Yankeemetrics: Fun while it lasted [May 24-26]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Famous Nathan
A cross-country trip and an off-day did little to slow down the Yankees’ momentum as they extended their win streak to six games on Tuesday with a 6-0 blanking of the Blue Jays.

The victory also lifted them to the magical .500 mark for the first time since April 14; that 35-game blip with a sub-.500 record was their longest such stretch since the middle of the 1995 season.

Nathan Eovaldi continued his personal run of excellence with one of his strongest outings of the season. He gave up just two hits in six shutout innings, his second straight start going that deep into the game surrendering no more than two hits, and the third time overall in 2016 he’s done that.

Through Tuesday’s games, the only other pitcher in the majors this season with three games of at least six innings pitched and two or fewer hits allowed was Jake Arrieta. The last Yankee pitcher to compile three such outings within the team’s first 45 games was Bob Shawkey in 1919.

Eovaldi dominated the Toronto lineup with a nasty combo of 98-mph heaters and diving splitters. Of the 87 four-seam fastballs and split-finger fastballs that he threw, the Blue Jays swung at 42 of them and missed 11 times, his second-most combined whiffs on those two pitches in a start this season. Toronto went 0-for-18 in at-bats ending in either a four-seamer or splitter, including five strikeouts, all with the splitter.

Chasen nothing
The Yankees win streak came to a screeching halt on Wednesday after getting pounded by the Blue Jays, 8-4, and once again falling below .500 on the season.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Looking at the final score, you hardly could have predicted that this would be a loss for the Yankees. Entering the game, the Yankees were 17-1 when scoring at least four runs (best record in MLB) and the Blue Jays were 0-21 when allowing at least four runs (worst record in MLB).

The game was tight through the middle innings until Chasen Shreve entered in the seventh … and then things quickly got out of hand as the struggling lefty surrendered two homers and a double to the first three batters he faced. That gave him seven longballs allowed in 19 innings pitched this season, a rate of 3.32 per nine innings that would easily be the highest single-season mark by a Yankee pitcher with at least 15 innings pitched.

The last Yankee to give up at least three extra-base hits, including two homers, in an outing of one inning or fewer was … Shreve on August 2, 2015 against the White Sox. The only other player in franchise history to have two such games in their Yankee career was Catfish Hunter (in 1977 and 1978).

The one-man show
The Yankees wasted a stellar outing from CC Sabathia and dropped the rubber game on Thursday afternoon, 3-1. They’ve now lost four straight series at Yankee Stadium to the Blue Jays, their longest home series losing streak in the history of the rivalry.

Sabathia turned in another dazzling performance on the mound, holding Toronto to just two hits and two runs (both unearned) in seven innings. He’s now allowed three-or-fewer runs in each of his first seven starts, matching the longest such streak to begin a season in his career. He also did it in 2006 as a 25-year-old with the Indians.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Sabathia has quietly been one of the best pitchers in the entire American League dating back to the final month of last season. His 2.56 ERA since Sept. 1, 2015 is the fourth-lowest among AL pitchers with at least 10 starts in that span.

Carlos Beltran returned to the outfield but couldn’t keep up his scorching-hot production with the bat, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. The only other Yankee right fielders in the last 25 seasons to come to the plate at least four times in a game and strike out every time were Paul O’Neill (1997) and Raul Mondesi (2002).

5/24 to 5/26 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are back home from the West Coast but only temporarily. They’ll play three games against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium this week before heading back out on the road for a ten-game trip. Also of note: the Yankees will play their next four series against AL East rivals. Time to make up some ground in the division. The Yanks lost two of three to the Jays in Toronto last month.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Blue Jays took three of four from the lowly Twins over the weekend, but they were struggling pretty hard before that. Like five straight losses and eight losses in eleven games hard. Toronto is 22-24 with a +2 run differential overall in 2016. They occupy the AL East cellar at the moment, a spot the Yankees occupied for far too long this season.

Offense & Defense

Last season the Blue Jays scored more runs than any team since the 2009 Yankees. This year they’re averaging only 4.04 runs per game with a team 97 wRC+. Can’t say I saw that coming! The Blue Jays are still without 2B Devon Travis, who is currently on a minor league rehab assignment after having shoulder surgery last year. Over the weekend manager John Gibbons told Arden Zwelling he “wouldn’t expect” Travis to be back this series. Also, 1B Chris Colabello is currently out serving a performance-enhancing drug suspension.

Bautista. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Bautista. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Toronto has been struggling offensively so much this month that last week the players got together, held a team meeting to talk things out, and then made some lineup suggestions to Gibbons. As a result, RF Jose Bautista (139 wRC+) now bats leadoff. Yes, really. 3B Josh Donaldson (137 wRC+) and DH Edwin Encarnacion (106 wRC+) bat second and third with 1B Justin Smoak (132 wRC+) settling in as the cleanup hitter. SS Troy Tulowitzki (83 wRC+) and LF Michael Saunders (164 wRC+) follow as the five-six hitters.

The bottom of the lineup has been wholly unproductive for the Blue Jays. C Russell Martin (14 wRC+) is having a miserable season, which means he’s going to hit like five homers with a .750 OBP this series. CF Kevin Pillar (76 wRC+) and 2B Ryan Goins (12 wRC+) round out the regulars. C Josh Thole (30 wRC+), UTIL Jimmy Paredes (11 PA), IF Darwin Barney (127 wRC+), and OF Ezequiel Carrera (136 wRC+) are the four bench players, though they don’t play a whole lot. Gibbons tends to stick with his regulars.

The Blue Jays have a sneaky good team defense. That part of their game gets overlooked because their offense was so dynamic last season. Pillar, Martin, Donaldson, and Goins are all excellent defenders while Tulowitzki, Smoak, and Saunders are all above-average as well. Bautista doesn’t have much range these days but his arm is a cannon. He’ll shut down the running down without even having to make a throw a la Aaron Hicks.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7:05pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. TOR) vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (vs. NYY)
What better way to start the series than against the knuckleballer? (Note: There are many better ways to start a series.) Dickey, 41, has a 4.50 ERA (4.45 FIP) in nine starts and 54 innings this year. His peripherals look like the peripherals of every other knuckleballer in history: 17.5% strikeouts, 7.4% grounders, 45.0% grounders, and 1.33 HR/9. He’s also been hammered by lefties this year but historically has a small platoon split. Dickey’s knuckler sits in the mid-70s and he throws it roughly 90% of the time. Back in the day with the Mets he threw two knuckleballs, a hard one in the upper-70s and a softer one in the upper-60s, but that is no longer the case. A low-80s fastball is his get-me-over pitch. The Yankees did not see Dickey when these two clubs met in April.

Wednesday (7:05pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (vs. NYY)
I have to say, I did not expect Estrada to repeat the success he had last year at all. He didn’t add a new pitch, didn’t change his pitch selection, nothing. I don’t want to say his success was a fluke, but it didn’t seem repeatable. Boy was I wrong. The 32-year-old Estrada has a 2.61 ERA (3.24 FIP) in eight starts and 51.2 innings this year, which is actually better than what he did last year (3.13 ERA and 4.40 FIP). His strikeout (24.2%) and homer (0.70 HR/9) rates are strong while his walk (9.2%) and grounder (40.7%) rates leave something to be desired. Estrada is a proven FIP beater because he’s adept at getting pop-ups and weak fly balls. He does it with a dynamite upper-70s changeup that he throws with the same arm action as his upper-80s fastball. It’s impossible to tell the two pitches apart until it’s too late. Estrada screws up the hitter’s timing as well as any pitcher in the game. He also throws some upper-80s cutters and mid-70s curves, but the fastball/changeup combo is his bread and butter. Like Dickey, the Yankees did not face Estrada in the series last month.

Estrada. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Estrada. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Thursday (4:05pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Aaron Sanchez (vs. NYY)
Don’t ask me why this is a 4:05pm ET start. It just is. Anyway, it seems young Mr. Sanchez is starting to find his way as a starting pitcher in this league. The 23-year-old has a 3.20 ERA (3.30 FIP) in nine starts and 59 innings by pairing an above-average strikeout rate (21.4%) with an excellent ground ball rate (58.1%). He walks a few too many (8.6%) and keeps the ball in the park (0.61 HR/9) with his heavy mid-90 sinker. Sanchez backs the sinker up with an upper-70s curveball and an improving upper-80s changeup. The changeup is still a work in progress, but it is getting better. Lefties still give him trouble when he can’t keep the change down. Sanchez held the Yankees to two runs (one earned) in six innings last month.

Bullpen Status

The bullpen has been a big problem for the Blue Jays all season. Their relievers have a 3.79 ERA (4.29 FIP) overall and they’ve been extremely home run prone (1.32 HR/9). Who knows what will happen in any given game, but, generally speaking, this is not a shutdown bullpen. Here are the relievers Gibbons has at his disposal:

Closer: RHP Roberto Osuna (1.40 ERA/2.24 FIP)
Setup: RHP Gavin Floyd (3.05/3.84)
Middle: RHP Drew Storen (7.80/5.40), RHP Joe Biagini (0.59/2.80), LHP Chad Girodo (3.38/6.07)
Long: SwP Pat Venditte (4.50/4.57)

Toronto had an off-day yesterday, so everyone is fresh. Storen has had some rather big meltdowns this season (what else is new?) so these days he gets lower leverage innings rather than setup work. Floyd is handling eighth inning duties for the time being. It’s worth noting Girodo has been in the big leagues for about three weeks, so the Blue Jays don’t have an established left-on-left reliever.

The Yankees, like the Blue Jays, had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is as rested as it’s going to get. Check out our Bullpen Workload page either. I know the Blue Jays have not been tearing the cover off the ball like they did last year, but these intra-division games are never easy. The Yankees are going to need their bullpen to win them some games this week.

Yankeemetrics: Oh (no), Canada [April 12-14]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Blast + bloop = win
The Yankees struck first in their 19-game battle with the Blue Jays, grinding out a 3-2 win on Tuesday night. It also was their best run prevention game of the young season as it marked the first time in 2016 they held their opponent under four runs. The only other seasons in the last 65 years that the Yankees allowed four-or-more runs in each of their first five games were 1998 and 2007.

Brian McCann‘s hot bat fueled the come-from-behind win with a game-tying homer in the sixth inning. That was the 10th run he scored this season, joining Yogi Berra (1950) as the only Yankee catchers with than many runs scored through the team’s first six games.

Jacoby Ellsbury delivered the game-winner with an RBI bloop single in the seventh frame. He’s now already matched the number of go-ahead hits in the seventh inning or later that he had in the entire 2015 season. The last Yankee centerfielder with a tie-breaking hit in the seventh inning or later in Toronto was Bernie Williams on the final day of the 2004 season.

Masahiro Tanaka battled through five innings, and was dominant at times (six strikeouts) while also struggling to command his pitches (four walks).

tanaka vs blue jays

Despite his inefficiency, that effort continued a string of solid starts at the Rogers Centre for Tanaka. He’s now allowed no more than two earned runs and struck out at least six batters in three straight road outings against the Blue Jays. Just two other Yankee pitchers have done that: David Cone (1997-99) and Andy Pettitte (1996-98).

Super-Nova meltdown
Based on his implosion in Wednesday’s 7-2 loss, it seems like Ivan Nova is still trying to figure out this whole bullpen thing. After throwing four scoreless innings in his first relief appearance last week, Nova did a complete-180 and suffered through a disaster outing in his second try.

This was the damage: five hits, four runs, one wild pitch, one hit batter. Seems hard to cram all of that in one inning pitched, eh? Yup. Nova became the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to plunk a guy, throw a wild pitch and give up at least five base-hits while getting three outs or fewer in a game.

Pineda’s results – three runs allowed (two earned) in six innings – were good, not great, but the most troubling takeaway was his three walks. The 27-year-old had never walked more than two batters in a Yankee uniform and his last appearance with three-plus walks was August 15, 2011 with the Seattle Mariners.

His streak of 41 straight starts with the Yankees allowing two walks or fewer was the longest by any pitcher in franchise history over the last 100 seasons. And his streak of 46 straight starts overall with no more than two walks was the seventh-longest by any major-league pitcher in that span.

A-Rod wasn’t the only Yankee to go hitless on the night, but his 0-fer performance might be the most notable — though it should have hardly been surprising given who was on the mound for Toronto. He is now 0-for-12 against Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ, his most at-bats (12) and plate appearances (15) without a hit against any pitcher he’s faced in his career.

Nate the Not-So-Great
So maybe the Yankees left their bats at border control. For the third time in this three-game series, the Yankees offense went into hibernation as they were held to two runs on three hits in the 4-2 loss. They are now 4-4 this season, and have scored a total of seven runs in their four losses compared to 35 runs in their four wins.

Nathan Eovaldi started strong, allowing just two hits and no runs the first two times through the Blue Jays order. Then it all fell apart. Five of the final 11 batters he faced reached base, tagging him for four runs on five hits (three doubles, two homers) before he was pulled in the seventh inning.

On the other hand, Eo-nigma (?) did strike out eight batters, his sixth straight start with seven-or-more punch outs dating back to August of last year. The only longer streaks in franchise history are by CC Sabathia (twice, in 2011 and 2009), Mike Mussina (2003) and Ron Guidry (1978).

Blue Jays designated hitter (and Yankee killer) Edwin Encarnacion also etched his name in the pinstriped record books. He’s now reached base safely in 26 straight games versus the Yankees, tied with Alex Rios (2006-08) for the best such mark by any Blue Jays hitter ever against the team.

4/12 to 4/14 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

They have an all-dirt infield in Toronto now. (Photo via @sbrooksbaseball)
They have an all-dirt infield in Toronto now. (Photo via @sbrooksbaseball)

Each of the five AL East teams has won a division title within the last six years. Last year it was the Blue Jays’ turn, as they stormed up the standings in the second half and blew by the Yankees. New York was six games up at the trade deadline and six games back at the end of the season. That happened quick. The Yankees and Blue Jays figure to compete for the AL East title again in 2016. They meet for the first time this week with three games at Rogers Centre.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Blue Jays are 3-4 in the early going this season. They split a four-game series with the Rays in Tampa Bay last week, then dropped two of three to the Red Sox at home over the weekend. Toronto has scored 29 runs and allowed 30 so far. Like the Yankees, the Blue Jays had an off-day yesterday. (They didn’t get rained out Sunday though.)

Offense & Defense

A year ago the Blue Jays scored 892 runs, by far the most in baseball — the Yankees were second with 764 runs — and the most by any team since the 2009 Yankees scored 915 runs. Most of the lineup returns this year. The only difference is OF Michael Saunders in left field instead of OF Ben Revere. The season is still very young, so I’m going to give you each player’s performance to date and their 2016 ZiPS projections. Sound good? Too bad if it doesn’t. This ain’t no democracy.

2016 Stats to Date 2016 ZiPS
C Russell Martin
2-for-20 (.100), 0 HR, 0 SB, 0 BB, 10 K .231/.329/.403 (101 wRC+), 15 HR, 5 SB
1B Chris Colabello
1-for-12 (.083), 0 HR, 0 SB, 0 BB, 5 K .251/.304/.433 (99 wRC+), 18 HR, 1 SB
2B Ryan Goins
6-for-21 (.286), 0 HR, 0 SB, 1 BB, 6 K .237/.282/.326 (64 wRC+), 5 HR, 3 SB
SS Troy Tulowitzki
3-for-25 (.120), 1 HR, 0 SB, 3 BB, 10 K .255/.330/.434 (107 wRC+), 16 HR, 1 SB
3B Josh Donaldson
9-for-29 (.310), 4 HR, 0 SB, 2 BB, 11 K .279/.354/.525 (139 wRC+), 32 HR, 6 SB
LF Michael Saunders
5-for-19 (.263), 1 HR, 0 SB, 1 BB, 5 K .247/.323/.421 (102 wRC+), 8 HR, 5 RBI
CF Kevin Pillar
6-for-29 (.207), 0 HR, 1 SB, 0 BB, 4 K .269/.304/.403 (90 wRC+), 11 HR, 21 SB
RF Jose Bautista
6-for-21 (.286), 2 HR, 0 SB, 9 BB, 8 K .263/.385/.527 (149 wRC+), 29 HR, 5 SB
DH Edwin Encarnacion
8-for-27 (.296), 0 HR, 0 SB, 2 BB, 4 K .271/.363/.505 (135 wRC+), 27 HR, 4 SB
BENCH
C Josh Thole
1-for-7 (.143), 1 HR, 0 SB, 0 BB, 2 K .238/.298/.313 (67 wRC+), 3 HR, 0 SB
1B Justin Smoak
1-for-5 (.200), 0 HR, 1 SB, 2 BB, 4 K .236/.314/.424 (101 wRC+), 16 HR, 1 SB
IF Darwin Barney 3-for-11 (.273), 0 HR, 2 SB, 1 BB, 0 K .241/.290/.336 (69 wRC+), 6 HR, 5 SB
OF Ezequiel Carrera
1-for-7 (.143), 0 HR, 0 SB, 0 BB, 2 K .253/.301/.351 (78 wRC+), 6 HR, 19 SB

ZiPS is expecting Tulowitzki to really start to decline, but the Blue Jays still have those three huge bats in Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion. Those dudes are terrifying. For some reason manager John Gibbons insists on batting Pillar leadoff, meaning Donaldson, the No. 2 hitter, will bat with the bases empty and one out in roughly 70% of first innings in 2016.

Colabello is a prime candidate to see his numbers slip back — he hit .321/.367/.520 (142 wRC+) in 2015 — because he had a .411 BABIP last season, and he ain’t no true talent .411 BABIP hitter. No one is. Especially not a big, lumbering first baseman. I think it’s only a matter of time until Smoak is playing first base everyday, or at least everyday against righties. (He’s a switch-hitter, Colabello is a right-handed hitter.)

One aspect of the Blue Jays that got overlooked last year was their defense. This is a very good defensive club. Aside from first base and right field — Bautista doesn’t have a ton of range, but he has a rocket arm — they have average or better defenders all over the field. Check out Sean Dolinar’s defensive projections visualization:

Blue Jays defense

Pretty good defensive club right there. The Blue Jays don’t just mash. They catch the ball too. I thought that was a very overlooked part of their team a year ago.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Aaron Sanchez (vs. NYY)
The Blue Jays are giving Sanchez another try in the rotation. The 23-year-old had a 3.55 ERA (5.21 FIP) in eleven starts and 66 innings as a starter last season, and he came out of the gate by firing seven innings of one-run ball against the Rays in his first start of 2016. He struck out eight and walked one in that start, which is way different than the 15.0 K% and 13.2 BB% he had as a starter in 2015. Sanchez sits in the mid-90s with his sinker, and his go-to offspeed pitch is low-80s slider. He’s working on a changeup, and the pitch has shown some ridiculous movement in the past:

Aaron Sanchez change

Sanchez threw 15 changeups in his first start last week, the second most he’s ever thrown in an outing in his career. I’m guessing he’ll go back to that well given all the lefties the Yankees have in the lineup.

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TOR) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (vs. NYY)
Happ is essentially replacing David Price in the rotation. Price is gone and Happ is the guy they signed to fill the rotation spot. He had a 3.61 ERA (3.41 FIP) in 172 innings a year ago, though he was way better with the Pirates in the second half (1.85 ERA and 2.19 FIP) than he was with the Mariners in the first half (4.64 ERA and 4.12 FIP). Pittsburgh got Happ to throw his low-90s four-seam heater more often, and he located it better than ever before, but in his first start of this season he threw it only 34.8% of the time. He again shelved it in favor of his low-90s sinker for at least that one start. Happ also throws a lot of upper-80s cutters. A mid-80s changeup is his primary offspeed pitch, and he’ll flip a few upper-70s curves per start as well. Last week Happ, 33, held the Rays to two runs in six innings. He walked one and fanned four.

Thursday (7pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (vs. NYY)
Stroman, 24, is now the staff ace with Price gone. A torn ACL limited him to four starts last season (1.67 ERA and 3.54 FIP), and at this point it’s pretty clear he’s a ground ball guy (career 56.0 GB%) and not so much a strikeout guy (19.9%). Stroman will throw six different pitches but he leans on four the most: low-90s sinker, upper-80s cutter, mid-80s changeup, and mid-80s curve. He’ll throw a handful of straight low-90s four-seamers and loopy upper-70s curveballs per start. That deep repertoire has allowed him to avoid a significant platoon split early in his young career. Stroman gets himself into trouble when he tries to get cute and put guys away with his fourth or fifth (or sixth) best pitch. He was excellent in his first start (three runs in eight innings, but two runs came super late) and pretty bad in his second start (five runs in 5.1 innings) last week.

Bullpen Status

The Blue Jays are without three of their best relievers from last season. Sanchez was moved into the rotation, RHP Mark Lowe left as a free agent, and RHP Liam Hendriks was traded to the Athletics for RHP Jesse Chavez. Those three combined to allow 36 earned runs in 110 innings. That’s a 2.95 ERA. Here is the current bullpen:

2016 Stats to Date 2016 ZiPS
RHP Roberto Osuna
4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 0 HR 3.13 ERA (3.22 FIP), 27.5 K%, 7.6 BB%
RHP Drew Storen
2.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0 HR 3.10 ERA (3.21 FIP), 9.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
LHP Brett Cecil
2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HR 2.96 ERA (2.72 FIP), 31.0 K%, 8.4 BB%
RHP Jesse Chavez
2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR 4.33 ERA (3.93 FIP), 20.6 K%, 6.8 BB%
RHP Gavin Floyd
2.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0 HR 5.62 ERA (5.33 FIP), 16.9 K%, 7.3 BB%
RHP Arnold Leon
2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR 5.52 ERA (5.09 FIP), 6.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
RHP Joe Biagini
 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0 HR N/A

Osuna, who was the youngest player on an Opening Day roster this year at 21 years and 65 days, was dynamite last season. So was Cecil, who flew under the radar. Storen has had some great years in the past, but his meltdowns are becoming more and more frequent. Gibbons has already shown a quick hook with him this year.

The rest of the bullpen is pretty sketchy. Biagini is a Rule 5 Draft pick who was in Double-A with the Giants last year. ZiPS didn’t even bother spitting out a projection for him. Chavez is an Adam Warren-esque swingman — he’s not as good as Warren, but that’s his role — and Floyd’s trying to come back from a series of elbow injuries. Leon is an out of options scrap heap arm the Blue Jays are not ready to cut ties with just yet. Cecil and Osuna are pretty formidable. The rest of the ‘pen can get got.

The Rest of the AL East [2016 Season Preview]

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

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

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

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

Baltimore Orioles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Red Sox

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tampa Bay Rays

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Toronto Blue Jays

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

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

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

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

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

Yankeemetrics: It’s getting late early (Sept. 21-23)

(USA Today Sports Photo)
(USA Today Sports Photo)

Out of our Price range
The biggest takeaway from Monday’s crushing loss to the Blue Jays in the Most Important Series of the Year, is that there’s little doubt about the impact that David Price has made on this AL East race.

Since joining Toronto, Price is now 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in four starts against the Yankees — and the only game he didn’t win (Aug. 14), he left with a 3-1 lead. A quick glance at the division standings shows that the Yankees are three games back of the Blue Jays in the loss column. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do that math.

Price was brilliant again in this game, holding the Yankees to just two hits in seven scoreless innings. It was the second time this season he’s allowed no runs and no more than three hits against the Yankees (also on Aug. 8). The last left-handed pitcher with two starts like that against the Yankees in a single season was the Orioles Dave McNally in 1974.

The loss dropped to the Yankees to 5-12 against the Blue Jays this season. That’s their most single-season losses versus Toronto in franchise history.

Killing two Birds with one stone
A player that was in Double-A just a few months ago, in rookie ball the last time the Yankees made the playoffs, and in high school the last time they won the World Series — kept their hopes for a division title alive with one swing of the bat on Tuesday night.

Greg Bird’s dramatic tie-breaking, three-run homer in the 10th inning was the decisive blow in a game the Yankees simply couldn’t lose. Bird has had his share of True Yankee Moments, and this one etched his name in the record books. Here we go …

• he is the third Yankee age 22 or younger to hit an extra-inning home run. The others were a 21-year-old Melky Cabrera in 2006 against the Mariners and a 22-year-old Derek Jeter in 1996 versus the Royals;

• he joins Tino Martinez in 1997 as the only first baseman in franchise history with an extra-inning homer against the Blue Jays;

• and, now our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Week: he is the first Yankee infielder in the last 75 seasons with a multi-RBI, extra-inning homer in a September game.

Bird’s blast was also the third extra-inning three-run home run the Yankees have hit this season. If that sounds like a lot, well … In the past 75 years, this is the only time they’ve squeezed three three-run, extra-inning homers into a single season.

Bird wasn’t the only superstar in this game. Luis Severino tossed another gem with six innings of two-run, three-hit ball — the third time in nine starts he’s allowed no more than three hits. The only other Yankees in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) with at least three starts of three hits or fewer in a season as a 21-year-old or younger are Whitey Ford (1950), Tom Morgan (1951) and Bill Burbach (1969).

It’s not what you want
While Wednesday’s loss doesn’t officially eliminate the Yankees from the AL East race — we all know that it ain’t over til it’s over — but it does put a huge dent in their division title hopes. It’s awfully hard to make up three games in the loss column with 11 to play and no more head-to-head matchups against the team you’re chasing. Sigh.

In what has been a recurring theme against this Blue Jays team, the Yankees offense went into hibernation in the 4-0 loss. This was the third time they’ve been shut out by Toronto this season; the rest of baseball has pitched just three shutouts combined against the Yankees.

With the loss, the Yankees finished 4-5 at the Rogers Centre, their sixth straight sub-.500 record at the stadium. That’s their longest active streak of losing seasons at any American League ballpark.

Our old friend Russell Martin was responsible for all four of the Blue Jays runs, scoring the first one on Kevin Pillar’s RBI single in the sixth inning, and then driving in three more with a homer in the seventh inning. That gave him 17 RBIs as a catcher (and one as a pinch hitter) against the Yankees this season, the most by any backstop in the Divisional Era (since 1969).

Ending on a positive note, we’ve got one milestone alert for this game: A-Rod’s ninth-inning double was the 540th two-bagger of his career, matching Hall of Famers Joe Medwick and Dave Winfield for 35th place on the all-time list.

9/21 to 9/23 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once again, it’s time for the biggest series of the season. It’s been the biggest series of the season the last three times the Yankees and Blue Jays met. They’ll play three games in Toronto this week, starting tonight. The Blue Jays have dominated the Yankees this season. They’re 11-5 against New York and have outscored them 73-48. That said, these clubs are an even 3-3 at Rogers Centre in 2015.

What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?

Believe it or not, the Blue Jays lost their last series. The Red Sox did the Yankees a solid and took two of three in Toronto this weekend. The Blue Jays are 85-64 with +213 run differential overall. That’s the second best record in the AL and by far the best run differential in baseball. The Cardinals are a distance second at +113. A hundred run gap. Sheesh. The Yankees are 2.5 games back of Toronto in the AL East (two in the loss column).

Offense & Defense

By now you know the Blue Jays have a powerhouse offense. The best in baseball by a not small margin. They’re averaging 5.51 runs per game with a team 115 wRC+ this year, both the best marks in MLB, and that includes 5.57 runs per game and a team 125 wRC+ at home. It’s a great offense that’s even better at home. Toronto is currently without SS Troy Tulowitzki (shoulder), 2B Devon Travis (shoulder), OF Michael Saunders (knee), and IF Maicer Izturis (shoulder). None are due back this series.

Donaldson. (Presswire)
Donaldson. (Presswire)

Even without Tulowitzki, manager John Gibbons has three elite hitters in 3B Josh Donaldson (155 wRC+), OF Jose Bautista (146 wRC+), and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (148 wRC+). They have 39, 36, and 34 home runs, respectively. The Play Index tells me the last team to have three qualified hitters with at least 30 homers and a 145 OPS+ was the 2004 Cardinals (Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen). Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion are on pace to become the sixth such trio in history. Somehow the Yankees have never done it.

OF Ben Revere (96 wRC+), C Russell Martin (111 wRC+), OF Kevin Pillar (79 wRC+), and the first base platoon of 1B Justin Smoak (109 wRC+) and 1B/OF Chris Colabello (145 wRC+) is the supporting cast. IF Ryan Goins (84 wRC+) is playing short with Tulowitzki hurt and IF Cliff Pennington (53 wRC+) is at second. C Dioner Navarro (83 wRC+) is the backup catcher and OF Dalton Pompey is the designated September pinch-runner. C Josh Thole, IF Munenori Kawasaki, UTIL Matt Hague, OF Ezequiel Carrera, and IF Darwin Barney are the extra September players.

The Blue Jays are a very good defensive team even without Tulo. Their only below-average gloveman is whoever is playing first base on a given day. Martin, Donaldson, and Pillar are all elite at their positions while Goins, Bautista, and Pennington are above-average. Revere is average overall because he can’t throw at all. Arguably the worst outfield arm in the game. He does have range though. Toronto doesn’t get enough credit for being so well-rounded.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (7pm ET): RHP Adam Warren (vs. TOR) vs. LHP David Price (vs. NYY)
This is the fourth Yankees-Blue Jays series since the All-Star break, and, predictably, Price will pitch in all four. The 30-year-old southpaw has a 2.42 ERA (2.80 FIP) in 30 starts and 208.1 innings this season, making this the best year of his career. It’s even better than his Cy Young season back in 2012. His strikeout (25.9%), walk (5.4%), and homer (0.69 HR/9) rates are all great, and while his grounder rate (41.1%) is below-average, it doesn’t matter because he generates so much weak contact. Lefties (.289 wOBA) have actually hit Price harder than righties (.269 wOBA), which is a trend that started last year. Price is a pure power pitcher, living in the mid-90s with his two and four-seam fastballs, and a notch below that with his cutter. He also throws a nasty mid-80s changeup and a few upper-70s curves. Price locates everything very well. The best combination of power and command in the game. The Yankees have faced Price four times this season: eight runs in 2.1 innings in April, seven scoreless inning in early-August, three runs in 7.1 innings in mid-August, and two runs in five innings earlier this month.

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (vs. NYY)
Estrada, 32, has a 3.14 ERA (4.42 FIP) in 160.1 innings spread across 25 starts and six relief appearances this summer. He started the year as the long man before moving into the rotation. His walk rate (7.9%) is about average but everything else is below-average: 18.1 K%, 32.3 GB%, and 1.18 HR/9. Estrada has been very homer prone throughout his career (career 1.36 HR/9), and while he was able to keep the ball in the park earlier this season, he’s now allowed ten homers in his last eight starts. Thanks to his upper-80s changeup, Estrada has had more success against lefties (.273 wOBA) than righties (.289 wOBA) both this year and throughout his career. An upper-80s four-seam fastball sets up that changeup as well as his upper-70s curveball. Like Price, Estrada has started against the Yankees four times this year: five runs in 4.2 innings in May, 6.1 scoreless innings in early-August, two runs in six innings in mid-August, and four runs in five innings last week.

Estrada. (Presswire)
Estrada. (Presswire)

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (vs. NYY)
A torn ACL suffered during a fielding drill in Spring Training was supposed to end Stroman’s season, but his rehab went exceptionally well, and he was able to rejoin the rotation a week and a half ago. The 24-year-old has allowed four runs on ten hits and three walks in 12 innings so far, striking out five with a 68.4% ground ball rate. He had a 3.65 ERA (2.84 FIP) in 130.2 innings last year, his big league debut. Stroman throws six pitches regularly, led by his low-to-mid-90s two and four-seam fastballs. He also throws a low-90s cutter and sliders, curveballs, and changeups in the mid-80s. Stroman uses all of ’em. He’s quite unpredictable. The Yankees saw him in his first start off the DL last week, and scored three runs in five innings.

Bullpen Status
Thanks to some trade deadline pickups and roster shuffling, Gibbons now has a strong and deep bullpen at his disposal. Rookie RHP Roberto Osuna (2.38 ERA/2.91 FIP) is closing with ex-starter RHP Aaron Sanchez (3.27/4.77) and LHP Brett Cecil (2.77/2.71) handling setup duties. RHP Mark Lowe (1.53/2.15) will also see some high-leverage work from time-to-time.

RHP Drew Hutchison (5.33/4.25) was moved to the bullpen after Stroman rejoined the rotation. He joins RHP LaTroy Hawkins (2.57/3.15), RHP Liam Hendriks (2.52/1.99), LHP Aaron Loup (4.76/3.80), and RHP Bo Schultz (3.46/4.78) in the middle innings. RHP Steve Delabar, LHP Jeff Francis, RHP Chad Jenkins, and RHP Ryan Tepera are the extra September arms. Hendriks, Cecil, Lowe, and Hawkins all pitched yesterday.

Our Bullpen Workload page can keep you updated on the status of Joe Girardi‘s heavily used bullpen. Andrew Stoeten’s site is the place to go for Blue Jays news and analysis, though the language is not exactly family friendly. Consider yourself forewarned.