Yankeemetrics: May 4-6 (Blue Jays)

This is what an ace looks like. (Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports)
This is what an ace looks like. (Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chase is on
The situation was set up perfectly for another Yankees win in the series opener when they took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning against Toronto. Entering Monday, the Yankees:

• were 12-0 when leading after seven innings
• had allowed seven runs in the eighth and ninth innings combined (tied for fewest in AL)
• had one blown save (tied for fewest among teams with more than five save opportunities)

But the Yankees bullpen proved to be mortal on this night, giving up three runs and coughing up that one-run lead, handing the Blue Jays a 3-1 victory.

They wasted a gem by Chase Whitley, who threw seven scoreless innings with six strikeouts and no walks. His changeup was really nasty; he threw 14 of them and those pitches netted him five whiffs and six outs (including three strikeouts), with just one hit allowed.

R.A. Dickey dominated the Yankee lineup for eight innings with his knuckleball, allowing just one run and three hits despite not getting any strikeouts. The only other pitcher in the last 30 years with at least eight innings pitched and no strikeouts in a game against the Yankees was the Tigers’ Steve Sparks on June 19, 2001.

Ace Pineda
Another dominant performance from a starting pitcher, another win, ho hum. On Tuesday night the gem was delivered by the man that has rightfully earned that title of staff ace, Michael Pineda, who pitched perhaps his best game of the season.

The right-hander threw eight scoreless innings, allowed five hits and struck out six batters in leading the Yankees to a bounceback 6-3 win over the Blue Jays. Dating back to last year, he’s now 6-0 with a 2.38 ERA in his last eight starts. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that he’s had incredible command of the strike zone during this undefeated run, with at least five strikeouts and no more than one walk in each of those eight games.

You know how many other pitchers have fashioned an eight-start streak like that – at least five strikeouts, one or fewer walks and no losses – over the last 100 seasons? Two. Curt Schilling in 2002 and Bret Saberhagen in 1994.

Jacoby Ellsbury had another all-around awesome game, with three hits, two stolen bases and two runs scored – the fourth time he’s reached each of those totals in a game with the Yankees. The only players in franchise history to have more games like that in their entire career with the team are Roberto Kelly (5) and Rickey Henderson (5). Yeah, Ellsbury has been in pinstripes for only two seasons.

“Ya know, Suzyn…”
There’s a popular saying among fans (and radio broadcasters) that “you can’t predict baseball.” But if there ever was one thing about baseball that you could predict, it was that the Yankees would win a game started by Mark Buehrle.

Entering the series finale, the 16-year veteran had made 21 career starts versus the Bronx Bombers and won exactly one of those. His 1-14 record was second-worst among any pitcher in the last 100 years that had made at least 15 starts vs. the Yankees. The lone win came on April 10, 2004. Since then, Buehrle had….

• lost 12 straight decisions against the Yankees, tied for the fourth-longest losing streak vs. the franchise by any pitcher in the last 100 years
• gone 17 consecutive starts without a win against the Yankees, the second-longest winless streak vs. the franchise by any pitcher in the last 100 years

So, of course, on Wednesday night in Toronto he held the Yankees to one run in five innings pitched and got the win. #Weirdbaseball

CC Sabathia took the loss and fell to 0-5 in six starts, becoming the first Yankee to lose his first five decisions of the season since Chien-Ming Wang in 2009. He also lost his first game in Toronto as a member of the Yankees (entered the game 4-0 in five starts). Sabathia’s unbeaten streak of five consecutive starts at the Rogers Centre was tied for the longest at the ballpark by any Yankee pitcher.

5/4 to 5/6 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are in Toronto for a three-game set starting tonight as they look to win their sixth consecutive series. They haven’t won six straight series since late-June/early-July 2011, when they won seven straight. Yeah, it’s been a while. It’s worth noting new turf was installed at Rogers Centre this offseason and everyone seems to hate it. Players have said it’s too soft and spongy, and it slows down batted balls significantly, enough that MLB is monitoring the new surface.

What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?

The Blue Jays dropped a slugfest to the Indians yesterday afternoon (final score: 10-7) and split the four-game series in Cleveland. They’ve lost seven of their last ten games overall and are in the AL East cellar with a 12-14 record and a +6 run differential. The Yankees and Blue Jays played in Yankee Stadium in the very first series of the season, as you probably remember. Toronto won two of three.

Offense & Defense

The Blue Jays look quite a bit different than when he was saw them. SS Jose Reyes (rib) and C Dioner Navarro (hamstring) are both on the DL, UTIL Steve Tolleson has been designated for assignment, and OF Dalton Pompey was sent to Triple-A because he wasn’t hitting. They Jays are the highest scoring team in baseball, averaging 5.54 runs per game with a team 109 wRC+.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The middle of Toronto’s lineup is straight up terrifying even though OF Jose Bautista (128 wRC+) is having some BABIP issues (.213) and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (75 wRC+) has yet to really get going. Those two plus 3B Josh Donaldson (155 wRC+) are as good as any three hitters in any other lineup in the baseball, at least on paper. Add in surprising rookie 2B Devon Travis (180 wRC+) and you’ve got four really scary right-handed hitters atop the lineup.

Bautista is nursing a throwing shoulder issue and has been limited to DH duty for about a week now. OF Ezequiel Carrera (244 wRC+ in very limited time) and 3B/OF Danny Valencia (155 wRC+) have been platooning in his place. OF Kevin Pillar (97 wRC+) and OF Michael Saunders (70 wRC+) are the other two regular outfielders. C Russell Martin (138 wRC+) is the everyday catcher and OF Ryan Goins (75 wRC+) and UTIL Jonathan Diaz (-38 RC+ in very limited time) have been platooning at short with Reyes out. C Josh Thole and 1B Justin Smoak are also on the bench.

The Blue Jays are a sound defensive team with elite defenders at third base (Donaldson) and behind the plate (Martin). Pillar has been excellent this year as well, first in left and now in center with Pompey demoted. Saunders and Carrera are above-average glovemen while Valencia looks very much like a third baseman playing the outfield. Travis is adequate at second and the Goins/Diaz tandem is good at short. Encarnacion’s not much of a defender at first. He’s in the lineup for his bat.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Chase Whitley (Career vs. TOR) vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (Career vs. NYY)
Dickey, 40, is off to a rough start this season, with a 5.23 ERA (5.50 FIP) in five starts and 31 innings. His strikeout (14.9%), ground ball (43.8%), and home run (1.45 HR/9) rates are all below average, and Dickey’s walk rate has climbed from 5.8% in 2012 to 7.5% in 2013 to 8.1% in 2014% to 9.7% in 2015. Lefties (.384 wOBA) have hit him a lot harder than righties (.304 wOBA) in the early going. Dickey’s a knuckleballer, you know that, and these days it butterflies in around 75 mph. He throws the knuckler roughly 85% of the time, and the other 15% are show-me low-80s fastballs. The Yankees faced Dickey earlier this year and he held them to one run in 6.1 innings.

Tuesday: RHP Michael Pineda (Career vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (Career vs. NYY)
Late last week rookie left-hander Daniel Norris was sent back to Triple-A after struggling to throw strikes (11.7 BB%), keep the ball on the ground (30.0 GB%), and pitch deep into games (4.2 innings per start). The 31-year-old Estrada is taking his spot in the rotation after pitching to a 0.84 ERA (3.99 FIP) in 10.2 long relief innings. Estrada’s been a starter before — he made 62 starts for the Brewers from 2012-14 — so this won’t be knew to him. Last season he managed to lead MLB with 29 home runs allowed in only 150.2 innings. Estrada’s always been homer and fly ball prone with average strikeout and walk rates. He’s a three-pitch pitcher, using upper-80s fastballs to set up upper-70s changeups and curveballs. The changeup is his go-to secondary pitch. Estrada did not pitch during the series at Yankee Stadium earlier this year.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Wednesday: LHP CC Sabathia (Career vs. TOR) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (Career vs. NYY)
Man, Buehrle is off to a terrible start this year. He’s got a 6.75 ERA (5.89 FIP) and has allowed 47 hits (!) in 28 innings. Egads. No other pitcher who has yet to throw 30 innings has allowed even 40 hits this year. Buehrle’s strikeout rate (8.3%) is at an all-time low, his homer rate (1.93 HR/9) an all-time high, and both his walk (5.3%) and grounder (42.7%) numbers are in line with his career norms. Lefties (.498 wOBA) have crushed him, but it’s a small sample. Righties (.412 wOBA) have hit him really hard too. Buehrle sits in the low-80s with his fastball, has for a few years now, and throws both two and four-seamers in addition to an upper-70s cutter. An upper-70s changeup is his top secondary pitch and either he is throwing the pitch more than ever (~33%), or PitchFX is misclassifying some fastballs as changeups. That’s never good. The Yankees didn’t face Buehrle in the first series of the year.

Bullpen Status
Despite that slugfest with the Indians yesterday, manager John Gibbons didn’t really tax his bullpen too much. RHP Scott Copeland (5.14 FIP) threw two innings and RHP Miguel Castro (4.76 FIP) needed 33 pitches to get four outs, and that’s about it. Ex-Yankees LHP Jeff Francis (3.14 FIP) got one out as well. No one on the staff has pitched in both of the last two games.

LHP Brett Cecil (6.14 FIP) has resumed closing and his primary setup men are RHP Roberto Osuna (1.76 FIP) and LHP Aaron Loup (4.69 FIP). Castro and Osuna are the two youngest players in MLB right now — they’re both only 20. RHP Liam Hendriks (1.54 FIP) is the last man in the bullpen. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for an update on New York’s bullpen and then head over to Andrew Stoeten’s site for everything you need to know about the Blue Jays.

Yankeemetrics: April 6-9 (Blue Jays)

First win of the season! (Photo credit: NY Daily News)
First win of the season! (Photo credit: NY Daily News)

[For those of you new to these Yankeemetrics posts, what I try to do is recap each game in the series using interesting, fun and sometimes quirky statistical notes. Hope you enjoy it.]

Marathon, not a sprint
Opening Day did not go exactly as planned, to put it mildly. The Yankees lost 6-1 to the Blue Jay on Monday afternoon, extending their streak of Opening Day losses to four. That’s the longest such streak for the franchise since 1982-85. The Elias Sports Bureau also notes that for the first time in team history, the Yankees have lost three straight season openers by a margin of at least three runs.

The Yankees also failed to score more than two runs for the third Opening Day in a row, just the third time the Bronx Bombers have done that in the last 100 years. The other seasons were in 1978-80 and 1935-37.

Masahiro Tanaka, who was the youngest righty to start on Opening Day for Yankees since Doc Medich in 1975, allowed five runs in four innings and made every Yankee beat writer hit the panic button. It was the shortest Opening Day start by any Yankee since Phil Niekro in 1985 vs. Red Sox.

While a ton of the focus was on Tanaka’s poor outing, the Yankee bats certainly didn’t help him out with just one run on three hits. The last time the Yankees scored no more than one run and had three or fewer hits in the season’s first game was 1968 (yes, the so-called Year of the Pitcher).

So you’re saying there’s a chance…
Phew. The Yankees got back to .500 with a 4-3 win on Wednesday, avoiding what would have been a franchise-record fourth straight 0-2 start. Down 3-1 entering the eighth frame, the Yankees pulled off what has to be one of the more improbable rallies in recent memory.

They tied the score when Brian McCann was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. The last time the Yankees had a game-tying HBP after the seventh inning was when Reggie Jackson was plunked in 1978 against the Brewers.

Chase Headley had the game-winning RBI in the next at-bat when his ground ball up the middle bounced off Blue Jays pitcher Brett Cecil and squirted into the outfield. It was Headley’s third go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later with the team, the most such hits by any Yankee since he arrived in the Bronx on July 22 last year.

Michael Pineda may not have made his case to be the Yankees ace, but he had strong performance in his 2015 debut (ND, 6 IP, 2 R, 6 K, 1 BB). This was the fifth time in his Yankee career he’s given up two runs or fewer in at least six innings pitched without getting the win –- and three of those games have now come vs. Toronto.

Second to none
CC Sabathia‘s first regular season start in nearly a year was ruined by a disaster second inning when he gave up four runs on five singles; he allowed just three hits and one run in the other 4 2/3 innings he pitched. Of the 17 outs he recorded in the game, 16 were either by strikeout (8) or groundout (8). That’s pretty darn good…except for the five runs he allowed on the night. Oops.

So the Yankees ended up losing the rubber game, 6-3, and Sabathia lost his fourth straight home start, his longest such losing streak in pinstripes. The only Yankee left-handers to lose more than four starts in a row at Yankee Stadium are Whitey Ford (5, 1965-66) and Sam McDowell (6, 1973-74).

Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira tried to rally the Yankees when they hit homers in the sixth inning to make it 5-3. For A-Rod, it was his 57th homer vs. Toronto, the most by any player against the Blue Jays franchise. Of course it was also his 655th career home run, five away from tying Willie Mays and earning a cool $6 million bonus.

4/6 to 4/9 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2015 season is finally upon us. The Yankees open the new season at home at Yankee Stadium this afternoon against the Blue Jays. These two clubs were separated by one game in the standings last season and then had busy offseasons — the Yankees made a series of smaller moves while the Jays made two really big moves. Now they’re both in that cluster of mediocrity vying for the AL East title, so head-to-head meetings are important. New York and Toronto open a four-day, three-game series this afternoon.

What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?

Well, nothing important since this is the first series of the year. I’m not even going to bother to look up Toronto’s record during Grapefruit League play because it’s so meaningless. Way too many innings and at-bats go to players who won’t sniff the MLB roster this summer. If you’re curious, the projecting standings at FanGraphs have these two clubs finishing with identical 82-80 records. So the season has been decided. Fast forward to 2016!

Offense & Defense

The Blue Jays figure to be scary good offensively thanks to the 3-4-5 combination of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson. There is no 3-4-5 combo in the game that I’d rather have over that group right now. Here’s a quick run down of Toronto’s started lineup with their 2014 stats and 2015 ZiPS projections, just for reference:

2014 Performance 2015 ZiPS Projection
SS Jose Reyes .287/.328/.398 (102 wRC+), 30 SB .285/.333/.412 (107 wRC+)
C Russell Martin .290/.402/.430 (140 wRC+), 11 HR .237/.337/.407 (110 wRC+)
RF Jose Bautista .286/.403/.524 (159 wRC+), 35 HR .267/.384/.515 (151 wRC+)
1B Edwin Encarnacion .268/.354/.547 (150 wRC+), 34 HR .270/.358/.514 (142 wRC+)
3B Josh Donaldson .255/.342/.456 (129 wRC+), 29 HR .265/.338/.468 (125 wRC+)
DH Dioner Navarro .274/.317/.395 (98 wRC+), 12 HR .266/.314/.395 (96 wRC+)
LF Kevin Pillar .323/.359/.509 (136 wRC+) in AAA .266/.297/.398 (91 wRC+)
2B Devon Travis .298/.358/.460 (126 wRC+) in AA .244/.290/.392 (85 wRC+)
CF Dalton Pompey .309/.387/.456 (140 wRC+) in MiLB .239/.298/.348 (81 wRC+)

Like I said, the 3-4-5 guys are terrifying and the top five of the lineup in general is very dangerous even considering the likelihood Martin won’t be a .400+ OBP guy again. The bottom third of the lineup is … untested. Travis, who is skipping right over Triple-A following a strong spring, and Pompey are being thrown into the fire as rookies at up-the-middle positions. Pillar is filling in for OF Michael Saunders, who is working his way back from a spring knee injury.

Donaldson. (Presswire)
Donaldson. (Presswire)

The Jays are carrying eight relievers, so they only have three players on the bench: 1B Justin Smoak, UTIL Steve Tolleson, and UTIL Danny Valencia. Navarro is the backup catcher and I’m sure Smoak will see plenty of at-bats at DH (or first base with Encarnacion at DH) on the days Martin sits. It’s not the most usable bench in the world. Manager John Gibbons is going to ride or die with his nine starters. Those are the guys who will lead the Blue Jays.

Defensively, Toronto upgraded at third base and behind the plate with Donaldson and Martin, moreso by going from Navarro to Martin. Reyes remains a good defender and Travis was described as a “steady” defender capable of “making the routine play” at second base by Baseball America (subs. req’d) this winter., when they ranked him as the Tigers’ top prospect. The Jays got him from Detroit straight up for Anthony Gose.

Pompey and Bautista are above-average in center and right — Bautista’s defensive value comes more from his rocket arm than his range — and Pillar is sound in left. All told, this is a sneaky good defensive club. Encarnacion at first base is the only unquestionably below-average gloveman. And if you fully buy into the numbers, going from Navarro to Martin at catcher is a multi-win upgrade on pitch-framing alone.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (Career vs. TOR) vs. RHP Drew Hutchison (Career vs. NYY)
Hutchison will be Toronto’s youngest Opening Day starter since Todd Stottlemyre got the ball on Opening Day in 1990. (Tanaka, by the way, will be New York’s youngest Opening Starter since Andy Pettitte in 1998). The 24-year-old Hutchison had a 4.48 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 32 starts and 184.2 innings last season with nice strikeout (23.4 K%) and walk (7.6 BB%) rates. He didn’t get many ground balls (36.1%) and was a bit homer prone (1.12 HR/9). ZiPS sees a slight step back (4.22 ERA and 4.17 FIP), for what it’s worth. Hutchison is a three-pitch pitcher, using a low-to-mid-90s heater to set up mid-80s sliders and changeups. He uses the slider twice as often as the changeup. The Yankees saw a whole bunch of Hutchison last season — he threw 31 innings across six starts in 2014 and had a 5.17 ERA.

It's a fingertip ball, not a knuckleball. (Presswire)
It’s a fingertip ball, not a knuckleball. (Presswire)

Wednesday: RHP Michael Pineda (Career vs. TOR) vs. RHP. R.A. Dickey (Career vs. NYY)
It’s not surprising Dickey has failed to repeat his out of nowhere 2012 Cy Young Award winning season, though he has settled in a slightly better than average innings eater. Last season he put up a 3.71 ERA (4.32 FIP) with an 18.9 K% and an 8.1 BB% in 34 starts and 215.2 innings. His ground ball rate was basically average (42.0%) and his home run rate (1.09 HR/9) a bit worse than average. ZiPS sees more of the same from the 40-year-old in 2015 (4.04 ERA and 4.43 FIP). Dickey is still a knuckleballer, but unlike when he used two distinct knuckleballs with the Mets, he has just one basic mid-70s floater at this point. He throws the knuckler 85% of the time, give or take. The other 15% is low-80s show-me fastballs and low-70s changeups. The Yankees saw Dickey just twice last year, scoring two runs in a dozen innings. And that means nothing for Wednesday.

Thursday: LHP CC Sabathia (Career vs. TOR) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (Career vs. NYY)
Norris, 21, had one of the best seasons in all of minor league baseball a year ago, pitching to a 2.53 ERA (2.57 FIP) with 32.5 K% and 8.6 BB% in 124.2 innings while climbing from High-A to Triple-A before making his big league debut as a September call-up. His 11.77 K/9 was the very best out of the 551 minor league pitchers to throw 100 innings in 2014, and Baseball America ranked him as the sixth best pitching prospect in baseball (18th best prospect overall) coming into the spring. Norris was used mostly as a reliever with the Jays in September (5.40 ERA and 6.13 FIP in 6.2 innings) but will be a starter this year. ZiPS thinks he’ll be serviceable but not dominant (4.35 ERA and 4.46 FIP). Norris has a very deep repertoire, sitting in the low-90s and touching 97 with his fastball while throwing three average or better offspeed pitches: low-80s changeup, low-80s slider, and low-70s curveball. The slider is his best strikeout pitch, but, on his very best days, Norris brings three swing-and-miss secondary pitches out to he mound. The eccentric southpaw (read this) did throw an inning against the Yankees last September, when this happened:

Bullpen Status
Like I said earlier, the Blue Jays are going into the season with an eight-man bullpen partly because they have two rookie starters (Norris and Aaron Sanchez) and want some extra arms in case things go south in April. Long-time end-game reliever Casey Janssen was allowed to leave as a free agent and the bespectacled southpaw Brett Cecil will be the team’s new closer. Two of those eight relievers are rookies with zero MLB experience. Here’s the ‘pen:

2014 Performance 2015 ZiPS Projection
RHP Miguel Castro 2.84 (3.80 FIP), 25.2 K%, 9.2 BB% in MiLB N/A
LHP Brett Cecil 2.70 ERA (2.34 FIP), 32.5 K%, 11.5 BB% 3.48 ERA (3.41 FIP), 27.1 K%, 9.7 BB%
RHP Marco Estrada 4.36 ERA (4.88 FIP), 20.4 K%, 7.1 BB% 4.44 ERA (4.57 FIP), 21.6 K%, 6.3 BB%
RHP Liam Hendriks 5.23 ERA (3.84 FIP), 16.1 K%, 4.9 BB% 4.69 ERA (4.47 FIP), 16.0 K%, 4.9 BB%
LHP Colt Hynes 3.65 ERA (3.99 FIP), 21.0 K%, 4.4 BB% in AAA 3.98 ERA (3.85 FIP), 21.1 K%, 4.9 BB%
LHP Aaron Loup 3.15 ERA (3.83 FIP), 19.8 K%, 10.6 BB% 3.62 ERA (3.93 FIP), 19.4 K%, 8.1 BB%
RHP Roberto Osuna 7.39 ERA (4.05 FIP), 28.5 K%, 7.9 BB% in MiLB N/A
RHP Todd Redmond 3.24 ERA (3.56 FIP), 19.1 K%, 8.6 BB% 3.91 ERA (3.75 FIP), 19.4 K%, 8.1 BB%

Castro and Osuna spend last year at multiple levels of Single-A and are both skipping over Double-A and Triple-A. They made the team thanks to great Spring Training performances, which, uh, might not be the best way to make roster decisions, but to each his own. Osuna turned 20 in February and will probably be the youngest player in MLB this season. ZiPS didn’t even bother to spit out a projection for either guy this offseason because they weren’t expected to sniff the big league level.

Cecil’s going to close and Loup will face a bunch of lefties in setup situations, as he has been for several years now. Other than that, I’m not really sure how Gibbons will use his relievers. Will he throw Castro and Osuna to the wolves right away and give them high-leverage work? Or will Redmond go from multi-inning middle reliever last year to setup man this year? We’ll find out soon enough. For the best Jays coverage, head over to Andrew Stoeten’s site.

A New Era of Widespread AL East Mediocrity [2015 Season Preview]

For the first time since 2006 and only the fourth time since the wildcard system was implemented in 1995, just one AL East team qualified for the postseason last year. The AL East’s reign as baseball’s dominant division is over. The Orioles won the division by 12 games last season but there is no clear cut favorite heading into 2015. It’s just a jumbled mess of mediocrity. There’s a very real chance the division will be without a 90+ win team for the first time since the 2000 Yankees took the AL East with 87 wins. Here’s an overview of the Yankees’ division rivals heading into the new season.

"Hmmm. Who will win this terrible division?" (Presswire)
“Hmmm. Who will win this mediocre division?” (Presswire)

Baltimore Orioles

Biggest Strength: I say roster depth in general. They have five average or better starters — well, that’s with Kevin Gausman in the rotation and Ubaldo Jimenez in the bullpen — and a quality set of relievers to go with some power bats and a versatile bench. The defense is also very good, especially on the infield. And Buck Showalter is a difference-making manager. His strategic on-field moves are arguably the best in the game. On any given day, Baltimore can win with their pitching or their offense. They’re well-rounded.

Biggest Weakness: The lack of on-base guys — losing Nick Markakis will only exacerbate that — and injury issues. The O’s led baseball with 211 homers last year (the Rockies were a distant second with 186) but were only eighth with 705 runs because their team .311 OBP ranked 17th out of the 30 clubs. The O’s could easily lead MLB in homers again even without Nelson Cruz and that’s great. Homers are awesome! But they’re better when guys are on base.

As for the injury issues, both J.J. Hardy (shoulder) and Matt Wieters (Tommy John surgery) will open the season on the DL. Manny Machado is coming off right knee surgery and has already had surgery on both knees before his 23rd birthday. Will that hamper his mobility at third base? Machado’s an elite defender with a good but not great bat. Any decline in his defense will take a big bite out of his overall value. The starting catcher and left side of the infield carry health concerns.

The O’s In One Sentence: They lost some key players to free agency this past offseason, but there’s no way I’m going to write them off as a contender.

Hanley's back. (Presswire)
Hanley’s back. (Presswire)

Boston Red Sox

Biggest Strength: The offense. Hanley Ramirez is going to be a big help, even if he only plays 120 games. And even though Pablo Sandoval has gotten overrated — I’m guessing there are many fans who’ve only seen him play in the World Series and think that’s who he is all the time — Red Sox third basemen have hit .226/.280/.351 (85 OPS+) the last two years. He’ll be a big upgrade at the hot corner.

We have no idea what Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo can do across a full MLB season yet, but expectations are high, especially for Betts. (They’re so insanely high at this point that there’s basically no way he can meet them.) Mike Napoli and David Ortiz are still annoyingly productive, and there’s at least some hope Dustin Pedroia can halt his decline now that his thumb’s healthy. The Red Sox are going to mash, especially at home.

Biggest Weakness: The rotation. My goodness. Forget the “they don’t have an ace” stuff. Do they even have two league average starters? Rick Porcello was quite good last year, with a 116 ERA+ in 204.2 innings, but Clay Buchholz had a 72 ERA+ in 170.1 innings. Justin Masterson has an 83 ERA+ in his last 528 innings (!) and those three miles an hour he lost off his fastball last year haven’t come back this spring. Wade Miley had an 86 ERA+ in 201.1 innings last year and Joe Kelly had a 91 ERA+ in 96.1 innings. Also, this group has combined for an 18.0% strikeout rate the last three years, so they miss a below average number of bats. Who’s going out there to stop a losing streak?

The Sawx In One Sentence: If the Red Sox are going to contend, they’ll have to contend like the mid-2000s Yankees and outhit their own pitching staff.

No. 2 starer. For real. (Presswire)
No. 2 starer. For real. (Presswire)

Tampa Bay Rays

Biggest Strength: I … I … I don’t know. I guess the revamped outfield defense with Kevin Kiermaier in center and Desmond Jennings in left? Otherwise the Rays don’t seem to be particularly good at anything. Evan Longoria is a really good player, Chris Archer is a quality starter, and the Jake McGee/Brad Boxberger bullpen duo is as good as it gets, at least once McGee comes back from offseason elbow surgery. That’s about it. Unlike the Orioles, who don’t have an obvious strength but are solid all around, the Rays don’t have an obvious strength and have questions all around.

Biggest Weakness: The rotation. Remember when the Rays used to add a new immediate impact rookie starter to their rotation year after year? That doesn’t happen anymore. They needed 24 starts from Roberto Hernandez in 2013 and 15 starts from Erik Bedard in 2014. Matt Moore (Tommy John surgery), Alex Cobb (forearm), and Drew Smyly (shoulder) are all hurt, so Tampa Bay had to scramble to trade for the extremely homer prone Erasmo Ramirez a few days ago and will start Nate Karns in the second game of the season. He had a 5.08 ERA in a full season at Triple-A last year. This rotation won’t be Devil Rays caliber bad, but it is in no way a strength.

The Rays In One Sentence: Ex-manager Joe Maddon and ex-GM Andrew Friedman jumped ship and not a moment too soon.

Reyes, Donaldson, and Encarnacion. And none of 'em is Toronto's best hitter. (Presswire)
Reyes, Donaldson, and Encarnacion. And none of ’em is Toronto’s best hitter. (Presswire)

Toronto Blue Jays

Biggest Strength: Middle of the lineup. The 3-4-5 combination of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson is straight up terrifying. They rank 10th, 11th, and 20th in OPS+ the last two years (min. 800 PA) and 7th, 2nd, and 18th in homers, respectively. Those three are going to generate a ton of runs, especially when Jose Reyes is healthy and leading off. Bautista and Encarnacion were scary enough these last few years. Adding Donaldson to the mix is unfair.

Biggest Weakness: Top heavy roster and extreme reliance on youth. Toronto is going to have two rookies in the rotation (Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez), two rookies in the lineup (Dalton Pompey and Devon Travis), and two rookies in the bullpen (Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro). For a team looking to contend, they’re putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of young players with no real backup plans. Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion, Donaldson, R.A. Dickey, and Mark Buehrle have to produce as expected for this club to have a chance. They don’t have the pieces to cover for a disappointing season from one of the veterans.

The Jays In One Sentence: Once again the Blue Jays made some big splashes in the offseason but stopped short of adding all the pieces they need, especially pitching.

9/18-9/21 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The final homestand of the 2014 season and Derek Jeter‘s career is about to begin. The Yankees open the eight-game homestand with four games against the Blue Jays, starting tonight. I swear, it feels like I’ve had to write a Blue Jays series preview every other week this season. Anyway, the Yankees are 8-7 against Toronto this year, including 4-2 at Yankee Stadium.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Jays were just swept by the Orioles in Baltimore, allowing the O’s to clinch the team’s first AL East title since 1997. Toronto lost two of three to the Rays before that. Overall, the Yankees have Blue Jays are tied for second place in the division with identical 77-74 records. The Jays have the run differential edge +20 to -34, however. This weekend is a battle for second place. Feel the excitement.

Offense
With an average of 4.45 runs per game and a team 105 wRC+, manager John Gibbons watches over a solidly above-average offense. They are without ex-Yankees OF Melky Cabrera (125 wRC+), who broke a finger sliding into a base a week or two ago and is done for the season. 3B Brett Lawrie (101 wRC+) and IF Maicer Izturis (79 wRC+) are also done for the year with oblique and knee injuries, respectively. C Dioner Navarro (103 wRC+) is day-to-day after taking a foul tip to the face mask.

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

Even without Melky, the Blue Jays have a scary middle of the order thanks to OF Jose Bautista (155 wRC+) and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (149 wRC+). They both have 32 homers. DH Adam Lind (147 wRC+) is also having a strong year and is a nice left-handed complement to Bautista and Encarnacion. SS Jose Reyes (102 wRC+) sets the table from the leadoff spot and OF Anthony Gose (72 wRC+) has taken over as the everyday center fielder. OF Colby Rasmus (103 wRC+) is now just a bench player.

3B Danny Valencia (77 wRC+) is playing the hot corner regularly with Lawrie out. IF Juan Francisco (108 wRC+) had been platooning with him but he’s been slumping hard since about June. IF Ryan Goins (26 wRC+ in limited time) is the everyday second baseman. C Josh Thole (73 wRC+) is the starting catcher while Navarro is out. OF Kevin Pillar (71 wRC+), IF Munenori Kawasaki (81 wRC+), IF Steve Tolleson (82 wRC+) ,and OF John Mayberry Jr. (117 wRC+) are the regular bench players. C George Kottaras, 1B Dan Johnson, and OF Dalton Pompey are the September additions.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday: RHP Shane Greene (vs. TOR) vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (vs. NYY)
The 39-year-old Dickey is about to wrap up his fourth straight 200+ inning season, and he was better this year than he was during his first season with the Jays. He has a 3.84 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 31 starts and 196.2 innings with good but not great peripherals: 7.41 K/9 (19.2 K%), 3.11 BB/9 (8.1 BB%), 1.10 HR/9 (11.1 HR/FB%), and 42.7% grounders. As a knuckleballer, Dickey relies on weak contact more than anything. Righties (.325 wOBA) have been better against him than lefties (.307 wOBA) and he’s been better on the road (.308 wOBA) than at home (.327 wOBA). Dickey threw two knuckleballs with the Mets a few years ago, but he has since dropped the harder low-80s version and now sticks with the softer mid-70s version. He throws the knuckler roughly 80% of the time while filling in the gaps with low-80s show-me fastballs. The Yankees have only faced Dickey once this year, way back in early-April, in the second series of the season. He held them scoreless for 6.2 innings.

Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. TOR) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (vs. NYY)
Buehrle, 35, is 12 innings away from his 14th (!) straight 200+ inning season with two starts to go. Unless they start him on three days’ rest in the season finale or something. He’s thrown at least six innings in each of his last five starts, but one short start could cause him to fall short of 200 innings. Buehrle has a 3.40 ERA (3.71 FIP) in 30 starts and 188 innings this year, plus he’s sporting his usually low strikeout (5.07 K/9 and 13.2 K%) and walk (2.06 BB/9 and 5.4 BB%) rates. His ground ball rate (43.9%) is right in line with his career norm but his homerun rate (0.67 HR/9 and 6.6 HR/FB%) is the lowest of his career. Buehrle’s platoon split is small and he has been much better on the road (.300 wOBA) than at home (.360 wOBA). As always, he works in the mid-80s with his four-seamer, two-seamer, and cutter while mixing in some upper-70s changeups and low-70s curves to keep hitters off balance. The Yankees have seen Buehrle four times this year: three runs (two earned) in six innings in mid-June, four runs in 6.2 innings in late-June, six runs in three innings in late-July, and four runs in six innings in late-August.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
Stroman. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Saturday: LHP Chris Capuano (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (vs. NYY)
Last time out, the 23-year-old Stroman created a ruckus when he threw a retaliation pitch behind the head of Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph. He was ejected and has since been suspended six games, but he is appealing and is expected to make this start. Stroman has made 19 starts and five relief appearances this year, pitching to a 3.80 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 120.2 innings. His strikeout rate is alright (7.46 K/9 and 20.2 K%) but his walk (2.09 BB/9 and 5.7 BB%), homer (0.52 HR/9 and 7.1 HR/FB%), and ground ball (54.7%) numbers are spectacular. He has been way better at home (.251 wOBA) than on the road (.355 wOBA) but has a negligible platoon split. The Long Island raised Stroman uses mid-90s two and four-seamers as well a low-90s cutter to set up his mid-80s slider, mid-80s changeup, and low-80s curve. The four-seamer, cutter, and curve are his main pitches. The Yankees have faced him twice this year, first scoring two runs in 3.2 innings and then scoring one run in eight innings, both times in June.

Sunday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Drew Hutchison (vs. NYY)
Again with Hutchison. The 24-year-old will be the first non-James Shields pitcher to make six starts in one season against the Yankees since both Edwin Jackson and Roy Halladay did it in 2008. (Shields did it in 2010 and 2012.) They’ve faced him in every series this year. Geez. Hutchison has a 4.51 ERA (3.82 FIP) in 30 starts and 175.2 innings after missing just about all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. Both his walk (2.87 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) and strikeout (8.71 K/9 and 22.9 K%) rates are very good, the homer (1.08 HR/9 and 9.3 HR/FB%) and grounder (36.7%) rates less so. He gets hit hard by lefties (.348 wOBA) and at home (.333 wOBA), though not so much by righties (.274 wOBA) and on the road (.305 wOBA). A low-90s fastball is Hutchison’s main pitch and he throws it roughly two-thirds of the time. Sliders and changeups in the mid-80s round out his repertoire. Amazingly, each of Hutchison’s five starts against New York have gotten progressively better this year: six runs in 3.1 innings in April, four runs in 4.1 innings in early-June, four runs in 6.1 innings in late-June, two runs in 6.2 innings in July, and no runs in seven innings in August. I guess a no-hitter’s coming this weekend.

Oh, and yeah, Tanaka is returning to the rotation this weekend. It will either be totally awesome or the worst thing ever. Lots riding on his right elbow.

Sanchez. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Sanchez. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Because they have been losing so much recently, Gibbons had to use closer RHP Casey Janssen (4.24 FIP) and setup man RHP Aaron Sanchez (2.57 FIP) yesterday just to get them work. Janssen’s had an up and down season and he’ll be a free agent this winter. I wonder what kind of contract he’ll get. Anyway, LHP Brett Cecil (2.48 FIP) and LHP Aaron Loup (3.70 FIP) are the team’s other regular late-inning relievers.

RHP Dustin McGowan (4.92 FIP) and RHP Todd Redmond (3.44 FIP) are Toronto’s other bullpen regulars. RHP Brandon Morrow (3.83 FIP) is now working in relief after missing most of the season with a finger injury. LHP Daniel Norris, LHP Sean Nolin, and RHP Kendall Graveman are the club’s September pitching call-ups. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of the Yankees’ bullpen, then head over to Drunk Jays Fans for everything you need to know about the Blue Jays.

8/29-8/31 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Photo Credit: Flickr user kyle.tucker95 via Creative Commons license)
(Photo Credit: Flickr user kyle.tucker95 via Creative Commons license)

Starting with this three-game series against the Blue Jays in Toronto, the Yankees will play 27 of their final 30 games against AL East opponents. Those intra-division games always seem to be tough regardless of where each team sits in the standings. The Yankees are 7-5 against the Jays this year, including 3-3 at Rogers Centre.

What Have They Done Lately?
Toronto is in a month-long free fall. It wasn’t long ago that they were right in the thick of the wildcard race, but they’ve dropped ten of their last 14 games and are now 5.5 games back of the second wildcard spot and 2.5 games back of New York. “The difference between other years and this year is we believed,” said Adam Lind to TSN recently. Ouch. The Jays are 7-16 in August and 67-66 with a -2 run differential overall.

Offense
Manager John Gibbons watches over one of the most powerful lineups in baseball. His club averages 4.43 runs per game with a team 105 wRC+, plus they rank fourth in baseball with 147 homers. The Blue Jays are currently without 3B Brett Lawrie (100 wRC+) and IF Maicer Izturis (79 wRC+) due to oblique and knee injuries. Neither is expected to return this series. OF Colby Rasmus (98 wRC+) has missed the last few days with flu-like symptoms.

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

As usual, the Toronto lineup is built around OF Jose Bautista (149 wRC+) and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (151 wRC+). Those dudes are monsters. DH Adam Lind (136 wRC+) has been pretty awesome as well. SS Jose Reyes (106 wRC+) and OF Melky Cabrera (129 wRC+) set the tone from the one-two spots in the lineup. The top five spots in Gibbons’ lineup are as good as any top five around the league. Speed, power, high averages, on-base ability … this group does it all.

The lineup thins out considerably after those top five. Former Yankees C Dioner Navarro (92 wRC+) and C Josh Thole (84 wRC+) split time behind the plate — Thole is knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher — and IF Juan Francisco (108 wRC+) and 3B Danny Valencia (109 wRC+) have been platooning at third with Lawrie out. IF Munenori Kawasaki (81 wRC+), OF Kevin Pillar (50 wRC+), and UTIL Steve Tolleson (82 wRC+) fill out the rest of the bench.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: LHP Chris Capuano (vs. TOR) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (vs. NYY)
This has gone from a career year to a pretty typical Mark Buehrle year these last few weeks. He’s slowed down considerably following his great start to the season. The 35-year-old has a 3.41 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 26 starts and 161 innings with his typically low strikeout (5.25 K/9 and 13.6 K%) and walk (2.29 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%) rates. He hasn’t gotten many grounders (42.6%) and his homer rate (0.73 HR/9 and 6.9 HR/FB%) is unusually low. That’s been on the way up in the second half. Buehrle’s platoon split is tiny and he’s been much better on the road (.309 wOBA) than at home (.360 wOBA). As always, he works in the mid-80s with his four-seamer, two-seamer, and cutter, mixing in some upper-70s changeups and low-70s curves to keep hitters (even more) off balance. The Yankees have seen Buehrle three times this year and each start has gotten progressively worse (for him): three runs (two earned) in six innings in June, four runs in 6.2 innings later in June, and six runs in three innings in June.

Saturday: RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Drew Hutchison (vs. NYY)
Hutchison, 24, has a 4.68 ERA (3.95 FIP) in 26 starts and 150 innings this season, his first following Tommy John surgery. His strikeout (8.04 K/9 and 20.9 K%) and walk (2.94 BB/9 and 7.6 BB%) rates are very good, his homer (1.08 HR/9 and 9.0 HR/FB%) and ground ball (35.7%) numbers less so. He has had less success against lefties (.362 wOBA) and at home (.357 wOBA) than against righties (.276 wOBA) and on the road (.306 wOBA). A low-90s fastball is Hutchison’s main pitch and he throws it a ton, more than 65% of the time. Sliders and changeups in the mid-80s round out the repertoire. Hutchison has faced the Yankees four times this year, and, unlike Buehrle, he’s been progressively better each time out: six runs in 3.1 innings in April, four runs in 4.1 innings in June, four runs in six innings later in June, and two runs in 6.2 innings in July.

Hutchison. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Hutchison. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Sunday: RHP Brandon McCarthy (vs. TOR) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (vs. NYY)
I’m still pretty mad at Happ for breaking Curtis Granderson‘s forearm in Spring Training last year. The 31-year-old has pitched to a 4.40 ERA (4.34 FIP) in 118.2 innings across 20 starts and four relief appearances this year, and his peripherals are decidedly meh: 7.66 K/9 (19.7 K%), 3.34 BB/9 (8.6 BB%), 8.6 HR/9 (10.8 HR/FB%), and 39.2% grounders. Both his platoon and home/road splits are small. Happ throws a lot of fastballs, using his low-90s two and four-seamers more than 70% of the time combined. A mid-80s changeup is his top offspeed pitch and he’ll also mix in a few low-80s sliders and low-70s curveballs. The Yankees have faced Happ just once this year, scoring three runs (two earned) in 5.1 innings.

Bullpen Status
The Blue Jays were off yesterday, so their bullpen is as fresh as it’s going to get in late-August. Closer RHP Casey Janssen (4.14 FIP) is set up primarily by two lefties: LHP Brett Cecil (2.51 FIP) and LHP Aaron Loup (3.56 FIP). Top prospect RHP Aaron Sanchez (2.52 FIP) was called up recently and has also seen some late-inning work.

The rest of Gibbons’ bullpen includes RHP Chad Jenkins (3.48 FIP), RHP Dustin McGowan (4.76 FIP), and RHP Todd Redmond (3.27 FIP). Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s relievers, then check out Drunk Jays Fans for everything you need to know about the Blue Jays.