7/22-7/25 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

(REUTERS/Mike Stone)
(REUTERS/Mike Stone)

Although the Yankees aren’t playing one of their AL East rivals, this four-game series against the Rangers in Texas has some pretty big playoff implications. New York is three back of the second wildcard spot and the Rangers are two games ahead of them, so this is a chance to leapfrog one of their wildcard competitors. Jumping over multiple teams in very hard to do, so winning these head-to-head games is crucial.

What Have They Done Lately?
Quite a bit of losing, actually. The Rangers got swept by the Orioles this weekend and have lost seven of their last eight overall. They’ve gone 22-27 their last 49 games as well. Texas sits in second place in the AL West at 54-44 with a +16 run differential, three games back of the Athletics.

Offense
At 4.3 runs per game with a team 96 wRC+, the Rangers are pretty close to a league average offense. They certainly aren’t the same run-scoring juggernaut they’ve been for the last decade or so. Texas has a full five-man starting rotation on the DL but just one position player: former Yankee DH Lance Berkman (98 wRC+). He’s out with a hip issue and won’t return this week.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Manager Ron Washington’s lineup structure will be a little different than what we’re used to seeing. 2B Ian Kinsler (116 wRC+) still leads off and 3B Adrian Beltre (138 wRC+) cleans up, but SS Elvis Andrus (58 wRC+) now hits in the bottom third of the order. OF Nelson Cruz (121 wRC+) bats third and one of OF Craig Gentry (75 wRC+ in limited time), CF Leonys Martin (96 wRC+), or IF Jurickson Profar (78 wRC+ in limited time) bats second.

C A.J. Pierzynski (98 wRC+), 1B Mitch Moreland (107 wRC+), and OF David Murphy (74 wRC+) usually fill out the rest of the lineup. UTIL Jeff Baker (190 wRC+ in limited time) will sub in against southpaws. Backup C Geovany Soto (68 wRC+) and OF Engel Beltre (53 wRC+ in limited time) round out the bench. The Rangers are a top five homer-hitting club (113) and a middle of the pack stolen base team (60).

Starting Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Yu Darvish
Texas took advantage of the All-Star break to manipulate the roster and give their ace a little extra rest. The 26-year-old Darvish will be activated off the DL for tonight’s start (technically, it was a trap strain), and he brings with him a 3.02 ERA (3.21 FIP) and a dynamite strikeout rate (11.84 K/9 and 32.5 K%). His walk rate (3.09 BB/9 and 8.5 BB%) is good and his ground ball rate is okay (43.9%), but he is homer prone (1.13 HR/9 and 15.2% HR/FB). Darvish is primarily a four-pitch pitcher who will mix in two other offerings as well. He sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his two- and four-seam fastballs and in the upper-80s with his cutter. His trademark slider — he throws it nearly 40% (!) of the time — comes in around 80 mph. A mid-80s splitter and a slow, mid-60s curve are those rarely used fifth and sixth pitches. He’ll throw two or three of each per start. The Yankees have faced Darvish twice before — he dominated them early last year and they tagged him for three solo homers in 5.1 innings a few weeks ago.

Ogando. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Ogando. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Tuesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Alexi Ogando
Like Darvish, Ogando will come off the DL for this start. He was actually hurt though — shoulder inflammation has had him on the shelf since early-June. Ogando, 29, owns a 2.93 ERA (4.26 FIP) in ten starts with unspectacular peripherals: 6.99 K/9 (18.7 K%), 3.58 BB/9 (9.6 BB%), 0.98 HR/9 (8.8% HR/FB), and 37.9% grounders. He’s using his mid-80s changeup far more than ever before (nearly 20% of the time), so he’s no longer that two-pitch, low-to-mid-90s fastball/low-80s slider guy. His velocity is down a tick or two across the board this season. It’s a small sample, but Ogando has a massive reverse split this year (.360 wOBA vs. RHB and .255 vs. LHB). That’s the exact opposite of the rest of his career. The Yankees have seen Ogando plenty over the last few years, sometimes good and sometimes not so good.

Wednesday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. LHP Derek Holland
Very quietly, the 26-year-old Holland is having an excellent season (3.10 ERA and 2.93 FIP) thanks to his newfound ability to limit the long ball (0.61 HR/9 and 6.6% HR/FB). He doesn’t have a great ground ball rate (40.2%), so he’s probably due for some HR/FB regression considering his home ballpark. That doesn’t mean it will actually happen, of course. Holland has very good strikeout (8.55 K/9 and 22.8 K%) and walk (2.63 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) numbers. He’s primarily a two-pitch pitcher but will show three others as well. A low-to-mid-90s sinker and low-80s slider are his top two weapons — he throws them more than 80% of the time combined — but he’ll use the occasional low-to-mid-90s four-seamer, low-80s changeup, and mid-70s curveball. He’ll throw a handful of each per start. The Yankees have hit Holland very hard in the past, but he dominated them earlier this year. Surely you remember that 92-pitch complete-game shutout in late-June.

Thursday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. TBA
The Rangers have not yet announced their starter for this game. They have a trio of internal candidates — righties Ross Wolf, Josh Lindblom, and Justin Grimm — but they’ve been working the trade phones hard and may or may not be close to landing Matt Garza. Grimm, 24, is currently in the bullpen after pitching to a 6.37 ERA (4.79 FIP) in 17 starts, though he did hold the Yankees to three runs in five innings a few weeks ago. The 26-year-old Lindblom has been up-and-down several times this year, and he has a 5.46 ERA (4.42 FIP) in five starts and three relief appearances for the big league club. Wolf, 30, has a 3.79 ERA (4.54 FIP) in three starts and eleven relief appearances. Obviously the Yankees would be better off facing any of those three guys rather than Garza, who is scheduled to start for the Cubs tonight. If he pitches for Chicago, you can forget about him for Thursday even if the two teams do swing a trade.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
Soria. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Washington’s bullpen now features two former All-Star closers. RHP Joe Nathan (2.42 FIP) handles the ninth inning while RHP Joakim Soria (2.30 FIP in limited time) handles the eighth. RHP Tanner Scheppers (4.23 FIP) and LHP Robbie Ross (3.33 FIP) are the late-inning matchup tandem, then there’s LHP Neal Cotts (2.21 FIP) and RHP Jason Frasor (3.20 FIP). RHP Cory Burns (4.32 FIP in limited time) and LHP Joe Ortiz (4.29 FIP) are likely to be sent down when Darvish and Ogando are activated.

The Yankees are in decent bullpen shape following yesterday’s extra-innings loss, but both Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne are unlikely to be available tonight. David Robertson has appeared in two straight games as well. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact recent reliever usage info. Now that Baseball Time in Arlington is defunct, Lone Star Ball is my Rangers’ blog of choice.

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Manny’s Back: Ramirez signed minor league deal with Texas

This isn’t exactly Yankees related, but Manny Ramirez has signed a minor league with the Rangers. He was playing in Taiwan earlier this year, but he recently opted out of his contract to pursue big league opportunities. Unsurprisingly, the Yankees didn’t have any interest. They sure could use some right-handed thump though. Oh well.

6/25-6/27 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

(Jason O. Watson/Getty)
(Jason O. Watson/Getty)

The Yankees have played every AL team this season except for three, and they’ll cross one of those off the list this week: the Rangers. The Twins and White Sox will come along eventually. New York and Texas have some recent history, dating back to the playoffs in the late-1990s playoffs as well as the 2010 ALCS.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Rangers have been very hot and cold of late, and they’re coming off five straight wins. Not long before that, they lost six straight. Overall, they are 44-32 with a +26 run differential this season, the best record and fourth best run differential in the AL.

Offense
At 4.4 runs per game with a team 97 wRC+, the Rangers can score some runs even though they do not have the same kind of high-powered offense we’re used to seeing. They are without southpaw masher UTIL Jeff Baker (288 wRC+ vs. LHP) and CF Craig Gentry (64 wRC+), who are both on the DL with hand problems. Baker actually sprained his thumb high-fiving a teammate, in case you need to laugh at someone else’s injuries for once.

Andrus. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Andrus. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Manager Ron Washington has a deep lineup with seven regulars who are producing at a league average rate of better. 2B Ian Kinsler (126 wRC+) is fresh off the DL and the leadoff hitter, SS Elvis Andrus (52 wRC+) bats second, former Yankee DH Lance Berkman (104 wRC+) bats third, and 3B Adrian Beltre (121 wRC+) cleans up. OF Nelson Cruz (124 wRC+), C A.J. Pierzynski (111 wRC+), 1B Mitch Moreland (129 wRC+), and CF Leonys Martin (100 wRC+) usually follow the top four in some order. OF David Murphy (72 wRC+) is the final regular. Those are the nine guys Washington runs out there pretty much everyday.

The Rangers are actually carrying three catchers, though C Robinson Chirinos (37 wRC+ in limited time) can play a bunch of other positions as well. C Geovany Soto (76 wRC+) is the traditional backup. OF Engel Beltre was just called up and has yet to get into a game. Whenever he does, it will be his big league debut. IF Jurickson Profar (83 wRC+) is baseball’s top prospect and something more than a part-time utility infielder. The starting nine can mash overall, but guys like Pierzynski, Cruz, Murphy, Moreland, and Martin are worse off against same-side pitchers. The switch-hitting Berkman has traditionally fared worse against lefties than righties.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Yu Darvish
Texas was nice enough to rearrange their rotation a bit so Darvish could start tonight’s game rather than their last game against the Cardinals on Sunday. Thanks for that. The 26-year-old has dominated this year, pitching to a 2.84 ERA (2.83 FIP) with an insane strikeout rate (12.17 K/9 and 34.2 K%). He also doesn’t walk many (2.75 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%) and gets a decent amount of ground balls (46.0%). You can take him deep (0.98 HR/9 and 13.8% HR/FB) on occasion, however. Darvish is a true six-pitch pitcher, sitting in the low-to-mid-90s with his two- and four-seamer and in the upper-80s with his cutter and splitter. A sharp low-80s slider is his top strikeout pitch, and he’ll also mix in a floating upper-60s curveball. He can varying the break on the slider — one goes side-to-side, another breaks hard and down — so he’s really a seven-pitch pitcher. Sounds like fun. Darvish struck out ten Yankees in 8.1 scoreless innings the only time he’s faced them, and that came early last year when New York had a much, much better lineup.

Grimm. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Grimm. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Wednesday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Justin Grimm
The Rangers have almost a complete rotation on the DL, so the 24-year-old Grimm has been forced onto the staff for most of the year. His 5.57 ERA (4.32 FIP) is backed by decent peripherals: 7.18 K/9 (17.9 K%), 3.10 BB/9 (7.7 BB%), 1.24 HR/9 (11.6% HR/FB), and 42.7% grounders. Grimm sits in the low-90s with his four-seam fastball, which he uses to set up his upper-70s curveball and low-80s changeup. The curve is his go-to secondary pitch; he throws it almost 30% of the time and it keeps him from showing a platoon split. The Yankees have never faced Grimm, who has 86.2 career innings to his credit.

Thursday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Derek Holland
Holland, 26, is very quietly having an excellent year now that he’s gotten his homer problem under control (0.56 HR/9 and 6.3% HR/FB). Well, he’s probably at least a little lucky with the homers given that HR/FB rate, which is especially low given his home ballpark. Holland has a 3.43 ERA (2.80 FIP) with very good strikeout (8.35 K/9 and 22.2 K%) and walk (2.32 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%) totals. He gets a ground ball on 42.5% of balls in play. Working off a sinker that sits in the low-to-mid-90s, Holland uses low-80s sliders and changeups as his primary offspeed weapons. A mid-70s curveball will also make an appearance. The Yankees have faced him a bunch of times over the years and have typically hit him very hard — 41 runs and 75 base-runners in 39.2 innings.

Nathan. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Nathan. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Like the Bombers, Texas was off on Monday and they have a rested bullpen. Closer RHP Joe Nathan (2.90 FIP) has never met a big game he can’t blow, especially against the Yankees. Unfortunately this series really doesn’t qualify as “big.” RHP Tanner Scheppers (3.84 FIP) and LHP Robbie Ross (2.32 FIP) are the primary setup men while RHP Jason Frasor (4.07 FIP) and LHP Neal Cotts (2.23 FIP in limited time) do the middle relief thing. RHP Ross Wolf (3.43 FIP) and RHP Kyle McClellan (5.33 FIP) are the extra arms.

Both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson have had two straight days off, so they’re in good shape. Pretty much every middle reliever appeared in Sunday’s game, though that’s no real biggie. The Yankees are in fine bullpen shape going into tonight’s series opener. Our Bullpen Workload page has all the details. Now that Baseball Time In Arlington is defunct, Lone Star Ball is my (Texas) Rangers blog of choice.

King: Rangers scouting Joba Chamberlain

Via George King: The Rangers have been scouting Joba Chamberlain, specifically Monday’s outing against the Cardinals. Don Welke, a senior special assistant to GM Jon Daniels, was in attendance for that one. Joba allowed a single and was clocked at 92-95 mph (according to King) in an otherwise uneventful inning against St. Louis, and so far this spring he’s allowed two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out three in five innings.

Chamberlain, 27, will be a free agent after the season, and non-elite middle reliever/setup men usually don’t fetch much in trades when they’re a year away from free agency. The Yankees have some right-handed relief depth thanks to Shawn Kelley and Cody Eppley, both of whom are currently projected to start the year in Triple-A, but the Rangers are really thin in the bullpen until Joakim Soria returns from Tommy John surgery. Perhaps Joba could be part of a package for Mike Olt — who would be perfect for the Yankees even though he’s gotten more than a little overrated lately — with the Yankees kicking in a good prospect or two. Probably a pipe dream, but who knows.

For what it’s worth, Buster Olney says the Rangers are open to trading outfielder Craig Gentry. The 29-year-old has hit .279/.344/.355 (88 wRC+) with two homers and 32 steals in 476 career plate appearances, including a .294/.364/.392 (104 wRC+) line against righties. Gentry is basically a right-handed Brett Gardner, offering speed, little power, injury concerns, and ab0ve-average defense. He’s not in Gardner’s class with the glove, however. Gentry is under control through 2017 and is a much more reasonable target than Olt.

Rangers to sign A.J. Pierzynski

According to multiple reports, the Rangers will sign free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year contract. No word on the money, but I’ll guess … $8M. How’s that sound?

Anyway, Jon Heyman says the Yankees did not make Pierzynski an offer, which isn’t terribly surprising. They reportedly did not like him much despite the fact that he was the only starting caliber backstop left on the open market after Russell Martin fled for Pittsburgh. Barring an unexpected trade, it’ll be some combination of Chris Stewart, Austin Romine, and Frankie Cervelli behind the plate next season.

AL Wildcard Play-In Game Thread

(AP)

Remember back in 2009, when the Yankees finished with the best record in the AL but had to wait until the Twins and Tigers played Game 163 before they knew who they would play in the ALDS? This wildcard play-in game is kinda like that. The Yankees again finished with the best record in the league this year, but tonight’s game will determine their opponent come Game One of ALDS on Sunday night. It’ll also tell them where they’re traveling tomorrow since they open on the road.

Based on this morning’s poll, the vast majority of RAB readers would prefer to see the Yankees face the Orioles in the ALDS. On today’s podcast, both Joe and I said we’d rather see the Rangers advance to the ALDS. I don’t think there’s a right answer here, both Texas and Baltimore are good teams and will be a tough matchup in a best-of-five series. Either way, we should all be rooting for about 20 innings tonight. Here are the lineups…

Baltimore Orioles
LF Nate McLouth
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
C  Matt Wieters
DH Jim Thome
1B Mark Reynolds
2B Ryan Flaherty
3B Manny Machado

LHP Joe Saunders (9-13, 4.07)

Texas Rangers
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Nelson Cruz
1B Michael Young
DH Mike Napoli
C  Geovany Soto
CF Craig Gentry

RHP Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90)

Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 8:37pm ET and can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.

Poll: Orioles or Rangers?

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

In about 12 hours, the Yankees will finally know who they will be playing in the ALDS. The Orioles and Rangers will square off in the first ever AL Wildcard Play-In game later tonight, the winner of whom will welcome the Bombers to their stadium for Game One on Sunday while the loser goes home for the season. It’s a harsh new playoff system, and frankly it’s not all that fair that the Yankees will have to open the series on the road despite finishing with the best record in the league. Thankfully that will change next year.

Anyway, the Orioles remained in the AL East hunt right until Game 162, though the Rangers were considered the best team in baseball for a large part of the season. They are the two-time defending AL champs, of course. There are reasons to want to play and avoid both teams, but the road to the World Series is never easy. The Yankees will have to play a quality opponent in the ALDS regardless, and each offers unique strengths and weaknesses.

Baltimore Orioles (head-to-head record: 9-9, -2 run differential)
Buck Showalter’s Orioles gave the Yankees a fight all season, including winning six of nine at Yankee Stadium. They hit the second most homers (214) and stole the fewest bases (58) in baseball this season, and their bullpen was one of the game’s most effective units (3.00 ERA and 3.68 FIP). Baltimore’s starters are relatively nondescript, but they do feature two southpaws in Wei-Yin Chen and Joe Saunders. The Yankees struggled against lefties this season (110 wRC+), at least relative to what they’ve done the last few years. Saunders is starting the play-in game tonight and Jason Hammel (3.43 ERA and 3.29 FIP) will return to the rotation to start Game One of the ALDS if they beat Texas. Showalter is also as good as it gets in terms of his in-game moves as well, consistently putting his players in the best possible position to succeed.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Texas Rangers (head-to-head record: 4-3, +3 run differential)
The Rangers are a lot like the Orioles and Yankees in that they hit a ton of homers (200), but they also led the AL with a .273 AVG and stole a healthy 91 bases. Their offense is very right-handed, with Josh Hamilton and David Murphy representing their two best lefty threats. The bullpen (3.42 ERA and 3.67 FIP) is strong but lacking setup man extraordinaire Mike Adams, who is out with a shoulder problem. That’s an enormous blow, it would be like taking David Robertson away from the Yankees. Matt Harrison and Derek Holland given them a pair of left-handed starters (Harrison is lined up to start a potential Game One of the ALDS), though they will burn Yu Darvish in the play-in game tonight. He was arguably the best pitcher in the game the last month of the season (2.21 ERA and 1.89 FIP). Ron Washington is generally considered a weak strategic manager, which is worth mentioning.

* * *

Texas carries a bit more of an aura given their success the last two years, but the Orioles have proven doubters wrong all season and have shown they will not go away quietly. Anyone can beat anyone in a best-of-five series in this league, but that doesn’t mean favorable matchups don’t exist. I just have no idea who I would rather see the Yankees play in the ALDS.

Who do you want the Yankees to play in the ALDS?
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