13. His power keeps disappearing. 2B Logan Forsythe (134 wRC+) has been a nice surprise and both OF Brandon Guyer (120 wRC+) and OF Joey Butler (140 wRC+) have been very good in platoon roles. OF Steven Souza (104 wRC+) is an all or nothing guy (14 homers and a 35.0 K%).

OF David DeJesus (103 wRC+) started great but has slowed down considerably. SS Asdrubal Cabrera (78 wRC+) hasn’t gotten going at all and OF Kevin Kiermaier (96 wRC+) is really streaky. He goes on major tears then disappears for weeks at a time. DH Grady Sizemore (76 wRC+) was just added to the roster and C Rene Rivera (33 wRC+) is a total black hole at the plate. It’s the curse of Buster Posey. The Rays haven’t been able to find a catcher who can hit since passing on Posey with the first overall pick in the 2008 draft to take IF Tim Beckham. (Posey went fifth overall to the Giants.)

Anyway, C Curt Casali (109 wRC+) and IF Jake Elmore (71 wRC+ in limited time) round out the bench. Kiermaier, Longoria, and Loney are all excellent defensively while Souza has a knack for great plays and hilariously bad plays. Asdrubal and Forsythe are at best average on the middle infield. Guyer and DeJesus are fine in the outfield. The Rays have a strong team defense overall, though they do miss Jennings running down balls alongside Kiermaier.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TB) vs. RHP Chris Archer (vs. NYY)
Katie did a great job breaking down the Archer matchup earlier today, so I’m going to link back to that rather than regurgitate everything here. The 26-year-old Archer has a 2.31 ERA (2.46 FIP) in 17 starts and 109 innings, and he leans heavily on his high-octane fastball/slider combination. He doesn’t use his changeup much. Archer’s really good. Any questions? No? Good. Go read Katie’s post.

Saturday (1pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs. RHP Nathan Karns (vs. NYY)
Karns, 27, has a 3.26 ERA (3.78 FIP) in 16 starts and 91 innings this year, though Cash tries to avoid letting him face the lineup a third time whenever possible. Karns has completed six full innings just three times in his last nine starts and he hasn’t once thrown more than six innings during that time. His strikeout (21.9%), ground ball (44.7%), and home run (0.89 HR/9) rates are all close to league average while his walk rate (9.4%) is a bit high. Lefties (.303 wOBA) have had a little more success against him than righties (.284 wOBA). Karns uses low-to-mid-90s four-seamers to set up his big breaking low-80s curveball, the pitch that got him to the big leagues. He also throws a mid-80s changeup. The Yankee have seen Karns three times already this year, scoring two runs in five innings twice and one run in 4.2 innings the other time.

Erasmo. (Presswire)
Erasmo. (Presswire)

Sunday (1pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TB) vs. RHP Erasmo Ramirez (vs. NYY)
Like Karns, Cash tries to limit Ramirez’s exposure by preventing him from facing the lineup a third time whenever possible. The 25-year-old righty has a 4.01 ERA (3.66 FIP) in 67.1 innings spread across eleven starts and seven relief appearances this season. His strikeout (20.9%), walk (7.9%), and ground ball (47.3%) numbers are all average-ish while his homer rate (0.67 HR/9) is way south of his career average (1.18 HR/9). Erasmo was incredibly homer prone with the Mariners the last few seasons. A sinking low-80s changeup has allowed Ramirez to have more success against lefties (.250 wOBA) than righties (.332 wOBA). He sets the changeup up with low-90s two and four-seamers, and he’ll also throw a few low-80s breaking balls as well. The changeup is his moneymaker. That’s his go-to pitch. Ramirez has faced the Yankees four times this year (three relief appearances and one start) and has held them to two runs in nine innings total.

Bullpen Status
The Indians did a number on the Tampa bullpen the last few days. RHP Brad Boxberger (3.37 FIP), LHP Jake McGee (0.97 FIP), and RHP Kevin Jepsen (3.94 FIP) are Cash’s primary late-inning guys and all three pitched yesterday, as did LHP Xavier Cedeno (4.10 FIP) and RHP Steve Geltz (3.19 FIP). RHP Brandon Gomes (4.18 FIP) and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser (8.45 FIP in very limited time) are the team’s other two relievers.

Although Boxberger has racked up 20 saves this year, the Rays haven’t had a set closer since McGee returned from his offseason elbow surgery a few weeks back. McGee has three saves since then, Jepsen has five, and even Geltz has two. Part of this is matchup based — Boxberger and McGee are their Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller — and I also think part of it is keeping Boxberger’s and McGee’s future arbitration salaries down by limiting their save totals. They can’t afford big money relievers. Anyway, head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s relievers, then head over to DRays Bay and Process Report for everything to need to know about the don’t call me Devil Rays.

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.