SB Nation Blog
The opponent, in one sentence
Behind a powerful offense and a strong bullpen, New York has stormed to the top of the American League East and will remain there after this series barring a sweep by the Red Sox.
Yankees 2, Red Sox 0
Down, a little. Since their red-hot start to the season, the Yankees have cooled off a bit of late. They aren’t falling off the face of the Earth by any means, but rather are playing like a .500 team. They are a perfectly even 6-6 in their last twelve games in a run that includes splitting their last four-game series in Toronto over the weekend. Despite the recent trend towards mediocrity, they still lead the American League East and continue to have the look of a very dangerous team.
6/6: Drew Pomeranz vs. Masahiro Tanaka, 7:05 PM ET
Pomeranz has taken a huge step forward for the Red Sox of late, and in the wake of the latest Eduardo Rodriguez news this is a very good development for Boston. The most positive part of this improvement from the lefty is his newfound efficiency. After struggling to go deep into games in his time with the Red Sox, Pomeranz has gone six and seven innings in his last two outings. He also has allowed only three runs in that time and has 17 strikeouts to just one walk. On the flip side, the two performances came against the Rangers and White Sox, so this one will be a real test of the sustainability of his recent run.
Tanaka was the Yankees clear ace heading into the season and has been, in my opinion, one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball over the last couple of years. In 2017, however, the righty hasn’t quite been the same. Over his first 11 starts, Tanaka has an ugly 6.34 ERA with a 5.13 FIP and a 4.78 DRA that don’t make things look too much better. His solid strikeout rate remains, but he’s walking a few more guys and has allowed a whopping 14 homers in his 61 innings of work. After an encouraging start two outings ago, Tanaka came back last time out against Baltimore and allowed seven runs in 5 1⁄3 innings. He will feature mainly a sinker, a splitter, a slider and a cutter.
6/7: Rick Porcello vs. C.C. Sabathia, 7:05 PM ET
With Rodriguez’ aforementioned injury news, the Red Sox could use a better Porcello than the one they’ve gotten this season. We all knew some regression was coming for the 2016 Cy Young winner, but it’s gone a bit far this year, particularly in the hit department. The good news is we have seen that the stuff is still there. He is capable of going on another run like the one he put together in the second half last year to catapult himself into the award conversation. The Bronx would be a hell of a place to start that kind of run, although against this Yankees offense, in that park, it’s easier said than done.
It’s been a strange run over the last few years for Sabathia, who has gone from elite to looking washed up to showing some signs of resurgence last year. Now, he’s settled in as just being....fine. The lefty has made 11 starts this year and has a 4.12 ERA with a 4.40 FIP and a 5.00 DRA. He strikes out a decent number of batters, walks a few too many and gives up a few too many home runs. He’s certainly not someone the Red Sox should be scared of, although he’s good enough to avoid implosion, at the very least. He’s also looked much, much better of late with a 1.48 ERA and 26 strikeouts to just six walks over his last four outings, spanning 24 1⁄3 innings. Hopefully, the Red Sox can get him to revert back to his early-season self. These days, Sabathia leans on a sinker/slider/cutter/changeup arsenal.
6/8: David Price vs. Michael Pineda, 7:00 PM ET
Price has looked extremely encouraging in his two starts since returning to the disabled list and was downright Good in his last outing against the Orioles in Baltimore. That certainly is no cakewalk of a lineup, of course, but he’ll have an even bigger test in New York. (Have I mentioned the Yankees have a scary lineup?) If Price can show himself able to step up in this kind of start, the Red Sox could have a second ace-like pitcher they were looking to pair with Sale this season.
Pineda has been the Yankees second best starter this year (Luis Severino, who is not pitching in this series, has probably been the best), but has also always been the kind of pitcher who feels like he should be better than he is. The righty has legitimate swing-and-miss stuff that results in rates greater than a strikeout per inning, and he has solid-average control, at least. This year, it’s been even better at a rate of just two free passes per nine innings. On top of that, he induces a solid ground ball rate of 50 percent. Despite everything, he still gives up too much hard contact and has always had something of a home run problem. It still results in a solid 3.76 ERA, but if the Red Sox can put the ball in play enough to get base runners, they should be able to do some damage with the long ball even if it’s been a weakness this season. Pineda throws his cutter almost half the time while also featuring a slider and a changeup.
Jacoby Ellsbury, of course, is the most famous of the old friends currently on the Yankees roster. The outfielder hasn’t quite been the same since heading to New York and has had some trouble staying on the field. He is currently on the shelf with concussion problems, and while the hope was he’d be back soon after hitting the DL he was recently shut down from baseball activities. Obviously, we hope for the best here as head injuries are nothing to play around with. Ellsbury was actually having a solid year before going down, hitting .281/.349/.422 in 153 plate appearances.
The Yankees also feature Tommy Layne, who you may remember as the most boring reliever of all time. That’s not entirely fair to the southpaw, as he was actually solid in his role as a LOOGY and really only faltered when he was forced to face too many right-handed opponents. He’s had a rough go of it in pinstripes this year with a 7.50 ERA in his first 12 innings of work, and with another bad outing or two it’s possible he’ll find himself off this roster.
The most notable hitter on the Yankees these days is clearly Aaron Judge, who has taken the world by storm and appears set to take the Rookie of the Year award from Andrew Benintendi. Standing at 6’7” and 275 pounds, the giant of a human already has 18 home runs on the year and has hit to a .375 Isolated Power. He’s had some luck on balls in play with a .408 BABIP, but he is still a special hitter who is going to be a tough one to face for many years to come.
Gary Sanchez, last year’s Yankee phenom, was hurt the last time these two teams played. He’s since returned behind the plate for New York and while he hasn’t been quite as electric as he was down the stretch last year he’s still quite good. He’s easily an above-average hitter and has power the Red Sox pitchers will be fearing this week.
Brett Gardner has come out of nowhere to look as good as he ever has in his age-33 season. The most surprising part of his performance has been the power. Always a modest power bat, the outfielder has posted a .249 ISO to start the year and has 12 home runs already, five shy of his career-high.
Matt Holliday was their big offensive signing this winter, and the former Cardinal has done everything they’ve asked with big power to go along with strong on-base abilities from the DH position.
In Ellsbury’s absence, the Yankees have turned to Aaron Hicks and the former Twin has been phenomenal given the chance. He’s hitting .321/.432/.577 in 170 plate appearances to start the year.
Starlin Castro has also been great for the Yankees this year — are you noticing a theme? — as he’s been good across the board without really having a true carrying skill in 2017.
The Yankees have also gotten production from the shortstop position in Didi Gregorius. Despite an aggressive approach, Xander Bogaerts’ Team Netherlands teammate has shown great contact skills en route to an above-average year at the plate.
Chase Headley has had another disappointing year at the hot corner and is sort of New York’s version of Pablo Sandoval.
Chris Carter was brought in as a big bat who could handle first base, but so far his propensity for strikeouts has outweighed his power.
Right now, for reasons we’ll get to in a minute, the Yankees have Dellin Betances as their primary closer. Obviously, Betances is usually their setup guy but he’s also one of the very best relievers in the game and the Red Sox will have trouble mounting a late-inning comeback off the strikeout machine.
With Betances moving up to the ninth, Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren are taking over setup duties. Clippard has been a solid setup arm for a long time now and is having another solid year. He can put up big strikeout numbers to mask his so-so control. However, he’s also benefitted from a crazy-low BABIP this year and his flyball tendencies can be an issue in New York. Warren is an interesting arm who has gotten good results this year but feels like he’s just waiting for some regression to come, particularly with the long ball.
Layne is one of the primary lefties in the bullpen along with Chasen Shreve. Shreve has been really good in a small sample this year, mostly thanks to an improved ground ball rate. He does, however, have some control issues that can be taken advantage of.
Betances is closing because Aroldis Chapman is currently on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. He’s currently throwing again and while he won’t be back for this series he should be back within the next ten days or so.
Greg Bird was supposed to be the primary first baseman for the Yankees the year. He hasn’t quite had a chance to get going this year, but New York could really use him with Carter’s struggles. He’s on a rehab assignment not, and while there’s no news on when to expect him back he seems very closer.
Ellsbury is also hurt, as I mentioned above.
It’s not going to be the nicest series in New York, although I think all the games should get in. On both Tuesday and Wednesday the weather is expected to be in the low-to-mid 50’s and some showers are possible. There doesn’t appear to be a threat of a full-fledged storm, though. Thursday should be clearer, although the temperature probably won’t be much warmer.