Let’s hope the west coast is the best coast for the Yankees’ purposes as they begin a nine-game trip in Anaheim.
Their Story So Far
The Angels sit in the cellar of the American League West with a 9-13 record and -11 run differential. Their offense has been sluggish with a slightly below-average wRC+ despite having the literal best player in baseball, Mike Trout. Their pitching staff has been middling to below-average as well, though they’ve outperformed their peripherals.
As a staff, they allow 1.81 homers per nine, fourth-worst in baseball. Their bullpen has actually settled in with the fourth-best ERA in the AL, but their rotation has been a mess due to just about everyone calling the injured list their home, putting together a collective 6.13 ERA.
The Angels have similar injury issues to the Yankees but on the pitching side. Justin Upton (turf toe) is out until June while pitchers Andrew Heaney (elbow), JC Ramirez (Tommy John), Keynan Middleton (Tommy John), Nick Tropeano (shoulder strain) and Tyler Skaggs (ankle sprain) are all out with only Skaggs potentially returning this month.
Their biggest name on the IL is, of course, Shohei Ohtani, both a hitter and a pitcher. He should be back early next month as a hitter only while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Player Spotlight: Mike Trout
If you don’t want to marvel about Mike Trout, skip two paragraphs down. Trout doesn’t have the best wRC+ in baseball, but his 221 mark is right near the top. He tops the American League in fWAR and bWAR, has an unreal .333/.524/.719 batting line and walks more than he strikes out.
In fact, Trout walks in nearly a fourth of his plate appearances, 24.4 percent to be exact. He’s cut down on his stolen base attempts this season — though he is 1-for-1 in steals — while remaining a force in center field. There isn’t a player right now that hits as well as he does, and it’s a credit to the New Jersey product that he maintains his excellence in the field.
Albert Pujols is the active leader in home runs, RBI and GIDP, among other categories, and he may move up the all-time RBI list this series. According to Baseball Reference, he is seventh with 1,993 RBI. Lou Gehrig had 1,995 in his career while Barry Bonds is in fifth place with 1,996. The Yankees obviously would like to delay his passing of the Iron Horse or all-time home run champ, but be on the lookout for Pujols this week.
The Yankees are starting two lefties this series, so here’s the lineup for LHPs. Kole Calhoun leads off against righties while backup catcher Kevan Smith (126 wRC+) started at DH against LHP Yusei Kikuchi on Saturday. LHB Brian Goodwin (180 wRC+) also gets time in LF against RHPs, as does 2B Tommy La Stella (148 wRC+).
- David Fletcher, 2B (.299/.347/.403, 104 wRC+)
- Mike Trout, CF (.333/.524/.719, 221 wRC+)
- Andrelton Simmons, SS (.273/.281/.398, 81 wRC+)
- Albert Pujols, DH (.238/.351/.429, 114 wRC+)
- Justin Bour, 1B (.203/.319/.305, 79 wRC+)
- Jonathan Lucroy, C (.297/.328/.328, 82 wRC+)
- Kole Calhoun, RF (.184/.271/.395, 80 wRC+)
- Peter Bourjos, LF (.103/.122/.128, -40 wRC+)
- Zack Cozart, 3B (.102/.141/.119, -33 wRC+)
Monday (10:07 PM ET): LHP J.A. Happ (vs. Angels) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (vs. Yankees)
Harvey got a fresh start with the team of his choosing this offseason, but his troubles on the mound followed him across the country. Through four starts, the former ace has allowed 21 runs (20 earned) in 18 2/3 innings. His WHIP is a hair under 2.00 and he’s surrendered four home runs. he hasn’t made it through five innings since his first start.
The former future Yankee averages 94 mph on his fastball, down about two mph from its 2015 peak. His slider, which he throws 30 percent of the time, sits in the mid-to-high 80s with a changeup and curveball mixed in.
If you’re looking for a silver lining for Harvey, his FIP is 5.99, a good 3.65 runs lower than his ERA. Furthermore, he’s had to face the Athletics, Rangers and Brewers thus far, each sporting a much better offense than the one he’ll see tonight.
Tuesday (10:07 PM ET): RHP Domingo German (vs. Angels) vs. RHP Chris Stratton (vs. Yankees)
Stratton hasn’t had a much better go of it than Harvey in his new digs after a few seasons with the Giants. The right-hander has allowed 14 runs over 18 innings in four starts while walking more (13) than he’s struck out (11). Unlike Harvey, his WHIP is exactly 2.00.
Though Stratton had some walk issues in the past, they weren’t this extreme. Either his control is gone or there’s a semi-return to form coming. When the ball has been put in play, he’s been able to avoid hard contact this season, even if that wasn’t the case last year.
The 28-year-old has cut back on his low-90s fastball usage, relying more on his slider and curveball with the Angels. He also uses a changeup, though his high-spin fastball is his calling card.
Wednesday (10:07 PM ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. Angels) vs. RHP Felix Pena (vs. Yankees)
Pena has been the Angels’ best healthy starter, sporting a 4.15 ERA through four starts, though he’s also only accumulated 17 1/3 innings. His control has been more suspect than last year, leading baseball with three HBPs while his walk rate has climbed by 2.4 percent in a small sample.
He’s actually outperformed his peripherals. He allows plenty of hard contact and has an FIP of 6.21 thanks to more than two homers per nine and just 14 strikeouts this season.
Pena attacks with a low-90s fastball half the time and then uses his low-80s curve another 40 percent of the time, using his changeup the rest of the way.
Thursday (9:07 PM ET) RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Angels) vs. RHP Trevor Cahill (vs. Yankees)
Cahill finally did it last season: He beat the Yankees. After six disastrous outings previously, he allowed just three runs over five innings to top the Bombers last Labor Day. That lowered his ERA against the Bombers to … 10.09. Yikes.
However, much of his history with the Yankees came against players long gone or off the roster. Luke Voit homered in one of two ABs against him last year while Brett Gardner has reached seven times.
Maybe this Yankee lineup can shake him out of an early-season malaise. Cahill has allowed a league-high eight home runs while otherwise looking like the successful starter from a year ago. Primarily a groundball pitcher, he’s allowed more flyballs than grounders this year. The right-hander has gone to his offspeed stuff more often than ever, using his fastball just 40 percent of the time.
Anaheim carries eight relievers with former Indians reliever Cody Allen taking closing duties. Like in Cleveland, he’s been shaky with walks but remains the closer for now. That role could change after he allowed a homer to his only batter Sunday.
The Angels have only righties in their pen. Cam Bedrosian, Hansel Robles, Luis Garcia and Ty Buttrey work in middle relief with Buttrey and Garcia combining to allow just one run in 18 2/3 innings. Noe Ramirez had been going well until allowing four runs in 1 2/3 innings yesterday.
Luke Bard (yes, Daniel’s brother) and Taylor Cole are lower leverage relievers for the club
Keys for the series
Starting off strong
With a full lineup worth of hitters on the injured list, the Yankees are reliant on their starting pitching. Luckily, based on the last week, that is starting to round into shape. They need to stay strong in Angel Stadium and deal with …
This is obvious, but you can’t let Trout beat you. Add to his league-leading walk total if you must, but don’t let him beat you. Force Simmons, Pujols and Bour to knock you out. This is so much easier said than done.
Can we go one series without another major injury? Is that too much to ask?