Tag: Oakland Athletics

Yankees ALDS Opponents Fear Index

The agony of defeat, post-Hicks catch.

With just 2.5 weeks left in the season, the Yankees are almost certainly going to hold homefield advantage in the ALDS. They hold a five-game lead on the Twins and would need a genuine collapse to be playing in Minnesota.

But it is time to start thinking about potential opponents to roll into the Bronx on Oct. 4 for the American League Division Series. With the Red Sox all but eliminated, there are four realistic first-round opponents: The Twins, Rays, Athletics and Indians.

If the Yankees finish with the AL’s second-best record, they get the Twins. If they beat out Houston, they place one of the latter three teams.

Do any of these teams pique the fear index? Not really. The Yankees should win a series against any of these teams. But which is the most fearsome? That is what I want to find out. Let’s peruse the question, shall we?

Minnesota Twins Fear Index: 2 out of 5

The story of the Minnesota Twins has been home runs. They’ve hit 276 of them this season and broke the 2018 Yankees’ record … before the 2019 Yankees tied them last night. They’ve been rewarded by the juiced baseball for shoring up their roster in free agency. While these Twins have very little postseason experience, those home runs should carry over into October.

In two series with the Bombers, they lost two of three both times, though they were both tightly contested series. It’s hard to forget the slugfests in Minnesota. The Twins were able to get to the Yankees’ late-inning relievers, though they did most of their damage against Domingo German, CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ.

As a team, they have a 117 wRC+, trailing just the Yankees and Astros. Their 4.07 staff FIP is fourth-best in baseball and their 4.17 ERA is eighth.

However, here’s why the Twins are better on paper than in playoff series: They’re shorthanded. Byron Buxton is out for the year. Nelson Cruz is dealing with a wrist injury. Max Kepler has had multiple injuries in his breakout season.

Get well soon, y’all (MLB Gifs)

Meanwhile, their best pitcher in the second half, Michael Pineda, was suspended for PEDs and is done for the year. The rest of their starting pitching has struggled in the second half and their bullpen might not hold up in October. Starter Kyle Gibson is dealing with an intestinal issue and returns to the team Thursday.

You can throw out the Yankees’ postseason history with the Twins. Most of that involves players long since retired and this Minnesota team actually gets strikeouts and hits homers. However, the Yankees have a clear advantage on Minnesota when they aren’t using their back-end starters.

Tampa Bay Rays Fear Index: 0.5 out of 5

On paper, the Rays have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. They’re second only to the Dodgers with a 3.63 ERA and lead MLB with a 3.67 FIP and 22.6 fWAR. They strike people out at a high rate and the team boasts Charlie Morton at the head of their rotation.

However, they’re thin going into the stretch run. Morton has a 4.52 ERA in the second half. Though he’s matched up well with the Yankees, he would be the Rays’ best Wild Card Game starter, so they might not see him more than once. Meanwhile, both Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell are on the mend from injuries and neither will be fully stretched out in all likelihood.

Tampa Bay’s bullpen has held its own this season … except against the Yankees. Colin Poche, Diego Castillo, Emilio Pagan, the Yankees have hit all of them. While deadline acquisition Nick Anderson has been electric in Tampa, the Rays’ depth won’t confer them the same advantage in October. It’s hard to imagine a team bullpenning its way through 3-4 games in a series and surviving.

As for their lineup, it’s fine. Austin Meadows and Tommy Pham are both above-average players and the team sports a collection of good but not great hitters. They don’t stack up with the rest of the AL contenders.

The Yankees beat them 12 out of 17 so far this year. Considering that track record, the Rays’ injured pitching staff and the lack of homefield advantage at Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay is undoubtedly the team the Yankees would most want to face. A series loss to Tampa would be a terrible look.

Oakland Athletics Fear Index: 2.4 out of 5

Over the past few weeks, the A’s made their case as a team to fear. They took four of six from the Yankees and could have easily won the two games they lost. They showed off their offense led by Marcus Semien and Matts Chapman and Olson. Those same players anchor an impressive defensive infield.

Oakland’s pitching staff also is at full strength. Sean Manaea has had two fantastic starts since coming off the injured list and is able to make full appearances. He’s already a prime candidate for a Wild Card Game start, should they get there. They can follow him with Mike Fiers, Tanner Roark and Homer Bailey, each of whom has a win over the Yankees this year.

Meanwhile, their bullpen has holes. The Yankees beat Liam Hendriks in last year’s Wild Card Game and in their series finale before Labor Day. For manager Bob Melvin, it’s been Hendriks, Yusmeiro Petit and a cadre of sub-par options. Rookies A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo could be a boost.

Coupled with holes at the bottom of their lineup, the Athletics certainly have exploitable weaknesses for the Yankees to beat. The Bombers took two of three in the Bronx and would only need to play twice in Oakland at most. As they stand now, the A’s are probably the top ALDS competition.

Cleveland Indians Fear Index: 2* out of 5

Cleveland sports the best rotation of these four teams with Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber as a 1-2 punch. Zach Plesac and Adam Plutko don’t hold up quite as well as Oakland’s veteran back end, but the chance to use their top two for the majority of a series carries significant weight.

This team also features Francisco Lindor, one of the more dynamic players in baseball. He can change a series and is a player you can’t let beat you. Carlos Santana has had a career-year in the middle of the lineup and deadline acquisitions Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes extend the lineup.

But there’s that asterisk above. That’s for Jose Ramirez. With him in the lineup, Cleveland probably surpasses the Athletics as a threat. He had just returned to MVP candidate form before he broke his hand in August. I’d assume he’s out for a potential ALDS, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

As with the other ALDS opponents, the Indians have outs at the bottom of their lineup and a creaky bullpen. Brad Hand has blown five saves and the rest of the pen relies on pitchers like Tyler Clippard. Can he hold up in October? Hmmm.

The Yankees should be overwhelming favorites in any first-round series. They’ll either be hosting a banged-up Twins squad — the most-likely scenario — or will be playing a team that used its best starter or band of relievers in the Wild Card Game. We saw in 2017 how exhausted the Yankees were from that one game and it nearly lost them the ALDS. The Bombers get the rest advantage this year, and they’ll have the talent advantage, too.


Oakland Athletics Series Preview: 8/30 to 9/1

Marcus Semien (MLB Gifs)

The Yankees return home in search of revenge, facing the Athletics just a week after a sweep in Oakland.

Since They Last Met

Since that sweep, the Athletics lost two games to the Giants at home before heading east and winning three of four in Kansas City. They now lead the Rays by one game in the wild card (two games in loss column) and are 1.5 games back of Cleveland for the first wild card spot. Since they are on a roll, I must mention that Boston is just 5.5 games back of Oakland.

The Athletics have called up a pair of hitters who combined for 64 home runs in Triple-A Las Vegas, Seth Brown and Sheldon Neuse. Neuse has yet to make his debut and should some time this weekend, particularly with Khris Davis on paternity leave and Stephen Piscotty on the IL.

Injury Report

Piscotty sprained his ankle and is on the 10-day IL, while 3B Matt Chapman took a hit-by-pitch to the dome and was out of the lineup Thursday. OF Ramon Laureano is on the 10-day IL and will likely miss this series. RHP Daniel Gossett is on the 60-day IL.

LHP Sean Manaea, their best pitcher last season, is still on rehab assignment as he works back from shoulder surgery.

Player Spotlight: Marcus Semien

Semien is one of the best player development success stories of the last decade, though all that development came at the Major League level. The shortstop was the top piece in the 2014 Jeff Samardzija deal with Chicago and immediately inherited the position in Oakland. However, he was an error machine.

In 2015, he committed 35 errors at short, a pretty even split between fielding and throwing miscues. Though he had the athleticism and talent to man the position, it wasn’t shining through.

The Athletics turned to Ron Washington. Washington, known best as either the manager of the early 2010s Texas Rangers or as the man making a snarky comment in Moneyball, is a fielding guru. After leaving Texas and before joining the Braves, Washington worked extensively with Semien and helped him turn into a Gold Glove-caliber glovesman.

In addition to his turnaround in the field, Semien has exceled at the plate, as the Yankees got to see firsthand last week. Like many players, he’s steadily added power in recent seasons, culminating in a career-best 24-homer year in 2019 with 34 doubles, one away from his personal-high. With contributions on both sides of the ball, he’s a 5+ WAR player by both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, someone who deserves All-Star love.

Projected Lineup

  1. Marcus Semien, SS (.277/.360/.494, 127 wRC+)
  2. Robbie Grossman, RF (.252/.347/.364, 95 wRC+)
  3. Matt Chapman, 3B (.259/.344/.528, 129 wRC+)
  4. Matt Olson, 1B (.261/.344/.517, 125 wRC+)
  5. Mark Canha, CF (.277/.391/.547, 149 wRC+)
  6. Seth Brown, LF (.368/.368/.474, 126 wRC+ in four games)
  7. Sheldon Neuse, DH (.317/.389/.550, 126 wRC+ in Triple-A)
  8. Jurickson Profar, 2B (.214/.292/.405, 83 wRC+)
  9. Josh Phegley, C (.257/.298/.431, 91 wRC+)

On the bench, the Athletics have backup catcher Chris Herrmann (52 wRC+), infielder Corban Joseph (40 wRC+) and utility man Chad Pinder (85 wRC+).

Friday (7:05 p.m. EDT): CC Sabathia (vs. A’s) vs. Brett Anderson (vs. Yankees)

For the first time in four years, Brett Anderson has made 25 starts in a season, and the left-hander has been an effective pitcher for the Athletics. He has a 4.08 ERA in 150 innings with a better-than-average home run rate to buoy his minuscule strikeout rate.

Seriously, his strikeout rate is in the 1st percentile in baseball as the 31-year-old fans just 12 percent of opponents. He is able to win games by keeping the ball on the ground with a GB rate above 50 percent.

However, he’s facing a Yankees team that demolishes lefties. They’ve won their last 13 starts vs. southpaws and the Yankees have traditionally raked against Anderson. With the caveat that the team and Anderson have changed over the years, you have to mention that Anderson has a 6.86 ERA in 40.2 IP against the Yankees. The team hits .339/.384/.508 with seven homers against him.

Anderson (Baseball Savant)

Saturday (1:05 p.m. EDT): Domingo German (vs. A’s) vs. Homer Bailey (vs. Yankees)

Homer Bailey has an opportunity to do something extremely rare: Beat the Yankees three times in the regular season without playing on an AL East team.

The right-hander topped Domingo German in April with the Royals and last week with the A’s. Normally, with the current system, a pitcher will face a non-division team twice in a season, but Bailey’s trade to Oakland in July created this situation.

Bailey has good peripherals in Oakland despite a 5.52 ERA, and he held the Yankees to just one run in the series opener last week. He gave up seven hits and walked none, settling down after a solo homer by Gary Sanchez in the first inning.

Bailey (Baseball Savant)

Sunday (1:05 p.m. EDT): J.A. Happ (vs. A’s) vs. Mike Fiers (vs. Yankees)

Fiers has been the A’s best starter this year and found a way to beat the Yankees in Oakland despite allowing nine baserunners in 5.1 innings. However, there’s reason to believe he won’t be quite as effective this time out.

Fiers is an extreme flyball pitcher, tied for 16th in baseball among qualified starters with a 40.2 percent groundball rate. He’s been able to cull his high home run rate this season, though that should be more difficult at Yankee Stadium (even if it’s played like a pitcher’s park this year).

Fiers has allowed four homers in two career starts at the Stadium. It’s worth noting that he’s been better than ever this season and his 3.40 ERA isn’t a total fluke, even if he’s outpitching his FIP and other indicators. He’s a talented righty who makes up for his lack of velocity, but he could struggle in the Bronx.

Fiers (Baseball Savant)

Bullpen Status

Here’s a reminder of who they have in the pen:

RHPs: Liam Hendriks, Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino
LHPs: Ryan Buchter, Jake Diekman, A.J. Puk

The Athletics had to ride their bullpen hard on Thursday, getting Petit, Soria and Diekman each facing four hitters and Hendriks throwing 31 pitches to eight batters to narrowly close the game. Diekman has pitched in back-to-back games.

Petit remains the middle innings fireman while Hendriks closes things out. Puk is the wild card as the multi-inning option who has just a few games to his MLB career after debuting vs. the Yankees.

Treinen has fallen off significantly in 2019, taking another loss Wednesday. Buchter is a LOOGY while Soria and Trivino sit somewhere in middle relief.

Oakland Athletics Series Preview: 8/20 to 8/22

The Yankees play the Athletics for three Oakland Nights, then they bash and they bounce.

Their Story So Far

The Athletics are in the thick of the American League wild card race. At 71-53, they trail the Rays by just one game for the second wild card spot. Their Fangraphs playoff odds are 35.0 percent while it’s 46.8 percent on Baseball Prospectus.

For a team you don’t hear much about, this team is capital ‘F’ Fun. Matt Olson is insanely underrated as a slugging first baseman, while Matt Chapman plays all-world defense at third base in addition to his powerful bat. Ramon Laureano, likely to miss this series, is a must-watch center fielder both for his insane highlights and blooper-reel lowlights.

Meanwhile, the A’s pitching staff is a patchwork in the rotation for the second straight season. Mike Fiers is ostensibly their ace, while their best pitcher in the first half — Frankie Montas — was suspended 80 games for steroids and will miss the rest of the year. They added Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark at the deadline. In the bullpen, 2018 Wild Card Game starter Liam Hendriks has taken over as closer in a career season.

Injury Report

As mentioned above, Laureano is on the 10-day IL and will likely miss both Yankees-A’s series. RHPs Marco Estrada and Daniel Gossett are on the 60-day IL.

LHP Sean Manaea, their best pitcher last season, is nearing his return from Sept. 2018 shoulder surgery.

Player Spotlight: Matt Olson

Even in an era of plentiful home runs, sometimes you just want to watch a majestic dinger fly off the bat of a big, tall dude with a good looking swing. Matt Olson is a man of the people in this regard.

For the season, Olson is hitting .262/.345/.532 with 25 home runs and a 132 OPS+ in just 91 games. Since coming onto the scene after hitting 24 home runs in 59 games down the stretch in 2017, he’s flown under the radar as a top-end power bat. He’s also the reigning Gold Glove winner at first base.

Olson would have been forgiven for having a down year in 2019 after he fractured his wrist in the opening series in Japan. Instead, he’s come back with his full power and is a menace in the middle of Oakland’s order.

Platoon Spotlight: Jurickson Profar

Profar, the Athletics’ starting second baseman for most of the season, has had a negligible platoon split for his career as a switch hitter. This season? It’s extreme.

Facing LHP: .304/.353/.418, 102 OPS+
Facing RHP: .176/.246/.370, 61 OPS+

With Corban Joseph available to platoon with him, we may only see him face J.A. Happ and the other Yankees southpaws over the next few weeks.

Stat Spotlight: .247

As you may have heard, A’s slugger Khris Davis has hit exactly .247 in four consecutive seasons, starting in 2015 with the Brewers. It’s become somewhat of a national phenomenon.

The outlook for a fifth straight season is grim. With a little over a month to go in the season, he’s hitting .222 thanks in part to a series of injuries weighing down his play. If he’s gonna hit .247, he’ll need to get hot against the Yankees.

Bash Brothers

Projected Lineup

  1. Marcus Semien, SS (.271/.357/476, 122 wRC+)
  2. Robbie Grossman, LF (.250/.347/.366, 95 wRC+)
  3. Matt Chapman, 3B (.262/.346/.534, 130 wRC+)
  4. Matt Olson, 1B (.262/.345/.532, 129 wRC+)
  5. Mark Canha, CF (.261/.381/.505, 137 wRC+)
  6. Khris Davis, DH (.222/.293/.380, 78 wRC+)
  7. Stephen Piscotty, RF (.246/.309/.405, 89 wRC+)
  8. Jurickson Profar, 2B (.204/.269/.380, 69 wRC+)
  9. Josh Phegley, C (.244/.283/.423, 84 wRC+)

On the bench, the Athletics have backup catcher Chris Herrmann (54 wRC+), infielder Corban Joseph (58 wRC+) and utilityman Chad Pinder (93 wRC+).

Tuesday (10 p.m. EDT): Domingo German (vs. A’s) vs. Homer Bailey (vs. Yankees)

The Athletics didn’t go for any high-profile acquisitions at the deadline and instead took fliers on lower-priced veterans, including the acquisition of Bailey from the Royals in mid-July.

The right-hander has an unseemly 6.40 ERA in six starts for Oakland, though he’s actually been much better than that. He’s had two awful starts and four quality starts, including seven scoreless frames against the Giants last time out. Though it was against a slightly different Yankees lineup, Bailey outdueled German in April, allowing just three hits and a run over six frames.

Bailey sports a low-90s fastball about half the time while working in a spiltter, slider and changeup. The splitter has been his best pitch, getting whiffs on 37.4 percent of swings. Still, Bailey allows plenty of hard contact and is prone for a blow-up start, as mentioned above.

Wednesday (10 p.m. EDT): J.A. Happ (vs. A’s) vs. Mike Fiers (vs. Yankees)

Fiers has been the Athletics’ best starter for about a year now. Though still seemingly the same soft-tossing righty he’s ever been, he’s cut down home runs to a league-average mark and has once again out-pitched his middling peripherals bringing a 3.46 ERA and 4.78 FIP into action.

A flyball pitcher, the Oakland Coliseum was practically made for him with its spacious dimensions. He’s cut down on hard contact from a year ago and is in the 72nd percentile on exit velocity and found ways to excel when behind in the count. For more on his mastery in sticky situations, check out this article from Baseball Prospectus.

As hinted at above, Fiers barely breaks 90 mph with his fastball and sinker, which he throws a combined 52 percent of the time. His high-spin curve is his putaway pitch for strikeouts and he also throws a slider and changeup each at least 13 percent of the time.

Thursday (9:30 p.m. EDT): Masahiro Tanaka (vs. A’s) vs. Tanner Roark (vs. Yankees)

When people think of a quality innings eater, they think of Roark. In four of the five seasons going into 2019, he accumulated at least 180 innings and put up at least 2.0 fWAR. This season, though he’s only had 128 innings, he’s again at 2.2 WAR thanks to a 4.01 ERA and improved peripherals.

Roark won’t overwhelm with his low-90s fastball and sinker, but he’s good at mixing and matching, using those two pitches in unison with a slider, curveball and changeup. He’s had a 0.5 mph uptick on his fastball this season and it’s helped him turn it back into a positive pitch.

Bullpen Status

Liam Hendriks has emerged as the Athletics’ closer this season after adding velocity and upping his reliance on a high-spin four-seam fastball. The 30-year-old has a 1.54 ERA in 64.1 innings this year.

Athletics top prospect AJ Puk will be called up for his first MLB stint during this series. Normally a starter, he’ll cut his teeth in the bullpen after working his way back from Tommy John surgery.

Last season’s top duo of Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino each have below-average ERAs, taking a step back this season. The team has Ryan Buchter and Jake Diekman to handle lefties and sometimes more.

Right-hander Yusemiro Petit has moved into a middle relief/setup role as he puts up a 2.56 ERA over 63.1 innings. He leads the AL in relief appearances with 62. Veteran Joakim Soria has seen some high leverage work despite a 4.79 ERA himself.

Yankees Connections

All three players from the ill-fated Sonny Gray trade are on the Athletics’ 40-man roster, though not the 25-man. Jorge Mateo has a 99 wRC+ in Triple-A with 22 stolen bases, while James Kaprielian is finally healthy, putting up OK numbers in High-A and Double-A. Dustin Fowler has been in Triple-A the entire season with a 93 wRC+.

Corban Joseph played seven years in the Yankees’ farm system and two games in the Majors in 2013.

Manager Bob Melvin played nine games for the 1994 Yankees while assistant hitting coach Mike Aldrete was on the 1996 World Series champs. First base coach Al Pedrique managed at every full-season level in the Yankees’ system from 2013-2017.

Side Note: As my first sentence and video indicate, if you haven’t seen the Lonely Island’s “Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience,” please stop what you’re doing and watch those 30 mesmerizing minutes.

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