Category: Series Preview Page 1 of 9

Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: 8/7 to 8/9

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With absolutely no apologies to the Orioles and Red Sox, this is the Yankees first big intra-divisional series of the season. The Yanks will play four games in three days against the Rays with an opportunity to create even more distance from the team that’s supposed to be the Bombers toughest competition in 2020. Right now, Tampa Bay (5-7) is four games behind the Yankees (9-3) in the American League East.

Their story so far

It’s been a bizarre start for the Rays thus far. After starting 4-1 against Toronto and Atlanta at home, Tampa Bay lost five straight. All of those were on the road. Two of those were in Atlanta, which in the scheme of things isn’t terrible considering the talent of that club. However, things turned for the worse from there. The Orioles swept the Rays in three games at Camden Yards, during which Tampa Bay mustered just eight runs. This came right after the Yankees won two in Baltimore and scored 17 runs while doing so.

As usual, Tampa Bay’s pitching staff has been just fine (3.63 ERA), but it’s offense has really held them back. You could probably glean that after I told you how many runs they scored in Baltimore. Granted, Austin Meadows just returned and has only played two games thus far, but the return of one player isn’t going to make or break an offense. They have a .211/.303/.365 batting line in 442 plate appearances to date and have swatted just 10 home runs. The only team with fewer home runs that hasn’t had postponements due to COVID-19 are the Diamondbacks, who have just 6.

As a result of this slow start, the Rays have seen their division title chances drop precipitously. It stood at 34.3 percent at Opening Day, but is now down to 15.5 percent. Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes are certainly still in tact though, especially with an expanded postseason.

Injury Report

  • OF Randy Arozarena and LHP Brendan McKay are unavailable for undisclosed reasons.
  • RHP Yonny Chirinos was just placed on the injured list with triceps inflammation retroactive to August 3rd.
  • LHP Colin Poche is out for the season. He had Tommy John surgery on July 29th.
  • Not an injury, but LHP José Alvarado was placed on the paternity list today and could miss this series.

Spotlight: Nick Anderson

Who? Nick Anderson, perhaps the league’s best reliever, that’s who. The 30 year-old righty is basically unknown, and understandably so. Anderson’s been around the block, but finally got his chance to shine last season in time with the Marlins and Rays. It took a while for him to get here, though.

The Brewers drafted Anderson in the 32nd round back in 2012, but the righty did not sign and instead pitch in Indy-ball through 2015. The Twins were the first to bring him into affiliated ball, where he eventually reached Triple-A in 2018. There, he recorded a stellar 36.2 percent strikeout rate in the Rochester bullpen, but there was still no room for him in the big leagues. Minnesota traded him to Miami that offseason.

The Marlins gave Anderson his first shot, and he succeeded right away. In 43 2/3 innings, Anderson delivered a 3.92 ERA/2.71 FIP and struck out 69 opponents. Maybe the entire league hadn’t taken notice yet, but the Rays certainly did. Tampa Bay sent Ryne Stanek and prospect Jesús Sánchez to the Marlins to pick up Anderson. After that, Anderson really burst onto the scene.

In 21 1/3 post trade deadline innings, Anderson recorded a 2.11 ERA/1.62 FIP. He struck out a whopping 51 batters (52.6 percent!) and walked only two (2.6 percent). He’s off to a similarly fast start this season: in four games, Anderson has yet to allow a run or walk in 3 1/3 innings. He’s given up just two hits and fanned four batters. I think it’s safe to say that not only is he the best reliever you’ve never heard of, but he also might be the best reliever in baseball, period.

What makes Anderson so dominant? It’s the way he effectively pairs his fastball and curveball. He basically has Chad Green’s fastball paired with the curveball that Green’s trying to incorporate now. Take a look at the fastball:

Metric (2019)GreenAndersonLeague Avg.
FB velo 969693
FB spin246323262287
FB drop (in.)121016
FB Whiff %29%30%22%

Pretty similar! And even though Green has more spin on his fastball, Anderson’s doesn’t drop as much (i.e. it appears to rise more than Green’s). This is because Anderson’s release point is a bit more efficient to maximize that spin rate (not that Green’s is bad, or anything).

That’s not where the similarities end, by the way. Even though it’s really tough to square up Anderson and Green, hitters do make loud contact when they’re fortunate enough to do so. Last year, both were near the bottom of the league in exit velocity and hard hit percentage against. Green was in the 1st (!) percentile for both, while Anderson was in the 12th and 10th, respectively. Of course, making contact against these two is easier said than done.

Now, what differentiates Anderson is the curveball. On the face of things, it doesn’t look terribly impressive. It’s spin and movement are way below league average, in fact. The spin is in the 7th percentile and it drops about seven inches below average as well. Yet, it’s an incredibly effective offering for Anderson. He garnered an absurd 54.2 percent whiff rate against the pitch last year, for reference. How does this happen in spite of low spin and little movement? Deception.

Anderson is incredibly consistent with his release point between his curveball and fastball. Take a look:

Red = Fastball, Blue = Curveball. (via Statcast)

On top of that, his curve is a true 12-6 offering. With almost no horizontal movement, batters are either getting a (seemingly) rising fastball or a hard curveball with a quick downward drop coming out of the same arm slot. That’s not easy to decipher. See below:

Lighter graphics with dotted lines represent league average. (via Statcast)

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Anderson is pretty fresh coming into this series. He hasn’t pitched since Tuesday when he recorded an 11 pitch save against the Red Sox. Let’s hope we don’t have to see much of him this series.

Projected lineup

I’d look that frustrated if I was Kevin Cash, too. Tampa Bay has the league’s 20th-ranked wRC+, and even though Austin Meadows is back, this lineup wasn’t supposed to be particularly great anyway. Here’s the Roster Resource projected lineup:

  1. Austin Meadows, LF (.250/.250/.500, 104 wRC+)
  2. Brandon Lowe, 2B (.302/.375/.605, 175 wRC+)
  3. Yandy Díaz, 3B (.211/.362/.263, 97 wRC+)
  4. Ji-Man Choi, 1B (.148/.273/.333, 77 wRC+)
  5. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, DH (.182/.289/.303, 78 wRC+)
  6. Willy Adames, SS (.290/.389/.419, 138 wRC+)
  7. Hunter Renfroe, RF (.184/.279/.395, 95 wRC+)
  8. Kevin Kiermaier, CF (.171/.237/.229, 38 wRC+)
  9. Mike Zunino, C (.077/.200/.192, 23 wRC+)

Off the bench, Tampa Bay has two catchers (Michael Perez and Kevan Smith) along with infielders Mike Brosseau and Joey Wendle. José Martínez (136 wRC+) is the team’s platoon bat vs. southpaws, so we’ll likely see him against James Paxton this weekend.

Pitching Matchups

Tonight, 6:40 p.m. EDT: Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Rays) vs. Blake Snell (vs. Yankees)

As sweet as it would be for the Rays to beat the Yankees, it’d be just as sweet to put a sock in Snell’s mouth tonight. He’s made two starts so far, but has only thrown five innings as he’s still getting stretched out following some elbow soreness back in spring training. That same elbow has been in rough shape since last year: he had arthroscopic surgery to remove some loose bodies last July and had a cortisone shot in it this spring.

He hasn’t been the same since his excellent Cy Young campaign in 2018 when he posted a 1.89 ERA. Given his health, I guess that’s not a surprise. He had a 4.29 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 107 innings last season and has been so-so in an extremely limited sample this year. On the bright side, his fastball velocity (95 MPH) hasn’t gone away. It sounds like he could pitch four or five innings tonight.

Snell.

Masahiro Tanaka will probably go a similar distance as Snell tonight. Tanaka tossed 2 2/3 innings in his first start of the season last week against Boston. His fastball velocity and usage were unexpectedly up from past years, so that’ll be something to keep an eye on tonight.

Saturday (Game 1 of 2), 2:10 p.m. EDT: Gerrit Cole (vs. Rays) vs. Bullpen/Tyler Glasnow (vs. Yankees)

Glasnow is likely to pitch one of the two games in Saturday’s doubleheader. He’ll be a handful for the Yankees’ lineup whenever he does go. He’s got incredible stuff. Glasnow looked like a Cy Young contender last year before he got hurt. The young righty had a 1.86 ERA in 48 1/3 innings through early May before suffering a forearm strain.

Glasnow.

Glasnow’s one downside: he doesn’t provide much length. He’s averaged roughly five innings per start in his Rays career and hasn’t thrown more than 4 2/3 innings in either of his two starts this season. That said, he did average six innings per start last year before he got hurt. It also helps that this will be a seven inning game.

Cole is slated for the first game of the doubleheader for the Yankees. It’ll already be his fourth start in pinstripes even though it’ll be just the 14th team game for the Bombers. Oddly enough, those postponements against the Phillies a couple of weeks ago really benefited the Yanks’ starting staff by essentially giving Cole an extra turn. Though it’s a little bit of a different Tampa Bay lineup, Cole absolutely eviscerated the Rays in the ALDS last year. He won both Game 2 and Game 5 thanks to 15 2/3 innings, one run allowed, and 25 strikeouts. More of the same here, please.

Saturday (Game 2 of 2): TBD vs. Bullpen/Tyler Glasnow

Surprisingly, the Rays haven’t done an official opener/bullpen game yet this year (though Snell’s short starts effectively were bullpen games). A couple of candidates to get the starting nod: Trevor Richards and Andrew Kittredge.

Similar to the Rays, the Yankees will have a bullpen game during this doubleheader. Jonathan Loaisiga seems like a plausible candidate after he served as an opener on Thursday. Luis Cessa, David Hale, Michael King, and Nick Tropeano are candidates as well.

Sunday, 1:10 p.m. EDT: James Paxton (vs. Rays) vs. Charlie Morton (vs. Yankees)

This is going to be a battle of two pitchers still working out the kinks. Morton didn’t look very sharp in his first couple of outings, particularly with diminished fastball velocity. He sat 92 in his first two starts, but average 93 in his most recent game against Boston. This is still well down from 96 in 2018 and 95 in 2019. Overall, Morton has a 5.52 ERA in 14 2/3 innings.

Morton

Paxton’s yet to go more than three innings in his two starts this season, and that wasn’t by design. His fastball velocity is way down and his mechanics are all over the place. The Yankees need to see some progress for him really soon. The Big Maple was really good against Tampa last year (12 innings, 18 strikeouts, 3.00 ERA), but it’ll be hard to repeat that without his usual velocity.

Bullpen Status

RHP: Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake, Diego Castillo, Chaz Roe, Peter Fairbanks, Andrew Kittredge, Trevor Richards

LHP: Aaron Loup, Jalen Beeks, Sean Gilmartin

Per Fangraphs, this is the league’s top bullpen. I’d argue the Yankees have a better crew, but that’s neither here nor there. There’s no set closer in this bullpen, though Drake is the only one with saves (2) on the roster. Anderson or Castillo can do the job as well. Alvarado has closer experience with Tampa Bay, but as noted earlier, is inactive to start the series. The other big absence is Poche, who’s out for the year as mentioned before as well.


Considering that this series is at the (hated) Trop and the Rays are going to trot out three of their best starters, I think a split would be satisfactory. Especially with a double header in line for Saturday, as those are generally tough to sweep. Taking three of four or sweeping Tampa Bay would virtually put the Rays’ hope for a divisional title out of reach, however.

Philadelphia Phillies Series Preview: 8/3 to 8/6

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Let’s try this again. After postponement last week because of COVID-19 outbreak concerns, the Yankees (7-1) and Phillies (1-2) will play two in the Bronx and two in Philadelphia this week. Get ready to see some very familiar faces over the next few days. Most notably, Joe Girardi and Didi Gregorius. Andrew McCutchen too, although those ties aren’t as strong as what Girardi and Gregorius left behind.

As you know, Girardi was at the helm for ten years, highlighted by the 2009 championship season. Gregorius rather smoothly succeeded Derek Jeter at shortstop and became a fan favorite quickly. It would have been nice to see Girardi and Gregorius get a well deserved standing ovation back in the Bronx for the first time. Alas, stadiums are empty in 2020 for good reason. In any case, it’s going to be really weird to see them in Phillies uniforms.

Their story so far

The Phillies stumbled out of the gate and lost two of three to the Marlins before their season was put on hold. It’s definitely not what you want, but on the bright side, Miami’s COVID-19 outbreak apparently did not result in an outbreak within the Phillies clubhouse. The lone game Girardi’s team won was Saturday the 25th, which was also Zack Wheeler’s debut. He threw seven strong innings and will pitch in the Bronx this week. More on that in a bit.

Before that W, the Phils dropped its opener against the Marlins, 5-2. Sandy Alcantara and the Marlins bullpen shut down the Phillies, though things were even at one a piece before Aaron Nola unraveled in the sixth inning. Last Sunday, Miami won the rubber game by outslugging Philadelphia, 11-6.

Even in a short season, it’s way too early to read into a poor performance against an inferior Marlins team. That said, the Phillies don’t appear to be quite deep enough to be true contenders this year. The team’s biggest problem is its bullpen, as I outlined in the NL East Preview. For what it’s worth, PECOTA projects Philadelphia to finish 28-32, fourth place in the NL East.

Injury Report

  • RHP Ranger Suárez is on the COVID-19 injured list. He was good, albeit not great, in Philly’s bullpen last year (3.14 ERA/3.89 FIP in 48 2/3 innings).
  • Old friend RHP David Robertson hopes to return in September. He’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery he had last August. That seems like a pretty aggressive return date, though it makes sense why he wants to get back. Philadelphia has $2 million buyout on a $12 million 2021 salary, so he’s probably going to be a free agent regardless of his return and will want to show something entering the winter.
  • RHP Seranthony Domínguez will have Tommy John surgery soon and is out for the year.

Spotlight: J.T. Realmuto

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29 year-old J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball at the moment. This is his second and potentially final year with the Phillies. He’s a free agent this offseason and he’s gonna get paid. Realmuto is the rare backstop who can hit and defend at elite levels.

Realmuto hit .275/.328/.493 (108 wRC+) with 25 homers last year and should put up similar rate stats this season. On the surface, those numbers sound good but not great. That’s until you consider that it’s coming from the catcher position, of course. Last year, the average catcher posted an 85 wRC+ (friendly reminder: this is why Gary Sánchez is so valuable!).

Catcher defense has become all the rage over the last decade or so with the increased focus on pitch framing. Realmuto is very good in this regard (top ten at Baseball Prospectus and Statcast in 2019), but it’s not the only place he shines. Baseball Prospectus has a slew of catcher defense stats aside from framing, and Realmuto is elite in those respects. He was the top thrower behind the dish (also quickest poptime per Statcast, for what it’s worth) and was fourth in blocking pitches.

Enough droning on about Realmuto’s excellence. The real reason I wanted to profile him is because I was caught off guard looking at his stats against Gerrit Cole, who starts tonight. Realmuto is 10-for-14 (.714) with a homer and just two strikeouts against the Yankees’ ace. I know that batter vs. pitcher stats aren’t statistically prective, but I couldn’t help but do a double take. So, I had to look deeper into what was going on here.

Perhaps I should have realized this at first glance, but these numbers didn’t come against the Cole we know and love today. These two have only faced off when Cole was on the Pirates. In other words, before the Astros did their magic and made Cole a monster. Realmuto probably won’t like what he sees this time around.

Projected Lineup

Here’s the Roster Resource projected lineup along with projected wRC+ and DRC+ per ZiPS and PECOTA, respectively:

  1. Andrew McCutchen, LF (114 wRC+, 119 DRC+)
  2. Rhys Hoskins, 1B (121 wRC+, 130 DRC+)
  3. Bryce Harper, RF (129 wRC+, 138 DRC+)
  4. J.T. Realmuto, C (110 wRC+, 113 DRC+)
  5. Didi Gregorius, SS (106 wRC+, 94 DRC+)
  6. Jean Segura, 3B (98 wRC+, 96 DRC+)
  7. Jay Bruce, DH (104 wRC+, 90 DRC+)
  8. Scott Kingery, 2B (82 wRC+, 79 DRC+)
  9. Roman Quinn, CF (76 wRC+, 82 DRC+)

Girardi swapped out Bruce in favor for Phil Gosselin at DH against Marlins’ lefty and former Yankee Caleb Smith, so maybe we’ll see him against Happ and/or Montgomery. The Phils also have Neil Walker, Kyle Garlick, Adam Haseley, and Andrew Knapp on the bench.

Probable Pitchers

It’s not quite clear who all of the probable pitchers are for this week (at least not yet). Tonight’s matchup is set in stone, though the rest of the week isn’t certain from the Phillies’ perspective. I’m going off what I anticipate and will reorder things once we hear more.

Tonight (7:05 p.m. EDT in New York): Gerrit Cole (vs. Phillies) vs. Jake Arrieta (vs. Yankees)

Arrieta’s no longer a dominant force like he was for the Cubs roughly five years ago. He owns a 4.26 ERA in 55 starts for the Phillies since he signed a $75 million deal to join the club prior to the 2018 season. Tonight will be his first regular season start since he had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow last August.

Arrieta.

He’s become rather sinker-reliant as he’s lost velocity in the past few years. While still in Chicago, Arrieta sat around 95 MPH, but that was down to 92.5 last season.

Cole is set for his third start for the Yankees and his first at Yankee Stadium. He was very good against the Orioles last week, though I’d argue he’s still trying to fine tune his fastball command. It’s fun to think that Cole, who has a 3.09 ERA in 11 2/3 innings thus far, isn’t quite humming yet. He’ll get there.

Tuesday (6:05 p.m. EDT in New York): JA Happ (vs. Phillies) vs. Aaron Nola (vs. Yankees)

Staff ace Nola was hot and cold on Opening Day. He retired the first seven Marlins he faced and allowed just one run through five innings. Things fell apart in the sixth, however. He departed down 3-1 with one out and was ultimately charged with four runs allowed due to an inherited runner scoring. This lackluster performance is on the tail of a rough September to close 2019 (6.51 ERA in 27 2/3 innings).

Nola.

Poor finish to 2019 and poor start to 2020 aside, Nola has been a rotational stalwart for a few years now. The 27 year-old righty owns a lifetime 3.51 ERA (121 ERA+) in 128 starts. He leans on his curveball quite a bit (35.2 percent usage last year, barely behind his fastball which was at 35.4 percent). Expect to see plenty of yakkers against this righty-heavy Yankees lineup.

Now, for the Yankees side. JA Happ is coming off a rough start in Baltimore in which he allowed four runs in four innings pitched. He gave up his requisite two homers, too. This Phillies’ lineup is quite a bit better than that Orioles lineup he faced, so this could be trouble for the veteran lefty.

Wednesday (7:05 p.m. EDT in Philadelphia): Jordan Montgomery (vs. Phillies) vs. Zack Wheeler (vs. Yankees)

Wheeler didn’t disappoint in his first outing for the Phils. The former Met, who just signed a $118 million deal in the winter, made easy work of the Marlins on Saturday. He allowed just one run in seven innings and fanned four batters. Last year, he faced the Yankees twice: he got knocked around at Yankee Stadium in June but rebounded for a quality start the following month at Citi Field. For what it’s worth, those lineups didn’t include Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

Wheeler.

Wheeler possesses a blazing fastball and has solid breaking ball offerings, yet isn’t always overpowering. His whiff and strikeout rates aren’t terribly impressive for someone with his stuff, though Wheeler does generate a good deal of ground balls from his sinker.

Jordan Montgomery looked awfully good in his debut against Boston, huh? His 5 2/3 innings of one run ball came off strong spring training and summer camp performances. Another good performance here would really be a boon to this pitching staff, especially because James Paxton hasn’t been himself yet.

Thursday (6:05 p.m. EDT in Philadelphia) Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Phillies) vs. Vince Velazquez (vs. Yankees) or Zach Eflin (vs. Yankees)

Velazquez is a bit of an enigma on the mound. He’s got terrific stuff, but hitters absolutely pummel the ball against him. VV allowed 26 homers in just 117 1/3 innings last year (almost two per nine!) and surrendered two dingers in his first start this year against the Marlins.

Velazquez.

If it’s not Velazquez, it’ll be Eflin. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Eflin would fit in with a bunch of the Yankees’ giants. The 26 year-old righty has been in-and-out of Philly’s rotation over the past few years, but really became a mainstay last year when he posted a 4.13 ERA (109 ERA+) in 163 1/3 innings. Eflin’s biggest weakness is his propensity for the longball (1.55 HR/9 for his career), even though he grades pretty highly in terms of soft contact.

Eflin.

Masahiro Tanaka is lined up for the series finale. He was on a pitch count in his debut over the weekend, but did a nice job no less. He fell one out short of completing three innings against Boston, allowed four hits, two runs (one earned), walked one, and struck out three. And in case you missed it, Bobby wrote a nice piece about Tanaka’s splitter over the weekend.

Bullpen Status

RHP: Héctor Neris (closer), Nick Pivetta, Tommy Hunter, Trevor Kelley, Reggie McClain, Ramón Rosso, Deolis Guerra

LHP: Adam Morgan, José Álvarez, Cole Irvin, Austin Davis

Per Fangraphs’ positional power rankings, the Phillies’ bullpen is 18th out of 30 teams. Not great! In a grim way, at least yesterday’s postponement allowed for a day of rest after needing six bullpen innings on Sunday.

Neris is the team’s most prominent relief arm. He’s got a big time fastball and splitter combination, though he’s got a propensity to give up the long ball. Last year was his best season: he had a 2.93 ERA in 67 2/3 innings, fanned 32.4 percent of batters, and recorded 28 saves in 34 chances. Some combination of Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, and José Álvarez are the bridge to Neris.


The Yankees are rolling and it’s hard to expect anything other than a series win at this point. Asking for a four game sweep is a bit much, primarily because Happ starts one of the games. But if Aaron Judge keeps socking dingers and the rest of the offense does its thing, nothing’s out of the realm of possibilities here.

Boston Red Sox Series Preview: 7/31 to 8/2

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It’s only been two years since the Red Sox won 108 regular season games and the World Series. But instead of building upon its impressive core, the club’s ownership instead dismantled things. Trading Mookie Betts this past offseason was the big blow, but the organization’s divestment from the team following 2018 started well before that.

Boston didn’t do anything to sustain or improve its team for its title defense last year. Perhaps the organization didn’t feel the need to do much following such a dominant 2018. Instead, things went south and the Sox finished at 84-78, third place in the division. Ownership canned Dave Dombrowski, who helped architect that 2018 club, in what felt like a rage quit move by John Henry.

The Sox then brought in Rays exec Chaim Bloom, which told us all we needed to know about where Boston was headed. Whereas Dombrowski’s goal was to win at all costs, Bloom’s installation was for the purposes of winning efficiently. Said another way: Bloom came in to oversee the dismantling of the roster, namely Betts, in order for the Sox to save some dough. It may work out in the long run, but it sure looks like Boston is in for a few lean years right now.

Their story so far

If you read the Orioles series preview, you’ll know that Boston dropped two of three to the Orioles to start the season. The series immediately exposed Boston’s incredibly thin pitching staff. Nate Eovaldi may have pitched well in Boston’s opening win, but just about everyone after was another story. The O’s scored seven runs off Boston pitching in each of the last two games of the series.

Things didn’t start off much better in Boston’s next series against the Mets. Once again, the team’s pitching was dreadful. The staff allowed 15 runs combined in the first two games, both losses. We knew the Red Sox probably weren’t going to be very good this year, but starting 1-4 and having things spiral out of control right away was a bit surprising given the team’s opponents.

Of course, sometimes the Mets can’t get out of their own way too. I’m all for some Mets schadenfreude, but it would have been nice to see them continue to clobber Red Sox’ pitching. Instead, as the series headed to Citi Field for the next two, Boston turned it around. Or should I say, the Mets bullpen did its usual: blow a lead for Jacob deGrom. Down 3-2 after six innings, the Red Sox knocked around Seth Lugo and Justin Wilson to ultimately win, 6-5. Boston then managed the series split with a 4-2 victory last night.

So, the Red Sox enter this weekend’s series at 3-4, two games behind the 4-1 first place Yankees. Boston shouldn’t be a threat to the Bombers this year (both PECOTA and Fangraphs have them finishing .500), but it’d be nice to knock them back on their tails this weekend after a salvaged series vs. the Mets.

Injury Report

  • The oft-injured 2B Dustin Pedroia had a knee procedure last August. It’s hard to imagine when or if he’ll ever return.
  • LHP Chris Sale had Tommy John surgery and will not return this year. He should be an option again mid-2021.
  • LHP Eduardo Rodríguez is on the COVID-19 injured list. He’s dealing with myocarditis (inflammation around the heart), which was brought on by the coronavirus. Scary stuff, but it seems like he’ll be okay in the long run. It’s just not clear when he’ll return.
  • Boston has two other players on the COVID-19 injured list: LHP Darwinzon Hernandez and LHP Josh Taylor. Their returns are unknown.
  • RHP Collin McHugh opted out of the 2020 season.

Spotlight: Alex Verdugo

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We’re pretty familiar with most of the Red Sox hitters to this point, but Alex Verdugo is a new face in Boston’s lineup. As you surely know, he was one of the players acquired in return for superstar Mookie Betts. Verdugo, 24, is Betts’s replacement. He’s got pretty big shoes to fill and frankly, he almost certainly can’t.

Verdugo’s already had big league success and was a well regarded prospect, but that’s not everything to him. As a minor leaguer in 2015, Verdugo was reportedly involved — or “at best” — present during sexual assault. The Dodgers covered up the incident as it didn’t become public until 2019. Sheryl Ring wrote about this a few months ago, and I suggest going there if you want more details. Since joining the Red Sox, Verdugo has denied the allegations and claims that he would have done something to stop it if he was present. He also said that he has regrets about what transpired with “certain events” that night. Hm. Believe what you want to believe, but this is not the guy I’d want to replace an icon like Betts with.

This is a really crappy thing for Red Sox fans to grapple with. Not only did the organization trade away the team’s best player and fan favorite, but in return, the team acquired someone of questionable character. We Yankees fans know the feeling with regard to Aroldis Chapman. It sucks. As long as we continue to stomach teams adding players like this, we can only hope for the survivors’ well-being and that people like Verdugo or Chapman show actual remorse and exhibit resolve to become better people.

For the stick to baseball crowd (who assuredly have either skipped to the comments section or closed out this page entirely): Los Angeles drafted Verdugo in the second round of the 2014 draft, and three years later, he debuted in the big leagues as a 21 year-old. In his three seasons out west, the lefty-swinging Verdugo hit .282/.335/.449 (107 OPS+) and accumulated 3.3 rWAR in 488 plate appearances. Most of those numbers stem from last year, when Verdugo played in 106 games and batted .294/.342/.475 (114 OPS+). Before exceeding rookie eligibility last year, Verdugo had been a top-100 prospect for a few years. He reached as high as 19th on Baseball Prospectus’s list in 2019, and 35th per Baseball America and MLB Pipeline as well.

Verdugo’s off to an OK start for Boston. He’s hit .333/.400/.333 (112 wRC+) in 20 plate appearances thus far. He’s most played right field to date, but he can play the other two outfield positions as needed.

Considering his playing experience with LA and his former prospect sheen, Verdugo should develop into a solid piece for the Red Sox. Barring a trade or something along similar lines, he’ll be in Boston through the 2024 season. Just don’t expect him to ever blossom into anything like Mookie.

Projected Lineup

Here’s the Roster Resource projected lineup along with each starters’ small sample size performance to date:

  1. Andrew Benintendi, LF (.095/.321/.143, 55 wRC+)
  2. J.D. Martinez, DH (.241/.333/.345, 85 wRC+)
  3. Rafael Devers, 3B (.192/.222/.346, 18 wRC+)
  4. Xander Bogaerts, SS (.182/.217/.318, 45 wRC+)
  5. Mitch Moreland, 1B (.357/.357/.857, 228 wRC+)
  6. Christian Vázquez, C (.421/.450/1.105, 315 wRC+)
  7. Alex Verdugo, RF (.333/.400/.333, 112 wRC+)
  8. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF (.400/.455/.500, 168 wRC+)
  9. José Peraza, 2B (.276/.300/.345, 79 wRC+)

Vázquez is tearing the cover off the ball and his wRC+ is second to none other than Giancarlo Stanton (323). As you can see, a handful of Sox are in slumps to start the year. Devers, Bogaerts, and Benintendi in particular.

The typical lineup as shown above may be different this weekend since the Yankees have two lefties starting. Moreland may sit in favor of Michael Chavis. Benintendi could be dropped in the order. JBJ could be spelled by Kevin Pillar. Other bench options include Kevin Plawecki and infielders Tzu-Wei Lin and Jonathan Araúz.

Pitching Matchups

Tonight, 7:05 p.m. EDT: RHP Ryan Weber (vs. Yankees) vs. LHP Jordan Montgomery (vs. Red Sox)

Somehow, Weber is Boston’s third starter. On Sunday, he pitched like he didn’t belong in any rotation, let alone third starter. He allowed 9 base runners in 3 2/3 innings and surrendered 6 runs. To the Orioles, mind you.

Weber, who’s bounced around multiple organizations since he was drafted in 2009, actually had some success against the Yankees last year. He allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings vs. the Bombers across three appearances in 2019. That said, if you clicked the link to his batter vs. pitcher stats above, you’ll notice that Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit are absent. That won’t be the case tonight.

Weber.

Tonight is Jordan Montgomery’s season debut. He was supposed to start earlier this week before the Phillies series was postponed. Instead, tonight marks a challenge for the young lefty as Boston has a couple of very tough right-handed power bats. Monty looked really good in camp and carved up a good Mets lineup a couple of weeks ago, but this will be a test against (still) one of the game’s better offenses.

Saturday, 7:07 p.m. EDT: RHP Zack Godley (vs. Yankees) vs. RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Red Sox)

This is how desperate Boston is for pitching. Godley, who the Sox claimed on waivers just as the season got underway, is now a part of the rotation. Godley actually pitched well in his lone appearance for the Red Sox this season. In Monday’s loss to the Mets, the righty entered in relief and delivered four shutout innings. He also struck out seven.

Godley.

For the Yankees: I didn’t think we’d see Masahiro Tanaka back this early. Not after taking a 112 mph line drive to the head during Summer Camp. It’s good to see Tanaka ready so soon, but he’s not out of the woods yet. We know that all too well from Clint Frazier’s struggle with concussion symptoms.

This is also Tanaka’s first start of his contract year, by the way. Hopefully, it’s more of the same we’ve grown used to in New York. He’s had a terrific career in pinstripes (3.75 ERA, 3.88 FIP) and is playoff tested (1.76 ERA in 46 innings). Do it again Masa and come back for more next year.

Sunday, 7:08 p.m. EDT: TBD/Bullpen Game vs. LHP James Paxton (vs. Red Sox)

Manager Ron Roenicke hasn’t announced who will start Sunday, though it’s expected to be a bullpen game. The Red Sox have done one bullpen game thus far this season and started lefty Josh Osich, so perhaps that’s in store again here.

All eyes will be on The Big Maple’s second start. He was downright awful last weekend and there’s some reason for concern. Will he regain his velocity? Will his mechanics, namely his arm slot, look off? Time isn’t on Paxton’s side to figure these things out given the short season. Hopefully the extra couple of days rest makes a difference. Seeing a redux of this would make me happy:

Bullpen Status

RHP: Brandon Workman (Closer), Matthew Barnes, Heath Hembree, Ryan Brasier, Austin Brice, Colten Brewer, Marcus Walden, Phillips Valdez, Chris Mazza

LHP: Josh Osich, Jeffrey Springs, Matt Hall

If your first thought was: “who are these people?”, you’re not alone. You’re probably familiar with Workman and Barnes, and maybe Hembree, Brasier, and Walden, but that’s about it. Workman’s actually pretty darn good: he posted a 1.88 ERA and 2.46 FIP in 71 2/3 innings last season. The problem? He, along with Boston’s other top relievers, may not be available to start this series against the Yankees:

*rubs hands* This has slugfest potential, folks. Boston will have to trout out it’s lesser relievers this weekend and the Yankees have to capitalize on that opportunity.


Is it too much to ask for another sweep? I at least expect the Yankees to win the first two against Weber and Godley. I really don’t know what to expect from Paxton on Sunday after what we saw against the Nationals. If he’s bad again, the Yankees may have to climb out of a big hole early. Let’s hope not. It’s time to bury Boston before they have any chance to get their hopes up this season.

Baltimore Orioles Series Preview: 7/29 to 7/30

Embed from Getty Images

After back-to-back postponements in Philadelphia, the Yankees will resume play tonight against the Orioles in Baltimore. The Yankees weren’t scheduled to play the Orioles until next week, but the fallout from the Marlins’ outbreak, the Nationals’ vote to not travel to Miami, and the Phillies’ ongoing testing resulted in various scheduling changes. So, here we are. MLB an absolute mess in terms of testing, quarantining, and protecting its players/staff, but that’s not going to stop them from plowing forward yet.

This will be a quick two game series in Baltimore before the Yankees head home. Today was supposed to be the Bombers’ home opener, but instead that’ll come Friday against the Red Sox. The Orioles are bad and the Yankees have had a ton of success at Camden Yards, but I can’t imagine the team is too thrilled to have been in limbo for the past few days. Perhaps they can take out some of that frustration against the lowly Orioles.

Their story so far

Maybe it’s not fair that I called the Orioles “bad” or “lowly” to close out the introduction. They’re 2-1 after all. Heh. The O’s took two out of three from the Red Sox over the weekend, and folks, you love to see it.

The Birds dropped the opener to the Red Sox in ugly fashion, 13-2. But things were pretty smooth sailing in the next two games. The Orioles lineup tallied seven runs in each of the next two at Fenway. That speaks volumes about how awful Boston’s pitching is. Just wait until you see some of the projections for Orioles’ hitters in a bit.

Unfortunately for the O’s, that series against Boston will probably be the pinnacle of the season. PECOTA projected a 22-38 record and Fangraphs had them at 24-36. Both projections are worst in the league.

Injury Report

  • 1B/OF Trey Mancini is currently under treatment for stage three colon cancer and isn’t expected to play this season. He wrote about this back in April for The Players’ Tribune and noted that he probably won’t play this year. From the sounds of it, he’s fortunate to have had the malignant tumor found early. Best wishes to a full and speedy recovery.
  • SS Richie Martin broke his wrist in Summer Camp and probably won’t be back this season. He had surgery earlier this month.
  • LHP John Means was in the midst of a dead arm period in recent weeks, but is expected to return this series and start against the Yankees on Thursday.
  • RHP Hunter Harvey is on the injured list with elbow soreness. His return is unclear, though the hard-throwing righty has a long injury history in the minors.
  • RHP Dillon Tate, who was part of the package that to acquire Zack Britton in 2018, is also hurt. He’s dealing with forearm soreness after he was drilled by a comebacker in Summer Camp.

Spotlight: Gleyber Torres

Normally, we reserve this section to highlight a player on the opposing team. But since it’s the Orioles, I think it has to be Gleyber. Will we get a redux of 2019 when Gleyber tormented Baltimore?

Those were two of 13 (!!!) home runs Torres hit against the Orioles last season. Overall, Gleyber hit .394/.467/1.045 in 75 plate appearances against O’s pitching. And no, that 1.045 mark wasn’t his OPS. It is indeed his slugging percentage. Just absurd.

Anyway, is there any reason to not expect Torres to feast against Baltimore again this year? I can’t think of any.

Projected Lineup

Here’s the Roster Resource projected lineup along with projected wRC+ and DRC+ per ZiPS and PECOTA, respectively:

  1. Austin Hays, CF (85 wRC+, 98 DRC+)
  2. Anthony Santander, RF (88 wRC+, 88 DRC+)
  3. José Iglesias, SS (85 wRC+, 84 DRC+)
  4. Rio Ruiz, 3B (82 wRC+, 82 DRC+)
  5. Hanser Alberto, 2B (86 wRC+, 86 DRC+)
  6. Chris Davis, 1B (60 wRC+, 82 DRC+)
  7. Renato Núñez, DH (95 wRC+, 97 DRC+)
  8. Pedro Severino, C (70 wRC+, 79 DRC+)
  9. DJ Stewart, LF (87 wRC+, 91 DRC+)

C Chance Cisco, IF Pat Valaika, IF/OF Andrew Velazquez, OF Cedric Mullins, and OF Dwight Smith round out the bench. This is a bad offense, folks.

Pitching Matchups

Tonight (7:35 p.m. EDT): Asher Wojciechowski (vs. Yankees) vs. Gerrit Cole (vs. Orioles)

On the podcast released this morning, I mentioned that Tommy Milone was slated to start this game. That would have been a fantastic matchup for the Yankees’ lineup. Instead, 6-foot-4 righty Wojciechowski gets the nod for his first start of the year. Now, he’s an upgrade from Milone, albeit not much. No reason the Yankees can’t knock him around tonight. Last year, Wojciechwoski allowed 17 homers in just 82 1/3 innings, or 1.86 per 9. That’s not a recipe for success against this lineup.

Wojciechowski.

One has to imagine that the Orioles are not salivating to face Gerrit Cole. This is arguably the best pitcher in baseball vs. perhaps the worst lineup in the league. For reference: Baltimore is last in projected runs scored per PECOTA by a 15 run margin. Anything less than a perfect game will be a disappointment. I kid…or do I?

Tomorrow (7:05 p.m. EDT): John Means (vs. Yankees) vs. JA Happ (vs. Orioles)

As bad as 2019 was for the Orioles, John Means was an incredibly pleasant surprise. In 155 innings, he recorded a 3.60 ERA at the top of Baltimore’s rotation. That was far from the expectation for the former 11th round pick in the 2014 draft. There are some lingering doubts for the 27 year-old, however. Last year very well may have been a fluke, especially if FIP (4.41) or DRA (4.61) have anything to say. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, Means has been dealing with a dead arm.

Means.

I couldn’t envision a better opportunity (Baltimore) for JA Happ to get 2020 off on the right foot. He’s gone from an offseason trade candidate, to in the rotation but don’t let his vesting option exercise, to now potentially a key cog in the rotation. Without Luis Severino and some concerns about James Paxton, the Yankees could really use a rebound campaign from Happ. Although I’ve harped on the Orioles’ offense, there is one matchup to look out for here. Renato Núñez has clobbered Happ in the past: he’s 11-for-19 with a double, four home runs, and two walks.

Bullpen Status

RHP: Mychal Givens, Cole Sulser, Miguel Castro, Shawn Armstrong, Cody Caroll, Travis Lakins Sr., Evan Phillips, David Hess

LHP: Richard Bleier, Paul Fry, Tanner Scott

If there’s any strength for the Orioles, it’s the bullpen. And by strength, I mean relative to the rest of the squad. This is the 16th-best bullpen in MLB per Fangraphs, which is much higher than I would have anticipated. That said, these rankings accounted for having Hunter Harvey, who’s currently out due to elbow soreness. Harvey impressed in a brief stint with Baltimore last year during which he fanned 42.3 percent of opponents.

Baltimore’s best bullpen arm is Givens, though he’s not necessarily the closer. It seems like Givens, Richard Bleier, and Cole Sulser could all receive save chances this season. Harvey too, should he return. Back to Givens: the righty had a down season last year (4.57 ERA), but was victimized by a horrendous 22.8 percent home run to fly ball rate. In the meantime, he set a career-best 33.1 percent strikeout rate, so perhaps he can revert back to his previous form. He sure seems like a good trade candidate for Baltimore within the next year or two.


There’s no other way to slice it: the Yankees should sweep this short series. Granted, the season may not finish for good reason and everyone’s playoff odds are higher with an expanded postseason, but it wouldn’t be a good look to drop any games against Baltimore. Sure, they could lose because this is baseball, but none of us would be very pleased.

Washington Nationals Series Preview: 7/23 to 7/26

Looking forward to the Soto Shuffle in pinstripes come 2025.

Tonight’s the night. At least, it’s supposed to be. The weather in the nation’s capital doesn’t look great at the moment, so there’s a decent chance we have to wait one more day for Yankees baseball to begin. I really don’t like the whole day off after Opening Day thing, but I guess it may prove beneficial (psst…weather doesn’t look great on Friday either, but let’s take this one day at a time).

Now that the regular season is about to get underway, it’s time for our first series preview of 2020. The Yankees are down in Washington, DC to begin the campaign with a three game set against the Nationals. Let’s break down what’s upcoming this weekend.

Their Story

We all know the Nationals’ 2019 fairy tale by now. Washington was 19-31 through 50 games last year — a start that would undoubtedly eliminate them this year! — yet secured a Wild Card spot with a 93-69 full season record. They snuck past Milwaukee in the Wild Card game, stunned the Dodgers in the NLDS after emerging from a 2-1 deficit, and then swept the Cardinals to reach the World Series. Once again, Washington upset the favored Astros in a see-saw series. The Nats were up 2-0 but lost Games 3 through 5 only to shock Houston in Games 6 and 7 on the road to win the franchise’s first World Series. Washington’s title defense begins now.

After a celebration and a parade, Washington entered a monumental offseason as two of its stars hit free agency: Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. The former returned on a massive seven year, $245 million deal, while the latter departed to the Angels.

Replacing Rendon is an impossible task, but Washington brought in a number of bats in attempt to fill the void. First baseman Eric Thames and ex-Yankee Starlin Castro were the notable outside additions. Additionally, the organization re-signed NLCS MVP Howie Kendrick, Asdrúbal Cabrera, and Yan Gomes.

Lastly, the other noteworthy offseason move was signing free agent reliever Will Harris to a three year, $24 million deal. The 35 year-old righty was the loser of Game 7 of the World Series, but had a terrific 2019 in Houston’s bullpen (1.50 ERA and 3.15 FIP in 60 innings). He’ll certainly help Washington’s bullpen, which was a weak point last season. Nats relievers had a 5.68 ERA last year, second-worst in the league. And as you may remember, they basically only relied on Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle come October. So, Harris helps, although the bullpen still isn’t exactly a strength for the defending champs.

Even though Washington lost Rendon, the club is still in great position to reach the postseason this year. The NL East is a tough division, but none of Washington’s opponents are clear cut favorites. PECOTA still has Washington slightly favored with a 43.6 percent chance to win the East, with the Mets a close second at 33.4 percent. Fangraphs also has the Nats as favorites at 33.1 percent, though the Braves (30.3 percent) and Mets (24.9 percent) are right on their tail.

Injury Report

Washington is without two of its relievers: Wander Suero and southpaw Roenis Elías. Both health issues are undisclosed. Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross have opted out due to COVID-19 related health concerns.

Suero was one of manager Dave Martinez’s go-to relievers last year; he called on the righty 78 times. Though Suero’s ERA was unimpressive (4.54 ERA), his strong peripherals led to a 3.07 FIP. Elías isn’t a huge piece of Washington’s bullpen. Due to injury, he appeared in just four games for the team last summer following his acquisition from Seattle.

Spotlight: Carter Kieboom

22 year-old Carter Kieboom is set to replace Rendon at the hot corner. Although Kieboom may split duties with Cabrera in the early going, the position is expected to be his over the long-term. Kieboom had a cup of coffee in the majors last year, but didn’t find much success. He hit .128/.209/.282 (17 wRC+) with two homers in 43 plate appearances. On the bright side, he raked in Triple-A (.303/.409/.493, 123 wRC+), so the bat appears to be just about major league ready.

Kieboom isn’t to be mistaken with Rendon, but he’s certainly a strong candidate to fill his shoes. He’s the consensus top prospect in the Nationals’ system and is ranked highly leaguewide:

Considering his Triple-A performance and the vacancy at third base, now’s the time for Kieboom to shine. The former first round pick is actually a shortstop by trade, though he’s not defensively adept enough to unseat Trea Turner. His defensive grades vary a bit depending on your site of preference, but one thing is clear: he can hit.

Projected Lineup:

I’ve included the Roster Resource projected lineup below and added ZiPS’ wRC+ and PECOTA’s DRC+ offensive projections in parentheses.

  1. Trea Turner, SS (104 wRC+, 111 DRC+)
  2. Adam Eaton, RF (105 wRC+, 110 DRC+)
  3. Starlin Castro, 2B (97 wRC+, 94 DRC+)
  4. Juan Soto, LF (149 wRC+, 139 DRC+)
  5. Howie Kendrick, DH (106 wRC+, 108 DRC+)
  6. Eric Thames, 1B (116 wRC+, 114 DRC+)
  7. Victor Robles, CF (98 wRC+, 94 DRC+)
  8. Yan Gomes, C (79 wRC+, 77 DRC+)
  9. Carter Kieboom (95 wRC+, 91 DRC+) or Asdrúbal Cabrera, 3B (103 wRC+, 104 DRC+)

Soto, of course, is this lineup’s biggest threat. Things are certainly are thinner without Rendon this year, but this order is still littered with above average bats like Turner, Eaton, Kendrick, and Thames. Kendrick is a career-long Yankee killer, as you may know. Further, guys like Robles and Kieboom may not have exciting projections, but either could be in for a breakout season. They’re two of the organization’s most promising long-term pieces.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (7:08 p.m. EDT): Gerrit Cole (vs. Nationals) vs. Max Scherzer (vs. Yankees)

Doesn’t get much better than this. Two of the best pitchers in the sport will square off against each other later tonight.

The Yankees haven’t seen much of Scherzer since his days with the Tigers in the American League, but who could forget that majestic bomb Aaron Judge stroked against him in last summer’s All-Star Game? More of that tonight, please. Anyway, Mad Max remains a perennial Cy Young candidate even at 35 years of age.

Cole is plenty familiar with this Nats lineup after facing them twice in the World Series last fall. He took the loss in Game 2 but was victorious in Game 5. He surrendered a couple of homers to Soto in the process, so that’ll be a fun matchup to watch.

Saturday (7:15 p.m. EDT): James Paxton (vs. Nationals) vs. TBD – likely Stephen Strasburg (vs. Yankees)

The Nationals haven’t announced a starter yet, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Stephen Strasburg will get the nod. Last year’s World Series MVP and newly minted $245 million man is yet another tough opponent for the Yankees this weekend. Although most of the Bombers haven’t faced him, Giancarlo Stanton has seen plenty of Stras back when G was still with the Marlins. .313/.377/.667 with 8 doubles and 3 homers in 48 at-bats ain’t too shabby, even if batter-vs-pitcher matchups aren’t statistically predictive.

Paxton’s velocity will be the first thing to look for in his season debut. We haven’t seen him in front of a publicly available radar gun during Summer Camp, but he himself has mentioned that he’s not quite where he wants to be. Obviously, returning from back surgery threw a wrench into his 2020 plans, but hopefully it’s back sooner rather than later. The Paxton we saw from August and onward last year (61 innings, 2.51 ERA) was brilliant. It’s hard to envision a repeat performance without his fastball in the upper 90s.

Sunday (1:05 p.m. EDT): Bullpen game vs. TBD – likely Patrick Corbin (vs. Yankees)

Native New Yorker and almost-Yankee Corbin should get the ball in the final game of the series. The southpaw was terrific for the Nats in the regular season last year (3.25 ERA, 5.4 WAR) but had an up-and-down postseason. He started and relieved in October, and though his 5.79 postseason ERA doesn’t look all that special, his three shutout innings in relief of Scherzer in Game 7 of the World Series were pivotal. Corbin hasn’t seen too much of the Yankees, though Stanton has taken him deep a couple of times in 16 at-bats.

The Yankees are going with a bullpen game to round out the series. It sounds like Chad Green or Jonathan Loaisiga will open with Michael King following in relief. While I don’t love openers/bullpen games aesthetically, it does make sense to utilize Green against the top of the Nats order right away instead of throwing King right into the fire.

Bullpen Status

Rosters don’t have to be finalized until noon today, so we don’t have a complete picture of Washington’s bullpen yet. That said, we know that the key cogs of the team’s bullpen include righties Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey, and southpaw Sean Doolittle. Although Doolittle was the team’s closer last year, he may wind up splitting save opportunities with Hudson this season. Hudson seemed to eclipse Doolittle on the depth chart in the postseason.

Obviously, opening day is as fresh as a bullpen is going to get. And, weather permitting, any and all of these relievers could appear in each game this series thanks to tomorrow’s off day. That’s a plus for both teams, but it’s particularly helpful for the Nationals since the underbelly of its bullpen is especially uncertain.

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