SB Nation Blog
The Opponent, in one sentence
The Yankees early-season run has been courtesy of an offense that ranks as the best in baseball by wRC+, a dominant bullpen and an intriguing rotation.
Up, although not as up as it would have been a week ago. After getting off to a disappointing 1-4 start, the Yankees ran off eight wins in a row and put themselves back into the national conversation. They are coming off a series in which they lost two of three from Pittsburgh, but overall this is still a hot team with plenty of streaking players.
4/25: Rick Porcello vs. Luis Severino, 7:10 PM ET
Rick Porcello has not gotten off to the start that he or the Red Sox were hoping for. The good news is he was relatively sharp his last time out against the Blue Jays but was simply undone by poor defense behind him. He’s back at Fenway where he was crushed for eight runs by the Rays two starts ago, so he’ll be looking to avoid a repeat performance in that sense.
Luis Severino is one of the more intriguing young arms in the American League, but hasn’t been able to find any consistency at the major-league level. This lack of consistency has led to speculation he could land in the bullpen, and 2017 could be his last chance to stick in the rotation. The early returns have been solid. His 4.05 ERA certainly isn’t great, but he has 27 strikeouts to just two walks in 20 innings. Severino does have home run problems, and his control hasn’t been this refined in the past, so there is a path to the Red Sox scoring plenty of runs off the 23-year-old.
4/26: Chris Sale vs. Masahiro Tanaka, 7:00 PM ET
Wednesday night marks Sale Day, which is of course the best day of all days. Sale has continued to be tremendous in a Red Sox uniform. The Yankees to this point have been one of the hardest teams in baseball to strike out and have been among the best at drawing walks, so this will be a legitimate test for Boston’s ace.
Opposite of the Red Sox ace is the Yankees ace, making this the best pitching matchup of the series. Unlike Sale, though, Tanaka hasn’t been ace-like early in 2017. He’s posted a 6.00 ERA through his first four starts thanks to an unusually high walk rate of over four batters per nine innings. However, the ERA was hurt by an implosion on Opening Day, and he’s been good since then, albeit still with the unusual walk problems.
4/27: Drew Pomeranz vs. C.C. Sabathia, 7:10 PM ET
Pomeranz has been a complete mixed bag in his first three starts, which makes this start in the series finale all the more intriguing. His first outing was great, the second one was rough with strong moments, and the third was just okay. The biggest issue for the lefty this year has been efficiency. Pomeranz just hasn’t shown an ability to pitch deep into ballgames this season, and with the Red Sox bullpen in its current state the team could use at least six strong frames from their lefty on Thursday.
Sabathia had something of a mini-renaissance in 2016, relying on a higher ground ball rate to keep the ball in the yard a bit more. This year hasn’t gone as smoothly for the 36-year-old. The home run rate is around the same, but he’s suddenly not striking anybody out. His current strikeout rate under six per nine innings would easily be the lowest of his career. When you combine that with his lowest groundball rate since 2004, you start to see why Sabathia has a 7.02 DRA so far despite a nice 2.70 ERA.
The first and most obvious old friend — if you can call current Yankees that — is Jacoby Ellsbury. I just wrote about him on Monday, so I won’t go into his Red Sox history here. Since leaving Boston, though, the outfielder has struggled throughout his Yankee career and has had trouble staying on the field to boot. Early on, he’s having a great start to the season thanks to a .370 batting average on balls in play. While that won’t be sustained, he could keep an above-average rate given his speed. Speaking of that speed, he’s already stolen six bases and could eclipse 30 swiped bags for the first time since 2014.
The only other old friend is Tommy Layne, who was released by the Red Sox last summer and picked up by the Yankees just three days later. The lefty is best utilized when he only has to face left-handed hitters and he’s somewhat under-appreciated in that role. He was reliable when used correctly, and although he’s not the most exciting pitcher to watch he can be a key piece of a good bullpen if the manager utilizes his weapons correctly.
Chase Headley made a poor first impression on Yankee fans, but he’s been solid outside of a few weeks to start last season. He’s been even better than that to start 2017, hitting .339/.431/.565 through his first 72 plate appearances. He obviously won’t stay that hot, but he’s a scary piece in the middle of their lineup.
Speaking of scary, Aaron Judge is one of the most frighteningly strong players in the league. The rookie outfielder has shown off his massive power in bunches this season, and he’s someone Red Sox pitchers will be nervous about every time he steps into the box. Just one look at him is enough to get anyone sweating.
Starlin Castro is one of the hardest players in baseball to figure out. He seemingly alternates between being intriguing and being awful, and right now he’s lighting the world on fire at the plate. It doesn’t look sustainable, and hopefully the Red Sox can start a cold streak for the infielder.
Brett Gardner has been one of the few disappointments in the Yankees lineup, and while he’s been an underrated player for much of his career it’s looking more and more like he’s on the back nine of his playing days.
Ronald Torreyes is in the lineup for the injured Didi Gregorius and the small-statured infielder has become a fan favorite in New York already. The talent isn’t enormous, but he’s the very definition of a spark plug.
Matt Holliday was someone I wanted the Red Sox to target this winter, and he’s gotten off to a good start thanks to power and patience.
Greg Bird isn’t quite as exciting in terms of power potential as Aaron Judge, but he’s yet another exciting young Yankee that should be able to hold down a lineup spot for years to come. For now, though, he’s scuffling at the plate thanks to major contact issues.
The Yankees, as they have for a few years now, have one of the scariest bullpens in all of baseball. At the very back of it is Aroldis Chapman. He came back in free agency this year after being traded to the Cubs this past July, and he’s been his typical great self.
The same can be said of Dellin Betances, who is among the elite relievers in the game despite never getting a chance to hold down a closer role. After some controversy around his arbitration trial this winter, he’s as dominant as ever, although control can be an issue for the righty at times.
Tyler Clippard and Jonathan Holder are the other two set-up men, and while they aren’t on the same level as Chapman or Betances, they are more than capable of holding leads for New York.
Layne is the only lefty in the bullpen beyond Chapman, meaning guys like Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley and Mitch Moreland could have some slightly more favorable matchups late in games.
The biggest injury for the Yankees right now is absolutely to Gary Sanchez, who was supposed to be the brightest young star in the middle of their lineup and behind the plate. He was hurt back in the first week of April and eventually diagnosed with a strained bicep. He’ll miss this whole series, but should be back in a couple of weeks.
Gregorius, who I mentioned earlier, was supposed to be New York’s shortstop this year. He hurt his shoulder before the season started, and hasn’t yet played a major-league game. The infielder is participating in rehab games, but it doesn’t appear he’ll be back in time for this series at Fenway.
Tyler Austin is a young right-handed hitter who was supposed to be on New York’s bench, and while he isn’t as big a loss as Sanchez or Gregorius his injury cuts into their depth for the time being.
It is not supposed to be the best of weeks in Boston for this series. Tuesday night has rain in the forecast, although it looks like it may be off-and-on. Right now, it appears there may be a clear window between 7:00 and 9:00, so they could very well get this game in but it won’t be nice even if they do.
The temperature should rise out of the 40’s and into the 50’s and 60’s on Wednesday, but rain is still in the forecast. Again, this looks to be off-and-on but there’s no guarantee it’ll stay dry enough to play a full game.
Things will clear up for Thursday, so at the very least there will be one game that isn’t threatened by rain this week.