A Quick Thank You to the Season that Was

(via @davidblattman)
(via @davidblattman)

It is difficult to put into words just how fantastic this season was for the New York Yankees. This is a team that was all but guaranteed to float around the 81-win mark this year, with the most hopeful of fans merely expecting strong contributions from the slew of youngsters that were slated for the roster. It was meant to be a transitional season, as Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi spent the last season of their respective contracts stewarding a ship towards 2018, with 2017 in the rear-view before the year even began. And most would have been happy with the team spoiling the playoff hopes of a potential playoff team or two.

Instead, the Yankees spent the better part of the season as one of the best teams in baseball, only bowing out to the soon-to-be World Series champions in the American League Championship Series. It was a hell of a ride, to say the least.

I’m not going to recap this season; those pieces will be written in the weeks to come. And I’m not going to attempt to plot out just how the Yankees made it this far; that story has been written and, exciting as it may be, we all know it well-enough already. Rather, with just under a month to go before Thanksgiving, I’m simply going to write out a few thank yous to the people that made this season special.

Thank you to CC Sabathia, for showing the world that you’ve still got it, even as your knees breakdown. And thank you for reminding us that some folk just love being a Yankee.

Thank you to Gary Dunaier, better known as ‘Thumbs Down Guy,’ for giving the fans and the players a new way to celebrate the team’s Fighting Spirit.

Thank you to Didi Gregorius, for always playing with the brightest and widest of smiles, and reminding us that baseball is a hell of a lot of fun. The post-game tweets are always a treat, too.

Thank you to Cashman and the powers that be, for brilliantly executing the ‘rebuild on the fly’ strategy.

Thank you to Girardi for sticking with the team’s young players, throughout their ups and downs.

Thank you to Luis Severino, for pitching like an ace from wire to wire, dazzling fans and opposing hitters alike with ridiculous sliders.

Thank you to Greg Bird, for finally getting healthy and raking in the playoffs.

Thank you to David Robertson, for coming home and being better than ever.

Thank you to Gary Sanchez, for proving that 2016 was closer to a taste of things to come than a fluke.

Thank you to Chad Green, for somehow becoming one of the best relievers in all of baseball.

Thank you to Brett Gardner, for being the continuing to quietly be a legitimate bargain in left field.

Thank you to Aaron Judge, for hitting baseballs harder and further than any human being should be capable of, while also playing with a childlike wonderment.

Thank you to the River Ave Blues staff, both on the page and behind the scenes, for making one of my dreams come true by bringing me on-board.

And thank you to the readers of River Ave Blues for taking it easy on me despite my penchant for rambling, and continuing to make the comment section a must-read (which is something that almost reads like an oxymoron).

I could go on and on, as this season was incredibly special in so many ways. It reinvigorated my love of the Yankees, and made me hopeful that another stretch of great success is well within reach. I don’t know what 2018 will bring, but for the first time in nearly a decade I’m heading into it with a healthy dose of optimism.

ALCS Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

I was one of many that didn’t expect the Yankees to do much this season. I would’ve been happy with an above-.500 season, and competent performances from the litany of young players that the team carried for most of the season.

Instead, the Yankees were one of the best teams in baseball for a significant portion of the season, and ended up making the playoffs. And, even then, I would’ve been ecstatic just to make it to the ALDS, and put up a good fight against arguably the best team in the American League (if not all of baseball). As the series progressed, though, I wanted more. My hopes and optimism grew in bounds, and once they reached a decisive game five, I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied with anything other than an ALCS appearance.

And now that they’ve reached the ALCS, I want more. This team is so much fun to root for, and they play with the sort of energy that breeds confidence and pure joy in fans. I’m happy that they’ve gone as far as they have, and I don’t think anything could disappoint me given all that they’ve accomplished – but I’m more optimistic than I’ve been at any time since 2009. They can do this.

All that stands in their way is a damn good Houston Astros team.

The Season Series

The Yankees and Astros met seven times this season, with Houston taking five of those match-ups. Two of the Yankees losses were by just one run, though, and the largest margin of victory in a game came when they beat the Astros 13-4 on June 30. Some notes:

  • Masahiro Tanaka had what may’ve been the worst start of his career against the Astros back on May 14. He went just 1.2 IP, and allowed 8 earned runs on 7 hits (4 home runs), a walk, and a hit batter. It wasn’t pretty, to say the least.
  • Carlos Correa feasted on Yankees pitching, going 14-for-28 with 7 R, 2 2B, 2 HR, and 10 RBI in those seven games.
  • The Astros as a team hit .283/.336/.486 as a whole against the Yankees, with 28 extra base hits (including 11 home runs).
  • The Yankees hit .263/.339/.417, with 23 extra base hits (7 home runs).

How They Got Here

The Astros went 101-61 with a +196 run differential in the regular season, both of which ranked third in the majors. Their 896 runs scored led the majors (as did their 121 wRC+, by a whopping 13 points), and their 700 runs allowed ranked 9th. They were actually a bit better away from Minute Maid Park, going 48-33 at home and 53-28 on the road (tied with Cleveland for the best in baseball). And then they beat the Red Sox in the ALDS, taking the series 3-1.

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call this team an offensive juggernaut, given the sheer depth of the lineup. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, and George Springer all ranked in the top-25 in the game in wRC+, and Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman, and Yulieski Gurriel all fell within the top-60 (among the 181 players with 450-plus PA this year). They will have nine players on their roster that posted a wRC+ above 100 this year, and that doesn’t include Carlos Beltran, who hit .400/.500/.600 against in the ALDS. The Astros hit .333/.402/.571 as a team in that series.

Their pitching staff was solidly above-average in the regular season, and it only improved with the addition of Justin Verlander. He went 5-0 in five regular season starts with the Astros, with the following insane line: 34.0 IP, 17 H, 5 BB, 43 K, 1.06 ERA. The one-two punch of Verlander and Dallas Keuchel is among the best in the game right now, and the built-in off days ensure that both would be able to start two games if the need arises. Their starting pitching isn’t flashy beyond those two, but likely starters Charlie Morton (109 ERA+) and Brad Peacock (132 ERA+ between the rotation and bullpen) are both more than adequate this season.

As a whole, Astros starters pitched to a 4.03 ERA (105 ERA+) this year, with a 24.6 K% (6th in baseball) and a 8.2 BB% (17th).

The bullpen is a bit of a different story. It was an average-ish unit on the season (4.27 ERA, 99 ERA+), but it is a bit top heavy. Closer Ken Giles (2.30 ERA, 11.9 K/9), fireman Chris Devenski (2.68 ERA, 11.2 K/9), and Will Harris (2.98 ERA, 10.3 K/9) are as dependable as they come, but the herd thins considerably after that.

The Lineup We Might See

The ridiculous depth of the Astros bench allows manager A.J. Hinch a great deal of flexibility. He doesn’t use the strictest platoons, but he will shuffle the lineup against the toughest lefties – whether or not that would include CC Sabathia is up for debate, I suppose. Regardless, these are the nine men that we’ll likely see in the starting lineup:

  1. George Springer, CF – .283/.367/.522, 34 HR, 5 SB
  2. Josh Reddick, RF – .314/.363/.484, 13 HR, 7 SB
  3. Jose Altuve, 2B – .346.410/.547, 24 HR, 32 SB
  4. Carlos Correa, SS – .315/.391/.550, 24 HR, 2 SB
  5. Marwin Gonzalez, LF – .303/.377/.530, 23 HR, 8 SB
  6. Alex Bregman, 3B – .284/.352/.475, 19 HR, 17 SB
  7. Yulieski Gurriel, 1B – .299/.332/.486, 18 HR, 3 SB
  8. Evan Gattis, DH – .263/.311/.457, 12 HR, 0 SB
  9. Brian McCann, C – .241/.323/.436, 18 HR, 1 SB

Carlos Beltran struggled mightily this season, and only started one game in the ALDS. I’d be shocked, however, if he didn’t start at least one of the games in Yankee Stadium.

The Starting Pitching

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Dallas Keuchel has been confirmed as the starter for game one. He missed nearly two months with a neck injury, but was excellent when he was on the mound. He pitched to a 2.90 ERA (136 ERA+) in 145.2 IP, with slightly league-average strikeout (21.4%) and walk (8.1%) rates. Keuchel is a worm-burner extraordinaire, posting a 66.8% ground ball rate this year, which is 22.6 percentage points above league-average. He’s death on LHH, who posted a .192 wOBA against him this year, but somewhere closer to mortal against righties (.293 wOBA).

Justin Verlander will start game two. He has been excellent over the last two years, leaving his awful 2014 in the rearview mirror as he re-established himself as one of the best starters in the American League. I posted his ridiculous numbers with the Astros above, but he was quite good all year, pitching to the following line: 206.0 IP, 170 H, 72 BB, 219 K, 3.36 ERA (133 ERA+). It is worth noting that he has become more flyball prone than ever the last two seasons, bottoming out with a 33.5% groundball rate this year.

If the Astros stick to their ALDS rotation, Brad Peacock would be up in game three. He spent part of the season in the bullpen, which makes his overall numbers look better, but he was very good as a starter, to wit – 111.2 IP, 90 H, 46 BB, 135 K, 3.22 ERA. He’s essentially a three-pitch guy, throwing a low-90s four-seamer, a low-90s sinker, and a low-80s slider; that slider is his bread-and-butter, and he throws it just under 45% of the time, per Brooks Baseball.

And that would leave Charlie Morton for game four. Morton has been an “if he can stay healthy” guy for a half-dozen years now, and it has never quite shaken out that way. He has mostly healthy this year, though, making 25 starts and throwing 146.2 innings of 3.62 ERA (109 ERA+) ball. Morton is mostly thought of as a groundball specialist, and that’s mostly true; he kept 51.8% of batted balls on the ground this season, which is 3.2 percentage points below his career norm. However, he has become something of a strikeout artist, with an even 10.0 K/9 this year, as well as an above-average 10.9% swinging strike rate.

There are some rumblings that Lance McCullers could work into the Astros plans for the series, as he’s said to be back at full-strength. He hasn’t looked all that good since coming off the DL, though, so I’m not sure that now is the time for Hinch to shake things up.

The Bullpen

Ken Giles is the closer, and he’s probably one of the 20 or so best relievers in baseball. He pitched to a 2.30 ERA (172 ERA+) in 62.2 IP, and converted 34 of 38 save opportunities. And those impressive numbers are skewed a bit by a rough patch in June; he had a 1.11 ERA from July 1 forward, to go along with 12.3 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. He might not be a truly elite closer, but he’s not all that far off, either.

Chris Devenski fills the fireman role, and he has been a revelation in that role. He tossed 80.2 IP across 62 appearances this year, posting a 2.68 ERA (148 ERA+) and striking out 11-plus batters per nine innings. The Astros will go to him in any high-leverage situation, regardless of inning, and he has delivered more often than not. He did get rocked by the Red Sox in game three of the ALDS, though, allowing 3 runs on 3 hits without recording an out.

Will Harris is a more traditional set-up man, and he had another strong year despite missing some time with an injury. He had a 2.98 ERA (133 ERA+) to go along career bests in strikeout rate (29.4%) and walk rate (4.0%). His downfall at times has been the long ball, though, as he allowed 1.4 HR/9 and 17.1% HR/FB this year.

The bullpen deployment beyond that is anyone’s guess at this juncture. Luke Gregerson, Joe Musgrove, and Francisco Liriano are all slated for regular use, but whether Hinch trusts them is another issue entirely.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Yankees being the underdog is an interesting feeling, to say the least – but it’s also exhilarating. FiveThirtyEight has the Astros with a 56% chance of winning the ALCS, and FanGraphs has them at 58.1%. Anything can happen in baseball, as evidenced by the Yankees amazing comeback against the heavily favored Indians, and this is the time to embrace that sort of chaos.

Game 157: Welcome Back, Aaron Hicks

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Aaron Hicks was activated from the disabled list this morning, and he’ll be batting lead-off tonight. It’s good to see that Joe Girardi isn’t hesitating to maximize Hicks’s opportunities to shake-off the rust of a nearly four-week layoff with the playoffs just around the corner; here’s hoping that Hicks can make the most of it, given his all-around value to the team.

It’s also worth noting that the Yankees magic number to clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card game is just one, meaning a Yankees win or a Twins loss will seal the deal. The sooner the better, in my mind, so Girardi can allow most everyone to get a bit more rest without the added stress of a Twins run or a Yankees slump.

Jordan Montgomery will take the mound for the Yankees tonight, and here’s the Rays lineup he’ll face. Blake Snell is starting for the Rays, and he’ll square-off against:

  1. Aaron Hicks, CF
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Gary Sanchez, C
  4. Matt Holliday, DH
  5. Chase Headley, 1B
  6. Starlin Castro, 2B
  7. Todd Frazier, 3B
  8. Clint Frazier, LF
  9. Ronald Torreyes, SS

Tonight’s game will start at 7:05 PM EST, and will be broadcast on YES.

Injury Updates: There’s nothing new to report here. Didi Gregorius was expected to sit today, so it’s nothing more than a day off.

9/26 to 9/28 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
(Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

Citi Field was the venue the last time these teams met, as a result of Hurricane Irma. The Yankees took two of three from the Rays in Flushing, and helped to create and then take ownership of a late-season meme. Some notes from the series:

  • David Robertson had a phenomenal outing in the first game, coming in in the fifth to bail CC Sabathia out of a two-on, one-out jam with no damage. All told Robertson went 2.2 IP, allowing one hit, no runs, and no walks, while striking out 4.
  • Sonny Gray pitched like an ace in game two – 8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 9 K. And the Yankees lost 2-1. The less said about this game the better.
  • The third game of the series was one of the more stressful wins in recent memory, with the Yankees struggling to take advantage of a slew of base-runners, and the Rays threatening in nearly every inning. It was a 3-2 victory in the record books, but it was not fun to watch.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun facts.

Injury Report

The Rays are mostly healthy – better late than never, I suppose. Their only noteworthy players on the disabled list are Matt Duffy, Nathan Eovaldi, and Shawn Tolleson, and none of them have appeared in a single game this season.

Their Story So Far

Tampa Bay is 76-80, and are a loss or a Twins win away from being eliminated from Wild Card contention. They’ve been a largely middle-of-the-pack team board this season, checking in at 11th in the majors in park-adjusted ERA and 15th in wRC+, with their outstanding defense (4th in the majors in defensive efficiency) oftentimes serving as a difference maker. They’re also 20-24 in one-run games, which ranks 21st in the league. You can look at the Rays season from any number of angles, but it all boils down to them being a remarkably average team.

The Yankees are 10-6 against the Rays this year, so they’ve already clinched the season series.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Kevin Cash seems to play roulette with certain slots in the lineup, but by and large you can expect to see something like this:

  1. Kevin Kiermaier, CF – 276/.338/.455, 15 HR, 14 SB (409 PA)
  2. Lucas Duda, DH -.221/.321/.507, 30 HR, 0 SB (476 PA)
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B – .265/.317/.427, 19 HR, 6 SB (656 PA)
  4. Logan Morrison, 1B – .243/.352/.515, 37 HR, 2 SB (580 PA)
  5. Steven Souza, RF – .236/.344/.459, 30 HR, 16 SB (600 PA)
  6. Corey Dickerson, LF – .278/.322/.487, 26 HR, 4 SB (612 PA)
  7. Wilson Ramos, C – .263/.293/.444, 10 HR, 0 SB (211 PA)
  8. Brad Miller, 2B – .198/.326/.328, 8 HR, 4 SB (396 PA)
  9. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS – .249/.284/.398, 6 HR, 3 SB (265 PA)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Blake Snell

Snell has had a disappointing and disjointed sophomore season, having spent much of it in the minors as he attempts to learn the finer points of controlling where the baseball is going. His walk rate has dropped by two full percentage points from last year (from 12.7% to 10.7%), but it remains two-plus percentage points worse than league-average (8.5%). He has great stuff and has flashed brilliance for parts of two seasons now, so he shouldn’t be underestimated; but Snell is still very much a work in progress.

Last Outing (vs. CHC on 9/20) – 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Matt Andriese

The Yankees have faced Andriese twice this year. He got the better of them the first time around (6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 5 K), but they solved him the next time out (5 runs in 5 IP). Andriese has been a serviceable fifth starter/up-and-down guy for the Rays this year, pitching to a 4.33 ERA (94 ERA+) in 16 starts.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 9/21) – 6.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 8 K

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Alex Cobb

Mike wrote everything you need to know about Cobb – a free agent to be – just last week. Give it a read, won’t you?

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 9/22) – 6.0 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 K

The Bullpen

Tampa’s bullpen was something of a horror show in the first half, blowing lead after lead, and allowing small deficits to grow into large ones. The group has done an about-face in the last two months, though, with closer Alex Colome, set-up man Tommy Hunter, and new additions Steve Cishek and Sergio Romo combining for a 1.84 ERA in 107.2 IP since the All-Star break. They’re a bit shallow beyond that big four, but this is a group that ranks 3rd in the majors in bWAR in the second half, and 5th in WPA.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Alex Cobb may well be auditioning for the Yankees on Thursday, and a strong final start could help his cause a bit.

Taking a more Yankee-centric approach this time around, it’s also worth mentioning that some scoreboard watching is in order. A win for the Yankees or a loss for the Twins will wrap-up homefield advantage for the Yankees in the Wild Card game, and that’s significant. The Yankees are 47-28 at home and 40-41 on the road, which isn’t too far off from their split last year. This is a team that utilizes Yankee Stadium to the fullest, so we should have one more cause for celebration during this series.

9/22 to 9/24 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

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

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees dropped two of three in Toronto back in August, falling to 60-53 in the process. It was a frustrating series that resulted in the team falling 4.5 games out of first (a season high to that point), and also led to both CC Sabathia and Clint Frazier hitting the disabled list. Some additional notes:

  • Sabathia tried to pitch through an achy right knee, but it didn’t work out. His fastball averaged just under 88 MPH, and he allowed 4 runs in 3 IP on a couple of two-run home runs to Josh Donaldson.
  • Garrett Cooper – remember him? – had a heck of a series. He went 8-for-12 with with 2 doubles and 4 RBI, and scorched the ball in all three games.
  • The Yankees offense broke out in a big way in the second game, an 11-5 win. They combined for 17 hits, including 3 home runs, and had at least one base-runner in seven innings. Every starter reached base at least once, too.
  • Game three was a frustrating #RISPfail affair, as the team went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, leaving 11 runners on-base in total. Ugh.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun (or not so fun) facts.

Injury Report

Aaron Sanchez, Devon Travis, and Troy Tulowitzki have all been ruled out for the season. All three have been injured more than once this season, with setbacks aplenty. Steve Pearce hasn’t played since September 8, but he’s still listed as day-to-day, and could conceivably be back for this series.

Their Story So Far

The Blue Jays secured a sub-.500 record with last night’s loss, and currently sit at 71-82. Their -98 run differential ranks 13th in the American League (23rd in the majors), and their 650 runs scored places them in the bottom-five of all of baseball. Their pitching staff has clung to average-ish for most of the season, but it hasn’t been nearly enough to make up for the horrific offense.

Jose Bautista’s season is Exhibit A in the case of explaining the Blue Jays year as a whole. He’s having the worst full-season of his career, despite staying healthy throughout, slashing .203/.309/.369 (80 wRC+) with the worst BB%, K%, and ISO of his Blue Jays career. The combination of his poor hitting and awful defense has him pegged at -1.8 bWAR in 148 games.

It’s also worth noting that Bautista’s numbers are mildly inflated due to his performance against the Yankees this year. He’s hitting .260/.362/.480 with 3 HR against the Yankees, and .198/.304/.358 against everyone else.

The Lineup We Might See

  1. Ezequiel Carrera, LF – .283/.355/.412, 8 HR, 9 SB
  2. Josh Donaldson, 3B – .264/.386/.546, 30 HR, 2 SB
  3. Justin Smoak, 1B – .275/.358/.544, 38 HR, 0 SB
  4. Jose Bautista, RF – .203/.309/.369, 22 HR, 6 SB
  5. Kendrys Morales, DH – .249/.306/.448, 27 HR, 0 SB
  6. Kevin Pillar, CF – .258/.303/.410, 16 HR, 14 SB
  7. Russell Martin, C – .222/.349/.382, 12 HR, 1 SB
  8. Darwin Barney, 2B – .237/.276/.329, 5 HR, 7 SB
  9. Richard Urena, SS – .224/.286/.345, 1 HR, 1 SB (16 games)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:07 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Marco Estrada

Estrada might be the pitching version of Bautista this season, with his 95 ERA+ representing a tremendous drop-off from the 127 ERA+ he posted over his first two seasons in Toronto. He also has full-season worsts in H/9, BB%, and GB%.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on 9/16) – 8.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Saturday (4:07 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Joe Biagini

Biagini spent all of 2016 as a reliever, but was pressed into starting duty in May due to mounting injuries in Toronto. It was a role that he was accustomed to in the minors, but going from a one-inning reliever back to a full-time starter in the span of a couple of weeks can’t be too easy. He has unsurprisingly struggled as a starter, pitching to a 5.77 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 16 starts.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on 9/17) – 1.1 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 0 K

Sunday (1:07 EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Marcus Stroman

Stroman has been excellent this season, pitching to a 3.01 ERA (153 ERA+) in 191.1 IP. His 61.8 GB% leads the majors by nearly three percentage points, as batters beat sinker after sinker into the ground. The Yankees have done well against him this year, though, scoring 9 runs in 14 IP.

Last Outing (vs. KCR on 9/19) – 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

It’s been a rough season for Toronto’s bullpen. They’ve blown 25 saves, tied for worst in the majors, and their 87 meltdowns finds them in the bottom-five. Closer Roberto Osuna has been a borderline disaster in the second-half, pitching to a 5.54 ERA and blowing seven saves, but his job is nevertheless secure (and it probably should be, given his resume and age).

Beyond Osuna, however, the bullpen has been more than passable these last two months. Dominic Leone, Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera, and Matt Dermody may not be a noteworthy group of names, but they’ve held down the fort in the middle and late innings quite well. Three of those four pitched last night, though, and all four have pitched multiple times this week.

Who (Or What) To Watch

This is quite likely to be Bautista’s last season with the Blue Jays, as they’re all but a lock to decline his mutual option for 2018. The Yankees will see him in Yankee Stadium next week, so this may not be a big deal for us; however, this is the Blue Jays last home series of the year, so we could see something special.

9/18 to 9/20 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

Buxton. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Buxton. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Minnesota for a three-game series in mid-July, and dropped two of three. That was the last of the interminably lengthy stretch of series losses, thankfully, and the Yankees have gone 34-22 since. Some series notes:

  • The trade for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier was made in the midst of this series, and the latter two made their Yankees debuts in the third game. Kahnle threw a scoreless eighth inning, notching two strikeouts, and Frazier went 0-for-1 with a strikeout as a pinch hitter.
  • Caleb Smith made his big league debut in the first game, relieving Bryan Mitchell in the 6th. He took the loss after allowing two runs in the bottom of the 8th.
  • This was the first series that the Yankees lost in Target Field … it was their 8th season visiting the stadium.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more information.

Injury Report

Miguel Sano’s injured left leg has been one of the biggest storylines in Minnesota this summer, as the slugger has been sidelined since August 19. He was hitting .267/.356/.514 (126 wRC+) with 28 home runs when he went down with a stress reaction in his shin, and he was the foundation of the team’s lineup. As of this writing, his return is still up in the air.

Joining Sano on the DL are pitchers Phil Hughes (possibly done for the season), Hector Santiago (probably done for the season), and Trevor May (definitely out for the season).

Their Story So Far

The Twins are 78-71 with a +9 run differential on the season, and they currently control the second Wild Card spot. They’re four games behind the Yankees for home field advantage in that game, so that adds an interesting layer of intrigue to this series. A white-hot August propelled the Twins into the race, as they went 20-10; six of those wins did come against the tanking White Sox, though.

Byron Buxton has been the poster boy for the team’s turnaround, as the former number one prospect has begun to make good on his promise. He has a .323/.365/.622 slash line (145 wRC+), to go along with 11 HR and 10 SB (0 CS) since the All-Star break. And, despite all of the hand-wringing about his struggles prior to this stretch, he’s still three months shy of his 24th birthday.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Paul Molitor has a fairly steady hand with his lineup, though he does juggle the order a bit to get the platoon advantage. With LHP taking the mound for the Yankees today and tomorrow, we’ll probably see something like this:

  1. Brian Dozier, 2B – .260/.346/.480, 31 HR, 15 SB
  2. Joe Mauer, 1B/DH – .306/.385/.424, 7 HR, 2 SB
  3. Jorge Polanco, SS – .251/.307/.403, 11 HR, 10 SB
  4. Eduardo Escobar, 3B – .254/.312/.448, 19 HR, 5 SB
  5. Byron Buxton, CF – .258/.320/.430, 16 HR, 26 SB
  6. Eddie Rosario, RF – .295/.333/.521, 26 HR, 9 SB
  7. Kennys Vargas, DH/1B – .251/.311/.453, 11 HR, 0 SB
  8. Jason Castro, C – .234/.327/.380, 9 HR, 0 SB
  9. Ehire Adrianza, LF – .270/.335/.383, 2 HR, 8 SB

And Tanaka will probably face something like this on Wednesday:

  1. Dozier, 2B
  2. Mauer, 1B
  3. Polanco, SS
  4. Rosario, LF
  5. Buxton, CF
  6. Max Kepler, RF – .243/.314/.420, 17 HR, 6 SB
  7. Escobar, 3B
  8. Castro, C
  9. Robbie Grossman, DH – .249/.369/.393, 9 HR, 2 SB

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Ervin Santana

This is the 13th season of what has been a fairly productive career for Santana, who is still just 34-years-old. His 133 ERA+ is the best mark of his career, as are his five complete games and three shutouts. There are signs that this is more than a bit fluky – notably his 4.53 FIP and .241 BABIP – but he has been good more often than not for quite some time now, and this is his second big year in a row.

Santana’s mid-90s four-seamer and mid-80s slider account for nearly 80% of his offerings, so it would be fair to label him as a (mostly) two-pitch guy. He’ll mix in a low-90s sinker and a mid-80s change-up, but usually no more than a handful of each per game.

Last Outing (vs. SDP on 9/13) – 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jose Berrios

The Yankees matched-up against Berrios on July 19, and the 23-year-old more than held his own, pitching to the following line: 6.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K. It’s worth noting that that was in Minnesota, though, and that he has massive home/road splits. To wit, he has a 2.45 ERA (2.78 FIP) at Target Field, and a 5.14 ERA (5.00 FIP) everywhere else.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 9/14) – 5.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 5 K

Wednesday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Bartolo Colon

Father Time has seemingly caught up with Colon, whose 6.39 ERA ranks 124th among 126 pitches with 100-plus IP. The Yankees tuned him up pretty well in July, scoring 4 runs in 4 innings, en route to a 6-3 victory.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 9/15) – 6.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 1 K

The Bullpen

The Twins traded All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler at the trade deadline, in the midst of their soft-sell (which also included Garcia being sent to the Yankees). It was a group that ranked among the worst in baseball at that time, and it seemed destined for failure following the Kintzler deal. Instead, it has been rock-solid for the last six or seven weeks.

Matt Belisle (2.01 second-half ERA) has taken over as the closer, and rookie Trevor Hildenberger (3.11 ERA on the season) has taken over as the set-up man. Most of the pieces are the same as the last time these teams met – those pieces have just been better.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Buxton has done his best Mike Trout impression for two-plus months now, and he is one of the most fun players to watch right now. He’s a brilliant defender in center, a fearless and efficient base-runner, and far more powerful than his frame portends. The longer this goes on, the more folk buy-in – and that’s not too shocking, given his pedigree and prospect history.

9/8 to 9/10 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

Gallo. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Gallo. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees played host to the Rangers from June 23 through June 25, and dropped two of three. That series was in the midst of the Yankees roughest stretch of the season, when they went 7-18 in their last 25 games of the first half. Some notes:

  • The first game was incredibly tense, with the teams trading zeroes for the first 8 innings. Elvis Andrus scored on a passed ball to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the top of the ninth, but Brett Gardner tied it up with a home run in the bottom of the frame. Ronald Torreyes was the next hero up, with a walk-off, two-out single in the bottom of the 10th.
  • Masahiro Tanaka‘s start in that game shouldn’t be understated, though – he went 8 scoreless, allowing just 3 runs and 2 walks, while striking out 9.
  • Texas won the second game 8-1, and the Yankees offense was shut down by Austin Bibens-Dirkx for 7 innings. That was also Tyler Clippard‘s third straight abomination of an appearance, in which he allowed 3 hits, 4 runs, and 2 walks in a single inning. Moving on…
  • Michael Pineda had an awful start in game three, allowing 7 runs in 4 innings. Two start later he would leave the game early, only to be diagnosed with a torn UCL shortly thereafter. The Yankees lost that game 7-6.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun facts.

Injury Report

Adrian Beltre, the latest entrant to the 3,000 hit club, was placed on the 10-day DL on September 3 with a hamstring strain, so he won’t be available for this series; there are some rumblings that he may be done for the season. Relievers Matt Bush and Keone Kela are on the disabled list, as well, and neither is expected to be back for this series.

Nomar Mazara left the team’s last game with quadriceps tightness. No announcement has been made, regarding a stint on the DL, but he’s questionable for tonight’s game.

Their Story So Far

The Rangers are currently 70-69, and within a couple of games of the second Wild Card spot. Their +42 run differential is good for 10th in the majors, which is something of a testament to how unlucky they’ve been this season. That run differential leads to a Pythagorean record of 73-66, which would have them in the driver’s seat right now. Of course, that ignores several mitigating factors – but they have been a bit snake-bitten this season.

Despite floating around .500 throughout the season and remaining within striking distance of the playoffs, the Rangers elected to sell at the trade deadline. They sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers and Jonathan Lucroy to the Rockies, and caught a bit of flack for the returns. Darvish yielded Willie Calhoun (a top-75ish prospect with a big bat and no position) and not much else, and Lucroy was essentially given away for a player to be named later.

The Lineup We Might See

The Rangers lineup has been in a state of flux for much of the season, due to both injuries and poor performance. They also utilize a couple of platoons. With a couple of righties starting today and tomorrow, though, this is what we’ll probably see:

  1. Delino DeShields, LF – .280/.357/.382, 4 HR, 28 SB
  2. Shin-Soo Choo, DH – .263/.365/.415, 18 HR, 12 SB
  3. Elvis Andrus, SS – .304/.345/.494, 20 HR, 24 SB
  4. Nomar Mazara, RF – .259/.334/.439, 18 HR, 2 SB
  5. Carlos Gomez, CF – .251/.339/.462, 17 HR, 13 SB
  6. Joey Gallo, 3B – .211/.336/.561, 37 HR, 7 SB
  7. Mike Napoli, 1B – .196/.290/.437, 29 HR, 1 SB
  8. Rougned Odor, 2B – .213/.255/.410, 28 HR, 14 SB
  9. Robinson Chirinos, C – .259/.367/.536, 16 HR, 1 SB

With CC Sabathia taking the mound on Sunday, Choo will likely be on the bench, with Napoli shifting to DH and Will Middlebrooks (.429/.429/1.000 in 7 PA) taking over at first.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (8:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Martin Perez

We are only seven years removed from Martin Perez being one of the most highly-touted pitching prospects in the game, when he peaked as Baseball America’s 17th overall prospect. He was only 19 then, and he was an ace in the making. He’s still only 26, but he has yet to look the part, posting a 4.43 ERA (99 ERA+) in parts of six seasons. Perez has made 27 starts of 4.87 ERA (96 ERA+) ball this year, with a well below-average 14.2% strikeout rate. And, as young as he is, it’s difficult to look at his lack of progress and expect much more going forward.

Perez is a four-pitch guy, featuring a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-to-mid 90s sinker, a low-80s slider, and a mid-80s change-up. He’ll sprinkle in a curveball every now and again, but he’s largely shelved it over the last few months.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on 9/3) – 6.0 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Andrew Cashner

The Rangers signed Cashner to a 1-year, $10 MM deal fairly early in the off-season, which was viewed as a head-scratching move by some. It was a low-risk deal, to be sure, but he was a pitcher with a scary injury history coming off of a bad season, and the Rangers were looking to compete. That deal looks fantastic in hindsight, as Cashner is currently 5th in the AL with a 142 ERA+, and 6th with 4.4 bWAR. He missed a few starts with injuries, as per usual, but he has been quite good when he steps on the mound – and he now seems like a lock for a qualifying offer.

Cashner is a five-pitch guy, though he varies his arsenal from outing-to-outing. He throws a mid-90s four-seamer, a low-90s cutter, a high-80s cutter, a mid-80s change-up, and a low-80s curve.

Last Outing (vs. ATL on 9/4) – 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Sunday (3:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP A.J. Griffin

Reviewing Griffin’s stat line is a fine reminder of just how elevated offensive levels are this season. His 5.09 ERA is good for a 92 ERA+, whereas last year’s 5.07 ERA translated into an 89 ERA+; and he pitched for the Rangers in both seasons. Griffin is a flyball pitcher (just 27.5% grounders this year) with below-average strikeout numbers in a hitter’s park. That’s not a great recipe for success.

Griffin is a three-ish pitch junkballer. He mostly throws a high-80s four-seamer, a low-80s change-up, and a high-60s curveball. He’ll also flash a mid-80s cutter, but that’s more of a show-me pitch than anything else.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on 9/2) – 5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

Closer Matt Bush and set-up man Keone Kela are both on the DL as of this morning, so the bullpen isn’t in great shape right now. And the bullpen wasn’t particularly strong to begin with, checking-in within the bottom third of the majors in ERA, FIP, K%, BB%, bWAR, fWAR, and WPA.

Tony Barnette has served as the closer since those two went down, and he’s 2-for-2 in save opportunities. He has a 4.91 ERA (95 ERA+) in 51.1 IP. Jason Grilli (6.46 ERA in 39.0 IP) is the set-up man for the time being, with Jose Leclerc (4.32 ERA in 41.2 IP) and Alex Claudio (2.33 ERA in 69.2 IP) also chipping in in the late innings. Tyson Ross was moved to the bullpen at the end of August, as well – he allowed 3 hits and 2 runs in 0.2 IP in his first relief appearance.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Rangers currently have two hitters with 25-plus home runs and a negative fWAR, in Mike Napoli and Rougned Odor. That’s not necessarily something to watch, but it’s endlessly fascinating to me. They’ve combined to hit .205/.270/.422 in 1050 PA thus far.

I compared Joey Gallo and Aaron Judge last time around, and they’ve trended in opposite directions since then. Gallo is batting .236/.402/.649 (168 wRC+) with 18 HR since they last met; Judge, on the other hand, is at .209/.380/.412 (112 wRC+) and 12 HR. Perhaps Judge can take this opportunity to get his mojo back…