Yankees weekly preview: Cano returns to the Bronx

Otto Greule Jr

Robinson Cano will return to New York this week, as the Yankees take on the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays in the Bronx.

Note: Stats and records accurate as of end of play Saturday, April 26.

This week's schedule and probable starters:

4/28/14 - Off

4/29/14 - vs. Seattle Mariners - CC Sabathia vs. Chris Young

4/30/14 - vs. Seattle Mariners - David Phelps vs. Roenis Elias

5/1/14 - vs. Seattle Mariners - Hiroki Kuroda vs. Felix Hernandez

5/2/14 - vs. Tampa Bay Rays - Vidal Nuno vs. David Price

5/3/14 - vs. Tampa Bay Rays - Masahiro Tanaka vs. Jake Odorizzi

5/4/14 - vs. Tampa Bay Rays - CC Sabathia vs. Erik Bedard

The opponents: Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays

In the early going of the 2014 season, it seems that, while Robinson Cano now finds himself with a terrific new contract, he also finds himself with a pretty terrible team.  The Mariners are 10-14 on the year, sitting fourth in AL West ahead of only the Houston Astros.  They endured a brutal eight-game losing streak last week, a streak which included being swept by the Miami Marlins and losing two of three to the Astros.  While their pitching staff has been one of the better rotations in the majors (13th in ERA, led by the predictably great Felix Hernandez), their offense has struggled, as they are 25th in the league in runs scored and 27th in OPS.  Some of this is due to Robinson's Cano's early lack of power (.371 slugging and just a 93 wRC+), and with the lack of production around Cano in the lineup (Justin Smoak and Corey Hart are about the only other threats the Mariners have), he's going to have to be much better for Seattle to have any kind of chance in the AL West.

Tampa Bay has also struggled somewhat out of the gates this year, posting an 11-14 record through their first 25 games.  Unlike the Mariners though, their offense has been average (16th in runs scored, 12th in OPS), while their pitching has struggled (20th in the league in ERA).  Their pitching staff has been decimated by injuries, and the replacements for Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Jeremy Hellickson have been quite shaky so far.  Since the Rays have generally been a decent offensive team in recent years, but rarely elite, their pitching staff will have to improve quite a bit if they are going to start moving up the standings in the AL East.

Pitching highlight:

David Phelps vs. Roenis Elias

David Phelps will be getting the start that the suspended Michael Pineda will miss and it will be interesting to see how he does.  This may be the game that decides who takes this series (CC Sabathia should be able to out-duel Chris Young, the owner of an ugly 6.30 xFIP this season, while Hiroki Kuroda will be hard-pressed to beat Felix Hernandez) and both of these pitchers are relatively unproven.  This will mark Phelps' first start of the season - after starting 12 and 11 games for the Yankees in 2013 and 2012 respectively - and he's been pretty solid so far in 2014, posting a 4.21 xFIP while striking out a lot of hitters (12.34 K/9).  While he's given up too many home runs so far (5.40/9 in a very small sample size of 11.2 innings) if he can limit those, he should be able to keep the Yankees in the game and give them a great chance to at least take two of three from the Mariners.

Roenis Elias will certainly not be a pushover, though, as the rookie pitcher has been relatively effective in April.  While he has only gone more than six innings once in five starts, his xFIP sits at a 4.28, and opposing batters are only hitting .238 against him.  While his K/BB is a paltry 1.50, he has been keeping the Mariners close in all of his starts.  While he's allowed an earned run each time out this year, he's only allowed more than three runs once - and that time he gave up just four runs.  So while he hasn't been lights out much, he has been dependably decent.  Phelps will need to be on his game to get the win.

Who's hot and who's not:

Hot:

CC Sabathia:  While his first few starts were ugly, CC Sabathia has found some success in his last two, holding the Rays to one run over seven innings on April 17, and limiting the Red Sox to two runs over six innings last week.  He's striking out nearly 10 hitters per nine innings, and his 2.70 xFIP compared to his 4.78 ERA suggests that he's been somewhat unlucky so far in 2014.  It looks like he's getting more comfortable with his lack of velocity, and if he can keep it up in his two starts this week, the Yankees will be well on their way to winning these two series.

Brett Gardner:  Simply put, Brett Gardner has been scorching hot over the past week, and has been just about the best hitter in the Yankees lineup.  Over the past seven days, Gardner has hit .368/.478/.421 with four stolen bases (without getting caught!).  While he struggled somewhat at the beginning of the season, he's certainly turned in on lately, and hopefully his four stolen bases in the last two games are a sign that he will begin running more and more.

Not:

Mark Teixeira: Since returning from the DL, Teixeira has struggled mightily at the plate.  In his first week back, Teixeira has hit just .190/.393/.381.  While he has been displaying a good eye at the plate (hence the large difference between his batting average and on-base percentage), he hasn't hit for much power since returning, hitting just one double and one home run for two RBI.  Hopefully he can get in a grove sooner rather than later - bad starts to the season are nothing new for Teixeira, but, for the Yankees to truly contend this season, they'll need some more power and production from him.

Final notes and prediction: 4-2 (2-1 against the Mariners, 2-1 against the Rays)

This week will be dominated by the return of Robinson Cano to Yankee Stadium, and it will certainly be interesting to see what kind of reception he receives from the crowd.  Hopefully it won't be too rude, because there is no doubt he was a great baseball player for the Yankees, and did not do anything wrong by taking the ridiculously lucrative contract Seattle offered him.  It'll be awfully hard seeing him in the Bronx wearing a Mariners jersey, though.

While much of the media will no doubt make it all about Cano, there is still baseball to be played.  The Yankees should be able to get the first two from light-hitting Seattle, but Felix Hernandez is normally just so good (and, in his last four starts at Yankee Stadium, he has a 1.88 ERA) that I doubt the Yankees will sweep the Mariners.  When Tampa Bay comes to town, the Yankees should be able to take advantage of Odorizzi and Bedard, and while they did beat up on David Price last time they played, I think he'll be much more effective this time.  Since he's going up against Nuno, I think the Yankees will probably also take two of three from the Rays.

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