Tonight marks the Yankees’ return to action for the first time in four days. Feels longer than that though, right? Maybe it’s just me. As you know, the Yanks’ series against the Mets over the weekend was postponed as a result of positive COVID-19 tests for members of the team from Queens. In turn, we’ll see a bunch of the Mets this weekend to make things up. But first, the Yankees have a quick two game trip to Atlanta that begins later today.
Their story so far
Atlanta leads the NL East with a 16-12 record and it sure looks like they’ll pull away from the rest of the divisional competition soon. The Braves are the lone team in the NL East with a positive run differential which paints a pretty clear picture of how the rest of that group has fared. Miami got off to a really nice start, and though they’re still in second place at 12-11, the Marlins likely won’t be able to keep up. The Mets, Nationals, and Phillies need to get their acts together soon, otherwise, this division will be Atlanta’s.
The Yankees and Braves squared off exactly two weeks ago in the Bronx. The Bombers were victorious in both games, though Atlanta was rather shorthanded at the time. Neither Ozzie Albies nor Ronald Acuña Jr. played. Since then, Atlanta’s gone 5-3. They took two of three from both the Marlins and Phillies and split two games with Washington. The Braves nearly swept the Philadelphia, too.
- 2B Ozzie Albies (wrist contusion)
- OF Nick Markakis (COVID-19 protocol)
- LHP Cole Hamels (triceps tendinitis)
- RHP Mike Soroka (achilles tendon surgery)
- LHP Philip Pfeifer (bone contusion)
- RHP Jeremy Walker (shoulder impingement)
- RHP Jacob Webb (strained shoulder)
Atlanta activated Ronald Acuña Jr. prior to today’s game. He was out with wrist inflammation. Markakis could be back before this brief series ends too.
Spotlight: Christian Pache
Atlanta called up top prospect Christian Pache a week ago and promptly placed him on the bench. Seems like an odd move considering that Ender Inciarte is hitting .200/.287/.229 out in center field and is a free agent after this year. Wasn’t the point of bringing up Pache if not to give him a chance to take over an outfield spot? There doesn’t seem to be much to gain from playing Inciarte at the moment, but that’s not my call of course.
The 21 year-old Pache’s offensive game is still a work in progress, but he’s described as an elite defender out in center field. The consensus is that Pache’s glove and arm are both double-plus (i.e. 70 on the 20-80 scale) alongside plus speed to boot. There’s no doubt he can handle the position at the major league level at this point.
So with defense aside, it’s just a matter of if Pache’s bat is ready. His hitting stats in the minors aren’t overly impressive, though he had a pretty nice year split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019. Before a promotion to Triple-A last summer, Pache hit .278/.340/.474 (134 wRC+) with 11 homers in 433 plate appearances at Double-A. His walk and strikeout rates were 7.9 and 24 percent, respectively. After the bump up, Pache batted .274/.337/.411 (92 wRC+) with one homer in 105 plate appearances at the minors’ highest level. His walk rate remained pretty steady (8.6 percent), but he did cut down on strikeouts (17.1 percent).
If the numbers didn’t evidence this already, Pache isn’t much of a power hitter at the moment. That said, Baseball Prospectus noted that he’s added some strength, so maybe some game power comes down the road. Perhaps more importantly, Pache has improved his plate discipline over the last year or so. There had been concerns about his low walk and high strikeout totals at lower minor league levels, but he seemingly alleviated that last year. In any event, Pache may not need to hit much to be a significant contributor. As Fangraphs notes: “Even if he’s not posting All-Star offensive statlines, we think he’ll provide All-Star value overall because of the glove.”
There’s a decent chance Pache is sent back to the Alternate Site before this series ends, so we may not get a chance to see him play at all. Not that manager Brian Snitker seems inclined to play him anyway. Once Nick Markakis returns from the COVID-19 protocol after concerns about potential exposure, Pache seems like the odd man out. Markakis was actually expected to be back for today’s game, but no move has been made.
- Ronald Acuña Jr., RF (.258/.372/.515, 137 wRC+)
- Dansby Swanson, SS (.319/.353/.487, 124 wRC+)
- Freddie Freeman, 1B (.302/.427/.542, 157 wRC+)
- Marcell Ozuna, LF (.277/.373/.535, 137 wRC+)
- Matt Adams, DH (.196/.229/.370, 55 wRC+)
- Travis d’Arnaud, C (.333/.357/.591, 148 wRC+)
- Austin Riley, 3B (.205/.259/.385, 68 wRC+)
- Johan Camargo, 2B (.186/.231/.360, 54 wRC+)
- Ender Inciarte, CF (.200/.288/.229, 46 wRC+)
On the bench: C Tyler Flowers, INF Adeiny Hechavarría, UTIL Charlie Culberson, and OF Christian Pache.
Tonight, 7:10 p.m. EDT: Gerrit Cole (vs. Braves) vs. Ian Anderson (ML Debut)
I already covered Atlanta’s top position player prospect, but now it’s time to turn to the team’s top pitching prospect: Ian Anderson. He’s making his big league debut tonight. The 22 year-old righty was the Braves’ first round pick (and third overall draftee) in 2016 out of high school. He’s a New York product, albeit not from the tri-state area. Anderson is from upstate near Albany.
Anderson is a consensus top-50 prospect in all of baseball, so there are high expectations for this kid. Atlanta’s had no shortage of rotation trouble this year, from Mike Foltynewicz ineffectiveness to Cole Hamels’ and Mike Soroka’s injuries. Perhaps he steps in a fills the void. The righty can reach 96 with his fastball, but it’s his secondary offerings that impress. Be on the lookout for a sharp curveball and fading changeup this evening.
For the Yanks, Gerrit Cole (4-0, 2.75 ERA) starts yet again. It’ll be his seventh start in the team’s 26th game. That’s a nice consolation for all of the COVID-19 postponements thus far. One matchup to watch: Travis d’Arnaud is 4-for-4 against Cole with a homer and a walk. Huh.
Tomorrow, 7:10 p.m. EDT: Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Braves) vs. Max Fried
Southpaw Max Fried has been nothing short of terrific this season. In 34 innings, he’s recorded a 1.32 ERA and 2.34 FIP. He’s induced a ton of soft contact and has yet to allow a homer this season.
Fried generates a lot of grounders (55.3 percent of batted balls) and can miss bats too (25.2 percent strikeout rate). That’s a pretty ideal combination. In addition to a fastball that sits between 93 and 94, he offers a pretty nasty curveball and slider.
Tanaka faced the Braves a couple of weeks ago and wasn’t particularly sharp. In four innings, Masa gave up five hits, one homer, two walks, and struck out three. He managed to allow just two runs, though. More recently, Tanaka also had a rough start against Tampa bay (six runs in four innings). The Yanks could really use a rebound start from him.
RHP: Mark Melancon (CL), Shane Greene, Luke Jackson, Chris Martin, Darren O’Day, Huascar Ynoa
LHP: Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, Grant Dayton
Atlanta’s bullpen has been quite good this season (74 ERA-) and his full of familiar names (and ex-Yankees). They should be pretty fresh too after yesterday’s day off. The pen got a bit of work in the team’s most recent series against Philly, but nobody has been overworked of late.
The Braves have a very good roster and the Yankees are a bit banged up at the moment. I expect at least a split, especially with Cole going tonight. Have to win when he’s on the mound. Tomorrow is a little more iffy.