By the end of this week, it sure would be nice to look back and laugh at the Yankees’ 2-8 record against the Rays during the regular season. These two sides meet yet again in a best-of-five Division Series in San Diego. That means no Tropicana Field (yes!) but also no Yankee Stadium (sigh). It should be an intense series between two teams that have no love lost between one another.
Credit where credit is due: the Rays have taken care of business thus far in 2020. In the regular season, Tampa Bay had the best record in the American League and handily won the East division. Then, in the first round of the playoffs, the Rays dispatched the Blue Jays in two games.
Tampa Bay has gotten to this point in spite of a slow start. Through August 5th, the Rays were 5-7 and 4.5 games behind the Yankees for first place in the division. It was starting to look like the Rays would fall short of expectations this year. At the time, the Yankees were riding high into Tropicana Field for a weekend series where the Bombers could have buried the Rays. Instead, Tampa Bay took three of four and effectively turned its season around. That series against the Yankees was a harbinger of things to come in the regular season vs. New York. Tampa Bay was victorious in eight of ten head-to-head matchups, including a three game sweep at Yankee Stadium later in August to take over first place for good.
Tampa Bay got to this point on the back of its pitching staff. Pitching has been the name of the game for the Rays for a while now, and 2020 was no different. Tampa Bay had a 3.56 ERA, third-best in MLB. But don’t let that scare you too much: the Yankees just handled Cleveland, who had an even better team ERA of 3.29. Different regular season competition of course, but let’s not pretend this Yankees’ lineup can’t handle good pitching.
Everyone expected the Rays to pitch well, but there were doubts about how much they’d hit this season. On paper, the offense looked mediocre. They were 16th in runs scored last year and subtracted Tommy Pham from the equation. PECOTA projected them to score 291 runs this season, and what do you know: they scored 289, which was 12th-best in MLB. Additionally, the Rays had a 109 wRC+, 9th in MLB, after recording a 102 wRC+ a year ago. This certainly isn’t a vaunted lineup, but it’s not a total pushover like Cleveland’s.
Of course, there’s more to Tampa Bay’s story than their record, record vs. the Yankees, and brief summaries of how the team pitched and hit in the regular season. I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the animus between the Yankees and Rays. It’s not some big secret that these two sides don’t like each other. This is a rivalry that’s bubbled for years primarily via bean ball wars. This should be an intense series that hopefully ends the Rays’ 2020 story.
The playoffs are here and games are to be played all day, but we have to wait just until 7 eastern for the Yankees series against Cleveland to begin. It’s a brief three game set that could be over as soon as tomorrow. There are no off days during series this postseason and all of this round’s games will be played at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Hopefully, the Yankees can celebrate there just like they did back in 2017. The winner of this series will take on either the Rays or Blue Jays in the ALDS.
Cleveland’s a strange team. A good one, but but also extremely flawed. They finished 35-25, second place in the AL Central, almost entirely on the back of the team’s elite pitching staff. Save for MVP candidate José Ramírez, the offense was almost nonexistent all season long. I guess you don’t need to score all that much when you allow just 209 runs (3.5 per game) all season, the lowest in MLB.
Just how bad is this offense? It was nearly Cleveland’s downfall just a couple of weeks ago. Through September 7th, the team was tied for first place in the division with the White Sox. By September 16th, they were six games out of first (behind Chicago) and holding on to one of the two Wild Card spots. Cleveland’s lineup tallied just 24 runs during an 8 game losing streak from the 8th to the 16th. That plummet wasn’t Ramírez’s fault, that’s for sure: the third baseman hit .348/.400/.652 during the skid. Everyone else let the team down. You can see the losing streak flat-line below:
As you can also see, Cleveland surged to finish the season in second place. They made up those six games by going 9-2 to end the year to tie Chicago, though Cleveland held the tiebreaker to claim second place. That run also included a four game sweep of the ChiSox. None other than Ramírez was right in the middle of that hot finish: he hit .436/.522/1.103 (316 wRC+) with 6 homers in the last 11 games to make his case for MVP. The rest of that team during that stretch? .203/.291/.314.
So yeah, you can talk about how great Cleveland’s pitching is all you want, but if it wasn’t for Ramírez, they are a Wild Card team at best right now. He couldn’t even get much help from Francisco Lindor (100 wRC+) or Carlos Santana (95 wRC+) this season.
All that isn’t to say that Ramírez is the savior for this team. It definitely needed a bunch of pitching stars to be a winning club. Shane Bieber, tonight’s starter, is probably going to win the Cy Young Award thanks to a 1.63 ERA in 77 1/3 innings. A couple of other starters had big years too: Carlos Carrasco (2.91 ERA) and Zach Plesac (2.28 ERA). Noticeably missing? Mike Clevinger, who had a 2.90 ERA in 53 starts from 2018 through 2019. Cleveland was so deep in pitching that they could afford to trade him away at the deadline. They were also able to afford sidelining Clevinger and Plesac earlier in August as a result of breaking COVID-19 protocols. Again, this team seems to develop pitching out of thin air (hence the Yankees hiring away Matt Blake).
By the way, it’s not just a formidable rotation either. The bullpen is nasty, too. As a group, Cleveland’s relievers ranked 4th in WPA, 5th in ERA, 1st in FIP, and had the 6th-fewest meltdowns. The team’s relief ace is James Karinchak, who struck out 53 batters in 27 innings this season (48.6 percent strikeout rate). Closer Brad Hand went 16-for-16 in save opportunities this year and fanned 33.7 percent of batters himself. And those aren’t even the only two guys with big strikeout numbers. Phil Maton (33.3 percent), Triston McKenzie (33.1 percent), and Nick Wittgren (28.6 percent) figure to play a big role in relief too.
So, back to the team’s recent run of play to wrap this section up. Cleveland’s (sort of) riding high into this series with the Yankees. I say sort of because the team will need more than its high caliber pitchers and Ramírez in this series. Keep in mind that this team’s 9-2 finish included 7 games against the Tigers and Pirates. Beating up on bad teams is important, but it’s certainly a far cry from even a struggling Yankees club.
Tonight’s start is a big reason why the Yankees signed Cole to a $324 million deal. It’s pretty dang nice to go into Game One of any series with a top-5 pitcher in the sport, something the club hasn’t been able to do since the CC Sabathia days. Cole comes into this ballgame on fire: his last four starts, all with Kyle Higashioka behind the plate, were terrific. He pitched to a 1.00 ERA in 27 innings and allowed just one homer. Can’t wait to see him bring it tonight.
Cole’s opponent is all too familiar with the 30 year-old righty, and not for good reasons. Cleveland batters own a .089/.159/.128 batting line against Cole, many of whom were also on the team when Cole dominated them in the 2018 ALDS.
I already sung Bieber’s praise earlier, but I’ll note it again here. The 25 year-old righty had a 1.63 ERA and 2.07 FIP in 77 1/3 innings this season, including a ridiculous 14.2 strikeouts per nine. He should have a Cy Young Award on his mantle by year’s end. If you think the Yankees are happy to have Cole going in Game One, you can bet that Francona is thrilled to give the ball to Bieber to counter.
The Yankees have had some success against Bieber in the past, but it wasn’t the 2020 version of Bieber. That’s not to say he wasn’t good before, because he was (3.72 ERA and 3.29 FIP in 329 innings entering this season). Last year, the Yankees knocked Bieber out of a game in the second inning in Cleveland. The Bombers tallied five hits, five runs, two walks, and a homer (Brett Gardner) against Bieber. Hopefully we see some semblance of that tonight.
Playoff Tanaka is everyone’s favorite Tanaka. He’s got a 1.76 ERA in 8 postseason starts (46 innings), including a gem against Cleveland in the 2017 ALDS. You may remember that as the Greg Bird homer off Andrew Miller game, but it was also Tanaka’s brilliant performance that helped keep the team alive while down 2-0 in the series.
Regular season Tanaka was very good this year. Weird to think that it could be his final year in pinstripes, but that’s a discussion for another time. In 2020, Tanaka had a 3.56 ERA in 48 innings. His last start of the year against Toronto didn’t go so well, but he’s been reliable otherwise.
It’s remarkable that Carrasco pitched at all this year, let alone pitch so well. He was diagnosed with leukemia last year and doubted that he’d ever pitch again. Instead, the righty delivered a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts this season. He may not be Bieber on the mound, but he’s certainly no break for the Yankees.
Carrasco happened to face Tanaka in Game 3 of the 2017 ALDS. He acquitted himself well too: 5 2/3 frames of shutout baseball. That said, a lot of Yankees hitters haven’t seen much of Carrasco before. We’ll take a repeat of the last time Carrasco faced Tanaka in the playoffs though, even if it’s a nailbiter like that one.
There’s no indication of who would start the third game of this series for the Yankees, though it’s obviously down to either Happ or García. The former would be on an extra day of rest, while the latter on a regular turn.
Happ had a pleasantly surprising 3.47 ERA in 9 starts this season and a 2.34 ERA in his final 7 starts. Meanwhile, Deivi was awfully impressive as a rookie. He may have finished with a 4.98 ERA, but that one bad start in Boston ballooned it. Despite just being 21, there’s no doubt that he’d be up for the task. The guy looks unflappable on the mound. That isn’t to say Happ isn’t deserving, because he’s pitched well enough to start this postseason. That awful performance against the Red Sox in the 2018 ALDS still lingers, though.
Yet another Cleveland starter with a sub-3 ERA. Plesac made 8 starts this season around a time out following his COVID-19 protocol transgression. He had a 2.28 ERA and 3.39 FIP and never failed to pitch fewer than six innings in a start. In fact, six of his eight starts were 6 2/3 innings or longer.
Plesac pitched well against the Yankees last year in his one career appearance against them, but that lineup did not include Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. It did include Kendrys Morales (lol). Plesac’s better than he was a year ago, but the lineup he’s facing will also be more tough.
RHP: James Karinchak, Nick Wittgren, Phil Maton, Cam Hill, Adam Cimber, Triston McKenzie, Adam Plutko, Aaron Civale, Cal Quantrill
LHP: Brad Hand (closer), Óliver Pérez
I already gave a snapshot of this bullpen’s dominance earlier in this preview. Everyone’s obviously rested with yesterday’s day off.
Cleveland has no major injuries to report. RHP Jefry Rodriguez is the one guy on the injured list. He didn’t pitch this season due to a shoulder strain. He wasn’t expected to play a big role, anyway.
You can’t predict baseball
Three games is hardly enough time for the better team to emerge, but it’s hard to dispute that the Yankees are the more well rounded team in this matchup. Cleveland may have the edge on the mound, but it’s not like the Yankees are slouches in that department. And really, the Yankees staff should be able to shut down this lineup given what we’ve seen from Cleveland in 2020. How the Bombers’ offense fares against Cleveland is another question. We know how talented the Yankees bats are, but this year’s inconsistency has been maddening. Nonetheless, the Yankees look like a better team on paper and should win this series. Some weird things can happen in a short series like this, though.
Finally, a different team. It feels like the Yankees have only played the Blue Jays lately, and that’s kind of true. 10 of the team’s last 16 games came against Toronto. Anyway, Don Mattingly’s club comes to the Bronx for the final series of the regular season.
The Yankees have clinched a postseason spot, but there is still a little bit to play for. One, they haven’t officially clinched second place in the AL East. The Blue Jays are two games back with three to play. Additionally, there’s still an outside chance of grabbing the fourth seed, but that can only happen if the Twins remain atop the AL Central and the Yankees leapfrog the White Sox. Chicago is two games up on the Yanks.
Their story so far
The upstart Marlins are 29-28 and in second place in the NL East. Atlanta has already clinched the division, so there’s no remaining hope there. They still have a lot to fight for this weekend, though. Take a look at the postseason picture in the NL:
In short, Miami has a one game lead on Philadelphia and three game lead on the Mets for second in the NL East. They hold the tiebreaker with the Phillies, but not with the Mets.
The Marlins don’t look like a playoff team on paper, but given this weird season and some of the club’s young talent, they should get in. This is a team with a below average offense (97 wRC+) and the league’s 9th-worst ERA (4.89).
Francisco Cervelli, C (concussion)
Logan Forsythe, INF (strained oblique)
Isan Díaz, 2B (strained groin)
Harold Ramirez, OF (strained hamstring)
Elieser Hernandez, RHP (strained lat)
Jeff Bridgham, RHP (undisclosed)
Jordan Holloway, RHP (undisclosed)
Brandon Leibrandt, LHP (elbow ulnar neuritis)
Brian Moran, LHP (patella tendinitis)
Mike Morin, RHP (elbow discomfort)
Josh A. Smith, RHP (cracked fingernail)
Drew Steckenrider, RHP (triceps tendinitis)
Pat Venditte, SHP (strained oblique)
Spotlight: Sixto Sánchez
Deivi García isn’t the only rookie starter to get the Pedro Martínez treatment this season. The other is Marlins’ rookie phenom Sixto Sánchez has been brilliant this season, though the Yankees won’t get a look at him in this series.
Sánchez, who was acquired in the J.T. Realmuto trade, has made 7 starts at the big league level this year and owns a 3.46 ERA and 3.49 FIP. He’s cooled off a bit after a torrid first five starts (1.69 ERA in 32 innings), but he appears to be in line for a Game 1 playoff start should Miami get in the dance.
It’s not hard to see why Sánchez was the headliner in the Realmuto deal and is one of the sport’s top prospects. His fastball sits at 98.6 MPH and is followed by a handful of good secondaries. Sixto’s changeup, slider, and curveball all can be put away pitches. All of whiff rates of 23.9 percent or higher, though it looks like the changeup is his top offering after the heater. Opponents have a .148 batting average, a.148 slugging percentage, and a 28 percent whiff rate against his change. The 22 year-old righty should be this team’s ace for years to come.
Corey Dickerson, LF (.258/.313/.409, 97 wRC+)
Starling Marte, CF (.287/.342/.439, 111 wRC+)
Jesús Aguilar, DH (.287/.359/.475, 128 wRC+)
Brian Anderson, 3B (.260/.347/.464, 122 wRC+)
Garrett Cooper, 1B (.288/.363/.495, 135 wRC+)
Matt Joyce, RF (.244/.345/.328, 94 wRC+)
Miguel Rojas, SS (.308/.400/.504, 147 wRC+)
Jon Berti, 2B (.264/.388/.364, 117 wRC+)
Jorge Alfaro, C (.222/.271/.344, 67 wRC+)
Chad Wallach, C (.189/.250/.351, 64 wRC+)
Jazz Chisholm, INF (.125/.222/.229, 30 wRC+)
Lewis Brinson, OF (.255/.300/.415, 95 wRC+)
Monte Harrison, OF (.140/.213/.233, 26 wRC+)
Magneuris Sierra, OF (.278/.372/.417. 119 wRC+)
Tonight, 7:05 p.m. EDT
RHP Sandy Alcantara
The 25 year-old righty has been terrific for the Marlins this season. In six starts, Alcantara owns a 3.12 ERA. This performance comes a season after he threw just under 200 innings of 3.88 ERA ball. He’s going to be a fixture of the Marlins’ rotation for a while.
LHP JA Happ
This is Happ’s final tune up before Game 3 of the Wild Card Series (if necessary). He’s in line to pitch on regular rest that day. Who saw that coming? He’s earned it, though. The lefty has a 3.25 ERA in 8 starts this season but has been even better down the stretch.
Tomorrow, 1:05 p.m. EDT
LHP Trevor Rogers
Rogers has been hit-or-miss, but it’s also been a big jump for Miami’s 2017 first rounder. He hasn’t pitched above Double-A before 2020, and made just five starts there to boot. The southpaw has a 6.84 ERA in 25 innings, though that’s somewhat inflated by one awful start against the Phillies.
RHP Deivi García
Deivi looks to bounce back from his first clunker at the big league level last week. After a number of stellar performances, García gave up six runs in three innings at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. García will be in line to start one of the first games of the ALDS should the Yankees make it that far.
Sunday, 3:05 p.m. EDT
RHP José Ureña
The 29 year-old Ureña has a 6.00 ERA in 21 innings this season and has gotten hit hard. The righty has a nice run in 2017 and 2018, but hasn’t been very good ever since.
RHP Clarke Schmidt
This will be Schmidt’s first big league start after making a couple of relief appearances earlier this season. It’s an audition for some sort of postseason role.
RHP: Brandon Kintzler, Brad Boxberger, Yimi García, James Hoyt, Ryne Stanek, Nick Vincent
LHP: Richard Bleier, Stephen Tarpley, Daniel Castano
Miami’s bullpen worked hard to wrap up a 4-2 win against Atlanta yesterday. Kintzler (29 pitches) is likely not available today. Boxberger (15), García (15), Hoyt (13), and Bleier (10) also pitched. Of that group, García probably won’t pitch tonight as he also threw in Wednesday’s game.
Last call for the Blue Jays. Wasn’t it just a week ago that these two sides were duking it out for second place in the AL East? Now, Toronto sits in the 8th seed at 27-26 whereas the Yankees are four games ahead of them at 31-22. It ain’t over ’til it’s over, but barring a Blue Jays four game sweep, this series isn’t going to change the outcome of the AL East race.
Since we last saw them
Hasn’t been all that long since the Yankees and Blue Jays previously squared off. This will be the third consecutive week that these two sides have a series against one another. Most recently, the Yankees swept the Blue Jays in three games at Yankee Stadium. This wasn’t any ordinary sweep, by the way. The Yanks outscored Toronto 43-15.
Things haven’t gone much better for the Jays since they departed the Bronx. Toronto lost three of four down in Philadelphia, though it could have been worse. Philly tacked on 15 runs in Friday’s doubleheader to open the series. This, after the Yankees’ 43 run shellacking of the Jays’ pitching staff. Then, Toronto finally got a well-pitched game from Hyun-Jin Ryu, but still lost. Vince Velazquez outpitched Ryu to beat the Jays, 3-1. At long last, Toronto returned to the win column yesterday to salvage the series and break a six game losing streak.
Rowdy Tellez, 1B (strained knee)
Derek Fisher, OF (knee contusion)
Yennsy Diaz, RHP (strained lat)
Elvis Luciano, RHP (undisclosed)
Nate Pearson, RHP (strained flexor)
Matt Shoemaker, RHP (strained lat)
Trent Thornton, RHP (elbow surgery)
Ken Giles, RHP (strained flexor)
Jordan Romano, RHP (strained middle finger)
Jacob Waguespack, RHP (strained back)
Spotlight: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
There are a lot of exciting young players on the Blue Jays. Whether its Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, or Cavan Biggio, one guy seems to get a little less notice: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. But like the first three, he’s got baseball in his lineage as older brother Yuli plays for the Astros.
The almost 27 year-old outfielder has been a strong contributor in Toronto since he debuted in 2018. Gurriel came up as a shortstop, but was moved to left field last year in favor of Freddy Galvis (though really in preparation for Bo Bichette’s call-up). Regardless of where he’s played, his bat has been superb.
Gurriel has a lifetime .285/.327/.507 (121 wRC+) in 807 plate appearances. He’s got plenty of power (41 homers, .222 ISO) and has a more than tolerable strikeout rate (22.9 percent) considering his power production. 2020 has been his best offensive season: .303/.348/.530 (137 wRC+), 10 homers, and a 19.9 percent strikeout rate in 201 trips to the plate. He’s also boosted his walk rate to 7.0 percent, comfortably above the 4.8 percent walk rate he had from 2018 through 2019.
If it’s not clear based on more than 800 big league plate appearances, Gurriel’s Statcast data also backs up his offensive results.
Plenty of hard contact leading to good results. And a lot of those hard hits have come against the Yankees this year, by the way. Gurriel enters this series with a .550/.550/1.100 batting line in 20 plate appearances against the Yankees this season. He also has three homers, two coming against Masahiro Tanaka.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B (.237/.312/.407, 96 wRC+)
Travis Shaw, 3B (.233/.307/.397, 93 wRC+)
Joe Panik, 2B (.248/.363/.333, 101 wRC+)
Danny Jansen, C (.160/.297/.292, 69 wRC+)
Alenjandro Kirk, C (200/.273/.200, 37 wRC+)
Jonathan Villar, INF/OF (.241/.310/.307, 73 wRC+)
Jonathan Davis, OF (.333/.500/.750, 233 wRC+)
Tonight, 6:37 p.m. EDT:
The Yankees pushed back Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka in preparation for the postseason rotation, which opens up today’s slot. Michael King seems like a possibility to start tonight, though nothing has been announced.
RHP Matt Shoemaker
This will be Shoemaker’s first start in a month. He’s been on the injured list with a lat strain. In 25 2/3 innings pre-injury, the righty had a 4.91 ERA and 6.10 FIP. Tonight will be his first start against the Yankees as a Blue Jay.
Tomorrow, 6:37 p.m. EDT:
RHP Gerrit Cole
The Yankees’ ace in on a roll of late. He faced this same Jays squad last week and allowed just one run in seven innings. Expect Kyle Higashioka to catch Cole again.
RHP Tanner Roark
Roark has been dreadful this season (6.41 ERA, 7.71 FIP in 39 1/3 innings). The Yankees shelled the veteran last time out and surely are salivating to face him again.
Wednesday, 6:37 p.m. EDT:
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
Tanaka had his longest outing of the season — 7 innings — against Toronto on the 17th. He’s been good all season (3.27 ERA, 4.25 FIP) and is getting ready for a Game 2 start in the Wild Card round.
RHP Chase Anderson
Like Roark, the Yankees crushed Anderson last week. Anderson’s had a brutal season (7.45 ERA, 7/15 FIP in 29 innings) and this Yankees’ lineup is not a good matchup for him.
Thursday, 6:37 p.m. EDT:
LHP JA Happ
The previously written-off 37 year-old lefty now has a 3.25 ERA after throwing eight scoreless innings against Boston on Saturday. His turnaround after two dreadful starts to open up the 2020 campaign has been remarkable.
LHP Robbie Ray
Toronto acquired Ray at the trade deadline, but he hasn’t been all that great. Better than Arizona (7.84 ERA and 7.28 FIP), but that’s a low bar to clear. In 16 2/3 innings with the Jays, Ray has a 5.94 ERA and 5.70 FIP.
RHP: Rafael Dolis, Anthony Bass, Julian Merryweather, A.J. Cole, Thomas Hatch, Patrick Murphy, Shun Yamaguchi, Wilmer Font, Ross Stripling, T.J. Zeuch
LHP: Ryan Borucki
Bass (14 pitches), Hatch (27), and Yamaguchi (21) pitched yesterday. Everyone else has had a day of rest, although Borucki and Cole pitched back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.
This season has gone according to plan for the Red Sox. No, seriously. Hard to expect much more than last place after trading away the face of the franchise Mookie Betts while not doing anything to address an awful pitching staff. Can’t say I mind it! Too bad this is the last time we’ll see the Red Sox this season. The Yankees have won all seven games against Boston this season.
Their Story So Far
The Red Sox were in disarray the last time they played the Yankees, but they’ve been a bit better since. Still, nothing to write home about. Boston fell to 6-17 on August 17th after the Yankees swept them in four games in the Bronx. Since, the Red Sox have gone 13-15 to bring their record to 19-32. Better, but the team remains in the AL East cellar.
Oddly enough, the Yankees have also gone 13-15 since that Red Sox series ended. Obviously, things are much better of late as a result of an eight game winning streak, a reminder of how much better this Yankees team is than Boston even during the bad times. In any case, the Red Sox aren’t as meek as they were about a month ago. Boston’s bats have come alive.
23 year-old third baseman Rafael Devers has led Boston’s offensive charge over the last month. He’s got the league’s 5th-highest wRC+ (202) since that series at Yankee Stadium ended. You might recall just how awful Devers was earlier this year. He departed Yankee Stadium with a .183/.239/.317 (44 wRC+) batting line last month. What a turnaround.
It’s not just Devers hitting, though. Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo have continued to hit well at the top of the lineup. Jackie Bradley Jr. has been hot and power-hitting prospect Bobby Dalbec has contributed in spite of an astronomical 50.8 percent strikeout rate.
As good as the Red Sox bats have been, the pitching has remained awful.
The needle’s barely removed on what is objectively the league’s worst pitching staff. Boston pitchers have the MLB’s worst ERA, FIP, and WAR. It’s literally a below replacement level pitching staff. After watching what the Yankees did to the Blue Jays pitchers this week, we should expect a few more slugfests this weekend.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B: knee joint procedure
Andrew Benintendi, OF: strained rib cage
Zack Godley, RHP: strained flexor
Kyle Hart, LHP: hip impingement
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP: COVID-19, myocarditis
Chris Sale, LHP: Tommy John surgery
Colten Brewer, RHP: strained finger
Austin Brice, RHP: strained lat
Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP: sprained SC joint
Josh Taylor, LHP: shoulder tendinitis
Andrew Triggs, RHP: radial nerve irritaiton
Spotlight: J.D. Martinez
As already noted, the Red Sox offense has been much better of late. J.D. Martinez hasn’t been a part of that surge, however. Martinez sits at .206/.294/.371 (73 wRC+) in 194 plate appearances this season, a career-worst batting line. It’s been even worse recently, though. Martinez owns a .174/.263/.337 (54 wRC+) batting line in his last 99 plate appearances.
It does seem that Martinez has been a little bit unlucky this season at first glance. His batting average and slugging percentage are below his expected marks of .235 and .469, respectively. Hence, his .282 actual wOBA sits far below his .330 xwOBA. That said, those expected marks aren’t exactly good for any hitter, let alone someone of Martinez’s (perhaps former) caliber.
Martinez hasn’t had a season with an xwOBA below .400 in the Statcast era, so you can see how significant of a drop he’s exhibited this year. He’s simply just not hitting the ball as hard this year. His exit velocity is down about two MPH and his launch angle has increased roughly two degrees. The combination of more lift at lower exit velocities is a recipe for decline.
Aside from his batted ball problems, he’s also making less contact. His strikeout rate is up from 21 percent last year to 24.7 percent this year. Remarkably, he’s whiffing at more fastballs than previously. You can watch some cherry-picked examples of fastball swings-and-misses above or look at this chart below.
Like so many hitters, Martinez has clobbered opposing fastballs in the past. Last year, he had a .404 wOBA against fastballs. A year prior, .467. But this year, he sits at .289. He does have a .366 xwOBA against heaters, but that’s also by far a career-low (previous: .434 in 2016).
This is an unusual year in numerous respects, so it’s not easy to pinpoint the source of Martinez’s difficulties. That said, there are a couple of possibilities I’ll float. One, he’s now 33, so maybe he’s lost a little bit of bat speed. Another? Maybe he’s not too please with the organization he signed with. It’s a far cry from the Dave Dombrowski era. Remember how Martinez reacted to the Mookie Betts trade?
Not good. Can’t blame him if he’s still disgruntled. He does have an opt-out after this season, similar to last winter, but I can’t imagine him exercising it. He’s still got $38.75 million coming his way through 2022. I wouldn’t count on him beating that in this winter’s market, especially after this poor performance.
Alex Verdugo, RF (.326/.381/.511, 138 wRC+)
Rafael Devers, 3B (.293/.345/.550, 135 wRC+)
Xander Bogaerts, SS (.284/.342/.500, 122 wRC+)
J.D. Martinez, DH (.206/.294/.371, 73 wRC+)
Christian Vázquez, C (.265/.327/.397, 94 wRC+)
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF (.265/.339/.419, 102 wRC+)
Yairo Muñoz, LF (.333/.333/.511, 122 wRC+)
Bobby Dalbec, 1B (.241/.305/.593, 130 wRC+)
Christian Arroyo, 2B (.250/.300/.500, 108 wRC+)
Kevin Plawecki, C (114 wRC+)
Jonathan Araúz, INF (49 wRC+)
Micahel Chavis, 1B/LF (64 wRC+)
Tzu-Wei Lin, INF (1 wRC+)
Tonight, 7:30 p.m. EDT
LHP Martín Pérez
The southpaw has been OK for Boston this season (4.33 ERA, 5.14 FIP in 52 innings). He didn’t fare so well in his one start against the Yankees this year. Luke Voit took him deep and Pérez was pulled after three innings.
LHP Jordan Montgomery
2020 has been a bit of a roller coaster for Monty. It seems like he’s either been really good (like last start against Baltimore) or terrible with nothing inbetween. He’s faced Boston twice this year and has allowed 2 runs in 9 1/3. innings.
Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. EDT
Boston hasn’t announced its starter, but odds are one of Chris Mazza or Dylan Covey get the ball here. Perhaps the Sox throw an opener before one of those two follow. Mazza threw 18 pitches Wednesday and Covey tossed 23 on Tuesday.
LHP JA Happ
Happ’s turnaround began with his start against the Sox on August 16th. Including that game, the veteran lefty owns a 2.45 ERA and 3.64 FIP in 29 1/3 innings pitched. I don’t think anyone saw this coming after a disastrous 2019 campaign.
Sunday, 1:07 p.m. EDT
RHP Tanner Houck
This will be the 24 year-old’s second big league start. Boston’s 1st round pick in 2017 tossed five shutout frames against the Marlins in his debut. He walked three and struck out seven. Houck offers a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a slider.
RHP Deivi García
García makes up the other side of this rookie vs. rookie matchup. He’s established himself as a key piece of the Yankees’ rotation in his first four starts (3.28 ERA and 3.97 FIP in 24 2/3 innings) and is appointment television now.
RHP: Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Phillips Valdez, Marcus Walden, Robert Stock, Domingo Tapia, Robinson Leyer, Chris Mazza, Dylan Covey, Ryan Weber
LHP: Jeffrey Springs
Boston’s top relief arms all pitched yesterday. Still, Barnes (14 pitches yesterday), Brasier (13), and Valdez (18) could be available tonight. I’d probably rule out Valdez, who’d be working three straight days even though he threw just five pitches on Wednesday. No one else has worked consecutive days of late. I suppose it’s also worth noting that Jeffrey Springs and Ryan Weber combined for 15 pitches yesterday.
We’re probably in for some high scoring affairs this weekend. Boston’s pitching is terrible and the Yankees offense is hot. Meanwhile, the Red Sox bats have sorta come to life. In any event, the Yankees should win all three of these games and finish the season 10-0 against Boston.