The New York Yankees host the Oakland Athletics this week as the two teams try to rack up as many wins as possible before the All-Star Break. The Yankees begin the series on Tuesday in first place, up by 1.5 games over the Baltimore Orioles, two games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, and 2.5 games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays. Oakland got off to a very slow start and they are 11 games back as of Tuesday.
This is a very interesting series for both teams. The Yankees looked like they were starting to put it all together in mid-June with a four-game winning streak, including a 14-3 pasting of the Detroit Tigers to improve to 38-30, but they have lost eight of their last 14. The A’s, since falling to a season-worst record of 14-30, have gone 24-17 over their last 41 games in an effort to climb back into the AL West standings.
The most interesting thing about these two teams is how different their seasons have gone. The Yankees are playing about as well as expected by Pythagorean Win-Loss and have played 59 or their 82 against teams above .500. The Athletics are +39 in run differential, which suggests a 48-37 record by Pythagorean Win-Loss. Instead, Oakland is 38-47 and just 6-21 in one-run games. They are also just 5-16 against left-handed starters.
Fortunately for Oakland, they won’t face a lefty in Tuesday’s series opener. The Yankees will send Nathan Eovaldi to the mound against A’s ace Sonny Gray. Eovaldi has a 4.52 ERA on the season, though his advanced metrics suggest that he has pitched better than that. Eovaldi has been held back by a .352 batting average against on balls in play. He’s not a high strikeout pitcher, despite throwing in the mid-90s, and that leads to a lot of hard contact.
Sonny Gray is in a tough spot in this start. Gray missed his last start due to a case of food poisoning that resulted in a brief stay in the hospital. Gray has not worked since June 25. On the year, Gray has been one of the league’s most consistent pitchers with a 2.09 ERA and a 2.66 FIP. He’s a ground ball machine with improving secondary pitches and much better control, especially against left-handed hitters. Gray will face some tough lefties on the Yankees roster, including All-Star Mark Teixeira and Brett Gardner.
The Athletics will have to beat a lefty to snag the middle game of this series. CC Sabathia will toe the rubber for the Yankees. Like Eovaldi, Sabathia has been victimized by a high BABIP against, as the Yankees have one of the most porous infield defenses in the league. Sabathia had this start pushed back as the Yankees attempted to work with him on some of his command issues. Sabathia has allowed 29 home runs over his last 141 innings, after allowing no more than 28 in any full season. The good control is still there for Sabathia, but he hasn’t been locating his pitches well, as evidenced by his 5.59 ERA.
Scott Kazmir will go for the Athletics on Wednesday night. The A’s are hoping to get back in the playoff hunt, but they may decide to trade Kazmir before that happens. Kazmir is on the same level as Jeff Samardzija in terms of available pitchers this month, a notch or two below Johnny Cueto. Kazmir has been great again this season with a 2.56 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and 3.54 xFIP. Since resurrecting his career with the Cleveland Indians in 2013, Kazmir has been worth five wins above replacement player.
The Yankees will get a big boost on Wednesday with the return of left-hander Andrew Miller and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Two of New York’s most valuable players, when healthy, should give them a nice lift in what could be a close game if Sabathia holds up his end of the bargain. It’s a good time to get those players back, as the All-Star Break is coming up quickly and they can get some pitches and swings in to be ready for the second half.
A day game will be on tap on Thursday as Jesse Chavez takes the ball for the A’s against Masahiro Tanaka. Since returning to the rotation when Kendall Graveman was sent down in April, Chavez has posted a 3.44 ERA with a 72/22 K/BB ratio. Chavez has fared significantly better at home, in the pitcher-friendly conditions of O.co Coliseum than he has on the road. In 48 innings at home, Chavez has a 2.63 ERA against with a .335 SLG against. In 47.2 innings on the road, Chavez’s ERA jumps more than a run to 3.78 and his SLG against jumps by 45 points. Chavez had a 4.12 ERA on the road last season.
Masahiro Tanaka is still trying to pitch through injury and it is not working as well as the Yankees had hoped. While he still has an excellent K/BB ratio, Tanaka is another Yankees start experiencing command issues. In just 59.1 innings, Tanaka has allowed 10 home runs. He allowed 15 home runs in 136.1 innings in his rookie season before he was shut down due to UCL damage. Tanaka opted for rest and rehab over Tommy John surgery and has been able to make 10 starts at the Major League level this season, but the quality has not been there. The 26-year-old may need to revisit the surgery option again.
Series Prediction: New York Yankees
The Yankees will get a big boost for the middle game with the return of a table setter on offense and a top bullpen weapon. With Sonny Gray coming off of a salmonella illness, he may not be as sharp on Tuesday night. The rubber game on Thursday should decide the series and the early start time and Masahiro Tanaka’s good control may be too much for the Athletics to overcome.