This week's schedule and probable starters:
5/15 - @ New York Mets - ???? vs. Dillon Gee
5/17 - vs. Pittsburgh - Hiroki Kuroda vs. Charlie Morton
5/18 - vs. Pittsburgh - Vidal Nuno vs. Gerrit Cole
The Opponents: The New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates
Interleague play continues this week as the Yankees return to New York to take on the Mets and Pirates. Little was expected of the Mets this season, and while they haven't blown anyone away, they're still just 17-19 and only four games out of the NL East lead after about a month and a half of the season.
This series will mark Curtis Granderson's return to the Bronx; Granderson signed a four-year, $60 million deal with the Mets in the offseason after spending the last three seasons with the Yankees (during which he posted two 40+ homer seasons). Granderson will no doubt hear a few boos from the Yankee fans, but based on his performance in a Mets uniform, Yankee fans should thank him for taking his talents elsewhere. After missing most of 2013 with a variety of injuries, Granderson has hit just .185/.233/.333 with only three home runs here in 2014.
While Grandy has been a disappointment, the Mets have gotten great production from Daniel Murphy (.317/.367/.455, 133 wRC+) and David Wright (.289/.337/.388 with a 104 wRC+). Without much outside of these two, though, the Mets offense has left something to be desired (23rd in the league in runs scored), and their pitching hasn't been much better (19th best ERA in the majors). As of late, the Mets have been struggling mightily, going 2-8 in their last ten games, so the Yankees will have a good chance to get back on track during this series.
The Pirates snapped a twenty-year playoff drought last season, relying on a terrific pitching staff and the MVP performance of Andrew McCutchen. This year, they've been disappointing so far, managing just a 16-20 record (although they've been playing better as of late, notching a 6-4 record over their past ten games). Their pitching rotation has not been able to replicate the success it found last year, as the loss of A.J. Burnett has proved costly (I can't believe I just wrote that) and the regression of Francisco Liriano after a stellar 2013 (3.71 xFIP this year as compared to 3.12 last year, because his strikeouts are down and walks are up) has been quite costly for Pittsburgh.
McCutchen hasn't had any trouble getting going this year, though, as he has picked up right where he left off and has hit .319/.427/.511 for a 165 wRC+ this year. If Starling Marte (97 wRC+) and Pedro Alverez (96 wRC+) can find a bit more consistency, the Pirates will continue to be dangerous. But without some improvement from the rotation, it could be a long season in Pittsburgh.
Pitching Highlight: Someone? vs. Gee
CC Sabathia had been scheduled to start Thursday night's game at Citi Field, but with him on the DL now (more on that here), someone else will have to step up. With Nuno and Phelps already in the rotation, and Adam Warren solidified in the bullpen, that very well may be Alfredo Aceves. The right-hander has been quite serviceable so far this season (although he did take the loss on Sunday in Milwaukee), posting a 3.95 xFIP and a 6.00 K/BB ratio, albeit in just two appearances.
Chase Whitley, who was scratched from his Sunday start at Triple-A Scranton, could be an option, as he has been terrific so far this season in the minors pitching to the tune of a 2.49 ERA, a 1.066 WHIP, and 11.45 K/9. Whoever Girardi picks, this Yankee pitching staff that seemed like the team's biggest strength has become more of a liability than anyone could have imagined.
No matter who Girardi taps for Thursday's start, it will not be a favorable matchup for the Yankees, because opposing the Yankees will be Dillon Gee. He has been one of the Mets best pitchers this year, although his 2.73 ERA, when compared to his 4.33 xFIP, shows that he's been a little lucky so far this season en route to a 3-1 record. His 2.20 K/BB ratio and .226 opposing BAPIP further show that he has not been quite as good as his record and ERA may make it appear. Still, Gee is a good pitcher, and with either Aveces or Whitley on the mound opposing him, the Yankees will be hard pressed to win this game.
Who's hot and who's not?
Hot: John Ryan Murphy - The backup catcher has had success ever since finding his way to the Bronx once Francisco Cervelli landed on the 60-day DL. He's only appeared in 10 games so far this season, and while his stats have been inflated due to the small sample size, he still deserves some recognition for just how damn good he's been at the plate all year. Overall, he's hit .407/.407/.556 for a 170 wRC+, capped off by Sunday's three-for-four showing in Milwaukee. Murphy's success at the plate has been one of the best surprises so far this season, and with Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez still in the minors, he should give the Yankees amazing catching depth (and perhaps some trade chips?) in the coming years.
Not: Brian McCann - The man Murphy has been backing up, and the man who was brought in during the offseason to provide some production at a position that provided no punch last year, has certainly struggled in the early goings of 2014. He has hit just .125 with no home runs and no RBI in the past seven days. For the season, McCann has managed just a 58 wRC+ with only four home runs and 12 RBI. It's still early, and McCann has enough on his hands managing the ever-changing pitching rotation, but the Yankees will need him to step it up to keep pace in the AL East. Sooner rather than later would be nice.
Final notes and predictions: 4-3 (2-2 against the Mets, 2-1 against the Pirates)
The Yankees have just come off a disappointing series against the Milwaukee Brewers, a series that saw them drop their last two games by one run. While their pitching staff has been decimated by injuries this year, guys like Phelps and Nuno have done relatively well, keeping the Yankees in games and giving the offense a chance to sneak out a win. Sometimes it's happened, and sometimes not. This is about the best we can expect while we wait for Michael Pineda and Sabathia to get healthy again.
While the offense should find some success against Mets pitching, the Mets hitters should be able to take advantage of the Yankees rotation. Look for Kuroda and Tanaka to pick up wins, while Nuno and Aceves/Whitley/whoever might be in for some rough outings. Kuroda should especially have a great chance for a W, since many Yankee hitters historically have hit Colon well: Jeter's hit .385 lifetime against him, Beltran's hit .295 with four home runs in 44 at bats, Tex is hitting .286/.362/.548 in 42, and Ichiro has hit .299 against Colon in 87 ABs.
Against the Pirates, the Yankees should be able to pick up two of three. While the Pirates will avoid Masahiro Tanaka, none of Pittsburgh's starters have been terribly impressive this year (Cole has been pretty solid, however, so look for the Yankees to have trouble with him) and the Yankee lineup is much more consistent than the Pirates, so the Yankees should pick up a couple wins, if not get the sweep. If the Yankees get two good starts out of Nuno, it could be a very good week for New York.